Carving a bond

Finrod Felagund cycle, Part 2: The tale of Ereglas and Arothir, Chapter 1

Set during the first days of Nargothrond. This may seem a large jump in time after Part 1, but the next episodes in Finrod's personal history have all been dealt with in other fics: my own story Separation, which contains a passage about his choice not to return to Tirion; Helcaraxë by Le Chat Noir, which describes his thoughts while crossing the Grinding Ice; and Silver and Gold by Oboe-wan, which tells about Finrod's and Galadriel's coming to Menegroth and the subsequent events (though the focus is on Galadriel here).

To those who asked whether Finrod left Amarië with child: I'm afraid you'll have to wait for the answer till the end of the cycle.

Silmarillion-based - but Orodreth is Finrod's nephew, not his brother (Tolkien's latest thoughts on the subjects, in The Shibboleth of Fëanor, HoMe, Volume 12).

Disclaimer: It mostly harks back to Tolkien, but the characters Ereglas, Maegrist and Fristi the Dwarf are mine).

WARNING: Not quite like my previous Silmarillion fanfics, due to the flippant style employed by the POV-character - who was, perhaps, invented for that reason.

If you're a stonecutter, and out of a job because Menegroth is perfect, if not complete, and even the dwarves don't need you anymore, you can either decide to pursue a different pastime, or seek employment elsewhere. My father chose the latter, for he wasn't past his carving days yet. He is a Sindarin lordling with a Noldorin - sarcastic types like Saeros say dwarvish - passion for tools, a bit like that smith Eöl of Nan Elmoth, though fortunately of a more cheerful disposition. On hearing that King Thingol's great-nephew Finrod, from the overseas clan, wanted to imitate Menegroth in the caverns beyond the river Narog, he asked the King permission to offer Finrod his services. Thingol voiced no objections worth repeating. He loves to keep track of his numerous relatives, but Finrod was family, after all, and my father is a distant relation, not someone Thingol needs to have on a leash, like Celeborn. Not to mention Lúthien. And so, towards the end of spring, my father began packing his things.

I came home shortly before his departure, returning from a visit to my mother's kin in the forest of Neldoreth. Informed of his plans, I immediately appointed myself his apprentice, for I fancy myself to be something of a stonecutter, too, and I felt ready for the world at large. Both my parents objected, pointing out that I was not yet fifty years of age, and quite badly in need of more education and fewer unbraided hairs.

'Experience is a form of education,' I claimed, as if I could know.

'The road may be too dangerous for you, Ereglas,' my father countered. 'There used to be orcs around, just a short while ago.'

'I shoot a bow as well as any, and besides, the orcs were mostly massacred by the Noldor.' I tried to outstare him. 'If you were a dwarf, father, and I had a beard, you'd let me come along.'

An ill-considered remark. 'Then grow a beard,' my mother said promptly, 'and maybe we'll let you go.'

'Maybe I should go to Melian the Maia for help,' I mused aloud. 'She can do wonders.'

It was far from certain Queen Melian would receive me; our family was a bit rustic, and tended to avoid the pomp and circumstance of the Court. But somehow the threat worked; our Queen has a habit of being unpredictable. We left two days after this talk: my father Maegrist, and I, his apprentice, eager to learn whatever I could.

The road to the Caverns of Narog under the hills of the Faroth proved orcless, but not dwarfless: barely outside the Girdle of Melian we were joined by a group of Naugrim. They were also on their way to the caverns, having been hired by Finrod to hew some halls and armouries under the hills. My attempts at conversation were mostly unsuccessful. Not that they didn't speak Sindarin - they even spoke it among themselves, for outsiders are not supposed to learn their very secret and thoroughly unspeakable language. The only marginally polite reactions came from one Fristi, but as he kept speculating about the great rewards they'd receive from their patron, the inroad to fellowship proved a dead end. He seemed to munch on the word gold if it was food, and I began to wonder if these people actually fed on the stuff.

Still, they weren't completely useless. Unlike us, they had been to the caverns before, and it turned out we needed them to find the entrance. This took some bribing, but as my father had trafficked with the likes of them before, we kept most of our tools, and our appearance retained a modicum of decency.

There was a provisory gate with some Noldorin guards looking down their noses at us, especially at me, for I'm not overly tall. They were too arrogant to take bribes, or we might still be growing roots outside for lack of further means, but they kept us waiting for a considerable time after the dwarves were admitted. The name Maegrist meant almost nothing down there, it turned out, which of course showed their general ignorance of all matters Sindarin. But getting angry with Noldor is pointless; they are bound to get angrier back, or so we'd been told. So we chafed a little, my father sang a little stonecutter's ditty, and I danced an impatient little jig. But at last they condescended to let us pass, sending us on to the Master of Cutters, who used to assign the various jobs, and from him to the Steward, who could provide us with lodgings and that sort of thing. If he would, their faces said.

Unfortunately, their directions were a bit vague, while the system of caverns was larger and more complicated than we'd expected. Weaving through a maze of lamplit corridors we met several people, dwarves as well as elves, and all heading into the same direction (the opposite of ours). Our path seemed to take us further and further up inside the hill, but without any points of reference it was hard to say how much.

By the time we'd lost our way the place seemed emptier than the Plain of Estolad. 'We'll turn back,' my father said, frowning at the restless shadows the lamps cast on the walls. 'This is definitely wrong.'

'We haven't seen what's around the next corner yet,' I objected.

'More tunnels,' he said gloomily. 'And they're narrowing.'

'Give me Menegroth any time,' I concurred. 'Maybe we mixed up the various directions they gave us at the gates. But if we round that corner now, and take the first corridor to the right, we'll probably be on a parallel route to -'

My father shook his head. 'There is no dishonour in retracing one's steps.'

'But what harm is there in persevering?' I countered. 'Why not split up?'

Unlike his distant relative Thingol, my father's a pliable person, until the moment he takes out his tools, that is. 'Promise you'll turn back if you see no more lamps,' was all he said.

I chuckled. 'Not being a cat, I'll have to.'

So I rounded the corner on my own and saw... more tunnels, to be honest. But it wasn't long before I heard the sounds. Tapping, scraping, clinking - hammer and chisel, working away at the rock. And a voice singing softly and a little hoarsely in an incomprehensible tongue. After my near-monologue with the Naugrim I was sure it wasn't a Dwarf, and I decided the language had to be Quenya. Consequently, though his voice seemed to lack clarity, the singer was an elf of the Noldorin persuasion.

A few turns away I found him, in a many-pillared, vaulted room, much better lit than the corridors I'd passed. Two shafts of evening light fell through openings in the cavern wall above my head, allowing the wind to roam freely. Powdery dust and grit danced about the pillars and about the stonecutter working at one of them. He was covered in it, which made him look a bit like a living statue.

He didn't look my way, but evidently he heard me, for he said, in Sindarin now : 'Just a moment.' Clearing the dust from his throat he added, his voice mightily improved: 'I'm almost ready.'

'Uh,' I said, 'could it be that you're taking me fore someone else, master cutter?'

A pair of sea-grey eyes appraised me from head to foot. 'Well, from my point of view, you are someone else, for I was expecting a servant, or possibly my nephew.'

'I'm nobody's servant,' I declared haughtily, spoiling the effect somewhat by adding: 'And nobody's nephew.'

The hammer hit the chisel once more, and a chip flew over my head. 'But?'

There is something to be said for honesty, too, especially when you don't know your way. 'Just a stone-cutter's apprentice, lost in this maze.'

'A stonecutter's apprentice? In that case, far from being lost, you may have come to the right place.' The hand in which he held his hammer made a sweeping gesture.

Following its direction, I gaped at what had escaped me until now. Many of the halls and corridors of Menegroth had pillars shaped like beeches, with birds sitting among the boughs, or squirrels running up the stems, or garlands of flowers adorning the branches. The pillars here, at least those that were finished, were as exquisitely carved, but more varied: I saw a beech with a bird's nest in it, but also an elm, a rowan heavy with berries and even a holly tree sprouting the curly, sharp-tipped leaves I'm named for. But there were other pillars too, resembling elf-like beings, some sinuous and slender, others majestic - yet trees all the same, with boughs for arms and roots for feet and strange faces peering at me from among the foliage, some earnest, others full of mirth - and one mocking. When I stepped closer to take a better look, it suddenly blinked an eye at me. I stared at it, not sure if I had seen it right. Then I turned back towards the stonecutter, and for a moment I thought I saw him blink at me as well. But he didn't speak.

My father is an excellent craftsman, in my, probably biased, opinion the greatest among the Sindar. But this was the peak of artistry, and I knew that as soon as Maegrist would set eyes on it, he'd bow to the mastery of the one who wrought this forest full of wonders. I coughed, and asked: 'You made this?'

He nodded.

'It's marvellous!'

Instead of thanking me for the compliment or looking pleased, he merely raised a dusty eyebrow.

Just like a Noldo. He was getting on my nerves, and pointing to the holly leaves I murmured, just to say something: 'You carved my name.'

'That would be Ereglas?' When I nodded, he walked towards a barely begun tree. 'You're an apprentice, you say? Could you do that, Ereglas? Carve your name, I mean?' He held out his hammer and chisel and indicated a spot. It was rather high up, but not out of reach.

An apprentice has a claim to imperfection, so I had nothing to lose. I took his tools; they felt warm to the touch. Then a thought struck me: 'What if I spoil it? The rest is so perfect.'

He wiped a hand on his apron. 'Nothing is perfect in this tainted world. Are you afraid to try?'

Incentive. I wheeled, raised my arms and got ahead with the job, working fast; the light outside began to fade. To his credit he didn't peep over my shoulder; instead, I heard him walk about, doing whatever he was up to.

Holly leaves aren't easy. But because I'm named for them I had made several attempts at carving them back home, and I managed tolerably well. When he returned to examine my name in stone he had cleaned his face; without the grit it proved to be remarkably handsome. Throwing his towel over a sculpted branch he studied my leaf from various angles before passing the final verdict. 'Definitely holly. Not at all bad, for an apprentice. You can stay.'

I handed him back the tools. 'Thanks. Also for the compliment.'

Perhaps I spoke a little too emphatically, for he laughed aloud. 'You think I forgot to thank you for yours?'

Belatedly I realised that an accomplished stonecutter wouldn't attach much value to the opinions of untried young apprentices. 'I wasn't flattering you,' I said defensively. 'I know how to judge stonework. My father Maegrist of Doriath - a kinsman of king Thingol,' I added proudly - 'is a master in his own right. He's the one I'm apprenticed to.'

He sketched a bow and opened his mouth, possibly to say thank you after all, but at that moment we got company. It was a youth with long, golden braids, not much older than I was. Well, maybe thirty years older or thereabouts, but I swear his eyes looked younger. I could easily see this was the aforementioned nephew, though his looks and demeanour were decidedly less flamboyant than his uncle's.

He smiled into several directions at once. An engaging smile. 'Uncle Ingoldo, we've been wondering why you haven't honoured us with your presence at the table. But I understand you're entertaining a guest.'

'I'm afraid I put our noble guest to work, Arothir,' uncle Ingoldo said, without sounding sorry at all. 'But now that you mention dinner, I suddenly feel an urge to do some honouring. But I'll have to change first and wash my hair, or it won't have the intended effect. Will you lead Ereglas here to the dining hall?' He took the towel, searching for a clean part, and reached it to me. 'You've got chips on your cheek and forehead.'

I wiped them away, wondering how my usually auburn hair looked.

'Of course,' Arothir said, and now the full force of his smile was directed at me. 'Let's go.'

He knew a shortcut, and we set out for the food. On our way there, I saw Arothir glance at me from the corner of his eyes, but he remained silent. Hoping I would have more success with him than with Fristi and his likes, I brought up a topic for conversation. 'Are you a stone-cutter, too?'

Arothir shook his head. 'No. I'm to make a couple of stained glass windows*. I suppose you saw the gaps in the wall of the room we've just left?'

'Felt them, rather. I'm glad to hear it's only a temporary attraction.'

He smiled. 'Don't you like wind? There's a lot of it where I live.'

I was surprised. 'I thought you lived here?'

'No, my uncle borrowed me from my father to make those windows. When they're finished I'll return to my home in the hills of Dorthonion.'

'That's blustery indeed,' I said, knowing the reputation of those hills. Not that I ever saw them.

'Would you like to see my designs?' he offered. 'After dinner?'

'Sure,' I said. I had no opinion at all on the matter of stained glass, but I did begin to like Arothir. A lot, actually - and to think he was a Noldo...

The dining hall was a large affair peopled with many elves and some dwarves, sitting at long tables on equally long benches. The noise was considerable and I saw no minstrels or other performers: this was a working force, not an assembly of courtiers. A high table was set at one end of the hall, with places for a number of lofty diners. Right now, it had exactly one occupant. 'The Steward,' Arothir said, following my gaze. Then, to my amazement, he started to lead me to the dais.

I shook my head, scanning the hall. 'I'd prefer to sit with my father. If I can locate him.'

'My uncle called you "our noble guest",' Arothir pointed out. 'Noble guests usually dine at the lord's table.'

Inwardly I cursed myself for boasting about Thingol, for I'd feel completely misplaced on the dais. Fortunately, I'd spotted Maegrist by now - in the company of Fristi the Dwarf. 'I'm not that noble,' I told Arothir. 'Look, over there, that's my father.'

Arothir did not insist. Instead, he dogged me to the table where Maegrist and Fristi sat. While I sank down beside my father, he wedged himself in the narrow space opposite me, between two Noldorin craftsmen who cast him peculiar glances.

'You took your time, Ereglas,' my father said, while food and drink were being served to Arothir and me. 'And your hair is a mess.'

Oh dear. 'I made a holly leaf in a windy place,' I answered rather succinctly.

'I do hope,' he sighed, 'I'm not going to regret that I took you along.'

'I got a compliment for it.' And indicating Arothir I added: 'From his uncle.'

'And who is your uncle?' my father inquired, raising an eyebrow. 'A master stone-cutter, I may hope?'

'You may,' Arothir answered with a graceful nod of his head. 'Lord Finrod, son of Finarfin of Tirion upon Tuna, is the best stone-cutter in all Beleriand.'

'Aye!' said Fristi in his booming voice. 'I wouldn't know a better, nor a more royal felak-gundu, even though he's but an Elf.'

'No mean compliment, even from a Dwarf,' my father commented dryly.

But I nearly fell from my bench.

* I don't know if this is canonical, but I've decided Elves, and certainly Noldor, like to stain glass.