Carving a bond, Chapter 2
Eventually, Lord Finrod, alias Uncle Ingoldo*, honoured the hall with his presence, though when he came, he dismissed everyone who had finished their meals and were merely waiting for him. After the general exodus few people were left - only Arothir, my father, Fristi and me, in fact, plus a few servants. Seeing this, Finrod took his plate and joined us. Immediately after he sat down he picked up a piece of raw carrot and put his knife to it as if he thought it was too big to fit into his mouth.
He was completely gritless now and looked every inch a lord, except that he spoiled it by blinking an eye at me over the carrot. I blinked back when he complimented my father on my skills; there was no way he'd get me to blush, I decided. Nonetheless he succeeded in doing precisely that when he asked my father about our kinship with Thingol of Doriath, and Maegrist chose to play it down.
Fortunately, his nephew and I had finished our dinner by that time, and Arothir renewed his offer to show me his designs. We rose from the table, but before we left the hall I asked my father where he was lodged, so I could join him there later.
As it turned out, there was a problem: the whole place was full; right now, everyone in Southern Beleriand seemed to be working here, with the possible exception of Círdan's shipwrights. Of course, they'd find a mattress for me somewhere, but probably only among strangers, perhaps Dwarves.
I must have looked dismal. 'Why don't you share my room?' Arothir suddenly offered. 'It's large enough.'
'Indeed,' Finrod said. 'At present you've got more private space than the High King Fingolfin has in his citadel.'
'That's because I need this long table to make my designs,' Arothir defended himself. 'But we can push it aside.'
'Thanks,' I said. 'I'll gladly accept your offer.'
'That's settled, then.' Finrod smiled broadly, holding up his piece of carrot to inspect it. I saw he had carved it into the shape of an elaborate flower.
For a moment I thought my father was going to object, but all he said was: 'I trust you to behave yourself, Ereglas.'
Arothir's designs were beautiful. They resembled paintings, except that every object on them was outlined in black. Two bright trees he had sketched: one gold, one silver, each surrounded by all kinds of beings: from tall and glorious elf-like shapes with deep, sparkling eyes to tiny, colourful butterflies.
'Valinor,' he explained. 'If I succeed in mixing my colours the way I want and the panes are finished and in place, the sun will shine through, calling the trees to life - although it will be nothing compared to reality.' He sighed. 'But Morgoth and Ungoliant killed them. The light was extinguished, and Valinor went dark. And then Morgoth slew my great-grandsire.'
'And you left to avenge him and help us keep Morgoth at bay,' I said; the tale circulated in Doriath. 'But at least we've got the Sun and the Moon; I suppose they shine on Valinor, too. Wouldn't you like to go back, occasionally? The ships of the Falas -'
Arothir's reaction was peculiar, to say the least. He blanched, his jaws clenched, and all of a sudden he seemed unable to speak. Obviously, something was very wrong here. He looked so terribly unhappy and hurt that I put an arm around his shoulder without thinking even once, pulling him towards me and squeezing him tightly.
A little too tightly. Abruptly Arothir disengaged himself, his earlier dismay replaced by a different shock. 'Gracious lady!'
Somehow I don't think he meant me, for I'm not particularly gracious and hardly look like a lady. So he must have been referring to Elbereth Star-kindler. But in one respect he was right. Most stonecutters are male, but I happen to be of the opposite sex. Call me weird - though I wouldn't advise it, for my tongue can be as sharp as a holly leaf. But it could have been worse. I could have wanted to become a smith, for instance.
Turning towards me again, Arothir searched my face, and then about everything below it. With his eyes, that is. There wasn't much to see, frontally speaking, and needless to say at this stage of the story, I dressed like a male. But if you know what to look for, you'll find it. Just as you may miss the obvious if you're not familiar enough with Sindarin to know that names ending on -las are given to both sexes.**
'You can't stay here tonight,' he announced sadly, having concluded his inspection. 'It would be unseemly.'
'Who is going to notice?'
'Probably nobody, but all the same...'
'Who is it you don't trust, me or yourself?' I inquired.
I got him there. 'Well, I suppose you could stay,' he conceded after a while.
I'll skip a bit here, for I feel I'm dragging out this tale, and anyway I can't escape dealing with the less agreeable part. So I'll just mention that we had a good time in the caverns (and outside), that Arothir never mentioned what he'd discovered and we continued to share his room, that I learned a lot, especially on those occasions when Finrod borrowed me from my father, and that I was hardly an apprentice anymore when we left for Doriath to attend a party in Menegroth.
We, that is to say Arothir, Finrod, Maegrist, me, plus a small escort. In the Forest of Region we met some Elves from the Falas who weren't invited but came along all the same, and in Menegroth Finrod met his brothers (and Arothir his father***), who were invited, and his sister Galadriel, who lived there at the time. And Maegrist and I met my mother, who actually thought I had matured in some way.
The party was great, with lots of music. Our Daeron surpassed himself again, and it turned out Finrod played the harp tolerably well. Arothir and I had a whispered discussion in a corner; he thought I should borrow a dress, so he could in all decency dance with me, and I asked if he thought it was a good idea to show his uncle I was female. So, in the end we didn't dance but went outside to walk in the moonshine and there saw Thingol's daughter doing a dance of her own. I don't think she saw us. In all, it was a very satisfying feast.
I wasn't there when it happened, for my parents and I left for our home the next morning. But it was terrible. We heard it in the evening. The Elves of the Falas had come to tell the King of Doriath the truth. The Noldor were murderers, it appeared. Kinslayers, accursed, doomed, and exiled from Valinor. Thingol had accused Finrod of having blood on his hands. Finrod hadn't defended himself, and though Arothir's father had, the King had kicked them out of his realm and put a ban on their language.
So now I knew what was wrong with Arothir.
My father isn't given to swearing, but this time he did swear. We were Thingol's kin, and the victims the Noldor had made were of our own blood. There was no way we were ever going to work in Nargothrond again, and I had to put that boy out of my head, or else...
'Arothir is innocent,' I cried. 'I can't believe he killed anyone. He was too young to have been involved!'
'Don't mention his name!' Maegrist roared. 'It's Quenya! And I hope for Elbereth's sake you haven't gone too far with that spawn of Ûdun! If I'd only known! At first I thought he might be a suitable party, but now I don't want you to-'
I stormed up to my room, locked the door and threw myself on my bed, biting into my pillow to prevent myself from crying out loud. My whole body shook.
After an indefinite time had passed, a noise outside jerked my out of my despondency: the sound of my window being slowly and carefully opened. I had no idea how, for the handle was on the inside. Startled, I jumped from my bed.
It was my beloved. He climbed onto the windowsill, his face anxious, visibly wondering what I did and did not believe about him and his family and what they had done or not done in the Blessed Realm.
A kind of gurgling sob escaped me, and leaping towards him I almost pushed him out of the window, though of course that wasn't my intention at all. He steadied both himself, and me and stepped inside. I whispered his name, going squarely against Thingol's ban: 'Arothir.'
Heaving a great sigh of relief he took me in his arms, and we kissed, and kissed, and kissed, and he said: 'I'm going to elope with you. I've put the stem of a felled tree against the wall below your window; can you climb down?'
'Of course!' I said between my tears.
'Of course not,' said a voice from the window.
It was Finrod, leaning over the sill and shaking his head in an avuncular manner.
'I'm glad I followed you,' he said to his nephew. 'I was afraid you might commit some folly or other. But there's really no need to. Thingol will undoubtedly cool off, and so will Maegrist, in due time. You two can always marry later. We don't need any more breaches and tears, Arothir. Or perhaps I should call you Orodreth now, in good Sindarin?'
Arothir pulled a face, not at all happy.
'What made you think he'd come here? How did you find out I'm a she?' I demanded to know, hugely disappointed he'd caught us out. 'I was dressed like a male, I spoke in the deepest possible voice all the time, and I don't look especially female.'
'My sister's voice is deeper than yours,' Finrod replied. 'But that's not how I knew you were a girl.' He grinned. 'Not that I'm going to tell you how I did know. Everyone has some secret or other. Allow me to keep mine, please.'
'You allowed us to sleep in the same room for I don't know how long!' Arothir said accusingly.
'Was there any reason to fear you wouldn't behave with the utmost decency?' his uncle asked with feigned innocence. He looked from Arothir to me, his mouth curling. 'My own modest nephew, and a well-bred lady of Doriath? Are you suggesting I should have put her among the dwarves?'
'You're terrible,' I said, shocked to hear myself say it.
'I'm sure our mutual kinsman Thingol couldn't agree more,' Finrod said wryly. He turned to his nephew. 'Are you coming?'
I made a last attempt. 'And if I follow him anyway? Would you stop me?'
'I might just throw you over my shoulder and deliver you at your father's front door.' His voice didn't change markedly but I knew he meant business. Arothir knew it, too, I saw. The easy-going uncle had suddenly become a stern lord, and resistance was not advisable.
His expression softened. 'Believe me, I know more about love and folly, rashness and regret than I care to. I would spare you the sorrows that follow such brief delights. You two can wait.'
He turned out to be right: eventually, both King Thingol and my father did cool down, though it took them a century or so. Some time after that, we had the grandest wedding, with everyone's consent. And for a while, we were as happy as can be in Arda Marred.
My son put down the manuscript.
'How can you write such a light-hearted story, Mother, knowing all that befell since? They were all killed - my father, his parents, your parents, Finrod, Thingol, and even Fristi the Dwarf - though admittedly he was killed by Time, dying of old age.'
'It's because I know all that befell since that I wanted to preserve some pleasant memories,' I said. 'Or the later-born will end up thinking the First Age knew nothing but tragedy. And as I am the only survivor, there is no one else who can write this story. Nor is it as light-hearted as you seem to think. Don't you like it?'
He smiled, and now I could not help blinking back my tears, for his smile is his father's.
'It has a certain charm,' he replied. 'But I keep wondering how Finrod found out you were a girl.'
'Well,' I mused, 'in the first place he must have known the name Ereglas could be female as well as male. But sometimes I think...' I laughed softly and went on: 'You know, if a girl lifts her arms, you will be able to see her... contours more clearly from aside, even if she doesn't have a lot to show. And if he suspected nothing, why else would Finrod have asked me to carve a holly leaf six foot above the floor, hm?'
My son chuckled. 'Well... one more question. Maybe I'm being a little obtrusive now, but when did you actually fall in love with my father?'
'You are being a little obtuse,' I said. 'The answer, of course, is: not at first sight, but not much later either, Gil-galad. Not much later.'
*Ingoldo is the name by which Finrod's close relatives called him.
** for instance, Nellas (f), and Legolas (m)
***Finarfin's son/Finrod's brother Angrod (Angarato)
Some additional remarks:
- Concerning Finrod's stone-carving: The name Felagund - Dwarvish felak-gundu - 'was given because of Finrod's skill in lighter stone-carving. He cut many of the adornments of the pillas and walls in Nargothrond. He was proud of the name.' (The Shibboleth of Fëanor, HoMe, vol. 12, The Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 352).
- According to The Silmarillion, Gil-galad is the son of Fingon. But in The Parentage of Gilgalad (also in The Shibboleth of Fëanor, pp. 349-351), Christopher Tolkien states that this was 'an ephemeral idea'; J.R.R. Tolkien's last decision was to make him the son of Orodreth, who in his turn became a grandson, instead of a son of Finarfin. I follow him in this.