Author's note: I don't know. I just don't know, ok?

Intrigue

By Le Chat Noir

Chapter three

The blonde elf sat on the riverbank with his bare feet in the running water. The earth stained his fancy robes. It was a purple robe, made of fine silk, with golden embroideries; Celebrimbor supposed the crest of the House of Finarfin was spread on the chest, too, but in the elf's actual position it was impossible to see.

Not wanting to intrude, he stood at a distance, leaning on a tree, quite certain that Orodreth had not remarked his presence.

The newly crowned King of Nargothrond embraced himself with both arms, as if he were cold. But he could not be cold, Celebrimbor reflected. Vasa shone largely, almost too brightly, and the dark-haired elf sometimes had to reduce his eyes to mere slits to protect his pupils from the darting rays.

He didn't know Orodreth liked rivers. As far as he had seen, it was always Finrod who sought the brooks out in the forest, nourishing for the chanting creeks a passion that could make him sit by their sides for days and days, listening to their tender babble in the utmost delight. Sometimes, he would start to whisper himself, idly dripping his fingers in the vivid streams, lost in a world that he shared only with the laughing water. It was a kind of thing Finrod could do, and did; to children it made him loveable, thought their parents were somewhat sceptic about it, as much as they respected their Lord and his ability to be rational and wisely brave when it came to need.

Orodreth's head tilted forwards a little more, and for a second Celebrimbor feared that he had fallen asleep. But soon, he saw that it was not so. He cursed under his breath. Not directed at anyone, really. Curse the world. Curse the politics. Curse the powerlust. Curse the House rivalries, the Kingship, the stupid, stupid wars, just curse it all…

Since the moment Orodreth had become his friend -somewhat-, he had known the younger elf had never been meant to be a leader, least of all a son of the royal House. Orodreth was patient and trustworthy, not extraordinarily intelligent but not dull either, and he was hard-working, willing to sacrifice himself entirely if it meant good for the people he loved. Overall, it meant that his main problem was his lack of confidence. At the core, Finarfin's grandson had remained a very weak and dependable person, always wavering, hesitating, distrusting himself, fearing to err and eager to do the best for the City and the people, though never able to make thorough and drastic decisions when needed. Celebrimbor had even wondered with incredulity if Orodreth had not wanted to truly believe that Celegorm and Curufin were better leaders than he was, and that it was for the best that they had taken over.

Even this morning, it had taken the people's thirsty claim for blood and all the Lord's support and counsel to make him think he even could attempt to throw them out.

Generally, Orodreth was good at hiding his weaknesses. Generally, he did not show himself to be incapable in public. Only, to someone like Celebrimbor, his usual shield of sarcasm and cynicism was only too obvious and relevant. Maybe it was because of that he had wanted to befriend him, and not of their close ages. Maybe it was because he saw the King's young nephew certainly unable to stand against the perfidious schemes of his father, while hating the two Sons of Fëanor with all his heart. Strangely, Orodreth seemed to be the first at the Court to devise that Celegorm and Curufin's intentions were not that of the good of Finrod and himself, while all the other Lords were rather charmed by the brothers' polite manners and sweet words. Orodreth, on the contrary, had seemed to see through their smiles at first glance, and loathed them everafter.

Not that it made him less vulnerable to their machinations.

Celebrimbor, who had seen the young elf bite his lower lip each time one of the two brothers addressed him, or when he heard one other Lord jesting with them friendly, had immediately wanted to befriend him. At the time, he had been seeking an ally against his father, someone who could see through the handsome complexion and engaging smiles. He had thought they could maybe start a kind of opposition against the two brothers, and that the King's own nephew should be a worthy supporter indeed. So he went to him, and exposed his ideas clearly and precisely -after all, he was Curufin's son, and there might had been some quiproquo-, and waiting for the answer he was sure to be positive.

Well, guess what, he turned out to be completely wrong.

He found that, for one, if Orodreth detested Celegorm and Curufin, and was willing to oppose them, be it alone against the world -the blonde elf was still very, very young in his heart, Celebrimbor soon remarked with some surprise, and desperately held onto his ideals-, he was completely unable to do any kind of things having to do with politics and possessed entirely too much *heart* to lie with a straight face and act as someone unpersonal, which was, after all, one of the basic skills of the politician. He also found that he was not undergoing the most wonderful period of his life; after his defeat at Minas Tirith which everyone still reproached him, the almost simultaneous loss of both his father and his wife, his only daughter rapidly growing apart from him to spend more and more time with her fiancé, and the constant scorn of the Lords of Himlad, Orodreth was very near breakdown point, all the while occupied in artfully balancing himself between reality and nervous depression. After their very first meeting, Celebrimbor had immediately abandoned the idea -it was, he had to admit, a very vague idea; after all, he himself was not much older than the other- of forming a league with him, but had become totally engrossed in Orodreth's fascinating personality.

He had to admit his father was right on that point; the young Steward made a terribly incompetent leader and would probably just push the whole City to its ruins if left alone to direct it. But as a friend, Orodreth was just about everything Celebrimbor had ever imagined, never having had a real one before; he could listen, though the dark-haired elf spoke little, he could laugh and sing a little bit, he could take a jest or a mockery as easily as smoothly, only answering by a sarcasm of his own; he was willing to teach what he knew, and eager to learn what he didn't, and when it seized him he could speak with unleashed passion and utter faith in his ideas, though these, serious as they were, often made him want to smile. Sometimes, they sparred, but then Celebrimbor was almost sure to win. Neither having a great taste for hunting, during their rides together all they did was talk, sing loudly to enjoy the flutter of the birds' wings when they fled from their cacophony, and invent poems for everything they met, be it a squirrel or a rotten fruit their horses stepped on; then engage in the elaborate process of ridiculing each other's voice or verses, though both knew it was jest.

It was an unspoken contract between them not to talk of the schemes of the Court, though there the tongues were unleashed about the friendship between the two young princes of the House of Fëanor and Finarfin.

Then his father had to interfere. Maybe he did not even do it on purpose, but since the day Curufin nearly forced Finrod out of his own City, Orodreth suddenly happened to be always very busy and never have time to spend with his former best friend. Of course, Celebrimbor supposed it had to do with the additional chores of being the Steward when the King was absent -and very probably permanently absent-, but often he found the blonde elf just sitting there, staring at the air, completely lost in reverie; those fits could last for hours during which there was apparently nothing accomplished.

Maybe a little hurt in his feelings by this inattention, Celebrimbor had gradually ceased to seek the other's company.

And now.

He was sitting there, and he was standing there, and between them there were only a few steps to be taken yet a distance that maybe could never be crossed anymore.

Orodreth bent his head even further down, so that his loose hair was beginning in to get caught in the lively current.

Only a few steps, Celebrimbor told himself, only a few steps…

Then the younger elf seemed to break down completely, and fell forwards, letting the whole of his head and shoulders dangle in the water, while violent shivers shook his body.

Alarmed, Celebrimbor hesitated no more. In eight rapid strides he was at his friend's side; however then, he found that he could not think of any words of comfort. He had never been the one for that sort of things. He was always good at talking, saying things when they needed to be said, lying when it was necessary, turning ugly facts around with pretty words and phrases. Speaking the truth, he found, was a lot more difficult than telling lies. At the moment, he would have wanted to say something, nearly anything, but for the sake of his life could not find one suitable sentence to utter.

At a loss, he sat down near the shaking form as silently as he could, and slid one comforting arm around Orodreth's shoulders.

Unless he plans on drowning himself, he thought, there will have to be a moment when he'll have to come up again.

About a minute later, however, Celebrimbor began to grow worried, and gently pulled Orodreth's head out of the water. He could only see his mouth; the long blonde hair was drenched into a very compact plaster that clung to the upper part of his face. His breathing was heavy, and he was still shaking violently.

Still at a loss for what to say, but slightly frightened by his friend's state, Celebrimbor asked hesitantly "What do you seek in the stream?"

The answer came as no more than a whisper. "I don't know."

"A counsel, maybe?"

The visible mouth curled into a silent laugh.

"Finrod always came here to listen to Ulmo's counsels. But Ulmo does not speak to me. I am far too insignificant for that. I am not the golden prince, I am not Felagund, the wise Lord of the Halls, I am not the son of Finarfin… I do not see why Ulmo would address me…"

Celebrimbor tried to push the hair away from the other's face, but to no account; and continued being able to see only the mouth.

"I was reluctant to go away from Dorthonion at first. I was a little scared at the idea of finding myself among all these strangers, high Lords and noble princes, be the King my own uncle." He chuckled, suddenly, a weird sound thrown randomly in the context, but it was devoid of any kind of hilarity. "Father told me a lot about Finrod at those times. To tranquillise my fears, he said that Ingoldo was the gentlest of all his siblings, that he was kind and wise, though firm and severe when there was a reason for it. He said that he was often mischievous like a youngling himself, though the eldest of his brothers, and was though a little eccentric by some back then, mainly for his unjustifiable passion for anything that had to do with water. And then Father would laugh. He said that, for those who knew him well, they had always known that Finrod was more like a river himself than anything else. He disappeared, sometimes, just like that, and then he could always be found sitting by himself on a riverbank. Except for the day, he would add smiling to himself, when they found him sitting with Amarië in his lap. No one could beat him at racing, he said. Some said that it was just like he grew wings. Of course, among his family and close friends, it was more commonly believed that he flowed more than flew." He paused, and tried to regain an even breathing. "When I went to Tol Sirion, I found that most of what he said was true indeed. He had only forgotten to add that somewhere deep inside, Finrod was the saddest person I would ever meet on this face of the Earth." He shivered. "Just sad. Not disillusioned, not bitter, not hateful nor miserable. Just sad. Then I understood what they mean when they say suffering and tears only enhance beauty in its purest form. Only that he never cried. Or maybe he did, when he was all alone. Reckon he did? Really sounds like all streams go to the Sea, doesn't it…" Orodreth bit his lower lip. "All streams…"

Celebrimbor drew the younger elf closer to himself in his embrace.

"I'm sorry for Finrod, my friend. I'm sorry."

Then Orodreth laughed, a laugh somewhat reminiscent of his usual sarcasms.

"No you're not. You never knew him. You're sorry because you think I'm crying. You say you're sorry because you want me to think I have your compassion."

Startled by the cynical bitterness in his friend's voice, Celebrimbor asked warily "What do you mean?"

Unbothered, Orodreth went on.

"It is frightening to think how powerful Morgoth is, isn't it? Even the one who is only his servant managed to defeat one of the greatest among us. He defeated me, too. I have seen his shadow. Finrod had to die under that shadow. He fought it to the bitter end. I felt like the shadow itself would have killed me if I had stayed a second longer." He sighed, and suddenly stood, wrenching himself away from Celebrimbor's arm. With nervous strides, he paced back and forth on the riverbank, under the other elf's bemused gaze. "And even among us, the shadows live, sowing seeds of distrust and hatred between those who should be allies against it… I will not walk with the Sons of Fëanor again, never again, that I shan't… but who knows? Maybe one day there will be one ragged survivor of the war coming to knock on my door, and then he'll tell me 'Fool! If you had fought with us, then we might have overcome!' And then I know I will kill him, and then I'll kill myself. You know, if I had to commit suicide, I would drown."

Suddenly filled with unjustifiable fear and anger, Celebrimbor also shot up from his sitting position and cried "Do not speak like that! Why would you do such a thing?"

Only a short laugh answered him. He could see Orodreth's eyes now, and it did not please him all that much.

"Finrod always loved the streams, and of all the Vala Ulmo was his favourite who spoke to him in his dreams… For me he is silent… Tyelpe, when you sit by the riverside, do you hear the murmurs of the water, its crystal clear laughter? Do you hear the water sing?"

A sharp and pointed glance caught him straight in the eye, seemingly barging its way to the very core of his soul. Celebrimbor almost gulped from the unexpected intrusion. He had not even known Orodreth was able to do that… Supposedly the blonde elf had not known it either.

 Not really knowing what to make of it, he replied a little warily 'Yes…'

Orodreth's arms went up in the air in desperation. It had not, Celebrimbor reflected, been the right answer.

"I do not!" The son of Angrod was shouting. "I hear nothing! I hear the laughter, and to me it is but a laugh thrown in derision! I hear the babble, and to me it means nothing more than endless hours spent listening so hard I can't even perceive it anymore at the end! I hear it all, and to me it tells nothing! Nothing!"

Waiting for no answer, the young King went on; it was a possibility that he was even completely oblivious of the other's presence.

"I had to send him away, you know that! I had to swear that we would not waste our love to support them, nor any Sons of Fëanor, nor any of the people of the March! He made me do it, the spawn of Darkness! There was nothing like the scorn in his eyes; oh, that I could see what it meant, and it meant that I am nothing! I know this!" Gradually, his voice ascended, till Celebrimbor really believed he was on the brink of hysteria. "He just had to throw it in my face again and again! They all just had to look at me with that little expression of pity and disdain, but do you think I needed them to know? I knew! I have always known! Even you, when I talked to you sometimes you would look at me like that and I knew it was not entirely jest! I should never have been born what I am, I am a failure, a total failure! I should have been born a peasant, or an artisan -though I have no skills of hand; I am not like you-, never a royal prince…" He faltered, and stopped walking. "What have I brought my people? I ask you, what have I brought them? I was not even able to defend my own City against a pair of treacherous…" He spat, but could apparently not find an expression that would have been insulting enough. Or maybe, though Celebrimbor, that he just could not choose between all those that went through his head, and that was a more likely answer. "…persons only interested in powerlust…"

A flow of tears sprang from his eyes.

"Orodreth!"

Suddenly, the younger elf sunk to his knees and buried his face in his hands.

"Do not try to say otherwise, I know it is true…"

Hastily, Celebrimbor knelt by his side and pulled him into a fierce embrace.

"Orodreth! What did he *do* to you?"

"Who…"

"Curse my father, curse him to Mandos for eternity, what did he do to you?"

"You know I had to send him away, I could not do otherwise… For the City… For Finrod… I had to swear that oath against them…"

Celebrimbor was surprised. Orodreth was… literally bawling. What he was saying was also rather incoherent to his ears.

"By Aulë, my friend, who are you making apologies to? Me?"

Orodreth issued a short, dry laugh that resembled a sob. "Oh Valar… I guess I am making them to myself, am I not?"

"What did he do to you? You never were like that…" Pity began to creep into his heart, as much as Celebrimbor tried to shake it off.

"I always was, and you know that," Orodreth said with a weak smile. "only I had to keep it all inside myself and it just happens to become too heavy once in a while… I'm sorry, I'm still very young and stupid, you said it yourself."

Celebrimbor looked at him blankly.

"That was in jest."

The other one shrugged. "But it could not have been truer had it been said seriously."

A sigh escaped him. Lazily, he let go of Orodreth's shoulders, and laid himself down on the grass. Imitating his example, the blonde elf settled himself next to him.

"You can always talk to me, you know that."

Orodreth smiled, and stared at the sky.

"I know that. I will remember it."

"Don't you want to talk now?"

"No. I already did my amount of talking, didn't I? I think now it's your turn."

"I wasn't the one sitting on the riverbank and crying my eyes out."

"Tell me why you chose to stay with me and not go with your father."

"Too bad there are no clouds. We could have done some cloud-watching."

"That, my friend, was a very bad and obvious attempt at changing the subject."

Celebrimbor laughed, a little forcefully, and sighed immediately afterwards.

"Because you're my friend?"

With a curious look, Orodreth shifted his position to stare of the other elf's profile.

"You must have hated your father very much, didn't you?"

Celebrimbor held up a finger, so it looked like he was pointing to the sky. "You know, I have spent my whole life at his side. I know him. I think I know him."

"I would not have been able to bear that."

"You would have. It's just one thing one gets used to when one knows nothing else. Of course, when I came here and knew your friendship, I was not very eager to return to it."

Orodreth fell on his back again.

"Was it very horrible?"

Celebrimbor shrugged.

"Not that much. When I was young, he gave the impression that he cared about me. I never remembered anything about my mother. My earliest memories are those of Formenos, and the silence. I don't know why. I was still very young. A mere five years old. All I remember of Formenos was silence, and terrible shadows. These came when everyone was asleep.' He laughed shortly. 'You know how it was. Never night. Just light, brighter light, dimmer light. I was in the same room as my father, and I had nightmares every time. I would wake up and cry in my pillow. I was careful not to make a sound, but somehow, he always heard me, even when he seemed to be in deep slumber. My father apparently never was what he seemed to be, not even in sleep. He would always take me with him on his bed then -it was a very big bed, I remember; of course that is because I was very small- and he would cradle me in his arms, and talk to me. I tried not to budge then because I knew he was very tired, but still every time I cried he would wake up. He really seemed to be a normal father back then. Of course our lives at Formernos could not be considered very normal lives; as I told you, all I remember is silence and shadows. Not even songs; and with my uncle Maglor present, there should have been songs. I remember my grandfather a little bit. He didn't appear often, yet I know I feared him and that each time I heard his pace -one could always recognise his pace- I would try to run away or hide behind my father's legs. Then I grew up a little. My father and uncles always seemed to be very busy with something, though I didn't understand what, so I kept away. Bizarrely, I went to my great-grandfather Finwë, the High King. My father had taught me to read and to write, and Finwë read with me. It must have been a funny sight: Finwë, one of the Unbegotten, Highest Lord of the Deep Elves, and this little five years old child who was his great-grandson, sitting by his side, both bent over the same big, fat book. When I had too much difficulty, or was too tired, I laid on the bed, and he read to me. Then I would fall asleep, and the shadows would come no more."

He stopped, with a little smile tugging at the corner of his lips, and shook his head.

"I am bothering you with my memories. I am a boring person when I talk. I can't talk about this."

Because this is the truth, he added mentally, and being my father's son of course I would be much better at speaking lies.

Orodreth smiled, and pointed a finger to the older elf's chest, adopting a deep and important voice.

"As the newly appointed King of this realm, I order you to continue your story."

"But it is going to develop into the history of my life,' Celebrimbor wailed 'and we'll never have time for it!"

Orodreth threw him a glance.

"Tell me more about your father."

The older elf raised an eyebrow in surprise, but nevertheless went on.

"When we left Valinor, my father placed me in front of him on his great horse. Unlike other children, I never had a pony to myself, and learnt to ride only when I was old enough to hold myself on a real horse." He smiled again at the memory. "It was a young stallion who was not very happy about having an inexperienced rider on his back; but my father was firm about it and a good teacher; and I held on for my life." He laughed, and Orodreth was also drawn to laughing, though he shared not the memory. "I was sitting in front of him and he had one arm around my waist while holding the reins with the other; I never asked where we were going. But often he would bend down to me, and whisper into my ears; he said we were going to leave the night behind and find a new home somewhere else, in a place where we would be free at last. At the moment I didn't really understand what he meant by 'free'; I was thinking 'Free from what?'" He shrugged. "Now sometimes I think he was speaking according to the lines of his father, free from thralldom, from slavery; but then I wonder what thralldom he was really talking about. Not the one of with the Valar, I don't think so; not for him." He shut his eyes. "Why did you want to know about my father?"

Orodreth shifted uncomfortably.

"I'm sorry. It must be a painful subject for you."

"Oh no." Celebrimbor's voice hardened a tad. "I also need to know that I can speak about him that dispassionately. I am not under his dominion, not anymore. I've spent my whole life living with him, and a good part of it ignoring him just as he ignored me; you find that it helps grow a backbone somewhat. I only mean to say that he was not always like that; there was also a time when all he did was seek. Don't look at me like that; that's only what I felt. It was back in Formenos, I think, I don't truly know anymore. He paid attention back then. Of course he still does now, he still pays attention because he cannot afford not to, or one day someone will come up in his back and stab him dead; but I always felt that he was only looking for something. Especially since he was always that busy and I didn't get to see him much…" He laughed. "When I was young, I thought he was looking for a mother for him and me. Goes to show that being a precocious child, I wasn't that very smart in some matters indeed. I don't even have a memory of my mother. Maybe only a voice, and I don't know if it's hers or not." He paused for a second.

"Even after the Kinslaying, when he came back to me -surprisingly, he was not bloody at all, just drenched in salty water; I expect he took the time to take a bath in the Sea- he was still what he was before. For all I know, whatever happened happened at Losgar. We were watching the ships burn; there were only us, and my grandfather. Then I saw how really alike they were in looks, 'tis true my father is well-named. I didn't even dare raise my eyes as far as grandfather's chin, and buried my face in the folds of my father's tunic. He was caressing my hair, if I remember well. Whatever happened took place then. Or began to. When we set out on our horse again, he was different. He was smiling. It was a sad little smile, but I don't think he ever smiled like that before." He shivered. "When I was a youth he taught me all I know; and always allowed me into any library I could find on my way. He took me with him a lot in his travels; with him I met the Grey-Elves, and the dwarves, and from them we learnt together. He taught me to decrypt ancient manuscripts and understand foreign tongues, he taught me to shape the metal and stain the glass, he taught me in lore and science; I cannot say that he was not a good teacher. All that I am, I owe to him. However, after a while, he just took onto ignoring me completely, as much as he could for two persons who live under the same roof anyway. I never knew why."

A sigh escaped him. "Then I looked into a mirror, and maybe I understand now."

He stopped talking altogether, and stared at a passing cloud, lazily stretching itself on the otherwise perfect blue sky. Tentatively, the blonde elf took his hand in his in a gesture of comfort.

"That is not true" Orodreth said "You will never be like him."

A fleeting smile brushed past Celebrimbor's lips.

"Still won't tell me what he did to you?"

Orodreth's eyes turned vague, and his mouth drew into a thin line.

"No."

~

Author's note: O_o Talk about chapters who get lives of their own… I hope this answered everyone's questions. Many thanks to the Silmfics group for help and suggestions.

Ingoldo is Finrod's mother-name. It means 'the wise', or something like that.

Curufin's full name is Curufinwë Atarinke. Curufinwë is Fëanor's father-name, and Atarinke is Curufin's mother-name, meaning 'little-father' as in 'the one that resembles his father'. That is why Celebrimbor says his father is well-named.