Work Header

Sore Subject

Chapter Text

Niënor’s brother had grown high and mighty indeed since the last news they had of him. Word had reached Doriath that Túrin was a great general now, the Mormegil of Nargothrond, but even Morwen, who raised her children to recall at all times that they were heirs to two great houses, was surprised by the power her son wielded in his adopted city. Nargothrond, it seemed, could hardly do without him: the king needed him, the army needed him, and even the unlooked-for arrival of his mother and sister could not draw him from his duties for long.

Niënor found him a little disappointing. It was not that Túrin was proud—he was—but that talking to him was like trying to get over a stone wall: every now and then you would come to a stile, but move a little to the left or right, ask a question he did not care to answer, and he was solid rock.

He got that from Morwen, along with his looks. Niënor knew from long experience where the gaps in her mother’s wall were, and were not, but with her brother she had to resort to guesswork. On his fostering in Doriath he had little to say, except that it had been long ago and he did not remember it well; of his time in the wilderness he had nothing to say at all.


“You must come and see me if you need anything,” Finduilas had told them when they first arrived. She was the king’s daughter, officially their hostess, and applying herself doggedly to their entertainment. Morwen and Niënor were invited to dine, to hear music, to meet prominent residents of the city, and, day after day, to join her for sewing and conversation.

Finduilas wore green silk dresses that rustled when she moved and, with the limp yellow curls framing her face, made her look like a wilting buttercup. She told them, folding her hands and smiling sympathetically, that she herself was a newcomer to the city, having lived there scarcely forty years. She had been born and spent much of her life in her grandfather’s fortress in Dorthonion--not far, surely, from where the Lady Morwen herself had been born.

Niënor would have liked to hear more, but Morwen was not interested in trading memories of her lost homeland. She made little effort to return Finduilas’ friendliness, and was sometimes so curt that Niënor feared Finduilas would take offense. But if she did she never showed it, and she kept inviting them back.

What Morwen was interested in was meeting the person who had brought news of her husband’s fate out of Angband. The first time she brought it up, Túrin scowled and said, “Gwindor? You need not bother. You already know all he has to tell.”

When she persisted, he produced a vague assurance that he would try to arrange an introduction. Morwen seemed content to let things stand there, and Túrin seemed to believe that she was. But Niënor could see there was trouble brewing. She remembered the scene in the throne room at Menegroth last month, when the scouts’ reports corroborated the rumors concerning the Mormegil that had been trickling in all winter. Morwen had demanded a horse and escort, immediately; King Thingol had promised to send messengers with inquiries but urged caution. “After all,” he had said, “I correspond with my nephew. It would be strange indeed if this were true and he had said nothing.” Morwen had listened calmly, thanked the king for his services to her family, and set out before dawn on foot, alone. 

“Did you know she was going to do this?” Captain Mablung had demanded of Niënor a few hours later, when her mother’s absence was discovered. She could not have gotten far, and her path was not hard to guess. Mablung was already in his riding gear. None of it quelled the terror rising up from the pit of her stomach. Niënor had wrapped her arms around herself and looked him in the eye. “If I had, do you think I would still be here?”

What their mother would do this time Niënor could not begin to guess at, but it was clear Túrin was in for an unpleasant surprise. So he had had some falling out with Gwindor which he did not care to discuss; well, he was not the only person in the city who could arrange an introduction. Morwen would not stoop to ask for favors but Niënor, on her behalf, could be more flexible.


Finduilas took a long time to look up from her needlework, long enough for Niënor to realize she had made a mistake. Then she raised her head with a jerk that set her hair ornaments jingling. She was smiling, but her eyes were wide and hostile. “Yes, I know Gwindor,” she said lightly. “But I can’t arrange an introduction, I’m afraid. You will have to ask someone else.”

She made some further remark, which Niënor did not hear, and disappeared into the inner room. Niënor was left to stand foolishly in front of the vacant chair, trying to work out what she ought to apologize for. 

Finduilas’ attendants took pity on her. The one with silver hair whose name Niënor had forgotten said, delicately, “The princess was until recently betrothed to Lord Gwindor. Were you...not aware?”

In hushed voices they told her what they knew, which was not much, and what they had heard, which was inventively scurrilous. They were firm partisans of Finduilas and believed that if Lord Gwindor possessed either decency or good sense he would have released her from the engagement immediately on his return, but both she and the Mormegil had more generous natures than they, and would not hear ill spoken against their former friend. It was a sore subject. They begged Niënor not to bring it up again.

“No fear,” Niënor muttered. Her manners might be rustic, but she was hardly going to badger the princess about her disreputable ex-fiancé. So much for helping Túrin. She made her excuses and slunk back to her rooms.


“Keep slamming your foot down like that,” Morwen said, “and you’ll break it. It’s a spinning wheel, not a bellows.”

Niënor lifted her foot guiltily off the treadle. They were in the small solar which connected their bedrooms and which opened, through a row of tall glass windows, onto one of the upper terraces.  A few hours working silently in her mother’s company had restored some of Niënor’s equanimity, but her mind kept drifting back to the look on Finduilas’ face. Why, why, why hadn’t she kept quiet and let her brother make his own mistakes? He, after all, had not seen fit to warn her about the broken betrothal, though he must have known about it. What other popular scandals, she wondered bitterly, had he left for his mother and sister to stumble into unawares?  

Morwen turned back to her loom. Niënor spun halfheartedly for a few minutes, then said carefully, “Did you know the princess used to be engaged to that Gwindor fellow?”

“Yes,” said Morwen, without looking up.

That took the wind out of Niënor. What, did everyone but her know? “Oh,” she said. “That’s well, then. I thought you might not. It’s interesting, is all.”

“I daresay it is,” Morwen said. “And it reminds me: we’re to dine with the court tomorrow. Is your blue dress fit to wear, or is there still mustard on the sleeve?”

“The laundry got the mustard out,” Niënor said faintly, feeling her stomach sink at the prospect of sharing a table with Finduilas. She thought longingly of Doriath, where no one minded if you went off and sat in a tree until you felt fit for civil company. Here, you needed a dispensation to walk out the front doors, and there was no escaping the relentless royal hospitality.


Túrin kept rooms near the king’s own, but he joined his mother and sister in theirs whenever he could. When he arrived to dine with them, he looked so grim in his big black cape that Niënor thought for an awful moment that he had heard what she had asked Finduilas. But when he caught Morwen’s eye his expression lightened a little and he came over to the loom to kiss her on the cheek. “It does me good to see you both,” he said, turning to offer the same to Niënor. “I hope your day has been less trying than mine.”

The food put Túrin in a better temper, and he began to complain good-naturedly: “The folk here are very good, but they have no sense of urgency,” he said. “I say, ‘do so;’ they say, ‘we shall, in good season.’”

He had, it seemed, a proposal to put before the king, and wished to bolster his case with a demonstration that it could be done, and how. The latter was the source of his present frustration: the engineers, architects, and master masons he had consulted had promised him plans and models, but the plans were still being argued over, the models sat half-finished on someone’s workbench, and he could not persuade any of them that next year was not much the same as next week.

“I see you have been much occupied,” Morwen said. “Will you have time soon, do you think, to introduce me to Gwindor, or should I also expect to wait until next year?”

Túrin choked on his wine and began to cough. “Beg pardon,” he rasped, and cleared his throat. “Yes. Gwindor. He may not...I will do what I can, Mother.”

“See that you do,” she said. “I am eager to speak with him.”

Túrin nodded, looking unhappy. It serves him right, Niënor thought. Then he brightened. “There is another pledge I can make good on,” he told them. “I told you when you came here that I would show you the lands around the city when the weather improved. I have an errand in the Faroth tomorrow . Will the two of you come? It is quite safe.”

“Yes, I want to go,” Niënor said quickly, before Túrin could change his mind. She still felt cross with him, but not so much that she would pass up the prospect of an adventure outside the city. And better yet, she would not have to face Finduilas just yet. 

“Tomorrow the king has asked us to dine,” Morwen said. Niënor caught herself grimacing and tried to rearrange her face into a neutral expression. “I will stay here. I have climbed enough hills for one life. But,” she added, glancing briefly at Niënor, “you should take your sister.”