Actions

Work Header

smoke, like memories

Work Text:

Justice, Grandfather Finwe used to say, is a curious concept. You will feel a very righteous rush when you expound its goods to others; you will like it somewhat less when it is visited upon yourself.

One of the most unfair things about Grandfather’s death—indeed, about any death, but particularly his—was that he was not there to offer comfort for it. Fingon was no poet, and he didn’t want Maglor’s poetry, then, but he felt that the proper voice was needed to supply healing and courage.

Death required a man who had seen war and peacetime both. Fingon wept into his coat collar, into his bed-linens, into the tangled net of rosary beads he pressed against his eyes.

No one could heal him, he was certain, until he saw Maedhros in broken genuflection, needing healing more than anyone else.

 

They have been traveling a week, no more. Fingon is restless; content only in his daydreams.

“I wonder,” Aredhel says, around a mouthful of roast chicken—for they are at an inn this evening—“If they are even married. I have never seen married people behave like that.”

Just out of earshot, Turgon and Elenwe are seated so close together that her sprigged calico skirt might almost be his. Fingon could laugh at the image—would laugh at the image, if Maedhros were here—but now he finds himself swallowing his food with difficulty. 

“Don’t make such insinuations,” he chides his sister, out of habit, though keeping his voice as low as hers had been. His father and mother eat solemnly, without speaking very much, except to those of their old house who accompany and dine with them. Fingon thinks that their respective brows seem to grow more creased by the minute, whenever Turgon and Elenwe are near.

Fingon is suddenly, irrationally furious at the sheer number of miles, of hours and days, that separate them from Ulmo’s Bridge. He believed, before they set out, that this would be more than an opportunity for reconciliation between the opposed sides of Grandfather Finwe’s house. Ought not it also serve as an opportunity for him to better understand what makes his taciturn brother tick like the grim metronome he is?

Instead, the metronome is dashed: here is Turgon, unpredictable for perhaps the first time in his observable life. Married, practically fondling his new bride, and never a word on the subject to Fingon before or—

You are being unjust, cautions Grandfather Finwe’s memory. It isn’t much of a comfort at all.

 

“I wish we had brought a priest with us,” Fingon says to Finrod, later that evening. He says it when they are washing up, because (absent Turgon, who is dawdling by Elenwe’s side) they are afforded a little more privacy at the pump behind the inn. There are only a few strangers across the yard, similarly occupied with ablutions. “For confessions.” This seems like a dark enough admission in itself; to openly seek absolution, with no explanation of one’s sins.  

Finrod regards him critically through his dripping hair. “You wanted to be a priest, at one time.”

“I did. But I…” Fingon scrubs behind his ears. “That all changed.”

“We shall attend Mass at the nearest church, which we may reach before the week is out,” Finrod reassures him. “You know I haven’t the same…well, the same need, but—” He stops short, eyes widening with surprise and just a hint of glee.

Fingon snatches for a shirt to cover himself, and his shoulder, too late. He had forgotten. 

“That’s an anchor, isn’t it?” Finrod prods at the blue-inked skin with his finger. “A sailor’s anchor.”

“Oh,” Fingon says, blushing. “Yes. Only—don’t mention it to Father. He’s had enough shocks, lately.”

“Ah. But here now, I’ve seen its twin.” Finrod’s smile is a shade wryer than Uncle Finarfin’s smiles ever are. “Whose idea was it, yours or his?”

“Mine.” Fingon is a little proud, and since Finrod already knows, there is no harm in telling the tale. “Well, he was the one who took me round the docks, and he was the one who met the sea-captain…Maitimo could get on with anyone, you know, and he wanted me to hear a good story…”

“And did you?”

“Yes. The captain took a real shine to Maitimo, and we learned a great deal over cards. He had sailed during two wars, and maybe had been a pirate—but he had saved so many people, also. He’d looked after his own men very well. After that, I thought I would give anything to be a ship’s doctor. Perhaps I would still.” He feels a little shy, having just been reminded that he once falsely believed himself resigned to God’s service, but he forges forward. “Perhaps we’ll sail beyond the west, if we collect enough gold. We could—why, we could sail all the way to China, Finrod.”

Finrod chuckles, shivering his way out of the cold pump water and into his clothes. His hair straggles over his shoulders, kinked finely where the braids were. “At Formenos, once, we tried to dig there.”

“Yes, and then Uncle Feanor said we were all little fools.” Fingon reminds him ruefully. He always felt ashamed when he gave Uncle Feanor opportunities to denigrate his intelligence. At first, it felt like a double failing—for himself and for Father—but later, when he felt that Uncle Feanor could and should be a sight more pleasant to the rest of the family, it seemed a stinging defeat.

 

(Don’t, Fingon had cried out, frightened as he never was before or after, for his father’s life—but Maedhros held him back.)

 

“Alright.” Finrod has finished dressing, but he does not move to return to their humble quarters at the inn. “You’ve perked up like a watered flower now, but earlier, you were as sour as turned milk. What’s troubling you?”

“I didn’t mean to be sour. I’m sorry.” Finrod’s steady presence is a reminder: there are a few former servants and a number of others, traveling alongside them, but Finrod and Fingon are the men of the family here, beside Father. Men who have seen both life and death, in their respective journeys or sought-after professions, and loneliness should make no dint in their resolve.

In their usefulness.

“I know you didn’t. And you cause no trouble, cousin.” Finrod claps him lightly on the back. “I only wish to understand what the matter is.”

Fingon begs off. He is penitent, in the face of Finrod’s generosity, and at the thought of Maedhros’s opinion, ever-near…even after all the heartbreak of the past two years.

 

It is two weeks more, before he confides in Finrod fully. Their camp is amidst wilderness, now, not in any village or hamlet.

The two of them are seated beside the fire.  The hungry tongues of flame illuminate the panels of the carriage ten yards off. Mother and Argon sleep inside the carriage, for both are a little sensitive to night air.

Aredhel and Artanis, whose presence is only lately revealed, will make their beds beneath it. Turgon and Elenwe share their carriage, the other families are huddled around two more. Father and Finrod and Fingon take watches by turns,  tonight, and guard the supply wagon as they sleep.

The letter that Fingon began to Maedhros today reads, Dear Maitimo, We are nearing the halfway point of our road to Ulmo’s Bridge. I count the days until we can join you. Finrod and I have had what adventures we can, but it isn’t the same without you.

He has read the words a dozen times, fearing that they sound too eager and childish. Of course, Doctor Olorin used to say that it didn’t matter if a man took pleasure in simple things. In fact, he said, a man shouldn’t worry too much over his words—

For you will not have to, if you only speak of what you know.

“I am vexed at Turgon,” he says, in a low voice. There, he knows this. He knows that he has felt anger before, and has disliked—always—how much it feels like pain. After—after that dreadful summer, when Maedhros and he believed that they could mend their own connection with no reference to their fathers’…

He let himself be almost angry, then.

For all that Turgon is Turgon, this is somewhat the same sort of pain.

“Indeed,” Finrod says, looking up from where he sharpens his hunting knives. “I had guessed.”

“Oh. I suppose that is fair enough. I…I know that I haven’t been a good brother to him, Finrod. Not like you have been to Artanis, or Maitimo has been to his brothers.”

“You’re very hard on yourself. Is that because the rest of us are so very fond of you?”

Fingon is glad that the fire casts its warm on them as well as its light. It doesn’t do for a doctor and soon-to-be adventurer, to blush so continually. “I wish he had told me. That he fancied a girl. That he saw his way to marrying her. I wish that he had—Maglor or even Celegorm would have told Maitimo, you know?”

Finrod doesn’t answer. Fingon is thinking of the way that Turgon clung to Elenwe’s hand awkwardly yet stubbornly, on that first day. It was as if the newness of their love was no reason to concede that it might not stand on firm ground.

Fingon felt, then, that he was a coward. When had he leapt? When has he ever leapt?

But Turgon is being a fool!

When Finrod speaks, at last, his words are not at all what Fingon expects. He asks, “Did Maedhros ever tell his brothers about Esther?”

 

Promise me you’ll forget me—this. You’ll forget this. Maedhros, as close as he could come to ugliness, with rank breath and red eyes, his sick staining Fingon’s clothes as well as his own. Please.

He sobbed. He shook. He was as Maitimo never should be—no matter what his pain.

Fingon, who wished to be a doctor, could neither shake nor sob. He said, I promise.

 

“No,” he answers. “I do not think he really did.”

“I feel much as you do with Turgon,” Finrod says. He is speaking carefully, Fingon realizes, as if he chooses his words like something groped for in the dark. “I went away, and…I returned to a great many changes, Fingon.”

“I never went away,” Fingon whispers.

“I know you didn’t.” Finrod shifts. “Never mind. I do not think that our future is a short one. I mean, even this journey shall take us months. You will have many an hour to spend in Turgon’s company. If you are willing and eager to know him better—despite his recent foibles, such as you see them—I think you will find what you are looking for.”

“Thank you.” He feels he must say something further. Must make some overture, some promise. “You’re not a stranger here, Finrod. Father trusts you more than he does me. And—”

“Nonsense. My travels have given him maps and some guidance. That is all. One thing I learned, Fingon, is that we can’t make gods of ourselves. Or of anyone else.”

Fingon could ask what he means by this, but he doesn’t.

 

Dear Maedhros,

I shall post this letter ahead to Ulmo’s Bridge, which you shall reach before we do. The road had been long, but not too hard. I trust that you and all your family have braved it ably, and in good health. There is not much time for writing, but I have no doubt we shall tell each whatever is worth hearing when next we meet.

 

Fingon sets the pen down. Their camp is stirring; his lone, final watch is all but over. He shall have to add to this letter as he goes, and find words that do not seem too eager, or too proud.

 

“He gave this to me for safekeeping,” he says, instead of asking Finrod’s meaning. In his hand is the eight-pointed star, delicate as only their half-uncle could make it.

“That is Maedhros’s pocketwatch.” Finrod’s tone breaks a little in surprise.

“Yes, it is.” Fingon has never had a reason to envy Maedhros’s fine things—he has a pocketwatch, too, which his father selected with especial care. Grandmother Indis gave both of them fountain pens, one Christmas. Fingon used his more than his cousin, but still:

It is Maedhros who makes what is valued, precious; Maedhros who can make men into gods.

“It was a difficult time,” Fingon explains, in his best attempt at Father’s steady voice. “Those years you were away. None of us had a fair lot, I’d say. But now…” And he curls his fingers gently around the spikes of the star, replacing it in his pocket. “I do believe we’ll have justice, Finrod.”

 

He does not know how he came to be the one teaching the lesson, here. He knows not of what he speaks.