They arrive at the fortress in the late afternoon and are already installed in one of the guest suites on the second floor when Maedhros notices that his gift for Finrod has been left behind in one of the saddle bags. As he is not in the mood to listen to a round of apologies and justifications from the two people who might have been expected to remember to bring it—and probably each thought that the other had done so—he decides to nip unobtrusively down to the stables and fetch it himself. A number of visits have made him familiar with the place; he takes a shortcut down the back stairs and finds himself in the courtyard.
The courtyard, it turns out, is in turmoil, for by coincidence Angrod and Orodreth both arrived almost immediately after him and their respective retinues have somehow got themselves entangled. There is a lot of noise and fuss, mostly good-humoured, as they try to sort themselves out. And so for once an over-tall, flame-haired, crippled Feanorion goes completely unnoticed as he slips around the edge of the crowd and heads for the stable door.
This section of the stables is unlit and nearly empty of elves or Edain. Most of the grooms and stable hands are among the crowd milling around out in the courtyard, trying to assist and adding to the confusion. Maedhros succeeds in tracking down his horse unaided and gives his mare a little pat in apology for disturbing her well-earned rest. He also manages to locate the saddle and, near it, the saddle bag hanging from a hook, un-emptied.
The buckles are stiff and do not yield to the fingers of a single hand. Quickly, Maedhros checks his surroundings but there is no gawking stable hand in the vicinity that might observe him behaving in an un-princely fashion. Then he ducks and skilfully applies his teeth. Moments later, he emerges from the stall, cloth-wrapped gift in hand, and makes his way back to the stable door.
Out there, things have sorted themselves out surprisingly quickly after all. The courtyard is much emptier now. It is also darker: suddenly it is dusk, the blue hour. As Maedhros halts for a moment in the shadowy doorway, waiting for his eyes to adjust, the postern gate on the far side of the yard opens—and the one relative appears whose exact whereabouts he had not yet managed to find out, although he was listening hard for any hints or casual comments. Now he lives here officially all the time, it seems, Fingon’s absence or presence offers much less fodder for gossip.
Fingon, having clearly just come up the footpath from the town, steps through the gate and lets it fall shut behind him. He casts a swift look around the courtyard. Then Maedhros sees him approach Berion, the captain of the guard, and speak to him. He seems to be asking him a question.
Maedhros has been worrying about Fingon’s position in Barad Eithel. He knows that his cousin’s relationship with his father is not always an easy one and, as he has now handed over his domain of Dor-lomin to Hador, there is no longer a place of his own Fingon can withdraw to when the shadow of Fingolfin’s displeasure falls on him. This is not the kind of issue Fingon would ever address in a letter, though; indeed, anything remotely implying criticism of Fingolfin is a subject completely out of bounds between the two cousins. So Maedhros watches the conversation intently and, although he cannot hear a word, it warms his heart to see that the captain’s attitude towards Fingon betrays both respect and affection and that Fingon looks completely at ease with him. So much, at least, is well then.
The conversation ends. Fingon smiles brightly, thanking Berion, and leaps up the stairs to the main hall, taking two steps at a time, braids flying. Fingon’s natural mode is the forward rush, Maedhros thinks fondly, although his cousin is perfectly capable of moving in a stately manner dignified enough to satisfy any amount of protocol when he chooses. Maedhros leans against the door post for a moment and allows himself to savour the reassuring knowledge that his cousin is all right, that nothing has happened to take the spring out of his step.
To his surprise, the door to the main hall opens and there is Fingon once more, quickly descending the stairs again. He seems—not worried, exactly, but very much in earnest and is soon talking to the Berion with a certain urgency that translates into the gestures of their arms and hands. The captain summons his guards from nearby and they speed off in several directions, Maedhros notes, all clearly equally eager to satisfy Fingon’s wishes, whatever they may be.
A certain melancholy begins to assail him as he watches all that bustling activity across the yard revolve around his cousin. Suddenly, he cannot help thinking that in all the time since his deliverance from Angband he has never in truth been more than a kind of ghost, only half alive and doomed to look on as others live their lives—true lives, the genuine kind—apart from him. The distance across the courtyard seems symbolic and—in the rapidly gathering dusk—immense.
Self-pitying nonsense, he reproves himself. If he were truly a ghost, he would have time to hang around in doorways admiring his cousin from afar indefinitely. As it is, his discreet little expedition has taken much longer than planned and, over there on the second floor, his people have probably meanwhile noticed that they have mislaid their prince. If he doesn’t hurry up, they might get into a tizzy and start hunting for him.
He detaches himself from the doorpost and starts walking back, straight across towards Fingon and the stairs. There is a startled exclamation on his left, as somebody spots him. People’s heads whip around, and suddenly everyone is staring. Fingon interrupts his discussion with Berion and peers over his shoulder at Maedhros.
‘There you are!’, Maedhros’s cousin calls out, in his warm, clear voice. ‘I hurried up from the town as soon as I heard you had arrived but, when I got here, nobody seemed to know where you were. We have been looking all over for you!’