Fingon sits up. Around him, there are small noises, sleepy stirrings, as their encamped escort comes awake. The rim of the rising sun is barely visible through a gap between two hills.
Another day of travel and discretion lies ahead. Fingon looks across at Maedhros, who has made no sound. His cousin lies close at hand—although much too far away, of course—and his face is clearly visible. His eyes are open, his expression calm, as he returns Fingon’s look without turning or lifting his head.
Did you dream again last night?—Don’t ask, Findekano.
Fingon gives a small nod and receives a small smile in return. He gets up, stretches, feeling his cousin’s eyes on him, and walks a short distance downstream to wash. Cold water can only do him good, he feels, in view of the nature of his own dreams… or, indeed, his waking thoughts!
Returning, he is waylaid, inevitably, by people asking for instructions about breakfast, the day’s schedule, messages to be sent. By virtue of their current location, it is he who is the host, even if the hostelry is merely a small pleasant clearing among low bushes by a stream. When he finally makes his way back to his cousin, his guest, he finds Maedhros is almost ready. His page, behind him, is reaching out to tidy his hair…
It is all customary routine but, at the sight, Fingon lets out an almost involuntary protest: ‘Let me do that for you today!’
Maedhros gives him a quick glance—not a warning one, he’s too careful to imply a warning is needed.
‘Are you plotting another braiding session, cousin?’ he asks, smiling. ‘I swear last time those braids were so intricate I could have served as a prize exhibit at a rope-makers’ tradeshow! As you wish. Do your worst! But mind you don’t weave in any of your glitter—I draw the line at that, on a day like this!’
He gestures rather carelessly at the surrounding bushes and the pastures further down the road, indicating a lack of interest in stunning the cattle of Dor-lomin and the odd Adan they might meet today with his splendour—or their own guards.
‘Just for that,’ says Fingon, ‘I’ll weave in a pound of fishing-line and an anchor-chain.’ His imagination is tending toward the nautical at the moment—one of the messages to be sent tangentially involved Cirdan and the captain-governor of Eglarest.
He plucks the brush out of the page’s hand and inches him out of the way, kneeling down behind his cousin’s back. A series of careful brush strokes—then he lays the brush aside and, sliding his fingers gently in among the shimmering red strands, he gathers them and begins to braid them together. There was no need for Maedhros to warn him—he works quickly and efficiently and does not linger over the task. Four slender braids to the left, four to the right, worked together into a patterned knot at the back—not all that intricate, in fact, although a less severe style than his cousin usually wears, to be sure… He even resists the urge to smooth the free-flowing tresses down over his cousin’s shoulders—but not the temptation to kneel there for a moment longer pretending to study his handiwork, savouring this moment of permitted closeness.
‘All done’, he says, finally.
‘All done, already? Even the anchor-chain?’ asks Maedhros, turning around. For a fraction of a second, their faces are almost close enough for a kiss; then they simultaneously draw apart and get to their feet.
‘Thank you very much, cousin. I’m confident it is perfection, as usual.’
Soon after, their troop is on the road again, heading towards Nen Lalaith—Fingon and Maedhros side by side, keeping a decorous distance from each other, but moving in almost unconscious harmony. Another day of travel and discretion lies ahead. They will remember these days as days of near-perfect bliss in each other’s company—afterwards.