The rain hissed against the canopy and beaded at the edges of the leaves, gathering in pendulous drops that grew fatter and heavier, until they could cling on no longer and spattered onto Celebrimbor's upturned face.
“I thought I might find you here.”
He squeezed his eyes shut, hot tears stinging as they caught in his lashes. He had no desire for company.
“May I sit?”
Damn you, Orodreth, he thought. He could not refuse a King in his own realm, and well his cousin knew it. “If you wish.” With a dart of venom, he added, “Your Majesty.”
Lightning forked through the sky and sent shadows skittering across the clearing. “I did not ask to be made King, Celebrimbor.”
And I did not ask you to come out in the rain looking for me. Celebrimbor wrapped his arms around his waist and gripped his elbows so tightly that his knuckle bones felt they would pop out through the chilled skin.
Thunder rolled and echoed around them like the crumbling of a mountain. In the hush that followed, Orodreth asked, “Will you not at least look at me?”
Reluctantly, Celebrimbor brushed the tears from his eyes and turned to face his kinsman.
Orodreth had settled himself on the curved stone bench at the edge of the clearing. He wore no cloak; his lilac robes were soaked, and his unruly dark gold curls were plastered to his scalp. The strange half-light of the storm smudged and softened the lines of his face – oddly square for an Elf, but with its own placid beauty – and raindrops rolled down his cheeks and neck.
“I was never trained for it,” Orodreth continued, as though he had not had to ask for Celebrimbor's attention. They might have been sipping a hot tisane together in Finrod's study. That needled Celebrimbor; what right had his cousin to be so calm, when the world was falling around their ears? “Nobody ever dreamed that I would wear a crown – my father was not a King, after all, and my grandfather would not have been one save for unhappy chance.”
“Your grandfather is no King,” Celebrimbor spat. “Finarfin is a coward who would rather crawl and hide behind the skirts of the Valar than fight to reclaim his family's bloodright!”
Orodreth's face was impassive. “I do not think you believe that – at least, you would not have spoken so in front of Finrod.”
“What does that matter? He is dead!” Celebrimbor knew the natural rejoinder to this - yes, dead because of your father - and waited for it, head held proud, defiant.
His kinsman shrugged. “As you say.”
His anger seeped away like water from a broken dam, and he pushed his sodden hair back from his face. “Why did you come looking for me, Orodreth? What do you want?”
The lightning flashed again, softer this time, and Orodreth gave a curious half-smile. “Your father was right to call me a dullard. I have none of the gifts of our family. I am no scholar, no linguist, no musician, no craftsman, no soldier.” The thunder growled as though in agreement. “And yet Finrod is dead and here I sit, heir to the scraps and tatters of his kingdom.”
Celebrimbor arched a single eyebrow. “I assume there is a purpose to all this self-pity.”
Amusement flashed briefly in the blue eyes. “Naturally. I want your friendship, Celebrimbor, and your loyalty – and, if you will give it, your help.”
“You drive my father from your hall as a beggar, and then the same day you come to me for help?” He gave a humourless laugh. “You ask much.”
“Think you I could have let him stay?” For the first time Orodreth's voice sharpened. “When he and Celegorm killed Finrod as surely as if they'd slit his throat while he slept?”
“Lies!” Celebrimbor flashed back, fury flaring in him again. “What of that man, Beren, who came crawling to Nargothrond for aid in his foolish, hopeless quest? Or do you lay no blame at his door?”
“His quest may not have been so hopeless had your family helped Finrod, instead of turning his people against him – people I now must rule!” Orodreth stared out over the river Narog, its surface shivering with rings of overlapping ripples, and the great round stones that hid the entrance to the caverns. “They whisper and seethe and crawl over one another like vipers in a nest...do you think I do not know what they say of me?” he said softly. “It makes your father's parting words to me look kind.” He looked back at Celebrimbor, eyes thoughtful. “You agree with me, at least in part, or you would not still be here.”
“Do not assume that you know my thoughts!” The taut band of grief inside him snapped. “That is yet another of our gifts you do not possess.”
Hurt and surprise flashed across Orodreth's gentle face.
“Ai, cousin.” The cruel impulse faded as rapidly as his anger had risen only moments ago. “That was unworthy. Forgive me.” He smiled bitterly. “Perhaps I am not so unlike my father after all.”
“You could have gone with him. He wanted you to, and no-one would have hindered your departure.”
“You mean they would have been glad to see me go.” Celebrimbor shook his head. “No. Finrod, Beren, my father...I am not fool enough to join their ranks, and bind myself to an oath that cannot be fulfilled. And...” Grey fingers of grief plucked at his heart again. “I believe Beren was wrong to ask what he did, but I will not deny my father's part in our kinsman's death. I could not follow him after that.”
“You were brave to denounce his deeds.”
“It was not bravery – the very opposite.” The rain was easing now; Celebrimbor breathed in the newly-washed smell of the earth, and he too turned his gaze to Nargothrond. “Can you not understand? My father and Celegorm loved Finrod – Celegorm especially,” he added, thinking of their gold and silver heads, riding proudly in the lead of a hunt, or the two of them sprawled in front of the great fire in the library, a bottle of wine open at their side, each of them scratching one of Huan's ears. “After the Bragollach, and Aglon, and the flight, we were all grateful to be here; we would have died for Finrod had he given the word. And still when the Oath woke, it drove them to betray him.” He swallowed the ache that rose in his throat. “Orodreth, you saw them together in the West; would you have believed then that they would do anything to harm their family?”
Orodreth hesitated. “Morgoth's lies had already taken hold by the time I was old enough for family politics – but I knew Finrod admired Celegorm even then.” He smiled. “My father, I think, was a little jealous – although he loved his cousins too. Maedhros most of all, though of course he always spent most of his time with Fingon.” A warm, familiar light flared in his face, and his voice seemed to come from a great distance. “Even then, when they still kept the laws of Valinor, there was never anyone for either of them but each other.”
“You know about them?” Celebrimbor turned back to him in surprise.
“Of course.” Orodreth's smile grew mischievous. “I am not quite such a dullard as your father made me out to be.”
Celebrimbor's lips quirked into a ghost of a smile. “Then you understand. All that love, and yet beside the Oath it was as nothing.”
“Maedhros was true to Fingon, even at Losgar -”
“But my father and his brothers were not, and even Maedhros could not stop my grandfather from burning the ships!” The words were bitter as ash in his mouth. “How can we say who it will claim next? Celegorm betrayed his best friend; Fëanor betrayed his own brother; might Curufin not, in time, betray his son?”
Orodreth's smile faded. He crossed the clearing to stand beside his kinsman and reached out a hand to him, hesitantly, as though expecting to be pushed away. “I wish I could tell you that such a thing is impossible.”
“I would not want you to lie.” Exhaustion washed through his limbs, and suddenly he longed to return to the hall, to the blazing fires and chattering crowds and bowls of hot spiced wine. He reached back and gripped the outstretched arm. “For some time, I have known that it is not.” He gave an empty laugh. “I stayed behind because I am afraid of my own father.”
“Please, cousin. Say nothing.” Nothing will help.
Gently, Orodreth drew him close. Celebrimbor leaned into the embrace, his kinsman's wet, tangled hair tickling his cheek.
“I will say only this,” his cousin murmured. “You are not your father, and his fate need not be yours.” He lifted Celebrimbor's chin so their gazes met. “You are loved by many in Nargothrond, cousin, whatever you may think; you have all the blazing fire of your house, and yet so little of its darkness. I would count your support a great gift in the days to come.”
Celebrimbor looked into the blue eyes for a long moment, and then nodded, slowly. “You have ever been a friend to me, Orodreth – and I have not always deserved it. I would repay that now, if I can.”
Orodreth brushed his fingers across Celebrimbor's cheek, then bent and kissed his forehead. His lips were warm against the cool, damp skin. Their breath rose and fell together as the last traces of thunder crept away down the valley, and the yellow-grey of the storm faded into the starlit blue of evening.
In my 'verse Orodreth is Angrod's son, not his brother, which makes him second cousin to Celebrimbor.
The title is taken from Pablo Neruda's poem of the same name.
The title is taken from Pablo Neruda's poem of the same name.
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