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“Good evening, brother’s son.”

The voice came from directly behind him and for a moment Orodreth thought he was losing his mind: he hadn’t heard that voice nor seen its owner in decades. He turned slowly, half expecting empty space, but no, she was there, convincingly solid and wrapped in a mist grey cloak, her head covered. He would have picked her out in a crowd by her height and by the way she stood; she could have been her brother’s twin.

“Aunt, you startled me. What are you doing here? Why did no one announce you?”

She pushed the hood back and the lamplight glinted on her golden hair. “I told your watchmen I would find you myself? They would hardly argue.”

No, he thought. They would hardly argue. She was Artanis, Galadriel, Finrod’s sister, she could have the run of Nargothrond and no one would think to warn him unless she instructed them to. “Of course not. Where are your people? I’ll arrange somewhere for you to rest…” He moved instinctively towards the door curtain, trying to fight down an urge to seek out the crowded rustling of the underground city, away from this quiet, presence-filled room.

She was watching him, reading his every gesture, and now gave a half laugh, shaking her head. “I have no people, Orodreth. I travelled with an escort, of course – Celeborn draws his lines in the sand and I respect them, though I still think it would have been quicker and safer to come alone. But not even to those trusted few would I show the entrance to my brother’s realm - your realm now, of course.” She looked singularly unapologetic for the slip.

Orodreth seemed to have spent a large part of his life struggling to keep up with what was happening around him. On days like this he almost missed Fëanor’s sons – they would have played the family’s mind games with her, cousin to cousin, and explained it to him afterwards in simple sentences. Alone he was nowhere near Galadriel’s match. “Can I offer you food, wine?” he asked, buying time. “Whatever brought you here is surely not so urgent you cannot first rest a little, wash away the dust…”

Long, capable fingers went to her hair, tidied a few loose strands, tightened a pin. “I have something to discuss with you, something I saw in a dream that has to be acted upon urgently. Perhaps a cup of wine, yes. But discreetly. The fewer people know I was here, the better. The Watch have all promised me their silence, but a secret shared amongst many is no secret.”

They sat amongst cushions in the formal reception area where trusted guests had in the past been greeted and entertained. With his own hand, he poured them cups of good wine from the south-facing slopes in the highlands. Galadriel finally parted with her cloak, revealing sensible riding clothes beneath. She reclined with as much ease as though she had been at her grandfather’s court, not in a cavern realm in a rough land far beyond the Sea. A rough land and a people becoming increasingly rough as well, he thought ruefully, aware of the coarse weave of his robe. It was not easy for the Noldor to keep up pretty appearances while hiding like rats in their separate holes.

They said nothing about her brother or her cousins: she already knew the facts and there was little more to add. After the small talk about people she had known before she and Celeborn journeyed south and his questions in turn about life at the coast died away, the gap between his experiences and hers loomed large between them. She sat looking into her cup for a time, her fingers tracing the design on the stem. They were gold cups, part of the hoard Finrod had seen fit to bring with him, though Orodreth had no idea what would justify dragging drinking utensils across the Ice. He had respected, nay hero worshiped, tall, beautiful Finrod, but he had never pretended to understand him.

“You need to give me the boy,” Galadriel said finally.

Orodreth frowned. He had no idea what she was talking about. “Boy?”

“Your son. Starshine or some such name the dream said.”

He blinked. Of course, the boy had not been born when she was last here. “Gil-galad?” he asked disbelievingly. “My son?”

She nodded briskly. “Yes, though – Starlight? He’d thank you for a stronger name while he’s raised amongst the shore folk. Something to remind them of who he is... You still use my brother’s title, so perhaps Ereinion – the son of kings? That should serve.”

Orodreth struggled for words. “You can’t come in here and demand my son and change his name and... Of all the…” He had raised his voice and hastily lowered it again before she could look scorn at him for his lack of control, the way his father used to. The only person in his life who had ever listened and believed in him was his uncle, and Finrod was gone, never to return to Nargothrond.

“Be quiet and listen to me, Orodreth,” she said evenly. “I was born with the Sight, the entire family knows this, no one has ever disputed it. I do not know what comes, I do not have reasons why, all I know is that the fate of our people depends on your son removing to the coast, to Círdan’s fostering. He cannot remain here. If he does he will die.”

“To Círdan?” Again the sense of being ten steps behind and no chance of catching up. “Why would I send my son to…?”

“He’s your wife’s kinsman and lord of the shore folk,” she said, her low voice brimming with barely contained impatience. “Where better? And fostering junior royals and nobles is a time honoured custom, so it might seem a bit surprising but not without precedent. No one would question it. His mother could go along, if that would make it easier? I know he’s still very young.”

Orodreth felt the world running away from him. Were it anyone other than this tall, intimidating woman he could have dismissed this all out of hand, but he knew it for a family truth that if Galadriel said a thing would or must happen, it did. If she said his son had to leave for his life’s sake… He thought of Gil-galad, the child his duties gave him so little time for, with his eager intelligent eyes and dark curls, that winning smile – he had the family charm which seemed to have skipped a generation; no one had ever called Orodreth charming. He had no illusions about himself, he knew he was serious, studious, slow and at times downright boring, but he was steady and he knew what it took to make Nargothrond work. Finrod had seen that.

Eventually he had to look at Galadriel, waiting patiently with her wine. “For how long?”

She shook her head. “When he’s grown, he can decide. That is as far as I can see.”

“My daughter…. I also have a daughter.”

She nodded. ”Finduilas, yes. I remember her. I saw nothing about her, so her place must be here, or there is some other fate already woven for her. But the boy must come away with me, time grows short.”

For the second time that day a sound from behind made him start. This time it was yet another member of Finwë’s extended clan. “Celebrimbor,” he said, his tone harsher than intended. “What are you doing here? I gave word I wasn’t to be disturbed.”

Curufin’s son strode in, confident of his welcome, dark hair braided loosely back from his strong, handsome face. “One of the Watchers told me there was a bit of a family reunion going on. Well met, Cousin.” His eyes lingered appreciatively.

Galadriel flicked him a look, then extended a hand and waited until he had bent to brush his lips to its back. “Celebrimbor,” she said coolly. “Rough hands, smith’s hands – your grandfather’s gift also visited you, did it?” Her eyes were thoughtful while she spoke and then she nodded to herself. “I think this touches you as well.... Tell me, do you have any urge to visit the coast? How would you like to join me and Orodreth’s son? We leave tonight. Isn’t that so, Orodreth?”

Her sea-green eyes were like the Helcaraxë under starlight: they held him pinned against the cushions. He could no more imagine arguing with those eyes than he could fly. And she was offering his son his life. Dumbly he nodded. “Tonight, yes,” he heard the shake in his voice betray him. “Tonight. As soon as he and my wife are ready.”

There was one good thing, he supposed, as he watched Celebrimbor watching Galadriel, awaiting an explanation. Whatever her motive in inviting Curufin’s son to travel with her, at least Nargothrond would be rid of the last of the Fëanorians. He would be without his wife and child for a time, but the city Finrod had left in his care would finally be safe.


Beta: Red Lasbelin