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The Cleverest Elf in Aman: 1. The Cleverest Elf in Aman
Arafinwë was a pleasant Elf. Nobody disliked him, except Melkor, who didn't count. Nobody gave a toss about what Melkor thought (though some later supposed that if Melkor had only had somebody who understood him, maybe he wouldn't have gone so thoroughly evil, but that's beside the point). Arafinwë's wife, Eärwen, was not quite so pleasant (though nearly- the difference could be called negligible), but she was somewhat cleverer, which made them more or less equal. Perhaps two or three individuals (not counting Melkor) disliked her. Generally, this was believed to be due to the Incident With The Sprout, which shall (by law) never again be discussed.
Of course Arafinwë, being so pleasant, adored his wife. And it occurred to him, in a roundabout way after being told that he mustn't leave his slippers under the dining room table, that it would be charming to be married to a marginally more pleasant person. If Eärwen were more pleasant, there was a good chance she wouldn't scold him about the slippers. As often. This is what he believed. So after an evening of careful thought, he realised that Eärwen's small episodes of unpleasantness were due to inner turmoil caused by having to live in Tirion (where water usually came in small, decorative amounts) rather than her native Alqualondë (where water was everywhere, occasionally even places it shouldn't be, such as cellars and lamps). Therefore, the only reasonable way to solve Eärwen's dilemma would be to create a wetland in the back garden.
This took eleven-and-a-half weeks to complete, though Arafinwë didn't know it, because Elves didn't reckon time in weeks back then. He never told Eärwen what he and foul-mouthed labourers were doing. She assumed they were merely ruining the landscape, which put her in a decidedly less pleasant mood and caused the number of individuals who disliked her to temporarily spike to perhaps seven or eight. This only strengthened Arafinwë's resolve. Once she saw the wetland, the pleasantness issues would sort themselves out.
And so they did.
"Ohhh, Arafifi!" she exclaimed as she saw the finished wetland garden. She used her pet name for him, the one she only used when they were alone. The children were about, but, being dependent minors, didn't count, so for legal purposes she and Arafinwë were indeed alone.
Arafinwë grinned a triumphant grin. His wife was already looking more pleasant. She had a pleasant kind of shine in her eyes. He picked up little Angaráto, who had waded up to his knees in one of the aqueducts, and followed Eärwen down the mucky path to the centre of the marsh.
"Do you like it, my dearest Angel Fluff?" he asked. (This was, of course, not the exact wording he used, being that Elves and Angels are mutually exclusive and 'fluff' back then meant something far less complimentary, but it is the closest modern English approximation.)
"It's lovely!" said Eärwen. And then, "Where are the fish?"
"Fish?" asked Arafifi.
"Well, yes," Eärwen explained. "A water garden must have fish. Fish and water go together like toast and jam." (Again, not the exact wording. What she actually said made reference to an obscure Elven luncheon food for which there is no reasonable translation, as the recipe was forgotten long ago and no-one has been able to make it since. A comparison to known cuisine is therefore impossible. Secondary sources imply that millet was a main ingredient, but nobody can say for certain. Whatever the case, the hard fact remains that Elves did not eat toast during the Years of the Trees; it was not invented until early in the Second Age. They did have jam, but at this point in time it was only ever made of mulberries and used as a garnish on special quince-flavoured dumplings eaten at holiday time.)
"Did you forget the fish?" Eärwen politely prodded when Arafinwë didn't answer.
"No, of course not," he said, which was true. One can't exactly forget something one never thought of in the first place.
"Then where are they? I can't see any fish." Eärwen was too observant for her own good.
"They are probably hiding, my most precious darling love," said Arafinwë. "Hiding under the rocks." When Eärwen looked at him suspiciously, he added, "They have travelled a very long way and will be a bit shy in their new habitat. And my brother Nolofinwë had to carry them all the way from the sea in a soup pot. That would unnerve anybody, especially fish, who don't like to be cooked."
Eärwen was about to ask how a fish could tell the difference between a soup pot and a proper fish-carrying pot from the inside, but Arafinwë spoke again before she could manage the words.
"I'm sure the little fishies will be out and about and happy to see you tomorrow. They only need time to adjust. You shouldn't rush them. It's not kind."
With a disappointed sigh, Eärwen went back into the house to wait until the little fishies came out from under their little rockies. While she wasn't looking, Arafinwë panicked and asked his next-door neighbour to please round up as many fish as possible and dump them into the marsh garden. Eärwen's pleasantness level would dip dangerously if there weren't fish in the water by the next day. The neighbour, after being paid twelve gold pieces and a jar of wine, agreed to spend all night in the river with Arafinwë netting trout. Night hadn't yet been invented, but rivers, nets, and trouts had, so they did their best given the circumstances.
The next morning (and they did have morning back then, oddly enough; their word for morning was invented some time before the Noldor started excluding the letter Z from daily conversation), Eärwen ran eagerly out to the wetland to check on the fish population. She was greeted by several dozen long, shiny bodies skimming about the surface of the water. "Oh goody!" she said. "Fishies!" They were rather larger than she had expected, the smallest being no less than the length of her forearm, but at least they were better than an empty pool. The question of how exactly such large fishies could have hidden under rocks did cross her mind, along with a question of why Arafinwë had been absent all night (or the pre-lunar Valinorean equivalent thereto). But when she dropped hints of questions along these lines, Arafinwë merely answered that he had been sitting on an imported stump in the marsh all that time, coaxing the fish out of hiding with a jaunty tune on his mandolin. Eärwen had heard no such tune, but then, she had always been a deep sleeper.
She spent the remainder of the day out in the garden giving names to all the trout. Two ended up being named 'Lingu' by accident, so in the end there was 'Big Lingu' and 'Brown Lingu', owing to Brown Lingu being the same size as Big Lingu. She was less imaginative than she was clever.
This is about where things started to go downhill.
With every passing day that Eärwen spent with her trout, they seemed to be growing less active and more listless. Big Lingu's fins were drooping, and Eärwen could have sworn he was losing weight. He looked smaller than Brown Lingu, in any case. Where before the fishies would dart around playfully, now they just floated about near the surface like slimy lumps. They only showed spirit when Eärwen poked them (which wasn't very often, because she didn't like to get her hands dirty).
Arafinwë didn't know what to do. Having grown up in Tirion with only decorative water, he knew nothing about fish, except that they tasted nice with pepper. He tried a jaunty mandolin tune at his wife's request, but it didn't rouse the fish as well as it had in his fictional serenade tale. They appeared not to care. In fact, they appeared not to have ears at all, which would certainly make the enjoyment of mandolin music very difficult, if not impossible.
The sad fact was that neither Arafinwë nor Eärwen was clever enough to think of how to improve the collective mood of the trout. But both knew the following facts. Arafinwë was pleasant, but not terribly clever. Eärwen was slightly less pleasant, but slightly more clever. It seemed reasonable, then, to assume that an unpleasant Elf would be markedly cleverer than both. To save the fishies, they would need to ask the advice of the most unpleasant (and therefore cleverest) Elf in Aman.
Fëanáro wasn't home. According to his wife (whose balance of pleasantness and cleverness was unremarkable, in Arafinwë's opinion), he had taken the boys out fishing. Fishing reminded Eärwen of summer (which was in the process of being invented at this time), and summer reminded her of the beach house, and the beach house reminded her of her family, and her family reminded her of togetherness and caring, and togetherness and caring reminded her that with every passing minute, the situation of the poor fishies back home was worsening. They needed to find Fëanáro, or a reasonable substitute, soon. Nerdanel was not a reasonable substitute. Her advice was to ignore the trout, and eventually they'd come to their senses on their own. (This approach had always worked with Nerdanel's numerous children, though, as Eärwen coldly pointed out, children and fish were hardly the same. Fish didn't scream, cry, have fits, throw food at their younger brothers, or talk back.)
With Fëanáro unavailable, the options remaining were, one, return home and hope for the best, or, two, find another clever Elf. The downside to option one was that the trout might eventually wither and die (this possibility made Eärwen wail). The downside to option two was that Arafinwë couldn't think of any more unpleasantly clever Elves. He would need to consult his older brother on this count (his older brother Nolofinwë, not Fëanáro, as Fëanáro was of course not at home). Nolofinwë, while usually pleasant with only occasional bouts of cleverness, was accustomed to dealing with all kinds of less-than-ideal individuals, and might be able to recommend a few.
Nolofinwë was not at home. The only person who was home was his eldest son, Findekáno. Findekáno was wearing a towel. He looked both wet and put-out, as if he had just climbed from the bath to answer the call at the door, which was exactly the case.
"What?" he said to his uncle and aunt standing on the step.
"Ah, dear Findekáno, good day," said Arafinwë. Day had been invented already, so this was the actual word he used. "Is your father home?"
Findekáno scowled. "Of course not. If he, or anyone else for that matter, were home, do you think I'd have left the bath to open the door? Honestly, uncle, have you no abilities of deductive reasoning?"
Arafinwë was about to have a hurt feeling at this rudeness when he remembered the reason for his coming to his brother's house: to find the cleverest Elf in Aman. As Findekáno stood there scowling down at him, things started to look suddenly brighter. "Findekáno!" he exclaimed. He was then about to say something along the lines of 'perhaps you can help me', but in his flustered excitation he ended up repeating, "Is your father home?"
Findekáno gave him a searing Look, scrunched his eyebrows menacingly, and said, "Obviously, you're having trouble existing today. Maybe you should come inside to spare the rest of the world your strangeness. Or at least lie down until you remember how to think (if you ever knew how in the first place, you airheaded duck turd)." Both Arafinwë and Eärwen agreed that yes, stepping inside for a bit would be ideal, and so they followed Findekáno into the salon.
Arafinwë sat on the divan, Eärwen sat down beside him on a large cushion that turned out to be far firmer than it looked (almost causing her to roll off), and Findekáno took a seat in a chair opposite. He was still wet and still wearing only a towel. Arafinwë cringed; it had always bothered him when people were careless around good furniture. "Findekáno," he said carefully, trying to sound reasonable and wise, "luminous nephew, mightn't you be worried that your dewy hind end will ruin that fine chair?"
"No," said Findekáno.
"Ahhhh," said Arafinwë. And then, puzzled, "Why not?"
"Because, my thick uncle, this chair cushion is made of linen. My towel is made of linen. By logic, therefore, no damp bottom could possibly ruin this upholstery any more than it could ruin a towel. My towel is not ruined, as you will see. It is only wet. It will dry. Linen is like that." And so he pulled the towel off and sat his moist behind directly down on the cushion.
Arafinwë cringed again. If anything bothered him more than the possibility of ruining fine furniture, it was nakedness at a time when nakedness simply wasn't appropriate. Findekáno being naked in front of Eärwen, who didn't seem to mind in the least, was the most inappropriate thing that had happened all day. And the situation only worsened when Findekáno, after hearing the sad story of the trout (through much embarrassed stuttering on Arafinwë's part), stood up and started pacing about the room (still wet, but without the towel).
"So if I am to understand your situation," he said, "you are worried about your listless fish and need a way to energise them."
"Exactly!" said Eärwen. She beamed at Findekáno's conciseness. It had taken Arafinwë five minutes to explain the problem in a way that hadn't even been half so satisfactory. (Minutes existed back then. They had been invented about the same time as hours, which had been invented not long after morning and day.)
"I'll be back shortly," said Findekáno. He left the room, much to the confusion of his two guests, and came back some time later carrying a tray of fruits and pastries and a carafe of coffee (which was an astoundingly clever Vanyarin invention; the Vanyar had only invented four things at this time: coffee, paint, geometry, and counting, but at least all four were very impressive and necessary).
"What's this?" Arafinwë asked. "Food? How am I supposed to eat at a time like this?!"
"I find that when people are agitated, which you certainly are, or otherwise acting in an unusual way, it's generally because they're hungry, thirsty, or tired," Findekáno said.
Arafinwë had to admit that this was true. He was tired. It was difficult to sleep at a time when night didn't yet exist, and besides, Eärwen kept flailing about in bed and bothering with questions regarding the fish. He was also somewhat hungry. He reached for a plum.
"I would also guess," Findekáno continued, "that your fish are behaving oddly because they are hungry, thirsty or tired."
Eärwen gasped. "Oh!" she said. "Of course! Which one, do you think?!"
Findekáno cleared his throat. "Well. I'm sure they're not thirsty. They live in water, after all, and have plenty of opportunity to drink more that uncle Fëanáro at his last birthday celebration. And if all they do is float in the pond all day, they can't be doing anything to make themselves tired. So that leaves only one reasonable solution."
After an awkwardly long pause, Eärwen ventured, "They're ... hungry?"
"A safe guess," said Findekáno. "What are you currently feeding them?"
Arafinwë blinked. "Feeding..."
"...Them?" Eärwen finished.
"Pets need feeding," Findekáno said. "You're keeping these fish in your garden; therefore, they are pets."
"But I used to have fishies all the time back in Alqualondë!" said Eärwen. "They lived under the dock at my father's beach house. We never fed them."
"That's because they were wild fishies, auntie," Findekáno explained. "They ate bugs and minnows and plant scum. But your garden isn't big enough to support that kind of natural ecosystem."
Findekáno rolled his eyes. "Because. Just because. Yavanna said so."
"Oh," said Eärwen. This was a perfectly reasonable reason.
"So..." Arafinwë said slowly, "we'll have to feed the fish. What do fish eat?"
"Fish food," said Findekáno.
"What's that?" Eärwen asked.
Shrugging, Findekáno poured himself a cup of coffee. "I don't know. It hasn't been invented yet. But meet me in your back garden tomorrow, and I'm sure we can think of something." He looked up at them and noted the identical looks of panic on their faces. "I mean... I can think of something, and you can watch me," he added.
Eärwen sighed in relief. "Oh, good."
The next day, as promised, Findekáno appeared in the back garden. To Arafinwë's relief, he was mostly clothed. He had no shoes, but this was a minor breach of the unspoken dress code. Arafinwë let it pass.
Findekáno carried with him a large pail, from which was wafting a rather unpleasant smell. And though he knew he would regret it, Arafinwë ventured to ask, "What's in the pail, Findekáno?"
He regretted it immediately. Findekáno took the lid off the pail, held it out for Arafinwë to see, and said, "Fish food."
The newly invented fish food appeared to be some sort of stinky, brownish muck with a few lumps here and there. Arafinwë had to cover his nose and step back. "What's it made of?"
"Ah, this is the brilliant part," said Findekáno. He smiled smugly. "I thought to myself, what do fish eat? Mostly other, smaller fish, insects, algae... and so I put all of those things together in an easy-to-use paste. As you see here. There's some mushed-up fish bits, worms and flies and other insects I found by the river, and some slimy plant matter for good measure. I put it all in a barrel with some river water and had my brother pound it with a stick to make a nice edible texture." He held out the smelly pail as if inviting Arafinwë to take it. When Arafinwë only looked ill and stepped back further, he said, "Take it, uncle. Feed the fish."
Arafinwë could have wept as he moved forward and took the horrible pail in his hands. Some of the slop dribbled over the sides to touch his bare skin, and ran in little brown streams over his hands. The things he endured out of love for his wife! "What do I do?" he choked.
"Dump it into the water, of course."
The last thing Arafinwë wanted to do was muck up his nice new wetland with this vile sludge. But it was what he had consulted Findekáno for, after all. And there was no other trout-saving solution at hand. Closing his eyes (which probably wasn't a good idea, as it caused him to spill), he dumped the fish food into the water.
There was an instant flurry of activity among the trout. The listless fish sprang to life, squirming and ramming into each other in a frantic race to see who could swallow the most brownish sludge. Arafinwë opened his eyes at the commotion of splashing. After taking a moment to gape in wonder at the sudden liveliness in the pond, he shouted, "Eärwen! Eärwen, come out here! The fishies are moving!"
Eärwen was at his side quicker than Angaráto fleeing the soap on bath day. She let out a squeal of happiness, flung her arms about Arafinwë's waist, and then quickly stepped back. He had spilt fish food all down his front, and smelled terrible.
"You did it!" she cried, and went to hug Findekáno instead. "The fishies are saved!"
"Now remember," Findekáno said in a stern voice. "You have to feed them every day. Otherwise you'll have sullen trout all over again."
Arafinwë went somewhat green. "You mean... I have to handle this slop... every day?"
Findekáno took a deep breath, rolled his eyes, and said, "Uncle, do you think I'm that evil?"
Arafinwë didn't answer.
"Of course not!" said Findekáno. "The rest of the food is drying in the breeze and being made into hard pellets as we speak. Only I didn't have time to dry this first batch. But from now on, you'll feed the fish one scoop of handy, dry pellets. No mess." He looked pointedly at Arafinwë's stained front. "Though it would serve you right to have to haul pails of sludge across the city..." he muttered.
Both Arafinwë and Eärwen smiled pleasantly.
And so it came to be that from this moment on, no fish in Tirion ever needed to go hungry, all thanks to Findekáno's wonderful (if somewhat pungent) invention. With the profits he made, he was able to hire his younger brother to do all the dirty work in the operation. This happened to be all of the work (fish-food-making is a filthy business). Findekáno himself was able to retire at the age of 55, thus inventing both retirement and the Freedom 55 financial plan in one stroke of genius. Though he never did move out of his parents' house.
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