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Another Man's Cage: 24. Chapter Twenty-Four--Nolofinwe
I am deluged by paperwork—the inventory of our grain supplies, to be more specific—and nursing the beginnings of a headache when my half-brother's messenger arrives.
There is a curt knock on my study door, and my page introduces him with a name that slips right past my ears and becomes embroiled in the aching mess of lists and figures that I am already trying to hold in my brain. I hear myself mumble something, and it must have been an invitation, for the messenger enters, and although he bears no mark or crest of my half-brother, he is small and dark and I know that he comes from Formenos, for I'd heard his voice in the hall, and it had been loud and brash and used to filling the empty spaces outside of the city, not the echoing halls of Tirion. He wears an ugly leather scabbard at his side that holds a dagger of exquisite craftsmanship; his clothes are brown and unattractive, but the hands that unbuckle the message pouch that hangs over his shoulder move with amazing speed and grace, and I become almost hypnotized watching them, until I am alarmed by the sudden slap of letters upon my desk.
"Our Lord Fëanáro kindly requests that you read his message first," the messenger says, and his voice is leaden, as are the accents of the north, and my gratitude, however insincere it sounds to my own ears, is quite light and whimsical in contrast. I feel suddenly as if a gameboard has been placed between us, for he is equally deceptive in his words, and we both know that Curufinwë does not make requests and certainly never does so kindly.
I gesture to a teapot on the edge of my desk, and the messenger says, "That would be well, my Lord," and after a few moments of awkward inactivity, I realize that he expects me to pour it for him, so I overturn an extra cup and dispense the amber fluid, adding honey and cream to his specifications.
"Would you care to rest a while?" I ask, gesturing to the extra chair that sits before my desk. "And tell me the news of the north?"
He accepts and sits, sipping his tea a bit loudly, resting the cup on his knee, and begins to talk of minor lords and persons whose names trigger only brief flares of recognition. I shuffle the letters he has dispensed onto my desk. In accordance with his wishes, Curufinwë's is on top. Beneath it is a letter from my son, and I am tempted to cast Curufinwë's message aside, ignore the messenger's chatter, and allow my eyes to devour the words of my eldest son, whom I miss terribly.
But the messenger's gaze is keen on my riffling fingers, so I tuck Curufinwë's back on top and swallow my temptation. Beneath Findekáno's letter is one addressed to my wife from Nerdanel and another from Findekáno. Maitimo writes too, as he always does, and I feel my heart squeeze in surprise—as it always does—for even after forty-seven years, I cannot believe that one so gracious as Maitimo could be Curufinwë's child.
The messenger talks on, about the weather and how it has been an exceptionally rainy summer in the north, good for some crops and poor for others. "The nights have been cold too," he says, "and many times, we have feared a midsummer frost and covered the fields, but naught has yet come." I listen, nodding, but really I want to leap across the desk and choke from him the news of my half-brother and his family, among whom I placed my heir—foolishly, I sometimes think, in my darker moments—but Curufinwë has always been an intensely private person, and when the messenger at last stops to sip his tea, I ask, "And what of my half-brother Curufinwë?" and he replies, "No news, my Lord."
I sit back in my chair and sigh. I should know to expect as much by now; after all, Curufinwë had once walked into our father's court with a wife by his side and a baby he'd named as his son in his arms, all before we'd even known that he had entertained the idea of betrothal, so I should not be surprised that he would send a messenger to me now without instructions to at least give word that all is well.
The messenger drains his cup in one last, loud slurp and stands. "Begging pardon, my lord, I still have messages to take to your brother and a day's ride to Alqualondë, unless I may be of further service?"
I am overcome momentarily by the fantasy of busying Curufinwë's messenger with inane and silly tasks until Curufinwë brings his family—and my son—home, but good grace gets the best of me, and I stand and walk him to the door. "I thank you for your service," I say, "and for the news."
"No mind, my lord."
"Give my greetings to my brother," I say, and only after he has departed down the hall do I realize that I said "brother" when I meant "half-brother," and he will likely greet Arafinwë for me—with whom I am having supper tonight—and tell Curufinwë that I gave him no word. I sigh and retreat back into my study full of the unlikely hope that, by his return, Curufinwë will have forgotten the accidental slight and will say nothing of it to our father.
The letters are sitting on my desk, where I left them, atop mounds of parchments bearing row after row of figures. Curufinwë's seal glares up at me, a red bloom of wax that beckons me to break it and read whatever perfunctory words are inside. I'd despised his seal from the moment I had first seen it, for it is exactly what I'd wanted for my own seal—a fact I'd realized only after seeing his: a star, so simple a design but so representative of our people. I shove the letters aside—even able to resist the urge to read Findekáno's if it means I must first read Curufinwë's—and busy myself totaling the figures on the parchments beneath and drafting a report to my father.
There is another knock on the door. This time I know that it is my father, for he knocks by rolling his knuckles quickly against the door, and I spring to my feet and call, "Please, come in!" and circle to the front of my desk to greet my father with a kiss on the cheek. "Atar! What a pleasant surprise!"
Atar had said that he was taking the day off from all meetings and counsels; when I'd raised concern, he'd waved his hand and said, "Ah, if they need the advice of a king, let them come to you. I miss being able to lie in bed with your mother until the high hours of Laurelin."
I know that Atar and Amil have been trying for some time now to conceive another child, but what I don't think Atar wants to realize is that the fire of his firstborn that took the life of Míriel Serindë took its toll on him as well, and he will have to be content as the father of three sons. I do not wish him to see this truth in my eyes, so I lower my face when he returns my kiss and says, "A messenger came to me from your brother in the north, bringing word of his family."
"Yes, he wrote also to me."
"I suppose, then, that you are already rejoicing that your son is being named a hero?"
His eyes skip to the unopened letters on my desk and back to my gaping, speechless face and twinkle with mischief. "I—I had—I put off reading—"
"Well, perhaps you'd like to read them now," he says, and I circle my desk so fast that I bump my leg hard on the corner but do not even notice the pain of a bruise spreading like a stain of spilled wine beneath my skin.
I hope this letter finds you and your family well and in good spirits. As agreed, I write to you concerning your son Findekáno and his progress thus far in his lessons. Maitimo has indicated also that he intends to write you, leaving me the freedom of not supposing to understand Findekáno's progress in the lessons that he takes with my son.
Although his letters were abhorrent upon his arrival, I find them much improved after close counseling, to the point of legibility and, perhaps, the beginnings of beauty. In his seven weeks of lessons, he has memorized and recited for me thirty-nine poems, four in excess of that which I expect of him and his cousin Tyelkormo, and also written five of his own. Currently, he and Tyelkormo are busy working on a summer-long project of copying and illustrating a book of songs from the Great Journey, and while their progress has been slow, I feel the finished product will be rewarding for both.
Excepting horsemanship, it was obvious to me that you had not procured instruction for Findekáno in any of the athletic arts, and his performance in archery and swordfighting surpassed poverty into complete ignorance. Maitimo and I have made it a point to work with him on all of the aforementioned skills—as well as hand-to-hand combat, knife throwing, and tracking—and while his performance is still quite wretched, it is much improved. In horsemanship, I have begun putting him over some low jumps and also have him and Tyelkormo do a short regimen of dressage each week, as both have become lackadaisical with regards to seat and posture.
My wife cites Findekáno's progress in sculpture as most impressive, and I find that his ability in drawing is much improved as well. With regards to his basic lessons in jewel-craft, I desire faster progress and greater results and intend to increase my tutelage in this area. Additionally, the lore of metals and gems is a loss for your son, and indeed, it is even difficult to get him to concentrate on his lessons. I have not the time to work with him on these matters, but Maitimo has provided most satisfactory remediation in the past weeks, and I hope my next letter will bear better tidings.
I feel that you also deserve to know that your son was party in an effort by Tyelkormo to run away from home following a most displeasing accident in my forge. Apparently, while trying to comfort my son's distress, Findekáno decided to accompany him in his plot to leave home, taking with them my youngest son Carnistir. It was evening-time before we discovered that they were missing, and Oromë had to bring his hounds to aid our search. I ask you to forestall punishment, however, in recognition of the fact that—when confronted by a wolf that was aroused by the folly of my youngest son—Findekáno immediately leaped upon Carnistir without thought for his own safety, saving his cousin from certain grave injury and possible demise. I have expressed my gratitude to Findekáno for his quick bravery and ask that you overlook his part in Tyelkormo's rebellion as serendipitous, for if he hadn't been along with them, this letter would come to you in far different spirits. Also, may your heart rest easily, for although Findekáno sustained a few minor scratches and bruises, he was for the most part unharmed and has since remained in good spirits.
My next letter shall be soon forthcoming and shall detail the progress that Findekáno is making on the aforementioned weaknesses as well as cite those areas in which he excels. Findekáno has indicated that he shall also be sending you a letter, as well as one to your wife; I have counseled him not to include any discussion in the latter regarding the incident with the wolf and trust you to best know what she is well enough to hear in her condition. May peace find your family.
Curufinwë Fëanáro Finwion
I hope you and Amil are doing very well at home in Tirion. We are doing very well in Formenos. I am having a really great time here and learning a lot, although I miss you and Amil and Grandfather Finwë and Grandmother Indis and Uncle Arafinwë and Aunt Eärwen every day. I hope my baby brother is doing well and my baby cousin also. Maitimo tells me that he really likes being a big brother and expects that I shall like it too, although little Carnistir cries a lot and gets into a lot of trouble, so I suppose that I am hoping that my brother will behave a little better than that, although Maitimo says that you learn to love your brothers no matter what their shortcomings, so I suppose that once he is here, maybe I won't care so much about that at all.
I am learning a lot here. My favorite lessons are historical lore with Maitimo and sculpting with Aunt Nerdanel. I also like horsemanship with Uncle Fëanáro, and he says that I am doing very well at this. I am reading a lot on my own now, and Uncle Fëanáro says that when we come back to Tirion, he will let me borrow some of his books so that I can keep reading about history. Did you know that when Grandfather Finwë came to Aman, it took them more than two hundred years to cross the Outer Lands? I suppose that you probably did know that. Will I be coming back here next summer, do you think?
The journey here was really long but sort of fun. Macalaurë fell off his horse and hurt himself pretty badly, so we were late getting here, but he is fine now. Uncle Fëanáro said he had a separated shoulder, but I don't know what that means. Macalaurë is really nice and I like when he is put in charge of watching us, but he is also very busy because he is doing a musician's internship by correspondence, so he is always working on lessons or writing songs. He got a little bit of free time when Uncle Fëanáro said he didn't have to work in the forge anymore, but he is courting a maiden in Alqualondë, so most of the time he spends writing to her.
Maitimo is courting one of Uncle Fëanáro's apprentices. The apprentice is a girl. Her name is Annawendë. She doesn't talk to me a lot but apparently she has a lot to say to Maitimo because they spend a lot of time in his study with the door closed. Maitimo is my favorite of my cousins. I think he might be my best friend, even, but when I told him that the other day, he said that when my brother is born, then he will probably be my best friend instead. Maitimo is a really good teacher, better even than Uncle Fëanáro, and he doesn't mind explaining things until I understand them, even if it takes a thousand times! The bugs are really loud out here and sometimes I have trouble falling asleep (I have to share a bed with Tyelkormo too, and he snores sometimes and kicks), but I can always go to Maitimo's room, and we sing songs together until I fall asleep.
Maitimo tells me that I am very brave because I jumped on Carnistir to keep a wolf from biting him, but I don't know if that's enough to make me valiant, like Maitimo says. But we did find out from that that Tyelkormo can talk to animals! He's apparently been talking to them all of his life but no one believed that they talked back to him. He told me once that there are always birds in our room because he asks them to bring him the news of the town, but I thought he was just being funny.
I really miss you, Atar, and I can't wait to come home but I am having fun here too. Maybe, if you have time, you could write back to me?
Love from your son,
Dearest Uncle Nolofinwë,
I send you my greetings and those of my brothers and wish that you and yours are doing well at home in Tirion. I hope that Aunt Anairë's pregnancy is going well; Findekáno is very excited about his new baby brother, although I think he is a little nervous too. (Especially after seeing some of the messes that Carnistir has made!)
I have nothing but the highest praises of your son. He is industrious in his studies and a most apt learner. He has shown a great love for historical lore and often seeks me out during his free time to have elucidated one or another event he is studying. I have found tutoring Findekáno to be nothing short of a joy and would gladly continue his lessons through the autumn and winter, if you so desired.
My father has told me that he also told you of Findekáno's recent bravery. I know my father probably put it in as brief as words as possible, so please allow me to extend gratitude from our entire House, for I am not sure that my baby brother would be here right now but for the quick actions of your son. I do not know if this is something you have taught him or if he has been blessed with a valiant constitution, but either way, you should be exceedingly proud of him. I certainly am, but I do not delude myself that the pride of a cousin can in any way equal that of a father.
I leave you again with gratitude and highest praises of Findekáno. Please give my greetings to Aunt Anairë. May your house be blessed.
Nelyafinwë Maitimo Russandol
Arafinwë and Eärwen are escorted into the rose garden precisely fifteen minutes after the Mingling of the Lights, right as my cook is bringing out the soups and the baskets of bread. I'd seen Arafinwë in the street this morning and again at midday by the fountain in Atar's court, but he springs into my arms and greets me with a tight hug and a kiss on each cheek anyway. Eärwen walks behind him—her belly is just beginning to swell and is only a little smaller than Anairë's—and leans over to give me a delicate hug and kiss. Looking at her, it is hard to believe that carrying and bearing the baby inside of her will weaken her body, for her silvery hair and gray eyes seem ever more radiant than usual, and after releasing me, her hands find Arafinwë's, and they exchange a kiss that is a little more robust than is generally thought appropriate for the dinner hour at one's brother's house. "Mmm," Arafinwë says, licking his lips after she releases him. He turns to my cook and flicks his fingers in the direction of the soup tureens. "You can take that away. I've had my appetizer for the evening."
I give the cook a stern glance that tells him to ignore my brother's request and pull out a chair for Eärwen. Anairë is already seated, and the women kiss cheeks and begin their litany of embellished complaints about their conditions. "He's really started kicking," Eärwen says. "He had me up half the night, feeling as though a sporting match was being held inside my belly."
"I stayed up and kept her company, though," says Arafinwë, winking at me, "and we made our own sport of it. Hence my excessive joviality this morning, dear brother." He raises his glass in my direction and swallows half of the wine in a single gulp.
I give him a reproachful look and take my seat at the head of the table. Anairë is trying to suppress amusement at my brother's antics on my behalf, but she exchanges twinkling glances with Eärwen when they pass the breadbasket. "I requested pumpkin bread especially for you, dear. I've always been told that consuming gourds during pregnancy make your first labor less painful. I wish I had known of it when I was pregnant with Findekáno."
At the mention of labor pain, Arafinwë's sparkling mood subsides a bit, and I feel a pang of sympathy for him. He'd come to my study last week, barging in without knocking and plopping his little behind onto my desk—two things that he does all of the time that I hate—but before I could even voice my protests, he'd confided that he was frightened about the imminent birth of his first son. "Eärwen gets to have her mother and sisters with her for comfort, and I wish I could bring you or Atar to comfort me. That's selfish, I know, but I'm really scared."
I remember thinking bitterly at the time that he should bring Curufinwë instead of either Atar or me because Curufinwë has been through four childbirths—more than any of us—and had even delivered Maitimo himself on a riverbank somewhere in the north. I alternate between being amused, disgusted, and mildly jealous of the latter. When Findekáno had been born, it had been all I could do to keep breathing, much less remember all that the midwife had told us about contractions and dilation and when to start pushing. If it had been up to me to assist Anairë, Findekáno would probably be in there still.
I had been sixteen years old when Curufinwë had brought Maitimo home—young enough to still entertain the delusions that my older brother would one day come to appreciate my admiration of him—and I'd clung to Atar and listened to Curufinwë's every word, as though I'd expected to be tested on them, in awe of the red-haired baby in his arms whose face looked just like his. Atar had been incredulous that Curufinwë—who had been away from home when both Arafinwë and I were born—would know how to deliver a baby, and I remember Curufinwë shrugging and saying, "I put him in there. I figured I could get him out." When Anairë had become pregnant with Findekáno, I'd entertained the fantasy of taking her on a chariot ride to Alqualondë on her date and breaking a wheel halfway there, right as she went into labor, and returning home with my beaming wife and newborn son riding beside me in my perfectly mended chariot. And when people would inquire how I, a new father, knew how to deliver a baby, I would shrug and say in the same bland manner as had Curufinwë: "I put him in there. I figured I could get him out."
A salad is set in front of me, disturbing my musings, and I look up to see Arafinwë looking at me most strangely and the wives chattering on still about their pregnancies. Anairë is talking about a new breathing technique she's learning from the midwife that supposed to help manage the pain of contractions, and Arafinwë quickly says to me, "I got a letter from Fëanáro today."
I stab a tomato with my fork and remember the brusque excuse for a letter that I'd received, the list of complaints and dutiful praise about Findekáno's progress, drier than the accounting reports on which I'd been working. Arafinwë's own letter was probably overflowing with glowing reports and gossip, for Curufinwë always has been more easily swayed by Arafinwë's persistent charm than he has been to my own quiet longing for his love. "I received a letter also," I answer and bite hard into the tomato.
"Yes, I know that you did. You sent your greetings to me by way of Fëanáro's messenger. By the way, I sent greetings from both of us to Fëanáro."
"I misspoke," I say, "when I sent my greetings to you. I meant to say 'half-brother.'"
"You misspeak a lot, Nolofinwë."
I give him a hard stare. "At least mine are honest mistakes."
He reaches over and flicks a tomato seed off of my chin. "You know, I have figured why you and Fëanáro do not get along so well."
I am tempted to say nothing, to change the subject or call to the cook and ask when our entrees will be delivered, but when I look into Arafinwë's eyes, they are so full of hope that I sigh and say, "Why is that?"
"You two are exactly alike." My jaw falls open but he goes on before I can speak. "You are both disgustingly proud. You would both rather be pulled apart by horses than to apologize to the other. You both pick apart every nuance of what the other says and does, looking for some way in which you may have been slighted. If Fëanáro says, 'Good morning,' then he is boasting. If he does not, then he is ignoring you. But look at me. You love me, and so does Fëanáro. Yet you cannot love each other? We all have the same blood in our veins, but perhaps, I don't take every little thing that the two of you have done to me to offense. And, believe me, you have both done to me some things that deserve offense."
I am flabbergasted. "What have I ever done to you?"
"Why, just the other day, I came into your study to talk to you, and you pushed me right off of your desk and onto the floor. But I was not offended."
"Because I tell you all of the time to knock before coming into my study and not to sit on my desk! You smeared a parchment that I had just finished!"
He pats my knee under the table. "I am glad, Nolofinwë, that the welfare of a parchment means more to you than the welfare of your own brother."
I glower at him, but his attention has gone to his salad, and he is picking out the bits of reddish lettuce that he does not like and crunching loudly on a crouton. He may be past his majority; he may be married and expecting a child, but Arafinwë has never ceased to remind me of the little brother whose feet had dangled well above the floor when he sat in his chair for supper. He swallows the crouton and takes a strawberry. "So, I suppose Fëanáro told you about Tyelkormo's new talent?" he says around the strawberry.
I consider chiding him for speaking with food in his mouth. "Curufinwë writes to me nothing but what he must. But Findekáno wrote of it, yes."
Eärwen says, "I always thought that Tyelkormo reminded me a bit of a Sinda."
"Yes, he looks as a Vanya," says Arafinwë, "with the gifts of the Sindar—"
"And a Noldorin temper," I add. "Or, rather, his father's temper."
"Do not be so hasty to blame Fëanáro," Eärwen says lightly, "for I have seen your own father in ire, and it removed for me all doubts of where your half-brother finds his tempestuousness."
At last, Anairë speaks. My wife speaks the most softly of anyone in our family, even my mother, and her words may not be frequent but are always chosen with care. "Now I knew Míriel Serindë," she says, "in the days before she married your father. A more gifted woman will likely never bless our lands, but she was notorious in her obstinacy, may Námo bring her peace." She bows her head in respect for the dead, and there is a moment of silence. Míriel Serindë is not often mentioned in our family.
"Míriel þerindë…" Arafinwë says softly, with reverence, as though there is power in her name as there is in the names of the Valar. Neither Arafinwë nor I ever knew the mother of Curufinwë in life; she was only an invocation used against us in death. Her name alone rings in my ears like a question of our legitimacy, of the legitimacy of our parents' marriage. Chills run up and down my arms. "She looked like him, didn't she? Like Fëanáro?" Arafinwë says brightly, using the innocuousness of the question deliberately to dispel the gravity that has settled around the table.
We all turn to Anairë, for Míriel Serindë passed to the Halls of Mandos before any of our recollections. Anairë pushes a yellow pepper around her salad plate. "Yes, she did. She was beautiful."
I feel nauseated and shove my plate away.
When I was born, Anairë was already past her majority. As the eldest daughter of one of Atar's most trusted lords, she should have been married—or betrothed at least—by my birth, but Anairë is soft-spoken and regal and was easily overlooked by suitors in favor of the more energetic, loquacious maidens that typify the Noldor court. Like the Vanyar, she delighted in music and poetry and was not skilled with her hands. Indeed, her few courtships were with lords of the Vanyar—more like to her—with their stern traditions and aristocratic bearings. Still, love did not come for her, and she remained unwed in her father's house for many long years.
I must have seen her many times through the first days of my life, but my first memory of Anairë was made when I was five years old. It was my begetting day celebration and Curufinwë was required by Atar to attend. I was in his care, being endured with the same enthusiasm as one withstands a cold rain. He was thirty-three years old at the time—although Curufinwë grew fast and looked as an adult from a young age—and had been called from Aulë's Halls to attend the celebration. I remember the feeling of his arms around my body—he felt utterly invincible to me then, even stronger than Atar—as I asked him the names of the people whirling around the dance floor. He probably recited alloys and compounds to Aulë with greater enthusiasm, I realize now, but then, I was delighted by the beauty of our language in his voice.
Anairë did not dance and sat alone, but when she saw my half-brother, she stood and came to us. "Fëanáro," she said, "how fare you?" and she kissed him, and he turned his face to me—his nose bumped my cheek and one of his braids whispered across my shoulder—and her kiss landed on the side of his face. "This little one," she said, not even waiting for him to answer her, "he is your brother?"
"Half-brother, yes," he said, and even then, I sensed the weight behind that single word "half." I know now that it means more than the "brother."
"He is beautiful," she said. "May I hold him?"
Curufinwë's strong arms left me, and for a moment, I cried at being awash in her unfamiliar scent and being balanced in her delicate arms, but then she began to move slightly to the music, and like the calming motion of a ship on the water, it soothed me. I leaned into her skin like silk and breathed her scent like flowers, and she laughed and swayed harder, dancing with me around the floor, and I laughed too, and held tightly to her neck.
I fell in love with Anairë that day, I think, but it was understood that when Curufinwë reached his majority, she would be his wife. It was nothing that was spoken aloud, for the choice of one's spouse is left always to the individual, but Anairë began to spend many meals at our house, and always, she sat beside Curufinwë. And Atar, too, talked of his eldest son's wedding as a certainty. "One week after your fiftieth begetting day, in Manwë's Halls," he always said, "so that you may beget your children young, while your body is its strongest."
Curufinwë said nothing then but usually excused himself soon after, even if his meal was unfinished, and rode back to Aulë's Halls within the hour.
I said nothing also, for it is well known that a spouse may be desired by more than one person, and even though I was but a child, I became resigned to this fact and understood that I would never marry and never have children of my own, for if Anairë was Curufinwë's wife, then she could not also be mine.
When Arafinwë was only two years old, Atar and Curufinwë had an argument the likes of which I had never heard. It began with Curufinwë being summoned to private counsel with Atar, for he had not been home in weeks and had missed both Arafinwë's and my begetting days, and this upset our mother, and she bade our father to have words with her stepson. In my playroom across the house, I could not hear their every word, but their voices quickly grew hateful and, less than an hour after he arrived, I heard my half-brother thunder down the stairs and slam the front door so hard that the windowpanes in the playroom rattled.
We didn't see Curufinwë again for three years, and when he came back, a red-haired woman walked at his side with a red-haired baby sleeping in her arms. I had seen her before—she studied in Aulë's Halls with him—but had never known that Curufinwë loved her, much less that he intended to take her as his wife. He wasn't even old enough to wed, according to the customs of our people—but neither was she—yet there they were, with golden bands on their fingers and a son of their own.
Curufinwë moved outside of the city gates with his new wife and son, and Anairë stopped coming to sit beside him at dinner. I didn't speak to her again for many years, until I was past my majority, although our fathers remained friends. In the years between, I courted several maidens unsuccessfully at my father's bequest, but I found love for none of them, and each romance eventually withered. I saw Anairë occasionally at feasts and festivals, but she always seemed content in her solitude, if not a bit mournful, and I figured that she grieved my half-brother's marriage still.
I encountered her one day in the marketplace in my fifty-first year. I was procuring ten yards of gold brocade for a new gown my mother was commissioning for the Spring Festival, and I looked up from the shimmering cloth to see Anairë standing beside me, admiring a bolt of deep blue velvet. "Anairë," I gasped because to have her so close was like flying from sleep and into the arms of the person who had been haunting my dreams.
She turned, and recognition came slowly into her face. "Nolofinwë," she said and bowed. "My Lord. How fare you?"
I was embarrassed then, for the maiden whom I loved was bowing before me in a crowded marketplace. "You need not—" I began, and she rose quickly, and color pinked both our faces.
"I did not think you would remember me," she said, as way of apology. "It has been many years since we last met."
I had seen her less than a season prior, at the Winter Festival my father held each year, but I did not tell her that, for such a revelation would also require a confession that I had been too shy to speak to her. "You were going to marry my half-brother," I said quickly, and immediately regretted my words, for her face reddened further, and her eyes darted away from mine.
"That was never agreed upon," she mumbled, but I knew—by her frequent presence before his marriage to Nerdanel and her sudden absence after—that she had once assumed it had.
We took to spending time together in friendship, and it did not take many months for this to develop into courtship. I had witnessed the way my half-brother was with his wife, and Anairë and I did not begin to equal such passion, but the love between us burned gently, a flame that nurtured and warmed us from the chill of loneliness. We became engaged and married within the strict customs of our people and both remained celibate until retiring to her bedroom in our new home on our wedding night, having done naught together but exchange kisses.
She spent a long time in the bathroom that night, undoing her elaborate hairstyle and bathing with the door shut against me, while I paced her bedroom floor nervously, barefoot but still wearing the robes and braids in which I had been married. She emerged, wearing a silk nightgown and, casting timid looks at me, climbed onto her bed and tucked herself beneath the covers. I went to her and lay atop the blankets in my clothes, and I kissed her, letting my lips linger long on hers. Her hands were on my face, and I slid the blankets away and cupped her breast through the silk of her gown.
Atar had explained to me when I started to come of age about the love and passion that could exist between a husband and wife, but I knew nothing of the physical desires that crippled him and my half-brother. Other boys my age I heard joke about self-love, and I had tried it once—picturing the maidens that I thought beautiful as I touched myself—and achieved tenuous arousal after many long minutes but could not attain the bliss that they described. Now, as I touched the smooth curve of Anairë's breast, I felt my excitement growing, but it did not begin to become unbearable until my palm brushed her nipple through the silk and she gasped, and the tip of my tongue slipped between her lips and touched hers.
I kissed her throat and whispered in her ear, "Will you bond yourself to me?" and felt her face move against mine as she nodded.
I rose from the bed with my back turned to her and, undoing the clasps and laces, let my robes fall from my body. I turned to her and found her lying with the blankets pulled to her chin, a blush heating her cheeks and her silk nightgown pooled on the floor beside the bed like a puddle of water. Her eyes slid down my body and skipped away when they reached my erection, and I slipped beneath the cool sheets and lay beside her.
I tried to draw the blankets away from her nakedness, but she whispered, "No, Nolofinwë, not yet." I kissed her instead, aware that I was holding my hips away from her, afraid of my penis bumping her thigh, and my hands clutching the sheets instead of touching her body. As she responded to my kisses and half-turned to me, I found myself thinking of Curufinwë and wondering if things would have been different had he consented to wed her. I imagined that she would not shy from him, and he probably would have been inside of her by now.
"Nolofinwë?" she said, and I realized that I had stopped kissing her, although my lips were still resting on hers and my breathing came hard and fast. "Are you well?"
"I—I'm just nervous," I told her and made myself kiss her again.
"I'm nervous too," she whispered to me. She shifted, and her fingers moved like a spider against the inside of my thigh until she reached my groin. She trailed her fingers gently along the length of my penis, and I moaned. "Let's just—" she said, blushing and touching me harder.
I pressed her onto her back and moved atop of her. Her knees were pressed so hard together that her legs trembled, but when I put my hands between her thighs, she spread them willingly, although her body shook so hard that the sheets quivered. She touched me no longer, and her hands clutched the sheets and kept them pulled tightly around our naked bodies. "Don't hurt me," she whispered, as I touched her between her legs and opened her flesh, seeking the place I knew only in the most rudimentary sense.
"I won't hurt you," I promised her softly. "I love you."
I guided myself inside of her, and she breathed in sharply but didn't cry out. I began to move slowly inside of her, and I felt her light join mine, and I knew our spirits had bonded.
I felt her discomfort and shifted positions until her pain subsided and I could move more comfortably within her. Bliss seemed to warm my entire body, gathering and concentrating in my groin until I didn't think I could stand it anymore, and I heard myself groan and cry out, "Anairë!" and I thrust my hips hard and released deep inside of her.
"Nolofinwë, Nolofinwë," she gasped, as I fell aside. We clung to each other, and I knew that my ecstasy had been shared with her as well, just as I had felt her first pain. As quickly as the pleasure overcame me, it was washed away, although my heart hammered and my body was slick with sweat. "I love you," she whispered, as our lips met in kiss after kiss. "I love you so much, husband mine."
Our lovemaking became easier over time, and I learned to bring her the same kind of pleasure that she brought me and basked in the glow that her ecstasy made in my spirit. We never became as impassioned as Nerdanel and Curufinwë, and sometimes we would spend weeks sleeping apart in our separate bedrooms, but when we did lie together, the moment was as sweet as an unexpected breeze on a hot day. It took seven years to conceive Findekáno and many weeks to realize that Anairë was pregnant. One day, returning home from counsel at the palace, I saw from afar the healer passing through my gates, and racing home, found Anairë dressing in her bedroom. "Are you unwell?" I cried, my heart hammering with panic, but she just smiled at me through her mirror, turned, and said, "How would you like to be a father, Nolofinwë?"
Shortly after Findekáno was born, I finally found the courage to ask her the question I had been pondering through all of the years of our marriage. "Anairë?" I asked her. She had just finished nursing Findekáno and looked up from his tiny sleeping body curled in her arms. "Would you really have married Curufinwë?"
"I don't know," she said. Her voice was honest but strayed into the whimsy of memory—where a moment changed and a heart was captured that had eluded her before, and the wedding occurred that was supposed to be held but never was—and she paused a moment to think. "From the time Fëanáro was born, my father planned that I should marry him. When he grew older, I convinced myself that I was in love with him, but yet I never knew him. He never let me know him. I was in love with his title, his reputation. His looks." With her final statement, she gave me a quick appraising glance to see if I was upset, but I have long ago come to terms with the truth about my half-brother: Although people claim that I strongly resemble him, we are as trees, alike in our leaves and our branches, but he is Laurelin and I am a simple oak. "He was the greatest of the Noldor, so named by the Valar, and I figured that left him without fault." She sighed. "I know differently now."
I told her then of the moment that I'd fallen in love with her, of being passed from Curufinwë's strong, secure arms to dance in her more precarious ones. She laughed. "I remember that day. I remember that kiss, when he turned from me. I'd never realized it then, but he never let me kiss his lips until we were both wed. But in our youth, all of my friends told me that the son of the King was exceedingly chaste, and that was my comfort, I suppose." She smiled. "I would imagine they do not say that now."
With Anairë, I am at peace. The concavities in her spirit support the swells in mine and we lock together, stronger in our whole than we were as individuals. Words do not pass often between us when we are alone. We sit in silence, too content in the fullness that we give the other to bother with trivial words. We are not like Nerdanel and Curufinwë—or even Eärwen and Arafinwë—we do not constantly react to one another, deflecting and tumbling like two molecules, but rather lock together like two seas joined as ice, stronger together than we could ever hope to be alone.
When Curufinwë comes to Tirion to attend Atar's councils, I am often forced for one reason or another to summon him to my study, usually for advice.
Curufinwë and I are rarely alone together anymore. Usually our father or Arafinwë is with us, or one of our wives, sometimes Maitimo. But when I ask Curufinwë to come to my study, he always comes alone, and words pass between us that cannot be spoken in the presence of others.
My half-brother's precocity both astounds and dismays me. We share the same father, and our upbringings were not so different from each other, but wisdom that comes almost intuitively to him escapes me, a ship lost in the mire of a fog. There are times when my station requires tasks of me that I cannot complete, problems—particularly of a mathematical nature—that I cannot solve. It is then that I summon Curufinwë, and always he comes, to stand over me at my desk while I explain to him what needs to be done in a voice kept stony to hide its shame. "Nolofinwë," my father had named me—"wise Finwë"—but though my political counsels may be wise, it is Curufinwë who is the master of art and lore.
I always stand and give him my desk to use while I pace around the room like an anxious child waiting to be called into his father's chambers for discipline. He asks no questions of me—although he rises occasionally to pull a ledger from the shelf beside my desk—and works swiftly in intent silence. It is I who force conversation, asking questions with the significance of raindrops into a vast sea: inconsequential, nervous inquiries about his House.
"Maitimo has grown tall," I might say, or, "Anairë said Nerdanel looked well at their last meeting."
But such innocuous statements inevitably seem to metamorphose into something more sinister, evolving further into a near-silent argument delivered in acidic whispers.
"I am surprised," I said once, "that you and Nerdanel have not given Atar more grandchildren." Anairë and I had been married a year, and Macalaurë had just had his twentieth begetting day. I'd meant it innocently, as a jest almost, for Curufinwë and Nerdanel had been renowned in their passion for each other and did not do much to hide the knowledge of their fiery sexuality from others. I had once, when I was only twenty years old and just beginning to understand the mechanics of reproduction, gone to get a glass of water from the palace kitchen in the middle of the night—it was the Winter Festival, and Curufinwë and Nerdanel were staying with Atar for the week—and found Curufinwë pressing Nerdanel against the wall, locked in a kiss, with her nightgown around her hips and her legs around his waist, fumbling to undo the ties on his trousers. I could not believe that my precocious brother and his sturdy wife had not managed to conceive again after having Maitimo and Macalaurë in quick succession, in only ten years of marriage.
But Curufinwë did not take my comment as the gentle jest that it was supposed to be, and he looked up from the ledger with his eyes aflame. "What do you know of it? He who does not even share a bed with his bride?"
I had never realized that rumor of Anairë's and my substantially cooler romance would spread in the same manner as the tales of Curufinwë and Nerdanel's lascivious exploits. My brain fumbled to understand how the conversation had turned from trivial to dire in a matter of seconds, but before I could sputter a response, Curufinwë snapped, "You know nothing of it, Nolofinwë. Nothing!"
"I—" I could not understand what had caused such a reaction, and before I could formulate a civilized reply, my anger at the attack took over, and I retorted, "I do not appreciate such implications about my wife."
"And should I appreciate the same about mine? Hmm? As though she is nothing but a machine used for punching out my babies?"
"No, I always assumed she was a machine you acquired for satisfying your carnal pleasures." He leaped to his feet and his eyes blazed, and that made my spirit sing was sickened satisfaction. I spoke in slow whispers, savoring the fire that rose in his eyes at my words, a torturer honing his cruel art. "You blamed Atar for procuring a second wife after your mother made her choice to die, claiming that he was ruled by lust, but you are no better than his supposed intentions. It is you, Curufinwë, not Atar, who is controlled by lecherous desires, for you now make no secret of the fact that you lie with your wife without hopes of begetting children!"
The argument escalated and spiraled beyond both of our controls, with neither wanting to relinquish and concede defeat, even as we trod the same tired ground as we had in hundreds of arguments before. Curufinwë was ruthless when angered, and many foul names he called me, and while I tried to remain calm and use my dignity to my advantage, I found that I could not overcome—as I never could—the deadly acuity of his oration, and I found myself resorting to my own low rhetoric. That which began in angry whispers like the slice of a blade through the air swelled and grew louder, until we were both shouting and entirely unaware of it.
Neither of us heard the knock on the door—the soft roll of knuckles against wood, easy to overlook—or noticed the door open, until our father called, "Fëanáro? Nolofinwë? What is the cause for this?"
Atar never sounds angry when he interrupts Curufinwë and me in an argument but rather bewildered, as though he still cannot understand why his two eldest sons cannot get along. Feeling as though a cold wind had swept all anger from my mind, I recalled the words I have been using against my half-brother and felt guilt that my father had overheard.
"I am sorry, Atar," I said, trying to regain some status by being the first to apologize. Curufinwë said nothing and fell into a heavy silence. "We did not know you could hear."
"Did not know that I could hear? Nolofinwë, the whole court can hear you!"
Shame burned my face, for I would speak before them later that afternoon on an important matter that would now be ignored in favor of gossip about the King's son's chosen words against his own half-brother.
"Fëanáro, will you wait in my chambers please?" Atar asked, and Curufinwë left the room, but not without first taking the unfinished work left upon my desk. Atar turned to me. "Nolofinwë? This is not like you. What happened?"
I told him of my request for aid with the inventory figures and my attempted jest about his obvious drought in begetting another child. I told of his overreaction and my own response. "He is a hypocrite, Atar," I said, "for he blames you for seeking marriage to Amil, yet he himself allows his body to overcome what is moral and right. He obviously lies with his wife without the intention of begetting a child, and that, I think, is wrong."
"Nolofinwë." Atar's head hung as though in great shame of me, but his warm hands came upon my face and lay on either cheek, framing me as he had when I was a small child. "You speak of something of which you know naught. You have wounded your brother terribly, although you may not have known it."
His fingers trailed from my face, and he turned and left without a farewell or embrace, and I sat at my desk and thought on his words, imagining Curufinwë wounded and unable to reconcile the idea with the memory of my brother's fury. Such a spirit was impossible to wound.
For many hours, I sat, unable to work or even think, until my study door opened unbidden and Curufinwë strode forward and tossed the finished parchments onto my desk without even a glance of acknowledgement. "Curufinwë?" I called to him as his hand lit on the doorknob. "Is it forgotten then?"
He did not even pause. "I did it not for you but for the kingdom," he said, and the door slammed behind him.
Arafinwë and Eärwen do not stay long after supper, and Anairë and I retire to her bedchamber shortly after their departure. While we normally sleep apart, in separate bedrooms, it is unbearable to be parted from her during pregnancy, and I lie beside her in her bed each night. I am ready long before she is, and I lie propped up in bed on a pile of pillows, sketching in the book that I keep on the night table.
Indeed, sketching seems to be the only artistic skill I was given, and it is still mediocre at best. I am not compelled to create—as Curufinwë is—but sketching before bed relaxes my mind and draws me into sleep. I draw Anairë sitting at her vanity table, unbraiding her long, dark hair, her belly swelling beneath her silken nightgown. On this, I allow my pencil to linger, for I am also sketching my son, and I concentrate on meticulously shading ever ripple in the cloth, imagining that I am tracing his contours instead, until Anairë rises from the bench and comes to bed.
She peeks over my shoulder at my sketch and smiles. "Beautiful," she says, and I tilt my face to kiss her mouth and say, "Just like the subject."
I show my drawings to no one but Anairë, for who would have interest in the mediocre scratchings of a prince? I'd shown Atar once, when I was very small, a drawing I had done of my mother, but he was accustomed to admiring Curufinwë's work, and his praise had been insincere. I cannot blame him. The works I have seen appear beneath Curufinwë's competent hands draw my breath from me and make me ache with jealousy. I close the sketchbook and set it aside on the night table.
Anairë snuggles into my shoulder, and I circle her with my arms. Indeed, it is times like these when I wonder why we have separate bedrooms at all, for I would gladly wile away the ages just like this. But once our son is born, I know our need for each other will subside as the sea recedes at low tide.
"What will you name your son?" she asks softly of me.
"What do you sense of him?"
"He will be very wise, gifted in lore. He will have a greater eye for beauty than Findekáno but a lesser heart for forgiveness." Her words are becoming tenuous, torn on the winds of sleep. "His daughter will be beautiful," she whispers, and I feel her eyes close. Her next words are barely audible. "And her son will watch over us all and sail among the stars…."
Sleep takes her then, and I smile at the beauty of her dreams.
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