1. The Thawing
None has ever loved but you and I.
(From "The Ragged Wood' By Yeats)
“Get out.” I glared at the intruder.
“You could at least be civil to your own sibling!” Aredhel said haughtily as she strode in, coming to stand before me.
I did not grace her with a reply. Settling for another glare, I turned my attention to the maps spread on the bed. Reasoning with my sister was not an activity I entered into even on the best of days.
“Our father has asked us to treat our cousins well,” she continued in a quieter tone, “They are mourning the deaths of their father and brother.”
“Father would send you back across the Ice if you referred to Maitimo as dead!” I hissed, shaking my head at her tactlessness.
“I know. But that does not make my words untrue,” she shrugged as she bent over the maps and traced a long, curious finger over the unexplored terrain shown by the solid black shading that engulfed most of the map.
I slapped her finger away. Her innate restlessness and love of travelling would make her a difficult charge in these new lands. I did not envy our father. Trying to restrain Aredhel was as futile as trying to stop wildfire.
“Come with me,” she nudged my shoulder commandingly, “Our cousins are waiting outside father’s tent.”
Our cousins...The Fëanorions. I hated them. If not for my father’s command, I would have called them out for duel. I could see my wife’s knitting basket in a corner of the tent. Aredhel hummed tunelessly in a transparent bid to distract me. With a petulant sigh, I offered her my arm and gave in. I did not want to see our cousins. My dormant volcano of rage was awaiting an outlet.
“Turkáno!” My father smiled easily, though his eyes still held the strange mixture of sorrow, anger and relief. He entered his tent leaving his companion to greet us.
“Cousin,” Curufin inclined his head warily, his handsome features drawn and pale.
I was grateful for my sister’s warm fingers that held loosely onto my arm. Curufin’s voice reminded me of my dead uncle. I clenched my teeth as a vivid image of Elenwë and Idril skidding off the Ice rose in my mind. I had been able to save only my child. To see one of those who had burnt the ships brought back the suppressed memories.
“Atarinkë,” Aredhel smiled at Curufin and moved forward to embrace him. He stepped back uncertainly, his face a study in nervousness.
“She will not stab you in the back, for Eru’s sake!” I snapped, feeling more unsettled by this display of edginess from my usually arrogant cousin.
Aredhel turned to glare at me. I crossed my arms over my chest defiantly. Curufin muttered something under his breath and strode forward to embrace Aredhel. She laughed warmly before raising her head to press her lips to his cheek.
I cursed aloud as my hunting party surrounded a thrall escaped from Angband. None of my warriors had yet approached the piteous figure. A bunch of rags over bones. A woman, I realized, from the dry, shrivelled breasts that were visible through the tattered clothes.
“Who are you?” I dismounted and walked towards the captive, my sword at the ready.
A shrill scream escaped from the thrall’s lips as she fell at my feet, her hands clasped in surrender. I gasped as I saw the purple and red welts on her exposed back. The lacerations and bruises had not spared even an inch of skin.
“What is it, cousin?” Curufin rode into the clearing with his warriors, his face bearing honest concern.
I had stayed away from my cousins as much as I could. Seeing them undid the lid I had clamped over my grief and rage. Curufin blanched as he saw the thrall at my feet and clasped my arm convulsively. Worry gnawed at me irritably as I helped his unresisting form away from the horrible spectacle on the ground. I nodded to my warriors; they would take the thrall to our camp and question her.
“I am fine,” he murmured as he passed a hand over his clammy forehead. “It was the...” he waved towards the thrall mutely.
“Crueller than death,” my anger had taken a retreat leaving behind sadness and concern. “But have you never seen a thrall before?”
“I have.” He inhaled deeply, yet not meeting my eyes. “But they always bring out the same reaction in me. Maitimo...” his words trailed away into pregnant silence.
I bit my nails as I paced the forest floor, thinking of what I could say. My eldest cousin’s situation preyed on us all.
“I warned him. All of us warned him.” He made an expressive gesture with his hands, pouring his frustration and pent-up grief into that fluid motion. I had always admired his expressive eloquence.
“He is no fool. He had to take that risk,” I said quietly, cringing at how hollow my words seemed to be.
“I was speaking about my father.”
Curufin slumped against a tree, as unhappy and forlorn as a wet cat. His eyes still refused to meet mine. He had never before shied away from meeting his troubles squarely. It was then that I realized he repented Losgar. Though it was too late to ever serve anything.
“It is done,” I sighed as I clasped his arm in a warrior’s embrace, “and cannot be undone.”
“I am not foolish enough to hope that it can be undone,” he brushed my hand away impatiently. The gesture reminded me of a skittish stallion, wanting to be petted and yet fearful of being tamed.
I nodded and stepped back. His eyes met mine warily. Well, that was a welcome change.
I sighed as my daughter stared at her mother’s charcoal portrait, her beautiful features drawn into a pensive study. Aredhel had given the portrait to her in the morning and since then Idril had done nothing but gaze at it.
“Cousin,” Curufin’s voice startled me out of my brown study and I turned to face him. He was arrayed for riding. It did not surprise me, for I knew well his innate restlessness. What had me surprised was that he would seek me out. It was no secret that I hated them for Losgar.
“Yes?” I asked, curiosity colouring my voice.
“I was thinking of a day in the woods by the lake,” he framed his sentence cautiously, “and if you do not have anything else to see to, would you accompany me?”
Stunned by this unexpected invitation, I settled for staring at him. He averted his eyes clearly uncomfortable with my scrutiny.
“My daughter is alone,” I said frankly, “and I am not fond of wandering in the wilds. Find my brother. He would be amenable to accompanying you.”
“Go, Father,” my daughter’s young voice broke into our conversation. “You have been bored. I am going to grandfather’s tent.”
Curufin smiled at his unexpected ally, his features softening into warm attractiveness. I took in his visage: dark hair, dark eyes and pale skin. Flushed with strength and spirit, I noted distractedly. He looked better than he had at our last meeting.
“Will you come?” he asked me again, his eyes fixed on a point above my head.
I shrugged as I said with little enthusiasm, “Lead the way.”
Once we had ridden into the woods, he seemed less hesitant to speak. After a few aborted attempts, he succeeded in engaging me in conversation about the new lands. Whatever faults my uncle had been guilty of nobody could say that he had lacked charisma. Curufin seemed to have inherited his father’s charm.
I had never sought his company in Tirion. Indeed, the only time when we had engaged in a conversation that went beyond polite greetings was during the naming ceremony of his son. Fingon and Aredhel are friendly with the younger Fëanorions because of their hunting trips together. I have always got along well with Maedhros, despite my occasional irritation that my father favoured him above his own offsprings. Maglor too, I know well. But Curufin and I had never been cronies. So, why was he keen on inviting me to a ride in the woods?
“I heard from Findaráto that you wish to explore the lands,” Curufin spoke quietly, his voice coloured with the same mixture of wariness, pride and apprehension that had characterized it since our arrival on these shores.
“I am interested in doing so.” I nodded in assent. “Is that not why we followed him? To build and rule?”
“So he believed.” My companion’s words trailed away into silence as a shadow passed over his face.
“You do not believe that we can prosper?” I asked indignantly. From what I had seen of these lands, I firmly believed that we could flourish.
“You may, I hope.” He shrugged indifferently. “My priorities are different.”
“Your son is much occupied in the forge,” I said pleasantly, willing myself to steer the conversation away from his priorities. I was afraid of the oath and had no wish to hear about it. It had already claimed my uncle. And my eldest cousin.
“He is throwing himself into work,” Curufin said unhappily, “He grieves for his mother.”
I turned to face him, my astonishment showing on my features. He smiled sadly as he continued, “She died at Alqualondë. I reached her side too late. But he was the first elf who fell to my sword that day.”
I had not known. My brother and sister had not told me. I had forbidden them to ever mention our cousins’ doings when they were in my company. They had obeyed my request too faithfully.
“I did not know,” I dug my heels into my mare, bringing myself to a halt. He followed suit and turned to face me solemnly.
“I know you did not,” he brushed his tunic unnecessarily. “You have made your wishes clear. You hate our company and the very mention of our names.” His eyes flickered away from mine. “I wished to,” he swallowed, “I wished to let you know that you are not alone in your grief.”
His heartfelt words struck me speechless. He met my eyes nervously, trying to compose his features into nonchalance. I closed my eyes as I imagined Elenwë’s voice laughing at me over some trifle. Though my siblings were always patient with my grief, I knew that they did not understand my sorrow.
But Curufin would; he was going through the same thing. In a fit of pure impulse, I twisted to the side and embraced him. He stiffened for an instant before returning my embrace, his fingers digging into my sides. Our knees bumped against each other inadvertently. My mare panicked at this on-horse manoeuvre I was insisting upon. She fled forward, neighing in indignation.
I yelled in warning, but my hands still gripped my cousin’s torso. He gasped as he fell from his mount. My hands still held his arms tightly and I nearly tumbled off my mare. As it was, I ended up locking my legs about my mare’s flanks, my hands gripping my cousin’s torso with all my strength. He exclaimed in fear as my mare dragged us along. Dry leaves rustled and crackled as he was pulled along indecorously.
He shouted in pain as he gripped my arms for dear life. Through a corner of my eyes, I could see him trying to raise his torso off the ground. I chuckled wildly as I deduced which part of the body had come into contact with the large tree root we had travelled over. His expression of pain and fear however wiped off all my amusement and I unlocked my legs.
I fell off the horse and crashed upon my cousin eliciting a pained cry. With the last of my flagging energy, I pulled myself off him and collapsed wearily with my back to the forest ground.
We lay panting and biting back cries of pain. As soon as my breathing rate returned to normal, I started laughing helplessly thinking about the bizarre picture we must have made. A hand slapped my shoulder half-heartedly reprimanding me for my ill-timed amusement.
All my restraint fled as he said querulously, “You idiot, you nearly gelded me!”
I dissolved into laughter again, tears starting to flow from my eyes. My chest ached due to the recent exertions but I cared little as a ludicrous picture of my gelded cousin rose in my mind.
He grumbled and threw his palm over my mouth to stop my laughter. Beyond the confines of restraint, dignity and common-sense, I growled and pushed his hand away.
“We have made a mess of ourselves,” he muttered as he gingerly rose to a sitting position.
He looked unbelievably young with his flushed cheeks, the numerous scratches on his skin and his tattered clothes. His hair was littered by twigs, leaves and decaying flowers. I laughed again, though I knew that I must look the same. I had, after all, swept the forest floor with my hair on the mad ride.
He rolled his eyes at my unquenchable laughter and launched an attack. As his warm form tackled me, I felt the last vestiges of normalcy disappear from my brain. With a growl that my brother might have mistaken for a wildcat, I began tickling my cousin’s sides. He yelped in surprise and tried to rise, digging his knees into my stomach.
I did not relent, and began tickling him more. He gasped breathlessly as laughter drove him mad. With a neat dodge, I toppled him and rolled atop him triumphantly. He exclaimed in pain as he took my weight.
“I win!” I crowed happily, looking down at his exertion-flushed face now mottled intriguingly by the shafts of sunlight that reached down through the foliage above.
“You do,” he accepted sounding rather wheezy, “Now get off me! Your mad tumbling has me aching in parts that I did not even know existed.”
“I could kiss it better, you know,” I offered cheekily, enjoying the view of his vanquished form.
He rolled his eyes in exasperation at my very kind offer and muttered, “Get off my ribs, you oaf!”
The last word triggered memories in my relaxed mind...
“Get off me, you oaf!” Elenwë would complain after we finished making love. I would laugh merrily and kiss her nose. Then we would settle to sleep, cuddled together cosily.
“Are you having a vision of foresight?” Curufin asked irritably as he tried to push me off him, “I would appreciate being freed.”
I shook my head and bent down to kiss the tip of his nose. He stiffened as I leant down to press my lips to his skin. Fingers dug into my sides.
“I...” I began to frame a sentence distractedly.
“We must find our horses,” he cut me off quickly, his eyes wide and shocked by my actions.
I nodded at his unspoken message and quietly rose to my feet. He sighed and accepted my hand to pull himself up
“I could whistle, I think,” I said detachedly trying not to think of the sudden flood of memories that had left me tottering, “Though she seemed very scared.”
“We can find my horse and leave. I will not ever again deign to share your mare’s company!” he said fervently, “She almost...”
I bit my lips to suppress my laughter as the picture popped up once more in my idle brain. He chuckled as he viewed my silent amusement at his expense.
“Shall we leave?” I asked hurriedly, not wanting to spend time with him while he was in this state. He looked painfully handsome and attractive, a deadly combination. How had I not noticed that before?
He nodded and then quickly leant forward to kiss my lips, a dry brush. But when I took in his slightly dazed features, warmth spread through me as I saw a thin crimson blur on his lips, borrowed from the cut on my lips
“It is the custom in these lands to kiss once for luck,” he explained simply before walking away.
“How was your ride in the woods?” Aredhel asked me curiously as I joined my family for supper.
Curufin sat across me and was currently very interested in his broth.
“I am inclined to repeat it soon,” I said truthfully.
A pair of warm, black eyes looked up at me in pleased surprise. Silently, I raised my goblet of wine in knowing salute.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.