Fëanor and Nerdanel
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Another Man's Cage: 38. Chapter Thirty-Eight--Nolofinwe
I awaken from a nightmare on the morning of Findekáno's return, before the Mingling of the Lights, when the world is still spooky and silver. It seems as though I have been dreaming it all night, although logic tells me that this cannot possibly be true, but my night seems full of pacing, waiting for Findekáno to arrive. The eyes of my wife, my brother, my father were heavy upon my back. I wrung my hands so hard that they ached. When he did not arrive, I saddled my horse and rode to my half-brother's house outside the city and, there, interrupted them in their supper. Findekáno sat at the table with them, between Russandol and Curufinwë, and when I shouted, "What is the meaning of this? Why have you not returned to me my son?" Curufinwë replied, in a calm voice unlike him, "Do you not recall, Nolofinwë? You gave your permission that I adopt him. He is happier here," and when I looked at my son—or was he Curufinwë's?—his eyes weren't blue like mine anymore but that eerie, bright silver-blue flame-color like his cousin Tyelkormo's that has always struck me as wicked, like the eyes of a beast in the dark.
I awaken with my heart pounding and the bedclothes tangled around my damp, weary body. My fingers are wrung around each other, and my hands ache. Anairë lies in peaceful slumber beside me, her hand on her belly and a smile upon her lips. Moving carefully so not to wake her, I ease myself from my bed and go to my study, where a message lies on my desk: the finest parchment available in Tirion (Curufinwë may dress like a heathen and go about the city in muddy boots, but he will spare no expense in showcasing his superior lettering), delivered last night by the stiff, silent apprentice of my half-brother. "Nolofinwë," it reads, "We have returned safely and will escort Findekáno inside the gates tomorrow for his Recitation." I felt a moment's gloating over the capitalization of "Recitation," which I assumed to be an error, then realized that it was not, that recitations are events to my half-brother the way festivals and begetting days are to most people.
I try to feel soothed by the presence of the parchment between my fingers, by Curufinwë's obvious handwriting promising Findekáno's return, but my fears will not be allayed, and finally—hearing the servants moving about downstairs—I dress and descend the stairs to oversee the preparations for my son's first "Recitation."
I received first word of Findekáno's return a week ago, via messenger from Formenos. The messenger was different than the one Curufinwë usually sends, a breathless boy with a habit of touching everything of value he encountered—although less in wonder and more with the probing fingers of a dissectionist—who dropped on my desk, instead of the normal packet of letters, a single sealed parchment bearing Curufinwë's seal.
It read: "At your receipt of this notice, we will be leaving on the morrow. Barring catastrophe, our return will take a week, after which we will seek a night's repose in my house and then return Findekáno to Tirion the following morning. At this time, he will recite to you his lessons from the summer. Please welcome an audience, if you desire. I will send word at our arrival."
I wondered exactly what constituted an appropriate audience for such an occasion, and so settled to ask my parents, my brother, and his wife. I thought of asking King Olwë and his wife—who are staying in Tirion until their first grandchild is born—and those lords most loyal to me but decided against it, envisioning my timid, weak-voiced son stammering through his lessons and having to listen to false voices offering their congratulations afterward. I remembered from my childhood several occasions where we had been summoned to Aulë's house to hear Curufinwë recite for one exam or another. I remember the hours of boring discourse, punctuated by excitement only when Aulë interrupted Curufinwë long enough to ask a question or offer an argument, and I'd sat on the edge of my seat, wondering if he would be able to reply. He always did, and Atar would smile then in a way that I never saw him smile for me.
Then, inevitably, we would proceed into the gallery, where Curufinwë would exhibit each of his accomplishments in turn: glittering gemstones with more facets than I could count, imposing statues made of recalcitrant metals, jewelry so delicate that it look as though a strong breeze could fracture it, but Aulë took it between his fists and yanked and nothing broke (although I found myself wishing that it would). My own education dwindled after I informed my father of my decision to follow him to the court—a position centered more on one's natural, intuitive graces than anything one can learn from a book or a tutor—and I never took any exams, while it seemed Curufinwë was always being named as a master in this or that and being honored by the Valar.
Today, I have invited my son's "audience" to our house first for a late breakfast, expecting that Curufinwë will arrive by early afternoon. I wonder which of his brood he will bring along and decide that I would like to see Nerdanel and Russandol, could certainly bear to see Macalaurë, and preferred that the two youngest be left home. (Of course, who would watch them? The apprentice whose name I cannot recall?)
My parents arrive first, a few minutes early, as is their way. One of my wife's handmaidens brings them into the parlor, where I've had the cooks set up quite an impressive buffet. "Nolofinwë," says my father, kissing me, "you must be overcome by young Findekáno's imminent return!"
I say that I am, and indeed, I am not lying, for my heart has not rested easily in my chest since this morning's awakening.
Arafinwë and Eärwen are late, as is their custom. I hear their chatter and the bell-like laughter of my sister-in-law long before they arrive at the parlor, and then they sweep in, Eärwen full of apologies and Arafinwë full of excuses and a flush high in his cheeks that tells me—along with the way Eärwen's gown lies crookedly along one shoulder—the true reason for their delay. I nod to the cooks to indicate that they may remove the covers and begin serving, and my father—looking about him with a lost, puzzled stare—asks, "Where is your brother Fëanáro?"
I keep my voice nonchalant. "Was I supposed to invite him? I was unaware of the customs for such an affair, if perhaps it was bad luck to see the tutor and his student before such a big event."
"Well, Nolofinwë, surely you can recall that we used to attend breakfast at Aulë's before your brother's recitations?" Without waiting for my answer, he shakes his head and walks away to accept a blackberry pastry from one of the cooks.
My wife is sitting with Eärwen, their heads close together, whispering and giggling like little girls. Even their loosest gowns can no longer hide their conditions, and there is radiance in their faces that I wish never to diminish. Anairë is flushed and twice as happy as usual, for her firstborn son will be returned to her today. Despite her best attempts at hiding it, I am no fool and know that she has pined for Findekáno over these months, never fully understanding—I suspect—the reasons that I sent him away.
I walk towards them, intending to join them, but at the sight of me, their lips pinch shut and they stop whispering, so I veer towards Arafinwë instead and let them resume their conversation of baby names and nursery designs or whatever it is that makes them smile so.
"Nolofinwë!" my brother exclaims, as though he is surprised to see me, as though this is not my house. He is picking over his plate—balanced on a tray on his knees—that seems mostly filled with fruit and bread, although I had the cooks prepare bacon, eggs, and sweet buttery pastries. But that is the way of Arafinwë, who refused to eat meat for the first five years of his life and vomited the first time I took him hunting and—perhaps more illustrative of his personality—never asked me to conceal this fact from our father or our friends, although I saw shame in it where he did not and had concealed it anyway.
I sit carefully next to Arafinwë and nod in the direction of our wives. "What do you think they discuss that enthralls them so?" I ask.
"Probably they are debating which of us is better in bed," remarks Arafinwë, and startled, I look up and find the eyes of my wife and sister-in-law upon me, and they erupt into a peal of giggles. Blushing, I hiss at Arafinwë, "You should not talk that way."
"On the contrary, Nolofinwë, I think that we should seek our revenge by having the same discussion of them." I give him what I hope is a reproachful look—it works on Findekáno, but Arafinwë always has been remarkably immune to animosity—and he stares back at me, solemnly chewing a huge piece of cantaloupe, his glittering blue eyes telling me that he is serious. "You first," he says, from around the cantaloupe. "What's the best thing about Anairë in bed?"
I fleck of cantaloupe escapes his mouth and lands on my arm. Grimacing, I wipe it away with my napkin. "You are being foul, Arafinwë."
"My apologies," he says, muffled because he is still chewing the cantaloupe.
"It is not very sincere of you to apologize for a behavior while you are still committing it."
"I thought I was apologizing for inquiring after your wife's talents in the bedroom." He loudly swallows the last of the cantaloupe and, laying his hand on my arm and looking into my eyes with exaggerated sincerity, says, "I apologize, Nolofinwë, for spitting cantaloupe onto your arm."
Despite the fact that Arafinwë has no appreciable intelligence or talents, I sometimes get the feeling that he is making fun of me.
"So," he says, his mouth clear of any food, "what is the best thing about Anairë in bed?"
Luckily, I am saved by the arrival of our mother. (Even Arafinwë is not so uncouth as to have such a discussion in her presence.) She sits between us, kissing my lips first, then Arafinwë's. "My beautiful boys," she says, and her hands on my face comfort me, and for that moment, my heart stops pounding and I am at peace. I want to curl up in her lap and bury my face in her neck like I used to do when I was small and Curufinwë had sent me away and hurt my feelings. I do not know why I feel like I am about to be hurt today, why—body tensed as though awaiting a blow of pain—I want to lash out in defense.
Laurelin blossoms and I manage to slip away and climb the highest, steepest stairs in the house to a balcony that soars along the rooftop. It is one of the highest points in the city—surpassed only by the topmost turrets of my father's palace—and I like to come here when I cannot sleep and turn and watch the stars. Anairë and I made love up here once, in the early, heady days of our marriage, in the middle of the day, with the chatter from the markets on the streets below reaching our ears as we bit our lips to keep from crying out.
From here, the city appears to fall away from my house, tall rooftops and glistening marble tumbling down the hill of Túna and into the expansive plain that surrounds us. Fountains wink in the afternoon light, and filling the streets are people as small as those whittled toys given to Findekáno after his first begetting day. To the south, the royal guard rides in the field, practicing maneuvers. To the north is a ragged strip of forest and, behind it, Curufinwë's house. From the peak of my roof, I can see the peaks of his, dark angles rising from the forest like some kind of weird joke. I can see flashes of light on the windows that I know belong to his bedroom, that of my brother-son Russandol, and the room they use as their "upper study." He has balconies too, along his rooftop, and sometimes I will see a haze of movement upon them but not today.
He should have left by now, but the long stretch of field leading up to the city is devoid of riders or carriages, unless he is still making his way through the forest or is climbing the city streets as I stand here.
The door behind me opens, and Arafinwë joins me. "I thought I'd find you here," he says. He has a drink in each hand, tall glasses of what appears to be orange juice. He hands one to me. "Here, take this," he says, and when I sip it, I find that it has been spiked liberally with champagne.
"I thought you weren't drinking alcohol until the baby is born," I say, but I am grateful for it.
"Ah, you are right! I do not! But with one important caveat: As long as I don't get drunk, I can have whatever I like. So I still have wine with supper, for example. Hopefully," he says, winking, "I won't get drunk."
I drink deeply and feel a pleasant weightiness settle on my limbs. Arafinwë seizes my arm and says, "Look! It's Fëanáro's carriage!"
I nearly spill my drink in my haste to turn and peer out over the plains, where a carriage bearing my half-brother's crest is making its way toward the city. My heart flutters in my chest, then resumes a normal rhythm: So the nightmare will not come true. I drain my drink and take Arafinwë by the arm. "Come," I say, "they will he here within the hour."
I know that Curufinwë has arrived by the subtle rise in commotion in the streets. It is rare when Curufinwë comes to the city, and by carriage no less! And with his whole family! On a day other than a Festival Day! The surprise among the people of the city ripples like a wave to the top of the hill, and not long after, I hear the clip-clop of shod hooves on the cobblestones outside.
Atar leaped to his feet the moment Curufinwë's presence was confirmed, and he is in the street now, embracing my half-brother with a shameless, wide grin on his face. Arafinwë jogs after him, followed closely by Eärwen, and I see them jesting with Russandol and Macalaurë. Anairë wishes to follow them—I can sense it—to delve into the carriage until she comes out with Findekáno in her arms, but I linger, determined to be dignified, and she will not leave my side. Russandol is helping his mother from the carriage, and together, they are lifting the children and depositing them beside the carriage. Tyelkormo is released first, and he immediately takes off running, skipping around the legs of Macalaurë and Arafinwë until Arafinwë catches him in his arms and lifts him, kissing his laughing face. Carnistir emerges next, cradled in Russandol's arms like a child much younger than he is, squawking with indignation at having been awakened. And so it is Findekáno who emerges last, holding his robes away from his feet in that prim way of his that manages to irritate me even after a three-month absence, and Nerdanel takes his arm, but he hops to the ground on his own, keeping his footing with effortless ease.
Beside me, Anairë gasps, and Findekáno's head tips in our direction and no sooner perceives his mother before he is off running, his robes in a flurry around little legs pumping faster than I knew possible for him. Anairë kneels on the ground, laughing and crying, both with joyful abandon, her arms spread wide to accept her firstborn, who crashes into her without dignity or grace, crying, "Amil, Amil!" into her shoulder.
"Oh, Findekáno, Findekáno," she whispers, and her face is soaked with tears that she cannot wipe away because both her arms are locked around our son, and she won't let go.
Laughter and joy are rising like bubbles around us; hugs and kisses are being exchanged, but I have hugged or kissed no one yet and stand alone, until—perhaps sensing my sudden loneliness—Anairë presses Findekáno into my arms: "Here, Findekáno, go to your father."
I am amazed at the speed with which his arms lock around my neck—and his weight! he must have gained ten pounds and two inches at least!—and I am kissing his face, suddenly hating myself for making him go away and missing this summer of his childhood that will so quickly end.
The procession climbs the stairs to my home. My half-brother's family dress with dignity for once—robes for Curufinwë and his sons and a modest gown for his wife—and they even wear their circlets. It is an occasion indeed!
Curufinwë leads, and he grasps my hand in his strong, slender one. "Well met, Nolofinwë," he says. His face is like marble, unsmiling, except for the eyes, which burn with unquenchable fire. He turns to my wife. "Anairë, you are radiant," and she giggles like a young girl and kisses his cheek—he allows it, although I see him stiffen—and says, "And you, Fëanáro, look robust, as always."
Indeed, he does: Curufinwë always looks like a man who has run ten miles on a cool morning, letting the life of the Blessed Realm seep into his lungs and into his body, rising to chase the pallor from his face and the lifelessness from his eyes. His gaze is always roving, as though he is memorizing this moment, as though even the most mundane of occurrences is worthy of his curiosity. I used to suspect that Curufinwë did not sleep—he seemed always to be at task when I retired to bed at night and at task again when I awakened in the morning—and I wonder if he knows how to spend an idle moment, seeking only comfort and repose without squeezing from it some new kind of knowledge.
On his heels is Russandol, resplendent in cream-colored robes trimmed in scarlet and gold and with his hair mostly free to tumble down his back, secured only at the sides in narrow braids. He smiles with a sincerity I cannot match and kisses my cheek. He is as tall as his father now, I see, and of the same slender, graceful build like a blade of grass that will bend and sway but never break.
"Uncle Nolofinwë," he says, "well met," and he is reaching up to stroke Findekáno's hair, his eyes filled with a raw love like none I have ever seen.
If the rumors are true, then Russandol's lady left him in Formenos. If she did, I think, she was a fool for doing so; there could be no one with greater grace and beauty outside of the Ainur. He goes next to my wife, and she clasps his hands for a long moment, her long fingers caressing the contours of his hands, as though memorizing each tendon and knuckle; I see the hopeless hunger in her eyes that accompanies the appraisal of a thing of beauty that is unattainable. I want to feel a pinch of jealousy but cannot quite muster it; he is inquiring after Anairë's health and that of the baby, and nothing in his posture or voice suggest that his interest is feigned; he is saying now what a pleasure it was to tutor Findekáno, how he never dared hope for so eager a student. I glance at my son perched in my arms, and his eyes are on my face, perhaps watching for my inevitable surprise at Russandol's words.
Nerdanel is next, full of soft, kind words, as she always is, that slip from my memory the moment she passes toward my wife. Carnistir is in her arms, and he hides his face from me and makes a noise into her shoulder that sounds like a growl. She tries to coax him out without luck, until I urge her along, expressing my laughing sympathy for the difficulty of small children. Behind her is Macalaurë with Tyelkormo in tow; the latter is darting about like a hummingbird in a bed of flowers. Macalaurë nods and mumbles a greeting to my wife and me, and Tyelkormo glares at me like he would like to kick my shins but greets me with fair words at his brother's insistence.
And so they are all here, and we go into the house, to the parlor that I have had set especially for today. I offer wine: Curufinwë and Russandol both say, "Please," at the same time, cast each other sidelong looks, and smirk conspiratorially. Macalaurë makes a soft plea to his father, his gray eyes wide, and Curufinwë dismisses him with "Ask your mother"; Nerdanel scowls and Macalaurë mopes and grudgingly accepts a glass of fruit juice.
I do not know how one of these "Recitations" is supposed to work: Curufinwë is sitting tall on the edge of a sofa cushion—feet crossed and hands folded—while Atar leans forward like an eager child and makes inquiries of him; Nerdanel is talking with my wife and Eärwen; the children (although Russandol can barely be called that anymore) are answering the polite questions of my mother. Tyelkormo tugs at the neckline of Macalaurë's robes, trying to show her some scar on Macalaurë's shoulder, and Macalaurë gruffly smacks his hands and there are tears. "Oh, dear," says Amil, pressing her hands together at her lips as though uncertain about what to do, but Russandol solves that for her by giving Macalaurë a stern look and sweeping a tearful Tyelkormo into his arms and effortlessly steering the conversation in a different direction.
I hear commotion in the entranceway and excuse myself to find my porters stacking two large wooden crates inside the doorway. "Where would you like them, my lord?" one asks while my baffled mouth flaps ridiculously.
As though on cue, Russandol appears at my elbow with Tyelkormo on his hip. I have to tip my head up to look at him now, just as I must his father. "They are Findekáno's projects from the summer," he explains. "We figured that you might like to have them."
"Of course," I say quickly, waving the porters in the direction of the western parlor, where I will figure what to do with them later.
Afterwards, I accept my congratulations for Findekáno's excellent performance with baffled duty, for I have done nothing to earn them. The congratulations, I suppose, belong with Curufinwë and his family, but they have knit together in a corner of the room in that way of theirs: Carnistir is shrieking, and Russandol is saying something that has both Curufinwë's and Macalaurë's eyes bright with mirth; Tyelkormo dances around their legs; Nerdanel leans against her husband's arm, their hands clasped like two youths.
"Nolofinwë," says Atar, "he was wonderful. You must be so proud."
Findekáno is at my side, but he is watching his cousins. I nudge him, and his attention snaps to his grandfather. "Thank you, Grandfather Finwë," he says softly.
"My porters have also delivered two huge crates full of Findekáno's work," I add. "The amount he achieved this summer is stunning."
Russandol fractures himself from his family and comes toward us. "Uncle Nolofinwë," he says, in that voice of his that maddens me with its similarity to my father's, with its easy grace, "might I express again the pleasure that was teaching your son. He is a splendid student."
"And you did a marvelous job teaching him," says Atar before I can answer.
"Ah, the quill is nothing without the parchment." He reaches down to touch Findekáno's shoulder, and my son beams at him. I realize that I am growing to despise Russandol almost as much as I despise his father.
A poor time to decide this, too, considering that he will be in my house for two days of the week for the entire winter to tutor Findekáno. I wonder if I might have Macalaurë instead, who is always so quick to escape my glance and seems always to be mumbling and scurrying away.
My half-brother's family leaves early at least, under the pretense that tomorrow will bring an early day in the forge. The horses are hitched, the children are packed into the carriage, a flurry of greetings are exchanged, and they are gone.
Findekáno perches in Anairë's arms. Russandol comes to him and kisses his forehead; Findekáno's eyes are bright with unshed tears. "Little one," he says, "do not despair for I will see you in only a week's time, and we shall continue where we were with the Journey of the Teleri upon Tol Eressëa." I grit my teeth.
Atar and Amil leave shortly after, and Anairë sits with Findekáno in her lap and sips fruit juice with Eärwen and laughs at some silly story my brother is telling them.
I slip away, to the west parlor, where two large wooden crates sit in the pale, silvery light of early evening. I try to pry them open with my fingers but they are nailed securely shut; finally, I locate a servant who brings a pry-bar and wrenches them open for me, one by one; the boards are not even on the floor before I am plunging my hands into the crates to come up with statues wrapped in silk and books filled with a hand that barely impersonates the one I once knew as Findekáno's. I open to the last page: "The Sundering of the Teleri upon Tol Eressëa," it reads, and I clap it shut.
The statues are animals mostly, although there are a few awkward beginnings of human figures that I recognize as the Valar. As I delve further into the crates, the statues become less awkward and the chisel strokes less obvious; I find another book, this one filled with sketches and calligraphy practices. "Findekáno," says the word at the top of the page, done with a broad brush in a sweeping hand that belongs to Russandol, and beneath that, Findekáno's hand, growing more confident as it moves down the page. "Findekáno," it reads. "Findekáno. Findekáno. Findekáno. Maitimo. Findekáno. Maitimo Maitimo Maitimo Findekáno—"
I grow weary and turn the page. Sketches: horses, hounds, hawks on wing—the usual thing a small boy draws. On the next page are hands: childish hands, strong hands, hands holding hammers or other hands. I am surprised by his skill. Did he have this talent when he left? I cannot remember—or perhaps I just never saw any of his drawings.
There is a box filled with jewelry. There are colorful beaded necklaces and finer pieces done in gold and silver; rings engraved with words and pictures in a child's awkward, untrained hand. My half-brother must have judged these harshly but, to me, they suddenly hurt my heart with their beauty, and I want to fill my fingers with them.
At the bottom of the box is another book and, tucked between its pages, is a sheaf of parchment bound with a red silk ribbon. I untie the ribbon and recognize my own hand: the letters that I sent to my son, and those from his mother, grandparents, and my brother and sister-in-law. I reread the words and am stunned by my cold, rote words when my wife gushes, "My dearest Findekáno, I miss you so much …"
My brother writes: "I speak to your imminent cousin all of the time of you, and he cannot wait to meet you. Give my greetings to Fëanáro and family! Especially Russandol, and beat him in a game of Strategy for me (since I seem never to be able to beat him myself—but do not tell him that!)"
I write: "The weather here is fair, Findekáno, and I have had the servants rearrange your room in a more pleasing manner in anticipation of your return."
The weather is fair? I cringe. It is Valinor; the weather is always fair.
I stuff the letters back into the book and let the book drop into the crate.
"Do you always snoop in your son's private papers by meager Treelight?" comes the voice behind me. Arafinwë is leaning on the doorframe, a flute of sparkling cider in hand, eyes bright with mirth. I do not answer, and he comes to sit on the floor beside me.
"He is thirteen years old," I mutter. "I hardly think he has private papers."
Arafinwë ignores me. "He is coming into his talent, Nolofinwë. You must be so proud! If my son has half the ability at his age …"
I wonder about Arafinwë's son sometimes. I wonder if he will long for the Sea, like his mother's people, or if he will be spirited and carefree and utterly useless, like my brother. I cannot imagine him much like a Noldo—and then, with a start, I realize that he will be only a quarter Noldo anyway, and he will be an heir to all three races of Elves, not least of all the Teleri.
Arafinwë grins and shivers. "I love those words, Nolofinwë! 'My son.' How unbearable the joy must have been at Findekáno's birth! How you must love him! I cannot believe that so much of my heart can be taken by someone I've never even met."
Actually, Findekáno's birth was terrifying, lasting longer than the midwife would have liked, and Anairë abandoned her careful dignity to scream in agony—the sheets drenched with her sweat—and pushed me away even as she clung to my hand in a grip that was feeble at the end, when the midwife lifted my squalling son in her arms. I remember less my joy of being a father and more my relief of being still a husband, for Curufinwë had awakened in all of us the awareness that death could come even in the Blessed Realm, cloaked in an event as joyous as the arrival of a new life.
I smile at Arafinwë. "It was a wonderful day," I tell him, and certainly, it is true in a sense: It turned out wonderfully; my wife is still healthy, and my son is—I realize with a start—perfect.
"Who do you think," asks Arafinwë, "will be the first of us to give our father a granddaughter? You, me, or Fëanáro?"
Probably Curufinwë, I think, but I say, "My next child will be a daughter. That is going to be in my thoughts while—" Realizing where the conversation is going, I feel my face flush and stop speaking, and Arafinwë throws his head back and laughs. "While what, Nolofinwë? While what?"
It is Anairë who tucks Findekáno into bed his first night back home, after our guests have left. I retire to my bedroom and lie with the lamp on for a long while, leafing through a book of poems that has been passed among my lords, necessitating that I too must now read it. They are Rúmil's words and they are beautiful—his script, which my half-brother adapted—is poetry in itself, flowing across the page with the rhythm of the sea or the softness of a fresh breeze, but my mind will not absorb the meanings of the words. I am beginning to wonder if Anairë retired to her own bedchamber when my door opens.
There is youthfulness in her face that I have not seen in a long time, since I was a child and spun in her arms while she still entertained thoughts of marrying my half-brother. "Our son is home!" she says. "I never thought I could be so happy, even here." She begins to undress, and I mark my place in the book and lean on my elbow to watch her. "Two children—one who I can still feel inside me—and a handsome husband to keep me warm at night. The son of the King!"
I wonder whose heart I shall choose to break next summer: my wife's, to again send away her eldest son, or Findekáno, to tell him that Russandol will be riding north without him.
Anairë slips into a loose white nightgown and comes to my bed. As I reach to cover the lamp, she surprises me by guiding my face to her own and kissing me on the mouth, her lips soft and warm and imploring. Her lips part and our tongues touch, and I feel myself start—growing aroused even as my hand brushes her belly and reminds me of the fruitless redundancy of my desire—and then clutch her harder to me. We have not made love since we conceived late last autumn, and I had not thought of it. Until now.
She is astride me; her hands are already tugging at my nightshirt. "Anairë," I say, "why? When you are already—" She interrupts me with a kiss. Her belly—round and full—presses mine, taut and flat, and I feel our son kick.
"Is it not enough, Nolofinwë," she gasps against my mouth, "to do this, not to conceive, but out of love for me?"
She yanks her nightgown over her head. My hands slide up her belly and cup her breasts, and she smiles at my answer.
This is how Curufinwë must feel, I find myself thinking the next morning, as punishment for his shameless lechery. Now my shameless lechery. I am reminded of the few times in my youth that spent late nights with the sons of my father's lords, drinking too much wine and causing a ruckus, being awakened early the next morning to sit at my father's table. My head feels swollen and heavy; my eyes are grainy with weariness. I ponder the eggs—cooked perfectly, as usual—and thick toast that the cook sets in front of me and feel mildly ill.
When Curufinwë reappeared with Nerdanel clutching his hand and Russandol only a tiny bundle in the crook of his arm, he lived with Atar for the few weeks until enough of his house was built to be safe enough for his wife and newborn son to live there. (I have no doubt, had Russandol not been around, that Curufinwë would have slept beneath the stars with only naked rafters as his shelter.) I remember how he and Nerdanel would look in the mornings, arriving at the breakfast table after being summoned by Atar's servants. When I expressed my scorn, Atar reminded me of how difficult caring for a newborn could be, using a tone of voice that expressed his displeasure with me more so than his belligerent eldest who had fled to the forest to wed, had almost immediately conceived a child (also born in the wild, like some kind of animal), and couldn't even put on a clean tunic for breakfast in the morning. My bedroom was down the hall from Curufinwë's, in a different wing from my parents' suite, and I heard enough of what went on in Curufinwë's bedroom to know that Russandol wasn't the one keeping them awake at night. Russandol rarely awakened or cried at all.
But I feel now like he looked in the early days of his marriage, and Anairë smiles at me, as though she perceives the thought.
Findekáno is chattering about what he is going to do today—how he is going to read and ride and walk in uncle Arafinwë's garden to see how many butterflies he can identify—and his plate is cleared in what feels like an instant. I rub my eyes and watch him scrape the last of the eggs from his plate with a fork and shove them into his mouth. "May I have more?" he asks, after swallowing, and my surprised wife adds another spoonful, not stopping until he nods and the plate is full again.
"I have a better idea, if you will hear it," I say.
"But I want to read the book about Tol Eressëa that Uncle Fëanáro said I could borrow!"
I wave my hand as though dismissing the thought. "Those things are boring. Those things you will do with Russandol when he comes to tutor you next week." Findekáno has stopped eating and regards me with wide eyes and a tight mouth. He looks dire, as though I am about to dole out some punishment. "Do not look so, Findekáno! I would like to take you around the city today, to let your people know that you have returned, and have lunch with you by the fountain in the square."
His eyes immediately brighten. "Really?" His brow furrows. "I have people?"
"Of course. You are a prince."
"Does Maitimo have people?"
I like to think not but—despite the rarity of his presence in the city—my eldest brother-son remains unfailingly popular.
I smile. "Of course he does. Your cousin is one the favorite Noldorin princes."
Findekáno blushes and admits, "He's my favorite too."
I want to remind him that I am also a prince, but it seems rather childish to engage in such an argument with a thirteen-year-old. Besides, he must surely prefer his father to his half-cousin.
"So would you forgo your books for a day?"
He nods eagerly.
I have my horse and his pony saddled, and we make the rounds to the houses of my lords. Each makes a fuss over Findekáno, asking him silly questions that he probably could have answered before entering the esteemed tutelage of Curufinwë or to sing songs that Macalaurë never needed to teach him. They turn then to me, and we discuss construction projects and grain supplies and grazing lands, and Findekáno swings his feet and looks bored.
When noontime draws near, Findekáno says in a tiny voice, "Atar, I am tired still from my journey. May I visit the others another afternoon?"
Findekáno's untruths are goldfish in a clear pool, flashy and obvious, but I force myself to smile. "Of course. But will you take lunch with me first?"
We sit along the rim of the fountain, and a brisk breeze occasionally mists us with water. The square is filled with people today, and I spot a young silvery-haired girl selling flatbread stuffed with shrimp and a spicy dressing, and I get one each for Findekáno and myself. He is dipping his finger into the fountain and writing on the flat, gray stones that form the rim of the fountain, only the afternoon is hot and Laurelin is at her zenith, and his words evaporate from the warm stones before I can read what he is writing.
"Did you enjoy your time in Formenos?" I ask him in a casual voice, hoping that he'll divulge some great misery, but his eyes brighten at the mention of it, and he nods. Before he can launch into a retelling of his great adventures (I heard him telling my father once; my brother again; no doubt, he has told his mother too), I ask, "And what do you plan to study this winter?"
He ticks them eagerly off his fingers: "Language, writing, history, botany, drawing, music, sculpture—"
I laugh and interrupt him. "You cannot study all of those things! Not at one time anyway. You will be dreadfully confused by it all."
Obstinately, he replies, "Maitimo studies all of those things."
Unsure of how to reply to that, I stare into the square. Ehtelion, the youngest son of the Lord of the Fountain, and the son of my father's chief cook are unwrapping wooden sparring swords and laughing. Both are ten years or so older than Findekáno. They brandish them and begin attacking each other in a flurry whirling limbs and bodies. My own body aches suddenly for my youth when there was time enough in the day for such foolery and the conversations with my friends—now the Lords of Tirion—didn't pertain to types of building stone or suitable rangeland for dairy cattle but was taken up by hunting, riding, sparring … and sitting at this very spot on the fountain and discussing the maidens that passed.
Findekáno is feeding bits of his flatbread to a pack of burbling doves. "So may I?" he asks.
"May you what?"
"Study all of those things?"
His blue eyes happen upon mine, and they are full of timid eagerness. It is a feeling I have never understood—this desire to sequester oneself away from the presence of people and foray instead into a book—and reminds me of when I was very young and Atar would insist upon Curufinwë's attendance at one or another affairs, and Curufinwë would implore, "But I am in the midst of a book of lore …" or "I have just begun a new project with Aulë …" and Atar would always relent and make excuses for his absence.
"Russandol cannot possibly teach you all of those things in just two days," I say.
"Well, he shall teach me the language, writing, history, and botany. The music, drawing, and sculpture I have lessons enough for the entire winter, and I shall study on my own."
Ehtelion bests the cook's son, but his hand slips, and his sparring sword touches the other boy's arm, forfeiting his victory. The cook's son crows in triumph and Ehtelion scowls. "Best of three," he says, spreading his feet into a wide stance, the laughter gone from his eyes.
Findekáno is watching them with great interest. He glances at me and looks away again. I wonder what is brewing inside his head, beneath the lengths of silky, dark hair braided this morning by his nursemaid. The cook's son is falling back—losing—but suddenly springs forth and nearly catches Ehtelion off his guard. Findekáno flinches as though it is his arm that will raise the sparring sword and sweep the other's away, and he lets out a relieved whoosh of air when Ehtelion counters and nearly wins.
"Atar?" he says at last. "May I—?" He nods in the direction of the two older boys. "I should like to learn."
I laugh. "You are too young. You could be hurt. Perhaps in a few years."
"Uncle Fëanáro taught me a bit," he says. "Even little Carnistir learns." In a voice—loud and brash—unlike my small, awkward Findekáno, he insists, "I want to learn, Atar."
The voice that comes out of me is weak and deflated, a balloon with the air let out. "Then I shall find you a teacher."
I am surprised by the sudden clasp of tiny arms—stronger, though, than I remember—around my neck, and the warmth of a voice in my ear: "I love you, Atar!"
For all of his purported exhaustion, Findekáno gets little rest upon our arrival home. I retire to my study to work on some reports for my father, and I hear Findekáno's eager little feet scampering down the stairs from his bedroom. A few minutes later, he is darting around the garden after butterflies with my brother meandering in tow. "Uncle Arafinwë! A monarch! Uncle Arafinwë! A painted lady!" His voice reaches to my window—past the barrier of height, past the glass—and I smile at its joyful abandon, my quill resting uselessly in my hand.
The door to my study opens and Anairë comes in: She is the only one who will enter my study unannounced, without knocking. Even my father and brother do not take such liberties. She eases herself onto the corner of my desk, lifting her dress and settling herself with great care. She smiles at Findekáno playing outside and bends to kiss me.
Her warm fingers trail beneath my chin. "You make me so very happy, Nolofinwë," she says.
I look at her with some surprise. Such blunt sentimentality belongs to the marriages of my brothers, never to Anairë and me. She laughs at my surprise. "Do not look so, Nolofinwë! As though you expected me to confess my misery instead!"
"As you make me happy," I answer, and she presses her lips to my forehead. I feel her mouth curve into a smile against my skin.
"Do you ever think of the many paths we could have taken in our lives? And if one step was different…." She trails off.
"If you had stepped away from me, you would have never known your loss."
"Still, it makes me want to step carefully, to maximize my joy."
"Our lives are long, Anairë. Some joys will come to us, and others will escape. We will never know those that do."
"What would it be, do you think, if we knew what we gave up in the mundane moments of lost encounters and missed coincidences?"
"I think life would be agonizing."
I take her hand and turn it over in mine. Her skin is fairer than mine; her hand smaller, looking as though it belongs on a porcelain doll. But her skin is warm, and her hand turns and closes on mine—defiant—guiding my palm to press against the firm bulge of her belly.
"He will be very wise," she whispers. "The most like his father of all our children."
Our son lies quietly beneath my hand. I imagine that I can sense him like Arafinwë says he can sense his own child. Suddenly, he shifts, and something flutters against my hand. I gasp and Anairë laughs. It is as though he is trying to touch me through his mother's flesh that separates us.
"After almost two full pregnancies now," Anairë chides, "I would think you used to the fact that babies kick."
"It is not that," I say softly. It is the thought of a person, unseen, only inches past my hand—a life constructed from bits of me and bits of Anairë. It is the thought of Anairë's body serving as a vessel for my children, a sacrifice I would have thought no one willing to make for me, to let her body be torn and weakened to give me a son. It is the thought of little hands and little ears belonging to my son, growing even as I sit here, feeling him punch the palm of my hand, and a heart beating that no one can hear but I can sense. I want to stay in this moment forever. I know that he will be born, and he will grow; we will become distant, as children and fathers do, and I don't want that to happen. I want us to be this close forever.
I allow my palm to shift, to soften, turning my touch into a caress. Anairë lifts her hand to stroke my hair. "Turukáno," I whisper.
"What is it, love?"
"Turukáno. It is what I shall name him," and I smile as he kicks again and lies still.
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