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A Further Shadow Despite the Darkness: 4. Ceremony
Now that Oropher had disappeared into the crowd of revellers, Glorfindel and Idril stood alone at the far end of the grove, away from the dancing and carrying on but closer to the low cooking fires where pots of food were served. Idril seemed content, for the moment, humming and swaying on the spot as she watched the dancers weave their ring at the opposite end. She swished her enormous skirt with one hand while twirling her hair around the fingers of the other. Subtly and slowly, she was inching toward the crowd.
"Watch the way they dance," said Glorfindel. "It looks dangerous, doesn't it? All that leaping and whirling. I don't think we should join in."
Idril turned to give him a brilliant smile: one that he was certain was of the type she used when she wanted to charm and persuade people. "Oh, I don't know. It looks fun. Everyone is smiling and laughing, see? I think I want to try."
"But your gown is so large and... splendid. And expensive. Somebody will step on it for certain, and rip it, or get it dirty..."
"Hm," said Idril. She wrinkled her nose. "I suppose you're right. I'll just have to be very careful and hold it up." To illustrate, she gathered up an armful of ruffles, which still managed to spill over her hands and touch the ground.
"What if we had food instead?" Glorfindel offered. "You must be hungry. We've not had any supper yet."
Idril dropped the bunches of skirt. "I had some bread and cheese while Melessë combed my hair. But that's not really supper, is it? I think I would like some actual food. You may get me some. It smells quite interesting, like spicy and woody and green all at once. I think it is real Sindarin food. We don't have that in Vinyamar. I want to try."
"Wait right here."
He crossed to the food tables, and was immediately given a large piece of flatbread by a server in a fancy green hat. Then, before he had a chance to ask about a plate, a second server turned a ladle of thick stew onto the bread. A third server topped the stew with fresh mushrooms. The three grinned at him with the silly, good-natured grin of those who have had too much wine, and he nodded his bewildered thanks in return. The look and consistency of the stew gave no indication of its ingredients. Raw mushrooms were an interesting choice of garnish. The flatbread looked like a regular variety of flatbread, but it made an insufficient plate; the heat of the stew began to radiate through and burn his hands. He hurried back to Idril.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I don't know. Some manner of stew, with mushrooms, and bread."
"You didn't get me a plate."
"There were none. I think this is how the Sindar eat it. Directly off the bread."
Idril raised an eyebrow. "Well," she said, "if that's how it's done..." She leaned forward slightly, and opened her mouth.
"Um," said Glorfindel. He held the stew-covered bread out toward her, certain that he had misread her action. It would be ridiculous to assume she wanted him to feed her. "Don't you want-"
"No," she answered, and opened her mouth wider.
Awkwardly, Glorfindel shifted the weight of the bread from one hand to the other. A hot stream of gravy spilled over the edge and down the side of his thumb. He bit back a curse. "My lady, I really think you ought to hold it. It would be improper for you to eat out of my hands."
"Well, I'm not eating out of my own hands. They'll get dirty. Look, there's stew spilling all over your fingers. I don't want dirty hands, but boys' hands are allowed to get dirty, so you can hold it. A bit higher so I can eat without bending over."
He took a breath, tried to forget the searing liquid that slowly trickled over his hands, and held out the bread at the level of Idril's mouth. She smiled pleasantly at him between tiny bites.
"It's quite tasty, really," she said. "A bit spicy. I think it is made from radishes."
"Oh," said Glorfindel. He had focused on her mouth, and continued to stare as she ate. The concentration helped dull the throbbing, burning pain in his skin where the stew ran, if only somewhat. She had a small mouth. It was entirely at odds with the overwhelming amount of noise she produced. Her lips were a delicate, rosy pink colour in a subtle shape, with no sharply defined curves. Behind them, she had small teeth and a rather pointed tongue. That tongue could stretch an impressive distance beyond her lips, to catch wayward gravy droplets on the edges of the bread. She licked the beginnings of another rivulet, stopping it in its path. The side of her tongue met the tip of Glorfindel's finger.
It was a fraction of a moment of touch, scarcely existing at all, but the unexpected shock sent a chain of fire shooting straight to the deepest parts of Glorfindel's core, stopping to coil and writhe somewhere near his groin. He caught himself and shut his mouth before a gasp of awe could escape. Idril looked up, meeting his eyes with a gaze that could have been knowing, and smiled again.
"Aren't you going to have any?" she asked. "It's very good."
Glorfindel, not trusting his voice to speak, only shook his head.
"Too bad. I can't finish it all." She took two more bites, and stepped back. "There, I'm done."
"Alright," whispered Glorfindel. He tipped the remaining bread and stew into the bushes and looked at his hands, which were red from the heat and smeared with rivulets of gravy that had somehow managed to travel over his gold cuffs and onto his sleeves. None of it mattered. He stared at the finger that had touched Idril's tongue.
"You see," Idril said, "your hands are filthy now. You'd best wipe them off."
Nodding in silent agreement, he glanced around for anything that could be used as a napkin, eventually having to settle on a thick growth of moss at the base of a nearby tree. He wiped the resulting moss-dirt on the inside of his sleeves, where it would not show.
"I wonder when the wedding ceremony will start?" asked Idril. She had started to wander toward the dancing circle again, swishing her skirt as she went. "Where did your Sindarin friend go? Will he know?"
"Possibly; I can ask him."
"Good. I don't like waiting."
With a quick glance about the grove, Glorfindel was able to spot Oropher easily. He had left the circle on the arm of a girl who had some of the widest hips Glorfindel had ever seen, and appeared to be inventing a dance of his own: one that involved unruly bouncing and high kicks. Judging by her haughty posture, with hands cinching her waist and nose in the air, the girl had to be Emmith. She had inherited the unofficial title of Most Desirable Kitchen Wench after Ninnan's wedding two years earlier, and wore it with pride. Oropher claimed she had turned down no fewer than forty-four marriage proposals since spring. Nearly a third of those had been from him.
"Wait here," Glorfindel told Idril, and he started across the grove to where Oropher and Emmith stood.
The look that Emmith gave him as he approached started off as wary and ended up as simpering once the quantity of his jewellery and the richness of his clothing became evident. He tried not to stare at the enormous necklace that decorated her bosom.
In the middle of a kick, Oropher spun around to face him, nearly falling over in the process. "Oh! Ha. There you are. Good night so far?"
"Yes, lovely." He pressed his throbbing hands against his thighs. "But it's rather late, and we would like to know when the actual ceremony will start. If you have any idea."
"No, sorry," said Oropher. Grinning, he swung an arm around Emmith's shoulders, pulling her closer in a gesture that might have been affectionate, had Glorfindel not suspected purely jealous motives. Emmith was staring at their breeches, one after the other, in an appraising way.
"Usually lots of dancing first, though. Eating and drinking. Got to get everyone good and riled up. Then, maybe round midnight, they do their vows. After that, the dancing gets even wilder."
Glorfindel sighed. "Midnight. We have hours yet. And I can't even dance with Itarillë in that ridiculous dress of hers. What am I supposed to do until the ceremony? She gets bored easily and always wants to be doing something. Is there anything besides dancing and eating?"
"Well..." Pulling away from Emmith, he ushered Glorfindel toward the edge of the clearing and out of earshot of any other revellers. He spoke softly. "If you want my advice, and you might not because I'm very drunk right now, I think you should try to get her out of that ridiculous dress."
"No, really," he continued. "It's big and in the way. You'd be doing everyone a favour, most of all you and her. Take her out for a walk around the forest, make sure you keep going by fallen trees she can snag her skirt on, keep touching her bum by accident every time she trips... You say a few nice things about how pretty she is too, I bet you can have her undressed in no time."
"That is an absolutely despicable idea!" Glorfindel hissed. "I am not going to take advantage of her, and I am certainly not going to try to undress her in the woods! That's horrible!"
"You're right, you're right," said Oropher. He stumbled a little, burped, and leaned against Glorfindel's arm. "She's too skinny anyway."
Oropher gave him a knowing nod. "Too skinny. No tits, no bum. Just a big dress, and that's no good. I know about these things, LL. You should forget her and find someone better, like Emmith. Only not Emmith, because she's mine. Maybe she has a friend, though..."
"I happen to think Itarillë is very beautiful and perfect exactly as she is," Glorfindel said coldly.
"Well, you'll learn. Who wants to be on top of some knobby hips and little, bony body? Trust me, once you been with one who's all soft and comfortable, you never want to go back."
Glorfindel paused just long enough to glare at him before turning around and heading back to where he had left Idril. "You are disgusting and crude, Oropher, and I sincerely hope Emmith sends you off tonight without so much as a good-bye kiss."
Oropher only laughed, and tripped over a stump as he staggered headlong back into Emmith's arms.
Swearing to himself, Glorfindel returned to the far side of the clearing. Idril was nowhere to be seen. He did a quick turn and glance about, but even the mass of blue frills had disappeared completely among the merrymaking Sindar. She had not gone to the food table for another helping, which left two possibilities in his mind: either she had grown bored and returned to the tower on her own, which was unlikely given her interest in wanting to see the ceremony, or had joined in the dancing circle. From where he stood, Glorfindel could pick out no bright blue among the leaping, whirling bodies. He went closer.
The nearer he came to the circle, the wilder it seemed to become. Men, women and children all formed a chaotic ring. They jumped and twirled, sprinted and spun, in time with the drums and pipes. Some sang in time with the music, either words or nonsense sounds, but more simply wailed or yipped their exclamations of mad delight. In the centre of the ring was a hut made of woven branches. From where Glorfindel stood, it looked like an enormous, overturned bird's nest. But as he circled around, trying to spot Idril in the writhing crowd, he saw that one side had a small doorway that was little more than a round hole in the side. Five women, all chatting and laughing and clapping their hands as they swayed to the music, guarded the door.
Glorfindel felt a touch on his arm as he heard his name. Idril had come up behind him, flushed and panting from the exertion of the dance. He looked her over, eyes widening, and gaped in shock. "My lady! You... your..."
"Yes," she said dismissively. "I took my dress off. It was far too large and hot. I hung it over a tree branch over there." She gestured with one hand toward the shadowy edges of the grove. Her hands and arms were still gloved in lace, and the explosion of jewels at her throat was still dwarfed by the crown atop her still-outlandishly-styled hair. But the cone of ruffles had disappeared, leaving only a thin shift in its place. The shift had only a small frill at the hem and ribbons around the neck.
"But you're in your underthings! What if somebody sees you?"
"That hardly matters," said Idril. "Most of the Sindar are wearing small clothes, aren't they?"
At a quick appraisal, Glorfindel had to admit that this was true. They were surrounded by thin dresses and shirtless torsos.
"Anyhow, everyone is being very nice to me. I danced through the circle to the centre and talked with those women by the hut there. They told me all about what happens at the ceremony, because I've never been to a Sindarin wedding before. They said it starts at midnight."
"That's what I learned as well," Glorfindel said.
"The bride is inside that little hut right now getting ready. She has to get dressed and have her hair styled by an older woman, one who has lots of children and grandchildren. This is to make sure she will have lots of children, you see. Meanwhile the bridegroom is out hunting with his married brothers and cousins and uncles. He has to catch a rabbit before midnight and bring it back here. The bride only comes out of the hut once he comes back. He'll give her the rabbit so her father can cook it for them, and she gives him some new clothes, green and pink. But he can't put on the new clothes yet. He's all dressed in white then, and so is she. They stand together in front of the hut and the woman who did the bride's hair gives them a blessing. Then everyone rushes forward and helps tear their white clothes off. This is to banish evil spirits and bad luck. All the pieces of torn clothing are thrown into the forest in different directions so the evil spirits get confused, and the new husband and wife go into the hut together. They stay there until morning while the guests dance and sing and celebrate. In the morning then, they come out of the hut and dress in their new green and pink clothes and eat the rabbit."
"And... the celebration goes on all night?"
"Yes!" said Idril. "Until sunrise, I think. Then there's more food for breakfast."
Glorfindel rubbed his forehead. If the wedding lasted until sunrise, that meant he had at least seven more hours of entertaining Idril amid hundreds of wild Sindar. She had already removed her dress. He tried not to think about what else could possibly happen if the rest of the night degenerated at the same speed.
"Right," he said, and he put a protective hand on her shoulder. "Listen, my lady. To be truthful, I am no great dancer. And the noise here is terrible. I can hardly hear myself think, or you speak, which is very important. We have a while yet before the ceremony, so I would suggest... ah... Would you care to go for a walk in the forest?"
They had only walked a short distance from the wedding grove before Idril had said she was cold. Glorfindel had put his arm over her shoulder and pulled her close, enfolding her in the excessive fabric of his robe, and they had continued on until she had claimed to be tired. Then they had found a good blanket of moss to sit on, at the base of a wide tree. Now Idril told Glorfindel that she was sleepy. She leaned against his chest, eyes closed, and absently toyed with a loose lock of his hair. On the whole, he was impressed with the minimal amount of effort it had taken to achieve the seduction.
"Itarillë?" he asked.
"Are you comfortable? Do you want me to move at all?"
She gave her head a lazy shake. "No. I'm fine." Yawning, she stretched out one arm and let her hand fall over his shoulder. "Maybe move your legs a bit so I can put my feet up. The ground is cold against my ankles."
Obligingly, he shifted his legs over, and she propped her ankles up on his shins. "Better?"
"Mm, yes," she said. "The moss is nice to sit on, isn't it?"
"Very," answered Glorfindel. The word came out too quickly, leaving him with his mouth open and breath drawn, and nothing further to say. "Uhh."
But Idril, by some lucky chance, had no such problem. "Do you come out here to sit in the forest often?"
"No. I mainly stay indoors."
"Oh, I am the same! I do like being outside of course, but I hardly go out in big forests. Back in Vinyamar my house has a large garden with trees and paths, but it is surrounded by high walls and is quite safe, like Haru's garden here. It has no dangerous animals. When I go out to the real forest there it is always with Atya or Tassi Irissë and other people. I don't think I could be in a big forest by myself. I would be too frightened." She clutched Glorfindel's hair. "I'm so glad you're here. You can protect me from wolves."
"Absolutely," whispered Glorfindel. A brief scenario flashed through his mind, in which he heroically used a long stick to ward off a circle of wolves while Idril climbed a tree to safety. What happened to him with the wolves once Idril was safe did not warrant consideration.
"Have you ever seen a wolf?"
Glorfindel shook his head. "Only a dead one. Findekáno brought it back from hunting. Now it's a rug. I've heard them though, at night in winter."
Shuddering, Idril settled closer. "I am afraid of wolves. And snakes. Mostly I only like soft and pretty animals, like cats and horses."
"Birds are nice, too. Especially the ones with pretty voices."
Glorfindel hesitated only a moment. "Look up. I think there is an owl in the tree above us."
She lifted her chin to look up, eyes scanning the branches for an owl, and Glorfindel forced himself to act before he had a chance to second-guess and change his mind. His hand slid up to the back of her neck. She froze, with a hitch of breath, staring as he leaned in to press his lips softly against hers.
"Oh..." she whispered.
"Sorry... I'm sorry." Cringing, he tried to pull away, but Idril still had him caught by the hair.
"No, don't be," she said. "I don't mind."
Her smile was a strange one. Earlier in the garden she had seemed so young, so naïve and childlike, but that face had disappeared. The Idril that looked up at him now was no silly, frilly girl. That innocence had vanished with the daylight.
"You can kiss me again if you want to," she said. Her voice had a musical lilt to it, almost teasing. "I won't tell anyone. Not Melessë or Haru and certainly not Atya."
Mutely, Glorfindel nodded. His heart pounded a frantic rhythm in his chest, and the hot blood raced up his throat and out to every far point of his body as he leaned in once again, until his face hovered so near to Idril's he could feel the warmth of her breath on his skin. He paused to let one last doubt flash through his mind, but it was a short one; Idril raised her head to complete the kiss. Her mouth pressed against his, and he felt her teeth close gently around his lower lip.
After that moment, after the wall had been breached, everything seemed to move twice as quickly. His arms found their way around Idril's back, and then suddenly they were on the ground, and his hands had tangled themselves through her hair. She kept her eyes closed. He kept his open, watching the closeness of her eyelashes and the pearly sheen of her perfect skin. From so close she smelled of lily perfume, but only a hint: an enticing whisper of a scent.
"Take off your shirt," Idril murmured. Her eyes remained shut, and a sly half-smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
Glorfindel sat up far enough to shrug off his mantle. His shaking fingers pulled at the fastenings on his shirt as the baser, less wise side of his mind drowned any warnings that might have tried to surface. As he lifted the shirt away, Idril's hands wove their way up his bare chest. Her touch was feather-light and accented with the tickling point of fingernails.
"Tell me a poem," she said.
"A... a poem?"
Her hand dipped dangerously low, but he caught it at his waistband, and held its firm, hot touch flat against his stomach. "I'm sorry... I don't know any poems."
"Then tell me something pretty."
Glorfindel shivered, though he was certain it had nothing to do with the night's chill. A hundred words lingered on the tip of his tongue. None of them was pretty. It seemed an impossible task to think of anything pretty or elegant while Idril, hardly dressed, squirmed below him on the forest floor. Sighing, he lay back down close beside her, with one arm curling around the top of her head.
"Um. Well... In the sunlight, your skin was a perfect golden colour, like creamy honey, but now that I see you at night, you shine silver like a star. But your hair remains bright gold both ways. Like it were cast by Aulë himself from the most precious metals of the Earth."
"Emya always said I looked best by the light of Telperion, because the silver made my skin look paler."
"I think you are beautiful in either light," said Glorfindel. "Sun or moon. You would have been just as perfect by Laurelin. I wish I could have seen you. But the Two Trees were destroyed before I was born."
Idril turned suddenly and sharply away. "No!"
"What a silly thing to say!" she said. "Don't say things like that. It ruins everything!"
"That the Trees were destroyed before-"
"I said, don't say that!" she interrupted him with a furious hiss. She still had her eyes closed, though now they were squeezed tightly, and she breathed through clenched teeth.
"I'm sorry," Glorfindel muttered. He had been certain she knew how old he was. Or that he was younger than she, at least. But now that he thought on it, he could not recall saying, nor think of any reason why or how she could have known. He stared at her, trying to decipher what he ought to do next. Leaving before she decided he was a complete loss seemed like a probability.
Slowly, the anger on her face relaxed. "You probably should just not say anything at all," she told him after a moment.
"Do you... still want me to kiss you?"
"Yes, of course," she said. "I didn't say not to, did I? Just don't speak at all."
Once they were married, Glorfindel promised himself, he would see what he could do about ridding her of this lofty attitude. For the time being, he only needed bear it. He cupped his hand around her cheek without another word and caught her in a slow, gentle kiss. If he could not speak then neither would she.
While their first true kiss had sped by at double speed, this one caused time to falter and crawl. He knew every movement Idril made, from the arch of her back to the shallowest breath, in perfect detail. He could feel the soft curve of her breasts and the radiant heat of her skin. All that separated their bodies was her delicate shift and his breeches. And Idril's hands had already slipped down again to flutter over the laces at his waist.
It was so hard to tell her no, with her bare thigh raised to press against his naked side. Her fingers easily found their way inside his waistband, and all he had to do was let her continue. She showed no intention of stopping.
"Itarillë..." he whispered.
"Shh. Don't speak."
"I have to. I can't... I can't do this."
"Yes you can," answered Idril. "Just kiss me."
"I can't," he repeated. He pulled away until he was propped on his elbows, looking down at her. Her eyes still remained tightly closed. She refused to so much as glance at him. "I am sorry, but... we are not married."
"I don't care."
"I do. But what if... what if... We could marry now. Right here. Just say the Holy Names..." Carefully, he watched her face, trying to read its mood. Her expression slowly hardened as she seemed to consider what he said. His heart sank. "Please. Itarillë, think about it. We could be married, right now, under this tree. All we have to do is say the vows and the Names."
"I can't marry you," she said in a stony voice. "No."
"Yes you can. Of course you can. Your father might be angry but we could run away, go to the wild lands of the south! And what say does he have, anyhow? Once done it would be done, and not even he could undo our union. No-one could."
"No." The sound was sharper this time. She opened her eyes, fixing him with a stare that was so full of anger and hate it made him gasp and roll back, well away from her. "I can't marry you. I don't want to, and I won't."
"I... I don't understand," he said.
Idril sniffed as she sat up, pulling her shift back down to cover her legs. "I won't marry you. I'm in love with somebody else."
It was as if someone had fixed a band of iron around his chest, to hear those words. Someone had fixed a band of iron around his chest and lifted him into the air. He felt dizzy, strangely weightless, and bound. Things had taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction: it was not meant to happen like this. The night had become suddenly surreal. Here he sat in the forest with the girl he wanted to marry, both of them half-naked, both of them having been twining together on a bed of moss only moments before, and she claimed to love somebody else. Such a situation could not possibly be real.
"Who?" he asked. The question came out with such angry force that it surprised him. But it was better this way. Better to shout and be angry than whine and cry like the pathetic wretch he felt.
"Somebody," said Idril.
"Oropher? Is it Oropher?"
She stared at him in disbelief. "Your Sindarin friend? Why would you think that? He's very common." Sniffing again, she raised her chin. "I am a princess. I only fall in love with princes."
"So some fat-headed prince from back west, then," Glorfindel said. "And you've been in love with him all this time."
"Yes. For years and years and years."
"And so you saw nothing wrong with dragging me out here and kissing and... and worse..." His voice broke on the last word. As much as he tried to recall the anger, to convince himself that he should be furious for what she had done, it was no use. The bravery of shock had faded. He took a breath and it came in shakily, on the edge of a sob.
"Why?" he asked. "Why did you do this? And why me? You could have played your horrible games with any of the Sindarin boys around here just looking for a quick roll in the bushes, if that's all you wanted, so why me? You must have known this morning in the garden that I was... I was in..." He could not continue. Speech stuck in his constricted throat. He dropped his head, squeezing his eyes shut and pressing the heels of his hands against them to prevent any tears from slipping free.
The dry leaves on the forest floor rustled. He felt Idril's presence slide up beside him, still warm and soft. She touched his shoulder in an awkward sort of gesture, and she spoke in a soothing, maternal voice.
"Don't be so sad," she said. "You are quite nice, and I did have fun tonight."
"But why did you do it?" He could only whisper to keep his voice from cracking. "And why me, of everyone?"
He could feel her hand fidget against his skin. "You smell nice," she said after a pause.
"I don't," said Glorfindel. "I broke a bottle of perfume in the bath, and now I smell like Findekáno."
Idril paused again while her fingers toyed with his hair. "I know," she said at last.
A horrible feeling, like the first cold prickles before nausea sets in, preceded Glorfindel's full realisation of what Idril had just spoken. The thought stunned him. It was too absurd to be true. "I smell like Findekáno," he repeated in a whisper.
Idril, still hovering near, a little too near, made no reply.
"Right. Right. Of course you paid me no attention in the garden this morning. Why? Because you're in love with somebody else. And then you only showed any interest at all after I met you in the tower, which was after I broke the oil in the bath. I guess that was lucky for you, wasn't it? This only happened because of me making a clumsy accident with Findekáno's perfume oil. None of it would've happened if not for that. If not for that, you probably would have ignored me all night and danced in the circle, paying attention only to yourself."
He was talking too much, and too quickly. All the words fell out in a waterfall of thoughtless rambling. But if he kept speaking, he could avoid thinking or feeling.
"I should go," he said, standing with a sudden jerkiness. He allowed himself to focus on one thought while shutting out the rest, and that one thought was that he wanted to be as far from Idril as possible. How funny it seemed, that only moments ago she had been the most beautiful thing in the world. He could hardly even bear to look at her now. "Oropher's waiting for me. He'll wonder where I am. I told him I'd be back soon, and we've been out here a long time... I should go. Your dress is this way. Maybe you should follow me back to it. Then somebody else can take you back to the tower. Why Findekáno? Why him? What about him is so great? He's your uncle!"
Idril made sounds of deliberation, and flipped her hands against her skirt, but he refused to watch her. "He's very interesting," she finally said. "And writes poems and songs for me. Nobody else does. You'd think that being a princess, I'd have lots of people writing songs for me, but Taror Finno is the only one."
"But he's your uncle!"
"Yes," said Idril, "but it's not like I know him very well or anything. I hardly see him at all, so it's like he's almost a stranger. And he's not the least bit like Atya, they don't even look similar, so he might as well not be my uncle. I don't see what the problem is. There aren't many other princes about, and those few others are all my uncles and cousins anyhow, so who else am I supposed to marry?"
And that was the end. If there were anything more that Idril could say to make her seem even more empty-headed and vain, Glorfindel refused to hear it. He could almost laugh at himself now for ever thinking she was charming. He would have laughed, if the situation were at all amusing. Instead it sickened him. He pulled on his shirt, shoving his arms roughly into the sleeves, and turned down the path that led back to the wedding grove. As if nothing had gone the least bit wrong, Idril followed, accompanied by her stream of inane chatter.
Glorfindel only spoke to her again once they reached the place where she had discarded her gown. The wind had blown it halfway off the tree branch, and part of the gauzy skirt had caught on a cluster of wild rose bushes. Dead leaves stuck in the ruffles.
"I'm going back to the tower," he told her once she had freed the dress and pulled it over her head. His voice rang satisfyingly cold in his ears, with no hint of the earlier threatened tears. "I'm sure you wish to stay at the wedding and dance. Someone else can escort you back later."
"I don't think that's right," said Idril. "You brought me here, and you should stay with me until I want to leave. You can't leave me surrounded by all these strange men. That's not good manners."
"Good manners..." Glorfindel muttered, but bit down on his tongue to keep from speaking aloud. What did Idril know of good manners? "Sorry. No. I must go. I will say my farewells to Oropher, and go back to the tower. It's late, and Findekáno will be wondering where I've gone."
He could hear Idril's breath hitch even across the distance between them, and her eyes grew wide. "Why would Taror Finno care where you are? Aren't you just a servant?"
"His servant," Glorfindel corrected. He waited for her reaction, and it did not disappoint: by the way her mouth fell open, only a slight bit, but still open, she had not known. And now he could all but see the regret spinning through her head, as she counted out all the ways she might have used him to get closer to Fingon. If only she had known.
"How do you think I used his bath, and borrowed his jewellery?" He asked.
"I... Well, I thought you were being cheeky," said Idril. "Sneaking in there while he was out, stealing his things."
Glorfindel snorted. "I have no need to steal from him, nor sneak into his bathroom like a rat. I have certain privileges. As his personal retainer." He savoured the feel of those words and, even more, the brief note of panic that played across Idril's features.
She was able to cover it almost as soon as it surfaced. Her wide-eyed gape turned smoothly into a smile of perfect sweetness. "Ohhh," she breathed; "I am sorry. I didn't realise you were so important. I thought you were just one of the regular servants like Atya has. But I suppose being a prince's personal retainer means you're quite high up, aren't you?"
"Of course," Glorfindel answered. He gave her a smile in return: one that was every bit as false as the awe in her voice.
"So you must spend lots of time with Taror Finno."
"And you probably know him quite well. Almost like a friend, even."
Glorfindel refused to let his smile waver. "Yes. I would say that is true."
"Oh, you are far more important and interesting than I first thought!" Idril said, beaming. "I am sure you of all people in the tower, then, would be able to tell me if Finno ever talks about marriage. And is he close with any of the ladies here?"
"A few. And one in particular: Lailaniel, his second-cousin on his mother's side."
"Lailaniel," Idril echoed. Her sweet voice carried the faintest hint of sour undertones. "What a pretty name. I'm sure she is lovely."
"Absolutely. She is very beautiful. And very wealthy, and eloquent and well-dressed. Kind and gracious, too. She and Findekáno are excellent friends."
It was a night of firsts, for certain. He had never imagined there could be circumstances under which he would praise Lailaniel's beak-like nose and thin mouth as beauty, nor her sharp, bitter tongue as eloquent or gracious. But stranger things had happened. And the sight of Idril's sweet look falling, second by second, justified everything.
"Then I shall have to meet this Lailaniel," said Idril. "I simply must see if she is as wonderful in person as she sounds by your description."
"She does defy expectations. Although..." Dropping his voice to a whisper, Glorfindel stepped close to Idril once again, until his mouth hovered next to her ear. "She is not the one you need worry about."
"No?" Idril whispered back.
"No. And I tell you this in strictest confidence, Itarillë. Because you ought to know." He paused, letting her draw an anxious breath. "Findekáno is in love with someone else."
She gasped, whipping her head around to look him in the eye. "What? Who?"
"Do you remember the play?"
"Yes! Of course. What about it?"
"And you remember the wedding, and the kiss between Finwë and Indis?"
He leaned closer, until his forehead almost met hers, and he touched the tips of two fingers softly against her cheek. "It wasn't all acting."
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