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Another Man's Cage: 46. Chapter Forty-Six--Macalaure
The weeks are a colorful rush after that, passing breathlessly, with a moment expiring before I have adequately prepared for the next. I, who am used to lying about the house, playing my harp and writing music in my leisure, am suddenly required to hustle, rushing from place to place to be on time for lessons or to sit for recitals. At midday, I squeeze the moments at either side of the noon hour aside to make time for Vingarië, and we eat together by the fountain beside the music school. My harp lies forgotten at my side and her flute lies forgotten at hers; we eat Telerin meals that we buy from vendors in exchange for pearls and gems, and we talk with food in our mouths, for the hour is short and as many things must be fit into a moment as possible. She laughs and sprays me with wine and blushes and wipes my face with her handkerchief, and I laugh and choke on my salmon wrap, and when we both recover, she says, “If we have until the ending of the world to live, then why must we rush so?” and it is an answer I cannot give but makes my heart quiver fearfully anyway.
Who says we have until the world’s ending?
I shake my head. It is as though Laurelin had dimmed for a moment, but that cannot be. I blink and smile and force myself to forget it.
My lessons are harder than I expected. My tutor is not willing to settle for what I am able to do but constantly demands more of me. When I play a certain complex melody at the proper tempo, he increases the tempo again, and my hands are reduced to feeling as though the muscles in my fingers are bunched into knots, and I know by the pinched expression on my tutor’s face that he is not pleased.
At our midday meal that day, Vingarië reassures me, “No one can please him,” for she had a friend who studied the harp with him and is now renowned as one of the most skilled of our cohort in Alqualondë. “Still, he complains about her technique; you would think she’s learned the harp sitting in the gutter, plucking tentacles strung in a conch shell!”
“One of the most renowned, you say?” I ask, feeling a pinch of jealous curiosity to know the one who exceeds me in skill.
“Well,” says Vingarië, swallowing her food before answering, “she was the most renowned. Then, of course, you came along.”
I laugh and Vingarië looks at me with confusion, as though she doesn’t understand what is so funny.
Daily, I have theory and history lessons with other students from the school--Vingarië is among their numbers, but the instructor is careful to keep us across the room from each other, perhaps having observed our midday trysts at the fountain--and I dread those two hours of tedium, for they invoke more memories of mathematics and lore, first with my father and then with Nelyo, than I care to recall in Alqualondë, far from our house in Tirion, where I hoped such negativity could be forgotten. Here, all of the lessons I did in the months before, preparing for this month, are put on display, deconstructed, and my faults flaunted to the group. Of course, everyone’s work endures similar scrutiny, but as the only Noldo in the room, I feel as though the gazes and the expectations are heavier upon me, when my name is called, than when one of the Telerin students--or even Vingarië, a half-Noldo--is placed in the spotlight.
Evening meals I take with Olwë. He made the offer during our first days here, to both Nelyo and me, and there was a hollow longing in his eyes. “I am lonely with my wife and my children all so far away,” he confessed to me one night, after many glasses of wine, for his wife is with my Aunt Eärwen in Tirion, awaiting the birth of her first child, and Olwë’s two sons have sailed to the south of Aman to enjoy the superior propensity of fish there.
Sometimes, Nelyo joins us, but usually he pleads out of it by reason of having to study, or suppertime arrives and Nelyo simply doesn’t appear, and King Olwë and I begin eating and do not mention it. Telerin customs are relaxed when compared to ours, and perhaps that is the reason for Olwë’s silence, but I know Nelyo, and it is not like him to be so inconsiderate, to ignore an invitation without making his excuses to our host.
I do not see Nelyo much. Usually, when I return late at night, exhausted, from having bid Vingarië a good night (which never takes less than two hours), he is studying by lamplight. He will pause to ask me questions about my studies, about Vingarië, while I undress and collapse into bed, and more often than not, I fall asleep while answering. I leave the covers off of my body in an effort to stave off sleep--I miss my brother and the conversations we used to have that would see the arrival of morning with the feeling that no more than an hour had passed--but the sound of the sea is hypnotizing, and before I realize what has happened, I feel Nelyo’s practiced hands tucking the coverlet around me and kissing my forehead, and then I am awake, the Trees are mingling, and it is time to begin another day.
Once, I saw Nelyo in the square as I sat with Vingarië, eating my midday meal. The streets were crowded, but if my brother was easily spotted in Tirion, then he was impossible to miss in Alqualondë. He stood a head taller than the tallest of the Teleri swarming around him, and his hair blazed like fire in the midday brilliance. Vingarië was speaking about some atrocity committed by her brothers, and I caught Nelyo’s gaze and opened my mouth to call out to him, to invite us to join us--for he has yet to be formally introduced to Vingarië--but he raised his hand by his hip in greeting, fluttering his fingers at me, and quickly looked away, slipping into the crowd and somehow managed to disappear among the diminutive, silver-haired Teleri.
That night, when I returned home, I meant to mention it. I opened my mouth, and the words sat like weights upon my tongue, ready to tumble from my mouth, but something made my teeth click shut, some glimmer in Nelyo’s eyes that begged me, please do not ask why I ignored you.
And so I said nothing. I allowed him to ask whether I was being treated better in my theory lecture and told him my dismaying tale of the day, about being caught daydreaming when I was supposed to be pondering chord progressions, and he groaned and made the appropriate comments, and my heavy eyes dropped shut, and the next thing I knew, I felt his hands tucking the blankets around me. Then my eyes opened and it was morning. Time to begin again.
I ask sometimes after his lessons, but he is always vague and quickly changes the subject back to my studies and my romancing of Vingarië, laughing perhaps too loudly and smiling too brightly at my jokes to fool me, who knows him best of anyone in the world.
I meet Vingarië by the fountain, at our accustomed time, and her smile is brighter than usual. She skips into my arms, squeezes my neck in a hug, and plants a kiss on my cheek with more enthusiasm than usual, and I back up and grin warily. “What’s the celebration?” I ask.
“My father has returned!” she chortles.
And so that day’s theory lecture is ruined, and I am caught at unawares twice during questioning. In the mire of lessons and lectures and my attempts at romance, I have forgotten about Vingarië’s father and my plans to ask formally for his blessing of our courtship. Sitting in lecture--the day is unusually hot, and a fly keeps buzzing around my head, as though trying to further distract my attention from the lecture--I ponder the wisdom of my plans. He is a Teler. The courtship rituals of the Teleri--even those of the court--are far more relaxed than those of the Noldor. Noldorin children are expected to ask for the blessings of their parents. The Teleri, who lived lawlessly much longer in the Outer Lands than we did, place little value on such formalities. Still, I am of the Noldor. A Noldo of the court. A descendent of the High King. I must be expected to uphold our traditions, not to use the convenience of the Telerin customs to escape my discomfort.
“Macalaurë?” the instructor calls. He is pointing to a passage of music drawn on the slate at the front of the room. It means nothing to me. After three ticks of uncomfortable silence, he turns to someone else for the answer, but his eyes come back to me shortly after, full of disappointment.
King Olwë is dining with his lords this night, and so I take my meal with Nelyo, on our balcony. He is rumpled and unfocused in the way of one whose sole conversation this day has been with books. He braided his hair in the morning, but the braids are coming undone on one side, and he looks crooked, skewed. There are spots of ink on his lips that would annoy Atar, and I resist the urge to blot them away with my napkin. They will be washed away by wine soon enough.
We eat in near silence. Several times, he tries to start a conversation, but my replies are uninspired, and he is not motivated to maintain his half of it, and so we fall into silence again and again. I am busy with my own thoughts this night; what weighs upon the mind of my brother, I do not know.
Vingarië is home with her father and her brothers, enjoying a supper together, and so I remain in our room with Nelyo. He settles onto his bed after supper with a book of history held open with one hand while the other hand slowly unwinds his braids, allowing his hair to spill over his shoulders and onto the pages of his book, where he flips it away with practiced annoyance.
After a half-hour or so of reading, he looks up, and surprise lights his silver eyes. “You are still here?” he asks, as though I am a figment of his imagination, a construction born of reading for too many hours without a reprieve.
“Yes,” I say. I am working on my theory lessons for the next day, determined to make up for my poor showing today, and trying to force thoughts of Vingarië’s father from my mind. “I have much to do for theory lecture.”
He smirks with amusement. “Enough to forsake the lovely Vingarië?”
I swallow. Something in my throat clicks; I open my mouth, but in my mind, where there should be words, there is only music, a crashing cacophony of sound, and I sit with my mouth open for a long time without speaking.
The amusement drops from Nelyo’s face. Immediately, he is on his feet, crossing the room to my bed. I am held in the half-circle of his left arm, as though by his superior size and strength, he can protect me from something. But what? I am here; the protection I fear I need is from myself.
“What is it, Macalaurë? Did you have a row? Did you--” He doesn’t want to say “split up,” but I feel the word as keenly on the tip of his tongue as though it were on my own. That’s what people have been saying of him and Annawendë: They split up in Formenos. Maidens in Tirion have taken to smiling at him with guilty hope, but Nelyo averts his eyes in the way of a Fëanárian: Our faces do not fall when we are shamed but lift, in pride.
“No, no,” I assure him. “Nothing like that. It’s just--”
Tears sting my eyes. I am overtaken by alarm and surprise. Why am I crying? I imagine my heavy accent, the ponderous words of my plea, in the home of Vingarië’s Telerin father. Suddenly, I feel large and graceless, with awkward, graceless customs. Suddenly, I feel very Noldorin.
Nelyo fumbles in the deep pocket of his robes and extracts a handkerchief. It is spotty with ink, but I raise my face to him and let him blot away my tears.
“You are so beautiful, Macalaurë,” he tells me. “Do you know how beautiful you are?”
“No, I am not,” I say in a thick voice. “I do not belong here. I should not have come.”
Where do I belong? If not in the House of Fëanáro--the father of strong, capable, skilled sons, like my brothers--than surely with the Teleri. But my worthlessness here too has been proven, many times, every time that I fumble an answer in lecture that I should easily know--after all, I am a Noldo, and we are the people who invented titles to reward our own skill; we are the people who are unaware of the Light of the Trees on some days, so closed are we in our libraries and workshops--and it is further proven as I walk like a large, gangly beast beside petite and musical Telerin girl that I love.
It seems that I belong nowhere. Perhaps I should wander, as do the great bards of lore, with nothing but my harp and the clothes upon my body, singing hymns to the sea.
As though he perceives the dire and melodramatic nature of my thoughts, Nelyo squeezes me tighter. He rests his forehead against my temple; his breath tickles my ear. “I always think it a shame, Macalaurë, that you never get to hear yourself sing. That you never get to sit where I sit, off the stage, and watch the light on your face when you raise your voice in song. That you never feel the way your songs ripple against the very substance of our spirits, as though it is Eru--and not one of his children--who sings to us.
“No one belongs here more than you, Macalaurë.”
I do not know what to say, and so I lift my arms and put them around him also, pressing my face into the warm hair that tumbles against his neck, and we hold each other for a long time.
It is I who draw away first. Always, it is I.
“So,” says Nelyo brightly, putting my hair behind my ears, “what is the problem then? That has caused you to stay here this night? It is not your insecurity in your lectures that causes you to seek my arms instead of those of your very lovely Vingarië.”
I laugh. “No, it is not. She is not available this night. Her father has returned from the South Sea.”
“Yes. And so I--” I look at him, hoping he will understand where my words are going, but his brow remains lifted and his eyes expectant. “I foolishly told her that I would like to ask for his blessing of our courtship.”
“Foolishly? There is nothing foolish about that. It is proper to do so.”
“The Teleri do not think so.”
“They do not think it improper and beside, Macalaurë, you are not a Teler.”
“But I have never even met her father!”
“Barely had I met Laiquiwë--excluding the very awkward instance of being caught naked by him, with his daughter’s legs wrapped around my head--until I asked for his blessing.” His words have the desired effect, and I blush and laugh. “By contrast, your meeting will be relatively easy, I should think.” He stands and, taking my hands, pulls me up beside him. “This is what we will do, Macalaurë,” he says. “We will rehearse your meeting. I will be Lord Lantanén. You will be yourself. And you will ask me for my blessings to court my daughter.”
Nelyo rolls his shoulders and tosses his hair aside, and in a moment, wears the soft and plaintive look of a Telerin lord. I giggle.
He looks puzzled. “Do you mock me, Prince Macalaurë?” he asks in a slightly appalled manner.
I bite my lip--suppressing my giggles--and fall silent. I bow carefully. “Lord Lantanén,” I say, “as you might know, I have affections for your daughter.”
“Affections? No, I do not know this.” He contemplates me and shudders. “Hopefully, you are not like your brother in expressing them.”
“Oh, no, no …”
“Then what is it that you have come to ask? Vingarië is not old enough to marry.”
Nelyo’s eyebrows spring up. “Courtship?”
“Yes, I would like to ask your blessing. On our courtship.”
“You ask my blessing on something that you have already done? So my opinion matters naught?”
“No, it is just … you were fishing … you weren’t here,” I finish lamely, and the next thing I know, Nelyo has charged me, yelling, and knocked me onto the bed, my wind exiting my lungs in a single, painful gust, and he is sitting atop me, laughing.
“Why did you do that?” I snap, and he presses his hand to my heart.
“Well, Macalaurë, it seems that you are still living,” he says, and I can feel my heartbeat against his hand. I scowl at him, and he goes on, “I cannot imagine it being much worse than that, can you? And still, you lived.”
“You are despicable,” I say, but he can see in my eyes that I do not mean it, and he laughs.
“You worry too much, Macalaurë,” he says, rolling off of me to lie beside me on the bed. “Talk to him like you would anyone else. Do not make the issue of your courtship your sole reason for visiting but, rather, try to know him. Speak honestly; ask after his family, and his fishing, and be sincere. Be respectful but warm. He will not refuse his blessings. And, certainly, you have talked enough times to lords of the Noldorin court, and the Teleri are nothing compared to them. You are a son of Fëanáro, and I believe that Atar might be the person in Aman most dreaded to meet for counsel. I think that Eru has given Atar only sons because he feels sorry for the eventual husbands of his daughters.
“Now,” he says, glancing at the silver light of evening beyond our bedroom, “I have much to do before I may sleep. Many chapters to read. May I trust you to be able to do the same?” I nod, and he throws his arms around me in a hug, kissing my nose loudly, before spiriting back across the room to settle at his desk.
“I will be happy when you are married and settled with the poor girl, Macalaurë,” he teases and turns back to his work.
And so I forgo my usual two-hour study session in the afternoon to walk nervously to the house of Lord Lantanén. Vingarië and I shared a green salad scattered with miniature shrimp for the midday meal, and it is churning in my stomach and rising to burn the back of my throat with scalding bile. I wish that I had eaten nothing at all. And despite drinking a full goblet of wine--which I also regret because my head now feels heavy, and had I gone to study, I likely would have fallen asleep on my papers--my mouth feels as though it is lined with parchment. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears.
Vingarië hugged me and kissed my cheek when I told her of my intentions. “You are sweet,” she’d said. “I said nothing to him of you and me, but I cannot pledge the same for Turonén and Tindanén.”
I arrive at the courtyard and houses that have now become familiar. Many nights I have spent in that house now, drinking wine with Vingarië in the parlor or playing a game with her and her brothers, an addictive game that involves cards and requires no strategy at all, only luck, at the big table in the dining room. Another afternoon I spent in her brothers’ bedrooms, looking at their new longbows, passing on the way a closed door that made Tindanén nudge me in the ribs and say, “That is my sister’s chambers. Note its location, for the windows shall be reinforced with steel upon your leaving.”
“We are half-Noldor,” added Turonén, “so do not think us incapable of doing it.”
More nights, I sat in the parlor with Vingarië, thinking of her bedroom directly overhead (for it was) and wondering what color were her bedclothes and how she looked lying among them, and I felt a visceral, quivering sensation deep inside my gut that was not unlike the feeling I got when I drank the strong spirits my father gave me at the welcoming feast in Formenos. I wanted to offer to follow her to her bedroom and kiss her goodnight, knowing full well that I would behave innocently, but knew that it was nonetheless improper.
And now, I find myself in front of the same house, watching the wind stir the curtains in the room that belongs to Vingarië, feeling as though I have swallowed a lump of hot steel.
I make myself walk the path to the front door. I concentrate on the colors of the flagstones beneath my feet and force myself to step only on the blue-gray ones. That makes it so that I am less aware of the door coming towards me until I am in front of it, watching my fist rise and rap on the door.
A maidservant answers. She smiles and chimes, “Prince Macalaurë!”
Of course. She has played the game with us on some nights, joining us after feigning reluctance and agreeing only after Tindanén had grabbed her hand and pleaded, both of their cheeks flushed pink and their eyes shining in such a way that made Vingarië and Turonén exchange smirking glances.
I nod at her. “Greetings. I was wondering if Lantanén was in?”
“Of course he is! He is exhausted from his trip and will not be returning to counsel until next week.”
“Would you ask if he would see me? If not, I will gladly return--”
“I will see you,” says a deep yet melodic voice from behind the maidservant. She smiles, bows, and steps aside. “He will see you, Macalaurë.”
Part of me was hoping that she would tell me that he was exhausted from his journey and refusing visitors. I hoped to be sent away to more days of distraction and agony--but at least, I would be spared for the moment. Like a craven who postpones his torture from fear, I hoped to be walking down the street by now, both relieved and tormented.
Instead, my heart pounding at such a frenzied volume and pace that I am convinced he must be able to hear it, I step into the house.
He is taller than I expected, with silver hair darker than most Teleri. He wears the casual clothes of the Teleri: loose white trousers, a blue tunic open to mid-chest, and only a silver scallop shell on a delicate silver chain for jewelry. He leans on the doorframe, a goblet of wine in cupped in his palm. His eyes are bright blue, brighter even than my grandfather’s, and I find it hard to look away from them, so obvious is Vingarië’s resemblance in his face.
He straightens and steps forward, offering his hand in a brusque manner that reminds me of the Noldor, although his accent is lively and musical, like the Teleri. “Prince Macalaurë Fëanárion, I presume?” he says, and I realize that I haven’t introduced myself. I force a smile that feels more like a grimace. I imagine my teeth must look bared, a predator in for the kill, not his daughter’s suitor introducing himself. “Macalaurë Fëanárion, yes, my Lord,” I say in a voice that trembles slightly.
With an amused expression, he replies, “And I am Lord Lantanén, but I am sure that you know that, if you possess the need to visit me.”
“Of course, my lord.”
“Would you like to join me in my study? Where we can speak more comfortably?”
So the Teleri also have studies, I find myself thinking, as I follow him down a hallway, past the parlor where, just the other night, his daughter and I kissed with a ferocity that made our lips as red as though we had been eating fresh summer berries, and to a set of double doors at the end, where we find ourselves in a room full of windows, overlooking the sea. I am surprised to see that there are no books, no piles of parchments, and no half-finished trinkets. There are a few baskets of shells on one shelf and a partially mended fishing net. On his desk are several scrolls, a chunk of driftwood, a quill, and nothing else. The windows are open, and the room is freshened by a brisk breeze off the sea. Lord Lantanén offers me a chair and, without asking, pours me a glass of white wine.
“How fares your father?” he asks, putting the glass into my hand, and I hear myself answer, going on at length about his work and his affairs, while Lantanén settles himself into a chair opposite mine, until I realize that I am talking quickly and breathlessly and repeating the same things that I said to start, and I abruptly shut my mouth.
Lantanén looks at me with raised eyebrows, and I feel my face warming. I had halted in the middle of a sentence. “Your father’s work with crystals?” he prompts, perhaps thinking that I have lost my thought in the middle of the sentence, and that is why I stopped speaking. I feel my face redden further. My heartbeat is a roar. A small voice that sounds like I imagine one might sound while drowning is screaming that I am failing miserably.
“I am sorry, my lord,” I say. “I realized that I had told you already of that.”
“Your father’s work is always a delight to me. I will be glad to hear of it as many times as you wish to tell of it.”
I realize, with a start, that he is trying to calm me: His voice is slow and unusually kind; this is how Atar and Nelyo speak to frightened colts just weaned, stroking their necks and reassuring them that they will not be harmed by their shadows.
I take a deep breath and a sip of wine. It is good, sweet and crisp, and I quickly take another. “Thank you for your kindness, but I do not wish to bore you,” I say. “Rather I should say that my brother Maitimo sends his greetings and asks after your lovely wife.”
“My lovely wife is well, as always, although I wish that she was less attached to that city of yours. I miss her in Alqualondë, in the winters, while she remains in Tirion.”
I wonder: Will Vingarië and I become like that one day? I know it is not unusual for couples long wed and no longer bringing children to the world to spend time apart, but I cannot imagine packing my things and riding to Tirion without her. I think of sleeping beneath the same stars but apart, in different cities, while our children grow and shuffle between us to spend equal time. And then I think, with alarm: Will Amil and Atar live that way one day? Will I go to Amil and she will inquire after Atar like one asks after an old and oft-forgotten friend?
There is a moment of silence, but it is not awkward, as Lantanén is drinking his wine, and I am lost in thought. It occurs to me that I could become used to this, to quiet afternoons in a study such as this, with the silence outweighing the words, sharing wine and company. Time in Atar’s study is always filled with discussion--frantic gesturing hands, competing voices--that metamorphoses easily into argument amid the clutter that seems to fill his life. As much as I love my father and my time with him, I realize that I could learn to love this too.
In fact, I already do.
Lantanén speaks next. “Macalaurë, you did not come to tell me of your father’s crystals, nor to ask after my wife.”
“No,” I say softly, “I did not.” I take a sip of wine for courage. “I love your daughter,” I say.
Those were not the words that I meant to say. I meant to be delicate and elusive, as Nelyo would be. I meant to use gentle metaphors in place of the brutal truth of it: That I will choose to live alone if one day Vingarië will not consent to be my wife.
But horror has only the briefest chance to flash across my thoughts before Lantanén chuckles and says, “I know. I would have seen it in your eyes, even if Tindanén did not let it slip at breakfast this morning.” I watch his face carefully for signs of emotion, for something lurking beneath his kindly grin. But there is none, no deception, only joy.
“I see in your eyes,” he says, “what I see in mine, for I also love Vingarië. When she was born, and I held my baby daughter in my arms for the first time, I knew what it meant when poets say that they would die for someone. For my wife, for my sons, the thought never crossed my mind, but for Vingarië, my first thought was: I would die for her.
“I see that also in your eyes, Macalaurë.”
“Yes,” I gasp.
“As you know, it is not the tradition of the Teleri to ask for a parent’s blessing upon a courtship. But I respect that it is the custom of your people, and I admire your courage in coming here today.” He offers his hand to me, and stunned, I take it. “Macalaurë Fëanárion, if you treat my daughter to the love that she deserves, then I will end each day with a prayer that you and she shall wed and find the happiness that eludes so many.”
“I will. I would die for her,” I whisper.
“I know,” he says with a smile, “and so I give my blessing.”
That afternoon, I am distracted in my theory lecture for a different reason: I am trying to capture Vingarië’s attention and signal that my meeting with her father went well, that he gave his blessing. Unfortunately, she is quite absorbed in writing the lecturer’s every word upon a parchment, pausing only to answer his inquiries, when he chooses her from the group. Luckily, I am so absorbed in trying to catch her attention that I haven’t time for daydreams, and when the lecturer calls my name, thinking that he is surprising me, I answer with haste--and correctly.
“Excellent, Macalaurë,” he says, unable to keep the disbelief from his voice.
I wait for her outside the lecture room. “You never looked up!” I accuse.
“I didn’t want to know until we had time to talk,” she replies, kissing me on the lips and earning a scowl from the lecturer, who is just passing, and a mutter about the impertinence of romance at such a young age.
“He gave it!” I tell her. “He gave his blessing!”
She laughs with glee and clasps me in a choking hug. “Oh, Macalaurë! Now it shall be nothing to ask his permission for marriage!” Realizing what she has said, she backs away quickly, her fingers over her mouth. “Oh! I did not mean to say that! You do not have to marry me! Oh, why do I always say such things?” Her face has turned an alarming scarlet color. “Next thing,” she says derisively, “I’ll be naming our three children--”
“Three?” I exclaim. “I had thought we would have four!”
With a giggle, she takes my arm, and we amble from the building, pressed close enough together that walking is awkward and a scribe in a hurry rushes around us, muttering to himself about the wonders of the leisurely behavior of those who are not constantly presented with deadlines. We have a stack of assignments to complete before the lecture tomorrow, but neither of us mentions it and we head, instead, for the fountain.
“Four children,” she muses, once we settle. “Two boys and two girls. The first, though,” she says, with a bright glint in her eye, “will be a daughter.”
A vendor selling fresh raspberries passes, and I signal for a basket. He hands them to me and disappears quickly, with a nod and a smile, before I can even press pearls into his hand for payment, saying something about a gift to the celebration of new love. I pop a berry into her mouth and say, “It sounds lovely.” Her eyes close as the sweet juiciness of the berry explodes inside her mouth, and I kiss her. Her lips are warm, and she tastes of berries.
“You do realize, Macalaurë,” she says, as we snack on berries, “that we will have to bond.”
I pause for a moment, my mouth open, and a berry falls from my lips and into the fountain. Realizing her words, she flushes an alarming scarlet. “I did not mean it like that. Of course you know that; that is how children are made. But rather that …” She stops and hides her face in her hands.
“Rather what, Vingarië?” I say.
She says something behind her hands that I cannot comprehend.
“Vingarië, I cannot--”
She says it again, louder. “It is just that I have always been afraid. Of bonding. That it might hurt.” She takes away her hands and looks me in the face, to appraise my reaction.
“I will be gentle,” I say, and now we both blush and turn away from each other.
After several long minutes of awkward silence, she says, “It is many years away,” at the same moment as I say, “We can have a long engagement.”
We turn back to each other, our cheeks dimmed to pink, and tearfully, she says, “You mean that, Macalaurë? You would not mind?”
“I will wait until the ending of Arda for you, Vingarië, if that is what you wished.”
“I hope it shall not come to that,” she says. “But … but I would like a long engagement. I know your father married young, and your brother hopes to marry young, but all of this is so sudden: my love, my feelings for you. I never expected to love a man, much less to wish for marriage and children, and I always thought the pain of bonding and childbirth would belong to other women, never to me.” She lays her head on my shoulder. “But I would endure far worse for you, Macalaurë.”
I would die for you.
I shiver. Such promises should not be made lightly, but I feel as though they were made long before we were born, by something greater than us, and that we are merely reciting what is meant to be.
I put my arm around her shoulders and hold her. A year ago, also, I would have laughed openly at the suggestion that I should wish for a wife and four children with a greater ferocity than I wished for anything else. My attitudes of that time seem to belong to another person. Never would I have imagined that that feast in the forest that I had attended months ago with Nelyo, full of the empty, youthful hope for love that I never expected to discover--after all, who could love an aberration like me?--would be realized, that when I sat down beside the dark-and-silver-haired girl with the flute and we smiled wordlessly at each other, that I was looking upon the woman who might one day be my wife.
With Vingarië safe in the circle of my arms, I close my eyes and imagine our life, our future. I imagine our house here in Alqualondë, our bedroom open to the sea, lying on the crisp white sheets of our bed. I feel again the warm quiver inside to think of undressing her and making love to her, our cries mingling with the roar of the sea, her small, pale body soft beneath my hands, her kisses on my naked skin. A flush heats my face, but she cannot see it: Her face in pressed into my chest, her arms circling me, her hands pressing my back, warm through my tunic.
A little girl runs past us, chasing a tern that has stolen a piece of bread from her basket, crying out in protest and laughing at the same time, and my heart beats faster to think of the daughter that Vingarië foresees, and I feel her arms tighten around me. I imagine the house again, but I have trouble imagining a daughter there or any children at all, just Vingarië and me and the sound of the sea.
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