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A Further Shadow Despite the Darkness: 6. Prize
"So..." he said awkwardly as she linked her arm through his.
"So," she answered, "my house is just outside and up the road a short ways."
"And my ring is there?"
She nodded in an excessive, almost comical way. "Yes. Of course. I said it was, didn't I?"
Something in the lightness of her tone set Glorfindel's nerves on edge. She was acting far too cooperative. There had to be a catch. The further they progressed on their way out of the kitchens and through the maze of the tower's basement corridors, the more Glorfindel convinced himself that he was walking into a trap. Emmith had a brother. If he was anything like the majority of Eithel Sirion's sindarin men, he would be short but solidly built and muscular from years of work as a labourer. Was it the knowledge that he and several large friends lurked at home that motivated Emmith's compliance? As best he could without staring at her outright, he searched for any clues in her face and body. None could be found. He nonetheless knew in his gut that something unpleasant waited at the end of their walk.
"Oropher," he whispered sideways. "Stay close. I don't trust her and I am afraid of being alone with her."
Oropher nodded, but no sooner had he done so than Emmith cheerfully announced, "Here we are!"
"This is your house?" Glorfindel asked. He gave the cottage a quick appraisal. It was small but tidy, squeezed between two others that looked nearly identical, with a tiny, fenced-off square of garden space on either side of the path leading up to the front door. Someone had set flowers in a cup on the windowsill.
"I live here with my parents, my brother, and my two aunties who aren't married yet. They're twins and almost the same age I am."
"Oh," said Glorfindel. He stared at the door, listening for anything ominous hiding beyond, but he could hear nothing above the usual sounds of the neighbourhood. It did nothing to settle his sense of unease.
Emmith tugged on his arm. "Well, come on!" She led him down the narrow path to the door, and he had to turn sideways and walk behind her to avoid tripping over the low garden fences. They appeared to have been trodden on and mended in places with string. Emmith pushed open the door, pulled Glorfindel inside, and shut it again in Oropher's face.
"Oy!" came an angry shout from outside.
"He can't come in," Emmith said to Glorfindel. She stood with her back against the door and her left hand fiddling to fasten the latch. "Just you and me."
Glorfindel forced his mouth into some semblance of a smile while his heart pounded in his chest, so loud that Emmith could surely hear. She was, beyond a doubt, up to something. The way she smirked at him and licked her lips held a secret message. "No-one else home?" he asked. And added, silently, No brother waiting to pummel my head into the floor?
"No-one." Humming to herself, she crossed the room in slow, graceful steps, brushing against Glorfindel's shoulder as she went. "That's my parents' room," she said as she pointed to the first of two doors along the cottage's back wall. "Brother sleeps in this room here by the fire. And that," she pointed to the right-hand door on the back wall; "is my room. I share with my aunties. Only three rooms in the house, but it's good enough for us. We mostly can eat in the tower kitchens and only time everyone's home all together is at night."
"And my ring?"
"In my room. I put it under the mattress, like you did."
Glorfindel could see when she opened the bedroom door that Emmith had no bedframe. Her bed was a large but thin mattress on the floor, and she certainly shared it with her two aunts: it was the only bed in the room. She knelt down beside it, round bottom sticking up in the air, and groped underneath toward the middle. "Ahh," she said. "There we are."
"Thank you," Glorfindel said quickly. "That's wonderful, Emmith."
Standing, she dangled the ring from its chain, swinging it back and forth and then in a complete circle around her finger. "It's a pretty ring."
"Yes. It was my mother's. Now can I please-"
"Looks rich, too. Made of solid gold?"
"Yes," he repeated. He took a step forward, reaching for the ring, but Emmith matched him in stepping back.
"I bet it's worth a good purse of coin. How're you going to thank me for giving it back?"
"Thank you for..." Glorfindel choked. "I'm not going to thank you! You stole it from me! You should be the one thanking me for not reporting you for thievery!"
"Oh, don't be such a dead rat," she cooed. "You'll like the thanks I have in mind."
The ring on the chain whipped in a spiral, coiling around her fingers and coming to rest in the palm of her greedy hand. The other hand toyed with the knot at the front of her apron. A few deft movements and the apron had come untied and fallen to the floor, and Emmith looked to Glorfindel with a knowing smile.
He swallowed the sudden lump of panic in his throat. "No," he said, though his voice had far less authority than he needed. "No. No. Not a chance. I told you last night-"
"You told me last night you were tired and your chest hurt," she said. "You're better now, aren't you?"
"Good. So off with your clothes and get into bed."
Clutching his arms across his chest, Glorfindel took a quick step backward. His shoulders hit the wall with a solid thud. "My clothes are not coming off! Just give me the ring!"
"After you thank me for it."
She was surprisingly quick, and surprisingly strong. In the space of what felt like a mere blink, she had shut the bedroom door and pressed herself up against his chest, pulling his arms apart in an attempt to reach the fastenings on his tunic. She was at least as strong as he was; he could keep her from prying his arms away, but not move them into a better position across his body. "Emmith, stop it!" he shouted. "I am not taking my clothes off, and I am not getting into bed with you!"
"Why not?" she gasped. Her face had turned red and ugly with the effort of trying to overpower him. Failing, she dug her nails into the exposed skin below the bracelets at his wrists. "Are those stories about you true then?"
The pain of the biting nails coupled with Emmith's words threw Glorfindel's resistance off balance. "What?" he asked, as Emmith managed to pin one arm to the wall. "What stories?"
"That you don't chase after any of the girls because you're devoted to the Prince Fingon."
She pinned his other arm with no trouble at all. The shock of her accusation sapped away all of his strength, leaving him dumbfounded and trapped against the bedroom wall with her bosom tight against his stomach and her mouth nearly touching one of his tunic clasps. "I am... not... devoted... to Fingon!" he stammered.
"Then why aren't you friendly with any of the girls? All the other fellows are."
"All the other fellows are mindless, immoral animals!" said Glorfindel. "I don't act that way. It's sinful."
Emmith stared at him as if he were the stupidest thing she had ever seen. "It's sinful to lie with girls?"
"Yes!" he said. And then qualified, "Before marriage, I mean. After marriage, of course you can lie together. To make children."
Releasing his arms, Emmith stepped back. "You... really think... But what about you and Prince Fingon? Everybody knows."
"That's different. And also no concern of yours."
"Different how?" she asked. "Are you married to him? I bet you act like his wife. You wear that dancing costume you wore for the play and all your make-up."
Glorfindel's jaw clenched. "I do not," he hissed through his teeth.
"Oh Fingon!" Emmith sang in a high, false-feminine voice, planting loud kisses on the backs of her hands. "Oh, I love you so much!"
"I do not love Fingon!" Glorfindel shouted. He leapt forward, grabbing Emmith's arms as she had held his, but it was a triumphant grin, not fear, that spread across her face.
"Then prove it!" she said. "If you don't love him, but you share his bed, you should have no trouble here with me."
"And I have no love for you, either! What's the purpose of this, Emmith? I can't and won't stay with you."
She tipped her head to the side and laughed: a loud, brash sound rolling up from her throat. "Stay! Why would I want you to stay? Idiot! This is a one-time offer only. I have no interest in you."
"But..." Blinking, he let go of her arms. Emmith, like women in general, made little sense. A moment ago she had been in a frenzied state of attack, ready to tear off his clothes. Now she professed disinterest. "Then... why..."
"To win," she said smugly. Then, in answer to the confusion that he knew showed plainly in his eyes, she continued. "I'm not in love with you, halfwit. I don't even think you're that fair, like some girls do. Me, I like thindren men. You look like them golodhrim, tall and skinny like a pole, long nose and sharp eyes. Not for me. But there is a prize out on you, and I want it."
"A... a prize?
"First girl gets in your bed wins."
The answer was so absurd that Glorfindel would have staggered and fallen, had his knees not been locked with the tension of battle. He could do no more than gape and stare, wide-eyed, at Emmith, who continued her explanation with all the gravity of a discussion on the weather.
"It started as a joke, see. Everyone thought you were so high and mighty with your nose in the stars that some girls agreed the first one who catches you gets a silver coin. But that was six years ago. Time went on, the prize got bigger. Then just this morning you came into the kitchens and all those other girls thought you looked so fine in your clothes, Ranthil said whichever girl got you should have a whole year off kitchen duties. We all agreed. So now you see why I brought you here? I want a whole year of Ranthil and the others doing my work in the kitchens. A whole year I can have free and go find a husband and get out of this horrible city. All it takes is one tumble with you and that's all mine."
"Oh," he sighed. A light of relief was in sight. "So if that be the case, we could both just say we did it. I could swear by the King's crown that I lay with you. We needn't actually-"
"Yes, we do," she said firmly. "Maybe you're too thick to see the truth when it up and smacks you in the face, but I can smell a lie like a rotten fish and Ranthil's no idiot neither. One good look in your eyes and she'd see right through your fibs. I'm taking no chances. We have to do this proper. Now take off your clothes. You think I have all day?"
Even with nothing said, Oropher could guess well enough at what had happened between Glorfindel and Emmith behind locked doors. His face had taken on a frightening scowl, and he growled through pursed lips with every breath. Glorfindel found it impossible to look him in the eye as they walked back to the tower.
"So..." Glorfindel began, "I... ah... I have my ring back."
Oropher hissed loudly and said nothing.
"My knife, too, and even the hair ties. She gave it all back. That's good, isn't it? Very good..."
"I s'pect that's not all she gave you," Oropher huffed.
Grabbing Glorfindel by the arm, Oropher stepped quickly in front to block the way. His free hand hovered over the little dagger Glorfindel knew he kept hidden under his belt. "So?" he spat. "You better tell me. You and her together now?"
"Together... what?" Frowning, Glorfindel tried to step back, but Oropher's grip on his arm was sound. "No! No, Oropher, you have it all wrong!"
"Wrong?" he shouted. "What part do I have wrong? That you and Emmith stayed alone in that house for full on over an hour, after she was being sweet on you the whole way over?"
"The part where you think I'm somehow in love with her, or she with me!"
Oropher's eyes narrowed into fierce slits. "Did you or didn't you just fuck her in that house?"
"I... well... I did, but..."
With another growl, Oropher released Glorfindel's arm, but only to free both hands for a solid shove to Glorfindel's chest. "Why?!"
"Oropher, I had no choice!"
"Dog's balls you didn't! What'd she do, tie you up?!"
"Nearly!" Glorfindel shouted back. "Will you calm down a moment and let me explain?"
Oropher drew a breath, letting his mouth hang open as if to refuse, but then he appeared to change his mind. He smacked his fists against his legs, spat on the ground, and glared at Glorfindel. "Try to explain, but you won't convince me."
"Look," said Glorfindel, holding up his arms in a gesture of peace. "She wouldn't give me my ring back without... you know. But it was for no personal reason!" he quickly added as Oropher's scowl grew. "I swear, Oropher, on whatever you want me to swear on, by the grace of Manwë Himself, she is not in love with me. She doesn't even like me! Actually she thinks I'm ugly. She prefers thindren men."
For a moment, Oropher stood still as a rock, simply breathing and glaring with a hawkish look in his eye. "You're only saying that," he finally said. "You're only saying that so I don't plough your face in."
"No. I'm not. I swear, that is what she told me. She prefers thindren men, she has no interest in me, and the only reason she insisted I ... uh... was because she and the other kitchen girls have a wager going."
The anger in Oropher's face half vanished. "A wager?"
"Yes, a wager to... uh..." It made Glorfindel cringe to admit it to himself, much less say it aloud. "Oh, you can guess what the wager was about! Anyhow, Emmith won, and that's the only reason she had any interest in me, and now she can go about doing whatever she does with the fellows she actually likes. And I can go to sleep, die of embarrassment, and never wake up."
Huffing, Oropher crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you saying you find Emmith embarrassing?"
"No! I'm saying..." He sighed. "I argued and argued with her until it just became pointless, and then I convinced myself, oh, why not... How is it any different from being with Fingon, after all? And it'll be a practice round for..." Idril. Her name came to mind before he could stop it. "For the future. But then as soon as we started..."
"What, you finish too soon?" Oropher snorted.
"No. I wish it were that, but no... It went on forever. She took it upon herself to teach me all kinds of things that decent people would never do. I'm sure most of it was illegal. Then when she finally decided she was done, I couldn't finish. It was impossible. I was tired and horrified and wishing I could be anywhere else, and Oropher, if you don't stop laughing..."
It had taken only seconds from Oropher to slip from a frenzy of rage into to helpless laughter. And while it annoyed Glorfindel to no end to have to stand and accept it, at least Oropher was no longer angry. Dignity could be sacrificed for the sake of friendship. "It's really not that funny," he muttered.
"Yes..." gasped Oropher. "Oh yes it is... Emmith thinks she can leave me and have her way with you... well... She gets what she deserves!" He doubled over, almost touching his head to his knees, and laughed so hard he started to choke.
"I'm glad you're amused," said Glorfindel. "Truly, it's not that funny. This is the second-worst day of my life."
Oropher looked up and coughed as he wiped tears from the corner of his eye. "Second-worst? Oh, LL, please, you have to tell me about the worst now! This is too good!"
"The worst will be tomorrow. When Emmith has had time to tell everyone in the tower what happened. Now I'm glad you find this so amusing, but quit being an ass. Let's go find some food."
He started back toward the tower again and Oropher, still laughing and coughing but at least able to stand up again, staggered behind.
"Tomorrow!" Oropher howled. "Oh, tomorrow'll be great!"
"Fantastic, since you seem to take so much delight in my misery. You know what? You can stay here. I'll go back to my room alone, where I won't have to listen to your asinine braying or-"
He stopped in mid-sentence and mid-step, and groaned. "Oh, Valar, I almost forgot."
"Forgot about Emmith's-" Oropher began, but Glorfindel interrupted with a snap.
"No. Shut your pig's mouth. I have to go to the market and buy Fingon more orange oil. And I might as well go now, since I'm over here."
Determined not to look at Oropher, he turned around. The most direct route to the market led, unfortunately, back past Emmith's house. He would have to take a detour and would end up wasting time. "You can stay here and laugh for all I care," he told Oropher. "If you're lucky, someone might come along and crown you village idiot."
"No..." said Oropher. "I think I'll come with you. More fun. I know! You can buy a potion to help enhance your bedroom skills. They sell those for golodhren men, you know. Oh, wait. I forgot. You have no money. You gave it all to me!"
He grinned stupidly. Glorfindel shook his head and kept walking.
"Hey, how you think you'll buy Fingon's orange oil if you have no money, hum?"
Glorfindel patted the purse hidden beneath the heavy folds of his robe; it made the satisfactory sound of many coins clinking. Behind him, he heard Oropher stomp to a halt.
"Where'd you get that?"
"Fingon gave me the money. He asked me to come buy the oil, and he gave me enough money to do so. Where else would I get it?" He turned around only long enough to scowl at Oropher.
Oropher, it appeared, had suddenly lost his sense of humour. His eyes had narrowed again, and the way his teeth were clenched looked as if they barely held back a tide of foul language.
"What now?" Glorfindel shouted. "What in the world is wrong with you today? All morning you've been wildly darting from one mood to the next with only the slightest bit of provocation! Are you still drunk from the wedding? This is ridiculous!"
Whether or not Oropher heard or paid any attention was impossible to tell. Once again, he was balanced on the delicate edge of a fit. "Fingon gave you the money? How much? And why?"
"To buy bath oil! I just told you! And I have no idea how much; I haven't counted it. A handful."
To judge by the hard look on his face, Oropher still had no intention of believing anything Glorfindel told him. "All I know is this," he said. "Yesterday you had one kulusta in your pocket one more upstairs. Now you have a whole new purse? And Fingon just gave it to you?"
"That's right," said Glorfindel. "He gave me the money to buy the oil. And it's not mine," he quickly added as Oropher's mouth jumped open. "I am using Fingon's money to buy Fingon's perfume oil for Fingon's use. So you can quit looking at me as if I stole from you. Which I did not. Nor did I cheat you in any way. You agreed to what I paid you yesterday, and I did pay you. Any money I was given after the fact has nothing to do with that."
Oropher shut his mouth, but his suspicious frown only deepened.
"Now are you going to stop acting like a child and come with me to the market, or, better yet, leave me alone, or do you plan on standing around here all day being unreasonable and insane?"
"I'll come," Oropher muttered. He scuffed his shoes on the road as he stepped forward, demonstrating exactly how much he trusted Glorfindel. "But only to make sure you don't buy anything other than Fingon's oil."
Glorfindel had little interest in the market of Eithel Sirion. Unlike the loud, crowded, and exciting markets in Valmar, Eithel Sirion's marketplace was nothing more than a dirt square sparsely decorated with a few poor booths. Only two of those sold anything besides food. One displayed cheap jewellery that soldiers bought for easily impressed girls, and the other offered medicines, perfumes, and other things that came in bottles, all imported from the south. Glorfindel, followed by a still-unhappy Oropher, headed toward the bottle booth. It had a curious smell about it. All the various perfumes had mixed with the odour of medicines and other more dubious concoctions to tinge the air with something that had the feel of being not entirely safe.
"I need a bottle of perfume oil," Glorfindel told the vendor. "Silver bottle, if you have it. I'm not fond of glass."
"Orange. Just orange. Undiluted."
The vendor was a shifty-looking man, with skin hardened by travel and small, wide-set eyes that he used to give Glorfindel a thorough appraisal. His hands, dirty and callused but with thin, elegant fingers, tapped out a little rhythm on the countertop. "Hmm," he said. And then, "No."
"'No'?" Glorfindel asked. "What do you mean, 'no'?"
"I mean 'no' as in 'no'. I can't sell you orange. It's protected."
"What do you mean, 'protected'?"
"You must have sand for brains, boy, if you can't understand simple words like 'no' and 'protected'," said the vendor. "It means I can't sell it to you. That scent is the property of Prince Findekáno. Some things are protected for the use of royalty only. Just like you can't ask the dyers to make you fabric of indigo or black, you can't ask me to give you orange oil. But," he added in the more pleasantly deferential voice of a salesman, "I can mix you an original, one-of-a-kind perfume of orange and anything else you desire. I recommend orange and mint. Wonderful combination. Is this for you or a gift for a lady friend?"
"It's for Prince Findekáno," Glorfindel said shortly. "He sent me to buy it for him."
The vendor let out a little bark of laughter. "Ha! Of course it is, son. You think I've not heard that line before?"
"But it's true!" Glorfindel insisted. "He sent me on an errand to buy it. I'm his servant, you know."
"No, I don't know. I'm away from the city most of the year, and I keep no record of who is servant to whom. Did he by chance give you a note of authority?"
"Then how am I to know who you are?" the vendor asked smugly. "You could be anyone with a fancy to smell like royalty."
"That's ridiculous," said Glorfindel. "I don't even like orange oil. I told you, it's for Findekáno."
"But how can I know that?"
Glorfindel closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. Everything would have to be so difficult. "I don't know how to prove I am who I am. I just know I need to buy the oil for Findekáno."
"But he sent you with no note."
"No. He gave me only a bag of coins and told me- Wait! The bag!"
He should have realised it sooner. Fumbling in his haste, he pulled the coin purse from inside his robe and set it down before the vendor. "There! You see? A black coin purse embroidered with Findekáno's own emblem: a nine-pointed white star. It's his money. I am using it to buy the oil for him."
Slowly, with more suspicion than care, the vendor examined the bag of coins. He lifted it to scrutinise the bottom, and picked at the embroidered star with his dirty fingernails.
"I think that proves it," said Glorfindel. "This is obviously Findekáno's. Now will you please sell me the oil?"
"I don't know," sighed the vendor. "This could be stolen. And there'll be no end of trouble for me if I sell you orange oil without the proper authority."
"There'll be more than trouble for you if you don't hand over the oil and the Prince has to come down here himself!" Oropher shouted from Glorfindel's side. "This is stupid! You're wasting our time!"
"Oropher," Glorfindel began, but Oropher's harsh words had the desired effect.
The vendor nervously ran his tongue over his lips; the threat of Fingon making a personal appearance in full wrath was clearly enough for him. "Very well," he said. "Wait here a moment."
He disappeared behind a hanging drape into the back of his booth, which released a waft of new scents. As soon as he had gone, Oropher rolled his eyes.
"What an idiot."
"I know," Glorfindel murmured. "But keep quiet, and no more fusses, at least until I have the oil. I can't afford to have him refuse the sale."
Shrugging, Oropher glanced around at the display of bottles. "If you say so. Hey, what d'you suppose that is?"
"I don't know," said Glorfindel. He leaned over to examine the jar, full of some bizarre, slimy puffs that looked like mushrooms crossed with seaweed. The label had been written in the runes of the Sindar to the south. "I can't read it."
Above the shelf with the odd mushroom jar stood a collection of dull green bottles, each with a label in runes, and beside them, cups full of various dried herbs. Another shelf held stranger things: dried fish, animal claws, tiny bones, and enormous seed pods. On the opposite side were more glass bottles in all colours, some decorated with wire or jewels; they surely held the perfumes. And on a high shelf, above the rest, sat three miniature silver phials. Each was smaller than Glorfindel's little finger, but had been etched all over with a fine pattern of scrollwork. They looked very familiar.
He nudged Oropher's arm and motioned for him to look up, but before he could explain, the vendor returned from the back.
"Here we are. One bottle of orange oil, pure, in silver as requested. Thirty-two kulustar."
Glorfindel heard Oropher's breath hitch at the outrageous price, but he held his own shock to himself and merely nodded before counting out the coins from Fingon's purse.
"Thirty-two!" he heard Oropher whisper.
"Too rich for you, my boy?" the vendor laughed. "It should be. This oil is one of the rarest items I trade. It comes from far away to the south-east. Even down in those lands it is a luxury for the rich. Up here... it is the property of princes only."
"And what your single rarest item?" Glorfindel asked.
"Ah," the vendor answered with a self-congratulatory clap of his hands. "My rarest would be this." Turning, he reached to the high shelf and took down one of the small silver phials. "From the Nandorin lands over the mountains: a poppy decoction. Nothing else in the world is like it." He held it up next to his face, safely out of the reach of Glorfindel and Oropher. "This, lads, is the glory of the Valar in a bottle."
Glorfindel forced himself to unclench his teeth. "How much?"
Again, the vendor laughed, in a superior and mocking tone. "How much! You don't even know what it is!"
"I know exactly what it is, and what it does," said Glorfindel. "What I don't know is how much it costs."
What had previously been a sly grin fell into a jealous frown. "Where did you learn about this?"
"Around," said Glorfindel. "Please, we just finished the argument in which we established I am employed by Findkáno. I am far more important than you realise. Now stop treating me like a halfwit and tell me how much it costs."
"Sixty," the vendor said flatly, and his scowl deepened. "Not something you could ever afford, I wager."
"Sixty!" Oropher shouted.
With a pleasant smile, Glorfindel bowed to the perfume vendor. "Thank you. I should be back shortly to purchase it. Please be certain you do not sell your stock to anyone else before I return."
The vendor only shook his head and turned his shoulder to them. "Get out of here."
"I need it."
"But sixty kulustar!"
"I know!" shouted Glorfindel. "But I need it. Fingon hid his bottle. Now I have to buy one of my own."
Oropher did not look convinced. "What is that stuff, even?"
"Nothing. Nothing important. It doesn't matter. I just need it."
They rounded the fourth floor landing and continued up the stairs to the fifth. Glorfindel, with orange oil safely in hand, needed to return to his bedroom. He needed a quiet place, and he needed to think. More urgently, he needed sixty kulustar. He needed the poppy bottle. When his theft of Fingon's supply had been discovered he had been too dazed to think of what the consequences would be, but those were clear now. Fingon's bottle was gone. He had no more access. And now that he had seen the little phial by the perfume vendor, his acute need for it was overwhelming.
"You'll never get it. Fingon'll never give you the money. Not that much."
"I know," Glorfindel muttered. They came to the landing of the fifth floor, and he stopped, leaning against the column that bordered the corridor. Fingon never gave him anywhere near that sum of money, unless it was to buy an item like the orange oil. Never had Glorfindel seen any such amount for his own personal use. He received an adequate but limited allowance, which let him purchase finer clothing and small luxuries that other servants could not afford. But still, he never had more than three or four kulustar to call his own at any given time. It would take years of doing without to save enough.
"I could sell something..." he began, but dismissed the idea as soon as he had spoken. There was nothing to sell. His clothes were worth nowhere near sixty kulustar, nor were his few pieces of jewellery. He owned exactly two things that would earn him any worthwhile amount of coin in the market, and he was willing to part with neither of them: his mother's ring, and the gold bracelets from Fingon.
"No, I can't sell anything," he admitted. "If I sold everything I own, I might have enough to buy one bottle. And how long would that last? A year? Then what would I do?"
"Forget you ever saw it," said Oropher. "You didn't want it until you saw it there, so forget about it."
"I can't. I need it. I only have to think of some other way to get the money. Or find Fingon's bottle... That might be easier. I should look for that."
He needed to think. Whether about ways to amass sixty kulustar or places Fingon may have hidden the poppy decoction, it made little difference. He just needed to think. Too many worries had started to gather in his head.
"I need to be alone for a while," he said to Oropher. "I need to think this through. There has to be a better way."
Oropher looked less than convinced. "If you say so. But if you want to know what I think..."
"Not right now," said Glorfindel, though his words were interrupted by a loud bang. A door down the corridor had been flung open, and the noise of three voices in hearty laughter tumbled out. One of those voices sounded uncomfortably familiar. Glorfindel groaned. "Oh no. Not him..."
"Who?" whispered Oropher.
Glorfindel had time only to answer, "Fingon's brother," before three men rounded the curve of the wall. Turgon stepped one half-pace ahead, arrayed in his king's finery and flanked on either side by two well decorated guards in his livery.
"A-ha!" he cried the moment he spied Glorfindel. "What have we here? Indis, is it?"
Bristling, Glorfindel stood up straighter. So Turgon was no longer satisfied with merely ignoring him, nor treating him as a stupid and useless peon. Now it had to be mocking hostility. "Sir."
"Not lazing about in my brother's bed today?" he asked. "Oh, but I beg your pardon. I was mistaken. You were on his bed, rather than in. Such an important distinction."
The guards at Turgon's sides laughed too loudly at their lord's supposed wit, which only fuelled the bright spark of hatred steadily growing in Glorfindel's chest. He raised his eyebrow at the dark-haired guard before answering Turgon in as cold a voice as he could muster. "No, sir. In fact I have not seen your brother all day. I have been out of the tower conducting his business."
"Yes," said Turgon, "I can only imagine the numerous business uses he has for you. But did you know? We were speaking of you just now, my men and I."
Glorfindel's stomach tightened. "Is that so."
A conspiratorial glance passed between Turgon and his guards, and they grinned at their common joke. "It is so. Did you know that you share a name with my friend and kinsman here?"
He gestured to the man at his left, who stepped forward and gave a deep bow. It was meant as no measure of respect, Glorfindel knew, but served only to show off his remarkable hair: as Vanyarin golden as Glorfindel's own, gleaming even in the dim light of the tower. He stood up again with an expression of sly superiority on his face.
It was a small consolation to Glorfindel that this Vanya had rather flat, common features, and, more interestingly, an outline tattoo of Varda's Star on the back of each hand. He was no noble; not by far. His father had certainly been a soldier. Which meant that either Turgon had lied about their kinship, or it was so remote as to be negligible.
"I suppose you can guess his name," Turgon continued. "He is my good friend Laurefindil. So here we have Laurefindil of Vinyamar and Laurefindil of Hisiómë. What a charming meeting."
"Wonderful," Glorfindel replied. "May I beg your leave? I have things to attend."
"Of course, of course," said Turgon, waving his hand. "I shan't keep you. Only we thought you should know, Laurefindil of Hisilómë, that it is terribly confusing for us to have the two of you so named."
"Very confusing," the dark-haired guard echoed, and Laurefindil of Vinyamar nodded in agreement.
"Thus we have decided that you, Laurefindil of Hisilómë, will henceforth be called Laurefindiel. On account of how you are such a pretty girl."
Turgon grinned widely at his announcement, and the other two followed his lead, revelling in their own cleverness. Glorfindel clenched his hands into fists. He squeezed the silver oil bottle with the entirety of his strength, thankful it was not glass, and filtered all of his rage into its smooth shape. He only needed his face to remain calm. Even if his body shook with anger, he had to focus with all his power of will and appear calm. Strangling Fingon's brother in front of two biased witnesses would do him no good.
"That is very funny," he said. "I will remember it. Laurefindiel. Very witty. Now I really must go. By your permission, sir."
"Absolutely," said Turgon. "I give you leave to go about your business, Laurefindiel. Go make my brother happy like the good wife you are."
The three continued on their way, down the stairs to leave Glorfindel and Oropher alone once more. Glorfindel, too angry to speak, closed his eyes to concentrate on steadying his shallow breathing. Oropher shuffled nervously.
"Well, he's an ass."
"I know," Glorfindel hissed.
"At first I was going to try to talk you out of hunting for sixty kulustar but now I changed my mind. Now I think you should steal it from that horse's cunny."
"I could do," answered Glorfindel. Slowly, he exhaled, and drew in a careful, measured breath. "Oropher," he said, speaking almost as low as a growl. "I am tired of being mocked. Today has been trying. And I have taken it. But I won't swallow any more."
"Well, that's easy to say," said Oropher. "But how d'you think you'll do telling a king he can't poke fun at you?"
"I won't tell him. Obviously, I can't. But I can take my revenge on him."
"By stealing the sixty kulustar?"
Glorfindel shook his head. "No... I mean, I could do that, too, but it's not enough. If I steal money from him, who likely has a good-size treasury, he might not even notice. If he does, he'd just as soon blame the laundry maid or fire boy or one of his own servants. He wouldn't know it was me, and it would only make him angry, not cause personal offence."
"You want the personal offence," said Oropher.
"I have one idea."
He tossed the bottle of orange oil into the air and caught it with his other hand, then gestured to Fingon's bathing room door. "Grab me one of Fingon's robes, will you? It needn't be a good one. I'll be waiting a few doors down."
By Oropher's expression, he had no idea what to make of the order, but nonetheless went to carry it out without question. He disappeared behind Fingon's door, and Glorfindel, tossing the orange oil and catching it again, strolled slowly down the corridor to a door toward the opposite end. Turgon had gone too far. Now, it was time to repay the favour.
He knocked twice, and after a moment the door opened just enough for a suspicious blue eye to peer out.
"Who is it?" asked Idril. And then, with a grunt, "Oh. You. What do you want?"
"I am here to apologise," said Glorfindel. "I treated you very poorly last night, and I feel terrible because of it. Only I was overwhelmed by your loveliness, and not thinking well. Also I didn't want to take advantage of you..."
"So?" she snapped.
"So, it was wrong of me to start all that silly talk of marriage last night. I was only trying to be polite, and I'm sorry if we had a misunderstanding because of it."
"Fine," said Idril. "Now go away. Melessë is sleeping in the next room and I'm supposed to be having my nap."
"I'm also sorry," Glorfindel added before she shut the door, "for not respecting your wishes last night. You are a princess, after all. And this morning I was nearly kicking myself for not having done as you requested, as a good courtier would do."
"Your loss! Now go away before-"
"I would also like to make you an offer," he interrupted.
She narrowed her visible eye, then opened the door a little more until her entire face could peek through. "What offer?"
With a smile to her, he pulled one of Fingon's black robes from the arms of Oropher, who had appeared with what looked like an entire laundry basket in tow. "I will make things right. I will be your Findekáno, if you wish. I will wear his clothes, and his perfume..." He unstoppered the orange oil bottle and held it out for her to smell. "I will do anything you request of me; anything you need. My Princess."
The suspicious gleam in her eyes held on a moment longer, then faded into something new. Something knowing and wicked. Her lips curved into a mischievous arch around the tip of her pink tongue, just visible through her teeth.
"Very well. I suppose you'd better come in, then."
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