“Nolofinwë !” Artanis entered the room looking stricken, “Maitimo and Macalaurë are arguing.”
Now, with due respect to my family, I must say that arguments are a way of life for us. So I was never surprised even when Atarinkë and Findekáno duelled once-a-week considering their honour at stake for actual or imaginary insults they perceive. But Russandol and Macalaurë have never argued; indeed Macalaurë ’s views on everything correspond perfectly with those of his brother.
“Nolofinwë ,” she said more urgently, “It is a grave matter.”
When we reached there, Findekáno was already mediating between the brothers, looking worried and grim. Russandol was standing near the bed, his sole hand clenched into a tight fist, his grey eyes wide with panic and shock. Macalaurë stood next to the window, his face resigned and drawn. On the floor at Russandol’s feet lay a set of scrolls.
“What is the matter, Russandol?” I asked briskly, taking in the entire scene worriedly.
“It is…Oh, Nolofinwë ”, Russandol cursed as he slumped onto the bed and massaged his temples, “I deserve better from all of you than mere lust!”
“You are overwrought, Maitimo”, Findekáno said reasonably as he crouched before his cousin and picked up the scrolls with reverence, “You need some time.”
“Time?” Russandol asked baffled, “Time to know that my brother’s regard for me goes deeper than kinship?”
Artanis inhaled sharply and I am afraid I was no less stunned. We had all known, of course. But it had been a well-kept secret from Russandol. I turned to see Macalaurë’s sharp features in a stunning profile of misery and unrequited regard. If it had been Fëanáro…I felt the familiar pang of bitter grief shoot through my veins. But this was not Fëanáro. Macalaurë had none of his father’s impulsiveness and indifference to the feelings of others.
“If we speak of this no more”, he said quietly, his melodious tones hollow and pained, “I give you my word that you shall never have the reason to speak of it again.”
“I cannot”, Russandol pointed accusingly at the scrolls that Findekáno still held, “I cannot just forget what I have read! Eru help me! Why am I so cursed? My own brother…my own brother!”
“Russandol”, I said soothingly, “Please. We cannot control our love; you know that well and you have been most understanding about it till today. I beg you, please let this rest.”
“How will I?” Russandol asked miserably as he looked up at his brother, who was gazing at him beseechingly.
“Nolofinwë ,” Macalaurë cut in, his features grim and resolute, “The courtiers have been pressing us for an alliance. Please do inform the court that I am consenting to marry the first lady of their choice. Seeing that neither my elder brother nor Findekáno are in an amenable frame of mind to take a spouse, I will take it upon myself to ensure the continuation of our bloodlines.”
“Macalaurë !” Russandol said stunned, “You cannot just marry because of this!”
“Perhaps you wish me to live in unrequited desperation?” Macalaurë asked coldly, “Seeing that you are disgusted by my heart, I have no other option.”
Russandol looked across to me in silent pleading for my interference, I remained silent. I knew well what Macalaurë felt. Artanis cleared her throat and murmured something about Russandol’s medicine. Findekáno hastily crossed the room, not meeting my eyes. Together Artanis and my son left the room, closing the door behind them.
Russandol rose to his feet and threw his overrobes on clumsily, saying, “I am going to find the councillors and start the discussions about the division of lands amongst us. A good day to you both.”
“Father”, Findekáno entered my study, “They have finished. Maitimo has taken Himring.”
“What does he plan to achieve on that cold deserted mountain?” I snarled angrily, my temper already much-tried by the long debates I had with Russandol. I have always been in perfect accord with him all his life. But the recent spate of arguments between us worried and angered me.
“I wish I knew the answer”, Findekáno said wryly, “I wanted to tell you that Macalaurë has proposed to the lady in question. They are engaged. He has taken the lands between the Rivers Gelion.”
“I made a mistake, did I not, Nolofinwë ?” Russandol asked sadly as we watched Macalaurë exchange vows with his betrothed, Findaráto presided over the ceremony.
Russandol should have done it, but Macalaurë had asked for Findaráto . The two eldest Fëanorions barely spoke to each other. I have done all that I could to reconcile them. Russandol was willing to lay aside his shock and indignation to apologize to his brother. But Macalaurë refused to even stay in the same chamber as his elder brother, instead preferring the company of Artanis and Findaráto .
It has been a long year, a bitter one at that. All the Fëanorions have left for their lands except for Macalaurë and Russandol. Russandol stays to assist me with the ruling as Findekáno is of no use in that. And Turkáno has moved to Nevrast permanently. Findaráto too, spends much of his time with Turkáno and in Doriath. Artanis is talking of accompanying Findaráto on his next journey. I do not wish to let her leave, for I love her as my daughter. Irissë, for her part, seems satisfied with the smooth relationship she now has with Tyelkormo.
“It is not your mistake that you did not see”, I shrugged, “He should realize that. He will, in time, Russandol.”
“Brother”, Macalaurë had come to us, his hand around his wife’s waist, “May I present to you my spouse? Dear”, he turned to face the glowing lady beside him, “My eldest brother and the heir of our house, Nelyafinwë.”
I cringed as my eldest nephew’s formal name fell coldly from Macalaurë’s lips, he has never called his brother anything other than ‘Russandol’ all these years. The lady smiled brightly as she bowed to Russandol, who stood as impassive as stone. But the turmoil in his grey eyes struck me.
“Will you allow me a dance, My Lady?” Findaráto asked charmingly. Probably he had sensed the tension in the air and as usual, he had come forward to dispel it.
They say that my half-brother was the charmer of our family. However, Findaráto too can charm when he wishes. The lady smiled and then took his hand. I watched them dance slowly to the haunting tones of the minstrels.
Russandol looked at me, then met his brother’s eyes squarely, saying in his characteristic gentle manner, “Macalaurë, I am happy for you. Mririel is a blessed woman. May you both have a wonderful life together.”
“Think you that possible with the beast that lies hidden in my soul?” Macalaurë hissed quietly, preventing his hands from trembling by clenching them together.
His pale features had become paler in the torchlight that I feared life would drain away from him. Russandol seemed to be worried too, for he pressed his goblet of wine to his brother’s lips firmly, commanding, “Drink, Macalaurë.”
Macalaurë closed his eyes and drank down the wine, his frame trembling with suppressed emotions and regrets.
“Do you hate me still?” he asked lamely.
“Macalaurë”, Russandol smiled wistfully as he cupped his brother’s cheek with his sole palm, “I cherish you the most. Live well, and find happiness. I would do anything to see you happy, brother. And as for what frightened me then, I can only ask for forgiveness.”
“Why, forgiveness?” Macalaurë asked bitterly, “I am at fault.”
“The laws of the Gods have never ruled the passions of the House of Finwë”, Russandol’s grey, wise eyes sparkled with conviction, “And I will never judge my kin, for I love them too much to do that.”
The days passed. Macalaurë left with his wife for his lands between the rivers Gelion. Russandol and I knew that it was time for him to leave for Himring. But his reluctance to leave me and my fears of letting him leave hounded both of us.
“Nolofinwë,” Artanis entered the chamber, a grim expression on her drawn features. Had she once been the naïve beauty of her father’s court in Alqualonde?
“We change,” she smiled sadly, her eyes shining deep with wisdom. After Russandol, she is probably the wisest in our family.
“Unfortunately, you are right, Artanis”, I sighed, “Though we wish that we do not have to.”
“You must let Maitimo leave for Himring”, she said quietly, “His destiny is not yours.”
“I fear that his destiny is inextricably bound with that of Morgoth,” I cursed bitterly. “I fear that he might turn insane in the cold fastness of Himring, away from kith and kin. I fear….I fear that I may never see him again, Artanis!”
She did not reply, instead closed her eyes wearily. I gazed upon her pale features, she was wearing away.
“Artanis!” I exclaimed as I finally understood her secret, “What were you thinking of? HIM!”
“As Maitimo said,” she drew herself to her full height and met my gaze resolutely, “None of us choose our love.”
I did not reply, as I took in the implications. She smiled wistfully and then walked to me. I embraced her and she rested her head against my shoulder. My senses were assailed by the rich scent of her hair, the scent of Valinor. I held her tighter as I thought of all that we had lost.
“I want you to let him go”, I said brokenly, “He is married and more so, his duty runs to his brother first and foremost.”
“He was my first,” she whispered, clinging to me, “An equal. And I knew from that day, the depth of his regard for his brother. But still, like a fool, I am enamoured by him. I would follow you all to the ends of the world and beyond.”
“You still have a chance to escape,” I said heavily, “Go to your Sindar kin. Findaráto will accompany you. Go there and find distraction. The Maia is said to be wise and compassionate. You have always loved knowledge. Go to Doriath.”
“I will not leave you, Nolofinwë,” she whispered quietly, “Irissë will leave in a fortnight or two. She cannot bear to be separated from her cousin. Findaráto too leaves. I will stay, Nolofinwë.”
For her sake, I find myself praying to the Gods I no longer believe in. I pray that it is not love that makes her long for her cousin. I pray that atleast this scion of Finwë finds a love away from our cursed bloodline.
“Father!” Irissë burst in, her high temperament once more stoked by her love for Tyelkormo, “It is time!”
“Irissë,” I sighed, “I did promise your mother that I will not let you out of my sight ever. Can you not ask him to come here?”
“What fun would be there? Father, his lands are best-suited for hunting,” she explained testily, “Your lands are not much good for game. We are bonded, Father, I do not understand why I should not travel to him. And as for your promise to Mother,” she laughed merrily, her dark grey eyes glittering with mirth, “She is hardly going to know my whereabouts, is she?”
“Wisdom is never an attribute I had thought before to associate with you,” I sarcastically remarked, “But all the same, I would be happier if you would stay until Findekáno can accompany you. He goes to Hithrim in a week. From there you can travel with Maitimo’s warriors who are more experienced than our soldiers.”
“I cannot delay,” she said with a dark pout, her rash nature surfacing again, “I am going NOW, Father. You have Artanis for company. I am alone.”
She stormed out of the room, her dark hair sweeping behind her. I sighed, her petulance was something we are all used to. But I did not wish to see her leave in the escort of our soldiers unaccompanied by kin.
Artanis, Findekáno and I stood in the courtyard as my daughter rode out. I could not help feeling paternal pride at the sight of her, holding her own amongst our finest warriors. Both Artanis and Irissë are skilled in horsemanship and weapon-mastery, a fall-out of all the time they have spent with their male cousins. Her dark, raven hair was loose behind her, a metaphor to her wild spirit, I mused, as I watched the hair twirling unrestrained in the strong wind. Her black gown contrasted sharply with her pale Noldorin features that she looked as if she was carved from marble. As she rode away, I could not help being reverentially amazed by the fact that she came from my loins.
Findekáno walked to the settling ground and stooped to pick up a horseshoe. I knew it instantly, it was from my half-brother’s forge. He had made it for Irissë’s mount a long while ago, before the exile.
“Horseshoes are supposed to be lucky”, he remarked, “I will keep it, Father?”
“I hope losing a horseshoe does not reduce the owner’s luck”, I shrugged before making my way inside the castle, “Keep that safe, I would not want her to throw a tantrum over that when she returns.”