Summary: This is a coming-of-age romance featuring Finrod and Caranthir. It contains two boys, Finwëan family dynamics, and cultural differences. It is a character-centered story, including a cross-country trip, a village fair with local color, and a tarot card reading. These two young men explore a mysterious and powerful gift that they share. Written for the Tarot challenge as part the Library of Moria celebration of the International Day of Slash 2015, the story is months late now—but better late than never. Thank you, Ignoble Bard, for being so patient of a Beta for me and reading this so many times.
Categories: FPS Characters: Caranthir, Finrod
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes
Word count: 14629 Read: 10671
Published: November 28, 2015 Updated: November 28, 2015
First the Names:
Quenya - Sindarin
Aikanáro - Aegnor
Angaráto - Angrod
Arafinwë – Finarfin
Findaráto/Ingo - Finrod Felagund
Findekáno/Finno - Fingon
haru – grandfather
Maitimo/ Nelyo - Maedhros
—oldóran – nickname Olwë uses for Finwë
Nolofinwë - Fingolfin
Tyelkormo - Celegorm
yonya - son
Recently, I have not stolen as much from Dawn Felagund’s Another Man’s Cage as I did in my early years of writing the Finwëans, but in this story I return to my roots again. It was Dawn’s invention that Caranthir had an excess of the telepathic communication of thoughts (sanwe-latya, "thought-opening" in Quenya or osanwe-kenta in Sindarin) available to many of the Eldar, along with the additional gift or curse of foresight.
Lastly, I have no pretentions to knowing how to read tarot cards; the raw information on the meaning of the tarot cards I was given for inspiration was taken from the following website: http://www.keen.com/articles/tarot/king-of-swords-tarot-card.
1. Prologue by Oshun
2. Of Feasts and Fish by Oshun
3. A Starlit Sea by Oshun
4. The Road Trip by Oshun
5. Auguries and Dreams by Oshun
6. At the Inn for the Night by Oshun
7. Postscipt by Oshun
“. . . the Perilous Realm is perilous. Those who have travelled to it . . . know they will not be allowed to stay there, but when they come back, they are overwhelmed by a sense of loss.” --Tolkien, Tales from the Perilous Realm.
“Men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by the impulse of passion.” --Alexander Hamilton.
King Finwë was no mathematician, but Carnistir had recently written a short, nearly lyrical piece, about the art of geometry relating to the theory of the elastic stability of arches which intrigued him greatly. It had irritated half of his architects and builders and was praised to the skies by the other half. Finwë, as an amateur with a head for numbers and engineering, found it amusing and entertaining. No reason, in his opinion, why mathematics must be dull. Quiet, sullen Carnistir was apparently a clever writer. He laughed to think that there had been no consensus about the article—quite the contrary, Carnistir was either a genius or an arrogant upstart. His brother Curufinwë had grunted dismissively when he’d asked him about it—that reaction could easily have indicated sibling jealousy. Not everything Carnistir proposed to scholars in the past had ever been easily accepted. But there was no doubt in his doting grandfather’s mind that his contributions relating to geometry would in time be considered a worthy part of not only the history of architecture, but significant to the study of mathematics.
Finwë had already invited Arafinwë’s eldest, Findaráto, to accompany him for a short visit to Alqualondë, along with a few of Tirion’s best builders, in response to a request by Olwë for suggestions on the construction of Alqualondë’s first public library. Bringing Findaráto had occurred to him instantly because Arafinwë’s eldest loved talking about construction and, of course, knew Alqualondë and its court well. After reading the comments upon Carnistir’s article, he decided to invite him also. In his considered opinion, the two half-cousins did not spend enough time together. Their grandfather thought that, despite their obvious superficial differences, they might be surprised to find they had a lot in common.
Of Feasts and Fish by Oshun
Alqualondë, Years of the Trees
My family has always complained that I am a finicky eater. I would be lying to say this is not true. Although fussiness over food has caused me annoyance and irritated others, there was one instance when that eccentricity brought me good fortune. But I am jumping ahead in my tale. After nearly a week at Olwë’s palace in Alqualondë with Haru Finwë, discussions of the library building plans had finished. A happy compromise had been reached between those who were leery of excessive spending and those who, overwhelmed by enthusiasm and ambition, desired a magnificent building reflecting the unique culture of the Amanyaran Teleri. I had pulled my grandfather aside and asked if I might return to Tirion with Findaráto. The truth was that I did not want to try to survive much longer on seafood. I had dropped some weight eating largely bread and rice.
The thing I love most about my grandfather is that he is not inclined to lecture or insist. He simply said, “Of course, yonya! Perhaps next year you will come with me again and stay a day or two longer.” He pulled me into a bear hug and squeezed hard. When he released me, he added. “It might help to press oneself a little to spend more time in company. But there is no hurry. All in good time. I am happy that you came with me. You were very useful.”
My half-cousin Findaráto had announced earlier in the day that he wished to return to Tirion to review for his upcoming examination in Philosophy and Letters. We all, of course, believed that he needn’t worry, but he appeared uncharacteristically apprehensive and insistent that he needed to prepare. Well, apprehensive is perhaps too strong a term. My clever half-cousin always seemed to me in those days to have no nerves at all. But he was noticeably more self-preoccupied than he is now.
I’m not saying he was inconsiderate of other people. Findaráto at his most self-absorbed could never have been called that. Although I did not know him well, I thought he was vain, horribly, insufferably vain and infuriating in his self-confidence. He was good at everything and not afraid to say so. We were all so young then, with all the pain, insecurity, and posturing that implies. I know now that his sureness was less solid than it appeared to be. Findaráto, who is now referred to as “the wise” by many, even some of his most censorious cousins, was more ardent than sagacious in those days and far more curious than shrewd.
I assumed he was not afraid he would fail the examination, but that he was determined to do as well or better than Nelyo had. My oldest brother’s no longer recent triumph in that same examination was still referred to with regularity at family gatherings. My Ammë and Atar never bragged about their sons’ accomplishments, but Haru Finwë did.
I knew that falling in love with Findaráto would be perilous for me and I was not wrong. Yet even now I cannot regret it. It was impossible for me not to look at him—the elegant line of his jaw, his mass of golden hair, that finely wrought mouth. His mouth fascinated me. I catalogued every smile. One particular pout of those lush lips moved me in an indecent way—still does today.
The week since we had arrived at the coast had been filled with occasions of state. The first night in Alqualondë we attended a dinner at the Mariners Guild in honor of Finwë. The evening I began plotting my escape, the Academy of Music hosted an open-air music festival, followed by a banquet under the stars on the beach that abutted the palace in the back. It surpassed in opulence Olwë’s much smaller private feast inside of the palace grounds the night before that.
Each of these feasts featured tables crowded with serving dishes, most of them containing seafood, huge mounds of cold pink shrimp on beds of salad greens, whole smoked sturgeon and mackerel with beady eyes and fins intact, and platters of swordfish and cod fillets sometimes smothered in cream or—the absolute worst in my opinion—a peppery bright green sauce. The more simply dressed grilled fish steaks always looked good, smelled like lemon and butter with a hint of garlic, but tasted of the sea and produced the same result on me—a faint numbness around the lips at only one bite followed by a scratchy throat. I knew from experience that if I forced myself to eat more I would break out in an ugly, itchy rash.
The curls of deep fried calamari might have been palatable in their crispy golden batter without the meat of the squiggly creature at the center of them. I don’t need to describe my reaction to the slimy raw oysters. I could wax eloquent for hours writing about my loathing for seafood, but I would not admit to Haru Finwë or other friends and family how much it bothered me. I remembered in vivid detail the scoldings I had received as a child for being difficult and refusing to eat.
I tried to find sustenance at the tables of candied fruit surrounded by a child’s wonderland of choices of elaborate sugary confections. But one can only eat so many sweets. By the third day I had long passed the point of lack of appetite for the cake and pudding offerings and entered into the phase of lip-curling disgust. I had to guard my face, lest I insult anyone, a pastry chef or the King. If it had not been for savory rice dishes in the evenings and bread, butter, and grape jam to break my fast in the morning I might have starved.
However, I do not intend to write an essay about my sensitivities to various foods, but rather to tell the story of my awakening to the possibilities and joys of physical love. But none of it will make any sense at all if I don’t fill in the circumstances and the background.
That night, as soon as I could escape from the high table at the feast, I had, despite the crowds, secured a solitary seat on a vacant stone bench facing the crashing waves with a clear view of the darkening sky of Alqualondë dotted with winking stars. At that age, I was always more relaxed when alone. It was not that I did not want friends or value companionship, but crowds hurt my head. As I grew older, I became more practiced at constructing barriers against the strident and confusing welter of emotions and opinions radiating from others. As a youth my hyperawareness of the contents of others’ heads and my need to escape it meant that much of the time I ached with loneliness, despite the almost constant company of my gregarious siblings.
I was to later learn that Findaráto, a naturally outgoing sort, found my standoffish inclinations sad and puzzling. He reminded me of a sheepdog that trip, noticing my isolation and being compelled to intervene. That night, as I gazed out to sea, enjoying the soft lap of the waves against the shore, he approached me from behind, somewhat stealthily would be my conjecture, because I startled when he whispered in my ear.
“Ah, you’ve found an excellent spot for yourself, so far from the tumult of the crowd. I feel it in my head as well, you know. But I don’t mind it as much.” I turned to meet a gentle smile, my heart catching in my throat at the sight of him—sweet-faced, yet not truly androgynous, every lithe, graceful inch of him that of a well-muscled athlete. His golden hair with the silver undertones was neither wholly Vanyarin nor Telerin. I sighed with disappointment in myself for being so smitten by a pretty face. I always knew better though. There was more to Findaráto than his obvious physical charms.
“How bright the stars shine here,” he said, appreciative, breathing deeply of the sea air. “They make one try to imagine the starlit lands abandoned by our forbearers.” His voice had taken on a wistful, yearning tone, but he turned cheerful again in an instant. “Look! I’ve brought you something.” It was only then, so mesmerized I had been by his face and his voice, that I noticed he held a platter loaded with an assortment of cheeses, some sharp hard varieties and others I knew to be creamy and sweet as butter. There was also a large chicken leg and thigh and a loaf of bread still warm from the oven.
I felt clumsy faced with his easy grace and the rightness of his gesture. I can imagine how foolish I must have looked—blushing beet red, staring with wide eyes, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water.
“Thank you! How did you know?” Was it so obvious I longed for the familiarity of home? Meaning roast pork and potatoes, or a mouthwatering steak, obviously, but most of all longing for my own room, to be alone with my thoughts, with of all my familiar possessions around me.
“I watched you at the table last night and tonight. You don’t eat seafood. It is served at all of these feasts as one of the treasures of Alqualondë. Surely people have told you how transparent you are, dear cousin.” Findaráto’s tone was not sardonic, like that of his brothers’ would have been; rather it was warm and tinged with affection, putting me at ease.
“I’ve been trying to be less so,” I protested without any muscle behind it. We both laughed. “Seriously, thank you.” I had taken the platter from him and rested it on the wall. It was as heavy as it looked. I sniffed at the chicken like a famished dog.
“Dig in. It’s all for you. I’ve eaten as much as I can hold already.” He groaned and rubbed his flat stomach. “Wait here for me. I’ll go find us some wine.”
I closed my eyes in bliss, savoring the aroma of roast chicken, before following his instructions to ‘dig in.’ I ate with revolting greed, glad he was not there to watch me. By the time he returned with a bottle each of red and white wine, I had nearly cleaned the plate.
“Which shall I open first?” he asked, holding aloft two large bottles, grinning smugly.
Surprised, I answered him in a husky voice, appalled at how flirtatious I sounded. “Do you intend to get me drunk?”
“If that is what is necessary to make you loosen up and talk to me.”
“Excuse me, Findaráto.” I could feel a flush sweep over my cheeks. I could tell when I turned a fiery red—so predictable and uncontrollable. I struggled to control my voice. “I know I am not a great conversationalist . . .”
“Nonsense. I could go back inside and be surrounded by clever talk. I sought you out because you intrigue me, Carnistir.” The way he drew out the syllables of my name made it sound exotic. He had no accent in the tongue of the Noldor of Tirion, but the barest hint of his bilingualism colored his cadence. I felt my response to him shift from fascination into burning arousal.
“Ha! Me?” I barked, trying to sound much more sure of myself than I felt.
Findaráto gave me inviting smile, one that showed his dimples and lit his pale blue eyes. I felt his premeditated tickling around the edges of my mind. I recognized that he did not enter into my thoughts out of politeness, but teasingly let me know he was capable of doing so. Instead of blocking him, a near instinctive action of mine, I simply did not respond.
“Haru Finwë told me yesterday that we have more in common than I might have guessed. He says you and I share the telepathic gift. He says yours is stronger than mine.” So he did want conversation, I thought, relieved that his interest went beyond a casual seduction yet still disappointed on a visceral level.
“A thorny gift,” I responded briskly. “Scholars call it sanwe-latya. My family calls it mindspeak which is how Ammë and Atar use it—constantly. But it is not like that for me. I see upsetting past events and things that feel like glimpses of a hideous future. Don’t ever wish for that ability!”
“Really? I have dreams.” His voice had completely lost its pleasant, relaxed tone. His eyes narrowed in a manner that bordered upon the challenging. “My parents tried to tell me they were nightmares. But they don’t feel like that. But mostly my talent involves being able to read what others are thinking. There is a thing I can do with music also—communicate with others—which may or may not be related. As I’ve grown older I have learned to largely control these skills. Tell me how it is for you.”
“Noisy,” I snapped, regretting my sharp tone immediately. “I’m afraid my control is shaky at best. Sometimes when I enter a crowded room, I am swamped with others’ emotions and scraps of thoughts. Seriously, do you have all night?” I shrugged and tried for a casual laugh, without much success.
He put his hand on my shoulder. It felt warm, calming, a touch one might aim for if one were trying to soothe a skittish horse. “As long as you are willing to speak with me,” he said. “I’ll make the time. And, if tonight is not enough, we have two or three days’ journey back to Tirion depending on how often we choose to rest. On the other hand, you could just open yourself to me and we could share it that way.” The tickle against my resistance morphed into more of a gentle push.
“No! Stop that.” I said too sharply, sounding like a righteous maiden rebuffing a too forward suitor.
“Hey,” Findaráto said leaning closer, his breath feathery against my neck. “You know you are going to have to trust somebody or you will always be alone.”
“You know nothing about me. I’m nothing like you.” I remember how hostile I sounded, instantly regretting how I had snarled at him for a second time. Dark Carnistir they called me, when I did not feel dark at all, only more uncertain than angry. After a sigh like a pair of bellows, I agreed grimly, “I know that’s true. But it is easier said than done.”
“I apologize. Forgive me?” he asked, sticking out his lower lip like a pouting child, before his mercurial face shifted into a roguish grin again. “Then let’s forget about it for now. Which bottle shall I open first, the red or the white?”
I decided to take part of his advice and be straightforward for once, although it was hard to choke out the truth. “Ah, actually, I am sensitive to red wine. It’s a lot like my reaction to seafood.” I sighed pathetically.
“No problem at all. The white is excellent—fizzy and light. And I like this particular red, so you can have the whole bottle of white for yourself. I can just imagine you as a little fellow dealing with all of those brothers and trying to explain all of these things. Aww! Poor little bugger. I was luckier being the eldest. I find most of your brothers mildly terrifying myself. Except Nelyafinwë, of course. He’s the perfect prince.”
“They’re more annoying than scary. For a long while, even Ammë and Atar thought I was just being a little beast. It’s not so bad. I know what I can’t eat and I avoid those things. I hardly ever scream and cry at dinner parties anymore.” I grinned at him and he laughed. “Really, I’d be fine now, if I was not generally so awkward with people I don’t know well.”
“Maybe there is a connection. Kids hate to be different.”
“Don’t try to tell me I’ll grow out of it.”
“I would not dream of it!” We both laughed again. I felt surprised at how at ease I had begun to feel with him.
He opened the white wine and handed it to me. We talked about growing up in the public so to speak, in the shadow of Haru Finwë, about the waning and waxing of the division between our fathers. I noted that my father’s resentment focused mainly not upon his father, but Nolofinwë. We moved from there to the dissimilarities between the Houses of Fëanáro and Arafinwë. We both agreed that we liked our less conventional, although utterly different, home environments to the demands that our uncle —olofinwë made upon his children, our other set of cousins. And we chuckled about how our Uncle —olofinwë’s expectations had dramatically different effects on each of his offspring—how Findekáno was a rebel, brash and daring, while quiet Turukáno tried too hard to be perfect all the time, and Irissë was headstrong and unladylike, hardly the gentle, elegant woman her father might have hoped for as his only daughter.
I discovered we both found a challenge and solace in mathematics and that he had an affinity for working in stone. Both of his interests surprised me. I well knew of the joy of discovery and the struggle to conquer uncertainty that I found in exploring mathematics. He articulated more clearly than I had ever been able to, even to myself, the frustration and elation and, finally, the overwhelming sense of satisfaction we found in the pursuit of its often elusive mysteries. I convinced him to approach my mother when we returned to Tirion and ask for lessons in sculpture, promising him she would be both kind and honest about his talent or lack thereof.
The sky grew darker and the stars even brighter. The sounds of merriment drifting down to us from the palace grew softer until they ceased entirely. The sparkling wine that I had consumed, deceptively mild going down but carrying the kick of an angry mule, had devastated me by the time we were enveloped in the warm, velvety near-blackness of an Alqualondë midnight. My half-cousin Findaráto had proven himself to me to be much more than the handsome, self-satisfied, spoiled princeling I had thought him to be. He was as smart as my brother Nelyo and as mischievous as Findekáno. He was more sensitive and yet tougher than his annoying brothers. I never would have imagined such an open and gentle son of the Noldor could have existed amidst the filial strife and political maneuverings of the House of Finwë. And most surprising of all, he seemed genuinely fond of me—under-socialized and sulking Carnistir, young for his age and twice as thick.
“We really should leave soon,” he opined in the careful diction of the thoroughly stewed. “Although I am not entirely sure that I can walk.” We both giggled like naughty boys.
“’Walk,’ you say!” I responded, slurring my words. “I cannot even talk. And I don’t remember where my room is. Do you know by any chance?”
“There must be a dozen rooms in Olwë’s guest wing. We can hardly knock on all the doors at this hour. You’ll have to stay in mine.”
“Not a hardship,” I said with a wink. I could not believe I had really done that. He gave me a loose puppyish smile, thoroughly pleased.
With some false starts in the slippery sand, we both, clinging to one another, struggled to our feet. With no small amount of weaving and staggering, we stumbled into the palace through the back entrance under the bland gaze of the keepers of the royal gates—toy soldiers guarding the palace of the beloved king of a peaceable kingdom. They recognized us, of course. Princes of the Noldor can never be anonymous.
We found his room with the minimum of noise, dangerously close to the king’s own bedroom, both of us sighing with relief, shuffling out of our sand-coated sandals and flopping onto his bed. We did not even bother to light a candle.
“I like you more all the time,” he said. “Shall we rest a while before we have to get up?” He opened his arms to me, an invitation for me curl up against him to sleep. I had not slept like that since I was a young child and my atar comforted me thus after a nightmare. Yet I fell asleep at once and did not wake until after the first weak rays of Laurelin lit the corners of his room.
Findaráto and his siblings were treated like royalty there in Olwë’s palace, in a way that no one was in my family home—even Haru Finwë when he visited poured his own morning tea and took a turn at chopping wood. Atar encouraged a different sort of pride of place, but none of the indulgences of nobility that were accorded my cousins. We learned early to share in the daily chores of maintaining ourselves and a household.
Here, strong tea and the usual fresh bread, sweet butter, and jam were served to us in Findaráto’s bedroom, elegantly presented on a silver platter with snowy lace-trimmed linen. The servant who attended us did not bat an eyelid when he encountered me sitting on the side of Findaráto’s bed clad only in my braies, with sleep-tousled hair, blinking like an owl; in fact, he had brought breakfast for two.
To find our horses saddled, our bags already packed and loaded, when we reached the stables was a treat for me indeed, especially since I was paying my penance for too much wine and too little sleep with a blinding headache.
“I hope your ride is not unpleasant after your indulgence of yesterday evening,” said Haru Finwë, gruff of voice and stern of face but with a twinkle in his eye.
“Sir?” queried Findaráto, in a lilting voice of false innocence. I could hardly believe that he did not know our grandfather better than that. Chastened, I shook my head and raised my eyebrows at Haru, a silent request for forgiveness of our lack of consideration. Of course, he granted it. We did not need words.
“My dear boy,” he said to Findaráto, with a crooked grin—never was much of a disciplinarian my grandfather. “You woke up half the palace last night. I recommend that you never attempt any adventures that involve stealth.” I knew from his tone that he was tormenting us for sport.
Findaráto’s lovely mouth turned down in a contrite mope. In the throes of my new-found infatuation with him, I naturally found it charming. “I am truly sorry,” he said. “I thought we were being quiet.”
“Drunks always do.” King Olwë threw back his regally handsome head in a full belly laugh. “No harm done. Only the old man and I were close enough to hear you and we were not sleeping either.” He jostled Finwë with a broad shoulder. “Replaying the salad days of our own youth—reminiscing of many old friends lost, of narrow escapes, victories and defeats small and large, and rehashing of old arguments. We had a good evening as well.” He nodded in my direction and asked Haru, “He resembles Míriel, does he not, —oldóran?”
“I don’t see it,” said Haru Finwë, pretending to frown, while ruffling my hair. He took my chin in his hand and looked into my eyes, enveloping me in a warming surge of affection. Haru Finwë’s mind-speak skills are strong. “Except perhaps in his dark eyes and his cursed obstinacy.”
“Exactly!” Olwë said. “Come back to visit us, dark eyes. You’ll always be welcome here. Look after my daughter-son on the road. He is dear to me and you are the elder and have traveled more.” I tended to forget that in the wild and concerning the down-to-earth details of quotidian survival I was bound to be far more competent than any of Arafinwë’s children. I undervalued my competence among them since I had usually spent time in their company under circumstances when social aplomb was valued over how to skin and roast a rabbit or find shelter on the road.
“I’ll try my best, sir.” I felt a wave of regret that I had wanted to leave so badly. I liked and admired Olwë, but his kitchens and his penchant for back-to-back celebrations were competing considerations.
More embraces from our grandfathers followed, replete with exhortations to be careful on the road and to enjoy the good weather, with suggestions of alternative routes, inns, and even places to water our horses.
We finally set out near mid-morning. An herbal drink from one of the cook’s assistants with a soft spot for foolish young princes had quieted the worst of my headache.
The hours of riding were easy and the regular cadence of our tractable mounts mesmerizing. Both recovering from our hangovers, we talked little. But the silence had grown easy and companionable. The landscape we passed through was unremarkable. A vast dusty plain stretched out before us. At the far horizon on one side of the road were stony cliffs, the road to Formenos lay beyond them. On the other side a river wound its way to the sea, from our perspective a green ribbon of trees and the occasional homestead surrounded by modest fields or orchards snuggled close to its bank. This was not a populous area nor one of the most frequently used routes between Alqualondë and Tirion.
We usually encountered a group or two of travelers when we left the road to water the horses. We gave the horses two hours' rest during the heat of the day, while we shared a packed lunch of bread, cheese, apples, and cured ham before taking a short nap under the shade of an ancient lonely ash tree.
The road unfurling before us grew brighter under the increasingly vivid light of the Trees as we drew closer to Valinor. By the time we had reached an area which would provide a viable campsite for the night, we could clearly distinguish the mingling of the lights, fragile and misty-subtle compared to their brilliance in Tirion, but with the unmistakable shimmering mixture of silver and gold.
“We could camp here,” Findaráto said. “Or we could ride another hour or so and sleep in a bed. There’s a village with an inn not far beyond that crest in the hill. My brothers and I have stayed there before.” His smile filled with such promise and hope that it was all I could do not gasp for breath. Before dismissing the thought, for a brief moment I believed that he might want me as I wanted him.
“I am agreeable, if that is your preference,” I replied huskily. The unsummoned image leapt into my mind of the two of us sharing a warm featherbed, broad, deep, and scented with fresh-smelling herbs. I laughed to myself at my foolhardiness. Unlikely that anything so fine would await us in a village inn. We should be happy to find a bed or beds moderately clean and free of vermin—most likely located in a room shared with other travelers.
I glanced to my left to observe him, half expecting to meet his eyes. But his gaze was fixed on the ribbon of road of front of us. The aristocratic young man on the horse bore little resemblance to my dream version of him tumbling onto a bed in an inn, golden hair loose on the pillows, opening his arms to me.
When we at last crested the hill, I expected to see a quiet village bathed in silvery light. Instead we found a hamlet lit to a glare comparable to that of mid-day with rows of torches lining streets of one- and two-storey stucco buildings, overflowing with people and carts. Every open space held tents and awnings of a multitude of colors, from cherry red to lime green, and a rag-tag collection of shapes, from small cone-shaped tents to spacious open-sided, flat-topped pavilions. As we drew closer we were surrounded by sounds of primal drumming, felt more than heard, along with high-pitched whistles, sweet seductive flutes, and a cacophony of string instruments issuing from competing groups of players. The occasional cheer of a crowd indicated that a larger performance or some sort of sporting event was in progress nearby.
With his gleaming hair shining more silver than gold in the waxing light of Telperion, his lips thinning in disappointment, Findaráto appeared nothing at all like the openly sensual, laughing lad I had shared a bed with the previous night. “Must be a festival or fair,” he commented unnecessarily. “Drat! I wonder if we can find a room after all?”
“One can always find space if one is willing to pay enough. Don’t worry. I have a bag of gemstones and ample coin as well. I’ve slept outside far too many times in my life due to lack of forethought to have come unprepared. Some of my parents’ most epic lash-ups revolved around arriving too late at night in a remote hamlet, with squabbling, hungry children, and not enough coin. Not because of any dearth of funds, but of simple lack of foresight.”
“Couldn’t Fëanáro identify himself? Surely, even in outlying areas, villagers would vacate a room for the heir to the King of the Noldor, the famous Prince Fëanáro.”
“Against his principles,” I said grinning. He did not know my father. “He prides himself on refusing gifts commonly offered nobility, on being one of the people. You have seen his habitual attire. He dresses worse than me, unless he is forced to present himself at court in Tirion.”
“Well, then. I bow to you as the more experienced traveler and will allow you to make our arrangements.” He grinned at me. Irresistible. And I smiled back, hoping I could indeed secure lodging. At that point I would have signed a contract of indentured servitude to an innkeeper to impress my beautiful companion with a respectable room.
We wended our way through the crowded streets. For such an isolated location the vendors’ stalls held a remarkable variety of goods from fresh fruit and vegetables, to artisanal woven rugs, shawls, and wall hangings, to colorfully lacquered wooden toys, and fine jewelry in silver and gold studded with every imaginable gem. But anxious that we could miss the last bed available in town, we did not stop to examine the wares.
The inn that Findaráto had remembered looked to be a quiet and respectable one, although it was bustling that evening. We stopped at its stable first—our horses needed watering. Our luck held there. They did have room for two more horses and the stable master was smitten with our sleek specimens of horseflesh: Findaráto’s spirited but good-natured white mare, with the magnificent mane and tail, and my grey and silver roan, unimaginatively named Telpë, whom I mourn to this day.
Its dining room smelled amazing—the aroma of slow-roasted pork dominating—and was crowded with patrons. Scrumptious golden-crusted beef and onion pies had caught my eye as well, and it was all I could do not to salivate like Tyelkormo’s hound. But I took a deep breath, straightened my shoulders and stuck out my chin, went straight to the bar, and asked to see the owner in the most imperious voice I could muster. It worked.
When the innkeeper arrived, all bows and smiles, I managed to hold onto my pretentious persona by the finest thread, already beginning to perspire with anxiety, and asked, “Might you have a room for two grandsons of King Finwë? I am Carnistir son of Fëanáro and this is my cousin Findaráto eldest son of Prince Arafinwë.”
“We do, in fact, have one room available,” he announced in a jubilant voice. “The best room in the house. We call it the wedding chamber. It is vacant yet, because I usually let it at a high price. It is expensive to maintain.”
Relieved, I responded instantly. “The cost is no object. We are not short of resources.”
“Oh, but I could not charge you anything, my lords. It is an honor and a privilege to host you.”
“We couldn’t possibly stay without paying,” I stammered appalled. As I noted earlier, my father ranted passionately against lords accepting benevolences from the common people who worked hard and had so much less to spare. “Especially not during a festival when all of your other rooms are taken.” We went back and forth a few times, before he agreed to accept ‘any remuneration your lordship thinks is fair.’ Findaráto had been smirking at my struggles, just out of the innkeeper’s line of vision, finding my discomfort amusing, reminding me for a moment of his obnoxious brothers.
“Well done,” he whispered when I had finally won the argument, in clear approval of me standing my ground. But I was not to be that easily mollified and decided that I would leave any further negotiations to him.
He summarily dismissed the offer of baths, which would have involved hauling water up a steep flight of stairs, while accepting directions to a nearby public bathhouse. And he insisted, against our landlord’s earnest protests, that we would be happy to eat in the public room. Findaráto loved to observe people. The wedding chamber was large and airy, with an impressive bedstead—only one, of course. Its thick featherbed was covered with a snowy white comforter and a generous collection of over-sized pillows. While the rest of the furnishings were simple, the room had been scrubbed and polished into a state cleanliness of which any good wife would be proud.
Not much more than an hour later, we were clean and had supped well on the succulent roast pork and the inn’s beef and onion pie. My voracious appetite and obvious appreciation of the food was another point of gentle teasing by Findaráto.
A couple of tankards each of excellent local ale finished our repast. We had learned while we ate that the villagers called this celebration Founders Day and it was one of three fairs held annually in that area that the locals looked forward to for most of the year. Drawn by the holiday ambiance, we wandered out into the streets again.
Auguries and Dreams by Oshun
The main square, around the corner from our inn, hosted a performance by a company of professional traveling puppeteers at one end while a succession of middling to excellent musical groups occupied an elevated, well-lit stage at the other. Wandering vendors hawked apples on a stick covered in caramel coating, roasted corn on the cob, and tiny bite-sized griddle cakes, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or dipped into syrup made of maple sugar. Findaráto and I, no longer particularly hungry, shared one of the caramel apples—turning the eating of it into a form of restrained love-making, lots of eye contact and accidental touches of hands or tongues. Relaxed by the ale and refreshed by the food, and looking forward to our room in the inn with its lovely bed, our flirtation had intensified and surpassed where it had left off the night before. I have never had the courage to ask Findaráto if he were even half as nervous as I was. This set of circumstances was unprecedented for me. So much so, that I had never even considered anything like this before—making love in an inn, unobserved, among strangers, in a remote village, and doing so with my devastatingly attractive and universally sought after half-cousin Findaráto.
The side streets would have been fully shadowed by then, lit only by the silvery illumination of faraway Telperion, were it not for the multi-colored paper lanterns strung throughout. We inspected in a desultory manner some of the stalls that remained open, vowing to spend the morning at the fair before continuing our journey.
We rounded a corner onto a narrow lane, barely more than a back alleyway, lined with booths vending both exotic and more familiar-smelling herbs. Its temporary kiosks as well as its permanent shops appeared to deal in objects and produce related to various practices of healing or witchcraft. There were examples of the usual medicinal herbs, fresh, dried, or in tinctures or syrups. In addition to those, we saw less common hanging bunches of leaves and flowers, jars filled with odd mixtures of pebbles, bone fragments, nuts, and what appeared to be dried insects! There were, of course, many varieties of the usual colorful hedge-witch charms from tiny pastel-colored silken pillows smelling of lavender, to crude bundles made up of sticks, dried flowers, strings of beads, and bound with colored ribbons or yarn. Sellers hawked dubious love charms and what I knew to be highly effective ginger-flavored cough drops at the same stands.
Findaráto with his infernal curiosity was dying to explore this unsavory back alley. I was less smitten with the idea. My father often rejected such practitioners as having little to nothing to do with either science or true magic, but I finally decided to relax my censorious judgment that evening. My hypersensitivity to the musky miasma of the paranormal warned me of the presence of arcane powers and techniques, and the residue of invasive questing in the air sent prickles down my spine. The warring signals made it impossible for me, even with my talent, to isolate and untangle all the disparate forms of psychic interference. Nor could I distinguish if the elements I sensed were in themselves largely harmless or dangerous, or had been or were intended to be wielded in a good, bad, or neutral manner.
Although I longed to get out of the airless alleyway, yearned for fresh air, and wished I had my own light source, I soldiered on wanting to be viewed as a good sport. The purplish black shadows and nearly overlapping eaves in places added to my discomfort.
“This street is creepy,” I whined finally.
Suddenly, Findaráto pointed ahead and all but shouted, “Oh, look! I know that shop. The one with the shingle, ‘Fortunes Told. ’ We came here once last year and she read our cards. We could go and have yours read.”
A few houses farther down the lane a large oil lantern of blackened metal and muddy glass produced a surprisingly strong yellowish-orange light. It illuminated the dingy sign, perhaps once red but long hence faded to a sooty pink. The warm glow amidst the murky shadows convinced me to walk toward the shop with him without further objections.
Clad in a flowing garment of homespun brown, her head was wrapped in a striped turban of various reds, blues, greens and yellows. Around her worn countenance, dark curling hair peeked from under her head covering. Her face was etched with smile and frown lines, yet intelligence and the beauty of her lost youth shone through those superficial markings made by time and hardship. She leaned against the doorframe with her arms folded across her chest, wearing a tired but satisfied look. Doubtless, it had been a busy and profitable day for her with the village so swollen with visitors.
I had seen, although rarely, people with that same aged visage before—usually those who had suffered greatly across the sea, but had survived the trek over the mountains and, finally, the journey to Aman. There was no question in my mind that she was Noldorin, something about the proud lift of her chin which left one with the impression of stubborn individualism so characteristic of our people. She spotted us but continued to stand motionless in the doorway of her shop, as though she awaited the two of us in particular.
“Well, well,” she said to Findaráto as we drew closer, “the golden prince returns. Where are your high-spirited brothers, my lord? And who might be this strapping, handsome lad?” She gave Findaráto a wicked wink, but smiled more gently at me. “Come in, boys. Let’s withdraw from this commotion. Then you can explain why you brought your friend to me.”
Findaráto looked at me and shrugged, nodding his head toward the shop. Interested, I followed them into her parlor.
“It’s only the two of us this time. We’re traveling from Alqualondë to Tirion, mistress,” he said. She raised her eyebrows at me in an unspoken query.
I bobbed a short, uncomfortable bow to her, not from any disdain for her station or her chosen occupation, but my usual introversion. “Carnistir Morifinwë Feanárion, my lady,” I stammered, cursing my damnable shyness.
She smirked, apparently at my use of the honorific. “You are welcome here, son of Fëanáro. Although, I should warn you that your father has little patience with the vagaries of my ancient profession.” I did not doubt that. It was difficult to restrain a smile at the thought of his tirades against superstitions and folk magic for which he could find no scientific verification. “Please, sit down,” she said, pointing to two chairs facing a small table. “I just brewed a pot of tea. I was considering closing for the evening, but I would be willing to read your cards first, if you wish.”
“Thank you. Tea would be lovely,” Findaráto said; he had more than enough social grace to smooth the way for both of us.
“My cards?” I asked, intrigued.
The woman went around the room lighting several candles which smelled of high quality bee’s wax, illuminating a small but comfortable room. At one end there was a spotless kitchen, with an unlit wood stove and a cabinet painted in red enamel, well-stocked with stoneware bowls, plates, and cups glazed in the standard rustic brown familiar to me from traveling throughout rural Valinor. In one corner an attractive woven spread of a red and black geometric design covered a neatly made single bed. It never gets cold in that area; the white-washed stucco room held no fireplace; hence the small wood-burning cook-stove. On a shelf near the bed she stored a small collection of bound books and a couple or three scrolls in the older style, along with several pots of ink and some sheets of parchment or vellum—I could not tell which from where I stood. The only other decorative elements were bright yellow curtains hanging on the only two windows on the street side of the building.
It looked as unlike as one could imagine from the character of the kiosks in the lower levels of Tirion and the one witch’s hut I had visited in Formenos with Maitimo and Findekáno—Finno’s curiosity nearly equaled that of Findaráto. Such places usually reeked of herbs foul and fair, and were rife with the thick smoke and heavy odor of smoldering patchouli incense. They were more often than not crowded and disorderly, reminiscent of the market stalls we had seen earlier in the street. The only scent I could distinguish in her small, clean room was the fresh aroma of the newly brewed peppermint tea.
“She is willing to tell your fortune by reading the traditional divinatory cards.” Findaráto’s voice indicated his enthusiastic approval. “She can tell you things about your past, present, or future. We did it before and it was fascinating. Some of the points were quite accurate and others surprising.” He laughed at the memory. “Angaráto thought his reading was too dismal and refused to listen when she tried to explain further.”
We had taken our seats at the tiny table in what appeared to be the supplicants’ position. The chair on the other side was a throne-like affair woven of sea-grass with a tall-rounded back.
The lady placed the cups of tea in front of us. “Drink a little and try to relax. It matters not to me if you wish to decline a reading. I will not try to influence your decision. However, I must admit that I am intrigued. There is something about you that interests me. But you need not do it to satisfy an old lady’s curiosity either.”
She assumed her throne and looked at me with compelling storm-grey eyes of a pearly opalescence reminiscent of moonstones. Sitting so close to her, she did not look as old as she had at first glance. Although the lines on her face were notable still, she radiated the aura of an attractive woman, vibrant and sensual, less elderly than experienced.
I took a deep breath and said, “I want to do it. Will you read mine, please?” I was aware of Findaráto’s approval and keen interest in the whole proceeding. He had wanted me to say ‘yes,’ and I wanted to please him, but still felt more than a little reticent and somewhat foolish as well. She stuck a taper into the flame of the candle on the table and produced a small cone of incense from a drawer on her side of table. Placing it on a small saucer she ignited it. I must have wrinkled my nose as the thin furl of smoke ascended and dispersed into the air.
“You’re a sensitive one,” she said. “Tis only Sandalwood. No one objects to a light sandalwood scent. Concentrate upon it. It will help you focus.” It could have been worse, but I was nonetheless disappointed.
Then I felt someone reach toward me seeking, warm yet tentative—familiar. “You do not have to do this for me.” For the briefest moment I thought it might be the lady, but then recognized Findaráto with absolute clarity. He had not tried to touch me in that way since I had so abruptly rebuffed him the previous evening.
I gladly accepted his offer of intimate communication, thinking of it as he and I joined together against an alien world. “I will do it partly for you, but mostly for myself.”
“It’s best,” the lady said, “if you do not link mind-to-mind while I try to do your reading. It makes my part more difficult. Would you like to ask your kinsman to wait outside?” she asked me.
“He can stay. We won’t do it again!” I was eager now to start and get the reading over with, but did not want to be left alone with her outlandish magics, and half-afraid she would turn us both away. I was not entirely incurious.
“We promise!” Findaráto said, sounding like an errant schoolboy seeking to reassure a tutor.
She nodded, reaching into the drawer again and removing a deck of large cards. She shuffled them a few times in a haphazard manner and handed them to me.
“Hold them for a moment and then shuffle them, as little or as much as you desire. Your touch is necessary to obtain a good reading. When you are satisfied, return them to me.”
I felt silly again as I touched the cards, questing into them but feeling nothing, before shuffling them expertly, a skill mastered in countless long evenings of playing Storm-the-Castle with my brothers. For some reason, Findaráto found my showy cards tricks near unbearably funny, but managed to restrain himself. The lady even ventured a reluctant smile.
“Are you ready now?” she asked, a strange look stealing over her face, half-annoyed and yet somehow still amused. “I think that is more than sufficient. But it is entirely up to you.” Embarrassed, I fumbled the cards, hastily scrambled them together again, and handed them to her.
“There is no need to be nervous,” she said with renewed solemnity. She seemed to gather into herself, emitting a sense of omens and auguries falling into place, which sent a shiver down my spine.
“Can. . . can I ask one last question, please?” I stuttered.
“You may ask as many as you like. This is your reading. I am but an instrument now.”
“I don’t need the past,” I said, thinking of a whole series of childish secrets and shameful highly personal moments that I preferred not hear repeated aloud. My cheeks burned red at the contemplation of revelation of such puerile secrets. “And I’d rather not see the future.” In the nightmares of my childhood, I’d received enough glimpses of a terrifying future—filled with blood and warfare, loss, guilt, and inconceivable heartbreak—that I had only recently learned to interrupt when they threatened to break my rest. If any of those were true portents, I did not want to know, nor was I interested in questionable predictions of luck with women or prowess in hunting. And I already had far more affluence and notoriety than someone like me would ever desire or need.
“Fine, then,” she responded with regret. “That will be a rather irregular and curtailed reading indeed. But, I can see you are feeling self-protective, so I will do the best I can. Perhaps another time, if you pass through this place again.” She handed me the stack. “Draw three cards, from anywhere in the deck and place them face down upon the table.”
I took one card from the bottom, one from the top, and another from roughly the middle of the deck. I placed them on the table as she directed and raised my eyes to meet hers. She was trying not to smile.
“There is no reason to be anxious. No matter what the cards may tell one, the truth of them is never carved in stone. Never despair. Do not forget that in life, whatever mistakes one makes, one is always the master of one’s fate. It is never too late to change one’s path or seek to undo harm already done. Do not believe those who tell you otherwise.”
She flipped the first one over. “Ah, the King of Swords.”
“He looks serious,” I said.
“Not necessarily,” she insisted. “This is a particularly powerful card in the present position. Perhaps you are developing a crush on someone whom you have always admired but felt more distant from in the past. You are impressed by his use of language and drawn by his magnetism. The attraction may be intellectual but is physical as well. He or she offers you choices which appear to unsettle past certainties and lead you in a different direction. You do not need to follow him—the choice is yours entirely. But to ignore the challenges he offers could result in future regrets. This is a positive card in your case, if you chose to accept its possibilities.”
“Hmm,” I said, trying for thoughtful or weighty, but hitting only inflexible and pretentious. Standard fortune-telling fare, I thought.
“Do you have any questions? Or anything at all you want to say?”
I just sat there like a rock and stared at her. She pursed her lips together to control a smile or, Valar forbid, a laugh. “All right. Fine then. Next card,” she said. She flipped the next one over, with a loud slap on the table, revealing a foppish-looking lad, leaning forward with one hand on his hip and the other holding a golden cup, which incongruously contained a fish! I wondered if she really expected me to take this seriously.
“Well, well, well,” she said, not sounding as kindly as she had before. Perhaps she sussed out my cynicism and was responding to that. “Aha! None other, dear prince, than the Page of Cups. Young men in love often draw this card. You are in love and do not even realize the depth of your attraction to this person. You might even try to deny it.”
I opened my mouth and tried to speak and only managed a sound between a croak and squeak before I started coughing and knocked over a tea cup. I jumped up with the intention of halting the flow of tepid tea before it swamped the cards. I might not believe in divinatory card-reading but I did have respect for art and, pictures—poncy page boys or not—were well-executed and painted. Luckily for me, given my ineffectiveness, the tea flowed away from her cards and into my lap. Findaráto suppressed a choking sound of mirth, uprighted the cup, and produced a kerchief, too small to be of much use. I snatched it from him before he could begin sopping it in my lap.
“Did you want to say something? Do you have a question, your lordship?” she asked.
“Er, ah, no!” I stammered. Findaráto placed a warm hand on my thigh under the table, whether in sympathy for my obvious discomfort or an apology for wanting to laugh I did not know. Beggars can’t be choosers. I was grateful of the support. I covered his warm hand with my own and gripped it. He squeezed back and held on.
“Well then. May I continue?” She did not wait for a response. “Page cards also indicate a lack of experience, purity, or, as I observed before, denial. Usually a mixture of all three. The golden cup signifies your emotions and the little fish staring at you is love. The longer you reject the prospect, the more frustrated you will become. Immaturity, inexperience, and so-called innocence are overrated. Deny love and you will surely stunt your development. You are a passionate person, young man.” She lowered her eyebrows and quite literally scowled at me. Findaráto pressed my hand again.
“I did not dispute anything. I am listening,” I asserted, glowering back at her. I had mastered my scowling technique in early childhood; it might have been considered among my family and closest friends as my most characteristic expression.
“I apologize if I have underestimated you.” She shook her head in disbelief, far from repentant. I perceived her manner as perhaps half-annoyed and half-deflated. “Next card then.” She turned the last card over, without the flourish of the first time or the irritated snap of the second.
“Judgment,” she pronounced, with a sigh.
“No surprises there. It also reflects your internal conflict. Confirms what I believed before and then some. It tells me that you know you are at a crossroad. All this card represents is that the decision you are about to make is, in fact, a significant one.” She looked at me as though I had lied to her. Actually, I had hardly said a word. I simply had confirmed nothing. Probably used to encouraging reactions, she must have taken my reticence as recalcitrance. It may have been a little. She had made me uncomfortable and confused me. Meanwhile, her cooling toward me raised my hackles. I told myself these kinds of pretenses at foresight or insight were nothing more than superstition, clever words and experience at reading people. I could imagine others listening to her readings and oohing and aahing at her perception or perhaps some, like Findaráto and his brothers, laughing and teasing one another about her predictions.
I thanked her profusely in inverse proportion to my lack of enthusiasm. I tried to offer her too much coin and she haughtily refused the excess. Findaráto remained quiet.
Finally, as we took our leave of her, she called out. “Wait, son of Fëanáro, I have one last thought for you. Your father is right that one should not trust the Shining Ones.” I wondered how she knew that. I guessed it was no secret, although he certainly did not proselytize his views—not at that point in time anyway. “But to believe that we can explain everything with science is to deny many powerful forces in this world.”
I could not meet her halfway on that point. More likely there were things in the world we perceive as magic or superstition that science has yet to explain. I muttered a second series of thanks and farewells and stumbled out the door.
In the street, I gasped huge swallows of fresh air. The soothsayer’s incense had much earlier become cloying for me. I felt I could barely breathe. Most of the stalls had vanished or been shuttered for the night, the lanterns and torches extinguished. We could still hear sounds of celebration but at a distance, probably in the main plaza. The narrowness of the crooked lane with the second stories nearly touching meant we walked in near total darkness. Findaráto grasped my arm and held it to his chest. As he grounded me, our footsteps slowed. Something had shifted between us.
Feeling far less self-conscious, I said, “Thanks for staying with me. That promised to be weird. But it was not as bad as I had feared . . . well, not so much feared as expected. . . ” I would have continued to grope for words for a good while longer if he hadn’t interrupted me.
“I knew you were nervous, but I was afraid that you wouldn’t want me there. I’m glad I guessed right and stayed.” I looked up into his face, unabashedly enjoying the view. His warm blue eyes caught the light of a single candle flickering behind a flimsy curtain and held onto mine.
“I’m glad you were with me. I think I made her angry.”
“No. I think you frustrated her,” he insisted. Not much difference, I thought. I was accustomed to causing people frustration and well aware that it usually made them angry. I remember thinking that Findaráto was one of the most patient people I had yet encountered. Fortunate for me, I thought.
“In there, when we connected mind-to-mind . . .” I started.
“Oh, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to push. I forgot and, when I reached out, you felt wide open.”
“Don’t be sorry. I should not be so stiff-necked. Now that I know you better, I’ve changed my mind. I think I’m ready to communicate with you that way. Just don’t go poking around behind walls or into dark corners where monsters might be hiding.” Then I remembered some of the things the fortune-telling lady had told me and my emotional reaction to those and quickly shoved them into a little closet and slammed the door shut and latched it. It was nothing like the big rooms filled with horrors, but more than large enough for any embarrassing little secrets. I released a sigh of relief, just as I felt a tickle in my mind. He had a light, quick touch; mindspeak came easily to him. I had evaded him by only a second or two.
Findaráto laughed, the corners of his mouth turning up in one of those disarming grins of his. “That was smooth. How did you do that?”
“Hid a few things? It’s not that I don’t trust you . . . I don’t know exactly how. It comes naturally. It’s not a strong barrier. You could easily break through it if you wanted,” I explained with an excess of seriousness. He was smiling at me again. I wanted badly to kiss him. Instead, I shrugged. “I doubt it would be worth the cost to try to stop you. But I trust that you won’t try.”
“I’ll not pry.” His voice was husky and seductive. “A promise is a promise. So what did you think of what she told you?”
“I think she is good at reading people and we both know my face is an open book. Still not sure about the cards or the details she proclaims as fact.” I could feel the blood rising to my cheeks again and turned away from him. I kept almost succeeding in beating down my defensive introversion and before turning bashful again. It felt like a dangerous game, but I was desperate and not going to give up without some serious effort to overcome my habitual reserve.
“You’re blushing!” he said. “I can tell from the back of your neck!”
“This is not a contest,” I answered with a haughty sniff, which elicited a fond laugh.
“No, but you are a challenge, Carnistir, although wrapped in a stunning package, which, in itself, doesn’t make the struggle worth it, but does add to the stakes.”
“What are you prattling about?”
“Part of your magnetism, dark eyes, is that you are unaware of how splendid you are. You are that and so much more—hot-blooded, determined to master yourself, and dying to get laid. It’s not simply the Fëanorian charisma you share with your father and brothers, strong as that may be, but one distinctly your own.”
“Now I’m self-conscious again. I think I know how a mouse feels when a cat has cornered it and decided to play. Don’t tease me if you don’t mean to do anything about this . . . this mutual attraction or whatever one should call it!”
“I need to know. Surely you must realize that if you understood that much, you should have at least told me you were in love with someone. Who is she? Does everyone know but me?” He sounded almost bereft, or as hurt and confused as I was feeling at that moment.
“What?” I asked. “I’m not in love with anyone else. I did not understand half of what she was yammering about and I disagreed with the other half.” That was not entirely a lie. I simply needed time to think. She had given me too much unexpected information too quickly. Findaráto and I had spoken too little about this curious and compelling desire for one another to be able to easily analyze that. There was no one else I might have fallen in love with or felt drawn to in that way.
I looked into his eyes and raised my hand to touch his cheek. “Did you honestly believe that I might have a secret lover somewhere?” I asked him incredulous. “In Tirion? Or in Formenos perhaps? Does that fit with anything you know about me?”
“What was I to think? Your reaction was instant and strong, when she mentioned the idea. Your face turned as red as an overripe tomato.”
My laugh was harsh. “Since when is that remarkable for me?”
He smiled at me his eyes softening. I love your face. I love how you look when you blush. I love how your emotions are so close to the surface. It was the most he had ever said to me through mindspeak and I loved his interior voice, so warm, so intimate that it made me harden instantly. I resisted the impulse to adjust the seam of my trousers that pressed against my prick. “The room at the inn . . .” he said aloud, hesitant but determined. “The wonderful bed . . . You seemed so pleased. I thought we had an understanding.”
“I believe we did . . . do have.” I opened my heart and mind to him, flooding him with affection, desire, and my desperate hope. Don’t pull away from me now. I want you so. Kiss me.
My halting demand won me Findaráto’s most dazzling smile, and he has an arsenal of those to choose from, along with a soul-searing manner of holding eye contact. With the greatest of enthusiasm, he responded.
Alone on a shabby back street, in a shoddy little village, within earshot of the voices of other merrymakers he pushed me up against a stucco wall. The relentless primitive drumming and the ragged notes of a single lonely flute reminded me of tales of the heathenism and unbridled sexuality practiced across the great sea that the Valar warned us against. The setting felt perfect for my defiant heart. Although I had furtively glanced up and down the darkened alleyway to make sure we were alone, I loved that he didn’t even bother. He kissed me—my first kiss. I am sure Findaráto, although younger than me, with his allure, his beauty, and his self-assurance, had received dozens by then. But I am still quite sure, despite all that has happened between us since then, he had never wanted a kiss so much, or taken greater pains to secure one.
Our minds touched and we maintained the connection though we did not try to form language. We each could feel what the other was feeling which more than doubly magnified the intensity of the kiss. He took the initiative and held on to it with a firm but gentle rein. He at last sensed all the hunger I had held at bay over the last two days and did not trust me not to rush. He wanted us to enjoy and remember every moment of that first kiss.
Starting slowly before he began to lick my mouth open, he demonstrated that he knew how to kiss. After a while of enjoying the play of tongues with deeper and deeper open-mouthed kisses, I found myself floating free, lost in him, gaining confidence in my own technique. One could not have had a better teacher. I was not conscious of any filters at all, hypnotized by the physical and the waves of his increasing pleasure and fondness I felt reaching out to me through our mind touch. I entertained the thought that what I really, really wanted was to fuck him senseless, face to face, clutching his cock, while kissing his beautiful mouth until he came all over my hand and his belly.
“Oh, please stop,” he said, pushing me away with a breathless chuckle. “If you continue to conjure up images like that, you will make me spend in my pants like a callow youth indulging in his first serious kiss.”
I was still so inebriated from the taste of him, the touch of his lips to mine, the wet heat of his mouth and his clever use of his tongue that, even as bashful and awkward as I was in those days, I could not be bothered to be mortified by his gentle scolding. Reluctantly I released him. “Wow. Thank you. That was my first kiss. What a way to begin! Serious or not I could not say, but it felt epic.”
He brushed my hair away from my face and held my burning cheeks in his soft, long-fingered hands. “Carnistir,” he whispered. “Beautiful, beautiful dark eyes, I never could have guessed. Suddenly, you seem very sure of yourself.”
“Sure of what I want from you,” I answered.
“That’s our inn at the next corner. Shall we try that excellent bed?”
At the Inn for the Night by Oshun
An interminable delay met us when we arrived at the inn. The owner had waited up for us, his royal guests. We had not expected that. He had a dozen questions and unwanted offers and explanations: would we like tea, or wine, or ale brought up to the room, perhaps the bath we had rejected earlier, or a light meal before we retired? Etc., etc. The inadvertent torture of his courteous solicitations bordered on the hilarious for us before he finally allowed us to escape. We vaulted up the stairs at last trying not to break down laughing. Our previous mood had been broken for a moment, but we were young and randy. As soon as we shut the door behind us and Findaráto slid the bolt into place, our desperation returned.
The walls that separated my thoughts from his collapsed without me consciously willing it. I was flooded with his sensations and impressions. It surprised me to discover how good-looking he found me. In his eyes, I was muscular and strong, mysterious, and magnetic. Surprising as it still seems to me, clumsy, defensive Carnistir, the least attractive of my brothers, was seen through his eyes as handsome, compellingly so even. While I had thought it transparent, obvious, why I found him so appealing—he was famed for his blond beauty— I had not appreciated the extent of his attraction to me. I was pleased and yet a little self-conscious. Seeing myself through his eyes made me feel exposed. I barely recognized myself, but was in no mood to question his appraisal, ready to accept it with gratitude.
I pushed him up against the door and pressed my body against his. He arched his groin against me, increasing the delicious pressure. The sensation overwhelmed me. He was somewhat shorter than me, more slender, yet muscular, athletic, lithe rather than bulky. Holding his broad shoulders taut against the door, the momentary sensation of control felt like I had imbibed a heady wine. Findarato demonstrated, if I had not suspected as much already, that he would be no passive lover, neither needing to be wooed nor willing to be plundered, willingly offering himself, but demanding as much as he gave. He pressed his tender mouth against my own, opening his soft, sweet lips against mine, commanding a response and receiving it. His tongue tasted sweet and fresh, intoxicating. The warmth of his thigh moving against my crotch electrified me. I could hear my frantic groans as though they belonged to someone else, plaintive, yet animalistic and insistent.
“You are really, really something else,” he said. Findarato could perhaps never be at a loss for words but—and I smiled smugly against his mouth at the thought—with the right stimulus, he could be rendered nearly as inarticulate as me. I only managed graceless grunts in response, trying to grind my erection harder against his slim, muscular thigh.
“Yes. Yes,” he said, his voice filled with joy and a need equal to my own. We kissed as though we would never stop. “Wait! Wait!” he moaned. “We need to get undressed.”
“You’ve seen me naked before—at the beach in Alqualondë and only a while ago in the baths.”
“Ah,” he whispered, “but I never truly allowed myself a good look at you either. I didn’t trust how I might respond.”
I laughed, joyful and relieved. “The same for me! I was mortified at the thought of sporting an erection while the attendants walked back and forth with their stacks of towels and you were only interested in bathing.”
“You could not have thought I was only interested in my bath, with you, gorgeous and naked right next to me. You already knew I wanted you, Carnistir!”
“I watched you out of the corner of my eye,” I said. “What I did see was unbearably lovely.” He pushed me gently away from him, looking as pleased as I felt at what we were about to do, and more than a little endearingly vulnerable. He toed off his low boots without any difficulty and started unlacing his shirt, never taking his eyes off me. Unfortunately I wore almost new riding boots, higher than his and still stiff, not yet broken in at all. I hopped around on one foot, struggling and failing to get even one foot free of its boot. I finally hobbled to the bed and plopped down on it.
“Let me,” he insisted, kneeling before me and pulling them off easily. “Nice boots,” he said grinning.
I sighed, blushing to the roots of my hair. “I got them from Atar’s favorite cobbler in Tirion the day before we left,” I stammered. How outrageous I sounded—as though he were interested in my footgear. Strange the things one remembers of such moments. I think I babbled about those details because I was beginning to become conscious of how he was only a little less overwhelmed and shy at that moment that I was.
“Very nice boots actually,” he ventured, looking up at me, his pupils dilated and his breath coming in short gasps. “I want you so much.” We both laughed. I bent down and took his face in my hands and kissed him again, but did not linger, so intent was I to unlace and remove his tunic.
He pinched one of my nipples between his fingertips, grinning as me as I panted uncouthly and whimpered. “Hmm. Like that do you?” he asked, with a wicked smile. “Such a body you have. You are one impressive specimen of Eldarin young manhood. And you are all mine now.”
“Fool! Don’t tease me,” I insisted. “You’re the beautiful one. You know you are.”
“I have wanted this so much. Stop denying what you are doing to me, Carnistir!”
I responded to him by pushing him down onto his back and scooting up between his legs. At that moment, we connected mind-to-mind again and stayed linked for might have been hours. The last thing I recall sensing independently of him was the openness he projected in that moment and his smile when he said, “Yes! Like that!”
Much, much later sated from lovemaking, we lay in bed intertwined, exhausted and happy. I could hear the distant sounds of the same plangent flute I had heard earlier and faraway voices lifted in an unfamiliar song. “Are you happy now?” Findaráto whispered and my traitorous cheeks burned. But I was growing accustomed to how he affected me and could not be arsed to feel seriously embarrassed. I only chuckled and pulled him into a near-smothering bear hug. I was happy at that instant, but still anxious. If I could only hold onto him, I thought, then I could be happy. But if he slipped away, as I was certain he would, would I not be even more bereft than I had been before?
Findaráto had found a giddy release in our loving making, even while my melancholy threatened to wash over him. He recognized my motley emotions and tempered my tenacious sadness with his equally determined joy. I tortured myself by thinking that coming together like this had been not the careless sexual romp that he might have assumed it promised to be. The golden aura of my most beautiful cousin flowed through me with wave after wave of tenderness and reassurance. Even at that age, there was a unique kindness in Findaráto, a deep well of empathy. Nevertheless, youthful selfishness and a desire to learn from one another outweighed any true altruism on either of our parts. Certainly there was no meanness in either of us but a surfeit of tenderness tempered by self-doubt. Of course, I thought the insecurity belonged to me alone. The curse of youth is to believe one’s suffering is unique.
I suspected that his desire for me had been physical in large part. Or, more precisely, that it had been but lighthearted play for him, until my own nervy pain altered it. For me, the solace of the physical still strained against my wounded spirit, not entirely able yet to find a balance which would allow it to overtake the mental anguish that had been my constant companion since earliest childhood.
He touched my mind at one point, “Let go, sweet, tortured cousin. I am sorry if I’ve been insensitive in pushing past your barriers. Let me hold you and then we will try other ways of pleasuring one another later. For now, just rest. I have you. I’m holding you. You are safe here. I know I can do better. ”
“No. No,” I responded. “It was perfect. You are perfect. ” I moaned aloud, hoping he could tell how desperate I was for this not to end, to feel him, to share this exclusive experience, intensified by our particular talent. But I was afraid that I had walls as thick as solid rock and knew not how to lower them.
“Oh, Carnistir, please relax. You cannot fool me.” Gentle irony threaded his voice. “I knew you were dying to be in bed naked with me. You think I was not aware of all of your elaborate prevarication, mixed with your planning and plotting?”
And it was painful to think about the warring want and fear I had projected, at that moment still held onto. What if it made him change his mind and turn away from me and my anxious broodiness? It was painful to gaze upon his outrageous, unconscionable golden beauty and underneath it all touch his untapped power.
He showed strength in his sometimes disturbing but awesome gift of mind-touch. Suddenly I knew why he was drawn to me. I didn’t have much else in the way of natural talents besides our one shared skill. Well-favored as I was as a youth, I had nothing of the heartbreaking perfection of feature and form of my brother Nelyo, or Findaráto’s lithesome grace and incomparable face, or the iron nerves, bold vigor, and joy in life which made our cousin Findekáno so irresistibly appealing rather than simply another handsome cousin amongst a fine-looking family.
But I had a superfluity of the power which informs and enables mindspeak. And added to that I had the ability—albeit uncontrollable—to see fragments of others’ past, present, and, sadly, their future as well. Divinatory cards indeed, I scoffed to myself with the all of the heightened indignation of the offended vanity of youth.
“Where have you gone, Carnistir? It’s unnerving when you float off like that.” He chuckled softly, a nervous, hopeful laugh, tightening his arms around me. “I did tell you before that I knew you would be a challenge, but one I am determined to meet!”
Nargothrond, First Age c. 102"An oath I too shall swear, and must be free to fulfill it, and go into darkness.
Nor shall anything of my realm endure that a son should inherit."
--Finrod to Galadriel in
The Silmarillion, “Of the Noldor in Beleriand.”
I watched him across the crowded room—still vain, still gorgeous—his golden hair brilliant in the light of hundreds of candles. The Nauglamír glittered in gaudy ostentation around his neck. I’ve seen a lot of the best of Dwarven workmanship and that piece is arguably the best they have ever made. And, no one could ever wear it like Findaráto does. Turning toward me, as though suddenly aware of my gaze, he lifted his tankard of Dwarven mead in a wordless salute. His smile contained a promise and an invitation. I raised my own cup and grinned back in acceptance.
It would be a short visit, his sister and his brothers would be arriving in a week to celebrate the completion of his incomparable project. I needed to be gone before they came. But I intended to make every hour I had with him one to commit to memory. Who could know when I would be able to make this trip again?
He was manifestly not the feckless, dashing prince I had fallen in love with in the tranquil Alqualondë of our youth, or even the troubled young man with whom I explored the limits of his and my own sexual boundaries for a few short years in pre-schism Valinor, until the price became too high. This was Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond, Hewer of Caves, revered head of the House of Finarfin in Middle-earth, friend of many, beloved mentor of others; the silver-tongued one who, amongst all of my gifted cousins and brothers, acted the part of diplomat and lordly scholar to perfection. Well, I thought, however many may think they know and love him well, I still know him best.
By the time we chose to go into exile we each had formed our own allegiances and acted out of unique motivations. I reflexively chose the House of Fëanáro out of loyalty to my father and brothers and pure dogged stubbornness and personal resentment of the interventions of the Valar into the affairs of the Noldor. Findarato had his own reasons—not so much loyalty to his father’s house and with very little bitterness against the Valar—but a need to fulfill his own desire to know the world of our antecedents and to frame his own future, to satisfy his unquenchable curiosity and his longing for knowledge, to see new lands and meet strange peoples.
I could not take my eyes off him as he worked his way through the colorfully clad throng in my direction—a hand clasp here and a rough Dwarfish embrace there. Findaráto was nothing if not adaptable. These people loved him. I myself had amicable enough dealings with the Dwarves of Belegost. Lord Azaghâl himself had made it possible for me to make this trip. He had informed me that a group of them intended to travel to visit the great Prince of the Nargothrond, Felakgundu they affectionately called him, and invited me to accompany them. He had apparently spoken of me to them in the past. My relations with Azaghâl’s people were good, our association one of respected trading partners. They knew me to be honest and proficient with numbers, that my word and my goods could be trusted. Findaráto they loved and admired. He has that way with people.
He finally reached me, only to whisper in my ear, “Go to my room and wait for me there. I will slip away as soon as I can.” He shook my hand and said for public consumption, “I cannot tell you dearest cousin how much pleasure it gives me to see you here.”
* * *
Some hours later, exhausted after making love, he asked me the question I dreaded. “And what of your oath?”
“How can you ask? You have no idea what it is like in the north. I owe my brothers. And we have people there to whom we are beholden. You and your followers are not the only ones with relations with the Sindar and obligations to protect them and their communities. We hold the line against Morgoth up there! This peace is ever a restive one.”
“Don’t lecture me, cousin. I’ve fought orcs!”
“You have no idea, Ingo!”
“My brothers have told me . . .”
“Your brothers are raising horses and planting grain.”
“You’re not a warrior either, Carnistir.”
“But I am able. We all stand ready to respond.” I took his beautiful face in my hands, looking into his sad blue eyes. “You know it’s more than that. I owe everything I am to my father. He never gave up on me. When everyone but him thought I was but a raging sport of nature, he always believed in me, when even my mother doubted that I would ever speak anything but gibberish.”
“You did it yourself!” he insisted with heat. “Not that I do not believe what you have told me of how relentless Fëanáro was in trying to reach you. Your brothers support that story as well. But you never gave up.”
“Ah, my beloved Findaráto, you’ve never cast me aside either. You’ve forgiven me when . . .”
He cut me off with a kiss. “There was nothing to forgive. Much to regret, perhaps. You do not make things easy for yourself or those who care for you.” He rolled over onto me and pinned my hands above my head. “You’re obdurate, pigheaded, difficult, contrary, perverse . . .”
“Wait!” I said. “I don’t know if I should tell you this. I have told no one. I have dreams of war and blood. My childhood nightmares, but more specific, with graphic detail and I know that they are true.” I could not bear to say that I have I seen him die a dozen times, betrayed, in the dark, wanting to live, fighting to live. That I know his brothers will die first unable to hold those vast lands they are so proud of developing. That I have seen as well how I will die a shameful death—I have seen not only my own death but those of most of my brothers. I only know my death will come without honor. And I could not bring myself to tell him that I have seen his beautiful halls despoiled, their inhabitants slaughtered or scattered.
“My darling,” he pulled me into to his arms and held me against his chest. “Do you remember what the witchy fortune-teller said? ‘No matter what the cards may tell one, the truth of them is never carved in stone.’ We cannot know whether any of these dreams are true. We can only live as though the worst of these dark auguries will never come to pass.”
So, we are all still alive. The northern front still holds. I’ve seen Findarato several times since then, but those visits will remain infrequent as long as the Black Valar sits on his throne in the north and Nelyafinwë keeps all of his pieces in place and intact maintaining the Siege of Angband. In the south they call it the Long Peace, here we know better. The Oath sleeps, but my dreams tell me it will not be for long.
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