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.
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