Like a Moth to a Flame by Oshun

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 AlqualondŽ 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 FindarŠto, 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 FindarŠto 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 AlqualondŽ. Surely people have told you how transparent you are, dear cousin.” FindarŠto’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, FindarŠto.” 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.

FindarŠto 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 FinwŽ 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 AmmŽ 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,” FindarŠto 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 NelyafinwŽ, of course. He’s the perfect prince.”

“They’re more annoying than scary. For a long while, even AmmŽ 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 FinwŽ, 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 NolofinwŽ. We moved from there to the dissimilarities between the Houses of FŽanŠro and ArafinwŽ. We both agreed that we liked our less conventional, although utterly different, home environments to the demands that our uncle —olofinwŽ made upon his children, our other set of cousins. And we chuckled about how our Uncle —olofinwŽ’s expectations had dramatically different effects on each of his offspring—how FindekŠno was a rebel, brash and daring, while quiet TurukŠno tried too hard to be perfect all the time, and IrissŽ 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 AlqualondŽ midnight. My half-cousin FindarŠto 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 FindekŠno. 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 FinwŽ. 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 OlwŽ’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.

FindarŠto and his siblings were treated like royalty there in OlwŽ’s palace, in a way that no one was in my family home—even Haru FinwŽ 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 FindarŠto’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 FindarŠto’s bed clad only in my braies, with sleep-tousled hair, blinking like an owl; in fact, he had brought breakfast for two.
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