Like a Moth to a Flame by Oshun

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.
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