In other words, kaikias, you've done a nice job of lodging some bunnies on my poor, overbitten ankles!
This tale follows Fingolfin and Lalwen on the night that Fëanor reveals the Silmarils for the first time to his half-family. The rating is a nice safe general and I have no special warnings to give...enjoy!
The walk down the hall to my study is short in steps but long in experience when one’s composure is held together by the barest threads, and those threads are ever being gnawed by jealous rage. I am aware of how a high prince should look and walk and I have mastered this façade to the point where it is natural, and even I could believe in it but for the fact that I’ve yet to learn to remove myself from emotion, an inconvenient reminder of my weaknesses and imperfections. My desire for my father’s love, my jealousy of Curufinwë, even my love for my children: these are weaknesses, places where the armor, the façade, does not fully cover my spirit, where laughter and tears can leak through and remind me of how prone I am to the careless weapons of my half-brother.
I watch the servants: Are they watching me? For when their eyes turn to follow my passage, I know that the composure is drooping and exposing me with all the shame of a poorly belted pair of overlarge trousers. I cannot fill the role I have been given, and Curufinwë is an ever-present reminder of this, for he not only fulfills his duties but spills over them, leaving me to despise my own inadequacy as well as the meager role that I have been given. A son, a prince, a father—not much. Still, I cannot fill it.
The door to my study looms ever larger in my vision until I feel like running to reach it and must dig my fingernails into my palms—to the point of pain and blood—to restrain myself. Trembling hands have trouble fitting the key to the lock and nearly drop it, but at last, the door swings open to the dark space that is mine alone, my place that I have no trouble filling, where I need have no reminders of Curufinwë or life beyond its walls, where I can put my head on my desk and sob, if I wish.
I stumble into the room and slam the door behind me with an undignified bang, collapsing against the doorframe, as breathless as though I had run the length of the palace ten times rather than merely making the short walk from Atar’s hall to my study. Weak knees threaten to collapse and the key slips from my quaking hands and rings against the floor.
I slide down the door and sit on the floor like a contemptible drunk hunches in the gutter, drawing my knees to my chest as though stricken suddenly by a chill although my study is warm, a mild breeze riffles the curtains and the pale silver light of evening makes a dull sheen across the floor. My toes dip into the light, but I feel no comfort for it.
Tonight, my half-brother unveiled to us the greatest of his creations.
Tonight, my half-brother showed us that even sacred Light was not beyond his abilities.
I laugh, and it comes out like a bray, like a sob, for what hate I’d felt then, as the Silmarils were uncovered—nestled innocently into their velvet case, shining with the splendor of the Light we were given by the Valar—and in that moment, I even understood how Melkor might have justified overturning Illuin and Ormal, for surely I would have set the palace aflame if only to ease my jealousy, my inadequacy, for as the Lamps were beyond Melkor, my half-brother’s creations are beyond me.
The light of the Silmarils stripped away all disguise, and then—in my father’s face—I was left without a doubt, as he took Curufinwë’s beaming face into his hands and kissed his cheeks and his lips: He loves—has always loved—Curufinwë the best.
This hate, this jealousy that I feel, it is wicked, and I know that. I know that it is the reason for my inadequacy, my failings as a leader and a father and a son. It is why I wield too strong a hand over the people of Tirion, deciding for them what is best, for surely, they will love me once it is proven to them. It is why Findekáno has not spoken to me in a week, for I drove him from the house with my anger that he should wish to associate with his cousin Maitimo on his day off rather than hunting with me, as I’d planned. It is why Atar shakes his head in disappointment with me, for I should know by now that I am not Curufinwë, and when I try to walk in his footsteps, I only trip and make a fool of myself. And so I make a fool of Atar.
When did I begin weeping? When did laughter become tears? Have I become so obsessed with becoming Curufinwë that I do not even know myself anymore?
And then, a gentle voice speaks from the shadows: “Nolofinwë?”
I had been so concerned with my own hurt and anger that I had not seen her there, outside of the reach of the light, seated at my desk: Lalwendë, my sister. Now, she rises and comes slowly towards me, approaching me as one might approach a cornered animal that might be dangerous. She is not as tall as our sister Findis nor as noble but a spry, willowy girl, expert at climbing trees in our youth and an able fighter solely because she could move so fast that her opponent would tire himself before she was forced to strike a blow. Her chestnut brown hair spills over her shoulder—it hates to be braided, she used to tell me, when she was a little girl with her lip pushed out—unfettered and threaded with silver light. She comes to me and kneels beside me, putting her arms around me and her head on my shoulder.
Findis and I exude the cold aura of statues; I am never sure if people do not approach us merely because we are hard or because they are afraid that we will topple and shatter with too intimate a touch. But Lalwendë—and Arafinwë as well—seem unaffected by this chill, for they flitter in the spaces others, even our parents, dare not enter.
I pride myself on being reserved and stoic, on being gracious without overly affectionate, but I find my hand rising to clasp hers, then moving on to circle her waist, until we are seated on the floor in my study and embracing. She used to run to me when she was a little girl and frightened of something, tossing her arms around my neck and sobbing into my hair. It was with reluctance that I used to let my arms close on her—if at all—but she never seemed to notice. Now, I allow it, and I find that I am comforted by it. I can still love, I realize with relief. All is not lost.
Findis and I are close in years and alike in temperament, and we were natural companions in our youths, leaving little Lalwendë without a playmate.
Findis and I would spend hours reading together in our father’s library: She, because she enjoyed it; I, because I sought amid the reams of paper filled with tiny print the one thing that Curufinwë didn’t know, that I could ask him at our father’s next feast and fool him in front of all. There was a wide oak table in the library, and we’d sit side by side with our books open in front of us, rarely speaking and never touching, but companionable in our silence.
As the afternoon light grew wan, there would be a scamper and a rustle under the table, and moments later, two sock-clad fists would shoot up above the far edge.
“Oooooh, Findis,” crooned Lalwendë in an impressive imitation of my voice, from under the table, “let us go be boring in the library!” then answering in Findis’ voice: “Yes! Yes, Nolofinwë! For hours shall we be boring!”
Lalwendë was gifted in doing impressions of people, mimicking their walks and mannerisms and—best of all—their voices and manners of speech. From socks, she had made puppets of each member of our family—stealing our own socks to do it—and some other Elves who were often in our company: Atar’s lords and counselors and such. She pasted red felt mouths outside the place where her hands folded within and bright gems for eyes, with silken thread for hair, even braided in the style the person most often wore. And from scraps from the seamstress’ rag basket, she fashioned miniature clothes, and she would entertain herself for hours, acting out scenes atop tables and windowsills, speaking in imitation of our voices. Sometimes, the scenes were radically impossible and silly: Findis had found an elephant inside of the innermost powder room, and we all set about in debate of how it should be freed. Other times, the scenes were those that had yet to occur, but the threat of which hung always in the palace, able to be scattered momentarily, like smoke, but then settling again when silence fell between us.
Our mother, Indis, to Curufinwë: “Why do you hate me, my son?”
And Curufinwë answered: “I am not your son. And I hate you because you live and she does not, and I cannot change that, so why not hate you? Because you cannot change that, and perhaps then, you shall know how I feel to be so helpless.”
I had gone for a pair of my favorite socks, practical, cotton socks that went well inside nearly any shoe, and found one with its mate missing. And, three days later, I awakened to my likeness done with a sock, dancing on the edge of my bed. “Come, Nolofinwë! It is Nolofinwë, and I am here to tell you that Laurelin is rising and there are so many books left to read! And Curufinwë has probably read them all!” And my dry, humorless laughter, coming from the red felt mouth of a puppet.
My hair was done in black silk thread and practically plaited; I had small gray stones for eyes, dark eyebrows, and gray robes trimmed in blue. It had indeed been late in the morning—later than I generally liked to awaken—and I flopped over to rise from the other side of the bed, the side away from Lalwendë. “Quit it, Lalwendë,” I’d grumbled, walking to the armoire to choose a set of robes that were not gray.
When Curufinwë came to the palace to visit with his new wife and their baby, the house buzzed with the excitement of a festival day, and Atar was likely to catch us more often in his embrace or to pardon us for things that usually would have irked him. This should have made me appreciate Curufinwë’s presence, yet it did the opposite. Findis and I quietly did as we were told and dressed for Curufinwë’s arrival, but Lalwendë went about the despised task with actual cheer, asking to wear her prettiest dress and have our mother fasten roses into her chestnut hair. When Curufinwë arrived, she followed him everywhere, nearly silent in her leather-soled slippers, mimicking him: his obstinate stride, his haughty way of standing with his hands in fists on his hips, his way of letting his glance glide over everything, as though appraising it. And she could intone his voice perfectly, after he’d left the room to speak privately with our father: “Atar, I do not understand,” or “Atar, that is utterly ridiculous,” flitting her fingers about in the air at something imaginary that displeased her, until Findis and I—trying very hard to be dignified, trying very hard to please our father—would have to hide our laughter between fits of coughing, and our mother would come into the room to look at us with worry, and Lalwendë would fold her hands innocently at her waist and smile serenely.
It happened, not long after, that Curufinwë came unexpectedly to the palace one day when Atar was out. “Ooooh,” said Lalwendë, “he shall see that when he is not here, we wear normal clothes!” And she’d laughed at that, and I’d glared, only to be soothed by Findis’ hand on my arm, silently reminding me that Lalwendë was still a girl with a girl’s perturbing sense of humor.
Our mother took Curufinwë to the parlor to await the return of our father, and Findis and I remained in the library and Lalwendë kneeling at the windowsill, playing with her puppets. She had a new Curufinwë puppet, and I’d seen her carefully embroidering his robes with red and gold thread, in the patterns of flames. His eyes were bright stones in the light, and his hair—the first time I’d stroked it—was soft enough to be real. Remarking so to Lalwendë, she’d told me that it was. “Every time he comes here,” she’d whispered, “I’d steal a piece from his tunic. He is not perfect, Nolofinwë; he sheds like the rest of us.”
How many hours she’d spent on her Curufinwë puppet, I did not know. I strongly suspected, however, that it far exceeded the time that she’d spent on any other.
After a while, we could hear our mother and Curufinwë, for they were arguing. Our mother argues in a tone indistinguishable from her normal voice—as sweet and gentle as if honey could be made into the clear, golden notes of a voice—but Curufinwë is loud and brash. Lalwendë did not speak, but her puppets mouthed the words of their argument.
“Why do you hate me, my son?”
“I am not your son. And I hate you because I do, and there is nothing that you can do to change that.”
A half-minute later, the front door slammed, and I glanced at Lalwendë: but the puppet of our mother was the one that had slipped from her hand and lay prostrate and mournful upon the windowsill. Curufinwë she clutched to her chest.
But she can never hold him in life; even our father, even his wife, truly, cannot.
But she can hold me, and she does, undignified upon the floor of my study, leaning against the door, our arms twined around each other as we never did as children. She’d tried; I’d resisted. I laugh at the irony of this, of all the times I’d tried with Curufinwë and been cast away, and yet I’d done the same to her.
Always have I endeavored to walk in his footsteps, knowing that I shall never grow to fill them—not in one hundred ages of Arda—piteous of this fact until now. Do not go with such haste! That is what Atar used to say to us, as children, when we’d rush to our destination. For you shall miss much in the journey.
When at last she leaves me, tears are but memories to eyes that do not even ache anymore, and I go to my desk—despite the late hour—to work on papers for a counsel tomorrow, papers that I have neglected knowing that few would stop to listen, not immediately after Curufinwë presented his new masterpiece. What would be the purpose of my efforts? Now, though, it seems to matter not. He is deserving of such importance only as long as I make him so.
And so on the night of his greatest accomplishment, I find pity for him, for one who has ascended so quickly to his heights has surely missed much and has far to fall.
As I sit behind my desk, something catches my eye: a silvery scintilla, a speck of Telperion reflected, and I find Lalwendë’s puppet of Curufinwë left behind on my desk, his silken black hair still free, his face—even upon a sock—still beautiful, his eyes bright enough to be real. As children, we’d believed that to destroy the likeness of a person would in turn harm them, and I briefly consider tossing Curufinwë into the fireplace behind me.
Instead, I smooth him and tuck him into the bottommost drawer of my desk, and I shut the drawer upon him.