Whew! I think I managed all that!
I am giving this story an adult rating for all that naught-but-nice action going on there. I should mention that there is a heterosexual pairing (Maglor/OFC) and discussion of slash (but nothing graphic on that front. Hey, this is my first mention of slash evah in a story, so I think I deserve some credit for that! ;^D)
In this tale, Magor's wife Vinagarië discovers the true nature of her brother-in-law's relationship with his cousin. I'm leaving it at that.... ;^)
Vingarië walked into Macalaurë’s study, sat down, and folded her hands neatly in her lap. There was a funny look to her mouth; Macalaurë was reminded of the time that Tyelkormo had sneaked a tree frog into the house and had to hide it in his mouth to keep it from being discovered by their father. (Unfortunately, at the time, Tyelkormo had been naïve to the tree frog’s natural defense when threatened; trust that the tiny creature had been expelled onto the floor with some suddenness when its keeper ran from the room to scrub his mouth with soap.)
Vingarië looked like there was something wriggling in her mouth, begging to leap out, but she was trying hard to hold it in. Her lips worked and pinched more tightly shut; her brows knit as though it took great effort to hold in whatever she wished to conceal. Macalaurë set his quill aside and pondered his wife, who immediately looked away and at a bumblebee that had buzzed through the open window and was dabbing inside the fresh-cut flowers on her husband’s desk. Her adamant silence filled him with determination not to ask what the matter was. Let her speak first, he thought, and he squeezed his teeth together until his jaw ached to keep from asking.
For five minutes, the couple sat like that, in obstinate silence, while the only sound in the room was the bee dancing from flower to flower. At last, the insect drank its fill and buzzed through the window and out to the golden-bright freedom of Laurelin in the afternoon, and only a few seconds of silence drifted past before Vingarië blurted, “Your brother is wrestling with your cousin in his bedroom.”
Her eyes got very wide then and she pressed two fingers to her lips, as though she could reel in the words that plunked into the heavy silence between them.
Macalaurë felt each of his body’s reactions and tried to counter them before Vingarië likewise noticed. She was staring at him very intently. His father had taught him this trick to ease his nerves before big performances, back when Macalaurë was still young enough to be insecure and scared in front of an audience. His heart leapt and so he took a long, deep breath and tried to calm it. His eyes wanted to pop out, so he blinked slowly. He felt mildly ill, and so he swallowed carefully until the feeling was gone. His muscles went rigid, and so he imagined them made of floppy rags and felt them relax.
A tiny muscle beneath his eye twitched, but there was nothing he could do to stop that. Vingarië—her eyes fixed on her husband’s face—saw it and her hand fell from her lips and into her lap.
Macalaurë had to say something, he knew, and so he said, “With…Findekáno?” which was an utterly ridiculous question. With whom else? Findekáno was staying with them for the summer, and Maitimo wasn’t likely to “wrestle” with anyone else. Nor had he “wrestled” with anyone else, so far as Macalaurë knew. He swallowed, and the sound seemed amplified in the silent room. Vingarië nodded quickly, and Macalaurë asked, “What were you doing in my brother’s bedroom?” which was an even worse question because it acquired an accusatory edge that he didn’t intend, and Vingarië bristled.
“I was going to get his laundry,” she quipped, two bright spots of color rising in her delicate cheeks. “He had the red ribbon on the doorknob; I thought that meant he wanted his laundry taken.”
“No,” said Macalaurë weakly, “that is the blue ribbon.”
“Well, what is the red ribbon then?”
The red ribbon meant that he was doing something that he didn’t want his sister-in-law to see, but Macalaurë could hardly tell her that. Nor did he need to, for in that moment, Maitimo burst into the room, his usually impeccable plaits coming undone and his face the same color as his hair. In his haste, he’d pulled on Findekáno’s tunic, which was obvious because it was a good three inches too short and showed a strip of his belly; his breeches were laced crookedly, and his boots were on the wrong feet and untied so that when he burst into the room, he stepped on one and tripped, falling forward and landing in Vingarië’s lap. She yelped in surprise and he jumped, fell onto his backside, and slid across the floor, uttering an oomph that would have been funny under different circumstances, coming from one as perfect and collected as he.
His scrabbling feet found purchase and he stood, blurting “Vingarië that wasn’t what it looked like I swear we were just wrestling and it is quite a hot day so we thought to undress and that’s what we were doing really not something that might be—you know—nefarious or anything like that really—” He ran out of air then, and drew a long, shuddering breath while—if such a thing—his face flushed even redder. One of his boots had come most of the way off when he tripped, and he hobbled across the floor to Vingarië, who watched him with wide, frightened eyes, her hands clutched in her lap. He knelt on the floor beside her. “You believe me, don’t you, sister of mine?”
Macalaurë felt his heart lurch with fright and any number of attempts to calm it could not have done so. An uncomfortable second passed where no one said anything, then Vingarië smiled and unloosed one of her hands from where they were tangled in her lap, and with it, she stroked Maitimo’s disheveled hair. “Of course, I do, Maitimo. What else would I think?”
Luckily, that night, Macalaurë and Vingarië were having supper with Finwë and Indis and so didn’t have to endure a silent, awkward meal with Maitimo and Findekáno. Vingarië was slightly quieter than usual, but then, Macalaurë was giving greater than usual attention to her every behavior, so perhaps it was more his imagining than anything intentional. She was quick to smile, though, and laugh at Finwë’s jokes and she made all the right compliments to Indis about her new gown. Macalaurë normally ate voraciously at the palace—especially the rich foods that he and Maitimo were too lazy to make at home—but his stomach was clenched into knot, and he had to force even the little bit that he did manage to eat. When Indis rose to see to dessert and Finwë bent to retrieve a spoon he’d dropped beneath the table, Vingarië turned and gave Macalaurë a concerned look.
“My love…?” she whispered, but Finwë popped up then, brushing off the spoon and setting it back beside his plate, saying something about the dirt of Cuivienen being good for the spirit, and Vingarië turned away from her husband to make some quick little joke that Macalaurë’s mind—feeling ether-soaked and heavy as a stone—could not have mustered.
They did not say much on the walk home. It was late by the time they left the palace and set out down the street for the modest home that Macalaurë and Vingarië had shared with Maitimo since they’d been married, but the night was warm and glazed with Telperion’s silver sheen. Crickets sang joyful love songs from the bushes alongside the road, and moths flitted around the lamps, occasionally dipping down to kiss Macalaurë and Vingarië’s faces with their velvety wings. The couple clasped hands, for that was how they walked everywhere, and to walk without Vingarië’s hand in his, Macalaurë felt as though a piece of himself had been amputated. But they said nothing, for the houses alongside the road seemed to press in closer this night, as though eager to hear what words may pass between them.
The house, when they arrived home, was blessedly silent. Macalaurë feared perhaps encountering Maitimo and Findekáno in a boardgame in the front parlor, as they often were in the evenings, or lounging on the matching chaises, reading, but the rooms were dark. Upon ascending the stairs to their bedroom, Macalaurë glanced at Maitimo’s door and saw with relief that no ribbons—red or otherwise—were looped around the knob. Beneath Findekáno’s door was faint, throbbing candlelight—not that this meant anything. Maitimo and Findekáno were adept by now at making it appear as though they were innocently separated when, really, Macalaurë knew that on more nights than not, his brother slept in the arms of their cousin.
Macalaurë closed himself in his bathroom to wash for bed. I should tell her, he thought, but how did one make such a confession? Forthrightly? Vingarië, my brother and my cousin are lovers and have been for years. Through innuendo and implication? Vingarië, Maitimo is as the bee to Findekáno’s flower.
He shuddered at the last one: Terrible! he thought. I couldn’t say that to her if I wished it.
Or should he say nothing? Amid the suspicious, nervous jokes of siblings and parents through the years, the gentle squeezing words seeking to wring some elusive truth from Macalaurë about the true nature of Maitimo and Findekáno’s deep friendship, Macalaurë had held his silence. Indeed, he and Vingarië had been married for almost fifteen years now, and she had never detected her brother-in-law’s unconventional relationship before tonight. Many times, Macalaurë had ached to tell her, to share the weight of his secret, but always, he’d bitten back the words at the last moment. He’d made a promise to Maitimo, long ago, holding his weeping, ashamed brother in his arms: I will tell no one. And so Maitimo and Findekáno’s secret was his alone.
Maitimo and Findekáno had been lovers since Findekáno had come of age twenty years ago. Macalaurë had always marveled at his brother’s disciplined lack of interest in women, at his ability to lose himself in his studies and his research, never giving in to the savage urges to drink and fornicate that possessed many of their peers. Findekáno, on the other hand, was prone to making crude jokes of the worst sort and always seemed to have a new, outrageous story with which to amuse Tyelkormo and Carnistir. Still, Macalaurë’s stoic, restrained brother and wild, energetic cousin remained close friends, and they would disappear into the library for hours to lose themselves in deep discussion the subjects of which even Macalaurë—proclaimed many times by Maitimo to be his “best friend”—was not permitted to know.
Tyelkormo and Carnistir loved to jealously harp on Findekáno’s crazy tales but Macalaurë never believed them, for there were never any names attached to them and, as far as he could tell, his cousin never had a companion at festivals. Always, he sat at the head table with Maitimo, ignoring the dancing and festivities, their heads leaning close together and their words furtive so that no one else could hear.
There was a garden in lower Tirion that was known to young, unmarried lovers as a place to meet for trysts, and in the year before their wedding, Macalaurë and Vingarië met there often. On one such day, Macalaurë arrived early, for it was the anniversary of the day that he had asked Vingarië to marry him, and he wanted it to be special. There was a rosebush, behind which was considered the best place in the garden for love, for the grass was soft and the spot was quiet and secluded and sweet with the scent of roses. Macalaurë had asked Vingarië to marry him there, the year before.
And so he arrived an hour before her, with a bottle of wine and a bunch of wildflowers that he’d picked on the ride from his father’s home outside of Tirion, stopping at the city walls to lean against them and scrawl a note: “Vingarië, forever have you my love. Your beloved Macalaurë.” As he approached the garden gates, he saw Findekáno pause outside, glance both ways, and quickly duck inside.
So the stories, then, are true.
Macalaurë had been disappointed by this, wishing perhaps to believe his cousin more decent than his tales of wanton couplings suggested, worthy at least of Maitimo’s friendship.
But that was of little concern that day. Macalaurë—in much the same manner as Findekáno just a minute prior—paused outside the gates and did the requisite glancing around, as though every married couple in the city did not know—and had not used—this garden on at least one occasion. He dearly hoped that the place behind the rosebush was not taken.
Approaching, it was quite apparent that it was. Macalaurë blushed and made to turn away before disturbing those lucky enough to seize the spot before him, but just then, a voice rose in a moan of ecstasy.
Surely not! But it was Maitimo’s voice, the voice Macalaurë had been hearing since the day he was born. Could Maitimo—his stodgy, proper brother—have a lover? A secret lover? Macalaurë felt rooted to the spot, his mouth hanging open, waiting for his brother to cry out again or—better yet—for his lover to cry out and perhaps reveal her identity to Macalaurë, whose sensitive ears were very good at identifying voices. The rosebush rustled harder suddenly, and Maitimo moaned again, only this time it turned into words: “Aaahh…Findekáno!”
And Findekáno answered, “Maitimo, my love,” in a voice like none Macalaurë had ever heard his proud, boastful cousin use before, a voice that was as tender as the roses nodding over them, and poor Macalaurë, his heart pounding so hard in his chest that he was sure they must be able to hear it, turned and ran from the garden before—horrors of horrors—his brother discovered that Macalaurë knew his awful secret.
Macalaurë had come home late that night, after an evening with Vingarië that might not have existed for all that he could remember. His heart had pounded furiously through the evening, and his mouth tasted of metal; he had made love to his bride-to-be without really enjoying it (and hoping that she didn’t notice) and gone with her for a supper that he didn’t taste and that scalded his stomach with acid in the hours after. He had taken her home and bid her goodnight, standing on her father’s walk long after she’d closed the door behind her, staring up at the pale light in her bedroom window, unable to remember if he’d kissed her goodnight, only able to hear the whisper of the rosebush as it rustled and his brother’s voice crying his passion for a name that he never should have imagined—much less uttered—in such a wicked sense.
My brother is a bad person, he thought.
And then Findekáno’s reply: Maitimo, my love…Macalaurë shivered, for it had sounded as though Findekáno might actually have loved Maitimo. But in a way that a cousin should never love his cousin, his male cousin.
Macalaurë drifted home in a stupor and went into the kitchen, for his father kept a bottle of strong liquor in one of the cabinets, and Macalaurë had a feeling that—if he wished to sleep this night—he would need it. It was late and the house was silent; the kitchen was dark but, too late, he realized that someone sat at the table.
“Macalaurë!” cried his brother in surprise, just as Macalaurë exclaimed, “Maitimo!”
If Macalaurë could have found a polite, graceful way to do it, he would have run from the kitchen then, locked himself in his bedroom, and never spoken to his brother again.
But as it was, such a thing was impossible to do decorously, and so he was left, swaying awkwardly from foot to foot, staring at his brother slumped at the kitchen table, slowly working his way through an enormous bowl of cherries that Fëanaro had pitted for making a pie for the next night’s dessert. In the dim light of the kitchen—lit by nothing but the wan glow of Telperion at —Macalaurë could see another shape beside the fruit bowl, but he could not discern what it was.
He did not have long to wonder, for Maitimo lifted it and poked it in his direction. “You left this today,” he said, and with a trickle of iciness in his gut, Macalaurë saw the wilted bunch of wildflowers that he’d picked that afternoon and a tiny triangle of paper poking from their depths: “Vingarië, forever have you my love. Your beloved Macalaurë,” he knew it to read.
His tongue flopped in his mouth with all of the grace of a fish drying on the dock, wishing fruitlessly for words to take shape: a lie, a denial, anything. He watched his pale, tremulous hand steal out and take the flowers from Maitimo, who smiled weakly and said, “I’d forgotten that today was the anniversary of your betrothal. In less than a year, my little brother will be married. I congratulate you.”
At last, Macalaurë’s twisted tongue managed to speak: “Th—th—thank you.”
“Macalaurë,” Maitimo patted the place beside him, “sit with me?”
On legs that might have belonged to another for all of the will that Macalaurë seemed to possess over them, he walked to the table and sat in the chair that Maitimo pulled out for him. He noticed then that his brother’s handsome face was marred by lines of weariness and worry. The bowl of cherries was nearly half-empty, a considerable pile of stems lying in a tangle on the table in front of him. I should not be here! I should run away and let him know what I think of his disgusting behavior, Macalaurë thought. I should at least say something about it! And so he opened his mouth, but all that came out was “I would be careful, if I were you, for Atar spent an hour pitting those this afternoon and intends to bake a pie tomorrow.”
Maitimo then, incredulously, laughed and shoved the bowl in Macalaurë’s direction. Macalaurë’s hands—obviously in league with his treacherous legs—took a handful and popped them into his mouth all at once, barring any chance of chastising his brother. A trickle of cherry juice ran down his chin, and Maitimo’s thumb came to wipe it away. Macalaurë jerked at his touch as though he’d been shocked, and Maitimo recoiled, his face rumpled once more.
“Macalaurë, I know that you saw us today.”
The cherries now sat in an unchewed bolus in Macalaurë’s mouth. He tried to make a reply, but it only came out as a muffled, “Mmmmm.”
“It was my foolish fault,” said Maitimo, his voice full of vitriol. “I should have been more cautious. I should not have succumbed so easily to my…” he hesitated then and glanced at Macalaurë, “desires. After all, mine is not a conventional choice of lovers.” He made a sound that might have been a cough or a laugh; Macalaurë wasn’t sure. He forced himself to swallow as hard as he could, and the massive lump of cherries passed achingly down his throat. Now he could speak and tell Maitimo what he really thought of his choice of “lovers!” But Maitimo spoke again, before Macalaurë had the chance, and said in a voice weak with defeat, “It is just that we occasionally wish to enjoy that which others our age, and in love, enjoy. You and Vingarië do not have to climb the trees into each other’s bedrooms and wrap your faces in pillows lest you show your passion too loudly, lest another learn of your love.”
Macalaurë became aware that his jaw was hanging open. He clicked it shut and bit his tongue. The pain of it, though, seemed to bring him to his senses a bit. “How long have—” he began before the twinge of pain faded and his sensibility went with it.
Maitimo laughed. “Long enough, Macalaurë. Long enough that I lost my virginity before you did, if you will believe that,” he said, laughing at the way Macalaurë’s eyes widened in shock. “Since Findekáno came of age, to be more precise about it. I kissed him at his coming-of-age ceremony, meaning it to be a kiss of friendship and…we just never stopped. I am depraved—I know this, so you do not have to tell me—but I love him more than I imagined I could love another person. I would lay my life aside for his; I believe that flowers grow where he walks; he makes me hear birds singing and bells ringing when—” Glancing at Macalaurë, he said no more, but he smiled and Macalaurë—despite his fervent wish to do otherwise—understood exactly what he meant. “All of that rot. All of the stuff of bad poetry, I actually feel. And how I wish, every day, to be able to wish it was someone other than Findekáno who makes me feel that way. But I can’t even bring myself to wish that, I love him so much. I love him enough to bear hating myself for it. I love him enough to accept my wicked heart for what it is.”
And Maitimo did a surprising thing then and dropped his forehead to the table and began to weep. And Macalaurë—who had never seen his older brother cry before—did something even more surprising: He put his arms around Maitimo and held him close, and he tried to find hate in his heart for his brother, who had admitted the wrongness of that which he did, or at least for Maitimo’s forbidden affair, but he found that he could not.
And now, staring at himself in the looking glass over the basin, Macalaurë forced himself to emulate courage that he did not feel—straightening his spine, lifting his chin—and he turned and went into the bedroom that he shared with his wife.
Vingarië was in bed already, dressed in a wispy, translucent nightgown of the style preferred by Telerin women that outlined her slender body to perfection and left little to Macalaurë’s imagination. She was paging through a songbook of Vanyarin hymns that Macalaurë had left on his bedside table, but when she glanced up and saw Macalaurë, standing and watching her, she smiled and set it aside. “You are not even dressed for bed!” she said, and Macalaurë became aware that, indeed, he did still wear the robes that he’d worn to his grandfather’s and felt his face warm slightly. “No mind,” she said with a mischievous giggle, “as I planned to take off whatever you put on anyway. Now undress and get into bed with me.” She patted the place beside her, the place where he usually slept, and with a grin, he followed her orders and let his robes fall into a pile on the floor and, naked, slipped between the cool sheets that raised the hair on his arms in sensuous prickles. Her warm lips claimed his before he could even settle fully into bed, and she pushed him onto his back and kissed the line of his jaw to his ear. “Macalaurë, Macalaurë,” she breathed into his ear, making him shiver delightfully, “how I love you so!”
When they’d both spent their passions, they laid in each others arms, in a tangle of limbs, hands stroking the other’s body with a reverence as though they’d never touched before. Love never tires, Macalaurë thought, suddenly full of wonder at this revelation, for so many other things seemed to break down where love endured. In three ages—in three hundred ages!—I hope to be lying like this with her, he thought, and the notion of this didn’t seem wearying at all but energizing, as though his ability to live through the long ages of the world was contained in the bond between them.
Suddenly, then, lying content in Vingarië’s arms, words crawled into Macalaurë’s mouth that begged to be voiced. And before he could think better of it, he opened his mouth and let them fall out.
“Vingarië, when you burst in on Maitimo and Findekáno earlier today, they were not wrestling.”
Her face pressed his neck, making it easier for him to speak, without having to see the look in her eyes when she realized the meaning behind his words. I do not want to see my wife’s beautiful face twisted by disgust…or hate.
But she laughed. “Macalaurë, I know that.” She disentangled herself from him and propped herself up on her elbow. “Do you think that I am naïve to the way they look at each other? Smile at each other? I see the same thing in your brother’s eyes, looking at Findekáno, as I see in yours when you look at me. I see your father’s fire then, in the two of you, more than any other time, for you both understand that that fire is best used in love, in devotion to another, and not for selfish pursuits.”
Puzzled, Macalaurë managed to stammer, “B—but then—why? Why did you come into my study in such a—a—fuss?”
“I was still surprised,” she said. “I’d never considered the mechanics of things before. I did not know if they expressed their love physically. I was a little shocked, Macalaurë, is all. I am over that now.”
“And…what do you think of it?”
“I think that they love each other. And so it is not my place to judge. For if Maitimo’s choice in loving Findekáno is as my choice in loving you, then I know that it is granted by something higher than us all—higher even than the Valar—and that its kindling will serve the fate of the world. And I dare not question that.”
She settled then, again, in the circle of Macalaurë’s arms, for they were both suddenly drowsy and wished for the repose of dreams. He tried to imagine rising from their bed, turning his back upon her and leaving their love to the mercy of time—and he could not. He held her closer, as though to stave off that possibility.
From his brother’s bedroom next door, Macalaurë’s sensitive ears detected the shifting of a mattress, the contented sigh of one who is safe and at peace. He tried to imagine Maitimo rising from his bed, turning his back upon Findekáno and leaving their love to the mercy of time—and he could not. And so he held his wife closer and, with his last thought before sleep, asked Eru that it should never have to be.