Chapter 1: The Stranger From The Mountain.
~ It was rare, now, for the Noldor to make the journey to high Ilmarin. In later years, Finrod thought it might have been foresight that moved the Valar to hold this feast, a coming together of those who were, inexorably, moving away from them.
If it was foresight, it was already too late. There was open talk now of the lands of Endor, vast and free where his grandsire, FinwŽ had awoken, and where the Noldor might found great realms. The topic of Middle-earth had never been taboo, but neither had it encouraged discussion. Those who made the Great Journey told of an ancient darkness that haunted the footsteps of the first Elves. Those memories had been enough to breed content with Valinor, until now. But as yet it was only talk, if spiced with the seeds of rebellion.
When Finrod received the invitation, he accepted. There was no reason not to. He had not been to Ilmarin since a childhood visit to his grandmother and thought to distract his mind, for a time, from the complications in his life. Also, it was rare to see the House of FinwŽ all gathered in the same place. One might learn much by observing.
They thought him the most peaceable of Finarfin's children, but even he could not escape the tidal pull of his uncles or their children. No-one, it seemed could do that. Finrod was aware that certain of the FŽanorions considered him too bland for friendship (“Milk-and-water,” he had heard Curufin say dismissively, when Finrod reached adulthood. “Milk-and-honey, brother,” Celegorm had corrected, with a low-toned laugh that brushed Finrod's spine like fur) but he had long been a friend of Turgon. He had no need to borrow pride from Fingolfin's youngest son, having a store of his own, but propinquity had fanned it. Nevertheless, there were some who were surprised when Finrod removed from his father's house, though every noble son of the Noldor was forming his own household in those days. Then the difficulties arose, ambitions and jealousy among those who followed him.
Ilmarin was how he remembered it: vast, white-pillared, timeless. The feast, in a hall larger than the Great Square of Tirion, was presided over by ManwŽ and Varda. There was music, played by Vanyarin bards. Maglor FŽanorion's skill surpassed them, but he was not even asked to sing, which smacked unmistakably of disapproval against his House. FŽanor and his sons were, allegedly, the instigators of much of the recent unrest and, for all the delicacies served, the free-flowing wine, tension crackled in the air. FŽanor blazed, flanked by his magnificent sons like the centerpiece of a diadem. Fingolfin and Fingon were no less arresting to the eye. The space that separated them was bridged by Maedhros and Fingon, either immune to the ever-widening schism between their fathers or, more likely, too close to let it affect them. Finarfin, sitting apart from both, cast chill looks in their direction, then seemed to realize the futility of it, and addressed himself to his family.
Finrod turned his eyes away, toying with his food as he glanced up at the dais. The Vanyar, as always, were seated close to ManwŽ and Varda. He did not know any of them well. It had been a long time since the Noldor and Vanyar were close.
He had thought, when young, that the Vanyar were immaculate, stainless as the snows of Taniquetil, and certainly they looked it. IngwŽ, accounted High King of all the Elves, (though not, it went without saying, by the Noldor) had hair the colour of frost, eyes of cobalt. He was stunningly beautiful, and aloof as the Holy Mountain. Finrod could see no expression in his face at all. He looked away, met a pair of eyes that owned IngwŽ's shade. But these blazed.
He stared at the man who leaned against a pillar, whom had not been in the hall before, Finrod would swear. His hair was bound back in braids as gold as precious metal, but his winging brows were dark, and the curl of his full-lipped mouth spoke of passion. He was tall, an athlete's figure draped in robes of emerald green.
How long he gazed, Finrod did not know; long enough to see the wine-rich, complex smile, the long lashes drop over those brilliant eyes as if in recognition of something. Heat struck like a slap across Finrod's cheeks. He reached for wine and, when he looked again, the man was gone.
His reaction shattered the careful poise that framed his mind and body. He was devoutly grateful for the formal clothes that concealed his unexpected arousal, for the wine running cool into his stomach, the goblet his hands could close around, even his father's voice when he spoke, introducing a fair-haired woman gowned in silver. She made a courtesy, and Finrod reflexively bowed.
“King IngwŽ's youngest daughter, AmariŽ,” Finarfin said, jolting Finrod back to the world of politics as he realised what was happening. His father made no secret of the fact that he wanted Finrod to wed. If AmariŽ was aware of it, she showed no sign, but Finrod knew all about social masks, and the strain of wearing them. He smiled, inviting her to sit. She thanked him in a voice like high, clear bells. Yet his thoughts strayed, as he maintained polite conversation, to the man, burning out from among the pale Vanyar like a fire. He looked into AmariŽ's calm eyes and realised the impossibility of asking her. He could not be so discourteous.
The feast passed like flotsam on a river and Finrod, returning down the great road that ran through Taniquetil's everlasting snowfields, looked back. The pillared halls reached into the sky and were blank, giving him no answers.
He dreamed. It was always the same dream, or a variation of it, and he would wake, hot and hard with need. Now, he blinked himself out of sleep to a room filled with Laurelin's light. It flooded over his aroused body, drew a frustrated moan from his throat. He raised his hands, plunged them through a silken cloud to the firm flesh beneath.
“Yes,” he murmured, half-asleep. “Why?”
The man's eyes were blue jewels, and wholly predatory.
“Does it matter?” He smiled. “Beautiful Finrod. Do you know what you look like, laying there, twisting in your lustful dreams? They do not really know you at all, do they? Any of them?” His laugh was rich. “But I do.”
Then Finrod was fully awake. He dragged his hands free of all that imprisoning splendor, felt his heart drumming in his breast, the hectic heat under his skin.
The stranger was naked, flesh gleaming. The dim light limned taunt muscle, the curve of one straight shoulder escaping from waves of hair, high cheekbones, a sultry mouth that curled over white teeth.
“Who are you?” He did not ask why the man was here. Untouched he might be, save by his own hands, but he was no fool. Briefly, he wondered why he did not feel outraged by this uninvited presence in his chamber. He let the thought go like a handful of mist, uncaring.
“I will not tell you that — yet.”
“You live in Ilmarin?” It hardly seemed possible.
“Yes.” He ran his fingers through Finrod's hair, drew it towards him. Against his own it was thick and straight as windrows of hay, creamy white. The stranger let it fall, caught Finrod's face between elegant hands. “You recognised me.”
“I did not,” he denied, his stomach clenching. “I do not know you.”
“You recognised what I am. I know what you are. What you want.”
What he wanted...was the kiss that plundered his mouth, the hands on his back. Yes. Light detonated in his mind until he could see nothing. It broke him apart to a hunger that stole his last breath.
Warm fingers curled about his cock. He said something, he was not sure what, a curse, a plea.
“I will show you what you are.”
Tremors flitted across Finrod's flesh. He went down under the stranger's body like prey beneath a stooping eagle.
He had no frame of reference, was almost a stranger to pain, and when he was entered, he convulsed violently. The engorged length was slicked with oil but stretched him unbearably. His hands closed on lean-muscled arms, his head flung back into the pillows. A cry built in his throat. He swallowed it. This was what he had wanted, had ached for, but he had not known it would be like this.
“No.” The word broke between his teeth.
Jewel-blue eyes swam in a haze of gold. Finrod's breath came in panting gasps as the man held himself on strong arms.
“Are you sure?”
He could not answer. He writhed around the penetration and then, without warning, a locked door inside him burst asunder. It hurt, it hurt and he welcomed it. Let the man take him, and let him never stop...
When a deep thrust touched a place deep within him, he gasped. It came again, a pleasure that grew deeper, keener. His cock burgeoned once more. His bones melted like flame-eaten candles. He cursed, grasped at the sheets as his world fell apart and there was only the flight toward release, higher, higher. Never stop, never stop... The stranger destroyed him and created him anew, forced truth from the pores of his skin, the truth of what he was, what he always had been. He reached desperately toward the release that came in a violence of agony and bliss, that was glorious, far beyond the simple nuances of pleasure. Again and again it racked him until there was nothing left.
At last he lay still, panting. He was fiercely sore, inner muscles still pulsing with the aftershocks of orgasm. It was wonderful. He said, seeking his voice: “Eru. I do not know what to say to you. What am I supposed to say?”
The man uncoiled from the bed.
“Nothing. Or you can thank me. This is what you wanted, is it not?” Golden waves cascaded past lean hips. Finrod raised himself on one arm, admiring.
“Are you leaving?” He did not want that, or not yet, while (he hoped) his household still slept. The light that dripped through the drapes was still dark silver. Having at last experienced this slaking of his secret hunger, he craved more.
“I am getting wine. I have not,” he threw over one wide shoulder. “finished with you yet. And you are not fully sated, are you?” He picked up the chilled jug, tutted that there was only one glass, and returned with both cup and wine. They shared it. Finrod's throat was dry, swollen.
“You have wonderful eyes.” The stranger traced their arches. “I went to the seashore once; where the waves wash shallow over the sand it is just this colour. Rare among the Noldor.” Turquoise, they said, from Finrod's mother, swan-maiden of AlqualondŽ.
“You said you knew me.” Finrod returned the wine-glass. “That no-one else did.”
Dimples sparked as the faint, lazy smile deepened. “You need to be mastered, Finrod, to be dominated. At least in bed.”
Finrod could not dispute his words. Other faces passed before his mind, ones he had dreamed of. Every dream ended the same way, in a heady welter of longing and confusion and, until now, shame.
“How did you know?” he asked.
The dark brows tilted.
“The same way you knew me.” He drank. “Why am I the first?”
Why indeed? “I am the son of a prince and the eldest,” he said simply. “Certain things are expected of me.”
“And what of the sons of FŽanor? Fingolfin's eldest son, and his daughter? Are certain things not expected of them, too?”
“My father is not FŽanor or Fingolfin. He would not understand.” He added, “It is not a lack of love, rather a failure of understanding.”
The man, still a stranger despite what they had shared, put the wine-cup aside.
“Sometimes they do understand,” he said. “And see reflections of themselves that they are not comfortable with.”
Disconcerted, Finrod shook his head.
“As I said, we who are fashioned this way, we recognise one another.” The man's expression changed. Fires flickered again, burning up in his eyes. “But I will waste no more time in talking.”
By the time Laurelin's golden flowers began to unfurl, Finrod had fallen apart and gathered himself together again and again. He had never imagined that he possessed the passion so apparent in others of FinwŽ's line, thought the fire had only brushed him sidelong, leaving a lingering warmth, no more. The truth was, under the deep pool of stillness, a faÁade woven to protect himself from too-curious eyes, lay this. And this was...
...His eyes bound behind silk, his hands tied, his voice pleading as he knelt. Without sight, his flesh felt every stroke like iron and fire. He did not faint; he was strong, but he came close, falling away from consciousness to be revived by wine at his lips, by kisses, the bite of teeth. His body was a crucible, pain and ecstasy melded together, and he could not separate one from the other. Neither did he want to. He could no longer form coherent thoughts. He only knew that for a while after release he would drift in languor, assuaged, but then would come the desire — again — that fed upon the stranger's mastery of his body. He was made to beg for what he wanted, and did so. Such words passed his lips as he had never dreamed of saying, or not aloud.
When he sank into the great bath, enveloped by scented, steaming water, he wanted to sleep. It was the only way to prolong the experience. He felt long fingers wash his hair, was drawn under the flood of fresh water that rinsed it clean, slicked it against his wet body.
“Can you stay awake?” the man asked amusedly as they walked back to the bedchamber. Finrod smiled, stretched with a hiss of pain, as he surveyed the crumpled bed. The sheets were marked with seed and blood. He stripped them off. He would have to dispose of them. No servant would dare to question him, but rumours would seep from the launderers out into his household, and thence to the city. At this moment he could not bring himself to care, but later he knew he would. He must. He was still Finrod, Finarfin's son, to whom no breath of scandal clung. Not that he thought this was scandalous, he realised, with some astonishment, but others might.
“Such deep thoughts.” A hand came under his chin. There was a smile. “I have slaked myself on you, and could again, and you are thinking of your reputation?”
“And you are not?” Finrod asked with a flash he did not bother to hide. He had hidden so many things until now; there was a delicious freedom in unleashing what he thought and felt. He was still drunk with sex, the demolition of all his barriers. “You come here secretly, through my window, and you have not told me whom you are.”
“I am Vanya,” the man deflected. “And no, I am not thinking of my reputation. But I will respect yours, beauty.” This time the smile was warm. Finrod stared at him without speaking, then his breath caught and he slipped down on the bare bed, wincing.
“The pain will ease.” The stranger reached for his discarded clothes. He had folded them neatly on a chest. These were not the formal robes he had worn in Ilmarin, but still of the finest cloth, boots of velvet-soft doeskin.
“Why?” Finrod asked. “Why me, and not one of your own? It is a long way to come to bed some-one.”
“The Vanyar are...content. Or most of them.” The man drew his hair through the neck of his tunic, shook it loose. “You Noldor...you are proud, and damnably arrogant. Most prefer to dominate, as I do. I did not expect to find one such as you among them. How could I let you pass by, untasted? Oh, you are proud also, sitting there straight-backed, head raised, tired and in pain with my bruises upon you, your eyes like lamps, still begging me for more, as your mouth did, so — many — times.” He leaned over, and Finrod's heart slammed into a gallop. “I could rip your soul from your body with sex, and you would let me.”
The shock ran through Finrod like a downstroke of lightning.
“That is why. The look that invites your own ravishment.” He ran a finger down Finrod's jaw, and even that lightest of touches sent his nerves humming like a harp-string. “Do you know how many Noldor would have shown you what I did? I could even tell you their names. Your folk are rich food for gossip. Too rich, many of the Vanyar would say. And yet you are constrained by who you are. You did not know how to break free. But I came from outside. I am not of Tirion. And you could not say no. Could you?”
The thought of refusal had not so much as flickered across his mind.
“It is so tempting. I could remain here, see just how far I could take you.”
“Yes,” he whispered, dry-mouthed. “Oh, yes.” He slid his hands up the emerald tunic, rising with them as that sleeping demon re-awoke in the cobalt eyes. Finrod thought then that the man would off his clothes and begin it over again, the glory and agony of it. His breath came harsh and shallow through parted lips.
“You really would let me,” the stranger marvelled. He gripped Finrod's neck, pulled him into another kiss that turned him to wax then, with a sigh, let him go.
“But my time has run out — for now.” He turned, walked to the window, sent a smile back across the room and, moving like a great cat, set one hand on the sill, leaped out. Finrod followed him, saw the gold hair flash, then vanish into the deep shadows of the garden.
Finrod thought he would be outwardly changed; that eyes would look at him and know. Perhaps they would, had they known what to look for, but the stranger had been right in saying that no-one truly knew him. He had made sure of that. Even his family saw what they expected to see, thus his faÁade of composure could and did conceal. But he was changed. He looked at people, wondering what they would be like in the bedchamber, if they would give him the same magnificent experience as the stranger. There was a thrill in speculating now, but such things could not go beyond the privacy of his mind. And the stranger did not return to assuage his awoken hungers. Finrod, confused, then annoyed, tried to forget him, and failed. He turned to the contentious politics of Tirion.
His father made a house-guest of AmariŽ and, as the years passed, Finrod formed a friendship with her. Finarfin watched, approved, and spoke to his son of a betrothal.
Finrod felt himself being backed into a corner. With his siblings eschewing marriage, he felt it his duty not to disappoint a father increasingly troubled by the divisions among the Noldor but there was a limit, and Finarfin brought him to it. There was also was the uncomfortable examples of Indis, IngwŽ's sister and AnairŽ, his eldest daughter, both of whom had wed Noldor, both of whom were separated from their husbands. Why would IngwŽ want yet another of his female kin to marry into the House of FinwŽ? As for AmariŽ, she might be a filial daughter, but this situation was surely unfair on her.
She seemed not to care, always poised, delicately serene. Once she had told him that marriage was as much a matter of religion as love among the the Vanyar. The further up the Holy Mountain they dwelt, the greater their status. Every-one aspired to climb it, to come to the Halls of Ilmarin and, at last, even to the feet of ManwŽ and Varda. If they could come to it by marriage, well and good. The Vanyar were not like the Noldor, AmariŽ said, (Finrod knew that) with their minds never still, ever searching. The Vanyar had found what they wanted, and need look no further.
“But then marrying a Noldo,” Finrod said with a quiver of laughter, was surely a demotion in their eyes, moving down and not up?
“Oh—” She raised slim shoulders. “Politics.”
Finrod regarded her. He wondered if indeed all the Vanyar were thus. There were old tales of their lives on Endor that gave the lie to it, though people could change. And then, there was the stranger from the mountain.
When pressed, Finrod could not pretend to be a desirable husband when quite different hungers rampaged through his dreams, when he woke from them, body throbbing with remembered sex. Politely, finally, he told his father that he would not wed.
Finarfin's eyes and voice could have cut the ice of the High Pelori. They would need allies among those close to the Valar, he told Finrod. (Politics) The inevitable argument was private and did not go beyond the chamber, but others noted the coolness between them, after.
And then everything came down in darkness and blood, and Finrod found himself leading his household away from Tirion along the sea-strands of Aman. The last years had brought restlessness to his heart, but even when Melkor's plots were uncovered, it did not decrease. There was no cure for it, and their broken world could not be mended. FinwŽ had been slain, and Valinor could no longer contain the Noldor. Or their vengeance.
Finrod had learned swordplay, but took no part in the battle against the Teleri. They were his mother's kin, and it was one thing to practice for some vague, distant conflict, quite another to see warriors falling to blade and arrow and dagger, red blood pooled on AlqualondŽ's white quays. Perhaps there was no-one in all that host, (save the Oath-driven FŽanorion's) who was not shaken by that encounter, whether they admitted it or no. It seemed as if everything that had been building within the FŽanorions was unleashed upon the Teleri. Fingolfin's people had charged into the battle without a blink, as had Fingon, which action said much, even now, after everything, about love and loyalty.
Seeing his father's horrified face, thinking of his mother, Finrod would not board the stolen swan-ships. He followed the coast, followed Fingolfin, followed when the Doom of the Noldor was pronounced and Finarfin turned back. The prophecy did not daunt him. He would not be threatened; he had sworn no oath neither had his sword let blood. Not yet.
Then came the FŽanorion's betrayal, and the bitter HelcaraxŽ that honed them if it did not slay them. They killed the great white bears for fur, seals for meat, leaned into the wind's cruel teeth as they walked. After, Finrod thought that the fire in their hearts had proved greater than the cold, but the cold was not the true enemy. The HelcaraxŽ was a frozen sea, and it moved. They had not known at first, the sound the ice made as it shifted and cracked under the weight of the host, but they came to dread it, to listen for it even in their brief moments of sleep. The exposed sea was dark as death and colder as it swallowed the unlucky. Some groups were stranded, their islands of white separating, drifting away. Often, thank Eru, they would be carried against thicker, firmer floes where the group could rejoin the march. But not always. Time seemed suspended under stars that were more brilliant than in Valinor, or snow that howled like insanity and struck like whips. The HelcaraxŽ knew only two kinds of weather, and both were savage.
Finrod, like all the leaders, walked up and down the line of his people, his arm around an orphaned youngster, a man whom had lost his wife, a woman her husband. Grief, they came to learn, could kill as surely as the Ice. He encouraged them on step by step as his breath froze on his lips. The intervals of rest were short. They knew they must keep moving. The Ice, they agreed, could not last forever. Morgoth could not cover the whole world with cold.
If he had been proud before, Finrod learned a new pride on that march, for his people, for all the host of Fingolfin, for Fingolfin himself, who lead them and whose eyes, brighter than the northern stars, fixed unerringly upon the East as if he tracked the half-brother he had released and sworn to follow, whom had betrayed him, left him to return in shame to Valinor, or perish.
They were strung out, thousands of them, some forced to break new and perilous paths when the ice failed, yet at each halt Fingolfin would have his silver trumpets blown to call the leaders to his camp. There they would tell over the names of those lost, arrange hunts for skins and food, pick groups of the strongest men and women to guard the edges of the host and (from Fingolfin's people) a vanguard to test the ice. It was at one of these meetings that Finrod learned formally of ElenwŽ's death, though he had not needed to be told. He had felt Turgon's grief. Yet he had not the look of a man who would give up and die. His face was frozen, resolute with hatred against the FŽanorions who had brought them to this pass.
Finrod found himself thinking, as he walked, about the stranger from Ilmarin. That experience was so far removed from this frigid exile that it seemed a dream of desire. He remembered heat (just a memory, now) in him, on him, pain that felt like beauty, ecstasy that took him away, for precious moments, from the brutal cold. His own voice, begging.
When the messengers came back, telling of land, the relief and renewed vigour rippled back through the host of the Noldor like fire. They lifted their heads, quickened their steps until the words were made truth. The earth was cold, treeless under a carpet of dim moss, but firm underfoot, thank Eru, blessedly stable. Finrod could have gone down on his knees and kissed it. He did not. There was no time, yet. His people were the hindmost, and there would be stragglers, there always were.
He trod back onto the ice, his lords at his side. It was clear, the stars glaring down, bright as the eyes of the host. The white waste flashed cruel teeth in a ravenous smile.
You have devoured enough of us, he told it. No more.
The stragglers came singly, in pairs, small groups clinging together. Many laboured under personal possessions from Valinor; more than empty weight, they were memories of the home they had left behind. The wagons that had brought the riches of Tirion to Araman were gone, their wood used as fuel, and there were few horses to pull or bear burdens. Even those who had the forethought to bring grain had not imagined crossing the HelcaraxŽ, and many had sent their mounts back to Valinor rather than see them die.
But there were some. Blankets were fashioned to shield thin hides, the small sacks of grain were shared and the horses, though bred to warmth and light, were as high-hearted as their riders. Fingolfin's mighty Rochallor had proved a survivor, as had Finrod's own stallion.
Beyond the Ice, Finrod could see fires springing up, circles of lamps, tents, but he would not leave until he was sure no more stragglers would come. It had proved impossible, in the storms, to watch every-one.
They joined him, after settling their own camps, Fingolfin, Fingon, Turgon, Aredhel, Finrod's own brothers and sister. Fingolfin laid a hand on his shoulder and gripped it. His face under the stars was harrowed to a blazing beauty that took the breath.
“Uncle,” was all he could say, still somehow ashamed that Finarfin had turned back. Fingolfin was not well-served in his brothers, and Finrod knew that these splits, deadly as the breaking ice, would serve them ill in days to come. They should have come to Endor united. It had seemed, for a while, as if they would.
“Well done,” Fingolfin said simply. “When we are gathered and rested we march south to find my...FŽanor.” South to where they had seen the reflected glow of fire under the clouds, and known the swan-ships burned. Fingolfin's expression was unreadable; it always was when he spoke FŽanor's name or referred to his half-brother in any way. With a sudden rush of love and pity, anger at the Oath, the Doom, the treachery of kin, Finrod said, “I follow you, my Lord, wherever your path leads.”
“You already have.” They walked side by side. “Though why it ever came to this, why he would think me a traitor to his cause, which is mine too, Oath or no...” His teeth snapped together. The stars fell into his eyes, nested there, burning.
Finrod gripped his arm strongly. “He was mad with grief, surely.” He had no desire to make excuses for the inexcusable actions of the FŽanorions; he simply wanted to offer some kind of comfort.
“Yes,” Fingolfin agreed after a moment, but the word was hollow as a black cavern. He went forward, tall and graceful, to help a group of three who came as if in a dream, through the sparkling dark.
Finrod was the last to leave the Ice. There had been no other stragglers for a long time, and he did not think there would be any more now. The boom and crack of the ice floes, still ominous, even now they were on land, formed an eerie counterpoint to the noise from the camp, because the latter sound was hope. There were even voices raised in song and laughter, a harp, a flute. His heart lifted a little in spite of all. The Noldor were resilient. Laying a hand on his breast, he bowed to the souls of those lost and turned away toward the welcoming fires. Then, quickly, he swung back.
They were yet distant, these two trailing figures. One was tall, hooded and cloaked in bulky white fur, who more than half-supported a struggling youngster. Finrod ran to meet them. It was a terrifying thing, going back out. The ice was weakening, he could feel it under his boots, did not dare look down to see the movement of water, dark and hungry, beneath. Though it was barely perceptible, it had been growing milder as they trekked East, the ice breaking with increasing regularity.
The youth's eyes were clawed by shock. When he stumbled, his companion picked him up. He was tall and moved with power, even bundled in furs.
They were half way to the shore when they heard the sound, felt the sickening shift under their feet. A narrow black line opened ahead of them.
“Go on!” Finrod shouted.
They ran. He saw those on the shore surge toward them as cracks spread, the gap widening, and cried at them to Get back! Together they sprinted, the ice unsteady now, moving apart like pieces of a puzzle — and leapt. Finrod felt the water yawning under him like an eager mouth with bitter breath, then his feet touched the other side. But they could not stop. It was like some mad childhood game, jumping from one floe to another, racing death, unable to pause even for a heartbeat. One more...and the sweet touch of solid ground.
The man, his arms still clasped around the boy, landed beside him, neatly tucked a shoulder and rolled. As he came up, his hood fell back. Massed starlight blazed over a spill of filigree-bright hair.
Finrod had not been warm since Araman, He was suddenly hot as flame.
“You?” He groped for words. “Ilķvatar ! How come you here? You are Vanya.” IngwŽ had spoken. None were permitted to leave Valinor to follow the Noldor, even had they wanted to. As far as Finrod knew, none had.
“I did not ask their permission.” A tilt of the head, a long look from those well-remembered blue eyes. He pushed the boy gently into the willing hands that reached out. “As to why I am here —” He glanced past Finrod. There was a space for privacy, and he turned to give the curious crowd his back. “When I saw you I was already restless in Ilmarin. I had been so even before I reached adulthood. My father said I was a throwback to the Vanyar who awoke here in Endor. In that and in...other ways.” A smile etched his mouth. Despite coming so close to death, he was composed as a cat. “I know how it is for the Noldor and the Teleri. You have some freedom, but you are still expected to conform. For the Vanyar there is little but conformity. If a man wishes congress with a man, or a woman with a woman, they must keep it very secret.”
“And so you sought out one of the less...conformable?” Finrod raised his brows coolly against the heat that fisted in his loins.
“I sought out you.” The man's teeth flashed like frost. “And when I returned to my father, we argued. He guessed where I had gone, and to whom. I did not hide my reaction to you well enough. And then, there was AmariŽ.”
“AmariŽ? What has she to do with you?”
“I did not think you should marry, not with your proclivities,” the man said quietly. “But you would not be the first or the last, and if that was what you both wanted, I could not step between you. I did not know, isolated as I was, that you would refuse wedlock, though perhaps I should have guessed. You are not the kind to run in harness, or not outside the bedchamber.” Finrod flushed in delicious shock. The man added, “AmariŽ is my sister.”
“You are IngwŽ's son?” As far as he knew, IngwŽ had only daughters. He tried to remember if he had heard any rumour of a son. He could not. But then if, as the stranger had told him, the Noldor were rich food for gossip, the Vanyar were not, and little news came down from Ilmarin.
“I am his youngest child, born after he removed from Valmar to Ilmarin. Few of the Noldor know me. My father is not...proud of me.” There was nothing in his face, but Finrod felt how saying the words cut him. “AmariŽ is my older sister. She did not know about us, but I promised my father I would stay away from you. For her sake. And then...” He made a gesture that seemed to encompass all that had happened. “I decided I could no longer remain in Valinor. It was either imprison me or let me go.”
“You have been following us all this time?”
“Since Mandos spoke to you. I saw your father turn back.” And then: “I am sorry for that, Finrod.”
After a moment to compress both anger and grief and tuck it away, Finrod nodded.
“He was heartsick.”
“So were you.” The man clasped his arms. “I watched you as you kept your people together.”
“And you were there, ever behind us, helping those we left behind.”
There was a shrug under the fur. “And you came out on ice you knew might break at any moment to help us.”
Finrod stared at him. “Are you going to tell me your name, now?”
The man smiled like white light. “I am Glorfindel.”