A scream sounds through the room. It's the sound of a broken soul. The inhabitants of the palace freeze while the ugly noise echoes through the hallways. The handmaidens hold their breaths, each of them waiting for something to happen. For a moment there's utter silence, before the a wave of grief crashes over them. They look at each other, unsure what to do.
Behind the door the screaming continues, it's only interrupted by crying and wailing.
Finally one of the noble ladies, who offered to assist, steps up and opens the heavy door with care. She braces herself for the worst and disappears inside. When she comes out again, a few minutes later the handmaidens look at her with expectations. She shakes her head on silence.
"The prince is dead," she announces. "Lady Miríel's son died before he could draw his first breath."
The handmaidens don't know what to say. They had known that the pregnancy had been a difficult one. With each day the Queen became weaker and all feared for her life. In the end they had braced for the possibility that Míriel was ready to die for her child.
"If he claims all my strength, I will give it gladly," she said more than once.
Yet none had ever thought of the possibility that Prince Fëanáro would not make it. Not with Queen Míriel's conviction and willingness to lay down her life for her son.
"What happens now?" one of the younger ones dares to ask.
"Leave them alone," the oldest orders. "Let them grief for their son."
"We can try again," Finwë offers at some point.
It's surprising that Míriel still has enough strength left to slap him.
"Curufinwë, it's good to see you," Míriel says.
"Thank you, mother," is her son's response and she is pleased to see that he wears his pale grey hair with pride. The face is entirely his fathers, but the eyes and the hair are hers.
"How do you far today?" Curufinwë asks as he sits down beside her bed. "I'm sorry that I haven't been able to come by in the last weeks. The preparations of the wedding are stressful, I'm afraid."
"I forgive you, my dear. I can entertain myself," Míriel says and points at her embroidery work. She has put it aside for the moment, but Curufinwë can tell that it's a larger work.
No doubt it will be magnificent once it's finished.
"I've wanted to ask you for quite a while, mother. Will you attend the wedding?"
Curufinwë knows the answer already, but he's duty bound to ask anyway. Besides, it gives them something to talk about. The relationship with his mother has always been strained, always been soured by the brother he never knew and the fact that Míriel only gave birth again in order to gift Finwë with an heir.
"Curufinwë, you know very well that I won't," Míriel reprimands him.
She's still a formidable woman and the Queen. On paper at least. The truth is that she hadn't made a public appearance in ages. Rather she prefers to stay inside, tend to her own work and lose herself in fantasies.
She sniffs, "I can't believe you ask me to attend to wedding, where that woman will be present as well. Including her brood, Curufinwë. No, I will not give Indis the pleasure of acknowledging her or her children."
The prince sighs. He suspected as much and in a way he's glad that his mother hasn't left her house in the last three hundred years. Otherwise his life would be far more complicated. No doubt that his mother would do her best to go after his step-mother then, something she lacks the strength to do so.
"I'm aware that you bear no love for Lady Indis, but please keep in mind that I love my sibling," Curufinwë says.
"Well, as long as I never have to meet the usurpers, you and your father may do as you like," Míriel says.
With these words she dismisses her son and takes up her work again. It's useless to remain any longer, Míriel is lost in her own little world when she sews, so he gets up and flees the room. In front of the house a servant has been tending to his horse and Curufinwë can say that he's glad to be gone. Lórien is a beautiful and peaceful place, but Queen Míriel's home is cold and dead. Full of memories that never happened.
Curufinwë shudders as he walks by a picture that shows his older brother, how he might have looked like, had he survived.
"Sometimes I wonder how my life had looked like with you in it," Curufinwë mumbles.
There very least his parents would've bothered to gift him with his own name and not the one of the child they lost. Recently he has taken to calling himself Nolofinwë. His father wasn't happy, but as long as Míriel never learns his attempts to free himself from his brother's shadows, he tolerated Curufinwë's actions.
I will announce that my name will be Nolofinwë and I will use it from the day I'm wedded, he decides. If there's something he despised more than his mother's apathy, than it's reminders how his parents simply tried to replace the child they lost. He wonders, would have they treated me differently, had I been as female?.
As he's leaving Lórien, Nolofinwë imagines that he's being followed.
He knows the voice that is laughing in his ear. It belongs the strange face he sees in the mirror sometimes.
He has never told anyone of the shadow that follow is him. The reputation of the mad Queen is mad enough, he doesn't need rumours that he's afflicted as well. First he thought nothing of it, children do have imaginary friends. Thankfully his spirit always told him not to tell anyone of their friendship, when he was younger. Hence he spend years playing and discussing with himself. It had to be himself, since the other boy said his name is Curufinwë too.
The older he got, the more he expected Curufinwë to vanish one day.
But he keeps seeing him in mirrors, meets him in dreams and hears his whispers in his mind.
By now he has gotten used to it and it would frighten him if Curufinwë would suddenly leave him, never to return.
Have no fear, Nolo. I won't ever leave you, Curufinwë whispers as he rides back to Tirion.
Nolofinwë believes it. His mother resides in a fantasy world and his father is more interest in getting Indis' belly round than taking care of his people. His brother's words are the only ones he can rely on.
He holds his son in his arms for the first time and there's no greater joy. Nolofinwë stares down at Findekáno with tears in his eyes. Of course he supported his wife through her entire pregnancy, but until they placed the child into his hands, he had not quite believed that this was happening to him.
"I love you," Nolofinwë chokes out. He doesn't know what to do with the intensity that overwhelms him. "I love you so much little one."
His wife smiles, glad to see her stoic husband showing so much emotions. A part of her had feared that his history with the death of his older brother would have an impact, but after Nolofinwë chased the King and Queen Regent away, things had been easier. She relaxes. Life will be hectic with a child in the house, but her misgivings that the prince would keep his distance and not be involved in raising his child were unfounded.
Given how the King had handled the prince childhood, she thought her worries justified. It counts for something that every Noldo adored the prince. His siblings are showered with love and affection regardless of their lineage. For they all know that he doesn't get much from his own parents.
With him it will be different, his wife thinks and leans back in her pillows. He will make a good king one day.
Years pass by and Findekáno is the spitting image of his father. Grey hair, though it's darker than Nolofinwë's. Everyone adores the sweet child. Only Queen Míriel throws a fit when she sees him. She complains that her grandchild hasn't been named after the tradition. In the end she gets so loud and vicious that Nolofinwë decides not to bring Findekáno for a visit ever again.
But he can see that his mother is right. Indis fell in love with his father in his youth and dubbed him with the name Aracáno. As a sign of a new relationship between them and as symbol that she doesn't want to take his place as his mother. She didn't, she never was. But she became a friend nonetheless, an advisor with kind words whenever the King and the Queen were fighting again.
He should have named Findekáno with -finwë something, but he can't bring himself to it.
Míriel suggested Nelyafinwë - to ensure that everyone remembers that Findekáno is the heir and not the golden haired boy Findis gave birth to six months ago.
It's revolting. To do such thing to your own child, Curufinwë comments, his voice clear as ever when Nolofinwë is visiting Lórien. Though only, when they are far away enough from Míriel. He never asked if Curufinwë does not wish to see his mother or if Míriel is as mad as he is. Seeing ghosts and believing that they are true.
"Will you watch out for him?" Nolofinwë asks. "I can't always be there for him, no matter how much I wish."
Of course, I have watched you when you were young. I can do it for your son as well. For any children you might sire, Curufinwë says.
Nolofinwë can't see his brother, but he knows Curufinwë is smiling.
Don't trust him, are the first words Curufinwë hisses into his ears, when the Valar announce Melkor's unchaining. Don't trust a word he says. Don't let your children near him.
Nolofinwë agrees and eyes Finwë's interactions with Melkor with suspicion. It doesn't take long for him to see what his brother means. Melkor is a little bit too agreeable. A bit too eager to tell the King what he wants to hear. He speaks about secret craftwork that Aulë hasn't revealed yet. Yet far more he suggests the possibility to dissolve Finwë's marriage with Míriel.
That above all else causes Nolofinwë to be careful. Speaking in public about the topic that the entire Noldorin society used to whisper about behind close doors is a warning sign.
The King should know better, but all Nolofinwë has to do is look his father into his eyes to realize that it's a lost case. His love for Indis and the thought of finally being able to marry her blinds him too much.
Are you sure the calculations are correct?
Curufinwë floats over his notes, carefully inspecting Nolo's studies. Whenever he needs a page to be turned wind from the open window arranges the paper just the way Curufinwë wants them to. He never questioned the circumstances of Curufinwë's existence. There's always a rational explanation that explains Nolofinwë's situation. Even now, centuries spend with a spirit at his side no one else can see, he isn't quite sure if Curufinwë is real. Or if he just keeps daydreaming about the elder brother he lost.
"Your are free to study them," Nolofinwë offers and turns the page of his book.
He's a good craftsman, but many ideas are Curufinwë's. Often they sit on projects together, arguing and discussing the best possible solution. It has lead to many interesting discoveries over the years, though Nolofinwë often leaves it at publishing theories. He's not that talented with his hands unless Curufinwë is there to guide him.
It's an interesting concept, harnessing the light of the Two Trees, Curufinwë tells him. He turns his head towards his brother. Groundbreaking even. Why have you never mentioned it before?
"While the concept itself it interesting, I'm not quite sure what kind of vessel is needed in case the idea is ever realized," Nolofinwë explains. He has noticed that some things elude the spirit. For instance how mortal boundaries can affect a person and their decisions. Like the difference between falling asleep on a chair over a desk or resting in a comfortable bed. "My main reason for writing down the idea was a concern a farmer brought to me a while ago. He wanted to know if the Two Trees have a natural life span, like all things do."
And? Curufinwë questions.
Nolofinwë shrugs. "The Valar are not very forthcoming with answers. Yet I have every intention of further studying the topic. Can you imagine what would happen if the natural resources and the ideal conditions the Valar provide us ever run out? Do we live in bliss right now only to face hunger and darkness in a few centuries?"
I see, Curufinwë murmurs , do you mind if I study this a bit more?
"Go ahead," Nolofinwë says. "I'd love to hear what you have to say on this topic anyway before I bring the matter to Findekáno."
Many years later Nolofinwë finds himself standing on the shore of a new land. It has been a difficult journey, but he tells himself it's worth it. Beleriand is far rougher than Aman ever will be, but there's something honest about it. Recently he hadn't been able to stand the sight of Tirion anymore. The King has finally degreed he'd make Indis his wife. It left Findis and himself in an awkward position. Now it's likely his younger sister has now become the heir since the King objected against his oldest son leaving the Blessed Realm at first and later banned him from ever setting a foot into Aman again. Strange that this was the only topic the King and his estranged Queen agreed upon.
At least Findis has a good head on her shoulders and agreed to keep an eye on failing crops and Melkor's machinations.
We can be grateful that Beleriand doesn't interest him as much as agonizing Manwë, Nolofinwë thinks.
Unlike many times before, Curufinwë doesn't answer. Hasn't for quite a while now. Nolofinwë can't pinpoint when it happened, but in the last years there have been no whispers in his mind, no tricks of light and no dreams either.
It unsettles him. He feels bereft, cold and empty inside.
Weren't it for the desire of his people to see new lands, a longing he woke centuries ago by speeches, paintings and thoughts, then he'd love to do nothing more than turn around immediately and return to Aman.
Is losing his brother worth the new freedom they found in Beleriand?
The new lands are incredible and exciting. Findekáno accepts Beleg's offer to be his guide with good spirits. Beleriand host dangers they have never encountered in Aman. Rougher weather, colder winters and scorching summers for instance. Animals are less likely to respond to the touch of the mind and are more prone to attack an Elf than greet him as a friend. There are also other races, people Findekáno has never seen before.
Dwarves, small sturdy people that live beneath stone and build wonderful monuments.
Ents, walking trees with deep voices and eternal wisdom. Who can talk about the colour of a single leaf for three days.
Men, strange short lived creatures in possession of bright beautiful minds. They have young Findaráto up in fits, to his mother's unfortunate realization. She seems unable to reign in her youngest boy, whenever it comes to topic of the Edain. More than once she stopped him from sneaking out of the camp. Shaking her hand and wringing her hands in fright that something could happen to Ingoldo.
As the oldest Findekáno promised to keep an eye out, but he also knows that Findaráto plans to build a city where all races can live in peace right next each other.
"What is up there in the North?" Findekáno asks Beleg on one of their journeys. "We have never been beyond the mountains so far."
It took long to convince Olwë to build enough ships to carry the most Noldor east. Only the prospect of receiving news from his kin made him relent. In the end they arrived at the Isle of Balas and spread out from there. Círdan's kindness involved granting them to live and build on Balas and at the mouth of Sirion. He claimed that he lived further north with his people and didn't need so much space for himself. Elu Thingol was more reluctant, but had been convinced at the argument that more ports in the south are a reasonable investment. Especially if the Noldor built the new cities themselves.
"We rarely travel past the Mountains, only to keep an eye out on the people living there," Beleg answers. He seems unsettles, but Findekáno is curious. He has yet to decided, where he will take up residence and as far as he can tell the North has far less populace than the South.
"People?" Findekáno wants to know. "More of our kin?"
Beleg shrugs. "We are not sure. They are strange. There used be black monsters, twisted souls of our kin. Then they stopped coming and in the last millennia they have grown more civilised. My Queen guesses that they have a new ruler and whatever foul magic trapped our kin is slowly dispersing."
"How curious," Findekáno murmurs.
Since Elu Thingol is a stubborn bastard it takes while until Findekáno is allowed to settle in Hithlum. The King of Doriath still sees himself as Highking of Beleriand. Though he rarely leaves his forest. It had taken Denethor, King of the Nandor, supporting Nolofinwë to end the very frustrating negotiations.
Findekáno regrets it that King Denethor lives so far away. The Elf is a far more reasonable person than the eccentric Elwë. But it's also obvious, why the King of Doriath was once friends with Finwë. They are both irritable and stubborn hot-heats.
Turukáno fits well into Doriath court - hence the reason why Findekáno dragged his younger brother with him. With every intention to keep him far away and very busy. Thankfully Turukáno is ecstatic to be the architect of an entire city. It should distract him for the next centuries and by the time Nevrast is finished, Elenwë will be pregnant.
"Such a sour expression on such a beautiful face, I had not thought this is possible," a voice demands his attention.
Findekáno swirls around hand at his sword, but he stops in his tracks, when he spots the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. It's tall, broad shouldered and his eyes are drawn immediately to the flaming hair. At first he thinks it's a trick of the light. Then Findekáno realizes that the red hair that is so long that it's trailing over the ground, sparking flames.
"H-ello," Findekáno stutters as he notices that the person is front of him is ... naked.
The flames surrounding the body are hiding it, but he is staring at a big pair of round, perfect breasts. The bare shoulders and general lack of clothing barely register.
The creature comes closer, possessing more grace than Findekáno could have ever managed himself.
"I hope, I have not frightened you too much?" the creature asks and bends down until their noses brush. "I have seen you around before and had been curious what are you doing so close to my home."
"My name is Findekáno, I have recently settled with my people in Hithlum. I didn't know we had neighbours to be concerned about," the elven prince says, trying to keep his eyes at the appreciate level.
Though it's impossible not to notice the breasts pressing against his chest. Though a naked woman he could deal with, what confuses him is the fact that creature seems to be half man as well.
Heat, lust and fascination almost cause him to miss the answer he's giving.
"Oh, I'm Maitimo, Marchwarden of Lands beyond these mountains," the creature says. If it notices Findekáno's plight over the naked form or his confusion about the announced gender despite the impressive cleavage it's sprouting, than it ... he doesn't comment on it.
Instead Maitimo grins cheerfully and drags Findekáno to a far more comfortable spot.
The fact that he doesn't wear even an inch of clothing doesn't help his composure at all. Especially in the light of the flames that are licking at Maitimo's skin without harming him, turning him into the most perfect creature Findekáno has ever laid eyes on ... and he's any Vala and Maia he has ever met in Aman. Not even Varda comes close, because the Gods always possessed a cold kind of beauty. Unnatural white skin, expressionless eyes as if they had been carved from stone.
Maitimo is everything but that.
He - or she, Findekáno isn't entirely sure about that - is alive.
Just as he thinks about asking Maitimo to put some clothing on, Findekáno is pulled into the grass. He's blushing and stuttering as if he's an innocent elfling, but then Maitimo is touching him. Clever hands travel over his body and then the heat blows any sense or reason away.
When they're done Findekáno lies in the grass, one arm thrown over his face in the attempt to hide the fact he's still panting. He's done, spent in a way he has never been before all Maitimo is not even out of breath. The red-haired spirit is right next to him, playing with his hair.
"So you're a shape-shifter?" Findekáno finally has the breath to ask.
"I thought we had covered this before?" Maitimo seems amused. He's male now, almost human, but his hair is still glowing in an unnatural light. "I recall that you were very vocal at your discovery what you found between my legs."
It's a surprise that he has enough blood left to blush bright red, but what Maitimo says is true. They have firmly tested out what shape or form Maitimo can take.
"Yes, I know what," Findekáno protests, aware that Maitimo is teasing him, but he can't help himself. The presence still a bit overwhelming. "I wanted to be sure, you know. Let's call it scientific curiosity."
Maitimo laughs and it might be the most beautiful sound Findekáno has ever heard.
"Well, yes. I can shape my hröa in various ways," Maitimo explains and shifts from male to female in the blink of an eye. He's still the same person, only the features are slightly different. "We are fire spirits, my family and I, and since we don't wish to harm the living by exposing them to our innermost nature father found a way to create bodies for us."
A ripple goes through Maitimo. Now he's burning again, his light takes up the entire clearing and Findekáno cannot breathe. Out of an entire different reason. This goes beyond lust, beyond appreciation.
Maitimo is just ... mesmerizing. Complete and perfect, in a manner Findekáno hadn't thought possible.
A makes a strangled sound and Maitimo's laugh almost kills him right then and there.
Stars, he thinks, how do I explain this to my wife?
He received a letter from his son, stating that he had to ride north immediately. Nolofinwë worried, because it sounded urgent and did not specify any further. It's not one of his habits to fret over his children. He raised them all to be self-insufficient and they rarely needed his help anymore. But given the fact that they arrived in Beleriand not even three decades ago, he's allowed to panic a little. Thankfully he had already been in Doriath, when the hawk found him. Thingol isn't the easiest conversationalist, but Arafinwë and Eärwen are busy building Sirion and they need to know more about their Sindar kin.
The relationship is a bit strained, the Sindar of Doriath refuse to learn Quenya, something the people outside the girdle had no problem with. Nolofinwë is aware that the Men and the Dwarves have already adapted to Sindarin. Out of the simple reason that it's the more common language. Between the Eldar he hoped it's only be polite if their kin learn the basics at least.
He can hardly demand his people to give up their native language.
A voice of reason tells him it's a gradual process. It sounds a bit like Curufinwë, but Nolofinwë knows that this only wishful thinking. The more time he spend in Beleriand, the more he becomes aware how much space Curufinwë had taken up in his head.
He misses him. Dearly so, but by now Nolofinwë wonders if Aman reputation as the Blessed Realm had done something to his mind. Had allowed him to live out a fantasy he dreamed up as lonely child.
At least he never has to be called Curufinwë again. After his marriage most of the Noldor had dropped the habit and by now only his siblings remember that accursed name.
When he arrives in Hithlum, his son's residence is still a city of tents. The first solid houses made of stone are reserved for practical purposes. It's plain and clear that Findekáno has no intention of leaving anytime soon. The people spread out, they are busy cooking, baking and taking care of young children. Some are decorating their tents as he rides through the maze.
A young boy comes running and offers to take his horse away. He says that Lord Nolofinwë has more pressing matters in mind?
Yes, he has. When he reaches his son's temporary home, Nolofinwë is fretting. There has to be reason, why he has been summoned to Hithlum.
Most of the tension bleeds out, when he spots Ereinion. His grandson is still a child, born a few years before they set out from Aman. But he's old enough by now to be aware of his surroundings and he treats every new place, new person or discovery as an adventure. Findekáno worries a lot he might come to harm, so it can't be this dire when he allows Ereinion to run around without supervision.
His grandson is currently chattering with a stranger as the boy spots him.
"Dearada!" Ereinion screams and runs across the clearing. He jumps into Nolofinwë's arms and shrieks as he's swirled around.
"Singing Gods, you have grown so much since I saw you last," Nolofinwë moans in mock horror. "Soon you will be taller than me, which means no more piggy rides for you."
"Well, that's sad, grandfather. But I have made new friend who is soo huge that I can ride his back no matter how big I get," Ereinion says and takes Nolofinwë's hand in order introduce them.
Nolofinwë expects a Sindar or one of Edain.
Certainly not one of the tallest Elves he has ever seen. He blinks, unsure if he's imaging it, but no matter how he stares, he flaming hair won't go away.
"Father, may I introduce you to Maitimo, Marchwarden of Nárwendor?" Findekáno interrupts, clearly expecting his father's befuddled expression.
"My pleasure?" Nolofinwë tries to be polite, but it's difficult not to stare.
The spirit, who is sitting languishing in front of Findekáno's tent glows ... and is also one of the most beautiful people he has ever laid eyes on.
He's also very naked, only the mass of his strange hair and a pair of short trousers hide the bare necessities. Or well, the cloth attempts to cover Lord Maitimo's genitalia. As the spirit stands up to greet Nolofinwë it becomes obvious that the denim barely covers what it hides beneath.
"Don't you get cold?" Nolofinwë tries to salvage the situation as he introduces himself.
"I don't feel the cold as the Eldar do." Maitimo smiles. "My body runs hotter than yours."
It has the fondness of an indulgent father, which is easier to bear than the seductive grin he send in Findekáno's direction. Who gets bright red. Nolofinwë watches in fascination how his son stutters and tries to avert his gaze. His red ear-tips make the task impossible.
"If we can provide you with a tunic, please say so," Nolofinwë offers. What he hopes to get across is the plea that Lord Maitimo should bloody ask for a tunic. Please.
The little thing around Lord Maitimo's waist is more distracting and revealing than carrying out it's intended function.
"I will, Prince Nolofinwë," Maitimo says and offers him his hand.
It's a gesture the Edain use and as far as greeting go, Nolofinwë thinks there can be worse than being able to judge a person by its handshake. Maitimo's grips is surprisingly strong, which makes him wonder if the nudity act might only a distraction.
Only what comes next, surprises him.
"We have been waiting for you. My father is desperate to see." Since Nolofinwë only raises an eyebrow, Maitimo adds, "He's the of the Ruler of Narwendor, King Phayanâro and the Spirit of Fire, Lord of the Lost Souls and Defeater of Sauron, the Enslaver."
An image forms in Nolofinwë's mind. He's certain it's Maitimo's doing, but he can't help but chase after the vision. Behind his eyes he sees a figure, striking and regal. Fire surrounds him, but it's far more powerful and threatening than Maitimo's. Compared to the King, the son is a mere bonfire and the small glimpse of Phayanâro's true face is almost more than Nolofinwë can take.
Come to me, he hears the King say. It might be a plea or a command, but all that matters is that the voice rings true, wide and everlasting.
Nolofinwë blinks and he's back in Hithlum. Standing in Findekáno's camp, where the Noldor laugh and talk about building a new life. Everything seemed so normal before, but now he has other matters at hand. It's impossible for him to seek out Turukáno and ask how the plans are coming along. Visit Elenwë and greet his daughter-in-law, who decided to conceive as soon as the first permanent settlement stands.
"Curufinwë," Nolofinwë whispers and looks at Maitimo with wide hopeful eyes. Asking, pleading for answers. "Where is he? I need to see him."
He ignores Findekáno's confused gaze. All that matters is the faint, very faint whisper in his ears. The echo of a shadow that seem to trail along in Maitimo's presence.
His chest burns and Nolofinwë knows he'll go North.