Findis woke one morning to find a poem pinned to her window. The edges were curled from the rain that had fallen last night, but the ink had not run.
She took it down, curious. Who would have left something like that outside? Doubtless it was not intended for her to read, but she turned it over nonetheless.
To Findis Finwiel, the outside read, in loopy handwriting.
Well. Perhaps it was for her.
She unfolded it a little and read the first line, then unfolded it further.
And very quickly refolded it, heat spreading across her face.
"Oh, Eru," she muttered, shaking her head. What was she supposed to do with this?
Her sister was the only one at the breakfast table when Findis finally came downstairs, which was fortunate – she did not think that she could have explained the color in her cheeks to her brothers or parents.
Irimë took one look at her and set her bowl down, raising an eyebrow. "Something happen, Findis?"
"I – yes, it seems so." Findis held up the paper, still folded. "Someone left me a – well, it looks like a love poem, but I can't be entirely sure, and it certainly reads like a very impassioned one if it – if that's what it—"
"Read it aloud," Irimë suggested, and Findis shook her head with enough force to dislodge a hairpin or two. Understanding dawned across her sister's face. "Oh, it's that kind of poem."
"That kind of poem," Findis echoed.
"And it's definitely for you?"
She wondered if she should be insulted by the fact that Irimë had even asked that. "It's got my name on the outside."
"Huh." Irimë looked suitably impressed. "A real love poem? With descriptions of beauty and desire and—"
"Yes," Findis snapped, not sure she wanted to know how her little sister knew so much about love poems. "But who would have left something like this pinned where – where anyone could have seen?"
Irimë blinked at her thoughtfully. "Well, it's not as if anyone could have seen it. Doesn't your window look out on the garden?"
"Oh." Findis pushed away from the table, shoving the paper into her pocket. "The garden. Do you think—"
"Footprints?" Irimë stood as well, wiping her mouth on a napkin. "Let's go see."
There was no sign of anyone in the garden. A footpath ran directly under Findis' window, and though a few of the shells that lined it had been pushed out of place, Irimë concluded that Arafinwë was likely to blame for those, given that he had been playing around here yesterday.
"You could ask him if he saw anything," she suggested brightly, and Findis shook her head emphatically.
"I do not want to involve my little brother in this."
"You seem to have no qualms about involving your younger sister, though."
"You're nearly of age," Findis protested. "And you're eager to help, anyways."
Irimë shrugged. "I need something to pass my time. Since this course of investigation seems to have failed, can I read the poem?"
"But if I could analyze the subject matter and writing style—"
"I said no."
In the end, she let Irimë read it, if only to get her to shut up.
"Eru, Irimë, can you let it go?"
Her sister grinned. "Someone wrote that about you, Findis."
Findis shook her head helplessly. "I can't imagine someone thinking these things about me. Petal-soft lips and eyes like jewels on the fabric of night and the bits about my—" She cleared her throat, heat prickling across her face again. At this rate, her face would be permanently red. "You know."
"Your breasts?" Irimë poked her shoulder, teasing. "The softness, the loveliness, the yearning—"
"Shut up." Findis swatted her hand away. "I just wish I knew who sent it."
"We can figure that out." Irimë snatched the note from her hands again and pressed it to her nose, inhaling deeply. "Lilac," she proclaimed, eyes half-closed. "Or roses, maybe. Definitely Vanyar perfume, though. Nerdanel goes more for sandlewood." She waved the paper around. "Pretty good quality – not artist paper, though. Definitely for writing on."
"Thank you," Findis snapped, taking the poem back. "If you're done investigating the paper, maybe we'd better—"
"Have you run a handwriting analysis?"
"Irimë, this isn't—"
"Because I think Amarië is good at that sort of thing—"
"I don't need you to involve the entirety of Tirion in a search for my secret admirer."
Irimë tilted her head to one side, the picture of innocence. "Don't you want to know who it is?"
"Of course I do, but—" Findis groaned, burying her face in her hands. "I don't want everyone to know about it."
"Well, if you don't want me to ask around for help, there's only one thing to do."
Findis looked up. There was a distinctly mischievous gleam in her sister's eyes, one that she recognized from several disastrous childhood escapades. "Why am I getting a bad feeling about this, Irimë?"
Her sister grinned, throwing her arms wide. "A poetry contest! For a dance with the fairest lady in Tirion!"
"—we'll be wanting to provide refreshments, of course – something simple. Invite a few of the Teleri over? It's not a party if you don't have the Alqualondë elves up here. Ooh, maybe we'd better make it a masquerade, to encourage your mysterious admirer to show up. In a mask, you know?"
"You'll notice, Irimë, that I still haven't agreed to this."
"And Nolofinwë can bring that girl he's been mooning over for the past year – Anairë, right? It's time the two of them got a move on, it's clear they're head-over-heels for each other, even despite those rumors of her and Eärwen—"
"Remind me again why my little sister is playing matchmaker to both of her older siblings?"
"Because the two of you are too cautious to ever get anything done." Irimë rolled up her sleeves. "Leave it to me, Findis. I'll figure out who your lady lover is."
Surprisingly, Nolofinwë seemed willing to go along with his little sister's plan when Findis confronted him, leaving her with no option but to turn to her considerably smaller brother for help in dissuading Irimë.
"A dance?" Arafinwë asked once she had spilled the news of Irimë's plan (though she said nothing about the poem.) He tugged on the end of his braid thoughtfully. "Why so suddenly, Findis?"
"It's – Irimë has some kind of irrational plan to – never mind why," Findis groaned. "She's not listening to me, but I thought you could talk some sense into her." She had no idea why her headstrong little sister tended to heed the soft council of her quieter and smaller brother, but such was life.
"Was this the mysterious masquerade she was talking about?"
Findis nodded. "Yes, that's the one."
"The one to win a dance with the fairest girl in Tirion?"
"...well, those were her words, but – yes."
Arafinwë nodded. "Oh, that one. She's already sent the invitations out, you know."
Findis cornered her sister coming back into the house, a sheaf of unsent invitations clutched in one hand. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Setting you up very romantically with someone dedicated enough to send you poetry. No need to thank me, I'm doing this out of the goodness of my heart." She thrust the invitations at Findis. "Make yourself useful and run these down to Nerdanel's? Our dear half-brother always liked you better, so maybe he won't kick you off his doorstep immediately."
Findis took them instinctively, turning them over in her hands. Officially stamped paper, probably stolen from their father's study. "You made these this afternoon?" Something on the invitations caught her eye; she looked closer. "The dance is tomorrow?"
Irimë smiled brightly. "Nothing like spur of the moment inspiration for poets, I believe. These creative types tend to procrastinate, and we can't give your admirer time to think too much, can we? A nice, solid deadline is a good thing."
Findis buried her face in her hands.
The night of the party came despite Findis' attempts to forestall the utter foolishness of Irimë's plan. Her protests nonwithstanding, she did end up selecting a nice dress from her closet, though the sky was silver with Telperion's light by the time Findis allowed herself to be coaxed out by Irimë's increasingly frantic knocks at her door.
Her sister took one look at her blue silk gown and gasped.
"What?" Findis asked, irritated.
"That's absolutely perfect," Irimë said simply, holding out a feathered mask for her – light blue, scattered with small white gems. "I knew you'd pick blue, anyway. You always do."
"How many people ended up coming?" Findis asked, accepting the mask and slipping the band over her head.
Irimë shrugged breezily. "Oh, a few."
"I can't imagine there are that many poets in Tirion, especially not available on a single day's notice."
"Well, Anairë brought a few friends, and whenever Eärwen comes you can count on a whole court of Alqualondë following. Turned into quite the social event, this little poetry contest did. And I'm not even sure how many poets actually ended up coming. One or two, I think." Irimë lowered her own mask – silver and red, to match her dress. "Shall we go downstairs, dear sister?"
There were quite a few more than a few people at the dance, as Findis discovered when she came downstairs. A group of Telerin elves were kicking up a din in the corner with some instruments, and a good number of distant acquaintances and friends-of-friends had apparently decided to show up.
It was very loud, even without the music. Irimë disappeared into the crowd, waving cheerfully over her shoulder at Findis, who decided that standing behind the nearest potted plant and avoiding conversation was an excellent tactic.
She was just considering maneuvering through the crowd to get something to drink when someone tapped her on the shoulder.
Half-expecting it to be Irimë coming to bother her for being antisocial, she turned. It was not, in fact, her little sister. The stranger was taller than her, with golden hair bound back behind a red mask emblazoned with a hawk's visage. Her dress was a brilliant scarlet, sewn through with small jewels, and there was a sheaf of parchment paper stuck through her sash.
"Do I know you?" Findis blurted out.
"Perhaps." The stranger's voice was low and melodious, and when she extended her hand Findis found herself taking it unthinkingly. "Do you wish to dance?"
"Oh—" Findis yelped as she was pulled out onto the dance floor. The musicians struck up a lively tune, and the stranger's arms were about her as she clumsily twirled, trying to remember the steps that she was fairly sure she'd learned at one point.
The stranger was effortlessly graceful as she spun Findis across the floor, skirt swirling in perfect time to the music. Doubtless she looked even more elegant beside the bumbling movements of her partner, who recalled just then that she had not, in fact, danced since her coming-of-age ceremony. Findis' face was bright red under her mask, which now felt uncomfortably tight.
"I'm sorry," she stammered as the music slowed. "I'm simply awful—"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that." The stranger drew her closer as the musicians broke into a slow waltz. Findis felt heat rush up and down her body as the stranger's hands settled against her waist. When she leaned in, she smelled lilac and roses.
Oh. Realization dawned on her, and she had to resist the urge to turn around and look for Irimë.
Under guise of settling against the stranger in the rhythm of the dance, she reached down and plucked the sheaf of parchment she had noted earlier.
"Well, what could this be?" she murmured into the stranger's ear, and was gratified to feel her stiffen, steps faltering slightly.
"Ah—" The stranger cleared her throat, and managed to make even that sound elegant. "Well, you see—"
"I was told," Findis continued, fighting back the smile twitching at the corners of her mouth, "that my sister was holding a poetry contest for a dance with me. Seems a pity to give away the prize without reading the submission, no?"
The stranger drew back, the blue eyes behind her mask glinting, then halted and inclined her head slightly. "It will be familiar to you, Findis, given that it is the same one I left on your windowsill. Did that one please you?"
"It was fair enough," Findis said, smile widening.
That was definitely amusement in those eyes, visible even behind the mask. "Forgive me if I am used to more lavish praise for my poetry. It was fair, you say?"
Findis hummed a noise of agreement, pleased. "More than. You know, you could have saved us all this trouble if you had simply signed your work."
"I have been told that I have a flair for the dramatic," the stranger admitted ruefully. "It is more fun that way, don't you think?"
"Irimë will be pleased to know that her scheme to draw you out succeeded."
"No one has drawn me out save you," the stranger replied, and Findis felt a strange shiver all down her spine. "I am Elemmírë, poet and lover of all that is beautiful – including the eldest daughter of Indis, if it please you."
Findis laughed and pulled Elemmírë into motion again. "It pleases me, indeed. We can begin by finishing this dance I owe you."