One of Findis' first memories was from her earliest youth, of her mother's hands curled around the edges of her cradle, face ringed with a halo of golden hair. She was singing an ancient Vanyarin lullaby, lilting notes dropping from the sky and into Findis' open hands. The light streaming in from above was luminous silver and shining gold, the moment frozen in Findis' memory and returned to again and again until the edges were well-worn and familiar, like the softened lines of an old drawing.
For a good deal of her childhood, Indis was Laurelin incarnate – how else to explain the way any room she entered seemed to brighten as if in response to the sound of her step? And when Findis buried her face in her mother's hair and inhaled, she smelled like the Mingling, softened light blurring the harsh lines of the world.
By the age of ten, Findis had decided that her mother was the most beautiful woman in the entirety of Arda.
She followed Indis whenever she could, a dark-haired shadow permanently attached to the hem of the elaborate dresses her mother always wore. Indis was patient, slowing her pace to match that of her daughter's, carrying the tired child up flights of stairs when her exhaustion finally overcame her stubbornness.
To her, it was absolutely unimaginable that anyone could hate her mother. When whispers trailed them in the streets, she held her head high as her mother did, pretending that they spoke of how lovely the queen was, how striking her daughter was. And perhaps some even had.
(By the time she was old enough to sit at her mother's side in council, the malicious whispers had all but vanished in the light of Indis' smile, but looking back, she recognized the hatred for what it had been – and still could not understand how it was possible.)
"Why doesn't Fëanáro like me, ammë?"
Her mother set down the bowl she had been mixing dough in, frowning. "What makes you think he doesn't?"
Findis chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully, running her hands through the smooth flour on the baking board. "He never wants to talk to me. Or let me follow him. Is it only because he's so much older?"
She caught the flash of sorrow that crossed her mother's face. "I wouldn't say only, but perhaps in part."
"Sometimes––" Findis' face broke into a half-smile. "Sometimes, though, he shows me what he's been working on. He made a – a twisty thing, ammë, with little colored beads in it, so when you looked through it all you could see were rainbows." She looked down at her hands, drawing swirls in the white flour with a fingertip, and did not tell her mother that her half-brother had followed this demonstration by snapping at her for being clumsy and driving her out of his workshop. "If I had a little sister..."
When she looked up, her mother's hands had fallen still, and she was regarding her with a strange expression on her face. "What would you do, Findis?"
"I'd..." She shrugged, nearly dazzled into speechlessness by the possibilities. "I'd let her follow me around. Tell her stories about anything she wanted. Make her things – they wouldn't be so pretty, but I don't think she'd mind."
Indis set down the bowl and knelt beside her, reaching up to brush back a strand of hair that had escaped Findis' braid. She took one of Findis' hands and placed it on her stomach, let her feel the warm swell there as she breathed in and out.
"This one is not a sister," she whispered, and Findis' eyes widened. "Do you think you could take care of a brother in the same way, though?"
Time passed. Her mother's belly grew rounder and rounder, until the day she woke to find her mother's door shut tight and her grandmother sitting serenely in the family room, needle flashing in and out of the circle of silk fabric she held.
"Findis," Astarindë greeted her, setting aside her needlework and patting the seat beside her. "Come sit with me."
She remained standing, biting at the corner of her thumbnail and fighting the urge to run back upstairs and sit by her mother's door until she came out. "Is Ammë going to come down, too?"
"Indis will come down when she's done."
"Done with what," Findis asked, brow tightening with anxious petulance, and Astarindë laughed.
"Once your brother is born, of course! Indis tells me you're very excited to be an older sister – is that true?"
She nodded, not quite sure if she should tell her grandmother that she wasn't sure what being an older sister meant, that she was afraid it would be difficult and she would mess it up. There seemed to be so many rules in the world, and she could never seem to remember them all. And she didn't understand why she would have to be an older sister now, of all times, or why her mother wasn't coming out of her room.
Her grandmother let her curl up against her and bury her face in her hair – a darker shade than her daughter's, honey-gold where Indis' was the light of Laurelin. The light flashed from her needle as she dipped it in and out, drawing a crimson thread through the taut silk.
When the silence was finally broken by a thin, reedy cry, her grandmother set aside her needlework and led Findis towards the room where her mother lay, sweaty and exhausted and cradling a dark-haired boy.
She found that she enjoyed being an older sister.
Nolofinwë was troublesome at times, always getting into her belongings, always making a mess, but the smile he gave her every time made the harsh words in her mouth fly away, replaced by a half-amused, half-weary laugh as she bent to clean his latest mess. And later, once he had grown up enough to follow her as she had their mother, she taught him how to climb the twisting cherry tree that grew in the garden, threading pale pink blossoms through his dark hair to see him grin.
When he fell from a high branch and landed with his leg twisted under him, she was the one to carry him up the hill to their house, soothing him to keep from showing her own panic at his pain.
When he took to following her around, dogging her every step, she stopped doing the same to her mother and began helping him up the steep stairs of Tirion.
Their sister was born at the height of Laurelin's light, with their mother's golden hair and a healthy set of lungs that she soon put to use deafening everyone in the house. Írimë was a fussy baby, demanding more of their parent's attention than Findis remembered her brother doing. Nolofinwue himself was less than pleased with the change.
"You won't let her play with us, will you?" he demanded of her one afternoon after she found him crouched under a bush, using a broken stick to stab the dirt over and over. From inside the house, the baby's cries could be heard, drifting down on the wind. There were tear tracks in the dirt on Nolofinwë's face. "I don't want her to."
Findis sat down next to him, digging her fingers into the dirt, feeling quite grown up and mature as she said, "She'll grow up and we'll have fun. Together. Didn't you want someone else to play with?"
Nolofinwë made a face. "I meant a dog or something fun, not a – a whiny baby that Ammë and Ata won't stop fussing over––"
She patted his hand, smiling. "I'd rather have a baby than a dog. Dogs are smelly."
"So's Írimë," her brother mumbled, scrubbing a hand across his face, smearing more dirt on it in the process. "You won't go play with her instead of me, will you?"
"Of course not." She plucked a leaf from the bush and folded it in half, then brought it to her lips and blew, producing a high-pitched whistle. Nolofinwë stared.
"Maybe we can be louder than her," she said, wincing as another set of wails filtered downwind. "C'mon."
He sniffed, then smiled, reaching for a leaf.
Out of all of them, her younger sister was the only one with her own name.
Nolofinwë. Arafinwë. Their father's name, with qualifiers tacked on to the beginning. There was nothing particularly wise about her brother, either, nor much of a noble air about the baby born after Írimë, especially when he spent more time falling flat on his face than crawling.
And her own name. Findis sometimes breathed on the mirror and traced her name in the clouded breath using the alphabet her half-brother had made – lingering over the dot over the formen and the loop of the silmë. He had taught her this when she asked him, however reluctantly that had been.
She wondered sometimes if her name was nothing but a badge of proof for her parent's love, a flag to wave in the world's face – see how we love each other, that the product of our union bears both our names. Our daughter's names shall be our own, forever joined for as long as eternity shall last.
(Your name is beautiful, her mother had whispered in her ear, smoothing her hand over Findis' Noldor-dark hair. And you may make it mean whatever you wish, simply by what you do.)
"He drew his sword on our brother. Give me one good reason I shouldn't go after him and do the same in turn." Írimë paced back and forth, fists clenched tight at her side. She stopped at the window, glaring down at the empty courtyard.
"I wish I could tell you I was surprised, but it is Fëanáro." Findis remained where she was, leaning against the doorway. The other members of the court had reacted with shock and outrage, but the instant she caught sight of Írimë's golden braid whipping around the corner she had known that her little sister was in serious danger of doing something equally stupid.
"What gives him the right––"
"He doesn't have it," she interrupted cooly, and Írimë's eyes flashed as she turned back. "Hence the summons by the Valar. Exile will be the best he can hope for, if Nolofinwë finds it in him to offer forgiveness."
"Of course he'll offer forgiveness." Írimë was practically spitting. "He's never done anything but worship the ground our half-brother walks on, do you think something as minor as a death threat will put an end to that?"
"Things have changed––"
"Things always change, Findis." Her sister's eyes narrowed. "Mark my words. Even if our brother pretends that this changes nothing, sometimes you can't go back to the way things were before."
When the darkness came, she was afraid.
Looking back, it was hard to remember in what order the events had happened – did the light fade from the sky first, darkness creeping in like a drop of dye in clear water, or did her nephews emerge from the dusk before full dark, bringing news of Finwë's death?
Father's dead. She remembered that thought, cold and clear. Murdered on the steps of a home in exile.
"Stay strong," she heard Nolofinwë hiss to their youngest brother, brow drawn tight and hand clenched around the hilt of his sword. When he turned away (always so determined to match their half-brother in intensity and fury), Findis reached out for Arafinwë's hand. He clutched it tight, a look in his eyes like he was drowning.
"Tell me this is a dream," he whispered.
(He had crawled into her bed as a child, terrified by the rumble of thunder, and she had let him curl up against her and fall asleep as a heavy weight on her chest, secure in the knowledge that they would both wake in the morning, and now she had no words to comfort him.)
"If it is," she replied, "I pray we wake soon."
Írimë's front door was half-open, light from the lantern within spilling out. The city buzzed with the energy of a thousand people preparing to leave, a thousand people struggling to keep the ones they loved at home.
She found Írimë in her room, stuffing tunics into a bag.
"It's not a bad plan," her sister said without turning around. "Head east. Find new lands. I've always wanted to see something more––"
"This is not a decision you make in an instant," Findis insisted, hating the way she sounded so reasonable, still, when darkness had fallen and their father was dead. "The risks are immense."
"Damn the risks." Írimë's eyes were hard and cold. "This is my decision. If you want to come, then do so, but I will not let you stand in my way"
For an instant, Findis wished that this had not happened, and, more than anything, for the same desire to leave that her siblings all shared. They all had something to chase, something they were willing to travel to the other side of the world for, and she? She had nothing but a dull ache in her chest, like something had fallen out along the way.
"Be safe," she whispered, and Írimë crossed the distance between them with a quick stride, wrapping her arms around her older sister. The gesture was unexpected coming from Írimë, who had never been one to show physical affection.
"I'll do my best."
The crown was heavier than it looked.
Findis could see her mother's hands shaking as she lifted it high, a minute tremble that set the inlayed jewels glittering in the torchlight. Outside, the stars shone; a cloudless, starlit morning heralding her ascent to the throne.
"And do you, Findis Finwiel, accept this authority granted to you, and swear to uphold the sanctity of this throne?" Indis' voice carried through the hall, which was startlingly bare – a few of the court members, a scattering of familiar faces: Nerdanel, Anairë, her grandmother. A hastily assembled group from among those who remained, to witness the coronation of the only remaining child of Finwë.
She swallowed. "I do."
We need a leader, Nerdanel had insisted the night before, meeting her mother's eyes over a council table surrounded by more empty seats than living bodies. We cannot continue to live in confusion and fear.
Findis closed her eyes as the crown was lowered, settling on her brow, weighing down her head. There was a rustle of cloth as Indis – her mother – knelt before her, and Findis swallowed a protest as the rest of the court followed suit.
Do you ever regret it?
Findis helped Nerdanel draw up plans for the reconsolidation of Tirion, for new buildings and new fields and new agricultural progressed, albeit at a painfully slow rate.
Do you ever wish you had followed them, left the putting back together of our land to someone else?
Eärwen accepted Findis' offer of help, and Alqualondë was restored, the slow rebuilding of the great fleet of white ships begun. When Findis visited for the first time, there were still bloodstains ground into the weathered wood of the docks.
Her brother returned.
Do you regret what we did – and did not – do?
When the moon rose, it rose over a new city, with crumbling ruins stretching like lacework from the center but a strong heart, ready for new light.
The sun rose, and Findis turned her face to the warmth, staring up at it until her eyes watered and the world danced with blinding color.
Do you still regret it?
The darkness had lifted.