Itarillë had asked him if he would eat with her at midday.
She was often alone at that hour – though she usually broke her fast with her ladies and spent the mornings in company, by noon she was generally to be found working through whatever tasks she had set herself for the day.
Normally he would have no expectations of anything more than Itarillë wanting company, but of late, she has been preoccupied and withdrawn, so Lomion could only conclude that something was weighing on her mind.
She had said nothing, hinted nothing – his cousin could keep her own counsel when she chose, which is why she knew more of his mind than any other in the city – yet Lomion still had a good guess what.
He had tried to draw her several times these last few months on the subject of Tuor son of Huor, and she had always gone quiet.
It was clear enough the young atan was besotted with her – not that Lomion blamed the boy. His cousin was easily the loveliest nis in the city. Were they not kin, practically brother and sister, he would likely have sought her himself, for she was as clever as she was beautiful.
But cousin-marriage, acceptable though it might be to some of the Evair, was not practiced by either his mother’s people or his father’s. The Amanyar found it unnatural that a person might wish to wed any with whom they shared grandparents. Among his father’s people, a relationship like the one between himself and Itarillë, in which cousins held each other more as siblings, was looked on as normal given that it was not unusual to lose one or both parents. To desire such a cousin was as unthinkable as to desire a blood sibling. No matter what a few gossips might fancy, his relationship with his cousin was fraternal.
If he has earned a reputation as her shadow, it’s because the two of them are each other’s best friends and confidants. And, of course, it’s impossible to miss that they’re practically mirror images, their features clearly stamping them descendants of Nolofinwë but their complexions and hair the exact opposite of each other. The Noldor of the city delight in wordplay on the subject. Light and Shadow was but one set of nicknames for them – they were also Day and Night, or Sun and Moon, depending on who speaks and what fits the occasion.
But despite their closeness, it was a mystery to him what Itarillë really thought of Ulmo’s supposed messenger.
That young Tuor spoke persuasively, Lomion would readily concede. But he had learned enough cautionary tales as an elfling in Nan Elmoth and Doriath to know that the Dark One’s tools, willing or otherwise, could speak persuasively as well. It would require more than eloquent words to convince him that the mortal had been sent by the Lord of the Waters – though he did not doubt that Tuor himself believed it true.
Unfortunately, Turukano had given no clue whether or not he believed Tuor’s coming to be the sign he had been promised. Lomion found his royal uncle’s reticence frustrating. How were he and the other lords to form any judgement on the matter if the king would not reveal to them what it was he had been bidden to watch for, or what his own heart counselled?
Itarillë had been maddeningly close-mouthed on the subject of both message and messenger. Lomion hoped today’s invitation meant that was about to change.
He had asked his steward to make sure he left the forge in good time to bathe and dress appropriately before joining his cousin for lunch. He had no wish to hear a lecture on the ill-advisedness of spending three days straight on experiments with various alloys. (Itarillë was unlikely to be mollified that he had at least made sure he was fed at regular intervals. He did listen to her.)
Canwien had taken him at his word, sending Enerdhil to ferret him out. The normally quiet and unassuming jewelwright had accomplished his task with almost frightening efficiency so that he might return to his own work more promptly.
So it was that Lomion – washed, dressed, braided, and adorned with circlet and jewels that compromised the Ondonlindrim’s sense of what was appropriate for a prince of the house of Nolofinwë with Lomion’s own more austere, Sindarin-influenced sense of fashion – set off from the House of the Mole with more than a quarter hour to spare, and managed to arrive at the house of the king slightly before the appointed time.
Even before he entered his cousin’s study, he was on the point of laughter, for the exasperated look on her steward’s face said only too plainly that the princess of Gondolin had lost track of time.
A welter of papers was strewn across her usually pristine desk, and she had an ink spot on her nose, no doubt from swiping at an itch with pen in hand.
Lomion’s lips quirked.
Itarillë chose that moment to look up.
“Not. A. Word,” she ordered.
“Of course not,” he smirked, and waited.
“Oh, go on and say it,” she groaned.
“I am on time and in good order,” he said mildly.
“Yes, I know, I’m the one who did not pay attention today,” Itarillë groused. “At least I had the sense to order luncheon for us before I began.”
“Oh, well, in that case…” Lomion grinned.
It really wasn’t any bother to him if she was a bit less put together than she preferred outsiders see. He has found her absorbed by her own work as often as she complained he was, and as they’re eating here, it’s not as if anyone else but her steward will notice. (Hendor would never betray her.)
The glare she shot at him lacked any true force.
“You could help,” she suggested.
“I would if I had any idea what order you wanted your papers in,” Lomion replied equably, seating himself as she started stacking them.
He had tried helping often enough to know better by now.
Besides, he thought he might have a better chance at getting her talking while her hands were occupied. They were alike in that as well.
“So what brings me here today, when you’re so busy?”
Itarillë stopped, the papers in a somewhat messier stack than she generally preferred.
So much for that theory…
“A bit of patience is surely not too much to ask?” she said.
To his surprise, she sounded tired.
“Of course not,” he replied, feeling the beginnings of more serious concern.
He’s never heard quite that note in her voice before. Nor did it help that she avoided meeting his eyes.
Itarillë made something of a production of tidying the papers before locking them away in her desk, then ringing for lunch to be brought in.
The silence in the room stretched almost to the point of uncomfortable by the time Hendor left.
Itarillë was not generally one to play with her food – her appetite was generally as hearty as his – yet today she did little more than push her food around her plate.
Finally Lomion could take no more.
“What is troubling you?” he asked.
They’ve often acted as each other’s sounding board – and vent, when the pressure of being the King’s daughter and sister-son gets to be too much. He’s not sure what to make of her behavior today, though.
She hesitated, long enough that he wondered if she would answer.
“Tuor has asked if I would marry him,” she replied at last.
He couldn’t say he was entirely surprised. But her expression was so guarded that he could glean nothing more than that. How had she answered?
“Am I to offer congratulations?” Lomion asked cautiously.
“No,” Itarillë said slowly. “At least, not as yet.”
“I do not rightly know how to answer him,” she explained hesitantly.
“I hope you’re not expecting me to know,” Lomion told her, deeply disturbed at the thought.
“No…” Itarillë paused. “I mean, not exactly. But I hoped you might have advice?”
“I’m not the one who would be marrying him, what advice can I possibly give?” he asked in bemusement.
He was stalling, though, and they both knew it. He understood well enough why she was asking.
If she didn’t love him, the answer would have been simple: no. It was a short word, and one she had said often enough to others who have asked, without hesitation or regret.
But she must think highly enough of the young adan to at least consider it – and to think on what ‘yes’ would mean.
“I don’t know what to do,” Itarillë said, her voice small and sad. “He’s nearly everything I could want in a husband. Brave, handsome, true of heart, honest in his dealings, and favored by Ulmo himself.”
“But mortal,” Lomion amended quietly.
“Yes,” she whispered.
He heard in that one word her fears of what it would mean to say it to Tuor. A few short years together, no certainty that she would have children, or that if she did, that they would have the life of the eldar rather than that of the atani, and no comfort for her inevitable loss before the end of Arda itself.
He had no idea what to say to that.
“You do not even make your usual protest about the smell,” she noted forlornly, trying gamely to lighten the moment.
“I am not the one who would have to smell him,” he pointed out. “If his scent does not bother you, it is no grounds for objection from me. Besides, you asked me a question in all seriousness. I did not think it a moment for such lighthearted raillery.”
Itarillë looked at him wryly.
“Then he does not smell so terrible?”
“I cannot say I make a habit of sniffing him, but he is not so objectionable as his father and uncle were. It probably helps that he bathes more often, as we do.”
As he had hoped, that did draw a slight smile from his cousin.
“Poor Huor and Hurin had been on the run from orcs for some time before the eagles brought them,” she mused. “As such, I suppose they had to forgo regular baths. But you are right, I would rather we spoke earnestly on the matter.”
She took a small bite of the éclair she’d been ignoring for the past quarter of an hour, despite usually loving dessert.
“Could you call him brother?” she asked. “In all seriousness?”
“If you tell me he is what your heart desires, your chosen mate, of course I could,” Lomion replied at once. “If you wed him, he will be my kinsman, the brother of my heart. Surely you did not believe otherwise?”
“I did not know what to think,” Itarillë confessed. “I know others have been whispering behind my back that he has raised his eyes too high, that he aspires to more than a guest and an atan should hope for.”
“I would lay odds a many of those saying so also had little good to say of me when I first arrived and your father named me a prince of the city.”
He could tell by the look on her face that he was right – and that she’d only just realized it when he’d said it.
“I don’t deny that it’s not a decision to make lightly,” he added. “But it is your decision, and you should be guided by what your own heart tells you, not by gossip and jealous tittle-tattle.”
Itarillë raised an eyebrow.
“If you marry Tuor, the worthy bachelors of Ondolindë must finally relinquish any hopes of becoming princes,” he pointed out, doing his best not to smirk. “If it is known that you are seriously considering it…”
“You are such a cynic,” she tutted.
“Perhaps,” Lomion shrugged. He would have called himself a realist. “But you know as well as I do there are several neri who still cherish such hopes, and it would not surprise me to find them less than pleased at the idea you would bind yourself to a mortal.”
“What do you think Atto will say to the idea?”
He paused. It was clear this weighed more heavily on her than what ‘people’ might say.
“I imagine he will object to the idea of you wedding a mortal,” he began carefully. “Not because he objects to Tuor personally, but because he is your father and wishes the best for you.”
“And Tuor is not the best, even if my heart is set on him?” Itarillë demanded.
“I did not say that,” Lomion replied quickly. “But I can imagine your father, who has lost his own mate, might wonder if you fully understood what it is you mean to commit yourself to.”
But by her face, she did. So many, many years alone – and unlike her father, for Itarillë there would be no hope whatsoever of a reunion beyond the Sea, even should the Powers in the West relent.
“Should I let such fears stop me?” she whispered.
“If your heart says ‘Tuor’, it is not for me to question it,” Lomion said slowly. “Foolish though it may seem, why should you not seize a chance at happiness, however brief? Between Morgoth and the Doom, I cannot see where the Noldor are so very different than the Atani. Any of us may die, and who can say if we will return to life again? For all we know, we may tarry in Mandos for the rest of the life of Arda, and what joy we can find here is all we are to have before the Second Music.”
Itarillë’s smile was slightly uncertain.
“What do you think would be the fate of our children?” she asked pensively. “Or do you number among those who believe it would not be possible for an atan and a nis?”
He reached for a berry tart as he considered his answer.
The question has been debated off and on ever since the Ondolindrim learned of the Aftercomers, but until now it has only ever been academic, for aside from Huor and Hurin’s brief sojourn, there had not been atani in the city before Tuor. Itarillë is the only nis he knew of who has ever needed to consider the matter as more than just a theoretical question.
“I honestly have no idea. I’ve only ever met three atani, which is little basis for an informed opinion. But I suppose they must beget children much as we do, so I do not see why it should be impossible.”
She looked somewhat cheered by that.
“Could you be happy still, if children prove impossible?” he asked.
The forlorn look in her eyes suggested otherwise, but she nodded bravely.
“I wish for children, of course,” she said. “But if we are not so blessed, I think Tuor would be enough.”
“Then I am not sure why you are asking me what to do.”
“So you think I should accept?” Itarillë asked, sounding hopeful that was indeed the case.
Lomion peered keenly at her.
“Why should you not?” he asked. “You have not said once that you do not love him, or that you fear you would not be happy with him, only wondered if your concerns about him being an atan should be enough to stop you.”
“You speak as though you think it should not.”
If he had to guess, he would say he is not the first one she has spoken with – probably their great aunt, and from what he can recall of the discussion about whether or not to require Tuor’s father and uncle to remain in the city, Irimë had been doubtful about the notion of any nis binding herself to such short-lived creatures.
“If you love him, then no, it should not,” Lomion offered. “Think on it this way – what is worse, to take a chance on happiness and marry Tuor, knowing he will die in perhaps fifty or sixty years, or to refuse him, knowing he will still die, and then live the rest of your life in doubt or regret, wondering what might have been?”
That drew a genuine smile from her, and he could feel the tension dissolving.
“You haven’t asked me why,” Itarillë pointed out.
“Very well, if you wish to tell me, why?” he asked obediently.
“He makes me smile,” she said. “And he gives me hope.”
Lomion held out his hands.
“In that case, what are you waiting for?”
Now it was her turn to snort.
“You sound like him,” she said wryly. “Let us do what we can, while we can.”
“I have said I will call him brother. I have not said I wish to be told I am like him.”
“I’ll tell my not yet brother that you wish to see him later this afternoon, shall I?”
Itarillë flung a plump berry at him, which he caught with a laugh and popped into his mouth.
It was good to be back to normal, even if he had a sinking feeling that it wouldn’t last.