Work Header

Olwë's Home for Wayward Elves

Chapter Text

Something needed to be done about the lady Artanis. It was a fact understood by all the household servants, even mentioned sometimes while they worked at their various duties. But when they talked, the Two Problems eventually arose. First: someone needed to tell Arafinwë; second: none of the servants wanted to.

It wasn’t that they were afraid of their employer, the servants all agreed. (Certainly not!) Rather, none of them wished to be the one to mar the man’s image of his daughter, which was...shall we say, a bit out of date. As many great and noble qualities as Arafinwë possessed, it could not be denied his normally insightful views into a person’s true character were somewhat dim when it came to Artanis.

So against their better judgment, the household staff held their collective tongue. But as has always been true, none know better the inner workings of a family than that family’s attendants. And so the servants bore witness as Lady Artanis grew from a sweet child to a fiery girl. Her sporadic “awkward moments” grew more frequent, until even Eärwen’s legendary patience grew thin.

Then came the Trying Time, when even Arafinwë had to admit the truth: something needed to be done about the lady Artanis.

It all started when Lady Artanis took it into her head to wear her brothers’ clothes. Ambaráto’s rose-colored ceremonial tunic disappeared from his clothes press, which sent the laundry maids into a tizzy. The tunic reappeared when Artanis made her social debut at King Finwë’s court later that month, complemented by a pair of sturdy work books and a leather belt. (No one dared ask what she wore beneath the tunic.) At event after event that spring, Artanis continued to turn up in mannish attire, and she remained unmoved by her mother’s stern lectures, which devolved into begging as the season progressed and the good ladies of Tirion began to take note.

The servants wrung their hands in misery. Nothing looked worse for a domestic staff than when the young lady of the house galumphed into the public sphere wearing baggy trousers and unlaundered doublets. Their own reputation was being called into question, and that would simply not do.

Next came the drinking and the brawling. Respectable young ladies did not drink to excess, and they definitely didn’t grow intoxicated in dark alleys, surrounded by members of the Lower Orders. Respectable young ladies certainly did not gamble; nor did they lose all of their quarterly allowance to suspicious-looking butchers who couldn’t be found by light of day. Neither did respectable young ladies challenge other youths to fisticuffs at midday, in the spice market. And above all: respectable young ladies did not, under any circumstances, ride naked through the Great Square on the back of an ostrich just as King Finwë was making another of his stuffy speeches. (Luckily, Arafinwë and Eärwen were out of town visiting relatives that afternoon, and Artanis’s elder brothers mitigated most of the damage before word reached them.)

Really, the servants agreed, it was nearly too much to be borne. Somebody ought to do something.

The last straw was the Fountain Incident. The staff didn’t like to talk about it aloud, and for years would only reference it with furtive hand gestures and discreet whispers behind raised palms. They all knew the power of gossip, and they were loyal to the House of Arafinwë down to the last scullery boy.

But if you asked the right person on the right day, you might hear a story like this: Melwë (that’s the downstairs parlormaid) was polishing the glass in Lady Eärwen’s favorite salon when she heard a noise like splash or a crash or “something terrible” in the courtyard. Melwë went out to have a look, and that’s when she found Lady Artanis, in the fountain, without her shirt, tangled up with one of the groom’s assistants. One of the groom’s female assistants, who was also missing half her clothing. So Melwë screamed, Lady Artanis screamed, and the groom’s assistant (poor girl) burst into tears. Ténon the majordomo was summoned, and he had the unpleasant task of telling Arafinwë. It took Arafinwë some time to wrap his mind around Ténon’s story, but once he did, Lady Eärwen was consulted in private, and together they developed a course of action.

All were in agreement: something needed to be done about the lady Artanis.

Chapter Text

“But I don’t want to go to Alqualondë!”

Looking back on it, the Fountain Incident (as the household servants called it) had not been an example of my finest decision-making. But young fëar are restless and prone to surges of unrestrained foolishness—or at least, that was that argument I had prepared to give my parents when they demanded “What were you thinking, Artanis?” in disappointed tones.

Except when I arrived in Arafinwë’s study, the two of them merely looked but did not comment at my unruly hair and dirty fingernails. They stood behind my father’s imposing ebony desk and pronounced my doom: banishment. There was no chance for me to explain my behavior and no sad little speeches about how they expected better of me. Just firm directives and somber faces.

I realized, too late, that when I had crossed the threshold of the study I was not with my parents; I had been granted an audience with a great statesman and his wife and was treated accordingly. I was a problem to be solved, and there was nothing Arafinwë Ingoldo of the House of Finwë was better at than solving problems. (Ask anyone.)

My arguments soundly defeated before I even had a chance to open my mouth, I had naught to do but cross my arms and whine. (Forgotten were my repeated pronouncements that I was a woman grown.) “Nothing ever happens in Alqualondë,” I said, “and nobody interesting ever goes there.”

You will be there, Nerwen,” said my mother, “and surely you consider yourself to be of some least to yourself.” Her lips twitched, and her amusement at my expense rankled.

I sighed and crossed my arms. I knew, of course, that I was being overdramatic, but knowing so only made me pout more. I attempted to cry, and managed to squeeze a few drops from my unrepentant eyes. I had seen my cousin Írissë get out of many a scrape through artful tears. But it seemed that Arafinwë was made of sterner stuff than his older brother, for my father remained unmoved by my apparent distress.

“It’s only temporary,” he said. “I'm sure we shall send for you by the end of summer.”

“Just until the rumors die down,” added Eärwen.

I had come into this conversation ready for an argument, and that was something to argue over. I stepped closer to my parents, bristling like a drenched cat. “What rumors, Mother? The rumors that Lady Artanis, granddaughter of the king, brawls in public? That she was seen naked in the Great Square? Or …” I paused for emphasis, “do you mean the rumors that Lady Artanis fucks other girls?”

My words had their desired effect. Eärwen blanched, and even my father's composure faltered. He patted his spouse’s shoulder before addressing me in the calm yet serious manner that had once terrified me, but now made me strangely furious.

“Artanis,” said Arafinwë gently (oh so gently), “we love you, very much. We would love you no less even if you were to—as you so eloquently put it—fuck other women in the Great Square every day and brawl naked afterwards. Our love for you does not change; it never could.”

I was still angry with them (I was!), but why did I feel like crying? My father reached across his desk to take my hand. I jerked away. He continued:

“Yet as much as we do love you, that does not alter the fact that you’ve made something of a...reputation for yourself here in Tirion. If you continue with this pattern of behavior, who is to say what the consequence might be? I know that you were hoping to apprentice with Ilsaner the Loremaster once your formal studies finish. What if he rejects you because he doesn’t wish to take on a pupil that might cast doubt upon his own good name?”

“You are a very bright young woman,” said my mother. “We would not wish for you to jeopardize a promising future on account of a few youthful mistakes.”

I hung my head, knowing that my parents were correct and resentful because they were. Just the day before, I’d visited the Silversmiths’ Guild with my brothers. All the craftspeople there had been unflaggingly polite, as always, but I had felt their eyes at my back and a reticence when I was spoken to. As if I were a snake who might strike at any moment; a liability.

Little had I thought that getting drunk once or twice with some of the kitchen servants would have the potential to prove so disastrous. I remembered my planned argument about youthful, impetuous fëar and though perhaps it had more merit than I’d originally thought.

So: to Alqualondë for the summer. Nothing more needed to be said, and I knew better than to argue with my father when his brow was so deeply furrowed. Doubtless my parents had already arranged everything so I could depart the city immediately after this audience. I turned to leave Arafinwë’s study, whispered goodbye.

As I was crossing beneath the lintel, a soft hand at my shoulder stopped me.

“Nerwen, wait,” said my mother. “Nerwen, I’ve had a bag packed for you, with all of the new dresses I ordered after your last growth spurt.”

(Of course she had.) I tried to smile at her, but it felt more like a grimace. “Thank you,” I said politely. “I am sure to be the best-dressed girl at Olwë’s court.”

I tried again to walk away, but her hand clung to me. “I also packed some of your brothers’ old leggings and shirts,” she murmured, eyes darting to the study’s interior, where my father stared vacantly at a bookshelf. “I mended them myself, and they don’t look too bad.”

I recognized her gesture for what it was, and no Power in Aman could have kept my tears back then. I flung myself at her chest. She folded me into a tight embrace that smelled of clean linen and spring lilies. I had long ago grown taller and sturdier than Eärwen, but in that moment I felt like a small child once more. “Thank you, Mama,” I said, and then: “I'm sorry.”

She squeezed me one last time, sniffled, then pulled away. Her delicate hands straightened my clothes, but I could see her face was pale. “Now then, now then,” she tsked. “All this fuss over a few months’ vacation by the sea. How silly we both are. Run along, Nerwen. I’m sure the horses have been saddled and waiting this half-hour at least.”

I left, but as I strode into the marble courtyard and mounted my horse, the anger I wore like a cloak faded somewhat. For the first time in a year, I felt ashamed of myself.

The road from Tirion to the coast was wide and paved with gleaming white stones. I had traveled on it many times, for the relationship between Eärwen and her father King Olwë was a strong one. The day of my banishment (for so I insisted upon calling it) was fair and balmy, and my father’s heralds set a quick pace.

Summer was the name the Eldalië gave to the time when the majority of Yavanna's creation was in full bloom, and as we passed out of the city gates, a green, fragrant countryside opened before us. The air was sweet with birdsong. In the distance I could see picnickers lolling in shady groves and children swimming in burbling streams. If I had been in the mood to reminisce, I might have recalled riding out with my mother and brothers to attend the summer revelries that the Falmari held up and down the coast. Those had always been my favorite times.

But I was not interested in memories that day. Shame was giving way to indignation. As we rode away from the hill of Túna and toward the Pelóri, I felt sure I was not being treated fairly. Some of my cousins (especially Fëanáro's younger sons) behaved very oddly in public, and they had never been sent away from Tirion, as far as I remembered.

It was because I was female, of course. Wasn’t that always what it came down to? I ground my teeth. My horse startled, and I realized I’d grown hard and tense. With effort, I relaxed and tried to think on other things.

The mountains drew closer, and the flowers that grew on their slopes were small and spiky. I hardly noticed. I had lived all my life beneath the Light of the Trees, and I knew no other beauty. My grandparents and those of their generation appreciated such things more, for they remembered the starlit darkness by the shores of Cuiviénen. Strange, how one grows accustomed to even the most Powerful beauty.

The day waxed on. I did not mind the ride or the vigorous pace. The journey lent me an opportunity to master my emotions and devise a course of action for the coming months. My father was fond of saying that any endeavor was sure to prove less effective if not backed by a sound plan. Arafinwë was rarely wrong (much to my continued annoyance). My parents had been clear that my very future could be compromised if I didn't mend my ways and become the epitome of a well-mannered Noldorin lady. I decided to spend the summer doing just that. By the time I returned to Tirion, not even Eärwen would know me.

My grandfather Olwë’s court was certainly not as grand as that of King Ingwë or even of Finwë, my other grandfather. Many in my father’s family looked down on the "rustic" Telerin way of life. It had been some time since I had last seen him, but I remembered Olwë as a silvery man with a gentle voice more given to song than to lecturing. His home was large but not imposing.

The pearl palaces and shell-paved streets of Alqualondë would be an excellent backdrop for my rehabilitation. As we rode between the steep rocky ledges of the Calacirya, I outlined three steps:

First, I would dress appropriately. Thanks to my mother, I would arrive at Olwë’s palace fully outfitted with all the skirts and kirtles and bodices and slippers and Valar-knew-what-else a proper young lady could need. I would make a point of actually wearing them, rather than giving them to less-fortunate serving girls or potter’s daughters.

Second, I would be subdued: mild but not meek; soft but not shrinking. Like Eärwen, or even my grandmother Indis. At some point while we were growing up, my cousin Írissë had learned the skill of quiet strength and deceptive docility, but I had somehow been absent the day that lesson was taught. (Even though she was often more disobedient than I, Írissë rarely drew attention to herself.) It was time to fill that gap in my knowledge.

Third, I would never, under any circumstance whatsoever, lose my temper. Not even should the Great Enemy himself appear before me would I raise my voice or lose my head. I would stay in control.

I repeated these three maxims over and over again until they seared themselves into my conscience. Then, at last, the sea rolled into view and all thought fled. The Bay of Eldamar glittered before us. Tol Eressëa rose out of the bay, a glowing green hill surrounded by waves. All around, the sea was like a mirror stretching out of sight and knowledge. We turned north toward the Swan Haven and kept the coast on our right. Sharp breezes blew off the water, and my hair tangled before my eyes. A knot that always resided somewhere below my breastbone began to unwork itself, and I inhaled the salty scent of the gray-green beaches.

The sea was part of me, in a way that the Noldorin side of my family could never understand. In Tirion I forgot, but when I ventured east I knew that one-half of my fëa resided in the churning waves. I could only be my whole self when I was close enough to Ulmo's realm to truly feel the briny mist on my cheeks. A summer with my Falmari kinfolk might bring its own joys, I thought.

My father’s heralds and I soon passed through the outer walls of Olwë’s city. Alqualondë gleamed like a pearlescent conch in the Treelight. Unlike Tirion, which had been designed by the greatest mathematicians and architects of the Eladlië, Alqualondë was a quaint hodge-podge of crooked streets, open markets, and marble villas. There were no defined districts or sectors; the Falmari arranged their lives as they saw fit. My uncles Fëanáro and Arácano might have despaired over the apparent lack of order, but I found it charming. It was the Lindarin blood in me, as Eärwen would have said proudly.

King Olwë’s palace rose shining from the center of the Haven, near the piers where the famed swan-ships were at anchor. An important-looking woman received me in the courtyard, and I was ushered into my grandfather’s formal audience chamber, which was full of green marble pillars carved to look like a forest of sea-kelp. I kept my eyes on the floor as I shuffled closer to the dais against the far wall. I paid my respects and winced—it was ridiculous to curtsey while wearing boy's trousers.

“Greetings, Olwë,” I said to my toes. “May the stars of Airë Tári shine upon the hour of our meeting.” My too-deep voice echoed in the large room.

“You may dispense with all the formalities, Artanis,” said a soft voice from somewhere to my right.

I blinked, and followed the trail of sound. I had failed to notice that the king’s throne sat empty. Olwë and his queen were sitting on a balcony beyond a wide door, with some half-dozen children playing around them. (I assumed these were some of my many cousins.) One little boy was braiding the king’s hair while the queen hummed and knitted what appeared to be...a sweater.

“Come here, child, come here,” lilted Olwë. I approached and saw that his blue eyes held a merry twinkle. “You are looking tall and strong—does my daughter feed you well?”

“Y-yes, my lord,” I stammered. I watched, mesmerized, as Olwë fed one of the children a sweetbread, and then offered his spouse the same treatment. The queen—Ilcamë—smiled fondly into his face, then returned to her knitting.

“Now,” said my grandfather. “I don't suppose you have an interest in braiding my hair?”

I studied the king's head. The little boy had made a terrible mess of Olwë's silver tresses; his hair resembled the nets of an overly industrious spider.

“Um, lord,” I said. “I've never been good at dressing hair.”

Olwë nodded, as if he expected my answer. “Pity,” he said. “Eärwen would always do it for me after breakfast, but now she's off in Tirion attending to your father's hair, and I am left to the meager talents of this little miscreant.” He grabbed the boy around the waist and pulled him into his lap, tickling his chubby belly until they both dissolved into chortles of mirth.

The queen tutted at their antics, but her mouth was gentle. “I hope your ride up the coast was pleasant, Artanis?”

“Yes, my lady, it was. This is a beautiful day.”

“Indeed it is,” she said. “I believe this will become the most radiant summer we've had since the Falmari arrived in Aman—and that is saying something. I’ve directed the servants to put you in a room that overlooks the tide-pools. Does that sound pleasant?”

“Oh yes,” I said, overtaken by enthusiasm. “That would be splendid!”

“Make sure to put her near enough to the others, Ilcamë,” interjected my grandfather. “They’ll all want to cavort and frolic about in a herd, I'm sure.”

I looked between my grandparents, nonplussed. “The...others?”

Olwë waved his hand. “I mean the other children who are here in Alqualondë this summer—there are quite a lot of you, actually. Some of your cousins might be your own age, or a bit younger; all six of Lord Máro's offspring will be arriving within a fortnight...or are they here already? I can’t keep count.” The king shrugged, then returned his attention to my young cousins. In less than a minute, they were singing a Telerin ditty about clamshell boats and kingdoms beneath the sea. Then they all got up and danced down a flight of stairs that led off the balcony to the sea.

My audience with the king was at an end. I looked at Queen Ilcamë. Her pale eyes were the color of a cloud touched by Telperion's Light. “I am sure you'll have a wonderful time with us, Artanis,” she said. “It will be like having dear Eärwen back in Alqualondë.”

I knew enough of my mother's temperament to know I had very little in common with her, but I didn’t want to say as much to Ilcamë.

The queen continued: “It is true that most of the children staying here are rather younger than you, but there are two boys near your own age. I am certain they would be happy to entertain you—ah, here they are!”

Ilcamë’s eyes focused on something behind me. I glanced back to the throne room’s entrance.

Two tall, reedy figures stepped lightly toward us; they were dressed in the shapeless robes favored by most Falmari. The first boy had a long nose and full lips, and his bare arms were well-muscled. His silver braids hung to his waist in neat loops. He looked like any young nobleman I might meet in one of the fashionable salons in Tirion.

The second boy was...odd. At first glance, he seemed typical enough—solemn gray eyes, wide cheekbones, large hands. But there was something about him (perhaps in his posture?) that made him seem fey and alien. His hair was cropped close to his skull, which should have made him ugly. Yet he was beautiful. Not in the way my cousin Maitimo was beautiful; beautiful in the ethereal, golden style of Vanyarin women like Queen Indis. I stared at this boy openly, unmoored by this strange harmony of masculine and feminine in one person. He met my stare with one of his own.

I pulled my attention away only when I heard my grandmother speaking.

“Here is my granddaughter come from Tirion to keep you both company,” said Ilcamë to the newcomers. “She is of an age with you, and I am sure you will amuse each other well.”

The taller Falmaro took me in with sharp eyes and frowned. It was clear I was left wanting in his estimation. “Not another one,” he muttered.

I looked at him in confusion. Another one what?

“Now, Costamo, let us be welcoming and of good spirits this day.” The queen’s voice remained soft, but there was no mistaking the command in her words. (She had learned the lesson of quiet strength.)

The boy—Costamo—did not change his demeanor. “I will be of good spirits, but the day is almost over,” he said. “See, now the Mingling is come.”

Indeed, the Treelight had changed its hue and quality since I had first come into King Olwë’s throne room. Soon it would be time for the evening meal, and after for sleeping. It was time to make my escape.

“I shall retire,” I announced. “Perhaps I will eat in my chambers, for my escort drove a hard pace on the road to the Haven.” (I was not tired at all.)

“Excellent,” said the queen. “These two can help you find your quarters—the staff should have unpacked your luggage by now.”

I had planned on escaping from Costamo’s moody belligerence, but I smiled at Ilcamë all the same, remembering my plan to rehabilitate myself. “Thank you, my lady,” I said.

She laughed, a sound like silver water rushing across the sand. “You may call me grandmother, my dear. Everyone else does.”

We exchanged a warm glance, but then Costamo’s breath brushed my neck. He loomed over me with an annoyed expression. “Let’s go, then,” he said. Without waiting to see if I followed, he made his way back through the green-pillared room.

The fey-looking boy remained silent at my side. He gestured forward, as if to push me out the door. I lengthened my stride to catch up with Costamo in the corridor. He led our trio up a flight of stairs and to the residential wing of the palace. Chatter and giggles echoed from behind closed doors. I remembered that the king had mentioned several young visitors.

“Is there a festival in Alqualondë that has brought so many to Olwë's house this season?” I asked Costamo, guessing correctly that the fey-looking boy would not speak.

“No,” said the Falmaro. “The palace is always like this, full of the ugliest, silliest children to be found this side of the Pelóri. They flock here like a cloud of gnats.”

“Oh.” I did feel like an ugly, silly girl who'd been sent away from my parents in the same way one would put the chipped teacup in the back of the cupboard. Perhaps my parents were not the only ones with a “vacation by the sea” approach to misbehaving offspring.

“Are you here for the summer as well, then?” I asked. My question came out a breathless pant. My legs were long—I was taller now than most women and even some men—but Costamo’s were longer, and he was clearly eager to deliver me to my chambers and be rid of my questions. I couldn’t wait to see the last of him, either. Surely Alqualondë was large enough that we could spend a summer free of each other’s company?

Costamo stopped walking. Too late, I saw a flash of anger in his eyes. “No,” he snapped. “I live here all the time, always, forever. Do you need me to write that down for you, or could you stretch your small mind to retain that bit of information?”

I said nothing; my silence seemed only to enrage him further. I could feel the fey-looking boy shifting at my side.

“Of course, you have nothing to say to me, do you?” Costamo pointed a long finger toward my face. “You people are all the same—useless, arrogant lickspittles. It’s a wonder you can walk, your pillocks are so long. Tell me, my lady, does your cock ever trip you, or did they cut it off in order to pass you off as a girl?”

Costamo’s aggression rocked me back on my heels and sparked my ever-smoldering temper into a full blaze. I did what anyone in my position would have done: I swung my arm back and delivered an open-handed strike against the leering Falmaro's cheek. The crack echoed like a thunderstrike. A red mark rose beneath his pale skin.

Through the ringing in my ears, I heard the fey-looking Telerin boy groan dramatically.

So much for my three-step plan.

Chapter Text

I ripped my shirt and trousers off, hands shaking. I was furious. Not with Costamo. (I didn’t care one way or another about the foul-mouthed Teler.) Rather, I was angry with myself. I had come to Alqualondë with a plan firmly in place: to be on my best behavior. Yet within an hour of my arrival, I was already proving the gossips of Tirion right. Arafinwë’s daughter was an ungovernable hoyden, a disgrace. I imagined my parents’ quiet disappointment when they learned of my latest escapade.

Slapping strangers in the face was a new level of impropriety, even for me.

I stared darkly into the closet. It was packed full of pretty gowns in delicate, muted colors. Their gauzy fabrics mocked me. “This is hopeless,” I muttered.

“I wouldn’t go that far, my lady,” said a musical voice behind me, “but things certainly aren’t looking well for you.”

I whirled around. My hands clutched at my naked breasts.

The fey-looking Falmaro stood inside my bedchamber, leaning against the closed door. He carried a tray of food. His thin lips were stretched into a grin, and something in his expression made me want to smile back.

He gestured toward my naked body. “Maybe you should get dressed so we can have a proper chat over dinner?”

I blushed, feeling an unaccustomed twinge of modesty. I reached into the closet and found a green dressing gown. I tugged it over my unbound hair, which was still tangled from my ride through the Calacirya. Hoping my visiter didn’t think ill of me, I decided against a pair of soft velvet house-slippers.

While I dressed, the boy had laid out food at a table by the window. Olwë’s cooks had sent soft breads and ripe fruits and a bottle of deep red cordial. Beyond the table, seagulls circled above the water. My friend sat cross-legged on a wide bench; I sat next to him. For some moments, we both looked across the ruffled sea to the far, hazy horizon. The cry of the gulls mingled with the gentle tossing of the waves—a wild harmony unlike any to be found in Aman.

Many of my father’s family saw themselves as superior to the rustic Teleri and their sea chanties and fishing boats, but I thought perhaps the Noldor missed the point. What need was there for great towers or deep lore when you had the peace of the wide waters?

Eventually, my attention wandered from the view outside to my companion. He was methodically eating a bunch of green grapes. His strange looks were even more mesmerizing up close. I noticed that he wore delicate diamonds in his ears and that his eyes were lined (badly!) with kohl. My gaze roamed across his features without restraint, and only when I looked into his sharp eyes did I realize he was staring back at me. He arched an eyebrow, and I flushed again.

“Go ahead, my lady,” he said. “Ask me.”

“Are you...are you a man, or…?” I trailed off. The question was terribly rude—even I had enough manners to know that. But it seemed vital that I categorize this boy neatly, to place him firmly among one kind or the other.

The Falmaro shrugged. “I am myself,” he said. “Today, I wear trousers beneath my robe and put on rouge. Yesterday, it was a wig of dark curls and a circlet of rubies. Tomorrow, I might wear a skirt and challenge Costamo to a boxing match—or I might dress in a sateen doublet and sing dirty songs in the marketplace. I am me.”

“Oh,” was all I could say.

“Does it not seem odd, my lady, that so much of oneself is defined by that single distinction—nér or nís? There are so many species of bird and so many different words for the color of water. Why are there only two kinds of Eldalië? Don’t you think that’s rather limiting?” He watched me closely while he spoke.

“Oh yes.” I nodded fervently, for I could think of no argument against him. (In truth, I had never considered the binary nature of Elves.) I sipped cordial from a crystal flagon and tried to think of a way to make the conversation less awkward.

The Telerin boy reached out and patted my wrist. “You’ll grow accustomed to it—even my parents did, after a time. My name is Nécandil, by the way. And for the sake of conversation, I don’t mind if you call me a he.”

“I’m Artanis, and I’m a she,” I blurted. (This was not making things less awkward.)

Nécandil laughed. “I know who you are, my lady.” Of course he did; nearly everyone in Aman knew who I was. There were only three kings in Aman, and only a handful could claim to be descended from them. His hand still rested against my wrist. Impulsively, I turned my palm to twine our fingers. It was an easy gesture, one that felt right. I studied our joined hands. His skin was a dark copper, and my hand looked nearly translucent in comparison.

“Does your family come from Alqualondë?” I asked.

“No,” said Nécandil. “My parents keep an orchard on Tol Eressëa, near the center of the isle. Most of my siblings are still there, though my two elder sisters have gone east to help build the new city of Avallónë.”

That caught my attention. I wasn’t familiar with most gossip in Tirion, but everyone knew that the Teleri had decided to build a new settlement as far away from Corollairë as possible. All the better to see Varda’s stars, they said. (We all knew that was only the half of it.)

“Have you been to Avallónë?” I asked.

The Falmaro shook his head. “Not yet, but my sister wrote to say that they’ve finished constructing the Mindelena[1]. She says the view from the top is unlike anything ever seen in Aman.”

“I should like to go. I’ve never been to Eressëa.”

Nécandil’s fingers squeezed mine. “Then perhaps we should make an adventure of it this summer. We could even invite Costamo along.” He grinned. Beneath the table, his foot nudged mine teasingly.

I recoiled, finding no humor in the thought of traipsing across Tol Eressëa in that company of that person. “What!” I cried. “Why? He can rot here in Alqualondë until the end of days, for all I care. Never say you’re in earnest, Nécandil?”

My new friend rolled his eyes at me (at me!) and withdrew his hand from mine. He stood, walked to the window, paced back. He seemed more upset than the situation warranted. “I was serious, Artanis. I don’t think you’ve been entirely fair to Costamo. He’s not...well, he isn’t at his best right now.”

I stood as well. We were of a similar height, and our eyes clashed. “I was not fair to him?” I hissed. “I cannot believe you side with that—that snake! Do you not recall what he said to me?”

“It’s not a matter of sides,” Nécandil began, but I cut him off.

“I see, it’s all my fault isn’t? It’s my fault I punched him, never mind what he said first.” My face was hot with temper. I barely noticed the words flying from my mouth. “It’s my fault I’m taller than I should be; my fault my hair won’t stay tidy; my fault I kissed a girl; my fault Tirion is filled with bored old gossips; my fault my parents are ashamed of me. It’s my fault that I cannot live up to some abstract concept of perfection that nobody will explain to me!” I sprung toward Nécandil; our noses touched. “If you want to talk about what is and isn’t fair, then maybe we should start with that!”

Nécandil blinked at me. His gray eyes narrowed. He drew in a loud breath. Then an amused voice cut him off:

“Well cousin, I can see that the sea air has done nothing to calm your spirits.”

I nearly jumped out of my skin.

My cousin Írissë was reclining across the bed. (When had she come in? Had she heard my entire tirade?) Her dark hair was bundled artfully on top of her head, and her white riding habit was spotless as always. Her cheeks were rosy; her eyes sparkled with humor. “Hello, Artanis,” she said to me, then: “I can see she’s been misbehaving already.” to Nécandil.

“You have no idea, my lady,” said Nécandil. “You missed the brawl in the corridor.”

“Oh dear,” said my cousin.

The two of them smiled at each other. I crossed my arms. Írissë was always making jokes, and I was usually the butt of them.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded (sulkily). “Weren’t you supposed to join Tyelkormo and Curufinwë’s hunting party?”

Írissë shrugged delicate shoulders. “Your brothers thought you might grow lonely here in Alqualondë by yourself, and they dispatched me to keep you company. But it does seem like you’re making so many friends already. Perhaps their fears were for naught!” One of her famous dimples appeared on her smooth cheek.

“Really?” I raised a disbelieving eyebrow. (My siblings knew as well as anyone that Írissë and I delighted in nothing more than bickering with each other.)

My cousin sighed dramatically. She flopped back onto the mattress like an actress in a Vanyarin melodrama. “Fine, fine!” she said. “I admit it! Tyelkormo and I got into a dreadful row over who was the better archer. It’s me, of course; we all know that. But he insisted we have a competition, and I had no choice but to humiliate him. He got dreadfully moody, so I tried to cheer him up. Except none of my usual tricks worked. He was quite rude about it all! In the end, I wasted a good bottle of perfume, not to mention that hideously expensive lace nightgown.”

Írssë brushed an invisible speck of dust off her sleeve and smiled like a cat. Nécandil sat down on the bed next to her and began to arrange her skirts. I stared at the two of them, nonplussed. Then comprehension came galloping in, and I blinked. “You and Tyelkormo...? But your fathers are brothers! That isn’t done!”

“Kissing serving girls and then trying to drown them in a fountain to hide the evidence isn’t done either, Artanis.” She sniffed and eyed me severely.

Nécandil broke into laughter. I pursed my lips at him, and the laugh became a cough.

“I didn’t try to drown her!” I said. I stamped my bare foot on the carpeted floor. “She pulled us both in when she was trying to unfasten my trousers.” (Nécandil kept laugh-coughing.)

“That isn’t what the good ladies of Tirion are saying,” said my cousin. “And you know they’re never wrong.”

I groaned, then sank into an available chair. My fingers ran along the gold tassels of the cushion. My cousin and I had always had a difficult relationship—it’s what came of being the youngest children (and only daughters) in a family full of arrogant lordlings. Eärwen and Anairë had pushed Írissë and I together, thinking foolishly that our age and gender were all that was necessary to form a lasting friendship. Not that we were enemies. It was simply that Írissë was...annoying.

I crossed my legs, recrossed them. Nécandil seemed to be petting Írissë’s skirts. The sight made me jealous and petulant. I couldn’t blame him—she was beautiful and witty and unconventional in a way that did not horrify our elders. I peered down at my naked toes so I didn’t have to watch.

“So now what?” I said to my feet. “A jolly family vacation by the seaside?”

A soft hand came to rest on my tangled head. I peered through a twisted mane of silver-gold to see my cousin. Her expression was soft. “Don’t worry, Artanis,” she said. “I’ll help you.”

“Help me do what?” I muttered.

She stroked my hair, but her fingers tangled in the knots. She made a tsking sound in the back of her throat. “For starters, I’m going to show you how to braid your hair. Then we’ll learn how to dress—comfortably, but with style. Then maybe we’ll do something about your face. Have you ever considered plucking that mustache?”

She tugged me out of the chair and had me kneel on the ground while she tried to salvage my hair. I winced as she pulled at my scalp.

“What do we think of this?” Nécandil asked. He’d gone to the closet and taken out a ballgown of dusky crepe. He held it against his body.

“No,” said Írissë. “That color is no good for Artanis.”

“I mean for me,” said the Falmaro. “Some of my friends are having a party down by the harbor tonight. I thought we could all go and help our little protégé practice her manners in public.”

“Hmm,” mumbled my cousin. I couldn’t see her face, but I had the feeling she didn’t quite know what to make of our new Telerin companion. Knowing her, she was about to say something equal parts witty and offensive.

“Írissë, this is Nécandil,” I said quickly. “He’s been kind to me.” (Unspoken: “Do not be cruel to him.”)

“Hmph,” she said. Her clever fingers began to twist my hair back from my face. “I suppose we can be friends, Nécandil,” said my cousin, “but on one condition.”

“What would that be?” he asked. His silver eyes were wary.

“You have to do something about that ghastly eyeliner,” said Írissë. To my surprise, her sharp words were delivered gently.  “Do you know how to draw a straight line?”

The Falmaro, who had grown tense under my cousin’s inspection relaxed. (The kohl around his eyes really was terrible.) He smiled widely, and his face was beautiful. “Will you show me how, my lady?”

Írissë snorted.

My cousin finished my braid and tied it off with a silver thread. I stood and studied myself in a mirror on the wall: a definite improvement. Then my gaze dropped to the fuzzy hairs above my lip. I stroked them thoughtfully. “Do people really pluck these?” I asked.

Írissë waved her hands, first toward Nécandil, then toward me. “Valar protect me from these messy children and their sloppy habits,” she said to the ceiling.

Chapter Text

We walked to the seashore under Laurelin’s waxing Light. The waves that crashed against the beach were dappled with gold. Refracted spangles danced across Nécandil, Írissë, and I as we made our way across smooth white sands. Ahead of us, a group of two dozen Falmari gathered around a bonfire. The breeze carried the sound of their music and laughter toward us.

Írissë had helped Nécandil and I dress for the occasion. He wore the dusky purple down from my closet and a garland of daylilies on his brow. The kohl around his eyes was vastly improved. I wore a long tunic of silver-netted cloth over loose trousers—they draped in such a way that the illusion of a full skirt was created. “It’s like wearing a dress,” Írissë explained, “but without all the trouble of one.” She told me she commissioned similar attire for riding or working at our uncle Fëanáro’s forge. I looked beautiful; for once I didn’t feel like a gangly weed in a rose garden. Írissë herself wore only a simple kirtle and bodice in white. (Obviously.)

We approached the crowd, and the Falmari greeted us with joy. One of them piped a fanfare on a reed pipe. Three willowy youths surrounded Nécandil and pulled him into the throng. I saw that these friends exhibited the same sort of fey allure as did Nécandil—they inhabited the same crossroads where male and female intermixed without care for convention. I watched them, mesmerized by their fluid movements and wise eyes. Treelight mingled with firelight, dancing across lean bodies. These Teleri would not be considered beautiful in the gilded drawing rooms of Tirion, but here on the beach, with the waves roaring and the reed pipes playing impish melodies... here, they were exquisite.

“They’re splendid, are they not?”

Írissë stood near me, surveying the revelers. She was near enough that I could feel the warmth of her bare arms radiating to mine. She also seemed captivated by Nécandil and his friends. There was a distant, worshipful expression in the depths of her eyes.

Jealousy licked at the edges of my conscious thoughts. “Do you love him?” I asked. (This was not an unreasonable query; Írissë declared herself in love with a new man every week.)

She laughed silently: a soft exhalation. “No, Artanis, at least not in that way. He is...he is like a precious gem that one savors but does not dare set into a necklace or ring, for fear the gold could never match the beauty of the stone itself. Nécandil is not someone I could ever take to bed.”

I knew exactly what my cousin meant, for I felt the same. Falling in love with Nécandil would only spoil things.

The pipes changed tune, and a harp added its voice to the song. They played a lively reel that had taken all of Aman by storm. A cheer rose from the crowd. Írissë and I began to clap. I did not care for dancing, but the melody was infectious. A swarthy young man in a green robe approached the two of us. Wordlessly, he reached his hands toward my cousin. She sprang lightly away with him and joined the dancers, who circled around the fire and splashed in the tide. Laughter nearly overpowered the music.

I watched from just beyond the circle of firelight. In Tirion, I often felt stiff and uncertain in large gatherings. Not so here. I was content to observe, and I did not fear Eärwen’s pinched expression when she saw I preferred not to engage.

The music rose and fell. I clapped my hands and joined in the singing when I knew the words. During a pause between dances, Nécandil brought me a flask of wine. He did not stay with me for long, and I did not mind when he went. Even as I stood alone, I was still part of the group. If any of the Falmari thought my behavior odd, they kept it to themselves. I didn’t doubt that the gossip in Alqualondë was just as potent as in Tirion, yet it didn’t worry me. There was no pretense here on the shore.

After a time, I finished my wine and strayed away from the bonfire. The tide was going out, and the retreating sea revealed a stretch of bare sand. Gleaming pink and white shells dotted the beach. I collected a few to bring back with me to Tirion. I skipped rocks across the waves while the musicians began a sad lament of lost love—another popular song, with lyrics written by the poet Elemmírë. We were far from Corollairë, and Varda’s stars shone fiercely overhead.

As my feet wandered, so did my mind. My thoughts raced from my nearly completed studies at the Royal Academy to what I hoped to eat for breakfast, and then back again. I thought of my life as it stretched before me in a regimented progression:, apprenticeship, marriage, children. None of it appealed to me, but I could not articulate why. So preoccupied was I that I didn’t see the figure approach until he stood next to me, knee-high in the pounding surf.

“Lady Artanis,” said a rough voice.

I stared at his face for the space of several heartbeats before I recognized him: Costamo. My fists clenched reflexively. I turned to walk away, back to the bonfire and the safety of the throng. I moved quickly, and my legs sloshed through the sea. Costamo’s voice called me back.

“Wait, my lady, please!”

I stopped, but did not turn to face him. In front of me, I saw Írissë and Nécandil twirling, hands clasped. The fire washed their faces in red and gold.

Costamo moved closer. I heard him splash as he came. “I apologize for what I said earlier,” he said to the back of my head. “It was unkind.”

I crossed my arms over my breasts, suddenly chilled. I didn’t want an apology; I wanted to be away from him. I heard his voice again: Tell me, does your cock ever trip you, or did they cut it off in order to pass you off as a girl? How had he known just where to aim his knife? (My mother had named me Nerwen, “man-maiden.”) Now, Costamo likely wanted to offer a long-winded excuse for his words. I didn’t care. He had wounded me where I was softest, and that was the end of it.

“All right,” I said. “You were unkind, and you have apologized for it. There, it’s finished. I wish you a prosperous life, Costamo.” I threw the words over my shoulder like darts. If I hurt him first, he could not strike at me again. Before he responded, I marched back to the bonfire without a backwards glance. Costamo called to me again, but his voice was lost amidst the clamor of the party and the sea.

I searched for my companions, feeling sick.

Írissë and Nécandil were chatting together on the far side of the bonfire, arms linked. Several of Nécandil’s friends had joined them. My cousin greeted my approach with a smile. “Artanis, you’re here!” Her voice was slurred slightly from drink and merrymaking.

I took hold of her hand. “We need to leave,” I said.

Írissë giggled.

“We need to leave,” I repeated. “Now.”

My words penetrated; Írissë’s eyes narrowed. She squeezed my chilly fingers and leaned to whisper in Nécandil’s ear. His sharp eyes studied me, but they were not gentle. He knew, and he was not pleased. The hairs along my arms stood up.

None of us spoke. The three of us came away from the shore in a single file, with Írissë in the lead. Laurelin was waning, and soon it would be time for the second Mingling. It was the hour when young children slept and everyone retreated to their homes. The twisting streets of Alqualondë were all but empty.

Strained emotions brewed. In front of me, Nécandi’s gait was stiff. I remembered what he had told me earlier in my bedchamber: I hadn’t been “fair” to Costamo. It was plain he was going to return to that theme once we returned to the palace.

Indeed, as soon as we had come into the open foyer of Olwë’s house, Nécandil ushered us into a nearby sitting room. Shelves ran the length of all four walls, and they were full of shells and smooth sea-stones. I would have liked to take a closer look at them, but this was not the time.

“Sit down, Artanis,” said Nécandil. His brow was furrowed, and his close-cropped hair seemed to stand on end.

I sat on a lavender silk chaise. Írissë sank down next to me; her knees brushed mine. It might have been comforting, but I felt sure that when it came to it, my cousin would share Nécanndil’s views. (No one was ever on my side.)

“What is it?” I asked the Falmaro.

He launched into speech: “I told you to be gentler with him, Artanis! I understand he was cruel and that he truly made a terrible impression on you earlier today. But you might consider that people lash out to wound others when they themselves are in pain.” He peered at me, and I felt that my very fëa had been revealed to him. “I should think you would understand that better than anyone,” Nécandil added.

I sat in sullen silence.

“I’m sorry,” broke in Írissë after a tense moment, “but who are we talking about?”

“Costamo Tautamion.” Nécandil barely spared her a glance, so intent was he on me. “He was the one Artanis slapped in the corridor. I saw him try to make amends at the beach, but your cousin dismissed him like some sort of vengeful queen.”

Now Írissë’s full attention turned to me. Her eyes were wide, like dinner plates. The combined weight of their stares made my nose prickle. “You slapped Costamo Tautamion?”

“Apparently.” I crossed my arms. (As I had anticipated, this was looking very much like an ambush.)

“But...but...” My normally voluble cousin was at a loss for words. “Have you no pity at all, Artanis?”

I was missing something. “Is Costamo someone I should be aware of? And is he somehow exempt from the consequences of foul words to strangers?”

Írissë flopped back against the arm of the chaise and groaned dramatically. She smacked her forehead with an open palm. “Artanis, do you ever pay attention to anything besides your own self?”

“Of course I do!”

“Do you really?” My cousin’s voice was skeptical.

I looked to Nécandil, standing by a shelf of smooth agates. His face was a picture of bemused frustration—the very same expression Arafinwë wore when dealing with my misbehavior.

I felt indignant and stupid, and I was angry because I so greatly disliked feeling stupid. “Well, can one of you explain the mystery of Costamo to me? It’s ridiculous to expect me to prostrate myself before him if I don’t know why I’m doing it.”

With a huff, Nécandil came to sit cross-legged on the floor in front of me. His silvery gaze met mine and held it. My discomfort grew.

“You have heard of Elemmírë, have you not?” he asked.

“Of course I have! I’m not a complete dunce.”

Elemmírë was the most famous writer and poet in all of Aman. She had come to Tirion a few years ago and performed for Finwë himself, where my grandfather had demanded an unprecedented five encores. I had been too young to attend the concert, but I remembered my brothers’ fascination with the Vanyarin woman—they seemed to be equal parts smitten with her and in awe of her. Findaráto had begged her to take him on as an apprentice, but she had refused. (None had ever dared refuse Findaráto before.) Rumor had it that her weekly poetry readings in Valmar were so crowded that many spectators swooned from the crush.

To think I wouldn’t know of Elemmírë was preposterous.

Nécandil continued: “Costamo’s parents are attachés to King Ingwë’s court, and he lived with them there. He and Elemmírë shared some of the same tutors. As might be expected, Ingwë had her installed at court permanently once her talent manifested. Then I suppose things progressed as they usually do, and Costamo and Elemmíre were betrothed. It was quite a big to-do, Artanis. I remember hearing about it even at my parents’ home in Tol Eressëa.”

“That was around the time Artanis decided to have a fencing match at a party Lady Eärwen held in the Gardens of Lórien,” interjected Írissë. [1]

I pursed my lips at her.

“Right, of course.” Nécandil rolled his eyes. “Anyway. This is all rumor and speculation, but it seems the betrothal was mostly a feat of maneuvering on the part of Costamo’s parents, and maybe Elemmírë’s as well. After a few months, Elemmírë broke the betrothal—publicly, at a reception held in her honor. Poor Costamo is a proud son of eminent politicians, and he was humiliated. But not as humiliated as his parents, who sent him back to Alqualondë like a soiled handkerchief. Now he’s here as a guest of Olwë, but all his friends are in Valmar, and I don’t think he feels comfortable among us. They do things very different among the Vanyar, I suppose.”

“I have heard he hates everyone from Tirion or Valmar,” added Írissë. “He thinks city-dwellers are arrogant and self-serving. And yet he wishes to still be a city-dweller himself.”

“That’s more or less what I’ve gathered from him since he arrived,” confirmed Nécandil. His eyes still probed mine. “So you can see why perhaps you might be more compassionate, Artanis. I think he really was in love with Elemmírë, and to be rejected in such a fashion is no small thing. And his parents might have rallied around him rather than tossing him out like a broken dish.”

During the telling of this tale, I began to feel ashamed. I remembered Eärwen’s frequent speeches on the importance of putting oneself in another’s position, the better to understand them. (I found doing so more difficult than any of my elder brothers had done.) Now I found it easy to imagine of Costamo’s thoughts. Nécandil had spoken true when he said I knew what it was like strike out before anyone else could act against you. Yet I wasn’t willing to give up my moral high ground. I was tired and sulky, and Costamo had been unforgivably insulting.

After a while, I shrugged. “I have never heard of anyone breaking a betrothal.”

“Nor have I,” agreed Írissë. “Imagine how mortifying that would be!” She shuddered for effect.

Nécandil still watched me from his seat on the rug. He was not going to let the matter rest without some manner of promise on my part. Perhaps he had a point.

“Well,” I said to him, “do not expect me to like him, but I’ll try not to hit Costamo again.”

It was the best I could do, and Nécandil seemed to know he had pushed me as far as he could. He grinned, almost imperceptibly. “I will hold you to that, Artanis.”

We fell silent. A clock chimed from somewhere in the house.

“Good, that’s settled! Now maybe we can get some sleep,” said Írissë briskly. “I require a great deal of rest to be this beautiful.”

The tension was diffused. We laughed together and trooped upstairs to our bedrooms.

I came late to breakfast, for I had slept long and fitfully. Even though I was one of the last to arrive, the food was still plentiful. The table was set out on a shaded porch near a trickling fountain. A gauzy canopy overhung the long buffet, and Írissë sat alone toward the middle. (Nécandil, I gathered, had already come and gone.) The queen and my many young cousins were playing in the garden below the terrace. Olwë also sat at the table, reading a slim volume of poetry, but he didn’t appear to notice my entrance. With a jolt, I saw my grandfather was reading Elemmírë’s latest work.

I flushed as I sat next to my cousin. She greeted me through a mouthful of porridge and honeyed dates.

I remembered the conversation that had taken place the night before and realized I would have to find Costamo and let him repeat his apologies. And if I wanted to appease Nécandil, I would likely have to apologize as well. Making friends (and keeping them) was a complicated business.

The food was good, and Írissë and I sat companionably together while the fountain laughed and sang. A cormorant wheeled through the sky above. I finished my own bowl of porridge and began attacking a plate of cinnamon-laced scones while Írissë started in on a plate of seed-cakes. Our silence was broken only by the intermittent ruffle of pages as Olwë leafed through his book.

Soft steps echoed across the flagged porch. I turned to see Costamo come out from the house’s interior. He was dressed for riding, his long braids looped neatly around his skill. I froze at the sight of him. I had not intended to speak with him in front of an audience, especially not the king.

My trepidation was misplaced. Perceiving that I did not wish to be spoken to (and likely fearing another rejection), the young Falmaro did not approach us. Costamo sat a few chairs distant from me and began to eat. He said nothing and did not look away from his plate. I bit into a scone, relieved. Írissë’s bare toes nudged my shin under the table. I met her eyes and shook my head. She gestured a go ahead motion with her hand.

“Not now,” I muttered.

Costamo did not appear to notice our pantomimed antics. I chewed loudly, and my cousin snorted.

“A brilliant poet, this Elemmírë,” said Olwë absently from the head of the table. He raised his head to take the three of us in. His smile was beatific. “I’m sure that you young people enjoy her writing as well?”

Costamo sat rigidly, spoon halfway to his lips. His neck reddened. Írissë’s eyes widened as she looked between the king and the younger Falmaro. I wished myself back in Tirion; surely the king could not be so dense? (Or perhaps this obtuseness was a sign he and I were related.)

The silence was hot and stifling. Olwë’s clear blue eyes were puzzled. It was evident he expect a response, but none were willing to give it.

Nonchalantly, I picked up a plum and bit into it. Sticky-sweet juice ran down my chin. I chewed, swallowed. “Elemmírë’s poetry is infantile and obvious,” I said to my grandfather. “I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” (A lie—I kept the Vanya’s first poetry collection beneath my pillow in Tirion.)

Olwë arched a single silver eyebrow. “Indeed, Artanis? How interesting.” He said no more and returned his attention to reading. A smile trembled in the corners of his mouth.

Down the length of the table, Costamo seemed to wilt. He angled his face toward mine and tried to smile, but it was wobbly and weak. I nodded at him but didn’t smile back. Silently, I finished the rest of my plum. At my other side, Írissë applauded, eyes laughing. Costamo huffed and grew absorbed in his food once more.

I was pleased with myself, and it was not the grim pleasure I usually experienced after unleashing mayhem on the streets of Tirion. This was a softer, warmer satisfaction: the knowledge that I had eased a hurt rather than caused one.

I wondered if Arafinwë would be pleased.

Chapter Text

The household servants released a collective sigh of relief: the lady Artanis had left Tirion. Lord Arafinwë had made the right choice, they all agreed—such a wise and discerning master, he was. How good it was to serve him.

“King Olwë will know how to how to handle her,” said Ténon the majordomo, as he sat in the servants’ hall later that evening. “She just needs time and a firm hand on the reins.”

The rest of the staff nodded in agreement. Perhaps Arafinwë and Eärwen were too lenient with their only daughter. As far as flaws went, it was not fatal. And (eventually), the lady Artanis would be reformed.

Until then: peace, for a time.

The servants held their heads high once again as they went about their daily tasks. No longer did Cook worry that the butchers in the marketplace would ask him about the lady Artanis’ public drunkenness. No longer did Lady Eärwen’s dresser wring her hands in frustration as Artanis traipsed about in raggedy trousers. No longer were the sentries woken in the middle of the night as Artanis rushed past the gate to make merry in the Lower Circles. And no longer did the groom fear his assistants would be fraternized with.

They were servants of the high lord Arafinwë, scion of the king, and among the serving class they were afforded much respect. It was good to serve the family of the king; it was honorable to toil for so glorious a master. The maids sang while they scrubbed the marble floors.

Gossip came their way, but Arafinwë’s servants paid no mind to it.

For seven nights and seven days, the scandalmongers in Tirion ran wild. Lady Artanis did not accompany her family to Fëanáro’s begetting day feast. She did not ride out with her brothers in the mornings, nor did she run lightly down the halls of the Royal Academy on her way to lessons. She was not seen in the Great Square or in the king’s libraries. Finwë’s lords and ladies dispatched their servants to collect news about Arafinwë’s reckless daughter, but there was none. Disappointed, the city turned to other things—did it not seem that the lady Anairë might be expecting a fourth child? And was not the poet Elemmírë’s new collection somewhat vulgar?

Tirion’s attention drifted, and within a week Artanis was forgotten.

Within the shaded breezeways and tranquil gardens of Arafinwë’s house, the servants smiled at one another. Peace, peace at last!

And if Lord Arafinwë seemed more distracted, and if Lady Eärwen now smiled but seldom, and if they both often sighed wistfully toward the east… Well, surely that was not the servants’ business.

Chapter Text

Life in Alqualondë fell into a comfortable rhythm. The Falmari were not an ambitious folk, but their days were full nonetheless. The members of Olwë’s household led a busy schedule of singing, dancing, sea-bathing, and sailing in and out of the gated harbor. (Not to mention eating.) One could never be discontented in such a place. The king himself spent most of his days at play with his visiting grandchildren, and Queen Ilcamë trailed in the wake of their merry destruction, accompanied always by her knitting and a bevy of handmaidens.

The four of us—Írissë, Nécandil, Costamo, and I—were the eldest of Olwë’s summer visitors, and for the most part we kept to ourselves. Nécandil was familiar with the city, and he acted as our guide whenever we ventured beyond the front garden. But those occasions were rare. Within the house, Írissë had taken it upon herself to teach us how to be beautiful (as she flippantly put it). What my cousin’s lessons lacked in rigor, they more than made up in hilarity. One attempt to teach me how to dance a complicated Vanyarin minuet ended when I tripped on the long train of my skirt, knocked a priceless vase from its pedestal, and kicked Nécandil in his privates. At first we all stood frozen in shock, but then Costamo (enlisted by Írissë to accompany the lesson on the viol) began to laugh. Soon the rest of us were helpless with mirth as well.

“If anyone ever asks you to dance, Artanis, just tell them you have indigestion,” gasped Írissë through her giggles.

“And if they make a fuss, refer them directly to me and my injured manhood,” added a groaning Nécandil.

My cousin’s lessons continued, but I did not dance again.

Between Costamo and I there was an unspoken, tentative accord. After Olwë’s uncomfortably prescient comment over breakfast, a watchful peace developed. I didn’t quite trust him, and he didn’t quite like me, but we did not quarrel openly again. Sometimes, while Írissë and Nécandil were lost in a debate over the application of cosmetics and whether indigo was an appropriate color for lips (Nécandil said yes; Írissë said not), we would talk. Costamo had a quick mind and an interest in the history and the lore of Eldalië, as did I. We conversed in a respectful, scholarly manner, with an ease that might have surprised me had I been more self-reflective.

Indeed, after a rough beginning, my banishment to Alqualondë was proving to be one of the finest summers I could remember. I woke each day with an appreciation for the simple enjoyment of a life well-lived. Sea-salt wove itself into my errant hair, but there was no one to chastise me. I was free to laugh loudly, and often. At times, Nécandil and I returned to our earlier plan to travel south to Eressëa, but our companions seemed only tepidly enthusiastic of such an undertaking. Comfortable as we were, none of us could truly rouse the energy to make a definite plan.

The days passed. I began to think less about the scandals I had left behind in Tirion; my damaged reputation seemed less and less important within the pearly walls of Olwë’s house. In the back of my mind, I began to understand that my parents, with their sighs and head-shaking, sought only to help me reach success, not to whip my very fëa into submission. (I did not begrudge them their worries.) My three-step plan for my own rehabilitation was forgotten. Even so, I became more circumspect in my actions. When Costamo and I disagreed over a point of linguistics, I curbed my first impulse to shout and stomp off; when I grew restless indoors, I went for a swim in the ocean until exhaustion stilled my twitching limbs; when the impulse to shock and dismay came upon me, I banished it with vigor. And all the while, Írissë was there to tease me, and Nécandil to nudge my shoulder in companionship—even Costamo would sit on the shore while I swam for hours: “In case a riptide should try and claim you,” he said gruffly by way of explanation.

I was growing up. I had fought against it, but adulthood came anyway. It was not as painful a transition as I had once thought.

One morning, the four of us decided to visit a local tavern that was famous for its ale and honey-cakes. (Vanyarin farmers had recently learned the cultivation of bees from Yavanna, and a craze for the golden syrup had swept across Aman.) Nécandil and I had never had honey, and we were eager to taste it. The tavern was just outside the city walls, so we directe the palace grooms to saddle our mounts. We met in the open courtyard where Telperion’s Light shone brightly.

While we waited for the horses the be brought around, Írissë and Costamo began to bicker over who could drink the most ale. (My guess was Írissë—not for nothing was she dear friends with the sons of Fëanáro.)

“Don’t be ridiculous,” put in Nécandil, “for we all know that the doughtiest drinkers come from Eressëa!” He flexed his thin arms; combined with his ruffled pink blouse (stolen from my closet), the gesture made him look like a flamingo.

I opened my mouth to say as much, but a soft tug at my elbow pulled my attention away. One of King Olwë’s heralds stood close, a solemn expression on her broad features.

“If it please you, my lady, your grandfather the king wishes to speak with you,” said the herald.

That was surprising. Aside from the day of my arrival, I had not interacted much with Olwë. I had seen him here and there around the palace, but never for long. He had certainly never requested my presence so formally before. Perhaps he wished me to join in with the children’s games? At any other time I wouldn't have minded, for my Telerin cousins were sweet and only a little naughty.

“I am about to go riding with my friends,” I said. “Couldn’t this wait?”

The herald frowned. “My lady, the king is in his Tower, and he awaits your presence especially.”

Another surprise. Olwë’s Tower was annexed to the palace in the east, accessible via an underground passage. From the top, one could see west to the Corollairë and south-east to the Bay of Eldamar and Tol Eressëa. At least, that was what the rumors said; people were rarely invited to the Tower, and Olwë carried the only key.

I wanted to voice my refusal a second time, but years of protocol learned at Eärwen’s knee took effect. I swept the herald as gracious a curtsey as I could muster. (I had been looking forward to the honey-cakes.) “Of course,” I said the the woman. “Let me just tell my friends to ride on without me.”

I did so, explaining the situation as succinctly as I could. Írissë and Costamo were disappointed yet unconcerned, but Nécandil was clearly shocked. “If only I could come with you and get just one look—they say you can see all of Tol Eressëa from the turret. Maybe I could see my family at work in their orchard!” He shook his head regretfully.

I promised to look for his parents’ home, then turned to follow the herald back inside. She led me through echoing white hallways and down a wide flight of stone steps. The underground passage was short and lit with torches. An intricately woven green-and-yellow carpet ran from the stairs to a far door, where two steel-mailed sentries stood. Our footsteps did not echo.

The herald gestured, and the right-hand sentry opened the door to reveal a circular chamber and another flight of stairs, winding upwards. “I will leave you here, my lady,” the herald said to me. “The king waits for you in the highest turret.” She left, the folds of her livery whispering as she walked.

I looked between the two smooth-faced sentries. Their expressions were carefully neutral. There was nothing left but to go forward, and so I did. I stepped into the wide, circular chamber. The door swung closed behind me. A stair of pale gray stone began on the far wall, winding up up up. I thought ruefully of the lifting mechanism Noldorin engineers had recently installed in the Mindon Eldaliéva.

I began to climb.

The spiral stair was lighted both by gilt-silver lanterns and rectangular windows cut into the wall of the tower itself. Fresh sea air toyed with my hair and robe as I climbed. The scent of brine grew strong as I went on. Finally, the stair ended on a wide platform. A golden ladder came through a square hole in the ceiling. I put my hands on the rungs and ascended, slightly out of breath from the countless stairs. My head emerged into a clear day of glowing Treelight. I blinked against the sudden bright.

A domed roof sat on top of the tower, supported by wide pillars. Gauzy curtains swayed in the gaps left between the columns. King Olwë sat before me, in a pink-marble chair inlaid with pearls and blue shells. His back was to me, for the throne faced across the sea to the eastern horizon. A long seeing-scope on a tripod stood next to him. The rest of the open turret was bare.

Swallowing thickly, I approached my grandfather; he did not appear to have recognized my arrival. I kept my eyes on the smooth, empty floor as I walked. I was not afraid of heights as a rule, but I had never been so far from the earth before. (Arafinwë had promised to take me to the top of the Mindon in Tirion, but his diplomatic duties filled his schedule.)

I shuffled closer to Olwë. When I drew close enough to see over the tall back of his chair, I noticed a small basket in his lap. It was the kind Arafinwë’s cook used to store fruits and vegetables in the larders. The king’s basket had a least a dozen of the most enormous carrots I’d ever seen, and he was eating them with the relish of a particularly avid rabbit. I nearly laughed. Even here, at the top of the world, Olwë defied convention.

“I am here, my lord,” I said by way of greeting.

He mumbled an acknowledgement through a full mouth. I studied the horizon as he finished chewing. It was a clear, silvery day (as were all days in Aman). No clouds or trees marred the view. I felt that I could see into eternity, and beyond. My nervousness of heights lessened.

“So, granddaughter, you are not happy in Tirion.”

I was taken aback by Olwë’s bluntness and didn’t think to lie. “No,” I said. I was not happy—had not been for a long time.

He nodded and selected a new carrot from the basket. The crunch when he bit off the tip was obscenely loud. “But drinking and gambling and wearing trousers—do those things make you happy?”

I blinked. No one had ever asked that question, and perhaps they should have. Yes, I wanted to say: Yes, I love riding hell-for-leather through the streets at midnight; Yes, I love fighting in alleys; Yes, I love scandalizing society and dismaying my parents. But, of course, that was not the truth.

I did not behave as I did because I enjoyed doing so. It might be that I believed such actions gave me pleasure; but now, standing at my grandfather’s side while his blue eyes probed my face, I saw myself truly.

“It does not make happy, my lord,” I whispered. The admission felt like a loss. I was unmoored and set adrift on a tide, and I had no navigation chart.

Olwë nodded again and hummed a little. He rested his cheek against his palm and stared out across the ocean, into the east. I followed his line of sight and saw only a blue sky and a blue sea—and a fuzzy line where the two met.

“I had brothers,” said the king. He took another bite of carrot.

My mind reeled again: this conversation was proving difficult to follow. Of course, I knew of his brothers; we all did. It was fact that Olwë had not been Chief of the Lindar from the time of the Awakening. That title had fallen upon Elwë, who had strayed into the woods of Endórë and never come out. Some thought Elwë had perished there, but perhaps he lived on, still in that Lightless forest with Elmo his brother and those of the Lindar who had forsaken the road to Aman.

The king kept speaking: “I left him there, though I looked long amid the trees and the shadows. But in time I grew weary of the hunt, and of the dark. I heeded the call of the Valar at last. Perhaps I did right in this, but perhaps I did not. It may be that my brother Elwë look for me still, alone and abandoned.”

“Grandfather,” I whispered, softly. I stepped closer to his chair so that I might rest my hand on his shoulder. His frame trembled beneath my touch. I had known Olwë all my life, but I had never seen him thus. A wise king, he was considered to be, and a merry one. Yet was his joy merely a mask, and did he climb his Tower in solitude, so that he might be free in his regret and his doubt? I did not know what to say to him—indeed, there was nothing to be said.

How can one comfort the bereaved in a land without grief?

After a time, Olwë’s silent sobs lessened. He returned to eating his carrots. He chewed them meditatively now, rather than with hunger. He reached with his free hand to pat mine, resting there on his solid, kingly shoulder.

“I think you would have liked it there, Artanis,” he said. His voice was light once again. “Endórë is not like Tirion—not like Aman at all. It is bigger, wilder. You might have carved your own place there more easily, without all this fuss and bother.”

“But I cannot leave Aman,” I said. The very thought was absurd. And yet...and yet, I could not deny that some part of my fëa roused at the idea. Strange ambitions sang sweetly in my veins, sweeter than breaking curfew or playing pranks on my schoolmasters.

“No, no,” laughed Olwë. “Indeed you cannot leave! I meant nothing, Artanis, it was merely the observations of a silly old king, grown too wise for his own good. Think not of it.” He waved at the air, as if to banish our conversation.

I allowed the moment to pass.

“I suppose I should do as my mother says, when I return to Tirion in the autumn,” I said. “She believes that Ilsaner the Loremaster would take me as a pupil, and that after I complete my studies, I should take one of my father’s aides as a husband.”

“Do as you wish, granddaughter,” said the king, “but know that my daughter Eärwen will not lead you astray, whatever her counsel may be.”

“She is a good mother,” I said, more to myself than to the king. I realized I had never told Eärwen as much.

Olwë smiled at me. He reached into the basket on his lap and pulled out the largest, orangest carrot of the bunch. He offered it to me with a courtly flourish. I hated all root vegetables, but I accepted this one with a half-laugh. The snap when the carrot broke between my teeth was supremely satisfying. We munched happily, the king and I, and observed the view from our perch at the top of the world. We were taller even than the wheeling gulls—they looked like children’s toys from where I stood.

“I believe I heard something about a trip to Tol Eressëa?” prompted my grandfather at length.

I was sure none of us had mentioned it to Olwë, but servants would gossip, even in Alqualondë. “Nécandil’s family has an orchard on the isle,” I said, “and we—Nécandil, Írissë, Costamo, and I—thought we might visit sometime this summer. If you approve, of course.”

“An excellent idea,” said Olwë. “The four of you have become fast friends, have you not?”

I opened my mouth to protest, but stopped. Before my banishment, I had never been close with anyone my age except my brothers. I had never had a friend before, and now I had two—plus my cousin. Day by day, I found Írissë less annoying than I had before. She was vain, but not stupid. I thought back to all of the girls in Tirion I had thought so insipid, and I wondered if I had misguided them as well. It had become clear that heretofore I’d been a dismal judge of character. (Even Costamo had turned out to have some redeeming qualities.)

“Yes,” I said. “We are friends.”

“Then I am pleased, Artanis,” said the king. “To be lonely is to suffer a great evil.” He rose from his chair and embraced me. I smelled sea-salt and driftwood. “You are a good girl, and you’ll grow to become a better woman.”

I wanted to burst into tears, but I didn’t know why. I buried my face in his warm chest and fought for composure. After I gathered my emotions together, I managed a misty “thank you.” Olwë released me and clapped his hands. Then he capered about, performing a little jig for my amusement.

“I think such a momentous undertaking should begin on the right note, don’t you agree?” His blue eyes twinkled down at me.

It took me a moment to realize that he was referring to the proposed trip to Eressëa. “Oh,” I said, “I suppose?”

“Quite right, quite right! I shall inform the captain of my Royal Swan-ship that you and your friends will be departing from Alqualondë—she will conduct you across the bay herself. I trust two days will be sufficient time to pack...and gorge yourself on honey-cakes?”

I blushed. By now I knew better than to question how my grandfather knew of the outing I’d planned for that morning—Olwë was cannier than he looked. “Um,” I stammered, “I am sure we can all be ready by then.”

The king bounded toward the hole in the turret’s floor and gestured down the golden ladder. “Then away with you, my child! Tell your new friends of this good fortune, and remember to pack a crown!”

I did as he bid, laughing. I swung down the ladder with ease. The king waved at me once, then resumed his seat on the marble throne. I climbed down into the Tower’s interior with a glad heart. But as I descended the ladder-rungs, I looked again at the wide blue sky and and the vast sea—and at the lonely figure sitting on the platform, gazing relentlessly into the east.