"What did he say?" Míriel's voice, quick and eager, flew at Daurin in the same way as she did herself. Daurin chuckled and wrapped her up in his arms, lifting her clear off her feet before setting her down again.
"It's good to see you, too, little kitten," he said. "Still playing with your string?" In the dimness, illumined only by one candle, Daurin could see the white strands of Míriel's latest weaving project on her loom.
"Of course I am," she said haughtily. "What did he say?"
"There's Light in the West," he began, as she drew him over to the wooden chair. It was a little too narrow for both of them but she folded herself into his lap, as she had done many times before but was almost too big for now.
"Go on." She wrapped her arms around his neck and lay her head down on his shoulder. A soft sigh was the only evidence of her relief at seeing him.
"The Messenger of the Valar spoke true, Finwë says." Daurin took a deep breath, the images painted by Finwë's words still clear in his mind. "Light spills out from two fair Trees, silver and golden. The Valar live in a land of beauty, of plenty, of peace. There it is safe from the Dark Hunter. He said the land is wide and broad, full of fertile plains and noble mountains. You would not need to depend on what poor crops we can grow here to make your cloth, for there you can grow as much as you need. They have wonders we have not thought of yet, and they want us to come."
"What could I do with a hundredfold more flax than I have," Míriel whispered, but it was to herself, not Daurin.
"A thousandfold," he responded anyway. "Or so Finwë gave the impression of. He spoke well. 'Come, the Valar bid us,' he said. 'Come from woe and sorrow unto bliss and peace forevermore.'"
"Bliss and peace forevermore," Míriel echoed. "Does such a thing exist in this marred world?" She slipped from his lap, and stood up, walking over to the window. Across the arm of the lake the welcome-home fires were still burning bright, and the shapes of many small figures moved back and forth, reflected in the black water.
"You should speak to Finwë yourself, if you doubt that," Daurin said. "He seemed very confident of it."
"Would he even listen to the doubts of a child?" Míriel said, turning back to face Daurin again.
"You won't be a child for very much longer," Daurin answered. "And such a child as you! Do you know, he asked me about this tunic I'm wearing. He said it was the finest he'd seen outside Valinor itself, and what They wear doesn't count. I told him that my sister made it. He would listen to you!"
Míriel tilted her head, a smile beginning to dawn on her face. "Then, after we rest, I ask that you take me to him."
Resplendent in her wedding garments, Míriel turned a smiling face to look up at Daurin. "Has the time come?" Her voice, bright and eager, spilled across the space between them, and Daurin hastened to gather her up in his arms, suddenly feeling that she was on the brink of a cliff, and soon would fall with no return.
"Yes," he said into her hair. "They are all waiting."
She made a quick movement as if to step toward the door, but he caught her hand. "Wait," he said. "Let me look at my little sister one last time before she becomes a wife and a queen."
Míriel laughed. "I will always be your little sister," she said. "Wife and queen notwithstanding." She made a gesture at her long lacy dress. "But what do you think?"
"You have outdone yourself," he said, looking her up and down. Her dress was mostly silver to match her hair, adorned with pearls sewn in carefully by the hundreds, each of them with her own hand. The lace was intricate, elaborate, each part of it unique. Some of it had small scenes from her own history woven directly into the cloth. Across the front of her long skirt, a lace motif of the Two Trees shone, one in silver lace, the other gold, overlapping and intertwining.
Her jewels were rubies, shining in her ears, her hair, her arms, and at her fair throat, all of them gifts from Finwë, and crafted by him. Her face shone with happiness, the love in her eyes for Finwë undeniable, and Daurin quelled the foreboding that rose up inside him, from where he could not tell. "I have never seen anything so fair, not even the Trees themselves."
Míriel laughed. "Someday you'll wish to take yourself a wife, and then you may regret those words!"
Daurin smiled at her. "I do not think that is my fate, little sister. Besides, I have already raised a child, what need have I of a wife?"
Míriel laughed, blushing a little. "Well, I'm not going to explain that to you, especially after the terrible job you did of explaining it to me in the first place!" She raised herself on tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "But that aside, you could not have done a better job of raising me. Our grief and loss was great, but here in Aman I have found bliss, thanks to you."
Daurin returned the kiss to her forehead. "I only wish that our parents were here to see you today. But they could not be prouder than I am."
"I wish that too," she said, her voice soft and face pensive. "But what is cannot be changed. All we can do is move forward." She tugged at his hand, her smile returning. "Come, no more delay. Finwë is waiting."
"She grows weaker by the day," Finwë said. "She can barely speak even now." His voice was hushed both due to the baby in his arms and his palpable fear and concern. Míriel lay still and silent, and no one, from the Elven healers to the Valar themselves, knew what was wrong or how to fix it.
"I would speak with her nonetheless," Daurin said, and Finwë made a gesture toward the closed door of the room where she lay. Daurin inclined his head, and pushed the door open.
Míriel was pale and wan, her body looking as though she were still pregnant, even though it had been many days since she gave birth. She was completely still, unnaturally so, and Daurin's mind flashed back to his discovery of their father's body, all those years ago, and the signs of struggle all around to keep their mother from being taken by the Dark Hunter.
But here there were no signs of struggle. Míriel was not bleeding, she suffered no wound, and they were in blissful Aman, where the Dark Hunter was chained up, and where his servants could not be. He sat down on the bed beside her, and brushed a hand over her soft hair, limp and lifeless as the rest of her. She was as far removed from that glorious beauty he had seen wed to Finwë as a child's first clay model was from one of the daughter of Mahtan's statues.
He raised his eyes to one of those very statues, of Finwë himself, watching over his wife though he could not be there himself. It had been newly completed in the last days of Míriel's pregnancy, and the statue wore a look of hope and expectation, though somewhere deep buried inside the painted marble expression was a faint sorrow, just being born.
Míriel stirred, and he looked back to her swiftly. "Sister?" he said. "How fare you?"
"Ill," she answered briefly. "I felt him...slipping away from me. I almost lost him."
"The babe lives," Daurin said softly.
"I know," she answered. "I gave all. All I had. I kept nothing back." She took a long, deep breath. "Would you not have done the same for me?"
"Of course," Daurin said without hesitation, placing his hand over hers.
"Watch over him," Míriel said. "Protect him, my Fëanáro, my little fire." Her voice grew very faint. "I...must...rest."
"How dare he!" Fëanáro said, pacing up and down the room with the mien of a caged tiger. At sixteen years old, he was unusually precocious, and could have been taken for someone nearly twice his age, much as his mother had been. Daurin, seated on the long sofa that ran across one end of the reception room, could not help but see Míriel in him. Fëanáro had his father's long black hair, but his mother's face, her quick manner of speaking, her graceful gestures, and her moods.
"I agree, it's outrageous," Daurin said, knowing he should try to calm Fëanáro, but not feeling inclined to do so on this matter. "Your mother, my sister - did she mean nothing to him?"
Fëanáro stopped in his tracks, looking across at Daurin. "Surely the Valar won't allow him to wed this...Indis," he said. "If he does, I'm leaving. I'll go and apprentice somewhere and never return."
"I promised your mother I would protect you, little kitten," Daurin said, holding out his hand. Fëanáro took it, and Daurin pulled him in for a hug. "And I will, so you have to take me with you."
"Fair enough," Fëanáro said against his shoulder, muffled.
"And one, and two, and three - keep it up, Fëanáro!"
The swords clashed together again, and Fëanáro laughed. "I love this!" he exclaimed. He was thirty years old, looked fully-grown, and despite his various attempts to go and take an apprenticeship with someone, his father had refused every time. Instead, Fëanáro spent some of his days with Daurin, learning everything he could about the world of Cuiviénen before the Journey, and the rest of his time with Rûmil, griping about the limitations of Sarati, so far as Daurin could tell.
Daurin grinned, dancing backwards. "Come and get it if you want it!" He skipped amongst the trees, keeping an eye on Fëanáro all the while, and ducked behind one just as Fëanáro swung at him.
The sword promptly got caught on the tree trunk and buckled under the strain when Fëanáro tried to pull it out. "This sword isn't worth the metal!" he exclaimed, frustrated.
"You've got to learn to improvise!" Daurin leaped at him again, sword in hand, and Fëanáro reacted quickly, catching Daurin's wrist and yanking it to one side so that the sword flew out of his hand into the greensward not far away.
"Improvised enough for you?" Fëanáro grinned and tackled him, wiry strength bearing him to the ground. Daurin felt all his nerves light up wherever Fëanáro touched him, sending a kind of sweet fire through his veins. He went breathless, stunned and limp, and Fëanáro took the opportunity to climb atop him. "The victory is mine!"
Fëanáro grinned down at Daurin, who roused himself enough to pant out, "Well done!" But Fëanáro was already looking over at the sword, bent and imbedded in the tree.
"I bet I could do better with that metal, given half a chance. Do you think you could find me a metalsmith to apprentice with? One that Father won't turn down?"
Daurin shoved at Fëanáro. "Get off, you're too heavy to sit on me for long like that!" Fëanáro swung his leg back over Daurin and settled down on the grass beside him. Daurin thought for a moment of a statue in Míriel's bedroom, long ago. "I think I might know of someone who would suit."
"I want to marry her," Fëanáro said, pointing Nerdanel out among the crowd of partygoers. She was talking animatedly to one of her friends near her display of painted statues, so vivid and lifelike they looked they were hanging on her every word too.
Unaccountably, Daurin's heart sank at these words. The years that had passed since that day in the woods hadn't brought him much in the way of enlightenment about his strange feelings for Fëanáro. He only knew that Fëanáro was the one and only person he had ever met who made him feel this way, and also that it was something he could never, ever speak of or act on. They were kin too near, and Fëanáro was the type of person who would love in this manner only once, much as his mother had been, and unlike his father.
"You love her?" Daurin forced a smile. Fëanáro turned, quickly perceiving something false about his tone.
"I do, why, do you not think her a good match for me? The daughter of Mahtan, skilled, famed, and talented in her own right." He gestured toward her. "Strong and beautiful." He flung his hair back over his shoulder, preening a little. "Perfect match, she's just like me."
Daurin laughed. "Well, there's no denying you know what you want." He laid a hand on Fëanáro's shoulder. "Go get her, nephew."
Fëanáro shot him a dazzling smile, and marched off in Nerdanel's direction. Daurin turned away before they met, looking North toward the Trees, where the Mingling was at its height, and the dying light of Laurelin shone together with the rising light of Telperion. Míriel's wedding dress in all of its lacy perfection came into his mind, and her bright smile, long ago, now lost like their mother and father had been, under circumstances even more mysterious.
Fëanáro was the only family he had, and protecting him was second nature by now. No matter what, Daurin would see that he was happy, even if it meant denying himself.
"Little fox!" Daurin laughed, picking Maitimo up and whirling him around. "It's been so long since I've seen you! You got so tall!"
Maitimo was still only shoulder-height but that was impressive for a fifteen-year-old. He bid fair to be as precocious as his father and grandmother. Míriel's eyes shone in his face, but softened, and Daurin set him down, knelt before him, then took his face into his hands, inspecting him closely.
Maitimo giggled. "We've seen so much!" he exclaimed. "We went all the way to the shores of the Sea in Araman, where it's very cold!"
"With hair like that to keep you warm, you would've been fine up there," Daurin said, ruffling Maitimo's long red locks.
"It was still cold!" Maitimo exclaimed. "We saw a white bear! It was huge!"
"Oh, with white bears to tempt you, how could you return to dusty old Tirion?" Daurin asked, pressing a kiss to Maitimo's forehead, then standing up again.
"Mother's going to have another baby," Maitimo said.
"Ah," Daurin said. "I understand." Years before, when Maitimo was about to be born, Fëanáro had been frantic to ensure that Nerdanel had the best of care. He'd been a nervous wreck for days before and after the birth, until it was clear that Nerdanel had come through just fine.
"Well, while you're in Tirion, maybe we can start some sword training, hmm?"
Maitimo's eyes lit up. "Yes!" he said, pretending to jab Daurin in the stomach with a sword.
"Oof!" Daurin exclaimed, reacting. "Stab your opponent in the gut? That's dirty play, Maitimo!" He paused for a moment, then looked up, grinning. "Exactly how you should do it! The monsters over the sea won't stand still and wait for you to stab them someplace easy-peasy like the shoulder or the leg." He pretended to stab back at Maitimo. "Go for the throat, go for the gut, go for the kill!" He pretended to slit Maitimo's throat with one hand, wrapping the other arm around his waist and pulling him off the ground. "And you're dead!"
"Not for long!" Maitimo said, struggling to free himself. "I'll come right back from the dead and kill you instead!" He landed lightly on his toes, and immediately tackled Daurin, who let himself be pushed to the floor, laughing.
"Listen," Makalaurë said, and drew his fingers over his harp. "I made this song of the Outer Lands for you."
He began to play and sing, voice filling the empty hall where they sat together. Daurin's mind went back into long distant memories of the stars above and and the water, ever-present, to the time of Míriel's young childhood, when they still had their parents, before the Dark times, before the Hunter came.
The song changed. A storm gathered, and in the mist and rain, their food stocks grew lower and lower. Finally Daurin's mother went out into the dark mist to find something they could eat. Their small hut was the furthest from the village centre.
A scream erupted in the darkness and the sound was like nothing Daurin had ever heard before. "Stay here!" his father commanded, voice brooking no argument. "Watch your sister!" And he disappeared into the darkness, too.
When the storm passed, they found his body, rent and torn in a dozen different places. There had been a struggle, a fight, and some of his mother's clothing lay on the ground, bloodstained, but there was no sign of her. Time passed, and Míriel grew, and there was never any sign of their mother again.
The song faded back into rippling water and the high cold clear music of the stars above, and the warmth of family and hearth, but with forever something missing, now.
Daurin looked up when the music stopped, putting his hand to his face and discovering that tears were running down his cheeks. "You have a gift, Káno," he said, voice choked. "Be careful how you use it. You could break hearts - or mend them."
"One of my apprentices says he overheard one of the Palace secretaries telling another one about a plot by that brat of Indis'," Fëanáro said, swinging his feet up onto the low table in front of the sofa and taking a swig from his glass of wine.
Daurin settled back into the sofa himself, picking up his own glass and swirling it around. "What kind of plot?"
"Nolofinwë's already managed to get himself equal status with me, but he won't be content until he's ousted me entirely," Fëanáro answered. "He's planning to go to my father tomorrow during council and ask him to strip me of my rights, to disinherit me and take my place."
"Finwë would never do that," Daurin protested, but deep unease began to stir inside him, and he corrected himself. "I don't believe Finwë would do that."
Fëanáro looked at him keenly. "But you're not sure."
Daurin set his wine glass down, untouched. "I'm not. He's already given much to the children of Indis, it's true."
"I can't allow this to happen." Fëanáro set his own glass down and moved down the sofa, putting his arms around Daurin. The old familiar longing began to rise up, tingling through Daurin's veins, but he forced himself to listen to what Fëanáro was saying. "I have to stop it. My inheritance is one thing, but the love of my father - he will not have that, he does not deserve that."
Daurin pressed a kiss to Fëanáro's forehead. "It would be an insult to the memory of your mother and my sister to even suggest that you should be disinherited. I can't believe Nolofinwë would dare."
"According to rumour, there is much that Nolofinwë would dare for a crown," Fëanáro said. "I've heard even darker rumours, but I won't believe that even Nolofinwë would stoop so far as to attempt the murder of his own father."
"Yet it's best to be prepared," Daurin said. "Don't hurt anyone, if you can avoid it, but don't give in to threats and intimidation, either. You should show your face at council tomorrow, and make it clear that you won't have your place usurped."
"Let me go with you," Daurin said, buckling his sword-belt around his waist.
"The Valar have forbidden weapons at the festival," Fëanáro said.
"Then I won't go to the festival," Daurin answered. "I have no mind to show my face there in any case. Leave me at the foot of Taniquetil near the Mound of Ezellohar and I will wait for you there. I swore to protect you, and so I will."
Fëanáro nodded. Ever since he had been exiled, his natural exuberance had been quelled. He worked on very little, and spent most of his time writing treatises and wandering the woods near Formenos with Daurin, his father, or his sons. Since Melkor's visit, even those walks were taken with half an eye behind himself at all times. He was afraid, and in Daurin's view, with good reason.
They said farewell to Finwë and to Fëanáro's sons like they would be gone for years rather than a few days. Some foreboding cloud hung over them all. Daurin kissed Maitimo and Makalaurë, the two he was closest to, and embraced the rest, Finwë too. His decision to come to Formenos had redeemed him utterly for the betrayal of marrying Indis in both Fëanáro's and Daurin's view.
Sharing a horse, they rode off in Laurelin's fading light. Daurin, looking back, saw the whole of Formenos in shadow cast by the nearby mountains. Foreboding stronger than ever, he wrapped his arms around Fëanáro and they galloped toward Taniquetil.
The light of Laurelin was at its brightest when they arrived at the Mound of Ezellohar. All was silence and peaceful - too quiet, like the calm before a great storm on the shores of Cuiviénen. Fëanáro paused, and slipped down from the horse alongside Daurin.
"The festival has already begun," he said. Far away up the mountainside, they could hear faint singing.
"I will wait here for you," Daurin said. "You won't stay long, will you?"
"I have been commanded to show my face, and that I shall do," Fëanáro said. He leaned forward, his arms around Daurin's waist, and brushed his mouth lightly across Daurin's - the first time ever he had kissed him like that. Daurin took in a sharp breath, trembling, the words he had never said burning in his breast.
"Farewell," he said, instead of those other words.
"Farewell," Fëanáro answered, and slipped away, mounting his horse, and heading up the steep paths. Daurin watched him until he was a faint speck on the mountain above, hardly discernible from the rocks and trees. Far above, the faint singing went on.
Daurin turned his back to Taniquetil and settled down underneath an oak tree to watch the Trees shimmer and burn. Half-dozing in the warm light, he felt more than saw the Mingling beginning, Telperion's light slowly beginning to grow again.
He came to himself with a start in a darkness more complete than any he had ever known, even in the darkness under stars long ago. It was not just a darkness, it was an Unlight, and in it darker things moved, things with many legs. For a moment he was paralysed by haunting fear, then he stood hastily and drew his sword.
The light of the Trees was still visible, though dimmed, as if he was caught in a great net. Against the Treelight, two dark shapes moved. One he knew - the Dark Hunter, the killer of his father, the kidnapper of his mother, Melkor, the enemy of Fëanáro, the enemy of all. It became suddenly clear that the Dark Hunter and the Dark Vala were one and the same.
The other - the terrible spider who spun webs of Unlight - he did not know. Frantic, he launched himself at them both, hacking at the spider's legs with a vicious fury.
One leg parted easily enough from its owner before she could turn around. She flung a web around him, catching him in it. He thrust his sword at her and black blood stained it.
The Dark Vala loomed over him then, and death was in his eyes.