Arafinwë had left two weeks ago, mouth pinched into a flat line, and his eyes already grieving and sad. Eärwen had watched him go and begun counting down the two weeks because as Arafinwë had left his house, another had been departing her own in Tirion.
Two weeks ended today, and without any sort of foul weather in the interim, Eärwen fully expected to see a figure riding down the street towards her house at any moment.
Eärwen glanced back into her home where her mother was lingering at the doorway to Eärwen’s study where she was watching the driveway, fingers lingering on the House Accounts she was meant to be going through.
“Mother? The boys are not giving you trouble?”
“Oh no I left them stringing pearls for me,” Aiarmála stepped into the room, the strings of balier and golden pearls in her braids catching the eye amongst the thick darkness. “Anairë has not arrived yet?”
“She likely got distracted by the new art installation on the Bridge,” Eärwen smiled a little at the thought. What about Anairë think of the latest artwork to adorn what Anairë considered her own greatest artwork: the bridge over the inlet just to the south of Alqualondë.
Would she hate it?
“She has been visiting often,” Aiarmála commented after a moment, arms crossing.
Eärwen glanced at her and was surprised to see the worried look of concern on his mtoher’s face
“Darling,” her mother stirred, the wispy pleats of her dress fluttering aqua in the corner of Eärwen’s eyes, “it used to be Anairë might have a spat with her husband and visit you alone every other year because of it. But lately… she visits very often, sometimes every season. Is she having trouble with her husband?”
“There have been more arguments,” Eärwen’s smile slipped away, “between Nolofinwë and Fëanáro. Anairë tends to get caught between, seeing as she has strong ties to them both that she cannot fight.”
Her mother frowned all the more, “sometimes marriages do not last forever. And sometimes though we do not like to admit it the ones we love can become the worst thing for us. You will tell your friend that she has a haven here with us yes?”
“Mother,” Eärwen caught on, “No! Anairë and Nolofinwë are not actually fighting! And Nolofinwë is not…not abusing Anairë if that is what you are suggesting! She simply needs to escape the fights.”
Aiarmála squeezed her arm firmly, “Aiaruendë you make sure that Anairë knows that she has a safe place here in Alqualondë .”
Eärwen sighed, knowing she could not move her mother’s mind on the matter of Anairë’s marriage, “Yes I shall.”
“Good… I think that is her.”
Eärwen turned back to the window in a second, and her mouth curled up happily. “Yes it is,” she confirmed, hopping to her feet as the lone rider coming down the road stopped at the gate, managed to undo it without getting off her horse, and rode into the stable.
“I will go make sure your boys aren’t knotting my pearls, I will see her in due course I suppose.”
A final squeeze of reminder.
Where on earth had her mother gotten the idea that Anairë’s marriage might be an unhappy one?
Eärwen was left to hurry down into the courtyard, where Anairë, now in the safety of the courtyard, dared to dismount.
There were things that did not change, visit to visit, right from their very first acquaintance. Just as when Eärwen had been a too short, too nosy, too young girl who thought herself a maiden already grown, Anairë still looked like just the sort of person you did not want to meet down the end of a dark alley.
Too rough, too sharp of face to be beautiful, and barely managing pretty with her pointy long nose and her slightly too large front teeth.
Gold glittered in the ring through Anairë’s right nostril, a popular replacement for a gold ring around the finger amongst married craftspeople for whom the need to keep their hands clean and free clashed with marital acknowledgement.
“Look who the cat dragged into my home!” Eärwen announced, arms already spreading wide.
Anairë turned to her wide-eyed in flinching startlement, not having heard her come down the stairs. Eärwen paused internally, finding that worrisome. Anairë’s hearing was sharp and keen. She could hear an apprentice drop a nail from the other side of her workshop, whilst in the middle of flattening steel.
Her friend’s hair was escaping its travel braids, long tufts of it straggling limply around her face and there was long grass caught in it, the yellow, dried type used in cheap bedding.
Or the grass that would be drying this time of years, along the verges of many of the roads between Alqualondë and Tirion.
Eärwen’s seed of worried unease unfurled a tendril.
“Not a cat alive that could bring me down,” Anairë boasted, voice hoarse and, as Eärwen looked closer, helped by how Anairë walked right into her arms, her eyes were red around the edges.
“No I suppose not,” she agreed, letting Anairë use her superior height and strength to spin her around in a circle like she was a child. Anairë’s embrace enfolded her, warm and steady. Eärwen let her head rest against her friend’s breast or a moment, and heard the steady thumping of the strong heart beneath the flesh and bone. She squeezed her arms tighter. Anairë was tall in the way all Noldor were tall, with big long bones and solid muscle over the top. It was quite an effort to get her arms around Anairë’s shoulders, but her waist was easily done to Eärwen’s slight envy. Four children and not a sign of thickness on the waist (Anairë’s soft belly with its stretch-marks writ quite a dark purple however had never quite recovered as she liked to loudly point out whenever Findekáno was doing something she thought silly.)
Eärwen sometimes felt like a child’s doll in comparison to her, certainly Anairë had made comments similar once or twice, using words like ‘delicate’ and ‘petite’ instead of ‘wispy’ and ‘short.’
“How are you dear one?” she looked up, and up a bit more, to match Anairë’s grin with her own and accept a gentle kiss against both her cheeks, exchanging them for her own.
It was a courtesy question.
Anairë was clearly not alright.
“I do well,” Anairë bent her head down a second time, pressing dry lips gently and chastely against Eärwen’s in a warm greeting. Eärwen tasted salt not of the sea.
“I’m sorry I’m late. Someone has strung shark shaped bells off what looks like a giant dolphin skeleton and hung it on MY bridge, and so I stopped to…admire … it. Where are your ones?”
A second tendril of bitter leafed concern unfurled, and she curled her hand into Anairë’s, twining fingers and tugging her inside, leaving the horse for the boy holding the gelding’s reigns.
“My sons are sitting very quietly and very meekly in a lounge somewhere, stringing pearls for my mother in apology for the ruckus they caused two nights ago at a tavern.”
“Oh go on?”
“Angaráto’s Artaresto is finally old enough to start learning silverwork. The proud father and uncle decided to celebrate the occasion once Artaresto was in bed by having a few drinks… and then somehow someone wound up being dangled over a roof by their boots. How are your ones?”
“Packed away,” Anairë managed a smile but it looked like drum skin stretched too tight, and ready to give in at any moment, “Findekáno got given marching orders to find a friend with a country manor and go visit it. Turukáno’s Itarillë is keeping him busy and I suggested they take her and visit my parents..”
“What use is being a mother if I can’t banish my sons from their home city for a few months? Turukáno knows better than to say no. I didn’t bother being subtle with Irissë or pretending to send her to Finwë, I put her over the back of my horse, and put her in the servant’s entrance of Tyelkormo’s house with an envelope full of tyelepe enough to cover any damages she causes pinned to her collar…”
“Don’t you even worry over a possible scandal with those two?” Eärwen tightened her arm on Anairë’s.
“Tyelkormo? No. I first met him when he was four days old. I know that brat through and through. He’d not ruffle a hair on Irissë’s head, even if she begged for it.”
Eärwen eyed Anairë.
Anairë glanced at her with a friendly smile that gave nothing away.
No chance of gossip there then.
“Staying with one of my old apprentices. Master Goldsmith now. He’s been interested in that sort of thing for a long time. Might as well give him the chance now to take his mind off what’s happening.”
“And what is happening Anairë?” now they came to the matter at heart.
“Oh…those two…you see..” Anairë drew in a breath, “it’s getting worse. The whispers and the rumours. I don’t know where they are coming from but they are like poison, or etching acid; they work deeper and deeper into Nolofinwë despite the fact he should know better than to listen to court mutterings. And I can’t talk sense into him anymore either.”
The hand against Eärwen’s tightened. There were new callouses and new raised ridges of scar tissue.
Eärwen lifted the hand in hers and looked, seeing fine thin scars all over the fingers.
“I’ve been having a bit of trouble with a new project Master has given me,” Anairë added before she could inquire.
Why would Anairë be accepting projects from Fëanáro when things were so bad between her former master and her husband?
“Brittleness…and balancing the weight so the blade doesn’t feel awkward, I’ll get it eventually. No problem with the sharpness as you can see. Keep forgetting myself around them. I’ve been having a clumsy patch.”
“No one makes better hunting knives then you,” Eärwen agreed, leading her finally into her study and sitting her down, “but why are you accepting projects from Fëanáro when things…”
“I can’t refuse. Not this,” Anairë interrupted, hands clenching, “I can’t explain any further Eärwen. Please do not ask me anything more of it.”
From tendril to shoot. Eärwen’s stomach felt a little sore as she contemplated Anairë’s tired, dirty (grazed. Why was there a graze?) face.
“Would you like a bath?” she said instead, closing the topic and she heard the relief in the exhale of Anairë’s breath.
“Yes I would. How is Queen Eärmelme? And King Olwë of course?”
“They do well.”
By the end of the week Anairë would easily be using Aiarmála, Olue, and Aiaruendë without batting an eyelash, Telerin brogue mingling with her Tirion lilt. Eärwen let her lapses flow past without correction, knowing it simply took her friend a while to make the mental switch.
“Well your mother is certainly doing well,” Anairë commented later that night. A bath had rendered her hair clean and tied back in a loose braided knot, her skin clean and gold once more without travel dust clinging to it. It had not washed away the dark smudges like she’d rubbed her thumb in charcoal then rubbed beneath her eyes.
“That joke about the spearfish and Olorin was something else. I need to remember it for the next time I get stuck having tea with Indis.”
She sprawled against the chaise in Eärwen’s best guest bedroom, wearing a too large tunic that by the colour and the shoulders must have been pilfered from Nolofinwë. And by the cheerful, slightly slanted embroidery of primroses around a fixed tear in the hem, must have been pilfered some time ago.
She’d had another bath after dinner with Eärwen’s mother and Eärwen’s highly repentant sons, claiming she could still feel grit all along her skin.
Eärwen had been convinced to join her, and now watched her, towelling out her hair and wondering if she should ask a servant to send her bedclothes to Anairë’s rooms or redress and go get them herself. It was no secret that Anairë and Eärwen shared a ‘friendship of questionable closeness in the Noldor style.’
Or as the Noldor termed it, a romantic friendship.
Eärwen for once preferred the Noldor terminology, because it meant the kisses and embraces that had marked their friendship before they had married remained without anyone raising an eyebrow (in Tirion), without the implication she should feel bad about it.
It was strangely liberating to be slouching around in just her hip-wrap and her bra-band.
Maybe she shouldn’t bother at all.
“Father has been after another child, she’s gotten feisty lately,” Eärwen glanced at Anairë.
“Another child? Aren’t they…uh…past the age of that?” Anairë looked perplexed, fingers lacing over her stomach.
“Well they still have the need so clearly not,” Eärwen shrugged a shoulder, flipping her hair forward so she could braid it into a loose plait.
Anairë thought about it some more, still a little perplexed. Eärwen watched the careful analysis of things Anairë knew, and then the recalculation with new information added.
“Hm,” Anairë concluded thoughtfully, gently tugging on the rings marching up her ears, rattling the little hemimorphite beads on each one together, “well we are all born different, and grow different. No reason why we then have to follow a strict set of rules abruptly when we’ve all been doing things in our own time.”
She eyed Eärwen a while. Eärwen raised an eyebrow.
“You look like you did, you remember that time when I let you take me about that uh…was it a tidal festival and then there was that dancing and all the girl’s about were wearing long hip-wrap things? The men too. But they weren’t as interesting because they weren’t wriggling their hips.”
Eärwen did indeed remember the festival in question, in celebration of the day that Ulmo had created the tidal flow.
“You wriggled your hips well then,” Anairë smiled widely, “it was fun watching your father try and applaud you and glare at all the boys at the same time.”
“Well after the damage four children has done to these hips of mine,” Eärwen demurred, “I shan’t be dancing like that every again.”
“I like your hips,” Anairë objected and reached out, her rough hands sliding across Eärwen’s flesh. The princess did wonder at the contrast of it. About how soft Eärwen’s hands were, and how much Anairë liked to kiss the palms of them, feeling the fingertips that moisturiser had made silky smooth brush against her forehead.
“They’re pretty, and they’ve got lovely artwork.”
Eärwen laughed as Anairë traced the arching lines across the bone of her hip which could barely be felt for the padding years of motherhood had given them. This was something Anairë shared with Arafinwë, an utter fascination with the traditional inking across Eärwen’s skin. She’d been talking with Nerwen lately about her daughter getting her own, but Nerwen was being strangely indecisive about the whole thing.
Anairë pulled her forward, so that Eärwen was straddling her lap, the dark gold of her skin in contrast to the dusky rose of Eärwen’s where Anairë’s thumbs were gently stroking circles against where the hard jut of bone had once been when Eärwen had been built like an eel and not a flounder.
Eärwen wriggled to get comfortable and leaned in, kissing away the faint lines at the corners of Anairë’s eyes, frowning at the slight wisp of greyish hair she found hidden in the nook between Anairë’s ear and brow. The situation with Nolofinwë and Fëanáro was even worse than Anairë was letting on, Eärwen concluded, and wrapped her arms abruptly around Anairë, hugging her tightly to her. That big boned, strong muscled body her arms had trouble wrapping all the way around, abruptly felt like it was made out of ash and glass, liable to break at any second.
Her worry wasn’t small anymore, it was like the creaking tree outside, rustled by the evening sea breezes. What was happening in Tirion?
“Eärwen?” Anairë asked, voice cracking abruptly as Eärwen ran her hand down Anairë’s back in the soothing manner that worked best, feeling each of the bumps in Anairë’s spine. Anairë shivered and curled in with the touch, giving in out of sheer habit at first, but then because she wanted to, and knew her friend was not fooled by her earlier words.
“What is Arafinwë riding into?” Eärwen asked, knowing she had to take it from that angle or Anairë would defuse the topic, and underplay the situation back in her home.
“Something bad but I can’t describe how,” Anairë admitted weakly, “they’ve both gone mad. Nolofinwë is paranoid that Fëanáro means to drive our family from the city. Or bring the wrath of the Valar upon us. Fëanáro is sure that Nolofinwë and Indis are plotting together to oust him as King Finwë’s heir. That Nolofinwë means to oust his family from Tirion. Neither of them are able to stop and think that Finwë wouldn’t allow anything like that to happen. Not the ousting in any case.”
Anairë sucked in a breath and hid her face against Eärwen’s shoulder. Eärwen felt the first hot drop of saline hit her shoulder a few ragged breaths later. “I feel like locking Nolofinwë in the cellar and not letting him out till he’s come to his senses. There ain’t nothing I can do about Master,” Anairë’s voice thickened with her suppressed lower city accent, as it was known in Tirion, “nothing no one can do, not since Nerdanel left. Not even Finwë. I’m scared. I’m really scared. Of both of them and what they’re going to do.”
The admission had Eärwen’s breathing still momentarily. She leaned back, cupping Anairë’s face to look into her friend’s eyes and saw indeed the fear, dark and strong, within the foggy grey.
“Can we not talk about it anymore?” Anairë begged, sounding too young for such a weary appearance.
“Of course,” Eärwen reassured.
It was a lie. She would have to ease more details out of Anairë but she would wait for her friend to strengthen. Eärwen was struck by the fanciful imagining that if she squeezed she might snap Anairë right in half in that moment.
“Perhaps we should sleep,” she suggested.
“You don’t have your nightdress.”
“I will borrow one of the guest ones that you never use. There should be one or two in the dresser.”
A nightdress was procured, too loose since it was kept in the rooms with Anairë in mind.
They settled on the mattress, tugging the sheets up around their bodies. Anairë turned expectantly, but Eärwen rolled her over, hugging her back against her body. Anairë made a few bemused noises for a moment, before she relaxed, a hand sliding over where Eärwen’s rested over her stomach.
“Sleep well,” Eärwen said simply.
“I always do here,” Anairë agreed with a low husky chuckle already speaking of sleep hovering near her.
Eärwen smiled, hugging tighter for a moment. The tree outside the window shook in another offshore breeze. Anairë’s breathing began to deepen and slow, eyes half lidding. Eärwen stroked the tip of one of her friend’s fingers, feeling the new density of the callous there, alongside the tiny and thin scars..
“Anairë,” Eärwen said suddenly.
“Yes?” was the sleepy grumble.
“You always can come to Alqualondë you do know that yes? You always have a haven here.”
“Wherever you are,” Anairë agreed, voice a barely heard mumble, “I know I am safe. Yes.”
“Alright,” it was not quite the answer Eärwen had thought she’d get, but it warmed her through.
“Y’ already said tha…’” a yawn shook through Anaire.
“So I did.”