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With a sigh, Nerdanel rubbed her temples, trying to ease the tension headache which had gradually increased over the last hour. She'd been looking forward to spending some quiet hours. Her youngest sons were out of the house to visit a friend, but the peace had been shattered when not soon after the friend's mother, Lady Márafëa, turned up at her door, the pale and shaken twins in tow. Worried, Nerdanel rushed over to her sons to see if they were unhurt, then, when she found no injury, turned to the woman questioningly.
Lady Márafëa had seemed beside herself, too disturbed to speak coherently, thus Nerdanel sent the twins off to their room so she could sit down and talk with the woman in private. It wasn't the first time her wild elflings had gotten themselves into trouble and Nerdanel was expecting to learn of yet another tussle or silly prank gone overboard. Yet, when the wildly gesturing woman described to her the newest misdeed of Ambarussa, it was unlike anything she'd been prepared to hear.
Talking to the flustered woman had been exhausting and even now, as she made her way to Ambarussa's room, Nerdanel couldn't truly comprehend what Lady Márafëa had told her. Entering the room, she found her sons huddled together on the bed, whispering quietly, but the boys fell silent immediately when they became aware of her presence. Two pairs of light grey eyes gazed at her in confusion and fear, the twins' pale cheeks streaked with recently shed tears.
With a soft smile she walked over to the bed and sat down, cradling them in a comforting embrace. They clung to her, small hands clutching her gown and their faces buried in her hair, as they began sobbing again. She rocked them for a while, waiting until the snivelling ceased, then turned them to look at her, but they dropped their gaze.
"What happened boys, will you tell me?" Nerdanel asked gently, eyeing one elfling after the other.
Pityo was the first to answer, bolder and more outspoken in nature than his younger brother. "We were playing with our friends, but then Lady Márafëa pulled the two of us away and chided us lots. She yelled really loud." Telvo nodded his agreement and chewed on his lower lip, something he always did when he was worried, then added in a small voice, "We didn't mean to be bad, mother. We were really just playing. We don't know why Lady Márafëa got mad at us."
"So, what kind of game did you play?" Nerdanel inquired carefully, ruffling the boys' hair. Ambarussa were clearly confused by the outburst of Lady Márafëa, who was usually a very soft-spoken and composed person.
Encouraged by Nerdanel's warm words and gestures, the twins finally took heart and lifted their gaze. "We were playing gymnastics," both said in unison, a small smile lighting their worried expressions. "And we were all laughing ourselves silly," Pityo continued to explain. "But Lady Márafëa didn't think it was funny at all." Telvo merely chewed on his lip again, leaning against his brother.
Nerdanel thought of what Lady Márafëa had recounted and some began to make sense, though nothing Ambarussa had told her so far truly alarmed her or justified the woman's hysterical fit. "Gymnastics, is that really a game? Sounds more like exercise to me." She mused aloud, hoping to get more information out of the boys. "Or is the gymnastics you've played different?"
"Ours is much better," Telvo's cheeks flushed with excitement as his confidence returned. "It's a fun-exercise. We watched Maitimo and Findekáno play it and they said it was. But they were not sure they were doing it like the exercise book said."
Now Nerdanel was indeed becoming alarmed. Could it be?
"They looked really stupid, so they probably did it all wrong," Pityo chimed in giggling. "Findekáno was on his back with his bum in the air and he was all twisted and bent in half with his knees coming up beside his ears. And Maitimo was bent over him, wriggling about. They were both naked and also made funny squeaking sounds all the time and..."
Nerdanel's sharp intake of breath silenced the boys and both twins paled again, eyeing her worriedly. "Tell me, were Maitimo and Findekáno aware you were watching, when they were playing the fun-exercise?" Caught, Ambarussa dropped their gaze, fidgeting uncomfortably. That was answer enough.
She'd feared something like this could happen, with all their brethren being of age and little Ambarussa often being too curious for their own good. Whenever they saw or heard something that spiked their interest, they tended to emulate it. Young and innocent as they were, they'd obviously mistaken what they'd seen for a game.
"Did you tell Lady Márafëa how you got the idea for your gymnastics?" Nerdanel hoped this wasn't the case, knowing both the woman's attitude of prim demureness and love for gossip.
Telvo quickly shook his head. "No mother, Lady Márafëa told us to be quiet. She said she didn't want to hear any filth coming from our mouths." Pityo glared and pursed his lips, "She was being really mean; we wouldn't have told her even if she'd asked!" He always pouted when he thought he was being treated unfair, which was practically every time someone scolded him. Though this time, Nerdanel understood; Lady Márafëa's reaction to the boys' game had been utterly exaggerated. Being a mother herself, the woman should have known that they'd acted blissfully naive.
"Mother, what is obscene? Does it mean you're being naughty?" Telvo asked all of a sudden, startling Nerdanel out of her musings. "‘Cause Lady Márafëa said our fun-exercise was obscene. Were Maitimo and Findekáno being naughty too, when they played it?"
"Oh dear, you two are far too young to learn such words! Forget you ever heard it." Nerdanel shook her head. She'd have to have words with Lady Márafëa, this was absolutely irresponsible. "Maitimo and Findekáno did nothing bad, but they were being careless to allow someone, you two in particular, to walk in on them."
"But if they weren't being naughty, why should no one see them?" Pityo asked confused, both he and his brother eyeing Nerdanel with large, questioning eyes. "I don't understand."
"Because there are games anyone can play, including little elflings, but there are also games meant only for adults." Fëanáro had been standing outside the twin's room, listening for quite some time. Startled by their father's voice, Ambarussa jumped slightly but then relaxed, seeing their father's amused smile. Like Nerdanel he sat on the bed, sharing a knowing look with his wife.
They'd hoped to postpone the now inevitable conversation for several more years, and to not have it due to such circumstances. But having had it with their five elder sons already, they were well prepared.
Nerdanel found Fëanáro in his forge, sitting at the workbench with his sketchbook. Leaning over his shoulder, she curiously watched the delicate lines of the draft taking shape on the page and the neatly written comments.
"It's a game for Ambarussa. If they like fun-exercises so much, I thought they should have something to live it out," he explained, finishing the last lines. "I'll name it Twister. If the twins like it, other children are likely to do so as well. We could sell it all across Valinor." Closing the sketchbook, he motioned for a leather tome sitting on the table next to him. "Speaking of sales success, that's the ominous exercise book. Looks familiar to you?"
Nerdanel picked up the book, tracing the elaborate adornments of the binding with the tips of her fingers. The title, worked in ornate gilded letters, read The Art of Love, with the outlines of two naked, entwined bodies depicted beneath, instead of an author's name. A light flush colored her cheeks, as she leafed through the pages, taking in the drawings and descriptions.
"Now that brings back memories," she murmured, a bemused smile tugging at her lips. "It was such a pleasure to let our imagination run wild and devise all of these."
"Indeed love, sometimes we didn't make it out of bed for days," Fëanáro chuckled, casting his wife a lascivious glance. "But you really surprised me, when you suggested we should commit our adult-exercises to paper and have them published anonymously."
"Well you know, I'm full of surprises. At least I was until we had children," she quipped, then quirked an eyebrow. "And Maitimo and Findekáno just handed the book over to you?"
"They did, flushed pretty crimson to the tips of their ears." Looking smug Fëanáro added, "They blushed even more, when I gave them a blank tome in return and told them to write their own book."
"They'd certainly have as much fun as we did, but I really hope what happened will prevent the two lovebirds from being so careless again," Nerdanel sighed. "I don't wish to have another conversation like this with Ambarussa any time soon."
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