The correspondence-box was a thing of beauty, as it should have been since it had been made by the master craftsman of the Noldor, Fëanor himself. It had five different segments, each bigger on the inside that they appeared on the outside, and those segments had multiple shelves for further sorting of letters the owner wanted to keep. The rosewood panels gleamed a magnificent red in the light of the sun through the window, while the oak panels were glowing gold.
Serati of power encircled the box at each of its openings; each serat engraved, then enamelled with miniature constellations, into the silver banding. They protected the contents of the box from age, allowing the paper and parchment within to remain supple and strong. They also protected the contents from its environment. No water or pest could trespass into the box, nor could the temperature within fluctuate from the steady, preserving coolness within.
Galadriel wondered what many of her followers would think, knowing she kept a box enchanted by the ‘evil’ Feanor but it was a prized possession. Her uncle had presented it to Finrod upon reaching two and a half yeni old; half grown and thus old enough to be receiving correspondence that her brother might want to keep.
It had been a unexpectedly generous present and she was not sure to this day why he had given it to Finrod. She suspected that her grandfather had pressured Feanor into presenting something of substance to her father’s firstborn at such an important age. Even if the present had been a reluctant one, it was clearly quality craftsmanship and had been made specifically for her brother instead of being something left lying around. His name was inlaid on the lid and the locking mechanisms had once been unable to turn unless Finrod was in the room with the box, an enchantment she had, had to overcome upon inheriting the correspondence-box.
Over the course of the many years Finrod had indeed, acquired correspondence that he wanted or needed to keep. Upon overriding the lock Galadriel had found three segments packed full beyond what they could really hold and the fourth almost the same. It seemed he’d kept all of his correspondence with his siblings and most of his correspondence with his cousins. Down the very bottom of the box she’d found his letters to Amairë, tied together with a ribbon and sharing space with his regular discourse to Maedhros and a collection of letters that had once belonged to Finwë. She was not sure how he had received these. Finwë’s letters had been given solely to Feanor. The closest she could guess was that one of her cousins had given the letters for Finrod to put in the box for safe-keeping, and then upon their sudden exile, they had been unable to claim them back. She would never know for certain. In the fourth segment she’d discovered all of the letters were either to or from the unnamed lover he’d taken in Nargothrond. She’d kept most of the correspondence where it was.
She only wound up needing to use the top segment which was conveniently empty. Most of her correspondence was not the sort she needed to keep for long and she had a correspondence-box of her own, more crudely made but able to preserve a certain amount of letters. In Finrod’s box therefore, she kept a love letter, her father had written to her mother, in the most secure compartment, which she had received from her mother when Galadriel had come of age. She had also stored her own love letters received from Celeborn and the deed to their house.
She usually left the box alone but this day she searched for a letter and a particular poem beginning it which she thought would perfectly suit the letter she wished to write to Elrond Peredhel.
Celeborn had in the early days of their acquaintance, been quite confused as to her insistence of beginning every letter, no matter the reason, with a poem. It was a Valinoran affection the poems; a hint of what sort of leisurely and indulgent life they had lived in the place where the enemy was a distant enemy.
In the years after their arrival over the Helcarxë, the quality of letters received and sent by her had declined sharply. There was no time to carefully sit down and work out how to imbue every word with symbolism. The poems were really the only part of her original writing style that had survived.
Old letters littered the desk around her, a rainbow of metal imbued, brightly dyed wax seals fluttering where they stood opened.
She had found the poem she was looking for and now sought to place all the letters back in order but she found herself getting distracted. Errant passages would catch her attention and pull her back into the past, sometimes to before Eregion, and sometimes before Doriath and before the Helcarxë.
A flower of waves
Blossoms in the distance
And ripples shoreward
As though a breeze
My dear Artanis
I should perhaps have been more circumspect in my last letter since you saw through my attempts to speak around the topic quite easily.
Yes I have fallen in love.
I would not say though that this is a love like the one I had for my most cherished Amarië. I knew where I stood with Amarië and what lay between us was sweet and pleasant, well suited to our idyllic life in Valinor. The pain that she did not accompany me is still present but in these troubled times I find myself relieved that Amarië held back. I do not think she would have survived here. She is, as you well know, a lady who cherishes quiet moments, peaceful walks and pleasantries. None of which seem to occur with any great frequency at Nargothrond, especially since our cousins arrived.
Ah but I can see your eyebrow beginning to rise, and your foot is tapping a little in amused annoyance at my procrastination.
I cannot tell you much about the woman. She is a most private person and it would be a grave breach of her trust to tell you much more than what I will tell you now. She is counted amongst the host of our cousins. She is tall, in fact she would look you in the eye sister, something I think you might appreciate. She is a warrior and her scars are plentiful. Her mouth is generous and well suited to kissing.
Loving her is like loving Anar I would think. Too close and I get burned. Too far away and I feel suddenly as if I were upon the Helcaraxë. I feel unsettled and unsure of myself around her and the feeling is well returned, thus we circle one another like a pair of wounded wolves, not knowing whether to attack or to become pack.
Don’t laugh at me sister, or if you are frowning at how unhealthy this sounds, do believe that I am well aware of it. This situation between us has lasted for the past two years, starting probably six months after the arrival of our cousins, and neither of us are dead yet so I think we shall be fine.
I have probably not painted the most flattering picture of my lover. That is not my intention. She is like a golden pearl. A rare treasure that I gaze upon with wonder that she consents to, in some small ways, belong to me. Of course I will never own her fully. She is her own person and furthermore she is sworn to tumultuous Tyelkormo’s service, whose house as you well know turns out the most independent and fiercest of woman known to Arda.
I am content with what we have. Do not worry for me sister.
Now as to your inquiry about Orodreth
Galadriel had not worried for him. Not when he had asked her not to.
She fingered the yellowed letter with an ache in her heart. Passing her eyes over the familiar script once more, she placed the letter back in the box.
She wished now that she had worried. That she had perhaps counselled him. It might have saved him a broken heart, and perhaps the lack of distraction from a broken heart might have saved her brother in that dark, stinking place where he had died.
She knew she should not torture herself with such thoughts but she could not help it. Her mind was prone to lingering on her brother’s death at the slightest catalyst.
One such catalyst arrived today, with his people swirling around him like he was a rock in the middle of a river of gold and silver, creating a swirling eddy.
Somewhere on the outskirts of Eregion an obliging farmer allowed Gildor’s people to set their tents and travelling wagons up as a small, instant village. Somewhere on the outskirts of Eregion her husband patiently waited for their nephew to settle his people before he joined them for the night.
Galadriel drew in a shaky breath, picked up another letter and folded it unseen. She had turned to letter writing and reading today to distract herself from his impending visit since she had no way to steel herself for his arrival. Simply by being in Gildor’s presence was to stand in the heart of an emotional storm.
Gildor mentioned in his last, sporadic letter that he had news best delivered in person.
Galadriel was dreading it.
The once sheltering shade
That kept rough winds away is now
Lifeless and bare,
And my heart, too withered, has no rest.
Do not inquire after the child again. How dare you suggest that as his female parent his mother has less of a right to him than you with your relation to his sire. He shall remain with his mother who knows more honour than your brother ever did. She will never pass over her own family for some filthy human.
Gildor Inglorion showed up at Galadriel’s door on a cold, wet and thoroughly miserable day, infiltrating Lindon’s borders amongst a caravan of sodden, grieving refugees, of the like that came in greater and greater droves every month. Doriath had recently fallen in the second kinslaying and it was as if the whole of Aman mourned, sky weeping and ground waterlogged.
Rain had been dripping from the silver seal-skin cloak that the child was wrapped up in, and when he had raised his head, night-blue eyes had glared out at Galadriel from between the dazzling flash that came from the jewellery that adorned him, illuminated by an errant lightning strike.
He had, had the pride of an arrogant little prince from the beginning of the very beginning of their acquaintance.
Knowing she was to die, Gildor’s mother had converted all that she could call wealth, save her armour and horse, into pieces of jewellery that could be easily stored away. Then she had sent her son to meet his aunt, knowing he would be well provided for no matter what Galadriel’s reaction might be.
Thus he had not come to her a dependant; he was not a pauper who had to throw himself on her generosity. He was wealthy in his own right and had she turned him from her door, the temporary guardians in charge of him would have sold some of the pieces and set him up in comfort.
Nor did he come to her as one might expect a bastard child, born amongst the tents of soldiers.
He had been educated as a prince should be educated. He knew all the arts she recalled her brothers being taught; archery, fine calligraphy, music, hawking and the fine details of poetry. Alongside these noble skills though, was a ‘gift’ for relieving people of the possessions of their pockets, a vocabulary of foul language that could silence a Teleri shipman, and far too keen a knowledge of knives and how to use them.
It was with some alarm that she learnt that the boy had been raised by dear, newly dead, traitorous Tyelkormo. He had, up until very recently as his guardians told her, thought himself the bastard son of the Fëanárion.
Learning that he was the son of the golden Finrod Felagund had not been welcomed news.
The snow unfurls in dancing figures.
A silver gull slips down from the west.
Sometimes a sail. High, high stars.
Oh the black cross of a ship.
Your son was born one month ago today, in a small decrepit hut in the middle of nowhere with an aged human midwife, Curufinwë and his wife in attendance.
Of course you might already know this. Or perhaps I am going insane.
There are times where I see your blue eyes in eye-sockets that have only ever held green or grey eyes. I may hear your voice reprimanding me, but from the mouth of a girl who sings soprano.
Since I seem to be the only one who sees these things and hears these things, I am forced to contemplate that I am going mad or that some unrecognised guilt or regret is making itself known to me.
I believe it is your unhoused fëa, haunting me in revenge for what I have done. Haunting me for doing what any sane person would do. You brought your death upon yourself Findaráto, and you left your child fatherless in doing so.
But if perhaps I am going mad then I can be forgiven this waste of paper on a letter that will never even be delivered to that locked correspondence box I left in Nargothrond.
Our child is healthy. He has all ten toes, all ten fingers and a fine voice, loud enough to be heard from one side of the camp to the other.
His name is Liltafinwë, a prince of the house of Finwë which he has been recognised as. The sons of Fëanáro have flocked to his crib to lay their blessings over him. They have ensured that he will want for nothing.
Hunaiwë and Hlusserë have taken to calling him Gildor since they feel he has a kinship to the stars. I, myself, have noticed he has a fascination with stars. His eyes should not be able to see them yet, but when he is upset and will not be settled, taking him outside will silence him and he will stare for a hour at the stars with contentment on his little face.
It seems the house of Finwe is ever marked by stars. The houses descending from Fëanáro are like a doomed constellation and I am destined, like all that follow the star marked banners, to burn up with them when they finally go out in a blaze of glory.
I will ensure our son does not suffer the same.
“I don’t think I can do it,” Gildor muttered as he hammered another peg into the firm earth. By his side, Aearael, Teleri-stock with a rather unfortunate propensity to become seasick, raised his head in confusion and looked over at him.
“You’ve set up a tent plenty of times,” the ellon pointed out, bemused by his leader’s proclamation.
“No not the tent you idiot,” Gildor snapped before he could help himself. He pulled a face, “Sorry, just… my aunt.”
“Ah, oh that,” Aearael sighed, “yes, better you then me. I wouldn’t wish the situation you’re about to walk into on anyone but my worst enemies.”
“Maybe I should send word that I am ill,” Gildor mused, tugging on a rope to make sure it was firmly secured before moving onto the next peg.
“Unlikely to work, your aunt would either insist you come into town to see a healer or maybe come out herself with a healer in tow.”
That was true enough and it showed a love despite their differences. Gildor smiled a little despite his nerves.
“Your wives are coming with you are they?” Aearael asked thoughtfully and raised an eyebrow as Gildor shook his head. “I would have thought you would bring them with you, to add credence to what is going to be an extraordinary claim in the eyes of your aunt.”
“I don’t want them around should her reaction be…explosive,” Gildor finished hammering and tugged the next rope. The third peg received a rather brutal beating into the earth. “Should she react, well I’m not expecting favourably, but if she reacts in a manner that suggests she could possibly make peace with the idea, that’s when I’ll introduce her to them and the children.”
“Sounds like a plan, though if I were you, I would turn up with one of the little ones to butter her up to the idea. She’s a mother isn’t she?” Aearael repositioned a pole that looked about to give out under the tension till it was secure again.
“No,” Gildor shook his head, “no she is not.”
“But she raised you?”
“No not really,” Gildor replied distractedly as he spotted one of his daughters trying to creep up on him. He patiently made sure to keep his back to her, grin creeping up on his face as he heard her muffled foot-steps edge closer and closer. “I had just reached my thirty sixth year when I came to her. I had done most of my growing. She did however polish the rough edges, as she saw them to be.”
Memories of spats and explosive arguments tickled at him as he braced himself, hearing his child crouch.
“ATAR!” Long knobbly arms clasped around his shoulders while a warm, small weight landed on his back. Gildor laughed, letting himself fall down whilst making sure he kept his daughter away from the mess of pegs and ropes that would be a tent when finished.
“Oh! Maltarínë you caught me!” He exclaimed as his daughter scrambled onto his chest, posing triumphantly over her prey. His daughter wrinkled her nose, grinning wide from ear to ear. He reached up, running his fingers between the tight, neat rows of hair her mother carefully tended to every morning, ruffling gently as she flopped forwards.
“Ammë says you must go have a bath now because you likely stink. She and Nana have pulled out your good set of clothes and pressed them,” Maltarinë flicked his nose then squirmed when he tickled her feet in retaliation.
“Alright little love, just get off me,” Gildor watched her roll off him and then promptly skip over to launch herself onto Aeareal’s back, sending the man tipping forwards into a muddy patch with a muffled squawk.
If things went well, Maltarinë would finally get a long expressed wish to meet some of her father’s family. If things went badly… well at least he would have kept his daughter’s feelings from being too badly bruised though no one could defend themselves from the stinging ache that rejection caused.
“Little love, where are your sisters?” he asked, brushing his pants and tunic off as well as he could.
“Nana is making them take a nap because they wouldn’t settle last night,” Maltarinë loomed over him where she was now balanced on Aeareal’s shoulders, his hands on her legs to make sure she didn’t go accidentally flipping backwards off her lofty perch.
“Alright. Just checking,” he blew her a kiss since she was out of reach and headed towards where the natural soft slope of a river bank had provided their camp ground with a good bathing spot. He saw that someone had pointedly placed a stool and washing supplies on a flattened out patch of earth. His good clothes were neatly folded on the stool, dark blue against the bright green of the grass all around them.
Get through tonight, he told himself, get through tonight and then plan from there.
He tried not to let his hopeful wishes to see his daughters embrace his aunt and his aunt greet his daughters as family colour the knowledge that he could easily become disowned tonight.
They say that wild eagles, flying eastward,
Here turn back, this very month....
Shall my own eastward journey
Ever be retraced, I wonder?
...The river is pausing at ebb-tide,
And the woods are thick with clinging mist --
But tomorrow morning, over the ocean,
Dawn will be white with the plum-trees of home.
May the sun shine brightly on you this summer and may your days be filled with peace and song.
As you inquired in your last letter I have indeed been playing host to our occasionally estranged cousins and they have certainly brought excitement to my usually placid halls
I find it hard to look Curufinwë in the face, given his resemblance to our uncle. Turkafinwë meanwhile, gives me other problems. I am afraid Orodreth is quite terrified of him. It seems he’s never quite forgotten that incident involving Huan and grandfather’s hunting dogs. I have spent more time these past three months talking to Orodreth than the past five years and it is always about Turkafinwë. Were Orodreth not married I would find this highly questionable.
Our cousins have brought other problems. Once more I have to endure the whispers I thought I had left behind in Valinor. You know the ones I mean. Even amongst my own people there are those who consider the marriage of our grandfather and grandmother a sham and our father, aunts and uncle as illegitimate.
Now I play host to two of the best reminders of this if I had to pick them; Curufinwë who is his father’s mirror and Turkafinwë who is noted for his resemblance to Míriel. I have not heard the word bastard all the years of ruling Nargothrond. Now I hear the word every other day, whispers amongst those who think I am not listening.
Sometimes they are alien to me. Sometimes it seems as if they are something other than eldar. Frightening, different and passionate with such an intensity that those caught near them feel undoubtedly singed by the flames.
Sometimes, and this brings me shame to have even thought it, I have wondered if they are even our cousins at all. What if Fëanáro was not eldar, at all and they are all strange constructs, maliciously placed by Morgoth, in order to cause destruction that no one can attest to him.
I know this is a delusion but I can’t help it.
They are so strange to me.
Celeborn waited patiently as Gildor checked with a black haired peredhel, marked by her particularly hawkish nose as having parentage in Númenór, that the ‘ablution block’ had been finished. Now that was possibly the politest term Celeborn had ever heard for the privy.
He bided his time, knowing his nephew was not purposefully holding him up, by looking around the encampment. It always amazed him to see the variety in the people who followed Gildor, from scarred up Feanorians, still bearing bright tattoos of blazing stars, and disenfranchised sinda to the peredhel that Gildor had a strange habit of collecting.
He noted that amongst some of the younger peredhel he had not seen the last time he had visited Gildor's group, that there was a common theme to their appearances. Golden hair everywhere, blindingly gold, no matter the skin tone or eye colour; just mesmerising gold hair.Clearly some of the Host of Valinor, especially the Vanyar, had, had a good time in amongst the fighting.
There were some humans amongst the masses as well; one very aged northman who was sitting on a stool entertaining a mass of children with a clearly riveting story, and several woman of indistinct origins.
Then just as he was about to turn back to Gildor, he saw her.
At first he thought it was his eyes deceiving him but he blinked and she was still here.
She was taller than any of the other women here. Not quite as tall as his wife but nearing that height. Her height though was not what one noticed though. Beneath the slightly over cast sun, her skin seemed to swallow in all the light, black as ebony with the warmth inherent in flesh.
Her neck rose long and graceful above strong shoulders, and her profile was as proud as any Noldor. Her hair had been braided… no… he stared closer, twisted in several rows before coiled at the back of her head in a bun.
Gold glinted at amongst the coils of hair, beads and a long pin securing her bun. There was a thin gold chain around her neck, some sort of pendant catching the light with the blue of sapphires and her wrists gently jingled with large bracelets of ivory and silver. There was, on her right index finger, a plain gold ring.
Amongst all the strangeness it was a point of familiarity, given how humans usually preferred the finger next to their little finger for their wedding rings. It should have calmed him down but at that point she turned and caught his eye.
She smiled at him politely and he realised he was staring. Teeth that should have not stood out, flashed like the glint of a knife, and her eyes were the pale golden brown of a cat. Celeborn felt his face twitch into an answering smile even as his heart rate ratcheted up in response.
Was she even the race of man? Or was she some other race that he had not heard of before?
She seemed so unn-
There was an edge to Gildor’s voice that cut like a new razor. Celeborn ripped his eyes away and turned to find night-blue eyes staring at him with unexpected sharpness.
“She will not eat you uncle. You can calm yourself.”
Celebron felt the skin around his face begin to heat up with a blush and he cleared his throat in embarrassment.
“Forgive me … just … just I have never-“
“Seen someone like her? I am not surprised, Nolani is from so far south of the river Harnen that even those of Númenór now living in Harad had never heard of her people.”
Celeborn felt his eyes drawn back to the exot- to Nolani, as Gildor had called her, and saw that she was now talking to another human woman. This one had skin like dark honey and what he could see of her body, swathed in veils of bright green as it was, she was heavily pregnant. Her hands were gesticulating as she talked, gold flashing from her right index finger.
Another married woman with a ring in the place the eldar reserved for such jewellery. Were they perhaps wives of two of the peredhel amongst Gildor’s people? Why were they travelling with this group of immortals instead of settling in their homes? If they were married to peredhel then surely those peredhel had chosen the mortal path?
This woman at least seemed more familiar. Not that he’d seen her type but he had heard some of the news coming back from Númenóran missionaries in Harad who described those of Harad as commonly having such golden skin.
“Uncle,” Gildor sighed again, this time without the sharpness to his voice, “I am ready to go now. Shall we leave?”
Celeborn tried to pretend he hadn’t been staring and Gildor wasn’t indiscreetly trying to order him to keep his eyes in his head, mounting his horse as Gildor mounted his, and leading his nephew away from the little settlement of tents and wagons.
As Gildor lifted the reigns of his horse to pull her up before a bridge, Celeborn saw the glint of gold on his nephews right index finger and promptly felt his tongue dry out and stick to the roof of his mouth.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
This was probably the hinted at news from Gildor’s letter that had kept Altáriel up some nights, pacing their room.
Damn Noldor and their dramatics.
There was nothing wrong of informing someone about a marriage through a letter.
Then again Finrod had ridden non-stop all the way to Doriath, just to pitch Celeborn into a fountain after the news of Altáriel’s betrothal had gone out.
On second thoughts his nephew was perfectly validated in wanting to deliver the news in person.