The Tale of the Laughing Maiden
Warning: incest themes
It was deep in moonlit night when my son and I reached my brother's halls, but still High King Fingolfin brought out all the court to witness his sister's return. An honour, perhaps, or revenge. We walked through the court in silence, with stares from right and left. I was a traitor, but this son I had brought with me, him they would name bastard, child of incest, if they spoke of him at all.
I had not cared, when I gave myself to my love in the shaded light of Valinor. Now, with our son beside me, I found that I cared rather more.
We reached the front of the court, and knelt before my brother's throne. "High King Fingolfin," I said. "Brother. I present to you Celebrimbor." I raised my voice so that my words would be heard, shameful or not. "Son of Curufin. My son."
Let the tale begin with a young girl hidden under the stairs. Feanor did not visit often, but when he did he was angry, and his eyes burned. Findis did not care, she was always off with her Vanyar friends, and Mother and Father would give Feanor whatever he wanted. Only Fingolfin seemed drawn to him, almost a friend. How I wished I could be brave like him. But I was not, and so I hid.
He found me, of course. He stood over me, dark and terrible. I could not run. "Lalwen," he said, "if you would be my sister you must not do this. You must not hide. You must find what you desire and take it, though it destroy you."
His words stayed in my mind but I did not answer them. Soon after, when Finarfin was born, my mother took me and my sister and little brother very far away.
Lalwen they called me, the laughing maiden, and so I was in my youth. In childhood my mother Indis took me to live among her people the Vanyar. People whispered about the wife that would leave her husband, and I swore I would never do likewise. But still she danced, and I danced with her, never solemn, always singing. I wandered alone in the hills and forests of Valinor, and each step was a dance, and each word a song.
For there are many ways to sing. There is a love song by a girl who has not loved, a song of dreams, of a dream of love, a love that would make me brave. I would know him when I saw him, I would love once and forever, as it should be. And for each there is another, and time will bring them together, and each time Laurelin faded and Telperion grew another day brought me closer to the one I would love.
I would do what my mother could not. I would do what my father would not. I would love, once and forever. And I would never cease to laugh.
It was near Formenos that I met my love, as I danced by a pool among the tall grass, shadowed from the light of the trees. I felt him watching me before I saw him, and his eyes were like twin flames over my body. The dance did not cease, and his eyes danced with me. Then he stepped out of the shadows.
"Curufinwe!" I gasped.
"Yes," he said, "but not the one you fear."
And could there be two? My memories of my half-brother were dim and old, but were not pleasant. This one's hair was dark like Feanor's, and his arms were as strong. But could it be that Feanor could smile so gently?
"Dance," he said. "Dance for me."
And I did, forgetting my doubts, forgetting all, and his eyes were my partner once more. As I danced his hands moved. He took a branch from the forest floor and began to shape it, knife flashing in time with my motions. When he was finished, he moved very close to place the carving in my hands.
It was as if the wood itself danced, in a single exultation of laughter and joy. And the dance was my own dance, but I was not alone. Two images joined, and the maid lifted her lover, for so he must be, into the light that shone from her laughter.
"My hands are more eloquent than my feet," he said. "Or my lips."
In the light of the trees his face seemed fragile, my Curufinwe who was not Curufinwe, and he looked like the child my half-brother had never been.
If you would be my sister you must find what you desire, and take it.And had I not believed that love would make me brave? In that moment I knew who he was, and did not care. I touched my hand to these less-eloquent lips, and then kissed him softly. "Then we will dance together," I said.
I swayed backwards and he followed, then we moved forward together. His hand came to rest on my hip, and I spun myself into his arms. We moved together, and I lifted him up, and the light of the trees shone in his eyes. In time, we lay together in the grass, and the dance went on.
My beloved is a sweet fire, a raging silent flame, burning in my body and soul. Flames join, bodies join, and all there is is laughter.
When Celegorm wanted to marry his half-cousin Aredhel he asked permission of the Valar and they granted it, though she refused him. Was the law regarding a half-aunt the same as that of a half-cousin? Curufin did not ask, nor did I, nor did Feanor. The laws of the Valar were beneath us in Formenos, save one only: never to turn aside from the chosen of one's heart, not though death or destruction should separate you. So Feanor said, and so I believed, and Father, who had joined us there, did not have the heart to object.
By day Curufin worked in the forge as I sang by the waters, and at night, as Telperion cast her silvery light across Valinor, we danced among the trees.
My brother Fingolfin wrote often, asking me to return, to turn aside form this betrayal and shame. The letters were not pleasant to read, and after a time I left them unopened. There was too much else to do, too many songs to sing, and Curufin was always with me to surround me with jewels and laughter and love.
When the trees darkened we fled to Tirion, my husband and I with all his brothers. Feanor called his sons to him, and they stood in a circle, and they swore.
Be he foe or friend...
The first to join them was my sister-in-law Aurel, Maglor's proud wife. Her red plume was on her head, and she strode across the court bravely to place her hand on her husband's sword. She shouted her words, loudly, that all of Valinor might hear. Caranthir's wife left the gathering, and Aredhel stood scowling by her father, as if there were no one she loved among the swords and torches. That alone was enough to make my decision. I crossed the floor, stood at Aurel's side, and placed my hand over Curufin's.
Eru Allfather! To the everlasting
Darkness doom us if our deed faileth.
And no shame or destruction will stand in my way.
Yea, I fought in the kinslaying.
Aurel was first into battle, running even before Maglor, even before the rashest of his brothers. She ran like a spirit of valor at Feanor's command, cutting down the archers that could have felled her chosen family. She was fastest of all. She was also the first to be slain. Maglor knelt over her lifeless body, holding her, keening a mournful song, oblivious to the battle surrounding him.
I would not let my Curufin share his fate. Or hers. Nothing mattered then but that we survive, that we reach the ships, that we bear ourselves alive out of this place.
I am aware that this is not an excuse.
I was pregnant on the ships. Curufin held me as I retched into the turbulent waters. "Not much longer," he said. "Only until these shores." He pointed, and I thought I could see land in the distance.
And what about my brother and his people? Who would go back for them? The thought fled in a moment. Curufin was clever, like his father. I could trust him to know what to do. My beloved's arms were strong around me, and no worries or memories could make me afraid.
Dawn broke like a shadow of pain, with red light over the seas. I ran from my tent at the sound of flames, and they stood, Curufinwe and Curufinwe, torches in hand. The ships were already burning.
Maedhros ran out at my screams, and four brothers followed him. But there was nothing they could do, not for the youngest brother still on the ships, and not for the cousins and loved ones on the far side of the waters.
Curufin stood with his father, so alike, one darkness a mirror of the other. If I ever see my brother again it will be as his enemy.
And what choice did I have? Fingolfin was lost, and a wife's place is with her husband. Maedhros cursed, and little Amras wailed, and Curufin wrapped his arms around my pregnant belly and told me that in our new realm would dwell only the brave.
And I would go into darkness for you.
There was some peace at Himlad, for a time. There were trees, and rivers, and lakes by which we could dance. Celebrimbor smiled and laughed almost from birth, and we three made a ring of laughter and song in the shadows of the trees.
I did not go the Feast of Reuniting, and I kept Celebrimbor with me. With all the forgiveness being dispersed among my family, still I feared there would be none for me. What sister leaves her brother to starvation and cold?
But what woman would turn her back on her beloved, even in his madness?
No wife of a son of Feanor.
Celebrimbor studied with his father, and they made jewels and crafts of every beauty. In the evening I would sit with him after dinner and tell him tales of Valinor, stories I learned from my mother. Stories of Varda the Star-kindler, and Manwe the merciful. Once he carved a star for me, the first of his jewels, and named it the star of awakening. I still wear it around my neck.
When we awoke, I told Celebrinbor, Morgoth was strong, and the Valar were going to make war against him, as we are doing now. Some thought that they should begin the war before we rose, so that we would come into being into a world of peace. They argued and argued, but Varda the Star-kindler left the councils, and made the stars for us, so that they would always shine in our eyes. So that in war or in peace, we would never be without light. And so may it be for you, little Celebrimbor, my son.
On the occasion of Celebrimbor's fiftieth birthday we made a great feast for his coming of age. All the sons of Feanor were there, taking some comfort in the one child their family was given. At the end of the feast my husband rose, and began to speak.
"Now," said Curufin, "my son will take the oath we have all taken. He will take the oath of the sons of Feanor."
"He will not." Maedhros jumped up and slammed his fist on the table. This part of the plan Curufin had not shared with me, but I would not have objected had I known. Why should Maedhros?
Curufin bowed mockingly. "You are the head of my house, brother, but my son is my own to rule."
Celebrimbor, sitting beside me, whispered, "The Star-kindler would not wish it, mother?"
And indeed she would not, she who loved light more than victory. How well had my son listened to my tales, and heard what I did not mean to say. Would he use my words to escape a son's duty?
"Give me some time, father, please," Celebrimbor begged.
"We had no time," said Caranthir, but Maedhros glared at him and he was silent.
It seemed as if all went on as it had before. There were still the jewels, and the forge, and the stories, and the dancing, and my beloved Curufin's ever more urgent kisses at night.
But my son walked softly, as if he were afraid, and grew quiet, and did not laugh. He told me I should never visit him in the forge. I wondered why, and one evening, when he did not come for his stories, I went to seek him out.
He lay on the floor, face down. Curufin stood over him with a large stick, beating him slowly, expressionlessly, with no anger at all. One by one the blows fell, again and again, without sense, without end.
It was easy for me to understand, once I saw it. Celebrimbor had thwarted Curufin, had refused his vow, had rejected his power. But thought he was full grown, and strong, still he submitted himself to his father's blows, accepting willingly the punishment for the only right thing any of us had ever done.
Celebrimbor would not raise a hand against his father. Suddenly, I had no such qualms. I walked over to Curufin and punched him in the face.
The surprise of the blow, rather than its strength, knocked him over. He lay there, too startled to move, and in his eyes I saw the youth he had been, the carved dancer raised into the light. "Leave us," I said to Celebrimbor. He fled.
I threw myself down on Curufin, covering his mouth with mine, pushing myself hard against him. He shook against me, and I felt his tears on my face. "He is our only son," he whispered, when I released his lips for a moment.
"Must he be the only one?" I sighed into Curufin's mouth.
There were no further preliminaries. I wanted to hurt him, and to be hurt, and to bear his child. Through our rough pleasure we groped to perform the act of will to conceive. But nothing was there. I grasped for the bond that merged our souls but I could not find it, though our bodies were joined. Then the moment passed, and we released in sterile pleasure.
I held Curufin after, for a long time. I searched deep in my soul for the bond that had been. It seemed impossible that it had gone. Were we not wed? Had I not followed my husband into exile, kinslaying and oath?
And there it was, in the place in my soul where our bond should have been. For truly I was wed, as was my love and all his brothers with him. Our bond was not to each other, no longer, but to the Silmarils for which we swore.
"You understand why Celebrimbor must swear," said Curufin. "It is all that makes us a family."
Curufin's face was soft, and gentle, but no light would shine in it. Nor could I bring him light, I who am sworn to darkness. I wept with him, and let our tears be the illusion of starlight. Then I held him until he slept.
When he was asleep in my arms I slipped away and dressed quietly, then brought two horses from the stable. Then I summoned my son. "Celebrimbor," I said, "it is time to go."
And would Fingolfin take me in? Surely he must. For did he not also follow Feanor, leading his people to death and loss and heartbreak on the Ice? Feanor led, and he followed, just as he said he would.
Fingolfin, my brother, at last I have become as brave as you.
I will never again see Curufin alive.
My brother has made a place for me in his kingdom, if not respected, at least welcome. The court scribes do not write of me because they do not know what to say, how to write of the sister of the king who betrayed her brother for a forbidden love, and brought her bastard son to her brother's court. It does not matter. I talk with Fingolfin about Curufinwe, father and son, and after all these years there is much only he can understand.
Celebrimbor has befriended Finrod the stone-carver, who reminds him of his father. I have given my consent that he will go with him, perhaps as his apprentice, to the secret kingdom he will found. Far from oaths, vows, and Silmarils.
Curufinwe Atarinke! I call your name at night, though you will not hear. The bond is gone, but love remains. Darkness is coming soon, the everlasting darkness to which we have sworn and cannot escape. Though I have breached my vow, still I will be at your side when darkness falls, and I will know that at least our son has been spared. I will follow you into the dark, my love. And I will laugh.
Curufinwe, in addition to being Curufin's full name, is also Feanor's father-name. They had the same name because they looked alike and were similar in 'temper and talents.' (HoME 12 p 352)
Lalwen is in fact not an OFC. She is the younger canonical daughter of Finwe and Indis (in HoME 12), whom we are told next to nothing about. There is no canonical basis whatsoever for pairing her with Curufin. In canon she is said to have been close to Fingolfin, and to have left Valinor with him. I am interpreting that here in the widest possible sense - as in, that she didn't remain with Finarfin, Findis and Indis.
I have followed here the version of the burning of the ships that appears in 'The Shibboleth of Feanor' (HoME 12), in which Curufin is the only one of the brothers to take part in the burning of the ships, and in which Amrod is killed in the burning.
For the permission to marry a cousin see Morgoth's Ring (HoME 10) p234.
The excerpts from the Oath of Feanor are from Morgoth's Ring p112.
Le Chat Noir for inspiring me to write about Curufin. Read her Curufin stories.
Dwimordene for the Mary Sue challenge
Ithilwen for the encouragement
Finch for helpful comments and help with footnotes.