Escapade

Disclaimers: Aman and all its inhabitants belong to J.R.R. Tolkien and his estate. I am making no money from this and I intend no infringement of copyright.

Summary: Two elflings decide to spend a festival day in the city of Tirion.

Rating: G.

Feedback: Is always extremely welcome.

Thanks to Nemis for betaing this.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CELEBWEN!!!

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"I shall not." Findárato crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. While his atar looked most impressive thus, the expression lost most of its force on the boy's tiny face as his eyebrows were little more than pale squiggles above his deep-set, solemn grey eyes.

His younger sister was even less impressed than most. She poked her tongue out at him, tugging at the slightly grubby hem of his woolen tunic with very grubby hands. "Pray do not be such a bore, Finno. It is most unbecoming."

He crossed his eyes at her and removed her hands from his tunic. "You sound most absurd when you try to speak like Naneth, Artanis."

She stomped one delicately shod foot imperiously. "You are afraid to go out into Tirion without Naneth and Atar. You do dishonour to our Noldorin family, and to the bravery of their hearts."

"I do not," Findárato burst out. "Grandfather Finwë said I was very brave last summer when I fell out of the tree and broke my leg. And I came first in the climbing competitions."

Artanis poked her tongue out at him. It was, she decided, well worth the slight loss of dignity to annoy Findárato. "But you are still afraid to go into Tirion alone. Mayhap you only seemed brave because you were too foolish to notice the drop."

"I was not," he burst out. "And anyway we went into Tirion alone a sennight past. Naneth was very angry, and so was Atar, for they could not find us for hours."

"But that was past the mingling of the Lights," Artanis wheedled. It had been a glorious time, when the city was quieter than they were used to, under Telperion's silver light. They had had free run of the sleeping city, darting through silent porticos and scrambling across the rooftops. The adventure had been rather abruptly curtailed when they had dropped lightly from one such roof and found themselves level with their father's knees. Arafinwë had hauled them back to the house, shaking with terror and paternal outrage all the way. Both elflings felt certain that it would be pointless to ask if they would be allowed to explore the city during the festival preparations.

"I shall go anyway," she declared, "even if you will not."

She watched him in satisfaction, noticing the quick flow of emotions across his expressive face. She knew that her elder brother wished to go into the city as much as she did, and now 'twas only a matter of time...

"I shall come." He hurried towards the door, now eager to be gone. Artanis followed him in a whirl of silk, her feet barely touching the floor.

"Thank you, Finno."

"I know not why I am doing this." But he grabbed her hand, already running, jumping down steps in his haste to be gone, his face alight with restless excitement that matched her own.

~*~

The Eldar wandered through the streets, alone, in pairs, in parties, the black hair of the Noldor mingled here and there with the gold of the Vanyar. Gemstones flashed in the tree-light, sapphire, ruby, amber, pearls from the sea, glittering at wrist and neck, sewn into delicately woven robes. Cloth of gold and creamy velvets, damasked silk and gossamer-light cottons from inland, fine, soft wools that touched their skin like music, and simple worsteds, all fluttering slightly in the breeze that had more to do with the hustle and hurry of the festival preparations than any whim of the weather.

Indeed, the sky, or what little could be seen of it between the brightly coloured festive awnings, was clear and very blue. Even the veriest hint of rain would not disturb the merriment.

The buildings soared skywards above the awnings, bedecked with ribbons, that fluttered and billowed in the light breeze. But the elflings' attention was diverted from the beauty of the festive decorations, wrought though they were with all the skill of the Noldor. The preparations at street-level were far more enticing to a pair of excited children than any amount of bright metal and brighter fabric.

Massive kettles bubbled and seethed with fragrant stew, rich with carrots and onions, heavy with tender meats and herbs. From within the buildings came the noise of metal clanking against wood as the cooks unloaded vast trays of honeyed pastries from the ovens. Even the streets themselves were crowded with Elves of all stations preparing the delicate savouries for which the festival was renowned, carving fresh vegetables into marvellous shapes, arranging seafood on platters, kneading dough, dipping slabs of cheese in herbs and breadcrumbs, sprinkling loaves with sesame seeds and honey.

A hundred competing scents filled the air, and it seemed to the wandering elflings, only occasionally remembering to cast surreptitious glances around for their parents, that there was not a single inch of the city not occupied by something of this sort. Not even the remembered splendour of the previous year could vie with the tangible now.

Every now and then, some hurried cook would recognise the golden-haired pair, not least for their over-bright eyes and grubby tunics which were the subject of some amusement; that such a graceful couple of the Lord Arafinwë and his Telerin lady should produce such a persistently disreputable-looking pair of children… Of course, it had to be admitted that the elflings had no trouble appearing at the festive board with all the grace and dignity of their noble family, but they seemed to pay little heed to it for the rest of the time…

No matter what muttered imprecations they might cast on the state of the children's clothes, they were as well-beloved as their parents. In fact, it was not a stretch to say that they were the feted darlings of the city, especially on this day of all days, fair of face and quick of mind, with smiles to charm every heart. Thus it was that the two elflings, working their way steadily towards the centre of the city, slipping between legs and under flailing, busy arms, found scraps of sweetened pastry, or marchpane, or whole sugared plums pressed into their hands, kisses bestowed on their sticky cheeks, compliments given and received.

"Such a pretty lass. And that hair…"

"And the lad will break hearts one day, make no mistake. I declare that I am almost glad that my own daughter is unlikely to come in his way."

"If he is aught like his father, the Lord Arafinwë, we shall have naught to worry about, for he is the most steadfast creatures. Scarcely had he set eyes on the Lady Eärwen than he would have none but her, or so I have heard tell…"

The elflings slipped away, blushing furiously. Findárato caught his sister's eye and burst into a torrent of giggles. After a moment of struggling for composure, she joined in. So caught up were they in their embarrassed mirth, that they did not notice as they turned the corner. The entire character of the city seemed to change in a heartbeat. No more were the immaculate streets crammed with food preparations alone; instead hundreds of stalls crowded close together, selling everything it was conceivably possible that one would wish to buy. Bolts of fabric in a hundred different shades and textures tumbled together across the pavement, like oversized sausages. Gifts and trinkets were piled up as far as the eye could see: beautiful wooden boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl and lapis lazuli, seashells threaded together to make necklaces or babies' rattles, hundreds upon hundreds of toys… The most intricate ironwork to be found in the land was there as well, and Artanis hurriedly pulled her brother behind a crate of wine when she recognised their aunt Nerdanel inspecting a delicate copper torc with a critical eye.

Once the Noldorin lady had moved on, they crept from their hiding place to peruse the market. This was, after all, the reason why they were here. Each had a small collection of golden coins clutched in battered leather purses, the fruits of an entire year of thrift and of pitiful looks cast in the direction of their grandfather.

Nevertheless, it was almost impossible for them to decide what to buy; their eyes were wide at the choice before them.

Loose gems lying in baskets as if they were naught but polished glass. Artanis and Findárato spent a considerable amount of time at one stall, gazing longingly at a sapphire the size of an adult's fist, cut wit such skill that it seemed almost to smile back up at them. It was only with great reluctance that they had to admit that even their combined resources would not stretch to its purchase, and moved on.

Necklaces and jewelled swords…

Heavy scrolls with delicate finials, telling a thousand tales, the tengwar marching across the page in stately procession…

Findárato stopped dead, his grey eyes glowing, entranced. Already his hands were running across the scrolls, moving on to the bound books, trailing his fingers across the smooth leather, savouring the texture of the buttery parchment. Artanis pretended to groan, but nothing short of a massive cataclysm would have roused him now, even more than during the hours in which he ensconced himself in his father's library, his snub nose, as of yet lacking the aquiline profile of his father and grandfather, virtually pressed against the pages. Resigning herself to the fact that she would not be able to extricate him for the good part of the next hour, she turned to the books herself, breathing in the slight but noticeable odour of fresh ink.

In fact, it was Findárato who bestirred himself first, tipping several coins into the long-fingered and ink-stained hand of the bookbinder. The Elf looked at the gold with faintly startled, distant eyes and then returned his attention to his own book as if the elfling had never been there.

Findárato hurried over to his sister, prodding her into awareness with one childishly dimpled finger.

"Hmm?" Artanis looked up from her book, as yet unwilling to move.

"Come on. Buy it if you will, or leave it if you will not." He brandished his own purchase, which was nearly half as big as he was, or so it seemed as he hefted it under his arm.

The girl pouted but left the volume where it was. However, it was not long before she espied something which caught her interest sufficiently to persuade her to part with some portion of her horde. In general, she was more at home tearing through the woods with her brother, or scuffling in the dust with her cousins, much to the amusement and pride of her parents. But the centrepiece of the festival market was an abundance of creations to adorn the hair, whether of a man or a maiden, and her own hair was her one vanity.

'Twas but a simple ribbon of white satin, embroidered with tiny flecks of adamant that caught the tree-light and sparkled brilliantly, and yet it called to her somehow. It scarcely took her a heartbeat to grab the ribbon from the tray, disentangling it from the other ornaments, and to press payment into the merchant's hand.

And then they were off again, weaving through the thickening crowd. Somewhere along the way they acquired extremely gloopy toffee apples, fresh from the dipping vat, and still dripping tendrils of toffee on their clothes. Here more food stalls were in evidence, catering to those who could not or would not cook for themselves on this festive day, and had to wait several more hours before the communal feast began with the mingling of the Lights.

The children were casting covetous glances sideways at a stall piled high with jewelled and expertly crafted swords when Findárato stiffened suddenly, prodding his sister in his ribs.

She squawked in protest, and opened her mouth to deliver a scathing diatribe on his manners. When she followed his gaze she shut it again with an audible clack.

The Elf was clearly visible, taller than most in the crowd, his silver hair and weather-beaten face distinctive amid the Noldor and sprinkling of Vanyar. A gentle smile curved his lips as he raised some small item to eye level to examine it. In truth to a stranger's sight he would have seemed of little import among the gorgeously clad Elves, for he bore himself with no excessive majesty, and his robes had obviously long since past the days of their youth. Amid all the silks and velvets, it was rather noticeable that the hem of his plain woolen garment was besmattered with mud and the sleeves were darned. And yet … and yet he seemed to glow, brighter even than the day, and although he by no means showed that he knew it, either by gesture or by word, the Elves around him treated him with reverence even in this favoured city.

"Maia…" Artanis breathed softly.

They stood and stared for what seemed like hours, although it could not have been less than a handful of minutes, yet when the Maia turned away, slipping through the crowd with long, easy strides, they shared a glance, knowing that it had not been long enough.

"Come on." Findárato grabbed her sleeve at the same time as she went to grab his. "We must…"

"…Follow him," she finished.

The elflings hurried through the crowd, their eyes fixed on their elusive quarry, now finding him, now losing him again as the massed ranks closed behind him. They knew only that they had to keep up with him…

Alas, the streets were by this point exceedingly busy, and amid all the half-controlled chaos it was all too easy to miss a pair of elflings. And even Elven reflexes could not cover all eventualities.

The Maia was scant yards ahead.

Findárato and Artanis stumbled backwards to avoid a laden handcart toiling its way through the crush. One small shoulder knocked the edge of an already-unstable vat brimful of mulled wine. The container toppled, rocking on its tripod, and then fell, unleashing a torrent of boiling liquid over the cowering children.

They screamed in unison as their clothes were soaked, plastered to their skin by the hot wine. Even their hair seemed to burn; scorching cloves stuck to their faces, their shoulders, slid down the narrow gap between their necks and their tunics to slither over sensitive skin, still unpleasantly hot. They screamed again, easy tears springing to their eyes, tiny hands tearing frantically at clothing.

The crowd was still and silent for a moment, watching as the children turned a livid red, then chaos burst upon them. The stall-keeper, his patience stretched beyond breaking point, began to curse fluently at the brats who had just destroyed the profit margin, and all those about began to take sides.

Hearing the storm of anger break about them, and knowing that 'twas all their fault, the elflings cried louder still. Now they would never be allowed out of the house again…

Cool hands stroked their hair from their faces, soothing the heat from their scalded brows. Deep-set blue eyes looked at them in worry. Those same steady hands stripped their ruined clothes away.

When the Maia spoke, his voice was brusque. "Hand me those cloaks. Do not dawdle." The Elf who had been thus addressed reached for the over-sized garments with a hand made tremulous by sudden speed.

"I apologise, my lord Olórin…"

"Yes, yes." He waved the obsequious respect off with one hand and turned back to the elflings, who shrank back, expecting to be admonished on the consequences of their folly. To their surprise, his face softened, laughter-lines graven by the sun creasing the skin round his eyes. "Do not worry, little ones, all will be well."

He laid one hand on each set of shaking shoulders and the heat seemed to drain away, leaving only a pleasantly tingling sensation. Moving away slightly, he cast a cloak around each elfling and sat back on his heels, calmly assessing the results of his intervention. The skin on their face was still painfully red, but their sobs were abating a little. "See?"

"A-aye…" Findárato tried to nod, but a band of tight, burnt skin on his throat prevented and tears welled up in his eyes once more. "B-but…" He funnelled all his will into controlling his voice, recalling all the stubborn pride of his family. He dropped to his knees, pulling his sister with him. "We should not have followed you, Lord Olórin. 'Twas not our place and we should not have forced you to help us."

"Nonsense." The Maia's eyes were bright with amusement. "In fact, Master Findárato and Mistress Artanis, I do not mind at all that you followed me, nor can I see why I should be supposed to mind." He touched his fingers to each child's throat, furthering speeding the healing process, urging the skin to regenerate itself.

The stall-keeper, full righteous indignation, blustered his way forward. He loomed over the elflings, his fists bunched menacingly. "Of course, I honour you, Lord Olórin, but who is to pay for my lost wares? I would have made more money from that than these children will see in a year. Who will pay, I ask?"

"I shall," a soft voice said at his left shoulder. No one there present could have mistaken that softness for weakness, for there was iron in that tone

The wine-merchant spun round. Arafinwë stood behind him. It was evident that he was considerably taller than the merchant was, and his jaw was set, his grey eyes deadly.

"Here." The Prince dropped a scattering of gold coins at the Elf's feet. "That should be sufficient to cover it." He turned away, and caught the smile lurking in Olórin's eyes. "My lord." He swept a graceful bow to the Maia.

"My friend." Olórin rose to his feet and clasped the prince's hand briefly. "I believe these elflings belong to you."

"Indeed." Arafinwë scowled. He had not, in fact, been searching for his children, nor imagined them anywhere else but safely ensconced in his house. Instead, he had been wandering rather aimlessly through the streets with his brother, arguing some esoteric point of law, a sheaf of plans for a new public building under one arm, when he had heard the disturbance rising in the clear air. It had only been as he reached its epicentre that he had realised that his own offspring were there. "And what have you to say? Nay, do not bother to answer: you wished to see the fair, and your mother was busy." His exasperated tone was somewhat ameliorated by the tender concern written across his face, and he hunkered down beside them, checking that they both still had the full complement of limbs. Finding little now amiss, he enveloped them in a hug, holding them both tightly. For a score of moments, he had been terrified out of his wits, as their screams had shattered the air.

Nolofinwë chose this moment to come shouldering through the crowd, the abandoned bundle of papers in his arms. At the sight of the two tiny elflings he groaned and shaded his eyes. "So tell me, where is Turukáno?"

"He is not here, uncle," Artanis reassured him, wiping away the last traces of her tears with the collar of her father's tunic.

"Well at least that is something," he said in a low voice. "Greetings, Lord Olórin."

"And to you, Nolofinwë."

They all turned their attention back to the elflings, who were in a miraculously cheerful mood having been reassured that, no, their atar was not angry with them, and would even endeavour to divert their naneth's wrath.

"Come on." Arafinwë hefted one elfling into each arm, where they snuggled contentedly against his shoulders. "I should get this pair of rapscallions home. Brother? Lord Olórin? Would you join Eärwen and me for a glass of wine before the festivities?"

They agreed, and made their way through the streets of Tirion, once more free from all cares.

A small whimper interrupted them.

"What is it?" Arafinwë swivelled his head to look at his daughter.

Mutely she held out the ruined scrap of ribbon, which still dripped wine in a pitiful trail, and buried her face in the crook of his neck.

The Noldo sighed and turned to his son, who was equally mourning his ruined book.

"Here." Olórin stretched out his hands and took the children's soggy treasures. His eyes flickered closed for a brief moment, and then he handed them back, all signs that they had ever been inundated with considerable quantities of wine gone. As the children beamed with delight, he sniffed the air for a moment. "Now, perhaps we should stop you both smelling like a winery."

Giggling happily, the elflings allowed themselves to be carted off towards their bath.

FINIS

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Quenya names:

Arafinwë – Finarfin.

Nolofinwë – Fingolfin.

Turukáno – Turgon.

Findárato – Finrod.

Artanis – Galadriel.