You may find it strange that I begin my tale with what I once thought the unhappiest day of my life. It is not the way of the historians, who desire order, and would prefer I give some mind to my ancestry, my home and my childhood first. The minstrels might approve, but I lack their skill, and anyway this is no song.
That I then reckoned my life would never again be the same, you might think no great feat of wits. But I am not blessed, or cursed if you will, with foresight; claiming now a hunch of things to come would be a lie. Nor did I know quite what my father, who has been called wise, hoped to reap from exiling (my words, not his) the eldest son of his house. But surely not what indeed grew from it, and he can hardly have looked back on his decision with great favor in later years.
Still too young to wear a man's robe, I was old enough to have had my first taste of the hunt, the day I was sent from home to live with my uncle for a year. The way I saw it, it might as well have been seven years, or seventy times seven. In spite of all the brashness I was wont to show the world, my parents' ruling had left me shaken.
It was early during the second hour that I stood by my horse in the cool silver light, in the courtyard of the King's hall, sullen and frightened and in yet greater dread that my misery might show. My father had come down the stairs to see us off. Not a fold of his mantle that did not hang just right, not a hair escaping his smooth dark plaits. Why this pleased me as much as it irked me, I scarcely knew, nor did I give it much thought then. Being of two minds about my proud and handsome father had become a habit ever since I had outgrown my infant smocks.
He embraced me, but feeling my resentment let go and gave me a hand up. I seized the reins, avoiding his eyes. At that awkward age one's pride is as ample at it is tender, and childish tears still lurk very close to the surface. He must have guessed; he only said, "Your mother is watching."
As I looked up I saw her standing on the terrace, holding my brother. She took his wrist and tried to make him wave as he stared with his large solemn eyes. Like as not he was drooling, too.
I had said farewell to my grandfather the King, and to my aunts, and of course to my mother; there was no more need for words. Instead I gave her what I hoped to be a casual salute, and made to turn toward the gate.
"Findekáno," said my father in a low voice, having grasped the horse's bridle, "in time you'll understand this is no punishment. Now go; may the Valar grant you a pleasing journey. And give my brother my regards."
"Yes, sir." I hadn't meant to sound quite so cold, but my voice might otherwise have quavered.
"Farewell," he said, letting go of the bridle.
I pulled the horse around and dug in my heels, very much determined to get ahead of my teacher Sérondo and the groom, and be the first through the gate. There was a crowd about the courtyard, and I felt it would not do at all to appear like a wretched calf dragged off to an unknown pasture.
I forget how long we traveled. A day, two? Now in the years that followed I often covered the distance between our home and my uncle's house in two hours on horseback, and Maitimo once rode it in less time. But of that later.
You likely wonder what kept us on the road, when there was no harsh weather to endure, no dark creatures to waylay us, no beasts lurking in the undergrowth. Depending on who you are, you perhaps judge us with the bewilderment of the Second-born, whose short stay in Arda spurs them to haste, or with the mild contempt of those who have dwelled among the perils of Middle-earth all their lives and have never known the bliss of Aman.
I do remember we met a group of fellow travelers who were returning from Valimar. We shared our food, and talked for some hours. It was the greening season, when the sacred corn of Yavanna first breaks through the soil and the cherries bloom; twice a soft rain fell, and this we slept out under a tree. Later a shepherd we passed in the hills wanted our view on a song he had made, and it proved to be well worth our stay. Even now I sing it often; it has brightened many a winter's night. Still later Sérondo caught sight of a rare flower and began a lecture right there in the meadow. My groom Andamaitë paid little notice, but when we continued our ride he had a garland of ivy ready for each of us, laughing and saying we must not arrive looking too plain.
You see, time held us and rocked us gently then.
The house of Fëanáro, half-brother to my father and a stranger to me for reasons I shall get to later, lay in the foothills of the Calacirya just north of Tirion. Of my first view I must curb myself, else I might cover a dozen pages. Words can give it but pale justice anyway. But let me say that its beauty enthralled me long before I saw in its very nature the troublesome seeds of things to come. And only now, looking back, do I grasp how truly Fëanáro's mansion resembled its master.
We came to it from the west, the road being a winding one, with the Light at our backs and our shadows wavering on the rough path ahead. I have said that I forgot how long the journey took, but I know it was during the last hour of Laurelin that we arrived; the snow-clad flank of holy Taniquetil loomed golden against the pale green skies, and the somber branches of the firs drooped in the quieting air.
There was no gate, unless one counted the stone arch with its disturbing huddles of carved figures we had passed. A child of the city, I had been unsure what to expect. No wide avenue framed by white columns, of course, but a marble portal, a terrace, a paved court at the very least- and certainly not this narrow dirt path. Yet ahead the gray shape of a sprawling house, half- hidden by trees, rose straight from the meadow's grass, among patches of flowers and unkempt shrubbery. The sturdy spires, not two of which seemed alike in height or shape, were choked with vines so thick they seemed to be propping the masonry. If indeed the towers were all of stone, I thought, my eye caught by some bizarre structures of twisting iron rising here and there among the greenery. Several lower buildings stretched beyond the main house, in an area that could at least claim having been tended; I caught a glimpse of orchards, raked beds and borders, and, in the distance, a stretch of fields.
At home we had a rose garden. Here the roses were everywhere, straggling over walls, crowding the narrow path and rearing thorny barriers around lily-covered ponds.
To one side of the building an arched doorway stood open. No servants came to greet us as we alighted.
"I'll take the horses around to the stables, my lord," Andamaitë said, a smile playing about his lips. He was no stranger to this place, my father and grandfather having made use of him as a messenger before. Now he looked smug, no doubt pleased to see me baffled. He was that sort.
Sérondo, however, seemed taken aback by the lack of propriety shown to us.
"Well then," he said, hitching his cloak over his thin shoulders. "It appears we must go in search of our host."
A man came bounding down the stairs from the entrance, chewing an apple. I tried not to gape at his bare arms and the stained leather apron he wore, as though he had just stepped from the forge instead of a prince's house. He paused when he saw us, and laughed.
"I don't know you, you must be visitors," he said. "Go right in, before all the food's gone."
We went up the stairs and through the entrance, followed a passage paved with exquisite tiles, and entered chaos.
The vast hall was full of people, eating and drinking at long tables, or rushing about with cups and platters. Someone was picking a harp, though it was hard to hear over the noise of everyone babbling at once. Shouts and sharp peals of laughter rang out. I searched for the High Table, but saw nothing resembling one. Despite the mild day, a fire had been lit, in a massive round hearth of carved stone that sat in the center of the hall like some great hulking animal, soot-blackened, grave and mysterious; a thing, it seemed, from a time before the grass in Aman had felt the tread of the Eldalië's feet. Smoke rose in a straight column to the opening in the roof, but not all found its way outside, and despite the many tall windows, the air was pungent and heavy with it.
Now I am not and have never been shy. Yet faced with this, I shrank into a window niche. Some curious looks skimmed my traveling cloak and mud-covered boots, and I got a few friendly nods, but no one spoke to me. When I turned to say something to Sérondo, I saw to my dismay that he had disappeared.
Some distance away a tall youth, laughing aloud at some jest, broke away from a group of women and came striding down the aisle between two tables. I stared, not only because he moved so well, and moreover looked far too grown to be wearing a boy's short kilt, but because of a sudden awareness of having seen him before. He had been to the King's court, at the wedding feast of my uncle Arafinwë;, some years ago. I had never found out his name, but that shade of hair and so fine a face are hard to forget - certainly for a sulky rogue watching the festivities from the gallery, in disgrace for having dropped a beetle into his aunt's cup (she had thought it quite amusing, after the first fright, but my mother had not).
The noise and laughter died down. And my gaze was not the only one now fastened on the young man with the absurd kilt and copper-colored schoolboy's plait. Facing the western row of windows, he offered the customary words of grace to fading Laurelin. He spoke well. I knew that at the end of the hour, when the Mingling of the Lights was fulfilled, he would say a greeting to Telperion, just as Grandfather did at home.
I wondered who the man might be; clearly he was in charge of the household. But I had heard it said that Fëanáro's hair was as black as my own, so this could not be my uncle. Perhaps he was one of my cousins. I knew there were several sons.
Whoever he was, I had resolved to speak to him. I moved out of the window-niche, craning my neck so I would not lose him in the crowd, when someone ran into me.
"Can't you look out where you're going? Who are you?" A small dark boy stood before me, clutching a squirming puppy to his chest. Washed and combed he might have been a handsome child. His blue smock bore traces of the stables, as did his bare feet.
Some servant's brat, I thought, and said, "That's hardly your business, is it?"
"But it is. This is my house!"
"Your house, huh? Go wipe your nose, and leave me be."
"You speak funny," he said, two lines creasing his forehead. "You're grown up; why can't you speak right?"
"If anyone here can't speak properly, it's you," I said, growing annoyed, and having lost sight of the red-haired man besides. "Listen to yourself - what's wrong with your tongue? Too big for your mouth? Now go away."
I pushed past him, but he was fast. He dropped the puppy and jumped in front of me, barring my way, and he looked so droll with his hands on his hips that I could not hide a grin. Underneath all the dirt, his face, rather high-colored to begin with, had turned a startling shade of red.
"My tongue's not too big, and you can't tell me what to do," he said, shrill with anger. "My grandfather is the King! And you don't live here, so you go away!"
My jaw dropped, as you might understand. This was one of Fëanáro's sons?
I glanced up at the sharp tone to find the red-haired object of my curiosity aside us. He cast me a cool glance, then crouched down by the little monster, who threw both arms around his neck and planted a fierce kiss on his cheek.
"By Aulë's anvil," said the man, "where have you been all day? And what's this?" He grabbed a napkin from the table and wiped the boy's face, then his own. "Go find mother, and tell her to put you in the bath!"
"She's not now; she's in her chamber. Off with you." He gave the boy a smack on the backside and to my relief the brat trundled off, muttering to himself.
The man rose, inclined his head - one could only just call it a bow - and stood looking down his nose at me. I remembered my manners and bowed as well, and murmured a greeting.
"I'm Maitimo son of Fëanáro," he said. His voice was pleasing, with the smallest touch of huskiness; I already knew it carried well when raised. And his speech sounded as odd as the boy's. I wondered how it had escaped me earlier.
"Welcome to our house. Your face seems familiar, but I can't quite place you."
"Findekáno son of Nolofinwë;, sir."
His eyes widened in surprise. "Why, of course," he said. "I must be appallingly dull today; how like Grandfather you are! What brings you here, cousin- have you brought us news from the King?"
He seemed puzzled. It was obvious that he had been utterly unprepared for my arrival. I would have liked to hide in a dark corner with embarrassment. But you cannot act like a child if you wish to be treated as a man.
"Father sent a letter, sir," I said, "to your - to the lord Fëanáro. I am to live here for a year."
"Well, then I daresay you shall! I only wish somebody had told me."
I bit my lip, studying the floor. A hand touched my arm. When I looked up, I was met with a grin of astounding sweetness.
"That was rude of me," he said. "It's hardly your fault."
Peering across the tables, he seemed to search for someone, then he called out to a slight, dour -looking fellow. The steward, I guessed; he had been overseeing the pages with their pitchers of wine and water. When told and questioned about the letter, the man shrugged.
"If there was one, he never showed it to me ere he left. Nor did he mention the lad's coming. You know how it is - he never tells me anything."
He never tells me anything. 'He' being Fëanáro, prince of the Noldor, son of the King. I could only blink. Yet the steward's tone had been fond, and now he and my cousin shared a sigh and a smile, like parents over a child's folly.
"Ah, Findekáno," said someone beside me. Sérondo had stumbled upon us. He was out of breath, and I could not understand his words as he bowed to Maitimo, whom he seemed to know. I must have stared foolishly, for Sérondo was quick to say that he and my cousin had met in Tirion. Still, I found it hard to grasp why he had not mentioned it before.
"You've not yet eaten, have you?" Maitimo asked. We said that we had not; the steward brought napkins and scented water in a copper basin, and having washed we settled at the end of one of the tables, glad to stretch our legs. He filled our bowls with stew, piled small round breads and cheese on two plates, and poured wine into cups. There were some salads as well, and a dish of honeyed apples. Not bad, I thought. Whatever pains my exile might hold, go hungry I would not.
While we ate, my gaze followed my cousin about the hall, which was less easy than it may sound, for he appeared to be everywhere at once, and it seemed that each time I lowered my eyes to my plate, he vanished in the crowd. Later he did disappear, but presently returned, his arm around Andamaitë.
My groom joined our table, and with the air of one wholly at home began to fill us in on the news, between spoonfuls of stew. Fëanáro was absent, we heard; he had gone west. No one was quite sure where, or when he might return. Two of Maitimo's brothers were hunting in the hills, and the lady Nerdanel, my aunt, had chosen to stay in her chamber.
The hour reached its end, the Mingling of the Lights was fulfilled, and once more I heard my cousin speak the ancient lines. Then, slowly, the party began to break up. Tables were cleared, benches moved, dirty linen was folded and carried out by the pages. Most people had to pass our table on their way out. Now that I had the leisure of watching them, I saw that Maitimo was far from the only one so strangely clothed. Many of the women appeared to have forgotten how to do their hair, though most wore some sort of flowers or leaves twined into their long locks, and some must have forgotten how to dress altogether, wearing a bizarre blend of male and female garments. The men were, if anything, worse, many of them in working garb or with kerchiefs tied in intricate folds about their heads; though I did see a few more dignified figures also - among them the steward, clad in a mantle of finest wool that not even my mother could have faulted.
At last Maitimo returned to us. "Now," he said, straddling the bench across from me and stifling a yawn, "we'll find room for the three of you, and then you can rest." Our eyes met, and with a rare flash of insight I thought, If anyone here wants rest, it's you; why, you look ready to drop - but you're the kind who'd sooner walk on hot coals than own to it.
I might have known matters had gone far too smoothly. Next to me, Sérondo cleared his throat in that maddening way he had when heralding ill news. "There is one more issue, my lord Nelyafinwë, and I fear it is of some delicacy -"
"Go on," said Maitimo, his brow knitting slightly. I thought, puzzled, Nelyafinwë? A half buried memory flickered, but I was more eager to learn Sérondo's delicate issue just then.
"In essence it comes to this: my lord Nolofinwë would have his son share the plain lodgings of the pages, and to receive no favors of any sort, and - well, he asks to be informed of any incidents of - er - trouble." He trailed off, his cheeks aflame.
A fine way for my father to lay down the terms of my banishment, and put it in clear view of everyone. Not that I blamed Sérondo; he was only the messenger. All the anger and wretchedness I had left behind on the journey flared up in the pit of my belly again. Yet with my cousin's eyes on me, I deemed it best to feign indifference. I had been marked a troublemaker; no doubt he would now treat me as one. How could he think but ill of me, after this?
For a time he only sat there, chin propped in one hand, tapping the table with his long fingers. I began to grow uncomfortable under his gaze.
"I trust, sir," he said at last, "my uncle will then be pleased to hear that I've no intent of granting his son the favor of choice lodgings. You see," he added, with a sudden grin, "there are none. My father's rooms alone make a few allowances to finery; my brothers and I appear to have neither taste nor time for it. That said, the house isn't entirely wanting in luxury - the pages' bedchamber comes to mind, I must have a talk with them - though I imagine a son of Nolofinwë would bear up to temptation. If the pages' chamber were not, alas, full to bursting. Now, as to Findekáno causing trouble, what with my brothers being peerless in that field, he had better try his hardest, else I'll never notice. But I'll write - yes, I'll write."
Sérondo hastened to agree to all. He seemed relieved the matter had been dealt with, and probably could not have cared less whether those instructions were kept, once he left. I gather he was fond of me in a way, and he had not always seen eye to eye with my father in the past. I also saw how unhappy he looked, and for the first time I realized that he might miss me, and that I would indeed miss him.
It took Maitimo two heartbeats and a blink to reckon what grieved Sérondo still. He said, very quietly, all flippancy gone, "You need not worry about the boy; he'll be as one of our house. Know that you're welcome to stay also, but sir, if you must indeed return to the King's court, I dare hope you'll come and visit whenever you wish."
Sérondo brightened and thanked him, though he must have known this was hardly what my father had had in mind. Then he and Andamaitë left with the steward, and Maitimo and I were alone. He rose and stretched, looking down on me. A loose strand of hair fell over one eye and he tucked it away, in a rather vague, dreamy manner.
"And hence we must now find you a room," he said. The smile blazed again, having lost none of its warmth. "Would you follow me, son of Nolofinwë?"
I nodded and jumped up, almost knocking over the bench in my haste. To the cold shores of the Outer Sea, I thought, silly with gratitude. And beyond if you wish, son of Fëanáro.