Stepping through the gates and onto the road to Tirion, Curufinwë, the fifth son of Fëanaro, feels relief like shedding a set of too-tight clothes.
Air cools his lungs like he'd been smothering all this time, pent up inside his father's house. His very skin seems to expand; he feels larger here than he does at home, in the presence of his brothers and, of course, Fëanaro.
It had been Fëanaro who'd sent him on this mission, thus granting him freedom. Purchase more parchment: such a simple task but so tedious to the others, who wouldn't wish to be called away from work or leisure to take a half-day for something so ordinary. But Curufinwë loves the parchment shop, and his feet are light upon the path. He has to restrain himself from running, fearing that if he leaps too high in his mirth, he might dangle among Varda's stars and never be recovered.
He'd be beyond even the reach of Fëanaro, then.
So delicate and easily torn, ephemeral, almost, disintegrating over the centuries, the inscriptions upon its surface wearing away with the years. So easy to destroy, to burn!
Yet Curufinwë presses a sheet of it to his face when the shopkeeper is not looking, and he inhales the dry-dusty smell, so bland, as though asking to be overtaken by something else. This close, he can see the individual fibers that make it whole, and he smiles, wishing to write an ode to each. So easily overlooked!—but without a single one of them, there would be a hole, and the paper would be worthless. There is a tiny blue thread squirming among the rest, possibly from the shopkeeper's robes, Curufinwë surmises—glancing over the top of the paper at the man who is, indeed, wearing blue—and he smiles to think that the paper already tells a story, before it even soaks up the words that he will place upon it. His story.
And so the paper is itself a loremaster, he thinks, like me. Each story containing a story within and without, spiraling toward infinity in both directions.
Only his lore has never happened and likely will not. Hopefully will not, he forces himself to add, knowing the wickedness of the words that he has committed to paper in times past, at times burning the paper in lieu of burning himself, who is certainly more deserving.
As though knowing and protesting the fate of its predecessors, the paper nicks his finger, a hairline cut that oozes blood. Curufinwë pops it into his mouth before it can mar the paper. No, this page will bear a story that has nothing to do with pain.
Fëanaro never denied his young namesake all of the paper he could desire. Even as an infant, charcoal stick clutched in his fist, Curufinwë wrote and drew—or rather, attempted to write and draw—raking the paper in his frustration, tearing it and leaving charcoal marks upon the floor to be dimpled by his dripping tears. His Tengwar were wriggling snakes; his attempt to draw his father yielded nothing but a worm-eaten apple upon a crooked pole.
But the drawings were carefully repaired by his father and hung in the laboratory, overtaking the sheet music for Macalaurë's acclaimed ballad first, then the awkward sketches done by Tyelkormo and Carnistir for one or another of their father's assignments, and finally, even Maitimo's treatise on the structure of metallic elements that had been the subject of much discussion all the way to the Halls of Aulë.
Fëanaro acquainted Curufinwë with the Tengwar much younger than he had his other sons, even Maitimo. They would sit together in the heavy golden light of afternoons—Curufinwë upon his father's lap and his small hand in Fëanaro's much larger one and, within that, the quill—and Fëanaro would guide Curufinwë's hands through the proper strokes. He marveled at how much more beautiful his letters were with his father's guidance—not a single wobble, not a single stroke missed or done in reverse. He would close his eyes and fall asleep to the sound of his father's voice and the warm comfort of his embrace. When he awakened, there was sheet after sheet of Tengwar in front of him and, awed, Curufinwë began to believe that this was the stuff of dreams.
They were fated to meet, the children of Fëanaro's thought and the child of his body: the Tengwar and Curufinwë. Sometimes, Curufinwë believed that he liked his brothers-in-thought more than his brothers-in-blood. Jeering words could be struck through, but when he raised his hands to Carnistir for the first time, he awoke minutes later with a buzzing numbness in his head that flourished into pain in the same way that a quill left carelessly upon a page will spread its stain. There had been fear in both Carnistir's and Tyelkormo's eyes when Curufinwë first awoke—as though they believed Carnistir had killed their little brother—but that quickly hardened into something malignant when they saw that he was nothing more than bruised, and Tyelkormo had sworn to tell their father that Curufinwë had fallen if he'd dared to tell of Carnistir's actions. "And you shall know your first taste of Atar's wrath!" Tyelkormo had said, and Carnistir had laughed and said, "It is bitter too, little brother, and lingers across decades."
And so, throat thick with tears, Curufinwë had turned to his brothers-in-thought for consolation. To them, he told the truth, and they believed him, and together they constructed beautiful retribution.
Carnistir, eyes glowing like a fiend, drove his fist into Curufinwë's head. And they both laughed, and the sound was like thunder.
They didn't see their father watching, but Fëanaro son of Finwë saw ALL.
His wrath was awful. He drove Tyelkormo and Carnistir into the night. He renounced them as his sons. "You are no blood of mine!" he said. He told them that he HATED them for what they had done to Curufinwë.
And he hugged Curufinwë and promised to never, never let such a thing happen again. And Curufinwë couldn't cry, not in Fëanaro's arms. His tears burned away before they even existed.
The marks on the paper were vicious gashes in ink, certainly not the meandering, graceful characters that his father had created, reminiscent of the wind and the waves of the sea.
His tears plunked onto the page and smudged the ink. It was barely legible, but he knew the weight of what he had written, comprehensible to others or not.
He stole Fëanaro's flints and burned the paper. The smoke stung his eyes and coaxed tears from him; if he leaned over it and let it burn his eyes, that didn't change the reason for his tears. The fire drew his parents to him and Fëanaro was angry—but for the fire, not the words.
His brothers treat him differently than they do each other. Curufinwë can't help it: He didn't ask to be given the same name as his father.
Even Maitimo, who is the only of his brothers whom Curufinwë truly likes, laughs less freely in Curufinwë's presence. There is a minute tightening of Maitimo's body: shoulders stiffen, knees come together, and hands wrangle each other in his lap. He gives tiny, wincing smiles that make Curufinwë wonder if someone is jabbing Maitimo in the back with a pin.
Recently married, Macalaurë pays little heed to Curufinwë. He barely glances from his wife's face to even give a greeting, and if Vingarië is not present, then he speaks to Maitimo. The two are rarely apart.
Tyelkormo and Carnistir drift perpetually on the periphery of Curufinwë's life, two satellites whose orbits occasionally intersect and exert a greater-than-usual influence on their younger brother. They are masters in subtle cruelty and wide-eyed innocence. Once, they'd waited for Curufinwë to leave the library for a drink of water and had rearranged all of his books and papers, negating the hours of work he'd done to arrange his desk appropriately. He'd gone to Nerdanel, but Tyelkormo and Carnistir had appeared then with leaves in their hair and the smell of fresh winds about them, supposedly back from a hunting trip, and Nerdanel had been fooled, not seeing the glint of mischief in their eyes.
"Aww, poor Atarinkë," Tyelkormo had said, drawing his tearful little brother into an embrace, but Curufinwë had ripped himself away and fled to the library, while Tyelkormo lamented to their mother, "I try to be his friend…."
And so Curufinwë had no one but Fëanaro. And the self-fulfilling prophecy came to fruition.
Fëanaro gave to his young son the task of copying all of his letters before they were sent so that he might keep copies in his own records.
Fëanaro's script meandered with the fickleness and grace of the wind, letters devolving into superfluous flourishes, promenading across the page. He was recognized as the best calligrapher of the Noldor and, despite his superior station as the eldest son of the King, the lords commissioned him to scribe the invitations for their important events.
Maitimo was also excellent at lettering, but his was proper and controlled and looked like a sample from a textbook. "It is useless!" he'd said of their father's excess once, in a rare show of defiance, and Fëanaro had replied, "You find beauty to be useless?"
"I do not," Curufinwë—omnipresent in his father's study to the point of invisibility—had interrupted. Maitimo had tensed and looked away.
Curufinwë labored over the letters, always feeling a pinch of fear when he first held a loaded quill over an unmarred parchment, trying to mimic his father's beautiful style. He copied orders for marble and iron ore as he might copy a masterpiece painting, bent over the page, tongue poking between his lips, quill clenched so tightly in his fingers that they ached. "At your earliest convenience, I should require three hundred pearls for use in a chandelier to be given to Olwë the King for his wedding anniversary. The pearls may be of varied size, although I prefer a uniform, rounded shape…."
When Maitimo's treatise on metals came under discussion and debate, Fëanaro penned a letter to Curufinwë's uncle Nolofinwë in Tirion. To please their father, the brothers had begun a regular correspondence, the acidity of their words now cleverly concealed beneath overwrought prose and swirling Tengwar. Curufinwë copied the letter dutifully and sent the original, but a second copy he made, a wicked copy, with some of the names changed and with which he slept, pressed beneath his pillow, at night.
My dearest Nolofinwë,
As you have surely heard, ensconced as you are in the heart of our throbbing, noisy civilization, my son Curufinwë has met with the greatest of honors for his recent labors concerning the patterns exhibited by various metals in their raw, elemental state. Indeed, it seems that Curufinwë's prodigy is being discussed in as high of places as the Halls of Aulë, and his work is being heralded as one of the most valuable contributions to the field of metallurgy.
I am sure that I do not need to describe to you the thrill of pride one feels for his child's accomplishments, as I should hope that Findekáno and Turukáno have given you reason to indulge in the pleasure of such unrestrained pride, as it is not demeritorious when it pertains to one's own son. Indeed, to think of myself as the artificer of one such as Curufinwë lessens the light of my other works, which until now, have been my greatest accomplishments, yet I feel no regret to be so bereft.
It is my fervent hope, Nolofinwë, that such blessings shall also visit your House in the form of that granted me by my dear Curufinwë. Until then, I remain your most beloved half-brother,
Curufinwë Fëanaro Finwion
Fëanaro had chosen Curufinwë's name, yet his brothers faulted him for it.
He was not too young to perceive the agony in Maitimo's eyes when it was pronounced:
"I will call him Curufinwë."
Of course, he also had Atarinkë, but out of defiance of his brothers' misguided resentment, when it came time to choose his name, he looked into Maitimo's eyes and said, "I will be called Curufinwë."
Maitimo had flinched.
Writing of it later, in the secret haven of the library: Let it be known, I have claimed my destiny as the favored son of Fëanaro.
And so the paper shop is a place full of potential for Curufinwë: ream after ream of paper—and what shall be written upon them? He selects the fine, gilt-edged paper that Fëanaro prefers and then lingers in his own decision, ghosting each with his fingers, fearful of leaving a premature smudge.
Normally, he is happy to lose hours in the selection, but today, his heart patters with a renewed vigor and his legs feel as though they possess coiled springs with the power to propel him, running, for leagues, if given the proper motivation. For, at home, slipped between the pages of a book on the physical properties of matter that he knows Tyelkormo and Carnistir will never read, is the beginnings of a new tale, this one of a different, more exciting sort.
The sort that makes Curufinwë blush for no reason and select the same coarse-grained paper that he'd procured last time, in his eagerness to get home.
Tyelkormo and Carnistir acted entirely differently when their sweethearts came to visit.
Curufinwë would pass their bedrooms on his way from retrieving a new essay or a book from his chambers that he wished to show Fëanaro and pause to wonder at the ruckus emanating from behind his brothers' closed doors. There seemed to be a good deal of scuffling and splashing and slamming of doors, punctuated by arguments of a most bizarre nature: "You made me look like a girl! Your legs look like stilts in those shoes! Your backside hangs out of that tunic like a baboon!"
They would eventually emerge in their finest clothes, the likes of which they never wore otherwise, with their hair unusually neat and even smelling better than usual.
Curufinwë paid them no heed except to wish fervently for their success with their sweethearts, so that they might marry and move to Tirion with Macalaurë and Maitimo.
Curufinwë walked into the library once and was greeted with a frightened squeal and found Tyelkormo sprawled across the chaise with his current flame pinned beneath him. "Shh! It's just my brother!" he had said, and there was a flurry of scrambling hands and clothes being rearranged, and Tyelkormo had looked pointedly at Curufinwë and hissed, "Get out!" and Curufinwë, terrified, had no thought but to do exactly as ordered, fleeing and not daring to stop until his level of exertion seemed a worthy reason for his pounding heart.
He found himself sketching the girls his brothers brought home, taking a perfect nose from one and adding to it the thick, chocolate-colored hair of the one who had dined beside Carnistir the night prior. Sometimes, he altered the features slightly, striving towards a vague vision in his mind, dancing constantly out of reach and into the undelved shadows. Frustrated, he sometimes captured the tip of an ear or a tendril of hair and cried out at the perfection of it, only to realize that the rest of the picture was unacceptably ordinary.
When she was perfect, he knew, she would step from the parchment and into reality.
His father called Curufinwë to his study once, in the midst of sketching, and he'd carelessly abandoned his work on his desk. At his return, he saw Carnistir standing over it, angling the latest drawing in his direction, wearing his dark, ugly hunting attire and a blank expression upon his face.
Curufinwë had run and snatched the sketch from Carnistir's fingers, and Carnistir had tossed his hands in a gesture of surrender. "No need for that! It's not a bad drawing!" But before Curufinwë could relax into his brother's rare benevolence, Carnistir's innocent expression twisted, and he added, "Except for the eyes. No woman has eyes that color, green eyes." He scoffed and trod from the room.
That was the closest Curufinwë had come with his sketches: the thick, chocolate-colored hair and delicate nose and high cheekbones. And green eyes.
He wrote of random encounters, meeting the green-eyed woman and knowing in that instant that he loved her. And seeing, in her green eyes, that she returned his love.
He stepped into the street dappled by afternoon light and shadow, and a voice asked behind him: "Would you like an apple?"
He savored these tales, closing his eyes in the languid heat of afternoon and allowing his books and studies to be forgotten, letting the quivering-strange feeling overtake him as he imagined taking the apple from her hands, the softness of her skin beneath his callused fingers, while his quill bled, forgotten, onto the paper.
She always had apples, apples the same brilliant green color as her eyes.
The shopkeeper did not make conversation with the fifth son of Fëanaro, knowing him to be not as gracious as Maitimo or polite as Macalaurë or as brashly loquacious as Tyelkormo and Carnistir. Curufinwë's fingers trembled as he'd fumbled the lampstones that had been the agreed price between the shopkeeper and his father; already, he imagined himself holding the quill and disappearing in the blissful emptiness of fantasy.
Curufinwë took his bundle in his arms and turned for the door. The afternoon light was seeping thickly through the door, and he cringed in anticipation of being blinded after the dusty dimness of the shop.
He stepped into the street and was not disappointed: The brilliance was almost painful. He blinked in Laurelin's radiance, shielding his eyes with his free arm and, so blinded on one side, collided with the maiden carrying the basket of apples.
She knelt to retrieve them before they were trod upon and, stunned, his mouth dangled open in a silly and churlish manner, as the paper slipped from his arms and into the dust of the street and his thundering heart drowned all reasonable thought.
For a moment.
Then, collecting himself, he knelt slowly, wishing desperately to see the color of her eyes beneath the spill of chocolate-colored hair.
She smiled at him, lifting her head, as he crouched beside her. Green.
There, he ran out of paper.