Author Notes: What's this? No AU? No Slash? (Well, unless you choose to read it as pre-slash.) No angst? (Or minimal angst, anyway.) What on earth was I thinking? :P Well, I hope you enjoy it.

Disclaimer: I am a not Tolkien. I am making no money off of this, and would really appreciate if you didn't sue me.

Blasphemy (Inside Paradise)

I liked the blue flowers best. I thought it was a choice, but Nelyo told me that it wasn't. I was supposed to be fond of blue, he said. I was to blue as he was to red. That was how it should be. We were in the garden and the light was changing to gold. He laughed. His laugh felt nice, but I didn't know what he meant.

When I said I wanted the garden to be all mine, he was silent at first. There was one place, he finally explained, that I could not have. He brought me there. "My father told me..." he said. "He told me that this is where she was." He sounded sad, but in a respectful sort of way.

I did not know who he was talking about. "Maybe she'll come back," I suggested. I was nervous at the mention of my uncle. He had never seemed to care about me.

Nelyo shook his head and refuted this, gently. "Lucky for you," he added. He was often like that, bringing up references that I did not understand and never paying heed to my confusion. I think he liked his own air of mystery.

Despite this, I always behaved as though I knew everything about Nelyo. I mentioned him in every conversation. I did not notice or care when my father would press his lips together, leaving unspoken his belief that maybe I liked my cousin too much for my own good.

Time went by, and I grew, but every time the light was golden I came to the garden.

Everything always looked warm, there, and gracious. Those blue blossoms that I loved so much were graced by greens, purples and yellows: polite, subservient foliage that paid homage rather than to rise on its own. I said all this to Nelyo. "Are you a poet, now?" he teased, but his voice was pleasant.

I told him more. I told him that I liked the red flowers best. I said it because I wanted Nelyo to know how much I liked him, but he just looked at me strangely. "There are no red flowers here," he said. I looked around. He was right.

I didn't see him as much as I wanted to. He was always off playing some sort of game. They called it sparring and they said that he was good at it. I wanted to learn, too. When I told my father that we should play it in the garden, he scolded me, and the next day I asked Nelyo what blasphemy meant.

"Something that's wrong," he answered, and I think he was simplifying it for me. "Like going against the gods," he continued.

"So it's a bad thing." I didn't say it quite like a question.

Nelyo smiled and looked away, the way grownups do when they know something you don't.

The garden was always there. The masses of carefully-tended plant life wound together like ropes and ribbons, vines coiling around trees like knotted green stairways, trees that never shed their leaves of jade and gold. There were lawns sprinkled with the occasional wildflower, avenues of soft grass lined with lavender and violets, arches tangled with leaves.

With every passing year I felt less and less that I belonged amidst such effeminate beauty; I hid behind trees when friends or relations might wander by, and more frequently left in a rush, off to whatever formal occasion at which I was to be exhibited.

My parents liked to show me off. They liked to dress me up even more royally than I was meant to be, and display me to the rest of the family. Nelyo once said that I would make a good king. Coming from anyone else, it would have been treason; but instead, this remark made my father smile and grip my shoulder. "Say thank you," he instructed.

I obeyed. Then, as soon as no one was watching, I grabbed Nelyo's hand and tugged him away from the festivities, back to the garden. The silvery light tinged the undergrowth as though we were walking on clouds. I found, for the first time, that the breeze there was too gentle for me, the colors too refined, and I wanted more. But it was the only place where I knew I could find privacy, and there was a question I wanted to ask, something of which his comment had reminded me.

"Father told me that people die, sometimes," I said. I received no response. "He says that they go to sleep, and they don't wake up." Silence. "He said it happened to your grandmother, that she was right there, where you showed me… in the garden…" Nearly tripping over my words, I rushed on. "…and that if that happens to Grandfather and to your father, you would be the king."

Nelyo didn't look at me. "You shouldn't talk like that."

I remembered what we had discussed, some time before. "Is it blasphemy?" I emphasized the word.

He did not respond to the question. He left a lull in conversation, then commented, "You are getting too old to be playing in gardens."

Nelyo was right; and so I found more appropriate pastimes. I climbed rocks, instead. I stood on cliffs and looked out over the land. After long hours of watching birds, I found myself wishing that I could ride one. I read books about history, and learned to spar with my cousins, until at last Nelyo could win against me. He did so every time.

I pretended that childhood was over, and pushed those blue flowers from my mind. I stopped trailing after Nelyo like a lost kitten and tried to carry on proper conversations with him, rambling on about philosophical concepts that I barely understood and reveling in delight when I was treated as an equal. I came to realize that he was not so much older or wiser than me, after all.

But I crept back there, just one day. I scrambled through bushes and narrowly missed trampling a few delicate white flowers that reminded me of the snow that they said was in the north. I wanted to steal a flower – just one – and I wanted to keep it with me. It would be something to remember the garden by, as it was no longer my place. It did not cross my mind that such a bloom might wither, once torn away and detached from itself.

It was blue, and I held it behind my back when I passed Nelyo in the street. He grinned, and asked what I was hiding. We snuck into an alleyway and I showed him. "You are quite a rebel, aren't you?" he questioned, clearly amused. It was a word I was unaccustomed to, but I pretended to understand. I nodded and smiled.

That night, the two of us sat on a balcony, overlooking the city; it spread out beneath us, lit by hoary light and colored to perfection, elegant and very much a paradise. Nelyo spoke slowly, warily, as was his way, but I could tell that he was impatient to expose his thoughts: "Do you ever think about leaving?"

I drummed my fingers on the stone floor.

"Do you ever think that maybe we're just like that flower…" He gestured down to it. It lay between us in all its brilliant blue splendor. Clearly symbolic; though of what, I was not sure. I remembered parting the blossom from its stem. I had not before considered that I was abducting it from its home. "That maybe," Nelyo continued, "maybe we weren't meant to stay rooted forever…"

I was silent. He bit his lip. "Do you think there could be something more…?"

We could see the sea, off in the distance. I finally thought I knew why the garden had no red flowers.