The closest English translation I found for 'Ivresse' (French) was 'Intoxication'. Yet it just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? Don't worry though, nobody actually gets drunk, at least not on wine…

Welcome, readers, to a *very* disturbed character's life…

Disclaimer: All characters and settings mentioned belong to Professor Tolkien; though, I do own the disturbed notions of personality…

Ivresse

By Le Chat Noir

Curufin was considered especially smart among his family, and skilled, which had once been to him a subject of pride and boasting. When their father had shown them the Jewels, he had seen his brothers gape at them, open-mouthed, and yet all he could do, seeing the pleasure Fëanor had in their delight, was to smile appreciatively, and hand them on to the eager twins. When first he had been handed a sword, and told to practise with his brothers in secret, he had obeyed, and dutifully taken it up; soon, unsurprisingly, he had become one of the best fighters among them, second only to Maedhros.

However, he could not begin to feel the intoxication, or whatever it was, the six other boys seemed to derive from swordplay; each morning, he studied their faces while they thrust and parried. He saw that Maedhros was lost, utterly lost to the delight of the play, of the dance, as he called it –though was delight was there in turning a metal stick around? -. He saw Maglor focusing his entire attention unto the face of his adversary, following every slightest change of their expression, trying to guess what their next move would be. He saw Celegorm and Caranthir, shouting, showing off, laughing aloud, -those two never knew how to be serious-, regularly defeating each other, so that no one really could figure which one of them was better than the other. He saw the twins, Amros, Amras, listening most carefully to their teacher's instructions, seeking to make up for their young age.

He had tried. Like Maedhros, he had concentrated on the beauty and fluidity of his moves, though probably Maedhros did not need to concentrate at all. Like Maglor, he had tried to fathom the thoughts of the other, counting on his own rapidity and swiftness. Like Celegorm, he had tried to make it all a game, a mere game, and, like the twins, he had wanted to follow the guidelines to the most exact exactitude.

Still as regularly as before, he had found himself pointing a sword-tip to one of his brothers' neck, or chest; and still, as regularly as before, he left the practise field puzzled, uncomprehending as ever towards the flush and grin on the others' faces.

Since early childhood, he had been found to excel in most the tasks his parents set him to, and had accomplished them diligently, yet never in them he found the joy that one day or another would illuminate his brothers' eyes.

He had been sent to the forge as an apprentice, and it did not take his father long to notice his outstanding talent. Still a youth, he was counted in the City as the second best worker of jewels, and often, when Fëanor was overwhelmed with work, he was the one to take up that which his father did not have time to do.

It had pleased him, in some moments of leisure, to hold a piece of nothing in your hands, a shapeless lump of nothing, and then, slowly, oh so very slowly, to turn it into something, to shape it into being, add all the finest little details, the illusions, and then throw it into the fire again, so as to watch it melt into the nothingness from which it had come.

The study of lore and language was another thing, it only could completely absorb his mind and faculties for an undefined amount of time; but so little spare hours had he from the forge and various tasks he was subjected to, that even the eternity the Valar promised them did not seem enough for him.

Life, he had come to understand, was flat. It was a landscape with no mountains to climb over, no rivers to cross; hardly ever a challenge, hardly ever a want, a need. It was like walking across a blank sheet of paper, and then, when one came to one edge, back again, and so on till at last you fell off a rim.

So, he was exaggerating. There were mountains and rivers from time to time, but Curufin had learnt not to climb, nor to wade, but rather to look for a valley or a bridge. There always was one of those things lying around.

It was like that. He had been second to Maedhros in swordplay; to his father in smithcraft and lore; Maglor was always the best at music; Celegorm at hunting; the only thing he could best absolutely everyone at was keeping on a straight face and shutting up.

And then, he had fallen in love. Or maybe, someone had fallen in love with him. It was all rather unclear. All that remained to him of those few years, those short few years when at last he had thought he maybe had found a goal in his life, was a blur of seemingly nothing sensible, and afterwards, when he had sat down and tried to figure it out, he never succeeded in understanding what exactly had happened to push him into committing such a foolish act. But the next thing he knew, he was married, settled down, with a charming little wife he barely knew hanging unto his arm, and there was a flood of visitors menacing to invade his house under the pretext of bearing him congratulations and well-meaning wishes.

It was only a very short time before his father had suddenly barged in one day and nearly ordered him to pack up his belongings and leave, with explanations promised for later; and as far as he knew, Curufin had always been a dutiful son. However, it had been long enough for him and the little woman that seemed so young, he often thought of her as more of a daughter than a wife, to have something more shared between them then just binding words; and the little toddler than had taken his first steps in the house barely months ago was taken along to the strong fortress his father brought him to; because of course the only grandson of Fëanor could not possibly be left behind. At the moment there were a lot of tears –mostly one-sided-, but when the choice had finally been hers, she decided not to go with him after all.

Life returned to its original flatness. There was a lot of waking up in sleep to soothe the child when nightmares seized him; and that, in his opinion, happened far too often. Maybe it had to do with the place; a stronghold with walls of steel, Curufin could indeed have thought of a better place to spend one's childhood in. But he did know better, however, even at the time, than starting an argument with Fëanor, so, as was in his habits, he shut up, and let nothing transpire. Occasionally, one of his brothers would remark playfully on his wearied face, but there were far more important matters to look to, and they never gained more from him than a vague answer and a smile assuring them that everything was all right, so after a while everyone returned to his own worries, and those seemed to come in loads these days.

The child grew, and gave him less and less trouble, for which he was grateful.

The House of Fëanor scarcely saw much of the outside world, and silence gradually took hold of Formenos, apart from the periodical outburst of Fëanor's building madness. Even Finwë, who lived with them, sat as a recluse in his room, and appeared only for meals. Sometimes, the brothers would receive a visit from their cousins, mostly Fingon and Aredhel; but being somewhat uneasy of inviting them into the fortress, they met them outside the walls, and there was no question asked.

The events precipitated. Night, or so the oldest elves who had seen Cuivienen called the sudden darkness that engulfed the land, fell, and also something more sombre than the mere lack of light. Along with his brothers, or at least some of those, he rode to Tirion in the greatest haste, faster than he had ever pushed his horse, and was there to hear Maglor announce to the assembled people of Tirion the attack on Formenos. Maedhros and the twins had stayed behind a little way, to form a last escort for their King should he at last decide to come, but when mere minutes later they arrived the haggard look on their faces was enough to tell the truth.

The Waning of the Light itself hadn't produced such a reaction among the crowd that was there clothed in gay-coloured garments. Curufin remembered, when he was still a child, having made a small sculpture of fragile glass that he had been dissatisfied with, despite everyone's assurance that it was good, almost perfect, and anyway better than what a youngster was supposed to be able to achieve; but then when he was left alone in his room he had angrily smashed the guilty piece of art on the marble wall. The night was like that. It was still, and it was dark, and you could almost hear through the opacity the silence of a thousand hearts, a thousand lives coming apart, shattering like a mirror someone purposefully dropped.

Fëanor, as if struck by a sudden morbid premonition, had clad himself in black, from head to foot, and wore no other jewel than the simple circlet of silver that designed him as the eldest son of the king.

With the others, Curufin made silence, a shocked, disturbing silence, trying to let the facts sink in –but he found he couldn't-. The first cry of panic arose, and soon it was silence no more, but the greatest confusion Valinor had ever known.

To be surrounded by fear was something new for his experience. It was somewhat satisfying; that feeling of superiority and slight contempt that came with it.

What had followed was to him like the day he had first been allowed to take a sip of the royal table's best and strongest wine. It was discovering for the first time the true beauty and light of the dance of fire in the darkness. It was hearing the full extent of his father's spirit, finely diluted into words; it was seeing the entire people assembled at their feet on the summit of the hill, it was the whole city ablaze with the flame of torches; it was the delight of feeling phrases roll out from his own tongue that had the power to balance life and distort fate; it was the intoxication of winning, of laughing into the very face of doom, awaiting a revelation that could only be imminent now, now running down the path that had been traced for him because he saw a corner at last, something that promised a change, novelty, and he had looked into the gloomy faces of his brothers and did not understand their lack of enthusiasm.

Then there was the sobering down when the journey at last began.

He looked back, and saw that less than a fifth of his father's people had followed them; the rest preferring to swell the hosts of the sons of Indis. He had placed his little child in front of him on the horse, and had to see the small blank face, expressionless, that reminded him so much of his own as a youth that he almost wished Celebrimbor could have taken more after his mother. His mother that did not, by the way, follow her husband and son down the road that should have been hers. The journey to Alqualondë was somewhat boring, since it was a path they had oft taken in the past days, and from time to time there was a family or two that turned away from the road and filled his heart with contempt and disgust at their cowardice.

Sometimes later, he did not know exactly, he found out for the first time what it felt like to run a sword through another elf's body. Again, he looked around, and saw the horror, the disgust, the fear, the tears running down the fighters' faces even as they slaughtered each other, and again, he did not understand. It was not much different than slicing through those models they were given for practise, consisting of cloth stuffed with hay or other kind of dry grass, when you forgot –or tried not to realise- that those elves in front of you were indeed elves; except, of course, that flesh and bones offered somewhat more resistance, in which case it was more akin to cutting the deer and other animal that had been first taken down by a judiciously placed arrow. Of course, a little more messy, however not so much when you compared it to those games the young princes sometimes allowed themselves to play with the prey, large, strong beasts preferred, hunting it down on foot, and killing it barehanded, or with a small, sharp dagger that was to be thrust in the animal's eye.

It was practice, only enhanced a little by the fact that somewhere, he nearly realised that his own life was in danger, too, but not really so.

Then everything ended. The fire still danced in the darkness, but the few women and children that remained were too scared to even think about fighting anymore; and shadows only ran about in the smoke, aimlessly, sometimes throwing themselves into the very heart of the stake. He found himself alone, standing, waiting for the fire to die out. He attempted to wipe the sweat from his face, but only managed to smear it with blood from his sleeve, and noticed that his hair was completely tangled, his skin bearing minor cuts in several places, and his whole personae basically in the greatest mess it had ever been in. He saw some of his brothers, and they were in no better state than him.

The fire calmed down. He began walking towards the shore. He knew that Maedhros had stood still, for a few seconds, than turned away, with the set expression he wore when deeply angered or hurt, probably to have an argument with their father there and now. He knew that Fingon, the only son of Fingolfin that had joined them in the battle, had wavered before eventually running after the taller elf, as always. He knew Maglor had gone behind a scorched bit of wall that still stood straight and been severely sick. He knew that the twins, never far from each other, had also emerged from battle together, back to back, and that, after a few minutes of shock, Amros had loosened his bow from his shoulder, and shot an arrow heavenwards, though the signification in that gesture somehow escaped him.

He arrived on the beach of white, fine sand, and took off his boots first, allowing the icy water to run between his toes. He lowered his shoulders then, and washed the blood and sweat off his fingers, his palms. Laying aside his clothes, he immersed himself entirely, but nearly cried out from surprise as a sudden bolt of pain shot through his body, and noticed for he first time that he had a large bleeding gash on the back of his shoulder. He cursed under his breath. Biting his lower lip and squeezing his eyes shut tightly, he let himself get accustomed to the pain the contact of salty water brought to his wound, and then walked in farther, till only the top of his head emerged from the surface. He washed his hair, combing its matted form with what he had, that was only his fingers. All around him, a definite circle of darker water began to form, and the foam came tinted a sickening shade of pink. He lingered there, for a long time –at least longer than necessary-, confusedly wishing that he could stay… but knowing full well hat his brothers would be looking for him already. After a while, he took onto the task of washing his clothes, but could in no way find the time to let them dry, so it was a dripping wet, but relatively clean Curufin that arrived some minutes later on the ruins of Alqualondë.

The ships made wonderful material for burning, they found out. Maedhros had simply looked at the starting fire in its birth, and walked away in the snow, leaving a trail of footprints after him. Some moments later, when the flames had reached the height of their roaring, Maglor had strode away without a word either, following his eldest brother's trail. Celegorm and Caranthir were nowhere to be found –he had only caught a glimpse of them before they all got on their different vessels-, and neither were the twins. Fëanor stared at the fire, his fire, and though there was no smile on his face, his eyes needed no supplementary mad grin to account for the burning of his spirit, stronger even than the fire of Losgar.

Curufin looked away from the fire, to his father, but quickly looked back at the fire again, running a gentle hand through the hair of the small boy that clung to his waist.

Later, when Fëanor had called his sons to him, the twins were found missing, and only after five minutes of absolute panic had Amros showed up, and told them with a barely controlled voice that indeed his brother had for true name Umbarto, the Fated. At that moment, it had barely sufficed of Celegorm, Caranthir and Curufin to hold their father back from running back into the blazing ships.

The Dagor-nuin-Giliath brought a new understanding to him. This time the opponents were Orcs, and Balrogs, creatures of the Enemy, and the elves threw themselves in the battle with laughter in their throats instead of tears in their eyes. At first, the routine settled down once again, as he remembered his practise lessons, the best and surest way to kill while still staying alive yourself; but just out of boredom and curiosity he risked himself to another kind of fighting, improvising as he advanced in battle; and finding that the resistance wasn't being harder at all, he allowed himself to grin like the others, and almost be carried away by the rhythm of the fight. Intoxication. It was no more killing, no more war, not even the boring, boring practise sessions; it was all a game, his game, a play in which there was nothing to loose, since the only thing that was at stake was his own life and that of others. Disgust could wait. Regret could wait. For now there was the game, only the game; and he knew that in this dance –oh, not the dance as Maedhros meant it; not the dance of grace and beauty, but the dance of death, whichever form in took- he would be the leader.

It was all there, within the reach of his hand. What mattered was not the opponent, not the kind of death you handed them, not even the number of those you could bring down; what mattered was shutting out your heart and laughing while inflicting the deadly blows that would keep you alive, and he knew that in that game he was always the best.

The balancing of life and death, with a smile on your face.

Fëanor had ventured too far. When the battle had gradually died down on their side, Celegorm, far-sighted, was the first one to spot their father, with a tiny escort of his best warriors on his side, in front of them, too far in front of them, caught in the middle of an army of Balrogs. At this moment, Curufin had already half-sobered down, still delighting in the lingering feeling that he could not quite place, -that, for a little moment, he had been the master of all those lives he even knew nothing about, playing their fates in his hands-, but, as he saw his brother point out to that spot, where already their father stood alone, he did not think. None of them did, it seemed like. It was the second inconsiderate act he had perpetuated in his life. And the second act that, when later reflecting, he found he could not understand. But, at the time, all he had thought about, with Maedhros nearly running at the forefront while slicing himself a way through the mass of fire-demons, was that he could only follow, momentarily struck dumb. He had never loved his father, and he often observed the little children in Tirion and their 'Daddy' and had tried to fathom what it felt like to have a family that could be called normal. He knew that, if he was indeed his father's favourite son, Fëanor had never even been able to recognise Amros and Amras from each other, while all of their brothers could do so without even thinking about it. He knew that Maedhros and Maglor, the two eldest, sometimes had fond memories to share about a time when Fëanor too was a father, and Nerdanel had loved him, and he her, but to the younger sons it was all a conjecture, a hypothesis, a dream, and whatever bridge their two older brothers tried to build between them and that past Curufin had always refused to tread on. They had collapsed after a while anyway, as no one tended to them.

Fëanor had been slain by his own fire. It was what everyone, everything whispered in the night, in the camp of Mithrim.  It was a whisper only, a murmur, for all knew full well that both Maedhros and Curufin were restless, and wandered around the tents buried deep in thoughts; and the last thing they wanted was to be heard by one of them. However, when the wind itself was carrying their rumour and filled the air with it, it was all that Curufin could do to listen. In other circumstances, a quick swipe of the blade would have been enough to quiet the gossip, though that night he refrained himself, even if he stood motionless, brow furrowed, for a long while in front of a flap from behind which the talk was particularly loud.

There was no light to be found except a faint glow in the tent of the six brothers, for if the other four stayed inside, none of them slept; and the dancing fireflies.

He wasn't there when Maedhros' escort was crushed and Fëanor's eldest son taken captive. The only one his brother had brought along was Celegorm, and this one had, apparently, reserved himself and most of the group they had summoned for coming back and telling the news. Maglor had said nothing, only looked his younger brother with the eyes of pain and silent accusation, but Curufin felt that Celegorm knew full well where his fault lay anyway, and had not intended to do otherwise, had he been able to.

The little Celebrimbor grew into a youth, and Curufin regretted that there could be no smithery in a temporary settlement. However, the child began to remind him so much of himself that he sometimes shuddered when merely observing him, though he was pleased… somewhat.

At the moon's first rise, the five remaining brothers moved their camp to the South of the Lake, to avoid meeting with the Houses of the sons of Indis. There, they met with a lot of Grey Elves, Sindar, as they called themselves. Curufin spent long periods of time among them, learning their language, their lore, trying to understand their customs and pick up some notions of the geography of Beleriand, which they were only too eager to tell of. He found the opinion of these Umanyar strongly divided; part of them were in awe in front of the Calaquendi of Valinor, curious like children and as full of questions as five years olds, and a minority who was more reserved, did not trust, and did not know yet where to lie their faith. As a whole, they were interesting subjects, and Curufin learnt from them some useful knowledge to have if one wanted to survive in Endor, but then the events came crashing down once more.

One morning, -for there were mornings now- a rider with a hood and a cloak came at full gallop into the settlement, and there was no one to stop him until he was in front and inside of the main tent. This rider turned out to be Maedhros, with one hand less but plenty of things to tell the others could not begin to believe in, and eventually Caranthir could only rage helplessly when presented with the bare facts. Maglor was only too happy to have his brother back to care, and Curufin, as usual, shut up; surprisingly, Amros also did so.

The North-Eastern parts of Beleriand, they found, were little better than bare patches of savage land, with mountains in the North and a river Eastwards. The six brothers set themselves to work, and soon there was a strong fortress on the hill of Himring the Ever-Cold. Riders patrolled the plain of Lothlann, Aglon and the Gap were fortified, and Caranthir took Helevorn, while Amros had departed for a more southern land, where the trees that grew were tall and dark, but the woods full of game.

Curufin ended up with Celegorm, holding the Pass of Aglon between Himring and Dorthonion, and the plain of Himlad. His brother had never been particularly smart, he knew, or at least no match for him, and it proved that in politics, Celegorm was no better than he was in lore. Curufin found that the blonde elf much preferred riding out in the southern forests or flirting around with the young maidens of their lands to matters of the state. Curufin, being wed, and not sharing his brother's taste for flirtatious behaviour, found himself faced with a sigh with the load of paperwork that was sure to await each day. The complicated relations between the various kingdoms, and delicate diplomacy interested him, though, would it be only much more than the dull economy

After the Aglareb, the years of the siege were peaceful enough. He didn't go to the Mereth Atherdad, but sent Celebrimbor, who was now a young lad of about sixty, and went in tow with Maedhros and Maglor. Two of his cousins, Turgon and Finrod, born the same year and always best friends, suddenly disappeared, and Aredhel with them. Little as he cared for the two princes, the girl had been a great friend of his during the days of the Trees, and when a dark elf suddenly showed up on his land claiming that he was the White Lady's husband, it was all that he could do not to slice him in two. After all, one never knew. Maedhros was often absent, visiting Fingon in Mithrim, and of Caranthir he had very little news, of Amros practically none.

He taught Celebrimbor in lore and skills of the hands, and though the child excelled in those, he generally stayed taciturn and silent, talking little, instead drowning himself into books or taking lonely strolls in the woods. After a while, Curufin decided not to watch, and not to remember.

However, in his travels, he had met with a new kind of species; no Elves, no Men, and no creatures of Darkness –though he had wondered about that at the beginning-, but Dwarves: ungraceful, foul looking short little creatures that spoke in rusted voices and wore helmets wherever they went, even to the Market. –He has asked himself whether they slept with them, too- Their race seemed to consist only of males: but later he was told that, for the children of Dùrin, beards were not a trait solely particular to men. Their language, though, was most intriguing, for they divulged it to no one; and if it was devoid of beauty and scorched his elven ears, he understood that their Runes had been devised by an elf –He would have liked to meet that elf one day, though unfortunately he was the lore-master of Thingol, and the Sindarin King still refused the entrance of his land to any prince of Noldorin save for the sons of Finarfin- Puzzled, and as always, ready to answer a challenge, he had taken up the study of dwarven culture, until his work was rather rudely, he thought, interrupted by a new attack launched by the Enemy.

The Bragollach fell on them all like a vulture on its prey. Even if the mountains of Dorthonion stopped the initial flow of lava from the fire-mountains, in Aglon you could see the tall flames rising from the North, and the smoke swirling skywards, darkening the heavens. Celegorm, even if he did not have the sharpest of wits, was still a redoubtable warrior, but for all the fierce resistance the two brothers put up, Aglon was forced, and Himlad ravaged. Curufin found himself submerged by the flood of Orcs and demons; and this time he fought for his life. Or maybe not. When did his life start to matter to him? Maybe it was just pride, that pushed him to fight to the bitter end, and made him swallow his tears as he was finally compelled to turn his back to the battle-field and flee westwards. One thing he knew was that the last time he remembered having cried, he was four years old, and had fallen off his pony.

His father had died in the fight, because he had pressed on too eagerly to the enemy's rearguard, but now the only death he himself could hope to die was the death of a coward, shot in the back by an arrow from afar.

Celebrimbor rode at his side, but neither of them spoke.

At the gates of Nargothrond he found his cousin Finrod just returned from battle himself, and, patently, also defeated, and in his eyes was doubt. He noticed that the ring of Finarfin, which Finrod had always worn, was now gone from his finger, but did not ask any indiscreet questions. Patience and keen hearing were always rewarded, he had found. A while later, Celegorm also showed up, as it appeared that he had taken the other, longer way around Doriath.

Finrod, though still retaining his politeness and light manners, which Curufin remembered from the few times they had met in the Blessed Realms, now seemed to be strangely weary, and his spirit tarnished. The golden prince allowed them the stay in his halls, a little too coldly to make them feel truly welcome, had later remarked Celegorm. Curufin, on his side, could not care less, and found himself often wandering on the lands, marvelling at the beauty of the underground City, the river, and the surrounding forest.

At the beginning, the people were wary of him, and more often than not he found with amusement the streets to be strangely peaceful on his way; but he had had some millenias of acting behind him after all. The first time a little child had inadvertently run into his legs, pursuing a red ball that had rolled to the other end of the street, he merely helped the girl up on his feet with a smile, and politely started a conversation with the older brother who was confusing himself with apologies, quite effectively dismissing the look of distrust and dread from the young boy's face. The next day, the City was crowded again, and he discovered with a sort of growing awe that if Nargothrond without its people was a work of art, with them it came alive, like a great heart that beat in the ribcage of all its dwellers.

Orodreth, the King's nephew, was but a few decades younger than Celebrimbor, and Curufin noted with satisfaction that the two youngsters were seeking each other's friendship… in rather awkward ways, of course, but anything if it could help the people forsake their defiance.

He himself began to much enjoy the uneasy and tense relationship he maintained with Finrod and the Lords of his court. It was the act all over again, the game, like the one he had played with the City, that he now played in the Palace, only on a higher level.  He delighted in the perpetual exchanges of almost genuine smiles, easy jests and ambiguous jokes, poisoned or wise council, depending on whom he wished to destroy or found to his liking, when to laugh, when to smile and when to stay silent, refined manners and the most precise yet near-unnoticeable of body-language, flowing conversations hiding however much he wanted them to dissimulate, completely or partially; as he returned to his own element.

The game of truth and lies.

He knew somewhere that he should have found it disturbing. His father had never genuinely lied, only told what he had indeed thought was the truth, and had been too far gone, at the time, to realise that it was not. But instead, Curufin discovered that this game he enjoyed ever more greatly than that one of death, for wasn't the thing at stake life no more, but pride? At this game, he could be lost, to the taste of danger and his own daring; and often, when his interlocutor finally left the room, either shaken, deep in thoughts, but invariably trying to conceal their mind, he would find himself laughing softly to the silence, while he took careful, measured steps towards the aim he had assigned himself, with his tongue and wits as only but surest weapon.

Politics were an art, as well as a science, after all.

Then one day the Mortal appeared at the Gates, claiming kinship with the House of Bëor. For a long time, Finrod and he shut themselves up in the King's room, and talked behind locked doors. When Finrod walked down the stairs again, supporting the slightly dazzled Man in a manner that might just have passed as a gesture of friendship to anyone else, it was only to confirm the rumours that had been flying wildly around: this was Beren Barahirion of the House of Bëor, rightful Lord of Dorthonion, Foe of Morgoth with a price on his head as high as that on Fingon's; and that all should show him honour and respect, and see that he was treated well. Of the Ring he spoke nothing, nor of the purpose of the Mortal's coming, though when he walked back to his apartments, Curufin thought that the usual spring in his step was just a tad bit diminished… somewhat.

Later, Finrod summoned his Lords to Council, and Celegorm and Curufin, as considered cousins of the King and generally trusted to be wise in counsel. In fifteen minutes, the matter was clear, the King's plans exposed, his question asked, seemingly to the assembled Lords, but his eyes directed for a second unto his two cousins made it clear that their answer was the one he expected. The brothers shared a glance, and Curufin felt a wry smile curl his lips, but they stayed silent. For the moment, he thought. Celegorm would not have forgotten.

The doors opened, and as Finrod spoke in front of the people in the great square, all huddled together as if to shield themselves from an unknown danger, and seek comfort in the certainty of the others' presence, Celegorm and Curufin merged into the crowd, far from each other, and he waited for his brother's reaction that was to come first.

He did not wait long.

Finrod, as always, had made facts clear and precise, not bothering with additional and useless babbling. Celegorm's words, fierce and fell, as proud as those of Fëanor that night so long ago, yet so close, began to shatter the faith of those who had as yet no dread in their hearts. Curufin almost felt himself shudder with delight, sensing a new challenge, idly wondering if his brother had not gone too far in the certainty of his authority. When Celegorm's last argument was issued, and silence weighted as lead even as the wind swept past the crowd, Finrod remained temporarily speechless.

Curufin inhaled deeply, and did his best.

The intoxication seized him once more, as he spoke, and made his way through the crowd to stand at the King's side. He had often conversed with the people of Nargothrond, and feigned to take interest in their daily lives; and he knew their fear. He knew that, him not being their King, they had felt they could allow themselves to talk to him, and had eventually come to trust him enough to let him in their houses; and though they were mostly a people of stoneworkers, he had in their midst the additional prestige of being a Lord-gemcrafter, a Mastersmith, and the confidence from artisans to artisan was always flowing more freely. Of course Finrod himself was a genius stonecutter, but in this debate he had the disadvantage of being the people's lord and justice, representative of the established government; and Curufin knew the hearts of the Noldor too well not to be able to sway them at will.

Yes, Nargothrond was now his adopted home, as well as theirs. No, the King's plan was absolutely unthinkable, it would be an act of complete folly, only to be committed by those to whom hope was denied, and hope did subsist indeed. Yes, his concern was solely of the good of the City, and the well-being of its people. No, he did not think it was wise to launch a new attack on Morgoth, so soon after the well-remembered disaster of the Bragollach, and assumed that anyone with a common sense could understand his point of view. Yes, it would be first step towards another war, maybe even more disastrous than the Sudden Flame; which he had seen, and took part in, and which had diminished the forces of the elven Realms to about *half* of what they were. Yes, the attack would be directed against Nargothrond; no, a victory in that case would be about as impossible as the success of the Mortal's mission, if not more; was it that they wished? Was it the once more the fall of their City, a home to them as it was to him, was it the death of their sons, fathers, brothers? Was it the sacking of their homes, all that which was theirs burnt or taken away as a prize, their wives and daughters captured as slaves to the Enemy's dark schemes? Silence and ruins? Was it war again, so soon? Had they forgotten? If the wisdom of their Lord fails them, would they not rise against the foolishness of his decisions? They were the people, the flesh and blood, the life of the City, would they not defend her against patent lack of wisdom? Would they not stay for the land they loved, the work of their own hands and time, rather than run down a path that was sure to lead to darkness? Would they not stay, and continue that work, their creation, that for which they had striven all along? Or would they rather throw it to the dogs?

Later, he could never quite recall fully what he had said at that moment, but when he finally posed, gasping for breath, the world somewhat hazy around the edges to his eyes, he saw in the silent crowd his brother, who smiled to him encouragingly, and he knew he had done well.

What do you say, people of Nargothrond?

The crowd started whispering.

He looked across to his cousin Finrod -whose expressionless mask of ice would at the moment have stricken fear in the stony hearts of Orcs- and found all the gates to his thoughts irrevocably shut; but all the same, in the very hardness of his eyes, he saw his own victory, and allowed himself to compose his face again into his usual, wry smile.

Later, that night, Celegorm stood at a balcony, gazing at the sleeping City, while Curufin sat nonchalantly on the balustrade, with his back to a wall, a totally uninteresting book in his hands.

"Nargothrond is indeed fair." said Celegorm. Curufin observed him out of the corner of his eyes, and saw his expression.

"You desire her?"

The lack of spoken answer rang in the night air as a confession. Curufin laughed, finding that he had guessed right.

"Then she is yours. We can take care of that, if it is not done already."

The months passed, and Curufin applied himself to the task of solidifying their influence over Nargothrond. It was an easy matter; most of the people recognised the two brothers' superiority over Orodreth, the new and inexperienced King being truly no match for them, and apart from some old-fashioned nobles who stayed true to their Lord -then why hadn't they just gone away with him? he sometimes wondered with annoyance- the City swayed under their words.

But months passed, and no tidings came of either the King or the Barahirion, but of the hordes of Morgoth, that once again were unleashed on Beleriand. The lack of news from Finrod had begun to worry Curufin, and he seized the occasion to persuade Celegorm to ride forth, under pretext of waging war on the Orcs.

The long stay as guests in the City wasn't doing them good, and it would please him anyway to really hunt a few Orcs or fell a few wolves again.

Celebrimbor did not follow.

It did not matter.

However, Huan -a hound of Valinor Celegorm had brought home one day cradled in his arms as a small pup, beaming and talking so fast about something of Oromë and hunting and a present his brothers had to wait until he ran out of breath to really understand what he was saying-, once loosed into the woods, one day came back bearing a prey that did not exactly refer to the standards of what the two brothers had in mind for a prey that time.

At first the young maid's eyes were wide with fear, or maybe was it curiosity. She was clad in a cloak of darkness, and her hair was black as night, so that the slight flush on her cheeks stood out even more against the paleness of her skin.

But when she shed her cloak, and appeared to them in the fullness of her beauty, Curufin found the words of greetings he was prepared to utter suddenly stuck in his throat; he was momentarily struck dumb, and could only stare, while his brains worked feverishly to pull himself out of this situation; though all he managed to do was keep a presentable composure.

It was not her beauty that struck him so. Rather her expression, or the light that emanated from her, which somehow reminded him of another, but he could not quite place whom.

His mind raced, faster, he felt, then it had ever done, and he called Celegorm aside to present him with the answer they had to give.

One night, as the two brothers kept watch, sitting leaning against each other's backs, -it was Celegorm's turn, but Curufin could not sleep-, he found his brother staring at the girl's sleeping face, as if deep in thoughts. Then the blonde elf leant towards him and whispered in a half-amused, half-sad voice, that Curufin did not know his brother could take.

"Just like the old times, hey? If she stays silent, and you don't look too hard…"

Curufin frowned, and did not answer. It was different. With Aredhel, it had been the mad rides through the unknown forests so fast, so fast that one barely saw the landscape merge into patches of green and brown and blue, it had been the wild hunts when no mercy prevailed, it had been the fights, the struggling, the hardships of strange lands in which one had to survive, alone in the hostile nature, with Aredhel, it had been all that, and more, because if you tried to be gallant towards her, all you earned was a severe smack on the head, and a provocation to a duel.

For one, Aredhel would never have allowed herself to fall asleep so confidently in the presence of two strangers, alone in the woods, even in the old days of peace.

It was a leisure ride back to Nargothrond, and the brothers often strayed from their path to hunt some game, all the while addressing the young woman their best assurances that haste was made and everything that could be done, done. Back in the City, however, it was of his own intent that Celegorm cut the girl's hair, one night in her sleep, and locked her up in the spacious, beautiful room, while keeping the key for himself. Curufin, knowing his brother's thirst for power, did not object; but he often asked the key from him.

After a while, the girl got used to his presence in the room. At the beginning she had wept a lot, and tried to gain his compassion -or pity? Could it be she had wanted him to give her freedom out of pity?-, but after a while she grew cold again, and took to merely ignoring him, not minding him anymore than she would a piece of furniture. It suited him. He sat for hours there in a corner of the room, silent and unmoving, only watching her as she sat, stood or walked, studying her movements, counting every steps she took, recording in his mind her hands taking up a pile of books, settling them down some other place, shuffling in a drawer to find a piece of parchment, picking up a quill, dipping its tip into an inkwell, and the movements of her wrist and fingers as the quill danced on the parchment, then jumped back to the inkwell as it dried…

He had given up on her face, since, as far as he could tell, it brought to him no recognition of any kind, and could only tell 'I am fair, stare and worship'. It was something else, about the way she moved, the faint aura that surrounded her person, the soundlessness of her deplacements -so great it was that, sometimes, startled out of his reverie, he found that she had changed place in the room, without him hearing or noticing it-. And that something, which he could not quite grasp, roused in him ancient -or recent?- memories, half-forgotten, half-lingering; a person maybe, a feeling, a mere sensation, or a fleeting vision… it gave him headaches, would it be only because it kept him awake at night and pacing around his apartments, and that he had taken to banging his head repetitively against the wall.

It was half his brain desperately trying to pull the memory out from the abyss into which it had sunk, while the other half was fixated onto shoving it back where it came from. It was something laying there, at the very limit of his subconscious, ready to spring into being anytime, but for some reason had decided against it. It was Hell.

Another one there was who stayed at the young woman's feet day and night, and it was Huan, whom Celegorm had at first tried to persuade to leave the girl's side, but he had easily been dissuaded by the hound's bared teeth. Curufin did not mind Huan, and the dog, though keeping a watchful eye on him, did not attack him openly.

The absence of one of the Sons of Fëanor did not go unnoticed in the City, but if the tongues were loosed, no one really thought anything of it, and Orodreth's remaining power amounted to a level very little above zero.

Celegorm, on his side, had written a lengthy letter to Thingol, asking for Lùthien's hand, to put it meekly, or, if one was bent on the strict sense of words, forcing the old king to give his daughter's hand to one of the elves he hated above all others. Curufin had read the letter, and corrected some points in it so that his brother's arrogance would not be too obvious, but was intimately persuaded the Hidden King would never bend to such a stupid request.

Then one bright and beautiful morning Huan the faithful had disappeared from the City, and the maiden with him, along with her cloak of magic.

Celebrimbor did not appear all day, but Curufin idly wondered who could have got the cloak out of the hiding place; a key, after all, needed human hands to be manipulated. Especially if it was the kind of key Celegorm had used to lock the cupboard; a magic key, meaning that one had to be a mastersmith oneself to be able to find its secrets out.

Celegorm flew into a rage, and locked himself in his rooms all day, shouting like a madman at anyone who tried even a timid knock on his door. Curufin, his thoughts still a little bit blurry from trying to understand how the solution of the problem could possibly have escaped him –now in a material sense as well as in an ideal one-, nevertheless had to make a show in public to calm the unrest of the people at those unsettling news. Between those that were weeping for joy at the young princess' escape and those who feared Celegorm's fury and those who at last began to doubt of the two brothers' intentions, he was kept occupied till the brink of darkness, when at last he regained his rooms, nearly stumbling on his own feet, and collapsing in an armchair in which he spent the night in troubled sleep.

During the following weeks, it was as if a thunderstorm waiting to burst had elected demure above in Nargothrond's painted sky, though it remained cloudless. To Curufin's ears, the City sounded exactly like a beehive –they had had those, he remembered, in a vast green park somewhere a long time ago, and he had liked to visit this place, would it be only because the man who kept the insects always granted him a mouthful of the sweet, golden honey that thrilled your tongue in such a wonderful way-, and silence was the most general state its inhabitants were to be found in; it was the kind of silence that was buzzing with uncoordinated whispers and rebellious murmurs that refused to be stilled. It resounded in his ears, all day, all night, refusing him rest –oh, rest…- like a dark premonition that weighed a thousand tons on the people's hearts, making them yet light and hopeful…

There were two elves at the gates. At first, when Curufin heard of the news they brought, he was shocked, and, of course, because he was shocked, he laughed, and sent them to Orodreth. After all, it would do the kid some good, to be kept busy. Then, because Celegorm had fallen into one of his taciturn fits again, sending dark and menacing looks to anyone who dared approach him, Curufin had sat in front of him, and watched his brother's face with an amused expression. It was odd; Celegorm, for sure, who was at least twice stronger in body than Curufin, could have easily strangled him with his bare hands –maybe not easily; after all, Curufin always kept Angcrist bared at his waist-, and often, the dark-haired elf had seen his brother on the very verge of throttling him, with his hands trembling with the effort of containing himself. Yet, the older brother had never even dared raise a finger on him. It was rather curious, and an amusing game, when all else failed; because he was sure Celegorm hated him so much, hated his smiles and the sound of his laughter…

They stayed in a like position for some hours, staring each other in the eye, unmoving, like two statues frozen forever by the smith in their contest. The growing roar of the City came to them, and at last Celegorm broke the contact, striding to the window –with willed exaggeration of the heaviness of his pace, it seemed- and leaning on the wall, silently invited his brother to join him and admire whatever sight the town was offering at that time. Curufin did not move. After all, wasn't the echoes of the people's cry enough, and the evidence that the bees were now released from the hive?

Orodreth on his throne, he found, looked more ridiculous than kingly; just as an ugly girl would look like if she wore too much make-up and a fancy dress in an attempt to appear beautiful, but only seeming awkward because she did not know how to carry herself. Curufin stood, and smiled, and caressed the haft of Angcrist with a nonchalant hand. Orodreth, despite his three or four centuries of age, was a child -somehow he could not part from that impression-, and a clumsy child, too. Stubborn, but absolutely inefficient.

He found himself laughing at the foot of the throne, a true laugh of glee, and he did not know what for. Maybe it was Celegorm, standing next to him, all murderous glares and threatening pose, Celegorm who was seeing his dreams of power shattering in front of his very eyes; maybe it was Orodreth, a baby clad in the raiment of a King, frowning in a way he probably thought was severe and intimidating; maybe it was the silence and solemnity of the scene, with all the City's lords assembled on either side of them, apparently trying to kill them with their eyes; maybe it was the shouts of the people outside who claimed their deaths; maybe it was himself, standing straight in the middle of the turmoil and laughing, softly, laughing at them all, because he could not care less…

However, his attitude seemed to shake something in the determination of the child, and, after a brief furrow of the brow, stood, stretching himself to his full height, and pronounced his sentence in a deliberately slow voice.

Curufin, before leaving, drew for him a long, low bow, and put in that gesture as much insult as he could. The last sight of Orodreth he had was the sight of a very red face.

This time, they truly rode like the wind, two alone, and burst out of the Gates of Felagund as two arrows of fire, pausing only at some distance to sound their horns, but then quickly regaining the wild pace of the race.

Celebrimbor did not follow.

This time, it did matter, but Curufin half-thought that if his son preferred the company of idiots like Orodreth to the bond of his own blood, then he wasn't worth being his son anymore.

And to Hell with Fëanor's lineage.

Their road went eastwards, this time, and they had planned to pass between the borders of Doriath and Taur-nu-fuin. But in their way, suddenly, as they were galloping through the forest just on the edge of the Girdle of Melian, came into view two silhouettes, that Curufin needed not more than a fraction of a second to recognise.

The girl was with the Mortal, and it appeared that they had been dancing in the clearing. A single glance to Celegorm and their plan was clear; he lost sight of his brother as he pushed his horse onto the young woman, apparently purposing to ride her down. But Curufin knew himself to be a cunning horseman, and he had not lost that skill after leaving the Blessed Realm in which he had learnt. Stooping down, he easily lifted her light frame from the ground, and firmly secured her in front of him.

He assumed Celegorm would have taken care of the Firimàr.

It was not so. As he turned around and began saying something to his brother, suddenly someone jumped on him from behind, -someone heavy, as no elf could be- and entwined both arms around his neck, nearly choking the wind out of him. They both, assailant and assailed -though which was which at the moment, 'twas difficult to tell-, fell rolling on the grass, before something hard -and also heavy- abruptly came in contact with the back of his head; followed a short moment during which, dazzled, he could neither think nor see clearly. At the end of that moment, however, he found it difficult to regain his breath again, and, for a short intermittent during which his vision was cleared, he saw the Mortal's face close up on his, and felt a deathly grip of rough fingers on his neck.

Then everything was a blur again, until he found himself being lifted in the air, and finding a painful contact with the ground once more. He leapt to his feet, and immediately reached for his dagger, only to grasp thin air in his fingers. The Mortal, apparently, was speaking, if he could judge by the movements of his lips, but for the moment his hearing was impaired and distorted, and he understood nothing of what he was told.

He stood still then, frozen in wonderment -but at what?- and amaze, almost wanting to laugh again, because he felt as though a new sun had dawned. It was inexplicable. He felt as though he had at last reached the term, the end of his seeking, that from blind his eyes had become all-seeing, from deaf his ears as keen as those of the fox. A wave of euphoria washed over him, and a new, fresh smile crept onto his lips; but it lasted only one second. The next thing he knew, Celegorm had dragged him away from the spot, he had all his capacities to move his legs again, and his mind was racing, racing once more, with precision and clearness almost terrifying to himself, which was the precision with which the best archer could shoot an arrow and hit his target.

Arrow.

Target.

He jumped on Celegorm's horse, behind his brother, and whispered in the latter's ear not to ride too fast. The girl and the Mortal had both turned away, and were not paying attention to them. Swiftly, he loosened his bow from his shoulder, and aimed. For a fraction of a second, his aim wavered, and a thousand thoughts rushed through his mind, though, weirdly, in perfect order and co-ordination; and he shot.

The dog leapt, and caught the arrow in his jaws. But Curufin wavered no more, and shot again with a sure hand; this time, there was nothing between the arrow and the target; until suddenly the Mortal sprang -rather awkwardly, since it was not prepared- in front of the woman, and received the arrow in his own breast.

Then Curufin laughed, and urged Celegorm on, though knowing that Huan could possibly do them no harm, if Lùthien had forbidden it.

They stayed in Himring for a while, with Maedhros and Maglor. Most of the time, Curufin spent alone, and took up his studies of lore and language again; and when he heard the seemingly far-away sound of Maglor's singing or playing the harp, he only plunged himself further into his own complex theories, refusing to hear.

If the four brothers were reassembled, together by the fireside in the evening or at mealtimes, it was in silence at the beginning; however, soon Curufin got bored of it, and inevitably started a mostly one-sided conversation. There generally was not much to say, but he had become an expert of talking about nothing over the centuries. Yet, he never succeeded into drawing any other in his talk, and eventually ended by shutting up, with a hurt look on his face.

Often, the two elder brothers exchanged worried looks over their plates, but said nothing in his presence.

One night, when he had tried to sleep, but entirely failed because of the uncommon heat -indeed, sleep not but only seldom escaped his grasp-, he heard a faint rapping at his chamber door, followed by Maedhros' inquiring face appearing in the gap between the door and the wall, which was itself followed by the red-headed elf's entire body. Curufin, at that moment, was sitting on the floor in a corner of the room, with his knees drawn up to his chest and his face turned towards the window, which was thrown widely open. The hot air came in in huge waves, and Maedhros hastily walked over to the window and shut it, then turned to his younger brother, who was now looking at him with reproachful eyes.

"I was looking at the stars."

With a sigh, Fëanor's eldest son looked around the room. The unmade bed was witness to Curufin's trying to sleep, as well as him wearing his night-shirt, and the desk was neatly arranged, with the inkwell at one corner, the quill laying properly beside it; one single book rested on the table, shut, with a bookmark in it, the pile of papers and parchments was very cleanly ordered, so not a single sheet stood out. The handwriting, too, as far as he could see, was straight, regular, flawless, beautiful, in the whole, but the lack of crossing out somehow unsettled him, and he would have given a lot to read what his younger brother wrote on those sheets. He remembered Curufin's room in Valinor, which was always in such a state of mess Nerdanel complained that it was impossible to dust the floor, since it was completely littered with papers carelessly strewn on the ground. There were books randomly laying around, everywhere, at least six of them on the desk, and some around it, that looked as though they had fallen off. Fëanor, one day, had come home with a stack of fifty quills for his son, since those just kept disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Curufin, when not in his tree or at the forge, could usually be found pacing around the mess, talking loudly to himself, surrounded by what he loved most; the smell of old books, the colour of ageing paper… There, the young boy was at home, and, when any of his brothers came to see him, they were always received with a large bright smile, and new ideas that had probably occurred to him while having heavy philosophical discussions with walls or parchment.

Of course, it was always different when he left that environment. Outside, or at the forge, even at the dinner table, Curufin was but a silent, dark youth, lost in his reverie and unappreciative of being disturbed.

This room was bare. Clean, neat, proper, but bare. If not for the ruffled sheets on the bed, one could hardly tell there actually was someone living in it.

It did not resemble Curufin. Patently, the heat had bothered the younger elf, and yet he had left the window wide open. Maedhros could remember a time when Curufin was considered very smart, and had largely deserved this consideration, at least as far as he, his brother, could tell.

Of course, there always was the fact that he took so much after his father that sometimes, after Fëanor's death, Maedhros had looked at his younger brother and fooled himself into thinking his father was still alive.

Stooping down, he sat in front of the dark-haired elf, who was still observing him keenly.

"I do not recognise you, little brother. This is not like you."

Curufin said nothing, but continued staring at him, and, once more, in those eyes, Maedhros saw Fëanor.

"Here." He leant forwards, and took the other elf in his arms. "What's happening to you, pityanàrë?" (1)

For a while, there was no reaction. Then, Curufin relaxed, but Maedhros saw a strange gleam spring into his eyes.

"It had been a long time since you called me pityanàrë." It was a mere, cold, and true statement. Maedhros, not really knowing what to make of it, answered nothing.

"Yes. That was all *before*, wasn't it? Everything's changed, now, isn't it?"

And the gleam in his eyes hardened, and Maedhros thought he was beginning to recognise it, because he had already seen it, once before, in another's face… He whispered.

"You can talk to me, you know. If you have something to say, I'm still your big brother, ain't I?"

Something started in Curufin's throat, and gradually, that something took unto the form of a soft, sad laugh. The smaller elf wrenched himself away from Maedhros' arms, and in the blink of an eye he was standing before him, at some distance, with a beautiful smile on his lips. The same smile, Maedhros thought, he wore every day, and knew he had failed.

"Talk is something I can do, Russandol, but I have nothing to say." Then he laughed again, and showed his brother to the door.

At the beginning, Curufin completely disinterested himself for the upcoming war. Maedhros was buried in his preparations, travelling back and forth all over Beleriand and even as far East as the Dwarven Cities, and came back only once in a while, with a fierce fire in his heart and wild words of hope on his lips. Fingon came, too, with promises of allying greater forces to their hosts. Together, the two cousins were roaming the land, seeking out all the dispersed companies of elves and humans, rising an united army out of dispatched tribes, and a great wave of unjustifiable hope followed them like the wind.

Curufin, at the beginning, remained in Himring, and though he spoke nothing, knew that their projects were doomed.

It was odd. Of course, Celegorm and he had to ride out, too, to seek Caranthir and Amros in the woods, and assemble the folk of Thargelion and the forest, which was a difficult task, since they were a wandering people. Curufin did his part, and though he did not believe, poured belief and faith into the hearts of those he found on his path. Through Maedhros he knew the answer old Thingol had made to their letter, and, on the surge of the moment, or maybe just out of habit and weariness, he swore revenge. One Oath more or less…

Then the day came at last when their host was united, on the plain of Anfauglith, though sundered from that of Fingon, who awaited in the shadow of the Ered Wethrin. Long they were delayed, for Uldor, an Easterling who had pledged faith to Caranthir, assured them there came an assault from Angband, though the keen eyes of Celegorm could see nothing in the clear daylight. Curufin himself did not believe him, but was past the point of caring; and what weight had his voice against five others?

The Nirnaeth nearly had his life, and Amros carried him out of battle, with two arrows stuck in his chest.

It was a pleasant experience, somehow, just feeling he could let go of everything and not being blamed for it. It was like a exquisite dream, lingering half awake, half asleep, just in that state in between when you could lie back, and let your mind wander freely, letting it stumble on its own surprises… When he sat up at last, not really knowing how long he had been unconscious, the first wary thought that assailed him was that he wished he hadn't.

They dwelt now in Ossiriand, scattered, sometimes meeting each other on their wanderings, somewhat conscious that they were the only House of the grandchildren of Finwë yet untouched by the wars of Beleriand, and that the blow could not but land soon, and land heavily.

They lived in relative peace, away from the world, from the wars, though of course the Orc-raids were more and more numerous, and now that they were defeated, pushed into their last refuge, they fought with the courage of despair, careless of all, only intent on destroying, destroying as much of the Darkness as they could; yet fully aware that they were but like wasps stinging the great Hand of Angband.

Curufin fought like the others, and, when he had nothing to do, climbed trees, and jumped from one branch to another, from one tree to another, travelling in the forest as he went hidden by the leaves.

However, one day, as he was laying flat on the main branch of a great oak, spying on a group of Orcs not far away, which he planned to attack as soon as they got closer, to his surprise he saw a horse throwing itself at the group of creatures, and on that horse a tall, blonde elf with a sword that had soon neatly cut all the Orcs that had the foolishness to stay in at least two pieces, and made the others disappear from the battleground as if by some kind of magic.

Celegorm, for it was him, had news for him, he said. The old Thingol had been slain, -at last, his tone seemed to mean-, and Dior Eluchil the Fair, son of Lùthien, now reigned on the remnants of the Kingdom of Doriath. Dior was proud, but his strength severely lessened, for what was Doriath without the Girdle of Melian? And after the attack of Nogrod, the last great warrior of that land, a certain Mablung, had been slain. They were now defenceless, and vulnerable.

And they had a Silmaril.

Everyone had seen it, for Dior now wore the Nauglamir openly. Maedhros had already sent a letter to him, requesting that the Jewel be handed back to them; but six months had passed, and no answer come.

Then he made silence, and, Curufin, who had not spoken since they met, looked into his eyes and knew his heart.

Celegorm, devising doubt in his brother's silence, spoke again, only to remind him that it was not one, but two oaths that now bound them to this deed.

Curufin had no belongings that he did not always carry with himself, so he only had to jump onto the back of his horse and follow Celegorm in seeking their remaining brethen.

It was not the two oaths that bothered him, but somewhere in the back of his mind, a little voice kept repeating, endlessly, Dior, son of Lùthien, son of Beren and Lùthien…

At the debate, when at last all six of them were reunited, Maedhros, Maglor and Celegorm were the ones to speak, and Curufin, when Celegorm turned to him in desperation only said that there was once an Oath, which was also their father's will…

The attack on Doriath -second Kinslaying, of Menegroth, his mind of a loremaster kept telling him- seemed too simple. There was no one to resist them until they came to the very gates of the City, and, on the way, Curufin marvelled at the beauty of the forest, though it was plunged in darkness. It was really a shame, that the first time he'd finally set foot in this forbidden kingdom, it was to destroy it… aye, he would have wished for some time, would it be only to spend it in those trees…

With Celegorm and Caranthir, he left the heart of the battle to seek out those of the people that were hiding in the intricate maze of the underground buildings, corridor after corridor, lit only by wavering torchlight… somehow, a memory sprang into his mind; another darkness, new to him still, beautiful and sacred, and thousands of blazing flames dancing in the night…

There were several scattered groups of elves, families, mostly, defenceless, shrieking women, crying children, only too easy to get rid off. But, after a while, he found that he was alone, and quite lost, the few soldiers he had taken along probably also lost, only somewhere else; but it did not matter.

He kept running. The darkness was beginning to blur in front of his eyes, only becoming more darkness, and the fire of the torches, seemingly out of their own accord, crept off the walls, and wove behind him an exquisite ballet of light; but he did not have the time to stop and admire the view.

The memories were just infiltrating his brain, sneaking out, slyly, unnoticed, and whispered things into his ear… Once again, he felt as if he was on the verge of comprehension, of understanding at last the secret of those murmurs, and the voice filled his mind, and the darkness…

He could not feel that.

Not now.

He kept running.

He could not stop.

Suddenly, a door was thrown open in great haste right in front of him, and all he could do was barely avoid it hitting his nose. Light streamed out, nearly blinding him, but not enough that he should not see a somewhat hazy, elven-shaped form burst from the other side, yelling something with a sword in its hand, or it could as well have been a sparkling stick…

He did not even have to think, because the mechanism of the brain and the arm was well settled in by now, and the figure slumped down on the ground immediately.

He blinked.

"You have killed Ada." The young boy looked up at him defiantly, trying hopelessly to embrace the grown elf's body with his short, skinny arms, tarnishing them and his face and his white tunic with the blood from his father's wound, and did not budge. Curufin looked into his eyes, enormous, seeming to devour at least half of his face, devoid of fear, yet wide open in blatant accusation, and dark, so dark with the bottomless pits of betrayal…

"Foolish child." He heard himself utter, and his sword went down, until he was running again, this time away from the child's fractured skull and bloody forehead, from his limp little body lying across his father's meaninglessly, because there would be no one to see it after the fire went past…

Was it that to die out of love?

Of love for…

He knew he had never forgiven his father. Maybe he had not even blamed him. If not for Fëanor, he would still be rotting somewhere in a blessed but much too uneventful realm, pacing endlessly back and forth on his sheet of blank paper, jesting with his cousins and brothers only in earnest amusement; he would have known no other prey but the game of the forests, no other craft but that of the forge.

He had not forgiven.

But it had never occurred to him that he had loved.

There were light footsteps far behind him, and shouts distorted by the echoes of the corridors.

Of course. Why would he have craved love in return? Why would he have sat for endless hours on a branch in the tall oak in their garden, seemingly plunged into his reading, but watching his brothers play out of the corner of his eyes? Why would he have spent countless days and nights at the smithery, working on perfection, secretly hoping for would it be only a word of approval, a glance of satisfaction? Why would he had done everything his father did?

Why didn't these thoughts ever cross his mind? Was it because the answer would have inevitably have been 'for I had loved him'?

The footsteps got nearer. It barely occurred to him that he should either run faster, or turn around to fight as he should, but his steps only slowed down, and he continued running blindly down the narrow corridors.

He could not stop. Not now.

If not for Fëanor, the Elves would never have been anything but subjects of the Valar, like them in gladness, like them in knowledge, growing great and fair under their teachings, but they would never have reached wisdom, never the greatness and pride born of their sufferings, never would they have known the beauty of a candle's flickering flame in the darkness…

Had he not loved his father?

Could he not have loved him? Not loved this man, who, despite all his genius, could not speak a word of kindness because he had known none?

The footsteps were right behind him now, at an arrow's length, he deemed.

…then it was a dead end. He stopped short. The footsteps behind him caught up, and the voice was panting from the long run. Oddly, Curufin did not feel breathless at all. He faced the wall. The voice behind him called, now so close.

"Turn around and fight, craven, or would you rather die the death of a coward?" He felt a sword point nudging at his back.

The death of a coward?

He faced the wall.

The death of a coward.

Slowly, he put his sword back to his scabbard. Maybe it was the only kind of death he deserved, for not dying at his father's side, under the stars, but then he had not been granted the fire.

"What kind of a warrior are you?" the voice asked, this time more uncertain.

Maybe it was the only kind of death he deserved, for fleeing the battlefield during the Bragollach, and not dying under the spears of the Enemy…

What was his life anyway?

Or would a Kinslayer not die a Kinslayer, from a sword of his own race?

Maybe it was the only kind of death he deserved, the death of a coward, simply for being one…

If not for Fëanor…

He shut his eyes. How many times had he jerked a bloody blade out if another's body, and seen the look of terror in their eyes, at the instant when they realised that they were dead? But it had always been but a fleeting moment, because a second later, their faces had turned as expressionless as stone, as marble, sometimes with a vague smile lingering on the bloodshot lips. But not often.

He had used to sit down, from times to times, whether in a tree or clearing, interrupting one of his ridings in the forest, or in an armchair by the fire, late in the silence, when sleep eluded his nights; he had used to think about that blankness that was inevitably to be the last mask of the dead; and asked himself what it was that concealed itself behind that blankness, those unfocused eyes.

He had devised answers. Some answers.

It was the absence of spirit, the absolute lack of thoughts and feelings, the ultimate poker-face; it was the void, the nothingness, that-which-one-finds-when-one-finds-naught, because the spirit had been called away to somewhere else. To where the fëar belong, said the wisdom of the Wise Age, before the madness had seized all; to the Houses of the Dead, the Halls of Mandos, where Nàmo reigns. But it was before the Fall, or the Rise, or whatever had happened that night, it was before they had flown from either beatitude, or thraldom, it was before the dream had ended or begun; and a lot had happened after the Flight. Oh, he doubted not that all those elves he had slain, those innocent victims of bloodthirsty kinslayers had long found repose in the Halls and paradise's doors thrown for them wide open; he doubted not that they lived now happy and wantless in a little house in the Blessed Realm and went on with their lives and spoke curses on his name; that he knew well, and accepted. Fëanor's doom had been pronounced, and that of his House, by the Valar, so they were, indeed, condemned to a long long sojourn in the Houses of the Dead, until, in fact, the end of the world came by; and it had been pronounced, too, by themselves, calling the everlasting darkness unto themselves should they fail in their words. He remembered the delight he had found in speaking those words, for perceiving that they marked a turn in his life; and always afterwards had he deemed words to be more powerful than weapons, because poisoned words, if you spoke them sweetly, could find the way to another's heart more surely and easily than the sharpest and most well-wielded of swords.

He had not feared the everlasting darkness, nor the Valar's punishment, provided that he could always shield himself in the silence and lies; he had only held in dread the nothingness that awaited after the loss of the hroä, and his soul and heart being exposed naked to the eyes of Nàmo, with no more words and masks to protect them. He had feared the truth, an eternity of the wretched thing; he had feared the others, their prying eyes, their indiscreet questions; for he knew that at the time there would be no silences, no smiles, no nonchalant laughs, no meaningful glances, he knew that without those skills he had mastered to perfection over the centuries, he was as lost as his brother Maitimo would be without a sword in the midst of a war.

Oh, he knew the Valar. They would be all pity and compassion and kindness for him, they would literally be overflowing with gentleness and would probably offer him pardon, if he would bend to them and beg for their indulgence; and he immediately spat on the mere thought.

His father had been the first to rise against the Valar's laws; the first to lead the elves towards a new, different life, and while there were others to mourn the olden times, he would not forgive. Why do so? There was no blame.

If not for Fëanor, he would never have felt the warm tinge of blood on his hand, on his arm, never have seen the crimson shade of elven blood, felt its unique smell in his nostrils…

Never have laughed at another's fate, wrought by his own hands…

The spot of dark scarlet on his chest gradually spread itself on his black tunic, invisible, but he could feel the sticky moisture on his skin. Eerily, he felt no pain.

Yes Father, I see you loved us: you loved us enough to teach us the meaning of grief, and loss, and mourning, to teach us the meaning of Death…

He laughed, because he wanted to be one of those who died smiling, and also because at that moment, he realised there was no reason to fear at all…

It wasn't that terrible. Being wounded was much worse, because, when you were wounded, a part of you insisted on hoping that the other part would survive…

He sunk to his knees, and the wall suddenly disappeared from his sight, as he spun around, and saw himself lying on the ground, and the disgusted face of the young elf holding the sword. It was a beautiful face, he thought, oddly so, not really elven in shape, but fair nonetheless, wearing a magnificent necklace round his neck.

His own face was turned down, and he could not see the expression it bore. He would have shrugged, but found that he couldn't, for lack of tangible shoulders.

The fire would pass, and there would be nothing left.

~

'Father! Father! where are you going?

O do not walk so fast.

Speak, father, speak to your little boy,

Or else I shall be lost.'

- William Blake

~

1- Pityanàrë: "little flame", nickname of Curufin as a boy, since he resembled his father so much. I, shamelessly, stole this one from Ithilwen. Ithilwen, I beg your forgiveness.

Reviews, anyone? Well, usually I would not beg, but this time I do, because this story, apart from being the longest one I've ever written, almost means a lot to me, because, scaringly enough, a lot of the theories on life and death -not only those, now it seems- there exposed are my own, devised at a time when, if you had told me 'Silmarillion' I would have answered 'beg your pardon?'.