“Fingolfin said: ‘Half-brother in blood, full brother in heart will I be. Thou shalt lead and I will follow. May no new grief divide us.’ ‘I hear thee,’ said Fëanor. ‘So be it.’ But they did not know the meaning that their words would bear.” --The Silmarillion, "Of The Darkening of Valinor"
Nolofinwë heard the front door crash shut. It was not easy to slam that particular door. The mahogany monstrosity, deemed suitable for the residence of a powerful king of a lordly people, was perfectly weighted to drift shut and close with a gentle but satisfying snick. The interloper could only be Fëanaro. Very few people were allowed past the doormen posted at the front of the family wing of Finwë’s palace. And, of those, only his older brother slammed doors. He did it deliberately to annoy Indis, although it never worked. She reacted much more strongly when Fëanáro came in through the front door, carrying a slaughtered rabbit or two, dripping blood and tracking mud across the polished white marble floor.
No one in the family had seen or heard from Fëanáro in over a week, or Finwë might have pressured him to accompany the rest of them on their brief trip away from Tirion. Rolling his head to relieve the stiffness in his neck caused by reading in such an awkward position, Nolofinwë placed his book on a side table. He sat up, leaning sideways to better peer around the fat pillar blocking his view of the hallway.
Fëanáro glanced in while passing the drawing room door. He did a double-take. Backing up, he stuck his head into the room. As far as Nolofinwë could tell, he had no dead animals in tow that day.
Teeth flashing in a cocky smile, starkly white against the dark tan of his striking face, Fëanáro all but shouted, “What are you doing in here?”
“I live here,” Nolofinwë said. Fëanáro could be such an insufferable prat.
“You know I meant: in this particular drawing room. Nobody sits here except for petitioners waiting to see Atar and I’ve already heard that he’s away.”
“Yeah. They’re all away, except for me. On Taniquetil, for three days, for the festival.”
Fëanáro rolled his eyes. Fingolfin laughed. Not even Fëanáro could seriously pretend that specific celebration would be dull. Everyone would attend, treated to only the best food, drink, music, and dancing, despite the fact that it was organized under the auspices of Manwë.
“Lucky you. How did you weasel out of that one?” Fëanáro asked, sounding almost impressed.
“It’s Anairë’s begetting day tomorrow. Her parents are not able to attend the festival--family affairs and work. So, she decided to remain in Tirion and I thought I’d like to stay and keep her company tomorrow night. I’m waiting for her now, actually. We’re going for a walk and then . . . . ” He studied Fëanáro’s clothing, drawing his head back with mock disgust—old tunic, dirty and scorched, boots filthy—no surprises there. “If you want to come . . . we’ll probably stop in the market and grab something to eat . . . we could wait while you change.”
Fëanáro looked down at his clothes and grinned, as though amused with himself. “Ai, Nolofinwë, please tell me you’re not sleeping with Anairë. That would be so disappointing.”
“Why not? She’s beautiful.” Fëanáro could make him angrier faster than anyone he had ever encountered. He berated himself inwardly for not defending the lady’s virtue but arguing only his own good taste.
Of course, he wasn’t sleeping with Anairë. An honorable man did not sleep with women like Anairë outside of wedlock. In any case, he hadn’t nearly the confidence to think of trying. He was still working up to the idea of being old enough to even begin to consider himself as a major competitor for her hand.
He was tall for his age, and carried himself well. Anairë, on the other hand, was no longer a girl, but a woman, slightly older than Fëanáro. Yet, Nolofinwë did not think he merely imagined that she looked upon him with interest. It was not inconceivable that he might court her. After all, he was a Prince of the Noldor and resembled both his older brother and their much admired father.
Fëanáro rolled his eyes again and cleared his throat. “She’s pretty, perhaps. Beautiful is a bit of a stretch.” He ducked his chin down to rest against his chest and studied Nolofinwë through his heavy dark eyelashes. ”Fine. I’ll admit it. Anairë is more than pretty and not stupid. You could do much worse. But she has no sense of humor.”
“Oh, and you do have a sense of humor? How do you define humor? Insulting everyone?” More like always taking umbrage at imagined offenses, Nolofinwë thought. “Acting superior?”
“Oh, but I am superior, little brother. Observe me and weep. Anyway, you can’t consider marrying her.” He reached out and grabbed the book that Nolofinwë held, looking at the title printed on the spine and smirking. “Poetry?” he asked, not expecting an answer. “You can’t marry her, because your mother wants you to. Indis wanted me to marry her. That is just so wrong. Think for yourself.” He cocked his head in a parody of raffish arrogance, before dropping the posturing just as quickly, with a self-deprecating shrug that made both of them laugh.
“I like her,” Nolofinwë insisted.
“Well, I liked her well enough also. Even though she never laughs.”
“Very little with me, I’m afraid. I am trying to imagine you and Anairë sitting around laughing up storm.” Nolofinwë twitched with irritation and tried to turn away from Fëanáro’s intent gaze, but his brother reached up and touched his cheek capturing his full attention again. His suddenly lowered voice turned from mocking to seductive. “Frankly, I am having a problem conjuring up a vision of that.”
“You’re such an arse, Fëanáro. You make people feel uncomfortable. Even me! And I probably know you as well as anyone does except for Atar.”
Fëanáro released a long-suffering sigh. “I think I heard a carriage. Is she coming in a carriage?”
“I didn’t think so,” Nolofinwë said. “She said she would walk here from the archives. She has been helping her father look for something there this week.”
A liveried manservant, clad in the dark blue and white of the House of Finwë, appeared in the doorway, bowing deeply from the waist and clearing his throat for attention. “Good afternoon, Your Graces. A messenger left a note for Prince Nolofinwë.”
“Thank you, Sarter,” Nolofinwë said, taking the tiny parchment roll tied with a rose-colored string and unfurling it with a flick of the wrist. “Anairë is not coming after all. Her mother is taking her to the seamstress. Says she’ll see me at her house tomorrow evening.” His disappointment would have been far greater if Fëanáro had not presented himself. As it was, he looked forward to spending some time with him, without their parents or Arafinwë in the way.
“Fine ladies need fine gowns,” Fëanáro offered mildly. “They spend a lot of time with their seamstresses.”
“Probably begetting day gifts from her mother.”
“Some gifts those are, that require spending the remainder of a hot day in a stuffy fitting room.”
“Ha!” Nolofinwë barked. “You like your stylish robes well enough. The better to show off your latest gemstones. That is, when you aren’t dressed like a traveling peddler or a blacksmith.”
“I get my hands dirty every single day, but you would know nothing about that.” Fëanáro held up two elegant hands, clean enough for the moment, before waggling his long fingers in Nolofinwë’s face. The muscles in his golden brown forearms demanded an appreciative glance. Fit and beautiful, head to toe--that was Fëanáro. Nolofinwë preferred women, but objectively he could not deny Fëanáro’s appeal.
“Where is your Noldorin blood, half-brother of mine? Only reflected in those remarkable cheekbones and that raven hair of yours?" Fëanáro taunted, but with bright eyes and a smile of genuine affection. "Where’s your sense of adventure? Your joy in hard work well done?”
It was not that they did not like one another, but Fëanáro could be touchy, jealous, and bitter, while Nolofinwë did not react well to his sharp tongue. There were times, however, when they did get along. That day promised to be one of those.
“Wash up and come to the market with me,” Nolofinwë insisted with sudden urgency.
“Sure." Fëanáro shrugged again with a patently false insouciance. "You know what I really want?” He grinned.
“Let me venture a wild guess. The fried salmon cakes with ginger?”
“Got it on the first try. I don’t always give you credit for being as smart as you are.”
“Wash up and change your filthy clothes, Your Highness. You stink!”
The crispy salmon cakes sold at fishmonger’s stall at the end of market nearest the park stood out among the available fare. Fëanáro was always right about things like that. A tart white wine from the vineyards north of Alqualondë went well with the fish also.
Nolofinwë ate more on these unplanned outings alone with Fëanáro than he ever did with anyone else. It must have been his brother’s unabashed enjoyment of the food that made sharing a meal with him at a dusty outdoor stall taste better than any elegant dinner in the palace. Finwë ate quickly and indiscriminately whatever was placed before him, while his mother inspected her dinner plate as though anything on it might be suspect.
“Are you going to eat the other half of that one?” Fëanáro said pointing with his fork at the last of Nolofinwë’s salmon patties.
“Take it, please.” He pushed his plate toward Fëanáro, delighted to oblige him. “Have you seen the new fish ponds in the park’s conservatory gardens?” Nolofinwë asked, thinking he wanted to prolong their outing in any way he could. “They’re designed to look like naturally occurring forest pools.” He flushed in horror at the thought that the remark sounded exactly like something someone would say to a maiden to lure her into a solitary stroll.
Fëanáro quickly smoothed a look of self-satisfied awareness from his face. He swallowed and added in a gentler tone than was his habit, “No. I have not seen them. But, if you’re asking if I’d like you to show me, the answer is that I’d like that very much.” Fëanáro blushed, every bit as furiously as Nolofinwë had, but he grinned and would not look away.
A short argument then ensued between Fëanáro and the vendor who wanted to treat the young princes. Finally, the smiling merchant accepted the coins Fëanáro pressed into his hand. Nolofinwë doubted he could ever learn to behave in such a manner, blending regality with easy warmth, or ever elicit half the affection and respect that Fëanáro received from the common people of the city. But then, he really did not need to. Fëanáro was their father’s heir and he did not envy him the honor or responsibility. Nolofinwë had grown up believing that Fëanáro, as the firstborn of their father, occupied a place in the hierarchy within their family and among the Noldor that came as naturally to him as clear skies followed rain.
However, events of the last few years increasingly led him to believe that, although Finwë worshipped his eldest son and admired his many accomplishments, his father had hoped at one time for a closer collaboration with Fëanáro in the ruling of their people. Even at Nolofinwë’s young age, he had begun to wonder if Fëanáro’s lack of interest in their father’s work might alter his own expectations.
Nolofinwë had recently started to give more of his attention to the details of governance and administration, leaving behind him any slight interest he had ever held in learning another skill. Not for the first time, he wondered if Eru had designed an insoluble puzzle when he made Fëanáro the foremost craftsman and scholar among their people, but with so little interest in his father’s work, and then gave Nolofinwë a talent for the very tasks that Fëanáro distastefully pushed to the side.
Nolofinwë and Fëanáro strolled arm and arm out of the market into the adjoining park. The fish ponds captured Fëanáro’s imagination. He took great interest in musing aloud about the principles behind their construction and maintenance, how the dark stone interiors aided in their camouflage as wild ponds. He, of course, also knew the origins and habits of the black and orange carp they watched in the ponds and declared with utter confidence that they would never be found in similar forest pools.
Fëanáro flopped himself onto the ground next to the smallest pond. “Come lie with me here,” he said, stretched out on his back, his long artist’s fingers caressing the grass. “It’s as fine as silk and soft to lie on also.” The suggestion felt dangerous to Nolofinwë, and yet he did not for a moment think of refusing.
“I’m sorry, Nolo,” Fëanáro said looking up at the sky without a hint of apology in his velvety tone before turning his head to look at Nolofinwë with beseeching eyes. “But I am afraid that I am seriously drunk.”
When Nolofinwë lay down next to him on the grass, Fëanáro immediately pulled him into his arms. It felt wonderfully right and terribly wrong all mixed together into a breathless sort of perfection. This was the farthest thing possible from Fëanáro comforting a bratty little half-brother whom he had carelessly hurt.
Nolofinwë burrowed his nose against the warm skin of Fëanáro’s neck, inhaling his scent which reminded him of the fragrance in the air after lightning, raw and natural in its sweetness with the faintest overtone of electricity from a storm. No one else smelled anything like Fëanáro. He was reminded of how he had always responded to the smell of him, back into his earliest childhood.
“That tickles,” Fëanáro teased. When Nolofinwë started to draw away, he pulled him closer again and held onto him. “Not in a bad way, stupid,” he said, his voice gruff with emotion. “May I kiss you?”
Unable to answer, Nolofinwë closed his eyes and tilted his head back, his heart thundering in his ears, willing him to do it. He did not have to wait for long before he felt the gentle touch of Fëanáro’s lips against his own, followed by a low moan and increased pressure. He did not open his eyes until Fëanáro released his mouth. His eyes of palest moonstone were stunning against his tanned skin and with pupils large and black with arousal.
“Oh,” Nolofinwë bleated, before consciously deepening his voice. “You are a fantastic drunk. Brilliant.”
“The wine helps. But I’ve wanted you like this before, completely sober. Do you want more too? Shall we go home? We can’t stay here like this.”
“Yes!” Nolofinwë said, before pulling Fëanáro back into a shorter, fiercer kiss. “Race you.”
They ran uphill past the market, into the city center, around the main square, and up the long stairs leading to the street of the palace. With their equally long legs and matching strides, it was a pleasure to run in tandem. Fëanáro might have been a good deal stronger in general, but Nolofinwë had always liked to run.
Upon entering the palace, completely out of breath, they stumbled up the sweeping staircase to the second floor which housed their bedrooms. Their laughs and panting, which echoed throughout the empty, high-ceilinged halls, drew an indulgent chuckle from their father’s steward who passed them as he headed into Finwë’s private office carrying a stack of bound ledgers.
Without discussion, they found themselves in Nolofinwë’s bedroom. Fëanáro dropped onto the bed, spreading his arms wide in welcome. Nolofinwë kicked off the sandals he had worn to the market and then pulled off Fëanáro’s. He climbed up onto his brother, straddling him, grabbing his muscled arms and pushing them above his head, before he kissed him in frenzied desperation, rubbing against him.
“I want to rip your clothes off. I want to lick and taste you everywhere," Nolofinwë gasped. "You’ll show me what to do, right? I have no idea.”
“Yes, Nolo! Anything. Everything. Whatever you want or think you want . . . .” Fëanáro answered.
Much later, they fell asleep to the sounds of the night birds in the trees outside his bedroom window, which always seemed to come to life with the waxing of Teleperion.
Fëanáro stirred first. “Nolo, are you awake?” Nolofinwë snuggled closer in response. “Can you imagine that I am actually hungry again already?”
“Hmm. It must be long past dinner time,” Nolofinwë murmured half-asleep still, but slowly coming around to consciousness. “Do you want to check and see what is in the kitchen? Cook was not expecting to prepare a formal dinner tonight, but I am sure he has cheese and bread, or maybe even some smoked fish. If you’d like something hot, I bet he’ll be willing to make us something easy. Or we could go out again.”
“Let’s make something ourselves.” Fëanáro’s voice lifted with enthusiasm. “I’d like to cook for you.” He raised a hand to gently brush the hair off Nolofinwë’s forehead. “Sleep with me tonight,” he whispered. He gave Nolofinwë a light kiss on the mouth. “We may never have chance to be alone together like this again.” Nolofinwë’s heart contracted with the awareness that the words expressed not merely the likelihood of loss, but confirmed the inevitability of the same. He knew that they would need to make a memory that would last.
Fëanáro approached Anairë, with Nerdanel on his arm and Russo on his hip. He handed Russo to his mother so that he could embrace Anairë before kissing her on both cheeks. The bride’s black hair was wreathed in bright flowers and her gauzy cream-colored dress, simple for a royal wedding, became her. Nolofinwë’s heart swelled with pride at the sight of the admiration in his brother’s eyes.
“I wish you joy, dearest Anairë,” Fëanáro said, his voice rough with honest sentiment. “Please take care of him. He needs a firm hand.” He then pulled Nolofinwë into his arms squeezing him hard enough to make him grunt and scowl. “My only unfulfilled wish is that one of you had a sense of humor,” Fëanáro said, with what sounded convincingly like a wistful sigh. But Nolofinwë pulled away quickly enough to see him grinning evilly at Anairë over his shoulder.
Anairë responded by narrowing her eyes at his brother before turning to him. “Now that we are married and it cannot put you off me, Nolo, I’ll tell you all about why Fëanáro thinks I have no sense of humor.”
“No. Just no!” Nerdanel protested. “Not while I am here and holding this child, who understands far more of everything that is said around him than any of you are prepared to admit.”
Fëanáro smirked at Nolofinwë and smiled sweetly at his wife, before turning to Anairë. “You make me ashamed of my lapse in judgment, my dear lady. No one else I have ever kissed has had the ill grace to talk about it. They can guess about Nerdanel and me. She is irresistible. And, of course, there is Nelyafinwë who serves as living evidence, since, aside from the hair, he looks remarkably like me.”
“Stop all this nonsense.” Nerdanel giggled. The sparkling wine they had toasted with must have been potent. “He looks at lot more like a combination of his grandfathers than he looks like you.”
“But he has Fëanáro’s beautiful pale grey eyes,” Nolofinwë said, his cheeks burning with mortification when he heard himself.
Anairë smiled wanly at him with a knowing shake of her head. Addressing herself to Nerdanel, she said, “Nelyafinwë has the best of each of your physical attributes. If he can only inherit the best of both of your temperaments and skills, he’ll be nearly perfect. Of course, if he picks up the worst of Fëanáro, unmitigated by your wisdom, I dread to think what will become of all of us.”
“You exaggerate slightly,” Nerdanel responded with wry humor, which Nolofinwë noticed earned her a repressed snicker from Anairë.
Fëanáro glared at him and yanked him by the hand, dragging him just out of earshot behind a potted tree. “You told her about us! I cannot believe that you told Anairë.”
“I could not start a marriage based upon a dirty secret. I wanted her to know me.”
“She still won’t know you. We are not that easy to know. But, there was nothing dirty about it as I recall the experience. And I remember that day well. You were lovely, are lovely, and so responsive.” He released a deep breath, touching Nolofinwë’s face, running a fingertip over his lips. “Oh, Nolo!” His words and the husky quality of his voice caused a melting feeling deep within Nolofinwë and Fëanáro did not stop talking. “I remember every moment of being with you with the greatest pleasure.”
“You know I do, as well!” Nolofinwë said, affronted. “And, anyway, I am quite certain you told Nerdanel also, didn’t you?”
“Why should I have? I didn’t even know her when it happened." Fëanáro, in one of his mercurial changes of mood, gave him a fey, half-flirtatious leer. “All right. I might have. You know what she said?”
“No. But clearly you are going to tell me.”
“She said, ‘Things happen. But do it again and I will cut his testicles off.’”
“No. She did not say that.”
“Fine. You’re right. I’m teasing you. She actually said she’d cut mine off. I don’t think she meant it, but I would not want to test her. She can be a frightening young woman, who knows how to use her work tools.”
Nolofinwë punched him in the arm. It was one of those not infrequent terrible moments when he would have much preferred to kiss him. What kind of a man thinks of kissing his brother, in that way, at his own wedding feast.
“Ow!” Fëanáro squawked, rubbing his arm. “We did choose well for ourselves, didn’t we?”
“You and Nerdanel certainly look happy together and little Russo is a marvel.”
“I really believe we are happy. I only hope that you and your much too serious bride get on half as well as we do. But don’t think that it is easy.” Fëanáro pulled his eyebrows together in warning. “Permit me to give you one piece of advice, little brother.”
“I’m listening.” Nolofinwë stuck out his lower lip, crossing his arms over his chest.
Fëanáro smirked, before his features softened into his incomparable smile. “The act of love cannot be underestimated in these circumstances. Do it well and often and you might eventually get her to laugh.”
“You are such a fool, Fëanáro.”
“Perhaps. But less of one than you are. Don’t dismiss my advice out of hand. Look at how often Nerdanel laughs.” As if on cue, across the room, Nerdanel threw back her mane of cooper curls and laughed hard enough to cause small Russo, by then on his feet again clutching his mother’s hand, to crow and dance with excitement.
“Come along now.” Fëanáro pulled his brother with a strong grip on his upper arm over to the head table. “I’d like to propose a toast,” he announced in his most public voice, loud enough to cause the room to quiet in an instant and all heads to turn as he jumped lightly onto the dais and raised a glass to the crowd.
“To the beautiful Lady Anairë and to my own dearest wife and best friend Nerdanel. Fortune has smiled upon Nolofinwë and me. May these extraordinary women love us both until the end of Arda and beyond.”