The sun had started to dip below the crowns of the trees when Finwë, at last, found his brother sitting on the ground near the kennels where the game hounds were kept. He had risen before first light and had gone hunting, now he was tending to the dogs, bringing them water and food himself. He sat cross-legged on the earth, mobbed by animals, each vying to lick his face, stretching their necks out wishing to be petted, tails all wagging furiously. Palcë's laughter rang out from the cheerful, whining mass.
Finwe started in that direction, wading through the hounds like high water, nudging a spotted female out of the way gently with his boot. He had brooded all day over a decision he had made and he dearly needed to talk with Palcë but, as always, his brother was out doing something- Running the trails, collecting herbs, hunting, sparring with the guard, wrestling, always moving, hard to catch like a strand of moonlight. He had been successful in his hunt, judging by the state of his tunic and the filth on his hands, evident as he patted one of his canine admirers.
"If you could extract yourself for a few moments?" he raised his voice over the yips and the whining. Palcë got to his feet at once.
"Of course!" Then he took in his brother's expression. "You look troubled. What is it?"
Finwë gestured for his brother to walk with him and they made their way out of the throng of hounds and started to walk away from the dwelling they shared. "I have been having dreams... That someday I will become a king," he began and automatically began to worry with one of the cuffs of his robes as he did whenever he became anxious.
"There may be none better," said his brother.
"Maybe so. It is dangerous to remain here in Endor, the raids are becoming more frequent. We cannot allow our people to be taken and turned into those things."
Palcë frowned at this- He had fought orcs on several occasions, creatures who once were elven like himself. "We could hold our own but I would never forgive myself Indis or Miriel were taken. But what are we to do?"
"I think we should heed the call of the Valar. We should escape to Valinor."
"No." Palcë stopped and would walk no further. "I do not trust the Valar. There will be conditions, Finwë. How could there not be? This being Oromë loves us? Why? I suspect him; I suspect them all. Would we even have sought out their help if it weren't for Melkor snatching us up? We should fight under our own power, not accept help from beings whose motives we can't even fathom."
"I believe they mean well and they are powerful. You may be capable of fighting them off, I may be capable of fighting them off. Some of us were not born to fight. We have to think of them."
"Then we defend them!" Palcë clenched a fist and his green eyes burned vehemently.
"But what if we're not enough? What if too many of us fall? Who will protect those who cannot protect themselves? We should heed the Valar; I firmly believe they have our best interests at heart."
His brother flashed him a look. "What if Miriel and Indis were to be harmed?" Finwë referenced their mates again. Both were very gentle, though Miriel had a fiery streak to her temper at times. Finwë willed his brother to back down, to agree with him.
"I will agree that we should send someone to see this wonder of Valinor and that we should send someone to test the goodwill of the Valar. I will not agree to move until they can prove they are worthy of our trust. Who shall we send?"
"I believe you should go," answered Finwë, relieved that he had gotten this far in his errand. Though harried they had been, Palcë had never relented so far as to agree with him that perhaps they should send an observer to Oromë that they might see Valinor and meet the other Valar.
"I'm no diplomat," Palcë spread his hands. Finwë noticed the crescents of dirt under his fingernails.
"Perhaps not but you are a very good judge of character."
His brother sighed. "I will go if you ask it of me. But can you keep our people safe while I am away? We need every warrior as it is."
"I believe we shall be able to repel Melkor's creations for the time it takes you to go there and to return."
"And you promise me that you will defend Miriel and Indis... with your life if necessary?"
"With the last drop of my blood if I must," Finwë agreed.
"Good. I'd like us to begin a family soon, even during these times. Miriel and Indis both agree with me but then you're already aware of that." Palcë smiled and Finwë felt terrible at the softness in his brother's face. No doubt he believed he had steered their conversation into more peaceful waters.
"We should speak on this," Finwë looked away, his fingers fraying the fine embroidery of snowdrops Miriel had stitched into his cuff, all further discussion of the Valar and Valinor abandoned.
"I agree it isn't the best time but don't you still agree that we need happiness wherever we can find it? Miriel and Indis would like children, we should help them to their desires," Palcë stepped around his brother and looked him in the face and frowned at what he saw lurking there. "Have you changed your mind without letting the rest of us know?"
"It's not that I don't want children..." The black-haired elf began, all of the well-reasoned arguments he had made to himself over the last weeks evaporating before the hurt in his brother's eyes.
"Have Indis or I upset you or Miriel?"
"Well no... not at all. We love both of you."
"Then why are you acting this way? If you aren't upset with us and the four of us are still all mates, why do you look so uncomfortable?"
"Because the wind whispers I am to be a king."
"Yes, and? It is an enormous responsibility but what does that responsibility have to do with the four of us? We can still advise you if you are to become king."
"This isn't about advice," muttered Finwë. "I am to be king and if the Valar will it, I will be king in Valinor."
"We haven't decided that yet."
"Even so. I have seen it. And kings are not elected, they are chosen by forces greater than themselves. My children would be royal."
Darkness passed over Palcë's face like a shroud over the sun. "Your children? We agreed they would be our children together, since how could we tell who sired whose offspring? We're a mating of four, Finwë."
"That's what I wanted to discuss. I want to pass the kingship on to my children, my blood."
"I am your blood..."
"You are my brother but the Valar are calling me."
"And so you want to end our agreement so you can be sure Miriel's children are your own."
"It's the right thing for me to do," Finwë shrugged.
He felt the air around him grow cold as Palcë looked down at the grass for a moment. "You've already spoken to Miriel, I take it?"
He closed his eyes, squeezing them shut. He was sorry for the harm he caused but things were going to have to be different now that he had decided what the wind was whispering was true- that he would soon be a king. He wanted his children to be kings and queens after him, he wanted this to be his legacy to them. But though he had chewed on this for weeks now, he had charged in ill-prepared.
"No. I was hoping to give both of you a last gift."
"A warm blanket for the dying, eh?"
"I am not doing this to hurt any of you."
"No, you've just unilaterally decided to end our nesting arrangement. You know I love Miriel and Indis loves you and yet you'd do this for children you have not yet even sired."
"I will tell her in the next three days. You may go to her tonight or tomorrow if you wish but then... I wish to keep my mate to myself."
"Because it is a terrible thing that a child that might be mine might gain your kingship, a child you would have claimed as yours weeks ago."
"The Valar, I think, also would not approve."
Palcë gnashed his teeth and tore at his hair for a moment, wild with the pain his brother calmly inflicted.
"You will not forbid Indis from laying with Miriel, surely?"
"I think it is best that they no longer sleep together."
Palcë stared down his nose at Finwë so that he could almost feel his brother's hands around his neck. "You'd hurt her like that just in case Indis went to your wife fresh from my bed? I can't believe the balls on you."
"This is no easy decision I've come to," the future king protested. He dared to reach out and laid a trembling hand on his brother's shoulder. Palcë left it there but the look he gave him was as if a bird had shit on that shoulder. "I will listen to the wind and become the king I am intended to be," inwardly, he begged him to understand.
"Then I will take Miriel with me into the forest for a night and a day. And I will tell her that it is my idea that Indis and I should part from her and you. It is better for you that she blames me. She is your wife and she will be only your wife after the time you've decided. Allow her time with Indis on the last day. From then on, the two of you will be a pair only." He then stared at Finwë's hand until the other elf removed it.
"Cannot there be peace between us?" Finwë pleaded as Palcë turned on his heel.
"Yea, there will be peace but don't ever come to my bed again, brother."
He had damned his brother up and down as he hurried to the dwelling the four of them had shared to gather the things he felt he needed to make his last night and full day with Miriel special. He could have lain on the bare earth or upon a pile of nettles with her for all he cared for comforts but he knew a touch here or there would please her and he was going to do whatever he could to give her a full day and a night for a lifetime. Finwë had set the conditions and Palcë knew well enough that once his brother had made up his mind, he would not be swayed from his course. So he swiftly gathered some coverlets and a pillow or two, ransacked the larder and filled a basket, filled a leather flask brimful with wine, a jug with water from the well and made his preparations in a pretty spot in the forest, one easily defended, if it came to it but lovely nonetheless. Then, when he had prepared the tiny refuge, he went back home, scrubbed himself down as quickly as he could, changed out of his hunting clothes and into something slightly more respectable, and rushed to Miriel's favourite bower where she sat stitching with Indis and some of their mutual friends.
He stepped under the blooming vines and tried to calm his aching heart at the sight of his wife and their mate sitting side by side, smiling, leaning towards each other as if they had just shared a private joke. He took a deep breath and approached Miriel and held out his hand.
"What's this? Palcë!" she smiled warmly up at him, abandoning her embroidery of roses and fir trees and deer immediately, the hoop sliding out of her lap with a whisper of cloth. She laughed; Indis laughed at her friend's excitement and saved the hoop, threading the needle through the cloth so the pictures would not unravel. Miriel took Palcë's hand.
"Ah but I've caught you," he smiled back at her, the love in his voice unmistakable. "You must follow me now."
Indis smiled up at her husband as well- often he had come to the bower to fetch one of them- to spy on does and tiny fawns, to admire the first rose of the season, to lead them behind the bower to catch them in arms so he might steal kisses.
"I'll neaten your basket and take your things back to the house when I go- Scoot!" She shooed Miriel out of her chair. Over her friend's shoulder, she saw her husband mouth 'Thank you,' but the look in his eyes told her that this was anything but an ordinary tryst and that he would have something to tell her later when he and Miriel returned. She watched as his arm encircled her friend's waist and he hastened her away. Something was troubling him, she thought, feeling the corners of her mouth pull down. She hoped he and everyone else was safe from harm. If it was pressing, he would have said something, she reassured herself but she was uneasy and upset for the rest of the evening.
He had spirited Miriel away to the nest he had created and said nothing to her once they ducked beneath the mossy branches and white sheets. She had pulled him into her embrace, all unaware of his burden and he gave no indication that anything was amiss when she had removed both of their garments. He said nothing but 'I love you," calling her "Belovéd" and "my darling," as he kissed her skin. She had toyed with him and then welcomed him into her body and he made love to her as if trying to forget his name and wept as she cried out in pleasure and tore his back with her nails, hiding his face in her smooth neck and shoulder, then crying out her name as he came. He kept his arms around her all night, her head on his chest and if they moved at all in sleep, they moved as one person.
When the dawn seeped into the nest, finally waking them, he dreaded saying anything. He had said nothing of Finwë's decision the night before so that she might have one last carefree, genuine night of happiness still secure in the fact that she and Palcë, Indis and Finwë were mates. He did not wish to ruin that happiness now, however, if he wished to comfort her, he felt he had to break her peace soon because once he swore never to take her in his arms or to kiss her or to make love to her again, he could never again have any sort of intimacy with her lest he break his word to her husband, his brother. He watched her neaten her hair and offered her watered wine to quench her thirst. And stared at her as if she might cease to exist at any moment.
"You're particularly intense this morning. " She tucked a tendril of pure silver hair behind her ear, then reached out and pulled one of his long, silvery-white locks out of the tail he'd gathered it back into. She chuckled softly at her silliness. He smiled at her but his smile looked stiff with pain.
"Is there something wrong?" she looked into his eyes, feeling the tenseness of his body scent the air between them. "Have the orcs been spotted?"
"No, not that," he reassured her. "I wouldn't have brought you here if it were orcs."
"What is it? You look defeated. What has happened, Palcë?"
"I don't want to say it but I must," he looked down at his hands and then back up at her. "I don't think it is right for us to share family in common."
"I... what? What has happened? We were going to start a family soon- You, Indis, me, Finwë. We agreed."
"Yes. I don't think we should."
"But why? What did I do? Palcë, what did I do that you and Indis don't want to have a family with me and Finwë now? Last night was beautiful. Did I hurt you too badly? What happened? We're mated, the four of us."
"Oh Miriel, you did nothing- absolutely nothing. It's been heard on the wind that your husband is to be king, your children will be kings and queens. Your children. With Finwë," here he choked and his mouth became too dry to speak. He reached blindly for the wine he had watered that morning but his shaking hand found the unwatered stuff he'd brought in its leather flask. Uncaring, he unstoppered it and took a deep draft of it. He coughed from the strength of the alcohol and beneath his coughing, he heard her-
"Heard on the wind, you say? These aren't your words. This isn't your idea at all, is it, to break what we four had woven together? Finwë hears the voices of the Valar on the wind, promising greatness. And I want him to be great. He is worthy of greatness... but not like this," she ended, sobbing.
"This is my doing," he said, knuckling his eyes.
"Nonsense!" She reached out for him and he drew her into his lap.
He held his breath for a moment. "Pretend that it is and take it out on me anyway."
"Palcë," she wailed.
Indis waited up for her husband in their favourite room in the house. Finwë had gone to bed looking as if he had mentally wrestled a bear for hours. He gave her a wan smile but did not invite her to join him. She thought back to when Palcë appeared at the bower and his haunted look as he silently thanked her for ensuring that Miriel felt free to leave with him. She wondered if the brothers had fallen out again over the issue of the Vanar and Valinor, this time worse than all of the others. His gentle support had seen her and her lover through many such rows between their husbands, perhaps he had only come to break the news to Miriel first because goodness knew, Finwë was not the most skilled at diffusing difficult feelings when it came to their relationship. It was either that or the orcs were approaching, the Dark Lord closer to their hearths than before, and he wanted a moment with Miriel before he had to ride out again. Indis brought out the honey-cakes and bit into one pensively. It could be either of those scenarios. In any case, she was not jealous of her shimmering-haired love, she knew that soon enough, Palcë would take her into the forest too or perhaps the pair of them, gold and silver, and give them something to smile at while he was away.
A flicker of movement outside caught her attention. Palcë and Miriel walked slowly, hand in hand towards the home they all shared, heavily, as if their ankles were shackled in heavy irons. He opened the door for her. Miriel stepped into the front room and stopped. Her face was swollen as if she'd been crying for hours. The elf with her did not look as if he fared much better. Indis pushed the plate of cakes away and stood. She reached into her bosom and pulled out her kerchief, starting towards her husband. He subtly shook his head and glanced towards his companion. Indis put the soft, perfumed cloth into her lover's hand and pulled her into an embrace. "What has happened, darling? Why this? It will be all right, you're home."
Miriel gave a little wail and buried her face in Indis' neck, shrouding it in Indis' golden hair. "It's not all right, it won't be all right, nothing will be right ever again!" she choked over her tears.
"What has happened?" Indis repeated, feeling helpless.
"I cannot," sobbed the woman in her arms, tearing herself away and crossing the room towards the part of the dwelling that belonged to her and Finwë. She spun around and took in the couple for a moment. Dark shadows ringed her usually-brilliant eyes. A moment passed, everyone lacking for words, and then she turned and left the room.
Indis went to Palcë and put her arms around him. He hugged her tightly against him and said nothing for what felt like half of the night. When he spoke, she could detect the presence of tears in his voice but noticed his eyes, though somewhat swollen in the candlelight, were dry and fierce.
"Tell me," she demanded softly.
"It was not my choice," he began. His swollen eyes hurt her heart. "Come into the bedroom," she coaxed, pulling him along behind her. He followed her like a broken dog on a lead. She sat him down on the bed and fetched her flacon of rosewater and a clean kerchief. She wet the cloth with the gently-perfumed water and began cooling his eyes and soothing his face. "You are so good to me," he whispered, catching her hand and kissing her knuckles.
"Please tell me what has happened," she repeated after a time.
He winced at the idea of speaking it but found words. " The Valar have told Finwë that if we were to escape to Valinor, he should be a king. He is already a fine warrior but he wishes more from his days than that. He has grasped onto the idea of kingship and you know that the Valar and their 'love' for us have impressed him. He has been taken by their glory. He wants to be king."
"Don't you believe he would make a good king? He is a fair leader. Although... I have not made up my mind regarding the Valar. You know how I feel about remaining here and yet I am loathe to trust the altruism of beings who could crush us in an instant, should they choose. Stronger doesn't necessarily mean wiser or well-disposed towards the weak. I'd rather they proved this 'love' before we went. We could be caught between two similar evils, one simply kinder to the eye than the other."
"He has accepted the will of the Valar. He wishes to take the kingship the wind tells him of and he wishes to pass the kingship to his children."
"Why shouldn't he? Our children will be royal then. Or does he feel differently on the matter? Has he said something cruel to you or Miriel? This is beyond some crass speech, I think."
"Sit," he patted the embroidered coverlet his wife had placed upon the bed to replace the one he'd spirited off into the forest and had forgotten there as he and Miriel forced themselves homeward. She did as he asked, linking her arm through his and waited.
"Finwë wants his children to be royal after him. His. Children. He believes the idea of any offspring of our partnership being called 'our children' to be disdained. He does not believe it is right to bequeath his royal titles... the ones he is sure he will have... to his own children. His children by Miriel. And the only way he believes he can ensure that he is sure of the paternity of his children is to forswear our partnership. He does not want Miriel and me to lay together anymore."
"What?!" she gasped, outraged for him.
"He doesn't want you to lay with her either, lest you come fresh from our bed and somehow manage to impregnate his wife with my seed."
"Is this the same man who stitched flower petals onto silk with his own two hands to impress me and make his suit? Who is this monster? That is not Finwë. That is NOT the Finwë I fell in love with. How dare he even voice such nastiness? He said nothing to me yesterday or today of any such thing. Yes, he looks peaked... now I know why. Coward."
"He has heard the wind; he believes he and his line are destined to lead us."
"A moment ago, I agreed with that. Now I'm not so sure. Has he really dissolved our partnership? He made you break the news to Miriel too, didn't he? Offal!"
Palcë shook his head. "I told him I'd be the one to tell her. Said I'd get her to blame me so she would not be cross with him. If he wants a family to pass the titles the wind has given him on to, I thought I should do him a last favour and help him keep his wife. He does love her, even if he's a misguided sod."
"She isn't stupid." Indis twisted the kerchief in her hands, wishing she could wring Finwë's neck instead. She loved him but he had amputated her from his life by ending Palcë and Indis' relationships with Miriel without even the grace of mentioning it himself.
"That she is not. She found my lie straightaway. I asked her to pretend it had been my idea anyway and to take out her anger at him on me."
"You always take on too much," she frowned but kissed his cheek.
"Probably. I think we should move out."
"That is prudent. I wouldn't want to leave any of my needles in Finwë's hems... completely by accident, you understand."
"No." He cupped her face in his hand. "We should still discuss starting a family." She kissed his palm.
"We should. But maybe not tonight. You should rest."
"You should go to her tomorrow. Much as I would dearly love to go with you... if I lay with her again, I may make an oathbreaker of myself."
"I ought to leave my needles in his drawers. A prick for a prick."
He gave a tiny snort at that. "If you do it, I know nothing."
They curled up together beneath the coverlets and both of them pretended to sleep until morning came.
Indis woke with a start, panting, her hand feeling nothing but the cold, empty bed at her side. She sat bolt upright, her heart beating painfully in her throat. The chill rushed beneath her nightclothes like swirling creek water. No, no, no, no. He was gone.
She got up and heedless of the cold, she went to the fireplace and began working on the fire. She took a handful of wood shavings and splits of fatwood and kindled a small fire, added sticks, waiting patiently as the blaze took hold, then added small logs from the supply in the nook. She toasted herself by the flames as tears flowed down her cheeks. After an indeterminate amount of time, she heard the front door open, heard someone stamping the snow off their boots.
Her husband appeared in the doorway, his face ruddy from the cold, melting flakes caught in his white hair. His sharp eyes caught the flash of her tears in the fire-light and he crossed to her without removing his heavy cloak. Instead, he opened the thick garment and gathered her inside its warmth. She fit her face into the hollow of his neck and shoulder and breathed the fresh scent of snow and the muskiness of leather. "I forgot you were hunting stragglers tonight," she gulped. "I thought they took you."
He kissed her forehead. "No, they did not take me. I won't let them take me, I promise."
"But things are getting worse," she ventured what she had heard the other ladies voice when they gathered to embroider or to make music in the great hall.
"They are," he sighed. "Still, we hold steadfast: This is our home and we will not allow them to drive us out of it."
He picked her up like she was a bit of thistledown and carried her to the bed, tucking her between the covers to keep her warm while he removed his winter layers and then added more wood to the fire.
"I had a dream," Indis sighed, growing drowsy again with the warmth of the fire and the reassurance of her husband's presence.
"Did you?" Now in only his long tunic, he slid beneath the covers at her side and gathered her up.
"I did. I dreamt we had a pair of sons."
"Now that's a fine dream to have."
"Mmmmm," she answered sliding gently into slumber.
"Didn't. Marred. Orcs came. Oh, but they did later. Sons," she mumbled, asleep.
"Indis?" he whispered, her sleep-talking filling him with foreboding.
"Belovéd," she sighed, still asleep.
The sun was barely up and Finwë barely dressed and installed in his great hall when his brother strode in, his cloak flaring behind him like a thundercloud.
"What is amiss, Palcë?" he asked his sibling. "Is there anything I can do for you?" He said into the air that still rang with the echoes of the warrior's footsteps on the flags as he stormed into the room. Ever since they had broken over his insistence that he and Miriel end their relationship with Palcë and Indis, Finwë had tried to rekindle the friendship he and his brother had shared, failing entirely in each attempt.
"It is going worse for us in this land," Palcë began, putting a hand on the hilt of one of the daggers at his waist.
"Yes." He was not going to try to argue his brother into going to meet with the Valar. Barely anything enraged him as much as suggesting that they place themselves and their fates in the hands of the foreign entities.
"I have come to offer you something," said the other elf.
"What is it you offer?" Finwë felt his insides melt a little. Had Palcë finally come to reconcile? Perhaps not but they had barely spoken a handful of words over anything other than Melkor and the orcs for some time. He was willing to be forgiving.
"I will go meet with the Valar as soon as the weather turns... but I need you to give me your true and solemn oath before I go."
Finwë couldn't believe his ears. Palcë had fought against his suggestion, his insistence that they needed the help of the Valar to bring them to safety, that they needed to uproot themselves and move to Valinor, to safety away from the orcs and their raids, amongst the powerful Valar who could protect them against Melkor. All of his advisors had agreed with the would-be king- Palcë was the elf to send to ensure the Valar were as they claimed, that Valinor would be a haven for their people. Palcë would have none of it. Until now.
"You will promise me on your blood and the blood of your line to be that if something happens to me, you will look after Indis. You will keep her safe; you will see her well-married if I die. I want your oath, Finwë and then as soon as I am able, as soon as the weather clears, I will take whomever you wish with me to meet with Oromë and the other Valar."
"You know I would take good care of Indis. Even though we are no longer partners, I still love her. I never stopped loving her, even if you feel otherwise. You don't need my oath for that."
"Even so, I'll see your blood and I'll hear your oath- Swear on your Valar if you want, but swear true to me that you will care for and support Indis until the sun is extinguished and the world is no more if something happens to me. You swear, I'll do what you ask."
Finwë folded his hands in front of him, resisting the urge to start picking at his cuffs. "I swear. By the Valar, all of them. I swear, I will protect and provide for Indis; I will see to her health and her happiness if anything happens to you."
Palcë stared at him. "And?"
Finwë lifted his chin and stared back. "I gave you my oath. I will keep it."
Palcë's hand lashed out and grabbed one of Finwë's and tore it out of the grasp his other one. He wrenched it palm up. Metal flashed, and he didn't even feel the blade's kiss on his palm and stared stunned as his brother bent his head and wet his lips with his blood, then dragged the back of his hand over his reddened lips before sheathing his blade, shoving Finwë's wounded hand back into his belly.
"I believe you. I will go when the weather breaks."
But when the weather broke, it was Finwë who approached the Valar along with the other chosen messengers. Palcë had been taken along with a number of the most skilled warriors who had accompanied him to defend the settlement where they had dwelt, buying Finwë enough time to seek aid.