Miriel stabbed her needle into the creamy linen she was embroidering and rose from her seat. She had been awake all night in the dwelling that she and her husband shared with their lovers, his brother and Indis, his brother's wife. She hadn't been able to sleep all night and, prudently, Finwë had sent her a note informing her that he would stay in the meeting hall the night before. The note had come wrapped around three stems of purple hyacinths, and though their perfume was rich and lovely, Miriel had tossed them on the floor, read the note, then pushed it into the small fire that burnt on the grate. Finwë had rent apart the nesting relationship they'd built with Palcë and dear, sweet Indis without even voicing his concerns to her first. It was entirely unlike him to leave her out of important decisions, so he had decided for them both, probably well-aware that she would have not decided to end their partnership as he had. Surely, she thought for the hundredth time, a king may make laws to suit himself, especially in the arena of his personal life, but he was already heeding the will of the Valar, which was his right, she told herself, pouring water into the large basin that sat on its stand, and then swabbing her face and refreshing herself after her long night awake. Yes, it was his right but it wasn't his right to decide for three other people how they wished to live their lives. He hadn't even so much as asked any of them if they felt as he did. But then kings should be decisive, she thought again and was angry with both herself and Finwë all over again- At herself for seeing his side of the matter and seeing the good in it and at him for forcing her to have to see the good in the thoughtless way he'd made such a serious decision for three other people.
She quickly changed out of her old gown and into a fresh one, a loose, long dress with close sleeves. She wanted to go into the forest and hoped the tiny sanctuary Palcë had built for their last night together had not yet been dismantled. She fetched a basket and packed a few necessaries and then picked up her thin shawl, the one she had woven herself out of silk so delicate that the entire length of leaf-embroidered material could be crumpled into one fist, a whisper that could pass through a keyhole, and flung it over her hair. She wasn't about to giver her silvery mane any style at all- it would be mussed soon enough. She closed the door behind her and went to the common kitchen where she found Indis packing a basket with victuals and a jug of water. They both stopped for a moment and simply looked at each other, Miriel's mouth half turned up as her thoughts of Finwë's decision receded, a look of concentration freshly-broken on her friend's face. Then it hit Miriel that this might be the last time they ever stood across from each other in this place. She took Indis by the arm and pulled her; she didn't utter one protest but behind her, her fingers scrabbled for her basket and she managed to catch hold of it as Miriel led her out of the dwelling. While Miriel might be hungry for her, Indis was still practical- Miriel was cross when hungry and she wanted their last night together to be nothing but sweet.
When they reached the nest in the forest, they found it not only still intact but improved. During her time with Palcë, there had been cushions enough but now almost the entire floor was lined with plump softness. The rest of the ground was covered with a sheet that had been scattered with handfuls of spring flowers. Miriel teared up at the gesture. At the mouth of the nest, they noticed a wooden pail full of snow. Snow? It had all melted weeks ago! Nestled in the snow were two narrow flasks of amethyst glass labelled 'honey wine' and 'elderflower wine'.
"Someone went all out," Indis said, feeling her eyes sting.
"It really is too much," Miriel fake protested by way of agreement.
They dropped their baskets and embraced. Indis inhaled the scent of her lover's hair, the scent of sun-warmed summer grasses and clover and tried not to fall to pieces.
"I'm going to miss you," she said after a moment
"Let's pretend we'll always have time," murmured Miriel, nosing her ear.
Crickets, the moon.
The next day...*
They lay dozing, Indis' fingers loosely tangled in Miriel's hair with Miriel's head pillowed on her stomach. They had flung the covers off in their sleep and now the petals from the floor dotted their bodies here and there. Miriel sighed, swimming out of slumber, kissed the flesh beneath her mouth, and sat up, her lover's fingers catching her locks momentarily, lifting a bit, then sliding through the silver cascade and resting at her side. She noticed a lavender-coloured petal sticking to Indis'lower lip and darted in with her mouth and removed it with another kiss. She smiled and got to her feet. Indis' eyelids flickered and she rolled her head from side to side.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm thirsty and I want to try the wine Palcë left for us before it gets warm." She fished one of the flasks from the cold, slushy water, and carried it back to Miriel, pulled the basket Indis had brought towards her, dipped her hand in and came out with a wooden cup. Then, grinning mischievously, she swung the flask over her lover's still prostrate form, spattering her with freezing droplets.
Indis shrieked as she broke out in gooseflesh, curling inwards to protect herself from any more cold splatter. Miriel whooped in laughter, "You sound like an old wet hen!" she clutched her belly, laughing so hard that it hurt.
"I'll show you old wet hen," Indis leapt up and wet her hand in the bucket and returned the earlier volley with one of her own. Miriel shrieked as she had and then Indis tackled her, covering her mouth, nose, and cheeks in kisses of mock-revenge. She met her mouth and her tongue dipped between her lips, kissing her until they were both warm again. Finally, they broke apart, Miriel saying, "Let's try the wine. I'm curious and thirsty."
She broke the seal, pulled the cork, and poured the cup half full, once she found where it had landed, extending it to her lover so she might try the first sip. Indis drank, her eyes going round at the taste. "This is good."
"Which one did I get? I wasn't looking."
"It's the elderflower," Indis passed the cup to her and she drank.
"Oh, I love it; I love elderflower wine, it always tastes delicious- Sweet and musky and with a hint of something mysterious."
They passed the cup between them, finishing it, filling it once again.
After a time, Miriel spoke. "I cannot believe my husband believes if you lay with Palcë and then with me, I'll get with child."
"Oh, I suppose it could happen. I mean, what goes in comes out eventually."
"Ach!" she made a face and lobbed a cushion at her, though without power behind it. "He is being silly."
"He's being an idiot. All to impress the Valar."
Miriel made another face and swilled deeply from the cup. " I suppose it is the sacrifice a king must make, to keep his wife to himself. But he never consulted me in that and he never consulted me before he spoke back to the whispers on the wind, before he decided his dreams of leadership were true."
"Does he listen to you on other matters?"
"He does, which is why this is even more infuriating. I love him; he usually heeds my opinion, in fact, he is always eager for it and I am no warrior, I am no ruler. He puts his head in my lap as we sit together; he pours out his concerns to me and in that, I feel he truly values me. But I would have asked him why he cannot appoint his heirs or why the Valar wish him to be certain of his line if he is to be king. I don't know. Maybe his wind-whispers told him otherwise. I almost believe if he had spoken to me about it, he may have tried to argue. But he said nothing until the other day. And here we are."
"I think you're right- I think he would have listened to you and that's why he chose to spring it on us all. I'm not saying it was fair of him because he's been a prick and I won't soon forget or forgive him. But I also know you love him even if he has been a prick and I respect it if you won't tell him to crawl up his ass and take his wind-whispers with him. Then again, maybe that's where those wind-whispers originate from."
"Ewwwww. Wash your mouth out!" she passed Indis the wine. She received it and, chuckling over the rim, she took a sip.
"You're right. It's not that I'm happy about this. And it's not as if I'm okay with it either. But he is my husband and I love him and I don't want this matter to come between him and his brother either."
"I think it already has. Palcë has been calling him filthy names and storming around our rooms like an angry bull moose. He has already said we should move out and, while I agree with him, it's not exactly for his reasons I agree," her eyes flicked down to the cushions and she took another sip of wine.
"If I were he, I'd be angry too. And I am angry, Indis, truly. But I woke beside Finwë and I do love him, even if I believe he is wrong in this. I believe we were created for each other... but while it makes no sense to me that a king may not make his own laws... he is mine and I still want him. I hope you and I may still be friends. I'm afraid I won't be seeing much of Palcë for a good while. He was so torn up..." she gulped down a sob and began threading her hair through her fingers to try to calm herself.
"Well, I'm not okay with this. And I'm sorry but Finwë can eat dirt if he thinks I'll be over this posthaste. If there was a convincing reason for it, well, that's one thing, but some special beings told him it wasn't all right to be unaware if his children were truly of his seed is a bloody stupid reason to break up your relationships. But he won't relent and Palcë and I would never force you to choose or to choose us over him. I'm not fine with it but I still love you and I will always be your friend. Finwë will have to wait to see if I can forgive him."
Miriel held her arms out and Indis came into them. "Thank you. Thank you for understanding. I don't want to do this but... I love him. I am angry with him and he's going to find out how angry I am. But I will find a way to forgive him. We were meant."
They spent the rest of the day and into the evening making love off and on. They finished the elderflower wine and then the honey wine, ate the food that had almost been left at the dwelling. They spoke, mostly about how Finwë was making a terrible mistake, even if he felt it was for a good reason, and promised again and again to remain friends, that the end of their romantic partnership would not be the death of their friendship.
In the early morning light, Miriel took the tiny knife Indis had packed to cut apples and, drawing a lock of her silvery hair between her fingers, she severed it and wove a braid from the strands. She tied both ends with a thread from the hem of her gown and presented it to her love. Indis eyes spilt over as she accepted it.
"I'll keep it always. Make another from my hair?"
"No. You weave it. I want it entirely made of and by you."
"My fingers aren't as skilled as yours but I will try." Miriel passed her the knife and Indis turned up the hem over her own gown, found a likely thread and cut it, then feathered out a length of her golden hair and, tying it at the top, severed the lock. She braided it, though not as perfect or as intricately as Miriel had the lock she now possessed but when she had finished, the braid resembled a chain of precious gold. Miriel took it and kissed it and put it in her bosom.
"I don't want to leave," Miriel whispered, nearly inaudible beneath the sounds of the waking forest.
They sat together both feeling helpless until the sun had properly risen. Then they joined hands, lifted their baskets, and left, both silently weeping until they parted where the path diverged, one fork towards the centre of the settlement and the meeting hall where Finwë would be, the other to the place where they would no longer dwell together.
As Indis approached their swelling, she saw Palcë sitting outside, re-weaving the leather of his sword-hilt. At the sound of her slippers on the gravel path, he looked up. She faltered then, the basket dropping from her suddenly-numb fingers. He dropped his work and rushed to her, putting an arm around her to keep her from crumpling and helped her to the bench where he had been sitting. She clutched his jerkin and poured her grief into the leather that covered his broad chest. He held her saying nothing.
"It's over," she said finally when she had calmed enough to speak.
"I know. I'm so sorry."
"Thank you for improving the nest for us."
"You're welcome. I wanted to do something for both of you since I couldn't bring myself to join you."
"The wine was very nice. Where did you find the snow to keep it cool?"
"Wine? I didn't leave any wine."
"Oh no..." She glanced behind her in the direction of the meeting hall.
"I'm not impressed, " growled Palcë.
Finwë stood in the hall listening to two of the watch captains give reports on the ongoing raids of the orcs. When he caught sight of Miriel framed by the great door, the sunlight gleaming in her hair, he gestured to both captains that he would hear the rest of their reports later and they took their leave of him. He warily approached his mate, stopping before her and clasping his hands behind his back as if addressing a great lord.
"How are you this morning?" He asked, stumbling over the words.
"About as well as may be expected," she sniffed with a hard look that softened the longer she looked at him.
"I am both sorry for your grief and glad you are well. I hope you enjoyed yourself... I want you to be happy it's just..."
"Yes, I know," she stopped him from going further.
"Indis is also well?"
"As well as I am."
"Ah yes. I should not have asked," he rocked on his feet uncomfortably.
"As for asking... I'll do as you've asked, Finwë but I am not happy with it. You are my husband; you should have told me your thoughts on the matter and asked me how I felt about it. You should not have decided for me."
"I know. I know I should have spoken to you but... you would not have agreed and I believe the Valar's views on the bloodlines of kings are correct. I still believe if we are to survive, we must accept their invitation to live in Valinor. If I told them no about my marriage, perhaps they would rescind the offer."
"I know," she agreed with him, sighing. He had hurt her deeply, hurt his brother, hurt Indis, but beneath her hurt, she understood why he had chosen to act as he had. "I am not so selfish as to set my happiness above the lives of the others either. I will stand with you but no, I will not be happy for some while."
Finwë felt as of someone had dealt him a blow to the chest when she forgave him. He marvelled at her for a moment, then, to fill the silence, he asked her- "Tell me, did the two of you enjoy the wine?"
Miriel took a step back, her hand covering her heart. "You left the wine? I thought Palcë..."
Finwë faltered and looked away for the moment at the mention of his brother who surely hated him by now. "I knew when I saw the nest of coverlets and cushions that Palcë had built it for his tryst with you when I came across it yesterday. I thought that maybe you and Indis would find the wine a welcome treat and... I wanted to tell you I was sorry, I wanted to do something to show you that even though I can't change from my course, I was, I am sorry, darling. So I tracked down a flask of elderflower wine and one of honey wine and conjured the snow to keep it cold."
"Yes. I went out walking... I'm not happy either, following the will of the Valar but they have a reason for their preferences. I wanted you and Indis to be happy and I know how you adore elderflower wine."
She stepped into him and he pulled her to his chest.
"Don't think I'm not hurt. I'm still very angry with you."
"Yes. I'm angry with myself."
They spent the night in the meeting hall on Finwë's cot and while things weren't instantly mended, they weren't entirely broken either and the two of them decided to mend their love and remain a pair.