Simple Gifts

Even from a room apart, she heard her baby son's cries. Rising quietly from the sleeping form of her husband, Finduilas stretched out a tawny-skinned arm and picked up a silken dressing gown that was draped over the nearby chair. She put it on over her linen nightdress, the neckline and bottom embroidered with red starfish, a gift from Denethor at the announcement of her second pregnancy. She smiled sleepily at them, bright symbols of the sunny, coastal city she had left behind to join her husband in this land of stone. As she padded softly the few steps down the corridor to baby Faramir's room, she considered how different the floor felt here under her feet. It was not that she minded the stone of the buildings since her home in Dol Amroth had also been made of such sturdy material. It was just colder, somehow, in a way that a house near the beach and golden sun can never be.

She stood over Faramir's crib, where the babe was still crying, his pink mouth open, gums absent any teeth. He had only a half-thumb's length of downy dark hair, and Finduilas rubbed his dear fuzzy head after she picked him up, laying him against her shoulder. She moved to the rocking chair and placed it so that she could see to look out into the night sky. She was very tired, to be sure, only a few weeks since her second child had been born, and sleep came infrequently. She let the dressing gown slide down behind her shoulders as she eased Faramir to her front, and undoing the clever seagull shaped buttons that adorned the nightgown from the neckline down, she guided his small mouth to her small but heavy breast, and he suckled her almost noiselessly.

She leaned back into the chair, beginning a gently rocking motion that reminded her of being in the ocean, lying on her back, gently held up by the waves. As Faramir nursed, she looked up at the stars in the sky, their bright glittering beginning to fade with the eminent approach of dawn, then closed her eyes.

Unlike his older brother, Faramir did not devour her milk so greedily, nor so noisily, and she had yet to worry about little teeth on her tender nipples. She rocked, and for a moment she leaned her head down to smell the wonderful baby scent that seemed to come out of every pore of her new child. It was a mixture of gentle lavender soap, or warm linen, of indefinable baby… as she raised her head, her eyes still closed, she realized what it was that she missed so much; the smell of the sea. What she wouldn't give to have even a minute to breathe the tangy air, to hear the sound of waves on the shores, anything to relieve the ache of absence that grew in her day by day!

And Iolande… Oh, how Finduilas missed her, now married to Prince Imrahil. When she was as tired as this, her baby sucking on her breast, her body remembered the one occasion when the two had become familiars, and her body ached at that absence as well. They had grown up together and were the best of friends, though Finduilas was two years her junior. They played in the ocean, catching starfish after forming their own small tide pools, carefully placing the many-armed creatures in them, then running to try and catch small fish or little bits of coral to add to their watery treasure. Iolande had taught her how to swim, and float, which was the younger girl's favorite pastime. How she loved to lie on her back, buoyed by the ocean waves, her eyes closed, bathed in the heat and light of the sun. Such brown skin she had back then! Her friend's strong hands under her back at first, teaching her not to drop her backside, straightening her arms behind her head, secure on top of the water.

In their late teens, one bright summer afternoon they had gone back to Finduilas' house after spending much of the day on the white strand of Belfalas. There were young men to notice now, and they did notice, commenting under their breath at their legs, whether skinny or muscular, hair color, whose growing beard looked somewhat comical and whose looked compelling. They rinsed themselves off with tepid water and bathing cloths, then, wearing towels wrapped around themselves, went to the kitchen and snuck off with a small container of pear cordial. Up to Finduilas' room they retreated, then taking off their towels in the seclusion of her room, languished in the warmth of the sun as it shone in through the window, enjoying the sensation of the silky liquid on their tongues, bare skin on a tightly woven carpet, and ocean breeze tempered with the bright rays as they slowly traversed the floor. They both knew that due to their parentage they would be married to men of importance, but on that day, they could simply delight in each other's company, dearest friends who had shared every sorrow and joy through their youth and adolescence.

Iolande offered to braid Finduilas' wavy dark brown hair, and she willingly obliged. The older girl of Amroth situated herself against a small couch and placed Finduilas in front of her, facing the window. Finduilas felt her whole body go limp after Iolande retrieved her red coral comb and gently teased out the tangles. There was no sensation she enjoyed more than having someone play with her hair. More than imported beautiful filigreed silverworks from the Dwarves, more than succulent sweetmeats filled with figs from the drier climes of Rohan, sweeter even than the cordial in her glass… the gift of the most luxury that Finduilas had ever known was that of resting her bronzed back against her friend's legs, in an open cave of sunkissed flesh, her long unruly hair being combed into submission. She could completely lose herself in those moments, her eyes shut, blissful as the many-toothed comb stroked her head from front to back, then away, gliding through her hair like a gull carried on the sea breezes.

Finduilas was almost half asleep when her friend, in an ultimate gesture of giving, offered to rub her shoulders after Finduilas' hair was braided. Gratefully she sank even deeper into her friend, allowing her upper back and neck to be gently kneaded.

From this reverie Finduilas was brought back to the present. Faramir's tiny hands were opening and closing on her nightgown, his mouth no longer suckling on her breast. She ceased rocking for a moment as she moved her child to her shoulder, leaning over to a side table that had some soft absorbent cloths which she then placed carefully under his heavy head. She resumed her rocking, gently patting his small back with her right hand. After spending a few moments gazing with almost unfocused eyes at the stars, she let her lids fall again.

She allowed her memory to take her back to that afternoon, as she nestled between Iolande's strong legs, all tension leaving her as deft fingers eased out the kinks and muscle knots earned from their day of swimming. Finduilas had breathed a happy sigh as she felt her friend's long, soft fingers resting on her collarbone, stroking to her shoulders, Iolande's motion mimicking a slow stream flowing over a ledge. Had Finduilas' eyes ever been open during this exquisite exchange? She did not know. The young Finduilas only surrendered to blessed familiarity and warm skin, and then…

Iolande's fingertips had traced slowly down the front of Finduilas' ribcage, then spread apart. With a gentle but directed motion, she gently held her nipples with two fingers, thumbs stroking the tips of the younger woman's now-hardening dusky buds. Finduilas drew in a deep breath, biting down on her lower lip in surprise, but also in pleasure. Iolande began to draw ever-widening circles around her petite but firm breasts, now more taut than usual as though they wished to have more attention lavished upon them. With the pads of her fingers, Iolande started at the perky nipples and then moved outwards, massaging Finduilas' ribs and midsection, being careful not to tickle. Blissfully indifferent to anything except the present moment, Finduilas luxuriated in the sun and her dear friend's unexpected touch, extending an arm to take a sip of the tangy refreshment from her glass.

Iolande leaned forward and with her hand, covered Finduilas' and guided the glass to her own lips where she took only a small amount, letting the sweet beverage swirl around her mouth. While Finduilas placed the glass carefully on the floor, Iolande caught her ear in her teeth, then let her tongue flicker around her earlobe and down her neck. At this, Finduilas had giggled. "Pray, Iolande! Where did you learn all this? I did not know that you were keeping secrets from me!"

Iolande only murmured against her friend's cheekbone, "Nay. I do not keep, only share, and I suspect that we shall never have another occasion like this. Does this displease you?" Finduilas heard layers of questions in those four words, and removed herself from Iolande so that she could turn and look back at her friend. Iolande's fawn brown hair with undercurrents of copper was framing her oval face, and Finduilas now saw in her eyes a look that seemed to contain a swirling sea of desire and uncertainty. "You have always been so beautiful, and while we both enjoy the physical company of our narrow-hipped, frighteningly earnest male companions, we have a lifetime of marriage to explore those pleasures with bearded men." Finduilas found herself nodding slowly. "I would like once, if you do not think it demeaning, for us to know the sweetness of each other that others will have the luxury to know for a lifetime."

Finduilas pondered this statement for a moment. She simply had never considered what it would feel like to kiss another woman, or feel on her skin such soft hands with uncalloused palms, fingers whose grip had never practiced with a sword… She found herself looking at Iolande as though with different eyes. The room seemed to brighten, Iolande's fairer skin almost painfully exquisite in her vision. Still sitting with her legs crossed before her, Finduilas leaned in, closed her eyes, and put her lips to Iolande's. Tentatively they kissed, and one thought came suddenly to her. Rose petals. That was what Iolande's lips felt like, and Finduilas realized at once that she, too, would like just once to explore the beauty of her friend, an experience to treasure for all of her days on the earth.

They were kissing passionately now, tongues seeking each other, both tasting the cordial and unique taste of each other, but then Finduilas drew back. "Dear Iolane," she said, her voice husky to her ears, "I think we should go to a more comfortable place… there are soft blankets on my bed." Finduilas stood up and reached down her arms to help Iolande rise, then they embraced. As they held each other, Finduilas felt as though the floor had suddenly tipped and she could barely keep her balance- she felt almost undone by the sensation of the incomprehensible soft skin of Iolande's full breasts against her ribs. As she caught her breath, Finduilas wondered in amazement, Is this what men feel? If so, it is a marvel that they ever leave our beds! Iolande stepped back, keeping her hands on Finduilas' shoulders, and looked at her with such affection that Finduilas thought surely she was basking in the light of pure joy. She closed her eyes, unable to withstand the gaze for long, then Iolande kissed her eyelids.

That was Finduilas' undoing. A wave of passion overtook her, and she hungrily took Iolande's mouth once more, reveling in the sensation of warm mouth, insistent tongue and sweet lips. She broke away for a moment, to breathe, to release the laugh of happy surprise that had been bubbling up from deep within her, and then to take her friend's hand and lead her to her bed. Moments later they were lying side by side, and Finduilas kissed the palm of Iolande's hand, then the tip of each finger. Then she placed those gentle fingers back on her aching nipples, so hungry to be known in every way, even in those places that she had explored only by herself, and when Iolande removed her hand only to replace it with her tender tongue, Finduilas felt as though she had become flame itself.

When Finduilas thought back on that afternoon in the years that followed, the details of every touch, every kiss, the salty-sweet of her beloved friend's passion on her eager fingers… in a way she wondered whether or not she had just imagined it all, nothing but a pleasant dream from a more innocent time before her future had been decided, but from that day on her very skin seemed to retain some of the heat that had been kindled within her.

A satisfying and thorough burp roused Finduilas from her ruminations, and she chuckled gently. "Ah, dear Faramir," she murmured into his downy hair, "I suppose you are ready again for bed, my precious one, my little changeling, my little love…" and with secretive words only spoken by mothers to their newborns, she gently put him back in his crib, putting the shoulder cloth by the door as she quietly left the room.

But now she felt an ache that she wished to be satisfied, one she had not felt in many weeks, and not since she had birthed her second son. Denethor mumbled sleepily when she slipped back into bed, "How is he?"

"He is just fine, my lord." Finduilas replied. "Already he has a healthy appetite, like his brother. We have been blessed, truly." She eased her hand down the front of her husband's nightshirt and found his slightly erect member with which he awoke each morning, an unexpected pleasure she had discovered early in their marriage. He shifted uncertainly, but under her ministrations, allowed himself to enjoy her touch.

"My dear, are you sure that you…" he began, but she had taken his hand and placed it between her legs so that, without words, he understood that she was ready to take him into herself. Denethor had counted more lucky stars than he knew could possibly be given to one man in the gift of his younger wife, for reason upon reason uncountable. He had heard from some source now long forgotten that sometimes women would be brought to passion when nursing their children, and while it had been quite some time since they had enjoyed each other in this way, more than anything else in the world, he did not wish to hurt her. In grateful adoration he watched as she removed her nightdress, her small breasts now only slightly swollen with nourishment for their new son, then slowly eased herself around him. He let out a shuddering sigh as he felt himself fully sheathed in her familiar confines, and it was not long before they both were brought to climax. Moments later Finduilas was laying on her side sound asleep, her husband moving some strands of damp hair from her forehead. A faint smile played on her features as the first rays of light crept over the windowsill. Denethor wondered for a moment what it was that she thought of, then he lay back down, and turning his head, placed a light kiss on her shoulder. A few swirling wisps of thought, the mysteries of marriage, of life and death, of leadership and love, briefly chased through his consciousness, then he joined her in sleep.

Author's Notes

The name of the wife of Prince Imrahil is given nowhere, but she must exist since their daughter marries Éomer. Iolande is a name that I have loved for ages, and since there is Ioreth in Gondor, I thought it would suit for an original character from the same region.

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