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The Eldarin Family
Each of the Eldarin cultures is based upon family, and family is based upon soul-bonds. Even a male who never has a mate (which is a common enough scenario seeing as males outnumber females by about a 2:1 ratio) has a family of sorts, in not only his own parents and siblings but also his muindor ("melyator" in Quenya).
The relationship of muindyr (sg. muindor) for males, or muinthil (sg. muinthel) for females, is one very different from anything found among humans, and therefore very often completely misunderstood. It is a matter of two of the same gender choosing each other as friends and companions for life, usually at about the adolescent age but sometimes earlier or as late as near-adulthood. With some pairings, there seems to be something of a natural pull that draws them to one another; for others it is a matter of pure choice. Often close childhood friends will pair up, but not always.
Such a relationship involves a deep mental and emotional bond, and often a great deal of physical ease and intimacy. Muindyr share nearly every part of their partner’s life. This is the point at which many humans begin to think that they see a sexual relationship, but in truth there is nothing of the kind - muindyr or muinthil are never mates (except by a very rare circumstance which will be dicussed later). The heart-love between them is just as strong, but it is different in an indefinable way, and their physical intimacy is quite innocent in nature. Usually most partnerships are one-on-one, but there are also known instances of one person having two separate muindyr or of three all being bound to one another. Unlike mates, muindyr or muinthil can be chosen more than once, and a person who has lost his or her partner (usually to death) will eventually be drawn to bond again after the grief eases, for no Elda can truly bear to be alone.
Mates, on the other hand, are taken only once, and that for life. If one of the two dies, the remaining spouse will never find another, nor be physically attracted to another, ever again (there has been one known exception however). Mates are more predestined than chosen, truly, and while there are males who will never have a mate, it appears that every female has one destined for her, even if it may take a long time to find him. When they do, both know it in mind and soul, an instinctive and immediate connection. Up until this point, neither male nor female has completely matured, no matter their age, and now both begin the process of becoming more than just adults, but fully mature adults. If a pair have grown up together, this awakening usually comes at about the time of adulthood or slightly before; if not, it begins when they meet.
This “awakening” involves not only a mental shift, for bonded adults are often noticeably mature in a way that even unbonded adults do not have, but also a physical change and with it a growing sexual awareness that never existed before. It is customary, and even near-law among the Noldor and Sindar by the Third Age, for this period to be one of courtship before a ceremonial wedding that occurs when both are prepared. The Silvan, and Avari before them, follow a slightly different pattern; mates-to-be stay close to one another during their courtship, and fully bond mind and body once they are physically ready, thereby becoming married. This private event is then sealed by the public proclamation of the pair of their bonding. A similar custom was common practice before the First Age even among the Quendi in Aman, but increasingly frowned-upon since in all lands but those of the Silvan.
There is only one situation in which more than one living mate can be taken by the same individual. This individual is always a male, and the situation a dire one; it was first encountered by the Quendi who crossed to Ennor, some leaving wives and children behind. After a long period of time such a distance apart, hardly able to even feel his mate’s existence, a male found himself feeling increasingly ill, a happening un-natural to the Eldar. Occasional dizziness, headaches, slight nausea, and a desire never to be left alone are the first symptoms, followed by an increasing seeking of physical contact, a slowly-rising fever, and a near-desperate mental and emotional clinging to the one already bound to him - his muindor. In the final stage, a sexual desire rises overwhelmingly and painfully, and the afflicted no longer can fight that need or his mental one. The two possibilities at that point are death or a full mate-binding with the afflicted’s muindor, who if this cycle runs to completion then becomes known as "second-mate" (the only known same-sex relationship ever occuring among Eldar). The Avarin natives to Ennor, having never been in such a situation, despised some of the Noldorin Quendi for this among other reasons. The condition was nearly unknown after the First Age until the mid-Third when families began to split apart by traveling West; once again, some of the males that remained behind found themselves in a difficult situation.
The Fever, as it is known, is a relatively slow process, taking from months to a couple of years to reach full force depending on the strength of the afflicted. Before the final stage is reached, there is a way to stop its progress, but the method is harsh, and painful in itself - the strained bond between the parted mates must be "silenced", or broken on all but the deepest levels. The result would then be as if the distant wife has died (this would be hard on the female also!), stopping the cycle and returning his body and soul to an unbonded-like state. This solution takes a great deal of willpower to choose, but the grief of true loss does not appear in a life-threatening way, and if the separated pair are reunited at a later point their bond can be easily rebuilt from the soul-connection that remains, and the awkwardness of dealing with two bonded mates avoided.
For all the sexual connotations and results of the Fever, however, it is primarily an issue of mind and soul. It is the need for closeness and bonding that rises long before sexuality in any sense enters the equation.
Children among the Eldar are not as common as those of humans, with usually large spans of time between pregnancies, but they are seen and loved as precious, not only to their family but to all, and they are certainly not a rare event. Even up until the final sailing of the last Eldar, there were children born and raised.
It is spoken that Eldarin females can choose when to become pregnant. To a certain extent this is true; she does not directly choose the moment of the event, but she can choose to go into seclusion and engage in certain activities with her mate, which in such a situation becomes rather more frequent and intense than the usual love-making of a couple. During a period of two or three days of relative seclusion, the bodies of both parents-to-be undergo a rapid shift from their usual mature but infertile state, becoming fertile and at the same time nearly irresistable to one another. By this point, pregnancy becomes inevitable, for only with the making of a child will the female’s now-instinctive drive be satisfied.
Eldarin children are born into the world after a gestation period of nearly exactly 12 months - thereby causing the culturally-celebrated "conception day" to be nearly coinciding to the human-understood "birth-day". Leaner and with better muscle tone and reflexes than human newborns, they nevertheless are babies and are helpless as such, and fiercely protected by the parents and family. Senses of touch and smell are the strongest; a babe will often know both his parents by scent and feel long before he opens his eyes. Hearing is about on a par with a human newborn, although it strengthens as the child ages. Sight, the most powerful of the Eldarin senses, is slower to appear; the newborn’s eyes are sealed shut for in some cases up to a day. After opening, vision improves rather quickly however, until after a week or so the babe can see across a not-too-large room (a human baby is rather nearsighted). Like hearing, this sense improves as the child grows.
Growth is on a noticably different scale than for humans, reflecting the natural lifespan of the race. At first, it is actually quicker, muscular and comprehensive skills developing rapidly as the babe’s body prepares him for a life of naturalistic survival, one the Eldar are quite suited to although in a more cultured realm the child will not actually need such instinctive skills. The rate of growth then slows, however, until at about age 2 the child appears as a human 2-year-old. After that point, growth occurs on an increasingly slower scale, where 12 years equals a human six, 25 equals a human ten, and so on as shown in the table below. "Adolescence", the period between approximately 40 and 200 years of life, is a slow transition into a more adult body, a time when secondary sexual characteristics begin to develop, and during which time male and female interests come to differ and duties to family and/or society begin. The "youngling" years span from this period until the 1500th celebrated conception-day, at which time official adulthood is reached.
General Scale of Age (approximate comparisons)
Like much else, the raising and training of children in Ennor is greatly different between the Noldor and Silvan, with the Sindar falling somewhere into the middle. The Noldor allow for what might be termed a long childhood; a rather relaxed period of growing up filled with much free time except for required chores in the household and daily, usually morning, lessons on history and geography, music and art, reading and writing, and basic mathematics. At about the age of twenty-five, boys take on other training, such as weapons skills, and during adolescence the choice is made as to their future roles in society, though they remain treated somewhat as children well into their youngling years. Girls also are taught the more domestic and feminine skills during this time.
The Silvan, on the other hand, are a warrior and survivalist people to their core. From a very young age all children, even girls, are taught survival skills such as hunting and tracking and hiding, as well as the use of a knife against prey and enemies. Most of the games played teach these skills as well as entertain, and other learning such as history is taught verbally, usually through song, in the home. Once strong enough to handle a weapon other than the small aforementioned knife without injury to himself, a male child enters warrior training, where he will remain until somewhere in his later youngling years. Once he is deemed skilled enough with more than one weapon, and extremely proficient with one chosen weapon, he will join a warrior party that will become his secondary family for the rest of his life, as long as he remains in his realm, and will take part in the guarding and defense of his people. If he chooses another, primary profession such as metal- or wood-work, or any other, he still is required to serve periodic rotations of guard duty, and to join if an army is called for large-scale battle. The servers are the exception to this rule; the younglings are trained but once they take up their full household duties they are not required to be a part of the guard. A female child, as she grows through adolescence, learns domestic skills which will be used in the home (such as weaving and clothes-making) and corporately among all their people (such as food gathering and preparation), thereby caring for the males that protect her.