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Another Man's Cage: 1. Chapter One--Tyelkormo
A (Relatively) Brief Author's Note….
I began this project about two years ago, disheartened by the number of stories that I was reading that cast Fëanor's family in a negative light with little exploration as to why they may have turned to such grievous ends. I don't believe that any of Tolkien's First Age characters can be classified in such black-and-white terms of "good" and "evil," and so I began this story in an attempt to understand how Elves born in the Blessed Realm could commit such evil deeds without being evil themselves.
This is a completed novel-length work, fifty-two chapters in its first-draft form, and took over a year to complete. I will post a new chapter (unless circumstances take me outside the reach of technology) by Friday morning each week. Currently, the story will be rated "General"; eventually, it will drift into the realm of "Adult" for reasons of sexuality, violence, and thematic content that might not be suitable for younger audiences. If you are not of the age of majority in your country or are bothered by this sort of content, be forewarned that this story will on occasion dabble with all of the above. If you have questions about the rating or wish to know which chapters are not suitable for underage audiences, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am working on an all-ages version of this story and may have chapters available that are suitable for younger readers.
Please don't hesitate to leave comments with questions or thoughts; I reply personally to all comments on my stories so long as they are not intentionally rude, and I take all of my reader's suggestions seriously. In fact, this story is in part credited to the keen eye, sharp minds, and generous encouragement of a group of readers who discovered the first draft posted in my LiveJournal. I owe all of these people my sincerest gratitude, particularly JunoMagic and Digdigil, whose skills as beta-readers helped me to sharpen the early chapters considerably.
This story—and all of my work—is dedicated to my husband Bobby, whose love and encouragement frees my heart and mind to wander in realms untouched by human footsteps and who has never uttered those damning words, "It's just a story…." Thank you, Bobby; all that is beautiful in my words has part of its source in you.
In Valinor, all the days are beautiful.
It becomes hard to tell them apart after a while, and soon, one learns to keep oneself busy so that they don't congeal into a blinding stream of light. Normally, my lessons keep me occupied for much of the day; other days—my favorites—Atar will take us hunting in the forest or I will ride to Tirion with my brothers. But not this day: today, I have been given a day off in recognition of my youth and my purported need for rest, and the bland beauty of the day threatens to drive me mad with boredom.
I am lying in the field behind the house, and I can hear Atar instructing his apprentices in the forge and Macalaurë playing scales in the house. Hammerfalls occasionally ring from Atar's forge, and like droplets plunking into a still pond, they ripple the silence that stretches over the meadow. I stare up at the sky, cloudless this day, the shape and color of the insides of the robins' eggs that have begun littering the ground, the first signs of spring. The grass in the field is tall, lush, and green like emeralds, and it prickles my back through my light tunic. It is Laurelin's zenith, and the light is searing. I close my eyes, yet still cannot escape: The light is red now, the color of the blood inside of my eyelids.
I do not expect the blackness when it jumps out at me from a tall clump of grass. Its knees land squarely on my chest, and it yells, "Gah!" The wind is forced from my lungs for an instant, before I can gasp and bring it back, and the dark shape laughs at this and kneels on my chest and tangles its little fingers in my hair.
"Turko!" it says.
I open my eyes and stare into the dark gray eyes of my baby brother Carnistir. Only four years old, he is free also on this day, and the warmth of the afternoon has brought color to his cheeks. His hair is sleek and dark and the light on it makes it gleam with gold, like candlelight in a dark mirror. I sit up and knock Carnistir aside, but as quickly as his little, round bottom touches the ground, he is scrambling at me again, to sit in my lap with his head on my chest and his thumb in his mouth.
I feel sorry for him, for he must be as bored as I am. His jet-black hair burns my hand as I stroke it. "What do you want?" I ask him, and he answers, one word, lisped because of the thumb: "Nelyo."
I need no further encouragement, and with a grin splitting my face, must restrain myself from running long enough to take Carnistir's hand and lead him back across the meadow with my back held straight and tall, as I imagine Nelyo would walk, if he were here.
It had been Maitimo who'd started the habit of us calling him Nelyo. At counsels, at festivals, at loose social gatherings, he would always introduce himself as Maitimo—Maitimo, the well-shaped one—taking strangers' hands with an elegant poise that my brothers and I would half-mock and half-envy. But at home, when the halls echo with our greedy cries, seeking him, demanding his attention, it is never Maitimo and always "Nelyo! Nelyo!"
Nelyo is not fond of his father-name Nelyafinwë; I heard him tell Macalaurë once that he thought it pompous and bland. "Third Finwë," a name denoting succession and nothing of the person behind it, while Macalaurë is Strong-voiced and I am Powerful and Carnistir is Dark, he is only a place in line, and a fruitless place at that, for the Elves are immortal, and Atar does not expect to be king much less leave the crown to Nelyo.
But there it is: Nelyo, the name we call him, a derivative of the disfavored father-name. He likes his mother-name—after all, who doesn't like to be remembered as being beautiful?—and I have always liked the way people's voices rise on the first syllable of it when they realize his eccentricities are actually jests. Maitimo! they laugh, and he smiles, rare and beautiful, and the light of his eyes flickers and dances like Telperion on the water. He even has an epessë, Russandol, given to him by our grandfather Mahtan in recognition of their shared copper-colored hair, and aunts and uncles and cousins call him such to denote familiarity, but always, my brothers and I call him Nelyo.
The way Atar tells it, Maitimo had been making his first fumbling attempts at speech when he forever titled himself as Nelyo. He was nearly a year old and fond of grabbing handfuls of whatever was closest at hand and staring at our father with his wide eyes until Atar named it for him. Mud. Grass. Pebbles. Water. He clutched a handful of Atar's hair. "Ai!" Atar said, and Nelyafinwë Maitimo relaxed a bit, and Atar said, "Fëanáro. Atar."
"Fëya…Atar…." Nelyo fumbled before reaching shyly to clasp his own tunic, the fingers of his other hand still wrapped in Atar's hair, his eyes locked with our father's. "Atar…?"
"Nelyafinwë Maitimo," said our father, always the overachiever, as though his infant son would be able to handle such an ambitious name. When my older brothers are angry at our father for his strict expectations, they jest with each other to hide the sting of his criticisms, saying that Atar had been born speaking and walking, with a hammer in one hand and a quill in another, decrying the state of midwifery that forced him to be born naked and in such an unsavory manner. But Nelyo had not been so ambitious in his early youth, and his face pursed in puzzlement as he inquired, "Nelyo?"
From then on, he was Nelyo. We—his brothers—were born one by one thereafter, and we learned first to call for Atar and Amil and Nelyo, the three who would come and ease us from our nightmares and into the circle of their arms, cuddling us close to dispel the tremors—was it cold? was it fear?—and kissing away the tears on our cheeks. "Maitimo" was too much for our young voices, and "Nelyafinwë" was worse—for us as it had been for him—so we called for Nelyo, and he always came.
During Laurelin's hours, on the days when I do not have lessons, I find myself more often than not with Carnistir, who is only a few years old and at the age where he is able to run and unable to perceive when he should not. Carnistir had been a surprise to me: Even after Atar had explained that I was going to be a big brother, I hadn't believed it. Not really. I was the baby, and I would always be the baby. The one who always had to hold someone's hand when we went to festivals. The one who would ride in front of Atar on his horse when we took our summer trips to Formenos, my head lolling back against his chest and dreaming of the dusty summer air and his heartbeat. The one who earned looks of both amusement and strained patience at mealtimes when I made comments about how I had seen berries identical to the ones Amil had brought home for dessert in a spot of bird leavings. Even when Amil's belly swelled until it bumped me off her lap, I believed that I would always be the baby. Even when Nelyo held me close in his bedroom one evening, and Macalaurë sat beside us and played nervous melodies on his lute, trying to stem my tears—for I had seen the frantic fear in Atar's eyes and I was shocked and terrified by Amil's cries—I believed that I would always be the baby. Even when her voice rose, and mine met it, and a stranger's voice added to the melee, I believed that I would always be the baby. And Nelyo stroked my hair and smiled and whispered proudly in my ear that I was a big brother and took me to meet the baby Carnistir and hold him in my arms.
But once Carnistir was born, I learned to enjoy the special regard of being one of Fëanáro's elder sons. And the six of us make a perfect portrait: four sons, enough to earn our father the regard and envy of one extraordinarily blessed, for four children is practically unheard of, I am told, and Atar and Amil are still very young at that.
The blessing is ours, says Nelyo, and he is right: Never are we alone, not in joy and not in sadness. Even in moments of solitude, the house is filled with voices and laughter until it seems barely able to be contained by wooden beams and stone foundations, until I want to open a window to let it free, to fill the world. Our house is just outside of Tirion, on a plot of land situated that—should you stand atop our roof on tiptoe and crane your neck as far as it will go—you can see Tirion rising over the trees to the south, a beacon in a rugged green sea. Our house is a sprawling stone monstrosity onto which Atar likes to add whenever he begets another son or one of his begotten gets an itch to pursue a new trade or hobby, and the size of his land supports his assertion that he will beget a thousand children before our mother gets tired of it all and makes him sleep in a bed by himself. The wings of the house link into each other and back into themselves like one of the puzzles that Nelyo will give Carnistir and I to do when he wants to keep us out of the way—puzzles that we have determined are impossible to solve—wings enclosing courtyards and gardens and fountains, rooms leading into rooms or opening upon hallways that convolute along the length of the house, leading to honeycombed clusters of yet more rooms with stairs leading up or down into secret places that can be accessed nowhere else: small secret coves or else long, winding stairs that end atop towers where I can lean upon my belly upon the railing—arms spread wide and feet treading only air—and pretend that I swim among the stars, until I hear feet upon the stairs and a voice calling me to chores or supper, and my feet are wrenched back to the ground. Productive noise always echoes through the long hallways, and every day of the week but one, I am part of that productivity: banging out awkward crafts with my mother or father, rustling through stacks of parchment, scratching out lettering exercises with my ragged quill. But for this one day, I am granted freedom—an ambiguous gift because I am deemed too young to wander the forest on my own and my two elder brothers are always busy with their own pursuits—and those noisy halls become very lonely.
Carnistir has lessons only three days out of the week—a day of craft with our mother and two days of lore with our father—so he is left in the bustling and lonely halls more often than I. Sometimes, we wander into our parents' workrooms, where we can slip underfoot, unnoticed in the commotion of nervous apprentices quietly trying to gain our parents' attention and regard, our footsteps softer than the gentle nips of chisel on stone or the soft hiss of steam cooling steel. And then—beneath the apprentices in skill and regard—there are the assistants, trying to earn apprenticeships through industrious loyalty: keeping the floors swept and the tools sharp and the babies—as they called Carnistir and me—out from underfoot.
We evade their notice for as long as possible, darting among legs and crouching beneath worktables, to watch our parents at their work. My mother is patient and gentle—a natural teacher—and she always pauses to answer the apprentices' timid inquiries, softening each criticism with a sprinkle of praise. But Atar—who commands the most promising apprentices in Aman—never even turns from his task when he answers their questions, and his answers roll from his tongue with the nonchalance of a raindrop falling from a leaf, and it is he whom I love to watch the most. His forge is the most unpleasant place on the property—hot and dirty, and always with the odor of hot metal like bloodied, fresh-carved meat—but I love it. I have yet to begin my own training there, for my daylong lessons with him are being carried out for now in his laboratory, setting gemstones and engraving designs on jewelry—tedious work that makes my eyes cross and shoulders ache—but I have always assumed that I will eventually take my apprenticeship beside him in his forge. What is the son of Fëanáro and Nerdanel if not a craftsman? My elder brothers, mysteriously, only do a day of work each week with our father, in the forge, crafting everything from farming equipment to gold necklaces to beautiful and blunt ceremonial swords. The rest of the week—even their day off—Nelyo spends in the library and Macalaurë spends in the music room, and Atar never protests.
Carnistir and I pass his forge now. It stands a bit away from the house, and I cannot resist slipping inside, darting with Carnistir beneath a worktable when the nearest assistant turns at our father's command to work the bellows. The floor is warm and grit grinds beneath my boots, and I clasp Carnistir in my arms to keep him from moving from underneath the worktable and revealing us both.
I will be the crafty son I know that our father longs to teach, and I make myself love the forge for his presence alone, kneeling on the hard and gritty floor beneath his worktable, watching him craft ceremonial armor for Manwë. One of the assistants holds the slab of gleaming steel to an anvil, and I watch Atar rear back again and again to strike it with a sledgehammer, while the assistant winces at the reverberations buzzing through his bones. But Atar never flinches. He is slender in the way of the Elves, in a way that doesn't betray his strength, but when he lifts that hammer, his muscles flex and the fires of the forge gleam gold on sweat on his arms, and he looks more a Vala than an Elf: or as though he was himself torn from the earth and made of bright gold.
Inevitably, one of the bustling, disapproving assistants spots us, and we are lifted under our arms and deposited outside before Atar even had the chance to turn and see us. But I wish for him to turn—oh, how I wish for it!—and I twist my neck back to stare at him, hoping. Would he turn, I know he will see my eagerness, and I will be allowed into the forge beside him—a mark of maturity, for the forge is a dangerous place, but certainly a place for one of Fëanáro's elder sons—and I won't have to squint at engravings and tiny bits of diamond any longer. But I am on my feet in the cool grass, and the door to the forge thumps shut behind us.
Laurelin has waxed fully, casting the day in brilliant gold that stings my eyes, and Carnistir winces and whines, and I put my arm around him and say, "Let's go find Nelyo."
Nelyo, we have learned, is the best to seek on these days because Amil's workshop is more open than Atar's, and she is less distracted by her work, and she always spots us within a few minutes and leads us outside by our hands, her voice only thinly veiled with patience. And, besides, I do not like my mother's work. Chipping sculptures from blocks of stone is too like chipping shaky engravings into pendants—too tedious for my liking. And Macalaurë would not see us at all, were we to enter the music room that Atar had built for him, because he becomes nearly blind when he starts plucking chords on his harp and scribbling down music notes to be sent to his Telerin tutor in Alqualondë. And were we to make our presence known, he would become angry and chase us from the room and prop a chair beneath the doorknob so that we could not reenter. Music isn't to my liking anyway, except for listening after supper, and Macalaurë's ceaseless repetition of scales that are perfect the first time he sings them wears on one's nerves after only a short time.
Nelyo is always busy too, and he works in the library that our father built when he first built the house. Ours is the only house I know that has a library—besides grandfather Finwë's palace, which has a library for use by his lords and scholars—because our people can remember what they will for as long as they wish, and there is little need to write things down. Before my father was born, a Noldo named Rúmil devised a form of writing that was handy to use when sending messages, and the Eldar thought writing quite revolutionary, if not a bit useless in daily life, made more so by the fact that—while easy to represent our Noldorin dialect and, to a lesser degree, that of the Vanyar—our Telerin kin found their own speech hard to render with Rúmil's letters. It was my father who first fell in love with the peculiar little scribbles of script, but he found them flawed and rewrote Rúmil's alphabet so that redundancies and inconsistencies were erased and so that the speech of the Teleri and the Vanyar—even the Valar, if one were so inclined—could be represented as easily as his native Noldorin. It was not long before he discovered the beautiful practicality of books, where facts and ideas could be scribed and shared by many without the inconvenience of wearying travel and long counsels. He was young when Aulë took him as an apprentice—an appointment that took up most of his time—but he wrote often to our grandfather Mahtan, then the greatest smith of the Noldor, and to the jewel-smiths and miners in Formenos, sharing his ideas and asking for theirs in turn. Grandfather Mahtan would tell us of our father in those days, jesting that Fëanáro was his most avid apprentice, although he never met his diligent young student until he opened his door one day to find a handsome black-haired Noldo standing on his front step, asking for his daughter's hand in marriage. " 'Who are you, Moriquendi?' " grandfather Mahtan would growl in his most intimidating voice, and Carnistir and I would shrink against each other, " 'I give not my daughters to dark strangers!' And the cheeky little brat raised his eyebrows at me and said, 'A stranger I am not—less I am Moriquendi—for I am Fëanáro, son of High King Finwë, and I have been apprenticed to you for the last ten years. How can you know me not?' " And all would laugh, grandfather Mahtan the loudest of all, although everyone knows this wasn't the way it had happened at all.
Few have Atar's love of books, but my brother Nelyo does, and Carnistir and I enter the library to find him, seated at his desk that sits facing our father's, in a patch of light flowing through the high windows, scribbling furiously onto parchment. When Nelyo closes the doors—as is his habit, to muffle the noise of the workshops and forges—the library becomes a high-ceilinged oven, and even the dust in the air gleams gold, as though aflame. Carnistir sneezes when we first enter, and I have to give him a sharp look of reproach to keep him from wiping his wet hand on my sleeve, as is his wont lately. I take his hand (the dry one) and lead him over to where Nelyo sits, so furious in his writing that he doesn't hear Carnistir's sneeze or notice our approach.
"Nelyo," I say just before we reach him, because one time I'd touched him before speaking his name, and he'd been so startled that he left a long black smear of ink across the parchment and ruined a nearly-finished page. Carnistir is dragging his feet and waving his free hand in the direction of the piles of colorful illustrated parchments that Atar set to the side on a table, so I haul him behind me without taking my eyes from Nelyo. "Nelyo," I say again, and he finishes the word he is writing, and sets down his quill.
"Tyelkormo. Carnistir," he says. The corner of his lip curls into a smile.
"Nelyo," I say again, nearly panting in my eagerness to stand before my eldest brother's knees, yanking Carnistir's arm and making him whimper. "Nelyo."
And then I'm there, before his knees, looking up at him and doubting that I'll ever be so tall, and he tunrs in his chair to face us and says, "Little ones! What is the matter?"
"We're bored, Nelyo."
He nods. He was given the day off too—as was Macalaurë—but Nelyo doesn't seem to understand that his day off is supposed to be spent doing things that he doesn't do every other day of the week. Macalaurë doesn't understand that either. Nor do Atar and Amil. Carnistir and I, it seems, are the only ones to understand the freedom of a day without obligation.
"What is Macalaurë doing?" he asks, and I roll my eyes at him, and he nods and says, "Mmm. I suspected as much," and I can see his lips trying to stay stern, but inevitably, he smirks a bit, then breaks into a wide grin, and Carnistir and I tussle to climb onto his lap first. I, being larger and older, win—as I always do—tossing my legs across both of his to bar Carnistir from climbing up beside me. Triumphant, I settle against his shoulder, and Carnistir whines and pushes at my feet, little pinkish spots rising to color his cheeks. "Now, now," Nelyo says, and I can feel his voice in my ear as well as hear it, and he gently lifts my legs so that Carnistir can scramble up, pulling at great fistfuls of Nelyo's clothes in his graceless manner and settling opposite me, his lips pushed out in a pout and his big dark eyes brimming with tears.
Nelyo says, "Now, what exactly do you suggest I do for you, Turkafinwë Tyelkormo?"
"Take us hunting in the forest!" I had long ago learned to ask first for that which I know I will never receive in order to get what I'd be content to receive. Nelyo's arm tightens around me, and he says, "Tyelkormo, I wish I could, but I am very busy today. Could I hold your interest with a bit of reading?"
"Perhaps my interest could be held," I say, trying to emulate his noble manner, but I sound silly and make myself laugh.
Nelyo draws Carnistir and me closer against his chest, freeing his arms a bit so that he can lift a book from the desk in front of him and riffle through the pages. The book's cover is exquisite: bound in rich, dark red-brown leather and inlaid with silver letters and designs. The cover alone, I know, must have taken our father days to construct, just as the sheaves of parchment within had taken Nelyo many laborious hours to produce. There is no mistaking Nelyo's hand, for it is neat and precise, each letter exactly like its brothers in the sentences beside it, no stem longer than another, no spacing wider on one page than the next. Like our father's, only our father's is less stilted and at times flows into graceful excess that make his letters superior to Nelyo's. Or so Nelyo says.
I love to listen to Nelyo read. Just as I love to listen to Macalaurë sing (when he isn't singing the same bar over and over again for two hours, that is) and love to watch my parents at their work, I love the sound of Nelyo's voice reciting the words that he has written—or sometimes, words that our father has written, or one of the other excellent craftsmen north in Formenos—his voice caressing those words in a way that you know that this was how our language was meant to be spoken, leaning my head into the soft spot just below the bones of his shoulder and absorbing his speech with all of my senses. With my ear to his chest, his voice rumbles beneath his heartbeat, and the side of my face is warmed by him, and I can smell the clean cottony smell of his tunic and—just beneath—the unique Nelyo-smell: light through leaves.
I raise my face to study his, the most beautiful of my brothers. Between us in age—though closer to Nelyo than to me—is Macalaurë with his chocolate-brown hair and gray eyes always wide in a guise of innocence that tends to dissolve the moment our parents are out of earshot. Then Carnistir—the baby—with his dark eyes and strange ways that are easier to ignore than understand. And me, with my hair the color of honey and enough blue in my eyes that I was often mistaken for a Vanya when I walked in Tirion. At times, I complain of my blue eyes, which set me apart from the rest of my family, and Atar soothes me by saying, "That's because I was looking up at the blue, blue sky when I begot you," and Amil blushes and nudges him in the arm, Nelyo grins, and Macalaurë looks vaguely uncomfortable.
Lately, I find it harder to complain because, set beside Nelyo, I see that none of my features set me apart from my family the way that, unprotesting, he is set apart. Even my dark blond hair and bluish eyes—I still deny that they are, in fact, entirely blue—rare among the Noldor, are inconsequential next to Nelyo. It isn't exactly that Nelyo has any attributes that are rare among our people, for his features, taken individually, are common enough, but rather that he seems to have inherited the most radical traits of each of our ancestors. His hair, from a distance, is vividly red—not the rusty, orangish hue that isn't uncommon in some families—a deep copper, like our mother's. His hair is deceptive, however, for if one looks close enough (as I often do, sitting on his lap in the library), it becomes clear that the stunning color comes, not just from the red, but from the blond and brown strands that thread throughout: grandmother Istarnië and grandfather Finwë, respectively, I'd always assumed. His height and imposing stature come from grandfather Finwë as well, he who was a warrior and a protector of his people before he was ever a husband, father, or king. His sonorous voice belongs to grandfather Mahtan, whose laughter can capture a room and rare anger terrifies us. And his face is Atar's, beautiful enough to be one of our mother's sculptures of the Valar.
Nelyo's eyes are the only trait that are his own, as mine are my own, but unlike mine, his at first seem typical for the Noldor: gray like our steel, gray like our work tunics, sullied by ash from the forge, gray like the stones we used to build our houses. Nelyo's eyes are gray like all of those things yet like none of them at all, for there are specks in his eyes that are almost silver and shine at times like mirrors. Atar always credited Telperion, for Nelyo was born beside a river as Telperion waxed at her fullest, and Atar told us that the first light to fall upon Nelyo's eyes was the sparkle of silver light upon laughing silver water.
As he reads, I feel myself falling asleep—and I do not want to fall asleep! I do not want to miss his words! I glance over at Carnistir, whose dark eyes are closed, his eyelashes like velvet on his cheeks, and fidget until my forehead presses uncomfortably against Nelyo's collarbone, where I am sure I will not sleep. His voice falters; I look up, and his eyes meet mine, and I realize that he fears that I am uncomfortable. Indeed, I will soon grow out of being able to sit like this with him. Will he miss it? Or will he be grateful to have only one little brother to make his feet numb and fall asleep and drool down the front of his tunic? (As Carnistir is doing, I notice with some annoyance.) I glance up at him again, and his words falter, and smile teases his lips. His arm tightens around me.
Most of the time, I can't even tell you what Nelyo reads to us. It involves the work he does with our father, I know, but I don't really know what that work involves. There are no rooms in our Tirion house that are off-limits to us: the workrooms, the library, even my parents' bedroom are ours to enter freely. But, sometimes, on the days that Atar works with Nelyo, they go into Atar's laboratory and shut the door for hours. When Amil gives me breaks from my lessons, I roam the hallways for my ten minutes of freedom, desperate to stretch my legs but more desperate to press against the laboratory door and try to hear what is being said. Once, I took the doorknob in my hand and went to turn it slowly, to ease the door open and slide into the room unnoticed, as I did into Atar's forge and Amil's workroom, but the knob stuck in my hand, and I realized—with a surprised lurch of my heart—that the door was locked.
Nelyo is said by our father to be inquisitive but not very artistic. He likes to figure out puzzles; he likes to categorize things and decipher meanings; he likes to pick apart webs into individual, smooth strands. He likes neat, clean explanations. Metals and stones sing to my father in a language none of us can understand—except, perhaps, our mother—but to Nelyo, they each represent a specific set of tendencies that beg him to classify them. This was what he reads to us now: the attributes of each of my father's metals and alloys and the extrapolation of the results of experiments (what was extrapolation? what were experiments? the words made me cold and anxious) to discern the components of each. Components. Everything, to Nelyo, is components within components within components. I feel dizzy and a bit detached from my body to contemplate it; sliced away from oneness with Arda, from oneness with our people, but Nelyo likes to sever those connections into components and drop them into neat little compartments in his mind. I asked him once, what is a component? And he said it was a part, like the Noldor are a component of the Eldar, and the House of Finwë is a component of the Noldor, and the House of Fëanáro is a component of the House of Finwe, and I am a component of the House of Fëanáro. I wondered what components were within me. My hands? My feet? My bluish eyes? Components of Turkafinwë Tyelkormo, component of the House of Fëanáro, of the House of Finwë, of the Noldor, of the Eldar, of the Quendi, of Arda, of the—what went higher than that? Grandfather Finwë speaks at times of the Valar, but Atar and Nelyo grow quiet and tense in those moments, and I believe that they question the Valar's role in their scheme of components.
The side of my face is drowned by Nelyo's sleepy warmth, and his voice is buzzing like dragonflies over the hot rocks beside the lake in Formenos, and I jerk my head upright. Stay awake! Nelyo's hand cups my head and strokes my oddly-colored hair, and I hear myself whimper a bit as he lowers my head back to his shoulder. Opposite me, Carnistir's brow furrows and he fidgets, kicking me in the leg, jarring me back to wakefulness. Nelyo has stopped reading again, and I look up and meet his eyes. "Are you tired? Do you wish to sleep?" he asks, and I shake my head furiously. "Wait here a moment," he says, and I am bumped from his leg so that he can stand and lift Carnistir, cradling him gently so as not to wake him, and lay him on the couch in the corner. There is a cloak thrown and forgotten across the back of the couch and—lacking a proper blanket—Nelyo covers Carnistir with it. Carnistir pulls his knees to his chest and sinks into the cushions, and Nelyo kisses his forehead and smoothes his hair and leaves him to his sleep.
And returns to me. I bound into his lap before he even settles fully into his chair, and he laughs and clasps me close. "Ilúvatar in Ea!" he chides, a mild swear that he and Macalaurë like to use, having learned it from our father, that makes Amil scowl. But Amil is not here right now, so I am free to laugh and sit more comfortably with my legs draped across both of his, without sharing his embrace with Carnistir, who is still young and daft and falls asleep and gets relinquished to the couch.
"Turko," he says, and his fingers stroke my hair, find a knot, and begin to unwind it. I try to swat his hand away, but he jams me into his chest with his other arm, and I know better than to fight, or I will end up with Carnistir, relinquished to the couch. Anyway, it isn't too bad; at least Nelyo is gentle. He works at the knot without yanking at my head, as Atar and Amil have a tendency to do, although I suppose that years of untangling first Nelyo's hair, then Macalaurë's, and now mine and Carnistir's gives them limited patience for the task.
"Don't call me that," I say, for I protest the name Turko—a shortened version of my father-name Turkafinwë—that Nelyo and Macalaurë have recently decided to call me. Now they have Carnistir doing it too, tailing me around the house, chirping, "Turko! Turko!" and stepping on the backs of my feet.
"Why should I not call you that? You call me 'Nelyo' and Macalaurë 'Cano.' Do you not?"
I don't know how to respond to the truth of his observations, so I sit silently and let him work the knot from my hair.
"Tyelkormo is too cumbersome," he goes on. "Awkward. I think Amil was a bit mad when she chose that for your name, and perhaps, you were a bit mad when you asked to be known by it."
I have always liked my mother-name Tyelkormo. It means "hasty riser," and while I don't know if this is in fact virtuous, I like the idea of being the first of my family at task in the mornings. It seems efficient and conscientious, something Atar would admire, for him to someday enter his forge right as Laurelin began to blossom, still yawning and fumbling with the ties on his work tunic, and find me already intently at work. I say as much to Nelyo: "I like 'Tyelkormo' better. I like mornings."
The knot unworked, he runs his fingers through my hair a couple of times, and meeting no further snags, embraces me with both arms again. "I'll tell you what, Turko," he says. "If you stop calling me Nelyo and start calling me Maitimo, then I shall call you Tyelkormo forevermore, until you have settled yourself completely in Atar's shadow and decide that you would rather be known by your father-name."
Nelyo's tone is overly sweet, and I know that he is teasing me. He and Macalaurë both tease my ambitions at times, and once I had been hurt by it, and Amil had taken me aside and explained that Nelyo and Macalaurë had both had the same ambitions once, and worked very hard to achieve them, and discovered that their feet fell not on our father's road, and they had thought themselves disappointments. How could that be so? I had asked her. How could they ever doubt their worth to him? Did Atar not spend hours in private counsel with Nelyo? Did he not celebrate Macalaurë, who he said would one day surpass even the Telerin minstrels? And Amil had said, "Atar loves not your choice of trades or even your talents but that you are his son, created from the union of our marriage, the gift of our eternal love."
"Atar goes not by his father-name and nor shall I," I say indignantly to Nelyo. "You and Macalaurë prefer your mother-names—and even little Carnistir—and I shall never be known as Turkafinwë."
Nelyo laughs and swings me into a half-lying position across his lap, submissive, with his one arm binding my knees and the other curled around my torso to bind my arms. My head is cradled in the crook of his elbow. Part of me wants to fight, to prove that I am old enough and strong enough to break free, but it is so rare that he allows himself to treat me as he had before Carnistir had been born—when I was still the baby—that I resign myself to enjoy it, and settle against his arm. I feel him relax as well, until I am no longer restrained, and he says in a gentle voice, "You have a temper, little one," and I realize that, to him, I must have sounded quite cross. Laurelin is bright, and golden light floods the library and spills onto us—Nelyo and me—coaxing the gold woven amid the red of Nelyo's hair until I don't feel like I look so odd at all. I am filled with quivering joy, and Nelyo cuddles my close, and I knew he feels it too. I tip my head back and watch the dust dance in the golden rays that spill through the high windows and think that even something as insubstantial as dust can find joy here, and I laugh for no reason, utterly inappropriate and utterly free. Nelyo's laughter joins mine, and I lean back on his arm, watching the dust dance and feeling Laurelin's light making my limbs grow weak and heavy, and I close my eyes to escape the brightness.
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