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Essecarmë: 1. Essecarmë
"Essecarmë" is part of the same series of stories as my novel Another Man's Cage, though it is set several years after. However, I believe that it can be read without knowledge of the novel.
I wrote this story for French Pony who, besides being one of my good friends in the Tolkien fandom, has challenged me as an author and a researcher of Tolkien's works and has helped me more than almost any other to improve my Silmarillion-based stories. "Essecarmë" originated as part of a conversation we had when I posted the first draft of AMC on LiveJournal about the possible implications of the father-names of Fëanor's sons.
The day of my brother's Essecarmë is fairly cold for central Aman, which tends to be tediously warm year round. But today, the clouds press low in the sky, and Amil warns us to choose our clothes accordingly. Our brother's ceremony--being as he was born in the early summer, when it should by rights be warm and pleasant--is being held outdoors.
Naturally, I am late in getting started on my preparations, for I was awake late last night after catching a rare breath of inspiration. Inspiration, for me anyway, has been in short supply lately, what with the house being chaotic: Amil gave birth last week to my fourth brother, and Nelyo and I have been busy keeping the other two fed and cleaned and occupied, and when my time becomes my own, after the two little ones have gone to bed, I am too exhausted to do much but sit with my brother in the parlor--a bottle of spiced wine shared between us--watching the flames tumble in the hearth, until my head droops onto his shoulder and he nudges me awake and helps me to bed.
Last night, of course, I was lying in bed, my body feeling as heavy and insensate as a bag of sand, when inspiration plunked atop me with the weight of stone, and I sat upright, my fingers playing melodies upon a harp that wasn't yet in my hand. I do not remember the hour when I finally stumbled to bed, the song scratched messily upon a sheet of parchment, except that it was very dark outside and I suspect that the Lights were not far from mingling. And so when Nelyo came to rouse me--a bare three hours later--I lay groggily in bed for a long time, scowling at my harp and wishing for what must be the thousandth time in my short life to be normal.
By normal: not waking at crazy hours to play music when my body is nearly drugged with exhaustion.
As a result, the fingers that have to fumble my slippery hair into plaits--for I was "blessed" with hair as fine as silk that refuses to stay braided--are as stiff and senseless as sausages. I am nearly ready to concede to my hair's obvious wish to remain unfettered--and suffice to ignore the looks Amil will give me--when there is a gentle rapping on the door.
Nelyo pushes me down on the chair by my shoulders when I protest, and within minutes, half of my hair is plaited tightly by his competent fingers. But of course, he has been doing this for me for years now; it might be named "tradition" if I didn't possess an iota of my father's stubborn pride and belief that anything--even braiding my obstinate hair myself--is possible. He also comes with a glass of cranberry juice and passes it over my shoulder, claiming that it will enliven me.
I taste it, and it's bitter, and I nearly spit it back into the glass, swallowing with effort. "Ugh ... Nelyo ..." I say, but he insists. "It is laced with an herb that will help you to stay awake. It's the favored companion of many a student the night before his Recitation. Drink up."
I do as I'm told, trying to ignore the horrid taste by concentrating on the rather pleasant feel of his fingers moving in my hair. His bedroom is adjacent to mine and so he must have heard me playing last night, yet he doesn't scold me for the impractical hours of my inspiration, although I know that he does not understand. No one in my family--even Amil and Atar, who have often become so engrossed in their work that they forgot sleep and meals--fully understands, for I do not wrest my inspiration into shapes in metal and stone; there is no tangible evidence of it come morning. The scribbles that I'd made upon the parchment are illegible to all but me--even Nelyo, my brother and most trusted friend--and the song has long faded beyond even the keen hearing of the Eldar. Amil would be stoically silent and Atar would scold me, but Nelyo says nothing, and I enjoy the silence and the whisper of his fingers in my hair, as I sip the bitter drink he has brought me.
"I can feel it working," I tell him with a smile, for my bones suddenly feel less like rubber than steel, and my eyes have sprung open. He laughs. "It has saved me on many occasions," he says, although I doubt that. Nelyo has never had a problem learning lore--unlike me, for whose mind such knowledge trickles as though from a sieve--and he is more likely the contriver of such an ingenious solution than one who would ever need it.
I blink with my freshly opened eyes and watch him in the mirror, his beautiful face stern with concentration, as he has learned to make it in recent months. My brother was called by our grandfather for an appointment on the court, and Atar had been overjoyed by this--although he would not admit that political appointments gave him any such pleasure--until Nelyo returned and said that he'd been offered a job as Grandfather Finwë's scribe. That position, Atar felt, was beneath his prodigious eldest son, who has studied for years and has been named Master in many branches of lore. Nelyo, though, seems happy with it, even if it has sobered him, the brother that I have loved since birth, and made him more apt to ponder with silence that which would have once made him bubble over with conversation and laughter.
"There," he says, and I look up to see my hair braided and nicely arranged, and the hue of the light outside my window suggests that I am five minutes early. And so Nelyo has averted another family conflict. He kisses the crown of my head and hustles me down the stairs, where Amil waits with our newborn brother in her arms.
We take Atar's carriage to Tirion, and Nelyo is given the task of driving it, for Atar feels it is beneath his dignity to hire one of Grandfather Finwë's drivers. "I can drive my own horses, thank you very much," he is fond of saying when asked, and indeed, he intended to sit in the driver's seat today with Nelyo at his side but Amil insisted that he ride in the back with her, for Tyelkormo and Carnistir are at ages where they are very rowdy, and he is the only one who can fully control them. Even Nelyo--once so adept at coaxing them to behave--is losing his skill as he spends more time in Tirion, at Grandfather Finwë's palace, and less time at our home beyond the city gates.
So Nelyo drives and I keep company at his right side, and we can talk in private without our parents and younger brothers hearing us. A few drops of rain fall, but Atar--anticipating foul weather with a glance to the piles of charcoal clouds in the sky--has raised the canopy, and so Nelyo and I are afforded additional privacy as the rattle of raindrops makes it hard even to discern the other's words.
"Do you know what Atar intends to name him?" I ask, for that is what Essecarmë is: the granting of the father-name. Atar had chosen all of our--his first four sons--father-names in the hours of our births, as is typical. (Actually, he confessed once to choosing Nelyo's father-name Nelyafinwë fourteen years before Nelyo was even born.) But our fifth brother has yet to be named, and so we are forced to call him by bland pronouns: he and him and--in the case of Carnistir, who has discovered a certain joy in irking our father--it. "Oh, feed it and shut it up!" Carnistir muttered last night when our newborn brother began crying hungrily. Carnistir batted his dark gray eyes at Atar's angry glare and saying, "Well, if it had a name, I'd call it by it."
I have yet to fully decide how I feel about our newborn brother. He was smaller than either Tyelkormo or Carnistir had been (and Carnistir had been two weeks early), with a full head of dark hair and very bright gray eyes. Our grandfather laughed upon seeing him: "He looks just like you did, Fëanáro, in the hour of your birth! I might have gone back in time!" and the joy in his voice betrayed that sentiment, as though Grandmother Miriel had never died and the strife of recent years was naught but a nightmare.
The new brother is certainly quieter than the other two were: He doesn't cry as often or as loudly and he is easily soothed by our father, whose adoration for his newborn son is plain in his eyes. Yet neither is he as warm to the rest of us, even to Amil, and when Nelyo held him last night--and small children love Nelyo, as though they can sense how much he loves them in return--he fussed until Atar had to take him again. He laid peacefully in my arms but a bit stiff, as though he was merely enduring me before being returned to Atar. "Aren't babies supposed to prefer their mothers?" I whispered to Nelyo, careful that Amil not overhear for her feelings would be hurt, and he shrugged. "Usually, I suppose," he said, but even my wise brother with all the answers didn't know what to say from there.
At the subject of our brother's name, Nelyo shrugs. "I heard Atar tell Amil that he was considering 'Handafinwë' or 'Astalfinwë,' but he hadn't decided which yet."
I roll my eyes and Nelyo watches me from the corner of his eye, smirking and trying to pretend that he is not. Atar--for all of his renown as a creative genius--is not very innovative when it comes to naming his sons. "Figures," I mutter, although, in truth, I am relieved, for if our newborn brother received a creative name whereas the rest of us had a bland, princely sounding adjective conjoined with the suffix -finwë, I might have been annoyed. If anyone deserves such a name, I figure, it is Nelyo, and he has gotten the worst of the lot: "third Finwë," proof that Atar can count and little else.
The rain is falling harder now, and the road is turning muddy and splashing the horses' legs. I am relieved when the city gates come into sight, and Nelyo slows so that he may greet the guards. It is only a short climb to the palace atop Túna, and we can begin the ceremony and have supper. I am ravenous, having missed breakfast, and the sooner we can have out with our brother's name and get in from the rain, the better.
The usual gauntlet of family members and important persons of the court wait for us inside Grandfather Finwë's palace, a teeming mass of shiny silk and winking jewelry, but they are only interested in the new baby, and so it is easy for me to slip past.
Nelyo is less lucky--but he is one of them now, and so I suppose he doesn't mind. He keeps company with two of the other scribes, one belonging also to our grandfather and the other serving Uncle Nolofinwë, and they are greeting others who pass on the way to see the new baby, smiling and laughing amongst themselves. Probably over silly grammatical errors, I think bitterly before catching myself, my heart pattering suddenly very briskly in my chest, for I had thought badly of Nelyo--my beloved Nelyo--without provocation for the first time in my life. Jealousy stabs deep and aching inside my chest, and I am ashamed of myself.
Tyelkormo and Carnistir have been as easily forgotten as me--easier, probably, because they are younger--and Tyelkormo is slumping against the base of a statue while smaller Carnistir clamors around its legs, still young enough to be occupied by his rambunctious imaginings, muttering under his breath at his invisible friends.
Amil and Atar and the new baby are encased in a solid throng of people that isn't showing any signs of dissipating, so the intention of starting the Essecarmë at midday seems like wishful thinking. I meander over to Tyelkormo and Carnistir, feeling ridiculously as though Nelyo has betrayed me somehow by giving me reason to think badly of him. But no, the thoughts were my own alone; I am proud of my brother, standing with his straight and perfect carriage, speaking in his--doubtlessly flawless--manner that makes those to whom he speaks feel as though they have been his friend for the duration of his life, that makes his companions smile as though bestowed with the gift of a King rather than mere conversation with one who does the same humble job as they.
But he is the heir to the kingship--Nelyafinwë--and should grandfather Finwë and Atar ever both see reason to abdicate, the responsibility of ruling would fall on his shoulders. I suppose this is the reason that Grandfather Finwë has appointed him--not as a herald or loremaster or even a lord, as one would think--so humbly as a scribe, so that he may have Grandfather's beginnings, learning all there is to know about ruling. "Start in the dirt," Grandfather is fond of saying, "then grow to the stars." Atar did not have this beginning: always has he been revered and honored as a prodigy, the greatest of our people, placed among the stars from the first years of his life. I catch sight of him amid the crowd, his face a mask of barely concealed annoyance--for doubtlessly, he is aware of the time and that each moment's delay means that we will have to stay in Tirion that much longer--and my newborn brother is wailing in my mother's arms. It must be a tiresome fate to be regarded as the "greatest" of anything but especially all of the Noldor. One must always prove himself worthy of such a title.
An hour later, at last, we progress to Grandfather Finwë's gardens, which have been set up for the ceremony. The rain has stopped, but the foliage is dripping, and I watch as faces twitch with ire and eyes glance up at the broad leaves providing a canopy--and a dripping one--over the festivities. Amil has managed to rumple herself and Atar is not even concealing his annoyance now. He says something to Nelyo that leaves my brother's smile so blankly innocuous that I know Atar's words must have been harsh. Nelyo takes his leave of his peers and comes over to where I stand miserably with Tyelkormo and Carnistir, none of us talking to each other.
"Atar wishes for us to line up at the front of the courtyard," he says his voice too warm to fool me. I give him a pointed look, but he guides Carnistir by a shoulder, and Nelyo lets his hair shield his eyes from me and motions for Tyelkormo and me to walk in front of him. We are all expected to stand with our parents during the naming, a tedious ceremony with a lot of readings from old texts and speeches by both grandfathers and gifts from each of our uncles and each of the lords to our new brother. Nelyo, though, I suppose, has been through this now with four of us, and even as Tyelkormo drags his feet and I feel annoyed, the placid expression on his face never changes, and he arranges us by age behind Atar--as always, I think that Amil's side looks very empty with no daughters behind her--and as he takes his place beside me, the place of the eldest son and heir, he reaches back surreptitiously and squeezes my fingers.
"Think of it positively: as the sooner this begins, the sooner we can have our hands on that roast boar," he whispers to me, and I must bite my lips to keep from grinning as Grandfather Finwë steps up to the podium to recite the first of many tedious texts detailing the naming traditions of the Noldor.
The tradition began amid the dangers of the Outer Lands, when having an heir was often an issue of survival to one's bloodline. Elves married young and sought to bring as many children into the world as they could, and each child was labeled so there could be no doubt as to which family he or she belonged. "And so," reads Grandfather Finwë, "we became truly immortal, indestructible, and when we chanced to face the servants of the Dark Lord, we did so linked through history and blood, stronger in our alliance than we could ever hope to be alone."
I suppose I see this logic in our names. There is Nelyafinwë--third Finwë--the true heir to our father and the Noldorin crown. I am next, Canafinwë, commanding, as a second-born prince should be, implying that I possess both strength and a fitness to rule. (Sometimes I doubt both.) Then Turkafinwë, who is "strong" with no mention of suitability to leadership, and lastly, Morifinwë--the dark one--who is named for nothing putting him above a common Elf.
I wonder, then, what this fifth son's name will be to denote his place in the succession. I look over at my parents: Atar is holding him now to keep him from crying and is the only one not watching Grandfather Finwë. His eyes are on the face of the child in his arms, and he smiles with serenity so rare in his face these days that I feel a moment's alarm, the way the kind words of an enemy are often more frightening than threats for one is left wondering: What is portended by such peculiarity?
Now is the giving of the gifts, and the lords present them one by one to Amil--who clasps each person by the hand and thanks them with a sincerity Atar wouldn't be able to muster--and then Uncles Arafinwë and Nolofinwë come forward and give their gifts and say words. Nolofinwë goes on too long--as he often does--and Arafinwë too short, smiling bright, twitching smiles that betray his nervousness in front of such a crowd. He kisses Amil and Atar and even stoops to kiss the baby--the only one of the presenters to do so--and returns to Aunt Eärwen's side, and the gifting is over.
My feet, which are wearing my good shoes, are beginning to ache, and I shift when I think no one's looking and get a stern look from Amil. Grandfather Mahtan is speaking now in his gruff voice, his face flushing as he crunches in his big hands words prepared and meticulously written upon a parchment in Grandmother Istarnië's neat hand, looking awkward and pitiable in robes that should be forge clothes. He wears a red color, probably in honor of his son-in-law, but it looks terrible with his copper-colored hair, and I feel very sorry for him.
Behind me, Tyelkormo sighs a bit loudly, and I do my duty as an elder brother--as Canafinwë--by stepping on his toe, making his gasp and swear at me under his breath. A tiny muscle twitches in Nelyo's face and I know that he has heard and is amused.
And, at last, it is the naming, the Essecarmë, the moment for which we have come here, and the courtyard falls silent except for the odd drip of water from the trees overhead. Amil and Atar come forward; Amil is supposed to hold the baby while Atar gives him his name, but he does not hand him over.
I can see the rhythm of Nelyo's breathing by the movement of his shoulders, and I must wonder why it is so quick, as though he has run far in a short time. His arms are at his sides, his fingers straight and stiff; every tumbling wave of his magnificent scarlet hair seems sculpted--even the messy little tangle of two pieces at their ends--and his jaw is set tightly. I know that technique: It is what I do to keep from gnawing my lips before big performances and making them bleed. Nelyo taught it to me, as he has taught me many things that have earned me a reputation as a very poised and flawless performer.
There is a delay, for Amil is looking into Atar's face and waiting for him to pass our brother to her, but he tightens his arms on the baby and speaks suddenly. "I bestow upon him the name of--" and he stops, and I sense in that sudden silence the tongue-tripping, paralyzing fear of one who has suddenly forgotten his lines upon a stage.
The people of the crowd lean forward slightly. Amil's brow furrows, and her hands rest awkwardly upon the bundle that is our baby brother, as though waiting for Atar to obey tradition and pass him to her. He looks down into the baby's face, and from behind us, Carnistir whispers, "Handafinwë," his inflections so like Atar's that I twitch in the moment before Atar says suddenly, abruptly, "Curufinwë."
Silence is thick in the courtyard, and we all hear Nelyo gasp, and--in the space of a second--I watch his body use all of the techniques he has taught me for keeping composure; he is like a marionette whose handler momentarily lost control of the strings and now jerks them at once into their proper places, and before one who knew him less would have even registered the change, Nelyo has regained his poise.
But I know ... and in the safety that is our voluminous robes, I reach for his hand as he had done a short time ago for mine, to squeeze his fingers, but when we touch--his flesh icy and quivering--he jerks his hand from mine.
It is Grandfather Finwë's duty then to repeat the name and then Grandfather Mahtan, and they are both waiting, as though wondering if Atar meant to give his fifth-born son the same father-name as he possesses, a symbol of inheritance rarely bestowed. Even Nelyo was not given such an honor.
Atar looks then at Nelyo, but my brother is as rigid as a statue, and won't give Atar the pleasure of returning his glance, and Atar's eyes just as quickly return to the face of the baby bundled in his arms. "Yes," he says softly enough that even we--standing mere yards away--have trouble hearing him, "he will be called Curufinwë." And he looks again at Nelyo upon speaking the name, carefully inflecting it so that no mistake is made, refusing to break the glance this time--as our grandfathers make the traditional pronouncements of the name to the crowd--until a single diamond-bright teardrop slips down Nelyo's face and betrays the inadequate heart that lies within his perfect body.
I wonder, as Nelyo's trembling fingers steal to quickly wipe it away, what Atar thinks in that moment, but his gaze has returned to the face of the baby in his arms and Nelyo has collected himself, and by their stubbornness, masquerading as poise and pride, I suppose that I will never know.
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