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Another Man's Cage: 16. Chapter Sixteen--Tyelkormo
I wake with a start the next morning, warmed by golden light through the windows. Findekáno kneels beside me on our bed, dressed already, and staring down at me.
"Tyelkormo?" he says in his tiny voice that annoys my head in the same way as whirling gnats. "We have lessons today?"
It is the second day of the week, and on these days, I meet Atar an hour before Laurelin's zenith for lessons in craft. Findekáno, I suppose, will be coming along with me. I sigh and tug my weary body from beneath the blankets. Someone has dressed me in my nightclothes, although I can't remember being tucked into bed much less who dressed me for it.
"We have lessons with Atar," I tell him. I don't mean for my voice to sound as cold as it does. "In craft."
"Craft?" I ignore the little squeak that comes from the direction of the bed and retrieve one of the sets of work clothes that Atar had discarded on the floor yesterday. Findekáno, I notice with annoyance, is wearing a long, silky tunic over off-white trousers, clothes that would have been appropriate last night but will quickly be ruined in Atar's laboratory. "Don't you have anything else to wear?" I ask sharply, and his little body clenches self-consciously, and he stares down at his clothes.
I sigh again and go over to grab his hand and drag him from the bed. "I overslept," I tell him. "We don't have much time. Let's have breakfast."
I lead him by the hand to the kitchen, where someone has set out a basket of sliced bread and fruit. I gather two cloths full and shove one into his hands. "Here. We'll eat on the way to the laboratory."
Atar's laboratory in Formenos is part of the same building as the forge. The forge is dark—none of the apprentices are at work yet, although I can hear Annawendë and Vorondil discussing something behind the closed doors of one of the study rooms—and the shapes of the equipment are ominous in the dark. Findekáno cringes and bumps into me; with some annoyance, I consent to take his hand again. "Káno, stop being such a baby. There's nothing to fear in here," I tell him.
"It's cold," he says. "But usually it's hot."
I turn my head so that he won't see me roll my eyes, a bad habit I have learned that angers Atar. At the back of the forge is the door to the laboratory; I open it, fearing that Atar will be there already—the light through the windows suggests that we are several minutes late—but the laboratory is dark and empty and smells of dust and nine months of disuse.
The desks and tabletops are clean, all parchments and half-finished projects having been gathered before we left last summer. On the walls, Atar has pinned sketches that Nelyo and Macalaurë did of each other and the family members as part of an exercise last summer. Beside them are Atar's own sketches, and looking upon the latter, it is hard to believe that the figures on the parchment will not suddenly rise and step from the walls to greet us. Carnistir curls in my arms in the papasan chair in Atar's office. Amil ponders a piece of marble being coaxed into resembling Aulë. Nelyo sleeps across one of his books and Macalaurë smiles vaguely and plays his harp. At the bottom, almost unseen behind a pile of ledgers, are two sketches of Atar done by Nelyo and Macalaurë. I imagine that Atar put them at the bottom because they are still unfinished: They have not drawn his eyes.
I open the shutters and flood the laboratory with light, revealing the glass vials and small metal tools that Nelyo and Atar use for their studies. Dust glitters in the air. I pull out one of the workbenches and nod at it. "Here. Sit." Findekáno sits obediently, holding his arms close to his body and looking around with wary eyes, as though he fears harming or being harmed by something in the empty room.
I sit on the opposite end of the bench from him, forcing my muscles to sag into nonchalance. In reality, this room makes me nervous too, but not for anything inside the room but for the heavy lock on the door that keeps Atar's secret pursuits even from Amil. The sight of the graceless lock beneath the knob fills me with a feeling of cold dread.
Our people share selflessly all that we find. We do not bar our hearts much less our doors from our kindred, especially members of our own family. Amil says that Atar locks the laboratory at times because the experiments he does are dangerous and he does not wish for Carnistir or me to stumble in by mistake and be hurt, but at times, I hear nothing but his voice raised, as though in anger, speaking to Nelyo, and I creep away before I understand of what he speaks.
The light in the windows is definitely gold now. Atar is late.
"What kind of craft do you do here?" Findekáno asks.
"Mostly, Atar has me set jewelry and shape gemstones and do some simple engraving work," I tell him, rising to look out the window and to the house, which sits cold and silent like a sleeping beast. No Atar.
"Do you like it?"
"No, not really."
"But I thought you wanted to be a craftsman?"
I whirl to face him. He perches on the edge of the bench farthest from where I would be, had I remained sitting, his shoulders bowed in towards each other as though he wishes to fold himself in half. "Why is everything you say a question?" I snap. "Yes, I want to be a craftsman, but I do not wish for this dull work but to work in the forge, with my father. It's very different."
Findekáno looks away and says no more.
The laboratory door swings open, and Atar enters the room like a rush of wind. "Tyelkormo. Findekáno. I apologize for my tardiness," he says in a voice without a trace of regret. Behind him, Macalaurë shuffles, his arm bound to his body with the now-familiar strip of cloth, his eyes bleary and tired. "I was seeking Nelyo before I remembered that he is hunting with Verkaturo's sons today." Atar goes to his desk and begins turning a forgotten sapphire in his hands. I had shaped it last summer into an awkward facetted star; he holds it in the light now and watches the blue spangles drift across the walls. As quickly as he had lifted it, he tosses it away and turns back to us, his eyes skipping restlessly across my wrinkled work clothes and Findekáno's elegant raiment. "I want a healer to look at Macalaurë's shoulder. Your brother is hunting, and your mother suffers to see her sons in pain, so I must take him, and that means also that you must go with me. Now, all shall not be lost this day," he tells us, and he wanders now to study the sketches on the wall, brushing at a miniscule—or perhaps imagined—flaw on the portrait he'd drawn of Nelyo. "You each shall give your attention to Nimelië and ask her questions about her work so that you can tell me one important fact about healing on the way home. It is well that you learn something of it because you never know when you might need it in your travels." He tugs the portrait from the wall and discards it on the desk, perhaps to fix later. "So run to the house and get your cloaks. Nerdanel shall have our horses ready for us by your return."
Ten minutes later, we are on the dirt road to Formenos, a half-hour ride from the house. Macalaurë—sharing a horse with Atar—looks a mite more miserable with each step towards the city and scratches occasionally at the wound on his shoulder. Atar fires questions about natural lore at Findekáno and me—asking us the names of flowers and trees or having us identify the tracks of the animals that cross the trail—and I bark my answers back at him before Findekáno can even fumble the solutions in his mind. After a while, the questions become tedious and I think of not answering and forcing Findekáno to respond. I wish more that Macalaurë would sing for us, but his face is gray and tired, and Atar's hand on his waist is very firm, as though he fears that Macalaurë might tumble from the horse and injure his other shoulder.
The gates of Formenos are guarded, but unlike Tirion, the guards wear bows on their backs and carry short swords at their sides. At times in the past, Atar tells us—to ease the look of terror in Findekáno's face—beasts would come into the city in search of food, especially during very cold winters or droughts, making it necessary to guard the gates. I have heard of such—and more—from Macalaurë before, during the scary tales that he loves to tell Carnistir and me when Nelyo and our parents aren't around to hear, and I ask, "Did anyone die?" but Atar won't answer. Macalaurë gives me a guarded look, and I know that he is also thinking of the two children in his tales who were killed when wolves jumped into their nursery late at night.
The guards greet Atar by name and nod at the rest of us as we pass. Formenos is a lower and darker city than Tirion. The houses are built from the dark stone that is native to the area. In front of each is a garden, but unlike the gardens of Tirion, they are not laden with delicate blossoms and soft, leafy fronds but tall hard trees and stiff-leafed shrubs decorated with strings of glowing gemstones. Most yards have fountains crafted to look like the waterfalls in the forests around the city—not the rigid, babbling fountains of home—and the sound of running water makes the air sparkle with music.
The healer is the sister of one of the lords, and we have visited her in her home before—many summers ago, when Amil was still carrying Carnistir—but never have I been to seek her counsel. Atar seems to have, however, judging from the familiar ease with which he passes her small cottage and continues to a second building beside it, fronted by a sign that reads, "Nimelië of the Dagger, Healer."
Atar helps Macalaurë to the ground and ties our horses to the fence. Before we even walk the path to ring the bell by the door, the door opens and Nimelië trots down the path to meet us. She is a small woman, quick and capable, wearing the ivory dress of healers. "Fëanáro," she says, and she takes his hand and puts the other to his cheek, but they neither kiss nor embrace. "You look well."
"As do you," he replies, and she smiles. "We have missed your company at the house. "
"Yes, I have been nearly as busy as you." She looks past him to Findekáno. "I know that cannot be your youngest."
"No, he is my brother-son, come to study with Nelyo and me for the summer. Carnistir is little still."
I secretly think that Carnistir isn't that much smaller than Findekáno but say nothing.
"Yes, well, I do not know what you feed those children of yours that make them grow so fast." She looks next to Macalaurë and me. "I am being horribly rude, greeting not my patient, poor Macalaurë, and the baby that I helped bring into this world." She stoops to kiss my forehead. "Your eyes are still as blue as the day you were born, Tyelkormo. What beautiful children you have, Fëanáro. Now, please, if you would follow me; I hate to make you wait, but last year's mild spring must have inspired amorous thoughts, and we are in the midst of a baby boom here in Formenos. I am with one of our imminent mothers now."
"Tirion too," Atar tells her as well walk. "Both of my half-brothers are expecting sons in the winter."
"Little Arafinwë?" she says with incredulity. "Why, he was just a child the last I saw him at yours and Nerdanel's marriage ceremony! He was not much bigger than Maitimo! How amazing that he expects a son of his own. I suppose that Maitimo shall be next."
"I hope that he shall."
Nimelië leads us into the cottage, a small building with only a sitting room at the front and a consultation room at the back. The woman of whom Nimelië spoke waits in the front room, her belly a balloon in front of her—larger than I remember Amil being when she was pregnant with Carnistir—and she struggles to her feet when we enter.
"Fëanáro!" she says, and he motions her to stay seated, but she toddles over to him anyway. "Do not be silly, Fëanáro! Who would I be to return home to my husband and tell him that I stayed seated and did not greet our own high prince?" She kisses his cheek, necessitating a leaning stretch that is painful to watch. "And these are your sons?"
"My second eldest Macalaurë and my third, Tyelkormo. And this is my brother-son Findekáno, son of Nolofinwë, of Tirion. Maitimo hunts the forests with the sons of Verkaturo and little Carnistir has remained with my wife. And yours?"
"My first is at home with my husband. This is my second and third," she says, stroking her belly. "Twins."
"Twins! Ai! Your hands shall be kept busy! When is their begetting day?"
The woman grimaces. "Last week. That is why I seek Nimelië's wisdom this day, in hopes that she can prescribe a potion of some sort that can hurry them along. My back is dreadfully sore."
"I empathize, for Macalaurë was nearly two weeks late, and Nerdanel almost went mad from waiting when he decided to arrive right in the middle of one of my father's feasts. At least the midwife was close; she was eating her supper right across from me."
They laugh, and Macalaurë and I exchange puzzled glances. Atar does not speak as such with his people in Tirion—it is usually Nelyo or Amil that greet the people in the streets—and, although we knew that Macalaurë was the only one of Atar's sons born inside the walls of Tirion, we did not know that he was two weeks late and decided to be born in the middle of a feast. I cannot reconcile the image of my mother sitting at the table, straining in labor, while the festive merriment of our grandfather's feast carries on around her and the midwife ducks under the table to catch Macalaurë. I wonder if he was swaddled in a napkin and invited to partake in the festivities. At least it explains his affinity for food.
Atar bids farewell to the woman and wishes her and her family well, and we follow Nimelië into the consultation room in the back.
"I shall be just long enough to recommend a relief for the poor woman's back. I shall try not to keep you waiting. It would expedite things, Macalaurë, if you could remove your tunic and your bandages, and I shall return to you shortly." She smiles curtly and leaves, closing the door behind her.
The room is small and lined with counters on three sides. At the back is a narrow cot, and Macalaurë sits on it, looking miserable, while Atar unwinds the bindings from his arm. "Remember, Tyelkormo, Findekáno," he says to us. "Ask questions. You don't get a day off to learn nothing."
Findekáno and I circle the room, standing on tiptoe to study the objects on the counters. There are rolls of bandages and many bottles of fluid labeled with words I have never read before. I open one and sniff it; it reminds me of the golden fluid that the adults drank last night and made Nelyo and Macalaurë act so silly. I think about taking a sip of it, but Atar is giving me a stern look, so I replace the cap and nudge it back into place. On one counter, we find a tray of tools that look a bit like the tools that Amil uses for her sculptures. I pick up a small knife and nearly touch the blade before remembering how angry Atar gets when we test the sharpness of implements with our fingers. I test it against the cloth of my tunic instead, and it slices easily through. I turn to Atar, who is undoing the laces in Macalaurë's tunic. "Atar, what's this for?"
Macalaurë's face sags with despair on seeing the knife. "Atar…" he says in a small voice that cannot possibly belong to my big, minstrel brother, and Atar cradles his head against his chest. "Relax, Macalaurë, you will be fine. You are not here to be put to torment." Over his shoulder, he gives me a sharp look, his eyes issuing a wordless command: Put it away. I do.
"Atar, I don't like it here," Macalaurë says.
"No one likes the ministrations of a healer, my beloved, but she will not intentionally hurt you. And if something does hurt, then you just squeeze my hand as hard as you can, right?"
Macalaurë smiles weakly. "Yes, then I can be the idiot who separated his shoulder and crippled the greatest craftsman of the Noldor, all in one week."
Atar eases Macalaurë's tunic over his head—guiding his sore arm carefully out from the cloth—and smoothes his ruffled hair. "Nay, you will not cripple me. I held your mother's hand through four childbirths and went back to work the next day. Your mother always loved Nimelië, said she had gentle hands. Did you know that she attended at your birth, Tyelkormo?"
This I did not know. My birth is the most notorious of my brothers', for my mother had labored greatly bringing me into the world, to the point where it had been feared that I might have to be cut out of her, like foals are sometimes cut from mares. This was not spoken to me, but rather, something I'd overheard Atar telling grandfather Finwë last year when they didn't know I could hear. Such procedures, Atar said—I could hear him forcing his voice to stay flat and unemotional and concluded that my birth must have been a terrifying ordeal for him—are not only very dangerous but would likely have meant that he and Amil would have no more children, and I was pained to think of never getting to be a big brother. Also, I am the only one born in Formenos (Nelyo was born by the river, Macalaurë in the palace, and Carnistir at our home in Tirion) and the only one born on my exact begetting day (Macalaurë was late; Nelyo and Carnistir were early). I think back to Nimlië's soft hands in Atar's and wonder that they were probably the first two hands to touch me.
Nimelië opens the door and, with a soft smile, asks Macalaurë and Atar to recount for her the accident. Findekáno and I stand to the side, leaning against the counters and ignoring the existence of the other, and I listen again to the story that has been swirling around in my brain since it happened, wondering if Macalaurë would betray me now and tell Atar that I had been riding without hands. He does not, and my relief is undercut by bizarre and bitter regret. Would he have told, would my guilt at seeing him sitting there—half-naked and trembling—be eased? When Macalaurë finishes his tale, Atar takes over, describing what he found upon examining Macalaurë's shoulder. "The wound was deep but not bleeding badly," he says in the same over-calm voice that I heard him use when describing my birth to grandfather Finwë last year. "But when I pressed at his shoulder, I found that the bones had separated. I did my best to realign them properly, but I must confess to a bit of squeamishness, for my son was in a lot of pain, and I feared hurting him further. The shoulder has remained very stiff and sore since."
Nimelië pushes Macalaurë's hair aside and commences pressing on his shoulder, and at times, I see his hand tighten on Atar's and he bites his lip, but he does not cry out. "Have you been applying salve?" she asks, and Atar replies, "At least four times a day."
I make myself watch. I have been hunting with my older brothers, and I have seen blood and torn flesh on animals, but it is different when it is my brother. Yet, he would not be sitting here now but for me, so I make myself watch Nimelië prodding at the stitched slit on his shoulder, and I do not fool myself that his subsequent gasp is from anything other than pain. I wish that I could be little like Carnistir and excused for letting forth the wails that Macalaurë fancies himself too big and brave to utter. "Who stitched this? Your wife?" Nimelië asks.
"I did," Atar says, and Nimelië looks impressed.
"I should expect no less from the son of Míriel, yet this is excellent work."
My head snaps to look at Atar—even Macalaurë forgets his discomfort long enough to swivel in our father's direction—because no one outside our house ever mentions Atar's mother. Yet his reaction is cool and nonchalant. "Much practice I have been given at mending clothes, having four sons, but I found it entirely different and unpleasant to perform a similar action on the flesh of my own child."
Nimelië nods in sympathy. "It is always harder when it is flesh, and when it is one's own, I imagine the grief compounded." She walks around to Macalaurë's front and moves and stretches his arm into different positions. "Tell me when it—" she begins, moving his arm away from his body, and he yells, "Ai!" and she pats his arm and says, "That was abundantly clear, Macalaurë. I promise, this torture is nearly finished. You have done very well. I know it must hurt."
She finishes moving Macalaurë's arm and comes over to the counter, nudging Findekáno and I aside to gather several of the bottles from the counter—including the one with the pungent odor that I sniffed earlier—and a strip of cotton. This close, I can smell the clean scent of her dress and something delicate and soothing beneath it, like lavendar. She cups my head in her hand as she passes, and her hands are indeed gentle.
"I'm going to give you balm for his wound, Fëanáro, that should be applied in the morning and before retiring in the evening. It will reduce the amount of scarring and should hasten healing. I'm going to administer the first dose now and also disinfect the wound again, since you have been long traveling and I hate to imagine what has gotten inside since then. As for his shoulder, the bones were correctly realigned, Fëanáro, so you need have no fears about that. The pain and stiffness comes because the fall tore some tissue attached to those bones, but there is nothing we can do but apply salve and gently exercise the shoulder and wait." She walks around to Macalaurë's back again, and he watches her from the side of his eye while trying to look unconcerned. She douses the cotton with the sharp-smelling liquid I had found earlier. "Now this might sting a bit, love, so hold your father's hand tightly," she says, and Macalaurë grips Atar's hand with both of his, and when Nimelië presses the cotton to his wound, he bites his lips and holds Atar's hand so tightly that the tendons in his arm stick out. A single tear slips down his cheek, and when Nimelië removes the cotton and begins gently rubbing his shoulder with balm, Atar leans over and kisses the tear away.
When Nimelië is finished, Atar helps Macalaurë dress while Findekáno follows Nimelië around the room, asking questions, as we are both supposed to be doing. I tell myself that I am waiting for him to finish, but I know that really I am waiting for Atar to fetch the balms from Nimelië so that I may climb into Macalaurë's lap and press my face into his neck.
"I'm sorry, Macalaurë," I whisper, inhaling the soft, powdery scent of his skin. I hug him, and I am very careful of his sore arm, but I feel two arms circle me in return, even though I know it must hurt him to do so.
"Why are you sorry, little one?" he asks me, and I sob, "For making you fall!"
"Shh." He strokes my hair. "That will be our secret, Tyelkormo, and it shall go with us until the ending of Arda." His voice is gentle, forgiving, and it makes me cry harder. He kisses my ear and whispers, "Do not cry, little one, or you shall give it away."
Atar quizzes us on the way home. "What did you learn?" he asks, and I let Findekáno speak first for once.
Findekáno tells Atar of the sheep's heart in a glass jar that Nimelië showed him—only is it really Findekáno speaking? His voice is bright and lively, not like the little cousin I know who spends most his time with his eyes on the ground. Nimelië had a device too, he tells Atar, that lets you hear your own heartbeat. "She said that if I were to put it on Amil's belly, then I could hear my little brother's heartbeat too," he says, and I figure that he has finished—it would be like Findekáno to describe objects without really having learned anything at all—but he goes on to say that Nimelië told him to listen for the two separate parts of the heartbeat; that was the two halves squeezing separately, pushing blood through the body. "That's why our veins move," Findekáno concludes. "It is the blood getting pushed through them."
Atar is nodding in that way that shows he is impressed. "So, Káno, tell me," he says, and maybe no one else notices that he uses Findekáno's epessë but me. Maybe I only notice because such casual familiarity burns me inside like hot tea swallowed before it has been given a chance to cool. He gives my cousin a sly, sidelong look, the kind of look he gives my brothers and me when he expects us to figure out a particularly crafty riddle. "Can we really break our hearts then?"
Findekáno snorts with derision. "No! Of course not! 'Heart' and 'spirit' are different matters entirely."
Atar nods. "Very good, Findekáno," he says, and the sincerity in his voice makes my little cousin beam.
I dread his next words. "Tyelkormo," he says. "What did you learn?"
I open my mouth. I trust that words, answers will come out; they always do. But there is nothing. I close it and open it again, but still, nothing. Atar is staring at me now.
"What did you learn, Turkafinwë?" he asks, and I wince at the use of my father-name. Still, I cannot answer. "What did you ask Nimelië?" I can hear his voice hovering on the brink of impatience; a single wrong word—or another second of silence—and he will be angry with me.
"What did you ask?" he demands again, and I lower my eyes and watch my pony's withers rising and falling with her gate and answer, "I asked nothing."
"Did you forget?" he asks, and I shake my head. "You have disappointed me," he tells me. His voice is cool, dismissive. "A day of learning you have wasted. Tomorrow, instead of your horsemanship lesson with your cousin, you shall do extra hours in the library, reading on the lore of healing. I am very disappointed, Turkafinwë," he says again, and I realize that—even though my secret is safe between Macalaurë and me—punishment has found its way to me anyway.
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