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Never Speak Nor Sing: 2. Vanya
"And he is very young," said Celeiros. "He did not say his age, but I would guess he has only just reached the majority, if that. And his situation is strange. Why would one so young come to us from Valinórë, and why at this time? I cannot make sense of it."
Fingolfin, who had been kneeling silently on the floor among his plants, slowly stood. He tossed the handful of dead, yellow leaves into the pots to rot, and made an effort to nod at what Celeiros said, though he only half paid attention. "You think he does come from Aman, then?" he asked, stepping forward before kneeling again.
"I cannot find any evidence to the contrary," Celeiros answered. "There does not appear to be a single flaw in any of his claims."
"However, my lord, as I said before, it is a strange tale he tells. His story makes factual sense, but logically it is absurd. I can understand how he is here, but not why."
"Ah," said Fingolfin. He stood again and tossed down a second handful of leaves. After a moment, suddenly aware that Celeiros awaited further words, he asked, "What reason does he give for his presence?"
Celeiros frowned. "He says his mother is Noldë. She remained behind with her Vanyarin husband, but he was moved by the valour of her people and has therefore elected to join them rather than sit idle in Valmar while they suffer at the hands of 'Moringotho'. Not in those exact words, of course, but that is what I gathered from him after you left the salon. He crossed the sea in a Noldorin ship last year, and travelled north up the coast with that other young man, the dark one, who enlisted as a soldier this morning. The Vanya claims they are distant cousins. Now this I might stoop to believe, even though he calls himself Vanyo and has no strong familiarity with Noldorin culture or even language. But what troubles me most is that I have no sense whatsoever of what he intends to do here. He has neither weapon nor armour, owns nothing aside from his clothing and a few trinkets, and has no known family. Therefore I am wary that he expects you to employ him somehow. Though in what capacity, I do not know. I suspect he will think himself above common duties."
Fingolfin remained absently staring down at the plants. "He is too young for anything else," he said at last. He bent over to pick another yellow leaf. "But it is a shame. There is that look and bearing about him that is too grand for the light-boys and table attendants. Like an orchid in an onion patch. Hand me my knife, will you?"
Celeiros grabbed the small knife from a nearby table. Fingolfin took it and shook his head as he knelt beside the jade tree. "I honestly do not know what to do about this," he murmured.
Celeiros frowned again. "Which, the Vanya or the plant?"
"My jade tree," said Fingolfin. He cut a few small branches and dropped them into the pot. "See, the leaves are turning reddish all on this one side. Do you think it might be the sun?"
"Possibly. I'll have someone turn it and we'll see if it doesn't improve."
"Good." Fingolfin stood again. "I think the best thing for now would be to simply put him in a room overnight, and I will think for a time on a solution."
"You are referring to the Vanya now?"
"Yes, of course," said Fingolfin, glancing upward for the first time. "What is his name again?"
"Laurefindil, if you would believe it," said Celeiros.
Fingolfin nodded. "Laurefindil, yes." He paused, pursing his lips together and tapping the knife against his palm. "I wonder..."
"Yes, my lord?"
"I suppose," he said, "that I could always have him as my personal retainer."
"And the Sindarin boy?"
"He is not a worry; we can put him to fire duty or otherwise."
"Of course, my lord," said Celeiros. "I do think it may be wise to have this Laurefindil of Valmar, however dubious his history, replace that local orphan for so intimate a position in your household. You know, I was never entirely certain why you chose such a one in the first place, rather than promote-"
A sharp look from Fingolfin cut Celeiros' speech short. He flushed pink, and lowered his eyes humbly. "Though," he continued more quietly, "the decision was most gracious and charitable on your part, my lord, considering the boy's poor situation."
"It is good that you think so, Alkarrossë," said Fingolfin. He went to the table and set down his knife before turning back. "Where is he now?"
"Your Sindarin boy?"
"And our Laurefindil."
"Your Laurefindil is in the salon still, where we left him," said Celeiros. "The Sinda, I would think, is likely in the garden or the stairwell near your bedroom as usual. Should I find him?"
Fingolfin shook his head. "No. I would have you take our Vanya to our seamstress to be fitted for court clothing. Send Armion after the boy and have him assign the new duties: whatever he sees fit."
"Yes, my lord." Celeiros bowed before turning to leave, and was near the door before he was interrupted by Fingolfin's voice.
Celeiros stopped and looked back to the king with a curious glance. "Yes, my lord?"
Fingolfin's eyes had narrowed in new thought and his lips pursed strangely. "It just occurred to me," he said, "that a different action may be better. I think that you should not send Armion after all; leave that matter for now. And take our new Laurefindil not to the sewing girl but to a good room where he might rest. When that is done, come to me in my library and I will have prepared a letter that I would have you take in person to my son. Is this understood?"
Bowing once more, Celeiros nodded. "Yes, my lord," he said, and then he left.
Glorfindel followed Celeiros across the great Hall from Fingolfin's salon, to the stairwell that led up into the tower itself: Barad Eithel. The air was smoky from too many torches and too few windows, and the vaulted stone ceilings, though not yet twenty years old, were already stained black. The floor had been recently scrubbed clean, but traces of ash still hid in small crevices along the base of the wall. Everything smelled of stone, and dead and dying wood.
Up they went, following a narrow and steep spiral staircase with thin steps under smooth walls, winding around a pillar no more than eight inches thick. While Celeiros walked confidently and without thought, tracing the pathway he had surely taken countless times before, Glorfindel stayed consciously close to the diameter where the steps were widest, but kept his left hand held out to brush the pillar for balance as he moved. There were no stairways at Amma's house, and no stairways this perilously narrow anywhere in Valmar that Glorfindel could remember. It made him uneasy.
On the third floor, halfway down a wide, vaulted corridor, Celeiros stopped. "This will be your room for now," he said, and he pushed open a soot-marked wooden door. He did not step inside, but motioned for Glorfindel to do so.
The room, Glorfindel saw, was small, though the ceilings were high enough that he could have scarcely touched them had he been twice his height. Along the left wall stood a narrow bed, and at the foot of that, an iron-bound chest for clothing. Next to the chest was a simple wooden chair with a canvas cushion. Along the right wall were a table and a series of shelves for any personal items, and a fireplace. The far wall facing the door curved slightly with the shape of the tower. This wall was bare and uninterrupted save by one shuttered window, which permitted a few spines of white light into the otherwise shadowed room. Dust hovered in the rays above a patterned blue and grey rug.
"Here," said Celeiros, "you may keep this for now." He set the lamp he had been carrying onto the table. "Someone will be along soon to light the fire and bring you food and drink. I or another will come for you later, but I do not know how long that will be. So please, rest a while. I am sure you are weary from travel."
"Yes," Glorfindel said. "Thank-you."
Celeiros nodded before leaving and shutting the door behind him. Then Glorfindel was left alone in the dim stone room.
He stood by the door for a long while feeling hollow and small, lost in the vastness of Barad Eithel among hundreds of rooms lining strangely curved corridors, all with high ceilings and oppressively thick walls. In Valmar, with Amma, he had lived in a house that was only one room. There had been a corner for sleeping, one for eating, one for work, and one for rest. At night, Amma had brought the wooden bath basin in from outside and set it by the fire behind a large paper screen, creating the temporary privacy of a wash room. But otherwise there was only the one room, and there was only ever Amma with him.
Now it made his stomach twist to think of Amma, as if he were starving. Such a strange and horrible feeling, he though. He put his hand at his waist and slid it over the fabric of his belt but it did nothing to satiate the pain in his body.
He longed for Amma. He ached for the warm comfort of her embrace and the soothing melody of her voice, her hands stroking his hair and her kind smile that held such love for him above all others. He wondered then if Amma felt this terrible loss without him, though he hoped she was not in such misery. But she at least had grandmother and grandfather there with her across the sea, and her sisters. Glorfindel had only himself.
After a long time he forced himself to move from the door, reasoning half-heartedly that if this was to be his home, he would feel less alone once he had put out his things in the room and made it more his own. He set his pack of belongings onto the bed, which was straw-filled and covered with patterned patch-quilts like his bed in Valmar. One by one he laid out the few pieces of clothing and the precious items of jewellery Amma had given him. The jewellery he wrapped carefully in a handkerchief and hid under the straw mattress. The clothing went into the wooden chest. He then set his comb, hair ties, soap, and copper knife onto the table beside Celeiros' lamp.
The window on the curved wall, visited next, faced south. It held no glass to guard against the wind and cold: only wooden shutters. Amma's house in Valmar, Glorfindel thought, at least had glass in one of the windows. The other windows were covered in thin linen that Amma had soaked in oil, but one window at least had four small squares of real glass that Amma had been given as payment for her beadwork.
Outside and far below that window, at the level of the first floor, was a wall. Beyond it, a road passed through a field of low hills spotted with aspen bluffs. Glorfindel leaned as far as he could out of the narrow window, just squeezing his shoulders past the shutters, and from there he could see that the tower was built along the south-east corner of the city wall. If he strained to look eastward he could see the edges of small wooden houses and fences built along outside the wall. Not far beyond them, where the trees grew denser and lined the horizon with a swath of green, was the river Sirion that came down from its mountain spring just northwest of the city. If he looked the other way, he could see the mountains, the Ered Wethrin.
There was no movement on the walls or roads or anywhere that Glorfindel could see around the south-east edge of Eithel Sirion. Only the sparrows singing carelessly in the aspens and the kestrels circling the grassy fields in search of mice offered any proof that the world still lived. Glorfindel watched them until one of the birds dove mercilessly at the earth; he turned his eyes away and did not watch the kill. A cold wind blew out of the west, down from the mountains, and he, suddenly exhausted, closed the shutters and returned to the bed in pale lamplight.
He lay there wearing his good clothes for only a short moment before he thought that he probably ought to put on a bedshirt.
It was nearly dark by the time Celeiros came back. The sun at this time of year seemed hesitant to set over the northern lands, making summer days long and slow. But though the last vestiges of sunset still branded the sky, it was late, and Glorfindel was tired. He had changed out of his good clothes and lay sleeping when Celeiros opened the door.
"Get up," Celeiros said, "and dress. I will wait in the corridor while you do, so hurry. I am taking you to my lord Findekáno."
Glorfindel nodded as Celeiros left, and sat up in the bed. But he kept the quilts pulled around his shoulders. Earlier, a boy had come and set a fire, but this had died with the day. Now only a few tired red embers remained to give little heat or light to the cold, dark room, and Celeiros' lamp had faded long ago. Glorfindel could only half see the chair in the corner where he had carefully set his clothes. The glass beads on the robe sleeve caught the light of small fire-sparks and reflected dark orange as tiny failing stars. The fabric was black and hard. Everything looked strange here.
The lightest of the quilts still hung over his shoulders as he stepped out of bed, careful to reach his bare feet to the rug at the bedside to avoid shocking his skin on the colder, uncovered parts of the floor. He stepped into his shoes before fetching the rest of his outfit from the chair and hurriedly pulling it on. Before he left the room to join Celeiros he ran his comb through his hair to smooth it over his shoulders. Then he shut the door behind him, and wished it had a lock. He didn't trust his things, though few, alone in that black room.
"You are quick," Celeiros said with a thin smile. "It is a good talent. My lord will be pleased, I would think."
Glorfindel only smiled weakly.
Celeiros turned to start away, and motioned for Glorfindel to follow. "Now come," he said, "and follow me; we go to Findekáno. Though I might warn you that he is in a foul mood tonight, so do not take it too hard if he is less than kind. And there is a chance that he will refuse you entirely; he has in fact refused the last four retainers our King arranged for him. But we must try. And he has this time returned to us in the tower, so there is hope I think."
"He was away?" Glorfindel asked. He did not blame the Prince for wanting to flee this place.
Celeiros gave an ironic snort. "Our King and his son have been on icy terms for the past eleven years due to a disagreement on a matter of... personal tastes. I am certain many members of this household will be more than pleased to relate to you the full story in great detail. But I will not, at least not now, though I will tell you that nine years ago, Findekáno refused his father's rule and left the tower. Since then, he has been living by his "uncle" Calantáro, who is in fact his mother's first-cousin. He is good friends with his second-cousins Calarindo and Lailaniel, who are Calantáro's children."
When they reached the staircase, Celeiros paused and turned to face Glorfindel as if to express a confidence. "But Findekáno has returned to us tonight," he said. "He is upstairs in his old bedroom. And our King is set on keeping him there, in hope that they might be reconciled. However, Findekáno refuses to see his father. He has returned to his house, but will speak to none save me, and now you as well. So you must understand that your position is not only one of service, but also you act as an emissary. If Findekáno is pleased with you as his servant, the situation between him and his father will be eased. Do you understand?"
Glorfindel nodded. "Yes, of course. I will do my best."
"Good," said Celeiros, and they started up the stairs.
The fifth floor of Barad Eithel was much like the third, though fewer doors lined the sooty corridor and a greater number of torches burned on the blank walls. Celeiros stopped at the second door on the right side and knocked gently. After a moment the door opened. Quiet words were exchanged. Glorfindel looked to the floor and waited, trying to calm himself and be patient though his body shook. He clenched his teeth to still their chattering.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement. Further down the corridor a boy with pale yellow hair had come round the curved wall. He stopped at one of the doors, stood still a moment, then leaned against the wall opposite. He reached into his pocket to pull out something, a piece of candy perhaps, and popped it into his mouth. He did not look at Glorfindel or Celeiros.
While Glorfindel watched the boy, the door to Fingon's bedroom shut. Celeiros turned back with an uncertain look. "Our lord Findekáno is considering," he said. "I will leave now, as I must have a word with our King. But I would have you stay here and wait. I do not suspect Findekáno will be too long, since-" Celeiros lowered his voice to scarcely more than a murmur- "I dare say he is well known for his impulsive and often poorly-thought-out decision-making process."
Glorfindel gave a small smile as Celeiros smirked, though the brief moment of camaraderie did little to lighten his dark heart. And any light that was shed died quickly when Celeiros raised again his walls of formality, face growing stern once more. He took a step back toward the stairway. "I hope for the best," Celeiros said.
"I too," Glorfindel quietly replied. He watched with a feeling of heaviness as Celeiros quickly turned and hurried down the stairs. Then he was left alone and uncertain.
Or almost alone. Behind him he heard the boy pace a few steps, deliberately loud as he walked back and forth. After a moment the pacing stopped.
"Nach ant an Fingon i ernil danten?"
Glorfindel turned sharply to look at the boy while still working to translate his foreign words. 'Nach', you are... 'ant', a gate? No, a giver? A gift... You are a gift for Findekáno, the 'ernil'... the lord... or the prince? I do not know the word 'danten'...
He scowled as the boy grinned at him, feeling a sudden and welcome surge of anger at the teasing words. As his face grew hot his fear diminished, and as he forgot the fear he felt less alone. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. "And no-one else is here to listen to you, so you might as well just shut up and mind yourself. I have important work to do." He narrowed his eyes and raised his chin.
The boy only shrugged and continued pacing, saying nothing further.
"Moriquendu," Glorfindel muttered. He leaned back against the stones. Fingon's door was still shut, and no sound came from beyond it. The wintery chill of fear sank back into his body.
Moriquendu - (Q) Dark Elf
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