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Another Man's Cage: 21. Chapter Twenty-One--Findekano
I am sitting beneath the trees in my uncle's garden when the crying starts.
It is a peaceful day, midsummer now, and the clouds overhead have cleared the way for blue, marred only by tender wisps of clouds strewn like spiderwebs across the sky. For the last week, it has rained, and we have been cooped indoors to study, except for a disastrous foray that Uncle Fëanáro had orchestrated to teach us to shoot in the rain that had resulted in cousin Macalaurë slipping in a patch of mud and tumbling down a hill, then getting into an argument with Uncle Fëanáro about the worth of such an activity in the first place. "Were you starving or otherwise need to hunt in the rain—" Uncle Fëanáro had begun, and Macalaurë had interrupted him—a foolishly brave act that made the rest of us gasp and fall into silence—"When do we starve? And when do we ever need to hunt in the rain?"
So Macalaurë had been punished and made to fetch the horses from the pasture every day in the rain for the week after. But today it is clear and beautiful again, and Laurelin's warmth has dried the ground, making it suitable to sit outside, beneath Uncle Fëanáro's pear tree, and study.
But for the sudden sound of crying that interrupts the peace of the day and frightens even the songbirds from the trees in a rattle of wings.
My first thought is that it must be Macalaurë. He is the most sorrowful of the brothers, and I have seen tears slipping from beneath his closed eyes as he plays sad songs on his harp. But I have never heard him sob—except when he hurt his shoulder, but that was different—and his tears fall as silently as spring showers, and the only voice given his melancholia is through his songs.
I consider ignoring it and turning back to my lore, but the sobs are growing ragged with hysteria. I sigh, mark my page, and close my book. I have fallen in love with historical lore, thanks to Cousin Maitimo, who has made it more than a simple recounting of events and into a story. The names of old that I had learned from my tutors at home become characters, real beings with passions and personalities, and I feel their dilemmas as keenly as though they were my own. I like to imagine myself a character in their stories, making decisions that will be carefully recorded into Uncle Fëanáro's history texts.
The breeze across my skin is warm and the day is fragrant with the burgeoning life of summer, and I resent rising from this comfortable piece of earth beneath the pear tree. It's probably just Carnistir, I tell myself, but even as the thought slips through my brain, I know that it is not. Carnistir cries a lot, true—he is still a baby, after all—but he does not cry alone but rather seeks his father or his mother or Maitimo to hold him in their arms and soothe whatever ails him.
This person cries not for the love and attention of others but alone, away from the house, where only the Valar can perceive his agony.
I set my book aside and rise to my feet. I have removed my shoes and take my time putting them back on lest the crying cease and allow me to return to my grassy spot and my lore. It does not, and it grows louder as I tighten the laces—loud enough that I could no longer in good conscience ignore it, even if I had wanted to—and words are added to the sobs, but I cannot understand them through the tears.
Uncle Fëanáro's garden is long paths of fruit trees with shrubs and flowers planted beneath. Maitimo had brought Tyelkormo and me here for our lore lessons during our first weeks in Formenos, and I have found no place on the property where I can read with greater peace. I start down the path towards the pond at the center, following the sobs until they grow so loud that I know that the person must be just beyond the next stand of trees, at the pond.
Sure enough, a figure is facedown, at the edge of the water, angry fists beating into the earth, sobbing into the grass. I take a step forward and fall back with a gasp, for the person's hair is a deep honey-gold, bound back from his face but beginning to pull free and spill into the water. It is Tyelkormo.
He is crying so hard that he does not hear me approach, and so I am afforded several moments to calm my heart that has taken off in a flurry of racing beats like the feet of a startled rabbit and think of what I should do. Tyelkormo wears his forge clothes—the dingy gray attire that is almost a uniform for my uncle during the day—and they are dirtied by his labors and twisted about his body in disarray. Laurelin had passed her zenith two hours ago, when we'd paused for a midday meal, in which Uncle Fëanáro and Tyelkormo had been allegedly too busy to participate, and by my reckoning, he should be with my uncle still, for two more hours at the least. Certainly not sobbing in the garden. Even odder, he still wears his forge boots that he and Uncle Fëanáro had gone Formenos to have made last month and which he is not allowed to wear outside of the workshops.
Tyelkormo has been busy in the last two months, since being appointed to learn smithcraft from my uncle, too busy even to spend much time teasing me. His half-day lesson in the forge had blossomed into a full day, then into two. When he is not swinging hammers beside his father, then he is busy at his books, memorizing the compositions of alloys and learning the properties of different metals. He has grown quiet in these last months and introspective. My cousin who had once raced about the garden now sits in thought for much of the time and goes early to bed each night. Weariness, Uncle Fëanáro says, is typical of new apprentices, but I notice how carefully he watches Tyelkormo retreat up the stairs early each evening. At night, Tyelkormo's sleep is restless and tormented, and many times I have awakened in Telperion's depths to see him sitting on the window seat and staring into the night.
Tyelkormo has brought home a few of his nascent creations, and only then does he resemble the cousin with whom I rode to Formenos. Then, he is boastful and proud, his hands closing over the flaws in his work, and he will let no one else touch that which he crafts. Last week, he'd brought home a set of throwing knives, crafted crudely from an ugly black steel and—for the first time ever—put something of his creation into my hands and bade me to try throwing them at the target that his father had put up on a tree. Knife-throwing is a new skill that Uncle Fëanáro is having us learn—sandwiching it between archery and swordfighting on our already full third days—and one which I enjoy. I enjoy finding the balance of the knife in my hand, focusing in on the target, and lofting the knife towards it, giving it just enough of a flick with my wrist to turn it to the precise angle to imbed itself into the wood. I had taken Tyelkormo's knives reluctantly though and aimed at the target, sensing a trap, as an animal senses danger. The knife hadn't wanted to balance in my hand; finally, I'd thrown it as best as I could, trying to compensate for its awkward feel in my hand, and watched it sail past the target and into the grass.
Tyelkormo had laughed, but Uncle Fëanáro had come up then from the forge and taken the next knife from the leather pack and taken aim himself. This time, the knife had hit the target, but only the edge, and Uncle Fëanáro had walked forward to retrieve both of our spent knives, saying, "These are not balanced, Tyelkormo. Tomorrow, you shall forge them anew."
I wonder if I should approach him now or leave him to think his tears—and shame—went unwitnessed. The wrath of my third cousin can be great, and I hesitate, ready to turn and creep back to my tree to fetch my book and carry on my studies in the house, but just then, a mighty sob erupts from his chest, and beneath it, at last, I understand his words: "I hate myself."
I stop and turn to consider him again. His clothes are filthy, much dirtier than even Macalaurë used to get when he'd worked in the forge with Uncle Fëanáro, and there is a rip in one sleeve. He has shifted, burying his face in one arm and leaving the other thrown away from his body, its underside turned skyward and revealing an angry, puckered burn on the base of his palm. My breathe catches in my throat, slightly sickened by the sight of flesh left exposed by flame, and I wonder why he isn't with his father, having the burn cleaned and bandaged instead of lying in the garden, sobbing, alone.
I walk carefully towards him. He does not look up at my footsteps; so deep is his misery that he neither hears nor feels my approach. He pounds his fists again against the earth, striking his burn this time and screaming with an agony that has nothing to do with the turmoil in his spirit. I stop a few feet away from his miserable form. "Tyelkormo?" I say.
He looks up at me. His blue eyes are shot through with red and his face is made puffy by his tears. Bits of grass and leaf are caught in his hair, which is pulling free from its braids and haphazardly framing his face. Tears soak his face, and snot makes his upper lip glisten. His lips tremble even as his sobs die, and he seems, for a moment, not to recognize me. "Tyelkormo?" I say again, softer this time. "Are you well?"
"Findekáno. Leave me." He hiccups and buries his face in his arms once more. His shoulders shake but pride subdues his sobs.
"But you arm, Tyelkormo? Your arm is hurt."
He speaks into the grass, his voice hiccupping so hard that I can barely understand his words. "Do not mind that. Leave me."
My ears hear his words but a sense deeper than my ears can reach hums with the opposite perception: Don't go.
I kneel on the grass beside him. He raises his face and looks at me incredulously. "I told you to leave. Why would you want to stay?" I expect anger, but there is wonder in his voice.
"You hurt yourself." I put my hand on his arm and coax it from beneath his body. I am shocked by the feel of his skin beneath my hand: It is icy cold, the first time in as long as I can remember that I have ever touched one of my uncle's sons and not felt as though the heat beneath their skin might burn my hand. Lying in our double bed at night, sometimes Tyelkormo becomes so warm that I have to kick aside the blankets and shiver in the cold night air or feel as though my body is mad with fever. But his flesh now is as frigid as the marble of my aunt's statues, and it takes none of the warmth from my own hand but remains stubbornly cold beneath my palm.
I avoid recoiling from the touch of his cold skin and turn over his hand to look at his palm. Up close, the burn is even more hideous, an angry red that reminds me of uncooked meat. I can smell the heat that made it, and my nose wrinkles with distaste. He sees the wound and begins crying again. "Maybe I should get Uncle—"
"No! No, please, please, no, it doesn't hurt," he says, but he screams when I touch his wrist and tears his arm away from me. His face has fallen into my shoulder; I can feel his tears soaking the light tunic that I wear.
"What happened, Tyelkormo?" I ask, and my arm is around his shoulders, holding him like it is the most natural thing in the world, like all of the harsh words and cold emotions between us mean naught. I raise his face and wipe his tears with the cuff of my sleeve, and he pulls from me and dries his face with the soiled front of his tunic. I do not bother stopping him; even with streaks of soot across his cheeks, he looks no worse. He is breathing hard—gasping for air, as though I have saved him from drowning—and his chest hitches but no new tears spill.
In a rush of words, he tells me. He had been working in the forge, making a dagger, when he had noticed that a squirrel had gotten into the forge. The heat and flames terrified it, Tyelkormo says, and its terror made work unbearable. "No one else noticed," he says. "Or maybe no one else cared, but all I could hear was its terror." He had stabbed the dagger back into the hot coals and had gone after the squirrel, trying to coax it from the forge with a handful of peanuts from his pocket. "Carnistir likes them," he says, "and won't cry if I feed them to him. So I had a whole pocketful." So intent was he on saving the squirrel that he'd failed to notice the apprentices who also worked in the forge. He hadn't heard Annawendë call, "Hot iron on the floor," until he'd backed into her, and turning to apologize, drove his hand right into the white hot tip of the knife she'd been crafting. "She reached out to grab me"—he is sobbing again, and I find my hand being squeezed in his uninjured one—"and the sword fell from her hand and bounced and hit her leg and—" Tears are coursing down his face, and I know not what to do, so I embrace him and find his grateful arms locked around my neck in return. "She screamed, Káno, she screamed so loud, and my father came running and Vorondil caught Annawendë because she fell, and my father dragged me outside, and I'm banned. I know it. I can't go back."
"Tyelkormo, he'll change his mind. He'll let you back."
"No, no, Káno, you don't understand."
He is sobbing so hard that I barely understand his next words.
"I hate it there. I never want to go back."
I lead him from the garden and back to the house, to our shared bedroom, with my arm across his back, holding him up.
How strange it feels to be the one to lead Tyelkormo. I am in the place reserved for Maitimo and Uncle Fëanáro, only I am small and weak and his weight is a burden on my arm. No mind; I would carry him if I had to, for despite the cold words that have passed between us, they lie now only in memory, and his pain stabs my spirit with an urgency I cannot ignore. With a cold hand, he clutches the front of my tunic; his tear-stained face tips forward, curtained by his hair. I lead him as I might lead one blindfolded, cautioning him to steps and footfalls.
The house buzzes with activity. We enter through the kitchen and I see Macalaurë flash by at the end of the corridor, followed by Vorondil. I can hear my aunt and uncle in converse with Annawendë, who is assuring them that it is not as bad as it looks; in fact, it barely hurts at all. Her voice is tight like a spring wound too many times, and the pain in her voice shimmers just beneath. We creep to the stairs, passing out of sight just as Aunt Nerdanel's apprentices enter the foyer, speaking in hushed voices between themselves that Maitimo has been sent to town on Uncle Fëanáro's fastest horse for the healer. "How bad is it?" one of them asks. The other answers in a low voice: "Macalaurë told me that it is third degree at the center," and I hasten Tyelkormo to our room.
I sit beside him on our bed, but his backside no sooner touches the unmade quilt and he is on his feet again, heading for the corner and the armoire that we share. I watch silently as he shoves my clothes aside and begins tearing long-sleeved tunics and traveling cloaks from the hangers. He unties and removes his forge boots—fumbling the laces with his burned hand—and throws them hard enough at the walls to leave a mark. He is crying no longer, but I sense that he stands on the edge of hysteria with the same tremulous anticipation as he might stand on the edge of a cliff. In the place of his forge boots, he tugs on his traveling boots and ties them with trembling fingers—not tightly enough, I think; he'll blister—kneeling amid a pile of clothes removed from the armoire. He spreads his heavy cloak across the bed, gathers the clothes, and drops them in the middle of it, rolling them into a ball and shoving them into his hunter's pack.
He whirls, and his hair flies about his face in a cloud. His eyes—although sapphire blue like mine, not the fiery steel of my uncle's—make me think of Uncle Fëanáro.
"What are you doing?" My voice is small beneath the roar in my head that screams of madness.
"I am running away," he says, and were there not still lines on his face where his tears cut swaths through the soot on his cheeks, then I might believe his earlier hysterics part of a bizarre dream. Even as his fingers tremble and even as he ties his hunter's pack with casual disregard for his injured hand, his voice is rational.
"But your hand—"
"Why do you care for me, Findekáno?" His voice stabs at me like an accusation. "I have given you naught but torment."
"We are both the grandsons of Finwë. Are we not?"
His eyes flicker to mine. "We are." As though bothered by the implication of those two words, he turns quickly back to his task, retrieving two waterskins and a hunting knife from the chest at the bottom of our bed. His longbow leans against the wall, and he takes that as well, stuffing his three steel-tipped arrows into his belt in lieu of a quiver.
"But you are too young. It is dangerous."
"Then let me die and go to Mandos, and may my spirit be given next to a father whom I shall not grieve."
"But Fëanáro shall always be your father, even were you reborn, for your spirit shall remain the same."
Tyelkormo laughs. "Please do not burden me now with philosophies, Findekáno! Would I want that, I would bring along Nelyo."
He seems to think of something then, and his lip trembles.
"Your father will miss you! And your mother and your brothers too! Do not go, Tyelkormo."
He shrugs his hunter's pack onto his shoulders. "I am resolute, Findekáno."
"Then let me go with you."
There is a moment where both of us are stunned into silence. Then my heart begins hammering hard, waiting for his rejection that I dread is coming. He watches me like a wolf, appraising whether he who approaches is friend or foe, and quickly lowers his eyes. "You jest."
"I do not."
He turns from me to pluck at his bowstring. "Quickly then. Atar will be seeking me soon."
I am ready quickly, for I work unhindered by an injured hand. As I wrap my own hunter's pack, he says nothing and stares at the floor, while I wait for him to speak and say that he has reconsidered and will be leaving alone. But the pronouncement never comes, and we ease from our bedroom, checking the hallway and listening. "They are all downstairs," Tyelkormo tells me in a low voice. "Quickly." He takes my hand and leads me down the hall, away from the stairs.
"Shh." He stops at Macalaurë's room, listens for a moment, and opens the door. "It would be wise for you also to have a bow," he tells me, and we step into Macalaurë's room and he quietly shuts the door behind us.
I have only been in my second-eldest cousin's room a few times, usually while being carried on Maitimo's hip on the way to the bath or bed. His room is done in blues and grays and reminds me of the time we'd stayed in the palace in Alqualondë for Uncle Arafinwë's wedding. His room has none of the somber beauty of the Noldor—no velvet drapes, no heavy crystal paperweights—and it looks bigger than it really is, as though the walls are insubstantial. All of his windows are open, and long white curtains billow into the room, pointing accusing fingers at us, the trespassers. Tyelkormo's familiarity with his second-eldest brother's bedroom doesn't appear to be much better than mine, and he stands for a long moment, looking about the room for that which we seek, and finding it not, silently crosses the floor to rummage through the trunk at the bottom of the bed.
A bird flies in through the window and perches on the footrest of Macalaurë's bed. It twitters at us, imploring, and Tyelkormo whistles back. It hops across the blue velvet bedspread, chirping all the while, and Tyelkormo whistles again. It turns and cocks it head to look first at him, then me, then spreads its wings and flutters back out the window.
"Here," Tyelkormo whispers, drawing from the trunk the shortbow that Macalaurë uses during archery practice. It is much too big for me—it had belonged first to my aunt and now my nearly-grown cousin—and I can barely draw back the bowstring, but I say nothing and take it and the three blue-fletched arrows that Tyelkormo hands me.
As we exit the room, I turn back and ponder this place that I barely know, belonging to a cousin who is still practically a stranger to me, lost as he is in his music and the complex social world that he navigates with Maitimo. Heaviness settles onto my chest, and I consider what we are doing. Would Tyelkormo have his way, he would never have us found. He would never see his parents or his brothers again; nor will I see mine, I realize with a start. I wonder: Where are we going? We can hardly wander until the ending of the world; our journeys must take us somewhere, eventually. I envision a cottage in the trees, living alongside this cousin who I'd always assumed hated me, growing into adulthood with no one but Tyelkormo for company and counsel. Of course, Uncle Fëanáro is an excellent tracker and will likely have no trouble at all deciphering Tyelkormo's elementary attempts at hiding our tracks, but if we are successful—
Tyelkormo pulls me into the hall, and we walk on soft feet down the stairs, where I can still hear my aunt and uncle giving comfort to the injured Annawendë. Tyelkormo's hand is as tight as a manacle on my wrist, only his flesh is no longer cold but burns.
We duck through the front door and are free of the house.
The gardens—which normally bustle as people hustle between the workshops and the air of which rings with the sounds of the forge—are quiet. We steal across the lawn towards the road and our freedom, the rocky hills and dizzying bluffs of the northern lands. Tyelkormo gestures for me to wait at the base of a tree while he leaps into its branches with the deftness of a cat to survey the lands around us. He slips back to the ground after only a few seconds and seizes my hand. "Maitimo rides hard from the east with the healer," he says. "We must hurry."
The rich grass of the lawn grows sparse as we run, and the house is behind us. I can hear the sound of hoofbeats as Maitimo thunders down the road; Tyelkormo pulls me behind a rock and wraps us both with his cloak.
"Shh," he says. He is holding his breath, but I can feel his heart hammering against my back. I scarcely realize that I have held my own breath until I hear my uncle greeting Maitimo and the healer and realize that my chest aches for air. I take a careful, shallow breath, and when we hear the front door close, Tyelkormo stands and tugs me to my feet.
A dark shape springs from behind the rock and hits Tyelkormo in the back of the head with a long piece of wood. It lands on the ground between us and tries to smack me in the knees, but I jump back and nearly fall on a loose stone. "Dead, beast!" it screams and only then do I realize that it is Carnistir.
Tyelkormo seizes his little brother and clamps his good hand over his mouth. "Shh! Carnistir!" We all fall back behind the rock—Carnistir is waving his practice sword, his shrieks muffled by Tyelkormo's hand—and listen for any sounds from the house, but nothing comes.
Carnistir's shrieks are spiraling into hysteria, and he is gnashing at Tyelkormo's hand with his teeth. "Carnistir! Stop!" Tyelkormo says in a frantic whisper-shout. Carnistir is pummeling his brother's ribs with his elbows. "Ai! Stop!"
"Carnistir." I reach out and stroke his raven hair back from his forehead as I have seen my uncle and Maitimo do. He falls into silence mid-shriek, and his dark eyes roll in my direction. He says something that—muffled though it is by Tyelkormo's hand—sounds like "Káno."
Tyelkormo drops his hand from Carnistir's mouth, and Carnistir wriggles free and plunges into my lap to lie in my arms, as limp as an empty potato sack. "Káno," he says again, nuzzling my neck and popping his thumb into his mouth. "Blue blue Káno."
"Carnistir, look," Tyelkormo reasons. "Káno and I are taking a walk together, so why don't you let us go and take yourself back to the house. Maybe Atar needs your help."
"You're not taking a walk," says Carnistir. "You're lying."
"No, really, Carnistir—"
"You're running away."
The placid baby in my arms changes in that instance to the weepy, runny-nosed brat to whom I am better accustomed. "Don't go don't go don't go," he sobs. He is clinging to me but reaching also for Tyelkormo. "I love you, Turko, don't go!"
"Quiet, Carnistir!" Tyelkormo says, but Carnistir starts wailing, "Aaahhh!"
Tyelkormo is shooting nervous looks at the house, but no one has emerged, and I imagine that they are all still too preoccupied with Annawendë to pay much mind to Carnistir's cries. "I'll write to you," Tyelkormo says in what is meant to be a reassuring tone, but it has the opposite effect, and Carnistir stops crying for a moment to take a deep breath and lets loose with a shriek like none I have ever heard before.
Tyelkormo lurches across the space between us, and Carnistir is sandwiched between us, his face pressed into my chest, muffling his screams, while Tyelkormo's arms circle both of us and hold us in a weird family embrace.
"What if I told you that you could go along with us?" he asks in panicked haste.
The screams turn to sobs and then into whimpers and Carnistir twists his head around and manages to loosen himself enough to look up at us. "Really?"
"Yes." Tyelkormo looks weary suddenly. "If you promise to be good and listen to what I tell you to do, then you may come along."
Carnistir's small, reddened face fractures into a huge grin. We stand and head back in the direction of the road, Carnistir trotting gleefully between us, waving his wooden sword and whooping, despite the fact that Tyelkormo repeatedly hushes him. "But he has no extra clothes!" I hiss to Tyelkormo. "No cloak! No boots!"
Tyelkormo gives me a reproachful stare. "I will mind that, Findekáno."
"I am the elder and it was my idea so hearken when I tell you that I will mind that!"
My teeth click shut, and I say no more.
We reach the road, more a dirt trail that bisects the land between my uncle's house and the town. To the east lies the town, near enough now that we can see the guards pacing in front of the gates. To the west is the house, but only the peak of the roof is visible above the hills that separate my uncle's estate from the township proper. We start north of the road, heading across a beige-colored meadow towards the black hills in the distance, keeping our cloaks wrapped tightly about us to keep from being spotted by the guards. Tyelkormo carries Carnistir and wraps him also in the cloak. We make haste, and soon, a hill lies between the guards and us, and Tyelkormo sets Carnistir back on his feet with a sigh of relief.
For hours we walk. I start counting the paces, but quickly grow tired of it. The lights mingle and Carnistir begins to whimper. "I'm hungry, Turko," he whines.
In our haste to leave the house, we brought not a single morsel of food, not even a bit of dried fruit or a crust of bread.
"My feet hurt. I'm cold."
Big, fat tears are sliding down my youngest cousin's face. Tyelkormo sighs in frustration. "We'll make camp, Carnistir, and I'll find us some supper."
We have no tent, no bedrolls, so we find a grove of trees and I gather some dried leaves and make beds while Tyelkormo readies his bow and sets off in search of game.
Carnistir is huddled beneath one of the trees, shivering. Goosebumps dot his chubby, bare arms. Laurelin's light is fading quickly, and I can feel the heat of the day draining, running from the day like water from an unstoppered bathtub. I wear a medium-heavy cloak myself, and already, the chill is starting to settle on my arms and shoulders. I unroll my hunter's pack and remove my heavy cloak.
In the burgeoning cold, its heavy fur-lined warmth beckons me like a mother's embrace. But Carnistir is whimpering now and shaking so hard that I can see his little body moving even from where I stand, in stark, pale relief against the dark tree.
I take the cloak to him and wrap it around his shoulders.
"Káno," he says, his pale lips trembling as I rub his arms to warm them, "I want to go home."
We sleep that night on a bed of dry leaves with Carnistir between us, wearing our heaviest clothes and huddling together with our heavy and medium cloaks piled atop us like blankets. Carnistir weeps for a long time before falling asleep, until Tyelkormo turns his back in frustration, leaving me to cradle him in my arms and stroke his satiny dark hair.
"Hush, baby," I tell him. "All is well."
"Atar," he whimpers. "I want Atar."
I suddenly want my own father as well. I want to sit on his lap that seems so wide and secure with his arms around me. I want to listen to him talking with Grandfather Finwë or bantering with Uncle Arafinwë. My face burns, and I realize that I am weeping too, though silently.
Carnistir wriggles an arm from the blankets and touches my tears before placing his dampened fingers in his mouth.
I imagine that Uncle Fëanáro must surely have discovered that we are missing by now. I imagine that he and Nelyo and Macalaurë are riding around the estate and the town, even as we lie here, calling for us, growing increasingly worried as the light falls from the day. I imagine that Aunt Nerdanel must be nearly hysterical by now. I suddenly feel very guilty.
A scream punctures the night and shatters the fragile sleep I'd managed to find after hours of restless wakefulness. It escalates until it fills my head, until even the sounds of the night are drowned by it, and I can think of nothing else but to hold my hands over my ears and roll in the direction of silence.
It is Carnistir, I realize, as wakefulness takes hold. He lies still between us, but he has kicked the covers away and his little body arches rigidly over our bed, his muscles so tight that he body convulses to escape the pain he inflicts upon himself. He screams again—another wordless keening—and his tiny hands dig at the ground as though it is rising up to attack him, and at last, he shouts at the chimeras in his dreams with words: "No, no, no! Leave him, please! Leave him…" and his body sags back to the ground, and he begins to sob. "Please…."
Tyelkormo reaches first for his little brother, embracing him and jostling him awake. "Carnistir! Wake up! It was only a dream." I hear fear in his voice, a black leech that drains away the shameless pride that has brought us here.
Carnistir writhes awake and, upon seeing Tyelkormo, begins screaming again. "Atar! Atar! ATAAAAAR!"
"No, Carnistir, Atar isn't here. Just me and Káno, remember? But you're well, all is well, little one."
The soft words do little to ease the terror in my little cousin's face. He throws back his head and screams again and again for his father, until even Tyelkormo's eyes shimmer with tears, and Carnistir sobs with desperation, "Atar, Atar, we have to save Nelyo."
Fear clutches my heart in its fist and squeezes. "What did he say?" I bark to Tyelkormo.
"He has vivid nightmares," Tyelkormo explains, brusquely stroking his brother's hair, "but his dreams, they make no sense. He dreams of things that are not possible in this world."
"They have him, Atar, please, save him. Help me save him." With his eyes pinched shut, Carnistir might be praying to the Valar, not invoking the help of his absent father in dispelling his delusional nightmares. Tyelkormo strokes his back and holds his little brother close, but it is not enough to coax him back to sleep.
"Only our father knows how to—" Tyelkormo begins but doesn't finish. Instead, he looks away and stands up, holding Carnistir close to his body as he paces the forest floor, barefoot and seemingly unbothered by the cold, trying to soothe our youngest companion back to sleep.
I huddle beneath the heavy cloaks we use as blankets. The words I want to say are formed on my tongue, but spilling them into the cold night air for Tyelkormo's scrutiny suddenly requires the same effort as lifting a heavy weight. "Tyelkormo," I begin, but when his blue eyes—bright in the near dark—meet mine, I have to look down at the leaves before speaking further. "Maybe we should go home?"
I don't mean for it to come out as a question. I mean for it to be authoritative and confident, like my cousin Maitimo when he gives us our carefully prepared lore lectures every week, the kind of voice that even someone like Tyelkormo cannot resist obeying. I want it to be the kind of voice that will make him set Carnistir aside and gather our belongings, bidding me to do the same so that we can return home this very night and be snug in our beds by morning. Instead, he shifts Carnistir to his hip and contemplates me. "Are you mad?" he asks in a voice with not even a drop of the acquiescence that I'd imagined. "What do you wish us to do? March into the house and announce to Atar that we'd decided to spend a night camping in the wild? Without telling anyone? Do you expect that he shall order Nelyo to draw us a hot bath, put on a kettle of tea, and get Macalaurë from sleep to serenade us with a song?"
"Well, I do not think that we should stay here."
"Here? Meaning this exact place? That is well: We shall move to the next grove of trees. Just because you wish it so." His voice shakes beneath the sarcasm. He moves as if to roll up our cloaks, and I can see that his hands are trembling.
"That is not what I mean. I do not think we should have run away."
"Fine time to think of it now, Findekáno."
"We have no food. It is cold. And Carnistir…." Carnistir has quieted to grievous moans into Tyelkormo's shoulder, accented every minute or so by a hiccup of a sob and the occasional whimper, "Atar…."
"And should we go home? Do you even know the wrath of my father in anger? We shall wish for starvation in the wilds before that."
He lays Carnistir back on the bed and cringes. His hand, I see—which he has made a point not to make a point out of—is angry-red, and the skin is beginning to peel away from the burn in dark strips. I am sickened just to look at it and have to lie down to calm my spinning head.
Carnistir crawls to me with tears still pouring down his face and pushes his head against my chest. "Blue, blue," he says, as though in prayer or invocation. "Blue."
I wrap my heavy cloak around us and pretend not to watch as Tyelkormo lies down again on his half of the bed, alone, with his head lowered to hide the tears in his eyes.
I must have slept because, when I awaken, it is the Mingling of the Lights. My naked ears are cold and sore, and as I raise my hands to rub warmth back into them, something wriggles beneath the blanket, and I remember Carnistir.
He has submerged himself completely beneath the cloaks that I share with him, his face pressed into my belly. He rises now and puts his little hands on either side of my face, cupping my ears. "In the cold under the stars, may night's chill depart," he says, and my ears flush into immediate warmth, as though all of the warm blood in my body has been sent to beat through them. Carnistir falls back against my chest, and puzzled, I ask him, "Where did you learn such a thing?"
"I know it," he says.
"But how, little one? It is like magic you perform."
"I know it," he repeats in the same enigmatic and nonchalant tone.
There is a rustle of leaves behind us, and Carnistir leaps to his feet to hug his brother, even as I am beginning to ponder how he had even known that my ears had been cold.
"Turko! Turko! Did you bring breakfast?"
I rise slowly, wondering how much anger Tyelkormo retains after our confrontation last night, but he gives me a glance of neither friend nor foe and goes to sit away from the bed, beneath a tree, with his back to me. "There was no game. You'll have to eat berries," he says coldly to Carnistir, and his head hangs and his hair spills over his face. His good hand rises to rub his forehead; the injured hand, I see, is hidden beneath his cloak.
"Tyelkormo?" I call.
He stands quickly, leaving his hurt hand beneath his cloak, and says, "Now that everyone's awake, we must be moving on. There is rain on the clouds today."
As we roll our belongings into our cloaks, I notice an odor like meat that has been left to fester in the heat of the day. I grimace and lean closer to Tyelkormo, trying to discern the source of the reek, and my nose lowers and lowers until it is nearly pressed to his injured hand, and the smell of dying flesh is strong enough to make me gag.
"Tyelkormo! Your hand!"
It is red still, but the worst of the burned flesh is dying, creating the odor I detected. Yellow mucus has seeped over most of the burn. Tyelkormo quickly tucks it away again, and I hear his breath hiss between his teeth as the hand brushes his cloak.
"It is fine," he says. "The worst of the dying flesh has fallen away."
As I watch him gather his belongings, I realize that it wasn't lack of game that leaves us with a cold, meager breakfast but his inability to use his injured hand. Everything he does one-handed, trying to look nonchalant, but I watch his cloak unroll three times before he finally manages to shove it into his hunter's pack. Cold dread tickles my stomach and I grip my shortbow tighter, thinking suddenly of the beasts that Cousin Macalaurë professes run free in these lands.
We stop to snack on berries, but even after we have cleared the bushes, hunger still clenches my stomach in its insistent fist. After another half-hour of walking, Carnistir begins crying again, and I carry him in both my arms, bent backwards by his weight, while he sobs on my shoulder.
"Carnistir, for Manwë's sake!" Tyelkormo snaps after another half-hour of walking while listening to Carnistir's cries, and I jump to his defense: "He is hungry! It is no fault of his."
"I suppose it is mine then? My fault that there was no game?"
I ignore him and keep walking. Carnistir cries harder.
By midday, the rain that Tyelkormo had seen on the clouds begins to fall in fat, slow drops. Thunder grumbles in the distance, sounding eerily like the rumbles in our empty bellies. Tyelkormo has been pale and silent for the last few hours; Carnistir's weeping has subsided, and he sleeps in my aching arms with the weight of a bag of rocks. Tyelkormo has us stop so that he can climb a tree in slow, one-handed grasps to search for shelter from the imminent storm. After many minutes, he lowers himself to the ground and says, "There is a cave in the hillside, not far to the west."
The cave is deep and dark, and we enter it just as the storm breaks over our heads, drenching the brown land and casting it in blue flashes of lightning. Tyelkormo had thought to gather some dried branches as we'd walked, and in a matter of minutes, he has a roaring fire built in the center of the cave. The firelight flickers orange on the wide walls, and we can see that the cave drops deeper into the hillside behind us, tapering into a long tunnel that we could crawl on hands and knees were it not littered with pieces of sharp rock. Warm and out of the rain, everyone's mood improves—despite our hunger and our weariness—and swallowing my nausea, I am permitted to examine Tyelkormo's hand.
"It hurts quite badly," he admits, and I can see why, for the burn is deeper than it had first looked and has destroyed much of the tissue on the base of his palm. Knowing not what else to do, I soak one of my extra tunics with rainwater and bring it back to dab at the angry wound. At first, Tyelkormo cries out and jerks his hand away, but I persist, and soon, much of the dark, reeking flesh has been cleaned away and, wiping tears from his eyes, even Tyelkormo must admit that it feels better.
"Perhaps I can draw my bow now," he says, and the shame in his eyes tells me that he'd known all along that I had discerned the real reason for our inadequate breakfast. "As soon as this rain subsides a bit, I shall gather my hunting gear and at least attempt it. Carnistir, I know is hungry. Right, Carnistir?"
We turn to acknowledge our little companion, but he is gone.
"Carnistir? Come now, this is not a good time to play the shadow game," Tyelkormo calls. There is no answer. "Carnistir? Carnistir? Carnistir!"
I hear panic rise into his voice, and we both leap to our feet to peer out into the rain—falling now so heavily that it looks as though watery curtains are being hung from the clouds—when a voice answers behind us, "Turko?"
We both whirl and see Carnistir, trousers torn and knees bloodied, crawling from the back of the cave with something in his arms. "Turko?" he says again. "I found puppies."
"Puppies?" We both step closer to see what he holds in his arms, but it is only Tyelkormo's hunter's pack. From the back of the cave comes a faint yipping, and two grayish puppies bumble into the circle of light created by our fire.
"See?" Carnistir says, and his face has broken into a wide grin. "Puppies!"
"By Eru!" Tyelkormo gasps. "Carnistir, those are wolves." He flies to the cloaks and extra clothes that I had unpacked. "Eru, help us, we need to get out of here." His hands are shaking as he tries to re-roll my bundles; I hasten to help him. "I don't want to be here when the mother gets back."
"Will she be able to track us?" I ask.
"Hopefully not in the rain. Carnistir!" he shouts. "Put that down and help us!"
"I want to carry it."
"Fine! You can carry it when we leave! But come and help us now."
I imagine that I hear growling in the mouth of the cave, but when I turn, I see Carnistir against a silver backdrop of falling rain, clutching Tyelkormo's hunter's pack to his chest, and nothing else. My cloaks are poorly rolled, but I shove them into my hunter's pack anyway and, without bothering to fasten it completely, Tyelkormo and I leap to our feet. "Come on, Carnistir!" Tyelkormo says, his impatience quavering in his voice, as he seizes his little brother by the arm and drags him from the cave. "Now is not the time to dawdle!"
We are soaked within a matter of seconds, but I silently thank Manwë for the storm, for the heavy rains should erase our tracks and our scents before the mother returns. We splash through the mud, my heartbeat like drums in my ears, unconcerned now about our hunger and injury. The soil beneath our feet is slipping away in a brisk course of water. I stumble once, but Tyelkormo seizes my arm and drags me to my feet, and we don't even loose a step. There is a bluff, barely visible as a gray mass through the rain, and Tyelkormo shouts at us to follow him in that direction, where we can hopefully find new shelter from the rain.
In that instant, the rain stops. A few straggling drops plunk onto our bare, soaked heads and there is a final crack of thunder, but when we look up, blue skies are beginning to break through. Tyelkormo stops to wipe the rainwater from his eyes and survey the lands around us. To the south, Laurelin's light is gold on the horizon. Around us are soaring cliffs and bluffs of dove-colored stone, dotted in places with caves like the one from which we have just emerged. The ground is rocky and little grows, and even the trees are nearly bare of leaves. To the north, there is a gap between two high cliffs, and Tyelkormo motions us in that direction. "This way!" he calls.
I take a step and hear my feet squelch in the mud. Two other sounds answer it: the bray of Oromë's hunting horn echoes off of the cliffs around us, and from the pack that Carnistir still clutches in his arms, comes a flurry of angry yelps.
And, behind us, low growling.
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