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Another Man's Cage: 37. Chapter Thirty-Seven--Findekano
There is a strange quality to the light when I awaken: It glitters, like someone has taken a handful of diamond dust and cast it into the air. Telperion has faded and Laurelin is still wan, but the room looks as though a thousand tiny lamps have been placed outside my window.
It is also cold, and that—not the strange light—is what awakened me. Tyelkormo has left our bed, pulling most of the covers onto the floor in the process. The heavy, down-filled quilt is balled entirely on his side of the bed, and I have snuggled into it in my sleep, perhaps mistaking it for another body to warm me. Only a thin flannel sheet remains wrapped around me, and that is because I have learned to tuck it under my body before falling asleep or chance having it also pulled away in the night.
Tyelkormo awakens early—no later than the Mingling of the Lights, usually—and I have grown accustomed to spending a few luxurious hours after his departure with the bed to myself and no worries of being kicked or elbowed if I stray too far onto his side. (Although retaliation is justified by the number of times that I have awakened, teetering on the edge of the bed while Tyelkormo presses to my back with his arm flung around me, I swallow the urge.)
Better still are the nights that he spends in Maitimo's room, but these have been rare, as we have spent nearly a month away from home, at the House of Oromë, while Maitimo went with Macalaurë to the sea. Of course, at Oromë's, Tyelkormo and I didn't have to share a bed, and sometimes I thought he snored louder there than he does at home just to spite me. Sometimes, Tyelkormo will also go to his parents' room, but Uncle Fëanáro has been bringing him back lately—Tyelkormo's lips quivering as he tries not to snivel, his face turned defiantly from his father's—tucking Tyelkormo back into bed with haste, his appearance haphazard and his dress mismatched, with tunics on backward and hair half-unbraided, and he usually forgets to greet me and hustles away after planting a quick kiss on Tyelkormo's forehead. (Perhaps he thinks I'm asleep?) On these nights, Tylekormo's constant sniffling makes it impossible to sleep, and he mutters in my direction, vindictive things about his parents. "He is trying to make Amil pregnant," he said one night. "But I don't want another damned brother!" I feel my face burn in the dark—although I do not know the full meaning of his words—and the backward, mismatched clothes and the smell on my uncle's skin like lightning in the air made better, although still incomplete, sense.
But now, I am too cold to enjoy having the bed to myself; even when I pull the quilt around my shoulders, I shiver. In the middle of summer here, the nights became almost warm, and we stopped lighting fires at night, but Uncle Fëanáro has resumed this last week, since our return from Oromë's, although they always die by morning.
I want to go home, comes the thin, babyish thought, one of those I believed silenced when Uncle Fëanáro flung me from the cliff and buried when I faced the wolf.
I roll over, towards the window, and observe a most astounding sight, so astounding that my self-pity is forgotten, and I throw the blankets from myself and leap from the bed in alarm.
The glass on the window has changed; it has become roughened by a feathery pattern across its lower half and that is what changed the light. Instead of a single window through which Laurelin can peer, she has been granted a thousand, and there are a thousand bright facets of light like tiny crystals. Curiosity overcomes my alarm, and I go to the window, only to discover that the glass is smooth on the inside; it is the outside that has changed. Fearless—for what harm can come of something so beautiful?—I press my hand to the glass and cry out when I remove it and discover that a clear spot in the shape of my hand has been left.
The first frost—I suppose that's what this is. I have heard Uncle Fëanáro speaking of it with my aunt and my older cousins. Preparations have been made to leave: Trunks have been packed, carts have been repaired and readied, and the house and forge have been meticulously and painstakingly scrubbed. But our departure from this cold, dark city has remained contingent on this first frost which I have never seen—of which I've never even heard!—and which remained enigmatic until now, where beneath the warmth of my hand, I find it to be a frail, ephemeral thing.
Suddenly, a child's maliciousness seizes me, and I press my hands to the windows and huff the hottest air my lungs can make onto the glass, until all of the frost is destroyed and only a thin sheen of water remains. My triumph at this success, however, is undercut by a vague regret for the delicate, beautiful filigree of ice that I have so thoughtlessly destroyed and replaced with smudgy handprints.
The light through the window is normal now and gaining in intensity. I think briefly of going back to bed, but my body is infused with energy now, and I would only lie there restlessly until Maitimo came and roused me for whatever chores await me today. I suppose that we will leave tomorrow. Such was the plan: Leave after the first frost. Perhaps we would leave today if not for the fact that Uncle Fëanáro and Aunt Nerdanel stayed in the city last night to attend a feast being held by one of the lords, and they do not expect to return until the afternoon.
With that thought, I realize that the house is very quiet. I do not hear noise from my cousins' rooms, as is typical at this hour. Maitimo is usually awaking now and Macalaurë is still in the depths of slumber, sometimes talking in his sleep. Dread pinches my insides momentarily, and I am convinced that they have left and I have been forgotten. But then comes a thought, comforting and certain: Maitimo would not leave you.
Even if the others would, I have learned this summer to trust that Maitimo would not leave me.
I dress hastily, pulling a woolen tunic over my nightclothes and donning a thick pair of socks to protect my feet from the mercilessly cold stone floors outside my bedroom. I hasten to the stairs and down, wanting to call out but suppressing the urge the way that one might suppress any presumption or rudeness, and I am rewarded for it, for I hear a shout of laughter from one of the front rooms, and I hurry in that direction.
I am surprised to hear Macalaurë's voice, laughing—there is no mistaking Macalaurë's voice, for its beauty makes me shiver even to hear him utter the most innocuous of words—and a squeal that must be Tyelkormo. The sounds are coming from the sitting room, the large cozy room at the corner of the house where the normal rules for cleanliness and behavior are suspended. The furniture is comfortable enough to sleep there—and indeed I have, with my head on Maitimo's lap, his fingers twined in my hair, and my feet resting unpunished on the cushions—and there are always castaway boots and cloaks thrown over the backs of chairs and sketches, musings, and bits of song written on scraps of parchment during casual moments when inspiration is allowed to sneak into one's unsuspecting brain.
I round the corner and laughter catches in my throat at the sight: Maitimo, Macalaurë, and Vorondil are playing some kind of game with Tyelkormo: Tyelkormo has a strip of cloth tied over his eyes, and he is attempting to tag one of them, while they run around the room and catapult over furniture and away from his grasping hands. Tyelkormo moves in blindness with the same confidence as he does while sighted, leaping onto furniture and navigating obstacles with such ease that I might swear he could see them. The others are trying not to make a sound, and I can imagine Tyelkormo's sensitive ears straining to catch the faintest rustle of breath or the padding of a foot stepping from the chair to the floor. The scene is comic, to see my two eldest cousins and my uncle's senior apprentice darting around as if they were small children, using each other as shields, still in their nightclothes, laughing silently through open mouths. I have always found Vorondil a bit too stiff and serious to be comfortable around, and Macalaurë is usually too distant to pay me much heed, even during our lessons together. And Maitimo is very dignified—although warm enough in manner that I am not made uncomfortable by it—and I certainly wouldn't have imagined him throwing a shoe across the room to distract Tyelkormo away from where Vorondil is using him as a shield.
Tyelkormo moves in the direction of the shoe, leaping easily onto a low tabletop, his bare feet soundless as air, his hands grabbing at the air in front of him. I let out a sniff of laughter despite my best efforts to suppress it, and before I know what has happened, Tyelkormo's hands are on me, and he is laughing and tugging away the blindfold.
"I got you again, Maca—" He starts when his victim is revealed to be me. "Oh. It's you."
"I'm sorry, I didn't—" I begin, but Tyelkormo is already turning to Maitimo and saying, "That's not fair. He distracted me! How long has he been standing there?"
Maitimo comes over and soothes my flustered cousin with a hand to his hair. "He just got here, little one."
"Is he playing?" Tyelkormo's wide blue eyes are uncertain: Does he want to invite me to join his games? If he does, I will become his prey, but I could also be mistaken as his friend. It must pose quite the dilemma.
But Maitimo solves it easily: "No, no. It is getting late. We have much to do today before Amil and Atar get home, starting with breakfast."
Vorondil is standing stiffly, staring at a piece of parchment that has fluttered onto the floor. Macalaurë is gazing into space, his eyes sleepy. I feel suddenly guilty, for it seems that the game has ended on my account.
Macalaurë and Vorondil will prepare breakfast while Maitimo rouses and dresses Carnistir. First, though, he supervises Tyelkormo and me while we wash our faces and teeth and dress in clothes suitable for a day's work. He combs our hair and fastens the sides back from our faces. Most of our clothes have been moved from our armoire and into the big trunks that we use for travel. Only a few undergarments, tunics, a pair of breeches, and our boots have been left. Tyelkormo also wears the pendant that Maitimo gave him for his begetting day, but he always wears this; he sleeps in it even.
My own begetting day is only two weeks away, and we should arrive in Tirion just in time to celebrate it. I wonder if Maitimo has made me a gift? Probably not—I have only known his company this one summer, whereas Tyelkormo has known it for fifteen years. I feel a pinch of envy when I see the pendant sparkling at my cousin's throat and know that my greed is shameful. After all, I will receive many gifts from my parents and my grandparents and the lords most loyal to my father, whereas my cousins receive trinkets from their family and little more, for Uncle Fëanáro commands the loyalty of craftspeople—not lords—who haven't the means to give luxurious gifts to his many sons and so have been told to give to none. I can't help the thought, though, that comes unbidden: All of these things I would exchange for a crudely shaped artifact from my cousin's hand.
As though he senses my thoughts, Maitimo smiles in my direction. "Findekáno, would you help me with Carnistir? Tyelkormo, I'm sure Macalaurë and Vorondil could use your assistance in setting the table downstairs."
And so Tyelkormo is dismissed while I am permitted to trot at Maitimo's heels down the hall. He has been doing this lately—sending Tyelkormo away and asking me for help—especially on delicate tasks that require a measure of decorum or patience. I wonder if he notices that he does it; I wonder if he realizes that the ease of having me help him with such things (versus Tyelkormo, who tends to be loud and boorish even when he tries to be the opposite) might not be worth the conflagration that will one day ensue. I feel as though I am marooned between them, and stepping one way brings me closer to one and takes me from the other. The thought of losing Maitimo is unbearable but the thought of enduring Tyelkormo's wrath again—which has notably lessened since the incident with the wolf—is like willingly subjecting oneself to torment.
(But—maybe—I would do this for Maitimo? It is hard to say that my love for him isn't born of desperation, the way a drowning man loves a plank of wood as long as it keeps him afloat but becomes ordinary again on the seashore. But maybe I would endure torment for him.)
Carnistir gives relatively little fuss this morning, and so I am left to sit with him while Maitimo gathers his clothes. He curls in my lap and nibbles on a piece of my hair, and I stroke his hair, which is heavier than satin. I hold him in the way that I have learned this summer, to keep him from tumbling onto the floor, and watch Maitimo move around the room with rapid confidence, selecting a dark red woolen tunic and shaking the wrinkles from it, sighing when he stoops to retrieve Carnistir's boots and sees that they have been unlaced. He sits beside me on Carnistir's bed and begins re-lacing the boots; Carnistir reaches out, grabs a long tendril of Maitimo's unfettered hair, and tucks it into his mouth with mine.
Maitimo's nimble fingers thread the laces with effortless precision. To Carnistir, he says, "Who unlaced your boots?"
Carnistir answers in a small voice: "Turko."
"Why would Turko unlace your boots?"
"He likes to chew on the strings."
Maitimo sighs, and Carnistir buries his face in my shoulder. I tighten my hold on him, and Maitimo gives me a tiny smile. "You will be a good brother, Findekáno," he says, and I wonder if this is true. I have thought of it, many times, watching him: Can I mimic the love and patience that comes so effortlessly to Maitimo? I think bitterly that I have no reason to love my unborn brother. I do not know him, and he was part of the reason that I was sent away this summer. (Although the main reason was my disinterest in my studies that is hard to believe now, when I have found such enthusiasm for the letters and lore that once bored me.) I have trouble imagining that Atar and Amil will let me hold my brother like I hold Carnistir now without keeping a keen eye on me to make sure that I don't drop him.
I raise this point to Maitimo now. "What if I drop him?"
He laughs. "Small children are quite resilient, Kano. They bounce." I look at him with horror. "Knowing your cousin Tyelkormo, have you any trouble believing that his early childhood was marked by numerous falls from heights? If Tyelkormo knew the number of times that Atar wasn't attentive holding him and he wriggled out of Atar's arms …" Maitimo trails off then smiles wryly. "Possibly—not likely, but possibly—he wouldn't be so devoted."
He takes Carnistir from me and stands him on the bed, and while Carnistir is distracted, playing with the radiant stone at his throat, tucks him quickly into his clothes, then holds him tightly in his arms to comb his hair. Carnistir shrieks at this—his hair is perpetually tangled—and clamps his teeth onto Maitimo's arm, but Maitimo is not affected and does not stop until the task is finished.
"I hope my brother doesn't bite."
Maitimo laughs. "Most young Elves go through a phase when they bite, but they quickly grow out of it. It has lasted overlong in Carnistir." Whimpering, Carnistir casts his eyes upward at his brother. "You would love him despite it, Findekáno."
When we reach the kitchen, Macalaurë and Vorondil are arguing, Tyelkormo is nowhere in sight, and the kitchen is filled with a filmy gray smoke that smells of scorched bread.
"If you had been more attentive—" Vorondil is saying when he and Macalaurë catch sight of Maitimo at the same time and both begin pointing at and speaking accusingly of the other.
Maitimo grimaces and holds up his hand to silence them. "For Manwë's sake! Quiet! What has happened here?" Macalaurë and Vorondil both open their mouths and, realizing that he is inviting another deluge, he quickly adds, "Vorondil first."
Macalaurë's cheeks flush and he snaps, "Why him?"
"He is older."
"But I am your brother!"
"I am attempting to give impartial judgment, Macalaurë! Now, quiet!"
Vorondil says, "I had put extra wood in the oven to make a potato casserole, but he didn't look before putting in the bread to make toast and set fire to the whole lot of it!"
Macalaurë's pale, placid face has turned red, and he squeezes his eyes shut and screams, "Because who makes potato casserole for breakfast the day before a bleeding journey!"
Maitimo puts his hand to his forehead as though trying to banish a headache. "Macalaurë, please don't scream and don't curse in front of the children."
"I'll say whatever I damn well want—"
"—at whatever volume I damn well want—"
"—to whomever I damn well want!"
I have moved closer to Maitimo without realizing it, and pressing against his thigh, I can feel him trembling. Carnistir is whimpering and threatening to erupt, and before I know what has happened, Maitimo has dropped him into my arms and stormed from the kitchen. With wide eyes, Macalaurë and Vorondil watch him depart, and we all cringe when the front door slams so hard that the lamp hanging from the ceiling rattles.
And Carnistir screams.
It is a long moment before Macalaurë steps forward and takes his shrieking brother from me, although it does nothing to solve the situation. Carnistir screams louder. His face is a hideous shade of red; his eyes are narrowed to slits; he pounds Macalaurë's shoulders with his fists and bucks in his arms until Macalaurë has no choice but to pass him to Vorondil, who is bigger and stronger and more able to contain him.
They try to sit him in his chair at the dining room table, but he rolls onto the floor and curls into a ball like an offended potato bug. (I think of what Maitimo said about young children bouncing and might have smiled if Carnistir wasn't cultivating a headache behind my forehead.) Both Macalaurë and Vorondil stare down at him, wearing identical expressions of terrified distaste, the way one might stare at an impossible mess he's left to clean, and finally, they decide that one will walk with him while the other sets out the breakfast.
"He is your brother."
"You work for my father!"
"Yes, I am an apprentice in his forge, not his servant. And certainly not yours!"
"I cannot hold him. He is too wriggly."
Vorondil rolls his eyes and stoops to lift Carnistir. I scurry after Macalaurë, grateful for the relative silence of the kitchen.
Breakfast will be fruit salad and cold bread. I look longingly at the unbaked potato casserole Vorondil left on the counter, but no one is willing to wait for it now, not with Carnistir wailing like a madman. With a sigh, I join Macalaurë at the counter and begin slicing strawberries.
Macalaurë ponders me for a moment, then asks, "Where is Tyelkormo?"
"Maitimo sent him to help you."
He thinks for a moment. "Yes. He came here. I sent him out for a watermelon. Check the kitchen garden for me, would you?" and without waiting for an answer, "Thanks, Findekáno."
But I have no complaints: I am permitted to escape the house, to the garden, where Carnistir's shrieks are nearly inaudible. I find Tyelkormo there, crouching among the watermelons and poking an anthill with a stick.
"Tyelkormo?" I say softly. His head jerks up, and his blue eyes are surprised.
"What is it?"
Perhaps he has forgotten to be angry with me. I hope. "Macalaurë was wondering where you went."
"I went anywhere that's not in there with the two of them hollering like crazy men and—from the sound of it—Carnistir adding to it." His forehead rumples. "I heard the door slam. Where is Nelyo?"
"I don't know. He ran away." His interest has returned to the anthill. There is a trail of ants leading to a broken melon; Tyelkormo is scratching across the trail and watching the ants bumble around until they find where it picks up again. "Are you coming in?"
He laughs. "You can go back, if you want."
"Aren't you hungry?"
"I'm sitting in a melon patch, Findekáno." We consider each other. He sighs and scoots to the side. He pats the ground beside him. "Here. Sit." From his pocket, he extracts an object that he unfolds, revealing a serrated hunting knife. One by one, he turns over the watermelons until he finds one that is suitable and ripe, and he cuts into it. In a few quick strokes, he is offering me a palm full of dripping, pink fruit.
I take it. "What about Macalaurë?"
He shrugs. "Let him deal with Carnistir."
"We won't get into trouble?"
"What can Macalaurë do to us?"
He has a point there. Macalaurë cannot even contain his four-year-old brother. I take a tentative bite of the sweet fruit. Juice dribbles down my chin; my stomach is a hollow pit in the center of my gut, and this might be some of the best fruit I have ever eaten. Tyelkormo is devouring a handful too and seeing how far he can spit the seeds. I do the same, and my seeds fly almost as far as his. He turns to me with wide, alarmed eyes, and soon, we are spitting seeds and laughing, carving more hunks of fruit from the melon and eating until our bellies are stretched and sore.
Tyelkormo reclines against a watermelon and looks at me, grinning, through blue, satisfied slits of eyes. The lower half of his face is sticky with watermelon juice. "We ate almost a whole watermelon, Findekáno."
I want to laugh, but my aching belly is too sore. I groan and curl up on the ground beside him, and my early morning catches up to me then, and I fall asleep.
When I awaken, Tyelkormo is gone. The ground—chill and damp from the frost that morning—has soaked my clothes, and I am shivering. My head is propped onto a watermelon, and my neck is stiff and sore. I open my eyes to appraise the light to see what time of day it is, but it is dark.
The light is gone! For a panicked moment, my heart leaps like a startled animal in my chest, then settles into a normal—albeit pounding—rhythm, and I realize that the light is not gone but blocked, by Uncle Fëanáro, who towers over me with his hands on his hips.
"No mind, Nerdanel!" he shouts. "I have found him!"
He stoops to lift me, and the light blazes in my eyes. It is afternoon! I have slept for half of the day!
My aunt appears then, rustling out of the cornstalks, still in a wispy pink gown that makes her look like a chunk of rock with a frizz of fire upon her head. I look at Uncle Fëanáro then and realize that he is dressed similarly, in dark red robes and his circlet. They had come from the feast at the lord's house and fancied me missing, I imagine, and feel a nervous guilt creep into my belly.
"Findekáno! Thank Varda!" I am seized from Uncle Fëanáro a little roughly and hugged by Aunt Nerdanel. "We thought you lost again!"
Again. The word makes me cold with the realization that I will be presented to my parents in a week—what I have hoped to be a happy occasion, marked by an easy show of my accomplishments this summer—and Uncle Fëanáro will probably have a word with my father then about my tendency to "disappear," first with Tyelkormo and now escaping my cousin Macalaurë, who sent me out with clear orders, which I not only ignored but did so in favor of dropping off to sleep in the middle of the melon patch when there were clearly things that needed to be done for our journey tomorrow.
Perhaps sensing my feelings, Aunt Nerdanel squeezes me again and says, "We are just thankful that you're safe!" but Uncle Fëanáro is already striding towards the house.
Aunt Nerdanel carries me on her hip into the house, and rather than free me there, she takes me up the stairs to the suite she shares with Uncle Fëanáro. The door opens into their sitting room, and my cousins Macalaurë and Tyelkormo, as well as Vorondil, are already there. The door to Uncle Fëanáro's study, which is usually open and, indeed, warmer than the sitting room, is closed.
Aunt Nerdanel leaves me there with the others, regret pinching her face, and whispers something about Uncle Fëanáro wishing to have a word with me, and leaves. Tyelkormo has already taken refuge on Macalaurë's lap, and Vorondil has all the comfort of a straight-backed wooden chair—not something against which you want to cuddle—and so I go off and sit alone in the chair in the corner.
I wonder briefly about the whereabouts of my other cousins, especially Maitimo. Were he here, he would hold me and settle my nervous, quivering stomach. (Actually, Tyelkormo surely would have chosen him first, but then I could have Macalaurë, who is not as comforting but is adequate in a moment of need.) Tyelkormo's posture is slumped and sleepy, but his eyes are shrewd and resting on me, perhaps waiting to see if I will show my fear. Macalaurë and Vorondil sit stiffly, formally, as is not their wont, betraying their anxiety, but I decide that I will not. I close my eyes and imagine myself as Maitimo. I imagine that the hair that spills down my back has greater weight and gentle waves; when I touch it, I imagine that it blazes red beneath my fingers. I am tall, poised, and confident, and I sit as Maitimo would: my posture straight, shoulders proud, so easy in the stance that makes others look brittle and stiff. I do not splay my legs in an effort to look casual but keep my feet together with my hands in my lap—not clasped by lying one atop the other, with no stress whitening my knuckles—and open my eyes and smile at Tyelkormo, whose blue eyes widen then narrow with surprise.
Macalaurë and Vorondil—made friends again, apparently, by their shared plight—are talking in brisk, hushed voices about Maitimo. "I cannot imagine how he felt," says Vorondil. "I was shocked when she told me, and indeed, I miss her direly, although we shared nothing more than friendship."
"He assures me that the sea healed his spirit," says Macalaurë, "but until he knows whether she will return to him, I don't believe healing is his to be had."
"I think it was cruel what she did."
"Naturally, I agree. He is my brother. I wish him no pain."
"Did she think that he would not fall in love—" Vorondil breaks off abruptly as the door to Uncle Fëanáro's office opens. Both he and Macalaurë jerk upright—rigid in their chairs—their gazes fixed on the floor rather than looking at my uncle, who still wears his good robes and looks imposing as a result.
Uncle Fëanáro always looks imposing: He is tall, and although he lacks my grandfather's bulk, there is no doubt that beneath his skin is muscle with the strength of steel. He ripples with brilliance like light on water, moving with an ease that dazzles the eye and makes him hard to look upon. He usually wears work clothes—old tunics and breeches, often soiled and torn, and boots—and his hair is restrained in the fastest, most efficient manner. Even then, he is imposing, but it is easy to forget that he has the same authority as my father, that his birthright is that of a high prince. He laughs and plays at times with the same enthusiasm as his sons; he tells jokes that make Aunt Nerdanel scowl at him; he allows us liberties of which my father would never dream. But now, dressed in the vestments of his position, he is a different man. A high prince. I feel as I do when my grandfather stands and addresses the lords of his council: Despite having been held by him in the most languid of moments, laughing and feeling his breath whisper across my face as he kisses me, when he stands before us as our king, the weight of his authority wants to force me to my knees.
I would kneel before Uncle Fëanáro now and kiss the hands that are adorned with rings more beautiful than those upon my father's and his lords' hands in Tirion; I would beg for mercy. But I do not; I force myself to remain dignified in my pose. Like Maitimo, breathes a voice inside my head. I restrain the urge to flinch or take my eyes from his, and his glance finds mine and lingers for a long moment.
I realize that in the three months that I have lived in his house, I have never allowed my uncle's glance to catch mine for long. Despite becoming more at ease—if not completely comfortable—with my uncle, I tend to look away when he addresses me. I realize that he probably thinks this rude, but then—in the heat of his gaze—most people look away, and so he is probably accustomed to it.
Maitimo does not look away, even when Uncle Fëanáro burns with anger that makes me want to weep from fear. So I do not look away.
There are many things in Uncle Fëanáro's eyes, but what makes me want to cringe away from his stare is perhaps the deepest buried: There is a spark there, with the madness of fire, that which flutters innocuously but, with the faintest breath of wind, swells out of control. Warmth floods me: love, greater than that which I have yet known, greater than that for my parents, even. But some of it is twisted and blackened like overheated metal: That which has been destroyed by grief. That is the madness I see.
He blinks, and when his eyes open again, they are on Vorondil. "Vorondil," he says. "I would like a word with you."
Vorondil and Macalaurë exchange quick looks, but then Vorondil's head drops and he obediently obliges, rising awkwardly from his chair, head lowered and hands clasped in front of him in an attempt at fearlessness betrayed by his whitened knuckles and the tendons that stand out like wires on his arms.
The door closes behind them with a bang.
We wait, but the voices never rise above mutters, and I see Macalaurë's face slowly sags into relief. (When Uncle Fëanáro is angry, Aunt Nerdanel told me once, people in Tirion hear his voice and shiver.)
Vorondil emerges a few minutes later, sneaking a weak smile in Macalaurë's direction, and Macalaurë goes in, emerges, and then I am left alone while Uncle Fëanáro speaks with Tyelkormo in private. Even without the benefit of witnesses, I maintain my poise, even though my shoulders ache with the effort. Is this how Maitimo feels all the time, I wonder? Perhaps he has grown accustomed, or maybe it is so natural to him that he does not feel pain for the constant effort to maintain it, like one who is double-jointed doesn't hurt to bend his body in painful ways.
Tyelkormo emerges and scurries from the room without looking at me, and I am standing and answering Uncle Fëanáro's invitation to enter his study.
I have been here before, brought by Maitimo to recite my lessons for my uncle. It is a place that gives an appearance of being haphazard at first, until one looks closer and realizes that order is maintained amidst the chaos: The piles of papers and books are all organized and part of ongoing projects; the beginnings of craft scattered about are arranged by project, with all the pieces contained so that they do not become lost. On the walls are portraits of each of my cousins—meticulous oil paintings—in which their eyes are as bright as diamonds. I touched one once, while left alone here for an instance—Macalaurë's cheek—and was startled to find that it was not warm.
On Uncle Fëanáro's desk is a new sculpture of my aunt, done in rose quartz, lying back with her hair spilled across a base resembling a bed, the body hastily draped with a strip of silk. My own abilities in sculpting have improved immensely, but the sight of such perfection—it is enough to make even my aunt look beautiful—makes my fingers feel thick and clumsy, like sausages. I tend to stammer here on words that flow easily from my tongue when it is only Maitimo listening. I will not stammer today.
"Findekáno, please sit," says Uncle Fëanáro with surprising graciousness, gesturing to a chair while he sits behind his desk. I do so, making my shoulders touch the back of the chair, resisting the urge to sit—stiff and scared—teetering on the very edge. I close my eyes and envision Maitimo: If only I was that beautiful, this would be easy.
Uncle Fëanáro still wears his circlet upon his head, and it draws my eyes upward, to the eight-pointed star with the fire opal at its center. As though he feels my gaze resting there, he reaches up and removes it, sitting it at the center of his desk. Removing it has pulled tendrils from his braids, and he looks more like the uncle to whom I am accustomed, but I find that I cannot relax. Despite my demeanor, my heart is pattering in my chest, frantic as a frightened animal.
"Findekáno," he says, his tone even, his hands loosely folded on his desk, "you are aware that your aunt and I had an event of some importance to attend last night with Lord Verkaturo and his family." I nod but he does not appear to see it. "I was clear in my instructions that all of you—meaning my sons, my remaining apprentice, and you, Findekáno—were to control yourselves in my absence and complete all of the tasks on the list that I left with Maitimo. Was I unclear in that expectation?"
"No, Uncle," I say, fighting to keep the tremor from my voice.
"Imagine my surprise, then, to arrive this afternoon to find that two of my sons and my brother-son have gone missing, Carnistir is in a state, and none of the tasks to which I appointed you have been done. Would you tell me why that was, Findekáno?"
His eyes meet mine again, twin blazes set in a face that is otherwise placid, and I force myself to look and to collect my speech, but the words are already pouring forth from me: I am speaking of Vorondil and Macalaurë and the burnt bread, of Maitimo attempting to mediate their argument and storming out himself, of Carnistir erupting in screams, and of being sent to the watermelon patch to retrieve Tyelkormo. There, I stop, more from lack of air than anything else, and draw gasping breaths into my lungs.
"Given Macalaurë's instructions, why then did you not return?"
"Because it was Macalaurë."
The words are out, and I regret them in that instant, for that is what skipped through my mind but which I did not intend to voice. Uncle Fëanáro's eyebrows have popped up with curiosity.
"Are you implying, then, that Macalaurë has no authority over you?"
My mouth flaps like a fish left out of water. How do I answer that? Macalaurë projects no air of authority—not when compared to his father or Maitimo or even Vorondil—and it is hard to think of him as being much different than Tyelkormo, Carnistir, and me. But I cannot tell that to his father—who has always been clear that Macalaurë is to be obeyed in Maitimo's absence—because then I would be confessing to disobedience not only to Macalaurë but to Uncle Fëanáro as well, and I do not want to imagine the repercussions of that.
"I have always told you and Tyelkormo and Carnistir that, in the absence of my eldest son, Macalaurë is to be obeyed as you would obey me. If he asked you to return, Findekáno, you should have done so, not lingered in the garden, making yourself sick on watermelon to avoid the responsibility of caring for your younger cousin."
I realize that my words have revealed more than what I intended, and despite my proud determination, my head drops in shame.
At the sight of my shoes on the floor, aligned so nicely next to each other in a fruitless imitation of Maitimo, my head snaps up again. I meet my uncle's eyes, although they seem to sear my spirit with their intensity. His face is eager, awaiting my response. "Uncle Fëanáro," I say carefully, keeping my voice even and collected, "I admit blame to all which you have laid upon me, and I am sorry for it. The wrongdoing was mine and no other's. I will gladly do what you bid as recompense."
Uncle Fëanáro's expression dissolves into a smirk that I can see wants to break into something much more. His eyes glisten with laughter. "Thank you, Findekáno, and you are forgiven. There is no punishment, and this day shall never be mentioned again. I ask only that you go and help your cousins and Vorondil in the forge, and I will call you for supper in two hours."
With relief rushing through my veins, I do not wait a second longer to race for the door and do as I am told.
I report to the forge and am given rags and solvents and instructed by Macalaurë to follow my cousin Tyelkormo and help with the cleaning. I am alarmed by Maitimo's absence—is he still missing?—but dare not mention it. I feel as though I have been given a great gift, and drawing attention to it might cause it to be stolen.
The three others have all been punished, and they discuss their sentences in low, indignant voices. No one asks me what my sentence was, and I wonder why I was spared. Tyelkormo will spend his forge-time for the next two weeks cleaning rather than having lessons. (He appears more distraught by the idea punishment than the actual sentence.) Vorondil will spend those same two weeks doing ten pages of copying from books for Uncle Fëanáro each day. Macalaurë's punishment is met with the most indignation and is perhaps the worst: For showing disrespect to Maitimo and Vorondil both, he will not be permitted to travel from home for two weeks after our return—except to attend events with his family—and will not be permitted visitors either. He swipes angrily at his cheeks while he works, leaving damp smears of soot, and keeps his face hidden from us: I remember mention of a girl named Vingarië and understand this to be the reason.
After two hours, as promised, Aunt Nerdanel appears with word from my uncle that supper is ready. The meal is simple but good: leftover salted venison in gravy, sweet creamed corn, a spicy rice dish, and thick, crusty bread. Uncle Fëanáro has replaced his grand robes and circlet with his usual tunic, breeches, and boots. His only adornment is his marriage ring and the luminous stone that matches the one at Maitimo's throat.
I am surprised when Maitimo enters the room and takes his seat without a word. Like his father, he is dressed in clothes suitable for working, and his conversation with Macalaurë reveals that he has been readying the horses for tomorrow's journey. So we are still leaving tomorrow. A realization occurs to me that this might be the last time that I will eat at this table for many years. Surely, once I am an adult, I can journey when I want to Formenos, and my uncle will welcome me to his table again, but I feel a pang of regret nonetheless. Maitimo will continue tutoring me twice per week over the autumn and winter, but we may never sit like this again, in casual silence, our bodies wearied and made content by labor. He smiles at me when no one else is looking, and after supper, he has a word with his father, and I am told to go with him to the stables.
He is checking each horse's shoes and replacing those lost with new. I have never seen my cousin do this kind of work before, and it surprises me, but I suppose that it is a matter of necessity to learn to shoe one's own horses when one lives an hour's ride from Tirion and its many farriers. I hold the horses for him and feel rather useless—surely I could accomplish more helping Macalaurë finish in the forge—but I say nothing. When he is finished, we begin braiding the horses' manes to prevent tangles from forming over the course of the journey, and with this, I can help and am grateful, feeling uneasy with the sudden weight of blessings put upon my shoulders.
My fingers can braid without looking but I keep my eyes on my work, nonetheless aware of Maitimo beside me, of the warmth from his body and his breathing. I have to gather my courage to speak, and when I do, my voice is tentative, babyish, like it was at my arrival here. "Maitimo?" I whisper, watching my fingers fly through the braiding. "Were you punished?"
He shakes his head and says, "No, I was not."
"Nor was I." I pause a moment, hoping he will intuit my thoughts, but if he does, he says nothing. "Why?" I ask.
"You were honest, Findekáno. And you gave your apologies to my father. He will not punish honesty."
"But how did he know that I was honest? Perhaps the others were telling the truth."
"The others all attempted to put blame up each other. They did not accept their own guilt."
"But how did he know the way of things? Perhaps some had no blame."
"All had blame. I told him this. I met his carriage on the road; he was returning from Formenos with my mother, and I was just stewing, angry, I suppose, at many things. He asked how I happened to be there, and over the course of the ride home, I told him."
"You told the truth?"
"Of course, Findekáno. I do not lie. I may have many flaws, but I do not lie, and Atar knows this. Situations like that have a way of unraveling until we are all ensnared and guilty. We cannot change what we have done, but we can make apologies for it and accept our blame so that such a wrongdoing does not seize us again."
I try to imagine time winding backward. I see myself escaping gratefully into the relative peace of the garden; I see Tyelkormo poking at the anthill, disrupting their parade to the broken watermelon. He invites me to sit—what do I do?
Face flushed, I concentrate harder on the braid appearing beneath my fingers.
Maitimo's voice brightens, although it sounds slightly phony to my ears, as his voice has had a habit of sounding since Annawendë left. I have searched his face during these moments and found no clue to suggest that he is less than sincere; I cannot even identify what exactly in his voice makes me feel this way. Perhaps it is less his tone and more my expectation that he should have trouble recovering happiness after what happened—of which, admittedly, I know very little. "Meanwhile, Findekáno, we go home tomorrow and to so much happiness. You will have a little brother in only a few months time, and your own begetting day is only two weeks away!"
"No more sleeping with Tyelkormo," I say, trying to jest, but my voice sounds flat and unfunny.
"Yes, and you will see your parents again, and we will both see our grandparents, whom I have taken to missing keenly in the recent weeks. I cannot imagine your own sorrow, Findekáno."
I do not want to tell him the truth of this: I miss my mother and her affections, but my interactions with my father in the last months before I left were confined to expressed displeasure and punishment, and my stomach quivers at the thought of returning to it. We finish the braids on the first horse and move to the next—Uncle Fëanáro's—and as though sensing my thoughts, Maitimo pauses to stroke my cheek and tip my chin in his direction. "Little one," he says, "your parents will celebrate what you have become. Your accomplishments are exceptional."
"I will miss you," I blurt out, feeling my cheeks warm. He laughs but it is not unkind. "You shall see me twice a week. I will be staying with your family on the sixth night of the week and tutoring you on the sixth and seventh days. More often, I will visit with my father and Macalaurë, and you will visit me for Carnistir's, Macalaurë's, and my parents' begetting days. There will be no grief, little one."
My spirit is not entirely soothed, but as we work, I join him in talk of this future nonetheless. I consider my memories of him before this summer, confined to the observation of a very tall and exceptionally beautiful youth who stayed ever by my uncle's side and, at times, could almost eclipse him. I'd thought little of him. Given my father's attitude toward Uncle Fëanáro—and subsequently, Maitimo and his brothers—Maitimo seemed unattainable. Bright and beautiful and out of reach, like the stars. To find him so ordinary in his daily life—wearing the same clothes as I did, doing the same things, capable of the same joy and sadness—should have disheartened me, but it did not: It filled me with hope.
I can be like him.
I imagine festivals in the future, as though I am a visitor to Tirion, being led about by an accomplished and knowledgeable guide. I see my father, splendid in his festival clothes with his silver circlet upon his hair and, beside him, is I. "That is Findekáno Nolofinwion," my guide says, and I am amazed by my splendor, less by my raiment and my hair entwined with gold—although that, too, is grand—and more by my manners and the way I smile when my eyes happen upon another's. I shiver with joy at the thought.
"Little one!" Maitimo exclaims, seeing the ripple pass through my body and supposing it to be from cold. He wears a long-sleeved tunic over his short-sleeved one, and he tugs it over his head and puts it on me. I laugh because it fits me like a set of robes but with sleeves that dangle almost to my knees and will have to be rolled nearly in half to give me use of my hands. It is warm from his body and—although I was not cold—I am glad for it. It smells of summer, of warm air and green leaves, of Maitimo.
Stooping beside me to roll the sleeves, he is my height, and I lay my head on his shoulder and bury my face in the warm silk that is his hair. Does this summer have to end? I suppose that it does; time inevitably moves forward, setting memories further and further behind us. Already, the memories I have from early childhood seem tiny as though viewed from a distance—emotions once strong are dulled—and those are only ten years past. Or less! I wonder how this moment will look to me in one hundred years, how I will remember the warm, bony strength of Maitimo's shoulder beneath my head, the air sweet with the scents of hay and horseflesh, my heart light in my chest, the feeling of his arms—hands finished with their task—circling me in an embrace. I suppose this is what it's like to realize that you love somebody, I think, for all the loves I've known so far—those for my parents, my grandparents, for Aunt Eärwen and Uncle Arafinwë—seem to have been with me from birth, and I give no more thought to their existence than I am amazed to awaken with two legs and the ability to run. I wish that I could press this moment into my memory the way my mother presses leaves into her journal, preserving their color and even their scent for years to come. I ask only for a lifetime—and just this one moment.
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