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Another Man's Cage: 39. Chapter Thirty-Nine--Maitimo
There is relief to be found in the endless march of identical days. We have been back in Tirion for a week, and I have plotted out every day of the autumn in a ledger that I have filched from my father's study. With a ruler, I divided the pages into days, and I filled each with my chores and duties for that day in no-nonsense fragments: "Day Five," it reads, "Morning Mingling of the Lights—Ride to Tirion. Tutor Findekáno in Voyage of Tol Eressëa; Telerin dialects; review last week's equations. Have supper with Nolofinwë. Stay night.
"Day Six: Hear recitation of Journey of Tol Eressëa; review calligraphy; discuss evolution of Valarin dialect. Have supper with Nolofinwë. Ride home after the Mingling of the Lights. Work on begetting day gift for Carnistir. Go to bed."
Yes, these days I don't trust myself enough to leave even "go to bed" to chance.
Whenever there is an empty block in the ledger, I fill it will an activity. I hunt these activities ruthlessly until the block is full. Today, I followed Vorondil, who has been bothering me to practice defensive swordfighting techniques all summer and whom I cheerfully ignored (when I had the chance to study for long hours with Annawendë instead) and pestered him about it until he allotted an afternoon of his time, and four spaces in my book were filled. For the next two weeks, I haven't an empty day, a fact that might have once bothered me but now fills me with cold relief.
For now, I am getting ready for my first trip to the House of Nolofinwë to tutor Findekáno. My head is stressed and sore, and I am glad for the chance to get away, although I am not sure exactly what I am escaping or entirely convinced that it will not follow me into the city. Tomorrow morning, I will rise at the Mingling of the Lights—assuming that I manage to sleep at all tonight—and ride to Tirion, to arrive in the first productive hours of the day, so to have a whole day for naught but studying. It is evening now, and the light outside my window is soft and silver.
Macalaurë followed me upstairs after supper, and he lies across my bed and watches me fold robes and stuff them into my satchel and select jewelry from the pieces in my box, holding necklaces to my throat as though I care. It is a pantomime; I avoid looking at him in the mirror lest he—who knows me best of anyone, perhaps—notice the deception.
"When your punishment is lifted," I say to him, "perhaps you shall come with me to Tirion?"
I dread the journey tomorrow: Two hours on horseback, alone, in an open field where procrastination and distraction ever tempt me to stray from my road, ride past Tirion, and seek the city in the south where—
I do not think on that. I ponder a palm full of rings, picking over the selection and making deliberate looks with my face while actually choosing at random and dropping them into a velvet drawstring bag.
Macalaurë sighs. "I never thought two weeks could be so long …"
I laugh. "You have suffered for only half of it!"
A week, during which he has sent messages each day to Tirion and received replies, from Vingarië, and I have struggled not to be jealous. "Do not remind me," he says mournfully. "And Tirion—do you think Uncle Nolofinwë would welcome me?"
I snort. "Of course! You are his brother-son! That is not to say that he wouldn't want a bit of music after supper …"
"I do not think I would be welcome. I could not anyway. I am working on a project with Atar."
At this, my head snaps up, and I contemplate him in the mirror, but he is running his thumbnail along the stitches in my bedspread, eliciting slightly different sounds with different degrees of pressure. He is sculpting a little tune: just a fingernail and a bedspread. I had not thought much of my brother's talents prior to Annawendë's departure. Prior to realizing how useless my own were. Macalaurë's gift with music was always like his gray eyes and his sensitivity to high heats and his satiny chocolate-colored hair: All are part of who he is, unremarkable except in the fact that they make him Macalaurë. I realize with a jolt that I have always thought myself superior. Standing side by side, people's eyes happened on me first. I am the taller, with a more beautiful build; the light on my hair is like fire, I know, for I have had both brothers and lovers tell me this. My talents, too, were superior, in the eyes of the Noldor, for they were meticulously honed over many long hours; they were not a gift—although my proclivity lies in the realm of academia—but something worked for and earned. Macalaurë was born with his voice, with his gifts, and at the end of the day, that which he creates cannot be placed in a satchel and carried away. Cities do not rise from his songs.
But now, it seems, that he is the greater of us. He makes people happy, at least, while I please not even myself during the long hours that I spend alone in the library—the doors barred against my brothers, under the pretense of studying for exams—staring at the pages in front of me but unable to read or write, even to think. My focus drifts—a point of light reflected from a piece of glass—darting where it does not belong and settling nowhere for long.
I look away from Macalaurë and concentrate more fully on the rings, keeping my voice nonchalant, letting them slide around in my palm. "Oh? What project?" I begin, but he has already realized the error of his words and sprang up from the bed. "I should not have said that," he says. "It is a secret project. Do not tell Atar that you know."
"But I do not know," I say. "You have not told me."
"I have told you of its existence, and that is too much."
My stomach twists. It hurts; it is jealousy, that which I never expected to rise against my own brother. Against my Macalaurë. I swallow and try to coax it back. Atar dismissed Macalaurë at the beginning of the summer from his apprenticeship, and I thought it the final demise of their relationship, but instead, things seemed to have brightened between them. Their single night of reading poetry per week increased to two; they laugh, sometimes, at meals over secret jokes; now they have secret projects too? I cannot imagine what secret projects our father could possibly conjure with Macalaurë. Macalaurë hates Atar's work and Atar hasn't the love or patience for music, although his voice is beautiful and his fingers are deft on the harp.
I used to be the one who entered into secret projects with Atar, and they were secrets for the danger that they posed to our family—and to our reputation, were our pursuits discovered. We made chemicals that did marvelous and frightening things and then destroyed them and locked away the formulae; we talked of things that might be thought wicked, of my half-uncles and the Valar and their decisions in that matter—of Eru, even. At times, Atar's voice would rise and tremble, and he would speak in such a way that reminded me of stones tumbling down a hill, knocking against one another, their violent descent inevitable. I would sit silently then, for I felt as though these words would have existed even without my presence and that I just made their being spoken out loud—beneath the witness of Manwë and Varda—legitimate.
I told things to Atar that should have had me punished, and he told things to me that a son should never know of his father. He told me that he did not want me until he knew that I existed—that he wished to be cursed with childlessness, as some of the Avari were rumored to be—but I could not feel hurt because his eyes burned with hatred for himself and those words that had once defined part of his being.
I am selfish. I cannot—and do not want to—imagine Macalaurë sharing the same. The feeling is one of falling. I lost my grip on Annawendë, and now I am watching everything that I hold dear—my father, my brothers, my books—sliding beyond my grasp and out of sight. I feel gravity pulling me towards my end.
As if sensing my unease, Macalaurë says, "It is but a small thing, Nelyo. You know I despise his forge."
I laugh. "I do not mind," I say, but I feel as though the laughter is only a hiccup away from a sob. My hands scramble; I fall farther. What is happening to me that I should envy my own brother?
"I wish I could tell you," he says, tracing little circles on my bedspread with his fingers; they sound like little glissandos.
"Well, you cannot." My voice cracks the air like a whip, and he looks up at me, his gray eyes wounded and afraid.
He sits up and places his feet upon the floor. "I am weary. I should go to bed. Each night's sleep brings me closer to Vingarië," he says with a hollow smile.
He comes to me and puts his arms around my neck from behind. My hands tighten on the fistfuls of rings that I have still not discarded, my knuckles resting on the tabletop; I can feel his breath on the tip of my ear; he kisses my temple. "Good night, Nelyo," he says. He holds me for a moment longer, perhaps, than he would on a normal night. "I love you."
I wait until he closes my bedroom door softly behind himself before letting the rings clatter across the tabletop so that I can sob into my open hands.
Atar touches my shoulder.
I awaken, momentarily disoriented. I was asleep, in a deep, incoherent dream. The side of my face is sticky with slaver; my eyes press into my head like rounded twin weights. Atar is standing beside my bed, tying bracers onto his wrists. The light through my drapes—which I did not close last night—is mingling and brightening towards daylight.
"You asked me to wake you at the Mingling of the Lights," he says.
I sit up with effort and let the covers fall away. I am still in yesterday's clothes, my socks even, although my boots lie in a heap beside my armoire. Atar appraises me as he tightens the laces on his bracers. He is dressed already in a light tunic and breeches—the clothes he wears on the days we have archery and swordplay lessons—but this is not the third day of the week. It is the fifth.
Of course, the fifth day is usually the day we take off from duties to sit in his laboratory for most of the day, talking, planning …
"Come with me," he says, jerking his head towards the door. "I will make you breakfast."
I follow obediently, feeling dirty in yesterday's clothes and my hair a ratty mess at the back of my head. "What may I—" I begin, upon arrival in the kitchen, but Atar interrupts me and says, "You may sit and be quiet."
He fries a large egg for each of us. He sprinkles diced bits of green onion and shreds cheese over each; he places them over thick slices of toast and dribbles some kind of pale gravy over the whole mess. My brain is trying to prod my stomach into admitting that it looks and smells delicious, but my stomach insists on performing queasy somersaults at the thought of food. Atar sets a pomegranate next to my plate. "They are good when you are traveling," he says. "They energize your spirit."
When I was little, I used to eat until sick on the pomegranates that grow on the trees in Atar's garden. Now, I gag a little at the thought and cover it by pretending to clear my throat.
Atar sits on the bench opposite me at the wooden kitchen table. He is eating before even fully settled. "You do not look well," he says around a mouthful of egg and bread. "Perhaps you should remain home for the day?"
"I am fine," I say. "I slept restlessly."
"And in your clothes."
"I forgot to put on my nightclothes."
(I shall have to add that to my ledger, I suppose, prior to "Go to Bed." Atar does not seem surprised by my admission and makes a muffled "Hmm" around the food in his mouth.)
I put a morsel of egg into my mouth and force it past the lump in my throat. Atar watches me while eating his own breakfast. His fork clatters to his plate, and his hand is on the side of my face. It lingers for a long moment while I let my eyes hold his—trying to look brave—and he says, "You remind me much of how I was in my youth. We are much alike, Nelyafinwë."
"You are my father," I say softly. "You are half of me."
I have my doubts, actually. I believe sometimes that Atar is more than half of my brothers and me. I know the science; I know the reality; I know that such a thing is not deemed possible by the laws of nature, but I cannot dispel the thought. The first loremasters of Cuiviénen believed that the father provided the sole inspiration for the child he derived, that the mother was but a vessel to hold the child that grew from his seed. Later wisdom taught them differently, of course, but I have doubts that my mother's nature will influence my destiny with the same weight as my father's.
"Yes," he says with a small smile, "and I survived the grief of my youth. And so shall you. Perhaps, in fifty-year's time, you shall be sitting with a son at the age you are now, consoling him of his pain. And feel that you are unsuccessful and wish to cry for it, as I do now.
"It takes great grief to destroy the Eldar, Nelyafinwë," he says.
Still, when I look into the light that is his eyes, I see the lingering shadow of his.
I am glad to depart early, before even my mother awakens, to avoid the awkwardness of farewells. Every well-wish seems to come with an extra weight these days, hanging ponderously beneath it, unspoken, reflecting as only nauseating pity in the speaker's eye.
So I ask Atar to give my farewells for me. He nods gravely, still fiddling with his bracers. We are at the bottom of the stairs in the foyer; he kisses me goodbye solemnly. Am I really as tall as he is now? Our noses bump; I must be. His hand brushes my shoulder and he is gone, dashing up the stairs to awaken my brother Macalaurë for whatever adventures await them this morning.
There is no room for pity in his eyes. That is why I love my father so much, I sometimes think. To pity is to place yourself above another unjustly, based solely on the uncontrollable circumstances in the other's life, and look down on them, doting, as a parent would a child.
He is my superior, yes. The doom has been foretold that I will never surpass him in any of my efforts. But he needn't stare at me in that way, with simpering weakness in his eyes.
I walk out to the stable to saddle my horse, thinking that whatever affection Macalaurë formed for Atar is about to come to an end. Macalaurë does not do well to wake early in the morning. I wonder what tedium Atar will give him today. Archery, perhaps? Macalaurë is easily distracted, and his aim is untrue as a result.
My little brother will celebrate his fortieth begetting day in only a few weeks. My little brother whom I at first despised but forced his way painfully into my heart the first time he fell asleep in my arms. Forced his way with so innocuous an action; he just fell asleep! How could I be so weak! I am no stronger now.
I ride to Tirion. I ride slowly, as is not my way, as is not the way of my father's family. We do things with purpose, as though we are not afforded an endless stretch of moments from now until the ending of Arda. I sometimes feel that that ending will be short for me. And so I ride with haste.
But not today. Today I ride at a slow trot, and I think. I wonder, if Macalaurë stole my heart with just the velvety shadow of his long eyelashes on his round cheeks and a sleepy sigh, how will I be as a father? How will I be able to muster the courage to be strong when my children need discipline; how will I overcome the tears in their eyes? How will I let them out of my sight, knowing that accidents await? How will I not suffer at the sight of their blood outside their bodies? How will I let them go?
For part of love for us, even for the Elves, who live forever, is letting go. I see that now that I have let my own love go; never will I love without resigning myself to the fact that I must one day turn away when I wish only to reach out and restrain my love with all the power in my body. Atar let me go just now: He does not wish me to go to his half-brother in Tirion, I know; he wishes that I would have given in to his invitation to stay behind, at our home. He would have taken off his bracers and put on his work clothes, and we would have sat in the laboratory and talked. Perhaps I would have said things to him that I could not even bring myself to say to Macalaurë at the sea. Perhaps I would tell him that I fear that I shall never marry, and that his heir shall remain childless, with no heirs of his own. Perhaps I would have wept, and he would have held my hand and said nothing, but I turned away and took the road to Tirion, and he let me.
He let me.
I will remain alone.
Findekáno is sitting on the front steps of Nolofinwë's house, pretending to read.
I know well that look, when one pretends to read: keeping still as though frozen, wrinkling the brow to give the effect of concentration, gripping the edges of the book too firmly. Macalaurë and I had pretended to read all of the time in our youth, working on our exercises while Atar wrote letters or in ledgers that would be read by the greatest of the Eldar. We sat across from each other at the table in the library, our eyes fixed on our books but our feet sliding gently beneath the table to come to rest together, big toe pressed against the other's arch. We had a secret code that we would tap against the other's foot while pretending to read. We talked about our family, about what we would do once freed from the library. Of course, we complained about our studies, although I secretly loved them. "This is pointless," Macalaurë tapped once, during an algebra exercise, and Atar's voice rose above the scratching of his quill, which didn't cease, even as he spoke, and he said, "It is not pointless. It forms the basis for all that you will do after in metallurgy and engineering."
We must have looked alarmed because he said, without looking up, "Do you think I learned the language of the Valar yet cannot discern the meaning behind your elementary code?" but he did not tell us to put our feet beneath our chairs and resume our work.
Still, the secret was broken, and we didn't use the code much after, only when Amil prescribed the rare activity out of a book during our sessions with her. She has not Atar's command of languages.
I am quiet and unobtrusive in my approach, watching Findekáno as I walk. His eyes are fixed on the page; his face is screwed into a look of concentration. Yet I see his eyes darting to the sides occasionally, watching the streets, perhaps looking for a flash of red among the dark heads of the Noldor.
I evade his notice until the last possible moment, when I rattle the gate, and then, the book falls from his knees, and he is tearing down his father's front walk at a dangerous pace. Wordlessly, he crashes into me; his face is pressed into my belly; his arms circle my waist. I stroke his dark hair, and when I try to stoop and grasp him in a more appropriate hug, he grips me tighter.
"I did not think you'd come," he says at last, in a breathy voice, tipping his chin to look up at me.
I finally manage to crouch beside him. His arms circle my neck; his head comes to rest on the spill of hair on my shoulder. "Why would you think that?"
"I thought that maybe you had important matters with Uncle," he says, speaking into my neck, twirling a tendril of my hair.
"No, no, your uncle is working with Macalaurë today." We exchange secretive grins; we both know how quickly these private "tutoring" sessions between my father and my brother tend to boil over. "So if we hear any ruckus coming from that direction today, we shall know who to blame."
"Archery?" asks Findekáno, and I laugh, the first laugh in days that feels as though it erupts from the depths of my lungs instead of being carefully formulated by my brain. "I thought the same thing," I whisper, and he giggles.
We start down the path, towards the book lying facedown and abandoned on the stairs. Findekáno tucks his hand in mine; he lifts his small, pale face in my direction. "Well, cousin Macalaurë always misses," he says brashly, and I am taken aback: In the presence of my brothers, Findekáno remained demure, but at the home of his father, I see how the summer with us has changed him. Even his robes are fastened crookedly, as though in haste. We reach the steps, and I stoop to fix them.
"He does not always miss," I qualify.
Findekáno makes a humming sound. "I am supposed to ask you something. For Atar."
"Yes, what is it?" I smooth his robes and retrieve the book, noting with relief that the spine was not broken.
"If you are joining us for the midday meal."
Riding slowly, as I did, breakfast with Atar seems far behind me. The golden light is overtaking the day; we are approaching noontime, the luncheon hour in Tirion. My stomach burbles with anticipation.
"Yes, I suppose I will," I say, unable to completely hide the surprise in my voice, at my own sudden return to normalcy. "I should like to have a room to wash and change from my traveling clothes, if that is possible."
Findekáno shrugs and turns to one of the two porters who wait by the door—their faces set like stone, unmoving and (supposedly) unhearing—and the door is swept open, and I am escorted up a set of stairs with Findekáno close at my heels. The basin is filled already with warm, scented water, and soaps and towels have been laid out; the bed is as big as mine at home, and the blankets are stretched taut across it. The room is done in dark green colors—in rich brocades and deep velvets. It is beautiful like nothing we have at home, where guests are uncommon and more apt to track in soot from the forge than to require scented water and velvet drapes.
The porter leaves us, and Findekáno hops onto my bed and watches me as I wash and dress. "I rode yesterday," he says.
"Yes? Did you?"
"I am taking larger jumps now. And Atar says that I may study the sword in my free time and has put out a call for an instructor for me." He sighs. "I wish that you could teach me."
"There are many in Tirion who are better with a blade than me."
"Yes, but Uncle is the best, is he not?"
I ponder this. He easily defeated Lord Laiquiwë that year, yes, but his impetuosity also caused him to relinquish the title. Swordplay is partially physical prowess and partially mental discipline; however intentional his "blunder" may have been, it nonetheless suggests a deficiency in regards to the latter.
"He is very good, yes," I suffice to say. "He does not compete, and so it is hard to say whether he is the best."
"Well, you are his son and so must be very good as well." Findekáno's brow wrinkles as he considers his own words. "Of course, that does not explain Macalaurë …"
I wince. The last time we did swordplay before leaving Formenos, Tyelkormo fared better than Macalaurë.
"Macalaurë has other gifts," I say.
"Yes, I asked if I could continue my music lessons with him."
Laughing, I say, "You might as well move to our house!"
His head snaps up; his eyes are bright and earnest. "Could I? I would rather live there than here. It is very quiet here, and Atar and Amil will have the new baby and little time for me. Could I, please, come home with you? Please, Nelyo?"
To hear my epessë—that which I am called by my parents and brothers only—in Findekáno's quavering voice startles me. I have given my permission, but it is a liberty he's never taken. His blue eyes are intense on mine; suddenly, his lip is trembling.
"I am not happy here," he says.
I go to gather him into my arms. He is quivering, trying to suppress his tears.
"I should have been born your brother," he whispers. "Eru placed me wrongly."
"Hush," I say. "Eru does not make errors. If you were born here, then that means that Eru has a purpose for you here. It is not our place to understand what it may be."
His quivering gradually subsides, and his breathing steadies. He is limp in my arms, all frail bones and soft, warm skin. One day, he will be as big as me, but that is hard to believe now.
"There is comfort in that, no?" I whisper. "That nothing is an accident? Everything leads to a greater purpose."
I think of Annawendë and grieve. What is the purpose in that? What is the purpose in creating our spirits to love more than one, or to love one who is unattainable? It occurs to me that, no matter what her decision, someone will be hurt. Someone will, perhaps, be plunged into a loveless and childless future.
"Even pain," I say weakly.
I think of her betrothed, whom I have never seen and do not know, making musical instruments in the hot, dusty south of Aman. If she rode with haste, she should be home to him now; she might be lying in his arms even as I comfort Findekáno. I think of the possibility of children between them. My selfish desire for her seems almost as cruel as separating a married pair. I wish I had the strength to send her a message, to tell her not to consider my heart and my pain when making her choice, but I sense that she will give it no greater consideration than she gives the heart and pain of her betrothed.
Besides, I have not such courage. I would sooner draw a blade across my own flesh.
Findekáno draws back. His fingertips—so soft, like his hands are wrapped in silk—trace the line of my cheek. His fingertips are damp—no, I realize: It is my cheek that is damp.
He kisses my cheek where the tear has fallen. "I love you," he says, and my heart squeezes painfully, for those are the words that it longs to hear. But not in his voice.
I dress carefully, for expectations are different in my uncle's house than at home. I shake the wrinkles from my robes and check twice that they are secured in the proper places. They are pale blue, trimmed in coppery-gold. They bring out the golden glints in my hair, although this is not why I chose them. I have little use, these days, for my beauty.
I open the velvet box stored carefully at the bottom of my satchel, wrapped in the silken trousers that I have brought for sleeping. The noon light caresses the copper circlet within; the red of the metal embraces the golden light in turn. As I place it over my hair, neatly combed and fastened away from my face, I see Findekáno watching me with his mouth hanging open slightly.
"Trying to catch flies?" I tease in a voice I hope doesn't sound too false, and he answers, "It is just that I have never seen you wear it before."
"I wore it last week. At your Recitation."
"But that was an event." An insecure pause and then: "Wasn't it?"
"Of course it was. Does your father not wear his circlet at all times?"
"Well, certainly, but—"
"It is his house. I shall follow his lead."
We walk together to the dining room, Findekáno's hand in mine. The room is grand, with an oval table at its center, covered in a cream-colored cloth, and a crystal chandelier sparkling overhead. Aunt Anairë is already there, directing the servants about which wine to serve, and she starts at the sight of me. "Russandol! I did not realize that you had arrived!" She hastens to me; she cups my face in her soft, warm hands; she kisses my cheek. "You are radiant!" she says, but it must be the raiment because my spirit feels as though it is wrapped in the cold fibers that make up clouds.
"Thank you," I say, "as are you. You are well, I hope?"
Her hand strokes her swollen belly. "Yes," she says, with a soft smile, "we are."
We sit around the table and wait for my uncle. He is only a few minutes in arriving, and he appears with a goblet in one hand and a scroll unwinding in the other, navigating the room from memory. He kisses Anairë and Findekáno on their cheeks before noticing me and jumping slightly. "Russandol!" He looks at Findekáno, and his eyes narrow. "My apologies for not meeting you at the gate. My son was supposed to announce your arrival."
Findekáno's cheeks color and he looks at the tablecloth.
"I apologize, Uncle," I say, "for I was not aware of that, and I asked Findekáno to show me my chambers and remain, eager was I to hear of his studies."
"Well, then…" says Uncle Nolofinwë. "It is good to see you, Russandol." He sets the scroll on the table to clasp my hand in his. "We are pleased to have you in our home."
A servant breezes into the room and pours a goblet of wine for Nolofinwë and me and fruit juice for Anairë and Findekáno. Another brings in a tray laden with fresh fruits and a loaf of bread and sets it at the table's center. I watch Findekáno's hungry eyes appraising the nectarines, but he does not reach for them, and so I stay my hand as well, following the lead of my host. After a moment, the two servants return with a covered bowl in each hand; they are placed at the center of our plates and uncovered, revealing a rice soup in a thin, yellowish broth.
Nolofinwë reaches for a piece of bread to drag through his broth, and his wife and son follow, and so I also help myself.
Nolofinwë continues reading the parchment as we eat. The room is livened only by the clink of our soupspoons inside the tureens and Findekáno crunching into an apple. He earns a stern look from his father. "Your family is well, Russandol?" aunt Anairë asks after a moment of no inquiry from her husband, and I quickly assure her that they are. Findekáno slurps his soup. "Really, dear," says Anairë, and Findekáno ducks his head. I lift my goblet and the base of it rings against my plate; I cringe at the sound, but no one else seems to notice. Anairë is carefully picking seeds from a kiwi with a fork, and Findekáno is drinking his juice with the glass held in both hands.
Nolofinwë stands suddenly, pushing back his chair with a rude bark of wooden feet on hardwood floors and drifts from the room, still studying the parchment.
Anairë's cheeks flush. "He—" she begins, but Nolofinwë comes back into the room at that moment and says, "Oh, Russandol, I meant to tell you: We are having supper with my father and mother tomorrow night. I trust you brought suitable robes?"
"Of course," I say.
"Luck with you studies, then," he says and disappears once more.
At first, the peace of the house is welcomed. Findekáno and I each read our books in the parlor Anairë directed us to use, a room muffled by cream-colored velvet and adorned with lace. There are no windows; the light comes from two lamps in either corner. The house is silent except for the occasional rustle of a page turning.
But, after a few moments of such ponderous silence, it weighs on me. I become aware of my breathing. How many breaths do I draw each day without knowing it? Perhaps I should be more grateful for my lungs, for the air around me. For my blood. I hear each breath now—drawn through my nose, sitting in my chest for a moment, and rushing back out. I hear my heartbeat too, in my ears. It sounds like the susurration of a tiny ocean—tiny waves pounding against my eardrums.
I imagine each squeeze of my heart, pushing blood through my body, slipping through my lungs to accept the breaths waiting there. I imagine the pillowy red blood cells, tumbling over each other in their haste to pour down my veins, driven by my heartbeat, swirling through my body, coming to peer our of my eyes and sit in my ears, rushing into the tangle of vessels in my fingertips that press the pages of the book. I push harder upon the pages and watch my nails turn white as the blood is barred. I wonder what happens to it? Does it sit there, puzzled and waiting, puffed full of oxygen? And the little cells trapped there, squealing as they drown—what of them? I release the pressure, and the color is restored; my rushing heartbeat never falters.
I think I might go mad in the silence of this house.
I peek at Findekáno's progress. He is reading one of Atar's books about the sundering of the Noldor and the Teleri on the Great Journey. We are supposed to be discussing the chapter when he finishes, but he is not even halfway there. I sigh. The sound fills the room and Findekáno looks up, his brow creased. I smile at him, and he resumes reading.
I have the urge to tear through the house, ripping at my hair and screaming until every last silent corner buzzes with the sound of my voice. No words, just noise. I imagine noise gathering in the corner like spiderwebs, not to be driven away so easily by my uncle's taciturn servants, noise coiling up to the silent heights and spilling over the roof. I imagine my voice stirring the heavy curtains, my feet pounding joyfully at the floor, and the air buzzing gleefully in places where noise has been thus far unknown.
When Findekáno was an infant, he must have cried, but it is hard to imagine the silence of this house splintered by the hungry cries of a child. My aunt and uncle's unborn son, also, will cry, I know—three baby brothers have taught me that—but when I try to picture him, with Uncle Nolofinwë's dark hair and blue eyes, I see his face scrunched and wrinkled like the outside of a walnut, the waving fists, and the red face but hear nothing, although his toothless mouth is open. And Anairë comes and soothes him with touch alone, her lips pursed as though humming, but no sound emitting.
I put my hands over my ears, as though to block the silence, and my heartbeat grows momentarily louder—trapped in my ears—but then I realize the futility of my act and let my hands fall quickly away.
Meanwhile, I am supposed to be reading; I am supposed to be pursuing my own studies about the divergence of the Quenya language into the Vanyarin and Noldorin dialects. The book is my father's; he wrote it in his youth, before he even married my mother. The leather bindings are beginning to wear, for the book has passed through many hands before mine; it is regarded as one of the best studies on the subject. My father keeps a list in one of his ledgers of names of those who wish to borrow and read it. Being his son, I do not have to be added to the list to have this honor. Despite this, I have been neglecting it. My brain feels like an ether-soaked cloth, balled inside my skull. I read the words but they sit in the fluid and become drowsy and fall away and litter the base of my skull like weighty, castaway clothes.
I pinch my eyes shut and reopen them; the words swim across the page in my father's beautiful handwriting. I see a waving wheatfield or the pulsing sea but can extract no meaning from the march of letters on the page.
This winter, in the month prior to the New Year, Macalaurë and I will journey to Alqualondë; I will spend my days in the libraries of Taniquetil while he takes his practical courses with his tutor in Alqualondë. I am supposed to know these books of my father's before then; I am supposed to be capable of reciting them, as he can. I will have only a month to hone my knowledge in Manwë's library before I will recite before him in hopes of being noted as a master in letters and history. Last year, I was noted as such in metallurgy, one of the youngest to ever do so—the youngest, of course, being my father.
These notations are important to the Noldor. The Vanyar also pursue scholarship, but they do not seek notations; this is strictly a custom of the Noldor, one granted as a special privilege by Manwë, who understands the importance to us of attaching the study of meaningless letters with still more meaningless letters. In the silence of the house, unable to concentrate, I ponder this importance. It seems ridiculous, suddenly, for one to allow himself such anxiety over having his name chiseled into a marble block that stands in Taniquetil. It seems silly to work one's heart into a pounding frenzy over this when Amil could do the same thing for me at home. I would destroy my own name upon this block, I realize, if it meant receiving other gifts that suddenly seem much more elusive—and more important.
I have taken my eruditeness for granted for the whole of my life. It seemed a natural part of being a son of Fëanáro; I expect it like I expect to have two hands and two feet; I would be incomplete without it, crippled. While still very small, before Macalaurë's birth, I used to sneak books from my father's study and read them by lamplight in my bed at night; I would write secret sentences on the floor under my bed in chalk. My father laughed upon finding them; my mother's lips pursed, but I could see that she also was pleased.
No one seemed very surprised to see my name chiseled a few rows beneath my father's last winter, a master of metallurgy. No one will be surprised to see it scribed on those blocks reserved for history and letters either, yet I strive for it, a century before it would usually become my due, for I had always assumed that the other things—the wife and the family—would fall naturally into place.
I always held close to my heart the image of my future: a small house, away from Tirion, in the north perhaps; a plain wooden table, laden with books; my wife, slipping her arms around my neck from behind, her flat hands caressing my chest, bare beneath my tunic; small hands on my knees and a tiny voice: "Atar?"
"I am ready, Maitimo," says Findekáno, his voice low, as though he too is afraid of disturbing the deep silence that fills the corners of this house and now my mind. "I am ready to recite for you."
I close my book and smile at him, relieved to let the pain suffered in centuries past dwarf my own.
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