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Another Man's Cage: 40. Chapter Forty--Maitimo
As if silence has weight, I am exhausted by the day’s end.
I am exhausted, and I have accomplished nothing, really, although Findekáno—ever an enthusiastic student—has learned much from me, and I have kept my voice light for him and my smiles frequent in hopes that he will not discern my weariness.
I consider falling into bed in my clothes again, for unwinding the ties of my robes and undoing the clasps seems a tedious effort. I have bidden Findekáno goodnight, tucked him into his bed to wait for his mother and father, and so no one would know; I am alone for the night. I consider it but cannot, and I make my tired fingers remove and cast away my robes. I even hang them on the back of a chair so that they do not become wrinkled, although I have brought a fresh set for tomorrow and a good set for supper with my grandfather.
I remove my silken trousers from my satchel. Beneath them are two books, brought with the hope of reading before sleeping, and I take one at random and toss it onto the bed, although I know, even as I do this, that I will not read tonight. Perhaps I will deceive myself into thinking that I am reading—an acceptable activity—while really lying with the book open and feeling sorry for myself. I wonder if Nolofinwë’s servants will comment on the patchy discolorations on my pillows; I wonder if they will take them for tears or overlook them entirely.
I undress and unfold my trousers but do not put them on right away. There is a mirror, and I ponder my body reflected in it, the body that has always been a source of pride for me, that which was so easy to love and have loved in return. I consider my alabaster skin and the red hair so stark like blood against it, falling over my shoulders in unkempt tatters, for I have removed my braids but not yet combed it and probably will not. I touch the scar on my hip; even that, I loved, for it marked me as something different, more exotic. Lossirë, I remember, the first time we laid in my bed, was driven wild at the sight of it, and she put her lips over it and caressed it with her tongue—that piece of flesh long devoid of feeling—while she took me in hand and drove to me a climax so explosive that I ground my heels into the bedclothes and thrashed my head into the pillow to keep from crying out.
But the scar is meaningless, only a blight now, and I quickly draw my trousers over it and turn away from the mirror.
I lie in bed, beside the book. I open it and leave a lamp shining on the bedside table, casting a cone of light across the pages, but I bury my face in the pillow until I must surface for air. I will not weep tonight. I grit my teeth against the sorrow, as though trying to bear torment without crying out. My jaw aches. My weary body draws me towards sleep, but I know that I will never fully claim it—when I do succumb, it will be littered with bizarre and painful dreams—but I will not weep.
I look at the book. The letters twist and swim; I squeeze my eyes shut until the burning tears subside and try again to read. I read a page yet and cannot recollect what I have read. Holding the book open, I press my face into my pillow and try to sleep.
Dreams awaken me. I rise from them with a gasp, like surfacing from undersea. A ghost of a hand still traces my thigh; I bat at it and find that it is just the blanket. I pull it off of my leg. I am painfully aroused, I realize, on the brink of release, and when the blanket slides across my erection, I have to bite my lip to keep from moaning out loud. The house is heavy with the silence of sleep, but I am awake and futilely aroused.
I roll onto my side, carefully, but even the innocent drift of silk from my trousers teases me, and I have to ball my hands into fists beneath the pillow to keep from succumbing to what has become a shameful nightly ritual. I think of other things; I recite meaningless facts in my head and name all of the prime numbers and list the names of all of the Unbegotten, but my arousal does not wilt and bobs into the mattress, and my disgraceful hand loosens itself from its defensive fist and slips into my trousers.
I am rough, wanting it over quickly, and it is painful, so much so that the ejaculation is more one born of defense than pleasure. But pleasure wracks me anyway, making my body flush and grow tense, my toes curling and my teeth clamping so hard on my lip that I taste my own blood. I moan into the pillow, careful to hold my hand to catch all of the fluids that spill forth from my body, wanting neither to soil the bed lent me by my uncle nor the trousers that Macalaurë and my mother will wash after my return tomorrow, until the throbbing subsides and I am left with a palm full of my own fluids, teeming uselessly with life.
I strip and hurry to the bathroom to rinse my hand and wash myself, letting my tangled hair—damp with sweat—tumble over my face, avoiding my reflection in the mirror. My bed is still warm from my body when I return and slip naked between the sheets, and my mind teases me with fantasies that conjure the body of another, arms that slip around my waist and a face that presses into my back, kissing me between my shoulder blades. “Do you think …?” We discuss the possibility of a child, whether we might have found success this time, whether—even as we lie together, fitted to the curve of the other’s body—new life is forming within her.
Heedless of the pillows, I weep.
Breakfast is early the next day, and while my silence would have drawn notice at home, here it is customary and unremarked upon.
Uncle Nolofinwë will be taking his midday meal with his lords. Uncle Arafinwë’s attendance is also apparently necessary (the briefest ghost of a thought wonders why Atar was not also invited, then, and quickly passes), and so Anairë and Eärwen will also dine together, at Arafinwë’s house. “I am having the servants prepare a picnic for you and Findekáno, in the courtyard,” Nolofinwë tells me, and I nod. Findekáno’s eyes get very bright at this, and I sense that this is a special treat for him.
Today, we discuss Vanyarin vocabulary. For each word that we have in Noldorin, it seems, there are ten words of more precise meaning, crafted by the Vanyar, who delight in the empty meaning of sound. Findekáno wrinkles his brow at this idea I looks at the vocabulary lists that Atar wrote for me years ago and that I now pass to him. “Rain?” he says doubtfully, reading one of the columns.
“Yes. There are different kinds of rain, you see: torrential rains, light rains, the rain that is more a mist—”
“But it is all rain,” he interrupts, then sighs and dutifully resumes his lessons, copying each in calligraphy that I will later critique. “I prefer history,” he says. His eyes grow bright and he grins, “I like to read about the big battles on the Journey.”
I chuckle. “They really weren’t battles, love. Only the Valar fight battles. We are not strong enough.” His forehead rumples with disappointment, and I stroke his hair. “They were important fights, little one. Just not so dramatic as the battles the Valar have fought.”
We take our lunch in the courtyard, in the shade beneath the fig tree. In my robes, I appreciate fully the clothing I usually wear, at home, for the robes are hot and awkward, sitting on the ground. Findekáno doesn’t seem to notice. He eats his bread and cheese with an energy I do not possess. I distract myself by peeling an orange in a single long strip, as Atar used to do when I was little and impressed by such minor accomplishments. Findekáno chatters about the training with the sword that Nolofinwë is going to procure for him. He takes the knife that we used for spreading soft cheese upon crackers and dances around the courtyard, practicing thrusts in the direction of the bees that buzz near his mother’s roses. An angry wasp attempts to alight on his hand, and he bats it away with the knife and a triumphant, “Ha!” sending the poor wasp hurtling to the ground to ponder its sudden demise. The servants appear with a chocolate mousse and strawberries, and I say in my tired, patient voice, “Findekáno, come, sit, and eat your dessert.”
There is a thin sheen of sweat on his arms, and his breathing is audible. “Do you think Uncle will make me a sword?” he asks, collapsing onto the ground beside me and reaching for a strawberry in a single movement.
I twist a strawberry in the mousse. It looks delicious, but I lack the enthusiasm to eat it. “You have a practice sword already.”
“Not a practice sword. I want a real one, made of steel.”
I start and look quickly about us. The servants have left and all of the lords are lunching with Nolofinwë; cold relief touches my pounding heart. I smile nervously. “Real swords are not allowed, little one.”
“You have one.” He looks puzzled. “So does Uncle. I saw it. Both of them. In his study.” The bold fire in his eyes is wavering; he looks hurt and timid, the Findekáno that was left behind in Formenos. “I saw them, Maitimo!” he says, as though he must convince me, when I know very well of their existence, for I have calluses on my hands that they have caused.
“Hush, little one,” I say quickly. “They are not allowed. You were not supposed to see them.”
“What will happen to you if the Valar find out?”
I blink. That is a good question, I realize, and one that I have never considered before. Atar has warned us always of the importance of secrecy; we practice only in the deepest and darkest places in the forest or in Formenos, where nothing made of steel is reviled and smiths keep each other’s secrets. But I do not know the penalty. As far as I know, no one has ever been penalized in this land, for anything. For all of Atar’s diatribes about independence, we have experienced naught but freedom.
So I am forced to reply, “I do not know,” in a careful voice, and Findekáno’s blue eyes fill with concern.
“Would they send you away? From Valinor?”
I laugh. “We live here, little one. The Valar would not send us from our home.”
“Do not use the steel sword, Maitimo. I do not want you to go.”
I tickle his chin and wipe a bit of chocolate away from the corner of his mouth. “I will not leave you, little one. I promise.”
We return to the house, his little hand in mine, and resume our studies. The day has settled into the languid heat of afternoon; I wonder how my uncle bears these heavy robes on his arms, every day. The full sleeves drag the page as I write; the dry sound irritates me. I shove them about my elbows, but they slip down again. Findekáno and I practice our calligraphy. I draw samples and ask him to find the errors, the stems that are too long or sketched with the quill held at the improper angle. Chewing his lip, he writes out his lessons, trying to make each letter perfect and identical to the next, an imitation of my writing. Atar writes differently; Atar writes so that each letter flows in a flourish, surging across the page, as varied and beautiful as the waves that caress the shore in Alqualondë. Findekáno writes like I do.
“Well done,” I say when he finishes. Would I concentrate upon them, I could extract errors, but what is the point? What is the point in constantly approaching but never obtaining perfection, a frustrating asymptote that makes each passing day more tedious than the next?
Findekáno sniffs. “They are not,” he tells me indignantly, and jabs his finger into the parchment. “The stem on this one is too short.”
“Yes,” I say, “it is.”
“Then why did you excuse it?”
“Because it does not matter, Findekáno,” I answer wearily, “if one stem is a wee bit too short. Or long. It does not matter.”
His forehead pinches into an expression of alarm. “What do you mean? You told me this summer that it mattered. That each stem had to be of equal length; that the writing had to equal the beauty of the words.”
“You are copying historical facts, Findekáno: years, names, places.”
“So the words are not particularly beautiful.”
It is a flimsy excuse, and he knows it. I have taught him well, as my father taught me, to deconstruct faulty reasoning, to expose the truth below, the seed within the rotten, fleshy fruit. He sees my lack of motivation for what it is.
“If you do not teach me, then Atar will send you away and force me to take a new tutor.” His eyes fill with tears, and I sigh.
He is right. I asked for this position after all; I volunteered my services, and who would deny the eldest son of Fëanáro, who is one day expected to be revered only beneath his father for his intellectual achievements? And a tiny voice beneath the one that sings of pride mutters that peace between the Houses of Fëanáro and Nolofinwë is important, and that friendship between Findekáno and me will heal ills brought about before we had even entered the thoughts of our fathers.
I press my fingers to the parchment, and angle it to better study my cousin’s letters. My sleeve scrapes dryly across the page. It annoys me; I ignore it. I take each letter into my brain and turn it around, appraising it beside its siblings, the way of the Noldor, to judge and strive ceaselessly towards perfection. I dip my quill in red ink and make a violent circle around one such letter on the page.
“Here, you approached it at too steep an angle. Remember that the quill may not stray above or below forty-five degrees; that is the scholar’s hand. Copy it again, Findekáno.”
“The whole page?”
His face collapses in dismay and then rises into a slow smile of relief as he lifts his quill and begins again.
One of Nolofinwë’s servants disrupts the lessons an hour before the appointed time to end, to ready ourselves for supper with our grandfather. I make the appropriate show of disapproval before turning over Findekáno to his nursemaid and retiring to my own chamber to bathe and dress.
I take my time. Even Atar, who believes such frippery to be a waste of time better spent in the forge, prepares for suppers with Grandfather Finwë. He washes the soot from beneath his nails and dresses in his good robes; he puts his silver circlet over his hair. I am equally careful, conscientious of the fact that I have sweated beneath the heavy robes and am developing a pungent odor beneath my arms. I am grateful for fresh robes—perhaps this is why the lords of Tirion change their clothes so often?—and to braid my damp hair off of my neck. I wear my good robes—a deep blue, trimmed in threads the color of flame—and even examine and wipe the dust from my boots before lacing them onto my feet.
I descend the stairs to the parlor where I was told to wait for my half-family. Nolofinwë is there already, and he looks startled to see me, caught unawares, as he is, without the defense of a parchment to read.
“Russandol,” he says, “you look well.”
I settle to nod my appreciation, and there is an awkward moment of silence.
“I trust my son did well in his lessons this afternoon?”
“He was a bit slovenly in his letters, but he did well otherwise, yes.”
Nolofinwë raises an eyebrow. “I shall watch after this, then. I shall have him do a page of calligraphy for me each day. Or perhaps two?”
“Two would be well.”
Nolofinwë admires my sternness; I can tell by the nearly imperceptible widening of his eyes, by the way he inclines his head. I am a son of Fëanáro: I am expected to be both stern and enigmatic. They are the Noldorin components of genius. There are no lighthearted geniuses.
Or so they think. They have never seen my father with my baby brothers; they have never been held in his arms to pick shapes from among the clouds or been taught songs to remember the names of fruit. They have never seen him dance with my mother to the silly anthems that Macalaurë composes. To them, he possesses the curtained mind of a genius.
I suppose that, to Nolofinwë, I possess the same. I do not know my half-uncle very well, I realize. I do not know him, and I do not like him. He does not know me and—judging by the rigidity in his shoulders and the way the corners of his mouth constrict upon sight of me—he does not like me either.
“Your studies, I trust, are going well?” he asks, to disrupt the heavy silence. It is a question born not of interest but the notion that an uncle is supposed to ask it of his brother-son when his brother-son is preparing to recite before Manwë at the year’s end.
I smile and lie: “Of course. They are going very well.”
Atar would perceive the lie but Nolofinwë does not—or perhaps he does, and it is I who does not perceive it his notice.
“You are reading in …” He hesitates, determined to prove his interest by answering correctly. “History and … metallurgy?” he finishes finally.
I laugh without humor. “No, metallurgy was last year. This year is history and letters.”
His eyes widen. “Two in the same season?”
“My father did three. And he was younger than me.”
“I suppose he did. I was there, you know,” he adds suddenly, loudly, as if boasting and attempting to prove something to me about his character. “I was at all of your father’s recitations.”
Your father. Not my brother. Not even half-brother. There is a disconnection between the eldest sons of Finwë that cannot be reconciled by the notion of shared blood alone. That Nolofinwë needs to brag loudly about his presence at Atar’s recitations—and no doubt, he was forced by my grandfather to attend—furthers that notion.
Amil used to tell me when Macalaurë and I fought in our youth—over toys or attention, silly things—that we had no choice in being brothers, but we had the choice of being friends. “Being brothers takes no effort on the part of either of you,” she would lecture, with one of us on either side of her, an arm around each of our angry, quivering shoulders, “and you will be brothers even if you despise and raise your hands to the other. It is love and friendship that takes effort; it is pledging to understand one another before allowing your tempers to surge. I ask you both to make that effort and assure you that you will not regret it.”
My brother is now my best friend, but neither my father nor my half-uncle ever made such an effort with each other. I try to imagine myself in this room, at this moment, if they had, and cannot.
I smile. I force my hands to lie in peace in my lap, not to clench upon themselves. “Your brother has never told me of this,” I say, of Nolofinwë’s attendance at Atar’s recitations.
Nolofinwë’s brow furrows. “Arafinwë?” he says, puzzled.
“No. Fëanáro.” Nolofinwë flinches, almost imperceptibly. If I was not used to hiding my emotions in a similar manner, perhaps I would not even had noticed. “But, then again, he speaks little of his recitations before Manwë.”
Nolofinwë smiles wryly and says, “No, I suppose he would not,” when I sense that there is much more that he wishes to add on the subject.
I shrug. “Why should he? His work remains the same, whether he is named on the stone in Taniquetil or not. Even were he never honored, his work would be the same, and it would be honored, and that is for what he cares.”
“Yet you seek the same honors from Manwë.”
“Because I have not his skill with my hands and the Noldor are not easily persuaded to read the words of one unproven in his knowledge. One day, hopefully, I shall no longer need to care for being honored by Manwë either.”
My half-uncle has no such honors, and likely, they would mean much to him if he did, much more than they mean to my father, certainly. He speaks the names of the Valar in reverence, as do many of the Noldor. My father does not. He read before Manwë to please Grandfather Finwë, who attaches great importance to such things.
Nolofinwë opens his mouth to reply, but my aunt arrives then, and we both settle back in our chairs, akin to two children who drop hands raised to slap and claw to their sides upon arrival of a parent.
She pauses, though, and I believe that she senses the tension. She smiles at me and goes to my half-uncle; his arms circle her and hold her close. She kisses his cheek, but their foreheads press together momentarily and betray emotion that they usually don’t display in public. It must be possible to like my half-uncle, I realize; to love him even. Anairë loves him: This I see in her eyes, even were she not obviously carrying his child, and the way her hands linger on his body as she sits beside him. Grandfather Finwë loves him, and Findekáno does too, I suppose, despite his resentment towards his father. Yet I cannot. Love for my own father bars any chance of Nolofinwë earning similar regard: I, who find it difficult to dislike even those with the most heinous flaws, who love my father even in the moments when Atar makes it seem impossible, cannot love my half-uncle.
We arrive at Grandfather Finwë’s precisely at the Mingling of the Lights, for in place of my father’s gifts for creativity and skill, Nolofinwë was granted a penchant for punctuality and good manners, which he considers extensions of each other.
Of course, the same is said of me, so perhaps I should not be so scornful. Grandfather Finwë told me once, when I came to Tirion with Atar, that I am very courtly in my manners: Atar laughed and was surprised, if not pleased. “I believe your blood and that of your wife mingled in perfect proportions in your eldest,” Grandfather Finwë had said to Atar, taking my face into his hands, “both in looks and temperament. Your wife’s hair, your face.” He’d pondered me. “His eyes are his own, though. He has your wife’s wisdom, and I believe I see, in those beautiful eyes, a bit of your fire. He is perfect, Fëanáro. Absolutely perfect.”
I doubt that now, of course.
Grandfather Finwë meets us at the gates. He embraces me last and holds me longer than usual, waiting until Nolofinwë has walked away to whisper in my ear, “I am glad to see you here.” Findekáno stands beside us, looking up at us with his wide blue eyes, twisting a strand of his hair, and overhearing.
Grandfather Finwë releases me and hoists Findekáno onto his hip. “How’s my next-to-smallest grandson?” he asks, covering his face in kisses. Findekáno giggles and buries his face in Grandfather Finwë’s shoulder. “Next-to-smallest, not for long,” he says. “Soon, you shall be my middlemost grandson and not long after, I imagine, counted among my eldest, alongside Russandol.”
With a start, I realize that he speaks the truth: In only a few months, Macalaurë, Tyelkormo, and I shall be the eldest. The next child born will give Findekáno the same stature. Findekáno’s eyes widen in alarm, and he turns to look at me, as though asking me to confirm Grandfather Finwë’s remarks. I laugh and pat his hair and kiss his cheek. “He is right, little one, but fear not, for being the eldest comes with great responsibility but also greater freedom.”
It is a beautiful evening, and we are led to a wide balcony facing Ezellohar, where we may watch the perfect white light blaze against the horizon. Lady Indis waits for us there, and Findekáno squirms in Grandfather Finwë’s arms until he is released, and he runs to her and buries himself in her embrace.
With the Mingled Lights at her back, framing her in a soft halo, and with her stiff poise evaporated for the moment, consumed by the joy of holding her only grandchild in her arms, I am forced to regard her as my grandfather must have once, surfacing from grief to behold a woman with the brilliance of a Vala, on the slopes of Taniquetil, and unable to lose himself to dark thoughts.
Nolofinwë is selecting a wine from those set out by Grandfather Finwë’s sommeliers, and Anairë is answering inquiries about her health, and so I am spared their attention, and it is good because my poise collapses in that moment, and I stand as helpless on that balcony as I did on the night I asked Annawendë to marry me. I stand as a vessel long sealed and suddenly uncorked, and understanding fills me: The spirits of our people are resilient, I realize, and we are made so that we need not suffer in grief forever.
Tears course down my face in twin streams, and I walk with haste to the balcony’s railing, to look out over Ezellohar and erase the dampness from my cheeks with my thumb and forefinger. To the left of the panorama is the forest, and I can see the top spires of our house, but I cannot summon the guilt I know I should feel for betraying the emotions instilled in me by Atar. I imagine him, bustling about the kitchen, preparing supper, probably answering the ceaseless inquiries of Tyelkormo or soothing the relentless demons visited upon Carnistir, a tea towel tossed over one shoulder and a wooden spoon clenched between his teeth to free both hands; I imagine telling him what I just thought of Indis and try to feel guilt, but I feel only sorrow for his spirit alone seems incapable of healing its hurts.
Tears dried, I turn back just in time to take a glass of wine being poked in my direction by Nolofinwë. “An excellent vintage, you must try it,” he tells me, and his lips are very red from it. Indis has straightened, her hand lingering in Findekáno’s hair as he presses into her skirts, and her hand in on Anairë’s belly to feel the baby moving. Without the Mingling Lights at her back, the magic of the moment prior is lost, and she is Lady Indis once more. Her tiny shoulders look hard and relentless in a full gown the color of violets and trimmed in silver; her golden hair spills down her back in carefully arranged waves.
I take the wine and sip it. Grandfather Finwë joins us. “Ingwë sent it for Indis’s begetting day, and she wished for us to enjoy it tonight,” he says. “It is the finest Taniquetil has to offer,” he says with a laugh, raising his glass in the direction of the mountain on the horizon. I try to join him and my half-uncle in laughter, but my throat freezes, and I can only smile, stiffly and feeling a bit silly, while my hand clutches the glass so hard that I fear the crystal might shatter in my fist. Grandfather Finwë’s eyes are on my face; Nolofinwë is moving away from the railing, to answer an inquiry of Indis’, but I am frozen in my place, enduring Grandfather Finwë’s stare. It feels as though my spirit is being drawn from my body and being turned over for appraisal by soft, warm hands. He lifts his hand to my face, and with the backs of his fingers, gently traces a line from my temple to my chin; his eyes are a very deep blue, and looking into them is like being trapped in an empty, white room, with nowhere to hide.
A single word squirms into my mind, past my stubborn defenses, as though forced.
After an elaborate supper, we sit in on the balcony, overlooking Ezellohar, which is brightening as the night deepens. I am supposed to leave tonight and ride home; I have lessons with Atar tomorrow and a begetting day gift to make for Carnistir, but I am reluctant to leave. Memory of that moment with Grandfather Finwë, touched for a second by hope, forces me to linger. Many times, his eyes find mine over the course of the evening, and while I never feel as exposed—or as soothed—as I did at the balcony railing, I take solace in his blue eyes and the knowledge that he felt grief much deeper than mine, yet his eyes still shine with happiness.
Even Nolofinwë is relaxed, his shoulders slumped, and toying with the stem of his wine glass while he laughs with ease I have never heard.
A light rainstorm passes over Tirion, nourishing the gardens and the crops, and we move indoors, to one of the parlors. Findekáno’s head is heavy, and I carry him, drooping against my shoulder and murmuring sleepily. Soon, I will be able to put off leaving no longer. My own head is fuzzy with weariness, and I wish not to ride after Telperion’s zenith in such a state, nor do I wish to chance Atar’s jealousy that I lingered so long in the company of his half-brother and stepmother when surely I could be of greater use at home with him.
I try to set Findekáno beside me on the settee, but as soon as I sit, he scrambles back into my lap and is asleep within minutes. The cushions are soft and hug my body; my chin rests in the dark silk of his hair, and I am soothed by the rhythm of his breathing. Soon, I am being disturbed by Grandfather Finwë’s hearty laughter, and I realize that I too have fallen asleep and sit up with a start, awakening Findekáno in the process.
He whines and lets out a little sob belonging to a child much younger than he is and nuzzles my neck with his sleepy-warm face. I feel a soft hand on my knee and turn to see Indis kneeling on the floor beside us. “I will put him to bed, Russandol,” she says, but I shake my head.
“I will do it, Lady Indis,” I say, rising carefully so as not to disturb him, “for I must be leaving soon. There is no need for you to leave your company. I will put him to bed and return to give you my farewells.”
“There is a bedroom, in the northern wing, that he prefers. You will find nightclothes to fit him in the bureau there,” she says, smiling softly and leaning over to kiss Findekáno’s forehead. “Good night, my beautiful little one,” she whispers, and again, I find my heart loathing to despise her.
The northern wing belongs to the family—Macalaurë and I lived here once, for a week, during that strange time when Atar and Amil were nearly estranged—and so I find my way easily. The hallway is lined with closed doors: I pass what was once Atar’s bedroom and where I slept as an infant, in the cradle at the bottom of Atar’s bed. Nolofinwë and Arafinwë had their chambers here, before marrying and moving to houses of their own, but they are likewise closed now.
At the end of the hallway is the master bedroom suite that belongs to my grandfather and Indis. Once, it belonged to Grandfather Finwë and Grandmother Míriel, and my father was conceived there, I imagine, as were my half-uncles, strange for me to consider. Grandmother Míriel … Lady Indis … I cannot imagine anyone but my mother sleeping in my parents’ bedroom. I try to imagine Anairë or Eärwen beside my father, in their big bed—for I know that Grandfather Finwë entertained the idea that Atar would marry one of them, never expecting that he should find extraordinary love in the most ordinary of places—and the thought is jarring and unpleasant, almost nauseating, and I quickly think of something else.
Findekáno’s bedroom is one of the smaller rooms, but the outside wall is nothing but open windows, and the curtains dance in the evening breeze, billowing into the room. I lay Findekáno on the neat, perfectly made bed, where he curls into a ball without protest, and go to the bureau to find nightclothes for him.
The bureau is filled with clothes, but they will not all fit Findekáno. Some are big enough for Tyelkormo and others small enough for Carnistir. I realize with a sinking guilt that my step-grandmother has prepared to have all of us stay with her, even though Atar would never allow it. I lift out a blue-gray nightshirt that Macalaurë wore, during our week here, that is embroidered at the cuffs and neckline with lines of music. I lift it to my face and sniff it, but the peaceful, powdery baby smell that was once Macalaurë is long dissipated, and the shirt smells of the wooden bureau and faintly of Indis’ perfume.
I stuff the nightshirt back into the bureau without giving it any more thought and select a set of clothes that will fit Findekáno. I am long practiced in dressing small, sleepy children, and he barely stirs as I remove his robes and slip his limbs into the nightclothes. Lifting him gently once more, I pull back the coverlet and tuck him into bed, but his small hand lifts and slips into my hair, where it snags in a knot neglected when I prepared for supper this evening.
I bite my lip to keep from yelping and gently loosen his fingers, and he whimpers and says, “Do not go, Nelyo.”
Nelyo. Had he called me Maitimo, I would have been able to kiss him goodnight and leave, trusting that sleep would make him forget by morning that he had asked me to stay. I would have been able to bid farewell to my uncle and aunt and Grandfather Finwë and the Lady Indis and found the road with little guilt and regret. But he called me Nelyo … I sit upon the bed and stroke his hair. “Little one,” I say, “I must go home. I cannot stay for much longer.”
“Do not go.” I do not know what to say to him, and so I silently stroke his hair, smoothing it thinly over his pillow. Realizing, perhaps, that I have little choice in remaining, he says, “Stay with me until I sleep, then?”
“I will do that,” I agree, perhaps foolishly, but my insides still feel jellied and vulnerable from that Nelyo.
“Sing to me?” he asks.
I think of protesting, for my voice is not beautiful—not when one shares a house with Macalaurë, or even with Atar, who does not often sing but has a beautiful voice nonetheless—but he folds my fingers into his little hand and draws me down next to him. I sigh and close my eyes and begin a lullaby.
I remember waking from nightmares and screaming as though Death were upon me. I remember Atar running into my bedroom and taking my quivering body into his strong, safe arms and carrying me to his bedroom, to sleep between him and Amil. He would sing me this song, and Amil would smile in her sleep and move to circle me with her arms and rest her chin in my hair, and I don’t think I felt safer or more peaceful than I did in those moments.
I let my voice find the melody, and in only a few seconds, Findekáno is breathing deeply, asleep. My own eyes are heavy, and I close them for an instant, under the pretense of making sure that Findekáno is asleep before departing. I trust myself to remain awake; after all, my feet still dangle to the floor, and it is an uncomfortable posture. I will remain for only a moment, just to be sure; then I will leave. The lullaby, though no longer being voiced, nonetheless twines through my thoughts, entering a stream of memory, and I fall with it—a pebble carried on a current—to a time long past, where I hear Atar’s voice and am no longer the one who is depended upon to keep others safe but am kept safe myself, his arms tight around me.
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