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Another Man's Cage: 53. Epilogue--Tyelkormo
It is the first day of the New Year, and the afternoon light is as rich and thick as amber. Today, one by one, we will stand before Grandfather Finwë; we will swear our allegiance to him and all of the Noldor. Over the next month, one by one, all of the Noldor in Tirion will do the same, but we-his family-will be first.
I am sitting in my bed, waiting for someone to come and dress me for the ceremony, reading one of Grandfather's books that I found on the table in the corner. It is an illustrated book of stories of the Outer Lands, and I am reading one about how Rúmil drove away a host that threatened the Kings of the Eldar with only his voice. I stare long at the illustration: Grandfather Finwë, with his raven hair, and King Ingwë, as golden and radiant as Laurelin, both armed with graceful swords and spotted with blood and ichor, facing a swarm of black beasts-bristling hair and gnashing teeth-and Rúmil behind them, kneeling in reverence, his face lit by starlight, holding in his hands only a harp. Sword and harp-I wonder if this story is true. Grandfather Finwë is wounded on an arm hanging uselessly at his side; King Ingwë defends him, although he is also bleeding. Harp and sword ...
There is a knock on the door, and I close the book and look up expectantly, and Nelyo enters my bedroom. I feel myself start at the sight of him, for it is as though the bitter transformation of my beloved brother over the last year might have never happened, such is the light in his eyes. He comes to my bed and lifts me into an embrace. "Blessings to you in the New Year, little one, my love." He kisses me, and I melt into his arms. Nelyo, Nelyo, my Nelyo has returned ...
Laughter rumbles in his chest, and he rubs brisk circles on my back. "I love you," I mewl, and he laughs again, "I am here, love. I have always been here."
When he goes to my armoire to remove my ceremonial robes, I see a silver star winking on his finger. He comes back, and I take his hand: He wears a simple, silver ring on the index finger of his right hand. I look up sharply at him: What is the meaning of this?
He sits on my bed and pulls me onto his lap. "I am giving you a sister," he says, "and one day," he whispers in my ear, "I will make you an uncle."
I hug him around the neck and reply, "I would like that."
Grandfather Finwë sits at the front of the room, and we assemble in the court, a long room with Grandfather Finwë's throne at the front. The statues and paintings that line the room are familiar: They are Amil's and Atar's, respectively, I realize. The room smells of incense and, beneath that, the cool scent of marble.
The texture of the joy has changed from the rabid frenzy of last night to something softer, cultured, like silk after fur. Even Atar takes Uncle Nolofinwë's hand in his; they exchange New Year blessings and their lips even twitch into smiles, for today, they will honor Grandfather Finwë, and that is the one thing that unites them.
Atar goes forward first, for he is the eldest son, and Grandfather Finwë rises to meet him and takes Atar's face into his hands. They kiss and speak quietly, hands clasped, too softly for anyone else to hear. Grandfather Finwë appears to speak with earnestness; Atar nods at whatever he says. They step apart and Atar kneels and takes Grandfather's hand in his. "I pledge fealty to you, my King, through the days of light and darkness of our realm. I give you my courage and my honor-and my love-in Body and Spirit, for as long as Arda endures." He kisses Grandfather's hand and presses it to his forehead, and Grandfather Finwë reaches down and twines his fingers in Atar's hair.
My half-uncles go next, and then Amil and my aunt. Aunt Anairë does not kneel but holds the newborn Turukáno in her arms, and when she is finished speaking, he reaches out and weakly grasps Grandfather Finwë's finger as though he, too, is swearing.
Aunt Eärwen is not present because, last night, just before the arrival of the New Year, she gave birth to a son. Uncle Arafinwë swears on behalf of both of them.
Nelyo is next, then Macalaurë, and then it is my turn.
I wait for Macalaurë to return, and then Atar is nudging me in the direction of the dais. The room is very quiet, and I feel a sort of apprehension settling over me as I walk. Grandfather Finwë looks very imposing, upon the dais, in his formal robes. My footsteps shatter the silence of the hall; I concentrate on keeping my back very straight, like Nelyo did. I recognize the weight of what I swear even as I recognize, also, that it is more a tradition than an expectation. Still, this tradition derived in a time and a place where swearing to a King meant handing your life to him and hoping that he would keep it safe, but knowing that you could not lament if he did not, for your life was a price paid for the safety of the people.
When I was very young, and Atar taught me the words of the New Year pledge, I cried at first, thinking that I was going to be asked to immolate myself, commit myself to Grandmother Míriel's fate, for my grandfather. "No, no, little one," he said, laughing, holding me close. "One day, you will have the courage to consider this, but this is not something he would now ask."
As I take careful steps up the stairs, I wonder if this has been the year where I have found such courage.
I feel very different from last year, when I walked up these same stairs, holding my robes from my feet. Last year, my heart pounded very hard, my mouth felt as though swabbed with cotton. Now, I breathe easily; I return Grandfather Finwë's smile without thought. I am ready to swear.
I kneel before him. The room is silent, waiting for my words.
"I pledge fealty to you, my King ..."
When I rise again, Grandfather replies, "Thank you, little one, but I would not ask it."
I draw back to look into his blue eyes, so much like mine. "But I would give it," I say, and he embraces me.
There is a feast, after the ceremony.
"We are a well-fed people," Atar jokes, "for we cannot have a ceremony without following it with a nine-course feast." He is jovial today; I imagined Nelyo's betrothal as largely the cause of it, but he catches me in his arms as I pass and lavishes my face with kisses, making me giggle. "How have I been so blessed?"
While we wait for the table to be set for us, we mill about in the court, drinking white wine and exchanging New Year blessings. I am regaled by each of my half-uncles and mutter a dutiful reply. Nelyo lifts me and spins me around-Annawendë has joined us, and she laughs-and says, "New Year blessings to you, little one!"
"You have said such to me already," I remind him, and he says, "Then I tell you again. To be sure that you do not forget."
He puts me back on the ground. I am tall now and heavy, and I suppose that I should begin to grow accustomed to being held and carried less. Still, he holds my hand, and I lean against his hip.
A small voice comes from behind us, and Nelyo turns. Findekáno is tugging his robes, wearing a tiny, nervous smile that fades when Nelyo acknowledges him. "New Year blessings, Maitimo."
Nelyo draws him around to the front and hugs us both, one at each hip. Findekáno is not so small now; he grew much over the summer, whereas I did not. The top of his head now reaches my nose, and his head no longer appears too large for his frail body. In fact, his body is not frail any longer at all; there is a certain wiry strength to him that reminds me of our fathers. "New Year blessings to you too, little one," says Nelyo, with an arm around each of us, leaving us facing each other, with Nelyo between us.
Findekáno regards me cautiously. I feel something move against my hand and look down to see that it is his fingers, that he is taking my hand carefully in his in an ancient gesture of allegiance.
Nelyo is speaking to Annawendë in a voice as light as a rainfall upon the surface of the sea, but he holds us both to him. I rejoice in his laughter, though I am not the source.
I let my hand close on Findekáno's and squeeze his fingers in mine. I smile as I say, "New Year blessings, Findekáno," and joy lights his face in return.
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