10. The All-Seeing Eye
The front door was bolted when he arrived home, and so, with a curse at having to walk even that little way farther, he made his way around through the narrow alley into the shared courtyard and then to the back door. The first thing he saw as he leaned against the open doorway was Eäzinya on her hands and knees on the floor, stubbornly scrubbing the tiles in the light of a lantern. Both Tarmanaz and Márathul were still awake and sitting on their beds, holding a subdued argument. None of them noticed him until he spoke.
"A little late for washing the floor?"
"Oh!" Eäzinya gasped. She dropped the rag and leapt to her feet, rushing forward to greet him. "Alla, Sido, I've been worried about you for-" Her welcome ended abruptly as she glanced behind him. "Where's Nautalya?"
"I left her in the capable hands of your mother. She was too tired to walk all the way, but we luckily were passing near your parents' house. Márathul or Tarmanaz can go collect her tomorrow. Why are you washing the floor in the middle of the night?"
Eäzinya looked almost embarrassed to answer. "Because... oh, it's stupid, but you were so late and I was so worried that I convinced myself you'd never come home as long as I waited. People never arrive when they're meant to. They always arrive when you're in the middle of something that can't be interrupted. So I thought that the minute I started washing the floor, you'd come home and track dirt all over it. And..." She gestured to the shining, wet tiles. "Here you are, just in time."
"I won't track dirt on the tiles," said Sidaizon. Even in the half-dark of the doorframe, he could see that his sandals and feet were caked with dust. The legs of his trousers up to the knee were hardly any cleaner. "I'll wash off out here. Bring a bucket."
Eäzinya fetched a bucket of water and a stool, both of which she placed in the ray of weak light spilling out through the door. "Sit," she said, and pointed to the stool. Sidaizon sat. "Foot."
He lifted one foot for her, and hissed at the sting of air as she unfastened the buckle of his sandal and pulled it off. The straps had cut into the skin at his heel and near his toes, leaving raw, red marks and a crust of dried blood.
"Ai, husband, just look what you've done to yourself!" Groaning her disapproval, she dunked his foot in the bucket of fresh well-water, which was both freezing cold and wonderfully soothing. He let his chin drop down to touch his chest with a tired sigh.
Márathul, meanwhile, had come to stand in the doorway and watch as Eäzinya washed, and looked nearly as anxious as she did. "What took you so long?" he asked.
"We stayed later than intended with Saminda's Yaranénon grandparents. That's her name, by the way; they called her Saminda. Then, it took longer than expected to walk all the way home. But even so, I should have been here an hour ago. I was delayed by some unexpected bureaucracy. The King's Hands were busy enforcing a new curfew, and decided to go about it by rounding up everyone on the street and asking each person, one by one, what his business was to be out so late at night. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone was simply trying to go home."
Eäzinya stopped what she was doing to stare at him with fear-filled eyes. "Were you hurt at all?"
"No," Sidaizon answered, and he shook his head. "But there had to be at least forty of them, grabbing anyone they found out in the open and dragging us all into a wide square. They were rough with those they took alone, but I was lucky enough to be herded along with a few others. One man near me resisted, though, and they struck him in the head with a baton. Split his scalp open. They left him moaning on the ground while they dealt with everyone else."
"Horrible thugs..." muttered Eäzinya.
"Yes, and no. They do their job effectively. However, I would question whether or not their job was necessary in this case. They almost caused a riot by holding everyone for so long when they could have simply marched through the streets yelling that a curfew was in effect and no-one could be out. We were all made to stand there until they were satisfied that all the wanderers had been rounded up, and only then did they start asking their questions about who we were and where we were going. Most people they hassled, and some they treated roughly. But when it came to my turn, they let me go with hardly a word."
"Why?" Márathul asked.
"Because he's a special Almatar and everyone always adores him," Tarmanaz replied from over Márathul's shoulder. "Isn't that right?"
Sidaizon could not see his son's face in the silhouette from the doorframe, but he could tell by the voice that Tarmanaz was scowling. The outline of his hair looked better, though. Eäzinya must have evened out the choppiness. "No, Tarmanaz," he answered, "in fact you are wrong. I still have your plait attached to my head, and they had no way of knowing me. Instead, much to my surprise, they offered me a position."
"A position as in... join them?!" asked Márathul.
"Yes, as in join them," said Sidaizon. He opened his hand to reveal a small white token etched with the symbol of two golden hands. "While everyone else in the square was being interrogated and beaten with truncheons, one of the men in charge looked at me and asked if I was in need of employment. When I answered 'no', he told me to reconsider, implying that whatever meaningless task it is I do now could in no way compare to the honour of serving in the King's personal law enforcement, and he gave me this token. I thanked him and went on my way. Would have said he was five hundred years too late, but I was still in truncheon range." He smiled at Eäzinya. "Unless you think I would make a better Hand than Almatar, that is. I can always take this token to their office tomorrow."
"No," Eäzinya said quickly. "You would make an awful Hand, and I don't even want to think about you out there terrorising people with them. Why would they even ask you that?"
"Because, apparently, I have all the qualities they look for in new recruits."
Tarmanaz gave a contemptuous snort. "Which are?"
"Being tall and vaguely Noldorin-looking, as far as I've ever been able to tell. They accept applicants on looks alone. The reasoning is that they can train a man to effectively use weapons and follow orders, but they can't teach one how to be tall and imposing in that uniform."
"You shouldn't joke about that," said Eäzinya. She gave his leg one last swipe with the rag before dumping the bucket to empty it of its dirty water. "There. You're all clean. Come inside now, but careful you don't slip on the tiles."
"Thank you." Standing, he kissed her cheek. He kicked his filthy sandals against the outside wall to wait until morning, and carefully made his way indoors. The smooth tile floor felt refreshingly cool against the bottoms of his feet. "Now that I'm clean enough to walk to the bath, I need to wash the rest of me. And I think I'll go to the public bath house tomorrow afternoon for a good soak in the hot water. Márathul, you want to come along?"
Márathul nodded. "Yes, please."
If Tarmanaz muttered any words in his growling reply, they were too quiet to distinguish.
"I'll take that as a 'no'. As you wish, then. Márathul and I can go on our own. Good night, boys."
"Good night, Attu," said Márathul. Again, Tarmanaz voiced nothing more than a wordless grunt.
Sidaizon pushed aside the corridor curtain and headed for the bath, with Eäzinya trailing close behind. She followed him right into the room and latched the door after them. "What are you-" he began, but she silenced him with a finger to his lips.
"You look like you could fall over from exhaustion at any minute. Sit over by the pump; I'll wash your hair for you."
There was no way he could refuse such an offer. Stripping off his dusty clothes, he handed them back to Eäzinya to hang on the pegs along the wall. "Look in the pack," he said. "There should be two little paper boxes. Open the orange one." He took his seat by the pump as he spoke, settling down onto the cold floor still wet from the rest of the family's nightly use. The tiles were less soothing to his knees than they had been to his feet.
"There's not enough light in here to tell the colour," Eäzinya said, "but this one looks..." She folded back the lid of the box, and gasped. "Hard soap?! Sido, how much did you spend on-"
"Nothing," he assured her. "It was a gift from the Yaranénon family. They have a tradition of giving gifts when a child is born."
"It's a very rich gift!"
"I know. He gave me two. The one in the white box is for you: jasmine-scented."
"But... " She sat next to him on the floor, holding the soap box up to her nose to inhale its rich perfume. "It smells like something a prince would use! I'm almost afraid to try it."
"We can save it for later if you wish. For special occasions."
She shook her head as she took the soap from its box. "No. I want to use it right now. We can use it once and save the rest for later, but let's try it tonight. Lean over."
Following the gentle urging of her touch on his shoulder, Sidaizon shifted forward onto his hands and knees so that his hair hung down beneath the waterspout. The pump gurgled and sputtered as Eäzinya worked the handle, and water as cold as the stone of the mountain bubbled up to splash over his neck. Eäzinya kept it flowing until he was thoroughly soaked.
"You know what I wish..." he gasped as she lathered his hair with a handful of the common liquid soap from a jar, "is that we could have warm water for bathing."
"Did your journey today give you high ambitions?" she laughed in reply. "You come home with luxury soap and now you want hot water to go with it?"
"Not joking. I've thought about it. I think we could afford it."
Eäzinya loosed another dousing of water over his head and neck to chase away the lather from his hair. Her hands wrung out the dripping ends with practised ease. "Sit up."
"Listen to this," he said as he sat. He spoke over his shoulder to Eäzinya, who had moved behind him to wash his back with the hard soap. "There's a new style of water heating that's become more common lately. What you have is a large metal vat on the roof, and the metal is painted black to attract the most heat. There is a pump on the roof that fills the vat, and then the water inside is heated all day by the sun."
"But why would you want water on the roof?" asked Eäzinya. "Lie down."
Sidaizon lay flat on his front, folding his arms beneath his head to allow the soap in Eäzinya's hand to work its slippery way down each of his legs. A delicate breath of sandalwood perfume lingered in its wake. "The water on the roof sits in the sun all day, absorbing heat. When it comes time to wash in the evening, you turn a lever on the wall and warm water comes down from the vat on the roof, through a pipe, and out of a hole in the ceiling. It splashes down on you from above, so you can wash standing up."
"Sounds like it would cost a lot of money."
"Initially, yes, there is a cost. But once you have everything in place you pay nothing to keep it going. The sun does all the work for you. No need to haul buckets of water after paying for firewood to heat it."
"You're trying to distract me from my plan with all these orders," he said, though he turned as instructed to lie on his back.
A faint hint of a smile crossed Eäzinya's lips. "No..." she slowly replied. "If I wanted to distract you, there would be better ways to go about it."
Her words made the frigid puddles of water on the floor seem suddenly much more bearable. A little spark of heat ignited somewhere inside, and spread a surge of warmth throughout his body. "Better... how?"
"Just like that. You're already distracted." She had worked up a generous lather of soap on her hands, and when she leaned in to massage it over his chest, she was close enough to radiate her own heat back to him. Her hands moved light as water over his skin, shoulders to arms to chest to waist, and continued down like the caress of silk to his thighs. "You see how easy it is?"
"I see," he said. "Ah." And then, "Lock the door."
"I already have."
He returned home from the Lavazat at noon the next day, by which time Márathul had already fetched Nautalya from the house of Eäzinya's parents. Nautalya was wearing the orange Yaranénon shawl from the previous day, clutching it around her shoulders in a way that advertised her stubborn refusal to take it off, and looked as if she had affixed one of Amárië's larger beads to her forehead with a blob of sticky bread dough.
"No!" she shouted at Eäzinya, who, predictably, seemed to be on the verge of losing her temper. "It's not evil! It's the All-Seeing Eye and a sign of Manwë! I won't take it off!"
"It's what?" Sidaizon asked.
Eäzinya whipped around to face him with nothing short of pure wrath flaring in her eyes. "You! This is all your fault! One innocent outing, you say, and now your daughter wants to be a convert! What do you say to that?!"
"Convert?" he asked. The idea was too absurd to take seriously; he pressed his lips together to hold back a smile as Eäzinya glared. "Nautalya?"
"It's the All-Seeing Eye," she repeated. Her own glare made her look very much like her mother.
"What is the All-Seeing Eye, Alya?"
With delicate care, she raised both hands to touch the bead on her forehead. "This. It helps your mind see things your real eyes can't. Like Manwë can. He can see farthest of all the Valar but His third eye can see things like feelings and the future."
"Manwë does not have three eyes!" Eäzinya snapped. "That's heresy!"
"The third eye is invisible inside His head," Nautalya explained, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "But he has a jewel on his crown to show where the All-Seeing Eye is on his forehead."
Again, Eäzinya turned her fury on Sidaizon. "Is that nonsense true?"
"I would not presume to know what hidden eyes Manwë might have," he replied. "But I've never heard of such a thing."
"And the crown with the jewel?!"
He shook his head. "I don't know. I have only seen Him in close quarters once, and that was over three long-years ago. And I was so awed that all I can remember is nearly wetting myself and trying not to faint."
"Idizimë told me it's true," said Nautalya.
"Idizimë is a-" Eäzinya began, but the remainder of her speech could not compete with Nautalya for volume.
"I hate being Valadávan! Our clothes are ugly and boring and we never do anything and there are too many rules to follow! I want to be Yaranénon now! You can't stop me!"
"I can lock you in your bedroom, you wicked girl!" Furious, Eäzinya grabbed Nautalya by both arms and stood her squarely in front of Sidaizon. Nautalya, despite her shrieks and squirms and proclamations of hatred, could not escape. "You dare talk to your parents in such a way? Your father should give you a good whipping!"
"No whippings," said Sidaizon. "Nautalya, if you truly want to convert, you're right that we can't stop you."
Eäzinya likely would have shouted something to the contrary, had she been calm enough to speak.
Sidaizon crouched down, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked Nautalya in the eye. "Now. Do you really want to be Yaranénon, or are you just trying to give your mother fits?"
Looking off to the left, she was unable to meet his gaze. Her fingers fidgeted with the edge of the orange shawl. "Yes," she answered, but without conviction. "I really want to be... um..."
"Well, that's unfortunate. You see, Máro is coming with me to the public baths, and I would have invited you to come along, too. But they don't allow Yaranénon girls in. We'll have to go without you."
He stood and ruffled Nautalya's hair, and managed to walk three steps toward the back door before she cried, "Wait!"
"What is it, Alya?" he asked, looking back over his shoulder.
"Why... why can't Yaranénon girls go to the bath?"
"Because it's a Valadávan bath house. Only Lávar are allowed."
"Are there Yaranénon baths?"
"Well, yes," said Sidaizon, "but only men can go, and the bath is nothing more than one big outdoor pool. There's no bath for women or children, which I think is a little silly. But those are the rules. Now that you're Yaranénon, I suppose you'll have to start washing outside with a bucket by the well where the neighbours can see you. Yaranénor aren't allowed to bathe indoors. They have to wash themselves outside under the open sky."
Either because of the disappointment of being banned from the baths or due to horror at the idea of bathing alone while the neighbours watched, Nautalya's mouth fell open to match her widening eyes. "But... but..." Frantically, her hands twisted around the shawl. She had been to the public bath only once, nearly a year before, and had been begging Sidaizon ever since to take her again. He could almost see her thoughts quarrelling behind her eyes: was this Yaranénon argument worth keeping up if it came at the expense of soaking in hot water and having her hair washed and back massaged by fussing, motherly women who treated her like a little queen?
"Do you want to postpone your conversion until after we go to the baths?" he asked.
"Yes," came Nautalya's quick answer.
"Good. Now take that bead off your forehead and give it back to your grandmother. She may need it. Also, ask her to help you bundle up some clean clothes to wear after the bath."
"Yes, Attu." Free of Eäzinya's grip, Nautalya pulled off the bead and wiped away the residue of dough from her brow. She escaped down the corridor and disappeared into the bedroom she shared with Amárië before her mother could scold her further.
Eäzinya looked less than impressed by this resolution to the conflict. "I suppose you think you did very well there."
"She's decided against converting today, hasn't she?"
"What about tomorrow?" Sidaizon asked. "Tomorrow, she'll probably have forgotten about it. If not," he added when Eäzinya made a frustrated sound, "there more things than warm baths to make her see reason."
Eäzinya had pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest as she looked at Sidaizon. She took a little breath and held it, as if uncertain of what to say, which always meant she was about to disagree. The little inhalation was always followed by her glaring at the floor. A very controlled upbringing by strict parents had guaranteed that she would never be bold enough to argue with her husband while looking him in the eye. She was, however, quite willing to argue with her husband while looking at his feet.
She inhaled again, gathering her words for the imminent assault, and dropped her eyes to the floor exactly as expected. "I don't think," she began, but then stopped. Her expression took an abrupt shift from determined to confused. This was not part of the pattern.
"Sidaizon... what happened to your sandals?"
Following her sightline, he looked down at his feet and the white slippers he wore. He had forgotten about that. "Ah. Right. The sandals. I threw them over the wall."
"Threw them over the wall. With all those blisters from yesterday, they hurt my feet so badly that by the time I'd walked to the Lavazat this morning I never wanted to see them again. So I threw them over the Lavazat's back wall. The slippers are much more comfortable."
"Those are indoor shoes!" said Eäzinya. "You're not allowed to wear them outside!"
He shrugged. "Well, strictly according to the rules, I'm not allowed to wear them inside after wearing them outside. I suppose I can wear these ones out if I buy another pair for in."
With her arms clenched tightly and her shoulders as tense as a cat on the hunt, Eäzinya looked ready to erupt from frustration. An argument would happen one way or another, whether about Nautalya or absent sandals. "Do you ever think about what you're doing?" she asked. "Do you ever give your actions any thought, or do you always go wherever impulse takes you?"
"I thought about the sandals very carefully," he answered. "In fact, I was so annoyed I was about to burn them, and had even made a fire before I stopped to reconsider. Then I thought, these are still good sandals, no broken straps or holes in the bottom, and it would be a waste to burn them. So that's why I threw them over the wall for somebody else to find. Had I acted purely on impulse, they would be a charred mess by now."
"And had you stopped to consider more," countered Eäzinya, "maybe you would realise that shoes are expensive and we can't afford to buy you new things just because you're annoyed! You do this all the time, Sidaizon! Every decision you make is done on a moment's notice!"
"That's because I'm always right the first time." He grinned at her, but she refused to look up from the floor.
"It's not funny. Sometimes you worry me sick with the things you do. It's bad enough during peaceful times, but now there's trouble and you're wandering off across the city to give a baby to heretics just because Márathul thought it was a good idea, dressed in some outrageous costume that could get you publically whipped or worse if the Oraistari found out about it, then only managing to escape the King's Hands by chance..."
Her voice broke into a little sob, and she lifted her hands to her face as if they had the power to hold back any show of emotion. She rubbed her eyes with her fingertips: a pre-emptive strike against tears. "It worries me," she whispered. "There have been too many days lately when I wonder if you're coming home at all, or if I'll sit up all night only to have someone at the door in the morning telling me you've been arrested."
"I won't be arrested," he promised.
"But what if-"
"I won't." He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close against him. She resisted only for the space of a heartbeat before letting her head drop down onto his shoulder. "In all the time we've been married, have I ever made a wrong decision that caused us to seriously regret what happened?"
"No..." she admitted.
"Then there's no need to worry. This is what I do, Eäzinya. An Almatar makes decisions, and he has to make them immediately. If a man comes to me to ask for advice on what the law allows, should I send him home because I have to think it over for a few days? No, because he'll never come back to hear what I've decided. He'll take things into his own hands and might end up making the wrong choice. I need to be able to advise him immediately on what he may do and what he must not do. I advise myself the same way. And everything's turned out well enough so far, hasn't it?"
A long pause dragged on before she answered, "Yes."
"Decisions made quickly aren't always bad. I've never regretted anything, and never gone back on what I decided to do. Do you know how long it took me to agree to your father's proposal that I marry you?"
The beginnings of a tiny smile played at the corners of her lips. She knew the answer to this question.
"Less time than it took to decide to throw the sandals over the wall," he said. "Aren't you glad I said 'yes' straight away rather than going home to worry my way out of it? If I'd done that, you could be married to Auzëar right now. Nice man, but very dull."
"I could live with dull," said Eäzinya, pulling away. She shook off his embrace, but was smiling. "And predictable, and responsible."
"I've seen him naked. He has a small-"
"What? It's true."
Wide-eyed, Eäzinya jerked her chin up. It took Sidaizon a moment to realise she was trying to gesture to something, and that her gaze was fixed on a point over his shoulder. He turned around to see Márathul and Nautalya standing hand in hand with bundles of clean clothing under their arms, patiently waiting to go. Márathul cleared his throat and shifted from foot to foot as he pretended to be very interested in the front of his shirt. He had clearly been standing there for some time, and it was more than likely that Nautalya had been with him for at least part of it.
"Oh," said Sidaizon. "Hm." If Márathul wanted to pretend he had not just witnessed that scene, he was equally willing to play along. "Do we have everything? Are we ready?"
"Yes, Attu," the two of them answered.
"Then get your shoes on and let's go."
"Be careful," Eäzinya murmured to him as soon as Márathul and Nautalya had passed by to fetch their sandals from the doorway.
"I will be. But we're doing nothing out of the ordinary today. Going to the perfectly acceptable Valadávan bath house is a perfectly acceptable Valadávan activity. No-one will have any cause to complain. And we'll be home before sundown. I promise."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.