15. Summons by Night
"There were Noldorin women in the courtyard of the Lavazat!" Márathul announced when they returned home.
Eäzinya, setting bowls and cups on the floor in preparation for supper, looked shocked but said nothing. Nautalya immediately showed interest. "What did they look like? Were they real Noldor?"
"I don't know," said Márathul. "Probably. How should I know how Noldor are supposed to look? They had black hair. But they were in the courtyard where they're not supposed to be. There's even a sign beside the gate saying only Valadávar are allowed!"
"They likely couldn't read," said Sidaizon. "Most women can't."
"Most Noldorin women can," Amárië countered. She did not look up from her beadwork when she spoke, and her voice held a confrontational challenge.
Sidaizon let it pass. If she were still cross with him over the baby, fighting about whether or not Noldorin women could read would not help. "Perhaps they can read only Tengwar. The sign is written in Sarati. Anyhow, they were there, Tarmanaz valiantly made them leave, and then we cleansed and purified the ground to be rid of their unholy presence, so all is well."
"Noldor are not unholy," snapped Amárië. "Your father was Noldorin, which means that you are Noldorin, so it's ridiculous to talk that way."
"These ones were unholy," said Sidaizon. "If you saw their manner of dress you would agree."
"How were they dressed?" Nautalya asked. "Were they wearing beautiful gowns?"
Eäzinya gave her a sharp look. "You do not need to know how they were dressed."
"No, you certainly do not," Sidaizon agreed. "The less said about such indecent clothing, the better. In fact, the less said about the Noldorin women, the better. Why don't we forget about them and sit down to eat our supper."
"That's a very good idea," said Eäzinya. "Nautalya, come help me with the food."
The two of them disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later, Eäzinya carrying a large bowl of soup and Nautalya bearing a platter piled high with slices of roasted eggplant. A basket of bread already waited on the floor where Eäzinya had laid out the place settings. As everyone sat down, Eäzinya fetched a pot of tea. She poured tea for everyone except Tarmanaz, who strangely enough found himself sitting on the supper blanket with no cup, no bowl, and no spoon.
He looked to Sidaizon for help. "Attu?"
"Nautalya, go fetch your brother a place setting."
"But Amma said..." Nautalya began, though she quickly thought better of the objection. She and Tarmanaz had always been close: he was the one who told her stories and played the beloved game of chasing her around the house pretending to be a monster. She ran to the kitchen and fetched Tarmanaz his dishes.
Sidaizon could see Eäzinya's jaw clench in annoyance as Tarmanaz helped himself to tea, but she kept her complaints to herself. He reached out to squeeze her hand. She allowed it. "What a lovely supper," he said. "Everyone should thank Manwë for providing us with such good food, and thank Amma for taking the time to prepare it so well."
Bowing their heads, the family murmured thanks.
"And I helped," Nautalya added.
"Very good, Alya. Now let's eat."
Throughout supper, Amárië sat in prickly silence, Márathul stared at his soup looking lost in thought, and Nautalya and Tarmanaz exchanged whispers into each others' ears on the topic of, Sidaizon was sure, the Noldorin women's clothing and appearance. Nautalya's eyes had grown wide, and she sat up very straight, looking impressed. After supper, Eäzinya punished her for her camaraderie with Tarmanaz by making her clear everything away and wash the dishes by herself.
"Come with me," Eäzinya said to Sidaizon as Nautalya, huffing and grumping, cleared away the bowls. "I want to talk to you."
A flicker of apprehension shot through him. Certainly this would be about Tarmanaz. Nonetheless, he nodded, and followed her to the bedroom. She did not bother to light a candle before locking the door behind them. In the darkness of the room, she slid her arms around his waist and leaned forward to rest her head against his chest. Reflexively, he wrapped her in a strong embrace and kissed her hair.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have thrown you out of bed last night. That was a terrible thing to do."
"It's no worry. I survived."
"Still, I feel awful about it. I should never have done that. I was so angry at Tarmanaz that I wasn't thinking right. You forgive me?"
"Of course," he said. He kissed her hair again, inhaling its clean scent.
"I thought about a lot of things all night, and all of today while you were gone. I realised that..." she paused, as if trying to find the courage to admit her error; "...that you're right, and this might not be such a bad thing, and that I shouldn't be so upset."
"You have a right to be upset," he offered, but she shook her head.
"No. That's what I was thinking about. And I know this will sound terrible, but what I realised is that if not for what happened to Valima, we wouldn't be here right now. If she hadn't been dishonoured, my father wouldn't have had to work so hard to restore our family reputation. He wouldn't have decided that I had to show the world I was perfect and virtuous, that I had to marry an Almatar, and he wouldn't have chosen you as my ideal husband. If Valima had not been shamed, she would have gone on to marry some neighbourhood craftsman or merchant, and so would I. But because her life was destroyed, mine turned out to be so much better."
"And you feel guilty?"
She looked up at him. "How can I not? She's dead, and I've been made so happy because of it." Flinching at her words, she corrected, "Not that I'm happy she's dead... that came out wrong. What I mean to say is, I've been asking myself all day if I'd be willing to give up everything to have her alive again, and... I don't know if I would. I don't think I could give up you and the children for her sake. So if I ask myself honestly, would I change what happened if I could? The answer is no. Isn't that selfish? Then I start to think it all happened for the best, which is even worse. How horrible is it that I think my sister dying was for the best?"
"It's not horrible, and it's not selfish," Sidaizon reassured her. "You're trying to rationalise something that was completely beyond your control."
"Beyond my control or not, everything still happened in my favour."
"Yes, but it's done, it's in the past, and nothing you can do will change it." He kissed her forehead, then lowered his face to press his lips against hers. "It was nothing you did that caused the chain of events to unfold this way. Only fate. We can't change fate. So there's no sense in asking yourself those questions, Eäzinya: whether or not you'd sacrifice your happiness for her life. Even if you were willing, it's still impossible. You shouldn't torture yourself worrying over what you would do if given a choice that will never be asked of you."
"I know, but... it still makes me feel terrible, being happy when she's dead."
"What would make you feel better?"
She was silent for a long while before answering, softly, "I don't know."
"Come on," he said. He took her hand, leading her to the bed, and pulled her down to lie curled up against him. "We'll sleep on it, and if you can think of anything to do for Valima, I will help you do it."
"We can't sleep yet. We haven't even washed."
"We can wash after."
She laughed. "After what?"
"Oh, I don't know..." He pinched her bottom, and she jerked away with a squeal. She sat up on the bed to look down at him, an admonishing smirk on her lips.
"Not now! The children will be suspicious if we stay in here all night."
"Let them be."
"Sido, it's hardly dark out! Later. I really should help Nautalya with the dishes. She's too small to manage everything alone. And I need to finish hemming Tarmanaz's trousers. They're too long."
Sidaizon took that as an encouraging sign. "So you forgive him?"
"No," she sighed, but followed with, "well, maybe a little. I'm not happy about it, but you were right: what happened to Valima has nothing to do with him. It's not the best thing, but I can remind myself that he's a good boy at heart, and I can live with it. Maybe he'll even be an honest Hand and not terrorise innocent people for fun. Maybe you can give him guidance."
A recollection of the previous night's dream suddenly flashed in Sidaizon's mind. "That reminds me. I had a dream last night in which Tarmanaz fought off a group of Hands trying to arrest a young girl. He carried a sword and a brilliantly shining shield. Do you suppose it means anything?"
As he suspected, Eäzinya approved of the vision. "I hope so," she said. "That does sound as if he will rise above the corruption of the others and be an honourable man."
With the exception of Amárië, who remained cool, everything seemed to have returned to normal by the next day. Tarmanaz once again left the house before Eäzinya awoke, but she served him supper that night and made an effort to speak to him as if all were forgiven, and so they were tentatively reconciled. Márathul went to the great silver-domed Lavazat Sovallistëa at the centre of the city and brought home an application to join the Academy on the Mountain. Applications were not necessary, but, as Sidaizon pointed out, holding the completed form in his hand when he arrived at the Academy's doorstep would not hurt. If he could prove he already knew how to read and write, he might be given relatively easy work writing out and copying records rather than scrubbing floors or stirring great vats of boiling laundry.
Sidaizon also suggested that Márathul cut off all his hair before setting out, purely to spite the Oraistari, who would then not be able to use it for wigs. Márathul agreed. He admitted to finding the idea of his hair adorning some strange man's head more than a little unnerving. He had decided that the day Tarmanaz left for training at the barracks of the King's Hands would also be the day he left to go to up the mountain, so the night before their departures the family held a farewell-and-haircut celebration. Sidaizon brought home a joint of lamb and they had meat for supper, a treat that was normally reserved for holidays. Eäzinya made a special fig cake for dessert.
Once they had finished eating, Márathul decided that Nautalya should be the one to cut his hair. She begged him to let her do it, and he agreed that there would be no harm done even if her work was imperfect and uneven. The Oraistari would shave off whatever remained the next day anyhow. Carefully, using Sidaizon's razor under Eäzinya's close supervision, she cut away Márathul's hair bit by bit. She laid the severed locks in a meticulous pile on the floor beside her.
"You can keep the hair," Márathul said. "In case you want to dress Attu up like Arafinwë again."
Nautalya grinned; no doubt that had been exactly what she had planned to do.
"We should sell it," Amárië suggested. "Noldorin ladies pay good money for golden hair to weave into their own.
"No," said Márathul, making a face. "I don't want any Noldorin women to have my hair. I'd rather Nautalya keep it to play with."
"Not even for six tyelpilindi?"
Márathul's frown only deepened. "Not even for six kulustar."
"Well, that's a silly attitude to have..." Amárië huffed.
Nautalya finished with Márathul's hair, producing much neater results than anyone expected. What little remained was approximately half an inch long, sticking up oddly all over his head. He looked strange: entirely unlike himself. Tarmanaz started laughing, but Márathul did not seem to mind. A sheepish smile had spread across his face. "Let me see," he said, and Eäzinya passed him her polished silver mirror.
"Manwë's blood!" he swore when he saw his reflection. Then he, too, burst into laughter.
"What do you think of your new haircut, Almatar Márathul?" Sidaizon asked.
"I'll never again think yours is too short, that's for sure..." He ran his hand over his shorn scalp and held up the mirror to examine it from different angles. "It looks funny and feels even funnier. It feels so..." he gave his head a shake; "light. My head is naked!"
"You'll grow accustomed to it over the next sixty years."
"I hope so."
Eäzinya put her arm around his shoulder and kissed his cheek. "Oh, Máro, I'm going to miss you. Sixty years!"
"It's not forever, Amma," he said as he kissed her in return.
"I know, but... You'll be so different when you come back. A lot can happen in sixty years. Nautalya will be all grown up and married with her own children, and Tarmanaz might be married, too..."
"I'll be married to a prince," said Nautalya, though no-one paid her any mind.
A hint of darkness seemed to settle over Márathul's face, as if he were only then realising that his family would not remain unchanged while he was away. "Well... I'm sure everything will go on without me... I can see everyone when I'm back."
It would be hard for Márathul, Sidaizon thought. When he himself had gone up the mountain, it had been to escape his grandfather's oppressive rule. The only person he missed had been his mother, and she had waited patiently for him and hardly changed at all in his sixty years away. Márathul, though, was leaving behind an entire family that loved him. When Márathul returned he would probably be taller and stronger, looking more like the man he would become than the boy he now resembled. He would miss watching Nautalya grow up, and Eäzinya was right in thinking that she would likely be married with a child or two in sixty years' time. So much would change.
A knock at the door interrupted that sad thought. Eäzinya frowned at him. "Who would that be at this time of night?" she asked.
"Probably Auzëar," Sidaizon said. "I told him to come by tonight for cake and to share with Máro any wise words he might have about going up the mountain." Shaking his head to clear the melancholy, he went to the door and undid the latch. "Welcome," he was about to say, but the word died in his throat.
It was not Auzëar. Two of the King's Hands stood on the doorstep.
"Oh..." he said. "I'm sorry. I was expecting someone else. You must be here to see Tarmanaz?"
The one on the right, raising his eyebrows, said, "No."
The other gave Sidaizon a quick, appraising up-and-down glance. "Almatar Sidaizon?" he asked.
Sidaizon's blood turned suddenly cold and his heart dropped into his gut. "What?" he whispered.
"We'll need you to come with us."
"Oh. Um." Through the wave of sudden light-headed dizziness, he heard himself asking, "Where are we going?"
"We are not able to say," said the one on the right. "But you should pack a bag with some clothes and necessities. You may be gone a while."
"We are not able to say."
"Oh," he said.
Everything felt like a dream. His legs did not feel solid enough to walk, but they carried him, wobbling, toward the bedroom. He kept a hand on the wall for balance. A slick of cold sweat covered his skin, and his clothes were too hot. He had to remind himself to breathe.
"Sido?" Eäzinya called out. "Who is it?" She rounded the wall that partitioned the front entryway before he could think to stop her. She froze, drawing a gasping breath at the sight of the Hands, and lurched back. "Are they... they are here to see Tarmanaz?" she whispered.
Sick to his very core, Sidaizon could only shake his head and continue on to the bedroom. Eäzinya followed in confusion, and it was not until she saw him bundle up a change of clothes that she realised what was happening.
"Oh no," she moaned. "No. No, no, no... "
"Shh." He pulled her into a tight embrace, rocking back and forth. "Shh, everything will be fine. I'm sure this is nothing. It will be fine."
Eäzinya could only weep in reply, sobbing, "No, no, no, no..." against his chest.
His mind raced, trying to think of why the Hands had come. Too many answers arose. The Noldorin woman could have decided to take revenge on him by inventing some sort of injury or assault. The two Hands who saw him in the bath house with Anin could have reported him for indecency, or someone could have overheard his confession to the other Almatar and reported that. Someone could have recognised him in the Yaranénon disguise, visiting Authimer, and told the Oraistari. Or it could be a mistake. He prayed to Manwë that it was a mistake.
He rested his cheek on Eäzinya's hair and gave himself one more moment of peace with her before stepping back. "Let's go," he murmured. He could not trust himself to speak any louder; his voice would shake under the weight of fear. "I can't keep them waiting."
"Don't go," said Eäzinya. "You can't go. You can't go with them. They'll..."
"I have to. If I don't go peacefully, they'll drag me out of here by force. Which would you rather have Nautalya see?"
"No," she repeated. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no..."
Weakly, he led her back to the entryway. Her moaning turned to hysterical cries of "No! No! NO!" as soon as she saw the Hands, and she sunk to the floor, clinging to Sidaizon's legs.
The Hands stood silently in the doorway, not even looking at her. They must be faced with distraught wives all the time, Sidaizon thought.
The rest of the family, drawn by Eäzinya's cries, immediately appeared. Amárië and Márathul ran to Eäzinya, while Tarmanaz stood by Sidaizon, keeping Nautalya safely behind his back. "What's going on?" Tarmanaz asked.
"I have to go. Stay here with your mother. She'll need you."
Tarmanaz stared at the Hands. While they may have ignored Eäzinya, they certainly noticed him. He had put on his white uniform while Nautalya cut Márathul's hair, hoping that Eäzinya could finish the final adjustments to the fit. Now the Hands regarded him with confusion and exchanged a curious look.
"What are you doing here?" one of them asked.
"I... live here," Tarmanaz answered.
Their expressions changed from confusion to annoyance. "Why are you wearing your uniform at home?"
"My mother was..." he looked down at Eäzinya on the floor; "fixing..." His voice trailed off into nothing, and he seemed to shrink under the disapproval of the two at the door.
The other Hand grunted and gestured to Sidaizon. "Let's go."
He forced himself to pull his leg free of Eäzinya's desperate grasp and walk toward them, step by wooden step. With a pained smile, he looked back to Amárië and Márathul. "Everything will be fine," he reassured them. "I'm sure this is nothing. Just be patient, and I will be back as soon as I can."
Amárië gave a scant nod, but Márathul looked too terrified to even move his head. Both of them held on to Eäzinya, who still lay crumpled on the floor, wailing a heartbroken descant of "No, no, no!"
"Out to the carriage," said one of the Hands, and as Sidaizon passed by to go outside, he heard the other add, "And you can come with us."
Again he looked back, this time to see Tarmanaz standing frozen by the door. "But..." Tarmanaz began.
"What, are you afraid to do your job? Get in the carriage."
"But I'm not..." he stammered. "I haven't started... My first day of training is tomorrow."
"You need experience, then. All the better. Get in."
Tarmanaz moved with the same lurching uncertainty that Sidaizon felt. He shuffled up the walkway to the carriage, his face set in an expression of shame as if silently apologising for the presence and behaviour of his two fellow Hands. Then Márathul appeared at the door, looking no less terrified but trying to act brave all the same.
"Attu..." he said, pushing past the Hands. "What... what should I do?"
Sidaizon squeezed Márathul's shoulder. "Máro. I need you to wait a few days to go to the Academy. Stay here, and look after your mother and sister and grandmother. You will be in charge while Tarmanaz and I are away. You're a grown man and I trust you to make choices for the best. Do you understand?"
White-faced, Márathul's answer was a weak nod.
"Good boy. I will try to send word as soon as I know when I will be home.
"But what if-" Márathul whispered.
Sidaizon silenced him with a shake of the head. "No 'what if'. I will come home soon. Until then, I trust you to hold things together here."
He gave Márathul's shoulder one more squeeze before climbing into the carriage. Tarmanaz climbed in to sit beside him, then the Hands on the bench opposite. The driver bolted the door from the outside. Sidaizon shuddered as the carriage pulled away into the darkening streets. Even above the clatter and creak of the wheels, he could still hear Eäzinya's anguished cries fading behind them.
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.