You Live Your Life in the Shadow of the Mountain: 8. Devotees of the Valar

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8. Devotees of the Valar

 

The butcher led the way through the neighbourhood's maze of side-streets and alleys, all the while muttering to himself that he would have done better to simply hand Sidaizon over to a band of local thugs and thus be easily rid of him. Sidaizon, preferring to draw as little attention to himself as possible, followed silently. He held Nautalya's hand, and she clung to him as if the city might swallow her if her grip became too relaxed.

The farther they went, the more Sidaizon grew convinced that the butcher was leading them on the most roundabout journey possible. They turned at nearly every intersection, twisting left and right, until he was certain they had walked in a large, haphazard spiral. If the butcher meant to confuse him and make it difficult for him to ever again find his way to Authimer's home, the plan was working well. Sidaizon was completely disoriented. With the sun almost directly overhead, lending little in the way of shadows, he had no way even to tell east from west.

When they finally emerged from the maze of alleys, Sidaizon saw that they had arrived at a wide square surrounded by tall houses on all sides. A great fig tree grew in the centre of the square, its branches just touching the walls of the houses. Benches and a table sat in its shade. For the first time since meeting the butcher, Nautalya grew brave enough to speak.

"Attu!" she whispered, tugging on Sidaizon's wrist. "Look how big the tree is!"

"It is big," he murmured in reply. "Far bigger than our own at home. Do you think ours will ever grow so tall and wide?"

"I hope so." She tilted her face to gaze up at the tree's impressive height. "You could probably see the whole city if you climbed to the top of that!"

"I'm sure you could see very far."

Timidly, she released her grip on his wrist just long enough to take a few steps toward the tree, but raced back to his side when the butcher spoke.

"Here," said the butcher. "This one." He held the door to one of the houses open and ushered Sidaizon inside with all the warmth of a prison guard.

Beyond the door, as Sidaizon expected, was a corridor that led to yet more doors and a stairway. With a grunt the butcher nodded at the stairs, and then, once they had climbed to the second floor, at the first door on the left side. Sidaizon knocked only after it was clear that the butcher was not about to do so himself. A tense moment dragged on, and then the door opened to reveal the dark-eyed and tired-looking man who had come to the Lavazat the previous day.

"Indor Authimer," Sidaizon said, respectfully lowering his head.

Authimer regarded him with a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion in return. "I am he. And who are you, Faino?"

"You do not know him?!" the butcher interrupted.

"We met yesterday," Sidaizon said quickly, and he hoped it would be enough. The less the butcher knew of him and the Lavazat, the better. "You may recall."

Frowning, Authimer leaned out of the doorway to study him more closely. He clicked his teeth, and then the light of recognition flared in his blue-black eyes. "Oh!" he gasped. "You are the Valadávan Almatar!"

"Almatar!" roared the butcher. Sidaizon had no time to even cringe at the revelation before the butcher lunged toward him, madly swinging his arm. He was only able to dodge halfway. He ducked, but the butcher's fist glanced hard off the top of his head above his ear. Staggering, he fell against the wall, and Nautalya screamed. Her scream managed to momentarily distract the butcher. He paused with his hand held at the ready, but did not strike again. In that sliver of silence, disturbed by the noise, the baby strapped to Nautalya's back woke and began to cry.

"Stop!" said Authimer. Stepping out from the doorway, he held up his arm between Sidaizon and the butcher. "No violence in front of the children!"

"He lied!" the butcher spat. "He is a liar! First he tries to pretend he is one of us, then he says he is your friend! But he is really a wretched Almatar? I should kill him now! I'm sure he lied about the baby, as well!"

Sidaizon pulled himself to his feet, still leaning against the wall. He gave his head a shake to clear the dizziness caused by the butcher's strike. "No. That, I swear by Manwë's own grace, is no lie. Everything I told you about the baby is true."

"What is this about the baby?" asked Authimer. Curiosity showed plainly in his face as he looked to Nautalya and the source of the baby's cries.

Other doors in the corridor had started to open, alerted by the noise, and the spying eyes and noses of the building's other inhabitants peeked out from their homes to watch the scene unfold. Sidaizon leaned closer to Authimer and spoke in low tones. "This is something I would discuss with you privately," he said. "Perhaps we may go inside, where I may speak more freely?"

After an uncertain pause, Authimer nodded. "Very well. Come in."

"You think this safe?" asked the butcher. "He is-"

"I know who he is," answered Authimer. "And he has so far given me no reason to doubt his intentions. It is also far more dangerous for him to come here than for me to admit him into my home, which makes me believe his mission must be important."

"Thank you," said Sidaizon, bowing his head as Authimer held the door open. He pulled Nautalya inside before looking back warily to the butcher, who remained in the corridor. Authimer shut the door. "He's not..." Sidaizon began.

Authimer shook his head. "He's a devotee of Námo. He won't come in here."

"Námo! I thought they cut their hair and wore grey."

"No," said Authimer. "Only acolytes of Námo shear their hair and wear grey robes. And they are a strange lot. I would never allow one of them in my corridor, let alone my home." He motioned for Sidaizon to sit on a bench near the door and remove his sandals. "The devotees, though, are not as fanatic. You can tell them only by the tokens they wear. That man wore an obsidian pendant."

Sidaizon tucked his sandals beneath the bench and bent lower to help Nautalya with hers. "Obsidian denotes reverence for Námo?"

"Or Aulë," Authimer answered with a shrug. "But it was set in iron. A setting of silver or gold would make me think of Aulë first, but obsidian set in iron is Námo for certain. It is your bad luck, Almatar, that a devotee of Námo led you here. That is about the worst choice of guide you could have made. How did you find him?"

"He found me," said Sidaizon. "I tried to ask a safe-looking boy for directions to find you, and had the misfortune of asking that man's son."

"Ah. Well, if the need ever arises in the future, look for a guide wearing the mark of an eye or a bird, or a white scarf. They are devotees of Manwë and may be more sympathetic to you."

"An eye or a bird," Sidaizon repeated. "I shall remember that. Thank you." Again, he glanced to the door, as if it could somehow tell him whether or not the butcher still waited on the other side. It gave no sign. Nor did it give him any clue as to why a devotee of Námo would refuse to enter Authimer's home. Or why one might be refused entry. He took a breath, but held it, keeping back the question he wanted to ask. No good would come from potential rudeness and offending his host.

"You may ask me," Authimer said quietly, and Sidaizon tensed at the words. Had he been so obvious? Authimer continued, "Your curiosity is plain enough to see. You want to know which Vala I follow. You were about to ask, weren't you?"

Sidaizon sighed, letting his shoulders relax. "Oh. No. I mean, yes, but, the question I had before was... unimportant. I will ask later. Now that you mention it, I would like to know. That."

"Guess," said Authimer.

"Guess?"

"Which Vala I follow." He held out his arms to put himself fully on display, meeting Sidaizon's eyes with a gaze that was almost challenging.

He wore nothing on his head, neither scarf nor band, and had no decorations in his hair. If some mysterious code had been followed in the styling of his plaits, which looked wholly average and unremarkable, Sidaizon could not see it. His ears held only small gold studs. No pendants or tokens fell down from his neck. He wore a knee-length red tunic, bound at the waist with a pale yellow sash, and matching pale yellow trousers. The sash had been embroidered with a narrow band of white triangles. He looked for all the world like any Yaranénon man.

Sidaizon shook his head. "I see nothing."

"I expected as much," Authimer answered with a half-grin. "The tension these days is not only between Yaranénor and Valadávar, Almatar. Now Yaranénor looking for a fight will start petty quarrels over who visits which temple most often. It's no longer enough that we share the same core beliefs and celebrate the same festivals and all pray to all Valar at one time or another. And it's no longer wise to be too obvious in one's preferences. At one time, I felt free to walk about the city with my arms bared, but now..."

Taking each of his cuffs in the opposite hand, he pushed back the wide sleeves of his tunic until they sat bunched at his shoulders. Then he spread his arms again, turning his palms to the wall behind him. At first, the indigo lines on his skin appeared to be an abstract design. But as Sidaizon stepped closer and focused on what he saw, the distinct shapes of feathers began to materialise. Hundreds of feathers, each overlapping and flowing into the next, ran like wings down the backs of Authimer's arms.

The realisation of what this meant came to Sidaizon with a sudden rush of wonder. "Manwe," he murmured. "You follow Manwe."

"I do." Authimer shook his arms so that his sleeves fell down to hide his tattoos. "And I suppose you can guess why, at this time, it may be wise to hide that fact. Manwë has fallen out of favour of late, if I may say so."

"But surely no-one would challenge you?" asked Sidaizon. "The Yaranénon people fight on your behalf. It was your daughter who-"

"It was my daughter who was a convert," Authimer interrupted. "And some would use the situation surrounding her death as an opportunity to preach hate against converts, and against devotees of Manwë in general. Some think we are too close to the Valadávar and are all in danger of converting at any moment. Of course, some will take any excuse for a fight..." He puffed out a loud breath of air, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm sorry. I know you didn't come all this way to hear me complain. My manners must have abandoned me. Please, come this way."

He pushed aside a curtain that separated the small shoe room from the rest of the house. What lay on the other side was exactly the opposite of what Sidaizon had been expecting. While the shoe room had been bare save for a few pairs of sandals and a bench for sitting, the living quarters of the house had been excessively decorated with carpets, cushions, ornaments, and hangings of every possible colour. Three mismatched carpets, two large and one small, filled all of the available floor space. On the carpets sat piles of cushions, some decorated with fringes, tassels, embroidery, or beading. Every wall had been painted a different colour and then covered in woven pieces, framed drawings, patterned tiles, wrought metal talismans, and garlands of fabric flowers. In one corner stood a life-sized, painted wooden statue of a woman in a seductive dance pose, holding what appeared to be a horned infant with an elongated, deer-like snout. The statue had been draped in more fabric flower garlands. An empty copper bowl sat at its feet.

For the first time since entering the building, Nautalya found her voice. "Oohhhh..." she sighed.

"I hope you will forgive the clutter," said Authimer. "I have fallen behind in my organisation."

Shelves and tables filled all sides of the room, each one overflowing with things: dishes, scarves, jewellery, bottles, mirrors, slippers, incense, and more. Nautalya drifted toward a stack of bright folds of fabric to feel the edges with careful fingers.

"It's very... colourful," said Sidaizon.

Authimer laughed. "And you are very tactful. But I know what it looks like, and it looks like a mess. Things everywhere. I hope you believe me that my home is not normally in such disarray. I have a backlog of merchandise and nowhere else to store it."

So Authimer was a merchant. The odd collection of decorative items and furnishings suddenly made much more sense. "Where is your shop?"

"Not far. Next street over. It's my father's shop, to tell the truth; I work for him. But if you think my room here is bad, you would hate to see his. He and my mother live behind the shop and they can hardly move for all the carpets and tables. Unfortunately the marketplace has been empty of late. Hardly anyone wants to leave the house and even fewer think about buying carpets when death is on their minds. But you must have seen how empty the streets are."

"I did," Sidaizon answered, nodding.

"Normally we have a very busy neighbourhood, but now-" Authimer's words stopped short and he frowned to himself. "By the Sun's Light, I have no manners, talking like this. Please, sit down, sit down. Any cushion. Would you like a cup of tea, or...?"

"Tea would be very nice, thank you."

"And your little girl?"

Nautalya's arm stopped mid-gesture, hovering above the bowl of buttons she was about to touch. She turned to look at Authimer with the horror of having been noticed apparent in her round eyes. Authimer smiled at her, and she responded by scurrying back to Sidaizon to hide behind his legs.

"I think perhaps just a cup of water for her," Sidaizon said.

The baby had started to fuss again with little squawks. As Authimer disappeared around a corner to fetch tea and water, Sidaizon untied the length of fabric that wrapped around Nautalya's back. He and Nautalya both seated themselves among the numerous cushions decorating Authimer's floor. Nautalya held the baby in her lap, trying to soothe her by letting her suck on the tip of a finger.

"Attu, I think she's hungry again."

"She probably is. It's been a while since we fed her. When Indor Authimer returns-"

Authimer returned before Sidaizon could even finish his sentence. "My wife will bring the tea. She is rolling out twelve-layer bread for supper, and it will be done shortly. You must stay and try some, Almatar."

"I shall; thank you," said Sidaizon. Whatever this twelve-layer bread was, he had never heard of it, but staying in Authimer's good graces was more important than worrying over mysterious foods. He could hardly afford to turn down hospitality.

"Wonderful!" Authimer smiled, looking at least halfway sincere as he sat on the floor across from Nautalya. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees to have a better look at the baby. "And who is this little one? Your youngest?"

"She is why we have come here today," Sidaizon replied. "This is your daughter's child."

"My..." Authimer whispered, inhaling the word.

"Your granddaughter."

The baby squawked and grunted, and Nautalya cooed to her. Sidaizon fell silent. Authimer did not even breathe; he had pursed his lips tightly and his shoulders rose with tension. He glanced from the baby to Sidaizon with the look of a man trying not to hope for something beyond his grasp. "But... why..."

"I have been charged with finding a home for her," said Sidaizon. "Her father cannot care for her alone. He suggested that I ask you first."

"He suggested?"

Sidaizon nodded. "Yes. Your daughter's Valadávan husband suggested that his child be raised by Yaranénon grandparents. He is just as eager as any other to end this feuding and have peace."

Long seconds crawled by as Authimer said nothing. The air felt thick with uncertainty and, Sidaizon sensed, a return of the deep sorrow Authimer had carried with him in the Lavazat courtyard. His face had crumpled and he looked suddenly as weary as the earth itself. Here was the man who lost his daughter. The showy cheer of hospitality had vanished.

"Nellúlë said he was a good man."

"Nellúlë?" Sidaizon asked. "That was your daughter's name?"

"Was," said Authimer. "Before. She changed it, of course... Aistilië. When she married him." He cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, wiping away any hints of tears. "Well. That's in the past. Pointless to worry about what can't be changed. Look to the future, I say... So." His gaze flickered down to the baby on the floor and he made a jerky, hesitant move with his hands. "May I... ah..."

"Of course. She is yours now, if you wish to keep her."

Carefully, like lifting the most delicate thing in the world, Authimer pulled the baby close to his chest. Both arms held her securely. He dipped his face to kiss the top of her head, closing his eyes as he did. And then, he wept. Silently, the tears began to flow down his cheeks, and his shoulders shook without making a sound. Sidaizon had to look away. It felt too much like an intrusion to witness Authimer's private grief and joy.

"I must..." Authimer gasped between sobs, "tell my wife...

"Stay seated," said Sidaizon. "Nautalya will. Nautalya, go ask the lady in the kitchen to come out here, please."

A look of pure terror crossed Nautalya's face at the prospect of having to speak to a stranger, but still she reluctantly rose to her feet and walked on tip-toe around the corner wall to the kitchen. The stranger, at least, was nothing more frightening than a lady making tea. Sidaizon could hear the woman's voice floating back across the room; "Oh! Who might you be, little dear?" Whatever Nautalya answered was too quiet to carry. "Of course," the woman replied. "Just let me take the tea off the fire first."

A moment later, Nautalya appeared from around the corner with a hand on her shoulder and Authimer's wife at her side. Sidaizon would not have recognised the woman if not for the fact that they were in Authimer's home; she looked nothing like the grieving mother from the Lavazat courtyard. The dirty pink shawl and dust-smudged face had disappeared, and instead he found himself looking at a well groomed lady dressed in clothes of good quality. Her bright blue gown showed not so much as a speck of kitchen dirt, and the green shawl that draped from her head had been neatly pressed. Strangely, a tiny silver ornament set with a blue stone appeared to be glued to the middle of her forehead.

She saw Sidaizon and stiffened, taking a moment to recompose herself before continuing forward. "Authimer?" she asked. "What is-" It was not until she stood almost directly over him that she was able to see the child in his arms. Then, just as he had done, she sucked in a quick, shocked breath and froze in place.

"Nellúlë's daughter," was all that Authimer could manage.

The woman sat down too quickly, almost falling to her knees. "And she..."

"She is yours now," Sidaizon confirmed.


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.

Story Information

Author: Darth Fingon

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/20/11

Original Post: 02/07/09

Go to You Live Your Life in the Shadow of the Mountain overview

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