9. Saminda, Yaranénon
The woman, whom Authimer eventually remembered to introduce as Idizimë, insisted on serving tea while carrying the baby in one arm. While Sidaizon and Authimer drank their tea and Nautalya her water, Idizimë ordered a neighbour child to bring up a jar of fresh milk from the goat in the courtyard. She fed the baby with Authimer hovering at her side, unable to relax.
"Is she named yet?" she asked. "Did her mother give her a name?"
Nautalya, having grown somewhat braver after being given a cinnamon biscuit, shuffled forward on her knees to sit closer to Idizimë. "Her name is Sámandë," she proudly announced.
Sidaizon's stomach reflexively knotted at Nautalya's suggestion. Authimer looked up with a sharp glance, and Idizimë made a little hiss between her teeth. "Oh no," she said. "No, that's not a good name for a baby. Where did you hear that word, dear girl?"
"I..." Nautalya began. Her voice wavered; her temporary bravery had fled. "That's what the butcher called her," she continued at a whisper. "I... I thought it sounded pretty."
"It does sound pretty," Idizimë agreed, and she rested a kind hand on Nautalya's arm. "But it's not a very nice word. What if we call her something that sounds just as pretty but means something better?"
Looking mortified, Nautalya gave a tiny nod.
Idizimë smiled. "Here, put your hand on her head. Feel how soft her hair is. Doesn't it feel just like silk?"
"Yes," Nautalya whispered. She touched the baby's head with nothing more than the tip of one nervous finger.
"So do you think we should call her Saminda? In honour of her silky hair? Is that a pretty name?"
"I... guess so... yes..."
"Then Saminda she will be," Idizimë announced.
"Saminda," repeated Authimer. "I will do a horoscope for her."
As soon as Authimer stood to find whatever it was he needed to make a horoscope, Nautalya flew back to Sidaizon and settled into his lap with her face pressed against his arm. He held her close, and kissed the top of her head.
"What does sámandë mean?" she asked, quietly enough that Idizimë could not hear.
Again, Sidaizon's stomach lurched at the sound of the word on Nautalya's lips. "I will tell you later," he murmured in reply. With any luck, she would forget about it, and spare him the misery of having to explain so foul a term.
She grunted at having been dismissed, but did not complain further. Instead, she quietly watched from the safety of Sidaizon's embrace as Authimer gathered up a handful of papers and some sort of wooden disc. He sat down once again on the floor beside his wife with everything spread out in front of him. The papers looked like no more than long columns of numbers, but the wooden disc was clearly something more specialised. It comprised seven concentric circles, each rotating on its own, and each marked with letters and strange symbols. Authimer mumbled to himself and made clicking noises with his tongue as he aligned each circle according to some arcane knowledge. "Ssssssaminda..." he breathed. Sidaizon caught only a few other words, 'Aistilië' being one and 'five' another.
He consulted his number charts, adjusted a circle, frowned, checked another chart, and adjusted another circle. When he was finally satisfied, he smiled and clapped his hands together. "Very good!" he said. "Saminda is a good name for her. It should bring good fortune. You see?" He tilted the disc for Sidaizon to see, though it looked like nothing more than bird tracks through mud and appeared to make as much sense.
"Here," said Authimer, pointing to one section, "it's clear that sorrow surrounds her birth, and strife. But if you follow the line, things improve very quickly right here."
Sidaizon followed the movement of Authimer's finger, but still saw nothing. He nodded politely. "Yes, that's interesting."
"The sorrow is very brief, replaced by happiness. I see no more violence in her future. Not much money either, but nor do I see terrible poverty. Her alignment is with Varda. Very auspicious. She will be as wise as she is beautiful, and greatly respected."
Fortune-telling, like a cinnamon biscuit, was something irresistible enough to pull Nautalya out of her shyness. "You can tell all that?" she asked. "You can tell the future?"
"To some extent, yes," Authimer answered. "Shall I do a horoscope for you?"
"Yes!" Without leaving Sidaizon's lap, she turned around to face him. And then remembered to correct herself; "I mean, yes please."
"It should not take long. Your name is Nautalya... and your father is Sidaizon... and your mother's name?"
"Eäzinya," said Sidaizon.
"Eäzinya. Thank you. And when were you born, Nautalya? Day? How old are you?"
"Fourth of Susúlimë," Nautalya answered. "I'm nineteen."
"Place of birth?"
"Valmar," said Sidaizon, "We live near the Lavazat you visited, if that makes a difference."
"It does," Authimer said, nodding. "Good to be as accurate as possible." Just as he had done with Saminda's horoscope, he flicked through the papers and adjusted the moving circles accordingly. His eyebrows rose as he read the result. "Well, little Nautalya. You are a singularly lucky girl. Aligned exactly between Aulë and Varda."
Nautalya looked pleased with herself even without any further explanation. "What does that mean?"
"Usually, that you will marry a great man, a rich man, and rise to a position of prominence."
"Like a prince?!" asked Nautalya.
"Not a prince, Alya," Sidaizon interrupted. "I'm sure he meant someone more like a landowner or wealthy merchant."
Authimer shrugged, running his fingers over the disc. "Difficult to say. But greater than a mere merchant, I would think. A man of high standing: a noble, perhaps. If not, then a very influential citizen."
"I hope he is a prince!" Nautalya said. Hugging herself, she dropped her head back as far as it would hang to look at Sidaizon upside-down. "Can I marry a prince, Attu?"
"I thought you didn't want to marry."
"I would if I could marry a prince. Can I?"
"If one asks you."
Mercifully, Authimer said nothing more on the subject. He had given Nautalya enough unreasonable ideas already. Instead, he asked, "And you, Almatar? Would you like to see your destiny?"
Sidaizon laughed. "I'm afraid I lack half the information you need, knowing neither my birthdate nor my father's name." This admission earned shocked expressions from both Authimer and Idizimë. He quickly appended the statement. "By which I mean that my mother surely knows the name of her husband, but will not tell me."
"I am sorry to hear that," said Idizimë. "He died before you were born?"
"He left before I was born. He was a Noldo who followed his people into the east. My mother refuses to speak of him. As for my day of birth," he continued to change the subject, "that occurred during the dark years before the light of the Sun, when time was lost though having no accurate way to measure the passing of days. The best my mother can guess is two or three weeks after Marillendë."
And now he had said too much. Authimer, despite his difference, was far too easy to talk to. In the space of a moment, Sidaizon had managed not only to divulge his own dubious history, but also cast aspersions on Valadávan virtue as a whole if the accidental son of an unaware and unfaithful Noldo could be appointed a guardian of his faith's morality. Trying not to scowl at himself, he shifted his focus to the baby. She was an easy target of feigned interest.
"You are a fascinating man, Almatar Sidaizon," Authimer said, slowly shaking his head.
They did not speak any further about either horoscopes or life stories. The conversation fell into the safer topics of weather and the prices at food markets while Nautalya helped Idizimë fix supper of something called twelve-layer bread, which turned out to be a pastry stuffed with strongly spiced vegetables and fresh cheese. Then, after supper, Authimer insisted on giving them gifts, in the name of tradition. The arrival of a new baby always warranted a celebration where guests who came to see the child were given food and gifts. The food had been served, and so now it was time for him to search through the shelves of accumulated items for a few appropriate things that Sidaizon and Nautalya could take home.
For Nautalya, he settled on a string of wooden beads painted to look like pearls. She murmured her thank-you while holding the beads in tightly clutched hands; she had always adored the pearls that Amárië used to adorn the clothing of rich folk. Her own string of pearls, even if fake, would be much loved. It was more difficult, though, to find anything for Sidaizon among the various Yaranénon decorations. He had no interest in clay talismans impressed with the image of Oromë, nor in brightly coloured hair ornaments.
"The beads for Nautalya are more than enough," he insisted, but Authimer waved off his concern with one hand while opening a large box with the other.
"No," said Authimer. "I will have something for you. Do you Valadávar burn incense?"
"Occasionally, but it's not-"
"Wait. No. I have a better idea." He knelt on the floor and pulled a wooden crate from under a pile of knotwork cushion covers. "This will be good; very practical. Something you can use."
"You are going to a lot of trouble..." said Sidaizon.
"Because I want to. Now here. You will like this." Standing, Authimer held out a small box made of delicate orange paper.
The box in Sidaizon's hand was heavier than he expected. "What is it?"
"Olive oil soap. A hard bar, perfumed with sandalwood."
The soap in the box felt suddenly twice as heavy as Sidaizon tried to push it gently back into the pile of similar boxes in the crook of Authimer's arm. He had held such a thing exactly once before in his life. It had been a wedding gift, and Eäzinya's father had told him what it was worth. "Authimer, you are dangerously generous. I can't accept this."
"Of course you can." Authimer stepped back, refusing to allow the gift to be returned.
"No, I can't. I know how much this costs."
"Yes, and so do I," Authimer said with a wry grin. "I bought a whole case of the stuff years ago and have sold hardly any since. It turns out most of the visitors to my shop are not so senselessly wealthy as to want to buy a piece of soap that's the same price as a small carpet. It nearly ruined me. It's been sitting in its crate in here ever since, and I want to be rid of it. Please, you are doing me a favour by taking it. In fact," he added before Sidaizon could protest, "take another, for your wife. Here; this one is jasmine-scented." He thrust another box, this one white, into Sidaizon's hands.
Authimer interrupted before Sidaizon had even finished the second word. "Almatar Sidaizon, when a Yaranénon child is born, I told you that the parents give gifts to visiting well-wishers. The gifts are an expression of joy shared with other families so that all may celebrate the new arrival. I promise you that Saminda is worth much more to me than two slices of hard soap and a necklace of wooden beads. Please. Take what I give you."
Suitably humbled, Sidaizon slipped the two soap boxes into the cloth pack that held his white clothing. "I am taking them," he said. "And I thank you with all my heart for your extravagance. I should probably leave right now before you change your mind and demand them back."
Authimer laughed. "I will see you to the door."
The devotee of Námo had gone. He did not lurk in the corridor as Sidaizon had worried, nor was he waiting outside the building or down either of the alleys leading away from the fig tree at the centre of the square. Sidaizon said a silent prayer inside his head to thank Authimer for keeping him so long. Hours had passed since his and Nautalya's arrival. The sun hung low in front of him, burning a brilliant orange crown around the rooftops.
Now, at least, he could easily tell east from west, even if he had lost track of exactly where in the city they were; the most he could say for certain was 'on the wrong side of the river'. The river divided the city almost equally into north and south halves, and they were on the south side. If they kept walking north, they would eventually come to the river and he could find the way home from there. All he needed do was keep the sun on his left side until then.
Nautalya played with her wooden pearls as they walked. She hung them from her neck, then looped them around her wrist, ran her fingers over the smooth paint, and held them close to her eye to inspect them for any minute imperfections. The more she concentrated on the beads, the slower her pace fell. Sidaizon found himself tugging on her arm every few moments to keep her from shuffling along at the speed of a beetle.
"Alya, come on, hurry up. We need to walk faster, or it will be dark long before we're home. If we're not across the river by sunset, I won't be able to find our way."
"Mm-hmm," she answered. She spoke to the pearls, and he doubted that she had even listened to what he said.
"Put the pearls away, Nautalya, or I will have to keep them for you until we come home."
That, she heard. She quickly slipped the necklace over her head and tucked it beneath her dress. "I'll be good!"
Sidaizon held out his hand, which she took. "Can you keep up, or should I leave you behind?"
"I can keep up!"
"Good. We have to walk faster than we did on the way there. Tell me if your legs grow tired. I will be able to carry you a little ways."
Her free hand continued to wander up to touch the beads at her neck as they walked, but the hand in Sidaizon's stayed where it was and she did not slow. For a while she skipped and hopped, but quickly lost either the interest or the energy necessary for keeping up with Sidaizon's speed. She fell back into a walk.
"Attu... what does sámandë mean?"
Sidaizon clenched his teeth to hold in a curse. So she had remembered. "It's..." he began, and sighed. "Sámandë is the Fire of Fate."
"Oh," said Nautalya. She sounded disappointed. "But Idizimë said it was a bad word. That's not too bad."
"The meaning in itself isn't too bad, no," Sidaizon agreed. "The bad part is that the fire was, at one time, used to kill people. Criminals," he added as Nautalya's eyes grew wide. "Criminals who were convicted of the worst crimes were sometimes burned to death. The Sámandë was used because it was a holy fire kept burning eternally by the acolytes of Námo. They said it had magical properties. If one who died in its flames could accept that death calmly, without fighting against the fire or crying out in pain, his spirit was deemed to be repentant and would not suffer in Mandos."
Nautalya had come to a complete stop in the middle of the road, still holding his hand. Her lips had lost their colour. "They... burn... people?" she asked, almost too softly to hear.
"No," said Sidaizon. "Not any more. The King stopped that horrific practice years ago. When I was Márathul's age. No-one is burned alive now. Criminals are not killed very often any more, because the King prefers to keep them alive and make them do hard work instead. But if they are killed, it is done in a way that is quick and painless."
"I don't know," he lied. "I've never seen it done." Learning about death by fire was more than enough for one day. There was no need to frighten Nautalya further with thoughts of suffocation, beheading, or, possibly worst of all, the calm touch of Námo's finger to a forehead that was enough to steal a man's life in the blink of an eye. Sidaizon had witnessed such an execution only once, and had vowed never to be part of one again. Námo's dispassionate and perfunctory death-dealing to his terrified victim had been the theme of nightmares for years afterward. Even now, the mere thought of it was enough to send a cold shudder down his back.
He tugged at Nautalya's hand. "Let's go. No time to waste."
Slowly, she shuffled her feet forward and began moving again, saying nothing. No colour had returned to her lips. As she walked, she kept her eyes on the ground and her free hand clutching her pearls.
"Are you still thinking about the fire?"
She gave a tiny nod.
"Do you want me to tell you a story so we can think about something else?"
She nodded again, a little more firmly.
"Then I will tell you about the Tetillë. She is a Maia of Izmo, and she lives in his great garden in a clearing full of poppy flowers. Very few people know her true name; they simply call her the Tetillë. But if you ever learn her name, you can call on her whenever you want, and she will grant a wish for you."
Nautalya looked marginally perkier. "Any wish?"
"Any wish. She has the power to do anything. Even things the Valar themselves cannot do. She can go backward or forward in time, or return someone who has been killed to life. The only problem is, she can only use her power when someone else asks for it. She can never simply do what she wants. Not a single thing for herself."
"Can she make people rich?"
"Easily," said Sidaizon. "She could make you a queen by clapping her hands. But here is the tricky part. The Tetillë is fickle and spiteful. She resents having to use her powers only to serve others. So she will grant anything you desire, but she will do so in a way you do not expect, and in a way that often has disastrous consequences. She will twist your wish and try to harm you."
"But how?" asked Nautalya.
"Well, give me a wish, and I will tell you what she might do."
"I'd wish to be a queen."
"Then she might make you a queen of ants or termites," Sidaizon said. "You didn't specify you wanted to be a queen of the Eldar, so she can make you any kind of queen she wants."
Nautalya made a face. "Ech. No. I just want lots of money, then."
"She might let you find a whole basket full of gold, only for you to be arrested the next day because the gold had been stolen."
"What if I ask to marry a prince? An Eldarin prince," she specified.
"He might be mean and stupid and ugly."
"An Eldarin prince who is not mean and not stupid and not ugly, and has lots of money, and we live happily ever after in a big palace!"
"And suddenly, you find yourself on the other side of the world, married to one of those lost Telezi who did not come across the ocean, and you never see your Minyarin family again."
"This is silly," Nautalya grunted. "Why bother wishing for things if they all turn out bad?"
"That's exactly it," Sidaizon told her, nodding. "The Tetillë shows us exactly how silly it is to wish for things we don't have and to try to change our lives when we don't deserve it. Anyone who makes a wish to her always ends up wishing even more for things to be back the way they were. The only safe thing to wish for when the Tetillë asks you is that she go away and never trouble you again."
Nautalya looked unconvinced; her face was tense with concentration as she undoubtedly tried to compose a wish that left no room for trickery on the part of the Tetillë. She wrinkled her nose, frowned, and said, "I don't think I'd want to risk asking for anything."
"Then you're a very smart girl."
"Can you carry me now? My feet are sore from walking so hard."
"As soon as we're across the river, I will carry you," said Sidaizon. He pointed ahead. "Look, there it is. Do you see the bridge?"
He did his best to keep his voice light and happy as he and Nautalya crossed the narrow wooden bridge ahead of them, and as he helped her pull her white clothes back on over her Yaranénon disguise, but there was little he could do to cheer himself, nor could he disregard the sinking dismay in his gut. They were much farther east than he had imagined, and already the sun had shrunk to nothing more than a sliver of fire on the horizon. The Aldayanta was nowhere in sight down the glittering red line of the river. Gazing down the banks to the west, the only bridge he recognised was one he knew to be in the vicinity of Eäzinya's father's house, more than a two-hour walk from home.
With a groan, he lifted Nautalya up to sit on his shoulders. "Now we need to hurry. Your mother will be worried about us."
Marillendë: Summer harvest festival to celebrate the gathering of fruit
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.