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Another Man's Cage: 14. Chapter Fourteen--Tyelkormo
I always smell Formenos hours before we pass its gates. The reek of civilization tickles my nose: the tamed scent of crops and cut wood underscoring the pungent odor of the forges; the smell of Elven bodies. I am delighted at the thought of our imminent arrival and a little disappointed too, like encountering a mouthful of sand in the dregs of sweet wine while picnicking on the beach. I love the wilds of our country but also I love Formenos, which is different than Tirion, more haphazard and relaxed. Also, in Formenos, our lessons extend beyond craft and lore—to archery, tracking, horsemanship, sword-fighting—and every year, I find that the anticipation of testing my body against those of my brothers makes me lean forward in the saddle and urge my pony faster.
Not like I expect to beat any of them except Carnistir—especially Nelyo, who is tall and strong and very skilled in athletics—but I relish in the knowledge that, by the summer's end, they have to work harder to better me than they do at the summer's beginning. And, this year, I have Findekáno—or Káno, whatever his name is—to challenge, and he is almost my age, so defeating him will be a prouder moment than besting Carnistir and should better prepare me to overtake Macalaurë.
Proud only in theory, however. I look at Findekáno, who is riding beside me, giving me those careful glances that tend to annoy me like he wants to say something but does not. He is as cold as wet grass between your toes in the morning, yet when I shun his rare affections, he has the audacity to act hurt. I realize that he didn't want to leave his family—any more than we wanted him to join ours—and I sympathize, feeling a pang of sick pain whenever I think of leaving Atar, Amil, and my brothers for a whole summer, but he does not have to inflict his misery further upon us. And he is very small, which annoys me too, mainly because I know it is caused not by misfortune but by a life of luxury that does not require him to engage in sport much less labor. My brothers and I practice both. Our bodies are hard with muscle from lifting heavy loads of laundry, from dragging reluctant horses from the pasture, from scrubbing the floors of the forge and picking basket after basket of vegetables, strength that we hone further whenever we ride or wrestle or race through the woods in pursuit of quarry. But Findekáno has never used a bow and does not even own a knife, and when his smooth hands touch me, I am repulsed as one might be by the engorged belly of a snake.
Nelyo intends to instruct us together in letters and lore, which enrages me further because, though we are close in age, I am more learned than Findekáno. He fumbles the arithmetic questions with which Nelyo drills us on the trail and his voice quavers when he reads and I have never seen him draw any letters, so I am left to assume that he is shamed by them, for how else can one avoid writing words for more than a week, even just to inscribe one's name in the wet sand by the lake for fun? And, before the arrival of Findekáno, Atar had been making vague hints that I might be permitted a few lessons in the forge this summer, and I certainly don't wish to be denied this so that I might spend my afternoons resetting his broken jewelry alongside Findekáno, a task I have been doing for three years and had grown bored of after the first week.
He is still giving me those tight little glances of his. He tries to ride with tall confidence but his bony knees stick out at awkward angles from his saddle, betraying his lack of skill. I sigh and nudge my pony into a canter, to ride alongside Atar.
"Atar!" I say, to make conversation as a way of excusing my rudeness to my cousin. (Why Atar is so unsympathetic to my feelings when I know that he despises Findekáno's father is puzzling.) "We're almost there, aren't we?"
"About an hour, little one," he says wearily. He is weary not of riding but of Carnistir, who has been riding with him for a week now and has been crying intermittently for the last three days of it. He is crying now, like a baby much younger than four years. Carnistir is weird—we all know that—and he is afflicted with very vivid and sometimes scary dreams, and they always seem to get worse as we near Formenos. Carnistir loves Formenos almost as much as I do, yet he dreams badly inside the dark walls of our father's second house. Atar and Amil even consulted healers in Lorien about my baby brother, and they said that his night terrors were likely caused by changes in climate. For the past two summers, I have had to share a bedroom with Carnistir because Formenos is very cold at night and Atar does not wish to light many fireplaces.
This year, I shall share with Findekáno, which is relief after being awakened several times a week by Carnistir's senseless howling, and Carnistir shall sleep on a cot in the sitting room of Atar and Amil's suite. A few times over the past week, Amil has tucked me into bed with Findekáno, and he is much easier to tolerate asleep than awake. He does not kick, and although he whimpers in his sleep sometimes, at least he doesn't scream.
"Carnistir," Atar pleads to my little brother, who is still wailing plaintively, "a thousand times I have told you that such visions are only in your imagination. Look around you! There is no darkness! Laurelin is radiant and it is a beautiful day. Won't you stop crying?" Carnistir hiccups and sobs louder. He is facing backwards on the front of Atar's saddle, pressing his face into Atar's chest. Atar takes hold of him by the top of his head and turns him to face me. "Look at Tyelkormo!" he says, and I smile at Carnistir, who stops crying and suffices to grimace at me while tears race down his cheeks. "See what fun he is having? We are almost to Formenos!"
Carnistir whimpers one last time and holds his arms out to me. "I want to ride with Turko!"
My baby brother prefers our father to everyone, even Amil. Amil claims it is because Carnistir was born with teeth so Atar mostly nursed him from a bottle to give Amil a reprieve from his teeth. "He thinks Atar is his mother and I am his father," she always jokes and sighs whenever Carnistir runs to first to Atar where a normal child would go to his mother. So in the rare instances when he leans away from Atar and holds his hands out to me, I feel gloating pride, the warm glow of being loved enough that someone little and helpless like Carnistir would pick me first to hold and protect him.
Atar cocks an eyebrow at me, silently asking me if I mind sharing a mount with my squirmy, temperamental little brother. "I don't mind," I say quickly. I love being big enough to be trusted to make my own choices.
We pull to the side of the trail so that the others may pass while we switch Carnistir between horses. "Now if we do this," Atar warns him, "I don't want to hear you whining in five minutes that you want to be back with me, and you shall ride the rest of the way to Formenos with your brother. Do you accept this?"
Carnistir nods, and Atar dismounts and lifts him from his horse and onto my pony, who stomps in protest of the extra weight but doesn't dare shift away from the imposing Fëanáro.
"Hold him tightly, now," he tells me, putting my hand around Carnistir's waist. "And no fast riding or silly tricks. And stay close to me or your mother or Nelyo. No wandering off on your own."
About all of these things Atar has to warn me because I do tend to be a little adventurous at times, like when I was riding without my hands the other day when a rabbit leaped out and spooked my pony. I would have fallen if Macalaurë hadn't grabbed her reins in time, and he fell and hurt his shoulder quite badly.
(No one knows that I was riding without hands but Macalaurë, and he didn't tell Atar so I didn't find it necessary to mention it either, although I was kept awake half the night thinking about the sticky blood on his shoulder and the way he cried when Atar poked the needle into it.)
Atar canters back to the front of the line; either he or Amil lead us always; even Nelyo is not yet trusted to the task. I fall back into line and find myself again beside Findekáno.
He is looking at me again, so I turn and give him a quick smile, hoping that he'll say whatever is on his mind that makes him keep looking at me, but he only smiles back, turns to face forward again, and stares at the trail. I try to wipe the remnants of tears from Carnistir's round, ruddy cheeks with the edge of my cloak, but he wriggles and bites at my fingers until I stop. "Turko, Turko!" he says, and I wish that he would stop calling me that—and silently curse Nelyo for starting him in the habit—with his head rolling on my chest like a ball. I say, a bit snippier than I intended, "What?"
He points to Findekáno. "Káno. Káno is so pretty."
Little children say the most embarrassing things at times. Findekáno turns and gives me a nervous look, his eyes shifting from my face to Carnistir's so quickly that I expect he is getting dizzy. "Boys aren't pretty, Carnistir," I say with an embarrassed laugh. "Girls and horses and flowers are pretty."
"Not Káno the boy, stupid!" he says, and I have to bite my lip hard to keep from chastising him; after all, I have no right because he learned the word from me. "Káno the color."
I grit my teeth. Carnistir labels people as colors. I am green, he tells me. Atar is clear and bright. Amil is pinkish-clear and bright, but not as bright as Atar. Nelyo is silver-blue, and Macalaurë is blue-gray. Apparently he has added Findekáno to his collection and affixed him with a blue label.
"He calls people as colors," I explain to Findekáno to hide my embarrassment. "Little brothers are kind of dumb sometimes."
"I'm getting a little brother soon," he tells me. His voice is high and watery, annoying, like thinned paint.
"I know. Well, good luck with that. Hopefully he won't call people after colors."
I try to sound dismissive, to end the conversation, but Findekáno keeps going in his thin, pinched voice that always sounds like he has something stuffed up his nose. "Amil says that she thinks he will be very wise."
"Mmhmm. Yeah, my Amil always thought Carnistir would be strange, and he is."
"What did she think you'd be, Tyelkormo?"
I turn, startled: His words, his inflections, even the way he says my name remind me of Nelyo. My stomach twists bitterly; how many times have I gone to cuddle with Nelyo in the last week and found my place taken by this sad wisp of a child, who now had stolen even my eldest brother's beautiful voice?
"Brave. Strong." I hate how my voice sounds choked, like there is something lodged in my throat. "She thought I'd love nature. And I do."
"Yes, my mother said that I'd be courageous and noble, but I'm neither of these things."
I realize that decorum would have me argue him over this point, but I couldn't find evidence of courage or nobility in him if I wanted to. Nelyo would find something. He'd use the fact that Findekáno consented to be tossed off a cliff by Atar as evidence of courage, but it is a passive act to be thrown and a courageous one to jump of your own volition. I am not yet allowed to jump or I would have.
Instead, I say, "Well, mothers can be wrong too, I guess," and Findekáno looks down and nods sadly.
I want to feel sympathy for him. After all, Carnistir's fears awaken my urge to be a big brother, to take him in my arms and hold him, wanting to absorb his pain like a sponge. But Findekáno's rounded shoulders and shameful eyes bright with tears irritate me.
Carnistir's head is tipped back against my shoulder and he is looking up into my face. His black hair tickles my neck and distracts me until I stop brooding about Findekáno. "What, Carnistir?" I say, and he twists until his arms can wrap around me, nearly unseating both of us in the process, nuzzles my neck, and says, "I love you Turko don't be mean," in a whispered rush like a furtive summer breeze darting through the trees.
The last half-hour we ride fast, pushing even the carthorses to their limits, devouring the last miles of plain between Formenos and us in hasty strides.
The city soon comes into view, a black pile of stones among the hills. I squint until I can see the biggest stone that sits cast away from the pile, so close to the base of the largest hill that it looks as though it sprouted from the mounded earth behind it. That is our house, built of the icy black stone that grows from the ground in Formenos in the same way that trees grow in Tirion. Carnistir is clapping his hands gleefully and the only tears on his cheeks now come from him staring unblinking at the city on the horizon while the cold wind slaps at his face.
Gone is the china-blue sky of Tirion. Here, the clouds roll across the sky in menacing gray piles. When the clouds do crack, the sky reveals vivid fragments of blue the electric color of lightning, so beautiful that I cannot look away until more clouds have poured across it to fill the gap with roiling charcoal. I asked Atar once why the sky was bluer beneath the clouds and he told me that the color was the same but that the gray clouds made me appreciate what I took for granted in Tirion. He says that's why he loves Formenos, because every moment reminds him that it is a gift to be alive.
When we are close enough to the city that I can see the light between the houses, three figures ride out from the gates, galloping across the rocky plain to meet us. Across their shoulders they carry three different standards; they are the three lords of Formenos, come to meet us, as always, and I watch Atar and Amil's horses break from our group, urged into gallops to meet the lords while Nelyo herds the rest of us toward the gate.
Atar's eyes do not go dangerously bright, nor is his voice tight in his throat, when he meets the lords from Formenos like when he meets the lords in Tirion. When we get closer, I see that they have stopped upon converging, and it is Atar's laughter that I hear first, then the voices of the lords, their accents hard like plunking stones into water. "We were concerned when you did not arrive yesterday evening," one of them says. He carries a golden banner with a serpent twisting around a dagger sewn in glimmering red thread.
"We were waylaid a day when Macalaurë—my second eldest—injured himself while attempting heroics. Otherwise, we were blessed with fair passage," Atar replies. After the voices of the lord, his accent winds gently into the air between them like a strain of music.
"His injuries are not serious, I hope?" says the same lord.
"We shall seek the healing counsels of your excellent sister, but no, I believe that he shall live to sing in the halls of Alqualondë and give me at least two grandchildren." Atar gives a quick smile to Macalaurë, still riding in front of Nelyo, blushing and looking down at his unbound hand. "At the least, he saved my son Tyelkormo from harm."
Now it is my turn to blush.
The lords lead us to our house. Like our home in Tirion, it stands outside the city gates, though by only a few minutes ride. Our Formenos home is smaller than our home in Tirion, more compact. It is three stories tall with an attic on top that is soaring-high in some places and so low in others that even I have to stoop over to stand there, constructed in a neat square with a courtyard in the middle and no wings flying off at crazy angles. It is tradition for the lords to meet us on the plain and escort us to our house, which has already been opened and airing for the past week. There is bustle already at our arrival, making it easy to believe that our family can go nowhere without noise and commotion.
The wife of the lord who carries the crimson banner edged with pine green gets busy drawing us hot baths while the two sons of the aforementioned lord with the golden banner help us take the horses to the stable, and dry and curry them. I kick at the one son when he reaches up to help me dismount—I am more than capable of doing such an elementary task for myself—and he helps Carnistir instead. The wife of the lord with the violet banner stoops to admire my little brother, but he sets off shrieking to push between Atar's knees and bury his face against the inside of Atar's leg.
"He means no offense. He's just weird," I assure her, but she has already taken to admiring Findekáno, who is watching the commotion with wide apprehensive eyes.
"This is your cousin?" she asks me, and I just nod and go to find Nelyo.
Nelyo is acting gracious to the children of the lords, which doesn't surprise me, taking the hands of the sons in his and kissing the cheeks of the daughters. The daughters, especially, stand close around him, smiling and asking inane questions about our trip. I feel a sudden devious urge to go find Annawendë and bring her over to see the way the eldest daughter of the lord with the violet banner fawns over Nelyo and removes a bit of broken branch from his hair.
"It does not become you," she says, and he laughs.
I wander over toward Macalaurë, who his having a whispered argument with Atar about whether his arm is well enough to bathe himself yet. Atar wants Nelyo or himself to help Macalaurë. "How are you going to wash your hair one-handed?"
"I'm thirty-nine years old and you treat me like a child!" Macalaurë hisses, and Atar recoils with surprise and loudly says, "You'll want to watch your words, Canafinwë." Whenever he uses our father names, we know we're in trouble. Some of the fire goes out of Macalaurë's eyes, and he stomps away but tries to do so delicately to keep from jarring his bound arm and ends up looking ridiculous, like he's marching through thick mud.
Atar watches him go, but there is no anger in his eyes, only a bewildered longing. I tug his tunic, "Atar?" and he shakes his head and looks down at me.
He scoops me up, and I straddle his hip, and he kisses my face and smoothes my hair. "What do you want, little one? Or are you too here to tell me that you've grown up and don't need my help anymore? Hmm?"
I don't answer him. I rest my head on his shoulder and let him carry me into the house.
Our trunks have been taken already to our rooms. Atar rummages through Carnistir's and mine to select clothes that will be appropriate for supper with the lords, scattering most of our work and play clothes on the floor in the process. Carnistir leans against me, his thumb in his mouth, watching Atar with raised eyebrows.
"Amil's going to be angry," he says when Atar tosses my workboots onto the bed I will have to share with Findekáno. "Very angry." His voice comes out lisped because of the thumb.
"She'll forgive it."
He drapes the clothing he has selected over his arm and leads us by the hands to his and Amil's suite, which takes up a whole corner of the house on the one side. They have a sitting room and a study and a bedroom, of course, and two bathrooms, although Amil only uses hers, as far as I can tell, to give Carnistir and me our baths. Atar takes us into the bedroom and sits us on the bed while he lays out our good clothes on the backs of chairs. The family bedrooms are on the second floor of the house and they all open onto a porch that stretches along the back of the house, all except Atar and Amil's because their bed was built onto a dais that extends out where the porch should be and is encased in glass on all sides. The glass fascinates me because, when I lie back on their pillows, I can see the clouds rolling overhead, but were I to press my face to the window outside, I would only see myself looking back. I love lying between them at night, listening to the way their breathing matches the other's when they sleep, staring up at the stars that are so much brighter here than in Tirion.
Amil is in Atar's bathroom already with the door half-closed. He selects clothing for himself, barely looking at the material in his hands on the embroidery on the hemlines before dropping it onto Amil's vanity table and heading for the bathroom door. He undresses as he walks, nonchalantly, and it looks like his clothes are falling off of him. "Is the water warm?" he asks Amil as he enters, and she answers, "It's glorious!"
"Could you find room for company?"
"I can always find room for you, Fëanáro."
He closes the door behind him with a bang.
Carnistir sighs and slides from the bed, down the steps, and onto the floor below, where he begins pulling strings from the nap of a fuzzy rug set at the foot of the steps. I think briefly about stopping him, about making him lie on the bed beside me, where he cannot get into so much trouble, but the pillows beneath my head are too luxuriously soft, and I close my eyes and instead allow myself to drift to sleep.
When I wake up again, it is because Atar—standing with his hair dripping and a towel wrapped around his waist—is yelling at Carnistir. I sit up and, with a twinge of guilt, note the bald patch in the rug. There is a pile of strings beside it that is noticeably smaller than the bald spot, and as I listen to the words that Atar is yelling, I realize it is because Carnistir has eaten most of them. "I can't get you to eat green beans but you'll eat my rug!" Atar yells, and Carnistir starts crying.
Amil ducks around him, gathers me into her arms, and carries me into her bathroom. Her hair has been toweled dry—it tickles my cheek like the cool fronds of a plant—and she wears a silky robe. She smells mainly of bath soaps and a little bit of Atar, but always I can smell Atar on her, and she says that they ceased being able to wash away the scent of the other years ago. I have to sniff Atar from the bottom of my lungs, however, to be able to detect her warm, dusty smell on him. It is so rare that she carries me these days—since Carnistir was born—that I wonder for a moment if I am in the middle of a strange dream.
Amil and Atar constructed their own bathtubs for both Formenos and Tirion, carving them out of bluish marble so smooth that it is less like rock than it is silk. They are like small ponds, big enough that if I lie with my head and one end, then even with my legs stretched to the point of aching, I cannot touch the other side. Amil strips my clothes from me before I can protest and plunks me into bubbly water that comes to my chin, so heavily scented that my backside no sooner touches the bottom of the tub and I am propelling myself out again, shouting with protest.
"Amil! This water smells bad!"
She shoves me back in and holds me by a shoulder while she douses my head with a pitcher full of water. "It does not smell any differently than your bathwater at home. You have become used to unscented soaps, but believe me, Tyelkormo, you need this. You reek of the trail."
I try to smell my arm, but it now smells of lavender and a fruity scent almost like cherries. I grimace and submit to Amil's hands, which are scrubbing my scalp with a force that almost hurts.
"I can wash myself now," I remind her. "I'm old enough."
"I'm sure you can. But you're filthy, and I'd rather help you to make sure that all of the dirt is gone."
I sigh and settle back in the water. At least it is warm, and the bubbles crackling around me are rather comforting. I pick up a handful, blow hard, and watch them shoot across the room then drift back down to the water. Amil hums quietly, a tune that Macalaurë had played for us last night, and I suddenly feel very peaceful and relaxed for the first time in a week. It is rare when I get to bathe without Carnistir yelling and splashing while I sit vigilantly waiting for him to get that suspicious look on his face that means he is doing something in the water that he is not supposed to be doing. Even in my parents' bathtubs, which are big enough that he can sit on one side without touching me, he will wait for our caregiver to turn and dive under the water and bite my feet hard enough to hurt. He calls it playing fish bait, but last time I kicked out in my pain and made his nose bleed.
I wonder if that is the reason why I am bathed alone today?
I ask Amil, "Where's Carnistir?"
"Your father is bathing him," she says. "You are both too dirty to bathe together. Everyone should bathe alone after a long journey. There is no point in washing yourself with another's dirt."
"But you and Atar bathed together," I remind her, and her cheeks pinken and she says, "That's different."
"I'm not complaining," I tell her. "Carnistir can be a pain sometimes. Most times, actually."
"He loves you, Tyelkormo."
"Well, I love him too. But he's still a pain."
I wonder: Do I annoy my elders as much as Carnistir sometimes annoys me?
I wish out loud for the boats that Nelyo and Macalaurë made when Amil and Atar conceived me, and Amil says, "Your boats are still packed. Anyway, you don't have time to play now. We all need to get dressed and ready for supper."
I remember the clothes that Atar has picked out for me and sigh. Such clothes are worn only on tedious occasions, like fancy suppers with lords. Although such suppers are not nearly so tedious in Formenos as they are in Tirion, mainly because the lords of Formenos are not so tedious and Atar does not spend the meal with his eyebrows scrunched low over eyes bright like the first flashes of lightning that warn of a storm coming.
"What are we eating?" I ask, and Amil says she does not know.
"Is Atar making it?" Atar is the best cook in the family. Nelyo is good too, but his meals tend to be bland. And I would rather eat cold bread and drink tepid water than to eat the suppers that Macalaurë prepares.
"No, the lords of Formenos always cook for us on our first night. You know that, Tyelkormo. It is their way of welcoming us back to their city."
She lifts me from the tub, soaking wet, drains the water, and stands me back in the tub and pours several pitchers full of water over my head and body. The water is growing chill, and I shiver. She embraces me in a big towel and carries me back into the bedroom. I stand at the bottom of the stairs leading to their bed and clutch the towel around shoulders that tremble with cold while Amil gathers my clothes.
Not surprisingly, Atar is not yet finished with Carnistir.
"May I at least dress myself?" I ask her when she goes to the chair and retrieves the clothes that Atar has discarded there. I eye the tunic with displeasure: It is a rich, dark satin with golden embroidery at the cuffs and collar. I know that Atar has selected it because the embroidery matches my hair and the satin brings out the bluish color in my eyes, but the material is too warm and heavy and Amil will keep a suspicious eye on me all night to make sure that I do not stain it.
She sighs. "Why are you in such a hurry to grow up, Tyelkormo?"
"I'm fourteen, Amil! I can dress myself!"
I realize how stupid and immature I sound the moment that the words come out of my mouth. Her face, gray with tired displeasure, brightens a bit—I have unwittingly reassured her that he third son will be a child yet a while longer—and she unfolds the golden-brown trousers Atar has selected and hands them to me. "Yes, Tyelkormo, if you feel that you are able to handle dressing yourself at the old age of fourteen, then it is my pleasure to allow it. I have much to do myself before supper."
At that moment, the heavy bedroom door opens, and I hear Carnistir whimpering and Atar impatiently shushing him. Atar had donned an old cotton tunic and trousers for the purpose of bathing Carnistir, but he wears only the trousers now. His face is dark with impatience, and he bounces Carnistir—dripping wet and wrapped in a towel to his chin—in his arms like he might like to bounce him out the window.
"Where's your tunic?" Amil asks.
"The tunic met with misfortune on the way to the bathroom," Atar says, and Carnistir begins to wail. "How old were our other children when they learned the proper times to relieve themselves?"
"Well, about a year, I suppose. Nelyo had those few accidents, but I still blame your bad timing more than I blame him."
Atar rolls his eyes and shoves Carnistir in our mother's direction, which only makes him cry harder.
Atar comes to help me dress, and I do not dare argue with him because his eyes are skipping around the room—resting on a single object no longer than a few seconds, as though the sight of everything displeases him—and I know better than to ire him when he is in such a mood. Amil is dressing Carnistir, cleverly keeping his head swaddled as long as possible in his tunic to mute his cries, and I think as I often do that Amil, in many ways, is wiser than Atar, even though Atar is celebrated for his superior intellect while Amil languishes in his shadow.
I relax my body until my limbs are gelatinous and supple and easy for Atar to slip into my clothing. Around my right arm, there is a ring of yellowing bruises where Atar had seized me the other day—the day that I lost my temper with Findekáno—losing his own temper and unaware of his strength or how much he had hurt me. He pauses at those bruises now—my wrist is stuck in the sleeve of my tunic, keeping my arm motionless—and caresses them with his fingertips. His eyes are seething, emotions cascading like the bits in a kaleidoscope: anger, grief, sadness, impatience, regret, guilt…fear? "What are these?" he asks me, and what am I supposed to tell him? You did that to me, Atar. Remember? The other day when you got so angry with me for losing my temper with my cousin that you seized my arm and forget that it wasn't the handle of a hammer or the hilt of a sword; you squeezed until I could feel my blood drumming against your hand. Didn't you feel it too? Didn't you wonder why my heart raced so fast at the force of your touch and the fire in your eyes?
I can hardly say these things to him, so I look at my bare toes curling into the rug and say nothing. Amil has fallen into silence; Carnistir watches me with his wide, dark eyes, not even mewling any longer. Atar rubs at the bruises, as though he can erase them with a gentler touch, and I can feel him deep in thought, thinking, remembering. When his memory takes him back to that day—that moment in the clearing in the forest—his fingers recoil from my arm as though burned, and I know that he feels my blood pounding against his palm now as he had not felt it then; he feels his rough hand squeezing so hard that he left blood to blacken beneath my skin that he would only find days later.
He stands so quickly that I fall back in surprise. He storms into his bathroom and closes the door.
Amil watches him, then turns to finish dressing Carnistir, who is suddenly as limp and cooperative as a doll. She pats him on the back and stands. "Get your brother to help you with the laces," she tells him, and she follows our father into the bathroom.
I ease my arm the rest of the way into my tunic, hiding the bruises for which I suddenly feel burning shame, and hastily fasten the clasps to cover my chest, my fingers shaking. The clasps grow blurry—the gold melting into the blue cloth beside it—and I sniffle loudly to keep my tears at bay. When I look up, Carnistir is standing before me, laces untied and feet bare. He stands on his tiptoes and, surprising me, plants a wet kiss on my lips.
"From where did they come?" Atar is saying to Amil in the bathroom. I try not to listen—I try to concentrate instead on lacing my baby brother's tunic—but their voices are all that I can hear. Atar's voice is anguished; I have only heard him use that tone when he speaks with grandfather Finwë about his stepmother and half-brothers. Always, when I hear him speak like this, I think of the frantic struggles of an animal with its leg in a trap, trying to rehash the mistake that got it there, trying in vain to find a way to erase that same mistake and restart time in the place it would be had it never taken that misstep, whole and free.
"Where do you think they came from, Fëanáro? They came from you."
Amil is so merciless in her tone that I cringe, and my fingers fumble Carnistir's laces.
"Perhaps, Fëanáro, it is time that you face the person that you sometimes are with us. For every day that you love us and cherish us as the husband and father that you have sworn to be, there are a handful of moments when you hurt us, sometimes in ways that fade even slower than do bruises."
"But he's still a baby, and until now, I did not remember…."
"You never do."
Atar says something so low that I cannot hear it, but Amil's response—though given in a voice that is suddenly gentle again—makes my heart clench in my chest like a fist in pain. "You cannot unwish our children, my love, no matter how you may question your suitability as their father. Those bruises on Tyelkormo's arm will be gone in two days, and he knows that you did not mean to hurt him, just as he surely did not mean to treat Findekáno as he did. But, for every second that you stand here now, with me, then you crush his spirit a little more, for perhaps he fears that, even in the better moments, you will let the dark times overtake your love for him."
The door opens and Atar comes forward, still shirtless and tousled from the ordeal of bathing Carnistir. To me, he comes, and sits on the bed and lifts me onto his lap. He holds my head to his chest, so close that I can hear his heart beating and smell his electric scent, and I wrap my arms around his ribs, wishing that I was big enough to embrace him completely.
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