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Another Man's Cage: 5. Chapter Five--Carnistir
There is dead. And there is foreverdead.
When I was littler, my family tree confused me. Amil explained to me when I was very young that every Elf had a mother and a father, except the Unbegotten, like grandfather Finwë. Amil had a mother and a father: my grandfather Mahtan and my golden-beautiful grandmother Istarnië. But Atar had only his Atar, my grandfather Finwë. A branch was missing, broken, unspoken of.
"Is Atar Unbegotten?" I asked Nelyo. The Unbegotten were magical, the leaders of our people, revered. Atar was all of these things, and it explained the missing, unspoken of branch that would have been his mother. But Nelyo looked at me with his face pinched with puzzlement and answered, "No, of course he is not. He is too young to be one of the Unbegotten."
Swimming in the lake last summer, on our way to Formenos, I had touched Atar's belly where he has a navel like me and each of my brothers—the scars of our births—the mark of fruit torn from the tree. He was the fruit—but where was the tree?
I discovered death beneath my feet, when I would tread on butterflies in the meadows and they would lie, crumpled and broken, only beautiful and lifeless wings. I felt something pass over me like warm smoke when my foot fell, and I sat in the grass and cried, "Where did it go?" until Turko stooped beside me, covered in butterflies as he often was, and looked at the crushed tissue-wings in the grass. "It's dead, stupid," he said. "You crushed it."
And on the way to Formenos, the first summer of my memory, when we topped a hill and a deer stood at the bottom, a buck, with antlers like tree branches. I rode in front of Amil on her horse, and she stopped suddenly, and Atar took the bow that Nelyo handed him, strung an arrow from the quiver that hung alongside of his horse, and with a twang and a whistle, the deer stumbled and fell thrashing to the ground.
And the warm smoke passed over my eyes, and I shrieked, for I knew then that it was the feeling of dead.
I feared the feeling of dead, for I had seen it fall with such hasty grace upon so many creatures, and I imagined that it might smother me too.
It was Nelyo who discerned my fears, who explained to me that the Eldar were given life as long as that of Arda. "Our bodies may die," he said, "but our spirits live forever, and when we are healed, we are given new bodies and live again."
It was Macalaurë who told me when I asked, "Where is Atar's Amil?" that she was dead.
So I took to looking for her at festivals and feasts, for Nelyo had told me that a dead person's loved ones often spotted him for the first time at such places. I looked for a woman who had those features that belonged to Atar but not grandfather Finwë: his slender grace, his quick hands, his bright eyes. I craned my neck to search for her, abandoning my meals and forgoing recreation to search, until Nelyo asked, "For whom do you search, little one? We are all here beside you," and I said, "Grandmother is not. I search for her, for Atar's Amil."
"Oh, little one." Suddenly, I found myself in his embrace, kneeling in the middle of a dance floor, watching skirts and feet swirling around us, as he rocked me in his arms. It was like I'd been hurt somehow, but I had not, had I? "Little one," he said again. "Atar's mother would not be here. Never shall we see her in life. She is forever dead, my love."
Like the butterflies, like the buck with the tree-branch antlers. She would not join those swirling skirts; I would not suddenly hear a woman's voice erupt into the same mirth that Atar's could when he was joyful, a joy that our proper rock of a grandfather Finwë could not mimic.
I curled up like I wanted to disappear into Nelyo's arms and, in the middle of the dance floor with feet stomping and bright music playing, I wept.
The word came to haunt me, like the voice from beyond the stars, coming into my dreams and waking me with a cold start, the voice in my head so real that it could have been someone in the room beside me. Foreverdead, it whispered, edged in threat. I pushed Nelyo, Amil, and Macalaurë to tell me why Atar's mother—an Elf like the rest of us—was alone foreverdead, but they would not answer. Atar was the only one who spoke so frankly, and he I could not ask.
I made a mistake once, after a year of the thought of foreverdead circling in my mind. Laurelin was blooming; the light through my windows was golden, and Nelyo was getting me dressed for the day. I can dress myself if I need to, but I like the attention, the gentle hands guiding my body, the chances for soft words and kisses. Turko was dressed already, and he was in the corner of my room, dancing in a patch of golden light that had sneaked past my drapes. I fussed; I wanted to play with him, and Nelyo could not get my arm through my sleeve. "Come on, Carnistir," he grumbled, and his frustration addled me like a handful of pebbles. His soft blue patience was frayed in places that day. I whimpered and struggled, caught in my clothes, and his patient blue color tore, and speckled black anger bulged forth. "Ilúvatar in Ea, Carnistir, hold still!" and the wholly irrational thought came upon me that he might strike me, and I wriggled from his arms and tumbled to the floor, bruising myself and sobbing. My right arm was still trapped in my tunic; my left was free, and he grabbed it and wrenched me to my feet. That hurt. I kicked him, shrieking, and he lifted me at arm's length like a detested bag of garbage and tossed me onto my bed. "I hate you, Nelyo! I hate you! I hate you!" I heard myself screaming. He pinned me down, and his black anger smothered me, it squirmed into my nose like a stench and ran like slime down my throat. I gagged and spit on him; his head snapped back like it was a projectile much more substantial than a bit of saliva. His hands were clenched on my shoulders; they hurt me. "I hate you!" I shouted again. "I wish you were foreverdead!"
And the word that slithered through my dreams was out, shimmering in the air between us, and I watched him breathe it in, it went inside him like a cloud of dust, only he did not sneeze to expel it, and his hands left me lying there, on my bed, only half-dressed, as he scooped up Turko, ran from the room, and slammed my door behind him.
I howled. I had never cried so hard for anyone in my short life, even when I was a hungry infant left with Macalaurë for an hour while Atar and Amil worked. "Nelyo!" I screamed. "Nelyo!" The door was closed, so final, separating me from any knowledge of him, and I feared that I'd sent him stepping into foreverdead with Turko in his arms. "Come back!" I wept, and my chest burned from lack of oxygen and tears and snot ran down my face. My existence became one long scream—was it really me screaming, or was it in my head?—and even Laurelin's blooming light became dark, and I heard the door swing open so hard that it hit the wall behind it and knocked a picture down.
"Carnistir!" It was Macalaurë, and worry rippled the flat grayness of him. He was only half-dressed too, in his undershorts with a tunic pulled on backwards in his haste, his hair still tucked in the collar. He gathered me into his arms and rocked me. "Carnistir! What happened?"
"Foreverdead! I made Nelyo foreverdead!" My voice was hoarse and bubbled with tears; I knew he didn't understand me, but he rocked me and shushed me and eased my right arm through my sleeve, and I clung to him and his calm gray color.
"Shh, baby, you're safe. I've got you. You're safe." And he sang to me, a trembling lullaby that he sang at night sometimes, and like an apparition, Nelyo appeared in the door behind him, his silver-gray eyes reddened around the edges and his patient blue already mending.~oOo~
Atar and grandfather Finwë walk in the garden, talking of family and politics in Tirion—often the line between them blurred—and I sit astride Atar's hip, chewing on his hair. I like being carried by Atar; he can carry me forever like it's nothing. Probably, for him, it is.
After a while, we hear footsteps beating down the path behind us. "Nelyo, Nelyo!" I cry, and a moment later, Nelyo emerges around the bend behind us, running in a manner that does not fit his usual composure.
"Grandfather Finwë!" he shouts, and grandfather Finwë catches my big, nearly-grown brother in an embrace that makes him suddenly seem small like me.
"Maitimo!" Grandfather Finwë sets him back, an arm's length away, and appraises him. "My! Are you still growing? You sprout another inch every time I see you! How many years is it now? Three, until your majority?"
Nelyo nods eagerly and bites his lower lip to keep from grinning too widely. I notice spots of ink on his lips—he has been licking his quill again—and more spots on his tunic and his boots are untied.
"You will be taller than Fëanáro by the time you finish growing." In truth, Nelyo is only an inch or two shorter than Atar already, and he looks grandfather Finwë straight in his eye. Nelyo smiles, and grandfather Finwë licks his thumb and tries to polish the ink from the side of his mouth. "You have something…."
"It's from licking his quills all of the time. I tell him not to do that," Atar grumbles, and grandfather Finwë doesn't even glance at him before saying, "Ah, Fëanáro, you did the same when you were his age."
Grandfather Finwë is the only person who can make me believe that Atar was ever as young as I am.
So we walk, the four of us, and grandfather Finwë quizzes Nelyo about his work. If there is one thing that will make Nelyo chatter nonstop, it is the research that he does with our father. He reads to Turko and me from his big volumes to keep us quiet; Turko listens, but I always fall asleep. It sounds like he is speaking another language, and languages other than my native Noldorin never make much sense to me. I fall asleep then, on Atar's shoulder, with a strand of his hair poking out of my mouth and hunks of his tunic balled in my fists.
I am aware of being passed from person to person. I do not see their faces; their voices are a buzz and their scents lost in the summer breeze, but I feel their colors. I open my eyes, and the light has changed. Telperion is polishing her sister's golden radiance with silver. I have been asleep for some time. Atar's brilliant white radiance leaves me, and I am wrapped in blue. I drift back to sleep in Nelyo's arms.
When I awaken, it is radiance that again swallows me, but it is milder and tinged with violet: Amil.
Atar and Nelyo have gone to prepare supper; we are in one of the sitting rooms, though none of our sitting rooms equal those of grandfather Finwë and our uncles in Tirion. Ours always seem to be filled with cast-off shoes and the beginnings of crafts and Nelyo's scribbled-upon parchments and bits of clothing draped across the backs of furniture. Amil is laughing at something grandfather Finwë has said; the violet edges to her brilliance deepen and wrap around me like silk. I hear myself sigh, and I settle in her arms. Through slits of eyes, I see Turko on grandfather Finwë's lap opposite us. His shoulders sag; his eyelids droop, snap open, and droop again. Turko shuns sleep, though I do not know why; sleep is like a warm blanket on a cold night. The sound of a harp tickles my ears. Macalaurë sits on the floor, plays idle melodies, and stares into nothingness. I feel his gray and know that—with Nelyo gone with Atar—he feels alone, as he often does.
Grandfather Finwë tells Amil many of the same things that he told Atar in the garden. The difference is that Amil asks him for such information: She inquires about our family in Tirion, especially her half-sisters-in-law, who are both expecting. She asks after our cousin Findekáno, who is only a year younger than Turko. I have supposedly met my cousin at my first begetting day, but I do not remember much about him, just his chocolate-brown hair and hesitant blue eyes. He had been too young to be invited to hold me. I remember my uncles, though: Nolofinwë, tall, stern, and secure, and quick little Arafinwë, who'd wrapped me in a light like Laurelin at her zenith, and Atar's bright eyes on them as they'd crooned over me, his hands held slightly in front of him like he feared they might drop me.
Grandfather Finwë says nothing about the letter from Nolofinwë begging tutelage for his son from Atar. But I know Amil and she will say yes.~oOo~
Nelyo and Atar prepare the supper for the night. Cooking duties rotate between them and Macalaurë, with Atar being the best, though a bit haphazard, tossing in odd spices and scraps that don't seem to belong but always seem to taste good. Nelyo is very measured, and all of his recipes are a bit bland. Macalaurë, as Turko informs him regularly, still has a lot to learn.
Atar has made some kind of soup. Atar always makes soup, and Amil teases him and says that it is only so that he can get rid of the bits of vegetable and meat that no one would eat otherwise. Atar does not deny it. He does not like to waste the gifts Ilúvatar has given us, he says.
I personally find soup a bit silly, like it should be served in a glass and drank like juice. It is Atar's turn again to feed me. We eat in the courtyard, at the round glass table, so there is no need for precise, assigned seating. I end up in a chair to Atar's left, beneath a little pear tree, with Macalaurë on my other side. I amuse myself by eating the pear blossoms until Nelyo catches me and makes me stop. And spit out the sodden blossoms from my mouth into his hand.
Atar picks me up from my seat. He has a plan, he says, to minimize the damage I do to my clothes during meals. (It is not my fault that he and Amil forget that I am little and give me more food than I can eat, leaving me no choice but to play with the rest or be forced to sit for hours until I can finish it all.) He strips me down to my underwear—even taking off my shoes—and puts on an old, stained tunic of Macalaurë's that comes down to my ankles. The sleeves come down to my knees. I whimper. There is no way I can possibly eat.
"Atar!" I whine, and he says, "Patience, Carnistir," and rolls the sleeves until my hands are free, though there are big, heavy rings of cloth like weights around my wrists now.
He sits me back in my chair beside him.
"I don't want soup," I complain. It is a murky red-brown color with flecks of meat floating on the surface.
"You'll sit here until you eat it," he threatens.
After Eruhantale, grandfather Finwë pours the wine. I don't really like wine, though Nelyo assures me it is a taste you acquire as you get older. I get a half-glass every night with supper. Atar says that wine is good for the spirit; indeed, he does seem to laugh more after he has had a few glasses. I have learned that if I pinch my lips shut and pour it really fast against them, most of it will run down my chin and onto my shirt, saving me from having to drink it. Good for the spirit or not, it is rotten grapes and tastes like rotten grapes.
Turko is gulping his half-glass, holding the goblet with both hands. "That's all you're getting, Tyelkormo," I hear Amil warn him, and he sets down the glass with reluctance and gulps water instead.
I drop my spoon into my soup. It makes a funny-sounding plop and little balls of soup fly into the air. Atar does not notice; he is talking to grandfather Finwë, and Amil is carving the meat. (Venison tonight, tough and dirty-tasting.) I drop the spoon and again and again. Plop plop PLOP. The last is a big one, and soup splashes onto my nose and lips. When I lick it, it does not taste too bad, but I keep dropping my spoon anyway, and soon, half the bowl is gone onto my face and shirt.
Nelyo has made some kind of sweet corn. This I will eat, although Atar keeps a sharp eye on me while I eat it, and I don't have a chance to make Turko laugh by putting bits of it in my nose and sneezing it out onto Macalaurë. I have to take my corn apart before I eat it, though: I do not like the little sleeves that hold each kernel, so I separate them from the meat of the corn with my fork. They taste like little shreds of skin.
Amil puts a stringy chunk of venison onto my plate. I frown; it is way too big. I will never be able to eat that much, so I wait until Atar drops a knife and ducks under the table to retrieve it, and I scoop half of the venison onto Macalaurë's plate while he is reaching to pour himself more wine. (He piles his plate so high with food that he will never notice. Atar swears that Macalaurë and Nelyo eat their weights in supper.) I cut the last half in half again and hide it in my soup, where it looms like a big lumpy shadow beneath the surface.
Atar comes up from underneath the table, having found the knife. "Can I have gravy?" I ask him.
Three voices at once—Atar, Amil, and Nelyo: "May I—"
"May I have gravy?"
Gravy is the best part of supper. Indeed, it is the only thing that makes certain parts of supper—like venison—bearable. It is like soup but without the weird bits of things floating in it. (Unless Macalaurë makes it, in which case it always has lumps.) Once, I got angry with Atar for making me eat my soup first (thus eliminating any chance I had of getting rid of it without actually having to eat it) and waited until he stood to open a new bottle of wine and stuck my entire slice of cheese-and-broccoli casserole onto his chair. He yelled pretty loudly when he sat down. Turko was sitting on his other side and could have borne the brunt of it, but I gave myself away by laughing. I got punished by having to do without gravy for one whole week.
I am allowed one ladleful of gravy on each part of my meal. Except vegetables. Amil says that only savages put gravy on their vegetables. Atar doesn't even have to ask; he obediently doles a ladleful onto my meat, my slice of bread, and my mushroom pie. The venison still tastes like dirty yarn, but at least the gravy lets it slide down my throat without having to be chewed. I eat the tough crusts of the bread (bread tastes like paper) and mash the soft insides into pulp in the gravy and smear it around my plate until you can't even tell it was a whole piece of bread. The mushroom pie I eat, except for the crust (also paper, but tougher), which I pulverize into crumbs and mix into the gravy/bread mixture that is hardening into paste.
"I'm finished," I announce. My plate is one big glistening smear of gravy paste.
"Finish your soup," Atar says.
"But I'm not hungry!" I protest and earn a sharp look.
"Then you shall sit here until you are hungry enough to finish your soup." To grandfather Finwë, he says, "I have never seen a child with such an aversion to eating. It is a surprise that he even grows at all."
"It is not unheard of at his age," grandfather Finwë says. "Arafinwë wouldn't touch meat for five years."
I would finish my soup but for the big piece of venison I stuck in the middle of it. I hadn't thought of that when I'd chosen such a hiding place.
I lift the venison out and sit it on my plate. Then I sit my soup bowl on top of the venison. It rocks and rattles, but the soup is somewhat edible again. I sip at each spoonful and let the rest drop down the front of my shirt with the wine.
"Finished," I say, letting the spoon clatter into the empty bowl. Atar lifts the bowl and stares at the hidden piece of venison. "Gravy?" I say hopefully.
"You're close to getting your gravy privilege revoked again," he tells me as he dumps a ladleful onto the venison, "if you don't stop all this fooling around with your supper."
"Yes, Atar," I say obediently and pick forkfuls of venison small enough to slide down my throat without chewing.
Atar pours a fourth glass of wine for himself and Nelyo and grandfather Finwë. Nelyo is laughing—head tossed back and his voice very loud—at a story that grandfather Finwë is telling about our uncle Arafinwë and his puzzlement at Telerin marriage traditions. (My aunt Eärwen is a Teler and has silvery hair and a funny accent.) Nelyo hardly ever laughs like that, without restraint, unless he is working on his fourth glass of wine, like he is now. Atar has heard the story already—after all, he stood at my uncle's wedding—but he is chuckling too.
"Imagine poor Arafinwë's confusion when Olwë, first, takes him to Eärwen's bedroom, then pushes him in and locks the door behind him!" grandfather Finwë says. "And Eärwen takes off her dress and says, 'My people bond the night before the wedding, in case our spirits reject each other, then we don't have to take each other in Ilúvatar's name.' Poor Arafinwë knew he was fortunate to be marrying into Telerin royalty but had no idea he'd be that lucky!"
"He was lucky that the bonding worked," Nelyo laughs, "or he would have felt really awkward."
Grandfather Finwë dismisses the Teleri and their strange traditions with a wave of his hand. "Eh. It always works. That a spirit can reject another is just a silly superstition."
"Some Noldor practice that tradition too," Atar says, smiling coyly at Amil. She has had a few glasses herself, so she smiles back. "Though not out of fear of rejecting each other's spirits."
I know that the wine is doing well for grandfather Finwë's spirits because, usually, when Atar talks about his and Amil's unconventional wedding, grandfather Finwë gets really quiet and scowls. Nelyo gets uncomfortable, but he is still grinning, so his spirits must be doing well from the wine too.
Maybe I should try to grow up and acquire a taste for wine. Maybe then I'd know why the story about uncle Arafinwë marrying aunt Eärwen is so funny. Unfortunately, most of my wine is still on the front of Macalaurë's old tunic, so I lift it to my face and give it a hearty lick. It tastes nasty, like congealed soup mixed with rotten grapes, and I gag and spit a little.
Atar turns to me, and I have to hastily suck my spit back into my mouth before I get accused of drooling like an Orc. "Are you finished?" he asks, and I nod. He inspects my plate and doesn't even seem to notice the pile of gravy paste. At tomorrow's Eruhantale, I shall be grateful for grapes and wine. He drags me from his chair and into his lap, laughing at grandfather Finwë's impersonation of poor uncle Arafinwë trying to explain why he spent the traditional Noldorin Last Night Home away from home, and his laughter rumbles in his chest like a bag of rocks sent leaping down a hill. Maybe a bit of the good spirits from the wine rubs off on me because suddenly I love him like I'd never known possible. I love him so much that I lunge my arms around his neck and bite him on the throat, making him laugh again, his voice tingling against my teeth as he says, "Still hungry, little one?"~oOo~
Grandfather Finwë leaves after supper and music. Usually, we lounge in the sitting room until Turko and I get sleepy, but tonight, Amil asks Macalaurë to take us immediately for our baths and to amuse us, please, in his bedroom until she and Atar are done with their counsel.
Atar and Amil do not often hold formal, private counsels. They did when the Telerin music teacher wanted Macalaurë to come to Alqualondë rather than taking lessons only through correspondence; they did when Nelyo got into some kind of trouble with a maiden in Tirion a few months ago. Other than that, their counsels are held at the supper table, over food and glasses of wine, with Turko knocking things over and me trying to find innovative ways to avoid eating what they insist on putting on my plate and Nelyo and Macalaurë yapping about their studies and eating their weights in supper.
Tonight, though, they will hold formal counsel, in their bedroom with the door locked. Macalaurë looks puzzled, but he sets aside his harp and gathers Turko and me and takes us for our bath. He doesn't know what it is about and neither does Nelyo, whose brow also furrows. I know what it's about, though. It's about the letter from uncle Nolofinwë. About cousin Findekáno. But I don't say that.
Macalaurë does as he is told and takes us to his bedroom after we are dried and dressed. He and Nelyo lie across his bed—Nelyo reading his usual parchments and Macalaurë doing some last-minute assignments to be taken to his Telerin tutor before we leave for Formenos—and Turko and I are told to play quietly on the floor. If Nelyo wasn't there, we would play as loudly as we could and watch Macalaurë scramble around and try to make us behave. But Nelyo wears a serious look, and we know better than to test his patience. (I sense some fraying in his blue, like I did the day I almost accidentally sent him to foreverdead.) We work on the puzzle he gave us without a word, even though we know before even beginning it that it cannot be solved.
Macalaurë asks, "Nelyo?"
"What do you think they're talking about?"
Macalaurë lies with his head back against his pillows; Nelyo faces the opposite direction, with his bare feet pressed against Macalaurë's headboard. Atar says that my two eldest brothers are best friends—Macalaurë is only eight years younger than Nelyo—and that's why they will spend hours like this, while Turko and I play on the floor beneath their awareness. I wonder if someday Turko and I will be friends like that.
"I know not, little brother," Nelyo says softly. It sounds strange to hear Macalaurë called "little brother"; that name is reserved for Turko and I, who are actually little, not Macalaurë, who is thirty-nine years old and tall as a tree next to us. "Why are you so concerned? You haven't been caught naked with any maidens, have you?"
"Most certainly not!" A moment's pause, then, "I wish I had."
They both glance at Turko and me, playing on the floor. I give them a grin to show that nothing is amiss.
Nelyo looks back at his parchment, but he speaks still to Macalaurë. "You shouldn't wish for that. I had to clean the forge every night for a month."
His eyes meet Macalaurë's and they both smile.
"You know it was worth it," Macalaurë says, and Nelyo hesitates for moment, as though pondering something grave, then agrees. "It was worth it."
They laugh and go back to their studies. I have never seen two people who can study as much as they do. Even Atar stops reading and writing long enough to go to the forge every day and make swords and jewelry and bright gemstones. And I don't think he reads in bed either, like Nelyo, or does any writing. I'd asked Nelyo once, and he'd told me that if Amil and Atar were content to read in bed, then I never would have been born.
I push the pieces of the puzzle into a new combination. Still unsolvable. Nelyo has a strange way of connecting things sometimes.~oOo~
Did I fall asleep?
I must have because the world, when I open my eyes, is hazy like it is covered in spiderwebs. It is also sideways, and I realize that I am lying on my side, on the soft blue rug beside Macalaurë's bed. Turko—tipped sideways—is still idly pushing pieces of the puzzle around, but he looks no closer to solving it than he was when I was helping him, and he is sucking his lower lip into his mouth like he is trying not to cry.
There is shouting.
The air in Macalaurë's bedroom simmers with anger. I can only imagine what it must be like to walk down the hall and open my parents' bedroom door; it would knock me over; it would be like the heat that festers inside a kiln and blasts forth when Atar opens the door.
"I cannot do it!" Atar's voice rises until I can hear his words and not just his anger. "I am tired of everyone expecting that I should set my life's work aside so that I can teach their sniveling brats to hold a hammer! I am not a damned teacher, Nerdanel, I am a craftsman, and I was not meant for this kind of life!"
His last words erupt in a scream, but Amil is not afraid, and she starts before he has even finished: "You are selfish, Fëanáro, and that is it! Selfish! Selfish!" She wields that word as though it was a sword and she wants to cut him with it. "You are so selfish that I am ashamed of you! Always have you been selfish, but now you make me bleeding sick!"
I sit up carefully, trying not to disturb the air, imagining that if they are aware of my tiny movement, then they will turn their anger on me.
Nelyo is sitting back against Macalaurë's headboard now, and Macalaurë leans back against him with Nelyo's chin in his hair and his face turned into Nelyo's chest. There is a book open on the bed, and Nelyo's fingers are splayed across its middle, holding his place, but he is not reading it because his eyes are closed. Macalaurë looks both littler and older at the same time: as little as me, helpless and scared, and as old as grandfather Finwë, who has seen his wife foreverdead and lived in the dark, in another time and place. With his other hand, Nelyo strokes Macalaurë's hair, and his fingers tremble.
"You will do it, Fëanáro! You will take your brother-son as a student, or I swear to Manwë himself that I will not go with you to Formenos. I will stay and teach the child myself, and you may go north alone. And so shall our sons stay in Tirion, where they belong, and you can cry your delusions to your cold bed at night!"
"You are less a wife than you are a traitor and a fool!"
Turko's hands crumple what little progress he has made on the puzzle. He looks up at me; his blue eyes shimmer like polished glass. His face changes, becomes firmer as I have seen Nelyo's do when I come suddenly upon him in a moment when he thought he was alone—standing outside the laboratory, where he was holding counsel with Atar, and biting his knuckles—and I realize for the first time that hot tears course down my cheeks.
Turko crawls over and crouches next to me, and we embrace and rock each other like we are both the baby and the father at the same time. His breath is hot and quick in my ear, and his silky hair tickles my neck. His arms are stronger than I expect, stronger than the arms of a fourteen-year-old should be, but not strong enough to stop the sound of shouting from reaching my ears.
They are interrupting each other now, both in such a rage that their words are too fast and too mingled for me to understand. I cry silently against Turko's shoulder, and he lifts me up, puts me on the bed, and with his arms around my chest, drags me to Nelyo. The book snaps shut as Nelyo embraces us. I want to reach out and touch Macalaurë's cheek—so close now—to give him some comfort, but his face is rigid and intent, like he is counting Nelyo's heartbeats to keep from hearing our parents fight.
I snuggle into Nelyo instead, and I feel his thought trickle through my head. I wish I was not the oldest.
I bury my hoarse sobs in his tunic.
Amil uses profanity against Atar that Nelyo and Macalaurë would have been punished for saying aloud. Atar calls her names lower than those given to creatures that squirm in the mud. Obstinate bitch! he says. I feel Nelyo wince, like he's been burned.
A door slams open; I hear it hit the wall; I hear the wood crack. "Go then!" she screams "Go!" and footsteps thunder past us in the hall and roar down the stairs. Macalaurë's eyes squeeze shut like he's waiting for a sting he knows is coming. The front door slams.~oOo~
Nelyo tucks Turko and me into my bed.
Usually, I do not like sleeping with someone else, especially Turko, who snores and kicks, but tonight, I am grateful that Nelyo insists upon it and relieved when Turko does not protest.
"Who will tuck you in, Nelyo?" Turko asks in a high, childish voice.
Nelyo smiles—or rather, his corners of his lips turn up and his eyes crinkle, but there is no real joy in his face. "I have been putting myself to bed for many years now, little one," he says. He leans over to kiss our foreheads. "But I shall stay with Macalaurë all the same, just for tonight."
He draws my drapes and closes the door without a sound. Turko rolls over and kicks me in the shin, but I am so grateful for his presence that I forgo my pillow to press my face into his back.
The house is silent. There is no sound from Atar and Amil's bedroom next to mine, just through the wall behind my head. If Nelyo and Macalaurë stay up talking into the night, as they sometimes do, then they do so in voices so low that I cannot hear them. The only sounds come from outside: a hammer ringing, puncturing the stillness of the night. It is too loud and sharp to be swung in an act of love, of creation. It is wielded to smash and destroy.~oOo~
My room is perfectly dark; not even a sliver of light sneaks past the drapes. Turko has rolled away from me in the night and lies facedown on the far edge of my bed with his arm and hair hanging over the side, breathing heavily, deeply asleep. He has pulled most of the covers from me, and I am cold.
Outside, there is no sound. No wind, no insects. No hammer.
"Fëanáro!" So it was a voice and not something that crept unbidden into my head while I slept. It is my mother's voice. "Ah! Fëanáro!" she cries again, shouting like before, but differently now. There is hysteria in her voice, like a star swollen to the trembling brink of supernova.
I wonder where Atar is; I sense him near. I sense the mingling of their colors, like the mingling of the Trees in the early morning and early evening: my mother's beautiful violet-tinged brilliance always consumed by my father's white light. Then I hear his voice too, next to hers, his words coming fast and feverish, stumbling over each other until they make little sense. "I love you, Nerdanel, I love I love you more than I love you more than, ah, Nerdanel!" and he cries out wordlessly, like he's been wounded in some way, but I feel his color flash whiter until I forget that it is in my head and close my eyes against it, fearing that if I look too hard upon it, I will lose my sight. I wrest the blankets from Turko and cringe beneath them, afraid, wondering if that flare was the supernova, signaling the death of the star.
Death is supposed to be unknown to my people, but I find that, sometimes at night, it still enters my thoughts.
I do not feel either of their spirits recede, though the hot white light of my father's dims to its normal luminance. If they had died, would I know it? Death is just the loss of the body; the spirit remains. What if they join grandmother in foreverdead?
I wait for a few minutes, then slip from my bed.
The stone floor is like ice against my feet. I shiver and walk soundlessly down the hall to their bedroom door. It is a hard oak door, ornately carved by Amil with a scene depicting the kindling of the stars, but when Atar threw it open against the wall before, he cracked the corner. The crack fractures Varda's face like a sideways smile. I ease the door open and slip into their bedroom; their drapes are thrown open, and silver light pours in. Telperion is at her fullest.
I creep beside their bed. They sleep in the middle, naked, in a tangle of sheets. Atar lies half atop Amil with his head on her breasts and his legs tangled in hers. Her arms grip him like she fears he might be torn away from her if she lets go. His hair is tangled, and it falls over his face and mixes with hers, black and red. The silver light casts a strange sheen over their bodies. It reminds me of the glaze that Amil puts on pottery that always makes it look wet.
I touch Atar's calf. His skin is warm—burning, actually, as though with fever—and damp. Amil is cooler but flushed. Are they alive? I have trouble discerning their breathing, and for a moment, I think to try to wake them, but Atar murmurs something unintelligible in his sleep and Amil shushes him—her hand rising from his back to knot itself in his tangled hair—as though they share the same dreams.
I am afraid….
Shh…do not be….
I would myself die to bring her back….
Then you would bring the grief unto our House fivefold, for your sons and I would not survive your loss.
The words on their lips are unintelligible, but I realize that I can hear them in my head, as I can at times hear powerful thoughts as they come suddenly upon others. I remember the broad yellow color of grandfather Finwë earlier, I remember the march of images across red, I remember the admonishment that slammed into my head: You should not be here, Carnistir! You do not belong in the private corners of one's mind! Can they sense me now, as grandfather Finwë sensed me before?
I turn and run from the room before they awaken.~oOo~
The fast knocking of hoofbeats awakens me early the next morning. A rider travels fast from the stable, away from the house. Telperion is dimming; Laurelin gilds her withering edges in gold.
Turko has opened my drapes and sits on the windowsill, hugging his knees to his chest. I sit up and rustle the sheets, and he looks at me. His hair is very gold in Laurelin's light.
"Atar just sent a fast rider with a message. To Tirion."
He turns back to the window. His blue eyes are lit up, as if from within.
"Our cousin shall go with us to Formenos."
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