Fëanor and Nerdanel
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Another Man's Cage: 9. Chapter Nine--Maitimo
"Well," says Atar as we walk past the palace again on our way to Nolofinwë's, "this is the last stop before home."
Atar's eyes are dull, his expression worn, as though wearied by this visit in a way that he never is after a full day of work at the forge.
Nolofinwë's house sits on the other side of the palace from Arafinwë's. It is the largest house on the hilltop—excepting the palace, of course—a sprawling, stone mansion with tall spires at either side. We walk up a long stone path with gemstones set in spiraling patterns, twinkling at our feet like fallen stars. Halfway up the path, Atar and I split to walk around a fountain that plays in the middle of the walkway. When I rejoin him on the other side, he rolls his eyes and mutters, "Nolofinwë. Sheer silliness."
Two servants stand by the door, staring at nothing until Atar and I are right before them, at which point they bow neatly and say, "Good afternoon, Princes Fëanáro and Nelyafinwë." One opens the door, and the other leads us inside. "Lady Anairë will receive you in the lower parlor," says the one who leads us down a cascade of stairs. The air in the house is heavy; the walls are choked with ornamentation. Some of the windows are open, but no breeze can stir the heavy drapes. As we pass through the rooms, I see statues of my mother's, paintings of my father's, but they are lost amid the lustrous clutter. Not a speck of dust dances in the slivers of light that have dared to creep past the draperies.
Beside me, Atar's muscles have gone rigid; his footfalls cut the silence of the house.
The Elf leading us scuttles into the room ahead of us, where he bows and announces us: "Your Princes Fëanáro and Nelyafinwë, my Lady," bows again, and on Anairë's word, departs.
She rises to greet us: a tall, handsome woman; my aunt; the wife of Nolofinwë. Her dark hair is swooped and fastened behind her head; her gray eyes are as deep and clear as a pool of water untouched by wind and untroubled by ripples. Her gown is a rich, dark gray material. Like Eärwen, she is pregnant, but her pregnancy looks out of place on her, almost feigned, like she has stuffed a pillow under her gown. Surely a woman of her stature could not have fallen to such carnal weakness? "Welcome, Fëanáro. Russandol," she says. Her lips twitch into a smile. She is beautiful, I suppose, in the same way as a statue.
Atar hands her Amil's letter first this time, as a way of greeting. "Greetings come from my wife and family," he says. She thanks him and takes his hand; her lips brush his cheek. She takes my hand next—her hand is cool and dry like marble—and kisses my cheek a little closer to my lips than Atar's.
"Russandol. You grow ever more beautiful. You do great honor to the House of Finwë."
"I thank you." I want to say her name, but what do I call her? Aunt Anairë? Just Anairë? I have called my other aunt and uncle by their names alone for as long as I can remember, but of course, they are closer in age to me than Anairë, who is older even than Atar. I feel like I should call her my Lady, like a servant, but that seems silly. I am, after all, her brother-son, even if just by marriage. So I call her nothing at all and feel awkward and ungainly in her presence, an unaccustomed and unpleasant feeling.
"Please." She gestures to a finely embroidered brocade sofa. "Do have a seat. May I have some wine brought? Water?"
"No, we are fine. We wish no insult, but we have a long ride and cannot linger long," says Atar.
Her lips tighten into a smile. "Findekáno is with his father, readying for the journey. He will be along shortly."
Journey? I think. Surely she doesn't mean the ride to our house? But then, I realize, that for Findekáno, that probably is a journey. I wonder: Has my small cousin ever ridden so far on his own before, on horseback, not in the comfort of a chariot? In the company of strangers?
I have seen my cousin many times, of course, at festivals and feasts. I held him at the welcoming feast grandfather Finwë hosted in his honor, only a few weeks after Tyelkormo's first begetting day. He was tinier than Tyelkormo at his age and more placid than I expected from an infant, moving only to clutch a lock of my hair and obstinately holding on until Anairë laughed and peeled his fingers from it. (Both Macalaurë and Tyelkormo seemed to be all waving arms and insulted shrieks when they were babies. Carnistir was twice as bad.) Since then, I usually greeted him as he sat on his father's knee or clutched his mother's hand, a small, pale-faced child whose damp eyes reminded me of an animal who has been wounded and remains mistrustful.
"We are indebted to your generosity, Fëanáro," she says, and I am grateful for the conversation, though it seems to barely ripple the thick silence of the house. "Findekáno has had many marvelous tutors, but he has taken to none of them and is so rarely inspired these days. It seems a shame that a child of such illustrious bloodlines should amount to naught."
"Well, Nelyo shall instruct him in lore." My nickname drops like a chunk of stone in the still, formal house. I wince, knowing that Atar did it on purpose. "Macalaurë, of course, will work with him on music, at least once per week. And I shall take him with my son Tyelkormo to the forge."
Anairë's face cracks into a startled smile. "The…forge?"
"Well, yes, did you not wish him to learn craft?" Atar's naiveté is carefully wrought. Again, I am certain that he has alarmed her on purpose (for Tyelkormo has not begun work in the forge himself, even after many years of studying craft with both Amil and Atar); his eyes are gleaming with delight.
"Yes, but I had hoped it something gentler, more civilized. Perhaps sculpture. With your wife."
"Then he shall, as you fear, amount to naught, for love of craft boils in the blood of the Noldor."
Anairë tries to hold her stony poise, and it is like a study of anatomy to watch her eyelids succumb first, then her cheeks, and last, her mouth. "Fëanáro, I do not question your wisdom, for obviously, you are the most learned of your brothers." Like Atar's earlier ploys, Anairë too works in subtle cruelty, for Atar is not the most learned of just his brothers but the most learned of all our people. "What you feel is safe and suitable for Findekáno shall have to content me. You have, after all, four sons of your own." She seems to be reassuring herself. "And Nolofinwë gives you his trust."
Amil would hardly allow us to venture into danger based on Atar's trust alone if she herself felt misgivings, but I do not say that. Decorum holds my tongue, and we are interrupted by the arrival of Nolofinwë and Findekáno.
I am always struck by how much like Atar his half-brother Nolofinwë looks. If Arafinwë inherited his appearance—his golden hair and slight frame—from Indis, then Nolofinwë was made in the likeness of grandfather Finwë. Like Atar, he is tall—though not quite as tall, and he is a bit broader in the shoulders—and his hair is dark. His skin is flawlessly porcelain; his features are beautiful enough to belong to the Valar. But I stop always at his eyes. They are the blue eyes of Indis, but that is not what gives me pause, but rather, the lack of light in them—the light that enlivens and consumes Atar's countenance—makes me think always that, would Atar's spirit flee his body, the body that remained would look exactly like Nolofinwë.
And Findekáno, who clutches his father's hand and ducks behind his legs when he sees us, is inconsequential, the kind of child who is always underfoot because of the simple fact that he is so easily overlooked. He wears gray robes trimmed in blue, everyday clothes that are nicer than the finest clothes worn by Tyelkormo. His tiny neck, his tiny wrists and fingers, are adorned with jewelry. He reminds me of the dolls that are sometimes given as playthings to children, miniatures of their parents in body but with babies' faces.
Atar and I rise. I look intently at Nolofinwë as he greets us, but Atar stares—his brows knit in displeasure—at the child at his half-brother's side.
"Fëanáro, Russandol, you remember my son Findekáno?" With several clever twists, Nolofinwë has brought Findekáno around to stand in front of him.
"Well met, uncle Fëanáro," Findekáno mumbles. He is tugging at his hair, which has been braided too tightly, and staring at the floor.
Atar grunts something in greeting. I pay him no mind and kneel before Findekáno, sinking onto my heels until our eyes are level. He looks at me with alarm, and his hand falls guiltily from his hair. "Findekáno," I say. "Cousin mine. How do you like to be called? Do your parents call you Kano?"
"No. Just Findekáno," he whispers.
"Shall I call you Kano?"
"You know me, right? Do you know my name?"
"You are my cousin Russandol," he says. "The one with all the maidens in Tirion."
Nolofinwë barks with nervous laughter. "The things children hear in the court," he says to Atar. I smile to imagine the look of righteous horror on Atar's face and am glad to see Findekáno's lips turn into a slight smile too. His hand has returned to his hair; I have my mind set that, as soon as we pass the city gates, I shall loosen it for him.
"Findekáno," Anairë says, "tell your uncle and cousin how much you look forward to spending the summer with them in Formenos."
His eyes drift back to the floor. "I begged every day to stay here in Tirion, but Atar would not listen," he says softly, and both his parents shout at him in alarm, and my heart feels like it has broken in half in my chest. I want to gather him into a hug, as I would my brothers, but I am not sure whether he would view it as a comfort or imprisonment.
I stand abruptly. "Perhaps he is too small to leave home," I protest. "He is only—" but Atar silences me with a stern glance.
"I went to Aulë when I was his age," he says coolly. His eyes leave mine and go to Nolofinwë and Anairë, who stand in stiff anticipation. "I was pained to leave my father, but I grew content in time." To Nolofinwë, he asks, "Do you have his things? For the hour grows late, and we must soon leave." As if on command, two servants bring in a pile of trunks. Atar bites his lips and does not speak.
Nolofinwë accompanies us to the stable, where the trunks are tied onto the back of a pack pony. A stablehand leads a stout dun pony forward for Findekáno. Nolofinwë lifts him onto its back. Findekáno is weeping; Atar is pretending not to notice, and I am fighting the urge to push Nolofinwë aside and gather the child in my arms, for have I not seen three baby brothers, and do I not know the comfort a child takes from warmth and love? "Atar, do not make me go," Findekáno whimpers. "I promise I'll learn better here. I promise." He is clutching at Nolofinwë, and Nolofinwë is peeling his arms away. I have to stride away to the end of the stable, rubbing at my cheeks to hide the tears that have suddenly spilled from my eyes.
A hand falls hard onto my shoulder and spins me around. Atar puts his lips close to my ear. "Nelyo, do not—" he begins, but I interrupt him. "It is not right! He is thirteen years old, just a child! He does not want to go! He belongs at home, with a tutor, with the love of his family!"
"Then give him that, for he shall never receive an adequate quantity of either here," Atar hisses in my ear and whirls around to walk heavily back to our horses, where Nolofinwë gives his son a stern kiss farewell and leaves him, still weeping, in our care.~oOo~
Findekáno's silent tears fall until we pass the city gates. His hands clutch the reins at the withers of his pony, and his crumpled little face tips forward, letting his hair spill over it to hide his shameful tears. Away from his parents and any chance of salvation, I know he feels shamed and weak in the presence of my father, as so many do.
Atar speaks to him dutifully, asking questions: "Are you hungry?" or "Do you wish for a bit of water?" to which Findekáno only shakes his head.
Past the city gates, I ask, "Would you like to ride with me for a while, Kano? I can loosen those braids for you if you'd like," and he looks at me with confusion.
"R-ride with…." His words stumble into incomprehension, and his eyes shine like big blue marbles.
We stop, and I lift him from his pony onto my horse, in front of me. I feel him stiffen with alarm, and I pretend that it is only a child's simple fear of falling. "Do not fret," I say in his ear and draw him back close against me, "I will not let you fall."
I hold the reins with my left hand as we ride and with the right untwine the braids from his hair. His hair is like warm silk spilling between my fingers, alike to Tyelkormo's in texture, almost as dark as Atar's. When the braids are loose, he shakes his head with the joy of an animal released from a barn into freedom and I laugh and am grateful that he laughs awkwardly in reply.
I expect that he might fall asleep against me, for this is my brothers' way, but he remains wakeful and alert, although he grows more relaxed. It is a secret that Atar taught me when Tyelkormo was small and fussy and I would be left in charge of him while my parents worked: to hold him to my chest, against my heart. "Let him hear your heartbeat," Atar told me. "It's all he heard for the first year of his life while still inside your mother. It's comforting to him." I quieted many of Tyelkormo's tantrums in this manner—and later Carnistir's as well—now, it takes the tears from my little cousin's eyes and the tension from his shoulders, and he slumps against me for the last half-hour of our ride home.
I wish to tell him that he will be happy with us, that he will love my parents and his cousins, but I am not sure that this is true. The heavy silence of his house still echoes in my head; after living like that, how will he survive the busy noise of our home? I ask him about his lessons instead, and he answers me in a dutiful, clear voice like he must have answered his tutors at home. Yes, he studied lore and knows his letters. Yes, he likes to read. Yes, he had learned a bit of the harp and had been promised the lute, but his Atar had sent the tutor back to Alqualondë before he could learn. Yes, most of all, he likes to sing.
"Well, you shall like my brother Macalaurë then, for he is exceptionally gifted in music. I'm sure he would teach you the lute, if you wished to learn."
Atar is riding silently beside us, watching me with one eyebrow raised in curious astonishment. I grin at him and he looks away, nudging his horse into a canter. Findekáno and I—constrained by two ponies hitched behind us—can muster nothing faster than a plodding trot. "We are nearly home, Findekáno," Atar calls over his shoulder.
Home. I wince, for to Findekáno, it is not home at all, it is a strange place he has gone to only in his father's chariot, a place where he stayed for a few hours—maybe an overnight for the exceptionally special feasts—before returning to the peace of Tirion. I try to imagine myself displaced from our home and into Nolofinwë's, and I ache with loneliness for the bustling mornings and the dusty library and my wide, soft bed and the sticky kisses of my baby brothers. I know that the boy seated in front of me, still a child, must suffer from a longing much more profound than can be conjured by my nearly-adult imagination.
But maybe, by the end of summer, he'll learn to think of it—not the building or the wide land outside the city gates, soon to be forsaken for Formenos, but the bustling comfort of our family—as home.~oOo~
We hear Tyelkormo and Carnistir before we even are even in sight of the gates. Rounding the hilltop, there they are, each wearing one of my tunics (which hang down to their ankles and are quite muddy around the edges, I note with dismay), "sparring" with each other with their wooden practice swords.
Tyelkormo spots us first and shouts. Atar dismounts quickly before they run up and startle the horses and catches both of them in his arms. "How are my little ones?" he asks.
"We are well, Atar, how are you?" asks Tyelkormo with uncharacteristic primness. As though realizing the error of his ways, he sneezes loudly, spraying Atar with spit.
I dismount carefully and lower Findekáno to the ground behind me. Atar has put Tyelkormo and Carnistir down as well and is wiping his face with the edge of his cloak. They are staring at Findekáno, their faces pinched and puzzled. I take his hand and introduce him to them. His eyes dart back and forth between Tyelkormo's and Carnistir's faces as though appraising which might pose the greater threat.
"Aren't you going to greet your cousin, little ones?" Atar asks.
"Greetings Findekáno," Tyelkormo mumbles. Carnistir says nothing and stands, staring and licking the point of his sword.
"Carnistir!" I chide. "Greet your cousin!"
His steady gaze does not waver. Still, he does not speak (though a trickle of drool is running down his chin). It is his unnerving way of meeting unfamiliar people: staring at them with his eyes vacant and glazed, unspeaking, until Atar grabs his arm and says, "Carnistir! You're acting like an orc!"
He starts, like someone suddenly woken. "Aaahhh," he says at last. He takes the sword out of his mouth and puts his thumb in its place. Atar and I do not pressure him further to speak; we understand that in Carnistir's bizarre world of dreams and colors, "Aaahhh" is a perfectly polite greeting.
Atar is interrogating Tyelkormo now. "Why are you wearing your brother's tunics? You have them filthy, and after Macalaurë and your mother finished the washing today too!"
"We were playing the Outer Lands game," Tyelkormo says with wide, innocent eyes. "I was grandfather Finwë and Carnistir was uncle Olwë."
"Aaahhh!" Carnistir says again and swats Tyelkormo on the backside with the flat of his sword.
We begin walking down the path to the house and stables. I lead my horse and reach to take Findekáno's hand, but Tyelkormo darts into my body first, grabbing my hand with both of his and staring sternly at our cousin, whose eyes are on the ground and is taking delicate steps, falling behind me. "Tyelkormo," I say, and his eyes lift to mine in jealous anguish, thinking that I will make him walk alone in favor of Findekáno. But I do not. "If you wish to hold my hand, then you must hold your cousin's as well," and Tyelkormo and Findekáno reluctantly join hands. (Are they only a year apart in age? Findekáno is dwarfed by my beast of a brother!) Atar hoists Carnistir onto his hip; Carnistir is still waving his wooden sword around dangerously, smacking Atar on the head with it once or twice, but Atar doesn't seem to notice.
"There is one problem with that scenario, little ones," he says. "Finwë and Olwë would not have fought against each other."
"But no, Atar, listen!" Tyelkormo begs eagerly. "If uncle Olwë was kidnapped by orcs and enchanted, then he would have fought against grandfather Finwë until he could be exorcised of the enchantments! And—" Realizing suddenly that he has spoken amiss, he claps his mouth shut.
But Atar is already staring at him suspiciously. "Where have you heard such tales? Of orcs and enchantments?"
Tyelkormo tugs at my hand and scuffles his feet along the dusty path. "I don't know." He pauses. "Someone." He pauses again, realizes that it is going to be him in trouble unless he speaks, and reluctantly admits, "Macalaurë."
I wince in sympathy for poor Macalaurë, who has been forbidden many times to tell our little brothers scary stories about the Outer Lands. Carnistir has nightmares and Tyelkormo "gets ideas," Atar says. Macalaurë and I would not have known anything ourselves about the Outer Lands if I hadn't found a book of letters that grandfather Finwë and uncle Olwë wrote Atar on the subject—he was researching the lore of the Great Journey—and gotten so many wild ideas about orcs and Lords of Darkness that Atar had finally told us what had really happened so that we would stop asking to sleep with him and Amil every night. I suspect that he had wanted to keep our minds innocent of any such knowledge. "The Dark Lord shall return one day," he'd told us, "but for now, we shall rejoice in the peace of Valinor."
Atar is irritated now, having spent a long day in Tirion and returning home to find that his second eldest has been outwardly defiant, and Tyelkormo does not escape his wrath so easily. "Speaking of Macalaurë," he says in that low, dangerous tone that we, his children, all know. Carnistir squirms in his arms. "Are you not supposed to be helping him prepare supper?"
"He sent us away," Tyelkormo says. "He said we were a pain in his ass. Carnistir kept putting rice in his ears."
Carnistir hears his name and twists in Atar's arms to look down at Tyelkormo. In an effort to alleviate the onslaught to come, Carnistir presses his hands against Atar's cheeks and gives him a loud, wet kiss—without teeth—full on the mouth. Atar laughs—the low, rumbling kind, like thunder—letting you know that a storm is still brewing on the horizon, but it will be content to be held at bay, at least for a while.~oOo~
We have supper in the accustomed place, in Amil's favorite courtyard, at the round, glass table. Amil greets Findekáno with a hug and a kiss; he remains so rigid that it looks like she is hugging a statue. "Findekáno, you may sit next to whomever you choose," she tells him in the same sweet, delicate voice that she uses with Carnistir. "You're our special guest of honor tonight."
He chooses to sit next to me, to my right, in Tyelkormo's usual place. On his other side is the empty chair that will belong to Macalaurë. Tyelkormo glares at this and pushes into the chair to my left before anyone else can claim it.
Amil has set the table, hastily and sparingly, to minimize the number of dishes that will have to be washed tonight, the night before the night before our big journey.
We wait and wait, but Macalaurë does not appear with supper.
Carnistir—sitting beside my mother because it is her turn to feed him tonight—begins mewing with hunger. I don't know why; it's not as though the child eats his supper anyway.
Atar rubs his forehead like he is trying to push away a pain. "Nelyo, go see if your brother needs any help in the kitchen."
I go back into the house. The kitchen is in disarray, as I expected. Macalaurë is darting between the oven and the counter and the stove, mixing things in pots and pushing things in casserole dishes across the counter. The front of his tunic is patchy with food stains. He refuses to wear an apron in the kitchen, and I don't know why. He's a sloppy cook, the evidence of that strewn about the kitchen in such profusion that we will spend an hour tonight cleaning up. I withhold a sigh. While he sprinkles parsley across a burnt-looking rice dish, something starts to boil over on the stove. "No!" he cries, and runs across the room to lift the pot from the burner, and as he lifts, his foot skids in a patch of spilled gravy and boiling water pours over his hand.
The pot goes into the air and to the floor with a crash. Boiled carrots explode everywhere.
I run to him, "Macalaurë!" and catch him in my arms as he begins to sob, clutching his scalded hand.
"Nelyo." His voice is muffled; his face pressed into my shoulders. "I tried to do it well, but it's awful! It's all wrong! And, ai…it hurts…."
I push him back from me to examine his hand. It is a sore red and already beginning to well into blisters. "Macalaurë," I say and gently take his hand, making him cry harder. "Go to the washroom and put it in some cool water and wash your face. I'll finish supper."
I pick the carrots off from the floor and wash them. We'd scrubbed the kitchen floor the day-before-last, and I figure that Carnistir has put much worse into food when Atar and I have our backs turned to be much concerned about a few flecks of dirt. Macalaurë had (attempted) to reheat the leftover turkey that Atar made the night before, but when I prod it with a fork, the prongs spring back at me like they were being nudged into rubber. Well, I figure, there's nothing else to do. We don't have any fresh meat, so it's rubbery turkey or salted venison, which we'll need for the journey to Formenos, or nothing. I slide the rubbery turkey onto a plate and hope Macalaurë made lots of gravy.
He did, but it has simmered too long on the stove and has a crust forming on the top. I sigh and peel it off and hope (like the carrots) that no one will notice the little bits that get away from me and sink to the bottom.
Macalaurë comes back with his hand wrapped in a damp cloth and his face wiped clean of tears. His lower eyelids are still red, but his face has regained much of its composure.
"What can I do to help you?" he asks in a small voice.
"Just help me carry it outside. Everything's ready."
We have become expert at loading our arms with dishes and carrying them down the hall and to the courtyard. Macalaurë gives me an alarmed look when he sees me set down the carrots but says nothing. We go back for the wine, and I whisper, "I did wash them," and he says back, "Right about now, Nelyo, I don't much care if you did."
I select two bottles of very good wine to compensate for the shoddy supper. "Atar always complains that we eat our weight in supper," Macalaurë grumbles, "and I've figured out how to eat less: When you cook it, you sure don't want to eat it too."
I laugh, toss an arm around his shoulders. "It's going to be fine."
Back outside, we take our seats on either side of Findekáno, exchanging small worried looks. "We shall now say Eruhantale," Atar says. He sits across the round table from me. "I give thanks this day for the beasts of burden that carried my son and me to Tirion and brought home our much-welcomed guest, my brother-son Findekáno."
I am surprised at his words. Like a reflex, my head snaps up to meet his eyes, but he is looking at my mother.
"I give thanks this day for the water we are so freely given, that lets us keep clean ourselves and our home," Amil says.
I am thankful also for our horses and for the gift of light, by which our world is given color. (Atar looks surprised at the last part but nods in approval.) Macalaurë mumbles something about being thankful for aloe, which elicits strange looks, as he holds his injured hand unseen beneath the table. Tyelkormo is grateful for the animals! And butterflies! And Carnistir stares for a moment and, at last, says simply, "Tyelkormo," balls up his napkin, and puts it in his mouth.
"That's sweet of you, little one," Amil tells him, carefully removing the napkin, "to be grateful for your brother." She looks up at Findekáno. "What about you, dear? For what are you grateful?"
Findekáno only stares at his empty plate.
Amil laughs nervously. "It can be anything, love. Anything at all."
Macalaurë and I shoot each other alarmed looks over Findekáno's bowed head. "Kano?" I say softly. I touch him, and he twitches as if startled by a shock of static electricity. Atar's louder, demanding voice overtakes mine: "What are you thankful for, Findekáno?"
I cannot see his eyes as he says, "I have nothing to be thankful for."
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