14. Desecration in the Face of the Lord
Tarmanaz had been sensible enough to quietly dress and leave the house even before Sidaizon awoke, so there was no sign of him and his white uniform when Eäzinya appeared to bank up the kitchen fire. In the light of morning, her fury had cooled. She served Sidaizon's breakfast with an unusual level of attentiveness and respect, as if trying to wordlessly apologise for throwing him out of bed the night before by slicing extra fruit into his porridge and refilling his tea cup whenever he set it down. He, in turn, accepted the peace offering through constant smiles and meaningless compliments on the prettiness of her hair. On the surface, they were reconciled. But their parting embrace when he left for the Lavazat was stilted and awkward.
Márathul went with him that day, having reasoned that the Lavazat would be a perfect location for their postponed discussion. With its quiet rooms behind thick, stone walls, father and son could speak of anything without the risk of being overheard by either strangers on the street or Nautalya and Tarmanaz at home. Sidaizon did insist that they spend the morning doing the work they were meant to do, but once the afternoon came around, when they were finished writing out marriage and birth records and had spoken with all of the prayer-seekers who had come for the Almatar's advice and blessing, they retreated to the privacy of Sidaizon's office. Márathul, suddenly twitching with nerves, took a seat on a bench in the far corner. Sidaizon sat facing him from across the room.
"So, Máro. You wanted to have a talk? Here is the time and place. What shall we talk about?"
Márathul reddened and stared at his ankles, looking as if he wanted to squirm straight out of his own skin, and for one, bright moment Sidaizon allowed himself to hope that Márathul would call everything off, too uncomfortable to speak. But, with a cough, he found his voice.
"I think you should... you should just tell me everything."
"Everything about what?"
"You know what," Márathul growled. "Anin. Everything. Where you met him, when, why..."
Leaning back, Sidaizon clenched his jaw and ran his tongue over the backs of his teeth. He could proceed as usual, offering only slivers of information as Márathul pried them out with specific questions, one by one, or he could be done with it quickly. After the previous day's interrogation and a hard night spent with little sleep, the second option seemed somehow more appealing. And he had promised Márathul an explanation. He would deliver it.
"Márathul..." he began slowly. "I will tell you the entire story, hoping that you won't think less of me for hearing it, but I will remind you first that all of this took place a long time ago when I was much younger, and before your mother was even born. Anything that happened four hundred or more years ago has no bearing on my love for her, nor our marriage. Can you accept that?"
"I think that depends on what you'll be asking me to accept."
Sidaizon sighed. "If that's your reaction, then I won't go on. If you can't separate who I am and what I do now from who I was and what I did then, there's no purpose to me telling you anything, because it will just upset you."
"Fine," said Márathul. "Fine: I accept it."
"You accept what?"
Again, Márathul seemed hardly able to contain his nerves and discomfort. "I accept that... you're married to Amma now and... you love her, and... all this is in the past from before you met her." He kept his eyes in a solid, downward glare as he spoke.
"Good," Sidaizon said, nodding. "Keep that in mind." He paused to allow Márathul time for a reply, but none came. He continued. "Very well. How this all started... I came down from the mountain at the age of one hundred and three years, newly appointed to my position as a transcription assistant in the Lavazat near that small bath house we usually visit. Do you know what was the first significant thing I did?"
Márathul shook his head in silence, still looking at the floor.
"I arranged myself a temporary marriage."
That admission caught Márathul's full attention. He snapped his head up and choked on the words that came bursting out. "You did what? You were married?! Does Amma know?!"
"Yes," said Sidaizon. "She needs not know about Anin, but this, I did tell her."
"And she sees nothing wrong with you having been married before?!"
"Máro, a temporary marriage is nothing like a true marriage. It's nothing more than a contract, signed by any agent of the King, giving a man and woman permission to behave as if they are married. It's no different from what many young couples do in secret, except that it's legal."
"So you married some slut-" Márathul huffed.
"I signed a contract with a wealthy widow whose husband had been killed in a hunting accident some years earlier. Most temporary marriages, you should know, are between young men without the money to find true wives, and older widows looking for bodies to warm their beds until their husbands return from Mandos."
Márathul grumbled a handful of unintelligible words to himself as he slumped back down against the wall.
"Let me tell you some history here," said Sidaizon, ignoring Márathul's grousing, "so you can better understand the situation." He leaned forward, trying to catch and hold Márathul's gaze, and only continued when Márathul reluctantly met his eyes. "The laws behind temporary marriage evolved from much older customs, dating all the way back to the days at Cuiviénen. Back then, no-one knew what happened to the spirits of the dead, and no-one could guess that those who had been killed might one day be reborn. So it was not uncommon for a person to remarry after the death of a husband or wife. It was only after the Eldar came to Valinor that we learned the truth, when the practice of remarriage was quickly outlawed by the Valar."
"So... the temporary contracts are a way around that ban?" Márathul guessed.
Sidaizon smiled at him. "Exactly. Permanent remarriage is forbidden, but the desires and customs of common folk still hold some sway over the King. Ingwë preferred the idea of temporary contracts for those seeking to remarry over having his people simply lie together in sin, and so the new law was written. But that law is very specific. A person can have no more than one temporary marriage in a span of twelve years, to prevent indecency, no children may result from the union, and, unlike a true marriage, a temporary contract can be challenged in a court of law by anyone who disapproves of it. The contract can be dissolved at any time by any agent of the King, for any reason. It holds none of the legal security that a true marriage offers."
Márathul snorted. "Then it sounds like nothing more than an excuse for immorality, and a waste of time. It should be outlawed."
"Yes, I agree," said Sidaizon.
Márathul almost nodded until he realised what Sidaizon had just said. "Wait, you... But you told me..."
"That is, I agree that it should be outlawed. As to the immorality, well, people will do that anyhow regardless of the laws. But temporary marriage is a ridiculous, archaic notion that should be banned."
The look of bewilderment on Márathul's face said more than his words ever could. "I... don't understand. You just told me you had a temporary marriage, but you're against it?"
"That's right," Sidaizon said, nodding. "I had a temporary marriage. It lasted all of four days before I realised I had made a mistake and had the contract voided. You see, what I wanted in my life at that time was a real marriage to a real wife, and I foolishly assumed that this contract would be the ideal thing to hold me over until I could afford a proper wedding. But it turned out to be too close to my desires. After two days, I knew I was in danger of falling in love with this woman. If stayed with her too long, I knew I would end up truly married to her as far as my heart was concerned . Then what would I do when our contract expired or her husband returned? It would all but kill me to have to leave her. So I had to save myself and end our relationship. That's why I'm against temporary marriage, Márathul. Not because of any morality, since people do far worse things together in the dark of night when they think no-one is watching, but because it gives us false hope and lets us believe we can have the impossible. It complicates lives and gives a few years of happiness in return for a lifetime of grief and anguish and jealousy. The Eldar are meant to marry once and only once. We should respect that."
Leaning back, Márathul appeared to be halfway satisfied with that answer. "So what of Anin, then?"
"I found him later. When I was sick of being alone all the time. What I wanted was a proper marriage to a Valadávan girl, but since I had no money for that, I limited myself to physical satisfaction only with the exact opposite: a Yaranénon boy. I'm not proud of having done so, and to be honest, in hindsight I wish I hadn't been so weak. But there you have it. We all make mistakes."
"Which means," said Márathul, "you should have stayed with the high morals of Taniquetil in the first place, because they turned out to be right. Bodily union is a sacred act reserved for marriage alone."
He seemed so sure of himself: sitting on his bench and speaking with the conviction of an Oraistar. "Do you truly believe that?" Sidaizon asked quietly.
Márathul answered with a glare. "Of course I do! Don't you?"
"I do now, certainly," said Sidaizon. "Now that I am older and wiser. As I did when I was very young and too naive to think for myself. Strange how half a lifetime of making mistakes can help one come back full circle to realise that Manwë has given us guidance for a reason."
"An Almatar should know that Manwë is right. Without making mistakes."
"Yes, he should. However, Almatardi and even Oraistari are men like any others, and prone to stumbling into the same idiotic lapses in judgement. We just tend to lapse more effectively, because we know the intricacies of the law and can therefore usually avoid doing anything so illegal as to be arrested." Sidaizon smiled, trying to lighten the tone, but Márathul refused to see anything amusing in their conversation.
"I can't believe Taniquetil would let you think like that," he muttered. "If the Oraistari knew..."
And in an instant, two otherwise unconnected notions clicked together perfectly in Sidaizon's mind. Taniquetil. Márathul's need for unspotted morality applied not only to Sidaizon, but to the Almatardi as a whole. As much as anything else, it was his own faith and future that he questioned.
"Anyhow, enough of that," Sidaizon said, trying to force a measure of lightness into his tone. "Time to change the subject. If we talk about this all day, you'll only grow more upset. And you seem upset enough already." He paused, searching for any hint as to what it was that Márathul so feared. "Is there something else you want to discuss?"
"No," answered Márathul. "I'm fine with continuing on this topic."
"Are you sure? Nothing bothering you? No concerns?"
Looking away, Márathul repeated his refusal: "No."
"You see," said Sidaizon, "If I were you, about to commit to sixty years of study, I'd want to ask as many questions as I could about the Academy and its operations."
"I'm not worried. The Academy is governed by the King himself. It's the very seat of morality and law. In fact, I can't wait to go there."
Sidaizon bit back a reply, holding it a moment on the end of his tongue, but it slipped out before he could swallow it completely. "I don't think you're ready, Máro."
Márathul answered with a contemptuous snort. "Why not? You still think I'm too young? Not dedicated enough? How would you know? You've never asked me what I want. You still think I'm your confused little son."
The gate of caution had been broken; there was no more sense in holding back. Sidaizon swore at himself. "No. That's not why. It's because you are sheltered and idealistic. Listen to me. The men who survive this education aren't the pure-hearted young fellows like you who fervently believe in Manwë's goodness. Though they might be the most deserving and best suited to life as an Almatar, they're quickly disillusioned by reality and tend to leave within a year. The ones who stay are the ones who have nowhere else to go. Self-important younger sons of nobles, who have been refused a share in the family fortune. Desperate street-rats looking for a better life. Boys skirting the edge of the law. The only requirements for admission are that the student be at least thirty-six years old and Valadávan, though as far as that's concerned, I know in the past they've accepted Yaranénon criminals who escaped the executioner by converting at the door. True believers are crowded out by the rabble."
"But surely the Oraistari-" Márathul began.
"The Oraistari don't care. For the first twenty years, you live as little more than a slave, scrubbing floors, cooking food, washing bedding, and doing whatever else the Oraistari order you to do. To them, it makes no difference if the slave is a blessed believer or just some wretch who crawled in off the street because he was tired of going hungry. After twenty years of drudgery, they're all the same anyhow: dull-minded and broken."
"It would take more than drudgery to drive me away," said Márathul. "I'm not afraid of work."
"The work is not the problem," Sidaizon answered with a shake of his head. "The problem is the despicable behaviour of the other students."
"With the Oraistari watching? What happens?"
Sidaizon groaned, rubbing his hands over his face and through his hair. "Fighting, bullying, gambling, and worse. Márathul, there are one hundred or so hot-headed young men stuck in a mountain fortress together for sixty years without even the opportunity to so much as look at a woman. What do you think happens?"
The flush of anger drained from Márathul's face and a greyish cast came over his skin. He sat, frozen with shock, for only a moment before he abruptly stood and fled the room.
Márathul neither slowed nor looked back. Cursing under his breath, Sidaizon jumped up to hurry after him. "Márathul! Wait!"
Márathul quickened his pace, breaking into a run, but was forced to stop at the front door: Sidaizon had locked it to prevent anyone from entering while they sat in the office. He shook the handle violently before stepping back with the realisation that he was trapped. "Unlock the door," he growled.
"No," said Sidaizon. "You wanted to talk about this, and we are talking. You need to calm down."
"I don't need to do anything!" Márathul shouted, his voice shrill. "You lied to me!"
"Lied? Máro, I just told you the complete truth-"
"You lied!" he repeated. "You all lied! You and the Almatardi and the Oraistari, all filthy liars! Pretending to be good and moral people, pretending to uphold the laws of the Valar, you're all hypocrites, and you're all liars!"
"Withholding harmful aspects of the truth is not the same as lying."
"It's as good as!"
"That's a very Noldorin philosophy," said Sidaizon. "Only Noldor believe that everyone should know everything at all times, in the interest of fairness."
"Oh, shut up!" shouted Márathul. "Piss on the Noldor! You're trying to distract me! I'm not listening; I'm not stupid. Let me out. I don't want to talk to you any more."
"That's unfortunate, because I want to talk to you. And since I had to endure your questions when I had no desire to do so, you're now obligated to listen to mine. First, what are you so afraid of, Máro?"
"I'm not afraid! I'm..." he growled, then hit his fist against the locked door in frustration. "I'm disgusted. And..."
"And that's why I don't think you're ready to go to the Academy," Sidaizon finished. "If the Oraistari truly wanted it to be a 'seat of morality', as you call it, they would admit only married men and allow entire families to move up there. As it is, the good, moral men are not the ones they hope to attract. They want the non-believers and hedonists and criminals. They want to take society's misfits and transform them. Why bother spending that effort on a man who already follows their rules of his own free will? The Oraistari want the worst they can find because they know there's nobody as ferociously pious as a reformed sinner trying to erase his own past."
Slowly, Márathul's shoulders began to relax, and he dropped his arms to his sides. "Reformed sinners," he repeated. The words seemed to have an oddly soothing effect on him.
"Yes," said Sidaizon. "The Academy takes on the worst of us and turns us into better people. If not for that place, I don't know where I would be today, but it would be nowhere good. Possibly serving ale at a public house in Tirion or even working alongside Anin at the bath house."
If Márathul found anything shocking in that statement, he did not show it. "What made you decide to go?"
Sidaizon sighed. "A very fortunate chance. I had run away from home and was in fact standing at that bath house gate, ready to throw my life in the gutter, when a kind man, an Almatar, suggested to me that there might be a better choice. All I needed was food and a place to live, and the Academy offered both."
Márathul gave a little nod; he had gone quiet, as if he had run out of arguments. Or perhaps he was simply overwhelmed by everything he had been told in such a short span of time. The entire world he revered, the great holiness of Taniquetil, had all but fallen down in around his feet.
"Shall we go outside for a while? The fresh air and sunshine might be nice. I think there's some weeding to be done around the gate." Sidaizon put a careful hand on his shoulder, urging him away from the lock.
Again, Márathul nodded, though he remained silently dazed as he moved aside. Sidaizon released the lock and pushed open the Lavazat's heavy door. A fresh breeze flowed in, cool and calming after the tense conversation. He squinted against the sudden brightness of the sunlight. Three figures in the courtyard caught his eye, and his stomach lurched.
There were Noldorin women standing on the grass, idly chattering and admiring the roses that grew up the whitewashed garden walls. All three had dark, unbound hair that fell down their backs in waves, covered only by the flimsiest of transparent veils. They wore gowns of thin material that clung to their bodies like water, hiding nothing of their shapes, and the necklines were cut so large as to brazenly display their shoulders and dip dangerously low on the curves of their breasts. One wore a very tight silver girdle to accentuate the smallness of her waist above the curve of her hips.
"Attu!" Márathul whispered, horrified.
Sidaizon strode forward out onto the Lavazat's front stairs, and called to the women in a sharp voice, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
Two looked up, startled at his speech. The third, in her silver girdle, held her head high and fixed him with an imperious glare. "It's about time," she said. She spoke with the hard, precise accent of Tirion. "I've been knocking at the door for nearly an hour. Tell my uncle that we've arrived, and you might also inform him of the poor manners and hospitality of his household. I don't appreciate being made to wait out in the hot sun."
That a woman should have the audacity to speak to him in such a way, and a disgracefully dressed Noldorin woman at that, made Sidaizon's blood surge with fury, but he was too astounded to do anything more than stare at them. "...Your uncle?"
"Yes," said the woman. "I am Lord Feryarátor's niece. Tell him I'm here and have been waiting for an hour."
Márathul pushed his way through the door with an angry shout before Sidaizon could think of a proper reply. "This isn't your uncle's house! This is a temple of worship dedicated to Lord Manwë and you're not allowed to be here!"
One of the two companions grabbed the woman's hand nervously. "I told you this isn't right. We should have turned the other way. Let's go back, and-"
"No. I think I know my own uncle's house. I recognise the roses." The woman tossed her hair and looked down her nose at Márathul, an expression of disdain on her face. "These two are just being ignorant and probably want a bribe."
That was enough for Sidaizon. He held up his hand, signalling for Márathul to stay on the stairs, and walked out to confront Lord Feryarátor's niece face to face. She was tall, as were most Noldorin women, but he was taller and was able to stand over her by a few inches at least. He stared hard at her, trying to assert some measure of authority. Refusing to be intimidated, she stared back and lifted one expectant eyebrow.
"You heard my son," he said quietly. "This is not your uncle's house. You are mistaken. It is a holy place, and you are not allowed here. Leave now before you make trouble for yourself."
"Rilmi!" the friend whispered, tugging again at the woman's hand. "Please, let's just go..."
"No," said the woman called Rilmi. "I can handle these kuli peasants." She drew herself up taller, pushing her shoulders back, and glared at Sidaizon. "Don't you know who I am?"
"No," he answered, "and nor do I care. But I will tell you who I am. I am Almatar Sidaizon Motázyo, and this is my Lavazat: Oichimyaiva. You have no business being here, and in fact it is forbidden. Go seek your uncle elsewhere. I can guarantee you won't find his house anywhere near here; this is a poor neighbourhood of working labourers and craftsmen. Go look for him near the river."
"And I am Lady Rilmalië of Eremas," she said, speaking loudly over his last few words. "My uncle Feryarátor is lord of all lands south of Tirion for three hundred miles, and he is the area's ambassador to King Ingwë himself. Now take me to him!"
Sidaizon clenched his fist. He could have slapped this stupid woman across the face, but for the fact that touching any female heretic would mean having to visit an Oraistar to cleanse him of her impurity. And the Oraistar would more than likely recommend a day-long bath in one of Taniquetil's frigid holy springs. The satisfaction to be gained from striking her was not worth the price. Grunting, he forced himself to look away in an effort to calm his rage.
Something moved at the gate. He looked at it directly, and was stunned to see Tarmanaz standing there in his white and gold uniform. Lady Rilmalië's two companions noticed him as well; one gasped, the other stifled a scream, and both reflexively lifted the drooping necklines of their gowns up to their chins. So the Noldorin women were clearly familiar with the King's Hands.
"Alla," said Tarmanaz, nodding to Sidaizon and Márathul. He seemed oblivious to the strange scene in the courtyard.
"Rilmi, let's go!" one of the women cried, and the other followed with, "Now! We have to go now!"
Rilmalië whipped around to face Tarmanaz. "I'm not afraid of you!" she shouted at him, but her voice cracked with fear. "I'm the niece of the ambassador, Lord Feryarátor, and-" Stiffening, she snapped her mouth shut and scurried back to huddle with her ladies as Tarmanaz took a step toward her.
"Who are they?" Tarmanaz asked Márathul.
"Intruders!" said Márathul. "Tell them to go away!"
With a shrug, Tarmanaz fixed his gaze on the women. "Go away."
All three flinched and the two companions began whispering furiously to the Lady Rilmalië, but they did not move apart from huddling closer together.
Tarmanaz adopted a more fearsome expression and pointed to the gate. "Get out of here!" he shouted.
All three women ran, shrieking.
Shrugging again and casually picking dirt from under his thumbnail, Tarmanaz crossed the courtyard. "What was that, anyhow?"
"I have no idea," said Sidaizon. "We were inside the Lavazat and found them here when we came back out."
"One of them thought it was her uncle's house," Márathul added. "Stupid sluts!"
"Máro!" Sidaizon snapped. "No need for such language." He had to admit to himself, though, that he had been thinking the same thing. He looked to Tarmanaz. "What are you doing here?"
"I went to be fitted for boots. Been wandering around since then. My training doesn't start for another four days, but I thought it wasn't a good idea to be at home without you while Amma's... you know. So I came here."
"Good," said Márathul. "You can help."
"Help?" Tarmanaz asked. He raised his eyebrows at Sidaizon, but Sidaizon had no better idea of what Márathul intended.
"Those Noldorin women desecrated holy ground with their heathen feet."
"Ah," said Sidaizon. "That's right. They did. We have to clean it." The notion had passed briefly through his mind, though he had been content to let the rain do the work when it next came. The holy ground had already been desecrated by the Yaranénor and their fire, after all. But he knew how important rules and rituals were to Márathul, especially after their talk. Working together under the law of Taniquetil would do them good. "Máro, you get the scythe from garden shed and start cutting the grass. Tarmanaz and I will haul water to wash the ground and roses."
Tarmanaz, looking appalled, laid protective hands over his spotless white tunic. "I can't do that, I'll get dirty!"
"So will I," said Sidaizon, "but clothes can be washed. Strip down to your trousers." Leading the way, he pulled off the layers of his Almatar's robes and even his shoes, until he stood on the defiled grass wearing only his white corima trousers. Reluctantly, Tarmanaz did the same.
For the rest of the afternoon, they hauled water and washed the courtyard free of the memory of the Noldor. Sidaizon sang prayers to Manwë, with Márathul joining in whenever he could recognise the melody and words. At sunset, Sidaizon deemed the courtyard satisfactorily clean and purified. He had left the convert woman's grave untouched: somehow it seemed wrong to wash away the remnants of the fire Authimer and Idizimë had made. It could stay until the next rain. But when all else was clean, he and Márathul and Tarmanaz put away the buckets and gardening tools, and they gathered their clothes to go home.
"Well, Máro?" Sidaizon asked as he locked the gate after them. "After all that discussion and hard work, do you still want to go to the academy?"
"Yes," Márathul answered without even a moment of consideration.
Sidaizon nodded. Márathul had made up his mind. "Then I will hire a carriage to take you up the mountain."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.