19. White and Gold
The temperate humidity of morning had begun to grow into a dry heat under the baking sun by the time one of Ingwion's carriages deposited Sidaizon back at the garden gate. Despite his home's smallness, and despite its thin walls, few rooms, and lack of glass in the windows, it seemed to him more welcoming than any mountain palace. He pushed open the door, dropped his bundle of clothing on the floor while stepping out of his shoes, and breathed in the welcoming air of familiarity.
"Alla, Eäzinya?" he called.
Behind the wall that separated the front entry from the main room, something wooden-sounding clattered to the floor. There was an eruption of voices, and a moment later Eäzinya flew around the corner, followed closely by Márathul, Nautalya, and Amárië.
"Sidaizon!" She flung her arms about his neck, dissolving into tears as soon as he returned her frantic embrace. Nautalya clung to his waist, shouting excitedly, while Márathul stood just behind Eäzinya's shoulder and tried to explain everything that had happened in his absence all at once. All traces of Amárië's sour mood toward him had disappeared; she had her hands over her mouth and her eyes closed, as if whispering a prayer of thanks.
"Oh, I thought the worst, I truly thought the worst..." Eäzinya sobbed.
"...and then Tarmanaz said Ingwion let him go, but he didn't see you again..." Márathul was in the middle of saying.
"They really took you to Ingwë's palace?" asked Nautalya.
"One at a time," said Sidaizon. "You sound like a flock of geese and I can't make sense of any of it." With one arm around Eäzinya and the other on Nautalya's back, he led everyone to the main room.
"Not in here!" said Nautalya. "Amma's doing washing."
As soon as Sidaizon turned the corner, he could see what she meant: more than half the room was full of wooden frames, all draped with wet clothing and bed linens. The one nearest him was only partly assembled and sat on the floor in a disarray of legs and beams.
"We decided to bleach everything," Eäzinya explained. Her voice was tremulous and faint, and she pressed her face against his shoulder so that she spoke more to his tunic than to him. "We've been doing the biggest chores we could think of all week, hoping you'd come home and interrupt them."
Nautalya listed all the chores on her fingers: "We weeded the front garden, and washed all the walls, and then Máro climbed up on the roof to get the moss out of the corners, and we made new cheese, and we took everything out of the kitchen and scrubbed it all with sand. And then we thought you have to come home today, so Amma wanted to do the bleaching because the drying frames take up so much space and you'd probably come home in the middle of it when there's no room to be inside."
Eäzinya managed a small, shaky smile. "Well, it worked. As soon as there's no place to sit, here you are."
"I've been sitting in a carriage all of today and yesterday," Sidaizon said, kissing her hair. "I don't need to sit now. Let's walk. We'll go around the courtyard. You can tell me what you did while I was away, and I can tell you everything that happened to me."
Márathul began the account of what had happened since the night the Hands came, punctuated by small corrections and additional overlooked details from Nautalya. There was little to tell: they had waited in fear for any sort of word on what was happening, dreading the worst. Auzëar had come by every evening after he locked the Lavazat's gates to see that all was well, but there was nothing he could do except join in the prayers for the safe return of Sidaizon and Tarmanaz. Then Tarmanaz had come home two days past. He had been in good spirits: he carried a letter for his commander from no other than Prince Ingwion, explaining Tarmanaz' lateness and failure to report for training as scheduled. Ingwion, he said, had spoken to him at length, and it was a great honour to be allowed a personal conversation with the man who commanded all of the Hands in Valinor. Such a meeting could only help his career.
He had left almost as soon as he had come, though not before assuring the family that Sidaizon was well. They had gone to Ingwë's palace, not the Brass Pit, and it seemed to Tarmanaz that nothing too terrible could happen there. But he could not say for certain. All could change in the span of a day. And so the family still waited, fearful and unsure.
It took four slow circles around the perimeter of the courtyard for Márathul to tell everything. In that time, neighbours from the adjoining houses congregated at their back doors to see that, yes, Almatar Sidaizon had indeed come home. Several of them stared at him with puzzled expressions, as if trying to guess whether or not it was merely a malicious rumour that he had been taken away by the Hands. Usually those who were taken did not return in such good condition.
"Now your turn," prompted Nautalya. "Tell us about the palace!"
"Ah yes," said Sidaizon. "Well, Tarmanaz has already told you about our long carriage ride up Taniquetil, so I will begin at the point where he and I parted. He remained with Ingwion, and the Hands took me to my quarters. I had been expecting a prison cell, so it was a lovely surprise indeed to be shown to a bedroom fit for a king."
"What did it look like?" Nautalya asked, though Eäzinya quickly shushed her.
"Hush, Alya. You can ask those questions later. Let your father tell us what happened first."
"What happened is that I spent most of the next day in that bedroom, being very lazy and sleeping as long as I liked and eating wonderful food that servants brought in on silver trays. And I found an old friend there: Vedezir Tarathandyo, who was at the Academy with me. He's an Oraistar now."
"You have a Tarathandyo friend?" asked Nautalya.
"Nautalya..." Eäzinya warned.
"Just the one," said Sidaizon. But even one was clearly good enough for Nautalya, who looked nothing less than awed at the thought of her very plain father having a Tarathandyo nobleman for a friend. "Now, Vedezir told me that the Oraistari had called me before their council because they were upset with what I had done regarding the convert woman who had died. So I had to stand before them and account for my actions, which they said were in conflict with the law. I told them what I had done, and explained why I thought it had been the right thing to do. Some agreed with me. But many others believed I should have followed the law, regardless of my own thoughts. In the end, the King took up the matter himself and made a decision."
"What did he decide?" asked Márathul.
Sidaizon glanced about the courtyard, scanning over the faces of the neighbours who watched. "I will tell you inside. I have something to show you. But you can guess first. What do you think he decided?"
"He must have taken your side," said Amárië. "Otherwise you wouldn't have returned."
Eäzinya nodded, muttering agreement with Amárië's guess, while Nautalya pulled on his arm. "What do you have to show us? Did the King give you treasure? Jewels?"
"No, not treasure or jewels."
"Something good, though?"
"Well, that is open to interpretation. Come inside. We'll go into the bedroom. Máro, will you bring my travelling pack? It's by the front door."
Nautalya led the way into the back bedroom, claiming a spot on the bed, though she was quick to climb into Sidaizon's lap as soon as he sat down. Eäzinya sat at Sidaizon's side on the bed, while Amárië and Márathul took places on the floor. Of all of them, only Márathul still wore the look of pale-faced worry that had greeted Sidaizon at the door. His gaze flickered between the pack in his lap and Sidaizon, and he had pursed his lips together as if trying to hold back some uncertain words.
"Máro?" Sidaizon asked. "You look troubled."
Shrugging, Márathul stared down at the floor.
"Have you a guess, then, for what the King decided?"
He shook his head. "I don't need to guess. I can see."
"You're not wearing your Almatar's robes."
No sooner had the words been spoken than Eäzinya pulled away with a gasp, staring at Sidaizon's clothing. Amárië, too, stared; neither had thought to look too closely when he arrived. The tunic and trousers he wore were white as usual, though of a different cut, and he had neither mantle nor sash.
"That's correct," he said. "I am no longer wearing Almatar's robes."
"Oh, Sido..." Eäzinya whispered. "What..." She raised her hand to her lips, and could not finish the thought.
"I had to give it all my Almatar's clothes to the council. These clothes are loaned from my friend Vedezir, as I unfortunately had no others."
Amárië's face was grey but firm, her jaw tense as she nodded once in acceptance of the news. "Well," she said. "That's not the worst that could happen. You're not in prison. And I'm sure you can easily find work elsewhere. You can read and write, at least, and-"
He shook his head, interrupting her. "No need. I have been given a different position: one that our good prince Ingwion was instrumental in securing."
"Ingwion," repeated Eäzinya.
"What's in the pack?" Márathul asked, his voice sudden and sharp.
"Only some cloth. I need a new uniform, which I hope I can persuade your mother to make for me."
Looking somewhere between fainting and exploding with anger, Eäzinya squeezed her eyes shut. "Is it white and gold?"
"More or less," said Sidaizon. "Máro, you can open the pack if you like."
The white came first. Eäzinya turned her back and refused to look at it. Márathul pulled the white fabric from the pack and carefully unfolded it, frowning at the small piece he held in his hands. There was less than an armspan of heavy white silk. "How will you make..." he began, but discarded the question in favour seeing what else the pack held. He pulled out the second piece of fabric: the gold.
Nautalya hissed in a quick breath and let it out again with a soft "Oh!" The second piece was not linen dyed the colour of gold, as Tarmanaz' uniform sash had been, but stiff cloth that looked as if it had been woven from gold itself, as bright as sunlight and glittering even in the shaded bedroom.
"What is it?" she asked. "May I touch it?"
"They call it enwizda kuluva," said Sidaizon, "and it is woven from thread that has been wrapped in real gold. And yes, you may touch it."
"Only at the edge, though," said Amárië, who had picked up a corner of the enwizda cloth by her very fingertips, as if it might fall apart in her hands. "It's far too rich for little girls who might make it dirty."
This was enough to pique Eäzinya's curiosity; she looked back to see what caused all the fuss. Blinking and uncertain, she stared at the enwizda cloth spread out between Amárië, Nautalya, and Márathul before slowly raising her eyes to Sidaizon. "But that's... it's not..."
"Eäzinya. Did you truly think I would join the King's Hands, when I knew all too well that you'd kill me for it if the shock didn't kill you first?"
"I don't... know," she said. And then, with a frustrated cry, she fell on Sidaizon's shoulder, beating her fists against his chest and arms and back and every other part of him she could reach. "You horrible - horrible - awful - augh! I believed you! You did that on purpose, and I believed you! You wanted me to think you'd joined the King's Hands just so you could... and I believed you!"
Laughing, Sidaizon fell onto his back on the bed, dragging her down as well. She struggled in his arms to pull herself upright, cursing and hitting him.
"But what is it for, then?" asked Márathul. "If not the King's Hands?"
"Well," said Sidaizon. He sat up again and let Eäzinya go free, huffing and glaring as she was. "It's a strange coincidence, and one I find rather amusing, but it so happens that white and gold are the colours not only of the King's Hands but also of the Oraistari."
Of everyone in the room, only Nautalya seemed uninterested in what he said; she continued to poke and examine the shining gold cloth, whispering quiet sounds to herself. But Amárië and Márathul exchanged looks in stunned silence, and Eäzinya's hands fell into her lap, suddenly limp.
"They made you an Oraistar?" Amárië asked, sounding as if she had little faith in her own guess.
"Oh, no," Sidaizon replied. "They did nothing of the sort. In fact, they were absolutely against it, for the most part. It was all the King's doing."
Amárië still stared. She looked no more convinced. "So... you truly are..."
"Yes. I truly am. As of two days past, by the gracious appointment of His Royal Highness, King Ingwë of all the Eldar, I am nothing less than Oraistar of Oichimyaiva."
"You are the luckiest damned cur I've ever met in my life," said Auzëar. He sat on the floor opposite Sidaizon, sipping tea from one of the good nickel bronze cups that Eäzinya liked to bring out for guests. Beside him, Eäzinya and Amárië had spread out the enwizda cloth in one long piece as they prepared to start on the Oraistar's robes. He stared at its golden sheen and shook his head. "By Manwë's eye, Sidaizon, nobody else in the world gets away with the things you do! You're arrested by the Hands, taken to the palace, tried by a disciplinary council for breaking the laws of the order, and what's the result? You're made an Oraistar. Anyone else would be in prison by now, but you... I mean no offence to your fair mother's honour when I say this, but your father must have been a Vala. Fate favours you too much."
Amárië laughed. "No, his father was only a Noldo. But we were a very unlucky pair, my Noldo and I. Perhaps our son stole all the luck from both of us, and so has twice as much as any one person needs."
"Or perhaps I am very talented to have done so well for myself?" Sidaizon offered.
"Whatever the case," said Auzëar, "I still don't believe it. Oraistar of Oichimyaiva. I never thought such a thing would be possible."
Oraistar of Oichimyaiva. Sidaizon repeated the words in his head. Even after two days of hovering at the front of his mind they seemed strange and foreign: no part of his own life. "I suppose we shall have to grow accustomed to the idea."
Humming a wordless sound of agreement, Auzëar finished his cup of tea and poured himself another. "Will you still be at the Lavazat? Or have you been given other duties?"
"Other duties. I'm to travel between the Lavazati in the poorer neighbourhoods, going among the people and hearing their voices. I'll be the King's liaison to the common folk. I don't think it ever occurred to him before that commoners lead different lives than his beloved lords, but now that it has he seems eager to understand those differences. Whether or not anything will change..." He let his words trail off with a shrug, and sipped his tea.
Auzëar said nothing, though by the way his brow creased and his mouth turned down it was clear his mind was on some grave thought. Sidaizon could guess what it was.
"We will need a new Almatar of Oichimyaiva now."
His frown deepening, Auzëar looked up. "I don't have your luck, Sidaizon. Even if I put my name forward, Oraistar Ingwírion would throw away my application the moment he read 'Auzëar Mótazyo'. You're the only one of us lowly peasants I know to become anything more than an assistant."
"So make your own luck," said Sidaizon.
He glanced over his shoulder; Eäzinya and Amárië stood on the far side of the room, wrapped in their discussion of the enwizda cloth and how best to cut it. Still, he leaned forward and spoke to Auzëar in a low voice. "When I applied for leadership Oichimyaiva, I somehow neglected to write my full name. Very unfortunate mistake. I suggest you do the same. If you write only 'Auzëar', Ingwírion has no way of knowing that you're not Auzëar Kemendur or Auzëar Mankar."
"He could always ask."
"Yes, well..." Sidaizon shifted to sit with one elbow resting on his knee. "Isn't it better to take that chance than to have Ingwírion dismiss you at once simply because you were born into the wrong class?"
Auzëar nodded, but remained quiet for a long moment before speaking again. "I'll consider it."
"Please do. You've been at that Lavazat well near three long-counts, and you'd be a far better man for the job than some high-born idiot." He smiled; Auzëar did not return the gesture. They lapsed into silence and poured more tea.
Auzëar would be the ideal candidate to take over the position of Almatar of Oichimyaiva; Sidaizon knew that much without having to consider. Longer than Sidaizon had been Almatar, Auzëar had been second in command, keeping the Lavazat in order with his steady presence and solid dedication to the service of Manwë. He had the knowledge and the wisdom, the faith and the temperament. He lacked only the ambition and the confidence.
Unfortunately, self-doubt in the face of opportunity seemed to put him in a low mood. "I should be off," he said, standing. "Thank you for the tea, Eäzinya. That was very kind."
"You're welcome any time," she replied.
"You won't stay for supper?" asked Sidaizon. "I sent Márathul and Nautalya to the market with far too much money and instructions to buy whatever outlandish food they desired so we can have a celebration. They should be back any time now, and I think it will be an interesting feast."
"No, thank you. Tea is enough. I only stopped by to be certain your family was well in your absence, and I found you returned and better off than ever. That's my work done. I should be on my way."
Sidaizon showed him to the door and out the front gate, taking the opportunity to look down the road for Márathul and Nautalya. The street was empty and they were nowhere to be seen, though he lingered a moment by the garden wall in wait. Then he returned inside to Eäzinya and Amárië. They still had made no progress on the robes. Eäzinya held her scissors in her hand, but looked afraid to bring them anywhere near the gold cloth.
"Do you want me to read you the instructions again?" Sidaizon asked.
She frowned. "No. We've measured and marked everything and measured and checked again, but... I want to make absolute certain before I cut this that it's right."
"How difficult can it be? You've made me dozens of Almatar's robes, and this is the same shape."
She and Amárië exchanged a look deploring his lack of knowledge in the great women's art of sewing. "Yes, but Almatar's robes are made of white linen, which is easily found at the market. If I cut linen wrong, it's possible to buy more."
"You've never cut linen wrong."
"I know, but if I did..."
"Here," said Amárië, holding out her hand. "I'll do it." She took the scissors from Eäzinya, who looked relieved to be rid of the burden of them, and knelt on the floor. Aligning the blades carefully with the pattern of chalk lines they had drawn, she hesitated long enough to draw one reassuring breath before beginning to cut. The scissors sliced cleanly through the rippling gold, and Eäzinya winced at the sight.
It seemed to Sidaizon that Amárië took a very long time in cutting along all the chalk, as if she were bent on making robes fine enough for Manwë himself, though he said nothing that might break the concentration that showed so plainly on her face. As she finished each piece, Eäzinya folded it carefully and set it aside to keep the edges from fraying too badly. They had just finished cutting and folding the last of the pieces when Márathul and Nautalya returned. Márathul carried a large basket and Nautalya a bundle the size of a baby, and both grinned broadly. Nautalya's excitement spilled out of her like an uncontained fountain.
"Attu! Attu, look what we bought! Look!"
The fare was no less extravagant than Sidaizon expected: soft white bread, fruit candied in powdery sugar, hard cheese from Tirion, a cake made with nuts, pouches of colourful spices, flavoured oil, and all kinds of fresh vegetables. And in Nautalya's bundle lay one of the rarest foods in Valmar: a fat, glassy-eyed fish.
"It's a fish from a cold lake in the mountains," she explained, "not from the river. So the vendor said the taste is much better."
"Have you ever eaten fish before to have such a preference in taste?" Sidaizon teased.
Eäzinya regarded the array of different foods with an uncertain expression, caught between curiosity and apprehension. Her mouth tightened as she looked at the speckled, grey body of the fish. "This is a lot of food, children. How much money did you-"
"I hope they spent all I gave them," interrupted Sidaizon. "We are celebrating, after all."
"There's no need to worry," he said. "We can afford a little celebration every once in a while. Don't think about the money. Let's think about eating, instead."
With a defeated sigh, Eäzinya dropped her hands to her sides. She nodded, more to herself than anyone else, and moved toward Márathul to have a better look at the basket he carried. "Before we think about eating, we need to think about cooking. How in the world do we cook a fish, anyhow?"
"I'll do it," said Márathul. "The man who sold it told me how. I'll need the big brass pan."
Somewhat reluctantly, Nautalya gave him the fish, which she had been cradling in her arms like a prized pet. As he seasoned it in the pan with lemon and hazelnut oil, Amárië set to work preparing a plate of vegetables for the side. Eäzinya watched them work through eyes still shaded by worry.
"You needn't be so concerned," Sidaizon murmured to her. He slipped his arms around her waist from behind, pulling her close. The soft, familiar scent of her hair and skin surrounded him and he breathed it in with simple gratitude. "We can afford a fish for supper on special occasions."
"Your mother and I looked at money while you were gone," she replied in a low voice. "One of the chores we did to pass the time. We have nothing saved, Sidaizon. Nothing put aside for Tarmanaz and Márathul to help them find brides, and nothing for wedding clothes for Nautalya, which she'll be old enough to need before we can afford them. Nothing to fix the roof if it leaks, or the floor if it cracks, and nothing at all to pay for that heated water you want. Everything you earn, we spend, with nothing left over. So we'll have to go without something else to pay for that fish. Unless the King has generously agreed to pay you more now that you're an Oraistar."
"Mm. That does sound dire. In that case, it's a lucky thing the King has promised to pay me more."
Her body stiffened in his arms and she turned her head, trying to look at him over her shoulder. "What? How much more?"
She spun around with a gasp of disbelief and he caught her again, clasping his hands behind her back as she gaped up at him. "He will truly pay you thirty kulustar per year?"
"No..." he said. A foolish grin began to twitch at the corners of his mouth, though this one he could not blame on any wine. "He will truly pay me thirty kulustar more per year."
Eäzinya's lips moved, but she made no sound. Silently, she leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. "Thirty more," she managed.
"Thirty more. That's forty-eight per year total, and enough that we'll never have to worry about how much our supper costs, whether it be fish or beans. We'll have money for everything we need and more besides. I will buy you silks and perfumes, and Tarmanaz and Márathul will marry into good families, and Nautalya will be draped in gold and pearls at her wedding. How does that sound?"
"Thirty more," was all that Eäzinya said.
"Thirty more," Sidaizon agreed. He kissed her hair and her cheek, and tilted her chin up to kiss her lips. "Now what do you say we get out the good dishes to eat our fish?"
Tarathandyo = the high ruling class, greatest and most powerful of all noble families of Taniquetil
Enwizda kuluva = gold samite or cloth of gold
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.