3. The King's Laws Dismissed
He felt no closer to sleep by the time Eäzinya arrived, carrying a candle and a small tray. "Here," she said, kneeling down on the floor and handing him a cup. "Hot milk with nutmeg. Should help you rest."
With a grateful smile, he took a sip. "Thank you."
She smoothed a hand over his damp hair. "Was it hard today? The burial?"
"It's hard work, digging a grave," he answered. "And if you mean, was it unpleasant and hard on the spirit as well, then yes. It was that, too." He bowed his head, letting Eäzinya's hand slip down to his shoulder. "I have buried eighty-three now."
"You keep a count?"
"How can I not? I see the graves every day."
"Do you remember their names?"
"No," said Sidaizon. "I never even ask. Sometimes the families tell me, but I would rather not know. Hard as it is burying a corpse, it's harder still when you think that it used to be a living person."
He sighed and quickly finished his milk. Eäzinya's sad eyes scanned his face, as if searching for the right thing to say and finding no words. So, silently, she leaned in to wrap both arms around his neck. He caught her gladly. It was a comforting thing: her warm, breathing body against his chest. The two of them were alive and safe.
"Maybe we should go somewhere," Eäzinya murmured.
"Where? For what?"
"I mean move somewhere. We could leave here, leave the city, and go live on the mountain. Away from the Yaranénon folk."
"And then what would I do?" asked Sidaizon. "It would be difficult to lead the Lavazat if I were living too far."
"You could lead a different one, on Taniquetil."
"I am afraid only an Oraistar can do that. We unimportant Almatardi are stuck in the city."
Eäzinya pulled back just far enough to look at him. The shadows that fell across her mouth may have hidden a faint smirk; it was impossible to tell in the dimness. "Then you will have to become an Oraistar."
Laughing, Sidaizon pushed her away. "Now you are teasing me. Such a troublesome wife, to act so sweet only to say impertinent things a moment later."
"I am not teasing," she said. "I think you'd make a good Oraistar."
"And that is exactly why they won't have me. I'm not rich and arrogant enough."
"Well, it's still nice to imagine..." She gathered the candle, tray, and milk cup, and stood. "Do you think you can sleep now?"
"I can try."
"Close your eyes. And imagine you are somewhere else, far away. That helps me sometimes."
As Eäzinya shut the door behind her, Sidaizon leaned back and closed his eyes. All those worries still clattered and crashed, but if he focused his will, he could almost hold them steady. He could follow Eäzinya's instructions. On the surface of his mind, above everything else, he concentrated on some distant land. He let his thoughts fly over the house, over the city, over Aman, and across the great ocean to a land he had never seen. He imagined an island ringed with soft sand, surrounded by waves that flashed blue and green in the sunlight. And there he stood, on the beach. The sound of surging water and its strange, briny smell caught him in a familiar hold. As if he had been there before.
He, as the man in the vision, held out his arm to the sun. He, as Sidaizon in the dark bedroom in Valmar, lifted his arm. The sun's warmth shone down on his skin. He turned his hand over, palm facing upward, and felt the heat of the day. In the bedroom in Valmar, a world away from this imagined beach, he could feel the sun on his hand. He could smell the salt spray and beached seaweed baking in the afternoon heat. The common sounds of the courtyard, animals and voices, had disappeared, replaced by rhythmic waves.
Immediately, his eyes snapped open, and the scene vanished. He pulled his arm back down to his chest. It had been a fantasy, nothing more: a brief and vivid moment of imagination. The lingering sea-smell and echoing sea-sounds were only the tricks of a dream. He had never been to the ocean and likely never would go. How foolish, to even consider such a thing.
Through the bedroom wall, while he lay still and tried to think of nothing at all, he heard the groaning of the pump and the splashing of water against tiles as the others had their nightly wash. Eäzinya returned shortly after the pump finished for the fourth time. She was only a darker shadow in the already dark room, but Sidaizon could still make out her shape well enough to watch as she cleaned her teeth and stood in the corner for a quick prayer.
"Are you awake?" she asked when she turned back to the bed.
Eäzinya quickly undressed and lay down. "I was worried I would disturb you."
"You didn't," said Sidaizon. "But I had a strange vision. I did as you said, and imagined I was someplace far away. And there I found myself. On an island across the sea. At first I saw myself as if from above, like through the eyes of a bird, but then it changed and I saw what I would see if I were standing there on the beach. In the vision I could feel the sun on my skin, but my real skin felt that warmth as well. And I could hear the waves as clearly as if they were right here in this room. It felt as if... as if I were somewhere I knew. But it frightened me, so I opened my eyes, and it all disappeared. Has that ever happened to you?"
"No," Eäzinya answered. "But I always imagine I go silly places. Like forests made of huge flowers instead of trees, and I am the size of a beetle."
"Then I think I must be worrying too much, and my mind is playing tricks on me." Sighing, he turned over to lie on his front and press his face into the pillows. Eäzinya's hand, cool and soothing, came to rest on his back, rubbing a circular pattern down his spine.
"I'm worried too," she said. "About Tarmanaz. He's not come home yet."
Sidaizon moved his head only enough to speak clearly. "He's ninety-eight years old. Worrying about him is like worrying over the whereabouts of the moon during the day. And Manwë knows I need no more worries."
"I know, but he's still my boy, and with everything happening today..."
"He's not stupid enough to become involved in any rough situations," Sidaizon assured her. If he spoke it aloud, he could believe it himself. "How many nights have we seen him recently? And yet he's always there in his bed by morning. He's likely out spending all his money on gambling and too much food and cheap gifts for girls he fancies. It's what young men his age do."
Eäzinya laughed a little, though an edge of strain still sounded in her voice. "They do? Is that what you did?"
"No. I was far too respectable." He nodded to her with a solemn expression. "I spent all of those hedonistic years trapped in a school up on the mountain, where there was no money, no gambling, not much food, and certainly no girls."
She laughed again, more at ease, and moved close enough to rest her forehead against his shoulder. "We should send him there. He could study to be more like you. And I'd sleep better knowing he was somewhere safe."
"Ah, but you can't force a person into that life. It's harder than you could ever imagine, and most of those who start never finish their training. Sixty years of only studying and prayer, being told what you can think and how you must act, never allowed so much as one step outside of the school walls..."
For a long and heavy pause, Eäzinya did not speak, but continued to lightly circle her fingers over his skin. "But you did it," she finally said.
He shifted onto his side, slipping one arm beneath Eäzinya's pillow and the other around her waist. From so close, he could smell the sweetness of her breath and see the brightness of his own eyes reflected in hers. He pressed a soft kiss to her lips and smiled against the feeling of it. "I had no other choice, did I?" he whispered.
He left the bedroom as soon as Eäzinya's breathing fell into the slow rhythm of deep sleep. Not even her calming presence had strength enough to quiet the storm in his head. He needed to think, not sleep, and he always thought better out in fresh air. And so Sidaizon found himself standing in the doorway to the courtyard, watching a neighbour's cat prowl for mice in the moonlight. Seven other houses shared that courtyard, and all of the families within looked to be safely asleep. Neither candle nor lantern shone through any window.
After the tension of the day, night had arrived in the form of soft silence. He could hear no shouting in the streets, no threats, no angry sounds: no noise at all. Even the goats had quieted their bleating. A wind came up from the east bearing only the innocent smells of animals and cooking fires, not destruction. It was hard, in the face of such a contradiction, to keep hold of too much fear. He leaned against the door frame, and gradually let his chaotic thoughts spin themselves out. They sputtered and died one by one, cooled by the breeze that rustled the grass and whirled a little circle of dust around his feet.
He stood and breathed in the quiet night air until his shoulder ached from leaning so long and he could no longer hold back the yawn welling up in his throat. Carefully, he shut the door, and crossed the room as noiselessly as possible to avoid waking Márathul, who slept in the corner by the kitchen. Flawless in his role as the good brother, Márathul had already laid out Tarmanaz's bed.
Sidaizon had reached the corridor curtain and pulled it back when a sound from behind made him pause where he stood. Holding his breath, he listened. Again, behind him, the front door rattled, but only softly. Someone outside tested it. Whoever stood on the other side pressed the latch and pulled the handle with a great deal of care, trying to enter stealthily.
In four steps, Sidaizon was there, feeling suddenly as awake as he had ever been. The lock rattled, and each shake sped his heartbeat; the wooden peg held, but only against such light force. He leaned against the wall and prayed his voice remain calm as he spoke to the crack between door and frame: "Alla, who is there?"
The rattling stopped. One moment stretched into several, where Sidaizon could hear nothing but the sound of his own hard breathing against the doorframe. And then, a muffled voice answered.
"Why is the door locked?"
The relief that followed those words fell over Sidaizon's shoulders like a heavy cloak. He let himself sag against the wall under its welcome weight, and fumbled to open the latch. "Tarmanaz," he whispered to the figure in the dark. "Oh, thank Manwë, it's you."
"Of course it is," Tarmanaz replied. "Who else? Why was the door locked?"
"We had some trouble earlier. I thought you would know to go around back. Come in, come in..." He ushered his son through the door and shut it again firmly behind him, sliding the lock-peg back into place. Tarmanaz stumbled past, holding one hand against the side of his head.
Sidaizon's breath hitched. "Your head! What happened?"
Turning around, Tarmanaz dropped his hand. He swayed unsteadily as he stood, but no blood marred his golden hair, nor did he show any sign of injury. "Nothing happened. I'm tired."
"Where were you?"
"Stayed at Haru Vida's for supper. Went out with the others. Played some tiles and had a tea." With a sudden and bright grin, he stepped backward, and nearly lost his balance as his shoulder hit the corner of the wall.
"You had a tea?" Sidaizon asked sharply. "Or beer?"
Tarmanaz offered no answer, but steadied himself with a hand on a nearby windowsill. "I'm tired," he said again, speaking through a smile that had only halfway faded. "Need to sleep."
"You are drunk!"
Closer, the sourness of alcohol lingered beneath the smell of the day's stale sweat and spicy food. It stuck in Sidaizon's nose as he grabbed Tarmanaz about the collar, pinning him where he stood. "Where were you?"
The defiant half-smile stayed firmly in place, and Tarmanaz said nothing. Sidaizon clenched his fists, pulling all of his willpower into the effort of not simply ending the standoff by striking his son. Instead, he held his eyes steadily on Tarmanz's face. "Tell me where you were," he said.
Again, Tarmanaz remained silent. He returned the gaze calmly and evenly, as if he were looking at nothing more than a rock or a tree or a wall of a house.
Of all the children, the family had always declared, Tarmanaz was the only one who took more after Sidaizon than Eäzinya. But while the others held only a passing resemblance to their mother, Tarmanaz's similarity to Sidaizon was more than remarkable. They stood at the same height, spoke in nearly identical voices, and shared the same straight, slightly Noldorinised facial features. Tarmanaz's eyes were a little wider, and his face a little more rounded, but the differences seemed few alongside the innumerable and striking ways in which they were alike.
The night's shadows blurred those few differences further. It was like watching himself in a vague mirror as Sidaizon stood head to head with Tarmanaz. Only the inexact reflection showed none of the fear, none of the anger, and none of the tension he felt, but stared back dully. How unnerving a thing, to see his own eyes return a flat, almost haughty expression; it made the back of his neck prickle. He could only stand it a moment.
"Go to bed, boy," Sidaizon murmured, dropping his head and releasing his grip on Tarmanaz's shirt. "I am too weary for this tonight. We can argue about your actions in the morning, and you can tell me where you went and relate the miracle of how you were not attacked by thugs, dressed the way you-"
He stopped abruptly. It was a minor difference, and something he had failed to notice in the dark, but now that he saw it, the sight made his stomach twist. "Oh I see," he whispered. "The clothes. Tarmanaz... where did you get them?"
Tarmanaz looked away, shifting his attention to the blank wall to his left, and shrugged. "Bought it all."
He was not wearing the same clothes he had worn when he left the house that morning. The usual loose trousers and tunic had been replaced by knee-length breeches and a tie-up vest over a shirt with fitted sleeves to the elbow. While Tarmanaz's clothes were normally made of bleached linen, these were coloured: likely red and blue, though it was impossible to tell without more light.
"And this is what you do at night?" Sidaizon asked him in a low voice. "Put on a gaudy costume so you can pass as Yaranénon and drink at their beer houses?"
For the first time, Tarmanaz showed a flash of life, pulling him out of his apathy. "Have I a choice? All the places I would honestly go refuse to sell anything but food and tea after sundown!"
"They are only following the King's law," said Sidaizon. "And that law, to which we are bound, forbids-"
"It forbids me from having a drink in a public house after a day of work," Tarmanaz interrupted. "But any Yaranénon man can go out and do just that all night if he wants. Those laws don't apply to them. So why should they apply to me?"
"They apply to you because they are the laws of what is good and right! If you had any sense of decency, you would follow them, regardless of what those heretics do!"
A look of wry smugness passed over Tarmanaz's face. "And if I choose not to?"
"You will be arrested," Sidaizon answered simply. "And I think you will find that a prison cell is far more unpleasant than temperance."
Tarmanaz laughed. "No," he said, "I won't. Do you know why? Because those laws that close the beer houses at sunset are the same laws that call me Noldorin by blood. Were I ever taken to court, any judge would have no choice but to see that, Valadávan or not, the King's laws cannot be forced upon a Noldo."
"You must be very drunk to be speaking such nonsense," said Sidaizon. The growing fury and wish to strike Tarmanaz were nearly too much to bear, but he kept his arms clenched at his sides and his voice calm. "We are not a Noldorin family."
"Pretending not to be, maybe. Acting like good Minyar. But you must know the law books better than I, Attu; you've studied them all these years. And it says plainly in the book of family that all birthright is descended through the father's side. You had a Noldorin father. Therefore, so do I. And any sons of mine or Márathul's will, and their sons, and theirs, and everyone down countless generations. All Noldorin by blood, no matter how many good Valadávan marriages we make. Failenda and Nautalya were lucky to be born girls; they can leave the cycle and have Minyarin children by their Minyarin husbands. But for the rest of us, I think we should take advantage of the situation. Enjoy it. What good is there in being legally Noldorin if we can't use our traitor's blood to live outside the law?"
Where before there had been too many thoughts beating through Sidaizon's head, now too many emotions coursed. Anger chased away the fear of the day, which in turn lost its hold to anxiety, defeat, and feeble weariness. Then each returned as quickly as it had passed. He could not think straight, between the wreckage of confusion and Tarmanaz's faulty truth. Slowly, he shook his head. "I cannot even try to make sense of you tonight. You are mad, boy."
Tarmanaz grinned. "No. Not mad. Just drunk." He held still a moment, frozen as the ridiculous grin spread across his face, and then began to laugh: at first quietly in his throat, but soon with enough strength that it forced him to the floor, bent over and gasping for breath on his knees.
"Be quiet!" Sidaizon hissed. "Do you want to wake the house with your idiocy?!"
Holding a hand to his mouth to stifle the noise, Tarmanaz coughed, but his consideration showed itself too late. Márathul's blankets rustled and a sleepy call of, "What's going on?" came from the corner of the room.
"Nothing," Sidaizon quickly replied. "Your brother is home. Go back to sleep, Máro."
Shakily, Tarmanaz pulled himself to his feet, and staggered to his waiting bed with his hands still over his mouth as he choked on his stunted laughter. Márathul had propped himself up on his elbows for a better look at the spectacle, but said nothing through his yawns as Tarmanaz shuffled past.
"You don't see need to wash before bed?" asked Sidaizon.
Tarmanaz snorted and coughed again. "Noldor don't have to." Roughly, he stripped off his clothes, but took great care in folding and hiding them beneath his mattress.
Sidaizon shook his head, bit his lip, and made no comment. Whatever other clothing and secrets hid beneath Tarmanaz's bed could wait until morning. "Good night, boys," he said.
"Good night," answered Márathul, while Tarmanaz only made a huffing sound as he flopped onto his front.
With Tarmanaz safely in bed, Sidaizon returned to his own room, feeling every bit as agitated as he had when he left. Eäzinya still slept peacefully in the weak, blue moonlight. He settled into bed as carefully as he could, trying not to wake her, but she stirred and lifted her head as he slid beneath the covers.
"Where did you go?" she asked.
"Just to the front door." He paused before adding, "Tarmanaz is home."
Eäzinya sat fully upright. "Oh? Where was he? Nothing happened to him?"
"No. Nothing happened. He is fine." Meeting her gaze, Sidaizon forced himself to smile. Fear shone plainly in her bright eyes, and truth would calm none of that fear in the middle of the night. "He stayed at my grandfather's house and lost track of time, debating with his cousins. But now he is home and safe, and all is well."
"Alla, thank Manwë," Eäzinya sighed. "I was so worried about him... That is good news."
She lay back down, and Sidaizon lay with her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders to keep her close. "Yes. It is good news." He touched his forehead to hers and exhaled against her cheek. "All is well."
Minyar: Vanyar (they do not call themselves 'Vanyar')
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.