6. Passing as Arafinwë
In the silence of Eäzinya and Amárië's absence, the air between Sidaizon, Tarmanaz and Márathul hummed with the tension of stoppered arguments. Tarmanaz looked straight ahead at nothing, a foul expression twisting his lips, while Márathul feigned great interest in his feet. Only Nautalya dared to make eye contact.
"Well?" Sidaizon asked her. "Have you a complaint to voice at me as well?"
Her little face stared back at him with the look of a cornered mouse. "No," she whispered. Slowly, she stood up and crossed the floor, until she stood directly in front of him. She flung her arms about his waist. "I'm being good."
Half the worries of the day seemed to disappear right then, flowing out through the warm energy of Nautalya's embrace. Sidaizon sank down to his knees on the tiles and pulled her into his lap, so she could curl up in the circle of his arms and rest her head on his shoulder. "You are being good," he told her as he kissed her hair.
"Will you tell me a story?" she asked.
"A story? Now?"
"I suppose I can," Sidaizon said. "What kind of story?"
Nautalya snuggled closer against him, making herself comfortable. "A story about a princess. Tell me about Eärwen and Arafinwë."
"Eärwen?" laughed Sidaizon. "I've told you that story so many times, I think you should be able to tell me now."
"I know," said Nautalya. "But I still like it."
"Alright, alright. If you wish."
Nautalya grinned up at him, and Márathul shifted forward to better listen, not bothering to disguise his interest in something so childish as a story about a princess. Only Tarmanaz snorted and rolled his eyes, though he did not move away. Sidaizon cleared his throat to begin.
"This is a story my Amma, your Haruni Amárië, would tell me when I was little. Years ago, back in the days of the full glory of the Valar, the Noldorin King had three sons. They were Curufinwë Fëanáro, Nolofinwë Ingoldo, and Arafinwë Ingalaurë. Arafinwë was the youngest."
"And he had golden hair," Nautalya added, "like his mother, Indis. That's why he was named Ingalaurë."
"Yes, he had golden hair like his mother," said Sidaizon. "And everyone said he was very much like his mother. He spent half of each year of his childhood with her family on Taniquetil, and he was the only one of his brothers and sisters who loved his Minyarin heritage as much as the Noldorin."
"That's because he was the only one with golden hair. The others all had black hair."
Sidaizon looked down at Nautalya with raised eyebrows. "I thought you wanted me to tell the story?"
"Sorry." Nautalya ducked her head, and Sidaizon gave her a quick pinch in the ribs, earning a happy squeak in reply.
"So. Arafinwë grew to be a very handsome youth, and everyone agreed he was the fairest of Finwë's children. And this was saying something, because all of Finwë's children carried the gift of beauty. But Arafinwë was indeed the most beautiful, with his golden hair," he paused to smirk teasingly at Nautalya; "honey skin, and eyes that shone like blue-green gems. Everyone predicted that he would marry the most beautiful maiden in all of Valinor. But... nobody could agree who that was. There were simply too many beautiful girls to decide. Was it the girl who could weave her splendid hair into a plait the length and thickness of her arm? Or the girl with astounding eyes the colour of deep jade? What about the tall girl with a body like a young tree, who could run fast as a deer, or the girl with tiny feet and hands, whose little features were so perfectly proportioned she looked like a doll? And then there was the daughter of Ingwë's son, who lived high up on the mountain in a secluded palace. No-one but her closest family members had ever seen her face, but it was rumoured that the mingling of the Tree-light would stop in her presence, and she could charm birds down from the sky with only a flick of her eyelashes. Many people thought Arafinwë should marry her.
"As time rolled on toward to Arafinwë's fiftieth year, more and more maidens gathered to see him in the hope of being chosen as his wife and crowned the most beautiful of all. But although he agreed they were all very fair, he had no desire to wed any of them. His family asked why, and tried to seek out more and more girls to come to the royal palace of Tirion for an audience, but all he ever said was that he had not yet found the right one to marry. Out of hundreds of girls, not a one was the wife Arafinwë sought. Not even Ingwë's son's daughter. People started to lose hope, and they called him impossible to please."
"But that's not true!" Nautalya exclaimed.
"No, it wasn't true," said Sidaizon. "Arafinwë wasn't being picky, or conceited. But he did have a secret. Since he was about forty years old, he had been having a recurring dream. Often he would find himself dreaming of a lovely song floating on the wind. The song had no words, but it was such a happy, carefree melody that it filled his heart with joy to hear it. In his dream he followed the song, always through a different place. Sometimes he walked through a great palace, sometimes through a forest, or a field or hilly path. He would follow the song until he saw a lovely maiden dancing and singing in the distance. Then he would run to her, trying to see who she was, but the moment he caught a glimpse of her face he would awaken. And even though he only ever saw her in dreams, he somehow knew she was real. She was the only girl he would marry. So that was the reason he could not choose another; he had already fallen in love. Everywhere he went he looked for the face in his dream, though he never found her. He listened for the song, but he never heard it.
"Now, the singer in his dream wore a lilac dress, and her hair was pale and shone with the light of the Trees. Arafinwë guessed that she might be a high-born Minya. Every year he continued to spend much of his time with his mother's family, and he was always looking and listening for his dream maiden. He went to the grand houses of Taniquetil and wandered the streets of Valmar. There were times when he thought he came close, but still he did not find her. He became so obsessed with searching that at first he refused to go when his father summoned him home so that the family might make a trip to Alqualondë to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of Olwë's second son. But Finwë Noldóran insisted, and Arafinwë, who was forty-nine years old and still had to obey his father, reluctantly left Valmar to go home.
"He did not want to attend any celebrations in Alqualondë because he knew that the Telezin lords would take advantage of the opportunity to push more daughters and nieces his way. As soon as they arrived at Olwë's palace, he lost no time in slipping away from his family before they could find anyone for him to meet. He decided the best place to hide would be along the sea-cliffs past the garden, far away from where any girls were likely to be. He was nearly to the end of the garden when he heard the faint notes of a song on the breeze. Curious, he stopped where he stood and listened carefully. The music was coming from the direction of the beach, where he was headed. He continued forward, and soon enough he recognised fragments of the song in his dream. With a racing heart, he ran with all his speed and burst out of the garden gate and onto a plateau overlooking the thin strip of sandy beach below. Down at the water's edge, a maiden was dancing and singing as she collected shells."
"Eärwen!" whispered Nautalya.
Sidaizon nodded. "Yes, it was Eärwen. But Arafinwë did not know her name yet. All he knew was that she was the one he had chased in his dreams, and he needed to see her. But he was on top of the cliff, and she was down on the beach. He might kill himself climbing down. He told himself he had to try, though, because what if she disappeared before he had a chance to talk to her? He swallowed all fear and swung his legs over the edge. Slowly, trying his best to keep his hands and feet firmly on the rocky cliff face, he began his climb down. The sounds of her song floating up told him she was still on the beach, though moving further away. He tried to hurry, half climbing and half sliding down, until he was nearly at the bottom. Then the rocks broke away from under his feet and he fell down with a loud shout of fright.
"Luckily, he landed on the soft sand, though he was flat on his back and had the wind knocked out of him. He lay there on the beach, groaning and trying to catch his breath, and he realised he could no longer hear the girl's song. For a moment he thought he had lost her yet again, just as it happened in his dreams, and he nearly wept with frustration. But then he turned his head as he tried to sit, and saw her running to his side. She had heard him shout, and had come to see if he was hurt.
"Now that she was beside him, close enough to touch, Arafinwë found he had lost his voice. Here was the face he had seen in his dreams, framed by windblown silver hair. She did not have the thick plait of the girl in Tirion, nor the jade eyes. Her body was neither tree-like nor doll-like, and the mingling of the Treelight did not stop for her. But she was beautiful in her own way, a sweet and kind way, and Arafinwë loved her even more in person than he had in his dreams. They walked back through the gardens hand in hand and announced to their families their intention to marry. Arafinwë's family was so happy that he had finally found his match, and the daughter of Finwë's good friend, no less. Their joy was exceeded only by that of Eärwen's family.
"You see Eärwen was much older than Arafinwë, and the eldest of Olwë's children; she was close in age to Fëanáro, who was already married with three sons of his own. Eärwen's first younger brother had married some years earlier, and the second, whose birthday it was, had been betrothed for nearly a year. Her mother had started to worry she might never find a husband. Whenever she was asked why she had no interest in any of the young men she met, she would simply reply that she had not yet found the right one. Just like Arafinwë had said. So you see, they were waiting to find each other. They were married a year later and still live together happily to this day in Tirion."
Finishing the story, Sidaizon smiled down at Nautalya. She did not return the smile, but looked back at him crossly. "You missed a whole part," she said.
"What part is that?"
"The part about the test."
"Ah," said Sidaizon. "Well, that is pure fancy, added on to entertain little girls. The story about the dream and their first meeting is thought to be true, but the test-"
"I'll tell it then," Nautalya interrupted. She slid out of Sidaizon's lap to sit on the floor in front of him, feet tucked neatly beneath her in a formal storytelling pose. "It's the best part, and how Haruni Mari tells the story. Before they went back to their families, Eärwen told Arafinwë that because she was a princess, she couldn't agree to marry just anyone, even if he was a prince. She said he had to prove he was good enough for her. So she gave him a test and said, stand here with your eyes closed and I'll go hide. If you can see me in my hiding place from where you stand then that means you are a real prince and we are meant to be married. So Arafinwë closed his eyes and waited for Eärwen to hide. When he opened his eyes again he looked all around the beach, turning in a circle where he stood, but he couldn't see her anywhere. Then he was heartbroken because he had met the girl in his dreams but he couldn't pass her test. He closed his eyes again and prayed with all his hope to Izmo to make his dream come true. And then, just as he finished the prayer, he had a vision that he was walking forward. He kept his eyes closed and followed the vision until he walked straight into a waterfall that came down over the cliff from a stream. Eärwen was waiting behind the waterfall. She asked him, how did you find me so fast? And he said he was able to see her hiding place from where he stood on the beach."
"So you think Izmo helped them find each other?"
Nautalya nodded. "Yes. And then they decided to be married behind the waterfall that day, and the wedding a year later was just a ceremony for show."
"Nautalya!" said Sidaizon. He bit back a smile, trying to decide whether he should be amused or shocked. "Your grandmother tells you these scandalous stories?"
"Well no," Nautalya admitted. "Tarmanaz told me that last part."
Sidaizon lifted his curious gaze to Tarmanaz. "Is that so?" he asked.
Tarmanaz shuffled his weight from foot to foot while he crossed his arms and sucked on his teeth. "She always wants to hear the same stories over," he offered as his defence. "Sometimes I just make them more interesting."
"He does!" Nautalya added. "Once he said Eärwen took all her clothes off because they were wet from the waterfall." She lifted her hands to cover her mouth and giggled.
"You're an idiot," Márathul said to Tarmanaz.
"No, you're just a terrible role model for your sister," said Sidaizon. "I don't think it's appropriate to be telling her stories with such unsavoury endings, and I don't want to hear about you doing so any more."
"What am I supposed to tell her?" asked Tarmanaz. "They lived happily ever after and perfectly within the bounds of morality and law, never straying from the righteous path of good people?"
Sidaizon forced a nod. Everything had to be a challenge with Tarmanaz. "That would be acceptable," he said, and nothing more.
Shuffling again, Tarmanaz seemed to balance, undecided, on the line between speaking further and lapsing into another prickling silence.
"May I have your word that you will use better judgement in what sort of stories you tell Nautalya in the future?"
Tarmanaz grunted. "I guess. Though I didn't tell her anything she didn't already-" He stopped abruptly, eyes flicking to somewhere over Sidaizon's shoulder. "Ai! What do you think you're doing?"
Something soft and feathery tickled the back of Sidaizon's neck, and he heard Nautalya's voice speaking from behind him: "Now Attu looks like Arafinwë."
"What are you doing, Alya?" he asked.
"She has my hair!" said Tarmanaz. "She picked up my hair and put it on you!"
"I only wanted to see what it looks like," Nautalya replied. "It's nice. You should grow your hair this long. You look like Arafinwë."
"I do?" Reaching back, he could touch the length of hair where Nautalya held it to his neck. It lay heavily against his clothes: a rich sensation he had not felt in five hundred years. "How do you know what Arafinwë looks like?" he asked.
"I'm just imagining."
"Does your Amma look like Eärwen, then?"
"No," said Nautalya. "She'd have to have silver hair. If she had silver hair, she would. But you can be Arafinwë without her."
"Or you could be Yaranénon," Tarmanaz said with a sneer. "Are you sure you want that hair near you? Somebody might mistake you for the wrong kind of person, without your holy Almatar's style."
"Tarmanaz," Sidaizon began, but stopped himself even as the word formed in his mouth. An idea had flashed in his mind, sudden and perfect. And absurd. "You are right," he said quietly. "Absolutely right. I might be taken for Yaranénon with this long plait. Nautalya?"
Still holding the hair in place, Nautalya leaned over his shoulder far enough that he was able to see her face. "What?"
"Go to your mother's dressing table and get as many of her hair ties and pins as you can find. Bring them back to me. I need you to do something very important."
She frowned in confusion but did not ask why as she let Tarmanaz's severed plait fall. Sidaizon's eyes followed her as she hurried from the room. A minute later, she returned with her cupped hands full.
"Good girl. Now..." Taking one of the ties she had fetched, Sidaizon pulled his hair back into a short pigtail at the nape of his neck, then wrapped the top of Tarmanaz's plait in the same manner before giving it back to Nautalya. "What I need you to do," he told her, "is fasten this to my hair where I've tied it. Pin it in place as securely as you can. Will you do that for me?"
"Really?" she asked. Her eyes had widened with the happiness of a girl who could not believe her luck, and Sidaizon had to grin.
"Yes," he said. "Turn me into Arafinwë."
With a squeal of delight, Nautalya immediately set to work pinning the end of Tarmanaz's plait to Sidaizon's little pigtail, wrapping the whole thing in a thick ribbon to disguise the seam. She did it once, but grunted, dissatisfied with the result, and tried again. The second time was better.
"How is it?" Sidaizon asked.
"Much better than short hair." said Nautalya. "You look like Arafinwë now."
Sidaizon smiled at her. "Good. Very good. Thank you, Alya. Now, Tarmanaz," he continued, "fetch me those clothes you had last night."
"What?" Tarmanaz asked, and then, with immediate understanding, "No! Those are my clothes that I bought for me! There's no law against what clothes I can buy, so you can't have them!"
"I don't want to have them, Tarmanaz. I want to borrow them."
Tarmanaz's eyes became mean, suspicious slits. "Why?"
Carefully, Sidaizon stood. He kept one hand at his neck, where the severed plait met his own hair, wary that it might fall. But the pins seemed secure, and the ribbon held everything tightly. "I need to take the baby to her family," he answered. "To do so, I need to walk into a true nest of serpents. It should be easier if I look like one of them."
For a moment, Tarmanaz stood glaring. Then he shook his head, pushed his hair back, and knelt down by his folded mattress to retrieve the clothes. "I know it's going to be a horrible day," he muttered, "I might as well get a good laugh out of you looking Yaranénon." From beneath the mattress, he produced a pair of rumpled maroon breeches, a brown vest embroidered with red and green, and a golden-yellow shirt that appeared to be badly in need of washing. He threw all of it in a pile at Sidaizon's feet.
In five hundred years, as long as he had lived with short hair, Sidaizon had also lived with white clothing. The last time he had worn a coloured shirt, he had been forty-three years old. How strange it felt to look down at anything but white in his hands now. He took off his white shirt and pulled on the yellow one in its place, breathing in the unpleasant smell of sour ale as he did. He donned the baggy maroon breeches over top of his own white, and the vest over the shirt. It all felt wrong in numerous, small ways.
"This looks... a little dirty," he said.
"You look like you slept in it," said Márathul.
Tarmanaz gave a little hitch of laughter. "Well, the baby's family is all Yaranénon peasants. You'll look just like one of them. Only your hair is too clean."
"Do I still look like Arafinwë?" Sidaizon asked Nautalya.
"No," she answered. As if the question insulted her, she made a face. "Those clothes are ugly and Arafinwë would never wear something like that."
Her insult only made Tarmanaz laugh louder. "What would Arafinwë wear, then, Princess?"
"Lots of gold and silver," Nautalya said, crossing her arms over her chest. "And purple silk with jewels on it, and pearls, and a crown of course."
"Alas, I have none of that," said Sidaizon. "I shall have to make my journey as a peasant."
He placed a hand on top of Nautalya's head, ruffling her hair and causing her to shriek and bat his arm away. As he did, he could hear the curtain that covered the corridor to the bedrooms being pulled aside behind him. Eäzinya's footsteps entered the room and came to a sudden stop.
"Oh by the grace of Manwë!"
Grinning, Sidaizon turned to see Eäzinya, who stood wide-eyed with shock and clutching the baby to her chest. "Well, Sinya-Melitsa," he said. "How do you like it?" He held his arms out at his side and did a little turn on the spot to display the clothing.
"I do not," Eäzinya answered, shaking her head. "You gave me a fright! I thought you were your Yaranénon cousin, returned. What are you wearing? And your hair..."
"Tarmanaz's hair! Why in Manwë's good name are you wearing Yaranénon clothes and Tarmanaz's hair?"
"If I must deliver the baby to a Yaranénon family living in a Yaranénon neighbourhood, would it not do me better to look like one of them?" Sidaizon asked. "I can hardly walk over there looking like myself. I dare say few of them would be pleased at the sight of a Valadávan Almatar among them. Even those heretics would know me at once by my hair and robe."
"But where did you get the clothes?" asked Eäzinya.
Sidaizon, keeping Tarmanaz's secret, did not answer. "Is the baby ready to go?" he asked, changing the subject. "If the Yaranénon family lives where I think they might, it will take the better part of the morning to walk to that part of the city, and then Manwë only knows how long to find them. I want to leave as soon as possible. The sooner I go, the better the chance I have of returning before dark."
"She's ready," Eäzinya said, nodding. "But you should take a jar of goat's milk and a rag to feed her if you think the walk will be so long. She'll be hungry soon."
"And you should take Nautalya," said Márathul.
Eäzinya gasped at the suggestion, and stepped forward to clasp a protective hand over Nautalya's shoulder. "Nautalya! Why would he take Nautalya? No, it is far too dangerous!"
But Nautalya quickly squirmed out of her mother's grasp and tugged at Sidaizon's sleeve. Her eyes widened with excitement. "Yes! Take me, too! I want to go with you!"
"Nautalya, no," said Sidaizon. "Márathul was only being silly."
"I was not," Márathul insisted. "It will be safer. One man travelling alone, carrying a baby, will be a target for suspicion. But a man with a baby and a little girl looks like an everyday family. Suspicious eyes will slide right over you."
"And what if they do not?" asked Eäzinya. "Then my little Nautalya is in danger."
"Do you think they would harm her?" Márathul replied.
Eäzinya nodded sharply. "They are Yaranénon heretics. They don't behave reasonably, like we do."
"I do not think they would harm her, no," said Sidaizon. "But it is still a risk."
Bouncing on the spot, Nautalya tugged at his sleeve again. "Oh, Attu, please! Let me go! I want to go with you and the baby, please! I'll be good! I'll be so good! Please, please!"
"Alya..." he said.
"Attu, Attu, please!"
He shook his head. "No. It's not good for little girls to go wandering about the city. It's not only dangerous, but improper. I cannot take you with me."