So AMC is here, now, so that I don't need to slip out of weekend reverie to post tomorrow and I don't have to worry about forgetting. (Which is always a possibility. Tomorrow feels like Saturday to me, after all, not Friday.)
There are only four chapters and an epilogue left in AMC. Last weekend, this realization kept coming upon me at odd moments: Four chapters. I would mention it randomly to Bobby, "Can you believe there's only four chapters left? Four chapters!"
The remainder of the chapters--save the epilogue--come from the PoV of Maitimo. I find it interesting when you all tell me whose sections are your favorites; I think just about all of the characters have a fan out there somewhere. But when I devised and first wrote AMC, Maitimo was the star of the story, so it makes sense that the story would end from his perspective.
This chapter is rated for general audiences. There is a mention of a mention of nudity, but it's so silly that most of you probably won't even notice it.
That's that. Here's Chapter Forty-Eight.
Three chapters left. o.O
We leave Alqualondë before the Mingling of the Lights this morning, taking a special carriage bearing messages from Olwë to Tirion. He gives special instructions to leave us at our father’s house, though, so that we will be home by evening.
Macalaurë sits beside me and sleeps with his head resting on my shoulder. He is drooling on my good robes but I cannot bear to wake him and complain. So much has changed since the last time we found ourselves upon this road, Macalaurë asleep upon my shoulder. He has grown; I have—I hope—begun to heal. We both return to our father with honors we did not have upon leaving. Still, he naps against me; he slavers like a small child. Still, I let him.
I have parchments on my knees—parchments that I wrote—that now mean more because of my titles. Now, people other than my father will read and debate them. A vestigial place deep inside of me feels a warm glow of pride at the thought but I am more concerned with a passage that is mired in long words that I doubtlessly thought impressive at the time that actually make my meaning nearly incomprehensible. Moving carefully to not disturb Macalaurë, I take out a bit of charcoal and make aggressive slashes over my perfect letters. They will have to be rewritten anyway, and this will save me the trouble of riffling through the stack of parchments to find the place again.
Laurelin brightens into late morning. The carriage hits a bump that drives my shoulder-bone into Macalaurë’s temple, and he groans and stirs. Sitting up, he rubs his head and glances around us. We are moving quickly across the bland plains that stretch between Tirion and Alqualondë; even the blue sky over our heads is nearly cloudless, a blank expanse of blue. Macalaurë yawns and his stomach grumbles. “Have we anything to eat?” he asks, blinking in the bright midday light.
We have thick bread and honey, and I retrieve it from my satchel and sit it on the bench between us. I eat slowly, hoping that he will not notice how little I eat. My appetite has been reluctant lately, even when I know I should be hungry. Dressing this morning, alone for once, while Macalaurë washed in the bathroom, I studied my body in the mirror, letting my fingers rattle down ribs that Annawendë once named too pronounced and that now appear grotesquely prominent even to me. I’d turned my back on my reflection and dressed quickly, before Macalaurë reappeared.
“New Year Festival in a week,” I say, to make conversation, and I am surprised to see Macalaurë scowl.
“How are you dressing?” he asks, staring into the pot of honey through which he is dragging his bread. A bead of it drips onto his chin, but I will wait until he’s finished to clean it away.
I laugh with the realization that I haven’t any idea. How quickly the trivialities in life are forgotten when worries weighty enough to disturb one’s sleep take over their precedence! “I have not thought of it,” I say. “Probably, I will go as Fire again. I haven’t time to make a new costume. How about you?”
“I am going as a wraith,” he says. “Atar and I have been working on my costume since we came home from Formenos.”
I am surprised by this, but I am careful not to show it. Although, I suppose, I should not be surprised: I have been away two days a week to tutor Findekano, and even when I was home, I was distracted by studies and worries of my own, too much to notice what my father and my brother were up to.
The New Year, in the days before our people came to Valinor, was known to be the coldest and darkest day in the Hither Lands. More Elves were rumored to disappear on that night than any other, and so the people would build the fires high and stay close, sharing the warmth, and drinking fermented juices until their heads spun and laughter surged easily through their throats and they momentarily forgot their fear. They would paint their faces and dress in costumes that mocked and defied those that hunted them, some dressing like the enemies they reviled and others dressing like the heroes that peppered their legends, those who were said to have faced the Dark One himself and triumphed. They would dance around the fires, their legs flying in a blur, whirling, spinning them through the darkness, full of such brutal courage that their movements were no longer beautiful; they snapped with the raw energy of lightning—sizzling, deadly—of that which alone could fight the evil that hunted them. With sticks for swords—and later, the raw iron blades forged by my grandfather and his lords—they would dance duets, heroes against beasts, that were never choreographed but understood to demonstrate the triumph of that which is good. Snarling, gyrating, thrashing in the dirt, those who were dressed as beasts became akin to those that hunted our people, their eyes wide and terrifying—showing whites all around—their lips skinned back from teeth made bloody by biting on their lips. They were the beasts; they were the allies of Darkness—until the dance was over and they arose, with smiles on faces that had magically, it seemed, become those that belonged to the father, sister, or cousin who, for a moment, seemed lost to the beast.
Upon arriving in Valinor, the visceral joy that had marked the New Year celebration was abandoned first by the Vanyar, who felt it an affront to the Valar to continue indulging in something that no longer served the purpose that it had in the Hither Lands. They opposed the New Year tradition and spent it instead, praying their loyalty to the Valar.
The Teleri, upon their arrival in Valinor, were eager to forget the horrors that had marked the New Year—for all its being cloaked in drunken celebration—and followed the lead of the Vanyar but not out of loyalty to the Valar. Their New Year celebration became cultivated: The costumes became an ostentatious show of glistening silks and pearls; no longer did they don the mangy furs of beasts and paint their faces with mud but wore delicately feathered masks in honor of that which was beautiful rather than that which they feared.
The Noldor, though close in friendship to both the Teleri and the Vanyar, found it hard to relinquish the New Year tradition.
It became more cultured, true: No longer did they writhe on the ground in imitation of the death throes of the enemy, and the costumes and the music became things of beauty. But the acts continued, with pairs often practicing for weeks to give homage to the ancestors who had needed skill with sword and bow in daily life, to ensure the births of the offspring who now honored them.
Some of the lords oppose the celebration. They appear at the New Year Feast of the King because they feel it their duty to do so, but they wear their dress robes and sneer at the performances and make no secret that they think it dishonorable to the Valar to perpetuate the traditions that developed in absence of their protection.
Our father, of course, promotes the continuation of the tradition.
The question is raised every few years, if the Noldor will follow the lead of the Vanyar and finally relinquish the New Year Feast or at least change it to better befit out situation in Valinor, as the Teleri had done. One of the few counsels I have attended with my father had dealt with this question, and Atar—normally silent on matters of daily governance of the people—had stood and spoke for a long time. His voice had never been raised to uncivilized volumes, but nonetheless, his words had been as whiplashes against the backs of those who opposed the New Year Feast. “Who do we honor more?” he had asked. “The Valar? Or those of our own people who suffered and died to bring us here? The New Year is not an affront to the Valar but homage to our ancestors and our history, both of which have undeniably given us the strength we now so proudly possess.”
Fists had curled and uncurled on robed knees and teeth worried lips, but no one had wished to stand after Atar, and the question—as far as I know—hasn’t been raised since.
Atar has dressed me as Fire since I was old enough to attend the New Year Festival. Even now, it is my costume of choice, and I have beautiful robes made of sheer fabric in many layers of red, gold, and orange, woven through with actual strands of metal so that the light catches them and dances upon them as flames upon darkness. Macalaurë’s costume changes from year to year, but it is always something horrible. He has gone all in black—even his faced darkened by soot—as Night; he has gone as Fire Demons and fell spirits and has always made his own costumes and kept them secret until descending the stairs from his bedroom on the night of the celebration. Not this year, it seems. This year, he had Atar’s consultation, as I usually do.
Not that I should complain. Macalaurë deserves to at last enjoy a close relationship to our father, as I have done since my birth, when it had never been a secret that I was the favored son, even when Macalaurë arrived and strove to impress Atar, opposed always by his nature, which had seemed always to defy our father.
I realize that a long silence has fallen between us. “A wraith?” I ask, seeking to re-inspire the conversation. “How shall you do that?”
“It is a secret. You shall have to be surprised,” he says enigmatically, and I am shocked by the hurt that seizes my heart in its relentless, jealous grip.
I smell home before I see it: I smell the pungent odor of wood burning and the deep, liquid scent of the forest, of leaves, that seems to deepen near our home as it does nowhere else in Valinor, as though the earth is expressing its love for our father.
The silver light pours through the forest canopy overhead and dapples the shadows with patches of light. I cannot help but feel my heart beating faster and lighter in my chest as the road becomes familiar: I have missed home; I have missed my brothers and my parents. I have missed the languid afternoons in the library and the deep discussions I have in the laboratory with my father, where time ceases to matter and we often emerge, our stomachs hollow with hunger, blinking in light that has changed significantly since one of us posed an innocent question hours before and conversation meandered from there, a river winding across unexplored terrain—crashing, roaring, bubbling—to the sea.
Beyond that, in my heart, lies a fool’s hope: that she will have returned. I do not expect her to return, for I saw on the night that she rejected my proposal that her love for her betrothed would not be dislodged by something as banal as that which I’d promised to provide her. Even to love one as fair as I cannot equal the immutable joy of waking daily beside one you love and will continue to love, even when the passions of the flesh have receded to memory.
It is a foolish hope and one that I have tried to squander—knowing that a steely heart is torn far less easily than one left hopeful and vulnerable—but I find myself peering through the silvery darkness, in the direction of the apprentices’ cabins, seeking a warm light in a window, the shadow of an expectant form on the step. I see nothing, but hope is not lost. Hope is not lost until the New Year, for she said that she would decide and return before then if she chose me.
Macalaurë sees the light in my eyes and smiles. He does not share my joy at our homecoming, I know—he left behind his Vingarië and a people more alike to him in temperament and talent than anyone in our family—but he is happy for me, and in time, he will fall into the rhythm that is life in our home outside Tirion and our month in Alqualondë will be like a beautiful dream.
We pass through the gates and my heart quickens all the more. Even Macalaurë is turned to lean eagerly out the window, to stare at the familiar sprawl that is our house, sharing in my laughter, in my joy at being home. The carriage has no sooner stopped and we are leaping to the ground, lifting our trunks before the driver has the chance to secure the reins and disembark, shouting our gratitude and leaving the trunks behind, on the ground, until later, until we have greeted our family.
We scramble, pushing, through the door, into the familiar vestibule. Atar’s riding boots are toppled over by the door and there is a trail of mud leading back to the kitchen that suggests that he probably wore them throughout the entire house before being caught by Amil and made to leave them at the door. We turn into the front parlor, which is empty, but in its usual state of disarray—albeit, slightly lessened, without Macalaurë and me as contributors—with a green cloak belonging to Tyelkormo balled up in one of the chairs and an impressive pile of half-finished mending kicked across the floor and one of Atar’s books opened on the sofa and sat upon, by the looks of its sadly flattened spine.
There is a tin of biscuits half-eaten—and Macalaurë wastes no time in sampling one—and crumbs on the floor and a Strategy game begun and not finished, although by the looks of it, someone was losing miserably, so perhaps that is for the best. There is an empty hum of silence in the house, atypical and disconcerting.
“Where is everyone?” Macalaurë asks, around the biscuit.
“Perhaps they are eating supper,” I say, but it is too silent even for that, for suppers in our family are noisy affairs, and even when Atar and Amil are buried in angry silence, there is more commotion than we now hear.
We progress through the house and follow the mud-tracks back to the kitchen, and at last, we find Amil, stirring something on the stove. I halt in the doorway, shocked by the slump of her shoulders and her hair in an unkempt tangle down her back. “Amil?” Macalaurë calls, tentatively, and she whirls with a gasp, crossing the kitchen—bumping gracelessly into the table, her teeth bared in a grin—to hold us in her arms.
“My sons! My beautiful Macalaurë and Nelyo…I did not expect you home so soon!” she says. She kisses each of us and exclaims with such joy that I sense she is more grateful than gladdened by our arrival. She is acting, and in our father’s house, this is disconcerting, for emotion blazes forth here as it does nowhere else, in effusive billows, like flames left to swell beyond their confines, out of control. We do not control our emotions by acting here.
Macalaurë does not seem to notice. He returns her embrace while she worries over how thin he has become away from the rich Noldorin meals we are regularly fed, replacing it instead with a lighter Telerin diet, hard work, and worries. I look over her shoulder at the pot that is now bubbling on the stove. “Are you cooking supper?” I ask, and she starts and scurries over to stir the contents of the pot back into placidity. “Where is Atar?”
“Oh. Your father.” I come up behind her and take the spoon and remove the pot from the heat. “Nelyo, do not bother with that! I am merely reheating what he prepared earlier in the week. Your father has been very busy—”
“His usual projects,” she says, with a conspiratorial smile. She takes the pot from my hand. “Leave it, Nelyo. Please. You would be greater help to get your brothers washed for supper.”
“I would, if I knew where they were—”
“I sent them to their bedrooms to play quietly. Your father has been very busy.” Her eyes dance from mine, evading questions, as she nudges me toward the door. “It would be a great help—”
Then I am outside of the kitchen, nonplussed, while Macalaurë is connived into setting the table. She is bustling, too busy for questions—not that Macalaurë is the type to ask them—stirring things noisily and moving everywhere in a flurry. I shake my head and move toward the stairs and my brothers.
It is not difficult to find them. They are sitting on the floor, in the hallway, outside the suite that Atar reserves for our rare special guests. Grandfather Finwë had stayed there, when Carnistir was born. Amil’s parents stay there when they visit, and Atar gives it to important scholars who come to hold counsel with him regarding lore and language. Tyelkormo kneels on the floor with his ear pressed to the wood, blatantly eavesdropping. Carnistir sits cross-legged, facing the door, with his palm flat against it, his eyes only inches away and squeezed shut. They neither see nor hear me. I stand at the end of the hallway, watching them, watching as Tyelkormo stands to move his ear to a higher part of the door. Carnistir leans forward and licks it.
I clear my throat, and they both jump, and Carnistir starts to squeal, but that quickly, Tyelkormo’s hand is over his mouth, his other hand indicating that he should be quiet. Absurdly, I find myself obeying, creeping down the hall to whisper, “What are you two up to?” gathering Carnistir into my arms. His head rolls back and forth, looking from me to the door, back to me, back to the door, until I seize his chin and force him to look at me. “Hmm? What are you doing?”
Tyelkormo puts his finger to his lips again and takes my hand and leads me down the hall to his bedroom. Once inside, he closes the door and leans forward, his blue eyes very bright, wide and honest, and says, “We are spying on Atar’s guest.”
“Atar has a guest?” I ask, feeling silly for having to glean such information from my fifteen-year-old brother. “Who is his guest?”
“We do not know. Atar brought him here in the night, while we were all asleep, and he hasn’t come from his room. Well,” says Tyelkormo enigmatically, “we suppose that the guest is a ‘he.’ But we do not know. He comes down not for meals, nor for socialization. Atar takes his meals with him and to hold counsel, he says. But we never hear them talking.”
Carnistir is still in my arms, and he is looking into my face with his brow furrowed and worried. “He looks like you, Nelyo. Silver. Beautiful.”
“Carnistir perceives much of our guest.” Tyelkormo snorts in derision, for he is our father’s son, taught skepticism with the same certainty that others are taught trust in the Valar.
Carnistir goes on to say, “But what came to pass for him needn’t come to you, Nelyo—” I look with alarm at my baby brother, who speaks with a wisdom and in a voice beyond his years, and his eyes glisten with tears.
“Oh, for Eru’s sake, hush, Carnistir!” snaps Tyelkormo, and obediently, with a final strident cry, Carnistir falls silent, plugging his thumb into his mouth. Tyelkormo turns back to me. How he has embraced his role as the eldest son! His blue eyes are confident; he expects to be acknowledged and trusted. Do I look that way, I wonder? Is that why people perceive me to be a great leader, when really, the only ones I lead are my eccentric and unruly little brothers? “I think Atar might be mad,” Tyelkormo says.
I laugh nervously. “Where do you hear such things, little one?” Tyelkormo scowls at hearing the old pet-name, firmly put back into his place as the third-born, whose opinion matters little in our family. “Of madness?”
“From Macalaurë,” he says, and I silently curse my brother and his obsession with morbid tales and, furthermore, his liking for scaring our little brothers with them. “He said that Elves went mad in the Hither Lands—”
“He tells you that to scare you, Turko,” I interrupt, and Carnistir whimpers and squirms in my arms. “There is no such thing as madness. That belongs to the beasts; Eru’s children are immune from such maladies.”
Chagrined, Tyelkormo’s gaze falls from mine. His mouth is pinched, as though he took a mouthful of lemon juice; he angrily twists a strand of his honey-gold hair, yanking it until I fear it might break. I soften my voice and reach done to stroke his satiny head, turning his chin to me. “Come, now, little one. I was sent to ready you for supper. Surely, you must be hungry?”
His eyes blaze, and for a moment, I think that he might answer me insolently. I sense the words there, like acid, behind his lips. His face is a mask of agony with them. But then, his expression smoothes and he looks down at his feet, and his blond head bobs in a nod.
“Good,” I say gently. “Then why don’t you go and wash your hands and face, and I shall help your brother?”
I send Tyelkormo and Carnistir to the kitchen to help Amil with a swat to their behinds and a promise of Telerin candies for those who does best, sending them scurrying and tumbling over each other in their haste to be the first through the door.
I walk down the hill behind the house to the forge.
There is no sound to indicate that Atar is there, nor does smoke rise from the chimneys, but I know that he is. I know my father well, and he needn’t show obvious signs of productivity to be so, and the forge has an expectant, occupied look that I cannot quite describe. The windows remind me of eyes: somewhat intelligent but really only vacant, gleaming spaces.
I knock on the door before I have time to think, rescinding my fist and curling my knuckles tightly. Since when have I knocked on the door to the forge? Always, it has been my place to enter freely. Indeed, the laboratory and study rooms that Atar built are some of the most comfortable places on the property for me, and many are the hours that I have spent in them, either in the company of Atar or the wisdom of books, performing experiments with the hope that he will be delighted by the results and delude me—just for the moment—into believing that I have created something special, something that he could not have done himself.
But the damage is done; I have knocked, and I hear the furtive sound of footsteps on the other side of the door. The door swings open to reveal Atar’s face: His eyes are bright and manic—the look of one who has made something of great beauty and knows it—and his hair is a rumpled mess, framing his face. It was braided, I see, but the braids have fallen to tatters, as Atar has a habit of tugging at them when inspiration eludes him. He stares at me for three seconds, unblinking, before squeezing his eyes closed as though banishing a headache and saying in a slightly disbelieving voice, “Nelyo?” and then, immediately, as though transformed in that single second it took to speak my name, grinning and seizing my wrist and saying, “Come. I have something to show you.”
For a moment, it is as it was before Annawendë left, when Atar and I could lose hours in each other’s company. He leads me into the workshop and locks the door behind us.
In the center of the room is a round object, on the table, covered by a dark cloth. Atar flits to the side of the table, placing his hand expectantly over the covered object. How like Macalaurë he is, in that moment, I realize: conscious of his actions, of the poise of his body and the arrangement of his face; he is conscious, too, of my reaction and the thickening tension in the room. He moves his hand slowly over the object. “At last,” he says, “the fruits of my—of our—long hours of study.”
With a flourish, he removes the cloth, revealing a large dark stone, round, large enough to fit inside my embrace. His face has broken into an impulsive grin; he is watching my face with intense interest. I take a step toward the stone, noticing how a delicate filigree of fog swirls, barely perceptible, beneath a stone as black as night between the stars—
And it strikes me, like a fist in the chest, and I visibly recoil: some emotion, almost painful, about that stone. Don’t look, don’t look! Atar’s face has rumpled in puzzlement, and I realize my expression is grave, my hand flown to my chest. “Nelyo?” he says softly.
I look at him, but it is as though the air had been wrung from my lungs. Words are not mine to speak. Dropping the cloth, he steps forward.
He made a seeing-stone.
In a delirium of exhaustion and hunger, driven slightly mad by the endless rows of letters in our endless piles of books, we had discussed it at times, in high, giddy voices: Why should we be constrained by the senses given us? “Think of it, Nelyo,” Atar would say, arranging mirrors around the room until I could see clearly my little brothers trying to sneak candy from Amil’s secret tin inside the house. “In a proper arrangement, we could see beyond our gift of sight. It has been tried; others have failed, but that makes it possible. Nothing undone is impossible.”
Nothing undone is impossible.
Here is the proof of this.
My hand clenches my chest; I can feel my nails making crescent-shaped imprints in my skin. I force my eyes away from the stone, to my father’s concerned face. I force my hand to relax, my palm soft on my flesh. “You have done it,” I say. I force the muscles of my face to lift into a smile that Atar—eager to believe that I am pleased—quickly mirrors.
“Will you try it?” he asks, almost breathless. I am reminded of the first time that Tyelkormo killed something with his bow. Nelyo! Look what I’ve done! His teeth bared in a grin of unrestrained pride as he handed my the sparrow with the neat hole in its chest.
Why should I feel such foreboding? It was I who’d helped Atar in the formulations for this wonder; I understand better than anyone besides Atar ever will, perhaps, how the thing works. My knowledge alone should quell my fears.
It does not. Like a dog kicked accidentally, I approach cautiously, my hand stretched in front of me, feeling as might a child about to do something forbidden. But it is very much bidden. Atar’s smile is rabid that I should love his seeing-stone as much as he.
My fingertips slide over it. It is smooth and cold. Images tease my brain of Tyelkormo sloshing water onto the floor and Amil chastising him; Macalaurë is popping strawberries into his mouth while her back is turned, and Carnistir is crying. Like slipping into cold water, I slowly coax my palm fully against the stone. I slide into Tirion, into the palace, where the soup course is just being served and uncle Nolofinwë is saying, “I do not know if I should trust—”
I withdraw my hand. My heart is pounding in my chest; my breath is short. “Amazing, is it not?” Atar says, and I am crushed in his embrace. “We shall be renowned for this.”
I am so taken aback by the seeing-stone that I am in the courtyard, seated across from Atar—who eats sparingly—before I remember the mysterious guest and the questions I had wished to ask.
Atar dismisses himself from the table early, taking his dishes into the kitchen. I hear his footsteps creaking on the stairs, as he ascends to our guest.
I could ask Amil, of course. She is quiet, focused entirely on feeding Carnistir, although he seems to be doing well enough himself. He is five years old now; well beyond the age when he should be eating alone, but Amil seems to deny this, pressing food-laden utensils into his face. He whines at her excessive attention and slumps in his chair; he bats the spoon from her well-meaning hand and knocks it across the table. Tears sparkle in her eyes.
I think on the seeing-stone. I am consumed by thoughts of the seeing-stone, pushing my food around my plate. I wonder what uncle Nolofinwë was saying; I wonder if I can see far enough to locate Annawendë. Or maybe she is here. Atar engrossed in work is akin to a horse in blinders, able to see only that on which he fixes his gaze. Macalaurë’s eyes are drooping, and he will likely retire early to bed. I will use the chance, I decide, to visit Vorondil.
And if he tells me nothing to my satisfaction, the seeing-stone remains.
Outside of its presence, it is hard to recall that feeling like a fist into my gut. It teases its way into my brain, whispering promises of endless knowledge.
Nothing undone is impossible.
Since I can remember, this has been Atar’s mantra. “I cannot!” Macalaurë and I would cry, in our youths, frustrated by Atar’s ever-escalating expectations. “It is impossible!” And always, he would answer: “But, my loves, nothing undone is impossible.”
Leaving us no choice, no excuse.
I wonder, now, what that means to him. Many things we have discussed in the delirium of the laboratory, upon discovering some new strange substance—dizzied by fumes—that seemed the stuff of dreams, barely recollected later. Atar’s eyes would dilate until the black centers nearly overwhelmed the brilliant gray irises; how he would laugh at my passionate insistence on one or another of my theories, when really, I was just listening to my words cascading and bubbling through the air, making my presence known, as a statement: I am Maitimo. I am your son, but also, I am Maitimo. Listen.
What if we could see into the past? Into the future? Into places far away? What if we could send ourselves to those places? What if we could cross the ocean without a ship? Fly? Will ourselves into another world? What if we could speak without words, across leagues, with just the thought of the other? I would sit and stare at him, trying to force my thoughts into the mysterious depths of his mind. He would turn and wink at me. What if the people in our stories could be brought to life? What if we could create life? Bend it to our wills? What if we had the powers of the Valar and flowers sprang at our feet? Atar laughed: You upon a bed of daisies, Nelyo? Perhaps with a maiden and half your clothes off! And I swatted his arm in indignation and said, No. All of my clothes. And we laughed until we were dizzy with breathlessness, until my chest ached, and Amil knocked on the door and tried the knob, to find it locked, and called, “Fëanaro? Nelyo? Do you want supper?” We regarded each other solemnly, our cheeks damp still with tears of laughter, the laughter caught in our chests, fluttering, threatening to erupt: a bird in a cage, both fearing and aching for freedom.
Stepping outside of the laboratory, cold clean air forced its way into our lungs and washed our minds of our silly, senseless whims. I would realize that my eyes burned and rub at them, seeking to banish the redness before encountering Amil and having her order my head into a cold water bath, to have them flushed by her gentle, overbearing hands. Atar’s were clear: bright, sparkling pools of gray. He would regard me solemnly.
What if, Nelyo, the thoughts of Eru were ours to know?
He had blinked. He had not said those words. It must have been my imagination. Even Atar must recognize the barest boundaries of possibility.
But nothing undone—
Nonetheless, some things are ordained impossible.
He had not said those words. It had been only my imagination, dizzied by the potions we’d blended in hopes of discovering magic, when really, all we’d discovered were more rules that governed an otherwise senselessly beautiful world.
He had taken my hand and led my like a child to the house, to supper, to have my red, sore eyes bathed by my mother.
He had not said those words.
Now I wonder, for it seemed he had put greater faith in the senseless wanderings of my mind than I.
I do not realize that supper has ended until my plate slides away from me, and I look up into the soft face of my mother, which—for the briefest of moments—becomes a bland, featureless blur. I shake my head.
“You are weary, my son,” she says, “and you barely touched your supper.” She leans over to kiss my hair; it is not a far reach now. I have grown very tall this summer, very fast. My majority draws near, and yet, my confusion seems to be compounded with each new day. “Why do you not follow your brother to bed?”
Stunned, I realize that my brothers are gone from the table. There is a smear of food where Carnistir had been sitting and nothing more.
“I will,” I say, giving her a smile that will satisfy her, painting it onto my face with—I realize now—the same skill that Atar makes shapes out of stone and Macalaurë weaves song into the wind, into the mingled scents of flowers and trees, in perfect counterpoint to the rhythm of the rain, the laughter of a fountain, or lilting melodious birdsong. She sculpts statues and I sculpt myself, into the image of what she wants to see.
Convinced, she cups my face and kisses my forehead. “I will wash up. Take yourself to bed, my beautiful Nelyo.”