I must confess to enjoying people's speculation about who the "mystery guest" is. So far, it seems that there are three hypotheses out there: 1) Melkor, 2) Rumil, and 3) no one--the "mystery guest" is in fact Feanaro interacting with his seeing-stone. I will tell you that one of these three is correct. I will also tell you that one of them is not correct by virtue of canon that you can find in The Silmarillion. I know: Dawn using canon details? Unheard of! Well, I bent my own rules just this once.
Edit: Apparently, a fourth hypothesis has been thrown into the barrel. The "mystery guest" is none other than ann_arien. That's why Feanaro spends so much time in the room with the guest and doesn't want to come out. (She makes it well worth his while to stay!) Also, this explains why there is a nefarious feel to the whole thing. Because Alina is a very nefarious person.
I will not tell you who the mystery guest is. You have to wait for next week for that. >;^)
With that said, I leave you with Chapter Forty-Nine. I'm keeping it at a general rating, although there is a teensy-weensy bit of sexuality. How naughty it is depends on how naughty your interpretation is; I will tell you that I meant it fairly innocently, hence the general rating. But I know that some of you
Thanks to all who are still reading or have read and reviewed in the past! The long journey is almost over, and I have you all to thank.
Comments of all sorts are always welcome.
Ten minutes later, I am sitting on the floor in Vorondil’s cabin.
I have always considered Vorondil a friend, but I had felt nervous upon knocking: This is not right. I do not belong here. I might have been sitting at my brother’s place at the table or wearing a woman’s gown. I’d felt awkward. He knew my purpose here, for I’d been here before, just before leaving. Like a compulsion, I’d returned.
He lets me in and—despite my protests—goes for wine. I wander to his desk and admire the sketches tacked to the wall, of a maiden: Nimerionë, I remember. She whom he loves; whom he intends to marry. Still, it is difficult to imagine that Vorondil knows such emotion. Always I assumed that his preferred topic of conversation indicated the depth of his spirit: that he cared for only metal and stone and the science that enthralled us both but that trickled with greater force into all of the corners of his life. (Whereas I was left free to love and enjoy the affections of maidens while he studied for my father’s relentless rigors. Vorondil is natural in the forge; less so in the arenas of academics.) I think of Nimerionë and have to keep my hands stern at my side to keep from caressing her cheek in the sketch. To me, Nimerionë had been little more than a space crossed on my way to Annawendë, a piece sacrificed in a game in which I believed myself expert. Had I looked harder at her, I wonder now, would it be my cheeks flushed with happiness? Like Vorondil’s? Instead of gaunt with despair?
Vorondil returns with wine and hands me a wineglass, folding his legs to sit on the floor across from me. “No!” I protest and indicate the chair I’d left for him.
“Of course not,” he says. The skin at the corners of his eyes is tight and tired; I know the look of one who has been studying overlong. His shoulders are sagged; nonetheless, his voice is painted with a smile. “It is a pleasure to have you, Maitimo.”
I shake my head and feel my hair sliding over my shoulders. Vorondil’s hair is neat and dark, secured almost completely behind his head in an intricate braid. Mine is rumpled and wild. I can feel a snarl forming at my neck.
For a long time, we sit and say nothing, and I wish I’d never come.
At last, it is Vorondil who speaks. “I have no word of her, Maitimo.”
I had taught myself to deal with startling statements like this, years ago; it is a mark of diplomacy, I’d learned, to never look flustered. Grandfather Finwë, no matter how stunning the news reported to him, never loses the stony, slightly bemused expression of a father humbling a stubborn child. Never have I seen his hands clench upon the arms of his chair; never do worries ruffle his honeyed voice into displeasure. I used to sit in front of the mirror and mimic his expression. I had practiced Atar’s expression too: the fire in his eyes like two flints coaxing a miracle of fire from hard, lifeless stone. I had practiced the expressions of everyone—Amil, Macalaurë, uncle Nolofinwë—until I remained perpetually aware of my face, of my carriage, and could adjust it accordingly.
But statements like this require a sort of mental backpedaling akin to the feeling of running in the dark and suddenly finding the land absent beneath one’s feet: Can one recover his grip on land? I have learned never to relax enough to expect land beneath my feet, so when gravity seeks to seize my emotions, it takes only the barest flinch to recover my composure.
I do so now: The ground falls away from my feet, but I muster all of my determination and reach.
I fold one hands over my knees; the other twirls my wineglass. I concentrate on the muscles in my wrists, on relaxing them to keep my hands from shaking. My fingers rest lightly. I let a smile drift across my lips—slightly clueless. I have seen the look on Arafinwë’s face when Atar and uncle Nolofinwë are debating something beyond his comprehension. I do not wish to look completely befuddled, it says to me, but neither do I want you to believe that I am able to reply to you, for I haven’t the faintest clue of what you speak. I tilt my head; I feel the weight of my hair fall with it, the snarl irritating the back of my neck until I want to tug it, tear it free.
“That is not why you came here?” asks Vorondil, and his lips are tight and nervous now. Was I too familiar?
“I came simply to ask you if you wanted to borrow the books that Manwë lent me.” I am warm: You were not too familiar, but make no mistake that you were wrong.
He smiles, relieved. “I would be honored,” he says.
And so I return to the laboratory.
There it is, covered in the dark cloth. It beckons me, but as I approach, a pressure builds against my chest, an invisible hand, pressing me backward.
Are there some things that we should not know? Because anything is possible—does that mean that everything should be attempted?
Or is some knowledge best left in the darkness between the stars?
I know how Atar would answer that question. The answer is resting on the table, beneath a dark cloth. The answer both beckons and repels me.
In absolute knowledge, hope is lost. All is known, and hope is lost.
I close my eyes. I wonder: Is she riding toward me, at this very moment? I imagine her, low over the neck of the horse that Atar gave her to take from Formenos, her clothes too constricting on the strong muscles of her body to billow gracefully, as does the raiment of maidens in dreams. Probably, her hair is tied in a knot to prevent tangling. Her jaw is set in concentration, for riding horseback is not natural to her. There is nothing graceful or beautiful about her image, and that is why I know that the feeling of my heart being wrapped and smothered, thundering harder in an attempt to tear free, is a feeling of love.
I have images of other maidens, those before her: images like oil paintings stacked and wrapped in my head, for later enjoyment. How I used to delight in those moments when a woman’s beauty and mine would become almost an art! A coil of golden hair on my flat, taut stomach; her lips on the tender flesh, in the hollows of my hips. Her graceful hand—strong and agile from studying the harp and drawing—rising to wrap around my perfect shape: What a proud image we made! How beautiful we were, when I moaned and she whispered, Maitimo, in perfect reverence.
Annawendë and I make a clumsy image, not suitable for a painting at all. I imagine sitting for a portrait with her, how the artist will lament posing us to complement the other. I should not be more beautiful than she is, but I am. My strength is wiry and graceful, like a length of wire, while she is solid and proud, like a tree.
I am laughing. This room has known much laughter, but not this kind. This laughter is mad, only a misplaced breath away from a sob. My hands—so steady only minutes before—quake like banners torn by the wind. She said she would be here by the New Year—and that still leaves time for hope.
I race from the room and the temptation of the seeing-stone do not stop until I reach my bed, pressing my face into my pillow so hard that I can fool even myself that I am not crying.
Sleep is fickle for me, these days.
Some days, it is a stone across the water, dancing between unconsciousness and long, cold stretches of wakefulness.
Other days, it is heavy and syrupy, suspended with endless, odd dreams, and when I awaken, my mouth is parched as though filled with dirt, as though I have spent the night buried beneath a great load of earth that I cannot brush away.
Tonight, with my face buried into my pillow, I awaken only once, and it is because I cannot breathe—I am smothering myself—and my lungs burn and scream for acknowledgement, waking my reluctant brain from its stupor. So I roll onto my back. I am still dressed in the day’s clothes and I haven’t even pulled free the covers on the bed. I am too weary for that, so I lie atop them, in my clothes and boots, leaving clots of mud to mar the fresh bedclothes.
Then, there is a staccato rapping on the door.
And the sound of someone crying, subdued and desperate sobs.
I rise, feeling as though ropes are holding me to the bed, and I must fight free. “Sitting up” seems so far away, unattainable. My body aches with the need to sleep. A reluctant hand rubs at my eyes and feels goo gathered there, in the corners. The inside of my mouth is sticky with a sour film.
Judging from the light outside the windows (the drapes of which I’d forgotten to close), it is the middle of the night, the zenith of Telperion. I make a sound like a call, and the door opens to admit my mother, holding in her arms a child that must be
Tyelkormo? No, too small.
Carnistir? No, too large.
The child is heaving with sobs, his dark hair a mess, still dressed in the prim nightclothes of a Noldorin prince.
“Findekano!” I call, and my feet are dropped to the floor; they are crossing it; they are embracing my small cousin who latches immediately onto my neck and wails into my hair.
“Anairë just went into labor,” Amil whispers to me. “Would you mind if Findekano stayed in your room tonight? He needs you.”
He needs you….
She knows the magic of those words to me, for they drive her also. Need of others overcomes exhaustion or pain of self. For my life until this point, I have believed myself Atar’s son, cheated somehow of my connection to my mother, but for my blazing red hair. But even that is more splendid than hers, like a shimmering length of silk, as though Atar took the one feature she had to give to me and improved upon it. Is that not his, too, then?
But this I see, now, as coming from Amil: this ability to cast aside wholly my concerns, embracing those of another. Atar will lock himself away from us for days, constructing seeing-stones and new letters. Macalaurë—more like our father than he knows—hears not the call even of his most beloved brother when music is foremost in his mind. And Tyelkormo and Carnistir have the indulged selfishness of small children—only they do not grow out of it but seem to embrace it more tightly, allowing it to engulf them, as the years pass.
Exhaustions tugs my body toward the bed; my baggy, weak muscles fight gravity seeking to pull me to the floor, to curl up asleep on my rug, as I used to do when I was younger and tried to keep myself awake, studying, by lying across the hardwood floors to read. But my arms close about my cousin, and he weeps into my hair, his breaths shallow and frantic, and I nod to Amil in dismissal and take Findekano to my bed, where my relieved legs collapse to sit upon it. Findekano latches tighter to my neck, as though afraid of being set aside and told to sleep.
“Little one,” I say, “there is no need to cry. You are safe.”
“I am scared,” he says, and it is not fear for himself but fear for his mother and unborn brother that makes him weep so, and with a flash of realization, it occurs to me that he shares this elusive trait of empathy, of selflessness so lacking in our family.
Our fathers will argue at grandfather Finwë’s suppers, palms pressed to the table, fingers splayed, in the vestigial posture of an animal forced to fight, their words rending the air; they see not the shame on their wives’ faces or the pain on their father’s or the discomfort of their sons, as they seek to wound each other with cheap insults and petty ploys at intellectual superiority, lapping eagerly at the blood drawn from opportunistic wounds delivered to the other’s pride, unaware that the blood of their father, their wives, and their children mingles also with it. Or, perhaps, if not “unaware,” certainly uncaring, willing to slam the door on my mother’s tears when, later, she dared to question: “When did you learn to hate?”
How I envy Findekano! The ability of a child to weep, to draw comfort with something as simple as tears. I hold him close and wish that such a humbling act would bring Annawendë to me. I would stand in the square in Tirion and let tears mar my face, let agony twist it—I would wear it all, shamefully, for the world—if I knew that it would draw Annawendë to hold me as I now hold Findekano.
As the hours wear on, his tears dry and his breathing slows until he sleeps fitfully in my arms, clutching my tunic in his small fist as though afraid that his restive dreams will tear me away from him. My legs burn and grow numb with his weight, but I do not move to shift him and restore my comfort; my back aches and my eyes grow as painfully heavy as iron balls in the sockets, but I do not move until morning, until Laurelin balms the world with honey-gold light, and Findekano shifts in my arms and murmurs my name, “Nelyo,” with a grateful reverence that makes my pain inconsequential, as I hold him close and think, I healed him.
It matters little, at that moment, that I’ve yet to heal myself.
At an appropriate hour of the morning, I awaken Findekano and dress him in the robes hastily packed, probably by my grandfather or the Lady Indis, and then dress myself, and together, we walk to breakfast.
One of grandfather Finwë’s messengers stands nervously in the vestibule while Amil offers him to stay for breakfast and Atar reads the message written in my grandfather’s hand. The messenger is young and unknown to me—probably new in his employ—and it is obvious that this is his first time in our house. Doubtlessly, he has heard rumors of us and seeks to confirm or dismiss them. The walls in the House of Fëanaro seem to glow, as though he put Holy Light into each stone of their construction. Or: They run there like naked savages, wielding weapons and tearing at each other’s flesh in anger; such is the temper of Fëanaro and his scions. I smile at his wide-eyed appraisal of me, as I am rumored to be tall enough to necessitate ducking through doorways, as I am said to wander in a daze, speaking in strange languages with my father, as I am said to be as beautiful as a Vala and as wickedly proud of it as the brightly arrayed plants known in the south of Aman that devour their insect-suitors.
I am none of those things, and his brow smoothes to see that I hold the familiar hand of a child as innocuous as the son of Nolofinwë, and to see that Fëanaro wears ordinary traveling clothes (although he is barefoot and his feet look none too clean) and that our house is far from magical and, in fact, quite dusty at the moment, being that two pairs of hands frequently recruited for chores have been missing for a month now.
“Is there word of aunt Anairë?” I ask, and Amil smiles with such unfettered joy that it is hard to look upon her.
“Findekano, you have a baby brother, Turukano. He was born and proclaimed healthy, three hours ago, and your mother is faring excellently.” She comes to embrace Findekano, who steps dutifully into her arms but turns his eyes to me. “He will be presented on the eve of the New Year.”
The New Year.
I do not think of it.
“He is said to be dark-haired and resembling your father but with your mother’s eyes, and it is said that he cried very little following his delivery,” Amil goes on.
“You are lucky then” comes the voice behind me, and Macalaurë—also in traveling clothes—steps around to stand beside Atar. “That Nelyo and I should be so lucky!”
“You cried no less than Tyelkormo and Carnistir,” says Amil, and Macalaurë scoffs and smiles at me. I wonder at his traveling cloak, for it seems that he and Atar have planned a journey without me.
Over breakfast—for which the messenger stays, his curiosity perhaps piqued insatiably—I ask Macalaurë his destination, and he laughs. “Oh, just to Tirion! Atar’s stallion has sired a foal with one of grandfather Finwë’s finest mares, and I have been promised him as a gift for my fortieth begetting day! The foal is due this spring, and we are off to visit the mare.” Suddenly, his face rumples, and he says, “We didn’t mean to exclude you, Nelyo, just that we thought you’d like to stay with Findekano, and you have looked so tired lately—”
“No mind, Macalaurë,” I say, laying aside my fork to squeeze his hand. “I do not wish to go; it was of curiosity that I asked.”
But later, as they tack their horses and prepare to depart, and I listen dutifully to the request that I research the properties of some obscure metal for Atar—Findekano perches on the stall door, his arm circling my neck and his hair tickling my face—Atar says, “You know, Macalaurë, that duty will take us to my half-brother’s house, to bear our good tidings,” and I want to draw Macalaurë to the side. Protect Atar, I will say. Protect him from the pain that uncle Nolofinwë so carelessly inflicts, for Atar will not acknowledge that it hurts, but it does. Laugh brightly; let your words pour forth without hesitation to fill the silences where resentment festers; take Nolofinwë’s hand in warmth and fellowship but never leave Atar’s side, for that is his greatest fear—don’t you know?—that he should lose us as he lost first his mother, then his father, driven away by his flaws, to our half-family.
Or so he perceives.
But to do so would wipe the expression of innocent joy from his face, to spend a day journeying with our father, as he has so rarely done, in my accustomed place. It would carve his face gravely, and he would worry and not enjoy the afternoon, and to take that from him seems unnecessarily cruel.
Atar is the elder; it is he whom I trust to remain strong.
And so I kiss Atar’s cheek first and then Macalaurë’s and embrace each in farewell, and I say nothing.
Findekano is to stay with us for three days. On the third, Nolofinwë will send one of his most trusted servants to bring him home—at least, this is what Atar had said, his eyes glittering with unconcealed contempt. Because it is too much to ask him to ride for his own son, I imagine he thinks.
With favorable news of his mother and new brother, Findekano seethes with the insatiable energy of a fourteen-year-old child, and so I take him to find clothes more suitable for play. He wears pale green robes trimmed with silver embroidery, and they do not look the sort to withstand heavy play in the garden.
“Will you instruct me?” he asks, as we ascend the stairs. He skips and whirls around me—at one side then, in a blink, at the next—as capricious as a darting hummingbird. His eyes are bright jewels in his face, and I recall the child I had brought, weeping, from Tirion only a half-year ago and smile at the change.
“Not today, little one,” I say. “Today shall be yours for play.”
In the hallway, we find Tyelkormo and Carnistir, pressed to the closed door of the guestroom, as they were yesterday: Tyelkormo with his ear pressed to the door and Carnistir—his eyes squeezed shut—leaning so close to it that the tip of his nose is flattened, with a splayed palm grasping, seeking, against the lifeless wood.
“Little ones!” I scold, and they both leap to their feet and scuttle to the middle of the hall, innocent looks upon their faces and hands clasped between them, as though they can convince me to forget the incriminating postures in which I had found them only the moment before.
I order them out of the hallway and to sit on Tyelkormo’s bed while I rummage through his armoire for a tunic and trousers that might fit Findekano, however loosely, with the help of a belt and some pins. “It says nothing,” Tyelkormo whispers.
“ ‘It?’ ”
“Yes, you know, Atar’s guest.” There are a few ticks of silence and Tyelkormo explodes, “Well, it could be a woman!”
“No, no, no,” says Carnistir, leaning over to bite Tyelkormo on the shoulder.
“Maybe Atar is only pretending that there is someone in there?” suggests Tyelkormo.
“Why would Atar do a thing like that?” I ask, but really, it is a possibility. Atar, at times, feels it necessary to test our cunningness, to see if he can rouse our curiosity to explore that which has been expressly forbidden us. I think of his secret books, of the tales of orcs and Dark Lords—of locks begging to be outsmarted—and shiver.
“No, no, no!” Carnistir protests, from around a mouthful of Tyelkormo’s tunic.
Finding a tunic at the back of the armoire that Tyelkormo recently outgrew and a pair of smallish-looking trousers, I go to the bed, unlatch Carnistir from Tyelkormo’s shoulder with a stern look, and begin to loosen the complex ties on Findekano’s robes. “I suggest, my dears, that you forget Atar’s ‘guest’ and enjoy the afternoon of freedom that I am giving you.”
“You’ve no lessons for us?” asks Tyelkormo.
“I only just arrived home yesterday, Turko.” He turns up his nose at the name. “And, unless Atar left you any work, I thought the three of you could play together in the garden while I do the reading that he has left me.”
Carnistir cries out happily, and Tyelkormo looks askance at Findekano, then shrugs. “That is well, I suppose.”
It is a beautiful day, with a sky like the inside of a robin’s egg and only filmy wisps of cottony clouds to mar it. On a day like this, rain and grief both seem impossible, and desperately, I wish to believe this true.
The children dance down the path in front of me, chortling with the simple joy of having an afternoon free to do as they please, with nothing to constrain their flying limbs and wandering imaginations. “Let us play Animals!” says Tyelkormo, eagerly, upon arriving at the lawn. He had insisted on bringing wooden practice swords and his longbow, although—knowing Tyelkormo’s penchant for mischief—I forbade him to bring along any arrows. Standing straight with the pride of the eldest and most powerful of the children, he points his sword and assigns roles. “I shall be a leopard. Carnistir, you are a snake. And Findekano…” the point of his sword drifts in his young cousin’s direction and he smirks, “you shall be a mule.”
Before I can even open my mouth to speak, Findekano’s brow wrinkles and he spits, “I shall not be a mule,” and Tyelkormo—not used to be challenged by someone whose face he does not need to crane his neck to see, who in fact, is a good six inches shorter than he—recoils briefly. I feel a flare of pride and am shamed, realizing that I had hoped for my half-cousin to triumph over my own brother.
“Fine,” says Tyelkormo, glancing at me and knowing that further argument is futile. “What, then, shall you be?”
“I shall be a Great Eagle, for they are my favorite of the animals.”
Tyelkormo, of course, scoffs, but Carnistir watches his cousin, his dark eyes wide with admiration, licking the point of his wooden sword.
I settle on the grass, in the generous shade of an oak tree, and open the first of the books I have brought. The children have begun their game, which is little more than an excuse to spar with practice swords, and as I turn the pages absentmindedly—seeking the passage that I am certain I remember—I glance occasionally at them, knowing that Tyelkormo and, occasionally, Carnistir have a very liberal definition of what constitutes “fair play.”
Atar wishes me to research a metal little used outside of an obscure town to the north of Aman, in the shadow of the northernmost mountains. The metal is not as strong as steel, but it is very flexible, and I am certain that I know Atar’s intention: He will fold it into the strongest of his steel alloys and make a blade that is both flexible and unbreakable. He has spent years perfecting his technique for making weapons—swords, at times, have been almost an obsession for him, trumping even his need to finish commissioned projects—and it has often been my research that expedited the process, as Atar much prefers to wield a hammer in the forge or to decipher chemical puzzles in the laboratory than to spend dry, interminable afternoons doing research in our oven-like library. That is my love: to pick through our amassed volumes as a bird might pick through bits of hay, seeking a single seed. Several of Atar’s books were authored by metallurgists from the north of Aman, and it is my hope that they have researched this bizarre metal devised and used by their kinsmen.
If not, the imminent weeks will probably see Atar and I riding across half the continent to arrive in this town, not to leave until each of Atar’s curiosities has been sated. While, usually, thought alone of a journey would cause my heart to seize with joy, this time, I regard it with the same exhausted disinterest as a traveler who climbs uphill for the whole of the day only to discover, in the last civilized hours of travel, that his reward is to stand at the foot of a mountain, which he must cross in order to reach his destination.
And so I hope to find what I seek in these books.
A question teases my mind, begging to be asked of Atar, but I feel a low humming dread at the thought of actually voicing it. Why, Atar, do you seek to take your sword-making in this direction? It is something that I have noticed, of late: that his sword-making is less concerned with making pieces that are beautiful to the eye or light in the hand—perfect for sparring—and those that seem better suited for their original purposes. To hurt. To kill.
In Aman, we have need for neither. Do we?
The last blade he had shown me before I left for Alqualondë had been a plain, almost unsightly thing, with little ornamentation, especially for Atar, who believes that nothing is perfect until it is made beautiful. But, Atar had said, it would not break upon an enemy’s armor. It would bend and continue to exist to fight another day—as would he who wielded it. I had been puzzled by this, but did not speak aloud the thoughts that occurred to me—as involuntary as a breath—and, in fact, quickly suppressed them even in my own mind, sensing danger about them. But Atar, there is no armor; there are no enemies.
Sometimes, this thought has the same feeling as did the stories that Atar had told me as a child, stories that I now knew were impossible but that I’d once eagerly believed. Believed…and yet, I’d felt a kernel of doubt, as though I’d known that Elves couldn’t fly and that rainbows weren’t painted by good deeds, but I’d wanted to believe, and so I had shut away the doubts, even conniving interesting rationalizations when my growing knowledge of the logic of the world had clashed with those legends I’d loved so dearly.
Until I could believe no more.
But, for now, I believe that enemies are a thing of the Hither Lands. We are safe here.
The metal he’d folded into that steel had not been as flexible as that of which I now seek a mention in a black mire of cramped handwriting, penned by someone, perhaps, better accustomed to wielding the hammer than the quill. In my mind, I am already computing formulae for building a sword, coupled with Atar’s strongest steel, using hypothetical properties, as I best understand them. This metal is too weak to be used for tools designed for even the lightest of uses, nor is it of particular beauty, and so it was barely mentioned at my metallurgy recitation last winter. It had been abandoned as useless—although the people of northern Aman continue to produce it and so must have found some use, however obscure—and worthless of study. But I remember it, if only because it piqued my mind to consider its possible uses.
It seems, though, that Atar has beaten me to the task.
The children have started their game and are now a flurry of limbs, swinging their practice swords at each other as they mimic the animals that they play at being. I do not point out the unlikelihood that a leopard, a snake, and a Great Eagle would ever fight. They care not for such details, only for the excuse to test their bodies against each other under a guise of play, and I am not so long removed from childhood to have forgotten the resentment I’d felt for adults who’d spoiled such fun.
Tyelkormo and Findekano quickly dominate the game. Carnistir had been quickly knocked aside by Tyelkormo and is sitting on the grass, his cheeks flushed and his face twisting in an effort not to cry and chance the ridicule of his older brother; now, Findekano and Tyelkormo remain—their animal mimicry deserted—and the sound of wood colliding with wood chases the birds from the trees in an angry, alarmed flurry of wings.
I should stop the children, but I do not. I am curious.
Atar and I worked with Findekano on basic sword-fighting techniques over the summer—between also teaching my three younger brothers—and it seems that Findekano’s new tutor on the subject has honed his skills even further, capitalizing on Findekano’s unusual intelligence to overcome his diminutive size. He seems to know Tyelkormo’s next move before Tyelkormo himself does, and he darts out of the way, exploiting the weaknesses Tyelkormo then presents, and my brother is left to defend himself with awkward, graceless swats and lunges, nearly falling once, as he leaps aside to keep Findekano from delivering what would have been a “fatal” wound to his chest. Findekano deftly avoids situations where he could be easily overpowered by Tyelkormo’s greater size and strength; I see him watching, appraising, whereas Tyelkormo grows more and more frustrated and ceases to rely on the powers of his mind, using brute strength and risky lunges to try to pin my tiny, darting cousin, whose face is pinched and grave but whose eyes glow with pride.
Tyelkormo tries a desperate move, swinging his sword into a long arc into Findekano’s shoulder. Findekano sees it coming, and he moves aside, but his foot slips on the grass and he falls to one knee. As Tyelkormo’s wooden sword comes down on Findekano’s defenseless shoulder, he thrusts his own sword into Tyelkormo’s unprotected abdomen, and both cry out at the same time and fall aside, faces damp with sweat and hair clinging to their necks, rubbing their respective injuries and watching the other with a mix of mistrust and something else, sly and subtle, creeping into their locked gazes.
Could it be respect?
I wait for tears to well and cries to resume, but neither makes a sound. Findekano speaks first. “Well, it is a draw then,” he says, and Tyelkormo shifts and then nods. “Sure. A draw.”
They both look at me, to see my reaction, but I have anticipated their curiosity and have turned my face to my book, pretending to have seen nothing, although—when I pass my hand over my mouth, with the excuse of suppressing a cough—it is really to hide my smile.