Well, to those of you waiting to find out who the mystery guest is, you can stop calling me evil and accusing me of being unnecessarily cruel because it is in this week's chapter.
In last week's chapter, Macalaure and Feanaro went to Tirion to see the mare that is the mother of Macalaure's imminent spring colt. Duty required them also to stop at the House of Nolofinwe to visit the newborn Turukano. Nelyo, meanwhile, was studying a rare metal for--he assumed--his father's use in swordmaking. Findekano is staying with the Feanorians until his baby brother is better settled. And that takes us into this week's chapter.
I'm keeping the chapter at a general rating, although there is one line that is a little nefarious and Macalaure does sit about for while in just a towel. But I--and Nelyo--remained remarkably well-behaved.
Per usual, all comments, criticisms, suggestions, whatever are welcome. To all who are reading--whether or not you are leaving comments--thank you!
I had assumed that next week would bring the last chapter and epilogue. However, I have fourteen pages of Maitimo's section left in Felak!font (TNR 10px, single-spaced), which is quite a bit, considering that there are an additional three pages of epilogue. So it might be two weeks of posting, but I have to read the last bit and see if there is a logical chapter division. If not, next week's chapter will just be a really looooong posting.
I know, I waffle a lot. One week, two weeks...make up your damned mind, Dawn! :^P
And I shall now stop rambling and give you the story.
Macalaurë and Atar do not return until late that night.
Amil is busy working and declines my offer of supper without turning away from the statue that so enthralls her.
My evening is filled with feeding the children supper, administering baths, combing snarled hair, saving a toy rabbit from being chewed to pieces or at least left sodden and tooth-marked (that was Carnistir), saving one of Atar’s books of legends from having the cover torn off (that was Carnistir and Tyelkormo), blotting a grape-juice stain from a set of good robes (that was Findekano, and I was only partially successful), tucking the children into bed, reading three separate bedtime stories, returning to escort Carnistir to the bathroom after he threatened to—if his bare feet had to touch the cold floor (because I had to remove his rug to be laundered after he tried to paint a design on it)— suffice to pee in his bed. Wearily, I am pondering my own bed when I hear the triple-beat of two horses riding up the road.
But, at that moment, a wail erupts from my bedroom, where—for convenience—I am letting Findekano continue to sleep, and so I go to dispel whatever chimeras haunt him.
I should curl up beside him in my bed and leave my questions for Atar for the morning. Telperion is dim outside, and my eyes are heavy. Findekano inhabits barely a sliver of my king-sized bed, so it will be more than possible to drop to sleep and forget his existence. And, if any children wake up in the night with nightmares or needing to use the lavatory, then Atar can take care of them. I will be lost to dreams.
But my problem is that I am Atar’s son—and no son of Atar can let curiosity eat at him, unsated. I lie beside Findekano, atop the covers, hoping that my exhausted body will convince my mind to sleep, but there are a dozen questions zipping around inside my skull with the annoying persistence of a swarm of angry bees, until, at last, I give in and rise, slip my feet into my shoes, and return to the hallway.
As I pass Macalaurë’s bedroom, I hear a weak call, “Nelyo? Is that you?”
He is seated on his bed, having just finished his bath, with a towel around his waist, attempting to coax a bristling knot from his hair. He smiles at seeing me. “I thought you asleep!” he says.
“I should be. Would you like me to do that?”
Resigned, he hands me the comb and turns his back to me, as I try to work out the knot as gently as possible. “We stayed late at grandfather’s and rode home very fast,” he explains, hissing between his teeth when I am forced to pull at his hair to free it.
“That is why you should braid your hair when you travel,” I say.
“You know my hair won’t stay braided.” The comb slips, and I accidentally tear a clump of hairs from the tender scalp at the base of his skull. “Ai!”
“Sorry, love. How was Turukano?” There is a moment of blank silence. “Our new cousin?”
“Oh, yes! He is just an ordinary baby, Nelyo. Albeit, a much quieter baby than we are accustomed to. He looks a lot like Findekano did, but his eyes are gray. Very boring, really.”
I smile, for one day, Macalaurë and Vingarië will hold a feast to welcome their first child, and most of the guests will go home and proclaim the baby “very ordinary, really,” to those not in attendance, and Macalaurë will bristle at the thought. “Few are babies who are not ordinary and boring,” I remind him.
“I doubt you were either, what with your hair and your extraordinary arrival into the world.”
“I arrived no differently than anyone else, you included.”
He sighs. “You know what I mean. Atar birthed you in a tent, by a river. That’s not ordinary.”
“It’s ordinary enough for Elves born in the Outer Lands.”
“You must be obstinate, must you?” He turns to look at me, and the comb yanks his hair. “Ai!”
“If you would hold still, then it would have no reason to hurt,” I say, but I am nearly finished, drawing the comb through his chocolate-colored hair, so silky that it ripples through my hands like water. “And yes, it is my nature to be obstinate. You are not much better.” I hesitate, wondering how best to phrase my next question. But it is Macalaurë, and if I cannot speak frankly to him, then I can speak frankly to no one. “And Atar? How did Atar fare?”
He turns again but—snarl gone—his hair feathers gently through the comb and lies like a fan across his back. “He was better than I expected. We got halfway there, and he said something to me—something derogatory—about Nolofinwë, and I wished I’d brought you because I didn’t know how to respond. How do you respond?”
“You don’t,” I say. “The feud between him and Nolofinwë long preceded either of us, and I believe that they both have played a role in exacerbating it. If grandfather Finwë and Amil couldn’t change Atar, then I doubt we can.”
Macalaurë sighs. “It is selfish to feel this way, I know, but I am grateful that we live here, outside the city, and do not have to see him much.” He gives me a careful, sidelong look. “He makes me feel…it is hard to say. Nervous, perhaps? Like I am proving something sinister, no matter what I do.”
I agree but say nothing. To perpetrate our father’s attitudes gives weight to some peoples’ feelings that our family is impetuous and selfish; to show too much deference proves to our father than Nolofinwë is to be feared and mistrusted. We are either self-chosen pariahs—earning suspicious looks from some—or we heighten the tension within our family. Spirit of Fire, I think, and he was rightfully named, for he inspires conflagration in those around him who would normally be content to lie in peace. Bitterly, I think that this is an unfair predicament into which to place children.
But neither was it fair for Atar’s mother to die. Neither was it fair for grandfather Finwë to be widowed, in the prime of his marriage, and his hopes of love and family dashed. Neither was it fair that he should choose between Atar’s happiness and the lives of his future children. Neither is it fair that Atar—only a small child himself at the time—should be expected to understand and accept what eluded even the wisdom of the Valar.
In this senseless and cruel tangle of allegiances and betrayals that mark our family, that Macalaurë and I—and later, Tyelkormo, Carnistir, and whatever children may be born unto Amil and Atar in the future—should be forced to endure discomfort at the rare meetings of our father and half-uncle, seems mild in comparison, and I am shamed by my wish that we should not be so afflicted when my father—at the age when my greatest upset came from taking a hard and shameful fall from the back of my pony—had to stand beside his mother’s lifeless body and bid her farewell and know that, but for his existence, she would live.
I laugh hollowly and say, “Yes, we must balance carefully, Macalaurë, when placed between Atar and uncle Nolofinwë. But comfort yourself to know that nothing truly dire awaits us, should we slip and fall.”
“You say that now, but you would not, if you had to endure Atar’s rage and then his silence, for a mistake made in our uncle’s presence,” says Macalaurë, but I see in his face that my meaning—though unspoken—is understood. “How is it fair, Nelyo,” asks Macalaurë, with the wistful voice I thought lost in his youth, “that our people should have endured so much to come here, under the promise of living in peace, without pain, only to discover that there is pain here too, only no one will acknowledge it, and it is to be endured alone?”
“Not alone,” I say, wrapping my arm around his small, bare shoulders and pressing my face into his dark, damp hair that smells of the soaps he used to wash it. And is that not what marks our family as different? That while the people of the city rejoice and worry over nuances, that our family understands how easily we are wounded, how constantly near we are to danger, even here, in the Blessed Realm?
That the strife we thought we’d left behind in the Outer Lands had followed us, as a cloud of biting insects will follow a source of hot, fresh blood?
“I am so wearied by it,” Macalaurë confesses in a whisper. “Already! After only forty years. Must it be our fate forever?”
Some among us are said to receive visions of the future, but grounded as my talents have always been in that which is solid and easily held in the hand, I have no such gift. The future—even the next five minutes—is as black as the glistening, silky night, beyond the gentle light of the trees. I reach, groping like a man blindfolded, for such answers, but they arrive no sooner than the moment in which they were meant to occur, and so I am forced to exist in the present, with my feet flat against the earth, confined and intrigued by what is here.
But is that not better in a way? How would I answer Macalaurë if, in this moment, the vision came upon me of agony in our future, of strife beyond our imagining? Of feuds? Of war? I imagine the worst—what if that was meant to be? How would I answer him then, knowing that our interminable lives were destined to be lived in pain?
Without knowing, with that dark, velvety ignorance filling my mind, I can answer him instead: “We can always hope.”
Which, with a smile, I realize, we can.
Just as easy to imagine is the opposite: of wounds inflicted long ago—and often unknowingly—being healed. Of our families coming together in love and fellowship; of laughter spiraling to the height of the stars, woven by my father’s and uncles’ voices. Of forgiveness—for deeds that should not require forgiving but to which a person humbles himself to speaking those words with sincerity: “I’m sorry.” I smile at the thought. It seems just as possible—more perhaps—than the first, for are we not closer to being healed than to having our wounds ripped open anew? Is it not in the nature of flesh to knit itself and so seems aberrant to suggest that things will worsen between our families, without provocation.
“I have hope,” I say, and realize that I actually do. I have hope for many things, in that moment, and hope for overcoming the pain of those which do not occur. It is not the nature of our people to languish in wearied agony forever, and as long as there is light in our days, our bodies will seek to envelop it and our spirits will seek to emulate it, and joy will be allowed into our lives again. With loss of hope, with belief that we know the future to be of a substance we cannot endure, we seal our fates, for it is hope that makes us open our eyes in the morning and strive toward what we want to be, not lie in the dark, our eyes closed to the morning, and allow to befall us what we believe fated to occur, made certain by our apathy.
And so it is with a genuine smile that I bid Macalaurë a good night and kiss his forehead and enter the silvery dark, on my way to the forge, where Macalaurë tells me that I will find Atar.
It is a hazy evening—very warm—and the faint bluish lamplight emanating from the forge is textured and fuzzy. The door is open to allow the faint breeze to circulate air that becomes easily oppressive, as if angered to be left to fester behind stone walls and thick glass windows. Night insects buzz amorously to their mates; the air is heavy and musky, the kind of night where one might forgo nightclothes and lie atop the bedspread with a lover and taste the salt of each other’s skin until Laurelin paints the morning in gold.
I see Atar as soon as I approach the door, still wearing his traveling clothes, although he has cast the cloak aside, and it has slipped from the bench and fallen to the dirty floor. His shoulders are rounded, and he works intently over something.
He hears me approach and turns. “Nelyo! Please, enter.”
He meets me at the door, and I cannot see what is was on which he’d been working. We embrace, and he says in a low, excited voice, “I should have told you yesterday, but in my eagerness to show you the seeing-stone, I forgot. We have a very honored guest, Nelyo.”
“Yes,” I say with a wry grin. “I have caught Tyelkormo and Carnistir listening at his door twice now.”
He laughs. “Yes, I wanted them to meet him, but he is justifiably reluctant. They will meet him on the New Year, though, for he will be attending the feast with us, as our guest.”
Atar is rarely so enthralled by the presence of another person. I have seen him treat Ingwë, the High King of the Eldar—the most revered of the Elves of Aman—with the same bemused familiarity as he treats grandfather Finwë, and I have heard Atar instruct King Ingwë with same strained patience that he uses with my brothers, when he desires less to be a teacher and more to share in discussion with a peer. To the lords of grandfather Finwë’s court, he gives little regard, except to those—like him—who earned their titles through gifted craftsmanship and so are apt to sympathize with Atar on most matters. But the rabid eagerness in his eyes now is akin to that worn by the people of Tirion, when they tell their neighbors that one of the lords wishes to take supper and discuss some matter of importance. It must be an honored guest, indeed.
“It took much effort on my part to get him to come,” Atar tells me proudly, “for it has been many years since he visited Tirion, and he thought never to return. But always has he thought of my father with affection, and it is for this reason that he agreed to come.”
Atar grins. “He is Rumil.”
I try hard not to recoil, not to show my surprise, but Atar perceives me with an astuteness that escapes others. I remember the first—and last—time that I met Rumil and feel shame warm me. How I devoured his words—just last week, I was reading one of his treatises on the tendency of words in the Vanyarin dialect to disintegrate into words so specific that they were like crumbs to the whole—with little thought to the man, the hand, behind them, knowing the secret behind his gift that went unspoken by all but Atar but refusing to consider the dim, dark memories of the hours that I had spent in his company, so horrified by him—and so ashamed of myself for it—that I do not now remember of what we’d even spoken. As a loremaster, each moment in his presence should have been as precious as diamonds but I’d forgotten every last drop of it.
“He will go costumed to the feast, of course,” says Atar. “Not that this bothers him, as it does some”—he rolls his eyes in disdain of the lords who would like the New Year to be an occasion of reverence, as it has become for the Vanyar—“since he celebrated it in its original, brutal form, in the Outer Lands. He is certainly not, therefore, bothered by costumes and masks, much less with dancing and playacting.” Now, Atar takes my hand and leads me to the table, where lies the object on which he’d been working. “Of course, a mask will be chief of his costume, and I have made one that I think will be perfect for him.”
The mask on the table is a light, bright metal, of exceptional beauty and somehow familiar. The twin lamps that Atar had set on the table reflect in the metal, make it hard to look up and perceive accurately. It appears to me as a face shaped of light, dazzling my eyes. I reach out and lift it, finding it as light as if it was made of paper mache—but cold. Despite the hot, heavy night air, the mask is like ice in my hand. I tilt it away from the light, to better study its contours, and I gasp.
For the reason for its familiarity is suddenly plain to me.
For it is me.
It is my face, cast into metal: the straight nose; the beautiful, high cheekbones; the chiseled lips. The features for which I have been praised, all of my life.
“I know of no subject more beautiful,” Atar says, “and so I thought it fitting, that Rumil should wear a face that befits his spirit.”
I hear myself answer, “Of course.”
“You do not mind then?”
I hear myself answer, “Of course not.”
It is not as though people have not gone to the feast, dressed in my likeness before. It is considered great fun—both a joke and an honor—to dress as one of the royal House. (Although no one has ever gone as Atar, as though they fear that even the barest resemblance to such blazing power will leave them likewise scalded.) But their masks were crude and the likeness was usually made mostly by the affixation of a long, red wig and by imitating my straight-shouldered carriage and rapid, pattering manner of speaking, like that of my grandmother (or so I have been told).
It is like sharing my skin. It is like I can peel away my own face and reveal something awful beneath, as will Rumil when only the remnant of the festival is the bitter, stale smell of dried sweat on our robes. I touch my face and am relieved to feel the warm sponginess of skin.
Atar is polished my fingerprints from the mask with the edge of his tunic. “And you? You will go as Fire, again?”
I nod and, realizing that his eyes are fixed on the mask and not my real face, say, “Yes.”
He sets the mask aside and kisses my cheek. “You are predictable,” he says, “but so beautiful that I cannot see it as a fault.”
I smile but my tongue is a leaden weight in my mouth.
Atar glances at the window. “Tomorrow is near. Go to sleep, Nelyo, for I wish to wile away the day discussing what you learned through the day’s research.” He nudges me in the direction of the door. “And sleep, Nelyo,” he adds, as though he is one to preach about the dangers of insomnia, he who stays awake to the point of collapse when trying to sate his inspiration.
I trudge to the house and up the stairs, obediently, unlacing my clothes as I walk. Tyelkormo and Carnistir both sleep with their doors open, to allow the cross-currents of air to pass between them, but the guest room door is closed solidly and—feeling a nugget of shame like spoiled food in my gut—I pause beside it to press my ear to the wood.
Why? The man cannot speak.
He cannot make a sound.
Actually, though, I remember his laugh: It reminds me of when Atar would place a long file into my hands and make me smooth the careless, rough edges of my projects, the squeal of metal on metal—unnatural, protesting. I shiver and skitter away from the door like an alarmed animal, my heart drumming inside of my chest.
I am glad for Findekano as I had once been glad for the animals Atar sewed from rags to comfort me as a child. He sleeps curled on his side of the bed, his lips parted and moist, his eyelashes a dark smudge on cheeks still childishly plump. Tyelkormo is beginning to lose that softness; sleeping with him is like sleeping with a wire-trap: his limbs constantly thrashing with energy; I awaken with bruises after a night with him, and have begun letting him fall asleep in my bed and then carrying him to his own.
I put on my nightclothes and slip into bed as silently as possible, but still, Findekano awakens, whimpering, to settle in my arms. How unquestioning he is in his belief that I can give him comfort! And how comforting it is to know that, no matter what, I can, for the simplest of comforts are akin to heroic deeds, to a small child.
My mind is buzzing with worries and wishes not to sleep. My life is too cluttered at the moment for me to catalogue information as I normally do. I no sooner shelve one item and it is pushing another to the ground. Annawendë, the New Year, Turukano, the Seeing Stone, Rumil—and now they are all piled on the floor of my mind, rising to my knees, so that I can no longer even wade through them. How I long for the simplicity of childhood, when sleeping in Atar’s arms silenced even the worst chimeras. Findekano’s hand curls at my chest and his breath tickles my neck. I close my eyes—not to sleep—but to fervently wish that he hold this carefree innocence forever.
The next day, I awaken near to the bright gold of afternoon to find Findekano’s side of the bed rumpled and empty—his nightclothes scattered in his haste across the floor—and a folded slip of paper on the bed beside my pillow. The air is unusually still: I do not hear the sound of my little brothers and cousin playing outside, nor is the air bright with the sound of hammerfalls from the forge; even the curtains in my windows hang limply, unbothered by the wind. I have slept, a deep and heavy sleep—though not dreamless—through the night and morning, yet I do not feel rested.
My skin has the dried, dirty feeling of sweat left to dry beneath my nightclothes, souring my skin in the dream-exertion that marks my nights. I force myself to sit up; I will need a bath before leaving my bedroom.
But first, I unfold the note on the pillow. I read:
Come to the laboratory, when you awaken. Do not hurry on my account.
I sniff with laughter—how like Atar to think that the act of wishing for my presence might be enough to awaken me!—but I refold the note and sit it on my night-table, unable to discard it, in a sentimentally affectionate moment.
A half-hour later, bathed and dressed in tidy, fresh clothes suitable for a day of work, I start down the steps—forcing myself not to pause at Rumil’s door—to the kitchen, yesterday’s notes in a bundle in my hands. A basket of fruit sits at the middle of the table, and as it does not appear that we are having a midday meal, I grab an orange and peel it as I walk across the lawn to Atar’s forge, eating it in sections as I used to do as a child, when Macalaurë and I would tuck slices into our lips and grin massive orange smiles, and Amil would chide us, fearing that we were in danger of choking. (And Atar would chide her for being unreasonable, for how could a small child inhale an eighth of an orange?) The door to the forge is open, but no one is working inside, until I draw near to the laboratory and hear voices.
Atar is speaking—rapidly and earnestly, his hands gesturing shapes atop the worktable—to Vorondil, sitting across from him and watching him with his perpetual expression of pinched concentration, his head bobbing in continuous assent. Vorondil has a special talent for making listening appear exertive.
Vorondil sees me first, and his eyes slip to my face and then away—not wishing to appear inattentive to Atar’s words—but Atar, astute even when lost in distracted self-centeredness, catches the minute shifting of Vorondil’s eyes, and his words falter, and with a wide grin, he turns to greet me. “Nelyo! At last! Come in and sit.”
I hesitate for a moment, then sit beside him, across from Vorondil, whose eyes flicker from Atar’s face to mine, his expression flat now that he needn’t twist it into the illusion of rapt attention. I take a bite of orange. “It is nearly noon, is it not?” asks Atar. “I had not noticed, and I had not even paused yet for breakfast!”
I offer him the remaining three segments of orange, and with a flattered smile, he says, “Thank you, Nelyo. How kind of you.” He plucks them from my fingers and nibbles one. “Bitter,” he says with a grimace. “This is what one deserves, I suppose, for not growing one’s own oranges.”
I push my notes in his direction. “I trust you wanted to know of this metal for weaponsmithing?”
“No, actually,” Atar says, around the orange. “For armor.”
I glance at him quickly, but if he notices, then he gives me no acknowledgement. Vorondil smiles smugly. “Your father and I were discussing armor designs.”
“Armor?” I laugh nervously. “For what?”
“For curiosity, Nelyo, what else?” says Atar. “Because it was once essential knowledge, and I don’t believe that it should die. Besides,” he adds, “it will make our practices much less painful. I would not have to spend three nights a week, rubbing liniment on your brother’s arms to facilitate the erasure of the bruises.”
“Macalaurë?” I say, puzzled, but Atar does not acknowledge my confusion and goes on to say, “Furthermore, I am becoming bored with sword-making, for the moment, Nelyo.”
Atar is frequently bored with one or another thing that once captured his interest almost exclusively. As far as I can tell, all of his craft has waxed and waned in intrigue to him, except for gemcraft. Gemcraft seems to always command his attention—the fruits of it lying under a shroud in the corner, thus far ignored by Vorondil—and for this, I suppose I should be glad. Better gemcraft than sword-making, a hobby which has made me shamefully nervous of late, as though I am coming under the purported influence of my Tirion relatives, having spent so many hours in my half-uncle’s home with Findekano. It is not that! I find myself desperately thinking. It is the acknowledgement of what I feel in the dark recesses of my spirit: that there is danger even in paradise, and it will make swords an evil necessity.
I do not want the weight of even this feeble intuition shaping my behavior.
“I see no point in wearing armor,” Atar is saying—and I force myself to concentrate on his words and ignore the mumblings of my own thoughts—“if the weight of that armor hampers its wearer’s natural agility and flexibility, and so I seek an alloy that gives protection while allowing free movement. If such an alloy had been available to my father’s people, on the Journey, think of the lives that could have been saved.” His brow crinkles, and his mouth is a firm line across his face. If the Valar….
“And now is our chance to remedy this,” he says brightly, “to find what was once but a dream to the people of the Eldar.” He does not seem to consider that mere discovery will not return those lives to history; that this new pursuit will serve his pride only in proving once more his superiority to the Valar. He opens my packet of notes and busies himself with reading, forgetting in that instant Vorondil’s and my presences, in the innocent-ignorant manner that Atar adopts in his moments of busy inspiration.
“I will work on a gauntlet that I need to finish,” says Vorondil, rising and breezing from the room, leaving behind sketches that I recognize as Atar’s work, of gauntlets and breastplates and helms, adapted from the early drawings of the crude armor that the Valar had given to the leaders of the Eldar, on the Journey. I turn them and study them while Atar reads. He has copied passages from books, also—and I know, then, the seriousness of his pursuit, for Atar despises rote copying from books and usually employs Vorondil or me to do it for him—books of history, where the common annoyances and rare dangers of the first armors are described. He is trying to overcome each of these problems, I see, from the drawings, sometimes with great success and sometimes not. In the case of the latter, I imagine him working and distracted, perhaps by the shrouded orb in the corner or by our secret guest or by Tyelkormo and Carnistir fighting to scramble into his lap, as though he is not big enough (and they, still small enough) that both can be accommodated, and jotting down an intuitive solution, that he will torment into perfection at some later time.
With our shoulders pressed warmly and companionably together, I lift a quill and begin the work for him, making delicate corrections to the drawings, nervous—as I imagine any apprentice must be when his master first begins to recognize him as slowly approaching status as an equal—and my fingers squeezing the quill perhaps a bit too tightly, making my letters slightly rigid and unsightly. I grimace and set the quill aside to read a page titled, simply, “Boots,” in Atar’s slithery, beautiful hand.
Atar’s shoulder moves against mine and he lifts his own quill to make notes in the margins of my work. “This is excellent, Maitimo,” he says, abandoning his work in the middle of a sentence to stride to his desk at the corner of the room, tear open a drawer, and toss a cloth package at me. “Here, we shall share this, for energy, as I have an inkling that we shall be here a while yet.”
The package is filled with my mother’s lembas, and I nibble it while he returns to swing his legs over the bench, stinging me with the tips of his unfettered hair, as he tosses it over his shoulder. “Where are the little ones?” I ask, and he replies, distractedly, “Off riding with Macalaurë.” He pauses to give me a tight, mirthful smile. “Your brother has developed a sudden interest in children. He suddenly minds not one bit, taking the three of them to the forest on horseback, to stop by the river to picnic and perhaps fish a bit, and return late for supper. Even Carnistir, who torments the poor boy to distraction, I found astride his hip this morning, ‘helping’ him to scramble eggs.” Atar laughs. “Well, he is wiser than me, with that. I despised the thought of fatherhood until I realized I wasn’t being given a choice in the matter.” He tucks a loosening tendril of my hair behind my ear, leaving his hand to linger, flat and very warm, against my cheek. I smile and resume my work on his drawings, while he rests his chin on my shoulder—his arm circling my back—and watches my pen trace designs on the parchment. Planks of daylight angle through the windows and bright specks of dust swirl through them. I can feel his chest moving as he breathes, the warmth of his hand on my back, and the weight of his chin on my shoulder. It is all very pleasant.
But could I stay here forever?
I am his son, and even as my logical mind argues for peace and hope, my body wishes to be propelled into the future, to know. I rub my eyes, and when my hand falls away, Atar’s rises to replace it, to touch the soft, darkened skin beneath.
“You have not been sleeping.”
“I did, actually, but I was disturbed by dreams.”
I wonder: Does Atar dream? If he does, what are the contents of those dreams? I find it difficult to believe that I am significant enough to enter his dreams—his own son—and instead imagine geometrical stuff like that which fills the parchment before him. I imagine his dreams as sketches, as inspiration unfolding in a series of rough lines and painful erasures. Certainly not the carnal and sometimes terrifying stuff that haunts me.
“Of what do you dream,” he asks, “that torments you so?”
Of what did I dream? Macalaurë dreams of music, I know, for he has told me so, and sometimes, he hums tunes in his sleep, barely detectable beneath his breath. My own are shadowy in my mind, shapes without meaning. I remember looking to the sky and seeing a rock floating on the horizon. Oh, what did Atar conjure now? I had been mildly annoyed, I remember, at his audacity in blocking the stars with the hideous, silver-cream disk that seemed to bear the shadow of a face in agony. But mostly, I remember running; waking, even, with pain in my legs, as though fists held fast to my muscles and pulled them in both directions at once, frantically working the muscles until the pain subsided—pointing my toes to the sky, to no avail—trying not to awaken Findekano with my misery. But from what did I run?
“I dream of being chased,” I say softly.
Atar nods. “When we took Carnistir to Irmo, he told us that those with strong ambition often dream of pursuit. It does not surprise me, then, to hear you say this.”
Ambition, yes, I suppose that I have this. While always innately intelligent, I was certainly never as gifted as Atar, and my talents had to be honed with all the tedious precision of sharpening a blade: hours in the library, page after page written, and torn up, and written again, desperately wishing—if not always admitting—that fate hadn’t doomed me to suffer as forever his inferior.
I feel myself melting into his touch, closing my eyes with sudden weariness. The quill slips from my fingers, and he cradles me in his arms. We are no longer equals. He is my father again. That is fate; that I shall never overcome.
“Do you dream?” I ask him softly.
“I do,” he replies.
“Of what?” and more softly, ashamed, “Do you ever dream of me?”
“Of course. I dream of light,” his voice is very near to my ear, barely a breath, “and you are in it.” He kisses my ear, as though to seal his words there. I am profoundly at peace: It is as if we’d managed to reach out and snatch a second from Time and hold it—whirring like a locust in our hands—and slowly stretch it to envelop us in a world without sound, where even the dust seems to shimmer, motionless, in the syrupy daylight.
But perhaps we’d stretched it too thinly, for that moment is delicate and it shatters before I have drank my fill, and the sound of Vorondil’s footfalls in the next room—growing more insistent as he approaches the laboratory—are enough to make Atar draw away and my shoulders to go rigid once more, as Vorondil bounds into the room, a finished gauntlet held proudly in his hands.