Another Man's Cage--Chapter Two
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I stir and find Nelyo’s arm missing, and I am cold. I murmur protests and realize that I lie on the couch, opposite Carnistir, covered with the bottom of the cloak. The Trees are mingling.
I pull the edge of the cloak to my nose and breathe in: not Nelyo’s smell, not daylight through the leaves, but the scent of winds before a storm, the air singed by the promise of lightning. Ada.
My feet press against Carnistir, and I stretch, meaning to rise, but my limbs won’t listen, and I flop onto my side, holding the cloak to my nose and pressing my feet against my baby brother, trying to find warmth.
I feel myself melting into the cushions, and as my eyelids lower, I see Nelyo working intently once more, his hair now a vibrant red beneath the mingled light of the Trees, and I feel a shock of anger with myself. Would I have stayed awake, I would have stayed with him, I would not be cold. Young and dumb and alone, I fall asleep.
The door to the library bangs open.
“Do you know how late it is, Nelyo? I had forgotten that we have to prepare supper tonight, and the apprentices are dining with us as well!”
I spring up, as though alarmed by a predator, suddenly awake, my heart pounding, but it is only Macalaurë. Nelyo, too, is startled, and he stops in mid-sentence to spring to his feet and glance at the light pouring through the windows, light that was rapidly turning silver.
“Ilúvatar in Ea!”
Macalaurë is dressed in a white tunic and loose gray trousers, barefoot, with his hair unrestrained, but Nelyo looks as though he’d been dragged from Mandos and thrown into his body. Summer is imminent, and the library is sweltering. (Had I awakened, freezing, just a short while ago? It seems doubtful now.) Nelyo’s clothes are bedraggled; he’s shed all but a short-sleeved tunic that he’d unlaced to mid-chest and a pair of breeches rolled off his ankles; his boots have been kicked under his desk; half of his hair is tied in a knot to keep it off his face and the rest is stuck to his neck; his lips are spotted with black from licking his quill or sucking the bristles of his brushes into points.
“It’s hot in here! How do you work in here?” Macalaurë asks, fanning out his shirt to cool himself off. “This is worse than working in Ada’s forsaken forge.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Nelyo says distractedly, gathering his books and papers together in a jumble.
Nana is always chiding Nelyo for his tendency to become lackadaisical about his appearance while working. “Tie your hair off your face with a proper tie, for Manwë’s sake,” she is fond of saying. “Or better yet, get your father or I to braid it for you in the morning. I named you for your beauty, Maitimo, but you seem determined to look slovenly.” (To which Nelyo replies that, should he wish to take the time to have his hair braided, he could handle it quite well on his own.) Ada generally finds Nelyo’s carelessness amusing, until he is in one of his restless moods, when he subjects everything to extra scrutiny. “I wish you’d stop licking ink and paint all of the time, Nelyafinwë,” he complains. “You look like an orc.”
(Carnistir and I also get accused quite often by our father of being orcs. What an orc is, neither of us is exactly sure, and Nelyo won’t tell us, but the accusation is generally made whenever we act like heathens or cause enough noise to disturb Ada in his work. Also, usually, a term applied while he is in one of his restless moods.)
My eldest brothers come to gather Carnistir and I from the couch. “Come, now, Turko, it’s time to prepare supper,” Nelyo says with a gentleness honed by three little brothers, perfect for being eased awake. He takes my hand and tugs me to my feet, swaying a bit and sleepy still. Macalaurë is less skilled in the ways of handling small children: He throws the cloak from Carnistir, who sleeps curled on his side with his thumb in his mouth, and lifts him from deep sleep before Nelyo can stop him. Carnistir lets out a wail like a small animal being carried off by a winged horror, not a child being lifted into the arms of his older brother, and bucks in Macalaurë’s arms—his teeth gnashing at Macalaurë’s wrist—his face already flushing red before pausing, perfectly silent for a moment, breathing in; I wince, waiting, and feel Nelyo do the same, for a moment later, Carnistir shrieks with every bit of air in him, pounding at Macalaurë’s shoulders with tiny, bruising fists.
“Oh, for Manwë’s sake, Macalaurë,” Nelyo says, and my hand is dropped, and Nelyo gathers the cloak from the couch and drapes it over Carnistir’s shaking little body, swathing him tightly and taking him from a grateful Macalaurë.
“Ada! Adaahhh!” Carnistir shrieks, his crimson face soaked with tears.
“How was I to know that he was going to do that?” Macalaurë protests.
Nelyo cuddles Carnistir, and he wriggles free from the cloak a bit, enough to cling to Nelyo’s neck and press his face into his shoulder, muffling his screams a bit. Whether the cloak has fooled him into believing that Nelyo is Ada or whether he doesn’t care—as long as it isn’t Macalaurë—I am not sure, but Carnistir’s cries subside. “He’s just a baby, Macalaurë. Just a baby,” Nelyo croons, more to Carnistir than to Macalaurë, bouncing him gently. “You’re fine now, Carnistir. No one’s going to hurt you. No one’s ever going to hurt my baby brother. Don’t cry, now, little one, don’t cry.”
“I wasn’t trying to hurt him,” Macalaurë says, with bewildered indignation.
Nelyo is brusque. “Take Tyelkormo, would you? We need to get supper started.”
I hold my arms up to Macalaurë (such ploys had stopped working on Nelyo shortly after Carnistir was born, but Nelyo is too distracted by pacing and shushing Carnistir to advise Macalaurë of my perfectly suitable ability to walk to the kitchen on my own), and he lifts me, groaning at my weight, which makes me smile over his shoulder, and I squeeze my arms around his neck.
I watch the rooms and hallways of the house recede over Macalaurë’s shoulder as we walk. Carnistir’s wails have subsided to slighted whimpers, his face buried and lost in a spill of hair on Nelyo’s shoulder, his little hands clutching fistfuls of Nelyo’s tunic. Carnistir is utterly unpredictable, I’ve learned: complacent and even a bit jovial one minute and a wailing horror the next. Macalaurë, unaccustomed to my weight, has allowed me to slide towards the ground, so I grab a handful of his hair and tug until he hoists me back up to his hip, muttering with annoyed pain.
Nelyo pushes into the kitchen and, sensing that he is about to be abandoned, Carnistir renews his efforts, his voice crescendoing into protesting moans. I am deposited onto the floor, and before I can run to Nelyo and add to the melee, Macalaurë catches my hand, and I am dragged behind him into the cool darkness of the pantry.
“Here,” he says, turning me to face him, “hold out your arms.” I do as instructed, and my hands and arms are piled with vegetables, cheeses, and breads until I can barely see over the pile.
“Macalaurë,” I complain.
“I’ll lead you; you’ll be fine.” His voice comes now from the back of the pantry, where Ada keeps the wine. I stand, teetering, as a block of cheese threatens to topple to the floor, until I feel Macalaurë’s hand on my back, guiding me back to the kitchen.
Nelyo has found success with Carnistir, at least a bit. He’s convinced my little brother to sit at the small table in the middle of the room, although Nelyo is still pressed next to him on the bench, and Carnistir, red-eyed and flushed, is still wrapped tightly in Ada’s cloak. “Stay here, little one,” Nelyo whispers to him, planting a quick kiss on his forehead before darting forward to meet me, right as the cheese topples from my arms.
“Tyelkormo, can I trust you with a knife?” Nelyo asks me, as he unloads the ingredients from my arms and moves them to the table. I give him an insulted stare, and he sighs. “Of course I can. I suppose you’ve handled much worse in Ada’s workshop, have you not?” Before I can answer, he bustles over to one of the drawers and pulls out a long, silver blade. My breath catches as Telperion’s light glinted off its edge; my father’s work, I know, beautiful. Nelyo seats me at the table, across from Carnistir, and gives me rapid instructions on which cheeses to cube and which to slice. “Make sure you keep the edges even,” he tells me, “so that Macalaurë and I can cut them into flowers.”
“I want to cut flowers!” Carnistir’s voice rises suddenly. “I want to help!”
Nelyo tries to restrain it, but I hear a quick sigh of frustration pass his lips, and his eyes flutter shut, covering something that he doesn’t want us to see. I keep my eyes on my work, determined to slice the cheese evenly and perfectly, and don’t look at Nelyo as he rushes to get a bowl of water for Carnistir to wash vegetables. I hear Carnistir shriek when Nelyo tries to unwrap Ada’s cloak. “You will need your hands free, little one,” he says, and Carnistir allows him to tie the cloak around his neck, even though it pools on the floor behind him. Carnistir is given a pile of vegetables to wash. Behind me, Macalaurë is banging pans and heating the stove to boil water; I glance up enough to see Nelyo’s hands, showing Carnistir how to wash the dirt from the vegetables, rippling the water ever so slightly as he moves beneath it, cupping Carnistir’s hands in his. I chance to look up, and he smiles at me.
“Do you see that, little one?” he says to Carnistir. “Just like that.” He kisses the point of Carnistir’s ear, making him giggle, and stands up. As he passes me, he touches my shoulder, and my knife knocks against the wooden tabletop with renewed vigor.
What I would do to please him. To please Ada.
Carnistir drops a potato into his water bowl, laughing as water geysers up and splashes us both. Behind me, Nelyo and Macalaurë are speaking rapidly, their words overlapping and interrupting each other, punctuated by the clatter of pots and pans. “Here take—ah, no!” I hear a wet crack and know that they have dropped an egg. Carnistir peers around me, his eyes bright with interest, water dripping off the end of his nose. “We’ll get it later,” I hear Nelyo say, both authoritative and reassuring. “Hand me another.”
Trays are shuffled into the oven, pans are set on the stove and stirred, and within a half-hour, my elder brothers are sitting at the table with us—Nelyo beside Carnistir and Macalaurë next to me—cutting vegetables for salads and speaking of subjects they say, when we ask, are beyond Carnistir’s and my comprehension. Macalaurë perches on one leg folded beneath him, his elbows on the table, and his eyes bright and eager, but Nelyo sits straight—shoulders squared—as he always does, chopping lettuce with an even motion, the only clue to his demeanor being the quick smile that set on his lips.
“So they shall all be here then?” Nelyo says.
“Yes, that is my understanding. Even….” Macalaurë lets his words trail off, and he raises his eyebrows at Nelyo.
Nelyo doesn’t give him the satisfaction of looking up. “Today would be the day that we are late starting supper. I only hope everything turns out well.”
“She would not care if you fed her sawdust and furnace slag, as long as it was you serving it.”
“Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout?” Carnistir chirps, devolving to the casual baby talk he has been forbidden to use after recently started language lessons with our father.
“What are you—” Nelyo corrects in a warning tone.
“What are you talking about?” Carnistir repeats, his words careful and measured, a lot like Nelyo’s.
“We are discussing social interaction,” Nelyo says carefully, and almost at the same time, Macalaurë says, with a giggle, “We are discussing maidens.”
“Shh!” Nelyo kicks him under the table, and Macalaurë drops the cucumber he was slicing to grab his leg and moan, “Ai!”
“Serves you right,” Nelyo grumbles, but I see his guilty, concerned eyes flicker to Macalaurë. He gives the lettuce a few extra-stern whacks. “She is Ada’s apprentice, which all but squanders any hope.”
Macalaurë protests, “Why? Ada married his master’s daughter.”
“Yes, but, no offense meant to Ada, for I realize that my own existence is contingent upon his and Nana’s premature marriage, but I desire not to follow in his stead.”
“Maitimo, you are already older than Ada was when he wed our mother. Ilúvatar in Ea, you are already older than Ada was when you were born! You are only three years from coming of age. I hardly think that you are jeopardizing propriety if you ask to court his very lovely apprentice.”
Nelyo stares at the growing pile of chopped lettuce for a long moment before responding. “I will do no such thing.”
“If you find her so ‘lovely,’” he says acerbically, “then why do you not ask to court her, Macalaurë?”
Macalaurë grins and said, “She is not smitten with me, Maitimo,” and, laughing, swings his legs onto the bench before Nelyo can deliver another kick to his shins.
My eyes meet Carnistir’s, and he lets a bored whoosh of air through his nose (which is running, I noticed with disgust). Nelyo turns to him and wipes Carnistir’s nose with a rag. “That’s enough, Macalaurë.”
“Ah, I suppose that my conversation is making Carnistir’s nose run.”
“No, but you are boring them, and they get into mischief when they are bored. And we do not need their mischief to add to our woes tonight.”
“So you do care!”
“I knew it.”
Nelyo’s eyes dart to meet Macalaurë’s dancing gaze. Macalaurë always pushes Nelyo a smidgen beyond what Carnistir and I dare, even though we are too young to have any fear of Nelyo kicking us underneath the table. But Nelyo holds confidence with Macalaurë in a way that he does with no other—even Ada, with whom he sometimes spends the better part of the day—and the two of them are always going off together to feasts and picnics, from which they return well into Telperion’s hours. Or so I assume. I always try to stay awake until I hear their footsteps on the stairs, but Telperion’s silver light makes my eyes heavy and my limbs melt into my mattress, and when I awaken again, Laurelin is blossoming, and Nelyo and Macalaurë are deeply asleep, often not even awake in time for breakfast. They are usually in a languid good humor for days following these excursions, smiling easily and taking each other into laughing confidences, but on a few occasions, Nelyo has returned home in a poisonous mood that cut the words from my throat and made Carnistir hide under the bed. Even Ada seemed to treat Nelyo gentler during their lessons together. I asked Macalaurë once what had put Nelyo in such a black humor, and he whispered that Nelyo had been “jilted.” Jilted? I knew not the meaning of this word—and dared not ask—but it sounded painful, like some kind of wounding. The last time Nelyo had been “jilted,” I slipped into his bed beside him one night—after his anger had subsided a bit, of course—and gently patted his body while he slept, but found no sores to justify his moodiness. I leaned into him, and he circled me with his arms without awakening—many years of practice made it a reflex, I suppose, first with Macalaurë, now me—and I wished that I was bigger and stronger so that I might find he who had wounded my beautiful and kind brother and “jilt” him in turn.
The vegetables are all chopped, and Carnistir and I are permitted to toss them all together in a big bowl while Nelyo and Macalaurë set out in the dining room the heavy ceramic plates—the good plates—with Ada’s crest at the center. The light flooding through the kitchen windows is predominantly silver now, and I know that soon we’ll hear the nervous footsteps of the apprentices coming down the hall. Macalaurë shoves a handful of knives and spoons at me and a handful of forks at Carnistir, and we circle the big oval table in the dining room, setting them out as Ada taught us, while Nelyo follows behind and folds the heavy linen napkins into shapes like flowers and straightens our work.
Nelyo and Macalaurë converge in the kitchen and begin ticking off tasks on their fingers. This is in the warming oven; that is in the pantry to keep it cool; we set out the—oh, no! They scramble for the four wine bottles Macalaurë had taken from the pantry and set them out on the table. Back in the kitchen, they breathe and appraise each other and turn in unison to look at Carnistir and me.
We are dragged—my hand in Nelyo’s and Carnistir’s in Macalaurë’s—to the washroom behind the kitchen, Ada’s cloak still dragging behind Carnistir like some kind of absurd ceremonial train, where we are propped up on a bench and vigorously cleaned. My hair is soft and fine and does not tangle easily, but Nelyo, unsatisfied, tears a comb through it a few times anyway. I’d had my hands in the raspberries that had been picked for dessert, and the pink is scoured from my lips and fingers.
“They need a bath,” Macalaurë says with some disdain. He has a comb tangled in Carnistir’s hair—which is not nearly so soft and fine as mine—and the only thing that keeps Carnistir from screaming out in protest is his preoccupation with removing the string holding Macalaurë’s tunic closed.
“We don’t have time to bathe them,” Nelyo says, for which I was glad. “We have—” he studies the silver light pouring through the small high window over the bathtub, “ten minutes. No more. And we have to get ourselves ready as well.”
“Of course,” Macalaurë says with exaggerated sincerity, and Nelyo shoots him a sharp look. Neither notices that Carnistir has unlaced Macalaurë’s shirt until it hangs open nearly to his ribs. I think of saying something, but Carnistir is occupied and quiet, and I do not feel like hearing his screeching protestations when his fun is foiled.
Carnistir pulls the string from the last holes in Macalaurë’s shirt and tucks it in his mouth.
Nelyo is smoothing my clothes. “Where are your shoes?” he asks, and I struggle to remember. “Never mind. I will bring a pair from your room when we’re done.”
“This child is filthy,” Macalaurë complains, scrubbing Carnistir’s hands with a rag, and Carnistir grins at me with strings poking from between his teeth. Macalaurë sighs, and Carnistir’s lips close quickly over his teeth, as Macalaurë holds him at arm’s length and surveys his handiwork. “It’ll do, I—” His hand flies to his chest, suddenly noticing that half of his tunic is undone. “What has happened to my—” He looks at Carnistir, whose dark eyes are wide and innocent. “What did you do with it?”
Nelyo sighs and leaves me to walk over to Carnistir, pries his mouth open, and draws out a long spit-sodden string. He thrusts it at an appalled Macalaurë. “Here.”
“Ugh.” Macalaurë takes it between two fingers, studies it for a moment, and sets it on the edge of the basin. Carnistir reaches for it, but Macalaurë grabs his hand away and concentrates on removing Ada’s cloak from around his neck. Carnistir stares at him in vague confusion for a moment, then—as though realizing what was happening—lets out a piercing shriek and sets his little teeth into Macalaurë’s hand.
“Ai! Ilúvatar in Ea! Why do I always get stuck with him? He hates me.” Macalaurë shakes the sting out of his hand and glares at Carnistir, who is warming up to a full-blown tantrum with some plaintive whimpers. Nelyo studies Carnistir, who is impeccable except for the long, wrinkled cloak tied around his throat, and says, “To the Void with it. Let him wear it.” Carnistir’s whimpering slowly subsides into hard little breaths and then into nothing, with only the color in his cheeks as evidence of his outburst.
Nelyo and Macalaurë turned their attention to themselves. Macalaurë delicately rethreads his tunic, scowling and trying to touch the soggy string as little as possible, and Nelyo pulls the comb through his hair, which is sticking out at all angles, clotted with a mixture of sweat and food and Carnistir’s tears. Macalaurë finishes lacing his tunic and takes the comb from a frustrated Nelyo with a delicacy that he rarely shows to Carnistir and me. “Here,” he says, “let me do it,” and he twists the sides of Nelyo’s hair off of his face and fastens them behind his head with a clip. “You look so much better with your hair out of your eyes.”
“Thank you. Nana will be pleased.”
“It was not Nana about whom I was thinking,” Macalaurë says coyly, and Nelyo scowls.
“You wish me wed so that you can have my bedroom? Is that it?”
“No, I wish you wed because—” He gestures sharply at Carnistir and me, placated and standing on the bench, watching them. I have a hold of Carnistir’s hand to keep him from teetering off the edge, and with his other hand, he is gnawing on the edge of Ada’s cloak. “Look at them. Five minutes and they drive me to Irmo, but you—you are meant to be a father, Nelyo, more than anyone I’ve ever met. I would betray Ilúvatar’s intentions if I didn’t encourage you to fall in love and marry. I wish love for you more than I wish it for myself.”
Nelyo stares at Macalaurë with skepticism, but when Macalaurë’s eyes don’t skip from his, his expression softens. “Come,” he says, his eyes very bright now that they are not veiled by his hair, and he lifts Carnistir, who becomes instantly limp in his arms, “or we shall be late to our own supper.”
Ada and Nana always have two apprentices each, young Noldor, around Nelyo’s age, with hesitant hands and nervous eyes. Perhaps because they are of their cohort, Nelyo and Macalaurë always get along well with the apprentices, and often they are tailed by one or two when they go off to their feasts and picnics. But Carnistir and I watch our parents’ protégés with uneasy eyes, and I must confess to delighting in their vexation.
Nana’s apprentices have been with our family for a year at the end of the summer, and Ada’s senior apprentice Vorondil is a fixture permanent enough that Ada trusts him to tutor Carnistir and I when Ada and Nelyo are traveling. (Vorondil thinks he knows everything: How I love to find every tiny error in his ways and pick at it, stubborn fingers over a scab!) But Ada’s latest apprentice is a girl—the only one ever taken by either of my parents, for most girls tend towards softer crafts like needlework or painting, certainly not metalworking, which is her specialty—and she has been with us for less than a month and has yet to take a meal with our family. Annawendë is her name: I hear it spoken in Ada’s voice, brusque utility making the syllables no more special than those he uses to describe the tools in his forge, and by Vorondil and Macalaurë, affectionately, as one mentions a friend. Nelyo speaks her name the least, and as my wisdom grows with my years, I will realize that that meant he thought of it the most.
We are not back in the dining room for two minutes—Nelyo and Macalaurë are setting out loaves of bread at either end of the table—when I hear a male and a female voice outside the door. I recognize Vorondil’s immediately: He is talking about properties of green marble with his swaggering northern Noldorin accent; I can visualize his obnoxious gesturing that takes too much room out of the air like he is swatting at bugs constantly circling his head. Annawendë is much quieter. Whenever I see her, her face is stern, like she tastes something unpleasant. I watch Macalaurë send Nelyo an eager glance, but Nelyo is straightening the cutting board at his end of the table, aligning it with unnecessary precision, and he won’t meet Macalaurë’s hungry glance.
Ada’s apprentices enter and stop to wash their hands at the basin Nelyo had set by the door. Over and over their hands turn in the cool water, as though they fear that bringing a bit of dust from the forge will poison us all. Vorondil has stopped talking at least. Ada comes up behind them, and they scatter in opposite directions, their damp hands tucked behind their backs. Ada dips each hand in the water and flicks it at Carnistir, who stands by the door, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting apprentice’s leg and sink his teeth in. He laughs now and bats the water from his face, then races over to Ada and buries his face in his thigh. “Mm-mm! Mm-mm!” he says, and I know Carnistir well enough to know that he says, “Ada! Ada!”
“Ah, Carnistir, my little dark one, so that is where my cloak has gone.” Ada stoops and lifts Carnistir over his head. “I shall have to wear you with it then!” He settles Carnistir on his shoulders, and Carnistir shrieks with delight and grabs handfuls of Ada’s hair like reins. The cloak—dusty from being dragged around on the floor for half the day—swirls around his shoulders.
Ada comes to us one by one in greeting: Nelyo first, always, given a kiss on the cheek and a squeeze on the shoulder. Macalaurë, next, receives the same. I am last, and Ada stoops to kiss first my forehead, then the tip of my nose in quick succession, and I laugh and hug him around his neck. He lifts me easily, despite Carnistir still atop his shoulders and now whacking him joyfully in the side of the head, and I perch on his arm and push my face into his neck, breathing in the smell of the forge and the his Ada-smell that is like scorched air before conflagration.
“What needs to be done?” he asks Nelyo, his voice booming so close to my ear. Nelyo is making a point to look intently at Ada; behind him stands Annawendë, making a point to look intently at Vorondil, who is back to talking about the properties of green marble.
“We just need to serve,” Nelyo replies.
“We shall wait for your mother then.” He sets me down and gives me a swat on the behind that sends me running for Nelyo. I wrap my arms around his leg and lean against his hip, facing backwards, and his fingers twine lazily in my hair. Annawendë’s eyes meet mine, and I give her the wickedest stare I can conjure and tighten my grip on Nelyo as though to say, you can’t have him. He’s mine. Mine and Carnistir’s. We need him more than you ever will.
Ada is walking around the dining room, pretending to look for Carnistir, who is still astride his shoulders. “I know I missed greeting one of my sons, but who? Which one is missing? I saw Nelyo, yes, and Macalaurë. And I saw Tyelkormo. What’s that other one’s name? The little one?” Carnistir laughs and holds handfuls of Ada’s hair straight out from his head like wings. “Ah, yes, Carnistir! My little dark one! Where did he get to?” He stoops to peer beneath the table, and Carnistir shrieks and has to grab beneath Ada’s chin to keep from toppling off his shoulders. “Carnistir! Carnistir!” he calls, and Carnistir calls back, “Ada! Ada!”
Our mother arrives then. Her long red hair is tied back with a ribbon and she wears a clean blue dress over the mannish tunic and trousers that she wears to work, but the dress is still floured with stone dust, as Nana’s clothes always seemed to be. Her two apprentices follow her like loyal ducklings.
She washes her hands and makes the same round of greetings that Ada made a few minutes earlier. Her kiss lands on my lips and her hands pull me into a light embrace. “Tyelkormo,” she says, “were you good today?”
“Yes, Nana,” I whisper, for in her arms, I always feel like the baby again.
Her hands rub my back. “Good. Did you have fun on your free day?”
“Nelyo read to Carnistir and me, Nana. But I fell asleep.”
“Ah, it is wearying to be so young.” Her arms slide from my body, and loneliness seizes me. I follow her to Carnistir—just deposited on the floor by Ada—and stand behind her as she cuddles him and whispers in his ear, near enough to feel the heat from her body warming mine. Then, he too, is abandoned, and she rises to greet Ada.
“Fëanaro,” she says, and he replies, “Nerdanel,” and their arms slip around the other’s waist, and she lays her head on his shoulder. His hand steals up her back and tugs the ribbon from her hair, and she draws back abruptly, as though to chastise him, but he speaks first: “You are beautiful, Nerdanel, with your hair free. How I missed you today.”
And they kiss. My parents always kiss each other with the same joy as a thirsty man who has just plunged his face into a cold, bubbling stream: clinging, immersed, eyes damp with gratitude, drowning in that which saves them. I would one day witness their last kiss, in front of our home in Formenos, when I thought they would never surface, but my mother did, and she pulled from my father’s arms, swung onto her horse, and galloped south, gone in an instant, in a roar of hoofbeats. And my father turned and ran into his forge then, slamming the door and barring it shut with his new locks, although neither I nor my brothers pursued him, for we had our own tears, and all of our love could not console the loss of hers. My parents had finally drowned.
But now, they pull apart after a moment, secret smiles on their lips, and I know that I, my brothers, their apprentices are gone from their minds, that the universe contains only two spirits, merged into one in the middle.
“I missed you today, as well, my love,” my mother whispers, her lips still near Ada’s, and he kisses her again, quickly, sneakily, and she laughs and holds his face beside hers in an embrace. “I love you I love you I love you—a thousand times I love you!”
I feel Nelyo reach for my hand—in his arms sits Carnistir, chewing on the edge of Ada’s cloak again—and we are taken around to greet the apprentices. I hate these formalities: Was it not ten days ago that I had an interminable lesson with Vorondil about steel alloys, yet I must be presented to him as a stranger? But Nelyo believes in such gestures; they keep the world orderly, he says, and if my brother loves anything, it is for things to be orderly.
Nelyo goes to Annawendë last. I was introduced to her, naturally, at her arrival a month ago, and I thought then as I think now: She is not so lovely; she is ordinary, really, with dark brown hair and sharp gray eyes and a mouth that never completely smiles. She certainly isn’t worthy of my tall, beautiful brother. “Annawendë,” he says, and his voice is stiff, formal, “I present my little brothers, Tyelkormo and Carnistir.”
“I am pleased to renew your acquaintance,” I say, as he taught me, and I take her hand and squeeze it as hard as I can. I must have overestimated my strength, however, or underestimated hers, for she does not even give me the pleasure of a flinch.
Carnistir purses his lips and blows out a spray of spit, accompanied by a rude noise. “Carnistir!” Nelyo scolds, but Annawendë laughs and says, “It is fine, Maitimo. He is adorable. They both are.” I feel a nudge of guilt at her sincerity on the last part. She puts her hand on his arm then, lightly, barely touching him, but his stiffness falls away.
“Well, he takes after our father, as you can see,” Nelyo says, smiling a funny half-smile and giving Carnistir an extra heft. Carnistir tucks the edge of Ada’s cloak into his mouth again. I turn to find Ada, and see that he is greeting Nana’s apprentices. Nana holds his arm and beams; soon, she will be presented to his apprentices, including this un-lovely girl who’d touched Nelyo. Nelyo, too, has turned, and seeing that time escapes him, begins to back out of the conversation. “Annawendë, I hope that you shall be comfortable here and that you should enjoy the supper.” And then I am being dragged back to Macalaurë, looking back over my shoulder at the girl who smiles after my brother.
Read Chapter Three