I stopped in the middle of doing warrant-type stuff to post it, so I'm going to deny y'all my normally rambly introduction. Don't groan too loudly; you'll wake up the Elves.
Per usual, comments and criticisms of all sorts are welcome. My sincerest thanks to those of you who are still with me, after a half-year and twenty-six chapters of posting. You've all made this an amazing (and slightly less harrowing experience, these days) for me. Thank you!
Hmmm. It seems my introduction is normal length. Okay, here's the chapter, and it's back to warrant-type things!
I will have none of my usual trouble falling asleep this night. My body is heavy with exhaustion, and gravity seizes me and pulls me deep into the warm depths of my bedclothes. I had not even the energy to retrieve my nightclothes from the armoire across the room—much less wash the smell of the hunt from my skin—so I fall into bed in my underwear and let dark, dreamless sleep wash away my weariness.
There is contentment too, for the hunt went well—better than I could have ever imagined—and I helped slay three wolves this night, driving my arrows with deadly accuracy into their throats. Only Atar, Nelyo, and the Lord Verkaturo killed more, and I drew with one of Verkaturo’s sons and exceeded the other.
But I do not wish to dream of my triumphs, for once the adrenaline had left my veins, I was sickened by the scene, by the blood that contrasted so startlingly with the green grass, over-bright in Telperion’s gentle light. Atar and Verkaturo dismounted straight away to cut the pelts from the beasts—the only parts we could use; the meat would be left for the carrion birds and to feed the ground—sawing at still-warm flesh with their hunting knives, peeling away the skins that made the same sounds as peeling away wet clothing, but I excused myself to go drink from a nearby stream, suddenly dizzy.
Upon returning, the furs were stowed away and we were making ready to leave. Morning was near, and we still had an hour’s ride home. I tried hard not to look at the steaming piles of bloody flesh we left behind, but my eyes were drawn to the red stain on the otherwise beautiful land, and I mounted quickly and got ready to ride, to keep my eyes from drifting in that direction.
“One shall belong to you, Macalaurë,” Atar said, riding up beside me, “for the largest was killed by your arrow to its throat.” We were mounted, so he could not embrace me, but he reached over and put his ever-warm hand on my arm. “You never fail to surprise me, Macalaurë,” he said, and pride flowered in my heart once more.
As sleep takes me, I wish that I could write a song of Atar, but his spirit cannot be contained within the discipline of music. Indeed, the only time I have heard music that makes me think of Atar is when I hear the orchestra in Alqualondë warming up before a performance, each instrument drifting along on its own melody that—when teased apart from that of its neighbors—is beautiful, but when wrestling in the air with the others around it, is seventy separate voices making noise. At first, I cringed upon hearing the wall of sound that fell upon my ears, but as I listened further, there was beauty in it too, happening upon my ears like gems in the dirt: when the individual songs of three players, for instance, would chance to merge into a minor chord that twisted my heart, or when a discordant groan of a bass was made into sense by the flitting melody of a flute, playing a separate song across the orchestra. Such is Atar.
I think I am dreaming when I hear the door bang open and see Atar standing there. It is not like him to enter our bedrooms unbidden. He always knocks and enters with our invitation, extending to us the same courtesy that he requires. Even more puzzling, he is angry, and I feel my insides drag with disappointment that the gift of sleep should be tainted by nightmares.
But I can feel myself blinking and the idiosyncrasies of the room stand out starker than they should in dreams: the scribbled pictures that Tyelkormo drew when he was just a year old, hanging crookedly on the wall; the neck of my lute being used to hold the bracelets that Nelyo removed earlier today and forgot to take with him; my old lettering primer, left in the middle of the floor. And Atar, in his nightclothes, smelling of the cold water from the pump by the barn that he and Nelyo used to wash the blood from their hands.
“Macalaurë!” he says loudly, and his voice leaves no doubt that he is real.
He strides to my bed and tears away my blanket. “Atar!” I cry out, reflexively drawing my body into a ball against my headboard, as though protecting my nearly naked body from attack. His eyes burn with anger, and I can no more bear his gaze on mine than I could bear hot iron against my flesh.
“Get out of bed. I want you to tell your brother that the chimeras with which you scare him are not real.”
“Chimeras?” I am puzzled.
“Your brother is having dreams about Melkor! Now where else would he learn such a name if not from you, he who delights in frightening others with scary tales?”
Nelyo and I—when we were very small—used to read Atar’s secret writings about Orcs and Melkor and torture, until we were sick with fright. Nelyo dealt with his fear by immersing himself into the same research; I construed twisted stories in an effort to dull the fright of the original. I must admit that telling these stories to my little brothers, when they are being particularly disagreeable, is a joy of mine. But I never told of Melkor.
For Melkor I could make no worse, even in the long deliberations of my mind.
“I—I never—” I stammer.
“Do not tell me you never did!” Atar roars. He seizes my shoulder, and his hand is hot on my cold skin. “Get out of bed! It shall be you who sacrifices his repose to comfort Carnistir tonight!”
Tears of injustice sting my eyes, and I am ashamed by them. I want to believe—were I not exhausted already and seized from sleep—that I would be able to respond as Nelyo does when he faces Atar’s wrath, with calm deference threaded with clean logic. But hot tears course down my face, and my voice shakes as I insist, “I never told him of Melkor.”
My words must have been serendipitous, and like a hot pin driven into the frail skin of a balloon, Atar’s anger deflates with alarming suddenness. His hand falls away. “Then how does he know, Macalaurë?” he asks, and his voice reminds me of pleading.
He spies and sneaks, I want to say; he hides in close, dark places and watches that which is not supposed to be seen; he uses cunning and trickery to learn that which he is not supposed to know. But I cannot make such accusations to Atar, who loves his baby son with every cell of his being, so I answer lamely, “I do not know, Atar.”
“Are you sure you said nothing, Macalaurë? Nothing at all? You said nothing about how Melkor speaks in the minds of some Elves?”
“I didn’t even know—”
“Well, such are the tales carried from Middle-earth, saying that some of the Avari heard the voice of Melkor in their minds, and for that reason, forsook the Great Journey.” Atar begins pacing, as though there is nothing odd about slamming into his son’s room in the middle of the night to discuss legends and myths from Middle-earth. I wait until his back is turned to draw the blanket around my body, so that he cannot see me tremble. “I never believed them myself. We are people of light; surely darkness speaks not in us. How can it? Light always overtakes darkness.”
He despairs. His hands clench each other, painfully wringing his own fingers, and lines furrow his brow. “Atar…” I begin, but I do not know what to say to comfort him, although the sound of my voice alone seems to soothe him. He stops pacing, and his arms fall to his sides.
“Carnistir says that he hears Melkor speaking in his mind, from beyond the confines of Mandos. I always believed that it was you giving him such ideas. I beg you to confess that it was.”
“I would, to ease your pain, Atar, but it would be a lie,” I whisper, and Atar reaches over to touch my face as way of good night, then quietly leaves my bedroom.
When I next awaken, Laurelin is bright in my windows, and it is nearly afternoon. Amil is sitting on the edge of my bed.
“Macalaurë!” she says, delight brightening her voice. “I wondered: Would you like a midday meal? It is nearly time.” Her hands are soft on my face, as though she is memorizing my contours for one of her sculptures. Of my brothers, my nature is the most like my mother’s, and she clings to me like one might hold tightly to a friend in a foreign land.
She wants to ask me about Atar last night, I know, but she cannot find the words.
I sit up in bed, and my stomach grumbles. I clap my hands to my belly as thought to suppress it and laugh. “A midday meal would be lovely,” I say, and my joviality must ease her fears a bit because the creases in her face flatten and she smiles. “I shall tell your father then,” she says, watching me carefully when she says “father,” but there is nothing for my face to betray, so she can leave contented.
Indeed, Atar’s intrusion seems almost a bizarre dream in the golden clarity of Laurelin. I rise to draw a bath, for with my exhaustion dissipated, I am conscious of the reek of my body, and I doubt that I could eat with my own smell in my nose, much less expect that others should do the same. I test each movement of my body carefully before committing fully to it, for I am not as athletic as my father and my brothers, but my muscles do not ache as I expect, although I find that my drawing arm is a bit stiff. The hot bath water is luxurious on my dirty skin.
Soreness does not slow me from running down the steps to the kitchen, from where the warm aroma of freshly baked bread is just beginning to twine through the rest of the house. I pause before pushing open the door, for I hear singing, and when I at last enter the kitchen, find my mother and father dancing together in the middle of the floor, singing a duet, with Tyelkormo sandwiched between them, hanging from Atar’s neck, and Carnistir standing on Atar’s left foot, squatting with his arms locked around Atar’s calf and his teeth fasted into Atar’s trouser leg. Nelyo is cutting carrots and knocking the knife in time to their singing. Findekano is kneeling on a chair beside him and appears to be peeling radishes, smiling as though he doesn’t know whether to be heartened or frightened by the bizarre behavior of his aunt and uncle.
I hear my own delighted laughter join the ruckus, for it is rare when my parents join their voices together in song, and it is beautiful. Atar sees me standing in the doorway, and I find myself being dragged with his arm around my neck into the hullabaloo, while he pleads for me to take over his part in the song. “I cannot,” I say—my face is pressed against Tyelkormo’s and now one of his arms is around my neck too—“for it is a love song, and only you can sing it with Amil.” I manage to wriggle free and join Nelyo at the cutting board, straightening my clothes. Their circle closes and the song continues without me.
When the song ends, Atar says, “Right, we are getting nothing done,” and draws away from Amil and sets Tyelkormo onto the floor. Tyelkormo immediately latches onto his right leg, and when Atar walks to the stove, Tyelkormo drags behind him like an abandoned piece of baggage and makes Atar’s right leg lurch with each step. But he says nothing and moves the vegetables steaming on the stove to the counter behind him with such ease that he appears to walk unhindered.
Before Tyelkormo was born, I was certain that one day I’d marry and have children of my own. After all, this is the normal way of life for Elves. Looking back to my youth, such assumptions never came with practical considerations, like the frightening, delicate process of procuring a girl to court and then convincing her to marry me, and then—the ultimate in scary considerations—actually bonding myself to the body and spirit of another and continuing to repeat the act over the course of years until a child is conceived. It was Atar who explained to me—when, at the tender age of five, I asked him over breakfast one day (Amil had taken Nelyo to Tirion for new shoes and we were dining alone)—the means by which children are created and born into the world, and I was quite disgusted by the idea of putting my private parts inside of a girl and then peeing inside of her. Not only was it one of the grossest things I’d ever heard, it seemed like it might be rather painful to have soft parts mashed inside another person like that. I couldn’t imagine my proud, dignified Atar ever doing such a thing either, so there had to be another way that he wasn’t telling me, and I was therefore not deterred from believing that I would marry and beget my own children someday.
Then Tyelkormo was born, and while the initial idea of being a big brother made me proud, I quickly grew weary of the constant responsibility brought by a young child. Tyelkormo had a relatively restricted range of vocalizations—mostly crying, screaming, and shrieking—and he didn’t seem to respect the hours that a normal person observed by being quiet late in the night or early in the morning. He also didn’t respect one’s need to study for assessments that Atar administered regardless of whether or not his youngest son had kept the entire house awake the night before with his caterwauling. And—being as I was twenty-five when Tyelkormo made his glorious, noisy entrance into the world—I was charged to be capable of certain responsibilities that seemed to me should have belonged to our parents. I babysat, I gave him bottles, I helped Atar bathe him, but I drew the line at changing his diapers after my first attempt, when after I removed the dirty diaper, I accidentally dropped the clean one onto the floor, and stooping to retrieve it, felt something pattering on my hair and discovered that my little brother had launched a most impressive fountain of pee directly onto my head.
The only times I enjoyed Tyelkormo in those first years were when Atar and Amil would dress him in impeccable, miniature robes and his glorious golden hair was combed and tamed for introduction to whatever lord or king. (And, seeing how Atar knew every person of importance on the continent, there wasn’t a noble Elf or Ainu in Valinor to whom my brothers and I were not introduced within the first two years of our lives.) Tyelkormo—drinking of the attention like a lush gorges himself on wine—was well behaved then, a golden, cherubic beauty, and I was proud to be his older brother. But every other time would have made me wish for the times before he was born but for the fact that Atar and Amil were made so happy by his arrival. Although I could not see why, for Tyelkormo drove my diligent parents to distraction in the first years of his life, and I could not understand why they would desire his constant demands on their attention. I did not know if, in their place, I could be so selfless to set my music aside whenever my son began to cry. I began to shamefully doubt that I would ever want children of my own.
When Carnistir was born, my secret belief that I would be one of the abnormal few to never marry and beget children of his own grew to adamant insistence of the same. Carnistir somehow managed to be even louder than Tyelkormo, and he was aggressive too and would sooner bite or yank my hair than deign to give me a smile. I was thirty-five when he was born, and it wasn’t long after the arrival of his fourth son that my father called me into his office to inform me that I had reached the age where I would soon be experiencing “desires to wed” and that such feelings were normal as long as I didn’t do anything daft. Like actually wedding.
(I had been warned of this talk by Nelyo, who’d been given it at the same age. Nelyo had also already warned me about these “desires,” for it was no secret that what Nelyo felt could rarely be labeled with a word so innocent as “desire,” which seemed to me a term more applicable to wanting an extra cup of pudding with dessert than the commanding lust with which Nelyo was sometimes overcome. I once had the unfortunate embarrassment of encountering Nelyo in the barn with one of grandfather’s female messengers from Tirion, sprawled in the haystack with half of his tunic off, her lips attached to his neck like a leech, and her hand shoved down the front of his trousers. I’d been drawn by the thrashing and moaning, incorrectly assuming that Nelyo had injured himself and was crying out in pain.)
Atar apparently believed that—by the age of thirty-five—I would also have succumbed to such lust. He had replaced his desk chair with Amil’s wicker rocker, and he rocked Carnistir as he spoke—Carnistir was slurping on the bottle that seemed perpetually shoved between his lips—telling me that such “desires” merely prepared my body and spirit to wed, although I couldn’t actually marry until I was fifty years old. (Atar had married Amil when they were both forty-two, and I have a feeling that their early wedding was generally regarded as an instance where they allowed their normal desires at that age to overwhelm them—hence Atar’s caution.)
I knew nothing of the desires of which he spoke, however, and I told him as much. I didn’t even think that I wanted to marry and bond myself to a woman. I certainly didn’t want to have children, I told him, staring hard at Carnistir, who stopped sucking on the bottle long enough to turn his head and spit a mouthful of milk onto Atar’s lap. “No mind, Macalaurë,” he told me, smiling despite my peevishness and the spitty milk soaking his trousers. “All Elves develop and mature at different rates.” He and Amil and Nelyo had matured at young ages, he said, so he’d simply assumed that I would be the same.
I had grown physically as expected: Hair grew in all the right places and my voice wavered alarmingly for a year before dooming me to never sing in the upper octaves again. I even awakened sometimes with an erection, but it had all the feeling of a broomstick, and it was akin in my mind to waking with a leg cramp: something that had to be endured and eliminated before emerging from one’s room in the morning.
I had been swimming with Atar enough times in recent years for him to know that my body had changed, and he reassured me that the body often grew faster than the mind. His father had been many thousands of years old, after all, before he’d decided to marry. It was less common, but there was nothing wrong with it. “But marriage,” he said, “always brings children. It is what our bodies are designed to do, and everyone—even you, eventually—is driven to fulfill this purpose. It is the reasoning behind the inconvenient differences between males and females.”
I sniffed and said that I thought bonding was disgusting and found the way that he and Amil pawed at each other (and the way that Nelyo pawed at every willing female to enter the property, although I didn’t say that) to be undignified. He should have been angry, but he only laughed and said, “Had I known that, Macalaurë, I would have saved my words for a later day. Yes, I suppose when you think of it in terms of brute mechanics, there is little grace in the act of bonding, but wait until you meet the right person, and you shall find that there is no greater joy given our bodies on Arda.”
I scoffed and silently thought that I had joy enough in my solitude and music and fellowship enough with Nelyo and Amil to compensate for the lack of a wife, and my thoughts were honest and abided for the next few years. Indeed, aside from when I had to urinate, I never thought of my genitals (except for the time that Tyelkormo hit me in the balls with a practice sword), and they were just another body part to dress in the morning—albeit, one that was far more often a nuisance than a blessing. I often wished that I could have been the girl that Amil and Atar wanted so badly, without dangling parts to protect and tuck into my clothes. I certainly wasn’t like Nelyo, who, when Tyelkormo asked, once named his hair his favorite body part then later confessed to me that his favorite part was actually his penis. I was horrified by this revelation, although less by the unnecessary insight about my brother than by the fact that, in comparison, it seemed that I was dead between the legs. I began to jealously wonder why my own flaccid organ couldn’t make itself similarly likeable and, instead, hung like a superfluous bit of flesh, good only for carefully spelling my name with pee in the snow that sometimes lingered upon our arrival in Formenos.
Only months had passed since my talk with Atar before I started to attend midnight feasts with Nelyo, one of the few young people willing to forgo dancing to act as a musician. There, I began to admire the way maidens seem to weave themselves into space, whereas males plunk themselves into a void and expect the air to circulate around them. Such easy grace inspired me and worked its ways into my songs (I pretended not to notice the knowing looks Atar gave me when I first played one of these songs for my family after supper), but I convinced myself that such songs were tributes to my mother and my aunts and had nothing to do with the desires of which Atar spoke. Furthermore, I denied the emergence of furtive resentment that I should always be stuck at such gatherings with a harp in my hands while my beautiful brother held maidens against his body and disappeared with them into the shadows beyond the clearing. No, I would remain as did all the great artists and scholars—Rumil for instance—unwed and in a state of unfailing and inspiring misery.
Then I met Vingarië, and with the force of eyes opening to Laurelin’s light in the morning, my body awakened. After sharing my first kiss with her, I realized that I might manage one bond to consummate our marriage, just so that I could spend the rest of the life of the world with her, and then realized that—should she expect more from me in the ensuing years—that I could probably accommodate that too. I even introduced my mind to the idea of children, reckoning that I was even-tempered—as was she—and the likelihood that we would be cursed with a Tyelkormo or Carnistir was therefore diminished. With my nascent love for her came surprising relief, for it seemed I was not born abnormal after all, and I might not be doomed to live my life as the virgin musician, whom everyone loved and pitied in equal measure.
My love for Vingarië also brought shameful discoveries, and my dreams became peppered by tantalizing images of her. They were not the dreams Nelyo had described to me—those that sounded less like a romance and more like the outrageous adventure stories I made up to amuse our brothers, only the participants were all female and no one wore clothes—but innocent enough. We spoke of trivial things; we played music; sometimes we rode my horse along the beach, with me sitting behind her and holding her around the waist. (Those were the worst.) She never kissed me, never touched me provocatively, and all of our clothes stayed firmly in place, yet I woke with desire hot in my groin, uncomfortably hard and unable to sleep until I allowed my hand to slip into my pajamas and—imagining that it was Vingarië’s hand that caressed me—coaxed myself into guilty and blissful release.
But the sight of my baby brothers dangling off of my father makes me reconsider the bit about children. I wonder if there is a way to achieve the bliss of marriage without conceiving a child. According to Atar, there is not. Atar once told me that, in the early years of his marriage, he set his thoughts against begetting a child because he never wanted children. However, his outlook changed, he said, the moment that Amil told him that she was pregnant with Nelyo. I think he told me that story in an attempt to convince me that my opinion would be different when they were my own sons and not my cantankerous, noisy baby brothers clamoring all over me. I’m still not sure about that.
Our people are gifted with extraordinary patience, but Atar is less patient than anyone I know. He is restless and quick to anger, yet he is also willing to put up with a dismal array of annoyances, as long as they come from his sons. As he carries the midday meal into the dining room, Tyelkormo and Carnistir are still hanging from his legs, only now they are kicking and trying to dislodge the other. Tyelkormo wins, and Carnistir holds on to Atar’s trouser leg with only his teeth while Tyelkormo cackles madly, and Atar calls over his shoulder to Amil, “Would you mind bringing the butter, love?”
Although I don’t think we were as loud, I have recollections that make me fear that Nelyo and I were just as annoying when we were little. I remember running into Atar’s office while he was in the midst of projects and pulling ourselves onto his lap using whatever handholds were available—clothing, hair, ears—and firing off overlapping strings of questions, most of which began with “What? Why? Can you? Can we?” Occasionally, Atar would host councils at our Tirion home, and I remember the two of us bursting into one of these affairs once, in tearful hysterics because we’d found a box turtle in the woods with a cracked shell and we wanted to know if Atar could heal it. Atar took us roughly by our hands and removed us from the room without a word, but once we were outside the parlor, his face softened and he crouched in front of us. “Take him to your mother. She is a far more skilled healer than I,” he said and sent us on our way with a kiss on the nose apiece.
Of course, he had his angry moments too, and Nelyo and I weren’t always treated with kisses and gentle words. One of my most vivid memories from babyhood came when I was a little over a year old, and we had spent the week in grandfather Finwë’s palace for the Winter Festival, and when it was time to leave, Nelyo decided that he would rather stay with our grandfather than go home with Amil and Atar. Atar had to force him into his clothes and boots and was dragging him across the main hall of grandfather’s court when Nelyo decided to wrench his hand from Atar’s, sit down in the middle of the floor, take off his boots, and hurl them at Atar. One of them was thrown well enough to knock him on the side of the face, and Atar’s already fraying patience was completely ruined, and I hid behind grandfather Finwë and sobbed into his robes while Atar screamed at Nelyo and all of the lords in the court stopped talking and gawked. “Eru grant it, Nelyafinwë, I will take you home barefoot if I must, you bloody little brat!” Atar yelled once, and two minutes later, Nelyo was following Atar from the court, shod and silently weeping.
Atar places the dishes on the table and lifts each of my brothers in an arm and sits them, squirming, in chairs on either side of his. They both duck beneath the table almost immediately to play in the darkness created by the tablecloth. (Try as I might to scoff and find this pursuit silly, Nelyo and I loved to do the same thing when we were little. How easy it was to believe that our long dining room table was a hall of our own to command!—until Atar’s feet poked beneath the table and Amil called us back to our chairs, that is.)
“What did you feed them for breakfast?” Atar asks Amil, as she sets the table. “Pure sugar?”
She smiles at him and resumes folding the mauve napkins into the shapes of birds. “They have inherited their father’s spirit, my love, as well as his boundless energy.”
From beneath the table, there is a thud and a shriek, and a moment later, a wailing Carnistir emerges with his hand over a cheekbone already beginning to bruise.
“And his ability to find mischief,” she adds, stooping to examine her youngest son’s injury, while Tyelkormo scrambles from underneath the table, shouting about how the kick he delivered to his brother’s face was only a reflex caused by the fact that Carnistir was biting his foot.
Nelyo emerges from the kitchen with Findekano, carrying a vegetable tray, which he sets in the middle of the table before nearly being knocked over by the force of Tyelkormo attaching himself to his waist and sobbing into his stomach.
I sigh and, grabbing a carrot stick, seat myself as far from my younger brothers as I can manage.
There are carrots and celery sticks on the tray and radishes cut into the shapes of flowers. I pluck one of the latter from the tray—it is shaped like a daisy—and pop it into my mouth. Pretty or not, they still taste the same—earthy and slightly bitter—and I call to Nelyo, “You have far too much time on your hands, you know, to be cutting radishes to look like flowers when your exams are less than a half-year away.”
He looks up from stroking Tyelkormo’s hair and gives me a reproachful look, probably because most of the sentence was incomprehensible, thanks to the radish in my mouth. “Kano did them, not me,” he says.
I turn to Findekano, who is helping my mother fold napkins, with some surprise, and he gives me a shy sidelong glance and, blushing, returns to his task. “They are good,” I tell him, and Atar appears over my shoulder to set a tray of thickly sliced ham on the table and says, “Macalaurë, when the day comes when you find any sort of food not good, I will gather each of you close to me and hold you tightly, for the ending of the world is nigh.”
As though answering him, my stomach emits a loud brrrr, and Atar laughs and playfully tugs my hair before walking back into the kitchen to fetch the pitchers of tea and water.
Nelyo comes to sit beside me. (Our brothers—their insults and injuries already forgotten—have been reseated and are kneeling on their chairs and making their napkin-birds fight each other in the middle of the table.) He begins by delicately straightening each piece of flatware—although Amil has set them perfectly—and carefully moving his origami napkin to the side, and I know he wants something of me. “Macalaurë,” he says at last, “may I ask you a favor?”
“You may ask, yes,” I say, although in truth, I will likely grant him whatever he wants. Nelyo’s generosity to me is unbounded, and it would be ungrateful of me to deny him.
He gives me a flicker of a smile for noting his misspeak and says, “I have a lore lesson with Findekano tonight and I was wondering, if you are doing nothing else, if you might give him his music lesson tonight instead? And I shall give him his lore lesson this afternoon, when you usually practice music with him. Would you do that?”
“You would interrupt your afternoon study that Atar has so generously granted you?” My voice is laced with facetiousness, which Nelyo notes.
“Only this once,” he answers.
“And what would warrant this sacrifice on your part?”
“Well,” he blushes a bit, and I know that it will have to do with Annawendë, “it seems that there is a meteor shower tonight, and Annawendë and I thought that we might go watch it, by Telperion’s light.”
“You mean that you shall go fondle each other with astronomy as your excuse?” I reply.
“Shh!” He looks sharply in Amil’s direction, but she is helping Atar to pour the drinks and didn’t hear me. “That is not the reason, Macalaurë! I could do that after Findekano’s lessons, if I wished. I have an actual interest.”
His phraseology “actual interest” and the intensity with which he utters it make me laugh and spray a few bits of chewed celery onto the tablecloth. Embarrassed, I wipe them up with my napkin, crumbling the bird in my haste. “I will,” I say quickly, “if Findekano doesn’t mind?”
Nelyo doesn’t answer my question but stands and kisses me roughly on the forehead. “Thank you, Macalaurë! I owe you three favors in return!”
“I shall remember that,” I mutter, as he rushes to Findekano to inform him of the change in plans.
We are finishing our apple salad for dessert when Atar says to Amil, “You know, Nerdanel, it just occurred to me that someone at this table has a begetting day next week.”
Tyelkormo’s eyes light up, and his hand shoots in the air. “It’s me! It’s me!” he chortles, as though there could be any doubt. He is the only one of us born in the summer.
“I believe you are right, Fëanaro,” Amil says, ignoring Tyelkormo for the moment. “I wonder: Where would he like to go for his begetting day, do you think?”
The rest of our begetting days fall at times when we are usually in Tirion, so big feasts are held including every friend, family member, and passing acquaintance of our parents’. Tyelkormo—by virtue of being in Formenos for each of his begetting days—never gets to have such a fuss made over him, so he chooses instead a place to where he would like to journey, and we leave the apprentices and assistants behind to care for the property while we ride out, stopping whenever we please, with no deadlines to hurry us along or to stop us from squeezing every bit of enjoyment from our time together.
“Perhaps we should ask him,” Atar says, and turns to Tyelkormo. “Tyelkormo, where would you like to go for your begetting day this year?”
Tyelkormo answers in an uncharacteristically prim voice, as though he has been rehearsing his answer for many days now. “I would like to go to Oromë’s Halls, if we could.”
Silence settles around the table.
Atar sits back in his chair and contemplates my brother.
Atar makes no secret of the fact that he resents the rule of the Valar in this land, and he has had many arguments with Amil and grandfather Finwë about his beliefs. “They would oust you if they could!” he shouted once to grandfather Finwë, when grandfather asserted that he—not the Valar—ruled the Noldor. For three months after, Atar and grandfather didn’t speak, and Atar spent most of his days alone in the forge, tight-lipped and silent, until grandfather finally rode out to the estate one day, with the excuse of bringing a cask of exceptional wine to Amil, conveniently from Atar’s favorite vineyard.
But now Oromë wants to befriend his third-born son, and Tyelkormo—although he maintains that he wishes for nothing more than to be just like Atar when he is grown—is quickly losing interest in the forge, much as I did at his age, and his heart is turning to Oromë, one of the Valar whom Atar believes would have him caged, if he could.
Silence reigns for several long moments, and I can hear the birdsong outside the dining room and the rush of my heartbeat in my ears and nothing else. Amil speaks first: “Perhaps, Tyelkormo, it would be best if—” she begins, but Atar interrupts her.
“It is granted,” he says sternly. “To Oromë’s Halls, we shall go, next week, to celebrate the begetting of my fair son Tyelkormo.” He pushes back his chair and begins to clear the table.