"Constellation"--Happy Birthday, Tarion!
I hope that your day is wonderful and portends a year of much more joy! :)
The short story that I have written in honor of Tarion's birthday got its inspiration from two places. The first, naturally, is Tarion, who wanted a story about Carnistir in his youth, preferably angsty and not the romantic sort, since she got angsty romantic humor for Christmas.
The second bit of inspiration came from rhapsody11, who asked me how Carnistir--who once likened the music around Macalaurë as buzzing gnats--might see a writer. Would he perceive the words that constantly whirl around our heads and dominate our thoughts, even while we are doing other things? I thought this was a wonderful question, and it opened the topic for exploration for me.
"Constellation" is a story about the friendship between young Carnistir and the loremaster Rumíl of Tirion. (Not the cute one...sorry, girls!) I am using my Felak!verse version of Rumíl. For those who have not read the chapter in Another Man's Cage where Nelyo discusses meeting Rumíl with his father, a brief synopsis of my take on this character follows, behind the cut.
It my version of the legend, Rumíl was born at Cuivienen, one of the first children born to Unbegotten parents. He had a knack for lore and a singing voice of particular splendor, and he grew to be a strong and confident young man, strong and confident (and foolish) enough that he did not heed the warnings about wandering away from Cuivienen alone, and he was captured by Melkor and taken to Angband.
Doubtlessly, he was taken with the hope that he would be made into an Orc, but Rumíl refused to be broken so easily, and he sang amid his torment, giving hope to the other Elves captured there and stalling the work of Melkor for a time. No matter what tortures were done to him, still he sang. Melkor had his ears removed and gouged out, deafening him, but he continued to sing anyway. Melkor next had his tongue cut from his mouth, but his voice remained, and he sang still, although now wordless. It was the final act of torment that robbed Rumil of his voice, and his voice was destroyed by acid, and the work of Melkor resumed.
Not long after, the Valar stormed Angband and found Rumíl among the Orcs. Melkor had done great torment to him, and he was mutilated, and Tulkas went to kill him--thinking him an Orc--but his hand was stayed by the perception of song in Rumíl's spirit. And so he was brought to Valinor and regarded a hero...but his mutilated face reminded the other Elves of the horrors they'd escaped in Middle-earth, and to spare them, Rumíl exiled himself and took the ascetic life of a hermit scholar.
It was for this reason that he invented the Sarati: So that he could communicate his words to others, even without a voice. In Felak!verse, Fëanaro learns much from him and--of course--eventually improves his work into the Tengwar. But Fëanaro is one of the few Elves who is willing to look upon him and see first not his mutilation but the gifts that Melkor could not destroy.
"Constellation" also uses the Felak!verse notion that Carnistir is extraordinarily gifted with osanwë and can perceive things about people that others cannot. This story is essentially about perception: Two Elves who are often misread by those around them and the friendship they formed based on this connection and their ability to see what the others cannot.
I behaved for once and, aside from a bit of violence, there are no strong warnings for this story, and I'm keeping it at a safe general warning.
The first time I saw him, the words around him assaulted me like stones, disengaging themselves at random from their orbit around his head and flying at me. I raised my hands; I could bat them away or I could try to catch them. Some of the words hurt. Some of the words spoke of things that I did not yet know—and never wanted to know. Some of the words had hard, merciless syllables that coughed up from the back of the throat: Rape. Torture. Murder. Death. And Fear—always Fear—insinuated throughout, a black whisper.
But not all of the words hurt and some were as beautiful as the gemstones my father wrought in the secret darkness of his workshop. To these, I held up my hands, palms turned in surrender, and caught and studied, as tenuous in my chubby, careless child’s hands as a butterfly leaving powder on my skin, and I let the ugly words fall aside. For those were not him; it was the beautiful words that arrayed themselves around his face like a veil of jewels.
Even Atar’s hands will lie at rest. I creep into his bedroom sometimes, at night, shrouding myself in silence and darkness so that he does not perceive me, and I watch his eyelids twitching as he dreams and his hands—long-fingered, calloused, grime-darkened, beautiful hands—lie flat upon the bedclothes, unmoving. Resting. I will place my small babyish hand upon his, and his will turn and close upon it like a trap upon its prey and hold me there, until his dreams take him—groaning and tossing—into the arms of my mother.
But the words around him...they do not cease, even in dreams, they are torn by gravity from his head and into the open spaces devoid of such beauty. Rumíl, I have learned he is called. Rumíl. I met him once on the back stairs, in our Formenos home, where I was crouching the shadows, waiting for him to pass and more words to rain upon me. But he saw me, picked me out of the darkness. He offered a hand to me full of words, and I took it, let him tug me to my feet. My name is Rumíl. And yours, little one?
My name is Carnistir, fourth son of Fëanaro. I blinked up at him and the veil of words over his face: a poem, describing beauty. I had heard Macalaurë sing it once, his voice raw and breaking over the beauty of those words.
You are beautiful, I told him, and he laughed and moved away. His laugh was strange, almost a whisper, and coarse like metal rasping metal. I winced and raised my hands against the harsh words I heard in his laugh.
Hurt. Torture. Murder.
He would sit with us at supper sometimes, and the words never left him, even while he was drinking his wine, even while he was cutting his meat, his knife squealing rudely against his plate while Atar was telling us of something important, our faces all turned to his with such attention that you could imagine our ears pricking forward. All but Rumíl—and me. Rumíl looked at his plate, and the words poured forth from him.
The candlelight. The candlelight in his hair. His hair. Like black glass. Reflecting the candlelight in his hair. Black glass.
The candlelight in his hair like black glass, a swatch of fire pouring over his shoulder.
Rumíl and I looked at Atar at the same time, at his face cut into shadows by the candlelight, wavering as though he was underwater, and his hair—normally as black as oil—falling over his shoulder and capturing the candlelight within it, as though fire poured forth from him.
Rumíl went back to cutting his meat, and Atar spoke, flipping his hair over his shoulder with practiced annoyance, and it was as though nothing had happened.
In his chambers that night, Rumíl built each of us from words: eyes; hands; the curve of a cheek; a flickering smile, brightening and overtaking a face. I lay on the floor in front of the door, my face pressed to the narrow crack beneath, and I watched the images of my brothers, mother, and father come forth, one by one, like watching a line become a shape become a face become alive beneath the fingers of a skilled artist. And then he drew me, the ugly son with my coarse, uncooperative hair and my red face twisted by tears. I watched my features come forth from the words, but yet I wasn’t ugly. With rapid pen strokes on parchment, he’d swept the ugliness away.
Rumíl did not come again to our house in Formenos, although he lived near, and no one questioned this. It was as though no one but me remembered him—me and Atar. Atar remembered him, for at times, I would sense the words of Rumíl around his head as well and—breath held captive in my chest and hands quivering with eagerness—I would wait for news of him. Is he returning soon? But Atar turned the page of his book and said nothing.
When I was ten years old, I summoned my courage, and I asked Nelyo, for Nelyo is often with the answers. “Will he ever return to us?” I asked, and Nelyo pulled me into his lap—and I let him, although I’d decided last year that I was too old for this—and kissed my hair and said, “Little one, we cannot ask him to come among us.”
But once he did! I wanted to shout. Once he did! I knew this because when I glanced in the mirror and hated what I saw, I summoned his words instead, and I let them paint over my image until the wild impishness in my face became a virtue—as he’d seen it—and my brooding darkness became something of beauty.
Upon the black sky of night, Varda scattered her stars, and we—the Eldar—held our hands to the sky and, with our fingers, made our first drawings to connect the constellations. I have heard him called dark, sullen, but when I look upon his face, I cannot see the darkness for the light in his eyes.
“But why?” I asked Nelyo. “Why won’t he come back?”
Nelyo sighed, as though with weariness, and his arms around me sagged. “Why, little one? He is ashamed by his face.”
“But his face is beautiful!”
Nelyo pushed me from his lap then, and where his arms and the warmth of his body had been, I became cold. His silver eyes flashed, and he did a surprising thing: He seized my arm—still small, still a child’s chubby arm—in his much larger hand. It hurt. I screamed. “Don’t be cruel!” he hissed at me. “They say that you are dark and you are mean-spirited, and I defend your name, but when you say things like that, I wonder if I am a futile fool!”
He fled the room then, and I heard his rapid footsteps receding down the hall, and I sank to the floor and wept into my folded arms, as I had sworn last year I would never do again. But I did not understand; I did not understand why people would suddenly and inexplicably lash out at me, call me “cruel.” “Mean-spirited.” “Malicious.” I did not mean to be any of those things. I wondered, sometimes, if it was a joke and everyone was conspiring but me. I wondered if maybe I would awaken on my fiftieth begetting day, and they would all be circling my bed and cry, “Surprise! Surprise, we have been fooling you all along!”
In that moment, I imagined, I would step from my darkness and sullenness; I would speak and love freely—like normal Elves do—without fear of being cast from my brother’s arms and branded as malicious, dark. Ugly.
We would all laugh, and I would be relieved.
Instead, I buried my face deeper in my folded arms and I wondered: If I ran, where would I go? I did not want to be free of them, but mayhap, it would be best for them to be free of me.
When I was twenty-eight years old, I discovered that the times when my father would disappear for a day and come back, lost in his own private reverie for a week after, he went to him. To Rumíl.
I was permitted to escape freely on my days off from lessons, for few wanted me around for long. Conflict had a tendency to erupt in my presence, and I felt the others tense when I walked into a room. Nelyo and Findekano paused at their game, their conversation dying on their lips. Tyelkormo was reading on the couch, and he drew his knees protectively to his chin and was careful not to look at me over his book. He feared that this would invite me into conversation with him; I sensed this, palpably, in a pressure like cold emanating from him. I shivered. Macalaurë was playing idle melodies on his harp, only instead of lyrics, there were baby names in his thoughts.
Baby names? With joy, I cried, “Is Vingarië with child?” for I wanted badly to be an uncle and Macalaurë and Vingarië had no yet granted my wish. But Macalaurë leaped to his feet and there were tears on his face. His harp was knocked aside with a jangle of strings. “How dare you? How dare you mock me so thoughtlessly, so cruelly?” There was a book beside him, and he hurled it at me and missed, hitting Nelyo’s gameboard instead and scattering the pieces across the floor with an impertinent clatter. Nelyo looked at me, and his face twisted with disgust. He rose and went to Macalaurë, to take our weeping brother into his arms and say, “You have only been married for ten years. It is not so long.” Findekano stared carefully at the demolished gameboard, but I sensed his thoughts, his humiliation: He wished that he’d never come north with us at all. Even Nelyo’s friendship was not worth the price of this.
And Tyelkormo, now staring at me over the cover of his book—Tyelkormo, my friend and companion in our early youth—staring at me with such loathing that I said nothing and I ran from the room.
I ran to the stables and saddled my horse, and with his words in my mind—I cannot see the darkness for the light in his eyes—I rode in the direction from which Atar had come the other day, trusting that I would find my way to him, to Rumíl.
I rode long and hard without seeing my road, my thoughts a maelstrom, unsure of how I had so irrevocably wounded Macalaurë. I hadn’t intended to; the soft gray light of my gentlest brother has always been a joy and a comfort to me; to tear through this peace is like stirring the sea to crashing anger. If I could, I would recall my words, for I had not meant to hurt him. But I cannot.
And so I rode, and I wondered. I no longer believed that it was a conspiracy, a joke on my behalf. I wondered if I was really cruel, as they said.
I rode until I happened upon a hovel of a cottage, built without thought for beauty, a pile of weathered boards and uneven stones. I stopped my horse and knew that I had come to Rumíl.
He welcomed me inside without surprise at my sudden appearance. He laughs his rasping laugh at my disheveled hair and tear-streaked face; he lifts his hands to smooth my hair and dab at my tears with a handkerchief. For I am weeping, without shame; I am pressing into his embrace and knocking aside the words spinning around him.
An enigma, as strange as the secret Fire of Iluvatar, misunderstood in its meaning and power but bright and full of life. If one listens in the silence of the night, they say, one can hear the Song born of such Fire, for it echoes still, twining amid the stars. And if one listens to him long enough, he would hear a secret voice beneath the misperceptions: a voice of kindness and beauty. Of love. One only has to close one’s eyes and trust to slip beneath the surface, fearless of drowning.
Night is falling, and Telperion is at his weakest, far in the distance upon Ezellohar, and the land is almost as dark as it must have been upon the Outer Lands. With his hand in mine, Rumíl leads me outside. With a hand lifted to the sky, he wields a crooked finger like a paintbrush, and he sketches an Elven boy amid the stars. There are his arms and legs, his body, long-limbed and strong, fast on his feet and bold. There is his midnight hair, adorned with the reflection of Treelight, and those two red stars? That is the color, the passion and the emotion, in his face. But the brightest stars I have saved for last: his eyes. Look into his eyes, and his motives are revealed. Trouble is, lost amid the other stars, no one has yet bothered to look.
He took my hand in his and traced the outline of the constellation also, and I imagined it imbued with my features against the black, featureless sky and laughed. He put his palm to my throat, to feel it, and he laughed too at vibration between us. For a moment, standing behind me and out of sight, the words dropped away from him, and there was awed silence. Then, tentatively: I name it “Carnistir.”
On the day that the Trees went out, the day that grandfather Finwë was murdered by Melkor, Rumíl came to Formenos. He came upon a crooked nag of a horse with his hood low over his eyes. The words around him were ugly once more and sounded of screams. They sounded like my thoughts, like the separation of spirit and body, a noise worse than metal being torn apart. We did not speak.
But he followed us to Tirion, on a horse that Nelyo lent him. We rode fast so that the wind whipped tears from our eyes, and we needn’t hide our grief. I felt him behind me, and he was already putting that awful night into words. But about us: about the way Nelyo broke down right before the gates of Tirion and had to be held by both Curufinwë and Tyelkormo; the way Ambarussa wept until he was sick upon the grass; the way Macalaurë kissed our dead grandfather and his mouth was bright with blood—he looked away from these things, and I knew that when this night was put to paper, our grief would be private and never a cause for shame.
Without the light of the Trees, the constellation Carnistir was brighter than it had even been that night at Rumíl’s house. I took my strength from it, watching for it to emerge from between the trees as we passed the forest, seeking it upon the shimmering surface of a lake. As bright as fire, it was, and unwavering, indestructible, high in the firmament. This is my moment, I thought. This is where I must be strong.
But in Tirion, they were burning fires for light, frightened without the Trees. Furniture and books were tossed in the street, the smoke tumbling forth in putrid, roiling plumes. Panic tasted like metal in the back of my throat.
As we came to the palace square, tall upon our horses amid the squirming, panicked masses of people, I looked to Rumíl in the firelight. His hood had fallen back, and his eyes were pinched closed. The fire, the madness—I saw a dungeon deep beneath the earth and a white hot blade, the sanguine stink of hot metal, and felt agony erupt in my mouth, my tongue sliced, so keenly that I gagged and spat upon the ground and expected to see blood. But it had been Rumíl’s blood—not mine—upon the filthy floor.
I shut my thoughts to Rumíl, to his words, and I looked to him in panic—he whose words had always comforted and fortified me—but in the firelight, his face looked twisted and mutilated, and I looked away.
When Atar spoke upon the palace stairs, he was there in the crowd. I saw him, fleeting as a ghost, but I could not hear his words because Atar’s were too loud.
Is sorrow foreboded to you? But in Aman, we have seen it. In Aman, we have come from bliss to woe. The other we will now try: through sorrow to find joy; or freedom, at the least!
The people held torches now—made of what, I did not know—and my eyes burned with the smoke, and I imagined the words upon the paper that had made them, spiraling to the sky and into nothingness.
But how could I grieve words? My father was speaking again, he was ordering us—his sons—to draw our swords as bright in the firelight as though imbued with flame themselves. I heard the fell words of his oath, and my heart rebelled. Panicked, I looked to the sky, to the stars, but the torches had made a scrim of smoke across the sky, and my constellation was lost.
When my turn came, I repeated his words.
I do not remember much after; what I remember are his words, telling as it was. He followed us, I know. He followed our father, for Atar had been one of the few to show him kindness, and he repaid with loyalty if not acquiescence.
I do not remember my blade—a gift for my fiftieth begetting day and such a source of innocent pride for me—being used to murder the Teleri, but Rumíl said it was so, and when I awoke upon the sand, blinded by my own tears, I was not wounded yet covered in blood. Even the sea was red, and when we tried to wash the blood from our bodies, it only surged upon us anew.
At one point, I heard behind me: That was not what she meant when she named you “Carnistir.” Whirling, I turned, but all I saw were footprints in the sand, leading back in the direction of Tirion.
“The stars are brighter there.”
That is what grandfather Finwë told us when we asked about the Outer Lands, our faces turned to his and rapt, awed, by his presence as much as his words. His eyes held the Light of the Trees, yes, but there was something else beneath that: a flinty veneer, primitive and beautiful.
Somewhere between building and hunting and planning and forging and arguing, I thought suddenly of him—of both of them—of grandfather Finwë and Rumíl, left behind on the shores of Aman. And I lifted my eyes to the stars for the first time since arriving here in the land we would call “Beleriand,” and I sought my constellation.
But it cannot be: I cannot find it, as though it never existed. It is lost amid the other stars.
Or maybe, the stars that marked my eyes and had allowed me to find myself amid the other stars had lost their light?
Lying on my back on the grass, a bitter wind cut the land and portended winter as we have never known it. From the ramshackle house we’d built that afternoon, a door opened, a block of light widened and spilled across the grass. “Carnistir!” called Nelyo, then the rustle of his feet, his shadow falling over me. “Carnistir, you fool! You shall freeze!”
He offered his hand to pull me up, but I shook my head, and for the whole of the night, I lay—trembling with cold and searching the sky, refusing to let tears blur my vision—but my constellation was gone.
Author's Note: Fëanaro's quote, "Is sorrow foreboded to you? But in Aman, we have seen it. In Aman, we have come from bliss to woe. The other we will now try: through sorrow to find joy; or freedom, at the least!" is from The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor." It's always been one of my favorite quotes.