It was around the time the currants first reddened and the meadows were in full bloom that I began to miss the city in earnest. It is one thing, and quite fashionable among her dwellers, to complain and wish away the noise, the crowds packing the trading stalls, the smell in the hot season when the sweepers cannot be troubled to keep up with the waste; it is another thing to find it indeed gone. Restless and bored, deprived of my hours alone with Maitimo, I took up writing to my uncle Arafinwë, former accomplice in mischief. His answers were sporadic, and not without a touch of gentle reprove. You have no concept, I wrote back angrily, how tiresome it is to be trapped in this place where, walking half a league in any direction, one meets with nothing but trees, a few sheep, and a silence so profound it assails one's ears! My uncle loved me and would have kept the letters; my hope of him spotting them on a chilly day in search of kindling endures.
Likewise, I waxed passionate about Tirion, to everyone and at every chance. Interest was scarce. I might as soon have praised the air to the carp in the pond. A mare had foaled, an event worth another feast, and a full three days of heated debate as to the filly's future owner; what more could one ask for? The corn stood abundant; Yavanna and her maidens had been seen walking, blessing the tender stalks and bruising none, for no trace of their steps had lingered. The gardens would soon bear the first fruits. The fish were so keen on being caught, they all but jumped into the nets. Another hunt was to take place! The most brilliant bard, the finest sculptor of the land called this hall their home. As for the greatest mind among the Noldor, it was only a matter of time until his return. What reason had I to pine and sigh?
I might have said I missed my mother, which was true; this they would have understood. Maitimo always listened, all patience, but I daresay it was for my sake, not his. In Makalaurë alone I found some curiosity.
"Tell me about the street singers, about the poets," he would say, with an odd yearning in his large dark eyes, guiding my fingers across the harp's strings as he taught me new chords, "sing me their songs."
So I did, what few I recalled. I spoke to him of far-shining Mindon Eldaliéva, tall Galathilion and the Halls of Learning's fine arches, of the Heights' winding white streets and terraced gardens; of roaming with my uncle and his band of friends, trailing the dancers with their ribbons and bell-strung anklets. Of the Eastern Downs, ever-shadowed maze of alleys, taverns and cobbled squares; haunt of wild-haired boys and lovesick poets, where the idle and the cheerfully unwed live among the unskilled and the nameless.
With some ease I forgot that not only had these secret outings dwindled this past year, my uncle having become a father and an uncommonly devoted one at that, but had occurred far less often than one might have guessed from my tales. Moreover, my passion had always been an outsider's, a sheltered boy's fascination with a life even more alien than the merry chaos of Fëanáro's hall. Yet listening to me, you'd have thought me an authority on everything from bawdy songs to gambling at fivestones.
Maitimo must have guessed this had played a part in my being sent from home, though after our first talk, having found that things were not well between my father and me, he did not ask again. He could be shy that way. By then I knew him a little, enough to read his faint frowns, the sudden pity in his eyes.
The study stood finished, smelling of sawdust and plaster, awaiting its owner. Maitimo's temper flared less; perhaps his brothers had at last lost patience and told him off. It was what I thought at the time, anyhow. Again, I knew him a little.
As to the new addition, it did nothing at all for the proportions of the already massive, rambling house. Whatever design there had once existed was now lost to the eye forever. Beyond the great hall lay an abundance of chambers, some crowded with furnishings, some sad and empty, leaves and bird droppings gathering in the corners. Floors were linked by sweeping flights of polished stairs, or wooden steps more suited to a chicken coop, or steeply winding ones, absurd and delicate, wrought of black iron coils and flowers. Passages branched off and led nowhere, doorways loomed, and carved beams soared to insolent heights. The bedchambers on the upper floors and in the towers were crowded to bursting, as Maitimo had said; along the ground floor, entire wings stood derelict. To any stranger, the house seemed a hopeless maze, a mockery of symmetry and reason, with far too many dark corners. To one raised among the pale grace of Tirion, its wealth of color - from the glazed windows to the tiles, mosaics and painted friezes, entwining endlessly - seemed bold, garish even. Yet I grew fond of it, and for a time thought it superior to all else.
Upon my arrival, the great hall's hearth had struck me as far older than the house itself. And true it was; Aulë's own hands, Maitimo told me on a rare walk alone with him, had fit these stones together, and at this very hearth he first spoke to the Noldor of fire and metal.
"Then, in the years after, Grandfather and his people built the hall around it. The oldest part, anyhow. Though Father had most of it torn down and rebuilt," he added.
I needed a moment to grasp that he spoke not of the King of the Noldor, but of Mahtan Urundil, a figure so fabled few might picture him a man of flesh and blood. That none could recall seeing the Servant of Aulë in five-score years did not help matters.
More surprisingly yet, the house had a name.
"Minyamár." First House. He said it with a firm nod, as if awaiting dissent. Having just heard its history, I had none to offer. As to whatever dwellings the Vanyar had raised in their time, you might understand it was nothing to either of us.
"How odd that the son of Nolofinwë should not know."
"I was not told," I said, cross. "Not in all these years. Not even when I was sent here."
"It seems there's much else you were not told. The name of this house cannot matter a great deal."
"Father ought to have mentioned it. Someone ought to have mentioned it! Why this secrecy? He took me aside before sending me on my way, and told me to be mindful and courteous, but left me a stranger to all, to my kin, to my destination. Why keep silent on so many counts?"
"I am not Nolofinwë," said Maitimo, "but perhaps he meant for you to learn for yourself."
"And judge for myself?"
We walked on in silence some time, along the path to the house, bounded by briar roses. Their sweet heady scent came to us on the breeze like water lapping at the shore. Finally he said:
"The King chose well when he named your father."
"But why keep the hearth burning at all times, even in this weather?" I asked later at mealtime, sweat beading my face, still hot from working with the horses. The flames flared as a huge log broke apart with a sigh and settled back to a sullen glow.
Maitimo seemed rather astonished by this question. "To honor Aulë, of course," he said. "It is never allowed to go out. Mother would be angry indeed if it did."
My family was respectful of the Aratar, naturally, though my grandmother alone took trouble to pay reverence to Manwë each day, burning fragrant herbs and bits of resin, and scattering the ashes with a handful of blue petals from the tower. Kind-hearted and gentle as she was, she suffered not the least slight of the Lord of the West, and she thought us lax. But then she was a Vanya.
"And your father?"
"I doubt he'd notice. It's not the forge."
"I still don't understand," I said. "Does the Lord Aulë demand this? Would he take offense if you let the hearth go cold?"
"No," said Maitimo shortly. "But we keep it burning all the same."
It grew very warm. Daily we swam, in the lake between the apple orchards and the pasture, after showing off on horseback. For a dozen or so grueling days, Tyelkormo, having found my horsemanship wanting, set to improving it. Not to crumble into a quivering heap after a lesson took every bit of willpower I had, though Makalaurë's grin and Maitimo's mere presence did their part. I sat straight and chatted, making light of my bruises, a smile etched into my face. You could have knocked me flat with a straw.
Once I proved I could switch horses at full gallop and not wind up a tangle of limbs on the ground, and clear a hurdle in decent form, I was let off, on the understanding that I had learned all that could be expected of me. Makalaurë took up his harp and sang of my ordeal, a ditty I've done my best to forget, though at the time I had the good sense to laugh. In fairness I should add that Tyelko taught me well. All of Fëanáro's sons, down to the youngest, had an air of having been cradled, nursed and raised on horseback. As with all else in their lives, good or ill, they raised it to an art.
Of another kind of art there was no shortage in my new life. After stumbling upon the marbles in the clearing, I had roamed the house and grounds with a keener eye, making note of much formerly overlooked. There had never been a doubt as to their origin. My aunt's renown had reached my ears, if not stirred much curiosity, until now. It was not by chance that I presently found myself in her workshop, and began hanging about.
I soon learned that she would suffer my presence more gladly if I brought a small bribe: a piece of fruit, a handful of cakes perhaps; she disliked to break from work for as tiresome a thing as meals and she was often alone, with no servants to ask. Having placed my offering, I would hover nearby, watching, waiting for her to speak. Most days she did; if she paid me no heed I left as quietly as I'd come.
One day was different. Entering the shop I looked around for her; her current work, a near finished marble bust of her youngest, stood neglected. When I heard voices from the other end of the long space, I moved toward them, but froze in mid-step at the sight of the three young women on the wooden platform.
None among the Noldor are strangers to naked flesh outside the private chamber. Being covered is good etiquette and all, but you bare yourself if circumstances call for it, and no one cares. Growing up at court, away from the public baths and with a great deal more space to call my own than others my age, I was perhaps less prepared to handle it well, when faced with it of a sudden. Yet, had I used my wits, the many drawings of nude bodies, pinned along the workshop's walls, might have alerted me to the odds of finding their fleshly counterparts on reveal at some point.
My appearance set off some stifled laughs, though they held their pose – grouped about an unseen centerpiece they pretended to water, armed with clay vessels – for a time, until my aunt, exasperated, tossed her charcoal stick to the ground and called for a break. I apologized and made to leave, but she would not hear of it.
"Stay, my dear, don't mind the silly geese. Are you very much bored again today?"
"My aunt's presence and skill will undoubtedly cure me of any such mood," I said, bowing deeply, and we both laughed.
She stretched her arms, groaning, then lifted a few strands of hair off her neck and tucked them under the tight kerchief. Her feet were bare, the toes caked with marble dust; she must have worked on the bust earlier. In contrast her fingers were smudged darkly with charcoal. I noticed a fresh cut on one knuckle. When she wore finery on occasion, it was her hands that stood out ugly, rather too large and bony to begin with, and raw from frequent scrubbing; when doing what she was born to do, one saw only the beauty of creation.
I brought her some water from the pump. Having smiled her thanks, she sat with her eyes closed, humming a song Makalaurë had played at yesterday's meal. The girls were watching me still, hoping for a blush perhaps. An open folder of sketches caught my eye. Laziness had kept me from plaiting my hair; it formed a welcome screen as I made a show of thoroughly studying the drawings.
They were old, much handled, darkened at the edges. Some studies of horses and birds, a portrait of a wide-eyed youth I did not quite recognize, drafts of windows and archways, the last oddly familiar as well. This was not the work of Nerdanel; the lines were cautious, too precise, lacking her quick ease and assurance. Even so I thought it remarkably fine. Myself, I scarcely could put two dots and a squiggle together to call it a face.
"Ah," said my aunt as she rose to arrange a weighty drape over the dais, "you found Maitimo's old sketches. I came across them only yesterday when going through that trunk over there. They've not seen the Light since we left Tirion."
Tirion, I thought, of course. That row of windows, it's the passage from the gallery to the throne room in the palace. Then her words came through.
I said: "He was little more than a boy then, and he drew - this?"
"And nothing since. Oh, he does have the gift all right." She might have said he had a talent for petty thievery. I was silent, stunned by her look, and the bite in her voice.
"I know," she said with a wry smile, "what you would now put forth in heated defense of him, son of Anairë, if you weren't too well-bred to speak thus to your elders, and I love you the better for both. As to my firstborn, in time I daresay I shall care less that he threw away so much so early in life."
"Perhaps he works in secret still?" I offered.
She only shook her head. "I should know."
"Yet he may take it up again."
"Not Maitimo. His father –-"
She broke off, having ventured too far, perhaps, from safe ground. There are family matters unfit for a stranger's ears, even if he is your nephew. Briskly she shook the last folds of the drapery into place, and called one of the girls back onto the dais. Still the two remaining, sprawled on a bench, showed no hurry to get back into their clothes. The one with the curls at least had drawn a shawl across her middle. A furtive glance told me that I indeed knew her; we had seen a bit of one another during the building of the study. She smiled, but I wanted none of it.
Then, surprising all, Maitimo walked in. Now they could not find their clothes fast enough. He returned the greetings, but one could see his mind was elsewhere. He kissed his mother; me, he spared a brief smile across the room and a wink, as he often did. Maitimo and Findekáno, it said. You and I, cousin. As a gesture, it was slight; as a gift, it weighed the world, and I treasured it as such.
Watching his mother work, he slouched in a chair for some time, one leg over the armrest and the other bouncing restlessly. A sullen frown darkened his face. At last he spoke.
"One of the colts went lame."
"Truly?" said my aunt, reaching for a new stick of charcoal, having worn the last to a nub. "Then should not Nindiel be told?"
"She's the head groom, and as such found me with the news," said Maitimo tersely.
"But why come to me, and not your brothers, with tales of horses? I know nothing of their care."
"Why indeed. What of the kitchen, then? I spent the last hour there, having words with everyone from the cooks to the scullery boys, and the steward tells me the salt is low, the gardens need weeding, and today's bread was left in the ovens to burn. But he was busy with the linen, and with the festival near, the harvest will keep him busier still. Meantime Makalaurë gripes that he can't find any paper, but neither will he look, unless he hopes to find it in the woods – with the help of his bow."
My aunt rose with a sigh, dismissing the girls. She said, "I will go to the kitchen."
Maitimo made to leave as well. "While I," he said, "must meet with the potter. One of the boys dropped a stack of bowls, and we need new crockery for the festival. And should you see a great mess on the walls behind the scullery, remember it as the predictable outcome of your youngest entrusted with a basket of eggs."
She nodded absently. "Moryo - has anyone seen him lately?"
I said that I had not. Maitimo only gave an impatient shrug. "When last I caught sight of him, he was with Tyelko."
It was then that Tyelkormo burst in from the garden entrance, to inform us that a horse had gone lame. When he found it old news, his anger burned brightly still.
"You rode him last," he said, fixing me with an accusing glare.
"Fool," said Maitimo, his voice ringing out before I could open my mouth, "I rode him last, and today in the pasture he stumbled at play with the other colts. Now let our cousin hear your apology, and swiftly."
"He will hear none! Father gave you leave to rule over house and servants in his absence, but not over me!"
"Well now, what is this?" said my aunt, "must I listen to my sons argue the rule and keep of my own house, as if I were also absent?"
"There's no quarrel from me," said Maitimo, with an angry flush, "but are you still aware that the house stretches beyond the walls of this workshop?"
Never, not at my most defiant, should I have spoken in so rude a tone to my mother. Had I done so, worse yet, in the presence of my father, I should have spent a score of days - at the very least - banished to my chambers. But my aunt waved off her eldest like a tiresome fly.
"Oh, be silent. Both of you." She tore off the kerchief, shook out her hair and went striding for the door, barefoot as she was.
"I won't have you insult Mother, you lout," cried Tyelkormo when she had gone, "how dare you talk to her as to a goat-herd!"
"Well, be her good boy then; quit blabbing and be off!"
They shouted some more and grew angrier still, and might have come to blows, had there not been a stir from the hall, rising even above their voices. There was a woman's cry of distress, and the loud, frenzied chatter of many. Baffled, we listened, staring at each other, then ran toward them. As we reached the hall, we came upon the master of the forge who carried Moryo, stunned and broken, in his arms. Maitimo rushed to take the small figure from him, but his mother would not allow it.
"Let him not be handled more than necessary," she said, "bring him up to my chamber, Hallanárë." Then raising her voice she called for warm water and linens, bandages and a splint, seeing that the child's left arm hung in a ghastly way, and for her waiting-woman to hush and cease her wailing.
She was all calm, though her lips were without color as she parted the locks over her son's forehead, to examine a large lump. He had, said Hallanárë, climbed the rafters of the forge, unnoticed by any until he fell. On the way down he had struck a beam.
He was brought to bed; his scrapes were washed and his arm bound tight. He did not open his eyes for many hours, though he was sick a good deal. When at last his wits returned, he was able to take some broth, but his legs would not move, and all feeling had gone from them.
Maitimo passed the news to me, when he saw me at mealtimes. In turn I could but offer my aid, for which there was little use. The family had drawn together behind the doors of my aunt's chambers, and the servants were tripping over themselves to attend to their needs. So I kept at a distance, like everyone else.
On the fourth day Moryo claimed a tingle in his legs. Soon he moved his toes. But the next hours went ill for him, for the feeling restored brought with it the pain, and he moaned and cried aloud; Tyelkormo, having kept a sleepless watch by his brother's side, could bear it no longer and fled. Later I found him in a window seat in the hall. He was whittling a chunk of wood, slashing at it with sharp, furious strokes.
"Your mother had a draught prepared," I said, for I happened to be in the kitchen when her woman had arrived with the order, "it will ease his pain and help him sleep."
As he looked up, his eyes were wet; he wiped them with the heel of his hand. He had come to his size and strength at such a young age that often I forgot how young he was, not much older than I.
"Thank you, cousin," he said. "I will see how it is with him now." Suddenly he flung the wood across the hall. It came down hard and skidded across the tiles, having done no harm, though there were some uneasy glances and mutterings. "I told him to go away, at the stables. I said not to touch the colt, and when he did, I shoved him, hard."
"Did you lift him into the rafters? He thought up that folly all on his own; don't blame yourself for his fall."
He glared, bristling at the notion. "I don't!"
"Splendid," I said. His bluster had lately lost its brunt on me.
"The colt was limping less today," I added in leaving, sensing him in need of good news. It seemed to give him some relief; he smiled, and when he went up the stairs, there was a spring in his stride.
Ten days later Moryo took his first steps, and presently returned to the hall. Finding many a willing ear and scant censure, he brightened up with ease, the beam whence he had slipped rearing to ever greater heights in his tale. He was a little thinner perhaps, the color in his cheeks not so ruddy, though his mouth worked as well as ever.
As did Tyelkormo's. Truce, brought on by the youngest brother's misfortune, could not last. Not while remorse made him cross, and trouble lay heavily on Maitimo. The breaking point came as it must soon after, on a day when a hard rain fell and the clouds hung low. I could not fault Maitimo this time; he had kept quiet, giving the snub to Tyelko's efforts to goad him.
Work had endured longer and harder in the nearing of the Festival. The harvest was upon us, and the gathering of cherries both red and black, of peaches, apricots and sweet damsons, currants and berries of every sort, needed the effort of all. Even my aunt could be seen in the orchards, Moryo by her side and a basket of early quinces on her arm. The storerooms filled quickly with parsnips and carrots, leeks and radishes, the hampers and baskets overflowing. Of the fruits that ripen year round, the largest and most flawless were chosen. Those were dearest to me, the limes, lemons and great sweet oranges that I shall not taste again, nor smell their white blossoms, for they will forever be strangers to the chill mists of Hithlum. One of my early memories is of bearing a basket of oranges from the palace's own groves to the Festival, placing them before the Star-kindler, though I cannot recall her face.
Drying herbs hung bundled from the racks, the scent of fine breads, cakes and wafers beckoned from the bake-house. The time then came to prepare honeyed sweetmeats, and as the quinces and currants were stewed into jellies, their fragrance drew longing sighs from all. Even Maitimo relished it with a smile, eyes half-closed, distant and dreamy. But then the shadow came again, and he withdrew where I could not follow, though I hardly left his side now. Unlike before the accident, he no longer avoided me. We toiled together, trading few words, needing none.
When three days shy of everybody setting out for the Festival, I found him in the entrance passage to the hall in another row with Tyelko, I sighed and leant against the wall to wait it out. It was then that Andamaitë, hovering nearby with some others, noticed me. He ambled over, a wide grin on his face. He said the argument had begun with the lord Moryo desiring, with some tenacity, to ride his pony. His eldest brother had forbidden it, saying it was too soon, and the lord Tyelko had thought this harsh, more punishment than prudence.
I felt shamed by my groom's forwardness, though more yet by my cousins quarreling in public like stable-hands, and I let him know I wished to hear no more. He shrugged and walked away, out into the rain. He did not take his eyes off Maitimo until he was at the door, and suddenly I knew him by his look, knew him as the youth in Maitimo's drawing.
"—quit coddling him, he'll grow as soft as a scribe and he'll never make a decent hunter!"
"He's hardly coddled him of late," said Makalaurë as he came forward, Moryo on his hip. The boy clung to his brother's neck, seeming half curious and half frightened by what he had started. "In truth he barely notices him these days, or any of us. And don't speak of scribes being soft; there's none greater than Father and I dare you to call him soft."
Maitimo said, "There's no need to bring in Father."
"It's true!" Tyelko laid his brow into a puzzled frown. "You've no time to spare for any of us anymore."
"Who has no time?" asked my aunt. I had not seen her arrive.
"Russandol," said her second-born. "His hands are busy, but his heart and mind are elsewhere. Perhaps he's in love? Come, tell us her name."
I saw him flinch. Some good-natured chuckles came from the small crowd gathered. Tyelkormo laughed aloud, but my aunt did not, and she stood watching Maitimo from the corners of her eyes, startled and thoughtful.
"Such baseless drivel," said Maitimo in a strange tight voice, "I expect from a child, not from my brother who claims to be a man."
"Baseless? Why then? We've not played music in ages! When I ask you to come hunting, you have better things to do; when we want your counsel, you shrug and turn away, or give some crackbrained answer. Why forsake us, like old toys? "
Despite the mocking tone, the hurt was raw. Knowing exactly how Maitimo spent his spare time, I at last understood. I would have to use better judgment from now on; one of us should.
"There's the catch; you don't grasp the meaning of forsake. I'll show you, though."
"Ah! And how?"
"You'll learn soon enough!"
"Yes, enough," said my aunt. "Come along, Moryo – Káno, set him down. The rest of you, you may well end this now." More meekly than I had ever seen him, her youngest slid his hand into hers, almost shrinking into the folds of her kirtle.
"Forsake, forsake, for whose sake?" he sang under his breath. He repeated it until he caught a look from his mother, and fell silent.
"It's not some girl; it's Findekáno who wants all your time!" cried Tyelkormo with renewed ire. He had been slow to follow up; as I think back on it now, he was a mile ahead, not knowing it.
"You heard me! And if you'd been minding Moryo, that day he fell – but you were with our cousin, were you not?"
"Do not," said Maitimo, white as chalk, "do not drag Fíno into this, you little shit."
His mother called his name, sharply. Tyelkormo needed no further bidding and went for the charge, but Makalaurë had him by the arm before any of us knew it, twisting it behind his back with a single move.
I have my manners, regarding the business of others; I was brought up that way. I felt a stranger still among their close ranks. Maitimo might even turn on me. And yet, perhaps it was how they were grouped, everyone against him. Someone ought to stand with him, I thought, he's all alone. I stepped out, as a dreamer walks a slender ridge, and took my place by his side. When he let out his breath, I knew I'd done what had been awaited, certainly what had been hoped for.
"Touch him, and I'll make you regret it," I said to Tyelko, quite softly. His expression I won't forget; it brings a smile to my face even now.
There was a stunned silence. Then Maitimo, seizing my elbow, said, "Come," and pulled me toward the great hall. At the doors he let go and marched on; I followed close behind. We crossed through as the tables were laid for the day's last meal, not glancing right nor left, though I took special trouble to walk tall.
Without turning, he said, "Pack a bag. We're leaving."
"Leaving?" We had reached the tower stairs that led to the chamber he shared with his brothers. "But why? Where are we going? Who else-"
He spun around. "Look – will you come, or no? I'll go alone, but leave I will." His eyes were wide and wild, blazing like gemstones under his drawn dark brows. He was quite pale still.
"Calm down," I said, "of course I'll come. Might I know where?"
He was quiet for a moment, then said, "Have you ever been to the sea, Fíno?"
"I've been to Alqualondë. I've seen the beaches of Eldamar, and the harbor."
"Not the shores of Avathar?"
"Indeed not! - who would go there?"
"We would," Maitimo said. "My father, Káno, and I. And now my cousin and I shall go."
"The two of us, alone? No grooms?" As his words grew clear, I felt a great smile spread across my face. Then I remembered. "But wait, what of the Festival?"
His answer was swift and explicit, leaving me quite speechless. He gave a rough laugh, saying, "You can close your mouth now. Well, are you going to pack?"
"At once," I said. "What should I bring? Food?"
"I'll deal with the food and the horses. Bring a warm cloak. No, better make it two. Be sure to wear boots and leggings."
"Cloaks and boots? Whatever for?" The way to Tirion was easy, and the road from Tirion to the coast perhaps the most traveled in all of Aman; the hot season was upon us, and I doubted the southern shores would be much colder.
"We're going over the mountains. Last I looked up there, I saw snow. I hope you're a good climber."
Awestruck, I said, "Maitimo, there is no path across! Everybody says so."
"How fortunate that Father never listens to what everybody says. Now hurry, unless you want them all hounding and hassling us; meet me by the stables."
When he had vanished up the stairs, I took a deep breath, then, with a resounding whoop of joy, raced toward the east wing where my own chamber lay.
It was said that Moryo, fully healed, danced with the others at the Festival upon the slopes of holy Oiolossë, and that my mother looked for me in vain. But by then Maitimo and I were fleeing south across the plains, our laughter rising to mingle with the hawks' cries. For flight it was, and though time and again Maitimo would rebel, never again would he shirk duty, nor cast off his burden.