Gift of Small Things
Story Summary: Tuor is enslaved but is not left without hope. This story has been inspired by Inushima's own imprisonment drabble and is dedicated to her:)
At night, the moon would crawl into the blackness, its soft rays brushing the walls as it came down through the narrow opening at the top of the cell. It would slide across the floor, over the soiled straw and dirt, over the barred iron door, and would reach the body of the young man lying in the darkness.
Tonight, like many nights before this, he felt the soft touch of the cold moonlight and blinked as he opened his eyes slowly. This blessing was his only companion, his only friendly visitor.
A soft breeze moved gently and brought in the smell of water, mixed with the rays of the moon. Tuor staggered to his feet, leaning on the wall behind him. His dirty hands caressed the stone, feeling its cold bite on his skin as it did night after night, year after year. Somewhere in the past, he had lost count of how many years he had been a prisoner - locked away in this dismal dungeon, allowed outside only when Lorgan needed him for brutal tasks aided by the whip. He narrowed his eyes as he straightened his body and gazed up at the moonlight that shone right into his eyes. It was getting harder to remember his life before he had come here, when he had dwelt with Annael and his Elves.
He reached up with grimy hands that were covered with filth, to take a hold of the rock on the wall. Slowly, scraping his knees and feet, he climbed the small pieces of rock that emerged from the wall like tiny steps. He gritted his teeth as he faltered on his climb but gripped the stones harder, raising his body up the wall. The stone bit his skin, hurting his hands and tearing at his already tattered clothes, but he ignored all this. He no longer felt the cold nor the stone nor the chilly air that brushed his skin as he finally reached the top – as far as he could – and looked out of the only window in the cell.
He shifted slightly to get a better footing on the crack in the wall, twisting his feet sideways, and looked up, squinting his eyes. The moon shone on the dark sky in pure solitude, casting its shadows into the waves of the lake, and over the rest of the prison. Its whiteness made the dark walls and water glitter like an unreal picture. Tuor parted his lips as a breeze ran over his body, cold and strong. In the distance, beyond the shadowy corners of the sea prison, he caught a glance of some movement. He narrowed his eyes, trying to make sense of it, but the waves had begun to crash harder into the prison walls, lifted by the strong tide. A lone bird flew away from one of the hidden bushes in the wall. The young man felt his heart lift with the small animal, and he followed its faulty flight over the lake, looking at the moonlight that graced its body – sparkling like a sprite. Then, he distinguished the movement on the shore and saw a tiny boat become visible in the dark waves. A visitor, he thought, as he watched the tiny boat sink into the insides of the prison.
He lifted his eyes, gripping the bars of the window with his hands to raise himself higher. The moon moved in the sky and away from some of the clouds that threatened to cover it. Tuor watched the immense circle of light with eyes that yearned to touch it or fly close to it, like the bird had done. He had heard that it was near spring from the jailers that walked up and down the cells. Another month was passing by, and he was still a prisoner in the dark cell. He had once believed he would be free one day, that someone would come and deliver him from the pain he endured everyday but not any longer. He had lost faith in everything and now only waited for death to claim his body as it had done to other prisoners. But death did not show mercy upon him.
He frowned as he noticed the wind moving the clouds, making them race faster and faster, until they covered the moon completely. A small sigh escaped his mouth as the moon disappeared. His only companion in his eternal solitude was gone, and he felt his mind cry out, his eyes filled with sorrow.
Suddenly, a small cry rose from the sea waves, and the shape of a sea bird lifted up to the sky. The wind caressed its feathers and carried it southwards. The waves seized to lap wildly, and the night stood still. Tuor felt his breath taken away by the night, and he wanted to scream, to reach out and demand the wind to return the moon to him. His dry mouth formed the maddened plea, but then the clouds moved. The huge disk of silver greatness struggled to rise from behind the greyish nebula. And it did. It emerged from the darkness, moving away from the clouds bravely. Slowly, it regained its domain in the sky, standing apart as a queen in the night, returning to keep the lonely prisoner company as if it knew it was the only friend the wretched boy had.
Tuor's lips moved softly, taking on a smile. He raised his head up as high as he could, closing his weary eyes and letting the moonlight touch his face.
"Moon," he said, his voice a coarse whisper carried away by the sea wind. "You have done so much for me, and I have never given you anything." He smiled sadly.
He lowered himself slowly from the wall, landing on the floor with little grace. He was tired and beaten into a sombre litheness by the emptiness and the solitude he felt over his cell, by the madness that threatened to devour his mind as each day melted to a new night. He folded his arms over his body, making himself warm, and let the sleep take him.
"He's gone completely insane," the jailer said, tossing a load of rags into the washing tin. The person next to him, another jailer with long hair, raised an eyebrow. He dumped some dirty ropes aside, making space for the new material he was working with, which was not any cleaner than the ropes or him. Behind him, the newcomer sat still with features hidden under a cloak. None of the jailers bothered to look behind them to regard the figure clad in black, and it preferred this. Such talk concerning the prisoners was tolerated by the jailers, who did not even care for themselves, but not to the wretched souls inside the cells or this newcomer.
"I suspected so," replied the other jailer, running grimy hands over his long hair. "Been waiting for that to happen."
The newcomer, an old woman, lowered her eyes, not wishing to interrupt the two men's conversation. They had ignored her since he had arrived, not even bothering to acknowledge her presence. They had brought her into the washing room, where they also took the trash and cooked, in the hopes, she knew, that she would do a bit of washing. Like other women would do, she thought, but she held no ill thoughts against them. She had smiled sadly, like she does now, knowing that the life of a jailer stuck in such a horrid place as this was not a happy one. None of the men around him had ever chosen to guard the prisoners of the Easterlings. She watched their hands work efficiently with their cloths and ropes, and she closed his eyes, saying a small prayer to her patron, Elbereth.
She had once been a prisoner of the Edain, when her kind had started to drift into Beleriand after them. But where she had expected death, they had given her a chance to live, and more importantly, a chance to learn. For nothing had the Edain loved more than learning, especially from the Elf-kind. And in exchange for her labor, they had taught her of the Valar and Iluvatar and all those wondrous things that existed in the world.
They pitied her for her ignorance, for her animal-like understanding of the world, but they were not unkind, and they were eager to impart their wisdom, in the hopes that she would pass it to her unlearned kin.
She had done so, and for several years, she went from Easterling camp to Easterling camp, where she had attempted to teach. But no one wished to learn. Her kind had no interest in anything save for the raw goods offered by their dark patron, Morgoth. However, she found that if she disguised her teachings under a veil of mysticism and not as information given to her by the Edain, it was accepted a little more. So she wore the guise of a healer, and went from camp to camp, plying her trade in exchange for access to the prisoners, the ones who suffered the most from her people's ignorance. They called her a witch, and often, the chiefs of the camps would allow her to see the prisoners in exchange for her keeping away the evil magic of the Elves.
"Is he dying?"
"No," the first jailer said. "He is not. He only seems to have become maddened by the solitude. Every time I go to his cell to deliver food, he asks me for paper – for cloths. He asks me for things."
"Asks you for paper?"
The healer raised her head, narrowing her eyes with pity for the anonymous prisoner whose wish for paper was the sole principle to brandish him as mad. She pitied the state of such a man, whose captivity had driven him to such sorrowful madness, urging within him the need to collect things by himself, as other mad men do.
"Well, I can hardly understand him as it is. He speaks in the Elvish tongue. He hardly knows our language except the few words he picked up here. He just screams at me when I get there," said the man, "to get him paper or cloth."
"Cloth? To make a rope, probably, and kill himself."
The two men shook their heads, starting to work with some ropes they took out from a bag at their feet. The healer held her breath, waiting to see if perhaps one of the jailers would address her. She ran her fingers over the book in her lap.
"I have the mind to give him one of these ropes," said one of the jailers said grimly. "It would save him the trouble."
The healer rose slowly, her eyes wide and full of sorrow. The two men turned their heads as if realizing she was there for the first time.
"I would like to visit the cells now, please."
The healer gasped as a prisoner screamed from within one of the cells, a cry like that of an animal. The jailer leading her through the cells, a burly man, banged on one of the doors, and the cries ceased. The healer held her breath as the stink and misery reached her, touching her softly. Everywhere she looked, the eyes of lost souls stared back at her, some with apathy, some frozen in loss, others with hatred.
"Don't bother," said a man who was coming slowly through the hall they were crossing. He wore a brown hood over his long messy hair. He made a grim face, not even noticing the healer. They had stopped next to the cell the man was pointing at. "That one must be dead."
The healer gasped as the metal door before her heaved as someone banged it. The prisoner inside must have smashed his head against the door, he thought, but the sound was too loud - like a hammer, not a human head. Perhaps he had tossed a stone at the metal.
"No," said the jailer moving closer to open the small window that let him see inside the cell. "He's alive."
The three people drew back as a small, dirty hand darted out from the window, reaching for the jailer. The man cursed and gave him the small bits of food in his hand. The prisoner took it, but then let it drop to the dirty floor by the jailer's feet. He moved his hands wildly.
"Paper!" The muffled scream. "Please! Get me some paper!"
The healer's eyes narrowed sadly. This must be the poor wretched boy the jailers in the kitchen believed mad, she thought. She stepped forward just as the fat jailer slammed the window closed. He heard the prisoner scream as the man pushed him away into the cell.
"Guard," she said, her voice a soft whisper, as she touched the baffled jailer who wondered where the pale, old woman had come from. "Please, let me see this prisoner."
The jailer laughed, his voice a grim bell tolling in the dark. The healer lifted her head and stared into his eyes. Her brown eyes were full of a light the jailer had never seen before, of hope, of belief in her faith. The man lowered his eyes. The other man behind her sighed.
"The chief says that we are allow her full access." The other jailer lowered his voice. "He does not wish to anger her, for we need her witchcraft." The healer kept her face from showing any emotion, but inwardly, she sighed at how easily they fell to superstition and mysticism.
"Be careful, witch," the jailer said, removing the bolts that kept the door closed tight. He heaved and puffed as if he were tired and moved the door open.
The healer was afraid, but she lifted her dark robes and pushed herself bravely into the cell. The prisoner was huddled against the furthest corner, his hands grasping the stones on the wall. Scared, he watched with wide eyes as the healer entered the cell. She gasped as she saw him, and her heart stopped. She had expected a filthy, longhaired man, but what she met was the shaking body of a young man with fear written in his wide blue eyes - eyes that she had once seen in the face of another man from another time. She lost her strength to talk, and she was aware that the prisoner was looking at her intently. His blue eyes questioned the reason for her visit, most likely. He had seen healers and slavers, but he had never been visited by the likes of this old woman. She felt the door close tightly behind her and heard the man walk away down the cell halls.
The prisoner fell to his feet, kneeling before her, as soon as he saw the brightness in the healer's eyes. He lowered his head, ashamed by the way her eyes remained fixed on his grotesque appearance, on his face.
"Valar bless you," the healer finally said, her voice faltering slightly. She made her way into the room, pulling her feet free from the straw that filled the floor. The young man bowed his head, receiving the blessing. He knew she was murmuring a prayer, and he smiled softly. She stopped walking, gripping her hands fiercely. He was unlike anything she had expected. He was the son of one of the bravest men she had known, the one who had released her from her captivity.
"My name is Narnell," she said in Sindarin. "I spent some time among your father's people once."
The prisoner looked at her silently, in fear, for he had not heard the Grey-elven tongue since his imprisonment. He did not know what she wanted from him, but he hoped it would not be much. She did not look like a witch to him, but there was a strange feeling coming from her body. He did not want to know if her visit was something bad, but his little wild heart let him believe that maybe they would let him out today. His blue eyes widened, but he bit his lip. Such thoughts left him immediately as he drew himself from the floor. They were silly thoughts.
"Can I please have some paper?" he said, his voice muffled.
Narnell looked at him sadly and smiled. She knew of prisoners who wrote scrolls from within their cells. She hoped this was the reason why he wanted it, and not the one the jailers believed. She kept her hands clasped before her body, her slender fingers playing with her black robe.
"You wish to write?
The healer blinked, and the young man drew himself away from her, resting his head against the wall of the cell. He lowered his eyes, saddened that the witch would not help him either. His clear blue eyes looked at the lady's hands. He was not a writer, he hardly knew even how to write, save for the small schooling he received from those who took care of him before he came to be captured. The person he had believed to be his mother had looked much like this woman, had that strange brightness in her eyes, but that was a life he no longer remembered.
"All I have is my book of prayers," the witch said. "Many prayers are written on the paper."
The prisoner's eyes brightened, and he reached towards her, his dirty palms held out to her eagerly. She clasped the book close to her chest, afraid he would take it. He noticed her frightened eyes and drew back, ashamed by such fear. He let his body fall back into the floor, his legs folded under it. But such worries disappeared as his heart leapt at the prospect of finally getting what he wanted.
"Any paper will do," he said.
"This is the book that teaches what the Easterlings keep from you, written in a language they cannot read," Narnell said. "I cannot let you tear it, sir." She lowered her eyes, strangely embarrassed. "Do you know of the Valar? Has anyone ever told you stories of them, and Iluvatar the creator?"
Narnell held her breath as the he tilted his head sideways, his clear blue eyes staring at her. The young man's eyes narrowed, and she could see horrid dark circles under them and lines around his mouth. She knew he was disappointed. His chest moved with the rhythm of a wounded animal.
"Why have the Valar abandoned me?"
The healer frowned sadly, her hands gripping her dress to keep from gasping. She drew closer to the young man, her spirit in horrible pain.
"The Valar," she whispered, "never abandon anyone."
"They have abandoned me," the prisoner said.
She looked at him gently, her voice soothing in the confines of the small cell. "My grandson could fall and hurt himself, even if he is walking at my side. That does not mean that I wished him hurt. But what he knows is that I will be there to pick him up and carry him when he does fall. The love of the Valar is such. They cannot prevent bad things from happening, for that is not under their control. But what they can do is listen to your heart and try to help you when your time of need comes."
The healer stared away from the prisoner, looking at the misery that was his cell, wondering what the boy did when he was alone. He looked at her, his eyes narrowed, and followed her eyes as she wondered sadly over the mess in his prison. The dirt, the rotted metals, the stinky straw, and the putrid mess that were his biological needs faraway in a corner. She felt her heart break as she thought of the life the young man must live, if one could call this living.
"I never knew," the prisoner said softly, "what I ever did to be here."
She looked back at him, startled by the softness of his voice. His chest had stopped moving.
"I never even knew," he said. " and I wish I did." His voice broke. "Except that they would not kill me like they killed the Elves because I was a man. Death would have been preferable."
"I do not know such things," Narnell whispered. She moved closer to him, bending down over him. She ignored the bad smell his body had, trying to disregard the disgust she felt. She wished she knew more of the kind of sorrow people lived. She hated herself for having lived such a happy life as a prisoner, while others must suffer like this, and she bit her lip, holding back her sorrow. She looked at him kindly. "What is your name, my son?"
The prisoner's head tilted backwards, squinting his eyes as if he were remembering across ages of time and finally spoke.
Narnell smiled, reaching out a small, cold hand to touch him bravely. He started softly, amazed that she was being so kind with him. Her face was radiant and bore a small smile, and her eyes sparkled with life from their brown irises. Her face was like a heart, pale, lined with the dark hood of her cloak. Her lips were big and rosy and revealed white teeth. He felt hideous and wished he could bite his lips, but he could hardly move his jaw.
She sighed softly, narrowing her eyes. "What do you wish to do with paper, Tuor?"
Tuor let his head fall over his chest, feeling his cheeks burn with shame. He felt his eyes hurt as he closed them, but he reached with feeble hands towards his left. There, hidden under a few straws, he found what he was looking for. He pulled at the object with his fingers. Narnell struggled to see what he had in his hand until he held it under the moonlight. He caressed the small thing with his hand, allowing her to see. It was a small boat – or what would have been a small boat – made out of a very old, crumbled paper. He held the old paper between his fingers, almost afraid to break it. The healer smiled sadly, feeling her eyes fill with tears, as he showed her his treasure.
"It is beautiful, Tuor," she said, holding back her tears. She reached out to touch it but held her hands back. Tuor looked at her, his eyes wandering over her soft features. He smelled her fresh perfume, her soft human scent, and her clean clothes. He suddenly wanted to hide the crude boat and himself.
"This is why you wish to have cloths and paper?"
The prisoner gasped, ashamed as he realized he owned such a childish wish. He felt his cheeks burn with shame. He was an adult, not a child, and now that she had spoken, he knew it must sound like a silly desire. He sighed and drew in his breath.
"I want to make a lot of them," he said, "like those I see from my window."
Narnell looked up at the circular, barred window. Through it, she saw small boats without sails floating in the wide, dark lake. She saw the prison walls and towers, the other sides of the prison, and the waves crashing over those walls. She saw the little boat that had carried her to the island and felt her speech leave her again. She shook her head, her lips trembling. This prison, where Lorgan kept many of his prisoners, was on a small island on Lake Mithrim, too small to have any uses except as a form of isolation for these prisoners, who were rowed to the mainland when their labor was needed.
"D-do you pray?" she said, after a few moments of silence. The putrid air filled her nostrils suddenly. She felt the walls threatening to swallow her, and she wished to be gone, to fly away like a coward. The prison was overwhelming her. Tuor looked at her quietly, not comprehending her inner battle. He felt a cold wind cross his limbs, and he rubbed his arms to keep himself warm.
"Yes," he said softly. "I do."
The healer smiled, closing her eyes. Her mouth parted slowly as she reopened her eyes, feeling them wet. A soft breeze rustled her cloak, and she looked down at him. She was glad that his soul was still so pure and lovely, even inside walls where he would be trapped forever, in darkness like a living hell. She stood up, her long dress moving as she stretched. The sound of the jailers coming down the cells began to grow louder. In the hall, one of them grunted heavily. It would be time to leave soon, she thought. Tuor sighed, a gentle sadness coming to his breath. She looked at him, wondering if he would ever meet any other kind soul. He staggered to his feet, pushing himself up with the wall behind him. She would never know such things.
Narnell drew away from him, headed towards the door with heavy steps. The sound of the keys tore her soul. Tuor's breath had quickened as if he were ready for an assault as soon as the door opened, but he remained like a passive animal, waiting. He gripped the same iron bars he had been gripping when she came into the cell. His blue eyes revealed the pain, the sadness in his heart, the loss in his head.
She wanted to scream. Not even to know why he was in prison, to be negated such a simple thing as paper and string, she thought, so a man little more than a boy, could spend his lonely nights doing the few things he had ever leaned. So he could build crude boats. She heard the door locks being pulled off the metal hinges, and she closed her eyes.
Suddenly, she rushed over to the boy. He gasped and stared into her eyes.
"May the Valar bless you," she whispered, the tears she had wanted to conceal falling freely down her pale cheeks.
The prisoner felt something press against his hands. He stood speechless as the healer rushed away from him as fast as she had come and headed towards the door. The fat jailer called her with a gruff voice, reaching to help her outside. The healer moved quickly and quietly and hurried out of the cell, her small brown eyes wide with uncertainty. Before she stepped outside, she turned and looked back at Tuor one last time. Then, the doors were closed again, and the metal keys made their horrid shrill noise.
Tuor looked down at his hands - at the small book of prayers and the cream handkerchief in his palms - hearing the jailer and the healer's steps melt into the hollow silence.
His dirty hands folded the small piece of paper, careful not to damage the holy words inscribed in it. His blue eyes shined softly as he placed the small boat along side the other ones he had made, all shiny and made from soft paper. He touched the only dirty one and moved it to lead the fleet of boats, and he smiled to himself. He touched the pieces of cloth that once used to be a handkerchief, which he had assembled as the ocean in which the little boats floated – in his mind. He ran his finger over the faint words he had written with bits of rocks, in the center of that imaginary ocean and its boats. The words were almost unreadable, but he could see them. The light coming from the window shone on them.
Tuor narrowed his eyes, squinting as the light of the moon finally found the small boats and his letters. It crawled over the paper and cloth, over the dirty floor – moved between the waves and vessels. It touched every one of the crude boats.
Tuor lifted his head, looking up at the moon. A small smile crossed his lips as far as his bruised jaw allowed him to move, and he rose to his feet. He crawled up through the walls and stones, his hands willing his body up to his only window. He looked up at the full moon, his clear eyes wide, and he gripped the bars harder, lifting his body so he could see the night sea. The lonely celestial body caressed his face with its soft moonlight, and ran over his small smile. He looked at the dark waves and the distant walls of the prison, and he thought he could see the small boat that bore Narnell over the waters, away from the prison island. The waves enfolded her, touched by the moon's silver blessing.