|Margaret Atwood once wrote: "We are learning to make a fire." Create your own story, poem or piece of art around this.|
Learning to Make a Fire
The manuscripts arrived in the thin light of morning. An errand-boy in the scriptorium, Pengolodh was scurrying across the courtyard, from the kitchen to the room where the scribes worked with their desks crowded against the east-most windows, preparing their pallets and waiting to leech every moment of light from the day. It was a cold morning, and three steaming mugs were balanced, shifting constantly to keep from burning any one spot for too long, in his steepled fingers.
Pengolodh's father was among the three loremasters huddled in a corner of the courtyard. A few fat flakes of snow swirled slowly to the earth; some caught in his coarse black hair.
The loremasters were unrolling a scroll, even here, in the semi-dark, even in the falling snow. Pengolodh's steps faltered at this. The vellum sheet was enormous. Even from here, he could see that it was richly painted. A snowflake caught on his eyelashes. One such flake upon the page would ruin and run the delicate painting.
His father turned then. The stern turn of his mouth made chastisement unnecessary, and Pengolodh hurried back into the scriptorium, the cups forgotten and scalding the pads of his fingers.
Later, the scribes and loremasters left for the dining hall to break their fast, leaving in a glut of gray robes and murmuring voices. Pengolodh and the other servants would eat after they had finished, picking from the bread and fruit that they left behind. Someone turned the hourglass with a dull tunk. They had till the sand expired to clean the scriptorium for the morning's work, to set three fresh sheets of vellum on each scribe's desk, to collect and fill orders for supplies, to move books from the librarian's basket to the desk of the loremaster who had requested them. It was a breathless hour.
In the librarian's basket today was a single small black book wrapped in a band of paper. "Sailaheru," said the paper in the librarian's tidy black-letter hand. Sailaheru was Pengolodh's father, and Pengolodh swept up the book and, with a trepid glance at the almost-expired hourglass, took the stairs two at a time to the topmost floor where the loremasters worked.
His father's study faced the east. Sailaheru had a saying about the correlation between witnessing the sunrise and cultivating wisdom and, likewise, a saying about loremasters who worked in the night. The latter was not a favorable pronouncement and was laden with the sort of vitriol usually reserved for answering a personal insult. As Pengolodh burst, breathless, into his father's study, the sun was just brimming on the horizon. He watched as light cascaded across the darkened sea, from horizon to shore. Pengolodh gently laid the book in his father's basket and paused. The scrolls Sailaheru had been studying in the courtyard were scattered with uncharacteristic untidiness across his father's desk.
Pengolodh tilted his head. He heard nothing from downstairs; the breakfast must have gone longer this day. Carefully, he unfurled one of the scrolls, holding it flat with the barest touch of his fingers at the top and bottom margins, fearful of leaving even a tiny trace of his betrayal.
The hand was unfamiliar, rhythmic and chaotic, like the waves in the sea. No loremaster of Nevrast--no loremaster of Nolofinwë much less Turukáno--had made this page. The illuminations in the margins were not the usual flowering vines and capering butterflies but a column of flame that knotted and twisted upon itself: Fire tamed, Pendolodh thought, and wrought into the logic of knotwork. There was no initial capital, just a slosh of black letters and the flames.
Pendolodh looked closer until his nose almost pressed the vellum. The scent of old ink lingered; ink from Aman, he realized. The flames were cadmium crimson brushed lightly, masterfully with shell gold. Even without the touch of light, Pengolodh could see the skill in the hand that had applied the gold. Mentally, he took it apart so that he might someday (or in secret, with a dried shell of his father's cadmium crimson and a thimbleful of discarded scraps of gold) tame fire upon the page, as this scribe had done.
The first fingers of light grasped the sill then and pulled the sun fully into the window. Light gushed across the page and Pengolodh leaped back. With a rustle, the scroll furled itself again. For a moment, with the gold flared to life in the light, he had feared burning his fingers upon the page.