Once upon a time, my friend Kasiopea--who had become enamored of my particular Caranthir--asked me for a story about how Caranthir had become engaged to his wife. I had written a comic rendition of how he first discovered he loved her in When the Stars Smile, but it was a comedy piece and not exactly flattering (or true) to either party. Because Caranthir is one of my favorite characters to write, I took up Kasiopea's challenge.
At the same time, on a Tolkien mailing list to which I belong, we were discussing why the Silmarils--which are entities containing the purest form of light, which symbolically represents, throughout the Legendarium, the "ultimate good"--came to inspire so many awful deeds. My musings on the subject are part of an essay that has been in-progress for some years now, but they also came to the fore in this piece, as Caranthir ponders his true feelings on his father's greatest creations.
"The Coveted" was nominated in the 2009 Middle-earth Fanfiction Awards in the category Times: First Age and Prior: House of Finwe. Thanks, Angelica!
She was the only one who ever asked: How do you feel about them? She could balance a goblet of wine perfectly on her belly without tipping it to stain the carpet as she sprawled before the fireplace. It was winter, and winters in Thargelion were harsh. The fire roared. Well? she asked when I didn’t answer. We were both drunk, but her words rang as sharp reports, of heavy objects dropped and seized by gravity. She was as drunk as I but she never showed it--never slurred her words--except that she indulged in questions that no one sober and sensible would ever ask a son of Fëanor. Well? Harsher this time. How do you feel about the Silmarils?
I snorted. A question cloaked in innocuousness, like the way that my mother used to accost me after an evening with another of her well-bred ladies, meeting me at the door in her nightclothes. “Well? What did you think of her, Carnistir?” her eyes gleaming and predatory with hope for my happiness. As though a person, shaped over a lifetime as I have been, should be subjected to a mere tipping of the thumb: yes or no. As though I possessed the audacity to make such a judgment.
And the Silmarils …
As though I possessed the audacity to judge the light of the Powers. Of my father.
I took another swallow of wine. My awareness blurred further: Taryindë, sprawled on the carpet with the wineglass upon her belly, her head lolling to the side and her plain brown hair spread across the floor, catching the firelight and made exotic. Her words set upon my brain like rogue sparks from the fire and burned there. She’d had as much wine as me, matching me glass for glass, and the three bottles abandoned by the armchair said that her speech should not be so clear.
What do you think of the--
“I hate them,” I said, to satisfy her, and I waited for her face to wheel, her eyes to meet mine, the glass upon her belly to upset itself upon the floor. But as had always been, I could never surprise her. She smiled as the realization sunk through the fuzzy anesthetic of the wine, as the implication of my answer set my heart racing.
Of course you do.
Before my father began fighting with my mother, he fought with Nelyo, his oldest son and the one of whom he’d once been so proud. Nelyo no longer lived with us then; he lived in the city with our Grandfather Finwë and was a King’s scribe, a position too humble--our father thought--for one of Nelyo’s extraordinary talents. Macalaurë was betrothed to be married then and still lived at home, so Nelyo visited often, to visit our brother and to fight with our father.
I tried not to listen, but Tyelkormo would always come into my bedroom with a strange gleam in his eyes and sit opposite me on my bed. He would gasp and cringe at our father’s and brother’s words as though he was listening to a stage drama. Sometimes, he would nudge me with his foot. It was hard not to listen, given all that.
“Well,” he would say when they had finished, “that was entertaining.” But I’d turned my mind to his once and knew that it was not amusement that drove him to sit opposite me while our beloved father and our beloved eldest brother volleyed words at each other with the playful force of children having a rock fight: It was doubt, fear of the impossible becoming possible, as our father frequently reminded us that it could at any time. If someone as loved and favored as Nelyo could slip so easily from our father’s graces, then what trifle need we commit to suffer the same? The doubt roiled from Tyelkormo in thick clouds, and I shut my mind to his. He nudged me with his foot again. “Why go so far as Tirion when we get better dramatic productions right here?” He coughed with laughter. I closed my eyes and allowed the illusion of amusement to return, without his big, frightened eyes to convince me differently.
Yet Nelyo and Atar maintained that they were the best of friends. “We don’t fight. We debate,” said Nelyo when I dared ask him once, if only so that Tyelkormo would resume sleeping at night. The skin beneath his eyes was brown and sickly; he thought no one noticed, but of course, I did. I felt his restlessness at night like the legs of spiders crawling across me. It took all of my strength to shut him out and sleep. And even if Atar no longer bragged about his eldest son’s accomplishments and even though we knew Nelyo’s chosen profession disappointed him, they still held each other long in an embrace whenever they parted.
Most of their “debates” pertained to philosophical issues beyond the comprehension of those of us grounded in reality, as Tyelkormo and I were. But they discussed good and evil a lot. Nelyo thought that good and evil could be dichotomized, placed on opposite sides of a narrow black line as neat as a penstroke. We were camping in southern Aman, and Nelyo had come along, being as it would be Macalaurë’s last long trip before his wedding. Atar slashed a black line with his quill down a piece of parchment. “It is not like that, Nelyo,” he said. He rubbed his hand across the line before it dried and made a long smudge. “That is the division of good and evil.” His hand was filthy with ink.
“Rubbish,” said Nelyo, laughing, but Atar countered each of his examples of pure good or pure evil with some caveat that turned each judgment on its head, and soon, Nelyo’s mouth was turned down at the corners and he looked perturbed and went for a long walk along the river by himself, “To think,” he said. Tyelkormo nudged me with his foot.
“You will not convince me,” Nelyo said later to our father, “that service of the King can be construed as being evil.”
“Ah,” replied Atar, “but supposing that he is not King forever, that my father abdicates and leaves the throne to another, supposing that that other uses your service for ill ends, shall you be judged by your good intentions or the evil that your actions have helped in committing?”
“But Atar,” said Tyelkormo, nearly of age by then, stern of face and innocent of eye, “the King’s successor would be you.”
“By rights,” said Atar, “but we all know that Arda Marred does not operate by rights. And so pure good and evil are not possible either, in a world without order.”
The Silmarils, of course, were still many years from being created, although we did not then know that our father had already begun gathering lore and that this idea--born, in fact, of a remark that Nelyo had made many years earlier about the perfect purity of the mingled Light of the Trees--had already begun to occupy the greater share of his thoughts. My father’s thoughts became harder for me to perceive as the years passed. My skill with mind-speak grew, but Atar’s skill always grew faster. I was reminded of the graphs that Nelyo used to draw for us--the gentle incremental linear and the wildly escalating exponential--back when he still lived at home and gave us our mathematics lesson four times weekly. I was linear and Atar was exponential. I thought of the time that Tyelkormo had gotten into trouble for extending his graph all the way across the tabletop and across part of the floor to see its end because he didn’t believe Nelyo when Nelyo told him that it had no end.
“It grows by building on itself,” Nelyo had told him and handed him a sponge to clean the mess that he had made.
I practiced by listening in on the thoughts of my brothers: of Nelyo who--despite his convictions of the easy dichotomy of good and evil--was always tormented by doubts; of Macalaurë, who vacillated between melancholia and joy that made me tremble like I’d eaten too much sugar too fast; of Tyelkormo, whose dreams and thoughts were often in tongues even Atar could not understand; and Curufinwë, who said little and thought much, whose thoughts reminded me of confetti, tossed and swirling with the barest provocation, drifting and becoming caught in strange places out of reach of the eyes and minds of others, except me, of course. My brothers did not know of my special gift, and I was counted as the most ordinary in a family known for its precocity, hammering out dull projects beside my father in his forge and left to hope for an illustrious marriage to bring me to par with my brothers.
But to know the secret thoughts of others is a terrible temptation, and I saw past the glistening smiles and polished manners of the well-bred ladies that my mother chose for me, ladies hoping for marriage to a prince (even me); I felt their thoughts linger on my too-heavy brow or my hair that would not be tamed into plaits or my sullenness; I felt their thoughts turn to scorn and mockery, and I desired to see them no longer. And so even my hopes for romantic attainment became bleak.
There was one, though: Taryindë, the daughter of one of the lords of Formenos, where we went in the summer. The lords of Formenos were like my father and had mostly sired sons, and Taryindë grew up in their midst, beautiful in the way that a ragged meadow strewn with flowers of every color is at once more beautiful yet also squalid when compared to a tidy garden in Tirion. She was small and bony with dark hair and large eyes, darting between the shadows, the whisper of the grass against her skin like the soughing of the wind, sneaking behind me to bury her quick, sharp fists in my back. “Carnistir!” Her voice as beautiful as the shriek of a predatory bird. The others, I could feel by their colors when they approached, but the thoughts of Taryindë I could never fathom. Trying to perceive her thoughts, her emotions--even her color--was as futile as trying to break a brick wall with my fist.
On occasion, I tried to delve her thoughts much in the way that a puppy will test his nascent teeth on something that he knows he cannot break. She would sit, oblivious. She wore her hair off of her neck, held in place and skewered by old paintbrushes nabbed from her father’s workshop; small, dark tendrils wormed against her neck. Her skin was nearly as dark as mine from being outside so often; the exposed skin at the back of her neck was not porcelain or creamy as was thought appropriate for a maiden. She owned dresses and gowns--all done in shades of purple--but wore her brothers’ cast-off clothes, and more than once--on the rare occasions when her family managed a visit to Tirion--she was mistaken for a fair-faced, wide-eyed boy.
We would laugh over that, Taryindë and I. Between us, there was nothing but words; no secret thoughts to spoil a compliment that I’d assumed she meant sincerely, no hidden imperfections. We relished our imperfections: her boyishness, my temper. These were the things visible to the eye, not the imperfections that lurk beneath the surface of everyone’s skin that we cover with greater insistence than we cover our naked bodies. But like the way my brothers used to wish for a means to see through the clothing of maidens on the street, I had been gifted--cursed, perhaps--to see the imperfections hidden deep within one’s thoughts: the darkest fears and fantasies. Except Taryindë’s.
But as we grew towards a marriageable age, there was always a line of maidens waiting for me with eager gleams in their eyes--and dark thoughts in their hearts--and more than one young man from Formenos met the angry fists of Taryindë’s brothers for indiscretions committed behind her father’s barn. Our faults: my sullenness, her promiscuity. We laughed about them.
“Tart,” I called her.
“Grouch,” she called me. Her small, sharp-knuckled fists had the perfect knack for imbedding themselves just below my ribs, delivering a twist that tickled even as I knew I’d awaken the next morning with an aching blue blight for my insolence.
Like me, she was without talent, without a place in her crafty family. Her father’s paintings hung in the halls of Tirion; her mother’s keen eyes and skilled hands stitched together glass beads that adorned the gowns and throats of the most illustrious ladies of the court. My mother was a sculptress, and my father had perfected putting light into stone. I stood at his side in the forge, yes--listening as he instructed his bright-eyed apprentices and my quiet brother Curufinwë as I finished an order of plow blades, unlovely things meant to be sent into dirt and broken upon rocks.
Taryindë, likewise, helped her mother mix and color the glass that she would use for her beads, though the actual making of the beads--not to mention the stitching--was thought to be beyond Taryindë’s meager skills.
More often than not, we were dismissed and afforded our indolence while our more competent siblings labored. I felt their busy minds. My own thoughts lay like a torpid clot inside my skull. I imagined that if I could see my brain, it would look like a black lump of tar.
I lay in the fields, beneath the swaying grasses, yet Taryindë would always find me. “No better company than me?” I would ask. We lay head to foot; she swatted my bare foot, the top, across the toes, where she knew it would sting the most. To lie otherwise implied behaving otherwise; it evoked thoughts of her narrow body twined with a town-boy’s behind her father’s barn. I felt the heat rise in my face and was glad to slap her foot in reply, was glad to see her toes curl just slightly in a wince.
It was I who would wax philosophical first: “Do you ever wonder, Taryindë, what is our place in things?” She would laugh. Her laugh was as hard as fingernails scraping stone; it made one want to hide his head and cringe. “Our place is here,” she said, “in the field, not acting as our parents’ slaves like our unfortunate brothers.”
Lazy, I called her. Foolish, she answered. I could only assume the truth; her thoughts were shut to me. I thought of how peaceful it was, to lie in silence for once, with only my own thoughts to bother me. Her hand rested on the sole of my foot, pressing the arch, as though in answer.
The people of Formenos, of course, followed our father into exile, across the sea to the Outer Lands, but such was the chaos of that time--and the subsequent appointment of “lords” to serve under each of us, the princes of the Noldor--that I paid no heed. For years, I remained unaware of Taryindë. But of course, I would later realize: She was lost in the silence of her thoughts.
I was granted Thargelion by my brother Maedhros: a chilly but fertile land along Lake Helevorn. I built my fortress far from the borders of my brothers’ land; I was pleased in my solitude, in my silence and peace. I kept my own garden, aware that the thin-lipped people laughed at me without voices: the prince on his knees in the dirt, cursing the rabbits that would not keep out of his lettuces. I swam in the lake--even in the winter--aware that they thought me mad, and arose naked and dripping, their eyes skipping away from my flesh like stones skipping hesitantly upon the water. The shame; the audacity! The beauty. I dared not let my lips curve into a smile at the maiden’s flushed cheeks.
I left my “lords” to their own tasks, unable to muster the energy or courage for the clamor of politics. I wasn’t even entirely sure to whom I’d granted what region until I encountered a homestead while riding or until this particular lord or that particular lord sent a gift of abundance and his greetings to my fortress. At which point I made note to remember his name and visit him sometime and promptly forgot. But I had a sallow-skinned advisor who took care of such matters for me, and barely a day passed without a messenger riding from the fortress bearing a message written in my cleverly forged hand.
But one day, I was kneeling in my garden and trying to extract grubs the size of my fingertips from around the roots of my beans and a shadow passed over me, and the stubborn creature I’d just managed to pinch between thumb and finger squirted away and was lost in the dirt. I must have cursed, for the messenger--wearing a rather absurd purple tunic--bowed and begged my pardon.
I stood reluctantly and wiped my hands on my breeches. The messenger bowed again and proffered a rolled piece of parchment. “My Lord Taryindë sends her humble request for your presence at her homestead night-after-next.”
“Lord Taryindë?” I asked and squinted at him, trying to recollect where I had heard that name before. Then the absurd purple tunic and the familiar name converged and I exclaimed, “Lord Taryindë!” and with a boyish eagerness that made several upon the path behind me turn in surprise: “Yes, I will be there!”
Although I knew Taryindë well enough to know that she had “humbly requested” nothing. Likely, she had demanded my presence--for what reason I could only imagine--but her messenger had had the good sense to rearrange her words a bit, so long as she remained ignorant of it. Much as my sallow-skinned advisor only nodded and told others of my house that I was visiting one of my lords, not adding that the lord was female, fond of purple, and my dear friend of old. Not remarking upon--though by his busy thoughts, I know that he noticed--the aplomb to which I set about packing my clothes and readying my horse well before it was thought reasonable to leave.
Taryindë's homestead was in a far corner of my realm, marked upon the map on my wall with a pin topped with a sliver of amethyst. I knew my lands well, yet I had never happened there; had never happened upon the scent of smoke from hearthfires or the sounds of voices of those working the fields that fed the towns that tended to form around the lords' homesteads. I left early in the morning, and it was nearly a two-day ride before I entered the region where Taryindë was said to live, straining to my fullest height in the saddle for a glimpse of her homestead: of neatly planted crops or a path worn to dust or a smudge of smoke against the blue-white sky, the signs of civilization.
Or the busy chatter of thoughts, scrabbling with the insistence of bedbugs in the depths of my mind.
But I found none of these things, no sign of "Lord Taryindë" at all, and as the sun sank into the western horizon, I realized that I would quite possibly be late to her invitation for the embarrassing predicament of not being able to find a lord's homestead in my own realm. I laughed at myself and looked up--perhaps expecting that her homestead would be marked by a purple pin tall against the sky as it was on the map at home--unblinking and allowing the early autumn wind to whip water from my eyes until I heard hoofbeats approach behind me and a voice, "Carnistir!" sharp and unlovely with mockery.
I turned and there she was, astride a dark brown horse that seemed only to barely tolerate her presence, wearing a purple tunic and her hair unfettered by cords or braids, left to the mercy of the wind. Upon her hip, she wore an ugly steel sword, crude and seemingly too heavy for her skinny arms. Upon her back was a bow and a quiver overflowing with arrows.
"Lost?" she asked, and her face broke into a shameless grin.
Her cottage was small and built in the dark heart of the forest, "Where none shall find me," she said. "None whom I do not want." I asked after her people, and she snorted. "What people?"
"You have a messenger," I said.
"Nay, Altakarë has a messenger. I borrowed him in exchange for some turnips. I have no one, and I want no one. They keep me awake at night."
The cottage, she said, she had built with her own two hands, offering the calluses on her palms and the slanted floors as proof, setting a wine bottle on its side and laughing as it rolled the length of the room, gathering speed along the way, into the wall. The cottage was but a single simple room with a bed in one corner and a rough-hewn table in the other strewn with things that she had found in the forest: bits of rock and colorful leaves pressed inside of books and pieces of bone. "You do not look ready to receive guests," I suggested as decorously as possible.
"Nonsense," she replied. "I have two bowls."
She did, and there was a pot of stew bubbling in a kettle over the fire. She ladled me a bowl so full that it sloshed onto my hand. "But you have no--" I wanted to say bathroom and could not form the word upon my tongue. Blushing, I said, "You have no plumbing."
She sniffed. "Since when is either of us capable of that? You have plumbing only by the good graces of Curufinwë, I'd imagine."
"Yes, but where do you--" The tips of my ears burned, and she paused at the table, about to set her bowl upon it and staring evenly at me. Her thumb was stuck in the soup, and it must have burned, but she was too proud to wince.
"Shit?" she asked. "Carnistir, really. You've said the word to me before. What's with the suddenly delicate behavior? Have you turned into Maitimo during the short years we've been parted?" She let the bowl rattle to the table and flounced away to retrieve a bottle of wine. "I have a privy in the back. Even I am not so remarkably untalented that I cannot dig a hole and affix boards atop it so that I do not meet my demise in a well of filth." Unceremoniously popping the cork, she let the wine chatter into two tumblers. "I do not have wineglasses. And stop blushing," she said, flicking the tip of my ear hard enough to hurt. "You look ridiculous, and I am beginning to regret inviting you."
And so it came to pass, induced by wine and the silence of my thoughts that arose only in her presence, that I began to abide with her. I had forgotten in the intervening years the absolute peace that was time spent with Taryindë, having grown accustomed to the constant scratching thoughts of my servants and my people, a perpetual background noise upon which all other sounds fair and foul alike were built. But my first night with Taryindë--spent upon a pallet across the room from her narrow bed--I slept deeply as I had not managed since childhood … perhaps ever. Had I ever been truly alone? Growing up with six brothers and then being shunted into a lordship that I did not even want, I realized that I never had.
And still was not. For Taryindë was with me, of course, and of this fact, I had to remind myself often. But she brought the peace of solitude without the ache of loneliness, and I realized that I was quite content there. Occasionally, dreams would ripple like a faint breeze across my sleep, and the morning would reveal bottles of wine or blocks of cheese left upon her threshold by others living nearby in the forest. In payment, she left venison and furs and treasures found during her wanderings, for no matter her harshness, Taryindë was never unjust, and for that, this loose collection that she would not even name her people was unfailingly loyal.
Sometimes, she rode abroad for days, and I would have supper ready at her return, and we spoke then, in a rush, tripping over the other in our haste to ask and tell. I had never experienced the simple joy of asking questions of another without already knowing the answer, having perceived the whispers of their minds. Her tales of the wonders found deep in the forest of my land gave intrigue to my heart and mind in the same way as a great poem read for the first time and savored. And the stories of her youth, though I'd been beside her for much of it, left me in suspense and ever-hungry to know more, as though she was herself but a character in bedtime story delivered in tiny enticing bits each night. But no, hers was not a story but truth, and it evolved even now, weaving itself with mine that was bitter and all too real.
She inquired of me with the same ferocity, and this was how the question about the Silmarils arose: How do you feel about the Silmarils? Not long after, we departed each to a bed opposite the room from the other, and in the deep silence of night, I could not tell if she slept. I lay awake for a long while, pondering the question asked of me that no other, surely, would have dared to ask. And my own reply--I hate them--so startling in light of the sacrifices that I'd made and suffering that I'd endured in their name.
The next day, we spoke little, content and insular in our own private thoughts, and I thought on the Silmarils. I hated them. Having spoken this aloud, I felt it now with a surety granted to few things in my perplexing existence. But why, I wondered? Surely, as the only containers of the Light of the Powers, they represented Good in its only unsullied state. Good, the sort of classification that Maitimo was wont to make, envisioning Good standing solidly opposite Evil. But what had been done in their name, surely, that was Evil? I could not reconcile the two, and so I was left to think--staring into emptiness while a pot of stew bubbled at my right hand, unstirred, and Taryindë clattered to the task of setting our places at the table behind me--that the Silmarils must be Evil and all that we had done and become descended from that. And so they became deserving of my hate.
Perhaps I had sensed it at the start, on the eve that our father had revealed his new creations to us, invited with my brothers, each to have a turn in holding them. But I'd been inexplicably reluctant, allowing my each of my brothers to have his turn before me, forsaking my place as granted by my birth order. Even the twins, not yet of age, shuffled in front of me by my own invitation, and I felt a pinch in my father's thoughts as he noted it, but he was yet too awed with his creations to afford me anything more than cursory curiosity. I had wished to avoid the Silmarils after, with a feeling of sickness quavering in my stomach, yet had been drawn to them, as we all had. Like bitter potation harsh upon the tongue but sweetly disorienting upon the mind, I convinced myself that my lust for them was love.
"Carnistir," came Taryindë's sharp voice from behind me. "You are burning our food," and I vigorously stirred the stew in hopes of reviving it, knowing that it would taste of char and that I would likely not even notice.
"I am sorry that I asked you about the Silmarils last night," said Taryindë later as she bustled out of sight behind me, opening a bottle of wine. "And not for impropriety, before you go off thinking that I've adopted your brother Maitimo's obsession with all that is 'courtly.' Nay, you have not laughed all day, and this house is cold for that, like a tomb."
I forced myself to laugh then, at her melodrama, if nothing else. "And how would you know how cold is a tomb? We are Elves and do not die."
"We do die, Carnistir," she answered. "In a way different from those mortal upon this earth, yes, but we do die, and many among us have been shut up in rock in punishment for the death of flesh. In the moment before hope is lost and the spirit flees, it may be that I feel the chill of entombment upon their flesh," and I whirled to meet her eyes, but her back was to me, and she was wrestling with the wine bottle. "Bloody cork …" she muttered, and I knew that her last bizarre observation--surely a misspeak--would have to remain unremarked upon, for she would not entertain my questions about it and her mind was, as always, unreachable.
Taryindë left early the next morning to hunt, and I remained at her homestead to tend the potatoes that I was trying to coax into growing in the rocky patch of soil behind her house. The only green things the earth here seemed to tender were weeds, but I attacked the problem with true Fëanorian determination until my hands were black with dirt and I'd made mud of the sweat on my face from swiping at the black flies that lighted upon me and delved my skin for fresh blood.
I'd dreamt of the Silmarils the night prior as I had not for many years, waking to find myself wrihing in the bedclothes as though in the grips of a different sort of dream. The sort of dream that I, also, had not had for many years, having accepted even before coming fully to manhood the necessity of my dwelling alone. But a dream of the Silmarils visits in much the same way, as a pang in my belly and a relentless longing forcing my hands to clench into fists, persistent shame and persistent lust coloring my thoughts for the day after. I remembered as a child, before the birth of the Silmarils, having studied long in my room with the windows shuttered to any distraction, for I'd wished--as had each of my brothers, in turn--for the unattainable honor of being held as a peer to my father, as a worthy son. But he'd come for me, forced me out-of-doors where I'd resisted all others, for he said that we were creatures of light, and we needed it. Even me. And he'd been right: The feeling of Laurelin upon the skin of my face had been akin to standing in a warm rain, and I had emerged refreshed and cleansed.
This, I suspected, was the reason for his obsession with capturing light in stone, so that it may be transported to places that knew only dark, so that one may have the relief of light to hold in his hand. Hold in his hand, I thought, and my mind snagged upon that. For light was not meant to be held in the hand. Coveted.
Up to my wrists in soil and with black flies tasting the blood beneath the skin of my throat, the realization struck me then: And so is the evil of the Silmarils.
Hoofbeats came rapidly up the path then, two sets, and I jerked my hands from the earth and scrambled to my feet, for Taryindë was not expected to return for many hours yet, and she always came alone.
The hoofbeats stopped, and I imagined the riders looping the reins to the low tree branch in front of the house. "I found this imp in the forest, Carnistir," Taryindë said, coming around the house to find me. "He claims to be seeking you, for a fortnight now."
At her heels, his eyes wide with astonishment, was my advisor. And what a sight we must have presented: his lord housed in a single-room cottage and with an unmarried woman, no less, who took familiarity with my name granted only to my brothers. Said lord up to his elbows in mud. Said lord having absconded from his fortress and the care of his people for … I dared not even imagine how long. A very long time.
"Yes, Taryindë," I said. "He is my advisor," and his eyes widened even further as he realized that the unpleasant woman at his side was Lord Taryindë, to whom he had sent me many months prior. Quickly, he regained his composure and sank to one knee in the dirt. "My … lords." The hesitation was miniscule. Taryindë grinned with silent laughter.
"Please stand," I said. "That is, as always, unnecessary." The dark soil of Taryindë's homestead had left a black patch on his knee.
"Lord Carnistir," he said, "I have come to inform you that your brothers Lords Maitimo and Macalaurë await at your home, and they have asked me to seek you to send word that they are …" He paused and glanced at Taryindë, then back at me.
"You may speak freely before her, Voronolë," I said.
"They are worried about your long and unexpected absence. In their own words, my lord." And by the frantic buzz of his thoughts, I knew that Voronolë was likewise worried about my long and unexplained disappearance, little assuaged by his discovery of my true whereabouts. Already, he was concocting means of explaining the circumstances in which he'd found me without resorting to dishonesty while also avoiding the portrayal of me as disreputable.
"You may return to them," I said, "and inform them that I have been holding important council with Lord Taryindë, whom they both know. And that I will return to them, with haste, as soon as my obligations allow." His thoughts buzzed faster. What obligations? I was dwelling unchaperoned in a house with an unwed woman who called herself Lord, up to my elbows in dirt, relentlessly digging at a patch of earth that seemed only to yield weeds and rocks. My patience and hospitality toward him were fast dissolving. My months with Taryindë had caused me to forget the annoyance of the perpetual noise of the thoughts of others. I wondered how I would bear Maitimo and Macalaurë, who given Taryindë's reputation, would not look kindly on my desertion and would scarce believe that it was anything so necessary as "council."
"You may be gone then, Voronolë," I said, my temper making my mouth twist with displeasure, unable to endure him for a moment more, even in the name of hospitality, to offer him a ladleful of cool water from the well.
I suppose, then, that you will be leaving tomorrow," Taryindë said that night over supper, "and this sojourn will end."
"It must," I said. "Eventually." She nodded briskly, swirling her wine and gazing into it as though it held answers that I could not provide.
We found ourselves again in front of the fire, for the night had brought rain and wind, and the thought of anything but fire and wine set an ache deep in the marrow of my bones. I spared a thought for Voronolë caught in the storm but could not muster pity much less regret for failing to offer him quarter for the night. Taryindë lay again upon the floor, her knees steepled and the wine balanced on the flat of her stomach. The fire transformed her plain features and unremarkable brown hair into something exotic.
"I have enjoyed this time with you, Carnistir," she said, and the drink made her voice softer, almost regretful, even if it was not slurred. I should have retorted with something biting--as she had done many times when I gave into such plaintive ruminations--yet could not. My own tongue was heavy and awkward in my mouth, and I heard it reply, "I have enjoyed it too. I have enjoyed the questions …"
She laughed lightly. "Even those that you would sooner not answer? Inebriation and delusion of comfort has driven me over my proper bounds as a subject of your realm on many nights."
"It has not," I assured her. "You are of my realm, yes, but long before, you were my most beloved friend, and those questions are therefore yours to ask."
And those three words were suspended in the air between us: most beloved friend. I watched her hand tighten on her wineglass as she tilted it to her lips and drank deeply.
"Yet there is one thing that I dared never to ask yet wish so desperately to know," she said with a laugh. She set the wineglass back on her belly. Her hand, poised, did not tremble. Her face was turned to watch the fire, and I could not see her eyes. Nor could I read her thoughts. And in the moment, I knew the helplessness to which most were prone and which caused them to name me blessed for my gifts, for there was a connection between Taryindë and me, yes, but it was not strong enough to convey all that must be said.
"You ask how I feel about the Silmarils and yet hint at realms of inquiry beyond in which you are too shy to tread? Surely not!" I made my voice light, but we both heard the deception beneath my mirth. I was no Maitimo and, always, I was best in silence.
"Why did you never marry, Carnistir?" she asked, and her head rolled upon the floor so that she gazed upon me, her face turned now from the fire, the plain, ordinary face that I had known for all of my life now that cloaked thoughts, the beauty of which I had only begun to discover.
Of course, she was not the first to ask. "Why did you never marry, Carnistir?" Time and trouble had dissolved the friendship between Tyelkormo and me, but the bond remained, and when he was away from the silent wiles of Curufinwë, it was almost possible to believe that the hurts between us had never been, and I spoke to him as I did no other. "You saw more maidens in Valinor than any of us, even Nelyo, and yet you--" There, he'd broken off, but his thoughts continued, clarion in mine. Yet you never married. The heartbreaks that had denied him and Nelyo, the strangeness that withheld the twins, I had no such excuses, and perhaps this was the bone of his resentment and had been the beginning of the dissolution of our friendship.
Then, if I had answered honestly, I would have said that the constant sharing in another's thoughts was unbearable, with every inkling of discontentment or betrayal as keen in my mind as in my hypothetical wife's. My answer to my brother had in fact been that I'd simply never met a woman that I had loved, and that the impetus of our father's madness had since robbed me of the chance. To Tyelkormo, always so easily guiled, that had been answer enough. Yet both answers were dishonest.
For I had loved, and one whose private thoughts did not trouble mine, and so I'd had no excuse. Yet I remained unwed.
And she whom I loved was now asking the same, and my mind bleared by wine and my will weakened by the thought of tomorrow's leavetaking, I could not muster the strength to lie. And so we sat in silence.
I knew too keenly the pain of something adored and kept and coveted. Such is the way of Arda Marred that this would inevitably be taken from me and denied, and in the madness borne of my loss, I would traverse end to end upon Arda to recover it. Let the Silmarils alone hold this sway on my heart. Let the Silmarils alone turn what was beautiful and good into something vile with the blood of innocents. Let Taryindë dwell in a distant corner of my realm and let our visits be infrequent and unsatisfactory, but let her remain and let me love her forever.
In the fire-splashed darkness, I met her eyes and whispered, "I never married you because I fear too much to lose you," and the wineglass balanced upon her belly toppled and shattered upon the floor.
"I never said me," and her voice was stricken. Raw. And I knew--despite her thoughts hidden from me--that she hadn't asked why I never married her, no, but that was really what she wished to know. "But you have answered my question."
And in the silence complete between us came the thought that the Silmarils had indeed driven me to evil ends, as would my love for Taryindë, should she become mine to covet and keep. But there is a whisper of a prophecy still that even the darkest evil will give way to light, and the Silmarils will find their home in the end, and we will find our salvation, be it by tangled and shadowed roads that seem without end. And so would the short bliss of my marriage give way to darkness, then light.
There was a weight in my chest that made it hard to speak. Did my father feel this, when he wrought the Silmarils and placed in them the secrets of his heart? My lips parted, and my voice surprised me in its strength as I said, "And there is yet a question that I would ask of you, Taryindë, and it is one to which I have long feared to give voice."
But her face inclined to mine and the wine spreading like blood beneath her on the floor amid darts of light upon broken glass, I no longer had a choice, no matter the fear: I asked.