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14
New Beginnings

Silma:

I woke early, and hurried down quietly to the basement kitchen. To my relief, the keys were still where they had been kept in the past, and I unlocked the pantry and scullery. By the time Rhylla joined me, apologetic about sleeping so soundly, I had mixed up some batter for pancakes, and had some watered-down quince jam simmering into a sauce, as well as heating some water for tea.

“I’m that sorry I overslept myself, m’lady!” she lamented. “T’ think o' you dirtyin’ your hands with cookin’!”

“I did it often for my Jehan and myself,” I told her. “My days of being a lady are long in the past, Rhylla. This is temporary, and I must write a letter to Lady Silwen advising her that we are using her manse, and ask her permission.”

“Where's she, at the refuges?”

“No, I think she is at her country home in Arnach.”

“You c'ld do that now, an’ I c'n see t’ the rest o’ the meal,” she offered, and I smiled and went to the library, the one room I had truly enjoyed—even when I had had to sneak into it late at night. In the desk, I found some of Ornamir’s stationary—and some of mine. That surprised me, as I would have thought Lady Silwen would have thrown it away. It was only slightly yellowed to an ivory shade, and I trimmed a quill, fetched some water to mix with the ink I ground, and soon drafted a letter on my old slate, which I then copied neatly onto the parchment. Rummaging in the top drawer, again to my surprise, I found the green sealing-wax I had favored. Taking my seal from my belt-pouch, and lighting the candle to soften the wax before I dripped it on the folded parchment, I soon had a letter ready to go via the messenger service. Indeed, I had just gone into the main hall when someone knocked on the front door. I opened it and greeted Tamperion, who stood holding a large basket in one hand, the other arm slipped through the handle of an even larger one. Now I could see that instead of a thumb and four fingers, he had a thumb and three fingers, the first digit unusually long and thick, as if the first two had been somehow fused while in the womb.

He inclined his head to me. “The day’s greeting, lady; I hope all is well here.”

“As you saw last night,” I replied with a smile. “May I help you?”

“’Tis yourself may help me, an you will,” he answered frankly. “I bethought me that you might need some fresh provender, greens an’ eggs an’ milk an’ suchlike, so I brought ‘em with me.”

“Your patriotism amazes me,” I said dryly, “but we cannot afford to pay—“

“Oh, well, I’m as patriotic as the next man, an’ would’ve enlisted did my old granny and grandda not need me close by and if the Guards would’ve had me, which under Lord Denethor they wouldn’t,” he said. “Nay, lady, ‘tis the maid Rhylla interests me. I knew her long ago when my auntie lived next door to them. Many’s the game of ball I played with Rill an’ races we ran together. He was always faster, but we was good friends despite it. She’s had a hard row, with that cruel tosspot as her da, an’ a harder one now. I’m minded to let her know she don’t need to hoe it by herself.”

“And how does she feel?” I asked.

“Bless you, lady, she hasn’t a notion o’ how I feel!”

“A bit sudden on your part, this infatuation?”

“I’m not sure what that last word means.”

“You’re smitten so quickly, after not seeing her in how long?”

"Ah, I see. Surprised me too, my lady, it did. One minute I’m just off to the Houses on an errand with the pony an’ cart, an’ the next I feel’s if my heart was squeezed in my chest—and then it was full to burstin’, only bigger’n it’s ever been afore. I can’t understand it, but I know that she’s the lass for me.”

His face was guileless…but I’d been beguiled by experts in the past. My skepticism must have been plain in my expression, for he added, “I know ‘tis sudden. I know I’m not much. If I c'n prove myself to you an’ her, lady, might I have your permission to court her?”

“’Tis not for me to give or withhold permission to anyone, Tamperion,” I said.

“Pardon, lady, but I think ‘tis. She’s chose you for her lady, an’ that means you’re mine as well.”

I had no reply for that. Instead I asked, “How old are you?”

“One-and-twenty, my lady.”

“You’re young yet, and so is she in some ways.” I looked at him narrowly. “Go softly and slowly, if you will take advice from me. She’s been badly hurt for a long time, and so has Rill. Her life is centered on him right now.”

He nodded. “Long courtships lead to long marriages, my grandda says, an’ ‘tis early days. I’ll befriend ‘em both again, an’ see can I teach her to love me half's much's I love her. She’s bound up many a skinned knee an’ elbow of mine; see if I can't find a way to bind up her heart.”

“You may not succeed,” I warned him.

“But then again, I may!” he said with a grin. More seriously, he added, “An’ I am your friend too, my lady. Will you accept these things as a gift from me? My granny churned the butter herself, an’ made the cheese.”

“Tell her our thanks,” I said, taking the baskets. “Will you not come in and say good day to her?”

“I would, but am bidden out of the city. You see, I’m actually part of the messenger service, or was ‘til the War stopped it, an’ I’ve been full time with the Porters and Doorwardens temporary-like. Now the old duffer wants me to take some messages to the refuges an’ other places.”

“Could you carry a message for me?” I asked.

“Gladly, lady!”

So I exchanged the letter and the fee for its passage for the baskets and after he tucked the missive into his tunic, he bowed to me and departed at a run.

Rhylla was wide-eyed as I carried the baskets into the kitchen and we unpacked them. “Tamperion brought them, as a gift from his family,” I said. “He told me that his grandmother made the butter and cheese, that he was a friend of yours and Rill’s when you were young and he visited his aunt.”

“I thought he seemed familiar somehow!” she said. I noticed that a dimple appeared in her cheek when she smiled. “Oh, my, yes, I ‘member him now. Always trailin’ after Rill, for all he was two years older. That was how Rill was, you see, leadin’ all the boys, always. ‘Twas one reason he wanted t' be in the Guards, so’s he might be an officer someday an’ put that t' use, helpin’ folk. Tam’s granny often sent me little things she made, an’ so did his auntie. She taught me how t' make bread, an’ t' sew a little. We was all sorry when she moved away.”

“Why did she move?” I asked as I took out a roasted chicken, several loaves of fragrant bread, a stone crock of soup and two smaller ones of butter, a pannikin of berry jam and a dozen eggs.

Rhylla paused, her arms filled with bunches of herbs, greens and a smaller basket of apples only slightly withered from the winter, a rope of onions dangling from one hand. “She remarried, an’ they moved t’ somewheres in Rhovanion, I think, or mayhap ‘twas near Laketown. Far away, at any rate. She was a member of the Embroiderers Guild, an’ I’d hoped she might sponsor me. Father said ‘twas just a moon-dream, all nonsense to fill up my empty head, that I’m too stupid to do more’n sew on a button. I don’t do that very well,” she admitted. “The thread always kinks up an’ snarls, somehow. But they was always that kind, an’ I’m sure Rill’ll remember them too.”

“Let’s put this away, and fix him a breakfast tray,” I said.

A few moments later we carried a tray into the front bedroom. Rill woke as Rhylla set it down on a small table I drew beside the bed. I could see that he had eyes as dark as his sister’s, as he glared at us.

“Leave me be!”

“The day’s greeting to you, Rill of the Guards,” I said calmly.

“’m not a guard no more, am I? Get out of here!”

“Rill! Is that any way to talk to the lady? Lady Silma’s bein’ good to us!”

“Did I ask for her charity?” he asked bitterly. “I’m s’prised at you, Rhylla, bein’ such a fool as t’ trust a stranger! Next thing you know, we’ll be out on the street an’ she’ll have us cried as thieves or worse.”

“No, she wouldn’t! She’s good! You need to ‘pologize to her!”

“I don’t need t’ do nothin’ but die!”

“Rill!” Tears streamed down her thin face, and she reached out with a sob. He flailed at her hands, knocking them aside, and rolled over, his back to us.

“Get out o’ here! I can’t do nothin’ but be useless. All I’m good for is t' be a beggar and I’d rather be dead! I won’t have nothin’of a decent life, an’ neither’ll you, not with Father hatin’ both of us an’ us losin’ everything! Leave me be!”

“No, Rill!” she cried.

I walked around the bed and lit the time-candle on the small nightstand on that side. With the belt-knife Master Redglass had given me, I made a notch high on the wax. “Do you see this, Guardsman? Look at the notch I’ve made!” I commanded. “Look!”

“What about it?” he asked sulkily.

“You have until the candle burns down to it to wallow in self-pity, and then you will have to stop.”

“What?”

“You will both have to stop. Yes, you are crippled. Yes, you are in great pain. Yes, you are scarred for life. Yes, it is unlikely you will again be Rill of the Guards. Yes, your father is a drunken fool who has lost his business, his self-respect, most of your affection, and his freedom. Yes, your sister is all too ready to sacrifice herself for the both of you instead of taking care of herself and finding a life of her own, Valar knows why. For now, you are under this roof, and it is a different place for both of you. Once you accept what has been and what is, you can begin to build what will be. You don’t want to become Rill the Beggar? Good, if you are strong enough to find and follow another path. But who will you become? Think about these things, and we will talk further.”

I walked back around to stand beside a sobbing Rhylla. “There is some food and drink here, if you wish it. Come, Rhylla.”

I urged her along the passage into another room, where she sank down sobbing brokenly on a low chest. A few minutes later I came back to her. “Get undressed, Rhylla.”

“Wh-what?” She blinked at me, lashes stuck together in clumps by her tears.

“Get undressed. I’ve drawn you a bath; it will help you feel better. I told you that you had a few minutes to weep, and that time is up. Now here is a robe; get undressed, put it on, go and take that bath before it gets cold, and then come down to the kitchen.”

“B-but Rill may need me!”

I smiled at her. “Right now he needs to fight by himself.”

“But we ain’t changed his dressin'!”

“Actually, I did it before either of you woke up. Rimbor’s in the room with him, and he knows how to lift that latch and come get us if we’re needed,” I said calmly. “Please do as I say. Do you need help with your laces?”

“N-no.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it. Don’t forget to wash your hair; there’s hair-soap in the green canister, hair-untangler in the yellow one, and plenty of water in the cistern. If you need more towels, there are extras in the chest. I put out a comb for you too. Please bring it with you when you come down to the kitchen.”

Half an hour later, Rhylla, her hair wet on the shoulders of a red robe, came shyly into the kitchen where I sat knitting. “I couldn’t find m’ clothes.”

“That’s because I washed them out. Sit down and have something to eat by the fire while I dry your hair.”

“You shouldn’t be a-washin’ o’ my clothes, m’lady!”

“You’ll feel much better when you’re in clean garments,” I said. “I know I always do.” I spread her hair to the warmth, gently drawing the comb through the thick tresses. After a while I went on, “What a wealth of it you have, and a nice curl to it, too! Why do you pull it back so tightly, as if you have little? I think if we loosen it a bit, and let it curl around your face, it will soften your features. No reason not to make the best of yourself!”

“B-but I’m plain’s a mud fence,” she faltered.

“Nonsense! You’re too thin and pale, I grant you, and you’re in the habit of hunching your shoulders and looking downwards, but while you are here, I’d like you to pretend that you are as fair as I believe you to be. Head up, back straight, and smile more.”

“S-smile?”

“I’ll tell you a secret, Rhylla. When I was younger than you are, I knew that to save my life, I had to take it back from the expectations of everyone around me—my husband, my brother, my mother-in-love, what friends I thought I had. I was terrified! But I had to.”

“What'd you do?”

“I packed up a few things, things of my own that were fairly plain and belonged to me, and I left the city. I traveled to another place, where I hoped to find a position so that I could earn my bread, even though I didn’t know a soul there. Travel unchaperoned? Ladies just simply don’t do that! I was scared to the bones!”

“What happened?”

“Well, I remembered that my old granny used to say that when you need it most, the Valar will send you a sign, so I prayed for one. And when we arrived, I looked out of the wagon I rode in, and there it was: a sign that said Courage .” I laughed softly, remembering. “After I got out of the wagon, I realized that it was an inn-sign, and part of it was so weathered you couldn’t read it. The name of the inn was Halfling’s Courage, and my sign was actually the name of a beer! Nothing elevated about that, is there?
“But a remarkable thing happened to me then,” I continued. “I realized that when I laughed, or even just smiled, I felt braver and lighter. We are so made, we humans, that we cannot be as afraid if we smile or laugh. So ever since, when I am most nervous, I make myself smile. Sometimes you have to pretend on the outside to make something true on the inside. So please practice thinking you are as pretty a young woman, with as much right to occupy the space in which you are, as any other person while you are here. Will you do that?”

“I’ll try, m’lady.”

“That’s all I ask. Are you finished breaking your fast?”

“Yes, m’lady. Shall I do the dishes?”

“They can wait until we fetch down Rill’s. But first, let’s go back to the room you were in before bathing.”

Up in that bedroom, I took out some clothing and spread it on the bed, putting together three sets, each of shift, skirt, tunic and bodice, with stockings and slippers. One was green, one pink, and one yellow. After some thought, I added a fourth, in brown and grey. “Now, Rhylla, since your clothes aren’t dry yet, which do you choose to wear now?” I asked.

She hesitated. “The brown skirt and grey bodice, please.”

“Why?”

“I’m least apt t' stain ‘em, m’lady. I shouldn’t ought t’ be a-wearin’ your clothes.”

“They aren’t mine, exactly. They belong to a former maid, who left them when she married, in case someone else could use them. I think you are about her size; won’t you try them? And since there’s a big apron to go over them, why not choose a color?”

“Would you choose for me?”

I chose the green skirt, slightly darker green tunic, and ivy-trimmed pink bodice with green laces, along with the green hose and slippers. “The yellow would bring out the gold in your hair, but right now, until you gain more color in your face, it would make you look sallow. This pink will reflect some color into your face. If you’ll put on the shift with the embroidered rosettes at the top, it’ll tie the whole thing together, and here’s a green ribbon for your braid.”

She put on the clothes, and I opened a door to the wardrobe. “Now look! Is this the plainest lass in the city?”

Confronted by a long silvered mirror, she gasped and put a hand to her face. “That’s never me!”

“Aye, it is!” I laughed.

“I look—I look—“

“You look like a confident, attractive young woman. Now, are you ready to come see your brother?”

“I am, m’lady,” she said, unconsciously beginning to hunch her shoulders. I mimed her posture, and after a startled glance, she straightened.


Rill lay as he had when we left him—but I observed that a piece of bread I had spread with honey was missing from the tray, and some of the tea had been drunk. We walked around to that side of the bed, and he glared up at us. “Have you finished wallowing?” I inquired.

“I’ll do’s I like,” he snarled, and his glance flicked beyond me to his sister. “You sh'ld be 'shamed o' yourself, so quick t’ take her charity!”

“’Tain’t charity ‘f I earn m’ own way in a good place,” she retorted, lifting her chin.

“You goin’ for a whore, gussied up like that?”

She slapped him. “How dare you, Rill son of Romfilion! An’ what if I was? ‘Tis my life, to use as I choose! Seems t' me you’ve lost more’n the use of your legs an’ the smoothness of your face, t’ talk to me that way! No matter how you feel you’ve forfeited your right to respect, ‘s if it depended on your legs, I d'serve t’ be treated better!”

“Fine talk!” he jeered. “We’ll see how ‘tis when Father sees you next!”

“Aye, we will! Meanwhile, I’d know what m’lady thinks we should do now.”

“Begin as we mean to go on,” I said calmly. “For you to heal, Rill, you need to get stronger. You cannot get stronger if you aren’t clean, or your wounds will fester and stink. So the first thing each day will be a bath.”

“A bath? Are you mad? How’ll you get me in an’ out o’ one?” he asked scornfully.

“For now, we will give you a bed-bath,” I told him. “As you see, on this table are two basins of hot water, a pannikin of soap, a washcloth, and a towel. Rhylla, dip in the washcloth, wring it out well, moisten the uninjured side of his face, rub some soap into lather on the cloth, apply it to his face, rinse well with the other wetted cloth. Dried soap will irritate his skin. Then dry it with the towel. For now, avoid the wounds on his face and back; we will use a special lotion on them later.”

“Yes, m’lady.”

“I was washed at the Houses yesterday! I don’t need no washin’!” he protested.

“You were moved from there to here in a cart that wasn’t scrubbed before you entered it,” I explained serenely. “If there was dirt in it, it might carry sickness, and you are not strong right now, strong enough to withstand it as you ordinarily might. The same thing may be true of that dumbwaiter we used last night to bring you up here. Every day, your immediate surroundings must be scrubbed to make sure that nothing infects those wounds, until they close cleanly. Besides, after lying in bed, either too hot or too cold, it will make you feel better to be clean and wear a clean nightshirt. Now, Rhylla, do his shoulders and chest, his arms and hands.”

Ignoring his curses and wiggling, she obeyed me.

“Rill, you have a choice here,” I told him. “Either you do your privates yourself, or we will do them for you.”

“What kind o’ shameless besom are you?” he demanded.

I laughed. “One who is your elder, who was married twice, and who has done much nursing. You have nothing new for me to see!”

“An’ I changed your napkins when you was a babe,” added Rhylla. “Well?”

“Gi’ me the cloth!” he said in a strangled tone.

That accomplished, I showed her how to pile pillows to help bolster his body, and the best way to turn him on his side so that we could do his back and buttocks. I warned him that if he struggled he might feel some pain, and he was smart enough to lie fairly still—although it is a wonder his language didn’t scorch the very air! But we both ignored it, then and when we did his legs and feet, after letting him position a towel to preserve his modesty—even though we were careful to keep him well-covered, lest he grow chilled. Removing the slops bucket, we next tackled his dressings, and then got him into a fresh nightshirt of my late husband’s.

Rhylla quickly caught the knack of changing the bedding around him, and presently, Rill lay back, bathed, shaven, and bandaged.

His sister surveyed him thoughtfully. “Not bad, ‘cept for his hair.”

"What’s wrong with m’ hair?”

“Nothin’—if you don’t mind it’s being straggly where ‘tain’t matted,” she retorted. “Should we wash it, m'lady?”

“After a morsel,” I said, taking pity on his evident weariness. “Let us clear this away, have something to eat, and then come back.”

“An’ don't I get nothin’?” he grumbled.

“You get a nap! And then something to eat. You are doing well, Master Rill.”

“Well? Well? When I can do nothin’?”

“Aye, you are. Come, Rhylla.”


Down in the kitchen, as we dished up and sat down to some soup, bread, cheese, and cider, she wilted—although she did have an appetite. At her third sigh, I asked, “Something troubles you?”

“He’s right, m’lady. An’ I’m so ashamed! How could I’ve been so cruel, hittin’ him?” she asked. “I must ‘pologize to him!”

“Could you please pass me the cheese? Thank you. Oh, by all means, apologize—but wait a while to do it,” I advised.

“Wait?”

“Aye. I do not advocate cruelty or violence, lass, but he had no right to speak to you so. Do you really think that sighing and agreeing how hardly his fate besets him will enable him to strengthen? If you want him to become a selfish tyrant, why, allow him to put you in the wrong with every breath, tolerate whatever he chooses to say and do to you, and resign yourself to a miserable existence for both of you. Is that what you desire?”

“O’ course not!” After several silent minutes, she asked, “But what else’s there for him? An’ me? I can’t just 'bandon him!”

“Naturally not,” I agreed.

“Why’d you tell ‘im he’s doing well?”

I smiled at her. “Because he is. I know the way he’s been acting is unpleasant, but that is better than resigned indifference. He does care, underneath all the cursing and bluster, Rhylla. And I will tell you something else: if he was on the brink of death, I doubt very much that Master Ladramenhirion would have put him out.”

“You do?”

“Certainly. He is a Healer, after all. Aye, he is constrained by space and resources, but the wounded coming to the Houses today and for the next few days are not going to be the most critically injured, or they would be dying on the way. He judged that Rill has a fair chance of survival, saw the opportunity to gain a bit of revenge upon your father, and seized it. He is a good Healer, but he is also as flawed as any Man. Lord Aragorn ordered the Host to tarry in Cormallen for a reason: to allow those worst hurt time to stabilize before they come back to the city, and to allow those here time to make ready for them. Did you notice that your helpless brother managed to eat and drink something by himself this morning? He managed a slice of bread and honey, and some tea on his own, even if he dripped a bit.

“The trick to successfully helping him improve is to not do everything for him. I know it will seem unkind—but doing all for him will only make him feel the more helpless and hopeless. He also washed part of himself, rather than allow us to do so. These are small things, but they are important. He doesn’t know it yet, but he made a big step forward today.”

“But ‘f we must do this every day, it’ll all be spent on the same things!”

“It will not take so long when you are both more accustomed to the routine we are establishing. You are both beginning new habits. We must not let him habituate himself to believing he is completely helpless. But it will take a long time. It won’t be easy. Sometimes it will seem much easier to give in and do things for him, just to get it done.”

“He took forever learnin’ to tie his shoes,” she said.

“But he did learn?”

“Aye. M'lady….”

“Yes?”

Her brown eyes were direct and anxious. “What if he can’t learn? What if he just can’t do things?”

“That will be a good thing to know too, Rhylla. Limits can show us other paths. If an obstacle is insurmountable, then we find another way, or something altogether different. He has his brain, his eyes and hearing and the ability to talk. He has the use of his arms. Most of all, he has you.”

That coaxed a small smile from her, and I stood up briskly. “Why don’t you take him up a noon morsel while I do the dishes and plan our day meal?”

“Sh'ld I tell ‘im what you’ve said?”

“Do you think he would believe you, or think we were mocking him?”

“I don’t think he’d b’lieve us.”

“When in doubt, wait. If he is asleep, don’t waken him. Do you know how to knit?”

She flushed. “No, m’lady. Tamperion’s auntie was beginnin' t' teach me when she left, an’ Father said I was too stupid and clumsy t' learn, so why waste the yarn.”

“Would you like to try later?” I asked.

The yearning on her face answered me even before she said, “Oh, yes!”


Dalf:

The day after the so-called orc invasion of the Houses, I had returned to the Fallen Dragon to change clothes, and was eating some nuncheon when three young lads came into the common room. Two I recognized; the third was a thin youth with fiery red hair and green eyes. “The day’s greeting, Master Redglass,” Marfel and Severion chorused.

“Marfel of Anfalas. Severion of Pelargir,” I said with a nod. “And you are?”

“Caic.” The color rose in his face as I continued to look at him, but he said no more.

“Ah, yes. The one who gave these two inferior beer and spread the alarm.” He flushed redder, but did not look away; mentally I gave him points for that. The other two were intently studying the floor in front of their boots.

“Master Kinfinning sends you this note,” he added, taking a folded missive sealed with the Healers’ symbol from his pouch and handing it to me.

Greetings to Master Redglass,

Here are these three scamps at your disposal until the eighth hour, or less as you prefer. I have told them that you have free rein, for as long as you choose,
and they are lucky that you have not chosen to complain to their families or the Warden of the Houses—and you still may.

You should know that Caic is a former thief from Wooden-town, without family. His mother was a whore whose last wish was for him to have a chance; one of her noble clients sent him to us.

I am eager to see Dwarvish justice!

With respect,

Kinfinning Son of Kendion


I kept my face impassive as I read, and grunted as I folded and stowed it away. “Mmph. By the time I am finished with you three miscreants, you will never confuse any Dweorg with an orc or any other foul creature created by the Enemy.”

“How long’ll this take?” Caic asked.

I stared at him coldly. “As long as I deem necessary, unless I become so annoyed that I decide to kill you instead. In these chaotic times, it would be very easy for me to simply disappear into the Dwarven lands. I have been fighting orcs since I was younger than you are, so three more notches on my axe mean little.” All of this was pure nonsense, of course, since I deplore killing and am hardly a warrior, but I had learned from reading a Mannish novel that many Men believe that all Dweorg are warriors and irascible, bloodthirsty ones at that. All three turned pale, so I must have been convincing.

“However, we cannot work so publicly. Mistress Brenna, is the green chamber available?”

“Aye, Master Redglass, and we put the items you requested ready for you.” Her face was grave, but from the twinkle in her eyes, I knew she was aware of what had happened. Did the whole city know?

I thanked her and ushered the boys into the room, where I motioned them to sit on a row of stools near the hearth; I took a low chair I had had bought from my room, since most of the ones at the inn are too tall for me. I had also made three small booklets, and passed them out with graphite sticks. “We will begin at the beginning, and to be sure that you understand and pay attention, you will take notes. Who created the Dweorg?”

“Uh, the Elves?” ventured Severion.

“No one can create a being but Eru Iluvatar and the Valar themselves,” I informed him. “You, Marfel, name me the major Valar.”

He looked wildly around the room and said, “Erm, uh— Manwë, Ulmo, Mandos, and Tilion, and…Aren.”

“Tilion and Arien are of the Maiar, the Lesser Powers,” I informed him grimly, stressing the proper pronunciation of her name. “Are they heathens in Anfalas? These are the Valar: Manwë, Varda, Ulmo, Aulë, Yavanna, Námo or Nandos, Nienna, Oromë, and Melkor or Morgoth. It was Aulë, the Smith, Lord of Crafts, Master of the Earth, who made my Kindred. You, Caic, tell me the other names of each of the Valar.”

“I dunno,” he said, glowering.

“Ah! Worthy the being aware of his own ignorance, for that is the beginning of wisdom. Listen now, and I will tell you—no, wait. Let me see your notes thus far.” After a moment I handed the booklets back to them. “When you take notes, do not try to write down each word, but the gist of each thought. Most who teach will (or should) tell you at the beginning what they are going to cover in a lesson. If they say, today will be about axe-blows , then you should listen for them to say First is the proper grip for a parry; second is the technique for attack in the first position; third is the way to combine both. When they begin to explain more about the first position, mark next to it the number one; for the attack technique, a two, and so on. If they give you an example, put Ex on the edge of your paper; if a new word or term, underline it; if you don’t understand, put a question mark until you can learn more. Now, I will speak more slowly until you are more accustomed to this.”

Half an hour later, after inspecting Marfel and Severion’s notebooks, I dismissed them, telling them to come back at the same time the next day. They bowed to me and took to their heels while I gazed pensively at Caic, who tried not to shuffle his feet.

“May I see your booklet, please?”

“No. Tain't nothin’ in it.”

“Why is that?” I had already surmised as much.

Again, he flushed as he looked at me. “I dunno how. Didn’ old Kinfinning tell you I’m a whore’s bastard an’ a thief?”

“I make up my own mind, not chew others’ words,” I told him. “The question is not who your parents were or were not, but who you yourself will become. You must be strong, to have those two younger boys follow you, and to withstand the buffets of others who care about lineage, as I understand some Men and Elves do, but are you smart?”

“I dunno.”

“Of course you do. Hiding your brains is foolish. You have a good one, and a good memory.”

“How d’you know that?” he asked warily.

“I have seen it before—someone who is unlettered develops a good memory, instead of relying on books or scrolls.”

“Then why learn t’ read?”

“So that you have access to more knowledge than many commonly know, and so you can communicate with people who are far away, in space or time. Did no one offer to teach you before now?”

“I heared—heard—that afore Minas Morgul stopped bein’ Minas Ithil, the scholars learnt young’uns in Tatharond’s great porch; m’ mum said as how her da learnt letters and cipherin’ there when he was young. Usually here young’uns learn durin’ their ‘prenticeships, but I ain’t in no guild. When Lord Afridien arranged for me to go to the Houses, I was older’n most, so they all thought I already could, I guess. I didn’t tell ‘em no different. All ‘em snipnoses was high enough in the air ‘thout me givin’ ‘em more chances t’ try an’ come over me.”

“I see. Well, I require you to keep notes, so I shall teach you,” I told him. If I had offered, he would’ve run like a startled deer.

“Why’d you do me any favors?” he asked suspiciously.

“I am a Dweorg, and I hate waste. I also collect debts, and you owe me a debt you cannot repay if you remain as you are. If you would prefer me to ask Master Kinfinning to assign someone else—“

“No! No, you c’n learn—you c'n teach me,” he said.

“Very well.” I took out my small slate and a piece of chalk. “Move your stool here beside mine, and I will show you the beginning tengwar , the letters, and the corresponding angtheras , the long rune-rows.” After all, I thought to myself, it was better to be thorough.

“What’re they?”

“The tengwar are the letter-system used by the Elves and most Men, and the runes are used by my people and stonecarvers.”

“Why?”

“See—“ I wrote in each as we bent our heads over my slate. “Now, this chalk glides smoothly over this kind of stone, but if it were a different material, if you were carving letters into a hard stone like granite, then it is easier to do straight lines instead of curving ones.”

“Like with wood an’ a knife,” he said. “I tried t’ make a vine an’ flower oncet on a bit of stick, but ‘twas too hard.”

“Well, some woods and stones are harder than others, and you need the proper tools, properly sharpened.”

“I see what you mean ‘bout wood—ever'body knows that oak is a-goin’ t’ burn longer’n birch, but stone’s stone.”

“Not all, nor gems either. Some are harder than others, each as Eru and the Valar sang it.”

“Sang it?”

This child knew almost nothing! I strove to keep my pity from showing, lest I hurt his pride and ruin the beginning foundation we were laying between us. “Aye. Eru created the Valar, and then Arda, and the Valar to sing the rest of Creation into being, in the Ainulindalë . Now, the first letter of your name is the same as the last—this letter the Elves call ‘calma,’ the Quenya word for lamp. The equivilent is the eighteenth rune. Next is a vowel sound, an andaith or long vowel sound; in runes it would be the forty-ninth one. Now I follow it with the calma and its equivilent again. There; that’s your name: Caic.”

He stared at it. “That’s m’ name?”

“Aye, insofar as it can be rendered by widely-used symbols. It is not you , you understand —a Valar-created thing or being cannot be completely contained within them. But runes and letters, and vowel marks make up words, and words make sentences to contain ideas. You can feel without words, but you must have words to think.”

“You can’t jus’ think ‘thout words?”

I shook my head. “Try. Sorrow, anger, regret, joy, are emotions, but what of honor, or making, or truthfulness, or promptness? Think about it—but let us begin at the beginning.” By the time I dismissed him, he was familiar with ten of each system and the tehtar signs for vowels, and I had lent him my small slate to practice with before writing in his booklet. I also wrote a note to Master Kinfinning that I had given him additional work so he would not be in trouble for his tardiness. He paused at the door. “Master Redglass?”

“Yes?”

“Is time a--an idea?” Already he remembered and applied what I had said about which article went before a word beginning with a vowel sound. This lad absorbed learning like dry ground absorbs water; he was parched for it!

I thought about his question. “Eru Creator made Vairë, Namo’s wife and the Weaver of Time on her loom. She is the Maia responsible for fate, tales, memory. There have always been seasons, and Tilion sails Isil across the sky at night, until dawn when Arien Golden-Fire steers Anar to light the heavens until dusk. Those are created, but the notions of the Kindreds to record or codify other times, such as the yéni of the Elves, or the calendars that have been created or the hours as marked by sundials, candles, water-clocks, or hourglasses, those are ideas of beings. But could we have communicated all this without words? Go, Caic! I will see you and the others tomorrow.”

He bowed to me. “Thank you, Master.” For the first time, he sounded respectful—and thoughtful.

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