There are subtle changes in his
acts and motions, so slight that they are only noticed by one who cares
too deeply. He moves like a noble, wounded animal trying so hard
not to show his suffering. The way he holds his cup. The way he pauses
to chew bread. Everything is second-guessed: a hiccup of
hesitation. Is this how it went
in my last life? he must be
thinking. Was I right-handed
or left? Did I hold the spoon between my fingers? Did I sit with my
Amárië, who cares too
deeply, watches with a pain in her ribs: a hollow niche where the
memory of her husband used to live. The man who sits at her table, the
man who cannot remember if he likes sweet tea or bitter, is not the
right size to fill that niche. In some small ways, he has shrunk.
Memory's garment hangs awkwardly on him now. It droops on his
shoulders. The sleeves are too long. The colour makes him look pale
Arafinwë says to
Amárië, 'Every day, I see improvement. He never spoke when
he was first returned. Now he begins to speak without prompting.'
Findaráto sips his tea,
sweetened, and stares at the wall, missing the window by inches,
unaware that he is unaware. His father squeezes his arm too heartily in
'Sometimes,' Arafinwë adds,
in answer to his son's silence.
Then Findaráto, with a
quick shake of his head, makes a crack in the cloud that binds
him. A mirrored ray of his old smile shines through. 'Atya,' he
says, 'we should go to Alqualondë. I can't remember the last
time I saw my cousins there.' And to Amárië, 'You're
wearing the scarf I gave you. It's beautiful with your hair.'
'Thank you,' she replies, while
'We may go to Alqualondë if
you wish. I shall arrange for it.'
Later, in secret, Arafinwë
tells her, 'It is good that he is thinking of his family. It is
the first time I have heard him mention Alqualondë since...'
He needs not say since what.
Amárië nods to agree, though somewhere in the corners of
her mind a worry is hidden between frightened recollections of
second-hand stories. It stains the fabric of her will with
hesitance. What good will it do, this foreign Alqualondë
place, if Findaráto's memory is jogged by the wrong sight?
If he recalls the wrong event? He is still so breakable.
This is what she thinks as she watches Arafinwë's back disappear
down the corridor.
Sometimes he speaks Sindarin to
himself without thinking. It happens rarely during the day,
during conversation, but at night Amárië can hear him
mumbling unknown words into the pillows. They pull her ears and
strain her head as she fumbles to make sense of them, but always to the
same failed end; she cannot understand what Findaráto is
saying. Are the hard sounds words of peace or fear?
'Findaráto,' she says,
'Findya... What do you speak?'
It is a while before he turns to
her, but when he does, she nearly gasps at the look in his eyes.
Her hand jumps to her cheek. In that second, in that blue-laced
moonlight, the old Findaráto stares back at her, and her heart
pounds louder to shout out to a thing it has not seen in so many
years. There is her husband, as plain as if he had never gone.
His eyes scan her face and he
smiles in sly recognition. 'You shine even in the dark,' he says
as his hand covers hers like a shell. The first kiss is as
delicate as insect wings, but the second comes coloured with a feral
growl. By the lust that charges his blood, it seems like he has
been gone forever.
It is frightening what frustrated
time can do to lonely bodies, Amárië thinks.
Arafinwë has been to
Alqualondë many times since its changing. He has trained
himself not to flinch at memory. But he still pauses to lean a
moment against the carriage door before striding, hands out, to greet
Findaráto, who fell asleep
through the jostling and rocking from Tirion, leans against
Amárië with the uncertainty of a child while his mother in
the seat opposite coos reassurance. He has never seen
Alqualondë by the light of the sun, but Eärwen has, and she
does her best to champion its beauty. She is next out of the
carriage, then Findaráto, then Amárië with tense
features. It is silly, Amárië tells herself; they are
in a fine, family place. But she still cannot help but keep her
hand at Findaráto's elbow, lightly steering him as if he were
liable to run off in an instant, as if he were twelve years old.
Her vigilance will cling to him if he moves too suddenly.
Arafinwë has packed a dinner
basket, and Olwë leads a procession of aunts and cousins and
great-nephews bearing cartons of food down to a grassy plain near the
beaches. Sixty or more have come to join the spectacle. The
younger ones look at Findaráto curiously, trying to remember who
he is, if they remember him at all. He knows none of them.
'Who are they?' he asks his father.
And Arafinwë replies, 'This
is your mother's family. Her sister and brother and their
children, and children of their children, and cousins and husbands and
wives... You must remember some. Your cousin Alparan is
there. And his wife, Rigallë. Your uncle Alatuë
and auntie Cirialla. You remember them?'
Slowly, Findaráto nods, and
takes his seat within the circle of family as the day's guest of honour
and prize possession. It takes only seconds for him to slip
behind the wall of some faraway place in his mind, caught in a cage
that will let him give no more than an absent nod or 'thank you'.
He looks overwhelmed and serene at the same time, Amárië
thinks. He picks at bread with this fingertips and stares into
When they are back in Tirion, in
their bed, Findaráto leans against her. His body, in
defiance of his patchwork spirit, is warm and solid.
Amárië strokes his hair. She has made a vow.
She will not say it aloud, for fear that giving her words a voice might
conjure new obstacles and guarantee failure, but she recites them in
the silent, back part of her throat.
Findya, I will
help you. I will hold your arm and guide you. I will pull
this veil from your eyes and let you know the stars again. I will
lift this weight from your tongue and let you find your voice
again. I will teach you the dangers of this world, and the
treasures. I will show you the history of our life, and the
future. I will embrace you at my side and refuse to let you
fall. I will shield you with my love and ensure that you are
well. This I promise.
As if he could hear her, as if her
mere thoughts were enough to make him whole, he shifts in his sleep
and, for once, seems utterly content.