The Price of Vengeance II
The slavers dragged them legs first through the sand. Glorfindel twisted his head, arms bound to his sides, struggling to catch a glimpse of Althon and Ramhad without sucking in a mouthful of sand. His heart beat madly in his throat, and tears clouded his eyes, but he squeezed them until the tears fell and his vision cleared.
Althon bumped along a few feet ahead, his head just missing contact with a bleached branch of drift wood. His neck craned back, and their eyes brushed before the Man pulling Althon veered around a jutting rock. Glorfindel heard Ramhad strangling cruses at the Men, and the Men snapping at him to stop kicking or they’d give him something to cry about.
The slavers’ captain called orders, and Glorfindel caught a word that sounded like the Sindarin for beach, but the rest were crisp, staccatoed to Glorfindel’s ears, lacking the rolling lilt of Sindarin that resembled the heaving breast of the sea.
The slavers dumped them in a pile beside the rowboat. Half of the slavers trotted off down the beach to a second, hidden boat now visible peeking out behind a strand of rocks.
Althon spoke from under Ramhad’s weight, voice shaky though he must have been putting such effort into presenting a calm, reasonable exterior, “Please sirs, this thing you are doing to us –ripping us from our home and families –it is wrong, you must see that. We are but youths, not even adults by the measure of our people, children—”
The slave captain gave a casual order and the Man holding Althon kicked him in the gut, once, twice, again. Althon’s words dropped like bloody pearls into the sand as he coughed up a mouthful of blood.
“Althon,” Glorfindel pressed his body against his friend’s, wanting to drawn him close, but his arms were bound to his sides.
“I’m—I’m alright.” No, he wasn’t. His voice came out reedy, pinched.
“Just…just don’t try to talk. We’ll think of something, there must be something—”
The captain’s boot nudged Glorfindel’s hip. “Plotting already, beauty? None of that now or I’ll have to arrange some special accommodations on my ship, and we wouldn’t want you to be separated from these special friends of yours, would we?”
Glorfindel turned a hateful glare up at the smirking slaver. “You can’t get away with this! Our families—”
“Will never know what happened to you.” The slaver turned away with a careless toss of his bangs from his brow, “It will go easier for you to forget them. You’ll never see them again. That I can guarantee.” The slaver switched back into his people’s language to deal out more orders. Again a word of two fell with familiarity on Glorfindel’s ears, ‘ship’ and ‘Elves,’ but the rest were alien.
They were yanked up, one slaver grabbing their feet and other their shoulders, and tossed into the rowboat. The slaves piled in behind them, picking up the oars, and setting a straining pace. The captain sat at the rowboat’s prow, eyes flicking ever back to the beach, and barking orders at his men Glorfindel didn’t need to understand to know meant hast. But no familiar faces came dashing down the beach to save them.
Where Glorfindel had fallen, his head propped up on one of the rowboat’s seats, he could see the youths still clinging to Oyster Rock. As he watched, they raised hands in the traditional farewell given to a sailor before a voyage meant to last months, years. The salute transformed into complicated hand signals: ‘come’ ‘you’ ‘hold,’ and the last, the one that brought fresh tears to Glorfindel’s eyes, ‘the Sea protect you, star-brother.’
But the distance to home seemed impossibly long. How could the villagers find them if Glorfindel didn’t even know where they were bound? They would be lost, forever.
A stone sat sharp and bleak in his throat. He wanted his mother. Silly and fanciful as she was, though she would have been able to do nothing to save him, still he longed for her lap to lose his face within as she combed fingers through his hair and told him all the stories about his father he’d stopped believing years ago.
Ladders were thrown down when the rowboat drew alongside the ship. The moment had come. They would be thrown into some dark, dank hole in the ship’s belly, maybe chained up, denied the sunlight, and locked in a den of despair and misery until they were hauled out only to be sold as slaves, never to see each other again. This was the end of everything.
Glorfindel tensed all over as hands swung him like a sack or grain over one of the Men’s shoulders. He couldn’t stop himself from putting up one last fight. The Man grunted as Glorfindel kneed him in the stomach, and he dropped Glorfindel. Glorfindel fell with a heavy smack into the rowboat’s hull.
Ramhad had suffered a similar, instinctive panic. He thrashed in his carrier’s grip, going mad, shouting down the Sea-gods’ curses on the slavers’ heads in-between sobbing for his mother. The Man could not hold him, and Ramhad toppled from his shoulder, hitting the water’s surface like a stone.
“Ramhad!” Glorfindel and Althon tried to lung after him. He sunk so fast, arms and legs strapped together, that the top of his silver head submerged before his cry had finished ringing in their ears.
Glorfindel wormed half-out of the boat before a hand about his tunic’s collar hauled him back. Some of the slavers dived in after Ramhad, but there was a terrible moment oozing like bloated fish left to rot in the sun, when no head broke the surface. But then, with a spray of ocean water, one of the Men shot up, Ramhad’s net-bound body in his arms. Ramhad trembled, putting up no resistance, as they hauled him back into the boat to be dropped in a wet mess on the boards.
“One of you tries a stunt like that again, and you’ll find yourself locked in the dark for the length of the journey, do you understand me?” The captain loomed over them. “This isn’t some pleasure curse. We’re bound for Númenor. Do you know how many weeks passage that is?”
Althon answered for them, “No, sir.”
“Eight. So you’d best behave yourselves, do you hear?”
Althon nodded, eyes huge. Glorfindel glowered but held his tongue, and Ramhad wouldn’t meet any of their eyes. The slavers carried them up to the deck with no incidents after that.
They were left on the deck as the slavers scrambled to get underway, the urgency for hast still sharp enough to taste in the air. Glorfindel stared up at the mighty sails puffing with wind. The Teleri of their village had no vassal to rival this ship’s speed. Hope for rescue died in his chest. He felt like one of the big fish his grandfather prized. He’d been hooked, and the reel pulled him in foot-by-foot as he struggled against his fate, but the realization that he would never be free bled through his skin and into his bones.
No. He would not give up so easily. He’d never been one to bend to his lot in life and accept it with a meekly bowed head and the belief that his life’s path was pre-destined, already sung in its entirety long before the Elves’ awakening. If there was no rescue coming, then he would just have to rescue them himself.
The captain’s boots snapped crisply against the deck as he paced it. Not until those boots stopped before them, and their guard’s hands dug under his armpits, did Glorfindel understand that the captain had given an order concerning them. No, just him.
“Glorfindel!” Althon’s hands twisted at his sides, calves’ kicking out as they dragged Glorfindel away.
“I’m alight, I’m alight,” Glorfindel called back, straining his head to keep his friends in sight until the last minute. The remaining guard’s hand settled heavy and foreboding upon Althon’s chest, and Althon’s struggles quieted. His lips still carried the stain of blood.
The guard dragged Glorfindel from the sunlight, a door shutting behind them, shutting the sight of the sea and home out. The cabin he’d been brought had a narrow bed nestled in the wall, a scattering of chairs and tables, even a shelf of books in the back. Dominating the room was a copper bathing tub. Sunlight snuck in from a high port hole, glinting darkly off the water within.
The captain gave an order and the guard retreated, leaving the two of them alone in the cabin. Glorfindel’s pulse beat against his throat like a trapped bird. A whine filled the silence. It had come from inside Glorfindel.
The captain’s boots clicked against the floor as they drew close. Glorfindel shrunk away. The captain knelt beside him, hands reaching out. Glorfindel twisted his hips, his knees rotating, using what little mobility he possessed to sink a kick into the Man’s calf.
“Oof!” The Man fell to one knee, hands dropping to cup the bruised bone.
Glorfindel rolled, arms straining against the ropes, hands scrambling to gain a handhold in them to tug and claw and—
The captain did not let him get far; hands were upon him again, dragging him back.
“NO! No, get off me, get off! I won’t let you—”
“Shut up, stupid boy,” the captain growled. “Lie still if you don’t want to get yourself cut.” Light slid off the blade of a knife.
“I’ll bite you! I’ll strangle you in your sleep, just you—wait, just you wait! I’ll—”
The knife sliced through the bonds on his arms. Glorfindel’s shock immobilized him. Then he surged up with an exploration of hope and desperation in his chest, only for the Man to press his full weight upon him, trapping him against the floor, the net caging Glorfindel’s mobility.
“I told you to hold still! I’m not going to hurt you, just clean you up a bit. Or do you want to lie in your own shit all night?”
Glorfindel froze. The captain’s words shattered the barrier holding the awareness back, and Glorfindel felt the shit slipping down his thighs, plastering his leggings to his skin. Wetness dripped the length of his legs, into the insides of his boots. He’d—
The shame stung, but the chance for freedom overrode it. He bucked against the captain’s weight, and received a nick on his arm where the captain cut the net off him. The captain hissed, jerking the net over Glorfindel’s head. “That’s enough. Use your head! We’re miles out from land. What are you going to do if, by a chance of luck, you get out of this cabin, hmm? My ship is crawling with my men, and even if you jump overboard, you’d never reach land alive.”
Glorfindel’s breath shook in his lungs, his hands trembling, “I won’t let you—I know what you want, what you’re going to do to me—”
“Shh, shh now, beauty,” the captain’s free hand ran through Glorfindel’s hair, petting him. “I won’t be hurting you like that. I just want to clean you up.”
“I don’t—I don’t believe you,” Glorfindel’s voice choked out through the thickness of his tongue, the cotton-dryness of his mouth. Why did it feel like he hadn’t tasted water in a year? “Why would you help me?”
The captain’s finger curled in Glorfindel’s hair. Glorfindel shook under the touch, eyes skidding over the captain’s face, into the dark grey eyes. “I’ve heard all the tales of how Elves die of rape.” The captain’s hand smoothed down Glorfindel’s cheek. It was not the touch of a parent or a friend. For all the Man’s words, his eyes were hungry as they looked down into Glorfindel’s face. “No one on this ship will spoil you like that.”
His grip tightened when Glorfindel tried to turn his face away, but with one more lingering caress, the touch fell away. “You wouldn’t want to sleep in pants you’d messed yourself in.”
Glorfindel’s face burned.
“It’s nothing to fret over, beauty. It happens to the best of us.” The captain’s hands snatched Glorfindel’s wrists, and though Glorfindel twisted, whimpering, the captain bound them together. “Just a precaution, my dear.”
Glorfindel flinched from the endearment. It chafed worse than ‘beauty.’ Beauty objectified him, but ‘my dear’ mocked.
With his hands bound, the captain began slicing the tunic off him. It wasn’t much by the measure of the other villagers, but it was all Glorfindel had. To have it wretched from him, shredded and cast aside, felt like the knife sliced through his own skin to peel it off in strips.
The captain yanked off his boots next, and began cutting away the soiled leggings. Glorfindel squeezed his eyes shut as a stench seeped up his nose. What was wrong with him that he would—?
“Not the sort of thing you hear in the stories, eh?” The captain’s voice reached him in the darkness Glorfindel tried to hide within. “We wouldn’t want our lady loves knowing we shat ourselves on the battlefield.”
The captain bound Glorfindel’s ankles before he cut the thicker rope from his knees. “Let’s get you in the bath, then.”
The captain’s hands didn’t keep to themselves as he bent to lift Glorfindel. There were caresses, little things, but they set a shivering down the whole of Glorfindel’s skeleton. He tried to crawl away, but he found his limbs unresponsive, as if all the strength had been sucked from them leaving him weak and helpless as a babe.
His eyes blew wide, and he doubled his efforts, but still he moved like a slug, even his mind began to drag. Glorfindel heard himself sobbing, but distantly. Why couldn’t he move…what…what was wrong with him?
“Shh, beauty, relax, you can’t fight the Warrior’s Fatigue. I’m surprised it didn’t hit you sooner, but it will pass in a few hours. You did fight, even killed one of my men, and gave Îbal a scar to remember you by.”
Glorfindel sobbed harder. That terrible scream, the Man’s face twisting up as he fell, the taste of blood. He wanted to go home.
Glorfindel gave all the resistance of a rag doll as the captain lowered him into the tub. His head lulled back against the cold metal lip. If he could just rest a moment…
“That’s good, beauty. I’ll take care of you. You’re mine now, after all.” The scent of apricots and that unique freshness of a soap bar filled the cabin. A washing cloth passed over his shoulders, the shapes of fingers beneath. It rubbed down his chest, ran along his throat, his arms.
“Eru, but the price you will bring,” the captain breathed in his ear, a wet hand sinking into his hair. “I’ll take good care of you, beauty, don’t fear. I wouldn’t risk damaging you for all the pleasure it would bring me. I am the master of my own body, after all, and nothing sets motivation in the blood towards ‘moral’ behavior like a fat purse at the end!” The captain laughed his own jest, and the cloth dipped lower, scrubbing at Glorfindel’s thighs and calves. The bathwater turned murky. Glorfindel closed his eyes and surrendered to the exhaustion when the captain pulled him forward and started cleaning the most intimate of places. He did not want to know what it felt like for someone else to touch him there.
Glorfindel woke to the coppery taste of another man’s blood on his lips. Heat like whips of fire lashed through him; his hands shook, his chest heaved. A scream echoed in his ears, scrapping down the skin of his arms. A face, eyes wide and terrified, stared into his. The blood, the smell of it…
Glorfindel stared up at a ceiling painted grey in the limited moonlight, flittering with strange shadows. The rocking told him he was on a boat. As a child of the sea, it gave him comfort.
Glorfindel turned over, arms wrapping across his chest, cradling his shoulders. He wished his mother were here to hold him and drive away the nightmare. He’d had to do to it; there had been no choice, no choice. That Man would have hurt him, would have hurt Althon and Ramhad—
The rationalization fell flat. Would the Man really have hurt them if none of the other slavers had, not so deeply they deserved death? And if the Man wouldn’t have, if Glorfindel hadn’t had to…to drop him in the sand like that…
Glorfindel curled into a ball. The Man’s face would not leave him. He could not escape what he’d done. What had the Man’s name been? Had he had a family, a wife, a mother…children of his own?
The sound of weeping hung heavy and damp in the air. It was Glorfindel who made the sound. (You don’t understand. I had to kill you! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I never meant…but I couldn’t take the chance).
Arms wrapped around him, pulling him against a slender chest. “I miss home too,” Althon dropped his face into Glorfindel’s hair. “But one day we might go home.”
Glorfindel leaned back into the embrace, seeking comfort for a wound so much deeper than their kidnapping. They might snatch freedom and go home, but nothing would ever be the same again, because Glorfindel would never be the same. The burden of that Man’s face would follow him everywhere he fled from it.
Glorfindel turned over into Althon’s arms, his own clinging to Althon like a lifeline. Another shape shifted behind Althon on their narrow bed, and Ramhad spread himself atop them, face pressing into their shoulders, hands anchoring in their hair. Glorfindel tasted the salt of three sets of tears.
“Whatever happens, whatever happens, we’ll find each other again. We won’t be parted.”
Ramhad let out a cry, half sob half kneeing, his hands holding so tight in their hair it pulled. One of Glorfindel’s arms released Althon to wrap about Ramhad’s waist. Their cheeks rested one to the other’s; their three breaths mingling in the unbreakable circle of their faces, and their tears mixing.
When the sunlight bleached the grey cabin a pale yellow, its touch a wavering thing lighting upon the ceiling, the upper walls, not yet risen high enough to fill the room, they untangled themselves for each other. They had not slept the rest of the night, but the renewed knowledge that they were not entirely alone in this, had dulled the terror, and pushed back the mantel of despair.
Hope remained. Though they may never see home again, they had two pieces of it to carry with them. Whatever it took, they would find each other on the legendary Isle of Men, Númenor. They would not be kept apart.
They didn’t speak as the light crept further into the cabin. They sat together on the bed, hands and legs brushing, unwilling to entirely withdraw from the comfort of the others’ touch. They leaned shoulder-to-shoulder as they listened to the sounds of the crew stirring, night watches relieved, duties of maintenance run through, the creak of the mast as the sails were adjusted with the wind’s flighty temperament.
The jangle of keys, the clunk of a lock turning, shattered their hard-won peace. The cabin door swung open and the slavers’ captain sauntered through. A sack swung indolently from his hand, and one of his men followed behind balancing three bowels.
“Time for breakfast,” the captain announced as the bowels were set down before them. He sent his man away with a tilt of his head.
Glorfindel leaned far enough forward from their huddle on the bed to snatch the three bowels. He passed one to Althon and Ramhad, and brought his own up to his nose, sniffing the grey…something.
The captain snorted. “It’s porridge, beauty. You’re in luck this morning, I had a spoonful of sugar added and raisins, so don’t waste it. Raisins are a luxury on board a ship.”
Althon and Ramhad eyed this ‘porridge’ as dubiously as Glorfindel. None of them attempted to eat it.
The captain crossed his legs, leaning back in the chair he’d commandeered. “That’s all you’ll be getting before supper time, so I advise you not to waste it.”
Sourly, Glorfindel tried a spoonful, telling himself this was not a submission but a strategic necessity. He had to keep his strength up for whatever awaited them. Althon and Ramhad reluctantly followed his example. The porridge sat thick and gooey on his tongue, but its taste was tolerable.
The captain startled them by smacking his hands together, “Well then, let’s get down to business. You’ll be guests,” he smiled slyly at them, “On my ship for eight weeks if the weather holds, longer if a storm blows us off course, so it’s best you know what behavior is expected of you, and what you can expect from my men.”
Glorfindel’s shoulders wound tight as knots, “So sure we’ll just dance to your tune, are you?”
“Glorfindel!” Althon hissed in his ear, but Glorfindel couldn’t help his hackles rising. He wanted to punch the captain’s smirking face. There weren’t any bonds holding him…if he could—
“You’ll do as I say, beauty, because it won’t be you who suffers for any disobedience, it will be these dear friends of yours.”
Glorfindel’s breath turned to ice in his lungs, and his fingers clenched about the bed sheets. He dropped his eyes from the captain’s face, showing submission. What else could he do?
“Good boy.” Glorfindel’s teeth ground together, but he did not look up. “Now, firstly the rules. They are rather simple. You do as you’re told, and make no attempts at escape. If you disobey, you will watch your friends be punished. If that does not cub you, I’ll have you locked in the hull with the cargo of Human slaves and wish you a pleasant journey down there sitting in piss and shit in the dark.”
Althon’s hand crawled into Glorfindel’s, squeezing, a plea, a warning. Althon needn’t fear, Glorfindel’s pride would not be indulged at the price of his friend’s health. As for the crushing weight against his chest, the longing for freedom, well, even he wasn’t delusional enough to think he had anywhere to run to on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
“My men will not touch you,” the captain carried on. “They are under orders, and my men are well disciplined.” He locked his fingers and slipped them over his crossed knee. “Now on the matter of your time on my ship. Knowledgeable slaves fetch a higher price than the ignorant. They also earn more comfortable positions, which should be your motivation. I doubt a lord will be purchasing you to fuck for a few nights. It is true some Elves live longer than others in such an environment, but the chances of buying a slave for pleasure only for it to turn out to be one who dies the next morning are too great to squander the kind of coin an Elf brings in. But fucking isn’t the only way an owner could attain some pleasure from you, and you won’t be dying from a little play, so it is in your interest to bring some skill more than your beauty to the auctioning block.”
Glorfindel’s eyes brushed Althon and Ramhad’s, their bodies drawing close, huddling against the world in the shelter of each others’ shoulders. What skills did they have? Nothing extraordinary by the measure of their village. Glorfindel’s feet flew; his speed notable even among the Elves, and his body would possess strength when he grew into himself, but what were these next to his looks? Althon’s mind was sharper than the other boys,’ his temperament running cool and logical, and Ramhad had a talent for the flute, but could any of this save them?
“The first skill I expect you to know will be your most valuable: Adûnaic. Our language. If you do not master it, you will have little use outside a bedroom. But for the nobility, Sindarin is almost unheard of. So you will not be able to rely upon it.”
“But, sir, you speak Sindarin,” Althon ventured.
The caption sliced them a smile, “Yes, I do. Do you think me a fallen lord, then?” His eyes crinkled, finding hidden humor in his words. “Or perhaps I am merely an ambitions slaver who wished the means to communicate with his cargo? You are not, I assure you, the first Elves I have brought to market.”
Glorfindel’s stomach turned. The Man’s heart must be stone if he could speak so casually about his past crimes and the horrifying future awaiting them.
“You will not be prisoners locked in this cabin cramming knowledge into your heads for the next eight weeks, though.” The caption swung his crossed leg back onto the floorboards, and picked up the sack he’d brought. From it he drew rolls of blank parchments, quills, and thin books with pictures of children upon them.
“These are for your learning. I cannot hope any of you know reading or writing, can I?” They all shook their heads. “We’ll start on that later, but lest you hang those heads too low, rest assured I know how to keep the grey out of an Elf’s skin. You’ll be taken up to the deck daily for some sunlight and to stretch your legs. If you behave yourself, I’ll allow you to swim in the sea (with some safety measures). A dose of steady meals and sunshine will keep those cheeks rosy for the block.”
Glorfindel’s jaw clenched. Everything came back to the money for this Man. “You were quick enough to order your man to kick Althon yesterday for all you speak of your investment in our health. You’re just a greedy villain!”
“Ah, how harshly you judge me, my beauty, so quick to cast stones.” The captain stood, tossing the emptied sack upon his chair’s seat. “Do control that tongue of yours. I am a tolerant man, but I doubt very much your future owner will be so understanding.” With that he strode from the room, bolting the door behind him.
Glorfindel shot up in the bed, a scream ringing in his ears. His nostrils dilated with a foul stench, like the stench of an open grave. He yanked his hands through his hair, shaking. Just a nightmare.
(A rotting face, the hands of a corpse closing over his, eyes looking into his, “You killed me. Why did you steal the most precious of gifts from me?” “I had to. I had no choice, don’t you see?”)
Glorfindel buried his face in his bent knees. “Leave me alone!”
The soft voice jerked his head up. His knuckles scrubbed hastily at his eyes, erasing the evidence. “I did not mean to disturb your sleep, Althon.”
Silence came from behind him for a long moment, but Glorfindel could not bring himself to look. His voice had betrayed him, shaking like a newborn colt. Glorfindel stiffened when arms wrapped about his shoulders, before he relaxed into his friend’s touch.
“What preys upon you?”
Glorfindel swallowed, keeping his face turned into the bones of his knees, “Nothing that will not pass.”
“You have been having nightmares every night since our capture. It’s been over two weeks, Glorfindel.”
Glorfindel shrugged, tucking his face deeper, “You and Ramhad have nightmares too.”
“But not every night, and not…Glorfindel,” Althon sighed. “Sometimes you thrash about and…and whisper things.”
Glorfindel’s shoulders became boards, shields against what was coming. “What do I…say?”
Althon didn’t speak. His fingers brushed against Glorfindel’s loose hair, as if not quite daring to sink further in. “You know…you know that Ramhad and I do not think you…do not think you did anything wrong when you were defending us on the beach, don’t you?”
Glorfindel’s breath hissed from his lungs in a shaky exhale. He shoved the blankets and Althon’s hands off him, rising from the bed.
“Don’t.” Althon’s hand caught at his wrist. “Listen to me, Glorfindel. You did nothing that was not necessary.” When Glorfindel would not look back at him, Althon continued, a desperate note creeping into his voice, “Look what kind of Men they are? Even if that Man would not have killed us, you do know they are keeping Human captives in the hull. How many people had that Man ripped from their families? How many people had he killed in the doing? He does not deserve your guilt. He does not deserve even a cramped corner of your heart.”
“Do you think I have not told myself these things?” Glorfindel’s voice came out of the darkness, only a sliver of moonlight lighting their cabin. “It doesn’t work, Althon, because I don’t know. What if…what if he’d been pressed into service against his will, what if he had a family of his own, a son, a daughter awaiting their father’s return...I just….” Glorfindel slipped his wrist from Althon’s hold. “It hurts.”
“No. I can’t speak of—” Glorfindel’s voice broke apart.
“Alright,” Althon came to stand beside him. “We’ll speak of other things. I for one won’t get any more sleep tonight, might as well use the time wisely.”
Glorfindel jerked a nod, unable to give a verbal reply. He followed Althon to the cabin’s table. The beginners’ books and scraps of parchment with practice letters had been left strewn over it. Althon lit a candle, and Glorfindel stood a book on its end, split open, to offer a crude shield between the light and Ramhad slumbering on the bed.
“I still don’t see how you can already understand most of the captain’s words when he speaks to us in Adûnaic. It’s only been two weeks!” Althon slouched down in one of the chairs, pulling the parchment with his practice letters closer.
Glorfindel hesitated. Althon and Ramhad had asked this before, but he’d held his tongue, instinctively knowing what he did was not normal. But he felt he owed Althon something, so he picked his words, struggling to give voice to what he did on instinct alone. “It’s like when I look into his face when he speaks Adûnaic and I really concentrate, I can…the word’s meaning seems to…to appear before me in pictures almost, emotions, and the words fall upon my tongue…I don’t know how it happens.” He ended with a shrug, sliding a glace up at Althon.
A frown folded Althon’s brow. He hummed, tracing over the A’s his untrained hand had scrawled into his parchment. “I’ve never heard anything like what you describe. It sounds, well…it sounds very Noldor-ish, doesn’t it?”
Glorfindel wrapped his arms over his stomach, giving another shrug. “I guess.”
“Not that that’s a bad thing,” Althon hurried on. “But I don’t understand how you came to possess this ability, you see.”
“It’s hardly the first time I’ve done something strange,” Glorfindel frowned at the table. “You can’t pretend I’m not abnormal in my growth or my appearance.”
“I never thought it bothered you before,” Althon whispered.
Glorfindel sighed, throwing off the mood of despondency. He looked up with a crooked smile. “You’re right. It didn’t in the village. I just…everything’s changed now. It would be easier if I were ordinary.”
“Maybe it would be easier, but not necessarily better. And I doubt if you were to suddenly become ordinary, you’d like it much.”
That startled a laugh out of him, but Glorfindel stifled it with a hand to his mouth, conscious of Ramhad’s sleeping form. “No, I suppose you’re right about that.”
Althon reached across the table and drew Glorfindel’s hand into his, squeezing it. “The Sea-gods have delivered us into the hand of the negative, and we endure it with great pain, but the balance will swing in our favor again. Remember, for every joy we must walk an equal measure in darkness. It is the way of the world. Do not lose hope, we cannot remain in this darkness forever.”
Glorfindel sighed, hearing words every mouth in the village had dropped into their ears a thousand times. The words sat unacceptably against Glorfindel’s skin. This was not the first negative he’d been expected to endure so that the positive could be all the sweeter.
“Maybe, if I knew how long I was expected to endure, I would do so in proper patience and long-suffering, but I can find no hope in your words.”
Althon’s lips parted. Glorfindel never spoke against the ‘known’ way of the world, not before his friends who followed the teachings with proper modesty and humility. No doubt this was Althon’s first time hearing words spoken against accepting what was ‘written.’ “But…but the balance will tip back to the positive, we know this. You mustn’t struggle against the current of the world, Glorfindel! Terrible things happened to those who do.”
“Do they? Or are those just tales told to frighten us into obedience? Into accepting our humble lot in life so that we never dare to climb higher?”
Althon shook his head, releasing Glorfindel’s hand. He looked truly shocked. “Climb higher? Your words are those befitting a Noldo’s tongue! It is not the way of our people who cherish what they have been given, learning wisdom and contentment through acceptance for the gifts we have received.”
Glorfindel pressed forward, his chest bumping up against the table’s edge. “And if we had a chance at freedom today, tomorrow, you wouldn’t take it because this suffering must be ‘endured?’”
“Of course I would take it. That would be a sign of the balance falling into our favor if such a gift were handed to us.”
Glorfindel’s eyes hooded, “But you wouldn’t seek it out, would you? You would rather languish in slavery then reach out to grasp something not within the Song?”
“We must not fight our fate, Glorfindel,” Althon cast his eyes into the shadows as if expecting one of the Sea-gods to rise up and smite Glorfindel down for the discord on his tongue. “We suffer for a time, but as with the morning comes light, so too does joy come for those who have walked the hard path of the negative.”
“We might die before the balance shifts back. We might be broken passed any coming joy’s healing.”
“We might,” Althon agreed. “But we cannot know the future, you know this Glorfindel. The future stands behind us, hidden. Plans against our destiny in the Song are fruitless. No matter how swiftly we turn, the future will ever elude our eyes. We must take strength from the past stretching before us, and live in the present, accepting the cup our pre-sung destiny has handed us.”
Glorfindel looked away. He refused to allow the kernel of bitterness to grow up in his heart against Althon. Althon spoke only as he had been taught. If he had resigned himself to years of slavery, refusing to take even the first step towards initiative, it was not Althon’s failing. Glorfindel burned against the teachings of fate, refusing to accept anything as powerless as a pre-written strand in the Song. He would not accept this cup of suffering with the quiet endurance expected of a Teler.
Even as a child his thoughts had traveled strange paths, every grasping dreams of a better life, encouraged by his mother. Even his grandfather did not preach ‘contentment’ with the world. Such words would have been a mockery falling from Grandfather’s resentful mouth. Glorfindel had fought against his grandfather’s authority, struggled against his pre-destined place in life, and he would fight again. Somehow, someway, he would gulp freedom, and if he had to fight the very Song itself to do so, then so be it.
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