Hyellnassë: The Glass Thorn - Ch13: Confidences
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Chapter 13.) Confidences
"And something guiltily desired
Goes sometimes fluttering through their dream"
- Rainer Maria Rilke
December 2, 210 Fourth Age, Valinor
"May I come in?" Cora opened the door to Calina's room halfway and poked her head around it. Her friend was sitting on the window seat in the far wall, staring out at the churning sea. Winter's first cold breath had descended, unexpectedly early, the night before; a sharp wind battered at the hills.
Calina made a motion with her hand that Cora interpreted as a reluctant summons to enter. Cautiously, Cora slipped into the room and closed the door behind her. She knew that Calina had yet to come out of her room that day and was not likely to want any greater loss of privacy than was absolutely necessary. Twisting her fingers together, Cora sat down on the opposite end of the window seat, with her legs curled up beneath her.
"Have you been sent to ask more questions?" Calina murmured, her forehead resting against a windowpane. "I'm full of my own questions. I don't need anyone else's."
Cora looked out at the sea for a long moment. "I have not been sent. I finished helping amilwash the linens and so I came for a small visit. Your family is stirring about downstairs like a gaggle of nervous chickens. They said you would likely turn me away, but here I am, unscathed. And yes, I've come with a question - but only one question, if you please."
A tired smile tilted up the corners of Calina's mouth. She reached out a hand to lay on Cora's knee. "I have welcomed you rather rudely, I'm afraid. Forgive me. You do not deserve it."
Unlacing her fingers, Cora began to trace a meandering design in the condensation on the window. "It's alright. In fact, I'm almost relieved that you've finally stopped being so unerringly amiable. It is not natural for someone in your situation."
Calina sighed. "Ah yes: my situation. What shall be done about my situation?"
Cora smiled at the acerbic tone. "I imagine that would depend on how you answer my question."
"A tempting riddle. Alright... let us hear your question."
"Are you fading?"
Calina turned her head toward the silent room at her back then let her gaze return to the seascape. "No."
Cora reached out and turned Calina's face toward her. "Are you absolutely sure?"
A few moments passed as Calina obligingly let her friend reap what assurances she could from her eyes and expression. "I am not fading... only mourning."
Cora dropped her hand away from Calina's face, nodded slowly. "I believe you. Therefore, it only remains for me to try your patience with one more question: Is there anything I can do to help you?"
The set of Calina's mouth told the answer before her lips moved. "No, really there is nothing. I'm sorry. Time is what I need."
Cora gave a weak smile. "You have time."
The two ladies sat with each other for some while after that, talking or simply sitting in comfortable silence. An hour past before Cora decided to take her leave. It was nearing the time for the evening meal.
"You really should go down to your family," she urged Calina. "They are very worried about you."
"I know... I will." Despite her acquiescence, Calina looked about the room disconsolately, as though she was not sure of where to begin. Calina eyed her sympathetically.
"Your family will not care if you come down in your dressing robe. But here - let me brush out your hair. That will be soothing, will it not?"
Calina, knowing that Cora needed to do something active, allowed herself to be led over to her vanity and fussed over for a few minutes. After that was done, the she-elves descended the stair and parted outside the entrance to the dining chamber.
When Calina's family, including Ránendë and Ehtúro, came to take their seats at the evening meal, everyone attempted to appear natural, serene, and uncurious. It was a rather trying atmosphere, and Calina's already diminished appetite lost even more ground as its mistress engaged in calculating to what degree she was strictly required to participate in the stilted conversation and what subjects would be safe to speak on.
Soronhín observed his youngest daughter closely. Her demeanor plainly showed how great her discomfort was. Casting a quick glance around his table he could also not help but notice that all souls present, even little Falas, seemed to be in a state of uneasiness. What to say, what not to say? Could this or that question be hazarded? Would Calina break down into tears at any moment?
He glared down at his plate. Were they not all, as her family, supposed to be Calina's greatest source of comfort in her time of mourning? Instead, they were only heaping awkwardness upon awkwardness. And this following on the heels of their great failure in letting the situation slip so far, in not being sensible to Calina's broken state in the first place. He laid the blame at his own doorstep. Ránendë at least had shown perception in suspecting that not all was well with her sister. Even Falas seemed to have done more good for his sister than her own father had.
Danneniûl's latest attempt at conversation had wilted pitifully, settling down somewhere between the platter of roasted partridge and the bowl of steamed turnips. Soronhín made a frustrated sound in his voice and stood up abruptly. Everyone at the table turned to look at him expectantly. As calmly as he could, Soronhín picked up half a loaf of bread and inserted a knife for safekeeping into its center. He then scooped up the small crock of butter and moved around to Calina's place at the table.
"Would you do me the honor?" Soronhín extended his elbow for his daughter to take.
Apprehensively, Calina stood up from her place at the table and took her father's arm. She was then drawn out of the room, down the hallway, and up two flights of stairs.
"There is a room in this house that you have never seen, and I was waiting for the right moment to show it to you. Do you remember, when you were very little, our secret place, where I would take you when you were sad?"
Calina's look softened, "Of course I remember, atto."
"How could I move this family to a new house without making sure there was a place for you to go when you were sad? I would have shown you earlier, but then you seemed to be better..."
Soronhín paused in front of a narrow door in the attic. His voice had faltered.
"It's alright," Calina comforted him, "I didn't want you to know, I didn't want myself to know."
With a reluctant nod, Soronhín opened the door and let Calina through. She stood, bent over slightly, just in the doorway, speechless with memories. All the same favorite pillows and blankets, some of which were adorned with her first attempts at embroidery, had been piled up in the tiny nook, which was situated beneath a gable. She had spent many days curled up in just such a room as this, often with her father, who had told her stories or listened to her woes.
Soronhín stepped around his daughter, truly having to bend over to get inside the room. He set their small repast onto a little stool in the corner and then settled down into the soft nest of cushions, beckoning for Calina to join him.
Calina sniffed and blinked several times, trying to keep the tears from making an entrance as she curled up against her father, leaning her head on his shoulder as she used to do. Immediately, Soronhín began to tell her an old, beloved tale about a poor, simple potter who showed kindness to an injured rabbit, even when he was hungry and could have eaten it for supper. For his kindness, the rabbit (who turned out to be an Istar in disguise) rewarded the potter with a clay jar that was always filled with gold.
The story was Calina's undoing. After the first few words were spoken, the tears began to course down her cheeks and they did not stop until some time after the story was finished.
"I am sorry, little one," Soronhín whispered, stroking his daughter's beautiful hair after silence had reigned for some minutes. "So sorry. I should have seen this - should have known better."
Calina did not reply. Her throat was still too thick for words.
"I am no longer certain of my purpose," Soronhín continued. "If you ask me to call Kallindo back, I will."
A pregnant silence followed. Calina blinked away the last of the moisture from her eyes.
Soronhín leaned back to gaze more directly at his daughter's face. "Are you sure?"
Calina's face was twisted in confusion. "What would it accomplish? How could I face his pity? How could we ever be on easy terms again? It would be so contrived, so discomfiting. I do not think he would like it any more than I would, not now that he knows."
"Well, let us eat a little and think upon the matter. You have hardly eaten anything the whole day."
Calina smiled at her father's paternal manner. He broke the bread into several chunks and began buttering them, handing the first piece to Calina, who took it meekly. The two sat in comfortable silence while they ate the bread. The cry had been very good for Calina. She felt somewhat lighter, freer, more able to bear scrutinizing the situation.
"I have changed my mind," she finally broke the silence, chewing thoughtfully on her last morsel of bread.
Soronhín raised his eyebrows high. "You want Kallindo to come back."
Calina nodded. "But that is not all, and you will not like what I am to say next."
Soronhín pulled his daughter closer to him and rested his cheek against her hair. "Speak on, I am ready."
"I want to return to Lady Calamau. There is so much more I can learn from her, and it will give me something to occupy my mind... please."
This last word was in response to Soronhín's tensing muscles. He closed his eyes and took a long, slow breath.
"I will not deny you this. You shall return to your teacher, if you truly wish it."
"Thank you, atar. I do wish it."
"You are a wretched friend," Kallindo glared blearily at Alassar, his dry mouth forming the words awkardly. "But I am thirsty. If you would fetch me something cool and very unalcoholic it would go a long way toward securing my forgiveness."
Alassar, who had had his feet propped up near the fire, smiled sheepishly and bobbed his head, springing up and into action. Kallindo watched him leave the room with heavy eyes. In an attempt to escape the harsh throbbing in his head, Kallindo had spent most of the day sleeping or trying to sleep. The windows had all been kept shuttered, to spare his eyes, and even the fire had a screen angled in front of it. Kallindo felt like a miserable, cave-dwelling, sodden mess and was sure he didn't look any better.
Alassar soon returned with a glass of water in one hand and a small bowl of raisins in the other. Kallindo eyed the raisins for a moment and thought that, perhaps, they would be inocuous enough to eat. Maybe he could even work his way up to a very little serving of porridge.
After the water was drunk and a few of the raisins tasted, Kallindo stood up and stetched out his long legs. His body was as stiff as he could remember it ever being; several turns around the room were not nearly enough to set everything to rights. Still feeling exhausted, Kallindo rested his head against the nearest wall and groaned softly.
"I am sorry," Alassar murmured dejectedly. "It was a foolish thing to do."
Kallindo rubbed a hand across his face. "What on earth were you thinking? I don't understand you, my friend. I believe sometimes you can be quite mad."
Alassar pulled a comfortable chair a little further away from the warmth of the fire and motioned Kallindo to sit back down. Kallindo took the seat and slouched down into it, letting his feet sprawl out before him.
"Not so much mad," Alassar replied, adjusting the fire screen's angle to suit Kallindo's new position, "as determined."
Kallindo grunted. "Determined to do what exactly?"
"Loosen your tongue."
Kallindo stiffened, looked up at his friend with creased brow. "What did I say last night?"
"Not bloody much... but enough to give me pause."
"What did I say." It was a command.
Alassar sat down heavily in a chair across from Kallindo. "That Calina Soronhíniell is in love with you and that she gave you a glass thorn to remember her by. Though why she would choose such a token I cannot say."
Kallindo moaned and covered his face with his hands. "This was very ill done, Alassar. I should never have spoken those things."
Alassar sat forward in his chair. "Why not? You are obviously weighed down by these matters. Why not speak of them? I know you think little of my intellect at the moment, but perhaps I can help."
"It is not mine to tell!" Kallindo lashed out moodily. "I should not have let her trouble slip past my lips, and I cannot sit here and bandy words about her while she is suffering because of me."
"Because you left her?"
"Because I let her fall in love with me."
"Pardon my frankness," Alassar prefaced himself, "but how could you have stopped it from happening? What? Should you have cloistered yourself away from the entire unattached, female population?"
"I... don't know. I should have done something."
"I'm still confused as to why this occurrence has heaped so much distress upon your head," Alassar admitted. "Most elves your age have been married for centuries, even millennia. Of course, you've had a crippling setback in your pursuit of love, but you cannot deny the fact that, for the past decade or so, you have pined once more for a mate. Which is, I dare to avow, a perfectly natural desire! And now - despite your feelings of inadequacy, your wounds, and your stubborn reluctance to actively pursue the society of females - a charming, lively, well-bred young lady, who you happen to regard highly, has fallen conveniently into your lap. Why ever did you drag yourself and all your worldly possessions to my doorstep when you should have been in Fanlítsë exerting the very small effort required to secure her hand? It simply does not make sense!"
Kallindo stood up abruptly and turned away from the fire. "You take a very blithe view of matimony."
Alassar shrugged. "You are of the very bent of nature that seems so suited to conjugal bliss: chivalrous, fiercely loyal, fair-minded, kind. Perhaps a bit too self-deprecating and without ambition, but these can be got over. To my mind it would be a travesty if you were never to be married, never to be a husband or father. And the lady, as you say, is willing."
"What if I am not willing?"
Alassar eyed his friend askance. "I think I know you well enough to give an answer to that question, but let us instead call upon one of your other admirable qualities: honesty. Does the thought of taking Calina to wife please you?"
Without a word, Kallindo stalked from the room. Alassar waited patiently by the fire for some time. A horn, blasting from the tower in the center of the city, pierced the silence of the room to herald the coming of the evening hours. Not many moments later, Kallindo walked back into the room, stared ruefully at Alassar's back, and then walked by his friend to take up his seat once more. Restless, he leaned forward and removed the screen from in front of the fire.
"I don't know."
Alassar did not respond, feeling that there was more to come.
"Or... if I do want her, it is not for the right reasons."
"What do you mean?"
Kallindo laughed bitterly and stood once more, resting his hand against the plain mantel over the fire. "I offered to marry her, Alassar. Soronhín told me of her love and I offered to marry her. I spoke to him about my respect for his family and for Calina, of my willingness to do whatever was asked of me. He looked at me like I was some grand, heroic being: so selfless, so sacrificing." Kallindo's voice was grim, sarcastic. "Do you know why I really offered for her? Oh, everything I said was true enough, but it was a partial truth. Do you know the answer, Alassar? Do you know me well enough to see that far into my heart?"
Kallindo pinned Alassar down with a fierce gaze. "I did it because Calina is soft and beautiful, witty and full of life, young and very, very tempting. When you stand close to her you can smell lilacs in her silver hair, feel the warmth of her skin. When you become close to her you discover that she has more secret smiles and pert ideas than a pomegranate has seeds. She is captivating, Alassar. Of course, I never entertained these thoughts while I was ignorant of Calina's feelings - the idea was too impossible to be entertained, I suppose. But when I heard of her love, my wild imagination leapt ahead of both my heart and mind: What a gift! I thought. The valar have chosen to give me this gift!"
Kallindo's words were broken off as he dropped back into his chair, covering his face with his hands.
"I do not understand," Alassar murmured carefully, "where lies the problem?"
"She is her own soul, Alassar! She is not some fine glass sculpture, left waiting on my doorstep. As a friend, I care for her truly. But if it may be said that I desire her, beyond friendship, it must also be admitted that I want her as a young child wants a holiday treat or a soothing song. I want her for what she could bring to my life, not because of what I could bring to hers. I know very well that I can bring little. She deserves the truest love from a whole heart. I care for her, I pity her, I desire her - but none of this is compensation enough for what she would give me. How could I face waking up beside her every morning? How coul I face myself? Knowing that I used her love to patch up my own inadequacies, as you call them."
The fire cracked, Alassar drew his eyes away from the flames. "I said that you feel inadequate, not that you are inadequate." A few sparks flew up as a small log disintegrated. Kallindo shifted uncomfortably in his chair; his head had started to ache again.
Alassar got up slowly from his seat and leaned over Kallindo, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You speak with such warmth, even I, who know your troubles, find it difficult to believe that your heart is not whole. Think well before you allow your own false humility to condemn the lady to sorrows which you yourself have suffered."
Letting the words fall where they would, Alassar departed. Kallindo remained before the fire, amid the mad whirlwind of his thoughts, as the hours crept on into the night. Only a few dying embers remained to light the chamber when, weary in both heart and body, Kallindo finally slipped away from his troubles, head lolling against the back of the chair in sleep.
Things to Know:
Calina: Q. "illuminated"
Kallindo: Q. "noble heart"
Soronhín: Q. "eagle child"
Alassar: "joy stone"
Ránendë: "moon pool"
Ehtúro: "spear victor"
Falas: "beach, shore"
Danneniûl: S. "fallen embers"