Toys in the Hall by Dawn Felagund

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2011 MEFA nominee--thank you, Dreamflower!


First Age 471, Autumn

It had been an accident, the first time it happened. The horse and cart, carved from wood and even with wheels that turned, two of them, had been a gift from King Finrod in the south. Ereinion had not intended to leave them where he did, but the runner at the top of the stairs was the hue of autumn grass, and he liked to send the cart on various journeys through it, feeling the way the wheels stuck like they might stick in real grass. There had been some demand made of him halfway across the makeshift meadow, though, and Ereinion was spirited away by impatient hands for a bath or lessons. The cart remained.

His father was a restless man, never content to do his work at a desk. He took books to the high walls of the fortress where the wind whipped their pages, and he was known to hold councils while walking through the stables. And he read letters while moving from place to place in the house. So it was that he crossed the autumn-colored carpet without minding the toy his cousin had carefully carved for his firstborn and only child.

The servants told that he didn't fall but rather slid to the stairs with well-trained grace and hopped somewhat noisily down the first two steps. The letter didn't even leave his hand. But despite his impressive performance, something twisted in his ankle, and Ereinion saw his mother and the healer bustling into his parents' suite, and Ereinion's father was confined to bed with his foot lifted for one full week.

That became how he knew people, by the toys in the hall. His tutor swept them to the side with his foot, muttering about possible injury, and his mother called for him and waited, toe tapping, until he was summoned to pick them up, but his father blundered headlong through, and if his steps were true, his practiced grace made the peril seem minimal. The servants picked up the toys and tossed them in the box, curses upon their tongues that Ereinion's wooden soldiers exchanged in a whisper.

~oOo~



The hand-carved horse and cart had been too delicate to survive carrying the High King of the Noldor as cargo, even temporarily, and were relegated to the dustbin. Ereinion carefully extracted all of the pieces, dragging a good bit of dust out and onto the floor in the process, and with them in a cupped hand held against his chest, traveled up to his parents' suite.

His father's advisors were shuffling out as he arrived; they flowed around him with the ignorance and nonchalance of water around a rock, in clear disagreement over something. Ereinion lifted his chin and listened closely, but their words made no sense, peppered as they were by names and places he did not recognize. He knew the family tree in the front of one of his father's journals, and his tutor made him learn the map of Beleriand by heart, but the top was folded down so he only memorized what was south of Hithlum. "When you're older," the tutor said, when he inquired.

When the last of the advisors exited, Ereinion ducked in behind him before the door snicked shut. That way, he wasn't entering a closed room without knocking. His parents' sitting room was pristine and untouched, as always; it could not contain his father and it little pleased his mother, and they rather met in the small dining room directly off the kitchen or the broad-windowed library that looked out toward Ard-galen. The bedroom door was open, to Ereinion's delight, and he crept toward it, his feet making no sound on the plush carpet, and slid his cheek around the doorframe.

His father was in bed as prescribed, foot raised on a stack of pillows, scrawling a letter propped upon a pile of books, an inkwell swathed in a corner of the blanket to keep it from spilling. He was intently writing, flush-faced and grumbling curses the likes of which the servants had never thought to utter. Ereinion's mouth fell open a little.

His father raised his head then, and Ereinion did not pull away in time. The cursing--even the scratch of the pen--ceased in the room. He heard the mattress creak as his father shifted. "Ereinion. I saw you. I still see you. You've left your fingers around the door."

Too late, Ereinion realized that he had. Foolishly, he drew them back, felt his heart give three quick leaps, then eased around the door and into his father's presence. He clutched the broken toy tighter against his chest so that his father wouldn't see what it was. He hadn't seen his father since the accident yesterday, and no one had said anything of it, so he'd assumed that his sight wouldn't be tolerated. But his father didn't look angry. He looked--Ereinion reached back into the words he'd been made to learn by his tutor--heated. He looked heated about something as distant from Ereinion as their home within the walls of Eithel Sirion was from the stars overhead.

"What do you have?" his father asked, narrowing his eyes as though to penetrate flesh and bone to see what lay in his small son's hand.

In lieu of answering, Ereinion replied, "I'm sorry about the toy. And you. On the toy," and his father laughed, a gentle sound of water on rocks that Ereinion rarely heard anymore. He tumbled the books on his lap to the floor and the unfinished letter with them. The inkpot he extricated from the blanket and plunked on the night table. "Come here," he said and flipped back the blanket to reveal the soft sheets Ereinion usually wasn't allowed to touch now that he was big enough to sleep on his own.

It was a tall climb onto his parents' bed for a small boy, but his father reached across and lifted him with one arm with the same effortless strength with which he would soon lift the letter from the floor and resume writing it. In the process of being lifted, some of the toys jogged free of Ereinion's hand. A tiny wheel, perfectly carved and still with a delicate--but broken--axle protruding from it, rested on the sheets. Ereinion's father lifted it between thumb and forefinger. "Ah," he said with a chuckle. "My undoing."

Ereinion waited for anger.

"Come closer, Ereinion. Sit with me."

"Why?" he peeped. His father's eyebrows lifted. "Because I could use the company. Because I do not see you much anymore, do I, now that--?" Ereinion had wiggled partway across the bed when an arm looped around his and slid him the rest of the way. Ereinion used to sleep here, when he was smaller and still at risk of rolling from bed if left unattended. If he closed his eyes, he could still feel the curve of his mother's back on one side, the warm pressure of his father's arm on the other.

That was still there. He pressed against it and stared up into his father's face, which was aimed straight ahead, deliberately ignoring the letter on the floor, fingers idly turning the wheel upon its axel, eyes unblinking. He willed himself back in time, though he didn't quite know why. Nothing had changed in the house. The tapestries hung in the same places on the walls; the carpets and decorations were unchanged. But the air was heavier, as though a slow hand from the north--from the folded-under part of the map--pressed against the house and threatened to tumble it into the river.

"Give me the rest of this," his father said suddenly. "I will fix it for you. But first I must finish this letter. The snows will come soon and make it difficult to reach Himring."

First Age 472, One Week Past Midsummer

The bed was unmade, most of the pillows fallen to the floor. If Ereinion ran his hand along their centers, he imagined he could still feel the indentation left by his father's ankle.

The cart and horse still sat on the night table. They were almost repaired, but Ereinion had neglected to retrieve a single splinter of wood from the dustbin. No mind, his father had said, he would repair the missing place with putty. Then a letter had come back from Himring--the snows were late that year--and the putty and the cart had been forgotten. His ankle repaired, he resumed reading letters while moving about the house. Ereinion left his toys on the floor at the top of the stairs, but his father's luck was restored: He never tread upon them again.

His mother whipped into the room. "There you are. We must hurry." Her eyes were red underneath, but she moved with an efficient force that disguised anything amiss. "If you miss this darkened moon, you will not make it through. Quickly, Ereinion."

He meant to take the cart from the night table, but he could not bear to. He left it.

~oOo~



Carefully, he lined up the soldiers before the door from which he knew his foster-father would emerge. The sun lurked just beneath the horizon, and Círdan never missed a sunrise without his hands at some task or another. Ereinion's father liked to--had liked to--sleep late. Not his foster-father. He beat the sun to work each morning.

The army might have been saluting or assailing Círdan; Ereinion wasn't sure, but he would learn much of this man to whom he'd been committed, he knew. The light outside was becoming silvery, but shadows still pooled in the corners or under the wide windowsills, not much, but enough to hide a boy. Ereinion drew his knees tight against his chest. At any moment, he knew--

The door to his foster-father's bedroom swung open. Círdan moved with purpose and swung his arms a bit as he walked, no matter where he went. The first glimmer of light caught the helms of the waiting army, unseen. Círdan's first footfalls fell neatly between them, as though he had Fingon's luck, but then a misplaced step crashed squarely onto the head of one and sent him to Huadh-en-Nirnaeth, his head in one direction and his body in another, and Círdan let out a grunt of pain and, seeing then the toys in the hall before him, hopscotched around the rest, driving a shoulder into the wall before restoring his stride and leaving the room.

No chastisement, no curses. No grace. No real acknowledgement, even.

Ereinion dashed into the dawn-lit hall long enough to snatch up the head of the slain soldier before crabbing back into the shadows. He clutched it in his fist and wept.

The End

 


Chapter End Notes:

This story was written for Many Paths to Tread's remix challenge and is based on This Ereinion by Levade, in which Círdan comes to terms with his new responsibilities as Gil-galad's foster father. Even more miserable and lost than Círdan must have been Gil-galad, so I chose to explore an early moment from Levade's story from his perspective.

Dates come from The Grey Annals in HoMe XI, The War of the Jewels. This document also states that Fingon sent Gil-galad to the Havens in the same year as Fingolfin's death, but since Levade's story implies that Ereinion arrived after Fingon's death, then I'm going with the wording of The Silmarillion here that leaves this slightly more open to interpretation. Yes, I'm dining at the textual smorgasbord, but what's the fun of having so many sources if you can't pick and choose a bit? :)



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