Silmarillion Writers' Guild A Minor Talent by Lyra

Chapter Two

Yesterday's dinner was a dismal affair. In fact, our family dinners have been dismal this whole week, which is why I am leafing through my old collection of music. It has been years since I last played, but someone has to try and bring some cheer to the table. I'd rather have Father and the others laugh at my poor playing than bear another dinner spent in grim silence.

Although nobody is speaking, I know what they are thinking. Grandfather, at the head of the table, is sad that his firstborn is gone, and sore because the Valar did not allow him to settle the dispute between his sons. I love Grandfather dearly, but I cannot help but agree with the Valar on this count. He quite misses the point when he thinks of Uncle Fëanáro's attack on Father as a simple brotherly dispute. There was a weapon involved (which is not allowed in the first place) and Father was actually injured, however lightly. This would have been horrid enough in any family; in the King's family, which is meant to set an example for all our people, it is intolerable.
Besides, for all that he claims to love all his children equally, everybody knows that Uncle Fëanáro is his favourite. Grandfather would never have judged the case without bias. The decision had to be taken away from him.
But Grandfather is hurt by what he perceives as a lack of trust.

Father, on the other hand, is hurt because Grandfather's favouritism is now more obvious than ever, and he feels that his own father does not love him enough. Because he in his turn loves Grandfather, he does not dare to acknowledge that he is grateful for the Valar's interference. He also does not dare to acknowledge that the cut on his chest, shallow though it is, pains him. It pains him, firstly because it is an injury and it is in an awkward place where it hurts when he breathes (which he can hardly avoid) and secondly because of what it stands for, which will remain even when the injury is fully healed. He has apparently told Grandfather and the Valar that he forgives Uncle Fëanáro. I have no idea whether he feels forgiveness or whether he is merely doing the decent thing.

Mother and Grandmother are angry with Grandfather because he is pining after Uncle Fëanáro so obviously, moreover in the presence of his second son – the victim, after all! By now they are also angry with Father, who in their opinion (which I share) should finally speak up to remind Grandfather of what truly happened, and where his loyalties should be placed. Meanwhile they have to manage the household and check the servants lest their gossip has all the streets in Tirion in uproar. Only yesterday I heard Mother say that if the respective heads of our houses were not going to get their act together soon, she would move to Uncle Arafinwë's house. I cannot blame her. Surely their dinners cannot be this drab.

Aunt Nerdanel, the only sane person in Uncle Fëanáro's household, blames herself because she could not prevent this from happening. It is hardly her fault, but she doesn't believe either Grandmother or Mother or anyone else who tries to tell her that. And naturally she mourns the loss of her children, my idiot cousins, who although only Uncle Fëanáro was banished had nothing better to do than run along with him. Having given birth to seven children, one might expect that at least one of them would choose to stay with their poor lonely mother, but no. Even Russandol – even the Ambarussar – have left Tirion, and appear to show no intention of returning until the twelve years are over. Russandol actually had the cheek to ask me to visit him often in Formenos, which is where they are going. He asked me to write many letters. I do not think I will answer even his first letter, which is now lying crumpled underneath my desk. I tell myself that it is natural for him to follow his father and that I should have expected nothing else. I just feel so very betrayed.

Among my siblings, I believe anger is the predominant emotion. Irissë, perhaps, will miss the scuffles and the hunting trips with cousin Tyelkormo. Other than that, none of them have formed such lasting ties to Uncle Fëanáro's house as I have. For them, the loss of our cousins is of little consequence; they are only angry because Father was hurt and slighted, and refuses to complain as we think he should.
Yes, we make for a cheerful company these days at the dinner table. It's going to be a long twelve years at this rate.

But as twelve years are a bit of a stretch, I am determined not to let this brooding go on. Someone has to take the first step, and if none of the others dare to be that someone, I suppose the task falls to me.
The trouble is that I haven't played the harp in years. Caliën, my childhood tutor, returned to her own people to marry a talented Vanyarin singer and give birth to talented Vanyarin children. That was before Irissë's birth, at a point when Father had accepted that I was not another Macalaurë, that I had only some minor talent at best. I was not forced to continue my music lessons when Caliën left. I only played on a few occasions when Macalaurë asked me to accompany him, and then I used his sheet notes (if we didn't improvise freely anyway). Thus all the notes that I have are simple things for young and inexperienced players. Even though it's been a while that my fingers touched harp strings, I can hardly perform my childhood repertoire. I am, after all, no longer Arakáno's age.

I am saved by a copy of Rúmil's Song of the Trees. I recall that I tried to learn it when I was much to young and unskilled for it. Caliën made me copy it myself (hoping, no doubt, that the effort would put me off), which shows – in order to save myself from repeatedly having to draw staves, I rather squished the notes, making them even harder to read. During one of my sessions with Macalaurë, we played this tune and variations on it, and while it was still rather beyond my range, I did manage to play it in the end. I am confident that with some practice, I may manage it again. It is certainly more appropriate than Manwë's Joy: Twelve Etudes For Young Harpists and the like.

So I tune my harp, poor neglected thing, and take it along to dinner. And after the second course I declare my intention to raise spirits "even if they only rise in laughter", by performing a little. My fingers (which are already hurting from practice – there you can see how determined I am!) fall upon the strings, and I sing as though I had been there, "Out of dark forests, where the waters sang..."
I do not botch the song too badly – in fact, I am quite pleased with my performance, and although I didn't expect great applause from a family spoiled by my cousin Macalaurë, I do think I deserve more than they actually give me. Father clasps my hand after I have taken my seat again. So at least, I suppose, he appreciates the effort.

"I will go to Formenos," Grandfather suddenly says, earning blank stares. He goes on, "I think Fëanáro needs me more than you do. I will share in his exile, then."
What are we supposed to reply? Father automatically says, "Father, we need you here."
Grandfather gives him a wistful smile. "My dear, I am only putting a damper on your moods here. You will be better off without me mourning."
I see Father's lips go thin as he tries to keep his retort back. Then it bursts out anyway. "Do you think that we are happy about the situation? Our moods are dark with or without you present." His voice takes on a pleading note, "Please, Father, you cannot leave your people."
"I hold myself unkinged while Fëanáro's exile lasts," Grandfather says, and takes Father's right hand. "Nolofinwë, I entrust you with my office. I know you will fill it well. But I must go."
Father lowers his head, and I try to figure out whether he is pleased or terrified by the idea. I do not have much time for thinking, however, because Grandfather now looks at me.
"I could use an assistant who accompanies me," he says. "Perhaps one of my nephews would like to come along?"
'One of my nephews' indeed. Both my brothers are too young yet. I realise what Grandfather is trying to do. He is trying to enable me not to spend the next twelve years with the unhappy bunch here, but with Uncle Fëanáro's household. Where Russandol is.

I think of all the times that I visited Uncle Fëanáro's house and was sullen and miserable when I had to return to my parents. I think of all the times that I have argued with my father about a dozen trifles, and the one time I was so angry with him that I yelled, "I wish Uncle Fëanáro was my father instead of you." I did not mean it, of course, and apologised for it later; but the words, once uttered, could not be recalled. The thought remained.
I suspect Father is remembering it too. He has let go of my hand as if to signal that he will not try to influence my decision, that I am free to do as I wish: his left hand is lying flat on the table. He, too, knows what Grandfather is doing. And for a moment, I admit, I am tempted.

But only for a moment. "I am sorry, Grandfather, but I'm afraid that you will have to go without my assistance, if you are set on going," I say. My voice is colder than intended. "My place is with my father," I say by way of reconciliation, clasping Father's hand in my turn. The look he gives me is thoroughly gratified.
Grandfather's gaze is surprised and, I believe, a little hurt. Well, I cannot help it. He may favour Uncle Fëanáro above anyone else, but I don't intend to indulge his favouritism. Nor am I going to run after Russandol, who after all didn't think it necessary to stay here with me – I mean, with his mother, who also declines Grandfather's offer to come along to Formenos. Our place is here.

We move into Grandfather's house, and Father sits on Grandfather's throne.
Grandmother and Aunt Nerdanel often attend when I practice my harp, for I have decided to take it up again, to fight the silence that still descends on us all too often. They appear to take solace from the music. Rúmil's Song, it turns out, is my aunt Nerdanel's favourite song also. Playing it becomes a habit.
We get used to the new arrangement.

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