Dust floats in the hot air, sticking to skin and hair. Curufin washes it out of his eyes at night, feeling as though his lashes are perpetually gritty.
There is not enough water to make him clean.
Let Maedhros try to come close, to touch him! He wants, badly, to force Maedhros’s hands aside, to say, you stink of blood, you are a killer, you are not my brother! That would hurt Maedhros, because everything hurts Maedhros, even though he pretends otherwise. Yes, let Maedhros try to comfort him, so that Curufin can put an end to—something.
He thinks that Maedhros does not know.
Maglor, though—Maglor looks as if he knows.
Curufin chews his nails. It is an old habit of Celegorm’s that always disgusted him. But he finds that he wants something to bite down upon, something to keep the words inside.
Of course, that is if the words would dare rise in his throat at all. He is not bold. He has never liked apologizing. He is not the sort to go and stand with the fire at his back, facing down Athair and the rest, saying, I killed a man, the bullet tore open his face, he no longer had a mouth, his eyes were lost in the blood.
Athair might be proud.
A quick study, Curufin. You have finished this already? Very good—we shall move to the next lesson now.
You are my son.
“Do you miss her?”
“Who?” Acid, like the substances Athair once used to show him how to burn through metal.
“Mother.” Celegorm flushes. His face is still many colors, because of the fading bruises that spread from the bridge of his nose to his cheeks. Black and green and purple. Very hideous. Curufin wants to tell him so.
“Mother betrayed us,” Curufin says coldly. Was she gone, already, when Curufin—
“Right.” Celegorm doesn’t argue. They don’t argue much, these days.
Curufin wishes they would.
Maglor haunts his steps. When they stop for the night, and Maglor makes watery soup out of the game Celegorm has hunted, Maglor hands Curufin a steaming bowl and reaches out to stroke the hair away from his grimy forehead.
Maglor doesn’t look like a killer. He doesn’t stink of blood.
Caranthir, at least, is always spoiling for a fight. He is only a year older than Curufin, yet he is allowed to drive the last wagon. Curufin complains incessantly, and finally, wrestles him for the reins. The wagon lurches and the horses veer from the trail, their harnesses becoming displaced.
Athair will punish us, Curufin thinks, when the whole caravan halts.
But it is Maedhros who appears to see what the commotion is.
“I am old enough to drive,” Curufin says. His voice sounds high and thin, and he hates it.
“He’s being a brat,” Caranthir grumbles. “Athair said I—”
“Athair’s word is final,” Maedhros says, like he himself did not get laid out by Athair’s right hand for disagreeing with that very point. That bruise, like Celegorm’s, flowers in an ugly rainbow on his face. “Curufin, ride with me.”
You are a killer, and you stink of blood.
Curufin climbs down from the seat beside Caranthir, putting one foot in front of the other.
You are not my brother.
The words don’t come.