Fandom: Linnets & Valerians
Word count: 6395
Notes: Linnets & Valerians is a children's fantasy book by Elizabeth Goudge; it's old and obscure and lovely, and I am quite aware that bookelfe is the only other person on the planet to have read it (because I told her to). It was one of my favourites as a child, and I reread it as an adult and came to the quick realisations that a) wow, Timothy was coded as extremely gay, and b) there was a lot of scope there to take the themes and run with them into the future.
Plus I have a thing for Oxbridge boys & romances, I think I can admit that right now.
You may think that this story is a bit odd, but let me assure you, nothing happens in it that (I'm quite confident) wouldn't happen in the canonical setting. Which should tell you something about the book, namely: you should read it.
Dreamwork is a Freudian term for the mental activity that transforms latent dream content into manifest dreams, ie. weaving themes and symbols and wish fulfilment into a coherent storyline.
While it is common knowledge that the Valerian men have always lost themselves looking for cities in the clouds, there seems no especial way to capture the Linnet character. Timothy can see traces of his father's frown when he looks in the mirror, but nothing of Robert, and his resemblance to Ambrose is almost entirely internal; invisible. Frowning, Timothy looks delicate and studious and a lot of other things that he is; he also looks timid and impatient and a lot of other things that he has never been.
He turns his mouth upwards, instead, but there's something very silly about grinning at one's own reflection. And while the smile tilts his appearance slightly in the direction of his brother, it also sets him further apart. The adjective most frequently applied to Timothy's smile is devastating, and when he was young enough to get away with it -- but old enough to know better, really -- he would picture a smile with the force to level cities, bury them in ash or sink them under towering waves. He would indulge his fancies smiling at the grass bent by the wind, imagining, swish, gone, and smiling at Emma Cobley until her eyes turned from a twinkle to a glitter, untrusting and kindred-lit.
You be careful where you throw that around now, my boy, she said. No telling what manner of trouble it could get you into.
By the time Timothy was old enough to truly understand the bramble-maze of her personal history, he appreciated the warning.
But he's never felt entirely comfortable around mirrors, just like he's never had the gold that glows so effortlessly in Nan's chest; he has never heard the bees sing. He does not have Robert's iron, nor Betsy's bright bronze -- oh, the world is a place with more complexity to it than Ezra's crude dualism of black and gold. There are other shades and other metals -- other mettles -- and Timothy Linnet is a silver creature and always has been. His blood is older than the angels, older than the darkness, and it sings to the power that runs through the earth in wild patterns. Mirrors don't make him feel trapped so much as unnecessarily exposed: little breaths of autumn air under his collar, sunlight trickling down the backs of his bare legs, that sort of thing. Soul and spirit leaking out where they shouldn't.
Perhaps there's little point in looking for eternal family truths in himself. Perhaps the Linnets are defined by their willingness to bend under a changing influence, and to become what the world needs them to be.
A pair of eyes ruins Timothy's dinner. He has Keats spread out on the table and is carefully dodging flecks of soup and gravy -- having wheedled his way into the good graces of the elderly dragons who control the Bodley's lending desk, he is in no great hurry to incite their wrath -- and the hubbub in the nearby doorway drags his attention grudgingly up through the strata of pastoral syllables.
"I realise that," Davids is saying, his back against the wall and his eyes fixed longingly on the food. "But I can't exactly tell Stevenson to clear himself out a month early, now, can I? There's obviously been some kind of administrative misunderstanding --"
"Then where am I supposed to put my belongings in the meantime?" demands the other boy, a tall figure topped with dark curls and wearing a shirt that has not been ironed with any particular care. Timothy can only see his back, but he doesn't recognise the voice, loud and piercing though it is. "If you expect me to sleep in the corridor --"
"I didn't say that, but you should really talk to --"
"Beg pardon," Timothy says, "but would you mind awfully having your argument somewhere else?"
The tall boy turns; his eyes slide sideways and land on Timothy, who feels his fingers slip on the spoon. They are terribly inconvenient eyes, wicked eyes that make Timothy want to go crawling through forests in search of impossible things; questing eyes. A feeling like the rapid recitation of an epic poem takes place inside Timothy's chest.
"So sorry," the boy says, not a hint of apology in his tone. He looks older than he sounds; a new postgrad, perhaps. "Am I spoiling your communion with Arcadia?"
Timothy, being a contrary creature, tells his chest to stop being a nuisance and forces himself to close the book and stand up. "Yes," he says. "But of course, you're new. Allowances must be made. I do hope this fuss with your room is sorted out soon."
Davids gives a silent, almost incredulous groan, entirely unnoticed by the wicked eyes. Timothy has no reputation for malice or argumentative pursuits.
The boy gives him a peculiar look, as though he wants to respond to the insult but is hampered by Timothy's addendum of polite goodwill. He has pale olive skin and a fine, flexible mouth that creates something lovely when set against those eyes. Some strange geometry of design, but Timothy is not a mathematician and would prefer to sketch this boy in memorised swathes of poetry, or psalms.
It takes that long for his intellect to connect with the forest wildness in his chest and arrive at a startling conclusion.
How terribly, predictably Greek of me, Timothy thinks.
He holds out one hand, trying to keep the contrariness from his voice. "Welcome to Corpus. I'm Timothy Linnet."
Somewhere in Timothy's head: a single faint note of the panpipes, as pure and as final as the edges of two red curtains, sweeping to touch each other in the cente of a stage.
"Rowan," he says. "Of course."
Timothy wakes up from a dream in which the god Pan has opened his mouth and spoken in his uncle's voice: education is a mosaic of beauty. All through that morning the dream lingers in the form of music in his head, some tune he must have heard before but can't recall where. The chords weigh heavy in his mind like the soupiest of fogs, the kind that drags at one's ankles, and he blames the resultant, uncommon untidiness of his thoughts for what happens in the library.
Something in the mass of Greek in front of Timothy's eyes has sparked recognition, somewhere in his ruthlessly-trained memory, the result of years and years of Uncle Ambrose's iron expectations. It was some time before Robert and Timothy realised that not every boy in their class had spent Sunday mornings regurgitating enormous amounts of Scripture, nor gone to bed with hot milk on their tongues and Latin verbs hammering behind their eyes. Robert was delighted to be considered smart as well as popular, and immediately planned a career for himself as a famous intellectual and spy. Timothy was by this time past being surprised by anything that could be said about his schoolwork; he set his sights on an Oxford scholarship and didn't look back.
He feels at home here, despite the distance from his family. There's a magic in the leather of the books that isn't Timothy's silver magic at all, but a slower and more thoughtful kind. It swallows his attention to the point that he doesn't notice the invasion of his table until a pencil is waved under his eyes.
"So you're the one who's using the annotated Argonautica. I need that for my thesis."
Timothy, miles away, chasing after the half-remembered reference, blinks across the table and brushes his hair out of his eyes with dusty fingertips. Rowan's smile is probably a challenge; Rowan's own fingers are drumming slowly on top of a sentence about Jason wanting something that Timothy can't discern because the noun is covered by a fingernail.
"Oh," Timothy says. Part of him is watching Rowan's eyes warily in case they turn questing again. In the shadows of this corner of the library, they simply look dark.
"Oh," Rowan mimics, and sits down. "Is that your response?"
Timothy frowns. "Pardon?"
"Look, Linnet," Rowan says. "I've done some asking around about you, so I know you're far from stupid. Remarkably far, by all accounts. So I'd appreciate it if you could piece together a full sentence."
"You asked around about me?" Timothy extracts from that. "Why?"
A shrug. "Academic curiosity." He makes it sound like there's a joke there, a clever one, and Timothy should know enough to find it amusing. He tugs one corner of Timothy's notes towards him and begins to read them, upside-down.
Timothy, accustomed to charming people without undue effort and also to being sublimely educated in anything he may be called upon to talk about, has no idea how to act in this situation. He suspects he should be presenting his best qualities, but is hindered by his momentary confusion as to what they actually are, and his lingering annoyance that such a person could have such an effect on him.
"Who's your supervisor?" he asks.
"Hollings. Dreadful bore, but knows his stuff. You might want to check your translation of this part," Rowan adds, pointing to one of Timothy's scribbled sentences -- authoritative, offhand, his voice sharp and lazy like a blade that he can't be bothered to sheath.
Timothy feels the sudden pink that sweeps over his cheeks. "I'm not done with the book yet," he says rudely. "Excuse me."
And he gathers his papers, which takes longer than it should because he knows how to make an entrance but is terrible at departures, and shouts irate names at himself inside his own head as he leaves the library. He clutches his notes too tightly and leaves deep crease marks in the paper, and his face continues to burn hotly against the chill air.
As ever, Timothy's embarrassment partially resolves itself into anger by the time he reaches his room. He kicks irritably at his door and goes to pull out out Nan's latest letter, which he has been saving to have with his tea as though it were a particularly delectable biscuit. Nan writes on smooth blue paper and the familiar loops of her hand are almost as soothing as if she were there in the room with him, stroking his hair and telling him not to be a goose.
My dearest Timothy,
I must admit, I've been counting down the days until you're back here again. We all miss you dreadfully, though one would think we'd be accustomed to doing without you by now. The house has been noisy: Francis has been in London for the past week and almost every person I know, anxious lest I should become lonely, decided to descend upon me at once. Betsy spent much of her time declaring that she has improved upon Ezra's lemon pudding recipe and pressing dishes of it upon my delighted son --
-- and so on for five more pages that are delightful in their domesticity. Nan has been essentially the same person since she was ten years old, in direct contrast to Robert, who has never been a single person for more than a month at a time, and Betsy, who at eighteen is only just beginning to cohere. Timothy takes it for granted that one day he too will fall into the niche of his true self, but he is in no particular hurry.
By the time he reads the last few lines his anger and shame have simmered down into a bare smudge of emotion, and he even starts humming to himself as he searches his desk and eventually discovers his blotter tucked under the third draft of a Latin assignment. When his writing things are in place he aligns his hand on the paper and begins to write almost immediately, without pause for thought, as is his wont.
My dear sister,
Glad all's well. Found myself missing Lion Tor this morning -- gazing out of my window onto the lawns and hoping that mist would roll around the edge of the College, perhaps spill from the windows. The stones here are old, could well be as old as the Tor, and I think they'd probably find the precipitation comforting.
He hesitates and then is ashamed of himself for hesitating. This is Nan, his own gold-hearted Nan; if she of all people cannot continue to accept him and all his failings, all his facets, whole and entire, then there is no good left in the world.
So he writes:
Everyone has a first love and the luckiest of us have a forever-love, and I have never quite forgiven you for finding them both wrapped up in the same person. I will not claim to have found the latter, but you might be surprised to learn that I may have stumbled across the former.
You will not be at all surprised to learn that I have already, as Robert would say, made a royal plum duff of things.
Night swoops down and alights on the lawn outside the buildings of Corpus Christi, and in the safety of his room Timothy stokes his fire and takes refuge in the classics. Upon his acceptance into Oxford, Uncle Ambrose made him a gift of five handsome leather-bound volumes which have held pride of place on his bookshelf ever since. He pulls down the nearest one, which is also the most well-thumbed, and spends an evening licking his finger and voyaging on the deep seas of the old stories.
He is educated enough, he suspects, that he could find a quotation or line of poetry to shed light on almost any question that his life could produce. Even the oldest mythologies can only encompass so many examples of the intricacies of human nature before they begin to repeat themselves. With a feeling of embarrassed inexorability, Timothy smooths a finger down the middle of the splayed pages and begins to read about Patrokles.
There is nothing epic about Timothy himself. He imagines plenty of young men have been in his position, with these complicated yearnings that lack the glamour of heroes or the accepting eyes of history. Rowan is loud and brusque and too wild for perfection, neither Achilles nor Alexander -- it is Timothy who looks as though he should be beloved of the gods. Betsy once told him, her classical grounding managing to escape briefly through the rural wickedness of her dimples, that his face probably wouldn't launch any ships but it just might entice the waves to carry them.
Much good may it do me, Timothy thinks. His head is heavy with narrative and fire-smell.
Before he sleeps, he consults the listing in the huge, cold, wood-dark entrance hall, discovers Rowan's room number, and leaves the Argonautica just outside the door. He attaches a note:
Not a wooden horse, but perhaps an olive branch.
In his head his uncle's voice is saying something unkind about tired metaphors being the resort of the ill-educated, but Timothy decides to go with his instincts.
"Hollings knows who you are," Rowan says, and Timothy looks up into his triumphant expression.
"All the faculty does. Come on, Linnet, I have scandalous gossip and I refuse to deliver it inside a library."
"It's freezing out there," Timothy says, but Rowan has already set off for the door, and Timothy curses under his breath before gathering his things. He shoves his hands haphazardly into his gloves as he leaves the building and the chill breaks across his face, and two of his fingers end up crammed together in the wool. He remembers: he used to be stubborn. He'd have glued his feet to the floor if someone had acted like that with him, so blithely expectant. But they've been friends for almost a month now and Timothy has found himself doing all sorts of embarrassing things that he vaguely recalls teasing Robert about, when his brother was making a fool of himself over girls.
"Give me that." Rowan pulls his books from his hands and waits, dragon-breathing, while Timothy untangles himself from his gloves.
"Gossip," Timothy insists.
"Hmm? Oh, no, that was to get you away from the books. Though the faculty does know who you are." His eyes are practically devilish, his cheeks ruddy with cold. "They talk about you."
The silence lies in the air as a competition. Timothy, who is already resigned to losing his battles when it comes to Augustus Rowan, smiles and rolls his eyes as he accepts his books again. They've wandered around the corner of the building, into a tucked-away undesigned space which provides shelter from the pulsing wind.
"They think you have an air of μοίρα about you." His accent is beautiful, and Timothy finds himself mouthing the word in appreciation, catching the soundless r on his teeth.
"Destined for what?"
"Great and lofty things." Rowan hums a few bars of something and Timothy is knocked into breathlessness by how much he wants. This aspect of himself, now awakened, is proving impossible to send back to sleep. Perfectly normal things like the undulation of Rowan's neck as he swallows, and the creased careless asymmetry that no amount of ironing can remove from his shirtsleeves, can make Timothy yearn for heat. For his palm and the sensitive skin of his fingertips to be allowed an explorative touch.
"You're making it up," he accuses.
"I'm not. I listen to them all chat over tea and biscuits, I hear what they think of everyone. Meyer and McDonald are going to have a bidding war over you when you start looking for a doctorate supervisor. It's disgusting."
Timothy is unable to fight the smug pleasure that twitches its way onto his lips. "Let me get through my BA first."
"And then? What do you think of your destiny? Are you really as brilliant as everyone says you are, Timothy?" Rowan's unsheathed his voice again, and Timothy is at a loss as to why. The name, though, that's new, and probably a hint. Timothy has to do something, anything, to stop himself from reaching out and fitting his fingers into the gaps between Rowan's.
"Augustus --" he begins, haltingly, but stops at the grimace that the other boy makes.
"Horrific name. Runs in the family. Stick with Rowan -- I like the way you say it."
Timothy feels his glance sharpen at that. A delicate thrill runs under his skin, just at the jawline, a tingle of disbelief that Rowan should say such a thing in such a manner -- throwing it out like an easy question, one with an answer of which he is confident. Timothy envies him. He wants to blurt out the demand -- How is it that you're sure of me? -- but instead he holds Rowan's eyes with a deliberation that, he hopes, answers the question.
"Rowan," he repeats, in his best tone of declamation. The tone's momentum means that he almost breaks into Latin out of sheer habit, but the name saves him with its Nordic roots. "I don't think much of destiny."
"No," Timothy says. "But I am rather brilliant."
Rowan laughs, a rough rich sound, and lifts his hand -- Timothy thinks, to brush some dust from a shoulder -- and then his thumb is chasing the tingle at the curve of Timothy's jaw and he is close, very close indeed. "I suppose you are. And too blond to be real. And did you know that the sky is in your eyes?"
"Not today," Timothy says stupidly. It's winter. Sluggish grey clouds are rolling around the heavens, in no particular hurry, and Rowan's ungloved fingertips are very cold where they rest against the skin of his neck.
Rowan smiles and says, "Not yet, then," which makes very little sense, but at this point Timothy couldn't deconstruct a logical argument given five years and a dictionary, and it doesn't matter anyway because time blinks and Rowan kisses him with a hot, sudden mouth, and many, many lines of poetry fall into place in Timothy's head -- an abrupt and almost audible jumble of insight into metaphors read and admired, but doubted. He considers his life up to this point to have been a good one, with moments of joy and triumph and blissful relief, but this -- this is something for which superlative nouns might be invented. This is a feeling worth forcing blood through one's pen.
Rowan is holding him carefully, like a bird that might take flight; Timothy appreciates the sentiment, but it's both unnecessary and unsatisfying. He extends his claws: takes firm hold of Rowan's arm with one hand and lifts the other to Rowan's curls, which allow him easy purchase. He lets Rowan press one more too-gentle kiss against his mouth and then he says, "I'm not as fragile as all that, you know."
Rowan laughs, a genuine and boyish laugh. "Thank God."
"Which god?" Timothy says, before he can think. They're classicists. It's not a dangerous question, as long as it's assumed to be facetious.
But Timothy could be mistaken in that regard, because the wildness comes back into Rowan's eyes. "Oh," Rowan says softly, "whichever you desire."
Timothy can't bring himself to say I desire you but he kisses Rowan, even though he does not know how, even though his toes are tingling with cold and he's a little afraid. The promise of danger has never stopped Timothy before. In the face of danger, he thinks, you affirm life. By singing; by any other means.
"Rowan," he whispers into the kiss, and then into the minute space between them, "Rowan."
"Yes," Rowan says, his thumb at Timothy's lip. "When you say it like that, it's almost a spell."
"It is," Timothy says, confident. "It's warding. Protection."
Timothy makes a face. "Less interesting. Honour the god."
Rowan smiles. "Which god?"
"Are you sure?"
Rowan blinks, breaks into a smile, and shrugs, with a brief pause between each. "All right. Thanks."
And that's the only time he brings it up, for which Timothy is enormously thankful. There are many, many moments during the trip to High Barton when Rowan could repeat the question -- are you sure? you want me to have Christmas with your family? -- but he doesn't. The train is delayed by weather and Timothy keeps convincing himself he's forgotten someone's present, his mind fretful and numb with snow, but Rowan lounges back with his eyes mostly closed and his hands rubbing constantly around Timothy's thinner ones.
"We'll only be at the Vicarage a night," Timothy says. "There's more room at the Manor but I think my uncle would be devastated if I didn't check in with him first."
"Is he the ranting type?"
Timothy groans. "No, but he'd look disappointed all through Christmas dinner, and I wouldn't be able to eat a bite. Which'd be dreadful, because Nan's cook works miracles, and until you've tried Ezra's bread sauce --"
"Timothy." Rowan squeezes his hands and murmurs something in Greek; it takes Timothy a moment to place it as an aphorism about letting go of the busyness of the self.
He smiles. "Sorry."
Rowan kisses his temple as the train slows down, and Timothy is torn between a skittish awareness of footsteps outside their compartment and the instinct to lean closer and, indeed, scuff the chalk boundaries of his identity with Rowan's bacchanalic gaze. "This is the place," he says.
"Of course." Rowan's hand ruins his hair in a swift, fond rummage, and Timothy rolls his eyes as he drags his suitcase towards the door of the coach.
The air is damp and frightfully cold, the afternoon light sluggish, and the ride to High Barton -- with an earnest, distracted village boy sent by Uncle Ambrose -- is largely quiet. The boy whistles the first few notes of at least ten different songs, the trap clatters its way along the road at a friendly pace, and Timothy's skin glows with leyline sympathy as he watches the bare trees itching at the sky.
"Look at you, αγαπητος," Rowan says. "You've woken up."
"You are the most terrific kind of showoff," Timothy says, flushing pink and perfectly content.
"Too close to cariad," Timothy says, lazily mangling the Welsh. "Besides, try that around my uncle and he'll ask you to use it in a sentence. Look, there's the Vicarage."
The sounds are the same: grandfather clock at the edge of hearing, Ezra's singing coming from the kitchen, and the perceptible creak of old wood. There's a soft smell of ginger, and something sweeter, permeating the house. Timothy drops his bags in the hall and unpeels his coat. "Hello?"
"In here!" To his surprise, it's his father's voice, and indeed when Timothy leads the way into the study it's to find his amiable, sunburnt father exchanging smiles with his stern uncle.
"There you are, Timothy." Colonel Linnet pushes himself upright. "I told myself I'd stay until you arrived, but I'll have to leave now."
"Sir," Timothy says, and feels his mouth tug into a smile. What he feels for his father is quiet, and tempered, but no less deep for that. "I'll see you tomorrow at the Manor, I'm sure."
"Yes, yes." His father beams and tilts his head in that impatient soldier's style, towards Rowan. "Are you going to introduce us, before I go?"
"Father, Uncle Ambrose, this is Augustus Rowan. He's at Corpus with me."
"Excellent." The Colonel claps his hand into Rowan's and shakes. "I look forward to talking to you, young man."
"And you, sir."
When his brother has left, Uncle Ambrose finally catches Timothy's gaze, his eyebrows raised. "I believe that Ezra, despite my protests, has gone rogue in the kitchen and prepared an unseemly number of the dishes of which I believed we had rid ourselves forever when we finally packed you off to Oxford."
Ezra, with his pointed ears and beaming whiskers, is actually in the garden, tutting over the antics of Astyanax (who, as the only accurately named descendent of Andromache, was allowed to remain at the Vicarage when all the others were given away). As they watch, the cat winds himself between Ezra's legs and gives a satisfied flick of his tail.
"Ezra," Timothy calls, delighted.
"Fairy boy," Ezra says, a wide smile on his face, and Timothy reaches out to put a calming hand on Rowan's arm.
"No," he murmurs. "He means something else."
"Be you hungry, young Timothy?"
"In a little while, Ezra." He finds his mouth dry with worry, suddenly, and has to swallow hard. "I want to introduce Rowan to the bees."
"The wh--" Rowan winces and shuts his mouth. Timothy withdraws his elbow.
Ezra fixes Rowan with a stare that takes in, Timothy is quite certain, everything of his character and his bearing, his name, his heart, and Timothy's own hand still resting against his arm.
"You'll find 'em settlin' down for the evenin'," is all he says, but there's a tacit blessing there, and Timothy exhales in relief.
"Come on." He grips Rowan's arm more firmly.
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Oake," says Rowan.
"Aye, an' you."
Timothy tugs at Rowan, directing him up the garden and towards the hives. True to Ezra's word, the sound of the bees has fallen into the lazy dusk buzz, although some steady low-level traffic remains. Rowan stops obediently when Timothy does, although his hands slip into his pockets in a way that suggests discomfort. He slides Timothy one of his quizzical, appreciative looks.
"This is rather a big deal, isn't it?"
Timothy nods, grateful. "I haven't -- I mean. We've had a lot of visitors, but the bees don't need to know about everyone."
"I'm honoured, then."
"Thanks. For not laughing."
Rowan shrugs, his stance easing. "No. This place is different. I understand."
Timothy leans against his side, just for a moment, feeling the solid warmth of him, wondering. The bees don't sing except for the large things, the celebrations, but maybe Rowan has enough gold in him to hear them when they do. Maybe he'd be able to paint the sound in words for Timothy the way that Nan and Robert have never been able to.
"Animals understand you, in High Barton," is all he says. "The tor has its own magic. You have to search for it, in other places, but here it's in everything." Then he sees what he's been waiting for: the advance guard, wary of their lingering presence. "Bow." He demonstrates, and although Rowan looks mystified when he straightens up from following suit, there is still nothing like ridicule in his face.
The guards dance closer, bobbing in the air, their swords glinting in the disappearing light.
"Madam queens and noble bees," Timothy begins, and feels Rowan's fingers slide through his own.
Rowan's eyes flicker through supper and brandy and he begs out early, retiring to one of the spare room's narrow beds. Timothy, who has been attempting to be subtle in his nervous appraisal of his uncle's baited questions regarding Rowan's thesis, is almost exhausted with nerves himself. He watches Rowan's hand dance along the wall, Rowan's tall untidy figure disappear up the dark stairs, and stifles a yawn with one hand.
"I'll help Ezra with the dishes," he suggests, and turns to leave the study.
"Timothy Linnet," Uncle Ambrose says. His voice is red ink and a ruler's edge. Timothy turns back. "This boy Rowan."
Timothy knows and has always known that his uncle's softest spots are for Timothy himself, but he also knows that soft spots are not equal to blind spots. He possesses little in the way of false modesty; he knows that he is brave, and strong at the core, and he knows that he could bear harsh judgement from almost any person in the world except this one.
The familiar hooking gaze reaches deep into Timothy, who remains silent, because there is no need for him to explain. Uncle Ambrose has taught hundreds of boys in his time, possibly thousands; again Timothy is gripped by the feeble knowledge that there is nothing original about this love of his, for all that it has shaken him into new life.
Finally his uncle nods, slowly, and Timothy's breath is a breeze of involuntary release.
"He seems an adequate sort of scholar."
"He is," Timothy says. It's quite clear that they're never going to discuss this aloud, but that's all right, because Timothy and his uncle have always had a knack for very informative silences. There are all sorts of things they never discuss aloud.
"Hmph." Uncle Ambrose shifts in his chair, and Hector gives a sympathetic twitch of feathers from his perch, and that seems to be the end of that. "It appears as though your studies are proceeding in such a manner as to not heap excessive shame upon your name and mine," he says then. His eyes gleam like underwater coins from within his grumpy expression, and Timothy is suffused with love.
"I'll be glad to discuss them further with you, sir," he says. "Though perhaps after a good night's sleep?"
It isn't, really, a good night's sleep. Timothy breathes deeply the air of his childhood and relaxes into the pillow with no more than an itch of awareness of Rowan on the other side of the room. But his mind hangs awkwardly between waking and sleep, thinking about little dolls with pins thrust through their feet, Nan's voice chanting over the rainbow dance of the fire: unlose yourself. Find your way back home.
The gold-hearted of the world are those who set things right; silver is for the undoing of things. The splitting of illusion into its components. The destruction can be for good or for evil -- Emma Cobley is proof of that.
Timothy no longer yells with fear in the darkness, but he's never felt comfortable with it. In the moments before he drifts into true dreaming he feels as though he is undoing his own self, turning to molten metal and drifting upwards to where the light spikes fiercely and pierces the sky, the city of silver clouds above Lion Tor. Maybe he's asleep. Maybe it's a new twilight in which a shadowy figure hovers always just out of Timothy's reach and that song is in his ears, the one he thinks he should know, wrapping around him like a warm thin sheet and driving the blood to his cheeks. This time the chords have no heaviness to them; he wants to run, or dance.
The shadowy figure is silent, and no help, and always on the move.
"Who are you?" Timothy demands. "Who are you, really?"
When the figure stops and lifts its head into the moon's light and is Rowan, Timothy is -- on the whole -- unsurprised.
"I am silenced by men's unbelief," he says. "But I like it when you say my name, Timothy."
"I don't know your name." It's so frustrating. Timothy wants to cry.
The music surges up, angry and chaotic, and twists him in its sound.
The smell of home has barely left my clothes and I already miss it, but at the same time I am glad to be back in Oxford.
He's not lying: he lies poorly and with none of his everyday grace, even on paper. Christmas is easy to remember and it slides into his mind like fresh ink, well defined, each conversation with each sibling. He was worried, despite himself and for no good reason. Robert took to Rowan immediately because they both have that effortlessly erect stance, that way of smiling so that the world settles around them. Nan would have liked him no matter what, for Timothy's sake, because her golden heart is both biddable and huge. Betsy enjoyed Rowan's jokes and flirted with him with a care that reminded Timothy of the conjugation of verbs: meaningless after a very short while, but necessary for the learning process. They are alike too, Rowan and his younger sister, with their wicked curls and their untamed laughter. Rowan sat at Timothy's right hand and played complement to his quiet remarks, displaying the brightness that Timothy keeps inside himself, the invisible part of his inheritance. He eased into the family dinner with little effort, and Timothy drank a little too much wine and let his own happiness fill him up, drop by drop. And later he let Rowan whisper the winter solstice into his mouth, all of his own unglamorous mythologies gone moon-pale and insignificant in the face of such a tangible love.
The days are lengthening now, and so there are fewer hours of darkness in which I might have to walk from one place to another. It's not so bad, usually, but I don't think I'll ever quite shake this silly childish fear, even though I remember you used to tell me that I'd grow out of it. It's never been a question of monsters hiding in the dark, or being afraid of my own shadow, but more a feeling that I've lost my connection to the world.
What he'd write if he thought she would understand is this: by connection he means the strange spirituality that rises within him at odd moments, the ancient part of him that awakens under the sky and wants to set down roots like a magical tree. Oak and rowan and birch. In the darkness Timothy feels completely alone, as though he cannot touch the earth's power without using light as a conduit.
He writes, Thanks again for the handkerchiefs, I always need more, you know how easily I lose things, and then he sits there in the fading light with his thumb running ceaselessly over the neat lumps of thread that form his initials, thinking about belief and unbelief.
Spring comes and brings with it the suggestion of warmer days, bright mid-mornings when the air is already thick with the promise of noon and the sky dives down to dwell in Timothy's eyes. The sun slides golden off his hair and he walks with an easier step, feeling connected to the earth even through the stones that fall under his feet. The power of the land hums weakly here, so far from the desolate centres like Lion Tor, but the season of renewal and life pulls Timothy's senses into full bloom.
He knows, although he only lets his thoughts glance on it obliquely, that he is waiting for something to become apparent. Though the passivity of that is not quite correct; what he is actually waiting for is for something to reveal itself to him. And it does, eventually, one unremarkable day, when he glances up from the Iliad with the realisation that for the past three minutes he has been able to hear the layered, pulse-quickening melody of his dreams. Timothy stands up and doesn't bother to ask any of the other boys studying in the sunshine if they can hear the music too. He just tucks his book under his arm and follows it, feeling like this music can halt his dissolution into the thin, inevitable, quicksilver streams. He has no wish to search for unseen cities and lose himself in the process; the music is anchor and promise, and home.
He thinks: communion with Arcadia.
He reaches the fountain and stands very still, considering the narrative absurdity of pinching oneself, and then he does it anyway. His arm stings like the sunlight that strikes his eyes whenever the wind brushes aside a particular branch of a particular tree. With all this light surrounding him, it's impossible to be afraid; instead he feels nothing but a calm culmination as he looks at the shadowy figure from which the music is spun out like a thread. Through the air and straight to his own fairy blood.
Timothy doesn't say, I've been waiting for you since I was eight years old. He gives a smile of silvery devastation and the shadow unravels itself, leaving Rowan sitting on the edge of the fountain.
Rowan, who lowers the pipes from his mouth and smiles. "Honour the god," he says, in greeting.
"Yes." Timothy says. "Yes, I always have."