"Forgotten Lore"--Happy Birthday, Allie!
Best wishes for a happy day today (despite all the classes and the lab) and many, many more to come!
For Allie's birthday, of course, I have written a story. Well, it's not a traditional story; it is actually a series of eight drubbles. Allie asked on the HASA Birthday Cards Forum for stories having to do with students, and I know that she likes Nerdanel, and so these eight drubbles follow Nerdanel's life and the lessons she's learned.
Because it's Feanor/Nerdanel at parts and I'm a hopeless perv for them, this story teeters precariously on the line between a general and an adult rating. To use American movie ratings, it's a healthy PG-13. There is nudity and some sexuality but nothing graphic.
Enjoy your day, Allie, and many hugs!
I was an unexpected arrival: “Our little surprise,” my parents called me. A toddler, timidly curious, amid two flouncing older sisters who could not capture the affection of our father as well as me, his “little surprise.”
“My treasure,” he also called me, sitting me among the beautiful things he’d made, where I felt out of place, a grubby child fond of playing in the cinders in the forge. Whimpering, I’d stretch my arms to him, begging to be lifted down. He always obliged but never understood. He didn’t see.
He made for me a small hammer with a handle skinny enough to fold in my fist. Of that hammer, I learned much in those years. I learned to fix things that were broken; I learned to break things that were whole. I learned of pain, of allowing carelessness to hurt one’s flesh. I learned to run to my father, to have the bruised finger kissed and the tears brushed away, erased as though they’d never been.
In later years, I would learn to create with that hammer, but in those days, it was a tool of duality: at times sundering. At times restoring.
Always, it was by my side.
I was still young when I was taught my letters, the Sarati, beautiful in their mystique as the wind-torn clouds. With quill pinched between stiff finger and tongue poked eagerly through my lips, I formed the shapes, broke the code. Like slipping beneath the still surface of a lake, I entered the world of “Written Word.” My mind jangled as though my head was filled with rocks, my hand ached, but gasping, I loved it, and I’d surface only for a moment—in my father’s workshop, at a rough-hewn table—before plunging anew.
But one day, Atar came and took the parchment away. “No more,” he said excitedly. “The Sarati have been improved.”
Improved? But I loved them as they were and, for many weeks, would not study the Tengwar and instead etched in the old alphabet, in the dust beneath my bed. The audacity! I thought of the one who’d taken the Sarati from me. Imperfect, perhaps, but how I loved them!
Must perfection replace that which is flawed? Is it inevitable, like water running downhill?
Face reddened by tears in the darkness beneath my bed, I thought of myself on my father’s shelf of treasures. I hoped not.
First he was a study-mate, a companion, then something more, someone who haunted me at strange times, in strange ways, often at night. In the forbidden corners of the library, I surreptitiously researched my feelings, my heart pounding with the dual fears of discovery and of excitement, of him.
Waking at night, the bedclothes twisted around my legs, he was a ghost in the bed beside me; that was his hand pressing my hip; those were his lips on my throat. No. No, it was my hand and it was only the wind through the window. The hopeful apparition of his bright eyes and fair face faded, torn like smoke by the wind.
In the library, I read of myself: of my flushed face and pounding heart when he was near, of my tongue made thick and clumsy on the simplest of words.
In the library, I found a book on him, on anatomy, and I superimposed the drawing over his clothed memory in my mind.
Shaking hands could barely return the book to its place on the shelf; face burning with shame, I raced from the library and to my room.
I knew he’d haunt my dreams that night.
He studied me under a pretense of perfecting his sketches of the female form; I dared not argue that I was hardly suitable.
I stretched my hands above my head because classic paintings had taught me that it was the proper pose for a woman done in the nude—and my quivering hands longed, ached to touch him as he sat, fully clothed, sketchbook in hand.
He touched my taut belly; a tiny muscle fluttered there. His eyes flashed to mine; I rose—unable to resist any longer—and said, “I want to study too.”
He let me memorize the shape of his lips with mine while I tugged his tunic over his head. He removed his trousers. I was not so stoic in my scholarship as he: I pushed him onto his back and let my mouth learn the contours of his body; I made note when his skin flinched—ticklish—and when he moaned and buried his hands in my hair, holding lips to skin.
“I thought you were studying,” he gasped. Legs raveled, flesh pressing flesh—chest, belly, hips, thighs—I put my lips over the quivering pulse at this throat; I felt him respond.
Watching him with Nelyafinwë in that first year, I learned more of my husband than a lifetime of study could teach: of his diligence and pride. Of his surprising well of patience where our son was concerned. How he’d repeat words and phrases to Nelyafinwë—seemingly immune to frustration and tedium—who watched him with bright, eager eyes and plump baby’s lips parted and clumsy and silent.
I learned that joy burned like fire in his eyes. He’d run to me: “Nerdanel! He said it! He said his name!”
And hope: blushing, “Well, part of it.” Placing a defensive kiss upon the silken hair of our beautiful firstborn.
And his simplicity: that the creator of alphabets and starlit stones only allowed contentment to smooth his face when he breathed in the baby-scent of our son, hungrily, as though it was oxygen that filled his lungs, as though Nelyo was a need fulfilled.
And forgiveness. When he asked, “What is your name?” repeating it at least twenty times with no response, Nelyo at last replied by crawling into his father’s arms and burying his face against his neck. Fëanaro’s eyes fluttered; he held our Nelyo close. He said no more.
“The Wise,” they began to call me. “The way you sit so quietly, the way you see…” that is what my father-in-law said, for it was he who gave me that epithet.
But what other choice did I have? Fëanaro and I were seven times blessed with sons and they’d all grown beyond the point of reminders and reprimands from me; they’d grown beyond trusting the wisdom of a mother; they’d grown into boisterous, trumpeting voices arguing with their father and each other if only to hear the way their words clashed over the dining-room table.
I watched and learned each of their methods. Nelyo, subtle and clever, seductively persuasive. Macalaurë, pandering, with long lashes and irresistible smiles. Tyelkormo, forceful and Carnistir, harsh; both loud and frightening as the duality of lightning and thunder. Curufinwë, so like his father, with honeyed words and airtight logic and a stare like steel. And the twins, with the malicious entitlement of lastborn children, spoiled by their father and brothers…and me.
The Wise: I will not be fooled!
But: a hand on my arm, sweet words, the smell of flesh familiar, of babies once small enough to fit in my arms.
Fooled? Every time.
Can one unlearn something? Once knowledge is there—however false, dangerous—can it be taken away, forgotten, made as though it never was?
Hands knotted into fists, pummeling the pillows, I wept in my bed—our bed—of hurt and rage. And surprise.
“Read between the lines”—that had been a favorite of Fëanaro’s in our youth, when he used to bring ordinary texts to me, in a state of agitated excitement, but I could never find anything sinister or clever or amusing amid the innocuous letters on the page.
But it was there. The way a foul wind will tear blossoms from the trees, so my husband fell, believing words that never should have been spoken, never should have been heard—believed—and that I wished he could unlearn. Everything had become sinister to him, and even in our bedroom, making love, I felt his eyes roving, searching the shadows. I felt his body tense as though expecting a knife between his shoulderblades.
So eager I’d once been to learn of him, his devoted apprentice, wife, lover. His body pressing mine, our thoughts tangled.
I no longer knew his mind. And I flinched when he touched me.
It is the silence that takes the most adaptation. Meals at my father’s house are nearly-silent affairs. They are for eating, not for conversing or arguing or laughing. I awaken late because there is no eruption of voices at indecent hours of the morning: no Tyelkormo off to hunt or Macalaurë inspired by song or Curufinwë leaving for the forge and unable to find his boots.
I sense them to the north of me, in Formenos: a ball of tangled sound, of reckless conversation. I weep at odd times. I ache for them, for my family.
My ears ring with painful silence.
To pass the hours, I go to my father’s library and pull books from the shelves at random. I read them from cover to cover, no matter how dull or familiar the topic. I cast aside only one because it was written by my husband and his words are at once soft and keen as his voice in my ear.
Some of the books are very old. I find one, written in the Sarati, the pages nearly faded beyond comprehension, the spine long ago broken. Laughing suddenly, I remember these letters.
But I can no longer read them.