"The Tapestries"--Chapter Seven
In Chapter Six, Feanaro had begun pondering treachery against the people left behind in Valinor. In this chapter, his intentions come to fruition.
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I found myself again in front of the tapestries, having breezed by those marking happier times to stand before the ones of twisting, leaping flames. I burned at the sight, memory of them.
“Your mother nearly exhausted her supply of red thread in weaving them,” Námo said from behind me. I no longer had to look to see him manifest into a shape like a man. I no longer believed that it was that simple, that he was a being of bone as I had once been, who could be evaded and escaped. Deceived.
My mother. The weaver. She of whom was spoken only in hushed voices, full at once of reverence and fear. By the time my first memories were taking malleable shape in my thoughts, she was gone. And so from rumor and overheard conversation and pure wishful thinking, I wove my own images of her, constructed memories that kept with the tales that my peers would tell of their own mothers. I did not even know what she looked like, but I memorized my father’s face and spent hours staring into the mirror at my own, studying each feature that seemed not to belong to him, constructing her from the balance. I became good at listening at doors, through ventilation ducts, and sifting her name from otherwise tiresome adult conversations. Míriel Þerindë. My ears pressed to the wooden door, breath held in hopes of stilling my panicked heart.
In all of my hours of dreaming of her, though, I’d never thought of the fact that she had never known me. Staring into the tapestry she’d woven, I met my own ruthless gaze and thought that a mother who had known me would have never stitched her son in that way, never taken such time on the terrible fire in his eyes.
And Nelyo: pathetic and almost pious, begging of me with clasped hands not to loosen the flaming arrow into the limp white sails of our ship. I rippled with laughter. Anyone who knew Nelyo knew that he was far from pathetic and even further from pious.
I’d returned down the beach to find that my sons had done a commendable job in my absence. Even the despair was less palpable now that most of the people had something with which to busy their hands. A Noldo is always comforted by something in his hands.
Nelyo, naturally, had assumed command, even over Curufinwë, who was scowling at his elder brother with the resentment of one rudely displaced from a favorite chair and onto the floor. But of course, the people loved Nelyo. He’d been one of the King’s councilors—and one of the most beloved—when I had been exiled to Formenos. “To trust a trouble into the hands of your son,” a woman had once told me in the streets of Tirion, “is to see it vanquished, as if by magic.” Clapping her hands together as if the sound between them was the sound of my son committing magic; the emptiness left as the result. As if in confiding their problems to my son, he took them and made them his own, never to worry them again. I had never possessed the selflessness for such pursuits.
When I’d been exiled to Formenos, Nelyo had been the last of my sons to send word that he would accompany me and his brothers to the north, and his message came along with my father’s, as though he’d been awaiting Finwë’s decision before making his own. So slovenly, I thought, for one who was ever aware of how his actions appeared, how even a small misstep could have grave repercussions. I’d never thought Nelyo—the brilliant councilor, ambassador, politician—would be so foolish as to reveal to me that, had my father and his liege remained in Tirion, he would have remained also.
Since then, I have loved—but never fully trusted—my eldest son.
For a long while, I stood back and watched the scene on the beach. Nelyo was showing three women—each of them married but their husbands left behind to follow Arafinwë back to the city—how to tie knots strong enough to moor the boats firmly to the beach. “They might drift away,” he explained, “and be lost in the night, sunk before we can repair them.” They watched him with avid eyes, rimmed in red, bright within. He said something too quiet for me to hear, and one of them laughed, an unexpected burst of music that caused heads to turn. His bright smile flashed, and he moved on to the next task, and the woman secured the moorings as though they were protecting the fates of something far more valuable that a few waterlogged boats.
Curufinwë was overseeing the men who had gone to cut wood for the repairs to the ships that Nelyo was proposing. Tyelperinquar was perched on his hip and screaming; Curufinwë bounced him dutifully, but his eyes were as hard and cold as ice, and his mouth was twisted like he’d taken a swallow of lemon juice. He was pointing at the men and saying little, bursts of noise erupted from his throat that made the men scowl and Tyelperinquar scream harder.
“Curufinwë,” I said, “what are you doing?”
“What your eldest has instructed me to do, which is to arrange these boards in such a fashion that they can be easily retrieved when the time comes to repair the bellies of the ships.”
“Come with me,” I said, “if you can spare a moment.”
To the ships we went, wading knee-deep into the water to inspect the damage that Nelyo had proclaimed insignificant enough to fix. “I am not sure,” I told Curufinwë, “if these ships can even be salvaged.”
Between the two of us, we found the worst of the damage and, from it, spun awful tales of ships improperly repaired and taking on water at mid-ocean, foundering, with ourselves and our forsaken kinsmen aboard. His eyes grew wide and frightened. “We are not seamen, Atar!” he said, clutching Tyelperinquar closer to his chest. “And never have our energies been put to such use. The Teleri were taught by Ossë and then given leave to practice their skills in the safety of rivers and harbors, but we seek to overcome the open ocean!”
“The way I see it,” I said, “those Noldor who will be most valuable in this land are already here, and to risk their lives to bring the others oversea will ensure the failure of our mission against Moringotto. We were the ones who secured the use of the ships”—already, so diplomatic in our wording! so adamant in our belief that we had only taken what was our due!—“not them. We were the ones who faced great peril in doing so. And so we should be granted first use and are fully within our rights to deem our sacrifice unworthy of the meager return of bringing the others over the sea.”
Curufinwë nodded vigorously as I spoke. The people were likewise not hard to convince, and the whisper of treachery was drowned by our very logical arguments.
Except for Nelyo: he—my eldest son and heir—fought against me, at first using the slick arguments as he’d been taught by years in my father’s court, eventually devolving into hysteria, shouting at me and slipping on the sloped beach, cutting his hands upon the sharp rocks. The others looked away from the spectacle of their favorite lord and certainly the most dignified screaming at his father with tears in his voice. My other sons were eager to comply, and as we dipped arrows in oil and aimed at the sails that would easily catch flame, Nelyo strode away down the beach, wiping his cheeks with his bloodied hands.
In the roar of the flames, the whisper of treachery grew louder, and the ponderous bellies of the clouds overhead grew crimson with our betrayal. But it wasn’t betrayal. It was what we had to do to survive, and I do not think that you’ll find a single account written that night that says otherwise.
Except, perhaps, my son’s.
Our accounts remembered ancient and frivolous betrayals as we sat awake in the nights that followed, huddled in small, tight groups close around the campfires, holding our trembling hands to them, eager to prove that we were still creatures enamored of light and warmth. We had punished treachery with treachery, I realized eventually, as fruitless as punishing murder with murder. We had brought the crimes against us full-circle, and now they caught us like a whirlpool, and fight as we might, we would not escape. We remembered our kinsmen left behind on the opposite shore only in the accusations we made of them. The good times were necessarily forgotten.
For there had been good times. The tapestries drifted in front of me, moving as though on a carousel before my eyes. There were marriages and births when I had been glad to share my half-brothers’ joy. Even before that, there were hunts and excursions and competitions where we realized that would we be bereft a brother, also would we be bereft an opponent and the opportunity to snuggle close to our father in the moments afterward and be reassured of our superiority.
We moved inland, away from the black husks that remained of the ships, and we stopped speaking of it. In tight clusters—men on the outside and women and children within—hands on the hilts of our swords and eyes keen upon the shadows, we journeyed across the land in the darkness, lanterns held high, singular in our purposes. Or so we said.
But like using flames to douse a fire, our treachery against those left behind awakened more of the same, and it followed us even on these shores, hiding out of sight in the darkness. And the way that shadows will shift and convince one wary that there is something malevolent within—something that is indeed of no greater substance than strands of darkness—so we gazed upon even those dearest to us with greater scrutiny, tense and defensive and waited for the shifting shadows to manifest into our darkest fears.