By the Light of Roses--Chapter Eight
This week, we delve deeper in Eressetor's past and learn the significance of the man that is Ornisso.
Please remember that this story is rated for adults only for reasons of sexuality and mature themes and contains slash. My thanks to everyone who is reading along! As usual, all comments are welcomed.
My “trouble” came as an innocuous servant—an assistant to Prince Nolofinwë’s chief scribe—with the innocent name “Ornisso.”
Ornisso, Ornisso…I used to whisper it to myself, writhing at night in tangled sheets in a place between waking and dreaming, where my thoughts strayed beyond my conscious control and yet I recognized their wrongness, my aberrance, in allowing them. I begged my fingers to pinch my flesh and send me hurtling into wakefulness, but doing so was as tortuous as removing honey from the lips of a starving man.
Shortly before my forty-fifth begetting day, my father had decided that the hours I spent in study deserved to be put to—as he called it—“more productive use.” It was not enough to read and learn; he wanted a tangible result at the end of the day. “As my labors produce buildings—or at least heaps of brick that aspire to be buildings—so should the extraordinary intelligence with which you’ve been gifted go to more productive use.”
My father—having done a major renovation for one of Prince Nolofinwë’s lords—was growing close to the prince himself in the affectionate, weaseling way of a small child squirming between its parents. More and more of his time he spent in the prince’s company: at feasts or counsels, being called to put his professional’s eye on a series of plans that the prince’s wife Anairë had drafted. His boastful suppertime conversation was littered with the name “Nolofinwë,” the title of “Prince” having been dropped long ago, at least in reference to—if not in the company of—Prince Nolofinwë.
My mother evenly chewed her food and gazed out the window and said nothing, but my father’s bright chatter would not be stayed.
The allegiance with the prince began to bear fruit for my father, though, when the offhand remark somehow made its way to him that Prince Nolofinwë had recently “gifted” a half-dozen of his best scribal apprentices to one of his lords in the north, requiring that assistants be moved to take their place, ultimately resulting in a shortage of assistants and a great deal of drudgery being forced on those who no longer believed the rote copying of documents to be within the realm of reasonable duties that they should be expected to perform. This resulted in—according to my bright-eyed father—the clever mentioning of my diligence and success in my studies, to which the prince (“Nolofinwë”) had been very receptive.
I was granted an interview with Nolofinwë’s brusque chief scribe, who asked me three questions so bland that I would forget them in time for my father to ask at supper that evening. The scribe—“Mornólo” he was called; a man with an unusually large forehead and lank silver-blond hair—scratched on a piece of parchment as I spoke, and I was not entirely convinced that what he was writing had anything to do with what I was saying.
“You’re appointed,” he said when I paused to breathe midway through my third answer, announcing that I should report an hour past the Mingling the next day even as he gathered his papers and hastened out the door.
A day of work as a scribe’s assistant was a tedious one, mostly copying documents that had already been proofed and revised by a scribe or one of the apprentices; an hour had the ability to stretch overlong and ponderous as a drop of molasses slowly oozing from the back of the spoon. My hand ached by the midday luncheon break—I, who had thought myself beyond such neophyte’s dilemmas!—and my mind felt drowned in the long march of endless black letters. I sat on the grass in the library courtyard and nibbled at the meal my mother had had the maidservant pack into a sack for me. I wasn’t really hungry.
Nearby, beneath an apple tree, three of the other assistants sat, swapping meals and laughing. One—the apparent ringleader—kept glancing my way. He was pale and slight in form, easily ignored and even more easily disregarded—it would seem—with dishwater gray eyes and pale brown hair as fine as flax that had a habit of escaping any restraint he attempted to impose upon it. Yet he dominated the group, the courtyard, with his presence. He had a breathless voice and cheeks that tended to flush with laughter. I kept from looking in his direction.
Soon, a shadow slipped over me, and a hand extended in front of my face. “Join us?” Startled, I glanced up at the pale boy and—against my better judgment—extended my hand to his. He was stronger than he looked—I would learn that many aspects of his appearance were deceitful—and he dragged me easily to my feet. I stood almost a full head taller than him. My hand already in his, laughing, he turned the grasp into a handshake. “I am Ornisso,” he said, and I stammered, “Er-Eressetor.”
“It’s a pleasure, Eressetor. We’d like you to join us for what remains of luncheon, if you would?” He bowed and indicated in the direction of the other two boys—watching me with wide-eyed, blank stares—as though it was his place to make concessions to me.
Up close, I could see that his eyes were in fact gray-green, a complicated color that would enthrall me in days to come. I would earn my mother’s ire, making a mess of her inks, trying to mix such an impossible hue. And his cheeks and nose were speckled with pale freckles. Those, I would trace with my fingers, naming constellations among them, while he lay on the ground and laughed. They stood out more when his face flushed with laughter. And passion.
Then, naturally, pondering such notions remained impossible, and he’d led me to his friends and introduced me. Their loose triangle shifted and became a square with our collective meals at the center. “Now,” said Ornisso, “I think that two apples are a fair trade for bread and cheese.”
“Bollocks,” said one of the other boys, a lanky blond who I would learn came from Taniquetil. My eyes widened at his insolence. The others remained unfazed.
“There is mold on the cheese!” Ornisso declared. “And it is not a cheese that is supposed to be moldy!”
“I am supposed to make a meal of two apples?”
“If you can make a meal of moldy cheese, then two apples should be a treat!”
Ornisso, I would learn, was considered the “head scribal assistant,” a patronizing title that had been created (according to the blond boy from Taniquetil, who liked whisper to me as we worked) to assuage him after he hadn’t been chosen as one of the half-dozen new apprentices. “He is next in line,” I was told, “and it should—by rights—have been his. He was the best among us. But they chose based on seniority rather than competence.” A shrug that was anything but carefree; shoulders stiff, it betrayed grievances unresolved and deeper than a mere scribal apprenticeship. “The one chosen in his stead was five years older and on the job a year longer and he has a wife and new baby to mind.” Another stiff-shouldered shrug followed by angry silence.
(I would learn other things of Ornisso in those early days without meaning to: notably, that he was allergic to ink. The nearly translucent skin on the backs of his pale hands would rise in painful-looking welts as he worked, and I would exclaim over them. “But why? Why take this line of work if it hurts you so?” and he would reply, grinning, “What we love, Eressetor, is never what’s best for us!”)
Of course, in years to come, I would think often on how he’d been overlooked for the apprenticeship and the words would return to me—“seniority rather than competence”—and I would hear a depth to them that I had not then perceived. Naturally, most of the Elves in Nolofinwë’s employ believed that Fëanáro’s place belonged to their prince. Both were eldest sons in a sense, but Nolofinwë was widely regarded as the more competent leader. Yet King Finwë persisted in his belief that Fëanáro’s place was Fëanáro’s alone, and Nolofinwë was relegated to the humble station of a second-born child, a High Prince in title only.
Never did I sense displeasure in Nolofinwë for this, on the few rare occasions when I came among his company, but his servants: how their faces would rise into a livid flush just to ponder it! I imagined the sort of celebration there that must have followed Fëanáro’s exile, despite Nolofinwë’s own purported forgiveness of his half-brother.
My loyalty was never questioned, and of my fascination with the enigmatic eldest prince, I never spoke, not even to Ornisso. Strangely, in that short year in Nolofinwë’s employ, I thought little of Fëanáro, even as I continued to study his work in my private time. But “Fëanáro”—it was a word on a page, a byline, and the ephemeral figure with strong hands and a bright jewel at his throat that had saved me in the street that day retired to a place of legend: remembered but scarcely believed.
After my “trouble,” only then did I think again of him.
Amid the other assistants, I strove hard, determined to excel even at the mindless, tedious task of a scribal assistant, and I quickly grew to rank with Ornisso. He and I became fast friends as a result, working late into Telperion’s hours by lamplight, opposite each other at the long tables where the assistants did their copying, rapid whispers competing with the scratching of our quills. I spoke more in that year, I think, than I had in the whole of my life up to that point. Ornisso’s mind met mine but did not easily bend to what I’d previously thought of airtight logic; we argued late into the night, long after our work was completed, and when we occasionally agreed on a point, we would make emphatic, passionate declarations—volleying back and forth like a ball between two children eager to test their coordination on each other—inciting the other until my heart pounded with startling vigor and the freckles on his face stood out like dots of brown ink. He “loved my mind,” he said. “I think we share a single thought, at times.” When I mentioned how often we disagreed—on art, politics, literature—he laughed and said, “Many are the trees that spring from the ground overlying a subterranean river, but their source is the same.”
Ornisso was the most beloved of the assistants for both his good humor and his competence, and he was unfailingly adored by both the scribes and the other assistants. Even Mornólo was less harsh with him than the others, almost paternal. In his wide, gray-green eyes, it was impossible to believe that he felt anything less than love for every person whom he looked upon, and in his voice was a sincerity that few others could muster. Even the most sniveling of the assistants, he lent his attention, patted their shoulders and gave them reassurances, twisted the most obdurately despondent faces into smiles.
In the intensity of his gaze—with the weight of his attention—it was hard to imagine that one’s small problems did not form the crux upon which Arda balanced, that in his intervention on one’s behalf, he was executing some heroic deed beyond merely assuaging another in the string of neurotics who confided in him.
With me, it was different: he sought me, for ever a private person, I dared not take my confessions to anyone, even him. It was academia of which we spoke. “I have found my match in you!” he frequently said, and even as he praised me, I was not lost on the fact that he also praised himself.
But it seemed so inconsequential. Naturally, someone with his gifts should recognize his abilities. It was not fair to expect otherwise, in asking him to be fraudulent in his assessments of himself. His pride was more than earned, more than justified.
As time progressed and Ornisso and I began to monopolize each other’s attention more and more, I began to notice how conversation faltered when I entered the room, how I would turn to find that the prickling along the back of my neck was caused by concentrated, antipathetic stares that were rarely lowered out of politeness or common tact. I heard the rumors but was quick to dismiss them, for I had not yet fully acknowledged my aberrance, and I remained chaste, asexual. In feverish whispers to Ornisso, alone late at night, I spat about my disgust for those who could not accept platonic friendship and professional camaraderie as something that was not an affront to their own—albeit lesser—intelligence. Or worse: something sexual. Ornisso nodded rapidly and did not speak. His freckles remained ghostly on his cheeks, and he quickly changed the subject.
But my dreams betrayed me: In my dreams, Ornisso came to me, and I healed the wounds on the backs of his hands with kisses. What we love is never what’s best for us. “Oh! But you are!” His head on my chest, privy to the intimacy of my beating heart, the rush of air into my chest, the workings of my life. Our bodies clashed with the same intimacy as our minds, and I awoke in a tangle of soaked sheets, my groin throbbing with painful arousal.
One night, we spoke so late that the Lights had almost mingled by the time Ornisso, yawning, decided to succumb to bed. He lived in the palace, in the servants’ quarters, for his family was of the farming folk living south of Tirion, a two-hour ride on horseback. It was a ten-minute walk back to my father’s house, but—dizzy with exhaustion—I swayed on my feet and pondered whether I should sleep in the library. “Do not be silly!” said Ornisso. “You are welcome to stay with me! My bed is large enough for two.”
But I could not, for fear of waking from one of my dreams, unfulfilled, and finding Ornisso in the bed beside me, a solid reality instead of a dream dissipating with the rising light of morning. I feared what he might learn of me or what I might—in the delirium of dreams—do to him.
I politely declined and claimed that my energy was returning, and I would easily make it home. I refused to see disappointment in Ornisso’s face; it could not be that he had wanted me to share his bed. He was concerned, I convinced myself, for my safety. That is why his brow furrowed so.
In fact, I made it to the first garden outside the palace and slept upon a bench in a gazebo, waking hours later to discover two laughing little girls had scattered me with birdseed and were watching the sparrows scurry along my slumbering body, picking seeds from amid the folds of my robes. Much to their disappointment, I rose—scattering birdseed and sparrows both—and lumbered back to work.
Ornisso was already there, of course, and grinning with the news that one of the apprentices had written a treatise on the divergent styles of music between the Noldor and the Vanyar that was being discussed in illustrious circles. “No work today, Eressetor!” he cried, spinning me about. “We have cause for celebration!”
(What this meant: the apprentice would surely have to be named a scribe or chance earning ridicule upon the House of Nolofinwë. And an assistant would move to take his place. We all believed that would be Ornisso. It would have to be Ornisso.)
Gladly, I gave in to the celebration, for Prince Nolofinwë himself had sent down trays of food and bottles of wine with a congratulatory note attached, and we all gathered to listen to the apprentice read the treatise aloud amid much drunken cheering not exactly suited to the apprentice’s dry, discursive style. Ornisso had given me a glass of wine, and I sipped it, but as the reverie rose and the joy of celebration pounded in my blood, I drank faster, and Ornisso was always at my elbow to refill my glass from bottles that seemed never to empty.
I drank until I could barely walk—Ornisso was not much better—and the stern-faced head scribe Mornólo finally broke the festivities, ordering everyone home to their beds. “I shall have to walk you home,” said Ornisso, stumbling against me and taking my arm, tugging me toward the door to the courtyard. We wandered out to the courtyard before realizing that we’d taken the wrong door and collapsing into a gale of giggles. Mornólo reappeared, his mouth moving in angry shapes that suggested sound that couldn’t make it past the exuberant rush of blood in my ears. I heard Ornisso’s lovely, breathy voice making our apologies; I heard someone snickering and realized that that was me, but I was too drunk to feel horrified. Ornisso had a firm grip of my arm, and we were dragging each other back inside to the cool library, then the hallway.
Somewhere in there, Ornisso’s arm slipped around my waist and my arm slipped around his. We made it as far as the first decorative alcove before collapsing into each other’s embrace, our breaths sweetly fermented and mingling where our lips threatened to touch in a kiss. “Eressetor….” Ornisso’s finger rose and caressed my lips. I gasped and closed my eyes and something warmer—soft as the petals of a rose—replaced it.
Lips parted and the tips of our tongues touched, drew back, as frightened animals into their burrows. He laughed against my lips, plunged deeper that time. I moaned into his mouth, our tongues entwined and the drunken heat of the wine settling into my groin. Hands caressed chests, tangled in hair. He tasted of wine and something sweet beneath: Ornisso. He kissed my throat and the hairs on my arms rose in delight. Our bodies—until then, nearly bent at the waist to keep our hips from touching, sensing the danger in such—came together then, with his hands upon my buttocks, his hips grinding mine, our chests pressing each other so that I could feel his heart pounding as he could surely feel mine. I believed that they matched in rhythm to each other, as though the life in our veins came from the same source too, as Ornisso had said once of our thoughts. In our open mouths, our breaths mingled: one sustenance, one heartbeat, one desire.
Farther down the hall, we heard the library door swing open and footsteps moving in our direction. Suddenly sober, we wrenched apart, and cold air hungrily rushed to fill the space between us. We found the angry eyes of Mornólo. I heard him this time: “I thought I told you to be home, Eressetor?” and Ornisso, pleading on my behalf, “He had to catch his breath. But we are recovered now, and I will see him home.”
We stole moments together when we could, seated side by side in an otherwise deserted library, quills still pinched between fingers, blots of ink bleeding onto otherwise meticulous pages, lips seeking and tongues tangling, kisses so deep that we would have to surface for air.
When our free days coincided, we went to the deserted gardens of lower Tirion and lay in seclusion beneath the trees. I forsook my robes for light tunics and breeches, aching to feel Ornisso’s hands warm against my skin with as little cloth between us as possible. Sometimes, he grew brave and would caress the naked skin of my chest and quivering belly, lifting my tunic to bare my flesh to his scrutiny—my eyes closed tightly as though prepared to endure pain—my breath rising to a gasp when I felt his lips upon me, tongue darting into my navel, rising along my chest to flick against my nipple before settling his face into the curve of my neck, breathing hard, fighting to regain control. For we understood enough to have made rules for our conduct together: no removal of clothing, even shoes; no touching below the waist. Lying on my back, legs tangled with his, the protuberance in the front of my breeches was obvious—and how it ached for him!—but he said nothing, and his trembling hands tugged my tunic to cover my bared chest and belly.
“Eressetor,” he whispered, “I want us to make love to each other.”
But I didn’t really know what that meant, even as I nodded and said that I wanted it too. My father had instructed me at a young age in the mechanics of “mating” between a male and a female, but Ornisso and I were both males, and I could not imagine how it would happen between us. Though in my secret fantasies, allowed only in the depths of night where they could be lost amid dreams and forgotten in the morning, he put not only his hands but his mouth on me—and I, on him. But I did not expect him to agree to something like that in real life.
Ornisso appeared to know more than I did; indeed, he was the more courageous of us, touching and kissing me in ways that I dared not imagine, sliding his tongue inside my ear and nibbling my nipples until I nearly screamed and had to wrench away to keep from releasing inside of my breeches. I wondered, sometimes, if he’d had other lovers before me, but I dared not ask. I dared not wonder at the implication of the blond Elf from Taniquetil and his sudden anger with me and astounded silence with Ornisso. I dared not question why I sometimes interrupted my lover in heated arguments with others in the corners of stacks where no one went…except Ornisso and me, to steal kisses amid the musty reek of moldering books.
The lovemaking Ornisso wanted, it would have to take place in his bedroom. Or so he said. Summer Festival was coming upon us, and many of the apprentices and assistants had been given leave to return to their families, and the servants’ quarters would be relatively deserted. I would remain late in the library under the pretense of study. Amid the frenzied Festival preparations, no one would notice whether I was there or not. And I would go to him.
The blond Elf. I’d known his name once. I must have. We had been friends…or almost friends. Certainly, we’d talked. Certainly, I’d needed to say his name on occasion.
But his name was erased from my memories with all the force of scrubbing away at a parchment until it tears, removing the ink, yes, but also leaving a hole, a wound, that reminds me of the pain contained in those original words, requiring such drastic obliteration. Or word. In his name.
The day of the Summer Festival, I made my excuses to my father of work that I had to finish in the library. Carefully, I’d bathed and dressed, leaving my hair for once unfettered for Ornisso claimed to like it best that way. If my father noticed, he said nothing. It was my mother who was dismayed that I might be late to the festival. “Ai, that that drudgery should take you away from one of the few opportunities you have to celebrate actual freedom!” She looked at my father when she said it, although the words were supposedly directed at me.
Ornisso had been right: Nolofinwë’s palace was in chaos, with servants running about with trays of food and decorations; tents were being erected on the lawn and lanterns strung between the trees. I blended effortlessly into their midst, climbing the stairs of the servants’ quarters to the nearly deserted third floor where the scribal apprentices and assistants lived. Most had left to return to their families for the festival, and the hallway was a long row of doors closed upon only emptiness and silence. I’d never been to the servants’ quarters much less Ornisso’s room, and I’d written the number on my palm in ink, lest I forget: 12. Room 12.
Faintly, I could hear the sound of voices. Strange, I thought, but remembered that Ornisso had not been assured that all of the other residents would leave for the festival. I walked carefully and silently down the hall, lest they hear me and wonder at my presence there, counting doors as I passed them: 2. 4. 6. My heart felt like it squeezed a thousand frenzied beats in the time it took to pass from each door to the next.
At last I came to door 12…and the voices had gotten louder. One was clearly Ornisso’s; I recognized his breathy laugh.
Panic sparked in my heart like a jolt of electricity. My hands were already quavering as they reached for the doorknob. Surely, there is an explanation for this! I should have knocked; I know that now. “Just come in!” Ornisso had told me, for if we were to share such physical intimacy, the familiarity of walking through one’s door without needing invitation should also be assumed. I’d believed him on this. I’d wanted to believe him on this. So I hadn’t knocked; I let my sweaty hand slip on the doorknob and fumble it open, wanting an explanation, trusting by the wide gray-green innocence of Ornisso’s eyes that it would be a good one.
But it was not.
In Ornisso’s arms, he held the blond Elf from Taniquetil.
My voice was caught in my throat—it wanted to scream, and in my mind, it was—and they did not see me at first. Ornisso held him and caressed his golden hair; he was naked above the waist and Ornisso’s tunic was partly undone. The familiar prattling chatter between them I believed was something that only I shared with Ornisso. The intimacy of hands on naked flesh, that had been my right too.
Ornisso glanced up then and saw me in the door. “Eressetor! You’re early!” His gray-green eyes wide with shock but already blinking, guiltless.
I was early—by a few minutes, perhaps. Ornisso tried, but the blond Elf would not let him wrench away. He held his lover—my lover—in his adamant grip. He smiled at me with triumph.
There was a dull roaring in my ears. I tried to turn and run, but Ornisso had wriggled free of his golden Vanyarin lover and was dragging me into the room. His familiar lips—I’d kissed them so many times—his wriggling tongue that had tasted mine were forming explanations. Excuses. Between roaring heartbeats, I caught individual words: Never promised commitment. Could not forsake him. Love you both. Could not break his heart. I never said, I never promised, I never said that I was yours alone.
Like shards of metal were his words, driven into the tender flesh of my reeling mind.
Of course, of course he was right! He had never promised that I was his alone! That was my own foolish conjecture, born of kisses and caresses and intimacies that I’d never imagined—or maybe never wanted to imagine—him sharing with another.
Once again, my logic bowed beneath the weight of his; he prevailed over me. He is better than me! Better than me again!
Again, I tried to escape. He held me there; he was not finished making explanations that I did not want to hear. I flailed and cracked my hip against the corner of his desk. Unseen, beneath my clothes, blood and bruise flourished; I felt nothing. I slapped his face, scratched his skin; later, I would find his blood beneath my nails and the scratches on his face would be used as evidence of our collective guilt.
Then, of course, such rationality was impossible. Though Ornisso was making his best efforts to calm me through logic: I never said! Again, those words, that presumption of innocence! Leaving me as the one guilty, the one who’d been wrong. My wounds, then, self-inflicted.
“It is unnatural!” I heard myself cry. “To love two such as that!”
Ornisso caught his hands in mine. He kissed my quivering lips, so familiar—so intimate—a touch that I almost believed that I could close my eyes and this would all be a terrible nightmare. The mussed bed behind him would manifest behind my back; we would “make love,” as he’d called it. Love. For I did love him.
His hands were warm, a comfort to mine icy cold.
“Eressetor,” he said, “you speak of that which is unnatural?” A bitter laugh, like none I’d imagined within the capabilities of my jovial lover. “When you—like I—give in to the foolish urges of fruitless love? Already we are aberrations; why not unnatural too!”
And so it was affixed upon me: Aberration.
Ornisso took me home, and I curled in my bed and wept. I refused my mother’s summons to the Summer Festival and, for three days, went unnoticed in my grief. My father was busy at his work, having forsaken the festival to complete a set of designs for Prince Nolofinwë. My mother went without us, a dash of color upon the walkway—laughter as bright as glasses ringing together in a toast—racing to the carriage that awaited her, faceless hands reaching out to draw her faster into their embrace.
My strange behavior was only noted when I failed to show up for my work the day after the festival. I heard Mornólo in the parlor downstairs, speaking with my father. Unlike him. A motivated worker. Reason to believe. Unfortunate involvement with another assistant. “Ornisso.” Gifted but possessing a reputation. Rumor of “homosexual” affairs with other assistants. Gifted but…unfortunate.
With the headlong force of a stampeding beast, my father burst into my bedroom. The underpants I’d worn to Ornisso’s—bloodied by my collision with his desk—were in the laundry basket, and it did not take him long to find them. To label the blood as “evidence” of something more nefarious. There were witnesses—“Plenty of them!” my father shouted—who would attest to Ornisso leading me home “ashen-faced and shaken”; one of the servants had seen us coming from his room, and I could barely keep my footing on the stairs, he said. Ornisso had to hold me up, lift me from the last step to the floor. I had been weeping.
These notions were presented to me as facts, irrefutable, as though I had not been there to witness them.
My father conjured a name, one of his “friends” from Prince Nolofinwë’s court, a healer, but I refused to allow him to examine me, so the marks on my hip went unnoticed and furthered the cause for my guilt. If the blood was easily explained, my father insisted—shouting while Mornólo hovered in the door behind him—then why the refusal? I curled tighter in my bed. I could see the progression of my father’s logic, and I laughed, for how much further from the truth could it be? But neither was I guiltless; neither could I deny that Ornisso and I had been lovers. No matter whether I verified to his false beliefs or told the truth, the admission would come out: We had been lovers. I’d loved him, alike in flesh to myself, a fruitless, unnatural love. I was aberrant.
“There were scratches, also, on Ornisso’s face,” said Mornólo from the doorway, “and he will not tell us from where they came.”
My father dropped to his knees beside my bed. His hands fluttered over me, as though afraid to touch me—his own aberrant son—but yet hopeful at the same time that this could somehow all be pinned back on Ornisso. That my good name—and his—could be recovered. The hope in his voice was cleverly covered by dismay: “Eressetor. Eressetor, did he take you by force?”
Who had betrayed me more? Ornisso? Or my father?
My father’s hand alighted on my shoulder and idly stroked me through the bedclothes as one might placate a nervous animal. Say it! Save my name! Say that he raped you!
Oh, how he must have hoped for it! Travesty! Such violence against my son! My innocent Eressetor by those despicable, desperate aberrants! Hoping that my pain was not one of the heart but a violation of body and spirit, something from which I would not easily recover and which he could use to his advantage. I saw him nodding, accepting sympathies. Demanding justice. My innocent son! The label of “aberrant” gone and “victim” tacked upon me in its place.
I shook my head and spoke into the pillow, but loudly, so that there was no doubt that he could hear me: “No. It was nothing like that.”
Ornisso and I were both dismissed from service. Although—I found out from Terentaulë—Mornólo had pled on his behalf to Nolofinwë and had him reassigned in the north. But I’d been there less than a year and was still regarded as dispensable, and Mornólo was not willing to risk his own reputation to save both of our jobs.
My “trouble,” it came to be called, by my father. As though it was a passing fancy, a mistake I’d made and not an indication of the person that I was. “We will not speak of it,” my mother decided, “ever again, beyond this night.” She’d returned from revelry to this discovery; she’d paced, still in her festival clothes, smelling of a spicy, unfamiliar perfume, wineglass clutched in hand.
But my father spoke of it, to my mother’s brothers. A fight erupted that night, a rare occurrence between my parents, who rarely expended any sort of emotion—antipathetic or otherwise—on each other. “How could you?” she sobbed. “Our shame!” And my father replied that he had to get it out, as though the disgusting truth about me had festered in his thoughts and threatened to burst in a spray of pus if allowed to remain untouched. And from there, word spread like pestilence, from the most innocuous of encounters: “You heard of Eressetor? And the unfortunate ‘affair’ with the boy from the scribal assistants?” For no one could bear the pressure of such hideous information; always, it begged to relieved, the infection released, as though speaking of it to others with an appropriate amount of disdain might make the aberrance leech into their blood and poison them as it had me. Speaking of it served the same painful purpose as slicing open an infected sore to release that which it harbored within.
Not long after, my parents separated. It was easy to correlate the two—my “trouble” and their separation—but of course, the separation had been underway for years, unnoticed. My “trouble,” perhaps, was what brought it to their attention, but it was hardly the cause.
I was taken into the embraces of my uncles. We still love you, despite…. And how proud they were of that! As though some sacrifice had to be made, some great turmoil endured, to keep the hatred from their hearts at first word of my “trouble.”
My thoughts returned to Fëanáro often in those days. Guilty hours, I spent thinking of him, of the strong, capable arms seizing me from the street, rescuing me. In my more indulgent hours, I would walk to the market and stand by the roadside. How easy to hurl myself beneath the wheels of the passing carts! I wondered if he’d be there to whisk me away from harm again.
Of course, I knew that he would not, for he had been exiled not long after Ornisso and I had been dismissed from the service of Nolofinwë. So I returned home and carefully penned my letters to him. Letters that I fed into the fire at the end of the night.
Except for one.
Once, I possessed the courage—or maybe, foolishness?—to send one of the letters with a messenger going north. Not that I expected anything to come of it. But I hoped that I’d find peace in the long silence where I went unanswered.
I didn’t expect a reply even enough to want one.
But I got one.