By the Light of Roses--Chapter Fourteen
This week, Eressetor will get his revenge and a semblance of balance will be restored in the family. Noldorin history, however, threatens to topple even this tenuous peace.
This is the next-to-last chapter in this story.
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.
In the Spaces between Words
That night, new among the icons of Nerdanel in the closet, I found a sketchbook. Only it was not a normal sketchbook: It had been bound in a band of copper and sealed with a lock.
When I returned to my chambers, somehow, the sketchbook was tucked beneath my arm.
The lock was more of an ornamental deterrence than anything, and it was easy to pick it open with a straight pin and a half-hour of patience. The cover was tooled leather with a design of two hearts bound by flowering vines, the background spangled with eight-pointed stars, and it smelled of aged paper and pungent ink. The spine was cracked and creased, as though it had been opened many times. A well-loved book on love, I thought, giddy with the discovery but also afraid.
When the lock fell open, I open the book and riffled the pages: drawings, hundreds of them. Of Nerdanel and Fëanáro, entwined in passion, with crimson hair tangling with midnight hair, with hands on flesh, lips on flesh, arms and legs tangled and mouths gaping, crying out in pleasure. The early sketches were old and faded with age; the later sketches still smelled of ink, as though they were no more than a few days old; I let the pages riffle through my fingers and watched them age—or rather, watched her age: her belly riddled with stretch marks from numerous pregnancies; her breasts growing fuller and heavier. He never changed.
Nerdanel had done some of the drawings at the beginning, but at a certain point, only Fëanáro had added to the book. And continued to add, from the look of things, even once Nerdanel was gone, drawing from what? Memory? Imagination? Fantasy?
I could have shut the book and thrown it across the room; the already-battered cover would have borne the abuse. But I did not. Starting from the beginning, I looked at every picture, staring until they became printed indelibly upon my memory, then turned back and started at the beginning, looking at them again and again until a faint golden light infused upon the horizon and I was awakened by my head tipping forward and falling into the book. Her arms twining his body: that was the first sight I saw.
The book was replaced in the closet, locked, as I had found it. Numb feet managed to find the steps, carrying me upward and down the hall without tripping, but they disobeyed me then and passed my chamber. It was the Mingling of the Lights, and Tyelkormo and Maitimo were usually stirring by now, but the house was silent. It felt suppressed, almost, as though there was life beneath it all, but it was being hidden from me. For I had a purpose.
For all the paranoia that people said that he had, Fëanáro never locked his bedroom door, always trusting that even while others coveted his treasure they would leave him—its artificer—unbothered in his dreams. It was easy to slip inside his suite without being heard, to pass soundlessly through the sitting room that was so familiar to me by now and into the bedroom that was even more so. Sleeping alone, Fëanáro stretched down the middle of the bed, as though trying to console its emptiness; he wrapped his arms around a pile of pillows. Who did those pillows represent in his dreams? Me? Or her?
The weather was warming into spring, and he slept naked, having kicked away the heavy quilt and leaving it to tumble to the floor, covered only by a thin silk sheet to the waist that had pulled free from the bottom of the bed and tangled around his legs. It clung to the contours of his body: his rounded buttocks, his long legs, his narrow waist. I wondered if Nerdanel had ever looked upon her young husband in this way, having risen, perhaps, for a drink of water or to quell a restless baby; did she adore the spread of his hair upon the pillow as I did? His broad shoulders and naked back that would be warm to the touch, the way he half-curled his body like a small child? The way he tended to mumble and smile in his sleep, as though fortune visited him in dreams as it did not in life? Did she wake him, to tell him of her love, or did she let him sleep and keep it to herself until she thought she might burst with it?
I climbed the dais to better overlook the sleeping body of my lover, prone and somehow innocent, when his mind was busy in a world of dreams without hurt, betrayal, exile, and loss.
An astute observer would note the dark hairs clinging to all of the pillows. An astute observer might wonder how a single man who always claimed his solitary dominion down the center of the bed came to cover all of the pillows with hair. An astute observer might conclude that Fëanáro did not always sleep alone; an astute observer might further postulate a fist closed in passionate aggression upon the length of the lover’s dark hair, holding him to the bed, exposing his throbbing pulse to the savagery of his kisses, leaving hairs cruelly torn from the scalp tangled amidst his fingers, falling free to spread across the pillows.
I wondered how astute Nerdanel would be, upon returning to his bed. Or would she be so grateful to have her husband restored to her that she would not dare to question? As I should not.
I slipped my shoes from my feet and my clothes from my body. Fëanáro did not stir; his breathing was heavy and even. Soundlessly, I lifted the sheet from him, baring his body to the knees, wrapping the sheets more tightly around his legs, and knelt on the bed beside him.
He awakened then, blinking, the side of his face sticky with drool that he was swatting away even as he lifted himself onto an elbow. “Er-Eressetor?” He stretched and squinted at me. “Why are you here?”
His eyes widened as I knelt above him, turning him onto his back and pushing his thighs open with my knees. His legs tangled in the sheets, when I pressed his hands above his head, he was at my mercy, to do with as I pleased.
I could see his heart throbbing within his naked chest; the bones and sinews in his wrists—captured within my hands—were almost porcelain, delicate. Breakable. He was breakable, I saw; an Elf just like me, of flesh and bone, but how like a construction of steel he seemed, when he was in my place, kneeling above me, surmounting my will with his.
Nerdanel had known this, I suppose, and that had been her secret: to reduce him from the god that he wanted to be and to the status of an ordinary Elf like the rest of us, capable of pain, with weakness, and to hold him in thrall to this idea. To her.
Was that fear in his eyes? Surely not—but he wriggled beneath me as though he wanted to be free of the confines I’d placed upon him. Lowering my mouth to his, I kissed his fear—his doubt—away; I kissed him until both our chests ached for air and his eyes were half-lidded in a swoon. I kissed him until he stopped struggling.
Then, I made him mine.
It happened one day that I was walking past the forge on my way to the stables, to find Telvo (likely nestled in the hayloft with Nandolin) to tell him that Fëanáro was requesting his presence and his input on the Spring Hunt “as soon as he could spare himself”—meaning as soon as he’d finished what he was doing and managed to restore his appearance to a semblance of dignity so not to throw his brothers into an uproar—and I thought, as I passed, savoring the caress of the spring air upon my bare arms, for the sake of old habit, why not? And I tried the door to the forge.
And it was unlocked.
After I had visited Fëanáro that morning and claimed his body for my own—as many times, he’d claimed mine—his long hours in the forge had gradually dwindled. It was subtle and went unnoticed by his sons, but I noticed. His time instead was spent on research, on writing letters to people who had once sent him commissions. Slowly, he was bringing his household affairs into order; he’d even straightened his desk. He had even gone so far as to draft messages to send to neighboring towns, seeking an apprentice who would return to Tirion with him in a year-and-a-half, to study metallurgy and forge-craft.
But recently, his attentions were turned to the Spring Hunt, held on the day halfway between midsummer and midwinter, an ancient celebration of fertility and prosperity that had—according to Fëanáro—been sterilized since our arrival in Valinor. “It used to be,” he said, “that we would hunt from one mid-night to another, not stopping, bringing home as much as we could, more than we could eat even, to cook on open fires in the fields, to celebrate the coming of Spring and the end of cold and starvation, the restoration of life.”
The Spring Hunt—by accounts of the early Eldar—had been a wild occasion, a celebration at once of new life and death, of survival amid the stink of blood of fallen prey. Naturally, the primitive Hunt had been tamed—domesticated—into a Festival once the Eldar arrived in Aman. In Valinor, there was no need for wild, bloody hunts for there was no winter, no hunger, no need to celebrate the changing of the seasons and the triumph of having lived to see another spring. In Valinor, it was different. In Valinor, at each season, new fruits ripened and were harvested, and there was always enough for everyone to eat; at each season, Manwë decreed a festival, perhaps to placate the newly-arrived Elves, who seemed almost to fall in desolation in their first years in their new home and its featureless seasons less cyclical than linear, a line without punctuation or hope of ending.
Where they’d once become frenzied with hunger and hope and desperation, now their energy was directed to song and dance and festooning the city with flowers. Fëanáro laughed at this and proclaimed that the Fëanorians would have no Spring Festival in Formenos; no, they would revert to the Spring Hunt.
“Of course, Eressetor, you will be going.”
We’d been in bed, watching the sky change hues in slow degrees—gold creeping from the southern edge to fill the sky—as we eased into morning, his chin upon my shoulder and his arms around me, and I’d laughed. “I hardly think so! I am not a hunter.”
“It does not matter. All of the men—some of the women even—go. Even Telvo is going. Even my father will be home for it. You certainly cannot stay here alone.”
“You mean to tell me that Vingarië and Terentaulë are going hunting?”
“No, but they are going into the city for the day, and so you will be alone. So you must go. Don’t worry,” he said with a grin, “you don’t have to kill anything.”
In the deep woods where no one would find us, he taught me to use a bow and kissed my lips when they grimaced in frustration until we didn’t get much archery done at all. “Just hold it and look impressive,” he instructed me. “You don’t even have to loose an arrow.” He, on the other hand, was a dead-shot. I asked him to demonstrate over and over again, to watch the way the golden midday light played upon the sheen of sweat on his bare arms.
We didn’t get much archery done at all.
I stopped looking in the closet; he began returning to the forge and emerging with projects that he’d been commissioned years ago. The path to the house rang with hoofbeats of messengers, delivering pendants and railings and chandeliers to surprised recipients who had forsaken these items at his exile and his subsequent silence. The copper gate at the end of the path was perpetually open these days, and the first leaves poked from the trees—a shy, nascent green—as though the whole world had been given the chance to begin anew.
The Spring Hunt became the center of his activities with the rest—the commissions, the letters, the apprentice—whirling in orbit around it. He sought the superior knowledge of his sons on matters pertaining to tracking and hunting. “I knew enough,” he told me, “to keep fed a wife and myself, later two small children as well. Then Nelyo was old enough to help.” And so I had been sent to fetch Telvo, to join Pityo and Tyelkormo who had already assembled in Fëanáro’s study.
I’d done just that, and now I stood with my hand upon the unlocked forge door.
And walked away without opening it.
I was awakened the next morning by the sound of hoofbeats on the path. I was asleep in my own room, for Fëanáro had been up late the night before, discussing with Tyelkormo, Pityo, and Telvo the final details of the Spring Hunt, and my sleep had been restless, torn by dreams of doors that I refused to open. Only to succumb, open the door, and step inside, only to discover that by my treachery, I’d be sealed inside forever, able to watch Fëanáro from the windows but never to speak with him or touch him. I waited for him to search for me, but he never did, and when the two years remaining of his exile were up, he disappeared and left me alone.
From that, I awoke, with the weight of years of loneliness holding me fast to the bed, breathing hard and listening to the sound of an approaching messenger puncture the silence of the morning.
It was a strange hour for Fëanáro to call for a messenger. I wondered if he’d slept at all. The sky was pale—the Lights had just mingled—and I was wondering if I should seek him and scold him, maybe coax him to bed with me for an hour or two. I rose and walked to the window, to see which messenger had come today, trying to get a clue as to which of his many half-finished projects had come to fruition that night, smiling with pride at his accomplishment—and mine, for wasn’t I also partly to credit?
But I learned nothing, for the horse was strange, clad in colors and heraldry like none I’d ever seen: dazzling white and pale blue, the horse himself white and regal, with a high-arched neck, the devices upon the banners of wind wrapping a mountain.
Still in my nightclothes, I ran down the stairs, nearly tripping, to discover that the sons had assembled as well, half-dressed or in nightshirts and barefoot, peering through cracks in the drapes, trying not to be seen by the messenger outside, creating a mild roar with their mumbling.
“It’s Manwë’s heraldry!”
“I know that, but it’s not Manwë certainly.”
“Surely it’s not Eonwë!”
“Why would Eonwë bother with Atar?”
“Because Manwë sent him!”
“We’re in exile. The Valar aren’t supposed to bother with us at all.”
“Well, Eonwë’s not a Vala.”
“Oh, you! You tricky rogue! But he’s the herald of a Vala and so he certainly wouldn’t come on his own accord.”
“You don’t think that he possesses free will?”
A derisive snort.
“Free will or not, he does Manwë’s bidding and we’re in exile and supposed to be ignored by Manwë.”
“And therefore Eonwë.”
“Exactly. Thank you!”
I pushed through the seething mass of their bodies and took my turn peering through the crack in the drapes. “I suppose you know what Eonwë looks like,” someone who sounded like Tyelkormo said behind me, followed my Maitimo quipping, “Oh, hush you! I know what Eonwë looks like so that’s hardly the issue!” and Tyelkormo sniffed and said, “You would.”
The messenger stood with his back to the window, his golden hair unbound but unbothered by the wind, lying like an unfurled bolt of silk to his waist. He wore the devices and colors of Manwë; maybe it was Eonwë?
Opposite him stood Fëanáro, his arms crossed on his chest and his mouth set in a resolute line, nodding but not speaking, a piece of parchment rolled and clenched in his hand. The messenger was speaking in a strange, harsh language; listening closer, I caught enough words to know that it was Valarin—and his voice was kept so intentionally subdued that I knew that he was also aware of us listening and wanted his words kept secret.
Fëanáro answered him then, also in Valarin, and I resisted the urge to cover my ears at the syllables banging and screeching against each other like metal on metal. I had studied some Valarin at Fëanáro’s insistence but found it as hard to read as it was to hear—like dust in my eyes, itchy and burning, maddening—and finally, mercifully, he’d allowed me to choose a new language instead, but Fëanáro’s words were simple enough that most of his sons, even, would have been able to decipher them: “It’s that simple, then? I am merely to go, without question.”
The messenger’s answer was even clearer than that: “Yes.” And Fëanáro’s nod was not one of resignation but rather of one who has received news long expected.
Fëanáro glanced at the window then, and his eyes caught mine, and I whipped the drapes shut, heart pounding. “He saw me.”
We all scattered and ran for our chambers, to assume normal activity, just in time to hear the front door slam. I waited for Fëanáro’s feet upon the stairs—lying in my bed, shivering with nervous sweat, an apology upon my lips for spying upon him—waited for him to come to me with an explanation, but he never did. His footsteps disappeared into the depths of the house, and I lay forgotten, shivering and afraid.
The door opened as easily beneath my hand as it had in my dream, and I felt the same defiant thrill of entering a forbidden place, alike in many ways to that first kiss shared with Ornisso, alike to the first time Fëanáro brought me to climax, of mystery suddenly evaporated into startling clarity.
When the door snicked shut behind me, a half-dozen lamps sizzled to life as though on command, casting the room with a murky blue pallor. Alongside the door were Fëanáro’s forge boots and his gloves hung on a hook above them. I slipped one onto my right hand and half-expected it to still bear the warmth of his hands. It did not.
Much of the room—the worktables and anvils long unused—lay shrouded. I walked among the tables and brushed the shrouds with my fingers, stirring them to life as might a breeze, and expected my fingers to come away with the dust of long years.
They did not.
The lumps beneath bore the vague shape of figures or of the hard angles of canvasses, and I did not need to lift the shrouds to know what he hid here, what he pulled anew from the closet at the end of the hall, subjecting them to his relentless scrutiny, attempting to approximate perfection. Perhaps, if he made enough images of her, she would know his love and return? Or perhaps with his hands creating a memory of her body, he would assuage his loneliness? As I—apparently—had not.
At the back of the forge, a worktable had been shoved hastily aside, betraying Fëanáro’s love for things organized in neat rows and perpendicular angles, to make room for a roll-top desk. The lid was shuttered like an eye, and I stood before it for a long while, twisting my fingers and pondering whether to open it. I had the irrational image of Fëanáro locked inside his study, staring into his crystals and seeing me here, but I could not see his face. Was he disappointed? Or did he wear a look like that which he’d given the messenger, his expression soft and acquiescent. I have known that it would be like this. It was only a matter of time.
I had come this far, I rationalized, and stepped forward and lifted the top of the desk.
There were piles of letters there, written upon parchments that had been sealed with a lump of blue wax and a familiar crest: wavering rays and four stars set between. I closed my eyes and saw the same device upon the lapel of my father’s robes. “The prince Nolofinwë has given this to me in recognition of my extraordinary service.” His narrow chest puffed out, my mother behind him, staring into her goblet and idly stirring her drink with her fingers.
In a second pile beside the first were copies of letters that Fëanáro had sent in reply or maybe drafts; they were done in his neat, efficient “daily use” handwriting, lacking the flourishes and elegance of that which was carried by messengers to the world beyond our gates. I knew this handwriting, for it marked my best work as inadequate; my words bled with it, done in cruel red ink.
The letters dated back to the beginning of the exile, and I took the first—from Fëanáro to his half-brother—in my trembling fingers and read it: careful descriptions of the city, of the weather, of the well-being of various family members. It was stiff and formal; even the draft was punctuated neatly, written in palatable, concise sentences. It was deliberate. Scheming.
For the duration of the afternoon, I stood over Fëanáro’s desk—not taking the liberty of sitting at the rough workbench that he’d pulled over—and read the letters he’d exchanged with his half-brother.
The letters became more relaxed as the years passed, but I—who know Fëanáro better even than he who named him “brother”—felt the deliberateness in that too. Fëanáro, a master of the written word, could conjure moods and atmospheres in his letters with the ease of a trained actor cajoling an audience, even changing his handwriting, his signature—stamping his seal sloppily or with deliberate care—to convey that which settled unnoticed upon a reader’s mind with the weight of a feather.
He’d bragged about this to me, once.
“Eressetor, communication is much more than what you say. It is how you say it, the type of parchment that you use, the quality and color of the ink, the liberty that you take in signing your name. Your work is all so…alike. So bland. It lacks personality.”
It had hurt then, in the early days of our affair when I’d yet to learn that he believed his unbridled, honest opinion was the highest compliment that he could give. Now, it said so much.
I watched a plan unfold. Nolofinwë—replying to match his half-brother’s newfound familiarity—probably hadn’t even realized it. Certainly hadn’t realized that he was being made accomplice in a plan to restore Fëanáro’s status in Tirion…and his marriage. Her name was never mentioned, not once in the correspondence, but I saw her face taking shape in the white spaces between the letters, wrought of quill and ink by the skillful hand of Fëanáro.
“I have forgiven you your trespasses and hope that you shall forgive mine….”
“I remember that day now with horror, but I am helpless here in Formenos, to make my amends to you and our people….”
“Should I stand again in Tirion, then mayhap I could begin to make recompense….”
“The Kingship is deserved, brother, in your House; you who will help to reunite our people as I—even our father—could not….”
“Before the Valar and our people ….”
“From the tallest tower of Tirion….”
“From the deepest unplunged depths of my heart, I would swear my allegiance to you….”
“But I am barred from the city.”
And so it had come to be: Fëanáro would return to Tirion.