"The Tapestries"--Chapter Four
This story deals in part with history and memory, and how both can change over time to become what we wish of them. In this chapter, I continue with this idea, looking at the kinslaying of Alqualonde through the eyes of Feanaro and Miriel Serinde both, to understand what happened and how the Noldor came to see it as well.
This chapter carries a warning for blood and violence in greater and ickier quantities than the rest of this story. I appreciate everyone who is reading this odd tale and leaving me such wonderful comments. Thank you!
The kinslaying at Alqualondë made a whole series of tapestries, as did the burning of the ships at Losgar. There was one each for the birth of my sons, three for my marriage, four for the making of the Silmarils. But the theft and burning of the ships: I lost count of them all. So those events must have been more important than I’d thought.
I had commandeered Olwë’s ship. It seemed appropriate—a King’s ship for a King—and also spiteful, that I should underscore his defeat by taking his ship for myself, raising my banner along his sails. His son Alpaher had defended the ship to the end, when the other mariners fled before our blades and the blood on our faces and—we liked to believe—our undeniable authority granted by the righteousness of what we pursued. Not Alpaher. He stood with three lads who I knew had been his friends since youth. They smelled of fear but they stood fast.
Alpaher was a mere thirty years younger than me, close enough in age that we were peers in adulthood and he’d followed me like a loyal dog when he’d been small. For his twentieth begetting day—when I was still flush with the generous joy of a new husband and father, wanting to collect smiles the way that some collected colored glass or pearls—I’d made for him a pendant of a cobalt-blue stone that glistened like light on the water. It had taken weeks to perfect the formula and many more to create the stone and set it upon a chain so fine that it was nearly invisible against his throat. I never made its like again, and its formula I kept even from Nelyo’s curious eyes—when Nelyo was still interested in gemcraft, that is.
He’d gasped upon seeing it and put it immediately around his neck. When I saw him after that, he always wore it. At first, this gladdened me, but then something dark like a thorn lodged in my heart and it began to irritate me. I believed that he wore it only in an act of sycophancy. And the way he greeted me—bell-bright voice “Fëanáro!” and a grin splitting his face—I saw as mockery.
But when we boarded Olwë’s ship, Alpaher stood between us and the helm. He’d taken a blade off of one of my fallen warriors, but he did not know how to hold it. He would be easily disarmed by Curufinwë. And at his throat, he wore the frail chain with the blue seastone upon it, sparkling with a light that would never again dance upon the water.
They fought harder than I expected, Alpaher and his three friends with whom—bare years earlier—I had sat beside the sea, getting slowly drunk on heady Telerin wine, and laughing with the abandonment of a child that I’d never had the chance to be. My heart had felt freer that day then it had in a century, but that seemed an illusion as I slowly drew my blade from its scabbard, letting their eyes take in the entire bloodied length of it.
“Relinquish the ship,” I’d said. “I do not want to fight you, Alpaher. I do not want your blood on this blade.”
“Then understand that I cannot do as you ask.” His voice had quavered. Triumphantly, I’d thought that none of my sons’ voices shook like that, with such cowardice. But when I stared into the tapestry years later—dead myself, my courage rendered useless—I heard differently: I heard voices that trembled with shame and fear, agony and doubt, whispering behind me. Of what? Sedition? Not my sons, surely.
It had not been a fair fight, four against eight, but they fought hard, tireless even when wounded. It was I who killed the first of them—the friend of Alpaher who’d stood at his wedding short years ago—with a sweeping blow to the throat that sprayed me with his blood, and I turned then to see that Alpaher and one of the others had overwhelmed Carnistir and held him by his feet, ready to drop him headfirst the long way to the sea below. How he’d screamed in terror, and that was my justification to do what I did, to pull Alpaher away and grapple him to the ground; with my knees upon his chest, slowly I crushed the breath from him, and my blade plunged in just below his breastbone and traced a slow and intentional incision down the length of his belly, spilling his innards and sealing his fate. He looked into my eyes as I did it, and the stone at his throat winked at me as the sea never would again.
I tore it from his throat, this artifact of mine that I’d loved and given to him, knowing that he would love it more. As the light went from his eyes, I cast the stone aside and let it roll from the deck and drop to the ocean below. He was trying to put himself together, yet he watched it roll away, and a blood-slick hand grasped for it, falling upon the deck and leaving a bloodied handprint that nothing would wash away.
I had missed that tapestry on my walk with Námo, but I saw it now, between the collection of kinslaying and Losgar tapestries: Alpaher upon the deck of his father’s ship, his insides spilling through one hand and the other grasping for a wink of something at the very edge of the tapestry: the seastone, I knew. So it was the stone and not me that he’d loved all along, I’d thought at the time. But in the tapestry, his eyes were not on the stone; they stared out at me, meeting my own, and years after his death—my death—I saw that the loss of the stone was not his grief at all.
We’d tossed his body from the ship along with those of his friends. The decks ran red with their blood; even when drew buckets of water from the sea and washed the mess away, we would turn and it would have reappeared, as though it had welled from the wood of the ship itself. It stunk of metal, of the blades that had spilled it.
We set sail upon the sea. The waves tipped and pitched us as though exacting the vengeance of the Teleri who’d perished beneath our blades; we watched many of our ships founder, masts snapped and sails torn, Noldor—men, women, children—tossed into the red-frothed waves, screaming for mercy that would not be delivered.
Gladly, we became victims.
I stared into the tapestry.
I had forgotten it: the sight of the dark sea and the tangle of masts filling the horizon, sails fat with wind—sails that should have been lowered, but how were we to know?—and whitecaps that stretched into pale arms seeking salvation that they would not find. Maitimo tried to throw a rope to some of them, but the rope was torn from his hands. They crashed into the side of our boat, scrabbling fruitlessly and tearing their fingernails on the slick sides. We watched them sink, one by one, beneath the waves, and felt their bodies bump against the hull.
We wailed and wept with each loss; we cursed Ossë for his cruelty. The sea leapt high and soaked the decks and washed the blood from us. As we tore our hair, we forgot that the blood had been there. We became victims with the ease of stepping into a pair of shoes. We lamented and mentioned not the blood on our hands, and quickly, we came to believe it.
We avoided the decks where the slaughter had been the worst, for those would not come clean, and we could not be victims with such guilt on our consciences. We saw not the justice of that night because we refused to see it.
Our reasons were many, for the kinslaying. We blamed the Teleri, for casting our people into the sea where they might drown. Loudly, I told of the actions of Alpaher and his friends, preparing to drop my son to his death over the side of the ship. Perhaps he would have survived; probably, even—but this I did not mention. Carnistir sat at my side, sullen and soaked by the sea, and the people raised their voices in answer. Their ships or your child? You had no choice! How dare they equate the two! We blamed the Teleri for refusing to return our kindness, for many engineers and builders we’d sent to their Havens, to erect the beautiful lamplit city on the coast. Beneath that came a whisper: of long friendship with Ulmo and Ossë and conspiracy against us. Traitors! What an emotion-laden word! I watched the faces of my people darken with the mere thought of it.
And above all that: Finwë. We’d acted in honor of Finwë, and if the Teleri meant not to respect his memory by lending their ships, then they had truly squandered friendship with the Noldor. We let ourselves feel used, humiliated, by the help we’d so generously given when they had no hopes of making even meager reparations. And I spoke of my father and what he’d described as a beautiful friendship as old as Elvenkind with the Telerin King Olwë, a friendship that he’d believed had driven the Teleri against great odds to our shores. With clever tears choking my voice, I spoke of my father and how he had loved us, the Noldor, his people. “In his memory, we sail to the Outer Lands. In his memory, we will do vengeance for him, at any cost.”
Any cost. So the kinslaying at Alqualondë was not an escalation of tempers or borne of our frustrations or even a convenient solution—for loremasters would try to understand that awful hour and suggest all of these things, unable—unwilling—to believe that Elves of Aman would turn so quickly to murder—but an act done of greater moral good, for we must act always, henceforth, with the thought of banishing Morgoth foremost in our thoughts and actions.
We did not even notice, when the lies became truth. When we began to speak of the “attempted” kinslaying at Alqualondë: “attempted” because, of course, the kinslayers, the Teleri, had been unsuccessful. We had defended ourselves.
I paced between the tapestries, becoming frantic. Behind me, Námo stood with folded hands.
All lies? I asked. I wished for hands to tear the tapestries to shreds—but no, I could only weave among them, become them, become truth at last.
“I would not say ‘lies,’ Fëanáro,” said Námo. “Memory is a malleable thing. It becomes what you wish it to be. Many things are that way—that is, they become what you expect of them.”
I infused myself amid the bloodied sea, and I could smell the blood and acidic reek of fear—sweat and tears and something baser than that: the stink of Morgoth’s dungeons, perhaps—and I could hear the screams of the Teleri dying upon our blades and the wet sound of tearing flesh. I saw someone running and Tyelkormo gashing his back with his blade, turning him over to find that he was actually a maiden; he paused and moved on, and her blood ran into the sea.
Why could I become this tapestry—this tapestry of pain and fear, upon which lies were built—and the others detailing the happy times in my life remained elusive?
“Many things become what you expect of them,” Námo said again, behind me. With my strange perception, I saw him leave the corridor. Frenzied, I felt myself fill that place; I felt myself enter each tapestry in turn, the truth unraveling like loose threads in my memory.