"The Tapestries"--Chapter Six
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In life, I had begrudged the fact that I had to sleep. Sleep took me from my work, from matters far more important than the self-indulgency of repose. Now that I was dead, though, I missed it. In the hall of tapestries, I wished to curl upon a flat surface, close my eyes, and lose myself to forgetfulness.
Námo manifested from the space around me: a churning and billowing of the gray substance that enshrouds his halls organizing itself like an army upon the field to form lips, nose, cheekbones. Gray robes boiled from nothingness and into fruition. The stuff that makes up his eyes turned its flashing green belly to me.
I laughed. He grinned.
“You are beginning to understand, aren’t you?”
Don’t you have other charges here? Why do you devote yourself solely to me?
“Ah, you exaggerate your importance, Fëanáro, as always. I barely spend any time at all with you. No more than any of the others. Right at this very moment, I am consoling fourteen slain Teleri and two Noldor who’d been lost at sea and three Avari arrived from the Outer Lands; I am watching your mother work and holding my wife and trying not to laugh at Oromë’s jokes at counsel, lest I betray my dignity. You forget, Fëanáro, that I am not a creature bound to flesh—or even to a single place and time—as you are. This place is indeed what you make it, Fëanáro, and I am yours to summon, just as anything else.”
There was an ache deep inside of me, in a place beyond pain, an exhaustion that cannot be bound inside the limited vessel of a body. I made a sound that feels like sighing, only is it a sound? The gray robes of Námo rippled with it.
Then go away. I do not want you here. I do not need you here.
“If either of those were true, Fëanáro, then I would not be here.”
I would not have said it if it was not true.
Námo’s laughter was like the grating of metal on metal. I wanted to stop my ears only I had no ears and no hands with which to stop them if I did—and the sound didn’t even really exist, did it?
“If your time here has shown you anything, I would think it would be that you are exceptionally good at lying to yourself.”
I fled into the darkness that hung in the corners of the Halls. Other spirits whisked through mine, and I caught snatches of thoughts, mostly wondering about loved ones. Time ached, a weight upon me, and I thought for the first time since my arrival here of my sons. My sons, taken by me to the Outer Lands and left alone. Cold seared through me. One day, I knew suddenly, it would be their spirits oozing through mine; I would feel them within me, in a place as secret as the center of a flame, as I had in the year before they were born. Only then, they had been innocent: as pure as the mingled white light of the Trees. I wondered what resentment, hatred, pain I would feel within them now, what scars upon their fëar once cradled so tenderly against my own.
Walls manifested behind my back and I hid there in the topmost corner of the Halls, in the darkness where I could not be seen, where my despair would be secret from all, like the spiders who used to weave secret nests in the corners of my sons’ bedrooms in Formenos and Nerdanel or I would have to tear them down with a broom before they would agree to sleep.
The darkness parted, and Námo stood before me, leaning on a broom.
This is ridiculous, I said. I felt wrung out, as I used to feel on the rare occasions when grief or frustration had driven me to the verge of tears. Námo swept me with the broom, and the feeling went away.
“Why are you upset?” he asked as the broom whisked over me. Obediently, my thoughts conjured a feeling of straw scratching skin. “You should be consoled, Fëanáro, by the amount of control you maintain over your existence here. Isn’t that what you have always wanted? Your independence; your freedom to create? This is a place without walls, yet you have contrived walls against which to hide. This is a place without darkness, yet you linger in shadow. Was it not your aim to defy possibility? Put light into stone? ‘Nothing undone is impossible?’ Isn’t that what you told your children, when you felt that they could not meet your expectations? You have all of the control and freedom that you could want here, and yet you despair. For what reason?”
For what reason? It was a question that I asked myself.
I didn’t need a tapestry to remember climbing back aboard the ship. Nelyo had finished quashing the flames on the other ship and had leapt back aboard ours; he stood with his brothers and they watched me—all of them, men enough to swear themselves into the Everlasting Darkness—with eyes luminous and gleaming in the lamplit darkness, wide and frightened.
And I: what did I tell them to do?
“The ships are taking on water,” I said. “We need to get all of the people and all of the cargo onto the beach.”
In my mind, the treachery came into sharper focus. Nelyo nodded, oblivious, and began herding his brothers toward a rope ladder tossed over the side and down to the beach. The twins were jabbering in bright, false voices. Tyelkormo’s golden hair caught the last shred of lamplight as he disappeared over the side; he was brashly hushing them, claiming a pain in his head, sketching it at his temple with flighty fingers. Carnistir looked back at me and smirked, and I felt as though my thoughts were being spelled in ink upon the deck for all of their clarity. His eyes were dark in the starlit blackness with sparks of light kindling at their centers.
The loremasters would commit to parchment many things but none of the mundane difficulty of moving from one land to another, a realm of light to one of darkness. We hadn’t enough lamps to dispel the gloom, and Elves fell upon the rocks and healers had to be spared to stitch the wounds and set the broken bones of the clumsy. Most of the children cried constantly. We all developed a dull ache behind our eyes—straining into the impenetrable blackness—that made me wonder if my skull was shrinking upon my brain. I touched my eyes as though expecting to find dampness there, thoughts leaked upon my face and running down my chin. We were exhausted, hungry. Cold. Lonely. Frightened. All of us.
Ships that had been loaded in haste, by bodies still strong from the light and nourishment of Aman and driven by adrenaline and fear, now needed to be unloaded. Only our numbers were almost halved. Only crying children needed the consolation of their mothers and too many wrists and ankles had been broken upon the rocks. Many sat on the beach, unable to help, earning the resentful glances of those left to shoulder their duties. I and my sons took on the same duties, most vigorously of all. In the disgruntled mutterings of my people, I heard a whisper of treachery.
Nelyo had gathered to him those of our numbers most competent in engineering. Indeed, before my eldest had gone into the service of my father, he had been highly regarded in such matters himself. At the side of one of the ships he stood. His hands slashed shapes against the white, splintering wood. They were conjuring a solution, and I paused to hear him assuaging the fears of the others with all of the polished poise for which his grandfather had prized him, deigning that the strongest of us would take turns diving beneath to secure new boards atop the old and seal the leaks. Already, he was gathering others to his service, to cut wood, gesturing at the treeline behind the beach. “It is too dark,” someone whined, and Nelyo said, “Stone lamps,” (for they were not then called “Fëanorian”; that would follow my death and the gradual cessation of their production). “Stone lamps will hold their light, even underwater. Even can we affix safety masks from the forge to our faces, to afford clearer vision.”
“They will leak,” another protested, and Nelyo’s answer was spilling forth before the other had even finished speaking. “We will seal them with rubber.” Grinning, proud of the ease with which he had overcome the other, more like me than he knew.
More trunks and treasures thumped onto the beach. I wondered if I should stop my son—who seemed more alive than he had in years—and wondered also why that thought came to me. I rubbed at my aching head and strolled down the beach. Curufinwë had taken over my duties, designating Elves to help with the unloading, prodding those lying upon the beach who were least in need of repose to lend what strength they could manage.
Amid the shouts and commands and screaming children, my own thoughts were lost: a speck amid a busy painting. Beyond the circle of lamplight, I strode, listening to the crunch of rocks grow louder beneath my boots. The ruckus behind me was diminishing into nothingness. Eru be praised.
The thought of our first autumn in exile in Formenos came unbidden upon me. The starlings had come that year, a surprise to us, the spoiled princes of Tirion who had always before returned home with the first frost. They had come in great clouds and settled on the fields, picking over what few leavings remained from the harvest. They had risen in swarms against the sky, blocking the light, even the stars. At night, they circled the fields, crying restlessly, and the stars winked and disappeared between their bodies invisible against the dark sky until the horizon appeared to be twinkling with the barest specks of light. With such noise, it was impossible to work. Miserable, for days, we sat in the house and stopped our ears. “This happens every autumn?” we questioned the lords of Formenos. “How do you bear it?” For they went to their workshops and forges like any other day, shaking brooms to scare birds from their path. They laughed at us, at the nausea that rose within our bellies at such relentless, ugly noise.
I walked along the dark beach and stopped my ears, as I had done that autumn. But the endless crackling screams were inside my head and would not be shut. I thought of my people on the opposite shore. My people for—though they allied themselves with my half-brothers—I was their king. I thought of every harsh word to pass between Nolofinwë and me. I felt his hand, warm upon my shoulder, at the moment that he had sworn his allegiance and the Trees had gone out. I heard his sharp words counseling my father against me. I saw even Arafinwë’s innocent gaze turned to mistrust with Nolofinwë at his shoulder. “I just—Fëanáro, I do not like what is happening to our people. The swords—” “Oh, do not pretend that he has not cozened you into saying this!” “He has not, Fëanáro. Brother. You know that always you have had my love. My respect. I could never do what you—” “I am beyond your slick sycophancy, Arafinwë! Get gone from my sight!” “Fëanáro—” “Gone!” A scream. Madness. Nolofinwë’s lips twisted into a smirk.
But surely the treachery I was contemplating—surely it was beyond even me. And surely even they—even Nolofinwë—did not deserve it.
I stood on the darkened beach and stared out at water as thick and comfortless as ink. Even here, it seemed, the hysterical voices of my people reached me, though I was well beyond their torchlight and left alone in the company of my thoughts.