Actually, I almost forgot that today was update day. Yes, in spite of Arandil's countdown, I was lying in bed last night, plotting out my day (which included variants on doing nothing, nothing, and nothing), and the thought suddenly occured to me: "Crap! Tomorrow's update day!"
Because I was on vacation for most of the week, my brain keeps thinking that today is Tuesday. It's in for a nice surprise when we get off early, go home, take a nap, and then drive an hour north to Belair for Friday Night Nerd Night.
Okay, enough rambling. Back to business. Once again, we are in Nerdanel's PoV. The same warnings apply. There are mentions of marital sex in this chapter. If that bugs you, go away or I shall taunt you a second time. I will also inform you that your mother is a hamster and your father smells of elderberry. (Sorry. No more Monty Python, promise!)
So enjoy the chapter. As usual, any and all comments and suggestions are welcome. I am almost finished this story and so will begin the hearty revision process soon where everyone's (much appreciated) hard work, commenting on my chapters, will begin to pay off. Once again, I am very grateful for all who have taken the time to read and comment on this story. Thank you :)
An hour later, we are assembled, waiting for our apprentices, nearly ready to commence.
Nelyo and Fëanaro are lifting the trunks onto the single small cart that will tow behind our strongest workhorses. Their muscles flex and twist in Laurelin’s rising light; their narrow bodies crackle with energy. Tyelkormo is darting around my legs, eager to leave. Carnistir is asleep again, this time in Macalaurë’s arms, as he sits on a tree stump. Findekano stands by himself, away from us, watching Nelyo.
I check the food supplies and count the blankets and furs one last time, afraid always that I will overlook something and we will find ourselves in the wild, far from other people, without enough food or blankets to warm us at night. There was a time when I was not so conscientious; there was a day when I rushed from my father’s forge with a half-finished knife still warming in the coals and leapt onto my horse beside Fëanaro, with only the clothes on my body, my engagement ring gleaming in the afternoon light, still warm from being clutched in his hand.
I count again the bottles of fresh water, for one does not know when an injury will waylay us between rivers, too far to travel for a drink. I sigh at my own paranoia, and Fëanaro walks up beside me and lifts the crate of fruits and vegetables.
“Wait! I haven’t checked it!”
He holds the crate in his arms as I pry it open and count apples and pears and carrots by the handful. A thin sheen of sweat covers his skin, makes him look golden in the morning light. He laughs lightly at my meticulousness.
“I don’t know when I became like this,” I moan to him, rummaging through the eggplants, counting them in my head against the number of people and the number of days and the number of things that could go wrong.
“It’s the children,” he says. “Children change you.”
Satisfied, I shut the crate and smile at him, neglecting to comment because I see no change in him. He carries the crate to the cart and swings it aboard with an easy strength that I once shared. Suddenly, the morning light has weight to it and it presses against my skin like a hot blanket, bidding me to sleep. I feel my legs fold beneath me, and I collapse onto the tree stump beside Macalaurë.
“Nana, are you well?” I hear him ask. I hear myself answer him too, but I am not aware of speaking the words. Carnistir awakens and looks in my direction, his dark eyes full of worry.
“Nana!” he cries and hurtles himself into my arms.
I nearly drop him. He is only four years old, tiny still, but my arms are like wet rags and fail to respond to his sudden weight against them. Macalaurë catches him with hands against his back and chides him for startling me, but I know that my neglect was not caused by unawareness, and I despair. I have almost dropped my baby, I think, and my arms close around him at last and hold him close.
“Help your father and brother,” I hear myself say to Macalaurë. The words undulate like molasses in the air. He stands and goes to help them hoist the heavy trunks and crates onto the cart, giving me worried looks over his shoulder.
I have to concentrate on keeping my arms tight around Carnistir. When will this pass? I wonder. When will I be normal again? With each birth, my exhaustion worsens; it clings longer and harder to me, longer than my children do even.
With Nelyo, I experienced a few months of lazy contentment after his birth, like falling into an afternoon nap, pulling me more easily into sleep but hardly the dark exhaustion that settles on me now. Even in the middle of the night, I awakened easily when Nelyo cried—before Fëanaro even, sometimes—and I did not resent going to his cradle and bringing him to bed with us for comfort or to nurse. Not long after the delivery, I began helping Fëanaro with some of his easier projects: setting gemstones, polishing metal, doing the meticulous engraving that he often lacked the patience to complete. At night, he would kiss me and caress me, and I would let him make love to me, lying beneath him with my arms heavy across his back, holding him close, full of the satisfied exhaustion that a productive day brings.
With Macalaurë, it was much the same, but he was fussier at night, and once, when he was a month old, I awakened to Fëanaro shaking my shoulder. “Love, I can’t get him to stop crying. I think he’s hungry,” he said, his voice thick with apology, and I sat up, feeling like I was rising from sleep that clung to me with viscous tendrils like the thick mud of a swamp. “How long has be been crying?” I managed, trying to pry open my eyes that felt like they’d been glued shut, and Fëanaro said, “An hour.”
Those instances were rare with Macalaurë, but the tiredness lasted for a year, until he was weaned.
Tyelkormo was the biggest of our sons at birth, and for hours I labored to bring him into the world, fraught with pain like I had never felt with his brothers. I wept with fear for his life; Fëanaro wept with fear for mine. Tyelkormo was a trying baby, always active and into everything around him, learning young how to climb from his crib and awaken Fëanaro and I by tangling his fingers in our hair and yanking as hard as he could. My life became matched to his: waking to nurse him, to change him, to rock him back to sleep. In the times between, I slept. Fëanaro and Nelyo had him for much of the day, playing with him in the garden, interrupting their work and study while I slept upstairs. Even after I weaned him, even after he had begun toddling around the house, calling for his father and his brothers to play with him, still I slept in the bedroom upstairs. The healers advised Fëanaro and I to wait for a while before attempting a fourth child—it was unnatural for our people to bear many children before full maturity at their hundredth year, they said—and the contempt in their eyes said that we were too young to have any business with three children already anyway, but Fëanaro is a high prince, and such remarks would never be made aloud.
So we sufficed with kisses and caresses at night when we ached to make love to each other. I craved his body then with an ardor I hadn’t possessed since our betrothal and early marriage. Like courting adolescents, we made and obeyed silly rules regarding the removal of clothing or the mutual pleasuring of each other. I did not undress in front of him, and I closed the door when I bathed. I avoided his forge because the sight of him in his short-sleeved tunics open at the throat and his skin glowing with sweat was too much to take. I was grateful for Tyelkormo’s neediness so that I could place him in the bed between us, removing all temptation that I might have felt if left lying in Fëanaro’s arms at night.
By the time Tyelkormo was five, my exhaustion had passed like a storm over the sea, dissipating into harmless fragments, moving on to distant lands. I was alive again, embracing my sons, cheerfully baking in the morning and washing in the afternoons, lifting big chunks of stone to start ambitious sculptures. Further resistance seemed silly, so when Fëanaro begged me to lie with him one night, I succumbed. I was confident that I was healthy enough to bear another baby—those healers were fools, I swore! what did it matter that I was not yet one hundred?—but where our first three sons were begotten without any conscious effort from Fëanaro, Carnistir took years of fretful frustration to come into being.
We argued the night we begot Carnistir, over something silly as our arguments often are: Macalaurë wanted to study music in Alqualondë, and Fëanaro wanted him to complete a basic smith’s apprenticeship at home first. When he came to me that night, his spirit was like an open wound, letting me see parts of him that should never have been exposed to air, and I felt his simultaneous contempt and desire for me; I saw how I looked to him, lying in his bed with tears drying on my cheeks, my nightgown shoved up around my thighs, both sloppy and sexy, trying to keep my mouth firm and angry. I felt him laugh at my resistant words even as I felt my callused hands grabbing his body to pull him into me; I tasted my own kisses, felt his proud thrill at the pleasure he so easily gave me. I experienced his climax with the same intensity as I did my own. I looked into his eyes and saw myself as he saw me, flushed, gasping, and trembling with ecstasy. And I woke the next morning and knew that I was pregnant.
Carnistir came a week early, before the midwife even arrived, and Nelyo had to ride to Tirion on Fëanaro’s fastest horse to bring her to me. He was born with two teeth on either side of his gums like little fangs and nursing him was painful, and more often than not, I slept while Fëanaro nursed him from a bottle, rocking him in the big oak rocker that my father had made for me when I brought Nelyo home.
And the exhaustion still hasn’t passed.
More often than not, I am well. I work, I teach my students and my children, I do my share of chores around the house, I lie with my husband at night. But when the exhaustion does come, it comes without warning and stays sometimes for days. I cling now to Carnistir, making my muscles clench around his small body like a drowning man might force his face above water even when he knows there is no hope. I push my nose into his hair and breathe in his clean, powdery baby-smell and the scent of the soaps that Nelyo used last night to wash him. In the brightening light of morning, his black hair already begins to burn against my lips. I hope that the weariness will pass.
The apprentices have arrived, so I do not have long now before we will leave. Four extra hands help to load the cart, even Annawendë, I notice, Fëanaro’s crude apprentice who takes our eldest son’s hand as greeting and stands close against his shoulder while Fëanaro instructs them how to cover the cart with the waxed cloth that will keep the occasional rainstorm from ruining our possessions.
I was surprised when Fëanaro selected her as an apprentice, the only girl from about twenty hopeful youths who rode in from all around Aman to be questioned by my husband and demonstrate their potential at the forge. She was coarse in appearance and a little crude in manner. She came from the south of the land, well beneath Tirion, and her accent was harsh to my ears. I was surprised even more by Nelyo’s immediate interest in her, for she is not the type of maiden he usually courts, and when she arrived here for her first day of training, I swear that I remember a simple emerald ring on her ring finger that she does not wear now.
Her easy closeness with my son makes me wonder what affections they have shared. Only a few days ago, they would barely look at the other for fear of revealing some involuntary emotion; now she consents to allow him a quick kiss on the cheek when Fëanaro’s back is turned. I feel a surprising jolt of contempt for her naïve rudeness and her plain face—why? Is she not much like I was at that age? I too was awkward and ungraceful; I too was not—still am not—beautiful. But I look at Nelyo’s bright silvery eyes and his perfect face turned always in her direction and doubt that she could ever be his wife.
It was my sister-in-law who first told me of the rumors slithering around Tirion about my eldest son. She had just married Nolofinwë, and she spoke with the confidence of one above me: married not only to the other high prince of the Noldor—even if not the one who would inherit the throne, should Finwë abdicate—but a more deserving princess than I, the daughter of one of Finwë’s favorite lords, stately and graceful and beautiful. “I think you should know,” she said, and she told me of the tales being passed between the maidens in the court, of my son who was allowing himself pleasures forbidden to all but those for whom marriage was imminent, and I flushed with shame for the assurance in her eyes. What did I expect? Wasn’t I the girl who had run into the wild with the high prince and heir of the Noldor and wedded him among the brambles without the consent of my kin or his? Wasn’t I the girl who lacked even the dignity to return home after my shameful act, to be married before Manwë, as was law and custom for Eldarin royalty, and instead roamed the countryside for another three years before deciding to march into the palace with a baby in my arms? What else did I expect from that baby, who had been conceived and presented in such a roguish manner?
I do in fact expect much from Nelyo; even with Macalaurë’s talent and Tyelkormo’s energy and Carnistir’s perceptiveness, I expect more from Nelyo than from my other sons. He has a majesty that I lack—that even his father, for all his fairness with words and skill with hand, lacks—an elegant poise coupled with a sincerity that evades even Finwë’s best lords. “Were he one of the Unbegotten,” Finwë told me once, “he would be your King. Not me.” His words I said to Nelyo, who only smiled and said, “It is well that I was born as your son, then, for as King, I would miss my brothers and my books too much to bear.”
“My Lady Nerdanel?” It is Tyelpwë, my apprentice. A thousand times I have told him not to call me that, yet he insists. His watery gray eyes glisten with apprehension. “We are ready to leave, my Lady?”
Why does he phrase it as a question? I think with some irritation. Either we are ready to leave or we are not. Carnistir squirms in my arms, and I make myself stand and smile. “Thank you, Tyelpwë.” I am relieved to feel my feet solidly against the ground again, like a tree with deep roots and not one that has met with the woodcutter’s axe and stands ready to topple. My smile must have turned genuine because some of the nervousness goes out of his eyes, and he bows quickly and walks away.
Nelyo brings me my horse. “Will you ride with me?” I ask Carnistir, but he kicks free of my arms and runs to Fëanaro. Nelyo offers me a weak smile. “I should have known,” I say to him, trying to keep the hurt from my voice. “He loves his Ada.”
“We all do,” Nelyo says, “but we love our Nana too.”
I know why the maidens in Tirion love him so—why Annawendë loves him so—for he makes them feel special, as he does me, in this moment. To think that such sincerity could possibly survive beneath such shocking beauty! I feel like a peon singled out by a god to be complimented by him, my own son who shares my likeness in subtle ways. It is shameful to admit that my heart races deliciously and sings He loves me! but it does. Such a feeling I have not had since I first courted Fëanaro.
I stand on tiptoe to kiss his nose. (What happened? Only yesterday, I was stooping to kiss him in the same manner!) He laughs and offers me a leg up. “I would offer to ride with you, Nana,” he kids, “but I do not think your mare would take well to my added weight. She might buckle in the middle.”
“Thank you anyway,” I say, and he departs to mount his own horse. Everyone else is ready to go. I guide my horse into the line beside Tyelkormo’s stout little pony; Nelyo falls into place beside Findekano. Macalaurë is laughing with my apprentices at the back. Annawendë and Vorondil are in conversation, although both seem to be more aware of Nelyo’s place in the line than they do of each other. (Poor Vorondil is too tedious and boring to command the attention of a maiden, despite the fact that he’s well past his majority. I suspect that Annawendë shall likewise escape him.) Hoofbeats hammer the ground behind me, and Fëanaro canters to the front of the line with Carnistir perched in front of him. The smile on Carnistir’s face is so wide that any lingering hurt I have is soothed. I would suffer a much greater pain to inspire such rare joy on my youngest son’s face.
I look back at the dark house with all its little outbuildings scattered around it like kittens around the mother-cat and feel not even a twinge of regret for leaving. Formenos! my heart sings, the land of my youth, the wildlands that I love. I catch Tyelkormo’s eye beside me and see the same joy in his face. Why do we even bother with Tirion? I wonder. When all of our hearts lie in Formenos?
But they do not, for a part of Fëanaro’s heart lives atop Túna in Tirion, in the palace, and love for Fëanaro gives Finwë part of my heart as well, and like an infection, it spreads among us all and makes us ache for home at the end of the summer.
Even with three young children riding with us this year, we make good progress and reach the river by Telperion’s waxing that evening. Through forests and plains we have ridden, stopping only to eat a midday meal and twice for short breaks, and my body is growing tired and sore in a way that has nothing to do with the weariness of childbearing. I am relieved to dismount from my horse—almost as relieved as she must be!—and turn her loose to graze in the meadows along the river. In the silver light of evening, the river is just a dark smudge in the distance and the bridge is invisible. But the sound of the water comes to us like the tinkling of bells, and I know that I will find rest tonight on her shores.
Fëanaro and Nelyo take the tent off the cart and work on assembling it while I send Macalaurë with Tyelkormo and Findekano to the river for water. Carnistir sits on the ground, nearly hidden by a patch of tall grass, and I go to him and lift him up. “Will we ready our beds?” I ask him.
We are still too far south to worry about the cold at night, so I leave the bundles of heavy blankets and furs in favor of a few light throws. I give Carnistir a few pillows to carry to make him feel useful, and by the time we reach the tent, Fëanaro and Nelyo have it almost completely assembled. The male apprentices have a tent of their own; to my horror, as I approach Fëanaro, he asks Annawendë, “You will join us? I will not have you alone in the wild on a chill night.”
It will hardly be cold tonight and this is barely the wilds—the light of the bridgekeepers’ cottage is in sight and we are only an hour’s ride from a town—and were Nelyo and Annawendë not standing beside him, I would forbid it. Why? I sound unreasonable even to myself. It is not as though I have to fear her snuggling up to Nelyo in the night—even though the alarmed looks they shoot each other suggests that such a thought has occurred to them too—not with Fëanaro and me lying only a few feet away, and it does seem cruel to leave her as the only one in our party with no one to share her tent. “I could not, Fëanaro,” she stammers. (How does he get his apprentices to call him by his name when I cannot? He is so much more imposing than I am!) “You can and you shall,” he answers in the same tone he uses when forcing Tyelkormo to do some unpleasant chore or instructing his students in a nuance at the forge. “Our tent is plenty large to accommodate my family and all of our apprentices, if I wished. I will hear no further arguments.”
She gives Nelyo a wan smile when Fëanaro turns his back and he returns the same to her. Perhaps, even with the river so near, I will not sleep well tonight for trying to discern the sound of furtive footsteps beneath the tinkling of the water.
I am being silly. I drop the blankets by the entrance to the tent and crouch down to speak to Carnistir: “We shall have to make an extra bed then, little one.” I see Nelyo’s shoulders drop with relief; even in the silvery dark of evening, I can see a touch of crimson in Annawendë ’s cheeks. Fëanaro walks by me and gives me a careful look, a look one might give a compound ready to explode, and Carnistir whimpers.
“He’s hungry,” Nelyo says quickly. “Shall I start supper?”
“Please do,” Fëanaro instructs him, “and I shall assist you in a moment.”
As I carry the pillows and blankets in the tent, I feel Fëanaro’s stare heavy on my back. He feels my unrest as clearly as I feel his. At times, I am wearied by the lack of privacy in thought that comes with our marriage; for every moment that I rejoice in the warmth of sharing a bond with his spirit there is a moment that I wish he could not perceive me with such acuity.
But he says nothing.
We have supper around the campfire, eating off of sturdy earthenware plates and drinking cold river water from dimpled tin cups. Fëanaro sits across from me, between Nelyo and Vorondil, who are engaging in a spirited argument about the nature of the components that form metals, dually trying to impress Fëanaro and Annawendë with the strength of their convictions. Fëanaro wears a crooked smirk, amused by their waving hands and voices wrestling with the other’s, warring for space in the air between them. It seems natural to view him through the leaping flames.
Carnistir is leaning heavily against me, exhausted by the day’s journey, and he does not resist when I spoon fried potatoes and applesauce into his mouth. Tomorrow, Nelyo and Fëanaro will try to shoot some game in the forests over the river, and we will have meat for supper, but for today, it is fruits and vegetables and a slice of bread for everyone. I slip a lembas cracker into his mouth and he chews it without protestation.
Nelyo stands to clear the dishes. “Nelyo, love, will you take your brothers and Findekano for their baths? Carnistir already half-asleep. Macalaurë and I will clear the dishes.”
Our children and apprentices take turns bathing in the river, first Nelyo with his younger brothers and cousin, then Macalaurë and the male apprentices, and lastly, Annawendë, alone. I assure her, however, as sweetly as possible, that I will remain within earshot if she needs anything and send Nelyo to detangle his brothers’ and cousin’s hair.
Fëanaro and I dress the little ones—freshly cleaned and combed by Nelyo—in their nightclothes. Carnistir has been revitalized a bit by the cool river water, and Fëanaro has to hold him while Nelyo attempts to shove his pinioning little legs into a pair of cotton trousers. Tyelkormo haughtily tells me that he can dress himself and makes a big production of yanking his clothes onto himself. That leaves me with Findekano, who stands like a wooden doll as I dress him, his big blue eyes fixed on the ground and shimmering with tears. I feel a sudden surge of sympathy for him: How homesick he must be, in an unfamiliar land, surrounded by strangers!
“Would you like to sleep with your uncle and I tonight?” I ask him. “Or one of your cousins?”
He stares uneasily at the ground for a moment, then shakes his head no without looking at me.
After he is dressed, I pull him into my lap. There is a moment of stiff resistance, then he topples into me like a tree pushed over by winds stronger than it is. He sits there obediently, but I can tell that it comforts no one but me. Fëanaro is making a point not to look at me.
Annawendë creeps into the tent, looking first to Fëanaro for reassurance, then sending small blushing glances at Nelyo. Fëanaro stands. “Make yourself comfortable, Annawendë. Let one of us know if you need anything.” He ducks out of the tent.
I pass Findekano to Nelyo. In Nelyo’s arms, he grows limper, and Nelyo kisses him like I could not. “Tuck them into bed, love,” I say. “Your father and I will be back shortly.”
I walk soundlessly to the river.
There is a small strip of sandy shore bracketed on either side by jutting rocks. I leap onto one of the rocks and sit, watching Fëanaro. I feel his awareness of me as surely as he feels my unannounced presence, but he does not acknowledge me and I speak not to him. He stands on the shore and undresses, letting his clothes fall beside him into the sand, and stands in the silver light of night for a long moment, a breeze rippling his black hair and making the light dance on it like it dances on the water.
He steps into the river and walks forward, stopping when the water reaches his mid-thighs. Still, he does not turn, but I can feel his spirit bumping against mine, trying to understand why I do not undress and join him. Suddenly, he collapses and disappears beneath the water, with only a slight ripple to betray his abrupt motion.
I move to the edge of the rock and sit with my feet dangling so close to the water that, when a strong breeze makes the waves lap high, it kisses the tips of my toes. I watch the place where he went under but neither wave nor ripple signals his presence, and after a moment I grow distracted by the play of the light on the water and the gentle slurp of the water on the shore.
A hand pushes through the water and grabs my leg.
I do not give him the satisfaction of a scream or even a yelp, but my breath rushes into my chest and I gasp, and he knows that he has startled me. His hair is as slick as oil on his shoulders; his skin is milky in the silver light. His eyes gleam brightly in the darkness like the lights he makes from iron and stone and implants with the light of the stars.
“Won’t you join me?” he asks, and his hands are on my thighs, leaving wet prints on my dress, tugging me into the water after him. Before I can protest, I plunk into the water in front of him, fully clothed and gasping with the sudden shock of the cool water.
“Fëanaro!” I say. “How dare you? Now I have nothing to wear back to the camp! Now I am soaked!”
“You will wear my tunic then,” he says and tries to kiss me, but I duck away from his lips and the kiss lands on my forehead.
“And what shall it look like, when I come back to the camp in front of our sons and apprentices, dressed in your clothes, carrying my dress in a soaking wet ball?” Fëanaro twists his face into an expression of exaggerated shock and scandal that enrages me further. His hands are tight on my waist, his fingers working my skirt up around my hips, holding me down in the water. “Stop that, Fëanaro!” I say, but most of my words are lost as he tugs my dress over my head and tosses it onto the rocks behind us.
“I assume, Nerdanel,” he tells me, pressing against me until I feel his arousal growing against my leg, kissing my neck between words, “that our sons and apprentices will make the correct assumption that, being married and in the prime of our youth, we have had a bit of a romp in the river. And, seeing as how we have four sons, I assume that they realize that we have made love at least that many times and will likely not be shocked by the implication of a fifth.”
I try to bat away his hands, but it seems that I no sooner swat at him in one place and he is touching me in another. Finally, I put both of my fists against his chest and push him away.
“You don’t want to,” he says.
“Don’t want to what?” I spit.
“Have a romp in the river.”
“No, I do not want to have a romp in the river! You drag me into the water fully clothed and expect that I shall then wish to lie obediently beneath you—”
“I hope not. You’d drown.”
I force myself to be quiet for a moment. I close my eyes, trying to rid his image from my mind. I cannot: He is in my mind always; he is part of my mind, as I am part of his. Such is the nature of our marriage. Finally, I open my eyes and give him a long, contemplative stare, and he meets my eyes fearlessly. “Fëanaro,” I say at last, and my voice is calm again, “I wish you’d stop. I’m not in the mood for your foolery tonight.”
He floats with the water around his shoulders and his hair waving in dark fronds at the surface. His bright eyes are wide in the dark, and he reminds me of Carnistir slouching, full of hurtful anger, when he has an accident in the bathtub.
“You are angry,” he says. I hate sometimes how he states my emotions to me, like what I feel is never an uncertainty to him, never up to me to decide, but only his duty to report.
“I wish that you wouldn’t have asked Annawendë to stay with us.”
There it is, hanging heavily in the air between us. His eyebrows pop up with surprise, for it is usually he who is unsympathetic and cold to outsiders while I open the door of our home to those he would like to reject. Oh, the arguments we have had on the subject! On inviting his half-brothers and stepmother to our home, on attending their feasts in turn. On allowing Findekano to accompany us to Formenos. And now I show the same unkindness to Annawendë.
His eyebrows rumple with puzzlement. “I do not see why you despise my apprentice so.”
Leave it to Fëanaro to take my discomfort with the relationship between our son and Annawendë and bring himself into it!
“I do not despise your apprentice, but I think that she has no business sharing a tent with Nelyo when they are obviously courting!”
“Actually, Nerdanel, they have not yet decided to court. They had a few dances the other evening and nothing more. If Nelyo were to court every girl with whom he had a dance, we might never see him again.”
“You know right well, Fëanaro, that they intend to court!”
He sighs. “And if they do?”
“Then they do not belong sleeping in the same tent.”
“Many times, Nerdanel, we slept in the same tent—in the same bed!—before we were wed.”
“And you think that he will wed her?”
“You do not?”
Anger snaps inside me like a twig beneath a hastily place foot. “She will not make a suitable wife for him!”
Fëanaro falls back in the water like he was pushed. His eyes are suddenly very bright in the near-dark, as bright as the stones he crafts, glowing with an inexplicable fire. “Your words sound very familiar to me, Nerdanel, for only fifty years have gone since I heard them last, from my stepmother, from the lords of the court. ‘Do not wed her, Fëanaro; she is not suitable for you. You are a high prince, and a high prince is not meant to marry one as common as she! Why marry the unlovely daughter of a mere craftsman when the daughters of every lord in the court would have you? Would wed you on the floor of your father’s chambers in this very moment if you desired. You could have Anairë! Eärwen! No, they do not have Nerdanel’s heart, but they have beauty and they have connections and they will reflect well on our family at your father’s pompous suppers, and yes, you may be sick at the thought of lying with them, of sharing your body with them, but you only have to manage once to marry and once to beget your father’s heir, and your duty is done! And forever shall you possess the beautiful trophy-wife for the House of Finwë. Why not, Fëanaro? Why not?’”
His last words cut the still night with the violence of a blade meeting flesh, and he flounces from the river and, without bothering to dry himself, steps into his trousers and yanks them to his waist. He picks up his tunic from the sand, balls it up, and hurls it at the rock, where it lands beside my abandoned, sodden dress. “If your pride allows you,” he spits, sneering, before grabbing his boots and disappearing into the night.
I float in water to my shoulders, winding around me like silk, unable to fumble thoughts of my own. Though he is gone from my sight, I can feel his anger burning still, burning brighter than my greatest emotion, and consuming my thoughts in flame. Like an animal driven to a corner, Fëanaro is: When wounded, he does not whimper, he does not make plaintive pleas, but strikes out and gnashes until his teeth are reddened with angry blood.
But I weep. I weep silently in the water, letting the river carry my tears away, across Aman to the sea, for I know that his words are true, that he was offered princesses and ladies of the court to wed; he was offered the chance to stand before Manwë and Varda in Valmar and speak the name of Eru before the witness of thousands, to be draped in silk, garnished in diamonds, and showered with rose petals; he was offered wedding bands of gold, forged by Aulë and blessed by all the Valar; and all this he cast aside to wed the daughter of a craftsman in a clearing in the forest, with no one to witness the union but the omnipresent eye of Eru.
I feel his anger subside a bit, diminishing from a white blaze to a soft red glow, and I wonder, does he feel my tears as clearly as I feel his rage? Is this what balms him? For many times, it is I who step first into him after we fight, and his arms hang futilely at his sides as I bathe his shoulders with my tears for long, agonizing moments before he collects me in a slow embrace.
Or maybe it was one of our sons, for they soothe him as well—impish little Carnistir, energetic Tyelkormo, light-hearted Macalaurë, or our gracious, precious Nelyo—who graced him with a serendipitous kiss and embrace and made him forget my careless words.
I think sometimes of my life before I wed Fëanaro, of the simple rhythm of life in my father’s house: rising every morning after the Mingling of the Trees, going to the forge or the workshop for the day, falling into sleep as Telperion polished the land in silver. When wanderlust seized me, I let it take me where it would, never expecting that it would bring me here, to float in a river with tears in my eyes, the wife of a high prince. My life was never complicated by love then, nor was it complicated by anger.
I sink beneath the water; I let it fill my ears with its empty roar; I let it erase the tears from my cheeks. When I rise, I will go back to the camp, back to my family, back to my husband. All spouses fight—do they not?—and the thought of sleeping alone at night is as cold as the thought of my body lying forgotten in a grave while my spirit flees into the night.
I slip from the water, dry myself, and dress in Fëanaro’s tunic, which hangs nearly to my knees. His smell engulfs me; how I loved wearing his tunics in the early days of our marriage! How I loved to be able to press my nose into my shoulder at any moment during the day and awaken thoughts of him with every breath! I breathe in his scent now, and I see his hands, forging beauty from nothingness, caressing my cheek, my hands, my body. I feel his warmth beside me in bed at night. I see our sons, one by one, as they were in the moments that they were born, when Fëanaro and I wept together with joy, and see them as they are now, growing to look more like their father every day, hurtling through life at a frightful pace. I imagine erasing the complications in my life—ducking beneath the water and swimming to the shore, running through the night until I reach the bland peace of my father’s house—and realize that, were this to be my wish, I must also wish to erase my joy as well.
I step onto the path back to the camp.
The campfire smolders to keep away animals in the night. The apprentices’ tent is dark, but ours throbs faintly still with candlelight, likely kept by Nelyo or Macalaurë in anticipation of my return. I open the flap and duck inside, tying it closed behind me. Nelyo lies on his back, and I expect Macalaurë pressed against his right shoulder but Findekano on his left? I feel a glow of pleasant surprise. Carnistir, who likes to sleep alone, is near to them but a bit away, bundled in his blankets like a cocoon. Annawendë is at the opposite side of the tent from Nelyo, sleeping alone, and I feel a blush of shame for my earlier mistrust of her intentions.
I made a bed earlier for Fëanaro and I in the middle of the tent, and Fëanaro lies on his side with his back to me. Tyelkormo is curled in his arms like a doll, breathing heavily and mumbling in his sleep.
But Fëanaro is awake. I cannot see his eyes, but I feel his awareness of me, as I undress, put on my nightgown, and slip into bed beside him. He prods at me in thought like one might toe a sheet of ice, feeling carefully for slick spots or places worn too thin to tread, and I save him the effort by laying my head on his arm and whispering, “Fëanaro, I’m sorry.”
He does not respond.
“I love you,” I say.
“I love you too,” he replies, and Tyelkormo awakens, sees me, and squeals with muted joy, wriggling across Fëanaro to lie between us. Fëanaro rolls over to face me, resting his chin in Tyelkormo’s hair. Both of our arms circle our son and reach for each other. I am agonized to see that his eyes are reddened—he has been weeping?—and realize that he has perceived my earlier thoughts, and he had imagined me gone, ducked beneath the river and running through the night to my father’s house and the simpler life I knew before the day that he came into my forge and pressed into my hand an engagement ring.
Holding our son between us, I realize that life was simpler then but empty.
“I could not bear you to leave me,” he whispers. “I will do your bidding until the end of Arda if only—”
I put my fingers to his lips. “Hush,” I say. “I made my choice that day in the forge, and it is not a choice I shall ever regret. All things will end before my love for you.”
His eyes drop shut, and his hand rests on my arm with a gentle pressure greater than a kiss, and I shiver suddenly with the realization that love so deep as that which flows within us will indeed end all before it destroys itself.