This story is rated for adults only for reasons of some sexuality. Nothing too graphic, but I'm playing it safe.
Somehow, she had always pictured it happening. Even before they’d been married—when becoming the “wife of a high prince” was a fantastic notion that she confined to her private dreams, while waiting for sleep to visit her at night—she’d thought of it and how it might transpire: their parting. It was not something that she’d consciously imagined, yet the possibility alone of it had tantalized her, worming like a tendril of fetid smoke into her dreams, to stain that which was clean and pure with such an absolute possibility.
She knew it would be dramatic; it would be loud; it would involve thrown glassware and perhaps even furniture; it would involve tears and shouting and—most of all—pain; it would quite possibly drive her mad. Later, she’d banished the thought for they were wed and parting was impossible, but there it was, the thought, the possibility, lodged stubbornly in her thoughts.
Nor do I want it. Do I?
In her memory: The twins were crying; Fëanaro was invading her sleep to persuade her into passion but she wouldn’t have it; her knees were clasped together and she was making feeble protests. She fought her way from slumber like one might fight drowning: kicking and gasping until her head was above the black waters of sleep, and she was going to the nursery and taking the twins into her arms, swaying with exhaustion, unable to perceive her feet (although they must be there, rooting her to the floor), while the twins’ hungry mouths gaped at her, silently screaming, and she brought them back to bed, where Fëanaro—having mostly undressed himself—watched her with angry, jealous eyes.
It would be…violent.
But she didn’t want it.
She is mending Tyelkormo’s tunic when the messenger comes. The boy finds more creative ways to ruin tunics, she thinks, although Tyelkormo is far from a boy. He should be doing his own mending by now, but she is weak and unable to resist his handsome face and blue eyes. Please, Amil? This is not the first time that she has been persuaded by a handsome face and a smile.
She hears the sound of hoofbeats on the path and her shoulders stiffen almost imperceptibly. She takes a deep, gulping breath, trying to lull her pattering heart into sedated submission, but it will not obey; it betrays her, as it always does.
All seven of her sons are home, but the house is heavy with silence. She is reminded of when young Carnistir used to steal bladders from the bucks his father and brothers had slain and fill them with water until they were stretched and quivering, waiting to burst. Such an innocuous thing, held wobbling in his hands, beside the window beneath which his brothers would emerge on their way to one or another social outing for which he was too young to attend. Then it thrust into merciless space; gravity seized it—and the innocuous exploded into noise, anger, and chaos. That was the silence of the house. She waited for the inevitable gravity to seize it. Then: explosion.
The hoofbeats grow closer, rising in crescendo, until they are all that she can hear. She tries to poke the needle through Tyelkormo’s tunic, but her shaking hands stab the needle into her fingertip instead, and a bright bead of blood forms against her pale skin.
Maitimo answers the door; she hears his quick, friendly voice inviting the messenger in for a cup of tea. She does not recognize the voice that answers and—though she does not want to know, not before she must know, anyway—she leans over to peer at the messenger’s horse, to see the colors in which it is clad.
Tyelkormo’s tunic—abandoned by hands that fly to her lips—tumbles to the floor. A quick prayer flits through her mind—Dear Manwë, to thee I beseech—but how can she pray to the one who has already decided her husband’s fate? What will she ask? That he bend time upon itself and change the decision that he has already made? This was a prayer that should have been made hours ago, when it still had the power to change things—but until now, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to make it.
Macalaurë brings her the message. Unlike his brothers, he is not given to filling the house with incidental noise—running up and down the stairs and shouting into the next room instead of walking into it and speaking civilly—but is deliberate in his ways, spinning songs into the still air that lies beneath the chaotic clamor, calming it in the way that a tossing ship is steadied when the sea beneath it grows smooth. The hands that place the parchment in hers do not tremble; he does not speak but smiles, falsely reassuring. That is Macalaurë: a skilled performer, gifted with the ability to convince an audience that it feels something that it does not. She is convinced; she believes that the parchment contains good news. She closes her eyes. If I hold it forever and do not open it, do not read it, this can forever be the truth. I can believe Macalaurë—and it will not be a lie.
But she opens her eyes and Macalaurë is gone to give her the privacy to open the parchment away from his scrutiny. Tremulous fingers undo the ribbon holding it shut and stroke the satin-smooth parchment, begging the news to be good. She smells the pungent aroma of fresh ink. Let the news be good. She unfurls the parchment and reads:
Nerdanel, daughter of Mahtan, long has your family been loyal to my house, and I saw it fit to send immediate word, informing you of our decision on the fate of your husband Curufinwë Fëanaro—
Atar would not let them ride with him to Taniquetil, to beg before the Valar on his behalf. “You will not kneel before them like lesser beings, asking their mercy on a matter that should not even be theirs to decide,” he’d said. His voice had been sharp, and they’d dared not challenge him.
But, after he departed yesterday, Maitimo went to Macalaurë’s bedroom, and they clasped their hands together and prayed to Manwë for their father. Maitimo had never prayed before and it felt strange to be throwing his thoughts willy-nilly into the air, expecting that they should drift into the proper ears and be heard. He might have laughed if the matter wasn’t so dire, if all of their fates were not leashed to it. As it was, he worried about his prayers being intercepted by the wrong person, whether accidentally or intentionally, so perhaps the prayers had not been heard at all. A heavy, sick feeling in his belly told him that—prayers or not—the answer would not be favorable.
Macalaurë’s hands in his were cold, and with their foreheads pressed together, Maitimo soon became aware that Macalaurë silently wept, and his tears were falling onto their hands. Maitimo prayed that Fëanaro be showed mercy for he knew that—should he be exiled—the rift between their House and the House of Nolofinwë would widen even further. Selfishly, he knew that his friendship with Findekáno—held together now only by the barest tatters of love—would fall into irreparable ruin. But Macalaurë, he knew, had different concerns. Maitimo broke the prayer early to hold his brother in his arms.
“How? How can they do this? Tear all of our lives apart? Where is their right?” Macalaurë whispered fiercely, his voice quaking.
“I know not, Macalaurë,” Maitimo answered, for indeed, it did defy explanation: How a family matter—or a Noldorin matter, at its greatest extent—had fallen past their grandfather to be decided by the Valar made no sense to him. Nor did it make sense that the wound carved between their families should be gouged further—this would heal nothing. Sleepless, he tossed restlessly in his bed at night, trying to make sense of it, for Maitimo had made his life believing that everything originated from some form of logic, that there was a reason—and a solution—for everything.
There were explanations, yes, but he did not wish to believe them.
Maitimo knew the reason Macalaurë wept, alone of their brothers and even their parents, for Macalaurë and Vingarië had been trying for years now to conceive a child without success, but Macalaurë had confessed just weeks prior—mere days before their father’s foolish aggression on the palace steps—that they both felt as though the moment was near. He’d whispered as though afraid of Fate, afraid of being robbed of this blessing, but his face had been bright with hope.
Now, he said in a voice so low that Maitimo could barely hear him: “How can I expect Vingarië to be happy in Formenos? And what kind of place is it to raise our child?”
Macalaurë’s half-Telerin wife Vingarië had followed her husband’s family to Formenos for many summers, and Maitimo knew that she was not happy there, in the cold, barren land, far from the sound and scent of the sea.
And so he held his trembling brother in his arms and made another prayer on Macalaurë’s behalf: When you punish our father, you punish all of us too. Manwë, please understand that Macalaurë does not deserve this. He is the gentlest of us, and always has he opposed the animosity between our family and Nolofinwë’s. If you cannot find mercy for our father, perhaps you could find it for Macalaurë?
Yet he knew, even then, that mercy was not theirs to have.
When the messenger arrives, Maitimo sends Macalaurë to deliver the parchment to their mother for Macalaurë can paint hope upon his face with naught but a smile, even when hope is not to be had.
Carnistir had begun pacing an hour prior but would speak to no one, not even Tyelkormo, who had quickly grown frustrated with Carnistir’s taciturnity and disappeared into his bedroom. Ambarussa had turned their faces at the same time, as though they might like to follow, but had not. They’d unfolded a gameboard between themselves and began moving the pieces, although they never declared what game they were playing and—as far as Maitimo could tell—it was bound by neither rules nor logic.
Macalaurë’s light footsteps on the stairs tell Maitimo that the message has been delivered. Now all there is to do is to wait.
Waiting: what a cruel fate. Maitimo sits on the chaise and attempts to assume a normal posture. Across the room from him, Curufinwë is doing a poor job of the same. The gold ring on his hand sparkles in the rich daylight spilling through the window. He has been married for only three years now, and his wife departed last night for her parents’ house and Curufinwë would say nothing about it.
Maitimo watches as Macalaurë stands at the bottom of the steps and draws a sigh, trying to smile but unable to muster the effort for the benefit of brothers who can see through the ruse. Instead, he goes to Curufinwë and sits beside him on the chaise, and Curufinwë puts his head on Macalaurë’s shoulder, like he used to do when they were all so much younger and they waited with an anticipation that seems silly now for their father to return from the forge and call, “What delights await me?” and they’d all run into the foyer, their words tumbling over each other in their eagerness to speak to him first.
Maitimo smiles at the memory and Carnistir stops pacing and smiles too.
“You know the answer, do you not, Carnistir?” says Curufinwë suddenly, and Carnistir smiles and says, “I sense it, yes, as do you, Curvo, if you would take but a moment to seek it.”
“What will become of us?” Curufinwë asks, and he looks to Maitimo, for Maitimo is the eldest and has always—after their father, of course—been trusted to have the answers.
“We will have to decide if we stay or go,” Maitimo replies, trying to keep his voice from shaking. Such decisions were supposed to have been left behind in the Hither Lands, were they not? The sundering of families, the departure from homes and places loved, of people loved—who knew that they went into much of the same, only forced now by the very beings who’d sworn to protect them?
“Is that even a question, Maitimo?” asks Curufinwë, and Maitimo, startled, meets his eyes. No, he thinks, I suppose it is not. Our father may have done many wrongs but never has he asked us to choose between allegiances, not as the Valar do now. And Maitimo knows then, no matter what the words printed upon the parchment in his mother’s hands upstairs, that he will abide with his father.
Fëanaro is very quiet on the carriage ride home. His hands lie placidly in his lap, and he stares at the floor. But one looking into his face has the sense that much passes unheard behind his eyes, for they are as bright as the swarms of sparkles thrown from the sea at Laurelin’s zenith.
There is much to do, he thinks. He compiles lists of items that will need to be taken and those that are best left behind; he places the horses that will not make the journey with suitable guardians until his return; he drafts in his mind letters to his neighbors, asking them to keep his land in exchange for what they can use from his gardens; he finagles a way to ship his current commissions from Formenos.
He does not think of his family, least of all, her.
His father has already sworn to follow Fëanaro; he lingers in Tirion only to settle the transfer of duties between him and Nolofinwë. (Fëanaro refuses to think on this, that at this very moment Nolofinwë wears their father’s crown and uses their father’s power. Fëanaro refuses to think those fateful words: You have brought it upon yourself. For he was not the one who spoke openly of taking Fëanaro’s rights as their father’s heir. Yet Nolofinwë goes unpunished. Fëanaro refuses to think of this.)
Finwë had made his pleas to Manwë that Fëanaro be granted mercy. “Allow me to resolve this issue between my sons,” he’d begged, but Manwë had dismissed him and ordered Fëanaro to a twelve-year exile beyond the bounds of Tirion, even as Finwë remained on his knees in the manner of a beaten slave, hands clasped and prayers unheard.
He does not think of the words he will use to explain his fate to his family—his sons, his wife, his sons’ wives— much less the words he will use to ask them to come with him. Ask? Nay, beg. Fëanaro will humble himself before his family as he would not before the Valar.
But he does not draft the words that he will use. He makes lists and plans and designs a lock to place upon the door of his forge, lest his jealous brother plunder what meager treasures he will leave behind.
He does not think of Nerdanel and the possibility that she will not follow.
For he loves her, and she loves him: the possibility cannot exist that they should become estranged.
She sits upon the bed, the bed where she has slept with her husband for the majority of their lives. She can hear him speaking with Maitimo, discussing the best way to move the books they both wish to bring. “Father, we have to ford three rivers,” Maitimo says, but Fëanaro continues to insist that there’s a way.
There is much in Nerdanel’s armoires and closets that she will need to pack: work clothes, gowns, shoes, jewelry. There are tokens given to her by her children when they were small that she will wish to bring. She will need to see that enough food and provisions are packed to last the journey, even in the event of an emergency. She will need to bring her sculpting tools, for although she has a set in Formenos, the ones she keeps in Tirion are better, given to her by Fëanaro on the hundredth anniversary of their marriage, and she will not be able to work without them. Not for twelve years.
Twelve years. Now, at the threshold of exile, it seems such a long time stretched before her. A time when she will not see her parents or her sisters, when she will not know how her sister-sons and –daughters grow but through letters. A time when she will not see the fullness of the Light of the Trees, for it is darker and colder in the north. Twelve years of no royal festivals…such trivial matters, but she makes them suddenly important, as reasons why she lingers, sitting on the bed when she should be packing her trunks.
She and Fëanaro, in their youth—when both possessed equal energy for spirited debate—used to argue about matters of vague philosophy simply to hear their words overtaking the silence. She used to love to watch the fire in the eyes of her husband at such questions. Which is more evil? An act of commission or omission? Fëanaro had insisted that omission was worse. “If I were to commit an act that robbed the Trees of Light, that would be evil,” he’d said, “but equally evil would be to permit the Trees to be robbed and do nothing. The difference is that the act of commission, at least, takes courage.”
Omission, he’d said, was the route of a coward.
She is a coward, she supposes, because he’d appeared behind her in their bedroom earlier that day, trapping her to press upon her the question she did not want to answer. “Nerdanel, I know that there has been stress between us,” he’d said, and she’d been unable to look into his eyes. How like the eyes of the boy she’d married!—and yet also not. “But I love you; I will love you always. And to be sundered, bonded as we are in spirit, is an agony that we need not endure. I ask you for twelve years…and I give to you the rest of the life of the world.”
And so she’d nodded, unable to tell him of her doubts, not possessing the courage.
To become estranged from him would break his heart. She knew this. She was no fool and saw love in his eyes, buried though it often was between the white-hot flames of jealousy and pride that had consumed him of late. At times, she could even convince herself that he was still the same as when they’d married, when he caught her around the waist, coming out of the pantry, and tickled her neck with kisses; when they stayed awake for the entire night, laughing about memories of their sons as young children; when—rarely these days—they both wished to make love, and so he did so as gently and tenderly as he had on the day they’d married, treating her as he would the most fragile of his treasures, with soft reverent hands. They were not a couple—for all of their troubles in the last years—that had ever lost love for each other. She would gladly abide beside him until the moment that the world ended, for this was the vow that she’d made when she’d married him.
Yet, she sat and did nothing, knowing that her clothes and tools and trinkets would not pack themselves, knowing that her feet would have to carry her to Formenos, that she would not blink and awaken there based on a promise alone.
She could break his heart with a single phrase. She could make that which she long ago portended come true. She could take the heavy expectation with which the house was laden and—in a single moment—cast it to the mercy of gravity, wait for it to explode in a spray of angry, violent words and regrettable acts. In an hour or two, it would be over. They would be estranged; she would go to her parents’; he would be broken but he would recover. It does not take long for tears to dry in eyes that burn with insatiable fire, if he could muster them at all.
But she hadn’t the courage.
And so she would break him by degrees, shredding the heart she’d loved for centuries now, bit by bit, day by day, as she sat in inaction, unmoving, until at last, he’d no choice but to leave, and she need never know the consequences of her slow cruelty.
He came into their bedroom then, in a whirlwind of activity, carrying a pile of tunics from the laundry and tossing them onto the bed, grinning at her, “It will not pack itself, Nerdanel!” speaking in a false-bright voice with a false-bright smile, looking quickly away, not wanting to see her sitting there, unmoving.
For their estrangement, the breaking of their marriage: it had begun.
They are to meet by the stables on the day of departure, the last day that Fëanaro was permitted within the “Realm of Tirion,” which was hastily drawn up by the Valar and fattened to include his property. He does not look at his wife’s trunks, which still stand empty, as he dresses for bed for the last time in his Tirion home—the last time for twelve years, anyway—and gets into bed beside her.
He says nothing to her, but their arms circle the other’s waist, and they hold each other through the duration of their last night together. Tomorrow, he will be gone, and she will not be with him. His heart rebels at the thought but he is no fool, and he knows that empty trunks are not taken on a twelve-year exile.
Tomorrow, he will lie down beneath the stars to sleep, and he will be alone. And she will lie down in Tirion—perhaps they will stare at the same stars?—and she will be alone also.
Estranged—a funny word, implying something familiar and loved made suddenly foreign and hostile. But he holds her now; his lips press hers, and she does not pull away—in fact, she returns the kiss with greater passion than usual. Her hands caress and stroke his body without having to be coaxed into doing so, and he makes love to her, knowing that it will be the last time, fighting the pleasure of release because then it must end, then it is only a short time before the night ends, before he must rise from this bed on one side and she will rise on the other and they will become estranged.
When will it happen? When will the precise moment occur that will change their hearts that still love and desire each other? When will he become indifferent to his memories of her, to the scent of vanilla that reminds him of her soap and so her, to the painful thought of her sleeping alone in the bedroom where they’d shared many passions, passing weeks in a house where she has no with whom to speak? Her breast pressing his chest, their hearts beating as they always have in unison with the other, he could sooner imagine the breaking of the world than the breaking of his love for her.
But it will happen; they will become estranged.
He fights release but his body rebels, and there is no pleasure in it. He will not pull free of her, though, even after becoming flaccid once more, and she does not resist him. He wonders if this final act has sealed their estrangement the way that their first act of bonding sealed their marriage. He feels no less love for her, but then, he also loved her before they became wedded, so maybe these words—“wedded,” “estranged”—are just that: words. Meaningless. At least to his heart.
He wants to break in her arms, as he did on the night of their wedding, but he will not. He has hurt her before, not meaning to, and he will not hurt her again, not on this last night they have together. He suppresses his tears until he aches with the effort, and she holds him close, and it is she who weeps. But she does it silently, perhaps thinking that he will not notice.
He would give it all up—the chance to behold his father’s face, to embrace his sons, to hold his treasures in his hands—to stretch this night forever, to remain in her arms until the ending of the world. But it cannot be.
Eventually, the morning comes.
He goes to the stables, on this, the day of departure. Already, his father and Maitimo are there, readying the horses in the pale light of morning. No one speaks; words cannot do justice to what each feels in that moment.
Curufinwë arrives next, hand in hand with his wife, and Tyelkormo after. Carnistir comes with the twins and Macalaurë and Vingarië last, both of their eyes reddened by tears.
So much pain I have caused.
Fëanaro winces at the thought, and in that moment, he would have given all of his treasures to find himself back on his father’s steps, to make a different decision in the treatment of his half-brother. In that moment, he cannot even find hate for the Valar or for Nolofinwë, so great is the hate for himself.
But what is done is done, and one can only ride on.
He mounts his horse and watches as the others take his lead and do the same. He lets them ride first, under the pretense of wishing to secure the gate. But really, he looks back.
For there is still hope. But her horse, which he’d tacked for her and tied to the post, stands alone, idly nibbling at the sparse grass in the paddock. She is not coming.
He closes the gate and latches it. So this is estrangement.
Funny, for his heart feels no different.