By the Light of Roses
Wine and Roses
We gladly lost ourselves in the minutia of preparing for a feast: bathing carefully and plaiting our hair, pressing our finest robes and fastidiously dressing, fastening jewels around our throats and wrists, slipping rings on finger stiff and adamantly not trembling. I opened my armoire door, pondered the trunk at its bottom, and whisked out my best robes without another thought. Not today. I could not leave today.
Maitimo had taken over the role of the father, inspecting each of his brothers in turn, answering their calls for help, his scarlet hair streaming like a banner behind him as he rushed hither and thither yet impeccable and gleaming when I met him at the bottom of the stairs--“Eressetor. You look well!”--his practiced decorum betrayed only by his tendency to twitch aside the drapes, checking the time by the degree of light. “Would you do me the favor,” he asked, “of keeping watch of the door, to greet arriving guests?” I nodded, wondering why--perhaps he was going to check on his father?--but dared not ask, but he must have seen the curious gleam in my eyes. “Even heirs to thrones and eldest sons need to break for the restroom every now and again,” he said, and his voice was amused, and I smiled … and I do believe that it was genuine.
By the light outside, it was an hour before the first guests were supposed to arrive but the House of Fëanáro--even if more often than not in a tumult of chaos--liked to project an aura of perfection to outsiders. If someone arrived early, one of the House would be there to greet him, even if only the master’s apprentice.
Somewhere in the house, I thought, Fëanáro must have been readying himself for the evening ahead. His own son’s begetting day. The feast he had planned. He must.
A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts, and I went to answer it, opening the door to the surprising sight of the dark-haired farmer--Telvo’s lover--standing on the other side, fist still raised as though he hadn’t expected to be answered. His robes were dark blue and ill-fitted: too tight in his broad shoulders and so snug across his chest that the fasteners were straining to hold the two edges of cloth together. He was unusually large, although he seemed to shrink a few inches upon seeing me, his shoulders curving inward as though trying to make himself smaller. His skin was swarthy from working in the heights of Laurelin’s hours; he gave off a strong odor of soap barely masking a smell of earth and onions. His face was indeed beautiful, and he was not much older than me: deep-set amber eyes and high cheekbones, a jaw that reminded me of a shovel and a mouth inclined to frown. Despite it all, he was still beautiful. When he spoke, his mouth didn’t move so much as fall open, his words tangling with each other in the same flustered, desperate way of the feet of a clumsy man instructed to dance.
“Oh,” he said upon seeing me, flinching and blushing. “I--Telvo--I … I was told to arrive early. By Telvo.” His big, stub-fingered hand lifted to smooth back hair so tightly bound back from his face that the corners of his eyes were stretched, giving him an incongruous, exotic look.
“Well … come in?” I said, but from behind me came bounding footsteps upon the stairs: Telvo, dressed in golden-yellow robes, hair half-plaited and barefoot, having escaped Maitimo’s scrutiny, face stretched into a grin. “Nandolin!” he cried, and the farmer’s jaw fell open into an improbably beautiful smile and--as though I didn’t exist--they embraced.
Nandolin recovered his manners before Telvo and tugged from his arms. “Ah, yes,” said Telvo, turning to me. “Eressetor. This is Nandolin, my most beloved … friend.” His bright gray eyes glittered as though with a challenge, and I was reminded of the feral looks on the faces of those who competed in the King’s annual swordplay competition. “I don’t believe that you’ve exactly met.”
My hand was enveloped in Nandolin’s big, callused one. Telvo’s eyes never left my face.
“I--I’m charmed, Er-Eressetor,” stammered Nandolin, and the word was as incongruous to describe him as it would have been to call the hulking, shadowy house of Fëanáro “quaint.” His palm was dry and gritty as though with dirt, and I will admit that I was preoccupied with the idea that that hand--as broad as a salad plate with knuckles still dark with grime--had touched Telvo. Knew the porcelain skin beneath his clothes, even knew (I dared think!) the intimate insides of his body. I had seen it; I knew. Smirking, Telvo knew too. And that shovel-jaw, it had fallen open, the thick tongue incapable of speech had coaxed open Telvo’s china-doll lips, tasting him as no one else had. Easily coaxing ecstasy from the proud, smirking Fëanorion with those big hands.
Telvo’s hand alighted on Nandolin’s arm. “Dearest, you will help my father to set up the canopy in the back garden?” The two of them turning as though I’d faded from existence and walking down the hallway together, not touching but with only a hair’s breadth between them, and I heard Telvo remark, “Eressetor is my father’s apprentice. From Tirion. You know Ornisso, who stays on occasion in the city? They were friends, in days gone by. Or so I’ve heard.”
Without waiting for Maitimo to reappear, I fled for the stairs.
The festivities erupted that evening like a handful of confetti tossed into the air: innocuous and insubstantial at the beginning, mushrooming into a florid display that meandered long into the night. In the dining room--the chandelier alight with a thousand candles, the light of the room dancing and heaving as though the very air was aflame--the feast began, spilling into the outdoors beneath banners tousled by the wind. The table was laden with foods of all sorts: roasted beasts of every variety and a patchwork of fruits and vegetables of every color; there were two dozen different kinds of pies that--when cut open by the obliging cooks dressed in black with bright jewels at their throats--released a billow of aroma that mingled and spread throughout the house, leaking even into the outdoors and drawing even the most reluctant back for seconds.
Outside, the festivities were lit by the stars and lamps strung high above our heads, encased in lanterns of colored glass that made colorful, hazy patches of light upon the stone floor. Tables ringed a dance floor filled with whirling couples before the feast was even underway for an hour; an ensemble of three black-clad Elves with eyes dark as pools of blue-black ink plucked at a harp, played at a flute, and beat upon a loose circle of drums: animal skins stretched tight over long-drained wine casks. As though cajoled by the festivities, even the air had forgotten to be cold; the wind smelled of wine and feasts; the music akin to the long-ago sound of wind and water beneath a sky lit only by stars.
Here, of course, we had also the Treelight: a silver haze to the south, creeping like a frost from the horizon as the night waxed, the music swelled, and the laughter drowned even the roar of the drums, destroying any illusion of sadness.
Fëanáro made his appearance, resplendent in dark robes trimmed in scarlet and gold, making his rounds of the guests with his father at his elbow where--I thought bitterly--his wife should be. His teeth were bared in a grin and laughter burst with alarming ease from his throat.
The sons of Fëanáro--except Telvo--spent most of the night with a long line of women parading through their arms. At last, the elusive betrothed of Pityo made an appearance: a beautiful golden-haired girl who tended to look belligerently bored if her fiancé wandered too far from her side. Carnistir--the guest of honor--was not off his feet all night, swiping wine goblets and hors d’oeuvres from the trays of passing waiters as he left the arms of one woman and was immediately tugged into the arms of another.
Telvo wandered at the edges of the party with Nandolin at his side, never touching but speaking with an intimate intensity that left room for no one else in his line of sight. Neither danced with anyone but neither did they show their affection … except for one occasion when I caught them eating plates of food together at the head table, Telvo filching nibbles of casserole from Nandolin’s plate.
At another time, I noticed Finwë dancing with a round of maidens--young girls humoring him, delighted by the bright joy in his eyes--and Fëanáro sitting sullenly, like something discarded, at the head table. At his elbow, Telvo leaned, whispering into his ear, both pairs of eyes fixed on me.
I looked away.
Midnight came and a toast was made to Carnistir by Fëanáro with the stars glinting overhead as sharp and bright as razors and Telperion’s wan, mid-night light barely perceptible this far north. Outside the circle of lantern light, the night was frigid, the wind whipping the trees into restless fury, but wine, dance, and mirth kept winter’s chill at bay, and the party wound onward, into the night.
After the toast, I became aware that Fëanáro was missing. Finwë had settled into a discussion with the lords of Formenos at a table in the corner, near the shadows, and his son was nowhere to be seen.
Nor were Telvo and Nandolin.
I did not leave the party seeking them. I made excuses about the rising volume of the music making my head ache; I convinced myself that I needed air, away from the close heat of inebriated Elven bodies. I’d had very little wine, but it was twisting my vision, making the images melt and stir together: a spray of Maitimo’s scarlet hair and a scintilla of light off a silver flute and Terentaulë’s green-clad figure winding with that of her husband, kissing him like no one was watching. The roar of voices undercut by the throbbing music was as primitive as a heartbeat, the crowd squeezing and surging with the rhythm of my blood, exciting me in the same way that a beast is tantalized by the scent of pain and its own insatiable hunger into doing that which is known to be wrong.
I had to get away.
I was not seeking Fëanáro.
The cold wind outside the festivities slapped my face as though to rouse me before committing a regrettable act in my stupor, but I still burned deep inside, as subterranean fires will smolder for years unless the ground covering them--protecting them--is torn away and they are given relief.
I was not seeking Fëanáro. But I found him, upon the balcony overlooking his northern garden.
My footsteps were light--nearly silent--upon the ground, but he heard me as I approached him overlooking the garden, where the shadows were the deepest, and upon dark twisting vines, strange flowers grew, as heavy and scarlet as beads of blood, with so sweet a scent that one became drunk and eventually sick upon breathing it, yet ever hungered for more. Upon the stone railing, he leaned on his elbows, overlooking the garden. His hair was coming unbound, slipping down his back. In the midnight darkness, it was as black as the sky beyond the stars, and I wondered if daring to dip my hand into it would be similarly like plunging into infinity; if I’d be unable to ever swim again to the surface.
He turned, and his face was a portrait of grief that became something else when he saw me. Or so I hoped to believe. “Eressetor …” a smile lighting upon his lips, his hand stretched toward me. “So you have similarly wearied of the festivities? Please, come and join me.”
I meant to turn and run away or at least make my excuses, but my disobedient, willful feet carried me in his direction until my arm was beneath his hand so warm that it burned even through the heavy robes and tunic that I wore beneath, awakening skin beneath that had gone cold without me even realizing it. Shoulder to shoulder, we leaned against the balcony, with silence hanging between us that Fëanáro had once been eager for me to fill with words. Explain to me … Tell me … I stared out into the seething shadows of his strange gardens; the fat, red blossoms endured even in the bitterness of impending winter, so red that they seemed to glow faintly, little blushes in the darkness. I blinked hard.
Fëanáro did not see my reaction but he must have felt my shoulder stiffen against his. “My son Nelyo,” he said, “is nothing if not a genius in convincing things to bend to his will. People, horses, roses … he tells them to glow, to give light in the darkness, and they oblige.” Laughing in awe, as though he had not done the same--and more--in stone; as though he was not the father of Maitimo and so also to credit for his son’s prodigy.
From the shadows came a trill of laughter--a rippling glissando played upon silver bells--as though the roses saw humor in my doubt, in my surprise. As though they’d known all along that in the House of Fëanáro, nothing was considered impossible.
“They are strange,” I whispered, “but somehow … beautiful.” I shivered in memory of the laughter; the roses seemed to glow darker. “I have never seen their like before.”
“I grow them only here. Nelyo was proud of them--he created them when we still lived in Tirion--and he offered freely his gifts to all of the Noldor, but none would take them. They shrunk from them, saying that they were too strange and unnatural. Aberrant. So I planted them in the north, where the light serves a purpose beyond the mere delight of spoiled lords who scoff at what they do not understand.
“Nelyo … he was hurt by the rejection. He did not say as much, but he would never come here, to this garden, and he gave up his work with roses ... until the exile. He has resumed, to my great joy, in the time that his brothers leave spare for him.” In a voice as low as the whisper of the wind in the trees, Fëanáro continued, “It is strange, the blessings that we have found in exile.”
From the depthless shadows between the roses came another trill of laugher, and Telvo emerged, hand-in-hand with Nandolin.
I stiffened and waited for Fëanáro’s shock and outrage. His youngest son had his arms twined around the neck of the broad-shouldered farmer; their foreheads were pressed together, noses bumping, then their lips joining, seeking, parting to allow tongues to twine, Telvo’s fingers digging into his lover’s dark tresses. Nandolin was pushing Telvo backward to collide with a tree framed on either side by blushing roses that illuminated thick, awkward fingers adept at undoing the elaborate ties on Telvo’s robes, then a sliver of pale skin widening as heavy cloth was pushed aside, kisses raining upon tender flesh and leaving a stain of bruises rising in their wake like droplets of dark wine.
Fëanáro nudged my arm. “We should go and should not watch this.”
I found myself in his study as though transported there by magic, blinking in confusion at the roaring fire that made my skin tingle and burn; the room tilted and then righted itself by slow degrees. I had not drunken much at the party but my mind was sluggish and drowsy as though I’d had a bottle of wine to myself. The roses, I thought, remembering their heady scent that still seemed to linger inside my senses. No, that was wine, a burble of liquid like laughter, being poured by Fëanáro into two glasses, one for each of us. He’d removed his robes and was wearing only a short-sleeved tunic and a pair of breeches, both black, both silk, clinging to the planes of his body and caressed by the writhing firelight, the silk bound so close to his skin that the fire seemed to arise--not from reflection--from his flesh itself.
“No …” I muttered, pressing fingers to a forehead that expected to ache but was still heady, intoxicated, not knowing what I denied. My skin was burning now in the warmth of the fire, frozen flesh at last brought to life. Fëanáro was sitting opposite me, but he did not ask me to speak. He was drinking deeply of his wine, and I was close enough to see his throat working, to see how his lips were reddened by it and the way his tongue darted out to lick it away. He grinned. “Drink your wine, Eressetor.”
I meant to refuse, but my hand lifted the glass to my lips and my tongue--intoxicated by a taste that exploded like ecstasy inside my mouth--twisted into the protestation, “But Telvo …”
Words billowing from my mouth, beyond my conscious control. I clicked my jaw shut.
Fëanáro was sipping his wine again, his eyes keen on mine. “What about Telvo?”
“You … you know?” I waited for the words to reverse themselves, for something new--filled with scorn to which a father by rights should be entitled--for surely his approval was imagined, a dream. But his words poured forth with the liquid ease of wine from an uncorked bottle, and like wine, I let them soak my senses. I became drunk on them; like inebriation, I let them release strange conflicting emotions: delight, worship, rage.
“Of course I know,” he said. “I’ve known since my son was a young boy that he fancied other males over women.” Hesitating, smirking: “This surprises you?” For a moment reverting to the cynical, scornful master who had the power to cow me, I rebelled in an explosion of words that I didn’t recognize as mine--for surely they did not generate in my thoughts--until I heard my voice rippling upon the air: “But--but it is perversion!” Thinking of the son with his arms around the father, always touching, nuzzling, with the comfortable affection of a lover. Dully, a realization bloomed, as strange and slightly repulsive as the fat, glowing blooms on the rosebushes outside. “And you … you--with them?”
I waited for Fëanáro’s eyes to glint like light on steel, but they did not. He laughed and drank again of his wine. “Me? Eressetor, Telvo is my son, and Telvo is also happily married!” His mirth frothy and effusing the room. The connection--Telvo and marriage--was not for my enfeebled mind to make. I boggled; shook my head, as though awakening and trying to clear the last clinging strands of sleep from my brain.
“Yes! Married!” he cried joyfully. “Telvo has been married since shortly after our exile. He and Nandolin followed all of the ‘traditions’ dictated by our people. Nandolin asked my permission, and I gave it. They had a year-long betrothal and a ceremony like that of any other couple. They have rings that I made for them, though they can rarely wear them because of the scorn of others. The questions of others where love is never answer enough. They even both kept their virginity until the night of their marriage, then bonded each other in Telvo’s bed. In that,” he smirked, “they were keeping more to tradition than any of my other sons, who have collectively tried to impregnate half of Tirion and much of Formenos as well.” He laughed.
The room was swiveling around me. I wondered if I would fall to the ground in a faint. My blood was pounding in my ears as though seeking escape. I thought of Telvo, of his eyes on mine. The contentment of one wedded is supposed to be obvious there. Always, I had believed that I could perceive it in the eyes and voices of my parents, on those of Fëanáro’s sons who were wed. Fëanáro himself, even, though I tried not to hear, and though it was torn by anguish. But Telvo …
“His eyes,” I whispered, “I have never seen--”
“People see what they wish to see, Eressetor. No one wishes to acknowledge my son’s ‘non-traditional’ marriage. So they do not. No one speaks of it; no one sees. In my eyes, they claim to see evidence of my marriage, of a bond with a woman who has not loved me in years, who has repudiated me in public and in her heart. But in Telvo’s eyes, they see nothing. Because the nature of his marriage does not fit their narrow idea of what constitutes love. ‘How can he love another male?’ they say. Because he does. Because it is both his nature and his choice.
“So none recognize his marriage. They look past it. None of his family sent gifts for his wedding, even his own mother. It simply does not exist to them.
“But Eru … Eru recognized the bond and gave them leave to be wed. Yet others believe their authority greater in the matter, that their arbitrary rules coined for a purpose that we no longer need--multiplying our people, creating heirs in case of their eventual demise--exceeds Eru’s own wishes in the matter.”
Fëanáro rose from his chair and began pacing. Color rose into his pale face, brought on by wine and frustration. He stopped to pour himself more wine; finished it in a hasty gulp. I fidgeted in my chair and fervently wished that I had never wandered away from the party.
But if he accepted such aberrance in his own son …
I opened my mouth and spoke before my better sense could convince me to do otherwise. “Master, you asked me once why I chose to come here, and I think that I should tell you. There was a boy named--” My voice broke on the name: Ornisso. Ornisso, the name of my ignominy, who has haunted my dreams and my waking thoughts since the day I first beheld his freckled face and duplicitous green eyes; Ornisso beneath my hands and mouth, unlocking ecstasy I hadn’t believed possible. Unlocking love that I hadn’t believed could be wrung from a wizened heart like mine. Ornisso, who could be replaced by only one other.
“Ornisso.” To hear the name, suddenly, in Fëanáro’s voice stung me like a slap to the face. The room reeled, and I nearly toppled out of the chair. Had my thoughts been so clear upon my face? I feared that I might be sick. Fëanáro came to my chair and knelt beside me; his eyes were alarmed, and there was a very pale reflection of me in the deep black centers of them. “Eressetor, do not look so shocked.” His wineglass was nudged to my mouth, still warm from his lips. I drank; I drank wine and I drank him, I thought, deliriously. He was an under-taste now, beneath the wine: the taste of ozone after a close-falling lightning strike. The taste of him dazzled like the explosion of fireflies behind my eyes. “Shortly after receiving your letter asking to come here, I wrote to my half-brother in Tirion. We like to play a ruse, that we are friends,” he said sardonically, “so that he feels better about my exile and so that I can tell my wife honestly that I am seeking retribution for what I have done. So we correspond, every week, of our false joy. I knew your father’s name, for he had always made a point of making himself my enemy. And allying himself--in turn--with my half-brother. So I mentioned your interest in an apprenticeship with me; I will admit that it was intended to wound him, that his ‘most loyal’ subject in fact had an only-son who sought me. Naturally, he wrote back and cautioned me about you, saying that you and this ‘Ornisso’ of his had been caught in an act of ‘unclean fornication,’ that you had been dismissed from his service because he suspected that his precious Ornisso could never had had a hand in it. Ornisso had to be disciplined, of course, to give an appearance of justice, so he was sent to an apprenticeship in the north. ‘I suspect that your Eressetor is seeking Ornisso,’ he wrote, and I wrote back that I doubted it--since Ornisso’s appointment is one hundred leagues west of Formenos--and that I had decided to take you as an apprentice. I heard no more from Nolofinwë on the subject.”
The room lurched and I tipped into Fëanáro’s arms. I opened my mouth to speak, to defend myself as I had become accustomed to doing. The tired words hung, ever-ready, upon my tongue, ready to tumble forth in a jumble of denials and protestations. My head fell against his shoulder; his hair whispered across my face, and I felt safer than I had even in the early days in my father’s home, before my parents separated, before I had ever heard the name Ornisso and my father remained aloof of me, still believing his son to be normal, when I could still convince myself that I would be normal, that adulthood would see me married, with a son and a career as a loremaster. And happy.
My lips writhed but no sound came out, as though I could no longer protest what I knew to be true.
I was aberrant.
Softly, Fëanáro’s fingers alighted on my lips. “Hush,” he whispered, and he cradled me in his arms like I was his own child. My hand rose to touch him--to pull him closer? or push him away?--and the feel of his tunic was as silken as warm water.
I had come here because of Ornisso. To escape Ornisso. Hadn’t I?
Tears coursed down my face, pattered on his bare arms.
“I no more believe that you chose to come to me because of your ex-lover,” said Fëanáro, “than you should believe that I brought you here because I knew that you loved other males. We chose each other for a different reason, Eressetor.”
Around a throat tight with tears, I managed, “What reason?” and he whispered, “That is not for us to know,” tilting my face to his and kissing my mouth, as I’d never been kissed before, with a gentle passion like a warm hearth on a cold night. He tasted of wine, and I parted my lips to drink of him; I tasted his lips with my tongue and found that they easily parted as though he was as eager to taste me as I was him; our tongues entwined between us and someone moaned--which of us, I would never know--and he pulled me from my chair and to the floor, to lie upon the thick, luxuriant carpet that depicted the Music of the Ainur, to lie beside him, our hearts pounding in frenzied unison and our bodies crossing the innocent distance that Ornisso and I had always been careful to keep: arms wrapping shoulders, chest pressing chest, belly against belly, and hips pressing hips.
He broke the kiss first, though barely; his lips were so near to mind that I could feel their teasing warmth, our breaths mingled between us.
This cannot be real. Cannot.
There was a throbbing heat in my groin that would not be quelled by kisses alone. But I dared not hope for that; I dared not hope for anything but to awaken in my own bed and discover that this was all a dream.
His body stretched beside mine, his hand upon the small of my back, my buttocks, burning me through my heavy, despicable robes.
I closed my eyes. Tightly. Better to awaken now, before I fell prone to delusion of dreams, before I awakened in painful disappointment, unfulfilled. He stroked my back through my clothes, rippling along the bones of my spine, eliciting a shiver like a scale played fast upon harp strings; his lips roamed my face, kissing my cheeks and the tip of my nose, pressing to each eyelid in turn, making them squeeze shut tighter.
A heartbeat: and time had changed again, moving forward without me. I was lifting my head sodden with the ache of inebriation from the silken carpet. And he was gone.
He was standing at the fireplace, hands braced against the mantle, staring into the tousled flames as if seeking answers, his unbound hair spilling over his shoulders and swaying in the direction of the fire, as though seeking to drag him forward and headfirst into the flames. His silk tunic and breeches gleamed faintly, fitting the contours of his body--the long lines of his back, his firmly rounded backside--like a thin sheen of oil.
Beside me, the chair: had I tumbled from it, succumbing to the wine and roses, the kisses and caresses but a dream? My arousal strained against the bonds of clothing--tight-fitted undergarments and heavy robes--and made a shameful mound at my groin. If he turned, he would see and know. Blood heated my face and my arousal first twitched then withered at the thought. He would know.
Had it all been a dream?
I stood on trembling knees and the room reeled, giving me the same vertiginous feeling as standing with my feet in the surf and staring at the horizon, the water rushing over my feet and creating the illusion of sliding into the sea. I pitched forward, caught myself with a hand to the floor, the room dipping as though the floor had suddenly opened beneath me. My hair had been torn from its plaits; the fine velvet of my robes, crushed and wrinkled. My eyes felt swollen, the corners grainy with what felt like dirt but I knew to be mucus, yet I dared not trust relinquishing my grip upon the floor to wipe it away.
A strong hand gripped my arm and hauled me to my feet. “Come, Eressetor. You have had too much wine and you need your bed.” A floor passed beneath my feet--was I walking? My leaden legs lacked the strength to lift themselves, but there were steps, falling away beneath me and a progression of doors shut tightly on either side like secrets kept.
I awakened in my bed, the heavy quilt piled atop me. I was sweating beneath the bedclothes even as my hands--lying neatly atop the quilt--trembled with the cold.
I did not remember coming here, only shards of a dream, bizarre and phantasmagoric, of the dusky glow of roses, music swirling at my back like the iridescent sheen of light upon oil, and the burning heat of lips upon mine.
Ornisso? No. Fëanáro.
Outside, the feast had finally broken, and the night was filled with shadows and silence so deep that it seemed to possess a texture: that of quickmud, viscous and unrelenting, rising to grip first my ankles, then my calves, slipping like a lover’s caress to my thighs to bind my waist and press upon my chest, snaking around my throat and into my open mouth, silencing even my breathless protests until it--the silence--was again complete and I was demolished.
Upon the silence, my shame exploded in red flares inside my head, and I closed my eyes. If I had been able to will Fëanáro into the place of dreams, then why did my shame remain persistently solid? Real? Why couldn’t this also be a dream; this abashment lashed to my ankle like a leaden weight, holding me in this place that I longed to escape and yet could not, this place with steep sides into which--whenever I dared crawl forward--I was only dragged back again?
Fëanáro! My own master! Fallen onto the floor like a sack of grain, possibly writhing there, moaning, in my florid, shameful dreams. In my mind, I saw Fëanáro at my awakening, stretching toward the fire with his back turned modestly to me, leaving me in the privacy of fantasy. What if I had cried out loud? What if I had touched him as he doubtlessly tried to rouse me, spoken my passions to him? My awful secret? I feared that I had; I remembered a conversation about Ornisso and Telvo, who had been bound in his lover’s arms in the strange garden in my dreams like pale prey. The words were as clear as drumbeats against the inside of my skull, becoming slippery as soon as I began to tighten my grip upon the memory, as mischievously furtive as an eel darting between my fingers.
What had I done?
Hot tears scalded my numb cheeks, pooling in my ears, but I dared not give voice to my sobs; I dared not rend the silence. Around me, the house slept, with nary a breath or a rustle of movement to betray the presence of others, a portent of my fate: to live alone, a shame and a failure, mistrustful in the company of others.
Fëanáro’s lips upon mine: Had that been a dream? Did I dare to hope?
I turned my face into the pillow to subdue my sobs. I knew what I had to do. Come the morning, I would pack and leave.
I was not summoned for the mandatory minute-long breakfast and I awoke to scalding daylight pouring between drapes that I--in my inebriated weariness last night--had failed to close, the house around me rattling with the same insistent cacophony as a gourd filled with stones and shaken to make noise.
Memory rushed upon me then, crushing me: of my error the night before, of what might or might not have been a dream but most certainly had been a mistake. I pinched my eyes shut--less against the piercing light than the shame--my blood pounding with little fists along the length of my body in a frenzy of humiliation. I would have liked to allow it to explode forth; I would like to be borne on the wind, to the halls of Mandos, to let the Valar fix me and make me right and whole. I would like to be reborn, to start again, in a world where “Eressetor” was but a memory eroding with time as rock beneath swift-running waters.
I rose from bed, expecting the sodden pain of a hangover, but my head was clear, my eyes not wincing even in the sharp midday light. My heart hammered with healthy--albeit terrified--vigor, propelling me to my armoire to select clothes for the day and to finally perform the action that I had prolonged avoiding: dragging my trunk from the bottom of the armoire and to the floor with a hearty bang that was lost amid the commotion in the house but seemed a worthy punctuation to this day, this moment: the moment when aberration began to define me.
With a slow, shuddering exhale, I rose and smoothed my rumpled nightclothes with trembling hands, pondering the trunk that now lay upon the floor, waiting to be unhinged and opened, packed again with the things that I’d once laid so carefully within, so full of hope for this apprenticeship. For escape. Only to find myself more tightly bound by my aberration here than I’d even been at home. I’d tried … and failed.
With a sharp intake of breath meant to be fortifying, I bent and unlatched the trunk, letting the lid fall open. I would bury my hopes in there.
Outside my chamber, there was a shout and feet pounding on the stairs, laughter intentionally loud to chase away the silence--and then a loud knock upon my chamber door that made me flinch as though I’d been struck.
I called for the person to enter, and Telvo’s head poked into the room. “Ah, Eressetor! You are awake!” Slipping through the door and nudging it shut behind him with his heel. He wore a rumpled red tunic and tan breeches with bright blue patches at the knees; his reddish hair was a rumpled mess held back from his face with a strip of leather. He was patting his pockets; his tunic seemed to be full of them. “Forsaken shirts! Atar had them made with pockets for quills and other notions, never expecting that we would lose--ah!” Quick fingers extracted that for which he’d been looking. “Here!” A folded slip of paper, jabbed in my direction, his body already inclining toward the door and escape. I watched my pale quavering hand extend to take it; heard myself mutter what must have been gratitude.
Like a bright fish darting into a haze of murk to escape a predator’s gaze, he disappeared through the door as though he’d never been, the only evidence of his presence his faint, lingering scent of musk--and earth and onions.
Something strange about his hand, I thought, offering the note to me. I turned the paper over in my hands and closed my eyes to recall the memory: a spark of gold upon his finger, quick as a wink, then shoved back into his pocket.
A wedding band.
Trembling fingers unfolded the note, but it was not Telvo’s handwriting, as I’d expected, nor Ornisso’s, as I’d feared. It was Fëanáro’s.
Eressetor, meet me for a walk behind the forge; I wish to speak with you.
The paper fluttered from my fingers, tumbling once, to lie facedown inside the trunk.