By the Light of Roses
By the Grace of Eru
I arrived at the forge when Laurelin was at her brightest, trying to quell nerves that sizzled with dread, my hands clasped over my stomach knotted so tightly that it ached. It was not amiss for Fëanáro to call me for council, but he usually summoned me to his study; never had I been called to the forge or asked to "walk with him." I wondered what it meant, my mind turning over the possibilities and liking none of the answers; my thoughts whirled and swirled and doubled back upon themselves, dwelling on nuances (was his handwriting sloppier than usual?) and speculating about the unknown (had he seen me? fallen upon the floor, writhing in ecstasy beneath his phantom hands?), recombining possibilities until my head ached and I closed my eyes, seeking relief, and collided with Tyelkormo--"Hey! Watch where you’re going!"--muttering an apology that might have been Quenya or might have been one of the archaic languages I’d been studying for all that I was aware of it.
The forge was the most secretive of the buildings on the estate, and even Fëanáro’s beloved Curufinwë and Maitimo were no longer permitted to enter without invitation. Which was--so far as I knew--no longer given. Behind the windows were dark curtains carefully secured, tacked at the corners of the windows to prevent even the tiniest of cracks from forming through which one might peer into the secrets of the forge. Striding up to the windows and peering in, one saw only oneself looking back, like staring into a dark mirror. I watched myself approach the forge in one of these windows, noting my bowed back and nervous hands writhing and tearing at each other but unable to do anything about it; I attached words to my appearance--insecure, immature, pathetic--and wondered why I had been cursed to survive eternity like this.
I paced a circle around the forge, but Fëanáro wasn’t there. Or, at least, he didn’t appear to be. With conflicting feelings of relief and disappointment, I turned to head back to the house and continue packing when I heard the door open behind me and a voice call, "Eressetor?"
I whirled around faster than I’d intended, stumbled, and nearly fell. Fëanáro was leaning out of the forge door, and he stepped quickly outside, drawing a cord from around his neck and using a slender key to lock the door behind him.
Some people have said that the downfall of the Noldor began when locks were invented, creating soil ripe for rumors to fester like mushrooms in the secret darkness behind locked doors. Though it was not Fëanáro who invented them, the locks or the rumors.
He tucked the key away and strode towards me, wearing a dingy tunic that might have once been white and a pair of brown trousers torn at the knees and sloppily mended. His heavy boots were untied; his hair unrestrained and uncombed, still tousled from sleep. As he passed, he caught my arm and hurried me into the forest.
Overnight, it seemed, the trees had dropped their leaves and now arched over us, mostly bare, veining the day-lit sky with darkness, nodding and creaking in the meager autumn wind. Beneath our feet, the once-splendid remains of the leaves lay, giving off a thick, festering odor of rot, cushioning our steps and letting us pass in near-silence through the forest.
Once, I tried to speak, to tell him that I was leaving, but he hushed me. My heart thundered; surely he could hear it or at least feel my pulse, beating against the palm of his hand still clutching my arm. At last--when we could see only forest on every side of us--he slowed to a gentler pace and his hand slipped down the inside of my arm, fumbling my hand and squeezing it quickly and awkwardly before folding with his other arm across his chest.
My heart jolted in surprise, and I blinked: There was no doubt that I was sober--too sober, perhaps. Surely, I had not imagined that?
Was I going mad?
"Eressetor, I desperately needed to speak to you, away from the others, now that we are both of clearer minds." We walked side by side, our arms kept to ourselves, looking straight ahead at the leaf-strewn forest stretching before us. He was naught to me but a voice and a dark slip of hair in the periphery of my vision. I kept my arms clenched tightly around my body, as he did, to keep from shivering in the chilly shadows of the forest and to keep him from seeing the way that I trembled, waiting for him to go on, knowing that the truth about the prior night was only moments from being revealed.
What had happened? Surely he--Fëanáro, a prince of his people, married and the father of seven sons--had not kissed me.
"Last night …" he began and fumbled. His head tipped further forward until his chin must have been on his chest; this I knew because I saw his hair move from the corner of my eye, sliding forward and over his shoulder.
I could have looked and seen the pulse beating rapidly at his throat, the uncertainty he hid in his eyes. But I did not for fear that he would perceive the same of me.
He drew a deep breath and began again, "Last night … I owe you an apology for that, Eressetor. You were intoxicated and what I did …" His voice was high and false, and he reminded me of how I used to sound when I lied to my mother as a small child and claimed not to know where her chocolate squares had gone, even as I sucked the last guilty remains of them from my fingers.
He is not sorry … but it behooves him to convince me that he is.
Sorry for what?
Clearing my throat and willing my voice not to tremble, I said, "I have no memory of last night. My lord."
He whirled on me. "You remember nothing?"
"Only strange dreams. Dreams that cannot be, the contents of which I am not willing to divulge."
He laughed and began walking again, striding with aggressive purpose, and I had to jog to keep up. "When Nelyo was small," he said, "he used to dream about waking up and going to the lavatory. Dreams, mind you. But when we checked his room, there was a puddle in the corner. Let me guess your dreams, Eressetor? You came upon me on the balcony. We stood, overlooking Nelyo’s roses, and we watched Telvo and his husband beginning to make love. I took you away then, to my study, and I kissed you and carried you to your bed, where I undressed you and tucked you between the sheets and might have remained and laid with you--touched you, loved you--but for the fact that you were solidly unconscious. Of course, I had to touch you to dress you and put you into your bed, but I tried to remain proper, and I slept in my own bed, as is expected of the Noldorin High Prince, the father of seven sons."
It took him several moments to realize that I was no longer walking beside him. He stopped and turned, and we surveyed each other across a stretch of forest floor.
"Do not do this, Eressetor," he said. "Do not pretend that it was not real for shame; do act as though you and I are normal men with normal lusts for I heard your words--your confessions--and I felt your desire as surely as you felt mine." His chest heaved; his fair features twisted like a beautiful painting crumpled and terrible to look upon. The cold autumn breeze slithered between the trees and against my arms; I could not seem to stop shaking. "My Lord …" I said.
"Since when do you call me that?" His voice was raw, broken. He stepped forward and rubbed my foolishly bare arms with hands that burned. "When did I start being ‘my Lord’ and stop being ‘Fëanáro?’ "
I wondered if he would embrace me. I wanted him to and didn’t, didn’t know if I could bear his touch against my body. His hands, touching only my upper arms, had me teetering upon the brink of madness. "My--‘Fëanáro’--" the juxtaposition of those two words made my cheeks burn--"you speak of ‘our’ abnormal lusts but--forgive me--you are wed. To a woman."
And you have fathered seven sons with her! More than any other Elf in any of the accounts of history!
And your lust for her was the subject of derision and envy in Tirion!
But I did not say those things. His smile sagged, his features tightening as with a wince of pain. He took my arm and we began walking again. This time, when his hand slipped into mine, it stayed there, our fingers entwined, his hot flesh warming my cold hand. "There are those," he said, "who love as they should--or as it is believed that they should--who love exclusively those of a gender opposite theirs. Then there are those such as Telvo and Nandolin--you--who love exclusively those of the same gender. And then there are those of us who like both, who shall be satisfied by no marriage because we ever desire what we do not have. That is I, Eressetor.
"When I was young, I believed myself to love exclusively males. Women were so often frivolous and irritating; I associated them all with my stepmother, who was then being courted by my father and desperately sought to marry him--and acted like it. The sound of their laughter, the scent of their perfume, the sight of their tiny, despicable feet in their silly pointy-toed shoes--it enraged me. I believed myself incapable of loving such a creature. Aulë took me as an apprentice around that time, and both my father and I were grateful, though neither would admit it. I began to spend almost all of my time in Aulë’s company, returning home only rarely, and I"--he laughed--"fell in love with him. With Aulë.
"I know now that it was not really love but born instead of loneliness and sexual desire that I did not then understand, but I believed myself in love with him so fervently that I even treated Yavanna--my archenemy, from my perspective then--with cruelty, until Aulë accosted me and threatened to send me back to my father for my misbehavior, and in desperation, I broke down and confessed all to him: that I loved him and wished Yavanna gone so that he might sunder his bond with her and marry me, as my father had done with Indis.
"I hate now to think of what his honest thoughts must have been then, but he took pity upon me and did not condemn me outrightly nor did he--so far as I know--tell anyone of my confession. But he explained to me that ‘love’ such as mine--and he left no doubt that he didn’t believe it to be love at all but rather a strange perversion come upon a strange child--was neither normal nor ordained, and it was against the laws of nature. Eru had made us male and female, he said, for the purpose of union and procreation, and to turn our desires to other purposes trivialized them and made our sexuality solely about pleasure. Just as, he said, we will eat the flesh of beasts but not our own kind, for it is unnatural, and though we may derive satiation and pleasure from consuming the flesh of Elves, it defies the order of the world and so causes pain and evil that otherwise would not have been.
"Of course I--for all of my delusions of grandeur--was young and still very naïve, not to mention agonized over his rejection of me, and I did not protest the obvious flaws in his comparison of homosexuality to cannibalism. In fact, I bawled my eyes out, as they say, and he took pity upon me. He said that he would tell no one of my ‘confusion’; in fact, he wondered if it had been partly his doing, for he kept me strictly sequestered for much of the day, intensely studying, and I was not allowed to communicate with others my own age or my family except for a single letter written to and read from my father each evening. He said that he had failed to consider that my rapid maturity might extend not only to physical and intellectual but sexual maturity as well, and that I needed to be around Elves my own age to learn about the proper expressions of that. So, he said, he would act as though I’d said nothing to him, so long as I consented to be sent north, where other young, aspiring metalsmiths frequently took their first apprenticeships in the mines. It was hard and dirty work, and by virtue of being a High Prince, he hadn’t believed it suitable or necessary, but clearly it was.
"So I was sent to a mine not far from here, to serve a master who lived in Formenos. The work pleased me and exhausted me to where I possessed not the strength to think on Aulë or my abnormal desires, but the fear was always there, and I shunned Elves my own age--male and female--for fear of discovering that Aulë had been wrong, that I truly was abnormal and doomed to lust after my own kind and abhor women.
"Naturally, I made rapid progress in my work, and my master soon appointed me as his assistant and took on a new apprentice: Nerdanel.
"Nerdanel was different than any woman I’d ever met before. She was quiet and thoughtful but she could match wits with the best. She could match wits with me. And," he added with a laugh, "she didn’t even wear awful pointy-toed shoes. Many hours we spent in each other’s company, and our friendship grew, and it came to where I realized that I desired her, very deeply, to where I dreamt of her nightly and she filled my fantasies. Yet, at the same time, I was still attracted to other males. My love for Nerdanel just happened to be stronger than that.
"I believed that she also loved me, so I asked her to marry me. But before I let her answer, I told her--second of all people in the world--my awful secret. She held me for a long time that night before she gave me her answer, but at last, she did. ‘I will marry you,’ she said, ‘if you can set aside your desires for others and love only me.’ She is not a beautiful woman, as you probably know, and she feared that I would tire of her and desire, as she said, ‘one of my own league.’ Her deepest fear, I believe--though she never said as much--was that this eventual paramour would be another male, that I would bring shame upon her: that she was so ugly and clumsy that her husband had to turn to another male to satisfy him as a woman should. I gave her my promise, and we were married.
"Aulë stood at my wedding, and he said nothing--as he had promised--about my long-ago transgression and confessions, but I could see that he was pleased that he had been right all along, that I had managed to find normal love for women. Yet, I had not. Not entirely. I continued to desire males--the male body, the touch of male hands--and pleasures that my wife could not give, but I kept my promise to her, and I never strayed from our marriage except in thought. And if a man cannot have his own thoughts and private dreams, then what can he have?
"One by one, our sons were born, and as they grew, I watched each for signs of my abnormality. Fervently I wished--even praying to Eru--that none of them would be cursed as I had been, not because I would have been ashamed of him but because I wanted none of my children to suffer and go without love because of ‘conventions’ that he’d had no part in making. It continues to seem unjust to me that we are born into the rules and choices of a society and expected to follow them without question, to pay for the folly of our ancestors. Because our forefathers didn’t consider the possibility that a man should wish to love and marry another man--or that a woman should wish to love and marry another woman--then we are expected to conform to those ancestors’ narrow beliefs rather than what Eru has ordained possible. And by our very existence, Eressetor, Eru has proven that our kind is as much a part of the Music as those who call themselves ‘normal,’ and as the Ainulindalë teaches us, Eru put nothing in the Music that does not n the end do glory unto Eru’s creation. But others seek to suppress it, not for lack of understanding so much as lack of a willingness to understand. But I suppose that that is part of the Music as well.
"I was heartened, though, as was my wife--for though she didn’t speak of it, I know that she also watched each of our sons closely for signs of aberration--that each of our five sons grew with a healthy (if not a bit voracious) appetite for women, and it seemed that my prayers had been answered beyond my expectations. Perhaps, I often thought, Eru has a sense of humor after all and enjoyed watching me worry instead over their excessive lust for the opposite sex. Nelyo came home at the age of thirty-nine, in tears because his thirty-seven-year-old girl-friend feared that she might be pregnant; that was, luckily, a groundless worry. But after that, as they matured one by one, I had to answer for their behavior to more angry fathers than I care to remember; placate more heartbroken, weeping ‘maidens’ than I have fingers and toes; and I learned to knock before entering any room with a closed door, including--and this was Tyelkormo--my own bedroom. But I had my wish, did I not? And who was I to dispute a blessing?
"After Curufinwë’s birth, Nerdanel and I agreed that he would be the last, as both his pregnancy and delivery were difficult for her, and it was questioned whether they would both survive--or whether they both might even perish. We’d pushed it too far, we feared, and so we contented ourselves with our five healthy sons and were careful ever after in our lovemaking. But accidents happen or maybe we’d grown careless with time and no conceptions, and when Curufinwë was just over one hundred years old, after a bout of what appeared to be poisoning from a particularly foul meal that Macalaurë had made, the healer proclaimed her not poisoned but pregnant. And with twins, nonetheless!
"The twins were born without much fuss at all, both of them healthy, and it seemed that our worries had been groundless. It was almost as if it had been meant to be.
"In the eight months or so between when we discovered that Nerdanel was with child and the births of the twins, I turned my prayers to asking--not for my unborn sons to be of ‘normal’ sexuality--but asking that my wife survive this final pregnancy and childbirth, asking that both my little boys be happy and healthy and never have to suffer as I had, without a mother, and enduring the temptations of their widowed father. And again, my prayer was granted.
"But it was not long before it became obvious that the younger of the two--despite the fact that they were alike in all else and that his twin had the same desire for women as my elder sons--was aberrant, as I had been. As I am. And Telvo is innocent and has never doubted the best intentions of anyone; he is like his mother and not at all like me in personality and temperament: kind and patient, striving ever to understand rather than master. He assumed that others--his mother, his brothers--would accept him for what he was and likewise try to understand him. They did not. They reacted with fear and hatred, not for him but for what they believed he’d chosen to be, and they tried to change him. Naturally, they could not. You and I know that it is not a matter of choice but rather a matter of being, as ordained as the colors of our eyes or our maleness. And though they came eventually to love him despite his aberrance, nothing has ever been the same between them. And neither my wife nor half of my sons, I am ashamed to say--including his own twin brother--will acknowledge his marriage to Nandolin, reacting with silence to it on the best of days and calling it ‘filth’ and ‘aberration’ on the worst.
"My wife left me when I was exiled and publicly repudiated my doubts about the Valar. Since then--nearly a decade--I have pursued her, and though I have had the opportunity to take new lovers, I have honored my promise to her. Until last night. Last night, I kissed you Eressetor, and held you in my arms, and I was unfaithful in mind as well as body, and I found that it did not destroy me. For I have learned that my wife will not return to me, no matter what I do. The bond between us was sundered long before I kissed you last night, but it took that kiss to see that. I have lost my hope in her and so seek it anew, with you."
We stopped in the clearing and he challenged me with his stare. He took my quavering hands in his and kissed my knuckles. His gaze never left mine.
I laughed then, maniacally, laughing so hard that the trees seemed to shake with my mirth, rattling their skeletal branches and spilling the last of their dying leaves upon us. The wind roared in acquiescence and Fëanáro grinned at me, and we were alike in our madness.
"All this time," I said between peals of laughter twisting toward the sky and the slate-gray clouds roiling overhead, "I have dreaded this; it has been my worst nightmare and now …" My face burned, cheeks twisted into a grin wider than possible for me--the heartless stoic--and I realized that I was sobbing, nuzzling his chest and accepting his embrace. Warm hands swept the hair from the back of my neck and something burned there, a kiss, and my head lolled around and his mouth pressed the pounding artery in my throat, tongue teasing pallid flesh, his teeth smiling against me.
There was a feeling of being lifted and propelled and something solid bumped my back, and I realized that he had me pressed against a tree; his hands were pushing at my robes and baring my skinny white legs with thick, knobby knees, trembling with both cold and terrified relief to be touched, at last, by one such as he. His mouth had claimed mine again, his tongue in my mouth and trailing the line of my jaw and prodding inside of my ear. His hands were busy below his waist and with the ease of swiping papers from a table with the flat of his hand, his breeches had slid away--but of course, he had done this before, even if never with a male, was an experienced lover--and I felt his naked arousal prodding the inside of my bare thigh even as nimble fingers had taken to peeling away my underpants.
"Eressetor, for love of Eru, I have denied myself so long, and I want you so badly," he said, fingernails scratching my buttocks in his haste as my heart hammered in sudden fear of what he meant to do. He was already throbbing against my leg, thrusting against me, hand fondling my genitals with a practiced haste, almost painfully, before lifting to poke his two fingers into his mouth. I was painfully hard, my heart beating so fast with terror and desire that it was a single hot roar of blood, my entire body a column of flame and my legs lifted to straddle his waist, trembling.
A slick finger prodded me, plunging into my untouched depths before a second joined it and I shouted in pain. "Eressetor, relax, damn it," he growled, and he was trying to stretch my resistant flesh but my frightened body had clenched upon him and hurt us both, and he pulled out with a grunt. His erection against my thigh felt huge, and I quailed at the thought of taking him inside of me--not when even this, two fingers, hurt so much--and he was becoming frustrated with me. He bit my throat then soothed it with his tongue; he fumbled himself to my entrance although I was not prepared, and I rebelled and thrust away from him, writhing from his grasp and falling upon my naked backside upon the damp, fallen leaves, pale, trembling hands concerned with fumbling my robes to cover my nakedness.
He had no such modesty and stood before me--naked below the waist and tunic torn half open--with an astounded sneer upon his face, beautiful and terrible, with long, muscled legs and taut belly and his erection rising red-purple from the dark hair at his groin and damp at the tip, formidable and beautiful and terrifying.
I could look on him all day, but I hid my eyes, pulled my knees to my chest. I heard his name wheeze out in an exhale: Fëanáro. "Have I misunderstood?" he said in a strange, staccato voice that belied his hurt bewilderment, his anger with me. "Have I misunderstood your desire for me? I have never made love with a man, but I have not brought seven children into the world without some knowledge of the mechanics of it, and you are acting like a dumb virgin."
In a quavering voice, I managed to say, "I am," followed by a shuddering exhale that might have been a laugh, and I realized that--despite his scorn of those who believed the vicious lies spread as rumors in the house of his half-brother--he had assumed by the same rumors and my aberrance that I must have been guilty as accused. "Ornisso and I," I added in a whispered, "we only kissed; no one has ever touched me before you."
Swiftly, he stepped into his breeches and the laces were redone so rapidly that it seemed by magic that a second skin was brought to cover the first, and he lifted me into an embrace, leaning me against the tree again but apologizing for his error this time with tender kisses, coaxing open my lips with his tongue and caressing my face and chest with warm, gentle hands, kissing my eyes and nose and the soft skin of my throat. "Let me touch you?" he said--at once a demand and a question--with his fingers already slipped past my waist and fondling the tip of my erection, and as I nodded, he took also my hand and pressed it to his groin, moaning into my mouth in his pleasure.
"We will start slowly." His breath came in ragged gasps and his face was damp with sweat, his eyes feral and as bright as steel fresh from the fire. "Just touching. We’ll bring each other to climax with just our hands. From there …" He spoke no further and plied my lips with gentle kisses, moving down my face and neck, lost his composure there and moaned, and I felt his teeth on my flesh, closing upon me, almost hurting, then in his mercy, retreating, a quick tongue prodding the marks he’d made, soothing them into nonexistence.
His hand was on my erection, having weaseled beneath my robes, and many times I was on the brink of succumbing to pleasure; he’d knocked my hand away from clumsily stroking him through his breeches after he’d nearly climaxed; he wanted me to climax first or maybe come together. I could not tell from the unintelligible words whispered against my skin, punctuated by nips and kisses. His touch was expert, maddening, but I could not bring myself to give into it; I seemed to believe--foolishly, irrationally--that instead of ecstasy, my body would explode into searing pain if I did.
"Eressetor, come …" That I felt as well as heard, against the delicate ridge of my collarbone where he was leaving kisses, blue-black marks. "Please!" He was pushing his hips against me, faster now, and I whispered something like "I can’t," and he shouted then and thrust against me, his face twisted as though in pain, and even through his breeches--still primly laced because I’d been too shy to presume the right to strip him as he had to done me--I could feel him throbbing, and then he was the one quivering and helpless, collapsed in my arms.
He dropped to his knees to push his face into my belly, moaning weakly, and I was still hard and unfulfilled but somehow relieved that he’d given in to release first and left me unsatisfied. Still pure. One of my hands twined in his hair as warm and slippery as silk, damp with the sweat of his exertions; the other was busy tugging my robes in place to cover my nakedness.