By the Light of Roses
Behind Locked Doors
I adore you.
Daringly, he had taken to leaving little notes upon scraps of paper, tucked into the books on which I was working for the week. Sitting opposite Maitimo in the library, I would find them and tuck them hastily beneath the table before Maitimo could see, peeking at them pressed into the palm of my hand, my pallid cheeks ablaze.
You have become my life.
Maitimo was working on a new variety of roses, puzzling over the possible combinations for long hours, trying to breed a variety with petals clear and crystal as water. So far, his experiments had yielded only species that were blue-gray and reeked slightly of fish. I was immersed in the Ardacarmë, a dusty tome that described the building of the world by the Valar in tedious, savoring detail, and amid the accounts of raising mountains and delving oceans, I found the notes tucked away and written in Fëanáro’s unmistakable hand.
I love you.
"What if someone else finds them?" I’d hissed to him, after finding the first weeks earlier, a few days after our lovemaking had finally been successful.
"No one but you has reason or interest to revisit that boring tripe," he’d said with a wave of his hand, his voice trying to sound condescending but too humored, affectionate despite his best attempts otherwise. He’d dismissed the Ardacarmë as thinly veiled proselytism designed to glorify the accomplishments of the Valar while utterly negating their failures, and I’d been amused to read, upon the first page, "Firsthand Accounts of Creation, Transcribed and Translated by Curufinwë Fëanáro Finwion," in a very familiar hand.
"Maitimo might find reason to reference it, as might Curufinwë," I’d argued, but he’d made a dismissive noise with his lips and gone back to pondering a list of steel alloys for a project on which he was working in the forge, needing something malleable with a bluish cast.
"Then I shall tell them that the notes were left long ago. For their mother," and his dismissive tone--as well as the mention of Nerdanel--told me that the subject was closed.
The nights we could spend together were rare treats. Always, we slept in his bed because I’d pointed out the ease with which I could hear Curufinwë and Terentaulë next door, and he’d smiled impishly and said, "You listen to my son and his wife making love?" not giving me chance to answer before laughing at my open mouth fighting to answer without incriminating myself, saying, "No worries, I would probably listen too."
I thought of him constantly, sketched bits of him in the margins of my notes and shredded the paper, guilty. I took a brief liking for love poetry because of how keenly it expressed my emotions, but that died quickly when I discovered that Fëanáro had marked most of his poetry books with notations about which poems to give to Nerdanel for what occasion. I could not read of "passionate fire" while thinking that he’d given her that poem when they’d discovered that she was pregnant with Tyelkormo.
What I hadn’t meant to do--give in to love and obsession, helplessness--I’d done, turning upon my back and baring my throat to the beast, hoping that he would see fit to spare my life.
In the loneliness of nights spent alone in my own bed, I pondered the whole of my existence like this, should Nerdanel return and Fëanáro forsake me. I would never be able to love another like this; like Fëanáro’s Silmarils or the Trees of Yavanna, this love was something that I could only accomplish once, and the thought of an eternity alone in my bed, listening to the lonely sough of my blood night after night … I would not bear it.
In my dark fantasies, Fëanáro left me and I cut myself with his blade and bled upon the floor or I used the book on botany that he’d translated to concentrate and mix a poison, and I took my own life. In my dark fantasies, my spirit lingered just long enough to watch him collapse into grief.
My darkest fantasies failed to consider: What if he didn’t grieve at all?
Nightly--except when I slept in his bed, in his arms, and so was assured of his love for me--I checked the closet at the end of the hall. Not long after he’d begun leaving me notes, I found a new steel statue there with a bluish cast: Nerdanel in a dress flowing around her ankles, seeming to rise from the froth of the sea.
He still loves her.
I slammed the door and did not sleep that night, but the next night--when the house slumbered--I returned to torment myself yet again. The statue, though, was gone.
There were plenty of others--sketches, paintings, statues, ceramics--to take its place.
I dreamed sometimes of binding Fëanáro to my bed--wrists tied to the headboard; feet to the footboard and legs splayed open, the secret places of his body opened to my intentions, defenseless--facedown, with a cloth upon his eyes and a gag in his mouth.
No. No cloth and no gag. I wanted him to see and scream with what I did to him. I would penetrate him as he’d done me, without mercy, under the guise of love, giving him pleasure skewered with a silver spike of pain. Many times since, he’d penetrated me; even now, he hurt me with the excuse of his ardor. More than once, I’d bled and awakened in the morning to insides that felt like mush. Yet he never let me enter him, and I dared not ask.
In my dreams, I didn’t ask, I just did. Just as he’d done to me.
I didn’t tell him my dreams, although I think that he would have liked to hear them. Probably, he would have supplied me with the rope to act them out. (Once, he’d bound my hands with a silken scarf, over my head, but there would be no silk for him: I wanted rope that would chafe his wrists and ankles as he writhed, at once trying to escape me and impale himself further upon me.) But in the dark of night, I thought of them and brought myself to climax over and over again until I was exhausted. Then, often, my thoughts took an even darker road and pondered Nerdanel’s return and his leaving me … and my own death to avenge his betrayal.
His blade, cold against my flesh, and my blood spilling upon the ground, gleaming darkly in the low light of evening, seeping beneath a closed, locked door.
The forge door.
I awakened and realized that I had been dreaming.
The forge. Daily, Fëanáro disappeared there, emerging blinking and distracted, sometimes irritated, sometimes sullen. Sometimes jubilant, as though a dream had come true in there, manifested beneath his hands like magic.
I’d never given much thought to what he did in there for the work of a craftsman had always been boring to me, too finite, to confine the wanderings of one’s imagination to what can be held in the hand. I preferred the nebulous realms of abstract thought, of philosophy and literature and history, where theories were possible that could not be tested and hope, therefore, need never die. That which came into existence beneath Fëanáro’s hands was too tangible and, therefore, did not interest me.
Maybe he was counting on that?
He was a craftsman and always busy, yet he no longer accepted commissions and burned unanswered the letters from hopeful young Elves wishing for an apprenticeship with him. He was in the forge for hours, yet never showed any signs of productivity. On some days, the hammering was unrelenting and the air smelled sanguine, of hot steel. On other days, I wallowed in silence, but he was behind the door and the door was locked and he expected us--me--to believe that he was working.
I began finding excuses to walk past the forge door, and always, I paused in front of it and tried the knob, running away with my heart hammering in reproach when I found it locked yet again.
What is he hiding there?
I decided to take an interest in his work. Lying in his bed one night, with my head upon his chest, listening to his heartbeat slow from our exertions and breathing the electric scent of his skin, I asked him, "What exactly do you do in the forge, Fëanáro?"
"Projects," he answered, and closed his arms upon me--a sign that I was to sleep--but I could not. For the whole of the night, I listened to his heart and wondered why it never resumed its normal rhythm but rather tripped, nervous and clumsy, until I found restless repose in the morning and ceased hearing it altogether.
Another time, as he critiqued one of my essays on the Ardacarmë, I pushed again, harder: "I would like to spend the day with you. In the forge. To see what you do."
Without looking up from the page, which was already bleeding with red ink from comments that he’d made, he muttered, "You told me that you hate forge-work, so why would you want to do that?"
"Because I hate forge-work but I love you and I feel as though I should know what captivates you. Inspires you. Takes you from me for so many hours every day." I laughed nervously. I did not sound like myself but rather a parody of Maitmo, diplomatic and subtly, viciously persuasive, sensual and swaggering; only, unlike Maitimo, I was not good at it. Fëanáro’s brow had knit; he heard it too.
"It’s not possible, Eressetor," he added, and I immediately retorted with the childish squeak, "Why not?"
"Because," he said with the patient, tired sigh of a father who has raised seven sons and now only barely endures the puerility of his adult lover, "you are not trained and it is dangerous in there. I work with many chemicals and materials of a new and rather experimental nature, and they are not very stable and could be upset by the slightest error on your part. And I could not bear for you to be injured."
Of course, those of his sons who were trained--Maitimo, Carnistir, Curufinwë--were also banned from the forge. As winter thawed into reluctant spring, I sat outside on a rare warm day while Terentaulë and Vingarië scoured clothes in a huge washtub; Vingarië was consoling Terentaulë, who’d had a vicious fight with Curufinwë that morning. "Well," quipped Terentaulë, "I blame Fëanáro because, when he locked his forge against his sons, Curufinwë began to go mad with boredom. Where he would burn and freeze and hammer upon metal, he has turned his attentions instead to me." Bestowing me then with a careful look, like she had forgotten my presence and had spoken amiss somehow, scrubbing the clothes hard as though I--as Fëanáro’s apprentice--also deserved some of the blame.
Daily, I checked the door. Daily, it was locked.
I tried to glean some information from Maitimo, but he was clever in diplomacy whereas I was awkward--my tongue a thick wad in my mouth; my voice high and false--and he recognized my attempts and became suspicious, and I said no more of it, lest I lose his trust entirely.
When I was not with Fëanáro, I thought of him. The spaces between the words on the page were shaped into his face, his busy hands. What was he doing? What was that coming to life, earning his singular focus as I never had? It was her, it was his hands caressing her body done in metal, shaping her from his memories, letting thought of her--who had betrayed him--usurp me. Who loved him.
He invited me to his bed that night, and he lay at my back and wanted to enter me, but I refused, and we fought. "Why do you reject me?" "Why must you always decide how we make love?" "Why don’t you trust me?" "Why do you want to do what you know will hurt me?"
"The hurt is in your imagination," he said, and I flopped away from him and across the massive bed, to curl on my side, tottering so close to the edge that my knees poked over the side. The mattress creaked as he stood, and I heard the rustle of cloth slipping over his body as he dressed, and he went into the sitting room, closing the bedroom door with a bang.
It is happening again! Just as it did with Ornisso! You have trusted your heart to a faithless man.
I wondered if I should leave and return to my own chambers and bed. I hated myself, for I so rarely got to spend nights with him, and now I’d ruined it. I flopped onto my back and cursed myself.
I must have slept because I awakened and he was standing over me. "Are you quite finished now? With your tantrum?"
I waited for my defenses to bristle, but his voice was tender, and he slid into the bed and slipped his arms around me, and I could not. I loved him. I nestled stiffly into his embrace and raised my arms to hold him too, caressing his strong shoulders and arms through the thin silk of his nightshirt. I was still naked, but his hands were not tempted to roam my body. Vaguely, I wondered: Should I be insulted by this? Or maybe--naked and defenseless where he was clothed--I should fear him?
"Eressetor, I do not know why you will not trust me," he said suddenly. "You feel different to me lately, as though you are always guarded, expecting me to suddenly strike out and wound you. It is as it was when we first began to love each other and I believed that you were afraid to give your heart to me. At last, you did … why are you trying to take it back? Now, of all times, when I love you so much and need you so badly? I know that you have been hurt in the past, by that ‘Ornisso,’ but I have been hurt too, my heart trod upon by my faithless wife who loved the Valar more than her husband and the father of her children. Who would sooner kneel with her nose in the dirt than stand proudly beside me, in defense of our right to think freely for ourselves, as Eru intended. Do you think that I am any less afraid to give myself to you? That it is easy to trust you when you could find one young, like yourself, and unwed without the burden of seven children, at any moment? And forsake me? Yet you will not give me your trust, even as I lie with my heart bared to your mercy, telling you that I love you … and yet you doubt."
When the light of Laurelin shyly emerges each morning, so the tender leaves of newborn plants will uncurl towards her. That was me: delicate and still easily hurt, but reaching for his voice--for the light of the world--and drinking of it, becoming stronger, daring to hope for blossom?
I snuggled closer to him, and his chin was upon my hair, our limbs raveled and the lengths of our bodies pressing, not in lust for once but simple and perfect love.
There was heaviness upon the House of Fëanáro, a swollen feeling like clouds ready to burst with rain, but I was dazed by love, and I did not feel it. Not immediately. Like the hairline cracks that had once been sketched across my bedroom ceiling, widening and lengthening as the years progressed, the faintest of pressures spurring one anew, a tributary of the others, until the whole ceiling appeared ready to crumble upon me.
Finwë had returned to visiting the towns of northern Aman, and his departure seemed to leave the door open for something new and sinister to enter the House of Fëanáro. The sons no longer crackled with excessive, harmless energy but brimmed with destruction like a rain barrel after a lengthy storm, and at times, a careless shift in balance sent the whole mess sloshing over the sides.
Spring was upon us, and Nandolin had returned to plant his father’s fields, and Telvo was absent again, more often than not. Breakfasts were tense and nearly silent affairs, ending with the seven sons scattering in opposite directions like small, ricocheting missiles as soon as the minute was up, leaving Fëanáro and I mostly alone, except for Vingarië and Terentaulë, who spoke more with each other these days, it seemed, than with their husbands, and a squirming, impatient Tyelperinquar, who had begun to despise being cooped in the house with his mother when he could have been having adventures with his uncles.
I was content in my library, in the company of my books, and ignored again by the sons of Fëanáro, who seemed as perpetually frustrated and vicious as bulls. The silence of the house was punctured by scuffles: by voices raised in anger and fists meeting with flesh, even the gentle Macalaurë and charming Maitimo, whose faces had become pale with bruises beneath their eyes as though they were not sleeping at night.
I was in the library, finishing my final treatise on the Ardacarmë, when I heard the wrathful voice of Curufinwë, he whom I’d learned to fear the most, for it seemed that in his senseless violence, he was showing me of what his father was also capable: The apple and the tree; I must have learned this somewhere! The centers of his eyes like hot coals, charred and insensate outside but still burning within. More nights than not these days, I was kept awake by his relentless arguing with Terentaulë, for hours at a time, their arguments swirling in ever-narrowing, dizzying circles, while poor Tyelperinquar screamed, unacknowledged, in the background.
But the person that answered him that day wasn’t Terentaulë but the unexpected voice of Telvo. They volleyed back and forth for a long while with the stubborn persistence of Fëanorians, growing louder and more insistent, and I had risen to close the door to the library against their voices--for their argument was over something silly, a toy being given to Tyelperinquar for his begetting day by Telvo--when I heard the whipping crack of flesh meeting flesh, followed by a hard thud and the heavy, wrathful footfalls of Curufinwë taking himself out the front door.
I rushed down the hall and to the parlor, but Terentaulë and Vingarië had both reached Telvo first, and he was seated on the chaise with Vingarië pressing a cold rag to the bleeding corner of his mouth--unshaken but with his eyes smoldering--while Terentaulë paced and fairly gnashed her teeth in rage.
"Do not worry about it, Terentaulë," Telvo was saying. "He did not mean it."
"How can you say that? Are you as much a fool as the rest of them? As your father and your brothers? You are bleeding!"
"He hit me with an open hand. He needed to hit something is all, to release his anger. If he’d wanted to hurt me, it would have been with a closed fist."
"That is madness, Telvo! I am sick of him, of his stupid anger and his violence."
"We are all frustrated these days, you as well as he. Do not pretend that you do not start your share of the arguments that keep half of the house awake, Terentaulë. We are going mad in this exile, and if I must bleed a bit to relieve it, then so be it."
But Terentaulë was not assuaged. Like a caged beast, she paced the length of the room; her hands twisting as though desperate to wound something, even if only herself. I watched her like I might watch a pendulum, standing half inside the door and so far unnoticed. "Our son does not realize that" came her sharp retort. "Our son is learning that to hit one’s brother is an acceptable way to assuage frustration and solve problems." She paused and turned her gaze on Telvo. "The other day, I thought that I might be pregnant. I am not, but it made me think: What if I was? How am I raising my son? What would he have done to the infant, when it had been born? What kind of family have we become?"
"I am leaving him!" she shouted suddenly. Silence fell in the wake of her extraordinary exclamation. She swallowed hard and pushed her hair behind her ears with shaky hands. "I am going to my cousin; she lives near here. I am taking Tyelperinquar with me and leaving him." Even from the doorway, I could see her lower lip quivering. "I cannot--will not--take this, nor will I force my son into the destiny that he is forging for us." She sank to the chaise opposite Telvo and Vingarië and buried her face in her hands.
Telvo took the rag from his mouth and crossed the room to her. He dabbed her eyes with the un-bloodied half of it; he cradled her in his arms. "Why can’t they all be like you?" she sobbed. "Why couldn’t I have loved you, not him?"
"Because it would have been unrequited and your beautiful son never would have been. And if you leave on my account, Terentaulë, how can I forgive myself that?"
"It is not on your account! It is--"
"In response to a foolish fight between two foolish brothers who both wanted an excuse to unleash the hatred in their hearts, if only for a moment. It means nothing. Our exile is over in less than two years now, and I believe that our family will heal then. We have been wounded, but it is not the nature of our people to fester but to heal. When our mother sees our father again--sees us--she will know the mistake that she has made. She will glue us back together."
Numbly, I watched Terentaulë nod and rise from Telvo’s arms, her shoulders as squared and proud as any lady of the Noldor. "Then I shall wait, and pray that your mother will save us."
So if Nerdanel was to save them, then what was I wishing for?
For I liked Nerdanel where she was, sequestered neatly behind the walls of Tirion, more than a day’s ride on a fast horse away from us. It seemed appropriate, somehow, for Nerdanel to be confined within the stuffy city while Fëanáro’s exile had bought him freedom to roam all of Aman.
Except to her.
Since his exile--or so the rumor went--she’d not left Tirion, as though she expected that he would accost her on the plains that lay south of Túna or manifest from the shadows of the forest that marked the boundary of the hills to the north. Even to Alqualondë, it was said, she did not go, perhaps fearing that the seething sea itself would swell and expel him to lie at her feet, clutching her ankles, dooming her to love him forevermore.
To me, he never spoke of her, though I persisted in checking the closet--although not every day--and the icons within it still changed. So he thought of her, but those thoughts were not for sharing with me. At times, I wanted to mention her in an offhand way, to hear how his voice shaped her name in my presence, but I could never muster the courage, for what if it lingered like a caress or savored her like a fine wine? My own name was clipped and quick in his voice, efficient, even at the heights of passion, signifying an ending, a climax. "Ai! Eressetor!"
I passed the closed forged door--always locked--and thought of her. Of him. Of him and her.
But mostly her, this ugly woman glimpsed once from afar yet known now with almost a feeling of intimacy, as though in touching her statues I was touching her, in kissing her husband, I was entering her place in their marriage.
Or as though I was searching for an excuse to hate a stranger.
I sought Maitimo in the library once; he was still working on his "crystal roses" without success, his most recent experiments seeming to take him further from his goal. He and Fëanáro fought about it; Maitimo called it impossible and Fëanáro said that only impossible was impossible; Maitimo retorted that that did not make sense. "What if I’d called the Silmarils impossible? Do you think that was never the easiest thought to have?" and Maitimo’s reply, in a voice high and offended, "You belittle me? For being less than you and the impossible tasks you set before me?"
He was working upon the roses when I found him, but the words he was writing upon the paper were appearing in halting, ponderous gasps, as though he only wanted to give the appearance of an attempt, of working. His face was pale, the skin stretched tight beneath eyes that once glinted sharply but now stared dully, as though marred by dust.
I wanted the truth about Nerdanel, about their estrangement. The stories were numerous: that she had publicly repudiated him and it had been he who had insisted upon the separation. That she had given him conditions to meet and he had not and so she had been the one to leave. That the separation was for the duration of the exile only; that she had gone to the Valar with a plea to have their marriage ended; that they loved each other, hated each other, or weren’t sure what would happen between them when he walked again through the gates of Tirion; that they didn’t know if they wanted to or ever would see each other again; that the separation was part of the punishment, even, and she was keeping her part of the conditions.
Maitimo’s eyes were hard to look upon as I made my inquiry; they were red-rimmed and swollen with exhaustion, the benevolence and lucidity that contributed to his appeal veiled behind red veins and bits of grit left in the unwashed corners.
He sighed and raised an ink-smudged hand to clear his auburn hair from his face. "I suppose it is natural," he said, "for you to wonder," and I was relieved, wondering if he would perceive my true intentions. "You have been here nearly a year now, and the exile is less than two years from ending. You are of this family and yet not, and you must wonder about your fate." He sighed again, as though he wondered about his fate too.
"Our mother argued with our father once, in public, and that’s where it came to be known that she had ‘publicly repudiated’ him. It was no secret that her thoughts of the Valar and his were wildly different, even when their marriage first began. Yet love," he said with a smile, "can bridge nearly any gap. But the true story of their estrangement is not dramatic, and so even if people know it, they do not like to tell it. The truth is that our mother was supposed to come with us; she had all intentions and even had Tyelkormo and me bring her trunks to her chambers, a week before we left. But she never packed; she never came. On the day we left, she simply failed to appear, and we had to be beyond the city limits by mid-day, and we waited until we could afford to do so no longer … and she never came." He shrugged. "That’s it. What that means for the future of our family, upon our return, I do not know. Neither our mother nor our father will say."
My next words were difficult to summon and came in a near-whisper: "Do you--do you think that he still loves her?" and Maitimo smiled. "Of course he still loves her. He could love no other."