By the Light of Roses
Falling in Love with Terentaulë
Most days, Formenos remained featureless, bland. Silent. And the silence was malevolent, taking a life of its own, and I imagined that I heard whispers or footsteps in the hall and--rising from my work--would race from the library to discover nothing.
The sons of Fëanáro were eager to leave the house each morning, sitting restlessly at breakfast, waiting for their requisite minute to be over, tossing their napkins aside and hustling from the room with excuses bubbling from their lips. The wives of Macalaurë and Curufinwë went often into the town; the boys went hunting or fishing or were called to council--allegedly--in distant towns. (Fëanáro’s father, the one-time king of whom I had barely thought, so consumed was I with his son, had been away for months making such appearances.) Ambarussa the elder, called “Pityo,” had a betrothed in town, and he would go to her often. Mornings were a bustle of activity followed by silence, made deeper and thicker by the echoes of their voices still left ringing in my ears. And Fëanáro would lift his fork--eating slowly, as always--and say to me, “It is just you and I left now, Eressetor.”
Indeed, the one who remained most often--aside from me, of course--was Telvo. His brothers would call him to hunt, voices jocular and almost mocking: “Telvo? Dare we drag you away from this place? From your many ‘obligations?’” For Telvo had no obligations. Like his most of his brothers, he’d proven a disappointment in the forge; neither was his childish, simple manner suited for academia. He was gifted in natural lore--animal training, hunting, fishing--but unfocused … or so said Fëanáro.
Yet, voice equally sweet with sarcasm, he would refuse his brothers’ invitations and remain in the silent house, in his own silent pursuits, the like of which I could not discover.
Indeed, at times, he seemed to simply disappear.
In Tirion, I had appreciated the virtue of “quiet.” “Quiet, please!” I would shout at the impertinent younglings who came to the library to snicker over art texts with studies of nude paintings. The rustling of whispered conversation, of restless feet sliding across the floor was enough to drive me mad. How I wished, hoped for quiet.
But never such silence, the sort in which I feared I might become lost--like the darkness of legend in the Outer Lands--and emerge with my tongue leaden and useless in my mouth, stricken deaf and dumb, filled to bursting with silence. The large house seemed as a vessel for it; as a moth beating against the sides of a glass jar could not free itself nor explain its captivity (for were those not blue skies and dancing trees only a surge of fluttering wings away?) so I could not explain the silence of that house: I would run to the windows with my mouth opened into a scream. I could see the birds singing in the trees. I could see the wind snapping branches back and forth. I would beat my hands against the icy glass, for I feared that in another moment of silence, I would go mad.
Then it ruptured: Hammerfalls pierced the silence like silver spikes and I reeled back from the window, faced with my own delusions: for the birdsong was a jumble of noise outside the window and the wind was roaring through the trees, rustling the leaves and scraping the branches alongside the house. Each hammerfall was a painful burst of light behind my eyes.
I wondered if I had made a mistake.
On some days, I seemed to be learning little; a mind that had once attracted knowledge desired and forbidden alike like lint to a coarse fabric was suddenly subject to the same dismaying, irreversible drainage of a sink opened wide. The house was a vacuum, I decided, to many things. I wondered if I might have preferred to have a vein opened and watching my blood drain away instead. Fingernails gouging my scalp, I stared at a book that made little sense. Fëanáro had written it; it was a work of philosophy and strange. His words rattled in my head with all the sense of rocks banging together.
On other days, things made too much sense, and I broke the silence on my own accord, with the jubilance of my triumphant laughter.
The sons of Fëanáro had taken to paying me little heed, even Telvo, for whom I’d held out eager hope for friendship. Loud and boisterous, they made little worlds around themselves in the same way that a large magnet will attract small ore-rich stones and scrap metal in an eccentric and slightly hazardous penumbra. They practically jangled when they walked or spoke, and I almost wished to be made of metal and drawn into their insular universes. They argued over petty things like coordinating tunics and trousers or the proper way to cook a turkey or who had shot better on their last hunting expedition, frivolous things, as though their father wasn’t a blasphemer cast into exile--and they along with him--as though such things were worthy of care. Along the endless white stretches of days, they were bright blights like stains, almost accidental in their appearance in the silent, empty house, swaggering with a wounded masculinity: shoulders broad and eyebrows quick to knit in pain; hands fluttering to chests, to press hearts that thumped with such insistent life that I believed that I could hear them enter the house by their heartbeats sending tremors through the silence. How dare you! To me! In constant conflict with each other and their father, flouncing away, feet heavy on the stairs. The perpetual distraction of minor distresses and melodramas. As insects floundering in a spiderweb will sunder its strands, so their frivolous (and sometimes, I suspected, largely invented) struggles tore open the tension, the silence of the house and replaced it with noisy relief.
They largely ignored me. I gave them no reason to insinuate me in their lives and so they picked and worried over each other. At times, one of them would see me, and his eyes would widen as though surprised by my presence, glancing at his father to ask: Is this right? But mostly, they ignored me.
Fëanáro tried to corral them in a hopeful way that was almost sad. I’d see him catch the hands of Maitimo or Tyelkormo even as they pulled to be free; I saw their faces earnest in conversation but the son listing in the direction of the door, away from the father. And I saw him left standing alone in emptiness after the slamming door had sealed the silence upon us.
Fëanáro was always at work, but he produced little. Or little that I could see. Yet he was always busy in his workshops with the door locked--sometimes hammering and, other times, adrift in puzzling silence (for I grew brave and pressed my ear to the door)--and agitated upon emerging, his eyes reddened and swollen--he said--by the fumes from the chemicals.
We took our meals together. As the months progressed, and I grew more familiar to him, I would rap upon his workshop door at midday, and we would lunch together. Our meals were leftovers from the last supper that one of his sons had prepared; Fëanáro was rumored to be an excellent cook but claimed to be too busy for such pursuits anymore. Mostly, he said little, ate little. He stared out the window in the direction of Ezellohar, Tirion.
I memorized his face, for I wrote about it sometimes in the secrecy of night: the chiseled lips, the bright gray eyes, the eyelashes quick to fall as dark smudges against his high, pale cheekbones as he pressed his fingers together and mumbled with what be perceived--to someone who did not know him--as a prayer.
Other times, he was restless as one distressed, and I sought to soothe him as did his sons with conversation. Once, in a tumble of words too impetuous to require courage, I asked, “Master, what exactly is it on which you work these days?”
And he answered with his face cracked into a smile that was terrible to behold: “The most important work of my life.”
How easily, though, I fell into life there. How easily I left my life in Tirion behind.
At times--excited by my work or merely exhausted beyond the possibility of sleep--I was stricken with insomnia. My chambers were between those of Curufinwë and his wife and the dark son Carnistir. Nights in Formenos were dark, so far from the delicate light of Telperion. I had to draw my drapes against the patch of blackness beyond (for our bedrooms faced away from Ezellohar); I took comfort in the sounds of the house settling down and succumbing to sleep. Often, I heard Curufinwë or his wife pacing the length of the floor with a fussy Tyelperinquar. I would chart their progress by the creaking floorboards or their drifting voices, singing lullabies. It was difficult to imagine Curufinwë--the flint-eyed, unsmiling protégé of Fëanáro--singing a lullaby but there it was, moving as a pendulum back and forth across the room in lazy oscillations, lulling me as well as it lulled the baby.
But then, I would reckon--ear pressing the wall to hear better, eyes half-lidded with hopeful weariness--he was a father and fathers do those sorts of things for their children. I suppose that Fëanáro had done the same, when his sons were small.
My father, on the other hand: I doubted that he ever had. Something ached angrily in my chest, and I wrested my ear from against the wall and made myself sleep. Or pretend convincingly, at least.
Sometimes, Tyelkormo would visit Carnistir late at night, and I would hear their conversation ebbing gently throughout the night: the two most impetuous of Fëanáro’s sons were quite civil in private, I learned. With each other, anyway. When Laurelin made the light outside the window a watery blue color, they would still be speaking, one taking up where the other had fallen into silence so that their voices spun into a single continuous thread. I wondered how it would feel to talk to someone like that and dismissed the thought as quickly as it had occurred. Maybe I had known once … but it was too painful to now recall.
On rarer nights, the house was silent and heavy with sleep, and I would hear a cry furtive enough not to be believed, from Curufinwë’s chambers next door, and I would press my ear to the wall and hear the gently escalating rhythm of lovemaking, of his voice crying his pleasure and her voice answering: “Curufinwë, I still love you …”
I thought of it: I imagined Curufinwë’s firm body--so like his father’s!--twined with that of his wife: softer, with her delicate beauty and apple-green eyes and breasts full from nursing their son, his to caress with his large hands. I even stroked myself in rhythm to their lovemaking … but nothing. I remained unmoved, flaccid, frustrated. Bitter.
And I would not think of Curufinwë’s naked body sprawled atop hers: his firm buttocks and long thighs ropey with muscle; his sweat-dampened hair clinging to his back arched just slightly with the expectation of pleasure; his taut belly and the hollows beneath his hipbones and the shadow of dark hair at his groin--
I would not think of it.
My father had caught me just before my coming of age, guilty and furtive behind a screen at the bathhouse, peering around with fire in my pallid cheeks, dark eyes wide. “Are you watching the men?” he’d asked, but of course, I was not. Of course. Not in any serious way. It was a bad habit to be unlearned like any other, like a taste for rich food or spitting upon the flagstones, and he was determined to have me unlearn it.
My parents were estranged by then, my mother having moved to the light side of the city, facing Ezellohar, in an artists’ community. My things were packed to move with her, but my father had his servants unpack them, one by one, while I silently wept and flicked away the tears before he saw. “Send message to his mother. He is staying here. At least, until we solve this.” An adamant gesture like I remember being made the time I’d binged on too much candy as a small child and had vomited on my bedroom floor. Only the gesture was made at me this time. I was the mistake to be wiped away.
Well, not all of me. Just the part given to lewd, filthy habits.
But I did not think of those times, of his punishments and decrees. I had come of age and taken the necessary steps to assure my freedom. He had not even known of the letter I’d written nor had he assumed that I’d possessed any such motivation until a reply had been delivered, and he’d torn it half-open before recognizing the astounding seal, his eyes widening at my name scribed beneath it. “Oh. It is for you, it seems.” And here I was: in the house of Fëanáro.
Still, if Fëanáro knew of my habits … I shivered. And pulled my ear from the wall just as Curufinwë gave a strangled cry of ecstasy. But I did not think of it. I let silence fill it instead, and I pretended to sleep. Well enough to convince myself.
When autumn came, two important things happened.
Fëanáro practically disappeared and would not even answer my midday summons to dine. Pressing my ear to his workshop door, I heard nothing. Silence. And so I ate alone. In silence.
Somewhere, amid the solitude and silence, I decided to be in love with the wife of Curufinwë. Terentaulë. That was how I thought of her, not as another man’s wife, but as a woman. And I loved her.
Autumn came in a blaze of color, as had oft been rumored in Tirion. But I had never believed: Trees were meant to be green. Fascinated and repulsed, I could not look away. The land was bleeding, I thought, in little, whirling droplets. Yet it was beautiful. Terrifying and beautiful. I had taken to bringing my studies to the windowseat in the library that looked in the direction of Ezellohar, my bare feet crumbling parchments spread beneath them, the book lying opened and unread across my knees. I stared out at the trees aflame with color.
There was much to be done in the garden to bring in the autumn harvest before the first frost, and Vingarië and Terentaulë took to staying home rather than spending their days in town, instead picking vegetables and preserving them for the long winter ahead. My spot on the windowseat looked over the vegetable garden, and I would watch them bend to their task, their lips moving soundlessly. I wondered of what they spoke. Their foolish husbands? Their father-in-law? Or--turning to glance at the house and seeing me at the window, Vingarië lifted a hand in greeting--me?
Vingarië would sometimes travel still with Macalaurë, but Terentaulë always remained. Because of the baby, she said, although Tyelperinquar had grown fat and was beginning run on his own accord around the house and could certainly travel safely. Terentaulë, though, fit naturally in the house, moving beneath the silence like a dark fish in dark waters. Preparing my lunch in the kitchen, I would sense her before I heard her and turned to see her standing behind me. “I will join you?” A frantic nod: Yes; I am in love with you. She wore stiff linen frocks that fell just below her knees; she wore boots that laced to mid-calf. Her pale brown hair was wispy and easily torn asunder; her eyes were a strange, bestial green. Her heavy breasts were always straining against the material of her dress, being mashed into submission, the cloth damp at her nipples where she leaked milk every time Tyelperinquar whimpered, even as we ate our lunch and he sat beside us in the baby chair his father had made for him. “Soon,” she would whisper to him. “Soon.” Stroking the dark curls growing upon his round head that I’d touched once--on a whim--and found to feel like silk. If I caught her nursing him, she would pull the blanket to her throat and would not look at me. I remembered my first breakfast at the house of Fëanáro--my shock at seeing her nursing at the table--and realized that I should feel regretful now for her modesty. “Kick myself,” as the sons of Fëanáro were fond of saying.
Vingarië dined with us sometimes too, but things were different then. Then, it was I usually being summoned to lunch--for Vingarië would make it, proud of knowing how to cook since her husband (she said) was so disastrous at it--and she would chatter brightly to Terentaulë and me. We would answer, of course, and I would sometimes think, “Why, this must be conversation!” but it made my head ache, trying to anticipate what would be expected of me and conjuring witty retorts or clever replies to her many questions before they were asked. I became convinced that my best answers were left unspoken, the questions preceding them never asked, but Vingarië laughed at those I did give nonetheless.
(Of course, I had entertained the notion of being in love with Vingarië. It came to me, actually, before the brilliant thought that I loved Terentaulë stabbed my brain with such illogical force that it couldn’t be anything but true. Vingarië, indeed, was the prettier of the two and the sweeter--being as Terentaulë was prone to acerbic retorts far crueler than what even her tempestuous husband could muster--and, reading love poetry, it seemed that any one of them could have been penned with Vingarië chief in the writer’s thoughts. But to watch her slip into Macalaurë’s arms upon their reuniting, before either of them spoke--her head fitted perfectly to the nook beneath his chin--made my love for her useless. Worse than that, it felt cliché, like something as easily destroyed as the parchments upon which love poems were written or fading over time. So I loved Terentaulë, who did not deserve it, and so the love must be true.)
Amid the fiery autumn and Fëanáro’s sudden desertion, amid a swirl of emotions, my love for Terentaulë was a welcome diversion. I devoted a good portion of my thoughts to her each day in lieu of completing my work, not that Fëanáro ever checked my work anymore to notice.
The sons were off with the lords of Formenos on a hunting expedition one day, and I’d gone to my windowseat in the library with a book of Vanyarin legends that I was supposed to be translating. Only the book was closed--clasped shut even by my hands--and the parchment on which I was writing my translation was abandoned on the table. The vegetable garden was barren and winter was nigh but the day was unexpectedly warm, the golden sort of day as thick and lazy as honey. Vingarië was turning the garden in preparation for winter and Terentaulë sat upon the ground with her back to me, having taken down the top of her dress completely to nurse Tyelperinquar. But Tyelperinquar was growing bored of his mother’s attempts at nurturance and preferred to eat the thoroughly mashed food his father and grandfather liked to proffer him lately; he’d pulled away from Terentaulë after only a few restive minutes of nursing and had taken to testing his skill at jumping in the soft turned soil that didn’t hurt to fall upon. Terentaulë, though, hadn’t replaced the top of her dress and leaned back on her arms to offer her naked chest and shoulders to Laurelin’s light, her soft brown hair tossed back, the ends mingling with the dirt.
I love her, I thought.
Telvo slid into the windowseat beside me. “Hallo,” he said, then--turning to follow my gaze, “Ah, my brothers’ wives. Lovely aren’t they? Pity Vingarië isn’t joining Terentaulë.” Grinning wickedly: “Pity Terentaulë doesn’t turn to give her back a chance at the light!”
His foot slipped and nudged my thigh. He was wearing gray socks that were filthy on the bottoms, as though he’d been running about outside in them.
“Should I withhold telling my brother that you sit in the window and stare at his wife’s breasts under the guise of study?” Telvo asked, laughing breathlessly to show that he only meant to banter. But I bristled: “I am hardly staring at Terentaulë’s breasts! I can’t even see her breasts!”
“Ai, I jest, Eressetor! What reason would I have to tell Curufinwë such things anyway?” He rolled his eyes, as though it should be obvious that he felt nothing so banal as loyalty for his brother.
“Why are you here, anyway?” I asked, not completely assuaged. “Isn’t today the day for the big hunt with the lords of Formenos? Bring food for the winter and all that tripe?”
“‘Tripe?’ Does Eressetor see through my brothers’ facades of self-importance then?” he asked, eyes wide with false innocence. He batted his eyelashes at me and grinned. “Their need to create peril in the Blessed Realm?”
“I said no such thing,” I muttered, for the realization had struck me suddenly that the “need for winter stores” had been said by Fëanáro, not any of his sons.
“All the same, Eressetor, I could ask you the same question: Why are you not with them? One would think that you’d be eager to prove your manhood, even if just in the ritual sense of having attended such a hunt.”
“Your father doesn’t go.”
Telvo snorted. “My father has seven sons. I hardly think he needs to prove his manhood. Besides,” he shifted so that his filthy feet were resting against my thigh. I wondered what I had done to deserve such companionable regard all of the sudden; Telvo hadn’t even spoken to me in days, “he used to go. Before my mother left.”
My mouth was hanging open with a retort (a stinging retort, I hoped) ready to drop from my tongue, but his works startled me into silence. His mother. Fëanáro’s wife. In my months here, I hadn’t heard her mentioned but once, when I had noticed the littering of her statues in the upstairs hallway. Yet she was undeniable for Fëanáro certainly hadn’t fathered seven sons on his own, and there was a softness to all of their features in places--less the chiseled perfection of their father; “flaws,” I knew some would say--that made her presence in them unmistakable.
But she was not here. And no one spoke of her.
Even my father spoke of my mother, following their separation. I spoke of her more. Over supper: “Recently your mother …” or “According to your mother …” She injected herself into the most innocuous of conversations, in all contexts, and no one found that strange.
I looked up at Telvo, hoping that he would elaborate, but--feet still pressing warmly against my leg--he had returned to gazing at his brothers’ wives in the garden. Terentaulë was replacing the top of her dress, I saw, forcing myself to feel disappointment.
“I do not go with them,” said Telvo, in answer to my original question, “because I also do not need to prove my manhood with such chases. I bring home food for my father’s table; I needn’t do it in packs in order to prove my strength or prowess. Also, there are better things that I have to do here than hunt.”
“Oh?” I asked, but Telvo slipped his legs off the windowseat then and was scurrying for the library door at such a velocity that he slid on the hardwood floor as he rounded the corner, as though he was answering the summons of someone far more important than me.