By the Light of Roses
After supper and chores, Terentaulë and I drifted to the parlor in an uncomfortable silence. Tyelperinquar whimpered in her arms, perhaps expressing what we would not: a sudden tension, discomfort, as though the unspoken words between us had created a pressure, forcing us apart. I should have made my excuses, gone off to my chambers alone to begin packing my things. If Terentaulë knew of my “trouble,” who else knew? Curufinwë? Vingarië? Telvo?
Perhaps they all knew and rightfully despised me.
We passed the stairway to our chambers, and I should have taken it. If I worked all night, then I could have my trunks packed by tomorrow. Slip away during the height of festivities, without causing a scene, bidding farewell only to Fëanáro, pleading homesickness or word of a family emergency or anything to get me out of his doors with a minimal inquisition.
I should have bolted for the stairs at first chance, but I did not. The thought of my chambers--a lonely box so like that into which my father would have had me placed, if he could, if not for Fëanáro saving me with this invitation to “apprenticeship”--repulsed me. The thought of silence broken only by the soughing of my heartbeat in my ears made my nails dig my palms. I would go mad, I feared, if forced to spend another moment alone.
I wasn’t ready to let go yet: of this place, of this disjointed family, of Fëanáro. I wasn’t ready to go back to Tirion or to acknowledge that the same disdainful pity that I’d received there might also await me here.
I had this bizarre image in my mind like the farces to which my mother would take me when I was small, acted out by puppets made of bright cloth with glittering button-eyes, the voices obnoxious caricatures of speech: There was me--a pale-faced puppet with somber black robes, a portrait of dignity, haughty almost with a pointed nose and clipped manner of speaking--being chased by an imp of Ornisso with wide insincere buttons for eyes and a speckled face, chasing me endlessly through the whole of history. Waiting until I was settled, gasping and bent with hands upon my knees, in a place of peace, then springing upon me again, his freckled cheeks upraised in a mockery of joy, of laughter. And off I ran again, until all of the corners of Aman were exhausted and everyone whispered of me from behind their hands and snickered: That Eressetor! An oddity; an aberrant! Applauding as they did, so grateful to laugh at my expense, my darkest secrets exposed with the same brutality of clothing torn away, flesh bared. How glad they were--laughing, clapping their hand together--that it was me and not them.
Even to cold, secluded Formenos, Ornisso had followed me. I cursed him.
And, defiant, I resisted him.
I followed Terentaulë past the stairs and to the parlor, where the five elder sons of Fëanáro were gathered before the fire (for nights were growing cold), their voices not as loud and brash as usual. I was reminded of the way that the trees will lie still--leaves obediently turned over to reveal their silvery bellies, unmoving and submissive--as a thunderstorm gathers overhead. It is as though they are waiting--not necessarily yet afraid--but waiting to see if they shall need to be afraid, their voices low and hesitant, ears cocked for the first sign of trouble.
Vingarië lay in the arms of Macalaurë, who was having elaborate plaits put into his hair by Maitimo; Tyelkormo squinted in the light of a lamp at a boot that he was mending while Curufinwë sat at his side, book open upon his lap, unread; Carnistir lay on the floor, stretched upon his back with his head tilted, watching the fire leaping in the grate.
Tyelperinquar squirmed in Terentaulë’s arms, emitting whimpering moans that threatened to explode into sobs, and Terentaulë placed him upon the floor and he took off in a flurry of chubby legs to race into his father’s arms.
Terentaulë perched on the sofa next to Vingarië and opposite her husband. I took a chair in a shadowy corner, hoping to escape notice, but Maitimo nodded in my direction: “Eressetor,” causing the other brothers to glance my way in coincident obedience, the way one of a flock of birds rising in a flurry of wings can cause the others to follow. As one, they looked away and back to their tasks.
Tyelkormo drove the heavy needle into the tip of his finger and cursed quietly. Carnistir sighed and shifted to his side, arm folded beneath his head, unblinking eyes fixed on the fire.
“According to some lore,” he said, interrupting the murmur of conversation between the brothers, “one can read the future in fire.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Carnistir,” said Maitimo without looking up from where he was affixing silver thread into Macalaurë’s plaits with nimble, twisting fingers.
“Did I say according to me, Nelyo? No. I said ‘some lore.’ " But his gaze never left the fire, writhing more fiercely now as though rebuking Maitimo for his doubts.
It was Macalaurë who spoke next, his voice soft and uncertain: “Do you think that she is coming?”
“No,” said Curufinwë harshly, from across the room. Tyelperinquar was drifting to sleep with his head on Curufinwë’s lap; though his voice snapped like a whip brought down upon naked flesh, the fingers that twined through his son’s fine black curls were gentle. “She is not coming ever again.”
Beside him, Tyelkormo, defiant: “You do not know that.” Biting his lip, the needle driven into his fingertip again.
“She’s left us, Turko.”
“She left Atar, not us.”
“She left all of us.”
Ponderous silence fell, the likes of which I’d never imagined could settle between the sons of Fëanáro, who so easily charged the air with their unflagging energy, their voices striking the walls of a room with such force that one imagined they might knock them aside, as though they could be contained only by the open air and the bounds of Varda’s stars, not to be constrained by structure and architecture, the constructs of simple Elven minds. The fire whipped and twisted; Maitimo yanked Macalaurë’s hair hard enough to elicit a gasp and a hand flown to his head, wincing.
“You neglect to consider your mother’s perspective in all of this.”
A brave voice, not necessarily loud but forceful, rending the silence, startling me to the degree that I flinched in my seat, though the sons must have been better accustomed to such adamant outbursts: As one, they raised their heads to glance at Terentaulë; as one, they returned wordlessly to their tasks.
Except Curufinwë, whose smoldering eyes fixed upon his wife. She stared defiantly back.
“There is nothing to ‘consider,’ Terentaulë. She had the choice to stay with her family, and she left. It is that simple. She left Atar; she left us. Nothing about that is worthy of consideration.”
“You have reduced your vision to see only from your father’s perspective,” Terentaulë retorted. Her apple-green eyes were livid, aflame. “But a marriage is made of two people and the desires of two, not one. There is no domination, no obligation, in marriage. It is a consensus, a bargain, and if one fails to uphold half--his half--then the other is under no obligation either.”
“That is like you, Terentaulë, to view marriage as you would buying shoes. You fail to consider the union of spirits. It is unnatural to break that.”
“It is not breaking it to live apart.”
“Then you fail to consider her children!” Curufinwë’s precarious composure was lost, snapping like a branch under weight, pouring forth such a rage that Tyelperinquar was startled from sleep with a shriek. “We are expected to endure or be torn in half by her selfishness? Her inability to give her husband--her family--the loyalty that he deserves?”
“Some might logically point out, Curufinwë, that the exile was applied only to your father, so it is you who left, not her.”
Curufinwë’s gray eyes blazed with a white-hot heat; in his lap, Tyelperinquar was trying to wriggle free, but his father’ s grasp had tightened and held him with a fierce possessiveness, pressed to his body. I could see the frantic rising and falling of Curufinwë’s chest even from where I sat. A vein pounded at his temple.
“You,” he said to Terentaulë who leaned forward to meet his eyes, unafraid, “you disloyal, treacherous--”
“Curufinwë!” It was Maitimo who shouted. “Enough! In front of your son?” Disgust and despair twisted his fair features. Beside him, Macalaurë watched Curufinwë with wide, pitying eyes; Vingarië had buried her face into her husband’s chest and Macalaurë stroked her hair with such force as though seeking to prove, we are not like them!
“Exactly,” said Curufinwë, rising and gathering a wailing Tyelperinquar into his arms. “My son should not have to listen to his mother so lightly speak of dissolving a family. As though she admires what our mother has done.” He stormed from the room and the sound of Tyelperinquar’s unrelenting sobs plotted his progress down the hall and up the stairs, where the door slammed with a thunderous bang that made us wince as though a jolt of electricity had made a circuit through the room.
Tyelkormo had set aside his mending; his fingers twisted in his lap. Maitimo resumed plaiting Macalaurë’s hair, but his fingers quivered and fumbled the silver threads he was weaving into it, and Macalaurë reached back, caught his fingers, and squeezed them. “I am sorry,” Terentaulë said, to no one in particular, but her square-set shoulders and the proud lift of her chin said differently.
Carnistir was the only one unmoved by what we’d just witnessed: a fight between husband and wife, that which is supposed to be kept secret and tucked away, as squeamish when revealed as stirring another’s bloody wound with a finger. He gazed into the fire, hands folded upon his chest. “The fire says that she is not coming.”
We departed for bed not long after, although it was still early, content to heed Maitimo’s advice that we all try to sleep in order to enjoy the next day’s festivities. “For it is a celebration,” he said to our sullen faces, his false-bright voice fooling none of us, even I, who had known him only a short time.
I lingered in the shadows, feeling like a guilty witness, and waited for his brothers and sisters-in-law to file from the room. Maitimo dawdled also, picking up the boot that Tyelkormo had been mending and left lying unfinished, inspecting it and smiling at the fumbling stitches, folding it to take with him, probably to be fixed and finished by the morning, knowing Maitimo.
“Good night?” I called softly, my voice turning the salutation into a question at the last moment. Maitimo turned to meet my gaze, and I had to look away. So different from his father in both appearance and mood, but his eyes burned with the same fierce fire. “Eressetor,” he said, “I am sorry that you had to witness that. Our family--” His voice broke; he smiled, as though to cover his distress, fidgeting with Tyelkormo’s boot, picking at the awkward stitches--“our family is broken. Hurting. And we are fighting to fix ourselves but … it is hard. And whenever it seems that the wound is closed, something careless reopens it, and we all bleed anew.” He tucked Tyelkormo’s boot beneath his arm and laid his hand upon my shoulder as he passed. “Good night, Eressetor. Pray that she comes tomorrow.” His penetrating gaze fixed upon my eyes, appraising but not seeing.
I need to leave this place.
I need to leave this place because the next time, Maitimo will look into my eyes and he will know: I don’t want her to come back.
He will know that I am--
I fled the room before I could even admit my next thought to myself.
I lay in bed that night, wakeful, fretting. My trunk in the armoire beckoned me, but I lacked the fortitude. Just as I’d lacked the fortitude to resist the gentle temptation of Ornisso’s kiss, refusing to see what had been obvious to all until it was too late, until all were irreversibly hurt, marked by the incident. So would I be hurt here, I feared.
Unless I kicked free of the bedclothes, packed my trunk, and waited until Fëanáro was drunk and joyful tomorrow to tell him that I would be returning to Tirion, to my home. My father.
But I lacked the fortitude. Because I loved--
I loved it here. Why? I did not know … or would not admit, at least.
Outside my bedroom door, the floorboards creaked furtively; matched voices, speaking in a whisper: The twins had returned, from their separate excursions, at the same time. “Your ring …” I heard Pityo say, and Telvo’s nervous laugh. “Oh. Of course,” their voices receding as they moved down the hallway to their adjoining bedrooms.
The mystery of this family, with its allegiances forged and dissolved--feelings fractured as easily as fragile porcelain dashed against stone--and quickly mended, a family over which Fëanáro presided, the fire in his spirit annealing the bonds between his sons even as his fervor threatened also to destroy them, reduce them to ashes. And like anything subjected to such unrelenting heat, his sons became at once stronger and yet threatening to erupt into conflagration, bowing and melting with too greater a heat and pressure, the madness in their eyes looking a lot like fire.
I needed to leave. But I would not.
In the bedroom next door, Terentaulë paced, trying to soothe a restive Tyelperinquar to sleep. I heard her singing gentle lullabies, her voice tremulous with tears. The floor creaked with heavier footfalls, and I heard Curufinwë’s low voice. “Here. Let me.”
Seamlessly, his smooth, baritone voice took over singing, and Tyelperinquar’s fussing subsided. I heard their mattress creak and Terentaulë’s soft weeping replaced that of her son.
Curufinwë’s voice, sketching a path from where I knew the cradle lay to the bed he shared with his wife. “Hey. Terentaulë. Don’t do this.” Another creak and I imagined them joined, arms wrapping the other, upon the bed. His lips drinking her tears from her cheeks. “I love you, you know?”
“I--I know. And I’m so sorry for--for what I said.” There was a long, heavy silence; I imaged his hands caressing her, melting the clothes from her body. Lips pressing flesh in answer to her apology. “I don’t want to ever leave you.” So faint a whisper that I barely heard, but their heads were right behind mine with only a thin wall between. I heard.
Curufinwë answered, much more adamant, “Then don’t.” To which she had no answer that I heard, only a soft gasp of passion.
The next day was a flurried rush of fighting for the bathrooms and ironing good robes and plaiting hair and keeping a lookout for guests upon the path. It was Carnistir’s begetting day, and he was flushed with pleasure, accepting handshakes from everyone and hugs from his brothers. Dutifully, I gave my good wishes, and he surprised me with a quick, painful embrace. I smelled wine on his breath and, beneath that, a scent of scorch, of green life left too long beneath the merciless fire of Laurelin.
Just after the Mingling of the Lights, Fëanáro shouted up the stairs: “We need to sit together for a minute for breakfast!” and I trudged down the stairs--having been sleepily pondering the trunk in my armoire and wondering if I could pack it before the feast began--in a throng of his sons and daughters-in-law. Breakfast was cold bread with jam and fruit, with each of us expected to set his own place and pour his own juice. Curufinwë and Terentaulë were adamantly hand-in-hand--even when it hampered their progress in setting their places for breakfast--eager to prove their reconciliation. Tyelkormo looked grumpy and had his hair twisted into a towel, still wearing his nightclothes. Both twins were tousle-haired and sleepy, and they whispered together in a rare show of friendship.
Only Maitimo and Finwë were fully dressed, and Maitimo was nervously picking at his fruit salad and Finwë was smiling too widely as though hoping that joy was in fact contagious.
Fëanáro plunged into our midst, grinning and pushing more food onto our plates than we could eat. “Atar--” Tyelkormo protested as his father lavished his plate with piles of grapes.
“Oh, don’t complain. You need your energy!”
“But I don’t even like grapes.” Annoyed, Tyelkormo tossed his plate aside and rejoined the line to begin again, as though it would have been too much effort to pick out the grapes from amid the cubes of melon and toast with marmalade that he preferred.
Eventually, everyone was served and seated around the table. From his trouser’s pocket, Pityo withdrew a small object and plunked it onto the table: a tiny hourglass, set to measure a single minute.
Tyelkormo snickered. Fëanáro looked aghast. “Pityo--”
“You always say ‘one minute!’ You know that I hate breakfast and sitting around like a bunch of fools eating bloody grapes and toast, but you insist ‘one minute’ and argue when I declare my minute expired, so here you go: inarguable proof of ‘one minute.’ " The table fell into silence except for the nearly inaudible hiss of the sand spilling through the hourglass; we all watched, our flatware suspended between our fingers, caught between plate and mouth, and waited.
“Well,” said Pityo when the last grain had dropped into the bottom chamber with its brethren, “that’s it. One minute undeniably up.” He plucked up his hourglass and shoved it back into his pocket, passing Carnistir on his way out of the room and pausing to hug him from behind, around the neck, planting a kiss upon his hair. “Blessings on your begetting day, Brother. I love you.”
“I love you too,” Carnistir answered, but Pityo had already released him and was hustling from the room. Fëanáro sighed loudly and Telvo--who’d weaseled in to sit beside him--leaned on his arm as though trying to make up for the boorish behavior of his twin brother. I’d avoided his glance or nearness to him out of horror of yesterday’s incident, and he’d remained ignorant of me, choosing to mutter to his twin brother and then cling to their father. But with all the room’s attention upon him, he glanced bashfully up through the fringe of his lashes.
And he looked at me.
And Pityo burst back into the room. “Atar!” he cried, breathless with excitement. “There is a messenger coming up the path. And--” his face breaking into a smile, as though even his usual sullen, dismissive demeanor couldn’t contain his joy--“he is clad in Amil’s colors.”
There was a rush for the door, and I was caught up in it, my blood pounding as I tried to convince myself that it was because I was happy and excited like the others, that the roar of impatient footsteps and the bright exclamations crashing in a cacophony like cymbals being smashed around my head was a thing of beauty, of joy. I dismissed the voice that said, But if she returns, then you have no reason to stay. For that was foolish, and I knew this.
There was a crush through the door, but we relented to let Fëanáro through first and the rest of us piled behind him to wait on the stairs to the house, a bedraggled throng half-dressed and still tousled from sleep, wide grins showing unwashed teeth, hands clenching each other’s in hope.
Except mine. I stood among them as a stranger, and no one thought to hold my hand.
Pityo had been right: A rider was making his slow, careful way into the valley, bearing the unmistakable crest of Nerdanel. My father had been fond of decrying Nerdanel’s crest before she’d separated from Fëanáro; afterward, the crest was the cause of their estrangement, to hear him talk. The audacity of a wife to assume a crest--as though assuming a house--separate from that of her husband! It was portended from the beginning, he would say in ponderous tones, that their union should sunder, nudging me with his toe and saying, “Never marry a woman who insists upon her own crest, Eressetor!” as though that was something about which I would ever have to worry.
Her device was the star of Fëanáro upon the shield of her father’s design and around it stood seven stars. Gold on red: the colors also of Fëanáro’s heraldry, but her red was deeper and less harsh on the eye, closer to maroon, and the gold subtle also, the hue of harvest wheat. His red was the color of freshly shed blood, with the gold glinting as bright as Laurelin upon the restless sea. Side by side, the eye was drawn first to his, wandering to hers only as an afterthought. I wondered if she’d planned it that way.
Seeing all of us waiting on the steps, the messenger reined his horse and dismounted, looping the reins around a tree and loosely enough to give the animal freedom to graze. He jogged towards us, a rolled scroll already produced from his pouch and held loosely in his hand.
Fëanáro stepped forward to welcome him, and the messenger kneeled. “Greetings, my lord. I come bearing a message from your wife, the Lady Nerdanel of Tirion.” The parchment, though, stayed neatly rolled, clasped tightly in the messenger’s hand.
“Well,” said Fëanáro with a quavering laugh, “have out with it then.” Holding out his hand, wiggling his fingers as though to summon the message to him: the long-awaited reply from the estranged wife.
“Begging pardon, my lord, but the Lady Nerdanel specifically directed that the message is not to be given to you. It is intended for Prince Carnistir, your son.”
The messenger’s eyes remained politely averted and, with Fëanáro's back to us, none of us bore witness to the countenance of Fëanáro as his hopes were quashed before the whole of his family. He took an unsteady step back from the messenger. His shoulders remained straight and proud, rigid, but his hands hung empty at his sides, sad somehow, as though he did not know what to do with them. The hands of Fëanáro, from which wondrous creations were born, that had held his children and made love to his wife, now empty. Purposeless.
Beside me, Carnistir had frozen, his dark gray eyes wide as though with fright and his feet fixed firmly to the ground, the last traces of a hopeful smile still teasing his lips as though longing to prolong the joy that had seized them for a single meaningless minute. It was Finwë who stepped forward and gave Carnistir a gentle nudge. “He has a message for you,” Finwë whispered, and with his arm around the shoulders of his grandson, he led him forward, to hold out a trembling hand and take the parchment that the messenger proffered. And Finwë went to Fëanáro’s side, to take his son into his solid one-armed embrace, a show of strength and solidarity. Even though Fëanáro was taller than his father and his shoulders were proud, he seemed diminutive and pitifully helpless in the circle of his father’s arm.
Carnistir fumbled open the seal on the paper and unrolled it. We waited, waited for word. At last he spoke. “She sends her regrets for not being able to attend,” he said in a bold, trembling voice. He stood with his back to us, the paper stretched so mercilessly tight between his hands that I feared it would tear. “She names my begetting day as one of the six greatest days of her life. She sends her love--‘seven times,’ it says--to us. Her children.”
Carnistir’s hands crushed together then, crumpling the paper between them and casting it into the dirt of the path. Uncombed hair shielding his face, his eyes, from our scrutiny, he stalked up the steps as we parted to make way for him as though repelled. The messenger bowed once more to Fëanáro and hastened away, mounting and roughly reining his horse back up the hill.
One by one, we returned to the house in a solemn procession. I followed Maitimo, feeling a torrent of emotions that I could not yet untangle from each other long enough to decipher their precise meaning, only that I felt on the verge of both laughter and tears and could not quite name why.
Behind me, I heard a furtive sound and turned to see Telvo scurry to retrieve the crumpled message from the dust, smoothing it and folding it into a neat square, to be tucked into his pocket.
Maitimo held the door for him, and the brothers exchanged a solemn glance. Maitimo shut the door behind him, and my last sight before the latch clicked into place and barred the front path from sight was Fëanáro turning to fully receive his father’s embrace, pale hands clutching at Finwë’s strong, dignified shoulders with the same desperate need as a drowning man clinging to a rock to save his life.