I wrote this story for Oloriel as a holiday gift in 2007. She asked me for "young Fëanáro and the early days of his apprenticeship with Aulë." Since this will be covered in much greater detail in my in-progress prequel to Another Man's Cage, then I chose to use a different voice than I usually do for Fëanor. Also, with regards to canon, I have chosen here to portray Finwë as one of the Unbegotten. I am aware of the arguments against this, but I have consciously chosen to go against the grain on this one.
A Gift for a King
Your father's unbegetting day is near," said Aulë to me yesterday. "What gift do you intend to make for him?" and my answer was, "A stack of straw," and a pout. I am Curufinwë Fëanáro, the son of the King and eighteen years old and in my sixth year as an apprentice of Aulë, and it is often said that I will exceed what all of my predecessors have accomplished in craft. Already, I can create items of loveliness that exceeds what comes of the hands of those five times my age, and, once, I would have. Once, I would have spared neither gem nor gold for my father. But not this year.
Aulë chuckled. "You will have to do one better than a stack of straw, Finwion," he said, and he ruffled my hair as he went. I seethed. He doesn't ruffle the hair of his other apprentices, those grim-faced Maiar and Noldor always grumbling that I am underfoot! That I am small should matter not. I am at least as grim as they, and I do not get underfoot. It is they who are careless and collide with me.
But at least they do not ruffle my hair.
Yet despite the other apprentices and Aulë himself--all annoying beyond reproach--this apprenticeship would be bearable but for the fact that I am expected still to acknowledge my family. Once, "my family" consisted of a single sensible person: my father. But my father saw fit to add a new wife, and more recently than that--horror of horrors--another son. These I prefer to call strangers or usurpers or names of animals foul that slink in the mud, but Aulë disallowed this as soon as I arrived, and he insists that I call the whole lot of them "my family" unless I'd like to be on hands and knees scrubbing the forge while the others get to learn and work. Then, true to the accusations hurled against me by the other apprentices, I would indeed be underfoot.
So it seemed that I must make a gift for my father. I had to think on precisely, exactly what I would make, so I wandered outside, bumping into a pair of knees as I went and eliciting a shout of surprise as something acidic-smelling gave a loud slosh. It mattered not. I was deep in thought, trying to conjure a gift for a king.
What to make for my father, the man who had all there is to have in the way of jewels and metals and jewelry and crowns and textiles and scepters and furs and baubles and circlets and rings and a good amount of things beside that I had probably forgotten? It had been long since I'd returned to my father's house, for I forged excuses with the same ease as I did items of beauty, and the apprentices' dormitory was decidedly less ornate than the palace of the Noldorin King. Aulë said that originality comes of frugality, and perhaps he was right, for that night--having been threatened into making an unbegetting day gift for my father or else clean the forge for until his next unbegetting day and so on--I dreamt, and in that dream came inspiration.
In my dream, I was sitting on the cold mosaic floor in my father's favorite parlor. I was sitting on the floor because his other son--that spawn of the Vanyarin half-wit--was occupying his lap, bouncing upon his legs. He would tell me, if I asked, that at eighteen years of age I was too old for cuddling and lap-sitting. This I knew without having to ask. Last that I saw him, when I dropped my backside upon his legs, he let out a groan akin to pain and said something along the lines of me being "big for my age," which I was to take as a compliment but knew to be a reproach. No mind. In my dream, I sat folded-legged upon the floor, looking up at him and my baby half-brother, and the Vanyarin half-wit was saying something about gifts and clapping her hands in that intolerable manner of hers to summon the servants to the room.
There they came with myriad small boxes save one: a gift so large that it took two to carry it, and when they placed it upon his legs, he had to shuffle my half-brother off to another servant lest he be crushed, and I knew without even reading the gift tag that it was mine.
The morning bell chimed then, and I awakened without seeing what was inside the box, but, nonetheless, I knew what I must do. I was restless at my lessons, and my tutor complained, but he was always complaining and saying that I was restless at my lessons, whether I was or not. I drew a stick-man in the margin of my assigned reading about copper alloys and a big, elaborately wrapped gift hanging over his head, and I even used colored ink to decorate the gift with tiny intricacies and ribbons. That displeased my tutor, who loudly proclaimed that I'd ruined the book with my doodles and neglected my studies and his authority for the last time (emphasis his, not mine) and hauled me by the collar of my tunic to Aulë's study, where he was meeting with the senior apprentices. There, we had to sit for the better part of an hour, waiting, while my tutor paced petulantly, and I tried to look repentant and miserable and might have half-succeeded if I could stop my arms from twitching and my head from thinking on my father's gift and my eyes from gleaming (I'm sure) as I thought again and again of my dream and the satisfaction of seeing my half-brother displaced for something of mine.
At last, Aulë saw us, and the tutor brandished the "ruined" book (which Aulë pointed out had been written on vellum and, therefore, the doodle could be scraped off with an artist's knife, and I know that I said just that to the insipid fool) and told tales of my continuing misdeeds, many of which I felt were exaggerated. I had (allegedly) sent no fewer than three apprentices to the infirmary, one with a broken ankle from tripping on me underfoot and another with a nail through the foot that I had left lying around and a third with burns from an acid bath that I had bumped into and splashed upon him; I had ruined numerous crafts including one final project of a senior apprentice who had locked himself into his dormitory and could be heard weeping through the open window; I had started two fires, one in the laboratory and one in the forge; I had broken a bellows; I had--
I drifted off, consumed again with thoughts of my father's gift and, when I resurfaced ten minutes or so later, the tutor was still complaining about me, this time how I had turned a load of students' tunics pink by washing them with my special red nightclothes because I (again) was not heeding what I was doing. Then the tutor finally shut up. Aulë raised his eyebrows. "That is all?" he asked, and the tutor boggled and finally managed to squeak out, "All? Yes!" and Aulë said mildly, "I will speak to him about it," and waved the tutor from the room.
"Finwion," said Aulë, and I had to make my eyebrows pop up in an effort to look interested, though I was thinking of how I might mix a portion of metal and dye in such a way to make ribbon red-colored as the blood beating in my heart that might aptly symbolize my love for my father in a way that I needn't crush his legs trying to sit in his lap or acknowledge the usurpers in any way. "I am to assume from the nature of your doodlings that you have given consideration to the gift you will make for your father?"
"I have," I answered, trying to keep the excitement from my voice and failing. Aulë grinned.
"Good. I am pleased to see that you have been inspired. Now I think that your tutor has seen enough of your face for this year, certainly for the day, and so I will dismiss you to work on your father's gift. You have only four days left, remember."
"I remember," I said, giddy with anticipation.
"Good. Then you are dismissed." I rose, and, before I could bolt from the door, Aulë added, "Oh, and Finwion? About those other things he said?"
Wincing, I thought of the myriad other accusations made against me and paused.
"Do be more careful," he said and went to work with an artist's knife, removing my drawing from the vellum page of the ancient book.
My father's unbegetting day celebration was worthy of a King and one Unbegotten at that, and even a High Prince like I boggled at the splendor of the festivities, especially since I had grown accustomed to the sparser accommodations at Aulë's halls. I fairly hung out of the carriage in awe, and my tutor--trusted to accompany me as my guardian--often had to hold me from tumbling out of the window and into the street by the seat of my robes.
In the back of the carriage was my gift, a massive, splendid thing wrapped in suede soft but durable, dyed a festive purplish hue. A spray of colored ribbons erupted from the top, and jewels spangled across it in colorful patterns that dazzled the eye in the light. And it was so large that I could scarcely carry it alone.
Although all of the Noldor had been invited to the festival, I was escorted to the table at the front of the room, upon the dais, and my gift was whisked past the table laden with a bounty of baubles and into the private parlor where, later, we would enjoy my father's company. He was not at the table when we arrived, but my stepmother was there with a bundle in her arms that was my half-brother, and she greeted us too effusively, patting a seat at her side that I assigned to my tutor while I took the seat to the right of where my father would sit, just as soon as he realized that I had arrived.
But three courses passed, and his seat remained empty. I could see him in the crowd, his bright golden crowd moving among the people, as he grasped hands and offered blessings. I sank lower and lower in my chair, and the meal--at first consumed with gusto reserved for the finest foods that we were denied in the students' dining hall--I began to push around my plate in lieu of eating. My tutor, blushing like a schoolboy, was making shy conversation with my stepmother, and none seemed to notice me. Even thinking of my elaborate gift, wrapped and waiting in my father's favorite parlor with the mosaic floor, gave me little comfort. I imagined it becoming buried by the others and unwrapped by servants later, then discarded. I sank so low in my chair that I nearly slid to the floor.
My half-brother began crying then, wailing red-faced with his fists churning the air, and he would not be comforted by my stepmother. I watched my father winding his way through the crowd to the dais, where he took the bundle from her arms. The wailing baby immediately shut up. Well then, I thought grudgingly, we have that in common. At last, my father came to his seat--my half-brother settled into the crook of his arm--and planted a kiss on the crown of my head. "Good to see you; you have grown tall!" was all that he said before settling awkwardly into his chair and commencing to eat his meal one-handed while smiling at the endless line of people who came up the dais to greet him and bouncing my half-brother in his arms.
I sank lower in my chair and felt gravity get the best of me. My backside bumped the floor under the table and none--least of all my father--noticed that I was gone.
"How is he doing in his lessons?" I heard him asking my tutor, earning the stammering reply, "Oh, wonderfully, he is precocious in all subjects and so active …" Something tugged the collar of my robes, and I saw my father's cross face peering under the table at me. "Get up into your seat and eat your meal. You are too old for this."
"I am too old for many things," I muttered, and tears stung my eyes, and I regretted terribly the gift that I had made. It would mean nothing to him; I knew that now. Better that I had relegated myself to cleaning the floors in the forges. Obediently, I clambered back into my seat and obediently ate the extravagant, tasteless food put before me.
A fire leaped and twisted in the grate, and the mosaic floor gleamed dully in the lamplight. The gifts given my father from dear friends and family were stacked in the corner. I could see mine; who could not? It was large enough that all of the others could be placed atop it, like a table, and it winked and sparkled and scintillated even in the meager light. I was ashamed of it. It was hideous, I now saw, and Atar would see it for what it was: a juvenile attempt at flattery, too ostentatious and effortful. "You are too old for that, Finwion," I whispered to myself as I sat on the floor.
My father perched on the chaise with my stepmother at his side and, of course, my half-brother in his arms. My tutor lingered in the shadows, clearly overwhelmed at being invited to the private chambers of the King but wishing to go unnoticed. I envied him that: I would be noticed, but only in the wrong ways. The other high kings of the Eldar and my father's favored councilors gave their gifts and their greetings and filed from the room, leaving just his family and my tutor, ready to whisk me back to Aulë, just as soon as this misery was over.
My father opened my stepmother's gift and something labeled from my half-brother, and he made the appropriate noises over each, though neither was special. Still, she sat at his side and my half-brother curled in his arm, so maybe there was something to dull, rote gifts that I didn't understand. "Ah!" I heard him say. "And now for the gift from my firstborn, my beloved, my Fëanáro. I have been curious about this since I saw it arrive. Surely, of all of the gifts in my hall this day, none are bigger or more splendid than his."
Two servants dragged it to him; overkill, I thought, since it was hardly heavy. I could lift it myself. I rolled my eyes and stared at the floor, unsmiling and feeling sorry for myself.
I heard him lift it and turn it every which way. My half-brother was passed to my stepmother so that Atar could study the gift closer. I heard him chuckle. "Is this a trick, Fëanáro? How does it open?" He lifted it and rattled it gently. "What is within it? Anything? It feels empty."
In truth, it was empty, for I could think of no gift wonderful enough for my father. I had thought there would be satisfaction alone in seeing a beautiful thing made by my hands in his lap, but there was not. I had failed; I saw that now. He held my gift, but I was still on the floor and cold, outside the reach of even the fire.
"It is empty," I admitted in a whisper. "I--I could not think of what to put inside of it. I only wanted to give you something beautiful."
No one looked at me; they were embarrassed for me, and rightly so, but I felt my father's blue eyes keen upon me for a long time. I heard my intricately wrapped gift set upon the floor with a hollow thud of something empty. "Come here, my son," he said. "Come sit upon my lap, for I have not given you proper greetings as my firstborn and beloved."
I shook my head and felt my careful braids slap my face. "No, I am too big. I will hurt you." How tired I was of hurting everything around me!
"You will not," he said, and I lifted my eyes enough to see him stretch his legs upon the suede-wrapped box. He opened his arms to me, and he smiled.
Slowly, I rose and moved toward him. I stopped just shy of him, and he leaned over and grabbed me with both hands as he used to do when I was small--half the size I am now or smaller--and dragged me onto his lap. I heard myself yelp with laughter before I could stop it, and his big arms folded me close to him with my head upon his chest and his warmth and his scent that I had forgotten--the feeling and smell of home--all that I could perceive.
And with his legs upon the box, there was room enough, even for one as big as me.
He whispered in my ear in a voice no others could hear, "This is my favorite gift."