|Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Is it? And ugliness? Is it also relative?
Write a story, poem or create an artwork where the contrast beauty/ugliness plays a central role.
I suppose that fandom itself often demonstrates the relativity of beauty and ugliness. A lot of debates that get written off as petty--whether Fëanor was a good guy or a bad guy leaps first to my mind--I believe have at their core essential differences in how we beauty and heroism and the like, or what we see as moral or not. It gets cast as an argument about characters or canon, but I think it's more than that.
Part of the reason that I chose to write Pengolodh--aside from wanting to fill in a huge blank that exists in my mind about the mostly invisible "author" of The Silmarillion--is because, based on his writings, I can conclude that his own assessment of what is beautiful and good would have been very different from mine. It has been a challenge for me, as an author, to try to depict sympathetically a character whose choices would probably have been the precise opposite of mine. In this vignette, I wanted to explore how Pengolodh views truth as compared to how my more familiar Fëanorians view it.
He was out on the rocks, as his note had said he would be. Even from far down the beach, I could see him: a tall figure, leaping from rock to rock with a physicality I did not possess, wearing a pale blue tunic much too large for him, and that black hair, as always unfettered, playing with the wind. As I drew closer, I saw his boots had been kicked off in the sand and were being nudged by the rising tide. I ignored them--let the sea take them and temper his confidence!--and walked to the brink of the rocks where he played.
"You came," he said upon turning and seeing me. His nose was running from the cold and the damp, and he sniffled loudly and wiped it with the back of his hand. He grinned at me.
I proffered a handkerchief. "Here."
He took it and squinted at the monogram embroidered in the corner with three colors of thread. "Oh, I could not. It is yours."
"I don't want you handling my father's book with your hands …" I fumbled for a polite way to allude to his crude behavior and had to settle for, "Like that," before arriving suddenly at the word, "Besmirched."
"You have brought it then?"
"Yes. Did I not say I would?"
"Sure you did, but your father doesn't seem the sort to allow his original volumes out of the house, much less into the hands of a traitor by the sea." His hands were busy with my handkerchief, wiping each finger meticulously clean. The differences between our houses are what they are, but we were both the sons of artisans and knew the worth of the book that formed a lump beneath my cloak.
"He does not know that I removed it," I said and, with Celebrimbor's wide-eyed delight, immediately regretted admitting.
"There is hope for you, Pengolodh!" he crowed.
"I wish you wouldn't say that. There is hope for me, yes, but not of the sort that you desire."
I had rivals among my cohort in Nevrast, of course, but none filled me with implacable irritation like Celebrimbor of Himlad, despite the fact that Celebrimbor and I competed in nothing. He only barely alluded to his work and his studies and, aside from the afternoon that I had discovered him catching sea creatures with hopes of discovering their source of light, he had shown me none of it. None of my people or his were even aware that we knew each other. His father's camp hovered at the verge of what Lord Turgon would tolerate--Celebrimbor's uncle having departed long before--and all in Nevrast burned with the unspoken wish that Curufin and his son and their retinue would just go away. So it was not as though he cultivated anything resembling favor; even Lord Turgon's sister--widely believed to be the reason that the Fëanorians lingered--did not seem to notice Celebrimbor, and I had never trusted her, besides. But there was something … I was reminded of how magnets held wrong will fly apart. There is something inherent in their nature that they cannot tolerate the other. I suppose that's how it was with Celebrimbor and me.
He seated himself on the rocks, apparently without mind that his trousers would be soaked through. He held out his hands for the book, and I made vague noises of caution that he ignored with a robust, "I know! I know! Let me see it!" I placed the book in his hands.
With careful haste, he opened to the first page. "So this is--" There he stopped. His fingers lifted from the corners of the pages as though afraid his touch alone might mar them. I saw his chest rise with a quick gasp of surprise. "This is what your people think of my people."
"It is the story of the Exile, yes," I said.
"These illuminations … they are beautiful."
Pride quickened in my heart at that. My mother's work: enough to arrest even a Fëanorian, who had spent his life amid objects of great beauty without ever deriving the meaning of them. With the most beautiful light in Arda to look upon daily, his people had turned into traitors and slayers of kin. Slowly, he turned the pages. He was ignoring the words, for now, done in my father's impeccable hand, to wonder at the illuminations and the miniatures. There was his grandfather upon the palace stairs at Tirion, there was the host before the gate, there was Manwë's herald and the long road diminishing between the Pelóri and the faint blush of lamplight from Alqualondë beyond.
"You see," I said triumphantly as he paged past the scenes of Alqualondë without pausing to argue, "we do know something of it." There was his uncle--made obvious by his golden hair and the eight-point star upon his raiment--with a Telerin maiden speared through on his sword. The tidy black script told the tale of it: how we had "aided" our kin when they were the aggressors and how we were betrayed as reward for our damnable loyalty. It was our shame as a people, but my father's hand never wavered, never changed, in the telling of it.
"Hmmm" was his only reply.
He reached the scenes from Losgar. My mother had devoted the entire verso to the painting of it, and my father's letters filled the page opposite. There he paused. He read every word, stopping often to consult the painting and holding his place in the text with a finger that hovered just slightly over the page. I listened to the tireless roaring of the sea and watched him read.
He shut the book and handed it back to me.
"It is a beautiful book, Pengolodh," he said. "I know of your mother; I have heard my father speak of her, and he always does so in praise. Being as they were close in age and ability, she was often seated opposite him in debates in Valinor, and she chose to study with Elemmire, knowing that my grandfather would have taken her as an apprentice also, had she asked. As it was, my grandfather never sought apprentices, or so I'm told. Seeing her work, it confirms and exceeds my every expectation. I have heard my father speak of your father as well--" He stopped there and bit his lips between his teeth as though forcibly restraining himself from speaking further.
"But it is full of lies," he said after a moment. His eyes--silver like starlight--burned into mine. "It is a book of lies. None of your people could know what happened at Losgar. You were not there--was not your absence the entire point? And I will not argue in favor of what was done that day but this--" he stabbed his finger at the book that I sheltered beneath my cloak--"is lies! It is a book of beautiful lies! I cannot believe your mother--"
He composed himself with difficulty. My heart thundered in my chest, and I had to force my tongue against the back of my teeth to keep from speaking, but I was determined that he should reveal what I knew must be true of him. I desired greatly the excuse to loathe him, he who was as skilled, eloquent, and beautiful as his illustrious bloodline would suggest. I wanted evidence of the haughty savagery that had shown itself in his bloodline as well. At last, he said, "I cannot believe your mother would squander her talents--her considerable talents--on a book of lies that will soon enough be discredited. All of the beauty in this book is wasted on its hideous words."
He rose from the rock and, rescuing his boots from the edge of the surf, pulled them on. Did his hands tremble? He had a more difficult time with the boots than he should. Nor did he seem to notice that they were sodden through.
"I hope that you will fix what has been done between our people, Pengolodh. I will tell you the truth, if you will only listen, and I trust you will write what I tell you with justice to your people and to me, your friend."
I started. Friend? My tongue had loosened but, with that single word, all hope of letting it sculpt an eloquent stream of speech that would render Celebrimbor silent and chastised abruptly died. My jaw flapped open and shut and, at last, I managed to blurt out, "Elenwë died! And others …"
"I know!" shouted Celebrimbor. "I know I know! I do not and have never denied it, or the wrongness of what was done! I am not asking you to sweep sand over that truth, but neither should you sweep sand over the truth that we are not evil villains but were only doing what we thought had to be done! And that decision was far from unanimous. Your book, I note, does not mention that my Uncle Maedhros stood aside, and with him a contingent of like-minded folk, although I have told you that truth. Do your people not know the value of marginalia, or do you let one man's flawed story stand, unchallenged, for the whole of time? Your mother's painting shows the play of fire on Maedhros's hair as he draws back his arrow and aims at the ships! Your book is wrong because you were not there, but you will pretend that you were there in order to take empty solace in the lie that my grandfather's people thought of yours only with malice. That pardons your hatred of us. You are allying against the wrong enemy, Pengolodh."
I had not even been born when my parents shivered at Araman, awaiting the return of the ships from Losgar. Yet a thought of that night imprinted my memory as surely as if I had been, as surely as if I had been standing, silent and unmoving, among the Fëanorians on the opposite shore. I watched them dip their arrows in the fuel and one of them--in my mind, it was always the younger twin--race down their length, dragging a torch over the tips of the arrows before stopping at the end to light his own. What was on their faces, as they drew back the arrows and aimed at the sails swelled with wind enough to carry them with ease back to the opposite shore? As it was, the wind teased the flames to life, let them bite faster at the tender wood until only a scrim of ash remained upon the water. Now I was on the opposite shore with my parents, watching the sky flush scarlet with a hue like lividity rising to an angry face. What was on the faces of the Fëanorians? I could never tell. The terror in my heart at the swelling light in the east was what placed the malice-twisted expressions upon their faces.
Now there was one before me. He had been but a small boy when the ships burned at Losgar, but his face twisted with anything but malice. Yet what did he ask me to do? Turn my back on the wall bordering the sea where, before even the first building was raised in Nevrast, our sculptors had carefully written each name of the lost? And offer my hand in friendship--to what? To follow Truth's beautiful, shining lantern, but to what ruinous end?