Fëanor and Nerdanel
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Another Man's Cage: 10. Chapter Ten--Nerdanel
On the night before a big journey, Fëanáro and I always retire to our bedroom early, for we have a bad habit of waiting until the very last moment to pack our things for the trip. We bustle about our bedroom like children, full of excitement, talking about our plans for the upcoming months: Fëanáro wants to take Carnistir to the sea; I want to find more of that red marble that makes such lovely statues; Fëanáro wants to lie beneath the inspiration of the stars; I want to watch our children play in the garden. Even though our armoires are on opposite sides of the bedroom, we scamper and bustle and get in each other's way. I am putting necklaces into a velvet-lined box for safekeeping and Fëanáro keeps walking past and bumping into me each time he passes; he also has an annoying habit of carrying only one or two things when I know his arms can accommodate more, and each time he bumps me, I turn to see him pass with a single tunic or two underwear in his hands. "Fëanáro! Would you stop?" I say, sounding like an irate child, and he counters with, "Would I have married a decently petite woman like everyone wanted, then I would not be constantly bumping you."
"Well, perhaps you should have done so then!" I cry and fling a necklace at him, which he catches easily at his chest.
"If I had wanted to do so then I would have. But I happen to like bumping into you." He walks by me again, going back to his armoire and drops the necklace over my shoulder and into the box, bumping me as he passes, and takes a pair of trousers from his armoire.
"Oh, Fëanáro, don't take them! They're torn!"
"I shall wear my festival robes in the forge then, Nerdanel."
It is our custom to banter constantly with each other, but sometimes, in public, we forget the presence of others and begin shooting sharp remarks back and forth like a rain of arrows exchanged between enemy camps until we see the eager voyeuristic gleam in the eyes of our companions and realize that they think they are observing one of Fëanáro and Nerdanel's infamous marital spats. But these exchanges are hardly fights—not even spats—for the true discord between us comes only with rage washed in tears.
Soon, our trunks are packed and Telperion is just beginning to wax. Fëanáro kneels in the middle of our bed, barefoot but fully clothed otherwise, fidgeting with the clasp on a necklace that he'd made for me in his youth. I gather soaps and lotions to use on the journey: Once, I had not brought enough, and I'd learned my lesson that year, for it is awful how quickly a camp with five males becomes unbearable. My nerves are jangling with the eagerness of a child: only a few hours left! And how shall I bear them? How shall I ever get to sleep? Anticipation is like a wire drawn too tight: I wait, watching it hum with tension, wondering, when will it break? When will it find release?
"Ah, I hate the night before," I complain, plopping on the edge of the bed. Fëanáro glances up from the necklace.
"And I hate this clasp. It's too weak. It's going to break one day, and you're not going to notice, and it shall then be lost."
"You could find fault with perfection, Fëanáro."
"There is no such thing as perfection, my love." His eyes revert to the clasp, which he is trying to break with his fingers, as though to prove its inferiority. I slide across the bed, to its center, to him. Our bed is huge and impractical, custom-made after we were married and moved back to Tirion, but Fëanáro is a high prince, and high princes are entitled the occasional extravagance. When I had brought my sisters for the first time to our home, I'd overheard one saying to the other, "A bed like that is not made for sleeping," and at the time, I had been hurt by her slanderous tone. (For we did sleep in our bed! Side by side, lying on a pile of pillows and wrapped in each other's arms, with an ocean of silk on either side of us, pressed so close that we could have lain comfortably on a child's cot.) I had been hurt by the constant implications that Fëanáro had married me for a reason less than love or—worse, somehow, because I had known how untrue it was—that I had consented with such knowledge. But, as we'd grown older and remained together—against the predictions of some—and our great love for each other had slowly been proven to the skeptical world, I had to concede, to a point: Fëanáro and I hadn't been thinking of sleep when we'd commissioned a carpenter to build our big bed for us.
So I sprawl with my head at his knees, looking up at him, wondering how I can still desire him so strongly, after fifty years of marriage and four children. These things are supposed to subside with time, I am told. It is not the ways of our people to be consumed by bodily desires for the whole of our endless lives. He gives me no heed as I reach up to caress his cheek; he picks at the clasp of the necklace in his hands. He gives me no heed, but I know that I am at the center of his awareness, that I have only to touch him the right way, to say the right words, and the necklace will be discarded and forgotten, and he will be lying in my arms. My hand slips down his face, down his throat, to the neckline of his tunic, which I begin to unlace gently. "Fëanáro," I whisper, but he doesn't look up, and his breathing remains slow and even. So well I know his body now—better even than my own—and long gone is the exciting mystery that marked the early years of our marriage, when I would kiss and touch every inch of him in search of the secret places that would make him cry out in surprised pleasure. I know to seek those places now—the tips of his ears, the line of his collarbone, the soft skin behind his knees—I know every angle and plane, every tiny mark and scar, and still he fills me with the most inexplicable and aching desire.
I spring up from where I lay and kneel in front of him, our knees touching, sitting in mirror images of each other, and let the tunic fall from his shoulders. He works the clasp of the necklace; his breathing is metronomic, but with his chest bare, I can see his heart pounding so hard that it makes the skin on the left side of his chest flutter. "Fëanáro," I breathe, and his name in my voice is more beautiful than the air that fills me and gives me life. I kiss his unresponsive lips, his jawline, his neck and shoulders and hear a loud snap as the clasp breaks in his hands.
The necklace is thrown away, skittering across the floor, and he falls back and pulls me on top of him, lying with our heads at the footboard of the bed, our hands colliding and tangling, trying to tear the clothes from each other. "Why?" he gasps, as I tear the laces on his trousers, not caring, wanting only flesh pressing against flesh, and I say, "Because I love you. So unbelievably love you."
"Nerdanel, I love—" he says, and those are the last words to pass between us because he enters me then, and we speak through our spirits, and in a flash of light, he consumes me, and I see that for all the beauty Eru put into his body, his spirit magnifies it a thousand-fold, and he loves me so perfectly that I weep in his arms.
I am awakened by light.
The Trees are mingling and dazzling brilliance pours through the drapes, throwing little rainbows from Fëanáro's crystals and onto our bedroom walls. We had forgotten to close our drapes last night, but I am not rising to close them now, in the early morning. I am not rising to shut out light so beautiful that it can only be a gift of the Powers. I close my eyes and watch my blood beat red-on-red inside my eyelids.
And Fëanáro. Would I rise, I would disturb Fëanáro, who sleeps in a gentle peace he rarely finds, his arm around my waist and his head on my breast. I cannot hear his breathing—when he falls into sleep this deep, he seems to barely breathe at all, something that had jerked me awake with terror in the early days of our marriage, rigid with the irrational fear that his spirit had fled his body in the night—but I can feel his heart pattering against my side where he presses close to me, and I am confident now that a spirit like his shall never flee.
Soon, I will have to rise, for today is the day that we leave for Formenos, and if we do not leave early, then we will be journeying through Telperion's hours to reach a campsite with water nearby. I will have to awaken Fëanáro, and he will clutch me harder and protest like Nelyo and Macalaurë do when I awaken them for their lessons in the morning. "We will wake after the Mingling of the Lights," he'd told our sons and Findekáno at supper last night, but it cannot be the Mingling of the Lights already? For did I not only close my eyes a moment ago? In the depths of Telperion's hours?
We lie with the entire lengths of our bodies touching—shoulders, hips, thighs, feet—and our limbs raveled. I can feel his spirit against mine, though it does not blaze as it did last night, and his flesh is almost cool to the touch. He is subdued, reduced to embers, able to sleep for once in cool, liquid peace. For his fire has gone into me, but even as I wishfully stroke my belly, I know that no baby will come of it, for my body is still wearied from bearing Carnistir four years ago, and it will be many years yet before we conceive another child.
The light spilling through the windows grows golden. It is morning. I feel Fëanáro's spirit stirring against mine, flaring and subsiding. He is awake, and I tighten my arms around him, to move him from my breast so that I can rise and start the morning, but he grips me tighter and murmurs, "No, not yet. One more minute."
So like his sons, I think and stroke his hair. "Why, Fëanáro? You are awake."
"Because I want to lie here with you."
"But we have a lot to do."
"Let us be frivolous and wasteful of our time then. Just for a moment. Please."
His breath warms my skin. I twine my fingers in his hair and close my eyes. How easy it would be to drift back to sleep! But Fëanáro's head lifts from my breast and I feel him shift upwards until warmth brushes softly against my lips.
My eyes open, but he closes them again with his fingers. "Fëanáro," I say, but he whispers, "Shh, I am giving you your morning kiss." His lips wander mine, from corner to corner like a dutiful explorer, never exerting more than gentle pressure, coming to rest in the middle with the tips of our noses touching. "Now you may awaken," he says softly, and we open our eyes at the same time and contemplate each other.
We smile, and he gives me a quick peck on the lips before rising from the bed. "I told you I'd only take a moment. I'm good for my promises," he says. He'd laid out his traveling clothes last night, and he begins to dress now. I slide out of bed, suddenly regretful—I could have asked for two moments, even three, and I would still be lying beneath him—and sweep up the clothes that we had tossed on the floor last night. His trousers are torn, but it will not take me long to mend them tonight by the campfire. I find the ruby necklace with the broken clasp that he had tossed away last night and smile. "Do you want this?" I ask him, holding it aloft so that it catches Laurelin's light and shoots red spangles onto our bedroom walls.
"Yes, take it. I shall give it as an assignment for Vorondil to fix it in Formenos. It is not a bad piece of work, exactly…." He comes to me with his trousers unlaced and only one arm pulled through his tunic to turn the necklace in the light. I see his bright eyes appraising, measuring, watching the darts of crimson light and evaluating the accuracy with which he carved the facets on each ruby. "I was very young and impatient when I made this," he confesses.
He is still very young—barely one hundred years old, only recently considered fully mature by the standards of our people—and he is still quite impatient, but I suppress a smile and say nothing. I tuck the necklace into my jewelry box and slip my feet into a pair of boots. "I shall awaken Nelyo and Macalaurë, if you wish to attempt Tyelkormo and Carnistir?"
"What of Findekáno?" he says, and I start, for I had forgotten that Findekáno was even with us. I would have ridden off and left him sleeping alone in an empty house. How shameful, to forget the presence of one's own brother-son, especially after I fought so hard against Fëanáro to have him here.
"I shall awaken Findekáno as well, if you take Carnistir," I say, for I have difficulty awakening our youngest son without a fuss.
I go to Nelyo's bedroom first, for Macalaurë or Tyelkormo often sleep with him, and I shall save needless trips to their rooms if this is the case. But Nelyo is alone, lying on the edge of his king-sized bed, as he always does, in a pile of dimpled pillows with the blankets pulled so high that all I can see of him is a swatch of long, red hair. The other half of his bed is pristine—would I have viewed this half alone, I would have sworn that the bed was not slept upon—with the sheets still taut and the pillows stacked neatly inside their smooth, silk cases, as if they wait for another to lie beside him.
I gently peel away the covers from his face. Nelyo always sleeps on his belly; he is nearly grown, but, sleeping, he looks so much like the child I will see only now in my memory that I hesitate in waking him. Forty-seven years, I think. How could he have changed so much in so short a time?
Of course, in forty-seven years of my own life, I grew and married Fëanáro and bore Nelyo, but that matters little to me now as a mother, when I wish that Fëanáro could have captured Nelyo's youth in glass as easily as he captures light in stone.
I place my hand in the center of his back, between his shoulder blades, and his eyes open and he sits up obediently. "Already?" he says, fighting to keep the blurry sound of sleep from his voice, rubbing his eyes. He looks at the window, where a sliver of golden light has managed to slip through a crack in the drapes. "Yes, I suppose it is," he says, answering his own question, and puts his legs over the side of the bed.
"Good morning, Maitimo," I say, kissing his sleepy-warm forehead. I always call him by the name I gave him when he awakens for, to me, he is most beautiful then, with his tangled red hair and rumpled nightclothes.
"Do you want me to awaken Carnistir?" he asks sleepily.
"No, don't worry about that. You're father is going to him." I kiss him again, on the cheek, before starting for the door. "Breakfast in an hour."
"Yes, Amil," he says.
Macalaurë's bedroom is across the hall. His drapes are open and golden light pours across his bed, but it has not awakened him and he lies, still dressed in yesterday's clothes, on top of his sheets with his head scrunching a pile of sheet music and his harp resting on his pillow. I stoop close to his head and sing in his ear, "Macalaurë," and he squeezes his eyes shut, flaps his hand at me, and grumbles, "No, Amil, go away. I just went to bed."
"And whose fault is that? Wake up. Breakfast is in an hour."
"I'm not hungry."
"Well, you have an hour to become hungry then." His eyes haven't opened yet, and I kiss his face until they do. "Yes, Amil, I'm awake," he mutters, sitting up and reaching for his harp before one of us knocks it onto the floor. He stretches with the lazy grace of an adolescent boy, like a cat in the sun, and doesn't bother to suppress a yawn that shows me the molars sprouting in the back of his mouth. "This is ridiculously early to be waking up," he informs me.
I laugh and call over my shoulder. "Breakfast in an hour, Macalaurë. Dressed. In clean clothes."
And then Findekáno. Findekáno, in the guest room down the hall, whom we placed across from Fëanáro's and my bedroom in case he has nightmares or needs one of us during the night. But he hasn't. He is needy in the way of a small child—not unusual, even at his age, for Tyelkormo still acts much in the same way—but he bites back that neediness like one might suppress offensive words in an argument or a grimace of pain while trying to look courageous. Nelyo, with his gentle dignity, is the only one who has managed to get the child into even the rudiments of a conversation. Macalaurë and Tyelkormo he watches with mistrust. Carnistir earns edgy suspicion. And Fëanáro clearly terrifies him. He is cold to me, returning any affection in a brusque, dutiful manner, but I tell myself that it is not any fault of mine, that he reacts as any child taken from his mother.
I should know, for Fëanáro used to act the same.
He sleeps like a doll tucked into bed: on his back, with his arms flat over the covers, his face turned to the ceiling. He doesn't mutter or whine when I wake him—Tyelkormo tends to do both—but slides from bed and retrieves the traveling clothes that Nelyo had helped him to choose last night. I ask him if he needs help dressing, and his hair rustles along his back as he shakes his head no. I want to kiss him with the same affection as I did my sons, but my feet carry me from his room with barely a "I'll see you at breakfast, then, Findekáno" passing my lips, and on the other side of his door, I press against the closed door, ashamed at my apprehension of him, a small child certainly less confounding and difficult than Carnistir on his best days. And a child who is present in our house by my insistence alone.
Downstairs, Fëanáro is already in the kitchen, cutting a pineapple with one hand while Carnistir sleeps draped across his opposite shoulder. Tyelkormo is still in his nightclothes—barefoot, with his hair a tangled mess—but he is obediently setting seven places around the small wooden table. We had planned a simple breakfast today, something that required little preparation and no cooking. I give Tyelkormo a kiss on the top of his tousled golden head and begin slicing a loaf of thick-crusted bread that I had baked in multitudes yesterday; such bread lasts well on short journeys for the thick crust keeps the soft insides from becoming stale. On each plate I will also put a sliver of lembas for energy. This, too, I have baked in large quantities and will keep at all times in a leather pouch at my side, even as I sleep.
I set a piece of bread on each plate—two pieces on Fëanáro's, Nelyo's, and Macalaurë's—and retrieve a block of sweet butter and a jar of raspberry jam out of the pantry. Fëanáro is cutting the leaves off of strawberries and throwing the fruit into a big bowl with the pineapples. Carnistir lets out a sudden shriek and plummets from sleep, squirming and kicking in Fëanáro's arms.
Fëanáro drops the knife on the counter and cuddles Carnistir in both arms, bouncing him and shushing him. Carnsitir's eyes open and his lips quiver, but Fëanáro staves off the brewing tempest with kisses. "Did you have a bad dream?" he asks, and Carnistir nods, clutches a handful of Fëanáro's hair, and cries into his shoulder.
"It's dark and cold, he says!"
"Well, we don't listen to him, do we?"
Macalaurë and Nelyo shared an imaginary friend while they were young, and the three of them used to ride and play together; Tyelkormo talks to butterflies and birds and foxes and claims that they answer him, but such apparitions visit Carnistir only in his dreams. Since he was an infant, he has awakened screaming with nightmares at least once per week. Fëanáro and I had even taken counsel with Irmo in Lorien when he was two years old, but we had been assured that nightmares—even the violent ones that haunt Carnistir—are normal enough in small children to not be concerned, a vestige of our dark history in the Outer Lands. We had been assured that they would pass the more convinced he became of his safety here.
I take up the knife where Fëanáro had laid it, and he gives me a grateful smile and sits at the table, Carnistir cradled in his arms, and kisses the tears from his cheeks. "I love you," he says in a soft, tender voice that makes me weaken to hear. It occurs to me, sometimes, that there is only a handful of people who know Fëanáro to be capable of such tenderness. Carnistir is no longer huffing dangerously; he is staring up into Fëanáro's eyes with the reverence one pays a god. "You are so precious to me, my littlest one." He kisses Carnistir's forehead, his nose, his lips. Carnistir's eyelids droop shut. "I love you," he whispers again, but Carnistir is already asleep.
He gives me a questioning look, but I motion him to stay put and resume chopping fruit for the fruit salad.
Nelyo comes in, fully dressed in his traveling clothes and boots with his cloak draped over his arm, his hair combed neatly and tied back on the sides. Tyelkormo runs to him, feet pounding, and tosses his arms around Nelyo's waist. Nelyo lifts him with an ease that I envy. Since Carnistir was born, lifting my next-youngest son is a despicable chore. I crave his little body against my breast, but my arms are like sandbags—heavy and ineffective—and after only a few minutes, his weight tires me until I want to bury my face in a pillow and sleep for hours.
"Well, look at you!" Nelyo says to Tyelkormo, tousling his messy hair further. "You look like you got tangled in the farming equipment!"
"Would you mind dressing him, love?" I ask him. "And helping your father with Carnistir?"
Carnistir sometimes wriggles so hard that it takes three to get him dressed, but Fëanáro and Nelyo are practiced at the task, almost choreographed in their routine of restraint and distraction. Fëanáro stands carefully so as not to disturb Carnistir before he has to, and I hear his voice and Nelyo's receding as they walk together down the hall and up the stairs to the bedrooms.
I look at my sons sometimes—the four of them together, at supper, with their bright eyes and four different colors of hair—and doubt that they're mine. Yes, I carried each of them in my body for a year. I bore each of them into the world through hours of painful labor. I held and nursed each of them for another year. But they are more Fëanáro's sons than mine. They have his face: his straight nose; his quick, bright eyes; his smile like a burst of light into darkness. They have his lanky, strong body and flitting grace. Oh, they have my isolated features too; I am not so daft as to assume that Fëanáro's heredity is so superior to mine that it is completely dominant. Nelyo has my red hair. Macalaurë has my soft manners. Tyelkormo has my wide, strong hands. Carnistir has my complexion that is a barometer to his emotions, flushing whenever he is upset. But they are still Fëanáro's sons more than they are mine.
I think sometimes about the daughter I might have had, and I know that she would have been mine as the boys are Fëanáro's. I imagine how protective her brothers would have been of her. I see Nelyo teaching her to shoot and use a knife to protect herself. I see my gentle Macalaurë getting into fights with the lords' sons who try to dishonor her. Tyelkormo would bring her roses from the garden, and Carnistir would snuggle into her arms for music at night. She would turn down apprenticeships with me and with Fëanáro, though gifted enough to pursue either. She would prefer the more delicate arts, and to Taniquetil she would have gone, to learn with Vairë, to become a weaver who would have equaled the skill of even Fëanáro's mother. But like Fëanáro's mother, she lacks even the substance of memory and is but a thought, an indulgence of my mind.
I know things at times through aching intuition. I know that my fifth child will be no more mine than the four I have now. Carnistir's birth took too much out of me, and Fëanáro will be ready to conceive again before I am. My body will hold the child as a vessel holds water, but it will be Fëanáro who will be his true creator, for I will lack the energy for anything more ambitious than his physical nourishment. No one will even recognize my fifth son as mine; he will be so like his father as a cutting taken from a plant and stuck in the soil to grow in his image. I know this, but it does not pain me, for I ache to hold the babies that Fëanáro will give me, and I know that I would forsake my body, as his mother had done, to give them life.
I hear a small sound behind me, and it interrupts my thoughts. I whirl, expecting Macalaurë or Tyelkormo, who can dress himself when properly motivated, but it is Findekáno who stands in the doorway with the settled look of one who has been there for a while. He is not an unattractive child, though he is smaller even than Macalaurë was at that age: his hair is dark and silky, his eyes are wide and blue like china saucers, and his skin is flawlessly porcelain. But he strikes me more as a painting of a child than an actual being of flesh and feeling, lifelike in color and proportion but a two-dimensional impersonation nonetheless.
"Findekáno!" I say, and my voice is too bright and sounds alarming even to my own ears. He shifts and looks at the floor. Oh, why had I sent Nelyo away with Fëanáro when Macalaurë could have easily completed the same task? Nelyo is the only one of us who can find the life within this strange little child.
And his clothing! I only hope that he does not see Fëanáro's eyes when he returns, for I know my husband and know that he will not be happy. Nelyo had come to me yesterday, his silver eyes wide with worry. "He has nothing suitable," he'd said, and I'd doubted it—for how could the eldest son of a high prince go anywhere unprepared?—but an inspection of his trunks had revealed clothes crafted mainly of silk and satin with rich embroidery and ornamentation, nothing appropriate for six straight days of riding in the wilderness. Nelyo had chosen the simplest clothes possible for him: a cream-colored satiny tunic and a pair of stiff green trousers. His boots are so polished that they gleam. I imagine him hunting with his cousins in the forest or working with his uncle in the laboratory; I imagine him assisting with the washing and the cooking and scrubbing the floors, all in his glistening, dazzling raiment.
I make myself smile at him. "Findekáno, there is a pitcher of apple cider that your Uncle Fëanáro made in the pantry. Why don't you fetch it and pour seven glasses?"
He looks at me awkwardly. I'd stroked his hands when I'd tucked him into bed his first night here and had known that they were hands that had done not even simple work, even something as simple as retrieving a pitcher and pouring cider. His skin is soft; his nails are filed and buffed into neat little ovals; he makes me want to clench my own hands into fists out of disgust for my calluses and ragged cuticles. Now, he pokes into the pantry and comes out with the pitcher of apple juice teetering in his hands. Hoisting it onto the table, he looks as though his frail arms might break. I want to take it from him, to help him pour it, but at that moment, Macalaurë saunters in.
He grabs a cherry from the pile from which I have just finished removing stems and pits. He pops it into his mouth, followed by another, and another would have gone after that if I didn't slap his hand and jerk my head in Findekáno's direction.
"Here, Kano, let me handle that." Macalaurë, the smallest, most delicate of my sons, pours the juice easily. He has been working hard with his father in the forge and his arms bunch into little knobs of muscle. Already, he is losing the softness of youth; his body is growing hard and strong like his father's. He'd come home the other day from the picnic in the forest with a wide smile and little bruises dotting his throat. (When I had inquired to their cause, he'd blamed wrestling with Tyelkormo. Tyelkormo, who has not yet learned to lie to cover the indiscretions of his older brothers, had scrunched his eyebrows together and spat, "I did no such thing! Nelyo says you got them from being bitten in the forest!" and poor Macalaurë had turned a most alarming shade of red.) I imagine that he will wed while still young, unlike my Nelyo who, for all his beauty and manners, has had every serious courtship thwarted by bad luck.
Tyelkormo races into the kitchen in a flurry of pounding footsteps, banging into Macalaurë and hollering with excitement. In his traveling clothes, the trip to Formenos has moved beyond thought and into imminence. Nelyo arrives a minute later and, without being asked, takes the fruit salad and begins dishing it onto the children's plates. Fëanáro is the last to return with a bedraggled Carnistir in his arms and a frazzled look on his face. Carnistir is already wearing his cloak, and the hood is tugged low over his eyes.
"Baby, why don't you—" I try to remove the hood, but Carnistir howls and Fëanáro says, "I wouldn't. He insists on wearing it."
Fëanáro is used to molding stubborn metal and people to his wishes, but Carnistir defies him in a way that no one else dares. Carnistir is placed in the chair to Fëanáro's right, and he gives me a wicked smile from beneath the hood, as if he knows the power that he possesses over his father.
Findekáno stands in the midst of the bustle with his arms tight at his sides and his eyes darting from face to face around him. Tyelkormo has gotten up onto the counter and is tearing apart strawberry leaves and sprinkling them on the floor. "Tyelkormo!" Fëanáro scolds and, on his way to the counter, he bumps into Findekáno.
Findekáno shrinks away as one might shrink from fire and, with a look of surprise like he's been unaware of the child's presence all along, Fëanáro removes Tyelkormo from the counter and calls over his shoulder, "Nelyo, I'd like a word with you please."
They go into the pantry beside the counter, and Fëanáro pulls the door partially shut behind them. "Macalaurë, get the children into their seats, if you would," I instruct and make a production of picking the strawberry leaves off of the floor—normally, I would make Tyelkormo do it—so that I can hear what is being said in the pantry.
"Are you mad?" Fëanáro says. His voice is caustic, and I wince. At times, I think that he forgets that Nelyo is still just a child. At times, I wish he'd be less harsh with our eldest son. "You have dressed him to kneel before the Valar, not to wade through mud and thorns! Have you forgotten that this is a journey, not an occasion?" He spits out the word "occasion" as one might spit out poison.
"It was the best I could do, Atar." Nelyo's voice is usually like honey, smooth and rich, nearly as melodic as Macalaurë's but deeper, but now it wobbles, and I cringe. "He has nothing more suitable."
"I doubt that my half-brother would send his son into the wild with nothing but festival clothes."
"You may look yourself, if you wish, Atar, in his trunks. Perhaps you shall choose better than I."
There is a long silence. I can imagine the looks being exchanged between my husband and our son. I can picture Fëanáro's anger at Nelyo's immediate deference, at his suggestion of his father's superiority in a matter that—Fëanáro knows—he would solve no better than his son. I can imagine Nelyo's bravely submissive stare back.
"It would be like Nolofinwë to leave me with such a conundrum," Fëanáro says at last. "Have we nothing in this house that he could wear?"
"Tyelkormo's clothes are too big and Carnistir's are too small."
"Tyelkormo has nothing smaller, something that no longer fits?"
"He long outgrew anything that would be suitable for Findekáno. We gave away his old clothes last year."
There is silence, and I can picture Fëanáro with his eyebrows crinkling in that way of his, trying to find a way to deny the memory that Nelyo has easily recalled for him, and Nelyo's eyebrows crinkling in a like manner, hoping that his father's wrath will pass him by.
"You're right," Fëanáro says after a moment. "It shall have to do, then, until we get to Formenos and can have more suitable clothes made for him. He cannot work every day in such foolish, frivolous…." He sighs without finishing his thought.
I stand quickly and brush the bits of leaf into the waste bin and smile at my husband and son as they emerge from the pantry.
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