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Another Man's Cage: 20. Chapter Twenty--Nerdanel
I awaken with only the coolness of silk against my skin. I stretch my arms out to either side, reaching for Fëanáro, but he is gone. I hear the quick, chirpy voice of our third son, then hear Fëanáro say, "Shh, Amil is sleeping still."
Tyelkormo, the hasty riser, I think with a smile, rubbing at my gritty, sleepy eyes and blinking at the faint golden light that pours into the room. I'd named him such because I'd perceived his father's temper within him—even in the womb, he'd kicked harder than Nelyo and Macalaurë, as though he'd resented me for keeping him prisoner, away from the blue skies under which he had been begotten and that he would one day love—and knew that he'd spring quickly to his feet to answer an argument, often without thinking first. But also, he loves the mornings best, and with the exception of his father, who requires little sleep and often awakens before the Mingling of the Lights to start early in the forge, is usually the first to rise in the morning.
He sits at my vanity table while Fëanáro combs his golden hair and braids it away from his face. "But Atar, you promised!" he says in a strident, insulted voice, causing Fëanáro to clap his hand over Tyelkormo's mouth and say, "What did I tell you about waking your mother?"
But the damage has been done, and in the front room, Carnistir gives a choked sob that escalates into a wail. Fëanáro, whose fingers are tangled in Tyelkormo's hair, gives a loud growling sigh and starts to stand, but I call to him: "I'm awake, Fëanáro. I'll get him."
I tug on my clothes from last night, still pooled on the floor beside the bed. As I open the bedroom door and go into the sitting room to lift Carnistir from his cot, I hear Fëanáro say, "I'm halfway tempted, Tyelkormo, to—" but I close the door behind myself and hear no more.
Carnistir's face momentarily smoothes upon seeing me, then wrinkles into sobs again. "Where's Atar?" he cries, as I lift him into my arms.
My heart squeezes so hard that it almost hurts. "Atar is with Tyelkormo right now, so you'll have to suffice with Amil."
As though he felt the squeeze and knew himself to be the cause, he settles against my shoulder and pops a strand of my hair into his mouth. "That's good, Amil. I love you too." Surprised by the sudden cessation of his tears, I say the first words to cross my mind: "Thank you." I hold him close, relishing the drowsy warmth of first awakening, knowing that in a few years' time, he will be too heavy for me to carry and will rather run after his brothers than be held by his mother. Of course, Fëanáro and I will be working to conceive another baby by then, but he too will eventually grow, as will his brothers that follow, and like the swinging pendulum, the years of the children will end for us and moments such as these will fade to memories, always just beyond the reaches of our fingertips.
Sometimes, I succumb to such dire musings in Fëanáro's presence, but he only laughs. "How can you laugh?" I ask him. "Will you not miss holding our babies in your arms?"
"Of course I will," he says. "But equally I shall love holding our grandchildren."
I push back into the bedroom with Carnistir curled in my arms. Fëanáro is nearly finished with Tyelkormo's hair, and it rests now against the back of his neck, completely restrained from his face. Such is not the wont of our third son to wear his hair in such a fashion—usually it flies around his face in a golden cloud, gathering at least one hundred tangles by the day's end—and I start slightly upon seeing him. Carnistir, too, stirs in my arms and reaches out a hand in the direction of his brother. "Turko, Turko, you look weird."
"Hush, Carnistir!" I say. "Do not say such things to your brother."
He actually looks grown up and much older than fourteen. Fëanáro similarly wears his hair off his face—although he prefers to restrain it with bits of rag he has lying about the forge, irritating me with the nonchalance that he allows his perfect looks to become slovenly—for safety reasons in the forge. I gasp with realization, just as Tyelkormo says, "Amil! Atar is taking me to the forge today!"
My thoughts are jumbled, fighting their way first to my voice. "But, Fëanáro…." I swallow. But what? Working with his father in the forge has been all that Tyelkormo has talked about since I had first carried him in to watch his father work, just after his first begetting day. Nelyo and Macalaurë had never shown such motivation for their father's work, and I know that Fëanáro has honed his third son's interests in hopes that he will take an apprenticeship with him, then move on to finish his studies and master's exams with Aulë. These things I cannot argue with Fëanáro, but another thought plunks into the midst of my noisy mind. "But today is your day with Macalaurë," I say at last.
Fëanáro does not look up from securing the clips in Tyelkormo's hair. "I have released him."
"It is just as you heard, Nerdanel: I have released Macalaurë from his studies." He snaps the final clip into place and looks up to meet my gaze with his over-bright gray eyes. I search his stare for sparks of anger; I push into his thoughts in an attempt to detect whether he had an argument with our second son that would have led to such drastic actions. Perhaps while I was working last night? Such was my state that I wouldn't have heard shouting would it have occurred right behind me in my own workshop. I remember the sincerity of Macalaurë's kiss and greeting to his father—the only son whom I have ever believed favored me—and doubt that anything so extreme could have happened before then. If it had, then surely Macalaurë wouldn't have approached his father so readily? Macalaurë has always shied from Fëanáro in anger in the same way that a horse shies from an open flame.
I detect nothing from Fëanáro, only bemusement that I would delve into the secret depths of his head before I would ask him out loud how he came to dismiss his second son from craft studies when even Nelyo continues to be required to do at least one day a week with his father in the forge. "Why?" I screech, and Carnistir wiggles in my arms.
"Naaahh!" he says, reaching for the floor and kicking, but I clasp him tighter to my chest.
"Why not? Macalaurë is never going to be a smith; if he steps into a forge with the intent of crafting something of his own volition ever again, then I will be surprised. He is going to be a musician. He is already a brilliant composer and his voice—"
"Fëanáro, we've known since Macalaurë was still in my womb that he had musical gifts, yet you choose now to acknowledge them?"
"Why not now? Perhaps I thought that Macalaurë would grow to love my work, if only for the time we spend together every week, as Nelyo does, even if he didn't intend to pursue my trade. It is clear that he does not, and as I have three other sons who still may, then I see not why I should waste my time and his on something that makes neither of us happy."
"So it's over…just like that?"
"Yes. We have decided to take an evening a week instead and read and critique each other's poetry."
I nearly laugh out loud at the thought of timid, sweet Macalaurë criticizing his father's work but do not for the look on Fëanáro's face. I sigh. "You think he will do that?" I say.
"He already has. Why do you think I left your workshop last night? You know how much I love to watch you at your work." He lifts Tyelkormo from my vanity bench and sits down in his stead, holding him in his lap. "Do you know what it's like, Nerdanel, to have your child despise—actually despise—being with you?"
There is a cold lump in my chest. Carnistir squeals and kicks me hard in the stomach, slipping from my grasp and to the ground, where he runs, trips up the dais stairs, and hides beneath our bed.
"He does not—" I start to say, but Fëanáro interrupts me.
"When Macalaurë fell and hurt his shoulder, that was the first time since he was a small child that I felt he was grateful for something I did. It took the most pain he's ever known"—for an insane moment, I think Fëanáro might weep, but that is impossible; his tears are rarer than the gemstones he treasures—"for him to be grateful for me. I think about my mother sometimes"—another insane moment! Fëanáro never speaks of his mother, even to me—"and I wonder: Were I to depart, would they miss me? You would, I know, for we are of the same spirit, and part of you would die with me. Nelyo would miss me and so would my little ones." He squeezes Tyelkormo tighter and kisses the crown of his head. "But Macalaurë? I sometimes thought that he would weep only tears of duty, and that grieved me, Nerdanel, more than you could know.
"When I was young, I used to dread my stepmother's presence. So often I wanted to be home with my father, for my begetting days, for the feasts and festivals of our people, but I knew that I would have to sit across from my stepmother, and that I dreaded. And so I left. I never wanted Macalaurë to come to that point; I never wanted him to run to Alqualondë because he dreaded my presence in his life."
I am aghast. "Fëanáro, he would never—"
"Now he will not. I will let him go where his spirit guides him and not where I would wish him to go. Besides," he cradles Tyelkormo in his arms—an arm beneath his shoulders and an arm beneath his knees—and kisses his face until he giggles, "now I have little Tyelkormo to teach, and he wants to learn all that I know."
Tyelkormo wrests his arms free and, laughing, circles Fëanáro's neck and kisses him through his laughter.
Normally, lessons on the fourth day of the week require the three little ones to sit with me in my studio while I teach them the gentler arts of painting and sculpture. Tyelkormo, however, will come on the fifth day with Macalaurë and Nelyo now, I suppose. My lessons always did make him fitful and restless; for a child of his activity level, the delicate precision of a chisel and brush provide little romance when compared to the hammers and fires of the forge. Now, he can sit with his older brothers, pretending to paint while really working at their books under the table when my back is turned.
Findekáno and Carnistir will meet me after breakfast at their appointed time in the studio. Carnistir is too little to do any real crafting, but I let him play with paint pots and lumps of clay and attempt rudimentary projects. Findekáno's work had been awkward upon his first arrival, but I have seen great improvement in the ensuing weeks, and I have no doubt that with continued practice, he will exceed even the prodigious norm that the diligence of our people has established. Since Fëanáro intends to focus his efforts upon Tyelkormo, I decide to do the same for Findekáno, for he is the only one who seems to enjoy my lessons.
My apprentices are working on projects of their own, but always, I start the day with a review of their progress and gentle critiques of their unfinished works. When I turn, Carnistir and Findekáno have arrived and seated themselves at the usual worktable and watch me with wide eyes.
"Carnistir," I say and set out a piece of parchment and a handful of brushes in front of him. I will have only a few hours before Fëanáro comes to collect him for his punishment. "Will you paint something for me?"
Carnistir, I have learned—unlike his brothers—does not pursue art for the pleasure of creation but rather only to please others. What exactly our youngest son does enjoy remains a mystery to me. But at my request, his dark eyes turn to mine, and he waits and listens with rare peace.
"I would like you to paint a person for me," I instruct. He does not ask, but I sense the question behind his lips: Who? "You may paint anyone you like. Anyone who inspires you."
Perhaps, if I know who inspires him, then I shall be able to detect what inspires him as well. Although I already have a good idea of whom he shall attempt to paint.
"Any color?" he asks.
"You may use any colors that you wish," I tell him, setting before him my entire array of paints, and his dark gray eyes brighten as do storm clouds backlit by lightning.
I turn next to Findekáno. His blue eyes watch the floor, but skip upwards every few seconds, watching me warily. "Findekáno," I say, "I think you are ready to attempt your first work in stone."
His head snaps up, and he contemplates me with wide, apprehensive eyes. Until now, I have instructed him only in paints and clay, and I know that he looks at the works of his uncle and his cousins that I have displayed around the room and feels inferior. "But Aunt Nerdanel—" he begins.
"Shh." I touch his lips and he flinches into silence. "You must learn to work with all materials. Some very successful stone sculptors could not make a rock out of clay; it is all about finding the material that speaks to you, through which Aulë guides your hands."
At the mention of Aulë's name, his head snaps up again, and uncertainty boils in his eyes. The names of the Valar are not often mentioned in our house, only as one might speak of a neighbor or acquaintance. Yet, I know the traditions of Tirion, for they are the same as the traditions of my father's house. I know that Findekáno has knelt many times beside his parents to thank the Valar for the blessings we have been given. I know that he believes that his home, his comfort, his very inspiration derives from them.
My husband—his uncle—does not share that view.
"Come with me," I say, and I hold my hand out to him. He places his small, warm hand in mine and slips from the bench. To the back of the room, I lead him, to where I have placed a block of limestone—gray like the wings of doves—a soft material that is easy for beginners to use. I place his hands against it. "Close your eyes, Findekáno," I tell him in a low voice. "Touch the stone; let it speak to you."
"It is limestone," he tells me, but it had been lore lessons with Nelyo and not the stone that told him that. He pinches his eyes shut and slides his hand over the stone. "It is not pretty, but it could be," he tells me next, and this is closer to that which I wish him to hear.
"Would you like to try making a statue?"
His eyes open and regard me nervously. "What kind of statue?"
"How about an animal? Do you think the stone would wish to be carved as an animal?"
"It might…." He takes his hands from it and stares at the floor. "But Aunt Nerdanel, I don't know how."
"That is the point of lessons, dear. I shall teach you how."
I show him the hammers and chisels, and on a scrap piece of limestone, show him how to make a basic shape in the rock. Next, I show him how to carve the more delicate details and smooth them with sandpaper. "See? It is not hard."
"It is not hard for you." His eyes are brimming with doubt.
"Well, no one expects for your work to be as good as mine. Not yet. I want only for you to get used to the materials and tools, Findekáno."
He touches the stone again. "Who taught you, Aunt Nerdanel?"
"Well, my father is a metalsmith, like your uncle, and my mother dallied in sculpture. They both taught me, Findekáno."
"Oh." His head hangs.
"Why, dear? Why do you want to know?"
"I thought Lord Aulë taught you."
An idea comes to me, but it creeps through my mind with guarded care. "Well, I did take an apprenticeship with Aulë, as did your uncle, to learn all forms of craftsmanship," I say carefully. "Such is a prestigious appointment." My next words sit like a lump of food beneath my tongue, but I cannot quite form them into the question I wish to ask him. "Findekáno," I say softly, after many moments have passed. I speak so that Carnistir, working across the room, cannot hear me, although his hand has stopped painting and I can feel his dark eyes on my back, as though he intuitively knows that something is transpiring that I fear his father discovering. "Would you like to pray to Aulë before we begin?"
The words come out in a hasty whisper, but relief transforms Findekáno's face. "May we—" He stops before finishing his question, before putting it into the air for all ears to perceive. I have never told him of Fëanáro's beliefs about the Valar's proper place in our lives, but perhaps his father has or perhaps, to stave off a conflict, Nelyo mercifully implied that the creed of our house strayed from that of their shared grandfather and should not be mentioned in Fëanáro's presence. Either way, the relief in Findekáno's eyes is dimmed by his apprehension, as he whispers to me, "I think it might help."
I leave him to wait by the door for me while I tell my apprentices that I will be taking my brother-son out for a few minutes. To Carnistir, I say, "Listen to the apprentices, love, and finish your painting," and leave him with a kiss atop his satin-black hair.
Findekáno and I walk the long hallways of our home and leave the house through the kitchen. Outside, the air rings with sound from the forge; from the open door to Macalaurë's music room, I hear him crafting a composition of overwhelming beauty, stopping every now and then to growl and say to himself, "Still not right!" and begin again, turning a note just slightly to make it more beautiful than the first time. Birds trill and flutter through the air, filled with the joy of nascent summer, and the first bees buzz between the plants in Fëanáro's vegetable garden.
Past all of this we walk, to the sculpture garden that Fëanáro had built as a surprise to me after Carnistir had been born. My favorite works he'd selected and placed among the spills of flowers and singing fountains, without realizing that he'd selected only the Valar from a collection that included many more of animals and trees and kinsmen, leaving only the Valar outside to be weathered by the rain and soiled by birds.
Aulë is at the garden's center—where most would place Manwë, perhaps, but not Fëanáro—standing tall upon a fountain that burbles gently around his feet and is lit from beneath by glowing stones encased within rubies, making it look as though he stands upon the flames of a forge. It is one of my early works—from the time before Fëanáro and I had even been married—rough and beautiful, like Aulë himself. Within my garden, the sounds of Fëanáro's forge do not penetrate, and my spirit lies easily within me as I sink to my knees, calm and nostalgic, and Findekáno kneels beside me.
I take Findekáno's hand in mine. "My Lord Aulë," I whisper, "I bring to you this day a new student in your lore of craft. Before you, we place his hands and ask you to guide them. Before you, we unstop his ears and ask you to teach them the song of metal and stone. Before you, we unbind his eyes and ask you to impart unto him your wisdom and sight, to let him better perceive the shape of Arda and place within it ever-greater beauty. With humble gratitude, we thank you for your gifts."
Findekáno's small voice speaks next—echoing mine—and he is no longer timid but speaks with practiced confidence. "My Lord Aulë," he says, "I come to you this day, newborn in your lore of craft. Before you, I place my hands and ask you to guide them. Before you, I unstop my ears and ask you to teach me the song of metal and stone. Before you, I unbind my eyes and ask you to impart unto me your wisdom and sight, to let me better perceive the shape of Arda and place within it ever-greater beauty. With humble gratitude, I thank you for your gifts."
For many minutes, we kneel in silence. My palms grow warm as though by the touch of another, and I long to fill them with tools, to bend the will of stone to the will of my hands. Beside me, Findekáno's eyes rove from side to side behind closed eyelids, as though he is busily watching an inspired transformation, then open slowly. "Thank you, Aunt Nerdanel," he says, and he leans forward to kiss the base of the statue through water bubbling around it like flames. He lifts his face and dries his lips with the backs of his fingers. "I feel inspired now."
As a young girl, a day at work had not begun without a prayer to Aulë, slightly modified from that which I'd just spoken as an initiation for a new craftsman. When Fëanáro had first come to learn from my father—after years of maintaining an apprenticeship through correspondence alone—my father found it odd that Fëanáro, ordinarily so prompt and meticulous, had always been late for the morning prayer. It had been I—knowing that Fëanáro did nothing unintentionally—who'd asked, and it had been I who'd first learned that the man who would soon be my husband did not pray.
I do not think on it now, but push myself from the ground and stick my hand in Findekáno's direction until I feel him take it. This had been the first prayer to Aulë since my marriage, when Fëanáro had coaxed from me the bitter truth that my hands—not Aulë's—had been responsible for the beauty that I'd given the world and that my mind—not Aulë's—had kindled its inspiration. Fëanáro had wished not even to have our marriage and our children blessed by Varda and only did so out of respect for our parents. We'd spoke our marriage vows not before Manwë and Varda—as is tradition for Noldorin royalty—but beneath the witness of Eru alone.
Findekáno stares up at me as though he knows the turmoil in my mind. "Let us go, Findekáno," I say to him, "before our inspiration leaves us."
We walk from the garden, slower and more solemn than we had entered. The statues of the Valar watch us pass from their alcoves of water and leaves, and I wonder: Is it like Fëanáro says? If they brought us here in friendship, is it wrong of us to worship them?
The last section of the garden is an ivy-covered dome that houses the statue of Yavanna that I crafted after Nelyo had been born, inspired by the act of giving life to a being that would never have existed but for the acts of my body. Fëanáro had crafted the dome with several openings through which light can spill, illuminating the statue from all sides. It is possible to leave without passing through it, but always it has been one of my favorite parts of the garden, and I steer Findekáno in its direction. Upon entering, my eyes take a moment to adjust to the dim, verdant light, but after adjusting, I freeze, startled, facing Nelyo.
"Amil!" He holds a book in his hands and sits on the ground in a patch of light that sets his hair afire like red gold. His silver eyes are wide, and in that moment, I know that he has heard us.
"Nelyo." My heart is hammering, but I make my voice sound calm. "You come here?"
"It is the only quiet place on the property to read."
"So it is." I am at once aware of the stillness. Fëanáro's hammers do not ring here; Macalaurë's songs do not pass through the ivy. Even the birds are still and silent, as though in awe of their creator.
I will leave if you—"
"No. No, Nelyo, please, stay."
My voice pleads, even though I struggle to keep it level, and I know that my awareness of his overhearing our prayer is plainer than his father's letters in the book on his lap. I tighten my hand on Findekáno's and resume walking. No longer can I trust my voice to say farewell to my son.
"Amil?" His voice is behind me now. I do not turn, but I pause in the exit of the dome and tilt my head in his direction. "I will not tell."
Findekáno sets to task immediately upon our return. Hands that had been nervous now take the tools with eager confidence, and I hear the gentle nips of hammer against chisel as he shapes the stone with great concentration.
My own inspiration is buried beneath guilt. I sit at the worktable, across from Carnistir, meaning to check his progress, but my intentions drown in confusion and I sit with my head in my hands, unable to think of anything beyond my own churning thoughts.
If they brought us here in friendship, then it is not right to worship them.
Friends ask not friends to kneel before them; such is requested only between master and slave.
"Amil? I am finished."
Carnistir is standing on the bench and poking his parchment in my direction, beaming at me with his stubby baby's teeth. I make myself smile and watch my hand extend to take from him the parchment.
"Carnistir, it is—"
My praise withers in my throat.
"I ran out of yellow," he tells me, "but I asked Tyelpwë for more."
There are three empty, yellow-crusted paint pots scattered in front of him on the table. It is no wonder because his parchment is caked in yellow—varying shades of yellow—but all yellow nonetheless. There are no discernable figures anywhere. Just yellow.
"Carnistir—" Again, my words lie impotently in my brain and won't fall into my throat. He pouts and sits down hard on the bench. "You hate it," he says.
"No! No, I don't hate it! But Carnistir, I asked you to paint for me a person."
"I did, Amil! I painted Grandfather Finwë!"
When he mentions it, I suddenly perceive, among the swirls of varied yellows, a gentle peace in the brushstrokes, in the colors themselves. Such is Finwë's gift: Sitting with him is like being washed in a warm bath. Speaking aloud my troubles to him, I always feel like, upon entering his ears, they die forever. Even Fëanáro's unquenchable fire is stayed within his father's embrace, something that I am becoming increasingly unable to do as my body wearies ever further.
Thinking on this, my body is suddenly overwhelmed with weariness, and I desire nothing more than to fall back on the bench and sleep through Laurelin's hours. Instead, I hold out my arms to my youngest son and let him crawl across the table and settle into my lap. "I see now, Carnistir," I whisper, "and he is beautiful."
Telperion frosts the land in silver when I crawl into bed for the night.
Fëanáro has built a fire in the fireplace, but our satin bed sheets are like ice against my skin without Fëanáro in bed beside me to warm them. He is in the front room still with Carnstir, singing softly to him in hopes of easing him past the nightmares and into sleep, and I had been too tired to wait for him before pulling from my body clothes that felt like they were made of lead and replacing them with my lightest nightgown. Fëanáro's voice drifts into our bedroom, and even if it does not lull our son, it lulls me. Fëanáro's voice is beautiful, although he rarely sings, and I feel sleep's hand pass over my eyes.
The silence awakens me. Fëanáro has stopped singing and stands by his armoire, his back turned to me, dressing for bed. I watch the firelight play across his black hair and give his skin a fiery blush that makes my heart race with desire for him. But then I think of our many arguments about the Valar—friends do not bow down before each other, Nerdanel; you cannot reconcile friendship with servitude—and guilt about the nostalgic joy I'd felt while praying this afternoon cools my blood and makes me turn my back to him.
The mattress barely shifts as he gets into bed beside me. "I didn't mean to wake you," he says, his voice less in words than in thought, and I say, "You did not."
He moves my hair and kisses the back of my neck. Strong arms circle my waist and draw our bodies together, his belly against my back. The place of his kiss tingles, and I find myself counting the days since we'd last made love and think with regret that tonight shall add another to the growing chain and make it a week.
In the bond of bodies, our spirits bind also, and I dread what he might learn of me this night. His hand brushes my breast—incidental contact—but my nipples go rigid with his touch, and I have to squeeze my knees together to keep from rolling onto my back and pulling him on top of me.
He senses my desire and kisses the back of my neck once more, making the hairs on my arms stand up, moving his lips in a line of tiny kisses like a string of pearls, ending at the soft skin of my throat. I want to turn to him but do not, fearing what will be revealed when our spirits enter the fuller union of our marriage. My body aches. What do you plan to do? Forsake him evermore? Forsake the children still waiting to be begotten, all for a single mistake?
Fëanáro bites me where my neck meets my shoulder, hard enough to draw a bruise beneath my skin. "Ai!" I cry out. I try to writhe free of his arms, but they are tight around me now. "That hurts, Fëanáro!" and he turns the bite into a kiss, soothing the sore, tender flesh with his lips, drawing his tongue across the marks left by his teeth, relaxing his arms and moving his hands across my belly and my thighs. I clench the sheets hard in my fists, as though keeping myself anchored, keeping myself from turning to him.
"Why do you resist me?" he asks in a voice soft and unlike my husband. He moves his hand to cup my breast, his thumb finding the erect nipple that betrays my desire for him and moving in a slow circular caress. I push his hand away. "I am tired, Fëanáro. Please leave me."
"You are not. It has been six nights since we last lay together. Your desire is as hot as mine." His hand that I cast away has moved lower and eases my nightgown up from around my knees, moving beneath to spread my flesh and touch me in the secret places only he knows. My teeth clamp hard onto my lower lip and I taste my own blood but do not cry out. His fingers slide against me in a slow rhythm, his skin burning with that which I deny him. "I can feel your desire for me, Nerdanel," he whispers. "Turn to me. Please. I ache for your touch.
"Why do you resist me?
"Why do you hide from me?
"I love you. I want you. Please."
I am on the verge of climax, grinding my teeth together to keep from crying out, trying to will my hands to push his away before he coaxes from me this greatest of pleasures, this pleasure I will not be able to bear without taking him inside of me, but my hands are futile, clutching the sheets and digging into the mattress. I can feel his arousal against the backs of my thighs; I can feel him throbbing with a desire for that which he gives me but I will not return.
"Do not forsake me. What have I done for you to forsake me?"
Flesh cannot resist forever. Like the reflexive drawing away of a limb burned by hot iron, my body flowers into ecstasy, releasing itself from the torment that he has placed upon me. My hips jerk against him, and at last, my hands find his, pushing them into my flesh until it almost hurts, and his name rises from my throat in gratitude and anger, "Fëanáro!" for forcing upon me this agonizing pleasure. And though our bodies are not joined, I know suddenly that he is aware of my betrayal of the beliefs I have professed to share, and I turn to him in anger and meet his wide gray eyes with me own. His face is smooth and startled by that which has been suddenly revealed to him, and no longer is he my husband—the father of four sons—but the virgin boy I'd bedded fifty years ago.
His lips part as though to speak, but I slam mine into his first, in a crushing, painful kiss. He moans beneath my lips with a mixture of pain and desire, and his hands push his clothes from his body until he is naked beneath me, rising next to try to tug my nightgown over my head. I straddle him and seize his wrists before his hands touch me and slam them into the headboard, spreading blue bruises across the backs of the beautiful hands that I love.
"Nerdanel…ai…" he whispers, the voice of the young boy who had once driven his fist into an oaken door and broken the bones in his knuckles, so angry had he been over the imminent marriage of his father. I pin his hands to the headboard with the same disregard he'd showed when he touched me and revealed to himself this secret which now pains both of us. My desire for him is as sharp as pain, my desire to complete the bond and peer into his spirit as he has peered into mine, and I hold both of his wrists over his head with one hand—preventing him from caressing me or undressing me, as he wishes—and take him into hand with the other, making him moan now with undisclosed pleasure as I raise my hips over his and guide him inside of me.
The ecstasy he'd sparked is swelling, swelling like the sea beneath a storm, and I bear my body hard onto his, and we both cry out in unison. "No, Nerdanel, it's too fast," he gasps, and I clap my hand over his mouth because I don't want the slow, thoughtful lovemaking he prefers—a gradual escalation to the frantic passion we both crave yet fight to restrain—progressing through climax after climax, each more intense than the next. I want to take his body as he took mine, to force pleasure upon him, to reveal the fire of his spirit as he'd revealed mine. His eyes are squeezed shut; my hand muffles his protests; he fights to regain control, but I pin his body beneath mine until his back arches and his hips thrust as though in convulsion, and he screams his pleasure into the palm of my hand. His spirit opens in front of me, like staring into a chasm and into the white-hot center of the earth, and climax tears my body too, and I collapse against him and can no longer resist taking him into my arms and pressing the lengths of our body to each other, both of us fumbling to remove the sweat-soaked nightgown that bars flesh from flesh.
"Why?" he asks, and I take his hands in mine and grieve the marks I left upon them: the bruises along the backs of his hands, the blackened rings around his wrists where I'd pinned him, the scratches on the insides of his arms where he'd fought to no avail. I have no answer, so I kiss his lips and taste blood—mine or his? maybe both?—and we embrace and slowly caress each other with the gentle love of a husband and wife.
It does not take him long to become aroused again, but our lovemaking this time is exceedingly slow and tender, the careful exertions of bodies already abused and weary. Time drifts along without us, and we bask in the oneness of body and spirit, and as the night edges into morning, he releases again inside of me and retracts only to fall against my breast while I push his damp hair from his face. His breathing is hard, his muscles weak and trembling, and I wonder how a woman as simple as I can drive a man as powerful as Fëanáro to exhaustion when day after day of sleepless travel or labor can not even make his eyes droop with drowsiness.
Are you disappointed in me?
In the light of our blended spirits, we do not need words to speak. His earlier brilliance has dimmed, and he lies on the edge of sleep, and our colors merge as our bodies did, his white light swirling against my dimmer rose-colored glow.
In love like that which I feel for you, there is no room for disappointment.
But, Fëanáro, I cannot reconcile friendship with servitude —
Hush. Let me lie in your arms and love me.
"I do," I whisper, and I feel his lips draw into a smile against my breast.
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