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Another Man's Cage: 28. Chapter Twenty-Eight--Feanaro
It is golden light that teases my eyes open this morning. Funny, since I remember closing the drapes the night prior, forcing my body suddenly weak with exhaustion to lift arms that might have been wet sandbags to pull the drapes shut and save my eyes from the light that poured forth. When I fell into bed, I hadn't even undressed but slept in the day's clothes, too weary to care.
I have not felt this well rested upon awakening since we arrived in Formenos. It had been a long time in Tirion, too, since I last awakened in the morning from sheer satiation of sleep and not because my mind drove me to task before my body was ready. I lie for a moment before opening my eyes and enjoy it: the warmth of the satin sheets on my skin, the pressure of the mattress against my back, the way the light shining through my eyelids is turned red and throbs with the rhythm of my blood. My mind is empty for once, as though swept clean of clutter while I slept, and as I lie still, I feel a few ideas on which I had been working in the weeks prior emerging again, poking out from the folds of my mind like timid animals after a violent storm.
They begin to whisper to me in hesitant voices of tasks I had wished to undertake prior to my sleep. One cries louder than the others.
It cries of light.
There is a pressure on my chest, I realize—a warm, inexplicable pressure directly over my heart. I shift, but the pressure remains. It feels as though my heart is pounding against the inside of my chest, trying to punch through my ribcage and reach the source of the pressure.
I open my eyes, and it is Nerdanel. Her head lies on my chest, and her bright eyes are upon mine.
Our gazes linger upon the other for a long moment before she springs up. "Fëanaro!" she cries. There is fright in her eyes, but it quickly turns to glee, and her lips are upon mine, her hungry kisses devouring my mouth, my face, my ears, my neck. I let my head roll back to allow her easier access to the tender skin of my throat, and feel my blood beating against her greedy mouth. The drapes are open, I notice: Perhaps Nerdanel opened them? The light through the window is of a rich gold, and it only takes a moment for my eyes to appraise its strength and luster to know that it is afternoon.
And my arms—I lift my arms from the bed to embrace my wife, and it is silk that slides down to pool around my elbows, not the course wool of the tunic that I wore when I fell into bed last night. As my lips part to question her, she brings her mouth back up to kiss me, and the unexpected intimacy of the open-mouthed kiss makes my skin prickle with delight, and I let my tongue dart quickly across her bottom lip. Her body presses against mine, for an instant, firmly enough to tell me that the pleasure was reciprocal.
"Well," she says, drawing back, "I am glad to see that you are with us again."
"With you? Where did I go?" Laughing, I lift my fingers to brush her hair away from her face. So plain, people said when I returned and announced having taken her to wife, pointing out a nose that was too broad, a jaw that was too wide, a brow that was too heavy, as reasons why I should not love her. She was over-conscious in those days of her face—and of her body, which was strong and sturdy, not the willowy wisp of a woman that people would have as the princess of the Noldor—and she loathed to appear in public, except in loose dresses that hid her figure, with her hair unrestrained and falling across her face. I felt as though I was always clearing her hair from her face in those days, for she is unbelievably beautiful to me, and hiding her face seems akin to cloaking the stars behind clouds.
She smiles now, takes my hand, and kisses my fingers. "You were gone, Fëanaro. You know, as you do. For five days."
I close my eyes, as though this action alone will hide my mind's thoughts from my wife.
Gone? Five days?
The mattress shifts as Nerdanel shifts beside me, circling my chest with her arm and nuzzling her face into my neck. She knows my thoughts and also that I wish that she did not, so she closes her own eyes and feigns ignorance. I shock myself sometimes. How strange and humiliating a predicament, to be wise about so many things, yet to remain ignorant about one's own needs and motives.
"To where—" My throat clicks, and I clear it and speak again, softly, intently. "To where did I go?"
"You were in your forge for five days, Fëanaro. I know not what you were doing. You—" She presses her face more firmly into my neck, as though leeching from me strength to say what she must. "You barred the door against us. Until yesterday evening, when I came up here and found you asleep in bed."
I laugh, for I cannot remember, and the tale sounds ridiculous. Once, I told her, "You could make all of this up, and I'd be none the wiser," and she was hurt and ran from the room. I will not say that now. I hold her closer, as though to compensate for hurts long passed and—I hope—healed.
From the unexplored depths of thought, frail tendrils of memory tickle my recollection. They are more words than anything: Stone. Thought. Share. But then there are visions too, flickering images of a dark stone and pale hands upon it—my hands?—and Nelyo's voice from behind the door: Atar?
No! Leave me!
I flinch and Nerdanel—saying nothing—lifts her hand to soothe me.
But then, they might not be my memories at all, for I recognize that memory can be painted upon one's mind until it is as real as an actual experience. I used to do this with my mother, when I was small: paint memories of her that had never happened until they seemed as real as though they had happened just the day prior. I imagined her naming me, holding me in her lap and saying, "Fëanaro, I will call you, for you will do great things." I asked her to tell me of them, and she did; I memorized the look of her hands holding mine—the slender, deft fingers—and drew them over and over in my lesson books, and the quick sound of her voice, which I imitated, making my father cringe and murmur to the omnipresent Lady Indis, "So like his mother, he sounds." And Lady Indis reached out to comfort me, but I wouldn't have it; I wouldn't have my memories smudged and ruined by her dough-soft, incapable hands.
And so my thoughts on what happens when I "go"—for that is the safest word to call it, and even little Carnistir knows its meaning—could just be painted by my family, who have told me what I am like during these times. I do not speak readily, they say, and I will sit for hours and stare at something—or nothing—with such scrutiny that I might be reading fine print upon it. Sometimes, they say, I lift my hand and touch the air as though something lingers there, beyond their sights, but my fingers move as though with precise manipulations, and usually after is when I lock myself into the forge.
I could have their memories, not my own. But still, those three words remain: Stone. Thought. Share. I wonder what I will find when I go to the forge.
The first time it happened—when I went—I was very young and still living in my father's palace. In the weeks prior, as a way of hobby to distract my thoughts from my father's wedding preparations going on downstairs, I meticulously studied Rúmil's entire alphabet, identifying each inconsistency and inconvenience, twisting and changing the letters until my head ached with the effort. Still I strove, stretching my brain further than should be allowed in the rubbery intellect of youth. For many days, I did not sleep. I could not stop. I thought that my brain might be bleeding and filling my head with blood, only it was not. I checked my ears and my eyes in the mirror when I went to use the lavatory, my bladder full to bursting and sitting like a painful stone in my gut. But there was never any blood, just whispering thoughts and vague inspiration.
I cannot do it. There is no better way. It cannot be done.
But two days later, without my recollection, it was. I blinked. It was a dream; it must be.
I went to bed, wondering how the dream would end, loathing to wake to the taunts of those letters that were wrong but refused to be corrected.
When I awakened, a man was leaning over me, and I screamed. The man restrained me with hands on my shoulders, and I struggled and fought him until I saw my father in the chair beside my bed, his eyes red and swollen, a handkerchief twisted in his hands. He thought I was dying, as my mother had done, for she too had slept long like this in the year after my birth, without response. The man was my father's chief healer. I had been born into his hands, and he had cared for the minor injuries and pains of my childhood, and he told me—after my father had left to get me a glass of water—that I had locked myself into my bedroom and refused to reply to my father's calls. My father had to break the lock and found me asleep in bed, still in the prior day's clothes, and I would not respond and slept through breakfast and the midday meal, my heart beating ponderously slow in my chest.
"Did you think I was dying?" I asked the healer before my father returned. He busied himself with returning his tools and elixirs to his bag. "I was not sure," he said at last.
Upon his leaving, I found on my bedside table a parchment. And upon the parchment: perfect letters that I did not remember writing.
My father, grieved by my strange behavior, postponed his wedding to the Lady Indis. No one said as much to me, but I could sense in their stiff show of concern that many believed I'd feigned it. My displeasure at my father's wedding was not unknown, but I was a child, and my opinion did not matter much. The affairs of adults were best left to adults. For many days, I sat in my bedroom, pondering the letters I'd found—for surely, I would have remembered creating them if indeed I had—and with their first use, I wrote in my lesson books of my anger towards my father's court—even toward my father himself—until I was certain that they were perfect. But I told no one. And at my father's wedding, when I stood beside him and I was supposed to be listening to the Speaking of the Name, I recited them over and over again in my mind—tinco, parma, calma, quessë—until I could no longer hear the words that finalized my mother's death. Tinco, parma, calma, quessë: with them drifting through my thoughts, letters like the waves upon the sea or the vines that twine the trees in the forest, I didn't even cry.
My emotions have always been like a pendulum, swinging through extremes of joy and despair, swishing all too quickly through the painless part in the middle, and at times, a spark of inspiration will seem to come from nowhere, suspending me at an extreme for a tiresome amount of time, until my body grows exhausted of suspension at that ceaseless apogee, fighting the gravity of reason, unwilling to break until I achieve whatever goal I didn't know I was pursuing.
Now, Nerdanel and I lie together in the warm light of early afternoon, our thoughts entwined in the space between us like our hands resting on my chest. I speak next: "So today is—"
"The day before Tyelkormo's begetting day." She finishes my thought for me.
"Today is the day that we shall leave then."
There is a pause. I feel two of her breaths tickle my neck before she speaks again. "I told the children that we would not be able to take our trip this year. They were disappointed, naturally, but they understood. Nelyo is taking the little ones fishing in the creek tomorrow."
I have heard her tone before: She wonders if this was intentional, to avoid going to Oromë's when she knows I'd rather go to the sea.
But I am disappointed too. "We need not cancel!" I cry, foolish and impetuous youth coloring my voice.
"And what was I supposed to do, Fëanaro? Tie your hands together and drape you across my saddle like a deer carcass?"
"I am fine. We can go."
"I knew not how long you would be gone. How was I to know?"
"I have never gone for longer than six days."
"This came upon me without warning. I do not know what precipitated it, only that I woke up five mornings ago, very early, expecting you to be in bed with me, but you'd gone to the forge already, and nothing I said or did seemed to affect you." There is a long pause while the question she wants to ask outright but will not breathes into my mind. Why…. I ignore it, and she sighs resolutely—her curiosity overwhelming her proud refusal to allow me to triumph in such childish games—and asks: "Why do you act so, Fëanaro?"
"I do not know, Nerdanel."
I feel her lips move against my neck, tightening and shifting into a smile. I remember once, before we were wed, when we were both apprenticed to Aulë, and I made a statue of Manwë to give to my father—a beautiful casting done in a blend of bronze and gold—and then smashed it flat with a hammer without reason, not knowing that she stood witness in the threshold behind me. "Why did you do that?" she asked, her voice not horrified by my sudden rage or my blasphemy, but merely curious and curling into laughter when I was forced to answer, "I do not know," the power of my actions stripped away by the enigma of the reasoning behind them. In the earliest days of our marriage, before we even conceived Nelyo, I feared that her love for me would become clouded with doubt, for what we had done defied convention and was dismissed as lust and imprudence even by those Noldor in the north who did not give the decrees of the Valar the same weight as did my father and her parents, and I would at times demand to know why she had married me, why she had bonded herself to me until the ending of the world, becoming angered by the strength of my doubts, and she would kiss the fury of my mouth and say, "It shall take me until the ending of the world to understand you, Fëanaro, and never have I been able to allow a question to lie long unanswered."
I interrupt the comfort in which we lie for the sake of greater contact between us, turning and disrupting her face from the nook of my neck so that the lengths our bodies my press together: breast, belly, hip, and thigh, even our feet nuzzling against the other's. Her arm circles my waist, presses my spine, heightens the contact. "These are not the clothes in which I lay last night," I say, kissing her between words, and she laughs against my mouth, our lips parting against each other's but seeking no further intimacy, no tongues, no teeth, only the mingling of our breath. We linger like this for a moment, tempting the other, and it is I who lose this time and press my lips shut and hold them firmly against hers in a kiss, knowing that in a moment more, I would make love to her, and life would resume and the questions would become lost in the clutter of daily life.
"You smelled of sweat and the forge," she tells me. "So I bathed you and changed your clothes."
I raise my eyebrows slowly to hide my surprise. "Did you?"
"I certainly wasn't going to lie beside you last night while you reeked like swine."
"And how do you presume to have accomplished this?"
"It is not so amazing an accomplishment, Fëanaro. You are my husband. I carried you. I was gentle, and you did not wake up."
"You carried me?" I place deliberate accentuation on the pronouns to disguise honest astonishment. Likewise, she feigns offense at my doubt in an attempt to hide her own amazement—and pride—at having completed the task. At one point in our lives, she could lift me easily, although I outweigh her by quite a bit, but carrying and bearing four sons has taken its toll on her, and she is not as strong as she once was.
"I am not so weak that I can't carry you for need!" she says. "The lavatory is but a few paces away and you were hardly resistant."
"Yes, but I am heavy."
"I may have let your feet drag the ground a bit," she admits.
"You should have asked Nelyo."
"I did not think that you would like being undressed and carried to the bath by your own son."
"You should have asked Nelyo. And when I woke up, you could always claim that you did it alone."
"Why? You would have known that I was lying."
"I would have appreciated the attempt to save my pride nonetheless," I tell her. "You should have asked Nelyo. My pride is not worth your safety."
Now she is annoyed and does not bother to feign a new emotion to cover it. When she carried Nelyo and Macalaurë, she did what she would—what I did—without restraint. She rode, hiked, hunted, and worked, always by my side. But things have changed. Our lives are different now, and she will never again be the same as the woman I married.
"Stop thinking such thoughts," she demands. She kisses me again, although it is less a kiss of passion or affection than it is to keep my mouth busy and quiet. "The fabric of our lives is not ours to weave but to make with it what we will."
I snicker against her lips, for such truisms give her the reputation of being wise. Indeed, when we were very young, they gave me pause, as though my mind would stop and breathe, just for a moment, while the meaning of her words soaked into my brain. The world seemed simple, clear, and beautiful in those moments. On the day of our marriage, the unspeakable bliss of body gave way to something greater, and I discovered that—with the union of our spirits—I could leave the noisy clutter of my mind and enter the quiet of hers when I desired, and she has never turned me away.
But now, I have been drowning in the chaos of my thoughts for five days now, and I crave life, contact, her. My mind is full of whisperings and bustling thoughts: I notice that one of the curtain rods has broken, and I am instantly computing the lengths of lines and angles and making a new one in my mind while calculating the amount of provisions my family would have used in the last five days and contriving a special meal to make for Tyelkormo tonight, on the eve of his begetting day. But the warmth of Nerdanel's hand on my back, slipping beneath my nightclothes to press skin on skin, is more real than all of those things, and my thoughts skid in a new direction, to wonder about how she and the children have fared over the last five days.
"How are our sons?" I ask her.
She smiles. In even the heaviest moments between us, a new light brightens her eyes when our children enter her thoughts. "They have fared well through their concern for you," she tells me. "Nelyo has kept them well fed and busy at task to distract their minds from thinking too long on you, although both Carnistir and Tyelkormo insisted on sleeping with you last night."
"And where did you sleep?"
"On the sliver of bed that the three of you allotted me."
"And Carnistir's nightmares?" I ask.
"Macalaurë's songs soothe them quite well, we have learned."
"What of Findekáno?"
"He has barely left Nelyo's side. One might think he was glued there if I didn't see him waiting outside the lavatory door for Nelyo the other day. I am afraid that we shall face quite the sad separation when we return to Tirion."
"And the apprentices?"
"Have gone to town as planned to aid the lords in crafting new hunting spears for the coming winter."
"And what of you, Nerdanel? How have you fared?"
"I have missed you desperately," she says, taking my face in her hands and kissing me.
I feel belligerent, like I used to feel when I was young and would argue with my father regarding councils about which I knew naught, just to hear my voice stir the air. "I was right there the whole time," I say and she pauses, laughs, and then tugs the blankets over my head. "Do stop, Fëanaro."
"Well, I was," I tell her from under the blankets.
She lowers them a bit, to my nose, so that she can see my eyes but my mouth is still covered. "So you were," she admits before yanking them over my head again.
"Is this any way to treat your husband?" I ask her, and when she doesn't respond, loudly demand, "As High Prince of the Noldor, I order you to release me from these bonds!"
She releases the blankets, and I scramble free, trying to look miffed, while she laughs and says, "Perhaps you have been spending too much time with Nolofinwë, my love." Like leaves reaching for light, our hands find the other's body, and we lie close once more. "I have a bit of good news for the High Prince of the Noldor," she said, and her face is pressing into my chest, so I can't see her smile, but I can hear it in her voice, more beautiful than the music of fountains.
The words are out before I even think, and I feel an immediate sting of regret. I am not yet ready to beget another child; how can I expect that she is ready to bear one? If she notices the insensitivity of my words, then she does not show it to me. She laughs and squeezes me tightly. "No, not yet, Fëanaro. I still ache with the memory of bearing Carnistir. But, perhaps, it is not so long off. I have not been tired for weeks now. My body is recovering. That is my good news."
And good news it is! So naturally, my mind must deconstruct it, ruminate over the inane details. "So quickly?" I say. "But it was much longer after Tyelkormo."
"Tyelkormo was a much harder birth," she says. "Indeed, if I thought I would ever have childbirth like that again, then I might well bind my legs together before getting into bed with you at night."
Tyelkormo was a hard birth. Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I think, feeling a chill at the memory. As many hardships as preceded his conception, it seemed unjust that his bearing should be so long and laborious that the midwife wanted to cut him from the body of my wife like he was a parasite inside of her. Like she was no more valuable than a head of livestock. No please, I hear myself pleading. Give her three more pushes. You can try three more pushes, can you not, Nerdanel? And her hand, normally a vice in mine, lying cool and limp across my palm—she had fallen back in the bed, and her hair was soaked with sweat so that it was nearly as dark as mine. There was blood on the sheets between her legs. She rolled her head to look at me. I don't think I can, Fëanaro. And beneath her words, a thought: Please don't make me.
That is why we celebrate begetting, I think, and not birth.
"But I did it, didn't I, Fëanaro?" she says to me now, and my thoughts are torn back to reality, back to the warm bedclothes around me and her head on my chest, tilted now so that she may meet my eyes with hers. I hear my heartbeat thudding hard in my ears, as though a vestige of that day's fear still lingers in my brain, a sour taste of metal at the back of my throat.
I swallow hard. "Did what?"
"I pushed three more times."
I hold her close.
She was not going to. She was too exhausted. Contractions wracked her midsection, but she lacked the strength to do anything more than gasp with the pain of it.
Nimelomë was the attending healer. I pled with Nerdanel. Please try. Three more times. Then I felt a warm hand on my arm. If we do nothing, then we may lose the baby. Nimelomë's eyes have always been clear, like water that lets you see the pebbles at the bottom of a brook. I saw my choices in her eyes. I could lose my son. Or I could lose all his brothers that would follow him. Maybe lose my wife.
How could I choose?
How is this fair?
The Valar hate me.
I couldn't speak, so I looked away. Pretended that I wasn't choosing one life over another. I conjured Macalaurë's voice in my head, his hand tugging my trousers. "Another piece of candy, Atar?" I nodded to his apparition and felt Nimelomë's hand alight on my arm, intending comfort.
She began preparing an elixir that would numb my wife so that they could cut her. I looked at the smooth, porcelain skin of her belly, rounded by the life she held inside of her. I looked at the knives that Nimelomë unrolled from a leather case. I hated her then, for bringing those knives into my house, for anticipating that Nerdanel would not be able to deliver our son normally and would have to be disassembled like a broken machine and have him lifted out of her. I imagined those knives tracing a line across my wife's perfect skin and leaving a narrow red wake that would gape and run, like a broken mouth. I felt sick.
She spoke to Nerdanel. Nerdanel, I want your consent before we begin the operation. I have your husband's. I will likely be able to save the life of your son. But you will have no more children. You may die. Nimelomë had known us when we were children, with scabby knees from crawling about the mines and dizzying love for each other. She does not bother with formalities.
And Nerdanel's faint reply: I will give my life for him.
Those are the fated words that I imagine my mother speaking as I was born, knowing that the energy in her body was only enough to give life to one of us.
I leaned over to kiss her mouth. Maybe for the last time? Nimelomë began to spread the elixir across Nerdanel's belly. Her body tensed, her lips grew hard beneath mine, as another contraction tore her body.
I thought that I must have spoken it, for Nimelomë paused with the knife, but her clear eyes went to Nerdanel, not to me.
Let me push three more times.
Nimelomë made as though to argue with her, but Nerdanel was already reaching for me to help her sit up, she was already gripping my hand as another contraction began to ripple through her, she was already pushing. One.
Nerdanel, you are losing blood. If this fails, then you will not survive the operation.
Two. She gave a strangled cry, what would have been a scream with Nelyo or with Macalaurë, when her voice had the strength.
Fëanaro. Hold me.
She couldn't even speak. Her voice was a feeble whisper in my mind. The blood on the sheets made me think of slaughtered animals, nothing befitting our third son's arrival.
I supported her back, kept her from falling onto the bed. There was a gossamer hope. One more time. By the grace of the Valar, please….
"Fëanaro, why must you always think on such things?" Nerdanel's voice penetrates the haze of memory. She is growing irate with me. "Of all the things in our life together on which you could think—"
I silence her with a kiss.
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