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Behind the Scenes – November 2017 SWG Challenge
The Silmarillion is full of pivotal moments, of events where the characters we love and loathe literally and figuratively shaped the world of Arda. This month's challenge asks you to ... take one of those moments, one of those big events or turning points in the story, to think about where and what happened ... and then create a fanwork about what was happening at that moment in time, anywhere but at the site of the action.
Dedicated to Ignoble Bard, who has helped me with so many stories, for his 2017 birthday.
~oOo~ For heaven's sake, let us sit upon the ground ~oOo~ He rode alone on a magnificent chestnut mare, as handsome as he was, slowly ascending the sloping avenue leading up to our house. That day he wore rustic black riding-leathers in the style of the northern herdsmen. He might have half-heartedly tried to travel incognito—impossible, of course. His heavy black hair had been pulled back into one braid, revealing the single most recognizable face in all of Valinor. Although his shoulders slumped slightly with fatigue, he nonetheless picked his way with diligence over the glittering, slippery paving stones, still wet from an earlier spring shower. Most riders approached the house from the back. But he wasn’t most people. Noticing me watching him, he spoke. “It’s nicer here during the mingling of the lights or when Telperion is waxing. The apex of Laurelin can be hard on one’s eyes.”
And tell sad stories of the death of kings,
How some have been deposed, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed . . . .
Richard II, William Shakespeare.
“He’s here,” I said, turning to grin at Arafinwë, who had nudged up behind me, angling to look out of the window over my shoulder.
“Who?” he asked, smirking down at me with mischief. Arafinwë loved to make light of other people’s anxiety, to exercise a mordant humor, not out of callousness, but in a determined effort to undercut the prickly seriousness of his older brothers that had been one of the catalysts of various family misunderstandings over the years.
“Your brother! The difficult one. The greatest of the Noldor.” We laughed together, giddy with relief. When he had not arrived the previous evening, we had worried that he had changed his mind and would not come. While we had fidgeted over our wine, unable to relax for a moment, startling at every sound from the street below, Arafinwë wanted to wager on whether he would come or not. I objected vehemently. Yes. Arafinwë’s wit could be cruel at times, also probably prompted by a childhood of relentless teasing by two older brothers.
One did not refuse a summons from the Valar, unless, of course, one was Melkor. I did not want to contemplate what might befall my husband’s people if Fëanáro had decided to make a public demonstration of refusing to meet with Manwë in response to an ostensibly peaceful overture. I wished we knew what would happen at the feast the following day, why the Valar had asked Fëanáro to attend. Of course, he was anxious. But I knew from experience that either they did not understand, or did not care, what he might be feeling at that moment. I wished that Finwë had come with him. Yet I could understand that Finwë probably felt that if they had wanted him there they would have invited him as well. Since experience had taught us that the Valar were known, or should have been by now, not to understand human reasoning and emotions, perhaps these proud princes of the Noldor could try harder to remember that.
I did not fear the Valar. I feared the temper of the contentious Noldor at such a point. They were willing to believe the worst of the Valar, too quick to place anything bad that happened at their feet. The Valar were not perfect—are not perfect—and make mistakes and the Noldor do not appreciate being told what to do.
Finwë had been well-suited to them as a king. He understood his people’s touchy arrogance and smoothed feathers rather than ruffling them. He knew how to sooth delicate egos without infringing upon their thorny self-conceit. Part of the reason Ñolofinwë was not as good at ruling as his father had been because he expected them to be moved by reason and underestimated how easily offended his people could be.
They tolerated Ñolofinwë as well as they did because he could be frighteningly competent and diplomatic, although often stiff at times. On the other hand, the Valar had often shown themselves to be tone-deaf and unaccommodating in matters great or small, and, worse yet, unaccustomed to ever being contradicted. But the unforgivable error of Manwë had been to release their brother Melkor to spread his evil and then to blame the consequences of his lies upon its victims.
“He must be starved and dying for a bath,” I said, and turned to the young maid fussing with the settings of the silverware and glasses on the breakfast table behind us. “Sorry to interrupt you, but could you please run into the kitchen and ask cook to make enough breakfast for three. And then see that a hot bath is run for Prince Fëanáro.” She dashed off, wide-eyed with excitement. Nearly twelve years of absence had not lessened his glamour in the eyes of the common folk of Tirion. Or in my own either, I have to admit.
If the strength of his personality and famed intellect had not set him apart from others, his haunting beauty, even among such a handsome people, was newly breathtaking each time one encountered him. Oddly enough, the one thing which Fëanáro was not arrogant about was his unmatchable good looks. I am not sure what he saw when he looked in a mirror. I know he appreciated beauty in others, and in the world around him. But I think when he looked at his own image he saw a whole and healthy person and nothing more.
I looked out the window again to find he had dismounted at the foot of the stairs leading up to our front entrance. He was talking animatedly with the Arafinwë’s equerry, who had gotten word somehow that Prince Fëanáro had arrived and come himself to personally take responsibility for his horse. He would have remembered that Fëanáro would insist upon caring for her himself if one of the lesser grooms from the stables had approached him. With four horse-mad children, our stables had been expanded over the years, but Fëanáro recognized and remembered the equerry who greeted him. Yet even with our stable master’s expert assistance, Fëanáro would not allow him to take charge of his mare without advising him in detail what he thought she might require. Fëanáro was notoriously finicky about the proper care of children and horses.
When he turned to walk up the steps to the front door, both Arafinwë and I rushed to welcome him. I ran down the steps, ahead of Arafinwë, and threw my arms around him.
“Well, now, it is not every day that I am greeted by a lovely, barefooted woman clad only in her nightgown.” And then smiling at his brother, he said, “Hello, Aró. Thank you for offering me a place to stay.”
Arafinwë stood grinning from ear to ear at the two of us. “One might convince a girl to leave Alqualondë, but one can never take the Telerin out of her.”
“As though you would ever want to!” His smile at Arafinwë was warm that day. Such moments of brotherly affection were unpredictable with Fëanáro and more welcome for their rarity.
He didn’t embrace me back as I clung to him but held his arms away from his body. “Ugh! I am filthy, Eärwen! I left late yesterday and then stopped at a less than elegant inn last night and slept in my clothes. The bed didn’t look clean,” he said, wrinkling his gorgeous nose in distaste, “although the stable at least was more than adequate.”
“Well, you can, in any case, give me a kiss ‘hello’!” He did—on the mouth—lingering just long enough to be a bit of tease. He knew I found him attractive and he liked that I did. Fëanáro was most comfortable with those he had known from childhood and I had known him since before Arafinwë was born. I pulled away blushing. Then he kissed Aró just as sweetly.
Arafinwë and I looked at one another and we both laughed. He was here and well. We would do what little we could to keep him safe and comfortable. The anxiety and vulnerability rolled off him in smoky, dark waves. So arrogant yet fragile, so irritating but still so compelling—that was the elder of my brothers-in-law. He could rip one’s heart out of one’s chest in sympathy with him, while making one want pull one’s hair out in frustration.
Of course, he read our thoughts. “I’ll be all right. I’m worried but nowhere near panicked yet.” Even he did not believe he sounded entirely convincing. “But no matter.” He shrugged. “Did you actually believe I might not come?” He looked down the hill and to both sides of him. Tirion gleamed in the golden light of Laurelin—a magical city from a child’s book of wonder tales and it was ours. In those years—Telerin as I was in culture and habits—I felt a not inconsiderable amount of borrowed pride for the accomplishments of my husband’s people.
“There is a bigger and more authentic world outside of Tirion,” Fëanáro said, sighing. “But I’ve missed this vastly overrated pile of rocks.” A shadow of longing had passed over his eyes and was just as quickly suppressed.
At closer inspection I noticed purplish circles beneath his lambent silver-grey eyes—not as bright as they once had been—but still arresting. I reached out to touch his mind and he did not reject me. His spirit still seemed wholly his own, subdued and uncertain perhaps, with a tiredness that went beyond physical exhaustion, but he still projected that strange undeniably more-than-Eldarin core that belonged to him alone—fiery, independent, and wild.
He shook his head at me and pursed his lips in a mournful, petulant expression. “I’ve changed more than you can see!” he complained. At moments like that he seemed almost ordinary, like any of the rest of us. But I knew this humble side was an illusion as well.
I smiled at him, more than half like an indulgent mother with a moody child. Meanwhile, Aró chuckled softly—sometimes he has more courage than common sense. “We know that, brother,” he said. “We really do know. Believe that we are here for you and more than happy to listen to everything in all of its dramatic detail.” He pulled Fëanáro into his arms and hugged him hard. He wrinkled his nose. “You’re right. You do reek. So, first we need to bathe you and feed you.”
“Still skipping through life without a care, little brother?” Fëanáro asked, trying to sound gruff.
“Hardly without a care. Four children in these Valar-forsaken times and two complicated older brothers!”
Fëanáro clearly felt better after a bath, a hearty breakfast, and a long nap; we were enjoying wine with our midday meal. As Fëanáro and I often did, we reminisced about our shared youths. Arafinwë had heard our stories dozens of time. But, good brother and husband that he was, he listened with patience and fondness.
“Do you remember the day we first met?” I asked. I remembered it myself like it had been yesterday.
He was a skinny boy, coltish, all long arms and legs, but when he opened his mouth he sounded preternaturally old for his age and the word choices of a scholar seemed all but ludicrous pouring out of those childish rosebud lips, his eyes sparking with eagerness and curiosity.
“I remember you! A was a homely little kid and you—only a few years older—were already a beautiful swan princess! I was humiliated, because my father had told on me the trip down that sometimes he and Olwë wished we would grow up and fall in love. He said that it would be a perfect match. I couldn’t think of a thing to say to you.”
I giggled and snorted at him. “Well, it did not prevent you from talking non-stop and your Telerin was outrageously perfect. Better than your father’s. In fact, your vocabulary was intimidating and I was a good student. And it was my native tongue.”
Back then, when I listened to Fëanáro pontificating about what he considered certainties, I thought of how he never qualified any of his assertions, as most people do. He did not use expressions like, ‘I believe. . .’ or ‘I presume. . .’ or ‘It’s my opinion. . . .’ My exasperation at his arrogance always warred with my desire to comfort him. He had been badly treated. When the Valar’s examination of the facts twelve years ago had revealed that Melkor had, in blackest and most deliberate hatred, provoked the dissension within the Noldor, they had forgiven their own brother of the most malicious destructiveness the first time. But given his freedom, the dark Vala had spat in the face of those who had pardoned him and lied, plotted, manipulated, and sown the bitter seeds that had broken the peace of Valinor. Yet they still blamed Fëanáro.
Picking up on my train of thought, he said, “Why am I so bloody important to them? Why do they have to interfere within the internal life of our people? Do they not recognize how thoroughly they wrested authority from our father, the chosen king of the Noldor? I sincerely think our father has been more disrespected and wounded by all of this than I have. You have seen very little of him. He’s a shadow of the man he was. You know how I am, flailing and scrambling, trying to demand the attention and recognition I think is owed me—simultaneously arrogant, vain, and forever in need of reassurance. But our father has always been calm, measured, confident, and determined to serve his people to the best of his ability.” Fëanáro paused to catch his breath, releasing a sigh of apparent exhaustion after that deluge of words.
Arafinwë looked at him with those twinkling blue eyes and gave him a sly smile, while refilling his wine glass. “I could not have put it better myself!”
“Seriously, Aró! Why do they care? Plenty of others have given them more trouble. Look at the Teleri! No disrespect intended, Eärwen.” I could not resist laughing. He cocked his head at me, uncertain of how to interpret my laugh, but then shrugged and blustered on. “Or, how about Elwë Singollo? He disappeared entirely and lost them their possible hold over a third or even a half or more of his people and they did not even send hunting parties after him.”
“It could be as simple as that they think they understand us better or that we have had more exposure to them and should know better what they require,” Arafinwë said. “Of course they don’t understand us, but simply see us as rebellious and ungrateful. I’d have to agree with you on that. But they compare the Noldor to the Vanyar. Never a moment’s trouble there.”
“I won’t raise the question of your mother,” Fëanáro said. He was the one who laughed at that remark.
“Well,” Arafinwë drawled, “I think our father might have had something to do with that situation also.”
“Apparently,” Fëanáro answered. “He did not have better luck with his two marriages than I did with my one. Do you hear from Nerdanel?” His voice sounded unconvincingly bland, while his mind churned in turmoil of hurt. “She never answers my letters. She never comes to her own sons’ begetting day feasts, although I always invite her. Of course, she sends them gifts and letters, without so much as a second-hand greeting to me.”
“We sent word to her that you are here with us and that she is welcome here for as short or as long a time as she wants to stay,” I said.
“I hope she comes later today or tonight.” He sighed and none of us were able to answer that. There could be no useful way to address his pain. Any reassurance would ring false.
He stood at the window looking down the hill again. It had been a glorious spring day. By then soft bluish-silver shadows had begun to color the vista—Telperion rapidly supplanting the fading golden hues of Laurelin. The glittering brightness of the pavement and stone walls of midday had gradually transformed into a pearly opalescence much easier on the eyes. Watching Fëanáro caught in a moment of reverie, looking soft and wistful, was an unsettling experience. The combination of his fire and passion was a constant for those of us caught up in the orbit of his radiance.
“And this from the Elda who’s spent his life staring into the fire of a forge,” Arafinwë said.
He shrugged. “Maybe that’s why I like the blended light. Why I always spent nearly half a year in Formenos. But that was always enough. Then I was ready to come back to Valinor again. Tirion is still heart of our people. It has been torture to be forbidden to ever come here.”
“Maybe we should have gone out today—walked around or gone to city center,” Arafinwë said, looking as sad as Fëanáro did.
“You don’t seem to realize that I half-expected to be stopped when we decided I would stay here tonight and go to the festival with you and Aró tomorrow. Even now I half expect to find Eönwë banging on your door with a phalange of guards, wanting to put me in chains. They gave me no instructions. Maybe they expected me to come straight from Formenos timing it exactly to arrive for the beginning of their ceremonies.”
“None of us can guess what they want,” Arafinwë said. “I don’t think they’d call you here for the Spring Festival if their purpose was punitive or unpleasant in any way. The coming of spring is a magical time of spiritual renewal for the Valar and the Vanyar. All things are said to be possible at that time—a time of new hope, new growth, flowers, blah, blah, blah. They would be loath to introduce any negativity into that environment.”
Fëanáro snorted. “That’s perfectly lovely, Aró. Did your Ammë teach you that at her knee?”
“Not at her knee actually. It was mainly at the dinner table with our father raising his eyebrows at us while her back was turned. The Noldor, as you well know, are skeptical as a people. Not that the Teleri aren’t.” My husband grinned at me before looking back at Fëanáro. “No wonder the Valar find you annoying, brother, if you talk to them like that!”
None of the Finwëan brothers were particularly pious. Fëanáro believed in nothing but himself, yet he was willing to assume that some being like the One existed because, despite all of his formidable intellect, he had not sought to find any other explanation. He instinctively had always known that they were not the first and that the Valar had not created Eldar. The Valar looked upon the Quendi as strange and incomprehensible. Fëanáro knew from receiving so much tutelage from them that when he quickly grasped concepts, invented new ways of doing things, reached beyond what had been taught him that even Aulë, the Vala he was closest to, had often looked at him startled as though he had stumbled upon a talking squirrel.
He acknowledged that the Valar were different from the Eldar, but that did not convince him they were in any way superior. And, why would he doubt that? More than one of them had acknowledged that he in many things he had surpassed his teachers among the Ainur. Aulë would tell any who cared to listen that his inventiveness and curiosity were unparalleled.
Fëanáro rolled his eyes in exactly the way that Finwë did. Intentionally or simply a reflexive action I was not sure. Finwë and Fëanáro are more similar than most people are willing to admit. “I am consciously respectful in the presence of any Vala. Our problem is that they do not all think it is reasonable for me to think such respect should be mutual. It’s as simple as that! The least of my worries, although not an insubstantial one, is that they will decide it is an opportunity for me to start anew and try to get things right this time.”
“Or, perhaps they intend to try to make right some of the things they got wrong,” Arafinwë said.
“Ha!” Fëanáro released a bitter bark of a laugh. “Manwë is hardly known for his skills of either empathy or self-examination! Not to mention Námo! And yet, strangely enough, neither of them can keep their meddling hands off anyone! Are Ñolofinwë and Anairë coming here tonight?”
“They are coming for supper,” I offered.
“I can tell you now though that Ñolvo doesn’t know anything,” Arafinwë said. “He has speculated they might want you to apologize in public and, if that is what they want, he will accept that apology in any way or with any words you want.”
“He did try that before, didn’t he? And I appreciated it then as well,” Fëanáro said. I thought to myself that things might have gone differently if he had sounded a little more humble in his last response to his brother. “Fine. I do want to see him before we have to face them tomorrow. I hate this. I really hate this whole mess. They have no idea what it costs me to even come here.”
“Look at it this way,” Arafinwë said grinning, ever the optimist. “By this time tomorrow we will all be joyful and at peace again. Or, then again, maybe we won’t.”
For heaven's sake, let us sit upon the ground
He rode alone on a magnificent chestnut mare, as handsome as he was, slowly ascending the sloping avenue leading up to our house. That day he wore rustic black riding-leathers in the style of the northern herdsmen. He might have half-heartedly tried to travel incognito—impossible, of course. His heavy black hair had been pulled back into one braid, revealing the single most recognizable face in all of Valinor. Although his shoulders slumped slightly with fatigue, he nonetheless picked his way with diligence over the glittering, slippery paving stones, still wet from an earlier spring shower. Most riders approached the house from the back. But he wasn’t most people.
Noticing me watching him, he spoke. “It’s nicer here during the mingling of the lights or when Telperion is waxing. The apex of Laurelin can be hard on one’s eyes.”