Sculpting a child was the most fascinating project she’d ever done. Blending her spirit with Feanaro’s was the breathtaking height of collaboration.
The tools were different, of course. She had no chisels here, no stone to chip away. Trying to encourage certain attributes was far more complicated than that.
She reminded herself of that frequently during the pregnancy. This was the first time she had done this, the prototype; she could not expect perfection from this any more than she had from her very first sculpture.
So it was vanity and she knew it that led her to lay claim to a name meaning well-formed on this very first try, but surely the result would live up to the expectation. She and Feanor both were well known for learning fast.
Then the baby came.
“Maitimo,” she said stubbornly, though looking at the result, she suddenly wasn’t so sure. His appearance was fair enough and far from finished in any case, but the small spirit that was already trying to shape itself now that it was separate from her … she already had doubts about that.
She slumped against the pillows on the bed in disappointment, premature as she knew it was. This was only the first, and there was still so much time for his spirit to change. It was ridiculous to give up now.
Feanaro was beaming at the child like this was all he had hoped for, and Feanaro never settled in his work. If this was good enough for him, it ought to be good enough for her.
She couldn’t quite convince herself.
Feanaro looked up to share his joy and took in her expression. In an instant, the joy was overtaken by terror.
“Are you alright? I’ll call for the healer to come back in - “
“I’m fine,” she assured him. “Just tired.”
Feanaro’s eyes remained dark with worry. Miriel’s decline, she remembered, had started with much the same complaint.
“Everyone’s tired after this,” she said firmly. “All the healers said so. Go on and show your father his first grandson.”
She felt a frisson of nerves at that. She had never liked showing off any work that was less than her best.
But it made Feanaro stop worrying, and Finwe had always been very kind; she was sure he would not be overly harsh.
Maitimo grew into a lovely child, but her vague concern proved true. He was well spoken, he did well in his lessons, he was polite and obedient … but he would not choose a craft.
He worked happily under his father’s watchful eye in the forge and happily with her in her workshop. He would try anything someone was willing to teach, and he was competent enough in most of it, but there were none he chose as his own and none chosen for him by special genius.
“Look, Mama!” he said, holding up the figure he’d just finished molding from clay.
It was recognizable, at least. Unfortunately, it was recognizable as a smaller, rougher version of her own project. She sighed. “Don’t you think it’s time you started using your own ideas?”
“Oh.” He drooped. HIs lip started to wobble dangerously.
Fortunately, Feanaro chose that moment to walk in. “Lunch is ready,” he announced cheerfully. “What’ve you got there, Maitimo?”
Their son held his work up hesitantly.
Feanaro picked it up carefully and examined it closely. “Wonderful!” he declared. “Your precision is coming along beautifully. It was inspired by your mother’s work, yes? You can’t go wrong with that. She’s the best in her field, you know.”
“It’s not very original,” Maitimo said cautiously.
Feanaro waved this off. “And what of it? Copy the masters until you’re ready to branch out on your own.” He studied it a little further. “It really is quite good. May I keep this? Once it’s dried, of course.”
Maitimo brightened, all threat of tears gone. He nodded vigorously.
Feanaro beamed at him. “Excellent. Now for lunch!”
He was good with the child, she had to admit. He always knew just what to say to head any unpleasant moments off at the pass. Still, the larger issue could not be ignored.
“He still hasn’t shown any aptitude towards a particular craft,” she said as they climbed into bed.
“He’s young yet,” Feanaro dismissed. He never had liked anyone pointing out flaws in his work.
“We were younger,” she pointed out.
“Maybe a physical craft isn’t where his talents lie,” he suggested. “Have you seen him with his friends? He’s quite the little diplomat.” He smiled ruefully. “Far more than I ever was at any rate.”
Diplomacy was a good gift for a prince of the Eldar to have, she had to concede, but - “He still needs a physical craft.”
“Not everyone has to make things.”
Now she knew it was just his pride getting in the way. They were two of the greatest Noldor craftsmen in Aman. Of course their children had to be able to make things.
“Speaking of making things,” she said, “have you given any thought to us making another one?”
Feanaro brightened at the idea. “A brother for Maitimo! Or were you thinking a girl at this time?”
“No, a boy,” she agreed. Best to stick to that until they’d perfected it. Then they could move on to a girl.
Feanaro had been entirely correct in his choice of name for their second child, she decided almost immediately. Strong-voiced did not begin to cover it.
The third time he woke them in a night with that strong voice, she had to fight the urge to cover her ears. “I think we might have made a mistake.”
She wasn’t joking, but Feanaro still laughed.
Makalaure had a craft, at least. He was a peerless singer already, and his skill would only grow.
Unfortunately, part of the process of that growth involved rather a lot of very loud practice with a wide variety of instruments.
“One hour,” she finally told him, temper not holding quite as well as she’d wished. “Just give us one hour of quiet.”
It was improvement, she told herself. And it was. Just still not quite perfection.
Tyelkormo was definitely quieter.
Except for the shouting, of course. He had the temper of Feanaro after having been locked in a room with Indis and Fingolfin all day and none of the brilliance to make up for it. He squirmed all through lessons and took off at the first opportunity for the outdoors.
Like Maitimo, he refused to pick a proper craft.
“I’m going to be a hunter!” he said over supper. He demonstrated by bending back his fork to fling mashed potatoes directly at Maitimo’s head.
It was a dead hit. At least he hadn’t aimed at Makalaure; if it had escalated to a fight, the shouting would have shook the house. Maitimo just made a face and wiped his forehead clean.
“You’ve got the aim for it,” he said wryly.
“Though we still need to work on your timing,” Feanaro said. “Not to mention your choice of prey. Still, it’s an excellent ambition.”
“It’s not exactly a craft,” Nerdanel protested, but she didn’t put up much of a fight. Honestly, hunting was probably the best that Tyelkormo could do.
Carnistir was as studious as she could wish.
He also had an even quicker temper than Tyelkormo and a blotchy red face that was an embarrassment to her skill as an artist.
She went back to work as soon as she could after he was born. Feanaro was helping her with this project, a beautiful blend of steel and stone. It was coming along perfectly.
“This, we can do,” she said in frustration. “Why can’t the rest of it be as easy?”
Feanaro laid a hesitant hand on her arm. She leaned into him gratefully.
“Children are more improvisational,” he said. “You never know quite how they’re going to turn out. We’ve been fortunate with ours. Don’t you think?”
He sounded uncertain with that question in a way he never had before. She was surprised. He’d seemed as delighted with Carnistir as with the others.
Maybe that was the problem, she realized. They’d never talked over what they wanted in any more detail than boy or girl. They never entered into any other collaboration so haphazardly. They came in to this with conflicting ideas, and the blend didn’t always quite work.
Next time, she would fix that.
Feanaro was frustratingly difficult to pin down on what he wanted, so she decided the solution was to back off. She’d provide the minimum of input and allow Feanaro to craft what he would. Once she’d seen the result, she could make modifications to the next one from there.
The result was so like Feanaro that she called him Little Father. She was tentatively pleased with this one. A copy was not as good as an original, but it was another step towards progress at last. Atarinke was beautiful, brilliant, skilled in the forge, everything she’d wanted.
Or almost. Where Feanaro’s scope was endlessly broad, Atarinke’s was narrow. He preferred the forge above all else.
And he was … cold towards her sometimes, in a way she didn’t like. Her other children had embraced their mother-names with a strange eager hopefulness, but Atarinke barely responded to his.
There was nothing wrong with him preferring Curufinwe. It certainly pleased Feanaro.
She just wished her son didn’t make it seem quite so much like it was a rejection of her.
They said Miriel had poured herself so much into her son that it had killed her. Maybe that was the only way to get someone that shone as bright as Feanaro.
“One more try,” she told Feanaro.
Things were … strange between them now. Feanaro was involved with those gems of his and wanted her to spend more time with the children since he was so busy. It wasn’t unreasonable, but he was never happy with her after she did as he asked; he frowned at her often afterward and seemed as if he would say something, but he never did.
Maitimo and Maglor helped, frequently volunteering to look after the younger ones, but there was something about the way they did it, the way they looked at her …
It was the gems, she thought in frustration. Things had only gotten so bad when Feanaro had gotten wrapped up in them.
But he would back away from the project for a new child, and she’d finally figured it out now.
She poured her spirit into making the new child, and Feanaro matched her drop for drop.
She was exhausted afterwards, on the very edge of having given too much, but it would work this time. It had to.
She did not have the overwhelming flame she’d intended. She had twins.
For the first time in her creative history, she gave up.
“Ambarussa,” she said tiredly when asked for a name.
“For which one?” Feanaro asked.
“Either. Both. I don’t care.”
“They need their own names,” Feanaro insisted.
“Then call one of them Umbarto. I don’t care.” Surely at least one of her children must be fated for something.
“Ambarto it is,” Feanaro said quietly.
She doubted that either of them deserved to be called upwards-exalted, but she didn’t care enough to tell him he’d misheard.
Wood. Clay. Every kind of stone imaginable. With those, she could create.
But with spirit?
The taste of failure was bitter on her lips.
(“He’s perfect,” Curufinwe told his wife as soon as the baby was born. “Absolutely perfect. He’s beautiful.”
She smiled up at him. “Of course he is.”
She wasn’t sure why he slumped in what looked like relief.
She assumed at first that his efforts to look after little Tyelpe himself and with his brothers were an attempt to let her rest, for fear of recreating his grandmother’s tragedy. But -
“I’m well now,” she told him. “Really.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” he told her in all sincerity. “If the healers have no objection to you taking up your weaving again, I certainly won’t argue.”
“Good,” she said. “But that wasn’t what I meant. I can help look after Tyelpe now.”
He actually looked startled.
“He’s my son too, you know,” she said in frustration.
“Of course he is,” he said.
She wasn’t sure why he was so surprised that she wanted to look after her own son.
The surprise slowly faded, but some things never did.
It wasn’t that he spoiled Tyelpe, not at all, he’d scold him when he had to, but he wouldn’t do it in front of her. She’d caught him switch gears mid-lecture to a gentle caution and a generous helping of praise when she walked in.
“I know you know that I’ve scolded him before,” she told him in bemusement. “I’m not going to suddenly turn into one of those horrible mothers who won’t admit their child’s done wrong and jump down the throats of anyone who tries to say otherwise.”
“He’s never done anything seriously wrong,” Curufinwe said instantly. “And he never makes the same mistakes twice.”
A slow realization dawned. “Curufinwe,” she said slowly. “You know I love Tyelpe, right?”
“Of course you love him.”
“And I won’t stop loving him just because he makes a mistake? I don’t need him to be perfect. I’m not sure I’d want him to be. You’re not going to talk me out of loving him if you say he should be more careful in the forge or that he didn’t learn a lesson as quickly as you’d hoped.”
“He’s always care- “ He caught himself. She had never seen him so uncertain.
She linked her fingers through his gently. “I love him,” she repeated. “Like I love you. Unconditionally. Genius, ordinary, or absolute fool. I love you both.” She hesitated. “I know your father must have had high expectations - “
He laughed. The sound was - not his usual laugh. “My father,” he said, “loved each one of us like we were his whole world.”)
(Maglor did his best to look after the twins, but he knew it could never be enough.
“I’m sure your father will come back for you soon,” he assured them. “We won’t keep you from him. You just have to stay with us until he comes.”
“Not Mama?” Elros asked, blinking away tears. They’d cried less and less as the weeks passed, but the nightmares still sometimes came.
Maglor bit back all the things that he and Maedhros had said to each other after that terrible scene, when Elwing had seen her sons in their bloodstained hands and thrown herself out the window with the work of their father’s hands rather than give in to save her sons.
She had been far too frightened to be thinking clearly, possibly even flashing back to Doriath. She had known their reputation and likely thought they would all die no matter what she did. She was not their mother; even if there had not been so many sins on their heads, it would not have been their place to judge.
“Of course your mother might come too,” he said.
He thought of the seagull flying away who had never once glanced back.
It was only his own biases, he knew, that made him so sure that Elros would never see her again.)