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(Fic) By the letter

2nd December 2015 (11:07)

Twice in a week!

Actually, this short story is a spin-off from the fic I posted recently; to be exact, a deleted scene. I mentioned Fëanor changing the letters on Lissiel's Big wedding-planner Board because the Tengwar are still a work in progress... well, this is what actually happened.

Title: By the Letter
Fandom: Silmarillion
Characters: Fëanor, Nerdanel, Lissiel
Rating: General, no warnings needed
Wordcount: 737

Summary: The wedding of Nerdanel to Crown Prince Fëanor is going to be the social event of the millennium. Lissiel, as Nerdanel's newly-appointed Chief Handmaiden, has the task of organising it all: but some of the problems she encounters are not the ones she anticipated...

By the Letter

The Big Board had been Nerdanel's idea, a few months before the Royal Wedding. She'd seen Lissiel launch herself into the task of planning a day-long celebration with a thousand aristocratic guests, and a city-wide festival alongside, not to mention the honeymoon for herself and Fëanor afterwards. Her new Chief Handmaiden was juggling dozens of different plans and schedules and checklists, and she'd wanted find a way to help. Lissiel's desk had been a sea of paperwork, which gave her the idea. Why not put it all on one big picture-board so you could see everything at a glance? (Nerdanel had always been a visually-oriented person.)

She had a large easel in her workshop she used for painting and sketching; you could get a slate that could be chalked on then wiped clean as needed, and put it on there. Lissiel had been unsure at first, then fallen in love with the idea when she and Nerdanel actually set it up.

The board was kept in Nerdanel's apartment in the palace because, she said, she wanted to be able to at least see what was going on herself even if she promised not to interfere with Lissiel doing her job. Besides, it gave them a chance to hang out together even at this hectic time.

Prince Fëanor had largely been indifferent to the board, except for the time he looked at it for half a minute or so, then casually suggested that Lissiel should mark out the days and hours along the top, then shade in differently-coloured blocks to show the various scheduled activities, the length of each block corresponding to the time it would take. Then he'd wandered off to talk to his fiancée, leaving Lissiel to slowly realise the advantages in understanding this would give her, and rearrange it as he'd suggested.

Unfortunately, his lack of concern with the planning – that wasn't his job, so he ignored it entirely – didn't mean he left the board itself alone. Lissiel had chosen to write it in Tengwar, not Sarati, out of loyalty to her friend's future husband. (And, admittedly, because Tengwar were much more convenient to write, once you understood the system.) The problem was that the system was still in evolution.

One day she had come into Nerdanel's room after lunch to check the board, and discovered that someone – a royal someone – had carefully erased three quarters of the 'h's on the board and drawn in a new character she'd never seen before in its place. She recognised the handwriting. She didn't understand why, and hesitated to ask, knowing that the explanation would doubtless involve words like 'aspirants' and 'fricatives' and 'labialisation'. She had asked Nerdanel about it, and her friend had frowned and said 'Let me talk to him'.

Lissiel hadn't been present for that conversation. One of the junior handmaidens did tell her there'd been raised voices. The Prince had been shouting, "It's a multipurpose, configurable phonetic system!" and her ladyship had been shouting back just as loudly  "No, it's a communication tool! It needs fixed values!" There'd been some, ahem, uncomplimentary descriptive terms as well, which the handmaiden was unwilling to repeat. She didn't know what any of it meant. Lissiel wasn't much wiser, though she'd heard Prince Fëanor talking linguistics enough times already to get the general gist.

The next day, Nerdanel had taken her aside, opened her sketchpad (the one she carried with her everywhere) and drawn two characters she recognised.

"Right. Okay. This is for the 'h' sound in 'harma' and this is for the 'h' sound in 'hyarmen'. Got it?"

"Isn't that the same sound?"

"Don't start. Apparently it isn't. Apparently the difference is big enough that we need two different letters to represent it. Apparently."

"Um, if you say so."

"It's not me saying it. I did, however, manage to win on one thing. He's going to leave the basic 24 letters alone from now on. You know, the curvy ones. He might still add extra special ones as well; I doubt I can stop him doing that. But I warned him, if he wants to get this published, get it accepted by the College of Loremasters, he has to damn well stop changing it every week!"

Since then, there'd only been two minor changes. Lissiel decided to let them go and not mention them to Nerdanel.

Discretion was, after all, one of a handmaiden's most important qualities.


Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 2nd December 2015 16:31 (UTC)
El 2

I really do love Fëanor the geek. Such a pity he was so often also Fëanor the incredibly hot tempered and unwise!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd December 2015 16:47 (UTC)

True geniuses are often temperamental. :)

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 2nd December 2015 16:59 (UTC)

As if the chibi version wasn't epic enough, you felt compelled to supplement it? Talk about turning into the original author! Unfortunately my Silmarillion knowledge is sadly lacking, so I haven't been following closely, but this is really cute -- do I detect a hint of Willow in the language geekery?

(Also, I (barely) posted two new fics myself in the last week, and am working on eight more. Maybe it's something in the air. I thought we were supposed to nap all winter.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd December 2015 17:25 (UTC)

Fëanor isn't really much like Willow; he's the polar opposite of insecure. He's got used to always being right about everything - and the thing is, he usually IS right because he's an ultra genius. Nerdanel is really the only person willing to challenge him or call him on things, because she's the only person in town able to engage with him on anything even vaguely resembling a level of intellectual equality.

Posted by: samtyr (samtyr)
Posted at: 2nd December 2015 18:35 (UTC)

Yes, I can imagine that Feanor thought he was *helping* by correcting the spelling. (Speaking from experience, there is nothing more frustrating than having someone constantly change stuff around on you. Grrr!)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd December 2015 17:29 (UTC)

It's worse than correcting her spelling. He's changing which letters you're supposed to use to spell the words! (In fact, inventing new letters overnight.)

It would be like someone deciding one day that þ should be used instead of 'th' when writing English, and so going through all your work correcting "I can imagine that Feanor thought he was *helping* by correcting the spelling" to "I can imagine þat Feanor þought he was *helping* by correcting þe spelling".

Posted by: hhimring (hhimring)
Posted at: 3rd December 2015 05:47 (UTC)

'The Prince had been shouting, "It's a multipurpose, configurable phonetic system!"'


I like this a lot.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd December 2015 17:30 (UTC)

Arguments in the Fëanor/Nerdanel household are not going to be like those of normal people. :)

Posted by: engarian (engarian)
Posted at: 3rd December 2015 16:03 (UTC)
Dancing with Joy

There we go! '(A)spirants' and 'fricatives' and 'labialisation' do need to be taken into account in all systems of writing down a verbal language. Once again I am totally taken with Feanor and his total immersion in so many fields of endeavor. Love, love, LOVE this side story and I'm so happy you posted it :-)

- Erulisse (one L)
handing an eraser to Feanor behind their backs ...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd December 2015 17:31 (UTC)

Thanks — though I have to say that personally I sympathise more with Nerdanel's argument here. :)

Posted by: engarian (engarian)
Posted at: 4th December 2015 02:44 (UTC)
Catch a Falling Star

She is correct when she refers to the Tengwar as a communications tool. But trust Feanor to understand the details inherent in such a tool, as well as the differences in where the tongue is placed and how air is used to create a unique sound (which makes me wonder if there are accents that vary between the three groups of elves and/or the Valar).

- Erulisse (one L)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 4th December 2015 10:19 (UTC)

Certainly the difference between the Noldorin and Vanyarin dialects of Quenya in Aman is supposed to be as large as that between British and American English, while Telerin is different enough to be classed as a separate language entirely (though one that's mutually intelligible with a little effort).

I'm not sure there'd be different accents within Noldorin Quenya itself, given that they all live in or around just the one city. But the Vanyar, as they've separated into small groups wandering around Valinor, might well have divergent accents after a while. (Though since they're implied to be very conservative, perhaps they deliberately try to prevent accent drift.)

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