"No joy remained for her; no love, no peace."
"Atar, had she no love for her son, her Fëanáro?"
"All her love and being she poured into her child. Her fëa was spent, she saw naught but darkness. Not even did the silmë hold beauty for her."
"Then no beauty shall it hold for me."
"No, Curufinwë, do not disgrace her. Honor her memory; embrace the light. Let her sacrifice not have been in vain."
"Aye, father. Call me not Curufinwë, for I shall take the name my mother gave me."
"And I shall hold you dearest to my heart."
Nerdanel heard her mother calling and she knew her time in the forge was growing short. She barely glanced over her shoulder before bending again to her work. Ten more minutes… She had managed to get very little accomplished today, for her mind still remained at the beach with the anonymous elf she had met yesterday; remembering their playfulness, lingering on that stolen kiss, and always ending up back at his strange reaction when he figured out who she was. As she grew more and more aggravated at her distraction, she found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. She wanted to try to finish this piece of railing before dinner, knowing her father's new apprentice would arrive then. But each attempt fell short of the usual level of quality she expected of her work and by now several discarded half-finished railings lay scattered on the floor.
She heard her name again. Her mother's voice was closer this time, and so she resigned herself to the knowledge that she would have to return to her work at a later time. Removing the heavy gloves she wore, she wiped an arm across her brow in an effort to dry it. Her tools could stay out on the table for the time being, but the fire would have to be tended to. She dipped the latest attempt at a rail in the slack tub to cool it and only then noticed the quality of the light coming through the doorway. Laurelin was still shining too brightly for it to be supper; what could her mother possibly want from her at this hour?
She placed the now cooled twisted metal back on the table just as her mother appeared in the doorway. Istarnië was accompanied by a tall elf. The golden light shimmered off his dark hair, which was pulled back from his face in a firm plait. His eyes, bright and intense, were watching Nerdanel cautiously.
Nerdanel forced herself to keep the surprise from showing on her face. Why had he come? After he ran off last night, she had not expected to see him again. Her stomach clenched, her cheeks flushed and she was suddenly keenly conscious of her own appearance. She fingered the knot of her hair, pulled back to keep it out of her way as she worked, and noticed the soot on her hands, which she had surely just transferred to her face. She tried to rub her hands clean on her smith's apron to no avail; it was as sooty as the rest of her.
"Your father has not yet returned." Istarnië furrowed her brows at Nerdanel, silently questioning her strange reaction, but did not voice her confusion. "His new apprentice has arrived."
The whole world stopped around Nerdanel as her mind made sense of her mother's words. Her hammer slipped from her hand and hit the floor with a loud thud as she stared at him. The elf, her father's new apprentice as it turned out, met her gaze coolly. Her mother looked from him to Nerdanel before bending to retrieve the hammer from the floor.
"I trust you can manage until your father returns?"
Istarnië's voice reached Nerdanel through a haze of shock. She took the hammer her mother held out for her and nodded. Her mother looked as if she was about to add something but instead remained silent and, with a quick nod, turned and left the forge.
Nerdanel folded her arms across her chest and tapped the handle of the hammer against her side. He seemed content to stand mutely in front of her. Finally Nerdanel needed to break the stillness and ease the tension that had slowly begun to envelop her.
"You heard tell…" she began in a tightly controlled voice and shook her head. "You heard tell…that you…" she broke off with an exasperated groan and slammed the hammer down on the table.
"I did," he replied, leaning idly against the doorframe, not showing any reaction to her frustrated outburst. "When my father told me yours had agreed to take me on as an apprentice."
Nerdanel glared at him, her jaw clenched and her hands balled into fists at her side. Her mind was a raging battle, between the insults she wanted to hurl at him and the voice of reason suppressing them, for he was the son of the king and her father's apprentice. Eventually, when she did not speak, he held out hand towards her.
"I do not wish to start off unfavourably…" he began.
"Start off unfavourably?" she interrupted loudly. "If you did not wish to start off unfavourably, you ought to have revealed your identity when you realized who I was!"
He stood straight, no longer lounging nonchalantly in the doorway, and gestured angrily at Nerdanel. "Look at yourself! Do you think I was not equally stunned yesterday?" he shouted back at her.
Taken aback, Nerdanel thought on that for a moment.
He took a deep breath and stepped towards her, holding out his hands. When he spoke, his voice was surprisingly quiet and controlled. "We must put yesterday behind us."
"So it is to be a dream, then?" she asked sullenly. "I might have known." She turned her back on him, not wanting him to see the anger and disappointment she felt.
"What mean you by that?" She did not need to see his face to know he spoke his question through clenched teeth.
"Well, your reputation precedes you, Curufinwë," she spun back around as she answered, putting as much distaste as she was capable of into his name.
"Does it?" His eyes sparkled as he narrowed them. He walked over to stand directly in front of her. The thought crossed her mind, for the briefest of moments, to actually tell him what she meant. Part of her wanted to yell all the unfavourable things she had ever heard mentioned about him to his face, just so she could hurt him as much as his deceitfulness had hurt her. But when she glared up into his eyes, amid the anger and challenge there she found something else: uncertainty, regret, disappointment.
Silently cursing her compassion, her weakness, she folded her arms across her chest.
"It is said you are already a talented smith in your own right."
He cocked his head to the side. "You surely have heard much of me, Nerdanel." He said her name in perfect mimicry of how she had just said his. "The least of which being my capabilities as a smith."
Nerdanel's shoulders tensed. She saw his slight smile and it irked her that he caught her reaction. After she had spared his feelings he treaded on hers without second thought. Well, she could be cold and unfeeling as well.
"Is there truth, then, in the whisperings I hear?"
He raised his eyebrows into an expression that would best be described as inquisitive. "Which whisperings?" His voice was low, challenging, and he took a step closer to her. Her heart began to beat faster.
They say you killed your mother.
"They say…" The words flew unbidden into her head, but she could not give voice to them. Not at her worst enemy would she have been able to make such an accusation. For the second time she reigned in her angry impulse. Hoping he did not notice her hesitation, she tried desperately to remember something else about him. "…they say you have improved upon Rumil's letters."
She saw the corners of his mouth curl up smugly before he turned and wandered nonchalantly away from her. "Nerdanel the wise is given the opportunity to ask of me anything she wishes and she asks of my Tengwar." He spun to face her, crossing his arms and shaking his head. "Disappointing."
She bristled at his words. "You mock me, and in my father's forge no less."
"I do." He came back to stand right in front of her. "But you dissemble. You expect me to believe there is naught else you wish to ask of me?"
Nerdanel tilted her chin up towards him defiantly. She would not afford him a victory now, even if he was right. "No. I wish only to know of the Tengwar."
"For that is what elves whisper of," he answered dryly. Nerdanel narrowed her eyes.
"Why would you have me speak of something so unpleasant that others must whisper of it?" His gaze was so intense and his body so close to hers, Nerdanel couldn't help but take a step back from him.
He took a step towards her, closing the distance between them once again. "So I can dispel the rumour and tell you the truth."
"Because we both know how intent on the truth you are." She saw a flicker of anger in his eyes.
"Had I told you who I was, would you have remained with me yesterday?" He leaned closer towards her, causing her to take a few more steps back and bump up against the table with her tools on it. The table! She slipped around to the other side, allowing the piece of furniture to come between them.
"I understand," she snapped bitterly at him. "You deceive quendir in order to be able to seduce them."
He manoeuvred easily around the table and matched each of her steps backward until she was up against the wall. Feeling trapped and not liking it at all, she crossed her arms and pressed herself against the stone behind her. His proximity was agitating her beyond reason, as did his next words.
"You seemed not to mind my actions yesterday. Besides," he continued with what seemed to be almost an afterthought. "You are the first quendi I have come across that did not know who I was."
"So there have been many." Nerdanel resented the stab of disappointment she felt.
"Nerdanel…" his voice changed and sounded almost gentle, pleading. His brows drew together and his eyes grew wide, making him look overly distraught. Without warning, he reached up with his left hand and brushed soot from her cheek with his thumb, his fingers lingering on her jaw. She inhaled sharply when she felt his touch against her skin and fought to keep her shoulders relaxed in order to maintain a casual pose. He could not be allowed to know how much he affected her.
"Do not touch me again." She fought to keep her voice cold while holding his steely gaze.
"Very well." He did not back away from her but he dropped his hand from her face. "I do not wish to be your adversary."
"Then do not provoke me." She thrust her chin forward to disguise the uncertainty she felt.
He did not respond, but walked over to where her discarded rails were lying on the floor. She silently watched him pick one rail up after the other and examine it, her anger at him rekindling with each one he inspected. After viewing a few of her failed attempts, he turned back to her.
"I seem to have interrupted your work." He picked up her latest attempt which lay on the table she had thought to push between them.
He regarded the form with a keen eye and Nerdanel frowned at him, baffled by his sudden change in demeanour. As he turned the metal over in his hands, she found herself waiting for his judgement of her work. It surprised and annoyed her that she would care to hear his opinion at all.
She watched him very carefully; how his eyes travelled over the metal in his hands, how his mouth pressed into a thin line which revealed nothing of his mind, how his hand gently brushed the outline of the form as if to use all his senses to absorb the object in his grasp. It was hard to reconcile his previous behaviour with his current actions. No one as arrogant and heartless as he had seemed to be earlier would regard someone else's workmanship with such intensity; such childlike enthusiasm.
He finished looking over the rail and placed it gently on the table from where he had taken it. Silently, he turned back to Nerdanel and folded his arms across his chest, mirroring the stance she only just then realized she had again taken. She dropped her arms quickly.
As a matter of pride, she would not ask his opinion of her work, which he obviously expected her to do, although her insides were burning to know what he thought. As the moments passed, her curiosity turned to a simmering agitation. Perhaps he was as arrogant as she had initially thought. How dare he stand there with that ever so slight smile on his face? He knew she was waiting for his appraisal, and he was going to stand there and make her plead with him for it?
"Should you desire my opinion, you ought to just ask for it."
Nerdanel's jaw dropped and her eyes widened. She closed her mouth as her hands clenched into fists. Who was he to tell her what she should ask for? And what made him think she wanted his opinion anyway?
"I see you shall not," he continued, before she could collect her thoughts enough to speak. "Tis a pity, for I hold your father in high regard and it would please me to assist his daughter."
"Assist?" His words rankled Nerdanel. "I need no assistance."
He glanced from the rail on the table to the pile on the floor before giving her a disbelieving look. "I have had occasion to see other items you have crafted. They all speak volumes about your fëa. This one," he motioned towards the table behind him. "Speaks nothing to me. What of this one troubles you?"
Nerdanel glared at him. "Naught troubles me. I was merely distracted today."
"Distracted?" He sounded incredulous, as if he could not comprehend what might distract one from their work. "By what?"
Nerdanel bit her lip and turned her head from him. He walked back over to her and despite her earlier command, reached up to her chin and turned her face towards him. He dropped his hand as soon as he found her gaze. In his eyes she saw understanding and remorse.
"Perhaps then I might help, since I seem to have been the cause of your trouble."
Nerdanel's eyes flicked over to the rail. Despite her earlier annoyance with him, despite the fact that she knew she should keep up her protective anger towards him, she considered his offer. As presumptuous as he was, as inappropriate as her feelings were towards him, and despite all the angry words that had passed between them, he was said to be talented, and the craftelf in her could not resist seeing him in action.
She nodded her assent and he moved to the other side of the table, motioning for her to come closer. Hesitantly she stepped away from the wall and approached the table. "You are trying to overcomplicate the design. Here." He pointed to a part of the midsection of the rail that she had been struggling with before he arrived. "Perhaps if we…you…" he looked up at her and gave her a smile filled with genuine warmth, the first she had seen on him since he arrived today. "Might I have a try?"
He seemed so eager Nerdanel could not deny him. She nodded acceptance of his help for she was not able to speak after he smiled at her like that. With a broad grin that betrayed great enthusiasm for his craft and nearly undid her, he rolled up the sleeves of his tunic and took the tongs off the table where they lay. When she saw him walking to the fire, she went to work the bellows, since the fire had cooled. He heated the rail in the fire and walked it over to the anvil. Grabbing a hammer off the table, Nerdanel went to join him.
He wordlessly took the hammer from her and bent to his work. He formed the metal into a new, simpler design with quick deft strokes. Nerdanel watched him in awe. After mere moments he picked it up with the tongs to examine it. Nerdanel's realized her mouth was open again and shut it quickly before he noticed. But there was no chance of that, as engrossed as he was in examining the new design. He dipped it into the slack tub, dried it, and presented it to Nerdanel.
She took it from him and, turning it around a few times to make sure she wasn't imagining it, smiled. He had achieved the exact effect she wanted.
"Oh, it is beautiful!" She placed it back on the table and grabbed his forearm, unaware of anything but her relief that the rail was finished until she felt his warm skin beneath her hand. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart began to beat faster. She released her grasp, turning her eyes from him.
"Quite beautiful." For a moment it seemed to her that he did not look at the rail, but rather at her. But as heat flushed her cheeks in embarrassment, he had already turned away.
Istarnië: Tolkien did not give Nerdanel a mother; Istarnië is the original name he gave Nerdanel so I just used it as her mother's name. This was not an original idea; I have seen many other authors use it.
Tengwar: The letters that Rumil devised and Fëanor improved upon to represent the sounds of the Quenya language.
Quendi/Quendir (pl): female elf (Quenya)
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.