Mahtan shook his head at the Vala. “No, old friend, I have not had the chance to see him since he finished his apprenticeship.”
Aulë pulled a necklace from a pouch at his waist and handed it to Mahtan. It was wrought of polished copper and set with a large, expertly cut emerald. “This he crafted as a gift to Yavanna.”
Mahtan turned the necklace around in his hands, watching the emerald sparkle.
Taking back the necklace, Aulë smiled. “The son of Finwë has found his inspiration.”
The days leading up to the festival were busy for Nerdanel, for which she was glad. It gave her very little time to think about what might happen and what she would encounter. When the day finally arrived, her mother woke her early so they could make the necessary preparations. Food needed to be packed for the journey to Tirion, and clothes, for they would be staying over in the city for several days. The forge fires needed to be completely extinguished, as the embers they usually left glowing from day to day were too dangerous to leave untended for as long as they would be away. Mahtan grumbled much about the sludge they would need to shovel when they returned. Nerdanel offered to stay and tend the fire, but her father just laughed and stopped complaining. When they finally loaded up the horses with their packs and set off, Laurelin was just beginning to bloom, casting a faint golden glow on the path before them.
The long ride to Tirion gave Nerdanel far too much idle time to be able to think. Her parents rode in front of her, occasionally speaking casually about the landscape they passed, or what they wished to do while in Tirion, but for the most part they rode in companionable silence, allowing Nerdanel’s mind to wander to and from different things.
The dress she had packed was of simple design, but it was one of her favourite. Would it be pleasing to Fëanor? She frowned at herself. She did not care if it was pleasing to Fëanor; it was comfortable and she liked it, that was enough. But would she look plain next to the quendi who lived every day in the city and were more accustomed to dressing formally? Again, it did not matter. None of it mattered, especially Fëanor’s opinion.
By the time they reached the white gates, Nerdanel was both anxious about the festival and chiding herself for her anxiety. Her face must have betrayed her emotions because her mother smiled encouragingly at her and reached over to pat her leg. As Laurelin came to full zenith, they made their way to the small four room apartment her father maintained for his frequent visits to Tirion. Though Nerdanel would have dragged the trip out longer, her father was pleased at the time they made.
Once inside their rooms, they sat down together to have the midday meal, but spent very little time afterwards relaxing or talking; Istarnië insisted that Nerdanel bathe and begin to get ready for the festival, for they had little time until she would be called for. After her bath, her mother helped her dry her hair and pin it up on her head, allowing a few copper waves to hang down and frame her face. Nerdanel slipped the dress on over her thin undergarments and allowed her mother to lace up the back. When Istarnië finished, she took Nerdanel’s shoulders and turned her around. She gave her, her dress and her hair, an appraising look.
“If you are correct about his lack of feelings for you, then son of the king or not, he is a fool.”
Nerdanel smiled gratefully at her mother, her words helping to ease Nerdanel’s nerves slightly. But there was still that ache of apprehension in her stomach that would not be quelled.
As Telperion’s cool silver light began to mingle with Laurelin’s diminishing hot gold, a messenger came to the door. He was a herald of the king, judging by Finwë’s device on the chest of his tunic. Mahtan permitted him entry and he bowed deeply to Istarnië and then Nerdanel.
“Milady, his highness, Prince Curufinwë Fëanáro sends his greetings to your family and bids you meet him in the East Courtyard outside the palace of His Royal Highness, King Finwë of the Noldor.”
Nerdanel’s stomach jumped and she turned to her father for support. Mahtan walked over to her and, kissing her cheek, whispered into her ear.
“Be not afraid.” He stepped back and in a voice for everyone to hear added, “Your mother and I are to meet Aulë shortly and will see you at the festival.” He grabbed her hand and gave it a quick squeeze.
Grateful for her parents’ love and support, Nerdanel felt almost confident enough to go through with this. But, having little other choice now, she followed the herald out the door, away from her parents’ comforting presence, through the streets of Tirion. One thing she was thankful for was the absence of anyone else on the street except for her and the herald. She felt awkward following behind him without speaking but since she could come up with nothing to say to him, she remained silent.
After winding through several streets they came out of the shadowed side of Tirion. Climbing up a short way towards the centre of the city, they finally reached the wall outside the palace. It was bathed in brilliant silver light, a contrast to the muted tones of reflected colour Nerdanel was used to, and she squinted. The gates lay open, unguarded. She knew, from the stories of her father, that the gates were usually guarded and wondered if the guards had all abandoned their post for the night to attend the festival themselves. She didn’t think much on it; for shortly after they passed through the gates, they entered the gardens that surrounded the palace and Nerdanel did all she could to take it all in. The herald led her through the gardens until they reached another white wall with a wide archway built into it. With a deep bow, the herald turned and left Nerdanel standing just outside the archway. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before walking through the arch.
This must be the East Courtyard of which the herald had spoken. Nerdanel stared at her surroundings, feeling small and alone, overcome by their grandeur. Everything was built of white marble and sparkled like Varda’s stars in the silver light that found its way into the courtyard. Around the perimeter grew silver birch trees, their bark just slightly darker than the walls they stood in front of. In the centre of the courtyard was an intricately carved fountain. Atop it stood a statue of three elves. Nerdanel peered up at their heroic and enigmatic faces. These could be no other than the leaders of the three hosts of elves of the Great Journey. As she walked slowly towards the fountain, she wondered again what she was doing in this place. She felt as if she had stepped out of her life and into a dream.
“I prefer a dirty forge to this frigid immaculacy any day.”
She jumped as Fëanor’s voice startled her. She spun to face him. If hearing his voice was a shock, his appearance was even more of one. His hair, which he usually wore in a simple plait in the forge, hung loose except for a series of intricate knots around the silver circlet on top of his head. Instead of the plain tunic and trousers she had always seen him in, he wore long robes of blue and silver that matched his eyes and shimmered in the waxing silver treelight.
As he left the arch and walked towards her, she saw that he did wear a silver tunic over dark blue leggings beneath the robes, but he still seemed so unlike the Fëanor she had worked beside for the past year. She did not feel agitated in his presence; she was too much in awe. He stood before her and she felt the need to speak, though nothing intelligent came to mind. After long moments of silence she decided to comment on the courtyard.
“It is very pretty,” she said tentatively.
“It is cold and unfeeling,” he answered with a frown.
Nerdanel smiled, gaining herself an intensely disapproving stare from Fëanor. Despite what he wore and how his hair was done, he was still the same infuriating elf she had grown accustomed to. Instead of agitating her as he often did, she felt more at ease with the familiarity of his presence in these strange surroundings.
“It is the same as the proceedings around this evening; there always has to be all this pomp and circumstance surrounding everything. I could not bring you here myself, for that would perhaps have broken some cardinal law of protocol.”
If Nerdanel had learned anything over the past year, it was to not interrupt when he started on a rant.
“Does it matter that our last words were spoken in anger, and perhaps I wished to make amends before I dragged you out in front of the wolves of the Noldor? No, it mattered not. All that mattered is that I am High Prince and if they could find some way to have someone else breathe for me, I would not have even that to do for myself.”
Nerdanel had heard him rant on many subjects in the past: the inefficiency of shipping routes when a new load of metal or fuel was late, the lack of availability of good wood for carving near enough to her father’s house, even that one time when he went down to the harbour and came back in a snit because they would not let him watch how they crafted their ships, claiming he would distract the shipbuilders with his attempts to change – improve upon, if you asked him – their process. But never had she heard him complain about his station in life; she had no idea he was so unhappy with it, and was somewhat startled that he would be this open with her now.
“I have two hands and I am capable – more so than some of the half wits they have working around here – of doing for myself. Of course, this kind of idle lifestyle probably suits…”
A blaring fanfare interrupted his angry diatribe and he glared in the direction of the sound, as if the trumpeter was conspiring against him as well. He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. When he opened his eyes, the scowl did not leave his face but he extended his arm formally to Nerdanel.
“Very well, then. Shall we?”
She took his arm and glanced up at his face, but he was staring straight ahead so she did the same. He led her through another archway on the opposite side of the courtyard that opened into yet another courtyard, even larger than the one they had just left. Instead of trees and a wall lining the perimeter, there were fourteen large white columns encircling the courtyard, each carved with the physical form of one of the Valar. Where the circle of columns ended stood the steps to the palace, great marble slabs leading up to oak doors, carved in an intricate pattern of triangles and diamonds. There was one other distinct difference between this courtyard and the last: this one was filled with elves.
The elves stepped aside to create a path for them. Nerdanel felt their eyes on her: watching, judging. Fëanor led her through the crowd towards the steps of the palace and it was only then that she realized two elves stood there. She had never seen either of them before, but judging by the one’s golden hair and the other’s strong resemblance to Fëanor, she guessed who they were.
Fëanor walked with Nerdanel up the steps and came to stand before his father. He presented Nerdanel to Finwë and, remembering lessons she had when she was a young elfling – lessons that at the time she never thought she would have the occasion to use – Nerdanel curtsied in front of the king and queen of the Noldor. Indis formally inclined her head to Nerdanel, as did Finwë, but he also winked encouragingly at her.
Releasing her arm, Fëanor clasped his father’s forearm in a traditional greeting. Finwë grasped Fëanor’s as well, but then pulled his son into an embrace, which, judging by the uncomfortable look Indis shot them out of the corner of her eye, was not conventional.
When Finwë released him, Fëanor turned to stand to the right of his father. With a smile and an inclination of his head, Finwë indicated to Nerdanel to go stand next to Fëanor. She walked over, a little miffed that Fëanor had just left her out there, and a little embarrassed that the king of the Noldor caught her gaffe. She belatedly realized that although she had curtsied to Indis, Fëanor had completely snubbed his stepmother.
She looked at him through the periphery of her vision, but he was once again staring straight ahead. Realizing that the time had come for her to have to face the large crowd of elves gathered before them, she bit her lip and turned to face the courtyard.
There were so many elves! Nerdanel’s heart began to race as she looked at them all, standing there, staring up at her. From where she stood, she could make out features – faces she did not recognize – of the elves closest to the steps, but beyond that, it was just a sea of anonymous heads. She glanced again up at Fëanor and saw that he was watching her. With a bare twitch of a smile, he held his right arm out to her again. She gratefully took his offered arm and he placed his left hand over hers. It was the first affectionate gesture he had shown her all night but when she looked back up at his face he was no longer looking at her. She wasn’t sure what was more disconcerting, acting so familiarly with him, or doing so in front of all of Tirion.
At that moment, some elves brought out goblets of wine for the four of them standing on the steps. Nerdanel took the glass and, following the others’ lead, held it out towards the crowd as Finwë spoke.
“To the elves of Tirion and all those who have come from afar to join in our celebration. May Varda light your way; may Manwë speed your journeys; and may the blessings of Eru Ilúvatar be with you through all of your endeavours.”
“A Eru, lalta te!” The cry of returned blessing went up from the crowd gathered in front of them. Finwë raised his cup higher. When Nerdanel saw him drink from it, she tipped her cup to her lips as well.
With the formality of blessing completed, the musicians assembled on the left side of the courtyard struck up a lively dance. The crowd pushed to either side of the square as some elves took partners and began to dance. The silver light cast shadows across the floor making it shimmer like water, giving the scene a certain ethereal quality. It was as if the dancers’ feet skimmed the top of a lake instead of skipped across hard marble.
Fëanor extended his arm again and without a word, Nerdanel took it. She was still too overwhelmed to react to him as she normally would. He inclined his head to his father, who returned the gesture, and then led Nerdanel down the steps to stand in front of the first large column next to the steps to the palace. Nerdanel noticed the wide berth the other elves gave to them. They stood alone, the nearest elf being several steps away from them. Whether out of fear or respect, she did not know.
As they stood in silence, Nerdanel searched the crowd for her mother or father. She easily spotted Aulë, the only Vala in attendance in bodily form at the moment, and from him found her parents. She was not able to keep them in her sights long, for as the music continued, more and more elves joined those already on the floor.
Without any other distraction, Nerdanel became increasingly aware of the attention, mostly female, that was directed at them. Although Fëanor maintained an aloof posture, that did not stop certain of the girls from swinging their partner close to him and trying to catch his eye, even though they danced with another. When this had happened several times, proving to Nerdanel that he needed not have asked her if he did not wish to attend the festival alone, she looked up at his stony face.
“I was surprised when I received your invitation.”
Without looking at her, Fëanor inclined his head across the floor. She followed his gaze to where an elf, whose face bore strong resemblance to Fëanor’s but whose hair was the blond of the Vanyar, stood talking with a quendi who was obviously Telerin.
“My half brother saw fit to invite my usual guest.” His annoyance was plain in his voice. He screwed his features into a grimace which made him look like he smelled something unfavourable. “The Noldorin girls would tear me to shreds should I attend the festival alone.”
Nerdanel felt her whole body tense. “So I was a safe alternative.”
Fëanor didn’t answer and Nerdanel pulled her arm out of his and folded it with the other one across her chest. Hurt, she tried to ignore him and watched the dancing for a while, but did not miss his narrowed eyes glaring down at her. After a while the music changed and Fëanor placed his right hand under her elbow nearest him.
“Dance with me.”
It was more of a command than a request. Nerdanel allowed him to lead her out through the opening the elves made for them. It was a dance Nerdanel was familiar with, but when they reached the middle of the square, she hesitated. She knew she was supposed to place her one hand on his shoulder and take his hand with the other, but she suddenly felt very nervous about touching him like that, and in front of all these people. Before tonight, she never realized just how close you had to be to someone to dance with them.
Fëanor took her left hand and placed it on his shoulder and she felt his right hand on her shoulder blade. He grabbed her other hand and they begin to dance. The dance was one of intricate footwork where partners were changed often. She spent the entire time she was dancing with Fëanor staring straight ahead at his neck lest she misstep. She tried to ignore the warmth of his body pressed against hers, the pressure of his hand on her back and the way he still smelled like forge though he had probably not been in one for several days.
She kept glancing at him as she was swung from elf to elf around the floor. As she watched him dance with one girl after another, her agitation built. It did not matter that he looked completely annoyed regardless of how elated his partner seemed. All that mattered was that he had invited Nerdanel only out of necessity and, adding insult to injury, had asked her to dance when he did not actually desire to dance with her. She neared him on the floor and made a quick decision. Swallowing hard, she looked up at her partner.
“I need a break.” She tried to pull away but her partner resisted and she caught him glance at where she had last seen Fëanor, a nervous expression on his face. Using his distraction, she took a step back, escaping his grasp.
“I can come with you,” he offered, once again looking over his shoulder.
“No!” Nerdanel said quickly, and then softened it with a smile. “No, thank you.” She just wanted to get away from all this: the festival, the dancing, and the strange elves she didn’t know. The last thing she wanted was to bring part of it with her. She waved quickly at her partner and ran off the floor.
She wanted to find her parents but knew that with the whirling dancers it would be near impossible. The East Courtyard, she remembered, had been deserted when she met Fëanor earlier that evening. She found her way back there and breathed a sigh of relief; it was still empty. The quiet and the soothing shadows were be a balm for her nerves and, taking a few deep cleansing breaths; she slowed her heart and tried to figure out what to do next.
Before she could devise a plan, she felt a hand on her shoulder and, thinking it was Fëanor, spun on him with a scowl on her face and a finger stretched out towards him. The elf that stood in front of her was most definitely not Fëanor, though they shared many similar physical characteristics. His hair was long and dark, though only braided instead of bearing the intricate design that Fëanor’s did. Their eyes were similar in colour but this elf’s lacked the burning emotion that most often alighted in Fëanor’s. Their features bore resemblance to each other, though Fëanor’s were sharper; this elf’s face had a softer line to it.
“I…I thought you were someone else…” Nerdanel stammered, smiling in apology for her earlier angry expression.
“Disappointed?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. His voice, too, sounded like Fëanor’s, only lacking the passionate edge.
“Relieved, actually.” Nerdanel breathed out. “I needed to be alone for a moment.” The elf smiled affably at her.
“It is a shame you are not enjoying yourself.” He shook his head and then, as if an idea had just overcome him, grinned widely at her. “Be alone tomorrow. Tonight, you must dance. Come!”
He grabbed her hand and practically dragged her running through the archway. Nerdanel couldn’t help but laugh. When they entered the other courtyard he pulled her straight to the throng of dancers. They were still in a pattern where partners were switched, only not as often as before. He swung her around several times before she spotted Fëanor across the floor, frowning at her.
Let him scowl, she thought. He was quick enough to toss me aside. It was time to switch and when she did, to her surprise, she found herself back in the arms of Fëanor.
He should not have been her next partner, as evidenced by several disgruntled ‘heys,’ before the elves in question realized whom they were shouting at. He held her tightly and instead of dancing with her into the group, he spun her so they left the dance floor and stood almost behind one of the pillars.
“I was unaware you were on such friendly terms with my half brother.” he said quietly through clenched teeth. Nerdanel recognized the fire in his eyes – a look usually followed by an enraged outburst. Why he was so angry over a dance, when they had not even been partnered with each other in the first place, she had no idea.
“I wasn’t. I’m not.” She folded her arms across her chest. “He asked me to dance so I did.”
Fëanor grabbed her elbow and pulled her completely behind the pillar. “You leave the floor to avoid me, but you dance with him.”
Nerdanel pulled her arm out of his grasp. “I have no reason not to dance with him.”
“You have every reason not to dance with him!” Fëanor yelled and then looked quickly around. His next words were spoken in an angry hiss. “You are here with me. You obviously left so as not to have to dance with me, and you go and dance with my half brother. It is a blatant insult to me, in front of every elf in Tirion. Do you know…?”
“Here with you?” Nerdanel interrupted, stepping in towards him. “You couldn’t keep me from seeing the truth. I am only here because you could not escort the one you really wished to, and because you were too afraid of the girls to come alone.” Thoroughly frustrated with him, Nerdanel gave him one final glare before turning her back on him to return to the main courtyard. She felt arms grab her around the waist and pull her back.
“Let go of me.” she yelled as he spun her around and pressed his hands against her hips to pin her to the column. She tried to think of any means to escape him. “We should be out there. Dancing.”
“Do not change the subject,” he practically growled at her, his face so close to hers she could feel his breath. Using all her weight and strength, she shoved her body against his, pushing him away from her.
“I am not changing the subject. This is the subject. You think you can do whatever you wish, and it does not matter what I think, or what I want.” She bit the inside of her lip against the onslaught of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her.
He took a step back from her and spoke in a tensely quiet voice. “What do you want?”
The musicians chose that moment to take a break and in the silence, Nerdanel noticed that although they stood behind a column, a good portion of the elves could see them, and were indeed looking at them with considerable, and only thinly veiled, curiosity. Without another word, she turned and ran from Fëanor, out between the columns that stood opposite the palace and down the wide set of marble stairs there.
She heard heavy footsteps behind her, but continued to run down the steps until she heard his voice call to her.
“Nerdanel, we are not finished.”
She stopped but did not turn to face him. “We are finished. I have no more I wish to say to you.”
He stomped down the few more steps separating them so he stood right behind her. “Most elves would not speak to me as you do.” he snapped at her.
Looking over her shoulder, she smiled coldly up at him. “I am not ‘most elves’.”
His eyes flashed. Behind the red-hot anger that currently consumed him, she saw an emotion she could not place.
As they stood there glaring at each other, out of the corner of her eye Nerdanel saw another elf emerge from the courtyard; the elf who was the reason for this argument in the first place.
“Fëanáro, father bids me find you to inform you that the feast is about to start.” His eyes narrowed in realization at Nerdanel. “So you are Nerdanel; I had no idea.” He bounded lightly down the remaining steps to stand next to Fëanor. “Forgive me, brother. Had I known you were her escort, I would not have overstepped my bounds. I missed the blessing, and only saw her leaving the dance floor alone.” Inclining his head towards Nerdanel, he held out his hand in greeting. “I am Nolofinwë, Fëanáro’s brother.”
“Half-brother,” Fëanor muttered under his breath.
Apparently not affected by Fëanor’s cold attitude towards him, Nolofinwë grasped his shoulder. “What say you? Shall we go eat?”
Fëanor’s jaw tightened and he did not look at Nolofinwë. “Very well. Inform my father I will be there shortly.”
Nolofinwë nodded, and then ran back up the steps and out of sight into the courtyard. Fëanor stood rooted to his spot, glaring unfocused into the distance. Nerdanel searched his face and his eyes shifted to hers.
“So shall you accompany me?” His voice rang with challenge, but even as Nerdanel began to bristle, his expression changed completely.
“Please, Nerdanel. Let us not fight. These feasts are torment enough.”
Nerdanel folded her arms across her chest and looked away from him. She felt his hand on her arm and, biting back the chills it gave her, stepped away, causing his arm to drop to his side.
His voice was pleading, such as she had never heard. When she looked at his face, she saw remorse in his eyes. She said nothing, waiting to see what he would say. He fidgeted for a moment before speaking.
“I am not used to sharing your company.” He pressed his lips together and looked at the ground for a moment. Free of his gaze her eyes grew wide as her mind raced to process what he just said. The possibility that his anger had been spurred on by jealousy had not occurred to Nerdanel until that moment.
He met her eyes again. “I may have overreacted.” he mumbled.
She could tell how hard it had been for him to admit that. Taking a deep breath, she nodded at him.
“Perhaps a little.” she assented, more tolerant now that she suspected the real reason for his actions. She smiled to take the edge off her words. “But I suppose I can forgive you, just this once.”
He smiled back, relief plain on his face. He extended his arm to her one more time and she slipped hers through it. As they walked up the steps and back into the courtyard, Nerdanel couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant, and try with all her might to ignore the spark of hope that had reignited within her.
A Eru, lalta te: O Eru, bless them. (according to Ardalambion)
Thank you JunoMagic and Gwynnyd for beta’ing this chapter and making it more shiny.
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.