She worked the clay with unusually clumsy fingers. It may as well have been mud tonight. The darkness that she knew consumed her husband prevented her from concentrating on her work and it suffered – as did her marriage, her family – everything.
She flung a piece against the wall, the effort not quelling the anger welling inside her. She left the relative safety of her workshop, the room that had been her refuge as of late. Before retiring to bed, she glared resentfully down the hall at the locked door.
So his secrets would keep him from her yet another night.
Nerdanel sat on a stool in the main room of the apartment her parents kept in Tirion, her pottery wheel motionless between her legs as she contemplated the lump of clay in front of her. She had told her parents she was going into the city ahead of them in order for some time alone to sculpt and had hoped to have something to show them when they arrived later, but she could not focus or decide on a form.
She picked up the clay and threw it down on the wheel a few times, stalling, thinking, examining the shapeless hunk. She heard footsteps approaching from behind her but did not turn, not even when she felt the heat of a breath on her neck or the moist warmth of kisses trailed down to her shoulder.
Smiling, she spun on her stool to face the elf who now stood behind her.
"Did I wake you?" she asked gently.
"Mmm, no," Fëanor answered, bending to brush her lips with his. "But I thought to give you peace to create."
"So what brings you out here?"
Fëanor knelt down and leaned towards her, putting a possessive hand on her leg. "I grew impatient."
Nerdanel laughed and tried to push his advance away with her elbows, her hands still covered in clay. "Stop!" she protested. "I need something to show my parents when they get here, or they will wonder at what has occupied my time for the past week."
Fëanor frowned and raised one eyebrow, feigning ignorance. "What has occupied your time and distracted you so?"
She pressed her lips together and widened her eyes in mock innocence. "I do not know."
Fëanor made a low guttural noise and before Nerdanel could react had scooped her up into his arms.
"Allow me to remind you," he said, his voice low and suggestive, as he stood and began to walk towards the sleeping room. He hadn't gone far when he abruptly stopped and spun to face the entrance of the apartment. Nerdanel heard what had startled him, voices approaching outside, and slipped easily down out of his arms to stand once more on the floor.
"…and thought to visit since I heard you were in the city," Fëanor said, overly loud, his intention clearly to be overheard by whoever was approaching.
"I appreciate your consideration," Nerdanel answered in the same manner, meeting his gaze and smiling at their ruse.
The voices outside grew dimmer. It hadn't been her parents, for the elves had passed the apartment and continued on. Nerdanel inhaled deeply and sat down on the stool again while Fëanor began to pace the room.
When he stopped in front of Nerdanel, she saw the set of his jaw and how his eyes flashed and knew he was as unsettled by the though of having been discovered by her parents as she had been.
"Tonight, Nerdanel," he said softly, his voice at odds with his wild expression. "Tonight we tell them."
Nerdanel's heart beat faster. "My parents?"
Fëanor nodded, his eyes burning with passion. "Your parents, my father, the entirety of Arda. I want the world to know that Nerdanel, daughter of Mahtan and Fëanáro, son of Finwë are one soul, bound together until the breaking of the world, and if I had the power to make it so, even after."
Nerdanel was silent, rendered speechless as she always was when Fëanor openly declared his feelings for her.
"I could barely tolerate this past season," he continued, resuming his pacing. "Whenever we…" He stopped walking and cocked his head towards the doorway. Nerdanel heard it too, more voices, and as they grew closer she recognized them both.
She noticed Fëanor take a few steps backwards as she ran toward the door to greet her parents.
"Father!" she cried, throwing her arms around his neck. "Mother!" She repeated the exuberant embrace, hoping her enthusiasm would distract her parents from noticing the other inhabitant of the room for a moment longer. She had no such luck.
"Fëanáro!" Mahtan's voice betrayed his surprise at finding his old apprentice in his apartment. His eyes flicked towards Nerdanel before he crossed the room to clasp Fëanor's arm in greeting. "Need I ask what brings you here this day? Or can I assume it has to do with my daughter?"
Mahtan's face was suffused with a bright smile, but Nerdanel caught the edge in his tone. Fëanor must have heard it, too; almost imperceptibly his eyes narrowed at his old master, nothing more than a glimmer of annoyance that would have gone unnoticed to anyone who was not so attuned to his mercurial moods, but Nerdanel caught it and took a step towards him and her father.
Her mother grabbed her arm and stayed her movement, forcing Nerdanel to watch whatever unfolded, helpless to interfere. However, it came to nothing; Fëanor tilted his head back and laughed, but to Nerdanel it had a false ring to it.
"Of course, Master Mahtan, it has to do with your daughter, and yourself, and Istarnië as well."
His response took Nerdanel by surprise, but she was able to school her expression before either of her parents noticed. Fëanor looked to her and her pulse skipped as their eyes met. She pulled her arm from her mother's grip, lest Istarnië feel Nerdanel's elevated heart rate. Not that it mattered, Nerdanel realized belatedly. Istarnië would most likely attribute it to Nerdanel's continued attraction to Fëanor and not the fact that the two of them had spent the past week in the apartment together.
"I came to invite you to dine with us tonight."
By the expression on her parents' faces, Nerdanel knew his statement had surprised them as much as it had her.
"Dine?" She smiled a little too wide, hoping her expression would disguise how her voice wavered. "Tonight?"
Fëanor inclined his head, slipping into an air of formality, but she saw the corner of his mouth twitch upward. He had heard her voice tremble, she was sure of it. "My father returns to the city tonight, and I am to dine with him." He turned to her father. "He always enjoys your company, Master Mahtan, so when I heard you would be in Tirion, I thought you might like to join us."
Nerdanel saw her parents exchange a glance before Mahtan narrowed his eyes at Fëanor.
"Of course, Fëanáro," Istarnië answered before her husband could speak, crossing the room to stand by Mahtan and leaving Nerdanel alone by the door. "We would be delighted." She put a hand on Mahtan's arm.
Her actions confirmed Nerdanel's fears, that Mahtan was troubled by the presence of Fëanor here. Was it concern for his daughter's welfare, or something more ominous than that? Nerdanel halted her train of thought. Mahtan was merely looking out for his daughter's well-being, knowing how she had been upset by Fëanor in the past. But that would be resolved tonight – over the evening meal, apparently – when Fëanor and she spoke of their intentions to wed.
"Very good," Fëanor answered and seemed to Nerdanel to be genuinely relieved. "Then I will take my leave of you now, Mahtan, Istarnië." He inclined his head politely to each of them before turning and walking towards the door and Nerdanel.
"Until later, Nerdanel," he said, the expression on his face innocent, the look in his eyes anything but. Shielding her parents' view of his hand's movement with his body, Fëanor reached up and tweaked the chain at the back of her neck, causing the ring hanging beneath her tunic to twitch against her chest.
She stared after him for a short while, trying to invent a good excuse to follow him and coming up with none, especially since she still had clay stuck to her hands, now beginning to dry and cake between her fingers and under her nails. Keeping her eyes downcast, she walked back over to the potter's wheel and poked at the clay rising up like a deformed mountain. She doubted it could be salvaged, even if she had the inclination to get back to work immediately.
With a reluctant sigh, she hazarded a glance at her parents. Both Mahtan's and Istarnië's expressions remained neutral, but Nerdanel still felt like an errant child, caught in a disobedient act by parents who remained silent long enough to allow her to confess her own transgression. She dropped her eyes to the clay again and realized she probably just confirmed her own guilt.
"I'll clean this up," she said quietly.
"Good idea," Istarnië said, her voice gentle.
Nerdanel picked up the lump of clay, carried it outside, and deposited it on a stool. She would determine how best to dispose of it later. She walked down the hill towards the water pump on the next street to wash her hands. It took her a long time since she forgot to bring a bucket and had to pump with one hand as she tried to wash the other. When she finally returned to the apartment, Laurelin was already beginning to dim. It wouldn't be long until dinner.
She reached the doorway and was surprised to hear Fëanor talking with her father. She couldn't see Fëanor's face – his back was to her – but judging by the troubled look her father wore, they weren't discussing the weather.
"That is my opinion, Fëanáro, and there is naught you can say that will sway me," her father said before noticing that she stood in the doorway.
"Nerdanel," he called, his voice sounding far too relieved for a greeting. Fëanáro spun to face her, and when she saw his stony expression she involuntarily stepped back, pressing herself against the doorframe.
With one last glance at Fëanor, Mahtan crossed the room to her. Before he could say anything, Fëanor stormed past out the door. Nerdanel looked from him to her father and turned her hands up, silently questioning what had happened.
"He told me of your intentions," Mahtan said quietly. Nerdanel surmised the rest, considering Fëanor's reaction and ran out the door after him, her father calling her name behind her. She caught up with Fëanor not too far from the house.
"What happened?" she asked, trying to get him to meet her eyes.
"He does not approve," Fëanor said through gritted teeth.
Nerdanel frowned, but put a comforting hand on his arm. "He said that?"
Fëanor glared at her. "Do you not believe me?"
"No, I do…" She shook her head. It made no sense for her father not to approve and especially not to tell Fëanor.
"I will make him approve," Fëanor said to himself, his eyes almost black. "I must."
Nerdanel placed a hand on his cheek and turned his face so he had to look at her. "He does approve; and if not, he will," she said, trying to make her voice as soothing as possible. "Let us go back and talk to him together."
Fëanor inhaled, and Nerdanel felt his face relax beneath her hand. He seemed like he was about to relent, but his eyes flicked up to look at something behind Nerdanel. When she turned her head, she saw her father behind them, a worried look on his face. She turned back to Fëanor.
"Go to your father," Fëanor whispered so only she might hear. "I will return shortly." He tilted his face into her palm and kissed her wrist before jogging away, down the street into the increasingly silver light.
Her hand remained in the air where it was for a moment, silently reaching towards where it had felt that last contact. Nerdanel took a few breaths to try and regain her composure before she walked over to where her father was standing. When she reached him, she folded her arms across her chest but did not speak. Mahtan remained silent as well until Nerdanel, her anger at her father's obvious and unfair disapproval growing and adding to the worry about what Fëanor ran off to do, could no longer hold her tongue.
"Why?" It was the only thought she could verbalize, but it didn't even begin to reveal the questions raging through her head.
"I know not what he told you," Mahtan began, his voice a forced calm. "But I only said you should wait."
That surprised Nerdanel and cooled some of her agitation. From Fëanor's reaction, she had expected that her father had flat out said no.
"So you do not disapprove?"
Mahtan sighed. "I could disapprove of the ocean's tide, but what good would it do me? Some things will happen regardless of what we say or do."
Nerdanel felt her eyes begin to burn. She knew what her father meant – she and Fëanor did not by law need acceptance or approval from anyone – but it was important to her that he supported her choice. Knowing her parents did not agree with what she was doing would hurt more than anything.
"Father," Nerdanel's voice sounded strange, choked, and she swallowed. "I want you and Mother to support this. I want you to be happy for me."
Mahtan put a hand on her shoulder and guided her back towards the apartment. "I worry for you, and so does your mother. We fear you might end up being consumed by him. Perhaps if you were older…"
"No!" Nerdanel said forcefully and then softened her voice. "Father, please. I love him, and he loves me."
Mahtan stopped walking at the door to the apartment and turned to face Nerdanel. He searched her eyes for a long moment and then sighed.
"You both are very young." He sighed again. "But if you are happy, if this is what you truly want, then I can accept it."
Nerdanel wanted to ask him what had happened, what had changed his attitude towards Fëanor from when he had been her father's apprentice, but Mahtan walked into the apartment then, and Nerdanel knew the conversation was over.
She was in the side room working on a quilt with her mother when Fëanor returned. She heard him calling her father's name and dropped her work to slip quietly to the doorway, curious to see what would happen.
As soon as Mahtan came out of the back room, Fëanor handed him what looked like his hammer wrapped up in a cloth.
"I hope this might change your mind," Fëanor said. His voice was soft, but Nerdanel could see the intensity of his gaze, the tenseness in his shoulders that told her he was anything but calm.
A side of Mahtan's mouth twitched, a smile tugging at it. "Fëanáro, you give me a hammer and apron in exchange for my daughter?"
Mahtan's voice had a teasing quality that put Nerdanel at ease. If he were able to joke, especially when Fëanor was in such a severe mood, did that mean he had come to accept their betrothal?
"No, Master Mahtan," Fëanor replied, his mood unchanged by Mahtan's droll question. "I give you my passion for your daughter. I would give up my life's work for her hand, for no work of my hand will touch my heart and soul as she has."
Nerdanel felt her insides clench, and she could barely remain standing still. She blinked back the tears that had sprung to her eyes. She knew how he felt, he had told her countless times, but to hear him tell her father, to hear him speak so vehemently about how much she meant to him to one of her parents, it made her want to jump up and sing in joy. The feeling was so powerful it was almost indescribable.
"He certainly is eloquent," a voice whispered at Nerdanel's ear, and she jumped, not having heard her mother come up behind her. "I'll give him that."
Nerdanel glanced at her mother, but before she could respond her father spoke again and she turned back towards him and Fëanor.
"I did not say 'no,' Fëanáro," Mahtan said, his voice placating. "I merely said, 'wait'." Fëanor opened his mouth to respond, and Mahtan held up a hand. "I have spoken to my daughter. I know of both of your feelings, and I give you my blessing."
Even though Nerdanel already knew her father had accepted their decision, their commitment to each other despite their youth, hearing him speak it out loud, to tell Fëanor that they had his blessing, she didn't think she could be happier if Aulë himself had come in and told her she was the most talented sculptor to ever shape a lump of clay. She ran to her father and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him as hard as she could.
"Thank you," she whispered so only he would hear.
"Be happy, my little Nerdanel," Mahtan answered, hugging her back. When he released her she looked into Fëanor's eyes and knew that she never would be anything but.
Thank you, as always, to JunoMagic, for a thorough and thought-provoking beta. This chapter was meh, at best, before she challenged me to make it better.
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.