Fëanor and Nerdanel
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Elements: 1. Flame
He had watched her for the whole of the year he had been there, her father’s apprentice. The king’s son. Why did he stare so? Nerdanel knew that her appearance was unusual – copper-colored hair was almost unknown among the Elves – but surely it did not warrant such a reaction, and of other beauties she had none. She ignored him and spoke to Mahtan, wiping the sweat from her forehead, for she had been at her forge.
“You sent for me?”
“Fëanor is having some difficulties with the gold leaf,” Mahtan told her, “getting it beaten to the even fineness I need for gilding this piece. Can you show him how?”
She looked at Fëanor, now, and he flushed, seemingly embarrassed that she should be called upon to assist him in such a task. “Come with me; I work two chambers away, and there we will not disturb my father.”
He followed her silently. When they reached the other room he stopped short in the doorway for a moment before stepping through. He walked about the whole of the chamber, examining everything that cluttered the shelves and angled against the walls, leaning close but not venturing to touch; nor did he hurry.
Nerdanel observed him as he studied her work. Fëanor’s face revealed little, but his eyes were wide and dark when he returned to where she waited, and he bowed slightly.
“I am. . . most impressed,” he said. “I had no idea you had such ability.”
“Which do you like most?” she asked. “Though I know it is unfair to ask that when you have only had a moment’s look at each.”
“This one, I think,” said Fëanor.
The piece he pointed at was not Nerdanel’s own favorite, but she thought she knew why it drew him. It was a complex sculpture of interlocking oval rings of different types of stone, so arranged as to make it difficult for the eye to easily follow any one of them around. Although at times she was seized with the impulse to create such works, attempting to express an idea or emotion directly through form, it felt more natural to her to sculpt figures that were true to life, sometimes using paint and fabric to enhance their likeness, sometimes leaving the stone or metal unadorned.
Fëanor had spoken again while she mused, asking, “Do you always work alone?”
“I have too,” he said. Implicit in his words she heard the suggestion that this might not always be the case in future.
She turned to her worktable. “Gold leaf, that is what you wish to learn from me?”
“It is,” and again there was something indefinable in Fëanor’s voice, something ambiguous in his choice of phrase, that disturbed her.
“I can show you my technique,” Nerdanel said, “but all it really requires is patience, as you will see.”
He watched as she wielded the hammer, deftly flattening a nugget of the pure metal to a thin sheet, changing to a wooden mallet at the last, which she found gave her greater control with less chance of tearing the delicate leaf. She held it up, fluttering, to show him. “Now you try.”
For all that Mahtan had complained that Fëanor was deficient in this skill, the young Elf’s blows were quick and precise, and he soon had produced a more than acceptable result, upon which Nerdanel complimented him. Fëanor bowed his thanks, then said that he feared he was taking her away from her own work, and that he must return to his. He was gone so rapidly that she was left wondering whether he had really been there, or if she had imagined it. But there lay her piece of gold leaf on the table.
If Nerdanel had thought that this encounter might stop Fëanor’s eyes from following her whenever they were in the same room, she was soon disabused of the idea. He did not speak to her again, though, for many days.
He stood in the doorway of her workroom. She had not heard his knock, and he had opened the heavy oak door in silence. It troubled her, that he would do so. His apologetic smile sat oddly on his fair face. “I made this for you,” he said, stepping in to place something on the nearest shelf, and vanished again, the door closed behind him.
She went to look at it, still warm from the forges. A jewel, it was, of clear crystal but shimmering red within as if with fire. The nearest to it she had ever seen were some of Aulë’s make.
That evening it was she who approached him. “How did you create it?”
Fëanor smiled. “I will show you, if you like.”
And he did. For a year, two years, three, he shared his methods and skills, and she hers. She asked, one day, whether he had dissembled in his inability to make fine gold leaf, but he only looked at her. Later as she looked back it was heat that suffused her memory. Heat, and especially the flame of the forges. At that time she worked most with metals – silver, bronze, gold – and their lambent gleam cast a glow over everything she did or said, in Fëanor’s company.
As she watched him solve each new challenge, the fire reflected in his eyes and edged his dark hair with light. When his attempts were successful, he sang before the forge in a rich voice, rejoicing, and watching him Nerdanel thought that he had kindled a secret flame in her own heart. He never asked for her help, but of her own volition she assisted him often, and he seemed happy to accept her aid and advice.
One day, when Fëanor had succeeded in making his fairest jewel yet, shot through with greens and silvers so that even in the red hearthlight it was as the sparkle of Telperion shining on water, he turned to Nerdanel. “The sea is changeable,” he said, “but this gem is imperishable as is my feeling for you.”
Nerdanel thought to herself that all things perish, in the end, but she understood what he was asking. “Yes,” she said to the question he had not spoken.
For a wedding-gift to him she made a sculpture. She had thought to make an image of Fëanor himself, but found that she could not convey the fire and strength of his spirit through any metal she knew, not copper, nor bronze, nor iron. Remembering the first piece of hers he had admired, instead she turned to stone, a red marble veined with white. When she had finished carving, it flared out from a narrow base in rippling waves, like drapery in a breeze, or the petals of some strange flower, or flames burning. His gift to her was a handful of his own jewels, set into a necklace.
“But they are not so beautiful as you, for you are alive,” he whispered to her that night, and her heart burned within her at his words.
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