6. Part 6
The radiance of Laurelin was just beginning to fade when Nerdanel finally left the forge for the day. Her father and the apprentices had departed earlier, to begin preparations for the evening meal, but Nerdanel had lingered, under the pretext of cleaning the mold she had crafted in preparation for the casting of her next sculpture. In truth, she was strangely reluctant to leave. She had spent so much of her childhood in this place; at times she felt as though she had never departed from it. The old, familiar rhythms of her parents’ household and her former life here came easily to her, soothing in their quiet way. While working by her father Mahtan’s side she could almost imagine she was still a young woman just beginning to learn the subtle arts of casting bronze and copper, that all the long years separating that Nerdanel from this one were naught but a dream. But the weariness of her fëa, once so high-spirited, and the grief she now carried in her heart said otherwise. And then there were the other memories...
For it had also been here, at her father’s forge, where she had first met the young apprentice who’d quickly won her heart. At times, when she entered the workshop, she would find herself momentarily surprised by his absence. All she had to do was close her eyes, and she could picture him as he had been so long ago, standing there at his accustomed place, so intent on his latest crafting he’d no awareness of anything else until she’d reach over and brush his hand, and he’d look up at her with eyes all but blind from the from the fire that burned within them when he worked. The fire that no one, not even Mahtan, perhaps not even Aulë himself, could equal. The fire for which his mother had named him... Fëanáro.
She’d found herself irresistibly drawn to that inner conflagration, for when she was with him she had felt more alive than at any other time, and when he withdrew it was as though the world itself grew dimmer, though the Trees still shone brightly as ever. He had seemed to her a great, shining presence, compared to which the other apprentices were mere wisps of shadow. And to her surprise, he had also seemed to feel the same attraction to her. He had had no eyes for the other maids who dwelt near her father’s household, but instead gazed upon her with a hot, devouring stare. Before long, they had begun to work together on projects at the forge. It was, Nerdanel reflected, a strange courtship indeed, with none of the usual exchanges of courtesies and trinkets - instead, they had exchanged heat, each one relaxing in the warmth of the other’s flame.
She had been very young then, and had not considered that what could warm might also scorch.
Fëanáro was also very young then - even younger than she had been. Brilliant, the most precocious of her father’s many students, and the one highest in his esteem. He’d asked for her hand even before he’d quite reached his majority. Nerdanel had not even needed to consider his proposal before answering it; surely it was obvious to anyone with eyes that they were meant to be espoused! So she had been shocked when her parents gave their blessing to the marriage only with reluctance.
"Why do you hesitate?" she had asked her father in frustration. "Can you not see that this is what I desire? Can you not see that he and I are matched? I thought you favored Fëanáro!"
"I do favor him; a more promising student I have never seen," her father had replied gravely. "But I worry, daughter, for above all else I would see you happy. You are like him, yes - strong and passionate and stubborn. You match him in your strengths - and also in your weaknesses. But a marriage needs balance, and I would be far happier had you given your heart to one steadier and more mellow in temperament. And I fear that his fire may be so bright that it blinds him, as one who carries a blazing torch into a dark place, who can see nothing outside the circle of the torchlight. Are you certain of your choice?"
"You think you both are matched," her mother had told her softly, "and perhaps you are indeed, for now, although I suspect in truth Fëanáro’s fire burns hotter than does yours. But, daughter, even if your spirit matches him now, you may not equal him forever. For although both parents give something of themselves to their children, we who must bear them give up more. You may find that over time your flame comes to burn with a softer glow than it does now - and will you still be matched to him then? I will not deny that I fear for you, Nerdanel. But it is your heart to give, and if you are certain that Fëanáro is where your heart will rest most content, then I will extend my blessing to your union despite my misgivings."
And so in the end she had had her way, for it was indeed her place alone to choose her mate and no one else’s, and she had chosen Fëanáro, as he did her. And the first years of their union were as joyful as she had imagined they would be. Their love for each other was bold and fierce and whole-hearted, and they had delighted in each other’s company. And that was all they had between them for many years, all that they allowed themselves following the wedding night which had sealed their union, for Fëanáro had desired to study with Aulë before establishing a workshop of his own, and she had also wished for more time to devote to her art before they began their family. So they had defied convention, not that either one had ever cared overmuch for such things, and sublimated their passion through their work, and treasured the memory of the one time they had united in love, and waited. Nerdanel had not recognized then the true depth of her husband’s desire for her, or the monstrous strength of will that his restraint of it demonstrated, to deny himself her touch for so long; and so she did not consider how it would be, should that will ever be set against her own. Not that it would have changed things in the slightest if I had, she thought ruefully as she carefully placed the now-clean mold back on the benchtop, for in my naiveté I could never have imagined our minds and hearts would ever so diverge. What a child I was then! And what a price we both paid for our folly! She sighed quietly as she prepared to close the workshop for the evening.
Those years of passions both fulfilled and denied passed by simultaneously more slowly and more quickly than seemed possible, and the day had finally arrived when they could set their self-restraint aside and love each other fully. And love each other they did, intoxicated with the delight of ardor finally fulfilled. And Nerdanel had quickly found herself with child. Pregnancy proved more burdensome than she had anticipated, but the joy she had felt the first time she’d held little Maitimo in her arms more than compensated for the drain that carrying a child had placed on her hröa and fëa, and if she had no longer possessed quite the same energy she’d had before his birth, his presence in her life was surely adequate compensation for such a small loss. Fëanáro had been delighted with his small son, and proved as attentive and loving a father as any child could have wished for. The early years of her eldest son’s childhood were the happiest years of their marriage, Nerdanel realized in retrospect, but at the time she had taken their happiness for granted, certain that life would always be so blissful. Both she and Fëanáro had desired more children, and they had both agreed that little Maitimo needed a sibling, but several years passed before she again conceived. After Makalaurë’s birth, Nerdanel had found that caring for two children was far more than twice the work that caring for one had been; she found herself spending less time at her husband’s side, while he in turn was laboring ever longer in his workshop as he discovered new ways to create wondrous gems more beautiful than anything the Eldar had previously created. His work brought him fame, which lead inevitably to more demands for his services, requiring more time spent at his forge, and so the first thin crack in their relationship began to form.
The rift had continued to widen once Maitimo became old enough to work at the forge with his father. Fëanáro had always been strict, although loving, with his sons, and at first she had not been concerned by his treatment of their firstborn. But try as he might, Maitimo could never seem to please his father, and Nerdanel had slowly became concerned for him. Fëanáro had dismissed her repeated suggestions that Maitimo be sent to her own father Mahtan to serve his apprenticeship; why send the boy away when he could learn all he needed to know by working at his father’s side, Fëanáro had replied, perplexed. His son had talent enough, he was certain of it; Maitimo merely had to learn to strive harder, pay closer attention, and really apply himself. When she had continued to insist that he was placing too much pressure on their son, her husband had grown angry and refused to listen, insisting that he loved Maitimo and was only doing what was best for the boy, as any caring father would do. These quarrels had always ended with them standing on opposite sides of a gulf of incomprehension, each refusing to believe that the other could really be so blind. And often they had ended in frantic lovemaking, as they used their bodies to purge the heat from their hearts and soothe each other. And so it was that Tyelkormo was conceived, and Carnistir, and Curufinwë Atarinkë. During each pregnancy their quarrelling had abated, as their excitement over the new life they had created, their mutual hope of a possible daughter this time, and the necessity of supporting the developing child in Nerdanel’s womb brought them temporarily closer. But the longed-for daughter never arrived, and following each birth their arguments resumed again, intensifying as first Makalaurë and then Tyelkormo became old enough to work at their father’s side. And Nerdanel had found that each birth left her feeling more drained, while Fëanáro’s spirit seemed little changed. Too late, she realized her mother had been right. She had passed too much of her strength into her sons. Reluctantly, she had decided that their dreams of a daughter should remain dreams; it was time to acknowledge that their family was complete. But before Nerdanel had had the opportunity to discuss this decision with her husband, Fëanáro had revealed his own plans to her - plans to create jewels more magnificent than any ever before made, by capturing Yavanna’s Treelight and imprisoning it in cages of crystal.
Her husband’s ambition had horrified her, for it had seemed to her that Fëanáro in his pride sought to rival the Valar themselves. She had begged him not to fashion them, for a shadow fell upon her heart whenever he mentioned his dream to her, but obstinate as ever, he had paid no heed to her pleas. He had spent more and more of his time immured in his shop, striving to create the casings for the gems he’d already crafted in his mind. With Curufinwë and Carnistir being so young, she had had no time free to spend at his side, and in any case his workshop had come to feel an alien place, where she was an unwelcome intruder. And then one day he had journeyed to Valimar, and when he returned to their home, he had brought with him a small box, which he placed in their bedroom. That evening, after the children were asleep, he had opened it, and she first beheld the Silmarils.
They were radiant beyond anything that Nerdanel had ever seen; when Fëanáro opened the box that held them, the shuttered room burned bright with luminescence almost painful to behold. And her husband’s eyes had burned, too, and Nerdanel had quailed before the heat she saw there. "Are they not beautiful?" he had murmured to her. "Is there anything in all of Arda to compare with them?"
"No," she had whispered, and did not know whether it was the first or the second question she was answering. Almost without realizing it, she had found herself reaching out to touch the gems, but at the last minute her hand had frozen above them. They burn, a voice had whispered in her mind. She had closed her hand into a fist and slowly withdrew it. "You should give them to the Valar," she had whispered to him.
"No," he had replied. "The Valar already have their stars; these will be mine." He had then slowly closed the box, and the room was again plunged into darkness. "Perhaps I will give them to my father," Fëanáro had continued after a moment, his voice seeming strangely uncertain.
"That would be best," she had replied. Fëanáro then gently placed the box on their dresser, and turned again to face her; in the gloom she had seen his eyes glittering. "I know you did not wish me to craft them, but I had hoped they would please you, Nerdanel, once you saw them. There was a time when you loved the creations of my hands," he had said sadly. He had then reached out and gently brushed her cheek with his hand.
At the sound of his voice, so filled with sorrow, Nerdanel had felt something stir inside her. An inchoate emotion, vague and fragile. Pity? Compassion? Surely it was not love. When his hand stroked her skin, an old and more familiar burning had begun to fill her. How long has it been since we have treated each other with tenderness? she had wondered. How could we have ever allowed ourselves to become such strangers? In the darkness of their shuttered room she had stepped closer to her husband and whispered, "You please me, Curufinwë Fëanáro. You were all I ever wished for in my heart - and so long as I have you in my arms, I need no stars to fill my hands."
For the moment, their quarrels and their griefs had been forgotten, and they had lost themselves in the pleasures of each other’s touch. They made love tenderly, and for a brief while it was as it had been when they were young and newly wed, the union of their flesh forging a temporary union of their hearts and spirits. Afterwards, contented and replete, Nerdanel had lain next to her sleeping husband and felt his warm breath against her skin, and the beating of his heart, and known that in spite of everything that had happened between them, she loved him still. She had gently stroked his thick, glossy hair and vowed that she would do whatever was necessary to close the gap that they had allowed to form between them over the long years of their marriage. Surely what had once been solid, but was now so torn, could somehow be mended and made whole again?
Two months later, when her courses still had not come, Nerdanel had realized she had again conceived. And for the first time she felt herself afraid.
Fëanáro had not shared her apprehension. He had been delighted, and certain that at last they would have the daughter they both had so long wished for. But Nerdanel had found that this pregnancy was far more draining than any of her previous ones had been. Never had she felt so tired! She had kept her exhaustion, and her fears, to herself, though - for how could she explain to her husband and her other children that, far from being pleased to be bringing yet another life into the world, she in fact wished this child had never been conceived? And that, but for a momentary weakness of her flesh, it never would have been? They would not have understood, of that she had been certain. And besides, there was nothing now that could be done about it. And so she had kept silent.
When at last she had gone into labor, she had been relieved. Soon the worst of the burden would be behind her, for her husband and the older children would be there to help her care for the infant, and she would no longer be supporting it with her body and her fëa. But unlike her previous labors, this one had seemed endless. She had groaned and strained with the effort to expel the child, but to no avail. And suddenly Nerdanel had been certain that she could not endure this birthing, and that like Míriel she would pass into the Halls of Mandos out of weariness, for she had no more strength left in her.
But Fëanáro had held her, and encouraged her, and in her desperation Nerdanel had reached out to him across their bond, and felt his strength flow into her in response. And the moment of weakness had passed, and she pushed once more, and their son Pityafinwë Ambarussa had finally entered the world - to be followed quickly, to their astonishment, by his twin brother Telufinwë Ambarussa.
Nerdanel smiled at the memory of her youngest sons as she swept the floor of her father’s workshop. They were so alike that most people outside of their immediate family could not tell them apart, but she would forever remember the first difference she’d discovered between them. For, unlike his younger twin Telufinwë, Pityafinwë had insisted on entering the world rump first, and his backwards presentation had been the reason for her long and tiring labor. Twins were extremely rare among the Eldar, and she had never met another woman who had borne them; so she had not known until her delivery that the reason for her exhausting pregnancy had been that she was carrying two children at once.
Her strength had been slow to return following her difficult labor, and the memory of that moment when she had thought she would enter Mandos cast a shadow on her heart that persisted long past the point when she had recovered physically. She was certain that she no longer had strength enough to bear another child, and knew she would never lie again with her husband. But she had been afraid to open herself up to the spiritual union that a husband and wife ordinarily shared once their families were completed. For she knew her once-brilliant fëa no longer matched her husband’s in strength, if indeed it had ever had, and she had feared Fëanáro would overwhelm her in that union, and leave nothing of herself to her. Worse, she had not wished to reveal to him the fear she had felt during her pregnancy and labor, which he would certainly learn of if they joined together in spirit, for she had been certain that he would not understand it and would think her weak. For when had Fëanáro ever tired in spirit? And when, despite all their efforts, they had again begun to quarrel about their children, Nerdanel had found herself wondering whether they would even derive any pleasure from such a joining should they attempt it. Would their fëar even recognize each other if they merged? Or would she find herself touching a stranger? She no longer knew.
And so she had begun to avoid her husband, rebuffing his touch, not knowing how to tell him what she felt. Not even certain herself of what she felt towards him. She had seen the hurt in his eyes when she silently pushed him away, a hurt that was gradually replaced by a growing anger as the years passed and she had persisted in her refusal and in her silence. Their fights slowly became more vicious, their disagreements over the raising of their sons and the storage of the Silmarils merely a cover for their true reasons for their battles: Why will you not let me touch you? Why will you not leave me in peace? What has happened to you, my once beloved spouse? Do you no longer love me? Fëanáro had again retreated into the haven of his workshop; she for her part had hidden in the comfort of her youngest sons’ nursery, their innocent joy in life a balm to her tired spirit. In her heart, though, she had known that things could not continue in this fashion forever; they would either have to find a way to bridge the cold silence that had grown up between them, or their marriage would end. But she had been too afraid to try.
And then came the night that destroyed any hopes for their future together. Fëanáro had been tense throughout the evening, for he had spent the day in Tirion, where he had been forced to endure the company of his younger half-brothers. She had never completely understood the reasons for her husband’s loathing of Nolofinwë and Arafinwë; for her part, she had tried to improve her family’s relationship with them, allowing her older sons to befriend their half-cousins. Fëanáro had assented to this, mostly for Maitimo’s sake, for their oldest boy and Nolofinwë’s eldest son had rapidly become inseparable, and separating them would have broken Maitimo’s heart. But Fëanáro’s intense dislike of his younger half-siblings had never lessened, though he tried to mask it for his eldest son’s sake. He had spoken very little during dinner that night, and drank far more wine than usual, leaving Nerdanel and the children to chatter among themselves undisturbed.
When they had finally retired for the evening, it was late, and Nerdanel had had no thoughts other than sleep, for she knew her youngest sons would be rising early and she would need to be rested to keep up with their antics. When Fëanáro had reached for her, she had turned away almost reflexively.
And then she had suddenly felt his hands on her again, this time roughly pulling her towards him, and saw the cold anger in his eyes, and the hurt there. She had tried to pull away, but he managed to roll on top of her and pin her down with his body, and she was not strong enough to push him off. "No more," he had said, voice slurred from drink and rough with anger. "You have denied me for far too long now. Tonight we will again be a husband and wife." And then he had begun to kiss her roughly, ignoring her pleas for him to stop, his weight preventing her from escaping.
As she had lain underneath her husband, feeling his excitement mount, she had considered her options. She could try to fight, but she knew she would not win. She could call for help - but who was there to hear, other than her sons, and she would not involve them in this. She could flee her hröa for Mandos - and leave her parents bereft, and her children motherless. Or she could submit. Submit and let him lie with her, and pray that Ilúvatar would not create another child from this union.
She had chosen to submit. She had allowed Fëanáro to couple with her, and for the first time had felt no pleasure in their joining. And when it was over, and he had finally fallen asleep, she had crept silently out of their room and into the garden where, bathed by the silvery radiance of Telperion, she had quietly wept.
The following morning she had told him their marriage was over. Fëanáro had been genuinely remorseful, and had begged her to stay. He had promised her that he would never touch her again, and had pleaded with her not to abandon him, not to break up their family by leaving this way. But she could no longer bear the thought of remaining in that house, and so she had departed, holding back her tears for her sons’ sake. How she had hated to leave them, especially little Ambarussa! But for all his faults, she knew that Fëanáro truly loved his sons. And she had also known that she did not have the means, or the energy, to wrest them away from him. She had had only enough strength left to save herself. So she had left her children behind, reluctantly, to return to the household of her birth. And there, slowly, she had begun to heal. Her parents had been quietly supportive, and she had gradually resumed her old place in their household. Soon, though, she would be leaving again, for she wished a home of her own. She could almost pretend now that the years of her marriage had been nothing but a dream. But she could still feel the bond linking her fëa to Fëanáro’s, a bond that would bind them forever, and her heart still ached for her children, whom she had not seen since her departure.
As she shut the doors to the workshop, Nerdanel wondered how her children were coping with their loss. Did they believe themselves abandoned by their mother because she did not love them? She wished there were some way she could have made them understand, especially Ambarussa, who were still so young. Do they miss me as much as I miss them? she wondered. Do they understand that I will always be carrying them in my heart, as I once carried them in my body? Do they know they will always have my love?
The light was changing to a mingled silver and gold, and she was slowly walking towards her parents’ house, enjoying the peace and quiet of day’s end and admiring the way the Treelight glimmered on the snow-capped mountain peaks, when she thought she heard hoofbeats. She paused, listening - yes, those were horses, galloping fast. Who could be coming at this hour? she wondered. Nerdanel knew her curiosity would soon be satisfied, for the sounds were growing rapidly louder; soon the riders would be coming into view.
And then the horses came within sight, and for an instant she stood staring at their riders in utter disbelief. Surely it couldn’t be... She found herself running towards them, but she didn’t need to go far, for they galloped up to her and the riders quickly dismounted, and she suddenly found herself holding Ambarussa in her arms while her two oldest sons stood smiling at her.
"Hello, Mother," Maitimo had said quietly, a strange gleam in his eyes. "I hope you don’t mind if Ambarussa stay here with you for a while. Makalaurë and I are tired of babysitting."
"No," she replied, tears of joy streaming down her face, "No, I don’t mind at all."
* * * * * * *
It was late, and they were supposed to be asleep, but Ambarussa were still far too excited to sleep yet. They had finally found her! And she had kissed them and hugged them so hard they almost couldn’t breathe. And then she had played with them all evening, and finally tucked them into bed and told them their bedtime story, just like she had always done before the world had ended.
Maitimo had told them that he and Makalaurë would be going back home in a few days, but Ambarussa would be staying here at the mountains’ roots with Mother for a while. But he and Makalaurë would eventually come back and bring them home. From now on, he had said, they would stay part of the time here with Mother, and part of the time at home with Father and their other brothers. Ambarussa thought it would be much better if Mother would come home with them, too, and they didn’t understand why she said she couldn’t. Parents could do anything! Everyone knew that. And Ambarussa would miss their big brothers when they left. They didn’t know anyone else here besides Mother; who else would they have to play with when their brothers went away? Somehow they would have to find a way to bring their mother home where she belonged, and then they could all be happy again. Ambarussa were sure they could find some way to do it if they only tried hard enough.
But all that mattered now was that they were with their mother at last. Ambarussa knew that, whatever came later, they would not let her go away again.
What once was lost, now was found. And Ambarussa could finally rest content.
The names used in this story are Quenya, and their meanings can be found in the essay "The Shibboleth of Fëanor", published in The Peoples of Middle Earth (History of Middle Earth, vol. 12). When more than one name is listed for a character, the first name is the father-name, the second is the mother-name, and the third is an epessë (a nickname). The names are as follows:
Curufinwë Fëanáro - Fëanor
Nelyafinwë Maitimo Russandol - Maedhros
Kanafinwë Makalaurë - Maglor
Turkafinwë Tyelkormo - Celegorm
Morifinwë Carnistir - Caranthir
Curufinwë Atarinkë - Curufin
Pityafinwë Ambarussa - Amrod
Telufinwë Ambarussa - Amras
Findekáno - Fingon
Turukáno - Turgon
Írissë - Aredhel
Nolofinwë - Fingolfin
Arafinwë - Finarfin
This story takes place a few years after the events in "If Wishes were Horses". How old are the children in this tale? Since Elves don’t become fully mature physically until at least age 50, but mature mentally faster than humans do, and since at this time there’s no sun or moon to measure time by (just the Trees), it’s hard to give exact ages for any of them. Suffice it to say that Maedhros has just passed the age of majority, and is about the equivalent of a human 21 year old, and Maglor is about 16 or 17. Celegorm is about the equivalent of a human 12 year old, and Caranthir is the equivalent of a human 10 year old. Curufin is equivalent to a human 8 year old. Amrod and Amras are still toddlers, equivalent to a 3-3 1/2 year old human child. Maedhros’s friend Fingon is about 19.
Pregnancy and Its Effects on Elf Women: During pregnancy, an unborn elf-child draws support from both its father’s and mother’s spirit (fëa) (see "Laws and Customs among the Eldar" in Morgoth’s Ring (History of Middle Earth vol. 10) for more information). However, this appears to affect the mother far more than the father. Tolkien states in "Laws and Customs among the Eldar" that "there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not born a child (emphasis mine) than is seen among mortals" (Morgoth’s Ring, p. 213), which implies that there was a greater difference between elven-men and elven-women who had carried a pregnancy to term, the gestation and birth somehow diminishing the women’s strength. And in The Silmarillion, we are told that Míriel, the mother of Fëanor, "was consumed in spirit and body" in the course of bearing Fëanor, "and after his birth, she yearned for release from the labour of living" and enters the Halls of Mandos; her spouse Finwë suffers no such problem (see Chapter 6, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor, in The Silmarillion). Nerdanel had reason to worry about the effects an unprecedented six pregnancies (with seven resulting children) would have on her.
Elves and Rape: Tolkien never addresses the possibility of spousal rape in regards to Elves. The sole statement he makes on the subject of Elves and rape concerns the situation of a married Elf being raped by someone who is not his/her spouse: "But among these evils there is no record of any among the Elves that took another’s spouse by force; for this was wholly against their nature, and one so forced would have rejected bodily life and passed to Mandos" (Morgoth’s Ring, p. 228, Note #5). "Laws and Customs among the Eldar" states that marriage between Elves (or more specifically, the first act of sexual intercourse, by which the marriage is created) involves a permanent bond between their spirits; I am assuming that it is the interference with this bond which results in a married Elf dying when he/she is raped by someone other than his/her spouse, more than the physical effects of the violation. Since Nerdanel already shares such a bond with Fëanor at the time when he rapes her, she does not automatically die as a result of his assault, but she does have the option of "dying of grief", so to speak.