"What doom have you foreseen? Speak, seer, or get thee from my home."
The diviner stood calmly before the smith master. "Though you may not desire to interfere in her affairs, you must stay your daughter from her current path."
"If you speak of her attention to the son of the king, there is naught I can do. Besides, arrogant though he is, he has a good heart and cares deeply for my daughter. What ills will you speak of him?"
"The arrogance you speak of shall be much bewailed, but worse he shall be named kinslayer 'ere the end."
Nerdanel swung her hammer and it connected with the metal spike with a loud clang. He was late. Another swing, another clang, and the spike joined the pile that had accumulated on the floor as Nerdanel began the process again.
He was never late. In all the time he had been her father's apprentice, he had shown up at the forge at the first light of Laurelin. Clang. She had grown to expect him, arrogant and irritating though he was, and now he was not here when she had to finish a large order for the builders up the way. Clang. She could use his help; where could he be? It was completely unacceptable for him to not arrive when expected.
Her father entered the forge just in time to see her hammer hit the metal with far more force than was necessary to shape it. She threw the spike into the pile, pulled off her gloves and walked over to her father.
Mahtan greeted her with a big smile and a warm hug. "Good morning, Nerdanel, I missed you at breakfast."
"I thought to get an early start," she explained, her agitation fading away in the warm presence of her father. "There is much to do today."
Mahtan nodded as he glanced around the room. "Always industrious, my little Nerdanel." He frowned and turned back to her. "Where is Fëanáro? I wish to speak with him."
"Him." Nerdanel answered, not bothering to hide the distaste in her voice. "He has not yet arrived."
Her father regarded her calmly, but not without concern. "You are bothered by this."
Nerdanel picked at the fingers of the gloves she still held in her hands, realizing that she was far more agitated than was probably warranted. "I am. I could use his help today," she justified.
"Is that all?" Mahtan took his daughter by the shoulder and guided her back over to the anvil where she had been working. "Then worry not, for I have naught I need to do today. Perhaps I may help in his stead." He gave her a bright smile and went to get his tools, apron and gloves and set himself up to work.
It was a certain comfort, working side by side with her father as they had done so many times in the past. They had a rhythm, developed over years of working together, and they knew instinctively where the other was at all times. Never did they reach for the slack tub at the same time, or collide with each other when placing a new form in the fire. But the familiarity eventually added to Nerdanel's foul mood, for she was so used to their flow, she needed not think on her actions, and instead her mind was free to wander where it would.
Fëanor should be there. She was grateful for her father's help, but it did not diminish her annoyance with Fëanor. He had accepted an apprenticeship which came with certain responsibilities and… as if the loud clang of her hammer against the metal woke her, her train of thoughts abruptly shifted. Why did she care; she was getting the help she needed. What did it matter if he was not here, that was not her concern, but her father's.
"You are still troubled."
Nerdanel swung her hammer one more time before dropping it and answering her father. "His lack of responsibility upsets me."
"Lack of responsibility?" Mahtan drew his brows together, but the corner of his mouth was tugging skyward, betraying that he was not too troubled by her words.
"Father, you expected him to be here and he is not." After the words left her lips, she realized how absurd they actually sounded. She looked at the ground so she did not have to meet her father's gaze. She didn't know why it mattered to her; didn't know why she was feeling this way; didn't know what was wrong with her.
"He is not bound to come at any given time, provided he finishes the work I give to him." Mahtan scrutinized his daughter, his words only serving to add to her self-recrimination. "Why does it matter to you whether he is here or not?"
After a pause, Nerdanel picked up her hammer. "It matters not," she finally said without looking up. It was better not to think on it too much. If her father was not upset at his absence, then she would not be either.
She bent to work again, realizing after a bit that her father was standing there watching her. She stopped and looked up at him. "Is there aught wrong, father?"
He came over and put an arm around her. "I would think you would be pleased for a respite from his company, as aggravated as you always seem in his presence."
Nerdanel's annoyance increased. It should be a pleasant change for her, but lately Fëanor's absence seemed to irritate her more than his company.
"It seems he can do naught to please you, Nerdanel."
Nerdanel pulled away from her father and looked closely at his face, trying to understand his meaning. "Why does it matter to you if he pleases me?"
Mahtan sighed and moved some tools aside so he could rest against the table. "It is not a question of whether or not he pleases you, my daughter; more so how much he always displeases you."
Mahtan's words touched on something that Nerdanel had been trying to deny to herself for close to a year. As he prodded closer to understanding, she pulled herself farther away from it, feigning ignorance. "I do not take your meaning, father."
"Nerdanel," he reached out and clasped her hands in his, his eyes full of compassion, "I speak of how much you feel for him. Whether it is aggravation…or anything else."
Nerdanel, denying to herself as well as her father, pulled her hands back. "Do not spare another thought on this. I feel naught for him but annoyance. He does naught but irritate me." If she repeated this often enough – and vehemently enough – maybe she would come to actually believe it.
Mahtan exhaled a deep breath and smiled sympathetically at his daughter. All at once Nerdanel realized that he knew her better than anyone else and in that instant, comfortable in the understanding of her father, the truth of her feelings finally overcame her.
"Oh, father, I do feel too much for him!" Realizing the enormity of the admission she just made, she held out her hands towards him and added quickly, "I have tried for almost a year not to!"
Mahtan suddenly looked very weary, but Nerdanel questioned what she saw for a moment later the look was gone. "Why do you fight your feelings? Not because he is my apprentice, I hope, for that is only a temporary ailment."
Feeling the pang of regret that caused her to deny her feelings in the first place, Nerdanel closed her eyes and dropped her head.
"He sees me as no more than his Smithmaster's daughter." She felt her father's arm around her shoulders again. He pulled her towards him and stroked her hair like he did when she was little.
"Did he tell you this?"
Nerdanel pressed against her father, feeling his warm comforting embrace. "Not in so many words, but I know it to be true." She felt her father's chest vibrate with his hearty laugh. Startled, she pulled away and looked up at his face.
"Then you do not see how his gaze often rests on you as you work."
Nerdanel pressed her lips together. "With a critical eye for my craft, no doubt. He has but a one-track mind."
"It is not with such intensity that he would gaze at mere works of our craft." Mahtan insisted.
Despite herself, Nerdanel laughed. "Either you jest or you speak of a different Fëanáro."
Mahtan tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. "Perhaps you are right about his passion for his work, but I maintain his interest in you is more than based on a shared love of craft."
The smile, remnant of her laugher, left her face and Nerdanel sunk back against the table. "No, father," she said in a quiet voice, "he has made it clear to me he has no interest in me outside the forge." She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the knot in her stomach.
Mahtan leaned back to rest against the table next to her, once more draping his arm across her shoulders. "It is for the best, then," he said soothingly.
Nerdanel opened her eyes and looked at him, her brows furrowed.
"Do not misunderstand; I think very highly of Fëanáro son of Finwë. He is a brilliant student and a masterful smith. But my dear daughter, his name suits him well. The forge fires we keep allow us our life work, but they must be tended with care. When heating an element, we must keep ourselves a safe distance from the flame, lest we get burned."
Nerdanel regarded her father intently. "Do you wish me, then, to stay away from him, this untenable forge fire which threatens to burn me lest I am careful?"
"No, my dear." Mahtan smiled and kissed her forehead before releasing her. "I only wish for your happiness."
Suddenly the light coming through the doorway dimmed and as one, father and daughter looked up. There, framed by the golden light of Laurelin, stood Fëanor. Nerdanel felt her stomach turn nervously. He hesitated on the threshold, which was very unlike him, and she wondered just how much of their conversation he had heard. But once Mahtan beckoned him inside and he smiled at both of them, she grew pretty sure he had not overheard what they spoke of.
"Fëanáro," she heard her father say cordially. "You have impeccable timing." He walked away from his daughter, turning once back towards her to give her an encouraging smile before directing the rest of his words to Fëanor. "I am leaving and I believe Nerdanel could use your help."
Nerdanel's eyes widened. Luckily Fëanor was looking at her father and apparently did not notice.
"Of course, Master Mahtan."
Fëanor inclined his head politely as the older smith passed. Once Mahtan had exited the forge, Fëanor took a few steps towards Nerdanel. "What do you need from me?" he asked amiably.
His friendly tone, after all the annoyance he had caused her to feel by his absence, coupled with the conversation she just had with her father, only served to re-ignite her agitation. "I needed you to arrive much earlier than you did," she snapped.
"Did you miss me?" he teased.
His taunt landed closer to the mark than Nerdanel wanted him to know. Using her anger to push any other feelings aside, she turned her back on him and walked over to the fire to try and stoke it back into life. "You ought to leave. My father will return shortly and he can offer me any assistance I may need."
Fëanor crossed the distance between them, standing far closer to her than she should allow. But being literally against a wall, she had little choice but to allow it; or take to violence to remove him. She felt the heat of his body behind her, the few inches between them not an effective enough barrier to keep that from her. Inhaling deeply to calm her nerves, she breathed in his scent, a not unpleasant mix of soot and sweat, and trees after a thunderstorm.
His breath tickled her neck when he spoke, sending a jolt down her spine. "You ought to be careful if you do not wish to get burned by that fire you tend to." She whipped her head around towards him, finding his face unnervingly close to hers.
Biting back shivers and cursing her body for its betrayal, she noticed the slight smile playing across his face and felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Regardless of her body's reaction, she could not allow him, despite what he may have heard, to realize how she felt. He was arrogant, and overconfident, and full of himself, and enjoyed teasing her far too much already. If he knew of her feeling he would no doubt use it to his advantage and be completely ruthless. She positioned herself so she was facing him and could push him away if the need arose.
"I appreciate your concern for my well being, Curufinwë," she snapped, "but I assure you it is unnecessary."
He took a step back and clenched his jaw. "I have asked you to call me Fëanáro." He spoke in far more heated a tone than anyone should use over a name.
Nerdanel allowed herself a slight smile. "And I have asked you not to corner me, as you are so fond of doing." she retorted.
Fëanor let himself fall towards her and caught himself with his hands against the wall, one on either side of her, effectively trapping her. "Perhaps I can not help myself. Perhaps I am overcome with the desire to be in your close proximity." He was disturbingly close to her, but there was enough distance between them for her to catch his amused smirk and cocked eyebrow. "
"I have heard tell of the type of quendi you are accustomed to," Nerdanel began, her voice low and harsh, "but you would do well to remember you are my father's apprentice."
She held his gaze, as difficult as she found that feat, until he abruptly took a step back and leaned idly against the table. He didn't appear upset by her words, more curious by them.
"Is that truly how you think of me? Merely as your father's apprentice?"
She felt her whole body tense at his nonchalant tone and probing words.
"And here I thought you were growing fond of me."
"Fond of you?" She forced as much incredulousness into her voice as she could muster. "Used to your presence, perhaps, but certainly not fond of you."
"Is that so?" She wanted to wipe that smug look right off his face. "Or perhaps you merely wish to remain a safe distance from that which frightens you."
He was still playing games with her and she had enough. Nerdanel folded her arms across her chest. "As a rule, I will not consort with a student of my father." Narrowing her eyes, she added, "Especially not an arrogant, spoiled princeling."
He pushed himself off the table, his eyes burning in stark contrast to his casual posture. He advanced on her so that their faces were naught but inches from each other, so close that Nerdanel felt the fire behind his eyes might actually burn her.
"Were I you, I would not limit my choices. I see no line of elves outside, waiting for your affections." he growled at her. "Perhaps they have heard of your venomous tongue and know to keep their distance."
Her hand flew up, her first impulse to slap him, before she thought better of it. Crying out her frustration, she put her hands on his chest and pushed with all her strength, sending him back a few steps.
As he stormed from the forge, she shouted after him, "Námo take you, Fëanáro," ignoring the hot tears coursing down her cheeks.
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.