Before Manwë's eagles sped by overhead, bearing the news to the Valar, she knew.
Before Eärwen appeared in the doorway with tears staining her face, she knew.
By the time her mother and father arrived at the palace and found her in her rooms, she had already changed into the simple black dress she had made for just this occasion.
"Why black, daughter?" her father asked.
"It is all that is left when fire goes out."
And that is just what had happened.
She knew. His fire burned no longer. And she had not been there with him.
Nerdanel could not remember a time when she had been more nervous about the simple act of eating. Her dining companions seemed to be well enough at ease, but she had to silently coach herself through every mouthful. It didn't help matters that she was sitting to the right of Fëanor; his close proximity making her even more jittery. Their temporary accord seemed to be waning, for he had not made eye contact with her a single time during dinner. She stifled a sigh and reached for her glass to take another drink of wine. Across the table, her father put his utensils down on his plate and wiped his mouth with his napkin.
"This is the finest venison I have eaten in quite some time," Mahtan said appreciatively. Next to him, Istarnië nodded in agreement. "Thank you again, Finwë, for welcoming us to your table."
Finwë waved his hand, dismissing the thanks. "No need, Mahtan. You are always welcome here, as you know."
Nerdanel knew her father and the king had had many dealings in the past, but was surprised they were on such easy terms. She wondered how much of it existed previously and how much was due to the fact that she was here with Fëanáro.
An elf came by, filling Nerdanel's glass with more wine. Although she was already feeling the effects of her previous glasses, she took another large sip before returning the glass to the table. The elf moved on to fill Fëanor's glass, but he waved him on. Nerdanel was afraid she made some sort of faux pas until Finwë turned to the elf and beckoned him closer.
"You can leave that carafe with me, good sir," he said jovially. "For we have much more talking and drinking ahead of us this fine evening."
Nerdanel heard a barely perceptible groan escape Fëanor's lips as the elf walked past him and handed the carafe of wine to Finwë. She looked quickly around the table, but nobody else seemed to have heard it. Finwë poured more wine for himself and Indis, who was seated next to him, then passed the wine across the table to Nolofinwë.
Finwë held up his glass, inspecting the wine, before taking a large sip. He turned to Mahtan. "Have you taken notice of our lamps, Mahtan?" Nerdanel looked up at the perimeter of the courtyard. Sure enough, in the waning light of Telperion, intricately carved lamps were beginning to flicker to life, adding a warm glow to their vicinity.
"I was admiring them when we arrived." Nerdanel saw her father's eyes glance ever so briefly at Fëanor before returning to the king. "They are very beautifully crafted."
Finwë seemed to swell with pride. He reached out his right arm and clapped Fëanor on the back. "Fëanáro here created them when he was a mere lad of eighteen."
Fëanor smiled at his father as Finwë squeezed him in a quick but affectionate hug. His arm lingered, draped over Fëanor's shoulders and Nerdanel was taken aback by the affection between the two elves.
"That does not surprise me," Istarnië said warmly, also smiling at Fëanor. Nerdanel caught her eye and her mother gave her a sheepish grin and a little shrug. "We have seen much evidence of Fëanáro's talent in the past year."
Finwë beamed at his eldest son. He removed his arm from Fëanor's back and reached for his wine glass, holding it up in a toast.
"To Fëanáro." Everyone else at the table reached for their glasses. Nerdanel raised her glass and saw Fëanor glance back at her with a slightly uncomfortable look, but his face was suffused with pride. "May his talents and creations ever bring us joy and light."
Everyone drank, and when the glasses were returned to the table, Indis reached across the table to grasp her eldest son's hand.
"Nolofinwë is becoming quite skilled in the forge as well." Out of the corner of her eye, Nerdanel saw Fëanor's jaw clench. "I have encouraged him to work with Fëanáro on several occasions. They may learn much from one another."
Perhaps a little emboldened by the wine, perhaps afraid of Fëanor's reaction based on the steely look in his eyes, Nerdanel reached under the table and grabbed his leg. She felt it twitch under her hand, but his expression relaxed slightly and he remained silent, which he probably would not have done otherwise, considering the way Finwë was nervously watching him out of the corner of his eye.
"Mother, I hardly believe there is aught Fëanáro might learn from me." Nolofinwë smiled tentatively at his half-brother, a gesture that was not returned. "He is far more skilled in the forge than I ever hope to become."
Nerdanel studied Nolofinwë's face, trying to determine if he was dissembling in order to avoid conflict or if he truly believed his words. She could not tell. His expression was inscrutable.
"Nonsense, Arakáno," Indis continued. "It is only those most arrogant who refuse to believe they have yet more to learn."
"More wine, anyone?" Finwë asked quickly, his voice slightly louder than necessary. "Feanaro?" He looked pointedly at his son. Fëanor reached below the table and took Nerdanel's hand in his. Her stomach executed a slow flip but her excitement was short lived. He removed her hand from his leg and placed it in her lap, pushed back his chair and stood up.
"No thank you, father. I have yet to pay my respects to Olwë." He looked at Nerdanel for the first time since the meal began. "If you wish to remain here…"
Nerdanel did not let him finish. She stood; placing her napkin on the table, she slipped her arm through his without a word.
Finwë stood as well, bowing slightly to his son and Nerdanel. "As it pleases you, my son." His voice was low and Nerdanel thought she heard a tinge of regret in his tone, but that could have been her imagination. As they walked away she heard her father and mother taking their leave as well. What a shame this dinner had to end in such an unpleasant way.
Nerdanel leaned against one of the columns circling the courtyard, slightly dizzy with that heady feeling that comes from overindulging in wine, for the drinking did not stop with the meal. They drank with Olwë, Eärwen and Arafinwë, who surprisingly did not seem to irritate Fëanor quite as much as his older brother. They drank with Aulë, always a dangerous idea, since alcohol did not seem to affect the Vala. And now, talking with her parents and watching the dancers that had re-staked their claim on the floor after the dinner tables were cleared, Nerdanel found she still had a glass in her hand.
The alcohol did not seem to impair Fëanor as much as her, for he was talking animatedly with her father, discussing his plans now that he was no longer Mahtan's apprentice. Apparently, he would study with Aulë for a period, which was unprecedented for one so young, according to her father. This seemed to please Fëanor, although it did not entirely remove the dark shadow clouding his eyes since dinner.
Nerdanel felt her mother's hand on her arm and realized she was only half paying attention to the conversation going on around her. She focused on her mother.
"Nerdanel, we are returning to the apartment now."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Fëanor clasp Mahtan's arm in a gesture of farewell. Mahtan grasped Fëanor's shoulder with his other hand. Fëanor then turned and bowed formally to Istarnië, who laughed at the gesture and reached up to kiss both of Fëanor's cheeks in a familiar goodbye, causing Fëanor's face to ease into a smile. Nerdanel looked from her mother to her father, trying to determine if she was expected to return with them or remain here. Her father smiled warmly at her and leaned in to kiss her cheek.
"Until later?" He smiled. Her parents turned and walked away towards the stairs on the other end of the courtyard. Realizing she was alone with Fëanor for the first time since before the meal, Nerdanel became suddenly nervous. She was never quite sure what to expect from him. After a few strained minutes during which Nerdanel wished she had gone with her parents, Fëanor turned to her.
"Soon my father and Indis will take their leave and go into the palace." He seemed almost disgusted. "Then we need remain here no longer."
Nerdanel pondered that a moment, wondering what the alternative was, should they no longer remain where they were. "You do not wish to dance again, do you?" she asked, remembering their last experience dancing. "For I have had my fill of food and wine – I am content to remain here."
Fëanor smiled languidly at her. His eyes were glassy in the manner of someone who had much wine.
"I have no desire to dance again." he answered flatly.
Despite herself, Nerdanel laughed and she saw the beginnings of a smile cross Fëanor's face. Deciding to press her luck, she turned to face him.
"What do you desire then?" she asked boldly.
He turned his head up towards the palace. She followed his gaze in time to see Finwë guide Indis through the large oak doors. Fëanor turned back to Nerdanel, holding his hands out to her. She took them and he led her out through the archway into the East Courtyard.
"First," he said, looking far more relaxed then he had a moment ago, "I desire to remove those horrid constraints from my hair." He grimaced and Nerdanel giggled at his frustration with his hair. "Would you help?"
She nodded and he turned from her, kneeling on the ground so she could more easily reach his head. She worked quickly, unknotting and untwisting, until his hair was completely unbound. She ran her hands through it, feeling it slip silkily through her fingers, to make sure there were no knots. She saw Feanor's shoulders tense and she quickly pulled her hands back.
Slowly, he rose from the ground and faced her.
"Many thanks," he said, almost formally, and Nerdanel remained silent, watching him, waiting for his next move.
He smiled and took both her hands in his.
"Come. There is something I wish to show you."
Before Nerdanel had a chance to react, he pulled her out of the courtyard through other archway. Still holding one of her hands, he guided her silently behind him, turning the opposite way from where she had entered.
They passed through gardens, up stairs, between walls; round and around, until she didn't think she could find her way back on her own. When they emerged from this labyrinth of stairs and hallways, Nerdanel was surprised to see they were on the roof of the palace. It too was built of white marble, surrounded by a waist high marble rail. She walked to the edge and leaned on the rail, looking down on the courtyard they had just come from. There were still a few elves down there, but mostly it was empty. The musicians were no longer playing; the party seemed to have ended after the king and queen departed.
Fëanor came to stand beside Nerdanel, leaning on the railing next to her. They stood silently, gazing off into the distance for a few moments before Fëanor spoke.
"This is what I wanted to show you." He brought his face close to hers and pointed. "Do you see them, there?"
She tilted her head slightly to look at him and realized their faces were mere inches apart. She took a breath before answering, trying to keep her voice steady despite her quickly elevating pulse.
"What should I see?"
"Over there, in the distance." As he spoke, she could feel his breath on her neck. "You can see the Trees."
Nerdanel gasped. She had travelled far and seen much in her life, but this was her first chance to actually see the Trees. "I… I…" At a loss for words, Nerdanel could do nothing but stammer, shake her head and grin foolishly.
"Sometimes, on a clear day," he continued very quietly, so that Nerdanel could barely hear him, "you can see the gardens of Lorien from here."
Nerdanel looked up at him. His face was pensive, a shadow in his eyes. But as quickly as she saw it, it was gone and he was grinning down at her, mirroring her excitement from a moment ago.
"If you are here at precisely the right moment, at the exact midpoint between both Trees' zeniths, the light is a pure white as the gold and silver mingle." He sighed, obviously picturing the beauty he just described. "It only happens for a moment, and when it does, it is the most perfect, beautiful thing."
Nerdanel turned her eyes back to the Trees. He stepped closer and looked out over the distance, following her gaze, speaking in a slightly quieter, more reverent voice now, "I wish I could capture it and preserve it so it would endure for more than just a moment each day, so I could look on it whenever I wished, so others might look on it, because not everyone can see the Trees like this and perceive their Light."
Fëanor sighed. "But alas, there is no way to capture such beauty, such perfection."
Nerdanel chuckled under her breath. "If any elf can do it, it is you; for you are the most talented I have ever met."
Fëanor put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. He looked at her for a moment before speaking again.
"That means a lot, coming from you." His mouth curled into that half-smile that always gave Nerdanel chills. "When I found out I was going to be your father's pupil, I was just as excited about the chance to work next to you, for I had seen your works and admired your talent."
Nerdanel felt her face flush and turned away from him. They stood in silence for a while before Fëanor suddenly asked, "Would you like to take your hair out as well? It is pulled very tight."
Nerdanel thought about his hand gliding through her hair and how that might feel. Despite the excited flip of her stomach at the thought, she decided against it. After all, what would her parents say if she came back with her hair all unbound?
She smiled up at him. "No thank you. I'm alright."
He reached out and fingered the few tendrils that were not caught up in her hairdo. "It's a shame to keep it all pinned up. It looks like waves of copper when it falls across your shoulders."
Nerdanel bit her lip, surprised and flattered by his statement. Fëanor continued to stroke her hair.
"It is such a distinct colour."
Nerdanel snorted. "You mean an odd colour."
"No," he responded gazing right into her eyes. "I mean a beautiful colour." He stepped behind her, and a good thing that was, too, since her cheeks burned even hotter.
"Here," she felt his hands on her hair. "Let me."
He began to unfasten it gently and deftly. Nerdanel focused on the fine art of breathing, lest she stop. In. Oh, but his hands felt so good in her hair. Out. He ran his fingers through it, finished taking out the braids, and pulled it across her shoulders. He leaned forward to grasp the railing in front of her and she felt his arms on either side of her waist.
The heady feeling returned, though she knew it had more to do with her current situation than the wine. She felt his shoulder against her back and the front of his hip against the back of hers. Was this real, or was she dreaming? Was she really standing on the roof of the palace, looking down on the world, practically in the arms of Fëanor? She didn't dare move for anything, not wishing to wake if it was a dream.
For some inexplicable reason, she took her hands and placed them on his forearms in front of her. As if he were merely waiting for a signal from her, he removed his hands from the railing and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her in against him. She tilted her head back and rested it on his shoulder and they stood like that for a while, his arms wrapped around her and her arms resting on his. She felt his lips on her hair and felt his chest expand as he inhaled deeply through his nose. She felt the warmth of his breath as he exhaled. His words, when he finally spoke, added to the surreal feeling of the moment.
"I could stay here like this forever and never regret a moment."
Although her stomach clenched excitedly when she heard that, Nerdanel could not help but giggle. "Your hands would grow restless at my sides and would long to grasp a hammer instead of my waist."
Fëanor laughed at her statement. "You know me too well, Nerdanel." He paused and continued softly, "Something not many can claim."
She wasn't sure if she imagined it, but she thought his hands slid higher up her sides and he pulled her in tighter. She turned her head to look over her left shoulder at his face. He met her eyes and they smiled at each other. A small voice, coming from the part of her mind that was not addled by wine and the close proximity of Fëanor, cautioned her not to allow herself to feel what she was feeling, but it was too late. The wine had unbound her feelings; much as Fëanor had just done to her hair. She could no longer block them with anger. She could not feign indifference. She spent so much time thinking about being with him, and berating herself for it, assuring herself it would never happen. All she could do now was look up into his eyes and try not to question her good fortune.
He bent slowly towards her, and nervous excitement agitated her stomach as she realized what was about to happen. Their lips met, but he barely brushed hers with his mouth before drawing back. She opened eyes she didn't realize she had closed. She saw him searching her face, looking for her reaction. She spun in his arms, and, bolder than she ever would have been without the influence of the wine, reached up and slid her hands around his neck. Needing no further invitation, he bent back down to her and kissed her again, holding her tightly against him, his arms wrapped around her back.
The world around them ceased to exist for her. They could have been there for seconds or for all eternity, she had no idea. All too soon, the kiss ended and Nerdanel returned to the here and now. She slid her hands down to his shoulders and felt the flexed muscles underneath his thin dress tunic. Fëanor sighed.
"I have wished to do that for a long time."
Nerdanel smiled and, more confident than she ever had been in his presence, decided to tease him a little. "Then why wait to do it until tonight?"
She thought she saw a brief shadow in his eyes. "Because I depart tomorrow for Aulë's and…"
Nerdanel did not let him finish. "You depart?" She pushed him away from her and took a step back. How convenient for him that he was leaving after tonight.
"Nerdanel…" He held a hand out towards her imploringly, but she ignored it. Trying to blink back the burning feeling behind her eyes that threatened to unleash a waterfall of tears, she took another step away from him.
"I must have forgotten myself for a moment." She swallowed hard, fighting to retain her composure. "The night grows late. I should return to my parents."
Fëanor clenched his jaw and he glared at Nerdanel with a stony look in his eyes. Finally he spoke.
He turned to walk away; back down the steps they had come up, obviously expecting her to follow. Before she could, he paused and looked back over his shoulder just enough so she could hear his words.
"Perhaps it is for the best we will not see each other again."
Thank you JunoMagic, my ever-indulgent beta.
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.