Many times, in the centuries that have passed since that day, people have asked me of Fëanáro son of Finwë, of his splendour and of his darkness. Sometimes without so many words; sometimes they would just cast a glance at me while we talked of the past. Because of my bond with his family they assumed I would know better than many; and because no blood bound us they believed I could speak more lightly than his own sons. The truth is that I never knew how to answer, and even now that mute ink is my voice and silent paper alone listens to me, the words escape me.
For Fëanáro resembled nothing as much as his own creations: the Silmarils that only later, and only once, I would see. When I first saw him I knew of the jewels but by fame, and of such a brightness and such a beauty I had had no conception in all the years of my life. Yes, Fëanáro was beautiful: the most beautiful of all the sons of Ilùvatar, so beautiful that when in years to come I would know Lùthien, daughter of Melian, I would see that in comparison to him her beauty was but a pale shadow.
A print of his fairness had passed to Maitimo; but his inner fire gave to Fëanáro a power that far exceeded the simple handsomeness of his shape. There was an intensity about him, a light that glowed, a flame unending and all-consuming that burnt in the black charcoal of his eyes. He shone, like a star that gives its own light; and his might was a tangible force even when, like now, he rested without moving. There was a sharpness to him, even more cutting than in my Aunt Indis; so fine as to be almost cruel.
Compelling is a frail word, almost a ridiculous one: but it draws closer to what Fëanáro could inspire. One felt attracted to him, in a way that went well past any possible definition of love and friendship and affection and desire, past all loyalty and devotion and admiration. One felt he could have commanded one's heart, and have it pulsating in his hand. Such power not even the Valar possessed, for it came of a strength that they, too close to the matter of the One, could not fathom. In Fëanáro what Ilùvatar had conceived to be the majesty and the inner divinity of his Children, something not even the Ainur could foresee, was revealed full. And it hurt.
Nothing shall ever tell more of the might of Fëanáro, nor of the strength of Nerdanel, than the glance they exchanged in that moment, when their eyes met. For I saw her as taken by a sudden ill, her eyes burning with a feverish challenge. Against her will her body inched forward, as if craving for the touch it was denied; but her expression was hard, her spirit strong in reining itself back. She loved him still; she would love him forever. Her strength had freed her from the burden of their marriage, but it could not free her from her own spirit.
Fëanáro knew it; in his eyes mocking that came from this knowledge, but also a cutting regret. He desired her still; still he admired her courage and her talent. In himself, he was complete; but the better part of him had remained here. And yet too much was their pride for any of them to yield, too much the pain for any of them to bend their head and ask forgiveness. It would have been, again, but a war they were both doomed to lose. Not on this Earth they would find harmony; if harmony was for such spirits to be found in the whole of Eru's kingdom.
I looked at Fëanáro, and was scared. A terror that was woven of the conscience of his might, a terror that had nothing to do with what he would do in the years to come. I would never fear him again; and what frightened me then was not derived from what he had done to my aunt, or from the power he possessed to crush my happiness. No, my terror had another root: the acknowledgement of the infinite possibilities that in his eyes were barely contained. For Fëanáro could have been, could have done, anything: and his majesty was too much for the boundaries of Arda. No measure, no rules, no limits for such a spirit. It is not to be marveled at, what he could achieve, or that he was the sole among the Elves that could awaken the wrath of the Powers. Fëanáro: to call him a spirit of fire was to use but a euphemism. I turned to Maitimo, and saw he had grown very white.
I understood then; that as his elder Fëanáro was the standard against which my beloved would always be measured, and forever found missing. I saw the truth of Indis's words, and felt the pain for Maitimo. He deserved not such a fate; he belonged not to such a flame. He that I loved for his strength tempered by gentleness, he from which I craved a warmth that would not burn, should not let himself be trapped in such a legacy. But Maitimo never saw it. Maitimo never knew it. Slowly, he rose; on his lips not even the pretence of a smile.
"Father," he said, his voice firm. "Well come. We expected you soon; that you have come yourself shall make matters easier. This is Silme Lirillë, daughter of Olorimo of the Vanyar; my beloved and betrothed."
"It was true then; my father was not dreaming." The mocking smile disappearing, Fëanáro uncrossed his arms, came towards us. He walked as if he owned the earth he trod; he walked as if he cared not for the world outside his skin. "I leave for a season, and such things Indis the Second Come manages to achieve. To corrupt my own son to the cause of her pusillanimous kin. To slip in his bed one of their colourless mares."
Anger awoke in me, and my fear was forever forgotten. Rising myself, I curtseyed; but when I spoke my words were bitter and sharp.
"I would have said it was a pleasure to meet the father of the one I love; but if unkind is all you can be, and without reason, our conversation shall end here, son of Finwë."
He turned on me his eyes, and now he looked amused.
"A fiery temper! Not so colourless then, Nelyafinwë. Perhaps that she should suffice with her fire for your lack of it?"
The humiliation took form in Maitimo's eyes; but before I could reply Nerdanel rose herself. She was calm, the struggle I had glimpsed now petrified in her icy words.
"You came uninvited, Fëanáro; and if such are the manners you will be using in my house, I will ask you to leave. It may have suited you well to act to your own wishes, but not here. Silmë is to marry your son: to her you owe respect."
"I shall remind you, Nerdanel, that even if you have claimed this house, in which we toiled together, for yourself, still Nelyafinwë is my son as much as yours. Without my consent no marriage shall take place; and no consent I will give. Too much already are the Noldor watered down with the blood of those who never could take a decision."
Now wrath was kindled in Maitimo; and his voice rose with it. "I am no longer a child to wait for your wishes! In solitude I have come to my age, despairing ever to find a companion for it. And because you were away, the King himself granted permission: you would undo what your own father did?"
"My father listens to my counsel, nor would he act against it in a matter that touches me so closely. No, he was blinded once more by his Valmarin wife: for all the Vanyar touch is poison to me."
My anger shook me; and clenching my fists I replied: "But not Indis am I! I care not for the hatred you may bear; for not you I would marry, but your son, in whom I love and find the fairness and the kindness you lack even in the first words you have ever uttered to me. If you shall consume your days in grudging discontent, and never glance at me with the affection others will have for those who complete their children in this life, so be it; but you shall not put yourself between me and the happiness I crave."
"Vain words you utter, maiden of Valmar! For I shall not disobeyed, not in my own House; and it would take a spirit much stronger than Nelyafinwë's to challenge my will. Or will you surprise me, son, you that seem to have had none of my talents? I should not be surprised of your choice of bride; ever you were a disappointment."
Now I saw the abyss I had before only guessed opening in Maitimo's eyes: now I saw the grief. But, a bitter smile on his lips, his irises darker, he said: "A disappointment indeed, your eldest neither smith nor hunter nor musician; and then if a disappointment I am, let me pursue my own way, since whatever path I may choose, it will prove unsatisfactory."
Fëanáro smiled, shaking his head.
"Should I then let you go on the path you have chosen so lightly, your eyes made blind by beauty and desire? Should I relinquish my own son, because he has no judgement to see for himself? Should I not with my counsel correct his ways, however displeasing they may be to me even if I do so?"
"Forever you seek to mould those that surround you on your own wish, Fëanáro; but long past is the time since your son was but a sapling to grow in whatever angle the wind may blow. A choice he has made; and you would do well to respect."
The son of the King fastened his eyes on Nerdanel, and her chin rose in defiance, countless words uttered between them in that tense silence. Long and long was their challenge protracted, the cat unmoving on its seat, looking from one to the other, its ears flattened. I dared not look to Maitimo, for I understood that from this clash of wills depended much of what would come to pass. Neither of them yielded, even if I saw the effort in her white fingers clasping the edge of the table. At last, Fëanáro spoke again.
"Yes, you would consent to this marriage, would you not, daughter of Mahtan? So that my son could be drawn farther from me, and under your wing yet again. Of all of them he is the one that resembles you the most, and the most unyielding to my touch."
Pale was Nerdanel with wrath, but Maitimo spoke before her.
"Insult me not, father, even if you shall despise my lack of talent; insult me not, but recognize in me at least a mind of my own. Never had my mother met Silmë before this day, nor ever were we together before the Queen Indis before we went to my grandfather to ask for his permission. No, I met her one day, as if by chance; and as if by chance we fell in love."
Fëanáro smiled bitterly.
"Nothing that happens in Arafinwë's house shall I believe to be due by chance, but this scarcely matters. For I will not give you my consent; and what you will do of that concerns me not."
Maitimo made as if to speak again, but Fëanáro raised his hand, imposing silence.
"Thank you for your hospitality, however unwilling, Nerdanel; I will now leave you."
On his way out he could not help but stop, his eyes drawn, gleaming, to a statue carved in onyx posed before the door. It was like two trunks of the same tree, woven together; but looking closely one could see the two young Elves carved into them.
"Remarkable," he said, his voice now sincere, "An admirable likeness." He raised his eyes to the artiste, and smiled, this time without bitterness. "My compliments, Nerdanel. A great achievement."
She nodded in silence, acknowledging his compliment. Without another glance at his son, Fëanáro left.
The silence filled the workshop for a long moment, before Nerdanel stepped forward and touched Maitimo on the shoulder. She whispered his name, but he shook his head.
"We must leave now. Thank you for your hospitality."
"Remain here tonight, do not go home. It is not worth taking this fight again, not now."
"Macalaurë will be home. I will go to him."
"Tomorrow go to speak to Finwë. The King – "
"He will listen to my father once again. Nothing is to be found for me in his counsel."
Nerdanel's eyes became hard. "I will go to my father. The Lord Aulë shall help us."
Maitimo laughed, a laugh that touched the chords of my memory, bringing me back to that morning in the cave. Here was that secret darkness, unfolded before my eyes.
"And even if he did? No consent given shall change his words, nor his disappointment when he looks to me."
But he ignored her, looking to me. I sought his hand, but he did not clasp mine.
"Once before did I tell you what my family was. I would not blame you if now you have seen it you would call off your word, and erase our bond."
New fury must glow into my eyes, for my voice was thick with it when I answered.
"So shallow then you think I am? So easily beaten? I shall not leave you for the wishes of one who never held my kin with respect. His words were no surprise to me." It was the truth; but I hid its bite in the smile with which I turned to Nerdanel. "I thank you, lady, for your courtesy in this night. Dearly I hope we shall meet again."
"I thank you. Here you will always be welcome."
Briefly, she clasped my hand. At the bottom of her eyes I saw the shadows Fëanáro had stirred, the shadows she fought even now to subdue. We left her in the soft light of the lamps she had lit, their warm glow at odds with the cold the argument had left.
In silence we walked back to Arafinwë's house, our ears deaf to the merry sounds that came from the gardens where the families dined in happiness. In silence, my hand holding his, but not his mine. He did not look at me, his eyes empty. When we came to the gate I turned to say goodbye, seeking words to soothe, words to console. But he put two fingers to my mouth, bidding me silence.
He kissed me on the forehead, striding away quickly into the silver light. Feeling impotent and vain I watched him go, my hand resting on the bars of the gate, incapable of moving. Solely I wished to run, after him until my feet hurt, until I fell into his arms and promised him this anguish would pass leaving nothing but harmony behind. It would have been a hollow promise, and I knew it well, that conscience keeping me from every hope of a better outcome.
"You knew how it would be. I told you."
I turned. Standing on the gravel path, Artanis looked at me, her arms crossed. I saw it then, what I had not seen before: how closely she resembled Fëanáro, even while hating him. For his was the sharp edge in her eyes, his the assurance in her every word. Bitterly, I smiled.
"Yes, you told me."
I closed the gate. She waited for me as I walked to her, slipping her arm under mine as we went to the house. Her gestures of affection were rare and far between, and I looked at her, surprised.
"I picked my side," she answered, barely looking at me, "I picked my side in Valmar. Nothing more is to be said. Tomorrow I shall go to speak to my uncle Nolofinwë, that Findekáno may have turned against your cause."
"I asked Aikanár, but he has scarcely been seen around since your fight. I know not what he may have told of Nelyafinwë's choice. Aredhel may influence her father; she is dearer to his heart than any of his sons, and a close friendship binds her to the Fëanárions."
I stopped, looking at her.
"Should I then think now you trust Maitimo?"
"No." Her expression did not soften, nor her features relax. An impalpable smile appeared on her lips, but it was a tense one. "What I trust is my knowledge that your decision is made. And no joy is to be wasted now, whatever its source.
"If one day I may render you the same service, you will find me there."
"There will be no need. For something tells me that when a husband I will choose, there shall be no need to ask for consent."
I did not enquire into her words, for I saw that their very sound troubled her, and that their darkness was upon her face. Later she would tell me that it was then that her fears became more definite, taking shape in the smoky land of her dreams. Sometimes she would see portions of a future she refused to believe, and which she would confide to none, wishing to keep them secret and unvoiced, hoping thus to deny their existence.
That day I guessed that closer and closer drew her presentiments, but too strong was the cage of my own fears for me to wish to look further into the enclosing shadow. I took her hand, and together we walked to dinner.
Of what happened later I can give but a sparse account, for I witnessed none of it. On the following morning I received a note from Maitimo, a hasty scribbling bidding me not to meet him, not to seek him until he came for me. It hurt; but at the same time I understood that this battle he would face alone. Nerdanel took our cause as hers to campaign, as Artanis' voice resonated among our relatives in our defence. In silence I simmered, for not on me was it to speak; too much had I to do to keep at bay the fears of my family in Valmar.
For as they learnt of Fëanáro's opposition, pride and hatred awoken once more in them, and they threatened to withdraw their consent, should he treat them as beggars at his door, as he was treating their daughter. Letter upon letter I wrote them, beseeching them for time; but seeing in the meanwhile that no mean family strife was it the one that I saw unfolding.
For, pitched once more against each other, the sons of Finwë strove, and the King knew not where to lean, this time strained also by the wife he loved. Indis took my part; and Olorimo's letters became even colder.
For this you have achieved, that you have divided furthermore a noble family.
But when Artanis saw me brooding upon his missive, she demanded to know what had come to pass; and when I answered she laughed in earnest.
"Is then Olorimo my cousin so blind? Has he not listened to one of my words? Or perhaps he knows what the truth is, but prefers to barricade himself behind a lie that can better serve his goals. Oh, no doubt, the situation is unpleasant: but when was it ever different here? No, Silmë: if you were to listen to them, only then would their words acquire the colours of truth. Ignore what they say, pretend it is but wind blowing; or if you cannot, better to say farewell now. Never will it get easier; only more difficult."
My pride and my love stung, I replied: "Fear not, my choice is not likely to change. Only I wish I could now what is happening now, for this wait, more than any answer, lacerates me."
She smiled; not unkindly, even if the shade of her ancient suspicion tainted her smile: "Fear not; when he will know, he shall come. One evening we shall see him walking down the path."
And so it was.
One day, as the lights mingled in one last embrace ere the silver one, a light knock was heard on the door, and as we opened he stood on the threshold, his face tired with much fighting, his eyes like cinders when the fire is out. Arafinwë greeted him with much courtesy; but even as his uncle spoke to him Maitimo's eyes sought mine, and he nodded slightly. But no joy was born into me, not as I expected; and I heard not the few words he spoke to the assembled family. Taking my hand, he led me out, past the glass doors and into the garden.
We sat on our bench, and he took my hand, looking not to me as he said: "My father gave his consent."
"Long I have waited to hear you utter these words, and yet I see that no joy comes to you of them. Maitimo, look at me."
Gently, with my hand I caressed his cheek, demanding he look at me; he took it, and kissed the palm.
"The Lord Aulë alone commanded enough of his fealty to ask of him to consent, but it was not without price. No affection can we expect from him, and his words were harsh."
"Always it seems to me the son of Finwë was harsh towards you; and unjustly. But if he said yes, what does it matter?"
"A price I mentioned; and a condition he set. I could not refuse, but that he would say that my pledge to you was empty, and I faithless."
He looked now into my eyes, and he continued: "He gave his consent, but demands that our betrothal is ten years long, instead of the customary one. And from such a proposition he could not be moved."
I did not know what to say, torn between my joy that, however far, that day would come, and the hard grief I saw into his eyes. My voice low, I took his hand, caressing it lightly, and asked: "You achieved what you set out to reach, my love; and yet you are sad, and even this joy cannot light the gentle fire I have grown to know."
"But why, why should I rejoice, I that once more obtained what was my right to have but for the intervention of others? How could I, that once more bent his head to his father's wishes, and did not demand his due, be deemed worthy of your love?"
"I pray, that in all that may come you shall not utter such words again. For had you been unworthy never would my heart have turned to you; and if still you deem it so, indeed you hold my spirit and its judgements in scarce considerations."
His eyes were softened as he looked at me now, and shaking his head he answered: "No, not scarce in judgement, but far too merciful, that you saw my love and relieved it by granting me your favour. Of that I am grateful to the One, and when we shall be one my life shall be fulfilled, and my joy ripened." He took me in his arms now, stroking my hair. "And yet I wish I could give you your heart's desire, an honourable betrothal and a solemn banquet, without further waiting after a lifetime spent in the belief such a happiness as you have brought me existed not."
"All this we shall have, when the moment comes. But you are deceived if you believe that in empty ceremonies lies my contentment, for never am I content as when I am, as now, in your arms; and so absolute it is this joy that it would not bear to be augmented."
Looking at me, he was as if on the brink of words; but no words could he utter that his fingers upon my skin, his eyes on mine did not already speak. He kissed me; and on his lips I found the answer I sought. That night we waked together beneath the opalescent sky, as Telperion wove the long hours until the golden dawn.