5. Little Father
Well beyond the midpoint between the waxing of Laurelin and the mingling of the lights, Nerdanel looked out the kitchen window facing the hillside and the creek. The light on the leaves of the old willow tree reflected the first faint hints of the silvering to come. A brief rain after lunch had given the air a fragrance more reminiscent of a dewy morning than late afternoon. She smelled not only wet grass and damp earth, but also the blooms on the three cherry trees. Along with the apple tree and two plum trees, the boys had always jokingly called that part of the garden The Orchard.
On the day after she finished a challenging assignment, Nerdanel always liked to make a savory one-pot dinner—the maximum gratification for the minimum expenditure of effort. She often so thoroughly neglected her domestic duties by the culmination of a project that she craved to cook, but something simple and nourishing, nothing complicated or fussy. Emerging from her latest big effort, she felt dazed and yet longing to latch onto the mundane concerns of daily life again. The first thing that popped into her head that afternoon was saffron rice with chicken, cooked in one of their big clay pots. Adding some sausage to the mixture would make it feel more celebratory.
Four children, all boys, would leave any woman with very little time to think of anything but how tired she was when she collapsed exhausted into bed each night. And, if there were a woman less naturally inclined to the household arts than she was, Nerdanel had not yet met her. On the other hand, she knew no other fathers who did as much to share in the everyday nurturing of their children as Fëanáro did.
Walking back from the center of Tirion earlier, she had purchased a good-sized hen, already dressed and cut into sections. All she needed to do was brown the pieces along with chopped onions, minced garlic, savory sausage, before adding the rice, additional broth and spices, along with fresh green peas. She reached above her head, stretching to wrestle her favorite red clay pot from a shelf in the pantry off the kitchen.
Macalaurë popped his head around the door jamb. He shrugged, while lifting his head and eyes upward, indicating that he was willing to place his small lap harp aside to free up his hands if she wanted his help.
"May I get that for you?" he asked, smiling widely. It was obvious that he could barely suppress his animation about something.
"No, thank you, sweetheart. Got it," she huffed. "It's cumbersome, not heavy."
"Ooh, Amil," he said, drawing out the words, while grinning conspiratorially. Ah, she thought, now I will hear why he came rooting around in the kitchen looking for me.
"Everyone--I mean everyone!--is talking about you in Tirion today, about Haru's new sculpture garden. I even was asked to play at its dedication. Of course, I told them that I am much too busy and important!"
"Little liar!" she said, meeting him eye-to-eye. He was no longer small, but like all the others, no matter how tall or old, always her little boy. "One of your grandfather's courtiers—the supercilious clerk with the horsey face—what is his name? Veryatan?—already told me that you had accepted and volunteered the names of a few of your colleagues as well. Thank you, darling. I do appreciate you agreeing to do it. I'd never take you for granted."
"Don't be silly." He stepped closer and kissed his mother on the forehead. "I'm so proud of you. It has been so much fun listening to everyone gossiping about you today—declaring what a marvel you are, saying it's your greatest work, and insisting that it'll be known as one of the great prides of the Noldor."
"Always happy to entertain you!" She laughed as she hauled the oversized pot into the kitchen with her, causing him to back up against the doorway leading into the dining room in order to allow her to pass. Placing the pot on the table, she held her arms out to him. He stepped into them, accepting her embrace with some degree of clumsiness since he had not let go of the harp.
"I have the beginnings of a song in my head already; it's just starting to whirl around and around."
"I think I can imagine how that must feel. At the moment I have a gaping hole in my head which has been filled for months with non-stop rumination about Finwë's great trek. I think I know more about it now than anyone who wasn't there, except maybe your Atar or Maitimo."
Macalaurë struck a chord on the harp, with an endearingly boyish grin. "The inspiration for your new song first came to me looking at the sculpture of Nelyo as a little boy pulling the thorn out of his foot."
"That's not Maitimo," she teased. "That is generic young Noldo number one, pausing on the Great Journey over the mountains to the sea."
"Don't tease me. I know how that works. It is similar if not identical to how I develop narrative themes in my music; one uses history or legend to tell about the heart's truths as one understands them at any given moment."
"Wise words. No wonder your work is so respected despite your tender age."
"Thank you, Amil. I've learned from the best and I am not talking about my instructors in theory of music. Anyway, your nameless little Noldo is the mirror image of my favorite brother."
She smacked him on the arm. "Don't say things like that. Someone might hear you. You can't have a favorite among your own brothers!"
"Ah, but he is everyone's favorite, isn't he?" Objecting would have been pointless; she could only shake her head and chuckle.
"I went by the Palace with Vingarië," Macalaurë said, referring to his half-Telerin sweetheart. "We managed to talk our way in, past the architect and the groundsmen, to take a look. One really feels as though one is in a forest across the sea. The whole arrangement is brilliant--really it is. And your statues most of all."
"Thank you. It means a lot to me that you think so. I trust you wouldn't say that out of affection alone." Macalaurë beamed at her praise. "Have you seen your father?"
"He came in right behind me, with the brat in tow."
The sound of Carnistir's voice reached her at that exact moment, along with a deep rumble in response to him from Fëanáro. She thought of the lines of a clichéd love poem recently set to music by a composer who did not have one quarter of the talent of her second son. It had been sung repeatedly at all of that season's parties in Tirion. 'My heart leaps in ecstasy at the sound of your voice . . . '
She laughed quietly to herself at her predictable response to the father of her sons and her association of a surge of honest sentiment with silly words set to an inane bit of music. The fact was that she was as stupidly, foolishly in love with Fëanáro as she had ever been.
"You should laugh more, Amil," Macalaurë said. "You work too hard. But they are right; there is no one else like you!"
Many men envied her artistic successes, fewer women. They tended instead to envy her the astonishingly handsome Fëanaro, First Prince of the Noldor, along with his reputed passion for her, and the solicitous attention he always showed her when they were observed together in public. Well, the passion was real and always new for her, and his abiding affection was unquestionable as well.
What they did not know about him was that his rumored shortness of temper was in no way exaggerated. No one considered what it was like to be wedded to his restless impatience, his bouts of inexplicable insecurity and neediness, alternating with his infamous arrogance, or how she felt when he locked himself without warning in the forge for half a week at a time. Then, of course, there were the exacting standards he placed upon the boys, which she often suspected had exactly the opposite effect from what he intended.
Time had proved that she worried needlessly that Fëanáro would weary of her lack of energy or genius comparable to his own. Yet, with their youngest approaching adolescence, nearly every sentence Fëanáro directed toward her was still peppered with his pet endearments; except, naturally, when he was bursting for a row.
Anyway, where could he possibly find another woman who could understand as well as she did both the technical and intuitive sides of the forces that drove him? Theirs was a marriage of heart and mind, and their physical needs were remarkably well-matched as well.
Although, she did wonder now and then if he might have appreciated a woman who was an easier breeder. She shook her head at the thought of that. The truth was that she lacked self-preservation instincts when faced with his insatiable desire for children. He seemed to require children in order to provide them with all of the attention and companionship that he felt he had lacked in his own earliest childhood.
Under his not-so-subtle pressure, her slow recovery time from the birth of each child was compounded at least partially by her inability to wait as long as her body required before conceiving again. His children were his life—another cliché perhaps, but so true in this case also—the divine side of his creative urge. Still none of them were the true heir to his brilliance. They had produced no son who could act as a proper partner in his work.
She had wondered for a while if Carnistir might be that one. Fëanáro was a hero to Carnistir; he worshipped and admired his Atar. He and Fëanáro had always shared a unique bond with one another. Strange as Carnistir was and fond of keeping his own counsel, she had thought perhaps he might blossom when his father introduced him to his craft. But it had not happened. Carnistir reluctantly tolerated the forge, in the manner of all of his brothers before him, except perhaps Maitimo, who might not have been obsessed with the work in the way his father would have wished, but who had excelled at everything.
Hearing the voices of Fëanáro and Carnistir, passing near to the kitchen window as they walked from the stable into the enclosed garden behind the house, caused Nerdanel to contemplate the idea of trying one last time.
"Atto, look." Carnistir's voice turned soft, suddenly shy. "I got my essay back. It's marked '10.' My first perfect ten."
"Let me see how it came out. The concepts you discussed with me before you wrote it were solid." Fëanáro sounded as serious as if he were considering the efforts of one of his young adult apprentices. "These tengwar are well done. They almost look as though Nelyo wrote them."
"I penned every single one myself."
"Ah," Fëanáro said, still proud, but his voice lowered with gentle regret. "A misspelled word." Years back, he might have snapped at Macalaurë for such an error. But then, Tyelkormo had long since worn the edge off his father's reaction to those kinds of mistakes through obdurate repetition.
"Ach! Then it wasn't perfect." Carnistir groaned with disappointment.
"You know me, Morifinwë. I have the eye of one of Manwë's eagles for spotting trivial errors. Apparently, a better one than your tutor. Your Amil claims it is one of my most annoying faults. But, there is a lesson for you in that. Even I, when I write anything that really matters to me, always have Nelyo read it before I send it to anyone."
"He says he hates looking over your work for mistakes. He says you never make any."
"Not never. Rarely, perhaps, but when I do, he finds them. You should be proud of this paper. It is easily as good as anything Nelyo produced at your age. And better by far than either Macalaurë or Turko. Put your books down and help me in the kitchen garden. Let's surprise your Amil with vegetables for a salad."
Fëanáro had dedicated himself to finding a way into the secret world of Carnistir, never allowing him to withdraw too far into himself. During his difficult infancy, Fëanáro had rocked him for hours. As Carnistir grew older, Fëanáro held him in his arms long past the time when he was far too big of a lad to sit in his father's lap. She had no doubt whatsoever that Fëanáro's patience had made a dramatic difference in the level of normality their eccentric youngest son had achieved. Not that ordinary had ever been especially prized among her husband's family. It had been Finwë himself who had insisted that Carnistir was not slow, but gifted.
The back door slammed, clattering as though it might fall off its hinges. Fëanáro had grumbled so often that he wanted to replace it, that The Door had become the subject of a standing joke. Nelyo and Macalaurë had running bets on how long it would be before Fëanáro capitulated and ordered one of them to do it. Nerdanel thought she'd like to hang a new door herself and spoil all of their fun, except that she did not want to make Fëanáro feel negligent.
Fëanáro and Carnistir's voices faded as they moved away from house, drowned out by the sounds of the insistent barking of one of Tyelkormo's dogs, the rumble of a passing wagon on the road in front of the house, and Macalaurë playing his harp, probably by then settled back by the fountain in the courtyard.
'One more child' she had promised him many times over the past few years. Maitimo was the perfect heir to the kingship of the Noldor when both Finwë and then Fëanáro tired of the task. She had always felt that Finwë would concede to Fëanáro sooner rather than later, knowing that within a relatively short time his eldest would turn over those duties to Maitimo, if not the title itself. Fëanáro was not meant to be an administrator, capable as he was. But Maitimo had signs of being a perfect statesman, intelligent, diligent, wide-ranging in his interests, and most of all, diplomatic and affable.
One could never wish away the aptitudes of Macalaurë or even Tyelkormo, each so uniquely talented, but in areas their father could never entirely share. Finwë had always insisted that Carnistir's gifts were less obvious, but no less significant, saying he would have been revered as a seer in Endor. He insisted that Carnistir would find his place some day in Valinor, saying that their task as parents was to allow the child to develop at his own pace.
Perhaps the one to fulfill Fëanáro's heart's desire would be a girl child. That would set the Noldor on their heels. For all of their talk of sexual equality, a female with Fëanáro's gifts would shake their world. It had been hard enough for her to begin to win commissions for larger endeavors that were more than simply decorative work for the houses of the lords of Tirion. Once she had completed substantial work on the portico to the Great Library and taken on both design and stonework on the inner courtyard of the new administrative buildings, things had changed. No one was surprised, nor did anyone contest it, when she was asked to do the statuary for the much discussed sculpture garden at Finwë's palace.
Fëanáro peeked at her around the corner of the door, pointing his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the garden. "Green peas, my love?"
She had to laugh. The sight of his face made her giddy—his pale grey eyes with their heavy dark lashes standing out against his skin lightly bronzed by the light of Laurelin. The expression 'heart-wrenchingly beautiful,' overused in romantic tales, was meant for the likes of him.
"Thank you! Fresh peas would be perfect. I'm making rice with chicken."
"I knew that," he said. "By the way, congratulations again! The entire collection in place is more glorious than I even imagined it would be. Atar is beyond pleased with himself for commissioning it. Bragging to everyone that it is your best work to date, as proud as though he had carved each stone himself." His relaxed grin made him look forty-something, the age he had been when they had first made love. Her face colored at the memory; her response to him never faltered.
"It is certainly my most accessible," she said, catching her breath. "Highly representational, nothing difficult or abstract." She did not want to interrupt her dinner preparations because her spouse looked amazing with wind-ruffled hair.
"Perhaps not revolutionary in style, but uniquely filled with passion and your inimitable perspective." He smirked at her as though he knew exactly how appealing she found him. "I like it when you do not bother to sound modest. False modesty is a cliché among many accomplished women and often does not lessen even when they are widely accepted for their accomplishments. Remember my former apprentice Calassë? She was constantly describing her work in self-denigrating terms." They had numerous discussions over Nerdanel's need to sharpen her ability to accept praise without attempting to deflect it.
"I love you," she said.
"You had better! I'll be back in just a moment. I'll help you. If you don't mind my company." She laughed again, shaking her head at how he caused her to giggle like a silly girl.
"Go get my peas, you wicked man."
"I need a kiss first, beautiful."
"One only. Carnistir is waiting for you."
"He'll wait. He's watching us from the side yard. He can see us through the window." She canted her head to one side and saw the boy standing there glaring at the house, his hands clenched around the handle of the large basket they used for collecting produce from the kitchen garden.
If she did not relent and give Fëanáro his kiss, he would delay until she did. She stood on her toes, hands upon his strong shoulders and gave him a gentle peck. He wrapped his arms around her, giving her two brief, tender kisses before running his tongue wetly across her lower lip, causing her to open her mouth to him. She loved the way that Fëanáro approached each kiss with conscious deliberation, committed to enthralling her, before losing himself in the sensation, which, of course, became ten times as enchanting as any intent to seduce.
Just as she had melted into his embrace, he pulled away from her. "Hold onto that thought!" he teased. "I'll be right back with the vegetables. Oh, and Nelyo is bringing Findekáno for dinner and to sleep over. I told him that you wouldn't mind. He can never say no to that boy."
She laughed. "Isn't everyone that way about someone who so obviously adores them? You know that I never mind Finno staying over. He's a lovely boy and so well-mannered."
"Ha! You fall asleep at night so easily, leaving me to toss and turn, listening to his and Turko's irritating giggling and talking until all hours. Nelyo might not be so eager to invite him so often if those rascals slept in one of the rooms on his end of hallway!"
"Stop complaining, Fëanáro! You know you like the fact that Finno prefers our house to his own. It tickles your vanity."
"You have a wicked tongue, Lady Nerdanel. I'll pick some lettuce, rocket, and a small red cabbage. We can toss those with chopped apple and walnuts and make a dressing of white wine, honey and garlic."
"Just a little of the rocket. The boys don't like a salad that is too tart."
"They ought to develop more sophisticated tastes."
"Certainly," she said, laughing, making a shooing gesture with her hand. "Go on! And don't forget to grab a few more onions."
"And your sweet peas, of course."
Tyelkormo, Findekáno, and Maitimo had all tramped into the kitchen not long afterwards, laughing and crowding one another. For all their long legs and broad shoulders, each a model of masculine beauty, they reminded her of nothing so much a tumbling passel of puppies. Turko and Finno had lost the last traces of childhood over the past short period, leaving only Carnistir still a boy.
The tension in Maitimo's jaw that often haunted her when he returned home from the city center had softened. Both Finwë and Fëanáro asked too much of him. They forced him to choose between Finwë's desire to make him into an able administrator and Fëanáro's wish for his eldest son to hold himself apart from courtly intrigue. Fëanáro saw Nolofinwë's hand in all of the daily operations of Finwë's court. What her husband did not see, and Nolofinwë clearly understood, was how Finwë honored both Fëanáro and Maitimo before all of Tirion. What Fëanáro viewed as wasting his brilliant firstborn on trivial tasks of clerk and courtier, Finwë intended as the schooling of the future leader of the Noldor.
But at that moment, Maitimo appeared relaxed, focusing with a gaze both warm and tender upon the roughhousing of Turko and Finno, who cracked unfunny jokes and laughed at them alone. It promised to be a bright, clear evening. Looking out the doorway into the rapidly transforming light, she could see a sliver of the heavens filled with stars so brilliant that they stood out even against a sky that never turned black like that of Formenos.
The three lads brought with them into her unlit kitchen the shimmer of the last iridescent glistening of the mingling of the lights. Maitimo's bright cooper hair caught the last few shards of golden light, while Turko's hair, usually as tawny as newly dried hay, reflected the silver rays of Telperion's waxing. Finno's dark locks reminded her of the velvet softness of the night sky of Formenos, so far from both the light of the Trees and the tedious concerns of Tirion.
"Amil," Maitimo said, "What can we do to help you?" At the sound of Maitimo's voice, Findekáno stopped laughing and stared adoringly at him; it was all Nerdanel could do not to giggle. Poor child had no idea how transparent was his infatuation to everyone except its object.
"Perhaps you could light some the lamps in here and in the dining room," she responded. "Your Atar already made a salad and set the table. He is in the cellar now looking for a couple of bottles of wine. Why don't you and the boys go wash up quickly. We will be ready to eat in just a few moments."
"Umm!" said Finno. "Is that your chicken with rice I can smell? Is it the green or yellow one?"
"Yellow rice tonight, darling." She adored Findekáno as though he were one of her own. His bright blue eyes lit up at her use of the endearment. Such an affectionate boy.
"Amme said to tell you the exhibition is magnificent. That she is so happy and pleased for you. Atar also said to offer you his felicitations."
"Thank you, Finno. I hope I will be able to thank them personally the day after tomorrow. They will be there for the official opening of the garden, won't they?" she asked.
"They wouldn't think of missing it!" crowed Turko, before kissing her on the cheek. "It is going to be the event of the season. Our dear little Amil, the brightest star in the firmament of Haru's court today! I loved the beasts and the birds, not to mention that incredibly handsome lad, wearing the rabbit-skin nappy, and his perfect stance with his bow at the ready."
Laughing she ruffled his hair. "You would like that one. You've always been vain. Just like your father."
"Admit it! You love me just the way I am."
"I do." She chuckled again. Turko could make a stone laugh.
At the table, Fëanáro oozed charisma and appeal, all directed at her, his light grey eyes glowing almost golden in the candle light. With every opportunity he pressed his thigh against hers, reaching under the tablecloth to squeeze her knee or even worse to run his hand dangerously higher up her leg. He grinned at her every time he could catch her eye.
Teasing her at the dinner table surrounded by all the children was a special stunt of his. He was the far better actor and could perfectly play the part of disinterested head of the household having a simple dinner with his wife of many years, while mercilessly arousing her through mind speak and well-hidden touches.
When the meal finally ended, he instructed the boys to clear and wash the dishes and peremptorily hustled her up the stairs. Closing the door behind him, he leaned against it, no longer taking any care to hide the predatory fire behind his intent.
"I've never sat through a longer meal. You were driving me mad during dinner."
"Me driving you mad!" she sputtered.
"Don't be coy. You want me as much as I want you. I am going to fuck you until you cannot think at all."
"I already cannot think," she rasped.
He crossed the room in three long strides and pulled her against him. Kissing her until she felt faint. His strong hands cupped her breasts, pressing a thumb against each nipple, taking her breath away, while leaning over her to lick and bite at her lips.
"I need you so much, my sweet beautiful girl," he said, his voice simultaneously low-pitched and clear and sharp as diamante. "Nerdanel. Nerdanel. Nerdanel," he crooned. "Let's get you out of these clothes."
She impeded his progress by stroking his erection through his trousers. "Wait. Wait," she said, desperate and panting. "If you rip another dress . . ." He cut her off with a wet demanding kiss.
"Enough!" he said, flinging her over his shoulder and tossing her onto the bed, winning himself the squeal that he had hoped for.
"Shh!" he teased, crawling on top of her. "Do you want the boys to hear every sound you make?" He turned her own habitual warning back upon her.
"You are such a silly fool, Fëanáro!" she scolded him, mesmerized, unable to look away from those wondrously pale eyes, aching for him, overcome with the sensation of opening up to him from the inside out, growing wetter inhaling his scent. The feel of him rubbing against her, satisfyingly hot and hard, made her dizzy with arousal.
He still had more control than she did, but that could not last long.
"Your fool," he whispered, smiling slyly, nearly unbearably beautiful in aspect as always. "All and only yours. A wise fool, I think. Don't you?"
"How is it possible that I ended up with you? That I have borne you children and we are here like this so carelessly choosing to make another? I'm ordinary, Fëanáro. Intelligent, but normal. You are the farthest thing from that."
"Pfft! Now, who is sounding silly?" he asked in an arch tone, with the undercurrent of vulnerability that she knew so well and never could resist. "I knew the moment I came into the kitchen tonight that you had finally decided you wanted another. Are you changing your mind? Please don't do that!"
She felt a sense of foreboding or it might have been presentiment. For one ridiculous moment, she almost wanted to consult with Finwë or even Carnistir. But Fëanáro was right she was being utterly silly. Bearing a child under any circumstances would never be an easy thing. There was nothing new about that. If he didn't take her in his arms right now and make love to her—what had he said? Fuck her until she could not think—she might die!
The gentlest of mind touches reached her, Please. It was the softness of his request that convinced her. Yes. Yes. Yes, she responded.
"Look at his cunning little fingers!" Nerdanel said, euphoria overriding her exhaustion and discomfort. "He has your hands in miniature and the beginning of your nose. The black hair is obviously all yours. I cannot wait for Finwë to see him and confirm my impression. He is so like you that it appears I had nothing at all to do with his conception."
The baby snuffled against her chest, making a tiny mewling sound, until she opened her gown and guided his mouth to a nipple. He latched on with a desperate little snort, which caused her to laugh.
"You sound so happy," Fëanáro said taking a perfect tiny foot in his hand, the ease of an experienced father masking his feverish elation.
"And you aren't?"
"Of course I am. You make beautiful babies and this one is no exception. Perhaps he does resemble me more than the others did," Fëanáro said carefully. "With any luck, he could still inherit more of your generous spirit and less of my insufferable temper."
Despite all of his attempts to hide his extreme emotion, she could hear in the suddenly husky quality of Fëanáro's voice the depths of his pleasure in the infant's likeness to him. She had wanted to give him the child of his heart and it appeared that at last she had.
"I want to call him Atarinkë," she said.
I located the paragraph about Nerdanel that inspired my descriptions of her art in this chapter.
Of Mahtan Nerdanel learned much of crafts that women of the Noldor seldom used: the making of things of metal and stone. She made images, some of the Valar in their forms visible, and many others of men and women of the Eldar, and these were so like that their friends, if they knew not her art, would speak to them; but many things she wrought also of her own thought in shapes strong and strange but beautiful. –The Later Quenta Silmarillion, Morgoth's Ring
I referenced it fairly directly in the story when Nerdanel talks about the pieces that she made for the sculpture garden being well-liked because they are"[h]ighly representational, nothing difficult or abstract." In other words, she excelled in both the realistic and abstract. Like many artists, she may have a bias for her more difficult work.
The picture above is a photo of a 19th century marble copy of a famous Greco-Roman bronze. The bronze Spinario is in Capitoline Museum in Rome: "Probably conceived in the first century BC, formed from Hellenistic models of the third-second century B.C. for the body, with a head derived from Greek works of the fifth century B.C." (Official Guide, 83)
Chapter End Notes:Quenya Name Translations:
Atarinkë translates as "little father." Vingarië is the name which Dawn Felagund gave to the unnamed wife of Maglor in her story!verse based upon her novel Another Man's Cage. Thanks, Dawn.
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.