I'm keeping this story with a general rating, although (surprise surprise!) there is some sexuality in it. Doh. It's Nerdanel and Fëanor. They had seven kids. It's as close to canon as you can get, and I just can't help myself.
A gust of wind catches the tricky forge door just so and whips it open; a handful of fallen leaves are invited in by the rush of air from the forge, chattering across the floor and masking what might be a footstep intentionally kept light; the waving trees paint shadows across the rectangle of light—is one of them the shape of an Elf? Of him?
A gust of wind and time folds upon itself until the last three centuries might not have happened, and Nerdanel—her heart pounding with hope—might be young again, still able to believe that foolish notion that love can heal any wound. It was all a dream, a vision—it need not be true! She drops the hammer, and it falls upon her foot, but she feels no pain. Her fingers splay and slip from her waist to her breasts; her belly will be taunt and flat; her breasts will be young and firm, without the memory of seven hungry sons softening, blurring her body.
But they are not. Time has not folded; what is done has not been undone. The tricky door was opened by the wind; the leaves tumbling across the floor hide nothing; the shadows waving across the sudden rectangle of light are naught but the trees. Her fingers find a soft belly riddled with stretch marks and full, sagging breasts. When she stoops to retrieve the hammer and massage her throbbing toe, though, she cannot help but to indulge her hopeful heart, and she glances back at the doorway.
It is empty. Nothing has changed.
The door suddenly whipped open and the leaves rushed in, barely disguising the sound of light footsteps. His shadow covered her work. She dropped her hammer upon her toe, but the pain was forgotten as he stepped beside her.
“Fëanaro!” But before the most beautiful of sounds—his name—was fully formed, his hand flew to her mouth, to suppress the cry; his eyes blazed and his body seemed electrified, restive, twitching. He wore his traveling cloak, and in the whispered, frantic words that tumbled from his mouth, she discerned only two phrases:
“I am leaving.”
And: “Come with me.”
A gust of wind catches the tricky forge door and whips it open and against the building in a sudden explosion of sound. Nerdanel, who has been hammering a piece for a golden chandelier, fumbles the hammer and drops it upon her toe.
She waits for the skittering, eager leaves to tumble into the forge, but there is naught but silence, for the day is still and without wind, and as she stoops to retrieve the hammer, a heart that has forgotten how to hope begs her not to turn and be disappointed yet again, but Nerdanel—though exhausted, though beaten like a workhorse at the end of its life—remains curious and peeks beneath her arm at the open door, bisected by the shadow of a man.
She stands quickly, hammer and sore toe forgotten, trembling fingers pressed to trembling lips, and a voice that wishes to be strong but is breathless and weak—“Fëanaro.”
He crosses the floor and stoops to retrieve the hammer. In three centuries—time that has weathered and warped her with the same insidious devilry as the wind that wears at the mountains—he has not changed. He wears a cream-colored tunic, riding breeches, and his traveling cloak; his hair is a windblown frame for a face too beautiful to be real and eyes too bright to belong to an Elf. He lifts the hammer and casts it aside, for he is concerned for her toe and is already undoing her bootlaces and drawing it from her foot. Already, the toe is forgotten, but Nerdanel, riveted, watches as Fëanaro peels away her sodden sock (that probably reeks as well) and raises the filthy, sweaty toe that bears a faint blue bruise to his lips to kiss the pain away.
That is a tradition that began in childhood. Hammers are eager to crush little fingers and sparks leap wantonly onto unprotected flesh without regard to the nerves that sizzle and the eyes that well with tears. Then, Nerdanel had believed that Fëanaro could heal her of anything.
Three centuries later and hurt in ways she’d never believed possible, there is no pain left in her to heal.
The chandelier ruined; her boot set awkwardly back on her foot, without socks and unlaced; her fingers gripping each other to keep from trembling, from reaching out to slap his face or to cling to his neck and bury her face in the dark tumble of hair on his shoulder—she sits beside him on a bench and says, “You are not supposed to be here. You are exiled.”
“Is that a suitable greeting” he says, “for your beloved husband?”
Husband, yes. Beloved? She is not sure.
He tilts his face and moves to kiss her, but she ducks away and quickly stands, tripping over her loosened boot and falling back to the bench. But a safe distance has been created between them. “Fëanaro,” she repeats, “you are not supposed to be here.”
“I am not supposed to be in Tirion,” he says. “This is not Tirion.”
He is correct: It is not Tirion. When he was banished, the Valar created the first political boundary in Valinor to define “Tirion,” to define the bounds of Fëanaro’s exile. To the south of the city, “Tirion” became anything above the river and within the other confines. Mahtan’s property is cut in half by the river, and the forge is to the south of it but near enough that she can now hear the laughter of the water. Cleverly, he is not in Tirion. Still, he should not be here.
“Your father is like me,” he goes on to say. “He does not need Tirion.” He slides across the distance she has created between them; his hands clasp hers. The first time she touched his hand, she recoiled, thinking she had been burned. His hands give the impression of perpetual warmth, even when he shivers with cold. He unfolds her clenched hands and strokes each of her fingers in turn. He used to like to sketch her hands; laughing, she would let him. If he notices the absence of their wedding band upon her finger, he says nothing. She notices that he still wears his.
“Fëanaro,” she whispers hoarsely, “why have you come here?”
Why? When she has just overcome the torment of facing her empty bed at night—now, after ten years. When she has grown accustomed to the silence of a house where there are no children, where her father and mother are too busy for idle conversation. When she has learned to suppress the giddy joy of accomplishment, for there is no one with whom to share it. When each day is the same as the next and quickly lost in a mire of identical days, when she has learned to no longer expect surprises—delightful or not—and has finally learned to trudge through each day, toward ambivalent sleep that sometimes torments her with dreams of him, of their children, and sometimes allows her to sleep in blissful nothingness, when she awakens hours later and closer to the ending of Arda and peace.
When she is finally over him: here he is.
“It has been ten years, Nerdanel,” he says, smiling crookedly at her. “Ten years parted, ten years of agony. At least, it has been for me.” The fingers of his right hand loosen from hers and lift to touch the fragile, darkened skin beneath her eyes. Even during the last month of her pregnancy with Nelyo, when they spent long days on the road and she endured sleepless nights full of fear, feeling him moving within her, knowing that she was soon to be a mother and that she was not ready, her exhaustion was never apparent on her face. But now, when she sleeps sometimes for nine, ten hours at a stretch, her face is haggard and aged. If wisdom were bestowed by the lines on one’s face, she thinks, I would be wiser than the King.
Still, she is wise enough not to answer: Being away from you has been agony for me too. Yet, he knows. Despite having grown apart long ago, their bond remains, and no secret will ever be fully her own.
“Nerdanel,” he says, “I want you to come home. To our sons. To me.” His eyes sparkle strangely; she is reminded of raindrops on silver windows. He cannot be crying! she thinks. He draws her into an embrace, and foolishly, she lets him; she lets his scent fill her lungs and feels the whisper of his breath against her skin. At one time, this closeness, the heat of his body, would have driven her mad with desire. Now, she clutches his back, remembering the contours of a body that she knows as well as her own as she might remember the dimensions of an item lost and suddenly, unexpectedly rediscovered. Let time fold upon itself! Let me open my eyes and these last three centuries never have happened. Give me a chance to start again; I will do right by him—by our sons—this time.
“I cannot bear to sleep alone another night,” he whispers. There is a note of desperation in his voice and a dark stirring in her heart. “I cannot bear to be without you for another day.” His voice becomes lower, his words spoken faster, until they are as furtive as the breeze, heard clearer by her spirit—forever linked to his—than by her ears. “I feel as though I stand at a precipice. I beg you to hold my hand. Do not let me go, Nerdanel. Do not let me go.”
She buries her face in the warm place where his neck and shoulder meet, as she has done so many times before. “Fëanaro, you are my husband. I will never stop loving you. I will come home with you.”
And the fateful words are spoken.
He presses his lips to her neck, trails kisses to her ear and tilts her face to kiss her mouth. Surprised by his mercurial behavior, she draws away in time to see a hurt look flicker across his face, still very much the face of the child that she married.
“Fëanaro, please,” she says, unable to bear that look, staring at the floor and wringing her fingers until they ache. “Do not.”
“Do not?” He laughs bitterly. “But Nerdanel, you are my wife. I desire you.”
“Fëanaro, you know—you know that I cannot.”
“I desire you and I desire another child. Please. Just one more.”
Others have come from Formenos and said that they see madness in her husband’s eyes, like wild, white-hot heat that can stir the very air to conflagration. She sees it now too: Where the centers of his eyes should be dark, they seem to be no more, to be overtaken by the fire within him. He burns. He grabs her hands and she screams, for his flesh feels as though it might burn her and she looks down, expecting hands of white-hot steel, but they are the same hands she’d held at their wedding, the hands that had delivered from her their firstborn son, the hands that had been hallowed as the greatest of all the Noldor and kissed by the Valar. The light from the open forge door catches the gold scintilla of his wedding band and stings her eyes.
“You have always wanted a daughter. Perhaps we will have a little girl this time.”
Reeling from him, as much from sudden anger as fear, their hands are torn apart and she does not stop until she crashes into her father’s workbench, knocking several of his tools free from the pegs where they are neatly hung. “I cannot!” she repeats. “You know that I cannot.”
“One more. You can.” And he is upon her, pressing against her with fevered insistence—the workbench pressing her back until she feels her skin bruising—and she imagines that she can smell the madness, leaking from his pores and threatening to infect her too, as she feared he’d already infected their sons. “Do not deny me, Nerdanel. One more child, just one. A daughter. You can.”
When Macalaurë was born, her sisters smirked at each other as though a secret was shared between them. “Now she shall see things change.”
“Change?” Nerdanel laughed. “How?”
Her sisters had never quite been able to believe that a man—and a prince, nonetheless—would want to run away with little, dowdy Nerdanel. To wed her in the forest, without witness or permission, to conceive with her a child before they’d even been married for two years, before either had reached their majorities, defying expectations so firmly entrenched in the Noldorin culture that they might as well be laws. Not when their own husbands were ordinary blacksmiths not even talented enough to shoe Fëanaro’s horse and—when Nerdanel held her secondborn son in her arms—each of her elder sisters had only a child apiece.
“Now you shall see the consequences of such a big bed,” her eldest sister said. “It is nice when you’re newlywed—yes, we all have those sorts of fun, in the beginning at least—but now it will make it easier for you to drift apart. At least there will be more space to do it in.”
“Yes,” said her other sister, “do not expect that he will be hasty to add a third child to your family. Not until you lose this,” and she pinched the soft belt of flesh that lingered at Nerdanel’s midsection, and if she wasn’t holding her son, Nerdanel would have slapped her sister’s hand.
As it was, her eyes prickled with tears, and both sisters became suddenly apologetic and doting, stroking her hair and embracing her and reassuring her, “Perhaps it will not happen to you,” in such syrupy voices that she was left with no doubt that it would.
She kept count of the nights until the night when the midwife had said it would be safe for her and Fëanaro to again make love. That night, she slipped into their bed, more nervous than she’d ever been in their marriage, feeling as fluttery as she had on the night of their wedding. Will he come to me? He was in the bath still, for he’d had a long, productive day and was soaking the soreness from his body. There was an hourglass on her night table, and she turned it and listened to the sand whisper through it—with both children asleep, the house was disturbingly quiet—until the last grain was poised to fall without sound, without aplomb, and she wept into the pillow, for she knew what her sisters had predicted had come to pass, and he had forgotten the significance of this day, forgotten her.
As the last grain dropped, though, there was a sound behind her, and she turned to see her husband—his hair stuck in damp tendrils to his naked shoulders—wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. And that he quickly tugged away to bare his desire; he came to the bed and crossed the wide expanse of “his side” to take her into his arms, to kiss her with the same passion as he had the day they were married.
As he would until the day they parted, when Nerdanel, wearied, no longer wished to be so desired.
As he does now, when Nerdanel momentarily gives in to him, lets him kiss her, his tongue in her mouth and his teeth nibbling her lip, when she concentrates on the feelings of her body, searching each little twinge for a hint of desire. Please. Let me desire him. He is as beautiful as the day they’d married, and while her mind knows it, her body cannot conjure the energy for desire. She waits for a leap of heart, for that little visceral tickle, for the rush of heat in her belly and thighs, concentrating at her center—but nothing. She wants to desire him: nothing.
She turns her face from his at last. “Fëanaro…” she says softly. “No.”
And he backs away, his eyes bright with madness. “And so you will not.”
“No, Fëanaro. Not will not. I cannot.”
For she would love another child—she has wished for a daughter ever since she gave Maitimo to Fëanaro, his perfect firstborn son, but Fate did not see fit to grant her wish—and she would love to return to the easy peace of their early marriage. She would love to again run from this stone-silent house, as she had on the day of their betrothal, without looking back, to give herself to him.
But there’s nothing left to give.
He laughs. “You cannot? Do not speak to me such lies, Nerdanel, as though I do not know that, for you, the will and the act are the same. Never have I heard you say those words—‘I cannot’—not in three centuries of marriage and even longer friendship. Yet you say it now and expect that I shall believe it?”
He never understood. Even in their childhood, they’d striven against each other more as enemies than as friends: racing across the plains on their horses, competing for Aulë’s praise in the forge, testing each other’s knowledge by spending hours attempting to find the most arcane, insignificant question that the other could not answer. He had not understood then that she had poured all of herself into those tasks, merely to be called his peer—not even his equal—while they had come easily to him, that even then, her life had been devoted to him. To besting him, an impossible task, she now saw. “She is the only woman I could ever bear to marry,” he’d laughingly said to those who had scoffed his choice of wives—his eyes sparkling dangerously—but Nerdanel had known his true meaning, even then: She is the only woman good enough for me.
After Tyelkormo’s birth, she felt herself beginning to slide, and he receded from her sights: a man atop a mountain, watching as she tumbled down the slope in the grip of gravity, knowing that to save her, he must fall himself.
She’d been unable to keep up with all of her commissions, and letters had to be drafted to those expecting statues and sculptures for gifts and celebrations. He’d found the words where she could not, but she’d seen the disdain in his eyes.
As she does now. It shimmers beneath his mirror-bright gray eyes, a vague disgust, the kind her sisters had predicted and she had dreaded. In giving him his every desire, I have taken my chance for mine. I shall lose him. I shall lose my family.
“Fëanaro,” she says. She is known for her patience and she tries to use it now, to steady hands that quiver, to soothe the fire in her husband that had long ago raged beyond her control. “Seven sons I have born you, more than any other woman in our land. My body is worn and tired. I cannot go on bearing children. I will return home with you, to our sons; I will lie in your bed and love you as a wife loves her husband, but please understand that we shall both have to be content with the seven beautiful children that Eru has given us.”
“You have born seven and one more will make any difference?” He laughs, hysteria tearing at his voice until it seems as though he might break into sobs. He pulls at one of the braids in his hair; he paces like a caged beast. “Do you know what I ask, Nerdanel? This is the last thing that I ask of you. This is my one last wish.”
One last wish….
It will kill me, she realizes. I will join Miriel Þerindë in a death of weariness. And he knows it. He would sacrifice me for his petty desires.
How does one reply to that? To her husband, who asks of her something that can only destroy her? Weariness suddenly falls like a weight upon her; she slumps against the wall and nearly to the floor, pressing her hand against her mouth but too weak to sob. She can see his legs scissoring faster as his pacing becomes more frantic, as he becomes agitated by her display of weakness, until he explodes forward and yanks her to her feet.
His fingernails pinch the insides of her arms, and her shoulder is wrenched and twisted painfully. She hears a horrible cry—a scream almost—and recognizes the voice as hers. But not me! No! Never! Not my Fëanaro!
“You do not know what I ask!” His face is mere inches from hers; the air around him seems to ripple like the air that pours forth from an oven. Where his hand grips her, she can feel her maddened pulse pounding against his fingers. “I ask for you to save me! If you loved me—”
“You ask for salvation at my expense? That I should weary myself to the point of death so that you may have the child that you want?”
“You do not know what that child will mean, Nerdanel!” There is something strange in his eyes, and his mouth is trembling so hard that he can barely speak. His hand—a hand that has bent metal to its will—grips her arm so tightly that the flesh beneath has gone numb. She has gone numb. Every day, the tricky forge door swinging open in the wind and giving her a flicker of hope. He has come back for me! He loves me! A hope winding like a song in her mind, keeping her company through her lonely days. And every day, waking up: Today could be the day!
Today could be the day. But what must she forsake? For what does he ask? And when he asks it, is there any way that he can ask it, if in fact he loves her?
Hope is torn away from her like a slip of silk torn from a careless hand in the wind. She slumps against the wall, no longer caring for her pain enough to muster the strength to fight him. “I do know what it means, Fëanaro,” she says. “And I do not know how you can ask it.”
His hand falls from her arm, and he draws a shuddering breath. “And I do not see how you can deny me.”
Her trembling hands rise to cover her eyes, but she hears the loud bang of the forge door banging shut with such violence that it flies open again, hitting the wall with a sound so ordinary to her that she cannot believe it announces the death of hope.
A year later:
A gust of wind catches the tricky forge door and whips it open; a handful of fallen leaves skitter across the floor; the candle flames that now light the forge—in absence of the Light of the Trees—writhe in the meager wind. Nerdanel flinches and grips her hammer more tightly. I will not….
Her heart pounding hard enough to hurt, she turns for the door, for the tricky latch that won’t hold. She raises her arm in sudden rage against the metal that has no will, no emotion—how she envies it!—and she smashes it until it will hold, it will seek to fool her no longer; she smashes it again and again until her arm aches and the sound of metal crushing metal crashes around her father’s property, carelessly romping through and rending the silence.
She smashes the latch until it breaks. Until she realizes that the crash of metal on metal hides the sound of her weeping.
She wipes her face with her hands and lets the hammer fall to the floor. She gazes to the east.
Do my sons walk there?
A year ago, had she succumbed to Fëanaro, had they begotten a child as he intended, she would today be delivering it, their eighth child—perhaps, a daughter?
Would it have been enough to change things? To make him stay? To prevent the evil that she senses lurking in the ink-black shadows of perpetual night?
The evil that he—her husband, the man she loved and will forever love—will bring upon them?
The forge door, its unfortunate latch smashed beyond recognition, swings loosely on its hinges, swaying open and shut in the cold, meager wind. She closes her eyes, pressing them shut until it hurts but she can no longer see the darkness, and begs time to fold upon itself. She listens for the sound of footsteps, cleverly hidden beneath the chattering leaves; she waits for his shadow to cover her and cast her work into darkness.
She waits for him to say: “Do you know what I ask, Nerdanel?”
Her lips form the words. Yes. I know. And I accept.
But that moment is racing away from her, even now, with every heartbeat and every sliding grain of sand inside the hourglass, moved by a force greater than gravity. Something that even Fëanaro is powerless to stop.
But, with tears upon her face, standing on the threshold of her broken door, with her eyes shut upon the darkness, Nerdanel dares to hope: Let time fold upon itself. Give me a second chance.
This is my one last wish.