II. Stone

When Nerdanel conceived, Fëanor became strangely agitated. It took her some time to understand why: that he worried that she might be like his mother Miriel and pour all the strength of her spirit into their child, leaving none for herself. She listened to his fears but told him that he need not be concerned, for if his was a spirit of fire that had burnt away his mother's, her own was like the stone she worked so well, and no child of theirs could wear it all away.

Maedhros was born just as the light of Laurelin was waning, and that of Telperion waxing. Nerdanel held his tiny form to her breast and Fëanor sat by her side, his expression proud of his fine son, though he asked, "Should he be so small?"

Nerdanel laughed. "Had he been much larger, I do not see how he could have been born. Do you not remember what your brothers were like at their births?"

"I was not there." Fëanor's expression was closed, and Nerdanel sighed to herself. She had not fully understood the rift in the house of Finwë until after she and Fëanor had already wed, and wished that it could be bridged. She hoped that perhaps the birth of this child would help.

For a time it seemed that it might. Finwë came to see his grandson; his wife Indis did not accompany him, but their sons Fingolfin and Finarfin did and made such fuss over their nephew as should have softened the hardest heart. Yet after their departure Fëanor held to his old disdain for his father's other family, and the arrival of other sons did not change matters, especially when his half-brothers soon also had children of their own.

This scorn was out of keeping with Fëanor's character, Nerdanel thought, for it was a cold antipathy, and Fëanor was more like to be hot-tempered. Shortly after Maglor's birth Fëanor had begun a series of experiments, trying a new approach to his jewel-making, and when they failed he smashed all the faulty gems in his rage. His anger worried Nerdanel, and she sought by her advice to calm him. When they had first begun to work together he had listened to her suggestions willingly, but as he ventured into techniques that none had tried before, he took pride in his unique abilities, and Nerdanel had imperceptibly shifted from assistant to observer of Fëanor's work. He continued, though, to advise her when she asked for it, and sometimes when she did not. Now when she spoke of what he did, he listened with less and less attention.

Not that he ceased to spend time with her, or their sons as their family grew, and a look from him could still send heat along her veins. But he seemed often impatient to return to his fire and forge, his gems and metals.

She realized just how estranged they were becoming from what seemed a little thing. Always when Fëanor created a new type of gem, he had brought it to Nerdanel first, sharing his success with her. After Caranthir's birth, when she was once again adjusting to the presence of an infant and all the demands that brought, Fëanor ceased to show her his work daily as had been his custom. It took Nerdanel some time to realize it, distracted as she was by their children, but one night, after the rest of the household was abed, she asked.

"You are always preoccupied, my wife," said Fëanor to her. "What you do in raising our sons is worthy of your time – I do not question that – but I would have my work receive no attention from you, rather than less than its due."

Nerdanel's expression hardened. "And what of my work, Fëanor? Is it only to breed and bear and bring up your sons? I love them greatly, mistake me not, but had I known that I should lose all time to practice my craft, while you would not make the same renunciation, I would not have agreed to have so many." She tried to read his eyes, and found only the reflection of the lamplight there.

Fëanor was silent for a time. Then he said, "I did not realize you felt so. Shall I take the eldest three and begin training them in craftsmanship, perhaps? That would lessen the burden on you, and they are old enough to be of some help."

"If they are interested," said Nerdanel, "that would be a reasonable plan. You can ask them each tomorrow."

Maedhros, Maglor, and Celegorm all seized on their father's suggestion, although Maglor asked Nerdanel in private if he could still practice another craft later. She assured him that he could, and with that he seemed happy to spend time with Fëanor and his brothers. Curufin was old enough to want to join them, but Fëanor ruled this out for the time being. Nerdanel allowed Curufin to help her with simple tasks in her own workrooms, which she was now again able to visit regularly, and he showed a good deal of aptitude for working with metal.

Now that Nerdanel was less overwhelmed by their brood – larger than any other family among the Noldorin – Fëanor began suggesting to her that they have one more child. "A daughter, perhaps," he said persuasively. "Would you not like a daughter?"

She would like to have a little girl, but after five sons she felt that she had borne enough; and what if a sixth child were another son? Despite her reservations, though, Nerdanel allowed herself to be convinced by Fëanor's words. He courted her, almost as he had done when they were young, and prevailed upon her to conceive.

Soon after the child quickened, Nerdanel became concerned. The movements of this one seemed very different from those of her previous children. She sought out the advice of Yavanna, Vána, and Estë, hoping that the Valier might know more than herself.

One by one, they gravely examined her; then all three looked at her and smiled. Yavanna said, "Do you not know? You carry not one, but two babes this time. I could hear the two heartbeats quite distinctly."

"What?" Nerdanel had never heard of such a thing.

"Indeed, it is true," Vána assured her. "It is not unusual among the kelvar, the animals, even if we have not seen it before among the Children of Ilúvatar. It would seem that both your spirit and Fëanor's must be exceptionally strong."

"Will it cause trouble, when it is time for them to be born?" asked Nerdanel.

"I do not see why it should," said Yavanna.

Estë added, "The limbs of your children are not long enough to become entangled as can happen with deer, or lambs, or some others of the kelvar. But if you are concerned, one of us could be with you for the birth."

"I will come to you if you need aid," Vána said.

"Thank you," said Nerdanel. "I will send Fëanor for you, if it seems necessary." Much relieved, she returned home.

This labor began like all her others, with mild twinges that quickly became painful contractions of all the muscles through her belly. Nerdanel sent Curufin to fetch his father while she went to the room she had prepared for the birth. While waiting for her husband, she walked, hoping to hasten the process. It seemed a long time before Fëanor arrived, and when he did, his expression showed none of the happiness Nerdanel expected, but rather impatience.

"How long will it yet be?" were the first words from his mouth.

Nerdanel bit back a sharp response, instead replying, "That is something even the Valar could not tell you. It will take as long as it takes. Do you not wish to be with me and support me at this birth, as at all the others, and greet your new babes as they take breath?"

"The gem on which I have been working will be marred if I do not return quickly to complete it," said Fëanor, not answering her question.

"And what of that?" Nerdanel said, her patience breaking at last. "You wished me to bear another child, you persuaded me to it, and indeed there will be two more. None other among all our kin, not any of the Noldor, or Vanyar, or Teleri, has ever borne so many children. Now it seems you do not care, for all your pride in their numbers? Well, then, go back to your gems. I do not want you here; I only ask that you send for Vána and ask her to attend me, as she offered."

She turned away, and after a moment she heard Fëanor leave the room. A spasm seized her and she clutched at the carved marble mantlepiece to support herself. Her heart felt as cold and heavy as the stone beneath her fingers as she waited. Her sons needed her, and the two children coming now; she would remain for them. For now.