Sincere thanks to the wonderful reviewers of 'Unknowing, Nerdanel Sells Pearls to A Prince' before I begin: LilianC1, Morehelka, Nerdanel, Anduwen, Itarille, Mirfein, Sphinx, Vana Tuivana, Noldo, moonshine 44, much cheer and gratiitutde! I'm touched and encouraged.
Thanks to Tehta for being the world's best beta.
Disclaimer: Property of JRR Tolkien and co.
NERDANEL ATTEMPTS A RESCUE
Nerdanel's unhappiness first made itself known when the walls of her rooms began to empty. Knick-knacks and keepsakes, the work of a lifetime, clothes, jewels, books, gifts – shelves of them might be cleaned out over a single Tree-waning. Her helpers began to hesitate before going to the large, airy suite attached to her forge and workshop in fear that she would try and foist new things on them each time. Not that they disliked it, because no woman in Aman had more beautiful things than Nerdanel, but it was uncomfortable. Now they would enter and find clothes on the floor – heavy mirror-worked skirts, jewelled sandals, silken tunics, plain linen clothes that only Nerdanel could wear with a certain grace and flair – and she, sitting on the bed, would look down at those beloved garments as though they belonged to someone else and say to the young girls, "But of course you must take them, Yestë, Melwen, they would look wonderful on you, or perhaps that colour would suit someone else, I leave it to you, yes no please my ladies, I do insist." She was always polite to them now.
Old statues and bric-a-brac would fly off the shelves with alarming speed. Nerdanel had many visitors among clients, friends, relatives or simply other craftspeople who came to converse and perhaps take away some advice. "See this," she would say pensively, taking down a forest carving in silver, or a door-stopper in iron, or impossibly large gold earrings. "It is lovely," her admirers would say truthfully. "Yes," she would say, "but the time for this sort of thing is past. Here, you like it, you must have it. No go on it is my gift, you absolutely must, yes no, please I do insist." At the time of the Great Exile, hundreds of families left behind homes where something of Nerdanel's had pride of place.
Her youngest children began to avoid her. They were very small, but like all children, Ambarussa had a divining instinct for unhappiness, and were repelled by it. She did not notice it, though; everything seemed to escape her. She would sit at her desk to compose a short letter and when she finished, the hours marked by Laurelin would have fled with her not noticing, and Ambarussa would have been put to bed by an over-busy Atarinkë , taking a moment from his own absorption in the forge, or quiet, angry, worried Carnistir. Her three eldest had left home long ago; Tyelkormo for the woods of Oromë, Makalaurë wandering somewhere whence only his voice could be heard, and Maitimo to Tirion, where he was working at his grandfather's right hand on the Council.
He came home for brief whiles now and then; they all did. On the day Nerdanel went to her eldest son's room he was already packing his clothes to leave again. He looked up and smiled as she entered. His walls, too, were bare.
"I was looking at some of my things," she said, sitting next to him. "I found this, and I thought you should have it."
It was an armband of copper and diamond, cleverly formed to fit the arm of any wearer. She pushed his sleeve up and let it snake around his bicep, pleased at how beautiful he was. She looked up to see if he liked it as well, and found him looking at her with a quiet, intent look.
"Thank you," he said. "It is lovely. But I think it suits you much better."
"Nonsense," she smiled. "The time is past for all that. Now you must wear it often in Tirion. Everyone's eyes will be on you."
"They are anyway."
"All the women's eyes?"
He blushed a little. "Mother."
She laughed and found her throat dry and aching from the effort. She laughed again. And then again.
The next thing she was conscious of was leaning against Maitimo as darkness swam before her eyes, and his cool fingers caressed her brow. He held her chin up, and when she opened her eyes, asked her softly, "Mother, what is wrong?"
She did not know, so she began to cry.
He was not Ambarussa, he was no longer a child; he gathered her closer and held her. He reached up to stroke her hair comfortingly. It was a gesture he had learned unconsciously from Fëanáro. But Nerdanel was conscious of it, and she turned her head swiftly away from him.
He looked mystified and a little hurt. "Shall I call Father?" he asked after a while.
She wiped her tears and rose, and without thinking said, "Tell him I will be in my rooms."
She was sitting at her table, bare of even its covering cloth, when he entered. He was dressed in work clothes, his hair and arms bare of ornaments..
He took in the room before he looked at her. "Where is everything?" he asked.
"Gone," she said, feeling tongue-tied.
"Are you doing new work?" he asked after a pause. His voice was filled with doubt.
She shook her head.
"What is wrong, Nerdanel?" he asked.
Only then did she realise what was wrong, and realised also that she could not confess it to this companion of long years. For the greater part of her life he had been her closest friend; he was not that now. He had grown beyond her conception of him, and the space he held in her love could no longer be filled. It left a great blankness in her. Desolately she wondered if another child would make her happy again, but it could not be. She could not lie with Fëanáro. She no longer loved him.
"What is wrong, Nerdanel?" he repeated.
She looked up and remembered the burning eyes of the young elf she had first seen at a silver seller's in Alqualondë. He looked through her. His eyes wandered over her and the room that she had unmade. He was imagining the familiar things that he had taken for granted back in place. He wanted everything to be as he liked; now Nerdanel was afraid that she could not stop him from making it so. She did not want to be simply what Fëanáro wanted.
She thought of him bathed in the light of his Silmarils – noble and true and filled with love, but untouchable. That was another Fëanáro, unrecognizable from this one. This one she could touch, but the light was gone from him. Somehow, she realised, each Fëanáro had diminished the other.
"I am unhappy," she said. Her voice, like the word, sounded foreign to her ears. She had never known what unhappiness was before.
"You look tired," he said. His voice was kind. She felt the memory of the old Fëanáro spark alight and die out in her.
He said, "You have not rested since the twins were born."
She said, "Yes, I am tired."
He frowned darkly. The years had improved his good looks. "Nerdanel, my love," he said. He had not been near her since the twins were born.
Suddenly it was all too great to bear. She could not answer his questioning glance and his kind endearments. What should have been a conversation of love felt like a quarrel, and she was losing the fight. She had lost.
"I must leave," she said.
He gazed at her out of large, dark, innocent eyes. "If it will make you feel better," he said. "You must go to your father."
She thought, I will go somewhere I can be alone.
He said, "The house will miss you while you are away."
She nodded. Of course he meant that he would miss her too.
"I will miss you," she said.
She thought, But not more than I do now.She said, "I will not keep you, Curufinwë. Surely you were engaged in something important."
He frowned again and cleared his throat. "I am glad you called for me."
"I would not leave without seeing you."
He nodded. "Send me a letter when you wish to return. I will come to accompany you. Or if you wait another week I can finish my work and come with you to Father Mahtan's."
She shook her head mutely. He had forgotten that his mother had died of weariness.
All conscious feeling rose out of Nerdanel's being as he kissed her and left the room, except the single thought that she did not want to die.
She sat at her table for a while longer and looked about her. He was right. It was empty. She did not recognize it either.
It was curious how heavy the feeling of emptiness was, she thought, as she rose to her feet and left her room. It grew heavier with each step she took out of the house.
She passed Maitimo, playing with the twins. She smiled and waved at them. The twins waved back cautiously. Maitimo stood up, brushing grass off his leggings, and started after her, then stopped. She waved until she turned out of the gate.