Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Greetings! Welcome to this story.
I've always thought that Fëanor was not born at a good time. It's unclear whether or not Finwë was one of the first Elves ever created or was born of parents, but I think it's a safe guess that Fëanor was among the first few generations of Elves ever born and raised. Gifted children are difficult enough to raise even when one has a whole host of experts and how-to books to consult. But for those first Elves having children in Valinor, just learning how to be parents to normal children, raising a gifted child must have been nearly impossible. I'm sure Finwë tried his best, but Fëanor's childhood and adolescence can't have been easy for either one of them.
Enjoy the story, and I'll meet you at the end.
On the day his world shattered, Fëanor son of Finwë had just discovered that he was tall enough to touch the top of the garden wall when he jumped. He had been practicing for some time, but he had recently grown so rapidly that he had not yet had time to adjust to his new height. For a while, he had had an embarrassing tendency to become tangled in his own limbs, but that problem seemed to have sorted itself out now. After Mahtan had released him from his lesson, Fëanor had stripped off his apron and gloves and had sprinted for the garden behind the palace where he lived.
He abandoned his vest at the garden gate, kicked his shoes across the lawn, and ran all the way to the very end of the garden. The wind of his speed flowed across his face and rippled through his hair. He could feel the blood pumping through his limbs and tingling at his fingertips, and he turned a cartwheel for the sheer joy of doing so. At last, he came to the wall.
It was of smooth gray stone, higher than Fëanor could reach even if he stretched his hands far over his head. He crouched down, gathering tension into his thighs, then leaped as high as he could. His hand slapped almost at the top of the wall. He had been doing this for some time now, ever since he had started to grow so fast. To his delight, he had been reaching higher up the wall every time he tried. Now, he could hit the wall only a finger's length from the very top. He was sure that he would be able to touch the top very soon.
He practiced his jumps a few more times, then ran in a large circle, swinging his arms around and around wildly. When he arrived back at the wall, he squatted down so low that he was nearly sitting on the ground. He stretched his arms over his head as high as he could possibly reach, then imagined himself kicking so hard that he pushed the ground as far away as the garden was long. Launching himself into the air, he felt himself soaring higher than he had ever done before. His hand scraped along the top of the wall, bringing a shower of pebbles and rock dust down with him.
Exhilarated, Fëanor stared at his dusty hand and felt at the powder in his hair. He had done it! He had touched the top of the garden wall! He whooped with joy at his accomplishment and jumped several more times, managing to touch the top of the wall twice. Each time, he was rewarded with another shower of dust and pebbles.
"Fëanor!" Surprised at the sound of the call, Fëanor twisted in mid-air and landed in an awkward, tangled heap at the base of the wall. He sorted himself out and rose to his feet to see his old nursemaid hurrying towards him.
"Fëanor!" she called again. "There you are! I have been looking all over for you." She took one look at the boy, who was covered in rock dust and forge grime, and recoiled in horror. "You are filthy!" she announced. "This will never do. Come with me, for the King your father has summoned you to his presence."
She seized Fëanor's wrist and ran back to the palace with him. Puzzled, Fëanor allowed her to drag him along, wondering why his father's summons was so formal. Usually, if Finwë wanted to see him while he was playing, he would come out to the garden himself. But there was no longer time to ponder the question. A valet met them by the courtyard, carrying Fëanor's discarded vest and shoes.
"Stand still," the valet ordered. Fëanor obeyed, and the valet and the nurse began to brush the dust off of him roughly. "You are covered in grime!" the valet announced. "When the Valar told us about the joys of children, they did not mention how unbelievably dirty they would become."
"I have been dirty before," Fëanor protested. "Why are you -- " he got no further with his question, for the valet had plunged a handkerchief into the fountain and began scrubbing Fëanor's face. The nurse finger-combed the worst of the dust from Fëanor's hair, and the valet dried him off, stepped back, and eyed him critically.
"You are not perfect," he said, "but you will do. At least I can now see that there is a boy underneath all that filth. You ought to take off those sweaty clothes and put fresh ones on, but there is no time. Here." He thrust Fëanor's shoes at him. "Put your shoes on. The High King awaits you."
Even more curious, Fëanor hopped on first one foot, then the other as he pulled the soft leather shoes onto his feet. Finwë never insisted that he wear shoes inside the palace, claiming that as long as the floors were smooth and the carpets soft, there was no reason to confine his child's feet more than absolutely necessary. As far as Fëanor knew, he was required to wear shoes inside only for the most formal of occasions.
Confused and more than a little nervous, Fëanor stood before the nurse and the valet for a final inspection. "You could be cleaner," the nurse said, "but we have done all we can do for now. Hurry along. Your father is waiting for you in his reception hall."
Finwë only used the reception hall when Ingwë or one of the Valar visited the palace. Burning with curiosity, Fëanor ran inside and sprinted down the corridors of the palace. When he arrived at the door to the reception room, he slowed to a halt and paused to catch his breath. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, he patted at his hair before he knocked on one of the tall double doors.
Hardly daring to breathe, Fëanor pushed the door open and edged into the reception hall. Never before had he realized how big it was. Without the crowds of Elves and Valar who usually filled it when it was in use, the rich carpets and tapestries seemed enormous. Fëanor shut the door and leaned against it, dazzled by the bright colors, staring at his father, who sat at the far end of the hall.
Finwë smiled broadly and beckoned to his son. "Come here, Fëanor," he said. "Do not be nervous. I have news for you, and there is someone you should meet."
Slowly, Fëanor walked the length of the reception hall to the dais where his father sat on a carved chair. Fëanor bowed to his father and then looked in confusion at the golden-haired lady at his father's side. She looked vaguely familiar, and Fëanor supposed that he must have seen her occasionally at formal gatherings. She sat next to Finwë and held his hand. Fëanor was not sure that he approved of that familiarity. The lady smiled at him.
"This is your son?" she asked Finwë. "He will be handsome when he is fully grown."
"Yes, this is Fëanor," Finwë said. "Fëanor, may I present Indis of the Vanyar, soon to be Queen of the Noldor."
Fëanor stared, at first unable to comprehend what his father had just told him. Slowly, realization dawned, and he looked at his father, too shocked to speak.
"The Valar have rendered their final judgement," Finwë said. "They have granted me permission to marry Indis. We had thought to tell you first out of all the people."
Finally, Fëanor found his voice. "You cannot marry Indis," he told Finwë. "You are still married to Mother." Finwë did not answer, and Indis looked at the floor. Fëanor felt something large and uncomfortable settle in his stomach. "Are you still married to Mother?" he asked, suddenly dreading the answer.
"Your mother refused to leave the Halls of Waiting," Finwë said gently. "We discussed this with each other and with the Valar for a very long time, but your mother was firm in her resolve. She would not consent to take up her body again, and nothing that I or any of the Valar could say would change her mind. So the Valar ruled that our union was sundered, and they have allowed me to take Indis as my wife."
Indis put on a brave little smile. "I know that your father wants to have more children," she said. "When we are married, you will have new little brothers and sisters."
"I do not want brothers and sisters!" Fëanor cried. "Father, you do not need any more children. You already have me!" Even as the words left his mouth, he was ashamed at how babyish they sounded, but he could not take them back. Indis laughed a little.
"Give them a chance," she said, not unkindly. "They have not even been conceived yet, much less born. Perhaps when they are born, you will find that you love them after all."
Fëanor scowled. "No," he said in desperation. "I will not love any new brothers or sisters. Anyway, they would only be half-brothers and half-sisters, for you are not my mother."
"Fëanor," Finwë said sternly. Indis rose from her chair and stood before Fëanor.
"I know that I am not your mother," she said, "but if you will let me into your heart, I will love you no less than my own children. You have been without a mother's care for so long, and it breaks my heart to see it." She placed one hand on his arm and reached out the other as if to pat his hair. Fëanor twisted violently away from her.
"No!" he bellowed. "Do not touch me! You will never be my mother! Go away! I hate you, and so does my father. We do not want you in this house. You are a horrible person, and I hate you forever!"
Finwë rose to his feet, tall and commanding. "Curufinwë Fëanáro Finwion!" he thundered. "You have no call to be so rude to my betrothed lady. You will apologize to her now, and then you will go directly to your chambers and await my pleasure there!"
Startled, Fëanor turned to Indis and opened his mouth to make a bare apology. But he found that even the simplest words stuck in his throat. After a long moment of silence, he stuck his tongue out at her, whirled around and ran from the reception hall.
He charged into the courtyard and was furious to see a flock of little brown birds perched on the shrubbery, chirping contentedly as if they did not care that Finwë had announced his intention to abandon Fëanor's mother and replace her with a stranger. Fëanor stalked over to a kumquat bush and ripped off a handful of the little orange fruits. He threw them at the birds, and was only a little satisfied to see them fly away. He crossed the courtyard, sprinted to his own chamber, and slammed the door behind him.
Now Fëanor had nowhere else to run. Still blazing, he picked up a cushion from a chair and hurled it across the room. It knocked a little portrait of his mother off of his writing desk. Horrified, Fëanor gave a strangled cry and ran to retrieve the portrait. The frame was cracked from the fall, but the portrait itself was whole. Fëanor set it gently back on the desk, then sat down and extracted a fresh, clean sheet of paper. Over and over he scrawled "I hate Indis," until both sides of the paper were covered with ink. Then he took the portrait of his mother and curled up on his bed. He did not weep exactly, but he could feel the hot tears beginning to prick at his eyes, and he had to swallow hard many times before the lump in his throat went away.
Determined not to do something so childish as weep out loud, Fëanor concentrated instead on his anger. He told himself exactly how unfair it was that Finwë had decided to marry again without consulting him first, how forward Indis had been to assume that she could love him the way his mother had, and how cruel both of them were to think of replacing him in his father's affections with new children. The more he concentrated, the deeper his sulk became. He looked at the little portrait of Míriel and thought about how angry she must be to sit in the Halls of Waiting and know that her husband had forgotten her so soon. Surely she would be horrified to know that she would no longer be the mother in the House of Finwë.
Fëanor lay on his bed sulking steadily as Laurelin's light began to wane and the shadows lengthened in his chamber. Gradually, he perceived that Telperion was waxing. His stomach rumbled, and he wondered if his father intended to make him go without dinner until he apologized to Indis. Grimly, he prepared himself to starve.
In the hour of the mingling of the lights, there was a knock on Fëanor's door. "Fëanor?" came his father's voice. "Are you ready to speak calmly?"
"Go away," Fëanor said.
After a moment, the door opened, and Finwë entered. He shut the door quietly and walked around the bed where Fëanor lay. Fëanor watched as Finwë picked up the paper on the desk. He examined the scrawls on both sides calmly, then set the paper down as if it were an important document that he did not wish to mar.
"Fëanor?" The wooden bed frame creaked as Finwë sat down next to Fëanor. "Do you wish to talk to me?"
Fëanor made a show of rolling over and turning his back on his father. Finwë sighed. "Clearly, you do not wish to talk to me. I, however, wish to talk to you. We both know how inexcusably rude your conduct towards Indis was. I will still expect you to apologize to her when you can behave in a more civilized fashion. But that is for a later moment. Right now, I wish to concentrate on you. What are you feeling right now?"
"You seem very angry to me," Finwë said. "I would like to know what you are angry about. Are you angry at Indis?"
"I can understand that anger," Finwë said. "She is a stranger to you, yet she proposes to come and live in our family. That is a difficult thing, both for you and for her. She will spend our betrothal period getting to know all the people who live in the palace and acquainting herself with the customs of the Noldor. I know that she would also like to spend some of that time getting to know you. Indis is a very loving person, Fëanor, and she agreed to marry me with the understanding that you would be a full part of the family we would create together. She is prepared to love you no matter how you feel about her at first. However, at the moment, she is still a stranger to you, and you have every right to be angry at her. You do not, however, have the right to be rude to her."
Fëanor curled up tightly and buried his face even deeper in his pillow. Finwë reached out to brush at a straying tendril of black hair, but Fëanor swatted his hand away. "I see that you are angry at me as well," Finwë said. "Perhaps I did not go about this in the best way possible. Perhaps I should have introduced you to Indis first and only broken the news of our betrothal at a later time. If that shock is at the root of your misery, then I apologize to you with my whole heart. I would never intentionally cause you such pain."
The sadness in Finwë's voice made something crack in Fëanor's heart. He rolled over onto his back and glared at his father, his mouth trembling. "Why did you not tell me before?" he asked, ashamed of the way his voice quavered. "Why did you not tell me about that woman before you became betrothed to her?"
"That woman's name is Indis," Finwë said. "And I did not discuss any of this with you earlier because you were very young when this began, and until recently, I did not know that the Valar would allow me to marry Indis at all."
"Why did they allow it? What if Mother comes back?"
A look of terrible pain flitted across Finwë's face. "Fëanor," he said, so softly that Fëanor could barely hear him, "you must believe me. I cannot lie to you. That union is sundered. Your mother has chosen never again to return to her body. She will not come back."
For a moment, Fëanor lay still, frozen in shock. Then he gave a wordless shriek of rage, shoved a pillow at Finwë, and leaped off the bed. Still shrieking, he seized a little porcelain cup from his night table and threw it against the wall, where it shattered. He snatched the bedside candle from its candlestick and snapped it in two, then reached for the heavy brass candlestick itself, raising it above his head.
Finwë jumped up and ran around the bed. He threw one arm around his hysterical son, pinning his arms to his sides. With the other hand, he pinched Fëanor's wrist until he dropped the candlestick. Fëanor screamed and thrashed in his grip. Someone knocked at the door.
"My Lord," came the valet's voice. "Do you require assistance?"
"No," Finwë called. "Leave us. I will handle this." He managed to work his other arm around Fëanor in an attempt to restrain him. Fëanor struggled and kicked, and Finwë suddenly realized how much his son had grown recently. Fëanor was no longer a child, and he was strong in his rage. Just as Finwë began to fear that he would lose his grip on Fëanor, he kicked once more, then abruptly collapsed sobbing into Finwë's arms.
Finwë maneuvered them both to the bed and sat down. Fëanor fell across his lap and wept as if his heart had been ripped open. Finwë gathered his son into his arms -- when had he transformed into a tangle of arms and legs? -- and held him close as he cried out his grief and shattered hope. At last, Fëanor was too exhausted to weep any more, and he lay quietly in his father's embrace, taking deep, shuddery breaths. Finwë pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve and dabbed at Fëanor's swollen red eyes, then handed the handkerchief to his son.
"Blow," he said. Obediently, Fëanor blew his nose and folded the handkerchief. Finwë laid it on the night table. Fëanor stirred in his arms and reached out his hand. Finwë followed his gaze and saw the little portrait of Míriel lying on the bed. He took it and placed it in Fëanor's hands. They both looked at the portrait of the smiling lady in its cracked frame.
"Did Mother love me?" Fëanor asked.
"She loved you more than anything else in the world," Finwë said. "When she carried you before you were born, she would fold her arms around her belly and sing special songs that she made up just for you. When she thought about you, her face glowed as beautifully as Laurelin itself."
"Did you love Mother?"
"I did. I still do love her very much." Finwë gazed sadly at the image of his wife, now dead forever. "Out of all the children of Ilúvatar, your mother and I chose each other, and we could not possibly have been happier."
"And then I was born and Mother went to sleep. Maybe if I had not been born, you and Mother would still be happy." Fëanor began to shake, and fresh tears leaked from his eyes. Finwë wiped the tears away with his thumb.
"Do not ever think such things," he said. "Know that you were never unwanted. Your mother and I both desired a child. You were conceived in joy, and we welcomed your birth. Now that your mother is no longer here, you are a source of happiness and comfort to me. Even if Ilúvatar offered me the power to turn back Time itself, I would not change any circumstance that led to your birth."
"But if Mother loved me, why did she leave? Why will she not come back?" Half afraid of the answer, Fëanor could feel his heart pounding.
"I do not know why she left, Fëanor," Finwë said. "I know that she spent much of her energy giving birth to you, but I do not know why she chose so profound a rest. I pleaded with her for a long time, Fëanor, both before and after we brought the matter before the Valar. Your mother had only three things left to say. The first was that she was weary of life and had no desire ever to return to her body. The second was that she thought that I should marry Indis, for Indis has loved me for a long time."
At the mention of Indis, Fëanor's hands shook, and Finwë held them for a while until Fëanor was still again. "What was the third thing?" Fëanor asked. "The third thing that Mother said to you."
"It was the very last thing she said, before her fëa vanished forever into the Halls of Waiting." Finwë looked seriously into Fëanor's eyes. "She said that she loved you with everything that she was, and that her only regret was that she would never see you grow up. That was the last thing she said to me -- that she loved you, and will love you forever."
Fëanor could not stop the wailing cry of despair that seemed to come from deep inside his body. "I want my mother!" he cried, and then he had no more words left. Finwë held him tightly.
"I know," he said. "I know."
When the latest spasm of his grief passed, Fëanor wiggled off Finwë's lap but huddled close to him, unwilling to give up the comfort of his father's arms just yet. "What will happen now?" he asked.
Finwë looked at him seriously. "First, you will apologize to Indis," he said. "I know that you grieve for your mother, and I know that Indis will never replace her in your heart. I will not require that you call her Mother. How you address her is something you will have to work out with her. But you must be polite to her, and you will apologize after you have calmed down."
Fëanor nodded, resigned to his fate.
"Next, you have some choices to think about," Finwë went on. "You must think about whether or not you wish to attend the wedding. Indis and I would be honored by your presence, but I will not require it." Fëanor looked horrified, and Finwë chuckled. "Do not fear. The wedding will not be held tomorrow. There will be a long betrothal period, and you will have plenty of time before you must decide. You must also think about whether or not you wish to be present when your mother's body is laid to rest."
"What do you mean?"
"Now that she has chosen her fate, her body will not remain whole forever," Finwë said. "Shortly after the wedding, it will begin to wither, just as flowers do. Mandos has commanded that the body be buried in the earth, and we will make a ceremony when we do that. If you wish, you may attend that ceremony and bid your mother farewell. Do not make that decision now, for this will happen after the wedding."
Fëanor nodded, secretly relieved that he would be able to put that choice off for some time. He did not want his mother's body to wither, but he was not sure that he could bear seeing her put into the earth. "What will happen now, really now?" he asked. "Now that you have become betrothed, I mean. Will everyone look at me differently? Will I still go back to Mahtan?" Fëanor did not want to give up his lessons with the smith.
Finwë nodded. "You will go back to Mahtan at your accustomed hour," he said. "And if you are worried about how you will be treated, then I will speak to Mahtan about that. No one will treat you any differently than they did before."
Finwë's arms tightened around Fëanor. "I think it is time to end this day," he said. "There has been quite enough uproar for you. You may put off apologizing to Indis until after you have slept, for I believe that you will be in a better mood then. Are you hungry?"
Fëanor nodded. "I thought you would make me go to bed without dinner until I apologized," he admitted.
Finwë snorted. "And risk the sort of apology you would have given on an empty stomach? Hardly. You are hungry enough lately as it is. I will have the cooks send something here -- there is no need for you to present yourself in the dining hall. What would you say to buttered toast with eggs and tea?"
"That will be good. Will you stay with me for a while?"
"I think I can do that. Indis has gone home, and I have no other pressing engagements." Finwë rose and went into the hall to summon a page to take the food order to the kitchen, then returned to the bed and sat down next to Fëanor. "If you do not mind, I have requested food for both of us. In the meantime, shall I tell you about your mother?"
Fëanor had heard most of the stories that Finwë liked to tell about Míriel, but he was always eager to hear them again. He stroked a finger over her portrait. "I would like that."
When Laurelin waxed again, Finwë took Fëanor to Mahtan's shop. He beckoned to Mahtan, and spoke with him in a low voice as Fëanor went inside. Nerdanel was sitting at a workbench, absorbed in a project. Her curly red hair was pulled into a bun on top of her head, and Fëanor found himself fascinated by the creamy skin of her neck. He could not tear his gaze away, and after a moment, Nerdanel sensed his presence and turned around.
"Hello, Fëanor," she said, smiling brilliantly at him. "The criers came through town with the news about your father and Lady Indis. Is it not exciting?"
Fëanor tried to muster a smile to hide his dismay. "I suppose it is," he mumbled. "Father is happy about it, anyway." Nerdanel's smile vanished.
"Oh," she said. "I am sorry. You are not happy about it. Forgive me."
Fëanor shrugged. "You did not know," he allowed. "What are you making?"
Nerdanel turned to the workbench. "I am sculpting a lady in wax," she said. "When the wax sculpture is done, Father will help me make a clay mold around it. We will fire the clay, and the wax will melt. Then I can use the hollow space inside to cast the statue. In bronze, I think. What do you think? Would bronze be pretty?"
Fëanor looked at the wax lady. Her face was delicately sculpted, and he imagined that it was Míriel's face. "Yes," he said. "Bronze would be pretty."
Nerdanel tilted her head and looked into Fëanor's eyes. She slipped her hand into her apron pocket, and a sympathetic expression flitted across her face. "If you wish, I would be honored to dance with you at your father's wedding," she said. Then she stepped forward and pressed something small and hard into Fëanor's hand as she kissed him gently on the cheek.
Stunned, Fëanor did not speak as Nerdanel collected her wax sculpture and carving tools and left the room. He opened his hand and found a small, flat piece of lapis lazuli. The dark blue stone was worn smooth around the edges. Little golden specks twinkled around a bolt of gold. He was still staring at the beautiful stone when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning around, he saw Mahtan smiling at him.
"You are a brave lad," the smith said. "It takes courage to pick yourself up and press onward after a felling blow. I am glad that you are here, Fëanor." Fëanor looked at the ground and felt the corners of his mouth begin to turn up. Mahtan stepped back.
"I think it is time that you began a new project," he said. "Your spice box turned out particularly well. Do you have anything in mind that you would like to create?"
Fëanor nodded. He reached into his belt pouch and took out the portrait of Míriel. "The frame on my mother's picture is broken," he said. "I think I would like to make a new one."
Mahtan took the portrait and examined the broken frame. "Yes, that would be a good thing for you to do. What sort of a frame would you like to make?"
Fëanor thought for a moment. "I would like to make a silver frame," he said. "It should look like a wreath of branches, just as if Telperion itself had grown around the picture."
"That would be very nice. I can show you how to do the detail work on the branches and perhaps add a few leaves here and there."
"Then, perhaps just one thing more. . . " Fëanor paused, not sure whether or not his new idea was a good one. Mahtan always said that the mark of a true artist was an understanding of when to stop adding to a work. He held out the piece of lapis lazuli that Nerdanel had given him. "I think I would like to set this at the very top of the frame," he said.
Mahtan took the little stone and turned it over in his hands, examining it from all sides. "That would work," he said at last. "It will bring out her eyes. Do you wish to shape the stone or leave it as it is?"
Fëanor considered the question. Part of him wished to shape the stone into a perfect circle, but he was reluctant to alter Nerdanel's gift. And there was something pleasing about the stone's irregularity. "I think I will leave it," he said. "I know that it will make the set more difficult, but I like its shape. It is unusual."
"It is," Mahtan agreed, "but it will not be impossible to set. I think that will be a good challenge for you. Come, let us begin to design this frame of yours."
He returned the bit of lapis lazuli to Fëanor and began to clear space at one of the drafting tables. Fëanor opened a supply closet and took out sheets of paper, quills and ink. He and Mahtan sat down at the drafting table, and Fëanor began to draw while Mahtan made suggestions and described the techniques he would need to use. As he sketched, Fëanor felt himself relaxing. Life in his father's house might have been turned upside down, but here at Mahtan's shop, everything was as it had always been.
He wished vaguely that Mahtan were his father, and then found his thoughts drifting back to Nerdanel. He thought about her long, slim neck feathered with short red curls beneath her bun. She had given him a pretty stone and had kissed him. Perhaps he would attend his father's wedding, if Nerdanel would dance with him.
He sketched a complicated knot of branches, and Mahtan nodded. "That is well drawn," he said. "It will be a challenge to cast that, but I think you are clever enough to do it." Fëanor beamed at the praise. His frame would be as beautiful as his mother's portrait. He would never allow himself to forget who was the true Queen of the Noldor and Lady of the House of Finwë.
Many thanks to those who have read and enjoyed this story.
Nerdanel is in the process of making a lost-wax casting. This method of creating unique works of art is used in parts of West Africa to make jewelry. Fëanor may very well use the same method to cast his picture frame.
Finwë is quite the unfortunate soul. He tries so hard to do right by those he loves and those who love him, and somehow, nothing he does ever turns out right.
Thanks for reading! I'll see you later.