Nerdanel's Story - Part 6. Betrothals #1.
(Disclaimer. All characters belong to JRR Tolkien. Gaerion, Tulcon and Alcarin are my own `creations' but only from reading Tolkien. Narwasar is a character of my `beta' reader, used with her permission. All references are from The Silmarillion, and HoME 1, 10 and 12. This chapter in particular is the result of much collaboration with, and assistance from my `beta', Elemáinie, whom I thank!)
"In due time the betrothal was announced at a meeting of the two houses concerned, and the betrothed gave silver rings one to the other. According to the laws of the Eldar this betrothal was bound then to stand for one year at least. During this time it could be revoked by a public return of the rings...Such was the law; but the right of revoking was seldom used, for the Eldar do nor err lightly in such choices....."
( Morgoths Ring. HoME 10. `The later Quenta Silmarillion.')
The house of Sarmo Urundil. Seventh Age.
Did I err in my choice? Many would say so! But if that choice had not been made, my sons would not have been. The history of the Noldor may have unfolded differently; poorer, aye, but less disastrous, perhaps? I knew there was some hint of ill ease in the depths of Fëanáro, that his grief had damaged him more than he then showed. And yet, I would have wed with no other!
You ask me if I was truly happy after I wed, if I can recall a time of great joy, Adaneth? There are many times, indeed, but let me think on your words a moment! Ai, yes...there is one instance that has always stood out for me, because of the depth of love that it held for me, and also because of its nature. I was part awake, and part in dream, you understand, and memories of that kind tend to hold a more ethereal quality than others.
It was the day after Maitimo was born! The birth had not been overly difficult, but I was tired, of course. I was lying on the bed, soft covers drawn over me, and the room was full with birdsong and the heady fragrance of the roses that grew nearby. Beside the bed, a crib had been drawn up from which a small sound of gentle, rhythmical breathing ushered forth. As I came out of dream and my eyes focused, I saw the tiny copper downed head moving, and little hands twitching, as Maitimo dreamt also. My beautiful one! I longed to touch him, to hold him to me, but I would not disturb his rest. He was dear to me beyond any words that I could utter. Such a feeling of warmth and love for him flooded me then, so full was my heart that it was nigh unbearable. I must have slept again, though in the corners of my consciousness I was aware of the hushed movements of the midwife and of my own mother, watching over me, over us.
When I woke next it was to a feeling of warmth against my back, and I realised that Fëanáro was lying beside me on the bed, his energy flowing through me, engulfing me in soothing waves. He brushed away my hair from my shoulders and his lips caressed my throat, my cheek, my brow, so gently, with a tenderness that he rarely managed to show!
"I thank thee, my Lady!" he had whispered to me, as he had done the previous day! " He is so strong, so very beautiful, so full of life, this son of ours!"
"And he looks like my father!" I had spoken that one thing that concerned me, about which I wondered at Fëanáro's reaction!
"A little, perhaps! And also he has much of you about him!" He replied, with a slight laugh that alleviated my worry. " It is his colouring! But he has my mother's eyes and may yet be more like me in mood I believe!"
I trembled a little at his words, for I was still weakened from the birth. And he wrapped his strong arms around me, and pulled me tightly, protectively to him. " All will be well, my love. You will soon be strong again. I will give you whatever support, whatever of mine own strength I can. " I had slept again. Melting so willingly, so trustingly into him.
When I next awoke, Telperion's light was flooding the room. I was alone on the bed and the crib was empty. For the smallest of instants did concern for my child's whereabouts fill me, but then I saw, sitting in the window seat, Fëanáro holding Maitimo to himself, and speaking softly to him, and gazing on his firstborn son with delight and wonder!
And I was happy then, so very happy!
And there was another day before I wed; one of varying emotions, but it also held great joy for me, eventually!
In my family's absence had Tulcon sought to become betrothed to Mötamë. Though both were young, they were approaching that age when they considered their wish to be espoused in the near future. A betrothal should, by law, stand for a year at least, and in a year and a half would they both be over five*, so their families had happily agreed to make public their intentions.
There was still no message out of Tirion, but my heart was gladder than of late, as I considered often the words of Aulë and of Yavanna. Was my own betrothal a possibility, I wondered? What answer would I give to one who asked of me to be at his side? `Aye, Lord, willingly', had I replied to Aulë's question, and I had known of what the Vala spoke, though I had demurred at it. I was very young, we all were of that second generation, but I knew my own mind as well as any could. I knew what I wanted, and if Fëanáro asked, then would I say `yea'to his proposal. If he asked, that was!
My parents and I continued with our work. Urundil had still to finish his crafting of the gem for Oromë, and he had received a request from one of the Loremasters for an intricate device with which to more clearly observe the realm of Varda. Never before had a device so complex for this purpose been made, and the challenge brought a smile to his face. That he asked me, as well as my mother, to assist him in this work was no small honour.
Now the house of Tulcon's family was close unto ours, and my father, though engrossed in this new venture, had offered to host the occasion of the betrothal, and to serve the families himself. There was much delight amongst our community at this suggestion, for both Tulcon and Mötamë were beloved by all and our home could hold many guests.
My mother, Taurlotë, and I offered to help out as best we could, and we were to assist with the preparation of food and the decoration. I also offered then to help with serving the wine and seeing that none went without refreshment. Always have I loved my study and my work more than festivities, but I enjoyed merriment also, and would enter wholeheartedly into this celebration for those who were my friends.
So when the day arrived, many were the visitors who graced my father's house, both from our own community and from other places. The tables had been set out upon our lawns, those that backed onto the house, but stretched to the apple orchard, and down hill to the stream. A good variety of food was laid out, and musicians stood by. All was ready for that merry crowd that assembled, laughing, and speaking eagerly in anticipation. When Urundil saw that all who were invited had gathered, he held up a hand for silence. Unlike a wedding, a betrothal came before the feast! This was the first such ceremony I had witnessed, and I watched with much fascination, and no little wonder, as the families of Mötamë and Tulcon stood forth, and made the announcement of their children's intentions with great delight. The couple then exchanged those rings of silver that were to be symbols of their love and commitment until they wed. And then that date was set, two years hence, for the ceremony in which they would finally become united. For a moment, the light caught the silver rings, and they seemed to glitter as brightly as those stars over the eastern Sea. `Gaerion,' I thought with a hint of pain, `where are you now, my friend?" But there was no time for further contemplation, for my father had signalled for the feast to begin.
The time passed quickly as my mother and I saw to the needs of the guests. I was aware of music in the background, of harps and flutes and lutes and viols and I observed many couples dancing, but even had I desired to join them (and I did not!), the partner for whom I yearned was not present.
No rush was there to finish this gathering, and more food was brought out, while some began a song. My mother joined in here, for sweet and strong was her voice, and much appreciated by all. Suddenly, there was the sound of riders approaching! I have said before, we had naught to fear in the Blessed Realm in those days, so the celebrations were not disturbed as my father excused himself and made to find out what news was being brought, and to offer the riders refreshment in our house.
I knew it was he, before any word was said! I knew Fëanáro had returned at last! My heart quickened in anticipation of meeting, but what a time to choose! I was occupied helping our guests and serving, and though it was an honour so to do, I was not at liberty to greet and speak with him.
Even so, I heard the voices of the new arrivals, mingled with my father's. More than his voice did I hear, for more than one rider had arrived. I tried to work my way towards the courtyard, exchanging pleasantries, and enquiring as to guest's needs as I went. So close did I get to my goal, but then was I asked to bring more wine, and decided this would be best achieved by crossing the courtyard, no further excuse did I need! Their backs were turned towards me as I approached, three Lords, dressed in finery, with sweeping cloaks; one of green, one of red, and one of blue with gold and silver threads and jewelled circlets were upon their brows. Never before had I beheld him so attired, and he appeared to me as the son of the King in truth, as if I had ever doubted such! But I also was well attired for the evening, as a servant! I heard Fëanáro apologizing with well-measured words for intruding at such an inopportune moment. He asked then, if my father would allow he and his two companions, whom he named as Ecthelion and Alcarin, to stay. Perhaps Urundil would ask Tulcon and Mötamë's families for their permission also? It was unlikely that any would turn away the son of Finwë from their festivity, but a betrothal was a private celebration and Tulcon, at least, would never have invited Fëanáro. My father was at great pain to make these unexpected visitors welcome, and suggested that, if Fëanáro and his friends mingled as discreetly as they could, there should be no reason for protest. Besides, the son of Finwë was his guest, and proud of that was Urundil!
" I shall speak this moment with Tulcon." Urundil said. "Do partake of food and wine as you wish, and there will be dancing again soon, if any of you so desire!"
"My errand concerns Nerdanel!" Fëanáro came straight to the point, halting my father's departure. " I would speak with her!"
At those words did my face redden, and not wishing my feelings to show so plainly to those two strangers, I decided to avoid the very one whose presence I most desired. I attempted to retreat back to the lawns, but to no avail! My father saw me, and with his usual pride in me, called me over to him. I bowed my head for a moment, wishing mightily to be elsewhere, but when I looked up, my father and the two new visitors were gone!
The Prince bowed to me, smiling at my attire, though the dress was of a russet silk with deep green embroidery, and fine enough for the occasion. " Well met, Nerdanel! No servant are you I see, save unto Aulë!" he exclaimed in a baiting manner, recalling my words to him on an earlier occasion. Of course he also noticed my red face, how could he not? "I must speak to you alone," he then continued, softening his voice in something of a conspiratorial whisper, his eyes shining with emotion of his own. "I have my mother's gift for you!"
Clever words had I rehearsed with which to reproach him for his long absence when I saw him again; those words died on my lips. "Where have you been, Fëanáro? We have missed you here!" I found myself confessing to my dismay!
Totally composed was he then, sure of himself, as ever." So your father has already informed me!" Smiling enigmatically, he continued, "I have had much to ponder of late. I have had letters to write, and crafting to work upon." He paused, assessing my mood. "A sculpture for your parents have I made, to replace in a measure something of theirs and some work in silver have I undertaken ...." Here he attempted to take up my hand, but I was holding a serving tray and kept it firmly in my grasp.
Embarrassed by my own reactions, but determined not to succumb to either overt curiosity or to more hope than his words warranted, I made bold to speak, "My thanks you have, my Lord, but I have guests to attend, as you can see, and your gift and words will needs wait yet awhile, until all has been done for the feast."
His eyebrows went up, but the smallest of smiles was still on his lips as he nodded understanding of my predicament. "I have no wish to disturb such a joyous event as this, and I may partake of the celebrations myself!" he said. "And when you are at liberty to be excused, come unto me, and we will speak in private of future matters." I curtseyed to him, as was proper, and made to leave. " Come as soon as you may!" he reiterated, deftly taking the tray from me as I turned, and placing it aside as he now caught up one of my hands in his and held it tightly. "Thou art truly more than any ordinary maid, Nerdanel, daughter of Urundil, servant of Aulë. Most pleasing do I find thy company to be!" He did not loose my hand, and neither did I wish him to, but I had duties to be about.
"I must go! " I said, full of the import of the intimacy with which he had addressed me. " But I shall find thee, my Lord, as soon as I may!" and at my choice of words did he release his hold, and I returned to the celebrations.
In earnest I tried to still my thoughts, and turn my mind toward serving our guests. The green-cloaked, light-haired Alcarin I noticed partaking freely of the wine, and walking away towards the herb gardens with a full goblet. Ecthelion seemed to me to be more courteous! (As in fact he proved to be over long ages; he was one of the most honourable of those Lords of Tirion, though I knew it not for certain at that time!) He had joined in the singing at one point, his voice one of the most beautiful I had ever heard. Now, however, he too had a half drunken flacon in his hand and was wandering off, probably in pursuit of his friend. More dancing began, to a quick and lively tune that I oft enjoyed. I smiled to myself, imagining that at some time, perhaps even later in the celebrations, I would willingly dance to that music
" You need to think carefully and swiftly, daughter, if you have not done so already." My father was at my side. " If I have any wisdom at all, I would say the Prince has something on his mind other than wandering the hills. He likes you well, I deem!"
I knew my parents were hoping Fëanáro liked me well. But they valued my happiness far beyond any connection with the King's son, as any true parents would. Before I could give answer to my father, one of his apprentices approached me, made a short bow and inquired if I would accompany him in the dance. . With a show of regret and of the tray I had reclaimed, I declined his kind offer. He smiled, unperturbed, and moved on to ask another.
Fëanáro was watching this, of course, and he rose from the seat he had taken on the far side of the lawns and strode purposefully towards me. `Not yet!' thought I, struggling to contain my wish that my `service' was at an end. It was just as well, for a few tables from where my father and I stood, he broke into a grin and with an elegant bow and sweep of his cloak, asked the lady at whose side he now stood to grant him the dance. It was my mother! That Taurlotë was surprised I am certain, but my father smiled too, aware of the game Fëanáro was playing.
`I shall not stand idle and watch you showing off your fine skills at the dance, my Lord' I thought with amusement, and to my father I said, "I will take a walk in the gardens to clear my head, and see if any have wandered there that require more food or wine. Later shall I speak with that exhibitionist Prince!"
Urundil smiled knowingly at my departure. "And I shall keep him informed as to your whereabouts, lady!" he added mischievously." Now I must also be about my duties here, as host, while your mother dances!"
Taking in empty platters as I left the celebrations, I allowed myself to indulge in a feeling of delight that he was back. But my happiness was to be short-lived! As I passed the garden, I overheard the voices of Fëanáro's companions speaking together in one of the bowers. Either Lord had not then seen me, and it was in my mind that I should speak with them, at least to introduce myself and see if they wished for anything further for their comfort. Before I could make my presence known, I heard what I believed to be a slur on my name. I stopped to listen; nigh horrified that such could be said openly.
An eloquent voice that I believed to be that of the dark-haired Ecthelion, was answering the insult. "I know what you say about Nerdanel, and of your concerns, and I agree in part. But you will not change his mind, you know! Once Fëanáro has decided upon a course of action, that action he will take!"
"But she has little beauty compared to those ladies we know, compared to Tiriniel!" exclaimed the other speaker, the one who had made the slur and who I assumed to be Alcarin. "And that copper brown hair, and curved hips Ai!!! I cannot see why is he so interested in her?"
"That is for him to know!" countered Ecthelion. "For my part, I think he sees and feels more deeply than we. Mayhap he finds that which meets with your distaste to be a thing of beauty to him."
Alcarin spoke mockingly." The hair you mean! She has hair as flame when she stands in the light, and I understand how that may well fascinate him! But he cannot mean to wed her so he can behold the flame in her hair at will! Why does he not just ask her for a lock?"
"I do not doubt he is attracted by her hair, but if it were that alone, it would make him very shallow, do you not think."
"Better shallow than blind!"
That this lord Alcarin thought little of me was obvious. I knew I was not amongst the fairest of the nissi, but the thought that Fëanáro would value me just on appearance had not occurred to me. He was attracted by beauty, certainly..it is a characteristic of the Eldar...and he had even said that I had `rare beauty' on one of our explorations in the north, but I had never thought him to be one who would consider appearance alone. It was much more than that, surely?
"Fëanáro is neither shallow nor blind! From what I have heard of Nerdanel, she is skilled and eager for knowledge. That also will he find attractive!" Ecthelion resumed after a moments thought.
"I have heard him say that!" Alcarin agreed, pausing also for a moment in which I felt my heart rise to my throat. "But it cannot be enough to seek to wed with her? I have also heard him speak much more of the skills of her father. Can he not learn what he needs from Urundil without paying court to his daughter? My belief is that it is Urundil's skills he truly seeks, for he will not become an Aulendur himself, and he will overlook Nerdanel's shortcomings to that end." Now did I creep forwards silently, and was in a position to see Alcarin shake his head with disbelief." Why could he not look to my sister? She has fair beauty, and she knows what would be expected of her! A match between two noble Houses that would be, and fitting! Nerdanel knows naught of the life of Tirion, of its Lords and Ladies. He cannot mean to take her there with him! An embarrassment she would be to the House of Finwë! Many would wonder greatly at him making such a choice! Let her visit with her family if she will, and let him look for a wife amongst those of more noble blood!"
The mention of `wed' and of `wife' had not escaped me, but now I was angry, though I knew not whether it was at this careless and uncivil assessment of myself, or at the suggestion that Fëanáro had only sought my company to ingratiate himself with my father rather than commit himself to Aulë!
I put down the platters I was carrying, least I threw them at those `Lords', and I moved into the garden to confront the two whose opinion of me was so low. "Sorry I am to have overheard such denigrating conversation between any of our people! You are guests in my father's house and at this betrothal by his vouching, my noble Lords!" I said, strongly implying I considered neither to be behaving as such.
Ecthelion looked up at me, aghast, and Alcarin looked away, embarrassed "Lady! We knew not you were there!" the first stammered.
"That much is obvious!" I retorted sternly. "I have heard a truthful account of your thoughts, unpalatable though they are, and I would that you leave this place as soon as you may, for I care not for your company!" By this time, Alcarin was sliding into his seat with discomfort, but Ecthelion held up a hand to interrupt my words.
"Lady Nerdanel, I fear you have only heard the last moments of our discussion, and one which you should not have heard at all! It would anger Prince Fëanáro to discover you now know of his intentions!"
I would have none of it! Those two had shattered my dream, and on a day that should have been a glad one! "In that you have done me a service!" I continued, my wrath fed on a growing sense of betrayal. "I will not be used, even by him! In this place, my Lords, am I accounted as nigh a princess, though I do not have the arrogance to speak as such. If Fëanáro values me only as a means to my father, if he thinks to endure my plainness to gain such influence, he is contemptible, and no credit to our people!" Ecthelion winced under the barrage of words, but I had no mercy for his discomfort, so distraught was I."I should not lower myself to wed with such as he! Finer and more honourable neri are to be found amongst my father's apprentices, and amongst the Teleri, for that matter! You may tell him that as you leave!" ( And you thought that my sons inherited all of their hasty temper from their father, Adaneth? Much of it, aye! But not all!)
"Lady Nerdanel..please.." Ecthelion, realising the extent of harm done, made to stand, and although I knew him the less blameworthy of the two, I maintained my attitude of command. "What you speak about once you leave this place is your own business. For my part, though I greatly enjoyed the company of the Prince, never has he intimated that we are anything other than friends. And now I think we shall no longer even be that!"
I did not wait for a reply, but turned on my heels and made back to the house, head held high and restraining every impulse to run. I would not cry! Though hot tears were in my eyes, I would not give those nobles from Tirion the satisfaction of seeing they had wounded me so. This was a time of merriment, of celebration for Tulcon and Mötarë, and I would not ruin it, I would not take attention to myself.
I moved to help my mother take out more wine to the guests, and would not look to see where Fëanáro was, nor wonder if he had received my instructions.
"Nerdanel?" Alas, he had seen my distress, and crossed over the grounds to me.
"No, my Lord Prince! I have not time nor mood for your company this moment!" I spoke more sharply than I had intended, for he had done no wrong to me directly. But my mind was full of thoughts on my unsuitability; of what an embarrassment some considered me to be! In the heat of anger, did I resolve that I would not give any further chance to mock me. I would end this relationship now.
He knew I was flustered, but perhaps had put it down to some other emotion than temper. "Tell me what has happened to distress you so, Lady?" he persevered, somewhat impatiently.
"What has happened, my Lord? I have considered the words of your `friends'! I seek not to be numbered amongst the great and the good of Tirion. An Aulendur I will become, and great in my own right, though that weighs of little value with some noble Lords. Now I must bid you farewell. I have much to do both now and after the celebrations and have no further time to speak!"
I did not wait for his response, nor for him to dismiss me, as certainly he had the right to do. But I mingled determinedly amongst those other guests. I kept my face as devoid of all expression as I could, but heavy, indeed, were my hands about the serving for the rest of that time. I heard, a short time later, the sound of horses departing at a gallop, and knowing that my words had driven him away my heart nigh broke, but so be it, I had thought. I would not be mocked nor used! (Foolish I was then, to be so concerned with my pride. I learned better thereafter however, and was not again to be so distressed by opinions that I had not reflected well upon!)
As we waved farewell to the guests, and the betrothed pair made their way back to the homes of their families, my mother spoke with much concern. "What has happened, Nerdanel? Why did Fëanáro ride off in such a temper? I saw him speaking with you, then his companion, Alcarin, spoke but a few words with him, and his demeanour changed almost instantly! He made the briefest excuse to your father and to Tulcon, and then was gone!"
"He does not love me, mother!" I replied, but now the tears did run down my cheeks. "And no true friend is he to think as he does of me. We will speak no more of this, and if he visits my father, he will not see me!" My parents had the wisdom then to let me be.
That may well have been the end of my dreams, but I had in truth not heard all of those Lords' discussion, and I had wronged Ecthelion's intentions, if not Alcarin's.
* Valinorian years.