Even after he had returned home and tried to put the strange meeting with Nerdanel from his mind, Fëanor could not forget her, nor the strange way that he sensed she knew about Leoselde. As a ghost, Nerdanel walked the shadowy paths of his dreams in the night, trailing after her a sinuous whisper of promise that nearly drove Fëanor mad. In the daylight, Leoselde walked in flesh and blood before him, and he was desperate to ask her if she knew Nerdanel.
In the few days after his meeting with Nerdanel, Fëanor forgot to be acerbic and unpleasant to Indis and her sons, he sank so deeply into thought. This worried Finwë, although he laughed bitterly to himself about how it should come about. When his son stopped tormenting his wife, he worried.
Leoselde herself, ever the shadow, stayed loyally by Fëanor even after their falling-out. She spoke little, as usual, but this time her silence was tempered by something more than just her usual quiet nature. Finwë, although he said naught either to her or his eldest son, had an uneasy feeling that it was fear.
About seven days after Fëanor’s meeting with Nerdanel, as dusk was falling on the lush gardens of Eldamar, Fëanor and Leoselde sat together in silence, as they usually did, each so absorbed in their thoughts that they did not let the other in.
Suddenly, there was a noise that startled them both, and they looked up.
An old woman was standing partially concealed in a spreading bush, leaning heavily on a gnarled stick. She was clothed in rags, and her hair was tangled beyond hope. Her eyes were white, shot through with blood vessels, and with a shock, Fëanor realized that she was blind.
He sprang to his feet and pushed Leoselde behind him, an action performed without conscious thought. Leoselde was as to him as a jewel he treasured, a thing of beauty beyond price, and he protected her as he would a jewel. It was not love, not in the sort that led men and women to marry. Rather, it was the cold and desirous lust of each person to keep close what they judge the most beautiful and precious.
“No need to fear me, small ones,” the old woman said, shuffling closer, her filthy rags dragging through the verdant flowers that sprang from the generous earth. “I mean no harm. I only come seeking a meal, if you would be so generous, master, and perhaps a bed?” A wizened, filthy hand groped at Fëanor’s foot.
He kicked out. “Get away from me, you old hag.”
Undaunted, the old woman bent down and crawled toward Leoselde, her long fingers reaching out to paw the younger woman’s leg. “Please, mistress, would you be so kind…”
Fëanor’s dagger flew out. “You will not touch her on pain of this in your throat, you old piece of trash.”
The old woman scuttled backwards, whimpering and howling enough to alert the entire household to her presence. “Please, kind master, kind Elf, please, do not hurt me! I only wish for a meal…a bed…”
“You wish to kill us all, as like as not,” Fëanor hissed, so venomously that the old woman scuttled backwards again, whimpering and whining. “You mean to foil our hearts into weakness, then strangle us in our sleep. I think not. Get your foulness out of my sight before I make you.”
“Wait,” Leoselde said, stepping between Fëanor and the old woman as the former aimed a vicious kick at the latter. She put her powerful, yet slender, hands on Fëanor’s arms. “No, son of Finwë. Do not let your anger overcome you. She is powerless. Grant her a morsel and bid her be on her way again. A bit of kindness never hurt anyone.”
Fëanor made to shake her off, but found after a moment he didn’t really want to. Instead, he spoke to the old woman in a kinder tone, to see that Leoselde didn’t move her hands. “All right, old woman. I will give you a bit of food, and then you must leave.”
“Yes…yes,” the hag murmured, pawing Leoselde’s skirt. “Thank you, kind mistress, kind Elf. Thank you for making kind master, kind Elf to let me just a bit of food.”
As Fëanor led the old woman and Leoselde back toward the dwelling, the old woman hung onto Leoselde’s skirt the entire time, muttering, “I will serve you, kind mistress. Please, kind mistress, let me help you.”
The old woman crouched behind a table while Fëanor went off to eat, and Leoselde stole a bit of food from another table.
Walking over, she gave the food to the old hag and said softy, “Be off now. The only reason Fëanor let me give you food was under the promise that you leave now.”
“No, no, mistress,” the old woman whined. “Let me serve you, kind mistress.”
“What is your name?” Leoselde said, a hint of anger coloring her tone. She planted her hands on her slender hips and glowered down at the pathetic hag cowering in front of her, wrapped in her dirty, pungent rags.
“Enwina,” the old woman croaked. “Enwina Saura-Qualme is the full. Just Enwina, though. What you called, lady mistress? What is your name, mistress of the seeing-woman?”
Leoselde was severely startled. “Seeing-woman? Enwina, do you tell me that you can see in the future?”
One wrinkled, twisted hand shot from the folds of the filthy rags and seized the bread that Leoselde had laid there. “Ah, kind mistress, kind Elf, do not ask me. Only that yes, I see, and not with these useless things.” Her pasty-white hand pawed at her eyes. “Come down, and I will see into you.”
The hand dragged Leoselde down, and Enwina’s bloodshot, milk-white eyes peered unseeingly into Leoselde’s own cobalt ones. The seer muttered and whistled through her teeth, her fingers moving across Leoselde’s face in a way that the younger woman found disturbing. She shoved Enwina’s hand away. “You’re making me nervous.”
“I am seeing you,” Enwina muttered, clacking her teeth. Her breath smelled foul enough to make Leoselde gag. “You have a strange aura, Ardelen, my duck.”
Leoselde froze. “What did you call me?”
“Ardelen,” Enwina replied, pulling her filthy rags over her face, her moon-white eyes peering out from underneath them. “It is a name given you. Ardelen. Leoselde, Curufinwë Fëanor calls you. Shadow-girl. No. You are no shadow girl, my sweet duck.”
Enwina fingered the hem of Leoselde’s dress, which was made from the finest azure-blue silk and trimmed in silver.
“Who named me Ardelen?” Leoselde said, her voice falling to a whisper. “Who are my parents? Tell me, Enwina!”
But the seer-hag gripped Leoselde’s shoulders so tightly that the younger woman writhed in pain. Enwina’s long, partially shattered nails broke into the skin of Leoselde’s back. “Do not ask me, my duck! Do not! Visions come unbidden to me…and I might be wrong. The future is not always an open pathway. I cannot even be yet sure that you are Ardelen.”
Leoselde arched her back, trying to shake out from underneath the spikes that were driving into her skin. She tried to keep back a scream of pain and failed. “Agh, Enwina, release me!”
But the hag had no time. As Leoselde jerked again, trying to twist away, Fëanor, who had seen the commotion, came running. His dagger flashed in his hand like a star and came down before Enwina had time to turn away. It drove clear through her throat, and Enwina collapsed to the floor.
“Leoselde!” Fëanor said, feeling the deep wounds in her back. They were trickling blood, and Leoselde’s face was twisted in agony. Where Enwina had gripped her, there were ten puncture wounds in her back, right through the cloth and skin. She wavered, faint with pain, and Fëanor steadied her by taking her into his arms.
At that moment, Fëanor became aware that everyone in the dining hall was watching him. Feeling an unexpected surge of anger, he let go of Leoselde with one arm and raised a hand. “Just a crazy old hag who managed to slip inside. Carry on.”
He realized that the fine silk cloth of his other tunic sleeve was steadily becoming soaked in Leoselde’s blood. When he moved away, she gave a faint moan and collapsed against him. He saw a fine sheen of sweat on her forehead. She reached up to touch a wound and gave a low, hollow moan as she saw blood on her fingers.
Fëanor realized that Leoselde needed attention at once. He lifted her with ease and carried her up toward her chambers, more blood trickling onto his hands as he did so. Setting the elf-woman down tenderly, he called at once for a healer.
As the healer applied her beneficial skill to Leoselde’s wounds, Fëanor wandered absentmindedly back down towards the dining hall. He did not notice where his feet were carrying him, and made two complete circuits of the grand hall, passing Indis and her sons twice without stopping to make a stinging remark.
Finwë, sitting beside Indis, was shocked to see this. Fëanor didn’t even throw a disparaging look at the woman he so detested.
It was only when he heard a faint rustling noise that he looked up – and did not believe what he saw.
Enwina was rising, straightening her tatty rags, smoothing her fragile wisps of hair back with dignity. There was no mark or scar on her throat where his dagger had pierced her, and no blood.
As Fëanor watched in a mixture of terror and amazement, the old hag rose up, leaned on her gnarled staff, and fixed him with a sharp, shrewd gaze. Her eyes glinted faintly reddish in the light of the lamps.
“No, no, my little duck. Mortal weapons never work on Enwina Saura-Qualme. Is kind mistress well?”
“You!” Fëanor sputtered. “I killed you!”
Enwina clucked, as if reprimanding a young boy for throwing mud at an older sister. “No, no, my duck. You will need much more than your dagger, after all, to bring Enwina Saura-Qualme to an end. Stab me through the throat all you like, it won’t hurt me.” The ghastly cheerfulness with which she said the last part made Fëanor recoil.
He glared suspiciously at her. “Who are you?”
“Only a seer, my duck, only a seer,” Enwina croaked, shuffling nearer to Fëanor. He almost drew his dagger, then remembered what she had said about it not working.
He raised a foot in warning. “I may not be able to stab you, Enwina, but I can still crush your skull.”
“Oh, crush it, by all means, crush it,” Enwina giggled, crawling nearer and positioning her head so that Fëanor had the best path to kick it. “I do so love mending broken bones, after all.”
Fëanor realized after a moment that she didn’t mean her head would be broken, but rather his foot. Bending down, he snarled viciously at the old crone, “I don’t trust you, Enwina. I don’t trust you at all. If you ever so much as lay a finger on Leoselde again, I will tie you to the bottom of the river. Now get out of this house before I do.”
“No, no,” Enwina gargled, crouching on her hands and knees before Fëanor like a beast. “Kind master would not…kind master would let me nurse kind mistress…”
Fëanor struck out viciously. His foot connected solidly with Enwina’s skull.
It was like kicking an iron wall. As he hopped back in pain, the crone looked up at him, amusement glittering in her reddish, milky gaze. “Ah, my duck, that does happen, aye. But did you break your foot?” The hag sounded eager. “I could mend that, aye, I could. Is it broken, my duck?”
Although Fëanor’s foot was throbbing in pain, he didn’t think it was broken. Instead, he whirled and stormed up the stairs towards Leoselde’s chambers.
Enwina bent down, shrouding herself from view by her filthy rags. Underneath their cover, she pulled out a dagger and began carefully etching words on its blade with only her fingernail. As she did so, her claw burned the letters into the dagger.
B…r…i…n…g A…r…d…e…l…e…n t…o M…a…s…t…e….r…
“Oh, yes,” Enwina muttered to herself, sliding the dagger back inside her filthy rags. “Finished it. Lucky of me to find Ardelen. Melkor has been released.”
The hag gripped at her filthy rags, rocking back and forth and yanking rhythmically on the few sparse handfuls of hair that she had left. “But what if it isn’t Ardelen at all? Master will be most displeased. There are many abandoned girls who don’t know about their past, but He only wants Ardelen – wants to fulfill the prophecy that led her to be abandoned in the first place.”
Fëanor ran into Leoselde’s room without knocking. The healer was looking grim-faced as she carefully applied salve around the wounds. She looked up at Fëanor with a sorrowful look in her eye. “Fëanor son of Finwë, I am afraid that there is little more that I can do to her now. The wounds cry no matter what I do to soothe their tears. I think there is some sort of poison in them.”
Fëanor crossed the room in one sharp, quick stride, lifted the healer cleanly out of her chair, and held her up. The other Elf was much smaller than he was. “What do you mean, you can do nothing more?” he shouted. “You poor fraud of a healer, do you not know the rudimentary skill of treating simple wounds? You will not move until those gashes are tended, do you understand?” He dropped her ungracefully back into her chair.
The healer’s eyes snapped with fire. “I can do nothing more! I have done all I can, which is considerable, and it made no difference! Nothing I will do now can help! Do you not understand?”
“Fëanor,” Leoselde said, speaking from her bed. Her voice was a harsh croak, and her eyes were glassy. Fëanor immediately abandoned the healer to come to her side. “Fëanor, stop it. She did nothing wrong. She only tried to save me.”
“Leoselde, don’t speak -” Fëanor began.
Leoselde laughed bitterly. “All my life, I have only spoken to you. And perhaps some thanks is due which I have not given. You did save my life.”
Suddenly, her strength seemed to drain out of her. “Fëanor…these gashes…they are poisoned. I know it, in the same way I know you. Enwina…has a strange and vile venom on her fingers, and she poisoned me by driving her nails into my back.”
Leoselde turned laboriously, revealing the ten wounds in her back, which were carefully wrapped in linen. “Whether the poison is fatal…I cannot say.”
Fëanor nearly exploded. “Damn Enwina!” he shouted. “She poisoned you, and I cannot even kill her for it.”
“What?” Leoselde said, her cheek dropping into the pillow. “But I saw…”
Fëanor opened his mouth, realized that the healer was still there, and waved her out of the room. When she was gone, he told Leoselde what had happened below.
Leoselde’s eyes widened, but she was apparently too drained to have much of a reaction. Her eyes fluttered shut, and she bit her lip to keep back another moan of pain. “Agh, Fëanor, it burns. These wounds – oh, they hurt.”
Fëanor crossed over to her, feeling the beginnings of a long-since-forgotten emotion called compassion starting to well in his heart. He sat beside Leoselde and tangled his fingers in her long silver hair, muttering whatever words he thought would soothe her. At last, her face drenched in sweat, she fell into an uneasy rest.
“Now it has started,” Nerdanel said. “You tried to cheat Fate the first time, Father, by leaving Ardelen to the mercy of the wild. Some kindly stranger must have found her and taken her to the gardens, in hopes that another would find her and take her in. Fëanor found her, and he raised her. Now, when he came here, he has intertwined our paths again.”
Mahtan did not answer, carefully finishing a wingtip of the eagle brooch with a delicate hammer. The soft strokes fell like clear, high bells into the stillness, the only sound beyond their own voices.
“I fear the prophecy,” Mahtan answered, turning the eagle brooch to work another side. “It was foretold, long ago…”
“The name we gave her has never had any true meaning,” Nerdanel argued. “It only meant `cursed being.’ It was because of that seer that we abandoned her, fearing what could happen. I was young, Father, but I still remember it.”
“Fate can never abide meddling in its paths,” Mahtan said grimly, replacing his hammer and choosing an even smaller one. “No, no matter how hard we try to cheat it, it will come back to us. Just by such a simple thing as Fëanor riding here and meeting you, and speaking to you of the girl he calls Leoselde.”
“Shadow-girl,” Nerdanel said softly. “Well, it is kinder than cursed being, in any matter. Ardelen still lives, though. She is strong. Now, Father, the night grows on and I must retire. Good night.”
A slow smile curled Mahtan’s lips as he held up the partially completed brooch. A wing had been finished. The little bird would be flying soon.
And after that, he admitted to himself grimly, he had no idea what would happen.