Fëanor stared at the baby, uncertain if he or she was real or a dream brought on by anger and the growing heat of the summer day. He fumbled for his arm and gave it a hard pinch. It hurt.
At the same time, the baby squealed, erasing any more doubts that Fëanor had. This was a real child.
He crossed over and lifted the bundle gently. Inside the layers of fine blankets was the face of a girl-child. Even in youth, he could plainly see that her features were delicate and finely boned. A wisp of silvery hair escaped from her wrappings, and her eyes were dark blue. Even as he stared, spellbound, into the deep cobalt pools, she shifted in his hands and gave a wail.
Fëanor got easily to his feet, cradling the girl. Looking around, he at last decided to take her to the nearest shelter, an airy gazebo, and see what he could do for her.
For several years afterward, the little girl was Fëanor’s silent shadow. She walked with him, as light and quiet as the name Fëanor had given her, Leoselde, which meant, `shadow-girl.’ All the same, he had never thought that the name was quite right, and was still searching for the proper name to give to her.
She was an Elf, as he could see by her ears, and as she grew older her delicate, ethereal beauty became more apparent. When Fëanor’s half-brothers Finarfin and Fingolfin were born and the rest of the land forgot about him, Leoselde stayed by his side, quiet and mysterious. She did not speak often, but when she did, it was only to Fëanor.
He had asked her many times if she could remember anything of her childhood before he had found her as a baby, but she always answered in the same way. “No. I do not. My life is empty before you found me lying on the edge of the pool.”
One morning, early in autumn, when Leoselde was around seven hundred years old, she and Fëanor walked through the very gardens where she had been found. The day was crisp, and a fresh wind meandered lazily through the spreading trees.
Up ahead, Fëanor could see that his younger half-brothers, Finarfin and Fingolfin, were splashing about. To his disgust, he could see that they were spraying each other with handfuls of water from the pool that he had found Leoselde by. Fëanor viewed this as something close to sacrilege. The younger Elves were having a fine time.
Fëanor strode over and slammed his boot into the shimmering water, making ripples dance away from it. “I am disgusted, Finarfin, Fingolfin. I thought princes of the house of Finwë had better things to do then play in the water of a pool like guttersnipes.”
Finarfin looked up at his much older half-brother with an obvious question written in his clear gray eyes. “Fëanor?” he said sweetly. “Papa said it was all right if we played in this pool. Would you like to play with us?”
Fëanor laughed. “You must be joking, or I pray that you are. Me? Cavort about like a fool with the spoiled children of one who I name Mother-death? Lady Indis the Foul? Someone who wove cunning nets to beguile my father and make him fall in love with her filthy murmurs? No. I think not. I would sooner rut with the pigs. Or perhaps this would be the equivalent.”
The two younger Elves exchanged hurt glances, then Fingolfin climbed from the pool, shaking his long hair from his face. “Come on, Finarfin. This game is no longer amusing.” Finarfin and Fingolfin left.
“You were too hard on them,” Leoselde said after a moment.
Suddenly, Fëanor whirled on her. “Would you now turn on me, Leoselde? Would you now abandon me to fall blithely into the nets that Lady – and I use this term loosely – Indis so craftily weaves? She is the Amil-unquale, the Mother-death, and I will never forgive her.”
Anger flared in Leoselde’s eyes in turn. “It was not the fault of the Lady Indis that your mother Míriel waned unto death after your birth. And her sons have committed no crime except to exist. Why is there such hatred and anger in you, Fëanor? What has the world done to you to make you loathe it?”
“Do not lecture me, Leoselde,” Fëanor snapped. “I was the one that saved you.”
“Saved me as in brought me from the water’s side and raised me as a civilized person, yes,” Leoselde answered, an angry flush coloring the delicate, fragile bones of her face. “But these gardens could have sustained me for my life, I believe. You just brought me up in the proper fashion.”
“I do not care then,” Fëanor said bitterly. “Not at all. I owe you nothing, and you owe me nothing. It is over than, any bond between us. Namárië, Leoselde, for we shall not meet again.”
As he turned to storm past Leoselde, her iron fingers clenched about his arm. “Look at me, Fëanor,” she commanded, and such was the authority in her tone that the Noldorin Elf obeyed, against his better judgment. “Why is it that we are suddenly reduced to nothing more than petty squabbling?”
“No reason,” Fëanor said stiffly.
A smile that said more than it let on touched Leoselde’s delicate lips. “Ah, of course.”
She let him go, and vanished into the shadows of the gardens that seemed to have borne her.
Fëanor, angry at himself, her, and most especially at Indis and her sons, whirled and walked in the opposite direction. The gardens no longer comforted him, and the way they managed to exist in careless ignorance irritated him.
The wind picked up, streaming his hair behind him in a banner of deep honey-gold. Fëanor shoved it absentmindedly behind a pointed ear, not watching where he was going until his foot slid the side off a weakened embankment and splashed into a pool. Although it was shallow, it still soaked his boot and pant leg up to the knee.
With a hissed curse, Fëanor pulled his leg out of the pool and continued his relentless, pointless walk. He still had no idea where he was going, and he almost didn’t care.
Ahead, he saw Finwë watching him. Although Fëanor tried to turn his course, his father saw him. Raising a slender hand, he gave a call. “Fëanor, amin yondo. Come to your father.” (Fëanor, my son.)
His entire body stiff, Fëanor walked over to Finwë. “Yes, Atar?” (Yes, Father?)
The older Noldorin Elf looked sad. “Why is it that you bear such a deep, strong hatred for the Lady Indis and her sons? They bear no ill will to you, and in fact are sorrowed by your continual rejection of them.”
“I found it disturbing that you could again marry after what happened with Amil,” (mother) Fëanor answered. “As I read in chronicles of our house, you thought that fair Míriel was your one true love. When she died, you put up a token façade of grief and began courting the ladies again, eh, Father?”
Sadness spread over Finwë’s face and filled the air so palpably that Fëanor almost regretted his harsh words to his father. “Fëanor…I am sincerely grieved that you should feel that I did not love your mother. I did, I loved her very deeply. But after a long time, in which span my heart started, slowly, to heal, I was able to give my love again. I know that that is what your mother would have wanted.”
“That is what my mother would have wanted,” Fëanor mocked mirthlessly. “How can you be so sure, Father? When last I looked, my mother was dead!”
Unable to face the serene sadness and grace of his father any more, the younger Elf whirled and ran heedlessly from the gardens. He made his way to the stables, where he found his horse, Silmelindo, waiting for him as usual. The graceful stallion was a light shade of gray and his name, rendered into the Common Speech that Men used, meant `Starlight-singer.’
Fëanor swung up on Silmelindo’s back without bothering to saddle or bridle the horse. Gathering a clump of the silky silver mane, he bent low and whispered a word. Immediately, the stallion cantered from the stables and out beneath the open sky.
Fëanor rode for most of that day without bothering to choose a course. Silmelindo was swift and light of foot, and the Noldorin lord welcomed the cool air that flowed over him and carried him farther away from Indis the Foul and her idiot sons.
At last, as night began to fall, Fëanor finally became aware of how much time had passed. The stars were starting come out, and the thin edge of the waning moon peeped from the deep blue sky.
Fëanor swung off Silmelindo and looked around. He was in a narrow cleft of a valley that broadened out and spread down to a wide river. The short cliffs rose wraithlike into the night, their shadowy heads crowned with a cap of silver from the rising moon. It was dark and still, and Fëanor had the uneasy feeling that he had just stepped into a dream, a lingering shadow of an illusion rather than reality.
As the Elf looked about, he had an odd sensation that he was being watched. The shadows flickered, moving slowly about him. Whipping around, he drew a short dagger from a forearm sheath and looked about. The shadows were immediately still.
And then again they moved, and Fëanor saw something slipping like a ghost down the rocks. He leapt forward, dagger at the ready, and seized the shadow as it came down the cliff. He seized what felt like hair, and dragged the head back. “Who are you? Speak, or I’ll cut your throat.”
A gasp came from the figure that he was holding, and a small flame grew in an upraised white palm. By its unsteady light, Fëanor saw the face of an elf-maiden that looked much like Leoselde. Her face was small and her eyes large, her cheekbones high and her lips full. Her hair, however, was not silver but a very pale gold.
“Who are you?” Fëanor demanded roughly.
“I am Nerdanel, daughter of the smith Mahtan,” the maiden replied calmly. Despite the fact that she had a dagger at her neck, she appeared cool and collected. “These are the lands of my father, and I believe that I should be the one holding a dagger to your throat, rather than vice-versa. You are a trespasser. Would you mind moving that knife?”
Fëanor pulled back the knife, and Nerdanel sprang lithely to her feet. “Thank you, intruder.”
“I have seen someone who looks much like you, a – a – friend of mine,” Fëanor said, unsure now what Leoselde was to him. A friend? A foe? He did not know. “I call her Leoselde, shadow-girl, for I found her one day by a pool in the gardens of Eldamar and she has been my shadow ever since. Perhaps you know of her?”
An expression crossed Nerdanel’s face and vanished so quickly that Fëanor had no time to identify it. “No.”
“Ah, of course,” Fëanor said, unconsciously mimicking Leoselde’s earlier words to him in the gardens. “I am so sorry to hinder you, Nerdanel daughter of Mahtan. Please make your way home with no interference from me.”
Another fleeting expression crossed Nerdanel’s face and was gone, again before Fëanor could name it. “Very well.”
She turned, gathered up her gray skirts, and vanished into the shadows.
Fëanor expelled a breath that was angry for some reason that he didn’t understand. She did know something about Leoselde, he thought. For some reason, there was an inexplicable, unnamable link between these two elf-women. One gold, one silver, he mused. If men and Elves could count their wealth in coins, I do not think that their value would come near.
Rather surprised to hear himself thinking such thoughts, Fëanor looked around for Silmelindo. The gray stallion was standing nearby, silhouetted against the moon, whickering softly.
“Silmelindo, anwa mellon amin,” (my true friend) Fëanor murmured, swinging himself back onto the stallion. “Take me back to the dwellings of my father.”
As the horse and its rider vanished into the night, behind them, red eyes gleamed.
Nerdanel straightened her filthy skirts, dragged a comb through her hair, and walked into her father’s workshop. As she had expected, he was still awake, intent on forging a silver brooch in the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings. Nearby, there sat an emerald that would be set in the brooch in the later stages.
“Father,” Nerdanel said. “I have news, brought to me unwittingly by the eldest son of Finwë, Fëanor.”
“And what might that be?” Mahtan asked, still intent on his work.
“It has begun,” Nerdanel replied. “Ardelen has returned.”