After the Fire
“Nerdanel also was firm of will, but more patient than Fëanor… and at first she restrained him when the fire of his heart grew too hot; but his later deeds grieved her, and they became estranged.” – The Silmarillion, Ch 6 “Of Fëanor”
“Then he died… so fiery was his spirit that as it sped his body fell to ash, and was borne away like smoke; and his likeness has never again appeared in Arda, neither has his spirit left the halls of Mandos.” – The Silmarillion, Ch 13 “Of the Return of the Noldor”
“How shall a marriage be ended for ever? By the will of the Dead, or by the doom of Mandos… if he will not permit them to return. For a union that was for the life of Arda is ended, if it cannot be resumed within the life of Arda.” – Morgoth’s Ring, “Of the Silmarils and the Darkening of Valinor: Of Finwë and Miriel”
She recognized him when he opened the door of her workshop and entered. Tall, with broad, strong, muscled shoulders, his body lithe and lean. His green eyes glittered like emeralds, and his dark hair was in a single braid that fell to his waist. Light poured in through the skylight above, the sun giving golden-brown highlights to his hair.
He had another name in youth, those old days before the darkness and the exile, when he had played as a small elfling with her russet-haired twins, but she knew he used it no longer.
He was now called Rog. Rauco. Demon.
They said he had been tortured in the dungeons of Angband, kept as one of Morgoth’s thralls, and escaped daringly with his spirit not only uncrushed, but with its flame burning even hotter. With his mighty war mace he had fought the dark enemy with all the ferocity of the new name he had assumed. The Demon of Wrath, the Lord of the House of the Hammer, the strongest and most fearsome warrior of the Hidden City of Gondolin.
The darkest and most fey—save one—of the Lords of Gondolin, of them all he had spent the longest time in the Halls of Námo. The longest but for one soul, darker still, who languished there yet.
There was nothing demonic now in the eyes of this recently rebodied elflord who stepped into her workshop. His clear, green eyes looked into her own brilliant silver-grey ones, and he smiled.
“Lady Nerdanel, my eyes rejoice to see you once again.” The voice was deep and resonant. “Forgive me that I disturb your work. I could not find your father Mahtan.” And he named some tools he wished to obtain, for the smithy he was setting up at his House at New Ondolindë, where the people formerly of Gondolin now dwelled. Did she know if anyone here could assist him?
She wiped metal dust off her hands with a cloth, and climbed down the ladder from her sculpture. “Certainly. Come, I shall get them for you.”
His green eyes were gazing with fascination at her new sculpture, all waves and fluid curves of wide, shining metal ribbon. He walked around it, his movements graceful and full of tightly-leashed power, like that of some dangerous, feline predator. She felt something prickle down her spine as she watched him.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, his eyes bright. “It speaks. It seems almost to move. It is living, and whispers something different from every angle. What is it?”
“It is what the viewer makes of it.”
“But what of the creator’s intent?”
“The intent matters less than what you find in it.”
“The work reflects the creator though, surely.”
“What of me it speaks remains to be seen. It may speak to you of yourself, not of me.”
He turned his head to another, waist-high sculpture that stood nearby. Seven young néri standing and sitting together, laughing and talking, as they might have in the days of innocence in the time of Trees. “This is much easier to comprehend,” he said softly. “It is to the life.” For he had known all her sons, though he had been friend only to the youngest by virtue of age. And there was a compassion in his eyes when he looked back at her.
“Come with me,” she said. “I’ll show you where the tools are.”
A few days later, Rog was back, having forgotten one or two tools the previous time. Her father was in, and master and ex-apprentice spoke long in the smithy beneath her workshop. After that, the Lord of the Hammer stopped by to see her, and leaned against the wall looking at the curving, abstract sculpture as she polished some surfaces and textured others. His eyes were keen and curious, and he questioned her about her current projects and commissions, and when and why she had begun sculpting in the abstract. And actually listened thoughtfully to her replies. Inevitably she thought of another whose own works and projects had been such a consuming passion that her own works had barely been noticed.
His green feral eyes wandered from the sculpture to her. She felt his gaze move over her, from her flame-coloured hair piled atop her head, to her bare throat and her lean, bare, muscled arms. They moved over her body swathed with the large, shapeless apron, as though unclothing it.
They went on to speak idly of other things. The time he had been apprentice with her father, long ages past, and the works he remembered her sculpting then. Her thoughts on the differences between working with stone and marble and metal. His forge in New Ondolindë, and what he and the Lords occupied themselves with in these times of peace.
He wore a sleeveless leather jerkin, and her eyes were on his bare, muscled, bronzed arms, and his long legs clad in suede leggings and high boots. At times he leaned against the wall, at others he resumed his restless, graceful prowl. When he looked away and was unaware, examining the other works she had displayed around the room, she watched the expressions fleeting across his face, found herself admiring the beauty and symmetry of his chiselled features. Then she caught his eyes on her face, lingering on her lips. She looked away back to her work, but not before she felt a heat go through her that she had not felt for well over three millennia, and her heart beat faster beneath the thick apron.
Her eyes were drawn back to him, inexorably. She looked at a network of silvery lines on his arms and down one side of his face and neck. They were so fine and so light, they were barely visible. He saw her gaze.
“Scars,” he said. “Or all that remains of them.”
She dared to ask. “They say you were in Angband. Is it true?”
“If it pains you to speak of it, don’t.”
“It does not pain me anymore. That is what the Halls of Námo do for you,” he said calmly. “The Battle of Lammoth. I was captured there. Enjoyed Morgoth’s hospitality for a while… how long exactly, I do not know. It might have been five years. They were moving thralls from one pit to another when we saw our chance and escaped. I broke my chain, used it to kill the guards. There was nothing heroic in it. I was like a savage animal, fighting tooth and claw. In the end, eight of us managed to get away. Another fifteen were killed.” His eyes glittered with memory and wonder. “It feels strange. To be able to remember the pain and every detail, but without the bitterness and the rage. Námos’ Halls I might liken to a vast forge, wherein all dross and impurities are purged away, and one emerges whole and cleansed.”
“And yet you keep your name ‘Rauco’?”
“Partly in memory of these,” he traced the scars on his bicep and other unseen ones under his jerkin. “I will never again be who I was in days of early youth. And partly I don’t want the hassle of a new name.” He smiled. “All in Gondolin knew me as ‘Rauco’. And Rauco I shall remain.”
She slid her fingers over the metal surface she had been polishing. And caught herself thinking of sliding them over faint white scar lines and muscled arms.
The third time Rog came by, he did not need any more tools or materials or ask to see her father. He had come just to see her and her sculpture, riding an hour from Turgon’s city on the outskirts of Tirion to her father’s house.
They never spoke of her sons or her husband. Her sons were a silent presence in the workshop, in the pieces that sat around on shelves or tables. The sculpture of seven he had admired the first day standing on the floor. A bas-relief of Nelyo and Kano hanging on a wall. A head study of Curvo and Moryo on a column of granite. Tyelkormo on horseback. A miniature sculpture in marble of her twins on a table near the window.
Of the Spirit of Fire there was no sign.
Again Rog was walking, prowling with that restless grace around her sculpture, fascination in his eyes. It was finished and polished, some surfaces shining and smooth, others left matte and textured. She removed her apron and stood by it. Removed her hairclasp and let her flame-coloured tresses cascade down to her hips.
“What do you see in it now?”
“I see strength and beauty and grace,” he said, as he moved from one position to another, looking up at the high curves.
“I see shadows of sorrow and loss,” he said from another angle looking at darker and rough textures.
“I see soaring hope, and indomitable will.” Then he looked at her through the sculpture, as they stood on opposite sides of it.
And I see desire.
The last words he spoke into her mind. She saw the fire in his feral eyes, and a naked hunger in his face, and knew, as heat went through her body, that it was no more than the need he saw in her own face and eyes.
They stepped into her sculpture, holding each other’s gaze, and beneath the arches of fluid metal strips, their bodies and mouths met. She did not think, chose not to think, as she welcomed the warm wetness of his mouth and his exploring tongue, his strong hand pushing through her hair against her scalp, caressing her neck, the other hand roaming down her spine. She savoured each searching, probing, needy kiss, devouring and plundering his mouth with as much hunger as he did hers.
The workshop door swung open.
Rog straightened and stepped back quickly, striking his head against metal with a reverberating sound like a gong.
“Amil!?” cried an outraged, enraged voice.
And as Rog stepped slightly dazed out of the sculpture, one hand on the back of his head, a young nér with hair as red as his mother’s came charging at him from the door.
“You bastard!! You filthy piece of turd!!” And Nerdanel’s son swung his fist wildly at the Lord of the Hammer’s face.
Her son was no match for a warrior trained for centuries and tried by battle. Rog easily side-stepped the punch, then swiftly and calmly caught his childhood friend and held him from the back with his arms locked behind him, careful not to hurt him. The Lord of the Hammer looked like a pillar of stone, and her son like a young willow.
“Don’t you call me that, you prick!” snarled the son of Fëanor.
Nerdanel went up to her son and looked into his face. “Telvo...”
Her son looked away from her, his cheeks redder than hers, struggling madly and futilely against Rog’s hold and getting even more enraged with his humiliating failure. “How could you, Amil? how could you? What about Atar?” His voice was choked. He looked up at her finally, his grey eyes blazing with accusation, betrayal and outrage. Námo had released him just a week ago, the first of the kinslaying Fëanárions to emerge from the Halls, the one with the least blood on his hands, who had died before sun and moon were made. In a burning ship. Betrayed and sacrificed and burnt alive by his own father.
She stroked his cheek gently with her hand, and shook her head sadly. “You know that your Atar is never coming back, my darling.” The Valar and the doom of Mandos had made that clear. “And it has been more than three thousand years.”
“No! This is wrong. You cannot—Amil. . . You belong to Atar! Forever. You love Atar.” And he began to cry angry, resentful tears.
“I did,” she said. Her heart ached at his loyalty and love for the father who had slain him. And at how a child could cling to an ideal of parents in love.
Nerdanel and Rog looked at each other over the youngster’s head. The Lord of the Hammer released the son of Fëanor’s arms, and quietly and swiftly left the room.
Nerdanel wrapped her arms around her only remaining son. He had barely been a yén old, at the time the darkness fell, and he behaved much younger. He had died in the flames of the swanship still so much a child, one of two babies in a large family.
“How long have you been. . .” Ambarto was still choking with rage. “Is he the only one? Have there been others?”
“No. Oh, Valar, no. This was the only time, pitya. Believe me. The first, the only time.”
“Let it be the last. Don’t ever see him again, Ammë. I will kill him if he ever touches you again!”
She was silent. She combed her fingers soothingly through his red hair. It was not time to talk of this, when her son was still so inflamed. She would wait for a day of calm, when his anger had faded and his mood was happier. But first of all she needed to talk to her father. And to Aulë.
The Lord of the Hammer did not return to Mahtan’s house over the next few months. She had not expected him to.
She walked beneath the great stone arch from which the banners of the House of the Hammer flew. She followed the rhythmic song of metal striking metal, until she came to the smithy.
It was late evening, and he was alone in the chamber, the fire of the forge throwing dark wavering shadows on the walls and the high, vaulted ceiling. He stood over the anvil, bringing his hammer with precise strokes down on white glowing metal. The moment he saw her at the door, the heartbeat of the hammer stopped. He set it and his tongs down.
“Please. Carry on.” She knew this was the crucial period of shaping whatever work he had in hand.
He stripped off his gloves and walked towards her.
“It can wait,” he said, his green eyes glittering. In the light of the flames of the forge, sweat glistened on his face and on his bare arms and torso.
She closed the door behind her. He stood before her, but did not touch her.
“Tell me what you want,” she said quietly.
“All that you are able and willing to give me,” he said. “Your hand, your heart, if they are free. My heart, my body, my life are yours, if you will have them.”
He took her strong, work-calloused hands in his own powerful ones. He caressed and massaged the palms and fingers slowly and with such infinitely sensual gentleness that she was melting with longing.
“I wonder that you never gave your heart and life to a maiden in Gondolin.”
“I was in pain too much of the time to think of love, I now realize,” he said. “That is one of the first things that struck me in this new body. What it is like to be without pain.”
She was caressing his hands in return now, her fingers moving up to the wrists, moving to where silvery marks showed where manacles had bitten deeply in.
“I wonder that you do not seek a maiden now as Lady of your House. Not one who has been a wife of woe. Not one who has been mother to seven slayers of kin.”
“I want no maiden. I will have no other but you. I would have your strength and your gentleness, your wisdom and your warmth. I love your beauty that shines like a flame, and the skill of your strong hands. I love you in your grief and loss, but I would see you made joyous again.” He paused. “Are you bound still?”
She shook her head, her silver-grey eyes brilliant in the light from the forge, and her red hair afire. “I am released by the Valar from my bond. I am free.”
“Do you love him still?”
“Not that way. We were estranged and on separate paths long before the darkness and the doom. Our hearts were at strife even as I bore the twins in my womb.”
It had been a long and difficult talk. “He understands now, even if he cannot wholly accept. It will take time.”
Her eyes were on his bare chest and torso, looking at the web of pale, barely visible lines running across the gleaming muscles, the legacies of torture, thraldom, battle.
She stepped forward and trailed her mouth and tongue over the ghosts of scars, tasting the salt of his sweat. She heard his sharp intake of breath.
Then she was gathered into strong arms, and it felt right to them both that they bonded and consummated their love in that place, where the fire of the forge crackled and threw its tall shadows, where they felt, in the passion of their joining, in the sweat that slicked their skin, the heat of the flames in which things marred could be purified and tempered and remade stronger.
And thus Nerdanel a second time left her father’s house, and the House of the Hammer gained a lady fair and wise.
And the demon and the wife of woe put behind the sorrows of the doom and the long exile, and found in each other fullness of strength and joy, and were made one.
Elvish (Quenya) Glossary
Néri – men (singular “nér”)
Amil – Mother
pitya – little one
Atar – Father
Yén – elvish year (144 solar years)
Ammë - Mummy
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