A/N: Indis ended up being a bit of an evil (or at least annoying) stepmother in this fic! I personally don't have anything against her. It's also probably a little on the AU side of things, so you have been warned.
Originally the whole story was written as a one-shot a year ago, but I decided to expand it into a few chapters.
Please enjoy! And don't forget, reviews are always welcome. :)
Fëanor's expression was one of patience wearing painfully thin, as it always was around his step-mother. There never was any love lost between them and today was simply…well, one of those days.
He did not want to attend whichever dry function this was, and wished with all his heart that the next year would come swiftly to its end so he could come-of-age and escape the Lady Indis' constant nagging. She knew not to disturb him whilst he was in the forge, the one place where he could be sure of never encountering her.
That is, until today.
"Your father will expect it, and so will the rest of society," came his stepmother's somewhat snappish, petulant answer to the annoyed look Fëanor shot her. Her gaze faltered a little before the intensity of his eyes but, Fëanor thought, she was standing her ground admirably.
Still, it did not dismiss his rising feelings of irritation. How dare she try to tell him what his father did and did not expect! "Why would the rest of society expect it? I am not even come to my majority yet," was his reply with its thinly-disguised disdain.
"Nevertheless, you are a prince of the Royal House of Finwë, and custom demands that royalty appear in public on this occasion."
"And our family always follows custom?" asked Fëanor sarcastically. Indis threw her hands up in the air disparagingly, and he allowed himself a smug grin.
"Sometimes," she huffed, "I do not know what to do with you."
How about you leave me in peace? He thought as she stormed off, obviously eager to be out of the forge. Gods, how he hated festival dances. The girls who were practically tripping over each other to steal a dance with him irked him to no end. Equally as tiresome were the lords of Tirion to whose families many of these young ladies belonged. The same insipid, mindless chatter and the political scheming that he spent much time avoiding was always sure to follow him, along with any nobles eager to get into King Finwë's good graces.
Of course Fëanor had known it was coming up, and had hoped perhaps to persuade his father to allow him to remain somewhere in the palace away from it all. But his father's affection for his second wife, and her affinity for social events, would most likely result in his being dragged into the Grand Hall dressed in all his finery with some clingy nobleman's daughter attached to his arm, and not enjoying one minute of it. All for the sake of social propriety. Damn social propriety to the pits of Utumno! What use had he for it?
With cheerful thoughts of this nature running through his head he muttered and cussed all the way to Mahtan's house for his lesson. Ordinarily, work would take his mind off his troubles, but today his mood was nearly implacable. He scowled at a random stranger who happened to walk past him at that moment just to relieve his feelings, not caring at all that it was very immature of him.
Ignoring the people jumping hurriedly out of his way as he hastened along he reached Mahtan's door and gave a few sharp raps. As per usual, there was no immediate answer, except for the sound of running footsteps. He wondered when his teacher started hurrying to get anywhere when the door flew open and the person who jovially bounced out to greet him was not Mahtan, but Mahtan's daughter Nerdanel.
She took one look at him and turning back to the hallway she shouted, "Atar! Fëanaro is here!"
A muffled voice shouted something back, and a crash not unlike the sound of someone tripping over metal pots resounded down the hall, followed by a few curses. The corners of Fëanor's lips twitched as he tried not to grin. Mahtan never ceased to amuse him. He was a good teacher, and one of the most sought-after craftsman in the entire city. That he was disorganised in everything that did not involve his artisanship was somewhat ironic.
Nerdanel turned around again and smiled brightly. Not for the first time, Fëanor's gaze was captured by the way Laurelin's light glinted from Nerdanel's fiery-red locks, which were bound with a strip of hide. What an unusual colour her hair was. He thought of the way a silver filigree hair clasp set with small green stones would look against her hair and was strangely pleased with the idea. He would have to make one for her now. Whenever he was hit with inspiration, he never let it go to waste.
Suddenly he had an idea. When Nerdanel was with him, he would laugh unrestrainedly, talk as he wished, in a way that he could only do with one other: his father, the King of the Noldor. If he had to spend an evening being thoroughly bored, he might as well spend it with Nerdanel.
He was jerked back into the present by her cheerful voice greeting him. "Good morning."
"Good? I should think not," he muttered irritably, once again plunged into the gloom that had been pursuing him all morning.
"Why ever not?" she asked, puzzled. The surprise on her face was so clear. Fëanor nearly snorted. For anyone not to be happy was something nearly unimaginable for his gentle, smiling Nerdanel.
Mahtan's tall form and red-bearded face appeared just behind his daughter. "Ah, Fëanáro!" he boomed, removing his gloves and wiping his sweaty hands on his tunic. "How goes it?"
"He has just informed me that he has not had a pleasant morning," answered Nerdanel before he could even open his mouth. Mahtan's look mirrored that of his daughter's and Fëanor restrained a laugh at the obvious resemblance. Actually, Mahtan's face with its close-set green eyes and bushy red beard always made him want to laugh regardless.
"Oh? And why is that?"
Fëanor sighed. "I must attend a festival tonight. One which I was hoping very much to avoid," he added glumly.
"A pity indeed," sympathised Mahtan. "Let us hope that we can take your mind off things for a while. Please wait here a moment, Fëanáro," he said, stepping up onto the stair just outside the door. "Two of my apprentices have managed to make the forge unrecognisable with their mess. Now, where did I…" And so saying he ran a hand through his already ruffled red hair as he muttered his way back down the hall, leaving Fëanor and Nerdanel out on the doorstep.
"I see you have been at your pottery again," Fëanor observed, noting the clay smeared across one side of his friend's face.
"Yes, I have been," she said proudly, tucking an unruly piece of hair behind her ear. "The statue of Vána I meant to finish last year is in the kiln as we speak."
Fëanor stared at her in disbelief. "You turned that forsaken lump of clay into one of the Valar? Ow! What was that for?" he laughed as Nerdanel whacked him in the arm.
"That 'forsaken lump of clay' is my presentation to Aulë for his examinations!" she exclaimed indignantly, punching him again on the last word. A look of frustration crossed her face when he did not flinch, which only made him laugh even harder. She bit her lip then, but Fëanor could see the mirth threatening to bubble over, as it ever was with Nerdanel. She grinned up at him. "You incorrigible ar—"
He held up a mocking hand. "Now, now, Nerdanel. There is no need for profanity."
"And I suppose you are a paragon of virtue?" She raised an eyebrow, leaning against the dark oaken doorframe with arms folded.
"Why, of course," he answered with feigned pompousness that he had learned from growing up at court.
"Including that time Atar dropped a hammer on your toe."
At the recollection of this (which certainly had not been funny at the time) their laughter rang out across the street, startling more than one Elf who looked up and smiled to see them.
But he fell into silence for a moment when he remembered what she said about Aulë's examinations in the city of Valmar. He had no doubt that she could do it, for she was a skilled young woman in her craft, and eager to learn. But so soon? His stomach tightened at the idea of one of his closest friends being gone, even if it were only for a season. His thoughts must have been plain to see, for Nerdanel standing beside him frowned.
"What is the matter?" She leaned forward and lightly touched his arm.
His lips quirked into a bitter half-smile. "So you are going to Valmar, then."
"Only for a while. I will return soon – sooner than my sisters would like, I think." Nerdanel tried to smile but Fëanor saw her face fall. She sighed. "I would like to have spent more time with my friends before I leave, but I have been so busy, helping Atar with his commissions, finishing my old projects…"
Then it dawned on him. "But we can spend some time together before you leave," he said, eagerly. "I was wondering if—" He cleared his throat, suddenly feeling ever so slightly nervous; a feeling he was not used to at all. "Seeing as tonight's occasion requires my presence, I was wondering if…if you would join me."
Her head snapped up.
"Please, Nerdanel," he implored, only half-joking. "I am begging you. The boredom will send me to Mandos."
She tilted her head. "You need me to alleviate your boredom," she said slowly. "Is this your reason for inviting me?" Her expression was unfathomable.
"And because you are a good friend of mine," he added, which brought a smile back to her face.
"So what exactly makes you dread the festivities tonight?" she inquired curiously.
"Well, to begin with, I do not much like dancing. Secondly, no one can find anything better to talk about than meaningless inanities about the weather." He was counting off on his fingers now, which made Nerdanel laugh. "Thirdly, there always seems to be an abundance of girls with far too much time at their disposal, who seem to have perfected the art of incessant flirting. True, that I seem to frighten them off after a while with my famed arrogance, but it is still irritating. And fourthly, the whole affair is tedious in the extreme."
"So you have much to look forward to."
"Indeed. So will you come with me or not?"
"I will ask Atar," came the answer. The man in question stuck his head out of a room down the hall.
"Ask me what, daughter?"
"Whether I may accompany Fëanáro tonight."
"Of course," said Mahtan simply, and disappeared again. Fëanor felt quite surprised that he had not questioned his intentions. It was a well-known fact that the escorts of princes were never craftsmen's daughters.
The High Prince of the Noldor smiled at Nerdanel with relief. "Thank you, Nerdanel. I will be grateful to you all my life."
"I doubt that!" she laughed, pulling the loose strap of hide out of the tangle of flame surrounding her head and trying to tie it back again. The way the light caught it turned it into liquid fire that fell across her shoulders and down her back.
Filled with a sudden longing Fëanor could barely restrain himself from reaching out and touching the silken curls. He could imagine his hands buried in that hair…
"Fëanáro!" Mahtan's voice came bellowing down the hall, accompanied by an echoing crash. Fëanor reached out and gently stayed Nerdanel's hands. She looked up through her eyelashes uncertainly, questioning him.
"Leave it down," he said softly, and then reluctantly released her, making his way to the forge. He turned back, once, and against the light flooding in the doorway he saw her slender shadow, with her slightly upturned face lit with gold.
And perhaps for the first time, he found her beautiful.
To be continued...