Sand and Flame
"Feanaro! Come out of this forge at once!"
It was not uncommon for Indis to yell, but today her voice sounded even screechier than usual. Feanaro turned towards the door. When he saw Indis' dress, a lace-trimmed monstrosity with an absurd flared skirt, he understood the reason for her excitement almost at once.
"But I do not want to go to the ball," he said.
"You are Finwe's son. His firstborn son," said Indis with some bitterness. "You have to be seen at King Ingwe's annual ball. Custom demands it. Now go change out of these sooty clothes, and remember to brush the cinders out of your hair."
Feanaro glanced back over his shoulder at the sand he had been sifting, at his marvelously hot furnace, and sighed. It was no use appealing to his father, not this time. Finwe, who sympathized with his second wife's desire for public acceptance, tended to defer to her in all social matters; his eldest son's disobedience would only distress him. Feanaro, who loved his father, dutifully went off to replace his practical leather apron with showy silks and velvets. Soon, he was sitting in the family coach, across from his half-brothers, both of whom appeared indecently excited by the prospect of a ball.
In spite of this, Nolofinwe took time out from his inane grinning to scowl at Feanaro. "You have ash on your cheek. As usual."
"Better wipe it off," Arafinwe suggested. His courteous earnestness was absurd in one so young, and rather disturbing. Feanaro cleaned his face.
"Oh, you two!" Indis beamed at her sons. "Now, boys, remember: be polite to everyone according to their rank, dance with all the best maidens, and return to the coach promptly at the mingling of the lights. Only the worst sort of people stay at a ball long enough to see Laurelin in full bloom."
"Yes, mother," said Nolofinwe and Arafinwe in chorus.
Feanaro just stared out the window, refining his own definition of the worst sort of people.
Ingwe himself welcomed them to the ball, as did his wife. The wife's dress looked strangely familiar: when Feanaro considered it more closely, he realized that it was identical to Indis', only, of course, not quite so tight. It made him feel embarrassed, as if he'd been caught copying another smith's designs.
He drifted apart from his shameful family and attempted the dancing, which proved just as awful as he had expected it to be. Twirling around among strangers while discussing the weather and the size of the room was unpleasant enough, but looking as if he were enjoying it proved beyond his powers. Aware that he was a great disappointment to his partners, and disliking the sense of failure, he decided to hide and wait it all out.
Unfortunately, each nook or alcove he tried was already occupied by a courting couple. In the end, he made his way to the boiler-room in the cellar, expecting that the dust and the heat would deter young lovers. His hopes proved justified. He sat down on a pile of wood and gazed into the flames, thinking about his latest project in blissful solitude. For a while, at least.
"Greetings, Curufinwe Feanaro," said a deep, booming voice.
Feanaro turned to look at the unwelcome visitor. It was obviously Melkor. Nobody else wore so much shiny black clothing: well, nobody else would want to. Melkor just had to stand out. Feanaro found this almost as annoying as Indis' obsessive conformity.
"Greetings, oh Vala," he said. "What brings you here to this humble room? Should you not be up above, 'being seen' as your lofty position demands?"
"I have come down here," said Melkor with a dramatic flourish of one dark-gloved hand, "to make your wishes come true."
"Have you? Why?"
"Because I see much promise in you, young Feanaro. I can sense that, unlike all the dancing fools above, you are not content with your lot. Now tell me, what do you long for? Love? Power? Wisdom?"
"At the moment?" Feanaro considered the question. "I long for my leather apron, my tools, sand, baking soda, and seaweed. I also wish that this furnace were hotter."
Melkor appeared slightly taken aback at first, but he rallied. "Well, that should be easy enough. I will just warm up the furnace, conjure up the strange substances you require, turn your silks into leather, and turn your jewellery--"
"You leave my jewellery alone. I made it myself."
"Very well, I will turn these bits of wood into the tools you require."
And it was so.
Feanaro looked at the changes Melkor had wrought and picked up a pair of tongs. They were not quite as good as the ones he had forged himself, but they would do.
"Thanks, oh Vala," he said. "Now I can work."
"Just one more thing." Melkor spoke before Feanaro could turn away. "My transformations are not permanent. The enchanted objects will return to their natural state at the mingling of the light of the Trees."
He seemed a little embarrassed, and rightfully so, for temporary transformations struck Feanaro as rather pathetic, given what some of the other Valar were capable of. This made him feel sorry for Melkor, so he decided to be polite. "That is quite alright. I was planning to leave around then, anyway. Well, now, seeing as I do not have much time left -- will you excuse me?"
"Certainly." Courtesy seemed to do the trick. Melkor stalked off, allowing Feanaro to get to work at last.
Lost in the pleasures of creation, he quickly lost track of time. However, after a while, he became aware that he was no longer alone. A maiden had entered the room, and was now standing by the door, perfectly still, as if waiting for someone.
"This is a poor place for a lovers' tryst," Feanaro told her without looking up. "I intend to stay here for some time."
"I am not here for a tryst. I find sighing lovers tiresome," she said. "I am watching you at your work. It looks quite interesting."
Feanaro put his tools down and examined her. Her hair was the colour of flame. Around her neck, she wore an intricate pendant, hanging on the finest chain Feanaro had ever seen.
She noticed his attention.
"This chain is my father's work; he is a smith, you know. Actually, I work in metal myself. I made my shoes." She sat down on a bench beside him, stretching out her legs to display a fine pair of golden slippers. "And you? What are you making?"
"Oh, me?" Feanaro looked back towards his furnace. "I am turning sand into something useful."
"About time. I am not overly fond of sand."
"Me neither. I have always disliked going to the beach."
"Oh, I know. Nothing to do there except sing and build ships."
Feanaro could not have agreed more. He smiled at the maiden. She smiled back. Then she grew serious. "Well, what are you turning sand into?"
"A transparent substance -- like crystal, but easier to shape."
"That sounds very practical."
"It is. The first thing I intend to do is cover all the windows of my workshop -- I hate it when my designs get blown about by a draft. But I can think of many other possible uses."
The maiden's hair shifted like true flame as she nodded, eager. "So can I. Transparent goblets, for one -- I like being able to see what I am drinking."
"Shoes?" Feanaro frowned.
"Oh, yes." She sighed. "I would dearly love to own a pair of crystal slippers."
"In that case..." Feanaro had always enjoyed a challenge. "Would you mind lending me one of your gold ones for a bit?"
She handed him her left shoe. It took him a couple of tries, but, in the end, he was able to use it to create a mold and produce a reasonable replica. The flame-haired maiden held it up to the light coming in through the room's sole small window.
"It is lovely," she said.
Feanaro looked, too, and saw much beauty, but he also noticed a subtle shift in the shade of the light. He started, and touched his apron. It was starting to feel a little velvety.
"The mingling of the lights!" he exclaimed. "Excuse me -- I must go."
"What about the shoe?"
He moved towards the door. "It is yours. Keep it."
In the weeks that followed, Feanaro found that he could not look at fire without thinking of the strange maiden. Since he spent much of his time in a forge, this made for a lot of thinking. He wanted to seek her out -- but how? He knew little of the habits of women, other than his stepmother, who did not count. In the end, he decided that it would be best to try to trace the maiden through her father, the smith. He would begin as soon as he could; unfortunately, at the moment, he was needed at home, for Indis had commissioned a portrait of the whole family, awkward stepson and all, and the painter insisted on working from life.
Feanaro disliked posing in general, and posing for this one painting in particular; the inconsiderate artist insisted that he sit in an awkward way that tended to put his left leg to sleep. He was just massaging life back into his thigh after a particularly lengthy session when one of Indis' servants entered the room, looking rather distressed.
"My lady," the servant said with a bow. "There is a strange, wild girl outside. She wanted to know whether anyone in this household knows anything about sand. I told her no, but then she noticed the sandpile outside the forge. She is examining it now."
The needles and pins in Feanaro's leg seemed to run all the way through his body. He got up. Ignoring Indis' scowl, he hurried down the main staircase and out towards the forge.
The flame-haired maiden stood there, walking stick in one hand, glass shoe in the other. Her own shoes were leather boots, laced up high on the calf. Feanaro admired their practicality.
"Hello, again," he said.
She looked at him. "Have we met?"
Feanaro recalled that he was rather stupidly dressed in a trailing robe of stiff brocade. "Indeed we have. Come into the forge and I will prove it to you."
He led her inside, and then to the private corner where his new workshop was located. He knew what he was doing, now, and so making a second shoe was rather easy, and took a much shorter time than before. When he was done, the maiden looked down at the new shoe and back up to the one still in her hand. They matched.
"I am sorry I doubted you," she said. "But, to be fair, all you dark-haired people look so alike in your fancy robes. Anyway, I much prefer you in your apron."
"It is quite alright," Feanaro said. "Would you like another pair? I have learned quite a lot since the ball: I could make something much finer."
"Let me try these ones on, first."
Feanaro moved a few tools out of the way so that she could sit on his workbench. When she did, he went down on one knee before her and helped her replace her boot with a slipper.
"A perfect fit." She smiled down at him. "You are a very fine craftsman."
Feanaro placed her glass-clad foot on his thigh. Her feet were rather pleasant to look at, he decided. Higher up, her calves were firm yet soft to the touch.
Indis's voice sounded rather like a metal tool drawn across rough glass. Feanaro flinched and stood up. The flame-haired maiden did not. He approved.
"What do you think you are doing, consorting with strange females in the most private corner of the forge?"
"Making shoes," Feanaro said.
"Oh, is that what you call it? Ruining your reputation, more like. Have you no concern for your father, for his need for heirs?" Indis was drawing quite a crowd. She ran a hand through her sandy-blonde hair, clearly enjoying the attention. "No respectable family will entrust their daughter to you, not after what I saw! It will break your father's heart, you know."
Feanaro felt his anger flare. He picked up the second shoe and pulled back his arm, preparing to throw it.
"No." The maiden took it out of his hand. "This is mine now; I will not let you break it."
It was a very good point. Feanaro looked at her. She did not seem angry at all, only amused. Her copper earrings were lovely. Her father's work, or hers?
"Do not turn away while I am talking to you!" Indis stepped closer. "As for you, my girl, are you sure you should be looking so smug? Your reputation is every bit as ruined as my unfortunate stepson's. I hope you are quite resigned to the unmarried state."
"That is a ridiculous thing to say," Feanaro told Indis crossly. "She is obviously going to marry me."
"Am I?" asked the maiden. "Yes, I suppose I am."
"Well, shall we make our rings, then? We are in a forge, after all."
"Feanaro." Indis' fingers dug into his shoulder, forcing him to notice her again. "That is not a proper proposal, an this whole situation is appalling from start to finish. For one, just who is this... person you intend to marry?"
Feanaro realized that all he knew about his maiden was the important things. But it was true that her name might come in handy. "What is your name?"
"Finwe's son!" Nerdanel stepped back and looked him up and down. "Well, that explains the clothes."
"I would be quite happy to take them off."
Nerdanel smiled slightly. "I would quite like to tell my parents first. We can make our rings at my house -- father has a forge, too. A much more peaceful one." She glanced over at Indis.
Feanaro did not. He took Nerdanel's hand and let her lead him out of the forge. They did speak to Finwe, of course, and to Nerdanel's parents, and got their blessing. Their wedding was a simple affair; and they lived happily, if not ever after, then at least for a while.
1. Nolofinwe and Arafinwe are, of course, Fingolfin and Finarfin.
2. There are a few inaccuracies here with respect to the more obscure texts, I think. For one, I believe that Feanor and Nerdanel met while traveling outdoors; for another, I seem to recall that Feanor and Nerdanel married before Finwe and Indis did. Please forgive me, hmm?
3. The glass-making passages are vague on purpose, because I do not want to go into too much detail on something about which I know little. The suggestion that Feanor invented glass has been made before, by Nol in the Vain Songs. (Feanaro made it.) I think it works really well with the Cinderella legend as it is more normally told.