In a small village to the south of Alqualondë, Nerdanel stood on a wooden quay, the timbers so old they were beginning to rot, staring upward into the sky at the light of Eärendil's star. Far away, ships moved on the dark waters, and an island was raised from out of the depths. Her eyes, even though they were keen among the Elves, could not see quite so far.
The last time she'd gazed upon that light was before the Sun and Moon were made, bound to her husband's brow at one of the last happy festivities in Tirion, before Melkor's lies overcame reason itself, sent rumours flying among the Noldor until they didn't know what was true and what false. It was an eternity ago, and at the same time, far too brief a span of time. So little had changed, and everything.
After standing on the quay for a long while, watching the Silmaril sail across the sky, bound to another's brow now, another's burden to bear, she turned away, skirting the rotten boards and picking her way back to the cobbled streets of the small town.
"Nerdanel the Wise!" a young woman said, holding out her hand. "Nerdanel Statue-maker, can you tell me, what is that light?" She pointed to the new star, still bright though very far away. "It's new. I've not seen a new light such as that before."
Nerdanel laughed and took the woman's hand. "It's not new," she said. "It's very old, Estarnië, older than the moon, older than the sun."
"How can it be?" Estarnië's eyes were wide with curiosity. "I've never seen it before." She was young, Nerdanel thought, she had never known war or strife, or Darkness. Pain and loss had not touched her, grief never overcome her, sorrow never descended upon her.
"I have," Nerdanel said. "But it was long ago, in a time so faint and far away that it would be mere rumour to your ears. It was a dream that ended in cold awakening."
Estarnië stared at her, eyes still wide, clearly not sure what to make of her words. Nerdanel recovered her smile. "Come," she said. "I believe your family wants me to make them a statue? Will it be of you?"
Estarnië blushed. "Of my grandfather." She paused. "He's the only one from this village to fight in the War. He's Vanya, and when Ingwë asked, he followed. I wasn't even born yet."
"I would very much like to meet him," Nerdanel said.
The days in the village passed by slowly. Nerdanel took her time with the statue, and with Estarnië's grandfather, asking him question after question about the War of Wrath. Where did he fight? What lands did he see? Who did he meet?
Nothing she learned was of any comfort. Her grief bled out into the statue's features, polished into gleaming armour, set into the face of the Vanya, who, when it came to it, was younger by far than she was herself, and had never known the Darkness, like his granddaughter. The statue came out looking more like Ingwë, unbegotten and ancient, than the Elf it was meant to be of, but he was flattered rather than offended at the compliment he thought was implied.
Nerdanel was simply annoyed, amidst her grief. It was not enough to have learned only painful news, but she must compound it by failing at the one thing she could do well!
At the end of her time in the village, she went back out to the quay, stared up at the star once more - by now a familiar sight - and thought of different roads, of what might have happened, of if only....
A tear or two slipped down her cheeks before she could hold them back, and before long she had one hand pressed to her face, sobbing quietly.
She only had the time to realise she was no longer alone before a hand picked hers up and brought it to soft lips. She started, raising her head, and then laughed.
"I suppose my tears were a summons," she said ruefully.
"Not at all," Nienna said, lowering her hand but keeping hold of it. "I can only stay away from you for so long, wise one."
Grief shifted to anger in the blink of an eye. "Wise one? Why do you call me that? Why call me Nerdanel the Wise - as everyone seems to - when the decision they are calling me 'wise' for was the most difficult and painful of my life, the one I question the most, the very decision I am not sure was wise?" Nerdanel mopped at her tears with her hand, aware that she looked very far from her best, but then, if anyone was used to tearstained eyes and sniffly noses, it was Nienna.
Nienna, who leaned forward, pressing kisses to each cheek in turn, and then to her lips. Nienna, who herself tasted of tears. Nienna, who wrapped her arm around Nerdanel and held her close until her heart stopped racing, until her breath calmed.
"Wisdom isn't being certain of your path, Nerdanel," Nienna said. "That is only conviction." She laid kisses on each of Nerdanel's damp eyelids before continuing. "You already know this, beloved."
Nerdanel sniffed. "Well, it is the nature of Incarnates to need reminders, from time to time," she said, but already her tears were fading. "And I suppose the wisdom lies in the fact that I considered where...others...simply acted, or failed to act." She raised an eyebrow, questioningly.
"You determined your own course," Nienna said. "You were not paralysed by indecision nor maddened by rage. You followed no one. You led no one. You stood alone in the Darkness beyond Darkness, and said, I need to think about what this means."
"I did," Nerdanel. "But I saved no one because of it. What if I had...followed? Or led?"
"Then you would have been less wise," Nienna said, a smile starting to break on her face. "Oh, Nerdanel! You're changing the outcome of the game, I can see it in your mind. You asked why you are called Wise, but the Wise may fail. Wisdom isn't strength, it isn't heroics, it isn't necessarily seen in results. Wisdom is, that is all."
"This is cold comfort," Nerdanel said.
"What other kind can I offer?" Nienna asked. "Warmer comfort is not given with words, and words are what you seem to want."
Nerdanel smiled up at Nienna. "Then let me change my mind. Comfort me in other ways. Distract me until I forget my tears. I have known sorrow this day, and now I would know joy."
Nienna's mouth met hers. The light of the Silmaril, long lost, shone down upon them both, but Nerdanel had forgotten it, as if it never existed.