Gil-galad’s halls on Tol Eressëa were not small. But they were rather busy at present, being filled with most of the House of Fingolfin, returned from the Halls of Mandos, and many visiting friends, not to mention Gil-galad and all his people.
Lalwen appreciated the hospitality, but not the bustle. She had arranged to meet with Nerdanel at Finrod’s summer-house instead, since Nerdanel was staying there for this time of festival.
Lalwen had left her hair unbraided to hang down her back, and the slight movement of it as she walked through the white city of Avallónë was a joy she had never really noticed until she had died and lost it.
The Halls of Mandos were neither warm nor cold, neither bright nor dark. They were quiet, and they had no smell. No wind blew there. One could walk in memory, of course, and feel the wind and hear the waves, but only the waves that came to shores now long-changed, and waves that would never change their course. In Mandos, there was little that was new.
To have a living body again, to see new leaves unfurl and waves unthought of surge towards the shore, to walk in the sun and shade, to be a little thirsty! It was a wonder and a joy renewed to walk in the world again after so long.
Finrod’s tall white house was carved into the cliffs. Its wide windows looking out towards the sea were curtained with finest white muslin that moved a little in the faint wind that came in from the water, carrying with it the scent of salt and sun and seaweed.
Lalwen paused for a moment as she was led through the shade of the house out into the sunlight of the balcony, to appreciate the smell, the feel of the wind on skin, the move from slightly-too-cool shade to warmth and light and the sound of blue-green waves sparkling in sunlight.
Lalwen had never had much to do with her half-sister-in-law before she had left for Middle-earth. Nerdanel had not seemed much interested in either court events or politics, being much taken up with her work as a sculptor and her unusually large family, and in any case Fëanor and his wife had preferred not to mix much socially with Fëanor’s half-brothers and sisters.
When Lalwen had been Lalwendë, princess of Tirion, she had thought Nerdanel rather dull; unadventurous and unsophisticated, an odd match for Lalwen’s fiery and undeniably talented half-brother Fëanor. She had wondered if he had chosen to marry Nerdanel deliberately to shock his stepmother’s family. It came as no surprise to Lalwendë that homely, domestic Nerdanel had not joined the journey to Middle-earth.
The shock of killing at Alqualondë had come as the first stern lesson that the journey to Middle-earth would not be quite the heroic quest she had at first envisaged. Then the journey across the Grinding Ice, and building a new life in Hithlum had taught Lalwen that hands-on practicality was something she had previously undervalued, that fine words and flaming bravery alone were not enough, when cold and tired and hungry and facing endless sorrow.
Encountering Nerdanel again, in passing at the festival, Ages of the world later, Lalwen had been a little surprised that Nerdanel had a sharp dry wit that had previously passed her by, and also to find her unexpectedly kind.
Lalwen had left Tirion a murdered king’s daughter: she had returned to life in Aman after thousands of years in the Halls of Mandos, sister of the king, but a kinslayer too. Nerdanel did not seem bothered by that. Well, her children were all kinslayers as well, of course, and her husband too. It made her easier to talk to than some people who had never left Aman.
“Wine, tea or coffee?” Nerdanel enquired, moving sketchbooks and pencils out of the way on the table on the balcony.
Lalwen smiled. “What a delightfully civilised question! Coffee. We had no real tea or coffee in Beleriand. I can’t tell you how much I missed it!”
“Good grief,” Nerdanel said. “I suddenly understand why my sons created such chaos. Though I’m also a little amazed that some of them woke up for long enough to kill anyone at all. I’ll go and tell Finrod’s kitchen-people. They keep telling me off if I rummage in the cupboards or boil the kettle myself.”
Nerdanel’s sketches mostly showed faces of people that Lalwen did not know, though there was a couple of striking images of the younger hobbit-hero, Frodo, engrossed in reading a book, and one of Nerdanel’s son Maglor frowning down at something he was writing. There were some clear, fluid landscapes drawn in ink, too.
“This is a fine one,” she said to Nerdanel as she returned, indicating one of the landscapes.
“It was a landscape that you had in mind to commission, wasn’t it?” Nerdanel said. “A relief carving, you said.”
“Yes. I am planning to build a house, and I think it would be a fine thing to have a great relief set into a wall, showing a view of Hithlum, looking across the lake of Mithrim to the city, as it was just before the Dagor Bragollach. I thought a relief sculpture might be able to mimic the change of light through the day more than a simple painting.”
“Interesting idea,” Nerdanel said, her professional imagination engaged. “We would need to plan the room to make the best of the light... I will have to pick the details from your memory, of course.”
They discussed the idea for some time after the coffee arrived, accompanied by a selection of small delightful cakes flavoured with all the most-missed spices that, like coffee, had not grown in Beleriand. Either Nerdanel had mentioned the lack of coffee in her visit to the kitchen, or perhaps there was someone returned from Beleriand at work in Finrod’s kitchen.
“My house will be here, on Tol Eressëa, not in Tirion,” Lalwen told her. “I have a plot in mind here in Avallónë, in fact. Círdan says, the nearer to the quays the better! Of course, he will not be here most of the time, but at least if I am here on Tol Eressëa, he can visit occasionally.
“Oh! I had not realised that you and Círdan...” Someone else might have hidden her surprise, but Nerdanel looked honestly astonished.
Lalwen found herself a little pink in the face: absurd really, at her age. But then it was very new to be telling someone about it. “We kept it very quiet, in Beleriand. Círdan owed allegiance to Elu Thingol then, and Thingol did not look kindly on kinslayers. Círdan would not even speak Quenya! Thingol had outlawed speaking it, you see.”
“He doesn’t understand Quenya at all?” Nerdanel looked shocked.
“Of course he understands it. He’s obstinate, not stupid! He can speak Quenya. It’s just that he won’t. Or wouldn’t. We always had to speak entirely in Sindarin, once Thingol had made his law. If I forgot, Cirdan would pretend he didn’t hear and hide stubbornly behind his beard. Even in private!”
“Well!” Nerdanel said, shaking with silent laughter. Wiry red curls escaping from her braids, danced in the sunlight. “I can only sympathise. I thought Fëanáro would easily win the prize for sheer pig-headed obstinacy, but it seems there are some strong contenders in that competition.”
“There certainly are!” Lalwen said, with feeling. “Círdan kept it up for over four hundred years! Though I think Thingol might just take the first prize, at least if I were judging. But things have changed. Thingol is dead, and seems likely to stay that way. Dior himself greeted me and Fingolfin, speaking in Quenya as a sign of reconciliation. Very decent of him, I thought. But I find it irritating, being Círdan’s guilty secret, and Círdan would like to acknowledge me and his son. We talked of it, Círdan, Ereinion and I, and agreed that we would let it be more widely known.
“Ereinion Gil-galad is your son? But I thought... Orodreth...”
“Oh, is that the version that is current in Tirion? I had wondered.”
“Well, there was some rumour that he was Fingon’s, but I knew that couldn’t be right!” Nerdanel said. “I’ve never asked him myself. He does look more like Fingolfin than Orodreth. Well, I suppose really, he looks like you. I can see it now you’ve mentioned it!
“He’s Fingon’s son as well, and Orodreth’s too,” Lalwen said, and laughed. “My son has so many fathers! It makes my father’s so-shocking second marriage look quite tame.”
Nerdanel looked intrigued. “Explain!” she demanded. “I am not usually one for gossip but this tale sounds too good to pass up.”
“Oh, it’s less outrageous than it sounds at first, I’m afraid. A political convenience. Fingon adopted Ereinion, before the Dagor Bragollach. We thought then, that if it was widely known that I had a son, then rumour might make the leap that Círdan was his father. Círdan visited me often in Hithlum. It would have been awkward for his relations with Doriath if it had been known he was more than a military ally.”
“Hm! And you didn’t mind that?”
Lalwen shrugged. It had barely occurred to her to object: the political need was always more urgent than the personal one. “Keeping Thingol sweet was important. We still hoped he might join an alliance, then. If Fingon took a child of Hithlum as his heir, well, there was nothing to offend Thingol in that. So Ereinion was Fingon’s son for a while. Of course Fingon could not take a small child out on patrol, and he did a lot of patrolling — so Ereinion stayed safely with me by the lake of Mithrim, and Círdan happened to be there often to discuss strategy. The small convenient untruth did no harm to anyone. To be fair to him, Fingon made a very indulgent father, if I needed to go on patrol myself when Círdan was at the Falas. But we were at peace then, so I rarely had to.”
It occurred to Lalwen that probably people rarely spoke kindly to Nerdanel of Nerdanel’s children, so she gave her a smile. “And your boys spoiled him hopelessly, if they happened to be visiting, too of course. Maedhros and Maglor were in Hithlum quite often, in those days. They took him out riding on his first pony, I remember. Amrod and Amras came too, when Ereinion was a few years old. Amras brought him a toy bow and Amrod made him a little doll that he loved very dearly. Ereinion had a lot of indulgent cousins, when he was small.”
“Nice for Amrod and Amras to have had a little one to spoil,” Nerdanel said, “I used to think they would make good fathers... Probably just as well they didn’t. One tragically doomed grandson is enough. But go on. How can Ereinion be Orodreth’s son too?”
“Well, after Dagor Bragollach, Hithlum was no longer safe. I knew we were going to have to fight again soon, and there was a good chance that Hithlum would fall this time. It would have fallen in Dagor Bragollach, if it had not been for Círdan coming to our aid. So I decided that Ereinion must go to the Falas. He was too young to fight, though of course he was old enough to think he should!”
Nerdanel made an unhappy face. “I’m not sure they’re ever old enough.”
Lalwen was inclined to think that all too often, there was no choice, but there was no point in arguing about that with Nerdanel. “Well, as Fingon’s son, Ereinion was still a kinslayer’s child, and we feared that might not go down so well in the Falas. So I took him down to Nargothrond. It took a small army for me to get him there, through the mountains. There were still a lot of orcs and trolls about in the mountain-passes, not long after the battle, it took us a good while to clear them out. Anyway, in Nargothrond, he became Orodreth’s son. Finrod would have adopted him, but it was widely known that Finrod had said he would have no wife or child in Beleriand. Finrod had seen his doom ahead of him, and being Finrod, he’d told everyone... So Orodreth volunteered. A good lad, Orodreth, it was a pity it all went wrong in Nargothrond, after that.” She realised that part of what had gone wrong in Nargothrond had been two of Nerdanel’s children, and stopped a little awkwardly.
Nerdanel saw it, and made a resigned face. “Don’t feel the need to walk on eggshells! Curufin and Celegorm... well. I wish things had turned out differently. I’m fond of Finrod too, but Curufin always did have the knack of winding him up, and you could never call Celegorm a peacemaker.” Nerdanel shook her fiery head. “But that makes three fathers for Ereinion, I see. Very ingenious!”
“Three fathers. Well, two, officially, and Círdan officially his foster-father... And of course nobody asking any questions at all about the mothers!” Lalwen said and looked to the sky in half-amused despair at a world that was determined to ask always about a child’s father. Nerdanel laughed at her expression. “Anyway, that meant he had a nice safe pedigree with the House of Finarfin, and explained his looks, more or less. Orodreth is of the House of Finwë, after all, he could have a son that looked like Fingolfin, and fortunately his hair is not as dark as mine. But Orodreth’s son would be welcome anywhere, even if Círdan had needed to flee to Doriath. He never did, in the end, but it seemed a real possibility at that time that Doriath would stand after all the rest of us had fallen. So I sent Ereinion on to the Falas with an escort from Nargothrond — much to his disgust, I may say — and I took my force back to Hithlum. As things turned out, that was the last I saw of Ereinion, in person, at least, until a few days ago. I watched his deeds from the Halls of Mandos, of course.”
She stopped herself, just in time, from saying that Ereinion had done very well in Middle-earth, and admitting she was proud of him. She was, but that would not be a kind thing to say to the mother of Fëanor’s seven sons.
Nerdanel said, “Hard to let him go like that, I know. But you have him back at last.”
Lalwen smiled. “Yes, and I can see I shall have to make an effort if I am not to end up running Avallónë for him. I had enough of doing that for Fingolfin in Hithlum. Hence the need to build my own house!”
“It will be nice to have a project to work on here in Tol Eressëa, since Maglor is staying here too. I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him, exactly, but... well. He is my son, after all. I honestly never thought I’d see him again.”
“You don’t think that Elrond will succeed in his appeal to the Valar for Maedhros and the others, then?” Lalwen asked, a little tentatively.
“Elrond!” Nerdanel exclaimed. “I don’t know what to make of him! A friend of Maedhros and Maglor’s? That seems wrong, somehow, after everything they did to Elrond and his whole family! But it’s not up to me to say so.”
“I’m very much in favour of forgiving kinslayers, and giving them another chance, myself,” Lalwen said. “But then, I would be.”
Nerdanel gave her a considering look with her head cocked on one side. “I suppose you would! Though it’s not quite the same thing. Can I ask... what was it like, really? The battle at Alqualondë?”
Lalwen took a cake and cut it neatly in half. There was lemon curd in the middle. Lemons had not been easy to come by in Beleriand, and of course there had been no cake at all in the Halls of Mandos. In Mandos, there were the great matters of the spirit: thought and song, regret, memory and love, of course. Laughter and joy, even, on occasion. But there was no place in Mandos for lemon-cake, for giggling, for drunken late-night dancing under stars or making languid love in golden morning light. Those were things for the world of life.
She took an appreciative bite and paused for a moment to enjoy the taste before answering.
“To be honest, it was more like other battles than I generally like to admit. A shock, of course, being the first. People came running at us with knives. There were arrows flying everywhere. I didn’t want to die. I could hear our people screaming for help, and see the wounded, so I hit the people who came at me with my sword, and they went down bleeding. It was dark and the ground was slippery. There wasn’t a lot of time for thought. It was only afterwards, that we really worked out quite what had happened. And by then it was far too late.”
“And that was Fëanáro,” Nerdanel said bitterly. “He started it. He and my sons.”
There was nothing kind that could be said to that. “I can’t say how it started. I wasn’t there at the beginning. But someone must have drawn sword first, and the Teleri... They were armed. If they hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have been a battle, and it was a real battle, not a slaughter. They fought bravely. They threw Fëanor’s people back three times, before we joined the fight and broke their line. But they had no swords or armour. We did.”
Nerdanel wrinkled her freckled nose. “And it was my husband who first drew his sword. And he who sent them in to take the ships. Of course it was... You know, I can almost find excuses for him for swearing that horrible oath, I can tell myself that Morgoth got to him somehow and twisted his words. I can blame Morgoth for dragging my sons into it with him. I can even tell myself that perhaps he thought that leaving you all behind in Araman would let you come home in safety. But there’s no excuse for Alqualondë. He didn’t even need the ships. You went across without them.”
“We did. Not easily though, I can see why they thought it was impossible. The only thing I can say,” Lalwen offered, not quite sure why she felt that she needed to, “is that none of us knew what was happening, not even Fëanor. None of us knew then what a battle was like. I don’t think he planned it.”
She certainly had not said it for Fëanor, so presumably she had said it for Nerdanel. Or perhaps for Maglor. The long years since she had last seen him in Hithlum had not treated Nerdanel’s last living son kindly. You could see that in his eyes.
“I don’t know if the Valar will allow them to return,” Nerdanel said. “I do want my sons back. Valar help me, even with all they did. But I gave up hope of that so long ago. And now there seems to be a chance again, I don’t quite know what to do with the new hope! I’m almost afraid to take hold of it, in case it runs through my fingers again. And I’m afraid, too. I’m afraid of what they might do.”
“But not Maglor?”
“Maglor, on his own, will almost always find a reason not to do anything he finds difficult,” Maglor’s mother said tolerantly. “I used to think it a fault. Now I’m not so sure.”
Lalwen considered Maglor, who had held the Gap that was the main route for armies coming from Angband down into Beleriand, for over four hundred years, who had somehow survived the fires of Dagor Bragollach and the chaos of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, had fought on and survived many thousand years alone. “I think he might have grown up somewhat, in Middle-earth,” she suggested. “I think probably they all did. They were fierce allies, the Sons of Fëanor.”
“I suppose so,” Nerdanel said. “A pity Fëanáro himself didn’t get the chance to outgrow his temper. If that was ever a possibility.”
“Would you take him back?” Lalwen wondered, intrigued.
“Aaaaaah!” Nerdanel said and grasped at her wiry red hair ferociously, making the coffee cups rattle on the table with her elbows. “I don’t know! I really don’t! There was a time, just after Alqualondë, when I would have said, no, no, never! I hope he falls into the Everlasting Darkness and is lost forever! Though, I would have felt guilty about it afterwards. But it has been a long time. He was dead long before my sons attacked Doriath, let alone the Havens. And the children that my sons stole from their mother and their burning home forgave them!”
Nerdanel let out a long sigh, and looked up at Lalwen ruefully. “I probably would, at that. I still love him. Despite everything! I’ve wondered if it means there’s something wrong with me. But I... Oh all right, I have to admit it! I couldn’t look him in the face and tell him to go away again. It was hard enough last time. I don’t know how I could be married to him, but... It would have to be different to how it was before. I love him, but trusting him would be another matter.” She laughed. “In fact, it would be tempting to chain him to the bed to stop him getting into trouble. But I know he’d only pick the lock!” She shook her head. “At least he’s nice to look at. Even if he can be an idiot.”
“I have some sympathy with that,” Lalwen told her, laughing. “Speaking as someone who spent over four hundred years speaking only Sindarin to her husband, by decree of someone I never met and who certainly was not listening to our private conversations.”
Nerdanel’s face became serious. “I don’t think it will ever happen. Even if they let our sons come back to life... They made that clear enough, even before Mandos gave them the Doom of the Noldor, remember? I heard that bit, I was on the walls, watching them go. And the messenger of the Valar came, and he said to all the rest of you ‘Go not forth’. But he said to Fëanáro, ‘By your oath you are exiled’. Just Fëanáro, all alone. I could have told them that was never going to work, if they’d thought to ask me. If there was one thing they could have done that would get his heels digging in! Mind you, they did that all along.”
“They did, rather,” Lalwen agreed. “But Elrond seems to think Fëanor is the only one who can unmake his oath. I suspect that Elrond only wants Maedhros released, really. He never knew the rest. But he also wants their oath unmade, and Fingolfin and I agree that must be a priority. It seems Maedhros and Maglor can’t do that alone. So he will appeal for all of them.”
She noticed Nerdanel’s raised eyebrows and gestured with one hand in acknowledgement. “I’d share your doubts... except that Elrond did somehow get permission to bring Maglor here. And he managed to arrange for Fingolfin and Fingon to be released from Mandos too — and myself, for that matter. That is quite a few of the chief actors in the rebellion.”
“Chief actors in the rebellion?” Galadriel said, stepping through the fine white curtains out onto the balcony. “I seem to have arrived upon my cue. The very words Eönwë used to describe me! Good morning, Lalwen. I see you are consorting with another rebel today, Nerdanel.”
“I am,” Nerdanel said. “The other rebel is commissioning a sculpture from me, but we have the details of that sorted out now. Come and have some of these cakes, Galadriel. The kitchen-people seem determined to keep bringing us more. I think there may be some sort of bet going on about how many different flavours they can serve, or perhaps how many we can eat. I am making quite a habit of consorting with rebels lately. Not a new habit though.”
“Indeed not,” Galadriel said, settling gracefuly into a chair, and taking a tiny cake. “My brother Finrod says he feels quite left out that he was allowed to leave the Halls of Mandos so soon. He feels his part in rebellion goes underappreciated and that all the notoriety comes to me. I must say, I would have been quite willing to share it.”
“Oh well,” Nerdanel said. “Nobody was going to insist the Ban of the Valar must be upheld against Finrod the beloved, were they? Not after he died so horribly and all the worry that Sauron had captured his spirit. And besides, your poor father! There was practically nobody left in Tirion to run the place when you all left, until Finarfin got back, and then he got landed with all of it. He came to me asking if I would help with the administration, would you believe. Me! I told him, I’m a sculptor, not a princess. I don’t have the first idea how that sort of thing works, nor do I want to. I did some maintenance work on the walls to show willing, and made a cup of tea when he came over to try to make sense of Fëanáro’s record-keeping. Oh, and I went to a few court events and stood there trying not to look bored, since Anairë came and said she thought it was important. She was desperately trying not to think about you all marching across the Grinding Ice, of course, and being very royal about it. I’ll stick to art, myself.”
“I am sure this is the reason that they called her Nerdanel the Wise,” Galadriel said to Lalwen. “It took me ages of the world to realise that being a queen would be a fearful nuisance.”
“I think people started calling me that when I refused to go to Formenos with Fëanáro,” Nerdanel said. “I was just wondering if that decision was really wise or not. Not that I believe you can fix other people’s problems through selfless devotion! That would just be silly. But he did think I’d deserted him for Fingolfin somehow. Ridiculous though that sounds. He thought everyone had. I’m sure hearing the new name I was given when I chose not to follow him did not help with that at all.”
“You were still with him before he was banished,” Lalwen pointed out. “It didn’t stop him pinning Fingolfin against the wall with his sword.”
Nerdanel sighed. “True. It was he who turned away, not I. Yet there is always that small voice that says ‘perhaps if I had argued with Fëanáro harder...’ He was so very sure that Fingolfin hated him!”
“But he didn’t!” Lalwen protested.
“Of course he didn’t!” Nerdanel agreed. “Anyone could see with half an eye that Fingolfin wanted his big brother to praise him, and for your father to approve. I did tell Fëanáro that, but did he listen? Fëanáro was never one for plain common-sense. But Indis and all your family were his great weakness. He always found it hard to discuss family matters rationally.”
“There was a darkness over him,” Galadriel said. “I could see it even then. And in those days, we had no idea what to do about fear and darkness, save to shun it or to fight it... We thought of darkness as the thing that comes from outside, not a thing that could dwell within your own mind, or creep into it unwilling, through a lie... That was foolish of us. We could have looked to Míriel Serindë and learned something there.”
“Or at Morgoth, perhaps,” Lalwen said bitterly, remembering the days when Morgoth had seemed a friend. Fëanor had been right, then, though people had laughed at him for it.
Galadriel nodded. “I have thought much about it, since. It surprised me, at first, to find that when I looked into people’s minds in Middle-earth, how many had some of that darkness lying on them. Arda is marred, there’s no undoing it, or ignoring it. But the darkness only means there is peril, and there was so much of that. People in darkness can be helped, and sometimes the Shadow can be overcome. I wish I’d understood that sooner.”
Lalwen grimaced. “Some things you do have to learn from experience. You were very young then, for all your talent. I didn’t have the first idea that there was anything worse to Fëanor than a fiery spirit, a longing for freedom and a monumental lack of tact. Even after Alqualondë, really, though perhaps I shouldn’t admit that. It was only when we saw the ships leave, and the fire far away, and knew that he’d betrayed us too that it really dawned on me... To be fair, there is a lot of darkness that you just have to fight as best you can. There are those who can’t be cured.”
“True, of course. But still, I think I understand Fëanor better, now I’ve seen the darkness in myself,” Galadriel said. Lalwen wondered exactly what she meant by that.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Nerdanel said. “We were just speaking of Elrond, when you arrived Galadriel. Lalwen seems to think that he may appeal to get my horrible sons and my even more horrible husband returned to life at last, and might even be listened to. I was reluctantly admitting that in spite of everything, I would like them back.”
Galadriel smiled, a long slow smile with a hint of mischief to it. “Elrond is very determined,” she said. “I wondered, from time to time, why he stayed so long in Middle-earth. He could have gone to Avallónë and his parents, after the fall of Thangorodrim, when we all thought evil was ended forever. He could have seen Elros in Númenor more easily from there than from Lindon. Or after Gil-galad fell, when there was peace at last, I wondered if he would go then, and take Celebrían with him into the West. He could have gone to meet Gil-galad, when he came back from Mandos, they were great friends, and there was no reason to expect then that Sauron would return in such power... Or when Celebrían was hurt. He could have sailed west then, left Imladris to Glorfindel or Elrohir and Elladan. Not that I was not grateful that Elrond stayed to fight, as the long years wore on, and our allies grew fewer and weaker! And of course he was in love with Imladris, and he wanted to help his brother’s children. But still, there seemed some small missing piece to the puzzle. Then he vanished mysteriously when we reached the Havens at last, and reappeared with the scruffy apologetic cousin that he had never mentioned once in all those long years, announcing triumphantly that Maglor had a pardon, and I thought, oh yes! There it is!”
Lalwen laughed. “I wish I’d seen your face,” she said candidly. She remembered that Galadriel had had some choice things to say about Fëanor and his sons on the way across the Grinding Ice. Presumably her opinion of them had not improved when they had sacked Doriath, where she had lived for so long with Celeborn.
“I won’t pretend I wasn’t shocked,” Galadriel said. “I was. I hadn’t given Maglor a thought for many years, and if I had, I would have thought him long dead. But Elrond looked so pleased, I could do nothing but accept Maglor’s apologies politely.” She laughed. “You would have liked my daughter’s expression too, Lalwen, once she had finally taken her eyes off Elrond and noticed who else was on the ship.”
“She wasn’t pleased to see Maglor?” Nerdanel said with the resigned look of one who was long used to hearing that about her children.
“Not at all! Celebrían made her most stubborn and contradictory face at me and hugged him! She obviously knew all about him and yet never once said a word to me, or to her father! But I was glad to see her wearing her stubborn face again, after what happened to her. Celeborn will have much to say if he finds out, but I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it.”
“You think that Celeborn may not come to Aman?” Lalwen asked in surprise, before realising that the question might be a little delicate.
Galadriel sighed. “Celeborn is still in love with Middle-earth, the wide lands and the great forests. He has dreams of a greater kingdom of Lothlórien, Laurelindórenan reborn, bringing light and life back to Mirkwood, now that Dol Guldur is broken and the Barad-dûr brought low. But I... I was homesick, and I had long ago decided that I did not want to be a queen. I yearned for home and family for such a long time, without hope that I be allowed to return. And I was tired too, once the power in the ring Celebrimbor made me began to fade. I had fought a long, long fight.” She smiled at Nerdanel. “You know, there was a small part of me that saw Maglor and thought, for all he’s done, here is my cousin, who remembers leaves of gold before the Sun and Moon... But of course Celeborn would not see it like that.”
“So you wouldn’t oppose their return?” Nerdanel asked. “Maglor seemed to think you might.”
Galadriel looked thoughtful. “If it were only my choice... I would be cautious. I might say, as Lalwen did just now, that not all darkness can be cured.”
She looked at Lalwen with a gleam of amusement in her eye. “What of my old ally Círdan, Lalwen? Will he speak against the House of Fëanor, if the Valar ask his opinion?”
“Ah, I wondered if Ereinion had told you,” Lalwen said. “Or did you see it in his mind? Hard to keep secrets from Galadriel, they used to say. I’m impressed Elrond and Celebrían managed it... Círdan has long been of the opinion that he will take his allies where he can, and forgive old quarrels, you must know that. He would never have married a kinslayer, else! But you are more cautious, it seems.”
Galadriel laughed as joyously as she had as a little girl under the golden leaves of Laurelin, before ever the East Wind had come to shake them. “I, cautious? Surely not. If it were not for Elrond and Elros and their children, Middle-earth would have fallen under Sauron’s hand long ago, and the end would have been terrible. The Valar sent us five Maiar. Only one of them was any great use, and one of the others almost brought us all to ruin! Perhaps it’s best for both sides, for the Eldar not to rely too closely on the Ainur... The days when I would turn away from someone who had a shadow of darkness lying behind him have long since run away. I have my own shadows, and I know them all by name.”
Galadriel’s chin went up, and suddenly her expression reminded Lalwen how they used to say, long ago, that Galadriel, along with Fëanor, was the greatest of all the Noldor. “If Elrond wants the House of Fëanor returned to life then I will back him every step,” Galadriel said. “Tired or not. I’ve thought on it carefully and made my choice. Elrond stood with us in Middle-earth, as the world fell back into grief and darkness. Not many did.”
“And yet, I wonder what they will do, if they return,” Lalwen said. “Their oath still holds them. I have seen it grip Maglor. Not a happy sight.”
“We may have to roll the dice and hope for luck,” Galadriel said. “That is not new to any of us.”
. . . . .
Later, sitting alone with her sketchbooks in a quiet room she had chosen for the clear north light, and also for the fact that it had an unusually solid door and no particular reason for anyone else to come walking past it, Nerdanel put down her pencil, took the thong from around her neck and held the stone that usually hung around her neck in her hand.
A humble jewel, to look at, a white-flecked pebble of wave-worn granite, slightly rough to the touch, with a hole not quite in the centre through which the leather thong was threaded. The kind of small pebble that anyone might pick up, wandering far along the shore or through the hills, but not the kind of thing that the Eldar customarily wore as jewellery.
She looked at the stone in her hand for a long, considering moment, and then spoke. “Fëanáro?”
There was a brief pause, then “Nerdanel,” the stone said, a faint voice that sounded very far away.
“I have some news for you,” Nerdanel said, cautious, thinking carefully as she spoke. “There is a very faint hope that our sons may be permitted to return to life. And perhaps you, too.”
“Surely not,” Fëanáro said, his voice becoming clearer. “Why would Mandos ever permit that?” She ignored the edge of weary desperation in his voice, for the sake of his pride, more than for the wisdom that so many people had told her confidently she possessed. She had serious doubts about the wisdom, anyway. A wise person would probably have dropped the stone back into the sea long ago.
Instead she adopted a very matter of fact tone, and explained about Elrond and his unlikely friendship with Maedhros and Maglor. She had told Fëanáro of Sauron’s defeat and of Maglor’s return to Aman before, but it was harder to explain Elrond. She had carefully avoided speaking to him of Lúthien and Silmarils, and it seemed that her sons had done the same.
She managed to explain things in the end though, and Fëanáro did not lose his temper when she spoke of Elrond’s father and the Silmaril. That gave her hope, although she barely dared to look at it and admit that was what it was.
“Elrond seems likely to appeal for Maedhros’s release, at least, and everyone seems to think that Ulmo will support him. So will all the House of Finwë, and I admit I was surprised by that. Elrond must be very persuasive! But for Maedhros to be free, the oath must be unmade.”
“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Fëanáro’s tired flat voice said.
“Not from the Halls of Mandos, no,” Nerdanel agreed. “And that is why now at last, I have to decide. Should I speak for you, Fëanáro? Nienna is sure to ask me. Or should I speak against, and say you are lost to dark thoughts and old evil? Can I trust you?”
“I can’t lie to you now,” he said, and even now she could feel him hating to admit all the things he could not do. “Not that I ever did.”
“No. You were always honest. That’s why I’m asking. What will you do if they open the door back into life, and you step through? ”
“You know it’s hard to have new thoughts, in the Halls of Mandos,” Fëanáro said bitterly. “They are not made for it. I don’t know what new thoughts might come to me, if that door should ever open for me.”
It was important not to feel too sorry for him. Remember the bodies piled upon the quays of Alqualondë. Remember how he had been convinced his brothers cursed his name. “That’s not an answer, though. Would you turn on Fingolfin, or on Eärendil for the Silmaril? Would you start another war?“
“I don’t want to mislead you, Nerdanel. I am only the half of myself. Who knows what the whole might do?”
“All right,” Nerdanel said, because despite all the sensible things she had said to herself, her heart was hurting terribly, and wisdom was greatly overrated after all. “It’s hard to think new thoughts. I understand that. But I am alive, and I am a maker just as much as you. So here is a new thought that I have made, a gift for you. Unmake your oath. It’s old and dark and horrible, and it never said quite what you wanted it to anyway. You can make better things. Promise me you will unmake it, free our children from it, and come away with me. We’ll go into the north, where Fingolfin went into the Ice. We can admire your Silmaril among the stars, and make something new. I will carve images from snow and ice, and you can send light through them, or learn the language of the walruses, if you like, or map the pathways of the ice, or build a better stove, or find out how sunlight falls through snow. Or you can explain to me a hundred new and better ideas that will no doubt occur to you, as soon as you are whole again.”
“The language of the walruses?” Fëanáro said, and his voice sounded lighter and younger. “You’re making fun of me!” It might so easily have been anger, but it was not.
“I certainly am, and I’d like to do it more,” Nerdanel said, smiling.
“I don’t want to start another war,” he told her. “I never meant to start the last one — though I think now that it was a war worth fighting. If I’d known it was going to be a war, I would have brought Fingolfin with me and put him at the front!”
“A good thing for our sons that he refused to be left behind,” Nerdanel told him.
“It was. I did tell him that, when we met again at last,” Fëanáro’s voice said from the stone.
“Good. You should tell Fingolfin about all the many things he does well. He’d like that. You owe him, and the fact that he is good at them only reflects well on you and your father.”
“Fingolfin was permitted to return to life. I can only speak with you. I can’t tell him anything.”
“Not yet,” Nerdanel said. “But there’s a chance you might. So what is your answer?”
“Is this really what you want?” Fëanáro asked her. “To have me come back to haunt you after all this time?”
“Oddly enough,” Nerdanel said, “Yes. Elrond is not the only member of our family who is ridiculously and unwisely loyal. I warn you though, I won’t follow you, and certainly not to war. I won’t support you if you pile up the works of your hands like a dragon, to guard them, or sacrifice our children for revenge, or try to tell me that your brothers’ talents somehow detract from yours. I will not put up with that again. The person I married did not have foolish notions of that kind! But ... I would like my husband back.”
She hesitated for a moment. “That is, if you do not want to stay with your father and mother?”
“No!” Fëanáro exclaimed. “I have had time to speak with my father. I love him dearly but we are not the same. My mother, too. She is happy, somewhere between the halls of Mandos and the looms of Vairë. I don’t know how, but she is. And he is content. I’m not. You may have noticed.”
“Yes, I have, just a little! ” Nerdanel said, then, suddenly uncomfortable, reminded that she was free, and he was not, “I’ve been assuming that you want me back. I didn’t mean to make that a condition. I only needed to ask what you’d do.”
“Nerdanel...” his voice softened, and he sounded almost the way he had long, long ago. “I’m not like my father. There was only ever one for me. I love you. You know I am not good at letting go.”
“All the same,” she said a little awkwardly, “consider the idea of travelling together again a favour, if you like. I have wanted to try ice sculpture for a long time, you know that.”
“I do, and I also know that an artist of your quality could pick a hundred people who would be flattered to join such an expedition,” Fëanáro said. “I too am flattered to be asked. And I love you. If the unlikely chance comes that Mandos should open the door back to life and let me go, then I will give you this promise. I won’t ask you to follow me. I promise I will unmake my oath and follow you.”
Nerdanel found herself smiling broadly, an unwise smile. Not the kind restrained smile of a wise princess, but more the uncontrollable grin of a small child daubing colour on a wall and loving it. “You have no doubt you can unmake it?” she asked, making a last attempt at being sensible. “But of course you don’t. You are Fëanáro.”
“I’ll try to think how it can be done, though it won’t be easy to do that, here,” he said. “But at least it cannot stop me. Here at last I have found an advantage to being half a person.”
“More than half,” she told him. “I’ll go to Elrond now and tell him what we have decided.”
“I thought you were not permitted to speak of our conversations? The living are not supposed to speak with the dead.”
“No, and look at the trouble that causes! I think of it as more of a guideline. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes when you are making something, there’s a time to break the rules.