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Maiden, Mother, Stone

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She was the Maker's handmaiden, not his wife. So she was in his workshop under the mountain, working with carbon (sheets of thin-layer graphite sliding between her hands, diamonds slipping out when she tightened her fists) when he built his people. The dwarves were the first speaking people made in Middle-Earth, and she watched it happen. Their eyes opened, and their mouths, and their eager hands reached out; their Maker laughed and answered and asked them questions back. The language they spoke was a gift he had crafted for their use; he filled their hands with jewels and hammers, carving knives and soft raw stones. His handmaiden smiled, learning her own master through the new magic he created, and her voice rose to harmonize with the Dwarves and Mahal, to exalt their theme in the World's Song.

In the same hour she heard Ilúvatar's response, and in his words, his callousness. The Creator-of-All spoke of the new people as objects, no more than the graphite shattered on the floor at her feet or the diamonds that fell and rolled away. She heard her master apologize, disclaiming his own work, and saw him raise his hammer to break their bodies. They screamed and begged for mercy, and she heard herself screaming as well. But Aulë's humility seemed enough to soothe Ilúvatar's vanity, and the new people were left intact. The handmaiden sobbed in relief. But when the Creator-of-All lay down his judgment, that this new wonder would be silenced and stilled while his own designs unfolded as he liked, her tears turned to rage. These people had been First already; she had seen it, and Creator or not he had no right to deny the fact of their existence. But Aulë obeyed, sundering and scattering his people, leaving each one voiceless, unmoving, and alone. His handmaiden, she followed him and watched. When her master turned aside to other matters, she followed him no more, but ranged alone among the mountain roots, peering at the unmoving faces, touching the paralyzed hands. "I see you," she said to them, though they could not answer. "I saw you. I heard you. I won't abandon you now."

The Earth spun on and the Music played. Ents guarded those beloved of the Maker's wife; Yavanna wished them defended from the speaking people. Elves woke to trees and starlight and Men soon thereafter. Aulë walked among them, teaching and building, while the people of his hands lay beneath the mountains like stones themselves. His handmaiden also remained underground. She wandered among that forgotten folk, one cold crypt to the next, circling back and back again. When the earth grew and shifted, she shielded them with her own body, gentled the rock to shelter with her power, steadied it with her craft. A little bit of power was indeed her own, mere handmaiden that she was, for so she was made to be.

When Durin woke in darkness he was alone, as Ilúvatar had decreed. The first thing he saw was three huge stones dry-fitted together, holding the sepulchre ceiling solid overhead, though cracks crazed through it like broken ice. He spoke his gratitude aloud, voice gravelly with disuse; then came clumsily to his feet and looked about. There was nothing much there, but he did find a pebble and placed it near the joist. This did not satisfy his heart; he felt the weight of the broken ceiling like his Maker's hammer falling. So he found another pebble, and then another, and arranged them vertically like the joist in miniature. There were no words to it, but he hoped it might seem like a reply.

He left that place in darkness, moving through the great maze of rivers and caves that spread beneath the crust of Middle-Earth. At length he found Aur's tomb, where that dwarf lay still, beneath a great sheet of granite that passed within a breath's-width of his face. One edge was propped up by a stack of three rocks, and Durin lifted it away. Aur sat up after Durin spoke to him; he had not known the difference between being silenced and being trapped. The dwarves embraced, and spoke long about the brief lives they remembered, and the unknowable time that had passed since. "Did Mahal leave me like that, you think?" Aur asked, gesturing at the granite. It lay on the floor now, split in two.

"No," Durin replied without thinking. Later, in more measured tones, he reasoned aloud: "That's not his style; look at us! There's no mark upon it. That stone was never worked, only put into place."

Aur laughed. "Someone else, then," he said, and there was blind relief in it. He buried his face against Durin's shoulder and whispered, "Perhaps we have a mother as well as a maker? Someone who loves us, anyway, and wants us safe."

"Our mother, then, all right," said Durin, patting Aur's back. "Three stones in a stack. Come, we should leave this place -- there were five more of us, right? -- and we should find them." Mother or love or not, Durin wanted to be among all his people.

They walked side-by-side where the passages allowed. They saw many wondrous things -- crystals more massive then both their bodies together, shining with a pale inner light that made them squint and stare; strata marking cavern walls with ripples and tides; a silent lake of cold black water at which they slaked their thirst. After the epiphany of that first drink (for dwarves are hardy, and they had taken no sustenance before, though their bodies had wanted for it) they rested for awhile, trickling droplets through their fingers, anointing one another's hands and foreheads and beards. They knew that the world was moving now, awaiting them, and they needed to move on. But Durin picked up a flat stone and placed it atop another by the water's edge, and Aur took a round one and put it on the top. They smiled at each other, shy with love and strangeness as they rose. "Our stone mother," said Aur, and Durin nodded. They held hands as they went on their way.

The handmaiden's voice was lost by then; she could not have spoken if she had tried. She was part of the stone herself now, able to balance for luck and care, to move that resistant element with her magic and persistence. But she looked at the stack three high, and it did look like an answer. As much as stone can feel she felt, and as much as stone can listen she listens. As much as she can without mortar or tools, without hands or eyes, she still offers children what protections she can. She is not a handmaiden anymore.

Chapter Text

My Maia is wordless and unnamed, and here's why.... quotes are from Thorinsmut's "Abaninh" chapter of the "Touch" side stories.

"If you know her name, she takes you away to live with her, where it's never dark, where it's never cold, and no one is ever alone, and no one is ever hungry."

The dwarves know one parent-figure. Aule created them, and just about incidentally may have created the first implementation of spoken language; Khuzdul. Dwarves don't call Aule by name, but "Mahal" -- a Khuzdul word meaning "maker". And more or less immediately thereafter, he lifted his hammer to break and unmake them, because his own creator, Eru Iluvatar, said they weren't really alive.

Canon explicitly states that the dwarves cried out for mercy because Eru had made them alive in that instant, possibly as a reward to Aule for his humility. In my own fic, I have the dwarves express some skepticism about this: ""We dwarves were the first of the Free Peoples. Mahal, blessed be he, made seven of us, working in secret beneath the mountains. His own parent called the creation presumptuous, and said we could never have a single thought of our own. Mahal was grieved and humiliated, and raised his hammer to destroy us. But in that moment the Sacred Fire kindled in the Seven, and they knew themselves living and threatened with death. Whether that was Mahal's doing or his parent's, or their own iron will, none can say. But the first thing we saw -- that any people ever saw in Middle-Earth -- was the hand that created us raised for our destruction. "

Because it's a pretty, umm, fishy story, isn't it? Eru's offense, the timing of the Dwarves' awakening. The need to show your creator that you are lesser than they, and the willingness to destroy your own creations to please them. The fact that Mahal had, from experiencing Melkor and discord, created in dwarves a resistance to evil that none of Eru's own people possessed -- quite a feature in a puppet, that.

Anyway, the dwarves aren't destroyed, but they aren't left to live either, and the word "Firstborn" is still reserved for the Elves (who, so far, don't even exist). They're separated and shut down under mountains somewhere. JRRT does not discuss what happens to them then, or how that ended; leaving empty space for the likes of me. But the start of the story is clear: Mahal left the dwarves alone, in the dark, where it was cold, without sustenance, when the world was new. The first dwarves were as cruelly raised as Thorinsmut's Nori in this story. And yet they love Mahal and serve him, attested many times in many texts.

I think if they had not been nurtured and protected, somehow, by someone, they would not have emerged from their abandonment so kind. In JRRT canon, only two of Aule's Maiar are named: the ones who become Sauron and Saruman. So -- what, really, JRRT? I know about Eve and the apple and the invention of empiricism, umm disobedience right.... as a long-time women-in-mythology reclaimer, I have some alternative disobedience for you. Never mind talking back to creators, or what deities do to one another. I want to talk about how somebody treated the dwarves in this, who were innocent and entirely new. So I made up a woman Maia and I made her kind to the people when they were helpless.

But I could not give her a name, because I do not think she ever had one. Middle-Earth began with music, not words; although JRRT throws around the word "says" in early histories, Khuzdul is the first known of the spoken languages. Everything we know is in translation anyway, and there were no elves to be speaking proto-Quenya at that time. Nor do any of the characters involved speak to her, and she has no place in the conversations reported. But the three stones became a sort of sigil for her when Durin tried to make his first acknowledgement; he read her signature in her work, and tried to address her back. Aur copied him, and it stuck.

It's sad that the children do not realize this; they want and need so much more. She cannot take them away, no matter what they know of her. There's nowhere to take them to. She didn't create this world and she can't create a better one. But she's here, in the stories and events. It is what she can.

“You know it's blasphemy?” one of them murmured quiet, and Nori wordlessly darted back out into the bad rock, taking paths that would hold only him.

He did know. He'd not had much schooling, but he knew enough to know that there was no room in the story of the Dwarves for her... but he knew her, could almost hear her name. She'd kept him safe, and he needed her.

So Aule leaves his people under stone. His wife Yavanna dislikes and distrusts them, and Eru makes the Ents to protect her beloved forests from them. (Eagles too, for Manwe -- Middle-Earth is getting pretty populous before the "firstborn"....) Eventually Elves and Men awaken; Aule teaches them, and is recorded and revered for that. Dwarves stumble back on the scene eventually; stunted and strong and strange, unbeloved but kinder than they could have been.

So: I don't think that the Thorinsmut's thief-children were necessarily "just making things up". Art is the practice of making something out of nothing, but the dwarflings do not have "nothing" -- they have tremendous needs, and occasionally, they have something like mercy or luck on their side. They don't know what it is or where it might come from, but they have seen and felt it, and they are certain it is not nothing. In this story, Durin does not know what it is, either. All he knows is that he was saved twice: once when he cried out in fear of Mahal's crushing hammer, and once again when he awoke after long abandonment under stone.

Mahal is still in all these texts and can speak for himself. The old saying is that "anonymous was a woman"; looking around on AO3, I daresay fanfic can be a woman too, as author or character or textually-omitted phenomenon or hidden superstition. Maybe I wish I had been better nurtured than I was, so I make a little stack of stones sometimes too, or a story.