The house was empty, of course: empty and echoing, improbably tidy and far too big for one person on her own, Nerdanel thought. She stood in the wide oak-panelled hallway and looked up at the fine carvings that ran curving down the dark wooden stairs.
It had been too big even when they had first built it, but there had been two of them, then, looking up at the long wooden staircase and smiling at each other, with plans for a family. Before Fëanáro had turned bitter and angry. Before he had turned away from the Valar, and from her, too.
Everyone had gone with Fëanáro, even the servants. They had shut the house up when Fëanáro and the boys had gone off to Formenos, and Nerdanel to her father.
Now there was nobody left here but her. Well, they were his servants, anyway, and Nerdanel would hardly need them on her own. There was the little meatball shop at the bottom of the street, too, that she and Fëanáro used to go to sometimes, before the children had been born... but no. The shop was shuttered now, of course, and the people were gone with Fëanáro. Well, there were always sandwiches. There were bags and bags of flour in the store-room and hams in the cellar, and those salted fish that the twins had liked so much...
It was better not to think about the twins, who in the end had left her too.
The city around the house was empty, too. It had struck her most when she had first returned from her father’s house; how quiet it was, with no sound of feet walking the diamond-dusted streets, no music echoing from the white walls, no sound from the workshops or the smithies: only a voice talking quietly, now and then, or a child crying for his father. It had been mostly mothers with young children who had stayed behind in Tirion itself. Many of the tithe of the Noldor who had not followed Fëanáro had been from the farms and villages, not from the city.
The quiet had been even more jarring at first even than the darkness. The city had been lit by many lamps, by the time Nerdanel had come back there, but it was harder to lift the unaccustomed silence that lay across it like a heavy blanket.
Even after Arafinwë had left Fëanáro and brought some of his people back to Tirion, to sue for pardon for his rebellion, the city had been quiet and empty compared with brighter days.
She walked into her work-room and looked around at stone and bronze and well-wrapped bricks of unmade clay. The maquette she had been working on when Fëanáro had been summoned to the judgement of the Valar, after holding his brother Fingolfin at swordpoint, was still there, half-finished. She had not wrapped it when she left, and it had air-dried, crumbly, uncompleted and misshapen.
She picked it up and threw it hard onto the stone floor, so that it cracked into a thousand tiny pieces. Then she went and found a broom to sweep them up.
Nerdanel had never had much to do with her sisters by marriage before. She had been busy with travelling, with her art, and with her seven sons, and in any case, Fëanáro had not been eager to spend time with his brothers Nolofinwë and Arafinwë, so they did not see much of Anairë or Eärwen either. Arafinwë and his wife Eärwen had spent much of their time in Alqualondë, anyway. Nerdanel had not been much in Alqualondë once the children had come along.
Now though, she was spending time in Alqualondë. Nerdanel had many skills: some of them were bound to be useful in the immediate aftermath of battle, and it was much better to be doing than to be sitting and thinking.
She had little skill with healing, but she could dig graves, and so she did, for hours and hours, digging furiously at the fine sandy soil outside the city which had never needed a graveyard before, and then helping to carry the bodies of both Noldor and Teleri to them.
It seemed as if there should be a limit to the bodies that had died upon the quays, a countable number of them, but many had fallen into the sea, and the sea had carried them away. From time to time, unpredictably, it returned them, and then there was more weeping, and need for another grave.
Eärwen was here, there and everywhere in Alqualondë, short and energetic, striding through the streets with her star-silver hair streaming and her tall slender dogs always at her heels. More often than not, Anairë was beside her, her long, fine-featured face strained and miserable.
Nerdanel found herself talking with them from time to time, about practical things at first, about whether the graves of the Noldor should be set aside from the graves of the Teleri, with Eärwen. Then,once they had decided that the graves should all stand together, but that the Teleri graves should be marked with shells, and the Noldor graves with carven stone, she had talked with Anairë about the making of the carvings, and who was left in Tirion who could work stone suitably. There were not many names that came to mind, and Nerdanel did most of the work herself, cutting great pieces of marble and sandstone from the pieces already in her workshop and working them into shapes and names.
She was glad to be rid of the marble and sandstone. She did her honest best by the stone, and the material was as fine as it had ever been, but it did not match her mood.
It had not matched her mood even before a herald of the Valar had come to Tirion and announced that Valinor would be fenced against her children, and Anairë’s and Eärwen’s, and that they were doomed to death by weapon and by torment and by grief, and would receive little pity.
Once the graves were marked, and the stone that had stood in her workshop was mostly done with and could not be said to have been wasted, she stormed up into the shuttered rooms, opened the shutters to show the stars, got out lamps, swept away the dustsheets, and invited her father, her mother, the two aunts and the three cousins who had not gone with Fëanáro to stay. They helped her barrow all the remaining stone out to the bottom of the garden and dumped it in a heap.
When they were almost done with that, Anairë appeared at the house that had been Fëanáro’s and now was Nerdanel’s. She was very pale, with huge, distressed eyes that glinted in the lamplight, bringing news that had come up from Alqualondë and the creatures of the waters that brought news to Uinen, the Lady of the Seas.
Fëanáro and Nerdanel’s seven sons and their closest supporters had deserted Nolofinwë, and with him, Anairë’s children and Eärwen’s, and had sailed away to Middle-earth. There, they had burned their stolen ships.
Nolofinwë had refused to be left behind, and had set out on foot to walk across the Grinding Ice, and every one of the Noldor who had followed him North to Araman had gone with him.
Nerdanel could find no words of comfort to say to Anairë’s miserable, worried face. Instead she said “I had a mind to demolish Fëanáro’s workshop, next. I thought it might make a good spot for a greenhouse. What do you think?”
Anairë did not say it was quite pointless to make a greenhouse, when there was no light save for the stars, when all the land lay under the Sleep of Yavanna while the Valar sat silent in conclave, and did, so far as anyone could tell, nothing at all. Anairë did not weep or wring her hands either, as Nerdanel had thought she might.
Anairë took the sledgehammer that Nerdanel offered, and smashed a very creditable hole in the wall.
* * * * *
Eärwen, when Nerdanel next saw her, wept. She wept like a storm at sea, in a great tumult of emotion that swept across her and was gone. Nerdanel wondered how she did it. She felt, herself, as if her heart had turned to stone: an annoying, twisted kind of stone, filled with ugly inclusions and flaws that made it quite impossible to shape in any pleasing way.
From the frozen, unhappy look of him, Arafinwë felt something similar. But at least he was here, doing what the House of Finwë was supposed to do. Keeping the city and the land running, ensuring that there was fair judgement and that the people had the things they needed.
It was more than any of his brothers or his sisters were doing. Findis had gone off to Valimar with her mother when Finwë had left for Formenos with his eldest son. She had not returned, and Nolofinwë and Lalwendë had gone haring after Fëanáro,so that Finwë’s least-favoured youngest son, the favorite of neither his father nor his mother, was the only one of the House of Finwë in Tirion.
Nerdanel was greatly relieved by Arafinwë’s return. Before he had come back to Tirion, there had been some unenthusiastic talk of appointing a queen, and to her horror, a number of people had looked at her. Even when Arafinwë had come, and had been pardoned by the Valar for his rebellion, there had been people who had spoken of the Children of Indis being not truly of the Noldor, as being creators of discontent by their very birth.
Someone had even gone so far as to suggest — once — that Nerdanel, wife of Fëanáro, Finwë’s trueborn heir, would make a finer ruler than any of the Children of Indis could hope to.
She put her foot down very firmly about that, and went to find Arafinwë, who she found dutifully giving judgement on some matter in the Square of Fountains, which seemed a suitably public spot. Since she had never quite worked out how to make a proper curtsey, particularly when wearing her work apron and breeches, she gave him a deep bow and addressed him, to his obvious astonishment, as ‘majesty’.
After that, there was no more horrifying talk of queens.
Nerdanel, Eärwen, Arafinwë and Anairë were sitting before the fire in one of the tall elegant rooms of the House of Finwë, where Arafinwë and Eärwen were living now.
There had been a time, not long ago, when visitors to the House of the King might have chosen to sit outdoors, in Finwë’s star-garden, which looked out East through the Pelóri to the distant starlit skies, shaded from the brilliance of the Trees by the tall hill-shape of Tirion.
But the Trees were dead, and without the distant heats of golden Laurelin to warm the breeze, the star-garden felt chill and vulnerable. They huddled indoors, instead. Someone had put up thick curtains made of plain white cloth that probably had been intended to be dyed or embellished with embroidery. They did a good enough job of keeping in the warmth and blocking out the Night, making the room into a warmly-lit cave that felt safe enough, even if it was not. The Enemy had struck at the very heart of Valinor, and nowhere was safe any more.
The fire in the hearth had been kindled long ago by Fëanáro — was there no escaping from him? His hand seemed to be everywhere that Nerdanel looked! It still burned bright and clear, needing no fuel, which was fortunate, for there were not so many people left to cut wood or make charcoal and bring it into the city. Nor were there many people who could call fire with words left in Tirion, for that matter. They would make do with what they had.
“Not even the echo of their lamentation shall pass over the mountains,” Eärwen said, dejectedly, the firelight flickering across her fair face. “That was the judgement of Mandos. It was announced in Alqualondë too, you know. We all heard it.”
“And the Teleri are going to put up with that, are they?” Nerdanel asked with some incredulity, and then wondered at herself. Perhaps more of Fëanáro had stayed with her than she had thought.
Eärwen raised delicate arched eyebrows, took a breath as if to speak and then paused as if a new thought had come unexpectedly to her. “A good point!” she said, after a moment. “The Teleri have never risen against the Valar. Why should we be deprived of news of our kin?”
“Even if they count your children among the Noldor and claim that they are following Fëanáro still, you have plenty of other family in Middle-earth, don’t you?” Nerdanel asked.
“We do. We have not heard much of them in many a long age, but perhaps if I asked the lady Uinen for tidings, she would hear me. I shall ask her.”
“Manwë’s Eagles fly across the Sea,” Anairë said, quietly stubborn. “They may have set a curse on our people for rebellion, but they have no reason in the world to curse yours, Eärwen.”
“I think they should be reminded,” Nerdanel said. “We’ve done nothing wrong either, Anairë! We listened to the counsel of the Valar, and neither of us fought at Alqualondë. Why should we be punished for the rebellion of others?”
“They are still our children,” Anairë said. “And Nolofinwë — well. I wish he had heeded the advice of the Valar, of course. But I understand why he felt he could not. Though the deaths at Alqualondë...” she shook her dark head. “I still can’t quite believe any of it. It seems like a dark dream, and that I should be able to wake from it.”
“I think they‘re all utter fools, and Fëanáro most of all,” Nerdanel said. “But that’s hardly my fault. I’m not a rebel, I can’t see why I should be deprived of news of my sons, even if they do have not one shred of common-sense to share between them.”
Arafinwë said gloomily “I was a rebel. I don’t know how Manwë would take it, if I went to him to ask him to change his mind, when I have only just been pardoned for rebellion myself.”
Nerdanel was not sure exactly how things stood between him and Eärwen, just now. Arafinwë, after all, had not turned back from his rebellion after Alqualondë. He had turned back only when he had heard the Doom of Mandos, and known that he must abandon his brothers or be accursed forever by the Valar. But Eärwen was here, in Tirion, and not in Alqualondë with her parents. Presumably that meant something.
“Well, perhaps we should go to Manwë,” she suggested to Anairë. “Or to Aulë. I can always have a chat with Aulë. He won’t mind. Though, the judgement was from Mandos, so I don’t know if Aulë can overrule it, even if I can talk him into thinking that he ought to...”
“It should be the king, to appeal to Manwë,” Anairë said, glancing sideways at Arafinwë. Of course, Anairë would know all about the legal formalities: that was her sort of thing. “But perhaps under the circumstances, Manwë would allow an exception.”
“You’re right,” Eärwen said, rubbing the long white ears of one of her tall hounds. She narrowed her eyes, determined. “I shouldn’t go to Uinen, and ask her to slip around the rules. I should go with my father to Ulmo, and ask him to appeal to Manwë, so we can all know what is happening to our children.”
Arafinwë looked around at them, and pulled himself more upright, straightening his shoulders. “You are right,” he said. “I shouldn’t hide in shame in Tirion. If I must be the king of the Noldor, then I’ll do it properly. What the Noldor need most of all, just now, is to know what has happened to their vanished kin. Eärwen, if you and your father will speak to Ulmo, I think that is our best chance. But if Nerdanel can also speak to Aulë, and Anairë to Manwë, then I shall go to Nienna, and beg her for mercy upon the mothers of Tirion. The fathers too, not that there are so many of them.”
“A plan!” Nerdanel said. “That’s just what we needed.”
Anairë nodded, and looked around the tall firelit room. “It makes the darkness outside seem less cold and pressing, to have a plan,” she said.
Now, Eagles came regularly to Alqualondë with news, and sometimes albatrosses too. Riders carried the news up through the hills to Tirion and to the Teleri settlements far along the starlit shore. There was little news of the Noldor marching across the Grinding Ice. They were often hidden by cloud from Eagle eyes, and the albatrosses and the gulls were reluctant to venture near. The Noldor on the ice were hungry, and they were desperate.
But there was news of the Sindar of Beleriand, and that news was worrying enough. Battles across Beleriand. Elwe Thingol besieged in Doriath, long-lost kin slain by merciless armies of orcs. There was a brief, hopeful moment when the first Eagle bringing news of the Falathrim told that Fëanáro had driven the Enemy back and relieved the siege.
But then the news came that Fëanáro had fallen in battle against the demons of the darkness, and that Maitimo had been taken by the Enemy.
She could not possibly turn to Anairë, whose children were walking across the Ice because of what Fëanáro had done, for comfort or for sympathy, and that went doubly for Eärwen, who had grief for both Alqualondë and for her lost children to bear. Though when she heard about Maitimo, Eärwen did come to visit her and offered kindly words that Nerdanel could almost not bear to hear.
She wrote a letter to her father, scratching deep in to the paper by the pale light of one of Fëanáro’s lanterns — damn him, why had he made so many useful things? Even the script she wrote with was his! There was no forgetting him, no simple way of living life without him. No living life with him either, rebel, thief and killer that he was. And dead now, damn him. How could he be dead? How could he let her eldest son be taken?
She could not let herself wonder what might be happening to Maitimo. There were dark stories from the distant past, tales from the darkness of the long Journey west that she had never paid much attention to before and would not think of now.
Where smooth creamy marble and fine sandstone had stood in her workroom, she hauled in a lump of misshapen, grainy granite, and blunted half her chisels making a strange irregular form that looked like nothing she had ever seen.
Her father did not write back. He came to stay again, instead, and wandered quietly around the house, making the suppers that Nerdanel could see no point in cooking, quietly constructing the utterly pointless greenhouse that would stand in the darkness where Fëanáro’s workshop had once stood, patiently sharpening her blunted chisels, and sharing the silence with her.
He had loved Fëanáro too, and if he shared her fears for Maitimo, for all her sons, he did not say so.
Mahtan was still staying with her when the Valar, at last, at last , took action. She had wanted to interrupt their conclave and demand they do something, anything, and not merely sit in darkness and in grief. But Anairë said that it might be unwise, and her father quietly suggested that she hold her faith, and so Nerdanel hammered chisels into granite under the light of Fëanáro’s lanterns, and thought of Maitimo, and felt her heart of stone twist and crack in agony.
The Eagles had seen him, hanging from the mountain by one wrist.
And then Aulë called upon his people. Mahtan returned to his lord, and Nerdanel went with him, to join in the great work in the forges of Aulë, preparing vessels of silver and of gold for a weapon and a defence against the power that took joy in darkness.
And when their work was done, the Moon rose, filling Tirion with unaccustomed silver light, and soon after him, the Sun arose in glory. The news came to Tirion that Anairë’s children and Eärwen’s and all that the Ice had left of their people, had at long last passed across the Sea, had come to Middle-earth and won a great victory.
Nerdanel and Mahtan went to the celebration in Tirion, and Nerdanel found she was able to tell Anairë, Eärwen and Arafinwë that she was glad their children had passed the Ice with an entirely steady voice.
In golden Valimar beneath the Sun, you could almost imagine that no disaster had fallen upon Valinor. The golden light gleamed on the bright roofs, the streets and squares were busy as ever with the Vanyar going about their business, and sweet voices still rose in harmony from the choirs singing songs in praise of light and of the Valar. At least, you could imagine it, at the right time of day, and if you squinted a little.
The High King, white-clad and wearing a simple golden circlet, meeting with his fellow-kings in the house he used in Valimar when he was not with Manwë, looked very little different either, though today his joyful face looked unusually worried.
“The decision is for our protection, I understand, and the protection of all of Valinor,” he said. “But I am concerned for the Teleri. In Alqualondë they will be vulnerable. The Enemy has already attacked the Moon. He may strike again at any moment. Olwë, are you sure they cannot be persuaded to move within the protection of the mountains of the Pelóri ?”
“No!” Eärwen and her father Olwë said together.
“Ingwë, you know we are a sea-people,” Olwë said to his old friend, shaking his head. “Alqualondë is our city, and Uinen and Ossë are our friends. We cannot move inland and desert the ships we have so carefully rebuilt, our city and the wider winds of the world. And you know that many of our kin are still in Middle-earth! Surely you would not wish to see my brother Elwë cut off from our people by a mountain-wall?”
“My children are in Middle-earth!” Eärwen said. “Your kin too, even if you have no feeling for myself or for poor Anairë here. We must protest this plan to close the Calacirya.”
“You wouldn’t wish to cut even the Vanyar off forever from the sea-winds?” Olwë demanded. Clearly it was the worst possible fate that Olwë could imagine. Ingwë made a placating gesture.
“There is Tirion, too!” Nerdanel said, since poor Arafinwë was looking a little daunted by the prospect of arguing with the High King, and speaking of her own children seemed unlikely to be helpful, even if her throat did not close up at the thought. “Tirion’s set square within the pass, you know that as well as I do! If it is closed, then the city of the Noldor will be lost forever. Shall those of us Noldor who obeyed the call to stay lose our city as a reward for our loyalty?”
The tall gold-embossed door swung open. Arafinwë glanced at it, and looked visibly relieved to see his mother Indis enter. She was barefoot in a plain blue dress, and had clearly hurried here from some informal occupation, but her golden hair was all the crown she needed.
Arafinwë bowed low, and, prodded by Anairë, Nerdanel followed his example.
“Mother!” Arafinwë said. “Thank you for coming so swiftly. You had my note?”
“Of course,” Indis said, and gave him a fleeting kiss upon the forehead, swift as a golden dragonfly darting for a moment to touch his brow, and then away again.
She looked more glorious in her plain linen dress with a grass-stain at the knee than Nerdanel could have managed if she had taken three years to prepare herself with paint and fine clothes, but then that was Indis for you. She did not make art, she simply was, and one could not help but admire the effect.
Or at least, Nerdanel admired it. Perhaps one day she would make a form of Indis in fine marble, as she had thought of doing before, except that it would have made Fëanáro angry. No need to worry about that anymore.
“You know that even the Noldor that remain will not be happy if they move within the mountains, uncle,” Indis said to Ingwë. “They love Tirion still, as I am sure Arafinwë has told you already.”
Ingwë gave her a rueful smile. “A number of people have pointed that out to me already, my valiant one.” He looked at Olwë and his mouth quirked up lopsidedly at the corner. “I have also been left in no doubt that the Teleri do not wish to leave the ocean. For that matter, I would be sorry to say a final goodbye to the winds of the wide world myself. Very well: a king is no king if he will not listen to his people. I suggest, therefore, that we go and speak of this to Manwë forthwith, and hope that he has no reason that I do not know of, to overrule our request.”
In Tirion, Anairë stood in the warm sunshine in the garden of Nerdanel’s house, beside the greenhouse with the elegantly-forged spiral wind-vane that Mahtan had built there, and looked up, and up, and up, at distant white-tipped heights that were dizzyingly taller than any mountain of the Pelóri had ever been before.
“Well,” she said. “You do have a good view of it here. They have left us Tirion and the pass of Calacirya, at least. ”
“It’s hideous! It looks like a gigantic wall!” Nerdanel said. “Tirion looks like an anthill in the middle of a gateway, now the Pelóri has been raised to such a height. Have you been down to Alqualondë to look at it from the outside yet?”
“Yes, I went down there with Eärwen, yesterday: she was dealing with complaints about these new Shadowy Isles upsetting the fishing. The mountains are very sheer on the outside, and cast a long shadow once the sun is past the noon,” Anairë said. “I imagine it will be very difficult for the Enemy to assault, should it come to that.”
“We should be assaulting him !” Nerdanel said. “Not that I wish to sound like my horrible and unlamented husband, but all this effort put into defending Valinor is all the wrong thing in the wrong place. We should be going to war.”
Anairë looked at her, and gave a wry smile. “He’d probably have said it to Manwë’s face too, just like you did. Though he might have been even less diplomatic about it.”
“You think I should have kept my mouth shut,” Nerdanel said.
“No,” Anairë said. “I think Manwë’s ears should be open to what the Noldor have to say, and that we should speak to him honestly and without fear. You have no official position, and you were of Fëanáro’s faction, yet you and your father have been staunchly loyal to the Valar. And then, there is Maitimo, and that should win you sympathy from anyone. It was far better that you should say it than Arafinwë, as our King, and you said it far more bluntly than I could have done.”
“I’ve bought us more than enough work to do,” Nerdanel said, and sighed. “Watchtowers all along the Calacirya! It would be enough to do if we had all the people of the Noldor to work on them. With what Fëanáro and Nolofinwë have left of us... well. It will be quite a job.”
“I’m sure you’ll manage somehow, you and Arafinwë,” Anairë said. “I wish I had skill with stone to offer.”
“I’m sure you can manage a wheelbarrow,” Nerdanel said. “Looks like everyone is going to have to do that. Though perhaps we can get the Vanyar army to help with the barrowing, when they get here. They won’t have much else to do, once they’ve set up their camp. I bet we never do get attacked. The Enemy would have to get past your husband and your children before he could even think about crossing the Sea...”
The garden-gate creaked, and they heard the sound of footsteps pattering up the path.
“Over here!” Nerdanel called, and a small boy with wide eyes and dark curls came hurrying past the fruit-laden apple-tree to offer her a written note. The children of Tirion had been given the job of delivering the news from Alqualondë, and they were taking it very seriously.
Nerdanel took the note and glanced at it, then stopped, read it again, picked up the small boy and hugged him.
“What is it?” Anairë asked her, and Nerdanel, still holding the little boy, flung her other arm around her.
“Your amazing, wonderful and brilliant eldest son has rescued mine,” she told her, and at last it was, after all, possible to weep.
Tall, strong and golden, armed with long spears, the Vanyar marched singing East into the pass of the Calacirya, and there they stopped. Some moved into Tirion, and the others went into the tall watchtowers that the Noldor had begun to rear along the lower slopes of the Pelóri, to defend the land of the Valar from their Enemy. It meant, at least, that Tirion was not so empty and forlorn as it had been.
Among the Vanyar were many familiar faces from Valimar, and one in particular who, though Vanyar indeed by her height and her golden hair, had something that seemed Noldor about her.
The first time Nerdanel met Amárië in passing among the Vanyar companies, as she worked on the watchtowers of the Calacirya, she could not work out quite what it was about her that did not seem Vanyar. Amárië was entirely of the Vanyar in her family, and had always looked it, when Nerdanel had encountered her, visiting with her nephew Findaráto.
In fact, she remembered, there had been people who had called Amárië and Findaráto, who rather obviously resembled his grandmother Indis in appearance, ‘that Vanyar couple’ and had wondered when they would move to Valimar, where it seemed they clearly belonged. But their love had not quite reached the stage of being formal before the darkness had come and broken the world. Findaráto had marched out alone to Middle-earth, and Amárië had stayed behind in Aman.
It was only when Arafinwë decided to invite Amárië to leave the Vanyar army and help him with his work in Tirion, so that Nerdanel saw her more often, that she realised what it was that did not seem Vanyar about Findaráto’s beloved.
Everyone in Tirion was missing someone close and dear who had gone to Middle-earth. Every one of the Noldor left in Tirion lived with hope that they would hear good news, and fear that news would come, and that it would be terrible.
It was a fear that the Teleri had lived with for much longer. It was less sharp and urgent in Alqualondë, but it was there, a shadow behind the eyes, a tension that the Vanyar had forgotten in blissful Valimar. That was the care that sat on Amárië’s elegant tanned face, the fear that clouded her blue eyes, and subtly changed the way she stood, the way the lines of her face ran, the way her weight moved as she walked.
Amárië might be one of the Vanyar by blood, but she had joined with the Teleri and with the Noldor through the sisterhood of fear.
But for a long time — a very long time — there was no particularly bad news. Nolofinwë had taken the rule of the Noldor in Middle-earth, and was holding the Enemy under siege very capably, and in Tirion, the watchtowers and the changing army of Vanyar around them became usual and accustomed.
Nerdanel completed all the towers she had been assigned to work on according to Anairë’s careful colour-coded plan, gave up on carving granite, and made a series of studies of Amárië in clay, trying to catch in a solid form that subtle sense of physical unease, and mostly failing.
And then, unexpectedly, news carried on wings of Eagles. Rivers of fire. Death, destruction, defeat. Two of Eärwen’s sons killed along with many, many others.
And Nolofinwë — Fingolfin, they called him now — rode out alone to face his Enemy in single combat, and was slain.
Now, again, the fear was sharp, and you could see it in every face left in Tirion, whether in the children, now grown, to whom the Darkness had cut short childhood all too soon, who had parents, uncles, aunts to fear for, or in those whose memories of Light went back into the far past, and knew more clearly exactly what they had lost.
“Why do the Valar not send them aid?” Nerdanel demanded once more, from her seat in the new house that Arafinwë had built for himself some distance from the House of Finwë. She was not much involved with the running of the city herself. She had neither the skill nor the aptitude for it and she knew it.
But everyone who had been ruling the Noldor through the long years of siege was gathered here now: Anairë, her face stony with worry and unhappiness, but her hair dark and shining impeccably as always, studded with just the appropriate number of gems. Amárië, tall strong and golden, still wearing the war-gear of the Vanyar, though she spent far more time among the Noldor than with her own people now. Eärwen, small, silvery and elegant with her two tall hounds beside her and her eyes red with tears, and Arafinwë the king of course.
Anairë shrugged. “I cannot imagine,” she said. “What can they be waiting for?” Her daughter had been killed in some nightmarish tangle of events that were impossible to understand at a distance, and now her husband had fallen too. Perhaps one day they might be permitted to return to life, but that did not make today’s grief any less sharp.
“I made an enquiry,” Arafinwë said. His voice was a little hoarse. “They said only that the time was not yet come.”
“Not yet come ?” Nerdanel exclaimed. “Fëanáro is dead. Nolofinwë is dead. That is both the leaders who led the Noldor out from Tirion: what can they possibly hope to gain from further delay?”
Arafinwë shook his golden head, mystified.
“We should make another appeal to the Valar,” Nerdanel decided. “Anairë, will you help me, if I go to them? You’re much better at making letters and things sound the way they should.”
“I am not sure there is much hope of changing their minds,” Arafinwë said. “But by all means, appeal. At the very least, they should know that we are still thinking of our people in Middle-earth. And our children.”
Anairë said, grimly, “I will help.”
Manwë made no answer to their appeal. Worse, when Nerdanel went to Aulë afterwards, angry and frustrated, to speak to him of Middle-earth, he turned away and would not answer her.
Not when she asked him patiently if he would explain so she could understand.
Not when she told him that she understood that the Valar must have reasons beyond the understanding of the Elves, but that surely there must be something he could say to her, who had been loyal to him always, and who had seven sons in Middle-earth.
Not when she went back, afterwards and told him that if he would not explain, she would think him craven.
There was nobody else to appeal to, no more that she or Anairë could do. Anairë went back to work in Tirion, and her face was thin and worn and tired.
Nerdanel went to the low sandstone cliffs, the very lowest feet of the Pelóri that stood near the road above Alqualondë, and she too began to work. There was no point hauling stone to her workroom. She could work it here under a waxed sheet to keep the rain off, and the stone needed to be soft, the easily-workable sandstone of Alqualondë that carved like butter, for she had a good deal of work to do on it.
The news from beyond the Sea was confused, and confusing, now. It was hard to puzzle out what might be going on, in the words of Eagles who flew high above the land, but rarely spoke with Elves, or with the Secondborn who now fought beside them.
But they heard the news when Findaráto was taken by the Enemy. Uinen herself came to Alqualondë to bring the news to Olwë the king of his grandson’s capture.
She stood before the Great Hall of Alqualondë like a wave made form, her hair mingled foam and dark weed running back into the water, and her face shining in the sun with all the colours of the ocean, but the expression on her face was as sorrowful as if she had been Eärwen’s sister.
“We heard it from the River Sirion” she said. “She too is captive. The Enemy have taken the jewel that Findaráto made for her, and forged it into a chain about her neck. But they could not silence her voice: she still calls out to us. Findaráto with a few of his people is trapped within the tower that is become a fortress of the werewolves. He is held by Gorthaur the cruel, and there is little that poor Sirion can do save listen for his voice. We fear for him.”
“Is there nothing that can be done to aid him?” Olwë said, and there was a terrible naked fear running through the way he stood, although you could barely pick it out in his voice.
Uinen shook her head unhappily, sending white foam licking across the quays. “Ulmo has forbidden me to venture into the rivers of Beleriand,” she said. “It is the choice of Manwë. Osse and I must not be taken, for the Enemy would use even the seas if he could, and if we venture into the rivers, even the power of Ulmo cannot protect us. I am sorry.”
“We know you are the friend of our people,” Olwë said gently. “You have struck against our enemies before. I would not have you risk yourself in Beleriand. How could I ask it? I will not risk my own people there either, and certainly not to save my grandson. I remember from the Darkness long ago, that the Enemy will use all things to his own advantage, would use even the love of kin for kin to lure his victims from safety.”
And that was true, from all that Nerdanel had heard, and yet it seemed cold to her, a cold and terrible doom for any grandfather to have to speak, even though everything about his stance cried out with the grief and anger he could not voice. She was glad all over again that poor Arafinwë had turned back to Tirion, and saved her from having to be a Queen.
But it was not so long after that that there was sudden and unexpectedly joyful news.
Nerdanel was coming back towards Tirion, late in the day, driving the four heavy draft-horses that she had borrowed from a farmer who owed her for a set of knives. The horses were pleased to be without a load to pull, and pleased to be heading home too. They picked up their great hooves and tossed their long manes cheerfully as they headed east with the sunset behind them.
There was someone crossing the plain in front of her on foot, only a faint shadow against the long grass dyed red by the evening light at first but clearer as she approached. Golden hair. One of the Vanyar, probably.
The red light shone on the outlines of his body. Was he naked? Nerdanel squinted in the failing light, surprised. In the years of the Trees, the Vanyar had not always chosen to be clothed, but nowadays they usually wore at least a skirt, particularly if they were travelling towards Tirion where the shadow of the Pelóri and the sea-winds made the land cooler. He had no spear with him, either. How odd. Decorative, undeniably. But still odd.
“Do you want a lift?” she called, as the horses brought the light wagon up within earshot, and he whirled and stared at her, hands spread, almost as if he was expecting attack.
“Findaráto?” she said, almost without believing it herself. But it was. Hair like Indis, Eärwen’s eyes, shoulders oddly reminiscent of Fëanáro, and the fine sharp features of the House of Finwë. Unmistakably, Findaráto. He stared at her for a moment longer, poised like like a frightened deer startled by a hound, the shape of his body moving from alarm into readiness to charge, every muscle tense. Then he blinked.
“Aunt Nerdanel?” he said. She reined in the horses, called to them to stand and jumped down from the wagon.
“Findaráto! We heard that you had died! What in all the spheres of Arda are you doing here ?”
“I did,” he said. “I died. They killed me. It was dark, it was so dark, Nerdanel. Darkness like a living thing. Or an unliving one... I never thought it could be so dark. And there were chains... and then there were the teeth... But then there was Lúthien, and singing, and then Námo asked me if I wanted to go home. And I said I did.”
“Well!” Nerdanel said, dumbfounded. Usually those slain who went to the Halls of Mandos returned to life only long afterwards. She had met one or two of the people who had died in the distant dark of the Journey and who had returned, but she was sure that none of the Noldor slain in the war had returned. Nobody had expected them to.
She looked at her nephew again in the last red light of sunset and realised that as well as being naked, he was also barefoot, and there was something not quite right about the way he stood, too, something oddly unfocussed and very un-Findaráto-like. Well, she would leave the philosophical puzzles to others. “Findaráto, did Námo not give you any clothes?”
Findaráto looked down at himself as if nakedness had not occurred to him. “No,” he said. “He gave me a new body. I suppose he thought that was the important thing.”
“Good grief!” Nerdanel exclaimed. She climbed back into the wagon and fetched the coat that she had brought with her in case the evening was cool. It was a little short for Findaráto, but she was broad enough in the shoulders that it would fit him well enough otherwise. “Put that on and get up onto the wagon,” she told him. “There are blankets as well if you want them, though they are probably a little dusty. I was using them as cushioning for some stonework.”
“Oh,” Findaráto said, pulling the coat around him. He climbed up to sit next to her in the front of the wagon. “What are you working on?” he asked, and he looked a little brighter and more present as he asked it.
“I’ve been making sculptures for the Valar,” Nerdanel told him, rummaging in a basket, “Only sandstone figures, mind, nothing like that lovely ornate jade and onyx stuff you used to do, but it’s nice and quick to work, and I wanted to make a good number of large pieces in a hurry.... The Valar didn’t ask for them, and I suspect they don’t like them very much, but if they will not listen to me when I ask that they go to war against the Enemy, then I have decided I shall bring them a few reminders. Children, crying for help, that sort of thing. Though I find it hard to make images of the Secondborn. I don’t really know what they look like, but I feel they should be included, somehow, so I have done my best. Do you want a sandwich? I have ham. And here are some apples. They’re from my garden in Tirion.”
“Food!” Findaráto said as if that was another thing he had forgotten. “Yes please. A ham sandwich and an apple, grown in Tirion! That is just exactly what I want.”
Nerdanel handed him the basket, then pulled a blanket from the back of the wagon, shook out the dust, and urged the horses onwards towards Tirion as Findaráto ate his sandwich and his apple, then folded the blanket around himself into a sort of kilt beneath the coat. Overhead the stars were coming out, and Nerdanel pulled out the lanterns and set them alight. The lamps of Tirion shone far ahead in the distance, between the great masses of the Pelóri. The very heights of the mountains were still lit by the last red sunlight, though Tirion and the land ahead was deep in twilight.
“Your mother and father will be so pleased to see you, Findaráto,” Nerdanel told him. “Poor Eärwen has been so worried about you all. How is your sister?” Better, perhaps, not to mention his two slain younger brothers just yet. She would leave them until he spoke of them himself.
“She is well enough, I hope and believe,” Findaráto said. “I haven’t seen Galadriel for a few years, but she was well and happy when last I did: she has got married, I don’t know if you had heard. Oh, and she is called Galadriel, now. And I prefer Finrod, if you don’t mind. It does make a great deal of difference, living in Middle-earth. Not to mention... well never mind that. You end up being not quite the same person any more, I think we all felt that, and anyway there were a number of reason... Anyway, we all took names in Sindarin. That’s the language that they speak there, Sindarin. Finrod is a word from the northern dialect of Hithlum...”
She let him ramble for a while about names and languages, nodding from time to time as the wagon rumbled on towards Tirion. The talking seemed to be doing him good, unless that was the sandwich and the apple. He was holding himself more the way he should do.
Eventually he ran out of things to say of the languages of Middle-earth. “Did my sons take new names too?” she asked, to set him off again, but instead he paused, looking troubled.
“Yes, they took new names,” he said, eventually, and told her what they were. “I expect you would like news of them. Maedhros, Maglor and Caranthir were all in fine fettle, when last I saw them, and I believe they still are. Maedhros... I suppose you heard what happened to him. He came back from it very well though, and he seems to get along without the missing hand causing him any great inconvenience. I saw a good deal of him at one time, when things were going well. We patched up all the arguments very nicely, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear. I haven’t seen them since before the Dagor Bragollach, though — that was the battle where...”
“Yes, we heard,” Nerdanel said quickly.
“Amrod and Amras are well too. Maedhros gave them lands behind the frontier, so they would be safer. Ever the elder brother, I suppose... I should have done the same with my brothers, probably.” He sighed. “They wouldn’t have agreed though. Celegorm and Curufin...” his voice faded again.
She desperately wanted to demand he tell her everything, but that would be unkind, when his face was so pale and strained in the starlight. She did not like to think what Gorthaur the Cruel had done to him.
“Has Curufinwë been provoking again?” she asked, as if Curufinwë were still a small boy going through that awkward phase when he had taken joy in irritating his older cousins.
That seemed to help. Findaráto — no, Finrod — laughed. “I suppose he has,” he admitted, looking sideways at her under golden eyelashes. “Though he has grown a little tall for me to come running to his mother, demanding that you tell him to behave... Celegorm and Curufin were driven out by the attack, and they fled with many of their people to my city. Nargothrond, it’s called. I wish I could have shown you the pillars in the great entrance hall. I was quite absurdly proud of them. Anyway, I took them in, of course. I was glad to see them at first, after Angrod and Aegnor... And then... Well. It’s a long story, and the Silmarils got tangled up in it, which was really very unfortunate for all of us, but the end of it all was that I found myself outside Nargothrond with a friend who had come to me for help and just ten of my people, and Curufin and Celegorm inside, having taken the place for themselves. And so I had no choice but to lead my few to Angband, and we got caught by Gorthaur on the way, which is not an experience I’d recommend to anyone, honestly.”
“They threw you out of your own city and left you to march on the Enemy almost alone?” Nerdanel said, horrified.
“Yes,” Finrod said unhappily. “That’s about it.”
“And Maitimo... I mean Maedhros didn’t even try to stop them?”
“Maedhros had his own troubles,” Finrod said, in that fair-minded way he had always had. “I didn’t expect him to come running after his brothers: he, Maglor and Caranthir were hard-pressed fighting the Enemy. Still are, I expect. And Fingon too.”
Nerdanel shook her head. “Anairë will be glad to see you too,” she said, after a moment. “It would do her good to hear about her sons.”
Finrod sighed. “I can’t tell her anything about Turgon,” he said. “Nobody has seen Turgon in hundreds of years of the Sun. He didn’t even tell me where he was going when he vanished... I think he’s still alive. But more than that, who knows.”
“Oh,” Nerdanel said, trying not to sound surprised. Findaráto and Anairë’s second son Turukáno, born in the same year, had always been so close. In Tirion they had heard more of Turukáno and his Gondolin than many others, since the Eagles passed over Gondolin from their nests in the mountains around it constantly. But no doubt Anairë would tell him all about that.
They were coming up to Tirion now, through the encampments of the Vanyar army in the pass and Nerdanel called the watch-word, though it was rare that you got stopped when coming from the west. It was danger coming out of Middle-earth that they were watching for. She told Finrod a little about that as they drove.
“Did I really hear you say you had made sculptures of the people of Middle-earth crying out for help, and taken them to the Valar?” he asked, pulling her coat closer around him. The night had, as Nerdanel had thought, turned chill, and his bare feet must be cold. She let the horses stride on with loose reins, and fished another couple of dusty blankets from behind her, tucking one around Finrod and throwing the other around her own shoulders.
“I am,” she said. “It isn’t much, but it’s a thing that I can do... I set a number around Aulë’s forges, and on the road up to Taniquetil, and now, I’m just back from putting some outside the Halls of Mandos, which is why I was the first person you came across on the road to Tirion, I suppose. Not that Námo leaves his halls too often, but he will have to go past them if he goes to take counsel with Manwë. Anairë and I went to the Valar first, to ask if they would send help, but they wouldn’t listen, and this was the only thing I could think of that would offer a reminder. But perhaps now you are here, with all your local knowledge, we can get something done at last.”
But the Valar still would send no aid to Middle-earth, despite all that Finrod could tell of what was happening there. He spoke calmly, factually, of the Enemy’s thralls and of torment, of dark horror that Nerdanel would greatly have preferred not to know of. But the answer of the Valar was the same. There would be no attack on the Enemy from Valinor.
Finrod bowed before the throne of Manwë, and with Anairë and Eärwen beside him, left the hearing at the Ring of Doom.
Nerdanel lingered, staring up at the faces of the Valar. “If you will not do a thing to help them, if you can hear all that, and not want to do anything,” she said, “Then honestly, what is the point of you? I start to think that Fëanáro was right! About one or two things, at least, if not about everything!” And she turned on her heel and left before any of them could reply.
The news after that became darker, though again, it was hard to be sure of much. But they heard of the great battle in which Fingon fell, they heard that Doriath had fallen, first to the Dwarves and then to Nerdanel’s sons. That in Doriath, Celegorm, Caranthir and Curufin had fallen too.
She was sitting in her workroom, a few days after that, staring blankly at a lump of clay, and wondering how she had ended up sitting here alone, and why the clay looked just the same, even when the world was ending, when there was a tap on the garden-door, and Anairë and Eärwen came in.
“I don’t know,” she said to them, without preamble. “I don’t know why they did it. I don’t know how they could . I thought they were going to avenge their grandfather’s death, and take back Fëanáro’s Silmarils. It might not have been the wisest idea, but at least it was one that I could understand.”
“Finrod says that their oath has become dark and terrible,” Eärwen said to her gently. “He says that the Enemy is a master of lies, and that he thinks they have fallen into despair.”
“It doesn’t matter exactly why,” Anairë said, thin and stiff and sharp all through, like a person whose backbone had turned to steel. “There is one person to blame for all of this. You know it. I know it. We thought he was a friend, and so he deceived us all, your sons too.”
“How, precisely, do you think that being deceived led them into slaughtering their own kin?” Nerdanel demanded. “Twice! Twice, Anairë! How can I even grieve for them, when they died like that?”
“I don’t think that’s a useful question,” Anairë said. “And nor is it useful to sit there staring at a lump of earth and an empty cup of wine.”
Nerdanel picked up the empty cup and looked in it. “You’re right,” she said. “It would be much better if it were full.”
“There are things to be done more useful than emptying a wine-bottle,” Anairë said. Why had Nerdanel not noticed before how annoying Anairë could be? She and her dead and useless husband Fingolfin were as bad as each other. No wonder Fëanáro had been annoyed with them. Her voice buzzed like a bluebottle in Nerdanel’s head.
“Go away,” she said.
“No,” Anairë told her. Nerdanel considered throwing the cup at her, but Anairë though thin was wiry still, and it would probably be best not to get into a tangle with her.
“Nerdanel, we don’t have so many smiths left in Tirion. Arafinwë has decided that we must begin to equip an army,” Eärwen said.
“What for? The Enemy isn’t coming here, and we aren’t going there. He will kill them all one by one, the way that he killed Fingon, and Finrod, and Aegnor and Angrod,” she said, savagely, saying the names of slaughtered sons as if landing a blow each time. “Or at least, I hope he will. If I have no luck, then they will not die, but only be held in torment. It was bad enough when it was only Maitimo.”
"Once we have an army ready for war, it will be harder for the Valar to think we are not ready, or that we do not wish to take the risk, Arafinwë thinks. There is no point us going to Middle-earth without an army that can win a war,” Eärwen said. “My son Finrod knows a good deal about war, by now, and he says the Vanyar are not well equipped. Few of the Noldor in Tirion have war-gear: those that did were those that went off with Fëanáro. Finrod cannot equip an army on his own, Nerdanel. We need your help. Yours, your father’s and all the Noldor who learned their art from Aulë who are still here. You were once a smith: you can be one again. I am asking you for it kindly now, but if you will not help, then Arafinwë will command you as your king. Will you not help us? I thought this was what you wanted.”
Anairë said, “Nerdanel, I need a sword. Make me one.”
Nerdanel stood up. The room swayed around her a little, but then it settled into place.
“I’ll need a forge,” she said. “The forges were all closed up, apart from a couple of blacksmithies by the stables. We’ll need to open them. There should be a fair amount of unmade steel in store still, but I don’t think it will be enough. Not for an army. We will need more. And Arafinwë will have to speak words to the furnaces.”
“That’s more like it,” Anairë said. "Come on then. We have work to do.”
The story goes that when Eärendil, first of all living Men, landed upon the shore of Aman, he came up into the Calacirya, and into the city of Tirion upon Túna, and found it quiet and empty, because it was a time of festival, and the people of Tirion and the sleepless watchers of the Calacirya were gone to Valimar and Taniquetil.
And that is true, but it does not tell the whole tale. It does not tell how the last of the Noldor of Tirion marched out, armed and armoured, behind their king, to take their appeal to the Valar, and show that they had chosen at last to pursue their Enemy and go to Middle-earth.
It does not tell how the Vanyar watchers set to guard the Calacirya and protect the land of Valinor took up the weapons and the armour that the smiths of Tirion had made, and left the watchtowers, to follow them.
When Eärendil came to Tirion, it seemed to him that he had come to a land at peace, but he had not. He had come to a land that had not forgotten Middle-earth, a land whose people were willing to go to war, who knew that war would be terrible, and that it must nonetheless be fought and won.
The trumpets of Eönwë, Herald of the Valar, rang out across Tirion, but Nerdanel did not hear them. She was in the great smithy near the gates, with her father, making swords and shields. It was a noisy business, and there was no attention to spare for anything else.
So she only heard the news when Finrod came rushing into through the open door, with Amárië close at his heels. Finrod waved at her, and she carefully put the shield that she was working on down, and came to speak to them outside the doors, where you could hear yourself speak.
“We’re going to war!” Finrod told her. “It was just announced. The decision has been made at last!”
“Goodness, it’s about time!” Nerdanel said. “I’m glad we got all the arrangements sorted out in time. The warehouses are full, and Anairë said yesterday she is confident we can arm everyone and still take a good number of spares for replacement and repair.”
“Yes,” Finrod said, looking troubled. “But there is bad news, too. You are not permitted to go, and nor am I.”
“What!” Nerdanel exclaimed. She pulled the headcloth off her hair and used it to wipe her dirty sweating face.
“Finrod, because he went to Middle-earth before, and died there once already,” Amárië explained, “And because he is needed to keep Tirion running while his father is away, and shouldn’t really be here at all so soon, I think, although Eönwë didn’t say that in so many words. And you because... well...”
“Because you need to show your loyalty, as the last in Tirion of the House of Fëanor,” Finrod said. “Or that’s what Eönwë said, but I have a different theory myself. I think Manwë was alarmed, when you shouted at him. You did look terrifically fierce, you know.”
“Good grief,” Nerdanel said. She looked at Amárië. “And you?” she enquired. “They told you that you couldn’t go before, when you asked.”
Amárië looked down at her and nodded, tall strong and golden as Finrod was himself. “Yes,” she said. "But the armies of the Vanyar are marching out to war at last. I am a part of the army of the Vanyar, now. Finrod has had his chance to strike his blow against the Enemy. And now, it’s my turn.”