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The Nolde, or There and Back Again

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Year 1399 of the Trees, Tirion

There were times when Nerwen wondered if she was the only fey person in the whole of Aman.

Or – when she was feeling more prideful – the only sane one.

She stood on a balcony of her father's house in Tirion, looking over the Bay of Eldamar, her back turned to the Trees, and she was absurdly trying to catch a glimpse of Middle-Earth. She knew she never could, but she always tried.

She often asked her grandfather Olwë about it, but he didn't much like remembering it and could only offer her bits and pieces, a lot of them about darkness. And yet...when so many elves choose to stay behind, it couldn't have been all bad, could it?

She sighed. Valinor was supposed to be the blessed land, one that offered peace to all, so why did she have none? That was why she wondered if she was insane.

Her brothers' laugher sounded from the inside, and she sighed again. Much as she loved them, she frequently felt that they inherited either their father's mild character, or their mother's imperturbable nature, while she was the only one born with true Noldor fire. They never understood her, though they loved her in turn. Their happiness in the Undying Lands was marred by nothing.

In Nerwen's present state of mind, their laugher grated on her nerves, and so she turned her steps to her uncle's house.

Her uncles, both of them, were a very different story. No one could accuse them of lacking in fire. Indeed, Curufinwë sometimes seemed to be made of nothing but fire. But it was not his house to which Nerwen was headed, even though she was one of the few descendants of Indis he spoke to willingly.

No, her relationship with that uncle was a complicated one. She could not help but admire him, his skill and strength of spirit, but she could also not miss his clear lack of wisdom, and it worried her. If she, still so young, could see it...how was such a failing possible in one of similarly strong mind? It scared her, among other reasons because it taught her that her own strength and cleverness was no guarantee that she would avoid mistakes. It drove her to more caution than her oldest uncle could respect, but still, they understood each other on some deep level. Something that was another reason for worry for Nerwen, when she watched this uncle sometimes.

Her footsteps now, however, were directed to Arakáno's house, where those closest to her in mind dwelt. Both her younger uncle and his eldest son understood Nerwen more than her nearest kin ever did, and she passed much time in their company, a good portion of it spent by talking of Middle-Earth. Yet there was a difference there still, the reason why she sometime sought Fëanáro's company, despite her misgivings. While Arakáno and Findekáno liked talking about the far away lands and the realms one could rule there, Nerwen knew that for them, it was just a distant idea, one they quite liked, but still nothing more than idle speculation. For her, it was an acutely felt unquiet.

As she approached Arakáno's house, however, a voice from the inside reminded her why she didn't spend even more time with her father's brother. Turukáno, her other cousin, did not quite have Findekáno's fire, and sometimes it seemed to her that he inherited the worst from both the Noldor and the Teleri, to whom his mother was kin. Nerwen saw traces of Fëanáro's pride and harshness in him, but in an unfortunate combination with selfishness and lack of valour. When she could hear Irissë reply to him, she turned her steps away again, because Irissë, while being an opposite to her brother in many ways, was somehow only worse, and Nerwen did not have the strength now to deal with her cousin's arrogance.

As she walked, now headed to more distant places, she mused about Irissë. It had been assumed for a long time that a friendship would grow between them, as they were close relations, both of them Noldorin princesses, and born on the same day. But the only thing they were similar in was pride, though Nerwen, ungenerous as it was, usually added to that assessment that she at least had a little more to be prideful of. Irissë was like the younger of her brothers in that she never sought wisdom, and her independence was closer to hard-headedness. Nerwen often mourned the loss of the friend she could have had in her.

Her steps took her to Valimar, and she considered stopping by her grandmother's relations, but just as she left her father and brothers because her spirit was too restless for them at the moment, she knew the Vanyar would not sit with her well at this time. No, when she felt like this, they only made her feel guilty, because their contentment always seemed absolute, and with them, contrary to her brothers, it never seemed like a weakness to Nerwen. They, after all, weren't Noldor.

No, when her heart grew this unsettled, she knew there was only one place for her to go, and so she stretched her steps and headed to the Gardens of Lórien.

She sometimes laughed about that, because of the Great Ladies, Estë was one of those who were furthest from her own nature, yet she spent the most time with her – or rather, that was why. More fire would have hardly calmed her. And besides, Nerwen felt closest to the Queen of Arda, but the greatest of Valier rarely ever descended from Taniquetil, so she could not seek consolation in her company. Lady Estë's healing presence, on the other hand, was always open to her, and Nerwen learned much from her and her Maiar through the years, and not only of healing. She came to Lórien to learn patience and prudence and mildness, because her uncle's example showed her every day what happened to a strong spirit untempered by those things. It was a pity, she thought, that he never set foot in Lórien – or that he hadn't done so when younger. Now, she had strong suspicion Lord Irmo would not allow him in, even had he wished to enter. He permitted no one to disturb the peace of his gardens, and Fëanáro was unwilling – or unable – to temper his fire.

She crossed the border of the realm now, and could feel her mind settling to rest as she walked through the fields of flowers in bloom and admired their beauty. She was looking for the Lady of the place, but before she found her, someone else crossed her path, someone she didn't meet as often, but whose company she valued all the more. She laughed in joy upon seeing him. “Olórin, my lord!” She called.

“Nerwen, my lady,” he returned with a smile. “I am glad to find you here.”

“And I am glad to see you!”

Olórin winked at her. “Yes, you have told me often enough how much you value that privilege.”

Nerwen laughed again. “I wish I could one day understand your insistence that you will not show yourself to the majority of my people. Sometimes I feel that when I comprehend why you do the things you do, I will be truly wise.”

“That is high praise, my dear princess, and I will endeavour not to disappoint it,” he said with a slight bow, his eyes sparkling.

“You know you can never disappoint me,” she answered with a smile. “How fares the Elder King and the Queen of All?”

“They are well, revelling in the joy of these peaceful times.” He took note of Nerwen's expression, and smiled. “The Elder King spoke to me of you.”

That gave Nerwen a pause. She turned to Olórin, wide-eyed. “He did?”

“He sees your unquiet, you know.”

She looked to the ground, ashamed. She always felt guilty because she thought she was disturbing the peace of Aman with her restless heart, but it was not pleasant to have it confirmed.

“Artanis,” Olórin said with emphasis, and she turned her eyes to him again – he only called her by the name her father gave her when there was something of great importance he was telling her. “Remember what I told you,” he said now, “do not be ashamed of who you are. Your feelings do not make you bad, it is your actions you have to guard against pride.”

“But does not darkness begin in the heart?” She asked, thinking of Fëanáro again.

“Yes, but there is nothing dark about yours.”

“I disturbed the Elder King's peace.”

Here Olórin smiled. “There are many who disturb him more. I think you are more of a puzzle.”

Here, Nerwen laughed incredulously. “I am no puzzle to you, so how am I to believe that the King of Arda cannot make me out?”

“Oh no, not in that way. He understands your heart just as well as I do, what is a puzzle to him is what to do about you.” Olórin paused. “He knows about your desire to leave.”

Nerwen flinched. She had never put it quite in those words herself, and Olórin had avoided it until now too. It seemed too bold, too definite. Yet it was also true.

She was scared.

“And?” She asked in a small voice.

“He does not like the idea,” Olórin admitted, and Nerwen hung her head again. “Yet that is what puzzles him – he cannot find anything wrong with it. There are...others...in this realm which worry him because he sees evil growing in their hearts, but that is not your case. He cannot actually see any reason to forbid you to leave, yet he does not want to give you a blessing on your journey. I believe, though he hadn't said so outright, that that is mainly for the others. Once you left, there would be no stopping them, and their motives would be less pure.”

Nerwen suddenly felt bitter towards her uncle, but fought the emotion, because here, and in front of Olórin, she was ashamed of it, even more than she would have been otherwise.

He gave her one more clear-sighted look and said: “As long as you fight it and do not allow it to grow, there is nothing to be ashamed of.”

“But if I am not ashamed,” Nerwen replied, “I will allow it to grow.”

Olórin smiled again, and noted: “I think, my dear, that you are well on the way to real wisdom, whether you understand my motives or not.”

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Much later, on her way back, Nerwen did go through the house her grandmother's parents and spent some time with them, now better predisposed to be in company of someone so well-natured. They shared stories of their recent encounters with the Queen of Arda, knowing Nerwen was always interested in those, and she reciprocated with something of what she saw and heard in Lórien, though none of the personal things Olórin told her, knowing those were only for her ears.

Somewhat to her surprise, in the middle of her visit, the High King entered the house of his sister, and Nerwen hurried into a bow. He smiled at her and waved the courtesy aside, coming to take her hands instead. “My dear child,” he said. “There has been much talk of you recently in Taniquetil.”

She cringed, as her great-grandmother's voice rose in question, accompanied by that of her great-aunt and second cousins. Not here, please, she thought silently, and Ingwë heard her.

“Come walk with me,” he said, and as she followed him, she realized to her shock that they were headed to Taniquetil.

She had been there already, a few times. Her great-grandparent's house was just at the foot of it, and the High King took her sometimes to pay her respect to the Elder King. She never went there on her own, though – it just wasn't done, not even by her Vanyar relations, those who weren’t directly of Ingwë's household, that is. And now that she knew that the High King of Arda had been focusing some of his attention on her, it was markedly more disquieting.

It turned out, however, that Ingwë wasn't taking her to see Manwë Súlimo after all. He stopped at the terraces of his own house to speak with her, and he had news much like Olórin, only those were delivered with less understanding – though, it had to be said, with no more judgement.

“Middle-Earth is a dark place,” the High King said, “without the light of the Trees and the Valar we have here. It is not something to desire. What can you possibly miss here?”

Nerwen sighed. The simple and honest answer was freedom, but she knew Ingwë would not understand. “I feel useless here,” she said, trying to explain. “Everything is made perfect by the guardianship of the Valar. What point does my life have, then?”

“And you believe it would have more point in Middle-Earth, where you would make mistakes and see the darkness repay you for every one of them?”

“There are elves in Middle-Earth too,” she argued, “and if I could be of some help to them with what I learned in the Blessed Lands, then yes, my life would have more use.”

“Do not believe that those who stayed behind would welcome you as their queen, Artanis,” he said, because he always called her by the name her father gave her. “They have their own, independent realms.”

“I know that. I was merely trying to point out how I could see giving my life a point – I could provide them with that advice, and they me, in turn, with advice about those lands that I do not know. For that, I admit, is my true dream – having a piece of land, however small, which I could call my own and where I would be free to make my own mistakes, unburdened by the perfection of everything.”

“Mistakes made outside of Aman, my dear child, are often heavily paid for,” he warned again.

She shrugged. “I wish I could have that space in a world in which there is no darkness, too, but I cannot.”

“But is it not prideful of you to want to rule, when kingship rightly belongs to the Elder King?”

Nerwen laughed. “You are High King of the Eldar, great-uncle. Surely that does not make you prideful?”

“It is different. I am merely as a steward of Manwë, organizing my people and serving as his messenger at times.” That is an uncommonly apt description, Nerwen thought with a touch of bitterness she tried to quench. “That is not the kind of governance you seek.”

She hesitated. “Perhaps this is a Noldor thing. It is in out blood, the love of creating. My relations whose hearts fill with joy at creating jewels and works of art have it easier, being content in Aman. That kind of creation does not attract me much, however. What I want to create is a community, a realm with its own rules, a society, a culture...something over which I would have less control than my relations have over their statues, no doubt, but something that attracts me nevertheless. I would like to see what would happen if my ideas about how a community should work were put into practice and intervened with others' ideas, a little like improvisation in song, only it wouldn't be a song we created, it would be a culture.” She paused. “I do not truly want to leave Valinor behind, but I would have liked to have a chance to be elsewhere sometimes too.”

Ingwë took hold of her hands again. “I have often wondered,” he said, “if of all of my niece's children, you are the most like us, or the least. I think that, to a degree, both is true. There are sides of you which I understand perfectly, and those that are completely foreign to me. That fire you have is pure Noldor, and yet you give it a kind of lightness which, I believe, comes from us. Your desire to create, again, comes from your grandfather's people, but that it manifests in such a way that you want to create a community, togetherness, that I think comes from us too.” He smiled. “And the sea calls to you like you were one of your mother's people.”

Nerwen shook her head in response. “I do not believe I got much from my mother. The sea does not call me, the lands behind it do.”

“You have her singing voice, at the very least. But you are right that you do not seem to have received much more. You do have our love for wisdom, I believe, and for the Valar and the Maiar. I understand you and don't understand you at the same time.”

Nerwen smiled rather sadly. “Most elves seem to feel the same way towards me, yes. Except for those who do not understand me at all, that is.”

“Are you lonely, Artanis?”

“Sometimes a little, yes.”

He pressed her hands. “It will pass once you find someone to share your life with,” he assured her.

Yes, she thought, but will I? When I know most elves of Aman already?

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When she returned home, her brother was waiting for her, smiling. “Where have you been?” Aikanáro asked. “We have missed you.”

She smiled in return. “Lórien and Valimar,” she replied.

“I should have known – where else are you ever? Except for uncle's house, anyway, but I was there and they haven't seen you.”

“Oh, were you looking for me? I am sorry.”

“Oh no, it wasn't anything urgent, otherwise I would have taken the trouble of waking to Lórien.”

“Perhaps you should have anyway. It would do you good to visit it sometimes,” she said, smiling at him.

He rolled his eyes at her. She knew he found it boring – of all of her brothers, he was closest to her in the sense that he had the most fire, but it also made his lack of wisdom stand out more clearly. “What news from our relations?” He asked.

“Many interesting stories from Taniquetil,” she replied, and saw him groan. He wasn't interested in those either, she knew.

“See,” he said, “and that is why I rarely visit them.”

“What news from our uncle, then, since you did visit him?”

He smiled. “Turukáno will be getting married.”

Nerwen stared. “Elenwë accepted him?” She knew how finding your true love was supposed to work, that there seemed to be very little choice involved once both had felt the Flame of Eru, but still...

“Yes, apparently.”

She shook her head. “I'm surprised I haven't heard of that in Valimar...even though, come to think of it...no, I am not.”

“What do you mean?” Aikanáro asked curiously.

“They will not be happy with the marriage, and so they will not be quick to boast of it.”

“I know you do not like Turukáno much...”

“Come off it, you have to know he is not much like the Vanyar. He does not have their kind nature, nor their love for the Valar, and he is not interested in lore. There has not been much opposition to our grandparents' marriage because everyone felt sorry for our grandfather, and he is Ingwë's friend, but even so, it hadn't worked out that great, had it?”

Aikanáro frowned. “And you think that is because grandfather Finwë is not interested in lore enough, or some such nonsense?”

Nerwen sighed a little over her brother regarding all of the vast learning of the Vanyar as nonsense, ad replied: “No, the reasons were different, but it still made them more wary of those unions, and surely even you can see that Turukáno is very much a Noldo in many ways – except for his particular caution in everything. He does not have what they value, however.”

He shrugged. “I do not think Turukáno is that much of a Noldo, but anyway, perhaps Elenwë will be a good influence on him, then.”

“Yes, let us hope so.” Nerwen paused. “I suppose I should go and congratulate him, should I not?”

Aikanáro laughed at her. “It would be the polite thing to do, yes. Our brothers are there, and I will accompany you.”

“Good, then I will go at once.” With her brothers present, there was a chance they would occupy Turukáno and Irissë and she would get a moment with Findekáno or her uncle.

Indeed, it seemed she was in luck, because it was Findekáno himself who welcomed her at the door. He smirked at her, knowing very well her opinion on the thing, and asked: “Came to offer your congratulations?”

“Well, there seems to be nothing else I can do.”

Findekáno laughed in response. “She might be good for him, you know.”

“That is what my brother said, but will he be good for her? That is the question.”

“Ah, that's your Vanyar loyalty speaking,” he teased.

“Oh please,” she argued as she entered the house. “You are as much a Vanya as I am.”

“By blood perhaps, but by association?”

He was right in that – of all Indis' grandchildren, she and Findaráto were the ones who visited their Vanyar relations most often. Irissë hardly ever stepped there, and Turukáno had not been much better, before he fell in love with Elenwë. “It is your own loss.”

“It might be,” Findekáno conceded. “But I do have two siblings to manage.”

Nerwen laughed at him. “That is a feeble excuse. I have three, after all.”

That got a responding laugh from her cousin. “Don't let Findaráto hear you say that.”

“Oh, I think he knows perfectly well how I think.” She made it plain enough often enough, to her shame. “Besides,” she continued, “Turukáno will now have someone else to manage him, so that should free your hands a little.”

“That might be true, but it will also make Irissë solely my responsibility, and you know that will be a handful.”

This statement proved remarkably foresighted, as Nerwen could tell as soon as she entered the main living quarters. Turukáno was in an inordinately good mood, but it was almost equalled by his sister's bad one. I should have predicted this, Nerwen thought. Turukáno loved his sister very dearly and she was used to his single-minded attention, and she did not like it that she would now have to share it with his wife. She was pleasant enough on the outside, but Nerwen could sense her thoughts, and she was sure she was not the only one – her uncle, at the very least, seemed troubled as he watched his daughter.

Nerwen came over to him and greeted him by pressing his hands. “You should be more joyful on this occasion,” she said gently.

“As you are?” He asked ironically.

She smiled. “He is not my son.”

“No – if he was, you would be perhaps even more troubled. You know I share your worries, even though I make more excuses for my son. But this marriage can either grant him great happiness, or be a complete disaster.”

“Well, we are in the blessed lands,” Nerwen pointed out. “If there is any chance of it being happy, it will be.”

She very carefully tried not to think about grandfather Finwë. Even his marriage to her grandmother was happy in some ways, after all, and he was the exception, not the rule. Those were the blessed lands, and in spite of occasional minor turbulences, its people were happy, and would continue to be so. Or so Nerwen told herself.