( Disclaimer. All characters are Tolkien’s.Only the interpretation is mine.)
`Her father, Mathan, was a great smith, and among those of the Noldor most dear to the heart of Aulë. Of Mathan Nerdanel learned much of crafts that women of the Noldor seldom used: the making of things of metal and stone.’
( Morgoth’s Ring, HoME 10 The later Quenta Silmarillion.)
The house of Sarmo Urundil. Seventh Age
This sculpture of Vána that I work upon will not be completed! How unlike me to leave something half finished! But at this time, my heart is heavy and my arms grow weary. (Not that this is the way with all of the Eldar, Adaneth,*as well you know) Fëanáro used to leave many things unfinished, for though he could become so absorbed in his works that he knew not what any of us did or said, he was restless in mind and in body. Something once begun would be discarded, if it pleased him not in its form or function. He would only have perfection from that which his mind had devised, and his hands had formed!
But I am tired! It is time to put away my work, to take up my pen to do battle with Morgoth, and set down in script those memories that are my glory and my shame.
I was born in the Year of the Trees 1180, during that time when many of the Eldar first began the bearing of children. Prince Fëanáro, Minyon First Begotten, was himself born late in the previous year, and following the lead of their King, the Noldor began to seek increase to their numbers. Yet all was not the great joy that it should have been, for in the bearing of Fëanáro, the Lady Míriel became consumed in body and in spirit, and she yearned from that time forth for release from life. This was the first sorrow to enter the Blessed Realm, and at it many wondered.
My father, Sarmo Urundil, also known as Mathan, gave me the name Nerdanel. He is a great craftsman amongst the Noldor, and foremost in the regard and company of the Valar Aulë. From him I also was given knowledge of those skills that are rare amongst the nissi. My mother, Taurlotë, named me Istarnië, and hoped, she said, for a wise daughter. From her I was given much knowledge of the history and lore of our people. We were a small family, my being the only child. Although my father had a sister, she too had daughters, and so I was, in those days before my sons were born, as both son and daughter to Urundil. My parents were affectionate, and happy, and delighted in their life and their work and their family. As with most of the Eldar, there was little need for governance or teaching of children, and my earliest years were ones of love and delight in the world about me.
We lived then as we do now, in a sprawling collection of houses clustered near the foot of the Pelori Mountains. The dwellings of the Aulendur! Aulë was ever the friend and helper of all of the Noldor, but we were among those families who had entered his service, and from him we received instruction in the lore of metalwork and of stonework. My father’s good services had ensured he was most dear to Aulë, and he was often a guest in the halls of that great Valar. My mother and I would on occasions accompany him there, and so I was also familiar with the Valar from my earliest memories. A gift Aulë gave me, when I was less than a year old, a gift for my future: a girdle finely wrought in copper with leaves and flames entwined. A strange device it had seemed to me at the time, but not so strange given what came to pass. I loved Aulë, his delight in works of skill, his desire to make things new and unheard of, but mostly I loved the way he gave praise and counsel to others, and listened to them in turn, listened to my father! And delight in Eru, and in Eä was always on his lips.
My mother has a love of learning, of knowledge of many kinds. I remember her delight in sharing with me those early works of the sage, Rúmil, who was the first to develop a written script! She also loved the stars, and would at times wander with me to the sea shores and we would spend long ages together, watching the sky while she would tell me of the lands to the East of the seas, from which she and my father had originally come. She, I think, would have been most happy in the service of Varda, but she also liked to make things of her own cunning. She would draw and paint the likenesses of the Valar, in the physical forms they oft appeared in She would make carvings in stone, small carvings for the most part, but beautiful to behold. So we lived quietly in the days of my childhood, and I was content and happy with the life that had been granted me. Then, when I was almost two years of age, King Finwë came on a visit.
The Stonemasons, quarrying to find marble with which to build, had come across those gifts of Aulë, those gems of the earth whose radiance so enchanted us. Freely we gave of them, to each other, and often to the Teleri, with whom we had a deep friendship. It was in answer to the prayers of our King that Ulmo brought the Teleri into the West in the first place, and my parents said that there had been rejoicing amongst the Noldor when those of the Third Kindred had at last set foot on these shores. Not so long before I was born, had my father given aid in building the Swan Haven, the city of Alqualondë for King Olwë. (Ai, the pain of memory, of what was to happen to that friendship, to so may of our mariner kindred at the hands of our people, at the hands of my family!) Work had been recently undertaken amongst the Aulendur of crafting some of the most impressive of the gems, into fine jewellery that was to be a gift of one friend to another, a gift from Finwë to Olwë, and to see what progress had been made with that crafting was the reason for our guest’s presence. My mother spoke to me with thinly veiled concern, however. “This visit is as much an attempt to bring cheer and some lightness of heart back to our Queen,” she had whispered. “Look to the needs of the Lady Míriel, as will I. For I fear that she may be beyond cheering, and valiant though her heart is, she is without strength or joy.”
How young I was, how innocent of the world about me! To me, life was joy, and the pursuit of knowledge and delight in creating and wandering this Blessed Realm in wonder at the gifts given to us. The Lady Míriel altered my perceptions.
Did she fear what had come upon her, I wondered? I wonder still, for I have no answer, despite conversations through long hours. She was slender, and delicate for a Noldo, though beautiful to behold. The silver blue gown that she wore that day was elaborately embroidered with designs and motifs of rare skill, and they said she had made it herself! A Queen she was, embroidering her own gowns! But then there were never any who could compete with Míriel Perendë in finesse of hand at embroidery! Míriel looked weary, and it seemed to me that her heart was heavy indeed. Never had I seen an Elda so empty of sweet life. She walked at the side of her King and lord with graceful movement, and spoke to all of those who greeted her in gentle and noble manner. But when my father spoke with King Finwë, she drew aside, and gesturing for her ladies to leave her be, she walked out of our house to the gardens. My mother nodded to me, and we both followed discreetly. This was what she had feared would happen. So we were not to hear the exchange about the progress of the gifts for Olwë, my mother and I, nor Finwë’s long account to Urundil of his pleasure in the fast growing skills of his son, our Prince, who had chosen not to accompany his parents on that particular visit. After the King had left, my father told us all that was said! He told us he had been apprehensive that King Finwë would ask of him to help with his son, to encourage and tutor him further in those skills of Aulë that it was said Fëanáro loved dearly. My father would have done whatever Finwë asked, but he was not overly enthused about having the strong willed, hot-tempered prince as a student, despite his promise of fast becoming the most skilled of all our craftsmen!
“You need not be concerned. I will but take a short rest here, for the fragrance of your garden is a pleasing tonic to me!” the clear but swift words of Míriel halted us as we rounded the corner of the walled garden. My mother made a curtsy, and gestured for me to do likewise, but the Queen waved that the gesture was unnecessary. She and my mother had been friends in their youth, and she would have no unnecessary ceremony from Taurlotë and her daughter, it would seem.
Trading on the acquaintance, my mother spoke familiarly in response.. “I am concerned for you, Míriel,” she said, taking a seat in the bower, opposite to the Queen. “You have a steadfastness about you, but it is not a form that springs from true hope, only from resignation. I wish to be of assistance, my friend!”
Míriel smiled weakly in return, but then fixed her eyes upon me, and there was a strength and stubbornness in her fëa as she did so. Weak, consumed by giving birth to such a son, they said, yet as I watched her expressions, her movements, I saw how unassailable she was in spirit.
“There are none who can help me,” the Queen replied ” for what I desire must wait yet awhile! And who is this, Taurlotë? Your daughter, I believe!”
She was looking at me as much as I was looking at her, and then embarrassment at being so bold overcame me, and I looked away.
“This is my daughter, Nerdanel!” My mother spoke with a pride that warmed me, and brought a smile to my face. I had nothing to be ashamed of, to be concerned for. Míriel was kindness itself, and she was smiling back at me now.
“Such rare colouring! I have not noticed such hair colour before,” the Queen observed.
“She has the colouring of her father, though of a more muted tone, unless directly in the light! And that is not all she has inherited from Urundil,” my mother continued. “She has skill with stonework that makes him proud, though it is a little unusual in a nissi ** to have such interests.” Here, my mother laughed, though it was happiness at being able to speak of me so. Now did I colour with emotion, and I was concerned that the hue of my face was the same as my hair. Strong emotions were always hard for me to hide; one had but to look to my complexion to see what I felt. But Míriel did not seem to find this unbecoming. She beheld me with ever more regard.
“Your mother says she wishes to assist me! Do you also wish to be of help, little maid?”
There was the sound of sudden laughter, and we three turned abruptly to see what the commotion was about. But it was only the neri, crossing the courtyard to the forge. They would be examining the quality of the work done for Finwë, and we could be excused yet awhile.
“I will help, if I can, my Queen!” I brought Míriel’s attention back to the moment.
“Ai, yes! Then there is something I would ask of you. Something that, with the skill your mother speaks of, you could do for me!”
“Willingly!” I had replied. Though little did I know what that response would lead me to!
“Craft something for me, a sculpture, something from stone! Make me something of life and of joy that is from your own thoughts and learning And I will gift you in return!”
I was startled at the request, and at her generous offer of a gift from her! How could I make something fitting? She was talented far beyond the likes of me. But I would not dishonour my father, nor the skills he had taught me, so I curtseyed to her. “That I shall do, my Queen, and I will start straight away.”
Míriel laughed, and that brought more animation to her face than I had previously seen. She was so beautiful! I thought.
“Such eagerness in one so young! Wait at least until this visit is over, for will there not be feasting and singing and dancing to come?”
My mother put a hand upon my shoulder, and spoke for and to me! “Indeed there shall be! And Nerdanel shall be part of it, though she would prefer to be studying, or out in the hills!”
The Queen nodded thoughtfully, but there was now a strange look in her eyes. “All to the good!” she whispered, and leant forward to me. “But life is for happiness and delight with others, also. Do not shut yourself away, little maid! Now! You shall send me my gift as soon as you may! And it will be something to lift my heart, I have no doubt! My gift in return, I think you may not have for a few years yet. Though it will also be something most precious!” she added enigmatically.
We took a stroll around the garden, and spoke of other matters, and soon we returned to join the main party. Finwë was to surprise his wife with a necklace that my father had wrought in secret on the King’s instructions. Sapphires and diamonds shone brilliantly in a setting of finely wrought copper. Míriel smiled and thanked her lord most profusely, but her mind was elsewhere by then.
As the Queen departed some time later, her eyes sought me out in the crowd of well-wishers. “Remember!” Her voice was like soft music in my ears. “Remember my gift, and care for it well, when you receive it. For I shall not make its like twice!” Embroidery, I had thought! It will be a piece of magnificent embroidery that I may show in future times to my own descendents, as an example of the esteem in which the Queen held me.
I never saw her again. Míriel died! And her gift? It was not embroidery!
· adaneth= Sindarin. Mortal woman.
· ** nissi = she-Elves
· *** neri =he-Elves