(Disclaimer: All of the characters are JRR Tolkien’s. All references are from The Silmarillion, or HoME Volumes 1, 3, 10, 11 and 12. Nothing is mine, except the interpretation and any mistakes.)
With thanks to Bellemaine and to Eru_Melin for beta reading.
(A/N Again, I have removed all the accents I can for easier reading. I am sorry about re-publishing a few chapters, but they were my earliest attempts at any writing, and I am not that happy with some of them. This chapter is edited and has quite a few additions. Forgive my inexperience!)
“Her father, Mahtan, was a great smith, and among those of the Noldor most dear to the heart of Aulë. Of Mahtan Nerdanel learned much of crafts that women of the Noldor seldom used: the making of things of metal and stone.’
(The later Quenta Silmarillion. HoME 10 Morgoth’s Ring JRR Tolkien. HarperCollins Ed 2002 p 272)
The house of Sarmo Urundil. Seventh Age.
This sculpture of Yavanna 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. Even the exercise of my skills brings me little joy. (Not that this is the way with all the Eldar in Aman, as well you know.) Though some have been brought low by a growing sense of ennui, it is the burden of memory that causes me to waste and to wane. The life that was once so strong in me is worn thin with loss, with hope ever deferred. I, who learnt bitterly the price of despair, who thought then to endure with patience the marring of my life that there might be healing for my family, yet now do but seek of rest and dream in the place appointed to my kind.
Hlarleru is right, I deem, to remind me of late that my lord and our sons all brought down a curse upon themselves – even Ambarussa the younger. That though the Valar understand my pain, yet for the good of all the Noldor can they not allow any son of Feanaro to greet again his mother in the Realm of Aman. Not unkindly does that loremaster speak with me, for I have known him many a year, both before and after the exile. But he is one to seek of the deep knowledge, and would not have any live in delusion. He would not have me continue in false hope. And I ponder that, mayhap, if the Valar are yet kind to me, and what is told by those restored is true – that great love binds fëar even in that place of Mandos – I will again be with my sons, be with some of them, at the least. So do I hearken to the words of the wise, and think to accept death through grief to be my only option.
But not yet!
No peace will I have, no rest for my heart if I do not finish this recording of my memories.
Feanaro used to leave many things unfinished, for though he could become so absorbed in his works that he knew not what any of us said or did, he was restless in mind and in body. Something once begun would be discarded if it pleased him not in its form or function. Only perfection would he have from that which his mind had devised and his hands had formed. Aye, restless was he, who now abides but in the shadow of his thoughts.
But I am no longer caught up in restlessness. It is in passive contemplation that I oft choose to exist. All I need do is close my eyes to behold my family as they were in the glad times, before the darkness came upon us all. And their voices call to me across the years: “Tell of the truth of things, lady and mother,” they entreat me. “Break the power of the lie that remains, so that the last of the bitterness may be driven hence. Have us remembered as what we were … not just as what we became!”
So will I do, for my beloved sons, and also for he who is slandered beyond all. Though I doubt the standard of my recording at this time would meet that set by Feanaro, yet will I make the attempt. But I [I]am[/I] tired! It is time to finally put away my work of sculpting, to take up my pen to do battle with Moringotho, and set down in script those memories which 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 Feanaro, first begotten in Aman, was himself born late in the previous year, and following the lead of their king, the Noldor began to again seek increase to their numbers. Yet all was not as joyful as it should have been; for in the bearing of Feanaro, Queen Miriel became consumed in hroa and in fea, 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 in some writings as Mahtan, gave me the name Nerdanel. He is a great craftsman amongst the Noldor, being foremost in the regard and company of the Vala, Aule. From him was I given knowledge of those skills that are rare amongst the nissi. Istarnie was the name given me by my mother, Taurlote, and always did she say she hoped for a wise and knowledgeable daughter. In some ways, I ponder, did she get her wish; in others most certainly was she to be disappointed. From her was I given much understanding of the history and lore of our people, and an interest and skill in the tending of gardens.
A small family were we, I being the only child. So was I as both daughter and son to Urundil in those days before my sons were born. My parents were affectionate and happy, delighting in their life, their family, and their service to the Valar and to the House of our king. As with most of the Eldar, there was little need for governance or teaching of children, so were my earliest years ones of love and delight in the beauty of the Undying Lands 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 Aulenduri. Aule was ever the friend and helper of all the Noldor, but we were among those families who had entered his service. From him we received instruction in the lore of metalwork, stonework, and the crafting of gems: in weaving and shaping of wood and the tilling of the land. My father’s good service had ensured he was most dear to Aule, and he was oft a guest in the halls of that great Vala. My mother and I would, when chance allowed, accompany him there; thus, from my earliest memories, was I familiar with some few of the Valar and Maiar. A gift Aule gave me when I was less than one year old, a gift of promise for my future, he had said: a girdle meant for a full grown nis, finely wrought in copper with leaves and flames entwined. A strange device it had seemed to my young mind, and I took it to be a symbol of he and of his spouse, Yavanna Kementari. But not so strange did it later seem, given what came to pass.
I loved Aule: his pleasure in works of skill, his desire to make things new and unheard of. 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 Arda was always upon his lips.
My mother has a love of learning, of knowledge of many kinds. I remember her joy in sharing with me the early works of the sage, Rumil, who was the first to develop a written script. She also loved the stars and would, when the mood was upon her, wander with me to the seashores where we would spend long ages together watching the sky. There would she tell me of the starlit Hither Lands, to the east of the seas, whence she and my father had originally come – the memory of which was imbedded in her heart. In the service of Varda do I think my mother would have been most happy, but a true Noldo is she, who liked making things of her own cunning. She would draw and paint the likenesses of the Valar in the physical forms they oft appeared to us. She would make carvings in stone, small carvings for the most part, but beautiful to behold. So were my earliest works mostly imitations of hers, in drawing and painting and sculpting.
Rarely were the Aulenduri disturbed, but given the location of our dwellings, as well as the requirements of our expertise by others, some visitors did we inevitably have. Near times of festival, our visitors were oft the highborn lords and ladies of our people, whose estates lay on the edge of Eldamar and the Calaciryande, and who were travelling to and from the fair city of Tirion. Sometimes would they halt to request of refreshment from us; at other times, would they seek to take rest in the many roomed house provided for that purpose. Then the neri would take of opportunity to discuss works of craft with my father and his leading apprentice, Narwasar. Though of nature were my father and our artisans reluctant to leave of their pursuits, yet was the welcoming of others a most noble duty. My mother and our servants it was, who took upon themselves this task, so my father be not disturbed save at great need. From the first I could walk did I seek to give aid to my mother in that service, though out of curiosity as well as a desire to be considerate.
Fiercely proud yet beautiful to look upon were our lords and ladies, and a most wondrous sight were their colourful cavalcades to the young maid who eagerly watched their approach, and who rushed up the stairs to watch of their departure from her widow until they were but specks against the distant green hill of Túna.
Now, during those visits, while the lords were occupied with my father, my mother and I spent time with their ladies. Strange did I find their lack of interest in smith craft. Strange, no doubt, did many a lady find [I]me[/I], and though they would attempt to speak with me of broidery, herbs and plants, yet did they look perplexed when I turned conversation to stonework.
“What an unusual hina, Lady Taurlote! So thoughtful and wise for her years; yet think you not she dwells overmuch in the forge?”
“Nerdanel is as Eru intends her to be. (All did bow their heads at the use of that name.) My lord Urundil does but encourage her natural inclinations, as do I”
Most of the ladies would smile kindly upon me at hearing such words from my mother, but some few would continue to view me as an oddity. Once did I hear what I was not meant to, and that from a lady of aloof elegance speaking to her maid: “The child of this house has unnatural interests – but, as she has no great beauty to enthral the lords of the city, it will be no loss for her to find her place working amongst the stone masons.”
No great beauty! Do not all of the Eldar, all of the Quendi, possess beauty? Does it not draw us; inspire us in our thoughts and deeds? Yet beauty is not only of the kind that meets the eye. I had not thought of myself as beautiful or otherwise until that time. But never had I heard any speak thus of another. That fine lady’s words so stung me that I hurried up the stairs to my room, where I examined my features in the mirror upon the wall.
So for the first time did I make study of myself, as if I would later make sketch. My hair was a touch unruly, mayhap, and it had a will of its own in whether it would curl or no. My eyes were just a little smaller, a little more almond of shape than some would wish for; my mouth was somewhat small, though well curved were my lips. I knew not how I was expected to appear to meet that high lady’s criteria, but experimented with varying expressions and arrangements of hair until, after at least one hour, my mother found me so doing.
Moving aside the tapestry cushions, she sat upon the coverlet of my bed and spoke most gently to me.
“Do not confuse high-born blood with nobility, daughter, though most times do both go together. Yet do some of our lords and our ladies have more arrogance – more ignorance – than is good for them.”
Wise words they were, from one who knew the noblest and most beautiful of our ladies as a childhood friend.
“Beauty is important,” she continued, “but those who make comment upon what they perceive from a few moments’ glance are somewhat immature, do you not think? And more noble are they who seek to praise, rather than to belittle. Those who are truly beautiful think not of it.”
“That I understand, mother” I had sought to reassure her that I was not overly distressed. “And I hope I am learning to know true nobility and beauty when I see it.”
She had smiled in return, but sought to reassure me all the same. “Though in appearance you make no impression upon that lady, yet are you beautiful, Nerdanel.”
But she was my mother, and I would not have expected her to say otherwise.
Though neither my mother nor I travelled to the city in the days of my childhood, we knew a little of what transpired in Tirion. My father would travel there himself twice a year, or more often should the king summon him. A few others of the Aulenduri had set up a small enclave within the city walls, to be at hand for the immediate requirement of the king’s House, as well as of others. Amongst them were my father’s sister’s family. So were we kept informed of the desires and delights of those seeking to build new dwellings or to make decoration of their existing ones, and of the marriages and births amongst the folk with whom we were aquatinted. All of the Aulenduri knew of the most disconcerting news – the weakness endured by our queen – and of the fast growing reputation of the son she sacrificed so much to bear.
“It is said that the young Finwion has much of the look of Miriel about him,” my mother had commented one instance at late meal. The first comment I was to consciously hear of him, it was.
My father had nodded in agreement. “So I have observed, Taurlote. Though dark of hair is he, like unto his father. I have met him but once, of course, and swift of thought and word was he for a child. He holds much promise, I deem, to have the skills of both his parents, and a great love of knowledge and of crafting.”
“And great impetuousness and temper too, it is said – that Miriel named him Feanaro!”
My father made a wry expression that suggested there was some truth to this mother-name of insight. But Finwe was a strong king, and ever would be; we thought he would also be a strong and guiding father. No need had we to be overly concerned with the ‘Spirit of Fire’s’ seemingly complex nature, for the children of the Eldar are most biddable, and Prince Finwion’s parents would assuredly teach him of restraint as he grew older.
Now, there was one time when Tolfaen, the renowned Teleri silversmith, paid us visit at my father’s request. He stayed at our house for several days as honoured guest, rather than in the separate dwelling. I liked him; for he spoke with much enthusiasm of the skills he had learnt from the Maia, Salmar, and of the use of pearl and seashell in decoration and illumination. On one particular occasion did he call me ‘Nerdanel the Wise’, for the vast amount of my childish ‘wisdom’ I freely bestowed upon him; and he gave me a necklace made from seashells. (Though of nature am I one to listen carefully to others, yet in my younger days could I talk overmuch to those whom I esteemed.) Most knowledgeable was he – that my father, who preferred working with copper, learnt more of silver craft from [I]him[/I]. A friend of my parents from that time forth, Tolfaen was to visit with them again many times in the years after I wed, even sharing something of his crafting in silver with my fifth son.
So it was that we lived fairly quietly in the days of my childhood, and I was most content with the life that had been granted me. Then, when I was almost two years of age, King Finwe himself came to visit.
– – – – – – –
Now, the stonemasons of the Noldor it was who, 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. My parents said that there had been rejoicing amongst our people when those of the third kindred had, at last, set foot upon these shores. Not so long before I was born, my parents had themselves given aid in building the Swan Haven, the city of Alqualonde for King Olwe. (Ai! Alas for, the horror that befell that friendship, for the abomination of Teleri blood spilt by the Noldor, by my family!) But, at the time I would write of, work had been undertaken amongst the Aulenduri of crafting the most impressive of the gems into fine jewellery. There was to be a gift of one friend to another, a gift from Finwe to Olwe; and to see what progress my father had 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 some lightness of heart back to our queen,” she had whispered. “Look to the needs of the Lady Miriel, as will I. For I fear that she may be beyond cheering, and, valiant though her heart is, she is without strength or joy.”
So young I was, so innocent of the world about me! To me, life was joy: the pursuit of knowledge, delight in creating, wandering this Blessed Realm in wonder at the gifts given to us. The visit of Queen Miriel altered my naive perceptions somewhat.
As the king’s party dismounted from the horses and approached our house, I had made to stand near the door of the main hall, by my mother, to await the formal introduction. My first sight of the king, at the head of the group, was of a tall, lithe figure, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, whose hair of silken black fell loose to his waist. Garbed was he in a tunic of white, embroidered with thread of silver and gold, that hung loose from the belt at his waist, over pale grey trousers. That leather belt was embossed with silver and sapphires; grey leather boots were upon his feet and a plain silver circlet upon his brow. Never had I seen a lord I thought to be so dignified, so commanding! But it was his eyes, thoughtful, powerful blue-grey eyes, which drew my attention – at least until I noticed the lady at his side. No doubt at all was there that lady was his queen, for it was to her those blue-grey eyes most frequently glanced, and with the light of love in their depths.
Though my mother had oft spoke to me of Miriel, this was my first sight of her. She was slender and delicate of form for a Noldo; though most regal in demeanour and beautiful to behold. Her hair, confined in a net of small opals, was unusual in colour, like unto shimmering silver. Grey was she of eye: with a pale, oval face, full curved lips and elegantly winged brows. The sapphire blue gown that she wore that day was overworked with elaborate silver designs amongst which were set further gems. And it was whispered by Failie, who stood behind me, that Miriel had made the designs herself! A queen she was, embroidering her own gowns! But then, there were never any who could compete with Miriel Þerendë in finesse of hand at embroidery.
Yet weary did Queen Miriel look, and it seemed to me that her heart was heavy indeed. Never had I seen an Elda of more exquisite nobility; never had I seen one so devoid of sweet life. She stood at the side of her lord and spoke softly to all of those who greeted her. But before my father had finished his introductions or could escort the king and queen to our great hall, she drew aside. Asking leave of her lord and then gesturing for her ladies to leave her be, she walked out of the entrance hall towards the gardens. My mother nodded to me, and we both followed discreetly. Was this not what my mother had feared would come to pass? So we were not to speak with King Finwe, nor hear the exchange concerning the progress of the gifts for Olwe, my mother and I. Neither were we to hear Finwë’s long account to my father of his pleasure in the fast growing skills of his beloved son, 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 Finwe would ask of him to instruct his son, to encourage and tutor him further in those skills of Aule that Feanaro loved dearly. Though my father would have done whatever Finwe asked of him, he was not overly enthused about having the strong willed, hot-tempered prince as an apprentice. How matters do change, and yet change again!)
“You need not be concerned. I will but take a short rest here, for the fragrance of your garden is a pleasing tonic unto me.”
The beautifully delicate enunciation of Miriel greeted us as we rounded the corner of the walled pleasance. 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 it seemed she would have no unnecessary ceremony from Taurlote.
Confident of their relationship, my mother spoke familiarly in response. “I am concerned for you, Miriel,” said she, taking a seat in the bower opposite our guest. “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, if you will but so permit?”
Miriel smiled faintly. But then she fixed her brilliant eyes upon me that I could see of the stubborn strength within her fea. Weak in body, 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. What I desire must wait yet awhile,” she mused. Then, breaking the intensity of her gaze upon me, she turned again to address my mother. “And who is this, Taurlote? Your daughter, I believe?”
“Yes; forgive me, my queen and my friend. This is my daughter: Nerdanel.” My mother spoke with a pride that warmed me, bringing a smile to my face. I had nothing to be ashamed of, to be concerned for. Miriel was kindness itself, and she smiled back at me in a thoughtful manner.
“Such rare colouring! Her hair is of a most unusual brown, and seems to have the odd streak of red lurking in its depths. I have not noticed such hair colour before,” she observed.
“Has that not oft been said of you, Miriel? Most rare is silver hair amongst the Noldor.”
“[I]Unknown[/I] is red in hair amongst the Eldar, save for your husband, Taurlote” Míriel countered immediately.
My mother smiled at having drawn so swift a response. “Nerdanel has the colouring of her father, it is true, though of a far more muted tone. The glint of redness is only lit to flame in the full light of Laurelin.” She raised a hand to stroke my hair as if it were something most precious to her. Then she continued. “And that is not all she has inherited from Urundil. She has skill and strength with stonework that makes him proud, though it is a little unusual in a wende to have such interests.”
Now did I colour with emotion as was my nature, and I was concerned that the hue of my face was matching the red glints in my hair. Strong emotions were always hard for me to hide; one had but to look to my complexion to see what I felt in my heart. But, high lady though she was, Miriel did not seem to find this unbecoming. She appeared to behold me with ever more esteem.
“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 Finwe, and we could be excused yet awhile.
“I will help, if I can, my queen!” I brought Miriel’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 to what that response would lead.
“Craft something for me – a sculpture, something from stone that I may admire. Make me something of life and of joy that is from your own thoughts, and I will gift you in return.”
I was startled at the request, as well as her generous offer of a gift. How could I make something fitting? Miriel 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. I will start straight away!”
Miriel laughed openly, a sweetly musical sound that brought more animation to her face than I had previously seen. She was so very 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 as she spoke for and to me. “Indeed there shall be. And my daughter shall be part of it, though she would prefer to be studying, or out wandering in the hills.”
Miriel nodded thoughtfully, but there was a strange look in her eyes. “All to the good.” she whispered, and leaned forward to me. “But life is for happiness 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. [I]My[/I] gift you may not have, I think, until you are full grown. Though it will be something most precious,” she added enigmatically.
We took a stroll around the garden, through the varied flowers, the trees of the orchard and across the stepping-stones that led to my favourite grotto, and we spoke of other matters. Soon enough, we returned to join the main party. Finwe was to surprise his wife with a necklace that my father had forged in secret, on the king’s instructions. Sapphires and diamonds shone brilliantly in a setting of finely wrought silver, creating an illusion of stars in a darkened sky. Miriel smiled, thanking 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, Nerdanel, and care for it well, when you receive it. For I shall not make its like again.”
‘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 queen’s esteem for me.’
I never saw her again. Miriel died! And her gift? It was not embroidery!
– – – – – – –
All years are Valinorian years
Moringotho – Morgoth
Aulenduri – Servants of Aule
Hina – Child
wende – girl, young she-Elf
Regarding Nerdanel’s hair colour: I can’t find an exact reference to her hair, though in ‘The Shibboleth of Feanor’ The Peoples of Middle-Earth it says Carnistir had dark brown hair and the ruddy complexion of his mother. I assume from the manner in which this is phrased that she did not have dark brown hair. In The Shibboleth it also says that the first and last of Nerdanel’s children (Maitimo and the twins) had the reddish hair of her kin. (p353) (Not necessarily her!) Of her father, Urundil, it is said ‘ His hair was not as dark or black as was that of most of the Noldor, but brown, and had glints of coppery-red in it.’ (p336)
In ‘The problem of Ros’ The Peoples of Middle-Earth> it says ‘…referring to red, red-brown hair of the first, sixth and seventh sons of Feanor, descending to them from their maternal grandfather, father of Nerdanel, Feanor’s wife, a great craftsman, devoted to Aulë.’. (p368)
There is the issue of the epesse given to Urundil of ‘rusco’, meaning ‘fox’, and, of course Russandol, ‘copper-top’ for Maitimo. The twins name, Ambarussa, is given as ‘top-russet’.
I have also been told that in the work ‘Vinya Tengwar: 41′ it is stated that Nerdanel has brown hair.
From all of this I am writing as if her hair is a medium brown with some red / copper glints in it. I am assuming that Maitimo and the younger of the twins have Urundil’s colouring. The elder twin is said to grow darker in hair colouring as he grows older. (p355)
Saying all this, I am no expert on Tolkien or on Quenya, so I could well be wrong.
References from HoME 12 The Peoples of Middle-Earth J.R.R. Tolkien. ed C. Tolkien. HarperCollins.
Regarding Míriel’s hair colour, it says in ‘The Later Quenta Silmarillion’ Morgoth’s Ring, that her hair was like silver. It also says that Feanor in childhood was like his mother in voice and countenance. In all the references I can find, Feanor has raven-dark hair. Finwe is recorded in notes to ‘The Shibboleth of Feanor’ as having black hair and brilliant blue-grey eyes.