Indis meets Nerdanel and responds to her. References to: Noldorin society in Valinor during the Years of the Trees, sons, husbands, art, family dynamics and dysfunctionality, even a brief mention (non-graphic) of childbirth/labor. Started a while ago, but finished at this time in response to the legendarium ladies april event on Tumblr.
1. The First Time I Saw Her by oshun
She had not been what I had expected at all. Many said that she was not especially pretty, mannish in appearance even, and had no interest in feminine pursuits at all. She was, however, a master smith and already acquiring acclaim as the preeminent young sculptor of the Noldor. What did people think such an accomplished young woman should spend her time doing? Swapping recipes for lembas and gossiping about her husband. Knowing Fëanáro, he probably had her sworn to secrecy anyway—trade secrets, of course, and internal family matters as well.
Actually, I thought Nerdanel was striking at first sight. I had been told she was a redhead. I had pictured an orangish color, one of the shades that is usually accompanied by a pale complexion and washed-out blue eyes, blond eyebrows and lashes—you can imagine the type, an almost rabbity look. Instead, her hair was a rich, dark red, mixed with brown and gold, and there was a wild mass of it. As a girl I always dreamed of having thick curly hair like hers. Mine was straight and as smooth as silk, a typical Vanyarin gold. We always envy what we do not have, don’t we?
Her eyebrows formed a lovely natural arch, although she did not pluck them at all. The look suited her face, but also could be seen as a desire to make a statement—I cannot be bothered with such nonsense as tweezing my brows. I have far too many important things to do and think about. But if that had been her intent, her manner belied it. She clearly had not been schooled in courtly etiquette, but carried herself with unconscious grace and innate modesty.
Fëanáro doubtless had been attracted to her natural beauty. He loved to complain about noble women and artifice, as though he were not as vain as a peacock himself, if not about his appearance, then certainly his capabilities. Nerdanel’s eyes were large, passionate and intelligent, a varicolored hazel, changing from grey to green, depending upon the lighting and the reflections of surrounding colors. They were fringed by heavy black lashes. Mannish was the last thing to occur to me when I looked at her. Not only did she have an impressive bosom, but a small waist, full hips and womanly thighs. Her arms were strong and well-muscled.
“You’re not at all what I expected.” I said without thinking.
“Is that good or bad?” she asked, grinning.
“Good, of course. But now that I’ve met you, I cannot really say what I thought you would be like.”
“You aren’t either. I mean, not what I imagined. Well, I was certain you would be beautiful. But you seem much warmer, less formal than I might have thought.”
That made me laugh and she smiled with me, revealing two deep dimples on either side of her generous mouth. I thought of asking. ‘Not the wicked usurper of his mother’s place?’ But I knew better than to say that. “There is a nursery down the hall. Just across from the rooms we’ve made ready for you and Fëanáro. It once belonged to Fëanáro and later to his brothers. I’ve spent a lot of happy hours there. Would you like me to show it to you?” I asked.
She nodded, keen with interest. “I really would. Maitimo could use a space of his own—somewhere to play and keep his books. Although, Fëanáro does like him to sleep in the same bed with us.”
“Nonsense!” I said, before I could stop myself. “So sorry, dear. I cannot presume to tell either of you how to raise your child, but I did make that mistake with Nolo. Had a terrible time later getting him to finally sleep in his own room. But never mind me. I wouldn’t dream of saying such a thing to him.”
“I know exactly what you mean about that. I pick my battles as well! But still we argue a lot.” She let out a soft, self-deprecating chuckle.
I could easily imagine that. A woman would have to argue with Fëanáro or he would swallow her whole, spit out the bones, and then wonder afterwards what had happened. I did not know her then, but even at that first meeting, with so few words having passed between us, I had the impression that this young woman could fight him. That made me happy; I wanted Fëanáro to find someone who could love him, but who would stand up to him. Otherwise, he would be miserable and I did not want that for him and certainly not for Finwë, who still worried about his eldest son.
We walked from the public area of the palace, through the double doors leading into the family quarters, with the household guard snapping to attention as we passed. She tried but failed to entirely suppress a grin. Not comfortable amidst the grandeur of the palace, neither did she allow it to diminish her in any way. She appeared solidly grounded within herself.
“Oh, look,” she said, transparently pleased, stopping in front of the large abstract sculpture of varicolored hues of bluish-grey marble sitting on a tall oak wood base, just inside of the doorway.
“I must tell you, Nerdanel, and Finwë will confirm it. We did not put that there to flatter you. It has been in that exact spot for over three years now. We fell in love with it that year at the Annual Sculpture Exhibition in the city center. We had no idea who you were then.”
“But I am flattered. They told me the buyer wished to remain anonymous. I always wondered who wanted it. My less representational pieces do not sell often.”
“It was very well reviewed, however.”
“Admired but not liked!” She said with a wry grin.
“We love to argue about it. Finwë thinks it represents an aspect of nature. I find something human about it. Now that I have the esteemed artist here, I insist that you tell me what it’s supposed to be.”
Another broad smile lit her lovely face, causing her eyes to crinkle and tinting her cheeks pink. “Nothing actually. Although, I did fancy at the time that it might show nobility of spirit.” She snorted and blushed harder. “I was a lot a younger then. I made it nearly four years ago. Don’t tell Fëanáro. He believes it’s him, thinking--pondering the mysteries of Eä, no doubt.” We both giggled at poor Fëanáro’s expense. “That was around the time we first began to notice one another in a different way. It was just too funny when he asked me. I couldn't bring myself to tell him it wasn't intended to be anything in particular, much less his glorious self.” She could always laugh at herself and poke fun at the foibles of others without a speck of meanness in it. “He does have a wonderful spirit, although not always an entirely noble one. And he is much prettier than that particular piece of rock. I'm so happy you like it.”
We chortled together, like accomplices. “You must think I am terribly disloyal,” she said. “Really I am not.”
“I think you are lovely, funny and full of life. I am very happy I’ll have the opportunity to get to know you better.”
“Thank you, your Highness.”
“Please, just ‘Indis.’ We’re family.”
“Oh, thank you so much,” she crooned, enchanting in her candor.
“Here is the nursery. Or would you rather see your suite first?”
“Let’s look at the nursery. I’ll let Fëanáro show me our rooms. He says that suite belonged to him before and that you and Finwë had it refurbished and painted. He was actually very pleased.”
“Oh, good. I thought he might enjoy having his old rooms back. For all of his adventuring, he has always liked the familiar.” I sighed. Maybe she didn’t know how vulnerable he could be. It was not my place to raise that if she did not.
“It’s wonderful,” she cried out. “Like a wonderland.”
“It was a somewhat dingy, well-used wonderland only a few weeks ago. But, as soon as we heard you were coming, I sorted everything and tossed out any irredeemably damaged toys, ordered new bed clothing made, had it painted and put up new curtains. Do you think he will like it?” It was a nursery fit for a palace, but still had a homey air.
“He’ll love it!”
She was a craftsman’s daughter, which among Finwë’s people could mean many different things. Her father had a huge reputation. Aulë himself had recommended that Fëanáro try for an apprenticeship with him and his acceptance had not been assured simply because he was Finwë’s son either. I had asked about the family then and heard that Mahtan cared nothing for wealth, that any surplus he accumulated he poured back into his work. I did not think Nerdanel had been raised in luxury. Comfort certainly, but her manner and lack of pretense did not speak of coddling or an acquisitive nature either.
Walking to the play area--there was space enough for children to run and jump--she admired the easel and paint pots, the large and smaller building blocks, the child-sized table and chairs. She touched the large rocking horse with appreciation. I had patched him up as well, with a coat of paint and a new saddle, a fresh mane of real horse hair. 'Pony,' the boys had called him, showing none of the originality of their older brother.
“What a magnificent horse. He looks new. Did you and Finwë find him for Maitimo?”
“Ah, no. The books are mostly new, however.” I pointed to the long red-lacquered bookshelf. “Boys are very hard on books. The horse belonged to Ara. I tried to make him look respectable again. I did the work myself. Not up to Noldorin standards I suspect. But Finwë and the boys insisted it is passable.”
“It’s perfect! I love his speckled coat. Maitimo will adore him. Did Prince Arafinwë name him?”
“Pony.” I snorted and she made a tender 'aww' sound in her throat. The freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheekbones stood out as we moved into the full light of Laurelin pouring in through the tall windows, showing as I suspected earlier that she wore not a hint of powder or lip rouge.
“I like that name--it's an honest child’s name for a horse. This truly is a nursery fit for princes. I've always imagined he had everything growing up that any child could dream of. But he doesn’t like to talk about it. He wants so badly to be accepted purely for himself. While on the other hand, he can be so prideful . . . ”
“That’s our Fëanáro. A mass of contradictions.”
She swiveled to look at the other side of the chamber. The tapestry caught her unawares. She gasped and covered her mouth with one hand. Her reaction was not dissimilar to what my own had been. “Oh, Indis!” There are no words adequate to describe it. “It’s magic,” she whispered.
“It truly is,” I responded, meaning that quite literally. “It never fades.”
Its colors glittered as bright and startling as they had the first time I had laid eyes upon it. A tropical forest, rendered in every imaginable shade of green, was sprinkled with gold and silver thread as though the scene had been captured at the mingling of the lights. Fantastical animals of purple, orange, pink, blue and scarlet, some with elongated necks, or heads surrounded by star-shaped ruffs, or eyes the size of dinner plates, striped or spotted, rough or smooth of coat, all played or fought with other equally outlandish creatures. One could also find in the densely-figured scene nearly every known bird or beast, minuscule or impossibly gigantic in size. In the dark shadows of the lush background menacing yellow eyes glinted and red maws gaped.
Orchestrating all of this movement was the figure of a beautiful boy, still with the rounded sturdiness of a toddler, hands raised his over his head, laughing and confident. When I first laid eyes upon it, after marveling at the technique, I could not decide if I should be delighted or appalled. But Fëanáro loved it and when he moved out of the nursery, he ostentatiously left it in the care of his younger brothers, solemnly instructing them to enjoy it and care for it until they all had children of their own with whom to share it. Nolo and Ara became equally attached to the tapestry. They loved to invent stories about the boy and the animals, or introduce entirely new characters from their own imaginations. On rainy afternoons, they would sit on the floor in front of it and search by the hour for previously unseen, half-hidden figures.
“Finwë found it in her workshop after she went to Lórien. She sent him there, saying she had left a gift for Fëanáro. He says that he believes it must have been her last work. It’s as though she wanted to put everything she could still reach of herself into it after she could no longer bear to be touched or be around either of them. As though she tried to pour into this one piece everything she would never be able to give him.“
“If you think it might be over-stimulating or even frightening . . . If it bothers you, we could move it. Unless Fëanáro objects.”
“It’s fine really. It’s exquisite. A treasure. I'm c ertain Fëanáro will want to keep it here. And Maitimo is fearless and insatiable in his curiosity. I expect he will love it also. But I have never seen anything written about it, or any sketches. I’ve sought out books about Míriel. You can just imagine.”
“Finwë never wanted to share it. I think he felt it was somehow too personal.“
“No filter,” she said. “The dark and the light mixed together, unpredictably.” She closed her mouth with deliberation, as though she had wanted to say more and was determined not to.
Everything always came back around to Míriel in this family. But then surely, Nerdanel must have guessed that. I wanted to change the subject, but did not want to do so in such a way as would make her feel I was trying to distract or deflect her from anything she might want to ask or share.
Still studying the tapestry, she said, “It’s a lot to absorb at one time. It’s probably more unsettling for adults than it is for children.” Turning from the picture to look at me, she released a long sigh and smiled. It occurred to me at that moment, that she knew Fëanáro better than I did and that there was no need for me to try to present anything in a softer light for her.
“So tell me more about you.” Enough Míriel for the moment, I thought.
“I have questions too. I have read your essays about . . .”
“Oh, no, Nerdanel. You first. I am playing the role of inquiring mother-in-law today. Is it true what they say, that you gave birth in the wilderness?”
She laughed again. In those days, Nerdanel laughed a lot. “More or less. We did find a cabin on the edge of a wood, a few weeks before he was due to be born. But, he was early or we miscounted, so Fëanáro delivered him.” She raised her chin in a gesture of defensiveness, as though she expected criticism. The horrible things he must have told her about my supposed intolerance, I thought.
“Oh, my. How brave of you,” I said, meaning it with all my heart. None of my deliveries had been what could be called difficult, but giving birth to a child is no afternoon stroll in the garden either. It is a major event in a woman’s life, wholly animalistic and brutal. Overwhelming at best and painful and terrifying at worst.
There is a good reason to call it labor. It is not a passive undertaking. Many wear motherhood with great pride, demanding respect, as well they should. But the actual act of bringing forth a child into the light leaves room for very little dignity. One sweats and labors, loses patience and swears at one’s husband or a long-suffering healer or midwife, pushing and straining, or trying to do so at the wrong time and harm the baby or oneself. There is nothing grand about lying on one’s back, with one private parts uncovered to the world. Concerned strangers or friends peer earnestly between one’s legs while giving one impossible instructions.
But I do miss the baby days. The smell of a newly bathed, oiled and powered infant, the tug of his mouth upon one’s breast while he makes those snuffling, contented noises. There was nothing else to compare with those sweet, toothless smiles and the adoring gaze, as though one, instead of Varda, had hung the stars in the sky expressly for him. But I will never miss carrying a child, lumbering about with swollen ankles and a bloated abdomen, being hungry all the time and told to watch one’s weight, and, finally, at the end, suffering terrible heartburn whenever one tries to eat.
No woman can honestly say she looks back fondly on childbirth though. Stories of linking one’s mind with one’s beloved in serene rapport during labor and delivery had no place in my experience. Finwë was petrified. As well he should have been from his previous experience with Míriel. The last place I wanted to be was inside of his head. I did want him there with me, to hold his hand, to complain to him about the healers or how uncomfortable I was, to ask for water or ice. It was better the second time, marginally.
“Well, I suppose if I had to give birth to a child without the aid of healers or at least one wise woman skilled in such matters, I cannot think of another man I would feel more comfortable of trusting with such a task.” Whatever, his emotional problems were, Fëanáro could be eerily competent. The look of surprise on Nerdanel’s face immediately transformed into a relieved smile.
“No one is cleverer,” I blundered on, trying to explain myself. “And his hands must be both strong and gentle for the work he does.” She blushed prettily. She clearly was still in the first throes of her obsession with the boy, if the mere mention of his hands made her think of the act of love. Not so surprising though, I thought. His father had that skill as well. Whatever his faults, Finwë certainly knew how to touch a woman.
“Thank you for not scolding. My parents threw a fit when they heard what we had done. My mother, in particular.”
“Oh, we won’t scold. We are just so happy you are here and safe. And thrilled you intend to stay for a while. Fëanáro really should not have let months at time pass without sending his father any messages. There is nowhere in Aman that is more than a day’s ride from a mail coach route.”
She tried to look regretful, but her eyes smiled. “Well, you have me to remind him in the future, or since I feel I know you now and am comfortable, I can report to the two of you myself.”
I could not help but laugh. “That is a relief. Although, it’s not my place to dictate anything to either of you. After all, as Fëanáro is quick to remind me, I am not his mother. Although, I certainly have tried. I am not the wicked usurper he sometimes makes me out to be either.” I had finally done it, mentioned the elephant in the room.
“I never believed that,” she said. “My father says that in the Outer Lands, when people lost their partners, they married again. In time they recovered and remembered their first partner more with bittersweet affection than crippling grief. On the other hand, he also told us that children who lose their mothers never entirely recover. He says that it leaves a hole in their heart.”
More like a gaping chasm that could never be wholly filled by anything or anyone in the case of her young husband. I feared for her, but in those days still hoped for the best, although even then caution partially occluded my optimism. “Finwë tells me that Master Mahtan is a demanding mentor, but that he is fond of Fëanáro. And that your mother the Mistress Istarnië treats him kindly as well.”
“Before Fëanáro came, Atar warned my sisters and I to be kind and welcoming to him. My mother says I took him much too literally.”
“He has been known to use the motherless child routine to his advantage.” She giggled at that.
“I don’t think he did that with Atar. I think he tried hard to appear very mature. Atar says that Fëanáro is the most brilliant apprentice he ever had or ever will have. And Fëanáro loves and admires him. That always opens one’s heart, don’t you think? My mother spoiled him terribly also. They might have wished we had waited to begin having children. Perhaps until at least one of us had come of age.” She grimaced. “I’m a year older than him, you know.”
“Don’t worry about us,” I rushed to assure her. “We’re well over all of that here. How could anyone look at little Nelyafinwë and retain any regrets? No doubt Fëanáro deliberately gave us ample time to adjust to the idea also.”
Still, I felt a pang of envy for the smith and his wife, despite the fact that I had long let go of any dream I ever had of becoming closer to Fëanáro. This vibrant young woman seemed open to forming a bond with me. That would have to be enough and was more than I had allowed myself to imagine.
I heard them talking in the hallway before they entered the room--Finwë’s deep boom, the pleasant melodious timbre of Fëanáro’s voice, and tiny Nelyafinwë’s flutelike piping. Despite his dulcet tones, the little lad sounded far older in cadence and syntax than a child who has yet to reach his third year.
“This, Nelyo, is your kingdom,” Finwë said, encompassing the entire room with a broad sweeping gesture of his arm, “to do with as you will.”
I regretted that Nerdanel and I had been interrupted when we were. But I felt contented, reassured. Nerdanel and I would have time, months at least, maybe years, before they left Tirion again. I thought she would be good for him and I hoped for the rest of us as well. I still believe I was right on both counts.
Ignoble Bard Beta-read this piece and once more I very much appreciate his patience and support.
I would like to thank Erunyauve for suggesting the name for Nerdanel’s mother. Istarnië is an earlier name for Nerdanel which Tolkien had abandoned (Morgoth's Ring, "Part Three. The Later Quenta Silmarillion: (II) The Second Phase: Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor.") It has the additional advantage of having been used for her in fanfiction before.
Sorting out those pesky names in Quenya:
Ara – Finarfin’s nickname, from Arafinwë in Quenya.
Nolo – nickname for Fingolfin, from Nolofinwë in Quenya.
Maedhros – is called Maitimo (his mother-name in Quenya), Nelyafinwë (his father name in Quenya, meaning third Finwë, Fëanor insuring with this appellation that there is no question of the order of succession), and the nickname Nelyo is used also.
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