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Exile to Exile, for dawn_felagund, by Elleth

Author name: Elleth
Recipient's name: Dawn Felagund
Title: Exile to Exile
Rating: PG
Request: A story set during the Time of the Trees or the First Age about friendship between two (or more!) women of the House of Finwë. I hope this fits the bill.
Beta: Shadowbrides, thank you so much for jumping in last-minute. ♥
Summary: After the Darkening not nearly all past resentments are extinguished, and Nerdanel begins to receive comfort from an unexpected source – and give some in return.


Exile to Exile

The spearmen marched in high relief, row upon row, across the slab of marble.

Nerdanel put aside the buffing cloth and straightened, willing down the dizziness that told her she had worked too long on the frieze without a rest for food or drink – indeed, she did not remember the sun rising over the construction site in the morning, nor her setting the night before. It was not the first occurence of this kind nor, Nerdanel suspected, would it be the last. Most of her fellow workers avoided her, and even the Aulenduri among them who knew her and bore her no grudge for the most part adhered to the dynamics of the group – she was and remained a pariah, the mother and wife of kinslayers and rebels, not someone to remind of the closing of the kitchens or even wake from immersion into what was, by and large, menial work to an artist of her skill. If cooperation became necessary for this project or that, conversation remained professional with little room for companionship.

Still, Nerdanel did not complain: She had chosen to work on the defenses in the Calacirya. That, at least, put her skills to use in a field where she faced less reproach than as counsellor by Indis' side in the new-founded assembly in Tirion. Her ideas brought forward there had been shouted down with - at times - perverse delight, and by the very nature of the new rules its members could do so with relative impunity, beyond Indis calling the lords old and new to order and civility.

Truly, nothing had changed very much since before the Darkening.

She felt a muscle twist in her cheek, an involuntary sneer that made her glad she was alone in the room. All that might have been bearable, and indeed she had borne it without ill comment, until her ideas had been repeated back at her by other voices, and been accepted with cheer and applause. Indis had sighed and looked at her with pity, and after some hushed consultation decided to pass the motions – after all, Nerdanel insisted, the re-ordering of Tirion would benefit from it and the protection of Aman rather than her personal pride were at stake... and that lord's triumph was a bitter one when Indis reminded the assembly that a wool-merchant, while plying an honourable and important trade, was hardly qualified to propose architectural designs of such importance, so that the project best be left in the hands of the Aulenduri families, who would be certain to deliver unsurpassable results.

When Nerdanel had departed the city to her parents' estate in the plain, bearing a letter with Indis' golden sigil, Mahtan had folded her in his arms for comfort, and laughed his great booming laugh to hear of Mámandur's misfortune. Preparations had begun almost immediately, and Nerdanel had found little time to regret, or even much time to think of the past – both the cruel and the kind. And after delivering the first set of tools needed, she had decided to remain and see the project to the end.

The dizzy spell passed, and she uncurled her fingers from the table to take the lampstone – evening was falling swiftly, and little sunlight still spilled through the pass when Arien westered, now that walls crowned the highest point of the erstwhile Cleft of Light. Above the sea, visible through the great door of her studio, stars were already glinting into view, and below the mountains at the very edge of sight to the north, Alqualondë followed suit.

Bile rose, thick and bitter, in Nerdanel's throat. It was only to be expected that she would feel nauseous after going without food for too long, but at that view, her hunger vanished to leave only emptiness gnawing at her stomach. She hastily stepped from the studio into the front room of her hut, mercifully without a window. It held the entrance, a rickety table and two chairs, and not much of a purpose except to house her papers and construction plans, and the door to her seldom-used cot. That, at the very least, seemed very tempting, and very nearly she turned away until an irregularity of light brushing over her table caught her eye.

A gleam of silver.

Not just any gleam, neither a reflection on a coin or a pencil's graphite: A silver seal of wax on an unmarked envelope – and the impression in the middle that would bear a ring's stamp, empty.

She turned the letter over in her hands, finding nothing but the smooth envelope, unmarked by any inscription or clue to the sender's identity. Perhaps Anairë, who had bested her reservations not long ago, and ridden to Alqualondë to reside with Eärwen if she wanted to have her, perhaps Eärwen herself, and the empty sigil a sign of grief? Both bore silver in their colours, and Nerdanel was strangely reluctant to break the seal, although – surely, if it were official, it would have been delivered with pomp and fanfare to bring her to justice; that at the very least would have sent the workers flocking to her door.

But no, surely... Nerdanel lifted the letter to her nose, and – nothing. No perfume that might hint at the writer, nor any odour of salt, as there surely must have been, had it come from Alqualondë, and indeed once she had pressed Eärwen's letters to her face and breathed deeply in expectation of this festival or that banquet in her town, almost hearing the sea murmuring against the rock beneath her balcony --

-- it was not from Alqualondë. There was nothing for it; Nerdanel wiped her eyes and broke the seal.

To Istarnië Nerdanel Mahtaniel, greetings, said the first column, slanting down the page in mirrored Sarati, stitched upon the paper like a pattern in needle-fine pen-strokes. Nerdanel knew to read them, had still learned it in her youth, and was quietly thankful for it lest she would need to find a loremaster to share her letter with.

From the halls of Vairë the Weaver Míriel the Therindë sends her kindest wishes. You may wonder why in all of Eä it would be I to write you, and in such unexpected manner, but undoubtedly you know of my task, to weave the deeds and fates of the House of Finwë into tapestries.

You belong to the House of Finwë also, Mahtaniel though you are, and wiser than most to reject their exile in favour of your own. But it is true, also, that there is now no fate without sorrow for those who are bound up within the family. Such threads are not easily cut – not, at least, through the death I know you felt within yourself before the news came of Fëanáro's burning, and as such you are under my eye and protection, and never before have I seen you so sorrowing. I saw you grieve my son's death, but that at least was honest. Now the tapestry spins black about you with no star to light it, in a mist of self-deception and false endurance that shall swallow you, and send you to places I know well indeed, unless you are honest with yourself.

I would not see you there. There are tasks before you yet, for your thread still shifts and changes upon my loom, and I cannot yet see where it will lead (nor would I be permitted to tell you, for the Lady Vairë is a rightly jealous guardian of her patterns), but this at least I was allowed to write.


Nerdanel let the letter sink in suddenly weakening fingers – a buffing cloth might be too heavy - and again her head was spinning. The paper fluttered to the floor and how it was that she woke in her bed the following morning to the foreman's horn-blast, clad in her sleeping-shift but with one boot still upon her foot, she did not remember. If there had ever been a letter – the silver wax seal broken upon the table spelled out that there must have been – there was no saying where it had gone. Vaguely, she thought of a length of tapestry unravelling under silver fingers.

* * *

To Istarnië Nerdanel, my greetings, said the letter. The script was the same as before, mirrored in the finest skill of hand Nerdanel had seen, or could remember. It reminded her of Fëanáro, meticulous in the attention to the smallest detail of the inside of a silver-wire armband threaded with jewels to give the impression of beetles' wings for a member of the Coiviengolmor guild, then newly ascended to her office and since departed over the sea, but there was a patience and measure to Míriel's script that set it apart.

I have spun much black around you in those past days, and often it seemed as though your feet were ensnared in it as one who walks across a field of tangled grass and all forward motion will lead her only ever deeper, until the grass grows tall as reeds and slings about her entirely. Do not bear me ill will for these ill words. It is my task to depict, not to make fates, for that is well beyond the greatest of the Eldar at least where it concerns power over others: I can counsel, but it is you who must either reject such words, or accept them. I worry for you, Nerdanel, with the voice of your husband's mother foremost (such a mother as I was; your motherhood exceeded mine by far), but I worry also in the voices of those that you hold dear, and those who hold you dear. There are not a few who would see your face. You are not as unloved as you think, even if those about you lack the most basic compassion.

Therefore I will counsel you more clearly this time, Nerdanel: depart from the Calacirya. There are hands enough to build walls for those who need them, and such a time (it will certainly come, for the Valar would not have such immense labour expended in vain) is yet so far hence that not even my threads spell it out. The walls about yourself are thick enough. There is no need to embellish or beautify them, for there is much strength to be seen in such a display of your mind already, but the decision to take them into service – lies with you.


Nerdanel clucked her tongue, and laid the letter on the table, resting her head heavily in her hands. After the first letter she had half begun to believe that it had been some cruel prank of the other workers, but it beggared belief that any among them would be so callous to pretend to be Míriel Serindë without fearing repercussions, and none of the faces she recalled from recent days had been any more closed or guarded to her than they had been, nor unusually open. There were lies aplenty, but none in particular to regard her at this point.

There was nothing more in the letter, ended without ceremony, but the envelope held another single sheet of paper that bore no marks or traces of any kind, and with a frown, Nerdanel put her own quill to it.

To Míriel the Therindë, I offer my thanks and greetings, she wrote. The Sarati stuttered from her quill, long unused, and fell onto the paper. I mean no harm in asking, nor ingratitude. I only mean to be certain how to find that you are telling the truth. I do not believe that this is a cruel prank of sorts, but neither do I believe that you have ways to know this is the time I need counsel or guidance so dearly that it would merit interference from such high places. I ask only a token of proof.

Istarnië Nerdanel


She sealed the letter and set it on her table, resolving to find a bird the coming morning, for already the evening hush had fallen over the din of the camp, and rain was beginning to patter to earth. By the next morning, the letter was gone, and Nerdanel worked herself into a frenzy waiting for an answer.

* * *

The cloth shimmered like nothing alive.

Again Nerdanel thought of beetles' wings, but more than that it was like looking down upon a landscape with the eyes of eagles, so fine that no stitch could be discerned upon the cloth, and she was afraid to touch it. The day she had spent sanding until the marble gleamed in the same translucency as skin, but her hands were red and cracked, and a work so delicate would surely snatch and pull apart in her fingers.

Not that it would do much harm, for the image was wrong. It must be. There was no letter to accompany and explain the scene – across the leagues of ocean, all her sons assembled in a grey country by the shores of a lake, and the House of Nolofinwë – and Arafinwë's children – awaiting the supplicants.

Maitimo bore a crown in his hand – in his left hand only, the right gone to ruin, perhaps in some battle? She could not say. And there was Makalaurë, his hands both wound with those of a young woman with dark eyes, nearly still a girl, and on both their hands a glint of gold.

And it seemed to her, when her breath stirred the fabric, it shifted, and Nolofinwë rose a king, and the sun flamed into view golden behind distant mountains.

Her eyes filled with tears, and the weaving and all its colours bled into a single dark smear that she left lying among the torn envelope.

* * *

... and I revealed more than I should have at this time. The Lady Vairë permitted me to write to you again, but I may speak no more of matters from the world without that are not yet in the past for you – for, as you must know from Valmar, from Ilmarin, or from Lórien, or indeed from the halls of Aulë, the Ainur may be bend time to their wills, and it is no different here. How else could I perceive and spin the turns of all your lives?

I pray that you bear me no ill will for taking the weaving from you again (I shall send another of less precarious nature for a gift when my work permits me), but my heart is glad that you believe me now, even while no one could be more appalled than I to have caused you such grief. It was never in my intention, indeed I had thought to send happy tidings, for you and your family at the very least, but it has been long since I have been among other living – even other incarnates, and it has been longer since I spoke to one as closely as to you, and my views may be strange: the Valar love us in their way, but there is among them, always, a kind of incomprehension of our limits that makes them callous. The Lord Aulë perhaps least, for his dwelling among the Noldor and being closest to them in mind, but those that inhabit the more arcane domains of the Kingdom... cannot be borne without walls of my very own, nor can their tasks, and holding such wealth of knowledge in my hands I may in such little ways as the Eldar may, have become like them.

When I saw you ask, among your weeping, what right I had to deliver first such accusations and then such tidings to you, I, who has chosen exile from life itself not once but twice – I realize now that I have none. But perhaps I understand better than you may believe me – and to believe me, or not, that choice remains your right still.


Nerdanel sat long in thought, half thinking to crumple the paper and feed it to the brazier to watch it fall to ash, but in the end she reached for the sheet of blank paper that Míriel included and vanished overnight. She had thought to ask about the mechanism, but there were more pressing matters on her mind than simple curiosity, and her Sarati began to flow onto the page more evenly the longer she used them.

Míriel - both of us owe the other an apology, perhaps.

I will not apologize for weeping, for to see my children disowned of what birthright they held as the elder line of Finwë grieves me. The wisdom I am noted for makes a poor balm for a sting like this even as it tells me their abdication was just recompense for the deeds of Alqualondë and perhaps a better lot to them as the ages pass – if they pass for them in life, for blood must cry for blood, and it has been from Eärwen that I heard that none of my sons escaped the slaughter unstained.

It is my wish that you could have met my sons – or their father, as a youth and as a father himself – to better understand why I keep them in my heart even now, for all my anger and grief at them, and my shame and regrets. I do not say this to doubt your insight or the accuracy of your work, and I will admit without shame that I have no clear understanding of what and how much you see – you see deeply, if your first letters are any indication for your sight.

And with your existence (I dare not say
life without reservations, and for this I do offer my apologies) as it has been, your suitability to your task is evident. History unrolled as it must, as a shuttle in a weaver's hand might, and perhaps was – whether that weaver was the lady Vairë, or yourself, or an interplay of many strands guided by many hands. If not for one matter: You, like the Valar, are looking upon life from the outside for a large part, by your own admission.

Here, therefore is my offer: I will take your advice and depart from here – whether I return from this exile to Tirion and Indis, or to my father's house, I will try to gather up the shreds and pieces of me that fell away and dismantle the walls I built, and in exchange attempt to imbue with life and explain such as I may things I know you have not experienced yourself and will not in the halls of Vairë, and perhaps lift your exile in a small way, myself.

Istarnië Nerdanel


* * *

Epilogue

Last of Nerdanel's garments, a simple green dress came from the clothes-chest, folded carefully and wrapped in protective paper. She passed a hand over the material, torn at the seam of one arm and frayed at the hem, and made for a much younger woman than she was, and laid it on her bed – it might still fit, barely, and would do well enough for planting a row of saplings to renew the hedge that marked the borders of her parents' estate against the pastures and farmlands around.

There came a knock at the door, and her mother entered, holding an envelope bearing a silver seal, and in the middle of the impression that had once been empty, now sat a spool of yarn unwinding. Nerdanel eagerly reached for it.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
dawn_felagund
Jan. 1st, 2014 03:53 pm (UTC)
Elleth, I loved this, as I knew I would. Being a mod on this group, I could see all the requests and claims and was very excited when I saw you'd claimed mine! :D Thank you so very much.

I loved the detail of Indis presiding over the assembly (and Nerdanel's involvement, however brief) and the image of her calling the lords to order. I am guilty of not thinking much about Indis and so have always fallen into the default assumption that she went back to Valmar after the Darkening, but I am intrigued by this more active version of her, who seems more than willing and able to claim her place as the queen.

I wanted to smack some of those cruel to Nerdanel, but her reactions--almost as if she were doing a type of penance, not only for herself but her kin--felt so right to me. Miriel's role as the one to jar her from this mindset was perfect. I don't see it anymore--I think the Tolkien fandom (at least where I play) has on a whole become more aware of gender issues--but I remember a prevalent view once upon a time that could be titled Pin the Blame on the Women of the Noldor. The fall of the Fëanorians was not really their fault ... oh no no. It's not as though, for example, that they chose covetousness or swore an oath or lifted swords against their kin. Rather, the fault lay with Miriel, Indis, and Nerdanel in varying degrees for their selfish decisions that harmed Fëanor in some way. /sarcasm

So I loved Miriel's insistence that Nerdanel not follow the same path as she, nor waste her talents in penance when she could better serve her people--and herself--otherwise.

The description of the weaving of Fingolfin's coronation was simply wonderful: One of those descriptions in good Tolkien fanfic that itself weaves art, history, and magic in such a delightful way.

Finally, I want to say how well I think you nailed Miriel's voice. Her own admission of callousness and distance from the concerns of the living shine through. Some authors can write in character's voices in such a way that I can almost hear that person speaking, and you have done that here.

Thank you again, Elleth! *hugs*
ladyelleth
Jan. 2nd, 2014 01:22 am (UTC)
Considering that the first word out of my mouth at "your recipient is Dawn Felagund" was a loud eeeep, because writing for an accomplished author set high standards for myself that I wasn't sure I'd be able to meet, I'm glad this didn't disappoint your excitement! Thank you so much for such a lovely, gracious review, Dawn. *hugs back!*

Indis as queen is an idea that appeals to me a lot - in this story Finarfin hasn't returned yet (there was a mention of him in an earlier draft, of Eönwë having brought the news that he was on his way back, but it shifted the focus from Nerdanel a little too much, and ended on the cutting room floor), and given the situations the various Finwëan ladies were in, Indis seemed to make the most sense to continue an office she already had - I'm happy that it works for you as well, despite a different idea.

Rather, the fault lay with Miriel, Indis, and Nerdanel in varying degrees for their selfish decisions that harmed Fëanor in some way.

I remember that time and that notion, and it was on my mind a lot while writing - and I suppose in ways it is an easy sentiment to arrive at, isn't it? I'm not saying it's fair or accurate - it's neither - but I'm thinking guilt by association would be a very strong sentiment in Valinor, especially since none of the guilty parties is still there to place blame on immediately (part of the reason why I removed Finarfin; he would bear similar brunt and that made Nerdanel's isolation and penance more tricky since he's equally innocent, and this Nerdanel isn't one to ignore that sort of injustice when it happens to others, or draw reflections from it).

I'm glad the rest worked for you as well - Míriel is a difficult character for me to write in some respects, because she has plenty of facets that are difficult to reconcile, but I'm glad her voice came through! :D *hugs again* Thank you again. Writing the story was a lot of fun, even if the process contained a lot of flailing, and your review made my day!
dreamflower02
Jan. 1st, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
This is so moving. I love the idea of Miriel writing to Nerdanel, and spurring her to move on with her life, and letting her know there is no need for penance for the poor decisions of the men in her life.
ladyelleth
Jan. 2nd, 2014 02:08 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I liked the idea a lot as well, and I'm glad the fic that resulted moved you. :)
engarian
Jan. 2nd, 2014 01:00 am (UTC)
This was fabulous! You just nailed the voices, the penance of Nerdanel, and having the voice from afar of Miriel - perfect choice, perfect vehicle. The epilogue with the unwinding yarn in the silver seal made me smile and have hope for both of their futures. Such an unlikely friendship, yet one so perfectly perceived. Bravo!

- Erulisse (one L)
ladyelleth
Jan. 2nd, 2014 02:09 am (UTC)
Thank you, OneL! When I saw the comment notification with your name, I thought that this might be a fic that would appeal to you, and I'm happy it was, in so many ways. :)
wheelrider
Jan. 6th, 2014 04:25 am (UTC)
A lovely story. I like the concept of Miriel writing to Nerdanel, and the way you handled it seems natural and believable and not too dependent on "magic."

"...the Valar love us in their way, but there is among them, always, a kind of incomprehension of our limits that makes them callous."
The best explanation I've seen!
ladyelleth
Jan. 6th, 2014 12:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I didn't want to detract from the story itself, so a great deal of flashy magic would have been out of place - in fact I was a little worried that this might already be too much. I'm glad it worked for you, and equally glad the explanation of the Valar made sense. I imagine for someone as unlimited and powerful as them, it must be difficult to stoop down to "smaller creatures", so that even when the behaviour is not malevolent it may still be quite alien.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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