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House of Dust and Memory
An eternal night has fallen, plunging the house into a deep darkness. Much lurks in this darkness; half-forgotten memories of times long ago, faint shadows of what was once here. They fill the house to the rafters, these memories, hanging heavily in the air like a thick, overpowering perfume.
This was once a house of mirth and happiness; full of life and people and parties. The very walls seemed to hum with laughter. Now it is a house of the dead, and those who have passed to lands far away. There is a silence, now, that was never here before. It is a silence like a well, deep and bottomless; Indis feels that she could drown in it.
Her sons and daughters have told her that she must come live with them, that this house is too full of reminders of the past. They tell her this in voices that are too bright; they speak slowly, enunciating clearly. Her children seem to believe that the roles have been reversed; they are the parents, and she is the child who does not know what is best. She humors them, letting them carry on in this way. They mean well.
Yet every time, she refuses their offers, gently but firmly. She can see relief scrawled across their features at her decline of their offer, though they try to hide it. They are scared of her, Indis thinks, this woman who looks like their mother, but cannot be. Their mother was always smiling, at least in front of them. She was invincible, all knowing, always ready for everything, someone to be viewed with a strange mixture of love and awe and resentment.
Now that woman is only a memory, one of the many in this house, collecting like the dust on the furniture. Indis feels at ease among them, and that is why she stays. She too is a faint shadow of former glory, now alone and forgotten, like old, musty things packed away in chests. She belongs with them now, just as she once belonged with the people of this house.
For this house held people, once, just as it held laughter. It held Finwë, with his sad eyes, and Míriel, who Indis does her best to forget. It held Fëanor, with his dark glares, watching her with a hatred so intense that she thought she would burn in it; like a great white torch, a pillar of flame burning into the night. It held her children; beautiful, lively, golden haired babes; for that is how she likes to remember them, before their faces were stained with tears and their hands with blood. Later, it held her grandchildren, those glorious and infallible creatures, who she loved even knowing that they would surpass her, those heroes of tomorrow.
Sometimes, she can almost see them, these people, as she walks about the house, solitary in the wide corridors. At times, when she turns a corner, she almost believes that she has seen a figure pass around the next corner, just a moment before. On other occasions, she can almost hear footsteps on the stair above her, light and carefree. Almost, but not quite; as much as she would like to believe, it is never truly real; the house is full of phantoms, nothing tangible. No matter how much she would like to take refuge in madness, wear a lopsided grin and talk to these phantoms and hear them talk back, she has never been a coward, one to take the easy way. So Indis guards her sanity carefully, establishing routines, little rituals; they keep her mind clear.
She spends much of her time wandering the house, watching and listening, basking in the memories. She enters every room, rooms that were once bright but now dim and dreary, covered in a thick layer of dust and regret. She touches nothing in the rooms, but only looks with a certain degree of reverence, as if these are relics of an ancient, long fallen civilization, these books and these dolls, these mirrors and jewels. She is reluctant to disturb the order in the house, for then she will never again know what it once was.
Sometimes, when she has been through every room of the house many times, and cannot bear to look any more, she sits in the windowsill of the great window by the door, watching, hoping. She peers out into the gloom, straining for any sign that someone, far in the distance, approaches. It is impossible, she knows that, but she sits there nonetheless, a desperate smile pasted on her face. She supposes that the smile is grim and ghastly, for there is no mirth left in it, or in her, but she smiles nonetheless; for she fears that she will forget how, and that if they were to return, she would have no smiles for them.
At other times, Indis merely thinks. She thinks of her life, all the long years of great joys and little sorrows, of the many paths and the falls along the way. She thinks of her mistakes and her triumphs, of life and death, of love and hate. She thinks about everything. There is nothing to do, now, but think.
Time for herself was a luxury, once, time to think and dream. She would sneak away guiltily to sit by herself, pleading a headache, until she was summoned back to reality. Now she finds that she would give all those secret moments to have them all back again. But then, that is the way of the world; we never really appreciate what we have until we lose it. She has thought about that, too, during these long days and nights spent wandering or watching.
It is during one of her sojourns beside the window, watching the darkness that has effortlessly devoured the world, that someone finally does come to the waiting house. Indis is not caught unaware. All day, or what she assumes is day, she has sensed that something is coming. There is a certain feeling to the air, like the dampness before rain falls, or the crackle of dry heat before a storm.
The knock at the door is not loud, but it echoes through the silent house. Indis walks to the door slowly, cautiously, fearing the land on the other side, the land of the living. She opens the door a crack, reluctant to let the memories escape and fade away into the air.
Indis is greeted by a glimpse of auburn hair and a narrow, pale face; eyes like steel watch her from the middle of it. She has always thought that that was what Fëanor saw in this woman, in the copper hair and the steel eyes, the promise of metal to shape; yet Nerdanel had not been so easily molded. For it is her, Nerdanel, standing on the step. Who else could so boldly march up and demand entrance to this house of sadness and grief? It is only later that Indis wonders who else would want to try.
She opens the door wider, admitting the woman, who steps in, with her steady, determined step. Nerdanel has no grace to speak of; her beauty has always been of a different kind, sharp and stark. She strains her eyes, peering into the blackness. Indis, conscious suddenly of the darkness of the house, where there is not even the light of the stars, lights the candle that sits beside the door.
The flickering light allows her to see the other woman's face; it is thinner than before, and there are dark hollows beneath her eyes. Indis has always thought Nerdanel stronger than herself, so, though it should not, it comes as a surprise to see that she, too, is hurting. She wants, suddenly, to reach out and hold her, but Nerdanel is not the type of woman one embraces without reason.
"I'm sorry," Indis says, reaching out with words instead, but they sound inadequate, empty. There are too many feelings to put into mere words, she knows. Nerdanel looks as if she has been slapped.
"I would have thought that you, of all people, would not be one to offer me false pity," Nerdanel replies, her voice soft but sharp, her eyes glinting.
"What makes you so sure my pity is false?" Indis says, too quickly, stung by the remark.
"What makes you so sure it isn't?" Nerdanel responds dryly, raising one eyebrow slightly, then steps past Indis, and walks smoothly down the hallway, leaving her with no other option than to follow, which she does.
They sit, in one of the many rooms. Indis studies a dusty sculpture as time passes agonizingly slowly, each moment an eternity. Finally, she turns her eyes back to Nerdanel, who she finds scrutinizing her just as she in turn had scrutinized the other woman just a moment before.
Indis knows what she must look like; she has grown thin, and pale. She does not often remember to eat. In truth, she rather likes her new slenderness. It is as if the years are melting off of her as her breasts and hips shrink. She is growing backwards, returning to a childlike form. She likes to think that her innocence is returning, and that the layers of guilt and sadness are falling away.
She must look wraithlike to the other woman, her pale hair blending into her skin, her limbs frail. People have always expected her to be fragile, and she has never minded before, but beneath Nerdanel's gaze she feels suddenly ashamed. Indis looks down, for a moment, and when she gains the resolve to look up again, Nerdanel is no longer watching her.
The minutes pass, as they sit silently. It is not that there is nothing to say, but that there is too much. Indis watches the other woman, who sits placidly, barely moving. She herself cannot keep from fidgeting. There is so much grief, she thinks, written on both their faces. There is so much grief everywhere, hanging over Tirion like a grey rain cloud. Hanging over them, for they are the ones who have brought it here, they who should have been able to stop it.
"Where did we go so wrong?" Indis asks quietly, wanting not an explanation, but reassurance.
"I suppose you think that this is our fault?" Nerdanel asks, her tone neutral, yet Indis can hear danger behind it, waiting. It is a tone she has heard before, watching Nerdanel discipline her sons. There is no safe reply to this question; it is a trap, whether one agrees or disagrees. Indis twirls a lock of hair slowly, trying to judge how best to respond.
"Not entirely our faults... but surely you do not believe that we are blameless," Indis began," If I had never married Finwë, and if you had not left Fëanor..." she trailed off, faltering.
"If," Nerdanel replies, her voice full of a bitterness that Indis has never before heard from her, "If is useless. There is no way to change the past. You waste your time."
Then, without warning, Nerdanel is crying; not quietly, but in great, heaving gasps. Indis is frightened by it, by this abrupt change. If Nerdanel can so suddenly break down like this, Nerdanel who is so strong and unyielding, then so can she. Indis needs someone to be strong for her.
Yet she has always been, first and foremost, a mother, and so she can not refuse this cry for help, for affection. She crosses the room and sits down beside her, and the other woman leans her head on her shoulder, her sobs beginning to subside. Indis timidly puts an arm around Nerdanel.
"Thank you," Nerdanel says, her voice thick. A moment passes, and she speaks again, but this time it is quietly, as if to herself. "You know, I used to think you were a fool, for marrying Finwë when anyone could see that he did not love you, not like he loved her."
Tact has never been one of Nerdanel's traits, and Indis knows that it is not meant sharply, but still, it hurts to hear it, this affirmation of what she knows somewhere deep inside, what she hears whispered in her ear late at night. She has always feared to put it into words, because then it would be real, then there would be no escaping from it. Now it has been unleashed, her one fear, set loose from the confinement she has kept it in.
"And look at me. My husband loved his jewels more than he ever loved me," Nerdanel gives a wry laugh; she is unaware of the havoc she is creating. This time, Indis does not try to use words, for there are none. There are no words for this unbearable pain, this grief they will carry until the end of their days. So she merely sits, letting her presence comfort as her words would not.
She watches Nerdanel wipe the tears off her cheeks with a hand that is rough from a life of work and love and sorrow. It strikes Indis that they should have met somewhere far from here, from these people and these lives and these tears. They should have met by the ocean, where the waves crash against the cliffs, resplendent in their fury. They should have met deep in the forest, where the air smells of secrets and something ancient, making it easy to believe in anything. They should have met anywhere but here.
Yet they did not. They met in this house, long ago, when it was not yet full of memories but of promises of a future to come, unpredictable and ever changeable. They have made their choices and whether they deserve it or not, they will pay for them dearly for the rest of their lives. They have loved, and they love still, though there are no more chances for their love to be returned, for their husbands have passed either beyond the sea or to Mandos. They have been happy, and they will be again, but for every moment of joy there are hours of sadness. This is life, and there is nothing to do but accept it.
"You must be hungry," Indis says gently, for she is still a mother, though her children are gone or grown. "Come, I'll make us something to eat."
She rises from her seat and walks to the kitchen, in this house where she has walked before and will walk again, where there has been sorrow and happiness and everything else in between, where they will be again.
She does not protest when Nerdanel opens a window, letting the cool, crisp air in, and the musty air of the house out. The memories fade into the night like wisps of smoke, but it is all right, for there will be new memories, for both her and Nerdanel. Tomorrow is not far away.