Making Stardust

Disclaimer:All characters belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.


When Maglor was very young, he would often play in the small valley above his grandparents' home. There was plenty to occupy him there, huge boulders covered in lurid green or orange lichen, blackbirds, pinecones, the rough bark of the tall trees and the strong mixed scents of where forest and mountain converged. Maedhros would watch him from a distance, mysteriously appearing from behind the pine trees if he sensed danger or little Macalaurë putting anything unsavoury in his mouth.

Maglor would look up through the trees and see the wall of the Pelóri behind them. Father had told him that that was called the tree line. Higher than this, no trees grew. Sitting on the rock with the best view, Maglor looked at the shadings as they made their way up the rock wall. The soft browns and blues of the heather that continued up for another 1000 feet or so: the vegetation line. Higher still, the snow line glittered golden in the light of Aman. He'd sat on Fëanor's hip as he pointed out these strata to his sons, twisting his hair to make the Tree's light reflect from it. Maedhros stood a few paces behind, listening but half hidden.

One day, Maglor walked straight towards the mountains. They looked the size of his arm, no more, and he wanted to touch the glittering snow. He got as far as the edge of the forest, before he felt a hand on his tunic pull him back.

"Not so far, little brother. You'll freeze to death in those big mountains and I'm not going after you."

Maglor had no argument as to why he was heading towards the hills, so he let his brother drag him back to the sheltered woods once again. He lay on his back and watched the trees sway against the golden sky instead. Every now and again a squirrel would jump across. He wanted to go to the mountains. He stayed there until his brother appeared beside him, pinching him gently to check he was not asleep. They picked their way down the rocky path to the miner's halls where dinner would be ready.

The miners ate communally on long trestle tables. Maglor was so small Fëanor had to pull him up unto the benches, and he needed four cushions to reach the tabletop. Sometimes Fëanor had to remind him to eat too. He liked sitting beside his father, who had glossy black braids and laughed at everything.

After dinner, the miners always sang. Sometimes it was only a few simple songs about the beauty of the caverns, the cool of the deep lakes and the joy of metal shaped beneath their hands. They sang in praise to Aulë too, and some nights they would begin the soft, haunting song in praise of Oiolossë Everlasting, the white tower over Arda. By then, Maglor was usually curled drowsily in is father's lap, who would stroke his ears gently as the music made visions of shimmering summits appear before his eyes.

Then Maedhros would be standing beside him, ready to see him washed and changed and tucked up into bed. They would talk a little then, quietly, until Nerdanel came to their room and cuddled them and wished them goodnight.

Some nights Maglor was already asleep when his mother came in. Some nights he was not, but wished to hold his dreams of music and mountains to himself without his brother's voice disturbing them, so he lay as still as he could on the bed. One night he was doing just this when Nerdanel came in. He smiled a little as her hand brushed through his hair and sniffled as she opened the shutters. In the warm season, the boys slept with the window open and woke to a room sweet with the scent of pinewoods.

"I'm not sleepy," he heard his brother say.

"Not at all?" asked his mother.

"No."

"Well, I suppose you are a little old to have to sleep through every Teleperion," she reasoned to herself.

He could hear Maedhros' anticipation in the still room. What the miners did after their bedtime was a subject of some speculation between the two brothers.

"Come on, get dressed."

He heard Maedhros feet thud eagerly on the wooden floor as he scampered to dress, and then stop as he composed himself. He left the room with even steps to convey that staying up this late was nothing to a grown up elf such as he.

Maglor listened to them go then jumped out the window.

The fall to the ground was three times his own height, but he landed neatly and made his way up the narrow path that lead to the valley where they played. The distances seemed further in the silver light, the shadows were deeper, but Maglor was a child of the Blessed Realm, he had known nothing to be afraid of, so he was not afraid. He passed through the tree line without concern, heading up the steep grassy bank to the pale cliffs ahead. The grass looked drained in the silver, as if it were less alive in the elder light, but the dew radiated stars like tiny jewels. Maglor stopped to watch these drops of water coruscate, thrilled to be seeing it; somehow relieved that he was seeing it alone.

When he got to the rock face, he looked for a foothold to take him to the heather terraces; finding none that would fit his size he walked on to where the mountains buckled inwards on the horizon. He had never been past the horizon before, and moving through the silver, he found it a long way. Once or twice, he fell on the shale and got that strange scratching sensation in his palms that bled and made his mother worry.

Maglor turned around the buttress of the Pelóri out of the sheltered valley in which he had been born, into a deep corrie. The light of Teleperion could not quite reach into its recesses, and the shadows made the mountain wall into a strange mural. Maglor fancied he saw strange beasts in it. Hippopotami. He has seen little grey sculptures by a miner that had visited the south. In the very depth of the cleft a stream tumbled the 4,000 or so feet from the snow to the grass bank, running in waterfalls that trapped the faint tree-light, exploding into bursts of iridescent spray as they broke on the rock.

He carried on into the notch of the valley, towards the sparkling water. The air cooled rapidly around him as the light faded; the damp running from the mountains chilled the air. The grainy quality of the shadows was something new to him, there seemed to be more space for unknown creatures to hide. He hoped Hippopotami were not vicious creatures, although it was hard to think ill of kelvar that looked so fat and placid.

As it got darker the light of the waterfall began to hurt his eyes. It was erratic, spraying out in all directions like the sparks that flew from the miner's anvils. They left little red trails across his eyes. The next time he fell over he stayed where he was. It was long past his bedtime, so he curled up and went to sleep.

"Why are you so far from home, Macalaurë?"

He was very cold when he woke, so cold he didn't think he could move. He couldn't answer the lady's question and he was always tongue tied amongst strange elves. So he ignored her.

"Aren't you cold Cano?"

She knew the name his family called him. But he had never heard her voice before, he would have remembered it if he had. It gave him the same feeling in his chest as when the Deep Elves sung their harmony of Taniquetil. Still he could think of no reply.

He thought he heard something heavy be put down beside him, and a faint splashing sound. The next thing he knew he was being scooped up and lifted. He kept going up and up, higher even than when father lifted him, and he was the tallest elf in Mahtan's halls. He was still to tired to open his eyes, but he felt a cloak pulled over him, and he clung weakly to the side of the lady. She bent down to retrieve something, and then they walked on, a faint splashing noise accompanying their every step.

The inside of the cloak was lined with very soft fur, which brushed against him soothingly. The Lady was warm and soon Maglor had enough strength to snuffle and fidget a little against her side. He opened his eyes and nudged back the cloak with his nose to see where they were going.

They were walking up the mountainside. The lady's bare feet were white, nearly transparent, like smoke in a jam jar. She was big enough to climb the breaks in the rock as easily as a staircase, and the inky blue of her hem trailed over the bilberry bushes. She was carrying water from the fall in a glass bucket, which shook and sometimes spilled out silver over the dark scrub.

They went on and up, Maglor resting his head against her side. He was snug and restful now, although he did not feel sleepy at all. He wanted to see where they were going. They went on past the last knot of heather, through the vegetation line, on up the white cliff face until they reached the soft layer of snow as the lights began to mingle.

The lady continued up the mountain. Even though there was no path to be seen beneath the cape of gold and silver sparkle, she picked her way easily up the side of the precipice. I've gone past the snow line, Maglor thought excitedly, and then he worried for his guide's bare feet, because his mother had told him that snow was very cold.

They reached the summit of the cliffs and kept going onwards. If he had looked down now, Maglor could have seen Tirion, bathed in the mixed lights. But he kept looking up. They were beyond the light of the Trees now; the sky had turned black. There were tiny holes in the darkness where a piercing light beyond shone through. Maglor wondered if Eä itself was cloaked against eternity, and the fabric had grown threadbare over time.

They walked for a long time along the ridge. Every so often Maglor would be hit in the face by something hard and cold and tiny. They made him gasp a little the first time. Then he realised they must be snowflakes.

He must have fallen asleep again when the blizzard started in earnest. The last thing he felt was the deep fur being tucked tightly around him, although there was a whirring sound and a rocking that continued even as he slept. So he never knew how he came to Ilmarin, he just remembered waking there under the soft grey cloak that had covered him on his journey.

"Welcome to the seat of Manwë Súlimo, Macalaurë," said the lady as he sniffed and blinked and kicked the covers aside.

Maglor nodded a little nervously.

"And you are..." he tailed of shyly.

"I am Varda Elentári, spouse of Manw"

The child's eyes widened.

"Would you like to see me make a star?"

Maglor nodded.

"Come on then," said the translucent lady. "I shall show you a new star being born. And then you must go home."

She took Maglor's hand in hers as she lead him up a winding stone staircase that lead from Manw's throne room. It was a long way to the top, and the little elf began to feel dizzy from turning around so many times.

When he reached the highest turret of Ilmarin, they came out into a circular room with the walls and ceiling made entirely of glass. He thought his head was still spinning from the stairs, but then he realised the room itself was turning slowly into the dark of the skies. The stars seemed closer here, rounder, as if they really did hang in the depth of space.

On the floor was engraved a map of the universe; the little replica stars lit up as the lady's feet passed over them, blue, red and yellow with the occasional green.

"I thought they were holes in the sky," said the child.

"No," said Varda, "the sky is infinite and its holes cannot be seen by elves."

"Why are they coloured here, but white in the sky?"

"Look closely Macalurë, look at that star to our right."

She pointed and he saw its glow was faintly tinged with blue.

"They are all different colours, it is just they are so very far away that you cannot see them."

"Why not?"

"Because you would need eyes twice as big as your body to be able to process light that refined and Ilúvatar did not think it seemly to create beings that were all eyes."

"Oh." Maglor thought.

"Why are they different colours?"

"I'll show you."

In the centre of the room was a device like the turntable of a potter's wheel. He had seen one before. Above it was a large glass funnel that reached up to the centre of the ceiling and out into the sky.

The Lady brought out a selection of jars from the cupboard below the wheel, then, with a touch of her fingertip set it turning. She took a thimble from her robes and poured out some drops of the glistening water. To Maglor's surprise, they did not fall onto the wheel but hung in suspension, whirling into a circle with the emptiness of space at its core.

Varda put on some silver gloves to protect the delicate fingers of her fana. She took some sprinklings from the little jars and worked them delicately into the pattern made by the silver mist. She dipped her fingers in the pots marked "Carbon" and "Silicon" and the edge of her little finger into others with longer names "Beryllium" and "Molybdenum". After a while she looked up.

"Pretty, yes."

Maglor was starring at the spinning light transfixed.

"Macalaur"

He kept staring.

"Macalaurë!" She took off one delicate glove and waved it in front of his face.

"That is how stars are made."

"It doesn't look like a star."

"Wait."

Varda re-applied her gloves then poured in the contents of a large bucket marked "Hydrogen". She stirred the mixture gently, then picked up Maglor and brought him level with the spinning mist.

"Here, sprinkle some over the surface. "

She handed him a small packet containing nothing but grey fluff.

"It is the dust from the halls of Ilmarin."

Maglor tried to sprinkle it as solemnly as he could without being distracted by the whirling colours.

"Now blow on it and make a wish," the lady laughed.

He didn't know what to wish for. He was happy enough as he was. But he blew obediently and then watched as his breath made the delicate spiral collapse inward.

"I broke it."

"No, you gave it life," said the Lady, who stopped the wheel and watched as the collapsing circle floated upwards into space.

"It still does not look like a star."

"That is because it has to come together. It will keep falling inwards until it is heavy enough. Then if Ilúvatar wishes it, he will light the star with the flame imperishable, and Macalaurë1 will hang as a burning lamp in space."

She paused and returned Maglor to his feet.

"I hope it becomes a golden star. That would be most fitting. For the soul of a star is fire, and you are a Spirit of Fire, son of Fëanáro."

"Why are they different colours?"

"Because of their different heat. Large stars are hotter and they are blue. Small stars are cool and red. Your golden star will be medium sized."

Maglor looked out into the miles of space around him and thought he saw tinges of colours on all the lights now.

"Come on, time to go home."

Varda was already taking his hand again when he cried out:

"But Elentári, that star is big and red!"

"Some stars are different," she said softly. "Not even I know all the secrets of the Universe."

"But why?"

"Because it's dying." She said.

"They're beautiful, and they die?" asked the child.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Stars burn a fuel called hydrogen. They do that, and they live. Then one day, they have burnt as much hydrogen as they possibly can, so they start burning helium instead. They are glorious these red stars, vast and cool and full of flares of energy. But they can only burn helium for a little while. Then they collapse inwards and become a tiny ghost stars that fade until they cannot even be seen by the eyes of the Valar."

"But where do they go?"

"That, I do not know. But the force of their destruction is felt throughout the heavens and that power is never destroyed."

Varda stood for a while staring out beyond the glass walls of her ever circling workshop, looking out to the corners of the heavens where her creations took shape, lived and died. Maglor sat on the floor holding his knees, watching a faint blue light seep out from under her heel. The light seeped right up her leg.

"But you live in the Undying Lands and such things should not bother you, little bright one."

Maglor blinked. His eyes felt wet, although he wasn't crying

.

"Come on, it is more than time for you to be home."

The Vala led Maglor gently back down the winding stair-case to the great hall beneath. He thought the shadows of giant eagles perched beside the entrance way, but the light at the top of the world was very dim, and he could not be sure. He wondered if they had flown here. Then Varda wrapped him under her cloak once more, and he fell into a dreamless sleep.

Varda returned the sleeping child to the little cluster of mine-buildings in the Northern Pelóri. She carried him home safely through the snow beneath her cape. Everyone had been very worried.