The House of Feanor
Summary: In Valinor, Nedanel sculpts, Anaire teaches lore, Finarfin regrets, Idril claims her birthright, and the world changes.
For Tyellas, Nol and ithilwen. And Finch, of course.
My first two sons were burnt with the Teleri ships in the first night of the Noldor on the shores of Beleriand. I sculpted them on the shores of Valinor facing the ocean I will never cross. Fire was in their hair, and they clasped each other, beating the flames from each other's flesh without hope. Amrod's young face was resigned, and Amros's was dotted with evaporated tears. Only leave them, I had begged Feanor. They are children, and you are taking them to die.
I am Nerdanel wife of Feanor, sculptor and artist, the last of the House of Feanor on this island of the blessed.
For timeless years I sculpted alone. Each red hair, each burnt fingernail took a sun's cycle to carve. It is only in this shape that my sons will live in Valinor, unless the Valar will have mercy. No Feanorian may cross the ocean, or return from the halls of Mandos, until Arda be unmarred.
At last a woman joined me, dark-haired and silent, carrying a thick book of lore. It was strange that at first I did not recognize her, since she was a Noldo and there are not so many that remain. I had begun to carve Maedhros then, was shaping his fine features in broad strokes from the russet stone.
"The Quendi shall be the fairest of all earthly creatures," she read, "and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty." (1)
"Anaire," I said. How I had not recognized my husband's brother's wife? Then I looked again. Her eyes were strange, showing something I had seen only once, in the eyes of my husband's father. "What have you done?" I asked.
"How shall a marriage be dissolved forever?" Anaire read. "By the will of the Dead, or by the doom of Mandos."(2)
"Why are you here?" I asked.
Anaire looked up from her book. "Show me my son," she said.
As I sculpted, Maedhros's right hand was held above him, and his features took on the appearance of unspeakable pain. His body was twisted, and steel shackles fastened on his wrist. Wounds covered him under my hands, gashes, bruises and scars.
"Show me my son," Anaire said again.
Fingon's bow was raised, his dark plaits flying behind him. His mouth was open in song and his eyes lifted to heaven. Anaire knelt beside him and spoke his prayer to Manwe: Recall some pity for the Noldor in their need.(3)
The next to come was High King Finarfin, his crown tentative on his golden hair. Many of the Noldor came with him to look at the faces of my sons. They stopped before statues, began to speak, to curse or beg forgiveness. One of the house of Fingolfin knelt before Fingon's statue and bowed her head to his feet.
"You create much of beauty," Finarfin said. "Does this not frighten you?"
"Yes," I answered. Finarfin waited, but I said no more.
"Would you be my advisor?" he asked at last. "I know that you are wise." It was easy to remember that he was younger than three of my children. "I was never trained to be a king," he said.
Of course, neither was Feanor. "The House of Feanor will not accept the rule of the sons of Indis," I said. Then I smiled, so that he might imagine that I was joking.
"Brother," I said, "if my sister Earwen is willing, I will come to Alqualonde. I will sculpt there the images of those who were murdered in my husband's destruction, and I will show you the great deeds of your children in Beleriand. Do you think Earwen would want to accept this?"
Finarfin looked at the blood on my eldest son's hand. "No," he said. "I do not think we can."
Time moves strangely in Valinor. An eon can pass, but in the undying lands all can seem as it was. I measured the years to follow only by the sculptures that covered the shore. Once my children were settled in their kingdoms, I sculpted Anaire's. Turgon sat on a golden throne ruling over a great guarded city. Aredhel braved dark creatures of Ungoliant, and the greater darkness in an Elven soul. Fingon ruled as High King of Beleriand, wearing the crown my sons had surrendered.
I showed Anaire her former husband, valiant Fingolfin, standing against Morgoth alone. His sword flashed like a star in the darkness, and his shield was set with crystals. His arm was steady in his last desperate stroke.
In time I came to sculpt the children of Finarfin as well. Finrod built glorious caves and gave his life for a human man. Galadriel sat with Celeborn in Doriath, dreaming of a forest-kingdom that would be theirs alone.
Crowds came, and watched, and wondered.
"The Noldor were beloved of Aule," Anaire read. "Great became their knowledge and skill."(4)
It was a long time before High King Finarfin returned, walking solemnly between the statues and the sea. "Great kingdoms," he said, looking at my statues of Finrod and Turgon. "Glory in Beleriand." Fingon brought Maedhros back from Angband in a moment of brief triumph. Finarfin touched the statue, and then turned to me. "You are not the first to teach of these things among the Noldor," he said.
"My husband's words brought destruction and death," I said. "I am ashamed for what they have done. But that does not mean that they are untrue."
I led Finarfin back to Finrod's image, ruling bravely over Nargothrond. The father looked long at his son, and turned away.
"Where is my brother?" he asked me.
"Feanor is in Mandos," I said. I had felt the moment the Balrog took his life, and the choice the Valar gave me to break the bond that merged our souls.
"Why have you not sculpted him?" Finarfin asked.
I stared at Finarfin long and hard, willing him to see the bond that remained in my eyes. "Feanor fled Valinor in anger at the Valar, but also for love of his father. My sons followed for love of him. Anaire's sons went for love of them. Yours, for love of hers. Why are we here, those that remain? What great deed may we do to be worthy of those who have gone?"
"I was so certain that I was going to go," Finarfin said. "Not even the Kinslaying could turn me back. But in the words of Mandos I finally heard the truth. There is no hope in Beleriand, no greatness, only unnumbered tears. You are wiser than I, Nerdanel. You knew this truth even in the presence of Feanor, and chose to remain. There is no shame in your wisdom."
"Wise does not mean always being right," I said. "And I miss my sons."
Celegorm, bright-haired like my mother, pursued a beautiful woman. Once he had caged animals gently, seducing them after him with the motions of his graceful limbs. This woman would not follow him, and her son would take his life.
Curufin, maker of crafts like his father, yearned in equal measure for the greatest jewels of all. He rode after one hungry, aching, his face empty of all except need.
Caranthir, dark and angry, ruled in Thargelion. He allied himself with a human woman, and raged when she would not follow him. Still he admired her valor, so like his own.
In Doriath all destroyed and were destroyed. My five remaining sons rode like wraiths, helpless before the vow that had emptied them of hope. In Doriath, Maedhros and Maglor buried their three brothers together.
On the shores of Valinor the walls of Gondolin began to crumble. I had carved them many cycles ago, in the years of Beleriand many centuries. It is my curse as an artist that of all the materials from which the Valar have given me to create, I have yet to find one that will endure forever.
Valinor is a place without change, yet sometimes change may be brought to it. After many cycles had passed, word came that Idril had returned. I remembered her as a playful girl who loved to skip and dance between the Trees. She came to my shore as a tall, proud young woman, wearing the circlet of a High Prince of Tirion over her long golden hair. The ancient, silvery scars on her bare feet were at odds with her otherwise perfect beauty. "I outgrew my shoes on the Helcaraxe," she said, before I could ask.
Her husband was a human, short and broad, with hair on his face and thick muscles that seemed suited for cutting stone. He smiled widely, in awe at the greatness around him, but I wondered if Idril was aware of her cruelty in bringing him into a people that had noticed my sculptor's muscles and saw fit to record in its books of lore that I am not beautiful.
"They are children," Idril said, looking at the decaying images of Beleriand's kingdoms. "They build fortresses and caverns, as if it will make a difference, as if they don't understand that it never mattered. Only Valinor matters. Only Valinor can save them."
Idril brought me back to Fingolfin's old palace, from before he had taken the kingship. This prince's palace still stood, and Idril had claimed it as her own.
"Have you followers, then?" I asked.
"Some," she said. "There are some few of the House of Fingolfin that was who still remain in Valinor and do not wish to be ruled by the youngest son of Finwe. More than the few who remain of my House in Beleriand. Fewer followers than you." Idril led me to her window and pointed to the great expanse of statues by the shore and the Noldor who walked between them.
"I could have ruled in Beleriand," she said. "My father was High King after my uncle died. As High King's daughter I had a claim to the throne. But why? The people in Beleriand are dying, and it is only from here that hope will come. My son is coming. My son Earendil, son of Elves and Men. He will ask for help from the Valar, and from those that remain of the Noldor. What answer will we demand of the Valar? What answer will we give? What answer will come from the three great houses of the Noldor?"
It was clear what Idril was asking of me, and equally clear what my answer must be, since Maedhros and Maglor still walked in Beleriand. "If there are two High Princes of Tirion then there are three," I said. "I am of the House of Feanor, and will not serve the sons of Indis."
Idril smiled, for the first time since I had seen her. She knelt, took up the bag that she had brought with her from Beleriand, and removed from it a golden crown. It was pure gold, seemingly unadorned until the light of Laurelin's fruit touched its side and lit its surfaces with every color of flame. The prince's crown of the House of Feanor. Kneeling before me, Idril placed the crown in my hands.
"Maedhros sends this," she said.
Earendil came to the Bay of Eldamar, a Silmaril upon his brow. He came to Tirion but found no one to meet him, nor did High King Finarfin seek him out. The Valar took him in and heard his plea: forgiveness for the Noldor, and mercy for the Elves and Men. A great silence spread out over Valinor as we waited for the Valar to speak.
"The Valar are to these kindreds rather their elders and their chieftains than their masters," Anaire read. "If ever in their dealings with Elves and Men the Ainur have endeavored to force them when they would not be guided, seldom has this turned to good." (5)
I put on the Feanorian crown on the shores of Valinor surrounded by my statues. On my black mourning garments were embroidered the Star of Feanor, in all the colors of the Silmarils. Anaire walked beside me, carrying her book. She wore the houseless white of a scholar, although I knew she had sworn to her granddaughter's house. Together we took the many steps towards the High Court of the Noldor.
Finarfin's court was not in Tirion. Still, in appearance it was much like the court of Finwe, in which my husband had once defied the Valar. The same three prince's seats were set in stone, with the High King's seat on a raised dais in the center. I bowed to Anaire. She remained outside, facing the gathering crowd, as I stepped through the doorway.
Idril stood before the dais, facing High King Finarfin on the throne. "Have I a place here?" I asked.
"You do," said Idril, before Finarfin could speak.
The High King hesitated for a long moment. "We have been here before," he said to me. "Your husband," he turned to Idril, "and your grandfather, tearing the world apart between them. Is that why you are here?"
"I swear that I am not," said Idril.
Finarfin looked at me. "I am not Feanor," I said. "Only of his house. I am not here to destroy you."
Idril reached out her hand to her great-uncle. He took it, and stepped down the three steps of the dais to the floor.
"Galadriel still lives," I said to him.
"I know," he said. "She has yet to found her great kingdom." There was no kindness in his voice, and I thought of the blood at Alqualonde.
"I say that we do not go," Finarfin said. "Let the Valar guide us, for we have more than shown that we lack the wisdom to guide them. Or to guide ourselves. What are we, who remain of the Noldor? A broken remnant of our once-proud people. I fear our pride more than any peril. I say that we do not go."
"The House of Fingolfin says that we will go," responded Idril. "My grandfather led his host to Beleriand not for pride but for love, and to save what could be salvaged in this exile. And if you believe your daughter has earned her fate, what of my husband's people? No call summoned them westward, no blessed ones offered them refuge from their broken land. My father thought he could build a wall and protect himself, this wall of Gondolin that I saw crumble around me. My grandfather knew otherwise, when he rode against Morgoth so that those who followed him might have hope and live. And it is said that among the Noldor High King Fingolfin was not the least wise. The House of Fingolfin says that we will go."
It was my turn to speak, and it occurred to me that perhaps King Finarfin might not know what I was going to say. He would remember my words to my husband, my certain prophecy of his doom, my knowledge that all would end in destruction. As, of course it had.
Or perhaps he knew very well. I saw him then, alone on a High King's throne for an age, bereft of his children, father and brothers, knowing that at least some remnant of them still live, knowing that he could go to them, if only for a decision that he had become too wise to make.
Maedhros and Maglor still walked in Beleriand, and Maedhros had sent me his crown. He would want me to speak not as his mother but as the Prince of the House of Feanor.
"The House of Feanor says that we will go," I said. "There are still great deeds to do in that land."
A crowd had assembled outside, listening to Anaire's words. "Though all things may be forethought in music or foreshown in vision from afar, to those who enter verily into Ea each in its time shall be met unawares as something new and unforetold."(6)
Together we placed the insignia of our houses over the three ancient prince's thrones. Then we opened the door of the Great Hall and told the assembled Noldor what we had chosen.
I am Nerdanel wife of Feanor, mother of seven sons, the last of the House of Feanor on the island of Valinor. In Beleriand the Noldor are fighting Morgoth, and the Valar are with them. Finarfin leads them, and Idril, and Anaire with her lore-book. But no Feanorian may cross the sea. Each ship on which I step will not depart this land. This is the curse of the House of Feanor, and I, once daughter of Mahtan, have taken it upon myself.
On this shore I carved the fall of my eldest son. The fires of the earth consumed him, burnt the Silmaril from his hand. Maglor wanders, his Silmaril taken by the ocean. May the Valar have mercy upon him. May they learn to have mercy upon us all.
For my last sculpture of the age I collected driftwood along the shore. No solid-seeming stone, nor wood from forests that are alive and green. I lay it on the sand to dry. There was no urgency. This age will end soon enough, and with it the deeds of my house in Beleriand. When there was enough wood to build a pyre, I gathered it and set it aflame.
In truth, I could have made a fire out of stone. Its colors would have been as bright, and it would have moved with the wind in a way indistinguishable from nature. I could even have edged it with shards of fine sharpness, to singe the one who touched it. But no stone fire that I could ever forge would consume itself, would burn itself into the remnants of flame.
This fire is a poor image of my husband. A true image would consume Beleriand, Valinor and Ea itself. It would burn those who watch it into destruction, yet they would yearn to be destroyed, only to once have been so bright. This flame is a faint shadow of my Feanor, and is the only sculpture of my husband that I will ever make.
Watching the embers burn themselves into ash I find that I begin to understand what Feanor must have known when he spoke his vow. What Idril, perhaps, understood when she took a human husband and brought him to Valinor, and what Finrod understood when he gave his life for a human man. We of the firstborn are not immortal. We are not even long-lived. It is only that our world, and all of Ea, will end at the same moment as our lives.
"Tears unnumbered shall ye shed," Mandos had spoken to the exiles. "Ye shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and shall become as shadows of regret."(7) His words were true, of course, as I had known when I spoke them myself. That is the curse of wisdom. It is only that those words were no less true for those who remain. There is only hope if the Valar will have mercy, and the One beyond the Valar. Perhaps they will learn this, in Beleriand.
I stand, and look across the sea. Soon the remnant of the Noldor will take to their ships with news of victory. The High Princes will return, and I will stand among them. I will speak for the House of Feanor, unless Arda be remade, and my husband will return.
1. Silmarillion: Of the Beginning of Days, p.41.
2. Morgoth's Ring: Later Versions of the Story of Finwe and Miriel, p.259.
3. Silmarillion: Of the Return of the Noldor, p.110.
4. Silmarillion: Of Eldamar, p.60.
5. Silmarillion: Of the Beginning of Days, p. 41.
6. Silmarillion: Of the Coming of the Elves, p.49.
7. Silmarillion: Of the Flight of the Noldor, p.88.
If you think Anaire is quoting out of context, take it up with her.