Solace, by Finch
Silmarillion & HoMe (esp. Shibboleth of Fëanor) based.
Disclaimer: All derived from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien
Pairing: Nerdanel + another female character I won't name here, to give the reader an opportunity to guess and get it right.
She was the spouse of the accursed Spirit of Fire. She was the mother who had lost seven sons twice. First to their sire, and when they became kinslayers to a prison without release, a death without end in Time. Or so it was whispered in the chilly Night of the Trees.
None could console her: how does one comfort a mother of murderers? How speak of her sons?
None would blame her. Not to her face. Yet Nerdanel knew better than to believe none accused her in their hearts. Could she not have - should she not have - so what had she done to prevent the blood? What left undone, unsaid? A mother shall nurse and a mother shall cherish, but a mother must teach as well; had they learned anything from her? Should she not have joined them after all? What was worse: to rebel against the Valar, or to betray the offspring of your body?
They had gone east, her husband and sons, red-handed traitors in stolen ships. When the horrible news shattered whatever their departure had left whole, she went west.
She had no aim but to put as much distance as possible between herself and the places of yore: every foot of earth that had felt the firm steps of Nerdanel the Wise, every water that had seen her face smile, every space of air her voice had sent reverberating, every memory of fire. The past.
Once, Valinor used to be fair and full of colours, but beauty grows cold and brittle in the flickering light of the stars and colour fades to the grey of grief. The animals, frozen in the dark, must have seen her glide by like a wraith; perhaps the Eagles of Manwë told their Lord of the passing of Nerdanel, but no one came to speak to her on her way west.
The last words she had exchanged with her husband sang a dirge in her mind. Leave me the twins. Leave me the twins. One of them, at least. And his reply: Were you a true wife, you would keep them all, keep them all. Desert me, and you desert them. All of our children, all of them. They are determined to go with their father.
A lie. She was sure that her youngest son would have wanted to stay with her, if only his father had allowed him. But he wanted to keep them all for himself. He could never let go of anything. Not of the sons he had stolen from her. Not even of his untrue wife.
But her, he could not force. Nerdanel was not a meek woman. A meek woman would have been crushed under his weight long ago. You will not keep all, her memory chanted. Not all of them. One at least will not set foot on Middle-earth. One at least.
Take your evil omens to the Valar. They will delight in them. Delight. His voice rang inside her head. I defy them. Defy them. Then, he left. She hated him.
One of her sons would perish soon. He could be dying even now. Nerdanel pushed ahead through bramble bushes that tore at her clothes and her skin. Stones made her stumble. She bled. She was cold. Delight. She did not care what she ate. Roots, berries, whatever she found. Nothing would kill her, though she wished that it could.
And so, the wraith Nerdanel floated west in a waking nightmare until she came upon the shore of Ekkaia, the Outer Sea, bordered by the Walls of Night. Beyond them, Melkor had dwelled once in utter darkness, before he returned to destroy the works of the Valar. Melkor. The Valar should never have allowed him to come to Aman, she thought. I defy them. Their lenience had enabled him to sow the discord that had led to the Doom of the Noldor.
She stood on a cliff, the salt sea far below her. Were you a true wife, you would keep them all. But she was no true wife. They are determined to go with their father. What if she jumped? Her muscles tensed. She could swim, but the smooth surface of the water was dark and dull like a shroud and seemed to absorb the starlight. It looked as if it would close above her without a ripple, never to yield her. Take your evil omens to the Valar. To Mandos. Who had seen through Melkor and his lies sooner and better than any other of the Ainur had.
She was poised on the edge of the cliff when she heard the voice. 'What is it you seek in the Sea?'
A woman's voice, husky, dark as the waters below her, yet warm. Nerdanel turned to look. At first she only saw a lily-white face, floating in the air; then her eyes adjusted and she saw that the strange woman had black hair and wore in a dark, unadorned gown. She was of average build and height, slightly shorter than Nerdanel. 'What is it you seek in the Sea?' she repeated.
What was it she sought? Nerdanel looked down. 'Oblivion,' she finally said. Her own answer did not satisfy her.
The woman came closer. She made no move to pull Nerdanel back from the cliff edge.
'Oblivion? From what?'
'But...' the woman sounded slightly surprised. 'But the Sea is salt, like tears. I think you would only find more grief there, not oblivion.'
By which she probably meant that throwing one's life away was a sure way to a long imprisonment in Mandos. Nerdanel did not need someone else to tell her that. She remained silent, and suddenly, she shivered.
'Small wonder,' the woman said. 'Your clothes are in tatters and it is cold. Will you not come to my house? I believe I have a gown that would fit you.'
When Nerdanel looked down the length of her body she saw that most of her skin was exposed; she might just as well be naked. One of her breasts was bare. A long, ugly scratch ran across it, but she felt no need to cover it. The woman took her hand. It was as warm as her voice. Nerdanel allowed herself to be led away from the edge. If she wanted, she could always come back here.
The house was not far. It was built of the same grey stone as the rocks against which it leaned, and rather small. The woman seemed to be the only occupant, which seemed strange, for who would want to live alone in the utter west on the edge of the Outer Sea, and look on the walls of Night?
A lamp burned in the main room of the house, and when the rays lit the woman's face, she was more beautiful than she had seemed outside. Her skin was smooth and had the moist sheen of polished marble; it made Nerdanel think of her own sculpted images. Yet at the same time it could not be more unlike stone, for every fibre of it was alive.
'What is your name?' she asked
'Call me Iniðil,' the woman replied in her husky voice.
'I am Nerdanel.'
Iniðil nodded as in confirmation. She went to a trunk in the corner of the room to take out a shift, and a gown much like her own. When Nerdanel stripped of her remaining rags she did not turn away but appraised the other woman as if it was the most natural thing to do. 'You have born many children,' she remarked.
Though each of her sons had taken a little of her vigour, Nerdanel's outward shape had regained its former firmness after every birth - except the last time, after the twins were born. The twins. Leave me one of them at last, her own voice rang inside her head. And his answer: Were you a true wife... Desert me and you desert them... She pressed the bundle of clothes to her chest in sudden pain. Her legs gave way, and she sank to her knees. 'They have gone,' she said. 'They will meet with evil ends.' From some place deep inside her a sob tried to wrench itself free, but the body that held it captive would not release it.
Iniðil sat down on the floor beside her. 'Weep, Nerdanel.' Her voice was filled with sadness. 'Add your tears to the sea of grief that surrounds Arda Marred.' She laid her warm hand against Nerdanel's cold back and began to stroke it.
As if it had been waiting for this very gesture the sob deep inside Nerdanel broke free at last. Many followed, and for a time she was unable to speak or even move. At some point, she felt herself being lifted from the floor, carried away by arms that were surprisingly strong for a woman's, and laid on a bed. She blinked and saw Iniðil's face float above her own. Could it be that the other woman was crying, too, or was it merely the water in her eyes that made her think so?
Gently, Iniðil removed the clothes she was still clutching in her hands, exposing her once more. Then, Nerdanel felt a drop moisten the scratch on her breast, and another one, and more still, wetting every wound and scratch that marred her skin. The drops became a trickle, a stream, until her entire body was awash, lapped by comforting waters. Looking up, Nerdanel saw the source: the liquid eyes of the woman who called herself Iniðil. She wept soundlessly, her marble lily of a face shifting, blurring, dissolving into a grief deeper than Nerdanel's own, a sorrow, deeper than Nerdanel could fathom - yet remaining fully itself, as if mourning was her nature, as if she was mourning, the mourning whose source is pity, pity as wide as the world.
Strangely, the tears of solace washing over Nerdanel did not drench her. Soothing like balm they were, and they seemed to pass under her skin to enter her veins and course through every limb. Her own weeping subsided. A hand touched the breast where the ugly scratch had been, and Nerdanel knew it was healed. Slowly and unexpectedly, a pleasure like the pleasure of love rippled through her, but without the ache of her husband's burning touch.
'Should I feel like this?' she whispered.
'What do you think?'
Were you a true wife... With those words, her husband had repudiated her. She could not bear to see him ever again in Arda Marred, and in that very moment, she knew she would nevermore look on his likeness. Was it possible? Could she be free of him?
'The fire is not entirely quenched.' said Iniðil, as if she read Nerdanel's mind.
'Then help me extinguish it.'
Iniðil was silent, but Nerdanel felt herself lifted up in an embrace that surrounded her like the Outer Sea encircled the inhabited world. But it was not Iniðil who embraced her, not a dark-haired elf in a black gown, of average build and height. It was an infinitely much larger being, who had merely veiled herself in a form to be held and beheld by those bound to the matter of Arda. Nerdanel looked into the large, liquid, compassionate eyes, and when she did she heard the husky voice in her mind: Do not hate him. Hate will burn you. If you weep for your sons, weep for him as well, for his undoing, for what he might have been. You cannot be free of him if you hate him. Pity him instead.
You pity everyone. Even Melkor.
All need pity. Weep for Aþâraphelûn Dušamanûðân*. And forgive.
Will I ever see my sons return?
I am Ilúvatar's Mourning for his suffering Children. I am the Pity of the One. Trust.
Nerdanel felt a cool kiss on her lips. It tasted of tears, yet it was not salt but fresh and sweet. In a way, she had indeed taken her evil omens to the Valar, and found delight. But her true solace was, that the pity of Nienna was a dwelling in which she could abide.
*Arda Marred in Valinorean. Iniðil is Valinorean, too; the meaning is lily, or large flower in general.