Fandom: Tolkien’s The Silmarillion
Warnings: References to past (canonical) deaths, grief.
Prompt: 96) Anyone who says you can't see a thought simply doesn't know art. -- Wynetka Ann Reynolds. (Half-used, in a sense; the story is about seeing thoughts, but not about art).
Summary: During the desperate crossing of the Helcaraxë, Idril considers her aunt and cousin, Aredhel and Nerwen, and finds her own place between their conceptions of life.
Notes: This fic is set semi-immediately after the death of Elenwë, Idril’s mother. All characters are Noldorin Elves, in the middle of their flight from Valinor to Middle-earth. Nerwen—‘man-maiden’—was the mother-name of Galadriel.
Many thanks to my betas, shanra and l_clausewitz, as well as goldjadeocean, jesuitfluff, and cat_i_th_adage for offering.
“The fire of their [the Elves’] hearts was young, and led by Fingolfin and his sons, and by Finrod and Galadriel, they dared to pass into the bitterest North; and finding no other way they endured at last the terror of the Helcaraxë and the cruel hills of ice. Few of the deeds of the Noldor thereafter surpassed that desperate crossing in hardihood or woe. There Elenwë the wife of Turgon was lost, and many others perished also; and it was with a lessened host that Fingolfin set foot at last upon the Outer Lands. Small love for Fëanor or his sons had those that marched at last behind him, and blew their trumpets in Middle-earth at the first rising of the Moon.” –Tolkien, The Silmarillion, page 102.
Cold had pierced her like the memory of death.
If she tried, she could reforge the memory of warmth. But it had become a sliver of light and darkness, like the flash of her mother’s golden hair when Elenwë slid into a patch of clear water hidden under the frozen sea, or starlight in the mounded floes that shifted past them as they walked. Pressed, it flickered and thinned. Her mind had become slow and grinding.
Perhaps the slowness and grinding was only a match for a place like this, the packed sea of ice between Valinor, which had been the land of her birth, and Middle-earth, where they were going and which she had never seen.
Idril did not think she wanted her mind to match this place.
She clung to the memory of light. The Enemy had withered the Trees of Gold and Silver, and since then there had been only the stars, in glory again as they had been before the earliest Elves’ awakening. But Idril lit her thoughts with the memory of the molten hour when Laurelin had been waning and Telperion waxing, so that the golden light had trembled out before the silver but had not faded, and the air was leaves brushing against her mouth—
And her mother stood before the door of their house, her eyes closed and her voice rising in bliss, for Elenwë had been of the Vanyar, the kindred of Elves who sang eternally to the King of Arda.
Idril walked forwards, and saw no help in the colorless ice around her, and little help in memory.
She would need other means to stay her mind from becoming like the frozen sea, and to set her thoughts winging free from grief.
A tightened mouth like the bite of cold, a brush of a white gown against her shoulder as she hurried on, a harried face beaten with marks between the brows—that was Aredhel, her aunt, sister to her father Turgon. Ar-Feiniel she had been in the forests and gardens of Aman, the White Lady of the Noldor.
The marks between her brows looked like grief. Idril did not know whence the grief could have sprung. She had not left behind any kindred in Valinor as had their cousins, whose father Finarfin had turned back upon the road, and she had lost none, either.
She must walk clad in some vision of a dream. Perhaps Idril could learn to see such visions from her. So she kept close at Aredhel’s side as they passed from floe to floe across the black water, and avoided the jagged silver splinters of rising ice, and cleared the long leads that sometimes crashed open in front of them. Idril was grateful for her strength of body when she leaped across those last, looking down on death in the silent, heavy sea. She wondered if the warmth that fired her heart would dim in Middle-earth, not being renewed by contact with the Blessed Realm.
Or if it would fail on the Helcaraxë.
It was after they had crossed the third lead—with the Trees had perished a count of time in hours—that Aredhel turned to her with a faint frown, as if she did not know who she was. Idril lifted her head. She had her mother’s golden hair, but her eyes were the gray of her father’s kindred, the gray eyes of all the Noldor.
Aredhel spoke the right name. Idril was grateful. She did not know if she could stand to hear Elenwë emerge from another mouth. “Idril. Why are you here? Will not your father expect to find you at his side?”
“I came to accompany you,” Idril said, and she hoped her voice was serene. She had lost all thoughts of it in the creaking and groaning that went on around them. “I saw the grief in your face, and wanted to know why and how you bore it.”
Her aunt smiled, and it was a savage and bitter smile. I would not wish to live with her, Idril thought, gazing into her face, if she looked often like that.
“Have I not enough to mourn?” Aredhel said, and looked ahead, into the direction they were hastening, where Middle-earth might or might not lie, under darkness and starlight. “My form walks with my people, but my fëa goes abroad, a traitor to me and mine, seeking those who hurt us.”
It took Idril a moment to understand, and, when she did, she was astonished that even the crossing could have driven it from her mind. Aredhel’s closest companions when she hunted and traveled in their homeland had been the sons of Fëanor, the very Elves who had left them stranded on the western shore and fired the ships they had used to sail, so that Fingolfin’s folk had no choice but to brave the Helcaraxë.
“You mourn for them,” she said.
“I yearn for them,” Aredhel corrected. “Not with heart’s love, but with spirit’s kindred, and their memories laugh and speak to me in the voices they had, not the ones I must imagine they have now, if they agreed with their father in his actions.” She drew pride around her like her white raiment, and began to walk again. “It is nothing I can trouble the heart of my father or my brothers with,” she murmured. “They would despise me as a traitor to their spirits, and rightly so.”
Idril was silent. She had thought Aredhel past any grief she had, or driven beyond her grief into anger, or else she would not have had the strength to make the crossing. But now she saw that her aunt had wrapped all such emotions into a glinting mantle, like hard earth under snow, and that her strength, though great, was perilous and thin as the pig iron that her great-aunt Nerdanel used in her forge.
This cannot be my strength, she thought, and sought for another mark to hit.
If she could not look upon Aredhel with pride and pleasure, there was Nerwen.
Nerwen walked towards the front of the host, leading, always leading, her height as great and her long strides as tireless as any man’s. Her hair, which Fëanor had admired and begged for a strand of, hung long over her shoulders, twisted into braids that would not interfere with her motions. Idril found that she liked to be near it. It was gold and silver, the colors of Telperion and Laurelin mingled, and in it the Trees seemed to come again.
Nerwen noticed at once that Idril was there, of course. She was always about in the world, her fëa flickering through her eyes like a beacon seen from afar at sea, and Idril believed the tales she had heard of her, that she had come on the journey not in outrage over the Enemy’s perfidy but because she longed for lands of her own to rule in the East.
And then Idril must pause and think on that, because she had not heard such tales. She only knew that the shine of Nerwen’s eyes and the ceaseless motions of her arms had spoken to her so strongly that the stories had seemed to be carved with delicate runes not only on the air in front of her but in her memories.
Nerwen did not give her long to ponder. “What do you wish, daughter of Elenwë?” she asked.
And thus Idril, daughter of Turgon and Elenwë who had died, learned that she was strong enough to bear hearing her mother’s name emerge from another’s mouth after her death. She straightened her spine so that she would be worthy of the sudden gift of knowledge, and answered, “I wish to know why you walk at the front of the host, and what you will do when we reach the Outer Lands.”
Then Nerwen did not answer, but continued for a long time in silence. When she responded, her voice matched the ice around them in depth and flatness. Idril had to listen carefully to be sure she gathered in all the notes. She had never spent enough time around her cousin to know so before, but it seemed that, when enraged, Nerwen’s Quenya took on more than a hint of the Telperin of her mother’s people.
“I see the swords flashing among the lamplight,” she said. “I see the blood of my grandfather’s kindred, of my mother’s, running down the steps because Fëanor must have his ships, and abandoned the course of calm speech to slaughter the mariners who would keep them from him. I see the Kinslaying of Alqualondë, child, and when I see Fëanor again, I will not let him forget it.”
Her left hand swung sharply up, and Idril realized that she carried a sword at her side. So naturally did she wear it that it moved like an extension of her hip, and Idril had not before seen it separately.
“You fought in defense of them,” she said, and that was another thing that she saw without knowing how she saw it. She had been far too driven in the battle of Noldor against Teleri, hating the blood spilled and yet thrilling in her heart to the awful song of swords, to see what Nerwen had done. Even that glorious hair could dull in the wake of darting bodies, of shouting throats.
“I did,” said Nerwen. “For the sake of the mother who bore me and gave me a name. Eärwen! I cried as I struck, and I made sure they heard me.”
“If they heard you,” Idril asked, thinking of Aredhel’s grief for the sons of Fëanor, and what Nerwen would surely say if she knew of it, “why must you go to the Outer Lands and make them hear it again?”
“I fear other sounds may have replaced it in their ears,” said Nerwen.
Idril walked by her side in silence, then, and studied her.
And for the first time far-sight came to her, and she saw as if in a distant dream, or another memory of warmth and light, the glory that Nerwen would attain, the grief that would drive her down all the long years, and the pride that would sustain her and yet prove her bane, preventing her from accepting pardon when she should accept it, or admitting the existence of grace other than her own.
Idril’s sight did not extend far enough to say whether forgiveness would be permitted her.
She hoped it might be, for the sake of the woman who carried the Trees in her hair and the sea in her veins.
She had found herself walking more in the middle of the host of late, surrounded by others and yet alone. Her eyes hurt. She had but to glance at someone else, and she could see part of the tales of their lives in their hands, their strides, the way their eyes turned up to the stars or ahead to the unseen shore in hopeful despair.
And since the tale of those lives was so full of grief, they also pained her to gaze upon.
She knew the voice that cried from the front, when at last it cried, heralding the sight of a coast, the beginning of firm earth and the end of doubt. It was Nerwen’s, and Idril could rejoice in her heart for her cousin, that she should have been the first to catch a glimpse of their future home.
And then, behind them, in the direction of the home they had abandoned forever—
Light. Silver light, creeping slowly over the ice, washing it in cold radiance that still stirred a hundred forty-four shining points.
Idril turned, slowly, knowing even as astonished murmurs broke from around her that Telperion had not been rekindled. The Trees of Silver and Gold were drained and gone. Some gifts were beyond even the Valar to make anew.
But light was not impossible, and the one she saw then, rising in the West, was a joy to her forever after.
A great orb of silver, shining triumphant in the face of the darkness that the Enemy had thought to bring down unbroken, framed above and below with the wavering of the stars—for he was greater than the stars, the last child of the Valar, the last blossom of Telperion the Beloved.
Idril lifted her arms and broke into a dance on the ice, her voice rising in sudden and fervent song, her heart beating a great surge of new fire through her. Memories of their home might fade like the ice, but this was true, this making of a new memory, this marred but still beautiful moment of an advance on Morgoth Bauglir.
From the shine of her feet in the moonlight as she danced, they named her Celebrindal, Silverfoot, and she carried that name into Middle-earth, and into Gondolin, and out of its ruin, when by her foresight some were saved from death and disaster.
But at that moment, past and future and present seemed all one to her, wedded of her song and the trumpets that blew like the voices of eagles to announce their arrival in Middle-earth, and all equally capable of being learned from and, in their wholeness, seen.