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13
The Craft of the Elven Smith

The Craft of the Elven Smith


She was taken by surprise by the summons to come to Aulë’s forge, for it had been long since any of the Valar had either approached her or had called her to them. She’d been certain she’d been tainted by her departed husband’s disobedience and obstinacy--and murderous actions. That the Smith of the Valar would still speak with such as she, with the blood of the Teleri splashed upon her as the result of the madness that had taken Fëanor and their sons and so many of their people, was unthinkable! Nerdanel arrayed herself as carefully as she might, and set off for the Vala’s presence, finding herself as nervous as any young elleth.

Welcome, child. She realized she was being greeted with courtesy--courtesy and surprising gentleness. She looked up from her obeisance to find there was no blame in the face of the one who stood before the forge’s fire.

“My Lord? And how is it one as unworthy as I might serve you?”

What felt like a great sigh was released by the powerful Vala. Lady, do not believe it of us that we blame you for your husband’s actions. Much evil has he wrought, goaded as he was by Melkor’s whispers and insinuations. But you we have ever held blameless, for you did all you could to dissuade him and your sons and your kindred from their destructive path. Nay, it is to you we look to aid in the hope of countering some of the great evil that has been loosed upon the mortal lands.

She looked on him with disbelief. “And how am I, bereft of all purpose as I am now that my children and he who was my husband are lost to me, to seek to aid those who dwell within Ennor?” she asked.

Were you not already an Elven smith of great skill and promise when you came to love him who was your husband? Have you lost the skill of your hands, the richness of your imagination, the power of your craft?

“But I have not fired my own forge since they left here, Lord.”

Then perhaps it is time to begin again. There will yet be a need for the crafting of gems, and there are a few in particular we would see made and sent, when the time is right, to the needs of Ennor. For, daughter, the evil wrought here by Melkor’s influence is as nothing compared to what is being wrought by him there.

“Morgoth he has become.”

Yea, so it is. She was amazed at the grief she felt in his communication. He examined her. Know this, Nerdanel--you are not the only one who has been made bereft of family as a result of this business. Oh, we will oppose him should he seek to return as we did ere he fled us--but he is yet our brother.

That she, a mere woman among the Elves of Aman, should find herself wishing to offer comfort to the Lord of the Forge she would never have imagined.

*******


She and her handmaids set to first cleansing her forge, then preparing it. Time it took to bring in wood and see it prepared as charcoal; she scoured the stores she and her husband had put in to find the quantities of carbon, silica, magnesium, cadmium, manganese, and other materials that she would need for the construction of what she would do.

There would be the need to bring what she would use to a great heat, so they set about renewing the great bellows. There would be the need to put it all under almost unimaginable pressure in order to bring those materials to their final clarity, so she cleansed presses, forms, and her great hammers. A new set of clamps she wrought with screws to further press what she would put together. A new lever she forged to turn her screws. A new set of adamantine chisels she created for the shaping and smoothing of what she wrought. Iron she laid in, and what was needed to make of it the finest steel. Molds she created for the forging of new tools. And at last she found herself ready.

*******


Daughter, may we enter your forge?

Nerdanel looked on those gathered outside the building with even more surprise than she had known when she was summoned before Aulë, for the Smith came accompanied by others. They had taken forms little greater than those of the Elves of Tirion today so that all might enter the forge building without crowding her. “Yes, of course. I am your handmaiden, my Lord--why would I ever seek to exclude you from my working?”

We have come to bless your work, Aulë told her. Perhaps had we sought to company your husband as he labored he would not have come to honor the work of his hands more than he did the world in which he wrought the jewels he created or the Light with which he filled them.

“Thank you, Lord,” she said bowing low.

I come to hallow your hands that they be fit to create what is needful, he continued.

There will be need for the creations of your hands to provide healing, Estë advised her, for deep already are the scars our brother and those who follow him have carved into Ennor; and if they continue as they have begun those scars will become deeper yet.

Imagination they will need who will wield these items,
Irmo explained.

Vairë added, And the ability to foresee what might come both if and if they do not act. Discernment will be truly needed by them.

Tulkas sighed, They will require strength--and great endurance.

What you will create,
began Vána slowly, will aid in the restoration not only of balance, but of growth and beauty.

Elves and Men and perhaps others besides will wield them to the fulfillment of the needs of all,
Yavanna continued.

Námo murmured, Yea, there will be required much of sacrifice, for the cleansing of the wounds wrought by our brother and his followers will come at the cost of many lives, I fear. Yet only if those who wield these things are willing to spend even themselves to see all brought right will all come back to balance once more and hopefully remain there.

Oromë lifted his head proudly. The ability to follow the trail of evil and the craft to stalk it quietly will be needed.

Great will be the grief of those who live in those times--they will need to know empathy, and will require the cleansing of their pain that they might then look in joy to the future.
Nienna looked on Nerdanel with great compassion, knowing this elleth had already known her heart torn into pieces as a result of Melkor’s machinations. Not trusting herself to speak, the Elven smith nodded her head in understanding.

At last Varda spoke gently, Light shall they require, to guide them upon the way and to chase away the Shadows that seek to bring them down.

And Manwë finished, I come to breathe into them the Breath of Purpose, and we will all seek to see them in tune with the Song itself. Is this well with you, daughter?

Nerdanel wiped her eyes against her upper sleeve, for this had moved her greatly. “Indeed, Lords, Ladies. I only pray I am worthy.”

Námo smiled into her eyes. Is this not but what is asked of any of us who people Arda, child--that we do the best we can to see that all is kept properly in balance and the Light shines equally upon all?

*******


So she began. First, as the Valar sang a great harmony of crafting about her, she melted iron and purified it, added carbon, tested and purified it again, and continued until at last she had wrought it into the finest steel imaginable. She made of it new tools--tools intended not for her own hands, but for the hands of an ellon of great craft. Hammers she wrought, a fine anvil, crucibles, vises, presses, tongs, tweezers, great cutters....

All were blessed by those who stood by her to watch the work and to hallow what she crafted.

Then she rested for some days before all returned to the forge as she set about crafting what was yet to come.

A necklace had her husband wrought for her, set with seven great opals of his forging, signifying each of the sons to whom she’d given birth. Six of those gems had lost their Light as the ellon each had signified had died. Now she wrested those six Lightless stones from their settings, setting the remains of them within the crucible in which she prepared the materials from which she would craft her own gems. Once all six were there, Námo, Nienna, Estë, and Manwë together laid their hands over them, grieving with her for what she had lost, desiring that one day she would know the joy of reunion once more, although what she might receive back would be changed, purified of what had taken her family from her. The seventh stone she removed more gently, setting it aside, as her Macalaurë yet lived and might, in the fullness of time, be restored to her without having to pass through the Halls of Mandos. The chain, however, she threw into the crucible in which she would prepare new chains for the use of others. The love she’d known for her husband would require much purification before she could take it up again, she knew.

Other materials she added to the crucible for her gems, and she began to heat it, Aulë and Tulkas both working the bellows for her forge and Manwë adding the power of his breath, until all glowed beyond white-hot. At last she poured the glowing mass into her press, and again with the aid of Aulë and Tulkas she saw it tightened down until she feared that it would all fly apart from the pressure of it.

When at last they undid the great screws and released it all, she opened the press to find a gem of remarkable beauty had been wrought--but it was not anywhere as great as any of the gems Fëanor had forged. The Lady Varda, however, appeared well pleased with it, and held out her hands to take it, filling it with Light and luster.

More gems she wrought of various colors, but all of them small, all of them perfect in shape and brilliance, but none of them appearing to be of greater worth than a common diamond or emerald wrested from the matrix of the earth itself. But each Varda accepted, blessing them the more, delighting in each as it was given to her.

Again, once the forging of these gems was done, Nerdanel rested for some days before returning one last time. Today it was Vairë who addressed her. Elven smiths within Ennor will wield the tools you have made, and the gems will be given to those who will see them set to the needs of all. However, this day we need for you to set one of the stones you crafted the other day, and we would have other items made for the hands of women to wield, for it is not only the work of warriors and craftsmen that will be needed in the bringing of all to rightness in the end.

More fragments of mithril, taken from coats of mail and swordbelts, were placed in the crucible that held the remains of the chain on which Fëanor had set the seven opals of his forging, and from the metal she forged a chain of the greatest delicacy, and a setting for the clearest of the gems she had wrought to hang from the chain. When it was done, it was given into the hands of Estë, Nienna, and Irmo, who between them saw the stone empowered before giving it into the hands of first Manwë and at last Varda once more.

Then she found herself crafting simple items--steel needles and one of mithril; steel hooks and needles to use in the crafting of woolen items, a series of fine spindles of various sizes and weights, fine gold, silver, and mithril wire and threads, steel pens....

At last all appeared to be finished to the satisfaction of the Valar. Each offered her his or her blessing as they left her, until at last only Aulë and Nienna were left. You have done well indeed, daughter, the Smith told her, smiling on her in pride.

Nerdanel looked up at him in wonder, smiling in return through the tears of easing she now knew. “Thank you, my Lord,” she murmured. “I rather wish I knew what it was that will be done with each of these.”

Nienna caressed her hair. I believe we will be able to show you as each comes to its intended recipient. Tell me, beloved child, is your grief eased?

“Oh, yes, Lady,” Nerdanel admitted. “Having work again for my hands has done much to restore my heart--and hope.”

That is good. And do not be ashamed, Nerdanel, to weep when it is needful.

*******


A small grey boat arrived on the shores of Middle Earth, and from it emerged what appeared to be a tall ellon who claimed to be a trader. He made his way to Gondolin, where none thought to question his right to enter in. Enerdhil and Celebrimbor went to the lodging house where he stayed, and looked upon the tools he’d brought.

Enerdhil examined one set of tools with delight, for it was as if they had been crafted particularly for his hands. “I will take them!” he said with pleasure. “What would you have in exchange?”

Celebrimbor found himself drawn to a second set of presses, and tools appropriate to the fashioning of settings. “These would I have.”

Bargains were struck. As they moved to return to the city with their purchases, however, the stranger merchant beckoned to Celebrimbor. “Here,” he said. “You purchased the lesser set of tools, although you paid almost as much as did your fellow here. I would give you this to make the trade more equitable.” And he gave into the smith’s hands a carefully wrought box, in which lay a jewel of such beauty the smith’s breath was abated.

“Never have I seen an item of such Light, not since the work of Fëanor,” he breathed.

“Is that so?” asked the trader. “All I ask is that when you find the one you feel it is right to give this to, that you do so.”

Celebrimbor nodded. “Gladly, sir. Indeed, most gladly will I do so.”

*******


The trader came amongst the ellyth of the city, and several purchased of his needles, spindles, and items for the making of lace and woolwork. But when the Lady Artanis came to him he pressed on her a packet of needles, including one of mithril, and would take no payment. “Nay, daughter,” he smiled. “It is a blessing to see these given where they are intended to go.”

She searched his eyes, then smiled on him, believing she recognized him from a far different place and time. “I thank you, Olórin,” she answered him. “And what do you do here, and in such a guise?”

“You think you know me? But do you truly?” He kissed her hand and left her.

*******


Celeborn looked at the strange trader who’d come to his lodgings with curiosity. “You say you were sent to seek me out?” he asked.

“Yes, for it is told to me that you are ever in search of beautiful gems. Here--let me show you what I have.” And he showed off a shallow box in which gems of many colors lay on layers of black and red velvet.

Celeborn bought the lot of them, along with much of the wire and threads he had for sale.

*******


With the tools he had purchased Enerdhil wrought the great Elessar stone for the Lady Idril, and Celebrimbor made for it a brooch setting in the shape of an eagle. Long she wore it, then gave it to her son ere she sailed from Middle Earth with her husband.

When Gondolin fell and Enerdhil died, his tools went to Celebrimbor, who took them with his own first to Lindon and later to Eregion. The white jewel on its mithril chain, however, he gave in time to his friend Elrond. “I believe it is for one who will be close to you that this will be needed,” he told the Peredhel.

It was with a feeling of awe that in time he found, pressed into his hand during one of his visits to Mithlond to see friends off who’d elected to return to Aman, the Elessar stone. How could he be mistaken with it--had he not been working the bellows when Enerdhil forged it, and had he himself not crafted the setting for it? Who it was that had seen it given him he had no idea, for the press on the stone quays had been heavy that day. But he was certain that a very small grey ship had preceded the greater one on which his friends departed out through the gates of the Firth of Lhun. When he passed through the King’s city in Lindon as he returned toward Eregion, he gave this into the hands of Artanis. “You are among the greatest of us all,” he said, “and are the daughter of Finarfin and the sister to Finrod Fegalund. In you lies the power to restore much in this world.”

She accepted it thoughtfully, and wore it long, until in the midst of the Second Age Celebrimbor began creating Rings of Power, giving her Nenya for her own.

When her daughter Celebrían married Elrond Eärendilion, Galadriel Artanis gave the Elessar to her, and Elrond gave her the white gem Celebrimbor had given him as a welcome gift as she joined him in Imladris. She gave the white gem to Arwen when she was old enough to care for it; before she left Middle Earth, Celebrían gave the Elessar also into the keeping of her daughter.

*******


Celeborn had come to Imladris after word was brought that Isildur had died after being attacked near the Gladden Fields. The shards of Narsil were shown to Amroth’s second, and he looked on them with grief, remembering the Kings among Men who’d last wielded the sword, first in the bringing down of Sauron and then in the removal of the Ring from Sauron’s hand. He examined it closely, noting, “Ah--see, Elrond, how a gem was lost here? It will need replacing. Wait, I think I may have a perfect stone to replace that lost.” And he went to the goods he’d brought with him, including the box of gems he’d bought so long ago, and indeed he had a gem that was so closely matched to the others in the hilts of the sword none would realize it wasn’t one of those that had first been set there. It was with satisfaction he and Elrond saw that much of the sword restored for now.

*******


Dúrin looked with suspicion on the strange Elf who’d come to the doors of his halls. “Why do you come here?” he asked.

“It was told to me that although mostly you and your people prefer to mine and shape gemstones taken from the earth, that now and then you will purchase some from others. Here I have some....”

The Lord of Khazad-dûm purchased a box of such gems and set them amongst his personal goods. In time they were given to the one who inherited his name and position, and onward, until at last they came into the keeping of Gloin of the Iron Hills and Erebor, who for the first time saw them set into crafted items, some for trade with the Hobbits of the Shire. Indeed, his former companion Bilbo would greatly appreciate the pair of shirt studs in which he set two matching diamonds taken from the box. Bilbo smiled and gave them to his younger cousin Frodo, who tried to leave them behind when he left the Shire; but Sam had packed them as spares in case aught should happen to the plainer pair he’d had from his Brandybuck kin that he wore. After he lost one near Weathertop, Frodo accepted the second pair and wore them as he set off on the quest, losing the second of these only as he struggled up the stairs of Cirith Ungol.

*******


A trader from among Men, young and new come to the business that had been actively followed by his family for generations, smiled as the Hobbit farmer’s young wife asked after spindles. “Oh, yes, Mistress Eglantine, I have some. Can’t say as how long my old dad carried them about, but they are as good as if they were newly made.” And he sold her a set of three. Later he sold three more to a Ranger he met in Bree--the tallest and leanest of the lot, he judged, who indicated he intended them as a Yule gift for his lady.

And he did well indeed with the steel pens, needles for knitting and the hooks and lace bobbins and some needles and forms for embroidery his dad had sat on for so long there at the Bridge Market, as the Master’s sister bought them. “You ought to get years of use out of them, Mistress Baggins,” he advised her.

“Can we afford them, do you think, Drogo?” she asked her husband.

“Of course we can, Primula my love,” he assured her. “You’re amongst the finest woolworkers and embroiderers in the whole of the Shire and Buckland, and you deserve the very best, you know. But who will receive the steel pens?”

“You, Bilbo, my father, and Saradoc.”

He paid for them, and she kissed him as he gave the sewing and woolwork items proudly into her hands.

After her death, these were given to Bilbo to dispose of; he immediately thought to give them to Bell Gamgee, who left them to her own daughters.

*******


“What is it you work on, my daughter’s daughter?” asked Galadriel of Arwen, having caught her carefully embroidering on black cloth in an almost hidden glade of Lothlórien. She examined it swiftly, then smiled. “For him, then? And you use the mithril needle I gave you for it, do you?”

“Yes, Daernaneth,” the elleth answered her. “I have worked long on it, another gift of hope for Estel for the day when it is right for him to assert his heritage.”

“Yes, this is the right thing to do. But would this not be better if you used thread of silver, do you think? Your daeradar gave me a supply of it not long after we were married. And I believe I have the perfect gems to use for the centers of the seven stars. Come with me and we will look on them.”

Indeed, they proved perfect for their intended purpose.

*******


Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel came to the workshop where those who worked in leather made quivers, gloves, sheaths for knives and swords, and the like. “We wish to have a sheath made,” Celeborn explained to the master leather wright, “of your finest black leather, one intended to protect the integrity of the sword’s blade it will contain. And into it we would have these worked,” he added, presenting the box containing the last of the gems he’d purchased so long ago as well as the gold, silver, and mithril wire. “It is to contain the sword reforged from the shards of Narsil. We are told Lord Aragorn has named it anew Anduril.”

“The Flame of the West? Yes, a good name,” agreed the leather wright. “And how soon shall this be needed?”

“Within six weeks ought to be soon enough,” the Lady told him.

“It will be an honor to do this for the Dúnedan,” the craftsman assured her. “Here, let me show you the quality of leathers we have on hand....”

*******


One day Nerdanel was summoned as had happened before to the groves of Lórien, and there Irmo showed her a vision of the Lady Arwen settling over the shoulders of a slender and wounded Perian the white gem on its mithril chain she’d made so long ago. He was dressed in the odd garments of his people, and in his cuffs were studs set with two of the smallest gems she’d crafted. A Dwarf made those for him, taking the stones from the handle of his own battle-axe to set in them, stones he had from his father. This one has been sustained by your gifts for a long time, sweet daughter, and they will continue to do so until he chooses whether he will come to us for healing or die in peace amongst his own folk.

These two stones were the only opals she herself had wrought, and she smiled to see the tremulous look of wonder on the face of this one as he held the white stone in his hand. “They have been well given,” she murmured.



~~~


Author’s notes:

Tolkien gives us several different tales of how the Elessar stone was wrought and given to Galadriel, coming in time to Arwen, then back via her grandmother to Aragorn as her next-to-last promise gift to him. It was created variously by Enerdhil in Gondolin or Celebrimbor, and given to Galadriel by either Celebrimbor, who’d loved her, possibly while she and Celeborn dwelt in Eregion, or by Olórin on his arrival as the Grey Wizard. However, that last would put it in her hands long after she had Nenya from Celebrimbor; so I chose to have the gem returned anonymously from Aman to Celebrimbor at Mithlond and him giving it to her before she and Celeborn followed him to Eregion.

We are told Nerdanel herself was an Elven smith of note; should she not play a part in helping mend what her husband had marred? I find I like the idea of Fëanor’s abandoned wife finding her own healing through the practice of her people’s craft, and the idea that the lesser gems she’d wrought would in time serve many we know and love as they went upon the quest. The thought that the scarf so many of us since the films have continued to have Pippin wear was the result of Eglantine’s spinning on one of Nerdanel’s spindles, knitted by Primula on knitting needles also crafted in Aman and given first to Frodo, then Merry, and at last to Pippin in my series of stories is a pleasant one.

But I felt Nerdanel deserves her own healing and her own independent purpose, and so this story was born.


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