They approached a small clearing that was bathed in moonlight, and ringed with more lilacs. Nienna veered off the path, moving between the flowering bushes, and seated herself upon the thick grass in the clearing. Indis followed suit, sitting a few feet away from the tall Vala.
Nienna lifted her hood, and Indis beheld a face of quiet beauty, with large dark grey eyes framed by thick, arched brows, set in an oval face. After Indis had gazed at her for several moments, Nienna’s eyebrows rose slightly, a small smile hinting at the corners of her mouth.
“Forgive me, Lady,” Indis said, lowering her eyes. “I have never seen your face before this.”
“Fear not, Indis,” Nienna replied. “I take no offense at your curiosity. Indeed, I usually seek to shield myself from the eyes of those I do not know well. It allows me to keep within my thoughts and purpose without distraction. But if I will converse with another I prefer to be as visible to them as they are to me. A true exchange requires such openness.”
“Thank you, Lady. Thank you for coming here for my sake. Thank you for speaking with me. … Already I feel more at peace, but I am still lost.”
“It is not to be wondered at, Indis,” Nienna replied. “I suggest that you begin at the heart of the matter, which seems to me to be the extent to which you can, and perhaps should, claim responsibility for what happened. That will be the most difficult thing, I think, but when you have done so I think that you will find that the rest falls more easily into place.”
“So you agree that I bear some of the guilt for what happened to Míriel Serindë?” Indis asked, uncertainly.
“I cannot judge this until you have told me your thoughts on the matter, my dear,” replied Nienna. “But since you have been carrying a feeling of guilt with you for so long, it would be well if you identified what, exactly, you did that could have led to this unhappiness.”
“Lady, I have thought about this for a very long time. If I had known what my marriage to Finwë would cost Míriel, I would not have wed him. But I …”
Nienna gently interrupted her. “What cost did Míriel pay?”
“She had to abandon her life, and her child, forever,” Indis replied, slightly puzzled by the question.
“She had already abandoned her life and her child. She had been away for some time before Finwë petitioned to wed you. And when summoned before Manwë, Míriel steadfastly insisted that she did not wish to return to life. Your husband told you that her final choice was the result of her discovery that he wished to join himself to you. But where is your part in this?”
“Had I not loved him, had I not wished to marry Finwë and share a life with him, in time perhaps Míriel would have healed and returned to life,” Indis persisted.
“Was it wrong to love Finwë?” asked Nienna.
“I … I don’t think so,” Indis replied. “In fact, I could not help myself. I’d always loved him, from the first time I laid eyes upon him. He was so vibrant, so active and interesting. So different from my people. I was drawn to him, wishing to know him and to be known by him. But I never sought his company, not while Míriel lived, nor even after she first retreated to Lórien…”
Nienna said nothing, watching Indis intently.
“And yet … I was very aware of him, and where he was. I was filled with sorrow for him, and for their son. I wanted to do what I could to help. Not that I thought I could restore Míriel to health … but I … I thought I could offer Finwë my friendship, to help him bear the loneliness that Míriel’s absence brought to him.”
Still Nienna said nothing.
Indis faltered. “Would I have done so had I not secretly loved him from afar for so long? I don’t know. … I suppose not.”
Nienna said quietly, “tell me, Indis, before you wed Finwë, you must have had other suitors, among your own people?”
Indis nodded absently. “Yes, I did. But none of them captured my heart.”
Nienna asked, “and why was that?”
Indis looked at her sadly and sighed. “Because my heart was already fixed on Finwë. I wouldn’t let myself openly dream of what it would be like if I were his wife, instead of Míriel, but I suppose that hope was always unspoken in my heart.
“I could not forget him, even though I did my best to avoid him while Míriel was alive. When my brother thought to move to Taniquetil, I happily accompanied his family. Well, perhaps not happily, for there was a part of me that ached to be near Finwë – to see him and hear him, at least. But I knew it would be better for me to be at a distance. …” Indis paused before continuing.
“When I’d heard that Míriel was unwell, I mourned for them. I am quite sure that I did not wish her ill, and indeed what ended up happening to her was so unexpected, I could never have imagined it, let alone wished for it, even if I had been willing to admit that I wanted to have Finwë for myself.”
Nienna nodded. Indis continued, “When I learned that Míriel had passed into Mandos, I was shocked. … And … filled with anticipation. Truly, at that time I did not think that their separation would be permanent. But I saw that there was an opportunity for me to be near Finwë. And I saw that he had need of a supportive friend, for Mandos was far from Tirion, and he journeyed there alone to plead for Míriel to return. I frequently wandered alone. It was easy to cross Finwë’s path. In fact, at the time I wasn’t even fully aware of what I was doing. I remember that I knew I might encounter Finwë. And the thought excited me.
“But truly my motives were innocent. I could not have imagined that he would eventually turn to me to take Míriel’s place. I never dreamt that her absence would be permanent. I just sought to salve my own heart a bit, which had yearned so strongly for Finwë, by claiming a bit of his friendship.”
“Do you truly believe that?” asked Nienna.
“Yes. … Yes! What other possibility was there for us at that time?”
“It was unclear. Míriel’s abandonment of life was unprecedented, and presented a very difficult dilemma,” Nienna observed.
Indis considered this for some moments, and then closed her eyes. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I could not let myself acknowledge that some wild part of me dared to hope that more might come of it, that my fondest wish could come to pass. If that is so, I can at least say that I was not knowingly putting myself in Finwë’s path in order to win him for myself…” Indis trailed off miserably.
“I agree. Your heart is pure, Indis, and you would not deliberately act to harm another. But perhaps you had been struggling for so long with your unspoken love for Finwë that, when the opportunity presented itself, your long-suppressed desire superceded your good judgment, which had hitherto kept you away from Finwë even if you could not manage to forget him and love another?” Nienna offered.
“Yes … yes… I think that might be so,” Indis allowed.
“You say that you put yourself in Finwë’s path, to offer him friendship in his time of need. But in an unacknowledged corner of your heart you wished for more than just a friendship, although you never actively sought his love.”
“Yes.” Indis nodded slowly.
“Very well. What do you think would have happened had you not put yourself in Finwë’s path?” Nienna asked.
Indis’s gaze grew distant as she considered the question. “… I think that his grief at losing his wife would have continued to be very difficult for him to bear. I’m not sure what he would have done if, over time, Míriel continued her refusal and Finwë was left alone and bereft.”
“Do you think that he might have found another replacement for Míriel?” asked Nienna.
Indis looked at the Vala, appalled and a bit offended. “Lady, my husband’s love for me was true! It was not a casual transference of affection. Love among the Eldar is a rare thing – that Finwë was able to find it again after losing Míriel was a wondrous thing in and of itself! Indeed, his love for Míriel endured even after he wed me. He did not seek to replace Míriel in his heart.”
“And did you ever wonder why Míriel Serdindë could not remain in her life and in her marriage to Finwë?” Nienna pressed gently.
Indis nodded. “Countless times before I wed Finwë, and an infinite number of times after I was wed to him, I wondered why she left. I asked Finwë, and he did not seem to know her reasons. I think he would have told me if he knew, for when we first began to meet and converse he was desperate to find a way to get Míriel to return.”
“And so your conclusion was that Míriel Serindë abandoned her life, her husband, and her child for no good reason?” Nienna asked.
“Yes. And as far as I can tell, that much was true, except that later she came to regret her rash decision.” Indis replied.
Nienna frowned, “Rash? If you don’t know her reasons, how could you know that she behaved rashly?”
“If her choice was not rash, why did she come to regret it?” Indis retorted.
“Have you never made a choice that seemed to be right at the time, perhaps even inevitable, but which you later came to regret?” Nienna rebuked her gently.
Indis pursed her lips. “Yes. Yes I have. On more than one occasion,” she admitted, abashed.
Nienna’s smile was laced with sadness. “As have I. I wonder, Indis, if in order to realize your deep-seated wish to be with Finwë you not only blinded yourself to your true motive in seeking his friendship, but also blinded yourself to the possibility that Míriel had departed with a purpose, one that you would have held if you had been in her place?” she asked gravely.
Indis stared ahead unseeing, as shame washed over her. “Did I dismiss Míriel in order to suit myself? Did I see only what I wished to see?”
Nienna did not respond.
After a long moment Indis spoke, slowly, “And therein lies my fault, does it not? I had no way of knowing what had passed between Finwë and Míriel’s fëa when he petitioned to wed me, but if I hadn’t passed judgment on Míriel for leaving her life, her husband, and her child for no discernible reason, perhaps I wouldn’t have so readily accepted the possibility that she could, that she would, willingly consign herself to stay forever in Mandos.”
Nienna nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Do you know her reasons for leaving, Lady?” Indis asked, turning to face the Vala.
Nienna frowned slightly. “That is not something I will discuss with you, Indis. Both because I deem that the information is not necessary at the moment, and because I will not speak for Míriel.”
“Where is she now?” Indis asked.
“She dwells still in Námos’s halls, in the wing where Vairë does her weaving. During her life among the Noldor, Míriel Serindë was the finest seamstress and weaver of all the Eldar. She now devotes her time and her skill to recording the deeds of the Noldor in a tapestry woven in Vairë’s workshop.”
“She is alive, yet remains within the halls of Mandos?” Indis asked in confusion.
“She may no longer go into the halls which house the fëa,” Nienna explained. “She is confined to Vairë’s wing, and she works beside my brother’s wife and her assistants. But come, Míriel’s whereabouts are not relevant to our purpose at the moment. You are trying to face your part in the painful history of the House of Finwë.”
Indis’s face wore an expression of grim determination. “Yes, yes. If I am to make amends, to bring about change, I must be willing to look at what I am responsible for. Very well: I selfishly helped to create the circumstances in which Finwë came to love me, because I had long loved him. Had I not done so, perhaps he would have found a way to endure until such time as Míriel was ready to return to life.”
Indis sighed sadly. “I passed judgment on Míriel, by failing to consider that she must have left for a good reason. And I self-righteously disregarded Míriel a second time, by assuming that her unnatural fate was perhaps deserved, since she had taken such a drastic, unthinkable path. Had I been able to set aside my own obvious interests in the matter, perhaps I would have recognized that such a terrible bargain could not be a good foundation for a marriage.”
Nienna smiled at Indis with her peculiar mix of warmth and sadness. “It is not easy to admit such things. They are in the past, and cannot be undone. But if you truly recognize the part that you played, I think the way forward will soon become clear to you.”