Míriel stepped back from the water’s edge and sat down rather abruptly. She shook her head and her eyes were distant as she continued her tale, her knees drawn to her chin. “In departing Tirion I had two purposes: to regain my strength away from the demands of my husband and child, and to make my husband see that our child could not be the means to his visions of glory for our people. I did not like to leave, but I saw no other way.
“When I entered Mandos, my two-fold purpose remained. The halls were not nearly as full of fëar as they are now – and even now, I think, the fëar within commune with each other only rarely. It is largely a place of silence, wherein a fëa comes to terms with herself, her limitations, her mistakes, and her possibilities.
“But of course my entry was unprecedented – at first Námo was reluctant to even allow me to enter, and tried to convince me to return to my hröa. When I explained why I wished to enter his halls, he relented, but not without misgiving. He reminded me that a fëa’s natural state is with its hröa, and only in the gravest of circumstances are the two severed. Likewise, he reminded me that a young mother’s place is with her infant, and a wife’s place with her husband. He felt that I was abdicating my duties to my son and my husband, and that I lacked faith in myself to see to it that Finwë followed a wise course. He was right, about all of these things, but first I just sought to rest for a bit.
“In what seemed like a very short time I was more at peace with myself and also with the struggles I’d had with Finwë, although I was still not ready to return to life when I was summoned before Manwë himself at Máhanaxar. I was escorted to the Council by Uquenta and Ahyalo, two of Námo’s assistants who had tended to me upon my entry into Mandos, and who have been my closest confidants ever since. Neither they nor I knew what business required my appearance in the Ring of Doom, but I assumed that it must pertain to Finwë.
“And sure enough, upon my entrance into Máhanaxar I discovered that Finwë had presented a petition to the Valar. My heart swelled with pity for him, and I felt remorse that I had forced him to go to such lengths to convince me to return to him. Although I would have preferred to abide a bit longer in Mandos, I decided that I should return soon to life, if Finwë truly could not bear my absence any longer. I addressed him with love, for although I no longer occupied my hröa, our fëa were able to communicate much as they had since we were wed. I asked him to be patient. … And then I divined his purpose, and I retreated from him. The last thing I perceived while communing with Finwë was shock, as he had concluded that I would never return to life. In my turn, I was shocked to find that he was petitioning to sever our tie so that he might wed you.
Míriel stared ahead with unseeing eyes. “In that moment, I saw that Námo’s admonishments had also been warnings. The path I had chosen led my husband to believe that I had utterly forsaken him, and our child. I had not realized that more than two years had passed since I entered Mandos, for to me it had seemed to be no more than a few weeks.
“In leaving I had been focused on my need for peace and my wish for Finwë to listen to reason. But I had failed to consider that in so doing I would deprive my husband of the support he had always depended upon me for. I knew that Finwë felt keenly the burdens of kingship; indeed his devotion to our people, and his wish to bring glory to the Noldor underpinned his drive to create an unparalleled royal family, one that would represent the best qualities of our people. Finwë had always harnessed his energy and enthusiasm for the good of our people and I realized, even when my spirits were at their lowest after Fëanáro’s birth, that his inability to hear me was simply a manifestation of the difficulty he had in separating his private duties to his wife and family from his public duties to his people. Before Fëanáro’s birth there was little need for him to distinguish between the two.
“And I did not share in that burden, for my own concerns had always been more privately focused. I was queen only because I was Finwë’s wife, and although I, too, loved our people, I never sought to lead them. Thus, I saw my son solely as a mother sees a child; while Finwë saw Fëanáro both as a father sees a son and as a king sees a prince. In arguing for my son, I appealed only to the father. In leaving my husband, I also left the king. In truth, I had forgotten the king … but the king, the father, and the husband were one and the same. I had failed them all.
“At Máhanaxar I discovered the terrible fruits of my stubborn, selfish path: Finwë had come to love another. The Valar were considering whether to allow him to repudiate his marriage to me so that he might wed you. You were standing next to Finwë – tall, golden, and beautiful. I observed your love for Finwë shining in your eyes, and I knew that such love was impossible unless Eru had deemed it good. I realized that I had underestimated so many things: Finwë’s needs, the narrowness of my own perspective, the passage of time. I am relating to you now an understanding that I did not possess in that moment. At the time, I was overwhelmed with grief, dismay, and confusion, and could not imagine returning to life under such circumstances.
“When Manwë addressed me, I responded to tell him that I did not wish to return to life. In that moment it was true. Ahyalo and Uquenta both urged me to reconsider. Námo warned me against making such an unnatural choice. But in that moment I did not know any goodness in the world, could not recall the love I felt for my son, could not feel anything but the terrifying knowledge of my failure. I responded, truthfully, that I wished to remain unhoused in Mandos, and that the Valar should not view me as an impediment to Finwë’s new marriage.”
Míriel stopped speaking. After a long pause she added, “And so it came to pass.” She had recounted her tale staring straight ahead, with distant eyes. Now, at a small sound from Indis, Míriel turned stoically to face her.
Indis wiped tears from her own eyes as she met Míriel’s. “I do feel towards you as I would a sister, and your account has touched my heart with much sadness. If only Finwë had known! If only … ah!” Indis sighed, shook her head, and then continued, “Now that you have explained what led you to your decision, I am all the more ashamed of my presumptuousness. In hearing your account I see that you knew Finwë far better than I ever did, and that you struggled with the most difficult part of his character. I suspect that his experience with you did teach him to better differentiate between his private and public duties, for he did not place such heavy expectations on me or our children as he did on you and Fëanáro.”
Míriel was silent for a moment, and then offered, “that is so. I have also come to realize that perhaps I was too private in my dealings with Finwë. I had only a few close friends besides my husband, and once I entered my confinement, prior to Fëanáro’s birth, I ceased to communicate even with them. Had I sought counsel or assistance from others, I might have been better able to meet the demands of my husband and child. I might have found a way to make Finwë truly understand me. I made my decision in isolation and exhaustion, and did not at the time recognize its flaws.”
The two elves sat watching the swift water tumble over the rocks. At last Indis spoke, “Thank you, Míriel, for sharing your story with me. You did not think that it would be very useful, but it has made things even more clear to me.” She drew a deep breath. “I have apologized already for my lack of sympathy for your plight, but there is a second matter for which I must beg your forgiveness … and I realize now that this trespass might be the worse of the two.”
Míriel regarded Indis with an impassive face, waiting while the latter paused for a moment with averted eyes.
Finally Indis continued, “I had long loved Finwë before we wed. Before he ever loved me. When you lived, I knew that my love for your husband was without hope, and could never be realized, so I buried it deep in my heart, and remained alone. But it drove me to seek Finwë after you had passed into Lórien. It was not mere chance that led to my encounter with your husband once you had entered Mandos. I had been in the habit of wandering alone, and I wandered where I was sure to encounter Finwë as he journeyed between Tirion and Mandos, for my heart would not be denied.”
At this, Míriel was jolted from the preternatural calm that had hitherto characterized her participation in their conversation. Indis had striven to meet Míriel’s calm, and had been grateful that the latter seemed disinclined to allow emotion to enter their discussion. That ended with her confession, as Míriel’s face clearly displayed her shock.
“But … but how could you have loved Finwë when he and I were husband and wife?” Míriel asked in confused disbelief. “You did not even know him then! I … I do not understand.”
Indis hung her head, unable to meet Míriel’s incredulous gaze. “From the first time I laid eyes on Finwë, shortly after the Noldor had arrived in Aman, I knew that I could love none other than him. And so I went without love for a long time, for it was equally clear to me that his heart was given to you.”
Indis summoned her courage and lifted her head. “For a very long time I had no thought of ever having Finwë’s love, and I was reconciled to remaining alone.” She glanced down before raising her eyes to meet Míriel’s. “But then you aba-, you left for Lórien, and later entered Mandos. And I could feel Finwë’s anguish, for I knew all too well … what it was like to be parted from the one you love. In an unacknowledged corner of my heart, the love I’d borne for so long, unanswered, sparked hope that perhaps my suffering would end. So … I made a point of wandering where he was sure to pass, between Tirion and the Halls of Mandos.”
Míriel’s face still showed her shock as she rose, shakily, to her feet. “… Finwë … believes that it was Eru’s will that he met you. He came to believe that although you were fated to meet, he was not wise enough to apprehend the right course of action. He believes that his imperfect reception of Eru’s good will led him to betray me. … He believes that all of his family, including you, came to sorrow, as a punishment for his failure to find the right path. He believes that his death at Melkor’s hands was in some way deserved!”
Indis nodded sadly. “I knew that he believed we were fated by Eru to meet, and at the time I believed that too. In fact, I had believed that to be true until very recently. With the Lady Nienna’s help I have come to see that I blinded myself to the truth even in that fatal moment, for I had long been accustomed to ignoring what I felt for Finwë. I did not truly know what I was doing when I set out to meet him.”
Until this point Indis had been sitting, but now she rose to better face an appalled Míriel. “I promise you that I had not intended any harm at all. I have come to recognize, at long last, my own motives in this matter, and I am filled with shame and remorse. But while my heart had compelled me to unwise action, at the time I could not have even hoped that meeting Finwë would lead to my marriage to him. It was unthinkable!”
Míriel responded coldly, “it should have been unthinkable, but I do not know whether I can believe your claim that it was so for you. It seems to me that the mere fact of your supposed love for my husband was beyond what is natural for an Elf. … And you allowed him to believe that he had deceived you, and that he was responsible for the ruin brought to his family, when any blame lay just as heavily upon you.”
“I know,” Indis replied miserably, “and I …”
Míriel interrupted, “please stop! Do not explain any more! I … I must think on this.” She walked several paces upstream, to where a large boulder in the middle of the rushing water afforded an easy crossing. Míriel hopped over to the other side and paced slowly along the opposite bank, still upstream from where Indis stood, watching anxiously.
Míriel appeared to be lost in thought, struggling to reconcile this revelation with what she had long believed to be true. Eventually Indis became aware of another presence, near Míriel. Míriel’s lips did not move, but she seemed to be nonetheless conversing with … someone. Indis watched as Míriel shook her head several times, pacing all the while. Then Míriel stood still, staring with unseeing eyes at a distant point, as she seemed to listen to a voice that only she could hear. She nodded slowly, and sank to her knees beside the stream. Tucking her feet under her bent legs, Míriel sat and then leaned over the water to gaze into it. She remained thus for a long time, apparently lost in thought.
Could it be … ? Indis waited and watched. The sun had long since passed its zenith and was descending, casting its bright rays in Indis’s eyes as she looked to the western bank, where Míriel sat, still staring at the water.
Eventually Míriel raised her head, still seated at the water’s edge for a few more moments. She then rose to her feet, nodded once, and slowly made her way back to the boulder that allowed her to cross back to the side of the stream where Indis still was standing. Míriel approached Indis solemnly.
“I do not yet know in full what I should make of your revelation, Indis,” she announced. “I am counseled by Ahyalo to take time to consider all the implications of what you have told me. He will return with some food for us, for I did not think to bring any with me when I left the workshop.”
“He is very kind to do so. I carry with me some peaches and bread from Lórien, if you are hungry now?” At receiving no response from Míriel, Indis continued, hesitantly, “…Ahyalo, you mentioned, is one of Námo’s people? I did not think it was common for Maiar to move among the Eldar when not in a physical form.”
Míriel responded distractedly, “that is perhaps so for most of the Maiar, but Námo’s folk have no need of hröa when consorting with the fëa they tend in his halls. I believe that Ahyalo usually does take a shape when he goes abroad, but he did not need to do so when he followed me here, for he had not intended to enter our discussion, nor to communicate with me at all. He has long been my friend, and accompanied us unseen out of concern for me. You will see him, no doubt, when he returns with the food he brings.”
“He heard our conversation?” Indis asked.
“He did not. He waited on the other side of the stream. He did not wish to intrude.”
An uneasy silence descended, as they awaited Ahyalo’s return. Míriel seemed disinclined to speak. Indis felt there was nothing more she could say – Míriel might never forgive her, and if so Indis was prepared to accept that condemnation.
But eventually Míriel addressed Indis again. “Your news was unexpected, Indis, and I cannot deny that it has brought me sadness and dismay, for it seems that much sorrow followed from your actions. I think that Finwë in particular has suffered more than was necessary or just, because he long believed that he alone was responsible for what came to pass.
“But in truth, I have long known that I was responsible for no small part of the tragedy that befell my husband and my son … and eventually your children as well, Indis. I long ago recognized the mistakes that I made, my weaknesses and my errors in judgment … and it seems to me that, regardless of what led you to place yourself in Finwë’s path once I had entered Mandos, you were not responsible for my decision to leave Finwë in the first place. Had I not been summoned to address Finwë’s petition to wed you, I cannot say how much time would have passed before I would have considered leaving Mandos. How long would my husband have had to cope without me? How long would my son have remained without a mother? Whatever your faults might be, they do not lessen my own.”
Indis blinked in amazement at Míriel’s pronouncement. “I have no reason to expect such generosity from you, Míriel,” she said slowly. “You have every right to blame me for what passed.”
“I am not being generous, I am being truthful,” Míriel replied somewhat impatiently. “And I have not said that I do not blame you for what happened. It seems to me that there is more than enough blame to share between you, me, and Finwë.”
Indis considered this for a moment, and then nodded gravely. “I believe you must be right, and I …” she stopped in mid-sentence as she spotted a figure approaching.
A light, reedy voice called out, “Greetings Indis of the Vanyar! I promised my dear friend I would return with some food, and so I have.”
Indis beheld a tall, slim male whose facial features, ears, and general shape gave him the appearance of an Elf. This was how the Maiar usually appeared when they moved among the Eldar. But unlike most Elves, Ahyalo’s hair color was indistinct – not golden, nor silver, nor a rich brown, nor black. As he drew closer, walking in the shade of tall trees, Ahyalo’s hair appeared to be a muddied, muted brown. But when he stopped two paces from where Indis and Míriel stood, in a spot illuminated by a glowing beam of the setting sun, Indis saw that his hair was a mixture of many colors, including the rare red tones that some of her stepson’s children had inherited from their grandfather.
And then Indis realized that this was not the first time she had seen Ahyalo. Her mind flew to a long-forgotten memory. She had been sitting in one of the palace gardens in Tirion with Findis, who at the time could not have been more than four or five years old, when they were startled by an elf who had hopped down from the veranda roof into the outer courtyard, opposite the garden. Believing it to be Fëanáro, Findis had jumped up and run to greet the elf, who turned at the sound of her voice. Mother and child were both surprised to see a stranger smiling at them, who did not seem at all discomfited at having been discovered leaping from the roof of a house not his own. “Greetings, Lady Indis! Greetings, Lady Findis!” he said with a bow.
“Why were you on the roof?” Findis had demanded.
“I am a friend of the one who built this house, and for that reason I have come to Tirion,” the elf had explained.
“You will find my husband in the stables, I think,” Indis had replied with a laugh. “But if not, I don’t think you will have much luck on the roof!”
“Having just come from the roof, I can attest that Finwë of the Noldor is not to be found there,” the strange elf had agreed, as he joined in Indis’s laughter. “But much can be seen from the roof; it affords a particularly nice view of the city! And it also showed me where I can find the stables. Thank you, Lady!” he had exclaimed with another bow, before striding off in the direction of the stables.
Indis had then spent a considerable amount of time explaining to her small daughter why she must not climb onto the roof herself, despite the fact that her older brother – and perfect strangers – often did so.
Indis pulled out of her reverie to address Ahyalo as he unpacked a supper of meat, cheese, wine, and bread. “We have met before, have we not? In Tirion, when Aman was still lit by the Two Trees?”
“Yes, indeed, your memory serves you well, Lady,” Ahyalo said with a smile. “Allow me to introduce myself properly, this time. I am Ahyalo. I belong to Námo’s people. I have known Míriel Serindë for a very long time.”
Indis replied, “and now I see that I misunderstood you when we first met, long ago, for I believed that you were seeking Finwë.”
Ahyalo chuckled a bit, “yes, and I apologize for misleading you about that, lady. I did not wish to make myself known to anyone, lest I cause a disturbance in your household. Such was not my purpose. Twice I journeyed from Mandos to Tirion to bring news of Fëanáro to his mother. During those times I never conversed with the son himself; indeed I do not think he was ever aware of me, for I usually tried to not draw attention to myself. After my unexpected encounter with you and your daughter in the garden, I did not climb onto rooftops again!”