B-13 on the Five Books, Five Characters card: Nerdanel.
The voice was that of a Maia, but it held a timbre to it that Nerdanel did not recognize. Nor, when she turned from the statue she was working upon, did she recognize the visage—or at least not this particular combination of features. There was something—alien—to be seen there, as if he had seen life as she had never known it to be. It was only when she looked into his eyes that she was able to put a name to one she had once known well.
“Olórin! It is many yéni since you have visited me!”
He smiled, and even the unmistakable warmth of that smile was alien to her memory of him. Oh, as with most of his sort, when he’d smiled the last she’d seen of him it had been enough to move the heart. But now the smile was somehow more—present, far more akin to the smiles of the Children than she’d ever seen in any Maia, even this one. “Oh, indeed, my lady. I have only recently returned to Aman after a long absence.”
“On Lord Manwë’s business?”
“Yea, he it was who sent me forth.”
“And is it true that he sent you to Endorë?”
She went still, searching his eyes. As always, she saw the great sea of compassion that he contained, although now it, too, had changed in some ineffable manner to become more real, more rooted in the here and now. “And does he still haunt the shores of the Sundering Sea as I have been told he has since his great sin?” She knew she did not have to name the object of her inquiry.
“I am told that yes, he primarily does so, although he has been known to spend decades in visiting various lands throughout Middle Earth, studying its peoples, learning and correcting their lore, and counseling all to avoid the errors he and his brothers committed.”
“Decades?” The word was not one she knew.
“Tens of years as told by the Sun, Lady Nerdanel. It is a measure commonly used in the Mortal Lands.”
She added the word to her vocabulary and returned to her primary subject of inquiry. “You did not see him?”
“I caught sight of him four times during the many years I dwelt there, but he never allowed me to approach him. The last time I saw him was as we sailed from Mithlond—he watched the ship depart the Firth of Lhûn, and wove a song to aid us upon our way.”
She looked down at the pendant opal she wore upon her breast. “His stone has never dimmed,” she murmured, fingering it gently. “I would so hope he will one day return to my comfort.” She looked up to meet his gaze, and realized that he now understood her grief as he could never have done before. “I lost so much when Fëanáro spoke his oath, and our sons were moved to echo it.” Yet she said it without blame for any of those who’d uttered those words.
Then her tone became more cheerful. “But you are returned here again, and I suspect that you have many tales to tell.”
Again he gave that warmer, truer smile, the smile of one who has known labor and danger, findings and losses, laughter and tempers and accomplishments to remember. “Oh, indeed, my lady! I lived the while in the guise of a Mortal, one of the Second-born, and traveled throughout the lands of the Free Peoples on the Elder King’s errand. I have seen much, and have learned to love more individuals than you perhaps can imagine ever having been. I have seen children born into this world, and have held those whose fëar broke free of their hröar, and must heed the call of the Doomsman, assuring them that they were now free to answer it as they could. And I have seen wonders of self-sacrifice that have led me to awe.”
She was entranced by his words. “You lived as one of the Second-born? You must tell me what they are like!”
His smile became conspiratorial. “Oh, but if you would like you shall have the chance to meet at least one of these, although he is not a Man. For I have come not to share tales, but to bring an invitation. As I said, I returned on one of the ships built by Círdan the Shipwright in Mithlond, along with many of the Eldar who have chosen to return to the Blessed Realm. And among them were the Ringbearers, the three who bore the three Rings of Power wrought by Celebrimbor for those who ruled the Eldar of Middle Earth. And there were two more—two who, for a time, carried the One Ring that was crafted by Sauron himself, intended to rule all who dwelt in Endorë. He was robbed of It at the end of the Second Age when Isildur of Gondor cut It from Sauron’s own hand using the broken blade of his father’s sword. Then It slipped from Isildur’s finger, betraying him to his death at the hands of orcs, but It found Itself at the bottom of the River Anduin until not quite six hundred years ago, when It was at last found by a fisherman pulled from his boat. Four have borne It since that time, although it wasn’t until a few years ago that we learned Its true nature and sent It to Its destruction.
“Two of those four accompanied us to Tol Eressëa to know both their reward and healing for what griefs the One Ring caused them. We would like very much for you to meet at least Frodo, if Bilbo is not able to entertain you. Bilbo is quite elderly for his kind, you see, and may not remain much longer within the Circles of Arda. But I am certain that Frodo would very much like to meet you, and I would like him to be there when you meet two of those who are now very close to him.
“One of these you have great reason to wish to know better, I believe.”
“And why should I wish to meet Elves newly come from Endorë?”
“He is Elrond Eärendilion, formerly Herald to Ereinion Gil-galad, most recently the Master of Imladris----”
She had straightened, and her face had paled. “And own brother to Elros Tar-Minyatur of Atalantë, who was fosterling to my son.”
“Yes. And he dearly wishes to meet the one he thinks of as his daernaneth—the mother of the father of his heart. Know this—he bore Vilya, the Ring of Sapphire, helping to keep many safe from the treachery and enmity of Sauron and his allies. He, too, is recovering from many griefs and much weariness. In time he will come here to Aman, but he is not yet ready for that further journey. And he is newly reunited with his wife, who has dwelt on the Lonely Isle for many yéni, since Sauron’s creatures took her prisoner and dealt grievous wounds to her body and spirit. Neither he nor his wife’s mother will agree to leave her side at this time.”
“And who is his wife’s mother that she would perhaps think to come to Aman proper?” she asked.
His visage had changed, become rougher, bearded, with shaggy brows over his intense dark eyes and his extraordinarily large nose. He gave the impression of great age and sagacity as well as immense compassion and humor. “You knew her once, Finarfin—Arafinwe’s daughter, Artanis, although she is better known now as Galadriel. She, too, was one of the bearers of the three Elven Rings, Nenya, Ring of Adamant, and she used it to protect Laurinand, the land she and her husband Celeborn ruled together at the end, known more recently as Lórien, the Golden Wood.”
Her lips trembled briefly. “So,” she said at last, “Artanis has indeed been granted the right to return.”
“And who bore the third of these Elven rings?” she asked.
He looked down briefly before answering, “I did. Círdan gave it into my hands upon my arrival in Middle Earth.” He held up his hand to show a broad band in which was set a great ruby. “Narya the Great, Ring of Fire, the Kindler.”
She set her hand upon it, felt the manner of its forging, the weight of it. “But it is now shorn of its power.”
“Indeed, it is so. Will you come, my Lady Nerdanel, and speak with these four? You can appreciate better than most others, I believe, just how bereft all feel who have borne such artifacts of power, now that the power is past. And I hope that they will all be able to offer you comfort as well, comfort and hope.”
She examined his current form. “And this is how you appeared there, there in the Mortal Lands?”
He gave a self-deprecating shrug. “Indeed. Will you accept their invitation to call?”
She stood, and turned to examine the unfinished statue she’d been working upon, then shook her head with decision. “It is of little import if this is finished soon, I suppose. But if this Bilbo is likely to soon depart the Circles of Arda….”
She took up a tarp and draped it over her work, set her chisels aside and called for her apprentice. “See to it these are cleaned and properly cared for. I find the one with the red handle needs sharpening. I will be gone for some time. How long? As long as it takes me to bring—and find—comfort, I suppose.”
She leaned forward to confide, “Some have come to bring me comfort, and perhaps to receive it in return. Wish me well!”
The apprentice watched with widened eyes as the strange figure of the Mistress’s guest led her out of the workshop toward the house to pack for her journey.