> Comments are interspersed among the original text like this.
A lot of the ideas here are my own worldbuilding; I've tried to make sure I point out where I'm using Tolkien's ideas from 'History of Middle-earth' etc!
King's House, Tirion
> 'King's house' is what Tolkien calls Finwë's residence, but I'm envisaging a vast building complex with halls and galleries and apartments and administrative offices and storerooms and stables and kitchens and gardens and terraces, at least as big as Versailles (except with indoor plumbing).
One day before the wedding of Crown Prince Curufinwë Fëanáro to Lady Nerdanel Istarnië
> 'Istarnië' was a name Tolkien devised then rejected for the wife of Fëanor. I'm recycling it here as Nerdanel's mother-name. As explained later, she's called 'Lady' because King Finwë elevated her to the aristocracy as an engagement present. Otherwise as a commoner she'd be Mistress Nerdanel.
Lissiel paused at the bottom of the stairs and took a deep breath. Several deep breaths. Her knuckles were white on the banister as she tried to stop the room from spinning around her. Focus, she told herself. Remember your training. Remember your duty.
Then she straightened up, made a microscopic adjustment to the fit of her chemise, and opened the double doors and swept through them like a queen.
> The characterisation I'm trying to make for Lissiel is that she is, or rather will become, self-confident, extravert and assertive; but at this point she's still very young (in elf terms) and this is the first big job she's ever been given sole responsibility for. So she's naturally nervous and feeling insecure about her abilities, but that might not be obvious to the casual observer who doesn't know her well.
Two servants bobbed curtseys to her as she went past; she smiled back at them graciously. A measured glance out of the window to judge the brightness of the light told her it was still only the second hour:
> The Noldor haven't invented clocks yet. I'm sure Fëanor will get round to it sooner or later!
so she had time to see the Master of the Royal Music first,
> The palace employs a full orchestra as well as smaller ensembles for providing incidental and chamber music. The Master is in charge of them, and personally composes new music for special occasions (such as royal weddings).
before going down to the kitchens to double-check the catering arrangements. But if she did that, it would mean...
By fortunate coincidence a servant wearing the livery of the Outside Staff walked past at that moment. Lissiel stopped him, asked him to take a message to the Chief Gardener; could he delay their meeting until after Laurelin's fourth hour?
> The Chief Gardener is in charge of supplying the floral arrangements for the wedding.
The man nodded, said, "Of course, my lady" and hurried off on his errand. Lissiel watched him go, keeping her face carefully immobile to keep it from betraying her glee.
She still hadn't quite got used to the way people treated her now. How she could give people instructions — no, orders — and they'd obey her. Without question. It was an unusual feeling; part of her revelled in it, part was afraid she'd start to enjoy it too much...
> As I envisage it, the palace servants are arranged into various departments - kitchens, gardens, stables, etc. Each member of the royal family also has their own personal staff, responsible for everything from running their bath and brushing their hair to buying clothing to managing their appointment schedule and arranging travel. Lissiel is in charge of Nerdanel's private staff, making her a 'head of department' in the palace hierarchy - she doesn't (normally) run Nerdanel's bath personally, but she's the boss of the servant who does.
Seven weeks before the wedding
She'd discussed her thoughts on the matter with Nerdanel, a while back, and of course her friend had teased her and said she'd always known that Lissiel would turn into a power-mad dictator the moment she became a royal handmaiden and was thus raised to the aristocracy. Power corrupts, and Lissiel was proof.
> Lissiel was born into the professional middle class – her parents are architects.
> She's currently employed as a royal handmaiden — that is, one of Queen Indis's handmaidens — on secondment to Lady Nerdanel, who is living in a suite of rooms in the palace as a guest of the King and Queen until her marriage. Once Lady Nerdanel becomes Princess Nerdanel she'll be officially entitled to her own household of servants instead of 'borrowing' one from the Queen, and then Lissiel's rank will become substantive. In practice everyone treats her as if she's already Nerdanel's Chief Handmaiden.
Which was a bit rich – Lissiel retorted – coming from someone who in less than two more months would become Crown Princess of the Noldor and (depending on which protocol expert you talked to) either the second or the third highest-ranked woman in all of Tirion.
> Queen Indis is the highest ranked woman in Tirion. The debate is whether the wife of King Finwë's eldest son Fëanor should rank above or below his younger daughter Findis. Irimë hasn't been born yet. The decision reached, for the record, is that a husband or wife should be treated, in protocol terms, as the same rank as their spouse: so Nerdanel will be second after Indis. (And when Finwë is killed, theoretically Nerdanel becomes High Queen of the Noldor by marriage, but she never actually uses that title since she and Fëanor are no longer on good terms by then.)
Give her a year and the Eldar would all be puppets dancing to her whim.
They'd been eating cream meringues at the time, prepared for them by the palace pâtissiers,
> It's good to be a princess. Given the whole 'long hikes through the country' thing, the 'sculptress who bashes at rocks with a hammer for fun' thing, and the 'seven - count them - seven sons' thing, I'm guessing Nerdanel has an excellent metabolism and can gorge herself on cream cakes all day without the slightest effect on her waistline. Lissiel is jealous of this ability.
which was unfortunate since they made excellent missiles for Nerdanel to throw at her newly-appointed Chief Handmaiden. Lissiel hadn't hesitated for more than a moment before picking up another and throwing it back - which, Nerdanel warned her between her giggles, was high treason and she could have her executed for it.
> The elves apparently do have a death penalty even though Maeglin is the only one ever recorded as suffering it.
Lissiel had scorned this threat: if Nerdanel had her killed, who would she find to pick out her clothes for her in future? Surely she didn't think her own lamentable fashion sense was good enough for a princess of the Noldor?
> Nerdanel has an artist's eye for patterns, shapes and colours and the visual effect they make, but has no interest in what sort of clothes are in fashion at any given moment. Lissiel is interested in it, however, and has been trying to give Nerdanel fashion advice since they were teenagers together. It's kind of a standing joke between them now.
Nerdanel had replied archly that Fëanor was marrying her, not her clothes; and if necessary she'd go to her wedding in the nude. The image this conjured up stopped Lissiel in her tracks – a meringue poised to throw lying forgotten in her hand – as she imagined the effect it would have on the more strait-laced Noldorin nobility. Let alone what the Vanyar guests would think!
"Actually, the Vanyar probably wouldn't mind," Nerdanel had commented when Lissiel shared her thoughts. "They're more, um, close to nature than we are. They think we rely too much on artifice; we're too much in love with the things we create."
"Well, I assume so. The ones I've met all wore normal clothing, but you never know..."
Lissiel remembered that Nerdanel was more well-travelled than she was; after all, she went on those weird walking holidays far from the civilised delights of Tirion. The very idea made Lissiel shudder. (And the thought that as a royal handmaiden it would probably be her duty to accompany Princess Nerdanel on any future such expeditions was not a comfort.)
> I'm fairly sure Nerdanel herself wouldn't be keen on the idea of going on a pleasant walking holiday with just her, Fëanor, and 30 servants carrying their gear.
"Speaking of clothes..." Lissiel looked down at her gown. It was covered in bits of cream and sugar-dust, and was going to pose a challenge to the palace laundry. She sighed. Nerdanel's dress was just as bad, and the floor was a state. "We probably shouldn't have done this."
"No, it was funny. But we have made a bit of a mess; I suppose we should clean it up..."
Nerdanel half-rose from her chair, but Lissiel - already more attuned to the nuances of palace life thanks to the fact she'd, *ahem*, been working there for the last few years instead of gallivanting around with her dashing and handsome fiancé - looked up at the two servants who, inevitably, were hovering silently at the edge of the room.
There were always servants in the palace, everywhere you went; it was a fact of her new life. These two were wincing with looks of acute distress, which they attempted to hide – too slow – when they realised Lissiel was looking at them. But she called them over with an understanding nod, and restrained Nerdanel from getting up.
"Let them do it, Ner. It's their job."
"But..." Nerdanel looked rebellious, but subsided, much to Lissiel's relief. Training her to be a proper princess was a far harder job than her own training to be a palace handmaiden had been. The fact was that the servants – and, for that matter, most of the population of Eldamar – were natural royalists. The idea of 'their' princess having to do anything for herself, when they could do it for her, pained them; it hurt their pride.
> Nobody in the Blessed Realm is actually poor or oppressed. I see the ordinary people of Tirion enjoying the spectacle of royalty almost as entertainment.
Lissiel herself had once found that hard to comprehend, even though she found herself instinctively sympathising with the viewpoint. But the psychology of it had been explained to her by the highest imaginable authority on empathy, compassion and understanding in the entire realm of Arda, and she finally understood.
Which was also Nerdanel's doing, indirectly.
Lissiel would never have presumed, or dared, to approach the Valar themselves to request training, even though she knew that Lord Aulë accepted many of the Noldor as students. But her talents lay in other directions than craftsmanship and smithing, so she had never really considered the idea as applicable to her. Then Nerdanel had reminded her that the Valar themselves had interests in other fields too – including much more abstract areas of knowledge and skill – and one of them might be willing to teach her.
> This refers to a scene in my earlier fic, A Matter of Perspective, where Lissiel and Nerdanel have just this conversation.
Lissiel had stored the idea to one side of her mind, as something she might think about later. Until, that is, the day her best friend, newly betrothed and ennobled (as an engagement gift from her future parents-in-law)
> A gift that Nerdanel was actually angry about at first, thinking "I'm not good enough to marry your son unless you make me a noble first?" But in fact their motivation was quite different (and Indis's idea): "Getting married is going to be a major upheaval in her life; marrying Fëanor in particular is going to be even more of a shock (!), and if on top of that she also has to adjust to the culture shock of going from a blacksmith's daughter to Crown Princess, it might be too much all at once. So let's ease her into it by making her noble and inviting her to live in the palace for a few years first, so by the time she marries our son she'll at least be used to the lifestyle."
had called her in to tell her she wanted Lissiel to be her official Chief Handmaiden, so that she'd see at least one familiar face at her side in her new life at the palace.
The job would not be a sinecure. A Chief Handmaiden (or the masculine equivalent, for the males of the high nobility) was a combination of personal assistant, chief of staff, social secretary, wardrobe manager, head of intelligence, counsellor, confidante and companion.
> In our world, ladies-in-waiting were often the people who accompanied the Queen when she went riding, or wove tapestries, or wanted to hear someone sing a song, and so forth; they were her companions and, given the isolated life a member of the high nobility would often lead, probably her closest (or only) friends. That will be Lissiel's role in part, but she'll also be Nerdanel's executive PA.
She counted as a noble of the third rank in her own right, with the perquisites and privileges that entailed.
> As I've devised it, Noldorin nobility has six ranks, each entitled to appropriate privileges and a stipend out of State funds (though much of that is in kind, such as the right to a room in the palace, the right to eat food from the royal kitchens, etc, rather than being a cash payment). However, apart from the king and his immediate family, it's a nobility of service: you're given noble rank in return for taking a position in the royal administration, and your noble stipend is also, in effect, your salary.
She was in charge of the other handmaidens (who were nobles of the fourth rank) and the non-noble servants who were assigned to her principal.
> Nobles of the First Rank are the royal family. The Second Rank is the great ministers of State - chancellor, chief justice, treasurer, etc. Third rank is heads of department (such as Lissiel) and the deputies of the Ministers. Fourth and Fifth ranks are executive officers, managers, officials, judges and other senior members of the royal government. Sixth Rank is a catch-all category for everyone else connected to royalty in some way or otherwise deserving of honour; unlike the other five ranks, it doesn't come with any sort of stipend, just the right to be called 'Lord' or 'Lady' and invitations to the larger royal parties. Spouses take their husband or wife's rank. Other close family members (parents, siblings, children) are entitled to be treated as Sixth Rank if they choose, as a courtesy.
She controlled a significant budget, and was entrusted with her noble's Privy Purse as well.
> The budget is to pay for Nerdanel's official activities as a princess : food, clothing, travel, staff, and all the expenses of her household. The Privy ('private') purse is Nerdanel's own personal money to spend how she likes. Lissiel being 'entrusted' with it is the First Age equivalent of Nerdanel having given Lissiel her credit card number to buy things on her behalf. It's considered undignified for royalty to carry money or pay for things in person.
The offer filled Lissiel with an overpowering mixture of delight and terror. Queen Indis's Chief Handmaiden was over 1800 years old and had been born beneath the stars of Cuiviénen; Lissiel was 51, barely out of adolescence by Elven standards.
> All references to ages and years are translated into solar years for the benefit of readers. I'm using a 10:1 conversion scale from Valian years. This is all taking place in Year of the Trees 1174-75, so Indis's Chief Handmaiden would have been born in YT 995. Lissiel is 5.1 years old as she herself would reckon it.
How could she possibly take up such a position in such exalted company? How would the other palace staff ever take her seriously?
The solution rose up in her mind and astonished her with her own audacity. They'd have to take her seriously if she was properly trained. Trained by the Valar themselves, in, in, she wasn't exactly sure... people skills? Management and organisation? Politics?
Then she'd been worried that this was hubris speaking, that her motives were pride rather than the desire to do a good job. The Valar would see right through her and turn her away. She'd have failed Nerdanel before she even started...
She'd gone out onto the terrace to think things through, walking slowly down the silver-lit gravel path; and there she'd met Prince Fëanor himself, taking the evening air.
> 'Evening' in this case meaning when Telperion rather than Laurelin is in bloom. It's still as bright as day (or much, much brighter).
He'd given her the friendly but slightly cautious smile she'd come to recognise. After a lifetime of being the centre of attention, he was now going to get married – and was discovering that his intended wife had her own life, and her own interests, and her own circle of friends which did not revolve around him. This was a new and – let's face it – not entirely enjoyable experience for him. However, he was quick on the uptake (almost disturbingly so) and it was obvious that he genuinely and deeply loved his fiancée; and so he seemed to have made a conscious decision to be pleasant to Nerdanel's friends.
He already knew about Lissiel's job offer – it was no surprise to her that Nerdanel had discussed it with him first. He asked what she'd decided to do, and nodded in a slightly uncomprehending manner when Lissiel said she'd come out here to think it over. Thinking things over was not one of Fëanor's strong points,
> To say the least
at least according to his fond but often exasperated fiancée. Taking the plunge, Lissiel had asked him what he thought about her approaching one of the Valar to become their student.
He'd not been as sympathetic as she'd expected, giving the distinct impression that he wasn't sure there was much to learn from them – or at least, that it was better to find things out for yourself.
> Fëanor isn't yet at the point where he resents or rebels against the Valar, but he's already thinking he can perhaps do better than them.
Still, he was quite blunt about the fact that if Lissiel wanted to do it, she should go right ahead without hesitation. Then his mood turned right around, and he grinned broadly, and he said that none of Queen Indis's handmaidens had been trained by the Valar, so maybe Lissiel should learn what she could from the Powers and then give lessons to the other royal handmaidens, and wouldn't that be a turn-around!
Now it was Lissiel's turn to force a hesitant smile. If there was one thing she hated above all else, it was being made to take sides in someone else's argument.
> A characteristic that was more obvious in my previous story, where Lissiel was torn between loyalty to her friend Nerdanel and her desire to be part of the clique of Mean Girls headed by Arawendë. I do imagine Lissiel becoming more self-confident and less dependent on other people's approval as she gets more mature.
Luckily, she was either good at hiding her feelings or the Prince wasn't paying attention to them, because now he was encouraging her to approach the Valar as soon as possible, so her training could be finished before the wedding, so she could be put in charge of making the arrangements for it as her first big job as his future wife's Chief Handmaiden...
> Fëanor is impulsive. Lissiel has come up with a new idea – approaching the Valar for training in a new area of knowledge – which is something Fëanor strongly approves of. I imagine him dividing the world into 99% sheep and 1% people who are creative and innovative, and if you show him that you're one of the 1%, he'll be very much in favour of you. He'll also expect you to live up to his first impression, so he'll be very demanding and expect only the best.
It was quite overwhelming, but Lissiel forced down the feeling of panic that threatened to engulf her and asked the Prince if he knew the best way to approach the Valar. Fëanor waved a hand airily – "I'm told they can hear you anywhere, but probably best to go to the Máhanaxar,
> The Ring of Doom outside the western gate of Valmar, where the Valar hold council
make it formal. Why not go first thing tomorrow? I'll lend you a horse. Comyandur—" this was addressed to the attendant who was waiting dutifully on his master a few paces back
> Comyandur is the male equivalent of a handmaiden
"—Please prepare a letter of introduction over my signature for Lady Lissiel; she can stay in the Noldorin embassy in Valmar as my guest. 'Please extend all courtesies as you would to myself', etcetera, you know the drill".
> Calling her 'Lady' Lissiel is actually a bit of presumption on Fëanor's part; she isn't entitiled to be called that unless she accepts the post of handmaiden. He's assuming she already has. The letter of introduction is to the Noldorin Embassy, not the Valar!
She'd stammered out her thanks, then fled before he – or more to the point, she herself – could change their minds. And so in the morning, much to her bemusement, she'd found herself perched on the back of one of the finest horses in the royal stables, its long strides eating up the leagues between Tirion and Valmar; and a week later she'd been standing on the cool grass of the Máhanaxar
> I envisage the Máhanaxar as a natural open-air circular amphitheatre, with green grass in the centre where suppliants stand, and a raised earthen ring around it where the thrones of the Valar are set.
awaiting her audience when a gentle voice behind her had asked, "Why are you nervous?"
She turned, and saw only an ordinary-looking elf woman in a plain white dress, such as one might meet every day on the streets of the city.
> I'm assuming there are other elves around, awaiting their own audience, attending to those waiting, or even as spectators, so there's no reason to automatically assume that this is one of the Ainur in person. Besides, she's not sitting on one of those high thrones.
She bore no obvious sign of power or majesty; but some sixth sense told Lissiel that there was a strength within her, the strength of a tree that bends in the wind but does not break; and so she did not hesitate to tell her the truth.
She spoke of her ordinary, everyday nervousness; that she felt awe of the Valar, and was afraid she would offend them or embarrass herself before them. That they might judge her unworthy, and turn her away. Encouraged by the patient smile and warm eyes of her listener – though she spoke no further words – Lissiel opened her heart further. She spoke of her doubts over her own motives, that she worried that perhaps she only wanted to study under the Valar out of pride and ambition rather than a genuine desire to learn. That she was afraid of letting Nerdanel down and falling short of the trust she'd placed in her. That she was terrified that after Nerdanel got married she'd forget her old friend and move on into a new life where Lissiel could not follow...
As she stammered out those last words Lissiel finally fell silent, astonished that she'd confided so many of her deepest secrets to this stranger. But the woman gave her a kindly smile and said, "Thank you, Lissiel".
And while Lissiel was still wondering, "How do you know my name?" the woman had added, "I would be delighted to have you as my student, if you desire it."
And then her eyes saw clearly who was before her, and Lissiel sank to her knees in reverent awe and said, "I do, my lady." But another part of her couldn't resist asking, "Why did you appear to me the way you did, just now?"
Nienna extended a hand to help her new student back to her feet. Her voice was still kindly, but now there was a brisk tone underlying it. "As your first lesson, I'd like you to explain that to me..."
> Nienna is interested in honesty and self-awareness, not fancy stories told to impress the Valar (or random elf-women met while queuing for your audience).
> A question I considered myself, after I'd had the initial concept of 'Nerdanel's handmaiden goes to the Valar for training' - which one would be most appropriate? Then I considered that a handmaiden's role will involve management, but also a lot of negotiation and politicking; she'll often be in a position where she has to deal with people who are equally or more powerful than herself, so she has to persuade rather than command. As such, empathy and the ability to sympathise with other people's perspectives seem like key skills to have.
"Hmm? Lissiel had her back to the room, writing on the Big Board.
> As described in the sequel to this story, 'By the Letter', Nerdanel set up an easel and chalkboard for Lissiel in one of her rooms to write out the plans for the wedding, as it's easier to see everything all in one place.
The cook was riding out to Alqualondë to personally organise a delivery of fresh seafood for the wedding banquet, so she had to reschedule their meeting tomorrow, which caused a cascade effect to ripple though every other appointment she'd made that day... She didn't realise Nerdanel had spoken until she repeated the question.
"Why Lady Nienna? You never did explain."
Reluctantly she turned away from the board, the chalk still held between her fingers. Nerdanel was standing in the middle of an explosion of cases, bags and boxes, all the drawers and cupboards of the room lying open around her. She'd insisted on doing her own packing, and for once Lissiel wasn't in the mood to argue.
> Since Nerdanel will be leaving on her honeymoon after the wedding, she isn't just packing for a single week with her parents, but an extended holiday.
She'd dismissed the servants with a quiet nod, knowing they'd still be within call if Nerdanel changed her mind. A week before the Royal Wedding, the tension was starting to leave its mark.
Lissiel was, in fact, very glad that Nerdanel had decided to spend her last week of singledom at her parents' house. Maybe it was cowardly of her, but if the Crown-Princess-to-be went into full emotional meltdown from pre-wedding nerves, Master Mahtan and his wife
> His wife that Tolkien never named! Mahtan would be entitled to be called 'Lord Mahtan' given that his daughter is now a noble, but he prefers 'Master'. He's proud of his daughter but very stubborn and independent (Nerdanel gets it from him).
would probably do better than Lissiel at picking up the pieces. They'd known their daughter a little longer than she had, after all.
Lissiel opened her mouth to answer, then closed it again with a grin. She pretended to study the chalk held in her hand for a moment, then asked, "Why don't you tell me why I became her student?"
Nerdanel gave an exaggerated scowl. "You're not a Vala. Don't try that answer-a-question-with-a-question stuff on me!"
"You've got to admit it's a good teaching technique."
"I know. Lord Aulë does it all the time. But I don't want my brain stretched right now, I want a nice relaxing time before my big day."
Lissiel refrained from turning around to indicate the board crammed with finely-written text detailing all the plans, appointments and schedules that she and the rest of the palace staff were immersed in so that Nerdanel could enjoy her 'relaxing time'. Nerdanel, however, was not stupid; she had the grace to look a little abashed.
"I'm sorry. I'm just curious. I mean, if you wanted training in management and organisation, wouldn't Lord Manwë have been a better choice?"
Once Lissiel would have been horror-struck at such presumption. Now she just shook her head. "The Elder King is much too busy for that sort of thing; though he did give me the honour of a short audience—"
"Really? You never told me!" Nerdanel sounded fascinated, and a little envious. Lissiel shrugged awkwardly.
"I think he was curious to meet me. You must know, the Valar saw me as, well, something of an experiment. They've been teaching us the practical arts – agriculture, animal husbandry, architecture, and so on – for years, and of course there's astronomy, theology, mathematics and other areas of abstract knowledge. But can you teach someone the kind of skills a handmaiden needs? Or do you have to be born with them?"
"Well, can you?" Now she looked genuinely interested.
> It's a good question. I do think you can bring out the skills, hone them and give people practice.
Lissiel grinned, "You'll be the best judge of my skills yourself, my lady soon-to-be-Princess! But Lady Nienna did teach me a lot. I feel different, you know, in myself? More self-confident. I feel like I understand things a whole lot better now; about the way people act, why they say the things they do. My lady was always asking me to explain why; why I thought someone reacted this way, why they said that, why they did this; and so on, and so on. To question everything."
"Hmm. You're saying she made you introspective? I wouldn't have thought that was possible."
That made Lissiel laugh. "Oh, she praised me for being spontaneous—"
"Is that what they're calling it now?"
"*Ahem*. Lady Nienna says that while self-knowledge is good, it's wrong to be constantly second-guessing yourself. Compassion is active, not passive; you can't help people by sitting quietly on your hands worrying if you're going to do the wrong thing."
"Well that's good. Because I can't imagine you sitting quietly, on your hands or otherwise, for more than three minutes at a time."
> This line probably works better in conjunction with my earlier fic, where we saw Lissiel being bubbly and extravert and enjoying the party. As I'm showing her in this fic she's under a huge amount of pressure because of arranging the wedding, so she isn't her normal relaxed self. Equally, Nerdanel is much more reserved and introverted than Lissiel as a rule; but in this scene she's relaxing with her best friend and so is far more chatty and open than she'd be with strangers around.
"That's not true! I sit quietly for hours sometimes when you're bashing at rocks with a hammer!"
The woman who was already being hailed as the Eldar's greatest sculptor refused to rise to the bait at hearing her art described in such terms.
> Nerdanel is about 57 or so at this stage; in elven terms, that's about 20 or 21. So in the art world, she was the rising young prodigy everyone was talking about – at least until she got betrothed to Fëanor and everyone started talking about that instead.
She contented herself by saying mildly, "Do you? I assumed you were always still chattering away, but the noise was just drowned out by the sound of hammering".
Lissiel stuck out her tongue.
"So, your apprenticeship with Lady Nienna taught you to be spontaneously introspective? Or introspectively spontaneous? And that's useful?"
"I've seen Carondo at work, you know. I visited his studio while I was in training."
> Quenya for 'stone-maker'.
Nerdanel blinked at the apparent non-sequitur. Carondo was, well, he had been the most famous sculptor in Tirion. That status was now in doubt. Nerdanel asked warily, "Did he know you're my friend?"
"Oh yes. Don't worry, he was perfectly gracious, though I did get the impression he was hoping to impress me to make a point. He is very good... but you know how he works?"
"Slowly. Painstakingly, even. I was in his studio for five hours, and in all that time he only struck his chisel eight times. I counted."
> This is how I imagine elven craftpeople and artists normally work. They're immortal and have endless patience and are perfectionists.
"What kind of piece was he working on?"
"Hard to tell, it was barely more than a lump of rock when I was there, and he didn't tell me what he was planning."
Nerdanel thought for a while. "This was what, two years ago?"
"More like six."
"Really? Because the only statue he's unveiled since The Party—" (there was only one capital-P Party in Nerdanel's vocabulary: the one where she first met Fëanor) "— is that big monumental piece of Imin, Tata and Enel he did for Mountainside Park. You mean he was already working on it six years ago?"
> Imin, Tata and Enel were the first three elves to awaken at Cuivienen. I'm imagiing that at some point Nerdanel is going to make a matching statue of Iminyë, Tatië and Enelyë to go in a park on the opposite side of the Calacirya. People will be arguing about which is better for centuries to come.
"I told you he was slow."
"Slow? With eight chisel-strokes in five hours, it sounds like he was working extra-fast to impress you!"
Lissiel giggled. "Probably. But that's my point, see? How many times would you strike your chisel in five hours?"
"I've, um, never really counted..."
"Could you finish a life-size statue of three people in five hours? You could, I bet."
"No! That's ridiculous. Well, not unless it was really, really abstract and impressionistic. Huh. Actually, that might be an interesting... " She looked thoughtful. "Maybe I could?"
> In canon Nerdanel is famous for making very life-like statues, so real-looking that people absent-mindedly try to talk to them before realising they're made of stone. But I imagine that especially in her younger days (and perhaps also her post-Fëanor older days) she was adventurous and creative and always open to new ideas.
"I've seen you, Ner, bashing away. Lumps of rock and stone-dust flying everywhere, non-stop. It's pretty spectacular, actually. I can watch what you're carving emerging from the rock in front of my eyes."
> I described Nerdanel's unique method of working in 'A Matter of Perspective'. I wanted to show the fire that burns within her soul, the passion to create that could find no match until she met Fëanor.
"Yes, but that's only the statues I make for fun. I take longer over the commissions." She sounded a little defensive. "Anyway, what you don't take account of is the months of preparation and planning and sketching I do beforehand. I only pick up my chisel when I've got everything perfectly fixed in my mind."
"Exactly! That's my point!" Lissiel exclaimed gleefully. "That's what Lady Nienna taught me. You prepare carefully in advance, so when the time comes you can be spontaneous! Except you're a person being spontaneous who actually knows what she's doing, and understands how people think, and can foresee the effect she'll have on people."
Nerdanel considered this. "It sounds a little, I don't know... manipulative?"
> I wonder what a Maia of Nienna who turned evil and worshipped Melkor would be like? They'd understand the deepest secrets of a person's soul, know the root causes of anguish and misery and despair, but they'd have no interest in healing them; quite the opposite.
Lissiel nodded and said frankly, "You're right. It can be. But listen: do you remember Master Rúmil's story about crossing the Big River?
> That's Rúmil the Sage of Tirion, who invented the first alphabet. The 'Big River' is the Anduin.
Nerdanel nodded. It was a familiar part of elven folklore, a tale of the Great Journey taught to all their children.
"So they built the rafts, but everyone was afraid to get on them because the river was so wide and fast-flowing. So then King Ingwë jumps onto a raft himself and challenges the Vanyar to follow him, and then King Finwë does the same with the Noldor. Do you remember what Ingwë said to them?"
"Of course. 'How can we call ourselves Minyar if we are not the first to cross this river?' I remember being confused because they're not called Minyar, they're called Vanyar."
> 'Minyar' means 'Firsts' or 'The First People'. It was the Vanyar's original name for themselves, as the first kindred to awaken at Cuiviénen. The name 'Vanyar' 'Fair Folk' was coined by the other two kindreds; the Vanyar don't mind being called that, but still refer to themselves in private as Minyar.
"You weren't confused, Nerdanel, you were angry. I remember that day. You made Master Rúmil interrupt his story to explain to you, while the rest of us grumbled."
"Well, if you're telling a story you should include all relevant information so people understand it."
> Hence this commentary. :)
"Mm-hmm. But anyway, why do you think Ingwë used those words?"
"Well, to inspire them to get on the rafts. Appealing to their sense of pride."
"'Inspire' or 'manipulate'?"
"But they're—" Whatever else she may be, Nerdanel was never slow on the uptake. "All right. I take your point. It's all a matter of perspective."
"Yes. Or motive. You can use words to persuade someone to do what you want, or what's in everyone's best interest including their own: but they’re often the same words. Words are powerful and dangerous things."
"Which makes you a powerful and dangerous person?"
"Of course. I'm a Quende; it's right there in the name."
> Quende, literally, 'a person who uses words' or 'a person who uses spoken language'.Idiomatically 'an elf'.
"Is that even a word?"
"Sure it is. What else do you think the singular of 'Quendi' would be?"
> Tolkien notes that by the time the Elves reached Aman, the term 'Quendi' was considered an obscure technical term. The usual Quenya word for elves was 'Eldar'; the fact that the Avari were not Eldar was generally forgotten except by pedants and antiquarians.
"I've never actually heard anyone say it, and I'm marrying a linguist!"
> Knowing that 'Quende' is the singular of 'Quendi' is kind of like a modern person knowing that 'octopodes' is the plural of 'octopus'. Also, note that at this stage linguistics, and the invention of the Tengwar, is Fëanor's primary claim to fame. His skill at craftsmanship and jewel-making will only emerge later. Lissiel knows this stuff because she's had seven years of personal tuition from the Valar, who would probably be curious themselves to know why the elves had started calling themselves Eldar instead of Quendi, so it's something she's talked about. It's not that she's particularly interested in linguistics herself.
"I'm sure Fëanáro will back me up if you ask him. He'll also explain to you exactly why the Teleri say 'Pende' or whatever it is they say over there, with a side dissertation on the word's derivations in five different dialects of Proto-Eldarin, three of them imaginary."
> Fëanor is actually hypothesising on how the languages of the Sindar, Nandor and Avari might have diverged from the original Eldarin language. I can imagine him inventing the palantíri just to see if he could observe them to check his hypothesis...
Nerdanel giggled. "He would too. Is this the voice of experience?"
"Not directly. I have received similar lectures, uh, I mean conversations before though."
Nerdanel pretended to scowl. "I hope you're not being rude about my almost-husband."
"I wouldn't dare." This was actually true. Prince Fëanor could be pleasant, even charming when he wanted to be, but when he was angry he was a terror.
> To quote General Woundwort in 'Watership Down', "Come back, you cowards! Balrogs aren't dangerous!"
She added in a more whimsical tone, "But I wish you'd ask him to stop changing my board. I know the Tengwar are still a work in progress, but that doesn't mean he can rub out and redraw the letters I've already written when he decides they should be a different shape! He'd listen to you, if you asked him."
> As described in more detail in 'By the Letter'. Lissiel has been using the tengwa 'harma' for the 'h' sound, until Fëanor decided to invent the 'hyarmen' tengwa as well.
She half-turned to indicate the board behind her. Nerdanel walked over to look at it with her, a finger tracing the line that marked today's date. "Only eight more days" she said in a voice gone suddenly shy.
Lissiel gave her a companionable squeeze around the shoulders, then gently lifted her finger aside before it smudged the chalk.
Nerdanel stood in silence for a moment, then turned to face Lissiel. Her face was solemn, though there was perhaps a faint glint in her eye.
"So you're saying that for your training you went to Nienna... because she's the Vala of empathy and understanding?"
"And not because she's also the Vala of sorrow and pity?"
"No, I, uh... What are you getting at?"
"That I'd hate to think my new Chief Handmaiden thinks that the primary qualification for her job is knowing how to show pity to the afflicted!"
Lissiel burst out laughing.
"Hardly. You do know you're the envy of every woman in Tirion right now.? Well, nearly every one. And probably some of the men too. You're marrying your prince — both figuratively and literally."
Nerdanel tried to look modest, and failed. Her smile was radiant and slightly smug.
"I'd still marry him if he were a street sweeper. You do know that, right?"
"I do. But admit it, Ner, becoming royalty and having a small army of servants at your beck and call —" she pointed at herself with the hand holding the chalk and swept a curtsey, "does have its advantages, yes?"
The general-in-chief of Nerdanel's small army of servants came out of her meeting with the Master of the Royal Music feeling accomplished. They'd reviewed the programme for tomorrow's wedding, incorporated a few minor changes and one major one — moving back the firework display
> Guess who's arranging the firework display?
meant that an extra twenty minutes of music had to be found to fill the gap. As Lissiel left she made a promise to double-check that the palace kitchens had made proper arrangements to supply refreshments to the orchestra during the evening reception. Apparently the catering arrangements had been rather lacking in this respect at previous formal social occasions — at least in the Master's eyes; the Cook refused to accept that there was a problem.
The Cook was a most formidable lady, the absolute ruler of the palace kitchens, and few dared to challenge her. She was one of the Unbegotten, the original 144,
> The original 144 elves created at Cuivénen as opposed to being born the natural way
and refused to accept that any elf born of woman could ever know more than her about cooking, catering or managing a kitchen. It had to be said, she was very good at her job – so long as you were happy to do things her way.
And talking to her was next on Lissiel's agenda.
Seven years ago, Lissiel would probably not even have dared speak to her, let alone argue with her. But now she was Nerdanel's Chief Handmaiden — well, strictly speaking, a Royal Handmaiden on secondment to Lady Nerdanel until after her marriage; but Crown Prince Fëanor had personally put her in charge of organising this wedding, and that made Lissiel very senior indeed in the hierarchy of palace servants. At least equal to the Cook, and in this particular case, with the theoretical right to give her instructions...
No, not 'theoretical' right. Actual right, damn it.
Lissiel took a deep breath. Her hand went to the amulet she wore under her blouse for good luck, and held it.
> What amulet? Well, it's a link to anothe story I haven't posted as yet.
"I can do this," she said to herself. "I can." Then sighed. "Nienna have pity on me..."