The Vanyar’s Rebellion
Elenwë had not expected re-birth. She remembered little of her time in the Halls of Mandos, and re-birth was like waking from a long dream. What paths she traveled as a spirit came in flashes, and like with dreams, her memories of Mandos eroded with time.
She was the first of the Exiles to be re-born. The only one. Many of the Teleri who had been killed at Alqualondë had been re-embodied, but if her experience of death was unusual, she never spoke of it with them to discover.
It would have been difficult to ask a Teler since they rarely left their shores now; and while Elenwë was a Vanya, she had married a Noldo of Finwë’s line and joined the Exiles. The Noldor were no longer band from the Teleri lands by the time Elenwë was re-born, but it had taken the Teleri 200 years before they established even the frostiest of trade alliances with the Noldor. Alqualondë would lie between them like a rotting corpse until the breaking of the world.
She had no illusions as to why she’d been chosen for re-birth when so many others had not, others as blameless as herself in the Kinslaying who had perished along with her on the Helcaraxë. She was not a Noldo. More than this: she was a poicindis. The Valar judged her choice to follow Turgon into Exile as a blameless one. She had merely been doing what she’d been trained to: submit to her husband’s will.
The Valar had not searched for rebellion in her heart, and so they overlooked what had been birthed there by Fëanor’s words. She wanted to see the wild lands. She wanted to see her husband free of the childhood memories which never stopped chasing him. She wanted to see Turgon become the noble man she’d always known was hidden inside his reserved exterior.
But she hadn’t gotten to see any of it. She’d known nothing but hunger, despair, and a cold so bottomless she dreamt of it in the night and woke to shaking bones and clammy skin.
Lord Námo released her to Lord Lórien’s gardens for healing, but she would find no healing for the holes under her ribs. Turgon. Idril. Glorfindel.
Elenwë had not been close with most of her husband’s family. They were so different from her, and she was not ignorant of the way many had looked down on her for her training. She had chosen the life of a poicindis, just as her mother had, and her grandmother before her. Elenwë was her mother’s only daughter. She was all the legacy her mother would have, locked away in Father’s home on the Mountain.
That would have been Elenwë’s life if she’d married a Vanya lord. She might have emerged from her isolation for the Festival of Double Mirth, maybe the wedding of a friend or the birth of a relative, but most of her life would have been lived between the walls of her husband’s villa, caring for her children, loving them as only a poicindis could love her children. She would have fed them her life, and watched her sons grow strong on it and her daughters honorable.
But her path had taken her to Tirion, into the court of the Noldor. Conventions and Noldorin traditions had called her forth from her women’s sphere and into the public-eye. She learned to adjust. She taught herself to speak in public if called upon; she even trained her eyes to meet a male’s not related to her by marriage or blood (if only for a moment). She never regretted marrying Turgon. Not even when she could have traded years of trudging through a white nightmare, each step forward as grueling as a mountain climb, for a sheltered life in the security of a mountain villa.
It was not her father who came to take her home from Lord Lórien’s gardens. (She learned later of how he’d pulled out the Family Book of the House of the Lotus, and crossed off her name from its descendants. He made himself childless rather than carry the shame of rebel blood.) It was Finarfin who came. She had no idea of the passage of time in that place, but she’d known the moment he walked down the path to her perch on a bench where she idled the time away in sketching, that the span of years was vast.
He looked at her a long moment before settling beside her, and yet another moment of stillness passed as she folded her hands in her lap before he spoke. “Do I greet you Elenwë of the House of the Lotus, or Elenwë of the House of the Star?”
She kept her eyes on her lap and answered without hesitation: “I am Elenwë, wife of Turgon, of the House of Finwë.”
How many slights had she heard whispered against Finarfin after he turned back? Almost as many as the curses spit at Fëanor’s back. Coward, faint-hearted, traitor, Finarfin had been called when the Helcaraxë began to sew bitterness in their bellies where food had once nestled, and put blisters on their hearts along with their feet. They had become hard, desperate –unforgiving.
Finarfin had made a choice. Whether it was right or wrong, it was one each of them could have chosen (but for the Oath-takers; none believed these doomed Elves would have been accepted back into Valinor). Elenwë did not blame him for choosing. That was his right, and he had killed no one in the choosing. Hurt, abandoned, yes. She had walked beside his children’s and brother’s faces over the ice. But that was between them, and none of her business to cast stones upon.
What she saw in the Elf sitting beside her was a man with weary eyes, and a loneliness he tried desperately to hide. But when loneliness stretched vast as the ocean, it was rather impossible to secret away. She knew without asking that his wife, Eäwen of the Teleri, had not come back to him when he’d come back to her.
She’d learn later of the scattering of all that remained of those born into the House of the Star, or those who married into it. Aairë, Fingolfin’s wife, joined Eäwen in Alqualondë, the only Noldo permitted within its pearly walls. She hadn’t come back to Tirion, the city of her birth, since. Indis returned to Ingwë on the Holy Mountain. Curufin’s wife had long since cut ties with the family of her husband.
And the last who had not left with the Exiles, the one who would have led what remained of the Noldor before Finarfin’s return if she’d ever sought to be queen, was Nerdanel. But Nerdanel had lost herself in memory. She’d returned to the house she’d raised her children in, the bed she’d made those children in. She survived on the scraps of themselves they’d left behind, and the work she threw herself into to forget.
Though brushing the work of Nerdanel’s hands away as the side-product of her grief, was close to sacrilege. There were Nerdanel’s sculptors before the Darkening, and then there were the ones that came after. Nerdanel had been an artist of renowned before the Darkening, what her hands produced after was the stuff of legend. But masterful as her work had become, Nerdanel the woman had died beside the Teleri on that beach. If she could be pulled away to the land of the living, it was never long before she returned to chasing ghosts.
But despite the loneliness curling around the edges of Finarfin’s eyes, his face was that still pool she’d always associated with him. It had not surprised her at all that his mother had given him the name Ingoldo, the Noldo. He was as much the epitome of what the Noldor aspired to be as his half-brother Fëanor was.
The Noldor were a contradiction in themselves. They were a people of passions who prized inventiveness, eagerness of mind, and cleverness of hand. Thus Fëanor was named their greatest. But they were also a people who loved mastery, both of the world, and of themselves. They held the self-controlled in high esteem for the very reason that to attain such self-restraint was to show ultimate mastery over oneself. This was Finarfin. He was the other side of the Noldor, the one that delighted in self-discipline, the one that praised cool heads and intellectual discourse over unveiled fire and hot-headed diplomacy.
Before Elenwë had tasted the Curse of the Valar, before she’d learned what it was to have the gods turn their faces from her, before she’d walked in the Unseen world and come out on the other side the wiser and maybe a little cynical, she would not have seen this double coin of the Noldor’s nature for what it was. But now she saw the hand of the Valar sunk deep into all the Elven kindrends. The Noldor were no exception. It was the Valar who first preached self-command. The Noldor had turned it into an art form, a mark of pride, but its origin was not of their minds. Self-restraint, and the banking of their fiery spirits, had never been natural to them.
What had been stripped from the Vanyar by the long shadow of the Valar was so far beyond measure they had not even realized how much they’d lost until the Oldest spoke out, the ones who were there at the beginning, dwelling beside the Lake of Cuiviénen before the Valar came and blighted who the Vanyar were with their addictive light and binding laws.
It began with the Darkening, or so she was told after. She was not there when Prince Ingil (now King of the Vanyar in all but name) and his sister Amarië led a portion of the Vanyar from the Holy Mountain back into Tirion, the city they had raised with the Noldor.
Elenwë heard the story’s beginning from Amarië, for Ingil was still a child when the Two Trees were slain. Amarië remembered it all, crisp as the day she chose her family over her betrothed, Finrod. Family was as important to Amarië was it was to any Finwëion, even if that family consisted of a father who’d been a near-permanent resident at Manwë’s feet for years, and a mother who clung to the teachings of the poicindis as tightly as Elenwë’s own mother.
Amarië had Ingil, who any sister would be proud of, and another younger sister, Elemmírë. Amarië was not the eldest of Ingwë’s children, or at least she had not always been. But of the fate of her elder sister, Amarië never spoke.
Even the name of Ingwë’s eldest had been wiped from the Family Book when she entered the service of Vairë as one of the Vala’s handmaidens. Some entered such a life of piety and celibacy by choice; others had it forced upon them to avoid scandals and the ruination of family names. If Ingwë’s eldest daughter had chosen the Veil by choice, her family could have visited her on the designated days, but she had proven herself a woman without virtue. Maybe, in another thousand years, Ingwe would name his eldest again, declare her ‘healed,’ and bring her home. But that Valar would prove themselves capable stewards of Arda before that day came.
The rebellion (as the Vanyar who followed Ingil called it amongst themselves in irony of the Noldor’s) had been sparked over food –or lack of it. The Trees were dead, the light to grow crops put out. Their bellies were empty, and it seemed the Valar had abandoned them. Or it had to those not so besotted with the Valar they spent their days at the Valar’s feet.
Not all the Valar sat as statues during the dark years before the sun’s rising. Elenwë did not understand how Vána danced birth back into the woodlands, or Oromë nurtured his forest creatures without leaves and grass to eat. Amarië explained these things to her, but Elenwë could not grasp all.
Turgon had encouraged Elenwë to expand her mind, but there were many words in Amarië’s telling she did not know. She held her tongue and did not interrupt to inquire the words’ meaning as she would have with Turgon.
Amarië, highly educated, had been a match for Finrod in debate. She was a great philosopher, and a respected poet. Elenwë admired her, but was never so comfortable in her presence she would name Amarië friend.
What Elenwë understood the clearest in Amarië’s telling was what Amarië left unsaid: the hunger of those years, the doubt creeping in to lie beside them in the night, the way the Fëanorion lamps had never been put out, not even to sleep, because the terror never loosened its grip, the terror of unlight.
So it was not so surprising even the people known as the Blessed Elves should develop skepticism against the Valar.
The Vanyar’s rebellion started with talk shared in the corners of taverns and the privacy of homes, as all rebellions did. But it was not the talk of oppression, or of challenging the Valar’s power and laws as the Noldor’s rebellion had been. The talk was stories, memories of the Oldest, the only ones amongst them who knew darkness and hardship.
The Vanyar did not pack up and abandon the Holy Mountain after a few stories; it took years before the piling boulders crashed in a rockslide too powerful to be held back. But by the time Finarfin took Elenwë home to Tirion, the Vanyar she passed on the streets were unrecognizable. She had no more known the richness of what they had once been, then any of the other’s in the generations born in Valinor.
It was the dancers in the Great Square that finally sunk roots in her soles. She stared at these women, these Vanyar, dancing with sensuality, glimpses of their naked bellies peaking out when their arms undulated like ocean waves. The Vanyar had always loved to dance, but they had held themselves inside the confines of what the Valar considered proper.
Bells were strung about the women’s ankles, jewels pressed into the arch of their brows, cloth so brilliant, so aflame with colors and patterns it made Elenwë dizzy to look upon (accustomed as she was to the clothing the Valar deemed acceptable), sheathed the swaying hips and kicking legs. Men patted drums, plucked lutes, and pursed their lips over flutes, wearing long robes that dashed across her irises as brightly as the women’s. Even the music was alien. She would not have recognized them as her own people but for the wild coils of golden hair, thick enough to lose fingers within.
“The Noldor were consumed with how the world worked, and the Teleri content to delight in it in ignorance. It was the Vanyar who dug into the secrets of our natures, reaching in to touch our throbbing pulse point and understand why we were there at all, what our purpose was, and who had birthed us.” Amarië leaned forward, upper body draped over the table in her passion, like she wanted to reach into Elenwë’s mind and reorder it into the Light of Illumination.
Amarië’s ardor made something wiggle in Elenwë’s belly. Amarië was so…extreme. The woman who sat at table with Elenwë was as much a stranger as her own people, and yet not. Because behind the kohl lining Amarië’s eyes was the same zeal Elenwë remembered in her, a match for Finrod’s. For the Finrod she’d known before the Helcaraxë. But there had been no Helcaraxë to dampen the blaze in Amarië’s eyes, and moderate the extremism in her blood. She still spoke as if she was going to re-make the world –as if they’d already started.
“The Vanyar were the ones asking the profound questions of the universe, and debating why the world was created at all, while the Noldor contented themselves with unearthing how it functioned. The Valar perceived our statue as the highest order of the Quendi. They saw how the other kindreds looked first to us for leadership and insight, and the Valar turned this against us even as they reaped the benefits of that hierarchy.”
Amarië pulled back, earrings swinging as she lifted a wine glass to her lips. Gold earrings, shaped into suns that would have filled the palm of Elenwë’s hand, hung from Amarië’s lobs. Light shone through them in the pockets forged into the gold for lightness and beauty, and glinted off the yellow gems pressed into the points of the sun’s burst. The Valar would have named such a display of wealth vanity, and claimed the heavily jeweled, emerald-colored dress Amarië wore immodest; not only for its boldness of color, but the cut of the bodice that dipped low to reveal the curves of Amarië’s shoulders and the fineness of her collarbone.
“The Valar did not elevate us to be the leaders of the Elves; we already were. All the Valar did was repress our natures, and cut our culture into a pattern they approved of, replacing our vibrant culture with one they’d fashioned. They wiped the kohl from our eyes, naming it seduction. They stripped the richness of our dress away as immodesty. They rerouted the paths our bodies had celebrated in dance, saying we flaunted ourselves. They stole the might of our inquiring minds, segregated our very nature, saying we had no need to ask the Great Questions now they were there to spoon-feed their lies into our minds, stuffing them with cotton.”
Amarië’s mouth compressed, eyes so hot it was a wonder the Valar did not feel them on their mountain thrones. “Do you know what they told my brother the mere idea of living away from their ‘glory’ was? Hubris. They said we were falling into the barbaric existence they raised us out of.” She sniffed, lips twisting.
“They did not try to stop your leaving?”
Amarië tapped the rim of her wine glass, bracelets jingling. Light glinted off the…well Elenwë was not sure what it was Amarië wore on the backs of her hands. It was not a ring, though its ending looped like a ring about her middle finger. But nor was it a bracelet, though it began at her wrist, for it lay like a webbing of gold and jewels over the backs of her hands. It was an eye-catching piece of jewelry, but foreign to Elenwë, though she had seen variations of its design wore on the backs of many Vanyar’s hands since returning.
“They did not. We confounded them.” Amarië smiled, triumph. “They did not know how to handle their ‘Blessed Elves’ rebelling. For unlike the Noldor, we did not leave Aman. They gave their judgment, and it is my conjecture they expected us to repent in the face of that alone. But when we did not, when we moved off their mountain and cast aside their laws like dirty laundry, they had the choice of laying down judgment over us all, or pretending we were still inside the letter of their approbation.”
Amarië talked on of the Vanyar’s enlightenment, of the unchaining of their thoughts, but the words bit into Elenwë’s ears. Amarië spoke of the Vanyar’s reclaimed culture, the ingeniousness of their poetry, the heights of reasoning their philosophers reached, and Elenwë heard the root of superiority twisting through every word celebrating their people’s greatness.
The Noldor called the Vanyar snotty behind their backs, the Teleri called them patronizing. It was an Age-old vice of her people that they thought themselves just that little bit higher than other Elves. Once it had been because of their devotion to the Valar, now it was their culture, the way they had broken free of the Valar’s bindings while the Noldor they lived amongst had come back to them, or never left.
Amarië, brilliant-minded, so strong and proud of her people, their achievements, fell into the trap of arrogance those of high-intellect often succumbed too – Vanyar and Noldor alike. But who was without fault? Not Elenwë.
Ingil extended an invitation for Elenwë to join their people in the Vanyar’s districts of Tirion. He was as admirable as his sisters in his own way. Not as intelligent as Amarië, or a famed musical talent like Elemmírë, but he possessed an easiness of character and readiness to laugh that reminded Elenwë of Fingon. His nature made him an excellent ruler of their people. Having the clear-sightedness to surround himself with sound advisors, not excluding his elder sister on account of Amarië’s gender, was another mark towards his success. But though Elenwë respected the children of Ingwë, she declined the invitation and continued to walk the halls of the Noldor’s palace, a place more crowded with ghosts than the living.
She was not needed in the teeming, vibrant streets of the Vanyar. She was need here, in the barrenness. She was needed to fight back the shadows creeping long in the corners, reaching out ageing fingers to wrap around Finarfin’s shoulders and bow his back with loss. Her place was not in Ingil’s court with its sweet wines flowing, flashes of dancing women’s bellies, the spinning bells of men’s robes as they joined in, the high towers of star-gazers, the lilting voice of a poet, or the passion in philosopher’s as they performed for a crowd.
She did not begrudge her people their renewal, though she felt more closely akin to the Noldor now. She did not even blame them when words of scorn were spoken against everything the Vanyar had been under the Valar’s guidance –including the poicindis. She had not changed who she was, and who she was had no place in that thrumming, glittering, swirling tide of color. That was how she thought of the Elves who’d followed Ingil: the Colorful Elves/ But for themselves, they’d taken up the Vanyar’s old title of the Elves of the Air, and cast the Elves still bound to the Valar in the bland shades of the White Elves.
There were times, oh yes there were times, when she found herself holding her tongue (it was not the way of a poicindis to speak out). There were times she wanted to ask where their compassion had gone? When had they become so judgmental of those they should pity, those bound and lost to the Valar’s lure? But then she remembered what had been the defining characteristic of the Vanyar before the Darkening, the one tradition from before the Valar they’d nurtured until it bloated into something parasitic proportions: the old policing of honor.
Once, it had been about upholding the honor of their people. It had been about accountability, about guarding honor with shame. The Vanyar had needed no harsh punishments to keep their people in line when they had neighbors looking into the lives of neighbors. But it had become nothing more than neighbor spying upon neighbor, judging eyes ready to catch another out, sniffing out those less pious or virtuous than themselves, and holding them up to the light, hoping the shadow cast would hide their own sins. It was not so easy to break away from a tradition so ingrained upon hearts, a vice so tightly wrapped about their tongues (setting them a-wagging), and their eyes (setting them a-judging).
The Vanyar had their flaws, just as the Noldor and Teleri did, but Elenwë measured her heart and found she had little desire to be numbed among the people of her birth. She was of the House of the Star. Her heart bled for Finarfin’s loneliness, and Nerdanel’s life-consuming grief. Elenwë’s slippers padded down marble halls, echoing in the vastness of emptiness, and passed lords and ladies and servants all pretending so hard a part of them had not gone East.
She was Elenwë of the House of Finwë, wife of Turgon, and so she would remain until the breaking of the world.
Someone had once asked Elenwë if she thought often of her husband and daughter. She’d said nothing in answer to such gross ignorance. Not think of her husband? Her daughter? She couldn’t take a breath without the questions riding like barnacles on a hermit’s shell in the back of her mind: Were they safe? Were they happy? What were their lives like now?
And then she had known, because the Valar took delight in delivering the news of the Exile’s fates. The Valar must take delight, how else could they have sent an impersonal letter to Finarfin informing him his last remaining son, Finrod, had been ripped apart by a wolf?
She saw one of the messengers coming, a Vanya from the Mountain. She was seated with Finarfin in the garden, and she knew, even before her fingers touched the parchment, that one of her family was dead, perhaps all (all that were left). The Noldor had learned what it meant to receive one of the Vanya messengers in their white livery, with the design of eagle wings sweeping down their collar to the curl of their shoulders.
Her fingers shook too badly to undo the seal, so Finarfin slipped it gently from them, helping her as she’d helped him read the news of his own grief. His voice was horse as he read of Turgon’s death, and Glorfindel’s too, the dear, sweet child she’d come to love as he own son.
Idril was not among the dead, but it was only a measure of time before Elenwë received another messenger. There were so few, so few, left of the once mighty House of Finwë.
But she did not receive another messenger from the Mountain; she received one from Alqualondë. Aairë wrote a rare letter to tell her Idril had come home. Elenwë could not push her horse fast enough, could not skip enough hours of rest and meals, before she had her daughter in her arms again.
At first, in that dazzling moment of reunion when it all seemed unreal, an impossible dream come true, it seemed like Idril and she could move mountains together. But then the shine of those days wore off, and Elenwë realized her daughter was a stranger. A stranger whose core burred for two things and two things alone: pleading with the Valar for her husband’s immortality, and begging them to intervene in the war against Morgoth. Idril begged, and yet did not, because she was a Noldo down to her bones and she got on her knees for no one. But it was begging because she took her ageing husband with her to live up on the Mountain, close enough she could stand before the Valar daily to make her case.
There was a sickness in Elenwë’s stomach when she climbed back up that Mountain to visit her daughter and acquaint herself with a son-in-law of an alien race with white hair and a face wrinkled as a walnut shell. Idril had little time to spare the mother she’d grown into a woman without, but Elenwë grew no resentment in her heart against the Man her daughter’s thoughts were consumed with.
Idril stood straight and proud before the Valar, hair a ripple of curling sunlight as if fell about her shoulders. She recounted the many brave deeds of her husband, spoke of his goodness and tirelessness in performing the task Ulmo had appointed him. But Manwë and Varda were not moved. In the end it hadn’t mattered that some of the Valar were already stirring at the stories of war and suffering and so much death Tuor recounted with eloquence and passion. Manwë and Varda were the hearts they needed to move, and they sat cold and distant as the light and air they were formed from.
Elenwë learned of the Second born’s fate through Tuor’s declining health. She watched a body and mind fall apart. Idril struggled against fate, wrestled with gods to no avail. She sunk herself into denial until that last possible moment when Tuor’s breathing turned into a rattle in his chest and his eyes, so calm and jarring against Idril’s frantic ones, asked his wife to let him go, because he’d lost the ability to speak when that terrifying fit had taken him and all the skin on the left side of his face had just seemed to droop, his left arm and leg useless limbs attached to a body stumbling to a halt.
Tuor died. There was no gift of immortality from the Valar. His soul went to the place all Mortal ones go. Idril was left alone in a land she was a stranger to, with the knowledge that she had abandoned her son and people for nothing.
Tuor’s death did not pull Idril closer to Elenwë, there was too much filling the gap between their hearts’ cleaving. There was a world out there, Beleriand. A life of struggles and wonders, and so many names and deeds and places Elenwë didn’t know and couldn’t even imagine.
But it was more than this chasm, it was Elenwë’s nature, her training as a poicindis, which Idril could neither understand nor respect. Her daughter tried harder than most to grasp what forces had shaped Elenwë into a submissive wife who bowed her head in public and lowered her eyes to men, but Idril had grown up in another world, a world that scorned submission (weakness, as Idril saw it).
Idril thought Elenwë needed saving, and for a time had thrown herself into saving her mother from the lies of the Valar. It was a desperate distraction from grief. But Elenwë didn’t need saving, and Idril couldn’t understand this, couldn’t understand how Elenwë could want such a life. Idril convinced herself Elenwë was so deeply brainwashed that she didn’t even know how much she needed rescuing. There could be no meaningful relationship between them as long as Idril continued to look upon Elenwë as a child in need of re-instruction.
Amarië: Finrod’s betrothed in Valinor before the Noldor’s exile.
Eäwen: Wife of Finarfin, daughter of Olwë, king of the Teleri.
Elenwë: Wife of Turgon, mother of Idril.
Anairë: Wife of Fingolfin.
Poicindis (pure-bride), a concept I created for this universe: Elleth who were trained to be submissive to ellon (especially their husbands) in public, but fiercely protective of their children. The practice of raising poicindis daughters was only done among the Vanyar. Not all Vanyar trained their daughters to be poicindis; young girls made the choice to become one of their own ‘free will.'
The Vanyar’s Rebellion