Story by The Nimrodellian Tale-Spinner
The bird in the air and the fish in the sea with the cobbler and baker and thief, all have their purpose in life. And so it is as well with the Powers of the World. Each of them governs some aspect of the world around us, and enriches it in their own particular way to the bounty of us all.
To Yavanna, we look for the food on our plate and the trees overhead. To Aule we thank for the steel in our sword and the gold on our finger. And to Varda we praise for the stars overhead that light our way when the dark of night descends. From the heights of the Blessed Realm they look upon the breadth of the world as a painter might look upon his easel and each of their strokes is a master-work.
But just as the Cobbler and Baker have their apprentices and helpers, so too do the Gods up above. Most famous of these in the lore of elves and men are Eonwe and Melian. Eonwe is the banner-bearer of Manwe, chief of the Gods. It is he who led the charge against the Dark Lord when the world was yet young and no one can boast greater skill in arms than he. Melian was a servant of Vana and Este. Though she lived long in the Blessed Realm, her greatest feats took place within the living world and many of the ancient tales involve her presence.
This tale is about one of the lesser known servants of the Gods who through her actions, we have to thank when we look into the sky.
In the Blessed Realm in the beginnings of time, there were many wonders and sights that are not to be found in the world anymore, for who can envision all the workings of the Powers’ hands? One of the greatest and most beautiful were the vast lakes of silver and gold light that lay outside the dwellings of Varda, maker of stars.
They were created from the dew that fell from the Two Trees of song, and the Gods took much delight in walking along those hallowed shores in their leisure. Many of the greatest and brightest stars in the sky were created by Varda, from their light.
Varda had a handmaiden by the name of Ilmare, who assisted her in all that she did and who was considered amongst the most beautiful of all the servants of the Gods. Often when her duties were light, she could be found walking the shores of the silver and golden lakes and her heart was filled with their brilliance.
But at times, while she looked out into a golden horizon that we can only dream of, her thoughts were clouded by hidden doubts and fears. She worried about the future of the Lakes and the darkening of the world if they were to pass. She brought these fears to Varda but the maker of stars only chastised her lightly and sent her on her way.
Ilmare thought long and hard about how she might protect the splendor of the lakes for all time when an idea finally struck. She had been with her mistress since the beginning and was present at the creation of the stars and often assisted her in their placement. It was Ilmare who held aloft the great vats of light from the very peak of Taniquetil as Varda fashioned from the light therein the brilliance of the stars.
All that was needed was to take the rest of the light up into the sky where it could remain inviolate till the end of days and shared by all. But she knew that Varda would not approve of her plans so she wrought them in secret until the appointed day.
Before the Sun and the Moon graced the heavens, the only light in the world was provided by the Two Tree’s. Each of them waxed and waned at separate intervals, though there was always a point during which both Trees were waning. It was during this period that the closest thing to night happened in the Blessed realm and it was at this time that Ilmare put her plans into motion.
During the waning of the light, the Valar were most likely to be at council in the Mahanaxar, the Ring of Doom that sat close by the Two Trees. There they would go to discuss the deep matters of Middle Earth and it was then that they were most likely to be too distracted to notice Ilmare’s work.
Heading to the mansions of Varda, Ilmare went to where the lakes lay in their silver/gold glory. Summoning all of her strength, she lifted one of the vats that contained the silver light of Telperion and made her way to the foot of Taniquetil. Her plan was to use the rest of the light in the silver vats to create new stars and then she would go back and do the same with the golden light of Laurelin. Ilmare smiled when she thought of how happy the Valar would be to see bright stars of gold in the sky to go along with the stars of silver.
Quickly she left the mansions of Varda and headed towards the foot of Taniquetil. Once there she began the laborious climb to the top, made all the more difficult by the heavy burden that she bore. Her ascent to the peak of the mountain took time because, even with a Maia’s speed, it was a great climb. For who has ever measured the height of that mightiest of mountains? But finally with the light of the Trees in hand, she reached her objective. Ilmare smiled as the whole span of Arda lay below her, and the endless stretch of the heavens sat above.
After a brief respite, Ilmare began the labor that she had prepared for but almost immediately ran into a problem. For as prodigious as her strength was, she could not both hold the giant vat of light and craft and place the newly wrought stars into the sky. Finally with much toil, Ilmare managed to prop the vat against the peak of the mountain and hold it precariously with one arm, freeing her second.
With gentle care she crafted a vessel of silver light and placed it near to her reach within the heavens. Quickly it blazed forth in newfound glory and Ilmare was enraptured with her own handiwork.
But as she was mesmerized with the work of one hand, she was careless with the work of the other and the heavy burden of the silver vat shifted dangerously to the side. A startled Ilmare quickly tried to regain her handhold but she slipped and the great weight of the vat and all of its contents poured out in a torrent of flowing light. The stunned Maia fell down the mountainside striking the bottom with a mighty clamor.
When she recovered she looked up and saw with horror how great her mistake had been. The contents of the silver vat, light and life that had been gathered over ages uncounted at the beginning of time, lay sprawled across the sky in a long milky band. The hand-maiden of Varda wept and did not even notice the Gods when they arrived to see what had happened.
Deep was the disappointment in Varda’s eyes at Ilmare’s actions and long was the talk with Manwe as to the consequences. But Yavanna in her wisdom pointed at the newfound beauty of what had been created. Like a great bejeweled bracelet, the light from the silver vat spread from horizon to horizon and the sky was enriched like never before.
The elves in later days would refer to it as the Starry Veil, the men of Bree as the King’s Crown and in far off, strange lands it is known as the Milky Way. In Valinor though, it was teasingly referred to as Ilmare’s mistake.
So after Varda used her considerable craft in star-making to enhance her hand-maiden’s handiwork, Ilmare got her wish. And it was a good thing too because in later days, when both Trees and lakes of light were lost, the Starry Veil helped preserve some measure of their glory.
The Gods forgave Ilmare her rashness even though she was never again allowed to walk by the shores of her beloved lakes while they lasted. So when the night air is clear and the Starry Veil shines overhead, remember Ilmare and how even mistakes can bear fruit when intentions are pure.