Cold, tentative morning light flooded the lands of Beleriand, washing away the night’s shadows. The air was cool and crisp; and in Hithlum, a soft grey mist traced the surroundings with silver, lingering despite the faint stirring of a breeze. All was quiet. Not even birdsong broke the still of the morn. And yet there was something – upon the shore, maybe – the faintest touch of feet to sand?
A sudden laugh shattered the peace, ringing out through the air, unexpected, yet with the musical beauty of the Firstborn. It was immediately followed by a reprimand in an earnest, youthful voice;
“Nínim! Be quiet, you’ll scare them away!”
“I won’t, I won’t! Birds like laughing!”
And there became visible three figures, moving along the shore. The contours of their forms were vague, veiled by the mist; and the soft hues of their raiment were merging with the backdrop of pink-streaked sky. One amongst them was full-grown; he was a tall figure, with a lithe step and proud bearing, and a spark to his eye undimmed by hardship; and he looked down upon the others with a great warmth in his face. The other two were of similar stature, and similar fair features; yet the one was a boy, a young Elf with dark hair and a determined set to his jaw; whereas the other was the small form of a girl, rosy-cheeked, with a river of golden hair swirling about her waist. This girl was skipping and dancing ahead of her companions; and she was chattering in quick, merry tones.
“What colour will the birds be, Linfëa? Will there be baby birds, too? An’ do you think they’ll fly away when we come? I want to talk with them, like you do!” She gave a joyous skip, almost tripping over her own whirling cloak.
The elder Elf grinned, and snatched the child up in his arms, saying,
“They will certainly fly away, little Nínim, if you chatter like this! You can only talk with them if you are very, very quiet.” His voice was filled with mock solemnity.
“Nínim’s never ever quiet,” declared the other youngster decidedly, looking to her and nodding his head in firm confirmation.
“I don’t like being quiet,” giggled the maiden, wriggling and squirming; “why should we be quiet when the wind and the rain and the birds make such a lot of noise?” The Elf holding her laughed, and turned to spin her through the air until she shrieked with excitement.
“You will grow wise, Nínim,” said he, warmly. “Wise, indeed. Now, do you see the tree yonder? Run thither and see if you can spot the birds.” He set down the little maiden, who staggered a few steps before regaining her balance, and then scurried excitedly away on short plump legs, her brother beside her. Their hair rippled and danced in the breeze, long and gleaming; the soft folding cloaks that could envelop their small forms drifted out behind them; and the calm of the morning, the gentle rays of the rising sun, met to weave a fair spell, an enchantment of peace and ethereal beauty in which the three edhil moved, unseen by the rest of the world.
The elder Elf paused to watch their progress, and a smile curved his lips.
“Oh, light-hearted Elflings!” he murmured, under his breath. “If only you could have lived within the Blessed Realm. I fear that it is a crueller world that you shall grow into, than that which your ancestors knew.” He turned his gaze out across the lake, and watched, for a moment, the ever-changing droplets of sparkling light that danced over the water’s surface, twinkling and glittering. Then, with a soft sigh, he looked back to his two charges. They were chasing each other joyfully about the wrong tree. For a moment, he paused, lowering his glance; but finally, with a strengthening of resolve expressed in naught but the light of his eyes, he strode over to join them.
As the Elf reached the children, Nínim immediately turned upon him, grabbing at his arm with one chubby little hand.
“Linfëa, Linfëa, your turn to chase! Come!” She darted away around the tree, grinning at him temptingly from amidst a splash of leaves. “Bet you can’t catch me!”
“Bet I can!” He leapt forward in pursuit, grabbing her easily and gripping her tight in his arms as she struggled and giggled. “See! I have you!”
“No fair, no fair!” she laughed; “you cheated!”
“Yes, all grown-ups have to hop!” explained the boy, with an impish grin.
“Oh?” said Linfëa, a mirthful twinkle coming to his eye. “Really? I don’t remember agreeing to that.” Nínim, at last managing to wriggle free from his hold, fell to the ground and scrambled away.
“Come! Catch me!” she cried. Linfëa smiled, saying with an air of innocence,
“But I thought we were going to go and greet these birds? Come, do not you want to?” The young girl gasped and paled, in an agony of indecision.
“Yes … I want to see the birds…” she managed, at last, although evidently downcast. Linfëa grinned at her doleful expression.
“I’ll catch you afterwards,” he offered, and laughed as he saw the expression of delight that spread over her rounded face.
“Let’s go!” she cried; and it took many pleas for silence from the other two before she fell into a merry quiet.
The Elf Linfëa led the two youngsters over to the correct tree. It was tall, with branches twisting upwards in intricate designs, darkly outlined against the sky. On the lower boughs, amidst a covering of leaves, was crafted a birds’ nest, the twigs as skilfully placed as if it had been first designed. And there, snuggled cosily in bedding of sticks and straw, were the rounded forms of three young sparrows.
They were delicate, big-eyes creatures, with fluffy tufts of feathers sticking out at odd angles, and their beaks stretched wide in a hopeful plea for food. Looking down to the children, Linfëa touched his finger to his lips, and then lifted up each in turn, keeping a safe distance back so as not to fright the animals. His smile widened as he saw a flush of excitement and awe come to both faces.
“Look,” he whispered. “Over there, in the sky. That’s their mother. She’s been out searching for food, and now she’ll give it to them.” Perfectly on cue, the bird swooped down towards the nest, and a fierce squawking ensued as the youngsters scrabbled for the falling scraps.
“How old are they?” asked Nínim, in a fierce whisper.
“Not very old. Maybe a week or so.” For several minutes, they watched in silence. The young birds squabbled amongst themselves as their mother flitted away again, and flapped, uselessly, the feathery wisps of their wings. The youngsters’ wide eyes follow their every movement, oblivious to the leaves that quivered distractingly in front of the nest. Linfëa smiled as he watched the faces, entranced by their fervency. Indeed, he was almost dreaming himself when the young boy finally spoke.
“May we go back to the lake now, Linfëa? You can sing us a song.”
Raised from his reverie, the older Elf nodded quickly.
“Certainly. In fact, `tis time for your lessons to commence. I shall tell you of the Maiar, today; and you must take another look at your Quenya grammar.”
“But Linfëa…!” protested Nínim; then continued hopefully, “you said Quenya wasn’t being used as much, anymore. You said we’d be more likely to need Sindarin, in the future…”
“That is true, but no reason to forget the high tongue of your kindred, which is the most fair and noble of all languages. Now come! No complaints!” He scooped up the boy, Rossnen, bearing him back along toward the shore; and Nínim followed, half-running to keep up, and tripping over her long skirts.
“My lord.” Linfëa bowed; and Nimross looked round swiftly from the horse he was tending.
“Ah, Aelolaur! How fare you?”
“Well, I thank thee. And you?”
“Ah, I am fine. But Faelfîn is less well … I fear she pines for her family. Exile has not been easy for her.” Clapping at his horse’s neck, the Elf straightened, looking to the young ellon before him. “But what of my children? How do their studies progress?”
“I am sorry to hear of your wife, my lord. But your children do well. They are both quick-witted, and a pleasure to teach and care for. Nínim Eriell in particular-“
“Don’t call her that!” The words were barked, harshly, and a flame was rising in Nimross’ eyes. Linfëa looked to him in confusion. “Eriell,” continued the Elf, scornfully. “That is not her epessë. That is merely her mother-name; and I fear Faelfîn was sorrowful when she chose them, and her mother’s foresight was clouded. I wished not that Nínim should bear that name; and I was glad when Rossnen chose not to take his.”
“I have taken mine,” murmured Linfëa. “Linfëa I am, before Aelolaur; and the former has, over my life, proved more true, although so many said that minstrels come not of the Noldor.”
“And nor should they. We are not singers by nature; our skill rather lies in crafting. I hope you have not been teaching my children against what is natural for their kin. You have been gracious, in caring for and teaching them when their mother and I have not the time; but if you turn them against work with their hands, making them rather favour naught but singing, you shall have much to answer for, Aelolaur. I shall, I think, call my son to me soon, and begin his training in combat. You may guard the girl a little longer, for Faelfîn is too weak to teach one so young and exuberant. But remember, they are not yours to influence as you will.”
Biting back his anger, and unable to reply politely, Linfëa merely offered a stiff bow ere he strode away from Hithlum’s stables.
“He cares but little,” he murmured bitterly, as he walked. “All the love these two have e’er known has been of my giving. I have no reason to tutor them and look out for them; no bond with their parents, no wish for children of my own; yet I do. Always. Has this earned me no rights? May I not sing to them if they wish? I have taught them also what crafting skills I can! And their mother names …mayhap they are of ill foreboding. But by denying their existence, they, and the paths they foretell, cannot be altered…” Cursing beneath his breath, Linfëa walked on, looking out sharply for the two children.