dawn_felagund (dawn_felagund) wrote in lotr_community,

"The Ship of Light" for Talullah Red by Dawn Felagund

Author: dawn_felagund
Title: The Ship of Light
Rating: PG
Theme: 2016 Yule Exchange
Prompt: Elwing and Eärendil's first Yule in Sirion. I'd like something light and dark, please. Given the circumstances they would be traumatized, but the people around them would be making efforts for them and the other children. If you're one of the Nimloth-survives type, it's fine by me.
Summary: Elwing is a troubled child, acting out to avoid facing the trauma of her past. During the survivors' first Yule at Sirion, mariners from Balar bring gifts to the refugees, and inspired by their benevolence, Elwing and Eärendil remake an old tradition into a new symbol of hope. For talullahred.
Word Count: 6,300

The Ship of Light

The sky is too big here and I feel this constant danger like I might come unmoored and fall into it. Then there's the sea, and they run together, especially at twilight when you can look as hard as you can and not see where they separate. So there's this marshy projection into sky on the one side and sea on the other, being constantly infiltrated with water, with the river and the sea, and this is where we are, this is where we live now, here on the edge of the world and in danger of falling.


Lady Celonwen would like what I'd written, I knew, and so I didn't want to share it. I didn't want the attention or the accolades, the eyes on me. She was moving around the room and stopping randomly at desks to hover over the child's shoulder and read what she had written. She always nodded and said, "Mmmm." Some she touched before she moved on: a flat palm in the middle of the back, there then gone. Those were the ones who'd pleased her. Those were the ones she'd invite to stand before the class and read aloud. But me, and what I'd written? She'd stop the class and read it out loud herself; she'd done it before, and this was as good or better than my usual work.

She was coming closer, so I slipped the page under a book. I put my hands flat on the desktop and tested my fingernails against the wood.

"Elwing? Let me see what you have done."

The hand to my back preceded her approval in my case, like she thought I might need to be touched more often than the others.

"Elwing?" Her voice wobbled between concern and irritation. "Where is your assignment? What have you done toward your theme?"

I felt the grain of the wood, the dead flesh of some inland tree, bumping beneath my fingernails. The hand left my back. She radiated disappointment.

She would have loved it.

My eyes stung with tears of bitterness and injustice.


[From the notes of Master Certhechil of Gondolin, assistant headmaster, King's School at Sirion]

  • routinely refuses to complete work

  • talks back to and argues with adults

  • calls adults and children names

  • hits other children

  • swears

  • destroys property

  • makes inadequate effort on work that does not captivate her interests

  • cries without reason

  • plays the victim/refuses to accept responsibility for actions


I was very familiar with the wooden bench outside Master Certhechil's office, and my aunt was very familiar with the inside of that same office. I could measure my growth of the last half-year by the gradual reaching of my feet for the floor. First I could hook my feet on the wooden rung underneath, and now if I pointed my feet, the tips of my toes would snag in their swinging against the floor. The secretary in the headmaster's office winced every time my toes scuffed the floor, but he knew by now the uselessness of asking me to stop.

Master Certhechil was the youngest of the assistant headmasters and so assigned to deal with matters of discipline. He'd apparently been appointed to his position a mere fortnight before the fall of Gondolin, and no one had pity enough to spare him the disciplining of a couple hundred grieving children once Master Pengolodh reopened his school (which was almost right away; he claimed that reasoning suggested that a swift return to normalcy would heal us better than anything else, never mind that this place suspended amid the sea and sky was not and never could be construed as normal).

Down the hall was Master Pengolodh's office and another wooden bench identical to this one, and there was a boy sitting on that one. He was familiar with the office too; he was often here at the same time as I was. But he was the son of Idril the princess and his mother was still alive, so the headmaster himself deigned to deal with him.

I looked at him and he looked back down at me. He was much smaller than me; his feet cleared the floor by a good thumb's width yet. He was swinging them and periodically knocking them into the rung under the bench with a hollow bonk sound that also, I noticed, made the secretary wince and pause in his writing to rub his temples. We were the same age, I knew, but he was half-mortal and not particularly sharp intellectually (so I heard) and so in a lower class for our age group than me.

"Elwing." I hadn't even noticed the door to Master Certhechil's office open. I tattooed my toes quickly against the floor. "You may come in now."

My aunt was there, half-turned in her chair to watch me enter, the soggy handkerchief installed as ever in her hand. My aunt leaked tears the way a tree weeps sap at the spring thaw. Her silver hair was in a severe bun at the back of her neck intended to communicate an abandonment of frivolity in the interest of survival. In Doriath, she had been of Lord Celeborn's sisters the one most enamored of finery. Master Certhechil sat heavily in his chair and the wood groaned. He had a massive white forehead and pale, receding hair. While he talked, I imagined what I would write on his forehead if I ever caught him asleep in here.

These meetings followed a script.

First I was asked to explain why I thought I was here. Since I never did, then Master Certhechil jumped quickly to enumerating my particular sin for that particular day.

My sin was cross-referenced to an item in the Student Codex of Honorable Conduct.

Next it was asserted that whatever I had done was beneath me. It did not matter if it was something like writing a swear word in a poetry assignment (which seemed a legitimate use of the art form) or punching another girl in the head at the morning meal (which was probably the worst thing I'd done and which probably would have gotten me expelled if I didn't have the parents I did, dead or not). It was all beneath me, although if "me" was characterized in that ever-growing list of faults inside the folder on Master Certhechil's desk, then I'm not certain that claim could be made.

The conversation closed with a reminder of my strengths. Usually, this was something Lady Celonwen had written to Master Certhechil; she must spend a lot of time writing about me. Lady Celonwen was my writing instructor, and writing was admittedly something I did well at under most circumstances. Today, he could hardly quote Lady Celonwen since I'd been sent to him from her class for purportedly not doing the writing at which I purportedly excelled, so he said something tepid and insincere about how my headstrong ways suggested the heart of a true leader of her people if I'd only direct my energies appropriately. When he was trying to motivate a person, he always jabbed the air with his fist. He did this when it was his turn to address us all at the weekly school meeting. Through this whole ordeal, my aunt seeped tears and pushed her handkerchief up under her nose and clenched and unclenched her free hand in her lap.

Today, though, Master Certhechil's jabbing fist had deflated back to his desk blotter when my aunt's eyelashes fluttered several times fast as though she was coming awake and she said, "I don't understand you, Elwing." Her voice was nasal with all the tears waiting to leak out. "Lady Celonwen found your assignment when she gathered your books to send down. She found it; she said it was really good. It was advanced for your age."

I held my shoulders stiff and my face unmoving, and I said nothing.

"I don't understand you. It's like you want--" She swiped at her nose with the handkerchief. Tears bubbled in her voice. "You aren't the only who's grieving, you know."


The settlement didn't even have a name, like Eglarest and Brithombar once did. They were also built at the mouths of rivers, but they had enough dignity to command names of their own. Here, we were just the Mouths of Sirion, which sounded gross and humid and fetid and was actually a fair description of what the settlement was like. No one had seen the bother of investing in stone construction after the fall of the Havens so everything was built of wood. The damp seeped in constantly, and the smell of the river: everything dead and spoiled that had flowed across the leagues of Beleriand to lodge here before it may or may not be disgorged into the sea. (From the smell: usually not.) The river's mouth was marshy and so the "streets" were in fact wooden platforms that rose and fell with the flood and all the buildings were on spindly legs and swayed during windstorms. The whole place had a haphazard, slapdash look to it that was beneath the people who'd made Menegroth and Gondolin.

And there were no trees. Not a single one. There was whip-sharp grass in beige profusion, and there was the occasional leathery shrub that didn't mind periodic drowning, but otherwise, it was just a gray winter sky brooding over us. The overcast sky (that threatened but never snowed, although it produced fine, ubiquitous, drifting clouds of cold rain) was better at least than the rare clear day or, worse, night. I felt I couldn't keep a firm enough grip on the earth; I might tumble into the dark and be lost.

My aunt walked me home from school, holding tight to my hand, even though at the age of eight, I felt like I could walk the street beside her without being clutched at, so I squirmed and let my feet wander and generally tried to make the walk home as uncomfortable for her as possible. The clouds were low today and white like wool batting; I didn't feel like I might float away. I could see down the river and to the churning, unquiet sea beyond. The border between sky and sea was very easy to see today, almost violet in color. She clung so tightly to me, I think, because she was very aware of the embarrassment caused by a girl of my breeding acting like I did, and she wanted people to know that it was no lapse in discipline on her part that made me that way.

Now, there were not many people to see us. School did not dismiss for an hour yet but Master Certhechil felt it was "in my best interest" if I just left early for the day so I could "start fresh again tomorrow." Still, she strode with the upright comportment of a lady of one of Doriath's best families, in a ratty dress and with the sodden handkerchief still clutched in her hand and sometimes swiping at her reddened nose.

We reached the building where we lived: a wooden box with two floors and two rooms on each floor. We shared the room at the front. The other family was five people--the father was a forester and so they'd lived in the forest rather than Menegroth, and they'd all survived the attack and the journey--and they lived in the room in the back and had to traipse through our room to reach theirs, so my aunt engaged in all kinds of subterfuge when disrobing or grooming herself in case one of them happened through at an inopportune time. The room was drafty and damp. She let us in and waved me toward my bed on one side of the room. "Start your homework. I'm not in the mood to hear from you tonight."

"I'm never in the mood to hear from you," I retorted.

When she didn't know how to handle me, she always repeated the last thing she'd said. "Start your homework," she said.

My aunt should know from prior meetings with Master Certhechil that I did not do homework. When the other children traded papers and began the gabbling process of sanctioned social interaction and self-correction of their homework, I sat at my desk and used an old pen point to add to the carving on my desk. I piled my books on my bed and opened my ledger in my lap. I did not do homework, but I filled ledgers, and every night, my aunt was content to be fooled. This is what she told Master Certhechil: "She writes all the time, and I just assumed …" He never questioned her too hard on this point.

She sat down with her sewing basket while I wrote. None of us had come from Doriath with much but the blood-soaked clothes on our backs, but some had come with nothing, and she was always stitching a garment for some charity case. At least her prior vanity had some productive use. For the recent weeks, her efforts had been on behalf of the children in the orphans' home. Theirs was a sprawling, ramshackle building right on the beach, looking like a chain of our box-houses nailed together. It rippled like a wooden caterpillar crawling over the sand. The orphans did not go to school with us; our teachers took it in shifts to go down to them. Even Master Pengolodh went and taught history to the older children once per week.

When I really tested my aunt's patience, she would say to me, "I could take ship to Balar and put you in the orphans' home, you know."

"I wish you would," I might say to her. "I hate it here." Or: "If you did, I might actually get a new dress out of you." I had two dresses and neither fit very well anymore.

"We'll see how you like living with someone worse than you who steals you small clothes" was the kind of thing she'd say back.

Or she might say: "We'll see how you like fish stew for every meal."

Or: "When people forget who you are and you're just another ordinary sad case along with all the rest and you won't get away with what you do."

Or any number of things.


I think it must be almost Yule? It's impossible to know in this awful place without trees and snow.

I guess it's Yule because it grows dark so early now, on the walk home from school.

I want to ask Aunt Tawarloth but I hate that she'll know that I'm thinking about Yule. She'll feel like she has to deliver me some speech about how I can't expect any gifts even as she's sewing three dresses a day for the orphans on the beach. Or maybe she'll decide to be affectionate, which will be even worse. I hate when she feels like she has to give me some kind of consolation. She'll want to relive memories that I don't want to share.

Here's something no one here knows about me: I was raised with the Laiquendi. That is not on Master Certhechil's list. It should be. My name even comes from their language. The -wing part means "sea-foam." I don't know how they knew anything about sea-foam. I am not some coddled lady like Aunt Tawarloth; I am nearly a warrior of the secret people, with shadow weapons and secret magics. When the Yule would come, they would kindle lights in the tallest trees: cold fires breathed into the hearts of stones. They'd hang those stones in the topmost branches of the tallest trees in nets spun of cobweb. When a child climbed to do this for the first time, he or she was no longer a child but a man or a woman. My brothers used to climb up so high that the branches doubled over with their weight. When they were done, the forest flowed into the stars and our Yule fires sent sparks against a backdrop of light.

If it was cloudy and snowing, my grandmother would break the clouds open just for a little while so that everything flowed together: fires, trees, stars.

The Laiquendi are fearless people. I was tiny when they lifted me into a tree for the first time. I was one with the tree as though I was its bark. There was nothing to fear. The tree would no sooner let me fall than cast itself to the ground. I crept as high as I could and hung my star-stone in its branches. Every year I went higher. Higher.

Last year, it was Yule and my brothers and I sneaked away as did all the children of the Laiquendi, and we blew magic into stones we plucked from the ground and hung then in nets of spun thread. I chose my tree and climbed. I was as its bark, its branches. I felt my roots plunged deep, holding me fast to the earth. Up I went until there was only sky before me. That topmost branch bowed and swayed in the wind, and when I looked, there were my brothers each in his own tree, and other Elves as far as the horizon, all of us decorating our trees with stars and all of us warding off the dark.

It was three days later that they attacked.


The next day at school, something monumental happened. We were outside for our daily allotment of free play, in the small yard that was the driest patch of earth in the vicinity (though nowhere near dry) and that they kept the grass clipped so that it didn't slice at our legs as we played in it. Someone had hammered together a structure of logs; as children of the forests and the mountains, our hands and feet itched to climb, and after having to coax a boy or two off of the roof of the school, a carpenter came and made this structure for us out of logs too small for use in building anything else but barely dangerous enough to be fun. (Come to think of it, Princess Idril's boy had been one of the children who'd wound up atop the school.)

At any given time, as many of us that could crowd to the top of the structure did, sitting shoulder pressing shoulder with our feet dangling into the abyss of empty space beneath it. If I craned my neck, the sea was barely visible: a gray ribbon that sometimes shone as though spread with the dust of diamonds. Today, the sky was overcast and the stripe of sea did little more than gleam like a band of hammered tin.

At first I thought they were trees. Until this year, I had never known a place where trees did not dominate every horizon, and I found my mind eager to fit my observations to that comfortable old pattern. Like three straight trunks, they arose from the sea, life established suddenly among the nothingness amid which we'd suspended ourselves. I leaned forward, straining my eyes to see the branches I was sure would erupt from the trunks, but something billowed around them instead.


It was Idril's little son, hanging from the structure by a foot and a hand, the other arm thrust toward the sea and the other foot dangling into nothingness, like he would gallop across the air itself to land upon the decks of the ships.

The play yard erupted into chaos. Most of the children ran to the fence nearest the sea and climbed it, not knowing yet that they would not be able to see the ships from so low a vantage point. I rose where I stood, upon a slender log of wood, arches of my feet wrapping it, and stood untrembling and unafraid, watching the ships slide across the sea. When the other children began to realize their mistake in abandoning the play structure and started to return, I slipped down and out of the play yard.

I kept to the smaller, more circuitous streets so I would not be seen and arrived at what passed for the quay after the ships had docked and dropped their sails. The people onboard wore the kinds of clothing that had once been commonplace for us too but now seemed fine, even luxuriant. They had billowing sleeves and robes and tunics. They wore rings and circlets and the other luxuries of beauty we had once possessed too. They were unloading trunks and crates onto the makeshift wooden docks. Prince Tuor was there, grasping hands and smiling and spreading his arms at the wealth being deposited upon his docks.

I slipped onto the last ship, which appeared to have been unloaded already. The mast bobbed with the motion of the sea the way that a tree will sway with the wind. There was no one on-board to stop me from climbing. The tree that had made this mast was long dead, but I could still feel the memory of its benevolence beneath my hands. I had never been on a ship in my life, but I'd been aloft in more trees than I could count, and I could trust it. I clung close as the bark it had once worn, now long rotted somewhere in to humus, and inched my way skyward until I reach a little wooden cup meant for a watchman and slipped inside.

From here, the illusion of the sky melting into the sea was even more profound. The land was but a parchment-frail bow of beige grass amply veined with blue rivulets that looked like they might swell at any moment and swallow our new home as surely as our old was gone. If the stony majesty of Menegroth and Gondolin succumbed, I wonder why anyone believed this feeble place would survive. The Cape of Balar was a rocky hook to the north, battered by frothing waves that leaped and broke without a sound. To the west, against a pearlescent backdrop of the setting sun, the Isle of Balar rounded its back out of the water like a whale surfacing. I could make out the busy filigree of settlements along its shores and dark quays jutting into the water and bristling with more masts belonging to more ships than seemed imaginable. Our own settlement, I realized, was barely visible, huddling amid the grasses and the reeds, the same dried, dead brown color as the land.


The voice was too high to belong to anyone but a child and made small by distance. I peered down. Idril's son stood on the deck of the ship, peering up at me, shading his eyes with his hand despite the lack of sun. To my dismay, he began to climb the mast after me. In a few minutes, he tumbled into the little watchman's cup. Even as small as we were, there was barely room for the both of us.

"What are you doing up here?" His nose was running and his voice thick with congestion from the cold and damp.

"The same thing you are! I am looking at the view."

"I am not here for the view but to inspect the conditions so that I may sail this shell out tonight. You have no notion of ships and sailing. You don't belong up here. You are from Doriath."

"I am from Ossiriand, and I am a warrior woman of the Laiquendi! I am fearless and I go where I please! Even here!"

At that, he looked impressed. He was a shaggy-haired kid and bright-eyed. "You are supposed to be in school," he pressed.

"So are you! I told you--I go where I please!"

"My father is right down there on the docks." He pointed at the now mountainous pile of crates and trunks that Prince Tuor presided over.

"But he does not know you are here, does he?" At that, he looked guilty.

"I heard that there were Yule gifts come over from Balar. I wanted to see if it was true." He peered down at the trunks and crates, but they were not giving up their secrets.

"I doubt it. I'm sure it's something dull in there, like grain or colorless cloth for sheets." But I have to admit that my heart squeezed at the possibility of gifts and I joined him in peering over the edge.

"Do the Elves in Ossiriand exchange gifts for Yule?" he asked.

"Of course they do! Everyone exchanges gifts for Yule. But what I love most is when they adorn the trees with light." And I caught myself telling him what I'd written about in the ledger the night before, about the stones blown to life with cold fire, hung high in the branches so that, from the ground, the stars seemed to pour earthward: through the trees and into the leaping Yule fires. And light beat back the dark. As I spoke, the sun slipped beneath the horizon and the stars eased from between scraps of cloud. So high up, if I closed my eyes, I could imagine the dark, dignified trunks of myriad trees around me, and I could imagine the branches of each kindling slowly with light to blend with the stars.


It was fully dark by the time I had climbed down with Idril's boy--Eärendil was his name; he told me that--and made my way home. It must be nearly Yule, with the early dark and the Hunter standing on the eastern horizon, bow drawn. The streets were empty, brownish light seeping from the windows of the wooden boxes we were trying to make into home. Eärendil melted into the dark; his parents were always busy, he said, and didn't mind much when he came in. They were used to him playing in the marshes or at the edge of the surf, making boats out of scraps and seeing how they'd fare. I knew I wouldn't be so lucky with my aunt.

I stopped outside of our box-house. There was a small window in the front and fabric for curtains was a luxury so I could easily see inside, and with a start, I realized that my aunt was sitting on the wooden bench that passed for a sofa--mopping at her eyes, as always--with Master Certhechil there beside her--close beside her!--and holding her hand.

(Well really, patting it, but definitely, in the process of the pat, spending more time with his hand in contact with hers than lifted up from it.)

I dashed up the ladder to the door and barged in, but they withdrew their hands slowly, like it was no big deal at all, and Aunt Tawarloth blotted at the underside of her nose and said, "Where have you been?"

"I walked down to the docks to see the ships come over from Balar." I stood in front of them with my feet planted wide. I wanted my aunt to see how short my dress had become and how red my legs were from the cold. "What's he doing here?"

"You left, young miss, in the middle of your school day," said Master Certhechil in that tight, prissy way of his. He clutched at a folder with my name on it, and his expansive forehead gleamed dully in the lamplight. We shared the lamp with the family in the back room, and this was supposed to be their week, but my aunt must have begged it off of them under the pretense of the minor crisis of my absence, her minor romance with Master Certhechil, or a bit of both. "We are accountable for your whereabouts and I could not desist until I knew you were safe."

"You can desist now then."

My aunt squared her shoulders then and dropped the handkerchief from in front of her face. "He is desisting nowhere."

Instead, I was packed off to the back room, where the family that lived there was just beginning their chaotic supper. There were five of them--three children of ages spanning both sides of mine--and they agreed to feed me so that my aunt could finish talking with Master Certhechil about me and what to do with me. I liked eating with them and wish my aunt would permit it more often, but they had lived outside of Menegroth and she didn't entirely approve of their ways. They reminded me of eating with my brothers at the big wooden table in my father's kitchens on feast nights, even though we had no table and sat in a ring on the floor.

I liked it too because the children did not go to school and so there was no expectation of homework or studying, and this naturally included me when I was with them. Their family believed in what my aunt politely called "traditional learning," where knowledge was passed in story and song, ancestries and history memorized using alliteration and rhyme, and none of them knew how to read and write. They were listening to a story being told by the father tonight about the making of Varda's stars. I hung at the outskirts of the group, sitting on a thin rug on the floor, where I could hear the story but also my aunt's conversation with Master Certhechil.

"I do not know if I can handle her any longer, Certhechil." I heard her sniffle and could see in mind's eye that omnipresent dabbing, wiping handkerchief and hated her fiercely. "I do not have the skills for this. I do wonder if she wouldn't be better off at the orphan's school; they know there how to work with children with her level of trauma, do they not?"

"I suppose they do their best, as we all do," I heard Master Certhechil reply. "This type of healing is as new an art to them as to you, or to me."

"She would be with other children, though, who are also suffering like she clearly must be."

"I do not know if that is preferable to normalcy."

My aunt laughed at that. Normalcy! Nothing about my aunt was normal. "It's just--Nimloth was the one of us who wanted a family. I never did. I was abnormal in that regard. I never wanted children. And now--I cannot blame her. She watched my sister--her mother--die trying to save her brothers, and look at what came of them for it. And Elwing knows every detail; I know she does. She's uncanny in that regard, and the more I try to protect her, the more she throws back in my face that she--not I--was hiding in the cupboard during the whole bloodied affair. I do not know how she escaped detection. They were so thorough in their searching and yet they missed her."

"There is comfort in that, is there not?" said Master Certhechil mildly. "It was clearly meant to be. You were clearly meant to have her. Isn't that a comforting thought?"

"It is not," said my aunt stiffly, "because I still do not know what to do."


[From the notes of Master Certhechil of Gondolin, assistant headmaster, King's School at Sirion]

  • projects defiance

  • makes intentionally hurtful remarks to others

  • runs away

  • (Aunt is concerned over ability to care for her. I am concerned over our ability to keep her and her classmates safe at our school. Refer to headmaster.)


Yule was the next day. I learned this when I opened my eyes to wake and it was already light out instead of being rousted from my bed in the semi-dark by my aunt and ordered to dress for school. I went to the window, hoping for snow, but it was the same white sky and same soggy brown marsh grass. At least it was not raining.

My aunt was folding dresses on her bed: dozens of dresses in all sizes and colors. She'd been sewing at them for a while, I realized, and stowing them away somewhere, and to see them all at once was quite stunning. "Elwing, good, you are awake. You can come with me and take these to the orphan's home." She began to pack them into a wooden crate like those that had been unloaded from the ships yesterday until only one remained, spread flat on the bed: a beautiful, jewel-bright blue with a scalloped neckline and a skirt so long as to trail the floor. She lifted it and gave it a good shake to rid it of wrinkles. The soft fabric fell flat in her hands. "Here. I should wait for tonight's Yule festivities, I know, but you need it now, so you might as well wear it."

I held it in my hands, unsure what to say, but she spared me by her busyness hammering the lid back onto the crate.


Later, I sat on the floor with the jewel-blue skirt spread around me. I was playing Queen, a game I had not played since I was a small girl and I used to sit at my father's feet and decree that we shall have cake for supper or that my brothers and I shall be taken out on our ponies or that all of the courtiers shall depart and my father return to the family quarters for the rest of the night. I used to raise a single hand as I spoke in a voice that I hoped was clarion and irresistible.

Now I raised my hand but did not speak. In my imagination, as Queen, I unspooled all the injustices, detangled everything complicated of the last year, until everything lay flat and smooth and I could run my fingers backward along the threads of time, like the sea feeding the river instead of the other way around: this grand thing deigning to notice the inconsequential. When I opened my eyes, my parents and brothers would be alive again, as would the parents of the orphans, and the trees would have grown up tall around us, and I'd have my hand on the bark of one, beginning to trust it and preparing to climb.

As a reward for helping at the orphan's home, Aunt Tawarloth told me that I could spend my afternoon as I pleased. No, she answered before I had the chance to ask, I did not have to stay at her side. I could return to the docks if I wanted or walk the wooden streets; I must agree only to be polite and not destructive. I could agree but I could not muster myself to open my eyes or step forth into my new freedom. How could I?

There was a rap on the door. I waited for someone from the back room to get it, but there was no response, so when the rap came a second time, I had to force myself from the floor and to open the door.

It was Eärendil.

"Do you know how to sail a ship?" he asked and without waiting for the answer he knew, he answered, "I do." His hands were clasped behind his back, like he was hiding something from me.

"Of course I don't," I sniped. "I am a warrior woman of the Laiquendi, not some bow-legged Falathrim mariner!"

He withdrew his hands from behind his back. "I was thinking of what you told me, about the lights in the trees that you used to place there with the other warriors in Ossiriand. I wish very much that I could have seen them. We used to hang lanterns all along the roads into the mountains." He opened his hands. They were filled with rocks of every size and hue, gathered from the edge of the sea. "I spent the morning collecting these. I thought that if you still had your Laiquendi magic in you … well, the masts used to be trees, right? I thought we might adorn the ships, for Yule."

And Varda took the cold stones, scorched black and made ugly with pain, that had tumbled forth from Utumno. She clutched them in her hand. She loved them. She loved them until the Light of the One itself filled them, and they soaked in that love and recalled beauty once more, and they became as light as the air, a warning to all who would bring darkness and a promise to all who endured it.

I took one of the rocks from his hands, a humble brown thing with a pale stripe across its middle, worn smooth by the sea, and I closed my eyes and breathed upon it. I remembered the touch of my feet back upon the earth, then looking up at the stones outlining the trees, bright against a backdrop of stars. My father at the fireside, my brothers, my mother. The sparks making swift-fading constellations against the dark. Then I remembered the wooden caterpillar of conjoined shacks on the beach. I remembered the wide eyes and tentative hands reaching for colorful tunics and dresses. The walls were bright-painted; the windows festooned with strings of shells. Wherever there was space for beauty, it was given. I heard Eärendil gasp.

"I will fill your ship with light," I told him, handing him the kindled stone. "And I know exactly where we must sail first."


[From the notes of Master Certhechil of Gondolin, assistant headmaster, King's School at Sirion]

  • commandeered visiting ship without leave, in the company of another student

  • believes self an Avarin warrior and capable of magic

  • blatant disregard for rules

  • blatant disregard for own safety

  • highly capable of empathy and generosity but prone to atypical demonstrations of such

  • (Aunt has decided to keep her. Referral to the headmaster withdrawn.)

Tags: 2016, december, month: 2016 december, yule exchange: 2016
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