Title: Home for Midwinter
Theme: 2016 Yule Fic Exchange
Elements: Maglor gen, living with Avarin found family/family of choice in the East, and something involving winter. Hurt/comfort would be lovely, as long as it isn’t Maglor reminiscing about his past.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to Himring for the superquick beta!
Summary: Someone loves Maglor and eagerly awaits his return.
Word Count: 2129
The young girl stood at the edge of the winter camp, her back turned to everything and everyone she knew. Ahead of her, the cold wind cut through the sea of grass, shining waves of silver moving in the pale sunlight. On the horizon, a thin line of shadow, which she knew were the Summer Mountains. Her long, brown hair whipped around her and her fingers were numb.
“Hwandië, come inside! I won’t call you again, you little rascal!” her mother hollered from the entrance of the tent.
Hwandië ignored her. The tent was warm and comfortable. In winter, the ground was covered with thick rugs with cushions everywhere inside and there was always a fire burning and something slowly cooking over it. Her tent was particularly nice – it was shared by two families, which had eventually become one, but it was not crowded. Her brother had married last summer and his bride had moved in with them. She was eager for them to have children, but they said it was too soon. Her older cousin still played with her, sometimes, but now that she was apprenticed to Huinien, the tapestry maker, all she wanted to do was to blabber about her important work, and her important skills, and how gorgeous and perfect Huinien’s son was.
Her mother had become the owner of the tent upon her father’s death. Everyone had told them that she could not finish raising her children without a man, but Hwandië’s older brother provided for them by hunting, and she, herself, had started taking care of their cattle, even though she was little and not a boy. Her uncle had helped too, although he had his own family to support. They had not starved.
Then, the year before, her uncle had taken a poisoned dart in his arm. It was just a scratch, really, but soon he was feverish and his flesh turned black and smelled. After tending to him for two nights, Kano of the Golden Voice, his blood brother, had travelled west to the shores of the salty lake of Rhûn in search of a famed healer. He had returned with a phial in his scarred hand, but too late.
Rumours and whispers started running through the tribe even before the funerary rites were over. Two widows with young children. One unwedded foreign man who had been close to both husbands. Lurking in the shadows, Hwandië had heard the murmurs, some kind and hopeful for the fate of her family, some lewd and filling her with rage. But things had settled down quite straightforwardly. Her aunt sold her tent for five goats, admittedly a cheap price, and moved into their tent. Kano, who had always hunted with her father and uncle continued hunting and bringing them meat. When, one day, a woman joked about him visiting his two wives, he asked her if she would like to become his third, making everyone laugh. They had been left alone, after.
Hwandië did wish Kano would marry her mother, although she felt a little guilty for her father. But if she could not have her father back, she could have Kano, who was kind, told the best stories and taught her how to play the lyre. Once she had asked him to, but Kano had grown sad and silent. Later, he had told her that he would be honoured to step into her father’s shoes, but he had a wife and daughter faraway in the West, and that his people only married once, to one person, save for the one time an exception had been made. He had not told her anything more and she had not asked, not for lack of wanting to know, but because she disliked those days when Kano became stranded in the sadness of the past.
“Hwandië!” her mother called again. Despite the threat in her voice, Hwandië knew her mother would not scold her too harshly. Darkness had fallen while she gazed at the horizon, waiting for Kano. He would not return today. She went inside.
“Eat, darling,” her mother said, gently pushing a slice of goat cheese toward her bowl of stew.
Half-heartedly Hwandië reached for the cheese and nibbled on it. Midwinter would come in two days and Kano had still not returned. A few months after her aunt had moved in, despite creating a minor scandal, her mother had said that Kano should also live with them. His tent was small and made of cloth, not the thick felt the Hwenti of the plains used. Besides, why go there just to sleep? He practically lived with them. Surprisingly, no one made jokes or commented this time, not that Hwandië heard anyway. Kano had become their family. Everyone was fine with it.
Now, in his absences, Hwandië often lay in Kano’s furs instead of her own. She missed him. His lessons in music and languages. His stories of the world. His silences, in which a world of untold things lingered. And the hawk. Hwandië loved going out with Kano when he hunted with the hawk, although her mother frowned. All the boys in the village envied her because Kano was the best and she was becoming good too.
The cheese was soft and salty but it turned to ash in her mouth. First her father, then her uncle, now Kano – would he ever be back? She had waited for him at the edge of the camp every day since the first frost, although it was still early. He had said that this time he would be gone longer. He had to see someone he loved, he said. When she had asked him who, he had said, “My son.”
She had said, “But you only mentioned a daughter before, and across the sea… are you sailing to the Western Lands?”
Kano had laughed and kissed her forehead. “No, this son is just over the mountains, beyond Rhovanion and the Mountains. One day, I will tell you all about him. Or, if your mother allows, you can come with me to visit his home, which is beautiful and has a copy of all the books ever written.”
Hwandië had gasped. “Books!”
Kano laughed, “Yes, books about anything you can imagine and maps, and written music. And you would like him. You remind me so much of him when he was young.”
Hwandië felt her eyes stinging again. Before her mother noticed, she excused herself and went outside for a moment, under the pretext of having to pee. The first snow had not fallen yet, this year, and so they had not started using pots, yet, for which she was forever grateful, as it was her chore to empty them in the morning.
She stood trembling with cold, staring at the stars, listening to the faint sounds of the other families having supper in their tents, close by. ‘Kano will be back soon,’ she told herself. He had promised and he always kept his promises to her.
As she turned to return to her tent, something stopped her. She faced the empty west, the moonless night too dark to see a thing. Holding her breath, she listened more closely to the sounds of the night. Hooves, yes. Kano always travelled by foot, as if he had been born Hwenti.
“Hando!” she called out for her brother.
After a few moments, her brother emerged from the tent. “What?” he grumpily asked.
“Someone is coming. By horse.”
Hando went back inside, only to emerge a few moments later with his weapons. He immediately called Failo, the neighbor, and his two sons. The sentinels had not raised an alarm yet, but it was good to be prepared, Hwandië knew this.
There was a discrete bustle around the camp as word spread. When the Hwenti had started living on the plain during winter and keeping animals like the Elves of the western shore and the Second Born, there had been outrage and derision. This was long before Hwandië was born, but the elders loved to tell the tale. They had chosen a life that had more comforts and guaranteed food for their children but living in an open space, away from the cover of the forest, had its drawbacks. Everyone was trained from a tender age to detect unannounced visitors and to spread the word.
The visitor’s gallop came steadily on. Soon the figure became visible. The first scouts cautiously advanced, hidden in the grass. When he came within bowshot, the rider shouted, “Don’t shoot! Friend coming.”
It was Kano’s voice. Hwandië breathed in deeply, shivering with relief as she exhaled. Kano was home, before Midwinter, just like he had promised.
The sentinels returned to their posts but many of the others stayed, waiting a little longer. Kano had first come to the village many years before Hwandië was born. He had not actually come himself – he was brought in by her uncle, who had found him covered in angry blisters, rambling in some language that sounded a little like theirs but that no one really understood. They had taken care of him and when he had healed, they bid him stay a few days longer. The days went by and he started hunting with them, and sometimes going out with the boys and the cattle, playing tunes on his lyre. One day, he had surprised them all by speaking their language. They had not taken care to hide it from him, not thinking that he could learn it. With time, even those who had been suspicious of him at first came to like Kano and appreciate his contribution to the group.
Kano rode past the sentinels and into the camp. As he dismounted gracefully, he was greeted by cheering. He always traded things for the group on his trips West and he always brought sweets or trinkets for the children. Hwandië nudged and elbowed her way until she was next to him. He turned and met her eyes.
“My princess!” he said, hugging her so hard Hwandië thought she might break. He smelled of sweat, and horse, and many days of travel, an odour that she relished for it meant that he had returned home.
“Kano! You've come home,” she said, suddenly flushed with tears. She hid her face in his chest.
“Shh, little darling,” he said, his voice low and muffled by the conversation around them. “Don’t cry. Didn’t I promise I would be back for Midwinter?”
“You did,” Hwandië blubbered.
“Have I ever broken a promise to you?”
“No, never!” Hwandië promptly retorted. He had not ever broken a promise to her or to anyone they knew. But something in his voice made her wonder if he had broken other promises. Gathering herself, she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“I finished the book,” she said. “I didn’t like the last poem, though.”
Kano smiled and they started walking to their family’s tent, Hando following behind with the horse and the bags.
As Kano greeted a few people he had not yet, she continued with the news.
“And I am starting to shoot with the longbow but it hurts!”
“And our neighbour Caurë has had the baby already. Only Hando seems to be slow in that regard,” she added, casting a taunting look at her brother, who frowned.
“I brought you something,” Kano said. “Promise you won’t be mad at me.”
He extracted from his pocket a small bag.
Hwandië took it and poured the contents into her palm. “Shells! And these things, what are they? Have you been to the Sea?”
“Yes, shells, and those are shards of glass that were rolled among the pebbles for so long that they lost their edges.”
“They are beautiful,” she said. “But that means you went further west than you had said.”
Kano held his hands up as if defending himself. “I had to run another errand. I did return, Hwandië, darling. I even bought a horse so that I could get here in time.”
As they reached their tent, Hwandië looked hard into Kano’s eyes. This night there was no sadness in them.
“Mamma!” she called, lifting the thick felt door. “Kano is home. All in one piece.”
She stayed with Kano and Hando for a little while longer, listening as they talked about the horse, and its feeding and care, and the possibility of using it and other horses in the daily life of the tribe. She took his hand in hers. When the cold finally forced them inside, she whispered in his ear, as he lowered his head to enter the tent.
“I am so glad that you are home.”
She did not add “Father” but he squeezed her hand and, in that moment, all was well between them.
Notes: Hwandië and the other names were taken from http://realelvish.net/ from their Quenya listings, for the lack of available Avari words. We don’t know if the ‘secret languages’ of the Avari developed early on, in which case their words could be closer to Quenya or later on, having, thus, more common ground with Sindarin. I wanted to use Kano for Maglor, so there.