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Wing-Bone Whistle

Author: Wormwood_7
Title: Wing-Bone Whistle
Rating: PG
Theme: Potluck Challenge, April. Renewal
Elements: Osprey
Author's Notes:  Whistles or flutes made from the wing-bones of birds are ancient instrument. The oldest musical instrument ever found is a wing-bone flute, 35 000 years old.
Summary: Set around the time the last elven ship visited Numenor.
Word Count: 1695 words

Wing-Bone Whistle

For hundreds of years, during one week a year, the mallorn trees of Nísimaldar had shed their old leaves as new ones grew in their stead, scattering a golden rain of leaves into the multitude of sea-birds and out across the sea.

But times had changed. Now shadows sometimes gathered at the edge of the mallorn wood and arrows came out of nowhere.

She didn’t even register the arrow before it had pierced the osprey, transforming it into a flapping bale of feathers in the shoreline foam.
She could not comprehend it.
The mallorn wood was still. There were no more arrows and no sound of anyone moving. Everything was it used to be; the scent of the trees, the sound of the sea; and everything had changed.

They called her Rhiann.
She was a strange creature; fog-grey eyes, light-footed, pale-skinned – bird-like; when she was young bird-cries came easier to her than words.
For her mother Erinna, she was something borne to her from across the sea, a spirit of someone who left years ago.
For all that she spoke little her presence eased the minds of her family; she was the breeze in the room, its fluttering centre. She seemed impervious to the solemn moods that had entered the dreams of the people of Numénor, even here in Nísimaldar.

She rarely cried, or laughed, she was just in the world, like wind or waves, the cares of the world just passing through, like wind through a shawl.

But all was not what it seemed. Like any other she needed anchor points, rituals to mark the beginning and end of a day, the stages in her life.
Her mother would plait her dark hair every morning and thread a red ribbon through the plait. Rhiann would stand absolutely still, one of the few times in a day she would do so, and Erinna would stretch the time it took to plait her hair as long as she could to make the moment last. She gave her daughter a mirror to look into. Sometimes she showed no interest, but other times she stared fascinated into her own eyes looking back at her.

Rhiann smelled of trees and rain and snow. Bent over her daughter’s fine skull and thin bones Erinna realized how fragile she was, and how easily she could break, her hollow bones left open like a wing-bone whistle for the wind to breathe through.

Music completed a part of her that words couldn’t reach.
Her brothers made her whistles and flutes from the wing-bones of birds. The music she played on them was like no other music they had ever heard, but it worked its way into their minds like along paths already present.

They soon learned that she could not be fenced in, so they let her go. Erinna cut the hem of her dress to her knees so that she wouldn’t fall. She would return at night with scratches on arms and legs, but never seriously hurt. She never told them where she had been or what she had been doing, and after some unsuccessful attempts Erinna ceased asking. She might as well ask the wind. The only thing she did know was that Rhiann watched the birds for great lengths of time, and the birds let her close, as if they recognised one of their own. She would watch one kind of bird for a time, and then move to another. Now it was the ospreys she was watching. She could sit for hours looking at their checkerboard wings diving into the sea.

The mallorn leaves had woven a golden band between the shore and the sea. Rhiann picked the bird up from a nest of leaves and froth and wrung its neck to end its suffering.
She sat down cradling the bird in her lap, stroking the fine head with her fingertips. Dead birds were a common enough sight, but that was death in keeping with the order of things. An arrow out nowhere, a groundless killing was something new, and feelings she had no name for seeped in, feelings others would recognise as sorrow and fear. They were tugging, pulling her slowly into the world.

Rhiann sat absolutely still, staring into nothing for hours and did not see the ship appearing out of the mist on the western horizon.

The ships from Tor Eresseä no longer came regularly, and always in secret when they did come, arriving by dusk and leaving at dawn, like sea-mist. The last ship had visited was just short of a year before her birth, but she didn’t know that.

Dusk fell into the leaves and embraced her gently, but she still didn’t move.
Then she became aware of a movement in the corner of her eye, and something about it made turn her head sharply. A stranger was standing about ten feet away watching her. He was tall and dark-haired and looked neither young nor old. Normally, she had little need for the company of others outwith her near family, but this stranger was different. She felt her rigid sorrow soften a little as she looked at him. He came slowly closer and their eyes locked. She recognized those eyes from her occasional gazing into the mirror - her own...ancient.
“Can I sit with you?" he asked. He spoke Sindarin, a language she did not associate with the open air, but only to be spoken indoors when they were alone. She nodded and took him in; the elongated limbs, the long hands, the narrow face and the sea-mist eyes. He looked beautiful and strange, and she recognised him with the oldest part of her memory; carried in bone and tissue.

As he sat by her Rhiann felt him gently prod her mind, learning to know her. At one point he lingered, and he looked at her for a moment with a mixture of surprise and resigned acceptance.
She felt the strands of her being woven into a lattice-work of memory and time, stretching far beyond the shores of Numénor.

He looked at the dead bird she was still clutching in her lap, and eased it gently out of her hands. He pulled out the arrow and cut the osprey’s wing off with a small knife. He held it carefully in his hand, touching the checkerboard markings.
“Meet me here, tomorrow at dawn,” he said. He clutched her small hand between his long fingers and helped her to her feet. When she stood she felt liquid and dizzy and her cheeks were wet. She couldn’t remember the last time she cried. He eased the tears away with his fingers.
“I am glad I got to know you before the last ship sails,” he said.

The next evening Rhiann and Erinna walked silently through the falling mallorn leaves to meet him.
He was already there when they arrived; sitting with his back to them and watching the sea. Erinna stopped when she saw him, but Rhiann continued until she reached him and then sat down on her knees, facing him.
He looked mournful and tired but smiled when he saw her. He lifted her hair for a second and traced the shape of the ear with his finger. Then he put two items into her hand. One was a delicately wrought pendant on a silver chain, with grey stones like trapped sea-mist, and the other a bone whistle, made out the osprey wing-bone.
“When you play this I will hear you,” he said,”and one day we may meet again.”
He hung the pendant around her neck and put his fingertips on her forehead. She felt a reverberation deep in her mind, matching her own internal acoustic.

They looked at each other; the woman from Numénor and the elf.
"She is mortal,” he said. "How that happened, I don't know, but it may be for the best, as things stand.
She just nodded, she had no words.

She had been one of the many women of Numénor whose husbands were out at sea, large parts of the year.
And he? He had been – lost; a wanderer; bound to forever wander the shores of the world and the shores of his memories. She never knew how he came to be on that ship.
Theirs had been two lives brushing up against each other, like stars sharing their light for a night before continuing along their separate paths.

She took him home, and realized over the course of the night how unfathomable his loneliness was compared to her own. He was a being both ancient and fragile.
He put his head in the hollow of her neck; smelling of trees and snow and sorrow. Before dawn he rested his forehead against her hair and left.
She hoped she had been able to give him some solace. From that day she never envied the elves their lot; forever bound to the world.

“She may be mortal,” she said into the wind, “but she has your spirit. Through her, you stayed with me.”
“You gave me kindness and comfort when I needed it the most,” he said, I have never forgotten that. And I always knew of her presence in the world, and I had to see her while I still could.”

He picked up a mallorn leaf and let it crumble between his fingers. "You must promise me that you will leave before it is too late," he said. “Already there are arrows pointed at your backs.”
She nodded. “I promise.”

Rhiann looked up at her mother and Erinna saw that the fog-grey of her eyes had hardened into slate. No longer would the cares of the world just pass through; she had been pulled into the world and felt its hard texture.

But maybe this had also brought renewal of a sort, Erinna thought, and with it the ability to fight.

They stood together watching the ship sail towards the west as Rhiann played. The music spread like ripples across the water.
And she kept playing until the ship disappeared into the mist and the setting sun plunged a glowing fist into the sea.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2010 01:36 am (UTC)
This is just achingly beautiful.
Jan. 28th, 2010 08:04 pm (UTC)
I am extremely pleased that you think so. I was a little apprehensive about posting it. Thanks for reading!

Edited at 2010-01-28 08:06 pm (UTC)
Jan. 27th, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
Oh my goodness. I've never read anything quite like this. How lovely, and sad. It plays a unique and exquisite melody.
Jan. 28th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for your lovely comment! I am delighted that you enjoyed it.
Jan. 27th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
This has the exact sort of alien beauty about it that one would expect from a child of the elves. I hope you continue writing for these challenges if you write this well!
Jan. 28th, 2010 08:12 pm (UTC)
I had the girl very clear in my mind, so I am glad I managed to convey some of it. And yes, I will definitly do more of these challenges. Thank you for reading and commenting!
Jan. 27th, 2010 10:15 am (UTC)
This really is beautiful; and you draw out such fragile and exquisite imagery from such really down-to-earth and somewhat grotesque things -- a dead bird, a whistle made of bones, crumbling leaves... The elf's description is so very elvish, beautiful and uncanny, and Rhiann is perfectly drawn. And the hints of tension and danger throughout culminate in that perfect last line, the setting sun as a fist. Wonderful piece. Thank you!
Jan. 28th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
It made me incredibly happy to read this. You mention so many of the things I was trying to express. Thank you for commenting!
Jan. 27th, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
That is beautiful - haunting, slightly sombre, and totally beautiful.
Jan. 28th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
I am really pleased you enjoyed it, I wasn't sure about this piece. Thank you for letting me know!
Jan. 28th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
Very beautiful and enchanting! A very enjoyable read :)
Jan. 28th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC)
I am pleased you found it enjoyable. Thank you for reading!
Jan. 30th, 2010 08:06 am (UTC)
Another line of half-bloods--perhaps not as high as the descendants of Luthien and Idril, but still bearing that particular beauty and oddity! I hope they do leave, before it is too late.
Jan. 30th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
I think their line will keep that "otherness" quality. And they will leave, while there is still time...
Thank you for reading!
Jan. 31st, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
A beautiful story with a truly musical feel.
Feb. 1st, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it.
Jan. 31st, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
This is beautiful, almost lyrical.
Jan. 31st, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
Lovely story. Very AU, but very believable in a way few AU's are. A glorious read.
Feb. 1st, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your kind words. I am really glad that I managed to make this sound believable. Thank you for commenting!
Feb. 1st, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
I am really glad to hear that. I was in two minds whether to post this. Thank you for reading!
Feb. 2nd, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
We would like to add this to the rest of January 2010's challenge stories at Many Paths to Tread, if you don't mind.

You may create an account yourself and post it there yourself if you want to, or you can email me at aelfwina at gmail dot com, and I will create an account for you and post your story for you. Please let me know!

Feb. 2nd, 2010 09:07 am (UTC)
No, I don't mind if the story is added. I will create an account and post it.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )


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