"Reembodied" was written for the SWG birthday event. It fit about three of the challenges (Cuivienen, Songfic That Wasn't, and What Would Socrates Say?), although it was written directly in response to the Songfic That Wasn't challenge. Here is the summary given on the SWG:
Tata was said to be the first of the Noldor to awaken at Cuivienen, yet the histories never speak of him again. Uncomfortable and indecisive as a leader, he nonetheless rejects the summons of the Valar to Valinor, recognizing a fundamental wrong in the ideas they preach. This is the story of his life.
This story is definitely heretical. The story of the Great Journey comes to us from the perspective of the Eldar, those who accepted the summons to Valinor. Through them, we hear all sorts of awful accusation and speculation about those who chose to remain behind: the Avari, Moriquendi, or Dark Elves. Yet these Elves doubtlessly had their own perspectives and good reasons for their choice, and they likely had their own accusations against and speculations about the motives of those who chose to abandon their birth land to follow a god into the lap of luxury. More notes on the ideas and "canon" underlying the story follow in the author's notes. On the SWG, I've rated the story Teens for some mild violence and sexual content, as well as thematic content that appeals to a more mature audience.
It recurs often, the dream. In it, there is a girl running through the grass, and I am minutely aware. I feel her fingertip brush the grass, and a thrill passes through me. From her fingertip, a single cell-become-dust escapes, its life long expired, withered and ready, and drifts in a pendulum pattern to rest upon the grass. Then falls to the earth. Which clambers. And feeds.
Before the arrival of the Light One, there was only the Dark One, and he fed upon us as all things feed upon something, for they must. So we fed upon the rabbits and the fowl, and they dreaded us, as we dreaded him.
But in the beginning, we knew naught of him or even of the clutching hunger in our bellies. I am Tata, the second-awakened, the forger of words, and long have I struggled to shape a word for the sensation--or lack--upon my awakening. I knew nothing of the possibilities for my body or sensation. I lay stretched upon the grass and felt not the cool or the damp or the sting in my eyes unblinking, for I had nothing to set against those feelings, no pleasure or pain by which to compare what I experienced in that moment. But innocence was fleeting. I discovered that my eyes could slide shut, then open again, and I discovered that I liked better the sight of what we would come to call the stars than I liked the heavy darkness of my own flesh. In slow shiftings, I learned the bounds of my body. I rose and, for the first time, felt the earth press back against my feet, holding me aloft in the palm of her hand.
As my brothers and sisters and I gathered our companions, sensations descended upon us. There was little that we did not try in an attempt to find answers to what we experienced. We discovered pain early and that red meant pain. When hunger came, we did not understand it. Tatië mashed her mouth full of leaves, enamored of the scent and taste, and the hunger subsided. That is how we discovered satiation. With full bellies, we discovered pleasure after, and for many days, the songs changed timbre and the leaves were safe from our hungry hands and danced with the motions of our bodies.
I came upon him in a clearing, and he was weeping. He was one of Enel's, one of the last to awaken and smaller than most, for the Maker had run out of river clay when making the last and so swiped a gob from him to make up the difference. He had come upon a bird in the glade and, eager to admire the colors of its feathers, had set a rock upon it to keep it from the wing and had broken it. The red seeped into the earth, and he cradled the bird and caressed it with lips and tongue, for we had learned that this brought pleasure and vigor, but the bird lay draped in his palms, its coloration dulled by the red. The red, the red it was on his face and now his mouth, he was licking it, tasting it, gagging and returning again.
This was how we discovered death.
By chance of awakening, I came to be the leader of my people, though I wanted it not. I had skill in the devising of words, yes, but not the fairest voice for speaking or singing them, and inspiration came upon me when I was alone, so I rarely wished for company, even from Tatië, who had her own concerns besides. The Maker played cruelly when she formed me second of our people and gave us no understanding beyond that I was the first and, therefore, the leader. Tatië should have been the leader. She had less skill for making words but great skill in using them, threading them with the same ease as a spider crafting a web at twilight. And as though she pulled knowledge from between the stars themselves, she told us great tales of our history and our Becoming.
The Maker, she said, had become quickened by another of her kind. Yes, there were other Makers and other worlds, even, she said, others like us beyond the far-flung stars. Everything had something larger than it and something smaller than it, within it, so we were each Makers and, within each, there were worlds as well. We had discovered quickening, and several of our women had babes at their breasts. Tatië was round with her own but not yet delivered. The world, she said, grew full and round inside of the Maker like this--her hands smoothed the contours of her belly--and was born with the trees and the lake and the waterfall, but not us. We were gathered up from the clay of the world, each grain of which had the potential for life. All has the potential for life, she said. The trees eat of the earth, and the beasts eat of the leaves, and we eat of the beasts, and we make worlds anew with the words we forge and weave. Life kindles--it must, for it is the way of things. And that is why we awakened, for the clay could bear senescence no longer.
The shift in leadership came after that, for Tatië was clearly wiser than I, even if later awakened, and her eyes never brightened as they did when she moved with a group of our people in procession, listening eagerly to her speeches. I wondered, at times, where she learned what she knew, expecting that it must come from the same source as the words I built from exhalation and the dance of my tongue. Lying beside her at night, the words churned in my belly and throbbed in my heart and sizzled in my head, forging where the three coalesced at the base of my throat, and I was itchy and unable to sleep until I bleated them up at the stars with my watery voice and imagined the grandeur they would assume in one of Tatië's histories.
There was another of our numbers, and he devised a brilliant idea that we should represent the shapes of words with shapes scribed into sand or with dye upon rocks, and I went to learn of him and left the management of our people to Tatië. He was called Rúmil, and he was bitter at first at my presence as I would have been had he descended upon me and wished to learn of wordcraft. With harsh tongue, he sent me away, but I would not leave, and he taught me his lore, although I was slow in learning. Many days we spent apart from the others, eating what we could catch of birds and rabbits but mostly handfuls of leaves that stopped up our bowels and made passage painful, drinking of the river while upon our bellies, and when he would groan in the night, I would touch him as he needed, and when I woke from fevered, jumbled dreams, he was touching me.
When he had perfected the art of letters and I had mastered it, we spoke for once of something other than our craft and decided that we should return to the rest of our people. Though neither of us wished to instruct them, not liking much to speak, we could perhaps teach two or three of those would be eager to go forth and show the others. We had been gone long enough that the path in the underbrush had sealed shut behind us, and we came out at the lake with our bodies streaked with red from the twigs and thorns that snagged us.
Tatië had borne her child while I was gone, a boy child that she called Finwë, which meant naught but sounded sonorous in her voice. The people were busy with industries I couldn't fathom the purpose of and didn't care much to hear about Rúmil's art, so we practiced by scratching Tatië's histories into the mud at the lake edge, until the wind pushed the water upon them, and the water carried them away and stored them in its heart.
Rúmil grew weary that night and left me, and I was glad to be alone again, although there was a pang too like the first touch of hunger assaulting my belly after an ample meal. I kept carving Tatië's stories into the mud with a fallen branch, and soon, she appeared to watch me. The infant suckled eagerly, draped in the crook of one arm. Around her throat and wrists were adornments, and when I exclaimed over them, she came to show me how some of our people had mastered piercing wooden bits and even rock and stringing them upon fibers made of plants. She asked not after my art, for perhaps she didn't even realize what it was, and the lake took it in short time anyway.
"Tata, there is something you should know," she said. "Since you have gone, much has changed. Something feeds upon us. Something dark at the verge of the forest. It is the place that we must take, for we eat too of the earth, but you should stay close to the lake. Do not go off again with Rúmil. Stay here and do your workings in the mud." She spread her hand in the direction of the mud bank, where the last of my letters were sliding away into the water. I nodded and pressed my tongue to the top of my mouth to keep from swallowing lest she perceive it as unhappiness, and she nodded and went away to care for the concerns of our people.
I wondered about the darkness of which Tatië spoke. At night, I watched the trees thrash in the wind, where shadow converged upon shadow, and occasionally, a beast's eyes would catch the light of our campfire, and I would imagine that the creature had come for me. It would hurt, yes, but then what? I imagined the feeling of my body dispersing into the earth, returning to the clay whence I was shaped, and some of me dispersing into the creature that consumed me. I flexed my limbs as the monster even as I pushed free of the earth as a blade of grass.
At times, one of our people would go into the woods and not return. As this happened more and more, we kept closer to the lake and never let the fires subside. Sometimes, one of the Quendi would happen upon a trampled glade, and the leaves would be darkened and, when held in the light, glistened with red. Once, a pair of Quendi gathering wood heard a heavy trampling in the underbrush and saw a glistening of eyes and fled home. Many laughed at their tale, claiming they'd seen nothing more than one of the beasts that ever circled us, waiting for us to toss discarded bones from our meals into the underbrush, but I watched how the pair quaked as they spoke, and I knew that there had been something more than that.
Then it came that, one night, I awoke cold because Tatië had left my side. I shivered alone on my mat woven of reeds, a similar cover pulled from me by the haste of Tatië's rising. By the light of our fire, I saw her outline sketched in gold, speaking to someone at the edge of the clearing. The wind was high in the trees, and I could hear little of what they said, but a breathless sob choked then from the Quendi with whom she spoke, and I saw Tatië's hand rise to cup its shoulder in that way she had of giving comfort, sliding up and down the other's arm. Soon, the pair clasped hands and moved beyond the firelight.
I was cold and curious, so I followed. They kept near to the edge of the lake, for the dark thing never came within sight of the stars on the water. The other was still weeping, so they didn't hear even my awkward gait behind them, crashing through the brush and stumbling upon the path, stubbing my toe on a rock and forging a curse in that instant. The other, I saw now, was one of Enel's people, with hair the hue of starlight, frail in bone like some of the children beginning to grow onto their feet, and with a waistband of shells that clattered like a fistful of stones as he--for I saw now it was a male by the silhouette of his body against the silvered lake--walked. Tatië's fingers ran across his own; her voice, intentionally hushed from its usual brazenness, soothed his sobs. She glanced behind herself once and saw me but said nothing. In time, we came in sight of a fire on the shore, and I saw that we were upon one of the camps of Enel's people.
The sound came then. It tore the bitter night air upon the lake in two; it grabbed hold of me; it swirled around and around and around me. I fell to my knees and clasped my hands to my ears, but it did not block the sound fully. Surely, we were not given voices to raise them such as this!
The sound ended abruptly, and when I raised my face from the earth, I saw Tatië further ahead of me, pulling the other along with her now. The sound that had driven me to my knees had caused her to hasten. I felt my heart seize with panic, and sweat burst upon my flesh, no matter the chill in the air. All I heard were my feet pounding the earth and my panting breath; when the horrible sound came again, even it did not dissuade me. When I reached Tatië's back, I seized the long braid of her hair, and the three of us went forth to the fire together.
As we neared the blaze, we found others of Enel's Quendi kneeling there. Many had tears upon their faces. They parted way for Tatië. One mumbled, "She will know what to do." Many others touched her, and she them. Perhaps it was only I who knew her well who was able to perceive the quaver of unease in her mouth, the downturn to her eyes that spoke of fear and doubt.
The fire was built up on the sand at the verge of the lake, and lying near to it was one of Enel's, a female. The male who had summoned Tatië bounded to her side, letting out a hoarse gasp as he went. The female's belly was a ruin, slashed so that the bones of her ribs glistened in the firelight, and a red-brown wound gaped open beneath it. Another female of Enel was trying to pack the wound with the leaves we use to take pain, but every time she touched the prone woman, she let forth a shriek, the sound that had earlier paralyzed me and driven me to Tatië's side. She gnashed her teeth even at her mate. Her voice called for something for which I hadn't yet spun words but, in that moment, they began to form in my mind, coalesced from her awful voice, her obvious agony.
I kept near to Tatië as she spoke to others in the circle of firelight, but I could not quite take my eyes from the woman and her wound; I could not quite keep from imagining it inflicted upon my own flesh. My fingers traced my naked belly, unmarred except for a tiny webwork of scratches gained while gathering blackberries the day prior. There had been a lot of laughter as we filled our baskets with the tart fruit, staining our hands and faces with the fullest popped directly from the bush into our mouths. In the shadows beyond the reach of the firelight, I saw that blackberry bushes grew, but surely the same site could not at once bear such innocent joy and such agony.
Tatië went forth to the woman now. Again, someone from the shadows murmured, "She will know," but I could tell from the draw of her face that she didn't know. She had four of the strongest hold the woman's hands and feet to the earth. She packed the wounds with the usual herbs while the woman screamed. I and many others crouched and buried our faces in our knees and our ears in our hands. Tatië came away, reddened to her elbows. "She will live," she pronounced, and there was no tremor in her voice.
But the woman did not live. For three days, she held on in growing agony but, at last, one morning I woke realizing that I had slept--actually slept, without the specter of dreams spun by the woman's shrieks--because there was silence. The woman had died in the night.
Enel's folk were gathered at the edge of the water, pointing. The woman's mate knelt and frantically gestured, as though trying to compel something back from the water. I saw then a silver form upon the water, but it bled into the morning mist, and she was gone.
Tatië and I returned to our own people. Neither of us spoke on the return journey, though each of our thoughts spun as they would upon the weft of the woman's screams. When we returned, I scratched my new words upon the muddy bank and, with tear-filled eyes, watched the water take them. I could not bear yet to twist my tongue to form them. Tatië gathered our people and said that none would forthwith go beyond the firelight without a weapon for the hunt with which they could defend themselves. Many nights, as I turned in my sleep, my half-lidded eyes alighted upon Tatië's face, her eyes fixed on the stars overhead and sleep held at bay.
We knew what happened to the beasts that perished beneath our rocks and our spears and we knew what became of plants torn from the earth and left, but never had we witnessed the death of one of our own. Many were the questions which Tatië had little patience to answer, her sleepless nights compounded by the child growing again in her belly, the child of my making.
"Why would we have a different fate than the beasts?" I asked quietly after Tatië left the clearing without answering. Some turned their ears to me, surprise smoothing the lines from their faces. "Would that not be cruel, that we should be alone, and different?"
At last, curiosity compelled us, so we went again to the camp of the Quendi of Enel. Rúmil was in my train, as was Tatië's boy Finwë, now become a leggy, chattering youth. The people of Enel had left the woman in the reeds where the lake would wash her feet, as her mate said she had loved. As we approached, many were deterred by the smell, and when I peered into the reeds, it was only Finwë left, his curious face edging around my elbow and his small fist clutching tight to my braid.
It was as I had said. Her flesh was becoming again the clay from which we had formed. We returned often in the days that followed, until the reek was gone and all could bear to approach and see the woman's bones left in disarray by the beasts that picked them.
Finwë was ever-present then and never without questions. It should have been that he played with youths of his own age and learned of them what we had learned at awakening, but with the dark creature still in the woods--and three more missing since the woman's death--then Tatië sent him at my heels each morning so that she could attend to the affairs of our Quendi. I'd rather have had other company--or, better still, none at all--for Finwë's piping questions settled like a cocklebur between my ear and my skull and rubbed and itched there, but I understood that the boy's curiosity and love for adventure put him at especial risk from the Dark One.
I made few new words in those days, for Finwë was always churning the old again and again in my ears, and fresh inspiration dashed from my grasp. To afford myself a moment's peace, I tempted him into learning the letters Rúmil had made, and to my astonishment, he seized it with avidity, crashing into the edge of the woods within my earreach to return with berries to crush and paint upon the rock.
"It's stupid to go to the trouble and then let the lake take them away," he explained, glancing up at my face after he'd spoken to see if he'd hurt my pride in calling my pursuits as he did. "I mean--I should like them to remain."
"It is not the way of the world to remain, Finwë," I told him. The look of awe in his face tempered my desire to disparage him as he had me. "Look around you. Everything changes, always. You are not old enough to remember, but the shore of the lake was not always this way. It has shifted there, grown larger, and, there, a tumble of stones has created a shore where once we swam. The beasts and the plants have their time, then return to the clay and receive new time. So shall we. The permanence you seek is against the will of things."
Indeed I was correct, for although Finwë's berry juice persisted longer on the rock face than my writings had persisted in the mud at the edge of the lake, once we had two strong rains, the rock face was cleansed as though they'd never been.
I awakened not long after that time from the dream. The girl ran through the grass, and I felt her trailing hand along my delicately serrated edge. The wind bowed me toward her. I felt the warmth of her flesh, my hunger that she should return to me.
When I awakened, Tatië was gone. A while later, she came down the path with three other women and a bundle in her arms. She had borne our child, a girl-child she called Elennárë, for the winter was coming and the autumn star rising in the northeast when the girl was born. The birth of the girl seemed to dispel the unease that had shrouded Tatië since the death of the woman of Enel. With the infant at her breast and Finwë kneeling at her side, his bright eyes turned ever to her face, she spun her tales of the world at its making.
"The world was born in the womb of the Maker," she said, and we chorused yes in answer to the rhythm of her words, for we knew that all was borne of woman.
"From it, we arose from the clay, the thoughts and dreams of the world. Each of us is a construction of the minds and hands of the world."
"And so we must each create in turn. Onward it goes. The crafts we weave and the stories we tell. The words we forge"--her eyes lit on my face then, and she cradled Elennárë closer at her breast, the side of her mouth tugged into a smile--"of each is borne a new world, a new creation."
"And so it goes."
Those were years of relative peace, for we had learned to avoid the dark thing in the forest and knew it would not come to the light upon the water. Some went missing, yes, who through foolishness or incredulity passed unarmed into the forest. But most of us kept to the shore and safety, and our life was good there.
One of the Quendi had found a knack for building structures from the fallen limbs of trees, and he raised one for Tatië and me--although more for Tatië than for me--and Tatië was gone for many days, leaving me to adjust the thatch upon it to keep out the rain and cold, suddenly despairing a drip of cold water upon my neck, having weaseled in through the reeds, when once I would have been drenched by that time and not noticed it at all. When Tatië returned, she was with child again--the only of the women of our Quendi thrice blessed--and the reeds were repaired and her comfort assured.
Not that I noticed her absence much, mostly as an emptiness at the fire at night when Elennárë gave us a song and Finwë a poem but we all longed for the power of one of their mother's stories. With the children at my side, the nights were no colder than if she had been there, and by day, I was busied with Finwë, for he was on the verge of manhood and proving an artisan. He disappeared down the bank one day, and I let him depart, content in the silence save for Elennárë's humming, a musical undercurrent that bolstered rather than distracted my thoughts, as Finwë did. He returned some time later with a strip of wood torn from a fallen tree, and on it, he had etched with a rock in Rúmil's letters.
I read it: a poem, about a deer dashing through the forest and the leap of light on water. "Where did you hear this?" I asked, for it was strange to me, and he answered, "I didn't. I put it from my mind onto the bark, just as you see it."
"You did not speak it aloud?" I asked, and he shook his head, trying to keep his face smoothed of emotion but the glitter in his eyes betraying that he knew what he had accomplished and relished it. I pondered this, for the art of song had always been one of the voice, yet here was a song that I now knew and had never been spoken in a voice. It may never be spoken, yet take hold in the minds of many. "We are the Quendi," I said.
"We are poorly named, for it is not our ability to speak but our ability to create that distinguishes us. Our voices are but a part of that."
Finwë's assertion challenged directly the name I had given to our people at our awakening, one of the first words I had shaped. Our days after were filled with ceaseless debate that might have inflamed the whole of the Quendi but for the fact that Rúmil went missing, dashing my appetite for rhetoric as surely as a pot of water poured upon a flame.
Word of this came from one of the other Quendi when we were both filling our night jars with water at the lake. "Taken" was all the other said when I asked further; no, there had been no mashed underbrush, no red left upon the leaves, but he had been teaching his young son his letters, and he would not have forsaken that, even for the comforts of solitude. "He seemed to have grown beyond that of late," the Quendi added as he departed, "which is how we knew he was taken and not merely gone, as he had often done before his son came."
That night was hot and clear, so we lay free of our housing, Elennárë curled asleep in my arm and Finwë at my other side, nudging me periodically in the arm. "Tata. Tata." I knew that he wanted debate. "Tata." He had spent the day alone at the shore, gathering his best words and retorts as a stripling will spend the day on spear thrusts in order to nick blood from the hunter he emulates when they practice that night. I knew this. "Tata." He nudged harder, but I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. My memory reeled backward, a sensation of falling. It was the time before the Dark One came, when the forest was safe and we knew hunger but were not yet ourselves the hunted. Rúmil, lying on the leaves next to me, traced his finger against the same clump of stars that showed in the clearing above where we slept. He rolled away from me. I watched his back as he made the new shape in the dust, lest he forget it come morning.
A nudge, softer this time. "Tata?" I welcomed sleep.
Rúmil was the last to disappear until the arrival of the Light One, when many fled into the forest in fear and were lost.
The day that the Light One came, several Quendi were gathered at our camp to learn the letters of Rúmil. Elennárë had proved an even faster learner than Finwë, though not as innovative, and she helped me to teach those who would come and learn. Tatië resisted. "No, no," she said when Elennárë, Finwë, and I pressed to teach her. "My words come from here"--she pressed her fist above where her ribs met--"and fly forth as birds upon the air. To confine them to rocks and bark--even mud to be taken by the waters--would be as cruel as a cage." She walked the periphery of the camp as we worked, though, and inspected all that the students did. The woodsman's babe was a restless one and afforded her no rest. The students nervously courted her approval, both desiring and dreading her to pass behind them and slide her eyes over their work, nodding in uncomprehending approval before railing again that robbing words of voice bypassed the spirit entirely and created only empty art.
"It does not, Amil," retorted Finwë in that cheerfully insolent way of his. For anyone else to so directly contradict Tatië would have brought nothing short of wrath, but Finwë was beloved and tolerated beyond any other. "It is a different spirit perhaps, but no less."
Tatië was opening her mouth to reply when the sound came.
It came across the lake, from the direction of Imin's Quendi. My memory leaped to the night I'd first heard the scream of the dying woman of Enel's Quendi, so it seemed to rake not just through my ears but across the fiber of my spirit, leaving bloodied furrows in its wake. Some of the students had taken to the forest already. Elennárë was at my side, panting; Tatië had dropped the infant and was huddled over it, trembling and weeping. Finwë lay, too, at my side, his hands pressing his ears but his eyes peering up with his unquenchable curiosity.
Again and again, the sound came, as though the earth itself was beset with the awful torments endured by the poor woman and crying in its agony.
Or my friend Rúmil, I thought, taken. And eaten? Returned to clay? I dared not hope. In terror-soaked dreams, I heard the woman's screams in his voice. I felt them thrum deep inside of me, well beyond the touch of hands. I felt the sound there too, as though innards convulsed with it. The sound brayed again. Again again again until I was exhausted with terror and could only lie, flabby and useless, against the earth.
I felt something nudge me then, gently, upon the arm. "Tata?" The voice of Finwë. "Tata? There is … light?"
I forced my eyes open. He was right. Pale light pulsed from the side of the lake inhabited by Imin's Quendi. I felt my blood throbbing to match it, and my spirit fought that sudden and unexpected subjugation of my body. I glimpsed Tatië, bone pale, and saw that she fought similarly, her body wracked with the effort. I turned my face from it, and the shadows of the forest seemed to thicken behind me. No longer could I even perceive the individual branches of the trees or the stones upon the earth, as though the light had wounded my eyes and left them insensate and scarred. I tried to hide the faces of the children, and Elennárë sagged against me, still sick from the awful sound. Finwë wrenched free. He stared at the light.
The Light One came among us that night with the Quendi of Imin all in his train. "Summon the Quendi of Enel," said Imin to me, and Tatië set her jaw and wordlessly turned to him, and Imin sent one of his own.
"I am one of the creators of this world," the Light One told us when the Quendi of Enel arrived, and there were many gasps, for by his stature and voice, he appeared to be male, and we knew we had been borne of woman.
"That cannot be," said Tatië beside me.
"It is" was all that he answered.
I returned to our camp that night, my head reeling as though overindulged in fermented fruits. What the Light One had spoken--impossible. He came, he said, from among the creators of the world. Their own creator made them, and us. They made the world. Their creator made us permanent, unable to return to the clay on our own accord as did the trees and the beasts. And what of those killed? someone had asked. Those, said the Light One, one of his brethren whisked away and remade into new forms. Of clay? No. Of flesh.
But flesh is clay.
No. It is a gift of your Creator, your unique flesh.
We are of the world.
No. You are of Eru.
In the center of our clearing, Tatië knelt, nursing her infant that slept in peace for once. By her trembling shoulders, I assumed she wept, but when I went to comfort her, although she accepted my embrace, her face was dry, her eyes like stones.
The next day, after a night of no sleep, a messenger from Imin pounded up the path. Tatië rose to meet him, but he passed her without a glance and came to me.
"You are summoned," he panted, "by the Light One."
I looked at Tatië. Her brow contracted for an instant, then she said, "You should go."
I took Finwë for the company and because he was curious. The path was only wide enough for us to walk one by one, and he kept treading on my heels in his eagerness until I gave him a sharp word, and he dropped back, but his fingers continued lightly touching the ends of my hair nonetheless. It was a long walk to the camp of Imin's people, made longer by my displeasure at having to leave my home and my work and come among my kin when I felt the need to grapple in solitude with what I had felt yesterday and with what the Light One had said. My body felt changed somehow after the sound of the Light One's horn and the sight of his countenance, much in the way that I had felt changed after my first meal of flesh or my first time lying in love with another. The light in the eyes of the newcomer had carved an empty place within me, a new place to gnaw with hunger. I stopped to move aside a thorny vine that had grown across the path, and Finwë crashed into my back in his haste, announcing his apologies in the next instant. The messenger turned back at the commotion, and the light in his eyes spoke of the same desire that Finwë felt and, if I was truthful with myself, I did as well.
At last, we arrived at the camp of Imin's Quendi. They had gathered all of the finery--and they were fond of finery, and many of our people eagerly provided them with it, for they had not the desire to make it themselves--to bestow upon the visitor, and he sat at the center of it with rugs upon his shoulder and mats to cushion his seat and the carved crystal glass made for Imin himself filled to brimming with fermented juice that stained his lips dark and filled the flush in his cheeks. Imin's Quendi--even Imin--hustled around him with the urgency of ants building their spring nest.
Enel had already arrived and was seated at the edge of the crowd. He'd brought both his daughters, and they sat at either side of him, their fine shell necklaces dulled by the loveliness heaped upon the visitor. I edged close to him, thinking we might murmur together, but neither of us found much to say. Each of us glanced often at the newcomer, at the unnatural light in his eyes.
At last, the Light One spoke. "I have called you here, the three leaders of the three people of the Quendi."
One of Enel's daughters glanced at me in surprise. I cleared my throat. The Light One was preparing to go on, but Imin touched his knee, his face inclined in obsequience. "My lord? Tata wishes to speak."
"I beg your forgiveness, Guest, but there has been an error. I am not the leader of my people."
His ferocious eyes set on me. "Are you not Tata of the Tatyar, the Second People?"
"I am, and our leader is Tatië, the second-awoken."
"Tatië is your wife?" At my confusion, he laughed, a sound as deep as the groaning rocks within the earth. "She shares your bed? Has borne your children?"
"Yes, she shares my bed, and her daughter Elennárë is mine as well."
The visitor's face crumpled into a visage of benevolence. "You were the first-awoken, Tata, for Eru the Maker chose you--not Tatië--as the leader of your people. Tatië awoke second, as did all of your wives." He swept his arm in a broad circle, encompassing all of us. "That was Eru's intention as well. Thus, the first thing each woman saw was her spouse, and her love for him is her first love; and her love and reverence for the wonders of all else came later."
My tongue hung in my mouth, preparing to shape a retort, but the words would not come. He spoke not the truth, yet could not be disputed, for he spoke of an intention beyond our knowledge, beyond the confines of the world, where we were allowed to see and touch and know. But how could I argue the intentions of a being I had not, till the prior day, even known existed? Who showed himself not in any of my observations of the world, as the Maker in Tatië's histories showed herself in the patterns and the workings of all that surrounded us?
My tongue rested.
The visitor spoke at length then to us. He said his name was Oromë--a name fashioned after our speech, for he said that the sound of his actual name would be unpleasant to our ears--and he told us of a land over the sea, which he said was water vaster even than the lake, so vast that at no shore could one even glimpse another. There were two lands, sundered by this sea. There was where we dwelt, and then there was Aman and a place called Valinor, where there was light of one thousand stars arrayed upon a pair of trees, and all was pure and beautiful. The death and fear that visited us here, he said, was banished in Valinor. The Dark One who hunted us had been barred long ago from its shores and could not reach us there.
"I would offer you the safety and bliss of dwelling there with me and my kin," he said finally, to conclude. "You would walk in the night without fear; you would gaze upon light in profusion, at each moment of each day. You would know no hunger or want. You would know only happiness beyond your greatest imaginings. In five days time, I will leave for this land. I would have your three leaders accompany me, to observe and report to your people--rightfully skeptical for having dwelt in such a land and under such circumstances as you have--the truth of what I speak."
After departing, I sent Finwë home but did not accompany him. I went instead to the riverbank where we dug the clay, where Tatië said the clay had come from which we were shaped. Two women were there, gathering clay for vessels, but they shortly left me. I climbed upon the rocks nearly to the center of the river and there sat with my feet in the water, growing numb from the cold and the ceaseless rushing motion and wishing that sensation to envelop my entirety.
Shortly, I saw movement at the shore, and Tatië emerged from the path and, seeing me, began to leap from stone to stone to join me. With her back snug against mine, she said, "You must tell me what he said."
So I repeated it all, from the bit about my role as the leader of our people to his summons to his supposed land over the supposed sea. She laughed as I described its vastness. "It sounds like when a lad catches his first fish in this river," she said, "and the fish grows by a span of his hand with each person to whom he boasts. Soon, the fish will engulf the river and us all.
"You need only look around you to know that his claims are false. The world in front of your very eyes contradicts his supposed reality. Perhaps there is a large lake--a 'sea'--and perhaps there is another land, but we are people born of this land. We know that those we've lost have returned to it. We have seen their flesh become clay and their bones fall to dust, and we have seen the grasses rise thick and strong from where they lie and the roots of trees grow in place of their bones. This idea that we should flee in death to another land and be remade into this life--it is unnatural! It defies the manner of the world. The idea that we are of a different flesh from the beasts and the trees is defied by our senses as well, for how can we feed on them and they on us, if we are not of the same flesh?
"And the notion that I should belong to you …" Again she laughed. "Or you to I! Or any of us to any other!--all is foolishness. We belong only to the clay from which we rose and to which we will return, in our time, and the Maker would not have given us minds to comprehend freedom if she wished us to live as thralls to her or any other."
For a time, only the low roar of water answered her, and the forests on either side of us: the leaves falling and the grasses rising and the beasts hunting and their quarry bleeding, dying. And the grasses rising. "This I know, Tatië."
It was less difficult than I expected to refuse Oromë's invitation. The light had left a vacancy within me, yes, but around it was the flesh of this land, and should I fill the smaller space, I would leave the larger empty and ache more for want. Or so I convinced myself.
I did not give this reason or any other to Oromë, and he did not ask. He nodded at my words and said, "I cannot and will not force you to come with me, Tata. But I would ask to take your son in your place."
"My son?" I asked in surprise. "I have no son."
"Is not the youth Finwë your son? He of the eager eyes?"
"He is Tatië's son but not mine."
Oromë filled his eyes with mirth, and a laugh billowed out in his ringing voice. "That is not possible. If he is Tatië's, then he must be yours as well. I would ask you to send him to me. I will take him in your stead, if he consents."
Again, my tongue rested, but I went to Finwë and told him the intentions of Oromë.
I knew he would consent, and he did. There was time enough for him to bid us a hasty goodbye--to embrace Tatië and grasp my hand and kiss the faces of his siblings--before he departed with Oromë. The faces of Tatië and Elennárë were drawn with pain at his leaving, as I suspect mine was as well, but I do not believe that he noticed. Already, his eyes were tired of the sight of this land; already, his imagination was stirring up the wonders of foreign shores, and he was being gnawed within by lust for the light that spilled in such profusion upon the sea that one might mistakenly step out upon the water, believing he walked a road built of gold.
After the departure of Oromë and the emissaries, our lives resumed a tenuous normalcy. Tatië even resumed her histories at night, and nothing in her voice or manner betrayed doubt or urgency to her words. The lack of Finwë was most keenly felt, and our camp grew choked with silence once cleared by his ceaseless chatter until the silence pressed my ears with greater weight than had his relentless voice, and I fled the camp to escape it, as once I'd fled the camp to escape him.
Yet the memory of Oromë remained, coloring our awareness of our surroundings in new ways. It reminded me of a time when I and two others had chased a deer through new paths in the forest, and emerging from the trees, we found ourselves at a precipice, the deer having leaped to her death and we nearly following. After that time, I kept away from the edge, yet the darkness between the trees had a peculiar new gravity, for I knew what lay beyond it and its especial significance. That was how Oromë left us. Where once we'd seen stealth and shelter and repose, now we saw shadow and darkness.
We knew not when to expect the return of the emissaries, but when time drew long to where I began to forget the shapes of the faces of those boys sent by Imin and Enel, the fear came into our hearts that they would not return, that the Light One in fact had intentions similar to his dark kinsman and meant to feed upon us. We did not speak of this, Tatië and I, but the grief deepened the lines on her face, and I knew she thought of it. She was wise among us now, the daughters of the daughters of the Unbegotten having taken her place at the tale-fire. They came to her to ask her guidance in matters, and they called her Amil. This was when Finwë returned.
It was the midst of our Longest Night festival, and we danced around a leaping fire and wore masks made of leaves and skins, shaped to resemble the animals and trees we loved, and we banished the shadows with light and song. If the Dark One prowled near, we knew it not; he dared not even show the light of his eyes from the shadows beyond the clearing.
And then there were three Quendi among us, strange of face and form. They joined the dance as though they knew it; the black-haired one had his hair woven in intricate braids with bright stones at the end, like the beads we made but embedded with starlight. He caught Tatië, and I heard her cry out in a joyful voice I had not heard since Finwë had left, and his shape resolved itself then: Although he'd left us a skinny whip of a boy, hardened by labor and mean sustenance, and he was now softened and polished by a life of ease, I knew his face and his laugh, even if I no longer knew the light in his eyes.
The three emissaries returned with strange beasts laden with gifts, which passed from hand to hand, no one wanting to claim such finery before his neighbor, many befuddled about even the purpose of the bright trinkets they were offered. The gifts created a glittering ripple as they passed around the fire. More Quendi tilted the returned boys' faces to them, wanting to see the strange light in their eyes.
"It is from the light of the Trees, Amil, so there is no need for worry," laughed Finwë after enduring such an inspection from Tatië. Gently, he wrested his chin from her hand. His voice had deepened and, though always lovely, now even in ordinary speech sounded of song. "Imagine the light of the brightest star filling a vessel and poured upon the loveliest tree in the forest. That is what lies over the sea." His gaze grew hollow with lust. "And, there, we gaze upon it every day. It changes you. That is what you see in my eyes."
Fingers were sliding rings onto hands and bracelets onto wrists. Quendi lifted their hair so that their mates could fasten necklaces behind them, then whirled and smiled so that their mates could bestow them with praise. The firelight winked inside of the jewels and slid across the polished metal. Finwë might have tossed a handful of stars to adorn us.
He spoke before us, and I knew what his words would be before they'd left his thoughts much less his lips. He had inherited his mother's gift for speech and learned well of words from me. He strung them with the same care that a beadmaker strung her wares upon a strand, knowing how each accentuated and complemented those around it, snatching our attention in places and lulling us into complacence in others. The Quendi listened to him speak, and the fire made their unblinking eyes glossy and flat. He was offering them a chance of paradise: a realm broken free of the worst of this life--the hunger and the fear; the death--and made into something glorious, of which the trinkets upon their arms and throats were but a scintilla, the light of a single point of light escaped from a sky overfilled with it and alighting upon a single droplet of rain.
He urged them to take it to their dreams tonight but not to delay, for Oromë did not wish to tarry. With scarcely a word, the Quendi departed the fireside for their own camps.
In our own camp, divested of his finery and having his hair combed smooth by Tatië, Finwë lost much of his splendor and became again like the awkward boy who had left us so long ago, desiring to sate his curiosity. "There is so much for which I cannot even find words. I--" He stopped and turned to me. "Tata, you would forge the words I need. It's like the magnificence of it is churning in my soul, but whenever I try to forge that feeling into speech, it becomes inadequate." He clenched his fist where his ribs met, as though he would tear that emotion forth from himself and cast it, quivering and wet, to the earth before us. "I fear I have not made them--you--see." He tilted his head back as though to read the intention on his mother's face.
Tatië's lips tightened and she said nothing, but grief shone in her eyes, for she knew too well the futility he felt.
The dream returned again that night. I bent with the wind and dodged the raindrops, indulging in my own form of laughter. The sun soaked me with a pleasure akin to the aftermaths of love. And then the girl came along, and her touch shivered up the length of my body, and I plunged, grasping, hungry, deeper into the earth.
We did not go. Finwë never fully understood. Tatië never understood either why, despite all the words she'd spent upon him--her treasure, her disciple, her heir--he had heeded them not. There were many bitter words over those days, many long debates. Oromë did not get his wish for a hasty departure.
But, though it happened slowly, Tatië's side lost some its numbers each day. Finwë's side of the fire glittered with the light upon his gifts, while our side dwelled in shadow and with a sudden awareness of lack. For the first time, we divided ourselves beyond how our Maker had shaped us: Calaquendi and Moriquendi. For the first time, the space between us where once we had clasped hands in compromise stood empty. And, one day, the Quendi on the other side of the fire departed, leaving just shadows and silence. Even Tatië had nothing to say around the fire to the few who remained.
In the midst of loss, I clung to joy. We still had Elennárë, the woodsman's son having gone to his father long ago. But Tatië mourned the loss of Finwë, not in the same way as though he had died, she said. But as though he'd been taken by the Dark One, like he was now apart from us, having chosen a course by which our paths would never again cross. Over time, her grief hardened into a sternness she'd never before possessed, and the words with which she'd once spun tales with the same fabric as our spirits now clammed tight behind a rigid jaw and a mouth that didn't smile.
I grew accustomed to sleeping alone. When the winter came, I added a fur to my bed and wrapped myself in my arms and stared into the darkness until I believed that I slept.
Then, one night, she came to me.
She came to me like she had when we were young, newly awakened and with bodies still awkward and unfamiliar. Her touches on my body were inquiring and gentle, but I took her in haste, having gone long unsated, and her sharp cry of pleasure severed the silence of the night.
I knew she was with child even as I lay, my body still damp, in her arms, the fur kicked aside and her body providing the only warmth I knew or needed. Overhead, the stars shined with a fierce light, and I thought of Finwë for the first time in a long while and wondered if he ever looked to the stars anymore, now that he had trees poured from light for his illumination.
When Tatië's time came, she went into the forest with three women, and Elennárë ground grain for cakes and I scrubbed the cookery with sand in the river. Then we cooked and ate a meal and cleaned up after ourselves. Then she aired the blankets and furs and I swept the ground with a willow broom. Then we sat in idleness, neither looking at the other, but still, Tatië did not return.
The three women returned alone. The baby had been long and painful in coming, but they had wrenched him from her body with a great loss of blood, and she died. The baby had never lived at all.
"We will send one of the Quendi to dig a hollow for her," said one of the women, and I nodded. Behind me, Elennárë wept quietly, insistently, but I just nodded, over and over, even after they'd departed to do their deeds, long into the night.
We stayed at Cuiviénen long enough to see the grass grow thick where Tatië lay. I even found a sapling in the forest--a strong young thing with an upright trunk and fat, sprawling roots--and placed it over her, but I must have hurt it more than I knew when I removed it from its place, for it shortly wilted and died, and it too nourished the grass that formed the only physical memorial to the woman I'd awakened beside in a time beyond memory, when the stars were young and the trees still wearing their first leaves.
I began to ache with a weariness for which I'd never crafted a word, never having known its existence. The clay called to me. I watched an ancient deer limp through the forest in the autumn, and Elennárë lowered her arrow to let him pass. In the spring, we found his bones. I envied him.
Tatië had said that we were of the stuff of the earth and subject to the same fate. Yet around me, trees seemed to grow seemingly overnight and were felled the next morning; beasts leaped from their mothers' wombs and into dust; the stars spun so fast that I dizzied watching the sky.
Many of the Quendi left when Cuiviénen began to dry up. Elennárë and the man she'd chosen as her mate decided to follow, so I went along too, and he who worked stone built a cottage for us in a meadow, and she worked the land and grew the food for us that once we'd gathered. New lights came into the sky, and the new beings followed, much like us in form and also with tongues to speak. Elennárë's mate gave her a girl, and we lived in something like happiness again, among the newcomers, although I was plagued with a longing I could not displace, and to look into the aging faces of those who occasionally stopped at the cottage to sit and drink a ladleful of water from the well filled me with a deep, insatiable hunger.
It was one of the newcomers, just a lad, who killed me. I was in the nearby forest, gathering mushrooms beneath a tree, and when I rose up, he mistook me for a deer and loosed his arrow in the same instant as he saw his error. As he jogged with me in his arms toward the cottage, each rough step he took sent a jolt of pain through my body, but I received it with joy: My life was ending. My blood raced his tears to reach the earth faster. I prepared to sink into slumber and rise in a new form, subject to the play of sun and wind.
But it did not come like that. One of the newcomers called himself a healer and took the arrow from me and patched the wound, but the poison was already festering inside of me and fed upon my body slowly, from within. In a delirium of agony, I imagined myself the woman I'd watched dying long ago, on the shores of Cuiviénen. Or Tatië. My screams joined theirs for a moment, then spread thin upon the air and diminished by time, ended.
Elennárë came to my side. She held my hand long while her head tipped and her tears dripped upon my wrist. Her other hand quavered, gathering the fortitude for what she must do, drooping by her knee. I summoned the last wisps of strength from every extreme of my body. I threw my voice into a whisper and turned the words I'd forged one last time.
"I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love." She lifted her head to look upon me with shining eyes. "If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles." Her tears had stopped.
One last time, the dream rushed upon me.
This story was written to satisfy the SWG fifth birthday challenge "The Songfic That Wasn't." This challenge required a line from a song or poem in the story. I chose two lines from my favorite poem: Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," from Leaves of Grass:
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
Elennárë was named after Capella, my favorite star and the sixth brightest in the northern sky, that first rises in the northeast during autumn in the middle latitudes. (Capella is visible year-round in the United Kingdom and regions in the north.) The name means "star flame" according to Darth Fingon's Pixellated Fëanor, chosen because, from my vantage point each night, as it rises, Capella seems to flash red, blue, and gold. So now I have my favorite poem and my favorite star in this story.
The line Oromë speaks to Tata and the other Quendi--"the first thing each woman saw was her spouse, and her love for him is her first love; and her love and reverence for the wonders of all else came later"--is adapted from a line taken from the text Quendi and Eldar in HoMe XI. It is one of the more hideous lines in all of the books. In my opinion, of course.
Some sharp person who is familiar with my verse will likely notice that I've deviated from it in the important respect of making Finwë born of parents rather than among the Unbegotten. I'm just playing with that idea in this story, looking at one of the reasons floated for why Finwë and not Tata represented the Noldor among the emissaries to Valinor. In all other respects, this story conforms to the Felakverse.
Of course, the larger idea plays with some of my ideas about the "ecology of Elves." We are told that Elves are bound to the world, yet because of their immortality, they are also apart from it. In Laws and Customs among the Eldar (HoMe X), Ælfwine writes of Elves who refused the call of Mandos, naming them as mostly coming from among the Avari and claiming them as evil. This passage has always bothered me deeply as well, coming as it does from one who learned only the (biased) perspective of the Eldar, presumably never having spoken to the Avari concerning their own beliefs on death and afterlife. Given the attested weariness and eventual fading of those Elves who do embrace bodily immortality, one has to wonder if the Avari don't have a point.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!