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Elflings   by Bodkin

Going Forth - Taking the Children to Work

Celeborn’s jaw tightened and his eyes hardened to flints, but there was no other outward sign that the elf lord was less than pleased with what he was hearing.

Galadriel observed the tiny indications and said placatingly, ‘It is not as if he has been able to spend much time with his grandchildren or his great-grandchildren.  Or, come to that’ she added reflectively, ‘his children.’

The flints sparked.  ‘Indeed he has not,’ her husband agreed.  ‘And I do not see why he should expect to be granted this now.’

‘It is hardly his fault,’ she pointed out.  ‘He sacrificed his family life to bring Arda help from the Valar.’

Closing his eyes briefly, Celeborn controlled his desire to snap that Eärendil’s sacrifice was not the only one made, just the one most celebrated.  He had always felt that Elros and Elrond had been forced to sacrifice at least as much as the Mariner.  And nobody had given them any choice in the matter – or sung lays about their valour.  ‘What makes him think that this – deviation from normal would be permitted?   As I understand it, even Elwing is not permitted to sail the night sky with him.’

‘Elwing dislikes heights,’ Galadriel told him patiently, ‘unless she is wearing wings, she says, when she knows she can reach the ground safely.  She has no desire whatsoever to ride with him.  As long as he returns home in the morning, she is content.’  Her eyes twinkled like starlight reflected in water.  ‘I do not know who seized on the idea of sending elflings off to work with their grandparents, but the Valar seem to have decided it is an excellent idea – they feel it will help with family bonding and give elflings a better comprehension of what their grandparents do.  And,’ she added, ‘increase the understanding of grandparents for the young.’  She wrinkled her nose.  ‘Which they seem to think will be a good thing – although I do not know why.  I would have thought that elflings outgrow youth soon enough and we can wait until then to worry about understanding them.’

‘What do Elladan and Elrohir think?’ Celeborn retrenched.  His wife was clearly content to permit her great grandchildren to be carried off by their son-in-law’s adar. 

‘Elladan is pleased that Elrin will learn to know his adar’s adar.  Elrohir is less certain of the wisdom of allowing Eärendil to take responsibility for his daughters – but Nimloth and Aewlin are younger – and more foolhardy.’

‘Can we be sure that they will not fall from Vingilot?’ he enquired, snatching at straws. ‘I would not have them put at risk.’

‘We can.’  Galadriel smiled at him with sympathetic implacability.  ‘They are going, my love, whether you like the idea or not.  Get used to the idea.’

Celeborn scowled.  ‘We spend precious time with our great-grandchildren and he will carry them off on that wretched ship and they will forget about all the things we do together.’

A look of understanding passed over Galadriel’s face.  ‘They are not so shallow,’ she told him.  ‘Even at their age, they know what is important.  Let him have his day, my love.  We have had so much more.’

***

Elwing kept a firm grip on Nimloth’s hand.  Even a fairly brief acquaintance with her son’s granddaughter had made her aware of Nimloth’s ability to find trouble in the middle of total tranquillity.  Luthien’s granddaughter had a suspicion that, should Nimloth find herself in the arms of Namo, he would return her as promptly as he had the offspring of Maia and Elf Lord.  ‘Promise me you will behave,’ she requested, her voice suggesting that she knew this was a forlorn hope.  The problem, she felt, was that the elleth would be behaving – she just would not be behaving in the way that any reasonable adult would expect.

‘Of course I will,’ Nimloth said earnestly with a captivating smile.  ‘I will help Ada’s Daerada as much as I can.’

‘That is what I was fearing,’ Elwing sighed, an expression of foreboding crossing her face.

Aewlin skipped over, pulling Elrohir in her wake.  ‘This is so exciting,’ she said.  ‘Adar says he wishes he had been given the chance of sailing with Eärendil.’

The Mariner turned a pleased look at the fair-haired elleth.  ‘I only regret that we have been divided from our family for so long,’ he said to his tall grandsons.  ‘I hope the little ones do not find the experience too dull.  I have spent so many centuries perfecting the path across the night sky that the journey can seem quite monotonous at times,’ he added modestly.

Elladan glanced at his brother.  ‘I think the presence of these three might make this night’s voyage rather more – memorable,’ he commented neutrally, dropping a hand warningly on his son’s shoulder.  ‘But please, my son,’ he murmured. ‘Not too haunting.’ 

‘I will do my best,’ Elrin shrugged, ‘but there is only so much I can do – and they outnumber me.’

‘I suppose,’ his adar returned thoughtfully, ‘that you could always tie them to the mast.’

Elrin grinned.  ‘I would have to catch them first.  And then grab Aewlin before she cut Nimloth free.’

‘Just do your best to see that they both come back safely,’ Elladan requested.  ‘I have a bad feeling about this.  Eärendil has no idea of the level of risk to which he is exposing himself.’ 

***

Nimloth squealed as the gleaming white ship launched into the air and Elrin grabbed her as she leaned over the rail to wave frantically at those who remained looking up at them. ‘They look so small,’ she exclaimed.

‘And if you want to see them look even smaller, you have to hang on, Nimloth,’ Elrin told her in exasperation.  ‘You really do not want to see them getting larger as you tumble to the ground!’

His cousin pouted at him.  ‘I am not going to fall, Elrin.  I do not know why everybody seems to think that Aewlin and I are stupid.’  She pulled away from him and darted to where Earendil stood directing his vessel into its path across the heavens. 

‘Not stupid,’ Aewlin poked her cousin in the ribs, ‘but reckless.  Is that not what you think?’ 

‘No,’ Elrin protested. ‘Heedless, maybe – neither of you seem to think about what could happen.’

‘Of course not!’ Aewlin giggled.  ‘Why should we bother?  We have you to do that for us.’  She gave Elrin a quick affectionate hug before running off after her twin. 

The three cousins settled after the twins had raced round the vessel a few times, exclaiming at everything they saw, and they gazed over the side in amazement as the ground retreated below them until it was no more than a distant haze of greens and browns and blues. 

‘Feel,’ Elrin said, extending his hand over the side of the frost-white ship.

Aewlin’s mouth dropped open and she frowned as the air seemed to thicken to the texture of honey, growing stiffer as she thrust her hand as far as she could.  ‘How . . . odd,’ she marvelled. ‘The outside feels different from the inside.  And how is it that the sails are filled with wind when there does not seem to be any air?’

‘I know how to find out,’ Nimloth looked up towards the pennant fluttering at the masthead.  She darted swiftly to the pale ropes and began to climb.

Her sister narrowed her eyes.  ‘I do not believe that will prove anything,’ she remarked consideringly.  ‘It would be too simple.’

Eärendil stood proudly at the wheel as his ship far outflew the birds that had accompanied them on the first part of their path.  The Silmaril at his brow gleamed with increasing brightness as the sky around them darkened from azure to indigo to .  His noble features reflected the light and his robes draped artistically around his strong form.  His expression, however, did not match.

‘Get down, Nimloth,’ he snapped anxiously.  ‘I do not want you climbing the rigging – you might fall.’

‘She will be all right, Anadar,’ Aewlin said.  ‘She climbs like a squirrel.’  She insinuated herself between Eärendil and the wheel.  Can I steer?  Please?’ she wheedled.

The glance he threw at her was harassed. ‘I have to keep on course, little one,’ he told her.  ‘There is no room for error.’  He hesitated.  ‘Perhaps you would like to help me hold the wheel.’

Aewlin wriggled and stretched her head up as high as she was able.  ‘Can you hold me up, Anadar?’ she asked.  ‘I cannot see where we are going.’  One hand grasped Eärendil’s tunic and clutched it as she attempted to pull herself up. 

He bent awkwardly and used one hand to lift her, twisting and hitching up his robe of clear sapphire blue.  Aewlin kept her hold on his rumpled tunic with one hand and threw herself forward to grab the polished wood, confident that the Mariner would keep hold of her.  He stepped back abruptly at the unexpected shift of balance and the wheel span as he released it.  His brief outburst made his great granddaughter turn wide eyes on him.

Elrin hid a grin.  He could almost guarantee that Aewlin would come out with that expression some time in the not too distant future – probably when her naneth had her sat demurely in the company of a gathering of genteel ladies. 

Vingilot lurched as the steady hand on the helm was lost and the sails flapped as the vessel lost direction.  Aewlin clutched at Eärendil as he released his hold on her to turn his attention to the wheel, knocking the circlet holding the Silmaril so that it hung sideways over his ear. 

From the complex net of ropes above the deck a panic-stricken screech made the Mariner look up. 

‘Stop it, Anadar!’ Nimloth yelled.  ‘The ropes have caught me.  I cannot get free.’

‘I will get her,’ Elrin volunteered. 

Eärendil felt like banging his head against the mast.  He did not remember having had so much trouble with a full crew of touchy men aboard, even when they had spent many long months on the ocean – and this voyage had, so far, lasted no more than a few hours.  How was it that these elflings had managed to seem so harmless in the presence of their parents?  Had they just been biding their time until they got him on his own? 

He peeled Aewlin from him, straightening the circlet and shaking his crushed clothes back into place.  ‘Go over there,’ he commanded, pointing towards the bows of his ship.  ‘Sit down somewhere and remain still.’  Aewlin looked at him with big eyes and allowed her lip to tremble, but Eärendil’s attention had diverted to her sister.

Elrin climbed swiftly to the spot where the sudden slackness of the ropes had caused Nimloth to twist awkwardly, but, by the time he had reached her, she had freed herself and she was anxious to continue to the masthead.  He caught her ankle.  ‘Come down,’ he said firmly.  ‘Anadar is having kittens – he is scared to death that you are going to fall.’

Looking over her shoulder, Nimloth grinned happily.  ‘This is such fun,’ she said.  ‘I will be perfectly all right, you know.’

Her cousin scowled at her seriously.  ‘I know you will,’ he said, ‘– it would take something far more dangerous than this to get the better of you – but if you want to finish this journey without Anadar locking you and Aewlin in the hold, you had better start behaving yourself.’ 

‘Spoilsport,’ she complained, but she followed him down to the shining deck and joined her sister in the bow, where they both smiled enchantingly at the Mariner as he strove to get Vingilot back on course. 

As the bright ship slowly resumed its way, Elrin took hold of his cousins’ hands.  ‘Look,’ he told them confidentially, ‘you can go sailing any time – Legolas adores being given any excuse to go down to the coast.  Then you can let your adar worry about you falling from the mast or tumbling in the ocean. What makes this ship special is where it sails.  Watch the world below us as we cross Arda.  This will probably be the only chance we will ever get of seeing the lands of Middle Earth our adars knew.  If you make me waste it, I will make certain that you will be very, very sorry.’

Nimloth looked at her cousin as if she had not seen him before.  ‘You mean that, do you not?’ she asked incredulously and, when he replied with a single nod, she drew a deep breath.  ‘Very well,’ she conceded amiably.  ‘You only had to ask.  Is that not so, Aewlin?’

‘Of course,’ her twin agreed readily.  ‘We would never want to spoil something that means so much to you, cousin.’  She smiled at him.  ‘We will behave like perfect ladies – just like Daernana – but,’ she warned, ‘I am afraid we will make you pay for it later.’

Elrin inclined his head.  ‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘and you can try.  But if you are old enough to be thinking of playing dirty, I think you should know that you are now old enough for me to retaliate in kind.’

Aewlin’s smile of anticipation gave her the look of an extremely pretty but very dangerous predator.  ‘We will have to see, then, will we not?’ she remarked.

Elrin moved as far forward as he could up to the bow of the vessel and leaned against the rail.  With his eyes fixed in front of him, Vingilot’s smooth progress was almost unnoticeable and he felt as if he were flying above the dark blanket of the land beneath him.  Here and there patches of water reflected light back at him like silk thrown casually on the thick dark wool of a winter cloak.  He looked up and the stars smiled back at him like old friends.  They were bigger, he thought, than he would have imagined.  Bigger and closer.  His eyes widened as he realised that other great vessels were seeking the sky paths across the endless expanse of the sea of heaven.  He stared, his breath stilled in wonder. 

‘Anadar,’ he choked finally, able to do no more than wave his hand towards the sight before him.  The twins raised their eyes to see what had captured his attention.

‘Oh,’ Eärendil said, turning the wheel slightly as if to catch the wind in his sails of billowing white.  ‘I quite forgot that you would never have seen it before.  They are too distant to recognise as ships, even from the Blessed Realm.’  He inclined his head in acknowledgement to the other star-craft.  ‘What did you think they were like close up?  You knew that Arien directs Anor across the roof of the world and that Tilion guides Ithil.’ 

‘But those are stories,’ Nimloth said with apparent disapproval.  ‘Like Ungoliant and the Two Trees and Beren and Lúthien.’

‘True stories,’ Eärendil said mildly, as the wind from nowhere caught his long black hair and his robe of bright blue and stirred them into motion with a distant scent of salt water.  ‘The Maiar drive Anor and Ithil – and they sail on the unseen ocean and guide Varda’s star-ships.’ 

Elrin found himself unable to speak for awe of the sight before him.  The stars had been turning in their stately dance since Varda placed them in the sky before the dawn of days and the Maiar guiding them had been pursuing their allotted path ever since.  Such devotion to a duty that was unsuspected by those who sang to the self-same stars moved him. 

Eärendil looked at his great-grandson: tall for his age, dark-haired and grey-eyed, and he wondered what it would have been like to live a normal life and see his sons grow to adulthood.  He turned the wheel before him slightly and sighed.  His had hardly been the most typical of experiences – he had always felt that the Valar had not really known what to do with Elwing and him and had come up with this task as a way of avoiding a decision as to what made elf or man.   Which, he concluded, looking at the lanky elfling, they had made in the end anyway.  At least, he decided, these three would not be torn between the kindreds.  They were elves – born in Aman, the blood of men thin in their veins.  He could be thankful that they would not be taken from their families into the mystery that was the Gift of Men.

A suppressed giggle returned his attention to the twin ellyth.  He should just have brought the ellon, he thought ruefully.  He clearly needed at least two heads and four arms to deal with these little mischief-makers.  If he had only been thinking, he would have seen his danger in the expressions on the faces of the elves who had entrusted Aewlin and Nimloth to his care, but he had been too proud to have been granted the chance to take them on this night’s adventure.  Now Elrin was too star-struck to give them the experienced and cynical attention he had concentrated on them at first – and Eärendil dreaded to think what they had found to entertain themselves.

‘Nimloth,’ his great grandson’s voice warned, ‘you promised.’

The ellon had clearly learned that even marvels should not take up his whole attention when his cousins were present.

‘What are you two doing now?’ Eärendil said, forcing himself to sound jovial, rather than panic-stricken, as he totted up the minutes he had still to face before dawn brought him back to safe harbour.

‘Did you bring anything to eat, Anadar?’ Aewlin asked sweetly.

‘I do not usually bother, little one,’ he told her, ‘but I believe your naneth provided a large hamper.  Why do you not go below and discover what she packed for you?’

Elrin tuned out his cousins’ voices.  He really did not want to waste his energy worrying about what they might do next, when above him the white-sailed ships of the constellations tacked back and forth across the dark mirror of night and below him small collections of golden light identified the homes of the men of his elders’ tales.

‘We promised, Nimloth,’ mimicked Aewlin as she followed her sister down the white wood of the stairway to the main cabin where they recognised their naneth’s wicker hamper. 

‘But what did we promise?’ Nimloth beamed at her.  ‘Not to spoil Elrin’s night.  And we would not do that, now, would we?’  She struggled to unbuckle the stiff straps and threw back the lid.  ‘Let us take Anadar something to eat.’

With a plate of tipsy sandwiches and a large goblet of deep red wine, the cousins climbed carefully back to join the Mariner at his post.

‘Look what we made for you!’ Nimloth exclaimed, offering Eärendil the plate.

‘I am a little busy right now,’ he hedged, looking doubtfully at the contents.  ‘I believe I will wait.’

The elleth’s expression melted his resolve.  ‘But we made them on purpose,’ Nimloth protested sweetly, batting the dark eyelashes that contrasted so well with the flaxen beauty of her hair. 

Helpless in the face of such innocent charm, the Mariner took an overfilled pocket of bread and bit into a combination of flavours that made him gag as he tried to force it down.  ‘Interesting,’ he coughed, his eyes watering.  ‘What did you put into it?’  A blob of the gooey mixture trailed inexorably over his thumb to plaster itself to the front of his tunic.

‘Here,’ Aewlin offered him the goblet.  ‘You sound as if you need a drink.’

Eärendil looked helplessly from the hand holding the wheel to the mess in his other hand.  ‘I do not think. . ,’ he said weakly.

‘It is all right,’ Aewlin told him brightly.  ‘You can finish the sandwich first.’

‘Nana always makes us finish what we take,’ Nimloth said, a touch censoriously, watching with well-hidden glee as the Mariner glanced with revulsion at the concoction before putting it into his mouth and forcing it down.  He even licked his fingers, she noted, before accepting the drink Aewlin offered and taking an incautiously large mouthful.

Even as Eärendil spat the dark wine over his clean deck, Elrin whipped the plate from Nimloth’s hand and inspected it.  He lifted it up and sniffed suspiciously at the contents.  ‘Mustard?’ he asked.  ‘And jam?  Mixed with cream cheese and pepper, I think, although I have no intention of tasting them to discover if you have put in any other interesting flavours.’  He took the goblet and swirled it round to inhale the aroma.  ‘Where did you get the mirúvor to add to that, I wonder?’ he asked.  ‘The salt will have been in the hamper and I expect the hot sauce was, too.’  He looked sternly at the two ellyth.  ‘Nasty,’ he said.  ‘You would never have got away with it with anyone who knows you better.’  He frowned at them in silence for a few moments, before sighing.  ‘I know what your adar would do.  I cannot make you drink the rest of that goblet – you are too young.  But you will sit there and eat one of those sandwiches each.’

Aewlin lifted her chin.  ‘And if we refuse?’ she asked. 

The Mariner was impressed by the cool authority his great-grandson was displaying.

‘Then I will pack them up in the hamper and you may look forward to your breakfast once your adar has heard of your behaviour.’

Nimloth scowled as she took two from the plate and handed one to Aewlin. ‘You are mean, Elrin,’ she said.

Elrin lifted his eyebrow in the manner of his daeradar. ‘It takes one to know one, my dear cousin,’ he commented.  ‘Eat, while I get Anadar something to remove the taste.’

He returned with a jug of apple juice and three cups, one of which he filled and gave to a grateful Eärendil, who swilled out his mouth and swallowed thankfully.

‘Do they often do things like that?’ he asked, watching as the two ellyth nibbled the sandwiches, pulling faces as they ate.

‘Too often,’ Elrin told him.  ‘Although they rarely catch anybody more than once.  They think it is funny.’  He looked at them suspiciously.  ‘They are cleverer than you would think, though,’ he added.  ‘They knew that I would make them eat some of what they made, and, if I am not mistaken, they prepared for it.’  He took Aewlin’s hand and swiftly removed a dab of filling from the bread, tasting it tentatively.  ‘I thought so.’  He met her eyes accusingly until she glanced away.  ‘It is pretty revolting, but designed to be edible.  Your idea, I suspect, Aewlin.’  He sighed.  ‘Put them back.  This time I will choose which ones you will eat.’

The twins were rather more subdued after they had choked down the sandwiches, so Elrin risked sending them to clear up the mess they had made before settling them where he could keep an eye on them. 

Eärendil viewed him with approval.  ‘I wonder, my great-grandson,’ he mused, ‘if you would like to hold the wheel while I go and wash my hands.’ 

The twins hissed as they inhaled sharply. ‘It is not fair,’ muttered Nimloth.

The Mariner raised an eyebrow, but did not reply to her words.  ‘Just hold it steady,’ he said.  ‘I will only be a moment.’

Elrin grasped the gleaming wood, feeling the power of the vessel as it rode so effortlessly through the air and he held on as the energy transferred to his hands and filled his body, leaving him breathless with the sense of the ages-old task, repeated night after night by his daeradar’s adar.

‘Thank you.’  As Eärendil returned and took back his duty, Elrin threw him a glance of profound respect.  ‘Perhaps you would like to watch the dawn from the bow,’ the Mariner suggested.  ‘I sometimes think it is my favourite part of the journey.’

‘Especially today,’ Aewlin murmured in Nimloth’s ear, making her grin, ‘for then he will be rid of us.’  Very little, Elrin thought, suppressed the terrible twins for long.  As long as they had each other’s love and approval, they seemed to cope easily with the displeasure of those around them.  About the only time he had seen them really upset was when their adar had decided to separate them for a time, and their distress then had been so extreme that he had finally relented.

The brightness of the ship faded as the sky turned to bronze and the distant star-ships could no longer be seen against the lightening heavens.  Below them, objects gained definition as they picked themselves out from night’s dense mantle.  Patchwork fields stretched between areas of woodland; dusty roads unwound in pale ribbons; here and there a golden light gleamed from a window as the mortals prepared for their day of toil on the land. 

‘I wonder what it is like down there,’ Nimloth said softly.  ‘It looks not unlike home.’

‘People eat and sleep and love each other, I suppose,’ Aewlin considered. ‘And work to grow food and spin and weave and cook and look after babies. And quarrel and get in trouble,’ she finished with a nudge in her sister’s ribs.

‘I would like to be able to go there and find out,’ her twin told her.  ‘It is all very well listening to stories – but I want to be able to do things for myself.’

Their eyes met and, in one of those moments of instant comprehension that unnerved others, they moved away from their cousin and approached the Mariner.  ‘Anadar,’ Aewlin wheedled.  ‘You let Elrin steer.  May Nimloth and I hold the wheel – just for a moment?’

‘Please?’ Nimloth joined her pleas to her sister’s and they both brought wide eyes and appealing pouts to bear on the unprepared Eärendil.  Nimloth tilted her head and looked up at him, twisting one of her fair braids between her fingers in a way that she knew often proved irresistible to those who did not know her well. 

Eärendil found himself transfixed by the gleaming silver-grey irises and closed his own eyes, opening them only to find Aewlin gazing at him with a similarly hopeful expression.   He swallowed.  ‘Very well,’ he said, with nervous resignation.  ‘You may stand on either side of me and hold the wheel – but I am not letting go of it.’

The twins’ swift silent communion agreed that this was likely to be the best offer they would receive and they moved together to a position that eased the Mariner back, so that he stretched over their heads to retain control of the wheel, and their slim hands closed round the wood.

With his cousins under temporary control, Elrin relaxed.   He leaned on the rail at the furthest point he could go into the bows,  and watched as the wide waters of Ulmo’s seas danced in the rosy light of a bright dawn and he smiled as the pale vessel began its descent and the world came up to greet them.

***

‘When I grow up,’ Nimloth announced bouncily, pulling away from Elrin’s firm grip, ‘I am going to be a star like Daerada’s Ada.  I will fly with him through the night sky.’

Celeborn enjoyed the fleeting look of panic that crossed Eärendil’s face.  ‘It will be many years yet,’ he said diplomatically, ‘before you need to decide what to do with your life.’

‘It is a very lonely life, piloting Vingilot above the world,’ Eärendil said hastily.  ‘I am not sure you would enjoy it.’  He took a tiny step backwards. ‘I have enjoyed our journey together,’ he said.  ‘It has been a . . . remarkable experience – although perhaps one that should not be repeated too often.’  He looked round.  ‘For fear of spoiling it,’ he added vaguely. ‘But rest assured that I will be watching over you with interest, little ones.’

‘From a distance,’ Celeborn murmured.

Eärendil picked up on the comment and took it as understanding.  ‘Yes,’ he agreed with relief, ‘from a distance.’

Galadriel and Celeborn exchanged glances as Eärendil walked away.  ‘It is not the special occasions and the treats,’ Galadriel said softly.  ‘It is being there for them every day; comforting their hurts and encouraging them to grow.  Eärendil has never had that experience.’

Aewlin grabbed at Celeborn’s hand and swung on it to attract his attention.  ‘Anada,’ she demanded enthusiastically, ‘what shall we do now?’

Celeborn drew a deep breath and smiled at his wife.  ‘I believe,’ he said seriously, turning his attention to the slight fair-haired elleth, ‘that there is frogspawn hatching in the pond.   Shall we go and look?’





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