Now Imin said: 'I will not choose again yet'; and Tata, therefore, chose these thirty-six to be his companions; and they were tall and dark-haired and strong like fir-trees, and from them most of the Ñoldor were later sprung.
-Rúmil of Tirion, Cuivienyarna
The feeling of awakening is like drifting upon the waters of the lake, borne upon my back, and coming to rest suddenly on land. The solidity of wakefulness startles me. My eyes open. The dream has not changed. Each spell of sleep, it awakens me. Each spell of sleep, it is the same. Yet it is a dream.
My first awakening was not like that.
Þerindë! Þerindë!" By the distance of his voice and the sound of his body crashing through the underbrush, I suppose that he will find me in the time it takes to unfold my hand twelve-by-twelve times. It took me much longer than that to find a path through the thorns to the place where the berries hang, unbothered, fat as blood-drops upon the vine, but I lack his boldness and do care when thorns tear my flesh. I pluck faster, for it is impossible to accomplish anything with him at my side, nattering with the same impatient haste as a squirrel in a tree.
"Þerindë!" He is nearer now. In my haste, my finger catches on a bramble and I hiss: pain, that sharp word, ugly and wrought at the back of the throat. "Ak! Ai!" I hear him exclaim behind me. I can imagine him carefully extracting a thorn from his leg. "Aiyi!" But he is not deterred. My hand might have unfolded six-by-twelve times only and he is at my side, blotting blood from his scratches with his fingertips: "Þerindë!"
"Finwë." I concentrate on stretching for a fat, ripe berry just out of reach. His hand swoops in and collects it for me; he stands taller than me and, as I said already, he does not fear pain. Finwë: his name is a noisy one, full of bluster like a wind that blows on even after the rains have gone or a torrent of pebbles loosed by a careless foot on a hillside. He holds the berry in his fingertips, and I know that he ponders popping it into his mouth and staining his teeth dark with juice, but he drops it into the reed basket slung at my side. "Let me help," he says.
I shrug and he grins. He grins a lot; sometimes, he seems all teeth glistening in the dark and bright eyes and long limbs. The latter, certainly, are handy for berry-picking. "Not those," I warn him when I see his hand straying to a clump nestled among the edible ones. "Those cramp us inside." His hand retreats and his grin drops into a scowl. He is always first to meals and took a big handful that night we first tasted them; another of the Tatyar had to sit with through our spell of sleep, downwind from the lake, and Tata was annoyed, for he warned often to try just small bits of new foods. But Finwë, as ever, was made defiant by curiosity.
He tells me tales as we work. He is an ardent tale-teller and can scarcely walk down to the lake for a swallow of water without finding minutia worth recounting and weaving into matters of significance, much the way that I weave the reeds of the lake into items of use. This comparison was, of course, his devising. He is telling me of playing in the lake with the two of the Nelyar that are called Elwë and Olwë and how a fish nibbled his toes. "I screamed," he says. "You may have heard me."
I don't say much in reply. There is never much to say, and he does not require it. He prattles on until the bush has been stripped of ripe berries; he holds back the thorn branches to let me pass and natters all the while; he talks through the whole of the walk back to the camp of the Tatyar on a path back from the lake. He jumps up and grabs a low-hanging branch and turns a somersault over it. His bits flop around when he does. I try not to look because it will make me laugh. There is something funny about the shapes of the Elf-men compared to the Elf-women. I bite my lips to keep from smiling.
But he sees the mirth in my eyes. "You like me," he says. "You do." He is grinning again. I shrug and say, "Sure."
Then we are at the camp and the basket is being swept off of my shoulder by others of the Tatyar who are exclaiming over the yield and already scooping it into portions four-by-twelve and then some. I feel vulnerable, somehow, without the basket and with Finwë next to me. The light in his eyes goes strange at times; has gone strange now. The smile on his face is waning.
"Finwë! Finwë!" Two others of the Elf-men are dragging something heavy up the path from the lake and need his help. He is gone from my side in an instant, and the thought comes upon me that I am, for the moment, spared.
The meal is plentiful, and afterward the Tatyar sit about with full bellies and listen to Tata tell them tales of how he found each of them in turn, asleep by the lake, and how they awakened. Finwë is eager, I know, to hear the tale of our awakening, but we were among the last, and Tata hasn't reached our tale yet. Tonight, he tells of Rúmil and how Rúmil spoke the soonest of any of us, and his first word was for something unthought of, and so, when we think of Rúmil, we think of invention. Indeed, Rúmil is always devising new things. Tonight, he is scratching a stick in the dirt and glancing frequently at Tata and, when I look over, has carved his likeness into the earth.
I murmur something about the egest place and stand. I do stop there and void in the leaves so that I won't feel as though I am telling untruth, but I do not return to the Tatyar right away and continue around the lake. I can hear the voices of the Nelyar across the water, but they built their camp right up to the cusp so that, on nights when the wind is high, the water might even lap their toes as they sleep. Yet I do not want the company of the Nelyar; they are like us and always rowdy with competing voices, even if they care not so much for words as sound and sometimes layer that sound so that it is like the reeds that I weave: many single objects made coherent and whole and lovely. They have also learned that letting fruit stand in the clay jars that we craft for them will make a drink that is sweet and potent, tossing one's thoughts like a leaf upon the lake in a storm. I hear a muted splash from their place by the water; I suppose they have been indulging in that tonight.
The voice might have been the breeze on the water, so soft it is, but, however subtle, it stops me upon the path like I am a tree rooted and subject to the mercy of those around me. There she is: up to her waist in the water, gathering reeds for me to weave into baskets. Her hair is pale like the stars where mine is dark like the sky that holds them; it is long enough that it sketches shapes upon the water, and I am reminded of Rúmil carving the shape of Tata into the earth, and I think that nothing wrought by our hands could ever be so lovely as her pale hair upon the starlight-crested waters.
"Elenwë!" I do not bother to hide my joy at her presence. I cannot. She is surging through the water to the bank, water streaming from her legs and wet tips of pale hair stuck to her hips, the patter of her feet fast upon the packed-earth path, and then her arms are tossed around my neck and mine around hers, and we are laughing and turning beneath the stars.
"You were wakened wrongly," she tells me at times. "You were wakened with the Tatyar, and you belong with the Minyar. With me."
"Or maybe you were wakened wrongly," I remind her, but she laughs: "No, for my hands are never busy, and all of the Tatyar are and some of the Minyar and Nelyar as well, so it is not as though you could not weave your baskets among my people without being thought strange. And the Tatyar are always noisy, yet you are not. You walk lightly on the path and are judicious with your words, more a Minya than a Tatya." In her eyes is a gleam of adoration--nay, something more, but we have no word yet for it.
We were wakened in pairs, beneath the stars and each with a companion at her side. I was wakened with Finwë and she with a male called Ingwë, one of the Minyar first-wakened and favored by all three Elf-fathers, slow to speak and firm of gaze. Finwë and Ingwë are like starlight and shadow, she says: utter opposites the other. Finwë is noisy and quick-footed and Ingwë is judicious and placid; Finwë learns through happenstance and error and sometimes hurt and Ingwë through study and deliberation. Yet between them are we, their companions--Elenwë and Þerindë--and there, it is hard to tell where one of us ends and the other begins.
Tata likes to make up tales to tell at night, and when Finwë asked, From where did we come? then Tata said that someone came along and took a scoop of clay from the bank beside the Whispering Stream and shaped each of us, and I thought, as he spoke, that Elenwë and I must have come from the same scoop. Perhaps because he had run out and needed to make two of us from the stuff of one.
I told her this once, shyly, thinking she might laugh the way that Finwë will sometimes laugh at my ideas and call them wild as rambling vines, but she did not. Her eyes gleamed and she said only, "Yes," that careful, concise response accorded facts by Ingwë. Yes. Inside me, something fluttering soared at that single word.
Now, we walk beside the lake, my fingers clasped lightly in her hand and her thumb tracing each in turn from my top-knuckle to my fingernail. We stay to the path between the camps of the Minyar and the Tatyar, and when we hear the voices of either, we return in the opposite direction. Three times we do this until weariness presses her heavy hands upon my shoulders and my eyelids droop, half-lidded. Still, we walk. Both camps have gone mostly silent. We speak in whispers between us, lest we be heard above the chirps of the night insects and, soon, even those whispers diminish until her thoughts seem to arrive directly aside mine without the need for tongue and breath and, by the tickle of her laughter against my unspoken words, I know that she, too, knows my thoughts, and my smile glows within her. Her hand tightens on mine and we pause on the path, the backs of her fingers tracing the curve of my cheek, her lips slightly parted and damp and dark in the starlight.
"Elenwë." The voice is barely a whisper but, in the profound silence of shared, unvoiced thought, sounds like a shout. She turns, startled; her fingers drop from my cheek. Where they rested goes suddenly cold.
We have happened too close to the Minyarin camp. From the shadows beneath the trees, the darkness parts to make way for light: the pale hair and luminous eyes of Ingwë, first-awakened of the Companions of Imin. His arms hang at his sides, and he dips low enough to let a knee brush the ground in greeting to me, "Þerindë."
Ingwë. I have forgotten how to speak, yet my thought arrives in the tangled darkness of his mind. For the briefest moment, I sense him. I sense his acknowledgement of me and twelve-by-twelve flashing thoughts weaving themselves like a spiderweb into something of sense and beauty. Amid all of them, knitting them together, is the thought of Elenwë. He perceives her voice and her smile as I do, as something like the starlight, worthy of a feeling unnamed and more than adoration. Then he is gone from my perception, leaving only silence filled with my own uneasy, secret thoughts.
"Elenwë, it is well into the spell of sleep," Ingwë says, "and I cannot rest until you return." He holds out his hand to her, his palm turned to the stars. She reaches for it even as she still clasps mine, but shortly her reach falters, and my hand slips from hers, my fingers immediately curling upon themselves as though to preserve the warmth, the memory of her.