|Imagine this! You are walking in the woods and sudden a tree whispers to you ...
What does it say? What is your reaction?
Capture this moment in a story, poem or piece of art.
This story is set shortly after Stars of the Lesser, although one need not be familiar with "Stars" in order to read this. Curufin and Maedhros are visiting Nevrast to meet with Turgon and have brought Celebrimbor, who is close in age to--though a bit older than--Pengolodh.
Pengolodh sat under a gnarled, wind-bowed tree, facing the sea. A book was spread open in his lap, his fingers pressing on the margins of the pages to keep them from being turned by the wind, his lips moving in almost-whispers, as he had a habit of doing while reading alone. At first, he credited the voice to his imagination, to the wind, to the barely spoken words on his lips. Spring had arrived by the calendar alone; the skies remained overcast and the winds off the sea bitter. Pengolodh knew that he was alone. He was reading outside, despite the wind and cold, to assure it.
The voice was louder this time and it was most certainly a voice. Feeling childishly superstitious, Pengolodh's eyes flew up to the branches that dipped and creaked overhead. He had heard that trees sometimes spoke in this land, but its tired gray branches betrayed nothing. It only nodded harder as the winds picked up.
"It's me," said the voice. "Celebrimbor."
Pengolodh had been shivering inside the snug wrappings of his cloak but abruptly stopped, even as his heart leaped in his chest. He'd been less frightened of the speaking tree.
"Don't turn around. You don't have to. I know you don't want to see me."
"I never said that," Pengolodh said. The wind took his voice, and he didn't bother repeating himself. By the play of Celebrimbor's voice on the wind, he realized that the other boy was sitting beneath the tree as well, on the opposite side, back-to-back with Pengolodh and with the ancient trunk between them.
But Celebrimbor must have heard him anyway. He laughed. "Your people never want to see my people."
"I think," Pengolodh began, intending to finish with a stern you should leave. He even squared his shoulders, intentionally impersonating his father, as though that would grant him the courage to say it. But his tongue lay, insensate as a slop of pudding in a porcelain bowl, leaving only, I think.
"Of course you do. That is why I am here. Look, Pengolodh--"
"I don't want to look." It was childish and literal but out before he could help himself. He fixed his gaze more firmly on the churning gray sea, as though to reinforce within himself the notion that, no, indeed, he did not wish to look at Celebrimbor. He could imagine, though, the boy sitting on the opposite side of the tree as he, wrenched around to catch a glimpse of Pengolodh's cloaked shoulder (shivering again), the edge of his book, a slick whip of Noldorin-black hair.
"Sure you do. You intend to be a loremaster. You can't do that with your eyes closed; you might as well write poetry."
"I do, sometimes."
"So do I, but it is a different matter than lore, Pengolodh, and you right know it. But, yes, I came here to tell you that there are things you don't know, and I mean to tell them, if you would listen."
"I am sure that there are many things I don't know." Pengolodh was proud of the mild, almost indifferent, tone of his voice; less proud when he realized that he didn't have a suitably barbed conclusion to that fact. Celebrimbor was right: He intended to be a loremaster and so to seek answers to what he did not know. Intended as a dissuasion, his remark instead seemed more an invitation.
"Yes!" said Celebrimbor, apparently hearing it the same. "And there is much that I can tell you that, otherwise, among your own people, you will never learn."
An image flashed in his mind of Fëanáro, the grandfather of Celebrimbor, in his workshop. Light floated in the cup of his hands. Secret knowledge, thought Pengolodh, imagining such lore passed son to son, and now to him? His pulse quickened to be thought so special. But he was not a craftsman, and such secrets would be useless to him. Furthermore, it was universally agreed that Fëanáro had been dreadfully wrong in pursuing some of the knowledge that he had, that some knowledge, rightfully, lay beyond the bounds of proper inquiry. There was courage to be found, his father often said, in not fearing to find and acknowledge one's limits. Celebrimbor would probably laugh at that, and the thought of Celebrimbor's laughter, of the beauty of his face when he smiled (and, oh, he was said to be but a shadow of his grandfather and Fëanáro--could I ever have withstood Fëanáro?) made him want to believe Sailaheru's words all the more.
"I don't want it," he said of the secret knowledge. He imagined what would have come to pass had the great (supposedly great) Fëanáro had the same courage. Pengolodh would not be sitting beneath a twisted, near-dead tree in a half-frozen land but, rather, beneath a different sort of tree, the kind that bore fruit and leaves year-round, in a (he imagined) dark blue silken tunic with silver embroidery at the neckline and sleeves. Though Celebrimbor said nothing in answer, he reiterated, "I don't."
"Pengolodh, I believe that you don't want it, but by the ethics of your one-day profession, that you are required to hear it. Anyhow, I will tell you just one thing now because I am not supposed to be here, and my father will be returning soon and will not like to find me missing. You can come to my father's camp if you want to hear more. Just have the guards send for me; you do not even have to come inside, and we can speak--you and I--across the invisible boundary of yours and mine. Else, I will return to you when I can and say what time permits, which will not be a lot. But, over the years, perhaps it will all eventually be said." There was a moment of silence in which Pengolodh imagined him drawing a deep breath. "My uncle, Maedhros, did not forsake your lord's brother. That is the first and all I can say now. Farewell, Pengolodh, for now."
Pengolodh did not turn from the tree. His numb fingers clutched the sides of the book; his mind imagined the long-limbed Fëanárion racing back to his father's camp with a helpful wind at his back, his black hair streaming against the sunless gray sky like a banner.