Come summer, Níniel headshakes away the tutting and fretting of the old women who care for her, and at dusk leaves the house to sleep in the garden. The earth is pleasantly cool against her cheek, the grass soft, and the air warm enough so she needs no blanket while she waits.
What she waits for – she can’t say.
Not because she does not have the words yet; the women talk to her unceasingly to re-learn her what she forgot, tell her stories, explain to her those words she has forgotten. She could describe it, if she so pleased. But the folk of Brethil are superstitious, a word that stings her tongue like a thorn, and there is no saying what they would do, should they find out her companion. Keep her cooped in the house, deny her even to recall her sole memory before she was found, the single thing shining in that darkness – a spill of golden hair gleaming like sparks of sunlight on water, a slender white hand stroking her tears away, and then a warm and dreamless sleep despite the raging storm.
She knows well enough, too, the words the old women have for the heart pounding against her ribs as though it seeks to drum a call into the ground, for the tense expectation until the last fires on Amon Obel are extinguished, for her fingers curling into the earth with happy impatience to shake the day’s toil and the name that weighs her down.
It begins, always, with shining feet coming soundless through the grass, no leaf rustling and the night-birds quieting, Níniel rising and her visitor regarding her from shrewd, smiling eyes. Then she throws a cloak of sun-yellow silk over Níniel’s nightdress, and they slip unseen past the watchers on the stockade and into the hills to dance.
There are no limits to where they can go except too far north, the silk billowing behind her, flying like moths even over the ravines and gullies of the river, as long as they keep their backs to the Crossings of Teiglin and the mound that guards them - for that is, without fail, where Níniel’s visitor will vanish with a kiss to sleep come dawn, where they first found one another on that night of storm. Níniel may not know her name, or what else connects them, for the elf-maid does not speak and she dares not ask, neither her nor the old women, but it makes her and their silent revels no less dear.
Waking she’ll see the last of the yellow cloak dissolve where sunrise touches it, and smile as she goes into the house to break her fast, wondering why wraiths like hers are thought evil and all the tales are cautionary, warnings against the shadow in the north. That is not her elf-maid’s home, and Níniel decides that when she is old and children will flock to her hearth many years hence, when it is her turn to tell tales, she’ll tell different ones.