“Nenalassië.” Lenyarë’s voice interrupted her daughter’s daydreaming.
“Yes, Ammë?” Nenya asked, looking innocently up from the loom. Aldingië had been trying to teach her the art of weaving, but Nenya would rather be down by the harbour watching the ships or playing in the water; her work at the loom was mediocre at best, and terrible in comparison to Aldingië’s or Ammë’s beautiful patterns, which were destined to become sails for grandfather’s newest ship.
Secretly, she wanted to captain a ship one day – and she was determined to do just that; grandfather promised she could have a ship when she was old enough, and Nenya did not intend to forget it, even if that time was still some yéni off. She had yet to earn her proper sailor’s braids, though she already sported the mark of a Wave-dancer on her arm, Ulmo’s waves flowing over her skin in ink made from an octopus Aireraumo had caught.
“You’re staring out the windows again, aren’t you?”
Nenya shook her head, glancing at the star-dotted skies visible outside. Atyaro and Aireraumo should be back soon.
“I think that’s enough weaving for now, Nenya,” Lenyarë smiled, stroking her daughter’s silvery hair gently, “why don’t you head down to the docks? Your father and brother should be home soon; you can help them get the fish home.”
The young elleth was out the door almost before her mother had finished speaking, her swift legs taking her down the many stairs that led to their clifftop home with ease despite the lack of light.
“Well, if it isn’t my Nenya,” Olwë grinned, picking her up in a hug as soon as he saw her. “Escaping your loom again, little sea-bird?”
Nenya laughed. “Ammë said I could go!” she swore, making him laugh with her. “I don’t like weaving,” she pouted. “And Aldingië is better; when I have my own ship, she can make my sails.” Olwë chuckled, but he didn’t disagree; while many Teleri ladies were weavers of great skill, his youngest granddaughter was not one to sit behind a loom to create fantastical patterns.
“I’m sure she will be delighted to help you with anything she can when that day comes,” he answered diplomatically. Aldingië was a land-dweller, much like their Vanyarin mother, and preferred to watch ships rather than sail them; Olwë was quite sure she would refuse to sail out with anyone – even her little sister.
“Are Atto and Raumo going to be home soon?” Nenya asked, staring across the waves that lapped against the stonework and trying to spot her father’s small fishing boat in the starlight.
“Most likely, little sea-bird; you may wait with me.” Olwë replied, picking up the netting he was repairing once more.
Taking off her leather shoes, Nenya stuck her bare feet in the water, splashing happily.
“I want to swim and find pearls!” Looking around, she gave him a cheeky smile, gesturing Olwë to lean in. “Artë said that if I get her five pearls, she will take me to uncle Ara’s library to look at the model ships!”
“You shouldn’t let Artë get you in trouble, Nenya,” Olwë replied sternly. “I know you just want to see the ships, but there are books in the library that aren’t meant for one your age.”
“Don’t tell!” she begged, looking up at him with her silver-flecked blue eyes and gripping his arm. “I’ll close my eyes if Artë says to look at the books, I promise!”
“Well, I won’t tell Eärwen if you don’t,” he offered with a wink, “but be mindful you keep your promise.” Nenya nodded solemnly, splashing her feet in the cool water.
Olwë hummed slowly; Nenya picked up the net too, her quick fingers checking the knots almost without looking; he knew it wouldn’t be long before she began pestering them about earning her sailor’s braids. Perhaps he should have a chat with Captain Maiwë – or perhaps he should take her out himself.
“Grandfather?” she asked a while later, interrupting Olwë’s musings.
“What is it, hínya?” Olwë asked softly.
“Are the Trees ever going to shine again?” Nenya asked, staring at the dark waters. “Ammë says we shouldn’t go pearl-diving without light… the stars aren’t enough.”
“I don’t know, little one,” Olwë sighed. “Finwë’s son Fëanáro may have created something that could be used to restore them, but I do not know if he will give them up. He is a prideful ner.”
“Fëanáro… that’s Artë’s other uncle, right?” she asked, frowning; she didn’t think she had ever met any of her cousin’s kin to that side, except the funny Ambarussa – there were two of them, but they were both Ambarussa, Artë said. Olwë nodded. Nenya sighed, kicking at the water. “I hope so,” she said, staring towards the small lantern bobbing on the waves, “I want to go swimming again.” Olwë laughed, ruffling her hair.
“The sea is in your blood, my sea-bird, there’s no doubt; you are one of Uinen’s children.” Nenya gave him a grin, jumping up and forgetting her shoes beside him in her haste to run towards the dock where Airendil’s small fishing vessel would be anchored. Olwë chuckled, following her nimble figure with his eyes. “One of Uinen’s children, indeed.”
A few days later, Nenya was down by the docks again, a lamp in her hands as she lit Atyaro’s path for him, helping him and Aireraumo unload the day’s catch from their small boat. Nenalassië laughed, jumping back with a chuckle when Aireraumo threatened to tag her with the cold fish he held, making the scales shimmer in the lamplight. Instead, she danced ahead of her family in time with the gently beating waves as they moved along the docks, the fish in a small barrow that Airendil pushed, whistling a tune.
The hum, a counterpoint to Aireraumo trying to convince her that they had seen a fish as big as their boat, cut off abruptly.
Nenya stopped dead, staring at the spectacle ahead, but by the time she thought to douse her lamp, Airendil had snatched it from her grasp and pushed her towards the gangplank of the nearest ship, a much larger vessel than their small fishing boat.
“Hide, Nenya!” he hissed, and the sudden fear she heard in his voice made her obey the command instantly. Wishing that her hair would remain under the blue kerchief she used to tie back the loose strands when she went to the boats, she scampered up the plank, dropping low behind the railing and peeking at the strangers. In the distance, grandfather was lit by flickering torch-flames giving his hair an unfamiliar red gleam. Patting her own hair for reassurance – the kerchief held, the small shells along the edge familiar bumps under her fingers.
The crowd of strangers scared her. Atyaro had joined them, fishing spear in hand, and Aireraumo flanked him as grandfather spoke words she could not hear. The dark-haired ellon she had never seen before but who looked a lot like King Finwë – was this Fëanáro come to restore the Trees? – gestured angrily. His body seemed covered in scales, like some of the depictions of Lady Uinen, the torches flickering across the… metal? At his side hung a long knife, though the blade was longer than any knife she had seen before.
When the first blade was bared, parting flesh as easily as Aireraumo could fillet a fish, Nenya screamed.
The sound was lost in the sudden outbreak of violence, making her close her eyes with a whimper, made her shield her ears from the sound of shouting and metal blades hitting metal and wood.
The command came through clearly, ringing in her head with the strength of Atyaro’s fëa, and Nenalassië could no more have disobeyed it than she could walk on water. Moving down into the hold of the big ship – Alphelos, Nenya thought – she hid behind a barrel of tar meant for mending leaks at sea, curling up small. The waves lapped at the hull at her back, familiar but not as soothing as the voice of Ulmo usually felt.
The wooden planks creaked overhead, muted shouting mingling with screams of pain like the time Calartamo had his hand crushed by a falling mast. The scream echoed in her head long after the throat that had uttered it had fallen silent.
The ship moved.
Lady of Seas, Lord of Waves, be kind to this lost Child of yours, she prayed, and grant me fair seas and the skills to roam them.
Nenalassië sang to herself, trying to keep her mind clear of the din above, praying wordlessly that Atyaro would come find her and take her home.
It was not Atyaro’s kind face she saw when a strong hand pulled her from her hiding place.
“It seems we’ve got a little water-rat aboard!” The pale-haired elf jeered, his face streaked with blood as he towed Nenya onto the deck. His grip was strong enough to bruise her wrist, and her cheek stung from where he’d struck her when she tried to fight him. “Should we throw you back to the sea – see if that will still Ossë’s rage?”
Nenya shook her head mutely, staring at the waves over his shoulder. Each one taller than the next, the fury of Ossë personified; the wind whipped off her kerchief and danced it away before she could snatch it.
“Release her.” Someone else said. He did not shout, but the tight pain in his voice was enough to make Nenya shiver and stumble when the hand obeyed him, flinging her forward to land on her knees. She stared up, the deck rolling beneath her. The ner stared back at her, dark brown eyes roaming her without seeing her, she thought, shivering beneath the cold gaze. His hand reached, snatching up a few of her locks, one gloved thumb running slowly over the strands. Nenya felt frozen, her heart beating rapidly.
“Curufin-” the ner behind her began, but a move of the darkhaired one’s free hand silenced his words.
“Silver…” he murmured, letting her hair fall from his fingers. The ship pitched, and Nenya fell sideways, hearing bodies around her hit the wooden planks, loud curses filing her ears. “You have her look, a little,” the ner called Curufin muttered. “But you are not.”
Nenya got to her feet, rolling with another swell of water.
“Curvo, none of us can sail in these conditions,” the blonde ner interrupted. “We must get ot the shallows, hug the coastline – even Atar-”
“No. We follow, as we swore to follow.” Curufin’s voice was clipped, and the fire in his eyes chilled her blood. “Too much… too much is lost to turn back now.”
“Do you want to follow Telperína?!” The other cried. Curufin’s laugh was as spine-chilling as the Void. “Uinen will take us! We cannot sail this.”
“I can.” The words surprised Nenya as much as they surprised her captors, both of them freezing for a moment. “I can steer Alphelos safely.” In theory, at least, she knew how, though she had never captained a vessel as grand as this without grandfather’s steady presence beside her or Atyaro’s calm pride behind her – and never with such inexperienced sailors.
“So we trust our lives – the lives of our people! – to someone who has no reason to aid us and every reason to do us harm?!”
“Tyelkormo!” Curufin thundered. “I am not throwing her over the side. If this be our death, brother, so it is her own!”
A wordless growl escaped Tyelkormo, his hand claw-like as it pressed into her shoulder. “So be it.” Bending, he whispered in Nenalassië’s ear, low enough his brother would not hear: “But if you give me cause, I shall slit your throat – even if it is the last thing I do upon the face of Arda.”
Nenalassië took the helm, tears rolling down her eyes to mingle with the stinging rain of the storm rising around them.
Checking the rigging and sails allowed Nenalassië to cry undetected, wondering whether, too far behind her to think about, her ammë and sister had escaped the fighting unharmed. Neither returned her cries with soothing ósanwë, and she had given up calling to Aunt Eärwen, cursing her own lack of practise with extended family.
There was supposed to be time for that.
Now there might never be a time that she would see her family again.
She tried not to remember the sight, covered by darkness but not well enough, of Aireraumo with a sword through his gut or Atyaro lying too still on the quay, the barrow of fish overturned beside him as he tried to stop the Noldori stealing onto the ship where she was hiding.
Looking down, her tears drying in the wind, Nenya thought the soldiers grim. Many of them suffered Ulmo's displeasure, having their guts out over the side of the beautiful ship, which was no more than they deserved, even after a month of sailing beneath the stars.
At first, she had been too scared of them, with their weapons and peculiar suits of armour, but they seemed less monstrous as time passed, more like normal people. They laughed, they cried, they were scared by the raging of Ossë’s fury – they were simply people, people who spoke like Artë sometimes did, who held each other at night… they were Elves, nothing less or more.
The thought made her more scared, somehow, the idea that they were no different from her own people - aside from their lack of sea-worthiness - haunting her mind when she tried to get a few hours of restless sleep. She didn't trust them not to throw her overboard while she slept, like the pale-haired one had threatened when she had been discovered, before another one of them had told him that she would be of more use sailing the ship than feeding the fish. She had nodded, scared almost beyond thought - she was young, yes, but she knew how, knew the sound of Ulmo's voice - and that had been the beginning of this harrowing journey east.
Beneath the waves, topped by Ossë’s foaming anger, she thought she spotted flashes of green like seaweed.
“Watch over me, Lady of the Deep,” Nenya whispered, “and tell grandfather not to fear for me… I am well, for now.”
Clambering down from the rigging, Nenya gestured silently to the ellon who had held on to the rope she had handed him without complaint. The sound of fabric unfurling made her captors look up – she hated all of them, but she would do her best to cross the sea safely, knowing her own life depended on it – cheering at the increase in speed. Well, Nenya didn't know if they felt it, but she could tell that their ship was moving faster, cutting through the waves with ease.
Jumping overboard hadn't been her initial plan, as it seemed the Noldor intended to return for more of their kin, but slowly their plan changed, and Nenya grew fearful, wondering what would happen to her if they no longer needed her to help sail. Many of them - the ones who gained sea-legs - knew how, now, and Nenya didn't trust the darkhaired 'Captain' who had spared her to remain amenable to her presence.
When she hit the water, the splash went unheard - diving into the sea like a knife through butter was one of the first things any Telerin elfling learned - and Nenya set off for the coast with practised ease, lamenting only that she had had to leave with little more than the dagger on her belt next to the small pouch of hooks and cord she could use for fishing. This new land – Beleriand – looked little different from the coast at home; Nenya firmly believed she would be able to catch enough fish to feed herself until she could figure out how to get back.
When she finally staggered onto the shore, she cast her eye further along the coast, horrified by the orange glow of fire.
The ships were burning; the work of her kinsmen ablaze.
Her own hand stopped her scream, but did nothing to still the tears that spilled down her cheeks at the thought that she had no way home now, no way of knowing if her family were still alive.
Nenya didn't know how long she remained on the shore, watching the fires, but eventually she turned her back on the embers and began to walk. She had no food, and no possessions beyond what she carried, but it made no difference.
Staying within sight of the embers of the once-beautiful ships hurt too much to bear.
Walking along the beach, she wept, the weight of her situation nearly enough to make her fall apart. There was no easy way home, no way back to her family – did any yet live? – no way back across the Sea. Across the sea...
Unbidden, a heartbreakingly familiar voice spoke, an old memory of a day long ago when she had found grandfather staring across the sea.
‘I have a brother across the Sea, little Nenya,’ Olwe murmured, patting the stone pier beside him. Nenya sat on the steps that led to the water, her bare feet splashing as he told her of the brother he had not seen in many years.
She would find Elwë and ask grandfather's brother for a ship to take her home!