He awoke to tree-light - dappled silver, steadily rising gold - reflected across the walls of his bedroom, flickering across the deep green drapes of his bed. He could hear the song of birds, sitting in trees opposite his window, and above it the sounds of the household as they broke their fast in the great hall below stairs: his parents, their apprentices, fellow artisans come for a day or a week, his brothers. Reclining still for a moment or two, he listened to the sound of raised voices, and of laughter; of meals being asked for and passed around; fire in one or two of the hearths, though it was late spring, to ward off some of the early morning chill; drinks being poured, cutlery clinking.
Having risen and splashed some cool water on his face, Tyelkormo drifted down to the common hall. His parents, both early risers and no lovers of idleness, had already gone to their workshops, and their apprentices, who might have lingered longer, were hastily polishing off their own food. Although (judging by the noise) the hall had been bustling minutes before, only a few remained now - his brothers, really. Even little Atarinkë was slipping out, no doubt to join their father in his smithy, raising one hand to greet Tyelkormo even as he popped one last large mouthful of bread into his mouth. Tyelkormo watched him go, then sank into a chair beside his brothers.
"Were we ever as eager to go to the workshop as Atarinkë seems to be?" he wondered aloud.
"Good morning to you, brother," Maitimo said, in a tone of pointed courtesy. (Tyelkormo mumbled a greeting in answer.) "I think Makalaurë was very eager, for a week or two. Weren't you?"
Makalaurë nodded absent-mindedly. His fingers tapped to some unheard tune on the side of the table. Maitimo went on.
"And I'm sure I managed to work up some enthusiasm, for our parents' sake, for a few years."
"Yes, yes," Tyelkormo said, buttering a slice of bread. "Forget I asked. Carnistir probably was very enthusiastic as well, in the hour or so before he broke everything in Father's workshop."
Carnistir raised his eyes and glared at him, dark brows knitted. Tyelkormo smiled. Maitimo tutted.
"At least," he said, "Carnistir isn't the last one to rise."
"No, I am," said Tyelkormo. He took a mouthful of buttered bread. "But then again I'm much quicker than him afterwards, so things are even."
This time Carnistir did not glare, and merely rolled his eyes. Tyelkormo even thought he'd perceived a similar flutter of exasperation - if perfectly restrained - from Maitimo. He ignored them both, and went on eating. Then he rose, quickly and fluidly, from the table.
"I think," he said (the idea taking shape even as he moved, as usual with him), "I think I'll go riding today."
"To Tirion?" Maitimo asked.
"No. The woods. Come with me?"
"I can't," said Maitimo. "Grandfather asked me to come to the palace. Some urgent matter."
Nelyafinwë - of them all, their paternal grandfather's true inheritor. Their father had no taste for ruling (only for making sure that his half-brothers did not either). Tyelkormo turned to his other brothers.
But Makalaurë's gaze was almost totally blank. It said: You're not a melody, are you? and lost interest immediately.
His brother shrugged.
"I'd only slow you down."
So he went to the woods alone. Had he gone with one of his brothers, he might have taken a different paths. To annoy or not to annoy a brother: that seemed to be the full, innocuous scope of his choices. Not that such matters, when it came to his father and uncles, did not sometimes assume rather more importance...
An ordinary morning in the house of Fëanaro and Nerdanel - not a day for meeting gods. But then this was Valinor. He had not quite realised, then, how extraordinary that land was; he had seen too little of it, only parts of a well-tended garden, too well-tended for his tastes, too small already. There had been things there he would come to miss only after years, decades of exile; birds and beasts and trees that had existed only in Valinor, and that once in Middle-earth he would never see again in life.
He rode through the woods in Laurelin's light, a perfection of gold and green. In their tongue, the words ‘bright' and ‘green' had once been the same. It might have become harder to explain, but here, you did not need to be a poet like Makalaurë, or a lambëngolmo, to know why. Where there was not shadow, there was light as green as a tree, as gold as song; the air itself was as light and fresh as a new leaf. There were birds singing, and beasts scurrying between branches; Tyelkormo was aware of them, but he bore the no ill will, felt no desire to reach for his bow, or give the chase. He merely rode, all senses given up to the wood.
He came upon the man by chance, and would in fact almost have ridden him over, had he not happened to glance down at that very moment, as his horse nickered and stopped. Then Tyelkormo saw him: a man, lying among the grass with his head at the foot of a large tree, absolutely still. No wonder Tyelkormo had not seen him: his hair, of variegated light brown and deep gold, and his tawny skin, were the colour of earth and wood, and he was clad in green garments. His face was expressionless, and perfectly delineated - almost troubling in its perfection, in fact, as if crafted deliberately by art, and not natural. He did not move, or appear to wake, not even when Tyelkormo leapt lightly down his horse and walked by his side.
Was there something wrong with the man? He seemed to be utterly in his place, and yet - too still, far too still. Something about him reminded Tyelkormo of the dead beasts he had sometimes seen (and - but conscious memory came later - of his paternal grandmother, whose well-tended, unaltered body he had seen once only). He knelt by the man's side, and shook his shoulder.
There was no response. The body moved lightly under his touch, as a suit of clothes, discarded by its owner, might. Tyelkormo, laying a hand on his chest, could feel no breath. He reached for the bare skin at the man's throat, touched a patch of tawny, warm skin where an artery must be...
The man's eyes flew open. They were of a startling shade of green. More startling still was the quickness of his motion: in a moment he had shaken off Tyelkormo's hand, then risen in a single movement, swifter than Tyelkormo's eyes could follow. Tyelkormo rose as well - sluggish by comparison, hardly worth his name.
"Are you alright?" Tyelkormo said weakly. "I thought you were ill, or..." - dead. But he did not say it: it sounded silly, even to his ears, now that the man stood looking at him, seeming so perfectly awake, aware, alive - yes, with his bright green, luminous eyes, more alive than anyone Tyelkormo had yet seen. But silent: his eyes looked and searched, but revealed nothing.
Then, suddenly, the man turned and strode away.
"Hey!" Tyelkormo shouted. It felt unfair - to be left like that, faintly embarrassed (when he shouldn't be), without an explanation, without even a name - and the man was going away swiftly now, lithe and strong as a birch, almost like a birch himself, but swift and quiet, and vanishing, one of so many trees... Tyelkormo cried out again: "You're in our woods!"
Our woods, our woods, ourwoods, the trees echoed. An empty boast: they weren't. Not even Finwë owned them; they were near their house, that was all he meant. But a voice seemed to answer this time, save that it was not a voice, it was not even words, not a murmur, barely sounds, of running water and rustling leaves and chirping birds, that said without saying:
But I am the woods.
He went home. Trees thinned as he rode on; his horse found a path, and the path turned into a wide, sandy road, one that went through the woods and along the sea-shore to Alqualondë. But he turned back towards Tirion: looking up, he could see Tuna rising hugely above the treetops, with its streets and houses... He could even imagine the noise of the city, bustling gaily beneath the Mindon Eldaliéva. But before that, outside the city itself, was his parents' house, which they had built themselves when they had left their own homes.
On the way he met people on carts, on foot, on horses, travelling away from Tirion. Some, he saw, were in fact leaving his parents' house - these greeted him, and he greeted them back, though it felt strange, after the deep silence of the house... Already the image of the stranger in the woods was receding from his mind, just as the man himself had slipped away from him between the trees, but the encounter itself he could not forget.
Turning into a side road and riding for a little while more, he reached the house at last: first the wilder part of the gardens, melting out almost imperceptibly from the woods, then more carefully tended places, and then the main courtyard: their house, and on either side, stables and workshops. In the centre of the yard was yet another small garden, which their mother had designed, a thing as much of stone and metal as of leaf and root: benches and ornamental pools, bushes of sweet-smelling flowers and cooking herbs, statues and fountains.
She had made the garden and loved it more than most other parts of the house, so Tyelkormo was not surprised to find his mother there when he came back, having left his horse in his stables. Nerdanel was sitting near the central fountain, holding court, as it were, among her adoring apprentices - though she had little love for ruling other workers (as her own parents did), she was a good teacher, and much sought after. Carnistir and Makalaurë were there as well, sitting by her side.
He went to her, and kissed her cheek. Her hair, brown and burning copper in Laurelin's light, smelled of smoke, metal, heat - the smell of his parents, the most comforting he knew, for all his love of the wild. She smiled up at him, shading her eyes with a soot-stained hand.
"Back so soon, Tyelkormo? Your brothers said you weren't coming back until evening."
"That's what we thought," Makalaurë said. Whatever elusive tune had bothered him before he must have captured: his eyes were clear, laughing. His silver harp rested against his knees. "We thought you'd be gone off on your adventures for days, weeks-"
("We hoped for it, really," Carnistir added. "Hush," Nerdanel said.)
"-I was preparing to sing ballads about you..." Makalaurë went on, taking his harp.
"Sorry to disappoint," Tyelkormo said. "I met someone, by chance."
"Did you? Who?" Nerdanel asked.
"I don't know. It felt very... very strange."
"Ah," said Makalaurë. "A love ballad then."
"What did she look like? Eyes the colour of the sky, hair as dark as smoke? as gold?"
"I refuse to sing about carpentry. Better fall out of love with that stranger."
"I hadn't- oh, shut up."
"What was so strange, Tyelkormo?" Nerdanel asked.
"I don't know. At first I thought he was ill, you see. He wasn't, but then he didn't look... like us. No, he did. Yet there was something about him..."
Something. Already he found it hard to define what had been so odd about the man: a flickering of something un-elven in his eyes, strength and quickness he'd never seen before. Or had he simply not expected it? And that voice... but he had dreamed that voice, had he not? He found it hard to believe in strange things, in wild things beyond his comprehension - not here, not in the middle of his house, with Carnistir squinting up at him and Makalaurë making fun of him...
When Tyelkormo opened his eyes the air was full of a rustling, flickering light. Silver and shadow: Telperion's half light, the shimmer of leaves shivering in the wind, of dappled glimmers.
The man was standing near the end of his bed. He too was silver and dark, and leaves were in his hair. His eyes shone in the darkness.
Tyelkormo threw back the covers and rose. By then the man had moved, and stood closer to the window. Tyelkormo stepped forward, and then knew that the man was outside. He leant out of the window, and there, in the courtyard, was the man, and soon Tyelkormo was there as well, and the man was walking through the garden, and Tyelkormo was following.
They were in the woods. Tyelkormo heard the baying of hounds, and the sound of a horn, deep and loud and distant. Then the man was there, closer than ever. Tyelkormo reached out to touch him. His hand was almost upon him, yearning...
When Tyelkormo opened his eyes, he was in his bedroom again. The air was full of light: flickering silver, steady gold. Morning.