They met in the twilight dawn of a new world, and for them the world thereafter would never be the same.
Elwë wandered the strand of the bay, moving through the mist that sometimes rolled in from the sea during the waking time. He liked the foggy, grey mist, which surrounded and enveloped him in a mantle of blissful solitude. He liked the feeling of being alone, for to be an Elf on the shores of Cuiviénen was to never be alone.
As a child, Elwë's parents had warned him about going off on his own. Rumors abounded of lone elves disappearing to what was feared to be a dark fate, and all the first-awakened could say was that the world, so beautiful beneath the stars, held at its core a seething anger which manifested in shadow and fear.
Elwë harkened to these tales, pensive but unbelieving. For none of his clan had ever disappeared into the mysterious dark, taken, it was said, by the Hunter, whose horn could be heard echoing in the mountains and forests beyond their settlement. Adventurous and inquisitive by nature, Elwë found himself drawn to the trumpeting of the horn and cries of beasts heard from a vast distance. He wanted to seek out the source of the sounds rather than shrink away as others did. In deference to his family he had never cast out on his own, never gone to the mountain alone, never wandered in the seclusion of darkness beneath the thick trees, though the desire to explore haunted his dreams.
He liked going to the bay, for the rolling surf sounded its own trumpet call, soothing somehow even when the wind and waves lashed the beach. Elwë felt within his heart an unnamable longing when he looked upon the blue waters of the sea, a living thing so vast his mind could not fathom its secrets.
Today, though he could not see the water, he could smell the salt and hear the waves slipping up and down the shore in their gentle, rhythmic way, and the sound brought him peace. He walked on; feeling the cool, damp sand beneath his bare toes, imagining he was the only elf on Arda, when suddenly ahead of him appeared a shape.
Elwë stopped, peering through the fog at the mist-cloaked figure ahead. Despite his natural fearlessness, he felt a momentary frisson of dread to be coming upon another lone figure so far from the settlement. He hesitated, watching as the form stooped, then rose and moved away into the mist. His curiosity besting him, Elwë followed and soon drew close enough to discern that he looked upon another elf, stooping over a small log washed up by the waves.
"Well met, Nowê," Elwë called, recognizing one of his clan, an Unbegotten who lived alone in a hut on the edge of the settlement.
Nowê rose and turned, peering through the mist in surprise. He smiled in greeting upon seeing a familiar face. "Well met... Elwë is it? What brings you to the bay so early, and alone?"
"One might ask the same of you," Elwë said with a smile, "but as for me, I like the solitude, and sound of the sea soothes my spirit."
"Indeed, I have often felt the same. Among my earliest memories are of the sounds of lake and river. There is a power in the water that calls to me."
"I feel it also, a power I do not understand but am drawn to, nonetheless." He paused as Nowê nodded in agreement then looked down at the driftwood at his feet. "Are you gathering firewood? Surely the wood that is borne by the waves is not good for kindling unless it is very dry."
"That is true, of course. No, I am not going to use it for firewood; I am studying it. I gather such wood for carvings I make."
"I see," Elwë said, though he was not sure he did. "Is this piece suitable for your purposes?"
Nowê stooped again over the chunk of wood. "Yes, I believe I can work with this, but it is large. Will you help me carry it home?"
"I will," Elwë said. He hefted one end of the small log and Nowê took the other and they walked back down the beach. By the time they reached Nowê's hut the fog had begun to clear and the stars shone brightly in the expanse of sky above.
"Do you not fear to wander the shore alone? My family feels a solitary elf is in danger of falling prey to the darkness," Elwë said.
"I fear nothing near the sea," Nowê replied, "but never would I go into the forest or mountains without a party of strong hunters."
Elwë smiled. "I feel as you do. I often come here to the shore alone, especially before the working time begins."
"It is a good time to think," Nowê agreed. He pushed open his door and the two carried the wood inside.
Elwë looked around and his jaw dropped to see the numerous carvings on floor to ceiling shelves that hugged the walls. There were also several larger pieces, too large for the shelves, which rested upon the floor, propped up by wooden frames. The carvings were intricate and oddly shaped, like a branch that had been hewn to make a trough. Yet these were no crudely carved bits of detritus but rather works of art, smooth and shining, with symbolic and stylistic forms adorning their outer surfaces. Elwë helped Nowê place the wood upon the table then went to the shelves and began to peruse the curious carvings.
"Did you make all these?" he asked.
"Yes, they represent my experiments with the bay's currents and wind."
"What sort of experiments?"
Nowê hesitated self-consciously then shrugged. "Call it folly, but I believe we may acquire the ability to travel upon the sea in vessels such as these one day."
"Travel upon the sea?" Elwë asked, excited by the thought. "How is that possible? Would not the weight of an elf cause such a vessel to sink? And what of the waves, would they not be more powerful further from the shore?"
"That is why I have been experimenting. With each design I learn something new that inspires a change or modification."
Elwë nodded. "I can see the progression of them." He pointed to the top shelf. "Here are your early designs," his hand trailed down, "and these are your most recent."
"You have a good eye. The one your hand rests upon is the one I finished twelve waking times past."
"It is truly beautiful, like nothing I have ever seen. Where do you test them?"
"In the bay. I am planning to test a new vessel early tomorrow. Would you care to join me?"
"It would give me great pleasure, Nowê. I thank you for asking me."
Nowê gave a slight bow. "And I thank you for your help, young Elwë It was most kind of you."
Elwë left, his thoughts on Nowê's carvings and the anticipation of seeing the small carved vessel navigate the waves of the bay. All through the working time and singing time his thoughts turned to the elf whose acquaintance he had never cultivated until today. As one of the Unbegotten, Nowê had no family, and it was rumored his wife had drowned in the very waters the Lindai had loved from their earliest memories.
Since then he had lived on the edge of the settlement, setting himself apart from the others. He was pleasant enough, and quite industrious, having developed many of the tools and methods the Elves used for building. Yet he did not often join the singing time, and many considered him unapproachable due to his brilliance and his distant manner. Now Elwë wondered if he had been missing out on a challenge in not getting to know him better all these years.
As the elves gathered for the singing time, Olwë noticed his brother's reserve. "What is wrong, Elwë? You have not spoken more than a few words since you went to the shore earlier."
"I suppose I am a bit distracted. How well do you know Nowê?"
Olwë quirked an eyebrow questioningly. "As well as any in Cuiviénen I suppose. Why do you ask?"
"I met him on the shores of the bay this morning, out alone. He was looking at a bit of wood washed up by the waves. A fascinating fellow he is. Do you know he thinks travel upon the water might be possible?"
Olwë shook his head. "I do not wish to gossip, but Nowê is often alone for a reason. You know what happened to his wife as well as I, and it is said he is not the same elf as before. What he proposes is folly. There is no vessel large enough to carry an elf on the waters of the sea, and even if there were, how would one control it?"
Elwë thought it over. "That I cannot say, but we do not know it is impossible for it has never been tested."
Olwë clapped his brother on the back sympathetically. "Every idea does not require a test to prove it unworkable. One day you will learn that, brother. I hope when you do the knowledge does not come dear."
"Yet an idea that is said to be unworkable is sometimes proven quite practicable when it is properly attempted," Elwë said, flashing his brother a smile so infectious Olwë could not help but return it with like munificence.
"You are right again brother, I shall hold my peace, though I warn you to caution where Nowê is concerned. He has been on these shores from the awakening but no one seems to know much about him and he often goes off on his own which, as you are well aware, is a dangerous thing."
Elwë's eyes lost their teasing gleam and he suppressed a sigh. "I will be cautious, Olwë, I promise," he said. Then the elves lifted their voices in song and no more was said.
The sleeping time found Elwë unable to quiet his restive thoughts, and before his family awakened he hastened to Nowê's hut, hoping his brother would not miss him until much later. While he was not particularly concerned with Olwë's warning, he did not want his brother to have a reason to speak with him again about Nowê until he had made up his mind for himself.
When he arrived, he hesitated, his hand poised to knock. Suppose Nowê was still abed? He might be angry at having his rest disturbed by an overeager elf. As he stood there at the door, trying to decide what to do, he heard a sound within. He knocked quickly and decisively and Nowê opened the door. He smiled when he saw Elwë standing there.
"Come in, come in," he said heartily. "I was just preparing breakfast. Will you join me?"
Elwë realized that, in his haste, he had not even brought a crust of bread for his waking meal. "That is most kind," he said as he entered the hut. "Forgive me for coming so early," he seated himself at the table, which still had the chunk of wood on it, "but I found myself quite taken with your designs. I was unable to sleep for thinking of your experiment this day."
"I do not mind at all, Elwë. It is not often I find someone with such interest in my craft."
As they ate Nowê told the younger elf of his studies of the winds and tides and his observations and tests of the buoyancy of various materials. Elwë listened in fascination, asking questions and adding his own ideas, which pleased his new friend greatly. When they had finished Nowê made to leave the hut but Elwë stayed him.
"Are you not taking the vessel you carved? I thought it was the one you were testing this cycle."
Nowê smiled, a gleam in his eye. "No, I have a different experiment in mind. I think it will be to your liking."
Elwë was curious but he could tell Nowê wanted to surprise him so did question him further.
When they arrived on the strand, Nowê went to a shelter of rocks and Elwë saw that a brace of branches and oilcloth covered an item within. He watched in amazement as Nowê tugged the wooden object loose, pulling it out onto the sand. It was a craft like his carvings, but large enough to bear an elf, no, several elves from the size of it. Long and sleek, the vessel was curved at both ends like a bow and had figures of fish painted upon the sides. It was as beautifully wrought as the smaller models and Elwë stood admiring it until he realized Nowê needed his assistance. Snapping out of his reverie, he hurried over to help and between the two of them they soon had the vessel moved down to where the waves met the shore. They paused and looked at each other, the air between them crackling with anticipation.
"Have you ever done this before?" Elwë asked breathlessly.
"Not at all. I have tested the waves with my small carvings and somewhat larger vessels, but never have I attempted a journey in one myself."
Elwë looked skeptical for the first time. "And how do you plan to control it?"
Nowê reached inside the vessel and held up two flat pieces of wood with handles attached that were a bit like an adze, only longer and straighter. "I can control it with these, but I believe it will take two to properly steer it," Nowê explained.
"So you only cultivated my acquaintance in order to lure me into participating in your experiment," Elwë said, crestfallen. "I thought you were kind enough to invite me so that I might see how your theories could be put into practice, not to join you in testing an untried vessel."
Nowê's face fell, and he ran his hand along the smooth side of his craft as he looked forlornly at Elwë. "I have put my theories into practice, and I know this will work. Forgive me, Elwë, I did not intend to mislead you. When we met yesterday and you showed interest in my work, I fear I quite let my joy overtake my reason. It has been a long time since I have had anyone with whom to share my ideas, and you are fearless, Elwë. Our people look to you as they do no other among us for your wisdom and bold heart. I thought you would be as eager as I to try this. Since you feel this way, however, I will make you a pact. If you forgive me for assuming too much, we will call off the trial and I will fetch one of my carvings to show you how the waves move them. But we must hurry, for the tide will soon be past its most advantageous level."
Elwë saw the sincerity and sadness in Nowê's eyes and felt sorrow for his hasty words. He had not considered how long Nowê had been alone and how he seemed to have no close confidant. He was interested in the vessels and wanted to see them in action. Here he had an opportunity to face a new and extraordinary experience. How could he turn back now?
He looked again at the vessel. It seemed sturdy enough, and Nowê assured him he had tested his smaller craft many times. He hesitated only a moment more before looking up at Nowê apologetically.
"You are right, of course, Nowê. It is I who questioned you, who showed up at your door unable to sleep in my eagerness to join your venture. I should not have doubted you so quickly. Tell me what to do and we will test your craft together."
Nowê gave him a smile so radiant it rivaled Helliun in its brightness. "I am glad you are willing to try this. Even if we fall in, I am a strong swimmer and, if you don't mind getting wet, I promise you will come to no harm."
"I believe I can hold my own," Elwë said, "but if not, I trust you will aid me."
It took both of them to get the vessel into the surf and themselves into the vessel but at last they set out upon waves in Nowê's creation. The small craft pitched and rolled upon the waves, which broke with fury over the steadfast bow and quickly filled the bottom with water, seeming about to capsize before it stabilized. Elwë clung to the sides as they traveled ever further from the shore, looking wide-eyed at Nowê, who seemed perfectly comfortable and at ease.
"Sit still and do not fear," Nowê urged as he took up one of the paddles and handed the other to Elwë. "We will be able to steer with these. Watch me and I will show you."
Nowê placed his paddle in the water and, moving it quickly from side to side, kept the craft on a rough course that used the natural current to keep the bow steady into the waves. Elwë tried his paddle in the same manner, catching on quickly to the motion and speed needed to steer. To the surprise of both, the waves grew calmer farther from shore and they were able to relax and let the design of the vessel do most of the work. They floated upon the sea until the makeshift shelter of rocks was but a small speck upon the shore.
They paused in their efforts as the vessel rolled gently on the waves, looking up at the stars and then out over the expanse of silver-blue water that reflected the stars' light, as the stiff breeze tugged at their hair and clothes. They gazed around, awestruck, each eventually finding his eyes drawn to the face of the other. Nowê stared at Elwë, seeing his own wonder and joy mirrored in the face of his new friend, while Elwë gazed upon him, delighted to see a reflection of the same sense of satisfaction and exhilaration that filled his breast.
"Did you know...?" Elwë stammered, "Did you imagine...?"
"No," Nowê said softly. "Nothing like this."
A moment of silence passed and then, to Elwë's surprise, Nowê lifted his voice in song:
"The rivers call, the waters fall,
And in the starlight gleaming
We lift our voices one and all,
The speakers leave their dreaming.
Upon these shores, beneath the sky
Aflame with silver light,
We sing the water's secret song
Of freedom and delight.
Forever shall we make our home
Near waters still and flowing.
Hearts like the sea in constancy,
Yet restless for the knowing."
His voice, so clear and pure, raised in a paean to the sea and sky, filled Elwë's heart to bursting with a bittersweet jubilation. He thought of the first Elves, singing their earliest songs beneath the stars, inventing the words and music they now all knew so well. How different the world was then. How different might it be by the time his children walked these shores.
"You have a beautiful voice, Nowê. Why do you so rarely join us in the singing time?"
"The old songs bring painful memories on occasion," he said. "I prefer to sing while working on my carvings, or on this," he said, gesturing to the vessel. "When the mood strikes me that is." His smile carried no trace of somberness or self-pity and Elwë was moved by his candid sincerity.
"You are a remarkable man, Nowê. I wish I had made your acquaintance sooner."
"I fear I do not make it easy for one to make my acquaintance," Nowê shrugged. "I am grateful you took the time to stop and speak with me yesterday."
Elwë looked up as a flock of seabirds wheeled overhead, their cries rising above the sound of the waves. "It is an experience in which I am heartily glad to have taken part."
Nowê beamed. "Perhaps, if you are willing, we may perform other tests in the days to come. Now that we have proved the method possible, there are some refinements I would like to make." As he spoke, his gaze drifted to the shore and his eyebrows knit together in concern. "But first we had better wrap up this outing. We have traveled rather farther than I expected."
Elwë turned around and, seeing how far they had come, swallowed hard. "Yes, it is time we returned."
They took up their paddles and tried to make their way back, but now the tide was against them and the going was difficult. After several exhausting tries, they were no closer to shore than when they had begun.
Finally, Elwë paused, panting. "What shall we do, Nowê? This does not seem to be working," he said, a hint of panic in his voice.
"Let me consider," Nowê said, looking at the waves with an analytical eye as Elwë tried to calm his growing unease. After a moment Nowê came up with the answer. "Let us move in parallel lines to the current... like this..."
He moved his paddle swiftly along the course he had suggested and when Elwë perceived his meaning, he followed suit and the craft began to come nearer to the shore. They were making good headway when a sudden wave crashed over the vessel and the two tumbled into the sea. They came up sputtering, just in time for another wave to crash over their heads, sending them spinning into the waters below.
Nowê surfaced, searching the churning water frantically. "Elwë!" he called, "Elwë!"
A few seconds later, Elwë broke the surface, shaking the water from his eyes as he bobbed in the rough surf. "I am all right, Nowê. That second wave disoriented me for a moment."
"Do you think you can make the shore?" Nowê asked, concerned.
"Yes, of course, but what about your vessel?"
They swam to the vessel, which floated upside down, and the two elves struggled for several minutes to right it, to no avail. Forced to abandon the craft they finally swam to shore, pulling themselves up on the beach, panting and gasping. They sat down beyond the waves, side by side, squeezing the water from their hair and clothing as they caught their breath. They turned to each other, disappointed, but then their eyes gleamed, then twinkled, and at almost the same moment they burst out laughing.
"That was more of an adventure than you expected, was it not?" Nowê asked.
"Yes, rather," Elwë agreed. "But it was amusing. I am only sorry we lost your vessel."
"The tides have a way of returning what is lost," Nowê said. For a moment his eyes lost their luster and he seemed to be looking far away, perhaps into the past. Then he returned to himself and looked at Elwë with determination. "If not, I will simply make another."
"And when you do, I will be here to try it with you," Elwë averred. "Just to be upon the water, to see the beauty of the sea as part of it and not as an observer from shore was worth the trying."
"You are brave, Elwë," Nowê said, "You will be most welcome on any of my future adventures. Now, let us go back to my hut and dry ourselves before the working time begins."
"That is a good idea. I would like to know more of this vessel we just tested. How you designed it and the tools you used."
"The tools and designs are simple enough, I will show you."
The two set out, and when they entered Nowê's hut he went to stoke the fire. They took off their wet clothing and Elwë laid them near the hearth to dry while Nowê brought blankets to keep the chill off while they waited. Nowê showed him the sketches of his designs and told him of the tools, which were no different than what the Elves were already using. The more they talked, the more Elwë came to realize he and Nowê shared a common spirit in many things, including an inner longing neither were able to assuage. Nowê had hidden himself away, working tirelessly on his craft, in an effort to keep others at a distance while he had yet to find his emotional center: that which would allow him to make the connection with another for which he yearned.
Eventually their conversation turned to matters of the colony and, finally, to family. Elwë talked of his parents and brothers, and Nowê spoke of his wife for the first time in countless years. Nowê told Elwë the story of his awakening with his wife at his side, of what it had been like to have no words, only the stars, the waters, and their love. He described her death: how she had slipped from the top of a high waterfall and tumbled into the churning waters where it entered the lake, drowning before he could reach her. His tears found their echo in the sadness in Elwë's gaze. Yet Nowê held no bitterness in his heart, for it was filled with love and sweet memories.
Elwë lifted his hand to brush a tear from Nowê's cheek and, as his fingers touched the fair, smooth skin, he felt a sudden impulse take him, and he leaned in to kiss Nowê's lips. Nowê returned the overture readily, his hand reaching to stroke Elwë's hair. Without thought or falter they cast aside their blankets and came together. What Elwë lacked in experience he made up for in daring, and Nowê, his need for contact overcoming his natural reserve, allowed Elwë to make love to him, reveled in the sensations of his touch, his lips, his warmth.
When they at last found their release it was with the softness of the rain upon the river, the joy of the wind through the trees. They lay with their limbs entwined, their silver hair pooled on the floor beneath them, and slept a peaceful, dreamless slumber.
Elwë awoke first and rose up on one elbow to watch Nowê sleep. His face looked so youthful and untroubled in the firelight that Elwë was moved to smooth back a strand of hair that had fallen over his brow. Elwë was amazed by the feelings that flooded him as he gazed upon his friend's face; he had never felt as close to another as he did right now.
Nowê's eyes fluttered open, a smile gracing his lips when he saw Elwë leaning over him.
"So it was not merely a dream," he said. "I feared to wake and find you had only been a mirage of my hope."
"And I feared you might be deterred by my boldness," Elwë replied.
Nowê ran his hand lightly over Elwë's smooth chest. "You may find this difficult to believe but I was known to be quite bold in my youth."
"So are you still, and yet wise," Elwë said. "But you have spent too much time on your own I think. Solitude is good for getting away from our troubles for a time, not hiding from them."
Nowê averted his eyes. "You are quite honest as well," he said softly. "My work has given me ease and purpose but it has distanced me from my people. I have never regretted this distance until I met you."
"There is no need to regret what we can change," Elwë said, kissing Nowê's cheek. "I fear I must go now before my brothers seek for me, but I will look for you at the singing time. Will you come?"
"I will consider it. But if I do not, will you come again tomorrow?"
"Every day if you will allow it."
Nowê beamed, "Then every day it is."
Elwë dressed, kissed Nowê, and left to join the working time. As he and Olwë worked together Elwë told him of his waking adventure. At first Olwë was disbelieving but when Elwë described in detail all that had happened, leaving out only the smell of wind-swept dunes he had scented in Nowê's hair, the salty taste of his lips, the ecstasy on his face as he had come undone beneath him. Olwë expressed interest in Nowê's vessels, and so Elwë promised his brother he would keep him apprised of the experiments and, when Nowê was ready, would share his results with the colony.
That night when the singing time came, Elwë was delighted to see Nowê take a seat before the fire with the rest and lift his voice in song. The others welcomed him warmly and Elwë's heart swelled to see the happiness on Nowê's beautiful face.
The next waking time Elwë visited Nowê again. They went to the bay and found the vessel had been washed in by the tide. He and Nowê pulled it from the water and assessed the damage, which was minimal. They then spent their few hours together in repairs and plans. As they worked, they discussed their time on the sea the previous day and the reverence they had felt upon the water.
"It was like being part of another world," Elwë said, "a world of power and majesty, but with a purity I do not always feel when I walk the fields and forests."
"That is because the fields and forests carry the stain of the Hunter. He has no power over the waters so we do not feel his influence there."
"So you believe the stories to be true?" Elwë asked.
"What else?" Nowê replied. "I have known elves who disappeared and no trace could be found. We have all heard the horn and seen the shadow over the stars."
"Perhaps you will think me strange but I have ever wanted to see the Hunter for myself, for I have always thought he would not announce his presence so plainly if he hunted our kind," Elwë said.
"You might be right," Nowê said, "but that is one mystery I am unwilling to explore."
For the next few cycles Elwë visited Nowê each waking time and the two quickly became fast friends. They sketched and carved and worked on Nowê's vessel while he made calculations and worked out why their maiden voyage had come to such an untimely end. In an effort to prevent any future problems, he began to study the abundant sea life, using nature's clues to make his craft more efficient. Observing how fish moved through the waves taught him that a tail was of great use for maneuvering, so he developed a rudder to steer his vessels. Observing the birds taught him the use of wings, and so he developed a great wing, which he called a sail, to mimic the way a bird's wing caught and used the wind.
Elwë invited Olwë to witness one of their trials and he came away so impressed that he insisted Elwë and Nowê share their experiments with the others. So one night, at the singing time, Nowê told the others and, with Elwë's help, convinced them to come to the sea and witness the sailing of his "ship" as he had come to call his vessel. Some were interested, and others thought it a waste of time, but many wanted to witness the ship in action.
The next waking time saw a throng of Lindai at the bay to witness the voyage of the strange new vessel. Elwë and Nowê boarded and set out, sailing to the mouth of the bay and back, to the cheers of the waiting Elves. When the elves saw the concept was sound, Nowê had many volunteers to help with the building. Soon the ships were being used for fishing in the bay. Ever restless for new experience, Elwë and Nowê began to explore and map parts of the coastline. Their expeditions were always equal parts science and pleasure as they collected specimens, sketched, and delighted in the wind in their hair, the movement of the waves beneath the ship bearing them to previously unexplored areas of the bay.
As Elwë's relationship with Nowê grew, so did his inquisitive, intrepid nature increase his influence among their clan until Elwë eventually became a leader of their people. As a result, Elwë and Nowê were unable to spend as much time together, and so relished every moment. One evening, they were out on the sea, the ship at anchor in a cove. They planned to go ashore upon the next cycle and study the tide pools. As the ship rocked gently to and fro, Elwë sketched the rocky shoreline and Nowê hummed a tune as he studied the positions of the stars.
"I am glad you were able to accompany me this cycle," Nowê said after a time. "It has been a long while since we have made an exploration."
"I am sorry my duties keep me so often at the colony. I would much rather be out here with you," Elwë replied, giving him an apologetic smile.
"Truth be told, I have so much help in my workshop these days, thanks to you, that I have rarely had time lately to make and test new designs," Nowê said.
"I am glad so many of our people have come to learn from you, Nowê. You are a patient and accomplished instructor. The young elves have come to love watching their elders work on the building and repair of your ships."
"None of this would have been possible without you, Elwë. I shall never forget that." Nowê went to sit beside him on the storage locker, looking over the sketch Elwë was drawing. "You have a good eye for detail and your sketches have proven quite useful You should bind them together so that none are lost."
Elwë considered this. "Another worthy idea, my friend. I shall work on a way to do that."
"The Nelyar have skill at such things. Perhaps you can find someone of their clan to help you," Nowê suggested.
"As soon as we return, I shall," Elwë replied. He stretched and set his drawing aside, looking up at the stars and then again to the shore. "Have you ever considered how fortunate we are to have such a world to explore? Even though we have been on these shores for generations, there is always something new to learn and discover. So do I wish this ever to be true for our people."
Nowê clasped Elwë's hand in his. "The depth of your wisdom still takes me by surprise at times," he said, captivated as always by his young friend. "Our people are fortunate indeed, but I count myself most fortunate to have you. So do I wish it ever to be true of us that we discover and learn all these new things together."
"And so we shall if fortune continues to abide with us," Elwë said, smiling.
Nowê felt moved to capture that smile for himself, and he took Elwë's lips in a tender yet resolute kiss. Elwë responded, trembling with emotion as he surrendered to the passionate heat flooding his fëa. They grappled briefly, in haste to remove the clothing that separated them, falling off the storage locker and onto the deck with a crash. Elwë lay beneath Nowê, basking in the pleasant pressure of the lithe, muscular body caressing him from chest to hips. He nipped playfully at Nowê's neck and Nowê, not to be outdone, countered by taking the tip of Elwë's ear between his teeth and teasing his tongue over the pointed rim. Elwë moaned and bit his lip, nearly coming undone by the rush of flame that arced through his loins. He clutched Nowê's arms, writhing upon the rough wood of the deck, spreading his legs to bring Nowê's arousal into contact with his own.
Nowê moaned softly and relinquished his prize, his fingers gliding down Elwë's chest and belly to find a new one. Elwë gasped and fell into a gentle, rocking rhythm with the rolling of the ship and Nowê's nimble hand. He tried to last, to exert control, but Nowê urged him gently yet firmly to his release. Elwë came with a groan, reaching to stroke Nowê's face as he returned to himself.
Their eyes locked, and the emotion that passed between them in that instant was beyond the need of words, beyond the magic that words could affect. Nowê used Elwë's essence to prepare him, taking him to the music of the waves lapping at the hull, the cadence of the swaying ship. They made love for an inestimable time as Elwë's arousal slowly flourished under Nowê's skilled attentions. Perfectly in tune with each other, they came at the same instant. Then, in the fullness of their completion, they lay in a tangle beneath the glittering stars and slept.
They awoke upon the next cycle and spent most of it exploring the shore and collecting specimens. All too soon it was time to depart and they sailed back along the bay, docking at the pier Elwë had designed and helped erect. They disembarked and returned to the colony just as the singing time was beginning. They sat together listening to the singers, leaning against each other in dreamy silence.
Suddenly, the beautiful voices were drowned out by the sound of thunder. Many looked at the cloudless sky in confusion but others looked around in fear, realizing the sound was coming from afar and drawing nearer. Some huddled together and others fled in terror as a great white beast leapt into their midst, its massive feet striking sparks from the ground. Upon its back sat a creature unlike any the elves had ever seen. His appearance was almost as that of an Elf but he was taller than any of the colony and carried both sword and bow. Most frightening of all, however, was the golden horn at his belt. The Hunter!
As the Hunter dismounted, Elwë rose to go to him, but he was stayed by Nowê's hand upon his arm.
"Elwë, do not!" Nowê said urgently. "He will take you. I can feel it!"
Elwë turned to him, briefly confused by his words. Then understanding struck him. "No, he is not like that. I have waited for this moment without even knowing I waited. I must go."
He pulled away and Nowê held his breath as Elwë approached the stranger. The Hunter was tall, at least a head and a half taller than Elwë, with broad shoulders, muscular limbs and the clearest, most piercing eyes Nowê had ever seen. Elwë walked right up to him, awestruck, and the Hunter gazed upon him, equally amazed.
"You have awakened," the stranger said. "Long have we awaited that which was foreseen, and now I find you here, singing and living and thriving beneath the stars created by Varda for your coming."
Elwë did not comprehend the stranger's meaning, but he saw a light upon his countenance that outshone every star in the sky; a light of such beauty and clarity that all other light was as shadow before its brilliance. Elwë felt at tug at his heart, a longing to gaze upon the light reflected in this elf's face.
"Our awakening occurred generations ago, according to the reckoning of our people. What clan are you from and where did you awaken?" Elwë asked.
"I am called Oromë among the Valar, we who serve Eru, the One. It was Eru who showed us your awakening in the music that brought forth all things," Oromë said. "Long have the Valar anticipated and readied the lands for your coming. Only the hour was unknown to us." At the mention of music, the Elves who remained within the gathering place, Nowê among them, drew closer to hear Oromë's tale as he told them the story of the Valar. He spoke of a far off land called Aman where his people lived and created all that the Elves perceived to be the world. He told them also of the darkness, of a black enemy who hated what he could not control. He told of how this enemy set loose the fell beasts and how he hunted them with Nahar, his mighty horse, flushing them from their lairs with the sound of Valaróma, his hunting horn.
When Oromë had finished his tale, the elves appealed to him to abide with them and tell them more of the Valar, which Oromë happily agreed to do. Elwë and some of the others tarried to talk with the Hunter long past the sleeping time. When Elwë finally noticed that Nowê had departed, he took his leave and went looking for his friend.
He found Nowê in his hut, staring into the fire with a thoughtful look.
"What is wrong?" he asked. "Did you not hear what the Hunter said? We are not alone, and there is much more to the world than we ever imagined or expected."
"I heard, but his words trouble my heart instead of easing it," Nowê said. "It is the wish of a child to desire things to remain ever as they are, but that is what I wished for us."
"Nothing has changed, Nowê. In fact, Oromë's coming opens the world for our kind; it does not diminish it."
"You are wise in many ways, my friend, but I fear you are as a youth in this. My heart tells me that our days upon these shores are fleeting with the Hunter's coming."
Elwë smiled gently. "Would it be such a bad thing to see this Aman, to walk within the light of the trees he told us of?"
"Only if I can make that walk with you," Nowê said.
"You shall, Nowê, and so shall all our people one day. Oromë said he will tell his clan of our awakening and they will show us works of such wonder they will dazzle our senses. When the time comes for this, if ever it does, you and I shall see these sights and walk these paths together."
Elwë knelt before Nowê and leaned his head upon his chest. Nowê stroked his hair and bestowed a kiss upon his brow. "I promise you this, Elwë, whatever this Hunter's clan has planned for us, whatever lands or seas we may travel, I will always be there for you, either at your side or waiting on the shore for your return."
"And I promise you we shall never be parted for long and to you will I always return, my friend," Elwë said.
They embraced as the fire bathed them in its golden light, and their shadows hung upon the wall behind them like a cloud that covers the stars.