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Youngest Son  by Bodkin

Youngest Son

Finarfin meandered aimlessly along the dunes, humming contentedly in tune with the salt breeze and the stiffly rustling grasses.  Much as he loved his home and family, he had to admit that he enjoyed being treated as someone in his own right – someone with his own opinion, someone who was not just the youngest and least important of Finwë’s three sons. 

And there was something about the sea.  It had a freshness and a freedom that seemed to fill the hearts of those who dwelt within its scent.

He paused, pearly grains rolling to bury his toes in the warm sand, to admire the white spray and the ruffled blue of the water.  Out on the bay white-sailed ships tacked across the horizon, while Laurelin’s golden light sparkled on the rolling waves.  Closer to the shore rainbow-gleaming fish leapt into the air, flicking their tails before diving back into the element that was their natural home, as if to tease the spear-wielding fishers, whose small boats studded the patch of shallow water in the lee of the headland like mushrooms in a meadow.

The tall young elf combed his fingers over his ear to hold his hair out of his eyes and turned his attention to those splashing in the shallows.  Elflings, mainly.  Old enough to amuse themselves once they had been liberated from their lessons, they ran and played in the surf under the casual supervision of a few older siblings.  Finarfin suppressed a faint feeling of envy.  His own adolescence in his atar’s court had been so much more controlled that, even now, he felt guilty for enjoying the day quite so light-heartedly – and half-expected a reproving tutor to arrive seeking him out to attend to his studies.

One of the older sisters called out to a wild ellon diving through the breakers almost as elegantly as one of the dolphins playing in the bay.  Her voice was whipped away across the water, but his eyes lingered on the long legs and tangled silver hair of this elleth of the Teleri.  She was … so beautiful that he forgot to breath when she was near him.  And she appeared to have no idea that he existed.  He stilled, gazing at the slender maiden to whom the glory of the bay was a mere accompaniment.

‘He is back.’  One of Eärwen’s companions remarked. 

‘I would doubt that he knows how to speak,’ Eärwen murmured mischievously, ‘had I not heard him in grave conversation with my atar on the subject of transporting dull cargoes of metal ores – and barrels of salted fish.’

‘He is very handsome,’ another elleth sighed.

‘He has a big nose,’ Eärwen said critically, ‘and a sharp chin.  And he is rather scrawny – you can see he has not worked his muscles hauling on halyards in a high sea.  I doubt you would admire him so much were he not Lord Finwë’s son.’

Vandariel giggled.  ‘You like him,’ she declared.  ‘You cannot fool us.’ She rolled over in the sand to inspect the lean figure standing looking towards the sea.  ‘How are you going to encourage him to overcome his nerves?’

‘I am not,’ Eärwen retaliated.  ‘If he cannot summon the courage to speak to me, he is clearly not worth my attention.’

The sounds of the younger elves whooping their excitement arrived fitfully between gusts of wind, but the ellyth remained sceptically silent in response to Eärwen’s assertion.  After a few uncomfortable moments, she stood and turned her back on the watcher.  ‘I am going to paddle,’ she said, determinedly casual, ‘and make sure that Salmar is not being any more stupid than usual.’ 

‘Good idea.’  Sisila winked at their friends.  ‘I am sure that will make Lord Finarfin admire the view even more.  I might even come with you.  After all, my brother needs just as much supervision as yours.’  The elleth opened her eyes innocently at Eärwen’s frown.  ‘Come on,’ she grinned, ‘The last one to the water has to ask him to dance tonight,’ and she leapt into a graceful lope across the soft sand that suggested she had no intention of being caught before she reached the edge of the tide.

Eärwen gave an almost-convincing choke of indignation and hared off in immediate pursuit.

‘His hair is beautiful,’ Vandariel sighed, ‘and his eyes …’ Her voice trailed away dreamily.

‘Do not bother.’  An elleth like enough to her to be her sister stretched out a sand-covered foot to prod the romantic.  ‘His heart is claimed – and so is hers, whether they have acknowledged it or not. You do not stand a chance with him.  Find someone else over whom you can drool.’

How old might she be, Finarfin considered, admiring the way her pale-blue dress clung to her as she splashed at the point where the water reached out to the land.  The tide's edge rippled round her ankles and caressed her calves teasingly.  Old enough, he thought – but still he could not be sure whether Olwë would welcome his courtship of her.  The King of the Teleri might well be reluctant to have his only daughter depart the white shores to dwell with a Noldo in staid Tirion, leaving her parents only with their bevy of boisterous sons.  Yet they could not, could they, expect her to remain unsought?  He sighed and watched as she ventured up to her knees in the salt water, her kilted-up skirt trailing behind her, turning a darker blue as it absorbed the moisture.

It was a moment or two before he realised that the urgency of the two ellyth had to do with more than playing in the ocean.

The rolling wave broke against Eärwen, sending up a splash like a warning banner as she pushed through to dive into the trough behind it.

Sisila’s screech echoed along the beach with the aching horror of a gull’s cry, scattering the resting ellyth to instant action.

The watcher did not even realise that he had responded to the shriek until his feet sprayed into the shallows.  He slowed, his eyes searching for her silver hair, desperate to discover her in the constant confusion of the water.  He waded deeper against the push and drag of the waves.


Sisila grabbed a reaching hand and pulled.  He joined her, his additional height helping them keep their feet as they drew both Eärwen and the ellon in her grasp towards the dry sand.

‘Help me turn him,’ Eärwen demanded.  ‘He has inhaled too much water and …’

The ellon’s blood spread through the pool beneath his head like the branches of a tree reaching towards the light. 

‘It is not a bad wound,’ Finarfin said, stripping off his tunic to use the soft fabric of his shirt to staunch the bleeding.  ‘Head wounds always bleed freely – and,’ he added confidently as he felt the swelling beneath it, ‘it is the toughest part of the skull.’

‘I never doubted that Salmar’s head would be hard to crack,’ Eärwen told him with anxious sharpness.  ‘It is doubtless solid bone.’

‘But even he cannot breathe water.’  Finarfin glanced up at her.  ‘He owes you his gratitude, my lady.’  His smile faded as his eyes met hers and he stared transfixed until she turned away, her face oddly pale.  He looked back swiftly at Olwë’s youngest son as the ellon coughed out the salt water he had swallowed.  ‘You are most fortunate in your sister,’ he observed.

Salmar spat again.  ‘So some say,’ he said.  ‘I am not so sure.’ He scowled at Eärwen.  ‘You did not need to pull me out of the water by my hair.’

‘My apologies,’ she told him.  ‘You did not need to crack your head open on a chunk of driftwood.’

Several of the ellyn who had followed to see what had become of their friend began to laugh.  ‘Oh yes, he did!’ one of them jeered, clearly relieved to see his friend recover.

There was little point in continuing to provide entertainment for their young audience, Finarfin decided.   ‘Shall I carry your brother home, Lady Eärwen?’ he enquired politely.  ‘I daresay you would like to have a healer look at the injury.’

‘This way,’ she said briefly, taking the lead, sparing her friends no more than a warning glance as she passed them and pretending not to hear a whisper of ‘more muscled than he looked’.   Eärwen was annoyed to find herself blushing, and vowed silently that she would make Vandariel pay for the embarrassment – hoping that, if Finarfin had caught the words, he had not understood their significance.

It was as well, Finarfin decided as he began to follow her silver head up the bluff, that Eärwen’s brother was heavier than he looked.  Somehow, although the distraction provided by the elleth in her wet gown was enchanting, it was also … more than a little uncomfortable.  The blue fabric not only clung rather more closely to her form than her mother would have liked, it showed a distressing translucency.  And Eärwen’s complete ignorance of the fact somehow made it far more enticing than it should have been.  He paused briefly to catch his breath, only to notice Salmar’s sea-grey eyes fixed on his face accusingly.  He raised a repressive eyebrow.  Brothers, he could deal with.  He had two rather intimidating ones of his own – and several nephews who could subdue strangers into submission with a stare.

‘Can I help you?’ he asked.

Salmar grinned unexpectedly.  ‘I can walk,’ he suggested.  ‘You do not need to show her how amazingly wonderful you are – she is already hooked.’

Finarfin laughed.  ‘You have banged your head,’ he said, feeling surprisingly light-hearted.  ‘You get carried until the healers say that your brains are not addled.’  He glanced at the ellon.  ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘the rescue party is doubtless already on its way.  I would look pretty feeble if I gave up now.’

Ahead of them, Eärwen dimpled.  However reserved Finarfin seemed around ellyth, he clearly did not feel in the least self-conscious around their brothers – and that was definitely a good thing, for hers had seen off several more sensitive suitors.  Now all she had to do was to convince him that she would not be averse to receiving his attentions.  On the contrary.  She would be deeply relieved to have him speak before he had to return to Tirion and face all the designing minxes who dwelt at Lord Finwë’s court.

She stepped to one side and waited for the tall Noldo to join her at the top of the steep path.  ‘How is he?’ she asked, leaning over her brother and looking at the jagged gash still oozing sticky blood.  ‘He looks very pale.’

‘I am fine,’ Salmar told her indignantly.  ‘Stop fussing.’

‘I will not be the one fussing,’ she said dryly, her eyes drawn irresistibly to the elf carrying her brother.  ‘I will leave that to our amil – who will doubtless be very concerned about the peril in which her baby has been.’  She snatched her gaze away and turned towards the white houses overlooking the water.  ‘Are you all right with him, Lord Finarfin?’ she asked.  She was irritated to note that she sounded far too cool and disinterested and tried to infuse her voice with rather more warmth.  ‘I know only too well what a pest Salmar can be.’

‘I think I will survive him,’ Finarfin said with a smile that made her bones melt.  ‘I have been a younger brother myself and know well enough how to make older siblings suffer.’  He started to move towards the buildings and Eärwen fell in beside him, tendrils of her drying hair blown by the breeze to brush against his bare arm.  He shivered – a reaction that had nothing to do with the freshness of the air as the light of golden Laurelin began to yield to silver Telperion.  Her presence felt – right.  ‘Would you dance with me tonight?’ he blurted out, the words emerging without conscious thought.

Eärwen smiled.  Perhaps Salmar was less of a nuisance than she had thought.

‘She will,’ her brother declared, not waiting for her to respond.  ‘And she will then take you off to the gardens to see the roses – and offer you every opportunity,’ he said slyly, ‘to express your admiration for her.  Just make sure you avoid the garlic mussels beforehand.’

And perhaps, she decided, trying to control her desire to slap the injured ellon, he was even worse.

The breeze cooled her cheeks as Finarfin answered and his words warmed her heart.  ‘A single evening would not be anywhere near long enough for me to express my admiration,’ he said.  His sparkling eyes settled on her and Eärwen found herself turning towards him.  ‘I hope to spend many ennin attempting to convey that to her.’

Eärwen ignored her brother’s snort with a skill developed by considerable practice at disregarding inconvenient siblings.  ‘And I look forward to spending many ennin listening to your words,’ she promised.

The two gazed at each other, the ellon between them forgotten.  Salmar groaned.  ‘I am feeling nauseous,’ he declared.  ‘Either put me down or take me home before I become ill.’

Finarfin looked away with difficulty and focused on the ellon.  ‘I owe you,’ he said cheerfully.  ‘Your sister might still want to make you suffer, but I am grateful.’  He frowned – it was almost as if there were two ellyn in his arms, one a good deal older than this one, yet not so very different.  ‘You want to be careful,’ he told Salmar, compelled, without understanding why, to voice a warning.  ‘She will not always be there to fish you out of trouble.’

‘If I am lucky,’ Salmar said with disgust.

‘No,’ Finarfin contradicted him, ‘if I am lucky.’

The sound of voices alerted them to the approach of a rather panic-stricken group, whose pace slowed when they saw the three at the top of the bluff.  Salmar raised a hand in greeting and the tall elleth leading the group faltered, her face paling with relief, as if some nightmare into which she had fallen had suddenly faded in the light of reality. 

‘Come on,’ Finarfin said, glancing from the ellon to his sister.  ‘Let us take you home.’  He shifted his grip to hold Salmar more easily and, without any further delay, bore him safely to his mother. He drew a deep breath as he surrendered Salmar into the care of his family and stood back.

As Telperion turned the water silver, the wind changed and a soft breeze blew off the sea, singing of the endless renewal of the tides and the relentless erosion of barriers, bringing with it the aching cries of a thousand homecoming birds seeking their refuges in the rugged cliffs.   Varda’s stars glimmered in the darkening blue of the sky and, just for an instant, the Noldo felt bereft, as if this were an ending instead of a beginning.  But Eärwen looked up and smiled and stepped towards him, stretching out a hand to draw him into her family, and the fleeting moment of intuition passed, the shadows blew away and all was well.




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