1. Niben's Tale
Carefully, lovingly, she scratched its head. “Tell him, little one,” she whispered. “Fly across the sea and let him know.”
The sparrow chirped and cocked its head. Then it spread its wings and rose above her head, still chattering merrily. Yavanna watched the little bird until it rose higher and flew towards the sea.
For three days Niben, the sparrow, flew eastwards. The journey might have been faster but, every now and then, something caught his eye; a butterfly, a sunbeam dancing on a tree’s leaves or a gathering of finches singing praise to the rising sun. Niben momentarily stopped his journey to chase flies and catch a careless worm, or add his own chirping to the finches’ choir, much to their annoyance. Then Yavanna’s words echoed in his mind and he took off again, towards the sea.
Perched on the branches of a pine-tree on the cliffs over the shore, the sparrow gazed at the sea, his little heart fluttering frantically inside his chest. Niben had never seen so much water in his young life. How could he ever survive such a journey? Where would he find food and a place to rest his wings at night? His heart filled with sorrow and his chirping stopped at the thought he would fail the Lady. Then a fat fly buzzed somewhere beneath, the little bird forgot his troubles and swooped downwards, after his lunch.
The chase led the sparrow to a remote part of the shore, where strange mammals sunned their bellies, lying languidly on flat rocks. The little bird gazed at them with great interest. Never in his young had Niben seen such creatures before.
One of them rolled over, yawned and stared at the sparrow, rubbing his whiskers with his left fore flipper. “Well? Was there something you wanted, bird?”
The sparrow flew closer. “I have never seen a creature such as you,” Niben chirped, excitement colouring his trills. “What are you? Would you eat me? Can you swim? If you won’t eat me, will you help me across the water?”
“I am Gaeronnen, a seal of Alqualondë, and feathered critters like you are definitely not my favourite meal,” replied the seal, a hint of annoyance in his voice. “Are you always so talkative, little bird?” Gaeronnen rolled over and scratched his back on the rough rock surface. “Calm down, eat a bug, enjoy life. Why would you want to cross the sea anyway?”
The sparrow hopped closer. “I am on an errand, master seal, from the Lady, our Giver of Fruits.”
The seal yawned. “Of course you are.”
Niben flapped his wings. “I am, I am! She asked me to carry a message overseas to the man in the brown robes.”
“Of course she did,” replied the seal and yawned again. “The Lady sent a sparrow on an errand over the sea instead of a swan or an eagle. Find someone else to pester, little fool,” said Gaeronnen and closed his eyes.
The sparrow settled down on the rock. “Sir, I do not know why the Lady chose me,” he replied, his trills now lacking the joyous tone. “She said, though, that the people of Arda should know that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. I do not understand the meaning of her words, master seal, but I know I have to do her bidding.” He cocked his head. “But I cannot possibly fly over all this water on my own.”
Gaeronnen stretched. “A man in brown robes sailed eastwards many lifetimes ago,” replied the seal, “or so our legends say. He was not alone in his journey, but we still remember him, for he walked with the Lady’s grace laughing around him.” He rolled over onto his belly. “Very well, little bird; I’ll see what I can do to help you.”
Niben hopped joyfully. “Thank you, master seal, thank you!” He flapped his wings and rose to the air, chirping merrily.
The seal sighed. “Come with me, bird,” he said and dove into the sea.
The sparrow flew after him, chirping and chattering.
Gaeronnen proved more resourceful than the sparrow had thought at first. He led Niben to a dead tree floating on the waters, a tree with several branches he could perch on and holes in which he could store supplies. “Go on, little bird, gather food for your journey,” the seal said.
Niben spent the day gathering seeds, pieces of fruit and catching flies and bugs. At night he rested on the floating tree, trying to get accustomed to the way the waves rocked it. As the first light warmed his feathers, the seal swam to his side and with the help of his family he pushed the tree offshore.
With his heart leaping inside his chest, Niben watched as the shores of Aman vanished in the distance. He turned and looked at Gaeronnen, who still swam by his side. “What if the wind and the water carry me away? What if I never reach the other shore? What if the tree sinks? What if some monstrous sea-cat comes out of the water to eat me?”
Gaeronnen rolled his eyes. “Calm down, little bird,” he replied. “I will stay with you until we pass Tol Eressëa. Then the dolphins of the Lonely Island with accompany you on your route to the Grey Havens. Rest assured, you will get the message to the man in the brown robes.”
With the shores of the Lonely Island behind them, Niben chirped his farewell to the seals as a group of dolphins swam around him. After a while, he concluded that he liked them. They chattered around him, telling him gossips from Swanhaven and tales of the sea, playing, singing and guiding the tree over the waves. For days Niben listened to their stories, dined cautiously and watched the horizon for any sign of land. Then, one day, the sparrow woke to the sound of a seagull’s greeting. He raised his head and saw green shores in the distance.
Forgetting his hunger, Niben flew over the dolphins and chirped in excitement. “We are here! We made it! We crossed the sea!”
The dolphins laughed.
Indulging in a rare moment of peace and quiet, the Lord of Mithlond stroked his beard and watched with great interest the floating tree that entered the harbour, carried by the current and accompanied by a group of dolphins; Tol Eressëa dolphins, judging from the silver stripes on their flaps. A sparrow chirped joyfully, perched on one of the tree’s branches and then flew to the shore. As soon as it reached the docks, it landed beside him and eyed his bucket of fish bait with obvious intend.
Grinning, Cirdan put his fishing pole down and searched in his sack until his fingers touched the crumbled leftovers of some lembas bread, from the last time he visited Lorien. “Here you go, little one,” he said and tossed the bread to the sparrow. The bird cocked its head and stared at him in disbelief. Then with one swift move it grabbed the bread and flew away, towards the forest.
The Lord of Mithlond smiled wider and turned his attention back to the sea and his fishing pole. He had sensed something about this bird; something greater than its small form, as if it had been blessed by the Valar. He shook his head. Such a small bird couldn’t have crossed the West Sea on its own.
In the distance, the dolphins leaped and chattered their farewell. Cirdan raised his hand and waved back, whispering a blessing for their long journey home, to the waters around the Lonely Island.
Perhaps the sparrow had not been on its own.
At a remote place in the forests west of Mirkwood, a robed man warmed his hands holding a cup of a strong herbal brew. The forest around him was alive with sounds; birds sang their praises to the first sunlight, squirrels gossiped over the past night’s happenings and hares called their young ones out to taste the fragrant grass. He inhaled deeply, savouring the scent of wild sage rising from his cup. His heart was at rest among the forest, among the birds and the beasts of Arda.
As he raised the cup to his lips, the man in the brown robes saw something move within the corner of his eye. Turning to his right, he saw a sparrow perched on a bush beside him, eying him suspiciously. Smiling, he offered the bird his outstretched fingers.
Instead of flying to him, as most birds usually did, the sparrow tilted its head and chirped. “Are you the man in the brown robes?”
The man smiled wider. “I believe I am”.
The sparrow did not seem convinced. “Are you the one they call Aiwendil, the friend of birds?”
Still smiling, Aiwendil put his cup down and leaned back against a tree, folding his arms across his chest. “Yes, little bird, this is my name. Was there something you wanted?”
The sparrow flew closer on a rock beside him. “I have a message, a message from the Lady,” it chirped, flipping around him, excitement now colouring its trills. “I came all the way from Valinor! I crossed the waters! I met a seal named Gaeronnen and a great family of dolphins on my way here, just to bring you this message!”
Aiwendil sat up, intrigued. “You bring a message from Valinor?” Why would Yavanna trust a message to such a small, frail bird? Yet the sparrow had succeeded in its mission. Aiwendil opened his palm and the bird flew to him and perched on his fingers.
“My name is Niben,” the bird chirped, “and the Lady wants you to know that something has changed in the world. She told me to tell you that the White Tree in the White City now bears a fruit. You should go pick it up and keep it safe, before it is too late.”
With the bird's words still ringing in his ears, the man in the brown robes searched in his pockets and produced a piece of stale gingerbread, all that remained after his last visit to the bakeries of Minas Tirith. The little bird welcomed the treat with a new outburst of chirping and wing-flapping.
Between pecking and swallowing whole crumbs, the bird named Niben raised its head and stared at the man. “Master Aiwendil?”
“The Lady told me one more thing.” Niben stopped eating and flew on his knees. “She told me that, sometimes, heroes come in all shapes and sizes. What did she mean, Master Aiwendil?”
The brown wizard stroked his beard. “That remains to be seen, my little friend.”
Content, Niben resumed eating his lunch.
The men and women of Minas Tirith were engaged in heated discussions, after the recent orc attacks, and no one looked twice at the robed figure climbing the steps all the way to the Citadel. A keen eye would probably notice the sparrow perched on his shoulder and the way the animals acknowledged him. As he walked by, hens left their nests, horses halted their trotting, pigeons swooped downwards, cats left their slumber and they all greeted the man clad in earthen brown, each in its own tongue.
But no man or woman noticed any of this. Neither did the guards see him walk on the Citadel, circling the White Tree with Valinor’s grace laughing around him. The small fruit with the firm, fragrant flesh fell in his palm and he hid it inside his robe. Then he took the path to the north, to the stony slopes, and the bird flew behind him.
The man in the brown robes did not return to the White City until after the war.
As for the sparrow, it lived a happy, long life in the company of the Bird-lover.
Arwen stared at the calm face of her sleeping son, her heart bursting with love. Carefully, she pulled the bed covers to his chin, for the summer nights were still chilly. Slowly, she rose from the chair by his bed in the noiseless manner of the Elves. Turning around, Arwen saw her husband’s grinning face, as he leaned against the door. She walked to him and twined her arms around his neck.
“Is he asleep?” he whispered in her ear, a naughty sparkle dancing in his eyes.
She nodded and he pulled her closer.
Aragorn hid his face in her hair. “He loves the sound of your voice.” He kissed the lobe of her ear. “And so do I.” He pulled back a little. “This must be his favourite of all your stories,” he whispered. “Is it true, or is it something you made up to put him to bed?”
“In my heart it is true,” she said and leaned closer to kiss him.
He laughed softly and kissed her back.
As they left their son’s room holding hands, Arwen glanced back, at the windowsill at the far end of the room. A sparrow flapped its wings and flew into the twilight, seeking shelter for the night.
A sad smile curled the corners of her mouth.
Seven Stars, Seven Stones and one White Tree.
And one brave bird, her father had told her, for heroes come in all shapes and sizes. And although Arwen had been too old for bedtime stories at the time, she always treasured it in her heart as one.
Resting her head on Aragorn’s shoulder, she felt a tingle of the old longing.
May the birds in Valinor sing you to sleep, Ada, like your stories lull my son.
A bird, a man in earthen brown and one White Tree.
Narn Niben roughly translates as "Story of Niben".
Niben: small in Sindarin.
Gaeronnen: Sea-born, in Sindarin.
Ada: Father in Sindarin.
At the time of its discovery, Tolkien tells us that the sapling was approximately seven years old. In this story it is implied that Elrond had shared the story with Arwen, which she turned to a bedtime story for her son.
Regarding the finding of the sapling of the White Tree:
“Then Aragorn turned. And there was a stony slope behind him running down from the skirts of the snow; and as he looked he was aware that alone there in the waste a growing thing stood. And he climbed to it, and saw that out of the very edge of the snow there sprang a sapling tree no more than three feet high. Already it had put forth young leaves long and shapely, dark above and silver beneath, and upon its slender crown it bore one small cluster of flowers whose white petals shone like the sunlit snow.
Then Aragorn cried: ‘Yé! utúvienyes! I have found it! Lo! Here is a scion of the Eldest of Trees! But how comes it here? For it is not itself yet seven years old.’”
RotK, Book V, Ch 5, The Steward and the King.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.