I left my hut on the next sunny day that came along. I pulled the feathers out of my pack and filled it with dried meat and all the roots, berries, and edible plants I had gathered. All the clothes I had left I wore, tattered as they were, and I rolled up the best grass mats to take with me. I also took my shell and feather trinkets. After everything was packed, my hut looked empty. A pile of feathers and falling-apart grass mats was all I had to leave as evidence of my life here. I didn't like to think of what would happen to it after I was gone. Maybe a group of children would find it and use it to play, or it would become a haven for mice. Or maybe, more likely, it would fall apart over the winter without me there to constantly fix broken branches. Whatever the case, I never went back to find out.
I had realised by this time that I had come too far south on my journey from Imladris. Mithlond, then, lay up the coast to the north. How far north, I didn't know, but I walked on the assumption that I would eventually find my way. I would walk all day and into the night, then sleep for a few hours in my makeshift tent before waking and walking again. Day after day I repeated the cycle. Very slowly, the land changed. Plains became forests and then plains again, and beaches turned into sharp cliffs overlooking the waves before settling back down into beaches. Sandy shores became rocky. Evergreen trees began to turn up amid brown, leafless branches. The air became colder but no less wet. But still, even after travelling for so many days that I was certain I would soon reach the uttermost North of the world, I did not find Mithlond.
What I did find was Conufin. I was walking north along the beach, swinging my pack and singing to myself some silly childish song to pass the time. He was coming south. Even from far off I could see he was an Elf; the way he walked showed it plainly. An Elf, I immediately thought, of Mithlond. One of Círdan's folk. The thought made my heart jump. I had seen no-one since I left Elrond's house, and the sight of this traveller was a sharp reminder of just how alone I had been for the past seasons. More than anything, I suddenly longed to speak with him. I longed to hear words spoken in a voice other than my own. I wanted to be reminded of the civility of language.
We walked forward, toward each other, until we stood face to face, or face to shoulder rather, since he was a good head taller than I. I looked at him: his expressionless face, flat black hair, and soft grey eyes. He looked back at me. I ran a hand over my hair. It was tangled and dirty, full of sand and unplaited. He wore clothes made of pale leather, sandy at the knees but otherwise clean. My clothes, and the two cloaks thrown carelessly around my shoulders, were little more than dirty rags. He gave me a small smile, wordlessly understanding my position, and motioned for me to follow him. I followed him down the beach a ways before he turned up into the forest, following a path I had failed to see before. "Are you from Mithlond?" I asked. He shook his head "no," and offered no further information.
I followed him silently down his winding path to a small cabin that was so well-concealed in a leafy glen that from an arm's length away it appeared to be no more than a tangle of close-growing trees. It was one room made of thick logs with a stone fireplace in one corner. Everything: floor, walls, bed and benches, was covered in furs. My host motioned for me to sit on one of the benches, and he knelt down to start a fire in the small hearth before turning back to pay me any attention.
"Where do you come from?" he asked. I was surprised by his voice. It was smooth as glass, hardly fitting his rough forest life and half-wild look. And his words too surprised me. He spoke perfectly, in a clipped North Thindren accent so similar to my father's that I must have stared in disbelief.
I answered him, "Eryn Galen. Far in the east."
"Family from the North, bordering river Sirion," he stated, more to himself than to me.
"That's where my father comes from, yes," I said. He nodded. "My name is Thranduil," I added.
"Conufin," he said.
"That's a Golodhren name," I said somewhat stupidly, since it was plain to tell from his looks that he was one of the Golodhrim. But he made me nervous and I couldn't think of anything better at the time.
He smiled at me, saying nothing, encouraging me to keep speaking. Whatever information Elrond could weasel out of me through his incessant questioning, Conufin could extract with a simple glance. By the time his fire began to die I had related to him my entire history, with special emphasis on the events of the past few seasons. He listened with the limited interest of one who knew nothing of my father, let alone Eryn Galen. The distance was liberating. When I had finished, Conufin smiled at me for a story well told, then leaned back on his heels and stared up at the fur-covered ceiling.
"Oropher," he muttered, as if exploring the word. "Oroferno."
I startled at that. "What did you call him?" I asked.
He would not repeat the word, nor would he look at me.
"You said 'Oroferno'. Where did you hear that?"
"I didn't hear it," he said. "I made it up."
"You didn't," I said, feeling a touch of anger. "That's my mother's name for him. She made it up. That's what she calls him." Or what she used to call him, those few times they spoke affectionately in front of me.
He looked at me then. "Your mother speaks my language?"
'Lambë Noldoliéva' he called it, the Language of the Golodhrim, and after I begged to hear he spoke to me a few simple words: quendi, alda, elen, coa, ondo, nárë. I didn't know what any of it meant, but he spoke in this beautiful language like a song. I could have listened to him name things around the cabin all night. When he paused, I asked him to teach me. I wanted to know these sparkling words and treasure them as my own. He looked at me, laughed, and said he would teach me anything I wanted to know. Never before had anyone wanted to learn his language. It would be something new to try.
That night he let me sleep in his bed, but only after combing the sand and tangles out of my hair with a straw brush. He had made a real feather mattress in a log frame, and a good pillow, and his blankets were thick warm furs. Compared to my dry grass mats, this was luxury on par with my old bedroom in Eryn Galen. As soon as I lay down I felt as if I could sleep for days in that soft warm bed. I looked at Conufin, who sat on a bench by the nearly-dead fire, huddled in a fur so large it had to be bear. I was honestly too comfortable to be overly concerned about him giving up his own comfort for my sake. He was still in the same place when I awoke, though the fur was in a crumpled crescent around his feet and he was frying strips of meat in a small pan over the fire. The smell made my mouth water.
I dressed quickly before eating, sorry to leave the warmth of the fur blankets. My clothes seemed even thinner and more worn than usual. Conufin stared at me as we ate, seeming to note every last tear, fray, and stain that I wore. "How long do you want to stay here?" he asked.
"As long as I can," I said. "I won't go back to my father."
"Then we will need to make you new clothes," he said with a nod.
We spent the day measuring and cutting leather. He showed me how to punch a series of holes for every seam with a small sharp tool, and how to stitch pieces together with long strips of lacing. By nightfall I had new breeches and a large fur cloak. The next day we made a tunic, and the third, shoes. Often Conufin would leave me alone to work at the stitching while he went off to haul water or check his traps. He always made me help with the cooking, though. I would slice the meat and wash mushrooms while he stirred the broth for soup or stew and experimented with just the right blend from his collection of seasonings. The result was always a welcome change from my simplistic sea bird roasted on a stick over the fire.
Winter with Conufin passed in a series of routines. We would go out in the morning to check the traps, then, if the weather was good, spend some time fishing in the creek that ran nearby. When the weather was poor, we stayed in the cabin, sharpening or repairing tools and making new arrows. Sometimes we began new projects, such as making a bed frame for me and starting a collection of feathers for a new mattress. We talked all the time. I told him everything about me, and he told me nothing about him. In the beginning I would press him to share anything of his own history, but he always turned suddenly silent, so I stopped asking. The only thing he would share freely with me was his beautiful language. Every evening he taught me new words or phrases of his Lambë Noldoliéva, which I took in greedily. That was always my favourite part of the day.
Little changed as the days became longer. The snow, if patchy grey slush can really be called such, gave way to rain, and birds returned to the north, but our routine remained the same. Occasionally I caught Conufin staring up at the stars after I had gone to bed, or at the midday sun as we worked. He had drawn a calendar on the hearth stones with a charred branch, but I couldn't read or understand it. Every day he would add a new mark to the circle. Then, on one rainy morning, he sat next to me and said, "It is the first day of spring. You are fifty years old today." I hadn't even thought of it.
"You are no longer a child," he continued. "At fifty years old, one becomes an adult in the eyes of the Eldalië." He paused, then added, "You should be with your family."
"I have no family any more," I said. "Just you."
"They will be thinking of you today," said Conufin. He leaned in closer, placed his hand on my shoulder, and kissed my cheek.
One simple kiss, out of nothing more than friendship, and the feel of it sent a shiver through my entire body. My cheek tingled where his lips had touched. I turned to look at him, to question the meaning of this kiss, but he had already stood and was heading across the room to the open door. "Come on," he said over his shoulder. "I will show you something."
I followed him out into the rainy forest, holding my cloak over my head to keep dry. He seemed to either not notice the rain or not care about it. We followed the creek up into the hills away from the beach, keeping to a narrow rocky path, and walked until the clouded sun was high overhead. When we finally stopped we were in a clearing beneath the boughs of mossy trees so tall they must have been three times or more the height of the trees surrounding the cabin, and so large that Conufin and I together couldn't have wrapped our arms around a trunk. At the far side of the clearing was a pool fed by a trickling waterfall. All the snow was gone from this place and the ground had just started to sprout tiny pink flowers, the first of the season.
"I thought we would eat here," Conufin said, "in honour of your great day." I nodded in agreement, still too busy taking in the sight of everything in the clearing to speak. He laid one of his large bear skins on the wet ground, and set down pouches of dried meat, mushrooms, fish, and fresh berries. We sat opposite each other to eat, he paying all his attention to the food, and I watching him as closely as I could without attracting notice. He ate slowly but with dedicated alertness, just like he did everything else in his life. He carefully inspected every piece of food before putting it into his mouth. I swallowed everything absently, scarcely paying attention to what I was doing for fear of missing some special clue hidden in his actions. In the short time that had passed since the kiss that morning, Conufin had suddenly become the most fascinating mystery I had ever encountered. I needed to solve him. Briefly, I wondered whether or not I was stupid for even considering what I was considering, but since the logical part of my mind has never had much of a chance when in direct competition with the frivolous part, I didn't really care.
I made a mental list of all the things I knew or guessed about Conufin. He was old, probably older than my father, and must have come from the same place in the First Age. He had lived by himself for a long time. His cabin wasn't very old, so he must have moved from place to place frequently. He was highly skilled in all aspects of living on his own. He probably didn't like others very much, or else he would live nearer the city. He didn't like anybody knowing anything about him. That was all. I knew nothing of his family or his past, and could never hope to guess what he thought or felt. He guarded himself far to carefully to let anything slip, as if everything about him was a terrible secret I could never learn.
I almost saw a crack in his wall that day after had finished eating. The rain had stopped and we were sitting on the fur as he told me his words for new things we saw (nendë, celussë, lotsë) and I watched the fluid movements of his hands and lips. He paused a moment, looking up to the treetops, and I followed his gaze. Two birds were playing: chasing each other, whirling and diving. They flew down to the pool to splash along the shallow edges, singing as they did. Conufin grinned to watch them. Then he laughed, a rich, pure laugh of joy, not his usual weary or uncertain laugh. I couldn't help but laugh with him. "Birds love to play," he said.
"Aiwer melir tyalë," I replied automatically.
He turned his shining smile to me then. "You are a good student."
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.