The Silmfics mailing list was presented with a challenge – how does the ban on Quenya affect the exiled Noldor? Yours Truly, being a great fan of the study of the literary arts, decided this challenge was made especially for her size, and here you have the results, for your reading pleasure.

One Word

A tale of Beleriand of old, derived from the annals of Arda, as translated by J. R. R. Tolkien

I do not speak Sindarin. I have not yet managed to learn it, had not the time, with the war, with the journey, with the grief over my wife's death. I know the words for food, water, shelter, blood and peace. I know a few of the names the Gray Elves give the land, and the names they have devised for us exiles to replace our strange titles. But I do not speak Sindarin, not enough to form a conversation, a bond, a friendship, of any sorts.

Silence was sufficient when they have found me, this kind family of Gray Elves, wounded in the dire forests at the edge of the Girdle of Melyanna. Wordlessly they have bound my torn flesh and given me water and a place to lie down and recover a while. I could not say a word.

I wonder what they think of my dark hair, gray eyes, tall form. Perhaps that I am one of the Avari. Better, that way. They have given me a name amongst themselves, but I do not understand it.

One of them speaks Quenya, I think, though I cannot truly tell. He has a semblance of age upon him that I have never before seen, and his back is bent as he sits by the fire and smiles. A little girl sits opposite of him, she cannot be older than fifteen sun-years, and peers with her large eyes of forest green over a book.

I think the book may be in Quenya. I think I recognize Feanaro's Tengwar, as much as I can tell from my place in the corner. I do not know how they have gotten their hands on it, the simple Gray Elves. The older one lifts a finger to his lips, hushing the giggling child, with a sort of fear upon his face. The book must be in Quenya, and he must speak it, read it.

I do not speak Sindarin. I could speak with that Elf, for he knows my people's tongue.

But I cannot say a word.

He flips now the pages, showing the girl the shape of the letters, she marvels at them. I have seen the Tengwar of Doriath, Feanaro's craft is finer, and the lure of the written word is in the heart of every Elf, us obsessive, crafty Noldor or them simple Sindar. Such a delight, seeing a child awestruck at the shape of letters, the letters of my people.

But I cannot say a word, nor sing to her in the tongue of my people, nor teach her the secrets of these letters. And neither can her learned kin. We cannot speak, we would not dare.

Elwe Singollo was wiser than any knew to ban the language of the exiles in his realms in Beleriand. A petty decision, my lord Nolofinwe had called it when first Alatariel told him of it, akin to a child's pounding of a sheer wall in anger of a wrong he cannot amend. Many laughed at the comparison and the image, and indeed dismissed King Graymantle's wisdom as such, a vain attempt to silence what cannot be silenced, the Noldor.

I would have thought better of my people, us obsessive, crafty Noldor, who love language so.

Now are gone the letters on the pages of the book, and the girl stares at a painted image, displaying proudly a host of dark-haired, gray-eyed Eldar, noble and beautiful, standing beneath their flags of blue and silver. It may have told a tale words could not.

She points with her little finger to the picture, and in a melodious voice speaks words I cannot understand. A dark look overtakes the elder Elf, and he casts a glance at me, but says nothing.

Then he takes her in his lap and speaks to her in swift Sindarin, nodding towards the picture every once in a while. I strain to catch words that I may recognize, but I do not, save for a few names, which perhaps I should know, but they are changed beyond my ken. I long to understand, but I cannot say a word.

I cannot say a word, but I burn with such a terrible desire to understand them, to understand this tale of the Gray Elves, for what is a people but the sum of their tales? What more has an Elf that is his own save his innermost thoughts and ideas, which can only be given to another through words? Who are we but for the grace of language?

Thus I listen best I can, and I struggle to comprehend, to be given a gateway into this strange world, this strange land of strange language, these people. But I do not speak Sindarin, I cannot say a word. I can only gaze as the child stares stunned and her little hands ball into fists, as her elder kin's voice begins to tremble and he passes a hand over his eyes, as if faint or weeping. I cannot understand, cannot understand.

Only one word do I understand, I realize with a sudden, frozen terror, only one word, spoken in clear Quenya, in the language of my people.


That I understand, that alone I understand, and from that one word I understand everything, needing no speech to understand.

And I wish to speak, to tell him, to beg him to tell her, that we are also a people, and we also have letters and songs, that we also have a tale, dark and terrible, we also have a language. I wish to rise, to sing, to weep, to pour out my heart and soul, to speak, to speak with them.

But I cannot say a word.