Of Lighting and Blowing Out
Disclaimer: This piece contains characters, settings, etc. that belong to J.R.R.Tolkien and his estate. I hold no claims to them, and make no profit from this piece.
Winter at the Mouths of Sirion was not terrible, but it could get rather stormy near the sea sometimes, and oftentimes frost lay thick on the grass and rocks in the mornings, and one's breath would come as a thick cloud in the early morning, hazy in the pale shafts of sunlight.
Despite this, Elwing was still at the beach as the sun first began to glitter upon its surface, walking back and forth upon a long strip of the cold, white sand. At times her steps were rather hurried and agitated, at other times they slowed and grew leisurely, but it still remained a fact that the young lady was pacing.
A thick wool wrap of grey-blue was pulled snuggly around her shoulders, and in each pale grey-gloved hand she clutched a candle, one blue, and one yellow.
From his place further away on the beach, Eärendil decided that the candles must be for some sort of Midwinter's celebration, something native to Elwing's Doriath. His mother purchased plenty of candles for Midwinter, but she tended to buy only white ones, sometimes decorated with silver paint in patterns of stars. Even now she might be setting them in their glass holders, getting them ready for the late night lighting and singing for this evening. She would also be reminding the servants of her plans for the main meal, and also the small plates of dainties that would be left on tables for anyone who might be passing by. Thin, sweet wafers spread with almond paste, crackers and bits of pickled fish, honeyed cakes with jam…Eärendil's mouth began to water and he was nearly ready to forgo this chance meeting with Elwing to go home for a decent breakfast, but then he frowned. His mother would also be laying out his clothes for the day. And it was not unlikely that she would want him there to try things on and hold things up to.
He sighed, turning his attention back to the small licking waves on the beach, and Elwing's pacing.
But she had stopped, facing the sea, her arms crossed over her chest. She simply stared out over the grey-blue water, shimmering white where the sun came to rest over it, looking at nothing, really. It being Midwinter, she did not have any boats to follow, and there did not even seem to be any seabirds at the moment. She just stared, and stared, and stared.
Eärendil noticed again that the candles were held tightly in her grip, though now her knuckles were almost white. It dawned on him that he had seen those candles before…one blue, one yellow. They were kept on the mantle, in the sitting room of the house where Elwing lived with her grandfather. It had been odd to see such strange candles in the delicate silver holders – the room had been decorated in soft shades of muted grey and green with silver trimmings, and yet there was always one strangely bright blue candle there, along with an eye-catching yellow one. Even in the evenings, neither Elwing nor Galathil would light those sticks of bright wax.
Puzzled, Eärendil slid from his perch and made his way across the sand, humming so as not to startle the girl. He had always thought her far too girlish when they were younger, but he had noticed recently that her long dark hair, lengthening to curls, was more worthy of brushing with a few fingers than pulling, and the grey eyes that often glared at him sparkled as often as they sparked.
Elwing turned with a bit of a start, a wobbly smile upon her lips and the candles clutched close to her chest, "Eärendil! What are you doing here?"
"A lovely midwinter to you also," he raised his eyebrows at her, kicking at a large pebble upon the sand and then staring out onto the sea, "It is rather a misfortune that no one sails on Midwinter's Day; the weather is fine."
"It is," Elwing nodded slowly, following his gaze, "But still, what brings you here? Your mother will be looking for you, and your father."
"Yes," Eärendil nodded, folding his arms over his chest and turning to her, "I only came to bid you a fair Midwinter." He paused, glancing to the bright candles in her hands, "May I ask the purpose of those? I have noticed them in your house, upon the mantle, but I do not understand…"
"Oh," Elwing seemed rather embarrassed, and she held the candles out rather hesitantly, "They are for…for mourning." When Eärendil did not nod in acknowledgement, but only seemed to wait for an explanation, she went on, "For my brothers, you will understand. We…we light them, and put them on the water, and…" She stared at the young man across from her for a long moment, sighing, "It is Midwinter."
Eärendil finally nodded slowly, one hand pushing down into the deep pocket of his heavy cloak and searching, "Do you need a light?"
"Pardon?" Elwing's thin brows rose, and Eärendil stared at her, waiting for his question to register. "Would you like me to light them?"
"You cannot…just light them," Elwing shook her head quickly, "It…it takes awhile. You should go home."
"I have time," Eärendil shrugged, producing the flint and coming to stand next to her, "Which is which?"
Elwing had reached into the folds of her wrap for the wooden candle floats, gaping a bit at Eärendil, "What do you mean?"
"Which candle is for which brother?" Eärendil watched as the girl pushed a candle into each light float, her hands trembling. He wondered if she shook because she was cold, or because she was upset, and he thought it might be a bit of both. He softened his tone, looking at her and waiting for her to glance up at him, "You had two, correct?"
"Yes," Elwing answered softly, not looking up. She gathered the candles in their floats and walked to the water's edge, where the waves were lapping at the sand and leaving it dark as they drew away, "I…I do not remember them very well, not anymore. But I miss them."
"I am sorry," Eärendil knelt next to the floats, attempting to spark the wick of one candle. He had never lit something so small as a candle with flint before, and wondered if Elwing had planned to use something else. Both he and Elwing were silent while he fumbled, and then finally the yellow candle's wick went aflame, and Elwing held lit the blue from it. Then carefully she placed both on the water, watching them bob up and down. "We always speak until we cannot see them anymore," Elwing whispered, sitting on her heels and wrapping her hands in the muted purple cloth of her skirt, "You can go now."
"A fine Midwinter, brothers of Elwing," Eärendil faced the water instead, staring fixedly at the flickering flames of the candles, "Your sister is fair, and good."
"Their names are Eluréd and Elurín," Elwing whispered again, a bit shakily, giving Eärendil a long look, and feeling oddly pleased when his gaze did not leave the water. She looked to the candles, speaking softly, "It is winter here, but not nearly so cold as in Doriath. I like the warmth of the summer, when there are birds and when the sun beats upon the sand, and filters through the windows of the house. I do not know if you have Midwinter in Mandos, or Valinor, or…or wherever you are…"
Eärendil listened to Elwing's voice falter, and knelt in the sand next to her, following the candles with his eyes. Finally Elwing began once again, her words coming slowly and with determination, "I remember one Midwinter in Doriath, but I do not remember if it was…the last one…or if it was before. Eluréd was pulling me upon a blanket, a green one, and Elurín was singing a song. We went up the stairs, the very long set of them, to the windows, and we lit our Midwinter candles, and Eluréd said he hoped that they burned through the whole night so that we would be allowed to blow them out in the morning. They did not last, of course, but it was nice…
"I wish we could have more Midwinters like that. I wish we could have this one. It is just Dareada and me…I do not remember Adar and Naneth, really, but I remember both of you, and it would be nice to have you here. We are lighting candles tonight, and we are going to put them in the windows, like we always have."
Elwing's breath caught as Eärendil began to lose sight of the small flames, and he heard her rush to get in the last few words, "May Varda's stars shine brightly upon you this Midwinter, and may her light broaden where you are."
"Farewell," Eärendil whispered, feeling that perhaps he should have gone home as Elwing had suggested. She had not said very much, but there was only so much she could say when she could not remember very much, and he felt that this was hers, and not his own. He was surprised when she rose quickly from the ground, dusting the sand from her skirt and smiling as she began walking.
"That is done now," she said briskly, making her way to the path that led to her house, "A fine Midwinter to you, Eärendil."
"Thank you," Eärendil pushed himself up, a bit confused at her swift change until he noticed that her eyes were rather glimmery and wet, "Elwing…I am sorry."
"Do not be," she shrugged, adjusting her wrap, "What is done is done. We were little."
"Elwing," Eärendil searched his mind for something to say, following her up the slope with its shifting sand and frosted, patchy grass, "We are lighting candles at my house too. They are…my mother buys very large ones."
"That is nice," Elwing drew in a long breath, sniffling a bit. Eärendil could tell that she thought his statement rather stupid, and hurried to catch up with her, laying a hand on her arm.
"They are always still burning in the morning," he explained hastily, "If you would like to come…to come and blow them out with me."