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I awoke with a start. The gray night outside my window was fading slowly into pale pre-dawn light. A cock was crowing far away, the golden notes rising up to call the sun. Clear and shrill the sound sighed, a whisper in the morning. I sat up, slipping my feet over the side of the bed and standing on the cold floor. Leaning against the open windowsill, I shook the last traces of sleep from my eyes. The soft piping of the drowsy birds crept into my room, borne on the frail tendrils of wind that murmured through the dark trees.

Slowly the light grew, until I could make out the rooflines of the well house and the barn, and the green outlines of the trees by the river, away beyond the south meadow. Their leaves shimmered with the first rays of the sun, and the grass sank dripping beneath a glimmering blanket of dew. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth and I turned, slipping silently down the stairs and out onto the worn step before the door, already warm in the stillness of the early sunlight. I breathed in deeply, feeling the newness of the morning creep into my lungs and heart, filling me with happy satisfaction. Something pulled at my feet and I stepped down, the only one alive in a world of perfect beauty. I began to run, through the empty yard and down to the edge of the meadow.

The dew clung to my feet and the hem of my nightgown, besprinkling me with jewels, crystal and emerald and pearl, as I walked to the river. The willows, bowing down in bittersweet remembrance over the quivering water, beckoned to me, and I leaned upon their strong limbs. A small kingfisher bird lighted upon a branch near my head and regarded me for a moment, intelligence bright in his small black eyes. Then suddenly, like a stone, he dropped, plunging in a blue flash into the whispering reeds by the bank. He set the water rippling, overturning a lily pad in his descent. The air slipped, fragrant and clean, through the thin willow-leaves, rustling in soft cadences.

The breeze strengthened, blowing my long hair in golden clouds into the sunlight behind me. Suddenly, carried faintly on the wind, I heard music, as of small harps and bells and flutes, and voices singing keen and young, sad and low. I shrank back against the trunk of the great willow, peering out between the silver leaves. A vision as of a ship, fashioned in gold and white, oars flashing slowly along her sides, came gliding silent as a whisper down the river. Swans flew or swam before her, proud and beautiful, guiding the ship’s tall prow. Fair and strange were the folk at the oars, all dressed in silver-gray. Three of them stood at the helm, their long hair flowing out from under bright crowns. Sad and wistfully they sang in a strange tongue, the oars swirling to the rhythm of the music.
~~~~~
Na-calen i dôr i less na-and,
ah i filig na-glir.
Eraid an-minuial o côl
Sen amar than innas,
Lyth innas gwaloth,
Peli fain innas.
~~~
The words, so strange and melodious, seemed to translate themselves in my head, and I understood their meaning, as though I heard a language once known but long forgotten. ~Green is the land, the leaves are long, and the birds are singing. Many a day with dawn of gold this earth will lighten, many a flower will yet unfold, ere the cornfields whiten.~ A song of growth and newness and beauty, and yet sung with overwhelming wistfulness and haunting sadness. It filled my heart with such unspeakable longing I could not remain hidden. As the ship drew near to where I stood, I stepped forward to the edge of the water and called out to the three crowned ones standing at the helm.
“Then where are you going? Why do you follow the river? Do you glide on to twilight and secret lairs, hidden in the forest? Or further, flying with the swans to the Sea, to the islands in the north with stone and shingle on their beaches, to dwell alone by the cold waves where the gulls cry?”

The sunlight flashed from his crown as the tallest man turned his face to me. He spoke, no longer in the strange language he had used before. “No. We go far away, following the last road. We leave these western havens and dare the Seas of Shadow, back to our home. Our home, where the White Tree ever grows and the Star shines upon the foam flowing on the last shore. We must bid farewell to mortal fields, forsake this middle earth and go to a Higher. A clear bell rings for us in the high tower of our home, while here the grass fades, leaves fall, and sun and moon wither. We have heard the far call of our home, and it bids us come. We journey there, across the Sea.”

The crowned one turned away and spoke softly, strange and low, to his companions. Suddenly the oars were stayed and the ship slowed, turning aside for a moment from its course. He turned his eyes on me again, piercingly bright, as though to read my very soul and see the burning longing buried deep in my heart. “Do you hear the call, Earth-maiden?” he asked, and the others in the boat cried out, calling me in their strange tongue, Firiel, Firiel! “Our ship is not fully laden,” he said, his voice soft and kind. “We may bear one more, one only. Come! Come with us! Your days are passing swift. Come, Earth-maiden, fairest daughter, heed the last call!”

I looked out from the riverbank where I stood, and my heart leapt. I would go with them, at last, fulfill the longing inside me. I would leave behind the fading glory of the world and follow them. I would go home. One joyful step I dared, out into the water.

My foot, slipping on a small stone turned by the rippling stream, sank deep into the clay by the bank. I was halted suddenly, barred at the last from heart’s desire. The earth held me back as slowly, slowly the ship went by, shivering the water into a thousand fragments of glass. I stared after it as it sailed on, without me. It was not my lot to taste the perfect freedom of the tall, proud men in the boat. The three at the helm turned to look back, their sorrow spoken from their bright eyes. “I cannot come,” I whispered, the words bitter in my mouth. Then louder, “I cannot come! I was born Earth’s daughter!” I cried, anguish rising from my heart and emptying into my words. The ship passed away, around a bend in the river. I heard the fair voices singing again, their song now laden with a greater sadness, it seemed. I turned back into the stark brightness of a new day, and work to be done.
~~~
I walked slowly up through the meadow. The dew had dried from the grass, and it rose up to grab at my nightgown, removing the last traces of crystal dampness from its stained hem. I stepped into the yard, into the crowding shadow of the house. The dark door stood half open, as I had unwittingly left it, commanding my return under roof. I slipped inside, shutting it gently behind me, and crept up again to my room. My window no longer looked out on a world of dim beauty and mystery and perfection. The sunlight glared over the sill, setting everything ablaze with a harsh revealing fire. The memory of the riverside began already to pale in my mind.

I sighed and began slowly to change into a smock, russet brown and worn. Picking up a brush, I ran it through my long hair and then braided it, turning my back on that last blissful vision and confining myself again to reality. My work called me, at I came stepping down to greet it, tasteless as it now seemed. Soon the sunlight faded.
~~~
Year after year flew by, each one whispering faster than before down the river. Clouds passed overhead, sunlight glowed with the same harsh radiance, the reeds and willows quivered in the evening. Each morning I went back, again and again, to the riverbank. Each morning I stood by the willow, watching the bend in the stream and waiting, waiting, watching for I know not what. Never again did I see a ship. Never more did they pass by on their way to the sea, wading silent in the mortal waters. Never did I hear their sad song or see the swans flying on before. The last call had ended. Still I looked, hoping against hope every morning, and then returning to the house in silence. As the years passed the longing in my heart grew duller, repressed but never forgotten. I no longer knew why the river called me to it each morning, why I looked with such painful longing upstream. I just knew that I longed, and that my heart could never find peace in this world again. I knew I yearned for something I had long desired but could never have. My heart broke for it, but it stayed ever out of reach, and a wilting memory of gold and jewels and dew was all I had left. The song had faded. I went no more to the river.





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FluteFreak said...
Mar. 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm
This is amazing. You completely captured the spirit of Tolkien's poem. The imagery in this is exquisite. Well done!
 
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