Naien ~ part of chapter one
The evening was grey and misty. Melenyáriel the naien trotted swiftly through the trees, her thick, tortoiseshell fur fluffed against the cold. This was the coldest winter she had yet seen. Light snow was falling, collecting in a thin layer on the mossy ground and melting in minute drops on her fur. She stopped for a moment, tilting back her head to peer at the sky where it showed between the trees, and spotted a bird, its wings dark against the fading light. It might have been one of the Elenalië, but there was no way of telling.
Melenyáriel sighed and padded on, more slowly. She had missed the Council, and had met no one to speak with all day before it. She wished she hadn't fallen asleep in her den. By the time she had woken and made it to the Afoncircle everyone had gone. The circle of boulders was strange and eerie when no one was there. Melenyáriel shivered and cast another quick look at the deepening sky. Snow clouds were not so uncommon this close to the mountains, but Melenyáriel was already uneasy and these seemed ominous, somehow.
The snow was getting heavier. Melenyáriel shook the bothersome unmelted flakes off her fur and carried on faster. It would certainly be too cold to sleep in her pool tonight. Her hidden bed beneath the bushes would be comfortable, and warmer and safer than the water, where she might be trapped in ice. She could catch a fish from the pool and eat it peacefully. Her mouth watered at the thought. Maybe Nyéranta would come to see why she had missed the council. If not, perhaps she might go to see her.
Her spirits lifting, Melenyáriel broke into a run, and soon came to her home. The waterfall was flowing unhampered by ice, but the edges of the pool gleamed faintly with a leaf-thin layer of it, and the rocks all about were coated with ice from the spray. White, powdery snow hid the shapes of the pine bushes under which she slept. The space underneath, as always, was free of ice, and the moss was pleasantly damp. She pushed through the narrow entry and lay down to rest, curling her tail around her nose. She would wait until morning to fish. The sun had set; the clouds were dull and purplish grey, what she could glimpse of them through the dark branches of the bushes and trees. She sighed softly and closed her eyes.
"Melenyáriel! Come, wake up!" Nyéranta sounded grumpy, as usual.
Melenyáriel yawned and stretched out. Immediately she wished she hadn't, as a shower of snow fell on her. She gave a meow of disgust and stood up. "You can come in here if you like."
"No, I won't. I'd only drag in a bunch of snow."
"What?" Melenyáriel looked around more closely. Her nest was under the snow; at least a foot of it had fallen overnight. "This is amazing!" she cried in delight. "It's like that story you told me when I was a kitten, about the winter when you were born that was so cold all the Naienel gathered together in one nest to keep warm." She pushed out through the snowbank, and was surprised to find it easy to move through. She looked at Nyéranta, her eyes shining. "I never thought I would really get to see something like it."
Nyéranta's golden eyes were troubled; the wise old cat showed no sign of sharing Melenyáriel's enthusiasm. Alarmed, Melenyáriel tried to push her way out on top of the snow, only to sink again up to her ears. She proceeded to dig away enough snow to make a place for herself to stand, and waited expectantly for Nyéranta to tell what was on her mind.
Nyéranta didn't say anything, only shook herself as if to clear her thoughts away. Then she flipped her tail warmly at Melenyáriel. "You missed the Council meeting last night, young one."
What had she been thinking about? wondered Melenyáriel. She nodded to Nyéranta. "I fell asleep in my den waiting for the snow to stop."
"Airan was looking for you." Nyéranta's eyes glinted mischeivously. Apparently she had decided not to think whatever it was about the weather that had been worrying her; that was what it had to be, Melenyáriel decided. After all the winter she had told of had been a frightfully dangerous one; cold was something all the Naienel took very seriously. If the streams froze too thick it would be impossible to fish, and many cats would starve. Melenyáriel nodded to herself; then suddenly realized that Nyéranta had mentioned Airan.
"Well?" Nyéranta gave her tail an amused swish.
Nyéranta had always teased Melenyáriel about her absentmindedness, but she thought this remark especially rude. She lifted her left paw and began washing it, mumbling something with her tongue caught in its thick, spotted fur, by way of answering.
Thump. Melenyáriel stopped cleaning her paw and looked up. "What was that?"
Whump. "What on earth -- " started Nyéranta, twisting her neck to look around, her teasing of Melenyáriel forgotten.
Just at that moment a large clump of snow fell out of the canopy above them and landed in a shower of white flakes smack on top of Nyéranta. The old naien gave a cry of annoyance. "I should have known." She stood up and shook the snow out of her pelt. "Do you now see what a bother this rubbish is?" she complained.
Melenyáriel bounced with mirth, her eyes sparkling with laughter. Nyéranta sighed and shook her head, though even she seemed slightly amused.