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The Struggle Nought Availeth  by perelleth

Chapter 1: Westward the Land Is Bright.

In the Old Forest.                                                               

“Keep your grudges till the end of Arda if you must, Inglorion, but punish not my company for them! They need rest, they cannot push any further in this miserable weather!”

The angry voice reached him in broken fragments, carried by the gushes of wind that had been pelting them with cold hail for a while. Without turning or slowing his pace Gildor pointed ahead. “Some six hundred steps to the right!” he shouted over the howling wind, “in the clearing!”

The storm picked up while the tired company trudged away from the road and into the undergrowth. Under the unsteady light of lightning Gildor finally found their shelter: an outcrop of limestone boulders in which a set of caverns opened here and there —a favoured stop for wandering companies. Turning, he pointed Belglim to the looming dark shapes and shoved him ahead. “Go in! I will make sure no one gets lost!” he cried out, retracing his steps while counting the bent, cloak-covered silhouettes that struggled behind them.

When he finally entered the stone refuge, with the last of the stragglers in tow, the largest cave had already been turned into a welcoming camp.  Fires had been built, and adults busied themselves preparing the area for the night; drying wet clothes and pooling together what provisions they carried while children prepared the sleeping areas and played around, the fear of the storm already forgotten. Soon the cave resembled any elven gathering, with shared food and heart-warming wine, music and laughter.

As the merriment wound down and the company prepared for bed, Gildor walked up to the entrance and cast a look outside. The storm was now a distant rumble and the wreck of clouds that had darkened the light of Ithil now fled eastwards, chased by a gentle breeze from the sea. Only the water dripping off surviving leaves could be heard in the quiet forest.

Until some dead sticks broke under the weight of light steps at his back.

“Peace. Just needed a whiff of fresh air.”

“Pick up a torch and follow me, Belglim,” he instructed without turning. “I mistrust this silence.”

Together they entered the forest in their cautious, light gait. The deeper they went in, the heavier the air felt, as if stuffed with another brewing storm. Following the path signalled by the pointing branches of the trees they soon reached a smaller clearing, almost an alcove formed by the laced lower branches of very old oak trees, whose thick trunks would have required at least two or three grown elves to encircle. There, on a carpet of reddish, crunched leaves lay several bloodied limbs and bodies that resembled those of very large, twisted wolves.

“Wargs!” Gildor spat. His loathing of the creatures was mingled with worry. “Never heard of them coming this close to the road!”

“What happened here?” Belglim asked. He had planted his torch in the ground and was looking around for prints in the small clearing. “Who did this?”

“The trees did,” answered Gildor. “Many strange things have been happening in these woods since you went East. That is why I was pushing the pace. I would not risk spending the night in the open, here.” While he spoke, he put his free hand on the trunk of the largest oak. “Look,” he said, “they are still seething. Not long must have passed since these were caught. They must have been chasing your company.”

“And there might be more around,” Belglim wondered, placing both hands on the trunk of another tree. “My thanks, old-one,” he whispered. “You saved us.”

“The forest seems calm now, or at least vigilant. Let us go back to the cave and set up a watch for the night,” Gildor said, patting the closest trunk before retracing the path that had taken them there. “So, Belglim, tell me, why would you think I would hold a grudge?” he asked as they walked.

“Well, it is twice now that I have betrayed the king, isn’t it? You very clearly let me know what you thought of my decision when I moved East, I can only imagine what you think now that we are seeking passage West…”

“Betray?” Gildor scoffed. “No one but you named it betrayal. May it be some hidden guilt that you yourself refuse to acknowledge? Gil-galad graciously granted permission to everyone who asked leave to move East or West, also made it very clear that no permission was needed, if I remember rightly. As for sailing…not now,” he grunted as they reached their shelter.

“All quiet?” Two of the adults in Belglim’s company chatted quietly by the hearth, their hands to the blades resting at their sides until Gildor nodded to them.

“We guessed something was amiss,” said one of them, the eldest of the company, a Sinda who had seen many forests grow to old age. “This silence is unnerving.”

“My thanks, Sinatheg. Gildor and I will set up the watch. There was some danger ahead, but the trees took care of it.” Belglim replied.

“They will warn us if something else approaches, friend, no need to stay up all night singing to the stars,” the other joked in a good-natured manner as they retreated into the cave. “Who knows what they look like in the West!”

“You do,” Belglim stated once the others disappeared. “Know what the stars look beyond the Waters,” he clarified.

To Gildor it felt like an old wound pried open anew —the pain fresh as if only just inflicted. It was all again before his eyes: the impenetrable darkness after the Trees died, the reddish glimmer from the fires in Alqualondë and the cries of the wounded, the cold breeze that dispelled the fumes and brought the powerful voice of Námo, the silence that had followed after he spoke his Doom. Once the smoke and fog had at long last disappeared, a mournful dirge had welcomed the stars of Elbereth as they shone again upon the treacherous, murderous Noldor.

“Brighter,” he managed in a hoarse whisper. “As if they are more real for being closer to their maker and farther from the poisons of the Morgoth.”

“I would love to see that,” Belglim said in a wistful voice. “For too long they have looked dim to me.”

“Because of Anor and Ithil?” he asked, his voice rough with barely remembered anger. The grudge was, for the Moriquendi, as old as the lights born out of the last fruits of Laurelin and Telperion that had dispelled forever the enchanted twilight in which they had thrived for ages. The grief in Belglim’s voice, though, was new.

“…darkening trees will allow us no peace under the spring eaves. Some say the trees’ voices sound like a foreign language to them, one that is familiar but long forgotten... others simply disappear, and families are left with the anguish…” This was not unheard of, as of late. The part about darkness spreading across the forests, though, caught Gildor’s attention with the intensity of a lightning-sparked canopy fire.

“What do you mean, “darkening”?

“Stretches of forest have become dangerous, menacing, tangled… beasts inhabit them no more and the trees have grown gnarled and ominous, as if poisoned by a dark mood. Wide expanses of beloved woods have now become unfriendly; it is happening everywhere. The mountains, too, some of them are actively hostile and, dwarves claim, home to dangerous creatures of dusk. The crossing of the Hithaeglir has become hazardous, and many streams coming down the mountains are poisoned. Many amongst the wandering companies lament that the peace of old has been disturbed, but others suspect that a new shadow is arising, like it happened many, many ennin ago, long before the Wreck…

Gildor bristled, mostly out of habit. The Sindar still blamed the Noldor for the loss of Beleriand and the peace in Middle-Earth. It still rankled. “So why are you so eager to travel west yourself, now?”

“The pain is, sometimes, unbearable, my friend,” Belglim said, his words alighting with the softness of raindrops dripping from new leaves after a cleansing rain. “We fled eastwards hiding from the sound of the waves, from the voices of the drowned forests of Beleriand…but the pain is still there, it beats inside and, once awoken, will grant no peace. Friends will turn silent, then restless, then fragile like grass leaves…Then one day they disappear, not to ever be seen again …”

Gildor nodded in understanding. Solitary elves, families, larger groups had been wandering into the westlands in growing numbers in the last long years. Some stayed in the Ered Luin, some had settled restlessly in the Havens, looking for missing relatives and for a peace that seemed to elude them.

Some had learnt the art of shipbuilding from Círdan’s people and, after some winters, sailed away unannounced. As of late, though, most sought leave from the king. Gracious as ever, Gil-galad would never withhold his goodwill from those departing —had instead requested formal support from Círdan to ensure shipyards and shipwrights were always ready to help those seeking passage. He had also arranged for Pengolod to keep a record of those departing, in case friends or relatives came to Lindon looking for them.

“You will be welcome in Lindon, Belglim,” he offered. “Others have come before; some are still there. Gil-galad has given over entire quarters of Harlindon that remained empty after Celeborn and Galadriel moved north. You will find peace there, at least for a while.”

“Of finding peace by the shores, I am no more certain than of finding it under the eaves of our eastern woods, my friend, but I would rather keep my family together, and together go where our faer lead us”, Belglim sighed. “You were there, Inglorion, when the Herald spoke. At the time no one understood, I deem. I can only hope that our reticence will be left unpunished, and those who so much need it may find healing over the waters. As for those unwilling to leave…we can only hope for healing, too, when the memories of Middle-earth become too much to bear even in the peace of the blessed shores.”

“That is our estel, indeed,” Gildor agreed, “so that what we hope we must believe.”

“Your words speak of reassurance, yet many of you stayed behind... Do you mistrust the Herald? Or your own hearts?”

The Herald.

Gildor sighed. Eönwë’s words had reached far and wide, carried in his powerful voice, inflaming the hearts of those who listened. Even many of the Sindar had joined Arafinwë’s fleet in their journey West, tired of fighting and grieving for the lost forests of Beleriand. Most of the Exiles had followed, too —but not all.

Had it been pride? Loyalty to those who had led them away from Valinor? Gildor was uncertain. While enticing at first, Eönwë’s proclamation had been the source of much speculation, scholar reflection and fireside discussions mostly amongst the Unreturned, as the Exiles were now called, but also amongst those who had loved them and fought by their side in Beleriand. 

“Hear me now, Eru’s Firstborn! By the will of Manwë, King of Arda, the way West shall remain open to you. When the years grow long and the sorrow of living becomes unbearable, when your faer falter and your joy in the Lands of Hither is dimmed you will find peace and healing in the eternal beauty of the Immortal Shores!”  

Once the meaning of “Immortal Shores” was made clear for all, the prospect of returning to Eressëa -forever exiles in sight of their homeland- looked less auspicious for the few surviving of the Noldor who had been prominent in the rebellion. Now as then, Galadriel had stood tall and undaunted amongst those who had found Manwë’s grace inadequate and instead had chosen to remain. For his part, bereft of wife and daughter and mired in the sorrow of the unmeasurable losses of his kin, Gildor had made his own oath to Arafinwë, had promised to remain while Nerwen did, to protect her as her closest surviving relative. 

But she had no use for him and he felt ill at ease under their peaceful rule in Nenuial, where she and Celeborn had moved to raise Celebrían. He had then returned to Gil-galad’s service and now spent most of his time roaming the borders and scouting the east-west Road, learning news from travellers from afar and tracking the mannish settlements and their doings.

Thus, he had become aware of the restlessness pervading the lands. Often he would meet elves stricken by the sea-longing wandering in the forests, slowly making their way towards the Dividing Waters. He would speak at length with them, learning the depth of the relentless ailment that afflicted them, gathering news of the disquiet that spread across the lands to the east and beyond the towering Hithaeglir.

He had also made friends with men of twilight, children of the East who had never made it into Beleriand, who had kept their simple, peaceful lives away from the greatness and sorrow that had befallen their Edain kin. Although they were fearful of Elves, he had slowly earned their trust, and was welcome in scattered settlements along the road.

This way he had learnt of weird and dark things stalking their communities, of scattered and more frequent sightings of orcs and wargs, of sickness in the lands following the passage of a wise man who promised riches and knowledge and everlasting life to those who followed him, of simple men suddenly corrupted, arising to subjugate others, of pillage and killing and enslaving afflicting settlements that had been good neighbours for many long years...

All these tidings he shared with Gil-galad, who had been aware of darkness arising for a few ennin now, and with Galadriel and Celeborn, who, concerned as well by the sustained growth of evil things, had left Nenuial and moved to Eregion with Celebrían, to be closer to its perceived source beyond the Mountains. The lessons from the Siege had not been forgotten, and the Elves held a close watch well beyond their own borders. 

“There is still much to love and protect here, in Middle-earth, Belglim”, he answered at last. Then added, “shall we trust the trees and go to sleep? Another long day’s walk awaits tomorrow,” to prevent Belglim to pursue the issue. The soft snort that acknowledged his words was proof enough that the distraction was noted —and allowed. He felt grateful for that. He was not ready to delve deeper in such a thorny issue with a survivor from Sirion.

Settling with his back against a boulder, he wrapped himself in his cloak and looked up to the twinkling stars, basking in the comfort they offered.


Chapter 2: Ever the East Wind Swells.

Recurring OCC:

Taurlong: Captain of Gil-galad’s personal guard. An Exile, survivor of Nargothrond. First appears in “They Did Not Take Root in That Land.”

Hîrdawar: informal leader of all the wandering companies of Green-elves, Nandor and Avari, both sides of the Ered Luin. First mentioned in "In the Woods of Osssiriand"

Taenben, also known as Lalf: The Hîrdawar’s son and heir. First appears in “In the Woods of Ossiriand.”

Hîrvegil: Commander of Gil-galad’s army. A Teleri. “They Did Not Take Root in That Land.”

Maentêw: One of the survivors from Doriath who went to Sirion carrying Elwing. He joined into Gil-galad’s army. First appears in “In the Woods of Ossiriand.”

Miluin: A Sinda from Mithrim, a relative of Círdan, arrived in Balar with Annael and his Grey Elves, the ones who raised Tuor. She became Círdan’s housekeeper. She is first mentioned in “They Did Not Take Roots in that Land.”



Eastern flank of the North Downs.

The mournful wail echoed closer. With a soft whistle Ereinion signalled for the Hîrdawar to slow down and allow Taurlong to catch up with them.  He needed not look back to feel the weight of his annoyance. The captain of his guard was definitely displeased with their little escapade.

“Wait here, Gil-galad. Let Amathar go ahead. We know not what danger lurks over there.”

Ereinion knew the tone and manner. Had they been alone, Taurlong would have upbraided him unsparingly —and with reason. After hearing the sorrowful lamentation in the distance, he had left the hunt and his companions, chasing the Hîrdawar deep into the forest with no thought for his guards. It had taken little effort, it seemed, for Taurlong to notice and follow in all haste.

“Nothing to be afraid of,” the Hîrdawar interrupted, allowing Amathar to run past him in his silent, swift gait. He then raised a hand to stem Taurlong’s complaints. “Nothing to fear from them, either” he added, “only their sorrow and their grief.”

Ever since they had first met in the woods of Ossiriand, Ereinion had admired the calm manner and soft voice of the Hîrdawar, the understated way in which he exercised his authority as the acknowledged leader of the wandering clans of the Avari. That those unruly people would recognize someone as the ultimate authority -east as well as west of the Ered Luin as they had found out after the fall of Beleriand- had come as a great surprise to the Sindar, Telerin and Noldor from Beleriand.

Taurlong subsided —no doubt he, too, affected by that subtle power the Hîrdawar seemed to effortlessly ooze. But then, Ereinion noticed, what had at first seemed to him the cry of a wounded beast now sounded closer and clearer —a doleful dirge steeped in deep sorrow. Perhaps the Hîrdawar had known from the very beginning, and Taurlong had understood right now. Those were people, most probably elves, and they had nothing to fear from them.

“What ails them?” he asked, stirred by the grief that echoed in their voices. They now walked toward the sound at a slower pace, their footsteps light on the carpet of fallen leaves that covered the forest floor, careful not to disturb the singing.

“They mourn their loved ones who departed,” the Hîrdawar whispered as he went.

The undergrowth grew thicker there, forcing them to choose their path more carefully. Soon they found Amathar waiting for them behind a massive oak that stood up amidst the russet beeches, deep awe on his face. From his hurried signalling to Taurlong, Ereinion gathered that there was a group of elves ahead, less than twenty -or was it thirty? - and poorly armed. Then the Hîrdawar’s words caught all of his attention.

“We are close to the Sant Dolen.”

Ereinion gasped.

Life in Balar, before and after the fall of Sirion, had not always been miserable. Even in Eglarest, and to distract himself from his isolation, Ereinion had been an eager listener, pestering Círdan’s friends for tales of the lands before the Shadow. Later, the mixed crowd of refugees in Balar had offered an unexpected opportunity for him to increase his knowledge of the besieged lands that peeped through the northern mists. Of all the tales that he never tired of, the story of how Singollo had met Melian in the forest of Nan Elmoth, and how he had been deemed lost by his people only to reappear in his full glory many turns of the stars later, had been amongst his favourites since he had first heard it. Not just because it was the foundational tale of the Eglain, the people who had adopted him and become his to serve and protect, but also because of the enthusiastic descriptions of the many magnificent wonders treasured behind the Girdle of Doriath. Those tales, which grew in the telling, had inflamed his imagination as much as Celebrimbor’s accounts of Tirion and Valinor.

Having once heard Erestor praise the Sant Dolen north of Nenuial, placing it second only to the glades of Nan Elmoth in his esteem, he had inwardly vowed to travel there sometime. Finding himself now at the threshold of that fabled glade filled him with trepidation as they pushed ahead towards the voices.

Here, the beeches had not yet lost their leaves, and were still changing into their autumn golds and purples, mingled with yellows and tired greens. Even as they made their way with sure feet on the forest floor, muddied by recent rains, and the trees grew closer to the path, to Ereinion it seemed that their branches swayed back as they walked past, as if making way for the Hîrdawar. The keening had wound down to a single voice that floated over the rustling leaves. Before them, the path a took a steep descent through what looked like a narrow tunnel that allowed one person at a time. Mirroring the Hîrdawar ahead, Ereinion tucked his chin in and ducked as he reached through the blackthorn-encircled gap. Slipping on the wet ground, he stumbled down the slope to end up splayed on his face at the bottom.  

“Elbereth Gilthoniel!” The exclamation was one of deep awe, as he scrambled to his hands and knees, looking up in wonder.

“This is the Remmenrond,” whispered the Hîrdawar, a hint of amusement in his voice as he dragged Ereinion up to his feet. “Welcome to the Sant Dolen”

“It is aptly named,” he breathed. They were in a round clearing in a dell that was split by a sparkling creek. The beeches down there were taller, their long arms entwined in a tight lattice that seemed a vaulted ceiling of intricate designs, from which the leaves flapped and swayed in the cool autumn breeze, glimmering in their reddish glory like the festive lamps the Teleri hung from the trees in the winter celebrations.

“Gil-galad!” The way Taurlong’s whisper mingled with the growing rumour of voices dragged Ereinion from the contemplation of the flaming red vault, and forced him to take in their surroundings. Scattered groups of elves in Laegrim greens and browns had noticed their arrival and hurried to greet the Hîrdawar. Ereinion nodded. It was a regular source of wonder for them how the Hîrdawar was recognized and greeted with the same respect and awe wherever he went. Taurlong claimed that it was one of the many adornments on his body that signalled his position, while Ereinion believed there was some kind of gesture they were not privy to. Here, even the trees seemed honoured by his presence, if the way they shook their leaves and bent their lower branches towards him was any indication.

“What is all that?” As the elves -mostly ellith and youngsters- strove for the Hîrdawar’s attention, Ereinion followed Taurlong into the line of trees to their right. The clearing seemed to be a kind of hallowed place, judging by the many objects laying around or dangling by the lowest branches of the accommodating trees. All around lay figurines and statuettes, modelled, carved, fired or woven, of clay, of stone, of bronze, of wood, of wool, showing warriors, weavers, hunters, gardeners, potters, smiths…There were mementos and personal belongings in gold, silver, crystals, leathers or linen, pottery, tiles; quivers, scabbards, brooches, pendants, cloak clasps, sword belts, jars, cups, each carefully wrought, threaded, woven, embroidered, glazed …And, most heart-wrenching of all, words, of farewell and of comfort to loved ones: carved, etched, scratched, painted; written down in parchment, wood, bark, leather, stone… All consigned to the benevolent care of the trees. He picked up a handful and started reading aloud.

“It is not that I love you not, my children, but that I cannot live like this...”.

“The Sea drums restlessly in my ears, drowning the song of the trees...”

“I will wait for you in the West, my love. Tarry not, for even now my fae aches for you!”

“This bleakness is unbearable,” he sighed, shaking his head. He placed the messages back where they had been and, picking up what looked like a wooden toy canoe, turned it distractedly in his calloused hands. “How can this be intended for us who remain?” he wondered aloud, looking up to Taurlong from where he still crouched, overcome, it felt to him, by the anguish of those who had left their last traces there. This, too, had become a recurring conversation between them.

The Hîrdawar cut his captain’s reply. It mattered not, for he knew what that would be. “Gil-galad, come. You should hear what she has to say.”

Exchanging rueful shrugs, they walked back to the group surrounding the Hîrdawar. A path opened before them as a sudden silence blanketed the concurrence.

“Speak your mind, Deriel, “the Hîrdawar prompted. Ereinion felt the measuring glance the tall elleth who stood with the Hîrdawar cast him and nodded his most encouraging smile. “Trust me,” the Hîrdawar added. “He is one of the Eglain.” The familiar warmth he felt every time he was acknowledged as one of Círdan’s people did not prevent him from noticing the incredulous expression on the elleth’s face.

“I trust you, Hîrdawar. Well-met, stranger,” she said at last, fixing him in her keen grey gaze. “We hail from the wooded valleys beyond the mountains, many days to the south,” she began in a voice that was stern and low. Fleetingly, Ereinion wondered if she had been the one doing the wailing before. “We now flee two evils preying upon us for some time. A darkness with no name arises whenever the east wind sweeps, that spreads everywhere; it rots trees, sends wild creatures from the clearings they have inhabited for ennin, taints our waters. And our people are sick, too, stepping up and wandering away prey to an unquenchable desire for the westernmost shores. Whether these two ailments are related, I know not. We,” she added in strangled despair, waiving around to her travel companions, “we know not, for we are not wise in the ways of such Elven lore as it is said was passed down by the ones who came from the West. But we listen, to the trees and the birds, who carry the messages from the wandering companies, and so we have learnt of a city by the sea, where our kin find comfort, and safe passage beyond the waters to a place where their longing is healed… Do you know, perchance, of such city?”

“I surely do, Deriel,” he said, putting his right hand to his heart and bowing before her as if they were in his halls and he were welcoming her to some formal celebration. “For I do come from that city. Mithlond, it is named, by the gulf of Lhûn, and there Círdan the Shipwright and his people provide those who so request it with swift crafts to sail west.”

“Then this encounter is not by chance but rather design!” she exclaimed; her stern countenance lightened up in joyful surprise as she looked around to her fellow travellers. “See, friends? it was not a fool’s journey after all! Who are you, kind stranger, and what are you doing in the company of our Hîrdawar?” she asked, hugging a child not yet half way to his majority, who stood defiant by her side.

“Gil-galad I am named,” Ereinion offered, nodding to the concurrence. “My companions and I will be happy to guide you to Mithlond, friends, whence many of our kin have set sail in the past long years while others tarry still, fighting the song of the waves and, perhaps, awaiting loved ones that might join them there.”

His offer was met with excitement and jubilation, their clear voices mingling in the glade with the softer, approving song of the trees. All at once they wanted to know who had arrived in Mithlond, and who remained still. They offered names, dates and descriptions in such an excited clamour and fuss that Taurlong had to step up and place himself between Gil-galad and the eager party, while the Hîrdawar smiled to himself, arms crossed over his chest, a few paces away from the commotion.

“Listen! Listen now!” Taurlong called out in that powerful voice of his that had always comforted Ereinion in the battlefield. “There is little we can do for you, now, for we know not the names or details of all those who have sought passage, but there is a record kept in the shipyards. The scribes there will be glad to help you find out if your loved ones were there!”

The thought of Pengolod voluntarily abandoning his scholarly work to go run through his records for that band of bedraggled Laiquendi made Ereinion snort, until a rough voice brought his attention back to the discussion.

“…make sure you do have provisions. We have barely enough for ourselves,” an ellon was complaining. “There is little prey to be found since we came down the mountains, and the forests are no better. The eastern winds and the darkness they bring in seem to have crossed the Hithaeglir, too,” he grunted.

To Ereinion’s relief, the Hîrdawar stepped up with a nod. “Fear not, there is a food forest not half a day from here, and Gil-galad’s party will reach us with supplies before that if he sends for them now. Meanwhile, we better try and settle for the night, let us know if there are wounded amongst you who may need attention!” he said, sending the company into an ordered buzz of activity.

Ereinion patted Taurlong to get his attention and waved to Amathar, who had remained close to the entrance of the glade. “Do as the Hîrdawar says. These people have travelled a long way and are in need of rest and food. Also let Erestor and Elrond know, they should be rejoinning us today, if I am not mistaken...What?”

 “And leave you here, alone?” Amathar looked dubious.

“There are a handful of able-bodied hunters amongst them, Amathar, and both the Hîrdawar and myself are armed. We should be able to defend them for a day or two if…” He paused and bit his lip. Amongst his childhood memories there were a few treasured moments in which Fingolfin would look down on Fingon with the same kind of fond exasperation Taurlong sported in that moment.

“Amathar worries not for them, my lord.”  

He nodded, chastised. “I understand. But this is as safe a place as there is now in these lands of the north. Hurry back to us, if you must, but forget not to leave word for Elrond and Erestor if they are still abroad.” The silent contest of wills that followed was mostly for show, Ereinion knew, for Taurlong needed to state his concern and impress in him the need for caution —lest he might forget.

And then the Hîrdawar stepped into the conversation. “I will guard the High King, Taurlong,” he said. That was all that Taurlong had needed, apparently, for he bowed to the Hîrdawar, cast Ereinion a last warning look and, with a nod to Amathar, started back in the even lope his troops used when not under dire pressure. Ereinion watched them until they disappeared into the gap then sighed and made to help with the preparations, when someone kicked him hard in the shin.

“Leave that! My father carved it!”

It was the child who had stood to Deriel’s side, an angry bundle of tangled brownish curls framing wind-whipped cheeks and flaming brown eyes. Momentarily uncomprehending, Ereinion saw that he still held in his hand the canoe toy that he had picked up before from amongst the letters and offerings. On close inspection, he noticed that there were two figures on the canoe, one larger and one smaller, both equipped with painstakingly detailed fishing gear.

“This? I apologize, child. But how do you know it was your father who carved it?” he asked, curious, handing the light toy back to the child.

“It has our names on it,” the child said, pushing forth the bottom of the canoe so Ereinion could read the carefully scratched cirth.

“Brassen!” Deriel’s voice whipped out sharply. Swift as lightning, the child pulled the toy back and looked behind. Deriel waved to them, her tight braids swinging against her shoulders as she nodded towards the centre of the clearing. “You two,” she admonished. “There is plenty to do to help settle down for the night!”

Ereinion nodded meekly and, with a conniving wink, he pushed the child before him and followed them.


The crackle of the fire was the only sound that could be heard over the deep breaths of the slumbering company, yet Ereinion could not find rest.  It was too long since he had slept in the open, he reckoned, and he wanted to enjoy the experience of being in that magnificent clearing, watching the playful courtship of the uruin up amongst the leaves, which rivalled the sparks from the fire, while pondering what had been shared that night.

He had met Eredher, the powerful singer whose sorrowful lament after learning of the death of her husband had reached them out there, in the grass-covered hills. He had learnt of Deriel’s brother, who had started west some sun-rounds ago, and whose family, except for Deriel and her niece Brassen, had later been killed in a skirmish with a band of orcs. He had learnt of dried rivers and poisoned winds, and sickness and darkness taking over large swathes of forest to the east, which had forced Ordil, a Nandorin elf as old as the oldest wood, to at long last undertake the trek west with what remained of his family. He had learnt all their names, and listened to their sorrows, and watched as the Hîrdawar comforted them and instructed them about the forested lands around Nenuial and western Eriador that were still safe for them to settle. They had all talked and sung and exchanged tales and food and drink by the fireside until well late into the night, brought together by the feeling of kinship that all the Eldar shared, gladdened, amidst their grief, that they were welcome wherever a child of the stars dwelt.

Their stories were not new, but only too familiar in the last ennin, Ereinion reflected as he lay there listening to the soft murmur of the trees, waiting for the first rays of sun to light up the reddish canopy. Still, they were the first wandering company he met that came from beyond the Hithaeglir and had chosen to march north, rather than crossing south through the gap at Calenardhon, and this worried him. That Aldarion’s mighty stone works at Vinyalondë by the Gwathló had been half-abandoned by his successors, more interested in shipping wood for their fleet, they had long known. It never ceased to surprise him how fickle Men were, how lightly bound to their past, even those of such noble descent as Elros’ heirs, that they found it so hard to continue what their ancestors had begun, to uphold ancient promises and alliances signed by ancient hands not theirs. That a wandering company would choose to march through the northernmost passes, though, made him fear for the state of the south. But then, even if the Longbeards still held the passes south of Mount Gundabad, these Nandorin and Silvan elves who fled the mighty forests of the East had no quarrel with dwarves —since neither Celeborn nor Oropher had reached them yet. But the tales they brought about orcs and wargs and tracks of other -more worrisome- creatures across those northern passes filled him with unease.

Lulled by the trickling, rippling, wistful verses of a lonesome robin heralding dawn, he drifted briefly into the path of elven dreams, hoping, as he often did, that in his slumber he might tread those lands he yearned for though he had never seen; the pleasant springs of Nan Tathren, the joyful summers by the pools of Eithel Ivrin, the fiery glory of the autumn beeches in Neldoreth or the forbidding snowed pine-forests in the highlands of Dorthonion before the worm…

All those lands lay now under the Sea, and the relentless pain of their absence could only be appeased in sleep.



Sant Dolen: Hidden Garden, a meeting point for wandering companies located in a secluded glade at the north eastern side of the North Downs.

Remmenrond: Red-vaulted chamber

Uruin: fire creatures, fireflies.

Chapter 3:  This Thing of Darkness.

At the feet of the Weather Hills.

“What do you make of it? A wine jar? Here?”

Elrond looked up from where he knelt beside the youngest of the victims and frowned. “I believe we have more pressing questions to answer currently, Erestor. And the crowd outside is becoming agitated…”

“You are wrong, young peredhel,” Círdan’s Nandorin counsellor corrected in his sharp tone. “If this is a wine jar, indeed, then we must per force wonder whence it comes from, and how the people in these forsaken northern plains came to be in the possession of such artifact… and its contents,” he added, after sniffing the inside of the half-broken earthen jar he had picked up from the floor, “which are of unequivocal Númenórean manufacture…and by a very talented potter and vintner, I might add. I will leave the implications to your powerful deductive abilities but…”

“My lords, the villagers are getting nervous, I am not sure that we can contain them any longer…” As if echoing Elrond’s worries, one of the warriors in their patrol called out from the doorway. Behind him, the murmur of angry voices was becoming louder.

“Fretting is unbecoming, Gruindorn,” Erestor chided. “Let the chief and two or three elders of his choice come in, so Master Elrond can disabuse them of their wrong beliefs.”


Elrond rolled his eyes and just gestured with his head. “Do as he says; it will be best not to delay the reckoning for any longer.” He wiped his hands on his tunic as he straightened up and cast a disheartened look around. A family of three lay dead in the rammed earth of the one-room cabin, in different states of mauling. They must have been eating when they were attacked, for the furniture and crockery were scattered in pieces all over the ground. The man had been cut down as he made for his wooden spear —broken in two beside him. The mother had numerous cuts that showed that she had tried to protect their young son with her body. “It is madness… what would they do this for?”

“My lords…”

Gruindorn stepped again into the hut, careful not to stomp onto the hacked bodies. Behind him walked the chief, a sturdy redhead, followed by two of the villagers. Maethor, the captain of their patrol, stood behind, blocking the doorstep.

“Master Edbort, the village chieftain, and two of the elders, Ordohur and Tirwhog. Masters, Lord Elrond is the High King’s Herald, and Master Erestor is a member of the King’s council”, Maethor pronounced, at the same time signalling to Erestor and Elrond that the rest of their patrol barely managed to contain the villagers outside.

“Masters…” Erestor nodded in curt greeting.

“Accept our condolences for the ghastly deaths of your neighbours,” Elrond began.

“No neighbours,” one of the elder’s cut in. “Strangers.”

He nodded. He had not failed to appreciate how different the dead bodies were from the rest of the villagers’ —taller and limber, and darker of skin. Southerners. But the harshness surprised him.

“Since they built their hut here, it is to be understood that they were members of your community, thus yours to protect, chief?” he asked mildly.

“Strangers,” the chief insisted. “Arrived three times five moons ago, from the east. We allowed them to use the hut, then this!” he grunted, waving around as if the grisly scene were an inconvenience rather than a tragic loss. “Someone came and killed, we think one of yours,” the chief finished, casting quick glances at his two companions.

Elrond shook his head. “As for your claim, Chief, it is unfounded. No elf has done this.”

“You would say so!” the elder who had spoken first spat.

“Why do you say that?” the third man spoke for the first time in a low, careful voice.

Elrond pointed at the bodies and sighed. “Fangs tear, tusks bore, axes chop, lances puncture, blades slice. Stone knives, on the other hand, leave this groove you see in the major wounds, with the unevenly raised edges along the cut. This was made with a stone blade, such as those commonly used by your kin, Chief,” he finished mildly.

“Also,” Erestor chimed in before the chief could protest, “the stone flakes all over the floor are also proof that a man did this,” he said with a smirk, showing pieces of broken stone in his palm.

“Or an elf with a stone blade to make it look like one of us did it!” the chief protested, raising his voice. Outside, the murmur of discontent continued to grow from a low muttering into a swelling tide. Elrond raised his hand.

“Peace. No elven-made knife would break like this, Chief, as you well know. Also look at the major cuts, upwards. They were made by someone who was more than a hand shorter than the man… By observing these fragments,” he added, picking up another flake at his feet, “you can easily tell whether they are yours or not. This white flint with black inclusions I have never seen in these hills…have you?”

The three villagers approached to study the fragments on his palm and concluded at last that no, that kind of flint stone was not found anywhere known to them.

“And this?” Erestor showed then the half-broken wine jar. “This is an unusual type of clay…and an unusual jar…Who were these people, Masters, and what happened here?”

 I would rather fight a Balrog than face Erestor at one of his moods. Elrond struggled to keep a straight face as Gil-galad’s words came to mind. The Masters were no rival for Erestor’s soft, ominous, subtly menacing tone. After exchanging quick glances, the soft-spoken elder sighed.

“We accept your word…for now. Allow Chief Edbort to calm down our people while I tell you what we know.”

Elrond signalled to Maethor, Erestor righted a chair and took seat, and the soft-spoken elder began his tale.

**~~**    **~~**

They rode back in thoughtful silence. A few days ago they had detached from Gil-galad’s larger patrol to investigate, at the king’s behest, several complaints that had reached their scouts about savage murders happening in scattered mannish villages and communities between Nenuial and the Weather Hills. Although these populations were descended from those who had rejoiced in greeting Vëantur as distant kin when the Men of Númenor first returned to Middle-earth, some forty generations later the awareness of kinship had all but vanished in the mists of time and superstition. The Middle Men who populated the northern areas around Nenuial were now but ignorant Men of Twilight who had forgotten most of what they had been taught by their self-proclaimed Higher kin, and also looked to elves with suspicion and fear.

Still, the half of Elrond that had once been human could not help but feeling for them, abandoned now by their western kin who only took interest in the ravaging of the forests in the East, and subjected to regular attacks by emboldened bands of roaming orcs. Also, as of late, by leagues of petty lords who had been peaceful before and had now started rising in arms against their neighbours —also attacking caravans along the east-west road, as the dwarves complained to Gil-galad almost every moon. But what they had learnt these days was something different, and that worried and intrigued him.

“This is different,” Erestor said as they sat by the fire in the crisp autumn night, halfway back to the North Downs, where Gil-galad and the rest of their group had been engaged in a hunt with the Hîrdawar and his Laegrim. “Southerners killing southerners and orcs emboldened…Would you say it has to do with…. Eregion, Maethor?”

The warrior shrugged. “I am but a soldier in Gil-galad’s guard, Erestor, and he has kept to Lindon these last sun-rounds, as you well know. But I agree that southerners getting murdered this north is something worth paying attention to.”

“I would think this has more to do with refugees fleeing the Númenórean ravaging beyond the Gwathló, as it has often been reported,” Elrond chimed in.

“Also, we know precious little of what is going on in Ost-in-Edhil these days,” Maethor retorted with a trace of undisguised bitterness. For those closest to Gil-galad, the Unreturned who had followed Celebrimbor east were the closest thing to traitors, even if Gil-galad himself had been relieved by their departure. Elrond shrugged, meeting Erestor questioning glance.

“These southerners, though,” he insisted, “seem to have been chased down by enemies they made far from here. The pressing question now is, are those enemies moving up here, threatening the mannish settlements around Nenuial, and if so, then, why?”

“The morrow may bring clearer counsel, it is to be expected,” Erestor said, cutting the argument. The attacks -as the victims- were similar enough to call for a common cause. Whether the families had been related and how no one could tell, anyway, and nothing would be solved by guessing.

Sitting by the fireside, watching Eärendil and Ithil chasing each other across the night sky, Elrond pondered again the words of the elder in the last village. “Darkness came with them, and after them, and all around them.” To him they had seemed a normal enough family, though: a father, a mother, a child, all three brutally killed for no apparent reason other than the darkness that was slowly spreading again, suffocating the land and muddling the faer of Men.

Elrond knew all about darkness, remembered well the despair after the kinslaying in Sirion and the cloud of sorrow and despondency that had hung over Amon Ereb in his youth; was well-acquainted with the wild desperation that hopelessness and doom bred in the hearts of elves and men…and even trees. He felt it creeping up towards them now, like an unstoppable tide that gnawed relentlessly at what they held dearest, rotting it and rendering their struggles useless, hopeless, empty, vain…

A soft rustle in the undergrowth shook him from his thoughts. Both Maethor and Erestor sat up as he quietly unsheathed his hunting knife, but it was already late. A tall shadow stepped into their clearing.

“By Tauron, will you ever learn to set up a watch, Maethor?” a familiar voice scoffed.

“Will you ever learn manners, you wild elf?” Maethor groaned. “One of these days I’m going to run you through before you know it, and what will I tell your father, then?”

Elrond had not been aware of Maethor standing up, drawing and taking a defensive stance before him in one single motion, only noticed now that he sheathed his long sword with slow and deliberate moves.

“That you were faster than I, for once?” Taenben, the Hîrdawar’s tall son chuckled as he exchanged a warrior arm grip with Maethor and sat before their fire. “Worry not, your sentries are unhurt and unruffled. They let me in, but I suspect that they rustled some bramble just out of spite that I, once again, caught them unawares...”

“I will deal with them later,” Maethor groaned.

“What brings you here, Lalf?” Erestor chimed in, apparently unimpressed by the practical joke their patrol had played on them.

“I have been searching for you since sunset,” the tall elf explained. “The môruin that have been wreaking havoc in the mannish hamlets have a den not far from here… I left Erlhewig watching them…The bulk of your company went north, to the Dolen Sant,” he added, raising his hand to stem Maethor’s protest. “Gil-galad sent for them to help a wandering company they found there. I was sent to look for you and…”

“And you managed to find something entertaining for us to help you with, on your way back,” Maethor groaned. “We better get going then,” he said. A soft whistle brought a remorseless Gruindorn and Gladhor, the ones who had been on watch. “Break camp and follow us,” he instructed.

“No horses,” warned Lalf, as the rest of their company readied their mounts. “Had you not made camp here tonight, you would have ridden right into them. Let’s tread lightly.”

They started on foot. It still took them a quarter of Ithil’s nightly journey -at Lalf’s fast lope- to reach the southern foothills of the North Downs. The forest thinned out there, and the rocky outcrops were hollowed out with systems of caverns that had become lairs for brigands and worse, orc hosts that seemed to be breeding out somewhere in the east and pouring down steadily, disturbing the peace that had seemed solid for ennin.  

The soft call of a northern owl revealed the presence of Lalf’s commander. The one-eared warrior stepped out into the path ahead of them in the silent manner of their kin and waved them to a stop.

“You took your time, Lalf”

“Heavy sleepers. What ahead?”

“Gadron and Redoron are up there, keeping watch. The rest of the patrol I sent to the other side of the outcrop, to cut their escape,” Erlhewig explained in hurried whispers, “but there is something you must know, Lalf, there are men with the orcs.”

“Prisoners?” Elrond couldn’t hide his concern.

“Not with axes and knives, no…”

“We take the left side,” Lalf cut in a warning, sharp tone. Elrond nodded, allowing the old animosity between him and Erlhewig to slip away with a deep breath. It was not the time for old grudges. Satisfied, Lalf continued issuing commands. “Maethor, you and yours take the right and await my signal. How many are there?”

“We counted up to a dozen yrch in and out the largest cave. They have spears and short swords. The men are a bit ahead, down that ravine. As I said, some have axes, all have bows and stone knives.”

“Orcs with swords and men with stone knives? What an odd alliance,” Maethor wondered. “We take the orcs quickly and move in to the men, then?”

“My patrol will take care of the men,” Erlhewig said.

Lalf nodded. “Ready your bows. We take most of them in a swift volley, we can move into the ravine. Await my signal!”

It was swift and efficient. Blinded by the light of their camp fires, the orcs had fallen in disarray to the first volley, then to their sharp blades. Leaving his companions to securing the field, Elrond moved quickly to the other end of the outcrop, where the men seemed to be defending themselves more efficiently. Still, the fight was over when he arrived and Lalf’s patrol were busy checking the bodies that lay all over the ravine.

“Well met, Nestoron!” one of Lalf’s hunters -whom he had once helped with a poisoned wound that would not heal- welcome him with a wave.  “Over there, Ferion found one still alive, though he may be well beyond even your abilities.”

Elrond hurried to the starlit side of the ravine and knelt behind the other elf, who nodded to him and walked away. The man was pierced by two arrows and a deep cut to his midriff, there was little that Elrond could do for him but trying to ease his pain somehow. The man turned angry and surprisingly clear eyes to him and hissed at his tentative touch.

Darkness with you, around you, after you…” he gasped. Surprised by the venom and hatred in the weakening voice, Elrond removed his hand quickly. The man chuckled and spat blood, looking him in the eye. “My master who brings gifts… we will be the timeless,” he rasped, then went still.


Sighing, he stood up and waved to Erestor, who hurried towards him. “Any survivors?”

He shook his head.

Erestor shrugged. “Men and orcs traveling together is a worrisome finding, my friend. And by their looks these, or any friends of them hiding across the northern forests, are responsible for the incidents we have been investigating…But what does this mean? Are they moving north from Dunland? What is prompting them?” He looked around and pointed with his bloodied blade. “They seem shorter and clearer of skin than the victims in the last hamlet. What make you of all this, Elrond?”

Elrond pointed at the dead Man. “ ’My master who brings gifts’, were his last words…”

“Annatar? Is he now devoted to subjugating Men?”

Elrond frowned. “He may reach farther than we suspect while still hiding in Eregion. But this…” He pointed at the battlefield behind them “This evil that afflicts them, this darkness I recognize, Erestor, this hatred bred by fear and fuelled by the lies of the Enemy... “

“Valar forbid,” his mentor sighed. “If you are right, then these may be but a vanguard, probing the strength of our borders, sensing our weaknesses and those of our allies… Let’s go, Peredhel, Gil-galad and Círdan need to be warned about this.”

Elrond cast a last sad look around. Under the twinkling starlight the bodies scattered in the ravine took an eldritch air, like statues frozen amidst their torment. He looked up, hoping to shake the malaise, but a passing wreck of clouds temporarily hid Eärendil from sight, turning despondency into a crushing feeling of impending sorrow and defeat.

He shook his head against the wave of overwhelming loss and started after Erestor.  Still, his steps beat in time with the ominous words. “Darkness came with them, and after them, and all around them.” He wondered now whether the sly elder had been hinting not at their unfortunate neighbours but the evil that had so mercilessly slaughtered them.



Vëantur was the first Númenórean to set foot in Middle-earth around 600 S.A. He was Aldarion’s grandfather on his maternal side. The Men of Eriador sent a message to Gil-galad then, asking to greet those long-lost relatives.

Nestoron: Healer. Elrond’s other career.

Chapter 4: The Edge of the Sea is a Strange and Beautiful Country.

Had anyone claimed that narbeleth was Círdan’s favourite part of the sun-turn, he would have disagreed in unequivocally stern terms. All Yavanna-ordered cycles had their beauty, he would have argued, and their beauty came from necessity.

Still, preparations for the Yavanna’s-ordered period of rest never ceased to fill him with renewed joy. He would never tire of wondering at the perfectly matched rhythm with which all living creatures readied themselves for repose. No matter how many ennin went by, or ages, every cycle of the sun all creatures would prepare for the quiet spell and then awake -or return- anew —and he would be unfailingly grateful for -and humbled by- it.

The end of the season of bounty marked the time for elves, too, to start arrangements for the upcoming cold times. There were communal stores, granaries and wine cellars to be filled with harvest; smoke houses, racks, sheds and ice huts to be set up or repaired in order to smoking, drying, icing, salting, pickling and fermenting the catches of hunters and fishers and gatherers; repair works to be undertaken on roads and shelters that might be needed for wandering companies wintering in Lindon…


“What is it, Gailiel?”

“I called your name several times, but your fae seemed far from here. Is something troubling you?”  she asked, taking seat at the other side of the cluttered desk. Círdan shrugged, gesturing to the reams of parchments, but his eyes strayed to the large window, betraying his true concern.

 “I am sorry,” she whispered, following his gaze. Apparently, he was not the only one who had noticed the solitary elleth standing at the end of the pier, gazing west like she did every day at sunrise and sunset. “Have you spoken to her?”

“What for?  What comfort could I bring?” he rebelled, because it pained him too much to be fair, and he knew Gailiel would not judge him for it. He breathed in to regain control. “She will come to me when she is ready…”

“Or will suffer unnecessarily while struggling to overcome it, for fear that she may be betraying you…”

Círdan closed his eyes. He understood the weight of that you all too well.

“Anyway, that is not what brought me here,” Gailiel continued. “Gildor has arrived with a wandering company on tow. Little more than two scores, the message says. I am settling them in the empty quarters to the east, close to the docks, until we know if they are sailing or wintering. I am sure Gildor will seek audience with you, do you want me to send word to him?”

“He will come as soon as he can, and I am sure I will be here all day,” he joked, nodding at his desk.

“If there is anything that I can do to help…”

“You already do more than enough, Gailiel. Putting you in charge of housing the roaming companies was the best decision, at least for us…”

She chuckled as she walked away. “As it is for me. Who would have thought that managing settlements would have been easier than managing your household?”

Círdan smiled as she closed the door. Gailiel had been his housekeeper in Eglarest since they first settled there, until his sister’s grandchild had reached them in Balar with Annael and the handful of survivors of Mithrim’s Sindar. Later, at Gil-galad’s suggestion, she had taken over the stewardship of Harlindon -after Galadriel’s departure- and had turned the mostly empty city into a welcoming haven for those in need of temporary settlement.

Whose numbers grew each year, he reminded himself with a tired sigh, turning his attention back to the parchments. The overwhelming, towering pile of parchments he usually shared with Erestor and Elrond. With the two gone with Gil-galad, Merenel away to gather wood for shipbuilding and the rest of his and the king’s counsellors busy with their own responsibilities in the preparations, it came to him to keep track of progress, look for patterns and spot the potential problems that might arose from all the information gathered before him.

He looked out again in search for inspiration. She still stood down there by the quay, unmoving, facing west. 

Many like her had come to Mithlond in the last years, bringing worrying news and aching for the west. So many, and so sick with an unnamed longing that, after many sun-rounds of self-confinement in Lindon, Gil-galad had decided to set out and check the state of the lands beyond his borders himself, under the pretext of helping with the provisioning and greeting his neighbours and allies. Círdan knew what other worries hid under a trip that had been customary until half an ennin or so ago, so he did not begrudge his foster son the expedition –nor the company he had chosen.

Ever since he had banned Annatar from his borders, Ereinion had been restless, troubled, unsettled –as if doubting himself or mistrusting his decision. The praises, pleas and promises that Annatar had showered on them in his attempt at gaining entry in Lindon and -no doubt-into the king’s Council as well, had sounded like thinly disguised threats to all of them, for all the bright and wise words that veiled them.

Still, Círdan knew his ward well enough to know how hard he struggled with the ghosts of his split loyalties, born from his unique ancestry and upbringing: He was, indeed, one of the Bereft, those who had lost part of their selves in the flood, but he was a Noldo, too, descended from a most notorious kinslayer, whom, despite all, Círdan had befriended, and raised as one of the Eglath. Aman and reverence for the Valar struggled in him with the deep resentment and rebellious nature of those who had been born in Beleriand and carried its loss like a gaping wound that would never heal.

Whatever Ereinion found in this journey, Círdan could only hope that it brought his doubts to rest. Meanwhile, he still had that pile of parchments to go through to make sure that preparations were well underway when the king and his counsellors returned. Shipyards at least would be busy building for those who had already came in seeking passage -and the many more that surely would follow- as soon as Merenel came back with more ship wood and some news. Fisheries it was next, he decided, scattering the pile in search of the right parchments and turning his attention to the figures there.

Anor’s rays slanted low across his desk from high at sea, as she sailed home West after another day’s journey, when Círdan raised his head from the parchments and cast a look around. The bay of Lhûn was sprinkled full of white dots which, this time of year, should more likely belong to foam-headed, wind-whipped waves than the sails of the Falathrim fishing fleet.  The anomaly in the parchments was sprayed there before his eyes, in the many boats crowding the harbour mouths of Forlindon and Mithlond which should already be ashore undergoing repair works, maintenance, caulking. Fish delaying migration and seabirds delaying moulting due to unusual abundance of catches spoke volumes about the changed patterns that affected the south.

“There you are, Círdan! I have looked for you everywhere.” The king’s secretary stood at the door, looking harassed.

“Well, I have been in my study all day, Taranel. How may I be of help?”

“Gil-galad rode in a while ago, with a large wandering company. He sent word that he would speak to you as soon as his guests are properly housed. Since Hîrvegil, Merenel, and others are also in a hurry to speak to both of you I just suggested you all convene in the mess hall...”

“Is Merenel back?”

“And with troubling news, Círdan. He says the ship-forests to the south are all but gone.”

Círdan felt himself go pale. “Felled?” The Falathrim grew their ship forests with care, choosing unpopulated, isolated areas, and discussing their needs with the trees, who in turn put all their efforts to attend to the needs of the Falathrim…That not one but two had been attacked was unheard of.

“Not felled. Faded. Withered. Wasted. Dead. They say the mother trees were weakened, drained, and then the plagues settled in,” Taranel grimaced. “No single reason, no clear enemy, just debilitating exhaustion…They saved what they could and brought what was still of use, but those are gone for good, Merenel says…”

“Does Gil-galad know?” Círdan asked, piling the parchments back in a single heap while turning the news in his head.

“I am unsure; he was busy overseeing the accommodation of this company that came with them. He insisted they were quartered here, at least for the time being. But Erestor says their news aren’t better, and Hîrvegil has found orc tracks north of Belegost…”

“Mess hall it is, then,” Círdan sighed, crying inside for their lost forests.


                                                                         *** ~~~ ***

The mess hall was unusually crowded for the time of day. And noisy too, since all present were trying to make themselves heard at the same time. Except for the Hîrdawar, who sat in silence by the largest window. A heated conversation that involved his fleet commander, Gildor and Gil-galad’s troop commander caught Círdan’s attention.

“I have been warning of this for years,” Gildor spat in, irritation clear in his voice. “Every year has been a mast year since that cursed Annatar moved east and started offering Aman-style richness everywhere… exhaustion settled in, excess of prey, excess of predators, trees dying, being cut down for ennin, balance being lost…The company that came in with me is only the latest in a long list reporting the same evils!”

“Same up the Lhûn,” Hîrvegil put in. He was just returned from meeting with their most reluctant Avari neighbours in the narrow strip of land between the river Lhûn and the Sea they had chosen for themselves “Excess salmon are rotting upstream. The increased population of honey-eaters seem unable to finish it, and we fear the excess of carrion may be attracting orcs and wargs…”

Gildor snapped. “Caravans are waylaid on the road, settlements attacked, settlers murdered across Eriador for sun-rounds. Now we have wargs wandering into the Old Forest… “

“It is not only the Naugrim from Belegost being attacked on the road,” Hîrvegil retorted angrily. “Amathring’s Avarihave also found tracks of wargs and even orcs well north from Belegost. It may be a matter of time -if they remain unchallenged- that they start crossing in from beyond the Hithaeglir as well.”

“And what are we doing about it?” Gildor challenged in the scathing tone that always managed to incense Hîrvegil.

Círdan took seat and braced for the confrontation. While Gildor’s flaming gaze was intimidating for those unused to it, Gil-galad’s troop commander’s low tolerance for any challenge to his authority was equally scorching. Their rare confrontations were like canopy fires that sometimes roasted those around. The shrill whistle his mariners used when fog surrounded them high at sea stopped the argument before it built up.

“It is getting worse up north indeed, Commander, both sides of the Hithaeglir. Please, remain seated, my lords.” Gil-galad gestured as he walked into the hall and took seat next to Círdan. He had arrived unannounced and unobserved, still in his riding clothes, Círdan noticed, and had surely stood listening in for a while. “There is troubling news everywhere, it seems. Has anyone heard of Iarwain?”

“The trees around the crossing of Baranduin have heard nor seen him for some time now,” Gildor replied. “My guess is he went South when Aldarion started cutting trees down and has not yet returned. There are rumours there of some kind of lord of the forest wreaking havoc with trespassers, though it could as well be some kind of wild creature …”

“Your guess is right, Inglorion,” the Hîrdawar cut in. “And since Iarwain has been away, darkness -and its creatures- have been gaining ground in our forests as well, attacking not only hamlets and travellers, but wandering companies as well.”

“And this brings me to the discussion I intended to have with Círdan,” Gil-galad chimed in with a wry smile. “But I believe it is better that you are all here, for I require your counsel, my friends. Erestor, can you please sum up for them what we have learnt?”

“With pleasure, Gil-galad. We have known for some time there is some evil at work in the east, which is slowly building strength and spreading darkness all over. It seems to be recruiting men by offering similar wonders Annatar promised here…Which seem to be coming out crooked, like trees dying, wargs and orcs proliferating, and tribes of men being corrupted and waging war on each other, to the point of pursuing and killing refugees even up north.” Because of their ages-long acquaintance, Círdan could tell that Erestor was really troubled by what they had discovered. “And all this darkness seems to be spreading from beyond the Hithaeglir,” his Nandorin counsellor continued, “though whence and the extent of its reach we know not yet. But it seems there is an alliance building between men of darkness and orcs and that...” he sighed, casting a looking around, “that points at something truly terrifying,” he finished.

A dense silence followed.

“Do we know where Annatar is right now?” Hîrvegil asked at last.

“Holed up in Eregion, is my guess,” Erestor replies. “But that is not the point now.”

“Indeed, it is not,” Gil-galad agreed. “That darkness was bound to arise time and again we have known all along. What worries me … has been worrying for some time,” he admitted with a rueful half-smile, “is the growing numbers of wandering companies leaving their lands and seeking passage west —and the unbearable toll in grief they are charged for this. So, I guess, my friends that my questions are these: Was I wrong in banning Annatar and rejecting his promises of Aman-like bliss? Was I wrong in remaining after the Herald summoned us all West? Have my decisions somehow misled others into remaining and are they being now punished by our mistakes? And, above all, where does this darkness and suffering come from and what can we do against it?”

There was a stunned silence. While the same questions plagued them all, Círdan had been unaware of that kind of guilt troubling the king. While he gathered his arguments, the Hîrdawar beat him to it

“We Silvan have never heeded anyone telling us where to go, Gil-galad,” he began. “As for your people, they seem to me to be free to stay or go at their own leisure. Bear not burdens that are not yours to carry, for it is said that the longing for the Great Sea lies dormant inside our kin. That the Silvan are forsaking their forests in troves as a new darkness arises should be of no surprise, but a cause of deep concern about the extent of this taint.”

“And the news you have brought are all the more concerning, because it is now clear that they are coming at us from different fronts,” Gildor pointed out.

“Regarding your last question, Gil-galad, what we do against this rising darkness,” Erestor intervened, “settling up a network of allies across would seem the appropriate strategy for the gathering of timely information about the spread of darkness. It is my understanding that we would lack the resources to set watches all over Eriador by ourselves, between the Gwathló and the Baranduin, not to mention the northern passes or even beyond the Hithaeglir… am I right, Commander?”

“You know you are, Erestor,” Hîrvegil grunted, annoyance clear in his voice.

“See to it, then, Commander, please,” Gil-galad said. “What of the decay in the ship forests?”

“I dispatched foresters to check the state of the Eryn Vorn on my way back, Gil-galad, we should have answers soon,” offered Merenel. “As for your other questions…” Círdan met his fleet commander’s worried glance and just gave him an encouraging nod. “We all stayed behind because the edge of the sea is where we have lived for ages, ever since the Valar left us behind,” Merenel continued, waving around. “If darkness is threatening Middle-earth again, then let the Havens become the last refuge for the Elves seeking passage, until the last ship sails.”

And let the wandering companies and the Silvan beyond the Mountains know about it,” added Hîrvegil. “Let it be known that we are not renegades but darkness’ stoutest enemy, the keepers of the way West!”

Despite the general agreement, Círdan could see the frown on the king’s forehead, the thin line between his brows that was the mark of his concern…And of his bloodline’s steadfastness which others -less charitable- named stubbornness.

“Why so much sorrow, then,” he asked in a voice that was rougher than usual. “If this is in our nature, why does it hurt so much? Back in the Sant Dolen we have seen the reminders of this heartbreak: families left behind, friends who disappear leaving no trace, wandering companies adrift in search for the sea…How can all this pain and suffering not be but punishment for our refusal to go West?”

An unexpected voice coming from the door to the kitchens broke the uncomfortable silence. “With my apologies, if I might be allowed a few words, my lord?”

Círdan struggled hard to hold back a chuckle at Pengolod’s confusion, as he came out the kitchen to find himself -uninvited-in the middle of one of Ereinion’s councils, and one in which the king was all but laying his bleeding heart open before his most trusted advisors.

“Good evening, master Pengolod,” the king sighed. “We did not mean to interrupt your early dinner…”

“Neither did I mean to intrude in your council, my lord, no matter how unusual the venue,” Pengolod replied with a quick, unapologetic bow, his aplomb quickly recovered. An amused murmur went round the mess —the barbed exchanges between the king and the lore master never disappointed. “But since I could not help overhearing your conversation, I believe my counsel might be of use.”

Taking courage from the king’s lazy hand gesture, he walked well into the mess, cast a look around and puffed up his chest.  “It is a widely acknowledged fact that King Turgon’s library in Ondolindë, of which I was the master custodian, was the largest source of knowledge in…” he began in his pompous manner.

“I believe King Felagund would contend that statement, Pengolod,” Gildor chuckled.

“Pengolod, please,” Círdan intervened, aware that Ereinion’s patience was reaching its end fast.

“By all means, Círdan. I will then stick to the point of the matter, my lord,” he added, addressing the king, “since I am well aware of your indifference toward longer reasonings when shorter ones are available.”

“You honour me, Master Pengolod.”

“My pleasure. First, I would remark that mixing together the sorrow that afflicts those seeking passage west with the darkness arising in certain places and ascribing both to punishment for wilful disobedience would be indeed a great mistake, born, no doubt, by the widespread ignorance about the very nature of darkness in Middle-earth and…”

“Would you enlighten us, then?”  It took all of Círdan’s resolve to avoid meeting anyone’s eyes in the hall, lest they all broke out into laughter at Gil-galad’s strained voice. But Pengolod was impervious to veiled -or open- threats once he got started in one of his speeches.

“I am trying my best, my lord. As the Hîrdawar said, the longing for the west lies dormant in our kin, and it is the marred nature of Arda itself, of which we are all made, that tinges that impulse -once awoken- with sorrow for the loss, dimming the hope for the joy that awaits us. But then, it has long been settled that the Herald had no authority to force us back West, nor were we in any manner commanded to leave, so to presume that such grief should be linked to shame or punishment reveals poor understanding of how the Valar’s grace works, and an unnecessary burden of guilt that no one should shoulder, unless motivated for great pride…or a misplaced sense of duty.”

There was a sense of anticipation as all awaited Gil-galad’s retort with bated breath, but Círdan knew his ward best.

“My concerns are somehow eased by your words, Pengolod, even if my ignorance remains more or less the same,” Gil-galad replied in a calm manner, tacitly acknowledging the last, twisted compliment Pengolod had carelessly thrown in about his sense of duty. “But I would like to know what you make of this growing darkness, then,” he added, waving to quiet the muffled chuckles all around, “and its source.”

“That, on the other hand, is a heavily loaded question, my lord,” Pengolod replied. “Am I right in guessing that what you actually wonder is whether this uprising of dark and evil creatures is the normal expression of Arda Marred or rather the making of, let’s say, a new incarnation of Evil?”

It felt to Círdan as if a cold gust of wind had swept the room. All smiles faded and bodies straightened up in attention.

“It is a very accurate manner of stating the situation, I believe,” Erestor mused aloud.  “Which do you think is it, Pengolod?”

The lore master cast a thoughtful look around. So did Círdan, noting Ereinion’s frown, the Hîrdawar’s expectation, Erestor’s forced nonchalance… only then did Círdan noticed Elrond, almost hidden in the most distant corner, arms crossed over his chest and an intense gaze fixed in Pengolod.

“It is not easy…”

“Come on, Master Pengolod,” Ereinion challenged. “It is unheard of, that you should reject an opportunity for sharing your knowledge, what would you say?”

Círdan felt for Pengolod. The horrors he had seen and lived through clouded his eyes briefly, his countenance distant, his fire-scarred face turned towards the sea and beyond, to a beautiful city that now lay under the waters. When he looked back, his features hardened, he looked as someone who had braced himself for a dangerous task.

“Three are the tools the Enemy has used when dealing with the Firstborn: Domination, deceit and despair,” he said solemnly. “Those are the signs we must look for when assessing this new darkness, this new threat. Is it looking to dominate? Does it offer dominion over things, over others? Once you accept the temptation of dominion -exercising it over others even for a good cause- there is always deceit, because Evil shares not power and will require full control and submission. Once it has it, then it creates the fiction of inevitability that brings utter despair.” He cast a quick look around, at faces frozen by the enormity of his words. “I am not sufficiently acquainted with the manifestations of this new menace, King Gil-galad, but I would suggest that your counsellors take my comments to heart when assessing the threat, in order to ascertain its true nature. Now, if I am no longer needed, I would take my leave,” he concluded with a quick bow, hoping, Círdan was sure, to take advantage of the temporary stunned audience.

A cold voice cut him short. “A word, I might add, Master Pengolod, to your enlightening commentary…”

All eyes turned to the distant corner where Elrond had taken refuge. Pengolod smiled -he was far fonder of the Peredhel than he was of the king- and Círdan wondered again about the intense look in Elrond’s eyes. “Oh, young master Elrond, by all means,” Pengolod said, inviting him without awaiting the king’s permission.

“One would say that it is important to know the Enemy’s tricks and strategies, and be prepared to counter them, but would anyone here deny that it is of equal significance to be aware of one’s strengths, as well as weaknesses?” When Elrond spoke, everyone paid attention. When Elrond was this decisive and cold, everyone braced for some impending doom. Of course, no one dared reply.

“It would do us good, then, to remember that the causes of the fall of the Elves are also three,” the Peredhel continued. “Arrogance that we are Eru’s most beloved creatures no matter what we do, fear that we might somehow do something so unspeakable that causes us to be rejected from His good will, and despair that, even should we remain His beloved, despite any misdeed, Arda that we love is still doomed to fall, no matter what we do. I believe that it is equally important that we look inside and make sure we are not setting ourselves up to failure before the tricks of the enemy by our own faults.”

Pengolod cast nervous glances around, even he intimidated by the animosity in Elrond’s forceful stand. “Interesting concepts indeed, master Elrond, which, I believe, match perfectly my own…”

“And you know this, because?” When he wanted to, Ereinion could command his father’s warm, inspiring voice. He had also mastered Fingon’s less known cold, slow, threatening tone. Still, after such a long friendship, Elrond was difficult to impress, even less when he placed so much weight in whatever message he was so intent to convey that he had resorted to chastise the king before his counsellors. Círdan wondered what had transpired between them during that trip.

“Because those who raised me made a life-long effort to become the embodiment of all three flaws, and they excelled at it, as they did at any other pursuit they undertook in life,” the peredhel challenged in a casual manner anyone would have marked as disrespectful.

With narrowed eyes Ereinion studied his herald, then the room. At last, he lowered his head to master his irritation, Círdan guessed, and soon looked up again, presenting a carefully relaxed front that barely hid the tension within. “Duly noted, Elrond,” he said, his usually warm tone betraying none of the anger that surely simmered inside. “And thank you all, my friends, you have given me much food for thought. I believe we should follow Erestor’s suggestion and set up a network of allies and informants. Hîrvegil, Círdan, will you please see to it and let me know?”

“Presently, Gil-galad,” the troop commander replied promptly, eager to be out of the tense hall. He was not alone, it seemed, judging by the speed with which everyone stood up and followed. As the mess emptied, Elrond walked up and leant into their table, lowering his head to face the sitting king eye to eye. “For what is worth, you were not wrong in banishing Annatar,” he hissed, “but also there is nothing shameful in doubting yourself!”

They held each other’s gaze. For the first time in their ennin-long friendship Círdan feared one of them might do something they would later regret.

At last, Ereinion looked away first. “Dismissed,” he said, but there was no ice in his voice.

Once Elrond had cleared the hall, Círdan turned to his foster son, barely containing his concern which poured out as outrage. “Have you lost your mind? What was all that about?” he stopped his tirade when he saw Gildor stretching up from his seat and strolling up to them.

“There is an elder in the company I brought in who would have a word with you, Gil-galad,” he said in his lazy manner. “I would recommend that you met him.”

Gil-galad turned an apologetical half-smile that most resembled a grimace to Círdan. “Tomorrow,” he promised, chasing after Gildor.

Círdan sat in the empty hall, finding solace in watching the stars twinkling in the darkening sky —as they had always done since the elves first awoke in Cuiviénen.


Narbeleth: falling leaves. Late autumn in the elven calendar

Mast Year: certain trees produce excess nuts in certain years. After it happens, they are followed by lesser crops in following years, as trees have to recover. Extended mast years would create a false sense of abundance, exhausting trees and disrupting ecosystems.

Iarwain: Bombadil. As Elrond mentions in “The Council of Elrond,” “Of the Old Forest many tales have been told. All that remains now is but an outlier of its northern march. But there was a time when a squirrel could go from tree to tree from what is now the Shire to Dunland, west of Isengard. (…) But I had forgotten Bombadil, if indeed this is still the same that walked the woods and hills long ago, and even then, was older than the old. Iarwain-Ben-adar, we called him, oldest and fatherless…”

Chapter 5:  The Labour and The Wounds Are Vain

Next morning Círdan greeted Anor in his workshop. A crisp, clean breeze blowing from the sea had pushed the clouds inland during the night, painting a clear, blue sky over a clear, blue sea —the greyness of the last days and the darkness that lurked eastwards almost forgotten in the joy of a rare narbeleth sunny dawn.

His mood had eased, too, after some time spent by the seaside. The relentless voice of the tide always renewed his strength, reminded him of how much sorrow he had endured and how much joy his long life had held in store amidst the grief.  

He resumed working on the discarded piece of driftwood that had landed at his feet during his pre-dawn walk. It would make a beautiful figurehead for the next westbound ship, he deemed, intent on carving a likeness of Uinen’s face out of the twisted wood. He had the feeling that he would be whittling many more of these in the coming years.

He was considering how to set up a routine for recovering and storing driftwood when he saw Miluin take the stone stairs down to the quay. Without thought he jumped to his feet and followed her. She was already standing at the end of the pier looking west when he stepped up and stood by her side, struggling between starting a conversation they both dreaded or leaving it up to her to choose when to raise the subject.

At long last he broke the unbearably heavy silence. “What ails you, sister-child?” he asked, unable to bear the unhappiness that oozed from her.

She sighed, but answered not.

Moved, Círdan slid an arm over her shoulders and hugged her. He remembered her clearly, bright under the starlight, the first child born in Eglarest and the first glimpse of joy for the Falathrim after the abandonment; his sister’s first great grandchild and the first to inherit the family’s strain of silvery hair. He had loved her dearly, that sister who had been carried away with Olwë’s people, and loved this great-grandchild dearly as well, who so resembled her ancestor not just in looks, but also in temper. He had grieved for Miluin after the dagor Nirnaeth, when they had feared all of Annael’s Mithrim people dead or enslaved, and had rejoiced at finding her amongst the handful of survivors that had joined them later in Balar. Now, the weight of heavy losses across the ages seemed to weigh heavily on her, whose brightness of spirit had seen her through tough times —and strengthened those around.

“’Grief denied will rot inside,’ Miluin,” he cautioned, using her long-dead healer husband’s favourite saying. It worked, for she broke in a fit of tears and laughter that had her shaking an accusing finger at him while trying to wipe her eyes.

“That was unfair, Círdan,” she admonished back in a quivering voice, the ghost of a smile straining her fair face. She shook her head and breathed in, as if gathering strength, then pointed away to the Remmenuil, bobbing peacefully in her berth in the Fishers’ Quay, tall amidst the fishing boats besieged by squawking gannets and seagulls that stalked their catches as they unloaded.

“Did Merenel talk to you?” she asked in a rough voice. “Maewendir reports that fish and seabirds high at sea are delaying migration because down south there has been no food …”

“Have you been speaking to my crew?”

“What can I do if they all come to talk to me?” She hugged him back. “The waters of the Lhûn are calling up to the sky rivers in vain, for their streams are denied; there are no clouds carrying water south, and mother trees down there are withering and dying… Merenel brought back less than half a load of what he expected…Did he tell you? There may be a shortage of wood for all those ships that you are going to be required to build….”

Her sorrow pierced him deeply, like a pain half-remembered from old wounds sustained in a battle that had never ended. Then, understanding dawned like Eärendil’s stubborn light through pewter storm clouds. She wished to sail west. He sighed, burying his head on her hair to hide his tears. ’Till the last ship sails’. Ulmo’s words echoed once more in his mind. How many more, he wondered as he held her tight, how many more! —even if he knew the answer. All of them. He would lose all of them before he sailed at last.

“I miss them so much, sometimes I can hardly breathe,” she sobbed at last, surrendering to her long-restrained grief. “I would not desert you, Círdan, I am truly sorry, but I miss them too much…It breaks me to think that all this suffering was in vain…”

A husband and a son. Family, friends, neighbours —every elf in Lindon lived with the pain of the losses and the bittersweet comfort of the memories, so why did the sea-longing hurt so much? Ereinion’s anguish was more understandable when you watched someone close fighting it, he thought. Perhaps it hurt so much so it would be impossible to withstand? Were all their struggles for nothing, all their wounds in vain? That sorrow, that despair they had been seeing in the wandering companies sailing west, it tainted their fae and made it impossible for them to remain, while punishing them for leaving, powerless to resist...

First things first, he chided himself.

“There is nothing to be sorry for, since this longing seems to be stronger than any affection. No one will blame you for heeding the call, and neither should you, Miluin,” he said, swallowing his tears. “I will build you the most beautiful ship since Vingilot, even if I have to bring the white wood from the great forests beyond the mountains,” he promised. Her teary laughter cheered him.

“I could not bring myself to let you down,” she confessed. “Now that you know, I think I will be able to resist the call for some time.”

“You do what feels right, for as long as it feels right,” he said. “Meanwhile, I will start choosing the wood for your ship…”

She took a deep sigh and threaded her arm in his. “Ereinion offered to do that,” she said casually, as she pushed both of them into a leisurely stroll along the quay back to the stone stairs that climbed to the palace.

Círdan could not hold back his surprise. “Did you tell him?”

“He guessed,” she said simply, then looked at him. “Also advised me to tell you only when I felt strong enough. You have raised a very kind and compassionate elf. His parents would be so proud of him…”

“I would argue that he already had most of it in him, but then, coming from you, who also helped raise Tuor and Voronwë… I will just take the compliment!”

“As well you should,” she chuckled. “He relies on you, Círdan, and values your counsel over everything. He worries this new darkness is somehow linked to our refusal to sail and that he may be somehow to blame…”

“Pengolod tried to disabuse him of the notion last night…but you know as well as I do how deep stubbornness runs in his line…it may take some time for the thought to take root…” They had stopped at the foot of the wide stairs. He looked at her concerned face and smiled.  “He needs time. But I will speak to him, I promise. And, if you will allow it, I will start designing your ship, since I am not in charge of choosing the wood for her…”

“I will be honoured, my lord.” She smiled, half-curtsied and started up the stone stairs with a new spring to her step. Círdan watched her climb for a while pondering how on Ulmo’s realm had he missed the signs, convinced himself that she just suffered for those stricken by sea-longing. He had been blind, he chided himself, wondering how many more there in Mithlond were also suffering from the sea-sickness.

Troubled, he took the long route back to his workshop, circling through the fisher’s quay, intending to check the day’s catches and chat with the crews.  As he walked along the causeway, he was almost hit by a harried Peredhel.

“Apologies, Círdan, did you see Miluin?” asked he, tripping and almost falling. “Gailiel wants to know where to settle the company that came with us yesterday…”

“Morning, Peredhel,” Círdan greeted pleasantly, “you need not worry; they will have them all fixed by the time you get up to the palace.” He chuckled at Elrond’s confusion and pushed him along. “Walk with me and tell me what news from the north, will you?”

Elrond’s ability to quickly and effectively assess when a cause was lost and resistance useless was an ability of his that Círdan valued greatly. Seeing no escape, the Peredhel sighed and shrugged, falling in step with him.

“Erestor sounded truly worried last night,” he began. “What do you make of what is going on in those settlements?”

Elrond shrugged. “How would I know? We know little of what is going on in the south, in the east, in the north…and in the west. Men’s hatred against us is being stoked while our ties to Númenóreans have gone loose in these past ennin… I think we have been idling for too long, Círdan, while some unnamed Enemy is brewing dissent amongst settlements and sowing ill will against Men of Númenórean descent and elves…Trouble is spreading everywhere while we watch.”

“We have seen that happen before,” Círdan sighed.

“And what did you do, then?”

The belligerence in Elrond’s voice unsettled Círdan. “Well,” he replied curtly, “your mother’s great grandmother, for one, girdled a whole realm behind her power, and your father’s grandfather built a hidden city that stood for long in secrecy while Beleriand bled out.” Sufficiently chastised, the Peredhel looked away. Círdan softened his tone. “What would you do, Elrond?”

It was a loaded question, but Círdan wanted to know how far was Elrond ready to go, and how deep his annoyance ran. The Peredhel was not an easy one to corner, though.

“It is not for me to presume…”

Of course, his first instinct would be distraction. Círdan was ready for that. “Oh, I guess it is, as one of the king’s closest friends and advisors, it is indeed...”

“Am I?”

“A close friend?”

If looks killed, Círdan guessed he would have been dead long before the moon first rose, so he was impervious to even the harshest glares. Besides, Elrond was no contender on that field.

“You know what I mean…”

“Well, I fail to see how else would have anyone gotten away with so reprimanding the king before his council, unless his judgement and advice were held in the highest regard by the king himself…”

They had reached the fishers’ quay and their conversation was quickly interrupted by greetings mingled with shouted exchanges. The last boats of the day were unloading while seagulls dove recklessly trying to snatch their own catches from the wooden boxes and the nets, much to the fishers’ annoyance, and the flagstones were slippery with scales and brine. A quick conversation with Falaewen confirmed what others had already mentioned, that the natural rhythms of fish and seabirds had been disturbed, and their wintering routines were held off this late in the season. Other captains came to them and confirmed the harbourmistress’ concerns. 

“No one recalls a season like this,” someone said. “Whatever is going on, is disrupting all seasonal behaviours.”

“And yet, we will lack no fish if this continues,” Elrond pointed out.

As expected, Falaewen scorched him with a single glance. “More fish here means less fish elsewhere, Peredhel,” she remonstrated. “Toppling the delicate balance will affect other places as well. This will become a problem for southern populations, no doubt.”

“You will forgive Elrond, Falaewen,” Círdan chimed in, amused by the Peredhel’s contrite expression. “His attention has always been more focused inland, and the arts of Ulmo’s realm remain a mystery to him.”

“Well, I guess that is your fault and Erestor’s then, you should seek to redress it,” she sentenced, waving them away unceremoniously. “If you happen to see my beloved husband, please send him down here. He seems to be under the impression that I have no other responsibility that covering for him whenever he decides to get engaged in a new project.”

“I will,” Círdan reassured her with a laugh, while he and Elrond resumed their walk.

“I was never offered instruction as a mariner,” Elrond mumbled, his pride no doubt wounded.

“Yes, well,” Círdan chuckled, “you never showed any particular interest, either, which is understandable, but then, apprenticeships are always open in the Gaerandir. I am sure that Maewendir would be happy to welcome you on board …”

“Uninterested,” Elrond replied, so quickly that Círdan had to laugh, recalling the many pranks the captain of his crew had pulled on the overly formal Peredhel along the years.

“Understandable, again.” They resumed walking across the busy wharf in a silence that was more companionable than it had been, each pondering their own thoughts. Taking a narrow alley that ran between two warehouses, they ended up in the small cove that served for elflings sail practice, just beside the shipyards. The children’s delighted shrills echoed in the forested slopes, and they spent some time just watching their antics.

In the end it was Círdan who, again, broke an uncomfortable silence that morning.

“So, Elrond, what would you do?

“I think setting up a formal network of informants and building up alliances with our neighbours was a good decision…”

“But you think that is not enough.”

“Well, is it? Men of darkness are being stirred against us by malicious lies and insidious promises all across Eriador and the south. They are being led to believe that some “master who brings gifts” will grant them timelessness and riches that we elves have stolen from them. I believe that the Númenóreans have long forsaken their responsibility towards their Middle-earth kin. I would insist that they came back and strengthened their brethren, sharing their knowledge so they would not fail prey to those poisoning lies and might grow in wisdom. But we, in turn, have also abandoned our relationship with Númenor, accepted their withdrawal and relinquished our ties with them, allowing the distance to grow wider with each long year…”

“They showed little interest lately in the betterment of their kin,” Círdan objected. “As far as our reports go, they were more interested in the forests and minerals of the southern lands. Perhaps they, too, sensed this spread of darkness and chose to withdraw, lest it touched them too? If people of Númenórean descent have been killed in these settlements, could it be that the Men of darkness are also being poisoned against them? Who would blame a king for looking to keep their people safe?”

“Well, we cannot know unless we ask, can we?”

Círdan showed agreement with a nod. “Have you spoken with Gil-galad about it?”

“A few times. Tar-Ancalimë had no interest in Middle-earth or the Quendi, and that contempt was passed down to her son. Ereinion feels that the feud in the House of Elros, set up by the fight between Aldarion and Erendis, will take time to heal, but he vows not to meddle, since he already carries part of the blame for it…”

“It is a wise decision, in my opinion. And you know, as well as I do, that messages of goodwill and alliance are regularly sent to Tar-Anárion’s court, though most remain unanswered. Men, even long-lived and exalted in wisdom as the Númenóreans are, remain in their very nature deeply different from elves, and many times their close association with us have caused them sorrow and harm. For good or for bad, evil in Middle-earth is for us who endure here to battle and contend. When it comes to it, I believe that Númenor will honour ancient alliances and come to the High King’s support if he calls for it. Otherwise, I think it would be unwise to drag them back and expose them to the evil that is brewing here, unless until we know more about its nature and origins...”

Elrond looked affronted at this. “I thought we all agreed that Annatar is the source of it? I would march into Ost-in-Edhil and excise him from there like a plague before it spreads and poisons all the lands!” he thundered, hitting his open palm with the closed fist on the other. Círdan smiled. Sometimes the Amon Ereb-raised elfling surfaced in all its impetuous force, showing the wild strain of his Fëanorian upbringing.

“What would you do with him, then? Bring him back here, where we agreed he should not set foot? Send him West without knowing what kind of evil intent he carries with him? Why would they receive him, anyway? Not to mention the renewed feud amongst the Noldor, were Ereinion to overthrow Celebrimbor’s authority in Eregion…”

“I had not thought of this,” Elrond admitted, taken aback. “But what, then? We let this threat grow before our eyes? What does Galadriel have to say? Why would she allow this Annatar to settle in Ost-in-Edhil? His dubious nature must have been clearer for her than it was to us!”

“No word from her yet,” Círdan replied. They had learnt from third parties that Annatar had been indeed welcome in Eregion and had settled there, but news from the elven realm had been scarce since then. Galadriel’s silence was of particular significance. “But we can keep an eye on him, have him contained there while we discover more about his true nature and purposes.”

“You have tried containment before, too, and the Noldor paid a steep price for the breaking of the Siege of Angband, our lore says.”

That irked Círdan. “Not just the Noldor and not just lore. There are some in Lindon who lived through it, and many more in Ost-in-Edhil. For all their might and strength, the Noldor were wise enough to acknowledge that -even together- we lacked the power to overcome Morgoth. That wisdom bought Beleriand almost three ennin of peace. Not all toils were in vain, and many good things happened during the years of the Siege that bore fruit in later years.”

“I am sorry Círdan I did not mean…”

“We know little to nothing about the enemy and his strengths, Elrond, or his purposes and allies, or where his stronghold lies, if indeed he has one. We have not gone to war in around ten ennin, and we lack the strength of arms of times past —our army is mostly ceremonial.” He sighed and pointed at the children racing each other in the calm waters. “They will need time to grow up, we will need to build ships for those who will want to flee darkness and we will need to build up alliances so we are ready when the time comes. We cannot go blind to war in Eregion…”

Elrond nodded, accepting, then sighed. “What are we waiting for, then?”

Círdan cast him a sidelong glance. “The King’s command.”


Note: Miluin is an OC who appears in "They Did Not Take Root In That Land"  as the palace chief housekeeper. She is a relative of Círdan’s who had lived in Mithrim with Annael. So, she is also a relative of Voronwë -whose mother was also related to Círdan, and had married an Exile in Vinyamar- and also had been there when Annael fostered Tuor after the Nirnaeth. In my universe, she also took care of Ereinion as a child in a story that I might one day finish.


Chapter 6: The Fidelity of Stone

Círdan parted ways with Elrond and continued his walk, pondering the conversation. Elrond’s belligerence -born, no doubt, out of frustration at their apparent idleness- amused him. Still, he had acknowledged the truth in Círdan’s reasoning.

Of course, their army was more than ceremonial, they both knew it, but still far from what it had been at the end of the War of Wrath, when many chose Valinor and many others scattered across the new lands in search of peace and healing. Hîrvegil had long warned of the fact, and, with Gil-galad’s consent, had quietly began increasing training and recruitment while assessing the state of their defences across the Ered Luin and the river Lhûn, and rebuilding where necessary. Ereinion was definitely paying attention, he had been since darkness’ first stirrings, and had acted promptly. Unfortunately, Aldarion’s successors had neglected his policies and now Lindon lacked a steady source of information about the state of affairs in the south or the east —not to mention west. Elrond’s words last night must have hurt in their insight, Círdan guessed, though perhaps not for the reasons Elrond thought. Arrogance, fear and despair were all linked with Ereinion’s belief that, by staying behind, he had joined in the long line of Finwë’s rebellious offspring, and thus brought some kind of damnation down on the elves of Middle-earth. Once he shook the guilt off, only the truth of the unavoidable return of darkness would remain, and with it, the futility of despair and the necessity to make preparations for war.

Círdan knew that Ereinion dreaded to lead the elves to war, hoped to hold the peace while it was safe, but the looming threat was becoming too large to ignore. He could only hope that Gil-galad would be granted enough time to ensure the safety of his people and make preparations for war before the outburst.

Arriving in his workshop at last to find Ruilin, Celeiros and Ereinion in animated conversation -comfortably sprawled on his workbench in the yard and enjoying the first rays of sun while the waves lapped languidly at the stone wall- Círdan remembered how willingly blind he had been to Miluin’s grief. “He guessed,” Miluin had said about Ereinion. Most probably everybody had realized before him, he realized with chagrin. Warmed by how careful they had all been around the issue, he was mellower than he had first intended in rebuking the three elves lazing around. 

“Falaewen was looking for you, Ruilin. Should I wonder who or what are you all three hiding from in my yard this early in the morning?” He had the satisfaction of watching them almost jump off the bench, even if they regained their composure at once.

“Morning, Círdan,” Ruilin said airily, then stood up and patted Ereinion with an impish grin. “You let us know, lad,” he said, and rushed after Celeiros, who had simply nodded to Círdan and scurried away.

With all the cheek he could muster, Ereinion simply moved aside and patted the bench. “You, on the other hand, seem to have been working since before dawn, my lord,” he offered by way of greeting while Círdan took seat, pointing at the discarded piece of driftwood Círdan had been carving earlier.

“Nothing unusual, in my case,” Círdan agreed placidly, “and nothing to be ashamed of in yours, even despite your attire,” he added, casting a quick glance at his foster son. Ereinion had not changed from the riding clothes he had arrived in, which was all Círdan needed to confirm that he had forsaken bed —rather than getting up that early, which was definitely against his custom.

Still, he looked far more relaxed than last night, as if some heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Or, knowing him, as if he had single-handedly wrestled said weight into a more bearable burden. “I hope you skipped rest and refreshment for a worthy cause?” he risked.

He got a half-smile for answer. Ereinion sighed, bent forward, rested his elbows on his thighs and his chin on his hands and looked up at him through some tangled locks escaped from a braid that had last been properly tied back more than a day ago.

“Being schooled in the politics of hope by one Elrond Peredhel is a tough lump to swallow,” he admitted with a shrug. “He gave me much to ponder.”

Círdan raised his bushy eyebrows. “Politics of hope?”

“Arrogance, fear, despair… What else would you call his speech?”

“A remonstration? A thorough upbraiding?”

Ereinion chuckle was joyless. “That, too. I thought Pengolod might faint!”

Círdan waited a beat. The silence was friendly, forthcoming, full of sorrow and lacking anger. He had learnt to distinguish silences along their long years. Words were there, waiting to be lured out. He only had to entice them carefully, patiently, lovingly. He was willing to play. “So, what happened? Why would he scold you like that?”

The High King was impulsive after his bloodline —everybody said so. Only those who knew him well were also familiar with the honesty and humility with which he dispensed judgement, beginning with himself. Once his mind was made, he was swift and decisive, but he was careful to take his time for reflection before reaching the point of action.

So Círdan gave him time.

“Does he really think I would trade in despair? After...all we have gone through?” he wondered aloud, bitterness underlying the incredulity in his hoarse voice. “I guess Elrond fears I am losing hope and getting ready to forsake Middle-earth,” he admitted at last with a wry smile. “He must be disappointed…”

Despite their closeness, Círdan thought, sometimes these two were so unfamiliar with each other’s thoughts that it was almost laughable. Still, it was not for him to disabuse one or the other, or reveal privately expressed concerns.

No other sound than the voice of the tired waves came between them while each followed their own thoughts for some time. At long last Ereinion stirred, sitting back and crossing his long legs before him.

“He must be disappointed that I was ready to listen to the Annatar at first… that I doubted our decision to remain… “

“Do you?”

The sorrow in the grey eyes that met his, Círdan knew only too well.

“What do I know? The Sant Dolen, Círdan, all that grief… it… it broke me.” He shook his head in despair. “We knew it would come back… I knew it had come back… I warned Aldarion… and then did nothing for ennin but watch darkness grow… How can I not feel responsible?”

Words were unwelcome now, also of no use.

That time passed differently for the Edain they had known for long. How significantly —it had just dawned on them, seeing how quickly they had fallen prey to a new darkness while Elves still pondered whether the danger was real.

That Men were venal came as no surprise to any Firstborn who had heard of dagor Nirnaeth, but the speed at which they had been corrupted by a shifty character who posed as one of the Powers and sowed sick hopes wherever he went — that had been unforeseen.

That Evil would wear the mantle of hope in this Age seemed to Círdan the worst corruption yet.

“To your questions,” Ereinion continued in a tired voice, “no, I doubt not my decision to remain… and yes, I agree that Annatar is posing as something he is not, trying to fool the Firstborn into betraying the Powers again using empty promises and offers of a power that is not his to wield, as you and Elrond warned while I still questioned your advice…”

It had taken little argument to convince him, yet Ereinion would not forgive himself easily for having entertained a brief hope, while Elrond had seen clearly through Annatar’s deceptions from the beginning. Círdan shrugged.

“It is a wonder that someone so young can be so wise…”

The grey sorrow was quickly consumed in a flash-fire of indignation. “Well, he is not much younger than myself, there is little more than half a long year between...”

“I know, but still…”

“But still you would remark upon his wisdom in counselling me, and not upon mine in accepting being counselled? I am not even barely noticeably wise despite my youth? Is that what you mean, my lord?”

Círdan accepted the gently humorous challenge hidden in the overly heated complaint. “Well, your family is not particularly renowned for their wise decisions overall, whereas…”

“If you are willing to forget my grandfather’s name, of course… and also pretend that Amon Ereb was the primal source of Elven wisdom in Middle-earth? “

“What I meant is that your…. Wisdom, such as you may possess, comes straight down from Finwë’s line, while his has drunk from many varied sources…”

“You mean wisdom, or lack thereof, comes from bloodlines, then?”

“I mean that good judgement and wise decisions follow example set by family history…”

“If that is so, then yes, I freely admit that my foolishness comes from a single source, while his presumed wisdom has been blessed with many springs, whose good judgement, as you put it, would take several long years to properly discuss and assess...”

“Also, he has been paying far more attention to Erestor and Pengolod’s teachings than you ever pretended to…”

“Granted. I also acknowledge the advantage of his more diverse upbringing, seeing how mine was mainly limited to the local flavour of Telerin knowledge…”

It was Círdan’s time to pretend outrage. “I fail to see how that could be held against you. Since we all still live by the seashore, I would argue that your upbringing is of more use to you than his scholarly wisdom is to him —when it comes to practical matters…”

“And yet, apparently, he is still the wisest of us two, which moots your point, my lord.”

“But not when it comes to sailing or fishing, he is not...And yet,” he hurried to add, seeing the dangerous frown on his foster son’s face, “and yet you are wise enough to follow advice, my son, and I must say that is worthy of praise and a clear sign of wisdom and good judgement… not generally found in your ancestry, if I may add.”

“It was not so difficult to admit, was it?” Ereinion chuckled, shaking his head. Bantering had always been their way of clearing the air. “And you could add that, apart from being wise enough to accept schooling from my younger relative, I could also be rightly accused of being tainted with the curse of foresight,” he said in a more sober manner.

“How is that?”

“You see, even being sure that it would be pointless, I had word sent to Celebrimbor and Galadriel in Eregion some time ago, to warn them against Annatar.”

The conversation had taken the serious turn that Círdan had been expecting since yesterday’s tense council. “Did it work?”

Ereinion shrugged. “In proving that I am gifted with foresight, yes. For the rest, I am afraid that Celebrimbor’s good judgement,”

“If any,”

“If any, comes from sources even more thick-headed than mine, so I had hoped it would be up to the Lady Galadriel to draw from the endless pool of wisdom nurtured by the grace of the three kindred that could claim her as theirs, to find it in her to heed the counsel of one such as myself and bar the Annatar from entering Eregion. How likely was that, would you say? I bow to your greater wisdom, my lord, for in this, as in every other matter, mine is not near enough to even make an educated guess…Or should I ask Elrond?”

“Sarcasm is unbecoming in a king, have I never told you so?”

“As many times as moons I have been under your gracious care, I would say, my lord, or perhaps ten times as many would be a better assessment. Blame my inferior wisdom, or the muddied pools from which it drank, for the fact that I seem unable to abandon that unflattering habit…”

“You are unusually talkative today.”

“Well, I have been insulted and placed second in wisdom to my slightly younger cousin… I am annoyed, and that is how I deal with annoyance,”

“In my experience, second to no one else’s, it is how you deal with uneasiness and concern…”

“Would you blame me, if that were the case?”

“Is it?”

“Of course, it is, Lord Shipwright. Less than ten long years have passed of this Age and darkness is already gathering everywhere again.”

“That is the very nature of Arda Marred, my King, as you well know… Are you troubled by anything more particular that you might care to share?”

There was another silence and a reluctant sigh. “The elder Gildor wanted me to meet yesterday? He brought me this.”

Círdan opened the stained parchment he was handed and flinched, recognizing Galadriel’s signature at the end.

“Celebrimbor would not care to reply,” Ereinion said as he read. “As you will see, the news from Eregion comes from further south, and is more worrisome than expected. Any hope that Galadriel might force Celebrimbor to behave wisely was unfounded.”

Círdan read aloud the last lines. “…Arafinwë and Nolofinwë’s children were all close as siblings. It is out of this love that I reach out to you, Gil-galad, as a close relative rather than subject or counsellor, to advise against you going to Eregion. Wise as you have been in keeping Annatar out of Lindon, it would be foolish now to walk into a realm he has deceitfully made his. While the knowledge he purports to freely share does actually come from the Blessed Realm, the purposes to which he aims it are murky at best, and his true intention is yet to be revealed. Celebrimbor has fallen into his grasp, eager as he is to rise to his potential and overshadow his grandfather’s deeds, but I beg of you, Ereinion, please stay away from them and brace Lindon for siege and attack. Whomever this being who calls himself ‘Aulendil’ is, I fear he seeks utter domination and will not suffer edain or elven realms to stand free from his authority and control.” He looked up from the wrangled and stained parchment“You meant to go to Eregion?” he asked, outrage barely out of his voice.

“Well, it crossed my mind, yes,” Ereinion admitted. “They claimed to be my subjects, when I first visited, and it has been more than two long years since I was last there…” He shrugged.  “Apparently, I would no longer be welcome.” He shrugged. “Galadriel had to leave, she and Celebrían took refuge with Amdír. She says not openly, but I understand that she felt threatened by Annatar…or by his influence upon Celebrimbor’s Mírdain, so my advice not only was unwelcome in Ost-in-Edhil, but also useless and late.”

Círdan agreed to the unspoken fact that someone having such effect upon the lady Galadriel as to force her to yield the field must make a formidable enemy indeed. He waited in silence, watching by the corner of his eyes as Ereinion toyed with the piece of driftwood, following his own troubled line of thought.

At last Gil-galad sighed and looked ahead. “I spent some time last night reading my father’s letters,” he whispered.

“Because of Elrond’s words?” The look he received was scorched, with something tender and vulnerable blossoming there out of the ashes of long-dead hopes and dreams. All Círdan could do -all he had always done- was offering his support as Ereinion wrestled his ghosts into submission.

“Pengolod’s, too.” He shook his head. “I was reminded that this spreading blemish of darkness, grief and sorrow is but a manifestation of the very same stain that mars all of Arda, and that not even Valinor is safe from it…”

A seagull squawked her agreement from top of a bollard where she stood guard. Ereinion let escape a small smile.

“I am not my father, Círdan,” he said at last, as if he had finally unravelled the bundle of contradictions that always struggled inside him. “I did not come here, neither to win nor to wage war; neither to conquer nor to contend; neither to resist nor to repel…” It broke Círdan’s heart a little to hear Ereinion quote his father’s words with such grief. “I was born in Beleriand, and, like many others who are now seeking passage west, I lost the lands of my birth to the endless fight between the Powers, and I will carry that wound with me forever.” Again, he turned the piece of driftwood in his hands, surely reflecting the turmoil in his mind. He shrugged. “Of course, in that struggle the Quendi will always take the side of the Powers. Darkness will always loom over Middle-earth and all our achievements here, and we must indeed prepare to fight it. But I will not immolate myself by starting a hopeless, endless war, nor doom our people to forsake the beauty we so much love and strive to preserve by laying waste to Middle-earth. I will fight this Annatar and I will resist him, if that is what it takes to prevent him from spreading his dominion to Númenor and Valinor. That is the estel I hold on to, that I may be granted the strength to hold the way West open so the elves can still find peace there, even if Middle-earth falls.”

The silence stretched between them as Círdan pondered his next words. He wanted not to fail the expectation in the grey gaze that met his steadily, awaiting judgement. “This is a fair realm you have built here, between the mountains and the sea,” he began, “and it is worth preserving. We can resist behind the Ered Lindon and the Lhûn for a long time if it comes to it, and no one will blame you for it.” he added with a soft smile, patting the shoulder that was no longer bony but strong and muscled from wielding spear and sword and bow and shield.

A rare smile brightened the king’s usually stern face. “We can make it fairer still, my lord,” he said, standing with sudden eagerness. “I could tell you, but I think I will better show you instead!”

“What do you mean?” he asked, mistrusting the sudden grin. He watched in disbelief as Ereinion weighed the piece of driftwood in his hand with a thoughtful look then suddenly pushed his arm back and threw it as far as he reached into the sea.

“You rascal!” was all Círdan could splutter.

Ereinion let go a cheerful laugh. “Come, my lord, and I will show you,” he prompted, starting at a fast pace towards the western end of the docks beyond the last shipyard. “Soon you will have plenty of driftwood better suited for your craft!”

Beyond the shipyards an empty stone esplanade spread, which shipwrights used as their open-air warehouse. It was a low platform that stretched between the cliff wall and the sea, ending in a tall rock spur that entered well into the waters, creating a protected cove there. A long tunnel excavated on the rock connected the natural stone harbour with a long low stretch of sandy beach at the other side, festooned by a dense pine forest that reached the shore.  Standing at the end of the shipyard, Ereinion waved around expansively.

“Behold, the Westbound Haven and the Haven of Hope!” he intoned in a pompous manner.

“All I see is a rock platform under the escarpment,” chuckled Círdan, amused despite himself by the king’s theatrics.

“A little cooperation from your part would not go amiss,” frowned Ereinion. “The sandbanks beyond the spur improve the currents here, you will find plenty of driftwood beyond the tunnel. We will build the breakwater here; it will be even better sheltered than the one in the Fishers’ Quay. Over there will be the harbourmaster’s cabin,” he pointed, “and next to it, the House of Farewells, where the records will be kept, but also mementos and messages for loved ones…” 

Círdan felt so warmed by the enthusiasm in the king’s voice as he detailed his plans that he refrained from asking whether Pengolod had agreed for his records to be moved down there.

“All along the platform,” Gil-galad continued, “there will be long stone tables, and benches carved off the cliff. We will all reunite to see the white ships off and celebrate those who depart.” He turned his grey eyes to Círdan. “No more shame and remorse. There will be sorrow, of course, but no regret.”

Círdan nodded, understanding. It warmed his heart, and made him proud to see how Gil-galad had managed to combine his father’s legacy - “resist not evil, fear not defeat,”- with Círdan’s own “you tend first to those who are most in need.” It made him proud, to see both legacies so seamlessly combined. War they would surely be forced to wage, sooner or later, but in the meantime, there were those distraught by the sorrow of leaving to look after.

“… and I hope you will forgive me for recruiting Celeiros and Ruilin for the planning without consulting with you first,” he added, pointing at the closest end of the shipyard where Círdan’s chief shipwright and his harbourmaster walked towards them in animated conversation with Erestor.

Círdan greeted them with a chuckle. “You have been busy, I see.”

“He is persuasive, and he has a point,” Ruilin said. “This will make a wonderful haven for long- distance ships, and a good shelter when huge storms come in. But how will they know to find us?”

“I have spoken with the Hîrdawar, he will send word to the wandering clans this and the other side of the mountains.” Of course, Ereinion had thought of everything. “We will also leave messages in the Sant Dolen, so they know they can get here and find a ship west.”

“That will not be easy,” Celeiros objected.

“Oh, if only I could find someone or some ones amongst my councillors who are familiar with the noble art of map mapping,” Ereinion joked as Erestor rolled his eyes.

“I am sure that Elrond will be happy to assist,” Erestor retorted, but there was no venom there. “This is a magnificent project, Gil-galad, what prompted it?”

The answer caught Círdan by surprise.

“Remember the walls of Eglarest?” he said softly. “I want to build something like that, a place that holds our voices and those of the ones departing till the lands change and the waves take over and the sea rides in. A stone haven that sings of what they bestow to our care, of their love for their forests and their rivers and their mountains, and of all the memories they leave behind. I want to entrust all our voices to the stones, so they will sing of us when we are no longer here. I believe I am ready for that.”

“So you are, indeed,” Ruilin agreed, impressed, while they all nodded. 

“Then let’s get to work,” the king said.

Five Winters Later.

The song was fitting for the occasion: otherworldly, poignant —a soulful dirge ending in a hopeful note that clung to the walls and rang there in defiance, treasured in their core. “Say not the struggle nought availeth, the labour and the wounds are vain” it went, and it was so uplifting that it would forever echo there, Círdan reckoned. It was Eredher’s gift to them. She was a powerful singer, one of those in the first company Gil-galad had led to Mithlond after meeting them in the Sant Dolen five winters ago.

Many things had changed since then, and many more companies had arrived seeking passage west. Word spread by the Hîrdawar and his people reached so far and wide that one day they might yet see Oropher riding in, complaining about some Noldorin conspiracy to ship the green elves away to Eressëa and keep Middle-earth for themselves, Elrond had joked one day to general amusement —and Gil-galad’s mortification.

Darkness still grew and forests still died out, and orcs plundered and wargs prowled, and men hunted men, but the elves continued to fight evil and care for Yavanna’s creatures wherever they dwelled. Now, the westernmost shipyard had become devoted to westbound ships, and Ereinion’s design for the Westbound Haven had turned out even more beautiful and welcoming after completion, thanks to many contributions. To everyone’s surprise, Pengolod not only had agreed to the moving of records to the House of Farewells, but had supported the process with what, for him, passed for enthusiasm.

Celeiros and his shipwrights had worked hard to build up three beautiful white ships that now bobbed calmly in their berths, their hand-woven sails flapping in a gentle breeze brought in by the sunset, their beautifully carved figureheads gleaming in the slanting rays of the sun, eagerly waiting to begin their journey.

And the time was coming, after the shared meal and the singing and drinking at the long tables and stone benches carved out the rock wall that lined the beautiful haven. Tilion and Eärendil were standing by and Gil-galad’s speech was winding down to a heartfelt ending. Not a dry eye was to be found in the audience gathered together there for their farewell wishes.

“…May Ulmo lead you in haste and may the winds of the King of Arda greet you upon arrival,” he said at last in a voice that did not break. “Go now, my friends, with our gratitude and our love!”

Círdan stood by the king’s side, greeting those departing as they boarded the ships one by one, feeling the weight of emotion that filled them all, departing as well as remaining.  Only when the ships reached the mouth of the new harbour did the voices start to fade and the crowd to thin out. Gildor strode to them then, an intent look upon his fair face, his starlit eyes sparkling with seldom shown emotion.

“That was a beautiful send off, Gil-galad, but I must compliment you on the haven. The song in these stones speaks to the marrow of my bones! It is so powerful it would disband an army of orcs all by itself!”

Dressed in the Telerin ceremonial whites and greys, Ereinion turned a sad smile to his distant relative. “It will echo here long after the last ship has sailed, Gildor,” he promised, and Círdan felt that his heart would break with the strength of sorrow and joy and foresight weighing in those simple words.

Before he could say anything, Celeiros and his shipwrights took Gil-galad away to celebrate the launch of the new ships and to mourn that these would never return home. It was fitting that they claimed him as one of theirs, so Círdan saved his words of comfort for another day and joined them in their revelry.

And the white ships drifted away, their long sails spread like swan wings in the evening breeze, until they disappeared from sight.

The End.


Go check the poem that inspired this tale. 

Neither to win nor to wage war; neither to conquer nor to contend; neither to resist nor to repel” Gil-galad’s quote is from Fingon’s letter in “Resist Not Evil" in this site.

Thanks for taking the time and letting me know that you enjoyed.


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