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The Struggle Nought Availeth  by perelleth

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…”

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