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The Struggle Nought Availeth  by perelleth

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.


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