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The Struggle Nought Availeth  by perelleth

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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