The Echoing Sea back to Strange Fates
"I sat upon the margin
of the deep voiced echoing sea
The night was clear and silent but for the breaking of the waves when Ereinion stirred from dreams. For the fifth time in five nights together, Círdan was gone from the bed they'd been sharing. For four nights Ereinion had done nothing when, waking from reverie in the comforting darkness, he'd felt the cold sheets beside him. Now he lay back, staring up at the ceiling, arms crossed behind his head, his mind straying to thoughts he'd rather avoid.
Círdan was, to a large extent, still a mystery to him - a thought that made him sad after all the years he had spent so desperately in love with the older Elf. What had all that passion, all that devotion, won him in the end? The same elusive smile, the touch he knew that another enjoyed as well as he did, the one he wanted for his own a silvery wave, disappearing through his hands even as he clutched at it. The only progress he'd made towards accepting the situation was that he could, at least at an intellectual level, tell himself that he and Círdan were not meant to be together in the way that most Elves were partnered.
It would have been difficult enough, just given the fact that the one he loved was male instead of female, but even that might have been accommodated somehow, were the Shipwright truly free to bind himself to another. He wasn't though and even though Ereinion could now say those words to himself without choking on them - could accept them in his mind - body and soul still rejected them utterly.
He sat up and ran a hand through his hair, sighing in frustration before rising to pull on leggings and a tunic. He'd find his elusive lover and drag him back to bed if he had to. He could at least insist that when Círdan spent the night in his company, it was the entire night.
Under the starlight, he walked to the beach west of the harbor but found no one on the sand nor in the water. He had turned back towards the settlement and begun to walk along the quayside when he noticed a gleam of silver high up on the harborside watchtower. None of the remaining Falathrim, nor any of Doriath's survivors who still resided on Balas had hair that color, save one1. The king had found his quarry.
"Don't you have guards to do this kind of thing for you?" he said, a little brusquely, as he climbed off the ladder and onto the top of the tower.
Círdan, who had been watching the sea intently, turned and gave him a slow smile. "Well, I'm only a Lord, after all," he said, his voice teasing despite the coolness of Ereinion's manner. "I'm not the High King."
Ereinion wasn't amused. Crossing to the railing of the tower, he sat down next to Círdan, his expression bordering on mulish. "You know what I mean," he muttered. "Am I so poor a lover that you feel the need to leave in the middle of the night? Afraid I might wake up? Is that it? Am I too demanding of you?"
Another maddening smile. "You *are* demanding," Círdan said, turning his eyes to the harbor again, "but it's a quality I find endearing."
Beating back a wave of frustration at the languid response, Ereinion leaned over and tangled his fingers in Círdan's hair, pulling the Shipwright to him for a long, heated kiss. It began roughly, his tongue demanding entrance, but gradually softened until they were eating gently at each other's mouths. Ereinion pulled back slowly, his fingers relaxing around the silvery strands.
"We're not together every night," he said softly. "When we are... am I so wrong to want you there?"
Círdan almost laughed. "And knowing you, you'd *want* it to be every night."
Drawing back a bit, Ereinion did his best to look offended. "Are you suggesting that I have unnatural tastes?"
"Well," the silver-haired Elf mused, "it is said that once an Elf marries and has children that his attention turns to other things." His smiled widened, not quite a smirk, but close. "Perhaps if you found a maiden and sired a few sons..."
Ereinion's fingers tightened in his hair. "May I remind you, my Lord, that you have been alive far, far longer than I have and yet you remain unmarried and childless. I must therefore assume that *you* have yet to turn your attention to other things."
They sat for several moments, staring at each other, their smiles growing and each trying not to laugh. "I believe," Círdan said after a time, "that I've been found out." He let his gaze slide over Ereinion's features, settling at last on the king's lips. "Whatever am I to do about you?" he said softly.
"Tell me why you leave me in the middle of the night," Ereinion answered, unwilling to be distracted.
"I'm sorry," Círdan murmured, arms sliding around his knees, head tilted to study Ereinion's face. "Perhaps it sounds foolish but... there are times when I miss the starlight." He lifted his head for a moment then rested his chin on his knees and looked back at the silvery sea. "It reminds me, you see. Of simpler times..."
For a long time, Ereinion simply watched his lover's face, not speaking or touching, just watching. When the words came, he tried to bite them back, but couldn't. "Before my people returned to Middle-Earth, you mean?"
"Ereinion," Círdan chided softly, "you don't understand. I'm not one of those who condemn all the Noldor for the acts of a few. It's true that before the people of Finwë returned life here was simpler, but I would not trade that life for the companionship I had with Fingon, or Finrod... or you, most of all."
He broke off for a moment and turned his gaze to the stars, clear and fiery overhead. "Innocence is something to remember, to look back on with wonder. But it's not something to return to. We can none of us do that."
"No," Ereinion murmured, watching him as if from far away. "No we can't." /But oh... what I would give to be able to./
They had sat, there in the watchtower, until the sky along the eastern shore grew pale and then fiery red. Below them the first stirrings of life in the settlement began, and Ereinion had gotten to his feet, stretching extravagantly, when Círdan sat up suddenly, peering out at the sea beyond the harbor.
"Ereinion?" he said. "Do you see that? Out beyond the last dock? Is that -"
"A messenger gull," the king muttered, his own eyes straining to identify the fast moving shape. "From the Havens..."
Círdan stood, his silver brows furrowed slightly. He and Tuor had set up the system of trained birds to ferry messages between Balar and the Havens of Sirion when the refugees from Gondolin had first come southward. Since the Havens had become well established, though, the birds were usually used only in emergencies.
As the white and gray gull approached, Círdan leaned over the railing of the tower and held out an arm. The obviously exhausted bird fluttered down roughly and landed on it, pausing for only a moment before holding out its leg. A small piece of parchment was curled tightly around it.
Quickly untying the message, Círdan placed the bird in the small open cote that stood on the east side of the tower, then unfurled the parchment and read. Ereinion watched the color drain from his lover's face.
"What -" he began, but Círdan interrupted him.
"The sons of Fëanor have sent word to the Havens," he whispered, crumpling the slip of parchment in his fist. "They are demanding the Silmaril."
Ereinion didn't have to be told to head down the ladder towards the ships.
One hundred and twenty five miles2 from the harbor on Balar to the Havens, and every inch of it seemed to drag on endlessly. They had taken seven of their largest ships, twenty warriors in each, and a smaller, lightweight vessel to carry Ereinion, Círdan, and a small armed contingent. There was no way to know what size force they might be up against - no way to gauge the number of troops the Fëanorians might have brought with them, had they come to the Havens at all. They could only hope that, had a struggle ensued, the folk of the Havens could hold their own until the mariners of Balar arrived.
Círdan was at the helm, ten of his strongest warriors at the oars, and the wind was blessedly in their favor, blowing strong out of the south. Even so, to Ereinion, sitting in the prow of the ship and staring at what seemed an endless expanse of water, they seemed to crawl at a snail's pace.
Images from his childhood, long ago in Hithlum, flooded his mind. He could remember sitting near the fire after the evening meal and hearing his grandfather's bitter words against Fëanor, his half-brother, who had abandoned Fingolfin and his people to the punishing ice of the Helcaraxë.
"And his sons no better than their father," he had said, and Ereinion had looked up at his father, only to see anguish in Fingon's eyes. His father had risked his own life to save Fëanor's eldest from torment and certain death, hoping to heal the rift between the two Houses. It had worked, on the whole, but Fingolfin never quite got over the humiliation of that hideous crossing, or the betrayal that had made it necessary.
As Ereinion stared out at the horizon, straining for some hazy view of coastline, he wondered if Maedhros was already in the Havens. For surely, it would have to be Maedhros leading the Fëanorians. Maglor followed his elder brother, and the three most temperamental of the seven had been slain in the attack on Doriath. The youngest he knew less about, but they no doubt heeded their eldest brother in the affair of their father's creations3.
No, it had to be Maedhros, and now Ereinion would have to face him - possibly fight him - his father's dearest friend. /Will we never be free of those cursed jewels?/ he found himself thinking. /Will they take us all down with them for the sake of that abominable oath?/
Thirty miles from shore, Círdan, taking his turn in the prow, sighted a ship, beating its way out from the Havens against the southerly wind. When they had pulled abroadsides her captain, a slender Dorathian Elf, had dire news.
"Please, sire - my Lord," he said, breathlessly to Ereinion and Círdan, "the Havens are in peril! The sons of Fëanor came to us late last night, asking for the jewel my Lady bears. They would not be turned away empty handed, and the two youngest - ah, their pride could not bear it, though their elder brothers cautioned patience. They slew Lord Eärendil's counselors, and then went after the Lady Elwing herself. She ran from them, and bade me come to you as fast as possible, but the wind has been against me for hours. Please help us! There is madness in their eyes..."
"Bring your ship about," Círdan told him, "and follow us as quickly as you can. We have seven ships astern and troops enough to fight, if only we are in time."
No further time was wasted on words. The ship from Balar was soon underway again, easily pulling ahead of the vessel from the Havens by dint of a larger sail and more oars. Just over an hour had passed when they gained the harbor, but what a horrible sight met their eyes. The bodies of the dead and wounded lay about the quay, some with women huddled over them, weeping. Several of the nearest buildings - the armories, and several storehouses - were burning, and the acrid smell of smoke filled the air, mingling with the quiet sobs of the newly grieved.
Ereinion was the first out of the ship, his sword drawn, leather boots pounding along the wooden pier. Along the pathway to the Great Hall, near where Elwing and her sons resided, the party from Balar come upon a pair of Elven women fleeing towards the harbor. There faces were ashen gray, the eyes red from crying.
"Sire?" one of them said, as if in a dream, reaching vaguely toward Ereinion. "Is it you?"
The king reached for her hands to steady her, but she pulled away, pressing her palms to her cheeks, the tears streaming down her face anyway. "Could you not have come one hour sooner?" she said, her voice rising out of control.
"My lady -" he began, staring at her, his face a mask of agony, somehow knowing what she had not yet told them.
"What has happened?" Círdan said sharply, stepping forward. "Where are the Lady Elwing and her children?"
"Gone," said the second woman, speaking for the first time. Her voice was low and harsh from crying. "The little ones taken away by those fiends, but not before seeing their mother cast herself into the sea, still holding the Silmaril." She broke off, unable to say more and turned away from them, beginning to cry again in earnest.
"Just one hour," the first woman said, clutching at Ereinion's arm, her eyes at once hopeless and accusing. "One hour and they would have all been saved."
Ereinion felt a wave of sickness pass through him. The woman's eyes were hot stones upon him, boring into him relentlessly, pressing his failure down upon him like a deadly weight. "We'll find the children, my lady," he said, his voice low and hoarse. "I swear to you we will find them."
"But who will find their mother?" she replied, turning away from him slowly, like a woman in a dream. "Who will find her at the bottom of the sea?"
to be continued
(1) Silver colored hair seemed to be a characteristic of the Teleri, and even among them it was rare. It appeared almost exclusively in those related to Elwë's line, as Thingol himself had it, as well as Celeborn and Círdan.
(2) From The Atlas of Middle-Earth, by Karen Wynn Fonstad
(3) I am using Silmarillion canon here, not HoME. In this story, Amrod and Amras both survived the burning of the ships at Losgar, and both came to the Sack of the Havens at Sirion.
When Círdan's mariners arrived in the harbor they found no one to fight, and a crowd of Elves gazing at their settlement in shock. To a one, their faces were pale, their eyes dazed, staring at the fires consuming the last of their storehouses, and the dead who lay along the earthen paths.
Ereinion had taken a handful of troops and headed for Ëarendil's house, hoping against hope to find someone, anyone, of the ruling Lord's family left.
Círdan had run back to the harbor to do what he could for the wounded there while awaiting his ships. When they docked, he directed the warriors to fan out through the settlement and into the marshlands beyond, reckoning that if the sons of Fëanor had left but an hour previously they might still be found. When he was satisfied that the hunt for the Haven's attackers was well underway, he began loading the most grievously injured into the ships, for transport to Balar.
Ereinion, arriving at the Great Hall, found the most grisly scene. Most of the fighting had taken place there, and it was obvious that the folk of the Havens had fought off the Fëanorians desperately before being overcome. He and his soldiers were forced to walk through the Hall slowly, stepping over and around the bodies of the dead, stopping now and then to soothe one of the few still alive, though it was obvious to the king that all of their wounds were fatal.
In the middle of the room, within a few feet of each other, he found the bodies of two Elves he was unfamiliar with. They were of identical build and height, and their bright, coppery red hair flowed down their backs like fire. Kneeling down, he turned them over to lie on their backs.
"Who are they, my Lord?" the Falathrim soldier behind him asked quietly. "They aren't from the Havens, are they?"
"No," Ereinion murmured in reply, "they're Fëanor's twins, Amrod and Amros."
The Elf behind him swore softly. "It's a good thing they're dead," he said bitterly. "It saves me the trouble of dirtying my sword with their filthy blood."
Ereinion stood and turned to face the soldier, who drew back a bit from the suddenly tall and imposing king. "It was just such misguided passion and rash words that caused this horror," he said, voice quiet but stern. "If there is anything we do *not* need it is more of the same." Then he turned and continued through the Hall to the doors on the far side.
There was more evidence of the battle in the corridor and on the stairs that led to Ëarendil's family quarters. The small party from Balar moved swiftly upwards, though, and Ereinion gave the order for a complete search of the rooms. He himself took the largest bedchamber, a spacious room with a small wooden balcony, southward facing, that stood above the sea. Looking down from that height, Ereinion could see the waters of the bay, a deep, calm blue.
"It's no use looking for her, my Lord," a faint voice came from behind the king.
Ereinion turned, unsheathing his sword and holding it out. It's deadly tip was only inches from a pale Elven face. Light brown hair was matted with blood that flowed from a large wound on the side of his head. The livery he wore marked him as a Doriathin, possibly, Ereinion thought, a retainer who had come from the Guarded Realm with the Lady Elwing on her flight south. His eyes were unfocused, and he struggled to keep himself standing as he leaned against the back wall of the balcony.
The king moved to his side, putting an arm around his waist and helping him to slide down the wall, where he sat with his head resting gingerly against the sun-warmed wood. "What is your name, good sir?" Ereinion asked gently.
"Taurendil, my Lord," he said. "She's gone, you see..."
Ereinion took his hand. "Tell me, Taurendil - what happened here?"
"My Lady..." he began. "She talked with Lord Maedhros long into the night. He tried to convince her that his claim to the jewel should be honored..."
"Were any other of the brothers here?" Ereinion asked, feeling the press of the dying Elf's weight against him.
"Lord Maglor," he whispered. "He said little. I don't think either of them wanted..." Taurendil's eyes closed and he shook his head. Ereinion, struggling to hide a growing sense of urgency and impatience, forced himself to simply listen.
"It was dawn and all were weary - weary of the demand, weary of the refusal... Maglor it was who stood and urged his brother to leave. But just as he did, we heard a noise of swords and shouting in the Great Hall. A steward came in - bleeding - saying the youngest brothers and their troops had attacked the guards. Of course... of course we drew swords on the older two, thinking to be ready before they did the same..."
Blood was pouring from the wound, seeping down the side of the pale face and pooling on Taurendil's delicately stitched tunic, a bright, garish red against the soft blue fabric. Ereinion tried to wipe some of it out of the Elf's eyes, murmuring, "Hold on... hold on."
"Perhaps we should not have done so," Taurendil continued. "The gesture seemed to madden them, especially Lord Maedhros. They... they attacked us - they attacked everyone who was surrounding the Lady Elwing. We tried... so hard to keep her safe. And then they started crying..."
"They?" Ereinion asked. "Do you mean the twins? Were they nearby?"
"In the small chamber behind this one. The Fëanorians didn't know they were there... But the sound of the fighting must have frightened them. Came to the doorway... wanted their mother, poor little ones..."
His eyes were closing slowly, the color drained completely from his face. One of Ereinion's soldiers arrived on the balcony, somewhat breathless, to inform the king that the other rooms had been searched and that nothing was found. He looked down at the dying Elf in the king's arms.
"Should I... should I bring some water, my Lord?" he murmured, though it was obvious to both he and Ereinion that it would do no good.
"Yes," the king said, glad for a reason to send him away, and when he'd gone in search of it Ereinion looked back down at Taurendil. "What happened to the children?" he said softly. "To your Lady?"
"Lord Maedhros came at her. He and his soldiers had killed the other guardsmen, and dealt me a death blow. I tried to get up... to come at him from behind, but I couldn't. He had his sword drawn and she, my Lady, she was between him and this balcony..."
He opened his eyes again, staring up at the bright sky, and gave out a sob. "I could see her thinking about it. She had that jewel clutched tight in her hand -" He tried to bring his hand up to make a fist, but it dropped to the ground before he could. "She knew just what she was doing. He stepped forward and she... she turned and made a leap onto the railing. Didn't turn to look back at all. One moment she was there and the next... she was like a hunted bird falling down to the sea. And her little ones there and seeing her go..."
It was clear he couldn't say more about it. Tears were mingling with the thick streams of blood running down his face. Ereinion leaned back and let Taurendil's head slide onto his lap. "And the children?" he asked. "Were they killed?"
"Taken," came the breathy reply. "One by Lord Maedhros... one by Lord Maglor... and I could only lie in my own blood and watch them go..." Then his face, that had been contorted by crying, relaxed. Through the blood and his own tears, he looked again a noble Elf, the guardian of a noble family. "Crying for their mother," he whispered to Ereinion. "Those little voices... so hopeful and pleading..."
And Taurendil, guardian of the House of Dior, spoke no more.
"The water, my Lord," said a voice at Ereinion's elbow. Then there was a pause. "Is he...?"
"Yes," the king said softly. "A brave and loyal man... his people should be proud of him." He looked up at the soldier. "We *must* find those children."
They didn't find the children, though. The soldiers of Balar searched for weeks and found only cold trails and a few broken camps. It was Ereinion who, after the searchers had been at it for several months, told Círdan to call them back to the island. The sons of Fëanor were hunters, skilled in woodcraft, and knew well how to cover their tracks and disappear into the wild. They had done just that, and taken the children of Ëarendil and Elwing with them.
Those who had survived the attack were taken to Balar to dwell among Círdan and Ereinion's people. The dead of the Havens were buried, the fires put out, and the Elven settlement that had been the home of the survivors from Doriath and Gondolin was slowly reclaimed by the land.
The folk of the Havens, now living on Balar, waited and hoped for their Lord, Ëarendil, to come home from the sea, but to their great sorrow he never did. After two years had passed without word from him, many assumed him dead, and took Ereinion for their lord and king.
One evening, some five years after the attack, it happened that Círdan and Ereinion walked the beach west of the main harbor. They were discussing plans to establish two additional settlements further up the coast. They were needed desperately, for not only had the Falathrim grown again in numbers, but every day it seemed more boats arrived from Beleriand, bringing Elves who had been scattered over the lands and had now been driven south by Morgoth's forces. The main settlement was extremely crowded and some Elves had already taken to building houses out away from it. Among the new arrivals had been Ereinion's kinswoman, Galadriel and her husband Celeborn of Doriath, a distant relation of Círdan's.
"How are you getting on with the Lady Galadriel?" Círdan asked the king, looking over at him from the corner of his eye.
Ereinion's brows drew together, the faintest of scowls on his face. "She is... quite an amazing woman. Intelligent. Very strong... in her beliefs..."
"Mmm, yes," Círdan murmured, still observing Ereinion with a hidden smile. "An interesting contrast to her husband, who seems all ease and consideration."
"You've noticed that as well?" Ereinion asked, turning to him with a look of near-relief. "Well then, at least it's not just my pride asserting itself."
The Shipwright laughed. "Oh, I'm sure that has *something* to do with it, but not completely. No, she knows her own mind, the Golden Lady does. I would not want to be her enemy."
"No..." Ereinion murmured, and Círdan looked over at him in curiosity. He said no more, though, and they walked in silence for a time, enjoying the blue of the twilight sky.
Then, suddenly, Ereinion stopped. Círdan turned to see him staring up at the western sky.
"Do you...?" The king's hand went up, as if to touch something that hung in the air above him. "Do you see it, Círdan?"
Following his gaze, Círdan turned and there, in still blue air above the sea, was a star - a new star, that neither Elf had ever seen before. To say it was a mere star, though, was to do it great injustice, for it contained the brightest, most luminous light of any in the sky. It glowed with a silver so profound that they found themselves smiling at it - laughing even - as they stared up at it in wonder.
At last, Ereinion found his voice again. "What is it?" he whispered?
Círdan did not answer at once, but stood quietly, regarding the new light of the heavens, his arms folded in front of him, his long hair gleaming in it's brilliance. "It's a sign," he said at last. "Perhaps we are not forsaken after all."
It was later that year, as the folk of Balar finished the first of their new settlements, that the air one foggy morning was shaken with the sound of trumpets. Far, far away them seemed, but clear as Sirion's waters in the Springtime, and the whole of that Elven folk looked towards the north and began to whisper among themselves that perhaps - that it just might be - the Lords of the West had taken pity on the Elves and Men of Middle-Earth, and that the time of their deliverance from Morgoth could be at hand.
Círdan, Ereinion, and their captains held counsel at once, conferring on what the best course of action would be. Círdan was hesitant to leave his people with only light defense, but Ereinion was adamant that the Sindar and the Noldor be represented in what would no doubt be a great battle against Morgoth and in the end, with assurances of a strong regiment to guard the island, the two of them prepared for war.
It took several months to ready themselves and their troops, for both ships and armor were in short supply. Their plan was to sail to Arvernien and then up the river Sirion to the Falls, west of where Nargothrond had stood. From there they would march northward towards the enemy.
Círdan, along with his Falathrim and the mariners of the Havens, worked constantly in the shipyard, building new vessels and preparing the existing ones for the rigors of river travel. The surviving smiths of Doriath and Gondolin forged weapons and mail for the soldiers, and the wives and daughters of every mariner made sails while the other womenfolk sewed clothing and blankets. Even the children were put to work, harvesting food for the army's provisions.
When the fleet was fully outfitted, the folk of Balar held a great feast to send off their warriors. By that time messengers from the north had reached them, and they knew of the coming of the Vanyar and the Noldor from Valinor. Each and every Elf on the island knew the utter gravity of the moment. This would be the decisive battle - the powers of the West against the enemy of the North - and the fate of Middle-Earth hung in the balance. Should the North prevail, their warriors would not be coming home.
Before the feast began, Círdan took Ereinion aside and led him to his rooms. "There is something I've had made for you," he said cryptically, "something to take into battle," and he would say no more until they were behind closed doors. Stepping into the dimly lit antechamber, Ereinion could see something tall in the center of the room. He could only see it's outline, but it gleamed softly in the faint light of the stars that came through Círdan's open window.
The Shipwright moved to his map table and lit a lamp, bringing the thing into sight, and Ereinion gasped. It was a suit of armor, shining like the silver fire of the West's new star. A simple pattern had been etched into the metal, nothing ornate, the better to keep the surface reflective. A brilliantly polished silver shield hung from one of the gauntlets, the metal reflecting his own face back at him as the king moved towards it. In the center was a device of twelve silver stars against a field of luminous blue.1 The same color was in the cape that hung down the back of the suit, as well as the gleaming sash around the waist.
Ereinion was silent for some time, staring at the armor in wonder. Then, turning to Círdan, he said softly, "Why have you done this for me? I am not one of the Hosts of the West. Do you wish me to outshine them?"
The Shipwright smiled. "The light that shines from you, Ereinion, is different from that which comes from Valinor. It doesn't come from seeing the Blessed realm and partaking of it's sustenance. It comes from within your own fëa, and this token of mine holds but a fraction of it's radiance."
It seemed then to Ereinion that the years he'd spent with Círdan hung before his eyes, dazzling him as much as the metal of the armor. All of the care that the Shipwright had poured into his fostering had come down to this time, this war, and he felt at that moment, more than he ever had, the strength that came from Círdan's unwavering belief in him. Whatever else passed between them, he knew now that he would always have that belief, warm and eternal, to sustain him through anything he was called upon to do.
Eventually, they joined their people for the feast, and in the morning they sailed for Beleriand and the perils of the North.
to be continued
(1) This device can be seen in the book, J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator (1995.) by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.
PUNCTUATION: All normally punctuated dialogue is assumed to be in Sindarin. The use of brackets [...] around dialogue denotes that it is in Quenyan.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This chapter looks the way it does because of my puzzlement about whether Ereinion and Círdan fought in the War of Wrath. Many people believe that Tolkien's reference in The Silmarillion - that none of the Elves of Beleriand saw the landing of the Host of Valinor - means that the Beleriandic Elves did not fight in the War at all. This seemed most out of character to me (especially for Ereinion) and felt all the more wrong when I read that the army of Valinor freed the Men of Hithlum and that they fought alongside the Elves and Maiar against Morgoth. I have a very hard time believing that Ereinion would have been content to sit the whole event out on Balar (though I can imagine Círdan doing so in a defensive role for his people.)
So, I've created a way for the folk of Balar to join the War of Wrath, and I've also, for the sake of what seems to be a very strange piece of canon, included an obstacle to their participation. I do not in anyway assume the events in this chapter to be canon, although I do believe them to be canon-compatible.
No one had seen the Host of the West come to Beleriand. There had been the clarion call of trumpets - a call that the Elven rulers of Balar had answered with a strong contingent of warriors - but after that the silence had reigned down again. As Círdan and Ereinion landed at the deserted harborage that had once been the Havens of Sirion, the quiet of the landscape had made them uneasy. It was as if the whole of Beleriand was tensed and waiting for some terrible event, for good or evil no one could say.
As they headed up the river, though, they began to hear it, a low, steady thrumming that coursed through the earth and the water like an echoing footstep on wooden planks. Far away it sounded, and yet the impact of it, on their ears and their skin, was as intimate as if they were surrounded by giants.
"What is it, sire?" an Elven warrior from Gondolin asked Ereinion.
He shook his head, peering ahead as if his eyes could penetrate the line of trees and brush that bordered the river and see across two hundred miles to where the noise began. "Lord Círdan believes - and I do, too - that the Lords of the West have come to our aid. If that *is* them, then they have brought an army such as Middle-Earth has never seen before."
The steady throb, coupled with the deserted countryside through which they passed, gave the whole journey a feel of unreality. Ereinion watched off the starboard bow of the ship and thought to himself, /There were once Elves who lived by these shores... thousands of them once, living peacefully for ages of time. All gone away now... some to Mandos, some to Angband, and the remnant to Balar. All our kindreds, so horribly diminished.../
The thought of all those missing Elves strengthened his resolve. Their absence cried out to him for action, for revenge, to not let the Eldar of Beleriand disappear while he reigned as High King. So he stared hard at the houseless landscape, and readied his mind for battle.
It came much sooner than any of them had expected.
As they passed through Nan Tathren, the two lookouts on the king's ship cried down that a large band of Orcs was making for the river bank on the port side. Ereinion gave the order for the archers to prepare, and then called down to the rowers to increase their speed as much as possible. The message was passed to the other ships in the fleet and soon the air was tense with anticipation, the Elven archers with arrows trained on the bushy growth off the port side of the ship, waiting for the enemy.
Círdan's ship pulled close along side Ereinion's and the Shipwright called to his former pupil for a brief counsel. With a graceful leap, Círdan jumped the narrow gap between the boats and pulled himself up to the prow, where the king waited.
"Just a thought," he said, a bit breathlessly. "If we outrow this contingent but they see us, some of them might be intelligent enough to fathom that Balar is less protected than it was. I don't like the idea of letting a large group of them go off southward, which is what I fear they will do."
"What are you suggesting?" Ereinion asked doubtfully.
"I think we should engage them fully," Círdan said. "If we can get about half a mile upriver, there are a few good landings that are sheltered from the river road. We can put in there two boats at a time, and be waiting for them when they gain the riverbank. Fighting next to the water will put us at a great advantage."
The king took only a moment to consider and then, with a quick nod hurried off to give the orders to his crew. Círdan leapt back to his own vessel, and the fleet of Balar prepared to make a hurried landing.
The first battle was challenging, and they lost several of the company, but the second battle they encountered, further north, was far easier, and by the time they drew level with the Falls of Sirion they found bands of Orcs moving rapidly northward, *away* from them.
They had left the boats with a small contingent who would sail them back to Balar, and the main company was now camped for the night some five miles west of the river. Most of the troops had already gone to rest when Ereinion emerged from the woods, having walked the perimeter of the camp, checking for signs of danger. Círdan was tending the small fire.
"Well," the Shipwright said, looking over at the king as he sat down beside him, "any signs of the enemy nearby?"
"Not a one," Ereinion sighed, stretching his legs. "You realize, of course, why it's become so ridiculously easy to pass through these woods?"
"I have my own ideas," Círdan said, turning to look at the fire again, "but I am interested to hear yours."
Ereinion turned to face the silver-haired Elf, stretched out on his side, propped on one elbow, his feet near the warmth of the fire. "All right, how about this: they're all going north, not running away but being summoned. They're being summoned to aid Morgoth in his time of greatest need. That need is obviously desperate enough that they aren't even stopping to engage with us."
Círdan smiled gently, never shifting his gaze from the flames. "Keep talking like that, Ereinion, and I might actually believe you are ready to command this army without any help from me."
Doubt crossed briefly over the king's face, then vanished as confidence reasserted itself. "You wouldn't leave," he said, in mock sternness. "And think of it - this is a chance to rid Beleriand of them once and for all."
"Are you proposing that we abandon the march north and place ourselves in a position to meet the rest of the Orcs coming from the south?" Círdan asked.
"Only for a time," Ereinion answered. "We stop the greatest number of them from going to their master's aid, and when their numbers begin to dwindle we carry on northwards."
"A fairly good defensive plan," the Shipwright mused, "though it does run the risk of our missing the northern battle and thus not aiding our folk there."
"This war will not be over in a matter of weeks or even months, I fear," Ereinion said, leaning forward to make his point. "If what we heard that night on Balar was the call of Valinor, then this will be a war greater than any other the Eldar have seen. Morgoth will not go quickly or quietly."
"Then let us do as you say," Círdan agreed. "We shall fight where we stand and deprive him of as many of his loyal soldiers as possible."
Ereinion looked over at his lover and friend. "Perhaps," he said quietly, "we could even move westward, and free the Falas from their infestation."
Almost as soon as he'd said it, he wished the words back again. Círdan was silent for a very long time, staring into the flames, his eyes reflecting them as if he could see again the burning of his cities, the dearest places to him in all of Middle-Earth. "Perhaps," he whispered at last, "but I will not go with you. I cannot look on that place again. I need to remember it the way it was, not as it is now."
Reaching a hand to cover Círdan's own, the king gave it a squeeze. "As you wish," he murmured, and they both sat back to watch the fire.
The war lasted longer than any had imagined it could. The waves of Orcs coming up from the southwest took years to defeat and the progress of the small army of Balar was slow in their march northwards. Always ahead of them, though, they could hear the faint sounds of what seemed to be a huge army, sounds that grew ever louder as they made their way across the River Teiglin, and towards the Forest of Brethil.
It was there, coming through the trees, that they at last beheld the Army of the West, or at least a portion of it, for the camp ranged over Dimbar and the old Forest of Neldoreth as far as they could see. The tents and banners were white as snow, and they gleamed in the sunlight like star fire. "Truly," Círdan murmured to Ereinion, "the Powers have sent us a mighty host. Morgoth will surely meet his end now."
As they approached the great camp along a forest road, they were stopped by five golden-haired Elves who blocked the way with golden bows raised, each arrow point a deadly silver flower petal, the sharp tips shining in the gloom of the forest. Ereinion held up a hand and his troops came to a quiet halt. He glanced at Círdan, who gave him a small nod, and then he stepped up to where the guards waited.
They were breathtaking in their beauty, all of them looking as if they'd just come of age, and a soft light seemed to bathe them all, radiating from blue eyes, gleaming off of their long hair. ["Stand forth, traveler, and tell us what business you have here1,"] the middle Elf of the five said, and his voice seemed made of clear water flowing through a stream, the language utterly different from the Sindarin Ereinion had become use to speaking.
It took only a moment for the king to search his memory for the Quenyan words. ["I am Ereinion, son of Fingon of the House of Fingolfin. I am the High King of the Noldor in Beleriand, and I come with Círdan, the Sindarin Lord of Balar, and our people, to join the battle against Morgoth Bauglir."]
It seemed to Ereinion that a very faint look of distaste crossed the beautiful faces of the guards at that moment. There was a moment of silence and then the middle guard spoke again. ["The Army of Valinor commends you on your bravery,"] he said with a hint of patronage, ["and we are sure in the knowledge that this diminutive assembly you bring before us would prove capable fighters were you put to the test. However, at present we have no need of your kindly offered services. It would seem to me that past history and propriety suggest that the best course of action for you and your companions is to return to your homes and await the call of our leader, Ëonwë, Herald of Manwë, who will summon you and all your people with instructions at the conclusion of the hostilities."]
Ereinion stared at the man for several moments before saying anything. Then, struggling to control his anger, he stood a little straighter and called on every ounce of Quenyan he could remember to address the Vanyarin guard. "Your counsel, my Lord -?" and here he stopped a moment, a questioning look on his face.
["Ingwelindo,"] the Elf replied, ["of the House of Ingwë,"] he added importantly, stressing slightly his famous relation's name.
["Lord Ingwelindo,"] Ereinion continued, arranging his face to look suitably impressed, ["your counsel is most appreciated, and were I and my companions of lesser rank and ability we might indeed heed it at once, however -" Here he looked back at Círdan, who stepped up gracefully beside him and smiled serenely. "Our positions of leadership over the Elves who inhabit Middle-Earth require, nay, *demand* our involvement in this conflict, and our reputations would be grievously injured among our kindreds were we to flee from such important battles."]
The five guards did not appear to take Ereinion's reply at all well. Several of them frowned at him, and the one to Ingwelindo's left leaned over an whispered something in the chieftain of the guard's ear.
["Let me be plainer,"] Ingwelindo said in a slower voice, though he showed no outward sign of irritation. ["The Powers have sent us to capture the Dark Lord Melkor, and to destroy his dwellings on the Hither Shores. We have no need of your help, though we thank you for it and acknowledge the bravery you show in offering it to us. If it is because of your kindreds' honor that you insist on fighting, be assured that the Noldor are well-represented among our forces. Finarfin himself, son of Finwë, leads the Noldor of Tirion in these lands. His camp lies further to the east. You need not trouble yourselves that the Noldor are not doing their part."]
He gave a slight smile, a small inclination of his head, and then looked at Círdan as if he'd just remembered that he was there. ["And you can inform your Sindarin companion,"] Ingwelindo told Ereinion, ["that the Teleri, though not involved in the fighting, contributed ships and sailors for the journey from Aman."]
["I appreciate that information,"] Círdan murmured, who looked immensely pleased at that moment that he had learned Quenyan from Fingon and Fingolfin. ["However, it does not change my intention to fight on behalf of my folk here in Middle-Earth."]
The Vanyarin Elf raised an eyebrow, looking at the Shipwright in mild surprise. ["Forgive me. I was not aware that any of the Moriquendi had knowledge of the tongues of the Blessed Lands."]
Ereinion's temper, which at this point was being strained to the breaking point, was not helped at all by the way in which Ingwelindo uttered the term "Moriquendi." He was able, however, to master himself enough to avoid launching into a discussion of why Círdan could never be considered a dark Elf. Instead he smiled at the guard again and asked, ["Will you tell us the name of your Lord, and then tell him that we desire a counsel with him?"]
Ingwelindo narrowed his gaze at Ereinion. ["Our Lord is Ingwiel, son of Ingwë2, but I do not think -"]
["If you would take our message to him please,"] the king repeated, still smiling.
The matter was discussed in hushed tones among the five guards for several moments, and then Ingwelindo stepped forward. ["I will take him the message,"] he said reluctantly. ["You will wait here."] He held out graceful hands in a gesture that implied that they were not to take another step nearer the camp. Then, nodding his head ever so slightly, he turned away and left the four remaining guards standing were they had been the whole time, gazing on Ereinion's troops with serene, impassive faces.
"They are wondrously beautiful," Círdan commented as he and Ereinion waited for Ingwelindo's return. Their soldiers were refreshing themselves at a nearby spring, and for the moment the two leaders had the clearing they stood in quite to themselves. The Vanyarin guards looked on from their positions ahead on the road.
"I suppose," Ereinion replied curtly. "Though they know it too well, if you ask me." He glared at the guards and took a seat on the soft grass, Círdan sliding down to sit next to him. "Did you hear they way he called you 'Moriquendi' as if it meant some sort of intelligent beast?"
"I've heard it said that way before," Círdan said calmly. "Not all the Noldor were as respectful as your grandfathers when they came across the sea. Don't let it trouble you - it certainly doesn't trouble me."
"*They* do trouble me," the king said stubbornly. "We have more at stake than they do. What right have they to tell us this isn't our fight? It's an outrage."
"Apparently," Círdan murmured, looking over at the guards, "they believe they and they alone were called to rid Middle-Earth of Morgoth's evil." He paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, and then continued. "I can only guess that Ëarendil must have reached the shores of Aman, and pleaded the case of Middle-Earth on behalf of both Elves and Men. If that were so, would it be so strange for these Elves of Valinor to believe us unable to fight ourselves?"
"Well then, we'll have to show them we *can,*" Ereinion growled in a low voice. "I'll not have any Elf, even these highborn ones, taking me and mine for cowards or weaklings."
The Shipwright looked over at him, admiring the strong profile, the hair like dark silk flowing down his back. "Don't fear, Ereinion," he said softly. "You will have your chance in the war, even if these are not the woods you fight in."
Ereinion looked over at him, about the reply, when a voice called out. ["Lord Ereinion?"]
It was Ingwelindo, returned from his errand to Ingwiel. Ereinion got to his feet muttering under his breath, "*Lord* Ereinion? That's *King* Ereinion to you..."
Ingwelindo seemed to have a subtlety pleased expression on his face as Ereinion and Círdan approached. ["I have spoken with my Lord,"] he said, eyes fixed on them, ["and he sends you greetings and most gracious thanks for your offer of troops and arms. However, he believes it to be in your best interest to return to your homes in the south, where you will be safe until our engagement here is concluded. He bids me remind you that this is a matter for the Host of the West, and that you will be the most useful to him if he knows that you are out of harm's way."]
Ereinion found himself shaking. ["What -"] he managed to get out through gritted teeth, ["What is meant by this inexcusable -']
["Thank you for bringing us your Lord's counsel,"] Círdan said smoothly, laying a hand unobtrusively on Ereinion's arm. ["We will not trouble you any longer, but will turn east and so come to the river that will guide us home. We greatly appreciate the time you have spent with us."] He gave the guards a graceful bow and managed to pull Ereinion away with him without making it look too obvious that the king was having to be dragged.
The two leaders walked swiftly down the forest path, towards their troops who were mustering further along.
"What did you mean, thanking them?" Ereinion hissed. "I've never in my life been insulted to that degree. Turned away and sent home, like a faithful dog who's done a good trick? We cannot leave now! It would be a disgrace!"
"Yes, it would," Círdan agreed, "and that is why we head east."
"To the river?" Ereinion demanded. "May I remind you we have no boats there any longer?"
"More things lie to the east than just the river," Círdan continued calmly as they walked. "The camp of Finarfin, for one. The realm of the Fëanorians for another."
Ereinion stopped, taking Círdan's arm and turning the Shipwright to face him. "Are you suggesting we join league with the Kinslayers?" he whispered fiercely. "Think of the soldiers who march with us. How many of them were from the Havens? How many will want to ally themselves with the murderers of their families and friends? Círdan, you've always been a voice of reason to me, but surely now you've strayed into madness."
"I don't suggest we *join* the Fëanorians, Ereinion," the older Elf said quietly. "I only mean to say that we will no doubt be able to travel much farther northward, and towards our enemy's camps, if we travel in lands occupied by the Noldor. If we encounter Fëanor's sons, we are under no obligation to join with their company - if they even have a company at all. But I cannot see them restricting our travel... and, Elbereth willing, we may even find the children of Ëarendil and Elwing among them."
Slowly, the king released his grip on Círdan's arm. He considered his friend's words for a long, long time, and then seemed to make a decision. "Very well," he finally said in a hoarse voice. "We will go east, and then north, and we will engage Morgoth's forces wherever we find them."
"I expected no less from you," Círdan said mildly, and with that they turned and walked to where their troops awaited orders.
to be continued
(1) The Quenya used by the House of Ingwe was supposedly more formal than that of the other kindreds. Although these guards would no doubt realize that Gil-galad is not of their house, and would therefore speak the more general Quenyan with him, I'm going by the assumption that their speech would be more formal than most others from Aman.
(2) Ingwiel was a son of Ingwë in one of Tolkien's earlier editions of the War of Wrath. I've resurrected him here because I think it would be appropriate for one of Ingwë's sons to be leading the Vanyar into battle. (The other name sometimes given for Ingwë's son was Ingwion.)
Author's note: All normally punctuated dialogue is assumed to be in Sindarin. The use of brackets [...] around dialogue denotes that it is in Noldorin Quenya.
The march eastward had been slow going. The forces of Aman had come against Morgoth in all the shining terror of war and the whole of northern Beleriand was the battlefield. The peace Ereinion and Círdan's forces had known near the Vanyarin camp broke down as the party from Balar crossed back over Sirion, and encounters with Orcs had grown more frequent.
There had been two weeks of almost constant skirmishes, and their progress all but halted, when suddenly there came a break in the fighting. Two days passed without any sign of Orc activity and Ereinion ordered the entire party to rest by a small spring on the eastern edge of Doriath - or what had once been Doriath and was now a quiet wasteland, only partially forested.
On the morning of the third day, the king woke from dreams to find the sun barely up and most of the camp still at rest. Running a hand through his hair, he stood and surveyed the large clearing they had claimed as a temporary resting place. A lone Elf, one of Círdan's folk, was tending to the fire and singing softly to himself.
"You're up early, Calen. Good of you to get the fire going."
"Good morning, King Ereinion," the Elf said, smiling. "Shouldn't you be taking what rest you can? It's barely light yet."
Ereinion shook his head and took a dipper of water from a nearby pail. "I've never been one to sleep much past dawn," he said. /Especially when I'm sleeping alone.../ "Have you see your Lord this morning?"
Calen nodded toward the trees. "He's down at the spring," he answered, and went back to his work.
Making his way soundlessly out of the clearing, the king walked to where he could hear the water, bubbling from the spring into a small stream bed that meandered away towards the south. Sure enough, Círdan was there, naked and half turned away from Ereinion, perched on a rock in the middle of the spring. He was leaning forward, his hands and feet in the water, the ends of his long, silver hair trailing along the surface.
/Ah, no -/ the king found himself thinking, /every time I think I've put you firmly behind me you do something like this - look this way - and I'm lost all over again./
Quietly, Ereinion took a step towards the water. "You can't stay away from it, can you?" he said with a soft smile.
Círdan looked up, feet and fingers still immersed, his hair dripping lightly. "Ereinion," he murmured, and then smiled. "Whatever do you mean?"
"The water," Ereinion said, walking a few paces closer. He paused a moment, just to look at the older Elf, and then added, "You've missed it terribly, haven't you? The sea, I mean."
The Shipwright's expression was hard to read - mingled pain and wistfulness - and it drew the king closer still to the pool of water.
"I have missed it," Círdan nodded. "I think this is the longest I've ever been away."
"What do you feel?" the king asked, squatting down at the edge of the spring. "When you touch the water, what do you find there?"
Smiling, almost shyly, Círdan looked down at his hands and feet, pale in the clear blue-green of the pool. "Music," he said after a time. "As if it's coming through my fingertips - through my skin... And when I hear it and touch it, I know that the grace of Lord Ulmo still runs through these waters." He looked back up at Ereinion. "It's reassuring, given everything we've seen in the last several years."
"You always told me that Ulmo was unique among the Valar," Ereinion said. He reached toward the water, his finger brushing the glassy surface. No music - only the cool pleasure of the stuff against his skin.
Círdan nodded. "That's true. He never really left Middle-Earth completely, you see. There's always been a part of him running through it." He smiled down at the water and then cupped his hands, bringing them up into the air and pouring a clear stream of water along his arms back into the spring. "Lord Ulmo is wise... and merciful," he said, and his voice held a shiver of worship.
Then, turning to Ereinion, he held out his hand. "Won't you join me?"
Ereinion regarded him for a moment, then eyed the small, slippery rocks Círdan must have crossed to reach his perch. "It's against my better judgment..." he murmured, standing nevertheless and taking a tentative step towards the nearest rock.
"Come," Círdan said, grinning at him, "I'll help you." He rose gracefully and stepped one rock nearer to the king, his arm extended.
"I don't like this," Ereinion muttered, making his way slowly across the spring. "If only they weren't so slippery..."
"That's it," Círdan encouraged. "Just a bit more. You scale cliffs like goat, Ereinion. Why should you mind a few rocks?"
"It's the water," the king growled, steadying himself on the boulder next to Círdan - a boulder wet and slick with algae. "I do perfectly well when there's no water."
"Yes," the older Elf laughed, "I suppose we compliment each other that way." He pulled the king onto the rock with him and they sat - feet in the water, listening to the sound of the spring.
Ereinion was keenly aware of the other Elf, shimmering wet and bare skinned beside him. Through all the years of the war they hadn't touched each other, not because of any reluctance on Círdan's part, but from Ereinion's stubborn decision that if the Shipwright could not be truly his, then they shouldn't act as if he were. It took every ounce of will the king had to stay in his own rooms at night, to stop seeking Círdan out when the afternoons were slow and lazy, to let his craving for the smell of the silver hair be just that - a craving, and nothing more. And though it saddened him deeply, Círdan tried to understand and to avoid doing anything that might resemble flirtation.
Now, even though he sat naked beside his king and friend, the older Elf made no move to touch or kiss. He merely sat, and Ereinion curled his arms around his own bent knees and stared, brooding, into the blue-green water at their feet.
"Tell me, Círdan - what do you think will happen when this war is over? What will you do when the Powers win the day and Morgoth is overthrown?"
Círdan leaned back, bracing himself with his arm out in back of him, on foot idly swirling the surface of the spring. "I... I believe I will go back to Balar, if any of my people remain there. I'll go back to building boats... why do you ask?"
Bringing his arms up to the tops of his knees, Ereinion rested his chin on them and murmured, "What if they tell us to go West? What happens if they win the war for our sake and then say we must follow them back over the sea?"
The Shipwright's face flashed a hint of puzzled surprise. "You think they would do that?" he asked. "Even to those such as us, who are children of Beleriand?" He shook his head softly. "I don't believe they would force us into anything, Ereinion." Hesitating for a moment, he looked over at the young king and then added, "Then again, it *is*, I'm told, a wondrous place. Are you not in the least bit curious about it?"
For a long moment Ereinion said nothing, only stared into the small ripples of water made by the upwelling of the spring. Then he turned to Círdan. "No," he said simply. "I'm not in the least curious about it. As far as I'm concerned it could be myth, for all it matters to me."
Círdan stared at him. "Ereinion..." he whispered.
"My father," Ereinion said, his voice low and fierce, "and *his* father braved the wrath of the Powers to come to this land. They believed that living their lives in this open place was their destiny. They endured ice and death to get here..." He paused for a moment and look over at the silver-haired Elf beside him. "And when they came here... they found you... and took you for their dear friend. I would not turn my back on the sacrifices they made... and more important, I would not go where you would not be."
Sitting up at those words, Círdan leaned forward, searching Ereinion's eyes, one hand straying to his cheek. "Sweet king... how could you have known... Of course your destiny is here... and I would never depart these lands if you have not first taken your leave of their shores."
A faint smile from the king, who murmured, "Or if we both leave them together..."
Círdan felt a twinge of anguish - one small moment of heart-wrenching pain - and then it was gone. "Yes, of course," he said softly, "or if we leave them together."
Slowly, the king uncurled from the tense position he'd been in and let his arms slide quietly around Círdan's body. He kissed the damp, silver hair and listened to the deep thrumming of need course through him. He held the other Elf tightly, allowing himself only that aching contact, and let the song of desire move through him like wave through the sea.
One week later, as they moved northeast and crossed the River Celon, they came upon Finarfin's camp, some twenty miles south of Himlad. The reception there was quite different from the one they'd experienced at the Vanyarin encampment. After a brief discussion with the guards at the southern edge, Ereinion, Círdan, and their small army were welcomed and then, while their soldiers were fed and tents erected for them, Ereinion and Círdan were led to Finarfin's tent.
Ereinion had heard tales of Finarfin from his grandfather, and had known many of his children. The two youngest, Angrod and Aegnor, had been good friends with his father, and Finrod he knew much of through Círdan, likewise with Orodreth. Only Finarfin's daughter, Galadriel, was largely unknown to him, having spent much of her time in Middle Earth as a guest of Thingol, in Doriath.
The tall, golden-haired Elf who emerged from the tent, though, was not at all the person he expected to see. The King of the Noldor in Aman was stunningly fair, his hair gleaming golden about his shoulders, his eyes filled with the light of the Blessed Lands. He could have been a young Elf, barely come of age, but for the sad and gentle wisdom betrayed in his eyes.
It took an act of will for Ereinion to stop staring at him and to step up, bowing deeply. ["Greetings and well met, Arafinwë(1), son of Finwë. I am Ereinion, son of your nephew Findekáno and ruler of the Noldor in Middle-Earth. I am most honored to meet you, even though our acquaintance must be made in this time of terrible war."]
Finarfin smiled softly, and returned the bow. ["Greetings to you, Ereinion King. How much like your father you look.... and I would be glad of our meeting, no matter the circumstances, for truly I have yearned for the company of my brother and his family."]
Ereinion's eyes dropped to the ground for a moment, and a wave of sadness swept through him, remembering the battles, and the lost fathers. He looked up into Finarfin's eyes and said slowly, ["Alas, I must tell you that I am the last of Findekáno's line, though the line of Nolofinwë may yet have one or two branches through your son Turukáno..."]
Stepping forward, Finarfin laid a hand on Ereinion's shoulder. ["You have lost much,"] he said softly, ["and that, at the very least, we have in common. Come - won't you introduce me to your companion and then take refreshment in my tent?"]
["My -? Oh, yes,"] Ereinion murmured, shaking the melancholy from his head and turning to Círdan, almost as if he'd forgotten momentarily that the Shipwright stood beside him. ["May I present Círdan, Lord of the Falathrim,"] he said, and Círdan gave his own bow.
Finarfin took a step towards Círdan and then, in a slow, almost dreamy fashion, reached out a hand and stroked a lock of the Shipwright's silver hair. ["If I may inquire... you are kin to Olwë of the Teleri, are you not?"] he asked softly.
Recovering swiftly from the surprise of the intimate gesture, Círdan nodded. ["I am kin to Olwë,"] he said, voice quiet and respectful. ["My first Lord was Elwë, his brother."]
The golden-haired Elf king smiled warmly. ["Well then, we can claim kinship as well, you and I, through marriage if not through blood. My wife is Eärwen, daughter of Olwë. You are as welcome in my camp as Ereinion. But please - you must both be weary from your march. Come in and take some refreshment, and we can speak of the war and our plans."]
They talked long into the night, about the Host of the West and how they had been moved to rise up against Morgoth a final time. They spoke, too, of their kin, and of the many events, both joyful and sad, that had occurred since the Noldor had returned to Middle Earth. Here, Finarfin learned of the valor his brother and nephew had shown before they died, and here also Ereinion and Círdan learned of the fate of Ëarendil and Elwing.
When the moon was high, and the fire burning low, Finarfin looked keenly at Ereinion and said, ["Do you know what lies but a little to the northeast of here?"]
The younger king looked puzzled. ["In terms of the land, or -?"]
["An encampment," Finarfin said, "not large, but well fortified. Depending on how the fighting takes us, we may come across them within the next month."] He drained his cup of wine and looked into the flames of the dying fire, a strange expression on his face.
["Is this encampment a hostile one?"] Ereinion asked, glancing over at Círdan, who looked back at him, his smooth brow furrowed slightly.
["I'm not sure how to answer that,"] Finarfin said. He sat in silence for several moments, and then lifted his eyes to Ereinion. ["It is the encampment of the sons of Fëanaro,"] he said slowly. ["Our scouts have seen their banners. They are camped some 90 miles away - near the junction of two rivers. It is unfortunate, perhaps, but it appears that they may lie in the path we must take as we travel north."]
["You harbor ill feelings towards them?"] Círdan asked in a quiet voice.
Finarfin looked first at him and then to Ereinion, searching the younger king's face before saying, ["My bitterness towards that House has been great. They have done deeds of folly, and of cruelty, and, as far as I know, they have yet to atone for any of them. I don't mean to circumscribe your behavior, but I have no wish for my warriors to fight alongside the banner of Fëanaro, or, should I say, of his sons."]
Seeing that Ereinion looked uncertain of what to say, Círdan offered, ["I can understand your resentment, sire, for when I first heard of what had happened at Alqualondë I was sorely grieved. The Teleri are my kindred, after all, and I could not help but feel a personal anger towards the ones who had done them so much harm."]
He looked over at Ereinion, who stared silently into the fire, his face a stern mask, hiding his feelings from his companions. ["I have to tell you, though,"] Círdan continued, ["as one who is of the Teleri, that my people rejoiced at the coming of the Noldor to Middle-Earth. They have always been of great help to us. They rebuilt our cities, which had been ravaged by Morgoth's forces, and they joined with us as allies against the Dark Lord's advances."]
Finarfin looked at him intently. ["Do you include the sons of Fëanaro in your praise?"] he asked, ["or only those of Nolofinwë and myself?"]
Círdan gave him a soft smile. ["I would be lying if I did not say that most of my dealings have been with your children and those of your brother. But that is partly because the sons of Fëanaro - Maitimo in particular - knew it would be best if they removed with their peoples to the far east of Beleriand. And Findekáno, sire, your nephew, rescued and forgave Maitimo as he hung, dying by the slow torture of Morgoth. In Middle-Earth, at least, the breech within the Noldor has been mended."]
["Have you forgotten the sacking of the Havens at Sirion?"] Both Círdan and Finarfin looked over at Ereinion in surprise, but the young king continued, staring at the Shipwright in angry puzzlement. ["It was Maitimo and Makalaurë who attacked that fair settlement, looking for a Silmaril. That crime is grievous enough, surely, but they compounded it by kidnapping Ëarendil's sons! Surely, Círdan, even your mild temper must be overcome at some point."]
Finarfin's gaze flickered between the two of them, apparently curious at dynamic between the two Elves.
["In my heart,"] Círdan replied, ["I have not yet forgiven them for that day, especially for what they did to the children and their mother, but Ereinion -"] Here he looked intensely at the king. ["Are we not now *all* engaged in a struggle for our very lives and the life of Middle-Earth? Can we not put aside the grievances we hold between ourselves and fight together against our common enemy? I believe we must do, for if that effort fails, it will not matter who has wronged whom among our people. We shall all be slain... or enslaved."]
Ereinion stared at his old lover, warmed by the passion with which he spoke, defeated, as he always had been, by the calm logic the other Elf put forth.
But it was Finarfin, not he, who replied first.
["Your words have true wisdom in them, Círdan. And of course, you are quite right. To remain hateful and apart from one another would only give Melkor more joy and make ourselves more vulnerable to his evil."]
Círdan lifted a hand. ["Understand me, King Arafinwë - I'm not saying that you or any other need befriend Maitimo or Makalaurë. I would only counsel tolerance, so that our ability to conquer the enemy not be compromised by what we feel for each other."]
["And it is wise counsel,"] Finarfin said quietly. ["Our greatest enemy is Melkor, and all who fight against him we should count as allies."]
Later that night, as Ereinion and Círdan walked back to the tent that had been prepared for them, they spoke of the sons of Fëanor, and what had happened at Sirion's havens.
"Tell me, Ereinion," Círdan asked softly, "do you think it possible that Elrond and Elros are still with them? Or even that they might be here, preparing for battle?"
"They would be, what - about 50 now," Ereinion mused. "I suppose they just might be here, if they have been trained in soldiering."
"Fifty-five, actually," Círdan said, his voice sounding soft and far away. "And what young noble among the Elves is not trained for war?" He glanced over at the king and smiled. "We may see them yet..."
to be continued
(1) Since these are Elves from Aman that Ereinion is speaking with, I thought it best to have them use the Quenyan names for people, rather than the Sindarin. They are as follows:
Three weeks later, after the forces from Balar had rested at the camp of Finarfin, they marched northwards across Himlad, towards what was to be the last battle of the war.
Finarfin's forces, their numbers swelled with the army of Balar, came through the Pass of Aglon and so to the great battle plain that lay, a fiery horror, before the gates of Thangorodrim itself. Here, Ereinion and Círdan, along with their soldiers, first saw the forms of the Valar in all their terrible beauty. They seemed to glow with an inner fire as they swept Morgoth's forces before them, Balrogs and Orcs, Wargs and even Men, who had decided to fight for the enemy.
The sounds of battle were all around them as Finarfin led them into the fray, hideous sounds of shrieking Orcs and scraping metal, deafening roars of rage from Balrogs and Wargs, and everywhere, all around, the terrible sounds of the wounded and dying. The very air they breathed was coppery-thick with the smell of blood, and the earth shook beneath them as the Host of the Valar drove Morgoth's forces to bay.
Between them, Ereinion and Finarfin divided up the part of the battlefield that was within their reach, Ereinion and Círdan taking the northeastern half, Finarfin and the Noldor of Aman heading south and west.
The fighting was intense, coming in brief waves towards the eastern side of the field, as the host of Morgoth was driven before the advancing forces of the West. As each new group of the enemy ran towards them, Ereinion and Círdan's combined forces finished them off, and soon the barren plain that stood before Morgoth's gates was soaked with the blood of his own warriors.
They all fought long and hard that day, but of all who were there, none was so valiant as Ereinion. His fighting style had come into its own - at once elegant and athletic, with a smooth momentum that built on itself, ratcheting up in intensity as he continued to battle. Those around him could not help but admire the combination of force and grace that were met in his movements.
He had been fighting a group of Orcs who had attempted to flee towards Thangorodrim through a break in the lines. One by one the exhausted enemy went down, feeling the bite of his sword. From a distance, he was seen by many as a brilliant, flashing light as he turned and twisted in his bright silver armor, cutting down all those who came at him. Near where Círdan stood, battling Wargs with a group of Falathrim, someone pointed toward the young king and murmured, "Surely, the Elves of Beleriand have gained a star this day. The king, Ereinion Gil-galad - our own, radiant star..."
The others standing by picked up the name and from that moment, Ereinion, son of Fingon was known more often as Gil-galad, the radiant star of Middle-Earth's Elves.
The long day was nearing its end as Ereinion picked his way across the battle field. It was thick with blood and the bodies of the dead, but quiet - strangely quiet. He could hear the soft voices of other soldiers, far in the distance, and the crackling of flames in nearby gullies. And the wind... he had forgotten the North, and the constant wind, now moaning softly, now howling like a demon.
Into that stillness, though, a new sound came. A small, scuffling noise at first, it came from behind a large pile of bodies, orcs and wargs all slain in a group, and in a moment Ereinion's sword was unsheathed. He turned in a quick circle, listening intently, for now came still another sound and an eerie sight - the dead rising from their bloody graves on the battlefield and walking slowly towards him.
"What is this trickery?" he muttered to himself. Then the dead began to laugh, ugly, malicious laughter - the laughter of Mortal Men.
"Did you think us dead, foolish Elf? When all the while we've lain quiet and kept ourselves from harm..." There were about ten of them in all, advancing across the field towards where he stood, unaided for the moment.
/You *fool*, Ereinion!/ the king thought, looking quickly around him for anything that might improve his chance of defending himself. /Letting yourself get this far from the others... barely within shouting distance. They could kill me before anyone could get here.../
"A great day it is for our little band," the Man continued, smiling broadly. "We've survived the battle and got ourselves this one pretty Elf to kill - just so we can say we've done something for our Lord..."
"I'm sorry to ruin your plans," Ereinion said through gritted teeth, "but I believe *you* are the ones who will be killed ere this day is over." He lifted his sword and the light glinted off his armor as he made a series of small turns, presenting the blade tip to each of his enemies. "Let us see whom fortune favors..."
One small sound from the leader, and they rushed at him. In a heartbeat he was surrounded by swords. He took the first three out easily enough, but from that point on it grew much harder. He spun and ducked, slicing and thrusting when he got the chance, taking out another two, yet the dwindling band of Men continued to regroup so that he had to fight from all sides. As he broke free momentarily and took off the nearest man's head with a smooth swing of his sword, he thought he heard voices from far across the field, but no sooner had he heard them then they were drowned out by a high, trembling yell. It came from very close by - behind the pile of bodies where he'd heard the scuffling earlier - and quickly grew in volume. Managing to take a hurried glance, Ereinion almost wavered in his attack for a moment, so surprised was he at what he saw.
A Elf boy was running across the field toward him. A boy? Or was it a very young Elf man? In either case, the individual in question was carrying a tattered banner with the Star of Fëanor worked into the center of its device, and he was running - running and yelling at the top of his lungs with the bottom of the banner pole held forth like a spear.
The four men surrounding Ereinion were caught off guard for a moment as well, and the king took advantage of their distraction to run his sword through one of them before their attention was fully back on him.
Now the boy was so close that Ereinion could hear him screaming at the Men. "Get away from him!! Get away from him, do you hear me?? I'll... I'll kill you all!!"
/With a banner pole?/ Ereinion thought, swinging straight for one of the attackers heads and almost wanting to laugh at the boy's bravado. His prey managed to duck just in time and spun away to face the boy, grinning and feinting with his sword. Out of the corner of his eye, as he managed to slice through the neck of another of the Men, Ereinion was vaguely aware of the boy fending off sword strokes with the increasingly battered wooden pole. It was a valiant thing to do, but ultimately suicidal, so he called over to the younger Elf.
"You! Get over here behind me! Now!!"
The boy looked up in what appeared to be shock and gritted out, "Yes, my Lord," just as he charged forward and rammed the end of his pole against the soft part of his attacker's throat. The Man dropped instantly to the ground, coughing, then heaving up blood. For one brief instant, Ereinion thought the boy might be sick, but he pulled himself together and ran to where the king stood, facing the last two challengers.
"Move with me, now," Ereinion whispered to the boy, parrying the increasingly weak thrusts from the Men, who were eyeing both of them wildly. "You're my shadow... if I turn, you turn... don't let one of them get behind us..."
"And if one does?" the boy whispered back, obviously frightened, but obeying the command well enough.
"Then try that throat punch again," the king answered. "That seemed most effective..."
Tired of feinting, the two Men growled in rage and charged at them, one of their swords coming down hard on Ereinion's shield, the other parried back with the broadside of his sword. They backed off for another attack.
"Do you use a spear?" Ereinion whispered to the boy behind him.
"Ah... yes, yes I've been learning the spear," came the slightly tremulous reply.
"Good," Ereinion whispered, talking quickly. "Use your pole that way - reach out around me to keep them off balance. That's the most effective use of the spear anyway, even if you do have a point. Watch out, they're trying again."
Another charge, another defense and this time Ereinion's sword found the belly of one of the Men. He gave out a burbling cry, clutching at his ruined stomach, and fell to the ground.
One Man was left. He and Ereinion stared at each other, each panting with effort, each moving from foot to foot, reckoning their odds. Suddenly the man hurled his sword at the two Elves and turned, running away as fast as he could. Ereinion was able to block the sword's arc with his shield and then, reaching back over his shoulder, brought out a small knife. Without hesitation he hurled it in the Man's direction and it hit its mark, stabbing deeply into the left side of his chest. There were a few more faltering steps, and then he, too, fell to the ground.
For several moments, Ereinion and his young companion stood still, panting, and eyeing the ground cautiously against the possibility of any of their attackers still being alive. Nothing and no one moved.
"Well," Ereinion finally sighed, still catching his breath. "*That* was certainly a bit of excitement..."
"I... I can't believe... they're all gone," the boy said, breathless as well, and clinging unawares to the sleeve of the king's mail.
Turning to face him, Ereinion allowed himself to really look at the boy for the first time. He was, perhaps, not a boy, just a very young Elf man with large gray eyes and dark hair braided back and falling to his waist. His face, though covered with battle grime and streaks of blood, was lovely - almost delicate, as if he hadn't quite yet grown into his maturity.
"I really must thank you," the king said softly, nodding to him. "Without you I'm sure that would have been much harder, and the outcome not necessarily as pleasant." His eyes strayed to the ragged banner that the boy still clutched, though the pole had cracked in the middle and was beginning to bend in half.
"You are with the company of... Maedhros?" Ereinion asked, eyeing again the Fëanorian star within the flag's device.
The young Elf seemed to realize at that point that he was still holding the banner, for he looked down at it, an unreadable expression on his face, and ran a hand along its length. "Yes," he said, "well - he and Lord Maglor. It was the latter that I am - or was near on the battlefield. I... seemed to have got lost when the fighting was its most fierce. Several of my fellow soldiers were defending me - and the banner, of course - and... well, time passed and somehow I found myself alone, behind that pile of carrion." He gestured to where the Orcs and Wargs lay.
"A good defensive position," mused Ereinion. "You should have stayed there."
"I couldn't let you take them all on alone!" the younger Elf said, with sudden vehemence. "Not after the way you fought those last three waves - the last completely by yourself."
Ereinion gave him a puzzled look and said, "How long have you been back there, watching me?"
His companion's cheeks flooded with color. "Well, my Lord... only for an hour or so... I didn't know what else to do. Maglor wouldn't give me a proper sword - just a small pair of daggers, but it's hard to get at them when I'm holding the banner, and I *told* him I would have need of one..."
Ereinion raised his hands for silence and the younger Elf stopped talking and looked at him, anxiously. "Did I do something wrong by being back there?" he said, his voice quiet.
"No," Ereinion answered. "The standard bearer is just that, the bearer of his Lord's standard. You shouldn't have to fight - your job is to help your Lord keep track of who is where on the battlefield..." The young Elf's head went down and Ereinion quickly added, "... and I'm sure you did just that until this last patch where everything dissolved into chaos and it was everyone for himself." He put an arm on the standard bearer's shoulder and bent down to look him in the eyes. "Tell me - is this the first battle you've been in?"
The young Elf's head came up, and he did his best to look stern and proud. "I may be new, but I have tried no less hard than any other here today!" His gaze faltered a bit, and then dropped to the ground again. "I tried..."
Ereinion smiled then and reached out a hand to his cheek. "You have come through one of the greatest battles in all of Middle-Earth and survived it - not only survived it, but taken on a group of ten Men and lived to tell the tale." The other Elf looked up at him, a little wary. "I am certain that you brought your Lord great honor today. See here -" and here he gestured to the standard that hung from the broken pole. "You still carry his standard proudly. You have done very well."
The younger Elf stood for a moment, staring at Ereinion and clutching the banner. "Thank you, my Lord," he whispered, seemingly unable to look away. "Thank you for that."
The king was just about to reply when the ground began to shake beneath them. It wasn't much at first, just a low, heavy thud, followed by another and then more, the frequency quickly increasing. The next moment, a tremendous roar spilt the heavy air and as they looked up, across the battlefield, towards the northwest, a swarm of terrible figures arose from the dark gates of Angband. Huge they were, with great, leathery wings and deafening roars, and as they came towards the fields they spouted smoke and flame. The dragons of Morgoth had been loosed - one final, desperate act of hatred by the Dark Lord.
Elrond's voice brought Ereinion back from his own dazed horror. "My Lord... what should we..."
Looking around wildly, the king spotted a small ditch several hundred feet away. "Find shields!" he ordered, beginning to search through the bodies around them for usable ones, "as many as you can."
For a moment, the younger Elf stood, hands clutching his broken banner pole, his face stricken. "But... I..." he stammered.
"There's no time!" Ereinion replied sternly, pulling two dented but serviceable shields from a tangled group of bodies.
His companion attempted to wrest a shield from a nearby corpse, pole in one hand, shield in the other. Ereinion ran to him, grasping the pole and tugging at it. "Put it down! It's of no use now!" he urged, but the younger Elf turned to him with an agonized look.
"I'm the standard bearer," he said in a trembling voice. "You said it yourself. And this is my Lord's standard. I cannot leave it lying in dirt and goblin's blood. I *will* not!"
Ereinion stopped for a moment, his expression clearly indicating that he thought the young Elf mad, but then his face softened. "Very well," he said, looking at the tattered banner. Then he stepped forward and before the other Elf could protest, he ripped the embroidered cloth from the pole and wrapped it around his companion's shoulders, tying it securely. "There - a greater place of honor it could never find... Now *hurry*!"
With that he was off, scouring the bodies of the dead for shields. As the roar of the dragons grew louder, and the screams of Men and Elves drifted across the battlefield towards them, the young Elf stared after the king for one last moment, fingering his beloved banner, a look of wonder on his face.
Ereinion, now laden with many shields, looked back at him in frustration. "Move! Now!!" he ordered, and the young Elf shook himself and began searching the field as well.
They managed to get themselves into the ditch, a pile of shields atop them, screening them from the dragon's view - and hopefully putting off their scent as well.
In the dim light that filtered through the roof of shields, the younger Elf peered over at Ereinion. "Shouldn't we be out there, trying to fight them?" he whispered. Before the king could answer, the ground trembled again and a whiff of dragon stench came over them.
Putting a finger to his lips, Ereinion sat perfectly still as the sound of powerful wings swept across the field. The shields above them rattled but didn't fall. As the sound died away to the west, the king looked over at his young companion. "Two Elves against a dozen dragons - I don't like the odds of that one. Now if one of them were to come over us, low to the ground, or *on* the ground, even better, we might be able to get our swords up under it. As it is, since neither of us has arrows, there is little we could do that would be worth risking our lives for."
The younger Elf looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, "I suppose that makes sense."
Ereinion gave the youth a wry look. /He sounds just the same as I did, when I first came to Círdan.../ "Why thank you, sir," he said aloud. "I'm glad to have your approval." He paused, looking his companion up and down. "I'd be even more pleased to know just who it is I'm hiding with, though."
The other gave him a tiny smile. "My name is Elrond. I am of the House of Maglor."
For several moments there was stunned silence in the small shelter.
"Elrond..." The name came out as a whisper, and Ereinion shuddered at the ease at which the son of Ëarendil linked himself to the House of his kidnapper.
The dragons made another pass over the eastern field, and for a moment all speech was halted as they huddled together, hoping the shield roof would hold. The heat from the huge beasts' fire was a palpable thing now.
When they'd gone by, Elrond looked up at the king in puzzlement. "You... you seem familiar... yet you didn't know my name and I do not know yours. How is this possible?"
"Tell me, Elrond," Ereinion said quietly, "do you remember your mother and father?"
Elrond looked distinctly uncomfortable. "They... they died. When I was very young. I don't remember much about them."
"Do you remember where you came from, before you lived with Maglor?"
Looking down at his hands, Elrond fingered the edge of his mail shirt. "I think it was somewhere in the south," he said quietly. "I think... I think I remember the sea." He lifted his gaze to the older Elf. "Why do you ask me these questions? Do you know me?"
Ereinion paused for a moment, and then smiled at him. "Yes, Elrond. I know you, and your brother as well. I also knew your parents and your grandparents, though the last time I saw you together was over 50 years ago."
"Who are you," Elrond whispered, "to know so much about me?"
"I am Ereinion, son of Fingon, and I lived with Círdan the Shipwright on the Isle of Balar, just south of the Havens of Sirion where you were born."
Elrond's gaze seemed to turn inward, a searching look as he murmured, "Sirion... yes, that was it... there were boats..."
"Yes, there were," Ereinion nodded, smiling. "Your father, Ëarendil, was known as The Mariner, he loved boats so."
"Ëarendil," Elrond said quietly. "Is he dead now?" His face grew more puzzled. "My mother is dead, is she not? That's why I came to live with Maglor."
/So much to say,/ thought Ereinion. /So much they never told him, and yet... now is hardly the time./
"Your mother and father sailed into the West," the king said gently. "As we understand it, it was largely due to your father's plea to the Valar that they have come to deliver Middle-Earth from Morgoth at last."
"My father... spoke to the Valar?" Elrond's gray eyes were full of wonder, even as the roar of dragons flooded their ears again.
"Yes," Ereinion said, "and your mother brought him one of the Silmarils -"
Elrond stiffened suddenly. "A Sil -" he stopped speaking and stared at the ground, his delicate face changing with each expression, each different emotion moving across it. "Maglor thought he saw one... one of the jewels of his father, up in the sky, like the light of a hundred stars."
Ereinion leaned forward and put his hand over Elrond's. The younger Elf's skin was cold despite the heat in their tiny shelter. He smiled softly and said, "That was your father, Elrond. The Valar hallowed his boat and sent him up to sail the sky. He is our great hope, our newest and most beloved star."
Elrond's gaze lingered on Ereinion's face before dropping to where their hands touched. Silent tears trailed down his cheeks. "Surely if my father is in the sky," he said at last, "then all will be well... At least, I hope it will... I worry for Maglor, and Maedhros. It's been a long time today since I've seen them... and then... there is Elros..."
"Your brother," Ereinion said softly. "Where was he when the battle began?"
Swallowing thickly, Elrond looked up. "Fighting with the Edain - with the Men of Hador's House. He got special permission from Maedhros to do it..." The gray eyes were still bright with unshed tears. "I don't know where he is, either."
"I promise," Ereinion told him, "as soon as this danger has diminished I will help you find them. I swear to you we'll find each and every one of them." His voice was calm and he held Elrond's gaze with his own.
Blinking back tears and squaring his shoulders, Elrond nodded.
Years later, someone asked the Halfelven when it was that he had fallen in love with his king. As he thought back on it, and all the things that had happened since that time, he had to put the beginning of it all right then - at the sound of those words, and the look in the Elven king's eyes.
When the dragon sounds had been faint for a good few hours, Ereinion peered out of their makeshift cave at the battlefield around them. Fires were burning - smoldering fires made mostly of bodies that put forth a foul reek and thick, black smoke. There were flames off to the northwest but around their shield-covered ditch all was quiet.
"Is it all right to come out now?" Elrond asked anxiously, peering up at the king.
"Just a moment," Ereinion murmured, scanning the field and listening keenly. He moved his head just slightly and caught a sound - low and rumbling, but getting louder. "Someone's coming," he said, "on horseback, I believe. Stay down until I tell you different."
He himself slid partially back into the ditch, staring intently in the direction of the sound. Some ten minutes later he made out the shapes of horses, galloping swiftly towards them from the southwest. Another minute's waiting and he saw a banner that made his own eyes well up. It was his own device - twelve silver stars on the deep blue field - and the one who held it high aloft was Círdan himself.
"Elrond," he called to the younger Elf, "I believe it's safe to come out now." The younger Elf looked out between the shields and then took Ereinion's offer of a hand up.
"Who are they?" he asked, peering forward through the smoke at the new arrivals.
"People who will be overjoyed to see you," Ereinion said with a smile. Then he moved forward to meet the company from Balar.
There wasn't much time for reunions. Círdan marveled at the grown up Elrond, and several of the soldiers were obviously moved beyond words to see the son of their long lost Lord and Lady, alive and well. But the tidings from further west on the battlefield were grave and time was short.
"The dragons have pushed back the Host of the West, as well as all of our forces. Technically we have much of Thangorodrim surrounded but we're being held at bay by those winged terrors."
"Best to move to the shelter of the mountains, then," Ereinion muttered, staring at the slopes that ran west to east along the southern edge of the battlefield.
"Many are already there," Círdan told him. "About half of our forces and most of Finarfin's. They're positioning themselves for an attack whenever the chance comes, but for now all anyone can do is seek for cover." He gave the king a significant look. "So let's go - *now.*"
"Yes," Ereinion murmured, "it's just..." He looked over at Elrond, in the middle of a group of soldiers from the Havens. Leaning in closer to Círdan, the king said, "He is missing from his host - Maedhros and Maglor's people, who were fighting to the north."
"Are you proposing we search for them now?" Círdan asked, in a surprised, equally low voice. "Wouldn't it be better to get those we can to safety? Surely... well, they must have found shelter somewhere..."
Ereinion looked hard into his old lover's eyes. "Cast your gaze northward through the smoke, Círdan. There is nothing in that direction that could offer shelter should the dragons come upon them. If we don't go now and bring them back with us, they won't survive this battle."
The Shipwright's grim expression was difficult to read, and he turned his gaze away from the king, first looking towards the northern desolation, then back to the small contingent of Elvish soldiers that had followed him. His voice, when he finally spoke, sounded, to Ereinion, surprisingly harsh.
"I will not risk the lives of all of these soldiers on the unlikely chance that the sons of Fëanor can be rescued from the battlefield." He looked up at Ereinion and the king was shaken by gray eyes, normally kind and understanding, gone hard and steely. "Haven't enough lives been lost because of them, Ereinion? You yourself were loathe to even fight next to them in battle, and now you propose to go searching for them when our peril is at its greatest?"
The king glanced over at Elrond once more before fixing his gaze on the Shipwright, gray eyes pleading with lighter gray. "Your words are wise, as always, my dear Lord, but... They *are* kin - troublesome and troubling kin to be sure - but kin all the same." Another quick glance at the younger Elf, who stood now, surrounded by soldiers, his large, dark eyes fixed on Ereinion, questioning.
"And he loves them, Círdan. I don't know why or how, but he does. For his sake alone, I couldn't abandon them."
For a long moment, Círdan searched Ereinion's eyes, shifting his gaze only once, to where Elrond stood, and then looking back at his friend and lover. Something registered then, something profound and he began, softly, to shake his silver head. The next moment he had turned away from Ereinion, turned towards his horse so that the king could not see his face.
"If this search cannot be done by the two of us," he said quietly, "it will not be done at all. I will send all of the soldiers back towards the shelter of the mountains... and I will accompany you northwards."
Ereinion had known Círdan long enough not to attempt to argue. "Very well," he answered, grateful, at least, for the older Elf's pledge of companionship. Then he stood back and let his gaze range over the troops before him. "Hark, everyone, and listen well!" he cried, raising his voice. As one the small army turned to look at him. "You will go back southwards, to the shelter of the mountains. Find your friends and your kin and stay there until you hear from Lord Círdan or myself... or some other Lord, should it come to that. We have business to the north, but will rejoin you as quickly as we can."
The mass of men began stirring to action, readying themselves to retrace their steps while their Lords moved off without them. Círdan led Ereinion towards the horses so that he could choose a steed, and there they were intercepted by the slender figure of Elrond.
"You go northward, sire," he said to Ereinion, urgency coloring his voice. "Do you seek for my people? For Maglor... for Elros?"
Ereinion opened his mouth to reply but before he could the Shipwright stepped in front of him, eyes fixed on Elrond's.
"We go to find the sons of Fëanor, because we would not abandon any of the Eldar to the whim of Morgoth's beasts. As for your *people*... that would be your brother, Elros. Is he among them?"
Blinking at the force of Círdan's words, Elrond stepped back and then answered, "No... he chose to fight among the men of the House of Hador, but they were very near the host of Maedhros and Maglor -"
"We will seek for them as long as we can," Círdan said, interrupting him. "If they have strayed too far northwards, though..." The silver-haired Elf paused and then muttered, "We may be limited in what we can achieve." He turned, frowning, and gathered his horse's reins.
"I'm going with you!" Elrond said suddenly, looking from Círdan to Ereinion, his eyes wide, body trembling.
"Now listen, Elrond -" Ereinion began.
"There's no use talking me out of it," the younger Elf insisted. "I'm the one who knows where they were last fighting. Things will go much faster in the search if I'm along. You both know that to be true." His uneasy gaze betrayed his fear, but he stood, resolute, before them.
Círdan ran a hand over his forehead and sighed. "He's right, you know," came the muttered words as he mounted his horse.
The king did the same, his expression making it clear that he didn't approve of Elrond's coming. "Take a horse, then," he growled at the younger Elf. "And let's hope your caretakers taught you to ride like the wind itself."
With that, Ereinion turned his horse toward the north and galloped off, leaving Círdan and Elrond to follow as they could.
Author's note: This is my attempt to portray the War of Wrath, particularly the last battle in that war, from Gil-galad's perspective. To do this, I had to determine where his forces would have been at the time of that battle, as well as the location of Maedhros's forces and the Host of the West. I also had to visualize the coming of Eärendil, and reconcile how Ereinion and Círdan would have made their way from Thangorodrim to Balar in time to rescue the Eldar still on the island. This, then, is my interpretation of those unwritten events, and should not be considered canon. I do believe, however, that they are compatible with canon as I have written them here.
As it turned out the three riders didn't have far to go before they met up with the Fëanorian contingent. The thick smoke from the dragon fires had hid the slow, southward progress of Maedhros's troops from view and Ereinion and his companions had gone but 5 miles north when they saw them coming, a small but well-armed group of Elves and Men on horseback, moving as swiftly as possible on the smoky battlefield, their presence concealed from the dragons to the west by acrid, black vapors.
As the two groups approached one another, Maedhros held up a hand to halt his small army, and then rode forward. "Elrond?" he said, "Is that you?" Then, turning back to his host he called softly, ["It's him, Tittonóro*. No need to worry."] The Quenya was followed by a quick, informal burst of Sindarin, "He's up here, Elros."
Two more riders came forward, one quickly, a tall, dark Elf with strangely luminous gray eyes and a voice like a dove, calling Elrond's name followed by a scattering of endearments as he dismounted. The second rider came to the front of the host slowly, watching Elrond as he slid off of his horse and accepted Maglor's embrace.
"What happened to you, little brother?" Elros murmured, as he came level with Maedhros. "I came down from where we were fighting only to find you missing and no one knew where you'd gone."
Elrond's cheeks went scarlet, and he appeared to struggle for a moment with how to explain himself, when Ereinion spoke.
"He came to my aid, when I was alone and beset with ten Men." His gaze was locked onto the older twin's. "Men loyal to the enemy. If he hadn't been where he was," and here the king looked over at Elrond and smiled, "I probably wouldn't be talking with you now. He's done well this day, and, as you see, still bears his Lord's colors."
It was impossible, now that he had spoken, to ignore Maedhros and Maglor looking up at him, one from horseback, one with his arms still around Elrond's shoulders. Summoning up every ounce of courtesy he could find within himself, he nodded to each of them.
["Lord Maitimo. Lord Makalaurë,"] he said solemnly, feeling the weight of the formal names. ["We meet at a very dire time, and our words must needs be brief. What warriors are these who make up your host? We ourselves are with a contingent of Beleriand Elves to the south, and close to those from Aman who are led by Arafinwë."]
"There's no need to stand on ceremony, Ereinion King," Maedhros said, switching into Sindarin, "nor even on ceremonial speech. We are brought together for one purpose, and one purpose only - to help in the defeat of Morgoth. Surely anyone who fights against him is your ally?"
"That's as may be," Ereinion acknowledged, "but still I would know the make up of your host, for I prefer to have friendly folk behind me when I turn my back to ride, and ride we must. The dragons may be tarrying on the western edge of the battlefield now, but I doubt they'll linger indefinitely."
"Where do you suggest, then," Maglor asked, his arm still tight around Elrond's shoulders. "Are the mountains far?"
"No," Ereinion said, "not if we take them at a full gallop - or whatever our horses can give us. Thankfully the day is still young and they haven't tired too much."
"And who is there in the mountains?" asked Maedhros, his voice harsh with an odd mixture of fatigue and suspicion.
["Russandol -"] Maglor began, but his older brother cut him off.
"Do the Valar wait there," he said, "come to defeat one Enemy... and the sons of another?"
Ereinion's face darkened, his anger growing out of impatience to find shelter from what he knew would surely be coming soon. "You should be thinking of your soldiers at a time like this," he hissed, "not your own -"
"Maedhros, please trust us." Círdan's voice rang out, strong but calm, causing both Ereinion and Maedhros to turn to him in surprise. Both had forgotten he was there.
"Círdan..." Maedhros husked, nodding his head. "Please forgive me for not greeting you properly."
The Shipwright brushed away his words. "I have fought with you and your brothers in many a battle, Maedhros. I think you know that I would never be part of any plan that would lead you into danger. But as the king says, time *is* short and we must be away from here or risk being in the open when the dragons come."
["He's right, Russandol,"] Maglor murmured to his brother before giving Elrond a last embrace and then hurrying the younger Elf to his horse.
Maedhros's gaze moved from Círdan back to Ereinion. "You say Arafinwë's troops are in those mountains as well?" he asked uneasily.
"Yes," Ereinion answered, "but... but there is no need for you to meet. If you stay to the east of our troops you can easily find shelter without the risk of seeing them. Now what do you say? Shall we make a run for it?"
Maedhros hesitated for one moment more and Maglor, now remounted, put a hand on his arm. ["We must,"] he whispered to his brother. ["It's our only hope."]
Sitting up as tall as he could, Maedhros called back to his troops, giving the order to make a charge for the mountain caves. With a last, penetrating look at Ereinion, he spurred his steed forward, left of where Círdan and Ereinion's troops had gathered, and the race for shelter began.
They gained the foothills before midday and the scouts came back with word of a line of caves that ringed the bottom of the lowest mountains. Managing to push their horses through the heat and the dragon stench, Ereinion and Círdan led their coughing, choking soldiers into the central caverns while Maedhros headed towards those on the eastern side of the slopes. As the two forces parted, only Círdan noticed that young Elrond's gaze lingered on Ereinion until the king was out of sight ahead of them.
Once inside they found that most of the largest caves were connected at some point, so that one could travel several miles along the edge of the mountains without needing to venture into the open.
Ereinion sent a small group of scouts - Elves who long ago had fled from the ruins of Dorthonion and who shared a kindred with Finarfin - to find the Noldorin king. In only a few hours they came back with the news that the Noldor of Aman were encamped in a long line of caves to the west, waiting out the dragon rage, as they all were.
So long had the troops from Balar been together that the necessities of watch shifts, sleeping quarters, allotments of food, and rations of water were all swiftly taken care of. Their small army was a smooth system of routines and soon the two leaders were herded off to a small, private corner of an inner cave where they could talk and, if possible, sleep.
Lowering himself to the floor, Ereinion ran a hand over his head and sighed in weariness. "We've done it again, haven't we, Círdan?" he said quietly. "Misjudged the depth of Morgoth's evil, the enormity of his forces..."
Círdan slowly shrugged off his cloak and gave the king a sidelong glance. "Why do you say that? You believe the Valar cannot defeat dragons?"
Ereinion didn't look up. His gaze was unfocused, staring someplace a thousand miles away, or possibly focused inside himself. "I know nothing of the Valar, really," he said, his voice sounding far away as well. "Sometimes I think they're just stories - stories you old ones tell to make us feel less alone in the world."
A slight crease between Círdan's silver brows was all that gave away a sense of worry. "You're exhausted, Ereinion. That's all. When you've had some rest -"
"I'll what?" Ereinion interrupted, still staring ahead with his thousand-mile gaze. "I'll believe in creatures I've never seen - notwithstanding your Ulmo, of course. Creatures who allowed my father and my grandfather to fight an enemy one hundred times their strength? Creatures who let them die horribly? Who have let thousands upon thousands of our people die horribly?"
Círdan moved to sit beside him, one arm slipping around Ereinion's shoulders. "You don't know what you're saying," he murmured. "You need sleep."
Suddenly the king's eyes were sharply focused - focused on Círdan's face, his voice angry. "And not only should I believe these beings exist, but I should believe they're going to defeat the Dark Lord for us after letting him do what he would all these thousands of years?"
"You forget, Ereinion," Círdan said simply, holding that fierce gaze. "*I* have seen them. Ulmo, and Oromë, Tulkas, and Aulë, even Manwë himself - they fought him before - thousands of years before you were born - and they defeated him then. They will again. I cannot believe otherwise."
Ereinion's gaze softened then, staring into eyes almost as old as the Elven people themselves. Perhaps it had been his preoccupation with the war, or the conscious distance he'd been trying to put between himself and the Shipwright, but now he wondered how he could have forgotten those eyes, gray and soft, like deep wells of age.
Not yet 150 years old, he realized then that there was no way for him to comprehend all the time his lover's ancient eyes had seen. But one thing was truer than anything else in his life: his trust in Círdan. That was absolute, and if Círdan believed that Morgoth would be defeated, then Ereinion had no choice but to believe it, too.
He smiled then, softly, and a trembling hand brushed Círdan's cheek. "I'm so tired of fighting," he whispered. It was strange to realize how utterly true the statement was, and at the same time, how he could tell it to no one other than the silver-haired Elf at his side. "I'm just so tired..."
"Of course you are," Círdan murmured back, his hands moving to the base of Ereinion's neck, where the dusty armour ended, and brushing aside the long, dark hair. "We all are," he soothed as his slim, strong fingers found every knotted muscle, every spot of tension in Ereinion's neck and shoulders. "Think of the good things that have happened today," he said softly, as the king stretched out beside him. "The forces of Morgoth have been all but defeated," he said, stroking Ereinion's hair. "We stand on the verge of breaking Thangorodrim... and Eärendil's children have come to us, completely unexpected. Surely that is enough to give anyone hope, is it not, Ereinion?"
He waited several moments for his king's reply, but none came. Ereinion Gil-galad was pressed up against him, deeply asleep.
"There you are, Telella**. What are you doing all the way over here? Don't tell me you're meaning to slip away and find the Valar in these caves?"
At the sound of Maglor's gentle voice, Elrond turned from the narrow opening in the cave wall, his cheeks reddening slightly. "No, of course not..." His voice drifted off and he found that as it had always been when Maglor looked at him that way, he couldn't think of any convincing lies. "Anyway," he said quickly, "I'm sure the Valar are much further west than we are. That's what King Ereinion said."
"King Ereinion," Maglor repeated slowly. "It seems you helped him out of a tight spot today. I hope he showed the proper gratitude."
Elrond's brows knotted slightly. "Of course he did - but that was nothing compared to how he fought off those last waves of orcs." The younger Elf hopped down to the floor of the cave where Maglor stood. "He was amazing, attoÝ! The way he could twist and turn - the way he moved his sword." Here Elrond moved into a series of feints with an imaginary sword, his face grim and determined. "And I heard his soldiers call him a new name today, you know. 'Gil-galad,' radiant star..." He executed a quick spin and got himself off balance, saved only by the quick reflexes of his mentor.
"You've spoken of no one and nothing else since we arrived," Maglor said dryly as he put the young Elf carefully back on his feet. "Could it be that the High King is the attraction beyond that little passage up there? You desire to see him again?"
"I... hope to see him... at some point in the future," Elrond said vaguely, glancing over at the cave opening. "To say thank you for his help, that's all. It was very good of him to protect me when the dragons came."
"If you had stayed with our troops *they* would have protected you," Maglor said, his mock sternness giving way to a tiny smile. "Still, I'm glad you're safe, no matter how it was done." He gave Elrond a soft caress on the cheek and then walked to the front of the cave, peering out at the midday gloom. The dragon fires were burning steadily now, acrid black smoke pouring from them and covering every piece of sky. Only a distant patch remained unsullied, its light almost more silver than blue. Beneath it, Thangorodrim loomed like a cloud of pestilence.
Maglor's gaze was riveted on that stronghold, so much so that he didn't notice Elrond come up beside him. "We're so close," Maglor muttered. "So close and yet... as far away as we've ever been." Off in distance, what seemed like an arc of light gleamed for a moment, then disappeared.
"So close, atto?" Elrond asked, looking over at him. "Are you thinking of the jewels again? It's been a long time since they troubled you much."
The arc of light that Maglor watched grew wider, almost as if it were rending the clouds. "Since Russandol saw that lovely light, hanging in the sky... it must have been..."
Elrond was watching Maglor, puzzled by the strange expression on his face. "That reminds me," he said softly. "Today, while we were hiding from the dragons, the king... he told me about my father. He said my father was sent into the sky by the Valar... and that he wore a Silmaril on his forehead." Shaking his head slightly at the outrageous thought, Elrond looked down for a moment, then back up at Maglor. "Do you think that's really true, atto?"
Maglor appeared not to have heard him, so Elrond touched the older Elf's arm lightly. "Atto?"
"Telella," Maglor whispered, taking hold of Elrond's shoulders and turning him gently around to face out of the cave, toward where a bright, silvery light was illuminating the undersides of the clouds. "Your father... he has come..."
Círdan had left the sleeping king and gone out to check on the horses, now comfortably stabled in two large caverns to the west of the main cave. Having assured himself that they had adequate food, he happened to glance out of the cave opening just as a brilliant silver light flooded over the smoky battlefield. Shielding his eyes, the Shipwright looked toward the sky. What he saw made him fall to his knees.
Over to the west, a ship, the most beautiful ship he'd ever seen, was descending through the layers of cloud and fume that choked the air. Dazzling as the light was, reflecting off the dragon vapors that hung like towers above Thangorodrim, it didn't hinder Círdan from recognizing that ship. It wasn't possible to pour that much time and love into a craft and not know it from any angle, through any storm.
"Vingilot," he whispered, the sound almost a prayer, then louder, the happy shout of a father seeing a long lost child. "Ai, Vingilot! Ai, Eärendil Galwannen!"ÝÝ
Hearing his voice, the other Elves rushed to the cave opening and saw the great ship, shining with the light of the West, gliding through the air above the battlefield. Above, beside, all around the eerily beautiful craft swarmed huge birds of prey - hawks, falcons, and, greater than all the others, the huge, golden eagles of Manwë, led by their captain, Thorondor. The wheeled around the ship in graceful chaos, screeching as they came.
As the ship descended further, Círdan could see that on its deck stood a tall Elf whose beautiful face was almost obscured by the glittering beams of light that shone from the jewel on his forehead. He held a long, silver sword aloft, and called out through the smoky air.
["Get you back, beasts of darkness - and harken to me, Morgoth Bauglir, Lord of Evil! The day of your doom has come and by the Powers of the West, the Light of Eärendil shall be your undoing!"] He made a long, graceful swipe with his sword, and the dragon that had come upon him, close to the edge of the ship roared in fury as its belly was sliced open. It fell from the sky and the armies ringing the battlefield cried out to Eärendil, Elves offering praises while the Mortal Men cheered and pounded their shields with their swords.
The noise brought Ereinion running from where he'd been sleeping. He joined Círdan at the cave entrance and stared up in wonder with thousands of others as the last battle in the War of Wrath began.
It lasted all day and on through the night. As the sunset and then evening drew on to the small hours of the morning, Vingilot only glowed brighter, her captain's swift and lethal movements an untiring, graceful dance of swordsmanship. As he fought, his feathered allies moved above the battlefield in fatal clouds of fury, tearing at the dragons, forcing them away from Eärendil when they came at him unawares.
Down below, Elves and Men could only look on in wonder as one by one the dread beasts fell from the sky. As each one landed dead on the desolate plain, the earth around them shook, the rumbling and vibrations seemingly picked up and carried far and wide, stretching out from the north to lands unseen away to the south.
The sky near the horizon was just beginning to pale into a smoky gray when the final stand came. Despite a swarm of eagles tearing at his hide, Ancalagon the Black, the greatest of the dragons, dove screaming at Eärendil, his talons razor sharp and fully extended. He made several passes over Vingilot, each time letting forth a blast of fire. Those below marveled at how Eärendil's silver shield forced the fire away, causing the glowing flames to dissipate into mist and leaving Captain and ship untouched. It was during one of these blasts that the dark beast miscalculated and, turning to make another pass, left his gleaming belly exposed to the terrible silver sword below him. As he did, Eärendil took a stroke so strong that he spun with the force of it.
The sound that echoed over the battlefield then, and shook the very walls of Morgoth's stronghold, was something no one who heard it ever forgot. It was filled with a fury so great that Men and Elves both bent their heads, sure that the Mariner had missed his mark and that Ancalagon would triumph. But the sound rose in a wail of pain and all knew then that they heard the death cry of the greatest of Morgoth's beasts. As they watched, he plummeted from the sky, the huge swollen body falling directly on the towers of Thangorodrim and breaking them with his weight.
As the disbelieving warriors looked on, the sun broke over the horizon, one long beam slanting out and touching Eärendil's sword, again held aloft by it's master. A shout of joy loud enough to equal the dragon's cry erupted from the field and all at once, it seemed, a great host of shining soldiers moved forward - the Valar and the Maiar, clad in their earthly forms - and flooded past the shattered gates of the Enemy.
But even as they did, the ground continued to tremble.
The day had taken on an air of unreality as the Elves of Beleriand and their allies of the Edain watched and waited while Thangorodrim was literally torn apart by the Host of the West. Ereinion, who stood eyeing the horses, finally free of their stony prisons, was surprised to see Maedhros's forces out on the field as well. Something in the manner of Fëanor's eldest had led him to believe they would keep themselves separate from all the others gathered here.
As he watched, a slim figure detached itself from the small knot of soldiers outside the far eastern cave entrance and began picking it's way towards him. It was Elrond, and the king found himself wondering about the other child, Elros, who never seemed to be in the Elven contingent.
Elrond stopped several paces off and gave a graceful little bow, almost childlike in it's reverence. "Excuse me, sire," he said, "but... may I approach?"
Ereinion's dark brows came together over a puzzled face. "May you approach? Of course you may, Elrond, son of Eärendil. No need to be so formal. We are brothers in arms, you and I." It was a strain not to smile at the faint tinge of red in the younger Elf's cheeks, but Ereinion managed it.
Stepping gingerly forward, Elrond seemed to have eyes for everything on the battlefield except the king. "Your horses look quite fit," he said, nodding to them, "especially after so long a night in the caves."
"Yes," Ereinion agreed, "they obviously prefer air, whether or not it's fresh, to stone." There was an awkward silence as Elrond looked around for something else to talk about, so the king took pity on him. "And your Lord's horses? May I assume that they are all fit and well?"
"Oh, yes," Elrond answered, flickering a look at him and nodding seriously. "They were very happy to be outside this morning." He kept on nodding after he'd finished speaking, and Ereinion found himself picking up the movement himself, unconsciously.
"Good. Good to hear it. Well - that battle... your father... absolutely amazing..." After all, what did one say to a person whose parent had slain several dragons and withstood the flames of Morgoth in order to save all of Middle-Earth? /Stars, now I'm becoming as awkward as he.../
Now Elrond's face had gone very red and he ducked his head, staring intently at the ground between them. "It was... very hard to believe," he murmured, "that the person I saw... in that ship... was really my *father.*"
And suddenly Ereinion smiled, the feelings of discomfort falling away. Who on that battlefield would have been more stunned by the sight of Vingilot than this young peredhil. He had barely known his father, who had been at sea more than at home, and then to see him return to Middle-Earth in such a manner... He reached out a hand and laid it gently on Elrond's shoulder.
"Truly, there is no other like him in all of Arda. It must be very difficult for you to take it all in."
Slowly, Elrond raised his head and looked into the king's eyes. "Yes," he said, voice no more than a whisper. "It's... a bit overwhelming, actually." He paused for a moment and then added, "No one seems to understand that..." A longer pause and then, "Except you."
The look on Elrond's face was heartbreaking, almost lost, and Ereinion opened his mouth to comfort him, but just as he did a voice, clear but urgent came through the air.
"Sire! He is coming! He says he must speak to you and Lord Círdan!" One of the Falathrim warriors was running along the edge of the caves towards them, waving a small scroll of parchment. Reaching them, he bowed and handed the scroll to the king, then bent over with his hands on his knees, straining to catch his breath. "I came as quickly as I could," he panted out. "I was on watch at the western side of our encampment and... and suddenly he was just *there* and bid me tell you of his arrival."
Ereinion's arm had slipped off of Elrond's shoulders and now he patted the breathless guard gently on the back, calling to a nearby Elf for water as he did so. Elrond stood by, looking somewhat alarmed at the other soldier's state.
"Go and drink," the king said, handing the exhausted scout over to the one who had brought a cup of water. "Slowly now." Then he looked down at the scroll. It was a delicate ivory color, encircled with a sapphire-blue band that slid like silk over his fingers as he untied it. The parchment was empty but for the words, "Eönwë, Herald of Manwë Sulimo."
To his credit, he only felt a little lightheaded, and that was only for a moment. As he turned to Elrond and heard himself say, "Would you be so good as to step just inside - I believe you'll find Lord Círdan..." he reflected on the fact that he had, in his life, ever only met one Maia, and that had been a very difficult encounter indeed. Hopefully this one would go off a bit better.
Elrond blinked for a moment and then said, "Oh! Yes, of course -" and hurried into the cave, emerging after only a minute with the silver-haired Lord of Balar.
"Ereinion?" Círdan said in concern. "Is everything all right...?" His voice trailed off as the king handed him the scroll.
"It appears we are very soon to have a visitor," Ereinion said quietly.
The Shipwright barely had time to register the name when a soft voice - soft, yet full of profound music - was heard behind them.
"Ereinion Gil-galad? Círdan the Shipwright?"
They turned to see a creature of such light and beauty that both were too stunned to speak. Eönwë, clad in form to be as similar to the Eldar as possible, was tall and well-muscled, wearing dull golden armour and mail, with a long blue cape of the same sapphire color as the scroll's ribbon. That luminous blue also gleamed from his eyes, wide and guileless, fringed with long, golden lashes, and his hair, also golden, fell to his hips, knotted in places at the sides and back in small, intricate plaits. A great sword hung at his side, and from his face there came a light that was at once dazzling and comforting.
Círdan touched a hand to his forehead and bowed deeply, Ereinion seeing him out of the corner of his eye doing the same a half second later. "We are honored, Lord," he said gravely, and then had to stop, not knowing what else to say.
The Maia regarded them for a moment, and then spoke. "I bring you news of the War, and of your home," he said enigmatically. Ereinion and Círdan regarded each other briefly. "Melkor has been bound, and will be taken to Aman to face the judgment of Manwë. The Silmarils have been recovered and they, too, shall be taken back across the sea to Valinor, whence they were made."
There was a small sound from behind Ereinion and the king turned to see Elrond, blushing again and looking distressed.
Eönwë's eyes moved to him and the Maia said softly, "Elrond, son of Eärendil. Go now and tell the sons of Fëanor that the jewels are in my possession, and shall remain so until I return them to the Valar."
"Yes, my Lord," Elrond said, stammering just a bit, and then turned and began walked slowly but deliberately back to the eastern caves.
Círdan and Ereinion turned their gazes back to the Maia, who now looked upon them with grave regard. It was Círdan who spoke first.
"You mentioned our home, my Lord. Were you referring to Balar?"
"Yes, I was," Eönwë said. "You have felt the earth trembling for some time now. The land of Middle-Earth has been greatly changed with the force of this conflict, and no area more so than the lands that border on the Sundering Seas. They are being inundated as we speak - the waves have begun to cover them. Already land which was inhabited by the Eldar is no more."
Ereinion could hear Círdan's sharp intake of breath beside him. "Balar -" the Shipwright whispered.
"The island is still safe," Eönwë said, turning his eyes to Círdan, "but will not be for much longer. That is why I come to you now, to tell you that the hour has come for you to return to the south one last time. You must gather your people together and bring them north and east for safety." He regarded their stunned expressions for a moment and then added, "And you do not have much time."
At last Ereinion found his voice. "But... how, my Lord? How can we possibly get to the southern coast before - surely the island will be drowned ere we arrive?"
Eönwë lifted a long, graceful arm to the sky and suddenly, wheeling above them was a flock of eagles - the giant eagles of Manwë, floating in the thermals above the foothills.
"They will bear you as far south as Arvernien, and Ossë will see your ship to Balar with all speed. But you must go immediately. There is no time to spare."
Ereinion glanced over at Círdan, whose face was stricken with worry, and then back to Eönwë. "The sea," he whispered, trying to take it in, "how far will it come?"
The tall Maia regarded him sadly for several long moments and then murmured, "All Beleriand will lie under the waves."
At Eönwë's suggestion they had passed leadership of their soldiers to Finarfin. Many of the Elves were rightfully worried at not going with them. All had friends and families on Balar, and wanted to personally see to their safety, but Ereinion spoke of the swiftly passing time and the need for absolute haste and in the end they understood.
Knowing a delegation from either Eönwë or Finarfin would be difficult for the Fëanorians, Ereinion himself went to their camp before leaving, and spoke with Maedhros about the coming flood.
"You'll need to see that your army heads east," he said, "and the rest of your people. Maedhros do you understand? Time is very short."
Fëanor's eldest was standing before him, eyes fixed on his and yet, at the same time, his gaze was a thousand miles away. He was restless, pacing in short bursts now and then, and running a hand continuously through his coppery hair. "East," he muttered, "they want us to go east..."
"Yes," Ereinion said, "you need to begin your muster."
"They say east, but I'm betting all too soon the direction will change," Maedhros said quietly, as if speaking to himself. "All too soon..."
"Maedhros, please -" the king began, but then Maglor appeared at the eastern cave entrance, Elrond trailing in his wake.
"We'll see to it, Ereinion," he said in his soft, musical voice. "Or should I call you Gil-galad now?"
Ereinion shook his head. "I don't feel much like a radiant star, knowing how many people are soon to be stranded on that island. But I really must be away now." He nodded to the three of them and then added , "May the Valar see you all to safety, and may we meet again soon." Only after he said it did he realize what it would mean to the sons of Fëanor.
Bowing his head again, slightly, he turned and began the short walk to the mustering point of his own troops. It was only a minute before he heard light footfalls behind him and turned to see Elrond, looking half worried, half embarrassed.
"Elrond, what is it?" he asked. "I really do need to hurry -"
"I know," Elrond said hurriedly, "but I... I wanted... to thank you - for everything... and I..." He looked down at the ground for a moment. "I just wanted to tell you that I really do hope to see you again." He looked up, gaze almost fierce on the king's face. "I mean that, sire. You were the bravest, most glorious warrior I've ever seen. Truly. I hope to see you again, and I hope it's soon... and if it's not too impertinent... may I call you Gil-galad?" He stopped speaking all at once and Ereinion could almost feel the warmth and passion pouring from those enormous grey eyes.
They stared at each other for a moment, Elrond scarcely believing he'd gotten the words out and Ereinion wondering if he'd heard him correctly. The the king smiled graciously. "Of course, Elrond. I would be greatly honored to be called by that name, especially by you, son of Eärendil. I, too, hope we will meet again soon."
Elrond still trembled before him, overwhelmed, no doubt, buy the day and its uncommon events. Reaching an arm up, Ereinion put a hand on the younger Elf's cheek and held it there for a moment, smiling.
"Fare you well, Elrond Peredhil. May your journeys be short and bring you soon to comfort and safety.
Although the king had thought it impossible, Elrond's eyes widened even further at that touch and he lifted a tentative hand to cover Ereinion's where it lay on his cheek. "Thank you, Gil-galad, King. May your journeys also be good ones."
Their gazes lingered a moment and then the moment was gone and Ereinion turned. "We'll meet soon," he said to Elrond, over his shoulder, and then was off to where the eagles waited.
The flight south was swift and agonizing. At times it was impossible to see the land below them, so fast did the eagles fly, causing their eyes to water and heads to bend against the airstream. The winds were with them, though, and the flying itself was smooth as could be. Every now and then, they chanced a look below and it was then that they understood Eönwë's urgency. The edges of Beleriand were being slowly frayed, overtaken by the vast, echoing sea that poured in at every opportunity, drowning trees, valleys, and hills.
When they had flown south far enough to be even with Círdan's old lands, Ereinion gasped. Nothing of the Falas as he had known it now existed. The ruins of Eglarest and Brithombar where they had lived in happiness and fought so desperately had been consumed by the pounding waves and the river Nenning was bleeding its life out into the sea.
Chancing a look over at Círdan, Ereinion saw him with his face buried in the silky feathers of the eagle that born him. The winds around them blew too loudly for him to hear anything, but from the movement of the Shipwright's back Ereinion knew he must be sobbing.
As they descended out of the clouds to Arvernien, they could see Ossë waiting gravely by the coast. Set down by the eagles, who immediately flew off northward again, Ereinion looked around himself, feeling off-balance, and not because of his air journey. Nothing seemed quite right, there at the place where the Havens of Sirion had stood, and it was several moments before he determined why: these Havens, like those which had stood at Eglarest, were no more. He was actually standing several miles to the northeast of where he had thought they had landed. It was a frightening and unsettling perspective, and made him all the more worried for those on left on the island.
Ossë, grave-faced and formal, refused to look at Ereinion, speaking only with Círdan as they boarded the ship that had been brought, and set sail one last time for the shores of Balar. It was an eerie journey, that quick flight across the water. All around them was the sound of the sea, restlessly moving eastward.
Círdan, having counseled with Ossë for several hours, at last came to sit next to Ereinion, one hand covering the king's, looking to comfort. It was Ereinion, though, who spoke first.
"How are you faring, sweet Lord?" he asked quietly. "I know this must be supremely difficult for you."
Círdan said nothing for a moment. He simply stared out at the water stretching endlessly off to their starboard side, his hand gripping the king's. Then at last, in a hoarse whisper, he murmured, "This is the last tide the beaches of my home will see. Every home I've ever had, save the very first, will soon lay under the waves, and I will never return to those friendly shores." A slow tear slid down his cheek. "This is indeed a fatal tide for my memories."
Then Ereinion's arms were around him, holding him and stroking his hair, murmuring to him whatever platitudes came to mind, and Círdan wept for his homelands, the serene beaches that had edged Beleriand like a pearl necklace.
"Ossë will take them gently," Ereinion whispered, "and Ulmo will keep them with the greatest care. And you *will* have your memories."
"And what," Círdan whispered back, his face against Ereinion's shoulder, "if my memories should fail me?"
"Then you will have mine to remind you," the king said softly. "And together, we shall keep a vision of white sands and pink shells, and beautiful, glowing pearls."
His words seemed to quite Círdan, who breathed softly against the skin of the king's neck, his arms circling Ereinion's waist.
"Do you remember when I first went to Balar with you," Ereinion said quietly, "and we swam together, and I laced your hair with pearls?"
He could feel Círdan's smile against him. "Yes," the Shipwright answered. "I remember that very well."
"You looked like a Maia yourself to me," Ereinion murmured. "You always have - you're more beautiful, more luminous and noble than any Elf I've ever known. You were the Lord of the Beaches to that ignorant little landlocked boy - and you always will be."
"No," Círdan said sadly, "my beaches are gone."
"Not gone," Ereinion whispered, as he kissed Círdan's temple and stroked the long, silver hair. "Just moved. When we get to our new home - wherever that is - you will have new beaches to walk, and the sea that seems so harsh and unforgiving now will echo its music in your ears again..." He stretched out Círdan's hand and stroked it gently, adding, "and in your fingertips."
Círdan's voice was tired, but peaceful. "Bless you, Ereinion. You always know the right thing to say..."
"Just rest now," Ereinion answered. "I'll wake you when we reach the island."
/And then a new chapter will begin... and we'll have to write it as we go./
:: end ::
*Tittonóro - Quenyan, "little brother"
** Telella - Quenyan, "little Elf"
Ýatto - Quenyan, used for someone who is close to speaker, like a father
ÝÝ Ai, Vingilot! Ai, Eärendil Galwannen - Sindarin, "Hail, Vingilot! Hail, Eärendil, the Blessed!"
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