The Fosterling back
to the Strange Fates
PAIRING: Starting to be Cirdan/Gil-galad;
eventuall also Gil-galad/Elrond
"If you put that arrow through the ring... I'll give you a very special treat."
The child, holding his bow at ready, turned and looked back over his shoulder at his father. They were much of a kind, the same noble face, the same long, black hair, the same air of wisdom beyond their years.
"What sort of treat?" he asked warily, causing his father's captains, who stood nearby, to laugh.
Fingon, for indeed he was the father, looked around the gathering thoughtfully. "Well," he said, stroking his chin slowly, "perhaps... your first horse?"
A sudden light kindled in his son's eyes, and the boy turned back to look at the target, a slender ring of gold at the far end of the hall. His small face was grave, his teeth biting for the briefest moment at his lower lip as his stared in fierce concentration. Standing like a statue, he slowly pulled the strong of his bow back and let the arrow fly, never moving a muscle as the gleaming shaft sped through the air.
The elven gathering held its collective breath as the ring, suspended from the ceiling by a slender ribbon, swayed slightly in an unseen current of air, moving slightly left of where it had been. The arrow, which had been aimed true enough, glanced off the right hand side of the metal circle and fell to the floor, leaving the ring spinning, but not penetrated.
Before the collected captains could even sigh in sympathy for the young boy, a messenger stumbled into the hall. The sudden breeze had come from the opening of the great door at the far end of the hall, and now the agitated elf ran to Fingon and and knelt before him, panting hard.
"My Lord, the Siege of Angband is broken and Ard-Galen is in flames. Even now your cousins are doing battle with a terrible orc-host, and it is said... it is said that Finrod is cut off from us by the enemy and that out of Angband comes Glaurung, Father of Dragons, and a host of Balrogs!"
The messenger's face was white as he told this last piece of news, and the names of the spawn of Morgoth made all but Fingon tremble where they stood. "Please my Lord," the elf continued, "your father calls you to his side at Eithel Sirion and your horse is even now awaiting you in the courtyard. He calls you in haste!"
Fingon paused one brief moment only, the signaled to his captains and they ran from the hall, the sound of their boots deafening, making the silence when they had all passed through the great doors even more stunning.
He stood now, alone in the great hall, his bow still in his hands. In the haste of war, no one had remembered he was there and he stared at the doors through which his father had passed, wondering if he would ever see him again. The thought persisted for a moment, making the back of his throat tighten painfully, but even as it did his eyes strayed downward to the slender shaft of his arrow on the floor far beyond him. He hadn't done it. His arrow had missed its mark and now the horse was lost to him, as well as his father's company.
Glancing down at the bow in his hands, then up once more at the golden ring, he walked swiftly to recover his arrow and then took aim once again. If there was to be war again between Morgoth and the Elves, there would be need of great archers - and he was not yet a great archer.
"But I *shall* be," he murmured to himself, and then let the arrow fly.
He was asleep on his father's deserted throne when Rana, his tutor, found him. The older elf felt a prick of tears behind his eyes at the sight of the young prince, curled into a ball clutching his bow, the dying fire casting flickering shadows over his face.
"Gil-galad." His voice was soft, but urgent. "Wake up, my Prince. The need is urgent."
Long, black lashes fluttered, then opened. "Rana...?" he said, sleepy only for a moment before sitting up suddenly. "My father - has he returned? What of the battle? Tell me!"
"No, he has not returned, sir," Rana began, lifting Gil-galad gently but insistently to his feet. "He did, however, send a message that the household must remove to the western mountain fastness with all speed. It seems the enemy was more powerful than anyone suspected and all the Elven realms of the North are threatened."
Even as Rana drew him down the hall towards the great doors, the prince was protesting. "I don't want to be put away somewhere where I can't see anything, or get news from the battle. Why can I not go to where my father is? I've been practicing all night and I'm getting to be much better at shooting. Won't you take me there instead?"
At the doors, Rana turned and took the younger elf by the shoulders. "Listen to me, Gil-galad. Your grandfather is the High King, your father his heir, and *you* the next in line. It is vital that the succession be preserved. The kingship will not pass to Feanor's sons, it must come someday to *you* and for that to happen *you* must be alive. Your father was explicit in his commands. You are to go the fastness with the rest of the household."
Gil-galad opened his mouth to argue, but Rana held up a long, slender finger and gave the boy a piercing look.
The young prince closed his mouth again and they both hurried out of the hall.
The scene in the entryway beyond was total chaos. The few remaining men (those few who were not infirm) were carrying bundles of food and clothing out of the front doors, into the morning mist beyond. Women moved back and forth among the bundles yet to be loaded, some crying, others with faces the color of cold ashes.
Gil-galad blinked back his own tears. It all looked so horribly final, his father's people so desperate and frightened. /And that's all the more reason for you not to go to pieces. They need hope and leadership at such a time and if their leader is not here.../ He looked around for Rana, but found the older Elf had stepped aside to speak with the master of stables who had only just walked in. A woman, not five yards away, her back to the Prince, sobbed quietly into the small leather bag she was filling. Gil-galad moved forward and put a hand softly on her shoulder.
She looked up in anxiety even as he knelt down to look her in the face. Recognition made her eyes grow wide. "Oh... it's you sire... I'm sorry. I know I'm going too slowly..."
"Not at all, good lady," Gil-galad replied softly. "I noticed your tears and came to give comfort - not to scold." He gave her slender shoulder a squeeze and then smiled. "Our people have always been the bravest and most valiant of our kind. Have faith in your King and his host. We will fight the Black Lord with every ounce of strength we have." Staring firmly into her eyes, he told her - and also himself - "Fear not."
"Thank you," she said, voice almost a whisper. "You are the pride of the Noldor... and you wear that pride well, on such small shoulders."
Rana appeared, bending over them, and murmured, "We are ready to go, my Prince. It will be a long and arduous ride. Let us be off."
"Be safe, sire," the woman said, brushing tears aside as she rose with them. "And I will have the utmost faith in your father."
Gil-galad forced a brave smile as Rana turned him away and they headed out into the chilly drizzle of the morning.
Seven hours they rode that day, camping in the foothills of the Ered Lomin, the range of mountains that bordered Hithlum on the west. The next three days and nights were much the same and the weather turned bad as they began their ascent into the mountains, but instead of the usual cold purity of the air, they could smell ashes - ashes and smoke on a wind out of the east.
During the nights, Gil-galad was mostly awake, listening to the guards on watch talk quietly among themselves. It was in this way he learned that his father's cousins, Angrod and Aegnor, had been slain defending Dorthonion, and that indeed as the messenger had feared, Finrod Felagund had been cut off by orcs on his desperate march north. Every new day brought some such horror. News of close kin was the worst, but soon it seemed that no matter who or where the evil had stricken, all was sorrow and brought despair to the small company.
They struggled along the face of the mountain for two days more, a line of scouts and guards, women with their children, and boys not quite older enough for war driving the pack horses. All were quiet, keeping personal thoughts inside and showing only determination without.
On the fifth day, they were come at at last to the mountain fastness of Rainc-iaur, the Ancient Arms, long a place of refuge for the Elves of Hithlum and the Men of Dor-Lomin. A small network of dry caves provided shelter from the now howling winds and guards were posted above the narrow openings, where the position on the high slopes provided Elven eyes with a view nearly 200 miles east, to the mountains of Ered Wethrin where Fingon, Gil-galad's father and Fingolfin, his grandfather fought the onslaught of Morgoth.
While the majority of the company set to making the caves as comfortable as possible, Rana took Gil-galad up to one of these lookouts, and they gazed eastward and saw then the great clouds of smoke that rose up east of Fingolfin's fortress at Eithel Sirion.
Staring out unblinkingly, Gil-galad asked his companion in a low voice, "Will they be able to stop him, Rana? Do they have any chance at all?"
Rana paused for only a moment before answering, "Your grandfather is the strongest Elf of my acquaintance, your father nearly his equal. They have a company of warriors that might bring down Angband itself, were they pressed to do so. Yet..."
Gil-galad looked up at him sharply, gray eyes narrowing. Rana had the noble height and fair face of the Noldor, his hair long and dark flowing down his back, his body lean but strong. Still, as he stood there, Gil-galad sensed, for the first time since he'd known the man, a feeling of dread come from him. "Yet...?" he whispered.
Rana looked down at him, the anguish apparent in his face. "It is not just the enemy they fight. It is the spawn of the enemy, whose power I fear has only distilled and strengthened in our long siege of the Dark Fortress." He put a hand on Gil-galad's shoulder. "It is not that I would take away your belief in your father, for that is still in my heart as well. It is only... I would prepare you for the worst against the time that it may come to pass.
Gil-galad felt the reassuring hand squeeze his shoulder and then Rana spoke again. "You should be ready for anything, Prince - both the good *and* the evil."
Looking out again towards the east, Ereinion Gil-galad allowed himself one, hard pang of fear, and then drew steel around his heart and nodded, making Rana want to weep for his bravery.
They passed a month at the cave hearing little news. Occasionally a messenger got through, but the tales they told were only of hard battled and great loss of life in the defense of Hithlum. The only good news was that the mountains of Ered Wethrin and their fortress of Eithel Sirion had not yet been breached. It was small hope to sustain the weary household, but they clung to it just the same, waiting for more as the days passed with agonizing slowness.
One night, when the snow had stopped falling, one of the lookouts spied a small company making its way up the rocky path towards their stronghold. The main company of the house retreated to the inner caves until the guards could determine their business, but even Gil-galad, waiting with Rana in the deepest cave, could hear the excited voices of the soldiers outside.
There were several more cries of joy, moving through the outer caves like a warm breeze and then the leather curtain on the inmost one was swept aside and Gil-galad beheld his father's face. It was weary, much more careworn than when they'd last seen each other in the great hall of their house, but the presence of Fingon made the boy's heart sing with relief.
"Father! You're safe. Has the war ended, then? Is the enemy defeated?"
Fingon did not speak at once. Rather, he looked around at his captains, almost as if for reassurance, and then moved a hand, dismissing them. Rana stood, preparing to leave with them, but Fingon caught his arm.
"No - I wish you to stay, Rana. You must hear what news I bring."
Gil-galad's relief turned to doubt as Rana nodded, waiting for the King to sit before choosing a place behind the prince.
"Father? What is it? Are we defeated?"
"Hithlum is held," his father answered quietly, "but most of my cousins are slain and the few that survive are fled to the far corners of their lands." He looked at his son, holding his gaze firmly as he continued. "Your grandfather... he believed them all to be dead. Hope fled his heart and only rage replaced it."
Gil-galad stared at his father, a slow and creeping doom coming inyo his mind.
"He rode out from Eithel Sirion fifteen days ago and smite a blow on the gates of Angband, calling Morgoth forth to do battle with him and him alone."
Behind the Prince, Rana gasped softly. "King Fingolfin..."
"It was a great battle," Fingon continued, emotion straying ever so slightly in his voice. "Your grandfather fought as never before, fair and terrible as the Valar, but Morgoth... Morgoth had brought forth Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. Thrice he smote the King, and thrice did the King rise and lift up his sword again."
He lowered his head for a moment, struggling for control. Gil-galad and Rana watched him, still as statues, waiting for the worst.
"Alas, though," Fingon said, looking up into his son's eyes. One small tear trickled down his cheek as he said, "He grew too weary, and Morgoth slew him."
The face of the young prince crumpled in grief, his head dropping to his hands. Rana it was who slipped strong around him, though, for his father was far gone in his own suffering, and they wept, all three, for the most valiant of the Noldorin Kings, now passed to the Halls of Mandos.
After several minutes, the tutor looked up at Fingon. "This," he began unsteadily, "this means... that you are now the High King, does it not?"
"I am," Fingon answered wearily. "Would that I were not, and my father was back in his halls again. But that was not his doom, and there is nothing more I can do for him now, save cherish his memory and try to live up to what he wanted me to be."
Slowly, he pulled Gil-galad from Rana's arms and took him gently by the shoulders. "I have made a decision, Gil-galad, and I will brook no argument from you about it. The enemy is far from content at the slaying of your grandfather. Even now he is planning the next action and no place in the northlands will be safe from his wrath."
With his thumb, he gently wiped a tear from the prince's face. "I am sending you away, to a place that is strongly fortified - where you will be protected from the scourge that is nearly come."
Gil-galad's eyes widened as he stood in bewilderment, not believing his ears. "Father, no! Don't send me away! My place is here, beside you, defending our people! Please, father, let me go with you! I beg you!"
"Gil-galad!" his father said, and though his voice was stern, the hands on the Prince's shoulders were trembling. "If I thought there was any other way, I would take it and you would remain always with me, but I must protect you. I cannot do it while we are at war, and I honor bound to stay on the field of battle."
He put a hand up to Gil-galad's cheek, wiping away another tear from his son's face. "I can only fight my best," he said softly, "if I know that you are safe. Now, you want me to fight my best, don't you? For our people?"
Gil-galad blinked several tears away, staring at his father transfixed for a moment before nodding slowly.
"Then do as I bid, and I will fight like no one ever has before. Just knowing that you are alive and in the world will sustain me."
Swallowing thickly, the boy stared back at his father, nodding again faintly. "Where will I be going, sire?" he said, drawing himself up as straight as he could.
"To Círdan, at the Havens. He will be your protector now."
"Círdan," Gil-galad whispered and nodded obediently, wanting desperately to assuage his father's anxiety. He could be strong, just as Fingon wanted him to be. He would not be a burden on his father at this gravest of times.
Fingon looked up at Rana, whose face was gray and stricken. "When the dawn comes, you will take him over the mountains to the Firth of Drengist. Círdan will be sending ships to meet you there. Once you see him safely onto a ship, come back to Eithel Sirion, for we will need all the able hands we have to defend Hithlum."
Rana looked down at Gil-galad, the grief filling his eyes. "Yes, sire," he murmured quietly. "As you wish. I... I will go now and make preparations." Then, as they watched him, he stood and walked rather unsteadily from the cave, out towards the provisions room.
"Will I see you again, father?"
The soft spoken words made Fingon turn sharply towards his son. He wanted to comfort the boy, to tell him that all would be well, and that they would ride the high plains of Hithlum together at some happy time in the future, but he knew the look in his son's eyes. From an early age, Gil-galad had been taught the ways of a king, and he had taken the lessons very much to heart. Now was a time for honesty.
"I don't know," Fingon said. "I will have my hands full and my hours filled with merely containing the enemy and reinforcing our borders. It may be a very long time before I can journey south to see you."
His own words made his eyes prick with tears and he put a hand around his son's slender shoulders. "But you will be ever in my thoughts, and if it be my fate, I will send for you when the days are fairer. Until then, keep strong in your heart, and follow the wisdom of the one who will foster you."
"Yes, father," came the trembling voice. "You have no need to worry about me..."
The leather curtain twitched again. "Sire, the captains are awaiting your word." A tall elf in shining mail stood there, and Fingon rose, gazing down at his son. "May you walk in the light of Elbereth," he said softly, "and so come in time to manhood and honorable deeds."
Then, with a last, small smile, he turned and was gone.
Twelve days later. Rana and Gil-galad passed through Cirith Ninniach, the Rainbow Cleft that led down through the southwest border of Hithlum and thus came at last to the Firth of Drengist. As it came into view, Gil-galad drew a sharp breath, for it seemed as though the whitest clouds in heaven had come down the water's surface and dwelt there, brightening the steep walls of the cleft on either side.
These were the boats of the Falathrim, a luminous pearl gray with sails as white as the mist that burned away in late morning. Their prows were carved in the likenesses of great swans, and the Elves that tended them were tall, with pale hair and long, slender limbs.
As he and Rana watched, one of them came out of the hold of the largest ship and walked towards them. Tall he was, beyond the height of the others, and his hair was silvery and hung down his back like a bright, flowing cape. As he approached, Gil-galad could see that his eyes were stormy gray, but the light in them was such that they appeared to hold the oldest, brightest stars in their depths.
"Ereinion Gil-galad," he said softly, with a voice like the slow roll of the sea, "Prince of the Noldor, and son of the High King. I am Círdan, whom they call the Shipwright. I am honored to meet you." He bowed his head and silvery hair tumbled over his shoulders like bright water.
Gil-galad, to his great bewilderment, found his breath taken away suddenly by the sight, and he struggled to tear his eyes from the gleaming mane and look into the face of the Lord of the Havens. Yet that did him no good at all, for the face was even more beautiful than the hair and he found himself at an absolute and quite un-princely loss for words.
Rana, who stood behind him, had bowed to Círdan. "We did not expect to see you here, my Lord," he said, obviously impressed by the fact that Círdan had come himself to collect the prince. "You do us great honor."
Círdan smiled at Gil-galad and then turned to the tutor. "I felt it my duty to see to the safety of the prince personally, young as he is, yet of such high lineage."
Rana looked relieved. "You have ever been a friend to the Noldor, my Lord. Our King is very grateful for this fosterage, as are all the people of Hithlum."
"We at the Havens are blessed to have the shelter that we have, not an inviolate one, mind you, but far enough removed that safety is still possible. We have many such fosterlings there, but none of them so noble as this one." He turned again to Gil-galad. "You will be very welcome in my cities, young sire, and I assure you every effort will be made to make you comfortable. However, at the moment time is short and we should be boarding. After you have said your farewells, I will be on the deck of my ship, awaiting you."
He smiled again, softly, and walked down the path again to where the swan ships waited in the cold waters of the Drengist.
Rana turned Gil-galad to face him, smiling, but his face full of sorrow. "Farewell, my Prince. Grow tall and strong in the Havens, and always remember your Father and his lands. All of our thoughts go with you on this day."
"Rana..." Gil-galad, who had bravely fought back tears as he had left his father, found he could not do so upon leaving the one who had been his tutor and constant companion. Since he could walk and talk, Rana had been by his side, always good natured and laughing, and yet, subtly teaching the skills and attitude of kings. Now, looking into the dark gray eyes, Gil-galad wept openly like the child he was. "I will think of you always," he said, wrapping his arms around the older elf and burying his head against the softness of Rana's cloak.
"And I will think of you," Rana said, his voice only a whisper. "All my hopes are ever at your side."
The clung to each other for one last, lingering moment, and the Rana pulled gently away. "Go now. He is waiting for you."
Gil-galad looked up at him, tear-stained face a mask of grief. "Farewell," he whispered, and then turned and fled down the steep path to the water, hurrying onto Círdan's ship and only daring to look back to shore when they had cast off.
Rana held a hand up in farewell and Gil-galad watched him until he disappeared on the horizon and they were come to the great sea.
Even then, as he felt his bleakest, and most forlorn, a large, warm hand was on his shoulder, comforting in its weight.
"Fear not, Gil-galad," Círdan said. "I will watch over you now, and be as faithful as the tides in doing so."
The prince did not reply but, for the moment, the wind seemed to blow less harshly over the bow of the elegant ship, and the way south seemed fair.
- end -
to be continued in The Pearl Master
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