The Pearl Master                                                                       back to Strange Fates
by Elwing

PAIRING: Starting to be Círdan/Ereinion; eventuall also Ereinion/Elrond
ARCHIVE: If you like.
RATING: G (but a *warm* G for G-gs thoughts)
FANDOM/SPOILERS: The Silmarillion
SUMMARY: Young prince Ereinion, son of Fingon, is sent away to the Haven of Eglarest to live under Lord Círdan's protection.
DISCLAIMER: It all belongs to Professor Tolkien, god bless him.
FEEDBACK: Yes, any and all comments welcome.

Chapter 1

The sun was rising over a misty gray sea when Ereinion Ereinion, son of Fingon, the High King of the Noldor in Middle Earth, stepped shivering out of the galley of Círdan's ship. The men who had stood watch during the night were all below deck, eating an early breakfast, and only a few day crew were above board.

As he stepped out onto the deck, the north wind made the prince's dark hair fly around his face and he put a hand up against the faint salt spray in the air.

"Come out to have a look, my young friend?" the elf at the wheel laughed. "You look a bit green to me - haven't found your sea legs yet, I'd wager." Then he laughed again.

Ereinion was, in fact, not feeling well at all. All night long the boat had rolled in the wind roughened waves and his stomach had protested. He wanted only to be on solid ground again, a long way from the sea. "What are..." he began, then put a hand on the galley way to steady himself. "What are... 'sea legs?'" Trying desperately not to be sick, he stumbled out onto the deck and sat down heavily on the starboard side of the ship, next to the wheel.

"Oh, well - you're an inland lad. You wouldn't know about those, would you?" The helmsman gave him a friendly wink, which was all but lost on the young boy, and continued. "They come to you after you've been at sea for awhile, and after your first four or five journeys you have them permanently. And when you've got them, the rolling of the ship doesn't bother you much at all, and you don't have that lovely greenish cast to your skin anymore."

Ereinion looked up at him miserably. "That would be nice," he said weakly.

The Helmsman gave another laugh and nodded. Don't you worry, Prince Ereinion - it'll get better as we go further south."

"How long will that be?" Ereinion asked, his voice barely hiding misery. "Until we get to The Falas, I mean?"

"Oh," said the helmsman, peering up at the misty sky, "another two or three days, I expect. Depends on the winds, or course, and how the sea is running."

Another two or three days. The prospect of it made Ereinion close his eyes ruefully, but he soon found that made him feel even worse. Opening them quickly he looked over at the older elf and asked, "Where... where is Lord Círdan? I thought he would be at the helm."

"Oh, sometimes he is, but all of us take our turns now and then, those who know how to guide a boat. No, you'll find him up at the bow, no doubt having a fine conversation with Lord Ossë." His laughter rang out again and he pointed towards the bow of the ship. When Ereinion rose he added with a wink, "Hold on tight to the lines, now. Don't want you going overboard."

That made the prince's eyes go wide and he turned back towards the bow, clutching the rigging lines tight in his hands.

Step by step he picked his way across the deck. At first he only saw another crew member, sitting near the hatch coiling rope into precise circles, but as the prince crossed under the ship's mast he saw the one he searched for.

Círdan was standing at the very front of the boat. He held onto nothing, not even the bow line, though the ship rolled and pitched under his feet. The wind made a bright and flying ribbon of his silver hair and his eyes gazed into the sea in front of the boat, watching the hull cut through the water.

For a long time Ereinion just watched him. He was still disturbed by the effect Círdan had on him. It wasn't that the Lord of the Falathrim felt like a father to him because, outwardly at least, he was completely different from the prince's father. Where Fingon was all subtlety and dark, intense fire, Círdan seemed guileless, a fair and simple mariner who sailed the sea and let the world float by him like spindrift. Amazing they were friends, really. He'd have to ask his father someday what he liked about the older elf - if, that was, he saw his father again.

It was no doubt because of the striking difference between the two that Ereinion was, in a small way, somewhat disappointed with his current situation. He had hoped, when his father had ordered him to the Havens, that Círdan would be someone who could teach him to fight well, to hone his skills against the time his father would call for him. Yet, the Shipwright seemed, more than anything, a peaceful person. He carried no sword, nor did any of him crew, and none of them ever talked of the battle being waged in the northlands.

More than ever Ereinion missed Rana, would have had him up at dawn, practicing some martial skill or other or, barring that, making him run the mountain paths for hours. Here, on the sea, time and it's burdens seemed to dissipate and after spending his first ten years of life in the house of a stern and noble king with high expectations for his son, the prince wasn't entirely sure he liked the freedom.

It was at that moment, when Ereinion's forehead was wrinkled in thought and his mouth frowning with the effort of it, that Círdan happened to turn and see him.

"Good morning, young sire," he said, smiling softly. "I hope you passed the night well."

For a moment Ereinion thought he might tell the truth, but then thought better of it and tried to look like a gracious guest. "Yes... thank you."

The ship pitched forward and down, the result of a wave bottoming out below, and the boy had to grab hold of the bowline to stay on his feet. Once sure that he wouldn't be going overboard just yet, he looked up at Círdan, his expression puzzled. "Ah... how exactly do you do that?" he said.

Círdan returned the puzzled look. "Do... what?" he said, swaying a bit as the ship listed to port momentarily.

Ereinion gestured towards him with one hand, the other clinging to the slender grey rope. "That," he repeated. "You... you aren't holding on to anything and... well, the ship..."

The older elf's face lit up in comprehension. "Oh, that!" he said, shifting just perceptibly on his heels as the entered the trough of another wave. "It's just practice... and knowing the sea well enough to anticipate the way it will move."

An expression of doubt formed on Ereinion's face. "Knowing the sea - how can you know the sea that well. I mean... waves just happen, don't they?"

"'Just happen'?" Círdan repeated, looking rather nonplussed. "They certainly don't 'just happen.' They're a form of music, poetry even." He took a few steps towards Ereinion. "Now if you knew nothing of music and I played you a song, it would seem like the notes were just random, wouldn't it? And if I read you a poem in a language you didn't know, it would just be garbled sounds."

He paused, obviously waiting for some sign from the young prince.

Ereinion, who had often been given questions of this sort by Rana, when they were reviewing historic battles, nodded his head, but he had an uncomfortable feeling that he was about to look foolish.

"Well," Círdan said, smiling, "it's the same way with the sea. If you don't know the patterns, it seems very chaotic, but once you do... it all makes perfect sense and then you know, for instance, that there will be a very large wave cresting in just a moment. Hang on tight ."

Sure enough, a wave swelled up before them and the ship's bow tilted up steeply. climbing the foamy surface. Ereinion, who had been too busy looking about for the unseen wave, had, alas, not held on tightly and began to fall backwards, his hands scrambling for the bow line but closing on thin air instead.

In a moment, Círdan was at his side, catching him as he fell and looking down at him in great concern. "Are you all right?" he said. "Can you stand?"

For a moment, the boy couldn't speak and whether it was due to the fall or the face of the man above him, looking tender and protective, he never knew. The next moment, his cheeks were flooded with color and he struggled to stand, not wanting to look graceless in the eyes of such a very graceful creature.

"Th-thank you," he said to Círdan. "I'm usually quite sure-footed; my tutor says my balance is excellent..."

The fair face of the Shipwright broke into a smile. "I have no doubt that you are among the best in that respect - a very important skill to have for sword fighting, and for horsemanship."

For the first time since he'd been on board, Ereinion braved a tiny smile as well. "And for sailors," he added.

"And for sailors," Círdan agreed. "Would you like to sit down for a moment and watch the sea with me?"

"Yes, thank you, my Lord," Ereinion said, a bit sheepishly. "It's very kind of you to take the time to speak to me. I don't want to be a burden to you - or get in your way."

"Nonsense," the older elf said. "I don't consider any of my fosterlings 'burdens.' You are the sons and daughters of high and noble folk, and I take it as a great honor that your parents trust you to my care." He paused for a moment, taking in the expression on the young prince's face. "I also know homesickness when I see it," he said gently. "and it's a perfectly natural feeling."

"Homesickness?" Ereinion said indignantly. "Only babies get homesick." He looked out over the bow of the ship, drawing youthful dignity around him like a cloak, but Círdan smiled.

"Not only babies," he said gently, turning his gaze away from the prince, giving him the privacy to feel what he was feeling. "Whenever I leave the Falas I find myself wishing soon enough that I was back. We grow attached to people, but to places also. There is no shame in it, but... if we are wise, we allow ourselves to find other places as well. Maybe not so dear to us as the first, but enough to find happiness while we dwell there."

For a long time Ereinion said nothing. The waves rose and fell around them and the morning mist burned away slowly to reveal an achingly blue sky. They were left to their solitude by the rest of the crew, and gradually the sound of the waves lulled the prince into a sense of sad peace.

"Did you know my grandfather?" he asked Círdan.

The older elf nodded. "Yes, I did. He was a good man and strong. A lesser man would never have got his people across the ice floes as Fingolfin did. He will be much missed in Middle Earth."

"I didn't know him very well," Ereinion confessed. "He was usually away, these last several years at his fortress. My father and my uncle always talked about him, though. He was a great leader."

He looked up suddenly, staring at Círdan's profile until the the mariner turned his gaze to him. "Do you think I'll be a leader like that someday?" Ereinion asked, his voice low and fierce. "Someone who can bring people together and do great deeds?"

For a moment, looking into those stormy grey eyes, the bright sunshine seemed to fade and Círdan shivered. /This one is different. Not like any of the others, not at all. He'll need all the guidance I can give him, to temper that dark fire.../

Then the moment passed, and the sun was warm on Círdan's shoulders again. "I believe, Ereinion, that should you want to, you could fight the Dark Host yourself one day... and win."

The prince held his gaze for a long time. There had been something about the sound of his name on Círdan's lips that made him feel better about where he was going, and made him want to hear it again.

"Thank you, my Lord," he said softly, confused again by the rush of feelings the silver haired Elf seemed to stir in him. "Thank you for saying that."

"I meant it," the Shipwright said, "and call me Círdan. I am only ever called Círdan by those who know me." He smiled once more before turning his eyes back to the bright waves. "Now, listen to the sea."

And for some time after they were silent, listening, and both were content.

~~~

Chapter 2

Two days later, Ereinion stood at Círdan's side as the Shipwright took his turn at the wheel. He was still a touch green, but much better than he had been, and the ship's swaying hadn't kept him awake all night, but actually lulled him to sleep.

The coast they were passing had been shrouded in mist all day, and the youngster was growing restless for something to look at. Around mid afternoon, the westering sun, for a moment, slid into a break in the high clouds, illuminating the shore.

"Look quickly, Ereinion!" the Shipwright said, pointing towards the land, some five miles distant.

The prince turned and then drew a sharp breath. There, on the shore, as if floating on the mist, was a city - a beautiful grey-walled city with shining towers of white and a hundred boats drawn up in its harbor. Having lived his life on the high plains of Hithlum and its encircling mountains, Ereinion could only stare as the sea glowed a deep blue-green before it, setting off the soft radiance of the buildings. He watched with wonder as it slid by up the coast.

"But..." he said in despair as they continued sailing, "but... aren't we going to land there?" He turned back to Círdan, eyes pleading. It's beautiful. I would so love to see it!"

"You will, in time," Círdan answered, smiling. "That was the city of Brithombar, one of two dwellings of my folk here on the coast. We will be anchoring this evening at the other, the city of Eglarest, which I find to be even more beautiful."

"More beautiful..." Ereinion murmured, turning back for a last glimpse of the city. "It hardly seems possible."

"Well, you can judge for yourself when we get there. For now, though, Eglarest will be your home and I have to tell you, Ereinion, that there's something about the first land you step on after a long journey that calls to your

heart." He smiled at the prince. "I expect your legs and stomach will find Eglarest fair indeed."

~~~

Three hours later, under a brisk wind from the northwest, they turned eastwards, heading into the southmost city's great harbor. The sun was going down behind them in a glory of pinks and purples and warm peach colors, and Eglarest stood, graceful as a swan beside the water. A long stone quay lined the harbor and to the left of that a beach of white sand stretched down the coast, disappearing as the land turned east along the headlands.

As the crew lowered the sails and rowed the graceful ship into the harbor, elves on every ship they passed hailed them with a cheer. "Mae govannen! Welcome and well met!" The elves of Círdan's crew answered back with their own calls and cheerful whoops and cries. Small landing boats were put down into the water and Ereinion was rowed to the quay.

All along the waterfront, elves were standing, watching the boats come in, waving and cheering. The sailors jumped out onto the quay, one by one, and found family or friends to welcome them. Eventually it came down to Ereinion alone, with Círdan behind him.

One of the ship's crew held a hand out to the young prince and with great relief he allowed himself to be pulled onto the long stone pier. Círdan leapt up softly, landing behind him with easy grace. "Thank you all for this warm welcome," he called, scanning the crowded but quieting crowd. "I bring a very special guest into our care this day. This is Ereinion, son of Fingon, who is High King of the Noldor."

The Falathrim all looked at him with great interest and there were cries of "Mae govannen, Prince Ereinion! Well met, young prince!"

Círdan's arm went gently around the prince's shoulders and Ereinion felt himself flush in a most disturbing way. "His father has trusted him to our care," Círdan said, "so please, make him feel welcome, and thank you again for giving our journey such an enjoyable end."

As they headed up towards the city itself, Ereinion looked up at the Shipwright and asked quietly, "Why are they so friendly to me?"

The older elf looked at him, frowning slightly. "Why shouldn't they be?" he asked.

"Well," Ereinion began, matter-of-factly, "because I'm of the Noldor and my father's groomsmen say that the Sindar hold grudges against us."

"That may be true with some of the Sindar," Círdan mused, "but not with the Falathrim. Have you never been told of the Oath of Alliance?"

The prince shook his head.

"It was at the Feast of Reuniting, when the kindreds of the Noldor assembled and many of the Sindar were with them, and there was great friendship between all of us."

"You were there?" Ereinion asked, looking up at Círdan curiously.

The silver-haired man nodded. "That is where I swore my oath of alliance with Finrod, and with your grandfather, Fingolfin. My people and I owe much to your kindred, Ereinion. It was the Noldor who helped us rebuild our cities after the Host of Angband destroyed them and ever since we have watched over each other in loyalty and friendship."

They were approaching the head of the harbor as they spoke and at Círdan's words Ereinion stopped for a moment, staring up at the older elf. "My grandfather... he didn't tell me all of that. He just said you were dear to him."

Círdan turned and looked down at the prince. "As he was to me," he replied softly, "and as you are as well. For truly, we are all of a kindred, are we not?"

There was only a tiny flash of Noldorin pride and then Ereinion smiled faintly and nodded his head. /Moriquendi,/ he thought to himself. /The Dark Elves. That's what my father's men have always called them. But he doesn't seem dark at all... he's full of light.../

"Come, you must be exhausted," Círdan said, smiling at him. "Sea journeys aren't easy for those who are new to them. I'll show you to your lodgings."

"Am I lodging with you?"

The words had come out of Ereinion's mouth before he could stop them and now he stood, cheeks flooding with color, trying to make himself sound less needy.

"I mean, that is..."

"Yes," Círdan said, making a point of not staring at the boy. "Yes, you will be. I hope that is acceptable."

Ereinion nodded, disturbed by the little gleam of pleasure that went through him and tried very hard to hide it.

~~~

Two weeks had passed since Ereinion had come to the Havens of the Falas, and in all that time he had seen Círdan but twice. His days in the first week were full of unpacking and being led about the city by several of Círdan's people, none of which stood out in the young prince's mind. Not like Círdan himself had.

The Teleri were very different from the Noldor. They were more given to smiling and singing, even when they were at their daily tasks. Their hair color tended towards the lighter shades. All about him, instead of the dark browns and blacks of his own kindred, Ereinion saw light ash browns, soft greys, and pale platinums. Only once or twice did he see someone with the radiant silver of Círdan and his heart nearly stopped, thinking it was the Shipwright himself. It always proved to be someone different, though, and the young prince was left bewildered by the disappointment he felt.

In the second week, he was shown the library in Círdan's house and that became his second home, lined as it was with many volumes of lore, some of it sea-tales written by the Falathrim, but even more great volumes of ancient history given to Círdan and his people by the Noldor as signs of their friendship.

It was in the library, then, that Ereinion ensconced himself on a wet, misty day at the end of his second week, curled near the fire with a volume on his own ancestors fortunes in the early days of Hithlum. He was completely engrossed in the details of a terrible orc-battle when the voice came, demanding attention and interrupting the flow of the reading.

"I'm Ëarmir - from Dorthonion. I've heard of you."

Ereinion looked up reluctantly from his book at the dark-haired boy who stood next to his chair. "You've heard of me?" he said. "From whom?"

Ëarmir grinned and took the chair opposite the prince. "From Círdan, of course. He told us you were coming. I bet Nenril that you'd be short and girlish..." His mouth twitched, half grin, half boyish disappointment and added, "Guess I'll have to pay him now."

"Who's Nenril?" Ereinion asked, frowning at even the *implied* thought that he was less than hardy and fierce.

"He's that fair-haired mouse who's lurking outside the *door.*" Ëarmir stood suddenly and lunged at a figure near the doorway, dragging a golden-haired boy into the room, who promptly blushed and covered his face with his hands.

"Told you he wouldn't look like a girl," Nenril said in a muffled voice, then both boys began to laugh.

Ëarmir shook his head in mock embarrassment. "He's from Nargothrond. His father is one of Finrod's Lords."

Ereinion scowled and looked from one boy to the other. "Of course I'm not like a girl!" he said sharply. "My father is Fingon, the High King. I can ride and march *and* wield a sword, if it's all the same to *you* two!"

Trying to be serious, Ëarmir elbowed his companion. "Come on now, stop laughing at him. He's new after all."

"You two are mean. He *told* us to be nice," a quiet voice came from the doorway. Before Ereinion could say anything to the first two boys and third came in. He was smaller than the others, dark-haired and very slender.

"That's Sulimir," Ëarmir said casually, "from Tol Sirion. He's the grouchy one. Círdan's the only one who can make him laugh. Isn't that right, Sulimir?"

The elven boy looked sternly at the other two, passing into the room and turning his back to them, perusing the shelves. "Mind your own business," he muttered, pulling out a book and leafing through it, but Ereinion could see his cheeks had gone red.

"Where *is*Círdan?" he asked, trying not to sound as if he was too interested in the answer.

"Well," Ëarmir said, lounging in one of the chairs near Ereinion, "there are only two places he *could* be, aren't there? Out on the sea," he said, holding up one finger, "or along the beach," he finished holding up the second. "Given the weather, I'd say he was on the beach." He propped his elbow on the arm of the chair, then dropped his chin to his hand. "That leaves us all to ourselves, doesn't it boys," he said, a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Time for a game of 'Slaughter', eh?"

Nenril rolled his eyes. "That's all you *ever* want to play. What did your father do to make you so bloodthirsty, anyway?"

"I'm going to be like him, you know," Ëarmir boasted. "I'm going to march to war and come back to hear the trumpets playing for me."

"And what makes you think you'd be any good at fighting?" Nenril countered. "Just the other day I bested you at racing, and even Sulimir is quicker than you over the walls. You'd best stay at home and do the cooking!" So saying he covered his face again and burst out laughing.

"Neither one of you could ever beat Círdan at anything, so you shouldn't even talk about it," Sulimir chimed in primly from where he stood near the bookshelf. "It's a horrible game."

"Oh come on," Ëarmir said, "I'm not suggesting anything dark or evil. It's just orcs..." He smiled at Ereinion. "And the occasional Balrog to make mincemeat of."

Ereinion looked over at him sharply. For a moment, a thin current of dread ran through the prince, and it seemed that the room darkened with the sound of the name of that dark beast. Something huge and terrible lurked above him in that split second - something that made courage and will wither away like paper in fire.

"You don't know of what you speak," he said at last, his voice a raw whisper, "or else you'd not let it pass your lips so lightly."

The three other boys stared at him as he sat, still as a stone beside the hearth, with the flames flickering over his face. His fists were clenched and his eyes seemed to be watching something unfold - something that he alone could see.

"It was only a joke," Ëarmir said slowly. "Only a game."

Ereinion's gaze turned toward the sound of his voice and the room came back to him slowly. "Orcs aren't a joke. The beasts of the Dark Lord should never be a game, not to any of us," he whispered fiercely. "Our fathers - and our grandfathers are fighting and dying because of them."

Sulimir had turned towards him, a worried expression on his small face. "Prince Ereinion...?" he said. "Are you all right?"

"It's not a joke!" Ereinion said loudly, getting up from his chair. "You all sit here, safe and comfortable behind these walls and you don't know *anything* about what it's like to fight and to die and..." He was breathing heavily now, his grandfather's death coming back to him in a rush, and the air seemed heavy - so very heavy...

"You don't understand!" he said finally, and, desperate for more air, rushed from the room and out of the house itself, running down the street towards the sea, leaving three confused boys in his wake.

~~~

It felt good to run. The air was soft and misty, not the cold mists of Hithlum, but warm and gentle with a faint salt tang. It was hard to see where he was going, but when he reached the stone quay at the harbor, he turned left and ran along beach, his feet making no sound at all in the soft sand.

Gradually his pace slowed and he came, panting, to an outcrop of rocks, like shipwrecks on the beach, all weathered and grey. Climbing up the side of the tallest, he stretched out on it, face to the sky, and lay still for several moments. It felt better just to be out of the house, without a guide, exploring as he'd done at home. As he lay there, he heard the soft cries of gulls and looked up to see them reeling over the beach and darting out to sea to find food. He turned over, the better to see them, and his eye was caught by something farther out in the water.

It was a figure, diving and surfacing, gliding through the sea as if it belonged there. A seal perhaps? Círdan had told him of seals and their merrymaking, yet this seemed too large for that.

Finally, curiosity got the better of him and he crept down from the rocks and walked closer to where the creature was swimming. He was so busy staring out to sea that he didn't notice how far he'd walked and was brought up short by the feeling of cool water surrounding his ankles. Looking down, he saw he was in the surf line and just then, the water pulled out from the shore, tugging at him as it went. He let out an audible gasp as he watched his feet and what seemed to be the entire beach rolling out to sea from under him. His arms careened wildly for a moment and then he fell over backward, eyes wide, landing hard on his bottom in the sand.

That was when he heard the laughter.

It wasn't harsh or taunting, but soft as the mist around him and it came from the sea. Looking up, he realized finally what he'd been watching from the rocks - it was Círdan, Lord of the Falas, swimming in the fog-grey water.

Now the older elf glided in towards the beach, pale form flashing like water through water, and rose at last to walk towards the prince. He wore nothing but the water that fell from him like silver leaves, leaving him glistening wet, all muscle and sinew and smooth, tanned skin. In a graceful gesture, no doubt born of habit, his hands went to his hair, sliding through the silver mane and smoothing it back from his face until it hung like a glittering cape down his back.

The sight of him captivated Ereinion. He had never much cared for any one person in particular, save for his father, perhaps, and Rana, but that was different - entirely different. Something in him, something deep and primitive, nearly sang as the older elf approached. The boys in the library might as well have been dreams, the beach around him an illusion, for Círdan was there, and Círdan was all that needed to be there. Try as he might, the prince could neither speak nor move as the Lord of the Falathrim came closer, smiling at first, then, when Ereinion said nothing, looking full of concern.

At last he stood before the boy, who gaped at him, open-mouthed, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Ereinion? Is something wrong? Are you ill?"

"Ill...?" the prince whispered. "Ill...?" He swallowed thickly and managed, somehow, to blink his eyes. "I... I just wanted some air..." he said, and then thought to himself, /Funny how all the air in the world seems to have disappeared.../

"I can understand that," Círdan said, stretching out in the sand beside him. "People can get to be a bit much and sometimes the only thing for it is to run away and be by yourself..." He looked over at Ereinion. "Am I interrupting you?"

Ereinion muttered something incoherent, trying as he was to ignore the lovely body of the older elf, long and slim next to him. It made him feel strange in a way he couldn't describe, good but frightening in its intensity.

Círdan looked over at him more keenly. "Was that a yes or a no? I don't mind if you want to be alone, although I would feel better if someone at least knew where you were headed."

At that Ereinion came around, looking at last into the eyes of Círdan. They were grey as the misty sea he'd come from and seemed deep enough to drown in. Not like the eyes of his father, always distracted by news or other cares.

"I was running away," he found himself confessing. "I was... trying to leave." He hadn't realized it before, but even as he said the words he knew the truth of them.

"Why?" Círdan whispered. "Are you really that unhappy?"

Bewilderment, Ereinion could read in that fair face, and not a little hurt. It sent a strange pang through him, though he didn't understand why. "It's nothing you've done," he said quickly. "I just..." He hesitated, dropping his gaze to the white sand between himself and Círdan. Then he felt a soft, sandy touch on his cheek.

Círdan fingers were like feathers over his skin, compelling him to meet the Shipwright's gaze, to confess his deepest thoughts, though the older elf himself said nothing.

"I don't want to waste away, hidden behind stone walls, while my father and his men struggle against Morgoth. I want to *do* something, to be of *use* to someone... to you -"

He hadn't meant to let that last bit slip out, hadn't even realized he felt it until he'd seen Círdan come from the sea. Now he felt the blood rushing to his cheeks and he turned his gaze down again. "That is... I mean..."

"I had thought you to be too young for training," Círdan said softly. "Certainly your father said nothing of it. You were sent here for protection and it was to that alone my thoughts have been for you."

He broke off for a moment and then gently lifted Ereinion's face until their eyes met. "I see now that you are capable of far more than I thought you to be, and now that I know..." Smiling warmly, he brought the boy in close and kissed the sandy cheek. "Things will be different, I promise you. You will learn many things here and some I will teach you myself. Tell me - do you know how to swim?"

Trying to recover from that soft, swift touch upon his cheek, Ereinion stammered, "Swim? Uh... well, I'm a very good wader. Lake Mithrim, in my homeland, is very cold, but I've gone as far as my knees on warm days."

That made Círdan laugh. "No, no - I meant *swim*? As I was doing out there." Here he waved towards the sea and sat up, the sand clinging to him like jewel dust.

Looking slightly alarmed, the young prince shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "Definitely not, and I don't think I want to, thank you very much."

"Ah," Círdan said, smiling mischievously, "don't turn down a chance to learn until you know what it can bring you. Wait here!" Then he stood and ran back into the waves.

"Wait!" Ereinion cried, standing up and watching him go. Like water he moved, a beautiful silver gleam on the misty beach. He dove into the water and for a moment all the prince could see were flashes of skin and silver hair. "Please come back," Ereinion found himself murmuring, and then, as if in answer, Círdan arose from the sea again, holding something in his hand.

He walked to where Ereinion stood and reached for the boy's wrist, pulling the fingers of his hand open. Then he placed something small and smooth in Ereinion's palm - one lustrous pearl.

"Your people are renowned for their gemcraft," Círdan said softly, "and I would never be one to deny you your heritage. I will train you to fight, and to wield a bow and sword like a true warrior. I will teach you to be brave when the enemy is at hand, and to be a true leader of your people... But there are other treasures to be found when you open your heart and mind. They are everywhere, sometimes in the least expected places." Smiling softly, Círdan bent Ereinion's fingers around the tiny pearl. "Will you let me show them to you?" he asked.

For a moment, Ereinion said nothing, too pierced with beauty and longing for things he didn't understand to reply. Then, slowly, he tightened his fingers around the small treasure and nodded.

"Splendid," said Círdan. "Shall we begin?"

~~~

Five years later, Ereinion knew how to swim.

He also knew how to sail, how to read the clouds to know the weather, how to use ropes to get around rocky cliffs, and, most important of all, how to handle the other boys in Círdan's fosterage.

Every step of the way he had found himself questioning why he had to learn what Círdan was teaching him, and for everything, even the dreadful swimming lessons, the older elf had given him a perfectly good answer. These were life skills, Círdan said. They were they "easy" things he'd be expected to do en route to the really difficult stuff. They were, quite simply, the foundation for a capable warrior.

The other boys had been the toughest lesson. He was amazed at Círdan's perceptiveness into each one, the way he knew what each boy responded to, what each one needed to hear to comfort him, to push him to be his best. As Ereinion watched them, he began to see the insecurity behind Ëarmir's swagger, the resiliency of Nenril's sunny nature, and the unabashed love that Sulimir held for Círdan.

In all the time he'd been at the Havens, he'd heard only twice from his father directly. Fingon's forces at Eithel Sirion were ever harried by orcs and other beasts of Morgoth, and the news that came from Hithlum was one of constant struggle to defend the pass of Sirion. Sometimes other news would come from messengers that had passed through the north country, but Ereinion soon became used to the silence from his homeland and told himself that every day that passed without news of his father meant that the High King of the Noldor still lived.

Being now fifteen years of age, Ereinion began to train intensively with Círdan's captains, learning the art of warfare and military strategy. He took to it like a Sea-Elf to salt air and was soon besting the younger soldiers who sparred with him. With every contest he grew stronger, more sure of himself, more subtle in his strategies.

Happy as he was at learning the ways of soldiering, the best part of any day was still the time he spent with Círdan. Though their time was necessarily limited by the older elf's responsibilities to his people, they fell into a pattern of talking before the fire in the evenings, after the other boys had gone to bed. It didn't matter what they talked about, Ereinion was glad for the time to simply watch Círdan - to listen to his stories of the sea, to ask the questions about life that came constantly to him mind, to soak up the calm that seemed to flow from the Shipwright.

It was during these talks that he'd been growing ever more aware of his feelings toward his host. There were difficult to sort out, and he had no real model for them immediately at hand. Certainly he didn't feel the respectful, almost filial attachment that Ëarmir and Nenril did towards Círdan. It went deeper than that, somehow.

Sulimir's boyish crush didn't fit him well, either. He certainly couldn't imagine the thin, shy scholar admitting his feelings for the older elf, either in this world or the one after, but he *could* imagine, when he was alone with Círdan, being older, the High King of his people, and reaching towards that shining, silver hair, catching it between his fingers, drawing the Lord of the Havens closer to him.

He was never very clear on what should happen after that point, but it seemed as if it had to be something good.

~~~

In the early summer of that year, Círdan decided to journey southwards along the coast for a brief trip to the Isle of Balar. As he began to draw up the crew list, Ereinion could only sit tensely and wait, hoping that his sailing skills might be enough to recommend him as a companion. Outwardly, he tried to keep a neutral face whenever the trip was discussed, but more than once, when Círdan sat in the library after dinner, drawing up the plans needed, Ereinion's eyes had betrayed him and he found himself staring at the older elf in abject pleading. Both times, Círdan had caught him at it, and both times he'd turned back to his work with a soft, half smile.

When the final crew list was announced the next week, Ereinion's name was indeed among the others. Seeing it there, he felt a wave of dizziness pass over him, almost as if he were a rookie again on Círdan's ship, alone without he seaelves to help him.

He'd be spending a week with Círdan and just seven others - not the countless throngs of the Falathrim, who each needed to speak to the Lord at the same time, but free time, out on the sea, just Círdan to talk to if he planned it right.

~~~

Three days later, they lay at anchor in a small bay off the isle. The crew loaded two small landing craft and rowed ashore, making camp on the sheltered beach. The weather was noticeably warmer than it had been in the Havens, and Ereinion felt a slight balm in the air that lingered on his skin, making him feel a little wanton.

During their first night, they made a campfire and sat, listening to the waves on the shore and watching the stars as they glimmered into sight, far above.

"Círdan -" one of the younger elves called, "tell us of Cuivienen again, won't you?"

The others chimed in their approval of the suggestion as Ereinion turned to look at the Shipwright. "You... you were there... weren't you?" he asked hesitantly.

"Of course he was there," another elf said, his voice a bit stern. "Who do you think your lodging with? Some child of Valinor? Our Lord is older than anyone in Middle Earth, save Thingol, of whom he's an equal in age. You should have known -"

"Don't scold, Celebril," Círdan interrupted with a soft laugh. "I'm not dishonored by being thought younger than I am." He turned to Ereinion. "I was born at Cuivienen, my mother and father awoke there."

"Tell him what it was like," another elf urged. "Tell him about the stars."

"Ah, well - the stars..." Círdan leaned back and smiled. It was an expression full of remembrance and tinged with not a little sadness. Looking up again, his gaze met Ereinion's and though he spoke to all of them there, the young prince felt that the words were his alone.

"There were nothing but stars, when the world was young. No sun, no moon, just a field of deepest blue and tiny fires scattered across it that made your heart stop, just to behold them. At first, they were just points of light and wonder, but then we gave them names and they become even more dear to us - Carnil, and Luinil, Telumendil, and Soronúmë..."

Across Círdan's face, the firelight flickered, and Ereinion felt desire stir in his heart - desire to know the Mere of Awakening, desire to see the world through Círdan's calm and peaceful eyes, and desire for the Elf that spoke in such a way that pierced his soul.

"And Valacirca," someone said softly. "Don't forget that one..."

"And Valacirca," Círdan nodded, "Varda's challenge to Melkor." Looking upward he raised a hand to the sky. Ereinion followed his gaze and saw the seven fiery stars of Valar's sickle, gleaming near to Círdan's fingertips.

The Shipwright looked back down, to where Ereinion sat trembling by the fire, though the night was warm. "Our days were simpler, then," he said. "The only alliances we made were those of friendship and love for each other. Our only oaths, of passion and loyalty."

/I wish I could have known you then,/ Ereinion thought fiercely. /What would we have said to each other, under the stars?/

They continued talking until the fire burned down, and when there was only embers the sea-elves found their way to the soft sand, laying down heads and cares, letting sleep take them.

Ereinion, too, lay for awhile, staring up at the stars, and remembering Círdan's voice, like silk, reciting their names. It seemed he dozed for awhile, the sound of the sea now a reassuring thing, but before long he awoke and felt that something was amiss. Sitting up, he realized that Círdan was not among them and a sliver of fear went through his heart. The absence worried at him until at last he decided to look for the older elf and headed off down the beach.

They had camped in a small cove that was protected by headlands on either side and not knowing which way to go, Ereinion took the left-hand way around the sloping point that fell away to the east. The dune grass sighed in the light breeze off the water, a sound that filled the boy with longing that confused him. His entire body, it seemed, was alive with sensation and every touch of air, every sweep of sand along his feet made him shiver with want and expectation.

It was in this somewhat delirious state that he found, at last, the one he sought. Coming through a tall stand of grass, he saw Círdan, naked and stretched out on the beach some twenty yards beyond him. He lay on his belly, propped up on his elbows, a long sweep of silver hair hiding his face from sight. One knee was bent slightly, his legs spread apart, and as Ereinion stood, transfixed by the sight, he thought he heard the older elf moan.

As the boy prepared to move forward, thinking his Lord to be hurt or in pain, there came a low, rumbling noise, as if out of the waves themselves. The tide was coming in and the water pounded over Círdan's lower body, the soft foam of it barely touching his shoulder blades before being dragged back again. Then the water came again and this time, for the briefest moment, as it engulfed the Lord of the Falas and the rumbling sound grew louder, Ereinion saw the outline of a man stretched out over Círdan's back. His body glimmered in the starlight, water and sea foam barely held together as he surged forward between Círdan's legs and the Shipwright cried out softly in pleasure.

Then, as the waves drew back again, his form disappeared, only to reemerge when the water crested back onto shore. Over and over, the man vanished and reappeared, the water and bulk of him pounding into and over Círdan, who offered himself up, a sweet sacrifice to the creature above.

This, then, Ereinion thought, must be Ossë the Maia, vassal of Ulmo, and lover... *lover* of Círdan?

Ereinion stood now, hidden in the grass, his breath coming fast, and he felt a sweet, hard ache between his own legs and dropped to his knees on the sand. He knew he should go back to camp, go back to sleep, and at the same time he knew that he would be utterly unable to tear his eyes from what was happening on the beach before him. His hand felt it's way to hard flesh and, abandoning all sense of propriety, he stroked himself as he watched the Sea-Lord take Círdan, heard the fey, wild sound of their coupling and despaired, though pleasure came to him in rough, wet spasms.

He was crouching panting and ashamed, when he heard a sharp cry from the Shipwright. Looking up, he saw the silver-haired elf impaled on the tall, watery figure of the Maia. His head was thrown back, silver hair tumbling over the sea-blue shoulder of Ossë, and each hard breath was a world of desire fulfilled.

That's when the shame of what he'd done hit Ereinion, and he turned and ran back along the beach, towards the camp where he would spend a sleepless night, replying the image of that strange coupling again and again in his mind.

~~~

The next morning, it was as if nothing had happened. Of course, nothing *had* happened to him, really. He'd just been the watcher in the grass, but apparently the other crew members had either been asleep the entire time, or were being extremely polite, for the subject of nocturnal activities never came up during breakfast. Círdan seemed, as he always did, his steady, peaceful self, free with his smiles and pleased with the world.

Ereinion's curiosity, such as it was, had to wait until he was given a set of slender rope nets to tease apart and spread on the sand. He found himself working through the tangled ropes with Celebril, the elf who had scolded him the night before, but who seemed a close friend to Círdan.

He began the conversation easily enough, asking about Celebril's new wife, back in Eglarest. "Were you happy to get married?" the prince asked in genuine interest.

"Of course," Celebril said at once. "All Elves are happiest when they are married." He gave Ereinion a look from beneath pale brown eyebrows. "You will no doubt be choosing a wife soon. An elf-maid back in Hithlum, perhaps? Eh?"

Trying to ignore the slight leer in the smile, Ereinion demurred. "I haven't found a maid to tempt me yet, and besides - I don't *have* to marry, do I?"

Celebril started at him as if he grown a third eye. "But *everybody* gets married," he said, confused but laughing. "It's... just what we *do.*"

Ereinion waited a heartbeat and them laid down him trump card. "Círdan hasn't. Gotten married, I mean, and he's the Lord of the Falathrim. Surely if he can decide not to, I can as well."

A sudden look of discomfort had stolen over Celebril's face and he held a finger up. "Now... Círdan is not typical of our people. True, he is our Lord, and no one would want it any other way, but... Círdan is..." The man looked stricken for a moment before finally deciding on, "unusual."

"Is there a woman that he loves?" Ereinion asked, hoping he knew the answer. He had never, in five years of living with the Shipwright, seen him even the slightest bit attracted to a female.

"Oh, no," Celebril confirmed, "he looks at no woman that way..." His voice trailed off uncomfortably and he looked down at his nets. "Well," he said, a bit too hardily, "that's mine done. Got yours ready? Let's bring them out to the boats."

Ereinion followed, mind racing. "He likes to walk on the beach a lot by himself," the prince said to Celebril as they loaded the nets into the landing boat. "Why does he do it? Doesn't he get lonely?"

Celebril tucked in the rest of the nets and then said in a low voice, "Círdan's never alone when he's on the beach, or swimming in the water, or even on his ships." He smiled over a bit sadly at Ereinion as they pushed the boat into the water. "He's never alone."

"Celebril - wait!" A voice called from behind them. It was Círdan, who but a hand on Celebril shoulder and murmured, "I'll help here - you'd be best with the larger boat." The next thing Ereinion knew, Círdan was smiling across the boat at him and they were running into the waves, scrambling to climb aboard before they got too wet.

Unsure about what to say to the older elf, Ereinion fell back on innocence. What will we be looking for?" he asked, unable to keep his eyes from straying to Círdan's back and shoulders and hair. /The way he looked on the beach.../

"Pearls," came the reply, and then Círdan looked back at him and smiled. "Perhaps we'll find some that are even worthy of the Noldor..."

"Yes," the boy said, feeling his heart race at the closeness of the man, that smile.

They had rowed several yards off shore, but the sea bottom was shallow and Círdan pointed through the crystal clear water to the oyster beds below. "Use the knife I gave you and only cut the larger ones that I point out. We'll keep them in the net before we come back to the boat."

Círdan grabbed one end of the net and dove in first, disappearing below the water with easy grace. For a moment, Ereinion just watched as silver hair flowed out behind him, but the urge to follow became too strong and he clambered over the side of the boat, dragging the net along with him.

There was always a bit of doubt in Ereinion when he swam - a slight hesitation just before he went below the surface, as if he were unsure of whether the water itself would accept him. No matter how hard he had tried to make it a natural transition, he never seemed to have the ease in the water that the Falathrim had.

He could see Círdan swimming about 20 feet ahead of him. The older elf was gliding through the water, the dappled blue-green of the underwater world showing off his tanned skin and shining hair to beautiful advantage. With a graceful spin, he looked back toward Ereinion, holding out his hand to the boy and smiling. It took the Prince's breath away, that gesture, and he sped up his swimming to catch Círdan's hand in his own, letting himself be pulled forward to where the oyster bed was thick.

Círdan pointed out three large oysters for him to cut, then slipped his hand from Ereinion's and pulled out his knife, beginning to work on another patch nearby. It amazed the Prince that the Shipwright could stay underwater so long. Ereinion might have to swim to the surface five times, but Círdan could get by with only one lungful of air, working swiftly all the time until the net grew heavy with the harvest.

All through the work, Ereinion stole looks at his companion, dazed by beauty, unable to stop the images he'd seen the night before from taking over, unable to stop thinking about how it would feel to to do to Círdan what Ossë had done so forcefully.

He had gone down for one last cutting, when Círdan gestured him over to a corner of the oyster bed. There, amid the small oysters at the edge, a dozen tiny pearls were lying. Círdan shrugged his shoulders, as if to say he didn't know in the least how they got there, then picked them up quickly and turned to Ereinion.

Somehow he'd gotten them in between his fingers, one pearl resting between each, and he held them up for a moment before laughing and waving his hands, releasing them all. Suddenly, Ereinion was surrounded with pearls and bubbles, unable to tell the difference between them. He laughed too, and grabbed wildly at the water around him, sometimes closing his fist around the tiny, silky gems, sometimes feeling the fragile bubbles pop in his hands.

With his fists full of pearls, Ereinion gave in to the urge to touch the older elf. He swam over to him, wrapping his arms around Círdan's neck, and then felt the familiar pressure in his lungs and pulled upwards towards the surface. To his delight, Círdan came with him, Ereinion's arms around him as they broke the silver surface and the boy took a long, deep breath.

And then, there they were, floating in the water, smiling at each other. Ereinion moved his hands to Círdan's hair and opened his fingers slowly, carefully, raking through the thick, silver strands and scattering pearls throughout them as he did. They formed a gleaming trail through the silky stuff, making the Lord of the Falathrim look like a mer-king, just arisen from his underwater throne.

Trying hard to catch his breath, with only partial success, Ereinion leaned his forehead against Círdan's and breathed the older elf's name.

A soft look of wonder came into Círdan's eyes and he murmured, "Ereinion...?" But in a heartbeat, before Ereinion had time to say anything else, the moment was interrupted by a shrill voice from the large boat some 50 feet away.

"My Lord! My Lord, come quickly! We've had a message from Eglarest!"

Círdan shook his head softly, as if to clear it , and let go of the prince. "What is it, Celebril?" he called.

Celebril stood on the deck of the ship and held a message in one hand. On the other arm, which was outstretched, a sea-bird was perched, obviously having just delivered the message. "It's war, my Lord. War in the far north."

Círdan looked over at Ereinion sharply. "Don't worry," he whispered, and then swam quickly towards the ship. As he did, the pearls floated out of his hair, and Ereinion reached out a hand to catch them as they fell. It took him a moment to realize what Celebril's message meant - that his father was at war and in need of aid from the sea-elves decide and for an agonizing spilt second he wasn't sure whether he was more upset about the idea of war in his homeland, or about not being able to tell Círdan how he felt.

Círdan climbed aboard the ship and read the message himself, his face growing graver as he read further. "Bring the boats in," he called at last to the rest of the divers. There was a sense of urgency in his voice and in minutes the nets were hauled into the smaller boats and they were padded toward the ship. Try as he might, as Ereinion struggled with the net he and Círdan had filled, the tiny pearls escaped his grasp and floated away, lost in the blue-green water.

By the time he got back to the ship where crew members were unfurling the sail, Círdan was instructing the elf at the wheel to set a course for home and scribbling a reply to the message. He wrapped it carefully around the bird's leg and set her flying once again.

"What's wrong, Lord Círdan?" one of the other elves asked.

Círdan looked up, his expression serious, eyes lingering on Ereinion. "The host of Angband has ridden down hard on our friends in the northlands. The Dark Lord obviously believes they are alone in defending the mountains. I've sent instructions for a fleet to set sail for Drengist and when we come to Eglarest again we shall all go in the rearguard to help."

Ereinion leapt at his words. "Shall I go as well, my Lord?" he asked, almost pathetic in his eagerness.

Círdan hesitated and then shook his head. "Not yet," he murmured. "A few more years, Ereinion, but I would not risk you now."

They stared at each other for a long, agonizing moment and then Círdan turned away to help his crew raise the anchor. The denial fell on Ereinion as a double blow: Círdan would be leaving him, risking his life in battle, and he, the heir of the High King of the Noldor, could not join the battle.

For the life of him he couldn't decide which was worse.

~~~

It was an anxious two-day sail, helped along by strong winds from the south. Círdan was neither open nor relaxed, but sat alone, scribbling maps of the coast on pieces of paper, diagramming battles yet to be fought.

It surprised Ereinion. He had come to think of Círdan as a serene ruler of a serene people, but now, as he watched the older elf, he found himself looking at a warrior - a leader of men into the heat of battle, a slayer of dark foes. Silently, he mourned for the lovely mer-king who smiled with pearls in his hair.

On the last evening of the journey north, at sunset, he found Círdan alone on the bow of the ship, holding a map in his hand. He was staring northwards and his eyes had a faraway look, as if he could see the trouble in Hithlum from his place on the ship.

"Won't you please let me sail with you to the battle?" Ereinion whispered, coming up behind him. "I promise I'll fight hard and not get in the way - it *is* my country, after all. My father will be there -"

"Yes, Ereinion," Círdan interrupted, "your father will be there. And if the battle should favor our enemy and both you and he are slain, what then? Who would lead your people with both the heirs of Fingolfin gone?"

The words made Ereinion flinch, the very thought of his father, slain by orcs, or something worse... Then he thought of Círdan. He thought of the lovely hair trampled in the dust and blood of battle, the light in the shining eyes dying out. Swallowing thickly, he clenched his fists to his side and said, "And *you*? What of you? What would your people do if you were slain?"

Círdan's gaze softened. "They would choose a new Lord and carry on with their lives. The Falathrim are not at a loss for a steady hand to lead them, but you alone, Ereinion, are the hope of the Noldor, and I would not risk that for anything."

"There are so many things... things I have to say to you," Ereinion said hesitantly. "What if you never come back?"

Círdan brought a finger up and touched it to the prince's lips. "Hold onto them," he said softly. "They will be my *reason* for coming back."

"Eglarest in sight to starboard, my Lord!" one of the crew called and Círdan's finger dropped. He took Ereinion's hand, then turned and faced the city as they pulled into the harbor.

 

- end -

To be continued in A Fearful Thing

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