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Chapter 1. The Wind Is Rising.
Eglarest, Autumn 473; First Age.
Ereinion ran without pause in the even lope he had learnt from the hunters. Despite the practice, his heart pounded wildly in his chest and his lungs burnt as he struggled for air in the hot, early autumn afternoon. After a few hours of chase he was beginning to tire out. Reluctantly, he allowed himself a brief rest while checking his prey’s tracks.
“That piece of orc-dung thinks he can deceive me,” he chuckled with evil glee as he discovered the place where his quarry had doubled back on his own trail and had then changed direction for some distance, before resuming his initial course across the trees for a while. With the same certainty with which Arien set up on her trail every morning, Ereinion found the place where his prey had descended again from the trees –and scrapped his calf on the process- and had resumed fleeing northeast at a slower pace.
“He is tired as well,” he realized, studying the depth of the almost invisible tracks. The thought somehow comforted him, since his target was older than himself by a score –and stronger as well. After taking several steadying breaths he uncorked his waterskin and drank down in little gulps, then poured some water over his head and let it roll down his neck and face.
The sharp sting in his left cheek brought back fresh memories of anger and shame.
He gingerly felt the tender area where a mighty bruise was surely forming and resisted the urge of scratching the crust of dried blood that sealed the cut caused by Hathol’s fist.
His pride hurt even more than his cheek, as he remembered the insulting words the other elf had so carelessly let spill over, mindless of Ereinion’s presence. “…The Valiant? A coward, who hid in his stone fortress and allowed orcs to roam free and ravage Beleriand!” Hathol had been claiming as Ereinion arrived for sword practice.
The fist fight had stopped only with the arrival of the blade master, but the proud young guard had goaded Ereinion into tracking and catching him if he wanted his revenge, and he had of course accepted the challenge without hesitation. The pursuit had started right after weapon training, while Ereinion was supposed to be practicing his knots down at the docks with the younger children.
His anger rekindled by the memory of the recent humiliation, Ereinion started on again, firmly set on cornering his prey. He cast a quick glance to check the position of the sun and then looked around and noticed with surprise that they had already strayed well beyond sight of Eglarest.
He would not give up the hunt, even if Hathol wanted to run all the way to Nargothrond.
It did not get to that. Earlier than he had expected he caught up with the annoying guard, half-hidden behind an outcrop of mossy stones beside the trail. The terrain there climbed steadily towards the row of low hills that separated the Falas from the higher grasslands and plains of West Beleriand.
“I got you!” he shouted as he approached the crouching elf, who was watching something beyond Ereinion’s sight.
“I let you catch up,” the other whispered, casting a disdainful look at the exultant youngster and returning his attention to the dense grove that swallowed the trail before them, the threshold of Taur-en-Faroth’s westernmost marches and the Falathrim’s Círorne, the forest area where they carefully grew the best trees for shipbuilding.
Hathol’s condescending attitude fuelled Ereinion’s rage.
“So you say,” he claimed angrily, striding purposefully to the other elf and shaking him unceremoniously. “I caught you. You shall now take back your words and apologize, I demand it!” he insisted loudly.
The shove came so unexpectedly that Ereinion lost his balance and fell back heavily, banging his head on the ground. Before he could blink away unwanted tears Hathol was on him, an angry scowl on his face as he placed a large, calloused hand on Ereinion’s mouth.
“Shut up or I am going to gag you, you little runt! I am not playing your childish games any more!” the other murmured hoarsely. Since he could do anything else, Ereinion nodded once. Hathol studied him through narrowed eyes briefly and then released him and returned in one swift motion to his position behind the line of boulders.
“What is going on?” Ereinion had the good sense of keeping his voice down to a low whisper as he crouched beside the other elf, curiosity overcoming his anger. Hathol shook his head.
“Are you deaf?”
“I hear nothing…”
“And does that seem normal to you, Noldo?”
Ereinion bit his lip. After all those years it still hurt when they called him by the name of his people. He knew he had to be proud of his lineage, he wanted to, but it was somewhat difficult when they managed to spit the word with such scorn and contempt. He sighed.
“The trees?” he offered. Even as he spoke he knew he was right. The tree song was dull, muffled, mournful, but it also had a tinge of warning that echoed ominously in the otherwise unnaturally silent area.
“We strayed too far beyond the safe boundary,” Hathol complained darkly, frowning at Ereinion as if it was his fault. “And I hear no birds at all. That is not a good sign…”
A soft breeze awoke then from the trees before them, and the mournful tones became more urgent. Ereinion could not hold back a shiver.
“There is something in there,” he whispered excitedly, pointing ahead. “A wounded animal?”
“Or an orc laying in ambush, stay down, you fool!” Hathol grunted, grabbing his arm and pulling him back into hiding brusquely when he was about to start towards the thicker copse.
Ereinion glared at him, half-annoyed and half-surprised by the very idea.
“We are at war,” the other reminded him harshly. “Nothing stands now between Morgoth’s orcs and the Falas, you should know that better than anyone!”
“That’s not true!” thought Ereinion, breathing rapidly against the wave of sorrow that tightened his chest every time he remembered his father’s demise. “Nargothrond still stands!”
“I will go and have a look, and I will signal to you if it is safe,” Hathol continued, studying him intently. “Are you scared?” he asked then, the slightest tinge of concern in his voice.
Ereinion shook his head while struggling to still his breathing, forcing thoughts of his father to the back of his mind. “I will watch your back,” he managed in a voice that sounded almost indifferent to his ears. “But we should tarry not here,” he added, nodding at the position of the sun, who was already half way into her long descent. Suddenly, the prospect of being alone in that silent and mournful land looked unappealing.
Hathol seemed to agree.
“I will not take long,” he promised in an almost reassuring voice. In the swift, silent manner of their kin, he slid from behind their shelter and crossed towards the edge of the grove, then disappeared up into the trees.
Ereinion waited in growing trepidation, straining to catch the smallest sound in that disturbing stillness. He barely heard the soft rustling of bark as his companion made his way across the branches, and the hushed voices of the leaves: puzzled, distressed and grieving. Studying the signs on the ground around him he could tell that it was some time, maybe even a day, since an animal had last trodden that area.
Surely that copse was a preferred shelter for all kind of creatures while the sun speared the land at her highest? Something wrong was going on in there; he could feel it in his bones. He changed position twice behind the boulder, stretching his long legs that now weighed like stones. Twice he got up, chafing to go after Hathol, and twice he crouched back again, grudgingly surrendering to his better sense.
When the signal came, Ereinion’s uneasiness had become almost unbearable. The trill of a robin broke the laden silence with a discordant note that made him wince, as if Hathol had, somehow, given away their presence to a hidden observer.
Without answering, he scurried along the boulders and searched for the cover of the bushes, taking a long detour to the edge of the forest to avoid walking into open view, the feeling of being watched growing steadily inside him.
“What were you doing? Why didn’t you answer?” The hushed tones did nothing to conceal Hathol’s impatience as Ereinion reached his side and peered around from behind the knotty willow that hid them.
“I was being cautious. Did you find anything?”
Hathol shook his head, but there was a worried expression on his face as he pointed away.
“Only that,” he whispered in a glum voice.
Following his pointing arm, Ereinion felt a sudden surge of relief. Less than three hundred paces from them and reclining against a mighty oak lay an elf he knew well.
“Lagortâl!” he greeted merrily, and without thinking he started running towards the familiar figure, deaf to Hathol’s warning calls behind him. “Lagortâl!” he cried as he got closer. “I was chasing Hathol and we strayed this far…”
Perhaps it was the strangeness of Hathol calling him by his name, perhaps the odd stillness in the elf that finally got into Ereinion, but he stopped abruptly, less than twenty paces from the recumbent figure. “Lagortâl?” he called again, uncertainty creeping into his voice as he noticed the black-feathered shaft protruding from the Elf’s side.
“He is dead; can’t you see that?!” Hathol caught up with him and placed a restraining –or was it comforting? - hand on his shoulder.
“Dead?” Ereinion shook his head in bewilderment, voices crowding in his mind in numbing confusion. “Gone to Mandos. In Mandos’ keep. In the care of Lord Námo…” In his short life he had heard all those expressions only too often.
Actually, and despite his father’s efforts to conceal it from him, he had even heard the tale of how Thorondor had braved Morgoth’s wrath and had carried Fingolfin’s body away. For all he knew, Manwë kept an army of his eagles ready to come and pick up all dying elven warriors and fly them gently to their comfortable dwellings in Mandos. Never before had he been confronted with –or had even guessed- the true nature of death; the sight of the hapless, powerless, vulnerable condition of a hröa deprived of its fëa and subjected to all kind of marring shocked him deeply.
“Dead?” he whispered in disbelief, feeling a lump form in his throat. Did my father lie thus in the battlefield, then? he could not help wondering, and his eyes welled up at the very thought.
“His faer has gone to Mandos,” Hathol whispered, crossing the distance to the corpse. “May he find peace there.” He knelt down beside the lying elf and searched his wounds. He pushed gently and the unresisting body fell down heavily. Craning his neck behind his broad-shouldered companion, Ereinion could see another arrow on Lagortâl’s back.
“They must have caught him while he hunted, perhaps a day ago,” Hathol sighed, bringing a dead rabbit out of the unfortunate elf’s pack. “See if you can find tracks around us,” he commanded, “but stray not from sight!”
Jostled from the sad contemplation of the remains of an elf who had been a good friend of Círdan’s and glad that he had something to occupy his mind with, Ereinion devoted himself to searching the ground beyond the tree, grimacing at the bloody trail that stretched away. The tree song was sad and mournful there. Ereinion lifted teary eyes in gratitude for the comfort that they had no doubt offered to the dying elf.
“Nothing except for his tracks, coming from the east,” he whispered, squatting beside his companion and carefully avoiding the dead elf’s face.
Hathol nodded sadly, busy sorting out through Lagortâl’s possessions. “He must have been shot a few miles from here…it must have taken him some hours before…bleeding to death,” he ended lamely. “And that was not so long ago, judging by the body…We cannot stay here long,” he sighed. “Surely they must be looking for him. Get this,” he prompted, thrusting Lagortâl’s short bow and quiver and his bloodied pack into Ereinion’s hands. “You should be able to draw. I am taking these,” he said then to the lying body, picking up the leather belt with the two long knives in their engraved scabbards. “I will make good use of them, Lagortâl,” he vowed in a hoarse whisper, placing his hands to his heart and bowing his head briefly in sign of grief. “Let’s go,” he grunted then to Ereinion, who looked up at him in surprise.
“But we cannot leave him here!” he cried aloud in distress. Hathol shook his head and sighed in exasperation.
“I like the idea no more than you, but we have neither the time to build a cairn nor even find a hollow trunk, and surely the owners of those arrows must be looking for their prey! The trees will take care of him,” he added in a softer manner, pointing at the merciful oak that had held their friend through his dying. “Come, let’s go, we must search the surroundings before the sun sets…”
Biting back an anguished sigh, Ereinion leaned towards the lying elf. “I am sorry, friend Lagortâl, that we must leave you here,” he whispered softly, bowing his head as he had seen Hathol do before. Still confused, he extended a hesitant finger and touched the dead elf’s temple. It was cold, and he did not move. And where was his fëa? “When you get to Mandos, will you please tell my father that I miss him?” he asked pleadingly to the air around him. He waited in silence for a brief while and then, shouldering bow, quiver, and blood-stained pack he stood up and ran after Hathol, furiously wiping off stubborn tears that insisted on trickling down his face.
“Where are we going?” he asked, scrambling to keep up with the taller elf’s stride. He had noticed that they were still heading north, instead of returning towards the shelter of the walls Finrod had erected long before he was born.
“We are looking for a safe place to hide you in, while I climb the Barad Hen. I need to find traces of the orcs that killed Lagortâl and raise the alarm,” Hathol explained not too kindly, pointing north to where Ereinion guessed the watchtower stood.
“Orcs?” The word sent a shiver down Ereinion’s spine, whether fear or anticipation he was not wholly sure. He had never seen one, except what he thought was a stray one at a distance from the walls of Barad Eithel, but he had pictured orcs in his mind and drawn them clumsily in his parchments -after the reluctant descriptions that he had wrenched from Fingon’s guards. Now they were real threats, they had killed a friend of his and they were perhaps in that very same forest, hunting them. “Do you think we will find them?” he asked in a small voice.
Hathol barely looked back to cast him a sardonic smile. “I hope we do before they find us, yes!” he explained seriously. “If they come upon us first I will have to throw you at them, so they are busy eating up your sorry bones while I go and raise the alarm, so you better pay attention!” he added so grimly that Ereinion could not hold back a shiver, wondering whether it would actually get to that.
“Do you really think I would do that?” the annoying guard sniggered. Ereinion blushed. He did not like it when they laughed at him; and laughing at the solemn young Noldo and taking advantage of his seriousness had become a favored pastime among the youngest inhabitants of the Falas since his arrival some ten sun-rounds ago.
“If it gets to that, I think you would be the better choice,” he retorted, pretending lightness. “After all, there is much more of you to pick at.” With that he took a few steps away from Hathol and went to search a denser area to their left, followed by the other’s quiet chuckle. Biting back his annoyance, Ereinion crashed angrily through the overgrown bushes and came to a clearing with several old oaks and a bunch of chestnuts crowning a small knoll.
The trees were more silent there than in the rest of the groove –and tenser. Cautiously, he walked over a carpet of shredded bark, surely the work of an anxious woodpecker, and took notice of a mound of autumn leaves packed around a particularly large oak, as if a small whirlwind had piled them there. He took a couple of cautious steps towards the tree, not sure of what could be hiding under that blanket of crumpled leaves. He looked around carefully for traces of hideous, iron-shod, stomping feet, but could find no signs at all.
A branch snapped behind him.
The clearing stared back, expectant.
Another branch snapped, closer.
Without thinking, Ereinion lunged behind the large oak as a black-feathered arrow hit its trunk. All of a sudden, the thicket exploded around him in hoarse grunts and cold sounds of iron being unsheathed.
Círorne: Literally, ship forest, a forest where Círdan’s shipwrights and foresters would grow the trees for shipbuilding.
Chapter 2. The Tide is Turning.
Earlier that same day.
With a sorrowful sigh Círdan dragged himself from his nightly ritual.
Ever since returning from the Dagor Nirnaeth and the ruin in the North he had found it impossible to get much sleep. The song of the sea was deeply changed, and he would take advantage of the relative quietness during the nightime to seat by the shores and mingle with that rythmic voice of the waves that was unique to Eglarest, committing it to memory.
He feared he would lose it soon.
“I thank you for all your kindnesses, past and present, Lady Uinen,” he whispered, as he disentangled his faer from the vision of upcoming devastation. Not unexpectedly but still too soon, it appeared that the day had come at last.
He looked around with sad affection as Arien’s first rays gilded the salt works, the beach, the docks where their swift crafts pitched merrily, the shipyards and warehouses, the stone houses that leant upon one another as they climbed the sun-kissed cliffs…His eyes rested for a long while upon the white walls that Finrod had built for them. He mourned -once again- the wise, compassionate, generous elf whose voice still echoed within. He was going to miss that, too.
The cry of the gulls shook him from contemplation; a sharp pain pierced him through at the forlorn beauty of their farewell calls.
His people had once long ago, reluctantly, settled on those shores after years of anguish, and sorrow, and grief.
Left behind, some had retreated inland to the dense forests still looking for Elwë, while the Falathrim made a home and prospered there by the Sea, sailing the waters and making a good life for themselves, well before the Lights. He had always known that everything would come to its appointed end in the Music, but acceptance made it not less painful.
Slowly, reluctantly, he shook the sand from his clothes and started the walk back home.
He could no longer pretend that this was just another day.
“…As ready as we can be. Say the word, and we can start relocating.”
“It was a mighty work you did, Celeiros, but is everything ready in Balar?”
“That is not within my purview, Hîrvegil. I was told to build as many ships as would be needed to carry our people to safety, and, as you have seen, we have outdone ourselves...”
“Peace, you two,” Erestor interrupted as Círdan entered his study and nodded to his assembled counselors. “Let’s maintain the order. Ruilin, how is work on the settlements progressing?”
Círdan barely heard them, still caught in his thoughts. Say the word, his chief shipwright had just said. He shivered. As soon as he did, it would become real —the Falathrim would be leaving their ancestral home.
Everything was ready; of that he was certain.
As skilfully as Hîrvegil had kept them alive with minimal losses during the doomed battle and bleak retreat, he was sure his counselors, under Erestor’s merciless direction, had completed the evacuation plans they had devised before he left for the war in the North to the last detail.
But then, their survival had had as much to do with Hirvegîl’s military prowess as with their assigned position in battle, he reminded himself. The High King had gone every length to ensure that Círdan and his companies would have the best chances of survival in the event of defeat, by placing them in his rearguard and close to the springs of mighty, Ulmo-favoured Sirion.
Confident in victory but not to the point of recklessness, and always mindful of his allies, Fingon had been fastidiously careful in the positioning of his forces. It had mattered, in the end, at least for Círdan’s people…
To quiet the wave of grief that swelled inside Círdan turned his attention back to his counselors —and the maps spread on the table.
“…in the Firth of Drengist, and the other in the Mouths of Sirion..” Merenel was explaining. “What say you, Círdan? Are these two refuges enough?”
He followed where his fleet commander pointed on the maps. The light, fast crafts hidden in a cove in the Firth of Drengist had saved their lives, since their strength had been spent in their desperate flight across Hithlum and Dor-Lómin, and through the Annon-in-Gelydh. He nodded sadly.
“Annael alone returned to Hithlum, but many of his people and also survivors of the House of Hador remain there. If they manage to escape, it will be through the same route we followed,” he agreed.
“And the shelters at the Mouths of Sirion will help us keep a foothold in Beleriand,” Maewendir agreed. “Now, about Balar, works on the docks and shipyards progress quickly, we’ve been expanding on what Turgon’s crews built, but I…”
Círdan stopped listening to the captain of his crew, again overcome with memories.
He could still hear in his mind the sound of his mighty trumpets, see the cloud of worry that had left Fingon’s stern face, feel the emotion in his powerful voice as he shouted his battle cry, the hope and joy that had brightened his countenance when he realized that, at long last, his brother had come to his aid.
It hurt to know, it hurt to know not. It hurt to have glimpses; to doubt, to ignore.
It hurt to remember.
It hurt to carry the burden of Ulmo’s wisdom and foresight.
He blinked at Erestor, forcing himself away from the vision of a dark, massive army heading south to them. All faces were turned to him. He shook his head.
“The winds are restless and the tide is turning. We must hasten the evacuation, settle down in tents if needed, continue building there in earnest. We no longer have time, my friends,” he sighed in a weary voice.
A heavy silence weighed the room down. For a moment they were all stunned. Hîrvegil was the first to stir. Sure, Círdan thought, after all the devastation they had seen on their desperate retreat across ravaged Beleriand, his troop commander must have been feeling the unease grow in the past moons, too.
“I will meet you with the strategy later in the day, my lord,” the commander said. “And we will need to send word to Falasadron. Brithombar should be vacated first, I deem…”
As usual, Hîrvegil’s calm, tactical demeanour seemed to shake the rest into action. It was not unexpected news, after all. They had been preparing for this possiblity ever since plans for the Fifth Battle reached them. Once he was sure that his counselors were focused on the practicalities of how to speed up their mass departure, he nodded and left.
He walked the streets of Eglarest aimlessly, breathing in the sounds and sights of normalcy one last time, delighting in humble details that would make that morning stand out forever in his memory: the reddish leaves on the trees dangling in the sea breeze, the seagulls fighting for their catches in the fisher’s wharf, the open windows and clear voices calling out to each other about domestic matters… The mood in the steep streets had been subdued since his return -a handful of brave warrriors had been left behind, their bones rotting in the Anfauglith together with the High King’s and his troops’- but still his people went about their daily routine with stubborn pride and steadfast determination.
A clangor of merry voices caught his attention. His wandering feet had taken him -unsurprisingly- to the harbour, where the young ones were readying for their daily sailing practice. His sharp gaze soon distinguished the dark head he was looking for; taller, lankier, standing a bit apart from the rest. His ward was older than the rest of the elflings in that class for, having been born inland and with not a drop of Telerin blood in his veins, seafaring came not naturally to him, as it did to his peers. Placing him with the younger ones had been Merenel’s idea and, while it had helped stop the harassing, it had done little to ingratiate the solemn young Noldo to his companions.
Or maybe it was him who refused to mingle, Círdan mused. Upon arrival in the Falas, and surely hoping that his exile would be a temporary thing, the young Noldo had kept himself apart, unwilling to create ties of friendship that would later hurt when severed. According to Hîrvegil, though, he had made good friends in weapons practice, amongst cadets who were a score or two his seniors.
Now, as he grieved openly his fathers’ demise, he had become taciturn and withdrawn, refusing comfort and focusing on duty with a fierce single-mindedness that at times scared Círdan.
As soon as the young ones were out in the water, he walked down the remaining stone steps to greet Falaewen, who had taken over her husband’s duties at the harbour that morning while Ruilin attended council at Círdan’s house.
“Uinen is restless, Shipwright,” she greeted him with a worried look. “Change is upon us.”
“It’s been for a while, now,” he sighed, taking seat beside her on the stone bench warmed by the morning sun. “Will we be ready, you think?”
She smiled sadly, nodding with her head towards the road. Círdan folllowed her glance. A minute dot was barely visible in the distance, though slowly growing closer.
“I think Falasadron can sense the turn of the tide as clearly as you or I…” she chuckled unhappily.
The dot was sharper now, a rider wearing the colours of Brithombar. “My brother’s news must be urgent if he is sending a rider,” she mused. “Worry not, Master Shipwright, the Falathrim have been ready since you came back from the North with such grievous tidings. Go now, I am sure we will receive our orders soon. I will recall the young ones ashore early, make sure they are sent home.”
Círdan nodded, grateful for her decisive manner. “Pray, send Ereinion to his weapons practice instead. I’d rather have him there with Hîrvegil or Oldáin,” he pleaded, waving at her and hurrying towards the stables.
It turned out Falasadron’s news were urgent indeed.
“…Even as I write this, Iadrif and Tolog are two days late back from their scouting trip in the Emyn Eglain. Herds of swans have flown in from abandoned Vinyamar, bringing dire warnings. The lands to the east are unnaturally quiet and the tides have been restless. I fear, Círdan, that the time has come at last for the Falathrim to leave these shores. Let us tarry not, lest our preparations are in vain. Unless I hear differently from you, I will begin evacuating Brithombar tonight.”
Enclosed were also lists of boats and their schedules, starting with the midnight tide.
“How fast can you ride back, Thalaêg?”
The errand-runner looked up from where he was busy checking his mount’s hooves. “Right away, Lord Shipwright, if you can spare me a fresh horse!”
Círdan shook his head. “Not now. Rest and have some refreshment. I will have the stable master look for you when my message is ready. Expect to be on the road an hour or so after noon.”
“As you command, my lord!”
A long day ensued, back with his counselors, speeding evacuation plans up as much as possible. Fortunately, all the work done in preparation paid off. Later that day Thalaêg was sent back to Brithombar in all haste, once Círdan was satisfied that they had a clear plan of action. The evacuation would be completed in less than half a moon, small garrisons would remain in both cities to keep an eye on the enemy’s movements and, Ulmo willing, the Falathrim would be safely settled in Balar before Morgoth’s armies set their eyes on the Falas.
Or so he hoped.
Arien was hurrying home and the lights were being kindled in the unusually quiet streets. The sea was strangely calm, and not a leave shivered in the windless sunset.
“Walk with me,” he pointed to Erestor and Hîrvegil, urging them to follow him to the stone terrace as the rest of his council dispersed in thoughtful silence to carry out their appointed tasks. He wanted to share that night's unsettling vision with them. Uinen's were usually less clear that Ulmo's, and there was no way of knowing when tehe things shown would happen. The sense of urgency, of impending doom was weighing heavily on him.
“All neighbour chiefs will be calling at their residents tonight, to explain the schedule and ensure an ordered process. Merenel has been marshalling the first crews and Ruilin is overseeing the loading as we speak.” Erestor summed up. “I should expect the first boats will be ready to depart by midnight, too…”
Círdan cast a look at his chief counselor. There was a hesitancy there that he knew well. “What is it, Erestor?”
His Nandorin counselor shifted restlessly. “It’s…well, I am worried about Megorlas and Lagortâl…It’s not unusual that they are delayed for half a day or so, but still, with the news from Brithombar…”
“As you say, it’s not unusal,” Hîrvegil chimed in curtly. “Let’s not get carried away. When they come for us they will surely use the protection of the Ered Wethrim and the Forest of Núath; Brithombar will be first on their way… Nargothrond’s hidden watches are our best line of protection…”
“How long since you last heard from them? Orodreth has gone to ground, and I doubt that he would risk...”
“I keep in touch with his captains, Erestor. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not keep intelligence…”
“Peace.” His unambiguous tone stopped the bickering. “Under any other circumstance I would agree with you, Hîrvegil. Yet, I am with Erestor in this… These are no normal times. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not pay attention to the signals. Get a search party ready in case they are not returned by sunset, Commander,” Círdan said. If Hîrvegil was about to disagree he would never know, for hurried footsteps caught their attention.
“Círdan! There you are!”
They all looked back to see Círdan’s housekeeper climbing the stone stairs two at a time, followed by one of Hîrvegil’s captains. Círdan’s heart skipped a beat. Gailiel was an even-tempered, resourceful elleth. For her to chase him herself rather than sending an errand-runner surely meant that something was very wrong indeed. Arminas worried expression confirmed his fears.
“I cannot find Ereinion, Círdan...” she gasped. “Falaewen says that he was there in the morning for his sailing lessons, but then she is not sure he was back for knots practice at noon… none of the other children remember seeing him...”
“He was there at weapons practice,” Arminas chimed in, his face serious. “From what I have gathered, he had a fistfight with Hathol… Whatever happened, they decided to settle it down after practice…”
“Well, then, he surely must be sulking over there, up on the walls,” Círdan sighed, annoyed. He winced guiltily at the cold look Gailiel sent his way and shrugged in reluctant apology.
According to Erestor, ever since Círdan and his warriors left Ereinion had taken to stand in the westmost edge of the white walls that Finrod had erected, in a place that allowed a clear view of both the sea and the road, awaiting word. Distraught by news of his father’s death, which reached the Falas by Thorondor’s eagles well before they knew of the fate of the Falathrim force, Ereinion had withdrawn, lashing out at any attempt at comfort, hiding in that favoured corner, away from peering eyes, waiting.
His forlorn silhouette, alone on the walls, had been the first glimpse of home for Círdan and his bedraggled host on their sail back. It had warmed the Shipwright’s heart to learn how the lonesome child had stood there on the lookout, day after day, awaiting his return. But ever since, his relationship with his ward had been minimal. Ereinion shied from him, throwing himself into weapons practice and rejecting Cïrdan’s attempts at conversation or consolation. Deep inside, Círdan feared that the boy blamed him for surviving while his father had not.
“I already searched there, Shipwright,” his housekeeper shot back, annoyed. Of course she would. “As I said, I cannot find him anywhere!”
“What was the argument about?” Erestor asked.
“What’s that, over there?” Hîrvegil asked curtly over Arminas’ reply.
All eyes followed the comander’s pointing hand. An unknown light blazed in the northern horizon, too low for a star, too reddish to be Rána.
“That is no starlight…” Erestor ventured.
Círdan’s heart began to beat wildly.
“It’s not,” Hîrvegil confirmed grimly. “That’s the Barad Hen. The watch tower’s on fire, not just the beacon.”
“Do you think…?” Gailiel’s voice trembled, reluctant to give voice to their fears.
A wave of dread surged in Círdan. Thankfully, Hîrvegil took over with his customary cold blood.
“You might be right after all, Erestor. Arminas, round up two or three riders, and find me anyone who may have seen Hathol or Ereinion after weapons practice.” He turned then to Círdan as Arminas left at a run. “I will go after them myself, and send riders after Megorlas and Lagortâl, Círdan. This is no accident…”
“But we are in the middle of an evacuation, Commander, you cannot...”
“I can and I will, Erestor. Evacuation is your province, see that you hasten it as much as you can. I need to get a clearer reading of the military situation…It may still be that I was sorely mistaken about how long we had…I will bring them back, Círdan!”
Chapter 3. A New Star Rises in the Sky.
With stiff fingers Ereinion tied the last makeshift bandage, shredded in all haste from his undertunic, over the pad of birch bast that he had found in Hathol’s pouch. Only when this was done did he allow himself to sit back and close his eyes, shivering from exhaustion. He dragged his legs up, encircled them with his arms and hid his face between his knees, crying quietly as terror settled in.
He did not want to remember, but the memories pushed back fiercely.
He did not want to remember the three large, hideous orcs coming out of nowhere slashing at him, their growls and guttural cries, their stinking breath… Hathol had come crashing through the undergrowth, had cut one down almost immediately and wounded a second. He had then slashed wildly at the third, the one intent on forcing Ereinion from behind the tree.
He did not want to remember the panic, the helplessness, as he cowered there while Hathol drew the orc away from him, Lagortâl’s long knives working deftly against the curved, deadly orc-blade.
He did not want to remember the dread, as he saw the wounded orc getting up and gaining on Hathol’s back. Without thinking, he had nocked Lagortâl’s bow and had shot a dart deep in the creature’s thick neck; this time the orc had gone down for good. Dropping the bow he had leapt forth, ripped the blade from the first orc’s dead hand and thrust it with all his strength into the back of the remaining one, even as it lowered its own against a wounded Hathol, who had fallen to one knee, still fighting, shouting to Ereinion to flee…
He did not want to remember the aftermath. Hathol had a deep long gash that ran from hip to mid thigh and bled freely. He had somehow managed to staunch the bleeding with the scarce supplies that the young guard carried in the pouch on his belt, and then had found this hiding place, a small ravine well-covered by the large roots of powerful oaks and overgrown juniper bushes.
Panting, he had managed to drag heavy Hathol, who by then was unconscious, into that precarious shelter.
He had then cleaned the bloodied trail as best as he could and had ran back to retrieve Lagortâl’s cloak. “You need it not, and Hathol is wounded,” he had whispered guiltily to the still form. He had cleaned and dressed the wound as best as he could, and had covered him with the dead elf’s cloak.
And now he sat there, after doing everything he could think of to ensure their safety, and the true extent of their plight threatened to crush him.
How was he going to return to the city? Carrying Hathol was not an option, he was too heavy to haul, but Ereinion could not drag himself to abandon his wounded companion there, nor liked the idea of leaving that shelter while there could still be more orcs roaming around.
“What am I going to do?” he moaned, tears coursing his cheeks as panic threatened to overwhelm him.
“… When you feel alone, or sad or afraid, you just raise your voice in song, and you will see that all creatures, of wood and stone, of water and air and earth will echo your singing and rekindle your courage, strengthening your fëa with the bits of the Music that each creature carries within.” Unbidden, his father’s words came to his mind. For a brief while he wished he were back in Barad Eithel, ensconced in Fingon’s powerful arms, safe and warm after a terrifying adventure beyond the walls. Then, the image of Lagortâl’s body abandoned out there by the tree returned to him and he cried louder —reminded, once again, of the unmovable truth of his father’s death.
A tentative, shaking hand pressed on his calf. Wiping his eyes furiously he raised his head to meet Hathol’s pained face. “I’m not…” he began, ashamed of his weakness.
The other waved his bloodied hand weakly. “Listen, child,” he gasped. “Can you find your way… back home?”
Ereinion shook his head, panic and outrage struggling inside. “I’m not leaving you here!”
“But you have to… fast!”
Hathol struggled to sit and gave up, panting. “Listen... This was not a stray orc…this was a patrol…”
“But, what if there are more?” Ereinion cried. Then, aware that he had given away more than he intended, he insisted. “I cannot leave you alone!”
Hathol leveled a faintly amused glance on him, took a deep breath and gathered his strength.
“We need to warn Hîrvegil, Cîrdan.. everyone.. They count on you… Take to the trees..until out of this copse…then run back fast… you can send someone to …get me…I know you can do it,” he added, his hand pressing Ereinion’s calf, leaving blood prints on the already mucky pant leg, urging him.
Ereinion bit his lip, uncertain. The idea of running through that orc-infested forest alone frightened him, and he hated to be such a coward. On the other hand, leaving Hathol alone and helpless there was unthinkable..
“You should start now, child…before it gets dark…”
Ereinion closed his eyes. What would his father do? Again, Fingon’s words came to him. “Courage is not about not being afraid, but about finding the strength to do what is right, despite your fears...”
“I will,” he sighed at last, in a voice that quivered slightly. “But first, let me make sure that you are all set.” He checked the wound, which still bled sluggishly, placed their waterskins at Hathol’s reach and gave him Lagortâl’s long knives. “I will come back for you, Hathol,” he vowed, trying to sound reassuring and pressing the other elf’s hand in farewell.
He shouldered Lagortâl’s quiver and bow, and made ready to crawl from under the bushes when he heard Hathol’s gasp.
He looked back and put his fingers to his lips, but the other struggled forth. “You… are very brave… And so was your father… everyone knows that… Was just… badgering you…”
A small smile stretched his lips. “I know,” he said, as he slithered out of their hiding place, taking a moment to ensure that he left no trace.
The forest was quiet, but it did not feel threatening as before. Casting a look around, he chose an old chestnut that towered above the rest.
“By your leave, ancient one, allow me to have a quick look around,” he pleaded quickly, then grabbed the closest branch and started climbing, feeling the deep, comforting hum of the old tree through its thick bark.
With a quick glance he made sure that nothing stirred in the vicinity; the trees were calm and encouraging there. Closer than he expected, to the north, he distinguished the bare crown of the Barad Hen. Before the attack, Hathol had intended to climb the watch tower to get a clearer assesment of the situation. He surely could at least do that in his stead, then think of a way to bring the two of them back home.
“I must go there,” he sighed to the tree. “Please, take care of Hathol.”
Taking the soft sway of brownish leaves for assent, he chose the swiftest way across lower branches of oaks and chestnuts and alders and beeches, until he reached the edge of the forest. With a last pat of thanks, he jumped to the ground and continued his careful approach to the watch tower, cutting a wide arc by the feet of the rows of hills, intending to reach the outpost from the most protected side. In the end, after casting cautious looks around, he had to run the last stretch in the open.
He breathed in relief as he reached the protection of the tower, his heart beating wildly in his chest. The friendly sounds that greeted him made him smile. Even more satisfying than the welcoming murmur of the stone walls was the neighing and stomping coming from the large stable at the base of the tower. He felt immense relief as he rushed inside. What if Lagortâl’s horse was there? He would be able to bring Hathol back home!
The big sorrel greeted him noisily. Ereinion didn’t mind the warm welcome as the big head bumped him softly and searched him for treats. He hugged the strong neck and hid his face in the wild mane, finding relief in the familiar noises.
“I have nothing for you, Toroch, I’m sorry,” he sighed.
The horse continued lipping and nipping over his shoulder, until he remembered that he was carrying Lagortâl’s pack. He could not hold back an unsteady chuckle. “You know where he hides his treats, don’t you? Let’s see…”
With trembling fingers he unshouldered the pack and wiggled it open, ignoring the stains of dried blood, while keeping the big head away with the other hand. He did not want to look into it -dreaded to find out what personal possessions Círdan’s old friend carried with him, hated to remember that he was dead, alone and forgotten, lying abandoned in the forest floor like an old branch broken by a storm.
“Ah, there, look, he was thinking of you,” he said, smiling through bitter tears that welled up in his eyes. His scrabbling fingers fished out a handful of smooth sweet chestnuts that thoughtful Lagortâl must have picked up for his waiting friend.
As the horse munched happily from his open palm, Ereinion noticed that there was no straw left in the feeder and little water in the through. How long had Toroch been there? And why would Lagortâl ride up to Barad Hen to begin with? Foresters usually didn’t go there…unless they were scouting or carrying messages… As the imminence of danger hit him anew, his heart started pounding again in anxiety.
“Look,” he whispered to the horse, because it felt comforting to talk to someone. “I must go up and check the area… but first I’ll give you some water… then we will go back and bring Hathol home, if you agree?” he asked softly, meeting a large, intelligent brown eye that briefly looked up at him, as if asking.
He patted the big head and sighed, wondering whether the horse knew what had happened to his elven friend. “I know,” he wishpered, deciding that, yes, somehow, Toroch knew. “I know! I’m sorry, too. Wait here, please, I will be back soon!”
The Watch Towers served as stage point for messengers, scouts, hunters, foresters and all kinds of travelers between Nargothrond and the Falas, so there was always food, forage, water and bedding available both for errand-runners and their mounts.
Not far from the stable Ereinion found the well, a bucket and some fodder. He also found the guard room, now seldom used except for leaving messages and keeping extra weapons in a small armory. After a quick perusal he picked up a long knife that he strapped to his waist. It might serve him better than Lagortâl’s short bow.
Once Toroch was settled with water and hay he climbed to the viewpoint, hoping to get a good glimpse of the windswept, barren, no one’s land that spread to the North.
Arien was well into her downward race west, and the sky was getting the reddish hues that heralded sunset. At that time shapes could be deceiving, as unfolding shadows twisted and switched places with every passing cloud or slanting sunbeam.
Ereinion held his breath and tried to calm his pumping heart, unwilling to trust his sight.
He closed his eyes and opened them again, blinked rapidly then looked ahead intently one more time.
There was not doubt.
That was no large field of dark tall grass gently swaying in the evening breeze, as it had looked to him at first glance. That was the Enemy, slowly but unmistakably advancing across the highlands.
They were far, how far he could not deem, pouring into the unprotected lands of West Beleriand out of the shadows of the Ered Wethrin, marching southwards unmolested, down towards river Nenning. Those were armies in numbers he could not fathom, a dark stain spreading wide and forth —unstoppable, relentless.
For a brief while he stood there, panting heavily, frozen by the sight of that evil, slowly approaching danger. His stomach twisted and his chest hurt; he gasped, strangling a cry of terror that threatened to choke him.
As dread overcame him, he struggled to subdue it by standing very still and breathing deeply, as his archery master had taught him. “Fear exists not, there is only me,” he chanted, until his hearbeats settled down a bit. He sat on the stone floor, hidden by the stone parapet, and forced himself to think. He had to warn Círdan and the others, but, what of Nargothrond? How on Arda had this army made it past Orodreth’s hidden spies? Would it be that, as Hathol had said, nothing really stood between the orcs and the Falas, that Orodreth had witdrawn his support? He would not believe it.
“This is a beacon, isn’t it?” he encouraged himself -and set to work.
Up there he discovered a well-supplied storeroom. There, he found two large fire cauldrons and armfuls of dry gorse, bramble and heather sticks for fuel; tinder and kindling carefully wrapped in dry cloths, well-preserved from the night dew and rain and drizzle that came in from the sea, and a long row of striking stones.
He filled the heavy cauldrons with the dry shrubs and drenched them in flammable oil from a jar, then dragged the cauldrons outside. Panting, he stood and looked around, wondering where to place them for best sighting.
Then realization hit him that he barely knew the basics about the lay of the land.
Since he could not distinguish the shore from where he stood, it was only guesswork from the position of the sinking sun. But he had no idea where Nargothrond’s spy towers and watches stood, or Brithombar’s. He wondered in despair who would see those small fires before they went out. Or should he stay close and feed them? Would the advancing army see them as well? What, if they had more patrols in their vanguard, cleaning the territory before their main force?
He dropped again to the ground as realization hit him that he might be a clear target, standing there in the open. He sat quivering against the sun-warmed stone parapet, fear and despair threatening to overwhelm him.
“Think, Ereinion,” he told himself in soft sobs. “There must be more cauldrons somehere!”
After another thorough search of the tower he came to realize that this one must be a part of a beacon system, intended to be seen at a close distance by watchers on other towers. If Nargothrond’s were unmanned, as this one was, there was little hope in setting the two cauldrons alight, for there would be no one to mark his meager lights before it was too late.
He shook his head in despair.
“Please, Starkindler,” he begged, standing in the middle of the storeroom. “Help me get out of this fix and I promise I will pay more attention to Erestor’s maps!”
And then his eyes rested on the rows of earthen vats that contained the flammable oil, and an idea started to form. He shook his head and chuckled nervously, then began to work in earnest.
First, he took all the dry shrubbery, spread it all out in the lookout and threw it down the stairs and the stairwell.
Then, packing away a few bundles of tinder and a handful of striking stones, he began uncorking the heavy vats and started pouring the oil around, on the lookout, over the merlons and through the arrow gaps, and down the stairs and the inner walls of the watch tower, down to the ground.
Careful not to slip on the -by then- very treacherous steps, he came down as quickly as he could, picking up a few of the torches that were placed at intervals, ready for use.
“I must remember to thank Hîrvegil that at least everything here has been kept ready for use… before he kills me for torching his watch tower,” he admitted with a rueful, nervous chuckle, hurrying into the stable.
“Come Toroch, we are leaving!” he waved to the great sorrel, who looked at him in mild curiousity but followed him outside.
“Stay here, please, and don’t be scared,” he explained seriously, leading the beast to hide behind an outcrop not far from the tower. “I’ll be back soon.”
With fingers that trembled he brought out the striking stones and some tinder from the cloth bound parcels. After more tries than he usually needed, he managed at last to light up one of the torches, which he stuck on the ground. He then used the ragged wrapping cloths to bind the tips of some arrows.
“Easy, Toroch,” he insisted, hearing the nervous stomping of the steed. “I know what I am doing! Or so I hope!” he sighed. Carefully, he lit up the other torches and walked back to the tower. With as much force as he could summon he threw one up the stairs, another into the store room and a third into the stable.
The oil flamed up so violently that he had to rush out away from the ferocity of the fire, funelling up the stairwell and through the ground floor. He then picked up the torch he had left stuck on the ground and walked away from the tower until he deemed the angle was enough for him to reach the outlook. His first two flaming arrows fell short of the viewpoint and hit the stone wall before falling down. Fortunately, the flaming oil had dripped through the arrow gaps along the outer walls and caught fire quickly, so now the Barad Hen was alight in the outside as well as the inside. All that was left was the outlook.
Drawing Lagortâl’s bow with all his strength, he recalled his father’s most valiant deed and murmured his own, shy, prayer. “Please, Lord of Winds, be merciful and guide this arrow!”
Whether because of his prayer or his stubborn resolution, the flaming arrow at last reached the outlook and, all of a sudden, a powerful surge of fire blew skywards as if pushed by a sudden draft, the whole crenelation topping the blazing stone structure with a crown of fire.
“Yes! Look at that” he cried out in joy and relief. “See, Toroch? I wager they will see that even from Doriath! How’s that for a beacon?” he preened with a nervous laugh. The horse’s restless neighing brought him back to reality. Of course, the advancing army might surely notice as well, and so would any scouts in its vanguard.
“We need to get Hathol and ride back in haste to Eglarest, Toroch,” he entreated, climbing on the large beast. “Will you take me?”
Toroch tossed his head and sprang forth at a fast gallop. Behind them the flames rose sky high, bright as the glimmer of a newborn star.
Chapter 4 May the Forest Keep Them.
Ahead to the east a flock of birds flew in lowering circles, fighting each other noisily.
“Those are carrion crows clashing over some prize, Toroch, let’s go see!” Ereinion urged, fearing they might be battling over Lagortâl’s remains.
They rode along the forest eaves, following the noisy cawing. As soon as he found an opening Toroch crashed through the undergrowth, his step sure even in the dying light, sending the crows to the treetops in a squabbling disarray of feathers.
They found Longdel first.
The sturdy, faithful bay was pierced with many black-feathered shafts. Her head lay some twenty paces from the rest of the body, where crows had been busy picking at it. Not far was Megorlas’ body, unmoving, cut open with a single slash, his head smashed into the ground.
The smell of blood was old but still dense; it unsettled Toroch as much as the sight undid Ereinion.
Toroch was out of himself with grief, rearing and stomping and tossing his head in helpless rage while the crows mocked them from the closest branches, unafraid now, eager to get back to their bounty. Fearing the sorrel would hurt himself in his sorrow, Ereinion used a firm hand and steady heels to force him to trot away from the ghastly clearing —in any direction that took them away until they could breathe freely. When they had put some distance between them and the grisly clearing, Ereinion managed to talk the horse down into a quivering stop.
What now? He looked around in panic. The orange glitter of the burning tower could be seen ahead to his right -apparently they had doubled back. He could not make sense of the horse’s jumbled thoughts, nor the forest’s, or perhaps it was his own, all shaken by the grim discovery.
“Wait here, Toroch,” he encouraged, sliding off the tall steed. He looked around for clues, listening to a wind that had crept in unobserved, unrestrained, and that now brought a sense of danger and urgency to the forest.
Arien had already gone beyond the horizon and the night shadows were slithering out fast, surrounding them, making it difficult to find tracks. Toroch caught his attention then, trampling insistently under a thick oak and scrapping at its trunk. He approached the horse carefully, examined a stain on the trunk. It looked as if someone with a bleeding wound had found support there for a while.
“Lagortâl’s?” Ereinion wondered.
Searching the ground around the oak he soon found more blood tracks moving away. If those were Lagortâl’s, it made sense that he might have been trying to run from the orcs before he finally succumbed to his wounds. Whether the two had been together or Megorlas had been riding to help Lagortâl, or the opposite, he would never know. With deep regret that he had not even checked on Megorlas or retrieved his belongings he started following the blood trail on foot, Toroch in tow.
Suddenly, the sorrel picked up the pace and trotted past him, neighing in urgent despair. Ereinion hurried up behind, sure that Toroch had found his rider.
It took some effort to drag the horse from the side of his dead master. Ereinion stood away respectufully as Toroch nipped and groomed his elven friend, then walked up and patted him.
“He is gone now, to Mandos,” he whispered. “I sure hope horses do go there as well...I am sure that he misses you, too,” he added, sharing the horse’s deep sorrow. “We must do what we must, Toroch, Hathol needs us..” To his surprise, the horse headbutted his lying friend one last time and then followed him deeper into the forest.
He found the clearing easily enough, where the three orcs lay dead. From there, he retraced his earlier steps, guided by the whispers of the trees until he found the hidden ravine where he had left Hathol. The great chestnut tree greeted him with relief.
“Wait,” he instructed the horse. He approached the hiding place noisily.
“Hathol, it’s me, I came back for you!” he called out as he dragged himself through the low branches of the juniper bush and rolled into the ravine. Only to be met by feverish eyes and a long knife aimed at his head. “It’s me, Hathol! Come, I will take you back to Eglarest!”
The wounded elf blinked and then gasped, lowering the knife. “What on Ossë’s beard are you doing here! I told you…”
“There is no time, we need to hurry!” Ereinion threw the waterskins over his shoulders, sheathed the long knives and buckled them aroud his waist and then started dragging the wounded elf, who could do nothing but complain in pain. With some struggle he managed to pull Hathol out. They lay outside in the clearing, panting, one in pain and the other in exhaustion. The sky was completely dark by now, but a handful of stars shed enough light for Hathol to recognize the big sorrel.
“Toroch? Where did you find him?”
Ereinion dragged himself up to his feet. “There’s no time. Toroch, come, you’ll have to lay down, he cannot stand… Will you be able to hold yourself up, Hathol?” he asked, as the wounded guard hauled himself on Toroch’s back. “Now, easy, easy, careful, Toroch, up now,” he crooned, struggling to support Hathol as the tall horse lurched up to his four. Ereinion winced at Hathol’s pained breathing.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Will you be fine?”
“Climb up, Ereinion… Toroch can carry us both… we need to warn everyone…fast…”
Ereinion pointed north with a quick, wicked smile. The reddish glimmer of the fire tinged the sky there. “I think the alarm is raised,” he chuckled, a nervous glee surging in him.
“What’s that?” Painfully, Hathol had managed to turn slightly on Toroch’s back and now looked at him with a frown. “What did you do?”
“I set the Barad Hen on fire,” Ereinion giggled. “Do you think they will see it from Eglarest?”
“Hîrvegil… will have your hide … Mount up…” Hathol managed in a voice that was tired and quivering.
The pain in Hathol’s voice brought back the direness of their situation, and the impending terror of the army that marched against them. Abruptly, the strange giddiness that had filled him disappeared, leaving behind fear and uncertainty. Tiredly, Ereinion climbed behind Hathol, holding most of the wounded elf’s weight, and urged Toroch home.
“I found Megorlas and Longdel,” he whispered as they rode. “They are dead, too…”
Even after checking that Hathol had passed out from the pain, Ereinion continued speaking softly -mostly so as not to feel so utterly alone, trusting Toroch to pick the fastest way back home.
“Bring me Faunvorn, Tharonîl, and go!”
Hîrvegil strode into the stables dodging hurried stable hands pouring in and out of the commotion in the streets, apparently running urgent errands. Círdan had orded the alarm raised, the bells in the docks were tolling insistently and people must have seen the distant fire and taken it for what it was: a summons to immediate evacuation, instead of a paced one.
“Your menace awaits in the yard with your patrol, Commander. Take care of your business and I will take care of mine,” the stable master retorted, busy, it seemed, taking stock of feed. “How long do you think we have?”
“That’s what I intend to find out, my friend, but I would say less than we hoped…” he shot back as he crossed the stables to the back yard at a run.
“I sent Duilin ahead, Hîrvegil. The children left through the east door,” his second greeted him while he mounted his short-tempered black courser and cast a look around at the assembled riders.
“I said two or three riders, Arminas, not a whole battalion,” he grumbled, counting at least twelve riders packed in the yard. “Six at the most. We ride till we find the scout, then split if necessary. The rest of you report to Erestor, all hands are needed now for immediate evacuation!”
With that he urged Faunvorn into a trot and, once they cleared the eastern door -and he made sure that the patrol followed in an orderly line- into a thundering gallop. He could not shake the feeling that their time had been cut dangerously short.
Arien was still visible on the western sky when they sighted the scout ahead. He slowed Faunvorn down, allowing his second to catch up with him.
“Ease it down, Hîrvegil, Arminas feels guilty…” Oldáin said, his voice appeasing.
He shook his head, aggravated. Two thirds of the patrol was made up of flaming-eyed, orc blood-thirsty Noldorin warriors, survivors of Dorthonion and the Dagor Nirnaeth who burnt wildly with survivor guilt. “Well, he and his remorse can take a swim to Balar, for all I care… I need no regretful, reckless warriors looking for redemption in my army,” he spat, struggling to keep his indignation at a low hiss.
“...he feels guilty because he did not check on them after blade practice,” Oldáin finished calmly with a smirk. “What news, Duilin?” he called out, raising his hand so they all stopped and waited for the scout to catch up with them.
“The children’s tracks are clear, they followed the trail… may have reached the forest,” Duilin said as he rode up to them. He pointed behind him to the distant copse. “But.. Hîrvegil.. I also found orc tracks to the east, to the Círorne, and no traces of Lâgortal or Megorlas,” he finished with a grimace.
A soft, worried murmur arose within the ranks.
Hîrvegil shook his head. “Someone put the Barad Hen to fire, I doubt orcs would signal their presence like that. Our best hope is that one or both found the children and are bringing them back…”
“That is nonsense, Hîrvegil. We are wasting time, our king’s heir is lost out there, who’s with me!” Arminas spat hotly, heeling his horse onwards and breaking ranks.
“Enough!” Hîrvegil thundered, forcing Arminas to a stop. “Two boys and two foresters are missing, and there may be orcs on the loose as well. Three of you ride with Oldáin, follow Duilin to where he saw those orc tracks, start forth from there towards the tower and wait there for us. Give a warning call if you find any of them. The rest with me, we will follow the children’s tracks until we find them, are we clear?”
Of course Arminas would choose to follow him, he thought in annoyance as the patrol split up seamlessly in unspoken accord. Scowling at his second’s knowing snort he raised his hand and signaled his small group into a slow canter along the trail, entrusting Oldáin’s to the Starkindler’s protection on their way east.
Night had settled in by the time they reached the forest, when Arminas raised a hand and urged them to a stop. Hîrvegil could feel it to, an urgency in the trees and also a friendly breeze that brought good news. Silently, he signaled his companions to spread out and take cover under the trees, while he and Faunvorn stuck to the trail.
A slow, rythmic clip-clop could be heard ahead, amongst the trees.
Hîrvegil nudged Faunvorn to a stop and waited.
A tall shadow popped out from the cover of the trees, carrying a dark shape slumped on its back. Faunvorn’s friendly, soft snort was all the confirmation Hìrvegil neded, but he had to smile as he glimpsed two extra legs behind the tall sorrel’s. The child must have slipped into hiding after he heard them ahead.
He chuckled in relief. “Nice try, Pînarphen,” he chuckled, using one of the many friendly names with which he tried to poke the young Noldo out of his earnestness. “Were we orcs, though, your back would be a pincushion by now…”
“Hîrvegil, help us!” Recognizing his voice, the child had left the cover of the horse’s hind quarters and rushed to him, sheathing two long knives as he ran, so much fear and despair mingled with relief in the quivering voice that Hîrvegil feared the boy was hurt.
“Ereinion! Are you unhurt? That’s Hathol on Toroch, Heledir, hold him up!” Arminas barked while Hîrvegil dismounted and held the child, who was now a handful of anguished sobs and rambling explanations.
“They’re coming, Hîrvegil, the orcs, and Megorlas… they, we need to warn Círdan, and I… I…”
“Easy, child, you are safe now, you are safe, are you unhurt?” he crooned, kneeling down to look the sobbing child in the eye. He held him back by his shoulders and spoke calmly.
“Calm down Ereinion, calm down. Report, please. What happened?”
It worked somehow. In between hiccups and stutters Hîrvegil got the tale out of the blubbering child and then hugged him tightly, feeling the mighty tremors that shook the thin frame.
“Can you guess how far they are, Ereinion?” he asked softly when he felt him calm down a bit.
“Hathol is seriouly wounded, Hîrvegil,” Arminas interjected, coming to them. “Heledir is checking him over, but we will need to get him back now…”
Hîrvegil sighed as Ereinion tightened his desperate hold on his neck.
“Lagortâl and Megorlas are dead,” he told Arminas. “There may be more orcs around…and… if I understand rightly there’s a large army coming at us from the North,” he said. He felt the deep sigh Ereinon took as he pulled off from his comforting embrace and looked up at them.
“I left them there,” he sniffled. “I could not… even…”
“Easy, child,” Arminas, said, squatting beside them and pressing on the bony shoulder. “The forest will keep them… will take good care of them. Oldáin and his patrol will find their remains, bring their belongings back home…and you brought Toroch, well done…”
“He was in the Barad Hen,” Ereinion hiccupped… “I… I lit the tower… so Nargothrond will come?”
“Toroch was at the Barad Hen?” Hîrvegil prompted. “Was Lagortâl there, too? Did he leave any messages?”
He looked up to meet Arminas worried glance. He had sent Lagortâl and Megorlas on a scouting mission with instructions to collect any message Orodreth’s captains might have left for him. Ever since the disaster in the North, a few of Orodreth’s higher ranking officers had been defying their lord’s ban by exchanging intelligence with Hîrvegil, mostly out of guilt about their inaction, he guessed, and afraid that, cut from the few surviving elven settlements by their king’s decree they would be redenderd even weaker in their isolation.
Ereinion wiped his eyes and nose and shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he sighed, “but I… Hathol… he picked Lagortâl’s weapons, and then I picked his cloak.. for Hahtol…”
Hírvegil took a deep breath and summoned all his patience, sensing the child’s need for reassurance. “You did good, Ereinion, you took care of Hathol, that’s all you had to do…”
“Oh… Hathol gave me his pack, I forgot!” the child said, unshouldering the bag that he carried and handing it over to Hîrvegil. “Lagortâl’s” he whispered. “I did not look into it, only treats for Toroch,” he hurried to add, mistaking Hîrvegil’s worried expression for rebuke.
Hîrvegil searched the contents of the bag feverishly. “There!” he said, bringing up a piece of parchment that he handed over to Arminas. “You did good, Ereinion, I need you to calm down. Can you guess how far are they? Could you see the Forest of Núath from up there? Eithel Nenning? Were they all marching down in our direction?”
The child was sobbing again, overwhelmed by his questions and unable to provide answers. He looked up with a grimace at Arminas’ warning tone, fearing he was about to be chided. Instead he saw the worried look of his warrior as he handed over the parchment. He surrendered the bawling boy to Arminas and walked a few paces away, straightening the creased, blood-stained parchment, barely noticing Nargorhond’s seal under the unsteady starlight.
“Massive forces amassing at Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Orodreth will not come forth, tell Círdan and Falasadron to flee now. May the Lord of Waters protect the Falathrim. G. I.”
He stod still for a moment, looking at the parchment without actually seeing, noting idly the hurried initials of the signature and the date: five days ago. Gildor must have risked a lot to come down and leave the message there.
“Hathol needs urgent care, Hîrvegil.” Heledir’s concerned voice brought him out of contemplation. They had to move. He crumpled the parchment in his hand and nodded to Arminas.
“You take the children back and report to Círdan and Erestor, tell them that war is upon us. Heledir, Gelmir,” he addressed the two other members of his patrol, “follow the children’s tracks, find Oldáin, meet me at the Barad Hen. I need to get a clearer idea of the movements of the enemy…”
“No!” Ereinion freed himself from Arminas and tried to hold the commander back.
“Hîrvegil, they are coming, we must go!”
He shook his head. “I’ll be careful. But Hathol is your responsibility now, Ereinion, he needs your help, and you must also report to Círdan what you saw. Our people need us to do what we must. Go now!”
Cîrorne: Ship forest. A wood where Círdan’s foresters would grow the trees best suited for shipbuilding.
Pînarphen: Little noble one.
Chapter 5. The Walls of Eglarest
It was a bad dream, like dragon fires breaking out in the north all over again. He woke up with a gasp and a start, unaware of even having gone to sleep.
But it was no dream, and he hurt everywhere to prove it. Under the unsteady light of the brazier he groped around for his cloak and found a blanket covering him instead. He wrapped himself more tightly and cast a sleepy look around. He was in the Houses of Healing, he remembered now, and he must have fallen asleep on the ground while awaiting word about Hathol.
The ride back had been miserable.
Arminas rode on Toroch, holding a rapidly fading Hathol up while Ereinion struggled to keep his seat on Arminas’ opinionated mare. They had reached the eastern door very late in the night, to find Eglarest in turmoil —bells ringing, torches lit on every door, people rushing to the docks, warriors on full gear running to their positions and shouting commands… Arminas had ridden them to the Houses of Healing, handed Hathol over to the healers there and told him to stay put.
Even as Ereinion insisted that he had to report to Círdan, Arminas had been inflexible. “You heard Hîrvegil, child. You stay here until you hear from the healers. I will tell Círdan what he needs to know…” The warrior had walked back after a few paces and had put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You did well, son of Fingon. That was some mighty starlighting you did there!” he had said, then left at a run, leaving Ereinion alone in the strangely silent House of Healing.
He must have fallen asleep not much later, he reckoned. Someone had covered him with a woolen blanket and rekindled the brazier while he slept. As he wondered what time it might be and where to find something to eat, the door opened and a healer came in.
“Oh, you are awake! Are you unhurt, beyond that bruise on your face?”
Ereinion smiled in relief. He liked Maeweniel, twin sister of the captain of Círdan’s crew, immensely. She was always kind to him and fun to be around.
“I am hungry, Maeweniel, and tired —but unhurt. How fares Hathol?”
“Come, I will tell you while you eat.”
He picked up his cloak and weapons -Lagortâl’s, and the knife he had gotten at the tower’s armory- and followed the healer into the busier areas of the House, noticing the emptied healing rooms as healers and apprentices hurried along corridors carrying supplies and linens. Even if the din from the streets did not pierce the thick stone walls, the Houses had all the activity of a stirred anthill.
“What’s going on?” he asked, running to keep up with the healers’ hurried pace. She pushed a heavy door open and led them into the kitchens.
“Hush now, child,” Maeweniel said, pushing him to take a seat at the long wooden table where staff had their meals. “Evening, Manniel” she greeted the friendly cook. “Please, bring some of last night’s broth here, let’s try and see if we can stuff this flagpole of a child!”
Soon Ereinon forgot all about his nightmarish day while he dug hungrily into the bowl of soup under Manniel’s soft, approving smile.
“Hathol lost a lot of blood and the wound was infected, so he is running a wild fever,” Maeweniel began softly, as Ereinion munched a loaf of freshly baked bread. “It’s not your fault, child,” she hurried to add, surely seeing the sorrow and guilt creeping up on his face. “You did all you could, saved his life, but the blade must have been very dirty…Now you finish this and I’ll walk you home. Gaeliel must be waiting for you to lead you to the harbor. All young ones are being evacuated today, together with the wounded and most healers…”
Evacuation! So they did not expect Nargothrond to come out and challenge that army before they reached the Falas? He could not believe that. “You are surely needed here, Maeweniel, I can go on my own, thanks for the meal, Manniel!” he offered quickly, finishing his soup and waving goodbye.
The streets were in a flurry of activity, with people rushing purposefully up and down in seemingly ordered chaos. The first glimmer of dawn peeked out in the east as he hurried home, promising another sunny, crisp autumn day. As he ran he wondered whether Hîrvegil was back, how much the army had advanced during the night, whether Nargothrond had already set out to face them…He was breathless when he reached Círdan’s house. The gate was open and he followed the lights to the living area, where he found Gaeliel busy folding blankets.
“Ereinion! At last! I was so scared when I couldn’t find you!” She dropped a blanket and hugged him. “We need to hurry, child. Go check your rooms, see if there is anything else you want to take with you… Hurry up and then I’ll walk you to the docks! These will go to the Houses,” she added, pointing at the pile of blankets. “They are going to need them, if battle comes to us…”
“Is Círdan down there?”
“For sure. Something happened that made them rush the evacuation… Move now, child!”
He searched his room quickly, but there was little there that he considered important.
Jewels, ceremonial weapons and court finery had never been unpacked, sent to Balar in the same chests they had arrived from Barad Eithel, together with Círdan’s few valuable household items. The things he held dearest -the knife he had received from his father on his twenty-fifth birthday, his father’s letters, and a stone paperweight in the shape of Barad Nimras that he used to steal from his grandfather’s desk to play with- had all been secured as well.
In a hurry, he got rid of bloodied garments and dressed into clean trousers and tunic, threw a handful of clothes into a canvas sack the style mariners used, shouldered it, donned a thicker cloak and left at a run.
“You go home to your family, Gaeliel! I’ll go to the harbour now!” he called out as he crossed the back door and climbed the low stone wall there, to take the shortcut down the hill to the shipyards as it was his wont.
The harbour was packed as he had never seen it before. The whole fleet was there, filling the piers, ships bobbing in their berths too close for comfort and crews shouting warnings, while families waited to board in ordered lines, carrying what few items they were allowed.
Círdan must surely be at the harbourmaster’s office, he decided, elbowing his way amidst the crowds to the low, wooden shack painted in bright blue and white at the nearest end of the docks.
He heard the voices filtering out of the open window even as he got closer.
“It is two days to Balar and two more back,” Merenel sounded worried, he thought as he stood by the half-opened door, summoning the courage to interrupt. “We never thought we would be forced to a mass flight!”
“How long till the unfinished ships there are also ready for sailing?” Erestor asked.
“At least three more days,” Celeiros grunted. “And two more to get them here…Will the walls hold on till then?”
“They will have to. What about Brithombar?” Ruilin asked.
Before anyone could answer Ereinion took a deep breath to steady himself and stepped into the cabin. All heads turned inmediately to him, but he addressed Círdan before his courage failed him.
“My lord, I would have a word with you, if you can spare me a moment,” he said in a voice that barely quivered. Braced for a harsh rebuke, the warm welcome stunned him.
“Ereinion! Are you unhurt? How is Hathol?”
“Well done, child!”
“That was some mighty star you lit up there, it bought us precious time!”
“You are expected down at the pier, child, you are to board the Gaerandir this morning, did you pack your things?”
At this, Ereinion hesitated and cast an imploring look at Círdan, who studied him impassively, his piercing grey eyes hooded and his bearded chin resting on his hand. Ereinion held the searching gaze evenly until Círdan nodded briefly and turned to his counselors.
“Regarding Brithombar, I am expecting a reply sometime this morning” the Shipwright said. “You go now, my lords, and help ensure that the first wave of evacuation proceeds smoothly. Send word as soon as all ships have set sail. I will be inspecting the walls on the western flank.”
Ereinion stood there in silence, his hands crossed at his back to hide his nervousness as Círdan’s counselors -except for Erestor- walked past and rushed away, patting him in support or greeting as they went, busy with their orders. As Ruilin closed the door of his own office behind him, a heavy silence overcome the room.
“I hear you, child.”
Ereinion shifted on his feet, unsure. Círdan’s tone was serious, but not stern —typical when he expected an explanation for Ereinion’s latest silly exploit. With mounting panic he realized he did not know where to start, so he jumped to what worried him most.
“Is Hîrvegil back?” he blurted —then, after a brief pause, added a hurried “my lord?”
“Not yet. He sent Oldáin and the rest of his patrol back, they found several orc scouts on their way… Hîrvegil intended to go all the way to Brithombar when they parted. The first blow will fall there…and we have had more time to hasten evacuation, thanks to your timely warning, that was a mighty warning sign you kindled for us…”
Ereinion shifted on his feet. The Shipwright was being uncommonly forthcoming, and that unnerved him. “Are you unhurt? Did you get any sleep?” Círdan asked then.
“Yes, my lord, I went to the Houses and slept a bit while awaiting news from Hathol, then Gailiel told me to meet you here…”
“I would say she rather told you to get on board, did she not?” Erestor chimed in.
Círdan cut his reply. “Peace. Is there anything you wanted to say, child?”
Ereinion took another deep breath. “Yes, I… well what I mean is…I am not evacuating today, my lord,” he said. He heard Erestor’s gasp but Círdan’s raised hand urged him on. “I will stay and help defend your people until they are all safely relocated to Balar!”
“Help?” Erestor sounded outraged. “Are you going to fight them with sword and bow? Hold the walls with your songs of power, perchance?”
“If it comes to that, then yes, I will!” he retorted heatedly. “I will not be sent away to safety while others are still left behind. You can go in my stead if you so wish!” he shouted.
“Peace,” Círdan insisted, cutting Erestor’s angry reply short. “That was ungracious, Ereinion…”
“I apologize, Lord Círdan…”
“I apologize, Erestor,” he muttered, casting a brief look at his tutor, who still looked incensed. Then Círdan surprised them both, as it was his wont.
“Now, go find Maewendir, tell him to find him someone else to take your place on board the Gaerandir and then come find us on the eastern wall…”
When Círdan went for the unexpected was about the only times he and Erestor fully agreed, Ereinon thought wickedly, hearing the outrage in his tutor’s voice while he himself not wholly believed his own ears.
“You heard, child, now, go!” It was impossible to unhear the fond amusement underneath Círdan’s raspy voice once you learnt to discern it —it had taken Ereinon the best part of his ten years in the Falas to grasp it. He sketched a brief bow and left, but still heard Erestor’s indignant retort as he walked away.
“What madness possessed you?”
Curious, he stopped on his tracks, hoping to overhear Círdan’s reasons for that unexpected decision.
“Scion of kings, Erestor,” Círdan said in a sad, tired voice. “They named him thus so that he -so that everyone- would be painfully, unequivocally aware of his legay and his duty. Who am I to thwart him, if he chooses this time to live up to his name?”
“But he was sent to you for protection, Círdan!”
“And his father is no more. I must now raise an heir who is deserving of his legacy —not mine. What kind of ruler runs into hiding at the first sign of danger? What kind of ruling am I teaching, if I force him to hide against his will? Generous impulses must not be nipped in the bud!”
“He is just a child!”
“He was no longer a child after war broke out in the north and he was sent away from his home and his kin, Erestor, you know that as well as I do. He was exiled once, it is understandable that he would not suffer exile gladly for a second time. Let’s give him some room to choose his own path…Come, my friend, Oldáin awaits us by the walls,” he added in the voice that meant the conversation was over.
Hearing chairs being pulled back, Ereinion slipped away in a hurry, pondering Círdan’s words in his mind.
The ensuing days turned out to be the bleakest times Ereinion could remember in his -admittedly short- life.
The wait was the worst —or so he thought while they waited.
The city was unnaturally quiet, even if only a fraction of the Falathrim had managed to set sail. A sense of impending doom weighed down those who remained.
The whole fleet –from purpose-built ships to small fishing boats, dinghies, even skiffs and queches- had been commissioned for the evacuation. Those staying behind were busy, some in preparations for an eventual siege or an attack using fire, while most others engaged in strenghtening the walls with mighty songs of power.
Ereinion had never seen something like that. He remembered the songs of the stones in Barad Eithel well enough, but had never witnessed the way his kin bonded with the stones and poured their voices and strength into them.
He felt the power songs rumbling and humming in a way he had never before experienced, like a relentless tide that first drained him and then filled him with valour and purpose, an endless chord that linked him to the others -and to the white walls that Finrod had raised well before he was born.
“See for yourself,” Círdan instructed, after he wondered aloud.
They both stood at the walls enjoying a quick late midday meal in the open, after Círdan had conferred with his counselors. The last ship had sailed and there was still no news of Hîrvegil —nor sighting of the coming army. Were it not for the constant droning of the sea and the soft murmur of the power songs, the silence would have been complete; unnerving.
Mirroring Círdan, he splayed his hands on the parapet as he had done so many times before while he stood up there awaiting news. But his mind had been elsewhere then, up north, willing his atar safe. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, allowing his mind to go blank…then suddenly looked back to Cïrdan in awe.
“I felt it! Like waves on shingles! How is that possible?”
Círdan caressed the smooth white stone with respect. “Because these are shells of ancient sea creatures, so ancient that they may have lived in the seas of old when the world was young and the Valar still roamed the lands of Hither,” he explained with reverence.
“A wall of sea shells?” Ereinion tried to erase the incredulity from his voice but failed, judging by Círdan’s soft chuckle.
“These shells were turned into stones by the passing ennin. The relentless pounding of Ossë’s tides glued them strong together, then they were exposed to rain and soil and passing time, and turned into stones. The voice of the Lord of Waters lies within, mingled with the voices of all those who built these walls —those who helped your kinsman Felagund, but also those who walk by them every day, who sang to them, who are singing to them even now… No fire or stone can topple these walls, child, though they can be scaled, our defenses overcome, our doors unhinged, our cities overtaken. But the walls will buy us some time.”
“Will Lord Ulmo save us?”
“The Valar meddle not overtly in the struggles of Middle-earth,” the Shipwright reminded him in a soft voice. “But their power lies in all living things, their music echoes in ours, they always find ways. We must fight, and as we fight, we hope that somehow we will be spared…”
“I want to learn those songs of power, lend my strength to the walls as well…”
Círdan patted his head with a kind smile, so unusual that it worried Ereinion far more than his guardian’s usual grumpiness. “Not yet, child. You still need all your strength for yourself, but you can draw power from all the voices in here —listen to their songs before they are lost, carry them with you… Look, over there! About time!”
Ereinion followed Círdan’s gaze, distracted from the shopwright’s ominous words. Out of a dense fog bank, the fleet from Brithombar at last appeared before their eyes -a mottled collection of boats scattered in the horizon, sailing south in the wings of Manwë’s favourable winds.
“And yet too few…” the Shipwright muttered into his beard. “May Ossë carry you safely and swiftly, friends. Oh, there it comes!”
A seabird hurried to them from the closest ship, carrying a message for the Shipwright. Ereinion waited with bated breath while Círdan unrolled the parchemnt and read it, then sighed and looked in the direction where Brithombar lay. The Shipwright’s voice sounded wan and tired as he turned to look at him.
“Please, child, find Erestor; tell him to gather my council and meet me here.”
So began the grief, which was an old -if unwelcome- acquaintance of his.
The commander would remain in Brithombar to help in the defence of those fleeing, the message began. He also warned that the dark hordes were even larger than he had imagined —he mentioned something about Morgoth’s eastern flank in the Dagor Nirnaeth that Ereinion did not understand.
“Hîrvegil advises that we wait not for the return of the fleet but start sending our people on the south road in small groups protected by a handful of warriors immediately,” Círdan said. “Against this might, my lord Shipwright, only the power of Ulmo could rise and prevail,” he read aloud in a sombre voice. What else the message said, Ereinion would not learn until many sun-rounds later. From the grim, sorrowful faces at the time -as Círdan’s counselors read the wrinkled parchment in turns- he guessed they did not expect to see the commander again —not until they met in Mandos.
That was when he first felt it back, the grief —that stinging in his throat and in his eyes, and that unbearable weight that sat on his chest and made it difficult to breathe.
Word spread quickly, and preparations increased their frantic pace.
Ereinion was assigned to the armory, to help in fletching and wrapping arrow points in flammable cloths, while others busied themselves carrying catapults and ammunition to strategic places, dragging large cauldrons -which would later be filled with fire oil- to the parapets, and filling the large water tanks next to the wooden structures of the market squares and down in the empty shipyards.
From time to time a small group would depart quietly; foresters, builders, fishers, weavers, smiths… packing lightly, accompanied by two or three warrriors for protection, taking the long, uncertain road across Harfalas in a ride of many days through dangerous territory towards Balar Ras.
Farewells were sober but sorrowful to witness —they brought back many unwanted memories. So he would lower his head and work relentlessly, until his fingers bled and his hands cramped, while tears rolled down unheeded and all around friends said goodbye to each other, guilt and fear and sorrow echoing in their hushed voices as they left behind the white walls, the grey piers, the moss-covered stones of their homes.
They came into view before sunset, the vast mass of dark enemies he had glimpsed from the Watch Tower, heralded by terrified beasts and birds fleeing the ruin before them. The grief and panic of the creatures reached the defenders behind the walls even before they saw the marching terror.
Thus began the dread, which was by large worse than the wait or the grief, though still better than what was yet to come.
Yet for that night -and most of the next day- dread was mingled with hope, as word spread that the river Nenning carried down orc corpses and weaponry and pieces of machinery.
But hope is fragile as an open fire in a winter storm, and it died abruptly when the Nenning started bringing down elven bodies later that day. The outer defences along the steep basin of the Nenning had fallen, the rumour went, and the enemy marched forth unchallenged, putting everything to fire as they went.
But still Ereinion held fast to his deep-seated trust. “Nargothrond will still come!” he would insist —and no one would gainsay him.
Night drew in and still the dark army advanced, lines upon lines of creatures -orcs, wolf-like creatures the size of small horses, and men, their columns spreading beyond sight. They pushed along war machinery, and busied themselves building great fires and trenches, and setting up their engines and siege towers beyond the reach of the Falathrim archers.
Thus began the siege of Eglarest, and the thrumming of the white walls strengthened and grew.
At dawn on the third day after the fleet left they started blasting the walls with stone missiles that burst in flames by some unknown art of the Enemy. The Falathrim returned fire in kind. The din was terrifying -at first- warning shouts from the defenders mingled with the brutish growls and the roll of war drums and the clatter of blades on shields from the ungainly creatures beyond the wall. Projectiles would hit the walls and then drop down to the ground —inert, harmless, useless.
And the walls held, and their song grew in strength and beauty the harder they were hit.
He had once fallen into a river while on a camping trip with his father and his grandfather, Ereinion remembered as he fletched tirelessly. The stream was swollen by melting snows in the Ered Wethrim and he was encumbered by his winter cloak and his boots. As he weltered in the swift current he could hear his father’s frantic voice like a dull, muffled echo that came from far away. So it felt to him after a time, as if his head were wrapped in wool and submerged in a thundering stream, so that the booming missiles hitting the walls and the war drums and the battlecries were but a distant rumour that came from a dream, one he cared not to acknowledge or wake up from.
Thus dread was soon replaced by numbness, of which Ereinion would later feel ashamed.
They worked in silence, only broken by the scrapping sound of the whetting stones on the blades -mostly forgotten, they thought, three young archers and Ereinion- until the door slammed open and a warrior in full gear hurried in. It took Ereinion a few moments to recognize his tutor in the stern, dangerous-looking warrior who sent his companions to the easternmost wall to support the archers there.
“You have been assigned to the Houses of Healing,” Erestor told him then. “Pick up your weapons and I will walk you there.”
Ereinion knew that his tutor had been -was- a formidable warrior who had been battling orcs long before the Noldor came from beyond the waters, but seeing him in full gear with that stern voice and grim demeanour took him aback, and made him hurry to comply.
Dark fumes and smoke clogged the streets when they got out, despite the tempestuous winds that rolled in from the sea. The loud sounds of the stone missiles hitting the walls and the heavy doors, the cries of defenders and attackers were deafening, almost unbearable. Here and there he could see little fires that were put out quickly, before they could spread.
“Will Nargothrond come?” he gasped as he hurried after Erestor’s long strides. His tutor barely looked back over his soulder.
“This host is far too large for any of the armies of the Quendi to face off, child, we are on our own.” At his dismayed gasp, Erestor stopped and turned to him. “Chin up, son of Fingon, hope is not yet lost!” his tutor encouraged, placing both hands on his shoulders and looking him in the eye. “Go now. You do as Maeweniel tells you, and when she or Maewendir tell you to evacuate, you obey without protest.” Erestor hugged him briefly and then pushed him towards the Houses.
The brief whiff of hope soon dissolved in the drudgery of the Houses, where the only three remaining healers struggled to cope with increasing numbers of crushed bones and grievous burns.
He soon lost track of time, eating when presented with food, sleeping fitfully on the ground when strength failed him. Between the fumes and the dark storm clouds piling up in the autumn sky and blocking Arien’s rays, there was no way of –and little interest in- knowing whether it was night or day. What mattered then was how long until the fleet would return for them, how long would the iron doors hold, how long would the defenders stand.
Only from the wounded did they get some news of what was going on outside, and what news they brought was not encouraging.
“They are mounting their assault towers now, will try to climb the walls when they have decimated the archers…”
“They are attacking the doors now… We are drawing them to the western door, to keep the way east open for as long as we may…”
“Orcs won’t come near the water…not even try to cross the Nenning…the western side is safer…”
“Is Círdan safe?” he would ask, the knot on his throat tightening every time he asked.
“The Shipwright has seen us through dire times before.. he will not fail us now,” the wounded would repeat. “Lord Ulmo favours the Shipwright, he will come to our succour in the end,” they would insist.
It was well past midnight on the fifth day after the fleet had left when the crew of Círdan’s ship broke into the Houses and made them evacuate.
“Hurry up, child!” Maewendir urged while he gathered his belogings, still half-asleep. “The eastern door fell, the city is lost, they’ll soon be here!”
It was days since he had last gone outside, he realized, stricken by the fumes, the noise, the soot-blackened walls, the barricades in the streets and small patrols running everywhere.
“Círdan?” he asked, helping a limping warrior down the stone stairway to the docks.
“They are holding out the main host by the walls, but it is a matter of hours now… Small groups have broken in through the eastern door…the way to Harfalas is closed now!” Maewendir cried out. “Hurry, hurry up!” he urged, while some of his crew covered their rearguard. Over the continuous shelling of the walls, the sound of clashes and skirmishes rose now as it got closer.
Cïrdan’s white ship, the Gaerandir, pitched widly in her berth as the tide rose and the sea grew restless. In the flickering light of the torches Ereinion could guess that at least four or five more ships were moored there too.
“Where is the rest of the fleet? Where is Círdan?” he asked, standing his ground stubbornly on the dock while the wounded were helped onboard the waiting ships.
“The fleet is right behind us, board now!” Maewendir roared.
Ereinion stood his ground. “I will not board until the Shipwright comes!” he insisted, his voice breaking under the strain of fear and exhaustion.
“Do what you have to do, brother,” Maeweniel said softly, walking up to them and passing a protective arm over his shoulders. “I will wait here with Ereinion.”
Ereinion straightened up and tensed, expecting Maewendir to refuse, but the captain just shrugged and ordered them to help as they could.
During that long, harrowing night, listening to the harsh cries and the clash of steel in skirmishes that got closer as the hours passed by, Ereinion felt the weight of the wait, the grief, the dread and numbness of past days all melding into a single, powerful wave of rage, which obliterated sense and opened the way to despair.
As darkness bled slowly into a grey, dull, sunless early dawn, harassed defenders ran or limped or dragged themselves down the stone stairs to the safety of the waiting ships in an endless trickle, bringing tales of heoric resistance and bitter defeat. When two wounded warriors holding a third one up between them appeared at the top of the stairs, and then one fell down pierced by several black feathered arrows, Ereinion simply took leave of his senses and surrendered to his rage, rushing after three of Maewendir’s mariners in a mad chase after the attacking orcs, deaf to Maeweniel’s cries while she continued helping the lines of wounded warriors into the docks.
Carried away by the battle rage, he hacked and hewed with his long knives with wild abandon, and would have pursued the fleeing orcs into an alley had not a blood-stained and helmless Erestor appeared at that time from the opposite road, waving with his naked sword to get their attention .
“To the ships, now! They overcome the defenses, they are coming!” his tutor shouted in a powerful voice.
Ereinion strained to look behind Erestor’s back, but no one was coming. “Where is Círdan!” he cried in despair.
In two long strides Erestor reached his side, grabbed his by his cloak and pushed him down the stairs, waving at the few mariners that remained on the docks. “Board now! Maewendir, now, now, it is time!” he shouted, driving a protesting Ereinion before him.
“Where is Círdan! We must wait for him!”
Only the Gaerandir remained now in the harbour, pitching restlessly in a lowering tide with an uncommonly strong undertow. Maewendir hurried to unmoor her while urging the last defenders on board. Ereinion dragged his feet until he shook himself from Erestor’s grasp and confronted his tutor, rage overcoming his senses.
“You coward! Where is Círdan! We cannot leave without him! Where is the rest of the fleet!” he cried, waving his long knives before him to keep Erestor at a distance. Quietly coming up behind his back, Maewendir grabbed him and took away his knives, mandhandling him onto the plank.
“On board now, child! I’ll explain later!” the captain roared, giving him a harsh push up. Followed closely by Erestor, he was forced to board the ship, then ran astern while Maewendir finshed releasing the mooring and signed his crew to lift anchor while he ran on board.
A mighty pull dragged them along the firth; the ship seemed to be flying on the back of some powerful sea-creature. Leaning on the gunwale, Ereinion looked anxiously ahead while the white city got smaller, almost hidden in fires and smoke. He seethed in rage, expecting to see the well-known head with the silver mane and the long beard appear in the harbour at any moment, ready to take over and make them turn back.
A warm hand landed on his back. He looked up to see Erestor’s tired, ash and blood stained face. “We planned this, Ereinion, he would stay...” the Nandorin counsellor began tiredly. Maewendir’s warning cry cut his scathing retort.
“Watch out! Here it comes! Hold tight!”
Ereinion looked about wildly, grasping at some rigging, and gasped.
Dark towering storm clouds rushed inland in the wings of mighty winds that, unnoticed, had crept out from high sea. A massive surge of water rolled undeneath them, lifting and shaking the Gaerandir as if it was but a goose feather, dropping it back on a strangely calm sea as it passed. The powerful mass of water broke then into mighty waves that hurtled landwards, raking the black cliffs and crags along the firth on their way in.
The winds became gales, and hailstorms lashed out against the besieged city while wave after wave -crowned, it seemed to Ereinion, with foaming heads that looked like wild horses’- trampled madly uphill, pounding against docks, warehouses, yards, houses, dragging back with them armor-weighed enemies that struggled and weltered in vain against the wreckage that sunk them, while the Gaerandir bobbed in calm seas well beyond the reach of Ossë’s wrath.
“No! Our people are there, too!” he cried in dismay, seeing the roaring, foaming waters continue their ruthless assault, mingling with the rising waters of the Nenning as it poured savagely into the sea.
“They knew to move to the higher ground and the walls, Uinen will take good care of them…” Maewendir tried to reassure him, but he knew that many of the Falathrim defenders would die to buy them time to flee.
The embattled tempest roared on and the grey sea pounded brutally, each assault reaching further up and wider into the city, gnawing at the stone buildings that had once been the beautiful homes of the Falathrim, bringing down walls and roofs in pitiless confusion and deafening rumble.
On board the Gaerandir, crew and survivors looked in quiet sorrow, watching in fascinated horror as their city, swarmed over by the creatures of the Enemy, succumbed to the same sea that had given them shelter for ages.
Amidst that thunderous clangor Ereinion suddenly heard a soft, deep, sorrowful tune that hummed steadily —and slowly, gently, increased its intensity.
“It is time,” Erestor said softly.
Surprised by those words, and the tone in which they were uttered, Ereinon looked around to find out that a great number of ships had arrived, and many others still sailed on towards Brithombar. Everyone on board seemed to have their eyes closed and their arms extended landwards. The humming now enveloped them and joined the chord that came from the skies and the waters and the besieged city.
Abruptly, he recognized the voice: it was the song of the walls, raising with all the strength stored in them for ages, seashells turned into stones and later into walls, releasing the might of Ulmo’s waves and the songs of power that Felagund had brought from beyond the sea.
A powerful yearning pulled at Ereinion’s heart, a stirring longing that urged him to join into that song he could barely understand, and a terrible grief as he suddenly understood what was about to happen. A deep rumble surrounded them, as sea and rain and river seemed to join together. The air was charged and the thrumming grew impossibly loud, like a ponderous heartbeat. Ereinion covered his ears with his hands but still could not block the sound, reverberating through him, nor tear his eyes from the distant, beleaguered, ravaged city and its tall, glistening walls.
And then, with a mighty crack that whipped across the air like lightning, the walls blew over and a wave rose tower-like with a powerful roar then crashed in fury across the land, drowning everything in a turmoil of seashell and stone and trees and rabid waters, while the storm lashed out in rage and the clamoring waves dragged smashed bodies and wreckage in their violent retreat.
Slowly the tidal waves calmed down, the rolling thunder and whipping winds faded and Arien’s rays began to peek through the darkened skies. The echo of a soft tune blew a last few chords of impossible beauty before dissolving in a tired, deep, encompassing sigh.
“Lower the dinghies, two people on each, let us find survivors!" Maewendir’s calm voice broke the stunned silence that followed.
“The Lord of Waters protects the Falathrim, Ereinion, he will take care of the Shipwright,” Erestor tried to comfort him with an affectionate pat before climbing down to one of the light lifeboats. Ereinion watched as a fleet of skiffs and queches rowed away in the unnaturally calm seas, hoping to fish survivors from the waters.
He was too stunned to try to join in, or even speak.
Then, at long last the tears came —violent, overwhelming, like the rains carried by Manwë’s howling winds; endless and unnumbered.
And yet he knew that, eventually, they would stop.
Curious enough, there is a type of seashell stone that actually repels impacts of cannon balls. It is called coquina.
Chapter 4. Those Who Are Most In Need.
Refuge in the Isle of Balar. Midwinter, year 473 of the Sun.
Every day at sunset Círdan could be found at the most distant end of their temporary shipyard, easing out the day’s worries by putting his drawknife or his sanding tool to a wood plank.
Balar did not have much in terms of forests, and what trees they had they mostly kept for nuts and firewood, so they had to make do with repairs and with reusing driftwood brought in by the restless tides. Yet the Shipwright always managed to find a piece of wood that could do with some smoothing. It was a welcome distraction from the harrowing work of sourcing stone for their building, not to mention carrying the heavy blocks from the quarries to the area chosen for their permanent settlement. They still lived in tents, mostly, but the temporary shipyard that Turgon’s crews had built there along the years was serviceable enough for their fleet.
Turgon! The Hidden King had been in his thoughts all day. What madness had possessed him to send his people in that desperate quest for a passage West, what fate must have those poor mariners faced, Círdan could not fathom. He remembered only too well the grief in Fingolfin’s voice when he had shared with Círdan the truth of their coming —how they had left Valinor as exiles, banished from returning and weighed down by the Doom of Mandos. Had Fingolfin’s wise second son then risked only those of Sindarin and Falathrim descent among his subjects, in that foolish search for a way into the Blessed Realm?
The questions itched —unsolvable, weighty, burdensome.
His thoughts strayed then to Falmariel, his sister’s granddaughter, and her son Voronwë, who was of fighting age already…both living in the Hidden City...Had he fought in the Dagor Nirnaeth? Had he died there, while Círdan survived? Had they…
The soughing sigh of the pebbles rolling around in time with the tide caught his attention then. He allowed the cadence to appease his turbulent thoughts for a while, distract him with a different sorrow —the eternal pulse of the merciless sea, who cared not who lived and who died.
He stopped his rhythmic movement on the wood to listen for a while.
The grief was still too raw, though, woven and mixed with the most recent losses, the memory of those who had fallen so others could flee…Unbidden, his thoughts went back to chanting their names in tune with the renewed grating of the drawknife on the wood. It was useless, but so it was fighting against it. He had to let the grief run free, spill over and wash out in the immensity of the sea, ripple away with the tide until it was no longer part of him.
The scraping helped.
“You keep that up, there will be no wood left, my lord.”
He had heard him approach in his tentative, slow steps. Every evening as the day’s tasks were completed, Ereinion would come down to sit with him and share their meal, chatting about his day or simply watching Anor go down in the west in companionable silence.
Círdan considered it progress.
But then, as soon as he had been dragged on board the Gaerandir -last of those rescued, battered and soaked and weak as a newborn fawn because of the colossal effort spent blowing the walls up in time with the mightiest wave- the boy, wild-eyed and disheveled, had clung to him like barnacles to a ship’s hull and had not let go for a long time —thus ending the long moons of silence and distance. That had been the first step.
He put his drawknife away with an overdramatic sigh. “Nothing goes to waste here, wood shavings are good for sanding…” he retorted, for the simple pleasure of seeing the child roll his eyes and shrug.
“I knew that,” the boy shot back with a smirk, opening his pack and handing Círdan a clothed parcel containing a loaf of bread, a piece of goat cheese and a handful of nuts. He sat down beside the Shipwright in a turmoil of long limbs and cloak folds, then opened his own parcel and started devouring its content.
“We had a good harvest today, but Merenel thinks the season must be over now…” he ventured at last, after he finished his meal and scattered the crumbles for the seagulls to fight over.
Círdan grunted in assent, distracted, his attention caught by a distant outline in the north he knew to be a ship, though not one of theirs.
“Gaeliel deems that we already have enough seaweed for the season, though, says that you need not worry…We just finished boiling the last of the sea greens, and the rest will be dried out and ready to be powdered in a day or two, I guess …”
“That’s good to know,” Círdan muttered, studying the uncertain tack the ship was following. At the exasperated sigh he looked back at the child and smiled. “I mean it, this really sets my mind at ease. So, are the bonfires ready for tonight’s celebration?” he asked. Merenel and Gaeliel had insisted that they needed to have a Midwinter celebration, and he had agreed.
That seemed to cheer his ward up.
“Erestor sent the foresters for firewood, and we all agreed it would be better to have two large bonfires instead of many smaller ones… so we can all gather together,” the child began to explain in earnest. “And some of the children were poking fun at me, saying I should be the one to lit them…” he groaned, but there was no hurt or resentment there, just reluctantly amused annoyance.
Círdan smiled. It was not just that word of Ereinion’s deed had spread, the tale growing in the telling about how he had put the Barad Hen to fire while killing off hordes of orcs in the process -the numbers depending on the tale-teller- but also how he had stayed behind, helping in the armoury and in the Houses of Healing. His deeds had earned him the love and respect of the Falathrim.
“I hear they are all calling you Gil-galad, now,” he said. He knew the boy was secretly pleased by the name, because Fingon had used to call him Ëlénya, which had a very similar meaning in Quenya.
“They call me Dagnir na Barad Hen, too,” the boy retorted with a minute scowl, looking down to hide a bashful smile.
Círdan barely managed to choke a snort. Curse of the Barad Hen, indeed. It was a well-known fact, after all, that love and respect among the Falathrim were best expressed through gentle ribbing. “Both are well-earned,” he said, throwing in an open smile for reassurance. “And it will be a well-deserved honor for you to be the one to set the fires on tonight…Seeing as you seem to have overcome your aversion to bonfires,” he quipped lightly.
The Falathrim celebrated midsummer and midwinter around large bonfires —would usually spend those nights by the shores, drinking and singing and dancing and playing games, celebrating Ossë and Uinen’s friendship and honouring Ulmo for protection and bounty. It had been a surprise for Círdan -and a source of irritation between them- when the usually well-mannered and obedient child had stoutly refused to join them on his first midwinter celebration in the Falas. It had taken Círdan some prodding to finally discover that bonfires reminded Ereinion of the Bragollach.
The rift had been healed and a compromise reached on both sides, but fire and Ereinion had remained distant acquaintances at best, hence the gentle mocking now that he had become an arsonist of sorts.
“…they have lost so much...”
“What?” Lost in recollection, Círdan had missed that part of the conversation.
“I said that it would be comforting if tonight we all took turns so every one had a chance to hold a torch to the bonfire… to honor those who did not make it… They have lost so much,” the child repeated in a quiet voice that barely rose over the sound of the waves.
“We all have, child,” Círdan agreed, “we all have.”
They had, indeed. Few of those who had ridden south across Harfalas had made it and less than half of those left behind for the second evacuation had survived the battle, and the waves and the blowing of the walls. The fast boats Hîrvegil continued sending in quick raids along the coast had stopped bringing back survivors after half a moon. The commander himself -together with a handful of warriors from Brithombar- had only barely managed to stay alive after an arduous trek north to the Firth of Drengist, where they had been saved -once again- by the swift boats hidden there for such a purpose. More than half of the Falathrim warriors had perished or worse, and the knowledge that they might have survived to be enslaved weighed heavily on Círdan’s mind.
“They were baking the hemlock bark pies and roasting nuts when I came,” Ereinion was explaining with forced enthusiasm. Is he trying to cheer me up? Círdan wondered, amazed, blinking back from his sad recollections. “Falasadron was setting up a rock skipping competition, and Gelmir and some of his fellow warriors were racing the horses,” he continued, while he searched the ground —for rocks, Círdan guessed.
With a pocketful of suitably flat stones the child unclasped his cloak and let it fall where he had been sitting, then walked to the edge of a tidal pool that was large enough and started tossing them with an almost perfect combination of shoulder swivel and arm whip that sent the rocks skipping over thirty times easily.
“You would have done good for yourself in the competition!” Círdan observed, trying to sound encouraging.
The child looked back at him briefly and shrugged, accepting the compliment. “The young ones are having a good time for once… they are so sad…They have lost all hope,” he said, tossing another stone carelessly
Círdan shook his head, saddened by the unhappy set of the shoulders, the dejected bend of the neck, the disheveled braid and the stained cloak —the child oozed sorrow and despair, and how could he not? He picked up a handful of rocks and walked up to stand beside him.
“They will find it again,” he said quietly, tossing one with far less accuracy that his ward had just shown. “Hope is always there.”
The boy cast him a quick glance. “Is it?” he asked softly, doubtfully. He tossed three more stones in quick succession, with more strength than skill, it seemed, because they sunk after a few bounds.
“Where are those stones, now?” Círdan asked.
“Where? Down there, in the pool’s floor…”
“Can you see them?”
The child cast him a mildly outraged look. “Of course not!”
“And Menelvagor? Can you point it to me?” Círdan smiled at the only too predictable eyeroll, once his ward picked where his questions were leading.
“I cannot see it now, but it is up there,” Ereinion pointed haphazardly to the sky with a long-suffering sigh.
“About there, more exactly” Círdan corrected. “But it serves the point. Unseen things are still there, Ereinion. Pebbles are hidden by the waters, stars are hidden by the light of Anor, but still we know them to be there, beyond doubt, untouched by shadow or fear. That is hope, a light that always shines out there, even if at times we canot see it…”
“How can you know?” the child blurted, turning abruptly to challenge him. All the anguish and grief and loss were clear on his face in an unusual display.
“Because that’s who we are, child, that’s our Estel. ‘In the walls of Doom there’s ever a breach, there will always be a light where darkness was decreed' Lord Ulmo said. Grievous as our losses are, they are but a drop in the ocean of the passing ennin, and will in the end have meaning; it all builds up to the completion that was foretold in the Music, whether…”
“Those children have lost their families, their friends…What should I tell them? ” his ward interrupted unimpressed, walking away in search of more stones.
Círdan watched him with deep sympathy. He was changed, sad and quiet still, but at least he no longer hid away. Instead, he could be found wherever a hand was needed, helping the builders, the cooks, the fishers, entertaining the children, all while continuing with his weapons practice, working until exhausted, without complaint. He felt deeply for the losses of the Falathrim, Círdan guessed, and tried to forget -or at least ease- his own by helping others.
“Do you know all those broken pieces with the sharp edges that seem to be jarring and grating inside you?” he asked, desperately looking for a way of offering unasked for comfort. “Trust me, they will become armor. With time and care they will glue together, like the seashells on the walls of Eglarest, will become the source of your strength if only you nurture them, accept them and make them a part of you…”
After a considering silence, the wretch cast him a sidelong glance.
“Is that what you want me to tell them, or what you are telling me?” he said at last with that minute, cheeky grin he put on when baiting him, walking back to his side, his pockets bulging with stones.
“If you think it might be of help…” Círdan retorted demurely, settling for neither possibility. Ereinion choked a quick, unexpected huff of laughter and turned his attention back to his rocks, tossing again with deft precision. The grief was still there, Círdan noted, deep-seated, and would be for the long run. Still -much as the brownish cones that enveloped the tender new leaves in a wintering beech sang the promise of a new spring while recalling the sorrow of fall’s decay- hope and healing were also growing stronger in him as he comforted others and began to accept some kind of reassurance for himself.
“It may be yet too soon, the loss too near, to speak of hope…to them,” Ereinion oberved shyly, whether speaking of himself or of those he was so intent on cheering up Círdan could not tell.
“In and out the tide goes, twice every day,” he sighed, “and so our lives weave themselves with the ebb and flow of hope and despair. It is for us to choose whether to stay forever trapped in grief and loss or to bounce back with the tide,” he said, almost to himself. Braced for a harsh rebuke and getting a considering, sidelong glance instead, he continued softly.
“When you hit the bottom of your grief, you will find either kindness or bitterness awaiting you there… It is for you to decide what to nurture and make grow there, out of your losses. Sorrow is a tough mistress, Ereinion, but it would be unwise to disregard her teachings. Grief is love that has lost its guiding star, while hope is but a call to action, to direct that orphaned love inwards and outwards. It is up to you to choose, either to be kind or bitter, to yourself first, then to others…” he finished, allowing the wind to carry his voice.
He risked a glance at his ward. Ereinion stood by his side straight and taut as a young tree, his gaze fixed on the horizon, blinking rapidly and breathing raggedly, struggling with barely choked sobs. He wiped his eyes quickly with the sleeve of his tunic and turned a brittle smile to Círdan.
“It gets easier with time, does it?” he asked in a hoarse voice that didn't manage to disguise the tears. Círdan shook his head and passed an arm over the child’s shoulders, pulling against him in brief comfort
“I still hope it will,” he admitted ruefully. The startled laugh that escaped Ereinion at this came as a precious reward. He shrugged. “At times it feels like rowing…your back to your destination and all you can see is what you are leaving behind… trusting that the effort will take you where you are supposed to be aiming for,”
“That is why I much prefer sailing,” Ereinion chuckled in a shaky voice.
“Ah, of course, the haste of youth, dashing forth in a hurry… Only to find themselves sailing in circles,” Círdan prodded with a put upon sigh and a friendly wink.
Ereinion pretended outrage. “I was learning back then, and no one had told me about the drifts and currents in the firth…”
“You are indeed a fast learner and a dedicated student,” Círdan admitted placidly. It was an unspoken rule between them that the ‘incident’ was never brought up in conversation, at least not directly. Whether he had been trying to sail back home or simply had wanted to prove himself a better sailor than he was, piqued by the continuous mockery from other elflings, Círdan had never known nor asked, following the tacit truce.
Placated, the child smiled. “That I am, indeed…” he said with his cheeky grin, slippping off Círdan’s loose embrace. “Let us see how good you are at skipping stones, now, my lord,” he challenged in return. “Best of five!”
It kept them engaged for a while, for the child was quite adept at the game and loved the competition, and Círdan enjoyed indulging him.
“Out and down at the same time,” he explained, showing the movement slowly. “The grip is the key. The ragged side up and this finger along the edge so you can make it spin…see?”
“You are very good at this,” Círdan observed, searching for more flat rocks.
“Calassë taught me,” the chid replied with a bashful smile. “He was…”
“I know…I knew him,” he sighed. He remembered him well, the good-natured, golden-haired half-vanyarin warrior who had been one of Fingolfin’s closest friends, the last to fall before Gothmog protecting Fingon, as Hîrvegil’s account went. “Let’s try again,” he sighed, shaking off those gloomy memories, “see if I am such a quick learner as you are!”
“You almost got it,” Ereinion cheered after a few more tosses. “Well done!”
“I’ve had a good teacher, too,” Círdan retorted, smiling as his rock sunk after close to thirty skips.
“I know,” Ereinion chuckled as he sketched a quick bow. “Now, in return, I want you to teach me those songs of power…”
Círdan tossed a last rock to buy himself some time. It was always like this. Sometimes they butted heads, sometimes they tiptoed around issues for endless days, bantered and poked at each other until, half-seriously, the matter came out into the open. This must have been brewing since the fall of Eglarest, Círdan thought, recalling the child’s amazement as the Falathrim strengthened the walls with their songs. He shook his head. I should have expected it, he thought.
Mistaking his gesture for rejection, the child erupted in a tumble of hasty, indignant claims. “…and what’s more, how will I be able to defend your people in the future if I know not the songs?” he ended the heated tirade breathing heavily, hands on hips, challenging Círdan with a mighty glare.
“They are your people, too,” Círdan said softly, rising his hands in a placating manner. He sat down on a tide-battered rock and gestured for Ereinion to join him. “Never said I would not teach you —I will, and I am sure that you are going to be a very powerful singer, too…”
That caught his ward’s interest. “Am I?” he asked eagerly, taking seat by Círdan. “When? How?”
“First you need to learn how to listen and soak up the voices around you, attune yourself to them, and let them become attuned to yours. Fragments of the Music run in every creature in Arda, Ereinion, and the songs are the way we Quendi connect to those voices. When we learn to listen, we also learn to draw strength from them, and later on, to lend that strength back. What we did in the Falas… it takes a lot from us, to bind all our voices together and tie them to the seas’ and the stones’ and the walls’…For now you need all your strength to grow up. You must learn to treasure those voices and carry them with you, learn to recognize them…it will all come to you in time, and I will be there to help you, I promise…”
“You had it all planned, then,” Ereinion observed in a low voice. “I feared they were leaving you behind…”
“Erestor told me. I am sorry, child. The battle plans had been drawn a long time ago…there was no time to explain… But I promise that you will be let in from now on, if you so choose.” He patted his ward’s back encouragingly. “You were very brave,” he added.
Ereinion shrugged, busy, it appeared to Círdan, musing his explanations.
“Hathol hates me,” he said at last, flinging away the remaining stones in his pockets with dejected throws. “He won’t see me, won’t let me apologize…”
Círdan sighed. The incident that had led the two youngsters beyond the borders had been left unaddressed until then. He had heard bits and pieces, but had not yet found the best way to broach the subject with his charge. Well, so much for planning, he sighed inwardly.
“He will get over it in time. After all, the two of you are equally responsible for that unseemly brawl and for the thoughtless, irresponsible escape stunt…” he said sternly. He was glad to see the boy had the good grace of blushing at that.
“I know, and I have already apologized for that,” Ereinion agreed. “But he…he is angry because I went back for him,” he continued in a tentative voice. “The healers say his leg will not fully mend, he will not become a warrior…He says he would have rather died…” he finished in a sorrowful voice.
That, Círdan had not expected. “I see…It’s a shame, but that will be your burden to carry, child. At times you will do things that not everyone will agree to…” he replied cautiously.
“It is unfair…”
“That it is, indeed, yet such is the burden of leadership…”
“So, should I have left him there, then?”
Despite the deceptively mild tone and the apparently harmless wording, Círdan could sense the subtle challenge underlying the question, the depths of concern contained in the apparently innocent quip. It was clear that the boy had devoted a lot of time and thought to the situation.
When he had agreed to shelter the High King’s only son and heir he had been painfully aware of the duties and responsibilities that came with the task. Now, with Fingon dead and his people scattered in disarray, Círdan had become the child’s permanent guardian and the one in charge of raising a High King worth of his legacy. To Círdan it meant, despite the boy’s young age, to help him carry the burden but take it not from his shoulders, advise and support him in his decisions but bar him not from making his own mistakes, and never, ever taking the responsibility of choice -and the truth of consequences- from him, as he expected he would grow to never take from his subjects —should he choose to embrace his father’s legacy and claim the High Kingship. While he doubted the boy was presently ready for that conversation, he was not going to flinch from it. Tread carefully, he reminded himself.
“Why did you go back for him?” he asked back. He did that a lot, and the child had grown used to examining his own motives and certainties. As he had suspected, Ereinion had an answer ready.
“I could not stand the idea of leaving him behind,” he said with conviction.
“So, you went back for your own peace of mind?”
That gave him pause. “I...I’m not sure…” he replied at last with the blunt honesty that had so impressed Círdan from the first day. “But warriors leave no one behind…My father used to say that, and so does Hîrvegil.”
Círdan nodded in agreement. “That is true, and it is a very good rule to follow… You made a decision, Ereinion. In a difficult situation you followed your instinct, or your beliefs, or both, and chose a course of action. What you must understand is that decisions always have consequences. All you can do is be honest with yourself about your reasons, accept the consequences of your choices, learn from them and move on…”
The boy turned a serious, worried face to him. “But, how will I know? That my decision is… sound, fair, good? How do I choose?”
Círdan grimaced, cast a look around, fixed his eyes on the speck he had spied earlier in the horizon, which had by now become a small fishing boat with a flimsy sail. The craft was having trouble keeping its course in the strong, treacherous currents Ossë had set up around Balar for protection. Ruilin must send someone to pick them up soon, he thought distractedly. Bracing himself, he returned his attention to the expectant child.
“What would you say the first tenet of leadership is?” he asked. The child didn’t rush to answer, which pleased Círdan immensely.
“Do what you have to do, even if you are afraid?” he offered at last in an uncertain voice.
Círdan had to smile. It sounded very much like something Fingon would say. “It’s a good one, yes,” he acknowledged. “Something you can truly live by…”
Yet the child was not looking for comfort, today, and he was relentless as the undertow when he wanted answers. “A good one, indeed, but are there others?” he demanded. “How will I know what I have to do? How will I be sure that what I decide I have to do is the right thing, and not just what I prefer?”
Trust the sharp child to cut to the core of the matter, Círdan thought. He had no simple answer, and what answer he had was not an easy one to commit to. In the end he chose honesty, as he had sworn himself he would always do with Ereinion. “That, child, is something each of us has to learn with time and experience,” he whispered, afraid that he was failing them both.
Another thoughtful silence spread between them. At long last the child looked back, trusting gray eyes fixed on his. “How do you do it, Círdan? How do you choose?” he asked softly.
It was not a day for idle conversation, today, it seemed. He sighed. “Well… It took me many ennin and many mistakes, mind you, and while it works for me, I would not pretend for it to work for anyone else…Even if it sounds easy enough, it is not…” All of a sudden he felt under scrutiny, as if he was being tried -maybe even found lacking- by the solemn-looking young Noldo.
“I would much appreciate if you cared to share, my lord…”
The wretch knew how to bait him, to draw him out, and Círdan enjoyed those conversations that resembled more fencing lessons than politics —he had since the very first day. The child was curious, inquisitive, reflective when he remembered to rein in his temper and, above all, an avid learner. It is not as if he has anyone else’s example to measure you up to, he told himself quite ruthlessly, to dispel the self-doubt. He trusts you, and he will have to build up his own code…He took a deep breath. “It sounds quite simple. You tend first to those who are most in need.”
The child nodded thoughtfully, pondering in silence. “I see… Is that why you stayed behind to blow the walls and drown the city?” he asked at last, pretending a lightness belied by his worried frown.
“It is, indeed…”
“Even if it served very little purpose? Even if Oldáin and his group did not make it in the end? What of the Falathrim? Don’t they need you more?”
Don’t I need you more? Círdan heard the unspoken plea hidden in the incensed complaint. It had been another tough lesson for the young one to learn.
“Those of our people who could be saved were already on their way,” he explained patiently, forcing the grief of the many losses to the back of his mind. “At that point what mattered was to give you all a chance at escaping, those on ships and those fleeing on horseback through the eastern doors…but it was also our responsibility to destroy as much of the Enemy’s forces as possible, so less would return to the wars in Beleriand,” he added. “You make your own rules and then you must be true to them to the bitter end, Ereinion, or live on with the knowledge that you have betrayed yourself…”
“Was it truly our responsibility, even when they failed to come to our succour?” Ereinion replied bitterly, pointing to the bay.
Ruilin had sailed himself to the rescue, Círdan noticed as he followed Ereinion’s hand, seeing the fragile, shoddy-built boat now being towed to safety by the Remmenuil. They had lost hope of more survivors making it to the safe haven of Balar after almost two moons since the fall of the Falas, but unlike his ward, Círdan doubted the approaching boat was from Orodreth —which left only one other possibility. Was that why his thoughts had strayed to Turgon and his hidden city today? He knew the issue of Nargothrond was a sore, open wound for his ward, who had been expecting Orodreth’s help until the last moment, but that wouldn’t be solved today.
He patted the bony back and sighed. “Even then, child. We know not what they were going through, all that matter is what we had to do. What good are rules if we choose when and when not to follow them? All we can do is play our part and be at peace with it,” he offered.
The child shook his head but did not argue the point, still occupied unraveling the implications of Círdan’s claims. “So, did you… did you know that Ulmo would save you?”
A fair question, with another difficult answer. Círdan himself was unsure of what, exactly, he actually did know. Until the last ship sails, Ulmo had told him once, when Círdan had been trying to build a fleet to follow Olwë across the sea. It could mean anything, from the end of Arda Marred -the completion, as the Vala said- to the annihilation of the Falathrim. There was little certainty and no comfort to be found in carrying the burden of a Vala’s foresight.
“I knew not, not for sure… I could only hope that he might… and above all, that something good might come out of our sacrifice… that is Estel, Ereinion, the trust that lies at the very foundation of our being…”
The child cast him a pensive look, then shook his head, mystified. “It may look simple at first, but it sounds to me as a tough rule to live by,” he acknowledged, respect tingeing his voice.
“It takes some training, yes, but then it becomes natural, part of your own self,” Círdan agreed.
“Some training?” Ereinion huffed. The boy seemed unable to sit still. He stood up and walked to the tidal pool, crouched to inspect something that caught his attention, stood up again, tinkered with his windblown braids, watched for a while as the Remmenuil manoeuvered into the small haven, keeping his back to Círdan at all times.
He gave the child his space —he knew the routine, the boy was struggling to gather the courage to say or do something that he found difficult. When at last he turned to look at Círdan his face was set, with no trace of doubt or hesitation.
“Would you be terribly upset, my lord, if I… picked it up as my code to follow as well…For now?” he added hurriedly, raising his hands as if to stop Círdan from disagreeing. “I… I really don’t know what my father or grandfather’s rules were, but yours sounds like something worthy to aim for?”
Círdan bowed his head briefly. “I am honoured, Ereinion, though I am sure that, with time, you will come up with your own set of rules.”
The child’s face was an endearing blend of Fingolfin’s wise solemnity, Fingon’s reckless determination and his own youthful eagerness, all packed in an uncertain grimace. “Why, my lord, I should hope so,” he said in a voice that threatened to break under the weight of mixed emotions. “But in the meantime, it would help to have something to measure myself up to… if you would consent…”
“Of course, child,” he replied. “I promised your father, after all…”
“I know… I… I overheard what you told Erestor, about why you allowed me to stay behind…and..about my name.”
He was about to make a joke about listening to conversations not intended for one’s ears but then noticed the coiled tension, the misery, the hand wringing. “I see,” he said simply, gesturing for his ward to continue. It was clear that there was something else he needed to let out.
“I…Look, Círdan, I… my father’s dead now, you are no longer beholden to him…but truth is, I am not yet ready for…anything, and I still need much help, but I don’t want to be a burden…”
So that’s what was troubling you, young one, Círdan thought, careful not to let dismay show on his face. He stood up slowly and walked to the child, who could not hid a grimace of apprehension. “As I told your father, I tell you now, Ereinion,” he said softly, pressing a comforting hand on the child’s shoulder. “It will be my privilege to shelter you, and support you, and help you grow into whatever you choose to be, whether the High King of the Noldor or one of the Falathrim, or both, I -and my household- will stand by you, may Ulmo be my witness,” he pronounced solemnly, putting then his hand to his heart and bowing briefly to the stunned child, who could barely return the gesture while furiously blinking unwanted tears away.
“I will prove myself worthy of your kindness, Lord Shipwright, and will fail not to repay your support with my loyalty,” Ereinion managed in a choked voice.
Círdan could only smile, more moved than he cared to show. “I know, child, I know,” he replied in a hoarse voice, picking up the discarded cloak and handing it over to the boy, ruffling his tousled hair to hide his emotion. “What do you say if we…”
“Círdan! There you are!” Erestor’s call cut his next sentence. They both looked back in time to see the Nandorin counsellor hurrying along the pier towards them, waving his arm to catch their attention.
“The Remmenuil, Círdan!” Erestor gasped as he reached them.
“We saw them sail in, what news?”
Erestor glanced at them, then looked over his shoulder to the haven. “The boat they just towed in? They carry a message from the… from Turgon.”
Círdan sighed. He nodded minutely, to signal to his counselor that he should bring the child into the conversation.
Erestor smirked. “Since this comes from an allied king and close relative, I think both you and Gil-galad should be there to listen to them,” he finished with a smile, a wink and a quick, not entirely disrespectful half-bow.
“First those who are most in need, isn’t it?” Ereinion replied, raising his brows, the ghost of a smile dancing on his face.
“That’s the spirit, Gil-galad,” Círdan chuckled in agreement, pushing the lad before him towards the pier and the news from Gondolin.
Voronwë was the son of Aranwë, one of Turgon’s followers who married a distant relative of Cirdan’s in Vinayamar. He will be later saved by Ulmo to be the one guiding Tuor to Gondolin.
Élënya. In Quenya, my starry light, an affectionate moniker.
‘In the walls of Doom there’s ever a breach (…) there will always be a light where darkness was decreed' Part of Ulmo’s words to Tuor, in the Unfinished Tales “Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin.”
“…Till the last ship sails” Círdan mentions that to Gandalf when he delivers Narya to his care.
“And when Turgon heard of this (the fall of the falas) he sent again his messengers to Sirion's mouths, and besought the aid of Círdan the Shipwright. At the bidding of Turgon Círdan built seven swift ships, and they sailed out into the West; but no tidings of them came ever back to Balar, save of one, and the last.” Silm Chap 20“Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad”
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