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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!”
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