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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.
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