THE NIGHT THE SEA CAME IN
The formal dinner was over and the guests had moved to the salon for refreshments and the eagerly awaited music. It wasn't every day that the royal bard unveiled a new major work, least of all one he was rumoured to have been working on for years.
The salon was a long room with tall arched windows that looked out over the palace gardens towards the sea, and tonight the scarlet drapes had been drawn back so that guests could appreciate the stars and the moonlight on the water. Inside, all was light and laughter, with intricate, multi-tiered crystal chandeliers, groups of tall candles to light conversation areas, and little lamps hung at intervals along the wall.
The group around Gil-galad were in particularly good spirits. It had been a long time since they had all been together at the same time, and he was enjoying the chance to relax and listen as they exchanged information and gossip. His great aunt and her husband were spending time in Mithlond on their way down the coast on yet another of their adventures, Gildor was back, which meant Erestor, who saw to unnamed administrative duties for the crown, was in a good mood, even Círdan had been persuaded to cross the small strait between the two halves of the city to join them.
Erestor had been making final arrangements for Lindir and was crossing the room towards them, moving with the confidence particular to those who are both attractive and spoken for. He wore a simple though expensive midnight robe with his black hair loose, but in that hair strands of gold-clasped sapphires gleamed and a tasselled gold belt, caught in an ornamental knot set with a huge sapphire girded his hips.. Gil-galad saw Gildor watching him, a satisfied expression on his face. His gifts to Erestor were always exquisite, a counterpoint to their often tumultuous relationship.
"Kept you a seat," Gil-galad told Erestor. "Is he ready yet? Might be good if this starts while they're still sober." Royal guests tended to make the best of the free wine.
Erestor curled down like a cat after exchanging a speaking look with Gildor and nodding to everyone else. "He's ready, he was just fussing about extra strings and water to sip. Apparently it's long. You've heard it, my lord?" He was always scrupulously correct in public, though they had known one another too long for him not to call the king Gil in private.
"Haven't heard a thing so far," Gil-galad admitted cheerfully. "I’ve tried to tease it out of him, I’ve even crept into his practice room trying to catch him out, but he's too quick for me. It’s a surprise for us, he says. And the Mighty save anyone who looks at or disturbs those pages of music he has spread out. Not that I could read them, even if I looked."
"I want him to teach me how to write that," Galadriel said unexpectedly. "I've heard so much about the new way of annotating music, I'd love to learn how it's done."
"Typical Noldorin invention," Celeborn said, teasing her.
"Well it's good enough for Lindir, and he's a Sinda," she retorted, the green gems in her hair and at her throat catching and throwing back fire with each movement.
"It's useful," Gildor said. "It means you can send a song to someone on the other side of the world, not have to travel there yourself and play it to them."
"And if you die in that strange foreign land, someone can collect up all your music so nothing is lost," Erestor agreed.
*Which strange foreign land would that be?" asked Gildor. "I'm always looking for travel suggestions."
"Idiot," Erestor said fondly.
At that moment a procession entered the salon: two young pages carrying a harp, another with a sheaf of paper, and a fourth carried a jug and cup. They set the harp up carefully in the corner near the hearth, the papers went on a small table on one side of a padded chair with the jug and cup well away from them. Gildor gave a snort of amusement, "He's making a full production of this."
"He calls it building anticipation," Gil-galad said with a grin. "I think it started as a way to give his nerves a chance to settle, but people like it."
Clad in a robe of soft green, studded with pearls and worn over a cream under robe and shirt, Lindir entered the salon and walked its length, greeting people and smiling. He bowed to Gil-galad, then took his seat at the harp. Clever fingers caressed the strings, drawing forth soft notes as he tested the tuning. Slowly people quietened down. He waited till there was as close to silence as was likely, and then with a flick of his wrist and a shimmer of sound, he began.
Gil-galad sat sipping his wine and listening, determined to keep the polite expression on his face for as long as necessary - he had been warned this wasn't a short work and had prepared himself. But after a few minutes he realised what Lindir’s song was about and soon he was leaning forward slightly, listening, his wine and the room around him quite forgotten, carried back to a very different place and time.
Pearly Bay, Balar.
The wind was rising as Gil-galad made his way through familiar narrow streets with their recessed doors, wood framed windows, and the occasional pot overflowing with flowers or interesting grasses. His mind was busy, and he barely noticed when a creeper heavy with purple flowers slapped against his face, nor that the fountain near the public baker was overgrown with moss again.
Gil-galad had grown up here after the withdrawal from Eglarest, a place with no more substance to him than the sense of coloured lanterns and gold hangings that were his only memory of his father’s home. Leaving here was a new thought: there were few places left to go now the Enemy had tightened his stranglehold on Beleriand, but everyone was speculating about it as they made ready for the coming storm. While he had the chance, he wanted to see Lindir and reassure him no decision had been taken yet, it would have to wait till after the present emergency, brought on by yesterday’s messenger from the north.
Ingwion had chosen a tall, haughty Vanya to carry his message, mounted on the back of a giant eagle. He had been one of those who looked down his nose at the elves of the Hither Shore, and had shown Círdan scant respect until spoken to sharply by Galadriel, whose father, Finarfin, was one of the Captains of the great army out of the West. Gil-galad, who got there as he was leaving, supposed the Lord of the Falas did look rather like a common ship builder right then, in old clothes and with his hair pulled back mariner style into a bunch at the back of his head.
They stood together watching the eagle take to the skies and the seagulls slowly return from wherever they had been hiding, then Círdan turned to him, his face grim. “No slight intended to you, he’d have waited but your aunt disliked his manners and sent him off with a flea in his ear. The houses need to be secured, everyone on the north side of the island must be brought down here where the cliffs offer some shelter. He said we had two days, maybe three.”
“What’s going on?” He knew there would always be days when his foster father spoke to him as though he was still a child in his household rather than a king, but that didn’t make it sit better. At that moment the wind lifted his hair and blew it across his face and when he had pushed it back out of the way it was to see Cirdan’s departing back.
“Ingwion’s people could learn some manners!” Galadriel said, as though that explained everything. She had been staring moodily into the west while he and his foster father talked. “Don’t take it personally.”
“Like master, like servant, probably,” he nodded. Between Ingwion and Eönwë he had no idea who got his back up faster. He had thought it a cultural thing till he overheard Gildor, Aman-born royalty, express himself on the subject. After that he’d felt better, less provincial. “What else did he say? Two or three days till what?”
She shrugged with her usual unconscious grace. “No more than they think we need to know, though I was invited to travel back with him should I choose safety above loyalty. There is a full scale battle in progress, and they have a massive assault planned that m’lord there said would change the face of the land. We’re to prepare for the mother of all storms, it seems. He was very florid in his description, but when he said waves as high as the Pelican, I think he meant it.”
The Pelican was the highest point on the south side of island, named for its shape which some aged Telerin had determined looked like a pelican’s beak. Gil-galad had never seen the resemblance. He stared at her, not quite believing what he was hearing. “That’s impossible. The seas never come higher than the top of the harbour steps, and that’s high enough. The north side might get flooded perhaps, but not down here.”
Except a storm unleashed by the Valar themselves. The vision formed slowly before him as Galadriel built a wall of water drop by drop, creating a picture in the air from her mind to his. He understood what she was doing, but it still made his stomach twist unpleasantly. The image was almost solid except where he could see the real waves moving behind it and the low flight of a gull. Ereinion Gil-galad, High King of what remained of the Noldor in the East stared at it, then looked past it at his great aunt, Finrod Felagund’s sister, who had the Sight and could sing spells and build images in plain air.
“Balar cannot withstand what I see,” she told him. “This was our last haven, Ereinion. Pray we do not need another. Now go --- Cirdan’s manner was uncalled for, but those are things that need to be done, and in this, especially in the north, it is best people hear the news from their king.”
A shortcut behind the carpenter’s took him to a row of houses, where he found Lindir sitting on the grass in front of the three rooms he called home ignoring the wind that tossed his bright hair about, his instruments set out in a row. The musician glanced up and then resumed frowning at the array.
Elwing’s twins sat together on the doorstep, watching. They had taken to spending their spare time with Lindir. He made space for them without fussing and Gil-galad supposed his musicality felt familiar. They had been on the island for a half year now, rowed over by a mortal man who had been paid for his trouble by an elf lord with hair like fire: Maedhros. They were quiet boys with watchful eyes and beautifully old fashioned manners that pleased Círdan no end. There was little of their father in them, but Gil-galad could have picked them out of a crowd as Elwing’s lost children.
They got to their feet hurriedly when they saw him, but he waved them back with a nod and stood with folded arms looking down.“Problem?”
Lindir’s sea-green eyes met his. “Well, everyone says we’ll only be allowed one bag if we go south. I was thinking what to leave behind. Erestor offered to take something small, so that’ll be the flute I suppose – there’s nothing smaller.” His tone was dry. Erestor could be singularly unhelpful when he was busy.
Gil-galad shook his head, half laughing. “These are the tools of your trade, no one would expect you to leave them behind. And there’s plenty of time later to discuss whether we’re going or staying.”
Lindir gave a complicated, very Sindarin shrug and smiled. “Everyone would say I took advantage of our friendship to bring extra on board. No, I can replace most of this if I have to. Just – hard to decide which has my first love.” He sounded half embarrassed. Even though he and Gil-galad were almost close enough to say they had an ‘understanding’, the emotional connection he had to music and to these instruments was deeply personal, hard to put into words.
“You have to take the lyre,” one of the boys said. Gil-galad thought it was Elros, he was starting to tell them apart now, through personality rather than looks. “You brought it all the way from Doriath.”
Lindir picked the lyre up carefully. It was old and unfashionable and Gil-galad couldn’t remember when he’d heard him play it, though it held pride of place in the room that served as everything from dining room to classroom.
“I knew it was old, not that it came from Doriath,” he admitted, leaning down for a closer look. Lindir was widely travelled and seemed to have souvenirs from all over Endor. Somehow he had never asked about the lyre and he was left with a feeling this was something he should have known.
“Daeron gave it to him,” the boy explained seriously. “He can’t leave that behind. It’s a memory.”
“Lindir played it so we could hear the elder scales they practiced in Doriath,” his twin chimed in. “We didn’t know much about Sindarin music before, nor about Daeron. Lindir says he was one of the greatest musicians who ever lived.”
They had a good if edited grounding in Noldor history, and knew poetry and literature as well as music. Gentlemen’s pursuits, Galadriel had termed them in an argument with Círdan over his own education. They knew very little of their Sindarin background, both familial and general, though to give him his due, Maglor had told them about Lúthien and Beren.
“Almost as great as Maglor,” his brother said, with just a hint of censure. They exchanged looks, a flicker of eyes, but the first speaker said nothing.
“Maglor and Daeron were each great in his own way,” Lindir said firmly, setting the lyre down and picking up his lute. Cradling it lightly, he fingered the places where the strings attached, testing for something. Gil-galad thought he might have had this discussion before. “I never had the honour to hear Maglor, so I’m no judge. And yes, I had the lyre from Daeron, but I seldom play it and if I have to make a choice….”
“It’s an heirloom,” Gil-galad said at once. “Just wrap it well against the water and I’ll find someone to look after it. You can put a few of those in with it too,” he added, indicating a pile of small percussion instruments. He sat down next to Lindir as he talked, careful to keep a gap between them. He had no idea how much the boys knew about the ways of romance and other, baser, needs, and he had no plan to be the one to spark questions about the rightness of two men together that might or might not get back to Círdan.
“The drums can stay. Their voices are each special in its own right, but drums can be made, I understand drums,” Lindir said, talking mainly to himself. “The lute stays with me, I can’t imagine not having it, and the lap harp, but then there’s the formal harp – what will I do about the harp, Gil? It was my father’s. It’s heavy and takes up space…”
Gil-galad, who had come looking for respite in the midst of storm preparations, practiced patience. “You’re a bard, you must have a harp. What are we if our bard lacks a harp? We’ll work something out. If we go. It’s just an idea, nothing solid.”
“I’m a wandering musician who found a place here when life on the mainland grew too dangerous,” Lindir said, laughter in his voice. “Bard, indeed. You have to be old and vastly experienced to earn that title.”
“You’re experienced,” Gil-galad told him, tugging one of the small braids Lindir had worked into his otherwise unbound hair. “Been all over the place. By royal decree, you are now my official bard. That means if we leave, your harp travels with you on my ship. Come on, Lindir, I don’t get to claim a lot of privileges for people. Take it, it’s my gift.”
“Princes should give gifts and grant favours,” one of the twins said helpfully. “They need to be seen to be generous.” The words came out like a lesson well learned. Gil-galad had a moment of fellow feeling, he had been drilled similarly by Círdan.
“When is the storm due, sir?” asked the other boy. “They’re carrying the boats right up above the water. Will the sea be very high when it comes?” He said it with the relish Gil-galad expected from someone his age, the careful manners momentarily forgotten.
“It’s already beating on the rocks and the spray’s so high it’s hitting Doron the Weaver’s window,” his brother added.
“Which one of you is which?” Gil-galad asked. It came out harsher than intended and he felt them go still. Placatingly he added, “I’m getting tired of treating you like one person, that’s all.”
“Left is Elrond, right is Elros,” Lindir told him, barely glancing at them.
Elros pointed. “Elrond has a scar on his forehead, there. He fell when we were small.”
Elven skin healed seamlessly after a while, and scars faded. For the first time he was aware on a more visceral level of their mortal ancestry. He studied the scar so his eye would find it or its lack immediately in future and was about to say more when a terrible roaring, cracking noise filled the air. The boys started up like young deer, Lindir looked around sharply. “What in the Pit was that?”
“Not here. North of us. Far north,” Gil-galad said. “You hear things like that on the mainland, it’s getting worse now. If you go up to the watch tower you can sometimes see lighting inland, coming out of a clear sky. We’re far away though,” he added for the twins’ benefit, “it can’t affect us here.”
They were used to the winter storms that came off the sea and made it necessary to fasten things down, get the animals under shelter and beach the fishing boats while the longships would be anchored and buttressed to keep them from being smashed against the side of the quay. This time the preparations were more intense: shutters were nailed closed, anything that might blow around was already indoors, and all the animals, from chickens to goats to horses, were being sent into shelter.
Círdan was seeing to his Falathrim, leaving everyone formerly from Sirion and the worried Noldorin settlers from the west side of the island to Gil-galad. He was secretly relieved, it meant he could do things his way without having to fight for it. For hours now he had been carrying barrels, storing bags, and taking spur of the moment decisions on matters he knew next to nothing about, like chickens.
He was taking a short break, watching from the road above the harbour while parties of warriors dragged the longships up the ramp alongside the steps, struggling against the wind howling in from the mainland. There was a sudden vivid bolt of lightning followed by a crash of thunder and somewhere he heard horses whinnying in response.
"I was up at the watch point with the boys," Gildor said behind him, speaking under the sound of the wind. "If you look towards shore, you can see the land falling apart. There’s boulders dropping into the sea, and the mountains behind Sirion look wrong somehow. What in the Void are they doing?"
Gil-galad shook his head."They're breaking Endor, leaving Him no place to hide. Like smoking out a rat."
Gildor shot him a look from under lowered eyebrows. "They're prepared to spend an awful lot of lives to do it," he said expressionlessly. “There’s Avari, men and dwarves all over the place. But it’s outside our control, of course, just like the rest of this war.” He shrugged and added, "Artanis says to be sure the horses aren’t trapped in their stabling if anything goes wrong. I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I think I’ll try see to it anyhow, if that’s all right. You going down there to make encouraging noises?" he asked, indicated the pageant of straining muscles and grudgingly slow wood.
The people's king, the person he was trying to be. "That’s my job, yes. I’ll see you at dinner," Gil-galad said, extending a hand so they could clasp wrists. Smokey blue eyes met his and Gildor nodded before heading back up to the converted cave that served as winter stabling for the settlement’s horses, Finwë’s Aman born grandson, off to offer his services as a stable hand.
For the first time in memory the storm came from the north rather than the west, blinding streaks of lightning and rolling thunder carried on sheets of torrential rain. Cirdan’s house was set back into the hillside above the harbour and was normally sheltered, but this time it received the full brunt of the wind. Gil-galad, the twins and Gildor all lived there and had been joined by Celeborn and Galadriel, whose house was close to the water, and Erestor, whose clerical work for Círdan and Gil-galad meant he was there more often than in his own home.
They gathered in the Great Hall, the heart of the house, where people came to eat or sit by the fire and talk, where meetings of the war band were held and guests entertained. Its stone walls were covered with tapestries and pennants, and the wooden ceiling beams, which had to be brought over from the mainland, were a mark of position and wealth. It felt both solid and secure.
Dinner had involved plain fare and not much conversation. After, Gildor and Erestor went out to look at the storm while Lindir took up his usual station near the hearth, tuned his harp and started the new piece he was working on, the tale of Eärendil’s voyage and Elwing’s flight, his discreet way of giving the twins a Sindarin view of their history. Tonight he had to sing louder than usual to make his voice carry above the storm, and he stopped at one point to move away from the fire which was smoking. Still, Gil-galad found something very reassuring about him being there with his gift of song, the firelight gilding his light brown hair to brass and picking out the quick play of his fingers on the strings.
After a time the front door opened and was slammed shut with difficulty against the full force of the wind. The candles flickered, several going out. “You can’t imagine what it’s like out there,” Gildor told the room at large, running his hands over his face and hair, both of which were soaked. “Noise like you can’t believe, and I’ve never seen a storm like that, not even the night the Snow Fox ran aground.”
“You can’t see the harbour,” Erestor said, pushing back his hood and making for the fire. “The water’s already almost at the top of the steps. There’s roofs blown off– a beam nearly beheaded Gildor, he’s got instincts like a cat.”
Gil-galad went for the wine himself, pouring them both a cup. “Anyone hurt? They’re all meant to stay indoors.” He handed Gildor his wine and joined Erestor at the fire. Lindir let the words go for the time being and was playing soft runs as a background to conversation.
“Didn’t see a soul,” Erestor assured him. “We went as far as the sundial to get a look at the harbour. There’s – it’s almost like lightning trapped somewhere in the north, swirls and flares of light of all colours. It’s probably bright as day there, but you can’t see much here except when the lightning flashes. It’s black as the Void otherwise. I don’t think anyone would be stupid enough to leave home. Except us.”
“Couple of stray goats, that’s all,” Gildor added, joining them. He took Erestor’s cloak and hung it near the fire, placing his own beside it. “Lend you dry clothes? You can’t sit around in that.”
Whatever Erestor was about to say was lost in a massive boom of thunder that shook the house. The rain intensified and with it they became aware of another strange, grating noise that seemed to be coming out of the ground beneath them. Círdan crossed towards the door, but Celeborn moved to stop him. “No – whatever that is, no. Leave the door.”
There was something wrong with the timbre of the sounds outside, the wind could not quite mask a roar that had no place in anything Gil-galad held familiar. The rain was coming down harder, pounding on the roof, but there was something else… Lindir’s hand on his arm was immovable; it was a joke between them, the strength of a musician’s fingers. “You heard Lord Celeborn,” he said urgently. “Stay inside.”
“I need to see what’s going on,” Gil-galad snapped, disengaging the grip on his sleeve. “I’m responsible for…”
“You’re responsible for staying alive to lead us when the storm’s over,” Lindir retorted. He was almost shouting to make himself heard. Gildor, whose attention had been elsewhere, came up behind Gil-galad and grabbed his other arm.
“Come on, don’t be stupid. Tanis wants us all under the table, and I’m not arguing with her: I don’t have the Sight but the air feels wrong. Erestor? For once, don’t argue.”
Erestor shook back black curls, opened his mouth to say something, but a sound was coming towards them, louder, more powerful than the wind. Lindir pushed Gil-galad towards the sturdy table along one side of the room, and everyone, including Círdan, reached it in a rush. Galadriel already had the twins and the handful of staff who had dined with them under it and was waiting for her husband.
“What in the Void are we doing here, hiding like children?” Gil-galad muttered after a few minutes, during which everyone had tried to get comfortable while avoiding overly close proximity with anyone’s more personal parts.
“What were you thinking of doing out there, telling the wind to go sleep?” Galadriel asked mildly. “There is nothing any of us can do out there. Can you not feel the Vala moving? Let Ulmo hold his hand over us where he can. This is the thing I saw, that I showed to you, Ereinion. Be still. Wait.”
Lindir was close beside him. Círdan thoroughly disapproved their relationship, reminding Gil-galad at every chance that he would need to marry and produce an heir, but right now no one was very interested in what they did. Gil-galad put an arm round him and let the noise wash over him. Gildor and Erestor were rather less discreet, but then again they seemed to like being the local scandal. Suddenly Lindir startled him by pulling away and scrabbling out from under the table.
“What the – what are you doing?” Gil-galad had to follow him out to make himself heard.
“My harp. I’m not leaving it there!”
“Get back under there – listen to it, the roof’s about ready to come off or the windows break in. Your life’s worth more than a fucking harp!”
Lindir ignored him, heading across the room. Gil-galad felt someone behind him and was about to growl at whoever it was when he realised it was his aunt. “The candles,” she shouted near his ear. “Help me put them out. If one of them falls, the house will burn.”
“It’s stone, it won’t…”
Something solid struck one of the shutters and it shattered, flying back and letting in the night. Wind howled into the room and the darkness was lit by a sheet of white light. Gil-galad dived across the room and started putting out candles. Lindir was dragging the harp back with him, and Galadriel ran back to the table carrying a lamp. A spray of water struck Gil-galad and there was another crash of thunder almost but not quite drowning out the distant sound of rock cracking and splintering.
The roaring was closer now and he realised where he had heard its like before. It was the sound the waves made coming in on the rocks at high tide, only magnified a thousand fold. A chill went down his spine and hit the pit of his stomach. Quashing the urge to go take a quick look outside, he rejoined the others, the only point of light in the room now coming from Galadriel’s lamp. Every member of the House of Finwë left in Endor was sitting under Cirdan’s dinner table, waiting for the roof to blow in, he realised. He had an almost overwhelming urge to laugh.
There was no space next to Lindir now the harp was there, so he sat beside one of the twins instead. When the noise grew louder he put an arm round the boy’s shoulders and could feel the slight tremor that came and went. Lindir snaked over somehow and pressed against his other side, and Gil-galad put his free arm around him, seeking as much as offering comfort while the house seemed to rock on its foundations, furniture and other nameless things crashing around. The full fury of the storm screamed at them through the open window. He closed his eyes and waited for morning, or whatever might come before it.
Eventually, some time past the night’s midpoint, the thunder stopped and the wind eased a little. The sea was deafening, almost masking all other sounds. People fell asleep in the end, which was what usually happened no matter how great the danger. Unlikely comrades were leaning against one another, including Círdan and Barawen who cooked and kept order in the house. As he was starting to drift off, with either Elrond or Elros on one side and the summer scent of Lindir’s hair on the other, Gil-galad found himself wondering at that. It looked almost natural and come to think of it, she and Círdan seemed regularly to stop and share a joke or a few minutes of conversation. Sleep found him before he could follow the idea further and it was days before it came back to him.
Gil-galad woke to the sound of the wind, not the nightmare force of the previous night, just ordinary wind blowing the broken shutter back and forth. Dim light filtered in, and he disentangled himself from the twin – Elrond, he saw – and crawled over Lindir and out from under the table. Objects lay scattered about, he spotted candlesticks, a cup, a pile of cushions. When he got to his feet it was to find he wasn’t the first awake. Círdan stood by the window looking out. Gil-galad joined him, picking up a sodden scroll on his way. There was a chair atop the table, he noticed idly. Somehow he hadn’t heard it land.
Círdan gestured wordlessly outside. Across the room Gil-galad could hear yawns and low voices as others roused, but he couldn’t move away from the window. He stared in disbelief at the water that lapped halfway up the hill. Of the harbour there was no sight, nor of the houses that had been closer to the waterline, including Galadriel and Celeborn’s. He met his foster father’s eyes in the pre-dawn light. Of one accord they turned and made for the door. Before he was half way across the Hall, Gil-galad was running.
With morning’s arrival, survivors crept out of shelter to find themselves in a different world. Gil-galad’s first instinct was to make for the high ground and see how bad the damage had been. What he found left him stunned. The sea had covered much of Balar and slid grudgingly off her again to complete its headlong rush to land, leaving shells and seaweed and dead fish in its wake. Buildings were in ruin, bricks and timber scattered far beyond the town, water lay in great, muddy pools filled with debris, and over everything hung an eerie stillness. There was no sign of the harbour or the fishing village just around the cove, and the lower part of the town lay under the waves
At full light, he picked a few men with keen eyesight and sent them up to the watch tower, which had once offered a good enough view of Sirion to pick out the lights of cooking fires. There was nothing to be seen. During the night the sea had rushed in, and there was only an unending expanse of angry grey-blue that stretched from horizon to horizon where the land had been. Later in the day, taking time out from digging for people trapped by fallen masonry and checking the state of the surviving boats, Gil-galad went up there to see for himself.
Looking where Sirion had once been, he found himself thinking of all those nights filled with shaking and grumbling, the vast lightning storms inland, Had the sea rushed in and drowned the land, he wondered, or had they done something to break Beleriand, creating a space for the sea to fill? Whichever it was, he looked at the result and shuddered. At least for now, they were totally alone.
Shortly after sunrise, Gildor had taken one of the horses and set off across the island to see what he could find, as he put it. Gil-galad had tried to persuade everyone in the small settlements to come in to Pearly Bay, but there were always a few who knew better. Galadriel went with him. No one asked questions, they were Finwë’s grandchildren and had their own way of doing things. They returned that night grimly quiet, and they were alone.
The days following the cataclysm passed in a haze of organising shelter for the homeless, rounding up the remaining goats and horses and finding safe pasture for them, and getting repair teams to work on those boats that had survived the waves – some were little more than scattered splinters of wood. After dark there was nothing to do but sleep, there being no candles to spare for evening pursuits. The first night Gil-galad sat up talking with Lindir, Gildor and Erestor, but after the next day’s work, all he was interested in was sleep.
Círdan rounded up a few of his best sailors and took a boat round the island, assessing damage and loss, while Celeborn got the refugees from Doriath involved with caring for the animals and collecting a store of dry clothing to be shared out. They had been uneasy moving to the island in the first place and needed to be kept occupied. Lindir was assisting the three healers and had Elrond with him, mainly running errands. Elros, unasked, was helping look for survivors.
Many of the horses had got out of their stable and made their way to higher ground, but the rest had drowned as Galadriel had feared. The same held true for the goats. To his knowledge there were still several dozen chickens left on the island, but the sheep were also gone, swept away. Gil-galad set teams to dig group graves for elven victims, but the livestock posed a more complicated problem. Normally the carcases would be burned, but there was not the wood for pyres and the waterlogged ground made digging an energy-sapping chore.
Turning the problem over with Lindir at day’s end, he got more than the expected sympathetic ear. There were two kinds of musician, the airy dreamers and the ruthlessly practical, and he should have remembered Lindir was the unsentimental type with common sense solutions. His suggestion was simple if unelven. “Give them to the sea where it runs fastest away from us. Ossë should understand. If he doesn’t, he can come bury them himself.”
“Bite your tongue, he’ll hear you,” Gil-galad warned, only half joking. “And I can’t do that, it’s against nature.”
Lindir looked at him seriously. “You’ll have to do something, they’re starting to smell. Give it a week and some sunshine…”
In the end there were no other options. In the face of horrified resistance from the Falathrim, Gil-galad had the carcasses hauled to where the current ran strongest out to sea and thrown in. Prayer was not a steady habit of his, but he stood with bowed head at the water’s edge and asked Ossë’s forgiveness for the affront. No elf would deliberately sully clean water.
Days later, after yet another mass burial on the east side where the soil was easiest to dig, everyone gathered in what remained of Cirdan’s house, the first time they had all been together since the night of the storm. It was surprisingly easy to reach consensus for a change. Sitting on an upturned barrel that currently served as an extra chair, Círdan summed up what everyone was thinking.
“There is food but barely enough to go round and when it’s gone, the ground has effectively been salted. We’ll grow nothing more this season, nor the next. Water – we have two unpolluted wells. The third ran slow for a day before drying up. The water drains off somewhere else. There’s nothing to say it won’t happen again with the others. I doubt there’ll be more survivors. Balar is less than a quarter its original size, they’ve had time to find their way here. We have no choice, we have to leave.”
“All of us, or do we send a party out to find land first?” Celeborn asked. “Surely that would be wiser?”
“If there is land,” Erestor said quietly. He had charge of rationing food and had been nodding while Círdan spoke.
“There’s land,” Gildor told him with certainty.
“There’s a huge army somewhere in the north,” Galadriel agreed. “They would have been unlikely to drown themselves, Ingwion, Eönwë, my father. They broke the land and let the water in, but it would not have reached them.”
Lindir, there mainly because Gil-galad was there, glanced up from stringing his lute: The front room of his lodgings had survived and most of his instruments were safe, except for the drums which had been stacked on the floor, not shelved like the rest. “Dwarves and elves were living where there’s now water,” he said levelly. “Mortals, too. “
“It’s been a long war, Lindir,” Gildor said kindly. “It might have seemed the only way. And they’re not from here, in their eyes dwarves would be creatures of myth, dark elves little more than savages, living without the light of the Blessed Realm.”
Galadriel made a small sound that might have been a snort. Gil-galad cut in before the conversation got away from the main point. “I’ll not force anyone who’s determined to stay, but sending a party out with food and water for two weeks or whatever would just mean we’d be consuming here and we’d have little left when they came back for us. My choice would be to take all the boats left to us, bring along as much food and water as we can stow on board and go look for land.”
“You mean to follow the army into the north?” Círdan asked, frowning. “That’s a long road no matter how it’s travelled. They were well beyond Doriath.”
Gil-galad shook his head. “Not due north. Laegon watched the water coming in till his nerve broke, he thinks we just caught the edge of it. I think – I think if we head east, it would give us our best chance.”
“You’d risk all our lives on a guess?” Círdan asked sharply, and Gil-galad immediately bristled.
“North-east,” Galadriel said, cutting into the tense silence, and they all turned to look at her. She had claimed one of the few surviving chairs, and despite her clothes being stained and torn and her hair held back with a piece of cloth tied into a rough bow, she looked unworried, almost serene, still a princess of the Noldor from beyond the Great Sea. Her brothers had died, her cousins had failed, but she was still there.
Gil-galad glanced at Lindir, who looked down and tried a cord very softly. His eyes found Erestor instead, who was noted for his common sense, even though it failed to extend to Gildor. Erestor looked a question, but said nothing. “There’s land there, Aunt?” Gil-galad asked, listening with more than his ears.
“North-east,” she repeated. Her face was expressionless, her voice sounded far away and there was a glow about her, a shimmer to her eyes, that was no trick of the light. “There is a new land waiting for you there, with clean water and tall mountains. And music.”
The Great Sea
Whenever he thought back to it, the departure was a nightmarish blur in Gil-galad’s mind of collecting food and water, reassuring people of all ages and stations, getting potential leaks plugged as best was possible under the circumstances and creating a temporary pier now that there was no harbour left on Balar. Gildor took over the vital task of counting people into boats, making sure everyone was accounted for, with Erestor doing a second check. They spent so much of their time in banter that it surprised some to find how well they worked together.
Some of the Teleri still chose to remain on Balar. Círdan spoke to them, explaining the high chance that another wave might engulf the island and also that it would be some while before anyone came back for them, but these were elves who had lived on the Holy Isle long before the Noldor arrived or the refugees from lost Doriath, and were loathe to leave their home. Barawen mentioned staying to look after them as her father was amongst their number, and Gil-galad took a moment to grin privately at his foster father’s forceful response to the idea. Barawen came with them.
Once the mismatched flotilla of warships, traders and fishing boats put out to sea, things weren’t much better. There were voices calling ship to ship, the sound of the timekeepers giving the count for the rowers and trying not to confuse one another, these were all normal. What wasn’t were children and a few adults crying and the sounds of the horses on the two trading ships given over to them and a few brave grooms. Horses would be needed once they landed, and he had refused to leave them on Balar to starve.
There was talk of roping the vessels together but Círdan only allowed it for the small fishing boats that had somehow survived and were being used to carry supplies. They had no idea what the night or the following day would bring, he reasoned, and ropes would keep them from being manoeuvrable, which was one of the warships’ strong points. They rode an unquiet sea under a cloud-darkened sky and waited as the night drew in and the air grew colder.
After sparse rations had been shared out and the wine gone around – no more than two mouthfuls each, to make it last –a voice rose unexpectedly in song, offering a prayer to Uinen, Lady of the Seas and asking her good opinion, followed by a gentle ballad about summer and love. Lindir was amidships, sitting on one of the benches where normally rowers rested, and was accompanying himself sparsely on his lap harp. Gil-galad could feel the listening, not only in the men around him, warriors but no less terrified by this leap into the dark on an empty sea, but also from the nearby ships as well. A child who had been crying on and on stopped, the sobs trailing off into silence and voices began to still.
The wind had risen again, moving the clouds along. Looking up, Gil-galad saw a single bright star shining down on them. Half smiling he pulled his cloak tighter about him, trying to keep out the spray, and let the music sink into his soul, weaving its peace. Knowing when his talents were needed was one of Lindir’s many gifts.
The next morning found them still with no sight of land, no matter what experience and sun sightings might suggest to the contrary. Gil-galad couldn’t get his mind around the scale of the disaster and knew he wasn’t alone. Sometimes not understanding was best, he decided. Meanwhile, there was relief in the routine essential to life on board ship. They established an order for who rowed, who rested, for how long, meal times were decided by shouting from ship to ship, and between them Erestor and Círdan arranged a system of reporting in so that no one could vanish unnoticed, especially after dark. Days passed that later seemed to blend into one another until there was only the day they left, followed by an in-between time of barely suppressed fear, and then, finally, journey’s end.
The land when they reached it was strange and jagged, with angular cuts exposing white cliffs, and waves leaping high as though against an unexpected barrier. There were no recognisable landmarks, which hardly surprised anyone. Standing in the prow, Gil-galad considered his choices. It had taken them till near dusk to draw close enough to make out features and he thought it best to approach this new challenge by daylight. There was movement close by, then Lindir came to stand beside him. There was no privacy at sea, which meant there was no point to pretending they knew each other less well than in fact they did. “The birds are back,” Lindir said. “Not many, only gulls, but still.”
The musician wore Gil-galad's cloak drawn over one shoulder, a gift to keep out the cold while he led the singing each night. He pointed up towards the sun, his light brown hair falling over his shoulders, caught back roughly, half braid, half tail. “There’ve been none till now, I thought you’d noticed. The fishermen were worried about it.”
Gil-galad couldn't say he had given birds much thought. There were always birds at sea, the gulls and other shore dwellers close in, the great creatures of the deep like cormorants and even albatrosses when you ventured into far waters. They came to fish and stayed for scraps and their cries were amongst the loneliest in the world. He started to shake his head, then understood. "No - there've been none since we left Balar, have there?"
"Not one. I've travelled along the coast and quite a distance out to sea and I can't ever remember there being no birds."
Gil-galad counted the days they’d been on the water, sailing over the places where there had been forests, mountains, open plains. "Too far to fly, nowhere to land," he said at last, awed horror stirring in him.
"Their homes vanished in the storm. Those that took flight had nowhere to land after. Maybe some made it, but..."
"But an entire generation of seabirds might have perished in one night," Gil-galad finished quietly.
"All because they wanted to catch Him so badly that nothing was more important. The warrior’s way – destroy anything, kill anyone who stands in your way…"
"We’re not all like that," Gil-galad said quietly, though his thoughts were elsewhere. If the birds were gone, what else had been lost, never to return? "Those who follow me aren’t like that. It’s as Gildor says though, this isn't their land, it was the Enemy's playground and they treat it as such. Even we are barely incidental." The warning had been late coming, an afterthought almost. He could picture his aunt's lip curling when he raised it with her later. The short time she had spent in her father’s camp had left her bitter and sceptical about their so-called rescuers.
"Will we be able to land here?" Lindir asked, sensing it was time to change the subject.
The question brought Gil-galad back to current concerns. "I’ve already had them signal Círdan, we’ll wait for dawn so we can see what we're getting into," he said. "Also there’s nowhere to land along here, just sheer cliff. We'll have to follow it a way, try and find a beach."
"It takes waves and weather and time to make beaches, we might be sailing a while still." Lindir's face was deadpan, but his green eyes danced. Gil-galad had an almost overwhelming urge to lean in and kiss him, but there were limits on how public they could be. He settled instead for reaching out and trying to tidy the salt tangles from Lindir’s hair.
"That’s us, living in hope. There's been waves and weather enough. Who know? It might make up for the lack of time."
They travelled along the coast for three days. There were no bays, just ugly gashes in the cliff with churning white water and jagged rocks. Without fuss, Erestor cut their rations down further; there was no way of knowing how long they would have to stay aboard. Gil-galad wondered if crossing the Helcaraxë had been like that, food portions getting smaller as the distance expanded into an unknown quantity.
The birds followed them hopefully, their numbers nothing like the usual cacophony to be found along more familiar shores. Lindir made songs about them, happy songs about lifting on air currents or swooping on careless fish. He sang about forests too, and cool streams, and walking through long grass with a lover. He had developed a routine of his own. Just after dark, when they had finished their meagre meal and mothers were busy settling the children, he started tunes everyone knew and could sing along with, and this continued into the night, the threads moving from ship to ship as voices rose above the waves and crossed the water, weaving a web of song that bound them all together more surely than any rope.
Later, much later, as voices started dropping out, he would turn to songs he made himself, about simple things they had all known and would know again when they finally left the ocean's embrace. Sometimes, very late, he would offer one of the sagas, a story of heroes in battle or a love tale like that of Beren and Lúthien, and those were the ones that soothed and brought sleep closer. During the day he was quiet, watching and resting, but at night Lindir was their anchor.
"Sire, Lord Círdan says to look up ahead!"
Gil-galad turned to look where the sailor was pointing, and a huge weight he had no idea he was carrying lifted from his heart. They were rounding a point and up ahead was what they had been looking for, a bay backed by tall, weathered mountains. He heard shouting and looked around in time to see one of the small boats break away from the flotilla and begin rowing shoreward. He recognised Gildor’s burnished head amongst the rowers and grinned; he doubted it had been Cirdan’s choice to send out a royal landing party. As always, Gildor was a law unto himself.
The boat didn’t land. They rowed in close to shore then turned and came back, manoeuvring in to keep pace between Gil-galad and Cirdan’s longships.
"There’s even a river," Gildor shouted. "Comes down from a gap in the mountains and empties into the bay. There's place to beach the small boats up ahead and the river looks deep enough to anchor in. What do you think?"
The question was rhetorical, but Gil-galad took it at face value. "Go back ahead of us, land and take a proper look around. This might be the place."
The place for what? he asked himself. To pause? To take on water and perhaps hunt some game? Or the place to start anew, rebuild now that all they had known was gone and there was no home to return to. Time would tell.
They followed Gildor’s boat in towards the river. Gil-galad wasn’t really surprised to see Erestor was behind him, sitting up on the rim in the stern, his head back, black hair streaming in the wind.
He was watching the twins over on Cirdan’s ship pointing out features on the shore and laughing when a cascade of harp cords made him turn. Lindir was on his favourite bench looking out at the new land, his fingers busy. He was playing with many of the themes Gil-galad had learned to recognise and look for in his lighter music: flights of birds, dancing waters, rustling leaves; but now there was something more, a strong, deep swell of joy.
"You think this might be our new home?" he asked, going over to join him.
Lindir glanced at him, his eyes sparkling, then back to the land with its strip of green up against the blue mountains and its broad river. "There's water," he said. "And it's fertile. And the mountains rise like a wall behind it, while the sea protects it from the front."
"The sea was no protection to Sirion or Balar," Gil-galad said quietly.
Green eyes met his steadily. "The sea did not rise up against us of its own accord, Gil. It will be different here. I think I know where we are. I wondered when the Lady described it – clean water, tall mountains. And music.”
Gil-galad thought about this. “Mountains, yes. And the water’s fast flowing, it should be clean. We’ll find out when we land. I didn’t understand what she meant by music at the time though, and I still don’t.”
Lindir left off playing and rose. He slid his arm through Gil-galad’s, and they watched together as the shore drew nearer. “I was born in the north, near Nevrast, but most of my family have lived in the Seven Rivers since King Denethor’s passing. I’ve visited them twice. Remember the spring songs? That’s where I learned them. It’s the land where the green elves sing, the land of the singers. Music, you see? That’s where we are, I recognise the mountains. You would call it Lindon. ”
They watched Gildor’s boat being run up the small strip of beach, saw him wave. There was a change in the pace of the oars and then the sail master came over to them. “Sire, Lord Círdan signals we’re to go ahead.”
First to land was the king’s prerogative. Gil-galad stepped back, stretched, straightened. “Raise the standards, Bronio,” he told the mariner. “All of them - mine, Gondolin’s, Doriath’s. Eärendil’s colours. May as well start this right. If we’re to settle here, we have to share the land, it has to be a home to everyone. Then take us up the river, see what the anchorage is like. Let’s go take a look. My bard tells me this will be our new home.”
The only sounds to be heard in the passages and hallways of the palace were the hiss of torches and the shushing of the sea. Gil-galad walked quietly, his footsteps slow, pausing occasionally to look out a window at the moonlit garden. Finally he reached his destination, let himself in the room and closed the door carefully. Lindir had left for bed more than an hour earlier and might be asleep.
He needn't have worried, a couple of lute cords reached him before he had a chance to pass through the comfortable sitting room to the bedroom. Lindir sat in the middle of the big bed, legs crossed, the lute on his lap. A group of candles burned near the bed, casting light on the papers that were spread out before him. He was leaning slightly forward, frowning, and only glanced up briefly. Another string of notes followed.
Gil-galad was used to this; he got on with divesting himself of his formal outer garments, like the jewelled, embroidered surcoat and court shoes, dropping items onto a handy chair. Lindir finally straightened up. "And so? What did they say after I left?"
Gil-galad dropped down onto the bed making it creak and sprawled across it. He liked Lindir's bed, preferred its size and rich green and gold drapes to his own. "Oh, exactly what they said to your face," he assured him. "Everyone was in awe. You brought the whole thing back for those of us who was there and painted pictures for everybody else. Think my favourite bit was when the storm hit and we had to take shelter. You managed to make hiding under a table sound almost heroic."
Lindir’s lips curved, green eyes sparkling. "Well, I thought to put in a bit about how the King had to be restrained from rushing out into the storm to rescue all of Balar single handed, but I could just hear Gildor on the subject after."
"Would have liked just to take a look," Gil-galad admitted, picking up a sheet of paper and turning it to study the marks. "But you were pretty firm on the subject. Also was worried I wouldn’t get the door shut again if I opened it. Where's this from?"
"Don't mix them up, I need to number them still,” Lindir said in alarm, checking which one Gil-galad had taken. "One of my students was in the north with Prince Celeborn and heard it there. He sent it along with their party."
Gil-galad nodded, studying the marks further. "It's - almost like a code, isn't it?"
"That's what Erestor said. He was very interested, but then his mind works in strange ways. Can't imagine why anyone would want a code for writing. He looked nice tonight - are the sapphires new?"
"Gildor. Always brings something back with him."
"Thought so. Well, he'll be in a better mood for a while anyhow. That business about it being how they are and it not bothering him when Gildor's away is nonsense."
"He's happy enough tonight," Gil-galad laughed. "Said the song brought back some interesting memories. They were taking a jug of wine down to the beach when I left."
"That's typical." Lindir shook his head smiling, then moved the lute onto the floor, leaning against the bed, and started gathering up the pages. "I want to work on the annotation when I have a chance, there's still too much guesswork involved in this. Tonight wouldn't be a good time, would it?"
Gil-galad moved up the bed, sorted out a heap of pillows and leaned back against them. "Don't think so, no. You need to sleep sometimes. And other things."
"Other things? Like?" Lindir leaned on his hand, looking down at Gil-galad. "And I like how you just wander in here and take over my bed."
"My palace," Gil-galad said in a satisfied voice. He reached out, wound a lock of Lindir's hair round his fingers and pulled gently. "My bard, too. Come here and be congratulated on a wonderful job well done."
"You liked my music?" Lindir asked softly, leaning closer so that his hair brushed Gil-galad's face. It smelt of summer herbs and sunshine.
"Loved your music," he said quietly, reaching up to cup Lindir's cheek. "The memory’s painful, but it’s something we’ve shared, a part of the thread that holds us together. Come, time to make music of a different kind. A duet."
"Something personal?" Lindir asked with a slow smile, finally moving close enough to be kissed. "I'm sure that can be arranged. I might even be willing to take requests."