The air had turned to a whip and the rain to biting insects, and both lashed at the small craft. A single sailor fought the rig and rudder, although the boat would have accommodated two or three more. He wished for them then, and wished them more experienced at sea than himself, for he had thought to have an easy week's sailing and the favor of the Valar. Grimly he fought on; it had ever been his nature to continue despite poor odds and certain defeat.

* * *

"Hathil, there is a boat drifting offshore near the point."

He looked up at that, and then out over the water. The sun was bright and the sea was calm, but he saw nothing. He turned back to the excited boys. "I do not see it. Is it one of the trader's craft?" Traders came from the sea infrequently, and were viewed with suspicion as strangers, but were always welcome nonetheless for what they brought.

"It is very strange, not like their boats at all! Galan and I saw it from the hill, and there is no one aboard. Look!" They tugged him urgently along towards the low bluff that marked the east end of the seaside village, but before they started to climb, the boat drifted into view: a small, graceful craft, with something odd about her sail.

"Hmmm. Torn loose from her moorings somewhere in that storm some days ago? You lads row out to it, and see if you can bring it in to salvage." He glanced toward the youths occasionally while he worked mending his net, and as their rowboat approached the strange sailboat. He watched with approval as Hadad came alongside smoothly, reaching for the coil of rope. Something changed then in his posture, and his movements and those of Galan became more urgent. Was the boat foundering? Hadad had made fast the rope, and began to work the unfamiliar craft toward shore, towing the small rowboat. The two wallowed into shore, and Hadad jumped off in the shallows, waving his arm to beckon as he neared.

"Hathil, come quickly." He approached the sailboat, looking for what had occasioned the youths' urgency. The craft was beautifully made and detailed, painted with strange and haunting curved motifs. She was rigged with two sails, not one, and the shape of the sails was different from the normal rectangle; instead they tapered at the top and were broad at the bottom. In the boat lay a... not-man.

He breathed, but it was rapid and harsh, and his head tossed from side to side, and he made hoarse sounds. But his face was...strange. Strangely beautiful for a man, as if it could not decide to belong to a man or woman, yet he was unquestionably masculine. And the ears, they were pointed. A very strange creature indeed. And if he was any judge of such things, a very sick creature. The mouth was dry, the lips cracked, and the skin was slack. There were both a large and small vessel on the deck, empty; and he saw no sign of any other water container.

"Lad, give me your flask." Hadad handed it over, eyes wide. Hathil unstoppered it and trickled a bit of water over the lips of the moaning being. It seemed to be welcome, and the stranger swallowed. Hathil turned to his companions. "Go to where they are harvesting, and call for men to help, and something to bear him on. We will take him to Ithwen; her cottage is close and he will need nursing. If Gundor is not at the harvesting, one of you go and find him after you send the others over." While he waited, he slowly trickled more water into the mouth of the strange one. All was eagerly swallowed. The creature attempted to speak, but only hoarse sounds issued from his mouth. "Shhh," Hathil tried to soothe him, and offered him further small amounts of water.

Hadad ran back to him eagerly. "Gundor is hunting and may not return tonight. Galan will tell him when he returns. The others are coming." Hathil could see three of the villagers walking toward him from the fields, carrying a lashed frame.

The foremost came up to the edge of the stranger's craft and looked at the creature. "What is it?" he asked, face fearful.

"I do not know, Magan, but whatever he is, he sailed this craft, and he will die of thirst if we do not help him. He may die even so," Hathil said, impatiently.

"How do we know what manner of being this is? It could be a creature of the shadow, sent to do evil."

"He does not look evil," said one of the others. "And see the painting on the craft and the carvings; this does not look like what is told of the power in the East, but more like the markings on the ancient knife of Gundor's."

"We can talk about such things later. We must get him to where he can be cared for," Hathil insisted.

"But why should we care for the creature at all?" asked the third man. "Even if it is not of the shadow, it might still be an enemy, in any case no business of ours. It is clearly not human. Leave it until Gundor can tell us what to do!"

Hathil took a deep breath to still his anger. "And if Gundor does not return tonight? I will not leave him to die untended. I would not let a deer or rabbit suffer so. And I would fear to ever go out on the water again if I did not do my best for another who sails the sea." His voice strengthened. "Now help me lift him."

"What if it is healed, and then we find it has power and will do us ill?" whispered Magan.

"And if others of his kind come seeking him? Will you be the one to stand before them and say, 'we gave no help or comfort'?" Hathil said with some force. Then, more softly, "Look at this workmanship, surely that is not the work of dark creatures; and the tales say there are strange Men oversea, and even Elves; and those are not evil."

They rolled him on his side, Hathil gently, the other two hesitantly, with Magan choosing to take charge of the litter rather than touch the alien flesh. At Hathil's direction he slid one side beneath the stranger and the others rolled the unresisting body to lie on his back atop the frame. It took their combined strength to lift the litter from the boat, but once on more even ground, they found their charge no heavy burden.

They bore him to old Ithwen's cottage, sending Hadad running ahead to warn the healer. She met them as they trod the path through the tidy garden, and leading the group to the weathered wooden door her eyes lingered curiously on the stranger.

"Bring him inside and lay him on the bed here. Fill as many vessels with water as you can; we will wash the salt spray off him as well." She took the flask from Hathil with her age spotted hands, and continued to drip the cool liquid into his mouth. He was thrashing a bit now, hands trying to reach for something unseen. Ithwen put one hand on his shoulder, then stroked his hair gently, as one would a young child or puppy. "There, there, strange one, rest; settle and drink slowly," and her words had a soothing sing-song quality, as she continued to help him drink. She nodded to the youth, and to a stack of clean cloth on the table. "Take one, wet it, and start washing him. Gently, mind you."

Between Hathil and Hadad they removed the salt crusted clothing. The garments were as unusual as the being who wore them. They were in the colors of nature, but the cloth was subtle, rich, and soft; and the lines were flowing and beautiful. When he was clean, Ithwen motioned Hadad to cover him with a light blanket. She directed them all, never ceasing her task of placing spoonfuls of water in the stranger's mouth.

"You aren't afraid to stay with him?" Magan asked. Ithwen shook her head, and motioned the group to the door. The others left, but Hathil sat by her as she worked, refilling her flask as needed, and then taking over from time to time.

As if the pressure had finally forced it from him, Hathil asked, "Have I done right, Ithwen? Magan feared him, and did not want to take him in, he feared this one might be a servant of shadow."

Ithwen snorted and shook her head. "As little as I know of this I know better than that! See how fair his face? The trader's tales speak of Elves thus. I would believe him one of them."

If anyone would know the trader's tales, Hathil reflected, it would be Ithwen. There were few enough places for travellers in the village; if no one was ill the extra bed in Ithwen's cottage was much desired by weary traders, better than the stables or floor. She was too old for anyone to take it amiss for her to guest a man, and he suspected that even were that not the case, Ithwen would still do as she pleased.

When a fair quantity of water had been swallowed, the not-man seemed to improve a bit. He still could not speak more than hoarse sounds, and there was not recognition in his eyes, but he could hold the flask and drink; indeed he would have drunk far too fast had not Ithwen only allowed small amounts in the flask as she refilled it periodically.

"Can not he have more by now? I feel for his thirst and am hard pressed to withhold the water," Hathil observed, somewhat shamefaced.

"Ah, that is why I am the healer instead of you. He would have vomited all that he took in by now had he only you to help him." She glared at him, but he knew better than to think her truly angry.

"And do you not have things to tend to?"

Hathil thought of the garden, which could wait to be weeded, and the small boat which was up on the sand with the partly-mended net; of the empty, small cottage he had built so happily but two years ago whose empty space no longer beckoned him home. He shook his head. "I can stay."

By evening there were a few quarts of water inside the stranger, as well as some broth, and he slept. He had seemed to be more cognizant of his surroundings in the last hour before he drifted off to sleep. Ithwen had remarked with satisfaction that his breathing had slowed, and his heart no longer raced. She handed Hathil cheese and bread, after which he reluctantly departed, Ithwen's words in his ears, "Go home, get some sleep. You can come again tomorrow, like enough we'll have plenty to do by morning if he doesn't start making sense."

The morning found Ithwen still sitting at the bedside. The stranger slept, and her heart rejoiced that it appeared to be a natural sleep, breathing no longer labored. Not that I'm sure what is natural to his kind, but it does look better, more comfortable. In her mind she named him 'Golden One' for the color of his hair, and the faint, soft shine that seemed to come from his skin.

* * * * *

This was not the Halls of Mandos.

To wake there now would indeed be a pointless jest. He thanked the Valar that such an ill chance had not been allowed to occur, though if it had, doubtless Olórin would have explained why it was for a good reason, in between his laughter. He did not know if this body would prove more durable than the last, but he had no wish to test it, and find himself back with Mandos.

He was in a rough dwelling, but shelter nonetheless. Bunches of dried plants hung from the ceiling - for decoration or scenting, for healing or food - he knew not.

But if decoration, whoever had arranged it was not of the Quendi. Even the Avari could not so lose their sense of pattern and flow and the harmony of what is beautiful.

The dwelling had not the dark feel of the followers of Morgoth, nor the appearance of the halls of the Naugrim. He turned his head and focused on the beings in the cottage with him. One had skin that was wrinkled and sallow and had lost the glow of health. Her hair was white, but not the silver of the Teleri; rather it was like that of a Númenórean who was close to the time of accepting the Gift. If she was a child of Elros, or of his line, she might be four centuries old, but if of less high blood, two and a half centuries, perhaps. He recalled then that the ones left behind, those who did not dwell near the grace of the Valar, had shorter lives: one century, he had heard; that was all they could hope for. So short a time for them to learn and live, leaving just as a child of the Eldar was barely mature.

The other in the room looked to have the years of a young Elf, one barely an adult, equivalent to a century and a half, though more sorrow lay in his eyes than would be common to the Firstborn of that age.

These Edain had taken him from the ship or the sea, and they had protected and succored him. He lay in a soft bed, and though his lips were yet dry, the intense thirst of his last memory was slaked; someone had given him water during the time of which he knew nothing.

* * * * *

By the time the old woman had eaten and done the simple morning tasks, Hathil was calling from the doorway, and the stranger was stirring. Life came into his bright green eyes and he looked about him, until his gaze fell upon Ithwen. He studied her, and Hathil, and the simple furniture of the cottage, and its rafters hung with drying herbs. After clearing his throat, he spoke the first words they had heard from him. "Hannon le, mellon nîn." The harsh croak of yesterday was much softer, and the voice held a hint of bells.

Ithwen looked at him blankly. Hathil said, "We don't speak that tongue."

The Golden One's green eyes lit with understanding, and he tried other sounds. Finally he hit on something that sounded half familiar. Some of the words were recognizable, if very accented. "I give you my thanks."

They asked him questions and it was clear he did not comprehend much of what they said. He was able to tell them he had come over the sea, but he tired rapidly and it was little enough they understood, although Hathil thought it was not the language so much as the facts they did not understand. Ithwen sent him away to take care of his chores, and let the stranger sleep again after she fed him. When he woke from his strange eyes-open sleep the second time, she tried again.

His speech was clearer now, and he seemed quick to imitate her way of speaking, so that the words were not so accented. They spoke of simple things; his bodily needs, appreciation for her soup, and comments on his returning strength. Her curiosity was sharp, but she knew well enough Gundor would want to be there for the satisfaction of it.

She turned instead to the practical, helping him to sit in a chair after giving him some clean simple clothing. He dressed calmly, seemingly unbothered by her presence. She had become so used to thinking of him as 'Golden One' that it slipped out in the course of their talk.

"You smile when I call you that. You have yet to tell me another name to call you."

The corners of his mouth curved a bit more. "Glorfindel."

"Glorfindel?" she tried the unfamiliar name carefully.

"It means 'golden hair' in our tongue, Híril," he said, and there was amusement in his voice, and perhaps a bit of mischief in his eyes.

She laughed, delighted that the legends of Elves were wrong about their stern manner.

Hathil came again in the afternoon, eager to see how his rescued stray fared. They spoke together, and Glorfindel's speech became easier to understand as they talked. "How came you to learn to speak our language?"

"This is the language of the men of Westernesse, of Numénor. I traveled most of the way across the sea on one of their great ships, and learned much of their language. But they were sailing to Vinyalondë, which men now call Lond Daer, and I desired to travel to Lindon, so we parted company. The Numenoreans call their language Adûnaic and it is close to your tongue. Your people must be of their kin."

Ithwen broke in, "You were in grave danger only yesterday. You must rest more, and drink more. In fact I'm amazed that you look as good as you do."

"Those of my kindred heal fast." He paused. "In politeness, what may I call you, Híril?"

Hathil stifled a snicker, as Ithwen said, "It's so long since anyone round here has been polite, I wouldn't know. Best you call me Ithwen." She spoke briskly, but smiled a little, a hint of warning. Dragon scale under coarse burlap.

"Our head man, Gundor, he will want to meet you," Hathil said. He kept his tone very neutral, information being given, nothing more.

The other's eyes met his, knowing; but calm, not fearful or offended. "I will be pleased to meet him whenever he desires."

* * *

"Hannon le, mellon nîn" - Thank you, my friend
"Híril" - Lady