The winter sea rolled in from the Gulf of Lhûn, iron-gray waves curling with white foam, to lap restlessly against the docks of Grey Havens. Wind saturated with moisture, with the taste of salt, sand and pitch, rose to meet the storm as the Havens waited under a lowering sky. In the shipyards, the wrights put away their tools and drew tarpaulins over their unfinished work to secure until they could return, while at anchor the finished vessels bobbed on the current that lapped at the piers; the hithlain lines would hold them fast in the tempest.
Círdan lifted his face to taste the fine drizzle before going inside. A moist finger tested the direction of the wind; it came from the west rather than the chill north. Intuitively he knew it would not be a severe storm, certainly not enough to hinder the coming or going of the visitors who required his attention.
Three awaited him in his study. The two who stood at attention by the door wore the blue and white and gold livery of the High King's guards, but the third, who sat in a chair by the window, was plainly garbed in gray and black. As Círdan entered, he rose and laid his hand over his breast in greeting.
"Mae govannen, thavron-hîr," the man said.
"Él síla lúmena vomentienguo, Ereinion." His former ward might speak to him in Sindarin, but when it came to formal matters of greeting or blessing, Círdan was obstinate in his use of Telerin, even with the High King of the Noldor himself. "What brings you to the Havens with such weather threatening, mellon-nín?"
"A matter that cannot wait for more pleasant weather," answered Gil-galad. Turning his head slightly, he motioned to the guards. "Taurnil, Erellont, wait for me outside."
"Aran-nín--" one of them began. Gil-galad cut the guard's protestations short with a curt gesture.
"If I am not safe in the company of the Lord of the Havens, then I am not safe anywhere. Leave us now, and wait outside with Master Elrond."
Círdan patiently waited for the guards to withdraw before addressing the High King again. "This must be a great matter indeed, Ereinion, if you must send them away. And I do not think it is a matter requiring the services of a shipwright, for when you left Balar you told me you had had quite enough of the Sea."
Gil-galad took his seat again, urging Círdan to join him. "It is true, the Sea has never fired my blood as it does yours. And you are right, it is not a shipwright's talents of which I have need."
Shedding his oilskin slicker, Círdan claimed the chair behind his desk. He noted how strained and tired Gil-galad seemed. Lindon was not far enough from the Havens for Círdan to attribute his guest's exhaustion to the journey. He offered Gil-galad a glass of miruvor, the cordial made by the vintners of Imladris, which Círdan gave to his shipwrights to fortify them as they worked the docks in the harsh winter weather.
Gil-galad waved the offer aside. "Tell me," he said, "what do you know of the rings made by Celebrimbor?"
"Celebrimbor? That is a name I have not heard in well-nigh seventeen centuries, mellon-nín. While Ost-in-Edhil yet stood, I had few dealings with the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, save when I needed nails or rivets for shipbuilding. As for their other works, I know not. Of rings and other jewels I have never had need. But why do you ask me?"
"Know you where the Three went?" Gil-galad's voice grew soft as he spoke, yet as his tone softened his speech became more compelling. This was a trick of his Círdan knew well, and knew he used it only in matters of great importance. "The Three Sauron never touched?"
Why does he ask this of me, speaking as if I might have some secret knowledge? Then, remembering his foster-son's other rhetorical habits, he smiled. "That knowledge never passed to me, but you are going to tell me what became of them, are you not?"
Gil-galad answered with a heavy sigh. "I could never hide anything from you, could I, you old salt?"
"I have lived far too long to be fooled by an impertinent Noldo pup like you." An affectionate smile twitched the corner of Círdan's mouth. "I would laugh, Ereinion, but something tells me this is a heavy matter. You would not speak the name of Celebrimbor so lightly."
"Yes, it is a heavy matter, indeed." Gil-galad shifted in his chair to reach into a fold of his clothing. From it he drew a small velvet pouch; he undid the drawstring and let a gleaming object fall into his hand. "Here, this is what I wished you to see."
The object was a ring, a simple band of gold set with a dark cabochon ruby. It stirred no particular admiration from Círdan, for he had little use for ornaments, but as he held it the ring began to stir something else within him. Power tweaked the edge of his consciousness; the gold felt warm in his hand.
"Its name is Narya," said Gil-galad. "It is the Ring of Fire."
A name well-bestowed, for Círdan felt the heat radiating from within, though something told him the Fire it stirred was far more than physical. Taking his eyes from it, he looked at Gil-galad. "I gave little thought to the Three, yet it does not surprise me that Celebrimbor sent one to you for safekeeping."
Now it was Gil-galad's turn to smile, and he gave a little laugh. "Not one did he send me, but two. Vilya I have also in my keeping. The third, Nenya, is in Lothlórien. You are the only one, save Elrond and Galadriel, to whom I have disclosed this knowledge."
"Does it burden you so much, that you are compelled to tell another? Wise you have been to keep this hidden, even from me, but I would not have you share this knowledge. Something tells me there is both great good and evil in this Ring."
"Celebrimbor told me that whoever wore Narya would have the power to kindle the inner fire of others, to stir them to hope or valor, and that he should wield this power according to his stature," Gil-galad explained.
"A gift worthy of a High King," said Círdan, "to stir the hope of your people where they have none."
"But one I dare not wield. For although Sauron's hand never touched them, the Three are yet bound to the One, to the Ruling Ring. Should I wear Narya, should I wield it openly, the Dark Lord would become aware of it, and great evil would come of it."
Círdan once again peered at the Ring, trying to fathom the power and mystery that lay at its blood-red heart. He had never understood the craft of Celebrimbor, or of Fëanor before him, the need to infuse a spirit into something inanimate. Into his ships, the work of his own hands, he poured the living spirits of water and wind, mingling it with the spirit of the wood itself. His craft was merely a marriage of shaping and awakening; he did not seek to alter nature, forcing a spirit into something where it was not meant to be.
As he started to give back the Ring, Gil-galad took his hand and gently but firmly closed the fingers around Narya's warmth. "Nay, I am entrusting it to you, adar-nín."
It had been a long time, nearly three thousand years, since Gil-galad last called him that; when he had protested, Gil-galad told him that he did not remember Fingon well enough to call him father. Still, he respected Círdan's wishes, until now. How great a matter it must be for him to appeal to me by calling me thus. "Ereinion, I cannot. I do not have any use for such a thing."
"All the better, then, that you should keep it. You will not be tempted to use it, and the Enemy will never learn of it."
Círdan looked up from the hands clasping his and gazed into the gray depths of Gil-galad's eyes. Under the resolve that shaped the personality of the High King was a sorrow and weariness Círdan had seen few times before. "Ereinion, I do not like the look in your eyes. Many times I have seen it, in those who come here on their way over the Sea."
His concern was answered by a short, sharp laugh. "Think you that I have come seeking passage to Valinor, when so much work remains? Nay, in the spring I go to meet Elendil at Amon Sûl."
In his correspondence, Gil-galad frequently wrote of a possible alliance between the Eldar and the Edain, one great, final stroke against the Enemy whose treachery had brought down Eregion and Númenor. Many of those in Círdan's house gave the plan little hope for success, not because of the weakness or folly of Men, of which they also had plenty to say, but rather because history proved time and again how very difficult it was to unite the various Elven houses. Círdan himself said nothing, staring into the flames of his hearth or into the waters of the Gulf of Lhûn, and he did not share the visions he was granted.
"I do not take you for one who would abandon his cause in the middle, Ereinion," he amended, "but you seem to me like those who part with their kin as they take ship. They give away their treasures and sorrow is heavy in their eyes."
"I have never known parting to be joyful." Gil-galad removed his hands from Círdan's. "I did not mean to alarm you; that was not my intention. Rather, I did not think it wise to have two Rings in my possession when the Enemy already suspects me of bearing one. Though you are wise and great among the Quendi, I do not think he gives much attention to you. He would not seek Narya here."
"And you intend to keep the other?"
"Yes, Vilya I will keep."
That was a lie. Though neither Gil-galad's face nor voice betrayed him, Círdan knew he would keep nothing for himself. And I know why you will do it, and to whom you will give it, for you have already given it to him. In fire and water I have already seen the battle, and your death. He was silent, cursing his gift of foresight. "If it is your will, Ereinion, I will keep Narya. No one will touch it, least of all me. Now then, since you have ridden so far to see me, will you at least take some refreshment?"
* * *
Once Círdan left him, Gil-galad instructed Erellont to send Elrond in to him, then to wait outside with Taurnil. It had not sat well with him to lie to Círdan about Vilya, for he had not kept the Ring of Air but given it to Elrond centuries ago. Nor would he have Círdan learn of his duplicity.
The peredhil placed his hand over his breast in salute. "Aran-nín, you wished to see me?"
"Elrond, please sit. There is something I must tell you, ere we leave for Amon Sûl."
* * *
"Mae govannen, thavron-hîr": (Sindarin) Well met, lord-builder.
"Él síla lúmena vomentienguo, Ereinion": (Telerin) "May a star shine on the hour of our meeting, Ereinion."
mellon-nín: (Sindarin) my friend
Aran-nín: (Sindarin) my king
adar-nín: (Sindarin) my father. Círdan was Gil-galad's guardian after his father (in some accounts Fingon, in others Orodreth) sent him to the Falathrim at Brithombar and Eglarest for his protection. As Gil-galad was fairly young at this time, his memories of Círdan might possibly overshadow any memories he had of his natural father.
There seems to be some discrepancy in Tolkien's notes over when Gil-galad gave Narya to Círdan. One account has Gil-galad giving him the Ring of Fire as soon as he received it from Celebrimbor; in the margins of that same text, Tolkien scribbled a note that Gil-galad kept it until just before he left for the Last Alliance. This is the version I decided to go with, as it seemed more poignant to have Gil-galad make his gift near the end of his life.
It does not seem that Círdan had much use for Narya, though he does seem to have possessed some gift of foresight. As he says to Mithrandir (Gandalf) at the end of The Silmarillion:
"Take now this Ring," he said, "for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill. But as for me, my heart is with the Sea, and I will dwell by the grey shores, guarding the Havens until the last ship sails. Then I shall await thee."