After long years, the isle that had borne the people of Ingwë and Finwë across the Great Water to Aman had returned. Finwë, missing the kin who had been left behind, asked this favor of the Valar, as Olwë on the Hither Shore had asked the same.
Olwë was more captivated by the promise of the light of the Two Trees glimmering in the West than he was by the song of the Sea. He desired his offspring to be born in Valinor, he said, and would have attempted the crossing himself if the Valar would not enable his passage. Under the tutelage of the Maia Ossë and his spouse Uinen, the Teleri had learned much of the Sea. Boats they could build, for this craft they had had at Cuiviénen, building light rafts and reed-boats to traverse the length and breadth of the lake. Now they built sturdy, graceful vessels that rode wind and wave, and in this craft Nowë found he excelled. He experimented with materials and designs, teaching others what he learned.
Although Olwë pressed him, Nowë heeded Ossë's advice and did not build the ship his cousin requested. He had not the skill to attempt the wind and wild waves of Belegaer, and was not arrogant enough to gainsay the Maia.
Nowë marked Ossë's sorrow at the prospect of their parting, and that sorrow was his also. The Maia's domain was the Hither Shore; he did not come often to Aman, and Nowë did not wish to lose his company and guidance. His love for the Sea, his devotion to Ossë and Uinen, these things had not diminished. The Sea fulfilled a longing in him that could not be eased by any mate; the light of the Trees could not take its place.
Telwë and Mála had reconciled themselves to their son's solitary existence, though Mála was ever hopeful that Nowë's heart would be claimed by some gentle maiden.
Only one spouse do we ever take, he thought, and my heart has already been taken by the Sea. It is all the lover I shall ever have or want.
Leaving his clothes on the beach, Nowë waded out to the rock that was Ossë's place and tried to console him. Many Teleri did not wish to leave, he said. For some, it was love of the Hither Shore that kept them, yet for those others who called themselves Eglath, they would not leave without Elwë their lord.
In fragments of dreams and in visions that still came sometimes unbidden, Nowë saw that his cousin yet lived and would soon return to the world from the enchantment that caught him. A great lord, tall and silver he would appear, a lady of matchless beauty at his side, the spirit of a Maia glimmering in the body of an Elda. Elwë would have need of his followers.
As for himself, Nowë was torn. Olwë was his cousin and he desired to see the children he and Sílarielle would have in Aman, yet he loved also the Hither Shore and did not wish to be parted from Ossë and Uinen. Ulmo was mighty among the Valar, but Nowë had seen in Oromë how inscrutable the Valar could be. Though he bore Ulmo's element and the Vala's followers great love, to serve so distant and forbidding a lord was not in his heart.
Lenwë knew where his heart was. I did not envy the choice he made, to leave his brethren for his heart's desire, nor do I envy it now.
Barefoot, he walked through the cold surf, letting the foam play about his ankles, and he gazed toward the West as if the glimmering of the Trees that lit the horizon could offer an answer. For once, he could not see his own path. He had been born by the shores of Cuiviénen, he had heard the call of the Ulumúri, the song of the Sea was in his blood, yet he knew not whether his fate lay on the Hither Shore or across the water in Aman.
So many things I have seen, yet my sight eludes me, when I am most uncertain. He lingered for a time, until the air grew cold, and then retired to his narrow cot.
As he slept, a voice came to him. Ossë sometimes spoke to him in dreams, yet this voice was deep and grave, compelling in its power, and he knew it belonged to one of the Valar. "Thy heart is torn. Thy grief I hear, yet abide now that time, for when it comes then will thy work be of utmost worth, and it will be remembered in song for many ages after."
The voice surrounded him in an embrace like the touch of the waters, wrapping him in warm currents. My work, he thought, struggling to understand what the Vala meant. My lord, I craft boats to fish upon the deeper waters. There is no greatness in such a thing.
Into the field of his vision then drifted a white ship, its sails fluttering in the breeze, more beautiful and cunningly crafted than anything ever made by his hands. It shone above him with an unearthly light, as if the living spirit of the wood from which it was crafted was shining through, and as it receded it seemed to his eyes to dwindle until it became a star of such brilliance that it cast shadows where he stood.
I will craft this ship if it is your will, and it will be the fairest work of my hands, he thought. Though I understand not thy purpose, my lord, I obey thee and will abide here.
* * *
"You are certain, cousin?" asked Olwë.
Nowë answered him with a smile and parting embrace. He kissed Sílarielle on the cheek, then placed her hand in her husband's. "I am certain. My place is on the Hither Shore."
Slowly, Olwë looked from him to the other Teleri gathered on the dock, those who had elected to remain. "And what say you? Is this also your wish, to dwell here and forsake Aman?"
One of them nodded. "We will stay, and have Círdan for our lord."
"Círdan?" Olwë followed the other's gaze until it fell once more upon his cousin. He tested the unfamiliar name on his tongue. "What is this they call you?"
"It means 'ship-wright,'" answered Nowë. "The name does not displease me, for it was given me by the Lord Ossë."
"Shipwright," said Olwë, and then he smiled. "Círdan it is, if that is your preference. And if it is truly your choice, then I will not hinder you. Perhaps one day you shall build a ship to brave the wind and wave of the Great Sea and we shall meet again."
Nowë saw in his mind the white ship, drifting away on a long tide of Ages to come. "My heart is with the Sea," he said, "and here I will dwell until the last ship sails and my work is done."
He kissed his mother and father good-bye, and let Olwë lead them gently away. Mála had not wanted to leave her only child on the Hither Shore, but Nowë embraced her and dried her tears with fingers made rough with shipbuilding. "Nana," he murmured, "I would not have you forsake the light of Valinor for my sake. One day I shall join you, yet I must abide here a while longer."
I obey, my lord, he thought, and in that moment, as he watched Olwë depart, his heart stirred. Tears filled his eyes, yet he knew not whether it was from great joy at the works to come or sorrow at the parting.
* * *
In The Silmarillion, the Elves were transported across the Sea to Aman on an island. By the time the Teleri reached the coast, the Vanyar and Noldor had already departed and they had to wait many years before Ulmo brought the island back. This island eventually became Tol Eressëa; its tip, which is said to have broken off, became the isle of Balar.
Eglath: the Forsaken People. Those Teleri loyal to Elwë who remained in Beleriand and continued to search for him.
In the "Last Writings," The Peoples of Middle Earth, Círdan is the leader of those who search for Elwë. In this early version of the tale, he does not reach the coast until after Olwë has departed and is stranded; he learns of shipbuilding from Ossë and determines to sail West until a voice tells him not to do so. The version which appears in The Silmarillion does not mention Círdan with relation to the search for Elwë, nor does it include the voice or the vision of Vingilot. The version given here is an amalgamation of the two sources.
Much of the dialogue in Nowë/Círdan's dream comes verbatim from "Last Writings," The Peoples of Middle Earth. Tolkien never states the source of the voice; I have taken some license in suggesting it is Ulmo's voice Círdan hears. The vision of Vingilot and the star of Eärendil are from the same source.