Lead-in: The story takes place just after the breaking of the ring and the rune of peace in the Kargish lands; Erreth-Akbe has sailed back to Havnor a broken man, only to find further trouble at home.

"Erreth."

The man looked up from his defeated crouch, enough to see the tender eyes and compassionate faces of the two people he loved best in the world, the only two men who knew his true name. Maharion, who gave his true name freely, was bright and tall, while Ibet, who hid under the name of Heron, was a soft gray shadow behind the king, already growing silver despite his youth.

"Erreth," the king said again, "please, no more of this. The ring has been severed, it is broken and gone, and there is no help for it. But you are needed now, here against the incursions of the dragons. Paln has already been reduced to a plain of ash! The people call for you…and I shall not fight without you beside me."

The broken man looked at Maharion for a moment, then at Ibet, who returned his gaze softly, with compassion. Erreth-Akbe clenched his hands into fists. Ibet was no match for him in terms of magery…but would he have lost the ring so carelessly, have allowed it to be broken in two during the heat of a battle? The angry strength went out of his hands; he could not hate his dear friend for what might have been. He could only hope that the salve of this man's gentle love would ease the ache and shame in his heart.

Nodding tersely to Maharion, Erreth-Akbe slowly rose to his feet, and allowed his two friends to catch his arms and lead him up from the dark belly of the ship into the bright streets of Havnor Great Port.