This of all things would remain unchanged: that on a night of rainfall, an Elf could not sleep. But by choosing instead of his comfortless bed to find and confide in another, the course of the future was swayed.
3441 of the Second Age
The Shipwright entered Gil-galad's tent, his mood unimproved after the brisk walk through the encampment. Beside the king stood his herald; both were bent over a table strewn with papers. Neither looked up, but Elrond murmured, "It is not yet dawn."
"I could not sleep." Círdan removed his cloak, signifying his intention to stay. He saw Gil-galad's displeasure, and wondered at his atypical silence, then noticed Elrond's eyes shift to a nearby cot after a rustle of fabric. A braid of silver hair shone from under the blanket, and Círdan guessed the sleeper's identity by the body's length. "How is Celeborn?"
"Overtaxed," said Gil-galad, and gestured to Elrond at his side, "as we shall be if you are unable to relieve us by morning. Go to bed, here if you wish."
"I cannot sleep, it's beyond my control. Let me relieve one or both of you now. What is this chore..." Círdan approached the table—"translations? I came unequipped, but my penmanship is adequate. Loan me a quill."
"Hmph, fine. Ah, take Elrond's." The king dismissed his herald's objection, and filched the tool in question, saying to him, "Tend to Celeborn, then take some rest for yourself; you two shall relieve Círdan and I."
"Inconvenient," was Elrond's last word ere he obeyed, even as Gil-galad agreed and gave the order again.
Círdan ignored both reproachful looks aimed his way, and took to the work at hand. Soon Elrond slept, and Celeborn had quieted after having his wounds redressed. Círdan said then, "Will he be in fighting shape for this next assault?"
Gil-galad made his reply barely audible, "The Sinda? Valar willing."
"Many others shall not be." He had passed several healers' tents fully occupied in coming here. "This onslaught has been unrelenting."
"We maintain a siege, of course it's unrelenting." Gil-galad softened his tone. "There's nothing for it."
Mindful of the tension that lingered behind every unsuspecting word, Círdan kept silent. The black ink seemed scarlet in the lamplight, making it difficult to see, tempting him to look elsewhere. He blinked himself awake, forcing his eyes to focus upon the script; but his thoughts wandered nonetheless.
The siege had lasted for years, and nerves were raw. Each time the Alliance chanced a respite, they risked the Enemy devising a new mode of defense. The latest devilry was darts of flame—now their furthest cordon was in constant peril, while the greater host lost ground in retreating to safety. 'Nothing for it,' the king had said, but untruly; the only thing for it was to attain an even closer foothold. Such was the plan, why there were new scouting reports that needed translation, why Círdan was not asleep.
But it was soon. Too soon, was Círdan's thought. Not soon enough, was his next. Many leaders agreed that they had overextended their resources during the last advance, before they waited overlong and paid in death by fire. Yet they could not afford to appear weak. They had reacted appropriately, sacrificed necessarily, but further retreat was no option.
We must advance, our hazard is little enough. The Enemy is not omnipotent, there was only one Dagor Bragollach. Círdan looked to Celeborn, who was still recovering from injuries, and who muttered now from the depths of some dark dream; he then looked to Elrond, son of a beloved friend, who was beyond Círdan's power to protect despite any promises made to Eärendil. So much to lose, too much already lost. Must have more caution, patience.
Fear and doubt had no place in war, but bravery also must be tempered, and wrath curtailed by wisdom. Who must keep the balance? Not I, thought Círdan, and looked to Gil-galad, who seemed in that instant to jolt awake as he stood. Círdan pretended not to notice. "My Lord, there is little work here left to be done—"
"More is expected soon," he interrupted to say. "Not all couriers have yet arrived."
Círdan persisted, "Elrond was right: in the morning, 'tis not your herald and Celeborn whom the people will look for, but their King. Sleep now, I beg. I will see to these reports."
Grudgingly, eventually, Gil-galad concurred, and slept. The dreams he dreamt were meant for Círdan alone, who never received them. And little thereafter would be as it ought to have been.
He stood alone, blinded by sunlight and fatigue. Unseeing, he bent his head back; sleeping, he did not hear the other approach.
"Círdan, a word." Gil-galad came to stand nearby, but did not stop moving. Uneasy, he wrung his hands. "I dreamt... unsettling dreams. Visions, maybe. I know you're tired, and you've earned your rest, but forgive me, I must ask: have you any foresight, any wisdom to share?"
Círdan chose the shorter path. "Tell me what you saw."
Gil-galad stepped closer, and spoke in low tones. "The end of an Age, I know not which; and my throne empty in my hall at Forlond, I know not when; and my dynasty..." he faltered—"so few, Círdan, there were so few, dwelling in remembrance among autumn leaves perpetual. It might have been Imladris they housed in, I know not why."
Is that so terrible? Círdan did not ask, if he wondered. "I have not seen it." But he was meant to. Upon waking, he would have sought comfort in the starlight and remembering the sea, and he would have understood that it was ordained, beyond even the Powers' ability to change, and he would have obeyed.
Instead Gil-galad took his arms, devoid of the acceptance Círdan would have been full of. "Then I am relieved, but I would be prepared also. It must not be so, Círdan, I disallow it."
No glimpse of the shore justifies turning the tide, Círdan would not say, not to the son of his heart. To his sworn Lord he replied, "What must I do?"
"The same as I. Select one whom you trust—only one—and even as you heed it yourself, tell him this: the High King is without child, but not heirless. There is one, close enough in blood and love, to lawfully succeed me. More I shall not say, nor do many need to hear. We march again soon, and I would not introduce doubt into hopeful hearts. When next we hold our ground with confidence, I will make an official announcement."
O dear one, I do not see that either. Círdan said, "As you wish."
He staggered along, blinded by dirt and tears. Unseeing, he bent his head back, gasping, and emptied a waterskin over his face.
He had been struck in the chest, hard enough to crack the breastplate and not a few bones beneath, by Sauron himself. He had tried and failed to protect Gil-galad, guessing wrongly what should be prevented and what allowed to happen. I did not foresee this. But he should have.
Isildur was stooped over the body of the felled Dark Lord, busy with some deed. What is he doing? Círdan turned his attention away before seeing a flash of gold. Elrond knelt ahead, his head shaking as smoke curled around him. That smell! It reminded Círdan of the sound -- the sound of a king being burned alive as his herald's screams accompanied the sizzle.
"Elrond, Elrond! I'm coming, lad—call for help! Is there hope?"
Elrond stood, and the answer to that question stilled his head at last. "No." He turned, strangely aware of more than ever, and deeper, accepting of the king's fate as Gil-galad himself had not been. "He could not be saved. I did everything within my power. Everything." He meant to address those gathering nearby, some weeping, others expectant. 'Alas, the High King is dead,' he would have said.
But Círdan tripped before him in his pain and weariness, though to watching eyes it appeared as if he had gone willingly—not helplessly—to his knees. He had tripped over a circlet of gold, and raised it up before his eyes, bewildered.
Another flash of gold appeared: Glorfindel. Then silver: Celeborn. "Alas for Gil-galad!" they cried almost in unison. Círdan would have joined them save that he could not breathe, Elrond would have joined them save that he could not believe. Silence fell. Noldor, Sindar, Teleri, Edain, drawn together in the sudden absence of battle. The Men looked to Isildur, their new King. The Elves just looked, waiting.
Círdan remained on his knees without the strength to rise, Gil-galad's crown in his hands, speechless not by choice. Elrond stood with his back to the dawn; Eärendil's star shone above his head, and an aura emanated from him. At this sight, an awed murmur arose.
"O Círdan, nay, nay, I fear you act unwisely," said Glorfindel in hushed tones, who was the one Círdan had confided in, and who had also questioned if Gil-galad had not judged in haste. "You shared with me your mind in this, and I shared your concerns. What has changed?"
Nothing! Círdan shook his head, becoming dizzy. "He wanted it to be..." the king, not I, not us, not them... but Glorfindel misunderstood; as did Celeborn beside him, who was the one Gil-galad had confided in, and who kept his silence even now. Círdan said the king had wanted it to be. Yet he meant the king was alone in that.
"You are sore wounded," said Elrond, blinking out of some daze. He reached down, not to take what Círdan held, but to empty his hands, assess his injuries. Power touched flesh, and Círdan gasped. Vilya. He saw the endless light in grey eyes, and remembered the words, 'I did everything within my power.' Even don Vilya? Reckless, wrong!
"So be it," said Glorfindel, reaching down also, not with a healer's urge to treat Círdan's wounds, but to take what he held and raise it up. Elrond went stiff with shock as that crown was brought to rest upon his head, and braced himself against the unfamiliar weight, though it may have appeared that he swelled with pride. Círdan nigh swooned, forehead sinking to the ground, though it may have appeared that he bowed in veneration. No, no, no no no...
The Elves knelt accordingly, and none marked who spoke the words, for such words were unneeded once hearts had decided. But someone said it.
"Hail the King!" And little thereafter would be as it ought to have been.