Dedicated to my great friend Erin's Daughter, whose generosity in writing things for other people is enormous, and whose muse, Ereinion, has been very noble and longsuffering about sharing her headspace with Celeborn.
The wind blew fierce and cold from the sea, and the grey waves were capped with foam. Salt and flung sand stung Ereinion's face as he stood on the shore, looking out to the West. It was hard to believe there was another country out there - an island of the blessed. If Aman was a land of such peace and order that all his people yearned for it, then why had his father fled from it in the first place?
It seemed so unfair. Angrod, his grandfather, and Orodreth, his father, coming here, where they did not want to be, and Cirdan, his guardian, having to remain here when all his life he had desired to go West. And he - he was an Exile, fostered by the Forsaken People, all of them with their eyes on Valinor, yearning to go, or yearning to go back.
But Ereinion did not understand what was so bad about Ennor. The heaving ocean crashed over the cliffs of Sirion, fountains and geysers and flying flights of water burst into the air and shone briefly before falling with a slap and sigh back into the sea. Air tasted of seaweed and the song of great whales; of trackless freedom and adventure. Gulls rose wheeling on the storm with mad yellow eyes and their beaks full of the music of wildness. On the water a white skiff tossed, running before the wind with her sails taut and a bow wave like a curve of diamond dust. And Ereinion wanted to laugh and spread out his hands, embrace the world, dance with it, and call it his own.
He ran along the cliff edge, daring the water to strike him, or the crumbling chalky soil to give way and plunge him into a back breaking dive. Long grasses whipped underfoot, and the spikes of purple orchids lay flat against the turf. Goats gazed at him with their slotted eyes as they cropped the flowering clover, and he wondered again if they had flowers as fair as this, or animals as funny, in Valinor. Was it blasphemy, was it a betrayal of his family and his teachers, not really to care?
He thought back to this morning. He had earned his tutor's praise with a finely drawn map of the Meneltarma, and then his censure for wondering aloud what the point of it was.
"It is your heritage," Fingaran had chided him gently, "And the heritage of your people. You are a prince among the Noldor of Middle Earth, and you must know what is in our hearts. Both to goad and to soothe us, you must know what we love if you are ever to rule."
And so he felt guilty about not feeling dispossessed, and his enjoyment of the seas and the moors, the swans on the estuary, the delicious green gloom of the ancient trees, were illicit pleasures, not to be spoken of at home, or before the occasional emissaries of his father.
Ereinion sighed and looked down at the roofs of Sirion, clustered about the cliffs like swallow's nests. He plumped down in the grass, and the grazing goats came close to snuffle about his clothes in the hope he had brought oat-cakes or carrots. He scratched behind the ears of one old nanny, barrel-fat and russet as an apple, and wondered if he would ever truly belong anywhere.
We don't belong here because our hearts are in Valinor. But we wouldn't belong in Valinor even if we were let back, because everyone would remember how we'd left. And if I forgot Valinor and was content here, then I would not belong with my people.
There was the nub of the matter - that thought shot the arrow into the gold of his discontent; for how much could he ever belong with his people if his own father refused to have him at his side? If his Adar was in danger, he wanted to be with him, to face that danger together, not to be hoarded in a strong place like a chest of jewels. Did his Adar not want him? His Amme had stayed, despite peril - no one expected her to leave and live among strangers. And while Cirdan was nice enough, how could he teach Ereinion to be a prince of the Noldor?
The wind died down, and the bleak clouds above lightened to pearl. A faint warmth came from the hidden sun. Then a gust parted the clouds and light burst in great spears through the rents. The sea flared, gold flashed on the roof-beams below him and the ships at anchor in the harbour gleamed. But also, there came from the coast road a flame of silver as the sunshine lit a distant cavalcade of armoured riders. Though they were little more than fifteen miles away it was hard to see them clear - their cloaks baffled the eye - only their banners he saw - the eight-pointed moon of Thingol, and a six-pointed device in the shape of a stylized tree.
So here was the reason he had been banished from the great house this morning - turfed out of lessons and told to keep out from underfoot while the guest chambers were aired and the floors rewaxed, and the servants ran about looking busy and important. He had been told to return at noon, in time to make himself presentable, and he had thought that perhaps a messenger was coming from his father, but it was not so. Sindar were coming. Real Sindar, who still spoke no Quenya, and read no books, who shunned the Noldor and dwelled as they always had, isolated and proud in their hidden kingdom; a strange and archaic people.
It was at once disappointing and fascinating. News from his father was eagerly awaited, and each time too quickly over. But real Sindar, rather than the civilized and cosmopolitan folk of the Havens, or the other Noldor kingdoms. Well! One did not see them every day! Full of curiosity he rose, spread his arms into wings, and allowed the wind to help him run, feigning to fly carefree as a bird back to the nest.
Outside Ereinion's window the sea muttered to itself like an ill tempered old man. Within, Fingaran muttered, though in a more cheerful vein as he drew length after length of silk and velvet from the polished cedar chest and arrayed them with a flick and flourish over the prince's white-coverletted bed.
Ereinion took off the homespun tunic and linen in which he had been wandering the cliffs, dumped them in a heap on the rosy whirls of the yew wood floor. Then he lifted his arms while his tutor lowered an undertunic of raw crimson silk over his head and tugged it into shimmering perfection about him. If he craned his head while this was done he could see the diamond panes of glass in his window. When the waves raged, spray spattered them and small lichens grew on the leads. The whole grey wall was speckled with yellow saxifrage and tiny, delicate ferns, rooted in the stones.
The light was suddenly taken away, and for a moment his hot face was swaddled in layers of velvet, rebreathing his own breath. He struggled into the air once more and found himself encased in sumptuous saffron.
"Hm?" said Fingaran, choosing between belts of gold, "The rayed suns or the flowers?"
"That one." Remembering the Sinda's banner Ereinion chose instead a green leather belt tooled with golden leaves.
"Are you sure? It is not so splendid as the others."
"My father says it is important to show 'solidarity' with guests. To set them at their ease," Ereinion said, shying from the ache that followed any thought of Orodreth. "And I know the Sindar enjoy trees... Fingaran?"
Fingaran sighed, sorting through hair clips, dithering between the gold-and-garnet, and the eagle carved from solid ruby. "What is it, my prince?" he said, wearily.
"Am I allowed to love it here?"
At that, Fingaran balked, turned a surprised grey gaze on his face. "I... am glad you like your new home, Ereinion. Lord Cirdan does his best, though I know it is not like having your family about you."
It was in Ereinion's mind to say 'That isn't what I meant at all. Why can you not understand?' But his tutor's look of gratitude forestalled him. Fingaran too had given up much, coming here, losing his place at court, his chance at glory, to nursemaid a child. He did not deserve to be repaid with rudeness. Ereinion would find another occasion, a different way of phrasing the question, so that his valued servant should never know he had failed his Lord's expectation, and be downcast.
He sat still while his long, sable hair was brushed into sleekness and the braids that kept it from his face were pulled back and secured with the eagle pin. Then Fingaran polished up his small mirror of solid silver and held it, so that the boy could see his own glory.
As always, Ereinion looked at the person in the mirror and wondered who he was - all gold and red as flame and capped with floating shadow. The colours of Finarfin's house, the gold and fire of the younger tree - of Laurelin the bright - did not seem to suit him. His eyes looked out from warm shades as a dissonance, as cool water, changeable and star-grey. That prince was not Ereinion, but seemed to need some other, more befitting name. "I look wrong," he said.
Fingaran smiled, "You will grow into the trappings of state," he said, comfortingly. "But for now, though you may feel wrong, be assured that you look right. Your guests will see a prince of the line of Finwë, and that is all they need to see."
"What must I know of this Sinda, to avoid insult or embarrassment?"
"I can tell you little," Fingaran began folding the unwanted clothes, repacking them in the chest. "His name is Celeborn. A prince as you are, though I am not fully aware of his descent. Certainly he has the hair of Thingol's line. In matters of etiquette he may be considered your equal."
He frowned, pausing. "Though he is but a Dark Elf, you are but a child," he said thoughtfully, "So the exact precedence is hard to establish. I leave it to your delicacy. But do not forget that - etiquette aside - you are the son of Calaquendi, and greater than he. Do not forget, also, that the Sindar of Doriath are not our allies. You should not volunteer news or speculations on the dealings of your father's court. You would do well to speak of inconsequential things - your studies, or Lord Cirdan's kindness. Lord Cirdan considers himself still a subject of the Sindar king, and it will please him, I doubt not, to have pleasant words brought back to Thingol on your behalf."
Lowering the lid of the chest, Fingaran stood. He brushed invisible dust from Ereinion's shoulders and then draped about them a cloak of wine-dark velvet and pinned it with a leaf of gold. "There. Oh... And Elu Thingol is well known for his outbursts of anger beyond reason. If this 'prince' of Doriath is truly his kin, you may find him a curst and ill tempered guest. My advice is to keep your eyes open, your mouth shut, and let Cirdan handle him."
The door opened and Fingaran went in ahead of him, bowing. "Ereinion Orodrethion, of the line of Finwe, and the House of Finarfin."
Cirdan and his guest were in the solar, where afternoon sunlight filled the room with a citrine glow. From the picture window which gazed out upon the harbour, an ever moving reflection of the sea wavered and broke in silver lines across the pale walls. All the casements were open, and it seemed hard - to Ereinion - to determine where the house ended and the meadow and salt wind began. He stepped out into that uncertain light feeling almost as if he stepped into another world, and the sense of being somewhere quite alien increased when Fingaran passed him, leaving. The door shut behind him.
How strange Cirdan looked in that radiance! Ereinion was newly surprised - as he had been many months ago in first meeting his protector - at Cirdan's sea-foam hair, the ice-hued beard that traced the outline of his mouth and chin - a colour unseen among his own people. The Doriathrin noble was an elf with an open, vivid face, and a long plait of hair the colour of stars, alike as a kinsman to Cirdan. They had been discussing a document spread on the table between them, and both looked up together, and in both pairs of eyes there was a faint spark of ...humour? ...condescension? as they looked on him.
Annoyed, he bowed with great correctness, and thought furiously, trying to ride the unexpected undercurrents of this meeting. He had expected the guest to be a stranger, and he to receive him as if into his own house. Instead he found that again he was the outsider, the one who did not fit, and they looked upon him side by side, out of the depths of a long shared past. It was brought home to Ereinion uncomfortably that he had forgotten Cirdan was Sindar too, that it was he who was the foreign prince here, and not Celeborn. "My Lords," he said, cautiously, and waited to regain some measure of understanding before he volunteered more.
"Ereinion," said Cirdan, with a slight, fond smile, "You need not have arrived in such pomp - we are done here, and thinking of taking a walk by the sea. Will you come?"
"I dressed thus," Ereinion refused to be treated like a wayward child, "To honour your guest." He turned and looked up at the elf of Doriath, who had risen - politely - to a daunting height. Defending not only his own decisions, but those of his tutor, who did not deserve to have his advice so casually disregarded, Ereinion persisted with the formalities. "As one prince to another, I greet you Lord Celeborn Iathion."
"And I you, Son of Orodreth, heir of Minas Tirith." The accent of Doriath was softer than that of the Havens, Ereinion noticed. He was tempted to call it weak, in measure as the Sindar of the Fenced Land were weak and cowardly for not taking part in Ennor's battles, nor daring to openly confront Morgoth. Yet the hand offered to his grasp was weapon calloused, and bore a fading scar across the back. Its grip was strong enough. "And I thank you for your courtesy. But may we not set aside titles for now? For you and I are distantly related, and if things go as they are purposed to go, that relationship will be the closer."
Ereinion blinked, careful not to show more astonishment. Fingaran had not mentioned this - must not have known. "How?" he said, for he was of a Noldo family of the Blessed Realm, and Celeborn was altogether Sindarin, rooted deep in Middle earth.
Taking off his velvet mantle, which was burdensome as well as being far too fine to expose to salt spray, Ereinion draped it over a chair. He was not spying, but he could not help but notice that the table lay covered with lists of elven names, tallies of foodstuffs, a map of the Firth of Drengist, with its currents painted in many shades of blue.
Noting his interest, Cirdan raised an eyebrow, but Celeborn smiled, "I will not weary you with the faint line of blood that runs from Earwen your great-grandmother through many cousins to me," he said. "But I am betrothed to your grandfather's sister, Artanis, and ere long, I hope, will be your great-uncle, absurd though that sounds."
"Oh," tugging on the fitted sleeves of his undertunic - unlatching and latching the clasps - Ereinion watched Cirdan rolling up the parchments, stowing them carefully in their bark tubes. He was not sure what he should say to that. "But my aunt Artanis has gone into the East, to see if she can make something of the dark elves who dwell outside Beleriand... A long way away."
"Yes," Celeborn took up a cloak that seemed at first as grey as the sea, but when he swung it colour rippled in its folds - the faint blue of the sky, a green like deep water, fallow silver as a wave top, "When Doriath is in less need, I will go to her there."
Between kin there was less reason for secrecy, and besides, Ereinion felt this was a man who appreciated frankness. So, as the Sinda prince went before him on the long sandstone steps down into the harbour, he said "What 'need' does Doriath have behind its fence? You send no warriors to the wars, and you shelter in idleness behind our arms. So my cousins say, at least."
At the foot of the steps was a small band of grass and herbs - small flowered, their leaves hairy to protect them from the salt - and then a shingle of rounded stones; yellow sand washed dun by a retreating tide. Then an endless recede of water and light. The air smelled of damp rock, and excitement.
Cirdan stood looking West, though Ereinion had already learned that his absorbed expression covered a careful attentiveness. He wondered if he was being tested - in being allowed such freedom to speak his mind - or if he was merely being respected.
"We do not shelter behind Noldor valour," said Celeborn mildly, "We shelter behind Melian's power, and Elu's vigilance, as we always have. Not for us did the Noldor come to Ennor. Not for our sake do they strive - though they may sometimes say so," he smiled then, fleetingly, but with warmth, "As I have told your cousins myself on occasion. But may not a guarded land have its uses? Even in the greatest Noldor kingdom are not your servants, your craftsmen, your farmers Sindar? What becomes of them when your kingdoms fall?"
"I thought..." The sea heaved and drew itself away, leaving their path strewn with strange debris - open shells whose inner curves were all pearl, bleached wood that writhed like dragons - and Ereinion wondered about Alqualondë, if the same curiosities were cast up there. It was a better thing to think on than this question. "I thought they died."
"Many do," Celeborn stooped and picked up a stone. Red and gleaming it dried swiftly to an unimpressive pink. He flung it into the waves and for a moment Ereinion saw it going down through depths of green and dim just like a clot of new-shed blood. "But many flee. And by long and arduous journeying they come to us, in Doriath. Scarred, starving, afraid; without possession or means of livelihood... And we take them in. Every one. Our population grows, our land shrinks, and orcs harry the boundaries, yet we stand as a haven for those who are in need."
"And more," Cirdan softly rested his hand on Ereinion's shoulder, "You must know we have little space here to grow crops? The Eluwaith have long provided us with most of the food we cannot take from the sea. They play their part, and though it may not be a part mentioned in song, it is one for which many lesser elves have been thankful."
Ereinion felt odd at the thought. He had once been to Nargothrond, visiting his uncle Finrod, and seen there Celebrimbor's workshop, scattered with disks of crystal which made the world look as strange as the small realms in the bottom of rock pools. Aligned right they had made his sight blur, or sharpen twenty fold. Thinking of the Doriathrim in this fresh way required a mental adjustment just like gazing through a new lens. They play their part. Given that he himself was a guest in a Sindar haven, by his father's own will, it was not a part he could afford to hold in contempt.
"All the people of Middle-earth play a part," he said, wonderingly - feeling enlarged. For did not the Eldar have Edain allies, and even the aid of the Dwarves? "We are all despised by Morgoth equally - though for different reasons. We should be friends."
Suiting his actions to his convictions he offered his hand a second time to the Sinda noble, who took it, with a look of curiosity. "I have been advised to keep my mouth shut around you, because of your curst temper and because you are no ally of ours. But it seems to me I've been counciled wrong..."
"Not about the temper," said Cirdan in an undertone, and turned away, trying to hide a smile.
"May we be friends?" Ereinion persisted, not allowing himself to be side-tracked.
"We may," for all the openness of his manners this smile was the most natural Ereinion had seen on the prince's face. His eyes, reflecting the sea, gleamed silver. "And now I will tell you something, Ereinion. In you I see a fair and beautiful child, with his carefully tended hair in his face, and his court clothes sand-stained. But I recognize the heart of a king. Your people are fortunate in their prince, as we are fortunate in our Lord."
"That..." he turned away, sore at heart and embarrassed, "That I doubt." Looking out, as Cirdan had done, towards the West, he tried to force his yearning fea to settle there. But the horizon seemed dull, when closer at hand guillemots and cormorants were diving into sun-speckled waves, and fishing boats tossed, their many coloured sails wheeled about with gulls. The silver and gold of sea and sun struck him with a sudden thought. "King Thingol is a Calaquendi, isn't he?"
"He has looked upon the light of the Two Trees, yes," said Celeborn - in what seemed a delicate correction.
It was strange that he had not thought of this before, but here was his own situation in reverse. "And did he not love them, and yearn for Valinor with all its wonders?"
"He and Melian both," Celeborn gave him a wry look, and pulled his cloak close against the wind - here it was silver as the waves, as the long plait of his hair - and with the gesture he all but disappeared - an uncanny thing to see, and frightening, in a soul-deep way which Ereinion did not comprehend. "They have wrought its image throughout our land, in many works of craft."
"It does not lessen your love for him - to know that your minds and his rest in different lands? That the desires of his heart do not match those of his people?"
Their walk had brought them over dunes speckled with tufts of rough grass. Now it smoothed, and a finer green began. Tall buttercups bent, flattened against the sward by the wind from the sea, and the nettle-shaped leaves of balm trailed beneath their feet. Crushed, they gave forth a scent like lemons. Soil was underfoot now, rather than sand, and though Cirdan parted reluctantly from the Sea, together at the smell of land Ereinion and Celeborn breathed in deep and sighed, relieved.
Seeing it, Celeborn crouched down for a moment, watching Ereinion's face as he flattened his hand against the ground. "It goes deep," he said.
Wonder came over Ereinion at the enigmatic words - because he understood perfectly what the Sinda meant. Here was a foreigner who spoke the same language as he. "Yes," he said. "Yes it does. Deep in me. My bones are formed of this same rock of Middle-earth, and yet I am a Noldo. How can you say that my people are 'fortunate in me' when I am sundered from everything they care for? I am Noldor, but I am Umanyar, and I do not know how to choose between the two!"
They had come now to the Haven's wall, thick and tall, sunwarmed, the great stones fought over by small basking lizards, whose bright eyes and impudent tongues lightened Ereinion's downcast heart.
"You Golodhrim call us 'Sindar'," said Celeborn, turning and setting his back to the radiant heat of the building, "But we call ourselves the 'Eluwaith'. Elu's people. We are here in Beleriand because we followed him here. He is here because it is his people's wish to remain. Love can bind together even those whose hearts dwell in separate worlds." Tilting his head back he watched the clouds go sailing past, taking rain into the East. "Your folk will care little about your attitude to Valinor if they see that you honour and serve them with all your heart. And this you do already - or you would not feel so torn."
"I may have both? The love of this land, and the love of my people?" Ereinion turned to lean against the wall beside his guest. Warmth seeped from it, through every fibre of his being; comforting, reassuring. The back of his hand was flat against the stone. One of the little lizards nosed it, and then clambered on, its clutching feet tickling his palm. Eased, and not just by the heat, he laughed.
"Or neither," said Celeborn, and sighed. "These are uncertain times, and I have no gift of foresight to tell if the world will endure even long enough for you to become a king."
But Cirdan laughed too, and reached out to ruffle Ereinion's black hair, completing the ruin of his princely braids. "Did I mention how depressing my kindred could be?" he said, and looked out on the Sea as though he heard a voice crying there, silent to all but him. "You will have both, boy. Both and more."