The five children made a concerted rush for the Lord of Balar the moment he set foot over the threshold.

"Lord Cirdan, they say father and mother aren't dead!" Elrond cried.

"Tell them Uncle is good, they won't believe us!" Added his brother.

"You've got to set them straight -" began Haleth

"They've got everything wrong way round!" Hurin finished

"Make them go away!" said Lalaith with a venomous look over her shoulder at the watching Maiar.

Cirdan knelt to put himself on level with the indignant little ones, a look of understandable bewilderment on his face. "Gently, children, gently. What are you doing here?"

"He -" Hurin pointed rudely at Alatar, "grabbed Lalie. And then they made us come here and now they're insulting Father!"

"And our mother and father are alive but THEY won't let them come home to us." added Elrond.

"Which isn't fair." said his twin.

"What are they doing here anyway?" asked Haleth.

"Go away!" Lalaith shouted at the Maiar, holding firmly to Cirdan's mantle for courage. Then graciously to Lisinen. "You can stay, Vidri, - and Somar - but we don't want the rest of you!"

The Captains of the Host exchanged discomfited looks. This was not at all the sort of reception they had anticipated from the beleaguered denizens of Middle Earth!

"Are these the manners of a daughter of Hador and a Lady of the Haladin?" Cirdan demanded of her. "Where is your courtesy, little one?"

She hung her head, then leaned close to whisper - all too audibly: "But I don't like them. They scare me."

"I am sure the Lords of the West meant neither to frighten nor to insult." Cirdan replied, climbing to his feet. "Leave this to me, my young lords and lady," he beckoned one of his attendants nearer. "Go with Flinding now and when I am finished here I will take you home."

A somewhat bemused Nornore closed the door behind the children. Cirdan collected himself and bowed to the assembled Captains. "My Lords you have summoned me. I am here at your command."

"And it would seem we have greater need of your council then we thought." Eonwe said wryly. "Before we departed the Nether Shore the Lord Mandos revealed to us the dooms that were to have befallen here in Middle Earth -"

"Dooms written into the Music and so inalterable." interrupted Mornir, clearly annoyed at having his master's word called into question.

"Yet according to these same dooms, Urin son of Turin should now be chief captain of Morgoth and our most dangerous foe." said Ilmare. "Yet these children claim it is not so."

"Nor is it." Cirdan said promptly. "Though I can well believe such was his fate for I knew him as a boy and the Shadow lay heavy upon him. None of us foresaw anything but darkness in his future, accursed as he was by both his parent's deed and Morgoth's malice. When Urin remade his father's sword and left us in his nineteenth year Tuor told me, grieving, that the best he hoped for him was a clean death - and I agreed. Yet he and I both feared even such a doom as Lord Mandos spoke."

"But it is not so." said Ilmare.

"No." Cirdan shook his head in wonder. "I did not lay eyes on Urin again for many years. Not until after the fall of the Haven when he came seeking for news of his kin. And he was changed; the shadow of doom had fallen from him and he was as a vessel of light. How this can be I do not know but Lord Mandos spoke wrong. Urin is not Morgoth's captain but ours. And his people and mine both call him 'hope' for our hope he is, and a light to guide us in a dark world."

There was a silence. Impossible to doubt Cirdan's word. And yet even more impossible that the Doomsman should be wrong!

-----

Flinding ushered the children into a side room where stood a table spread with fruit and cakes and sweetmeats that most agreeably distracted their minds from their confrontation with the Powers. But they did not entirely drop their guard, not even with a friend to watch over them, wheeling around, small faces shut and forbidding, when a strange Elf appeared in the doorway.

He was very tall with long golden hair falling over a robe and mantle blue as the sea and all a-shimmer with stars of crystal and pearl. He checked, as if taken aback by his reception, bright eyes fixed on the children.

"Forgive my intrusion," he said, "but I was told I have kin here. I am Arafinwe, son of Finwe, brother of Nolofinwe who was High King in these Hither Lands -"

He got no farther. "King Fingolfin you mean?" Elros interrupted. "He was our great-great grandfather, Elrond's and mine. And you - you must be Finarfin, King Finrod's Father!"

Instantly all five small faces lit up in welcome, the father of Finrod Felagund couldn't be anything but a friend, then fell almost as suddenly as they realized they had only bad news to give him of his kin.

Finarfin smiled sadly but reassuringly. "Earendil told me of my brother's fate; and my nephews' and my sons'."

"You spoke with our father?" Elrond asked eagerly.

"They were very, very brave, all of them." Elros said earnestly. "Our people - mortal Men - loved them well. If we could have saved them we would have."

"Hurin and Huor did save Turgon - for a while anyway." said Hurin the younger.

"And King Finrod died for a Man, for Beren our other great grandfather." said Elrond earnestly. "We will never forget that. Ever!"

Hurin nodded. "The high kings were good to us - but King Finrod was our friend from the very beginning. He was special."

And little Lalaith tugged at Finarfin's robe with her sticky fingers and when he bent down to her gave him an equally sticky kiss and shining smile. "You can stay too."

-----

"I am not in my Lord Urin's councils." Cirdan was explaining. "We Elves of Balar, Teleri and Noldor alike, have now no part in the war."

"War?" Kalrondo interrupted. "We were told all resistance was ended and Morgoth ruled unopposed."

Cirdan smiled wryly. "With respect, Lord, that is not so. I know Urin has Men in the North for from time to time he has begged ships of me to carry them to Losgar. I know the Men of Dor-Lomin no longer serve the Shadow; that Morgoth holds neither Tol Sirion nor Himring and that Nargothrond has been reoccupied. I know," he continued quietly, "that Urin has suffered both defeat and betrayal and remained undismayed. And that he will fight on whatever haps. And that his people, and ours - and even I - would follow him into Angband itself should he ask it - " a smile flashed. " as he might!"

The Maiar absorbed this in baffled silence, finally broken by Eonwe. "I thank you, Cirdan. You have given us much to think on. Leave us now and take your young friends home."

The Elf bowed and withdrew.

"This is impossible!" Mornir declared the moment he was gone. "Doom cannot be unsaid, the Music cannot be changed!"

"And yet it would seem that it has been, "said Olorin, "or do you think Cirdan lies?"

"Of course not! Yet is not Morgoth the master of lies?"

"That he is." said Makarion, Lord of Truth, grimly.

Eonwe turned to him. "Which raises another matter. How is it the Second Children know you and our kinswoman here." waving towards Lisinen. "How comes it that they have names for you?"

"They know us because we have walked among them." was the calm answer. "While the rest of the Powers gave all their thought and labor towards the fortifying of Valinor my Lady and Lisinen's Lord sent us forth to seek out the Secondborn and protect them if we could."

"We found them too late." the Lady of the Sweet Waters said sadly. "Morgoth was before us and had terrified them into submission."

"But they hated as much as they feared." continued Makarion. "And we found many willing to resist." he leaned forward. "And I will tell you something else, my brothers, Eru speaks to these Second Children of His. They can hear His Voice as we have lost the power to, all but Manwe, and as the Elves never could." The other Maiar exchanged looks of disbelief and consternation as he continued. "Think on what that might mean, my brothers. That and the fact they depart the Circles of the World after a brief span here. Visitors are they to Arda, dwelling in it but not belonging to it. Why should they be ruled by the Music?"

"Cirdan's story suggests far more," said Olorin quietly, "that not only are they not bound by the Music, which is as fate to us all, but that they can change it!"

"You go too far!" Mornir protested.

"And yet it would seem that this Urin has not only changed his own destiny but altered the fate of Middle Earth." said Alatar.

"Or it is all a deception of the Enemy!" snapped Mornir.

"We must see this Man and judge him for ourselves." said Eonwe. "According to the children he lives in the Lisgardh fens. We will send for him."

------

Lalaith was sitting in Finarfin's lap, eating sweetened pears and happily dripping honey all over him as well as herself. The boys were clustered at his feet.

"Gil-Galad is safe and well but he's in Nargothrond, some ways from here." Elros was saying as Cirdan entered.

"That is so." the Ship-Master said dryly, smiled and shrugged. "I advised against it but he is a true scion of the House of Finwe -"

"- Stubborn and set on his own will." Finarfin finished for him.

"I would have said courageous and high-hearted." Cirdan corrected respectfully but with a twinkle in his eye.

"A courteous way of saying much the same thing." smiled Finarfin.

Cirdan returned the smile and did not argue.

"Did you set them straight about Father?" Hurin asked.

"I did. And now it is high time you children were home. The Lady Nineth may be growing concerned."

Hurin gave Elros a worried look. "She could be. The watchers will have told her about the fleet."

"And she'll have guessed where we went." the other boy agreed as they all got to their feet.

Finarfin rose too, setting little Lalaith down. "I will accompany you with your permission. I will need a guide to Nargothrond."

"And I too, if I may." said an apologetic voice from the doorway. All turned to see Olorin standing there. "I am sent to ask the Lord Urin to attend our councils."

"But Father isn't home either!" said Haleth. making matters much more complicated.

-----

Thus it was that quite a large company returned to the Refuge with the children. Finarfin looked with some dismay at the wooden houses on their piles and the bridges of rope and plank that linked them. The place seemed unspeakably squalid and mean to a Prince of the Noldor accustomed to the glories of Valimar and Elven Tirion. Then suddenly dozens of small people, dark and brown and golden fair, erupted from hut and boat to cluster staring with bright eyes at a safe distance from the dock. He caught his breath in mingled wonder and astonishment. Few children had been born in Tirion or Alqualonde since the Troubles, that there should be so many, and so fair, under the very Shadow of Morgoth was both bewildering and disturbing.

Adults appeared. Men armed with sword or spear, varying much in coloring and feature but alike in the grimness of their expressions, circled the party as they disembarked. Then the ring opened to admit a Woman, very small by Elven standards but fair of face with braided hair of a light, almost golden, brown.

Cirdan bowed to her. "I bring back your strays, my Lady Nineth. And these Lords of the Western Host."

"The West?" Nineth echoed as her children clustered around her skirts. Then on a distinct note of disbelief: "You mean the Valar have come?"

Olorin cleared his throat. "The Valar have heard the prayer of Earendil, who I understand is a kinsman of yours, Lady, and sent this Host to free Middle Earth of Morgoth."

"Well late is better then never." one man remarked to another, in a low voice but one meant to be heard. A ripple of grim amusement went through his fellows.

"A strong ally will be most welcome." Nineth said formally.

High Elves and Maiar exchanged bemused looks. Ally?

"I am Olorin of Lorien." the Healer continued. "And this is Alatar the Huntsman. We have been sent by the Captains of the Host to seek the council of the Lord Urin, who Cirdan tells us is your Captain General."

"I'm sorry but my husband is from home." the Lady replied.

"We know." said Alatar. "We hoped that you would be willing to furnish us with guides that we might find him and see also what you have accomplished in the north." that went over rather well.

"This," said Cirdan, "is King Arafinwe, who we call Finarfin -" and the Lady's face and the Men's lit up just as the children's had.

"King Finrod's father?" Nineth cried and gave him a beaming smile. "You are most welcome, most welcome, my Lord." the smile faded. "But I fear -"

"I know my sons are dead." Finarfin said quickly. "But I would seek out my son's grandson."

"He means King Gil-Galad, Mother." Elros explained.

"I guessed that much." she answered. Then warmly to Finarfin: "Of course you would. He's at Nargothrond, And you may catch Urin there as well if you hurry. Is tomorrow be too soon for you?"

"Not at all." he answered, turned to the High Elves with him. "This is the Prince Vronwe of the Vanyar and the Lord Artamo, who are also seeking kin."

"I hear I too have a grandchild, Fanuilos, but she dwells in Dorthonion." said Vronwe.

"That's right. Her son, Dagnir Mor, is our captain there." said Nineth.

"And I," Artamo said heavily, "have been unable to learn any news of my son either from Earendil or from the Exiles on Balar."

"Oh, I am sorry!" Nineth said with unmistakable sincerity.

The Noldorin Lord managed a faint smile. "His name in Aman was Artaresto, but I am told he would have taken another here which I do not know and none can tell me."

Nineth hesitated, then said gently: "It is possible he never made it to Middle Earth or was slain in the first battles."

"That is what I fear." Artamo said sadly. "But I would ask among your allies, to be sure."

"I understand." she answered warmly with a smile of such kindness and sympathy that Artamo could not help but return it.