The shipwright had turned his busy back, denying that there was anything more difficult about work by night: "You think we see less in the darkness. We merely see differently, and if you put your mind to it, you would see the advantage that offers the artisan." It was hard to argue with his results. Now Elrond sat apart on the beach, picking apart the activities of shadow workers, great dark ships, the black mouth of the sea. What did Círdan perceive now, under the weak and newly-risen moon? The shape of things? The quality of metal, freed from its daytime gleam?
Away to the south, Men were building, too, driven more by raw excitement than the subtlety of process. Even from a distance, their barks and clangs pounded Elrond's head as if it were an unruly plank. Yet his teachers had not been impressed with his proclamations of disgust, issued over everything from Mannish handicraft to physical appearance to so-called poetry (the initial source of his outburst was a hideous piece beginning with "On yonder hill there was a cow/ She's not there now"). Each had emphasised to him how much there was to learn from these creatures, and a few allowed expressions of pity to cross their faces. "What would you say to your Great-Grandfather?" one asked, and fear of irreverence shut him up.
Elrond jumped: the knocks on his head became physical. He snapped around to see Elros, grinning, a gleaming hawk on his gloved right hand. "There you are, brother. What's going through that brilliant mind of yours? Shouldn't you be helping Círdan?"
Elrond pointed at the hawk, eyebrows high.
"Ah, this one." Elros quirked his head to look into the bird's eyes. "Let me introduce you to Fanraug. Isn't she beautiful? Do you know the Men have a new use for Father's way with birds? These ones have no interest in silmarils. They are for hunting, not searching." His finger reached beneath the hooked beak, scratching softly. "Fanraug is not yet up to being useful; she is in the process of taming." A sudden laugh. "Or Manning, as they call it."
He turned back to the Elvish ships. There was so much requiring response, but those last words stuck at him. "And what are you, Elros? A Man?"
Elros hovered over the sand a moment before falling to a sit, hawk arm aloft, although Fanraug still squawked on impact. At first he said nothing, then touched his ear to his brother's shoulder. "I would like to take the Gift. But I shouldn't think this surprises you by now."
Elrond thought of Rumírdan, who taught him the names and uses of flowers. She was the first to address his scorn seriously. "I see why you think them coarse," she had admitted, "But what you must remember is that they are like caterpillars. This form is nothing compared to what they will become in the next world. We, on the other hand, remain constant until the very end, nothing more than slightly fairer caterpillars." She had leaned in, growing more serious. "An inability to understand this will not, of course, make anyone a purer Elf."
Unsettled by the quiet, Elros continued. "There is simply so much going on in the world of Men, Elrond! I think Númenor will be beautiful, broad, ever-changing. They live little, so they must constantly grow, adjust; and they must rely on each other, too. Do you know how many close friends I have already made? Although I know it is not something you much esteem." He leaned his hawk hand heavy on his knee, stroking through dark feathers.
"It seems scarcely worth losing you." He looked at Fanraug. "Do you remember the original hatchlings Maglor took from their eyries? How sure he was that they at last would save him?"
"Do you mean us?" asked Elros.
The question was innocently asked, but Elrond was taken aback. He supposed it was an obvious enough allegory, now that he heard it, but something about the idea repulsed him. "No — I meant what I said. The hatchlings."
"But they were like us, weren't they?" Elros's free hand dug furroughs in the sand. "Except that Father fed and nursed them for his own purpose. He fed and nursed us out of care, for our sakes."
Elrond, struggling to keep his temper, stabbed a finger at the Morning Star, which was just beginning its journey. "This is our father. Maglor was never that, not to me."
"I've heard all this before," said Elros, an odd tone to his voice. "And I understand. But look, there he goes, sailing his ship across the sky. He hardly seems to notice we're missing, does he? Did he ever look for us, or just for Mother?"
The question angered him, but he couldn't think yet how to respond. He needed time, space, the counsel of books. It meant nothing that Elros was quicker on his feet. Yet already, as his brother's hawk gnawed at her jesses, he felt the pain of recognition. Being manned: handled hourly, offered food only from the master's fingers, sung and spoken to, taken on the fist to each shadowy corner of the house until familiarity wore down fear. Hatred takes endless effort, but once gratitude, perverse and baseless as its existence may be, cracks open the window for love – not that he had felt love –
"I don't mind," offered Elros. "About our real father, I mean. His concerns are so lofty, above us. Or – and – maybe he knew we were safe." His face settled as he looked out at the horizon. "The more I think of it, the more I like that thought, you know."
Elrond was unsure, first about any purported safety, then about Eärendil. All at once he felt exhausted, tugged in every limb towards the sand. In the end, all he could manage was, "Your Maglor left us, too." His eyes slid sideways.
Elros's face was grave. "It is hard to understand. His pain always was." A small puff of air. "I look for him, sometimes. I hope that means something. I hope what matters is not who does what, but the existence of a search."
All at once, Elrond's arms were around his brother, followed by shock as Fanraug jerked at her jesses, then, with a cold cry, broke upwards. In a moment she had vanished among the trees of the shore. "I didn't think," began Elrond, but Elros smiled.
"It's not that bad. She will fly back to the lure in a few hours; I've kept her hungry. Meanwhile, let her have her dawn adventure." He started to say something else, Elrond supposed about what Maglor used to do, but fell silent.
"I will visit you, on this new island of yours," Elrond promised.
Elros returned the embrace. "You certainly will, and my children, too; and my children's children." His eyes were too bright for simple mirth. "I will have so many, you know, being mortal. And I need someone wise to teach them all."
"I have much learning to do first. The Lady Galadriel has said she will teach me." Another cycle of manning. Eager for distraction, he bent his head towards the Elven ships; activity was slowing, and song was swelling in preparation for dawn. "Círdan tells me there is something more apparent about ships by night than by day. I have been trying to work this out."
Elros stared a moment, then blinked, as if in digestion. "Motion," he said, a hesitant uptick to the word.
"What do you mean?"
"The motion of the ships together with the waves." He was more confident now. "I suppose that without the details of construction weighing on him, or perhaps especially knowing precisely where wood ends and water begins, he can better evaluate its seaworthiness." The back of his hand cleared tears Elrond hadn't quite noticed. "The system living as a whole." He rose now and shook the dust from his clothes. "We sail when the sun is a quarter past its rising; sooner, perhaps, if I can get my hawk back. Do not let too many years pass before I see you again." He bent down and kissed Elrond's head. "Farewell, brother."
Before his form could fade, Elrond turned back to the harbour. The thought stole into his mind unbidden, but impossible to dismiss: Elros was a well-made ship, and Maglor the sea. What was he? Perhaps a stone at the bottom, or a surfacing castaway. A storm-lost bird returning to the feeding wave at daybreak.
The songs of the Elves shifted, deepened into harmonies. Elrond unfolded his stiff limbs and walked towards them, responding to the call. As he neared, he heard less of his own voice and more of theirs. He smiled with relief.