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running down to the riptide

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It is dawn, early dawn, when Voronwë slips away from Sirion, letting the briny tang of salt and the soft murmur of distant waves guide him west along faint paths through the shivering reeds. After near on twenty years lived in the City of Refuge he knows full well the direction in which the Sea lies, and how best to reach it, but it is good to have his senses – and darkness take him, the world – confirm that he is going the right way. And so Voronwë lets himself be guided, his bare and calloused feet nudged a certain way along the sandy trail, and it feels – appropriate, somehow, for what has come and what has yet to come, all at once.

It is early autumn, and the breeze that tangles its curious fingers in his hair is already chillier than the friendly sea winds that have tousled Eärendil’s curls becomingly all summer as he courted the princess of fallen Doriath. It is early autumn, and the clouds that shroud the western horizon must surely blanket the coming sunrise with both their weight and a little rain – a rain that will also wash away the last of the lingering heats. And this too is apt, somehow, for what has been done and what has yet be done, all at once.  

There is no regret, as the scant few miles from Tuor’s home down to the harbor and then out to the shore itself slip away beneath Voronwë’s feet. Sirion herself means nothing to him: he has seen and lost greater harbors, greater homes. The people she shelters mean so much more, of course, but –

Voronwë shrugs the thought away.

He already made what good-byes he could, had he not? Embracing Tuor with all his strength, unearthing a true smile for Idril, tousling Eärendil’s hair and grumbling that the boy will manage to make a fool of his father yet?

He had.

And in doing so, under the guise of bidding these three most precious to him in all the world good-night, Voronwë had also made whatever small peace there remained possible for him to make. For Tuor had smiled, and scoffed, and stood, and embraced Voronwë as warmly as he ever had, utterly unmindful of any pains inflicted upon his body by encroaching age. And Idril had grinned at him from behind Tuor’s broad back – ever the perfect conspirator for any plan, even when she could not have known what the current one was. And Eärendil had submitted to the indignity of having an Elda shorter than himself reach up and ruffle his hair with all the good grace of a true son, and only beamed at Voronwë with the cheerful promise that no worries, he would do just as fine a job of winning this princess’s hand as Tuor had his, just Voronwë wait and see! And Idril’s lilting laughter, Tuor’s hearty roar, and Eärendil’s good-natured protests had trailed Voronwë up the stairs and into the darkness of his loft, the staunchest bulwarks against impending darkness that he could ever have asked.

So no, Voronwë reminds himself as the paths beneath his feet give way to the shore – there is no regret. (or if there is, then it is regret for something that is not his beloveds’ fault, and so it does not signify) Instead there is only a great exhaustion, a lingering anger, and a terrible knowledge that he intends to put to the best use he can, since it is not something that he – or Eärendil, or Idril, or even Tuor – can resolve.

His dirty feet make their weary way down the shore, scuffing soft impressions into the night-cool sand that the wind and tide will eventually polish away. And then the sand gives way to the Sea, and Voronwë wades out into its wet touch, shivering a little as the water laps at his toes, his soles, his heels, his ankles.

He has not returned to the Sea in years upon years upon years. Not while surviving within the ruins of Vinyamar, not upon returning to Gondolin, not upon fleeing to Sirion.

Not since his body was ripped from the yawning shipwreck that should have been his grave. Not since his head was wrenched above the swelling waves and into the raging storm, where his lungs gasped for breath and still found only half salt-water, half air. Not since he felt the breakers about him reverse their right course, dragging him bodily through the surf to cast him facedown, boneless, naked, upon a rocky shore.

No, Voronwë has not returned to the Sea since he was torn from Ossë’s lustful grasp by Ulmo’s firmer one.

In the ensuing years he has wondered, sometimes, if setting foot in the Sea again would feel like going home, but now –

Now he knows that it does not.

It is just saltwater, cool and wet upon his skin, and if he shivers now than it is just for the chill on the wind, coming from the last remnants of the night, the first hints of the autumn, and nothing more than that. Right?

He wades out a little further, noting without even needing to think of it that the tide is coming in.

Right.

Here. Here.

And there amongst the lapping waves Voronwë kneels, as he has not done for any – no man, no king, no Power – save Tuor and only Tuor, ever since that terrible night when Ossë first dragged him beneath the swells.

With Tuor, kneeling had never felt like Voronwë was begging, or being made to submit, or seeing that he was made to be less than he was.

For Tuor – well. For Tuor, Voronwë has long since found that he will do a great many things he would once have thought he could never do again.

It is cool, and it is dark, and it is autumn, and it is sunrise. And there, alone on his knees in the Sea, Voronwë lets the words that have dammed up his mouth for so many years finally flow free.

“Long ago, o Lord of Waters, you claimed my life from your wild retainer when he would have made of me his plaything.”

It is surprisingly easy, Voronwë finds, to keep his tone conversational and even. It is not that he is not still angry. Instead, it is more that no amount of anger, or protest, or bewilderment, has ever been able to change these facts, and no amount of anger, or protest, or bewilderment, ever will.

The waves lap about his knees – and then a little higher still – as Voronwë, still kneeling, settles back upon his heels.

“And when you gave him leave to drag every ship that the lord Turukáno had set for the West beneath the waves, Ossë took every advantage of your indulgence.”

The sheer length and utter fury of the storms – and the slow crawl, the pitiless deliberation of the other ships’ demises – had admitted no explanation beyond Ossë.

 “Seven vessels crewed by the Powers’ remaining advocates he destroyed.”

Every morn for near a full, storm-scoured week as they had scrambled to make their way back to the shores of Middle-earth, Eärrámë’s day watches had come upon deck to find another of their number wiped from the surface of the sea, and the night watches frantic with their inability to say precisely how or when the other ship had disappeared.

 “And more than a hundred lives of your most faithful devoted he claimed.”

There had even been times when, through the gale and the swells, lightning had illuminated great towering fins surfacing and sinking along the horizon that separated their ships from the receding West. The Maia had been watching them all throughout those terrible days, deliberating which of their number he would come for each night.

“And when the morn would dawn, or the gales relent enough that we could see beyond our own decks, we would find their bodies washing against our sides, sometimes. They would be torn by sharks, or marked by great sucking limbs, or strangled by kelps and weeds. What faces we could still make out were the faces of friends who had died in great pain and terror, and we could do nothing, either for them or for the dwindling number of us who remained alive.”

The incoming tide laps at Voronwë’s thighs, impersonal and cool.

“You know that I was on the final ship, o Lord of Waters. You know that I lived through six days of your retainer’s terror before a morning dawned when we saw that we were alone, and knew with every certainty that the coming night would be our turn. You must have seen, you must have heard, how we begged you – not even for our lives and not even for easy deaths, for we had seen how you denied these to all our peers – but just for answers. That we might have learned how, and when, we had wronged you so completely that you would allow your retainer free reign upon us.”

“And then when night fell, and our time came, and Ossë emerged – you claimed me.”

The water feels colder than it had before as it soaks Voronwë’s trousers through and through, plastering them wet against his skin and slipping through the thin cloth to probe and fill the spaces between his legs: front and back and side.

And here Voronwë’s voice finally falters. He can hear it happen.

“He had already pulled me below – impaled my body upon the spokes of the wheel I had steered us by, filled my mouth and my lungs with his fury – when you decided that it was me, and not any one of so many folk better than me, who should live to serve your purposes.”

Speaking or even thinking of it still sends a mad energy coursing through Voronwë’s frame. The tides that have reached to near his waist suddenly feel like a vise grasping and restraining him, and if this were not so important – and so important to get it right – then Voronwë would have risen from his knees and run run run a long, long time ago.

But this is so very critically important, and so –

Voronwë fights down the urge, and remains on his knees, and stays.

“Lord of Waters, I lived as you demanded: alone on that beach, speechless and shaking until your chosen one came and you needed my knowledge of our hidden paths to guide him to Gondolin. And I toiled as you commanded, attending his marriage and minding his son, supporting him when he confronted the king and working at his side to delve secret routes through the mountains. I defended his back as he fled, and I watched over his sleep as we traveled, and I labored at his side once more as he built goodwill among the folk of Sirion to make a new home for his son.”

“And through all this, o Lord of Waters, I lived. I lived. I lived. I lived.”

The Sea now clasps his waist as firmly as a lover might, upon deciding that what lay directly below that waist was worth pursuing. And the sky is lighter now, the sunrise having come and gone somewhere behind the lowering clouds, but remains even more silent than the Sea; only the gulls cry overhead, lonesome and wild and so far beyond the tide’s grasping reach that Voronwë could almost envy them if he had not come this morning precisely to court that very tide.

And neither Ossë’s fins nor Ulmo’s figure rises from the Sea to hear his speech, but maybe that is for the better. This is madness, and Voronwë knows it, and even if it were not he has always spoken at his best when he knows that no one is listening to his halting talk, his imperfect words, anyway. 

“Much of this – perhaps all of it – you will have already known. But I had to say it aloud in your realm all the same, so that you might understand that I have seen the enormity of it too. And maybe, I know not, but maybe you can agree that I have earned the right to ask something of you, when you never asked, but only took, everything away from me.”

Prideful, the waves tap in warning against his waist, his calves, his most intimate places. Foolish. Stupid.

And perhaps they are right. (no – they are certainly right) But Voronwë has earned these things, has he not?

Has he not?

“And since, because of all that I have borne, I could not endure a second passage into the West. For Ossë has made me to drink of the Sea and its depths, and my bones will not be able to resist a second time if I were to pass over the hoards that they nearly joined the first.”

The tide is still coming in, and the Sea has risen far above Voronwë’s waist now. Some arms’ length from where he still kneels, restrained and supplicant, something indistinct stirs; a shadow rising into visibility from deeper waters still.

“And so, o Lord of Waters, I relinquish my place in the West, my safe passage across the Sea,” Voronwë ends. Anger, protest, pain, bewilderment – all have almost washed away, corals and colors upon the tide.

“Instead, I ask that you permit these to your chosen one in my stead. Let my life end here, where his was meant to; let him sail with his wife, and live out his days free from age and its pains. No Man deserves such honor more than Tuor, and I – no Elda will make less use of it than I.”

The shadow stirring in the water before him finally breaches the surface of the Sea, and Voronwë lets his eyes fall closed before he can make out more than the very tip of a fin.

In the end, who has come for him does not matter. Hopefully, the fact that someone has means that his request for Tuor will be honored.

And this time, if he is being given the choice, then Voronwë would rather not watch what will become of himself as he is pulled beneath the surface of the Sea.