"I must go down to the sea again
To the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by"
Glorfindel looked in astonishment at the room; gone were the gaudy apricot furnishings, in their stead were the pale green plant dyes of the Vanyar, natural and fresh. He found his breath and smiled at Erestor.
"It is like my home." he said simply "You did this today ?"
"You did not like the colours, I could see. Oh, you did not speak ! But then, I did not care for them myself, the house was furnished when it was given to me, and I gave it no heed. But I would have you feel comfort here, for I delight in your happiness."
"Why Erestor, that is charming, you warm my heart ! Truly, I was not at ease in your little palace... But now, it seems much less a room for display, and more a room to live in."
"Display ! Who could see aught else when you are present, beautiful Glorfindel !"
Glorfindel laughed "I am so fortunate !" He pulled Erestor to him and kissed him gently "Thankyou, for the compliment and the compliment ! But is this the gift you spoke of ? It is thoughtfully chosen, you are as wise as you are courteous. How can I ever repay such generosity ?"
"Only kiss me again and I shall be once more in your debt."
They broke their fast on the balcony as Laurelin waxed. The Light sparkled on the clear water of the lake and the wind rustled in the vines, setting the small green grapes waving. Glorfindel ate eagerly, he had spent little time away from home and took pleasure in the strange tastes of the food of Tirion. Erestor smiled to see his enthusiasm and sat back in his chair with a contented sigh.
"Your appetites are inspiring, Glorfindel, yet you are not greedy. You have already forgotten the gift I promised you."
Glorfindel looked up from his bowl "I do not seek gifts or treasures, but to become the finest Elf that I can possibly be. I thought that I had spoken of this."
"Yes, yes you did, but still, I am unused to such... hm... such simplicity. I mean you no insult !" Glorfindel was sitting upright, eyes wide in surprised indignation. But Erestor smiled "This is Tirion, a city divided. There are those who love Fëanor and hang on his rare words. There are those who love Fingolfin, and defend him fiercely."
"And you, who are kin to Fëanor, yet have felt his wrath ? Where do you stand ?"
"Simple... What can I say ? My love, I stand with you, and wherever you go, I shall follow. But the pride you would choose is the pride of accomplishment, where the elder sons of Finwë seem to strive for a different kind of pride, the pride of status.
I pity Finarfin in all this, and I think that my heart would follow his gentle wisdom over the arrogant vaunting of his brothers. I would not have you speak of this..." he looked enquiringly at Glorfindel, who shook his head. "But of the twain, my sympathies lie with Fingolfin, who I suspect is hurt by the suspicion of his brother, and has become cold and aloof from the wound to his heart.
I myself am hurt by the rage of Fëanor and I am merely his cousin. To be his own brother, and to endure his jealousy of his father and his envy of his brothers, indeed, his resentment that they were ever born... that would be hard to endure. And so the hurt leads to quarrels and the quarrels increase the hurt, and the factions harden, until they become the divided city we live in. Here, every word is weighed in the scales of that great rivalry; but the weight of words cannot be measured.
You will find yourself baffled by their strange reactions if you forget this."
"I wonder how Fëanor would have treated the second child of Míriel ? But do you tell me that I must choose a side ?"
"No ! Indeed not ! But they will seek you out, already Ingwë has asked that you join his Guard, the Houses of Tirion will vie for your loyalty ! But take no step until the whole of Tirion is as much your home as this room is now. For how can you know the truth of your heart so soon ?"
"Yet you claim you know the truth of your heart, and we have only just met."
Erestor blushed and laughed "Oh Glorfindel, you struck me like the lightning on the mountains. I shall never be the same ! There is not even a question.
But these are matters for another time. Today I would have you follow me ! For my gift is not here in my house, and we must venture forth. Will you walk with me, beautiful Glorfindel ?"
Glorfindel laughed "I am not beautiful ! Please do not say such things, or my pride will turn to vanity and render me insufferable ! But Erestor, I would walk with you into the very darkness, you are the finest friend an Elf could wish for, and I shall be guided by your wisdom for so long as I have the wisdom to listen !"
As they passed through the great gates of Tirion, and out onto the sparkling road, Glorfindel turned to Erestor "Wherever are we going ? I thought you led us to a smithy or a workshop, but we are leaving the city !"
"Have patience, my friend, you shall soon see."
The warm gentle wind lifted the ends of his hair, and rippled his cloak. Glorfindel smiled, for though he did not love Erestor, he had become fond of him so swiftly that he began to wonder if this was how love grew. But Erestor hurried ahead, and turned onto a path into the meadows.
Glorfindel felt the tension of the city fall away and wondered where in Valinor he was going, but he laughed, for he was filled with hope for the future, and his life was beginning in earnest after the long quiet years of childhood. Erestor laughed to hear him and began to run, and they raced across the mead, while the birds scattered around them, bursting from cover like living fireworks. The sweet scent of the flowers filled the air, the white walls of Tirion glowed in the golden light as the gentle wind rippled the grasses. A herd of fine horses grazing nearby were startled into motion, and ran alongside them, and Glorfindel found the laughter stopping his breath, and slowed to a halt. The simple joy of living seemed to course through him, like the Light through the Trees, he felt that if he shook his fingers, happiness would drip from them like water. He swam in joy, he wanted for nothing, the world lay before him like the open meadow, and the laughter turned to song in his heart, until he stood and smiled at Erestor and sang "Tulkas Dances". Erestor laughed and took his arm, and led him on, singing the chorus with him.
At the far side of the meadow, in a stand of trees, stood a long low building covered in vines. Outside it a few Elves were busy, and horses were being led in and out, or tended in the stone-flagged courtyard. An Elf in brown stopped when he saw them and hurried towards Erestor.
"My lord ! All is prepared."
Erestor thanked him, as a great white horse was led from the stable, with a pink nose and a mane like a frozen waterfall.
"Here he is, my lord, this is Asfaloth, is he not a beauty ? Indeed" he said, bowing to Glorfindel "Now that I see you, I would have no other ride him, and now that he has seen you, I do not think he will wish for another, so well are you suited. Yes, you will look fine together. Please." He gestured toward the horse, his smile turned full on Glorfindel, who struggled to keep from gaping.
Asfaloth was the loveliest horse he could imagine. He bowed, and held out his hand. The horse sniffed at him and arched its great neck, then seemed to look approvingly at him, and stepped forwards. Glorfindel stoked the white hair and felt his heart swell with love as Asfaloth laid his head against his cheek and breathed softly. Glorfindel could not move or speak, so great was his joy, he merely stood, stroking the warm neck, feeling the vigour within the horse, as eager as his own, and his face curled into a smile. The world was forgotten, he did not think to pause and thank Erestor, he did not think at all, he gripped the mane, vaulted astride, and without so much as a gesture to Asfaloth, the horse twitched forwards and raced away.
Glorfindel had thought himself happy, but now he knew exhileration. The horse shared his mood; he was reminded of his sense of companionship with Erestor, but this was unspoken. Their thought seemed to move as one creature, part horse, part Elf, as they raced across the meadow, the wind lashing through the silvery mane, and whipping back the golden hair. Glorfindel felt his cheeks begin to hurt from the wideness of his own smile, and laughed aloud. Asfaloth twitched his ears and slowed to turn, and galloped back to where Erestor stood, waiting in the golden light of Laurelin. The proud horse slowed to a walk, and Erestor stepped forwards to meet them, looking up at Glorfindel with a smile.
"How do you like him ?"
"I... I adore him ! He is the finest horse that I ever saw !"
The Elf in brown sucked in his breath "Well... He is not the swiftest, nor yet the tallest, but for strength, aye, and beauty, well, there I would agree with you."
Glorfindel leaned forwards over Asfaloth, protectively almost, as though any hint that he was less than perfect could not be uttered in his presence. Then he laughed again, and stroked the white neck, and threw himself to the ground, where he seized Erestor and swiftly kissed him.
"Thankyou ! How can I thank you ? I did not know that I desired a horse until I met Asfaloth, and now I cannot imagine how I lived without him ! My only regret is that he is a Mortal horse and shall perish. But there, he is young, we shall have many happy years together, for I feel that he likes me in return."
Erestor laughed, and the Elf in brown looked approvingly at them "Well, my lords, I never saw such a finely matched pair, no, not even Oromë himself and the great Nahar look so lovely together. It is good to see that he has found a worthy rider, who I know will treat him with the kindness and respect that he warrants."
"But how can I ever repay such thoughtful generosity ? What fitting gift could I give to you ?"
Erestor smiled "If you would truly please me, then you will come with me to Alqualondë, and face your fear of the dark, and crush it."
The Elf in brown blinked and stepped softly backwards and moved quietly away. Glorfindel stared at Erestor, feeling his cheeks burn as though he had been struck. But he recalled his own words at breakfast, that he would become the best Elf he could be. And here was his chance to prove the truth of his words.
But the dark terrified him, beyond the reach of sense and reason, and his flesh was cold with dread at the mere thought. He turned to the Calacirya and thought of the vast dark water beyond; Belegaer the mighty ocean, mysterious as the sky, unknowable as the heart of Ulmo, and black as a raven's wing. He suppressed a shudder and gritted his teeth.
"Very well. I would rather endure an arrow in my leg, but I will do this thing. When shall we go there ?"
"Now." said Erestor simply.
Glorfindel was stunned, he stepped back, and Asfaloth snorted beside him. He turned to the horse and stroked his neck reassuringly, and a thought came to him. "You have given me this horse to distract me from my fear ! You think that I shall forget myself in my concern for his well-being, and you are right. I am abashed at your wisdom, and how easily you understand me, as though I were a horse myself."
"My dearest love, I have lived all my life in this crowded city, full of intrigue and suspicion. If you are a horse, they are as wary as rabbits, cunning as foxes and subtle as serpents. I can only compliment you, for my love for you has blinded my heart, and I see no flaws. To me you are already perfect. I almost feel as though Olórin has set me the task of marring your perfection, to turn you into another scheming courtier.
But no, he is good and true. Doubtless he is right, and wisdom will enhance your perfection, rather than diminish it, as the grape is enhanced by the leaven, and turned into wine."
Glorfindel laughed "You are so serious ! Yes, let us ride forth at once, dear friend, for how can I face my foes if I cannot face my fears ?"
Glorfindel was surprised at how little the darkness seemed to trouble him. He had been shocked when the Trees finally fell behind the Calacirya, it was like being at home in a storm with the shutters closed, dim, but not dark. He had looked proudly at Erestor who had laughed and shaken his head "No, this is not darkness, you shall judge yourself at Alqualondë, and not before !"
But Glorfindel gave little thought to the Swanhaven, for all his heart was bound up in the well-being of the lovely Asfaloth, though the horse was less troubled even than Erestor by the dimming of the Light. Far down the valley, still caught in the Light, the edge of the sea foamed and sparkled, white as the flowing mane of Asfaloth, and the salt of Belegaer sharpened the wind.
As they reached the lower slopes, the calls of strange birds came to them, not the bright songbirds of Valinor, but the pale giants of the ocean, the gulls, the swans and the eagles. The long broken wail set his heart racing, his fear rose again; these birds had seen the darkness, he thought, and even they were troubled. But Asfaloth needed his courage, he choked back his words of doubt, and gritted his teeth. It was his first test, and he would not fail.
The beauty of Elendë delighted them both. While Asfaloth picked disdainfully at the coarse grass of the shore, Erestor threw off his clothes and ran laughing down to the surging water. Glorfindel followed reluctantly, but found his eyes caught by the shining jewels scattered on the sand and filling the pools among the rocks, treasure chests discarded by a thoughtless child. It was very different from the formal elegance of Tirion, or the flowing green serenity of Valmar.
Here, the Elves seemed to have accepted that they were but one thread in the Tapestry of Vairë, and little more than the foam on the endless wave. He felt small, humble, standing on that immeasurable shore; and his eyes, accustomed to the dimness, had already forgotten that here he stood, in the very darkness he had dreaded for so long.
But Erestor, his wet hair clinging to his face, looked back from deep in the water.
"Come, Glorfindel ! Do not linger on the shore ! Swim !"
Glorfindel laughed and ran splashing into the foam, then threw himself under and opened his eyes. The salt stung a little at first, but the wonder and delight, and immense relief at his conquest of fear, made his heart so light he felt that he could float up through the water and the air, and swim among the stars. Ahead of him he saw Erestor's legs and grinned to himself, seeing the air bubbling forth from his mouth. He dived down, caught Erestor round the knees and swept him under. He could vaguely hear Erestor yelp, and then hear his voice burbling through the water, calling his name, and then they were tangled together, and their mouths found each other, and they kissed, and clung together, warm in the cool waters of the Bay of Eldamar.
But after, as they took the road to Alqualondë, their hair still wet on their shoulders, Glorfindel began to feel the chill. The Light was warmth, but in the darkness the cold awaited, real cold, colder than the snows of Oiolossë.
And on the road to Alqualondë, as the sky darkened ahead of them, Erestor pointed upwards in silence, and Glorfindel pressed Asfaloth to stay. For there, in the deep blue which hung ever behind the great unseen dome of Light, the first star that he had ever seen glittered in the sky like an impossibly beautiful jewel.
Glorfindel found the tears start in his eyes. This was the source of the joy of his father ! For the first time he felt he understood the old Elf, who loved the Light, but knew also that it came in many forms, golden as Laurelin, silver as Telperion, and shining white as the stars.
How could he have been so afraid ! There was no darkness ! Even here, with the Pelori towering above him, making him feel like a mouse at the walls of Tirion, even here, the sky was not black, but alive with stars. As he gazed upward another star appeared, and Erestor turned to him with an eager smile.
"Come, further yet, there are more stars, so many more ! You shall laugh at your folly and sigh with regret for the wasted years you could have spent here, marvelling at the grace of Varda !"
So they rode on, watching the colour fade from the sky, as Calacirya was left behind, until in the blackness the multitudes of stars covered the sky as the pearls on the shining strands. And like a diadem, or a jewelled belt, stretching across the sky, the dazzling glitter of the train of Varda outshone them all.
Glorfindel could not speak for wonder. No painted image had prepared him for the splendour of the dark sky, his very fear had blinded him; he bowed his head, watching his shame fall behind him like the faint shadows cast on the road. For here he was, in the dark, and Erestor was with him, and Asfaloth was steady, and he had done this thing, he had faced his fear, and conquered it. He sat up straight and looked into the anxious eyes of Erestor and smiled.
"What now shall I fear, who have faced my nightmare ? Ha ! Henceforth, I shall not be daunted !"
Erestor laughed "My brave Glorfindel ! I am sure that you are right. Come, let us ride now to Alqualondë and drink to your victory. Do not think that your smile blinds me to the courage you have shown, for I saw what the battle cost you, though I shall not speak of it again. You were trembling, my dear, whiter than Asfaloth as we crossed the Calacirya, yet here you are, marvelling at the stars as blythe as any other. Even if I did not love you, still I would admire your steadfast courage, and have you for my friend, come what may !"
Glorfindel blushed and bowed his head "Was I truly shaking ?" He looked up at Erestor, almost pleading. But Erestor laid his hand upon the arm of his beloved.
"My love, for me, there was no strife. I love the stars of Varda, and I rode towards them eagerly. But you have fought a great battle, and been victorious, and I honour you for it. Though we rode side by side, I have done nothing, for I was not afraid. I have not been brave, I have been myself.
But you have shown great courage, and in mastering your fear, you have grown; you have tempered your spirit in the forge of your will. You are stronger now, you are greater than you were, and nothing can ever diminish your triumph, for you will always know that you can do this, not only face the dark, but overcome a crippling fear, and ride through it, and still laugh.
Truly, Glorfindel, it has been an honour to witness such valour. I am filled with pride that Olórin should think me a worthy friend to one such as you, and I hope that one day I shall see in your eyes the awe I feel when I look at you, as you look at me."
Glorfindel laughed "Oh Erestor, your courtier words make me sound like a mighty hero in the train of Oromë, rather than the frightened boy I feel myself to be ! But let us ride on, for the salty water has given me a great thirst !"
At the gates of Alqualondë, with the mighty arch of rock looming beside them, and under the glow of the nacreous towers, Erestor slid from his horse and approached the guards. He spoke quietly and gave them a letter, and they stood up straighter, and bowed to him, and spoke softly. Erestor beckoned to Glorfindel to dismount, and he stood by the head of Asfaloth, reluctant to leave him. But one of the guards approached with Erestor.
"My lords, you may leave your horses in our care, they are not permitted within. But we have stabling here for even such beauties as this fine fellow."
Glorfindel sighed "Treat him as you would your own kin, for this is Asfaloth, whom I have only now met, and I would not have him feel forsaken so soon !"
"Asfaloth." said the guard "It will be an honour and a pleasure to walk with such a lovely creature ! Do you lay aside your cares here, and put your steed, and your trust, in our hands."
The tavern was up a flight of silver stairs, hung with many delicate lanterns made of nacre through which the light cast a pearly glow on white marble and glittering fountains. Erestor was greeted by another Elf who seemed to know him, and Glorfindel thought of the years of their childhood; while he had been running in the fields, Erestor had been dining in The Swan's Feather, and knew the people.
He was abashed, but drew himself up proudly. Erestor was right, if he could face the dark, he could face anything, even the bewildering array of acquaintances his lover had acquired.
The food was different again to that of Tirion, but pleasing, and perfectly prepared. They ate delicacies, and drank a wine that seemed familiar. He asked Erestor, who laughed.
"Ah, alas, the grape does not flourish here beyond the Pelori. This is wine from Valmar, Nectar of Ingwë, the finest ! To celebrate your victory."
"Nectar of Ingwë ! I have tasted it before. Thankyou Erestor, there is no finer vintage. But what do they drink here ? Do they have mead ?"
"Well, there are fruits here, even in the twilight; berries, apples and such like, the fruits of the far North and South, or the high fields of the mountains. But their favourite is a fruit wine, that they call Elderberry, made as they made it at Cuiviénen, so they say. When we have dined, we shall stroll among the Halls of Pearl, and taste the true Teleri drink."
As they left, Erestor spoke softly to their host, who gestured to the arch of rock. Erestor bowed and thanked him, and led Glorfindel away.
"There is a tavern beneath the arch, but it is only for the brave. The sailors drink there, those who venture far out into Belegaer, the explorers. There we shall meet the real Teleri, and taste the finest Elderberry wine."
"Will they welcome us there ?" said Glorfindel, abashed; but Erestor smiled his courtier's smile, certain of his welcome, with the unthinking entitlement of the noble.
The lanterns grew plainer, and farther apart, as they followed the road around the skirts of the arch. The dark rock soared above them, and Glorfindel could scarce distinguish the lanterns on the heights from the stars of Elbereth. The salt scent was stronger here, mingled with the strange smells of the life of the sea, of the dark weeds that clung to the rocks or swayed in the pools of light beneath each lantern, deep in the black water, and of the fish and other creatures as crabs and oysters, which made their home in Belegaer. Glorfindel would have liked to linger, and study these new things, but his thirst, and the eager Erestor, drew him on.
The road turned down to the jetty, but hugging the underside of the arch, a path wound away into the darkness. There were few lanterns here, and Glorfindel felt himself to be utterly foreign, far more than ever in Tirion. He was more nervous than he had been at the doors of the House of Curumo the Maia, for the Teleri were Elves like himself, yet not like at all. But Erestor was cheerfully hurrying ahead, and turning to smile encouragingly at Glorfindel, who finally laughed at himself, shying like a colt at anything new or different. But his childhood had been so safe and so familiar that the new was a rarity, and he had learned caution from his father.
The tavern was whitewashed timber, with a ship’s anchor hanging against the wall in the gable above the door. There was nothing written, nor any colours hung to declare the House. There were benches and tables at either side of the door, where Teleri sailors sat drinking, but now in silence, as they watched the newcomers approach.
Erestor strode forwards, and Glorfindel, attempting to match his poise, stood by him as he spoke with a courteous smile. "Stars shine upon you all ! My friend Glorfindel is new to Alqualondë and would taste your celebrated Elderberry wine, and hear songs of your voyages to broaden his understanding, of you, and of Arda."
The Teleri looked at each other, and one among them rose and bowed, but his mouth moved with the effort of suppressing laughter. Glorfindel winced and looked away for a moment, feeling out of place, feeling different to both the Teleri and Erestor, who were different from each other. The rich strangeness of the world seemed to drown him for a moment; he longed to sit and drink, and listen unseen, as the eyes of the Teleri turned to another. But the one who had risen was smiling at him, and spoke, not to him, but to his friends. "Now then, lads, we were all young once ! Do not mock our guests ! Think how you would feel in the Hall of Finwë !" he smiled again "Do you enter The Anchor ? They will sing for you there, and you shall taste the best Elderberry wine in all Valinor !"
At this a kind of roaring cheer came from the Teleri, who raised their glasses as one, and drank, as Erestor led Glorfindel through the dark doorway.
The tavern was crowded, but they were led to a table and a smiling Elf came to offer them water, and to ask what they would drink. When she learned that this was to be Glorfindel's first taste of Elderberry wine, she clasped her hands together and looked at him with her head on one side. "Oh my dears ! Such youth ! Such beauty ! Why, I have kept this tavern since first we came to Valinor, and the years are long since first I tasted the wine. Indeed, the years are long since last I saw one taste it here for the first time, for we Teleri are weaned on Elderberry wine, as the song goes. This very garland I wear is Elderflower, and it too may be used in a wine ! Oh, welcome to The Anchor !" She twirled away, moving like a dragonfly, darting to the counter and weaving through the crowd, and before they had had time to look about themselves, she was pouring the dark wine into two glass goblets.
She stood over them, watching breathlessly as they sipped the wine. Glorfindel was surprised at the smooth richness, the wine tasted as it looked, almost purple, and unlike anything he had tasted before. He drank deeply and smiled up at the Elf.
"It is delicious ! Thankyou for sharing this treasure with us ! Is it... May I take some away with me as a gift for my father ? He would delight in this vintage."
The Elf laughed "Ah, true praise is that which is shared with another, not offered to the giver. You are welcome here ! But drink ! There will be singing soon, and you will enjoy the rough tunes of the sailors, young lads like you !" She laughed again, and vanished into the crowd.
Erestor raised his glass to Glorfindel. "I drink to you, my love, who have accomplished more today than you would have thought possible, and trampled your fear beneath your feet !"
Glorfindel blushed, still a little nervous of the strangeness of the place, and the people; though the knowledge that he had ridden into the darkness with his head high was beginning to seep into his thoughts, into his spirit, and easing a tension that he had not known could be eased. The wine lit them from within, warming and sweet, almost finer than the Nectar of Ingwë, though very different. Erestor turned to an Elf beside him, and to the embarrassment of Glorfindel, told him the tale of Glorfindel facing down the darkness. The Teleri looked kindly at Glorfindel and smiled, then shook his head.
"No lads, that is not it. That is not it at all. The dark !" he laughed loudly, and heads began to turn. In an instant it came to Glorfindel that these people all knew each other; he felt as one in the woods who stumbles unaware into a family feast. He almost wanted to make excuses and leave, but Erestor was listening intently to the Teleri. "Do you think this is dark ? Why, even under the arch we are not beyond the reach of the Light ! This is merely twilight, though stars be visible, thanks to Elbereth. No, you must travel to sea, North or South, or out East among the shadowy islands, and wait for a night of cloud, and then you will see darkness."
The crowd murmured agreement and the Teleri raised his glass and drank deeply. But Glorfindel knew that this was what he sought, that the fear was not yet crushed, for the lights of Alqualondë, and of Varda, were all around. He must voyage with these sailors, into the mouth of the darkness, and discover if he truly was brave, or merely untried and foolish. The words burst from his surprised mouth.
"Take me there, then ! I will face your darkness !"
The room fell silent, Glorfindel realised that he had almost shouted, but did not blush nor flinch. The Teleri was looking thoughtfully at him, and there was a moment of tension, but the Elf who had greeted them hurried forwards and whispered in the ear of the Teleri, then turned away and started talking to people, joking and laughing. The noise rose around them and they were left gazing at the Teleri. He emptied his glass and sighed.
"Come then, I will bring you to Oars, and let the Captain judge."
He led them up the steep, narrow stairs, into a room with a wood fire burning in a wide fireplace. The lanterns were silver, there were cushions on the seats, a tapestry of swans on the wall, and several finely clad Elves scattered around the room. Two were seated by the fire, who turned to look at them with sharp eyes.
The Teleri hurried forwards and bowed to one in deep blue, darker even than the Noldor blue of the House of Finwë, and spoke politely.
"Captain, sir, these are lords from Tirion, who have a mind to travel with you, to see the true dark. Will you speak with them. She says to tell them your tale, if it please you, before you take them anywhere... Er... with your leave, Captain."
The Captain nodded once, and the Teleri hurried away. Glorfindel stood up straight, feeling that he had been looked over by far too many important people in the last few days, and wishing he could just get on with his life. But the Captain smiled and rose to his feet and bowed. He was made all of legs, it seemed, for while sitting, he had been unremarkable, but when he unfolded his endless limbs he towered over them like the mast of a ship.
"Stars shine upon you, my lords. I am Captain Môrandir, the dark wanderer, so they call me to my face. But behind my back, or when they forget themselves, I am called Oars, for my legs resemble a pair of oars, do they not ?" He smiled wryly, and Glorfindel found himself charmed by the strangeness of the meeting. Erestor introduced them, the Captain's friend nodded and moved away, and they were offered seats by the fire.
"So then, I am ordered to tell you my tale !" He laughed at their surprise "This is the finest tavern in Alqualondë, and that means in all Valinor, and our hostess has made it so. I would not dream of disobedience ! Indeed, as all her friends do, I seek ever for gifts to bring her, worthy of her praise. But come, drink with me, and I shall share my story with you."
The others in the room drifted away, for they knew the tale of old; soon they were alone with Môrandir, drinking the rich wine by the spitting fire. The Captain sat back in his carven chair and stretched out his long legs with a sigh.
"I am old, lads, older than I can say, for I was raised in the East, before the long journey began, before Elwë returned from Valinor... I crossed Belegaer on the island. But my spirit is restless" he snorted with laughter, and with a glint in his eye and an altered tone, spoke again "Indeed there are songs of my restlessness !" His face became sombre once more "But it was I who first set forth to discover the shape of this new land, and to map the shores.
We sailed North, into the gloom, and watched the stars brighten and the lights of our people fade, until we were alone, the black land one with the blackness of the sea. But above us the stars guided our way, and warmed our hearts, for they were the familiar stars of home.
So we voyaged ever North, until the crew began to fear the desolation, though no threat nor danger touched us. I myself was filled with restless wonder, and did not heed their griping, nor the cautious words of my officers.
But at length there came a time of cloud, a low, wide cloud, that covered the stars, and turned all the world into black dark. At this, I ordered the ship set" he frowned at them "Do you sail ? No ? Well, the rudder may be set against the sail, to stay the motion of the ship, and this we did. But as the endless empty time passed, the crew became troubled, and at last, when their thought was driven only by fear, they wished to turn back and hasten home, back to the light. Still I would not heed them, urging patience until the passing of the cloud. But they did not share my eagerness for the unknown. They broached the wine barrels, poured miruvor into the wine, and drank themselves to folly. The lanterns burned out, and full darkness fell.
There is nothing like it. No experience can prepare the spirit. I myself...
It is not the darkness of a cave or cellar, from which you may flee, it is darkness seemingly without end, as the darkness of the Void. It is a thing in itself.
But we were the best sailors of all the Teleri, the hardiest, boldest Elves of Alqualondë ! We should have greeted this new thing with proud and eager heart, not drowned our fear in drink ! And when I would berate them, they were roused to wrath, and fell on me, and tore the robe from my back and cast me naked into the black sea.
The ship was in darkness, the cloud had hidden the stars, there was nothing, no light at all; I was alone, in the utter blackness, and I faced myself, and the thought of my own ending. It was..."
He drew his breath in sharply. Glorfindel was cold with horror, and only the realisation that the Captain had lived to tell of his ordeal made the tale bearable. Erestor leaned forwards in his seat and asked breathlessly "What happened ?"
The Captain tilted his head back and looked at them through hooded eyes for a moment, then sighed and smiled "Ossë saved me."
Glorfindel gasped, and from the corner of his eye saw Erestor turn to him, but he could not tear his gaze from the smoke-grey eyes of Môrandir. But Erestor spoke again. "How ? Did he cause the clouds to draw back ?"
Môrandir smiled at Glorfindel, a smile that seemed to speak to him, to say 'You understand me, though he does not.'
Glorfindel found his heart warming towards the sea captain, stranger than he could have imagined, in the strange tavern in the darkness beneath the arch of rock. Erestor was looking from one to the other, his courtier's senses awakened to their mood. "Come, finish the tale, if it please you, Captain Môrandir ! Let us order more of this wine, and hear the ending."
The Captain laughed "Tales do not end ! Ossë awaits us, and all who sail, eager for sport, and diversion. But he took pity on me; else he toys with me as a cat with a mouse, letting me run, knowing that I shall return to him at last...
He raised me in his hand, and I saw that the lanterns were lit, as I landed on the deck. My crew were then lowering the boat from the other side, remorse having moved them to pity. They fell to their knees at the sight of me, alive and filled with wrath, but I did not rebuke them. For only alone, in the black darkness of the sea, did I finally understand their fear. And we forgave each other, and soon the clouds moved West, and the stars of Varda shone above us, and we sang for joy; an island of light and music, floating in the vast dark, as Arda moves through the Void.
And will you sail with me, golden one ? Will you swim alone in the dark beneath the cloud, out in the remotest wild of the ocean ? For only there shall I tell you my tale in full. Only there you may come to understanding of my words, and my heart."
He sat back and sighed again, and buried his face in his glass. The fire hissed and sputtered as a log crumbled, but the three Elves did not move. Glorfindel tried to imagine the fear and loneliness of the Captain, lost and forsaken in the darkness, but knew that he could not. Môrandir was right, he knew he could not be certain that he had defeated his own fear until he had faced such desolation himself, and triumphed.
"Yes." he said boldly. "I will face the true dark, if you will take me there."