Isle of Balar, 525 F.A.
Shrill cries echoed in the crisp spring breeze as small, quick shapes cut through the azure sky. Rodnor looked up and ahead as he crossed the meadow up to the edge of the cliff. Terns. He liked them. They were agile, clamorous, busy, carefree. The terns did not worry about tomorrow. At each sunrise, there would be again fish to be caught. Sun or rain to fall upon them. Air to breathe. Sea to dive into.
He wished he had more time. There was a narrow path down to the strip of rocks below. When he could, he would go down, take his boots off and sit for a while with his feet in the water, even when it was still wintery cold. But for today, even the hilltop was enough to feel at peace.
There were guests in the house. Voronwë had come with news from the Mouths of Sirion. Eärendil was to wed Elwing in the solstice. They were invited. Tricky business, finding the right tone for everything that was to be said and done about that matter.
He was an adult by all means, but still treated as a ward of Círdan’s. There were few Noldor in the Isle of Balar. It had become mainly a Telerin refuge, and, even if Rodnor felt he was ripe to be king – and he did not – there was little to rule over. But his bloodline was a delicate matter. Turgon, eldest living son of Fingolfin, had died High King, so, by logic, his heir would be his daughter, Idril or, for the traditional folk, her son Eärendil. But many felt that Turgon had relinquished his right to high-kingship when he had isolated himself from the world, within the walls of Gondolin.
Others presented complicated arguments, claiming that since Turgon had left only a daughter, the kingship should belong to his brother, Finarfin, who, obviously, was not there to accept the burden. This left him, Rodnor, the closest male relative available. And thus, some had hailed him as High King of the Noldor. A High King with no land and no people.
His mother, a Sinda noblewoman, had thoughts and aspirations… Círdan remained silent in his studied distance. He felt there was a chess game about to be played and the players were discussing who should make the first move, ignoring that the parlour was on fire.
A cheeky gull tried to manoeuvre after a tern. Rodnor chuckled to himself as it almost hit the cliff wall. They were graceful and powerful in flight but no match to a tern. They were also disgusting, willing to steal food from each other, to hunt the young of the rock doves and eat them while still alive… but it was nature. For one to live, another must die. And he did not hate them any more than he would hate a cow for eating grass, a man for eating a cow. There was ugliness and beauty entwined, in the eating, in the breeding, in the living.
Him, he wanted out. He wanted a sword in one hand, a spear in the other. He was becoming quite good at aiming it through the water, catching big fish that made his teacher proud and his mother sigh.
“A fine tuna, yes, child,” she would say when Belthion would help him carry home his catch. “But you are Ereinion Gil-galad, not a fisherman.” He was no child either, at 75, with a few deeds to his name already, despite the small, secluded peace of Balar.
At these times, Rodnor would shrug and head for the kitchen, to start cutting and salting the fish, thinking ahead of all the little practicalities his mother would never be bothered with. As he saw it, Círdan was right in one thing – he had to learn everything deeply and thoroughly if he wanted to accomplish anything in this world. And, as impatient as he felt to become accomplished, he understood this time of waiting. He had felt his place was not in Balar, with the Telerin, whether or not he would become King as his mother wanted or something else that he did not yet grasp.
The sun was falling to the horizon. Soon the first bats would come out, the crickets would start their serenades, and the shearwaters would fill the night with their comical callings. The moon would be almost full, sprawling its light over the waves, drawing him… But no, he could not stay. Tonight his mother and he were invited to Círdan’s table, to entertain Voronwë. They had met already, the formal invitation had been delivered, laden with subtleties, so now there was the merry part.
He trod through the grass, enjoying the evening breeze on his back. It was still cold enough for him to feel its bite, but it made him feel alive, connected to the world, to the intrinsic beauty of Arda.
At home, there were his formal robes laid out on his bed. His mother wrung her hands about lateness and the state of his hair, but he calmly washed himself with a wet cloth, clasped his hair with a simple mithril clasp, a gift offered at his birth by Celebrimbor, when there was a Nargothrond. Rodnor spared a thought for the sister he could not remember, for the father who had given him life by pushing him away. He donned the deep blue velvet, aware that it made his eyes look bluer. He was not given to vanity, but understood that politeness required a minimal investment in one’s appearance. He also admitted to himself, that he hoped Voronwë would appreciate the effect, artless as it were.
Voronwë did notice.
Dinner at Círdan’s was always a quiet business, even in the presence of guests and emissaries. There were eight guests, including him and his mother, and Círdan presiding at the table. Gil-galad sat close to Círdan, opposite Voronwë, listening as casual news from the Mouths of Sirion were dropped with hints of humour. Of course the serious business had already been dealt with, in his absence, behind closed doors. What news Voronwë might spare now was in the category of gossip, the fine lubricant of human relations. The other guests were either long-time friends of Voronwë or acquaintances with business of familiar relationships with him or with Idril, Tuor or Nimloth. Círdan did know how to select guests for his table.
Rodnor was too young and had grown too isolated to know many of the people mentioned except by name. Still, he could enjoy the joviality of the conversation and the way Voronwë seemed to laugh at human frailty, starting with his own.
He would rather have been present for the afternoon briefing, but Círdan refused to entertain the idea that an apprentice, as he called him, should be given such a privilege, regardless of how prepared he might be or what expectations might lie upon him because of his birth.
Secretly, Rodnor thought that Círdan’s attitude might be a matter of principle, yes, but that there might be some political colouring behind it. It would not bode well with the upper echelons at the shore that a young Noldo ruler with Sinda blood was in training. And it would certainly not be entertaining to have the few Noldor of Balar suddenly fit with someone to lead them as a separate people.
Still, he was able to follow the conversation with a modicum of interest, laugh at the right places, now and then place an adequate remark. And he could see that Voronwë did glance at him with some kind of appreciation. In previous visits, he had felt the same, that there was a lingering look, something fleeting and discrete but real. Or he hoped so.
When dessert was served, Vorownë smiled and winked at him, before continuing to ask Círdan questions about the works down at the harbour. Rodnor lowered his eyes and breathed deeply, feinting the eminent blush. He despised that, that he could be in the makings of being an excellent warrior, fisherman, hunter; that he was fluent in three languages, knew the rules of poetry and excelled in the most advanced mathematics; that he could name the stars and make his way through them; that he could bake, sew, clean, play the lyre but that he did not know how to seduce, or even make a mere show romantic interest in another human being. He hated that he did not know how to navigate the intricacies of desire, or the shallows of mere flirtation, and that his body made such things as blushing out of its own accord. That there was this one thing he knew nothing of, and that people wanted him to learn nothing of.
Soon dinner was over. Círdan invited his guests to the parlour for a dessert wine and more talk, but there was an unwritten rule that these invitations should always be declined. As such, Rodnor watched as the guests started bidding Voronwë farewell, some asking him to carry letters to the mainland. When his turn came, Rodnor said all the appropriate things, as expected of a well-bread young man. He thought that Voronwë’s hand rested on his perhaps a little too long, but then he did not know, not really, if it was just his impression or if it meant anything, and if so, what.
“I hear that you come here often.”
The sentence startled Rodnor out of his near reverie.
He sat at the edge of the cliff, his legs dangling over the nothingness below, his eyes turned eastward, toward the hills. This time of year he would not yet see the sun rise over the water – that would be closer to the solstice. For now, the sky was fading from that unnamed deep blue he loved into the first timid mauves and golds.
“Voronwë,” he said, turning slowly. “Were you not to sail this dawn?”
“A good morning to you too.” Voronwë smiled as he sat down next to Rodnor. “I got a pigeon late last night with new instructions. I must wait for a couple of days.”
Rodnor nodded. It was probably something related to commerce.
“Do you always get up this early after a late night?” he asked Voronwë.
“I don’t sleep much. Sometimes I feel very tired during the day and nap for a few minutes. But at night I don’t need many hours.”
Rodnor nodded. He wished he could be the same. There were not enough hours in the day for everything he wanted to do and to learn. At the same time, knowing a little of Voronwë’s history, he wondered if his lack of need for sleep was a physiological trait or the result of bad nights, filled with bad dreams.
“It’s starting to rise over the hill,” Voronwë said, nudging Rodnor.
The touch was unnecessary but welcome. Rodnor held his breath for a moment, squinting at the first arch of light, drawing out the moment until his eyes could take no more.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Rodnor nodded. He knew Voronwë from other visits, of course. Círdan often left him with the role of carrying out tasks for Voronwë or accompanying to parts of Balar further away from the main harbour. In those moments, they often talked about many things in a superficial but charming way. Still, it was surprising that Voronwë would search for him this early, in this private place.
“Will you be needing me today?” Rodnor asked.
Voronwë smiled. “No. But I would like the company, if you can oblige.”
Rodnor’s heart skipped a beat. “Of course,” he immediately replied. “What would you like to do?”
“For now, to watch the sunrise,” Voronwë calmly replied.
Rodnor felt embarrassed at his haste. He turned his face to the coming morning and let his mind become quiet.
“Want to go for a swim?” Voronwë asked, after a long while.
“It’s still pretty cold,” Rodnor answered.
“But it looks so pure and replenishing… well, I’m going.” Voronwë got up and started jumping up and down, moving his arms and legs.
“By the time I reach the beach below I’ll be cold again,” he said between jumps, “but let me be a bit of an idiot.”
Rodnor laughed and started trekking down the narrow path on the side of the cliff. Many times he had felt like going into the water, but had stopped himself. The cold, the prospect of having to listen to his mother worrying about his dishevelled hair and clothes and possibility of headcolds, the almost certain reprimands from Círdan, if he was late… but now, with Voronwë’s company, he felt that he could allow himself to be rid of excuses. And, of course, he would feel a bit of a coward if he just sat there waiting.
They reached the beach in silence. Voronwë started to strip down immediately placing his clothes in a tidy pile. Rodnor did the same. They gingerly searched for the best place to enter the water among the pebbles and boulders. It was gelid. The first time it touched Rodnor’s feet, he had to sustain a gasp. He cringed at the thought of entering slowly. Even in high summer he preferred to find a place where he could just dive in instead of slowly torturing himself.
“I would say it’s fucking cold, wouldn’t you?” Voronwë laughed. He had the water up to his knees. Then, he did something extraordinary. He knelt down and started swimming through the shallow water on hands and knees, like a child. It had never occurred to Rodnor to solve the problem in that particular way. Filling his chest, he did the same. He could not suppress a shout and a few gasps, but after the first shock, he started swimming very fast, until he was well away from the shallow rocks and into the free ocean.
He only stopped when he felt that he had reached the edge of the bay, where the current stated getting stronger. He paused for a few moments, waiting for Voronwë to reach him, feeling the piercing cold of the water and the boiling heat of his own blood mingling at the surface of his skin, making him feel fiercely alive. As soon as Voronwë reached him, they swam back, this time, more leisurely.
“Wonderful, isn’t it?” Voronwë asked later, after they had clumsily walked out of the water.
Rodnor looked at them. Their skin was red, their chests heaving and he felt that his grin was as wide as Voronwë’s.
“Yes, wonderful! Thank you for challenging me.”
Voronwë lifted an eyebrow. “I did no such thing. Thank yourself,” he added with a smile.
Rodnor started dressing himself, trying to ignore the intense desire to gaze at Voronwë’s body.
“I think we need a good, hearty breakfast, don’t you?”
Rodnor looked at the sky, trying to judge the time. “I need to start early...”
“Ah. A man of duty. But do not worry, I asked Círdan to lend you to me for the day. The Plucked Swan makes an excellent smoked haddock with fresh cream. And baked beans. And their cider is not so bad.”
“Glutton!” Rodnor laughed. Suddenly, he felt very hungry and devoid of all the self-awareness of before. The swim, the carefree invitation, the touch of banter… Voronwë was almost a friend. Someone he might like very much, if he could stop thinking of the attraction he felt. And at that moment, he could.
They ate. Then they strode through the harbour. Voronwë wanted for find horses to explore a bit of the interior of the island but he did not want to bother Círdan – who had no horses, in any case. This was no easy task with the Teleri, who had never cultivated a great love for the use of that animal. They found a man willing to rent them two donkeys for the price of a week’s labour. Rodnor made faces as Voronwë tried to bargain. They ended up deciding to walk as far as they could until the middle of the day and then to walk back.
“Any suggestions?” Voronwë asked, as they ambled through the village.
“Maybe eastward? The day is clear… you might even see the continental coast, if we go up a hill.”
Despite the animated banter that had accompanied the hearty breakfast and the search for transport, as they walked away from the village and the harbour, Voronwë fell silent. After a long while trying to think of things to say, Rodnor accepted that silence was best respected. It was only when a lone round-wing eagle cried above their heads that Voronwë broke the silence.
“I enjoy talking with you whenever there’s a chance… which is seldom.”
Rodnor glanced, startled, at Voronwë.
“I mean, I do see you every time I come to the island. Círdan is very proper and plays a masterful hand in keeping you visible enough in official events and duties. But… I mean, really talk, as we did this morning. I know from Círdan and your mother that you’re an accomplished student of almost everything. I know from yours own words that you are strive hard for perfection and that you demand humbleness from yourself. I have no idea on how you came to these notions. I understand that you are being trained to be a captain, and a very good one, not a king.”
Rodnor opened his mouth, but Voronwë stopped walking and faced him, placing both hands on his arms.
“I have been wanting for a very long time to tell you several things that I think and that may not be very welcome to you and those around you, that might even be dangerous to myself.”
“It sounds to me that you know an awful lot of what goes on on this island,” Rodnor said, holding Vorownë’s gaze.
“I do. People like to tell me things… and not only the Noldor refugees, before you assume things.”
“I would not call them that. People who care for you, Ereinion.”
“Rodnor,” he corrected immediately.
“Gil-galad Ereinion, radiant star, scion of kings. That is who you are.”
Rodnor shook Voronwë’s hands from his arms and walked ahead. He had been foolish. He had thought that Voronwë might see him as a friend, or even as an attractive man, but he was yet another person interested in his blood only.
“You sound like my mother.”
“You sound peeved.”
Rodnor stopped, covered his face with his hands for a moment before turning back to face Voronwë. Years of training set in.
“Shall we continue close to the coast or walk inland for a bit? There’s a small village you might like.”
“See, the perfect courtier,” Voronwë replied. “As much you have to thank Círdan for sheltering you and raising you, it is time you wake up, Ereinion.”
“What’s your interest in this?” Rodnor shot back. “You have a queen and a king. What are you trying to do, here? Treason? Is Tuor’s blood not good enough for the Noldor of the Mouths of Sirion?”
“Tuor is a dear friend,” Voronwë replied in the coldest tone. “I would give my life for his and him for mine. We have come close to it, in fact, a few times. I will only forgive you that remark because you are living here, so isolated from everything and everyone.”
Rodnor shook his head in disbelief. “So, what’s this about?”
“There is something that I was sent to tell Círdan, which you do not know and that is to be kept a secret from you, by his orders. Only that Círdan is not my master.”
“But he is your friend of a long time,” Rodnor replied.
“Friend is perhaps a strong word, but yes, we have known each other for a great many years. I do not feel that I am being disloyal to him, I have not promised him anything and he is not and has never been my liege.”
“But he is my foster father, and therefore I should abide by his wishes.”
“That may be so, but you are your own person too, and you owe too allegiance to yourself and to something greater than yourself.”
Rodnor remained silent and still.
Voronwë waited for a moment, searching for Rodnor’s eyes before continuing. “Tuor is sailing west, right after Eärendil’s wedding.”
Rodnor tried to hide his shock. “So? Eärendil will still be there, the son of Idril, grandson of Tuor. When you call me scion of kings are you expecting me to sail over and usurp a throne?”
“No.” Vorowë breathed deeply. “Look, it’s complicated. I am not urging you to do anything. I started this all wrong. I am merely asking – pleading – that you think of yourself in a different way. I am trying to tell you in a morning what I have been mulling over for years.”
Rodnor raised his hands, then dropped them, in a futile gesture. “And here I was hoping you wanted to seduce me,” he said, with a humourless laugh. “Since we are admitting things.”
Voronwë smiled. “I have noticed and I would love to. But that would complicate things further. I need to be your friend first, and foremost, so that I can tell you what you need to know.”
“What do I need to know?” Rodnor challenged.
“That you do not have to be perfect in everything. Círdan is right in that you ought to understand things deeply, but neither him, nor you are right in that you should hold perfect dominion over every field of knowledge. A good king does not need to do everything himself. He only needs to know enough to recognize those he must listen to, and understand when he is being told about limitations and potentiality. And more, even, being a know-it-all only humiliates people around you.”
“You have given this all a lot of thought,” Rodnor replied through gritted teeth.
“I have been alive for a very long time. And I have made a lot of mistakes. And I have seen a great many being done.”
Rodnor nodded and started walking. Voronwë followed him in silence.
“We can ask for something to eat at any house,” Rodnor said, at last, when they entered the village. “They are mostly Noldor, but have organized themselves in a peculiar way. There is no ‘mine’ for them and they will share with us, too.”
“I know,” Voronwë replied. “There were a few villages like that in Vinyamar, mostly an odd mixture of Noldor, Silvan and Green elves. I enjoyed their way of living, whenever we crossed paths, although to most it was mind-blogging. I liked the concept… although the practicalities of certain things still leave me confused, now that I live in a giant version of that.”
Rodnor raised an eyebrow but avoided questioning. “Círdan isn’t too happy, but as long as they pay their taxes, they are left alone.”
Voronwë nodded. “Wise of him.”
“I don’t mean to pry, but what do you mean by ‘a giant version of that’?”
“You need to see Sirion, the real thing, not the glimpses you got from your three, or were it four trips there. Come to the wedding and I’ll show you.”
“You sound awfully dissatisfied...”
“Yes and no. It’s lovely there. We are paupers but I have never lived in a place where there was more… harmony between people. Arvenien is still where the people of Brithombar and Eglarest left it – where Círdan left if, before taking refuge here. Then, there is sprawling around the Mouths of Sirion where the new harbour is being built, and several small villages around it. We do not have grandiose palaces, libraries, courts. Most homes are almost shacks. But the people care for each other in such a communal way. All children belong to everyone. All people are neighbours, cousins, even.”
“But we are open to whatever comes for us first, Morgoth or Maedhros. Dispersed in the terrain, no physical defences, no military training, no unified leadership… and a terrible burden hidden with us.”
“So it is true...”
“You didn’t know? Yes, it wasn’t lost. It’s there, and Elwing plans to wear it for her wedding, against all advice. That thing is beautiful beyond words and yet I wish I had never set eyes on it.”
“I should like to see it.”
“Please, never let the lust for it touch you.”
“I have no claim over it. But I am curious.” Rodnor waited for a moment. “So, you are expecting war soon.”
“War would be a compliment to the act. I’m expecting a bloody massacre.”
“I don’t know. I suspect that he hopes for a miracle… that someone will listen to him over yonder and that help will come… but none of us know if we will even be allowed to reach the shore.”
Vorownë faced Rodnor. “Him, Idril and me. Together in this as we did always in everything else. Hence my brusque approach to you. Time is running out.”
“Why the interest, again?”
Voronwë sighed and shook his head. “Let’s eat.”
The rest of the day was spent walking and talking. They decided not to head back to the harbour and to find a place to sleep in the wild. Sometimes they talked about politics, economy, the despair of the reality of Beleriand, the ideals of a perfect society, faith, future, past. Voronwë had known Orodreth although not intimately, and had a few stories to tell Rodnor. And they shared a love for nature and the myriad of plants and animals to be watched in the island.
They returned to the harbour in the next morning. The ship was loaded and the captain only awaited Voronwë to set sail.
“We are about to miss the tide, sir,” Rodnor heard him call, as soon as they were in sight of the ship.
Voronwë did not see to be in a hurry. He kept walking at the same pace until they both reached the plank to the ship.
Vorownë turned to Rodnor and embraced him, moving slowly forward, gently enfolding him in his arms until they were locked in a strong embrace. Rodnor did not recall ever being embraced like that, as if every moment mattered.
“Do write,” Vorownë said, after a long moment. He moved away from Rodnor just enough so that they could speak looking at each other. “Do write me, Ereinion Gil-galad, even if to tell me to bugger off. And think about everything I told you. Allow yourself to be free from expectations, even yours.”
Vorownë ruffled Rodnor’s hair, making him feel patronized and cherished at the same time.
“I will write,” Rodnor said, running his fingers through his dishevelled hair.
Mouths of Sirion, 525 F.A.
Elwing’s wedding was celebrated in the last days of summer. The sea was rough, but Gil-galad tolerated well the crossing of the sea. He had seldom been to the Mouths of Sirion and it always felt absurd the way some people gathered around him, as if he were a saviour of some sort.
This time, it was no different. And yet, there was something new there. He did not feel like he had to walk on eggshells. He did not correct anyone who would not call him Rodnor. And he was not taken aback when a group of Noldor from Nargothrond approached him with a request that was not new, but that he now felt he could heed. He would not meddle in what was Eärendil’s domain or Círdan’s, but if these people wanted to move to Balar, there was plenty of land there. One thing he could do was to intercede for them with Círdan, to get land. Balar was largely unoccupied, especially in the southernmost part. He might be their lord or not – that was another question.
Since spring, Voronwë’s words had kept revolving in his head. He found himself being more himself. At first, he started fighting to take more responsibility than Círdan thought he was ready for. Then, he started taking more time to do the things he truly loved, instead of trying to reach for everything. And, suddenly, he realized that he had never felt so connected with himself, or with everyone else around him.
He had found a room overlooking the harbour and left his mother’s house. This had caused many tears, some scandal among the Teleri, but, despite the remorse of hurting his mother’s feelings, he felt it had been a good decision. He had learned more in those few months, than in the previous ten. How to soothe his mother’s feelings without trampling his own, what to do with himself when all the work was done, how to take off to his little cove when he needed to find time to replenish himself. How to do the things he had been advised not to for the sake of what others might think. And how to decide if he liked them himself or not.
Despite his continued interest in Voronwë, he took a lover, his first one, a bold Teleri girl with whom he had many heated arguments. He understood that Voronwë was meant to be nothing more than a friend. And still his heart beat faster when a ship came with a letter for him.
She had not come to the wedding with him. He might not know if their story was to last forever, a main point for her, but while they slept together, he thought that she should be by his side. She thought that until a betrothal was formalized, she should stay away from sight. And she thought that there should be no betrothal because her lineage of fishermen was not appropriate for him. That had hurt. He wanted to do right by her and he understood that she wanted the same for him, but it was still rejection. There was a lack of beauty in that he could not stand.
He was still mulling over it when his ship reached the harbour, three days before the wedding, and Voronwë greeted him with open arms. He showed him around, introduced him to people, reconnected him with former acquaintances. Then he would disappear, leaving him to his own devices, return later to take him on another round.
The wedding ceremony was lovely. Everything was decorated with white flowers. Elwing shone with her own radiance and with the gem on her breast. Gil-galad was at once fascinated and repulsed by it. Such beauty… so much blood shed.
After, late at night when all the guests started leaving, Gil-galad searched for his mother, to accompany her to the house where they were guests. She smiled and took his arm, allowing him to walk her to the entrance of the hall.
“Darling, you look so handsome,” she said, stopping at the door. She cupped his cheek with her hand. “Someday it will be your turn,” she added, glancing at Elwing and Eärendil, who still danced, oblivious to the rest of the world.
Gil-galad smiled. She had grown, too. She had learned to let him be an adult, to choose his own way.
“Why don’t you stay a little while longer?” she asked. “Voronwë is still here and so are some of your new friends. And our lodging is right around the corner… I’ll be perfectly fine.”
He kissed her cheek. “Thank you, mother,” he said, close to her ear. “For everything.”
She smiled and left into the night.
When he turned back into the hall, he felt Voronwë’s eyes upon him. Tuor, clearly tipsy, talked with him, but Voronwë only gave the occasional nod. His face was somber.
Gil-galad waited, greeting the people who passed by him, sipping a glass of wine someone had brought him. The candles flickered, the musicians stopped, Eärendil and Elwing exchanged a glance and disappeared into the night, and still Tuor talked and talked. Idril came, listened for a little while, then dragged him by the arm.
Vorownë closed his eyes and let himself fall into a chair. Gil-galad walked to him and sat in front of him.
“That looked serious.”
Gil-galad lifted an eyebrow.
“They want to sail together, alone.”
“Not with you?” Gil-galad asked, brimming with sudden joy.
“No. The idiots. We’ve been together in everything ever since I found that idiot stranded on a beach in Vinyamar. We have been so close that his son calls me uncle, but I could almost be his father.”
“And that is why Tuor wants you to stay...”
Voronwë nodded. “Yes. But Eärendil is all grown up now. He doesn’t need me.”
‘But I do,’ Gil-galad wanted to say. Instead, he extended his hand. “Come on. The moon is shining over the water and it’s not too cold,” he invited.
Voronwë nodded, resigned. They walked for a long while, first toward the shoreline, then ambling around until they found a small cove away from every one.
“See, I also have a bay of terns myself,” Voronwë said, as they undressed. “Only that the noisy little buggers are sleeping now.”
“The shearwaters are out, though,” Gil-galad replied. “Soon they will be flying south and so will the terns.”
“Look at the stars,” Gil-galad replied, standing half naked, his feet digging into the cool sand, his eyes roaming the sky.
Voronwë stepped closer, to stand behind him. He placed two warm hands over his naked shoulders.
Against his will, Gil-galad felt something stir below. Voronwë was a friend, that was settled, and besides, there was Mariel back in Balar, however things were bad. Voronwë leaned his cheek against Gil-galad’s hair, then moved away.
“Come, before the night breeze cools us too much.”
They ran toward the water, soft sand flying around their feet, until they reached it. It was that time of night when the water was warmer than the air. Gil-galad dove head first and swam for a long time. He could feel Voronwë swimming by his side with strong, even strokes. They stopped only when the shore was but a thin dark line, punctuated now and then by fire lights.
“You could have swam all the way West,” Gil-galad joked, panting.
“I was only racing after you,” Voronwë replied.
“I need to rest for a moment.”
They floated until their breathing evened, then they leisurely swam back. When they reached the sand, they started looking for driftwood, to make a small fire. Ahead, the sky lightened and tiny clouds reflected the rosy hues of sunrise behind them.
“It was a fine night,” Gil-galad said at last.
“It was. It was also a turning point,” Vorownë said. “Trust me. I love Eärendil as if he were my own, but he will not rule for long. You need to be ready.”
Gil-galad nodded. He accepted the message. He would be ready. But at this moment, he yearned for Voronwë to touch him again, as he had before. That did not happen, though. As the fire died and the sun rose in the sky, they returned to the city. Tuor would sail the next day, a mighty hasty thing to do, in Voronwë’s opinion, but he was required to help his old friend and to support Eärendil.
And Círdan waited Gil-galad to return to Balar. And Gil-galad had plans fermenting in his head. And there were these talks he needed to have with Círdan, his mother, Mariel. Life beckoned to him, but by other paths.
Cape Balar, 534 F.A.
“Happy begetting day!”
Gil-galad woke with a start. The half-light seeping through the frindges of the blinds told him it was still very early. Mariel stood beside his bed, his mother beside her both holding a cake. He rubbed his eyes and slowly sat up.
“How do you feel now that you are 84?” Finally grown up?” Mariel teased.
Gil-galad smiled and tried to reach for the cake. Mariel swiftly took it out of his reach.
“No. First get up, wash and dress. We have a surprise for you. We’ll be waiting below.”
His mother deposited a kiss on his cheek as Gil-galad was about to start grumbling and they left the room. He heard them going down the stairs, whispering, and a faint, different whisper in response.
He obeyed Mariel. He liked her very much, loved her, even, but things had become much easier between them after they had decided they did not love each other. There had been tears and shouts and apologies, but after separating, they had quickly found a way back to each other. It had stung when she took another lover, a couple of years later, but he found himself happy for her, and loving her, still, in a different, kinder way. She was his best friend, his captain, his sister.
As he stepped down the stairs he saw Voronwë’s back, who, upon hearing his footfalls swiftly turned to face him, arms wide open.
“Happy begetting day!”
Gil-galad hoped down the last two steps and fell into Voronwë’s arms, into a tight embrace.
After they separated, they went into the kitchen to eat Mariel’s cake and drink tea as breakfast. Whenever Voronwë came to visit, they would spend hours talking, with Gil-galad showing him everything that they had built since the last visit, how many newcomers had arrived from Balar, the defences they were trying to organize, the improvements to fishing, agriculture and forestry, everything that he had tried to do ever since he decided to move back to the mainland. So, after a while, Mariel and Gil-galad’s mother left them to their talk.
Gil-galad was proud of himself. He still did not wave around the title of High King of the Noldor, out of courtesy toward Eärendil and Elwing, who were the de facto rulers of the people of Arvenien, many of whom were Noldor refugees, and out of respect toward Círdan, who had, slowly, listened to him and re-established some of the Teleri presence in the Havens of Sirion. Still, he was rebuilding as much as he could of what the Teleri had left behind when they had fled to Balar.
He saw the island as an important place, an Elven stronghold, but he believed that Beleriand belonged to Elves and Men, and that they should not hide away, but to thrive in the mainland and to slowly and steadily expand. It was possible. All it took was planning, a little caution, a little boldness, and they would achieve it. After moving back to the mainland, he had discussed this a few times with Eärendil, but his cousin had other ideas and often spoke of waiting or hoping for help from the West.
Gil-galad would surely appreciate it, but he would appreciate even more if he saw Eärendil carrying some of the enthusiasm he saved for ships into the organization and protection of his land. In that aspect, he had not taken after Idril, who had always pushed as far as she could with what little she had.
So, it was with some anger but little surprise that he learned, a few months before, that Círdan was helping Eärendil build a ship to try to sail into the West.
He gingerly broached the subject with Voronwë.
“How is the ship going along?”
Voronwë set down his mug. “Vingilótë is ready. This is why I came here. Your begetting day, also, of course...” he added with a grin.
Gil-galad laughed. “Of course.”
He owed much to Voronwë. Without his prodding, he would still be in Balar, trying to please everyone, not finding his own way. Here, he felt alive, useful, and very much his own person.
“So, when will he sail?” Gil-galad asked.
Vorownë paused for a moment. Then, looking into Gil-galad’s eyes, he answered, “We will sail on the next moon.”
Gil-galad shook his head and slapped the table. “You, who have spent so much time telling me that we should face what may come for us and be ready, now you’re running away?”
“I am not running away!” Voronwë shouted. “I am not running away,” he added a few moments later, in a quieter tone. “And if I were, I would be doing so knowing that I’ve left a strong, smart leader for our people ready to take over, should anything happen in our absence.”
“Your absence may last forever. Tuor never returned.”
“Tuor never meant to return. Whatever he may have pleaded on our behalf, he was weary of the world, tired as I had never seen him since we first met in Vinyamar.”
“You may die! We need each and every elf here, very much alive.”
“I have faith...”
“You’re too sensible to have faith!”
“I’m too sensible not to.” Voronwë reached over the table and took Gil-galad’s hand in his. “Ereinion… You have been doing so well… but look at a map. We’re a tiny dot, a few thousands of people crammed into a place that has no natural barriers against an enemy much larger. The Men will not be able to help us, should Morgoth come down, and he will, eventually. And the only other Elves left are kinslayers who would kill for what Elwing holds.”
“You can’t even say its name,” Gil-galad said in a flat voice. “I ask again, can’t we use it in some form? I highly doubt it is just a shiny bauble.”
“Don’t be tempted by it,” Voronwë warned. “And you know the answer to that question. They have tried many things. Elwing has Maiar blood in her veins and has been powerless to harness what she calls ‘its heaviness’.”
“Elwing’s blood is irrelevant. She merely plays wife to Eärendil, like her mother plays widow to Dior,” Gil-galad said, withdrawing his hand.
“Don’t dismiss her so quickly,” Voronwë chided. “I believe she will surprise us, one of these days.”
Gil-galad sighed. “Let’s walk.”
Voronwë nodded and followed Gil-galad out through the backdoor. They avoided the streets and headed swiftly out to the cape, through the paths of the moor. Gusts of wind set their hair and clothes in disarray and the low clouds threatened rain.
“I love this weather,” Gil-galad said, at last.
Voronwë nodded. They had reached the edge of the cliff and stood there gazing at the horizon.
“Will you forgive me,” Voronwë said, after a moment.
“In a way, I did to you what everyone else was doing, only in a different direction...”
“I don’t see it that way.” Gil-galad turned to face Voronwë. “Yes, it was very obvious that you had an agenda when you approached me in Balar, all those years ago. But I have never felt instrumentalized. I feel that I am doing what is right, for myself and for everyone else. It has even been good for Círdan, although he might prefer to poke his eyes out than to admit he needed help.”
“I am happy you feel that way,” Voronwë said. “You were – are – so young.”
“I am old enough.”
Voronwë chuckled. “Indeed.”
“Shall we go down for a swim?”
Voronwë grinned in reply.
Much later, when they were back to Gil-galad’s house, sharing a meal in front of a welcome fire, when all the more trivial news had been shared, all the old jokes had been told, Gil-galad set down his plate and paused.
“All those years ago I made a joke about expecting you to seduce me.”
Voronwë stopped eating and looked at him.
“As you well know, it was not entirely a joke,” Gil-galad continued. “I am still infatuated with you. No. Infatuated is an ugly word. I love you. I know your flaws and strengths, we share this friendship where, despite your prodding and my age, you have never made me feel inferior.” Gil-galad paused for a moment. “I just wanted to say this before you leave – if you leave – Eärendil might do to you the same as Tuor did.”
Voronwë smiled. “Likewise.” It was an old joke between them, the awkward reply. “I feel the same. But it never felt right to approach you. Like I said then, you have your own path that does not need further complications.”
“Well, it looks like you’re rejecting me again.”
“Not quite. Not this time.”
Gil-galad lifted his eyes, to meet Voronwë’s, who reached out to take his hand. “As a farewell, then?” he asked in a murmur.
They rose in a single movement and stood still before each other. Then they embraced, at first as they always had, as dear friends. But quickly something else emerged. Stirred by desire, Gil-galad searched for Voronwë’s mouth with his own and they kissed deeply for a long time. Then Gil-galad took Voronwë’s hand, noticing the slight trembling. He led him upstairs into his bedroom, the bed still unmade. They undressed, watching each other, appreciating, delaying what was to come. Then, they fell into each other’s arms and into bed.
The next morning as Voronwë prepared to leave, Gil-galad stopped him for a moment, cupping his face with his hand.
“I have loved you for so long. And now you will be gone.”
“And you will love again, someone else.” Voronwë kissed his cheek, adding, “Not to be callous.”
“I know. And you will, too, if you survive this fool’s errand. But I do so hope that we will meet again.”
“I am sure we will,” Voronwë replied.
He drew closer, drawing Gil-galad in one last tight embrace.
“I am sure we will.”