Lalwen gave Círdan a measuring look, with laughter flickering around the edges of it. Then she leant over and kissed him quickly, before he had time to pull away. The kiss was soft but she smelled of tar and oiled leather.
It was definitely that he had not had time to pull away. Anything else would be treachery. Then she sat back and looked at him again, all amusement.
Círdan put his head in his hands. “Lalwen...”
“What? Were you expecting me to be put off by the beard?”
“That’s what it’s there for!” Círdan snorted.
“Preventing kinslayers from kissing you?” She knew then, why he had not kissed her back.
“Of course. I grew it specially as a preventative, to ward off the Noldor.” He looked away across Lake Mithrim, glittering in the morning light, because he did not know how to look her in the eyes.
“Are we so difficult to resist then, that you must grow a beard to protect yourself?” She rolled her eyes. “Círdan, what is the matter? I like you, you like me. If what I did at Alqualondë is the problem, why are you here? You could follow Thingol’s example and refuse to speak to us. But here you are, in the sun beside the lake of Mithrim, picnicking with the sister of Fingolfin and making jokes about your beard. And not for the first time!”
“The Falas doesn’t have defenses like Doriath. I can’t afford to ignore the Noldor. I need allies,” Círdan said, already half-regretting it.
“So you come to visit us in Hithlum purely as a policy.” She sat back from him a little and looked at him more coldly.
“Yes... Well no. No, of course not. But...”
“I’m glad to hear it! I’d hate to think I’d invited you as a friend, and you were simply using me for political advantage.
Círdan groaned. “I didn’t mean it like that. You know I didn’t. But Thingol is my friend and my king, and he has forbidden us to even speak your language. How can I kiss you?”
“He didn’t do much to help you last time you were besieged,” she said pointedly.
“He couldn’t. He didn’t have a force capable of striking back like that. Still doesn’t: Doriath has a border guard, not an army, you know that. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help. Don’t speak ill of Thingol to me, please, Lalwen! I’m very fond of both of you.”
“Poor Círdan, trying to be fair to everyone at once! At least you will admit you are fond of me.” She lay back on the grass, her long dark curling hair spilled around her. She was very beautiful, like that, with the sun on her face, wearing a simple linen shirt and a worn brown leather vest over it.
“Of course I am. You are beautiful and clever and everything I ever hoped for — and you even like me too... I thought I was too old to be so confused! Why did you have to be one of the Noldor? And a kinslayer and ship-stealer at that?”
She sat up again and laughed at him, the light in her eyes like stars on the sea. “That may be the most confused and rudest compliment I’ve ever been given.”
“I’ve never claimed to have much skill with words. I make ships, not speeches.”
“That much is evident... You know, you could just not tell him. Thingol, I mean. He’s hardly likely to visit Hithlum himself to ask awkward questions. Or the Falas, even. You said he hadn’t left Doriath in all the time since you first started building ships in Eglarest.”
“He hasn’t,” Círdan said, uncomfortable. “Well, not as far as the Falas, anyway: he used to travel in East Beleriand, until Melian’s Girdle... But still he is my king, I can hardly keep secrets from him.”
“And he requires you ask his permission to kiss me, does he? It makes it hard for me to think very kindly of him, when he stands between me and you.”
“He’s not the only one that does that,” Círdan told her, because there was no way to skirt around it any more: it would have to be faced. “There’s also Alqualondë.”
She sighed. “You want to talk about Alqualondë, now? If we must, then we must.”
“They were my friends, Lalwen! My family. And now the light they sailed to find is gone, yet they haven’t returned. Probably they can’t.”
Those that were still alive, anyway. Who knew how many of the Teleri of Alqualondë were dead, and whether they could ever build ships again that could cross the vast and perilous deeps of the ocean. Círdan would have given a great deal to have seen those ships, the ships out of the West that Lalwen's brother Fëanor had burned. Who knew what secrets they might have lost to the flames?
Lalwen wrapped her arms around her knees and stared out over the lake. “So why are you here then? You already have a military alliance.”
Círdan looked at her suddenly stern unhappy expression, and could not hold to his course.
“Because I like you,” he admitted and saw her golden smile dawning like the sunrise.
“You like me! Círdan, you make it sound as if you are admitting to some hedonistic luxury!” She laughed. “I’m flattered. Or I think I am. But that can’t be all of it.”
“Why not?” Círdan asked, striving for gallantry, and she laughed again.
“I don’t think you’re quite that impetuous,” she told him kindly. “And you were the one that brought up Alqualondë, and the one who would not kiss me.”
Círdan looked out at the lake again, where a small fishing-boat with red sails had lifted anchor and was making its way back to the shore. But she said nothing more, and the silence stretched out, with a small warm wind blowing through the fine grass of the lakeshore. He knew that he would have to explain.
“If you hadn’t come back to Middle-earth, I know well enough we’d be dead,” he admitted at last. “Fëanor and his people slew my kin and burned their ships, and that is hard to remember. But his coming did save us from the Enemy. And now Hithlum and Nargothrond and Dorthonion and the March stand strong between my cities and the Enemy. I can’t think of the Noldor without thinking of Alqualondë. But then I remember that my people are alive because the Noldor arrived in time.”
“I am not my brother Fëanor,” Lalwen pointed out. “It was he who set out to take the ships at Alqualondë, and he that burned them. Neither I nor my brother Fingolfin chose that: trust me when I say that we regretted it at length upon the Ice. He left our hands bloody for his own reasons, and then when we got here, he was dead. Which, I may say, was somewhat frustrating for us, too. We had a few things to say to him.”
“So I’m told,” Círdan said unhappily, and rubbed at his beard, feeling awkward. “A difficult situation all round.”
Lalwen turned to face him, and took a delicate sip from her cup. “Loyal Círdan! You don’t want to say it, do you?”
“That Olwë and his people left you behind, and never looked back,” Lalwen said. “You stayed for Thingol... no, I’m not blaming him for that, but still, you longed for the light of Aman, didn’t you? That’s why you came to Beleriand.”
Círdan nodded reluctantly.
“Olwë and all the rest went off without you. That must have hurt. Then, when you would have sailed after them, Ulmo commanded you to stay and watch the coast. Did you think he would protect you, or that Ossë would, if the darkness came? No matter. When Fëanor arrived, you thought the Valar had sent him to save your people. And then you found out that Olwë would not even lend his ships to send you aid.”
“More or less,” Círdan said. “Though I don’t blame Olwë for taking the chance.” He caught her eye and laughed. “Well, I try not to. Nor do I resent the Valar giving me my task. Help did come when we needed it most.”
“But it would not have come in time, if I and Fingolfin had had our way in Tirion.” Lalwen looked into his face with those eyes lit with the golden light that Círdan would never now see, save in reflection. Her expression was unusually serious. “We did not know what was happening in Middle-earth. We were rather taken up with our own problems, I’m afraid.”
“All right, I’m not claiming that any of it is reasonable,” Círdan admitted. “But. Well.”
She leant back, and her long shining hair shifted as she moved. Círdan wanted to run his hands through it. “But none the less you have wound yourself into a stopper knot about it?”
“I have,” he admitted wrily. “It’s not that I don’t want to kiss you. But...”
“I am doomed to tears unnumbered and Death’s shadow, to render blood for blood, and receive little pity,” she said drily. “I can see that is not an appealing prospect.”
Círdan shook his head vehemently, unsure himself exactly what he was disagreeing with, and she laughed.
“So the Valar said to us, and we did not turn back. I’m inclined to wait and see, myself: even Manwë upon his throne does not see every chance of the wide world, or so the saying goes. But you’ve had your own share of blood and tears, Círdan, and I can’t see the Enemy excusing you from war because your hands are clean.”
“No, nor can I,” Círdan agreed and sighed, thinking of elves seized and carried into the north as thralls. Thinking of the dark, impossibly vast legions of orcs arrayed before the wooden walls of Brithombar, in the darkness before sun and moon with the Enemy’s vapours hiding the stars. He recalled the leaping feeling of relief and hope renewed, as they had seen the orcs had look up in alarm, as messengers came to them bearing news of the Noldor landing, as the orcs had turned and began to march away.
The walls of Brithombar and Eglarest were tall and strong now, stone-built with the aid of Noldor stonewrights. The walkways to the quays were now safe within the walls. If they were besieged again, his people could take to the sea and flee along the coast.
Lalwen was watching him with those disconcertingly intelligent eyes. The light that glinted in them had reflected in her father’s eyes and in Elwë Thingol’s too, when they had returned out of the West that first time.
Círdan had seen that light in their eyes, had heard the tales of the Valar and of Aman, and had longed to go there with all his heart.
“Foresight isn’t always right,” she said. “Or so my nieces and nephews tell me: I can’t say I ever had much gift for it myself. But I don’t think that I’m any less happy for not being able to look ahead and see whatever darkness lies there. Or not.”
The light brighter than the stars shone in her eyes, and for all she was a kinslayer, she did not seem to have let it trouble her.
“No need to be look so glum,” she said, and ran a finger down his forehead, smoothing out the frown. “It might never happen, whatever it is.”
It might never happen. He might never kiss Lalwen, he might never see Aman. He might never ask why Olwë had not waited, or why he had not sent help. He might never forgive him for whatever his answer was. He could choose to look only ahead into the grey mists of the future, unimaginably distant beyond thousands of years of grief and war and defeat layered upon defeat, where, if he was very lucky, there might be a small white ship, dwindling into the far distance.
Or he could open his eyes in the fierce light of the new Sun, and see her face, and laugh this day away, no matter that the future held grief and loss.
“It might never happen. That would be terrible,” he said, smiling, and he leant over and kissed her.
“But this is marvellous news!” Fingolfin said, leaping up enthusiastically from the mess of plans and maps upon the great map-table at Barad Eithel. Lalwen had chosen one of the rare moments when he was alone to speak to him about Círdan and their plans. “I thought Círdan had been visiting us regularly recently, and that it couldn’t just be that he likes Diriel’s recipe for salmon in birch syrup. But a wedding! I was quite sure you would never find anyone who would meet your standards!”
“Nobody in Aman,” Lalwen said laughing as he embraced her. “They were all far too dull. I had to come across the Sea to find the one person who would do!”
“I feel that as your older brother I am supposed to warn Círdan that he must look after my little sister, but to be honest, I’m more inclined to shake his hand and commend his remarkable courage... Ow!” he said and reeled dramatically, clutching at the shoulder that Lalwen had slapped as if she had used a broadsword. “That’s just what I meant. I must suggest to Círdan that we turn you against our shared foes. Where is he, anyway?”
This would be the difficult part. But if she could win over Fingolfin, the rest of the family would be no trouble. “He’s gone back to the Falas,” Lalwen said. “We aren’t telling anyone about this but family. Mine, not his.”
“What? But... why?”
Lalwen ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “Thingol.”
“Thingol? What does he have to do with it?”
“You know Círdan won’t speak Quenya, since Thingol made his law,” Lalwen said. Her brother made a face, then nodded. “Well, marrying a kinslayer is not something that Thingol encourages in his liegemen, it seems.”
“Círdan said that?” Fingolfin said, abruptly very serious and with that dangerous, angry tightness beginning around the corners of his eyes.
“Not in so many words, no,” Lalwen said, deliberately calm. “This is what I want, Nolo, and it’s my choice. It’s not for you to intervene. I’m telling you because you are my brother, and I hoped you would wish us well.”
There was one more moment when he looked as if he might be about to shout, and then, deliberately he let out a long breath and nodded. “If that’s what you want, who am I to complain about it? But does this mean you will not be moving to the Falas?”
“I’ll go and visit, of course” Lalwen said, relieved. “But I cannot live with him there. I think we shall have a house here in Hithlum, where the word is less likely to get out to Doriath. It’s not as though the Sindar here are much beloved by Thingol either.”
“Hmm. Well, I can’t complain that my favorite sister will not be going away to live at the Falas,” he said and shrugged, though he still looked a little put out.
“Anyway, what would you do without me?” Lalwen suggested.
“A good point! I can’t unnecessarily weaken my defences! If this makes you happy... But surely... can we have the wedding feast, at least?”
Lalwen laughed. “Any excuse for a party! That’s my big brother. Yes, I was hoping you might arrange some celebration. But we can’t call it a wedding feast.”
“No? How about... a festival of friendship, then? The Enemy has been quiet enough of late, since Fingon last gave his orcs a bloody nose... A festival celebrating friendship between Hithlum and the Falas. We’ll invite Annael and some of the other leaders of the Sindar in Hithlum. It will seem that Círdan is attending out of diplomatic necessity to his allies, how’s that? And then perhaps just a private dinner for those in on the secret.”
“That sounds lovely,” Lalwen said, and put her arms around him.