Note: Special thanks to Stargazer_Nataku whose plot bunny escaped her pen, turned into a Nuzgul, and came bounding right into me, evading her sight the whole time while she was distracted with others. Slippery little devils! ^_~
The Lord of Mithlond. That was what his
people called him. He was the lord of what was to be the final place on
Middle Earth that would see Elves. The last of them would come here and
Cirdan the Shipwright didn’t even need to look at his work any more. In a strange way, he took both comfort and despair in the rhythmic movement of his planer across the surface of the wooden hull. These were his masterpieces and Middle Earth would never see their like again. But Middle Earth would also only see each of them for but a short time. The grace of these ships belonged to the Undying Lands of Valinor.
As his hands worked with the confidence born of immortal experience, Cirdan watched the horizon over the Sundering Sea, his eyes moving to the Straight Way without preamble. One of his ships was there, sailing westward, leaving the bent paths all around it. He could just barely see it, a tiny shape amid a passing flock of gulls whirling through the air much closer to his pier. One of the birds passed in front of the dot that was his ship and it was gone. Another end had come to this long history.
He sighed, his hands dropping away from the hull he was crafting and his planer falling to the grass below. He had tried, nearly an age ago, to tell himself that his thoughts were simply troubled, that what he saw was not what was. But the slow pass of time was proving him wrong.
Elvendom was facing a long, dark defeat.
The darkness was growing again in the East. He could feel the Enemy beginning to pull on the consciousness of all who would listen or dare to stand against him. Whether by the Dark Lord’s sword or by the slow change that time brought, all the world would change and that which Cirdan’s people knew would disappear.
And yet, Cirdan did not wish to leave; at least, not yet. He had been there in the beginning, when Illuvatar had first awoken the Elves. He had heard the horn of OromŽ the Valar, leading his people into the west for the first time, to defend the infant race from Morgoth Bauglir. He had been there when FŽanor had returned in the White Ships of Cirdan’s kin, the Teleri, and had burned them in scorn. And he had seen the western lands of Middle Earth, the great kingdoms of Beleriand, sink beneath the waves when the Valar had swept out of the west to destroy the wicked Ainur betrayer. His eyes had seen the truth of change; all the world was already changed. There were younger Elves that didn’t understand yet. They would soon.
He knew where his dark thoughts were coming from, what they were feeding.
Not for the first time, Cirdan felt his hand grow heavy. The tiny band of gold and stone of red pulled a great weight on his finger and on his mind. The pull was eastward while his consciousness was repulsed westward. And he was caught in the middle.
“You are troubled, my old friend,” a voice cut through his thoughts. Cirdan turned and found the grey form of Mithrandir standing close at hand. His blue hat had faded somewhat since last they met, but it seemed to Cirdan that the crystalline miracle on top of his staff glimmered more brilliantly.
“I am trapped between the home of my birth and the home of my future,” the old Elf replied, “every day, more of my people give in to the growing darkness and leave these shores. The long defeat is hardest on those who watch it.”
“You do not simply watch,” said the wizard, strolling over to stand next to Cirdan. He picked up the dropped planer and handed it back to the Elf who took it reluctantly. “You have your part in this world, your hand in the powers that swirl throughout the history of this age.”
“Yes,” said Cirdan, gazing at the ring on his hand, “I certainly do, at that. Curse the foul betrayer. I took up Narya in the hopes that something on this shore would remain to us Elves, that someplace would be a haven here that would always belong to us. And now, it is the vessel through which the darkness creeps.”
Mithrandir sighed a knowing and dismal sigh. “It is the Enemy that troubles you, then.”
“His shadow grows,” Cirdan affirmed, “and though the mountains and the lands block my eyes from his miasma, my mind is nearly laid bare to him.” He shook his head and looked to the half-finished hull of his ship, resting a hand on the smoothed, unfinished wood. “Gil-Galad entrusted me with this burden. Narya is the furthest of the Three from the Enemy and yet I fear it shall be the first he gathers to his will.”
“It is not wrong to love these lands,” replied the wizard, “you know much of them. You were here in the beginning and have never left when others of your kind stole away beyond the seas.”
“And that is the rub,” said Cirdan, “I have heard that your beloved Hobbits like to say that old men are set in their ways?”
Mithrandir gave a kindly smile, a measure of sorrow still showing through; he knew what Cirdan was about to say. “Yes, they do indeed.”
“I am set in my ways, Mithrandir. This world is changed. And yet to leave would be the biggest change of all. Is there a ship that could bear me to the peace promised in Valinor? Could I ever build such a vessel?”
“Perhaps not yet. But one day, there will be such a ship.”
“I see not this vision that you see.”
“I know that you see much. You have always seen further than most. But, it is no vision that I see. I see you, NowŽ. And I know that one who seeks peace as feverishly as you do is destined to find it.”
Cirdan once again looked to the ring on his finger. “Perhaps it is the Enemy who blocks my way.”
Mithrandir perceived a new light in the old Elf’s eyes. Cirdan took the ring from his finger and looked upon it with equal measures of scorn and love. “The Ring of Fire shall not burn my mind like dry wood. If the world’s path is one of dark and desolate change, it will not trample its way through me, nor through the Grey Havens of Mithlond.” He cast his gaze eastward and grew silent for a time. “And yet, it shall be needed in these times of growing darkness. It shall go to the Istari.” The old Elf began to pace back and forth, anxiously, plans lighting in his mind one after another. “I will take this thing to Isengard. It shall go to Saruman.” He stopped short, his eyes once again resting upon Mithrandir. “And yet, providence sends a member of the Istari here, this day when I make this choice.”
Another thing pulled at his mind. Cirdan’s gaze moved to the highest tower of his city, a spire of white whose very essence seemed to lean ever westward. A light glimmered forth from the window of the tallest chamber, sending a ray of dazzling light to Cirdan’s eyes.
“No,” he said slowly, “this thing must not go to Saruman.” Slowly, almost hesitantly, he turned back to Mithrandir and held Narya out to him. “You were meant to take it. It was meant to pass to you, Mithrandir.”
The wizard sighed. After a silent moment, he reached a hand out and took it. “Now, it is you who is having the vision that I cannot see.”
“Perhaps,” Cirdan answered, “or perhaps I simply see you, Olorin. If you care for a piece of advice from a foolish old Elf, I’d advise only the following; keep it secret, keep it safe.”
Mithrandir clenched the ring into his hand. “I take your faith in me and your advice readily. For that which comes from the mouths of the experienced should never be disregarded.”
For the first time since their conversation began, Cirdan smiled a genuine smile. Again, his gaze was pulled, but this time it was toward the sea. “The path is opening to me once again,” he said, “I have taken a step upon it. Nothing holds me here. Now, something must call me there.”
Mithrandir nodded, knowingly. “Give it time, my old friend. There is time enough to break out of your set ways. And there will be more, very soon. I’ve just come from Bree where I have had a most interesting conversation with the Dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield. His thoughts and mine have both turned to the Dragon of the Lonely Mountain. We are resolved to do something about the beast.”
“I wish you luck. Smaug is the greatest of the wyrms that remain in Middle Earth. A more formidable opponent is hard to find, unless you count the Enemy.” Once more, he rested a hand on the half-finished ship he had been working on. “This shall be a masterpiece of a ship,” he stated, “one day, I shall see it sail into the west bearing the tired and the wounded of mind and it will be the vessel that brings peace to those who had thought it lost. It shall be a glorious ship and my gift to those who sail in it. It will rival the white ships of my kin which were burned by FŽanor.”
With a new fervor, Cirdan took his planer back to the wooden surface of the hull. He took up the rhythm once again and Mithrandir saw a star lighting the Elf’s vision.
“I shall look forward to seeing it,” said the wizard, “and until it sails, my task will remain unfinished. Which is simply a means of saying that I must bid you farewell for now, my old friend.”
“Go then,” said Cirdan, “parley with our Enemy. He cannot have nearly so many words as you. It’s high time your idle talk was put to use. NamariŽ, Gandalf.”
“NamariŽ.” The wizard replied with a slight bow. And then, as silently as he had come, he left.
Cirdan remained there well into the night, crafting his great ship, aided by the light of Ešrendil. The star shown all the brighter this night and Cirdan perceived another old friend looking down upon him with fondness. He took a moment to send it his thanks on his breath, then turned back to his work, the rhythm of his tools bringing him pure comfort for the first time in dozens of lives of men.