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Unto the ending of the world: 36. Wind
August 25 – September 1, 3019
At first, it was but the clear water of the Mirror. Then a wind-blown ripple moved across the Mirror's bowl, and the water turned slate grey. Great, lazy deep sea waves, with no more than a hint of foam to mark the tops of the largest waves, filled her sight.
Imrahil closed the book he had been reading. Fascinating as the Second Age account of the lands of Far Harad undoubtedly was, it could not hold his attention. It had been a gift from Yávien, though, and thus it did not take much to turn his thoughts to home. Yávien had not been happy that he might be gone for several months, but had accepted the inevitable and sent him off with a smile – and a book that she would no doubt ask what he thought of it, so he would have to give it another attempt. He might even be at sea long enough to finish it. At least there had been no signs of any threat to the falas when his patrol left Linhir, but much could change in a month. He wondered how Amrothos was doing in the North; important as the mission itself, he envied his son the chance to visit Imladris, though he would not wish the company of Húrin of the Keys on anyone.
Still, no point in worrying about things he could do nothing about when he did have more immediate concerns. They were several days west of Umbar by now, and Imrahil was finally starting to believe that they had managed to sneak that rowboat in – and out again – unseen. It had helped of course that even after forty years he still remembered the lay of the land around the docks. Even so, the Corsairs were wary and he doubted that they would have been able to land unseen; luckily, the night had been foggy – as it had been then – and he did not need to get in too close to see what he had come for.
As expected, the Corsairs were hard at work on building new ships. Imrahil had been relieved to find that it would be months yet before they would be able to attack Gondor again in strength, though it was plain also that the work on some of these ships had started before the attack on Pelargir. For one breath, Imrahil found himself wishing that he had a store of the Fire that they had used in Thorongil's raid on Umbar. But no... Denethor had once said that the Fire was one secret of Númenor that should have remained lost; it came from the rule of Ar-Pharazôn, and was accursed. Imrahil could only concur; even now, he shuddered to remember the very water in Umbar's harbour aflame, and the screams of those caught in its burning.
With a shake of his head he returned to leafing through the book in front of him.
Imrahil looked up. "What is it, Soronto?" he asked.
"The lookout signals a ship on the horizon," the Master of the Watch replied.
"South or east?" Imrahil asked. Pursuit...
"Northeast, sir," Soronto said.
"North?" Imrahil repeated as he stood up. It may be nothing; fishermen or traders heading for Umbar, he thought as Soronto nodded in confirmation. It was unlikely, but as the wind had been in the north for some time it could even be a ship out of Dol Amroth that had strayed too far south.
On deck, Imrahil headed for the main mast's rigging; he could wait for the lookout to come down, but it was just as quick to go up.
The lookout lowered his spyglass to give him a brief nod before returning his attention to the sea. Then, he abruptly handed Imrahil the spyglass.
"Look," he said.
Imrahil soon spotted what the lookout had seen. Those are not fishermen.
"Signal when you have their heading and number." He handed back the spyglass.
Back on deck, he immediately called over a nearby sailor. "Warn the other ships that we have an enemy sighting to the northeast."
Even with the enemy over twenty miles away, that night there were no lights on deck or bells for changing the watch on the Gondorian ships.
Pursuit or invasion? If so, how many ships, how are they manned, where are they going? Are the unfinished ships we saw in the docks merely the next wave of attack for Dol Amroth or Pelargir? Eventually Imrahil fell asleep, only to wake up at each change of the watch on deck, something which normally never bothered him.
"Halbarad!" Elrohir reined his horse in and dismounted as the other turned around.
"Elrohir, welcome. What brings you here?" Halbarad asked as they clasped hands.
"Running errands," Elrohir replied. "I have some reports from the Ranger patrols near the Misty Mountains for you."
"Nothing bad that I know of," Elrohir added belatedly at Halbarad's worried expression. "No attacks in weeks. Also, the Beornings too will come to Imladris."
"That is good news," Halbarad said. "I have not yet heard from the Dwarves in the Blue Mountains, but even if they do not come, I will be in Imladris with the envoys in a week or two at the latest."
From Halbarad's slight grimace at the mention of the envoys Elrohir suspected the talks were not going well. He would ask later. It did not matter much; all this alliance could gain them was some small amount of time before the inevitable end.
"I would guess you did not come here just to bring reports and messages?" Halbarad went on.
"Indeed not. There is one other matter," Elrohir replied. Halbarad nodded, but did not ask further.
"Will you rest here or do you want to start back today?" Halbarad asked as they entered the Keep's outer bailey.
"I am in no rush to return," Elrohir said, avoiding Halbarad's puzzled look. Halbarad did not follow him in when he led his horse into the stable. A look at the lone stable lad on duty was enough to stop the lad from following as well. The horse settled, Elrohir leant against a support beam in an attempt to settle himself also. He did not look forward to enduring anyone's expressions of sympathy or grief, but too many of the Rangers here had patrolled with him and Elladan to brush them off.
Elrohir took his pack and went outside again, following Halbarad to the Chieftain's office. Once they were both seated, he handed Halbarad a bundle of messages from the Ranger captains. He waited for Halbarad to look through the messages before handing him the book Arwen had asked him to bring.
"Arwen asked me to give you this as a remembrance of Aragorn," he said as he handed it to Halbarad.
"A rem…" Halbarad took the book out of its protective cloth wrapping. "Aranarth's diary?"
"Yes," Elrohir said. "Ell... we called it the Chieftains' notebook. She thought you might find it interesting."
"Please when you return, thank her for me," Halbarad said as he opened the book to leaf through it.
"You can do so yourself," Elrohir said, "I doubt I will return to Imladris before you go there. I was hoping you…"
"Not return?" Halbarad looked up and closed the book.
"I need something to do other than sit in the Hall of Fire or stroll in the gardens. Father says I no longer need to rest, but Glorfindel will not take me along on patrol," Elladan replied, trying not to make his dissatisfaction sound like a childish complaint. Nor will Father give me aught useful to do.
Halbarad gave him a considering look. "Does not your father want you in Rivendell for the meeting with the envoys?" he asked.
"Want perhaps, but need?" Elrohir shrugged. "I am sure Arwen can aid Father if needed." She seems to have found some purpose at least, and I should be glad for it. I am glad for it. Yet Father does not cosset her, while he would barely allow me to come here.
Halbarad waited, but at last went on when he did not elaborate. "There is something that you might do," he said. "Are you willing to go to Tharbad to bring messages and report back on the work there?"
"If that is a… Yes, I suppose so," Elrohir replied.
"Thank you," Halbarad said. "Can I offer you a bite to eat for lunch?"
"Yes, please." He nodded his appreciation when Halbarad set out bread, cold meat and some wine for him, then raised a questioning eyebrow when the other did not join in.
"I have already eaten," Halbarad replied.
"Very well, then tell me how the talks with the envoys are going while I eat," Elrohir said.
"Not too bad," Halbarad said.
"But…?" Elrohir asked between two bites of bread.
Halbarad sighed. "Lord Erkenbrand asked that Rohan can move some of its herds north of Mitheithel for safety, but in truth, there is little to negotiate on with either Gondor or Rohan. What grain we can spare will be sent to aid Gondor, and the Gondorians and the Rohirrim will talk with the Bree-landers and the Dwarves about trading south as well… but that much you knew. The Council too has accepted the agreement, so we are now down to discussing amounts and whether to use barges or wains to carry grain to Tharbad."
"It all seems so little, now…" Elrohir said.
"It is," Halbarad replied grimly. "Yet even if we sent all our strength in arms south, Men and Elves both, it would not be enough."
"Perhaps we should," Elrohir said, his tone light. "Gather all our armies in one place, and even if we cannot win, at least our fall will be glorious." He paused, swirling around the last drops of wine in his glass. "Not that it matters. Live, die, fight, give up; we die anyway."
"You know it is true," Elrohir said. He laughed sharply, then shrugged as he met Halbarad's gaze. "But I will go to Tharbad for you."
She did not seek foresight in the Mirror – what glimpses she had were of little use, if she even could see how they might come about or what they might portend – but her mastery of it to see in the now was greater than before. And in truth, that is of more use than to see what might be. She turned her gaze towards the East. No new troops had come from Dol Guldur since the attack they had beaten back nearly three months ago, and only the occasional patrol that crossed the river.
Can He sense me if I use the Mirror? Her touch was light, and she did not attempt to look inside the fortress on its dark hill. Yet even if the Enemy did not know, he would assume she was watching, just as she assumed that the Eye was on Lothlórien. She refused as the Mirror attempted to draw her away. Not yet, I am not yet done, and she turned her vision north, towards the Vale of Anduin. If the High Pass was still in the hands of the Beornings, they should send messengers to Imladris soon. The thought of Elladan was nearly enough to break her hold on the Mirror, and she gritted her teeth as she made the Mirror show her what she needed to see. Yes, the Beornings were still in control of the pass. That at least is something. Now show me, she thought and let the Mirror take her where it would – despite her reluctance, such urgings were always important whether they came from her own mind, or were a form of foresight,– to find she was directed towards the Grey Havens.
She quickly looked over a place she had not seen since Celebri… What did the Mirror… Ah, there; Mithrandir, Círdan. She watched as the two spoke together, and wondered why Mithrandir had gone to the Havens. Alas that she could not discern of what they spoke.
Almost, she drew her hand across the Mirror to end the vision, but stopped when a third figure came into view. Curunír!
Her sight wavered, and she tried to hold the Mirror focused, but she abruptly found herself gazing into clear water. Almost shaking with fatigue, as she turned from the Mirror she wondered what it might mean that these two had come together, and what they might come up with – not that she trusted Curunír, or was certain that Mithrandir could be trusted, either.
They had lost sight of the Umbarite ships overnight, and Imrahil wondered again where they were going. He could not count on their enemy not having seen them the previous day, so if they were being ignored, it meant that their mission was more important than a chance encounter on the seas. He resisted the temptation to go up into the rigging – the lookout would signal when there was anything to see. The day was already close to noon when the fleet was seen again, further to the west now.
Another hour passed before all captains were aboard Imrahil's ship for a council.
"They could still go anywhere," Soronto, tracing the currents on the map, said, "But I am willing to bet they are for the falas."
"No," Meldoron, the captain of Wilwarin objected. "They can sail unseen right up to the Anduin delta to hit Pelargir from here."
"Why?" asked Windrunner's Perchalf. "They would not gain anything from the manoeuver, only lose time."
"The wind..." Meldoron started.
"The wind has barely shifted of late," Imrahil interrupted. "I agree with Soronto that it is unlikely that this fleet is heading for Anduin, but there may be another force underway. We must send warning. Perchalf, you will take Windrunner, Moth and Dragonfly to warn Pelargir, Linhir and Dol Amroth. The wind is against you, but make what speed you can."
"And what do we do?" Meldoron asked.
"We follow them until we are certain of their course," Imrahil said.
"And then? Are you so certain we can outrun them?" Soronto now asked.
"The Falcon is faster than any ship in the Umbarite fleet," Imrahil replied
"The Falcon may be, but my ship is not," Meldoron pointed out glumly. "I suppose you are certain also that they will chase you, if chase they do give?"
Imrahil smiled grimly. "I do hope so. Most of their captains should know the Falcon." He was glad now that he had decided to command the captured fleet from his own ship.
Later in the day, with the three smallest of his ships changing course towards the northeast, Imrahil climbed up to the lookout post again to see for himself whether the Umbarites were going to respond. As soon as he had the fleet in his sight, he did a quick count. The number of ships they could see varied; the most had been twelve. This time he saw eight, but Imrahil wished he was certain about their number; it would be easier to spot whether ships were sent off to carry messages to Umbar, or to follow his patrol. He was taking a risk by splitting up, but even with five ships they would not have withstood an attack.
To Imrahil's relief the Corsairs did as he had hoped, and did not chase his ships that sailed east; of course this also confirmed their mission was urgent and that it did not matter if Gondor was forewarned. He was starting to wonder… but it was too soon to guess.
The sun was barely up when Halbarad stepped outside. Dineth had still been asleep when he got up, though she would likely wake up soon. Anyway, she was used to his early waking habit and would not be alarmed to find him gone. It was odd how quiet the house was with just the two of them, but Halmir was at Tharbad and Haldan at the training camp. Even so, good as it was to spend time at home, Halbarad missed the Wild. He shook his head as he walked off; he had not forgotten why he was at home rather than out on patrol, and this peace was no more than the silence before the next storm.
As he passed the town gate, Halbarad waved a greeting to some townspeople who were heading out to help with the grain harvest – I am not the only early bird this morning, he thought and he wondered if he should put in some work before he went to Rivendell with the envoys; harvest time required the help of all, as did the sowing of the winter grain afterwards. He might even go out this afternoon, though it would be hot in the fields, and he would rather spend some time in sword practice – perhaps even a match with Elrohir, if the peredhel was so inclined; but hard work with a scythe held some appeal as well.
Perhaps he should ask Elrohir to join him at the harvest. His mood… No wonder Glorfindel would not take him on patrol. Halbarad was uncertain whether sending Elrohir to Tharbad was wise, although it was clear that inaction was not good for him either. Would that I could do more for him. Elladan had made him pull himself together on the ride back from Gondor. Halbarad doubted there was anything he could do now for Elrohir to repay that debt. I also wish I could ride there in his stead. It was nearly three weeks since the envoys had arrived in Caras Dirnen, and close to another week before they would travel on to Rivendell. The day could not come soon enough. Halbarad had to admit that the Steward had made a good choice in the envoys he had sent. Only had Denethor sent his own son and the Prince of Dol Amroth could he have sent a higher-ranking delegation. Only had he come himself would this delegation have been more difficult to deal with. Oh, the Lord of the Keys' attitude and demands in their negotiations had been reasonable, to the point of insult; it was obvious that he did not ask much because he did not expect Gondor could gain anything here. How it must gall the man that he had been sent to seek favours from the North when everything he saw so clearly filled him with contempt. He seemed to take offense at their very speech, if his pointedly Gondorian pronunciation and pained expressions whenever anyone spoke Elvish were anything to go by.
But enough of the Gondorians – what of the news that both Saruman and Gandalf had been seen near the Shire some while back, heading towards the Havens? Likely they wanted to consult with Círdan, but where would they go afterwards? And could he trust Gandalf, if the Wizard were to take some part in events again?
It has been a strange summer. The Rangers' dealing with the ruffians around Bree and the Shire had been followed by the quietest summer in years. The main mountain passes were secured, for now – though peace there had come too late for Elladan. After a wet and miserable spring, the weather had been excellent too, with harvests looking good. For many, even the shock of Aragorn's loss – along with the War in the South and the fall of Minas Tirith – had been pushed to the backs of their minds by the demands of daily life. Yet it took very little to bring the threat to the fore again, as he had seen when nervous townspeople believed the arrival of the envoys from the south meant that war would follow them; and as he had seen even the previous afternoon, when the stable lad on duty at the Keep had asked him whether the arrival of a messenger from Rivendell meant that battle would follow soon. The lad had seemed unsure of whether he wanted it to or not, but had appeared satisfied with Halbarad's denial. Thus do rumours start. Be that as it may, though, no one can deny the Elves are leaving.
Not all, not by far, but enough that there were nearly always Elves on the Road, going West. Halbarad could not fault them, for were that road open to the Dúnedain, many would take it. But they did not have that choice, and rather than envy the Elves their escape, Halbarad put it out of mind apart from wondering how many – and who – would remain. With the mountain passes open, could we, the Beornings and Lothlórien together, hold back the Enemy beyond Anduin? Perhaps, but only if Thranduil and the Dwarves still hold out. Even then, we still would not have the numbers to hold him back long…
Deep in thought Halbarad walked on, until he looked up and realised that he had headed up the path to Aragorn's house. He slowed, wondering whether to go on. He might as well, though, and with a shake of his head, he went on. Curse it, I miss him. Looking through the copy of Aranarth's diary that Elrohir had brought, and finding the notes Aragorn had written had only made it worse.
Of course, Aragorn had only rarely lived in the house; the last time it had seen regular use was when Gilraen was alive. It had been hers and Arathorn's, and she had dwelt here again after she returned to the Dúnedain. Halbarad remembered when he had shown it to Aragorn just after he had come to Caras Dirnen from Rivendell. Had they truly ever been so young?
I should do something with the place; not leave it empty, Halbarad thought. What, though… Halmir! Of course… He would see if Lossiel was agreeable to the idea. And it would please Aragorn if he knew, Halbarad thought as he turned to go back. Yes, it is a good idea. He cast a final glance at the house, and his mood fell. And yet… How long will they have there? Here I am making plans for my son when we may all be dead before the next harvest.
The morning found Imrahil studying the most westerly maps of the Bay of Belfalas, occasionally pacing the few steps along the table on which the maps were rolled out, until he shook his head and went on deck. There was little point in looking at maps until another sighting of the Umbarite ships confirmed or denied his suspicions.
Outside he found the wind had shifted towards the east, and he turned to Soronto. "What news of the Corsairs?"
"They turned further towards the north when the wind changed," Soronto replied. "If they mean to attack the falas, they will come upon the coast from the west. Few will expect an attack from there."
Imrahil replied, suddenly sure. "Not the falas. Eriador."
"Are you certain?" Soronto did not look particularly concerned.
"No," Imrahil said, "But certain enough to act on."
Soronto gave him a sharp look before nodding in acquiescence. "Then what? Do we try to outrun them?"
"No," Imrahil said again. "We turn towards Dol Amroth. They have a long way to sail, and a rider can beat them to Tharbad."
"There is a messenger for you," the elf who had called him said, indicating that the messenger was waiting below.
"Thank you. I will go to him," Celeborn said. He was on his way down anyway to speak to Galadriel.
"I am Gaerion, from Celegir's company," the messenger said as Celeborn came up to him. "Two days ago, one of our patrols found a group of about thirty Men and Dwarves, who had just crossed the river on rafts. They escaped when Erebor fell, and they walked for three months to get to Anduin."
"Do you know anything more beyond that?" Celeborn asked.
"No, but they were too weary to ask many questions of them," the messenger replied.
"Any enemy activity?" Celeborn asked.
"No more than there has been lately," the messenger said, and went on as Celeborn nodded. "What do we do about these Men and the Dwarves?"
"Go and tell your captain to guide them here, and send out patrols to watch beyond the river," Celeborn said.
As Celeborn descended the steps to the Mirror, Galadriel was still at the pedestal, her hands clutched around the edge of the Mirror's bowl.
He sat down quietly, leaning against a tree. It was not long before she relaxed her stance and drew back from the Mirror. She did not look at him, but acknowledged his presence in mind before kneeling down next to the stream to drink deeply from her cupped hands.
"What did you see?" Celeborn asked a bit later as she sat down beside him.
"I do not know," she replied, "Or rather, I do not know what make of it."
I saw both Mithrandir and Curunír at the Grey Havens again. At first I thought it was their arrival, but then Curunír boarded a small boat.
At that, Celeborn looked at her sharply. "Leaving? And Mithrandir?" When is this? Could you tell?
She held up her hand to slow down his questions. I could not tell; it may have happened already or it may never come to pass. And – at least from what I saw – only Curunír leaves. Mithrandir stays, though I felt some turmoil in him. I would say that this may never happen, perhaps even that we can dismiss it, except for one thing. She fell silent, and Celeborn waited for her to gather her thoughts. I could not see clearly, but I felt a presence there. As if… From her thoughts, Celeborn caught a glimpse of the memory of dark seas under the stars, sea spray in the air, the wind in her face and the exhilaration of racing her Telerin cousins in their sailboats. … as if Ulmo himself had come to Mithlond. I am left pondering what it may mean.
Perhaps the Istari are being recalled – Celeborn started.
Nay, 'tis not that, Galadriel said, or Mithrandir would have gone as well. I do wonder why I saw it, though. Perhaps, it is because Mithrandir… Her hand moved towards the finger that had been bare since the day the Enemy had regained the One, but stopped before she touched it. I do not know, she added. I will think more on this, but I am still ill at ease. Our enemy is too quiet.
"No longer," Celeborn said. "Erebor has fallen."
"Not unexpected," Galadriel replied as she looked at him closely. "Is there more news yet?"
Celeborn shook his head. "The refugees who brought the news should arrive here in a few days. Then we may learn more."
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