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Son of Harad: 6. Círdan’s Tale
On a cool late autumn morning, Círdan was making his routine check on all the boats. He tested the wood for weak spots, checked each sail for tiny rips, sanded down the rougher oars, smoothing. Everything was in order, as it always was, and so, once the morning routine was complete, Círdan walked along the shore, as was his wont, away from the harbor and towards the rocky precipice jutting out to sea.
Here, there was a lighthouse and a short watchtower. The waves splashed up against the rocks, sending sea spray everywhere, dampening Círdan’s tunic as he strolled. He breathed in the salty air, filled his lungs with it, closed his eyes. Never, in all his years, had he tired of the sea. Never would he tire of it.
He walked up the narrow footpath which led to the highest peak, where one could look out onto the wide, watery expanse. Círdan oft came here at dusk to watch the sun set into the West. But now the sun was high, it was almost noon, and so Círdan squinted slightly. He often pretended to see Valinor - just a speck of glinting light on the horizon - but he was never sure if it was truly the Undying Land, or if it was simply a wave's tiny peak reflecting the sun.
He found his usual spot: a broad, flat stone, only steps from the precipice's steep fall. There he sat, listening to the waves crash against the rocks below him, listening to the seagulls crying, the wind whistling.
And it was there that Ulmo came to Círdan. As the elf sat, thinking idly over his daily tasks, the great Sea God emerged, slowly, almost imperceptibly, rising from the waves below. Círdan saw a great wave coming forth, all the water swelling to the center, pulled almost from the horizon itself, and rising up, slowly, rolling, rolling, up. Immediately, fear gripped Círdan’s heart. He had never been fond of tidal waves.
But this wave was peaceable, for it drifted towards his precipice, growing larger, but never quite crashing down into its natural conclusion. Instead, it seemed to approach as if it was a sentient being with purpose and thought.
The wave came very close, rising up, tall, taller than the jutting cliff, taller than the lighthouse, blocking the sun. Círdan fell into shadow, and looked up, peering through the wall of water where the sun was just a shivering blue-green-white orb.
And so, all the water fell away, and Ulmo revealed himself to Círdan as He preferred: an enormous figure, muscular, scaled, reflecting the mighty sun, with pieces of seaweed clinging to him. A great flowing beard, white and grey, and eyes - eyes - eyes that burned through any mortal or elven mind, eyes that burned with the light of Taniquetil, the Holy Light of the Valar.
Círdan fumbled for a moment, caught between the utter shock of seeing a Vala in person and the uncontrollable ecstasy such a meeting inevitably produces. Yet after snapping his mouth shut, opening it again, gaping, starting forward, sinking down, nearly fleeing, jerking back, he finally knelt upon the ground.
"Círdan!" Ulmo boomed, his voice shaking the very foundations of the rocky precipice. "I have a task for you."
Círdan was trembling. Sweat formed on his brow. His voice merely squeaked out for several seconds until, after clearing his throat, he managed to say:
"Yes, Mighty Ulmo, God of the Sea. What would You have me do?"
"A rescue mission, of sorts," Ulmo continued, and Círdan thought he detected a note of annoyance in the great Vala's voice. "We have no time, so you must leave immediately. Gather up your finest crew aboard your finest ship and set sail. Today."
One would think seeing a god would humble one into silence, but Círdan always had his passion at the forefront of his mind. And so he asked:
"And what of Mithlond, Mighty Sea-God? Who shall watch the Havens when I am gone?"
Ulmo raised himself slightly, his fiery gaze traveling back into the harbor and towards the cluster of ships.
"Find another to man the harbor while you are not here," Ulmo said simply. "You will not be away for long. Perhaps a fortnight."
"Yes, Mighty Ulmo."
Ulmo nodded, growling a pleased smile. Yet, after several awkward moments, with Círdan still kneeling, staring at the ground, and Ulmo rather obviously waiting, the Vala raised an eyebrow.
Círdan swallowed, still nervous, though the trembling had thankfully faded.
"Great Ulmo, you say it is a rescue mission. May I know who I am intended to rescue?"
Ulmo sighed, obviously flustered at having to explain what was clearly an irritating situation for him.
"One of the Legendary Fellowship is lost at sea, his ship has sunk and he is nearly dead. The Valar have decided that he is to be rescued and returned to his home."
Círdan waited. Ulmo said no more.
Finally: "Which Walker, Mighty Ulmo?"
"It is not very hard to guess."
Círdan thought for a moment. Nay, impossible. Did he not die, years ago?
"Boromir, Great Ulmo?"
"Indeed! Boromir the Mad, Boromir the Drunkard! Boromir that Begging Prince and Drowning Husband, bah! A sea-death is just what that fool needs, how he has vexed Us! Bah!" Ulmo's voice had grown so loud that the waters around him swirled and sucked and spat forth in a fury of crashing waves.
"What has he done, Great Ulmo?" Círdan yelled over the noise.
“Ah! It is a long tale, and we do not have the time.” The crashing cacophony stopped as Ulmo calmed. “Go, gather your ship and crew, set sail immediately. You will not need oars. Raise your sail and my brother will grant you a favorable wind to carry you to the Sea-tossed Exile."
"But why do we rescue him, Mighty Ulmo, if he has vexed You?"
Ulmo threw up his arms, so that the precipice shook so violently it seemed all the rock should crumble down, splashing. Círdan stumbled to his side.
"That mortal has the favor of our highest Valar Queen, the Star Queen Herself! And She has the ear of my brother Manwë, who guides Us all. And so We,” he sighed irritably, “must squeeze a few more years out of him."
Círdan’s jaw dropped. "The favor of Elbereth?"
"Yes. But enough questions, we have wasted time, and with each minute the Fool's lungs fill with more salty water. Go, prepare and set sail. Manwë will urge the winds for you."
And so Círdan sprang up, sprinted, ran stumbling down the path and back to the harbor, waving his arms and yelling frantically. The other elves stared at him, shocked and somewhat amused, until they heard his story. For a moment, they could not believe it - indeed none of them had seen the Sea God over the precipice - but they were all pious and Valar-fearing elves and so they decided to give Círdan the benefit of the doubt.
The finest ship. The finest crew. In great haste, they prepared everything and set sail, the mighty winds pushing them out of the harbor and into the open sea with such a haste, such a haste, Círdan could feel the boat skipping along the waves like a flat stone flung by a mighty hand.
And so they traveled, for four days and four nights, speeding along the open sea, the wind whipping behind them, pushing them forward in a divine hurry. Círdan spent most of his time at the fore, staring up into the sky, trying to gauge their distance, while the fierce wind burned his face and tossed up his hair. The other elves could do nothing but brace themselves as the ship sprang up and splashed down of its own accord, tearing through the water, hopping, its pace never slackening but rather accelerating as each wind – North, South, East, West – urged them on.
On the fifth day, a clear day, the winds suddenly disappeared, and the ship drifted to a halt. The sun burned bright, the sea was wide. Círdan looked over the side. He could tell by the color of the wine-dark water that there had been a storm here recently. But now the clouds parted and great shafts of sunlight burned down into the sea, illuminating it in translucent columns. And up ahead: the wreckage of a ship.
And so they drifted, all the elves leaning over each side, peering into the water. They passed bloated corpses, men, dark and pale, and then huge pieces of driftwood - an oar, a piece of mast - the last floating remnants of a ship utterly destroyed.
"What do we seek, noble Círdan?" one of the other elves asked, for not all knew. "They have all passed, it seems. I see no survivors."
"We seek for Boromir of the Legendary Fellowship, my friends," Círdan said, loud enough so that all could hear. But then he dropped his voice, "Pity that I do not know what he looks like."
"I have seen a painting, noble Círdan!" another elf said. Everyone turned to listen. "He is a heavy man, broad about the shoulders, with a fierce gaze and noble brow. His eyes are the color of the sea in sunlight, and his hair is like wheat."
Everyone nodded, murmuring, turned back over the side, peered down into the wreckage. Eyes like the sea in sunlight. Hair like wheat. Broad. Look for a broad-shouldered man. Rather vague, Círdan thought dismally.
The ship, meanwhile, bobbed up and down with the placid undulations, gently nudging aside the debris. They saw several broad-shouldered men, swollen green, obviously dead. One of the elves suggested hauling up the entire mess of lost souls, and picking through them until they found their quarry. But that was a grisly operation, and none wanted to do it. They decided instead to go down in one of the smaller boats, just Círdan and his distant cousin Orophion, and paddle through this mess, inspecting up close.
The small boat held only two. It creaked softly as they lowered it from the great ship's side. Once it touched the water, Círdan and Orophion grabbed their oars and began paddling.
They nudged, they poked, they pushed aside. They passed Haradrim, Corsairs, Northerners, young adolescents and wizened old veterans. They searched for hours, the sun slowly descending towards the West. Círdan began to think he had arrived too late - and Boromir should have already drowned – and if so, the Valar would not be pleased. And Círdan also began to wonder just what in Arda this Boromir was doing on a ship with such companions? Aye, he had heard the tales, just distant rumors, of the man's madness in Minas Tirith, his travels with the Ringbearer and Mithrandir, his sudden disappearance nearly twenty years ago. And where had Boromir gone? And what should have led him to today's situation, then, floating amidst these corpses, lungs filled with brine, far off to sea?
Yet, just as Círdan mused and considered, Orophion let out a cry.
"Look, noble Círdan! Look!"
He looked. There, a little way's off, half in the water, half out, clinging desperately to a few planks of wood, was a very beaten, very sunburnt, very old Boromir. Círdan recognized him immediately, despite never having seen him before. Perhaps that was some Valar influence.
They paddled over to the man and saw that he was unconscious, and had strapped himself to the wood by the wrists, as if foreseeing when his strength would give out. They cut the bindings, grabbed him by his sopping clothes, and pulled him into the boat, which swayed and bobbed with the sudden weight.
Boromir. His clothes were ripped in great sweeping gashes. He still bled. Grey-haired, grizzled beard, scars. A crooked nose. Heavy, indeed, thought Círdan as he used much of his strength to adjust this unconscious man's position in the boat. With Orophion paddling back to the ship, where all the awaiting elves were calling out joyous exclamations and waving, Círdan worked to turn the man over on his side. He slapped his back, jostled his shoulder, finally stuck his fingers down the man's throat until he vomited up all the brine and seawater and filth he had swallowed. Boromir coughed, choking, for several moments, until he collapsed back down, wheezing.
Orophion guided the small boat to the great ship's side, and they quickly latched it in. All the other elves began pulling, pulling, using all their strength to pull it up. Slowly, creaking, the boat was lifted from the water and rose about the ship's side.
And once up, they carried the man out of the boat, laid him on the deck, urged him to waking. He breathed still, just shallow, labored, gurgling breaths, and so they, again, provoked him to vomit. Once he had retched again, all sickly yellow water, they slapped his face until he regained consciousness. All the elves crowded around, pushing each other, squeezing through, for all wanted to see this legendary Boromir - the Exiled Prince of Gondor.
He finally came to after a few moments, blinking bleary, shivering, and had just enough energy to look up, see all of them watching him in worry, and smile weakly, saying, "Again? Rescued by elves again?" before he coughed up a third and last bout of sickly-red brine, and fell again unconscious with a clogged nose and watering eyes.
The elves cheered. Alive! Boromir the Mad has returned! And immediately the winds picked up, blowing east now, howling like laughter, and the great elven ship was turned about, turned all the way around, and pushed again along the great sea, back towards land.
They carried the limp figure down below deck, to a cot they had already prepared in anticipation of this rescue. They checked his wounds, all the cuts and gashes from whatever destruction his ship had suffered, dressed them. And they studied all the older scars, the scars on scars, the mangled knots and jagged lines cutting over the skin.
And they wondered aloud, delighting in the mystery.
"To think, noble Círdan, most of the land thinks this man dead!"
"Aye, and see how he has aged!"
"Where do you think the winds guide us, Laerion?"
"I know not, but I heard Círdan speak of the Mighty Ulmo's prophecy - that this man was to return home."
"Back to Gondor?"
“Know you that he left, aye, left for Barad-dûr? They say he is mad.”
“I did meet one the edheldron of Eryn Lasgalen, the one who traveled with him after the Fellowship. None knew where this man wandered, though they thought he had traveled East, past Rhûn.”
“Did you see that prow, Yeldo? ‘Twas of Umbar make, I believe.”
And so they sailed on, letting the winds guide them.
Boromir was too weak to stand at first, for his limbs shook and his teeth chattered. The sun had burnt his skin raw on the shoulders and back, and so the elves did what they could to soothe this fire, using their usual balms and ointments, while these only caused the man to shiver further. They kept the small portholes open to let the breeze in, for the air staled with the pungent smell of a sick, injured man.
He spoke little, his voice wheezing, hoarse and raw. But he expressed surprise when he saw that they all knew his true name, and had come, not by accident, but rather with the clear intent of rescuing him. When they told him it was Ulmo, God of the Sea, who had sent them, he simply laughed – rasping and low – while his eyes drifted shut and he slept.
He slept much as the days passed, regaining his strength. He ate little, but accepted any miruvor or drinks the elves offered him. By the fifth night of sailing, he ventured to stand, the first shaking steps, limping with some ancient wound, and awkwardly pulled himself above deck. Wrapped in someone’s large cloak, grey hair, curled with mist, whipping in the wind, Boromir hobbled up to the prow where Círdan stood. The elf was gazing at the stars when he saw the man arrive.
“You are a doughty man to walk so soon,” Círdan smiled. “But you may rest easy. The winds guide us and I judge by the stars that we are in the Bay of Anfalas. We will soon reach land.”
“Anfalas?” Boromir croaked, looking out over the dark sea.
“The Mighty Ulmo has urged me to speed you home. And is that not Minas Tirith?”
“’Tis strange…” he said slowly, “all of this. ‘Tis passing strange. For if one would ask me where is my home, I would say in hot Harad lands does my heart lie. But… I have dreamt much of late. Strange dreams. Dreams that urge me to Gondor, for I know not what.”
“’Tis the Valar influence, then,” Círdan said simply. “The time has come for you to return, apparently. But what of these Harad tales? Speak, I am curious.”
Boromir smiled, his teeth shining in the darkness.
“Ah… it is a long story. And I am still weary from my more recent adventures on the sea.”
“Then I would say ‘tis time to rest and recover, my friend. Perhaps you shall entertain us with your stories in the days to come, for I judge we shall reach the Anfalas shores in three days time should we continue at this speed.”
Boromir nodded. And he looked up, at the billowing sail, at the stars. He murmured softly, “Back to the ancient home, then? Would that You told me why…”
“Best not to question Their motives. They may tell you something you do not want to hear.”
At this, Boromir raised an eyebrow and gave a growling laugh before wrapping the blanket tighter and limping back towards the stairs. Círdan watched the man disappear below deck before turning back to the sea, where the black waves were splashing up against the speeding ship.
The next day there were tales indeed. When Boromir learned that Orophion had met with Dínendal of Eryn Lasgalen – thirteen years ago, I believe – the man immediately perked up, asking after the elf, his old friend. And soon, like floodgates opening, the man began to recount – to tell – to narrate – all his lengthy tales, beginning with the departure from Minas Tirith in the year 3018 of the Third Age. Of course, the elves were eager to hear these stories – especially where Boromir’s adventures concerned other elves. And so he told them of Rivendell and Elrond Half-elven, and he told them of the Fellowship’s journeys southeast, and the Lothlórien days. At one point, Círdan joked that it seemed this man had spent more time with elves than with other men, to which Boromir smiled.
The tales continued in the afternoon. Boromir told them of Amon Hen – earnestly admitting his weakness with the Ring, and earning several affable remarks, Nay! Even the strongest succumbed to Its call, good Boromir! Please, continue – and then he told them of the adraefan, a tale which everyone was curious to hear, for it was a relatively new addition to their histories. And so Boromir answered question after question of what Golradir and Dínendal and Amdír looked like, ate, said, did in those days. And as the story turned darker, and Boromir was forced to speak of the deaths of Golradir and Amdír, several tears were shed among the soft-hearted. Such is our cruelty of our people! Yeldo exclaimed at one point. Would that Thranduil king had never exiled them! But Círdan was quick to point out that it was all Valar influence and Eru device, and therefore impossible to control. And he urged Yeldo to silence, for it was blasphemous to think we elves have such sway over the fates. We are tied to this land’s fate, but we do not control it.
On and on, hours passed. And they spoke at length with Boromir of that dream he had, the one where Elbereth, Star-Queen, had visited him. For although they were skeptical to believe – one elf even whispering to Círdan that this was during the days of the man’s most acute drinking – they were nonetheless curious to hear of what a Vala should say to a man.
On the eighth and last night of Boromir’s stay with them, Círdan invited the man to his private cabin, and there he gave him several gifts. A purse full of silver and gold coins, a heavy mantle, a short elven dagger. A pack of clothes, a pair of new boots. All of this Boromir accepted with murmured thanks and bashful smiles. You have all been too kind, Master Círdan. I know not how to repay you. But Círdan assured him that he was quite happy to have played his part in the man’s illustrious tales, and he laughingly urged him to remember the so-called elfish rescue when others asked him of his sea-adventures.
The man and elf took their meal in Círdan’s quarters, and Círdan uncorked a bottle of deep Dorwinion wine. And so they ate and drank, Boromir asking after the Shire and the hobbits and all the rest. Eventually, after an hour or so, the plates and bottle remained empty and Círdan detected the man’s light inebriation. And so, chiding himself his overriding curiosity, but succumbing to it nonetheless, Círdan finally said:
“Of many things have we spoken, good Boromir, and you have delighted us with your adventurous tales. But one tale you have left untold.”
Boromir was watching him.
“Speak of Harad now. I wish to know of this Haradrim love you have but hinted at.”
There was a lengthy pause, during which the man’s eyes drifted to some vacant space behind Círdan, and the candle wavered, and the ship rocked, and Círdan could hear the heavy, even breathing of the others as they slept in their cabins.
Finally, Boromir grinned. And so he began.
Of much did he speak, and while there were no blasting glories, no battles fought, no demons overcome like in his other adventures, this tale was deeper, richer. And Círdan found himself listening to it all – this story which was naught but deep brown eyes under heavy eyebrows, brushes of skin, the taste of a familiar mouth – and Círdan knew that, though he had lived longer than them all, he had never yet experienced such a burning in his heart.
At first, he tried to liken it to the obsessive passion he exhibited with his ships. Or perhaps the pious devotion he felt towards the Valar. Or the thousand simple pleasures – the morning mists covering the grass, the pure delight in a child’s laughter, the taste of food when one has not eaten in several hours – and perhaps this was where he was closest in his understanding. Yet in all of this, Círdan’s loves lacked the darker side – the possession, the need, the vulnerabilities and endless hurts; the slicing wounds in the heart – and so, to learn of this, to learn of all of it, he listened to the man’s story.
Once it was finished, and Boromir’s eyes glistened, and Círdan’s heart felt heavy with sympathy and grief, the elf thanked the man and urged him a good night.
They reached the shores of Anfalas later that night – when the moon glowed white in the sky, casting a blue shine on the craggy cliffs above the beaches. Círdan had miscalculated by a few hours, much to his chagrin, and Boromir had long since retired. And so the elves, in an effort to let the man earn a few more hours of recovery ere he began again his travels, decided not to wake him. They carried him and his gifts up to the deck, placing everything gently in one of the smaller boats. Then, two elves – smiling white smiles in the dark, whispering musical, laughing softly – rowed up to the beach, laid everything out and went to retrieve the still-sleeping man. They carried him gently up the beach to the makeshift blanket and laid him on it. And then they hid his packs and purse under the wide mantle. After bidding him a whispered goodbye, they returned to their boat.
Just so, Boromir, after twenty years, passed again his country’s borders and returned home.
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