‘But why, Círdan?’ Ilmarë protested unhappily as she followed him through the open doors and outside into the yard. ‘Why must I leave? I do not wish to live in the King’s mansion. It will be busy and noisy and not to my taste at all…not quiet and comfortable like it is here.’
Círdan stopped next to a rough stone bench facing the waters. ‘Ilmarë, it is simply not a good idea for you to stay here alone with me,’ he said as he sat, taking her hand and pulling her to sit next to him.
Ilmarë sighed loudly. She had grown accustomed to Círdan’s constant presence in the weeks since her arrival to Lindon and did not like the thought of leaving. The awkward moments they had felt in the days after their first night together disappeared as their friendship grew. The time had been put to good use with Círdan teaching Ilmarë of Middle-earth and its lands and people, and there were many days when she accompanied him to the piers while he went about his daily tasks. She felt comfortable at Círdan’s home. Leaving for Mithlond would mean another dwelling and another group of people to become familiar with, and the thought left Ilmarë unhappy.
Ilmarë looked at the ground and pulled a strand of hair between her fingers. She twisted it tightly around her finger and then loosened it to allow her to twist it again. Círdan watched her repetitive motions while she stared blankly toward the ground and he knew she was troubled. He had noticed this gesture since the day after her arrival, always when she was nervous or worried. He wondered if it were something she had done before taking this mortal form because it seemed to be an unthinking gesture born of habit.
‘What is it, Ilmarë? I did not expect you to be so bothered by the thought of going to Mithlond,’ Círdan said, turning her to face him. ‘Or is it something more than that?’
Ilmarë sighed yet again. They had not spoken of what happened the night she arrived and Ilmarë had been thankful for that. She felt the situation had been her fault and she had led Círdan to do something out of character, but the thought of asking him about it made her very nervous.
‘Does my leaving have anything to do with what happened between us? If so, then I am sorry. I should have offered apologies sooner, but you did not bring it up and I did not have the courage to. Are you angry with me for causing you to do something you would not have otherwise?’ Ilmarë smiled in relief when Círdan grinned and began to laugh.
‘You did not cause me to do anything. In fact, my only abnormal behavior is that I have not finished what was started that night. In any other circumstance, I would have acted upon those feelings by now,’ Círdan said and pulled the lock of hair from between her fingers so he could untangle the black strands. ‘But it would not be right; first, because you were sent to me for help and I look upon you as my charge, and second, because I believe we make much better friends than we would lovers. I do not sense that you have any feelings for me that run stronger than friendship, so do you not agree?’
‘Yes, I do agree,’ Ilmarë said and pulled the lock of hair away from him, ‘and that is all the more reason why I should stay here. If you are not angry with me then why do you want me to go?’
‘I do not want you to go, Ilmarë; I would like for you to stay here, but it is not in your best interest. Your presence here will not go unnoticed for much longer.’ He waved his hand as he spoke, punctuating his words. ‘There is already talk in Harlond about you staying here alone with me. News of it has traveled to Mithlond as well. Many of the Elves here in Harlindon hold to the customs I told you of and they will think badly of you living here with me.’
‘Why should that bother you, Círdan? It certainly does not bother me. Their talk is of no importance to me.’
Círdan sighed and said, ‘My father once told me that we do not know shame until it is taught to us by the judgments of others. That is a lesson I do not feel you are ready to learn yet, Ilmarë, not in this manner.’
He lifted her tangled strand of hair and began working the twists out of it again. After a pause, he said, ‘To be honest, the judgments of others concerning my choices have little effect on me, but considering what you have been sent here for, it is best to avoid this sort of conflict. It will be an impediment if the people here look upon you in a bad light.’
‘To stay in the king’s mansion will be good for you,” he continued. “It will help you learn to deal with different types of people. You know as well as I do that almost all the people you meet here are mariners, and you have already learned more about them than you will ever need,’ Círdan said with a smile. Having worked all the tangles free, he released her hair and let it fall back with the rest. ‘The king often has emissaries or dignitaries who stay at his home for long periods of time. There will be nothing said about you staying with him. He also has many women employed in his household, and I must say, Ilmarë - you are in need of companions to school you in some more feminine ways.’
Ilmarë’s laugh was condescending and she rolled her eyes and said, ‘Círdan, it is not as though one must be taught to be a woman. My spirit is female and my body is female…I am already a woman.’
Círdan grimaced as he thought of how to phrase his words. ‘Well…it is not that you have to be taught to be a female, Ilmarë…but you do need to be shown what is expected of females of these lands, as far as dress and mannerisms, how to style your hair, the different types of clothing. Things to help you fit in that you will not learn here with my men and me.’
Ilmarë thought over his reasons, then asked, ‘And what if I refuse to go? Will you force me to leave?’
Círdan glanced sideways at her and said, ‘No, Ilmarë, you know I will not force you, but I hope you will understand my reasons and agree with me.’
‘Will I still see you if I go to Mithlond?’
‘Of course you will,’ he said with a dismissive laugh. ‘I will come to see you and you may come see me whenever you wish. Just because you are not here with me does not mean I will not still help you.’ Círdan patted her leg as he waited for an answer.
Ilmarë did not want to go, but she chose to trust in Círdan’s judgment. After all, she had been sent to him for help in these lands. He would be of no help to her if she did not trust his advice.
‘I will go then, if you think it best,’ Ilmarë said at last. ‘When will I be leaving?’
‘This afternoon,’ Círdan said and Ilmarë looked up at him accusingly. ‘You know the king has been asking to meet with you and I understand your decision to wait until you were settled. But yesterday I took it upon myself to send a message to him asking if he would allow you to stay with him. The reply came very early this morning that you were welcome in his home and he would come to Harlond this afternoon to escort you himself.’
When her stare remained level and accusing, he added, ‘If you had refused, I would have merely sent Ereinion back to Mithlond with my apologies.’
‘Ereinion?’ she asked, distracted by the unfamiliar name.
‘Ereinion is Gil-galad’s given name and it is the name those who are close to him still use. I suppose you could say Gil-galad is the name he chooses to use formally.’
‘Should I call him Gil-galad or Ereinion?’ Ilmarë asked, her irritation having diminished by the thought of meeting the king. ‘Gil-galad, I would imagine, as I am not close to him.’
‘I would see how he introduces himself to you, but I have little doubt he will ask you to call him Ereinion. And while we are on that subject, have you given any more thought to taking a different name? Ilmarë is a name that will be recognized by some.’
Ilmarë said, ‘I have, and I will keep my name for the time being. You said it was common among mortals to give names of their ancestors or people they admire. If anyone chances to recognize my name, I will lead them to assume I was named in admiration.’ Her smile was falsely modest. ‘I am certain there are those who admire me.’
Círdan skeptical look told her that he did not agree with this decision. ‘If the use of my name poses a problem, I will begin using one of my other names for none outside Aman know them. Will that do?’
“As you have already made up your mind about it, I suppose it will have to,” Círdan said, “And have you decided if you will tell anyone else of your true nature?”
Ilmarë remembered Linquendil’s distrust of the Noldorin king and the thought made her uneasy. “No, the secrecy of my identity will also remain as it is for the time being. I gave my word that none would know who I was, and that I would only share the knowledge out of great trust and great necessity. Neither of those are present yet. I will tell them why I have come and who has sent me, but the rest I will keep to myself.”
‘That is a wise decision, Ilmarë, but I would consider sharing all with Ereinion. You will find him a powerful and helpful ally,’ Círdan said and stood to leave. ‘I will tell the help to ready your things. Will you come with me?’
‘No, I would rather remain outside,’ Ilmarë said absently, watching the water.
‘I will see to it that your things are ready,’ Círdan answered and bent forward to plant a quick kiss against the top of her head, hoping to reassure her. ‘It will not be so bad, Ilmarë. I think you will enjoy Mithlond. Do not wander far,’ he called as he walked toward the house, ‘it will not be long until Ereinion arrives.’
Harlond’s sister city of Mithlond was different in several ways. Its grey piers were not as large for they did not see as many arrivals as the piers of Harlond, although the city itself was larger because the king lived there. The roads gradually rose beyond the northern piers for the city was built on a hill, and the grey stone roads climbed upward until they reached the summit. A large home dominated the plateau, and a high tower of pale grey stone stood watch over it. The home of Ereinion Gil-Galad was the largest in the city and by far the most beautiful.
Ereinion stood upon the balcony of the tower and stared out at the waters of the gulf, deep in thought. He heard the approach of someone behind him but his gaze did not leave the water. A dark-haired Elf walked silently across the high balcony, the hem of his blue robe grazing the floor as he moved. He stopped when he reached Ereinion and stood next to him, waiting.
‘Thank you for coming so quickly, Elrond,’ Ereinion said. ‘I have a favor to ask of you.’
‘And what would that be, Ereinion?’ Elrond asked.
‘To take a ship to Harlond and escort our new houseguest back to Mithlond,’ Ereinion answered.
He continued to watch the ships in the harbor and Elrond turned his gaze toward them as well, trying to discern if Ereinion looked at something in particular or if his distraction was yet another sign of the anxious mood that had gripped him in the past weeks.
‘Círdan sent word yesterday, asking that his new arrival be allowed to stay here for a time. I intended to escort her myself,’ Ereinion continued, ‘but a messenger arrived unexpectedly from Harlindon, despite the fact that I cancelled all my meetings and made it clear I would not be attending to any business today. Now I must answer the message and send him on his way to ensure my plans for the rest of the day, at least, will remain uninterrupted. I am expected in Harlond shortly and I do not wish to make Círdan or our guest wait.’
Elrond thought of the unfinished writings he had left on his desk when the servant brought Ereinion’s message. Now he would not be able to return to them until later that evening, if not tomorrow, and he felt a brief flash of irritation at being called away from his work. But he knew Ereinion would not have asked him were it not necessary and his curiosity was piqued by the thought of this new houseguest.
‘So we will meet our mysterious visitor at last?’ Elrond asked. ‘It is not like Círdan to be so tight-lipped, particularly considering the importance he attached to her arrival. Have you even been told her name?’
Ereinion shook his head and frowned. ‘No, but we will find out soon enough.’
‘Then I will go in your stead, Ereinion, and I will bring her to you upon our return,’ Elrond said and gave a small bow before he left.
‘Thank you, Elrond,’ Ereinion called after him, but continued to watch the harbor. He could see the ship that had been prepared to take him waiting at one of the piers.
Once again Ereinion thought how grateful he was that Elrond had chosen to remain in Mithlond. His wisdom and kindness lent help beyond measure, yet it had always seemed as though Elrond’s spirit bore a great burden. Ereinion turned just in time to see Elrond disappear around the corner and a sense of urgency seized him, telling him to call Elrond back to deal with the messenger. He hovered on the edge of indecision, suddenly feeling it very important that he be the one to travel to Harlond.
And then the moment was gone. Ereinion attributed it to the restless feelings plaguing him recently and he chastised himself, thinking how unfair it would be to put the distasteful task upon Elrond while he took the enjoyable one. He let out a disappointed sigh and walked back into the tower to deal with the unwanted message from Harlindon.
‘Good afternoon, Elrond,’ Círdan called as he walked out the front door to meet his arriving guest. ‘I did not expect you today. Ereinion said he would be escorting Ilmarë back to Mithlond.’
‘Something came up that required Ereinion’s attention and he asked me to come instead,’ Elrond said, smiling in greeting at Círdan as he reached the front steps of the house. A thoughtful look crossed his face. ‘That is her name…Ilmarë? It is an unusual name. Where is she from?’
Círdan shifted uncomfortably. He had known Elrond would be among the people who would recognize the name. Círdan did not want to lie, nor did he wish to reveal more than he should. ‘The ship that brought her came from Númenor,’ Círdan replied truthfully, ‘but I think it is best if I let Ilmarë explain the rest. Why don’t you come inside,’ he said quickly to distract Elrond from asking any more questions, ‘I will have my men take her things to the ship and then you and I can retrieve Ilmarë from the shore.’
Elrond’s curiosity had grown now at seeing Círdan’s discomfort and he did not wish to wait any longer to meet this mysterious person. ‘If you do not mind, Círdan, I will go and retrieve her while you instruct your men.’
Círdan started to say no, but reconsidered. He reminded himself of his reasons for sending her away, wanting her to become accustomed to having dealings with others. That moment seemed as good a time to start as any.
‘I do not mind, Elrond,’ he answered and motioned toward the shores of the gulf, ‘walk in that direction and you will come upon her. I am not certain where she will be, but it will most likely be near the water.’
Elrond nodded and waited for Círdan to return inside before turning to walk across the lawn in the direction he had been shown. The yard surrounding the house was empty and Elrond left the grass and took to the sands of the shoreline, looking in each direction for sight of her. When he looked toward the east he found her; a short distance up the beach and she appeared to be tossing pebbles out into the water of a small cove.
He studied Ilmarë as he came closer. The waves had wet the hem of her grey dress and sand clung to the skirt, giving Elrond the impression that she had been on the beach for some time. A mass of black hair hung down her back, mussed and tangled by the wind, and he watched it swing to the side as she threw another stone out to the water.
Ilmarë sensed Elrond’s approach but did not turn, thinking it was one of Círdan’s men come to fetch her.
Elrond gaze followed the rock as it skipped lightly across water and he waited until it had disappeared beneath the surface before speaking.
‘I am sorry to interrupt, my lady, but I was sent to escort you,’ Elrond said as Ilmarë set loose another stone into the water of the cove. ‘You are very adept at that. Where did you learn?’
‘A friend taught me at the Bay of Andúnië,’ Ilmarë said. The sound of his deep voice had startled her, but not enough to make her turn around for she wished to use up all the stones in her hand before she left. ‘Although I must admit, the shape of the stones I have found here in Middle-earth are far more conducive to gaining distance with the throw. They appear to be more flattened and worn smoother.’
‘Then you are from Númenor?’ Elrond asked.
Ilmarë regarded the stone in her hand for a moment and then tossed it out, saying, ‘I journeyed here from Númenor, yes.’ A wind blew across her face and she inhaled deeply. ‘Rains are coming.’
‘And why do you say that, my lady?’
‘Someone very close to me is a mariner and he taught me to read the signs of the weather. The smell of moisture on the wind is increasing and the winds have grown stronger. They blow from the east and combined with the red sunrise this morning it is an ill sign.’
Elrond gave a satisfied nod. ‘Yes, the temperature of the air has dropped as well, and look there…’ he said, leaning closer as he raised his hand near her face to point toward the eastern sky. ‘The clouds are large and billowed on their tops, and dark and flattened at the bottom. They travel westward swiftly, in our direction.’ Ilmarë followed the line of his finger to see the large clouds gathered there.
‘I am the son of a mariner,’ Elrond said in a matter-of-fact voice.
Ilmarë turned to look at him and drew a quick gasp of surprise just before a name escaped her lips.
The sun reflected off the glossy surface of his dark hair, pulled away from his face to fall across his shoulders and down his back. The eyes that regarded her with shock were pale grey and sat in a face as fair and flawless as any Elf she had seen, but on second glance Ilmarë noted subtle differences. The lines of his jaw and cheekbones were stronger, not fine as in other Elves, and the shape of the nose slightly longer and straighter. But she noted with admiration that the differences did not detract from the face; they had rather the opposite effect. Elrond had been given the best features of Elves and Men and the result was the uncommonly handsome face Ilmarë saw before her.
She recognized the face from the many portraits the inhabitants of Númenor displayed of their first king. But the nagging specter of awareness flitted in and out of her thoughts, baiting her just enough for Ilmarë to know that not only his features but also the grace with which he carried his body, something more than a Man yet not quite that of an Elf, were familiar to her in a way that surpassed the mere memory of a portrait.
‘I am Elrond, my lady,’ Elrond replied, startled by her reaction. ‘Elros was my brother. You behave as though you knew him. But you are mortal…that is not possible….’ He frowned as his eyes searched her face.
A strange feeling passed through her when she first looked into his face, so close to her own. Ilmarë thought of the breathless feeling she felt with Círdan, but it was not the same. The strength of this sensation threatened to overwhelm her. It was the unsettling feeling of a soft band surrounding her chest and tightening with an almost exquisite pressure, making it impossible to draw a full breath. She shivered visibly as unfamiliar sensations traced their soft fingers up and down her spine, pulling into a tight ball that settled in the pit of her stomach. Ilmarë was unsure if it was her lack of ability to draw a full breath or the fact that her heart seemed to be galloping in her chest, but whatever the cause of it she began to feel slightly light-headed.
She looked away from him and struggled to catch her breath. ‘Elrond, of course,’ she said when the feeling had calmed enough, ‘please forgive my mistake. Your features are much the same as those of your brother.’ She shook her head again and said, ‘No, I did not know Elros, but there are many portraits of him on Númenor. His is a familiar and respected face there.’
That must be the cause of this feeling, Ilmarë thought, the shock of seeing the face of someone who died long ago.
At the thought of his brother, a look of sadness drifted across Elrond’s face and then disappeared. ‘My brother and I were very much alike of face and form. The differences between us were not apparent to the eye.’
Ilmarë did not catch the underlying meaning of his words but had regained enough composure to give him a smile. ‘Still, it is good to see a familiar face, as it were.’
Elrond looked at her face closely, studying it for recognizable traits. Her eyes were a grey that was much darker than his own, like those descended from the House of Bëor but her hair was not the dark gold so often seen in that House. He hoped to discover that she was from one of the three Houses of the Edain and not from the line of his brother.
Even if she is of the line of Elros, surely it would be so far removed that it would not matter.
He paused and chided himself for the ridiculous thought. Matter for what? I have only just met her… there is no need to be foolish.
Yet had Ilmarë told him of the grip tightening around her chest at that moment, Elrond would have sworn he bore its twin around his own.
I am no youth and I have looked into the face of many maidens. This one is no different.
Even as Elrond told himself this he knew it was not true; none had ever affected him in this manner. He curled his fingers into his palms and held them tightly, afraid that if he did not restrain his fingers they would act upon the rash impulse to run themselves along the skin of her cheek and discover if it was as soft as it appeared to be. Never had he met a woman whom he longed to kiss so much that his body ached, and within only seconds of their first meeting.
He took a deep, cleansing breath through his nose and released it slowly. These are the thoughts of silly maidens, not of grown men. It is but an irrational moment that will pass.
Still, he could not help but ask…
‘There are those on Númenor who are my distant kin… Would your family be among them, Lady Ilmarë?’
His use of her name caught her off guard, and it did not take much to reason out that Círdan had told him. But obviously just her name and nothing else. ‘No, Lord Elrond, I bear no kinship to your family.’
Elrond tried not to be, but he was relieved to hear this and the corner of his mouth turned up in a half smile. Ilmarë felt the band constrict around her chest again. His features relaxed when he smiled and made him seem more handsome than before.
At the house, Círdan had walked out the front door and shouted some final instructions to his men who were leaving in the wagon carrying Ilmarë’s things. The sound of his voice startled Ilmarë out of her fixated study of Elrond and she toward Círdan.
‘Here, take these,’ she said when she turned back, holding her closed hand out to Elrond.
He looked at her inquisitively but held out his hand to take whatever it was she offered. She emptied part of the contents of her hand onto his open palm and Elrond cupped his hand to keep the smooth gray stones from spilling out.
‘I spent a fair bit of time collecting these and it would be a waste not to use them all before Círdan comes,’ Ilmarë said and stepped closer to the water, preparing to toss one of the stones.
Elrond stayed where he was, staring at the stones in his hand. When Ilmarë noticed this, she glanced back at him.
‘Do you not know how to throw them, Lord Elrond? I could show you if you'd like - there’s not much to it.’
Elrond did not answer at first; his mind was on a memory, hazy and almost forgotten, of standing on a shore much like this one and being shown how to toss the stones. He remembered little of the actual lesson - mostly the memory was of his father’s deep voice and the feel of the smooth, damp stones against his hand. Another memory followed, this one very clear. In it, he stood on the far shores of Mithlond and laughed with Elros as they competed to see who could skip their rock out the furthest. The joy of that memory seemed very distant and he had found no enjoyment of the pastime since Elros’s departure, dismissing it as childish.
The feel of the water-worn rocks as he ran his thumb over them had triggered the remembrance of both long-suppressed memories and his first instinct was to toss the stones back onto the sands and leave. But he looked up to find Ilmarë watching him with concern.
‘Is everything all right, Lord Elrond?’ she asked, worried that she’d upset him in some way.
‘Yes, everything is fine.’ He gave her another crooked smile and stepped closer to the water to stand beside her.
‘All right, then…’ Elrond chose one of the stones from his palm, looked it over, and then tossed it up into the air. ‘I know how to skip stones, my lady,’ he said as he caught the stone, ‘but it has been a good many years since I have done it.’
He leaned over and tossed it out with a quick motion and Ilmarë watched the stone hop across the surface of the water.
‘One…two…’ she counted aloud as her eyes followed the movement, ‘…five…seven…’ She stopped when the stone disappeared beneath the water and smiled brightly at Elrond. ‘Seven…that is very impressive, especially for one who claims to be so out of practice.’ She looked at him in mock suspicion. ‘I believe you are misleading me, Lord Elrond.’
He gave a full smile at her teasing and even a short laugh as he threw another stone. ‘I am being completely truthful with you, Lady Ilmarë. I have not done this in more years than I can count.’
‘Well then, let us make up for lost time and finish these before Círdan comes to collect us,’ Ilmarë said and turned to throw a rock herself, trying to outdistance Elrond’s throws.
In the meanwhile, Círdan had watched his men drive the wagon down the road a ways and then strolled slowly around the side of the house, not looking forward to Ilmarë’s departure.
Things will seem dull here with her gone
he thought and then shook his head, remembering that Elrond would be the one to escort her back instead of Ereinion. Elrond is my friend and I think very highly of him, but he is so quiet and reserved… morose, really would be a better word. Ilmarë is in for a boring boat ride back to Mithlond.
Círdan reached the point where the grass ended and the sand began, and the sight that met him on the shore shocked him. Elrond stood close to Ilmarë, throwing stones out into the waters of a small cove. He stopped to show Ilmarë a snapping hand movement and she imitated him, throwing her own rock out into the water. Obviously pleased with the results, Ilmarë laughed excitedly and Elrond laughed with her.
Círdan smiled and felt his throat tighten as he watched them. I remember Elrond and Elros doing this very thing the day before Elros left for Númenor, and the two of them seemed so close.
A sudden realization darkened his smile. I believe that was the last time I heard Elrond laugh.
His grin returned wider than before to see the way Elrond watched Ilmarë as she threw another rock.
Perhaps the boat ride back will not be as boring for Ilmarë as I imagined
Círdan thought and whistled a tune to himself as he went down to the waters to join them.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.