1. The Stillness
- “...but home is nowhere”,
There was a restless pause in the trees, when nothing breathed and only the sound of the waves crashing against the shores could be heard, and even that sounded hollow and dead. At first it hadn’t been like that. It had been an unearthly chorus of voices, singing or perhaps screaming in terror. In childish fancy it was possible to imagine a singer, telling her charge “another octave higher.”
The birch trees along the coast looked brittle and frail, a broken crown upon a pale head, growing older and showing no signs of stopping. Time was almost tangible in the still places of the land, wearying the bows of the trees and tiring the birds that sat still in their homes. It was time that made this empty land seem stagnant, that decayed the white stones and covered them in moss and briars of the forest.
But it was not the work of time that silenced the land so absolutely, but the hand of death, something wicked and treacherous. It grinned out of dark corners and tickled your ears when the cold salty sea breeze would burn the eyes and mouth. It was in the water, an unseen element swimming with the ebb and flow of the tide. It was in the sky, making the westing sun look sickly in the reflection of the winter sea, gold and green against the grey clouds and purple horizon.
It was this unpleasant presence of Death that greeted a figure, looking at the landscape with an armored hand over his brow, a hand ready at anytime to take sides with death. It could have been a lovely hand at one point, shapely and fine boned, perhaps a touch feminine. However, this was but a remnant, a memory, something that time has more difficulty destroying, like a cobweb that hangs in the corner. This hand as it was showed a long life, difficult at best. There were immense scars, many blades having been dragged across the surface before, and the palms were chafed and dry from holding a sword for too long.
A lot could be told from those tired hands, the fingers curled slightly against the sun, holding a piece of dark hair away from equally tired eyes.
“Ereinion,” a voice from behind the figure stated, just barely touched with the accent of pride, but with the slightest stumble on the vowels. It was a language unfamiliar to the one who spoke it, heavy and hard to lift.
The figure turned against the sun, glazed eyes glancing at the source of the noise. It couldn’t have been anything other than noise after the calm that had settled in on the land. It was a disturbance, unwanted and soon forgotten when the crashing of a wave carefully stripped the memory of sound away. Time was a quick and clever thief.
“Cirdan,” the figure said in his light voice, still fresh and young, hardly touched by whatever hardship had made tired his eyes and hands. “How may I be of service to you?” he asked, looking toward the forest’s recesses for what he sought.
A taller, though perhaps worse for wear figure came forward, wearing bleached leathers and the simplest of armor that could be worn. It wasn’t as though it was shabby and old (though it would soon be), nor was it elegant and lordly. It simply served it purpose, guarding the flesh of the man it was bound to. How simple life must have been for inanimate objects.
“I was worried for you, my king. You should not wander off alone.” said Cirdan, folding his arms and lifting his brows a little. “We are, after all, in a ravaged land. One never knows if one might find a lingering shadow.”
“Only in the shade of trees, my friend. And you needn’t call me ‘lord’. I have known you for more years than any other person in Arda.” said Ereinion, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. He took a hand into the other, rubbing them together. “I’m not exactly used to the idea of being king. I haven’t exercised that authority at all even though I have been king since Turgon’s fall. However, there hasn’t been any reason for me to come out here.”
“Then perhaps you should spend more time with your people and in your realms. Mind you, this is sort of Earendil’s home, but he has been lost to us for many months now.”
“Then you propose I take over his household?”
Cirdan frowned. “I’m afraid to say his house is scattered and divided. His sons have been lost to us for some time now.” He leaned against a tree. “Don’t you think you ought to wear more clothing? Perhaps a cloak?”
“It’s so cold by the sea this time of year. And still. It is as though nothing can survive the winter.” said Ereinion, rubbing his hands even harder together, hoping to warm them a little.
Cirdan smiled wryly. “I too seek warmer climes and waters when the winter sets in. Balar is further south, and much warmer than the northern lands that get gradually closer to the Grinding Ice. We should have come this far north back in the spring.”
“Nonsense,” said Ereinion. “Across the bay is hardly a difference from Balar. I would not expect this from a seafaring man. Besides,” he said, “I think the winter suits the land better.”
The stillness crept back toward where the two men stood, looking across the trees and toward the sinking day star. The trees rattled against each other, no leaves warming them, making them look every bit like starving children. Ereinion looked away and back at Cirdan. “Was there any sign of life at the city?” asked Ereinion.
“It was as still as these woods, if not more frightening. The land recognizes the loss of its visitors.” said Cirdan, picking up a greying twig that a tree had dropped. He idly turned it between his fingers. “Sirion is no longer really a city, more like a ...”
Cirdan looked at Ereinion with a strange look, something akin to anger or fear, only not as harsh and perhaps more subtle. “No, that wasn’t exactly what I was going to say. I think it’s more like... an empty home, when the lords and ladies have left and won’t be returning. It’s as though all the buildings and docks are simply waiting for the return of the people. No matter how charred and burned they are, they still look like they ought to hold several men, drinking an ale after working all day and the children gibbering aimlessly.”
“You seem to remember Sirion quite well.” said Ereinion, taking careful steps on the ground, careful not to tread on the plants (for they looked broken enough without him to help). “Were you here often? I cannot recall as I have done very little before reaching my majority.”
“I knew many of the people here, either in person or by reputation, all of which gone. When we first came into the town it was like a physical blow to see the absence of all those folks.” said Cirdan, picking at the bark of the twig he held. He nervelessly pulled at a particularly stubborn piece of roughage. “I find it very hard to imagine they just left all that they had worked for.”
The king shifted again on his feet, feeling for the cold handle of his sword and feeling the blood rush to his chilled fingertips. “It is called by nearby settlements as the third kinslaying. Surely this means that there was bloodshed. Where could all of the dead be?”
Cirdan stopped picking at the bark for a minute, instead staring intently at a stone on the ground in front of him. “I wondered the exact same thing.” he mumbled somberly, a rough hand reaching up to run across the silvern hair that was growing on his chin. It was a bit of an oddity for his people to grow facial hair, but nothing seemed to be stopping him from doing so, and it seemed strangely calming to grab his chin whenever he was frustrated.
“See? I too can grow a beard! I suppose you edain aren’t so special now.”
“If it pleases you , Master Shipwright.”
“Indeed it does.”
“And here I thought that elves weren’t capable of it.”
“Well, just because they aren’t capable of it, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”
Cirdan mumbled a bit more to himself before walking up next to Ereinion. “A town of a thousand does not simply vanish. Refugees would have made for Balar a lot sooner, and arrived unless hunted down. However, trail runners say that no elda ever began the walk toward Balar save a merchant and a small family from further east. The merchant said that the water was polluted in Sirion now. He said he would never drink of the river again.”
Ereinion looked to Cirdan in confusion. “What do you suppose could make him say something like that? Sirion is the oldest river in Beleriand and has always ran pure, unless some strange taint of Morgoth has recently contaminated it.”
“Perhaps not the taint of Morgoth, but soul binding oaths and the victims that come about after.” said Cirdan. “I have been investigating it for the last couple of days, doing a bit of my own scouting.”
“And here you were telling me not to go alone into the forest.”
“You are our king. That is where a line is drawn. But returning to the story...”
“Indeed, what has your sneaking warranted you?” said Ereinion, making quite the face as he laughed a little at Cirdan’s expense. Cirdan seemed to take it gracefully, the sharp curve of his eyebrows not changing for even a moment. The king bit his lip a little. His emotions were so easily read unlike his shipmaking friend who was as ambiguous as a cloudy day.
Cirdan took a step forward and sighed. “Walk with me, Ereinion, before the sun completely sets. I will show you what my search has merited. I think I know why the merchant left.” The seafarer walked faster, descending a slope in the shoreline. He stopped for a moment, watching Ereinion slowly approach the hill. “You shall have to move faster than that if I am to show you what I have found. And I daresay it shall have to be before the high tide comes in.”
Ereinion nodded and slid down the hill carefully, using his worn hands to grasp the trunks of small trees that were still growing in the cold soil. The quiet was back again, pressing in on the two eldar as they navigated through the red stained light of the forest, the sea’s constant rhythm growing louder with each passing moment. The air was heavier now, even stifling as Ereinion walked into it. The precipices along the shore were like their own waves in the breeze, grass gently swaying with each little wisp.
It was unpleasantly dead here, like nothing could live, save for the swaying grass. One might even become dizzy watching the wind blow through the miry reeds and silver green plants. But the hill was coming to a close now, now that Cirdan and Ereinion were near the delta of Sirion where the sea cliffs were not as high or dangerous.
“We are but a few leagues south of Sirion, on the eastern bank.” said Cirdan, explaining as he walked slower and slower the closer the two got to the banks. “Water flows from the north into the bay from the western corner and down into the south. Sirion’s mouths follow the current. The town is placed by the western side of the river next to the sea.”
“What are you getting at, my friend?” said Ereinion, slowing down to Cirdan’s speed. Cirdan was looking for time, and that was more than willing to slip by given the chance. The Shipwright would come to his conclusion at any moment.
“The water from the sea and the river would come to this bank, correct?”
“If what you’re telling me is true, then yes. I’d imagine anything from Sirion would come over here. I really don’t see what this has to do with the missing people...” said Ereinion, but he soon stopped, thinking about the walk over here, how still everything was. Now was the culmination of the dread that had been building since he had come to this land.
Cirdan shook his head and looked back up, his eyes looking every bit his age, hundreds of years old. “I...I think this is something you’d just have to see for yourself.” he gestured over the hill pointedly, glaring against the eerie yellow light of the sunset. Ereinion moved ahead, giving a confused glance back at Cirdan.
Taking a few hesitant steps, he came to the top of a pebbled dune of sand. And then, he merely stood, unable to even think about what suddenly spread out before him. He could imagine many things he might of seen over the hill, but surely not this.
All across the shoreside lay beached bodies, white and pallid against the grotesque sunset. Tattered, ripped, clothing barely concealed their decaying flesh and broken faces. Some were trapped in what looked like endless agony, some desperate and others sad. There had to be well over a hundred, perhaps even three times that.
The smell was suddenly overpowering and Ereinion could feel his stomach clench and heave in his body All he wanted to do was kneel down and vomit. He had never felt so sick in his entire life, not even when he had taken a wound to the head during a skirmish with orcs. Even orcs seemed merciful in comparison to this atrocity. Once beautiful faces poised in agonizing expressions, tragic and forever trapped that way. There were even some that looked perfectly preserved, as if they were only sleeping, and these above all the other sickened Ereinion.
“Oh, Elbereth.” he said in a tight voice looking away.
Cirdan came up beside him and rubbed Ereinion’s shoulders. “ The Feanorians cast the dead tot he water rather than building a pyre like they did for their brothers. There were simply to mnay casualties for them to handle. It is not at all an appropriate burial for the sea men.”
Ereinion groaned a little. “ Why? How? Who would do such a thing? It- it’s so disturbing! How can anyone willingly do this to a living creature, much less someone of their own race?!” yelled Ereinion, looking up to Cirdan with a pained gleam in his eyes. “The Feanorians will pay for this horror! I swear it!”
Cirdan shook his head a little. “ I too believed that when I saw it earlier. Just to think that these people were alive and sentient, talking to each other, eating with each other. They had families at home each day that waited for them, and there was no foreseen danger of being attacked. These peopel who felt emotions and pain just as well as any other elda or edain alike.”
Ereinion sunk to the ground, gritting his teeth and clamping his eyelids shut. It was as though the faces had been forcibly burned into his skull, once living, now dead. He wanted to leave, right now, before the sun went down and he was left in darkness after the images he’d seen. He couldn’t bear it. “Let us go, now.” said Ereinion, feeling something akin to tears prick the corners of his eyes.
Cirdan took Ereinion by the shoulders, and looked him in the face, even though the young king was shutting his eyes as tightly as he could imagine. “Hear me out, Ereinion. They will pay, but in due time and not by our hand. It is not the Feanorians you should worry about this day, There will be other times for that.”
Ereinion nodded reluctantly.
“It is best that we inform the men of the fate of the people of Sirion. They will be grieved to hear it, but relieved to know the people are not prisoners or sport for orcs. We will build a pyre like Maedhros and Maglor should have done. We cannot allow the rancor of the bodies to continue. It will cause illness.”
Slowly getting to his shaky feet, Ereinion nodded and headed back toward the forest. He could not look at the shore any longer. If he had to see another one of those faces that time and death had massacred, he thought he would despair.
That night, when Ereinion entered Sirion with a heavy heart, he couldn’t help but wonder where the villagers had gone, why the lamps were out and the chimneys without smoke. He felt that they should have been there with him, coming back to their patient houses and businesses.
But of course they wouldn’t be there.
He knew that they were dead in the waters below, and that he wouldn’t be drinking much while in Sirion.
A/N: Well, I gave a Gil-galad fic a shot and it came out rather disturbing. On a side note, I don’t recall the mention of the burial of the townsfolk of Sirion in the Silmarillion or any other text, so I am relatively sure that it is canon.
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