Dedication: This particular chapter is for Cirdan (the writer), who came up with the pet Sea-turtle of Círdan (the character) in one of her stories. It is in the first chapter of “The Tales of the Falathrim”.
The guests were shown to their rooms, and after having a short rest and some refreshments, a young-looking, dark-haired and grey-eyed Elf came to Faramir’s chambers.
“Mae govannen, my Lord Steward,” he said in accent-free Westron and bowed slightly. “I am Eriol, one of the scribes in Lord Gildor’s library. Mistress Vorondis sent me to show you the way, assuming you have rested sufficiently.”
Faramir jumped to his feet eagerly. He had changed into less formal clothes and felt more like an excited young scholar than the Steward of Gondor at the moment.
“I would be happy to go,” he said, “but would you mind speaking in Elvish to me? My Sindarin is probably not what you are used to – which is the very reason I desire to improve it – but I will try to do my best.”
The scribe gave him a good, thorough look – and smiled.
“I have been told that the blood of Númenor runs deep in you, my Lord Steward,” he said, “and I can see now that the rumours were true. I will gladly speak to you in my native tongue, as I am a Sinda whose ancestors have been keepers of knowledge and lore ever since the fall of Thingol’s realm.”
With that, he enlaced his arm with Faramir’s and swept the young Steward away to the library, where Vorondis and the Lady Tirathiel were sitting in a secluded corner already, engrossed in deep conversation.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Imrahil had managed to talk Artanor, Gildor’s chief horse-master into showing Liahan and Esteven, the two other Swan Knights accompanying them, the stables with Gildor’s magnificent horses. Not even the steeds of Dol Amroth could match these wondrous creatures, whose ancestors, just like the ones of Elrond’s horses, had been brought from the Blessed Realm by the Noldorin exiles, and the two knights were happier than children in a sweets shop.
Knowing his knights occupied and in the best possible hands, Imrahil felt free to roam the streets of Edhellond in Andrahar’s company, just as he used to do in his youth.
“Come with me, Andra,” he said, rubbing his hands in delight, “I shall take you to the Place of Trade, and later we will hit the taverns together. You will love it!”
Andrahar gave him a sceptical eyebrow but followed him nevertheless. As he had assumed, the Place of Trade turned out to be a large marketplace between the harbour and the living area of the town, adjoining the Place of Festivals. The latter one was encircled by wondrous, fragrant evergreen trees that had been brought there from Númenor, more than an Age ago, and in the middle of it musicians sat, playing on flutes and Silvan lutes for their own pleasure – and that of those who had gathered to listen to them.
The marketplace itself, however, looked not all that different from the markets in a mortal town. Tents and small huts stood in a loose circle, offering an amazing variety of fruits, bread, vegetable dishes, pottery, carvings, woven cloths, tools, wine, mead and whatever one could wish. The merchants were chatting amiably with their customers and among each other, but not so loud that the music coming from the Place of Festivals could not have been heard. Some of them recognized Imrahil and greeted him in a friendly manner.
The two of them were offered small treats as they walked over the place: pieces of fresh or dried fruit, honeybread figures, seedcake, whatever happened to be at hand. Imrahil accepted the offerings in his usual, charming manner, laughed and jested with the Elven merchants in their own tongue (of which Andrahar understood more than he would admit even under torture), quoted Elvish poetry to the women, earning fond and forgiving smiles in exchange and generally seemed to have the time of his life.
Andrahar was less enthusiastic, even though he tried to make a friendly face. This market, though more lively than he would have expected from the aloof Firstborn, lacked the harsh colours, strong spices and vitalizing noise of the bazaars of his childhood. Nice as it was, it seemed somehow too pale, too quiet, too – elusive in his eyes, his mind involuntarily connecting the word “market” with the colourful crowd, the heavy scents and loud bargaining he had been used to in his past. Four years he had spent in the bazaar of Umbar, running wild between the carpet-walled tents and lushly decorated carriages, breathing in the spicy vapours of the meals cooked right on the street, on open hearths in the big copper dishes and the scented smoke of water pipes…
A hesitant touch on his forearm brought him back from his childhood memories. He had to restrain the urge to lash out instinctively. ‘Twould be no good if he killed an Elf while merely reacting. Glancing into the direction the touch had come from, he looked into the small, pointed face of a very small Elf, most likely a child. The boy – for he looked not a day older than a six-year-old moral lad – had bright, greenish-brown eyes like freshly polished chestnuts and instead of the braids of the adults wore a topknot of the same auburn hair most people in Edhellond seemed to have. He wore brown leggings, light, ankle-high boots and a green tunic – and a carefully polished fang of some carnivorous animal on a leather thong around his neck.
“What do you want, little one?” Andrahar asked, shooing away the ridiculous idea that the child was probably older than he. Elves aged very slowly, ‘twas said.
The boy looked up into his face earnestly. “Are you Master Andrahar?” he asked in a barely accented Westron.
“I am indeed,” said Andrahar surprised, “but who might be you, and how come that you have heard of me?”
The boy shrugged. “Everyone here knows who you are: the shield-mate of Prince Imrahil. They say you come of Harad. Is it true?”
“It is,” Andrahar nodded. The boy tilted his head to one side in a strange, bird-like manner, doubt written in his thin face.
“You do not look evil,” he decided. “How can you come from Harad, then?”
“The places where we come from do not make us evil, elfling,” Imrahil, having overheard their little discussion, chose to answer for his friend. “’Tis the darkness in our hearts or the wrongs we do – those are the things that make us evil.”
He stooped and swept up the boy into his arms, so that he could see into that earnest little face. “Do you have a name, elfling?” he asked.
“I do,” the boy answered reluctantly, “but I do not like it.”
“Why not?” asked Imrahil in surprise. The boy scowled.
“’Tis silly. Only maids have names like mine.”
“Ai, come on, it cannot be so bad,” Imrahil cajoled with the vast experience of a four times over father.
“Not bad?” the boy blurted out like someone who had nursed an old pain far too long. “Would you like to be called Nenmír? Like some kind of fish?”
“I find ‘water-jewel’ a great name,” said Imrahil calmly. “And do the fish not glitter like living gemstones whenever Anor’s rays touch the water surface?”
“They do,” the elfling agreed, wriggling in his arms, “but I still do not like it. It sounds weird. Put me down! I am not a baby anymore!”
“Nay,” Imrahil agreed, “you are a brave and curious elfling, who is not afraid to talk to strangers and ask them questions. That is all right here in Edhellond, but I do hope you are not doing so when you are abroad.”
“I am not a fool!” the boy replied, clearly insulted now. “I have wandered with Lord Gildor’s company from Imladris to the Grey Havens and then sailed back here with him, to Lady Arwen’s wedding!”
“You know the Queen?” Imrahil seemed properly impressed.
“Of course I do,” the elfling answered proudly. “I was born in Imladris, when the Company spent rhîv there.”
“My, but you are well-travelled indeed,” Imrahil nodded. “Still, are you certain that you should run free all over the market by yourself? Would your parents not miss you?”
The small face darkened with sorrow.
“I have no parents,” the elfling said, his eyes suspiciously shiny. “My father was slain by the siege of Imladris, and my mother died when I was very little. I live in Lord Gildor’s house now. He will take me to Elvenhome with him, beyond the Sea, where I may see my parents again – when Mandos releases them.”
“In that case, I think you should return home, elfling,” Imrahil advised. “Mistress Vorondis and the others would be most upset if they looked for you in vain.”
The boy considered this for a moment.
“I do not wish to upset Mistress Vorondis,” he finally decided. “She is a nice lady. I shall go home now.”
With that, he turned around and ran away without a further word, avoiding collisions with the people in the marketplace with great skill. Imrahil looked after him thoughtfully.
“I know that Imladris was besieged shortly before the war,” he murmured, “but it is different when you actually meet an Elven war orphan. In the end, our fates do not run all that differently, I deem.”
“Save the fact that they can come back from the death?” asked Andrahar. Imrahil shrugged.
“I am told that could take hundreds of years – and no-one returns unchanged. Besides, they cannot leave Valinor, once reborn. Lord Glorfindel is the only one who has ever been sent back, for he was needed in the great wars. But no longer. There will be no way back across the Sea.”
“And you are getting whiny again, like always when it comes to the Elves,” replied Andrahar, slightly bored. “I believe you promised to show me the taverns, did you not?”
“I did,” agreed Imrahil, smiling again. “Come with me, I know a place where mortal customers are most welcome.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The place in question was in the harbour, and wore the rather unusual name of Círdan’s Sea-Turtle. It was obviously visited by mariners – Elven and mortal ones alike. As Elves of all kinds love light and open places, the wall looking to the Sea was actually reduced to a few slender pillars, making the whole tavern look like one big, open veranda with a magnificent view of the Sea. Long oak-wood tables stood in the inside, the sharp, yellow wine was served in cups big enough to be mistaken for tankards, and various sorts of excellent seafood were offered in heaped plates. Most of it was dried fish and eels and sea-plants, fried crabs and squid rings and smoked sea-birds, served with seeded flat-bread and strange, spicy sauces based on fish or clams.
As could be expected, Imrahil found old friends within moments, and now they were sitting in the company of a dozen very merry Elves and a few thoroughly drunken sailors of Anfalas who had come with a merchant ship that same morning. Andrahar decided to be careful with his wine, as Imrahil was obviously determined to let his shields down. Thus, he had to be vigilant for both of them. This did not hinder him in enjoying the delicious food, however, and it surprised him to realise that some of the sauces were spicy enough even for his Southern tastes.
The talking became merrier and merrier with every new round of wine, and soon the Elven mariners were clasping each other’s shoulders, swinging in a rhythm that imitated the never-resting waves of the Sea rather nicely, and singing the song of Círdan’s wondrous Sea-turtle in their fair, clear voices in perfect harmony, despite their intoxicated state. The song was very funny, even Andrahar had to admit that, and the Elves sang it in Westron, for their mortal guests’ sakes, though, as one of them pointed out, it lost a lot in translation. Imrahil was laughing ‘til tears of merriment started to run down his cheeks, and – having heard the original many times in his youth – he agreed with the Elves that it was much, much funnier in Sindarin.
“Did this Círdan truly have a pet Sea-turtle?” asked Andrahar doubtfully. He knew, of course, who Círdan was. One could not live near Imrahil for half a century and not pick up such things, but still…
“He did,” a deep, amused voice replied from behind them in perfect, accent-free Westron. “I have seen the faithful beast with my very eyes, several times – it was a truly wondrous creature.”
They all turned back to the entrance and their eyes fell upon the regal figure of Gildor Inglorion, standing some two feet away in all his golden glory. Unlike other times when Andrahar had seen him, he was clad in white and royal blue, richly embroidered with gold, and wore the emblem of his House upon his chest. His heavy mass of golden hair was braided in some intricate pattern, like a coronet of some sort, and a golden collar, set with colourful jewels – the product of extraordinary smithcraft – adorned his neck. He was unarmed, save from two beautiful knives in their richly decorated sheets that hung from his belt, and he was accompanied by a young, dark-haired, grey-eyed Elf who kept staring at him in naked adoration.
“Imrahil!” he cried, embracing the Prince of Dol Amroth in a brotherly manner. “Welcome to Edhellond once again. How like you to arrive when I am out of town. But I knew I would find you here – this has always been your favourite place.” Then he turned to his young companion. “Enedrion, call for another round, and bring cups for me and yourself. I am buying for everyone, in the honour of our friend’s visit.”
“I knew he could speak Westron just as well as everyone else,” growled Andrahar under his breath. “I have known all the time…”
“Why, certainly,” replied Gildor, unperturbed. “Just as you can understand more of our tongue than you would be willing to admit. Ah, Enedrion, here you are,” he added, throwing a friendly arm across the shoulder of the young Elf who almost swooned from his touch. There was definitely more than hero worship – and it was very much one-sided, if Gildor’s tolerant smile was any indication.
They drank more wine, and the Elven mariners begged Gildor for the true tale of Círdan’s Sea-turtle. After the second cup Gildor gave in and spun a fascinating and very funny story about the huge, wise and wondrous beast and its visits through the Sea-gate of Círdan’s palace. He was a surprisingly good storyteller and obviously enjoyed himself immensely. As the tale went on and on, the sailors of Anfalas passed out from the strong wine, the Elven mariners were slowly becoming drunk themselves, and even Imrahil’s eyes started sparkling unnaturally brightly, though he could hold his wine better than most Men, due to much… exercise in his youth.
Seeing this, Gildor ended his tale with a smooth turn and rose from his seat.
“’Tis time for us to return to my house, I think,” he said, throwing his soft leather purse to his young aide. “Pay for the wine, Enedrion. We are going home.”
Imrahil was not too drunk to catch the double meaning of the Elf-lords words. Seeing the sudden understanding in his eyes, Gildor nodded slowly.
“That is true, my friend. We are ready to go home.”