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4
The Call of the Sea

Author’s notes:
This one is for all us Voronwë-groupies out there. Hey, I am the cheerleader in that particular group! His story and family background is presented as it is in the “Unfinished Tales,” except of the final fate of his parents. There aren’t any canon facts (known to be) about that, but you’re welcome to correct me.


~~~

Chapter 4: The Call of the Sea

Glorfindel and Galdor, with plates full of excellent food in hand, strolled lazily through Círdan’s extensive gardens that stretched gracefully along the Gulf, opposite the port itself. Unlike the orchards that lay further behind, protected by stone walls against the quirks of the weather, these stood wide open and descended in wide, flat steps to the Sea. There were evergreen trees and bushes, the latter enclosing small barrows, offering proper privacy to those who wanted to celebrate the Sea Festival with the gentle plays of love, and there were fountains whose basins were wrought in the likeness of curiously formed seashells, and whose falling water – due to their particular shape – formed a soft harmony with the never-ending murmurs of the Sea. A wonderful peace lay upon the gardens of the Shipwright, one that Glorfindel had not felt on this side of the Sea, not even in the enclosed safety of Gondolin.

Which thought reminded him of the reason of their stroll.

“You said he would be here,” he said accusingly, looking around for their mutual friend without success. Galdor shrugged.

“Well, he was here when I went to look for you.”

Glorfindel rolled his eyes. “Now that is very helpful, indeed.”

Instead of an answer, Galdor turned from the Palace and began to descend a narrow, steep path between the tall evergreen bushes. It clearly led towards the Sea, so Glorfindel sighed in exasperation. “And where are you going now?”

“When he is not where I left him, there is only one place he can be,” Galdor answered over his shoulder, carefully balancing his heaped plate during his descent; “on the shore.”

“I thought you said that he feared the Sea,” said Glorfindel pointedly; all that Elven grace notwithstanding, he hated to walk on steep paths with a plate full of food that had the tendency to fall off and stain his clothes in his hands. Not to mention the excellent but very liquid sauce that never failed to find a way off any plates. It had a disturbingly bright colour, and he was clad in white… well, mostly, if one left the rich golden embroidery out of consideration.

“He does,” Galdor replied, “and yet he cannot stay away from it for any length. Or else he would have moved deeper inland, I deem.”

Glorfindel nodded his understanding, and they walked down the hidden little path in silence, the ancient Elf taking strategic methods to hinder his belligerent food to wander off his plate to his rather… colour-sensitive clothing.

Even though Mithlond lay at a gulf and not on the coast of the Great Sea, its shores were a marvel, nevertheless. Here, far from the port itself and its noisy life, there was an open terrace, the tall, glassless windows of which looked at the sandy shore. One could see the waves dancing merrily just a few feet from the slender pillars, for it was the time of high flood. And – leaned against one of the pillars – an Elf sat, wrapped in a grey cloak that was sodden with the sea-spray the waves threw at him. Silently he sat, gazing out over the long ridges of the waves. There lay a solemn air all over them, the far, merry sounds of the feast over toned by the roaring of the surf below.

Glorfindel stood and looked down at the silent grey figure, whose shoulders were slumped in defeat, even if he held his head raised in a proud but useless gesture. The heart of the ancient Elf ached, feeling the hopeless yearning rolling off in waves of his friend of old. Carefully, he placed his food on the small stone table that stood in a corner for exactly this reason, and he called aloud, not able to endure the grief-loaded silence any more.

“Voronwë! Thank the Valar that our paths have finally met! ’Tis good to see you again, my young friend!”

The Elf rose and turned, and for a moment there was a light in those sea-grey eyes of his as he gazed at the white and golden shimmering figure of Glorfindel in fear and wonder. A moment thus they stayed, and the Voronwë, finally believing that his eyes had, in fact, not misled him, stepped closer and opened his arms.

“Glorfindel! ’Tis truly you!”

“The same one as I have ever been… well, mostly.” Glorfindel gave his friend a long, reassuring hug – as much for his own sake as for Voronwë. For the son of Aranwë looked not well, indeed: worn and tired beyond relief he seemed, pale even for an Elf, and there were a few silver threads in his once raven-black hair. This had shaken Glorfindel to the bone, for greying was something Elves usually fell not victim to – unless they were fading at an alarming speed. But Voronwë was still much too young for that, even though he had never seen the Light of the Two Trees. Not even Círdan was fading yet, second-oldest to Glorfindel only in Middle-earth, and the Shipwright had not lived in the Blessed Realm, either.

“Yea, ’tis truly me,” the ancient Elf replied softly, patting the back of his young friend(1); “And I am truly glad to see you again. Does your father still tarry on these stores, too?” He knew that had Aranwë survived the fall of Gondolin, but never heard what might have become of him.

“Nay,” Voronwë, a little embarrassed – he was never one to show his feelings openly – disentangled himself from Glorfindel’s arms. “He left with Eönwë’s troops after the War of Wrath, thankful for the forgiveness of the Valar. I hope he dwells in peace in the West.”

“And what has become of your mother?” Glorfindel asked, remembering the tall, silver-haired, always high-spirited woman from the days of old when Turgon and his folk had dwelt in Nevrast still, and when there was much mingling between the Falathrim and the Noldor, which was how Voronwë’s parents came together in the first place. But the Lady Tavariel(2) refused to leave the coasts when Turgon moved his kingdom into the far inland, and so the spouses became separated, for Aranwë, being oath-bound to his King, could do naught else follow him, and took his young son with him to Gondolin.

“She was captured after the destruction of Eglarest,” Voronwë said in a strangely flat voice, “and never seen again(3). I thought you would know.”

Glorfindel shook his head. “Círdan never speaks of the lost members of his family, and I know better than to ask him. Still, it surprises me that he offered not to take you under his roof.”

“He did,” Voronwë sighed, “but I cannot… There are so many people, Glorfindel, so much coming and going… and ’tis too far from the open Sea. ’Tis but a gulf, not the true coasts, and I would miss the roaring of waves against the rocky shores, which was the first thing I heard in my life. Just as I miss the peace and beauty of Nan-tatharen(4) that is no more.”

“Then you should gather your strength and sail to the west, despite your fears, as long as you still can,” Glorfindel said gently, for the obvious suffering of the younger Elf almost broke his heart. “There are meadows in the Blessed Realm with which not even the Land of Willows could compare. There you might find the peace of heart you long for so badly.”

“Ai, how I wish that I could!” Voronwë whispered in a broken voice. “But my sea-heart is torn between longing and horror every time I just think of leaving the safety of these shores. I wish to go to the West more than I have ever wished aught, believe me. But you have not seen the Great Sea in tis uproar, Glorfindel, not when it was working for the Doom of the Valar.”

“It does so no more,” the ancient Elf reminded him mildly. “And even the Noldor were granted forgiveness, you know that.”

“I know,” Voronwë nodded, “and still, I cannot forget what it was like. It still haunts me in my dream, waking or otherwise. Worst things the Sea can hold than to sink into the abyss and so perish: loathing and loneliness, and madness; terror of wind and tumult; and silence, and shadows where all hope is lost and all living shapes pass away. And many shores evil and strange it washes, and many islands of danger and fear infest it(5). Seven years had my labours lasted in the Great Sea from the North, even into the South… but seven Ages became I older by the time I was finally washed ashore in the land of my birth. And though I know well that only in the Blessed Realm can I be healed, my heart darkens with fear to face all those terrors again.”

Galdor shook his head in grief. “You will fade away if you remain here much longer.”

“That I know, too.” Voronwë raised his lifeless eyes to the golden-hued face of Glorfindel and asked: “You have been in the Halls of Mandos, so tell me, old friend: How great the length is the dead have to go? Am I fleeing the horrors I remember just to face even worse at the end?”

“I cannot tell you,” Glorfindel answered thoughtfully, “for ’tis different for any one, or so they say. Yet I do believe that there are no other horrors in Mandos than the ones you bring with you – until you learn to leave them behind. For me, Mandos was fire and darkness. For you, it might be the stormy and wild Sea, full of threatening shadows and watery depths. For others, it could be a lonely place, where they just sit and wait. There is simply no way to tell.”

“For me, it would be a place of great peril where I cannot help you,” Galdor added gently, caressing the pained face of his friends with a fleeting touch of his knuckles. “’Tis true for you or Glorfindel or any of our remaining friends – but more so for you than for any one else.”

Glorfindel looked from Galdor to Voronwë, then back to Galdor again, with a furrowed brow. The signs were not obvious, still…

“How long have you been lovers?” he asked finally. Galdor shrugged.

“We are not… well, we are in a way, but… not truly…”

“Ten years,” Voronwë interrupted him, entwining his fingers with Galdor’s, and for a moment the old warmth returned to his eyes. “Ever since he found me in that empty house in Harlond where I have dwelt like an hermit crab. But he is also right in that we are not true lovers, you know. He gives me strength when I lack it and makes me feel safe, but I… I cannot give him aught in exchange.”

“What we have has little to naught to do with the yearnings of flesh,” Galdor added soberly. “First and foremost, we are friends, who share old memories and the love for both the Sea and the trees. We may share a bed at times, too, but that is of little importance. And ’tis not true that you cannot give me aught, mellon nin. You gave me back a part of my past that I thought to be lost for ever… and you give me something to wait for.”

“To wait for what?” asked Voronwë sadly. “You had plans when you found me: you wanted to begin a new life here, in the Havens, to build a house, have a family, mayhap… You gave up all that for me.”

“Nay, I have not given up aught,” Galdor shook his head, smiling; “delayed a little, mayhap. I still intend to begin a new life here, even if it means that I shall have to let you go. As for the house… do I truly need one for me alone? My sister and her husband have long found the right place, and whenever I am here, I help them to work on the house – raising the walls, digging up the gardens, what ever is needed. That home is mine as much as it is theirs. I would ask you to come and live with us, but you would feel crowded, with all the children and their friends and other relatives around all the time.”

“You dug up the gardens?” Glorfindel laughed. “I cannot believe it!”

“Neither could I, at first,” Galdor replied with a grin, “but in truth, ’twas good work, it gave me great joy. And still, my true life is out there, on the Sea. I might belong to the Folk of the Tree, but I have become one of the Sea-Elves by now. And one day, or so I hope, I shall be the one who takes Voronwë to the West where he can find healing.”

“Even though you would not stay there with me,” said Voronwë with a weak smile. “Not yet, anyway. You would come back here, would you not?”

“That I would,” Galdor agreed. “A Sea-Elf I might have become, but the Sea calls to me not. Not yet. It might take a long time ere I leave these shores, I fear.”

“It matters not,” Voronwë sighed, “for I believe not I shall be able to face the Sea again. Ever. I have felt the wrath of Ossë too strongly.”

“Ossë is not the only one ruling the waves,” a voice, deep and soft and yet so powerful as the very murmurs of the Sea, spoke from behind them. “You fear the wrong Maia if you think so.”

They all turned back to the Sea and saw that a great wave rose far off and rolled towards the shore where, by some miracle, it remained unmoved for a moment, like a huge, silvery green curtain before parting. Then suddenly it drew closer and curled, and broke, and rushed forward in long arms of foam; but where it had been broken, there stood, dark against the liquid wall of foaming water, the shape of a woman of great height and majesty.

She seemed to have taken shape from the very waters of the Sea, for her body was gleaming and half-liquid and constantly changing, and it had the same colour as the waves themselves, somewhere between grey and green, and her long, silver hair fell down into the water, glimmering like foam in the dusk, and it looked as if it had no end at all. Her dark grey mantle was like mist in the shadow, and her long gown was deep green and flashed and flickered with sea-fire as she emerged from the wave, nearly at arm’s length from the stone pillars of the terrace(6).

She set no foot upon the shore but remained standing knee-deep in the shadowy water, her deep, dark eyes glittering like the silver-coated fish in the starlight. And the tree Elves recognized her and bowed deeply, but it was Glorfindel who dared to speak first.

“Lady Uinen,” he said, “your presence honours us.”

The Lady of the Seas touched his brow in a watery caress, but her eyes lay upon the haggard face of Voronwë. “I have been calling to you for a very long time, young one,” she said, “but you were so deaf with fear that you would not listen. “So I was forced to come to you and speak to you face-to-face.”

Truth to be told, Voronwë was not deaf but nearly insane with fear already. The last thing he needed to be told was that he had made the Lady of the Seas angry with him. But ere he could have thought of an answer, Uinen bent down to him and kissed his brow.

“You are part of our beloved Sea-Elves, child, but we cannot help you, not as long as you remain here. I know you are not yet ready to face the Great Sea, but you should begin to prepare yourself for the journey that is to come – and soon. Fear not the wrath of my spouse, for ’tis not for him to decide your fate, and I shall not allow him to harm you. Here, take this as a reminder that you stand under my protection.”

Uncertainly, Voronwë stretched out his palm, and Uinen laid a small, twirled seashell in his hand, a seashell in the colour of pearls and hiding one big, shiny pearl inside. As Voronwë held it to his ear, he could hear the far-away murmurs of the Outer Sea in it. Uinen looked at him and smiled, and it was as when the moonlight mirrors on the surface of the waves.

“Keep it on you all the time when you are on a ship, and no creature of the Sea shall dare to harm you,” she added, “not even its Lord. But remember, your stay on these shores is cut short. You shall come to the West soon.”

With that, she stepped back and seemed to wrap the patiently waiting wave around herself. Then the wave broke a second time, and there was naught else to see but the surf again. Voronwë turned the seashell in his hands a few times – it was a lot bigger than it seemed in Uinen’s hand, in fact – then he looked at his friends and smiled wearily.

“My fate has just been decided, it seems,” he said.

“I believe so,” Galdor nodded, “but you need not to hurry. There are not ships every day that would sail to the West. I was told that the next one would be the Lord Inglor’s, when the castle of the King is finished. And that can take a long time yet.”

“So ’tis certain that he would not remain here with us?” Glorfindel asked. “I thought he wanted to spend a lengthy time on this side of the Sea. That was why he did not return home with Eönwë’s host.”

“I know naught that is certain,” answered Galdor. “The only thing I know is that when the time comes, I am to bring him and his wife back to the Blessed Realm. Those were Lord Círdan’s orders, for my ship is one of the strongest and the swiftest.” He grinned at his friends. “It seems that I might get the chance to ferry you to your luck, after all.”

“Assuming that he will not starve before,” Glorfindel teased, pulling the younger Elf with him to the stone table, where they had placed their plates. “Come, we have brought you food. Unless, you want to go back to the Feasting Hall. There is more.”

“Nay,” Voronwë shook his head with a melancholy smile, “I think I would rather remain here with the two of you, since you are ready to share. ’Tis naught like old friends at the same table, is it? Just like old times.”

~~~

End notes:

(1) “Young” being relative, of course. Comparing to Gildor or Elrond, Voronwë was not that young anymore. But for Glorfindel, he certainly was.

(2) A name made up by me for Voronwë’s mother. I hope it works. Tavari were the fay of the woods, actually.

(3) We know nothing about the fate of Voronwë’s mother, of course (at least I do not). The only facts mentioned in the ÚT are, that she was one of the Falathrim and even belonged to Círdan’s extended and somewhat shadowy family. So I gave her silver hair.*shrugs* And it seemed reasonable that she would not want to live someplace like Gondolin, with no Sea and all stones.

(4) The Land of Willows, also called Tasarinan. Voronwë once got enchanted by its beauty and very nearly missed the last ship that was sent out by Turgon to ask the Valar for help.

(5) These are the same words Voronwë says to Tuor when they first meet in the Unfinished Tales.

(6) This particular incarnation of Uinen has been shaped after Ulmo’s appearance to Tuor in the Unfinished Tales.


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