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60
The Departure Observed

For Dana on her birthday. Thanks to RiverOtter for the Beta.

Written for the August POV Challenge at LOTR-Community's LJ site.


~~~

The Departure Observed


On the northern coasts of the Firth of Lhûn there was a small settlement and harbor built by some of the Northern Dúnedain. Once it has been the chief port city of Arnor and later Arthedain, built within the sheltered waters of the great firth; but time had not been particularly kind to the descendants of Elendil’s followers. Now the stone quays hosted a dozen small fishing boats and two craft sufficient for exploration or trading, and no more. It did have a view of the Elven havens of Mithlond, and Círdan’s folk had always been helpful to the Men who lived there. However, there was no great custom between the two peoples.

The youth awoke from where he customarily slept in a nest of rope and fishing nets upon the deck of his father’s fishing craft that the two of them sailed together. They’d come in yesterday with a full hold, and the unloading of the fish and crabs they’d caught had taken all of the afternoon. Now his father had set off for Fornost with much of the catch on ice, and it would be his task to see the hold and deck cleaned of the last of the scales and offal, check for any rents in the nets, and make certain all on the boat was ready for their next sailing. He rose and stretched, then found his way to the privy beyond the wharves to prepare himself for the day.

His mother brought him a plate of breakfast, which he would take back to the boat with him once he’d given her his morning greeting and a kiss. She swatted at his rump. “It is obvious, Gilboron” she said, “it is again time to make you new clothing. You seem intent on growing as tall as our beloved kinsman the King.”

“Ah, Nana, you know I would be pleased to grow that tall,” he said. “Give Glorilyn a kiss for me, and I hope to be home by late afternoon.”

But by noon, although his own work was finished, his attention was fixed across the stretch of water that separated them from the Elven quays, for it was obvious that the ship recently finished was being readied for departure. Some of the fish he and his father had brought back yesterday had been purchased by the Elves, and were now being carried to the galley. The tall figure of the one appointed steward for this voyage was accepting piles of linens from an elleth who now turned back to the cart filled with such things to bring even more; in moments she had disappeared after him down to the cabins.

The fine lines of hithlain were being inspected and then carefully coiled; the fishing net they’d use once they were underway was being refolded and stowed into the box prepared for it. Barrels of oil were being carried to the hold, as well as barrels of flour and grain for morning porridge. Casks of fresh water were also being carried aboard and settled.

A slender ellon had slipped aloft to inspect the furled sails and their lines one last time; from here he appeared no older than the Gilboron himself, although the Mannish youth knew he was likely to be at least five centuries old or more. Gilboron could hear his clear call to those below that all was well and ready for departure.

The young Man felt a twisting within him. As he’d grown he’d seen three grey ships built in the shipyards there--the keels laid, the straiths raised, the ships built slowly but steadily. He’d watched as decks were laid, masts raised, the ships rigged. Of those three ships, this was the largest he’d seen built. The War was finished, the great Enemy vanquished and his strength destroyed forever. Now the Eldar were departing, and probably most of the greatest who yet lingered in the hither lands would go upon this ship. So much of the Light Gilboron had known during his life was going out of the Mortal Lands, and he felt himself grieving already, seeing how the great spars and fine lines raised a great triangle against the mottled blue of the autumn sky. A breeze was rising, blowing strands of hair across the youth’s forehead, and he hastily brushed them away, for to the east, beyond the Elven city, the sky was growing brighter.

“Mithrandir!” he breathed as he saw the Wizard ride his sea-silver horse through the arched entrance into the harbor proper. “Mithrandir comes to see those who depart go!” The tall, white-clad figure alit from his steed, turning automatically to greet what was plainly Círdan the Shipwright himself. Two Elves were coming forward with buckets of water and grain for the great horse. Others came to listen to the news from the Wizard, there was a brief discussion, and soon most were going off to see all readied.

“Gilboron?” called a sweet voice, and he turned to see his younger sister with a luncheon for him. “You didn’t come home for the noon meal.”

“I was watching, Glorilyn,” he said in explanation, nodding toward the Elven harbor across from them.

She came aboard to where he was standing at the starboard rail and handed him the basket containing the food prepared for him, and peered herself across at the grey ship. “They are ready to sail,” she said softly, her voice with the same ache to it Gilboron felt in his own heart.

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, and appear ready to sail on the evening tide.”

Together they watched. At midafternoon they were joined by their mother.

“And what keeps the two of you aboard the boat this day?” she asked.

“The Elven ship--it prepares to sail,” Gilboron told her.

“Look, Nana--they are taking flowers aboard.”

Their mother nodded, her face saddened. “More of the Eldar leave us,” she murmured. “I wonder who it is that sails this time?”

The answer to that came soon enough. Even Elven steeds can be heard approaching when they travel a metaled road, and now about a dozen horses came through the archway with about three times that number of folk walking about them. And amongst the riders could be seen three ponies.

“There are elflings amongst them?” Gilboron’s sister asked.

But their mother was shaking her head. “No, beloved, those are no Elves, and are not children, either.”

Gilboron suddenly knew, recognizing what they must be from the stories they’d been told of life in Bree by their Lord Chieftain during his last visit to their settlement a few years earlier. “Periannath!” he exclaimed. “They are Hobbits!”

“Yes, but why would the Halflings seek to come here?” his mother responded.

The youth shook his head. “I do not know, Naneth.”

It was his sister who realized what was happening, thinking on the more recent stories told amongst the northern Dúnedain. “It is the Ringbearers,” she said, her voice filled with awe. “The Cormacolindor have come. But why?”

“I think you have the right of it, Glorilyn,” their mother said. “Yes, the Ringbearers have come.” One of them had dismounted swiftly, then hurried to come to the side of the tallest of the three, assisting him to alight and making certain he was properly balanced. But the taller one was already turning toward the third Hobbit, and now between them they assisted that one off of his pony. One of the Elves led away the grey pony this Hobbit had ridden, and another took the other two, one of which, a bay, looked more like a small horse than a true pony, leading them back toward the entrance to the wharves and looping their reins about the bole of a sapling before removing the saddlebags from one.

Círdan and Mithrandir were approaching the newcomers, the Shipwright bowing low to those who were even now removing saddlebags and such from their mounts. Some of the gathered Elves were helping to remove the little tack used by the newcomers, were offering the horses water and food, then leading them to the plank to take them aboard.

Suddenly the woman gasped, “But that is Lord Elrond there, the tall one with the especially dark hair and the woven circlet! He is one of those leaving Middle Earth? Do his sons go with him? Nay--I see them not.”

Glorilyn peered up into her mother’s face. “Do you think he goes because his daughter married our Lord Aragorn?” she asked.

Her mother shook her head, then sighed. “I must assume so. How he must grieve, for she cannot come to where he goes--not now.”

The afternoon seemed to be passing quickly, and already the Sun was dropping toward the horizon. The tallest, dark-haired Perian stood with one arm about the shortest one, while the other stood half a step away, and even from the distance they could tell this one was weeping. Although the day was growing steadily darker, there on the quays of Mithlond the Light yet lingered, particularly as an especially tall elleth with hair that seemed spun of sun- and moonlight stepped out from the company of golden-haired Elves that accompanied her, coming forward to kneel before the Hobbit who stood apart, tipping his head up to look into his face, apparently speaking quietly with him. As the day grew darker, the Light about the company seemed to grow brighter as more Elves joined the company from their lodgings in the Elven town.

“The Elven Light,” breathed the mother. “Now and then it can be seen. She must be one of the great ones of their people.”

“The Lady Galadriel?” suggested Gilboron.

“Yes, that is possible--perhaps likely.”

At that moment a noise could be heard, and even across the water they could hear a high, clear voice calling out, “Wait! Gandalf, wait!” to which the whole company upon the stone quays turned.

“The tall Perian--he’s glowing, too,” whispered Glorilyn. “And so is the other one--but it’s not quite like the Elves do.”

Peering closer, her brother and mother had to agree she was correct. Two more ponies came through the archway, and two more Periain were already dropping from their saddles. These, like the bay, were finely blooded animals, again more reminiscent of true horses. An Elf was catching the dropped reins, leading the ponies to the same sapling and tethering them loosely to it. The others, however, were hurrying forward toward the other three, calling out to them. The only words they could catch now were Frodo and Gandalf, and the tall one was pulling free of the smallest one, who appeared to be quite old, to face them. Gilboron’s eyes were drawn to the other Hobbit, the one alone, and saw his posture soften, as if with relief.

“These two are much taller,” Glorilyn noted. “I wonder why they didn’t come with the others?”

One was reaching to embrace the tall one, embracing him and holding him tightly. Gilboron said, “That one, the one with dark hair, he’s been hurt--hurt terribly. The others are worried for him.”

His mother nodded, her face filled with compassion. “He must be Frodo Baggins, then. And the other--that must be Lord Samwise.”

Glorilyn gave her own nod. “Then the old one--he must be Bilbo Baggins, the Dwarves’ burglar. But they can’t go with the Elves, can they?”

The five Hobbits were now gathered together, and the watchers realized most of the Elves in the company had already gone aboard the ship. The tall form of Lord Elrond came forward to speak to the Hobbits, then turned to approach the plank. There the Peredhel lord stopped, turned, and held out his hand, and the old Hobbit spoke briefly to the others, then turned to approach the plank himself, taking Elrond’s hand as they went aboard the ship together.

The Lady Galadriel leaned over the four Hobbits remaining, apparently speaking to them. She then turned and went to the plank, pausing once more to look at the Hobbits, then smiling brilliantly before boarding the ship herself. The two newcomers were standing one on each side of the dark-haired Perian, as if to protect him, and the other one, the one whose hair appeared to be dark gold from this distance and about whom a pale golden Light was gathered, stood slightly behind them, his hand on Frodo Baggins’s shoulder.

Now it was Gandalf who came to stand before them, leaning on his great staff, his attention fixed on the four Hobbits before him. “They are all three crying,” Glorilyn murmured, “the two new ones and the one with the golden Light.”

“Yes,” agreed Gilboron. “Gandalf must be going, too.” Certainly the silver Light about him appeared to be growing stronger. Distantly they could hear the singing of those Elves aboard the ship, singing a hymn to Lord Ulmo. Gandalf was leaning over the four Periannath, touching the top of each curly head, and then he, too, walked to the plank.

Now the dark-haired Hobbit turned to the others. They could not tell that he said anything, merely that he shared an embrace with each in turn, kissing the two tall ones on the tops of their bent heads before turning to the broader one, the one with the dark gold hair and about whom the golden Light gathered. They searched one another’s eyes, and then the dark one pulled his friend into his embrace, holding him tightly for some time, then once more facing him, drew his head down to gently kiss his forehead. The softly pulsing golden Light flared briefly, as did the silver Light of Frodo Baggins. At last the dark-haired Hobbit stepped back, looked at the other three as if impressing their image on his heart, and at last turned toward the ship.

The two newcomers were standing side by side, the arm of one about the shoulders of the other. The one with the golden Light stood now alone again, now a half step ahead of the others, watching after the dark-haired Hobbit with grief and longing evident in his very stance. For a second Frodo Baggins slowed, almost uncertainly, then forced himself to step forward, his head lifted. Gandalf stood waiting for him, although he didn’t reach for the Ringbearer’s hand, not, Gilboron thought, that the Hobbit was likely to offer it. Instead he set his hand on the Hobbit’s shoulder briefly, and followed him to the plank, where he let his hand fall and paused to allow the Perian to go ahead of him. Only after the Ringbearer had taken two steps onto the plank did the Wizard take a long step to join him, again with a comforting, supportive hand on the smaller one’s shoulder, and pulling away to the right once they were both aboard, again allowing the Hobbit his autonomy for the moment.

There the Hobbit paused, taking a visible breath and looking up, then to each side. At last he turned and looked back at his friends, all of whom were standing very straight and proudly, gave the smallest of nods, then at last looked up rather uncertainly at the Wizard.

Together the two of them moved to the stern rail with the Lady beside them, and already those who worked upon the quays were casting off lines while those aboard were drawing them in and coiling them, and passing the end of the plank to those ashore, who were drawing it back. The current of the tide was tugging impatiently at the ship and drawing it inexorably away from the quay; it turned, showing its broad stern to those who watched after it, and there stood the small yet proud figure of Frodo Baggins, his pulsing silver Light a marked contrast to the steadier Lights of the Elves and Wizard. The three watching from the deck of the fishing boat could see him fairly clearly now. The orange ball of the Sun was sinking rapidly now beyond the distant gates to the firth, yet those aboard the ship were caught in the warm glow of the sunset as the clouds overhead turned a remarkable red. Gilboron could see the Ringbearer reach within his garments and bring out something, something that shone in his hand. For a brief moment he looked at it, and by its illumination for the first time the young Man could see his face clearly, the fair skin, the determined cleft of the chin, the wide forehead, the straight nose and clear blue eyes before he turned to look again at those he was leaving behind. Then he raised his hand, and a brilliant light shone forth from it, as if he had managed to capture Eärendil’s light and held it up to reassure those who watched after that he was indeed there.

“What is it he’s holding?” he heard Glorilyn ask.

“I know not, beloved.”

The wind was picking up, and had turned, blowing now from the east as if to deliberately speed the grey ship upon its way as the sheets of the sails were shaken into place and the booms turned to best capture it. The steersman stood tall at the tiller controls, and even from where they stood they could hear the wind singing in the ship’s rigging, saw the Hobbit look up at the sound of it, an expression of wonder on his face; then he smiled more fully as he turned back to look again at his friends, and the light flared more brightly in his grasp as he lifted it yet higher. The Sun was almost below the horizon, then was gone completely, but as the ship drew further from them the light still blazed from Frodo Baggins’s hand, as bright as any star; and it was soon matched by that of Eärendil blazing overhead. A faint backlight outlined the triangular sails of the Elven ship glimmering as it sped on the wings of the wind westward toward the gates to the firth; for a time they could see the distant glimmer of it, ever bearing the brilliance of whatever light it was that was held aloft now by the Ringbearer that echoed the similar brilliance of the Star of Hope.

Then at last, in the depths of the darkness the very horizon finally hid the light they’d strained their eyes after for so long, and they found themselves turning toward the Elven haven, and now, now almost across from them, they saw the soft golden glimmer they recognized as that associated with the one they believed to be Lord Samwise, the Ringbearer’s companion.

Gilboron and Glorilyn were being embraced by their mother, and their arms were about her. They’d barely moved for hours, and none of them had eaten since Glorilyn had brought the noon meal to her brother sometime after midday. But they would bear the memory of the day they’d watched the Ringbearer leave Middle Earth to the end of their lives, and Gilboron would, whenever he saw Eärendil in the sky, remember clear blue eyes looking back toward his friends as Frodo Baggins held aloft his sparkling treasure for them to see.



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