“Alalminórë.” The lean-faced traveler muttered the word suddenly, as memories of that place arose unbidden in his mind, as if borne on some last breeze out of the Forgotten West. Those shady copses of elm – the heart of the Isle of Elvenhome, the midnight skies unblemished under a starry dome, the times that he had walked amidst the Elves as an emissary from Valimar. The silent hope of the Elven race as they bid him adieu, standing on the white prow of a Telerin vessel. Young Gilfanon’s stern face on those white shores as he shouldered the burden of the Faring Forth on his untried shoulders.
It seemed that salt sprays from the gulf of Lune to Belfalas had weathered his limbs as he tarried by the havens at Mithlond. Leaning upon the broken edifices he squinted across these brazen waves.
There were no gulls any more.
Inside the tavern the fiddler is a blur of elbows and tapping feet, the sound of thumping tankards and slosh of ale. The warm of humanity pervaded him like the familiar glow from a hearth. Running his hand over the rough-grained wood of tables polished by the grease of countless meals.
Someone hollers for another round – burdens made light as light fails outside.
Who shall refill the cup for me?
Drifting to his favoured shadowy nook, out of the way. Watching the merry folk traipsing by. The deep-throated chuckle of hefty men back from the hard fields, the swing of a shire-wench’s skirts, the quiet enjoyment of a crew resting from a voyage. Whither?
The South they say, beyond Harad and Khand and East thence.
Elentyaro turned away. They speak of what he had seen: loud mouthed merchants peddling their wares. Not the swift ship that he wanted for this voyage that he was planning. And suddenly he felt a small ripple in the chorus of thoughts and voices, and probed curiously towards the source. He did not know what he was searching for, something…anything that would give him some hope. That when the Eldar sallied forth under Gilfanon to rescue the Lingerers, at least a few Men would come to their aid.
Ottor son of Eadwine son of Oswine was a sea-farer of many winters, though a man of about a score and 8. He had sailed both as captain, mate and soldier – as reaver, raider, emissary, merchant and simply … wanderer. He glanced quizzically at the newcomer. Most patrons of the tavern knew each other – villagers, a few guardsmen of the local thane to keep the peace, sailors that met once or maybe twice a year to swap tales of long cold voyages. He had heard word of this man from several of the resthouses on the King’s Way. One who had gainsaid Thane Harald’s will, yet lived to tell the tale. About yet another killing of the Elvenfolk. He winced. He had always had a longing for something undefinable and barely delineated, and the few times he had seen one of the forest folk … somewhere he sensed a bit of his beloved sea.
He shook his head and drained his cup. It seemed the traveler too had given him a sharp brief glance. At that moment a serving-wench swirled his way, slightly more slender than the others. Dark eyes and dark tresses. He laughed good-naturedly and passed her on to his more hungry shipmates. A sudden chill hand seemed to grasp his heart, then again the warmth washed over him. The sea calls me as ever.
Unlike most, Ottor had not ventured South more than he could help. The bleak expanse of the North Sea, its terrible squalls and freezing sleet: somehow they beckoned him with their sternness.
Outside again, and the hearth-fires twinkle from the dusk-cloaked hillsides eastwards. Like portholes of some mighty argosy to take him hence forthwith. To the white shores that called all wanderers unceasingly, beyond the setting Sun and sickle Moon, hope and despair. Driving them to unheeded rapture when the wind tears at wayward thoughts, when the sun blazes it’s ascetic’s incal upon bared forehead in a last gesture of commiseration.
Baring his teeth in a mirthless grin, Ottor mused to himself. My motley crew seem happy here, a whiff of peace from the snarling waves or the deathly stillness of a sea becalmed.
Striding down the wooden jetty, thinking of the graceful harbour that Elentyaro once knew. Hearing snatches from conversations ages ago, with those that had now passed beyond mortal ken. Swift glimmers of that free laughter (so free, so free!) sparkling like wine under a youthful sun. Living my days out on echoes from the past. While the voices of the living fade to oblivion. He felt the pull of another sentient.
Where the meandering stream trickled into the salty marshes at the mouth of the sea, the Starlord knelt by the bank. He did not see, or paid no heed to the shadows had lengthened across the hills.
There was a gentle sound of water running over stone and then Goldberry was there, her golden hair falling about her as water ran in rivulets down her smooth limbs.
“Ah, the wandered from the Stars, on an errand for the lords who sit beyond the setting Sun. Pardon my appearance, I was much in haste to change myself to suit the Ring-bearer’s old song.”
Elentyaro smiled. “Yes, that thought was in my mind too. You shall be knowing the errand which has brought me forth. And we shall need all the aid that powers such as yourself can give.”
“Power …” The Riverdaughter mused. “We never sought it, yet never gave up what was given us either. And now we must linger. The Elves shall have my aid, what little remains. Come let me walk with you to the edge of the trees. I had not dared walk on land alone, for fear of the cold iron that Men now carry. These are hard times indeed.”
“And harder yet to come.” Elentyaro made to cast his robe about the water spirit, but she waved him away.
“These leaves and shoots beneath my feet remind me of Iarwain before he wandered off into the dark forests.”
That was when the Dark attacked. A howl of rooks and ravens battered down on them, cruel beaks and glinting claws. But behind the cacophony was a chaotic discord as the force of the Dark beat down relentlessly upon their senses.
Goldberry stood defiant, golden tresses flying in a whirlwind about them both, but despairing – too far from the water to call on her full powers. The Starlord resisted the onslaught, taken at unawares and weaponless. Through the maelstrom they caught a glimpse of a distant figure, slight of build with dark hair falling free, as if directing the malevolence around them.