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After Stormy Seas: 4. Coming to Haven

I have seen old ships sail like swans asleep.


--James Elroy Flecker, "The Old Ships"


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"There," Gwinnor proclaimed, pointing, "is Mithlond."


Saelon dutifully shaded her eyes and gazed into the distance.  They had come around the last long arm of the mountains; beneath high, fleeting clouds the morning air was clear—but all she could see was the ribbon of the Lune widening into a silver-glinting firth between fair green shores.  "How far?" she asked.  Half a day, at least, their mounts being weary.


"Seven leagues to the ferry, no more."  A fond look softened the lines of the Elf's lean face as he stared into the distance, the wind fretting at his sable braids.


Veylin snorted.  "Who but you could see it at this distance?"  Urging his pony onward again, he asked over his shoulder, "Which side is the ferry on?"


Gwinnor laughed, a sound as bright as the day.  "Never fear—since they are also Elves, the crew will see us in time to meet us, the wind being so favorable.  We should have a swift crossing!"


"So long as it is not a rough one," Bersi muttered, following Veylin down the slope.


Seven leagues.  Saelon sighed and shifted on the blanket that kept her and Coll from galling each other.  Despite her trepidation at the prospect of going among so many of the Fair Folk, she would be glad when the journey was done.  Barring the dismal day in the mountains, the weather had been favorable, yet even with experienced guides and no ill fortune, they had done no better than splitting the difference between Gwinnor's ten days and Veylin's fortnight.  It was almost three years since she had traveled so far as twenty leagues, and a dozen days of riding dawn to dusk had been more fatiguing than she had expected.


"I thought there would be towers," Gaernath murmured, and with her arm around his waist, she felt the breath leave him in disappointment.


"There are," the Elf grinned, "although it seems they do not loom large in your eyes . . . at this distance.  Gil-galad's tower stands in Mithlond, and from here I can see the lesser ones at Forlond and Harlond, as well as Annon Mindon.  If you are seeking the elf-towers of tales, however, you must go to the Emyn Beraid, the Tower Hills—there," he pointed, "beyond Mithlond."


Far lower than the mountains behind them, a ridge with three rounded peaks, green-grey in the distance.  "I would like to see them," Gaernath said wistfully, and twisted in the saddle towards her.  "Might we visit them, aunt?"


More riding?  "Let us attend to our business with Círdan first."  Though she had no desire to go herself, she had hoped this taste of Faërie would distract him from his disappointments in love.  If the Havens did not hold wonders enough, she might go further.  "The horses need rest, in any case.  Then we shall see."


As they started after the plodding train of dwarf-ponies, Gwinnor called back, "You are not curious to see the towers, Lady?  I would have thought so, from your interest in olden times, and your kinship with those who dwelt there, not long ago even by mortal reckoning."


"My grandmother preferred the tales of the Elder Days, and said little of the towers."  Nárwen had spoken of many things—sauces and simples, wounds and fever, legends and lore, and endless wry commentary on the foolishness of folk—but almost never of her own youth.  A useful habit, Saelon had learned, when the past was too raw for comfort.


"What did she tell you of the Havens?"


"Only that it was the seat of Gil-galad in the last age, and of Círdan in this . . . and that the Númenóreans often sailed there."


"Before the Shadow fell on them," Gwinnor agreed, and pressed her no more.


Saelon peered past Gaernath's arm at the Elf's slim back as the horses paced down a bridleway beaten into the high grass, glad none could see her peevish face.  Before the Shadow fell on them and their hearts turned from the Elves . . . save her forefathers, the Faithful who fled hither from the wreck of Westernesse.


Did he think her heart turned from the Elves?  She had been as enchanted with the Firstborn as Gaernath, when they were merely a fair folk glimpsed by chance, and from afar.  Four she had met since her trials began, if one counted the sons of Elrond among the Elves, and she had quarreled with all of them, for all of them had wanted to part her from the sea.  So tall, with their bright, knowing eyes . . . .  They made her feel like a child, small and shrill and selfish.  Falathar had sailed with Eärendil; Gwinnor had followed Finrod from Aman, and sat at board with Beren—what could she be to such august folk?  How was she to face Círdan, older than either, to whom Ulmo spoke?


A new dress and a great jewel might make her appear to be of some consequence, but one might as well trick out a hill pony in gem-studded harness—it would not be so fine a beast as Tinnu.


Biting her lip, Saelon made herself sit up straighter behind Gaernath.  Falling into self-pity would not help.  She was what she was, the guardian of four young Dúnedain and a few impoverished Edain families, not Elendil the Tall.  She had quarreled with everyone in order to keep her charges by the security of the shore, yet if she did not face Círdan and pay their rent, the strife had been in vain.  It was only a few days until Yáviérë.  Surely she could brazen it out until then.


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From the far shore, as dusk came down, Mithlond looked more like a harbor-town of Langstrand than Imladris.  Dírmaen gazed across the water, trying to see something of the place beyond the quays.  Gil-galad's tower rose high above the masts, taller and more graceful than any south coast keep, the light of the setting sun lingering on its pale parapet, but all else was lost behind the ships.  And such ships!  Even the fishing boats with nets drying on their spars were beautiful, their high prows arched like swan's necks; and there were two ships greater than any he had ever seen, yet lean and sleek as greyhounds.


Elvish laughter pealed out ahead, where the road ran out onto a broad, curving quay of massive, close-set stones, its cobbled paving worn with long use.  Mada's ears pricked at an indignant pony squeal.  "Which is more stubborn," a merry voice cried, "a Dwarf or his pony?"


Stout planks had been laid from the quay to the side of a broad, swan-breasted boat, which sat high on the flood-tide.  Skani stood on the boat side of this slight bridge, scowling furiously as he tried to drag an unwilling pack pony across by main strength, but the sturdy little bay had set her hooves and would not budge, no matter how he hauled on the reins.  Three ponies had already been loaded and stood behind the mast, their eyes white-rimmed; Oski held their heads, his face stony above his long blond beard.  The other dozen beasts stared, snorting, from the quay.


Three Elves, who Dírmaen supposed were the ferry's crew, watched the contest with amusement perilously near hilarity.  One lounged in the stern, by the steerboard, while another had taken a seat on the mooring post by the bow; the third, who was making some effort to contain his mirth, stood by Veylin.  The dwarf-lord leaned casually on his blackthorn stick, but his face was as set as his prentice's, a mask of long-suffering civility.  Gwinnor had veered off some way back to bespeak some acquaintances gathering in a grove.


There was no way they could get sixteen ponies and seven horses into that craft.  It would take at least two trips to get them all across, and night was falling.  Dírmaen swung out of the saddle, and threw Mada's reins to Gaernath, who looked startled by his briskness.  "Here—take charge of ours while I lend a hand."  Tired; they were all tired, men and beasts, and he had no desire to spend half the night here, while the Dwarves wrestled with their ponies.  They had little enough patience with the creatures, as cross-grained as themselves, at the best of times.  Did they not see that fright was what made them balk?


As he strode towards the boat, he began to realize the difficulty of the situation.  There was not room to walk beside or pass the pony on the planks, and she was far enough across that she might put a hoof wrong backing, and fall.  He remembered having once seen a man deal with a horse in a similar situation by pricking its rump with a knife—but that had been disastrous, for the animal sprang forward so precipitously it broke both forelegs as it fell into the bottom of the boat.  "Skani," he called, "put your hood on her!"


"My hood?"  The Dwarf's face was crimson, from effort or embarrassment or both.


"She will suffer herself to be led if she cannot see."


Looking very dubious, Skani glanced at his master, then drew off his hood.  "You are sure?"


"You were not so reluctant to try it on me."


Skani inched towards the beast—apparently he was as uncertain on the planks as she was—and cast the cloth over her head.  The Elf by the bow doubled up, crowing with laughter at the absurdity of a pony wearing a bright yellow dwarf-hood.  "Now, take the bridle and speak kindly to her," Dírmaen told the furious, mortified Dwarf.  "The strangeness has frightened her."


"Speak kindly to her!"


"One moment," Saelon called out.  Sliding down from behind Gaernath, she walked stiffly to their baggage horse, and began searching among the bundles.  Shortly she came forward with a handful of wizened carrots, all that was left of their supply.  "Perhaps she can be tempted?"


Skani nearly fumbled the tossed root, but the pony having calmed somewhat during the delay, she was willing to walk towards the scent of a treat.  When they reached the end of the plank, Dírmaen had Skani remove the hood, and seeing other ponies below, the bay finally leapt down into the boat.


"Well managed!" the Elf by Veylin proclaimed cheerfully, and grinned at Dírmaen as he led the next pony, a black with one white foot, forward.  "You must be the Ranger."


"I am," he replied shortly, coaxing the black onto the planks.  "Dírmaen is my name.  Who are you?"


"Celebael, pilot of the ferry."  After a pause, Dírmaen heard, "And you will be Gaerveldis.  Welcome to Mithlond, Lady."


He stole a glance that way.  The Elf, dark-haired as Gwinnor but shorter, wirier, barefoot beneath his sailor's breeks, had set his hand on his breast and was bowing as gracefully as any lord.


"Will you all call me that here?" Saelon wondered as she curtseyed.  Yet he heard the querulousness beneath her courtesy.


So did Celebael.  "Do you mislike it?"


He could not attend to her expression, for the black laid his ears back, nostrils flaring.  As he murmured encouragingly to the little gelding, Saelon warned brightly, "Since I hear it so seldom, I may not answer to it!"


Sea-friend.  As he stepped off the planks and urged the pony to drop the few spans to the deck, Dírmaen glanced back at those on the quay.  Saelon was staring out over the water . . . not towards Mithlond, but down the gulf, towards the sea.  Perhaps her oft-repeated claim that the waves soothed her was not mere fancy: her temper had grown ever more chancy in the mountains, until she was nearly as jaded as these poor beasts.  Hopefully this water was not too pacific to mend her mood.


"Ah, but we will be seeing you every year, as we do Master Veylin," Celebael said, "shall we not?"


"You shall certainly see some of my folk every year," she turned the question.  "Most likely this lad here, my cousin Gaernath."


"Greetings, Gaernath!  Yet would not Russandol suit you better?  I had not heard that there was such hair among the Dúnedain."  Celebael pulled thoughtfully on his smooth chin, grinning.  "It would better suit one of these Firebeards."


Thyrð, whose beard blazed more brightly than Gaernath's still-sparse whiskers, snorted as he handed the next pony off to Dírmaen.  The lad, who had finally dismounted, was blushing nearly as scarlet.  "A Dúnedain grandmother I can claim, but no more of that blood."


"It is rare that we see Men of any sort here, these days, so you are all very welcome," Celebael assured them.  "As welcome as Master Veylin."  Turning to the Dwarf, he said, "When we heard you had been detained in the north by misfortune, my sister set those pearls by.  Are you still interested in them?"


"Did she?  That was good of her," Veylin acknowledged mildly.  "Yes, I would like to see them again."


"Then I will tell her you have returned.  You will be staying in the guest-hall, as usual?"


"Unless you have set some of your Noldor to delving accommodations more fit for Dwarves," Veylin replied drolly.


"To what purpose, when so few of your folk will linger near the shore?"


More than the Elves realized, and nearer.  Dírmaen came back for the seventh pony.  Had word not spread after Gwinnor's embassy in the spring?  Or had that news been kept for Círdan's ear alone?


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Behind her, one of Maelchon's ploughhorses shuffled uneasily and stamped as the ferry was jogged by a larger wave, the chop rising with the wind now that the sun was well down.  Someone moved to the beast, and Saelon heard Dírmaen's soft voice.  "Shhsh, steady, Donnan.  Nearly there."


Ahead, the Havens were indeed grey, pale stone and pale ships glimmering faintly under starlight.  The quays were dark, giving the place a ghostly, derelict appearance; the only lights that could be seen were in windows high in the tower.  Saelon frowned as she ran her hands over the worn side-rail.  It was a big place, far bigger than any settlement she had ever seen . . . but where were the people?  Surely Elves, lovers of twilight, did not hasten home as soon as the sun set.  Even Men did not, unless the weather were foul or danger abroad.


Gaernath leaned over the edge, gazing across the water, as eager as she was unsettled.  "So many houses, aunt!" he exclaimed in a hushed tone, half in awe and half trying to avoid seeming a bumpkin.  "And so large!"


A vain hope, that last; Saelon was sure the sharp ears of the Elvish crew heard him well enough.  "I do not think they are all houses."


The quick, rasping clack of flint on steel, and light bloomed in the bow.  Celebael closed the lantern and hung it from the high, arching post, then came aft.  "No," he told them, confirming her suspicions, "these—" pointing to the buildings fronting the quays "—are our sail lofts and warehouses, though the latter are little used this age."


"Is that why there are no lights?" Gaernath asked.


Celebael laughed.  "Why should we need lights on a night of so many stars?"  Throwing his head back, he gazed at the glittering host in the black vault above.  "I would not be lighting the lanterns but for you Men.  We do not want you putting a foot wrong as you go ashore!"


The steersman brought the ferry to the quay as Celebael hung the stern lantern, lightly gilding the grey stone alongside.  An Elf stood waiting, hailing his fellows in their own tongue and making the boat fast, while the steersman laid the planks for the horses.  Gwinnor's grey mare did not wait to be led, but strode across the boards with the impatience of a steed scenting home.  Gwinnor vaulted the side of the boat to meet her and, when she paused, clapped her shoulder.  "Many thanks, Tinnu.  Go to your grazing, and I will come see you tomorrow."


The mare butted him affectionately and blew in his face, then trotted purposefully off into the night.  Dírmaen stared after her, Barði's pony in hand as Bersi led his own stolid beast onto the quay.  "You are not afraid she will get into mischief?"


"No, the water meadows are near, and she will want to make sure her sister has not gotten above herself in her absence."  Gwinnor settled his cased bow on his shoulder.  "Why should I keep her uselessly waiting attendance while I guide you to the guest-hall?"


Saelon shook her head.  Was the elven-horse truly preternaturally knowing, or did it only seem so because Gwinnor treated the animal as if it were a rational creature?  Still, whether the mare were sensible or not, her example was a good one: ponies and horses alike gave little trouble disembarking.  "Thank you, Celebael," she said, as stepped onto the planks, the last ashore.


"You are welcome, Lady," he replied, already taking down a lantern to douse it.  "May your stay in Mithlond be a pleasant one."


Bersi and Barði had mounted, but the others shared out the horses between them, to lead on foot.  "It is not far," Gwinnor assured her.


It was not, though she was glad of a guide, for she soon became mazed among the close-set stone buildings and their shadows, a landscape different from any she had ever known.  They started out on a broad, curved way, where something beyond the houses hid the lower stars on their left; but Gwinnor turned into an alley barely wide enough for the pairs of horses, the slow clop of their hooves loud on the paving stones and the walls beside.  That took them to a street that led into an open space, where the wind soughed in dark masses of trees with the first hint of autumn's dry rustle, and water splashed on stone; the high, sweet notes of a harp sounded away on the right.  Fair Elvish voices mingled in conversation and song all around them, the speakers unseen in the night.  The nearest called out to Gwinnor, gladly welcoming him home and asking after his companions.


As he answered them, Gaernath leaned close and whispered in Saelon's ear, "Did he say we are weary?"


She stared at the pale oval of his face, brows knit in puzzlement.  "Yes, he did.  Where did you learn so much of the Elvish tongue?"  Not from her.  She knew her limits in that lilting speech and would not presume to teach it; yet when it had been only the two of them at Habad, he had loved to use the few words gleaned from her telling of legends and lore, a token of his kinship to the Dúnedain.


"Dírmaen has been teaching me.  He said if we would have dealings with the Elves, the more of us who know something of their speech the better.  I am not weary," he asserted.  "When the goods and horses are tended to, may I come back here?"


Ah, the energy of youth.  Saelon smiled.  "Ask Gwinnor."  She did not suppose the lad could get hopelessly lost, and those they had met so far were welcoming; but there might be perils she was unaware of.  "We are on Elvish ground.  You must ask them for leave to wander."


They headed towards the tower, the street rising with the land, then Gwinnor took a series of narrow ways that followed the low hill's curve, until they came out into a broad tree-lined avenue.  Glancing up at the sky to orient herself, Saelon saw it ran northwest, to the foot of the tower.  "This way," Gwinnor told them, turning the other direction.  "The guest-hall is just inside the gate."


Another several dozen paces, then he led them under a high arch and into a wide courtyard lit by many lamps, dazzlingly bright after so long under stars.  A marvelously carven fountain played in the middle, the water making a quietly cheerful sound.  "Welcome!"  A tall Elf, his hair gleaming like burnished silver in the light of the lamp he bore, came down a short flight of steps before the open door.  Two more Elves hastened after him.  "Welcome to Mithlond, and the lord's guest-hall.  I am Gaerol, the keeper of this house."


"I bring you the Lady of Habad-e-Mindon," Gwinnor told him, giving the reins of the packhorses he led to one of the attendants, "and her men, as well as the last of—  Ah, see, Veylin!  I have brought them all safely to harbor."


Standing in the doorway, his blackthorn in one hand and a cup in the other, Veylin chuffed.  "About time.  Come, Bersi, Lady," he urged, smiling.  "We are waiting supper for you, and if Vitnir drinks much more of this good wine on an empty stomach, I will not be accountable."


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Notes


Ferry: on the foldout map in the "Red Book" collector's edition of The Lord of the Rings, small ships are drawn on either side of the inner reaches of the Gulf of Lhûn; the southeastern one appears to be at Mithlond.  I have interpreted this as evidence for a ferry; without one, travelers from western parts of the realm would have to go far out of their way to the east, to the ford or bridge lowest on the River Lhûn.  It would not have been mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, "The Grey Havens," since Frodo and his company approached from the east, the Mithlond side.


Towers: the only towers Tolkien mentions are the three on the Tower Hills, which Gil-galad built for his ally Elendil at the end of the Second Age.  For the existence and placement of the others I have been guided by the documented taste for towers among Noldorin elites, strategic considerations, and the distribution patterns of Late Iron Age duns and brochs (fortified roundhouses built strongly of stone, some of which had more than one story, found in northwestern Britain) and their successors, medieval tower-houses (small multistory castles, common in northern Britain).


Annon Mindon: Sindarin, "gate tower"; the tower guarding the strait at the mouth of the Gulf of Lhûn.  This is my invention.


Langstrand: a coastal fief of Gondor, west of Dol Amroth; also known as Anfalas.


Quay: a dock or wharf; the word is pronounced "key."  Substantial but isolated ones, such as this, are often curved, to serve as a breakwater as well as a pier.


Steerboard: a steering oar, fixed to the right side of the rear of a vessel.  This is the origin of the term "starboard" for the right side of a boat; the left side was put against the quay or "port" to avoid damaging the steerboard.  Stern-rudders are not known before the thirteenth century AD.


Russandol: Quenya, "copper-top"; an epessë of Maedhros, the eldest son of Fëanor.  It doubtless amuses a Falathrim (or a descendent of those folk) to apply that name to a gawky teenage boy, especially in front of a Noldo.  And yes, it is more fitting than the Sindarin meaning of Gaernath, which is "dreadful web."  The name is not Sindarin, however, but one common among the Edain of the far northwest (no doubt ancestral to the Pictish name Gairnait).


Water meadows: pasture along a river, lusher than most grazing due to periodic flooding.



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Last Update: 13 Dec 08
Stories: 5
Type: Author List
Created By: Adaneth


Dúnedain and Dwarves--and oh, yes, some Elves--on the northwest shore of Middle-Earth, not quite a century before adventures first befall Bilbo. Rampant Subcreation and Niggling in the margins. The ever-lengthening saga, in order.

Why This Story?

Dûnhebaid IV: pride and prejudice in the Grey Havens.

 

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Author: Adaneth

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/26/11

Original Post: 12/12/07

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