16. A Son of Eärendil
Hear now the tale of Garandir, surely a son of Eärendil, born when the bright star shone in the West at even. Its beam glanced through the window to fall upon the infant, to the dismay of his mother, who foresaw he would hear the call of the sea ringing in his ears his life long. Who knows, perhaps he was even of Eärendil's line in truth, with a drop of that mariner's blood in his veins?
As a child, Garandir played upon the strand and about the boats, listening to the tales sailors told. As soon as he could tie a knot, he went out on the sea, at first with the fishermen, and then with the travelers and traders. By the time he reached manhood, he had spent far more time on the waves than land, yet never did his passion for the sea diminish.
One year, when hardly old enough to be called a man, he was forced to spend the better part of a year ashore due to an unlucky fall in which his leg was broken. He lodged in a fishing village for that time, and spent his days gazing out to sea.
A young maiden of the village often accompanied him to the strand. Garandir knew himself in love with her as she with him; in her, he believed, he found the woman to rival the sea for his passion.
And so, before he was yet healed from his injury, they were married. Many months they spent in newly-wedded bliss, but soon enough, Garandir felt the call of the ocean.
"I shall not be gone long," he told his wife, "but will soon return to you."
She wept and clung to him, but was powerless to keep him by her side, and he embarked on a ship bound for farther shores than the fishing boats. He kept his word and returned after not many weeks; again, though, he must needs sail away after only a few months on shore.
Thus he lived for some years, his time at sea becoming ever longer and that with his wife dwindling to mere visits before he once again left her weeping behind him.
One day, while in a country far from his land, he was taken suddenly with a passion to see again his home and small village. No ship was found to travel that way, since the omens all forecast strange dooms for those who would set out at that time. Nevertheless he bought a small boat and embarked alone upon the breast of the wave.
He had traveled on his journey many leagues from land when the wind strengthened, the dark clouds loomed up and the waves mounted ever higher. Lightning and thunder rolled across the sky. The little boat rode up and down the sloping water.
The storm drove him farther than he had ever sailed. The wild wind tore at his sail and the sea tossed the boat about without mercy. In the dark of night at last the waves thrust his boat aground far up on a sandy shore. When morning came he found himself marooned on an island in the wide ocean, for his sail had been torn away altogether.
"Alas," he cried, "how shall I ever return to the seas I know?" He wandered along the sand and soon came to a fresh stream flowing out of the woods which crowned the island. Following it upward he encountered a path alongside the water, and hastened on, saying, "Surely there are folk here. Perhaps I may yet mend my boat."
As it wended up, the path grew wider and the woods more tame until finally as a broad paved road it swept up to the porch of a large and gracious stone house. Seeing no-one about, he trod up the steps and between the columns. The tall stone doors were much carved with the images of fishes and seabirds; he set his hand to them and they swung open before him.
He found himself in the entry of a wealthy household. Passing through this, he entered a lofty and well-furnished hall. The tapestries on the walls and the rugs upon the floor, however, were but the gem-setting for the jewels of lovely women now looking up as he entered.
In the midst of the maidens, upon a stone chair carved all over with seashells sat a tall and beautiful woman; pale skin had she, and hair the color of seafoam, with greenish glints.
"Well met, traveler," said she. "Come, refresh yourself, rest a little, and then dine with me this even."
He was nothing loth, and allowed one of the maidens to escort him to a fine bathing chamber where he washed himself of the salt, rested and dressed in the fine clothing he found there. He returned to the hall to find the lady awaiting him. They sat together at a goodly table, and the maidens served them all manner of fine dishes and kept the wine flowing from the flagons.
After eating, they reclined on cushions while the maidens danced and sang for their amusement. Garandir, though muzzy with wine, told the lady of his troubles, how he had been shipwrecked and his boat had utterly lost its sail.
"Is it possible to purchase or trade for cloth to make my sail anew?" he asked.
"Naught could be easier," replied she. "You shall serve me for a time, and I shall spin and weave for you the cloth you require."
"But what shall such a sailor as I do for you, oh great lady?" asked Garandir.
"Come with me now, and let us see how well you may serve," she said, and led the way to her chambers, where it seemed he served quite well, for the lady found herself well-satisfied both that night and the following nights.
During the days, she would spin fine silken thread. "None but I shall spin this thread," she said. Her maidens brought skeins of fibers, gold and sable, for her work. "The hair of mermaids," said the lady. "Your sail will last forever." He fingered the threads, which somehow showed strands of silver-green twined with the black and gold.
After many days, she had enough thread to warp her loom and begin the cloth. Each day she would weave upon her great loom. At first the progress of the cloth was swift, with the shuttles clacking back and forth, but every morning it seemed the fabric had not advanced so far as he had thought the previous eve.
One night following an evening of pleasant dalliance, Garandir awoke and found his lady had left his side. After some sleepless hours alone, he arose to look for her, and came upon her in the weaving room, carefully unpicking the day's weaving.
"What do you here?" he cried. "When may I refit my boat and return to the waves?"
"Ah, chide me not," replied she, "for when you leave, I shall once again be alone. I sought only to delay but a little that day of parting."
So he allowed himself to be soothed, but from then on kept a sharp eye upon the progress of the sail-cloth, which now advanced apace.
One day at last, the last length of cloth came away from the loom. The sail took shape from the lengths, and finally Garandir carried it down to the boat.
"Keep close the secret of this sail," the lady instructed him, "for I foresee strange dooms if any know whence it came."
He had well-provisioned his boat with the help of the lady and her maidens; now he spent one last night with her and made ready to be off in the morning. He raised his new sail of mermaids' hair to the breeze, and guided his ship away from the shore.
He looked back toward the lady. She raised her arms and called, "Hear now my blessing. May the winds fill thy sail, and bring thee to thy heart's desire." He gazed back at her and waved until the rising waves hid all sight of the shore, then turned eagerly toward the open sea.
Though he missed the lady, his heart swelled to be once again on the wide water. The wind and sun, waves and salt brought him content. They also brought, in due course, rain and cold and storms. Another such storm as had sent him to the Lady Isle pitched him to and fro; though the sail of mermaids' hair withstood all, yet he fretted for the rest of his mortal boat.
And rightly so, for again was he cast upon the shore of a lonely speck of land in the midst of the waves. He found himself on a sandy beach against a rocky, bare cliff. He lowered the undamaged sail of mermaids' hair and covered it well, but dragged the boat up the sand, for it needed much repair. Worst of all, most of the rudder had been torn away.
After resting a while, Garandir wandered the isle in search of wood and shelter. He found an old man seated on the rocks beside a stream running across the sand to the sea.
"Good day to you, father," he said, and told the man of the storm and his sadly damaged boat. He neglected altogether any mention of the lady and the sail she had made for him.
"I will make for you a new rudder if you serve me for a year and a day," said the old man.
Garandir asked, "How may I serve you?"
"I am under a curse," replied he. "I may not set foot on earth that feels not the touch of the wave nor sees the light of the sun, and thus am confined to the strip of sand between high tide and the sunlit shallows. You must know that I am a spirit of the sea, and was used to dwell in the ocean depths, until I angered my master, who has prisoned me here.
"You shall carry me on your back whither I wish to go upon the island, that I touch not the earth. For a year and a day, you will do so; during this time, I will carve your rudder from the wood of the tree lebethron."
So the mariner acquiesced and carried the old man about the island, which was found to be well-supplied with fruiting trees and small game. The ocean spirit directed Garandir to fell a particular tree from which he would make the new rudder. While the old man worked by the shore, Garandir gathered and hunted food for them both, before again bearing the spirit across the land at his whim.
From time to time, the spirit would get drunk on fermented juice, and sing sad songs, lamenting his separation from his wife, another spirit in service to the lord of the ocean. "She is tall and fair, her hair is silver-green like the spray of the sea, she waits for me on a far island until my time here is done," he said. Garandir thought uneasily of the lady of the mermaid isle and resolved to say nothing of his marvelous sail, now carefully rolled up under cover.
So the year and a day passed, and the rudder of lebethron was finished. Garandir and the old man affixed it to the mended boat. They dragged the boat down to the water. Garandir said farewell to the ocean spirit and uncovered the sail of mermaids' hair. As he raised it, the old man saw it for the first time.
"Where got you that sail," he cried. "None but my wife can spin and weave that thread, and she would not do so for any but a lover." He gnashed his teeth in rage and jealousy at the sight of silver-green threads among the black and gold.
"Thou cur! Thou cuckolder!" he shouted. The waves mounted and the breeze blew stronger, but Garandir turned the sail of mermaids' hair to the rising wind and the new rudder of lebethron to the current, and his little boat leaped out toward the open sea, far away from wronged ocean spirit. As the island dwindled behind him, the wind brought a cry of, "My curse goes with thee! Never will thy rudder steer thee where thou wishest most to come."
Garandir laughed as he sailed away from the island of the spirit, but soon found that though he dearly wished to come back to his home, and the mermaid sail caught every favorable breeze, somehow he traveled farther yet from the lands he knew. He came one day to a fair land, a large island with rivers running down to safe harbors, and lofty hills inland. There he landed, and found the folk of the towns courteous and hospitable.
His recent battles with the fierce ocean storms gave him a great desire to wander upon the roads and hills of this new land. He traveled from town to town, seeking shelter in some homely house or quiet inn each night. As even drew near one day, he approached a large town in the midmost of the island. Along a broad, tree-lined boulevard he approached the eastern gates, and heard the bells ring above the roofs and towers, and saw the pale sky darkening and the star of evening shine out.
There on a quiet street the lamplight streaming from the cozy windows of a small house drew him toward its humble door. He knocked upon it, and on its opening begged lodging for the night.
"For this night and as many thereafter you may wish," replied he who answered the door. "This is a house of tales and songs and play. Here you may rest and tell us your tales unheard, and hear others in return."
Then Garandir felt the desire for wandering leave, and wished only to enter and rest amid the songs and stories.
"Then enter, pray, and join us at table and before fire," was the doorwarden's invitation, "though you will find the house much larger within than without."
So Garandir entered and found himself in a large entry, indeed larger than the cottage seen from outside. He passed through into a spacious dining hall where folk of all sorts were making ready for the evening meal. The Lord and Lady of this folk stood together at the head of the long table, and beckoned him to approach. He bowed before them. They made him very welcome, and made him sit by them for the meal, and assured that his plate was ever full.
They also kept his cup well filled with wine, and Garandir thought he had never tasted any so fine, but he saw that all that company drank rather of a clear liquid like water, but with a fragrance of new flowers and old trees and wide starlit skies.
"I may not serve to you this drink without the leave of our Queen, for all here are of the Elder People, while you are of the Younger," said the Lord of the hall. Garandir held his peace for that time, and went with all the folk into the firelit Hall of Tales. There he heard tales and songs both new to him and familiar, but seeming fresh and wonderful.
Garandir stayed many days there in the house of song and story; oft in the evenings did he take his turn in the singing and the telling, for on his travels he had heard tales of many lands and far. Ever, though, the drink of the Elder People passed him by.
He thought those who drank of the drink wiser and stronger, more youthful and carefree; thus he longed for a swallow of it. "Mortals who taste this are subject to strange dooms," warned the Lady of the hall, "and once 'tis drunk, that cannot be undone."
When he had been there so long the seasons had turned round again, he besought the Lord of the hall to direct him to the Queen of the land. He found her in the gardens near the hilltop where she dwelt. There he begged her to give him the wonderful drink; though she did not say him "aye", neither did she say "nay".
He went back to the cottage of song and play, and continued in the hearing and telling of tales. Often, now, he would wander about the island, along the wide roads and through the villages, returning ever with new stories for the Hall of Tales. And ever and anon, between his travels, he asked of the Queen leave to drink of the clear, fragrant drink of the Elder People.
At last, whether through weariness at his importuning or through foresight or through direction of the gods, she assented to his request and gave him leave to drink of it. Joyfully he returned to the Hall, and that very day was his cup filled and drained. The singers and talespinners of the evening took his breath away with the vivid images; he was spellbound as never before. He found the days brighter, the nights deeper, the stars more mysterious, and within himself unlooked-for the gift of story-telling greatly increased.
Thus he lived in a timeless round of seasons, telling and hearing and singing, until one day came a great storm, like unto those of the wide ocean. It tore through the trees and town. The skies lowered. The rain lashed down. Lightning and thunder wracked the clouds.
When the sky cleared, there came flying from the shore gulls crying on the wind. Upon hearing that sound, longing for the sea once more kindled in Garandir's breast. He tried to lose himself again in tales and song, but soon went to the Lord with his woe.
The Lord's face was grave as he said, "If you leave us now, after tasting of the drink, you risk the coming of the dooms foretold."
At this, Garandir was downcast. He resisted the call of the sea for some while longer, but though he had drunk of the drink of the Elder People, yet he was of the Younger, and had not the strength to resist forever. He left the Hall and the town, and journeyed down the long road to the harbor where lay his boat with the sail of mermaids' hair and rudder of lebethron. With joy and sorrow he embarked, and turned once more to the wide sea.
The ocean waves soothed his soul, for he was, in truth, a son of Eärendil. He sailed, as he thought, toward the land of his birth, but though the fair winds filled his sail as a blessing, yet the contrary currents cursed his rudder. He found provision at strange shores, and glimpsed his homeland only from afar. When he attempted a return to the Lonely Isle, there also he never made landfall.
Wandering thus he drifted on the ocean, until one day he came upon a single peak alone amidst the waves. He landed in a tiny cove and drank from the stream falling sweetly into it. While climbing up the slope, he passed ruins of fair stone-builded homes between the trees. The trees and ruins gave way to the bare, grassy summit, crowned with a ring of open columns about smooth paving stones.
He sat there in peace beneath the sun for some time. Then, though no cloud showed in the sky, the light dimmed, and the ground quaked as of the beating of a mighty heart or the steps of weighty feet. Over the shoulder of the hill came the giant form of a man clothed in mail like to the scales of fishes, with shoes of heavy stone and a kirtle that bewildered the eye as the ever-changing waves. His silver hair and beard fell to the ground, or would have, but that they drifted wayward on the breeze.
Garandir threw himself to the ground. He covered his eyes. All the misdeeds and falsities of his life rose before him as a cloud.
"Why cowerest thou before me?" came the mighty voice of the Lord of the Ocean. "Stand, and give me account of thyself."
So Garandir stood before the giant, and found himself telling all his own tale, and naught but that, sparing nothing, not even the betrayal of his wife and of the sea spirit. He told of the blessing of the Lady of the Mermaids and the curse of her husband. He told of his long sojourn on the Lonely Island and his draft of the drink of the Elder People and his wandering of the ocean since.
"Thou art a true son of Eärendil, I see," boomed the Lord. "And by thine own actions hast thou brought thy fate upon thee. Hear then thy doom. Though I have great power, yet I may lift neither blessing nor curse; thy blessed sail and thy cursed rudder shall ever be at odds, and as thou hast drunk the liquid given thee by the Queen of the Lonely Isle, that shall be a very long time. So long that even I know not the end."
Then Garandir quaked there on peak of the islet. "Is there then no mercy for me?" he cried.
"Thou shalt come to thy homeland one day every ten years," replied the awful voice. "Also, thou mayest return to the Lonely Isle as often, though there mayest thou sojourn some while longer as thou wishest. Here, however, to the peak of the drowned Land of the Star, shalt thou come at thy will, to rest upon the grass under the sun and drink the sweet water of the spring. Never shall the sea-longing leave thee; as Eärendil is thy sire from afar, thou art also the child of the Lord of the Ocean, and under my care." The giant footsteps shook the land as he trod down the slope and into the waves and under them. The Lord of the Ocean was gone.
Garandir hastened down to his boat, raising the mermaid sail to the wind and bending the lebethron rudder to the current. Eastward he sailed until he saw the hills of his homeland rise before him.
Grief waited there for him, for his wife had died waiting for him, and his unknown son, a young man, gazed at him with hot angry eyes. Weeping, after his day ashore, he ventured again to the bosom of the sea.
There on the ocean he fares to this day, coming ashore to these hither lands but once every ten years, watching over the grandchildren of his grandchildren, for the drink of the Queen still runs in his veins. Then must he leave, sailing whither the wind goes, driven by the sail of mermaids' hair and guided by the rudder of lebethron and ever under the protection of the Lord of the Ocean.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.