Forever Young by Keiliss

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Story Notes:

Written for the 2017 Ardor in August exchange.


Author's Chapter Notes:

As they came to the gates Círdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars... 

[Return of the King: The Grey Havens]


It was late afternoon and the rain had come back in off the sea again. Círdan stood on the verandah of his house under the thatched shelter of the overhang and watched the Lhûn emptying out into the bay under a grey sky, the colours of water and sky made almost one by the weather. It was quiet except for the patter of the rain and the persistent sound of water dripping off the roof. There was the also sea’s voice, of course, but the only time Círdan really heard it was when the tide turned or something ailed it.

Mithlond had been busy in the old days, with traffic up and down the delta and activity on the opposite shore, centered on and spreading out from the palace, but those days were long past. The palace, a crumbling ruin now, had succumbed to age, but some of the buildings on the opposite bank still stood. They had been kept up to provide housing for visitors come to see the remains of the once great capital or waiting at an unusually busy time to make the sea crossing to Valinor. There had been two such major migrations, one at the beginning of the Second Age and the other here at the end of the Third, with a spike during the rise of Angmar. That, too, had been a busy time, with the children of the children who had first returned from the West packing up and leaving for a fabled though unknown shore that was at least safe.

Lost in thought, he was slow to pick up the sound of footsteps on the pebbled pathway although whoever it was made no attempt to walk quietly. If a stranger had found a way into the Haven he would have been warned, but even so he berated himself for carelessness. He recalled a time long ago when Mithlond was nothing more than a sprawl of temporary shelters, when he had been waylaid by Maedhros, now late, because he was tired and not paying attention. He always rather thought he would learn from that and he had been younger then, stronger.

Hand on the hilt of his well-worn sword, Círdan turned, and then relaxed again. The watchers at the entrance to Mithlond had been vigilant after all. This was one elf no one would turn away.

“Glorfindel?”

The tall, broad shouldered elf with the gleaming blond hair and forever young face returned his greeting with a nod and a smile. Glorfindel smiled often, it was a mark of the seriousness of a situation when his face remained grave.

“Círdan.” He came up the steps to the verandah and the old wooden boards creaked painfully under his weight. He shook his head ruefully. “Too much good living lately, I’d go right through in time.” He extended his hand and they clasped forearms briefly.

Círdan knew he was being unreasonable to find the sheer cheerfulness of the elf annoying, but the truth was it got on his nerves. But Glorfindel was a Hero, and one of Elrond’s most trusted advisors, and the Valar had seen fit to go to the enormous trouble of sending him back to Middle-earth to offer somewhat less help than they might have imagined, or than Círdan himself had expected that sunlit Second Age day when the reborn lord sailed into Mithlond.

Not for nothing had Círdan survived the twisted tangle of elven politics unscathed; he knew when diplomacy and a friendly response were called for and smiled in return.

“Did Elrond send you to check on progress? Last one was that child who works in the library – I’d have thought he’d be too busy packing up important records to ride down here, but no. Needed an armed escort too.” He tried to sound amused. Elrond had developed a habit of following up every detail of the forthcoming voyage in a way that suggested a lack of faith in the shipwright’s abilities.

Glorfindel rolled his eyes. “I said sending Melpomaen was a bad idea, the road still isn’t safe. Erestor suggested I make an excuse and just drop this in casually, but truly I’m here on both our behalf to warn you the books will be about double the amount you were told and Elrohir wants to bring all his equipment --- it requires a whole room at home.” Elrohir’s main interest involved working with animals, he was an intuitive veterinarian and even the mortals in Bree had been known to send for his help with epidemics or a difficult pregnancy in a prize cow.

Círdan snorted. “I learned long ago to take Erestor at his word even when others think he’s just being ironic and he already hinted as much. There are two baggage ships and I was considering a third on standby. We shall see.”

“Good.” Glorfindel went to the railing and stood looking across the short stretch of water between the two shores. Mithlond was really a twin city, with the capital and seat of the king on the Forlond side and the Haven, the place of boat building and departure, on the Harlond side to the south. The haven itself was small, a village of houses climbing the hill above the harbour and the great ship works closer to the mountain. Mithlond across the water had been a brilliant city of domes and spires, fronted by Gil-galad’s rose granite palace.

He studied the view for a few quiet moments then said, “No one has lived there for a while now, have they? It’s all going back to nature.”

“It’s been more like an extended hostelry of late,” Círdan told him, also looking at the deserted city. “There was an influx as everyone finally got ready to leave: elves from small settlements, a crowd from Lórien, a sudden rush from what was Mirkwood – what do we call it now? Eryn Lasgalen, is it? For a couple of months, it almost looked like a city again, though a very small one. And then the boats were all built and had returned for second and third and even fourth crossings and suddenly it was empty again. The last crowd were scattered wanderers Gildor rounded up and shepherded down here.”

Glorfindel looked amused. “And then came back to Rivendell, because if he has to go home it should at least be on the last ship and with his cousin. He and Galadriel have been practicing gallows humour about it. At least they were born there and know what they’re going into, unlike most people I know. Though it’s been an immensely long time since we all crossed the Ice with Fingolfin.”

Círdan nodded, more to himself than to Glorfindel. “The long march of years… I never saw Valinor, of course, but it’s been an unimaginably long time since I watched the lights on Tol Eressëa vanish into the mists and was so ready to sail my own ship into the west if necessary. But I was told to remain and – here I am, amongst the last to leave.”

Glorfindel came over to stand next to him. “And?” he asked, his blue eyes warm and interested. They crinkled at the corners, which made them look as though he was smiling even when he was not.

Círdan shook his head, unsettled by how easily the words came, and to this elf of all people. “I find that I am less inclined to leave, despite all these millennia of longing for the hour to come, for the chance to see the land we were told of – even if the light of the Trees is no more.” He shook off the sudden melancholy and recalled his obligations. “But I forget my manners. Most of my people have sailed now, but we can still be hospitable. Let me organize a room for you, and see about food. It will be good to hear the news from the valley – we are altogether too tied up in finishing touches and loading here.”

-----o

Dinner was fish; they had slaughtered the last of the meat sheep a while ago and sold on the rest of the flock to farmers further inland, the same with the cattle. There were now chickens and fish, and the chickens were more for the eggs than eating. It amused Círdan in a quiet way to see formerly vegetarian Telerin, having slowly come around to eating the occasional meat dish, be quite put out to find it no longer available. People changed over time, even elves. He had certainly changed from the young, hopeful idealist waiting on the eaves of that great, unsettlingly quiet forest for Elwë to return….

Glorfindel was unexpectedly good company and less casually cheerful than on previous occasions. Círdan had to admit that he rather missed having guests at the table. They talked about the final arrangements Elrond wanted, and the additions Erestor had suggested and a few of the odder items of baggage, which led to Círdan only half-jokingly asking if Galadriel intended to bring her mirror, and they shared a good laugh - something of a first. In fact, Círdan was more used to dealing with Erestor than anyone else from the valley, so his normal reticence around Glorfindel was based more on the idea of who he was than on the elf himself.

After dinner, instead of trying to escape he was moved to offer Glorfindel some wine or a glass of miruvor perhaps, which was how they ended up sitting in the little solarium with its view of the sea and the newly risen moon playing chase with scattering clouds. He got Hiramar to light groups of candles to give the room some illusion of warmth, and went over to shutter the windows that faced onto the verandah, as did all rooms along that side of the house. When he sat down at last it was to find Glorfindel watching him. He raised his glass and the old warrior returned the gesture.

“You’ll miss this house,” Glorfindel said, taking a mouthful of the fiery liquor and nodding to himself. Well yes, the quality was good, Círdan had never been one to settle for second best. “I remember when I arrived, this was already home to you.”

“Sailing casually into Mithlond in a swanship and asking where you could find the king,” Círdan said with a reminiscent smile. “Yes, I remember it well. And I remember the time I had convincing him this was no joke and you no imposter. If I had not met you at the Feast of Reuniting and so could vouch for you, he’d have sent you back to where you came from.”

Glorfindel’s returned smile was tentative. “Would that have been so bad? I hardly contributed as much as they seemed to think I would when they sent me back.”

Círdan looked at him quizzically. “Your war record is impeccable, you were a friend and support to Ereinion and have been the same to Elrond…”

“I hardly turned back the darkness, did I? More like – made a small dent in it in some specific places.”

“None of us can ask to do more than that,” Círdan said quietly. “I have spent the past two ages in this house, beside this harbour, and my contribution has been neither shining nor the stuff of which songs are crafted. I could not turn back the darkness alone either, a darkness I knew from the beginning of time as we know it. And in battle --- I was almost close enough to touch Ereinion, stop him, before he died.”

The boy he had raised, the closest thing to a son he would ever know, the boy he had raised to be a good man and a king he was proud of, who had died a hero just too far for Círdan to hold him back from that last insane impulse.

“You couldn’t have stopped him,” Glorfindel said flatly as though reading his mind. “it’s in the blood. That was like Fingolfin demanding personal combat with the Great Enemy – standing against one of the Valar. That family is always very good at doing first and thinking later, I spent a large part of the First Age watching Turgon do exactly that, and see where that got Gondolin.”

Círdan tried to relate this to the ever-effable Hero of previous meetings. “And you feel you should have been able to do more this time? After Gondolin I mean?”

Glorfindel shook his head. “I thought so to begin with, else why send me back? In the end I realized one warrior, no matter how good, could not turn the tide. I was a – symbol of survival, although not my own. So I made it my business to be the voice of hope, the one who saw the good that could come of a situation, a way through the shadows.” He drank deep of the miruvor then put down his glass, his face still and sad. “Believe me though, it’s hard to keep smiling and sounding positive when the darkness is closing in and your strongest memories are of defeat.... Being the voice of hope can be a very lonely place.”

Círdan leaned back in his chair, half closed his eyes. The wood of the chair’s arms was smooth and cold under his hands. “A bit like leaving my youth beside a deep blue lake that no longer exists to cross the ocean and see the Light of the Trees, only to end up staying on this shore to help those who would escape the darkness board ships and flee. I have worn a sword for most of my life, listening to predictions of the end uttered by voices with no hope or little hope while trying to get people to stand against destruction. But still inside I believed this would all come to a good end, even if few of us would be alive to see it. I keep those thoughts private, of course, because after all I’ve seen it would be the quickest way to get labelled a delusional old fool, refusing to deal in life’s realities.”

Glorfindel snorted. “So, you’re the dour war leader who protects the sea route of the elves and has kept it open for two ages, and I’m the beacon of hope and faith sent by the Valar as a message of reassurance. And meanwhile we’re each as lonely behind our mask as the other. Though I had to watch my city go down into flames and face total defeat – you at least were spared that.”

“Not completely. I saw my Havens on the old coast burn,” Círdan reminded him. “And I watched my King, the son of my heart, die.”

“Death is not final for those the Doomsman deems deserving,” Glorfindel said gently. “Ereinion was more than a hero, he was a good king and a decent person. He’s as likely as not to be waiting when that pale ship you’re readying docks at Tol Eressëa.”

Sometimes, on dark nights when the room seemed to close in on him, Círdan also thought that. Thought it and dismissed it as wishful thinking, because it would be too hurtful to believe such a thing and have it never come to pass. Those were the nights when he had to dress and leave the house to walk the stony beach beyond the reeds until his mind was quiet again.

“And yet, earlier you expressed yourself almost unwilling to sail now the time has come,” Glorfindel went on quietly, his voice barely louder than the tide turning out in the bay. “Why would that be, my lord?”

He had been one of Turgon’s great lords; one often forgot this about him, Círdan thought wryly. When he had a question, he asked it. And perhaps he could be trusted to listen to the answer, there were other things he seemed instinctively to understand. “I think… I am tired, my lord. It has been a wait of many Ages and seldom peaceful for long. This was not how I thought to come to Elvenhome.” As he said this he made a vague gesture, encompassing himself, the faded hair and tired flesh. Círdan had never been vain about his appearance, but nowadays when he looked in a mirror he barely knew himself: and this was how he would meet those who had known him in better times.

Glorfindel studied him openly. The candles turned his hair almost bronze, with bright lights that lifted and faded with the flicker of the flames, though even in the soft light Círdan could see the summer blue of his eyes. He looked sculpted, perfect, more Vanyar than Noldor, but those eyes, Círdan realized, were kind. “I remember when I arrived, your beard was a frame for your face and you had no more wrinkles than would be natural for a man who spent time on ships, gazing into sunlight and wind,” he said finally. “Wearing and then passing the Ring of Fire to Olorin – age came when the ring left, yes? But when we cross the sea and follow the straight path, I believe healing will come to those who need it – to Elrond, to Galadriel for their long burden, and to you, releasing you from the weight of years. Does knowing that make the idea of leaving any easier?”

“I’ll be young again?” Círdan was smiling against his will at the thought. “I don’t think I have ever been young, Glorfindel.”

“No, I know. Your youth was stolen by the dark times you were born to. But over there, for all the many faults Aman has to offer, I think the years will roll back from you. There’ll be time to live the youth you had to put aside.”

“Age is not just about lines on a face and grey in the hair though,” Círdan mused, determinedly suppressing the flutter of anticipation the words produced. “I have no idea how to be young and carefree – things that seem a part of you, despite your years.”

Glorfindel laughed, then rather startlingly came over and knelt beside his chair. He took Círdan’s hand and bowed his head to rest his forehead against its back. Círdan had an instinct to pull back his hand but stopped himself. Glorfindel’s palm was hard, but his strength and warmth were reassuring. “And that is often just surface. It is a long time since by any stretch of the imagination I could be called young either. But I recall the Lord of the Falas from the beginning of our time on this shore, and the shipwright who welcomed me to Mithlond on my return, and he carried his years well. If you like I would be happy to share what I recall of being young and free once you’re settled on the other side.”

“After I’ve seen Tirion and all the wonders I’ve heard of?” With anyone else, Círdan would have been embarrassed by the eagerness in his voice, but Glorfindel just nodded.

“And the place where the Trees were – no light now, but many memories. And there are beaches like no other and wild green woodlands – unless they’ve tamed the lot since I left.”

He said this last wryly and they shared a smile. “And the marks of age are just another ill of Arda that the Undying Lands can cure?” Círdan asked quietly, almost believing now. “Truly?”

Glorfindel was very serious, still kneeling on the floor beside his chair, the candleflame shifting shadows across his face. “The outward trappings of age are an unnatural thing for our kind. So yes, I think the weariness and other physical signs will pass. And if they don’t, your heart will still be lighter. And that’s its own beginning.”

-----o-----

They travelled the straight road and arrived at Tol Eressëa with two Hobbits, a renegade princess - for so Galadriel was viewed - a Maia and Elwing’s son. No one remarked on Círdan’s grey beard and tired face, save for one. Tall and blue eyed, hair as unruly as ever, the man he had raised as a son pushed through the crowd at the quay to pull him into a tight embrace. Círdan clung to him, eyes closed against the sudden prickle of tears, his heart swelling with joy and relief and the reality of solid bone and muscle.

"Gods, what have they done to you?" Ereinion Gil-galad asked eventually, holding his foster father away from him by the shoulders and taking a good look. "You look almost as old as that little person Elrond brought along. Is it contagious?"

Besides Gil-galad, who had always been a byword for bluntness, no one said much of anything. There were a few lingering looks, but not the quiet horror he had half expected from old acquaintances. Apparently, it was assumed life on the Hither Shore could really be that debilitating.

He stayed with Gil-galad, who had apartments at what seemed to be the family compound rather than just a palace, and had the pleasure of spending time with people from the past he had truly missed, like Idril and Voronwë. It felt unnatural to no longer have life or death responsibilities, but Gil-galad swore he would get used to it in time. Elrond was not with them, for Celebrían had found healing of a sort in Valinor, but was more at ease away from crowds and the curiosity of strangers and had a house in Alqualondë. He and their sons had joined her there.

And Alqualondë was where Círdan found himself sometime after his arrival - it was hard to measure time in Valinor, but he supposed at home it would have been a month or two. Tol Eressëa would have been a good place to settle but Gil-galad had insisted they spend time together, and Tirion was just far enough from the sea for it to be a lack in his life. Visiting Elrond, seeing Celebrían again at last - the brief greeting on the quay barely counted - made a good excuse for a trip to the shore.

Celebrían’s house was a short walk from the beach, with a view across the stretch of water to the island. While she oversaw the preparation of a meal Elrond said would feed most of Tol Eressëa, Círdan had been sent off for a walk. Now he stood on the firm sand at the water's edge on a beach like no beach he had seen in Middle-earth, the soft wind tugging at his hair, salt air filling his lungs. Light - not direct sunlight but something softer, more diffused, glinted off water that was almost too blue with wave tips almost too white.

"It looks not quite right, doesn't it? Almost like a painting."

It was Glorfindel, casually dressed, his hair loose under a simple gold band around his head. For a moment Círdan had no idea what to say, but then the smile was there, familiar and comfortable, and he smiled back. "I was struggling to find words for it but that's exactly right," he said. "I had no idea you would be here?"

"Lunch for the people who matter, Elrond said. I expected an army - or at least Erestor."

"Celebrían said people would be arriving soon, but there was time for me to take a walk."

Glorfindel nodded, watching sea birds bank high above them and then dive for food. "I've been away, seeing my family and those friends from Gondolin who've been reborn. You're staying in Tirion, I hear?"

"Tirion, yes. Ereinion insisted."

"As he should. Erestor always said you were the only father he ever knew.” He considered Círdan thoughtfully. “I promised to show you what it was like to be young again, but I see the time here has already been good to you.”

Círdan hesitated. “What you said about the years falling off me – I think it takes more than a sea crossing and a few weeks, but I feel stronger and… lighter somehow?”

“And the lines are fading, and your beard – what you’ve left of it after the trim – is closer to silver than grey now, your hair as well.” Glorfindel sounded approving.

“It helps people be less confused by my appearance,” Círdan acknowledged wryly, “but it hardly qualifies as young again.”

“So… you’re holding me to my offer then?” Glorfindel drawled, amused.

Círdan found himself smiling back into summer blue eyes. “I think I must. Eternity, even in paradise, would be a long time without new lessons.”


Chapter End Notes:

Beta: Red Lasbelin.



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