Part Eight: North
‘Come with me and I’ll show you my home.’
Death and a spell in the Halls hadn’t changed Gil-galad. When he offered to show Erestor his home, he meant straight after breakfast. The meal itself was an experience because unlike Elrond or even Galadriel, everyone at the inn seemed to know exactly who he was and fell over each other in their attempts to be useful or helpful. It seemed that as well as a new life, he had a new name over here, Ereinion Last-king. Erestor rather liked it.
He had his own boat moored and waiting in the harbour, low and sleek with a cheerful yellow canopy over the centre of the deck and a lifelike bear’s head carving at the prow. Erestor stopped dead on the quay and stared at it. “What in Arda…?”
Close behind him Gil-galad laughed. “It’s a bear, of course – come on, I thought he did a good job of it.”
“I can see it’s a bear,” Erestor told him dryly. “My question was more along the lines of why is it a bear?”
Gil-galad passed him, striding up the plank and onto the deck with the confidence Erestor had never forgotten. He followed hastily. “Because there are no bears here,” the former High King in the East threw back over his shoulder. “And there should be. So I had one made.” Which rather summed up Gil-galad’s approach to life.
They sailed up the coast, passing a beautiful harbour with an archway of stone-carved shells that Erestor knew without being told was Alqualondé. After this they saw were several fishing vessels and what looked like a pleasure boat, gilded white with a delicate swan’s head, but none of the little villages that were the norm in the East. Gil-galad paced the deck a good deal, stopping to talk with the steersman or get involved with resetting the rigging, while Erestor watched the shore go past and mused on how quickly life’s options could change. Finding Gil-galad in and of itself did not make his world right, but at least the creeping horror at where fate had brought him had eased.
That night they ate freshly caught fish and crusty bread while they watched the night sky and talked. Erestor had an entire Age of events and people to share, but Gil-galad spoke less about his experiences. Erestor was hesitant, but finally said, “I’m talking enough for us both, aren’t I? What about you? Being here, meeting your family, was it very strange?”
“I was in the Halls till not so long ago,” Gil-galad said, carefully peeling a soft fleshed fruit that looked, though did not taste, rather like an orange. “And that’s not easy to talk about. One day, perhaps. And then, yes, I was getting to know the family, most of whom I’d never met before, and making peace with my sister and then working out what to do next… but you’ll see when you get there. Go on, tell me about meeting Maglor in a fish market.”
“Is it even permitted to mention his name over here?” Erestor asked, only half joking. “He’s probably banished forever, isn’t he?”
Gil-galad grinned. “I’ve never heard anyone say as much. In fact I’ve never heard anyone refer to him or any of his brothers directly by name either. But it’s all right, anything’s allowed on this boat, within reason.”
“What would taking it too far involve? Just in case I need to know.” Erestor took a portion of fruit being offered him and ate it, still trying to place the flavour.
“People running at an angry Maia armed with nothing but a spear. That one falls into the category of please don’t remind me.”
“I never worked out why you didn’t just use your sword,” Erestor admitted, licking juice off his fingers.
Gil-galad gave him a dark look. “That’s the whole point. Neither can I.”
A ship’s deck was one of the least private places Erestor had been, but although nothing more intimate was possible, Gil-galad kept hold of his hand. If he was honest, Erestor was relieved. Last night had been unexpected and with its own touch of insanity, but he needed time to adjust to them being together before anything more happened. Talking was a different matter though, and it was very late while they lay on their backs looking up at the stars with Gil-galad telling him the names of these new, western constellations, that his eyes finally started closing. He distantly heard the low, familiar voice drifting on and then he slid into a dreamless sleep.
The first things he noticed when he woke were long streaks of cloud and that the air had a bite. It was dawn, and the sky was painted with a soft wash of gold, rose and palest green. He sat up and looked around. Gil-galad was at the tiller and the shore was closer than it had been last night. They were coming in to a small harbour, with a line of boats tied up and a few buildings that looked like packing sheds facing the quay. He got to his feet, shaking off sleep and trying to tidy his hair as he made his way over to Gil-galad.
“Oh, good. You’re awake. There’s a pretty sunrise just for you, too. This is our port, Swanberry. Don’t look like that, I didn’t name it. Welcome to the north.”
Erestor stared at the land that rushed towards them, greenly forested, with line upon line of rolling mountains behind and around it, rising up to the purpled peaks of the Pelóri. The harbour lay in a little cup of land scooped out from low cliffs. Other than a squat white tower with a green roof near the cliff’s edge, there was nothing else to be seen. The place seemed as far from Tirion as it was from the port at Mithlond. “The north? But there’s meant to be nothing north of Tirion but ice.”
There were laughs all round at that. “That would be further north,” said Hilion the steersman, a tall and angular man with brown hair and an interesting scar across his left cheek. “Though come winter you’d think that’s where we were.”
“There’s a decent sized village through the trees over there,” Gil-galad said. “Though that’s not where we’re going. This is just as far as the water will take us.”
One of the sailors was already leaning over the side, hands cupping mouth and shouting to a figure on the mainland, “Four horses, not three. He wants an extra one. An extra horse! Yes. Well, go ask Lady I. Tell her the king’s home.”
After they landed, the first thing Erestor noticed was the lack of the all pervasive odour of a fishing harbour, and when he glanced in one of the buildings they passed he saw boxes stored, ready to be loaded. Of the boats, only one looked like it saw regular service as a fisher. He stored the information away; now was not the time to ask. They went between the buildings and out the back to find three horses waiting with a sleepy-looking young elf who scrambled to his feet when he saw them and bowed to Gil-galad. It was more of a housemaid’s bob, Erestor thought, but the attempt made him smile. It was the antithesis of what he would have expected in Tirion or even on Tol Eressëa.
“He’s gone for another horse, sir,” the boy said generally to whoever needed to know. “Said he’d not be long.”
“That’s all right,” said Hilion, who was coming with them, as was one of the other mariners. “No hurry. He’s not passed over yet, has he? No need to get thrown off the horse. Can’t work out why they never get used to it,” he added to Gil-galad, who grinned briefly and shrugged.
Erestor was puzzling over this when the air around them changed and he heard a sound that defied description, a kind of thrumming whoosh that seemed to be coming directly towards them. Then the light was blotted out by something massive overhead and on reflex he ducked.
He heard someone chuckling and risked an upward glance, then straightened slowly onto his knees and then to his feet, trying to make sense of the ship, tall and majestic with high masts and shimmering sails, that shot through the air above them and on towards the mountains. Brilliant light spilled from its deck, throwing lines and shadows on the ground into stark relief.. Then it banked steeply and sunk down out of view.
There was silence, then Gil-galad said to Hilion, “Gods, he’s in a hurry for his breakfast.” He grinned at Erestor, eyes dancing wickedly. “Yes, all right, I should have warned you but it’s the tradition out here. Vingelot. Coming home. The sky port’s just out of sight there, in the valley.”
Erestor’s heart was still pounding. An actual flying ship, with Elwing’s Silmaril on board – he had always thought this was the stuff of legends, not a metal and wood reality. “You bastard, I nearly had a heart attack,” he yelled at Gil-galad. Remembering who he was shouting at and where they were he caught his breath then added with quiet sincerity, “King or not, your sense of humour will get you in real trouble one day.”
He had no idea what the response would have been in Tirion to him shouting at one of the Finwëans, but here it just raised another laugh.
“Not to worry, everyone does that first time,” Hilion told him. “You did all right, I’ve heard seasoned warriors scream about dragons.”
A horse trotted into view, ridden by a girl whose golden hair gleamed in the early sunlight. Hilion raised a hand to her in greeting and she returned the gesture, dismounting as she reached them and then bowed to Gil-galad. She was armed with a bow and dressed in tunic, pants and boots, with her hair in a single thick braid slung forward over her shoulder. She bore no resemblance to the draped and flounced ladies Erestor had seen in Tirion and to a lesser extent on Tol Eressëa.
“Welcome back, my lord,” she said, a little breathless. “I’d have been faster but I had to walk this silly animal because the sky ship was coming.”
Erestor finally noticed the horses were restless and the boy was holding firmly onto their reins. The earlier comment about being thrown off the horse now made sense. Gil-galad meanwhile was shaking his head, “There was no need to hurry, I’m in no rush. There’s someone here you might like to meet though.”
The girl glanced around and her eyes settled on him, the only stranger. She looked almost familiar, something about her colouring, the shape of her face, her summer blue eyes. He had it almost before Gil-galad said, “Indilë, this is Erestor, recently from Imladris. He knows your brother well. Erestor, this is…”
“Gods, you must be Glorfindel’s sister,” Erestor said with disbelief. “It’s not even the hair, it’s the eyes.”
Indilë’s startled look matched his own for a moment, then her face cleared. “You know my brother?” she exclaimed, taking the few steps forward. “We get people from – how do you say it, Imladris? But he’s a legend and a hero to them when I ask, they’ve not spent time with him. How wonderful to meet someone who knows him…” Her voice was low and pleasant, her Sindarin accented but fluent, more so than Glorfindel’s had been when he first arrived. “Will he be coming over soon? It’s been such a long time. I was very young the night Gondolin burned.”
Erestor took her hands almost without thinking. “I hugged him goodbye when I boarded the ship just a few weeks ago. He’ll be a while still, there was something he promised a friend he would do. But then he’ll sail, probably the last ship that will cross the sea.”
“I was afraid something had happened and no one had told me,” she said frowning. “It can take time to get news out here, even important news.”
“Why would no one tell you?” Gil-galad almost growled. “Would I forget to tell you something like that?”
“You have been known to assume…” Erestor started. Gil-galad scowled at him and he stopped.
Indilë shook her head. “It could take a little time because you might be off hunting or visiting some solitary relative or climbing a mountain. But yes, Your Majesty, I know you would tell me.”
“A little more respect there,” Gil-galad told her, amused. To Erestor he added, “She gets away with things because no one else wants her job and she knows it. She’s my right hand at the coast, keeps track of everything, makes sure Eärendil’s requests are seen to, gets on with Elwing – if I wasn’t here she’d tell you that’s the difficult part. That tower down there is where they live – out of the way, but they like it and it’s convenient to the sky dock for him.”
“I suppose you’re going to Starhaven now? When you come back, will you tell me more about my brother?” Indilë asked earnestly. “We hear rumours, and there are people around who knew him, but not well… I never know what to think.”
He had to tilt his head up slightly to meet her eyes because she was tall and solidly built for a woman: height and strength plainly ran in the family. She seemed serious where her brother was cheerful with an irrepressible sense of humour and love for life. There was a shadow behind her eyes that made him wonder what else there was to her story beyond the night Gondolin fell and people died. “Lady Indilë, I give you my word, but be warned – there are a lot of stories, they may take more than a few hours in the telling.”
“He can stop by the village and talk with you on his way back,” Gil-galad told her. “I’m just showing him around, he’s not staying. Yet.”
She withdrew her hands, strong and capable, with an archer’s callouses, and her lips curved in a small smile. “Many people come and look,” she told him, “and almost all return. On your way back, come early and we can have a meal and talk.”
Erestor touched his forehead respectfully, after all she was a daughter of one of the Great Houses of Gondolin. “I look forward to spending time with my friend’s sister,” he assured her.
“Enough, Indilë. He’ll be back in a day or two,” Gil-galad cut in firmly. “I’ll make sure there’s time enough for you to get all the news you can manage. Oh, and be sure and tell the Queen I’m back. She gets upset when we forget.”
He saw Erestor’s baffled look and shrugged. “Elwing. She likes the title. It’s a little thing, something I don’t bother with much, but it makes her happy. They don’t like the idea in Tirion, but the way I see it is with so many kings and queens around, one more or less makes no difference. Right – pick a horse. We’ve a bit of a ride ahead.”