It was mid-evening on the south bank of the once-thriving city of Mithlond. The air was mild, the waters of the bay calm. Glorfindel walked along the path that extended from the pier where the fishing boats docked, watching the Lune ripple by on its way to meet the sea and breaking up the lights reflecting down from the mariners’ houses on the hill above the harbour. The night was peaceful, filled with sea sounds and soft silver moonlight, and he was at ease with the world after a good dinner and pleasant company at Círdan’s table.
He was at the point where paving gave way to a natural trail over rocks and past a string of small rough beaches when he heard a sharp splash as though something heavy had struck the water. On the edge of his peripheral vision he was almost certain he saw a shape close to shore, defined by an almost soundless rush of water away from the harbour and off into the dark. A circle of ripples spread back to break up the lights shining on the water, but it could have been anything – a seal, a large fish, even a bird he had somehow not noticed diving for a meal.
For a few moments he stood looking, but saw nothing more. He was half of a mind to turn back, but he was restless and the room allotted to him was comfortable, but small and unfamiliar, not half as inviting as the quiet night and a walk along the stony beach he knew was nearby.
He could hear soft, indistinct singing when he reached the beach, but not for long. He assumed whoever it was had left, because he could see no one about. The little stretch of shale and pebble was a still, mysterious place of shadows, edged with little tidal pools and long strands of seaweed. He walked more slowly now, enjoying the clean air and the light that came and went on the sea as the moon played chase with the clouds.
He was about half way along the beach, well away from the lights of Mithlond, when he saw a movement amongst the rocks in one of the pools. Glorfindel paused, frowning. Too big for a dog, and why would a dog be in the water? As though to confirm this, a wave splashed up against the rocks, casting a swift curtain of spray, enough to send any dog running, but there was no reaction from the still, dark shape. He approached carefully, glancing around to see if there was any driftwood, something to protect himself with if whatever it was should prove dangerous. He was unarmed because Mithlond was hallowed ground, the place where the Straight Road began, but at need he could look after himself.
“Hello?” he called, more to avoid creeping up on some wild animal and startling it than from any expectation of an answer. “Is there somebody there?”
He could feel eyes on him now, there in the shadow of the rocks, and a prickle of unease shivered his spine, but he had faced worse than a dark shape on the edge of the sea and curiosity kept him moving forward where another might have backed away. The shape moved, straightened a little in a way that seemed human.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, pitching his voice to calm, the way he would with a restless horse or undecided watchdog.
“Golden hair. This is a new thing. Are you a new thing then, or are you just an elf?” The voice was low and mellow, with a husky timbre that stroked his nerve endings.
Glorfindel paused between one step and the next, too surprised to answer. Then he moved forward again and now he could see the form curled amongst the rocks was definitely man-shaped, and yet there was something not quite right, not quite normal in the pose of the lower body that lay in deeper shadow. “Golden hair is what my parents called me, in fact,” he said, trying to sound casual. “Laurefindëon in the old tongue, Glorfindel today.”
“Glorr-findel.” Thoughtfully. “How strange. Come closer so that we can see.”
Glorfindel was absolutely sure that going closer was a bad idea, everything about the situation told him to keep his distance, but instead he found his feet taking him across the last of the pebbled beach to the rocks. And then the moon came out from behind the clouds again and he could see what was speaking to him.
At first sight he looked like an elf, with wide-set dark eyes in a pale, beautiful face and long black hair falling over his shoulders and bared torso. And there all reference to normalcy stopped, because the slender body ended in a long tail that draped back over the rocks towards the sea. Pearlescent scales shimmered softly where the moonlight touched it.
The dark eyes considered him, calm and unafraid. “It would look like sunshine in the day,” the being decided. “We would like to see that.”
Glorfindel had to try more than once to get his voice working again. “Who – what – are you?” he finally asked, which was unoriginal but then again the being had his name so it was a fair question.
“Erestor.” He spoke as though this should be self evident. “Of the Sea Lord’s children. It is an easier name than Glorr-findel.”
“What are you doing here, do you live here?”
Without thinking Glorfindel stepped off the beach and onto one of the low rocks surrounding the pool. Too quick, too close, as he saw when it was too late. Erestor swung up over the rock, gave him a final searching look, and then launched himself back into the sea. The moonlight caught briefly on the curved handle of a dagger belted snugly at the small of his back before the black hair covered it. Glorfindel rushed forward but was just in time to see a shape that might almost have been a dolphin or some other large fish diving through an incoming wave.
“No, Erestor, wait. I won’t hurt you!” he called out, splashing across the pool and climbing up onto the rock that had so recently been occupied. But it was to no avail, Erestor was gone.
After walking up and down the beach for what felt like hours, Glorfindel finally gave up and went to bed. The next morning, away from a moonlit beach filled with strange shadows, he wondered if it had all been a hallucination, something to do with the air of ancient magic that had always hung about the Havens.
The idea of a being with the body of a man and the tail of a fish was so unlikely that he was embarrassed to raise it with his host. Instead he assured Círdan he had slept well after a pleasant walk and went quietly through the day, going over the defence matters he had come to discuss with the Shipwright on Elrond’s behalf.
That night after dinner though, he waited till it was around the time he had gone walking the previous night and then he went back out along the beach. This time there was no distant singing, no sounds but the wind and the waves. He looked carefully at all the little pools and piles of rock, walking slowly and listening for unusual sounds, but except for the sea and the strong breeze blowing off it, there was nothing. He could feel he was alone.
The following night he went out again, with the same result; there was no trace of anyone but himself on the beach, no mysterious singing, no shadowy shapes with eyes glittering in the moonlight. He was by now inclined to believe he had imagined the whole thing. The next day over a lunch taken overlooking the sea he raised the matter carefully, and he hoped discreetly, with Círdan.
“My lord, do you know who or what would be referred to as the Sea Lord’s children? Is there some kind of legend perhaps… I seem to remember hearing something along those lines in the past.”
Círdan finished a mouthful of cod salad and took a deep drink of the strange, astringent cordial he favoured. He frowned at the horizon before turning a quizzical look on Glorfindel. “Was there a reason you should ask that, my lord? Did someone here mention it to you?”
“No one in your household said anything, no,” Glorfindel said honestly. “But I read all sorts of tales and I was just curious. Forgive me if it was out of line.”
“No, not at all. I was just surprised.” Círdan took his time, gathering his thoughts. “That is an old tale, dating back to a time not long after the Great War, when the Army of the West marched in and broke the land and the waters rushed in and drowned Beleriand and all who still lived there. Although there was no means to rescue those trapped far from shore and the safety of boats, it is said Lord Ulmo set out to do what he could to save the youngest and most innocent, the children of the Firstborn, even while their parents perished.”
“When I learned the fate of Beleriand, I wondered about all the people living too far inland to escape,” Glorfindel admitted, accepting another glass of the cordial even though it made his eyes water a little. To someone who had spent so much of his life at court, first in Tirion and later in Gondolin, courtesy mattered. Anyhow, he liked the old man.
“Quite,” Círdan said gravely. “We were hard put to it even to save those living on Balar and around Sirion. At any rate, it is said that Lord Ulmo took those children that he could find and – transformed them. Turned them into beings who would live and thrive as easily in water as on land, with gills and tails to mark them as his own. Legend has it they come ashore in the moonlight to sit and comb their hair and sing to the moonbeams…or so they say?”
“That is probably what I’d read then,” Glorfindel said with a smile, trying to hide the way his mind was racing, exploring this information, wondering if it could possibly be true after all. “It’s a pretty story, and one it would be nice to believe, for the sake of those children. This cordial is very interesting, Hîren. Is Elrond fond of it? Perhaps I could take some back to Imladris for him?”
He stayed away from the beach that night, feeling a twinge of guilt for not coming clean to Círdan about his encounter, but it would have been awkward to admit he might have met one of these rescued Children after the way he had phrased the question. Although, in truth, he was almost sure he had read the story somewhere and something in the magic of the place had convinced him… Instead he kept to his room and closed the window so there would be no chance of hearing the soft, wistful voice should it choose that night to sing to the moon.
The final night of his visit, after packing the few belongings he had brought with him plus the gifts he had been asked to take along for Elrond and his family, Glorfindel’s resolve cracked. A final walk along the beach could do no harm, he reasoned. The wind was quite strong and the sea was busy, but it would clear his head, and much as he liked Imladris, he missed the sea, just as he had when Turgon’s people were forced to give up Vinyamar for Gondolin’s mountains.
The shale crunched under his feet, loud enough to be heard above the waves that broke against the rocks. The wind tugged strongly at his hair, teasing locks free of his casual styling. He turned his face up to the spray, smiling slightly, enjoying the salt tang, the wild feeling in the air. He tried to avoid looking too sharply into dark corners, but found it hard not to. It was easier to believe in magical beings on this isolated beach than it had at midday in Círdan’s garden.
It took his ears a few minutes to register the song. It was low and plaintive and wove itself around and through the wind in a duet with the sea, and it came from the far end of the beach. Glorfindel paused, looked around. He was completely alone, the lights of Círdan’s house, standing out as a beacon of warmth and welcome, lay well behind him. Ahead the beach was lit only by the newly risen moon that glinted off the water, drawing the scene in stark blacks and whites.
He followed the song, moving steadily along the water’s edge, avoiding heaped seaweed, water-carved holes. The song stopped, but not before he had spotted Erestor leaning against a tall rock, his tail draped elegantly into the pool.
“That’s a beautiful song,” he said, careful not to come too close this time. “But sad-sounding too.”
Erestor raised his hands to the base of his neck and lifted his hair, shaking his head. Black silk, dark against the night, slithered down almost with a life of its own. It was nearly dry, Glorfindel realised, so he must have been there for some time. And tonight he wore a complex necklace hung with glittering strands of gems that fell halfway down his chest, catching the light as he moved. “We learned it from the seals,” Erestor said. “They are sad creatures, their songs are all full of longing. No words though, I make the words myself.”
“I’ve heard tales of creatures called selkies,” Glorfindel said. “They are seals who’ve taken off their skins for a time so they can walk on dry land as mortals…”
Erestor laughed, a low intimate sound, and shook his head. “Why would a seal take its skin off? Its insides would fall out.”
“My thought entirely,” Glorfindel agreed cheerfully. If he didn’t look too low, this was almost a normal conversation.
A wave came up behind Erestor, splashing him with spray. He shook his hair back but otherwise ignored it. “You were not here last night, Glorr-findel. I looked for you.”
Glorfindel considered sitting on one of the rocks on his side of the pool but they were low and very wet. “I went to bed early,” he lied. “I had a long day.”
“You came to visit the Old One?” Erestor asked. “Will you ride away on one of his boats soon?”
He was confused for a moment, then understood. “Am I going to sail off into the West? No, not now. Not for some time still. I was sent here to help people, so I’ll be one of the last to leave.”
Erestor digested this. It would have made even less sense to him than it usually did to Glorfindel himself. “I thought it meant you would leave and go to the Summerlands where we are not allowed to travel, but one of my brothers said no, there is no boat ready yet.”
“One of your brothers?” Glorfindel couldn’t help looking around quickly. “One of Ulmo’s other children, you mean?”
“Even so,” Erestor said with the slightest of shrugs. “We share no parents but the Sea Lord is father to us all.”
“And you’re not allowed to go to Valinor – the Summerlands? Ever?”
Erestor looked uncertain for a moment and then shook his head. “Our place is here, it is the rule.” He hesitated, then added, laughter in his voice, “We think this is because the Sea Lord broke rules himself to save us when the world broke.”
That made sense. “Is that why you don’t let people know about you?” Glorfindel asked, hunkering down amongst the rocks so that he was looking up at Erestor.
The dark head nodded. “The Old One knows we are here, and his people,” Erestor said. “But they love the Lord of the Deep and will keep his secret. They go their way here on the shore and we go ours in the sea. It is as it should be.” He beckoned and pointed to a place close to the rock he was leaning against. “Sit there. The water has touched it only lightly. I remember – it is not comfortable to have wet clothes, yes?”
“Not very, no.” Glorfindel hesitated, but the being called Erestor seemed in no hurry to leave this time so he took off his boots and rolled his pants up first before wading across the tidal pool. The water was icy but he had known far colder.
Erestor was right, the flat ledge in front of the highest rock was only damp, still protected from the sea. Erestor moved away when he got there, but not far. His tail flicked the water casually as he got comfortable again. Glorfindel was uneasily aware of hard muscle, an aura of deadly strength. Also he remembered the dagger.
“You remember wearing clothes, being on land?” he asked carefully, with no idea what might or might not antagonise.
Full lips curved into an almost-smile. “Yes, a little. I was very young and it was long ago. We could not swim, we could only walk on land and the dolphins would not have talked with us. You miss so much, shore people. But I also recall that wet cloth grows cold and rubs badly. It is why we do not wear shirts.” Dark eyes were laughing at Glorfindel, but not unkindly.
“You would look strange with a shirt on,” Glorfindel conceded. “Overdressed.”
“You cover yourselves from neck to ankle,” Erestor said shaking his head. “It must be unpleasant. And hot. I like to lie in the sun but I do not like to be hot for too long. And I am dressed tonight.” His fingers traced lightly over his chest, caressing the necklace. Glorfindel was startled by how erotic the motion was.
“Too hot is not good,’ he agreed hastily. “But also too cold, something I doubt bothers you the same.”
“Further north where the ice lies and the white bears try and eat us is very cold,” Erestor informed him pensively. “But the sky lights are beautiful, so sometimes we go. Never alone though. It is a dangerous land.”
Glorfindel frowned, puzzled. “Sky lights?”
“You have not seen the sky lights in the north?” Erestor looked surprised. “But it is easy for you to go there. You have the tall animals — horses, yes? They can take you there more easily than it is for us to swim.”
And they sat in the moonlight with the waves kissing the rocks behind them and talked: about the northern lights, which Glorfindel had heard of but never seen, and Glorfindel’s valley home of Imladris, with its rushing river and tree-lined slopes, and how it felt to ride a dolphin – and a giant manta, although Erestor admitted with a sly smile that these were Ossë’s particular favourites and harassing them was strictly forbidden.
Time passed and the moon was riding high in the sky when Erestor turned to him and asked in that mellow, husky voice, “And you will go back home to Im-lad-rris soon?”
Glorfindel nodded. “I leave in the morning,” he admitted. “I’ve stayed a day longer than I should already. They’ll be worrying if I take too long. The road isn’t safe.”
“But you are not afraid to take a dangerous road, no?” Erestor reached out a hand and carefully hooked free a lock of Glorfindel’s hair that had come loose, letting it wind around his finger and then slide free. Glorfindel’s mouth went dry.
“I should be more than equal to anything I meet on the road,” he answered carefully. His eyes dropped to the necklace and he reached carefully to touch a ruby, deeply aware of the firm, smooth skin it rested against. “This – where did you get this? It’s beautiful.”
“We find things.” Erestor’s voice was close, low, blending with the sea. “There are many things the ocean claims. Some it allows us to take back. These are our pretties. But it has things too that are its own. Like this…”
He reached down and came up with something that had been lying in the dark just above the pool’s waters. He held it out. After a moment’s hesitation, Glorfindel took it. It was a perfectly shaped abalone shell, the inside shining softly in the moonlight. “In the day it is golden, the colour your hair would be in sunlight,” Erestor told him in the same quiet voice. “I kept it for you.”
Glorfindel met fathomless dark eyes. “I will come back…” he began, but Erestor shook his head.
“The tides come in and they draw out,” he said, voice still blending with the sea. He straightened and Glorfindel realised belatedly that he was getting ready to leave. Then suddenly he was close again, so close that silken hair brushed Glorfindel’s cheek, so close that had there been time Glorfindel could have counted the sweeping black lashes. Leaning in, his lips found and lingered on Glorfindel’s, cool and full. “Remember us when you are in Im-lad-rris in the mountains,” he said. Moments later he pulled himself up and over the rim of the rock ledge and then he was in the water streaking away, black hair streaming behind him. A casual glance might have assumed seaweed.
Glorfindel watched him leave and then sat on the rock a while longer watching the sea in the moonlight, the shell resting loosely in his hand. In the end it grew too cold to be pleasant. Reluctantly he waded across the tidal pool to get his boots and then headed back to the abode of land dwellers, the place of light and warmth.