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‘Círdan told us often about the building of the Foam-Flower,’ Elrond grinned. ‘He said little enough of you, or Tuor, or any of those of whom I wished to hear him speak – but the subject of Vingilot could keep him enthralled for hours.’ He glanced at Celebrían and added, ‘In some ways, I think she was the great love of his life.’
His wife nodded, a compassionate look softening her eyes. ‘He loved each creation that left his hands – each of them was one of his children; he conceived of them and raised them and let them fly – but Vingilot,’ she sighed, ‘Vingilot was special.’
‘Ulmo spoke to me,’ Eärendil replied thoughtfully. ‘He told me to build a ship capable of taking my message to the Valar and sent me to Círdan on Balar. He spared me details of what would make this vessel suitable to the task, but I suspect that Círdan heard his voice and learned much, for the ship he built was unlike any that had come from his hands before.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘I would never accuse any ship that came from Círdan’s yards of being lumbering,’ he said, ‘but they tended to be broader in the beam – and better suited to sailing the margins of the land. Vingilot was – Vingilot was sleek,’ he concluded reverentially. ‘She cut through the water – she could ride out any sea with the grace of a bird floating on the wind. Her sails were designed to turn into the slightest breeze and yet they were simple enough to be handled by a small crew. I have ceased to see her, in a way,’ he added, ‘she is just there – like the ground beneath my feet – but when I think back I can remember the sheer excitement of seeing her grow on the cradles.’ He paused, eyes remote. ‘And that does not begin to compare to the thrill of taking her out onto the water.’
Celebrían flicked a glance at Elwing, who smile wryly. ‘I have never had to worry about a living rival for my lord’s affections,’ she murmured. ‘I have always known that I come a very poor third behind the sea and his ship.’
‘Not true,’ the Mariner protested, reaching out to grasp her hand. ‘We are two parts of the same whole.’
Elwing’s smile grew wider and she returned his clasp. ‘Truly, I do not mind,’ she assured him. ‘It is part of who you are.’ She looked at Eärendil as if she had not really seen him in a long time. ‘You came down the coast from the north,’ she said. ‘You and Voronwë – picked up by fisherman checking their lobster-pots. Dirty, salt-stained, hungry, clothed in rags – but the fire of Ulmo’s words burned in your eyes.’ She looked at their hands, then raised her eyes to meet Elrond’s. ‘We were never going to be ordinary,’ she told him conversationally. ‘How could we be? The offspring of unions between very different races – born to build bridges between the Valar, the Elven kindreds and the houses of the Edain.’
‘It would have been good to have been asked,’ Elrond said dryly.
‘We were,’ Elwing said, adding, ‘in a way.’
Elrond shook his head. ‘Too little, too late.’
Celebrían smiled at him lovingly. ‘How could it have been otherwise?’ she asked. ‘We chose our paths – and from our choices the future unfurled. Had we been told what would happen, how could we have made the decisions we did? Would we have wed, had we known that I would be lost? Would we have chosen to have Arwen, if we had understood in advance that she would follow Lúthien’s path? And yet,’ she said gently, ‘had we not done these things, would not Sauron have prevailed?’
Taking her hand between his, Elrond raised it to his lips. ‘You are too like your naneth at times,’ he informed her. ‘It is most annoying.’ He settled back, his shoulder touching hers, happy just to be with her.
‘Did you go straight to the Shipwright?’ he asked his adar.
Eärendil’s eyes slid to his wife guiltily.
‘He did,’ Elwing said. ‘Although he wished me to think otherwise. It was a brief visit – not long enough for him and Voronwë to recover from their experiences, but enough to ask Círdan for his aid.’ She smiled. ‘But then he came home.’
‘I cannot imagine,’ Celebrían laughed, ‘that Glasiel was very pleased with him.’
Elwing turned to her son’s wife. ‘She was unimpressed,’ she admitted, ‘and told him so. She had seen my distress when he sailed so – precipitately – and she was not about to let him get away with his impetuous behaviour. I forgave him easily,’ she smiled, ‘for I was so pleased that he had returned – but Glasiel was determined that he should understand the error of his ways.’
Elrond exchanged rueful glances with his adar. ‘My lady has no sisters – but I can assure you, Adar, that I am very careful not to cause her parents to have any reason to suspect that my behaviour towards her is less than impeccable. Neither of them would hesitate to make me suffer.’
‘And that is, of course,’ Celebrían nodded, ‘the only reason that you treat me well.’
‘Well,’ Elrond allowed the word to stretch out, ‘there may be others. I cannot say.’
‘Evranin and Gereth were more tolerant,’ Eärendil told them, ‘despite loving Elwing as parents. I think they may have had a better understanding of what drove me – they had seen Dior and Nimloth sacrifice themselves over a Silmaril, after all.’ He grinned boyishly. ‘In the end, Evranin told Glasiel to hold her tongue and she obeyed – although I was amazed how much disapproval she could fire at me in a single glance.’
‘How long did it take Círdan to build Vingilot?’ Celebrían enquired. ‘For you must have had work to do to secure Sirion – so that it would be safe in your absence.’
Eärendil shrugged. ‘I was Lord of Sirion, true,’ he said, ‘but there were others among those who had fled Gondolin and Doriath who were better suited to the business of administration. They did not seem too concerned that my heart was with the sea – and those of Doriath, at any rate, seemed content to have Elwing act as regent.’
‘And those of Gondolin,’ Elwing interrupted, ‘wished to sail with you.’
‘Only some,’ Eärendil protested.
‘Enough,’ she insisted. ‘And others wanted to visit Balar with you and spend time in discussion with Ereinion. Some sought places in his court – in the absence of Idril, Turgon’s daughter, they felt their loyalties shift to Gil-Galad as High King of the Noldor.’
‘They would,’ Elrond said cynically. ‘There were those at Imladris who sought me out in the Third Age – as the only male representative of Finwë’s house still in Arda – anxious that I should assume the title – and that despite my mixed blood and descent through the female line.’
‘They looked down their patrician noses,’ Celebrían scowled, ‘to say how things would have been done in other times and other lands and then to tut because we refused to follow old ways. They hung around Naneth at times – but Adar had no time for them at all.’
‘I would have liked to see Celeborn deal with them,’ Elwing told her thoughtfully. ‘I did not find them always easy to please.’
Celebrían laughed. ‘I hope you get the chance to see him at work. He made no attempt to please them at all. Adar can be, at times, very down-to-earth and he has no patience with pretension.’
‘Círdan paid them no heed, either,’ Eärendil admitted, ‘except to wave them off like biting flies when they buzzed too eagerly, ‘and it struck me that Ereinion had learned his guardian’s impatience with courtiers. But most of my time in Balar,’ he smiled, ‘was spent poring over plans and watching Vingilot grow.’
‘We will have her clinker built,’ Círdan insisted, ‘at least up to this point.’ He tapped the drawings. ‘Carvel above the waterline, perhaps. To my mind she will be stronger built so. You will not want too many masts – she would become top-heavy and you would need too large a crew.’
‘She will need strength,’ Eärendil said with enthusiasm, ‘and to be able to stand up to harsh weather and high seas.’
‘A single mast.’ The Shipwright sketched his vision on a spare scrap. ‘A gaff rig, I think, with perhaps a triangular staysail. If we have a long bowsprit we can set a jib forward of it. Or, maybe, two.’
‘She has fine lines,’ Eärendil said admiringly, stretching out a finger to follow the drawing, ‘and she does not seem to carry too much freeboard.’
‘It should allow for a greater press of sail,’ Círdan informed him. ‘She will be built for speed.’
Eärendil’s eyes sparkled with excitement. ‘How long will it take to build her?’ he asked eagerly.
The Shipwright looked at him sternly. ‘It will take as long as it takes,’ he said. ‘This is an experimental design – we will need to try her out before you can take her to sea. In the meantime, spend some time at home with that wife of yours – and ensure that she understands why you need to leave her.’
‘She knows,’ Eärendil protested.
Círdan sat back and sighed. ‘She has lost all she has before, ellon,’ he told the young half-elf gently. ‘She will not find it easy to let you go. She needs to know it is a great enough reason that will tear you from her side. And,’ he added, ‘if you will take the advice of an old bachelor, you will ensure that she has young ones to anchor her.’
Eärendil flushed and glanced uncomfortably at his cousin, sprawled on a chair in the corner with his feet up, crossed on the edge of a bookshelf.
‘Do not look at me,’ Gil-Galad said absently as he read the document on his lap. ‘You have not yet said anything that makes sense to me – and the subject of offspring is no different.’
‘Do not pretend ignorance, elfling.’ Círdan threw a rounded pebble at his foster son, only to have it caught neatly and placed as a marker on the text. ‘It is unbecoming. You have lived in my household long enough to understand what I said.’
The High King of the Noldor looked up with the bright smile that made him look even younger than he usually did. ‘I understand the individual words,’ he admitted. ‘It is when you put them together. A gaff rig, indeed – I know the rig is how the sails and ropes are arranged, but gaff – what it that?’
‘A gaff – as you should be aware – is the spar to which the head of the sail is laced.’
‘Oh that helps a lot,’ Ereinion said earnestly. ‘I shall now recognise one immediately.’
‘You are not too old to send to bed,’ Círdan warned, hiding his amusement.
‘He would be better off spending more time in the yards,’ Eärendil grinned.
‘I thank you, but no.’ Gil-Galad rejected the suggestion firmly. ‘It is hard enough to get away from advisors as it is. Why do you think I am sitting here tucked behind Círdan’s heap of scrolls?’
‘I did wonder.’ Eärendil looked over the lanky king. ‘Is it not enough to make you want to go to sea?’
‘They refuse to let me,’ Ereinion announced sadly. ‘Even Círdan declines to have me voyage beyond sight of land. And my advisors have kittens at the mere thought.’
‘Perhaps you should marry then, and produce a few heirs for your house,’ Círdan suggested.
The High King shuddered. ‘I think not,’ he said. ‘I would rather keep my feet on dry land, if that is the cost of remaining single.’ He winked at Eärendil. ‘I leave it to you to increase the number of my relations, little cousin. I will make it a royal command, if necessary.’
The pink headed tufts of thrift shivered in the wind that came off the water and blew Elwing’s dark hair back from her face.
Her husband took his eyes from the dancing sea and turned to look at her flushed cheeks and rosy lips. ‘You are beautiful,’ he said softly. ‘My wild flower that blossoms here on the cliff’s-edge to draw me home.’
She smiled, and laced her fingers in his. ‘You are a gull,’ she told him. ‘Flying across the water in search of distant goals – but driven back to land when the storms blow in.’
‘Not a gull,’ Eärendil said reflectively. ‘They do not push across the open water far from land. An albatross, perhaps – floating on the wind across the endless deep.’ He drew her head to rest on his shoulder. ‘You look tired,’ he said softly.
‘I am not sleeping well,’ she admitted. ‘It is too hot indoors – and the softness of the feather bed pins me so that I cannot turn.’ She sighed. ‘I am tired of being so uncomfortable.’
‘How much longer will it be?’ Eärendil asked sympathetically. He found it difficult to imagine being trapped in the unwieldiness of a body grown strange.
‘I am not sure,’ Elwing said with resignation. ‘Were we full elves it would be months – but I cannot imagine that I can get much larger than this.’
Eärendil looked at her thoughtfully. ‘No,’ he agreed. ‘And, among men, the time is shorter, is it not?’
She nodded. ‘It will probably be somewhere between the two,’ she sighed. ‘A month or two more at most.’
It seemed odd, Eärendil thought, to imagine that, in a few weeks, he would be an adar. He felt too young, really – and too busy – but Evranin and Elwing had agreed eagerly when he tentatively broached Círdan’s suggestion and he had been left without any good arguments to the contrary. Glasiel had, of course, protested furiously that he would not make a good parent, being absent far too often and, on the rare occasions he was in Sirion, being far too concerned with his own business, but Elwing had ignored her foster-sister. And, he decided, this child must have been meant to be, for, no sooner had they chosen to conceive, than Elwing became pregnant.
He smoothed her light dress over her swollen belly, only to feel the unexpected kick of a small foot. ‘He is all fists and feet,’ he said wonderingly, as he watched another undulation.
‘He wishes to make his adar’s acquaintance,’ Elwing smiled.
‘Or maybe she is a little elleth,’ Eärendil suggested. ‘I would like to have a daughter.’
‘Evranin thinks it will be a son,’ Elwing sounded sleepy. ‘I think she is a little uncertain what to expect, really. She said that my naneth knew the gender of the child she was carrying from shortly after conception – and she carried us little short of the full year, but she feels I am closer to term. Gereth suggested speaking to a healer of men,’ she murmured, ‘but Evranin did not feel it would be helpful.’ She smiled. ‘She does not think highly of their skills.’ Her husband’s gentle stroking soothed her still further and her head grew heavier as she settled happily in his arms.
At moments like this, Eärendil sighed, he did not see how he could be cold-hearted enough to take ship and leave her – yet, at the same time, he knew he would. The bare bones of the new ship were beginning to take shape now under Círdan’s careful watch and Tuor’s son could hardly conceal his desire to be in Balar to see it. He rested his cheek on Elwing’s sun-warmed hair and closed his eyes, wishing briefly that they could both have been born to the peace that their elven ancestors had known. What would it have been like to remain spellbound for centuries in the starlit peace of the forest, like Elu and Melian? Or to spend long peaceful years together among the white towers and fountains of Gondolin? Elwing deserved more, he decided regretfully. She deserved a husband who could stay by her side and love her rather than one who was always looking west across a restless sea.
But the ship – he could not subdue his smile at the thought of her. And his quest was sanctioned – no, commanded – by the greatest of the Valar whose direct presence affected the inhabitants of Arda. If he had his choice, he would spend a century or two at Elwing’s side and raise this child – but he did not. There was more to this than the desire of his heart; more than his pain at his parents’ departure; more than the call of the sea; more than mortality; more than a selfish desire to follow his own star at the cost of hers. He sighed. They were hanging at the edge, he thought ruefully. Almost literally. Elu’s Sindar – Círdan’s Falathrim – the Noldor exiles – they had all been pushed here to the very rim of the western sea. Doriath was gone: so was Gondolin. Nargothrond was no more and Círdan had been driven to take refuge on the Isle of Balar. One after another all their refuges had fallen: if something was not done soon, there would be neither elves nor men left in Middle Earth to fight for her – Morgoth would have taken possession and his abominations would roam free, picking off those few among the Laiquendi who remained hidden in the deep forests, slaughtering those men who had the courage to resist them and corrupting the rest.
His daeradar had known this. His attempts to plead with the Valar for forgiveness, for aid, for hope had been turned back – but Ulmo had hinted that he, Eärendil – son of both elves and men – would stand a better chance of success. He would bring to the Valar a token that they would not reject, in that he must have faith. And they would come to help those who fought against one of their own, a Vala fallen beyond the ability of Arda’s children to understand, yet still powerful beyond their power to defeat.
Elwing sighed and stirred in his arms as his child moved within her, and his calloused sailor’s hand held them both gently to him. Seize the moment, he thought. Take each shining moment like this and hold it – this was the true treasure, of far greater worth than gold and jewels.
Her labour appeared to have been going on for ever. He paced. He counted the number of steps required to make it to the end of the corridor, then discovered it took fewer to make his way back. He examined the wall, taking note of each small irregularity. He watched the slow movement of a silver medallion reflected from the pool in the garden outside as it wavered its way across the pale stone until the passage of the day made it disappear.
Why had he thought it would be easier than this? Surely the goats that nibbled the short grass of the cliff tops did not have this trouble? Their kids seemed to appear with little effort. It had been in the dark before dawn that Elwing had woken him and sent him helter-skelter to bring her the aid of midwife and foster mother – and since then there had been endless bustle. Doors had opened and closed, hushed conversations taken place, ellyth had entered with basins of steaming water and snowy cloths while others had emerged carrying covered trays. All of them looking important and involved and integral to the secret procedures happening to his wife. Only he was abandoned here to wonder what was going on. He had put his head round the door at one point – only to be banished with a firmness that made him simply too aware of his own pointlessness.
A comforting hand settled on his shoulder. ‘They would be making a lot more fuss if they were worried,’ Gereth reassured him. He grinned as Eärendil’s frowned at the closed door. ‘Believe me, lad, this is nothing. Everything is going as it should.’
‘How long?’ asked Eärendil hoarsely.
‘A while yet, I suspect.’ Gereth followed his gaze thoughtfully. ‘It is still too calm for the birth to be imminent.’ He turned to indicate a tray on the cushioned window seat. ‘If you are determined to remain here throughout, you had better have something to eat and drink. Should you faint on being presented to your offspring, I guarantee all the ellyth will determine that you did it on purpose to take attention from your wife.’
‘But . . .’
‘Eat,’ the older elf insisted. ‘I have been here before, Eärendil. I know what I am talking about.’
The moon was turning the water to silver before, as Gereth had predicted, the frenetic activity began. Elwing’s protests grew louder and longer, while the intervals between them shortened, and the voices of Evranin and the midwife became audible, even through the solid door that remained shut in Eärendil’s face.
Nevertheless, the wail of an infant finally persuaded to leave its place of security pierced the bustle without any effort at all. The half-elf froze as the shrill protests continued. ‘What is wrong?’ he panicked.
‘Nothing,’ Gereth grinned. ‘Babies cry. It is what they do, Ada. You will grow accustomed to the sound soon enough.’
‘Will they let me in now?’
‘Not yet,’ Gereth judged. ‘Elwing will want you to see them both at their best. You will be summoned when you are required.’
‘Take the child,’ a distant voice said urgently, as Elwing cried out, a long bubbling groan that clearly alarmed those within the room.
The infant’s cries came closer as whoever held him approached the door. ‘What is the matter?’ Evranin sounded anxious. ‘She should not be feeling pain now.’
‘Blessed Elbereth!’ the midwife exclaimed.
Eärendil could stand it no longer. Pushing the door open with his shoulder, as if he expected it to be defended against him, he burst into the room only to find himself totally ignored.
‘There is a second child,’ Evranin said blankly.
‘He is crowning,’ the midwife said curtly. ‘You have not had time to forget what to do, Elwing. Breathe until I tell you to push.’ She rested her hand on the swollen belly, waiting for the contraction. ‘Now, my lady. The child is almost here.’
Somewhere between wonder and revulsion, Eärendil watched as the bloodstained head of the infant emerged into the world and its small crumpled face began a grimace at the harsh reality of life. With a final push, his wife expelled the small body and the child began to complain about its delayed arrival.
‘It is an ellon, my lady,’ the midwife said briskly. ‘They are both ellyn.’
Evranin turned to the shaken Mariner, his first-born in her arms. ‘Now you know,’ she said sharply. ‘Go back outside until your wife is ready to greet you.’
As the midwife placed the second child in his naneth’s arms, Elwing commanded, ‘Wait, my lord.’ She looked up from the tiny red-faced baby with wonder. ‘Are they not amazing?’
Eärendil’s face softened as he gazed at her: dishevelled, damp-haired, tear-stains marking her flushed cheeks. ‘Not as amazing as their nana,’ he insisted. Ignoring Evranin’s instructions, he tiptoed across the floor to lean over his wife and kiss her brow. ‘You have given me a gift beyond belief.’
‘She looked up at him and smiled. ‘Twin sons,’ she said.
‘I wonder what they will make of their lives,’ their adar said softly as Evranin reluctantly placed his firstborn in his inexperienced arms, ‘now they have been launched into the world.’
‘And what will become of the world that welcomes them,’ Elwing mused.
Her foster mother tensed at the thought of the dangers that the two new-born half-elves might face and offered a swift prayer that the Valar might preserve the innocence of their youth for rather longer than had been gifted to their parents. Still decades short of the age when elves attained adulthood, these two young ones were orphans, parents, lord and lady of their peoples, and pawns of fates in which they had no making. She wished that she thought it would get better for them, but she could only see increased peril on their path. She could do little to help them, she thought regretfully, but at least they could have this brief time together to be a family. Catching the midwife’s eye, Evranin drew her from the quiet room and closed the door.
The golden wood of which the new ship was made gleamed as the shipwrights knocked away the blocks that held her in place. Her mast stretched tall; sails neatly furled, ready to be raised for that first taste of the sea.
‘She is ready to go, my lord,’ one of them called. ‘She moves!’
She moved slowly, but with an inevitability that could not be denied, her pace increasing as she accepted the invitation to meet the waters for which she had been designed.
Eärendil stood on the deck, robed in blue with a circlet of white gold and pearl round his brow. His sailors held themselves ready for action, should any be needed, as the great ship cut into the green water, sending up an arching wave of sparkling foam that surged out across the still bay.
Círdan released a breath he had not realised he was holding. ‘It is always a nervous moment,’ he muttered.
‘Waiting to see if Ulmo will accept the new vessel,’ Ereinion concluded, nodding soberly. He grinned at the older elf. ‘Tell me – how many of your ships has the Lord of the Sea sent to the bottom on launching?’
‘There is always a first time, elfling,’ Círdan reproved him. ‘I would not want this to be it.’
‘Unlikely,’ the High King of the Noldor told him, ‘since you built her according to his direction.’
The dazzling white of the new sail shone as the sailors hauled on the halyards to raise it. The vessel began to move as the gentle breeze filled it and bellied it out.
‘The conditions are good,’ Círdan reflected, looking at the sky. ‘Eärendil will likely only keep her out long enough to tease the newness from her, before he brings her back to port.’
‘He is not dressed for a voyage,’ Ereinion agreed. ‘And the feast will be waiting for him this evening. He has to announce her name and dedicate her to Lord Ulmo.’ He glanced over his shoulder at the spectators who always gathered to celebrate a launch. ‘It is a shame that Elwing was unable to come,’ he added, ‘but I can understand her reluctance. And the twins are too small to leave, yet too small to bring.’
The vessel leaned as Eärendil turned to catch the wind. ‘She seems to go well in a light breeze,’ Círdan said critically, ‘and there is little doubt but that she is more manoeuvrable than those ships we build to carry greater cargoes.’
‘I am surprised that she can run with so small a crew,’ Gil-Galad admitted. ‘There is a lot of canvas for a few hands.’
‘It is to do with efficiency. The right ropes in the right places. Pulleys.’
‘Ah.’ The High King grinned, nodding sagely. ‘Pulleys. That would explain a lot.’
‘And Eärendil does not need to have to carry stores for more than five. He could be at sea for a long time, with no knowledge of where to re-provender.’
‘How does he feel about leaving his wife and sons?’
Círdan glanced at the Noldor who had been given into his care as a child, torn from his family and his familiar life. ‘He does not have the choice, elfling,’ he said. ‘Ulmo commands – and his voice is hard to ignore.’
The crowd began to drift away as the new vessel tried her sails in the wide bay, leaving only those to whom the streamlined design was of particular interest. A murmur of approval rose as the square sail above the gaff-mainsail was raised.
‘She is built for speed.’ Círdan narrowed his eyes and watched the wake the vessel left. ‘Speed and agility. Come, ellon. Let us see how she manages against the wind.’
‘It looks different,’ Gil-Galad commented, cupping his hand to shield his sight as he stared out to sea.
‘You will only pretend not to understand.’
Ereinion grinned. ‘Try me,’ he suggested.
‘It has an integrated topmast,’ Círdan stared at the young elf, ‘and a separate topgallant.’
‘See? You were wrong,’ Gil-Galad stated triumphantly. ‘I am not pretending not to understand. I genuinely have no idea what you are talking about!’
‘Let me try to keep it simple enough for you. It has an extra sail – above the mainsail. That is why we simple sailors call it a topsail.’ He waited until Ereinion nodded. ‘Fixed to the topmast.’
‘Sounds logical,’ Gil-Galad agreed.
‘And it also has more than a single jib.’
‘I know what a jib is,’ Gil-Galad nodded.
‘More sail means that Eärendil’s vessel is faster and more manoeuvrable in the water. The style of rigging means that it does not need a large crew. The smaller freeboard – the distance between the deck and the waterline, if you are determined to feign ignorance – should increase the stability. And to make sure that our theories work, Eärendil will sail her extensively in the bay in all weathers and then take a maiden voyage that will test the ship, while attempting to reduce risk to a minimum. Once that is done, he will be ready for whatever test Ulmo chooses to set him.’
Eärendil laughed as the scent of the salt waves filled his nostrils and his ship responded to his lightest touch. He had never felt more alive than he did at this moment as the rolling waters gave way before him and he flew across their wide expanse. How could landlubbers bear it, he grinned with a feral excitement in his face, bound as they were to one piece of ground? How could the slow song of growing things compete with the uncertain power of Ulmo’s realm?
He had stripped off the trappings of rank before the sail had been untied, free to be himself in the company of his few trusted sailors, and stood, stripped to the waist, the sun gleaming on his pale skin and his black hair blowing round his face.
‘We should head back, ellon,’ Voronwë told him. ‘This is a feast for which we should be on time – and we will be returning against the wind. Bring her about. Let us see if Círdan is right about her ability to sail into the wind.’
‘I am reluctant to do it,’ Eärendil’s eyes burned with enthusiasm, ‘but I know you are right. You usually are. Erellont! Aerandir! Let us prepare to come about. Falathar – we will discover if the Shipwright was correct in what he said about the rigging.’
Beating back into harbour took longer than the outward trip, but Eärendil was pleasantly surprised to find that the Shipwright had known what he was doing in designing his vessel in the way he had.
‘She holds close to the wind.’ Eärendil gazed at the rigging. ‘And makes good use of her sails.’
‘And we will get better at holding her on the wind, my lord,’ Aerandir told him confidently. ‘All we need is practice.’
Eärendil’s smile was generous. ‘And that we will get in plenty, my friend,’ he promised.
As the ship slipped back into port, a cheer rose from the spectators and the scent of roasting meat and spiced fish dishes made the sailors realise how hungry they were. The Lord of Sirion settled his formal garments and checked that his circlet was on straight before leading his crew ashore to give his vessel her name.
Círdan greeted him, tall and gleaming silver in his favourite pearl-grey, while Gil-Galad’s gold-embroidered green emphasised his position among the Exiles on Balar.
‘She has proved herself to be all that was promised, my lords,’ Eärendil told them, ‘and I will be honoured to captain her as we have discussed.’
The Shipwright nodded. ‘But first, son of Gondolin and Lord of Sirion,’ he said in a voice intended to be heard by all, ‘first she needs a name. Have you chosen what she will be called?’
Eärendil met his eyes. ‘I have, my lord.’
‘Then what name shall be recorded in the annals of our people?’
‘I have chosen to name this vessel in honour of my lady, Elwing, daughter of Dior Eluchíl and Nimloth, his wife,’ Eärendil said steadily, ‘that, even when I may not be with her, her presence will surround me. This ship shall be named Vingilot, the Foam-Flower.’ He paused and stated softly enough that only those close to him heard his words. ‘May she be successful in her quest.’
‘I request that the blessings of Ulmo and the Valar go with you,’ Círdan announced.
‘And that you may find what you seek,’ Ereinion added with an intensity that reminded them that the quest of the son of Tuor and Idril contained the best hope for the elves and men of Middle Earth. ‘Soon.’
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