To Be A King

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'To Be A King'

 

To Be A King

F.A. 472

“Is this Balar?”

“Not yet, boy. We’re still on the mainland, at the Mouths of Sirion. Balar is an island. We cross from here.”

The child had been asleep, leaning back against his foster father, but the change in pace had woken him. Sitting forward and holding one-handed onto the horse’s mane, he looked about wide eyed at the tiny fishing village, the first such that he had seen. Small boats were drawn up on a rough pebbled beach bordered by a row of homes the like of which were unknown to him; windowless, stone-built shelters with roofs thatched in a mixture of seaweed and grasses. Off to the left he could just make out the curve of a river flowing down to the sea. Gulls shrieked overhead, grey and white against a sullen, morning sky.

The leather door curtain of one of the dwellings was drawn aside and an elf hurried out into the early morning light, fastening hastily donned clothing.

"Lord, what has happened? So many warriors..."

The lord of the Falas brought his horse to a halt, glancing back over his shoulder. In the distance straggled the column of survivors who had fled their homes on foot, having salvaged not much more than the clothes they stood up in. Behind them, a mounted party slowly followed, the hastily organised rearguard charged with their protection.

"Eglarest has fallen, Bronio,” Círdan explained briefly. “Eglarest and Brithombar. Overrun by Men and Orcs in service to the Enemy in the north..." Breaking off, he gestured to one of the riders clustered about him, his tone changing to one of command. "Go back to the walkers, hurry them along. We need to get everyone settled by nightfall."

He turned back to the tall, gaunt-looking elf who stood beside his horse, one hand half-raised to its bridle. "Bronio old friend, I need boats, every one you can muster here and along the shore. And help with shelter for those that follow me."

"Boats…?"

“Boats?” the boy echoed in a whisper, sitting up straight at the word and pushing the thick disorder of dark curls out of his blue eyes. He had never been on the water before, although he had often watched the ships pass from his bedroom window in Eglarest. His foster father adjusted his arm slightly to allow for the new position, but other than that paid him no further heed. Círdan of the Falas was not a demonstrative elf, but that was of little concern to the child. What mattered was that he could be relied upon to keep the world safe, even when there was shouting and the clash of weapons and fire leaping from city walls.

"Boats, yes. Your fishing vessels. I want the warriors and specialist craftsmen secure from attack while we regroup and consider our position."

"The island, Hîren?" the elf asked doubtfully. "But surely that is holy land? To take warriors onto Balar..."

Rodnor, for such was the boy’s father-name, heard the great lord curse under his breath, using a word that had brought strong chastisement from Nurse when he had attempted to utter it only a few weeks earlier. The broad chest heaved in a silent sigh before Círdan said in a calm voice that brooked no argument, "Lord Ossë would not hold it against me that I wish to keep what's left of my fighting force intact and my artisans safe. Their families will come with them. Balar will not be made into a garrison, I have due respect for land once part of Tol Eressëa."

A female came forward at this point and made as though to reach up towards Rodnor. "Let me take him my lord, the poor young thing must be nigh exhausted if you've ridden all the way from Eglarest."

A hand was raised, deferring her with a gesture. "The boy is well enough," Círdan said firmly. "A little longer and he'll be aboard ship and crossing the bay. He can rest on Balar. Meanwhile he remains with me.”

To Bronio he added quietly, “If my instincts serve me, all our hopes may one day rest on these small shoulders. Not for nothing did his aunt insist he be sent to me out of Nargothrond. Artanis has the Sight and has been trained in its use by Doriath’s queen... She saw no further but I fear for the safety of Finrod's people."

~*~*~*~*~


Eglarest and Brithombar were merely the first to fall, the following thirty years delivered an ongoing catalogue of horror. Nargothrond fell, vindicating Artanis’ unease; Menegroth the Great was overrun by Fëanor’s brood and the survivors of that night of terror fled to the coast, the child queen Elwing bringing with her the Bane of her house.

Last of the great Elven realms to succumb was Gondolin. The scant eight hundred who escaped the slaughter crossed the mountains and made their way west to Sirion and Círdan’s protection, joining the steady steam of refugees fleeing the hordes dealing death across the land.

The former fishing village at the place referred to as the Mouths of Sirion became a sprawl of tents, houses and temporary dwellings. Nominally it looked to Balar and the lord of the Falas for protection and lordship, but in reality the settlement was divided into a number of divergent groups, united by common-held memories of grief and fear, but each looking to their own leaders for direction.

And on Balar the child, Rodnor Gil-galad, Orodreth’s son, grew strong and noble to maturity in Círdan’s household.

~*~*~*~*~ 

F.A. 511
The sea lay dark under the stars, touched by the occasional shimmer of phosphorus on the swell. The only sounds were the eternal lapping of the waves, and even they seemed hushed as though in deference to the hour

Rodnor Gil-galad, his dark hair unbound, his only clothing a light robe thrown on over his nakedness, paced the wooden verandah that ran the length of the house. Finally pausing to sip the wine he had poured on his way through the dining area, he rested his elbows on the railing and gazed moodily out across the bay, breathing in the cool, salt air. The night was clear and still, the lights on the mainland seeming very bright and close to hand.

Like all young warriors on Balar, he was more familiar than he would have chosen with the nighttime landscape of Sirion. Day and night junior warriors watched in pairs for the flare of the great signal fire further along the coast, calling forth aid from Balar even as it sent warning to the villages up and down the shore. The increasing frequency of its blossoming, followed by a rush of warrior-bearing transports from the harbour, had been a recurrent feature of the years of his childhood.

There was a fire set at Sirion itself, too, down near the harbour, but that one had only once flamed against the sky, to test that its desperate message would carry clearly should the need arise. This night was peaceful, the only lights visible were those of hearth fires and lanterns, the largest being a bonfire that might or might not have marked some larger gathering.

“Still awake? I thought you long since asleep.”

Lost in thought, the voice made him start. On the mainland he would have been alert for any smallest hint of danger, but this was home and his senses dozed; he was not yet of an age for caution to have become ingrained.

He turned briefly to smile a greeting as he was joined at the railing, his eyes momentarily dazzled by the lantern that hung on a hook by the door. Círdan was still dressed as he had been for dinner, in trousers and a neat, grey tunic. Gil-galad sometimes wondered if his foster-father ever slept or if, perhaps, those who were born beside Cuivienen had less need of rest than later generations.

“I spent an hour lying on my back staring at the ceiling,” he admitted. “The thoughts were chasing in circles in my head. It seemed better to come out here and give them space to roam.”

Círdan nodded briefly, his pale hair seeming to glow with a light of its own, moonsoft against the starlit sky. He followed the direction of Gil-galad’s gaze. “I see the lights still burn in Sirion,” he remarked, the touch of a question in his voice.

“Not as many as earlier. I think there was a gathering of some kind – you can see the remains of the bonfire over there to the left.”

“Indeed? Now that I think on it, it may well be Elwing’s begetting day,” Cirdan remarked, his eyes on the still, dark waters of the Bay of Balar.

The younger elf straightened slightly then forced himself to relax, mindful of regular warnings to control his body language. ”I should have known that,” he ventured, preferring to claim ignorance rather than admit he had forgotten one of the endless number of facts he had been taught to access at need. “I should have sent good wishes at the least…”

“Dior’s daughter is not your concern,” Cirdan pointed out dryly. “Those who come from Gondolin and Nargothrond and places north, yes, but not the survivors of the slaughter at Doriath.” His words were a delicate reminder of the boundaries set by the title, High King of the Noldor. The elves of Doriath were Sindar and the Shore Lord’s kin.

Gil-galad slid a glance from the side of his eye. “All lives are equal,” he returned, reciting a lesson repeated on a regular basis as he grew up. “And it would have been a friendly gesture to her elders, to wish their little queen well.”

Cirdan quirked an eyebrow at him. “Indeed, no harm can grow of courtesy,” he said evenly. “Although I am sure they would thank you to remember where authority ends and polite interest begins.”

His foster-son propped chin on hand and watched the water and the lights twinkling on the shore. “Authority? I have no authority, Hîren.”

“You are High King of the Noldor.” A question was again implicit in his tone.

“I am the oldest surviving male of my line so yes, that is my title,” Gil-galad agreed, taking a mouthful of wine. He worried about sounding petulant, but this had recently been keeping him from his sleep. “And you know as well as I that the Noldor in Endor have never been fond of the tradition of a High King. Fingolfin and Fingon did their best, but Turgon reduced it to nothing more than a title, an empty formality.”

In the half year since receiving the crown he had tried to keep track of the affairs of ‘his’ people, but soon found that previous traditions had more or less fallen away. During Turgon’s short reign, those outside Gondolin had grown accustomed to fend for themselves. Gil-galad’s ‘kingship’ was reduced to making suggestions in the warrior’s council Círdan had set up after the retreat to Balar

He pushed away from the railing and began to pace. Cirdan watched him impassively but said nothing, despite oft expressed disapproval of his foster-son’s need to marshal thought through physical activity. Gil-galad’s response to lectures on the benefits of calm stillness were that it was all well and good, but movement helped him to think.

“The Noldor are scattered across Beleriand under a host of leaders and with a multitude of aims and interests.” Although unrehearsed, the facts lined up in order as he began to speak, his hands gesturing expressively as he warmed to the subject. “There is no cohesion, there is no unity, therefore we have no chance of a successful stand against the Enemy. His minions cover the face of Middle-earth, the noose draws ever tighter about us…I should be the hub that draws the resistance together. There has to be leadership if we are to find a way to turn the tide and surely that should be the High King’s place…?”

His voice was starting to rise; he took a breath and briefly gritted his teeth. He had noticed early in life that an even, reasonable tone such as Círdan usually employed held more power than any amount of ranting. Its achievement, however, he found easier said than done. “Or at least it was,” he continued more calmly. “No longer. Look at the settlers across the bay at Sirion…they would far rather answer to Idril’s mortal mate than to me. I have no idea where to start.”

The admission hung on the cool, dimly lit air between them in a silence punctuated by stuttering night insects. “I do not want power for myself, Hîren,” he finished quietly. “I need authority. There has to be a strong voice at the centre if we are to survive – this is what you have told me for as long as I can remember and I now see its truth for myself.”

The bonfire on the mainland was dying down. The two elves stood watching the lights for a while as they were extinguished one by one. Finally, still leaning against the railing, Círdan turned and nodded slightly, his response when a lesson was finally learned to his satisfaction. Gil-galad rather suspected his foster-father thought him a painfully slow student. He grasped most things easily enough, but liked first to take time to examine them and be sure of his facts, giving an impression of tardiness.

“I would suggest they first need to get to know you and assess your worth for themselves,” Círdan said in measured tones, as though he had given the matter a great deal of thought and was now picking his words with care. “I suspect they may never again answer to a king purely on the basis of birthright. It has often been against their instincts, and they have seen that too much power is easily misused.’

Gil-galad recalled hearing him speak of Orodreth shortly after news had arrived of the destruction of Nargothrond, and cringing at his scathing tone, but this time he made mention of no-one by name.

“They are fiercely independent, your father’s kindred,” Círdan continued dispassionately. “More secure in smaller groups, looking to less absolute leaders. Idril is a good example; they heed her mate but know that he will never lord it over them. He has the years of his kind, he will be gone before the seasons have turned a hundred cycles.”

“What then can I do?” Círdan’s personal authority was a part of him, worn like an invisible cloak. No one was more likely to be able to answer this question. “Where do I start?”

“Small beginnings,” his foster-father responded, his attention once more on the sea where fish could be seen leaping in a line of phosphorescence. “Start here.”

“Here?”

Balar’s population was an eclectic mix: there were Sindar who had come as refugees from the mainland, Moriquendi and Teleri who had been there before the beginning of the Age, Noldor settled by Turgon at Ciryalondë. There was even a village in the south inhabited by Men who made a good living out of forging farm implements and good, workmanlike weapons. What all of these groups had in common was their allegiance to the lord of the Falas.

It was on the tip of Gil-galad’s tongue to mention that no resident of Balar, faced with conflicting instructions from both himself and their lord, would be likely to pay his wishes much heed, but he swallowed the words and waited.

“Ciryalondë,” Círdan said, his tone inferring the answer was self-evident. “You should start with Ciryalondë. They maintain close contact with their kin in Idril’s camp on the mainland. Make a sound impression there and the word will spread. The shore folk know you for a good warrior; and this is how you are painted at Sirion. Now you need more; you need to present yourself as a leader with interests and concerns that extend well beyond the necessities of warfare.”

“Questions of trade, difficulties with farming, legal matters?” Gil-galad suggested, considering the possibilities that opened up before him. “Someone prepared to get involved in the problems of daily life?”

“Just so,” Círdan agreed, favouring the younger elf at last with a smile. “If you wish to be recognised as a king, then act like one. The rest will follow.”

The only lights now remaining on the shore were the watch fires that would burn till dawn. The following night they would burn again, the same yet subtly different. Gil-galad gazed across the bay towards them and, letting his thoughts drift where they would, considered kingship.

Was the High King anything more than the first amongst equals, he wondered. And in his case a landless king with no power base of his own? The title implied a final voice of authority, yet neither Fingolfin nor Fingon, great heroes both, had possessed absolute power. They had done the best they could, no more. Turgon's ‘reign’ had suited many, heralding an end to interference from an authority better suited to life across the sea.

And yet – the High King could be a centre, someone who would consider the whole, not just the interests of one group, one corner of Endor... Was this not what was lacked? A leader who could give cohesion to scattered forces, who would have the welfare of the people as his primary concern? Gil-galad sipped his wine and stared unseeing in the direction of the watch fires. Something new. Something for the times. Something that could work by compromise and inclusion, not by some authoritarian insistence of 'Follow me, I am your lord'.

A flutter of excitement made the young King smile. There was a simple way of doing this after all. He would just be himself. People tended to like him. He was young, he took an interest in how they lived, he made time to listen to their problems. He was accessible. He might lack the stature of his predecessors, Gil-galad realised, but he could still do some good. He could be like one of those watch fires – a light to hold back the darkness, a gathering place, a centre from which to build strength.

First, he decided, he would see if he could, in truth, be High King in Ciryalondë. Given time, as Círdan had rightly said, the rest would follow.

 

~*~*~*~*~

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