To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry song from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet rest and a sweet dream when the long trick's over. -John Masefield
Círdan shaded his eyes from the bright sun with one hand while his keen gaze scrutinized the black clouds on the horizon. Small whitecaps chased each other around the docks, glistening like fish scales in the midday sun, heralding the coming storm. Ahead of the tempest, a ship cut through the water swift and steady, racing ahead of the glowering clouds that sought to overtake it. Círdan sent word to light the watchtowers along the shore should the storm catch the vessel. It would not do to have the ship capsize so close to safe harbor.
The port was bustling despite the threat of bad weather but the porters and dockers had sped up their work. Wagons loaded with goods were pushing onward through the crowds to get under cover as quickly as possible.
Círdan continued his watch, knowing he must soon take cover himself. The wind had picked up precipitously in the few minutes he had been gazing seaward and now the people on the docks were in a flurry to get the remaining goods on the shore tied down and the ships at anchor secured. The wind pulled smartly at Círdan’s braid, loosing wisps of his silver hair and whipping it, frenzied, about his head. He stood steadfast, waiting until the incoming ship made harbor and dropped anchor ahead of what now looked to be a massive storm.
Then, before Círdan’s astonished eyes, the storm opened up a couple of miles offshore, and though the wind blustered and fussed briefly about the quay, no rain or lightning accompanied it into town.
Puzzled by the seeming reluctance of the storm to make a decisive entrance, Círdan stood, pondering, for a few moments more before turning away. He was usually better at sensing when a storm drew chaos in its wake. Still, he was not concerned. Perhaps Uinen had simply calmed Ossë before his temper reached the boiling point.
As he turned from the harbor, the pilot of the ship hailed him and Círdan turned to meet him. The man strode up with a smile of greeting that Círdan returned graciously. The pilot was a good foot and a half taller than he, with golden hair pulled into a tight braid, not a hair out of place. He had broad shoulders and piercing blue-green eyes the color of a summer lagoon. Though Círdan had never seen the man before, he nodded in recognition.
“Ossë, I might have known it was you from your grand entrance. I hope the storm will not catch any other ships coming in unawares.”
“Do not worry. It has largely blown itself out and there are no other ships nearby. I made sure of that before I set sail.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, and this form?” Círdan asked. “We have not seen you upon our shores for many years.”
“I have come with news from Ulmo, indeed all the Valar. May we have a private audience?”
“That sounds ominous,” Círdan said, his brow furrowing in concern.
“Forgive me, I did not mean it so. I can make an announcement publicly if you wish but there may be many questions from your people I cannot answer. I thought you might want to tell them in your own way and time.”
“Very well. If you are ready to discuss the matter now we can go to my house. I will have some tea and cakes brought if your current form finds you wanting.”
Ossë chuckled. “Tea and cakes would not go amiss. One of the pleasures of a hroa is the end to hunger and thirst with the variety of foods your people have concocted from our gifts.” Ossë clapped him on the back and the two began their walk to Círdan’s house.
Now that the threatening storm had dissipated, the sun shone bright and a gentle, salt scented breeze blew as they walked past the quay and up the seawall stair. Círdan was anxious to learn the reason for Ossë’s visit but was glad to see him no matter what the news might be. Though his temper could be mercurial at times Ossë was a fascinating figure and readily shared knowledge and lore of the sea. Círdan corrected himself: Ossë and Ulmo were the sea, the living embodiment of the great waters that coursed through Arda, comprised its lifeblood. In any form the Maia inspired awe and Círdan certainly felt it. He liked to think, however, that they shared a special bond. While he did not have the power over him Ulmo and Uinen had, nor did he wish it, he liked to think he had some small influence on the rare occasions Ossë sought his company. He only hoped he didn’t have to test this notion at this visit.
“The city is much changed from the last time I was here,” Ossë said, looking around at the buildings and market with delight. “Your people seem to be thriving on these shores.”
“We have carved out a home here since the great war, that’s true,” Círdan replied, “but the difficulties have been prodigious. Refugees still show up with some frequency, though their number has decreased in recent years. They are largely responsible for our prosperity.”
“Yes, well, the Edain refugees are why I have come.”
“Indeed?” Círdan’s curiosity was piqued. “I am eager to hear more.”
“I believe it will please you,” Ossë said.
They arrived at Círdan’s house and Ossë paused for a moment to admire the soaring edifice, tilting his head back to take it in. The shipwright’s house was of white stone hewn from the Blue Mountains. A great tower rose a hundred feet from its fifty foot summit and had a watchtower at the top to warn ships of the reefs offshore and espy distant threats from the sea. The house stood upon a rocky hill overlooking the harbor, adding to its impressive presence.
“It intrigues me how your people build so high,” Ossë said. “I never saw it.”
“Never saw it?” Círdan asked.
“In the music,” Ossë replied offhandedly.
“Ah,” Círdan said, not sure how to respond. He had heard and told the story of the music many times and was always humbled by the thought of the Ainur singing the world into existence. But he knew it to be true for he could feel the music in every tree and stone he touched. Every ship he created carried that whispered essence of the divine.
The two climbed the hill and entered into a marble foyer then strolled down the hall to the great room. A servant met them there and Círdan told him to bring a tea to the parlor. They climbed a flight of stairs, carved from the living stone of the hill upon which the house stood, to a comfortable parlor with wool tapestries and rugs in shades of blue, green and gold providing a surprisingly cozy atmosphere in the big room. A huge window opposite the door was open, the sea shimmering and rolling restlessly beyond. Stately white clouds sailed the azure sky as seagulls and cormorants wheeled and quarreled around the masts of the ships at anchor.
They took chairs by the window and settled in. Though he was bursting with curiosity, Círdan waited for Ossë to explain which, after a pause to admire his surroundings and question Círdan briefly about his books, he finally did.
“I have come to bring news and ask for your aid. The Valar have decided the Edain deserve a reward for their faithfulness and courage in the war. As a result, I have been asked to raise an island for them.”
Círdan allowed that to sink in for a moment. “Excuse me, did you say ‘raise an island’?” he said at last.
“Yes, Ulmo has asked me to raise a land from the depths of the sea. It will be a place of safety for the Edain where they may build their own kingdom after the hardships and grief of war, far from the corrupting influence of Morgoth and Sauron.”
“Where will this island be located exactly?” Círdan asked. He tried to keep his voice from betraying his utter shock. Of course the Valar could order this to be done. They had the power to do so and Ossë had the power to carry it out. But the thought of the man sitting before him actually performing such an act was difficult to envision. He wished he could somehow witness this miracle.
“It will lie between these shores and Aman, at the heart of the Belegaer.”
“That is quite a piece of news,” Círdan said carefully, still taking it all in. “What can I do to help?”
“I told Manwë you would say that,” Ossë replied, clearly pleased. “I would ask that, once the deed is done, your pilots help guide the Edain safely to the island and let their leader Elros know to expect traders to arrive at some point from Tol Eressëa. It will be many years before their knowledge and interest will bring them back to your shores with any regularity but when they do, perhaps you will aid them and they will learn from you. Their light may then become a beacon of hope for Men.”
Círdan swallowed hard. “The island will be that close to Tol Erëssa?”
“Perhaps eight hundred miles or so,” Ossë said with a wave of his hand. “It will be a long journey for your ships, but I must warn you. No Elf from Middle-earth is to sail there unless they are willing to sail on to Aman, for the pull will be irresistible to most of them. Choose your pilots wisely and plan to have them sail only to within sight of the island, no further.”
Círdan’s heart sank at this. For a fleeting moment he had hoped that he and Elwë. . . Resentment rose in him but he put it aside as quickly as he could. He had a duty here, one he had accepted long ago and would not abandon for a fool’s dream.
“I will obey the will of the Valar,” Círdan said. “When is this to be done?”
“As soon as I leave these shores,” Ossë replied. “You may notice a change in tides and currents for some time after the island surfaces but it will not be severe, nor will it cause storms or damage upon your shores. I will be gentle. However, before the Edain sail, there will be storms upon the island to prepare it to sustain life. I will let Elros know when it is time to gather his people for the journey and he will contact you to make the arrangements.”
Their tea and cakes arrived then. Ossë dismissed the servant and poured tea for himself and Círdan who, frankly, was still a bit stupefied by the news of a new land mass being gifted to the Edain so close to Aman. Círdan sipped from his cup but found he had no appetite for the honeyed cakes that Ossë was enjoying with a satisfied air.
Ossë finished his cake and was reaching for another when he stopped and gave Círdan a searching look.
“You are thoughtful. Is my news ill? I thought it would please you to be the first to know.”
“Yes, of course,” Círdan said. “I was just working out the number of ships and thinking of which pilots to choose.” He gave Ossë a false face of good cheer. “But I can work that out later. Thank you for bringing me this message and for the opportunity to help our friends and allies among the Edain.”
Putting his gloomy thoughts aside, Círdan and Ossë chatted about the building of the Havens and Erenion’s people in Forlindon while they finished their tea. Círdan told him about the expeditions along the new coastline and the mapping the Falathrim were just starting to create of the lands along the coast to the north and south. Ossë made some suggestions to further their explorations and Círdan made a mental note of them, planning to write it all down when his guest left.
The sun was setting by the time Ossë stood to go. Círdan couldn’t believe the time had passed so quickly, he was enjoying this visit a great deal. He hadn’t realized how much he needed this respite from the pressures and responsibilities of the Havens until today. Ossë’s visit was most fortuitous indeed. Through the window, the horizon glowed red and gold with the setting sun, bathing earth and sky in a fiery glow, a sign of good weather to come. Sailors considered such a sky a good omen.
Ossë looked him up and down thoughtfully. “I have known you a long time, Círdan, since your people were discovered by Oromë and presented to the Valar by Ulmo and I came from the sea to greet the children. In all that time you have been alone. Often I have watched you walk upon the sands in the early mornings or late at night. I sang to you in your loneliness through the crash of the waves upon the shore and touched you upon the wind, hoping my presence would comfort you. In all this time I have not spoken to you of this because I never felt your sadness as I do today. Not sadness for yourself, you are not that kind of man, but a sadness of spirit, a secret longing I have not felt in you before.”
“Since the first time I saw the ocean, before my people ever encountered you, I have felt comfort upon the shore. Many times my loneliness has been lifted by your song. When you mentioned Tol Eressëa today it brought back some sad memories for me. I lost a friend to Aman many years ago and I get lonely for his company sometimes.”
Ossë considered this. “Sometimes when I inhabit a hroa I find myself. . . feeling things, as you would call it I suppose. These feelings can be confusing. They are especially so when I am with you. I think perhaps this is what you feel for your friend.”
Círdan felt himself blush. What he felt for Elwë was certainly not the same but he could not say that to Ossë.
“Yes, possibly,” he said, not knowing how he could explain what the love of a fellow being was like to the Maia: the passion and the pain, the happiness and heartbreak. If not for Morgoth and his marring of the world, love would surely be as pure and beautiful as Elentári’s stars.
“I find I desire to explore these feelings of intimate companionship,” Ossë said. “I feel it with all the children but somehow more keenly when I’m with you. I believe it may be. . . I hope I am using this word correctly. . . love.”
“You speak of love but can your kind love mine, truly?” Círdan asked after a hesitation. “I can never know what it is like to be you, but you can fashion a form to make yourself like me. Yet even in this form you retain your immense power. I know there is the love of Thingol and Melian but. . .” he trailed off. He had never been able to figure out that relationship. It seemed unnatural somehow, as though Thingol had fallen under a spell rather than acting of his own will. It frightened him, that loss of agency through enchantment.
“I don’t know,” Ossë said. “I do not have the power to know what you may feel, but for my part I believe I can love as you do and I believe I do.” He thought for a moment. “When you are on the sea and there is a storm do you not feel fear and exhilaration at once? Do you not feel at the mercy of a power beyond yourself?”
Círdan closed his eyes as a bittersweet memory overtook him. “Yes, I have. I do. Though the one I have this feeling for is beyond my reach for a long time yet to come, perhaps forever. He is the friend I spoke of.”
“Ah, well, I can see that the thought of him, while pleasing to you, is also painful. The thought of you pleases me but brings me no pain.”
At this Círdan stifled a fey laugh. “That is what we all think until the day of parting comes. It is not the love that is painful, it is the parting. Our friendship, yours and mine, is of another kind.”
“Perhaps, but when I am with you, though I value your inquisitive nature and companionship, I find myself desiring . . . more of you.” He reached out and stroked a finger over Círdan’s smooth cheek. It was a small, innocent gesture which made it all the more arousing.
Círdan fought the urge to lean into it, most certainly out of his depth now. Looking at the beautiful man facing him he did feel desire. Yet while he was not averse to the idea as it had been a very long time since he had poured his heart into anything more than nautical and scholarly pursuits, this was something he had not anticipated from this day and was completely unprepared for.
“While I confess that the form you have taken certainly makes it difficult to resist your proposal, I don’t know if I’m ready to take this step. For my people, an intimate bond is a sacred thing. And you have a wife.”
Ossë chuckled indulgently. “Wife is a word the children use after their own custom. It has no meaning for us. Our relationship is one of kindred spirit and we are bound by nothing but our own will. That is also a sacred thing. But the desire, the yearning, that is what I feel for you both when I am housed and when I’m not. It is a strange and fascinating sensation. That is what I would like to explore.”
Círdan hesitated, remembering who it was he addressed. For like all seafarers though he loved Ossë for his wisdom and generosity, so too did he fear his temper and wrath.
“May I have some time to think this over?” he asked. He had much to consider.
“Yes, of course. For now I must go but I will return soon for your answer. Whatever you decide I will always be here if you need me, you have only to look to the sea.” He took Círdan’s hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze, gazing upon him for a moment with his intense blue-green eyes before taking his leave.
Círdan sat down in his chair and looked out the window, watching the evening tide roll in under a large silver moon. He thought of Elwë and wondered if accepting Ossë’s offer would be a betrayal. Of course they had not been together since Cuiviénen, and Thingol had found love with another. He had always hoped they would be reunited someday though foresight told him otherwise. Still, if there was even the smallest chance. . .
As he sat lost in thought, the moon moved on and the lanterns upon the quay and on the ships at harbor winked in the chill breeze. A servant came and removed the tray, asking if there would be anything further. Círdan said there would not and bid him good night. He had to admit he always wondered what being with a Maia would be like, an experience he would gladly undertake if he could relinquish the past. For a long time he listened to the sound of the waves playing along the shore in their ceaseless rhythm, soothing his troubled mind. Voices lifted in song drifted from a harbor tavern: upon the sea, beneath a sky aflame with silver light. Círdan drifted off to sleep, burrowing into Elwë’s loving embrace in his dreams.
Three days hence found Círdan working away in his study perusing ship manifests and the latest maps when a knock came at the door.
“Come in,” he called without looking up. Someone entered and stood in front of his desk, waiting politely for him to finish jotting a notation in the margin of a new map. He glanced up to see a tall man with hair black as a moonless night loose upon his shoulders, pale, nearly opalescent skin, and eyes the color of Ulmo’s fire. His heart seized for a moment when he realized it was Ossë.
He put his work aside at once. “You have returned,” he said. Not a great opening but Ossë always managed to catch him off guard.
“I told you I would,” Ossë said as though surprised by Círdan’s astonishment. “Are you not pleased to see me?”
Círdan stood and stepped around his desk. “Yes, of course I am. I didn’t know when to expect you and thought perhaps you had changed your mind.”
“The task of raising the island was difficult and wearisome, but I wanted to surprise you. I wanted our time to be special.”
Círdan smiled. “Being with you is special enough for me.”
Ossë’s face fell, “So your answer is no?”
“No,” Círdan hastened to assure him. “I mean yes, my answer is yes.”
Ossë smiled brightly. “This pleases me greatly.” He took Círdan’s hand in his and they looked into each other’s eyes. After a moment, Círdan realized he was waiting for him to make the first move. With a flutter of excitement in his stomach, he leaned in and pressed a kiss to Ossë’s lips.
Strong arms embraced him as Ossë responded and for a time there was just the two of them sharing their bodies and strength as they held each other, savoring the moment. A strong breeze pulled at Círdan’s braid and chilled his skin. He could smell the ocean so close he thought he. . .
With a start, Círdan pulled away to find himself standing with Ossë, naked, on a slab of rock in the middle of the ocean. He gasped and clung to the Maia looking wildly around. In the distance the peak of a mountain rose from the water and Círdan’s keen eyes could make out the shape of a coast.
“Do you know where you stand?” Ossë asked. He turned Círdan around, pressing their naked flesh together, placing one hand over his heart and the other upon his hip to steady him.
Círdan shook his head nervously. “No, only that is it very far from land.”
Ossë chuckled in his ear. “Not far from land, it is land. You are standing upon the summit of a great mountain. The rest of it is under the sea. The mountain you see in the distance is the new island. There are many such places in the sea that I raise and lower at my will as the mood takes me. I could level this mountain and plunge us to the very depths of the waters if I wished. Would you like me to show you?”
“No, please,” Círdan cried, “I would die!”
“Do you still think I would ever let harm come to you?” Ossë said sadly. “Do you not trust me?”
Círdan felt the strong, gentle arms upon his body, the warm sweet breath against his ear. Ossë swayed a bit and Círdan had the sensation of being on a ship, safe in the rocking waves. He calmed immediately and leaned back against Ossë. “Why have you brought me here?”
“I want to show you how I love, if you will but allow it. I want our bond to go further than what our hroa can experience. Will you trust me? Will you let me make love with you?”
In Círdan’s dream, the night of Ossë’s first visit, he and Elwë were making love. Their fëar entwined and soared just as he remembered, just as he still longed for. Afterward Elwë told him to seek his happiness where he may. “Do not live for dreams,” he said, “for you will wake to find you have not lived at all.”
He had awakened with a tear in his eye. Another coursed down his cheek now.
“Yes,” Círdan said, surrendering to his desire, “do with me what you will. I trust you.”
Suddenly the air stilled, the sudden calm ominous and threatening. The sea was as glass, smooth as a mirror. An oppressive feeling enveloped Círdan, a gathering force that made the hair on his neck stand up. Ossë kissed and lightly bit his neck, stroked his bare skin. Círdan shuddered with delight, slowly letting go of his fear and allowing himself to rouse to his lover’s touch.
Then lightning split the sky and a roar of thunder followed, making Círdan jump. Waves rose like walls around them, then like hills, then mountains, but did not touch where they stood. The sea churned about their precarious perch of rock, foamed angrily at their feet. A torrential rain began to fall in heavy sheets as the wind assailed them like the beat of a mighty dragon’s wings. Círdan’s spirit soared to feel the immense power and grandeur of the tempest. He clung to Ossë who stroked and gentled him, roused and excited his trembling body until he was no longer sure whether his hroa was responding or his fëa.
Slowly he turned himself in Ossë’s arms, his bare feet seeking purchase on the slippery rock. Círdan pressed against him, melted into him with a kiss. The Maia’s strong arms enfolded him in a loving embrace, their bodies moved together in a fervent rhythm as the storm raged unchecked around them. The extraordinary sensation of Círdan’s fëa melding with this spirit of the sea completely consumed his soul. In that instant he knew, as no other sailor would ever know, what it was to be the sea, to reside in and shape the power of the waves and wind and rain, to be ravaged by the heart of the storm, to feel the life force of half the world course through him with every beat of his heart. The wind and rain and lightning built to a cataclysmic crescendo and when it did, Círdan and Ossë were one.
The aftermath of the storm found the two of them still locked in their embrace upon the rock. The sun shone warmly down, baking the chill from Círdan’s bones as he once more became aware of his body as an entity separate from that of his lover. He looked into Ossë’s electric blue eyes with wonderment and reverence.
“Is this what you wanted?” he asked. “What you hoped for?”
“It is that and more,” Ossë said, stroking his hair and kissing him again. “But next time I would like to try it your way.”
“There will be a next time?” Círdan said teasingly. “That experience might suffer from comparison.” He entwined their fingers together and planted a love bite on Ossë’s chest.
“If one takes the trouble to fashion a hroa, one doesn’t want to waste it.” Ossë chuckled, nibbling at Círdan’s earlobe.
“I should think not,” Círdan replied, becoming aroused again. “Perhaps a place more comfortable this time.”
Instantly they were on a white sand beach, lying on a soft blanket, with palm trees swaying lazily overhead. Ossë was once again in his pilot form with golden hair and lovely tanned skin. His blue-green eyes gazed lovingly upon Círdan.
“Is this more to your liking?” Ossë asked.
“Very much so,” Círdan replied. “You have shown me the heart of the storm, now let me show you the storm within my heart.”
They made love upon the beach until the stars began to shine. At last Círdan fell asleep in Ossë’s arms, and for the first time in over an age he dreamed not of the past, but of the future.