Chapter 3 – First Born

Ancient things moved in the world before even the Ainur entered into it; faceless and thoughtless things, forces of nature in an age when not even the continents were in their familiar shapes and places, when growth and change and order were absent. These were the earliest of days, when the foundations of Arda were freshly laid down. And though these eldest of things lived, they had no plan or reason, and nothing moved.

It was in that silence, the silence of waiting, that many Ainur entered from Outside, consisting of the mighty Valar and their lesser kin, the Maiar. With them came change, and they formed and shaped Arda into something they preferred, something orderly and understandable, taking their dominion over its many facets with Eru Ilúvatar's permission and blessing. It was in the strange wastes, though, the ones that were yet unexplored, that the Firstborn drew their first breath and came alive.

These Firstborn were Children of the One in a way that the Ainur, aspects of his very being, splinters of his thought, could never be. Called Elves in later years by the races of men, they were a different kind of life than the Ainur themselves, and the Valar rejoiced in what Eru had made. In the early days of Arda, the world, these first children of Ilúvatar woke at the lake Cuiviénen, and they gazed upon the stars that the Lady Varda of the Valar created for them. They were ignorant of the workings of the world, but deeply connected to it.

The Valar discovered these beings, and offered them a choice. Far to the west, across the sea, the Ainur had their own realm of Valinor, a land of their own making. Light shone there freely. Oromë, the Hunter of the Valar, offered the Firstborn to join him in the long trek to the western coast. There they could sail to the Uttermost West, and live forever in wonder and bliss among the spirits. Those who left with him were afterwards called the Eldar, or the People of the Stars; those that did not, that chose to stay in darkness, were the Refusers.

Three clans of the Eldar travelled west, following the Valar into the unknown, each after their chosen leader. The Vanyar, the Noldor, and the Teleri. Many of the last group stayed in MIddle-Earth, settling down along the way as the Silvan, the Wood-Elves and as the Sindar, the Grey-Elves. Most reached the hallowed shores across the sea.

The shores of Valinor, the Undying Lands, the Uttermost West. The land had many names, as did its inhabitants. Built upon the great continent of Aman, separated from Middle-Earth by a gargantuan ocean, it was home to most of the Ainur, the divine beings who came into the world from before time began.

It was for the Eldar's sake, for those who still lived away from the Undying Lands, that the little ship sailed away from those hallowed lands with its white sail billowing in the eastern wind.

Varwë of the Maiar stood upon the stern and looked back to the land of Valinor, aware that he would not see it again for a long time - perhaps a very long time. He already longed to return to those retreating shores, to the white sands and the huge mountains that pierced the clouds high above, their impossibly steep sides reflecting the sunlight and making them almost white in the afternoon sun. Yet, he had a task to fulfill, and he could not stay sheltered in that place forever. The Eldar, Dwarves and Men of Middle-Earth, the Children of Ilúvatar, needed his help.

The Maia had many names now, and he wondered if he would gain more in time. Varwë was the oldest of them all, older than sun and moon, than the air that he breathed, than the very sea upon which he sailed. Harry Potter was very recent in comparison, and had been used only briefly, a singular moment in the span of ages. But - what a bright moment it was! His life as the Boy Who Lived, as a wizard, as a human, had not faded from his mind in the slightest. For a little while, he had been a Child of Ilúvatar in the fullest - a great gift that he had scarcely understood at the time. Had he chosen to stay, to remain human, he would have passed out of the world when his days were done, as Men did. That is why he chose to retain his mortal name: His life as Harry had been a gift to him, and he would keep it close, in remembrance of the gift that he had lost, if willingly.

Shaking his head as he dismissed his wayward thoughts, Harry tried to focus on the present, though there was little to do at present. He had left mere hours ago, but already he understood that which the Eldar felt when they wished to go to Valinor. They became weary of the passage of time and the troubles of Middle-Earth, and they wished to spend their days in peace. The attraction was powerful, and the lure of a blissful, painless life undeniable. Harry knew, however, that it was far diminished from what it had been in the days that the Eldar first came here. The memories of that time were enough to make him turn away. Those mournful thoughts he would rather not face, not with only himself for company.

"I suppose that you are my train at platform 9¾, this time," Harry murmured as he patted the side of his ship, the one that Varda had created for him. It sailed on its own, and there was nothing to do but wait, and think, and plan. With every silent moment that passed him by, the continent of Aman seemed smaller in his sight, more distant. The evidence of Valinor's presence shrank from view with every gust of wind that caught the sails. He knew that it would not matter if he could see all of Valinor, or merely a glimpse, or nothing at all. He carried it with him. The Eldar were of the world, deeply connected to it, but the Ainur were more that that. They were the world. And of all the places in the world, it was here that their roots reached deepest.

Seven years had gone by since he first set foot upon the land of Valinor, since he stepped out of nothingness into blinding light and whirling sound. Into a world of exquisite sensation, where everything had more facets than he remembered, was more right. It was seven years since he took his first breath of air filled with sweet-scented blossoms and the odour of perpetually growing grass, swaying in a summer wind. He had collapsed at the foot of a huge tree, enraptured, barely coherent, as he relished in the return of his senses. His time there, below that blossoming tree, was a blink of an eye in the lives of immortals. Even as the sun came up and set again many times, he rested there. However long it took him to process the world as it now was, it was not even long enough for the Ainur to really notice his arrival, let alone interrupt him. He had spent weeks alone before he had even considered leaving – it seemed strange now, that he had forgotten about everything for so long.

In those first weeks, or months - he could not remember with certainty - he had run along the winding mountain paths, bathed in cold streams, and fed on the berries and fruits around him, without a thought for what he was supposed to be doing. He had not considered more than the present, as though all else was lost to him, and much of each day had been spent with just staring at the stars or the sunlit lands around him. The rest of the time, he mostly just thought about things. Not about the past, at first, or even about himself. He thought of irrelevant things, of things he found around him in the woods and streams. He considered the merits of particular fruits, he decided upon his favourite time of day. It was in many ways the most calming time of his life – it gave him a chance to just exist.

The Music in his mind was ever-present, flowing through the air around him as if it was tangible, more than just a sound he had invented. He knew now that he had been far more accurate than he realized. It was everywhere – and everywhere was the Music. Harry had found himself singing nonsense songs, little meaningless tunes that incorporated a single tone, or a few, of that grand melody. Looking back on that time, he felt like he had been a child, or the closest thing to it that he could remember being. It was like he was catching up for all the years at the Dursleys that he had to hide his childish activities, for fear of reprimand. In that sense, a few weeks or months were scarcely a long time to spend on it all.

Harry had thought he'd anticipated what immortality would be like, at least a little. He knew about vampires, and ghosts could haunt for centuries. There was Nicholas Flamel, who had lived for more than six-hundred years. Then there was Voldemort, who tried to attain immortality, and used the dark arts to come so very close. For good or bad, his mortal existence had been dominated by another mortal's quest for eternity, by the drive to avoid death at all cost. None of those 'immortals' seemed truly happy with eternity, growing bored or strange – and they all passed on in the end.

The Ainur were different. Fundamentally different.

The world was forever, or the closest thing to it, yet it was younger than the Ainur, and would end before they did. The Ainur were the offspring of Thought, the first droplets from the wellspring of Creation. The Music was composed by Eru Ilúvatar, designed by him – and the Valar and the Maiar were its performers, just as they were a part of its melodies, incorporating themselves into the depths of the notes at the beginning of all things.

He did not remember very much yet, from those days before being Harry Potter, before mortality, but he knew enough. He was still adjusting, slow in accepting internally what he already knew by the words of the Valar. He heard the Music even now, as he had begun humming it to himself almost by instinct, when all other sensation had fallen away in the space between spaces. He knew his part, even if he did not know to what end it was played, and he was content with that. The rest would come back to him with time.

In the Music he felt the history that had passed, and though he did not know precisely what happened, its weight was a comfortable assurance that things would endure. He felt the future as well, stretching into the unknown. It was both joyful and filled with darkness, an endless pattern that he was ill-equipped to understand. A vague outline of what would become. Above all, he knew to his core that he would be there through it all, one way or another. For good or ill. That was what the Ainur were meant to do, that was what Ilúvatar intended.

Time worked differently when it was measured in centuries or millennia rather than months or years; when eternity was a fact, rather than something conceptual, time stretched out into perpetuity. That is why nobody had come for him in his garden, for what any mortal would consider a long time. Those weeks were mere moments, barely worth mentioning in truth. If he had stayed a decade in that garden, and cared nothing for the world outside, then the other Ainur would have let him. Indeed, the only Vala who looked in on him silently was someone he would later come to know more closely the tender of those gardens: Lórien, the Dreamer.

He had not lost his humanity, Harry had realized with some relief, when he finally retrieved the pieces of his earthly life and tried to make sense of things. He dragged himself out of a second childhood into reluctant adolescence and straight on to begrudging maturity, hoping to find out what it all meant, what being one of the Ainur, an angel, truly implied. He had walked into the wilds with the intent of finding someone else besides himself, to understand what his purpose was. He had discovered the edge of the garden in minutes, as if it had been there all along if only he looked for it, and there had been a fountain there, surrounded by dozens of Maiar and Eldar. They were welcoming people, friendly people, and of them he had only good memories.

It was a strange feeling, to now look back upon his humanity as one of the Ainur. He had understood more than most how fragile life could be, that it could all be over in a heartbeat. He knew what it was like to savour every day and every shared moment, as there had been no certainty that he would live another day, especially during his time evading Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Yet, at the same time, he had a name that predated the stars, that transcended the very world. He knew the boundlessness of being no more than spirit almost by instinct - he spoke old languages with no more trouble than English. The duality of things was not unpleasant - everything seemed to gain another dimension when he realized with a start that what one side of him considered mundane, the other could watch for hours, days.

Harry had spent a long time considering his past and future, or both of his pasts, within the great gardens of Lórien. He had rested there, and perhaps healed if not in body, at least in soul. He had met the Vala who shared the name of the gardens, the very one who had kept an eye on him before. Years of fear and uncertainty, insecurity and loathing, were washed away under the boughs of the magnificent trees, among the vast fields that stretched to the horizon, where the great fountain flowed with clean water.

It was to Lórien that Harry had first explained his grief for those he had lost in mortal life. It was he who had introduced him to Nienna, one of the Valier, the Queens of the Valar. Though Lórien spoke of dreams and hopes, and Mandos of obligations and doom, she was the caring middle, the one who embodied the pessimism that Lórien rarely voiced, and the optimism that Mandos never did. Above all, she had empathy, and a deep understanding of the Children of Ilúvatar.

She often came to the Halls of Mandos, where the dead Eldar rested before their rebirth, and Men passed through before they went on their own way. She counselled the dead so that they might revive themselves and live again in Valinor, or find peace in their demise, and her ever-present tears represented her empathy for all. In those halls, when he had joined her there, Harry had met with some of them as well. The recently deceased, or great figures of history, long dead and unwilling to leave the safety of the halls. There he had learned much in the ways of Middle-Earth, and the wisdom of those who looked back on misused lives, realizing and accepting their mistakes.

He also spoke to Námo, who was known with the name of his Halls here: Mandos. He was grim and unyielding, more so than he had been to Harry in their first discussion, and he never spoke outside his halls, though his will was clear despite this. Even when he did converse, Mandos chose his words carefully, speaking only when he counselled with Manwë, King of the Valar about matters of fate. His will was harsh and would not budge, since it was an echo of the will of Eru himself, and though Harry knew the Vala cared, it was sometimes hard to realize that harshness did not preclude such. Perhaps he had an unfair advantage, as the only Maia sworn to the Doomsman's service.

Three years after his arrival, it had felt as if he had been here an age or more. In that time he had spoken with those three of the Valar most frequently, though he had met all. Free to shape himself as he liked, one of the boons of being a Maia, Harry had then chosen to walk among the Eldar as one of their kin, because his human body would seem small and strange among all these tall people. As he did so, he had taken up his oldest name in that guise. He kept his most distinctive features intact, though: His father's raven-black hair, and his mother's emerald eyes.

In those years he had learned to live again, without the insecurities of the war against Voldemort, and had spent another four years among the People of the Stars. He had learned a great deal about their character, and taken some of their ways to heart, sometimes reflecting on how similar, yet different, even the most mundane of actions seemed. He had learned about the faults of the Eldar, too. Their pride, their stubbornness, their love of the past, to the detriment of the future. He would have a lot of work to do in Middle-Earth, considering the most stubborn of all were still there.

That was one of the very reasons he was leaving Valinor, far sooner than Mandos had originally expected. These were still the first years of the Second Age, and Middle-Earth was still recovering from the great War of Wrath - it would not be easy to be the bearer of bad news to people who had already faced so much of it. In a few days, Harry intended to meet with the King of the Noldor, or at least the king of those who still remained upon the mainland after their long exile was finally ended. He would find out if he could prevent what would lead to misery and death in the future - or find another worthy goal. Mandos had given him but a few orders. And they would be obeyed.

Stepping down from the back of the ship and sitting down upon the comfortable padded bench at its centre, Harry adjusted his dark green robe and the Invisibility Cloak that hung down his back. The latter was visible now, though it was ready to hide him from all sight by his command. He wore the Resurrection Stone set in a ring on his finger, and the Elder Wand was in his pocket, ready to be drawn. They were the tools of his trade, in a sense.

The great power that the Ainur possessed simmered languidly under the surface unless he called upon it, and the three Hallows would channel it as he wished. Magic tingled at his fingertips, the kind he had learned to use at Hogwarts, ready to be used in ways that he could not have imagined before. He hoped he would not need to tap into such abilities, as they would attract attention – including the worst kind – but he was content in knowing that he had them. For the first time in thirty years, for the first time in this age, one of the Ainur would serve for the benefit of Middle-Earth again.

The last of Valinor's mountains, great Taniquetil, slowly dipped below the horizon. Harry expected something to happen – a dimming of light, or a sinking feeling. The sea remained the same. The world felt no different. He could sense the power of the Valar even now – great Varda, noble Manwë, empathetic Nienna, restful Irmo, and unyielding Námo foremost. They were woven into the very world, and it was woven into them.

Harry crossed his legs, and faced the future. In three days, he would reach Middle-Earth. In three days, the first Maiar of the Second Age would walk upon Middle-Earth's shores.

With a smile, he hummed of hope, and he wondered if this counted as his next great adventure.

The white ship glided into the bay silently, its great sail half-lowered, though shimmering brightly. It looked almost immaterial under the dim starlight that illuminated the bay, a lone spot of light in the inky black of night.

A few lone torches shone from atop tall towers that surrounded the Gulf of Lhûn, the only light in miles, save for small oil lamps that stood upon porches along the harbor, flickering in the wind. Several of the towers burst alive with activity as the night watch noticed the new vessel - Indeed, it passed by several large Eldar vessels without slowing down, as if a path had been laid out beforehand.

The white ship was made of impossibly curved wood, as if grown rather than cut, with a sail so bright that it seemed made of the moonlight itself, and its hull that resembled a great swan. Carved onto the prow was a shape like a woman wearing a formal robe, with a jewelled crown of stars upon her head. Varda, Queen of the Valar. The great ships of the Eldar, many of which dotted both sides of the river mouth, were marvels of engineering and art with beautifully decorated prows and tall sails built upon their great grey hulls. Compared to the gleaming wonder that approached the havens of Mithlond, though, they were as hollowed-out trees.

"Lord Círdan!" Seron called, and the Master of the Havens slowly turned to meet his aide's eyes as he leaned over the edge of his terrace to take in the sight. "The ship will soon make landfall. What is your command?"

Círdan studied the white speck on the waters again for a moment, brow furrowed. There was little evidence that he had been resting less than ten minutes earlier, save for the ruffled silver-grey hair that hung haphazardly over his shoulders rather than neatly tucked behind pointed ears. "It seems as though the stories were true," he said gravely. "I had denounced them as folly, yet cannot deny my own eyes. A white ship has come to Mithlond." In an uncharacteristic display of emotion, he shook his head in fading disbelief.

"It has taken a mere day to come here from where it was first sighted, only hours after the fastest of our birds found these shores," Seron observed. "It travels like the wind, though it is not a vessel of spirits, as some believed. Still, it resembles ships of legend..." He looked almost anxious. "Could it really be a ship from beyond? Could it carry our own, come back from across the sea?"

Círdan paused at the idea. "Doubtful. Those who left were adamant about their decision, and the Valar would protect them on their way to the Blessed Land." He narrowed his eyes. "We must not tarry, regardless of what the ship carries to us. Arrange for a messenger to the High King." He paused momentarily. "No, there are few who would be a better choice than yourself, for you are among our fastest riders. Retrieve a steed, and pack for swift travel. You must leave before daybreak."

Seron nodded, straightening. "What should I tell Lord Gil-Galad?"

"I will send a falcon to you as soon as I know more of this, of course," Círdan responded immediately. "The moment that my letter arrives, make for the northern gates." He reached into his pocket, retrieving a small bauble, and gazed at it for a long moment. Then he reached out, and opened his hand. "Take this."

"Your signet ring?" Seron asked in surprise. "But…?"

"I have more than one," Círdan said easily, though he knew why Seron looked so surprised. His signet ring was a remnant of the early first age – the others he had were mere duplicates of this one. Seron had not even been born yet when this had found its way into Círdan's possession, a relic from the earliest Teleri, though it was doubtlessly created by the Noldor, mighty craftsmen amongst the Eldar. "I trust you will keep it safe. It will be proof enough that you come in my name."

"I understand, and I will make certain it returns to your hand." Seron bowed, deeper than was necessary. "I will take my own steed. I know her best, and she is among the fastest." He looked uncertainly towards the north. "Lord Círdan - It may take days before there is a response, even at full gallop. The King is far afield, and he does not care to be interrupted while he is engaged in battle with the monsters of Morgoth."

"Find him, nevertheless," Círdan said sharply. "Whether he is waging war or peace, he ought to know what happens within his borders. Lord Gil-Galad would disapprove if we forewent informing him of important events, even if he chooses not to act upon them."

Seron gave another small bow as he retreated from the terrace. Círdan watched the departure with a heavy heart, since he knew that the High King could be stalwart and unmoving. Lindon was not yet secure from surrounding threats, and with the last of Morgoth's forces drawing back across the mountains, there were some who chose not to vanish into obscurity. They fought with malice, and the Eldar had to meet force with force.. It would be years yet until the borders were cleansed, until the enemy that had led to its creation as a kingdom was finally defeated. In these uncertain times, Seron was among the only ones that Círdan trusted on this side of the great ocean.

The white ship lowered its sail, slowly coasting forward using only the smaller front sail. Its hull barely seemed to cut through the water at all, leaving it nearly still even as it passed, and Círdan nodded in approval at the quality of its construction. And for the first time, he glimpsed the one who sailed upon it.

Caught in reflected starlight and the flickers of many torches, there stood a figure upon the back of the vessel, with hair short and wild like Men favoured. Círdan saw a glimmer of light from the newcomer's hand, as if a cold star had very briefly shone there, though it vanished almost as quickly.

"A star shines upon the hour of our meeting," Círdan murmured to himself, contemplative. The figure on the ship briefly turned towards him as if he had heard the comment, just as his ship passed closest to the terrace upon which Círdan stood. The distance and light made all unclear, but the two locked eyes for a moment. Then the stranger stepped up to the prow of the ship, balancing on it as he looked out over the bay, and Círdan followed his gaze.

Already, there were some Eldar who followed the ship along the shoreline, moving swiftly to catch up with it. If this were one of their own returning, then he had to be a mighty Lord indeed, for the Valar would not so easily lend their wondrous ships. Numerous possibilities ran through the mind of Círdan as he made his way off his terrace and down alongside the waterline to the docks. Still, he was obligated to welcome emissaries of foreign nations, now that the king was away. If he was right, then this new visitor was from the most distant of all.

The ship stilled a distance away from the shoreline, and Círdan made his way onto the soft sand. Half a dozen armed guards had positioned themselves at the waterline already, and twice as many stood with raised bow upon the pale grass that bordered the beach. Their caution was not a surprise: Over the last few weeks three ships had sailed into the harbour carrying traitorous men from the south, out to pillage and slay.

"Lo, those upon the great ship from the West!" Círdan called out as he passed his people with a gesture of calm, and he was glad to note that many took their hands off their weapons or at least slackened their grip. "We bid you welcome, if you come in peace! If you do not, then turn and return from whence you came, for these Havens are protected!"

There was a silence for a time, and though there was a rustling from its deck, the ship remained stationary. At last, when Círdan moved to call again, there came a response.

"I come in peace, as a friend. I'm alone!" The voice was clear and melodious as it echoed over the water, and the white ship sailed forward again. Bypassing the docks entirely, the ship moved right up to the shore without using sails or oars. Its prow came to rest upon the sand, and poised atop it was the man that Círdan had seen before.

The stranger's dark hair was cut short, and it had no true style as most Eldar preferred. It simply seemed to fall naturally into a chaotic mess, and lacked the weight to straighten out. It was the newcomer's gaze, however, that truly caught Círdan by surprise. His eyes were a bright, shining green even in the late night, almost glowing with intensity, and they seemed to twinkle with unspoken humour or excitement. The stranger looked over the assembled guards in appreciation, and nodded. There was no apprehension or even fear as he casually put a foot into empty air, falling swiftly and landing with such grace upon the sand that Círdan's suspicion of human heritage fled. Those green eyes focused on him again.

"Lord Círdan," he spoke softly, bowing slightly, and he raised a hand to his ship, briefly touching the statue upon its prow. "I was told you were a master of ships. I assume you can take care of this one?" He smiled. "It was a gift, so I would hate to see it fall apart while I'm not using it. I might just need it again."

"It shall be done," Círdan said immediately, though he frowned. "Beautiful though your vessel is, stranger, I would request your name and your purpose, before we negotiate any further. Odd folk are abroad, and we cannot be too careful." He glanced aside to his fellow Eldar, who had tightened their grip again. "There has been much strife of late, and trust is hard-won in these lands, even among the closest of kin."

"I do not think this is the place for that kind of conversation, though," the stranger replied easily, and Círdan noted the arrival of more Eldar from along the river, come to see the white ship and its occupant. The stranger seemed unperturbed. "Perhaps we can speak more privately?"

Círdan paused as if considering the offer. Though he could not be certain, he had never seen a creature of the dark that could mimic one of the Eldar so perfectly, and that silent power he perceived remained dormant, but it spoke of authority. "If you leave your weapons, should you have any, I can allow this," he said at last.

The stranger frowned momentarily, and then shrugged. "Well, I have something that can be used as a weapon, but I do not really want to part from it. I hardly carry swords, knives or bows, though." He gestured to his robe. "As you can see."

Círdan hesitated, and then nodded. "Give that which you mentioned to me, then – I will keep it close, so that you will not lose track of it." He gestured to the guards, who immediately backed away. Then, Círdan tapped his own blade in warning. "As I said – we are well-protected."

The stranger slowly retrieved a long stick from his pocket, and muttered something under his breath, before he flipped it over, and offered it to the Shipwright. Círdan didn't betray his confusion as he reached out, and the stranger shuffled back a step, jerking back the stick. "I give this freely, for you to hold on to until I ask for it again. I do not consider this winning it by conquest. Do you?"

"No, I do not," Círdan replied flatly. He wondered about the question as he took the object. As he touched the twig, a sudden burst of melancholy tore through him, catching him off guard. Dread crept up on him, and he released the stick as if it burned his skin, and it fell neatly into his pocket. He glanced up in consternation, and caught the stranger's gaze again.

"Please keep it safe," the newcomer said, smiling sadly. He glanced at the pocket momentarily. "It will not truly harm those with a good heart, not merely by touching it."

Círdan gathered himself silently, showing nothing of his concern as he nodded. "Please, follow me."

The two did not speak at all as they travelled the road back to Círdan's house. The large manor they headed to was the largest in reach of the docks. It was also within shouting distance of a garrison of soldiers, placed there by High King Gil-Galad himself when he was last at the Havens.

The stranger seemed to know where they were going, and took in the tall houses of the Eldar with a curious expression. "You have greatly extended the havens in only a few years," he noted mid-stride. "The last map I saw of it was inaccurate. There were only four grey ships accounted for – I count nine now, and I suspect you have more under construction. You expand at an impressive speed, I must say. There could not be more than a few years between the two, given what a brief time it has been since the end of the war."

"We try - thirty years have passed since the fall of Beleriand, and we have used them well," Círdan noted, and he thought of the seven partially completed ships that were being constructed a few dozen miles further along the coast. Four more were now at the two other harbours along the coast. Círdan knew he was one of the few shipwrights who could make vessels sturdy enough to make the journey across the whole sea – though he would not take one himself, as he had sworn long ago. Each of the ships were at least in part his handiwork. "I have been creating many vessels, though mine would seem like children's toys compared to your own."

The stranger smiled warmly. "I rather doubt there are any ships like it on this side of the sea, though I admire your handiwork."

Círdan nodded as he opened the door to his home; it was decorated with many tools of his trade. Nets hung upon the walls, and there were many old tables and chairs that would fit within a ship, from Men or Eldar alike. Upon the mantle stood a row of exquisitely carved model ships, with small but functional masts and sails. In the middle of them, standing out even among the others as a gemstone amidst rocks, was the greatest ship that Círdan had ever made. It was Vingilótë, with which Eärendil had crossed the seas to reach Valinor. Upon its prow stood a tall eagle, symbolic of Manwë's might.

"You know what I am, do you not? You are certainly wary enough to suggest that you do," the newcomer said lightly as he sat down at the largest window without even considering any other chair, and he glanced outside. Círdan sat down across from him, placing the wooden stick before him on the table with his sleeve, where both could see it.

"I have an inkling," Círdan confirmed. "You hail from Valinor, do you not?" he conjectured, though he was briefly speechless at the very concept. It was the most plausible explanation, Seron's idea, but it seemed strange to think of someone returning across the ocean for any reason that he cared to think about. "No Eldar has ever returned from the far coasts without being banished, to my knowledge."

"That's still the case, I suppose," the dark-haired man said in a surprisingly light tone. He looked back to Círdan with a smile. "I am known as Varwë, across the ocean. That name will serve, though I am confident I will earn a few more along the way. Names are tricky things like that, you end up with more than you can remember, and twice as many behind your back on top of that." He carded his fingers together as he leaned forward. "I was hoping for a little more insight, though. I was told that you have long served the Valar, as I do."

Círdan blinked. "That is true."

Varwë glanced aside, looking vaguely amused. "That is why I came to you, for you are different than your brethren. It is why I landed at Mithlond, and not far to the north or south, where my presence would not be noticed." He smiled encouragingly, then. "You will meet the Valar, someday. That was told to me by someone I trust deeply, and when he says things, they tend to mean something." His eyes twinkled as he gazed outside, and he sighed. Círdan watched as the man seemed to mull something over, glancing back at him and narrowing his eyes for a moment. "Forgive me for asking, but - I find it interesting that your largest window faces west. It looks out over that which you have been denied, the very ocean that you were asked not to cross. Does it not hurt?"

Cirdan met the curious gaze coldly. "I do not hold a grudge over the time I have to wait," he said shortly, and though he glanced briefly to the waters, he did not care to think too deeply of it. He had spent long evenings just staring out across the water, content that he was closest of all the Eldar in Middle-Earth to those distant lands. He knew that he would be among the last to set sail - if he did not go to the Halls of Mandos first.

"Not holding grudges, that is commendable." Varwë nodded in appreciation. "You gave up a lot for your people, you are still giving up a much happiness to serve the Valar. I can relate to that." His gaze was unfocused, dreamy, as if he was seeing something far beyond just the darkened sea as he stared out over the water. "To give up that – even for a time – is very difficult. The great mountains, the beautiful gardens, the great halls. There is much wonder, many things to miss..." He looked away, and smiled. "Still, I am certain that Middle-Earth has its own little miracles, do you not agree? Were that not the case, why would anyone live here?" He chuckled to himself.

Círdan looked away. "I take it you have been there, and then chose to return to this land of misery? Why? Even now, Lindon barely established itself – and we are with far fewer than before. The Sindar are intent on leaving eastwards, and those of the Noldor that remain here are conflicted about their future course. I know even less of the Men, these Edain."

Varwë shrugged. "Perhaps such matters will not all be on your shoulders anymore, but on mine too. I made an oath to my master to do what I could, you know. Years ago, I would have feared to come here, to step into uncertainty and violence from a place of peace. Still, it is not the first time I walk into turbulent times, and I am better prepared, this time." He turned to look back over the water, his expression sad rather than wistful.

Círdan frowned. "I do not follow."

Varwë smiled sadly. "I was told that you, of all the Eldar, would know most acutely what the Valar intend with the world. I assumed that you would recognize me, but you clearly see me as one of your own, even as I sit before you. I suppose that means I'm good at limiting myself." He smiled, pulling at the corner of his cloak "I'm curious - would you recognize Eönwë, great leader of war, or Ilmarë, handmaiden of Lady Varda? Or fair Melian, who followed Vána and Estë? Each had their reason for being here, their role to play. None of them were of your kin. I am but a new link in that chain."

Círdan's eyes widened in recognition, then, and cold fear suddenly seemed to grasp him like a vice. "They were - You are - ?"

"Of the Ainur? Yes."

The pronouncement was made lightly, almost casually, but Círdan felt the weight of it descend, the realization of what this unassuming being was. Varwë's eyes seemed to shine then, and Círdan felt like he should shy away from the undisguised power of that gaze, far greater than before. There was unspoken authority there, that settled on him like inevitability. "You understand then. I thought you would," the Maia said.

"But the Valar would not send one of their kin here, unless – " Círdan paled. "There will be another war? So quickly after the last one? Our people have scarcely recovered from the ruin of Beleriand! We cannot survive another onslaught!"

Varwë shook his head. "There is still time, if we act quickly." He frowned. "My master would not be specific, for fear of the consequences, but he told me enough. I know there is time, and among the Eldar, that can mean an age. Hatred simmers among you, it does not boil over quickly. But – grudges also last forever. A simmering fire can still ignite into something unstoppable. If I have to, I will stamp out the crackling coals."

Círdan looked fearful, then, as he understood the analogy. "You - Who is your master?"

Varwë's eyes caught his again, and suddenly Círdan recognized the inevitability, the harshness that lurked behind the friendly smile, the congenial nod. Not the Lord of Arda, or great Ulmo, or even dreaded Melkor as he had feared for a brief moment. "My master is Lord Mandos. The Judge of the Dead," he said. "And I am his Herald. The Master of Death."