The sky was darkening through the gloaming into night. The first stars were already visible among the red glow to the west. It gave me an idea. But now I deemed it time for Parnard and I to explore the shoreline, and try a little diving off a suitable beach.
“I feel at peace here,” I said. “And no sea–longing so far, you will be glad to know.”
“I am very glad, lady. Very glad of that,” Parnard replied. He was looking to the spot on the beach where most of his clothes were piled.
“I was happy here. Though I never really knew what I had till it was lost.” My thoughts had turned to our Prince in that moment, and that we had parted not on the best of terms. I could see so many occasions where he made exceptions for me, where he had encouraged me in my pursuit of my arts, where he had given me access to things beyond most folk’s reach. And I had disappointed him.
Menelmacar was rising in front of my eyes.
“Forgive me, my Prince,” I spoke, that Parnard fell silent momentarily. “You know why I failed you, perhaps you understand? But know that I always loved you. No matter what. I honoured you in all matters but one. Would that you were still with us, and this world would be a better place. We lost so much when you were slain.” I bowed deeply, not thinking there was any likelihood he could hear me, but hoping all the same.
“Prince Caranthir?” asked Parnard.
I nodded. “He was as my guardian throughout my youth. As an elder brother, or cousin. He sought my best.”
“What happened, lady, that you ask his forgiveness?”
“Estarfin happened.” I said in a soft voice. “Estarfin failed in a command Caranthir had given him, and was exiled. I spoke against it.”
Parnard’s eyes opened a little wider at that news.
"It was not Estarfin's fault," I added, still compelled to defend his reputation. Then I looked to the waves upon the shore. “Shall we swim for a while?”
That was not a question Parnard needed asking twice. He removed his hauberk, folding it and placing it on the existing pile, then laid Steel Thorn on the top. I made a similar pile of clothes with Sarphir on top, next to his.
He ran to the cliff and dove in.
“It’s cold and the water is rough,” he shouted over the crashing waves. Then he placed his trusty eating knife, usually in his boot but then in his hand, between his teeth.
I wished he would not jump into things quite so literally. The drop was not high, but he had no idea what he was jumping into.
I made a slightly more cautious entry into the water. He was right. It was cold. But the best thing, as always, was to get moving. I swam several yards off the shore, made a small dive then turned, that my feet touched the bottom, then swam several yards more. I saw Parnard take a huge gulp of air before plunging down into the bay ahead of me. I followed on, kicking up my heels and making a shallower dive.
The water was clear, save for a small school of fish darting before me. As far as I could make out it looked like there were several rotting wooden boxes on the seafloor, obviously not from the First Age or they would have long disintegrated. Corsairs perhaps? It may be that there was a sunken Mannish ship not far off. I dived a little deeper so that I could move the sand with my feet. In some places I could make out a faint glitter, like small pieces of diamond reflecting what light there was. I could see no other object in that location. I swam back to the surface, my wet hair clinging tightly to me. I wiped the water from my face.
Parnard resurfaced, flinging water from his face, and taking the knife out from between his teeth took a few gulps of air. “Crates from a shipwreck, looted treasure?” he said, after he had caught his breath.
“I have no idea, but we should take a look.”
The knife was back in his teeth as he dived again.
I took another deep breath and followed.
Now I was wearing naught but my shift, which was clinging to me and transparent, though it did have a pocket at one seam wherein I could carry my knife. It was a good job Estarfin was not with us, I thought at that moment. He would likely have found the situation 'insufferable’ and run for blankets. I laughed to myself and accidentally snorted in water that I had to swim to the surface for air. Indeed, Estarfin truly had a noble spirit. Despite not being a strong swimmer he would have been in the water aiding us as best he could, were he here.
I dived down again, this time alongside Parnard who was trying to open a crate with his knife. It was proving difficult. I gestured we could try and move one or two boxes to the shore. Lighter ones if need be. So we both pushed and pulled at one crate at a time, having to return to the surface for air several times before we got two near the shore.
Then Parnard was upon the first crate, prying it open with his trusty, Dwarf-made eating knife. The rotted wood cracked and splintered so that the lid could be removed. He looked inside.
“A rattling metal box, some soggy straw and some fine crockery,” he said.
“Try the rattling box?”
Parnard took hold of the box and shook it beside his ear. “A bean maybe? Though who would put a bean in a box?” he said.
“Or a gem? Who can say?”
I brushed my hair away from my face with my hands while Parnard worried at the lock with the tip of his knife.
“It is stuck shut,” he said, though continued trying.
“Ah!” with a sudden pinging sound the top flew open. Parnard looked inside. “Nothing of interest, only a few stones and dirt.”
He spread his find on the sand before us. The ‘stones’ were really bits of crystalised resin. Crushing one between my fingers I recognised the musky scent as being something from the Southern Lands.
“Incense remnants and broken plates of good artisan make,” I observed, as I lifted out a piece of the crockery from the straw. There was a stylised picture of folk boating on Lake Helevorn painted on the set it seemed.
“I wonder if the wreck is the elven ship meant to carry the folk here to another place? It could have been dashed on the rocks in a storm?” Parnard pondered.
“If so, it was none of Cirdan’s folk captaining her. A Noldo perhaps, maybe even a Sindar, but no child of the Falathrim would be so careless,” I explained.
We were both quiet for a moment.
Then Parnard lifted out a large vessel. It was the only unbroken piece in the box.
“This would fetch a good price in Imladris, perhaps? A soup tureen from long ago.”
“A foul soup that will hold, cousin,” I said upon looking at it. “It is a chamber pot.”
Parnard looked a touch embarrassed.
“But good luck with fetching a good price at the market, if you wish to sell it as a tureen,” I grinned. Parnard laughed.
“The second crate?”
Parnard was already working at the lid with his knife. As with the first crate, this one was rotten, and fell apart even more easily. Inside were some strange instruments and some sopping wet straw.
“What is this? A device for looking at the sky?”
I nodded. I had seen similar in Eregion at the height of its artisans' ingenuity. “Yes. A star watching device. But one that can see further by far than any elven eyes, or most glasses made by the Falathrim. They were working on something to understand how Tintalle had fashioned the stars themselves. To look into the deep heavens.”
My companion looked suitably impressed, and looked for the magic glasses. “Do you know how to use it? Where do I look through?”
I shook my head. I never worked in that area, and indeed, this is the smallest version I have seen. But three foot square, whereas the ones I knew were huge, nearer twelve foot.” I sighed. “We cannot take this back. It is too much for us to carry, and besides, the lenses are broken. I would drag it further into the trees that it is at least partially hidden. One day, perhaps, we shall return? And I know not where they would look through. Sometimes they had but one place to take the view.”
We both walked back to our clothes which, as we were now mostly dry apart from our hair, we donned. Parnard put his knife back in his boot and secured it by the thong sewn therein.
We sat on the sands and looked to the bright night sky, filled as far as the eye could see with stars.
“I may not have got what I thought I wanted,” I broke the short silence, “But I have changed my idea about Estarfin’s ring. It does not need to say everything I would tell him, just the most important things.
Parnard nodded and rummaged in his backpack for provisions.
“Love and home, lady?”
“Food and fire?” Parnard added with a slight shiver.
True enough, it was getting cold. A fire and a meal would be welcome. There was a flattish rock near us, and I moved to collect some dry wood from under the trees, beyond the reach of the sea, to set upon it. With the aid of some smaller twigs and some gorse, it did not take long to have a fire going.
I laughed, sat down and opened my own backpack. “I have a few apples and some dried venison and some …”
“Roast chicken,” finished Parnard, recognising the smell.
We shared our supplies between us.
“Love and home, and belonging,” I explained. "I told you there is also a custom for the betrothed’s parents to give gifts at the actual marriage? Our parents are no longer in Middle Earth, so when it is time I must act for my mother. She took longer than my father to warm to Estarfin, but she did grow to think well of him. ‘That hair of his,’ she would often say, it needs a good brush.”’ I smiled at Parnard, and admitted “I have always liked his hair, brushed or no, but I would make a good brush on my mother’s behalf, if you can aid me with finding boar bristles?”
“I will do it,” he said with a bow of his head. “I combed his hair once, you know. It can be a dangerous business.”
I laughed again. Yes, I knew, and yes I knew that to try and do anything with Estarfin’s hair without his permission was to court danger. I thought I probably had that permission within reason.
Parnard took the small stone he picked up in the house, and weighed it in his hand. He deftly threw it in the air a few more times.
“Do you remember in Lothlorien, when he was skimming stones in the lake?”
“Yes,” I sighed. “It was only ten years ago or so? Yet it feels like an age. We almost lost him there.”
“Yet he turned to you as one he trusted. He sought your company and you could quieten his spirit, probably even more than I?”
“It was the least I could do.”
“And you tried to heal him, where Belegos and I had failed. You and Elloen as I recall, brought him back from that living death.”
Parnard nodded, then he rose to his feet and skimmed the stone. Five times it bounced off the water.
“We both take good care of him now, Lady.” he said.
I stood and hugged Parnard. I knew we were as family. “And he takes care of us,” I added.
I was lost in thought a little after that, and I indicated to my companion I would walk alone a little along the shore. I wanted that time alone with my memories. Parnard understood, and opened his wineskin.
I found I was hugging myself as I walked away, leaving but light footprints on that shore, wishing he were here also, but knowing why that would not be a good idea. I would keep this visit secret from him for now, until the time came. When we exchanged rings he would understand, and I would tell him all Parnard and I had found. I looked to the stars overhead and thought, ‘Guide me Lady, that I get all things right.’ I believed she did.
There were several pieces of amber scattered on the next stretch of shore. Some already had what appeared like small forests set within them. I noted them and walked on, intending to pick them up on my return.
Then the beach turned a corner onto more stony ground, that wound up closer to the trees and the incline to Rerir itself. I was glad I had put my boots back on. The rocks made the going hard, but I could hear the sound of falling water ahead, and thought to make it to the rill that seemed to be coming down from the mountain itself. A few more dark pines and I was there in a starlit glade, with the water spilling from above and down a shallow stream to the sea. I took a deep breath of the crisp air.
“Thank you,” I thought, to she who watches us.
Then it was I noticed. A gleaming among the rocks in several places. I bent down to observe more closely.
It was gold. Nuggets of gold lay in the stream.
And I knew she had answered me. As I selected two of the larger nuggets, I knew I had found what I didn’t know I was looking for. I knew exactly what I would make of it though.