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The Albatross
by Mirasaui

Summary: Lord Cirdan tells a story to comfort a lonely child.
Story Notes: Written for the Writers Art LJ community. The prompt was 'Albatross' as quoted from part of a stanza in "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". Rated: G.
Characters: Círdan, Little Lindir
Thanks to my beta Alex_cat.

Lord Círdan walked the cobbled street that led to the harbour. His countenance was grim and his steps wearied. It was a time of sorrow for all who dwelt on the Isle of Balar. Sirion had been overrun and the few survivors rescued by he and Gil-galad had been brought here to be succoured and comforted. Yet, it was not enough. He knew that ere long most would leave for the white shores, unable to come to terms with the grief and the horror they had suffered.

He sighed. The attack had come without warning and the losses were heavy. Amongst them, Elwing, who had jumped to her death to save the Silmaril from the grasp of the sons of Fëanor. And the little ones...oh, how his heart ached, for there was no word of Elrond and Elros, their bodies had not been found amidst the ruin. Rumour had it they were borne away by Maglor and Maedhros. To what doom, he did not know. He prayed daily for their safety, hoping against hope that their lives would be spared.

A soft breeze tinged with the smell of salt played about his head, blowing loose strands of hair across his face. Absent-mindedly, Círdan brushed them away, his mind on the many tasks he had to do this day, that in his grief he had no strength to perform. Shouts interrupted his thoughts, angry voices, taunting and spiteful, directed against one of the newcomers who sat huddled in the shadow of the seawall.

"Be gone, rapscallions!" Círdan cried out and the youths he addressed froze, hearing their lord shout at them in anger. Guilt crossed their faces then fear and they ran, moving as fast as their feet would carry them away from the scene of their crime.

"I know your faces," Círdan called after them. "I will deal with you later, speak with your parents." He shook his head, gazing at the lone elfling that remained, the one that the others had ridiculed. "Can you not see how this one suffers? Tis a shame that you cause him more torment! He, who has done nothing to deserve it, ai, why must youth be so cruel?"

He sat down next to the child and placed his arm around the young one's shoulders. Large blue eyes looked up at him in almost worship. Lids blinked furiously, holding back tears.

"I did not cry, Lord Círdan. This time I did not cry."

Círdan smiled. "Yes, you were very brave, Lindir. Not many your age would have been so."

Lindir's lower lip trembled but he did not let the tears fall. Lord Círdan had told him that warriors did not weep and he had nothing but respect and admiration for his rescuer and saviour, in more ways than one. If his lord told him to jump into the sea, he would do so, gladly. But of course, he would never ask of Lindir such a thing.

"I am different, that is why they tease. Why did Ilúvatar make me so? It is not fair!"

"Ah, Lindir, what a boring world it would be were we all made to look alike." Lord Círdan fingered one of Lindir's locks, soft and silky, white as the snow that capped the tops of the mountains. A unique hair colour among elves, a unique child. Already Lindir's skill with the harp was well known, a prodigy he was. But his lovely hair and his burgeoning talent were what separated him from the others of his age, made him the odd one out and the butt of endless jokes.

Normally, Círdan would not interfere with the battles of the elfling play yard, but Lindir had lost all in Sirion, his parents, his siblings, his home and his friends. If ever one needed a defender, it was he. Yet, he did not wish to coddle the child, only even the odds against him. And it seemed to be working, this time Lindir held his ground.

"I wish I looked more like the other elflings. Why could my hair not be black or brown or red? None have hair the colour of mine. Gareth said that I am a baby, that I was so frightened by what happened that my hair was scared white!" Lindir clenched his fists in anger. "That is not true! Mother said my hair growed this way always!"

"Grew, Lindir, the word is "grew".

"Yes, my lord. Mother said my hair grew this way from the day I was birthed." Lindir looked so woe be gone that Círdan pulled him close, wrapping his arms about the child.

"There are not many elves that have a beard, Lindir."

A little smile crept onto Lindir's face. "Yes, my lord, that is true. But, none would dare make fun of your beard. I would rather have a beard than hair the colour of goat's milk. Gareth says that I am ugly, that I look as if I have been dipped in the flour barrel. H-He called me an elleth, an ugly elleth, they all did. Am I ugly, lord Círdan?"

"Nay, Lindir, you are not. You are a beautiful child who will grow into a handsome elf. Lean against my shoulder and I will tell you the story of the albatross, one of my favourite birds."

Lindir snuggled closer to Círdan, happy to have the attention of his lord and eager to hear one of his stories. "I am comfortable now, Lord Círdan. You may begin."

"In my younger days," Lord Círdan said with a smile, "I made many lengthy and wondrous voyages upon the sea. Most of the time, Ulmo's waters were tame and my destination was reached with ease. But on one such trip, my crew and I were not so lucky. A tempest arose and the sea grew angry. The sky darkened and the wind screeched and howled. The waves grew so high they towered above the ship, threatening with each crest to send us crashing to the ocean bottom. In the next breath, we were sent soaring to a dizzying height. The violence of the storm was such that we had to lash ourselves to the mast to avoid being washed away.

"For five days, our ship was tossed hither and thither like a dry leaf in a raging brook. For five days, we did not see the sun, only walls of water and sheets of solid rain. The wind roared about our heads and peppered us with needle like spray. There was naught we could do but pray that the beams of our ship would hold against the onslaught.

"When the weather calmed, we crossed our hearts with our hands and thanked Ulmo for our safe keeping. Yet, our problems were not over for we had drifted far off course. No sign of land could we see. Our compass had been dashed by the storm and we were at the mercy of the sea and wind. Whither they would take us, we knew not. For long we sailed in unknown waters and fear was upon us.

"One day there appeared in the sky a magnificent bird. He was white with a touch of grey upon his feathers. His beak was a brilliant gold. The span of his wings was greater than that of Thorondor, king of the eagles, and I and my crew rejoiced at his presence, for birds most always signified that land was near.

"Yet, on we travelled, our visitor with us, and no land did we sight. The bird, we knew not his name or kind, having never seen his like before, would not light upon our deck but was never far from us. He flew with wings stretched wide, soaring aloft on currents of air, dipping and gliding, a creature of such beauty and grace he brought tears to our eyes.

"We gave him a name, Estel, which means hope, for without out him we might have lost faith. Whether we followed our bird or he us, remained in doubt. But good omen and friend he became and always will I think of him fondly.

"I say he was beautiful and that he was, majestic. He was built sleek and slim like the fastest of sailing vessels and he never seemed to tire. We marvelled that such a creature ruled the skies, alone, for there was none but he and us and the sea and the sky.

"At last, our lookout spied a darkened hump on the horizon and cried, 'Land ho!' We rejoiced and could not take our eyes from the dark speck, watching as patches of muted green and brown turned into the hills and rocks of a beckoning shore. Never had a happier crew sailed into an unfamiliar harbour. In our excitement, we forgot about our friend and when we remembered, he was gone. We asked the locals about the bird and they said he was an albatross, friend to those who sailed upon the lower seas. We smiled, for he had been friend to us indeed. We discovered the albatross was an excellent flier; that he sometimes flew for years without returning to the land; that when he chose a mate, he did so for life. While our friend would eat the scraps we threw to him and dine upon the fishes in our nets, it was the tiny shrimp that floated just beneath the surface of the sea that made up most of his diet - a fascinating bird, one to whom we owed much.

"We tarried not long at our port of call, purchasing charts to find our way back into familiar waters, replenishing our lost and used supplies, and repairing the damage the storm had wreaked upon the ship. It was not until the day before we left that I had a chance to tour the coast around the harbour in which we found ourselves. The shoreline was rocky and upon it nested birds of all size and colour. There were hundreds of them and I laughed at their many personalities as I also admired their splendour.

"A member of the crew had joined me in my trek and he also delighted in the antics of the winged creatures. As we watched, one bird in particular caught our eye. He was a large bird, vaguely familiar, gliding in for a landing. At the last moment, he dangled his enormous webbed feet, which flopped back and forth as if he was performing a silly dance. We laughed merrily at the clumsiness of the plucky fellow, for once on the ground, he waddled like a duck, yet he far surpassed a duck in size.

"On our return to the wharf, we talked of nothing else and regaled our companions with the tale at a local tavern. The barkeep listened and waited until we had finished. 'Do not make light of the albatross,' he said. 'Gooney they are upon the ground but many's the time they are the only company we sailors have on our lonely watch at sea. A good luck bird they be, it is not wise to speak ill of the albatross.'

"And so, we were chastened and amazed that we had made such a mistake. That the beautiful bird that followed us on our journey and the one of which we had made such fun were of the same ilk. I have never forgotten the albatross, Lindir, and count myself blessed whenever I see one. There is a lesson to be learned from my tale. Can you guess what it may be?"

Lindir had listened to the story with much interest, and the eyes he turned upon his lord were bright and shiny. "The albatross," he said, "was awkward and ugly upon the ground but he turned into a bird of beauty and grace when he flew."

"Yes, Lindir, "all creatures of Ilúvatar are beautiful but their beauty may not be visible at first glance. Beauty is more than skin deep. Beauty also resides here, inside of you." Lord Círdan placed his palm on Lindir's chest, close to his heart. "You are beautiful Lindir, and Gareth and his friends will realize that one day. They must learn to look with more than their eyes. The albatross to some appears ungainly and humorous but to me, he is one of the most beautiful birds I have seen."

"That was a wonderful story, Lord Círdan! Lindir threw his arms around his lord and gave him a hug and a smile. You have made me feel ever so much better!"

Lord Círdan laughed, patted Lindir on the head then rose to his feet. "Would that I could stay here longer but I have work that must be done."

"And I have my music lesson," Lindir replied, his mien much more cheerful than before.

Círdan watched as the white-haired elfling skipped gaily down the path, turning mid-way to wave good-bye. It was the little ones that always warmed his heart.

Later that day, he spied Lindir on the wharf bringing a basket of food to some of the workers. Lindir waved excitedly and called out a greeting. Círdan walked over to see how he fared and not able to resist the appeal of one so sweet, gave Lindir a hug. "Are you better now, Lindir?"

"Yes, my lord Círdan, ever so much."

Lord Círdan ruffled Lindir's hair. "That is what I wished to hear...my little albatross."

Lindir looked at him and smiled, a smile that went from ear to ear. Due to the care and kindness of Lord Círdan, Lindir for the first time felt his own beauty and found what the sailors and his lord had on their journey, what he had lost since first he arrived upon this Isle. Estel, the name Lord Círdan gave to the Albatross, hope.

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