Captain Belzor gazed in some despair at his deck: littered with bodies, it was, all of them seeming underfoot. His men did their best to ignore the chaos as they went about fastening hatches, checking the rigging one last time, readying the ship for departure while dodging children and their frantic parents, all of them gathered above deck so as not to miss the setting forth. Our last time out, Belzor thought. He had been captain of the Westwind and her namesakes for fifty-three years, and before that, he had made many a voyage as a seaman and apprentice, going mostly to the north of Middle-earth on the long voyages, though he had seen Pelargir a few times. Always he had looked westward on the return journeys, to the harbor and his own hearth. But no more. Rómenna would not welcome him home again.
"His lordship comes!" Belzor turned, uncertain who had spoken, but heads turned now as four men approached the ship. Three guards, by their uniforms, with Lord Anárion in the lead. But just as they reached the dock, Anárion paused, gesturing for his men to precede him, and then stooped to scoop (or rather scrape) up a handful of earth. Last to board, as he stepped off the gangplank and onto the deck, he tossed the sand back over his shoulder, which surprised Belzor. Lord Elendil's younger son was more often his father's aide, and his sailings had been ever and only to different ports of Númenor, and shore-hugging crew rarely observed such customs.
With only brief, if not unkind acknowledgment of the deference shown by those about him, Anárion glanced round, found Belzor, and made straight for him, excusing himself as he threaded about passengers and crew.
"Captain Belzor," Anárion greeted him, and Belzor bowed.
"My lord. We await your order," he replied.
"'Tis your ship. Give the command," Anárion answered, and the captain nodded sharply.
"Raise anchor!" he called astern, and got an acknowledgment, and with that call, the process of disembarking began in earnest. The tide was running, and it took them with it, pulling them out of harbor as sails began to unfurl to catch the wind. All along the dock, ships were leaving—nine of them, some circling already on the horizon, awaiting the others. Westwind would be among the last to join them.
"Have you not forgotten something, captain?" Anárion asked at his side, then, and Belzor blinked, then frowned, surprised.
"Well, my lord," he admitted slowly, "I suppose you could say that, though 'tis not a forgetting. But we'll not be coming home, so I brought no seeds, though you've tossed the sand." For it was tradition for the last man to board to give the sea a taste of the earth, for luck, that she not claim those who went upon it, and also to promise a seed to the ship, if she would carry them safely home to plant it. Thus doubly insured against ill fortune, Númenorean seamen set forth on their journeys, and it had truly bothered Belzor to forego that ritual. But it made no sense, since they would not be coming back. "I must say, my lord, that I had not expected you to know this or miss it."
Anárion simply chuckled softly, and said, "I have not sailed, nor have I warred, but even a politician does not scorn good luck or that which brings it, and it is his business to know what others do not expect him to know. Here." He reached into his belt pouch and produced a tiny box, lacquered black with a rayed star done in red and white upon the lid, which he handed to Belzor. Belzor, after glancing up at his lord for permission and receiving it, opened the lid gingerly, and sucked in a breath. Within, there lay strange seeds of a kind he had not seen before.
"What are they?"
"I am told they are a kind of elvish flower that grows best in Middle-earth, though it seems, despite the bans of the Kings, that it is quite popular in Armenelos. Elanor, the Elves would call it—'sun-star' in our markets. My family has a penchant for collecting seeds," Anárion said wryly. "But I knew of this custom, and I thought mayhap this would suit us better."
"Mayhap, indeed, my lord," Belzor grinned, feeling an almost painful relief. "Aye, mayhap it will indeed!"
A Star To Steer Her By