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Eärendil’s Tale  by Bodkin

Eärendil’s Tale

 

Elrond stood motionless, filled with the kind of stillness that requests the world to go away, to turn in its path and abandon the collision towards which it is heading.  Had he been several ages younger, as he had been then, he would have closed his eyes and pretended nothing was happening.  But, if there was one thing he had learned over the centuries, it was that wishing something away was invariably ineffective.

The mist-grey eyes before him glanced anxiously sideways, trying to decide on Elrond’s reaction, but finding it impossible to read the face of the Lord of Imladris, long the bearer of Vilya and one of Arda’s last great Elf Lords.

‘There was nothing else I could do,’ he said apologetically, attempting to bridge a gulf of silence as deep and wide as the Sundering Seas.

Elrond’s mind whirled.  Responses cried into the dark of a thousand nights, rejection of who he was and from whom he had come, rage at a division that had robbed him of his innocence, before he was old enough to realise what innocence was, fought against the calm rationale of a warrior, a healer, a lord of his people.   Experience became history, he thought, and with the space of many centuries he could understand the truth of what he heard.

He spread his hands.  ‘It could not be helped,’ he agreed courteously.

His adar winced.  In some ways it would hurt less to be challenged, to have his son demand to know why the needs of Arda outweighed his love for his children, how he could have brought himself to abandon them to be pawns of Kinslayers, orphans in the home of a High King himself orphaned, to grow up in other people’s houses in the absence of their family, learning to be ashamed of their origins.   Eärendil’s head drooped and he traced a pattern on the gravel path with his toe.

Unexpectedly, Elrond’s lips twitched.  It seemed – odd, to say the least, to see his sons so plainly in the adar he knew by name only.   But then, he thought, the Mariner was barely older than he was himself, and, for most of his long years, he had been bound to the task of piloting Vingilot through the night sky, cut off from both elves and men.  He was aware of a twinge of fellow-feeling.  Was not the fate of all of greater import than the care of two?  And had not he abandoned his own children – grown, it was true, but still wanting his presence and his love – in his need to assuage the pain of Vilya’s loss of power?   It could not be as it should have been – he no longer needed an adar, and had not in more than an age, since he had lost the adar of his heart at Dagorlad, but that was no reason why he could not develop a friendship with Eärendil. 

‘I have long anticipated this reunion,’ Elrond continued.  Well, he thought, there was no need to add that his expectation of meeting his parents had been accompanied by a slightly hollow feeling. 

Eärendil raised his face to meet his son’s gaze head on and Elrond was shaken to see the despair in his eyes.  ‘I had no intention of deserting either Arda or my family,’ he said helplessly.  ‘Had I been offered a choice similar to Lúthien’s,’ he added, ‘to return for a man’s span of life and thence to journey beyond the circles of the world – I would have chosen to sail back to my home shores to see my sons grow.’  He spread his hands before him. ‘But no such choice was given me.’ 

They were beginning to attract attention as they stood eye to eye.  Taking his adar’s arm, Elrond directed him to stroll slowly along the Long Walk towards a distant gazebo.  ‘Legend has it,’ he said, ‘that Elwing – that my naneth chose that you should both be judged among the Firstborn.’

‘True enough,’ his adar agreed.  ‘But the Valar had made it plain that there would be no return voyage, whatever the decision.  And, if never again could I go home, it did not matter to me whether I was considered elf or man – I was happy to abide with whichever kindred made your naneth happy.  And Elwing is elf-kind,’ he said softly, ‘in her heart, as I never was.’

‘Like Elros,’ Elrond told him, the image of his brother’s bright spirit burning in his memory, his throat tight with remembered grief.

Their long robes dragged slightly along the grasses that leaned over the path.  The heavy silk shushed as they walked, echoing the remembered sounds of gentle waves lapping on a pebbled shore.

‘I will never know him.’  There was a desolation in his adar’s voice that offered Elrond an unexpected comfort.  He, at least, had known his twin, if not for long, and he had grown to believe that Elros’s decision had been right for him.  And from the long line of his brother’s descendants had come Estel, returned now to the dignities of his ancestors at the beginning of a new age of hope.

Elrond drew a deep breath.  The air was stronger here, he registered again, the light brighter and the song straightforward and joyous.  A song-thrush warbled a rill of pure notes.  It seemed unjust, he thought.  Had Arda been marred before it even began by the malice of Morgoth?  The contrast should make Aman seem unadulterated bliss – but, strangely, he had seen doubt even in the eyes of his wife’s naneth.  The passage of three ages spent standing up against evil had given those seeking asylum in the Blessed Realm a sense of kinship that they could not explain to those whose strength of character had not been so tested.  They were untempered steel, he thought, so many of these elves of Valinor, bright and beautifully decorated, but untried.  Yet Eärendil was not among them.  He had sacrificed his all to seek help in Arda’s need – and, even then, he had not been granted rest and the praise of his kin, but served to bring hope to those who looked up to the night sky.  It was time to move beyond his long past insecurities and grant his parents the son they had never had.

‘Naneth did not come with you?’ he asked, clearing his throat.

‘She would never have chosen to leave you,’ Eärendil said without answering.  ‘She knew my reason for voyaging so far afield, but her feeling was always that you do not have young ones and abandon them.’  He turned and met his son’s eyes earnestly.  ‘She made her decision only to save you,’ he said with conviction.  ‘Had she and the Silmaril remained, the slaughter would never have ceased.  By carrying it beyond the reach of the Fëanorionnath, she removed their reason for continuing their campaign.’

Elrond thought briefly of his and Elros’s terror as the sons of Feanor wrenched them from those who had cared for them and borne them off into a captivity that had remoulded them.   They had lived, he reminded himself; lived when so many had not, and, in time, they had even come to care for their captors as the only certainties in a world of change.  He felt a wrench when he realised that, after all this time, he still cared more for Maglor than for the adar before him.

‘If you cannot bring yourself to forgive me,’ Eärendil said starkly, taking his son’s silence as rejection, ‘have it in your heart to forgive Elwing.’

‘I have forgiven you both ages since,’ Elrond returned simply, ‘if forgiveness is needed.’

Eärendil’s smile was tinged with disbelief, as if he had come to doubt that anything was that simple.

‘Can you stay long?’ his son asked.  ‘I would like to spend some time learning to know more of you.’

‘Not long,’ the Mariner returned.  ‘Elwing is too anxious to learn whether you wish to know us for me to leave her waiting alone for news.’

‘And -?’ Elrond gestured at the expanse of sky.

‘Ah.’  Eärendil laughed briefly. ‘I am coming to master the skill of being in two places at once.  With the Silmaril’s help I can divide my attentions between my task and other things – else, neither Elwing nor I would ever be able to leave the Doors of Night.’

‘I saw you,’ Elrond said abruptly.  ‘We both did.  The only time I can recall – high in the sky above the battle, bright with the light of the Silmaril as you challenged Ancalagon.’  His voice softened with wonder.  ‘The dragons came upon us, flame and steel, freed from the deepest pits of Angband.  The beat of their wings and the noise of their screams dulled the sounds of battle and the sight of them filling the sky made even the bravest of the warriors falter.  And you came out of the West, blazing with white flame, the host of Eagles accompanying you – and the struggle started again.’

‘The flame drew the dragons,’ Eärendil said almost inaudibly.  ‘It burnt them – I could see the pain it caused them – and it drove them wild, but they were unable to resist its lure.’  He closed his eyes, although whether he wanted to close out the memory or sharpen it, he was not sure.  ‘Ancalagon bugled a call to the others to keep away – I was his and he would brook no opposition, but although they would not defy him, they could not entirely bring themselves to turn their attention away.  The Lords of the Sky seized their chance and Thorondor led the attack.  There were enough Eagles for them to work against the worms in concert – once their eyes had been pecked out they made easy victims of the Great Birds, and any that still lived when they fell from the sky did not long survive on the ground.

‘I had little time to watch the battle,’ he admitted wryly.  ‘Ancalagon was double the size of Vingilot – bigger, perhaps – and he was long and supple and very cunning.  He would not place himself in the way of my arrows – and I really did not want him near enough to be within reach of my sword.’  He paused a while as they walked between the green hedges overlooked by the silvery-leaved birches.  ‘He was hot, too.  Even at a distance the breeze bore from him the stifling sulphurous heat of a fire-mountain.  I was afraid that, if he approached too close, Vingilot would simply burst into flames.  I knew far less then,’ he commented, ‘about the power brought by the Silmaril.’

Elrond looked at his adar.  ‘How did you fell him?’ he asked simply.  ‘I know that you did, for I saw it happen.’

‘You were too young to be there,’ Eärendil said disapprovingly.  ‘Battle is no place for elflings.’

His son smiled.  ‘We were old enough,’ he disagreed.  ‘And it was necessary.’

His adar sighed.  ‘I suppose so,’ he conceded.  ‘You were older, I think, than I was when we faced the dangers of the voyage westwards across the sea.  But what confronted you then was not what we hoped for when we were granted aid.’

‘It never is,’ Elrond told him with weary resignation.  ‘Every apple contains a worm, it would seem.’

‘I was terrified,’ Eärendil admitted. ‘They never mention in the tales, do they, that heroism is in facing peril and death despite your fears.  That Fingolfin rode out not with brainless boldness, but with a desperate courage against an enemy he knew would defeat him.  That Finrod left the caves of Nargothrond in the full knowledge that he was unlikely to survive and died selflessly in the dungeons of Tol-in-Gaurhoth to shield Beren.’  He fell silent for a moment before drawing a deep breath.  ‘I had no idea how I was supposed to deal with the worm,’ he said.  ‘I tried to hold his interest, but stay just beyond his reach – a tactic that would clearly not work indefinitely.  He grew bolder as he became convinced that I was playing mouse to his cat -.’

‘It was like a dance in the sky,’ Elrond interrupted.  ‘You approached and feinted and moved closer to each other and away.  His fire seared the air only to be forced back by the brilliance of the Silmaril.  He flinched and wheeled away as the jewel flashed.’

‘It took me some time to realise that there were more suitable weapons than blades,’ Eärendil nodded.  ‘And that, if I were to have a chance of defeating him, it would come through his lust for the Silmaril.  It drew him.  Drew him as it did the sons of Fëanor,’ he added softly, ‘to his destruction as to theirs.  He attacked in the end,’ he remarked, ‘unable to resist it any longer – and it proved simpler than I could have believed.  As he came to take off my head, and the Silmaril with it, I simply held up my blade and allowed the jewel’s fire to gather round its length.  The smell of burning as it pierced the worm’s brain was enough to sicken even one hardened to the pits of Morgoth, but Ancalagon stiffened and slid back as his wings stopped beating. He simply slipped from my sword and plummeted.’

‘He fell like a nightmare from the sky,’ Elrond said, ‘wings spread wide and his tail lashing as he struck the towers of Thangorodrim.  They crumbled beneath his weight as though they were of no more solidity than an elfling’s bricks and the shaking rocked the ground where we stood.  We knew then,’ he told his adar, ‘that Morgoth was defeated.  It took some time before he was dragged from his pits, but we regained our determination to fight him to the end.’

‘I wish I could have stayed,’ Eärendil admitted, ‘long enough, at least, to see Morgoth chained, but I was not permitted to set foot on the mortal lands – and Ancalagon’s death signalled the end of my time.’

Elrond turned to look at his adar.  ‘We were proud of you, Elros and I,’ he said with clear sincerity.  ‘We gloried in our memories of your fight with the dragon and stored what people said of you.  No-one else had an adar like you.’

‘If your adar cannot be with you,’ Eärendil said ironically, ‘at least you can boast of his peculiarities.  Consorting with the Valar, fighting dragons in a flying ship, sailing the sky as a star.  Not to mention a naneth who can put on feathers and fly.’

‘We are a very special family,’ Elrond grinned.  ‘Disregard us at your peril.’

Eärendil stared at him before tentatively returning his smile.  ‘Perhaps,’ he agreed. 

‘I would like to learn more about your adventures.  You must have seen many things that others have not.’

The Mariner’s smile widened.  ‘That is probably true.  And after all,’ he said, and his voice rang with a cautious hopefulness, ‘I do owe you several ages-worth of bedtime stories.’

 

Elwing

Her face – the soft curve of her cheek and long dark lashes of her veiled eyes – was overlaid with a mask of horror.

Elrond froze and only Celebrían’s firm grasp on his arm kept him seated in the present, where she and the three half-elves gathered in polite harmony beneath the dappled shade of a vast oak.

Inside the Lord of Imladris an elfling screamed as he and his brother were thrust away from her, with no more than a swift pat on the cheek and the feeling of her fingers bruising his shoulder while the sounds of battle grew closer.  Her eyes were dark with fear for them, but the light of the Silmaril gleamed through the dark blue of the cloak at her throat.

‘I have long intended to journey to your tower,’ Celebrían said smoothly, ‘but for many years I was too frail to come so far – and then, no word of greeting came from you.’

‘We would not impose ourselves where we were not wanted,’ Eärendil pronounced proudly.  ‘If you did not wish to meet us, then we would not insist.’

‘So many misunderstandings,’ his daughter-in-law sighed.

The guard had hesitated as the door to the Great Hall crashed open, but she had pushed him on, crying that he would not be able to hold them, that flight was the only possible hope for any of them.  The passage had been dark, all sound muffled, with only the stifling closeness of the walls and a feeling of oppression.  His face had been crushed in the rough wool of a cloak to smother his cries: for many long years he had been unable to endure the feel of cloth over his nose and cheeks.

Elwing said nothing, but simply looked at him, her pale skin gleaming like pearl and her dark hair bound in heavy coils, before turning her attention to the crystal goblets and pouring the rich red wine.

They had emerged into a scene of such horror that his protests had been silenced instantly.  Elves lay in ruined heaps, crumpled in corners beneath the feathery tamarisk, huddled in corners, sprawled across the sun-warmed cobbles – not warriors only, but ellyth and elflings too, their eyes empty as they stared at a sky that stared back at them in shock, and the stench of spilled blood choked him.  The guard’s booted feet had echoed on the silent stone as they had run from the shelter of his adar’s house and followed Elwing to the cliff, where the crawling sea had beckoned them.

The birds sang in the tree above them as Elrond sipped his wine and the brilliant blue of the sky was reflected in the wide pool, where fish broke water occasionally to snatch the hovering flies and the ripples spread gently across its still surface.  Elwing’s long-fingered hand tentatively proffered a plate of small biscuits and he took one, smiling his thanks.

‘This is a beautiful place,’ Celebrían said, valiantly attempting normality as eddies of the past whirled around them.  ‘I had not travelled this far north before.’

Elwing smiled and looked down.  ‘We have dwelt here a long time,’ she said.  ‘I have almost forgotten what it is like to live elsewhere.’

Almost, he thought.  But there are some places one cannot forget, however much one might prefer to do so.   The urgency of battle had pursued them – well, it would have done – they were, after all, the focus of all this death and destruction.  The great warrior, with his red hair flying, sword grasped firmly in his left hand – and behind him, all sharp angles, gleaming like obsidian, the one who would not leave his brother’s side.   Elrond had fallen suddenly, showered with blood as an arrow had pierced his guardian’s throat and Maglor had turned and snarled at his warriors to hold back.  He had heard Elros whimpering as their nursemaid had held him close, but he had been afraid to move until Maglor had pulled him free and swung him up in his arms to pin him against the hard edges of his armour.  His brother had screamed for him then, but the smell of metal and blood and sweat had turned him to ice.  Maedhros had challenged his naneth as she stood on the cliff’s edge: her children or the jewel – and she had defied him, the despair in her voice, he recognised now, acknowledging that the madness of the Fëanorionnath would allow no escape for any of them.  He had known she would choose them – they were her little loves, her precious ones – she was their nana.  How could she not choose them over a stone, no matter how pretty?

A frog plopped into the pond, the slight noise unexpectedly loud in the silence.  Elrond cleared his throat.  ‘Do you miss the sea?’ he asked at random.  ‘It never held me as it did Elros, but every now and then I would seek an excuse to visit Cirdan so that I could spend time beside the ocean.’

The other members of the party looked at him.

‘My naneth found, in the end, that it was better for her to remain away from the ocean,’ Celebrían said pleasantly, in an attempt to extend his remarks into conversation.  ‘It was too compelling and she found it caused her pain.’

‘I sail other waters now,’ the Mariner said vaguely, glancing at his wife.

She had stepped back, he recalled, one hand clutching desperately at her throat, the look on her face one of total despair.  The wind caught her cloak and blew it out around her and tugged at her hair, pulling it free of its pins and making it float like a dark cloud round her head.   He could not remember her words – he thought now they might have been in Quenya – but Maedhros had been certain she would yield to him.   He strode towards her – commanding, filling the sky, his figure dominating the slight form of the elleth, but Elwing had turned away and raced, no more than a step or two, to the bare rock overhanging the insatiable sea.  She had looked at each of them briefly, no more than a moment’s hesitation before flinging herself back and letting the wind carry her as she plummeted beyond his sight.

Elwing leant forward and placed a hand on his, abandoning the attempt to pretend that this was an ordinary visit.  ‘He would not have spared us,’ she said gently.  ‘You remember a different Maedhros.  He was enraged with the fire of battle and he had just lost his brothers – he would not have let us live.’  Her eyes like a raincloud, she continued, ‘He left Elured and Elurin to die.  How could I doubt that he would do the same to you?  The only weapon I had was the Silmaril – if I removed that, then perhaps he would find you of sufficient value to guard you well.’ She straightened and examined her hands.  ‘I never expected what happened next.  How could I?  It was an impossibility.’  

‘He believed you would return,’ Elrond told her.  ‘For a long time, he thought that you would come back for us and bring the Silmaril within his reach again – but you never did.’

‘No,’ she echoed softly, her voice filled with the mourning of two long ages, ‘I never did.’

Elros had screamed as his naneth dropped from sight and he had struggled free of the elleth’s grip.  She had reached for him, but Maedhros had scooped him up in his handless arm as he headed towards the place from which Elwing had disappeared.  His brother had fought helplessly in the arms of the Kinslayer, arms flailing against the blood-stained armour and Maedhros had shifted his clasp ominously on the squirming body, there on the edge of nothing.  Maglor had called a sharp warning in a language that meant nothing to Elrond and the red-head had looked at him before fixing his light-grey eyes on the ellonMaedhros had turned away, thrusting Elros into the arms of one of his warriors, barking orders as they headed for the narrow path that led to the beach where their naneth had so often taken them to play.  The nursemaid had run after them pleading with them to leave the ellyn, begging them not to harm the twins, to take her with them to care for the little ones, until, at a word from Maedhros, a casual blow had felled her, a red flower blooming at her breast.

‘Did you know,’ Elrond asked, ‘what became of us?  I have often wondered if you were reassured that we had survived, or whether you carried with you always the fear that we had joined those lost at Sirion, yet more victims of a lust for Fëanor’s jewels.’

‘I hoped,’ she said softly, ‘as your adar’s ship wandered the face of the sea, but I feared the worst.  I had seen the results of the Kinslayers’ obsession before and I could not believe that there was any kindness in their hearts for the heirs of Elu.  It was not until the Valar offered the choice of the Firstborn to our House that I realised that you lived and thrived under the care of others.’

It had been close, Elrond had realised much later, when such things as battle lust and bitterness and vengeance had become more than words in his mouth.  Maedhros would have killed them then – hurled them from the cliff, as Elwing took the Silmaril out of the reach of Fëanor’s heirs yet again, had Maglor not held him back, reminded him of his regret at the fate of Dior’s sons, offered him the hope of hostages.  And then the white spray had taken form, a gleaming mist of swirling light coalescing above the black-edged rocks, and the haunting cry of the great sea-bird had made them shiver as, with one beat of her long narrow wings, she had broken from the clutching waves and left the land to carry the stone westwards over the reaching swells of the steel-grey sea. 

‘Of course, you were their kin, too,’ Eärendil added.  ‘I could only try to believe that the great-grandsons of Finwë would demand a duty of care of the Kinslayers that the great-grandsons of Elu did not.’ He gazed at the blood-red light reflected from his glass onto his open hand.  ‘But my hopes were not high,’ he murmured.

Maglor’s arm had remained tightly round him as the argument with his brother had endured beyond their return to their warriors, beyond the dealing with the wounded and the disposal of their dead.  He could have drawn away from Fëanor’s son, Elrond realised, but there had been something comforting about his strength in the midst of the confusion, an echo of a distant memory of strong arms and laughter, shining black hair in narrow braids and the feel of a cheek pressing briefly against the top of his head.  His hand had reached out involuntarily and twisted itself in a silken braid and held on as though it was his only promise of safety.

‘Maedhros, I think, would have had little interest in us had he not believed that Elwing might return for us,’ he said thoughtfully.  ‘In truth, I remember little of him, except that he frightened us both.  But Maglor – it grieves me that his life was destroyed by his adar’s jewels and the oath.  He would have made a good adar – but he was tormented by what he had done as Maedhros never was.’  Elrond closed his eyes briefly.  ‘I hope he finds peace,’ he said. ‘Either with Mandos or in the days beyond days.  He deserved better.’

‘I shall always be grateful to him,’ his naneth stated.  ‘Whatever else he might have done, he guarded my sons and gave of himself to raise them when I could not.  He could have given me no greater gift.’

‘My naneth felt that Maglor was caught up in a tragedy that was not of his making,’ Celebrían said softly.  ‘He was not a warrior from choice, but from loyalty to his adar and for love of his brothers.’  She reached out to take Elrond’s hand.  ‘It was like him to insist on taking care of you and Elros – and like him to free you from the fate that followed the Fëanorionnath by giving you into the care of Gil-Galad.’ 

Eärendil blinked. ‘Of course – you are the daughter of my grandfather’s cousin,’ he said, ‘as well as my son’s wife.’  He smiled.  ‘I become confused,’ he admitted, ‘between all the layers of kinship.’

‘It becomes even more difficult,’ she laughed, ‘when long centuries divide you – and your cousins and uncles are the stuff of legend, as well as the people who put grasshoppers in your naneth’s hair and provoked your adar into putting thistles in her bed.’

‘Who,’ Elrond marvelled, ‘would dare put grasshoppers in Galadriel’s hair?’

His wife squeezed his hand.  ‘She was not always the intimidating Lady of Light,’ she told him airily.  ‘Believe it or not, she was once an aggravating little elleth with four older brothers.  I am told they played tricks on her just for the fun of making her lose her temper and attack them. Rumour has it she would kick and scratch and bite.’  Her eyes twinkled.  ‘Whereupon she would be sent to bed in disgrace.’  She congratulated herself on lightening the mood and waited for her husband to make the connection with her other revelation.  It did not take him long.

Lúthien?’ he said incredulously.  ‘Celeborn put thistles in Lúthien’s bed?’

‘It was one of my favourite stories when I was an elfling,’ Celebrían nodded gleefully.  ‘What is it about learning how naughty your parents were?  I loved hearing about Naneth and Adar getting into trouble!’

Elrond leaned back in his chair and laughed until he realised that his parents were not sharing in his amusement.  Eärendil was straight-faced and pale, watching Elwing’s hands wind tightly together in her lap, as yet another empty part of their lives tore at her.  

Her eyes had gleamed with tears as she stood there poised on the edge.  A few seconds, no more, that had burned themselves into his mind so sharply that even now he could feel the salt-scented wind on his face and hear the sobs catching in his throat as he stared at her.  A face as white as alabaster, the curve of her cheek brushed by the ebony of her hair and her pale lips mouthing her defiance.  Her hands had stretched out towards them in longing, the jewel round her neck like a chain weighing her down, binding her to a fate that was not of her making.  She had not chosen to abandon them, not really.  Her decision had been forced on her and she had sacrificed herself in an attempt to give them a chance of life.  Her gaze had been on him and Elros as she made her choice.  She had screwed up her eyes then, before throwing herself from the heights: the last sight she expected to take with her from the world the frightened faces of her sons.

Slipping from his chair, Elrond rested on one knee before her and took her hands gently in his.  ‘What we have lost,’ he said honestly, ‘cannot be recovered.  But we have all the time we need now.’ He leaned forward and kissed her softly on her brow.  ‘You are my naneth,’ he told her.  ‘Nothing changes that.  I am here now, as we hope that one day our sons will join us.  Our family will never be complete and we will miss Elros and Arwen as long as the world endures, but we will hold each other the closer for that.’

She lifted her head and her eyes, the grey of rain-washed slate, met his, a flush of colour bringing life to her brightening face as she returned the clasp of his hands. Her son smiled at her reassuringly and decided that it was now time to enjoy her presence and his adar’s and allow the nightmare recollection of events long past to recede once again into the sealed depths of distant memory, where, as far as he was concerned, it could remain.     

‘One thing,’ he stipulated teasingly.  ‘I must demand that you reveal some tales of your past to equal my wife’s revelations.’

‘Oh,’ his adar told him, his relief clear in his voice, ‘I think we can manage that.’

Leaving Gondolin

Elrond shook his head firmly.  ‘I had no worse a start in life than you or Elwing,’ he said.  He and Eärendil leaned on the rustic rail of the wooden bridge and watched the water rippling over the rocks.  Small silver fishes darted from the shadows to nose between the trailing weeds, indifferent to their presence.

‘My parents escaped the ruin of Gondolin,’ Eärendil pointed out.  ‘I lost my home, but Tuor and Idril remained in Middle Earth until I was grown.’  He dropped a fragment of bark into the water and followed it as it wove its way along the stream.

His son turned to look at him.  ‘Do you have any recollection of Gondolin?’ he asked curiously.  ‘I have heard Glorfindel talk of it so many times – the trees and fountains and the airy white houses.  When I first saw Tirion it was almost familiar to me, like seeing in reality something that had been part of a dream.’

Eärendil removed another piece of the loose bark and tore it to shreds, letting each fall into the stream.  ‘Bits,’ he said.  ‘As a child remembers.  I recall sailing small boats in the fountain in the court where my naneth liked to sit – small boats with their prows carved like swans and sails of white.  There were shady squares where people would gather and sing.  Daerada’s hall.  But it is a series of pictures rather than a living city.  I was not old enough to be aware how it all fitted together.’  He straightened and raised his face to receive the warmth of the sun.  ‘It is odd things that remain clearest – a stone flag in Turgon’s private garden that held the shadow of a giant sea snail.  Daerada would often find me there when I was quite small, running my fingers over the curves of its shell.  He would laugh and sit me on his lap and tell me stories about Aman.  I had a secret hiding place in the hollow of an old tree where I would keep my favourite toys – I did not have time to fetch them when my naneth came to take me from my refuge to leave the city.  I often wondered what became of them.’ 

With a flash of iridescent blue, a kingfisher splashed into the stream and emerged with a fish.  He shook off the sparkling water and flew to a nearby branch.  Eärendil and Elrond watched in companionable silence until the small bird flew off.

‘The journey to seek safety stopped me wanting to remember Gondolin for a long time,’ the Mariner admitted.  ‘Those early years became a different world – one I did not wish to revisit.’

‘I can understand that,’ Elrond said thoughtfully. 

‘I saw little of the battle for the city,’ Eärendil continued.  ‘My naneth shielded me well from the visions of horror that ripped it apart – but she could not shut out the noise of battle or the stink of burning.’  He swallowed.  ‘The Balrogs shared the stench that came from the dragon,’ he said in revulsion.  ‘Like rotten eggs and ancient cesspools heated to boiling point and stirred into tar – and over all the sharp tang of molten metal.  But it was the smell of incinerated flesh that sickened me most.’  He pushed himself away from the rail as if disassociating himself from his words and indicated to his son that they should walk along the water’s edge between the golden irises and the silver trunks of the birches.

‘Idril was no warrior,’ he said.  ‘She was lithe and elegant – she danced like sunlight brushing the grass, and sang like a waterfall in the forest – she was the daughter of a house of kings, and she bore herself as such – but even she carried a blade in her hand as she held me under her cloak and slipped through the shadows to the way she had prepared.’

Elrond did not speak as they continued to walk.

‘I did not realise her purpose at the time, of course,’ Eärendil stated matter-of-factly. ‘I suppose I imagined her able to defeat Orcs and Balrogs as easily as she could me.  It was not until after Elwing and I had wed that we spoke of the flight and she told me how she had steeled herself to end my life rather than see me a prisoner of Morgoth.’  He sighed.  ‘Although Maeglin would have been only too happy to take that responsibility from her.’

‘I have often wondered about Maeglin.’  The healer in Elrond spoke.  ‘He sounds to have been – unbalanced.  Damaged by something in his ancestry or rearing that is not customary among elves.’  He glanced at his adar.  ‘I have seen it among Men,’ he added, ‘but I have found it to be something that is almost impossible to set right.’

‘Eöl used enchantments to take Aredhel to wife without the consent of her kin,’ Eärendil considered.  ‘And, while it was said that she was not wholly unwilling, I do not think she would have wanted Maeglin to know that she was reluctant to be his naneth.  Yet both she and Maeglin were unhappy enough to run from Eöl when they were given the chance.  And, of course, Eöl killed her in his determination to slay his son – that is not the work of a normal person.   Maeglin had then to live both with her murder and his adar’s execution.’  He shrugged.  ‘Intellectually I can feel sorry for him,’ he said, ‘but, nonetheless, I did not like him.  He watched Idril like a starving man at a banquet – and he hated me.’

‘He was neither the first nor the last to break under the torment of Morgoth,’ his son said compassionately.  ‘We none of us know how we would have fared under like circumstances.’

‘You would not have taken your beloved by the hair and dragged her to the wall, fighting and screaming, to watch you throw her son down from the heights into the flames of the burning city,’ Eärendil said dryly.  ‘You would not, when you saw Tuor and those of the White Wing storming towards you, have drawn a blade and thrust it in my heart.  Had Idril not dressed me in mail beneath my clothes, I would not have survived to take the hidden way.’  He glanced at his hands.  ‘Torment might have made him speak of the secrets of Ondolindë, but only the flaws within him could have made him look on his betrayal of the city as an opportunity to rid himself of his rivals and take what he wanted.’

‘One thing I have learned,’ his son replied softly, ‘over many years of trial, is that it is more necessary for the injured party to offer forgiveness than it is for the perpetrator of the wrong to accept it.’

Eärendil glanced at him cynically.  ‘Perhaps,’ he said.  ‘Had Glorfindel managed to forgive him?’

‘Hard as it might be to believe,’ Elrond smiled slightly, ‘he had.  Although I believe that time spent in the Halls of Mandos had probably helped him to overcome his bitterness and develop understanding.’

‘Perhaps I should consider that as a cure,’ his adar observed, ‘or, on the other hand, perhaps not.’

A rabbit paused in its nibbling and looked at the two half-elves as they passed. 

‘Yet I cannot feel sorry that Tuor reached us in time to rip him away and make him suffer the fate he intended for me.’  Eärendil’s voice was little more than a murmur. ‘Eöl had wanted to ensure that his son shared his fate – and, in the end, he did.’

Elrond stretched out his hand and grasped his adar’s arm, turning him so that their eyes met.  ‘Nor should you be sorry,’ he said.  ‘Maeglin’s end was brought about by his own actions.  It was not your fault, any more than it was your parents’.’  He moved his other hand to clasp Eärendil’s free arm reassuringly. ‘You have blamed yourself,’ he said shrewdly, ‘for being the cause of Gondolin’s fall.  Somewhere deep in the recesses of your heart, you have felt that, had you not been born, the city would have remained inviolate.’

‘Folly,’ Eärendil snapped, pulling from his son’s grip and stepping away hastily.

‘Believe me,’ Elrond sighed, ‘I am familiar with guilt.’

His adar turned and stared at him incredulously.  ‘You are not responsible for what happened at Sirion,’ he said.  ‘You were a child.’

Elrond raised his eyebrow as he returned his adar’s gaze steadily until Eärendil hunched his shoulders and spread his hands. ‘I sometimes think,’ he said, ‘that Lúthien and Beren were wise to keep their distance from the elves of Doriath.  There were undoubtedly many in Gondolin who could accept my adar as a man and a warrior, but who had great difficulty tolerating him as the husband of Idril.  And a half-breed son – they did not know what to make of me.’

‘Eru chose to permit the unions of Beren and Lúthien and of Tuor and Idril,’ Elrond said simply.  ‘And he chose to allow those unions to be blessed.  It is not for men and elves to dispute his decisions.’

Eärendil inclined his head slowly and drew a deep breath.  ‘Tuor would have chosen to fight at the king’s side,’ he said, ‘but it was plain that the only chance of any escaping the ruin was to lead them along the hidden way known only to Idril and a few others.  A rag-tag band of women and children, shielded by a few exhausted warriors, most of them wounded, all certain that they were only delaying their deaths by a few hours,’ he added softly.  ‘The path took us to the north and climbed into the bitter cold of the mountains.  The warriors of the House of the Golden Flower took it on themselves to guard our withdrawal and keep the way clear – many of them fell before we were hidden by the smoke of the fires and the filthy fogs that were all that were left of the fountains of the City of Water, but they had managed to keep the enemy in ignorance of our passing.  Yet behind us,’ he said, ‘the towers of the city were bathed in flame, and the cries of the dragons echoed in the vale of Tumladen, dulling the sound of battle and chilling the hearts of those who fled.  There was little doubt in our hearts that those who had remained behind would not be seen again among us outside Mandos’s Halls.’

‘There are many,’ Elrond commented, ‘for whose presence we wait still.  And some – some for whom we will wait until the end of days.’

‘My naneth stood there,’ Eärendil continued, ‘in that harsh place and grieved for the end of so much that had started in hope, and for the loss of her adar and king.  ‘To ice and flame, I have lost my parents,’ she said. ‘To earth I will lose my husband, leaving the air to take my son.  The tragedy of the Noldor will devour us all.’  Then Tuor held her, Idril Celebrindal, and breathed courage into her as she wept for her adar and all she had lost.  

‘Not all followed us to the Eagles’ Cleft,’ he sighed, ‘and, of those who took what appeared the safer path, none were seen again.’  He brooded for a while.  ‘The passage was narrow and steep – and the wind and the jagged rock were eager to take those who faltered.  Glorfindel’s warriors held off the bands of Orcs with difficulty – they were few and many were wounded, but they would not yield.  Then the Eagles came,’ he closed his eyes, ‘and drove the Orcs off, casting them down to meet their end on the rocks.  For a moment, then, we hoped.

‘But, when half the party had passed the falls of Thorn Sir, the Balrog came.’  He stopped and cleared his throat.  ‘And Glorfindel challenged it, his golden armour glinting in the moonlight and his blade bright.  They fought – and it was like the power of light contesting with the shades of the deepest pits.  They both fell into the abyss and the silence that followed was like the end of the world.  Then Thorondor,’ his voice cracked, ‘Thorondor brought up his body, burnt and broken, and Tuor and the remnants of the Golden Flower built over it a great cairn.’

‘I have heard Glorfindel speak of his battle,’ Elrond murmured.  ‘But rarely, and little enough will he say of it.  And of its final outcome, of course, he knows only what he has been told.’

‘His victory gave us enough time to escape,’ Eärendil informed his son, ‘into the jagged crags of the wasteland.  No soft scions of the Hidden City we – no longer were we concerned with music and poetry and dance and listening to the song of water.  The way was hard.  Injured warriors healed quickly or passed to Námo’s care – there was little that could be done to save those more severely wounded.  The ellyth’s soft gowns of pale silk quickly became rags and they sought barefoot for what food could be found in those wastes beyond the mountains.  Elflings lost interest in play and learned to defend themselves with what came to hand as they worked alongside the adults to eke a living from the rock.  We learned to hide and take what we could get, to clothe our feet in bark and weave rough grasses to keep us warm, to use slings to catch the birds that sheltered in the hollows, to seek roots and seeds.  I know the adults starved themselves to keep the young ones fed.

‘And the forces of Morgoth sought us, sought us constantly, so that even our dead had to be hidden.

‘In time, when summer had come again and we were able to wander more freely in the hope of finding food and water, we came upon a stream that appeared to lead out of the wilderness.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘We were tougher by then, and more skilled in the arts needed to keep the flame of life burning when all seemed lacking in promise; better able to follow a hope of salvation, however remote it seemed.  Voronwë could hear the distant echo of Ulmo’s voice in the water and told us that we must follow it.

‘It led us down to the Sirion, where we found evidence of the fate of those who had followed the Way of Escape – and it was not a happy one.’  Eärendil looked at the peaceful wood around them, but he was seeing a sight far darker.  ‘The bands of Orcs harried us more as we came into lands less remote, but the power of Ulmo was in the water and we endured.  It took a long while,’ he added.  ‘We were weary and weak for lack of food, but the greenness of the land and the song of the water gave us strength.  The land was marshy and the biting flies drove me wild, but there were fish to catch and cat-tail roots to pull – and we could drink our fill.

‘When we reached the place where the willows trailed their branches in the water and the grasses provided a feast for the herds of deer, we could go no further.  And, as our desperate fight to live eased, we had time to mourn what had been lost – not those who fell with the city only, although our uncertainty of their fate filled us with dread, but also for a third of those of us who had followed Tuor into this new exile and who had not survived the journey.  And, of those who had died with us,’ he continued softly, ‘many had been among the youngest, who were least able to bear the privations of the journey.  Of all those who had dwelt in Gondolin,’ he sighed, ‘fewer than six hundred lived.’

‘Long we remained in Nan-tathren,’ he continued, ‘where the Narog joined the Sirion in its passage to the sea.  We grew strong again in that land of flowers and grasses, trees and water.  But grief for what had been lost remained haunting and there were many to whom song and laughter remained but a memory.’

Eärendil fell silent and he and his son walked together beside the rippling stream as the sun bathed Aman in a comfortable warmth and the breeze rustled the lobed leaves of the hawthorns that edged their path.

‘You can eat the leaves, you know,’ the Mariner remarked, touching the fresh growth. ‘I have always been fond of hawthorn – it is not a showy tree, but it grows well almost anywhere, and it is generous.’  He glanced at his son.  ‘We would call it bread-and-cheese.  I do not know why – it bears no resemblance to either.  The blossom could be eaten, too – or made into a tea.  And the berries were sour, but better than nothing.’

‘It is good for the heart,’ Elrond informed him absently.

‘That I did not know,’ Eärendil allowed.  ‘Not that it would have made any difference.  After entering that desert of rock, we ate whatever we could find that would not poison us.  Lichen, moss, roots – insects.  Anything.  A habit that persisted for some time.’  He indicated a broad slab of rock beside the stream.  ‘Shall we?’ he asked and, in response to Elrond’s brief nod, he sat, stretching his long legs out towards the water.

‘Our homes in Nan-tathren were rustic when compared to the white towers of Ondolindë,’ he continued finally.  ‘No more than huts among the trees – but we had shelter and food and we were as safe as we could be in a land where Morgoth wished to rule.  But the song of the sea was in the waters of the Sirion and Ulmo’s voice echoed in its music.  It woke a yearning for the endless waves in the blood of those who heard it, so that they could be no longer content in that soft green country.  Idril heard it not – her heart was filled with a longing for the lands of her birth, but Tuor, the messenger of Ulmo, ached for the beat of the restless waters and the small remnant of Gondolin did not wish to be separated from what remained of Turgon’s family.  We took what we could carry and returned the rest to the earth, following the river to its destined meeting with the sea.

‘And,’ he concluded with wonder, ‘to more destined meetings. A haven for many of those fleeing Morgoth’s chaos, the remnants of great Doriath lived there, in the Havens of Sirion, including Elwing, the only descendant of Elu and Melian.  Not quite half-elven,’ he mused, ‘but the only living being who could understand how my mixed parentage affected me.  Orphaned she was, before she had time to learn to know her kin; guarded by those who held her as the jewel of her House; beautiful and sorrowful.  I loved her from the moment I saw her and we both knew that our fates were bound together.’

‘The heirs of Eärendil and Elwing gave hope to man,’ Elrond mused.  ‘Like most prophecy, it contains meanings that are not evident until after events have played out.’ They sat without speaking as the golden afternoon turned towards evening.

‘I must go,’ Eärendil sighed.

‘May we continue this?’ Elrond asked.  ‘If it is not too painful.’

The Mariner smiled.  ‘There are tales I would enjoy telling,’ he said.  ‘I have not had as appreciative an audience in two ages.  I will happily tell you more.’  He glanced up at the sky.  ‘But, just now, you will have to excuse me – I have other duties.’  He rested his hand somewhat shyly on his son’s shoulder and grasped it briefly.  ‘Until tomorrow, my son,’ he promised.

Elrond smiled. ‘I will look forward to it,’ he said.

 

Cousins

‘We are cousins on my adar’s side, are we not?’ Celebrían said as she and Elwing sat amid the fragrance of the roses. ‘As I am cousins with Eärendil through my naneth’s family.’

‘Nimloth, my naneth, was your adar’s niece,’ Elwing admitted.  ‘I knew Celeborn quite well as I grew up – he would come and visit me often as I dwelt with Evranin and Gereth at the Havens of Sirion.’  She hesitated.  ‘I think that Evranin was rather surprised that he did not take me from her to raise me himself.  He was my only living kin, through Lúthien and Elu as well as Nimloth – and a Prince of Doriath.’ 

‘In truth,’ Celebrían agreed, ‘it surprises me, too.  I would have thought that he would have looked on it as his duty to care for Elu’s great-grandchild, at whatever cost – even if it divided him for a time from my naneth.’  She cupped a white blossom in her hands and raised it to her face.  ‘But perhaps the price he paid was not to remove you from those whom you looked on as your family.  I do not think he would have torn you from those who gave you security.’

‘Those of Elu’s people who joined us in our flight to the edge of the sea,’ Elwing said thoughtfully, ‘would not have endured the presence of one of Finwë’s House.  Not at first, when the actions of the Fëanoriannath were wounds fresh in their memories.  They would have been in no mood to distinguish between the Noldor.’

‘Gil-Galad was with Cirdan on the Isle of Balar, though, was he not?’ Celebrían enquired.  ‘And, after Turgon was lost with the destruction of Gondolin, he was High King of the Noldor.’

Elwing shrugged.  ‘He had been an elfling when he was sent to dwell with Cirdan,’ she said, ‘and he had grown under the eyes of the elves of the Falas.  He was Noldor by blood, but his accent was that of the Falathrim.  Galadriel was no elfling.’

‘She and my adar were identical in kinship to Elu,’ Celebrían said intensely.  ‘She had spent more time in Doriath with Melian and Lúthien than she had with the Noldor.  She was not even there when the sons of Fëanor attacked – and yet she still received nothing but suspicion.’

Elwing looked at Celebrían, but refrained from commenting.

‘Say it,’ her son’s wife told her fiercely.  ‘Her absence convinced many that she had been complicit in the attack.  Just as her survival, had she been there, would have assured them that she had been part of it.  It would seem that only her death would have led her detractors to believe that she had no knowledge of it – and even that many would have put to a falling-out among thieves.’  She paused.  ‘Even those who thought she may not have been involved,’ she added bitterly, ‘shared in the belief that she looked on the Kinslaying as an opportunity for my adar to take the kingship of the Sindar, so that she could rule both him and his people.’

‘Doriath had been long shielded by the Girdle of Melian,’ Elwing said mildly.  ‘There were few among those who sought safety with us who knew the Noldor except by reputation.  It was not until the exiles of Gondolin came to dwell in Nan-tathren and then followed the river to the sea that many realised that we were all elves, and that we were the victims of a common enemy, one whose power greatly exceeded that of the sons of Fëanor.’

‘I am sorry,’ Celebrían said after a few minutes, as the scent of the flowers calmed her mood and the soft breeze stirred her hair of silver.  ‘I was not born until my parents had settled in Ost-in-Edhil, but I heard enough against each of them from those who should have known better.  They dared say nothing, of course, in my parents’ presence, but they were not cautious enough to avoid my hearing Celeborn patronised by a variety of insignificant Exiles who had nothing in which to take pride other than that they had seen the Two Trees – who dared pity my naneth because she had married so far beneath her.  And,’ she went on softly, ‘at the same time I could see how my naneth was despised by some of the Sindar for nothing other than being who she was.’  She smiled wryly.  ‘When my parents discovered how it upset me, they told me it did not matter – they laughed and said it was doubtless good for them to have their pride kept in check.’  She fell silent again and they listened to the sound of water as the flat bowl of the fountain overflowed into the little rill.  ‘What do you remember of Celeborn’s visits?’ she asked.

Elwing smiled.  ‘I would be excited when I knew he was coming,’ she replied.  ‘Even though I knew that Evranin would be anxious and telling me to watch my manners and keep my clothes clean.  I think she was always afraid that this would be the time he would take me away, although she never said so.  He always seemed surprised by how much I had grown – but the beautifully embroidered clothes he brought always fitted, so perhaps he was not as astonished as he pretended.  He talked to me as if what I said really mattered – and I think he was very concerned to see that I was educated as befitted the offspring of the Houses of Elu and Elmo.  And he would tell me stories,’ she sighed, ‘stories of my naneth when she was a little elfling, tales of his own youth with Lúthien, tricks that he and his brother had played.  He told me things about my family that no-one else knew – and he made them real to me as no-one else could have done.  He knew less of Dior and Beren, but they were still people to him rather than legends.’  She considered for a moment and added.  ‘He made me proud of who I was.’

Celebrían’s face softened.  ‘That sounds like Adar,’ she said. 

‘When I was at my most awkward, he made me feel like a queen,’ Elwing said.  ‘Yet he ensured that I learned that to lead was to serve.’  She paused.  ‘He came less often as I grew older, although he wrote when he could – and he did not meet Eärendil.  He saw Elros and Elrond once, when he visited Sirion after a meeting with Cirdan and Gil-Galad in Balar, but he was increasingly busy further east.’  She hesitated.  ‘He did not take the twins into his care either, after I was lost.’

‘I believe,’ Celebrían considered, ‘that the situation was much the same as with you after the ruin of Doriath.  By the time he came, they had settled with others and he did not wish to disrupt them – it had taken some while for the twins to come to trust Cirdan and Ereinion and feel comfortable with them.  And then, of course, Gil-Galad was closer kin to Eärendil – and in the male line, too, so perhaps it seemed preferable to all to leave them as they were.’  She smiled slightly.  ‘And, as far as I am concerned, it was probably for the best – had Elrond been raised as my older brother, it is unlikely that we would have wed, and that would have been a pity.’

‘Perhaps,’ Elwing allowed.  ‘And, of course, I scarcely knew Gil-Galad.  He always seemed to me to be little more than an elfling himself.’

‘But elflings grow,’ her son’s wife pointed out.  ‘He was under his first century when Elrond and Elros came into his care, but you and Eärendil were younger still when you became parents.’

‘Do you think your adar will sail in time?’ Elwing asked abruptly.  ‘I would love to see him again.’

Celebrían sobered.  ‘I hope so,’ she said.  ‘And that he will bring our sons with him.  He will not leave while he feels that he is needed there – that he can make a difference – but I hope he knows that there are those here in the Blessed Realm who also need him.  Naneth misses him even more that she knew she would – they have spent more than two ages looking to one another for support.   I know what it is to ache for the emptiness that is missing the one to whom you are bound, and it is a pain like no other.  I could only hope that Elrond felt it less in Arda, but I have no doubt but that it was a wound that refused to heal.  I must believe they will come.’

A flicker of movement caused them both to turn their heads towards the arched entrance to the garden.  ‘My lady?’ An elf in a gown of soft green covered by a large apron looked at Elwing with amusement.

‘What is it, Glasiel?’ Elwing asked.  ‘I thought I had left instructions that we were not to be disturbed.’

‘You did, my lady,’ Glasiel smiled.  She was not as young as she had seemed at first, Celebrían thought.  Her long dark braid framed a pink-cheeked face, but her eyes revealed long experience.  ‘Which is why it is I who have come to let you know.’

‘Am I that frightening?’ Elwing complained.  ‘I have no objection to anyone arriving with an important message – I just do not want to be interrupted to discuss the laundry or to be asked what we should eat tonight.’

Glasiel shook her head.  ‘The staff is clearly terrified of you, my lady,’ she said solemnly.  ‘I thought you should know that the merchants’ caravan is approaching.  It should arrive by this afternoon – only one month late.’

‘It is about time!’ Elwing exclaimed.  ‘Prepare the usual accommodation for them, please, Glasiel, and see that everyone is informed that there will be a market held in two days.  That should give everyone time to gather what they wish to sell and prepare for the feast.’

‘It is already being done, Lady Elwing,’ Glasiel said.  ‘There is no need for you to concern yourselves.  I will send someone to you with food and wine.’

Celebrían watched the elleth as she left them.  ‘She seems to know you very well,’ she remarked.

‘She does.’  Elwing turned to regard her son’s wife.  ‘Elrond doubtless does not recall her – he was too young – but Glasiel was his nursemaid when he was very small.  She was killed at Sirion,’ she added quietly.  ‘When she was re-embodied she sought us out here and settled with us as part of our household.’  Elwing closed her eyes briefly. ‘Most of those here have come gradually over many years,’ she explained.  ‘At first it was just the two of us, but after the War of Wrath, some remnants of Doriath and Gondolin – mostly from those who had followed us to the Havens of Sirion – began to make their way to us.  Some green elves, a few of the Noldor – but most of them Sindar.  What had seemed an exile, here on the edge of nowhere, became, in time, our home.’

‘Tell me more of Sirion,’ Celebrían requested.  ‘What was it like, there by the sea?’

Elwing leaned back and let her mind drift.  ‘Have you ever lived at the ocean’s edge?’ she asked.  ‘I do not remember having any other home – not until we came here,’ she continued, looking around.  ‘And, although you would not know it now, to see the walled gardens and the wide lawns, the farms and forests, it was much like the salt marshes of Sirion then. 

‘The wind blew from the sea,’ she said reminiscently, ‘a lazy wind, Evranin called it, because it would blow right through you.  What trees there were grew low and hunched, forced into fantastic shapes, and the grasses extended for ever.  Little creeks drained into the sea as the tide retreated, only to fill again as it returned.   There was food in plenty – marsh samphire to pick, shellfish to dig, fish to catch.  We lived where the land met the marsh in a small valley that was sheltered from the worst of the wind by the curve of the cliff.  Setting up home here made me realise how hard it must have been in the early years.  Already wounded by the betrayal of Doriath, we had headed west until there was nowhere else to go – and the elves of the forest had been forced to learn to live with the sea.

‘Evranin and Gereth’s house was near the middle of the settlement,’ Elwing said more briskly.  ‘Again I did not realise that was for my safety.  We did not have the stone caverns of Menegroth to protect us and we were too many to hide easily among what trees there were.’  She fell silent as she thought back to her earliest years.  ‘It was not the Sirion in which Elrond was born,’ she told Celebrían.  ‘The houses on the cliff, the strong walls, the harbour of fishing smacks and the few larger vessels – they all came later.’ She said conversationally, ‘So much of what the elves had built was shattered over so few years – Sirion proved itself a haven indeed and there were those with skills enough to turn an encampment into a home.

‘I grew quickly – far faster than elflings my age, yet less quickly than children of men – I often felt like an outsider.  The only heir of Elu, but not really an elf.  The grandchild of Lúthien, yet ungainly – too tall and no dancer.  One for whose singing no-one would stop.  I could do nothing well.  I could not climb trees without slipping, or walk across the mud of the marshes without becoming caked, I could not run as far or as fast as those younger than me.  They humoured me, Celebrían,’ she sighed.  ‘They allowed me to win because I was Dior’s daughter.  They praised my harp-playing because Nimloth was my naneth – yet, behind every comment I could hear the proviso ‘for a child of men’.   If it had not been for Celeborn, I would have had no faith in myself at all.  He let me see that he cared for me just because I was Elwing – and that, if I did the best I could, that was fine.’

She sighed.  ‘Tuor and Idril’s people settled further inland, but it was not long before the call of the sea began to eat at Ulmo’s messenger.  He and Eärendil came down the Sirion to see if there was room for them to set up home at the sea’s edge.  They came to see those who guided the folk of Doriath – Geren and Chwinion, Golas and Bronion.  Evranin insisted that I should be there – I was of Elu’s House she said, it was only right that those of Fingolfin’s kin should see that we were no group of rustics.’  Elwing smiled.  ‘I was young still, but tall enough to look almost adult, and she made me dress in one of the most formal of the gowns given me by your adar.  Dark green it was; heavy brocade, with the bodice embroidered with small golden flowers and a band of the same flowers seeming to grow up from the hem.  No-one would have known to look at me, my hair held in place with a narrow band of gold and my embroidery in my hands, that there had been no time to cram my feet into shoes that were too small and that, under all my finery, I was barefoot.

‘Tuor impressed me little at that time – he seemed old to one who had dwelt always with elves.  His hair was white and his beard greying, his shoulders broad and his walk somewhat stiff.  I found myself wondering what Idril could have seen in him, though it became apparent as he talked that he was an inspiring leader.  But,’ she smiled, ‘I could not find it in me to pay him much heed.  Not when with him he had his son.’

Celebrían leaned forward.  ‘Do not stop there,’ she protested.

A soft laugh sounded as Glasiel stepped carefully through the gateway with a large tray and came to balance it on the stone wall beside the bench where Elwing and her daughter-in-law sat.  ‘She is unlikely to do that,’ she said with amusement.  ‘It is a long time since Elwing has had a fresh audience for this tale – and she would not want to rush it.’  She lifted an eyebrow at Celebrían.  ‘If you doubt anything she tells you,’ she confided, ‘you can come to me for the details.  I was there and I saw most of it.’

‘If you spoil my story, I will be sure to tell some unflattering stories that involve you, my friend,’ Elwing stated firmly.  ‘I will not have you casting doubt on my word.’

‘She looked beautiful,’ Glasiel told Celebrían.  ‘Do not let her convince you otherwise.  Most of Elwing’s flaws existed only in Elwing’s eyes.  The gown suited her colouring to perfection – and the sight of Tuor’s escort brought a delightful flush to her cheeks.  Her hair shone like polished jet and starlight sparkled in her eyes.  She wore no jewels – but she did not need any.  Eärendil was captured from the first moment she lifted her eyes to meet his.’ 

Celebrían sighed.  ‘You are fortunate,’ she said. ‘I first met Elrond soon after Imladris was established – but it took him until after War of the Last Alliance to make up his mind to ask me to bond with him.’

With a shake of her head, Elwing laughed.  ‘We would not have had the time to wait over a thousand years,’ she pointed out.  ‘We were aging much as men do – I daresay that, had we remained in Sirion, we would have not have lived to see the First Age end.’  She poured a glass of wine and offered it to her daughter-in-law.  ‘Join us, Glasiel,’ she invited.  ‘I am sure the rest can prepare for the market without you.  Have a glass of wine and listen to my story – you can make sure that Celebrían gets a true account.’

With an easy smile, Glasiel accepted a second goblet and sat down on the wall.  ‘If you insist, my lady,’ she agreed.

‘Glasiel is daughter to Evranin and Gereth,’ Elwing explained.  ‘She is the closest thing I have to a sister.’  She frowned at her.  ‘Even it she does insist on ‘my ladying’ me all the time.’

‘Eärendil,’ Celebrían reminded her.

‘Yes, my lady,’ Glasiel agreed, ‘Eärendil.’

Elwing sighed.  ‘He was stunning,’ she surrendered.  ‘Tall – his hair crisp black waves down on his shoulders.  He pushed it behind his ear as if he was not accustomed to having it hanging loose and his ear was elegantly pointed.  His eyes were serious – blue-grey like the sea – and, when he looked at me, I forgot to breathe.’

‘She was frozen,’ Glasiel agreed, ‘like a winter waterfall in the cold north.  You would never have thought to look at her that less than an hour before, my naneth had dragged her in from the fields and insisted that she washed the mud from her face and put on her best gown.  Her eyes were still glistening from Evranin’s urgent hair-brushing and she had been told to keep her hands hidden as far as possible under her embroidery so as not to reveal the state of her nails.

‘Tuor took one look at the two of them and his eyes narrowed as if an idea had occurred to him – and he suggested that Elwing should show his son more of the Havens.’

‘That makes it sound as if Tuor was scheming and that we were just being manipulated,’ Elwing objected.

‘Nobody needed to manipulate either of you,’ Glasiel said frankly.  ‘You were both obviously more than interested without anybody’s suggestion.’  She smiled.  ‘My naneth was not too pleased at the idea of you walking off with a son of the Noldor – but she could do little to prevent it.  The best she could manage was sending me along to act as chaperone.’  She laughed as Elwing looked at her indignantly.  ‘I admit I was not needed,’ she said, ‘but it made Evranin feel better – she was not giving in without a fight.’

‘We walked along the cliff,’ Elwing smiled reminiscently.  ‘I did not want everyone to see us, so I avoided the fields and I did not wish to be waving away the flies, so the salt marshes were not a good choice of direction.  The sun shone on the water and the sea pinks nodded in the breeze.  His attention was drawn to the white sails on the blue of the ocean and he told me how he yearned to take ship and learn the ways of the sea.’

‘And I followed them,’ Glasiel said, shaking her head. ‘I watched Elwing hang on to his every word and gaze at him with fascination.  Before my eyes she turned from a child to a woman.’  She grinned.  ‘Evranin no longer had any trouble getting you to brush the tangles from your hair and wear pretty gowns once you had met Eärendil.’  She handed Elwing a plate of fruit and waited until she had taken something before offering it to Celebrían.  ‘Did you know that my naneth sent an urgent message to Celeborn, pleading with him to come and talk to you?’

Elwing frowned.  ‘I remember that he came and spent several weeks with us.  I did not know that Evranin had sent for him.’

‘She was worried,’ Glasiel said without apology.  ‘You were young – as an elfling you were less than half-way to your majority.  He was of Fingolfin’s House – and half man.  She did not want your only kin to blame her for allowing a relationship to develop between you and Idril’s son.  Even more important, she loved you and wanted you to have the best.’

‘Tuor and Eärendil had gone on to Balar,’ Elwing said.  ‘Tuor was, I think, considering moving there – and he wanted a ship.  We were building small fishing vessels, but what he desired only Cirdan could provide.  And, just as I was wondering how to entertain myself in Eärendil’s absence, your adar arrived – and I found I could spend my time talking to Celeborn about him instead.’  She smiled wryly.  ‘I would think he must have been really bored with my adolescent ramblings, but he never showed it.  He listened intently – and the questions he asked were always acute and made me think about what I felt.  I think he had learned from Dior something of what it was like to be part elf, part Maiar and part man and he was determined to learn about my development.  He talked to Evranin and my tutors and to my friends’ parents and consulted with our leaders – then he hugged me and left.’

‘He went to Balar,’ Glasiel said simply.  ‘I do not know if you ever realised – but he wanted to consult with Tuor and go back with him to Nan-tathren to speak with Idril.’ She smiled.  ‘Whatever you said to him had clearly made him decide in Eärendil’s favour, but he was not about to let the exiles of Gondolin feel that you were unprotected.  You were Elu’s heir and his kin – and you would be treated as such.’

Elwing’s eyes narrowed slightly.  ‘That gives me another reason to hope that Celeborn decides to sail.  I would like to learn more of those meetings.’

‘You should have seen him when he realised that I was more than interested in Elrond,’ Celebrían told her.  ‘Even though he had known your son for almost an age and knew him to be an honourable elf of great worth, he was not at all certain that he wished him to be my husband.  And I daresay,’ she added softly, ‘that Arwen had the same difficulty convincing Elrond that Estel was worthy of her.’  She reached out to clasp Elwing’s hand.  ‘It can be annoying, but we should be pleased that they care for us and want to be certain that those we choose can make us happy.’

Glasiel considered Elwing thoughtfully.  She did not think Nimloth’s daughter had ever realised how many tears Evranin had wept when she had begun to see that Elwing had not inherited her naneth’s immortality – she had saved them for the dark hours of the night when the child had been sleeping with her eyes closed against the world.  She had changed so swiftly – in no more than a heartbeat.  By the time a dozen years had passed, she had been as tall as an elfling of thirty or more, and the few who were her age mates had been left behind, scarcely mature enough to leave the nursery, while Elwing was on the edge of adolescence.  And this time, after she had met Eärendil, the discussions had been even more difficult than in earlier years. Celeborn had spent long hours with Evranin and Gereth, talking over what would be likely to happen as his niece’s child grew older, when she would be adult, what her prospects were for the future.  In many ways, she sighed, Eärendil had been the best solution possible.  And it had been still more fortunate that the two half-elves had decided, within moments of meeting, that each saw the future in the other’s eyes.

‘I wonder,’ Celebrían mused, ‘if my naneth went with him to meet Idril.  I know she visited Balar more than once and I cannot imagine that she would pass up the chance to see Turgon’s daughter.’

‘But Galadriel did not come with your adar,’ Elwing frowned.  ‘I probably met her before Doriath fell, but I do not recollect her at all.’

‘She may not have visited you in Sirion,’ her son’s wife conceded, ‘but she was doubtless involved in the decisions Celeborn made – even to the gifts he brought.  She made me a gown, once,’ she smiled, ‘very like the one you described, save that it was embroidered in silver.  Her presence would not have been an advantage when he was visiting you, but would definitely have been more helpful when it came to dealing with her uncle’s House.  And she had helped Aredhel keep Idril alive as they crossed the Grinding Ice,’ she added. ‘I think she would have wanted to see Eärendil’s naneth.’

Elwing subjected Celebrían to a long cool gaze.  ‘I liked Idril,’ she said finally.  ‘Whether as a result of Celeborn’s – interest – or not, the exiles of Gondolin joined us in Sirion and it grew rapidly from a fairly rural settlement into a town, set where the marshes met the cliffs overhanging the water.  The stone was brought in on Cirdan’s ships and the walls grew broad and high to shield us from outsiders.  Many of the elves of Doriath were not happy about it – they asked why the Gondolindrim had not learned that walls cannot ensure safety; that if Menegroth fell, and Gondolin, there was no guarantee that the Noldor’s constructions would keep Sirion inviolate.  Some chose to remain outside and trust to the trees to afford them protection.’  Her eyes grew vague as she lost herself in the past.  ‘I think Idril was the first elf I ever saw who had been born in Aman,’ she said, ‘and who remembered the Two Trees.  Their light was – part of her: I cannot put it any better than that.  But she was shadowed, too – by loss and grief and the knowledge that she would lose both husband and son to the wearing of time, yet she had not been granted the chance to follow them.

‘I was not surprised,’ she added briskly, ‘that she and Tuor took ship to seek the passage to the West.  She would have followed Tuor as far as she could – and, had her life been forfeit, she would have paid the price.

‘She took me under her wing.’  Elwing refilled the wine glasses.  ‘I think she was mildly scandalised that I had been allowed to run wild for so long and decided that, if I was to marry her son – and it became evident fairly quickly that it was an inevitable outcome – then I must know the business of running a royal household, even if it was one in exile.  I think she knew, when she looked at Tuor, that she would not have many years in which to ensure that I would be prepared to look after her son properly.  Tuor heard the conches of Ulmo ever louder,’ she sighed, ‘and the sea was drawing him away.’

‘There is no doubt,’ Celebrían reflected, ‘that the mechanics of looking after large households are complex – and greatly underestimated by most males – but the destruction of your home and the loss of many of your people makes the business of learning society’s rules seem less a necessity than an indulgence.’

Elwing nodded absently.  ‘I believe Eärendil found it rather amusing,’ she said.  ‘He could not see that it mattered if anyone knew the exact degrees of relationship between people he would never see, or how many courses a banquet should have if in honour of a foreign king.  He and Tuor were involved in the building of Eärrámë. Then they and Voronwë spent months sailing the coasts and putting out into deep water beyond the sight of land.  And, when he was home,’ her face brightened, ‘we would spend hours sailing in his small skiff or walking along the cliff tops and just enjoying being together.  It was not very many years before Idril and Evranin decided that we were old enough to be wed.’

‘I think it was largely because Tuor was clearly not going to be with us for very much longer,’ Glasiel suggested.  ‘He and Idril wanted to see their son married and settled before Tuor ran out of time.’

‘I was disappointed when Celeborn wrote to say he would not be able to attend,’ Elwing sighed.  ‘Even though he sent many gifts, I would have preferred his presence to any of them.’  She looked sharply at Celebrían. ‘Do you think your naneth was responsible for the gowns and jewels?’

‘I expect so,’ she replied amiably.  ‘Adar has never been particularly interested in such matters.  And, if they suited you, were beautifully apt for the occasion and symbolic of the union of the Houses of Finwë and Elwë, then she almost certainly took charge of the matter.’

Elwing inclined her head slowly.  ‘I would like to meet your naneth,’ she said.  ‘She seems to have had a considerable influence on my life, for someone I have never met.’

Celebrían acknowledged her remark with a rueful smile.

‘Cirdan brought Gil-Galad to the wedding,’ Elwing changed the subject.  ‘I believed Idril wanted it made plain to all observers that our union had the approval of all and that to challenge Eärendil would be to take on all kindreds.

‘But we had scarcely had time to grow accustomed to being wed,’ she said, ‘when we woke one morning to find that Eärrámë had gone – and with it, both Tuor and Idril.’

Two silver tears welled in Elwing’s eyes and Celebrían shifted closer, putting an arm round her waist.  Glasiel removed a linen handkerchief and silently offered it to her foster sister.

‘Idril had left letters,’ Elwing sniffed.  ‘Turgon had sent messengers to the West to ask the Valar for forgiveness and aid, she said, but in vain.  All were lost, save only Voronwë, who then led Tuor to Gondolin.  And if Tuor was Ulmo’s messenger, then perhaps, she thought, it would be his duty to carry Arda’s message to the Undying Lands.  If he were to represent Men, then she would take it on herself to represent the Firstborn.  She was Noldor and an Exile, but no Kinslayer, and perhaps her voice would be heard.’  She closed her eyes and the tears dropped, rolling down her pale cheeks.  ‘Eärendil was in despair.  He had known that his time with his adar was limited, but he had expected his naneth to be there for him as long as he endured.’

‘It was not a comfortable time,’ Glasiel said softly to Celebrían.  ‘Eärendil was in a state of fury combined with desperation – and all he wanted was to go after them.  He took a ship and sailed to seek them, leaving Elwing abandoned in her cold house of stone overlooking the mocking ocean.  He was gone for months – but he found them not.’

‘But he came back,’ Elwing insisted, looking into Glasiel’s face defiantly.  ‘He came back.’

‘He did,’ Glasiel agreed, ‘but he was not the same carefree youngster who had sailed away.’

Elwing bit her lip.  ‘He was Lord of Sirion and the last of Turgon’s House,’ she said. ‘He no longer had the time to be young.’

‘If he had so much responsibility,’ Glasiel said dryly, ‘he should have spent more time on land fulfilling his duty.  But the sea called him and his loss drove him – and his wife sat in her tower waiting for him to return.’

‘You have always felt we were too young to be wed,’ Elwing accused.

‘I have,’ her foster sister told her calmly.  ‘Your bodies appeared to age rapidly as men’s do, but I never thought that your fëar aged at the same rate.’ She sighed.  ‘And then you found that you had been blessed.  You were left alone as the babes grew within you, waiting for your husband to decide to return to his place at your side.’

Celebrían looked at Glasiel thoughtfully and wondered how Eärendil had managed to deal for so long with her quiet disapproval.

‘I have grown to care for him dearly over the years, of course,’ Glasiel raised her eyebrows at the silver-haired elf.  ‘But they were too young to marry, too young to be abandoned, too young to be parents – and far too young to have to take the kind of decisions that brought them to this place.’ Her gesture encompassed the gardens, the tower, the sky above them.  ‘But they did it anyway.’

‘Elros and Elrond brought me such joy,’ Elwing stated with conviction.  ‘Throughout my life I had had no-one who belonged to me.  Your ada was my closest kin – and I saw him only briefly every year or two, but the twins were mine and they depended on me as none ever had.’  She smiled with a deep content.  ‘And Eärendil returned before their birth,’ she said pointedly, ‘and stayed with us without question through their first year.’

‘While Cirdan finished building Vingilot,’ Glasiel nodded.  ‘And then he was off again, in search of we knew not what.’

Silence fell amongst them, so that the distant noises of hammering and laughter reached them from the distant meadow where the long-awaited caravan settled in.

‘I must go,’ Glasiel said reluctantly, placing the goblets on the tray and picking it up.  ‘Do not be late, Elwing,’ she added.  ‘You will want to be ready to dine with the merchants’ leaders.’

Elwing watched her foster sister leave the garden, then continued to sit in silence as the shadows moved across the roses.  ‘She is fond of Eärendil, really,’ she said apologetically, ‘but she is right.  We were very young and we had so little time.  Ulmo’s voice called him and bade him seek succour in the West – he was driven to endure the hardships of the sea.  He had no time for the pleasures of marriage and parenthood.  And then, of course, the sons of Fëanor came.’  The quiet between them was so deep that the trickling of the rill rang in Celebrían’s ears.  ‘Four years,’ Elwing murmured, ‘was all I had with my sons.  Four years.  And more than two ages without them.  Years when all I had to remember was the fear in their faces and the terror in their voices.  Years when I tormented myself with wondering what they had endured after I chose the Silmaril over them.  Whether things would have turned out differently if only I had sent the cursed jewel to Maedhros with my compliments and let him bear its effects.’ 

‘We cannot know,’ Celebrían said with conviction, ‘what would have happened – we only know what did.  Between you, you and Eärendil brought the Valar to chain Morgoth.  Elros chose to become the first and greatest King of Númenor. And Elrond served to build a bridge between the peoples of Middle Earth that enabled them to stand together and defeat Sauron.  The way has been hard and it has demanded sacrifices that no-one expected at its beginning – but we are here now.’

Elwing turned her damp face to look searchingly at her daughter-in-law, then, with a deep sigh, took her hand.  ‘And so the road goes on,’ she said softly.  

************

Whilst probably of minimal interest to anybody except family tree obsessives and hobbits, who know it already:-

Celebrían and Elwing are third cousins through their descent from Elu and Elmo.

They are also first cousins once removed as Celeborn is uncle to Elwing’s mother.

Celebrían and Eärendil are second cousins once removed through their descent from Finwë.

All of which make Celebrían and Elrond:-

            first cousins twice removed

            second cousins twice removed and

            third cousins once removed.

Moreover, although Celebrían is considerably younger than Elrond, each of those removes puts her generations further up the family tree than her husband.

 

Shipwreck

‘The sea called me,’ Eärendil said matter-of-factly.  ‘It sang in my blood, even as it had in my adar’s – like a never-ending hunger.  Much as I loved your naneth, even she could not hold me on land, not when the waves danced and Ulmo’s voice rang in the deep.’

Elrond looked at his adar thoughtfully. Vilya’s influence had been different, yet it had still at times hovered there between him and his family; not malign, any more than was the sea, but not wholly under his control, either.  There had been occasions, he knew, when Celebrían would have happily joined her adar in a quest to drop both Vilya and Nenya in the depths of Orodruin.  ‘Was it always so?’ he asked curiously.

The breeze teased the Mariner’s hair from its neat elven braids and made him push the thick waves back impatiently.  ‘I believe so,’ he replied frankly.  ‘From the time we settled by the Sirion I could feel the sea’s restlessness in its pure waters, and the wind smelled of salt.  It teased at me.’  He grinned.  ‘My adar was always catching me attempting to build rafts to head downriver.  He knew early that my fate was bound up with the ocean.  And so did my naneth,’ he added, ‘although she did not wish to admit it.  I think she hoped that, if she kept me from the shore, she could have me safe for longer.  She feared for me,’ he said softly.  ‘I was clearly no elf – and she knew my time would be short.  She did not want me to throw away what I could have.’

‘Galadriel spoke to Celebrían and me before we wed,’ Elrond nodded.  ‘She warned us that we could not be certain that our children would be entirely elf-kind – despite the words of the Valar that those of our House could choose to which kindred to belong.  There was no guarantee that this element of their heritage would not slip through.  It did not,’ he sighed, ‘but we watched in great anxiety the pace at which they grew.’

‘Your children are much more elf than man,’ Eärendil pointed out.  ‘It is likely that they would show few signs of their descent from Tuor and Beren.’  

‘But still possible,’ Elrond mused.  ‘The blood of men flowed much more strongly in Elros than it did in me, but still I have it.’

His adar looked him over with interest.  ‘I never felt,’ he said, ‘that you and Elros were that much alike.  Even I could tell you apart,’ he added, ‘and, to me, babies all look the same.  Although it would be best not to say that to your naneth,’ he went on guiltily.  ‘For some reason, ellyth do not seem to appreciate the fact that their loved ones are unimpressed by infants.’

‘It is incomprehensible,’ Elrond agreed solemnly, hiding the dancing of his eyes.  ‘Foals, now – my sons would tell you that it is clearly important to identify their strengths from the moment of their birth, and they would laugh at the idea that anyone could not tell a warhorse from a draughthorse at first sight.’

Eärendil smiled with unexpected sweetness.  ‘Ah, well – I have never been greatly interested in horses, either.  Except for the ones that ride the waves on a breaking sea.’

Elrond returned to the story he wanted to hear.  ‘Yet,’ he said, ‘despite the call of the sea, you remained more-or-less landbound until your adar took ship.’

‘I would not say that.’  Eärendil rubbed his nose.  ‘But it is true that our ships remained mostly in sight of land and our voyages were generally brief.’  His eyes gazed out over the tidy gardens, but clearly saw them not.  ‘Voronwë would talk of his experiences on the endless sea,’ he said softly.  He looked sharply at his son.  ‘Turgon sent him from Gondolin, you know,’ he said, ‘in the hope of sending messages to the Valar – to let them know of Arda’s needs and plead for their aid.’ 

Elrond nodded without speaking.  He did, indeed, know the stories.  He had sifted every mention of his adar and daeradar, every reference to his naneth, every piece of his family’s history from the legends of the First Age and the memories of his acquaintance, anxious for even this minimal contact with them.

‘But he could not find his way, and Ossë teased and taunted him until Ulmo finally rescued him and sent him to Vinyamar to take my adar along the secret ways into Gondolin.  He thought he had escaped the sea,’ he smiled reminiscently.  ‘He would talk of her always as dreadful mistress – beguiling when she chose, but changing in a breath to a raging termagant, who would do her best to drive the ships who courted her beneath her waves – and fickle, always fickle – with Ossë always as her jealous guardian, goading her to greater extremes.  I do not know what Uinen thinks of it all.  I am told she does what she can to soothe Ossë’s wildness, but he is not one to accept authority, not even Ulmo’s.’  He sighed.  ‘But the sea’s call is not to be thrown off so lightly.  He escaped Gondolin with us to come to the Havens of Sirion and she enchanted him again.’  He looked at Elrond in bemusement.  ‘But the ever-changing ocean does not call you?  Not at all?’

His son smiled sympathetically.  ‘Her song was in Elros’s blood,’ he said.  ‘He loved the sea – and Númenor’s ships made free of her waters, but no, it is not in mine.  I prefer fast-flowing streams and wide rivers of sweet water as they wind between forests and fields.  The sea is – too hungry.’

Eärendil nodded slowly.  ‘I see what you mean,’ he said reluctantly. ‘But there is hunger, too, in those who seek her.  They feed on each other.  Ulmo’s conches summoned Tuor,’ he said abruptly.  ‘Dabbling at the edges of the deep was no longer enough.  He knew that he was growing old,’ he continued softly.  ‘He could feel time’s demands in his aching bones and aging body.  He saw the fear of separation in Idril’s eyes.  Ulmo had used him as a messenger before: he reasoned that it might be so again.  He was a symbol of both kindreds – a son of the Secondborn, who had fathered a son on Finwë’s granddaughter.  His end was coming, there at the edge of the sea – why not, he thought, take one last chance and sail west in the hope of finding the aid that Turgon had sought.’

‘But he did not go alone,’ Elrond stated.

‘He wanted to,’ Eärendil told him ruefully.  ‘He told my naneth firmly – she had eternity to dwell in Arda with her kin, with me and with any children I might have – but she would not listen.  He told her, in the end, that he was more likely to succeed in his quest without her – he was not under any Doom.’  Eärendil grinned mischievously.  ‘And then she brought out her deadliest weapon,’ he said.  ‘She did not weep – weeping, I find, is relatively easy to resist – she merely looked at him and allowed silver tears to roll down her cheeks.  Her sorrow was – palpable.  I could taste it on the air and it was not even aimed at me.  Tuor did not stand a chance against her and, deep down, he knew it.  He raged a little and tried commanding her, but it was obvious to all who knew them that they would go together.’

‘Did many know of their departure?’

The silence extended as a blackbird chitted a call of warning.  Elrond glanced towards the sound and smiled as a tabby cat stretched with supercilious indifference and settled in a patch of shade, only its twitching ears suggesting that it was, perhaps, rather more interested than it pretended.

Eärendil sighed.  ‘None knew,’ he said flatly.  ‘They did not wait for the debates to end.  They had made their decision.  We woke one morning to find them gone.’ 

‘They took nothing with them?’

‘Their vessel was fully equipped,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘Laden with food and water – and we found that they had managed to take much of their clothing, but most of their possessions they left behind: shed like a skin they no longer needed.  My naneth left the Elessar resting on her pillow and her letter told me it would be an heirloom for my house as long as her descendants remained in Arda.’  He stopped, picking up a small stone and throwing it with a vicious flick of his wrist.  ‘But what cared I for that?’ he challenged. ‘A green jewel from the Blessed Realm in exchange for my parents?’  He snorted.  ‘An heirloom for a shattered house.’

His son remained silent and left the Mariner to come to terms with his memory of grief.

‘I was not kind to your naneth,’ Eärendil admitted after a time.  ‘She had lost her parents and brothers; lost her home; lost her place in the world to come at last to the edge of the sea – and I loved her, but there is no place for love in bitterness and fury.  She wanted to help me, so that we could mourn together, but I was determined to go after my parents – to find them and bring them back.  And so I left her, too.’   He selected another stone and sent it after the first before heaving a deep sigh.  ‘Voronwë had a ship in port ready to sail – and he knew that I would go anyway, whether he aided me or not.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘And he was right.  Elwing did not fight my decision – she knew that it would only lead us to part in anger and that she would still not be able to hold me.’  His eyes were bleak as he tossed another stone after the others.  ‘We sailed on the next tide.’ 

‘My grief at our parting clouded my last days with my brother,’ Elrond said softly.  ‘You think you would learn – but I came close to letting my sorrow spoil what time I had left to spend with Arwen before I had to take ship.  Bitterness can be more destructive than anger.’

‘It nearly destroyed me,’ Eärendil allowed.  ‘It was not Ulmo’s intention that I should follow my parents – and he was not about to let a half-elven brat interfere in his schemes.  He chose not to permit me the freedom of the wind and the waters.

‘We headed west in the stiff breeze that blew from the land.  The sea was welcoming and the sails were full.  The Gwingól leapt over the crests of the waves – but we saw my adar’s ship not at all.  Not even as a dark fleck in the silver of the vast ocean.’  Eärendil leaned his head back and looked up into the unbroken blue of the sky.  ‘It was not possible for them to have sailed so far that they would be beyond our sight, yet, even from the top of the mast the sea seemed empty.

‘I do not know how long we would have raced headlong into the west,’ he said with a shrug.  ‘Too long, I suspect.  The Valar would not permit ships to approach too close to Aman and we would have become enmeshed in the enchantments surrounding the Islands and wandered in confusion until we perished.  But Ulmo had other plans.

‘The wind changed.’  Eärendil smiled.  ‘It seems a small thing, but on such things can rest the fate of men and elves.  Ulmo commanded Ossë to send us home – but Ossë took it as his mission to punish us for our arrogance in trying to master his waters.’

***

‘Reef the sails!’  Voronwë shouted insistently.

‘I do not want to slow down,’ the Mariner protested, grabbing the elf’s wrist.  ‘We will never catch up with Adar unless we take a few chances.’

‘We will never catch up with them if Gwingól founders!’ Voronwë snapped.   ‘It is one thing running for home before bad weather hits, but we are not within sight of harbour now, Eärendil.  Tuor is not such a fool as to face that with full sail.’  He nodded towards the purple bruise of cloud that approached them swiftly across the plain of the sea.

Eärendil hesitated.  ‘Very well,’ he agreed reluctantly as a contrary wind began to pull at his dark hair.  ‘If you say so.’

By the time the sails were reefed, the approaching storm was firing darts of ragged lightning across the sky and the sea had begun to stir like a bear wakening from sleep. Its restful greens and bright silvers had shifted to sullen greys and yellow foam was lipping on the rolling crests.

‘Ulmo help us,’ Voronwë requested anxiously.  ‘Turn into the wind, Eärendil.  Let us run before it.  It is our only chance – Gwingól will turn into a wallowing sow if we try to fight the waters.  We must go where the sea wishes to send us.’

Tuor’s son scowled.  ‘That is not where we need to go,’ he said.  ‘We will lose too much time.’

‘We will lose more than time if we do not.’  Voronwë staggered as a wave broke over the side of the small ship and drained back into the surging sea.  ‘We are in Ulmo’s hands, ellon, and he is not one to tolerate defiance.  If you want to get back safely to your wife in Sirion, you will bend to his will.’

As if to reinforce the older sailor’s words, a surge twice the height of Gwingól lifted her high before dropping her into a grey-walled valley between two massive waves, either of which could have swamped the small vessel and sent her to the bottom.

‘Very well,’ Eärendil said, too intimidated by the force of the storm not to agree.

Gwingól laboured to turn, withstanding the slap of another wave before starting to move with the angry waters.  ‘Take the tiller,’ Voronwë told his friend’s son.  ‘We need a small amount of sail to keep us running with the storm.’

‘Rope yourself,’ Eärendil insisted.  ‘Even elves cannot expect to keep their footing in a sea like this.’

‘We will suffer less when we are not trying to fight the waves.’

‘I do not want to lose you, too.’

Voronwë grasped Eärendil’s arm.  ‘You will not,’ he promised.  ‘Ulmo is warning us – if we do as he commands, we will return safely.’

‘I hope so,’ Eärendil muttered, leaning on the tiller with all his strength as he tried to keep the craft steady.

The night of struggle seemed endless, in the way that time can cease to move when any moment might prove to be the last.  The stars cowered behind dense cloud and the angry waves rolled interminably.  Eärendil and Voronwë fought in darkness almost impenetrable even to elven sight to hold their vessel steady against waters that curled repeatedly over the deck, tasting them like a predator sporting with his prey, waiting until the game no longer afforded him enough amusement to be worth the playing, the moment when his jaws would snap and crush Gwingól to spills of wood and he was free to seek out her crew.

The storm’s rage passed with the darkness.  Arien rose to find Gwingól floating idly on a glassy sea, scrubbed white by the ferocity of the waves, her sails hanging limp on the masts.  Voronwë still stood, leaning on the tiller with his red-rimmed eyes half shut and his dark hair crusted grey with salt, but Eärendil huddled on the deck, too exhausted to move.

‘Go below,’ Voronwë commanded him.  ‘Get some clean clothes, if any have remained dry, and find something to eat.’

‘They are gone,’ Eärendil told him numbly.  ‘I do not see how we survived – Tuor and Idril will certainly not have been able to ride out the storm.  They will have drowned.’

‘We cannot know that.’ Voronwë’s voice could not hide his own doubt.  ‘If Ulmo has a purpose for them, they will have been saved.’  He turned towards the west, gazing along Arien’s dawn path, silently bidding farewell to his old friend and his king’s daughter.

Eärendil rested his head on his knee and curled one arm round it, his anger leached by the raging of the storm and a stillness about him that matched the motionless morning. 

Forcing himself to detach hands still clutching at the smooth wood, Voronwë abandoned Gwingól to journey as she wished and came to sit by Idril’s son.  He might be adult in men’s terms, the elf thought, his heart pained by the despair shown in the slumped shoulders and the hidden face, but the ellon – the lad – was still a child to him.  He had lived so short a time and lost so much.  ‘Come,’ he said gently, brushing the salt-caked hair back before resting his hand on Eärendil’s back, ‘we have survived – if only just – and that must be for a reason.  We cannot give in to our feelings now, hír nin.  If we wish to make it back to Sirion, we have work to do.’  He shook his hand slightly to try to rouse the half-elf.  ‘I have no idea where we are,’ he sighed.  ‘Without favourable winds to blow us home, we are not safe yet, pen-neth.’

‘It felt longer than a single night,’ Eärendil observed, his voice rough.

‘Aye, it did,’ Voronwë agreed.  ‘And it probably was – Ossë does not go out of his way to make life easy for those who would seek to master his waters.’  He leaned back and rested his head against the drying wood.  ‘I think we are far to the north,’ he said, ‘although I cannot be sure.  There is a chill to the air that was not there before – and Arien seems lower in the sky.’ 

‘It is a shame we overlooked the chance to collect some fresh water,’ Eärendil said ironically.  ‘I could do with a bath.’

Voronwë patted his shoulder approvingly.  ‘Some fresh clothing, together with some food and water will help us both,’ he remarked.

Eärendil stood.  ‘I will see what I can find,’ he said with decision.  ‘We cannot continue to sit here indefinitely.’  He headed towards the firmly-closed hatch that led down to the cramped living quarters, glancing up at the pale blue sky with a desperate resignation.  He stopped. ‘There must be land close by.’  He looked to the north east where a swirl of white wings reflected the morning light.  ‘Seabirds,’ he remarked, turning to look at Voronwë.

‘Later,’ the elf told him.  ‘We can do nothing until Ulmo chooses to bless us with a breeze.’

The sea lay flat and mirror-like – shamming innocence, like a wolf resting in the sun of a bright morning, as if it could never rise up and pluck a ship from its waters and send it sliding to its doom.  Arien beamed a well-washed brilliance on the scene beneath her and they were surrounded by a silence so profound that Eärendil began to wonder if the bellowing of the storm had affected his hearing.  They were tempted to whisper as their voices rang out across the waters, for fear of disturbing creatures better left resting beneath the waves.  Day became night and night day while Gwingól bobbed silently like a stick on a pond.

‘We are not moving at all,’ Eärendil said anxiously as he watched the rope trailing in the water.

‘You would think that it might be a relief,’ Voronwë commented, ‘after moving much too far and much too fast.’

The grey eyes that flicked a glance at him suggested that his companion found this to be no relief at all.  ‘We have rested long enough.  We lost two barrels of water,’ Eärendil said flatly.  ‘And enough of the dry goods have been ruined that we will need to worry about food if we cannot make landfall soon.’

‘We are in an ocean full of fish.’  A grimace crossed Voronwë’s face.  ‘It can be eaten raw at need.’

Eärendil sighed.  ‘I do not want to reach that level of need.’

‘And we can use the sails to collect fresh water when it rains.’

‘Perhaps we should have brought a rather smaller vessel – one with oars.’

‘I believe we should not worry yet,’ Voronwë said, looking thoughtfully at the sky.  ‘Calm often follows a storm.  The wind should pick up as the day turns to evening.’  He turned to watch the white wings of the gulls as the distant sound of their mocking cries reached out across the water.  ‘There are legends,’ he remarked, ‘of an Isle of Seabirds, whence come all the birds of the waters.  I never believed them myself – I have seen enough gulls nesting in the cliffs, and taken enough eggs from them to know that birds, like elves, settle where they choose – but I can see how a sight like that might make a sailor who has spent too long cut off from the land believe otherwise.’

Eärendil had braided his dark hair into a long tail and the angles of his face gave him an almost shocking resemblance to his grandfather, Voronwë thought: Turgon as he was when the Ice had taken his wife and left him exiled and alone with a child to raise.  He closed his eyes briefly and sent a silent plea to the Valar for this scion of Fingolfin’s house.  It was not his fault: none of it – not the jewels, nor the defiance of the Valar, nor the kinslaying, nor the failure to destroy Morgoth, yet he would continue to pay the price of choices forced on others long before his birth. 

‘Yet why should the legends not be true?’ Eärendil asked lazily.  ‘The Noldor live in Arda and bear their children there, but it is not their home.  Why should seabirds not be the same?’

‘The green elves would say that the true home of the elves is Arda,’ Voronwë mused.  ‘That they came to be at Cuiviénen and that Ilúvatar intended them to stay there – that those who followed the Valar to Aman are the ones who have betrayed their purpose.’

‘Is it not Morgoth and his underlings who betrayed the purpose of the One?’ Eärendil said bitterly.  ‘The Valar rescued the quendi from his plots once, in the way that seemed best to them – and only the Valar can help us now.  We are powerless to chain one of them – we have tried and been defeated, time after time.’

‘We sought their aid,’ Voronwë said, ‘and they rejected us.  I am the only one to survive of all Turgon’s emissaries.’

‘Perhaps he did not send the right messenger.’  Eärendil stood.  ‘Can you feel a stirring in the air?’

‘I believe –,’ Voronwë narrowed his eyes at the distant birds as they sank from his sight and then turned sharply to gaze intently westwards.  He groaned.  ‘Look there!  I think that Ossë is not yet finished with us, hír nin.  He is driving us with a whip.’

The wave came with the inevitability of winter.  Gwingól was drawn to it inexorably, pulled from her position to cut across its green expanse until she sat just below its crown, riding it like a novice on a wild stallion, able to feel in control just as long as every move was dictated to her.

Voronwë grasped Eärendil’s wrist.  ‘We can do nothing,’ he murmured.  ‘Ossë is displeased, but he will not harm us as long as Ulmo commands.  Whether he will see us safely to land, I do not know, but we had best not annoy him further.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘Be ready to take to the water – he may be forced to keep us whole, but poor Gwingól is unlikely to survive his wrath.’

‘I am not sure whether this experience is terrifying or exhilarating,’ Eärendil laughed shakily, clutching at solid wood as he looked down the smooth curve of the wave into a depth greater than that from the highest wall of Gondolin to the floor of the valley.

‘It is terrifying, Eärendil,’ Voronwë told him firmly.  ‘That you should even consider anything else worries me considerably.  Know when to be afraid, pen-neth.’

The grey eyes that met his gleamed with silver.  ‘It is not our day to die, Voronwë,’ Idril’s son said.

A growl of frustration shook the timbers beneath their feet as, with a contemptuous flick at Gwingól as though she were no more than an irritating flea upon the back of a large dog, the wave dropped away to nothing.

The ship flew through empty sky and, for a moment, the sailors felt an unexpected lightness before the weight of the world reclaimed them. 

‘Hold tight!’ Voronwë gasped. 

In a moment that seemed both interminably long and almost non-existent, the vessel dropped towards a sea jagged with rocks that leered at them like the teeth of hungry bear.  The awareness of pain to come hovered over them so that they almost welcomed the shattering of the small craft as the impact bit into her hull.  Despite their attempts to hold still, both Voronwë and Eärendil flew helplessly into the air, crashing back to the deck only to slide down the steep slope towards the eager sea.

‘No!’  Eärendil screamed, clutching at his friend’s wrist and closing his fingers in a grip tighter than he would have believed himself capable of employing.  He twined his other hand round the end of the halyard that had struck him in the face and lowered his head.  He would die before he let go, he determined, teeth clenched.  He ignored the burning pain in his muscles and the taste of blood in his mouth.  Not this time, he thought, even as lights began to spark before his eyes like fireflies in a summer meadow.

‘Obstinate.’  A deep voice rumbled in his mind like the sound of the sea booming in a cave.  ‘It will serve you well.  I will let you have your way this time, Tuor’s son.  And I suppose I owe him something for obeying me.  But enough of this folly, child.  You will stop chasing across the sea in search of that which you will not find.  You were born for a purpose, son of both kindreds.  It is for you to find what was withheld from others – you will build a ship worthy of this quest before you seek to move the hearts of the Valar to pity for the sorrows of Middle Earth.  It is for this that I have plucked you from the deep: it is for this that I send you back to your home.  Remember my words, son of elves and men.  Do not challenge me further – or I may allow Ossë to finish his games.’

The sun was warm on his back, but the pebbles under his face were cold and wet.  Eärendil realised that he was breathing, and he listened to the faint sound for several minutes as if to reassure himself that it was indeed an indication that he was still alive, but it was not until the aching of his body and the burning sting of salt water in his cuts and scrapes began to register on his mind that he became convinced.  His muscles resisted his attempt to push them into action, trying to persuade him that all he truly wished to do was rest in the sun until the water returned to wash him away.

Voronwë’s groan roused Eärendil more effectively.  Pebbles shifted as the elf rolled over and pushed himself into a sitting position.  ‘How did we get here?’ he asked in confusion.  ‘One moment we were about to drop into the sea and now. . .’

‘I do not care,’ Eärendil protested.  ‘Just leave me here to die, will you?’

‘Not a chance.’  Voronwë rested his head on his shaking hands.  ‘Ulmo’s gifts are not to be thrown back like undersized fish.  We must find shelter and food to last us until we have the strength to seek our way home.’

‘Give me some time.’  The half-elf pushed himself to his knees and forced himself to sit back on his heels.  ‘You look terrible,’ he commented.

‘Have you seen yourself?’ Voronwë raised an eyebrow, feeling that even that much movement was more than he could manage.  ‘You look like someone who has been put in his place by one of the Valar.’

Eärendil’s lips twisted.  ‘Well,’ he said, ‘now you come to mention it. . .’

The silence between them said more than words and neither felt the need to fill it with detail.  The sea broke behind them, dragging small stones playfully from the land before dropping them to rest beneath the green waters and returning for more. The wind stirred their hair and brought with it the smell of growing things as they sat exhausted on the shore and enjoyed the simple fact of being alive. 

***

‘As soon as he felt strong enough to look around him,’ Eärendil told his son, ‘Voronwë realised that he had been there before.  Some thirty or more years before he had met Tuor there and guided him to Gondolin.’

‘Vinyamar?’ Elrond asked.

The Mariner nodded.  ‘Ulmo had saved us from his waters,’ he said reflectively, ‘and I daresay that, as one of the Valar, he had no idea quite how long it would take us to return from Vinyamar to the Havens of Sirion.’  He grinned.  ‘Or, possibly, he did not care.  I doubt he wanted it to be too easy – but we were dumped on the shore in what we were wearing, without weapons or food and left to save ourselves.’  He looked at his hands.  ‘It was as well that Voronwë was with me,’ he observed.  ‘I was not prepared for such a journey.  We travelled mostly by night, following the coast south, seeking out warm sunlit spots to sleep.’ He glanced at Elrond.  ‘Or, at least, I slept.  I think Voronwë remained wakeful for all but a handful of hours.  We made rough spears to fish and dug roots to bake in our small fires.  In some ways, although it was less frightening, it reminded me of the flight from Gondolin when I was just a child.

‘And yet,’ he continued, ‘it was, in many ways, a catharsis.  Ulmo had told me that I was saved from the ruin of Gondolin for a purpose and that it was up to me to take up the burden – by the time we sighted Sirion again, I had come to terms with the loss of my parents and was prepared to do what I must.

‘And,’ the Mariner’s eyes sparkled with the white fire of the stars, ‘little though I merited it, your naneth forgave my desertion.  You and Elros were begotten almost immediately after my return and your naneth and I took consolation in each other and the beginnings of our own house.’

‘Son of Finwë’s house and daughter of Elwë’s,’ Elrond said thoughtfully. ‘Bringing together the blood of Noldor, Sindar and Vanyar and combining it with that of the Edain – with a touch of Maiar.  Had Ulmo allowed you passage on your first voyage, you would have been in less of a position to speak for the Forsaken – and you would not have had the Silmaril.’

‘So,’ Eärendil shrugged. ‘In the end it was all for the best.’

‘It did not seem that way at the time,’ Elrond kept his tone neutral.

‘No,’ the Mariner said softly.  ‘But we cannot see all that might transpire from our choices – all we can do is stand straight and follow our own path.  And take joy in what we are offered along the way.  Elwing chose to love me,’ he murmured, ‘and I fathered Elros Tar-Minyatur and Elrond Peredhil, Lord of Imladris – that is honour enough for any.’

Elrond reached out and clasped Eärendil’s hand.  ‘And, as Gil-Estel, you have offered hope to two ages of men and elves,’ he stated firmly. ‘Your path has been straight indeed and you have proved yourself worthy in every way.  I have always been proud to have you as my adar – and I am glad that, at long last, I can tell you so.’

Vingilot

‘Círdan told us often about the building of the Foam-Flower,’ Elrond grinned.  ‘He said little enough of you, or Tuor, or any of those of whom I wished to hear him speak – but the subject of Vingilot could keep him enthralled for hours.’  He glanced at Celebrían and added, ‘In some ways, I think she was the great love of his life.’

His wife nodded, a compassionate look softening her eyes.  ‘He loved each creation that left his hands – each of them was one of his children;  he conceived of them and raised them and let them fly – but Vingilot,’ she sighed, ‘Vingilot was special.’

‘Ulmo spoke to me,’ Eärendil replied thoughtfully.  ‘He told me to build a ship capable of taking my message to the Valar and sent me to Círdan on Balar.  He spared me details of what would make this vessel suitable to the task, but I suspect that Círdan heard his voice and learned much, for the ship he built was unlike any that had come from his hands before.’  His eyes twinkled.  ‘I would never accuse any ship that came from Círdan’s yards of being lumbering,’ he said, ‘but they tended to be broader in the beam – and better suited to sailing the margins of the land.  Vingilot was – Vingilot was sleek,’ he concluded reverentially.  ‘She cut through the water – she could ride out any sea with the grace of a bird floating on the wind.  Her sails were designed to turn into the slightest breeze and yet they were simple enough to be handled by a small crew.  I have ceased to see her, in a way,’ he added, ‘she is just there – like the ground beneath my feet – but when I think back I can remember the sheer excitement of seeing her grow on the cradles.’ He paused, eyes remote. ‘And that does not begin to compare to the thrill of taking her out onto the water.’

Celebrían flicked a glance at Elwing, who smile wryly.  ‘I have never had to worry about a living rival for my lord’s affections,’ she murmured.  ‘I have always known that I come a very poor third behind the sea and his ship.’

‘Not true,’ the Mariner protested, reaching out to grasp her hand.  ‘We are two parts of the same whole.’

Elwing’s smile grew wider and she returned his clasp.  ‘Truly, I do not mind,’ she assured him.  ‘It is part of who you are.’  She looked at Eärendil as if she had not really seen him in a long time.  ‘You came down the coast from the north,’ she said.  ‘You and Voronwë – picked up by fisherman checking their lobster-pots.   Dirty, salt-stained, hungry, clothed in rags – but the fire of Ulmo’s words burned in your eyes.’  She looked at their hands, then raised her eyes to meet Elrond’s.  ‘We were never going to be ordinary,’ she told him conversationally.  ‘How could we be?  The offspring of unions between very different races – born to build bridges between the Valar, the Elven kindreds and the houses of the Edain.’

‘It would have been good to have been asked,’ Elrond said dryly.

‘We were,’ Elwing said, adding, ‘in a way.’

Elrond shook his head.  ‘Too little, too late.’

Celebrían smiled at him lovingly.  ‘How could it have been otherwise?’ she asked.  ‘We chose our paths – and from our choices the future unfurled.  Had we been told what would happen, how could we have made the decisions we did?  Would we have wed, had we known that I would be lost?  Would we have chosen to have Arwen, if we had understood in advance that she would follow Lúthien’s path? And yet,’ she said gently, ‘had we not done these things, would not Sauron have prevailed?’

Taking her hand between his, Elrond raised it to his lips. ‘You are too like your naneth at times,’ he informed her.  ‘It is most annoying.’  He settled back, his shoulder touching hers, happy just to be with her.

‘Did you go straight to the Shipwright?’ he asked his adar.

Eärendil’s eyes slid to his wife guiltily.

‘He did,’ Elwing said.  ‘Although he wished me to think otherwise.  It was a brief visit – not long enough for him and Voronwë to recover from their experiences, but enough to ask Círdan for his aid.’  She smiled.  ‘But then he came home.’

‘I cannot imagine,’ Celebrían laughed, ‘that Glasiel was very pleased with him.’

Elwing turned to her son’s wife.  ‘She was unimpressed,’ she admitted, ‘and told him so.  She had seen my distress when he sailed so – precipitately – and she was not about to let him get away with his impetuous behaviour.  I forgave him easily,’ she smiled, ‘for I was so pleased that he had returned – but Glasiel was determined that he should understand the error of his ways.’

Elrond exchanged rueful glances with his adar.  ‘My lady has no sisters – but I can assure you, Adar, that I am very careful not to cause her parents to have any reason to suspect that my behaviour towards her is less than impeccable.  Neither of them would hesitate to make me suffer.’

‘And that is, of course,’ Celebrían nodded, ‘the only reason that you treat me well.’

‘Well,’ Elrond allowed the word to stretch out, ‘there may be others.  I cannot say.’

‘Evranin and Gereth were more tolerant,’ Eärendil told them, ‘despite loving Elwing as parents.  I think they may have had a better understanding of what drove me – they had seen Dior and Nimloth sacrifice themselves over a Silmaril, after all.’  He grinned boyishly.  ‘In the end, Evranin told Glasiel to hold her tongue and she obeyed – although I was amazed how much disapproval she could fire at me in a single glance.’

‘How long did it take Círdan to build Vingilot?’ Celebrían enquired.  ‘For you must have had work to do to secure Sirion – so that it would be safe in your absence.’

Eärendil shrugged.  ‘I was Lord of Sirion, true,’ he said, ‘but there were others among those who had fled Gondolin and Doriath who were better suited to the business of administration.  They did not seem too concerned that my heart was with the sea – and those of Doriath, at any rate, seemed content to have Elwing act as regent.’

‘And those of Gondolin,’ Elwing interrupted, ‘wished to sail with you.’

‘Only some,’ Eärendil protested.

‘Enough,’ she insisted.  ‘And others wanted to visit Balar with you and spend time in discussion with Ereinion.  Some sought places in his court – in the absence of Idril, Turgon’s daughter, they felt their loyalties shift to Gil-Galad as High King of the Noldor.’

‘They would,’ Elrond said cynically.  ‘There were those at Imladris who sought me out in the Third Age – as the only male representative of Finwë’s house still in Arda – anxious that I should assume the title – and that despite my mixed blood and descent through the female line.’

‘They looked down their patrician noses,’ Celebrían scowled, ‘to say how things would have been done in other times and other lands and then to tut because we refused to follow old ways.  They hung around Naneth at times – but Adar had no time for them at all.’

‘I would have liked to see Celeborn deal with them,’ Elwing told her thoughtfully. ‘I did not find them always easy to please.’

Celebrían laughed.  ‘I hope you get the chance to see him at work.  He made no attempt to please them at all.  Adar can be, at times, very down-to-earth and he has no patience with pretension.’

‘Círdan paid them no heed, either,’ Eärendil admitted, ‘except to wave them off like biting flies when they buzzed too eagerly, ‘and it struck me that Ereinion had learned his guardian’s impatience with courtiers.  But most of my time in Balar,’ he smiled, ‘was spent poring over plans and watching Vingilot grow.’

***

‘We will have her clinker built,’ Círdan insisted, ‘at least up to this point.’  He tapped the drawings.  ‘Carvel above the waterline, perhaps.  To my mind she will be stronger built so.  You will not want too many masts – she would become top-heavy and you would need too large a crew.’

‘She will need strength,’ Eärendil said with enthusiasm, ‘and to be able to stand up to harsh weather and high seas.’

‘A single mast.’ The Shipwright sketched his vision on a spare scrap.  ‘A gaff rig, I think, with perhaps a triangular staysail.  If we have a long bowsprit we can set a jib forward of it.  Or, maybe, two.’

‘She has fine lines,’ Eärendil said admiringly, stretching out a finger to follow the drawing, ‘and she does not seem to carry too much freeboard.’

‘It should allow for a greater press of sail,’ Círdan informed him.  ‘She will be built for speed.’

Eärendil’s eyes sparkled with excitement.  ‘How long will it take to build her?’ he asked eagerly.

The Shipwright looked at him sternly.  ‘It will take as long as it takes,’ he said.  ‘This is an experimental design – we will need to try her out before you can take her to sea.  In the meantime, spend some time at home with that wife of yours – and ensure that she understands why you need to leave her.’

‘She knows,’ Eärendil protested.

Círdan sat back and sighed.  ‘She has lost all she has before, ellon,’ he told the young half-elf gently.  ‘She will not find it easy to let you go.  She needs to know it is a great enough reason that will tear you from her side.  And,’ he added, ‘if you will take the advice of an old bachelor, you will ensure that she has young ones to anchor her.’

Eärendil flushed and glanced uncomfortably at his cousin, sprawled on a chair in the corner with his feet up, crossed on the edge of a bookshelf.

‘Do not look at me,’ Gil-Galad said absently as he read the document on his lap.  ‘You have not yet said anything that makes sense to me – and the subject of offspring is no different.’

 ‘Do not pretend ignorance, elfling.’ Círdan threw a rounded pebble at his foster son, only to have it caught neatly and placed as a marker on the text.  ‘It is unbecoming.  You have lived in my household long enough to understand what I said.’

The High King of the Noldor looked up with the bright smile that made him look even younger than he usually did.  ‘I understand the individual words,’ he admitted.  ‘It is when you put them together.  A gaff rig, indeed – I know the rig is how the sails and ropes are arranged, but gaff – what it that?’

‘A gaff – as you should be aware – is the spar to which the head of the sail is laced.’

‘Oh that helps a lot,’ Ereinion said earnestly. ‘I shall now recognise one immediately.’

‘You are not too old to send to bed,’ Círdan warned, hiding his amusement.

‘He would be better off spending more time in the yards,’ Eärendil grinned.

‘I thank you, but no.’ Gil-Galad rejected the suggestion firmly.  ‘It is hard enough to get away from advisors as it is.  Why do you think I am sitting here tucked behind Círdan’s heap of scrolls?’

‘I did wonder.’ Eärendil looked over the lanky king.  ‘Is it not enough to make you want to go to sea?’

‘They refuse to let me,’ Ereinion announced sadly.  ‘Even Círdan declines to have me voyage beyond sight of land.  And my advisors have kittens at the mere thought.’

‘Perhaps you should marry then, and produce a few heirs for your house,’ Círdan suggested. 

The High King shuddered.  ‘I think not,’ he said.  ‘I would rather keep my feet on dry land, if that is the cost of remaining single.’  He winked at Eärendil.  ‘I leave it to you to increase the number of my relations, little cousin.  I will make it a royal command, if necessary.’

***

The pink headed tufts of thrift shivered in the wind that came off the water and blew Elwing’s dark hair back from her face.

Her husband took his eyes from the dancing sea and turned to look at her flushed cheeks and rosy lips.  ‘You are beautiful,’ he said softly.  ‘My wild flower that blossoms here on the cliff’s-edge to draw me home.’ 

She smiled, and laced her fingers in his.  ‘You are a gull,’ she told him.  ‘Flying across the water in search of distant goals – but driven back to land when the storms blow in.’

‘Not a gull,’ Eärendil said reflectively.  ‘They do not push across the open water far from land.  An albatross, perhaps – floating on the wind across the endless deep.’  He drew her head to rest on his shoulder.  ‘You look tired,’ he said softly.

‘I am not sleeping well,’ she admitted.  ‘It is too hot indoors – and the softness of the feather bed pins me so that I cannot turn.’  She sighed.  ‘I am tired of being so uncomfortable.’

‘How much longer will it be?’ Eärendil asked sympathetically.  He found it difficult to imagine being trapped in the unwieldiness of a body grown strange.

‘I am not sure,’ Elwing said with resignation.  ‘Were we full elves it would be months – but I cannot imagine that I can get much larger than this.’

Eärendil looked at her thoughtfully.  ‘No,’ he agreed.  ‘And, among men, the time is shorter, is it not?’ 

She nodded.  ‘It will probably be somewhere between the two,’ she sighed.  ‘A month or two more at most.’

It seemed odd, Eärendil thought, to imagine that, in a few weeks, he would be an adar.  He felt too young, really – and too busy – but Evranin and Elwing had agreed eagerly when he tentatively broached Círdan’s suggestion and he had been left without any good arguments to the contrary.  Glasiel had, of course, protested furiously that he would not make a good parent, being absent far too often and, on the rare occasions he was in Sirion, being far too concerned with his own business, but Elwing had ignored her foster-sister.  And, he decided, this child must have been meant to be, for, no sooner had they chosen to conceive, than Elwing became pregnant. 

He smoothed her light dress over her swollen belly, only to feel the unexpected kick of a small foot.  ‘He is all fists and feet,’ he said wonderingly, as he watched another undulation.

‘He wishes to make his adar’s acquaintance,’ Elwing smiled.

‘Or maybe she is a little elleth,’ Eärendil suggested.  ‘I would like to have a daughter.’

‘Evranin thinks it will be a son,’ Elwing sounded sleepy.  ‘I think she is a little uncertain what to expect, really.  She said that my naneth knew the gender of the child she was carrying from shortly after conception – and she carried us little short of the full year, but she feels I am closer to term.  Gereth suggested speaking to a healer of men,’ she murmured, ‘but Evranin did not feel it would be helpful.’  She smiled.  ‘She does not think highly of their skills.’  Her husband’s gentle stroking soothed her still further and her head grew heavier as she settled happily in his arms.

At moments like this, Eärendil sighed, he did not see how he could be cold-hearted enough to take ship and leave her – yet, at the same time, he knew he would.  The bare bones of the new ship were beginning to take shape now under Círdan’s careful watch and Tuor’s son could hardly conceal his desire to be in Balar to see it.  He rested his cheek on Elwing’s sun-warmed hair and closed his eyes, wishing briefly that they could both have been born to the peace that their elven ancestors had known.  What would it have been like to remain spellbound for centuries in the starlit peace of the forest, like Elu and Melian?  Or to spend long peaceful years together among the white towers and fountains of Gondolin?  Elwing deserved more, he decided regretfully.  She deserved a husband who could stay by her side and love her rather than one who was always looking west across a restless sea. 

But the ship – he could not subdue his smile at the thought of her.  And his quest was sanctioned – no, commanded – by the greatest of the Valar whose direct presence affected the inhabitants of Arda.  If he had his choice, he would spend a century or two at Elwing’s side and raise this child – but he did not.  There was more to this than the desire of his heart; more than his pain at his parents’ departure; more than the call of the sea; more than mortality; more than a selfish desire to follow his own star at the cost of hers.  He sighed.  They were hanging at the edge, he thought ruefully.  Almost literally.  Elu’s Sindar – Círdan’s Falathrim – the Noldor exiles – they had all been pushed here to the very rim of the western sea.  Doriath was gone: so was Gondolin. Nargothrond was no more and Círdan had been driven to take refuge on the Isle of Balar.  One after another all their refuges had fallen:  if something was not done soon, there would be neither elves nor men left in Middle Earth to fight for her – Morgoth would have taken possession and his abominations would roam free, picking off those few among the Laiquendi who remained hidden in the deep forests, slaughtering those men who had the courage to resist them and corrupting the rest. 

His daeradar had known this.  His attempts to plead with the Valar for forgiveness, for aid, for hope had been turned back – but Ulmo had hinted that he, Eärendil – son of both elves and men – would stand a better chance of success.  He would bring to the Valar a token that they would not reject, in that he must have faith.  And they would come to help those who fought against one of their own, a Vala fallen beyond the ability of Arda’s children to understand, yet still powerful beyond their power to defeat.

Elwing sighed and stirred in his arms as his child moved within her, and his calloused sailor’s hand held them both gently to him.  Seize the moment, he thought.  Take each shining moment like this and hold it – this was the true treasure, of far greater worth than gold and jewels. 

***

Her labour appeared to have been going on for ever.  He paced.  He counted the number of steps required to make it to the end of the corridor, then discovered it took fewer to make his way back.  He examined the wall, taking note of each small irregularity.  He watched the slow movement of a silver medallion reflected from the pool in the garden outside as it wavered its way across the pale stone until the passage of the day made it disappear.

Why had he thought it would be easier than this?  Surely the goats that nibbled the short grass of the cliff tops did not have this trouble?  Their kids seemed to appear with little effort.  It had been in the dark before dawn that Elwing had woken him and sent him helter-skelter to bring her the aid of midwife and foster mother – and since then there had been endless bustle.  Doors had opened and closed, hushed conversations taken place, ellyth had entered with basins of steaming water and snowy cloths while others had emerged carrying covered trays.  All of them looking important and involved and integral to the secret procedures happening to his wife.  Only he was abandoned here to wonder what was going on.  He had put his head round the door at one point – only to be banished with a firmness that made him simply too aware of his own pointlessness.

A comforting hand settled on his shoulder.  ‘They would be making a lot more fuss if they were worried,’ Gereth reassured him.  He grinned as Eärendil’s frowned at the closed door.  ‘Believe me, lad, this is nothing.  Everything is going as it should.’

‘How long?’ asked Eärendil hoarsely.

‘A while yet, I suspect.’  Gereth followed his gaze thoughtfully.  ‘It is still too calm for the birth to be imminent.’   He turned to indicate a tray on the cushioned window seat.  ‘If you are determined to remain here throughout, you had better have something to eat and drink.  Should you faint on being presented to your offspring, I guarantee all the ellyth will determine that you did it on purpose to take attention from your wife.’

‘But . . .’

‘Eat,’ the older elf insisted.  ‘I have been here before, Eärendil.  I know what I am talking about.’

The moon was turning the water to silver before, as Gereth had predicted, the frenetic activity began.  Elwing’s protests grew louder and longer, while the intervals between them shortened, and the voices of Evranin and the midwife became audible, even through the solid door that remained shut in Eärendil’s face.

Nevertheless, the wail of an infant finally persuaded to leave its place of security pierced the bustle without any effort at all.  The half-elf froze as the shrill protests continued.  ‘What is wrong?’ he panicked.

‘Nothing,’ Gereth grinned.  ‘Babies cry.  It is what they do, Ada.  You will grow accustomed to the sound soon enough.’

‘Will they let me in now?’

‘Not yet,’ Gereth judged.  ‘Elwing will want you to see them both at their best.  You will be summoned when you are required.’

‘Take the child,’ a distant voice said urgently, as Elwing cried out, a long bubbling groan that clearly alarmed those within the room.

The infant’s cries came closer as whoever held him approached the door.  ‘What is the matter?’ Evranin sounded anxious.  ‘She should not be feeling pain now.’

‘Blessed Elbereth!’ the midwife exclaimed.

Eärendil could stand it no longer.  Pushing the door open with his shoulder, as if he expected it to be defended against him, he burst into the room only to find himself totally ignored.

‘There is a second child,’ Evranin said blankly. 

‘He is crowning,’ the midwife said curtly.  ‘You have not had time to forget what to do, Elwing.  Breathe until I tell you to push.’  She rested her hand on the swollen belly, waiting for the contraction.  ‘Now, my lady.  The child is almost here.’

Somewhere between wonder and revulsion, Eärendil watched as the bloodstained head of the infant emerged into the world and its small crumpled face began a grimace at the harsh reality of life.  With a final push, his wife expelled the small body and the child began to complain about its delayed arrival.

‘It is an ellon, my lady,’ the midwife said briskly.  ‘They are both ellyn.’

Evranin turned to the shaken Mariner, his first-born in her arms.  ‘Now you know,’ she said sharply.  ‘Go back outside until your wife is ready to greet you.’

As the midwife placed the second child in his naneth’s arms, Elwing commanded, ‘Wait, my lord.’  She looked up from the tiny red-faced baby with wonder.  ‘Are they not amazing?’

Eärendil’s face softened as he gazed at her: dishevelled, damp-haired, tear-stains marking her flushed cheeks.  ‘Not as amazing as their nana,’ he insisted.  Ignoring Evranin’s instructions, he tiptoed across the floor to lean over his wife and kiss her brow.  ‘You have given me a gift beyond belief.’    

‘She looked up at him and smiled.  ‘Twin sons,’ she said.

‘I wonder what they will make of their lives,’ their adar said softly as Evranin reluctantly placed his firstborn in his inexperienced arms, ‘now they have been launched into the world.’

‘And what will become of the world that welcomes them,’ Elwing mused.

Her foster mother tensed at the thought of the dangers that the two new-born half-elves might face and offered a swift prayer that the Valar might preserve the innocence of their youth for rather longer than had been gifted to their parents.  Still decades short of the age when elves attained adulthood, these two young ones were orphans, parents, lord and lady of their peoples, and pawns of fates in which they had no making.  She wished that she thought it would get better for them, but she could only see increased peril on their path.  She could do little to help them, she thought regretfully, but at least they could have this brief time together to be a family.  Catching the midwife’s eye, Evranin drew her from the quiet room and closed the door.

***

The golden wood of which the new ship was made gleamed as the shipwrights knocked away the blocks that held her in place.  Her mast stretched tall; sails neatly furled, ready to be raised for that first taste of the sea.

‘She is ready to go, my lord,’ one of them called.  ‘She moves!’

She moved slowly, but with an inevitability that could not be denied, her pace increasing as she accepted the invitation to meet the waters for which she had been designed.

Eärendil stood on the deck, robed in blue with a circlet of white gold and pearl round his brow.  His sailors held themselves ready for action, should any be needed, as the great ship cut into the green water, sending up an arching wave of sparkling foam that surged out across the still bay.

Círdan released a breath he had not realised he was holding.  ‘It is always a nervous moment,’ he muttered. 

‘Waiting to see if Ulmo will accept the new vessel,’ Ereinion concluded, nodding soberly.  He grinned at the older elf.  ‘Tell me – how many of your ships has the Lord of the Sea sent to the bottom on launching?’

‘There is always a first time, elfling,’ Círdan reproved him.  ‘I would not want this to be it.’

‘Unlikely,’ the High King of the Noldor told him, ‘since you built her according to his direction.’

The dazzling white of the new sail shone as the sailors hauled on the halyards to raise it.  The vessel began to move as the gentle breeze filled it and bellied it out.

‘The conditions are good,’ Círdan reflected, looking at the sky.  ‘Eärendil will likely only keep her out long enough to tease the newness from her, before he brings her back to port.’

‘He is not dressed for a voyage,’ Ereinion agreed.  ‘And the feast will be waiting for him this evening.  He has to announce her name and dedicate her to Lord Ulmo.’  He glanced over his shoulder at the spectators who always gathered to celebrate a launch. ‘It is a shame that Elwing was unable to come,’ he added, ‘but I can understand her reluctance.  And the twins are too small to leave, yet too small to bring.’

The vessel leaned as Eärendil turned to catch the wind.  ‘She seems to go well in a light breeze,’ Círdan said critically, ‘and there is little doubt but that she is more manoeuvrable than those ships we build to carry greater cargoes.’

‘I am surprised that she can run with so small a crew,’ Gil-Galad admitted.  ‘There is a lot of canvas for a few hands.’

‘It is to do with efficiency.  The right ropes in the right places.  Pulleys.’

‘Ah.’  The High King grinned, nodding sagely.  ‘Pulleys.  That would explain a lot.’

‘And Eärendil does not need to have to carry stores for more than five.  He could be at sea for a long time, with no knowledge of where to re-provender.’

‘How does he feel about leaving his wife and sons?’ 

Círdan glanced at the Noldor who had been given into his care as a child, torn from his family and his familiar life.  ‘He does not have the choice, elfling,’ he said.  ‘Ulmo commands – and his voice is hard to ignore.’

The crowd began to drift away as the new vessel tried her sails in the wide bay, leaving only those to whom the streamlined design was of particular interest.  A murmur of approval rose as the square sail above the gaff-mainsail was raised.

‘She is built for speed.’ Círdan narrowed his eyes and watched the wake the vessel left.  ‘Speed and agility.  Come, ellon.  Let us see how she manages against the wind.’

‘It looks different,’ Gil-Galad commented, cupping his hand to shield his sight as he stared out to sea.

‘You will only pretend not to understand.’

Ereinion grinned.  ‘Try me,’ he suggested.

‘It has an integrated topmast,’ Círdan stared at the young elf, ‘and a separate topgallant.’

‘See?  You were wrong,’ Gil-Galad stated triumphantly. ‘I am not pretending not to understand.  I genuinely have no idea what you are talking about!’

‘Let me try to keep it simple enough for you.  It has an extra sail – above the mainsail. That is why we simple sailors call it a topsail.’  He waited until Ereinion nodded.  ‘Fixed to the topmast.’

‘Sounds logical,’ Gil-Galad agreed. 

‘And it also has more than a single jib.’

‘I know what a jib is,’ Gil-Galad nodded.

‘More sail means that Eärendil’s vessel is faster and more manoeuvrable in the water.  The style of rigging means that it does not need a large crew.  The smaller freeboard – the distance between the deck and the waterline, if you are determined to feign ignorance – should increase the stability.  And to make sure that our theories work, Eärendil will sail her extensively in the bay in all weathers and then take a maiden voyage that will test the ship, while attempting to reduce risk to a minimum.  Once that is done, he will be ready for whatever test Ulmo chooses to set him.’

***

Eärendil laughed as the scent of the salt waves filled his nostrils and his ship responded to his lightest touch.  He had never felt more alive than he did at this moment as the rolling waters gave way before him and he flew across their wide expanse.  How could landlubbers bear it, he grinned with a feral excitement in his face, bound as they were to one piece of ground?   How could the slow song of growing things compete with the uncertain power of Ulmo’s realm? 

He had stripped off the trappings of rank before the sail had been untied, free to be himself in the company of his few trusted sailors, and stood, stripped to the waist, the sun gleaming on his pale skin and his black hair blowing round his face.

‘We should head back, ellon,’ Voronwë told him.  ‘This is a feast for which we should be on time – and we will be returning against the wind.  Bring her about.  Let us see if Círdan is right about her ability to sail into the wind.’

‘I am reluctant to do it,’ Eärendil’s eyes burned with enthusiasm, ‘but I know you are right.  You usually are.  Erellont!  Aerandir!  Let us prepare to come about.  Falathar – we will discover if the Shipwright was correct in what he said about the rigging.’

Beating back into harbour took longer than the outward trip, but Eärendil was pleasantly surprised to find that the Shipwright had known what he was doing in designing his vessel in the way he had. 

‘She holds close to the wind.’  Eärendil gazed at the rigging.  ‘And makes good use of her sails.’

‘And we will get better at holding her on the wind, my lord,’ Aerandir told him confidently.  ‘All we need is practice.’

Eärendil’s smile was generous.  ‘And that we will get in plenty, my friend,’ he promised. 

As the ship slipped back into port, a cheer rose from the spectators and the scent of roasting meat and spiced fish dishes made the sailors realise how hungry they were. The Lord of Sirion settled his formal garments and checked that his circlet was on straight before leading his crew ashore to give his vessel her name. 

Círdan greeted him, tall and gleaming silver in his favourite pearl-grey, while Gil-Galad’s gold-embroidered green emphasised his position among the Exiles on Balar. 

‘She has proved herself to be all that was promised, my lords,’ Eärendil told them, ‘and I will be honoured to captain her as we have discussed.’

The Shipwright nodded.  ‘But first, son of Gondolin and Lord of Sirion,’ he said in a voice intended to be heard by all, ‘first she needs a name.  Have you chosen what she will be called?’

Eärendil met his eyes.  ‘I have, my lord.’

‘Then what name shall be recorded in the annals of our people?’

‘I have chosen to name this vessel in honour of my lady, Elwing, daughter of Dior Eluchíl and Nimloth, his wife,’ Eärendil said steadily, ‘that, even when I may not be with her, her presence will surround me.  This ship shall be named Vingilot, the Foam-Flower.’  He paused and stated softly enough that only those close to him heard his words.  ‘May she be successful in her quest.’

‘I request that the blessings of Ulmo and the Valar go with you,’ Círdan announced.

‘And that you may find what you seek,’ Ereinion added with an intensity that reminded them that the quest of the son of Tuor and Idril contained the best hope for the elves and men of Middle Earth.  ‘Soon.’

 

Web of Darkness

‘If you had to have an adar other than me, I am glad it was Gil-Galad,’ Eärendil said.

‘And Círdan made you a caring Daeradar,’ Elwing added.

Elrond nodded non-committally and refrained from mentioning that, if he looked on anyone as the ada of his childhood, it was Maglor.

‘Was it long before you sailed again?’ Celebrían intervened.  ‘You said that you took Vingilot on a maiden voyage before heading in search of Aman.’

Eärendil smiled ruefully.  ‘It was not the voyage it was supposed to be,’ he admitted.  ‘We set off for a few weeks to shake the newness from the vessel and ensure that everything behaved as expected – and came back three months later, having experienced a level of terror that was almost enough to make us wish to remain in Sirion and await Morgoth’s hordes.’

‘Is this part of the story that has not been told?’ Elrond’s interest sharpened.  ‘I had heard of Vingilot’s launch, but no-one has told me of any journeys between that and your departure for the west.’

‘In some ways,’ Eärendil admitted, ‘it was the most unforgettable of all – but we had little chance to speak of it on our return, and . . .’  He looked doubtfully at Elwing.  ‘I do not believe that it would have been wise to leave those in Sirion fearing that we would encounter such dangers again.’

‘What dangers?’ Elrond leaned forward.  ‘I have heard of Voronwë’s experiences among the Enchanted Isles, but never of yours.’

His adar looked at him hesitantly.  ‘The Isles, yes,’ he said.  ‘But there were other horrors to be found far out on the Sundering Seas, where the greens of the shelf dropped away and the waters took on the steel-blue and pewter of immeasurable depth.  Things hidden: things shut away from the time before Tilion chased Arien across the sky: not the devices of the Valar to turn away the curious, but things dark and evil.’

***

The wind came from the west.  It had often seemed to Eärendil part of the Valar’s design to ensure that the white-sailed ships of the Falathrim did not succeed in travelling far over the waters between Arda and Aman.  It would keep them working, he knew, to keep close-hauled on their next voyage, but for now it made no odds.

He and Voronwë had been driven north and survived shipwreck beyond the Isle of Balar, so it seemed only practical to test Vingilot’s strengths on a voyage to the south – and the westerlies were perfect for that, enabling them to sail with the wind abeam.  It pushed them fast and far, holding their course even when the curve of the shore made the land draw back, until finally there was nothing to be seen but the sparkling waves and the wide blue bowl of the heavens.

Vingilot responded to them with the enthusiasm of an elven horse – light at hand, agile, willing to please, she danced on the water.  Her sails gleamed, reflecting the sun like birds’ wings against the sky.    The vessel sang to them, inanimate wood and canvas brought to life.

Eärendil drew a deep breath of the clean salt-scented air.  He had felt so guilty when he kissed Elwing farewell and hugged the small boys.  Elros had laughed, his eyes wide and excited as Glasiel had clutched at him to stop him throwing himself into the water, but Elrond had been sober, staring accusingly at his adar as if he understood that this was an abandonment, his hand tangled possessively in his naneth’s hair. 

He had promised to return – aiming his words at his son more than his wife – anything to try to erase that look of betrayal from the elfling’s face, but he was finding it hard to rub it from his own memory.  How could a child so young seem to have so ominous an understanding?  Elwing had assured him that he was reading more into the ellyn’s reactions than was really there, but he could not remove the suspicion that both Elros and Elrond had an insight into some future that he hoped would never come to pass.

‘Look!’ Aerandir exclaimed excitedly.

Like silver flashes, fish arched from the water, coasting briefly through the air before dipping back beneath the surface.  Dozens of them escorted the ship in an exotic display that left the sailors speechless, before finally dwindling away as if they had tired of the sport.

‘I had heard of fish that fly,’ Voronwë marvelled, ‘but I had always looked on the idea as a sailor’s story, like giant sea monsters and mermaids.’

Eärendil’s eyes shone.  ‘Was it not the most amazing sight?  I wonder if they will return?’

‘I hope all our discoveries are as pleasant.’  Erellont scratched his head.  ‘I am not so sure that sea monsters are no more than an elflings’ tale.  Our place here in the depths is at the sufferance of those to whom the ocean truly belongs – I would not wish to anger them.’

‘If we wanted to live in perpetual safety, we would not have chosen to sail Lord Ulmo’s waters,’ Aerandir shrugged.  ‘This is what I want – every day a new horizon.  To see things that no-one has seen before.’

‘Today’s horizon is little different to yesterday’s,’ Falathar said dryly.  ‘If it were not for the wind in the sails, we could imagine that we were standing still.’

‘I believe that I could do without seeing any monsters,’ Eärendil grinned.  ‘At least until we are more certain of the qualities of our craft.  Then – let come what will.’

***

‘We saw – huge creatures,’ Elrond said thoughtfully, ‘as we sailed west.  I was not familiar with their description.  They spouted water into the air as they surfaced and I would have been inclined to look on them as floating islands rather than fish, had I not seen their tails.’

Eärendil nodded.  ‘There are many types of them in the deeper waters,’ he said.  ‘They follow their food as the currents move.  They are not dangerous, though, on the whole, preferring to avoid the ships of men and elves, although it is best to steer wide of them – simply because they are too big to pay much attention to small craft in their way.’

‘My vessel was followed by dolphins,’ Celebrían reminisced. ‘I was in no condition to deal with those who sailed with me, but I could not resist the playfulness of the creatures and spent hours propped up at the rail watching them leap from the water.  They looked as if they were so happy to see us – I was sorry to leave them behind.’

‘But monsters?’ Elrond raised an eyebrow.  ‘Does Ulmo permit such to take refuge in his realm?’

Eärendil smiled wryly.  ‘It is a wide realm,’ he remarked.  ‘And what is monstrous to one may not be so to another.  But I would say that he is not one to tolerate Morgoth’s abominations in his waters.  Or even,’ he added, ‘on their margins.’ 

***

Vingilot’s hull paled to silver as the salt spray and sunshine leeched the untried freshness from her.  Her crew worked in an easy harmony, reefing sails and drawing on halyards to see how she responded to different challenges, finding that Círdan’s vessel rode the waves as easily as a bird floating on the air.

‘If we do not sight land soon, ellon,’ Voronwë said, ‘we will need to turn east.  We have food in plenty, but the water grows stale.’

‘What kind of sailors are we to turn up our noses at stale water?’ Eärendil laughed.

‘Sailors with standards,’ Voronwë told him.  ‘It is bad enough enduring poor conditions when you have to – but we passed what appeared to be a large island on the horizon a few days ago.  It would do no harm to make landfall and see if we can pick up some fresh food.’

‘Was that the island that seemed to be at the middle of a rain cloud?’ Falathar asked.  ‘There was something about it that chilled me – I was glad when its darkness faded from our sight.’

‘On the other hand,’ Aerandir said, offering them freshly prepared fish and hard biscuits, ‘if it rained there, we should be able to find a clean water source.’

‘And, reluctant as I am to turn back, our shake-down voyage has proved Vingilot’s worth,’ Eärendil agreed.

‘I am not suggesting that you are anxious to return to your wife’s side,’ Voronwë observed.  ‘I would not dream of inferring that you were tied to her apron strings.’

‘Good,’ the Lord of Sirion grinned.  ‘I would not wish to have to have you keelhauled.’

Voronwë raised his eyebrows.  ‘So, do we change course?’ he asked.

Eärendil nodded.  ‘It would be as well to see how she handles in makeshift harbours off unknown lands.  We will be bound to have to seek out shelter on the voyage west and find places to top up our supplies.’

Dark clouds still hung over the distant island as they approached in the early morning light, glowering at the visitors with a sullen heaviness that was relieved only by the bright stone of the pale cliffs and the foaming waterfalls that tumbled into the welcoming ocean.

‘There seems to be water in plenty,’ Falathar observed, ‘but there is still something about this place that I do not like.  I think we would be wise to take what we need and leave as swiftly as we can.’

‘You may be right.’  Eärendil looked into the wide bay that seemed only too welcoming to the slender ship.  ‘Yet there is something here that calls to me.’

‘Not all the calls of the unknown should be heeded,’ Voronwë frowned.  ‘Wisdom often lies in knowing when to run.’  He stared at the land behind the shore.  ‘There seems something – unsavoury – about this harbour.’

‘I cannot see what.’  Eärendil narrowed his eyes.  The water rolled easily towards the shore, showing no signs of breaking over hidden rocks.  Its colour faded slowly from the richer shades given to the deep waters to the turquoise of sea over sand with no reef to score the bottom of his ship.  ‘We will approach cautiously and take soundings.’  Even from here, he could see that a broad stream trailed down from the forest to meet the breakers.  ‘It will not take us long to go far enough upstream to get fresh water.  And I can see trees heavy with fruit – we could harvest some while we are there – and maybe hunt for some fresh meat.  Much as I enjoy Aerandir’s way with fish, it would be pleasant to have a change.’

They approached slowly, testing the depth of the water regularly, even when it was clearly unmarred by rocks, and anchoring well out into the bay.  ‘Erellont, Voronwë, you two remain on board,’ Eärendil commanded.  ‘I doubt there are really any dangers here that require so much care, but remain prepared to sail if anything seems wrong to you – and then hold off the coast at a safe distance and watch for our return.  We will complete our business as swiftly as we can.’

Voronwë looked prepared to argue, but he clenched his teeth and nodded once.  ‘As you wish, my lord,’ he said tightly.

They drew the dinghy up on the beach of soft grey sand and shipped the oars, looking around them uneasily.  The trees behind the waterline were just as green as they had seemed from the water and the stream burbled merrily, but they saw no footprints at its margin and there was a singular absence of birdsong.  Behind the high water mark, bleached timbers and branches brought down from the forest offered a home to small red crabs and a cloud of flies.

‘Hunting should be good,’ Aerandir said doubtfully.  ‘I see no signs of predators – there should be smaller creatures in plenty.’

‘Only there is little indication of them.’  Falathar looked round uneasily.  ‘We do not need to hunt – we have plenty of stores.  I think we would be better staying together, doing what we have come to do and getting out of here quickly.’

Eärendil laughed.  ‘You are as nervous as a pair of ellyth,’ he mocked them.  ‘The island seems pleasant enough – gloomy, no doubt, under this constant cloud, but green and fertile and we will enjoy our days at sea the more for an interlude on land.  Aerandir – take a look as we head up to find sweet water and see if you can see indication of rabbits or their like.  I am sure the island will have no objection to providing us with some of its bounty.  And once we have filled the barrels, we can see if that fruit is as flavoursome as it looks.’

Falathar shook his head and rubbed at his ears before taking the empty barrel on his shoulder and following the similarly burdened Mariner.   Aerandir looked round uncertainly before clasping his bow tightly in his hand and going after them.

Away from the shore, the silence became more oppressive as the broad-leaved trees loomed over them.   Thick vines trailed from one to the other linking them into a network of pathways high above the ground.  The freshness of the sea breeze died away and the air became still and humid.

Aerandir gazed up into the canopy.  ‘There is nothing here,’ he muttered.  ‘I do not understand it.’

‘Maybe the creatures are resting,’ Eärendil suggested.  ‘It is hot enough, goodness knows.   Any living thing with any sense would be taking its ease and waiting for the cooler breezes of evening.’

‘Which explains why we are here, lugging kegs up this rocky bank,’ Falathar remarked.  ‘We are clearly lacking in any sense at all.’

‘I am, you mean,’ Eärendil said without recrimination.  ‘You would far rather be resting in the shade of the sails and letting Vingilot do the work.’

‘The heat does not account for the complete absence of sound,’ Aerandir protested.  ‘I have been in forests like this before – they hum with life.  The only feeling I am getting from this one is fear.’

‘I suppose some of us could be considered strange enough to upset those that live here,’ the Mariner grinned.  He lowered his burden and knelt to taste the water that gushed out of a small side stream.  ‘The water is sweet enough.  It is good to taste something that doesn’t remind me of sweaty feet and the dregs of old ale.’

‘Voronwë would say that you are too picky, my lord,’ Falathar commented.

Eärendil shrugged.  ‘He is allowed,’ he said amiably.  ‘He has known me since I was born – and risked himself many times to protect me.  I am not going to object to his speaking his mind freely.’

Falathar steadied the keg as it filled.  There was enough of a warning in his captain’s tone to make him change the subject.  ‘How many times do you reckon we will have to make this journey to refresh our water supplies?’

‘Too many.’  Eärendil stretched.  ‘But it will be worth it – and we can make Erellont and Voronwë do all the work tomorrow to make up for the fact that they rested today as we laboured.’

The rain started in the late afternoon, but it brought no relief to the heat and feeling of heaviness.  Fat raindrops splatted onto the shiny emerald leaves and dripped heavily to the forest floor, pooling in hollows and soaking into the sandy soil.  The vines trembled, as if warning of intruders.

‘They are sticky,’ Aerandir objected, as he stepped back into one of the thinner strands that extended to the forest floor.  He pulled away, reaching over his shoulder to rub at the pale line.  The mark reddened across his bare back.  ‘It stings,’ he said in surprise.  ‘Perhaps we should not have been so ready to shed our tunics – after all, we do not know whether some of these plants are poisonous.  That could account for the absence of animal life.’

‘Watch out for those tendrils,’ Eärendil agreed.  ‘We do not need to encounter problems now.  And on our return to top up the large barrels, we will cover ourselves.  It is foolish to take chances.’

Aerandir staggered slightly as he lifted the full keg.  ‘I shall be glad to get away from this place,’ he said, his voice a little thick.  ‘The silence gives me the shivers.’

Eärendil took the bow and looked up into the trees, imagining that the dripping leaves contained a shadow before shaking off the odd feeling of coldness that drifted across the steamy afternoon.  ‘One more trip should do it,’ he said with forced cheerfulness.  ‘It will be your turn to act as guard again, Aerandir.  Since the hunting has been so poor, I think we will then return to the ship without delay.  There seems little point in staying ashore just for the sake of it.’

Halfway back down the track they were wearing between their source of water and the beach, Aerandir stumbled, lurching to one side before stopping.  He swayed confusedly, as if the solid ground beneath him had begun to move like the ship’s deck in a high wind.

‘What is it?’ Falathar paused behind his friend.

Aerandir dropped suddenly, no longer able to control his limbs and the keg struck the brook with a resounding splash, hitting the bottom and stirring up a cloud of mud before bobbing back, like a turtle half-submerged in the water, and then beginning to roll lazily downstream.   He started to convulse, his arms and legs jerking helplessly as he gave voice to a long gurgling cry.

With a swift look round to see if the forest showed any more sign of occupation than it had before, Eärendil dropped to his knees beside the sailor.  The welt on his back where he had touched the almost unnoticeable tendril was inflamed to an angry, weeping injury and its fire had spread into the surrounding tissues with a speed that shook the half-elf.  

‘Turn him on his side,’ Falathar told him urgently.  ‘Keep his head up so that he can breathe.’  He abandoned his own keg to the mercies of the small river.  ‘We need to get him away from here as quickly as we can.’

‘Should we not wait for this fit to pass?’ Eärendil asked.

‘Who is to say it will?’ Falathar sounded grim.  ‘We must get him to the ship, where we have herbs that might help him.’  He hesitated.  ‘I am reluctant to move him,’ he agreed, ‘– but I am even more reluctant to stay here.’

‘Wash the wound,’ the Mariner suggested.  ‘If there is something in the vine that is causing this reaction, maybe cleaning the injury out will help.’

A quiver of movement made them both turn to look downstream.  ‘See to Falathar,’ Eärendil commanded, readying an arrow.  ‘I will take a look.’

‘Do not let us become separated, my lord,’ Aerandir warned.  ‘We will be in greater danger apart.’

‘Whatever it might be, it knows we are here,’ Eärendil replied.  ‘But it might not be aware of quite how big a task it has taken on in confronting us.  We have a bigger bite than most of the beasts it might have encountered.’

Falathar lifted Aerandir and stepped into the clean water, dipping his friend to let the current wash the raw-looking stripe.  ‘Go carefully, my lord.  We have but one bow and our boot knives – and one of us will need to carry Aerandir.   We are not best equipped for battle here.’

Before Eärendil had covered a quarter of the way remaining to the beach and safety, he halted abruptly and cursed, retreating the way he had come with even greater caution than he had shown on leaving.

Aerandir was resting on the bank of the stream, limp, but breathing more easily, and the wound less inflamed.  A stout stick in his hand, Falathar stood over him, watching the trees.  ‘I wish I could think that your return was a good sign, my lord,’ he said.

‘It was not a vine,’ Eärendil remarked quietly, his tone devoid of all emotion.  ‘I believe we are in rather greater danger than we might have thought.  A mesh of similar strands is now blocking the path some hundred yards downstream – something tells me that it would not be wise to try to cut through them.  And,’ he paused and swallowed.  ‘You have seen how spiders sit with their foot on the web, awaiting their prey?’  He spread his hands to indicate the size of the limb he had seen.  ‘I think we have become prey.’ 

‘Spiders do not come that big,’ Falathar sounded incredulous.

‘Spiders do not spin webs that big, either,’ Eärendil told him, indicating the wrist-thick ropes above them.  ‘But look at the network with the thought of spiders in your mind.’

‘Why did we not see any sign of it earlier?’

‘Perhaps it does not like coming out in the middle of the day.  Or maybe it was waiting for an invitation to call.  I do not know.’  Eärendil looked back uneasily.  ‘I really think that we had better not stay here any longer than we have to – if I can avoid a closer view of that – thing – I would prefer it.’

‘Upstream?’

‘Better to stay with the stream than cut off into the forest. We would be lost in moments.  If we can get a bit more distance between us, we will have time to light a fire – there is a chance that the beast will fear flame.’

Aerandir groaned as Falathar lifted him over his shoulder, but he remained as limp as one dead, Eärendil noted in one part of his mind, as he smelled again in memory a whiff of the sulphurous fires of Gondolin.  Not now, he told himself firmly.  They must get out of this first, before he could let the past catch up with him.

The shadows deepened as they moved as quietly as they could away from the open safety of the beach to the murky depths of the forest.  The water flowed freely, but above them the trees seemed trapped and the momentary relief of the afternoon’s rain had passed, leaving the air still and steamy. 

‘Careful!’  Falathar paused, breathing hard.  A translucent tendril stretched across the water in front of them, delicately adorned with what looked like drops of rain.  In one of them, a large insect struggled weakly.

‘Can you get beneath it without touching it?’  Eärendil asked.

‘Yes,’ Falathar panted briefly, ‘but where there is one, there may well be many more – and it is growing too dark to see clearly if this is a trap.’

Eärendil looked over his shoulder.  ‘We need to find somewhere defensible,’ he said anxiously.  ‘And this is not it.  Somewhere open preferably, but I would settle for an enclosed space if I were sure that it could approach only from one direction.’

‘That might be better,’ Falathar replied.  ‘We could hold it off.’

‘But we would be trapped.  Until we killed it – or . . .’

‘It killed us.’

‘And we dare not be too long in cutting back to the beach or there is nothing that will stop Voronwë coming in search of us.  One of us will have to try to get away, while the other guards Aerandir.’

A rustling in the leaves made them both whip round.  They peered into the gathering darkness.

‘It is getting bolder.’

Falathar gulped.  ‘Today is not going well.’  He inspected the shadowy trees carefully.  ‘I have never been particularly fond of spiders,’ he said.

‘This one is unlikely to increase your affection for the species.’ 

A pattering of raindrops suggested that the creature in the canopy had moved ahead of them.

‘It is driving us,’ Eärendil said with a sick certainty.

‘That would make it intelligent.’

‘And hungry.’

‘I do not intend to end my days wrapped in a spider’s larder.’

‘Then have you any ideas?  It knows the terrain, it moves faster than we can, it is venomous – and we appear to be running short of options.’  Eärendil turned towards an excited scratching sound, turning to aim an arrow at it, yet holding back with a calm he would not have expected.  ‘It will not be accustomed to prey that can fight back from a distance – although the number of arrows we have is limited.’  He smiled faintly.  ‘We may yet be thankful that our hunt provided us with nothing that inclined us to employ our skill.’

‘It is a shame the forest is so wet,’ Falathar commented.  ‘If we could use fire, then perhaps we could turn from prey to hunters.  Once it is in the open, we might stand a better chance against it.’

‘Perhaps it is trying to stop us moving in that direction for a reason,’ Eärendil reasoned.  ‘If we can get through, perhaps we should carry on upstream.’

Falathar hesitated.  ‘It could be as good a way as any,’ he said helplessly.  ‘I do not know.  Perhaps we should make a run for the beach.  Once we are past its little trap, we would be only a few hundred yards from safety.’

Eärendil’s released his half-draw, but held the bow ready.  ‘There is no point in running,’ he sighed.  ‘We do not know where to go – and it is only too likely that we will make our situation worse.  Put Aerandir down and grab as much dead wood as you can.  We will light a fire here and then see if there is anything we can do to help him.  Perhaps staying put will make the monster come for us, so that we can choose how to fight it.’

The fire was small and smoky, but the flames brightened the shadowed forest and, after seeming briefly to draw back, the trees appeared to welcome its glow.  Falathar knelt beside his friend, relieved to see that the puffy weeping wound on his back seemed less angry despite his rough ride to try to escape the spider.  He bathed the welt again, soaking Aerandir in an attempt to cool him down. 

‘He seems easier,’ Falathar commented softly.  ‘Although he has not spoken yet, he is beginning to rouse – and he has some slight movement back.’

Eärendil kept his back turned to the light, focusing intently on any slight sound in the trees.  ‘I want you to try to see that there is a constant supply of burning brands,’ he said.  ‘If anything approaches, be ready to hurl them towards the sound.  The monster cannot be accustomed to fire flying at it.’

It was the glitter of firelight in the many-faceted eyes that revealed the spider.  Its hunger was clearly tempting it to overlook its natural caution and, in what was probably years as the dominant predator of the island, it seemed to have forgotten that not all potential victims were likely to surrender willingly to its might.

‘Spiders are armoured, my lord,’ Falathar murmured.  ‘I think an arrow would bounce off its back.’

‘I will aim for its eyes,’ Eärendil said.  ‘I will try to grab a second arrow and hit the second before it can retreat – I do not know how swiftly it will move.  Wait for that before you do anything.’

The Mariner drew on the bow as precisely and unnoticeably as he could before releasing the arrow to sing through the air, followed as rapidly as he could manage by a second. 

The spider arched back as the first arrow struck, screaming a shrill scratching cry that made the semi-conscious Aerandir moan. 

‘Again, my lord,’ Falathar urged, as the second arrow went wide.

‘Only if it is a sure shot,’ Eärendil said absently, his focus on the hideously writhing arachnid.  ‘We do not have arrows to waste.’

The spider slowed its movements and tensed, moving its head to observe the creatures that smelled so enticing, yet had proved to be less easy a meal than it had expected.  It began to move slowly, creeping towards the network of strands that crossed the stream.

‘Throw some brands, Falathar,’ Eärendil requested.  ‘See if you can drive it to the right.’

Falathar took careful aim and hurled a burning branch towards the spider.  It caught a strand of web and with a stench like burning hair, the flame fizzed along the sticky substance.  The spider rocked, turning awkwardly to steady itself.

‘Interesting,’ Falathar observed.  ‘How close do you want the creature, my lord?’

Eärendil smiled.  ‘Not that close, my friend!  But if you could shake it a little more, I think I might be able to blind it.’

The spider turned as the brand approached, aware now of its danger.  Eärendil released a swift arrow, impaling the second eye even as the flame fried the support beneath the creature’s eight long legs.  It curled, huddling the limbs beneath it as it fell to land on the far side of the stream.

‘Do not trust it!’ Falathar snapped.  ‘It is not dead yet.’

Eärendil nodded, taking a fourth arrow and sending it to sink into the spider’s belly.  ‘Can you lob a brand that far?’ he asked.

Falathar took a couple of relatively straight chunks of wood and set them in the fire, picking up another that was burning steadily.  He looked at the twitching body.  ‘If I cannot, my lord, then perhaps,’ he suggested, ‘a fire arrow?’

‘I will make the attempt,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘I do not know if it will fly true.’

Falathar’s first attempt fell short, smouldering in a patch of leaf litter.  His second, however, sliced through the gap between them and fell next to the creature’s abdomen, while the third landed on the thorax, igniting the hairs with which the legs were covered.  The spider screamed, lashing its limbs and turning itself in an attempt to douse the flames, but, to the amazement of those watching, the flames became an inferno that encased the monster in a brilliant blue fire that exploded in a puff of malodorous smoke before drawing in to leave a small heap of red ashes.

‘How did that happen?’ Falathar was shaking.

‘If the web the creature produced burned so well,’ Eärendil said, ‘I suppose it is hardly surprising that it should itself be vulnerable to fire.’ 

‘At least the forest is too wet to burn.’  Falathar sat down suddenly.  ‘Do you think we need to worry about any more of those creatures?’

Eärendil looked at his hands and noticed disinterestedly that they were trembling so much that it was as well he was unlikely to have to draw his bow again immediately. ‘I would not have thought so,’ he said absently.  ‘I do not think one would tolerate a rival.’

A soft breeze stirred his hair, blowing the stench of burning spider away from him and he looked up to see a swirl of cloud scudding across the night sky.  A star glinted down at them briefly before the racing drifts hid it. 

‘How is Aerandir?’ he asked, swallowing down the horror that their enemy had roused in him.

Falathar placed a hand on his friend’s neck.  ‘His heartbeat has steadied,’ he said.  ‘We will know more in the morning.’

The Mariner drew a deep breath.  ‘This will be a very long night,’ he said with a heartfelt emphasis.

Even amongst the dense trees, dawn came with a welcome warmth.  The colours lit the fine clouds with a transient fire before the sun rose sufficiently to enliven the bright greens of the trees.

Eärendil approached the spider’s remains cautiously, bow at the ready, but only the size of the burned patch and its heap of ash surprised him.  ‘Valar,’ he said softly.  ‘It must have been twice the size of a horse.’

‘It is no wonder that the woods were silent.’  Falathar looked at it with revulsion.  ‘Aerandir is awake,’ he added.  ‘He is in pain and nauseous – and he cannot control his shakes.  The wound on his back has blistered, but the red lines are not spreading.’

‘Good.’  Eärendil glanced back at the figure resting beside the stream.  ‘He should have little recollection of what happened – that can only be an advantage.’  They waded through the shallow water.  ‘We will need to take a brand with us – there are many of those strands of webbing between us and the ocean.  I think we need to burn as many as we can.’

‘Listen.’  Falathar put his hand on Eärendil’s arm and leaned his head back to squint at the sky between the sheltering leaves.

‘Birds,’ Eärendil said.  ‘Perhaps we have achieved something here,’ he smiled.

‘Something I would have been happy to leave to others,’ Falathar added.

***

‘By the time we staggered out of the forest,’ Eärendil concluded, ‘the water kegs were waiting neatly at the edge of the stream – as if some unseen hand had lined them up tidily by the dinghy.  The sun was shining and the sand was gleaming white in its light.  We wasted no time in pushing the boat back into the water and rowing back out to Vingilot.  We were doubtful about the water at first – tempted to empty the barrels into the sea and make do with the flat taste of what we knew was safe, but we had to acknowledge that, whatever had been wrong on that island, the water had been clean enough.’

‘A daughter of Ungoliant, do you think?  Like Shelob?’  Elrond wondered.  ‘Drifted, maybe, in the egg, and hatched on the island?’

Eärendil shrugged.  ‘It is possible,’ he conceded.  ‘It was no normal spider – it was far too large and much too intelligent – but neither was it Ungoliant herself.  This was not one that would have been able to scheme with the Dark Lord to destroy the works of the Valar.’

‘If it had destroyed the animals of the forest, it suggests that it was able to retire into a form of hibernation,’ Elrond mused, ‘at least until an opportunity to feed provided itself.  Then, when its warning systems were triggered, it could revive and hunt.  It was probably mainly dependent on catching unwary seabirds in its webs.  You must have been disconcertingly large – and very tempting.’

Elwing paled.  ‘I do not wish to think of your adar as a spider’s prey,’ she said firmly.

‘Yet,’ Eärendil added, ‘remember that the shadow that hung over the island dispersed as soon as the creature was dead.  It reinforces the suggestion that the monster was one of Morgoth’s servants – by descent, at least.’

‘I cannot believe that you have never told me of this before.’

Eärendil looked shamefaced.  ‘There seemed no point,’ he told his wife.  ‘It was history by the time I saw you again.  We had survived unscathed – there did not seem to be any reason to worry you.’

Celebrían laughed lightly.  ‘I suppose we should be happy that our husbands think us too precious to worry with the events that have come close to destroying them.’  She glanced at Elrond affectionately.  ‘It is among their more foolish habits, but it is endearing nonetheless.’

‘Did it take Aerandir long to recover?’ Elrond asked.  ‘My experience of spider toxins is mainly based on the Mirkwood varieties – they were also descendants of Ungoliant, although divided by many more generations.  I would be interested to know if his reactions indicate a difference between them.’  He rubbed the bridge of his nose.  ‘Of course, Aerandir’s intense reaction was from absorbing the toxin through his skin – he was not bitten – so it would seem that the spider was a good deal more venomous than those with which Thranduil had to deal.  I would doubt that he would have survived a bite.’

‘Elrond,’ Celebrían interrupted firmly, waiting until he turned to meet her gaze, ‘this is hypothetical.  The spider does not exist any more: you cannot run experiments to discover the secrets of its poison, you do not need to worry about the risks run by those who have to fight it and you do not need to find an antidote.’  She looked at Eärendil.  ‘Did Aerandir recover?’ she asked brightly.

‘He did,’ the Mariner acknowledged, looking from his son to her.  ‘The injury, seen in daylight was more like a burn than a cut – it blistered badly and wept for several days.  He remained weak and shaky for a while – we did not let him climb the masts for the rest of the voyage!  And he said it was the most painful injury he had ever endured, worse even than the broken leg he had a few years before.’  He smiled as he remembered the end of the voyage.  ‘Voronwë was very displeased with us all,’ he grinned.  ‘He said we had become smug and that we had been exceptionally lucky to make it back to the beach.  We told him it was skill that had saved us – but he snorted that that was highly unlikely because we had made every error known to endanger sailors on potentially unfriendly shores.  He said a great deal more to me,’ he added, ‘when we were out of earshot of the rest of the crew – heaping on the guilt about leaving Elwing a widow and my sons orphaned, letting down my adar by risking the life that he had sacrificed himself to save, risking the success of the venture laid on me by Lord Ulmo.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘It is a good thing that I was young and brash and over-confident,’ he said, ‘or I would have given up there and then.’

‘It is possible,’ Elwing reproved him, ‘that had you not been young and brash and over-confident Voronwë would not have felt the need to take you to task.’

‘True,’ Eärendil admitted, taking her hand.  ‘But we learned from the experience – and we were never as careless again.’

‘And you came home,’ Elwing said softly, returning his clasp.  ‘Tall and bronzed and laughing, you ran down the gangplank and took me in your arms as if you would never let me go – and then you seized both Elros and Elrond and spun them around and hugged them and made them giggle and we were a family again.’

Eärendil’s face paled.  ‘For a while,’ he said sombrely, and in his tone was the tolling of a single bell.

 

Into the Sunset

‘You have made no mention of the Silmaril,’ Elrond observed.

Elwing drew breath and Eärendil glanced at her under his dark lashes.  Neither spoke and the warmth of the bright afternoon seemed shadowed. 

‘I hated it,’ Elwing said abruptly.  ‘To me it was never a wonder that embodied the beauty of the Two Trees, never a creation from the hands of a master, never a prize to be treasured.  It was – it still is –stained with the blood of my kin.  My naneth thrust it in my bundle and sent me from her, remaining to die in the ruins of Doriath.  To my mind, the jewel of Fëanor corrupted all it touched.  I wanted nothing to do with it.’

‘It is not so,’ Eärendil said softly.  This was an argument that had clearly been played out many times.  ‘The Silmarils are too – pure – for the children of Arda.  They burn those who come close to them, so that they cannot then endure the absence of their clarity.  Having once felt their power – their perfection, you can understand Fëanor in a way that no-one can who has not been touched by them.  He may have been their creator, but the need for them ate at him.  He could not help but pursue Morgoth to find them again.  Nothing could be permitted to stand in his way.  Not the Lords of the Valar, not the reluctance of kin, not the wide sea, not the ill-will of Morgoth – nothing could free him from their spell.  Not even death.  He would do anything to reclaim them, even to slaying elves who stood in his way.  Even to sacrificing his own sons to a terrible fate.’

‘I have watched it crossing the sky for three ages,’ Elrond mused.  ‘The Star of High Hope – it is in its rightful place now.  Where it should, perhaps, always have been.  It was not a possession; something that could be kept in a treasure house to gloat over – it belongs to all.  If Fëanor could have brought himself to see that, then much would never have come to pass.’

‘But he did not,’ Celebrían spoke sadly, ‘and he would not and many died who would have lived.  But many also came to be born who would never have been. We must remember that, too, before we allow ourselves to grow bitter.’ She smiled at Elwing. ‘My parents would never have met – Eärendil would not have been born – and neither would Elrond and Elros, nor their heirs.’  Her eyes gleamed.  ‘Tell me,’ she invited, ‘where did you hide the Silmaril?’

Elwing shrugged.  ‘For many years it resided in a box in a hole beneath the cabbage patch.  Later, once Sirion became a haven of stone houses and formal gardens, Gereth made a hiding place for it in the wall of my bedroom and I did my best never to think about it.’

Elrond smiled.  ‘I like to think of it in a cabbage patch,’ he commented.  He watched his naneth in silence for a while.  ‘Why did you not then surrender it?’ he asked.  ‘If it meant so little to you.’

‘It is not, I think, that it meant little,’ she told him slowly.  ‘It had, after all, been instrumental in the death of most of my kin.  Elu – my parents – my brothers.  Doriath had fallen to ruin over it.  I resented it – I think I feared it, but I could not betray the slain by handing it to the Kinslayers.’  Her eyes lost focus as she considered events long past.  ‘When the demand came from Maedhros – that was the first time in years I had really thought of it and what it meant.  And then they came – and for the only time I placed the Nauglamir round my throat.’  She shuddered.  ‘I could feel the power in it – it pulsed with a life that scared me, and it demanded a service that took no account of other responsibilities.

‘I leapt into the sea,’ she continued, ‘hoping beyond hope that if I possessed it still, the sons of Fëanor would guard you as prizes that could be used to take it from me.’  She smiled wryly.  ‘Stupid of me – as if my ruined body on the ragged rocks could protect my sons.  The Kinslayers would have robbed me of the jewel and continued on their way, regardless of my intentions.  But the Lord of the Sea did not want it to end there.  He had his own plans – and handing the Silmaril to the sons of Fëanor was not among them.’

Her face pale as the sea’s foam, her hand stroked the solid stone of the bench as if to convince her of the reality of the world around her.  ‘The sea came up to meet me,’ she said, her voice low and intense.  ‘I was expecting pain and severance from all I knew – and instead, I rode on the white spray and became – other.  I felt as if I had been taken apart and melted and remade – and the only thing that remained constant was the Silmaril pressing against my throat.

‘I screamed – and the scream was the desolate cry of a seabird, and I rose above the grey silk of the waters and the wind hurled me westwards.  I was myself and different – grieving and torn and longing to return, yet driven to soar towards the bloodied sun in search of I knew not what.’

‘And so the first of the Silmarils found its purpose,’ Elrond said thoughtfully, ‘and its home.’

***

Elwing’s warm tears had burned like acid, he acknowledged reluctantly, and the guilt burdened him.  He did not, in truth, want to set sail, but they both knew that this was the culmination of the last years’ work.  The ship was built and tested; the crew experienced and ready; he had no excuse to remain longer in Sirion.  Lord Ulmo called – and his duty must be done.

She was limp in his arms as she held him close, accepting helplessly another of the many ‘lasts’ they had been accumulating over recent weeks, for who knew when – if – they would ever meet again.  This quest was, after all, dangerous.  Of the seven fully-crewed ships sent by his daeradar only one sailor had been seen again in the realms of Middle Earth – what reason had he to believe that he stood any greater chance of success?

His hand caressed her hair, and moved to feel the soft curve of her cheek, resting briefly on her mouth before roaming to absorb as much as he could, so that the sense of her would be with him always.  Her eyes fed hungrily on his face and her clasp on his body had a desperate feel, as if she, too, was trying to fill a chest of memories that she could open when the days became too hard.

‘I wish you could come with me,’ he said.

Tears she had been holding back spilled over.  ‘Duty,’ she breathed, too distressed to voice her words.

‘Look after my sons – and see that they remember me,’ he asked.  ‘Hold Sirion safe.’

‘I will do what I can,’ she whispered.

‘My lord,’ Voronwë intervened gently.  ‘The tide will be turning soon.  You must come aboard.’

Eärendil held his wife convulsively.  ‘This will become no easier for delaying the parting,’ he said, resting his brow on hers for a moment before releasing her.

She staggered and would have fallen, but for Gereth’s preparedness.  He looped an arm round her waist and steadied her until she was able to stand straight and proud.  ‘Bid your sons farewell, my lord,’ she said. ‘For who knows when you will meet again.’

The Mariner dropped to one knee in front of the small boys.  ‘Look after your naneth,’ he instructed them, taking a hand of each.  ‘And grow well, so that, when I see you again, I can be proud of my sons.  Remember that I love you both.’  He drew them close and shut his eyes as he breathed in the fragrance of sweet-scented soap and clean elfling.  ‘I will miss you.’

‘Why do you have to go, Ada?’ Elros piped up disapprovingly.  ‘Nana and us want you to stay here.’

‘The sea calls, my little bird,’ he said, his voice cracking.

‘Where will it take you that we cannot go?’ Elrond sounded curious.  ‘I want to know!’

‘Into the sunset,’ Eärendil said, reminded of the words of a story his naneth had told him many times in the almost forgotten haven of Gondolin, ‘where the stars shine.’  He kissed both children.  ‘I will come back if I can,’ he said, refusing to make promises that he might not be able to keep.

He rose and, taking a final loving look at Elwing, he boarded Vingilot.

***

It was as if Ulmo was directing them.  The winds blew still from the west – Manwë, Lord of the Air, clearly had no desire to receive supplicants from the realms of Middle Earth – but the currents of the ocean favoured them and Vingilot was able to remain close-hauled and head steadily into the wind.

The pain of separation lessened.  There was too much to do to brood on the likely failure of their mission – and thinking about what he had left behind only made his grief worse.  Eärendil decided to live for the moment – and the moment was good.  The sky was a vault of perfect blue above a hyacinth ocean.  The creak of the sails and the splash of the water against the silvered hull of his vessel relaxed him and the occasional songs of the sailors set off the tranquil routine of the long days at sea.

‘It cannot last,’ he commented quietly to Voronwë.  ‘If the voyage were really this straightforward, Círdan’s ships would be plying the waters between Balar and Aman.  Sooner or later we are going to encounter challenges that could see us on the sea-bed.’

Voronwë nodded towards the west.  ‘We will be approaching the Isles before long,’ he warned.  ‘Ulmo’s goodwill will not see us through them so easily.’  He looked into the distance.  ‘They are shrouded with confusion,’ he reminded the Mariner.  ‘It is possible to wander there endlessly without ever emerging into the clarity of a sunlit day such as this.’  He hesitated.  ‘It is not impossible,’ he conceded, ‘that some of Turgon’s envoys rest there still, unaware of who they are and why they sought the lands beyond the sunset.  Once we enter the mists surrounding the Isles, it may be that we will never escape.’

‘Do we have any choice in the matter?’ Eärendil asked wryly.  ‘The only illusion of safety is to return at once and acknowledge ourselves beaten – and that is no safety at all.’  He gazed out across the sea behind them, the ship’s pale wake spreading its arms towards home.  ‘We must go on in hope that we have something that no others possessed – and that it will be enough.’

‘You have grown, ellon,’ Voronwë approved.  ‘Your adar would be proud of you.’

Tuor’s shadow hung between them: the hero who had won the heart of Idril Celebrindal and fought free of the ruin of Gondolin to bring the last of Turgon’s people to the edge of the sea.  ‘I wish he had remained to see my sons,’ Eärendil said wistfully.  ‘Although I am in no position to say that what he did was wrong – for at least he waited until I was grown before he and my naneth boarded Eärrámë and left.  I have already abandoned my sons to the vagaries of fate.’

‘Not so, ellon,’ Voronwë insisted.  ‘They have their naneth – and the care of those who remain in Sirion.  And Círdan and Ereinion will keep watch on them.’

‘And we all know how safe we are behind the walls of inviolable fortresses, do we not?’ Eärendil observed.

‘You cannot worry about what might happen.’  Voronwë sighed.  ‘There will be enough danger in your future, my friend.  You will need to be whole-hearted to face what comes.  Trust your wife, Eärendil.  Trust in those who guide her – and concentrate on your own challenges.’

***

The sea stilled as the haze closed round them like a drift of fine tulle, and the song of the gulls faded as if their ears had numbed.  It felt colder: despite the large gold coin of the sun in the sky, a whisper of chill that had nothing to do with the temperature made them shiver.  Wind filled the sails, but they could not feel it in their hair and a strange constriction affected their breathing.

Eärendil focused on the process of drawing air into his body.  He knew he was alive; he knew his heart was beating – it was thudding loud enough for all aboard to hear it; he knew he was breathing – but he felt stifled.

‘I remember this,’ Voronwë said, his voice unemotional and distant.  ‘It is designed, I should imagine, to make any that approach want to do nothing more than leave.’

‘It gets better?’  Aerandir’s legs gave way and he sat on the bleached deck as they glided slowly across a clinging sea.

‘It becomes – less bad.’  Voronwë swallowed, as if the stillness was affecting him much as sea-sickness caused landlubbers’ stomachs to revolt.  ‘It is at its worst at the edges – and it is not easy to escape.  Only Ossë’s rage enabled us to break through the barrier.  His wave threw us through the web – and drove us eastwards.  It takes more than the wish of our hearts to break the ban of the Valar.’

Eärendil gripped the smooth wood and concentrated on its solidity and warmth.  ‘I would have appreciated knowing of this effect before we felt it,’ he said, hearing a strange echo in his tone, as if it took seconds for the words to pass from speech to hearing.

‘I had forgotten,’ Voronwë remarked remotely.  ‘It is not, I think, something that the mind retains – and the outside is not the same as the inside.  It is on the inside that,’ he frowned, trying to make sense of the peculiarities of the place, ‘straight lines bend,’ he said in the end.  ‘Like a distant view on a blazing afternoon.’

‘It is like looking through glass,’ Falathar observed, staring from the stern.  ‘Molten glass.’

Eärendil was conscious of an unexpected lightening of his spirit.  ‘We have no choice then,’ he said with relief.  ‘We must go on.’

Day followed day.  Sometimes, despite the curve of the sails, Eärendil was unsure if they had made any progress at all.  At other times, he would gaze at the position of the sun in confusion, knowing that the vessel was no longer where experience told him it should be.  The sea remained amazingly calm, moving in what seemed little more than a steady series of moderate ripples.  It was not until the arrival of gulls that wheeled round the mast and settled, bobbing on the water, that they realised the strength of the current.

‘It is a narrow band,’ Falathar narrowed his eyes intently to study the darker stream of water in the expanse of silver.  ‘But we are in its centre and we are being driven.’

‘We are in the hands of Lord Ulmo,’ Voronwë said with resignation.   ‘Fighting the sea could make things worse.’

Eärendil smiled wryly.  ‘Or better.  We have no way to know.’

‘We are still heading west, my lord,’ Erellont said doubtfully.  ‘I think.’

‘We need to make landfall sometime soon, captain,’ Aerandir advised, ‘or it will not matter who guides us.  That or hope for heavy rain.  The sea will provide us with food enough, but we need fresh water.’

‘There is a way I learned once,’ Voronwë said thoughtfully, ‘that will take sea water and make it fresh – but it will not provide much unless the sun is hot enough to cause the water to turn to vapour.’

‘We will try it,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘And watch for land.  There must be islands hereabouts.  These gulls do not travel too far out to sea.’

‘It will not be easy to pull out of the current,’ Falathar considered.  ‘It is to be hoped that the Lord of the Sea wishes us to make land, or we will watch island after island pass us by as we continue helplessly towards whatever doom awaits us.’

***

Falathar’s prediction proved correct.  At the sight of the first green-capped island towering out of the foaming breakers, they had fought fiercely to try to turn Vingilot’s path, to edge from the current and free themselves from its control – but their efforts had made no difference. Their vessel had continued serenely as if drawn on a wire.

Exhausted, her crew had sunk to rest on the gleaming deck.  ‘We might as well abandon any attempt to direct her,’ Eärendil said helplessly.  ‘Our sailing her is an illusion – we are making no impression at all.’

‘We must be prepared for when the current releases us, ellon.’  Voronwë gazed into the distance where another smaller pair of islands broke from the smooth sea.  ‘You know only too well that the attentions of the Lords of the Sea are not always friendly – they demand respect, even when offering their aid.  When Ossë tires of helping us, he is only too likely to add a sting to his farewell.’

‘Then I hope Lord Ulmo was a little more explicit in his directions this time,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘We will be of little use in our quest if Ossë is permitted to smash Vingilot to tinder and abandon us on some remote strand.’

Night, when it fell, came dark as a velvet cloak, shielding the light of the stars jealously.  Strangely fluorescent patterns swirled across the surface of the sea, faint enough to make Eärendil wonder if he were seeing things in the blackness, but the quality of the silence was too dense for him to break.  Falathar sighed in his sleep: reluctant to separate, the off-duty sailors had settled down on the deck, so they could at least take comfort from the presence of their companions.  The faint sound reassured the Mariner.  He was not alone, suspended in an eternal darkness, but merely awaiting the inevitable return of the sun.

But, when one still morning came, they had been left to save themselves.

‘The current was bad enough,’ Voronwë said ruefully to the Mariner, ‘but I am not sure that this is not worse.’

The sails hung motionless on the mast, the breeze stilled and the sun shone with the glassy relentlessness that seemed so unlike its normal friendliness.  As far as they could see in any direction the surface of the sea was motionless, a still pond of liquid silver.

‘I am not sure that Círdan thought it would be necessary to provide Vingilot with oars,’ Eärendil said, attempting lightness. 

‘Perhaps we could swim,’ Erellont suggested frivolously.  ‘If we hauled on ropes, we could, perhaps, pull Vingilot to shore that way.’

‘Or maybe if we harnessed the gulls,’ Aerandir added.

‘Or dolphins.’

‘We have been becalmed before,’ Voronwë suppressed them.  ‘And the wind has returned when it is ready.  All we need to do is wait.’ 

Vingilot drifted; a speck of dust on an infinite ocean.

Talking became too much.  The silence became part of the waiting and the crew drew apart, each buried in his own memories and thoughts of what might come.  Every now and then, one would look up and open his mouth as if he wished to shatter the barriers between them, but he would hesitate and turn back to the open ocean, inspecting the water as if he was seeking some sign that could offer him hope.

‘The sea has become our prison,’ Eärendil murmured absently to Voronwë as the sun overhead shortened the shadows.  ‘One from which there is no escape.’

‘There is always an escape, ellon,’ Voronwë sighed, ‘although it may not be what one would choose.’

The Mariner frowned, trying to force his mind to make sense of the words.  ‘We will not die here,’ he said more sharply.  ‘This is not the time to heed Námo’s call.  We are sailing west for a purpose that is too important for us to fail.’

‘We need a breeze,’ Voronwë said helplessly.  ‘Without one, we are powerless.  And I doubt we can persuade Lord Manwë to offer us his aid in a project of which he is bound to disapprove.  He will not send a wind for our whistling.’

Eärendil frowned.  ‘Why not?’ he asked.  ‘Surely the Lord of the Valar will not close his heart to us once he hears our woes.  And, if there seems no reason to expect his kindness, there is no reason not to try.’  He looked at his crew with more liveliness that any of them had shown over the past days.  ‘Falathar, you play the pipes,’ he said. ‘We would appreciate it if you would play them to beseech the Lord of the Air to send us a wind.’

The air stirred like a beast waking as the song of the pipes rang out across the wide waters, but the sluggish movement failed to shift the lank canvas.

Eärendil closed his eyes, remembering bright mornings scudding on sparkling waves, fresh breezes stirring the white sails and the sound of his adar’s laughter and, to the fluting melody, he began to voice a prayer that he had many times heard his naneth sing – softly in places where noise could bring danger, joyously in the gift of a clear dawn, sorrowfully in the red light of a westering sun; a prayer of gratitude, of love, of trust, of hope.

And a tiny trace of air brushed his face like his naneth’s kiss.

***

The island seemed frozen, as if nothing had ever happened there, as if nothing could ever happen there, as if it stood outside time, outside place, outside memory: a bloodless place, colour leached from the sky, the rocks, the plants.  Standing over it all, a tower rose, pale as pearl in the dull light of a sunless day.

‘We cannot choose to pass it by,’ Aerandir advised.  ‘We need fresh water – meat if we can get it.  Fruit.  Roots, if there are any.  We cannot live solely on fish, my lord: not without becoming unwell.’

‘I do not like it,’ Eärendil said.  ‘It seems a – forsaken place.’

‘It makes me think of the stories you tell elflings,’ Voronwë said slowly.  ‘The ones that make them shiver and cuddle close.’

‘Yet there are birds in plenty making it their home,’ Erellont remarked, squinting doubtfully at the land as though any dangers would make themselves apparent to his cautious gaze.  ‘And it is no darker than anywhere else in these shadowy seas.’

‘Someone lives here.’

‘Or lived here once, ellon.’ 

‘And yet,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘Aerandir is right – we have little choice.  We have been led to this island among the many.  We must suppose it is for a reason.’  He smiled slightly.  ‘And we have learned to beware of the unknown, no matter how harmless it might seem.  We will take every precaution.’

Her sails reefed, Vingilot eased gently between the looming headlands and into a wide inlet of deep water.  A soft mist hung over the cliffs, obliterating sharp edges and giving the whole a dream-like quality.  Her crew worked intently, ensuring that their vessel had plenty of clearance beneath her keel and that she would be able to escape swiftly in case of need.  They anchored at a good distance from the shore, before the harbour took a dog-leg beyond a rocky promontory, and lowered the dinghy into the water. 

‘I think we will leave Aerandir and Falathar to guard the ship this time,’ Eärendil smiled.  ‘Not that I am blaming them for our experience with Ungoliant’s kin, of course.’

‘I can live with that,’ Falathar said dryly.  ‘In fact, I think I am more likely to live if that is your decision.’

‘But we need food, Captain,’ Aerandir ventured, ‘and water.  They are both more important to our quest than any exploration.’

‘First things first,’ Eärendil nodded.  ‘We will scout for any obvious dangers – and look to see if there is any evidence that the island is inhabited.  If it seems safe, we can take our time to replenish our supplies.’

Their feet crunched on the pale shingle of the beach, the unexpected sound causing a flight of gulls to whirl above their heads before concluding that these strange bipedal creatures were nothing to worry about. 

‘Is it my imagination,’ Voronwë asked, ‘or does it seem that there are steps rising up behind the beach?’

‘They have been cut,’ Erellont decided, ‘but not recently.’

Eärendil looked around at the empty expanse of pebbles.  ‘Shall we climb them?’ he suggested.  ‘If there are people here watching, then they know that we are here – and, if the place is as empty as it seems, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity to get up the cliff easily.’

‘I will go first,’ Voronwë stated firmly.  ‘Wait until I have reached the top.’

The Mariner grinned amiably.  ‘Yes, Uncle,’ he teased.

‘We might make a sensible leader of you yet.’  Voronwë loosened his long knife in its sheath and moved quietly up the steep stairway between the rocks.

Eärendil listened intently, but even Voronwë’s footsteps were inaudible in the drifting haze, so that he was surprised to see his face appear suddenly at the top of the rocks.

‘I think you should see this, my lord.’  His voice sounded unnaturally calm and Eärendil charged headlong up the irregular steps to reach him.

‘What is it?’ he asked urgently.

‘Wait.’  Voronwë placed a hand on his friend’s arm.  ‘You will have to wait for the mists to part.  Then you will see.’

The Mariner stared uncomprehending into the silvery cloud that filled the estuary on the far side of the promontory, watching as the fog shifted and thinned.  Something was there, on the expanse of water, something that moved with the waves, something long and narrow, topped with a mast that stretched its finger up into the sky.  A hollow feeling clutched at him and, as his suspicion solidified into conviction, the vapours cleared as if they had never been and a sea-worn ship rocked at anchor in the bay, sails furled.  ‘It is Eärrámë,’ he said and turned to Voronwë, dread in his eyes. ‘It is Eärrámë,’ he repeated.

‘There is no reason to suspect that anything is wrong, ellon,’ the older elf told him.  Voronwë held Eärendil reassuringly, his grasp warm and steady.  ‘Tuor and Idril could be living happily here – we could be worrying over nothing.’

‘This is not a happy place,’ the Mariner said bleakly.  ‘I can feel it in the air.  What if my adar died here – and my naneth was left alone in her grief?’

‘Do not imagine horrors that might not be.’  Voronwë’s voice was gentle.  ‘We will approach the tower – cautiously.  It would be foolish to rush in when an hour or two will make no odds.’

A wide cobbled path, overgrown with weeds, led up from behind a stone jetty to which was tied a small boat, half-filled with water.  Eärendil stared at the dinghy and then from it to Eärrámë and back.  It had been long since either boat had moved, except as the tide willed.  Whatever had happened, here on this small refuge, had happened – and nothing he could do would change it.

‘We will row out to Eärrámë later, ellon,’ Voronwë said gently.  ‘First let us see what the island has to show us.’

Eärendil looked at him uncomprehending until it suddenly occurred to him that the elf thought that the body of one or other of his parents might be resting on the vessel.  He swallowed.  ‘We will discover first if there is anyone living in the tower,’ he suggested.

It was odd, he thought.  He was fit enough to climb a mast in seconds – in the prime of his youth and strength, yet, as he climbed the steep path, sword loose in its scabbard, he found it difficult to breathe.  Wisps of mist trailed across his mouth, clinging like Elwing’s silk shift to his rough sailor’s hands, hiding both the sight of the sea and the pale tower, so that it felt as if they were held in a cloak of illusion.  He shook his head.  His ears were ringing as if he heard a distant pealing of small silver bells, like teasing laughter on the edge of hearing.  The trees, tall-stemmed and crowned with ruffs of serrated leaves bleached of their green by the pervading grey, rustled busily in the puffs of breeze.

Erellont stared into the shaded depths of the wood.  ‘There are creatures there,’ he said.  ‘I can feel them watching us.’

‘But I sense no danger.’  Voronwë kept his gaze roaming the undergrowth.  ‘Curiosity, perhaps.’

The tower surprised them, looming out of the hazy afternoon with a solid bulk that had not been apparent from the sea.

‘Where is the door?’ Erellont asked in puzzlement, looking straight ahead at the structure.  The path widened to a broad terrace that led up to and around the building.  ‘There seem to be neither door nor windows.’  He stopped and leaned back to study the height of the tower.  ‘How would anyone get in – or out?’

Eärendil’s breath caught.  Was this his parents’ prison?  Or their tomb?  ‘We have to find a way in,’ he said urgently.

‘Then the first thing we have to do is look for the entrance, ellon,’ Voronwë told him calmly.  ‘I doubt that Tuor carried Idril up the side of sheer walls.  And we do not leap in – regardless of how much you want to see inside.  We cannot allow this island to be Vingilot’s resting place.’

The Mariner bowed his head and inhaled slowly to calm himself.  ‘You are right,’ he said.  ‘It is just . . .’

‘It is just that you are shocked to find their vessel here – and worried.  You are not the only one, Lord of Sirion.  I, too, will not rest until we discover the fate of Tuor and Idril Celebrindal.’

‘You two go round that way,’ Eärendil suggested.  ‘I will go this – look for any sign of people going in or out.  The door might be hidden, but we should be able to see any evidence of the disturbed ground.’

‘Partly right, ellon,’ Voronwë said firmly.  ‘But we will all go together.  I will not return to Vingilot to say that you are lost on this island.’

Eärendil looked irritated and Erellont stepped discreetly back.  ‘I am not a child,’ he snapped, ‘nor yet am I helpless!  I can take a short walk without coming to harm.’

‘We still go together.’  Voronwë looked at him.  ‘I promised your adar,’ he said, playing the card that almost invariably gained Eärendil’s co-operation, ‘that I would guard you as best I can – and I cannot do that in your absence.’

‘If, by any chance,’ the Mariner replied tightly after a moment, ‘my adar is within these walls, I shall tell him what I think of this open-ended request of his that enables you to extort compliance from me at inconvenient moments.’

Voronwë glanced briefly at the tower.  ‘And I would be glad to hear his response, my lord,’ he said sincerely.

The base of the tower possessed the smooth impenetrability of the inside of a shell, Eärendil thought with exasperation.  It gleamed in the inevitable mists, the dampness gathering on its polished surface like a dust of tiny diamonds, but nowhere did it reveal a door.  They circled it twice, certain that they must have missed something, but the walls gazed back at them blankly, confident in their ability to conceal whatever secret it was that would gain them admittance.

‘Perhaps they are not there,’ Erellont observed cautiously. ‘Perhaps they took refuge elsewhere on the island.’

Eärendil shook his head.  ‘My adar would never have been able to resist this puzzle,’ he said.  ‘He would have continued to work at it until the answer opened before him.’

‘True,’ Voronwë agreed.  ‘Tuor was obstinate to a fault.  Telling him he could not enter would be tantamount to offering him an invitation to break in.  And Idril would have egged him on – one does not refuse the daughter of a king of Finwë’s house and get away with it.’

They chose a spot to rest – sheltered from unfriendly eyes and within sight of the tower, yet positioned carefully to give them warning of any movement in the forest.  Voronwë signalled to Erellont to bring out the dried provisions they had brought with them, together with their small supply of stale water.  ‘We need to give some thought to finding the items Aerandir has demanded of us,’ he said absently.

‘Later,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘We have enough to be going on with – and I am not convinced that this island is the healthiest of environments.  It might be better to wait.’

Erellont leaned back against the trunk of a tall palm.  ‘There is something very soothing about it here,’ he said sleepily.  ‘It is restful.’

‘You cannot sleep here,’ Voronwë commanded him, ‘we have work to do.’

The sailor reacted to his tone and stiffened, forcing himself to appear alert.

‘We are on unknown terrain – facing we know not what difficulties,’ Eärendil observed.  ‘This is not time to sleep.’  He glanced at Voronwë.  ‘I admit that I feel weary enough myself – but we must solve this.’

Erellont suppressed a yawn.  ‘The door must be hidden,’ he said.  ‘Perhaps you need to be looking at the right time of day – or in the right light.  If we keep watch, then we will find it.’

‘Who would be capable of making such a door?’ Voronwë said doubtfully. 

Eärendil shrugged.  ‘We are among the Enchanted Isles,’ he said.  ‘It would be a small enchantment among many others.’  He rose and walked across to the base of the tower to run his hands over the smooth surface of the stone.

‘Valar!’ he gasped, snatching his hands back, like a child finding the kettle hot.  Slowly he stretched out again, touching the featureless wall, moving his fingers curiously across the face.

‘What is it?’  Voronwë joined him, reaching tentatively to investigate.

‘It has been here all the time,’ Eärendil marvelled.  ‘Hidden in plain sight.  Do not look – feel.’

Beneath his fingers, the smooth aged wood was bound with solid bars of metal and studded with bosses.  The latch was large and cold to touch, but simple and he lifted it easily.  Without any sound, the door swung inwards.

‘Erellont,’ the Mariner said with quiet decision as he slid his sword from its sheath, ‘remain here – and do not allow the door to close.’

The inside of the tower seemed bigger than the outside, Eärendil noticed. Bigger and lighter.  And quiet.  Very quiet. 

A hand grasped his sleeve.  ‘Not too fast, ellon,’ Voronwë murmured.  ‘Cautiously.’

‘I was thinking of charging in there, yelling at the top of my voice,’ the Mariner returned.  ‘Do you feel that would be unwise?’

Voronwë released him abruptly and the Mariner grinned grimly.  It had cost the elf a lot of self-control not to reply, he knew, but that did not mean that he would allow the incident to pass.  Eärendil felt sure that he was due a talking-to – provided they survived this adventure undamaged, of course.

They sidled into the Great Hall, but it, too, was empty.  The long table was laden down with food appealing enough to make the Mariner’s stomach growl, but there was no sign of anyone to eat it.  Tall glass pitchers contained wine of a deep ruby and jewelled goblets stood nearby, as if inviting them to drink.

‘I think this is one feast of which we will not partake,’ Eärendil commented.  ‘Somehow, I feel it would be less than wise.’

Voronwë indicated the open doorway leading to the stairway.  ‘Remain alert,’ he warned.

Each room they entered seemed as if it had been freshly cleaned and prepared for occupation – but each was empty.

‘Touch nothing,’ Eärendil said.  He flicked a glance at Voronwë. ‘It becomes ever stranger.’

The final room, its windows overlooking the open sunlit sea, was, however, occupied.

Eärendil entered first, his sword before him.  He swept his eyes round the space, but the stillness had already informed him that there were no enemies present waiting to attack.  It was a large room, adorned with tapestries woven in subtle shades and rugs to soften the polished wooden boards of the floor.  A large trunk stood below the window and on it rested a sword in a silver-trimmed scabbard of well-oiled leather, its hilt decorated with jewels of a deep red.  Next to it, on a chair, a mantle of soft green rested as if it had been discarded only moments before.

The Mariner froze.

‘That is Tuor’s sword,’ Voronwë breathed.

Eärendil forced himself to turn towards the wide bed.  It was high, hung with heavy curtains of rich damask, and he had to walk further into the room to see round the tall bed-post.  His eyes closed involuntarily.  Much as he wanted to know his parents’ fate, he did not want it to be found here, in this pearl-grey tower on this abandoned island in an unfriendly sea.   This was no end for Tuor, hero of Gondolin, and Idril Celebrindal, his wife.  He merited a place with her among the blessed of the Valar, where they could dwell in happiness.  They had undertaken this quest that he now pursued in hope of winning forgiveness and aid for all those who dwelt in Arda – this could not be how it had ended.

He lay like a king.  Robed in rich velvet, a circlet binding his brow, hair falling in its impatient waves of frosted ebony, beard trimmed, hands folded on his chest, he rested on the wine-red fabric covering the bed.  And beside him, curled on her side with her gown of ivory silk trailing to the floor, her hand clasping his, lay Idril, still as death.

A cry was wrenched from Eärendil’s lip and he fell to his knees in horror.

Voronwë’s hand rested gently on his shoulder, but the Mariner could hear the pain in his shallow breaths and knew that the sight before them was as much a grief to him as it was to Tuor and Idril’s son.

Despite his shock – or perhaps because of it – he could not take his eyes from his parents, reclining in dignity and love in this isolated tower.

‘They cannot have been dead long, Eärendil,’ Voronwë said gruffly.  ‘They are as they were in life.  We should do something to see that they receive our rites.’

Frozen, Eärendil stared.  Was that the faintest hint of movement he saw?  It could not be – how could they be merely sleeping?  He rose convulsively and was beside the bed in a single leap, his adar’s wrist between his fingers.  

‘He is warm.’

‘It cannot be, ellon.’  Voronwë closed his eyes.  Surely fate could not be so cruel as to bring the lad to his parents’ deathbed a few short hours too late to bid them farewell?

‘He is warm and his pulse beats.  Slowly, it is true.  Slow like a tree, but it beats.’

The sailor blinked and stared at the two figures.  Idril must have laid out her husband, he decided.  Tuor’s body rested in formal state, every fold of his robe sculpted with loving hands, hair brushed and arranged, dressed and crowned in majesty as the king she had always felt him to be.  She, on the other hand, lay like a child in a thunderstorm, curled round to gain the greatest comfort from the man beside her.  She had positioned herself beside him and – goblet in hand?  Voronwë paused and stepped closer.  For what reason would there be a goblet on the bed, its trail of wine soaked into the cloth and staining it a deeper red? 

‘She took poison,’ he breathed.  ‘Rather than be left alone here, she chose to follow Tuor.’

‘Not poison,’ Eärendil insisted.  ‘They are not dead.  Feel.’

Delicately, as if he was afraid that his touch would bruise her, Voronwë placed his hand on Idril’s where it clasped Tuor.  Her fingers were soft and supple, the skin silken.  He slid his hand to her wrist.  The lad was right.  There was a pulse there: slow, but as steady as the rhythm of Arda itself.  Tuor, too, lived – and, he thought, looking at the man who had chosen to attempt the impossible as he felt death approaching, he looked far more like the warrior who had fought free of Gondolin than the age-worn leader of recent years.

‘Do we attempt to wake them?’ he asked.

‘Do you think we could succeed?’  Eärendil looked up to glance at him swiftly before returning his gaze to his parents.

‘This island is redolent of enchantments.’ Voronwë shook his head.  ‘I do not believe that they will awake until the Valar blow away the mists of confusion that surround us.’

‘I also think,’ the Mariner said softly, ‘that to eat or drink anything that comes from this land would be a mistake.’

‘Perhaps.’  The sailor inspected his captain.  ‘What shall we do here?’

Eärendil continued to stare at the couple as if absorbing their peaceful appearance to store against his continuing sorrow.  ‘Nothing.  What can we do?  Idril has seen to it that Tuor is resting as he deserves – and I would not take from her the comfort of holding him by laying her out as the queen she is.  We will leave them here to await whatever judgment the Valar choose, in the knowledge that they have not been divided – yet.  Tuor may, in the end, travel a path that she cannot, but here and now they are together.’

***

‘And so we left them,’ Eärendil said softly.  ‘Sleeping in a Tower of Pearl.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘It sounds romantic,’ he added.  ‘So many of these tales do, when it is not you who is living through them.’

‘I am glad,’ his son told him, ‘that the Valar gave themselves time to think of a solution.’  His eyes twinkled.  ‘I would not tell them, but I am of the opinion that they ended up feeling that they had been rather hasty in their decision over Beren and Lúthien – and, perhaps, felt the need to compensate for that.’

Elwing tilted her head as she considered his words.  ‘Yet it is Eru who granted immortality to the Firstborn and offered the Gift to men.  The Valar cannot change that.’

‘As they cannot grant immortality to men, neither can they take it away from the Firstborn,’ Elrond pointed out.  ‘Yet Lúthien followed Beren where no elf can go.  I believe that Tuor was gifted with the fate of the Firstborn to – restore the balance.’

A blackbird sang on the branch above them as they considered his theory and Elrond leaned back to watch its orange beak open and close as it offered them its rippling melody.

‘I always felt,’ Celebrían admitted, ‘that Lúthien was able to free herself of an elf’s bond to Arda because she was half-Maia.  Melian chose to wear an elven body and dwell with Elu – but it was by decision rather than compulsion.  Lúthien was an elf, but I always wondered if, when Beren died, she found that she was less bound to this world than she had thought.’

Elrond looked at his wife.  ‘I have never heard you say that before,’ he wondered.  ‘You may be right.  It could be why their line was, in the end, given the choice of which kindred should be theirs.  There are, after all, other houses in Arda where the blood of men and elves was shared – yet the offspring were always numbered among the Secondborn and the elven parent was divided from them.’

Eärendil looked from one to the other and shrugged.  ‘I have never really felt the need to know why everything happens,’ he said, smiling engagingly.  ‘I am but a simple sailor.  It was enough to know that my parents had not drowned in some Ossë-stirred storm, but rested safe against the coming of the Lords of the Valar.’  He sighed. ‘But we could not feel that it would be wise to linger.  We returned to Vingilot and set sail without pausing to take on water or seek food.  We were too afraid that the any gifts of the island might provide us, too, with an enchanted sleep.  And then. . .’ 

He looked towards Elwing.  ‘I was seized with an uncontrollable terror that nothing could assuage,’ he said softly.  ‘There we were, in the midst of the wide sea among isles of mystery – as far from home as I had ever been – and I knew that my family had been betrayed, that they were facing dangers far greater than those we had known.  We raised the sails and headed east – hopelessly – knowing that, even should we ever make it out of the Shadowy Seas, whatever had happened would have been long past before ever we would sight familiar shores.

‘A light gleamed from the east,’ he recited, his voice soft and emotionless. ‘And, out of the grey, came a bird, flying fast, with the desperation of one pursued.  Its white wings shone with the light of what it carried and its cry was enough to rip your heart out.  It flew straight for us, coming to land on the deck as if it had been sent.’  He stopped, pausing to draw a deep breath.  ‘Which, indeed, it had.’  He raised his head to meet Elrond’s eyes.  ‘You heard what Elwing said.  Light flowed around the bird – it shimmered and twisted and then, suddenly, it was no albatross lying exhausted before us, but Elwing,  her eyes desperate and haunted, and, at her throat, the Silmaril.’

 

Note:  This story is now wandering into the paths covered by Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath in the Silmarillion.  Some references are taken directly from the text, as are some of the speeches.

Forbidden Shores

‘She was distraught,’ Eärendil said, gazing at Elrond, his grey eyes dark with sincerity.  ‘And once we heard the outline of her tale, we were in a state of distress to equal hers.’  He drew a deep breath.  ‘We crowded on the sail – every square inch of canvas Vingilot possessed – and drove east, cutting through the waves as if we had wings, determined to make it back to what remained of the Havens of Sirion, desperate to take revenge on those who had again brought ruin on us.’  He stopped and the silence drew out.  ‘We did not think for one moment,’ he said so quietly that only elven hearing could have picked out his words, ‘that you or Elros could have survived that day.’

Elrond said nothing, but found to his surprise that his adar’s admission that he had abandoned the fate of Arda and headed for home brought a glow of comfort to some deep injury in his heart.  He had always made himself believe that Eärendil’s mission had been of more importance than the fate of his sons, and to know that his adar had, without any consideration at all, turned for home, was a reassurance that he had not realised he desired.

‘But it was not to be.’  Eärendil drew a deep shaky breath.  ‘Lord Ulmo had not brought us thus far through the treacherous reefs and mind-twisting illusions of the isles to have us give up our quest.’  He closed his eyes.  ‘A wave moulded itself from the sea like a great hand and held us up – and, despite the wind, despite the sails, despite our frantic need, we hung there, motionless in the midst of the Shadowy Seas and his voice rang in the depths of out being.  Too late, he said – we had given up our hope of changing the fate of Arda directly: our only chance was to go on.  We were as ready as we would ever be to lay our plea before the Valar.  But, whether we would take up this challenge or not, we would never again sail into the harbours of our home.’

‘Your adar defied him,’ Elwing said softly.  ‘What kind of an example of man and elf would he be, he asked, to desert his sons – to run away from those who looked to him for guidance, for protection?  How could he ask the Valar to hear him when he was shamed by his forsaking of his children?  But there was no reply – and when Ulmo set Vingilot down on the surface of an empty sea, her prow again facing into the west, we were left with the sound of Eärendil’s words voicing the questions we held in our hearts.’  She looked at her hands as they rested in her lap.  ‘I wrenched the Nauglamir from my neck and hurled it over the side – if Ulmo wanted it, he could keep it – but a spout of water caught it and flipped it back into Eärendil’s hands, as if it was an item of no importance.’ She raised her eyes.  ‘So much blood and pain – the ruin of so many,’ she marvelled.  ‘And yet, he returned it as easily as if it meant nothing.’

‘I heard, like the whisper of silk brushing on stone,’ Eärendil said, ‘may its light guide you, and I knew those words were for me alone.  Elwing had brought to me the one thing that could persuade the Lords of the Valar to permit us past their barriers.  In the Silmaril was the light of the Two Trees and that light would draw us to Ezellohar, the Green Mound before Valimar where the trees had grown.’ 

***

The absolute silence that surrounded Vingilot was filled with the wordless echo of the helpless sobs and wild pleas of those who now knew of the sack of Sirion, of the ruin of the last refuge of the elves, now driven by their own kind to seek safety on Círdan’s island, a patch of ground suspended between the Middle Earth they sought to hold and the Valinor from which they were barred.

‘My sister was in Sirion,’ Falathar murmured as a red sunset cast its tendrils across the sky.  ‘I do not know whether to hope she survived or that her end came swiftly.’

Aerandir placed a hand on his friend’s back. ‘All we can do for them, it would seem,’ he said gruff with emotion, ‘is carry on – and hope to bring succour to those who remain.’

‘It is little consolation,’ Erellont sighed, glancing at the grief-stricken forms of Elwing and Eärendil, clasped together in mutual support.  ‘I would rather have a sword in my hand and the Kinslayers before me.’

‘At least they have lost all hope of attaining what they sought,’ Aerandir told him with grim satisfaction.  ‘And if they have the courage to challenge Morgoth for the other two jewels, then we can hope that his revenge on them will be long-drawn-out and unpleasant.’

‘They would rather use their swords against ellyth and elflings,’ Falathar said bitterly. ‘Cowards they are and worse than cowards.’

‘Come,’ Voronwë commanded, ‘get to the halyards: we must reef the sails.  We do not need them all flying now.  We will no longer be running before the wind.’  Visibly, he controlled himself to focus again on their quest.  ‘We had best get under way.’

Eärendil turned, Elwing still on his arm.  ‘I would like to say there is no rush,’ he remarked bitterly.  ‘But I am not sure that the Lord of the Sea would agree.  He seems to have decided that – finally – his fellow Valar need to address the business of their failure to deal with Morgoth, and that we and our families are to be the sacrifices.’

‘This attitude does not become you, ellon,’ Voronwë said gently.  ‘Nothing has changed over the last hours, since Lady Elwing was borne to us in the guise of a seabird, except that now you know that the worst has occurred.  Ours has always been a desperate quest.  You knew that sacrifice would be demanded.’

‘The sacrifice was supposed to be mine,’ the Mariner replied fiercely.  ‘Not that of the innocent.’

‘At least, Eärendil, Lady Elwing was saved from the ruin.  You can thank Ulmo for that.’

‘But it was not I who was saved, was it?’ Elwing’s low voice throbbed with sorrow.  ‘It was Fëanor’s jewel.  I was just the tool to bring it to you – anyone would have done.’  Her eyes dark with disillusion, she stared at her husband.  ‘Use it well, my lord,’ she said, ‘for I would wish that no more mothers lose their children to the greed of the Fëanorionnath or the fury of Morgoth.’  She drew away from them to stand alone, looking wistfully eastwards across an open sea.

‘It is a worthy hope, my lord,’ Voronwë murmured, ‘but unlikely to be fulfilled.’  He glanced at the stricken half-elf.   ‘For what reason did Ulmo send the stone to you?  Do you understand his purpose?’

Eärendil smiled bitterly.  ‘I believe so.  Only the light of the Silmaril, I think, can direct our path through the Shadowy Seas to the Lonely Isle and onward.  It is called to its home and the illusions of the Valar cannot confuse it.’

Eyeing the softly pulsing jewel warily, Voronwë sighed.  ‘Then our path is in your hands, my lord, for I do not believe that the gem will allow any but you to touch it.  It seems – angry.’

Eärendil focused on the Nauglamir.  ‘It is a pretty thing,’ he acknowledged, ‘but the thought of it pressed against my throat does not appeal to me.’  He swallowed.  ‘It feels like a shackle.’ 

‘If that is what it takes, ellon,’ Voronwë said with sympathetic firmness, ‘then that is what you must do.’

The Mariner closed his eyes and raised the treasure to his neck, donning it with reluctant hands.  ‘This has brought health and happiness to none,’ he said.

‘None who yearned for it, true.  Only those who were able to hand it on gained anything from it.’  Voronwë glanced at Elwing.  ‘It harmed not Beren or Lúthien, neither of whom looked on it as something to possess, but held it in trust for others.  Do not seek to own the Silmaril, Eärendil,’ the older elf advised.  ‘Let it instead be merely something that is in your keeping until you can offer it to the Lords of the Valar.’

Vingilot’s passage opened before her, like a moon-path on a dark sea.  The haze of confusion that clung to the Isles drew back and the air felt fresher.  The wind remained against them, Eärendil noted, but it blew with less force, as if the presence of the Silmaril beneath his clothes was countering the blanket ban of the Valar.  It still took time: time he felt Arda could ill-afford.  He could feel his tension increasing as the weeks passed – surely there was no need for this laboured journey, when the good will of the Lord of the Sea could have them off the shores of Aman in less time than it would take to raise the jib.  

‘It is our quest,’ Voronwë suggested, when he complained.  ‘Ulmo has done what he can, but it is for you to find the way and for you to ask for aid.  I daresay he would prefer Vingilot to arrive without his obvious assistance – his clear favour might ensure that Manwë would condemn us unheard.’  He sighed.  ‘The time will come soon enough, ellon,’ he said.  ‘Have you decided how you will phrase your request?  I do not think it would be a good moment to become tongue-tied.’

Eärendil ran his finger round inside the circle of the Nauglamir uncomfortably.  ‘I do not know,’ he said.  ‘The difficulty of reaching Valinor at all has pushed any thought of actually meeting the Valar to the back of my mind.  How does one greet a Vala?  How does one beseech the aid of one who has condemned your kin to exile and unending sorrow?  ‘Slain ye may be and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief.’  Were those not the words of the Doomsman?  ‘And find little pity.’  And little pity have they found.  Once I was old enough to understand, my naneth told me his words – each of them cut into her heart.  She was a child, Voronwë.  How can it be wrong for a child to follow her parents?  How can it be wrong for a liegeman to follow his lord?’

The elf who had been his adar’s friend placed a comforting hand on the Mariner’s shoulder.  ‘Yet loyalty cannot excuse the abandonment of principles that are deeper than the bond of one elf to any other, Eärendil,’ he said regretfully.  ‘No loyalty to liege lord excuses what happened at Alqualondë.  What happened in Doriath – in Sirion.  There are times when each must make a stand, even should it be at the cost of his own life.  Better to be foresworn and offer yourself to your lord’s vengeance than do what you know is wrong.’

Eärendil gave a crooked smile. ‘Námo said, ‘For blood ye shall render blood,’ did he not?  I think enough blood has been shed to satisfy even the wrath of the Valar.  I do not believe that I shall win them over with eloquence, my friend.  If that was what was wanted, I would not be here.  My plea will come from my heart – and as such, it needs no planning.’

***

The Mariner held his wife in his arms as they sat out of the wind to watch the dance of the stars.  ‘What was it like,’ Eärendil asked pensively, ‘to fly as an albatross above the world?’

Elwing caressed his cheek and buried her head more deeply in his shoulder.  ‘Terrifying,’ she said.  ‘Exhilarating.  Free.  I do not know how to describe it really.  I was unsure whether I was alive – whether I was still Elwing – or if I had been changed into something that was completely different.  I was afraid for the twins and sick with horror at what I had seen in Sirion, but at the same time, my fëa sang in tune with the heady currents of air and I was liberated from the bonds of the solid ground.  I no longer crawled upon the earth like an insect, nor was tied to the water like a fish, but was made free of the whole world – earth, sea and air.’  She drew a deep breath.  ‘It was an amazing experience – I was hugely relieved when I saw you and fell to the deck to return to myself, but I will never forget it, and never stop hoping that I might be able soar again on the air.  Some day.’

‘Do you mind that I now bear the jewel?’ He turned her head to meet her eyes.  ‘It is yours – freed from Morgoth’s possession by your grandparents.’

She shivered.  ‘I do not want it,’ she said.  ‘Take it with my good will, son of the House of Finwë, and return it to the one who made the Trees from which its light comes.’

Eärendil clasped her to him and wrapped his cloak around them both.  ‘I will do that, my lady,’ he promised. 

They rested in silence for a while, watching the play of light on the water.

‘Do you think we will ever be reunited with Elros and Elrond?’ she asked him wistfully. ‘Will the Valar permit it, do you think?  Do Námo’s Halls have a niche for those like us, who are of both kinds and yet neither?’  She sighed.  ‘The fëar of elves rest with Námo to be reborn, but I do not know what becomes of men who have received Eru’s gift.  Do you think they go to meet their loved ones beyond the world?’

‘One day,’ Eärendil made himself say with calm certainty.  ‘One day we will all be together again – our parents, us, our children.’

Elwing glanced up at him.  ‘I hope so,’ she said, but he could hear her doubt.

‘We must do this,’ the Mariner rested his cheek on her hair.  ‘It is not for us – not for personal gain, my love.  This is for all those who have no voice; those who weep into the stillness of the night; the powerless; those who have lost hope of any remedy.  We do not matter.’

‘You are a better person than I am,’ Elwing said sadly.  ‘I would fight dragons for those I love, but I would not choose to be a sacrifice for people I have never met.  I would prefer to be happy and safe, with my husband beside me and my children in my arms.’

‘Would not we all,’ Eärendil sighed, ‘but it is not our decision.  We must simply do our best with the task that has been set for us and trust that it will be enough.’

***

‘Land ho, my lord!’

Eärendil’s hand clutched convulsively at the tiller.  Once he had taken the jewel from beneath his clothes and bound it to his brow, he had known that the time would not be much longer delayed.  The confusion of the Shadowy Isles had slipped behind them as they had emerged to see seas bluer than he could have imagined below a sky of flawless perfection.  The waves had laughed at them, sparkling with a vivid brilliance that had made him screw up his eyes until they had begun to adjust to the brightness.  The air, too, was – more alive, he decided, although that seemed a strange way to describe something that was nothing but air.  The salt dampness of it spoke to him of journeys as yet untaken, and distant exotic perfumes stirred his senses.  But knowing that the forbidden shores neared and seeing them were two different things.

‘I am glad to hear it, Erellont,’ he said calmly.  ‘It has taken us long enough to find our way across these seas.’

The sailor did not respond, but gazed blankly towards a distant land that was as yet little more than a smudge of white cliffs on the horizon reflecting the morning sun.

Eärendil swallowed.  His crew’s part in this venture was almost over.  Say what they would he would not permit them to put foot upon those lands from which they were banned.  Voronwë would fight him, he knew, but this was one ruling he would have to accept.  The risk from now on was Eärendil’s alone: his quest, his plea, his danger – his sacrifice.  He closed his eyes briefly.  If only he could believe it possible to convince Elwing that she must remain aboard the ship.  He hoped that Voronwë might persuade her to comply with his command, but somehow he doubted his words would make a difference.  The Mariner had never thought of his wife as being unduly obstinate, but since her desperate flight from Sirion, she had been determined that there were no circumstances under which she would permit her husband to leave her behind again.  He needed to know she was as protected as he could possibly arrange – she was suffering because of him and he would give anything he could to see her safe and happy – but he knew, even if he did not want to admit it to himself, that he could do nothing to force her to remain if she refused.  Wives, he thought wryly, were not like sailors: they did not accept the right of lord or captain to issue orders that must be obeyed.

The breeze gentled, confused by the conflicting currents that rose from the sun-warmed land.  Intruders were not supposed to penetrate this far and the on-shore breezes of summer defeated the steady westerlies that had kept them close-hauled.

‘Do we head north or south?’ Voronwë enquired.  ‘Land extends as far as my eyes can see in either direction.  Which do you think will bring us safe into harbour?’

‘My heart sends me northward,’ Eärendil told him. 

‘That is as good a reason as any,’ his friend shrugged, calling the crew to the halyards to adjust the sails and carry them on their new course.

By the rising of the sun on a new dawn, they saw, to the north, the shores of the Lonely Isle, but they tarried not.  The inevitability of their journey now imbued each of them with a silent purpose and they worked unceasingly to guide Vingilot smoothly across a smooth sea.  The vastness of the unconquerable ocean had disappeared and the sea showed an infinite variety of shades as the vessel cut between the shallows and reefs of the Bay of Eldamar.

‘We are not alone,’ Elwing said, gazing across the waters to a small fishing fleet, where silver-haired elves paused in hauling on their nets to stare at the weather-beaten ship coming among them like a goose among swans. 

‘I feel more isolated than I did in the midst of empty ocean,’ Voronwë remarked.  ‘It is like finding yourself naked in the presence of your king.’

‘Not that that worried you,’ Eärendil said with determined cheerfulness.  ‘Or so I was told.’

‘Oh well,’ Voronwë shrugged.  ‘He was only an elf, after all.  And a warrior.  Turgon did not expect to be treated as if he were made of glass – except under the most formal of circumstances.’

‘There is more to it than the presence of strangers,’ Elwing said, staring intently at the Teleri fishermen.  ‘They are shading their eyes as if they cannot bear to look at us.’  She turned to Eärendil and gazed at him in puzzlement.  ‘It does not seem that bright,’ she objected.

He looked confused, then touched the Nauglamir where it circled his forehead.  ‘I forget it is there,’ he admitted.  ‘Does it give off much light?’

‘It looks like a coronet chosen by someone of flamboyant taste who wishes his position to be known to all,’ she shrugged.  ‘I can see that it gleams, but it is nowhere near intense enough to make me cover my face.’

The shoreline grew nearer, the soft cliffs climbing up from a wide beach.  Behind them, trees of bright green blew in the gentle wind and bright birds of red and blue and gold flew above the canopy. 

‘We are about to drop anchor,’ Eärendil said, summoning the crew with a look.  ‘I will go on alone.’

He was not disappointed in his expectation that there would be cries of objection, but he knew that he could overcome them.  Elwing’s silence, on the other hand, struck him as considerably more ominous.  He raised one hand.  ‘No,’ he said with authority.  ‘Landing in the Undying Lands is a danger greater than I intend you to share.  Here none but myself shall set foot, lest you fall under the wrath of the Valar.  But that peril I will take on myself alone, for the sake of the Two Kindreds.’

The ship touched the seabed gently and Aerandir and Falathar dropped anchor hastily before Vingilot became too firmly grounded.  Eärendil took a small pack and looked steadily at each of his crew.  ‘Wait here as long as you can,’ he said, ‘but do not leave it too long.  If I do not return, then attempt to set sail and head east.’

Voronwë took him in his arms and gave him the affectionate bear hug of a father. ‘Be safe, ellon,’ he said, his voice thick.

He slapped the elf on his back and returned the hug.  ‘Look after my lady,’ he requested, before releasing him and turning to Elwing.

The Mariner held her close, bidding her farewell in his heart, even as he promised her that he would do his best to return.  He left her suddenly, leaping over the side to wade ashore from the warm salty water to the untrodden shore.

Elwing shook her head in numb denial.  ‘No,’ she cried.  ‘No!  I will not remain here, like a piece of luggage to be left.  Then would our paths be sundered for ever; but all your perils I will take on myself also.’

‘Please, Elwing,’ he pleaded.  ‘I do not wish to put you in danger.’

Before Voronwë could stop her, she leapt into the foam and ran towards her husband, sobbing uncontrollably.  ‘I cannot bear it,’ she wept.  ‘I cannot bear it. I do not care if this is the end of me or not, I cannot stand to be left again.’

Clasping her tightly, Eärendil turned a final despairing glance on his ship and her crew.  So much for his fine words.  For all he would do anything to protect Elwing, she was still subject to the wrath of the Valar for breaking their ban.  And yet – and yet, there was still an ember of warmth that flared in his heart that she would risk all for him. 

They followed the coast until they found a white road that headed inland.  Eärendil established a comfortable camp.  There was, he thought thankfully, food in plenty and fresh water.  Elwing would be safe here – as safe, at any rate, as she would be anywhere.  And he did not need to worry about Morgoth’s cursed creatures or the attentions of the Kinslayers.

‘I know you wish to stay by my side,’ he pleaded with her, ‘but await me here, please, my love.’  His fingers touched her lips to still her objections.  ‘One only may bring the message that it is my fate to bear.’  He combed the hair of black silk back from her face and looked in her eyes.  ‘Stay, Elwing.’

Her eyes caught by the jewel at his brow, she hesitated.  She did not want to let him go, but, even as her words formed, she let them go.  ‘Need you go just yet?’ she implored.  ‘May we not have one last evening together, my heart?’

‘I will leave at dawn,’ he said softly, ‘as the light from the east rises to bring its message to the west.’

‘That would seem appropriate,’ she agreed mournfully.

***

Everything seemed more intense, Eärendil thought as he made his way up from the coast and up into the Calacirya whence the light of the Two Trees had once shone through the Pelóri to brighten the Lonely Isle.  The greens were brighter, the edges sharper, the song of the birds more melodious – and every living creature, from an ant beneath a stone in which sparkled the colours of the rainbow to the placidly chewing deer as they nibbled at the fresh leaves, seemed unafraid.  Yet, despite his anxious searching, he found no sign of elves.  They were neither waiting to reject his unwelcome presence and drive him back into the sea, nor coming forward to welcome him.  They just – were not.  The land was deserted.

He ate little, drinking from streams of fresh water that tasted like liquid sunlight and seeking only the berries and nuts that hung heavy from some of the vines.  He slept less.  It did not seem necessary.  Despite his uncertainty, he made no attempt to conceal himself.  The object of his quest, after all, was that he should come before the Valar in their majesty and beseech their aid.  And the messenger of the Two Kindreds, he decided, should not approach like a thief in the night, but present himself honestly and in all humility.  

And the light at his brow, he realised, would not be hidden.

It grew brighter with each passing day as he moved more deeply into Aman, so that by the time Eärendil climbed the green hill of Túna, it shone like a beacon.  The nerves that had clenched his stomach as he has entered the Pass of Light had long since dissipated and he was conscious only of increasing despair as the sparkling dust of diamonds powdered his cloak and gathered on his boots.  How could it be that these lands of infinite peace should be deserted?  Had foul Morgoth’s villainy somehow infected the transcendent beauty of this Blessed Realm?  Had the Valar departed beyond the bounds even of this sheltered haven in the far west?  His voice echoed in the shining streets as he called out – in Sindarin, in the tongues of Men, in the Quenya in which, despite Elu’s ban, his naneth had told him stories from her own early years, but there was no reply.

The light of the Silmaril sparked the dust in his clothes to a scintillating fire as he climbed the long white stairways and walked among the tall gleaming houses, so that he appeared as a star come to land.

He stopped finally at the highest peak, and sank to the grass, looking back at the deserted streets of Tirion.  It was no good, he thought, resting his head on his hands and ignoring the tears that spilled down his face.  This final hope was a hope no more.  Arda would be destroyed.  The courage of elves and men would not be enough to save her from the spite of the fallen Vala.  All would descend into desolation and the pits of Angband would echo to the screams of endless torment.  The brightness of the firmament, the purity of the air, the beauty that surrounded him were nothing but a mockery.  He might as well return to the coast, to Elwing, and there await whatever end they might make.

Only a great weariness held him where he was.  So much effort, he brooded, so many wasted dreams, all spent in a vain hope that salvation would come out of the west to relieve the suffering of those who had found so little pity.  He looked over the antique elegance of Tirion with a jaded eye.  But it was not to be.  The Valar had spoken – and they had clearly meant every word.  Tears unnumbered had indeed been shed, and the cool untouched splendour of the city suggested that, as Námo had warned, no echo of lamentation had passed over the mountains.

He stood, unaware that he gleamed in the twilight with a brilliance that spoke of the Two Trees, and that the few who remained in Tirion shielded their eyes from his radiance.  His shoulders bent beneath the weight of his woes, he headed back, at last, towards the road that led down to the sea.

One there was who was waiting for him.  Standing on the hill, tall and strong, his great voice ringing among the walls of the empty city, he cried, ‘Hail, Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope!  Hail Eärendil, bearer of light before the Sun and Moon!  Splendour of the Children of Earth, star in the darkness, jewel in the sunset, radiant in the morning!’

Dumbfounded, the son of Tuor and Idril halted.

‘I am Eönwë, herald to Lord Manwë,’ the figure announced, ‘and I am come from Valimar, to summon you before the Powers of Arda, that you might fulfil the destiny laid upon you.’

‘Where is everybody?’ the Mariner said with an irrelevance that made him flush.  ‘I had thought these lands to be deserted.’

The Maia smiled.  ‘You have, by chance, come at a time of festival,’ he said gently.  ‘Those who dwell here in Tirion have travelled to Valimar or are gathered in great Manwë’s Halls upon Taniquetil for the celebrations.’  He stepped closer to the bemused Eärendil.  ‘And it is as well they are there,’ he added, ‘for your words will concern them as they do the Lords of the Valar.’

Eärendil drew a deep breath.  ‘Hope rises again in my breast,’ he said, his voice growing stronger.  ‘I had thought that all was lost – and still it may be – but at least Lord Manwë will permit me to put my plea.’

Brighter still the Mariner grew as he followed Manwë’s herald to the city of the Valar, and the jewel of Fëanor sang loud in his ears.  The elves of the Vanyar and the Noldor emerged, first in small numbers, then in larger crowds to see the return of one of the Silmarils to the place where its light had been captured and to look in wonder on this stranger who was both son of the Exiles and child of the Secondborn and whose shining form exceeded the brightness of even the most ancient of the elves.

They stopped at last before Manwë’s Halls at the heart of a silent crowd.  Golden Vanyar and dark-haired Noldor, interspersed with small groups of silver-haired Teleri, watched him intently.  Despite his anxiety, Eärendil found himself searching the faces of the tall elves before him, finding, here and there, some whose features reminded him of those he had lost.

No-one spoke.  The silence did not, however, threaten.  The Mariner was aware only of curiosity and, in some cases, a sorrow that the passage of five centuries had not had time to erase.

Eönwë smiled.  ‘The time is come, Son of both Kindreds, for you to deliver your plea.’

Eärendil drew a deep breath and cast a final look round at the vivid beauty of the clear day, then turned and followed the Maia into the halls of the Valar.

***

Before the White Tower, the Mariner fell silent. 

His son watched him keenly before shifting his eyes to take in the glorious golden afternoon.  His adar was right: everything here in the Blessed Realm was more than its counterpart in the lands he had left.  The senses became accustomed after a while and the extraordinary became mundane, but he was reminded of how insignificant, how grey, how unworthy, he had felt as he left the ship to step onto the pristine shores of Aman.

Elrond wondered suddenly how the Exiles had felt on making the reverse journey.  Had they been unimpressed by the delicate beauty of Arda?  Or had they been so relieved to have survived the harshness of the crossing that they had not observed the difference?  He must remember to ask Celebrían’s naneth – when he could think of a way to phrase the enquiry that would not bring out her quizzical look, together with the slight smile that refused to comment even as it suggested that the questioner would not understand the answer.

‘When did you realise,’ Celebrían asked gently, ‘that the light of the Silmaril had infused you and become part of your being?’

Eärendil shook his head.  ‘Not for a long time,’ he said.  ‘Everything was so – remarkable – that I did not even consider it.  I had grown accustomed to the feel of it at my brow and barely noticed its presence any more.’

‘Fëanor only ever wore them briefly,’ Elrond mused.  ‘He was too jealous of them to let them be seen freely and they were mostly stored in his treasure room.  When Elu received the Nauglamir he had the Silmaril set in it – but I believe he wore it little.  Lúthien placed little value on it. You are probably the only person, other than Morgoth, who ever bore any of the jewels over a protracted period.’

‘It proved necessary,’ Eärendil said earnestly.  ‘We found that, with my hand on the tiller and the Silmaril at my brow, we could slide through the illusions and deceptions that the Valar had put in place to prevent the ships of Arda reaching Valinor.  I did not wear it for any reasons of vanity, nor in the pursuit of power.’

‘I am not criticising!’  Elrond held up his long hands in denial.  ‘Do not think it.  I am just trying to understand.’

Celebrían leaned forward.  ‘Tell me,’ she invited, ‘were you, in the end, able to do as Elwing had suggested?  Had the jewel seized your heart as it did that of so many others? Or, when finally you came before the Lords of the Valar, were you able to offer to surrender the Silmaril to Yavanna?’

 

Again,  this part of the story quotes directly from Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath and refers to the sequence of events described in the Silmarillion.

_____________________________

Eärendil’s Tale 10: Before the Valar

Eärendil smiled.  ‘The Silmaril was not the first thought in my mind,’ he admitted, ‘when Eönwë brought me into the vast hall where sat the Lords and Queens of the Valar.’  He drew a deep breath.  ‘I was more concerned at to whether I would be able to retain control of my limbs.’  He grinned.  ‘I could not believe that it would do my cause any good if I were to fall on my face before them and gibber incoherently. 

‘And then . . .’  He looked at the faces regarding him and spread his hands helplessly.   ‘You have seen Manwë’s Halls?’ he asked.  ‘For it is beyond my powers to describe them and the effect they had on me.’  He shrugged.  ‘And the Valar themselves – tall and shining and beautiful beyond compare.  And the power!’  He paused and shook his head as if his ears were ringing. ‘The whole of Valimar thrilled with its potency, but with every step closer to the place where dwelt the Lords of the Valar it grew stronger, until the very air was thick with it.

‘And where Eönwë led, I followed.  All I wanted was the chance to complete my errand – I do not know what I expected thereafter.’  He rubbed his forehead.  ‘I believe I had no expectations.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘I felt like a sparrow confronted by eagles.  Outranked, outmatched, outshone, outdone.’

‘I have often wondered,’ Elrond said softly, ‘how Beor’s people must have seen Finrod Felagund.  Whether he – tall and golden, with the light of Aman in him – seemed to them on first sight as the Valar do to us.’

‘It is interesting to consider,’ Celebrían nodded.  ‘Just as Ingwë, although High King of all the Elves and great among his people, seems somewhat overshadowed by his proximity to the halls of Manwë.’

‘I was not sure,’ Elrond confided, ‘how Galadriel would deal with her change in status as she settled in the Blessed Realm.  From the eldest of the Eldar – and probably the most powerful elf in all Arda, to a daughter and a subject.  She has surprised me with her serene indifference to all the jockeying for position.’

‘That would please her,’ Celebrían said dryly.  ‘She likes to keep people unsure of her.’

Her husband grinned at her mischievously.  ‘I do not believe we will tell her of my doubts.’

‘Valinor is not what you expect,’ Elwing said softly.  ‘It is not an end, but a beginning.  Your existence stops and shifts and begins again.’  She sighed and looked at the dappled pattern the rustling leaves created on her lap.  ‘But there is no going back.’

***

The Halls of Manwë took simplicity to the extreme, Eärendil decided.  It was as if they had no need of show – purity of line, simplicity of purpose was all that the Valar needed.  They were – he hesitated – the halls of beings that needed no halls.  The immense structure that housed their physical presence was there for the benefit of the elves who dwelt in Valimar and for no other reason.

And, just as their halls were created to give reality to the actuality of these, the greatest among the Ainur, so were their bodies donned.

The Mariner had waited in the antechamber before the Great Hall, waited patiently and without surprise, over he knew not how long, until, without any apparent command, Manwë’s herald unfolded his arms and stepped forward to throw open the doors.

A shaft of light cut through the wide opening, bright as a summer dawn, its path drawing Eärendil forward.

Eönwë spoke not.  Words were not needed.  The invitation issued by the Powers of Arda was impossible to deny.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Eärendil walked forward to meet his fate with as much dignity as he could muster.

It was like walking into the blaze of the sun.  For a moment, the Mariner had to screw up his eyes, yet still the brilliance glowed bright against his eyelids.  He would be blinded, he thought with wry humour, and his quest to see the Valar would be left half-done.  He could only hope that he was walking in the right direction.  It would be the ultimate irony if he should walk straight past them and out through the window to tumble down the heights of Taniquetil, leaving them to wonder what had been the purpose of this insignificant creature.

He slowed as the glow dimmed to an endurable level and stood, opening his eyes to see, seated easily before him, figures of such power that he dipped his head instinctively, his mouth too dry to speak.

Not now, he told himself, not now.  This is not the moment to become tongue-tied.

With the remembered elegance of a prince of Gondolin greeting his king, he dropped to his knees and bowed, awaiting the instruction to rise and present his errand.

The silence extended, but Eärendil was aware that, somewhere beyond the realm of his hearing, he was the object of heated discussion.  He wondered ruefully if he was to be left indefinitely on his knees before the Lords and Queens of the Valar, or whether one among them would eventually think to speak to him in words he could both hear and understand and command him to deliver his message.

A cool hand took his and drew him to his feet.

Before him stood the tall slender figure of a Queen of the Valar, robed in soft green gauzes that moved constantly around her as if feeling breezes of which only she was aware.  Her gaze was mild and kindly, but he felt stripped, as if she knew him from the surface down to the tiniest part of his being.

‘Lady Yavanna,’ he said respectfully, inclining his head in homage.

She smiled, but spoke not, returning to her seat without appearing to move, her pale elbow resting on a small table of white marble.

Eärendil turned to face the most awe-inspiring assembly that he could imagine.  Before him sat the full panoply of the highest powers: Manwë Súlimo, Lord of the Air, Varda Elentári, Star Queen, Ulmo, Lord of the Sea, Yavanna Kementári, Queen of the Earth, Aulë the Smith, Nienna, Oromë, Námo, and with them Irmo, Tulkas Astaldo, Estë the Gentle, Vairë the Weaver, Nessa and Vana the Ever-young.  He sucked in a desperate gulp of air as he viewed them.  Not only the Aratar, but all fourteen of the Valar – and all twenty-eight eyes focused on him.

‘Great Ones,’ he began, ‘Lords of the West and Powers of Arda, I stand before you to beseech your aid.’  He closed his eyes briefly, unable to think in the intensity of the stare that consumed him.  ‘Son of both the Firstborn and the Aftercomers am I,’ he continued, ‘and for both Kindreds have I set sail to seek a path across the seas that divide fair Valinor from the perils of the Hither Lands.

‘For our peril is very great,’ he sighed and opened eyes as grey as the mists that surrounded the Enchanted Isles to gaze earnestly at the Powers.  ‘For Morgoth’s power grows ever stronger until none who walk the earth or swim the waters or fly the air of Middle Earth are safe from his venom.  The very ground beneath our feet cries out, the trees scream their torment, the song of the water is become a bitter lament and the Children of Arda, of both Kindreds are broken beneath his cruelty.’  He paused and drew a painful breath.  ‘Can you not find it in your hearts,’ he pleaded, ‘to forgive the Noldor their arrogance and those others of the Firstborn the procrastination that left them east of the sea, so that you might send aid to them and to the Secondborn, who have had no choice but to live in a land corrupted by one whose power only you can match?

‘Pardon I ask for the Noldor,’ he implored, ‘and mercy upon both men and elves.  Succour them in their need, Great Ones, for without your compassion, all will fail.’

Before him, more imposing than a king in full regalia, Manwë sat, clothed in a robe of simple white.  ‘And what of the sons of Fëanor?’ he asked.  ‘What say you of the Kinslayers?’

Eärendil did not hesitate.  He dropped to one knee and raised his chin to meet the piercing eyes of the Lord of the Air.  ‘For them, too, I beg forgiveness,’ he said steadily.  ‘What they have done is wrong and beyond wrong, but they acted first from love and loyalty and then from the madness of an inescapable oath.  Their actions should not go unpunished, but they are still elves.’

‘Long have we awaited your coming, Eärendil, son of Tuor,’ Manwë’s deep voice rumbled.  ‘For in your hands has been the fate of all Arda.’  He studied the shining form of the half-elf, whose brightness radiated from him even in the presence of the Powers.  ‘I sense no deceit in you.’

Varda Star-Kindler stretched out a slender arm to place her hand on her husband’s.  ‘I have seen much that leads me to wish to grant this plea,’ she said in a voice as clear and pure as the song of the stars.  ‘The Hither Lands writhe under the lash of our brother – and without our care, the purpose of Eru himself will not be met.’

‘We will consider,’ Manwë announced with an inclination of his head, ‘how your prayer may be granted.’

That was it, Eärendil thought incredulously?  Long years of planning and building and seeking a path through the deceptions designed to keep all comers away could come to completion in the bend of a head?  A plea uttered into the unresponsive night by a thousand thousand hearts over an entire age could be answered in no more than a few minutes?  The lives and safety of a world of elves and men could be settled with a nod?  The Great Powers had abandoned them all to pain and sorrow and suffering until someone came to say sorry?   

He turned obediently in response to a wave of Manwë’s hand, before stopping and turning back.  ‘My lords,’ he said tentatively.

The Powers turned to him as one and he took an involuntary step backwards before gathering his courage and moving forward again.  His hand reached up to his brow and removed from it the Nauglamir, wrought in gleaming white gold and studded with gems, the brightest of which was the intense silver light of the Silmaril.  He held the jewel out before him.  ‘Lady Yavanna,’ he said.  ‘You created the Trees from which Fëanor’s gems took their light.  It seems only fitting that this one should be returned to you.’

The Powers of Arda stilled.

‘The other two remain in Morgoth’s crown,’ Eärendil added apologetically.  ‘Beren and Lúthien freed only one.’

‘Why do you offer this now?’  Ulmo’s voice sang of the music of the oceans.

‘It is not mine,’ Eärendil said with surprise.  ‘I bore it merely to find my way to these halls.  I do not think these jewels are the property of any.  Made by Fëanor’s skill, it is true, they embody the last remnants of Yavanna’s creations, made to bring light to these blessed lands.’   He hesitated when no-one stretched forth a hand to take the gem and placed it instead before the Queen of the Earth on the white marble beside a bowl of shining red apples.  He bowed profoundly and, when nothing further was said, withdrew again to the antechamber.

Eönwë met him and, smiling pleasantly, took him forth into the city of Valimar, where he rested awhile and refreshed himself before returning alone to seek Elwing where he had left her by the coast.

In their bright timeless hall, the Valar contemplated the pure light of the Silmaril in wonder that one who had borne it could surrender it with his good will, while its creator, the mightiest among the Noldor, driven by the fire of his own heart, had been consumed by his passion for the jewel.

‘Yet,’ Námo said, voicing the thoughts of all, ‘though he shines with the light of the Two Trees, shall mortal man step living upon the undying lands, and live?  However just, however noble, this is a child of the Aftercomers and no elf.’

‘For this he was born into the world,’ Ulmo declared, the thunder of the tempest in his voice.  ‘And say unto me: whether is he Eärendil Tuor’s son of the line of Hador, or the son of Idril, Turgon’s daughter of the Elven-house of Finwë?’

Mandos clenched his jaw, his memory of the doom he had spoken only too clear.  ‘Equally the Noldor, who went wilfully into exile, may not return hither,’ he said implacably.

‘But as doom is declared, so it may be lifted,’ Nienna insisted, her voice throbbing with grief as she spoke to her brother.  ‘I have mourned enough over the fate of the Exiles.  The time has come to bring home those who would ask forgiveness.  Their defiance has been punished and they are wiser for their experience.’

As the debates of the Powers continued high above the city of Valimar, Eärendil journeyed swiftly in search of his wife.  He felt lighter, as if some dreadful burden had been lifted and his heart was filled with joy.  He had done his part.  Whatever now was decided, he could do nothing to change it.  Whether he was to return with his ship to the shores of his homeland or pass beyond the circles of the world into the great unknown, the decision was not his to make.  All he knew was, whatever happened, he wished to be in Elwing’s company when it occurred.

***

‘But she was not where I had left her,’ Eärendil said simply.  ‘I was afraid, then, of what had become of her while I was seeking to plead with the Lords of the Valar, and blamed myself, for it seemed that, no matter what happened, whether for ill or worse, Elwing had always to endure it in my absence.  I was a bad husband and a worse adar, concerning myself constantly with other matters rather than the happiness and safety of my family.’ 

‘It is not so,’ Elwing denied.  ‘You did what you had to do.  It is not your fault that the time passed so much more slowly for me as I waited there at the margin of the sea.  You were busy.  It was simply that, the longer I remained there in the silence of the empty land, befriended only by the birds and beasts, the more certain I became that your quest had failed and that I would never see you again.’  She sighed.  ‘I wandered ever further northwards until, one shining night when Ithil lit the world with liquid silver, I saw the gleaming white of the Swan Haven.  The fleet of the Teleri rested on the waters and tall elves with argent hair and eyes of frosted grey beheld me.’

‘What did they say when they learned who you were?’ Celebrían asked, leaning forward.

Elwing shook her head.  ‘They could see that I was not of Aman,’ she said.  ‘They were shocked at first, and wary – but always kind.  They took me among them and fed me and asked me who I was and what I was doing there.’  She smiled and continued simply, ‘And I told them.  Tales of Doriath and Gondolin and the griefs of Beleriand.  Of Elu and Melian; of Beren and Lúthien and the wresting of the Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown; of Dior Eluchíl and Nimloth – and of the Second Kinslaying.’  She sighed.  ‘Of Eärendil’s quest and the coming of the Fëanorionnath to Sirion.  I do not believe I have ever talked as much as I did over those few weeks.  Words flowed from me – of anything and everything; of what I had done and seen and heard from the time I could first speak.  And they listened,’ she concluded, ‘and were filled with pity and wonder – for the suffering of those who dwelt in the Hither Lands; for Elu, who had been their lord; for the Exiles and the Forsaken; for the Aftercomers.’ 

‘Finally, I found her there,’ Eärendil stated, ‘dwelling among those who were her distant kin and they accepted me, although I was of Finwë’s House, for, they said, as they bore Idril no ill-will for events in which she had taken no part and over which she had no control, still less did they blame me, who was not born until centuries after the sons of Fëanor slew their kin and stole their ships.’

‘It was a happy time,’ Elwing sighed, ‘although we did not know how long it would last.  We were able to walk along the sands and be together, there where the sea met the land.  Lord Olwë summoned us to wait on him and tell him all we knew of his brother’s line – he wept for Elu’s betrayal and the loss of Lúthien and raged at the repeated deception of Fëanor’s sons.  He grieved,’ she added gently, ‘for his grandsons and took consolation from your naneth’s continued safety, and wished her happiness in her exile.’

Celebrían met Elwing’s eyes.  ‘Lord Olwë has always been kind to me,’ she said simply.  ‘When I came to these lands, broken in spirit and close to fading, my naneth’s parents offered me comfort and safety – but it was on the pearl-white beaches of Alqualondë within the sound of the sea that my healing began.’

Elrond reached out and took her hand, holding it between both of his as if to offer warmth and comfort, whilst reassuring himself of the clear joyous song of her healed fëa.

‘Eärendil was – less bright,’ Elwing said thoughtfully, ‘without the Silmaril at his brow.  He shone still – but elves do gleam.  Some brighter than others, it is true, but many of those who dwelt in Alqualondë had seen the Trees and their light was clear and pure.  No-one seemed to find his light remarkable.’  She smiled.  ‘I wondered what they thought when they saw me among them – small and dark and dull.’

Her husband looked at her in surprise.  ‘You have always had the light of the elves in you,’ he said.  ‘Did you not know?   I beheld it when first we met – Idril remarked on it and wondered if it shone so brightly because you were descended from Melian.’

‘It is not, I think,’ Celebrían said thoughtfully, ‘something that one notices in oneself – or, indeed, in those one knows well.’

Elrond nodded.  ‘Not unless something makes you look with a deeper sight.  Glorfindel, for example, has a radiance about him comparable to sunrise – but, most of the time, he is just the aggravating elf who takes huge pleasure in tormenting me.’

His wife laughed.  ‘And you would not have him any other way,’ she told him affectionately.

‘How long,’ Elrond asked his parents, after a pause, ‘were you left waiting upon the decisions of the Valar?  I have tried to make sense of the time scale and fit it into what was happening in Arda, but the events do not seem to match.’

‘Time runs differently,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘I still find it hard to balance the two – and I have been dealing with both since the War of Wrath.  We waited a matter of weeks, it seemed, but it could have been much longer.  And, when the Valar summoned us to return to Manwë’s Halls, we seemed to be there almost instantly, without any sense of the long days spent in journeying from the Swan Haven.’

***

This time, as he stood before the assembled might of the greatest of the Valar, Eärendil took comfort from the feel of Elwing’s hand in his and the knowledge that Manwë had agreed that relief would be sent to the peoples of Middle Earth.   The Silmaril, he noted with interest, rested still on the table where he had placed it, but the apples had been removed and the table moved so that the jewel reposed centrally among the Valar before Manwë.

The Lord of the Air regarded the two half-elves before him.  ‘Neither the Secondborn, nor the Exiles might place foot upon the soil of the Blessed Realm,’ he said mildly, ‘for it is forbidden.  Yet, Ulmo’s point that fate demanded that one of both Kindreds was required to bring word of the plight of the Hither Lands is well-made.’  He raised his hand.  ‘In this matter the power of doom is given to me.  The peril that he ventured for love of the Two Kindreds shall not fall upon Eärendil, nor shall it fall upon Elwing his wife, who entered into peril for love of him; but they shall not walk again ever among elves or men in the Outer Lands.’

Eärendil bowed his head in silent acceptance and felt Elwing’s clasp on his hand tighten.

‘And this is my decree concerning them: to Eärendil and to Elwing, and to their sons, shall be given leave each to choose freely to which kindred their fates shall be joined, and under which kindred they shall be judged.’

An unexpected stir of hope swelled in Eärendil’s breast as his attention focused on one part of Manwë’s speech.  If the Powers of Arda were to give a choice of any kind to their sons, it implied that Elrond and Elros were still living to choose.  He and Elwing might never be able to return to their home to guide them as he would have wished, but they were alive!  And as long as they were alive, there remained a chance that, one day, they might be reunited.  He closed his eyes, feeling rather than hearing, the unsteadiness of Elwing’s breathing as she absorbed the information.

The silence extended.  The Valar, he thought, clearly felt no need to fill empty space with noise.  Manwë had spoken and he would happily wait indefinitely until a response was made.

Eärendil tried to speak, then cleared his throat.  ‘I will not be divided from my lady while the world endures,’ he said huskily.  ‘Whatever her choice may be, so shall it be mine also.’  He turned to her and raised her fingers to his lips.  ‘Choose thou, my love, for now I am weary of the world and its tribulations.’

Elwing swayed towards him and looked doubtfully into his pewter eyes.  ‘Truly?’ she asked.  ‘For my heart lies with the Firstborn.’

‘So shall it then be as you desire,’ Eärendil replied promptly.  He was aware of a pang of regret.  His explorer’s mind thrilled to the possibilities of travelling beyond the circles of the world as did his adar’s people, but his heart held him firm.  And perhaps, he thought, it would be for the best, for in choosing the fate of the elves lay their best hope of reunion with their sons.  Elves, he sighed, could afford to wait.

From the corner of his eye, he caught a smile of smug satisfaction on Manwë’s face.  This outcome was not only expected, but, for some reason, desired, he noted.

‘Those who sailed with you, however,’ the greatest of the Lords of the Valar said firmly, ‘may not remain.  My herald will see to it that they are returned in safety to a suitable haven.’

‘They, too, sought relief for the woes of elves and men,’ Eärendil protested half-heartedly.  It seemed wrong that he and Elwing should be rewarded with sanctuary in these lands of peace and plenty, while his crew should be cast forth.  Voronwë had been striving to seek aid since before he had encountered Tuor in Nevrast and taken him to Gondolin and he deserved to know of this unexpected success.

‘They will be unharmed,’ Manwë reassured him, ‘but these lands shall yet remain closed to all comers.’

The Mariner bowed.  No matter what he thought of the decision, he thought regretfully, he was in no position to debate with the Powers of Arda – and safety was more than they had thought to achieve on this quest. 

‘But for you, Eärendil, son of Tuor, man of the line of Hador and elf of the house of Finwë, bearer of Fëanor’s jewel, we have a task.’  He looked expectantly at the half-elf. 

Eärendil responded in the only way possible to such a demand.  Releasing his wife’s hand, he knelt before the Elder King.  ‘As you command, so shall I do, Great Lord,’ he vowed, hoping that whatever task he was about to accept would not take him from Elwing’s side.

‘It would seem that a sign of hope is needed,’ Manwë Súlimo stated and, with a gesture, invited his wife to speak.

‘We intend to set your vessel to sail in the seas of heaven,’ she remarked in her voice of liquid crystal, ‘that you might sail the paths of night with the Silmaril at your brow.  Your presence, unlooked for, glittering and bright, will be a promise to the children of Arda that help will come out of the west and that the reign of Morgoth will be ended.’

‘Yet this destiny we would have you follow across the seas of heaven,’ Yavanna said gently, ‘is too harsh and cold for a child of the forests.  For Elwing we will build a refuge to which you will return, safe from the cold and pathless voids, where she may enjoy the earth and the sweet winds that blow on sea and hill.’  

The daughter of Dior and Nimloth knelt beside her husband. ‘So shall it be,’ she said, and a silver tear spilled over to run down her cheek.

***

‘Did Voronwë return to Aman after the War of Wrath?’ Elrond asked.

‘He did,’ Eärendil said wryly, ‘but not as a warrior who had fought before Angband.  He and Erellont, Falathar and Aerandir were set on a boat requested by the Valar of the Teleri and driven into the east with a great wind, but the Powers chose not to send them back to the Hither Lands.  My crew had come too far and seen too much to be permitted to cross the Sundering Seas.   They were sent back among the Enchanted Isles and wandered there a while, before settling on an island that seemed capable of sustaining life.  There they stayed until, in the time beyond the battles, the Valar lifted the enchantments and opened the passage to Valinor again to those elves who sought the way.’

‘It is not just the elves,’ Elrond smiled ruefully, ‘whose words are two-edged.’

His adar shook his head.  ‘The Valar deliver what they promise,’ he said.  ‘Exactly what they promise.  It is your own fault if you wish to add your own interpretation.’

‘Just as you received a guarantee of safety,’ Celebrían sympathised with Elwing, ‘and a hope for you sons, you were left alone again.  It is a nice thought – this white tower at the edge of nowhere, but would you not have preferred to sail the night at Eärendil’s side?’

‘At first,’ Elwing admitted.  ‘But I soon grew to see that frozen emptiness of the pathless night was not for me and that it was better for Eärendil to return to the warmth of the world with each dawn.  And then,’ she brightened, ‘the birds would gather here and I found that I could understand their tongues.  They became my companions and taught me the craft of flight, so that I could, once again, soar above the trees to greet Vingilot as she returned.  I do it still,’ she added, ‘sometimes.’

‘Vingilot was beautiful before the Valar took her,’ the Mariner reminisced.  ‘Círdan’s finest work – at least until then.  But between them Ulmo and Manwë, Aulë and Varda took her and hallowed her until, when they sent her through the Door of the Night, she was filled with a wavering flame, so pure and bright that it made my heart sing to see her.’

‘When Eärendil was at her helm,’ Elwing stated, ‘with the Silmaril bound to his brow and his clothing glistening with the dust of diamonds, his radiance filled her and she blazed brighter than the sun.’

The Mariner smiled.  ‘Arien in her chariot is far brighter than Vingilot,’ he said.  ‘And so is Tilion as he pilots Ithil across the darkness of the night.’

‘Perhaps,’ she shrugged, ‘but I have never seen them from as close as I have seen Vingilot and still I say that she is filled with a clarity they lack.’

‘I remember,’ Elrond said slowly, ‘how it lifted our hearts when the Star of High Hope was first seen in the sky.  I did not think of it being a Silmaril, not at first, but I believe that Maedhros knew it at once for Fëanor’s jewel and mourned that it was lost to them for ever, even as Maglor gave thanks that it was now secure from evil and free for all to see as it sailed beyond the reach of the children of Arda.’

‘At first I could not find it in my heart to believe that this task wished on me by the Lord of the Air and Varda Star-Queen would be comparable to sailing the living ocean – the void seemed cold and dead and empty.   But I found that I could see so much that no other ever had,’ Eärendil marvelled.  ‘You would not think it, so high as Vingilot sails above the world, but the armies of elves and men, the havens of their families, the movements of Morgoth’s abominations – all were as clear as the movements of ants across the grass.  Since then, I have learned to focus my sight to watch that which interests me.’

‘When the twins were young,’ Elrond smiled, ‘we would watch the Star of High Hope each night as it voyaged across the sky and greet it as part of our evening rituals.  And, when, later, Arwen was a small child, she would blow a kiss to her daeradar as Gil-Estel passed over Imladris.’

‘She does it still,’ the Mariner said, his voice little more than a breath, ‘from her high tower in the White City, with her own child in her arms.’

Celebrían closed her eyes to conceal her pain.  ‘There can be none,’ she said, her voice taut, ‘who understand better the torment of having a child who will pass beyond the circles of the world, while enduring an uneasy division from others with no certainty of reunion.’

Elwing rose and took her daughter-in-law in her arms, so that silver hair and black mingled, like shafts of moonlight against the silk of a sky.  ‘None,’ she agreed and together they wept for the fate of those whom they loved.

 

Eärendil’s Tale 11: Reconciliation

The Mariner looked doubtfully at his son.  ‘I have never done this before,’ he remarked.  ‘Never has anyone accompanied me on my voyage across night’s ocean.’

‘Yet it is permitted?’ Elrond enquired, holding the silken smooth rail of gleaming wood as if he rather hoped to discover that it was not.

‘Apparently.’ Eärendil sounded bemused.  ‘The Lady Varda seemed to think it was acceptable – and even suggested that there might be other times when I need not sail alone.’

‘Well, that is good,’ his son said cheerfully, his words concealing his anxiety.

Eärendil smiled his sudden sweet smile.  ‘You need not worry,’ he said.  ‘I have completed this voyage many times in perfect safety – there is no reason to suspect that this one will be any different.’

‘I have done many things,’ the Lord of Imladris returned his smile, ‘but I have never set foot beyond the Doors of Night and I have never looked down on the realms of Arda from the deck of a star-vessel.’

‘That is a remark you will not be able to repeat,’ his adar told him with more confidence.

Eärendil seemed different at the helm of Vingilot, Elrond decided as he sat quietly watching the Mariner manage the lines and sails.  He was clearly in his element – confident and commanding and comfortable as he was not in the flowery gardens of Elwing’s tower.  By placing him in this role – the Star of Hope – the Valar had ensured that Eärendil would adapt to an immortal life in this Blessed Realm.  It showed an eye for detail that surprised Elrond in the Great Powers – although he supposed it should not.  If the Valar could concern themselves with the finer points of a flower or the structure of a crystal, why should they not understand the needs of a half-elf who had chosen immortality for the sake of the one he loved?

‘Did it take the Valar long to change Vingilot into what she is now?’ he asked.  ‘Or to summon their hosts to war?’

‘It seemed to take little time,’ Eärendil told him, settling back as his vessel moved smoothly over familiar paths.  ‘The Noldor were fiercely determined to follow the white banners to rescue such of their kin as remained in Arda and Finarfin’s words burned through them like fire.  The Vanyar – well, Ingwë would no sooner disobey the summons of the Powers than he would dye his hair pink and call himself a Balrog, and his people would go where he commanded.  Loyal and strong and relentless they are as a kindred, for all people think they are so soft.  Few of the Teleri were willing to go forth to fight.  Their memories of the slaughter at Alqualondë were still too vivid for them to wish to take up their swords in defence of those who had robbed them of their ships and slain their kin, but they had heard Elwing, daughter of Dior Eluchíl, and knew of the grief of their people, forsaken beneath the hand of Morgoth.  There were enough mariners among them prepared to lend their skills and ships to the transport of the host.  The host were ready soon enough – and so was Vingilot, and she was a sign to those who doubted that the Lords of the West would come.’

‘I remember,’ Elrond said softly.  ‘They came – and the challenge of the trumpets of Eönwë filled the sky and Beleriand was ablaze with the glory of their arms.’  He closed his eyes.  ‘And we paused in our battles, feeling worn and shabby and dull, for the host of the Valar was arrayed in forms young and fair and terrible, and the mountains rang beneath their feet.’  He sighed.  ‘And we had victory.  Morgoth was brought forth in chains and an end was made of the power of Angband – but even in success we suffered loss and sorrow, for Sirion was no more.’

Eärendil nodded soberly.  ‘The northern regions of the western world were rent asunder,’ he said, ‘and the sea roared in through many chasms, and there was confusion and great noise; and rivers perished or found new paths, and the valleys were upheaved and the hills trod down and the lands of my youth – of my parents’ long striving – were gone.’ 

‘And not for the last time,’ Elrond murmured in sorrowful recollection.  ‘The sea rose again and tore at the land and swallowed my brother’s realm, sending a wave as vast and green as a mountain to take back what had been given – and again the coasts changed and a new world was made as what had been straight became bent.’

The void was beautiful, the Lord of Imladris thought.  Cold, yes, and pathless, but the darkness was not absolute and the fires of Lady Varda’s stars burned with a pure light in shades of silver and gold, some kissed with blue or green or red, each of them spinning in a dance of joy here beyond the confines of Eä, part of a celestial rhythm that took no mind of the affairs of the creatures who watched them.

Eärendil watched his son absorb the peace and distance of this place outside the bounds of the elves.  ‘It makes you aware,’ he said finally, in an attempt to pass on an understanding that it had taken him millennia to develop, ‘that this is only a small part of Elu’s whole.  Even the elves, who will live as long as the world exists, are part of this bigger entirety – and our divisions are not for ever.’

‘Perhaps not,’ Elrond mused, ‘although that is little consolation.’

***

Morgoth had been dragged out and chained; the Silmarils were in Eönwë’s hands; a multitude of slaves had been brought forth beyond all hope into the light of day – and all was changed.

Gil-Galad, High King of the Noldor, had stood in confusion before the herald of the Elder King and chosen not to depart from Middle-Earth as the Valar had commanded.  Despite the ruin of the land, this was his home and it was not meet for a king to abandon his realm and his people.  Círdan stood with him: he, too, would remain, the shipwright for the elves of the Hither Lands, his purpose to ease the path of those who would take ship for the Blessed Realm.  Celeborn of Doriath would not leave and beside him stood Galadriel, his wife, who alone remained of those who had led the Noldor to exile in Beleriand.

And with these lords of power and determination stood one who was little more than a youth.  Elrond was in despair.  Surrounded by armies, on the hastily sought safety of land prized for nothing other than that it was not beneath the restless surging of muddy waters, he had never felt so alone.

Nothing was the same as it had been.  Whatever certainties he felt he had acquired had been shattered.  Summoned before the Elder King’s herald, he had been offered a choice and had promptly and gladly opted to be numbered among the Firstborn, happy to be one with those he felt to be his true family.  But his twin, the only person in the world who truly belonged to him, the only one who had been at his side through his whole life – through the horrors of Sirion, the fear of their captivity, their return, the years of their raising in the care of the High King, the battles before Angband, his brother – had happily chosen to be numbered among men. 

Elrond had tried to understand.  He had tried not to reproach his brother with abandoning him for the shallow mockery of a short-lived royalty.  He had tried – but he could not begin to see why Elros would do this.  And there was no going back.  He had contemplated it briefly – would he ask if he could change his mind to choose the life of a man if it meant that he could stay by his twin’s side?  But he had known that such a choice was not in him.  And if that was so, he brooded, perhaps Elros had made the only possible decision for him. 

‘Do not begrudge me this, my brother,’ Elros had asked him.  ‘This is right for me – I am no patient elf to spend centuries learning dull facts and tedious skills.  I will enjoy this challenge.’ 

His eyes had blazed and his excitement had made his more cautious brother wince.  Elros was certain in this decision as in so many other things.  He would go and he would build a kingdom and he would be happy.  But where did that leave his twin?

Elrond looked bitterly up at the stars. Rejected, that was where it left him.  Yet again.  Left to the care of those who probably found him nothing but an encumbrance.  Left to seek a way in the world that could keep him busy throughout an immortal life.

‘There you are.’

A weary High King joined him on the scrubby grass.  His armour had been polished, Elrond noted, but it still showed signs of the hard fighting of the last years, and the tunic beneath it would never be free of stains.  He sat heavily, as if even his wiry strength and dogged persistence were reaching their end.

‘Sometimes,’ Gil-Galad mused, ‘I have dreams about sleeping under a roof again.  On a bed made of feathers.  With someone to bring me hot water for bathing – and clean clothes in a stack so that I can just pick what I like.’

Elrond smiled reluctantly.  ‘And formal robes,’ he reminded his king.  ‘And that circlet that you say is remarkably over-provided with sharp corners considering that it is round.  And council meetings.’

‘Well, civilised life is not all good,’ Gil-Galad conceded with a grin.  ‘Although I might welcome a council meeting that focuses on something other than battle strategy or establishing a camp safe from the ravages of the sea, or how we are going to feed thousands when we have lost all our stores.’  He stretched out a hand and clasped his young cousin’s shoulder.  ‘You are fretting again,’ he said gently. ‘Stop it.’

Elrond drooped.  ‘I cannot help it,’ he sighed.  ‘Now even Elros is going to abandon me and I shall be left alone.’

‘You are my closest kin,’ Ereinion told him.  ‘Apart from you and Elros, I, too, have no-one.’

The young half-elf flushed.  ‘I did not mean. . .’ His voice trailed away.

‘Or, if you chose,’ the High King mused, ‘you could take ship with the host of the Valar.  Finarfin would be happy to care for you – you are his brother’s great-grandson, after all, and there are no others of his kin who will return with him to the Blessed Realm.  Or it might be possible for you to rejoin your parents in Valinor.’

Elrond looked at him with horror.  ‘I could not!’ he said with conviction.  ‘My place is here!  I must remain within reach of my brother and – I would not choose to leave you.  Not ever!’

‘That is good,’ Gil-Galad said comfortably.  ‘For I would be most unhappy if you did.’  He lay back on the hillside and looked up at the stars.  ‘Do not think badly of your parents, son of Eärendil,’ he added wearily.  ‘They did what they had to do – just as Elros is doing.  I know your adar would have stayed for you both if he could have done so, but some of us are not given the luxury of having an option.’

As Ereinion Gil-Galad drifted into elven sleep, Elrond looked up at the stars.  He would try not to resent the path life had set him, he decided, but his innate honesty made him admit that he was unlikely to succeed – at least not until he had a much better understanding of what that path might be. 

***

Eärendil looked at his son, whose thoughts were clearly somewhere other than the present.

‘Did you see Elros?’ Elrond asked abruptly.  ‘When, early in the Second Age, the brilliance of Gil Estel was such that it hid all other stars in the sky, and the ships of the Edain followed its light to Númenor?’

‘I saw him,’ his adar said quietly.  ‘Just as I saw you.’  He hesitated, staring at the swirl of clouds beneath them that seemed like a dark sea.  ‘But it is not like being with those you know,’ he said slowly.  ‘I watch – through a glass.  I am a stranger, seeing the unknown from the outside.  I watch the ramparts of the sky against the approach of Morgoth Bauglir from the Timeless Void.  I watch rivers change their courses and the sea eat at the land.  I watch people living lives in which I have no part.  I watched Númenor grow.  I saw it fall.  I watched you build a haven and a home, but I had no share in it.’  He turned his head to study Elrond’s face.  ‘I have never told your naneth how much it is possible to see,’ he added conversationally.  ‘She would have found it too difficult to endure the thought of observing your life from the far side of an impassable mirror.’

Elrond’s grey eyes met his adar’s.  ‘Can you see whomsoever you might wish?’ he asked.

In the silence that followed, the breathless wind of the pathless night filled the shining sails of the vessel and Vingilot leaned slightly to port.

‘It depends,’ Eärendil hedged.  ‘Elves – yes, I can generally find those I seek, but men are more difficult.  They are too many and too dark.’  He sighed.  ‘But it is not a man that you would find, is it?’

His son’s smile twisted.  ‘For two ages I have wondered what became of him,’ he said.  ‘It grieves my heart that he should wander unforgiven until time ends.’  He glanced at his twined fingers.  ‘He would have yielded,’ he spoke in a low voice.  ‘He would have submitted to Eönwë’s demand and returned into the west, but Maedhros would not.  He was the elder and he would not foreswear the oath they took in their madness, nor could he see how they should ever be released.  So finally they came and slew the guards, taking the jewels.  I think they would have welcomed death there – but Eönwë would not permit them to be slain.’  He stopped.  ‘And so they fled, and, it is said, the jewels burned them so that Maedhros cast himself into a gaping chasm filled with fire, and returned to Námo’s Halls, but Maglor hurled the last remaining Silmaril into the sea and was left to wander ever after on its shores, singing in pain and sorrow, never to come back among the people of the elves.’

‘You loved him?’ Eärendil asked.

‘I grew fond of Maedhros,’ Elrond conceded, ‘although there was a great grief in him that darkened his moods, but Maglor – yes, I loved him.’  He turned away to look out at the cool darkness.  ‘I was bitter,’ he said, ‘after the host took ship and left us, and Galadriel took me aside and talked to me long and honestly – about her cousins and uncles and their life in Valinor.  It was never easy to be among Fëanor’s sons, she said.  Maedhros could do nothing right, try as he might to please his adar – and he did try, even until the moment of his death, despite his despair.  But could I imagine what it was like for Maglor, she asked, growing up in a house of craftsmen, he who wanted only to sing and make music?  Fëanor had no use for him, and it was only the love of his brother that warmed his heart – so that Maglor was loyal to him beyond all reason.  She said I should remember that he had cared for us and done his best for us, when none would have expected it of him.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘I am not sure that I wish to know he is wandering still, or whether I would prefer him to have been gathered into Námo’s care.’

‘I am glad that he was there for you, my son, when I was not,’ the Mariner murmured with some effort.

‘Not your fault,’ Elrond shook his head.  ‘You did what you must.  And just because they were good to us does not make them right.  Bad enough that the sons of Fëanor took part in his madness in Alqualondë, but what they did later can be blamed on none but themselves.  But it was their deeds that were evil, not them.  There was some light left in them.  They owed restitution, but should not suffer unending torment.’ 

‘Do you wish me to watch for him?’ Eärendil asked simply.

Elrond lowered his head to consider the bleached wood of the deck through which shone a clear silver light.  ‘I would wish it,’ he said at last.  ‘As I would wish the Valar to relent and summon him home.’ 

‘It may take some while.’

‘I doubt he is going anywhere,’ Elrond said dryly, lapsing into a distant silence.

‘So you had Elros,’ Eärendil remarked after a while, a determined cheerfulness in his voice, ‘until he left to rule the Edain; you cared for Maglor and Gil-Galad and they cared for you.  Who else might I thank for turning my sons into people of whom I could be proud?’

Elrond smiled.  ‘The Shipwright took pleasure in providing a daeradar’s love – although he would protest that he did not.’  He paused.  ‘Elros and I were not torn apart at once,’ he said.  ‘The shore of the western sea echoed for years to the hammering of nails and the sawing of wood.  The host of the Valar returned in the Telerin ships, but there were many, many elves among the Exiles and some among the Sindar who longed to find sanctuary and relief in the Blessed Realm.   Many a fleet set sail into the west to seek the shores of Tol Eressëa and came never back to the lands of weeping and war.  But even with their departure, the building of ships did not cease – for the Valar created for the Edain the Land of Gift. 

‘We spent as much time together as we could,’ he said sadly, ‘but we were growing apart.   He had other responsibilities and so did I – and we were moving towards different lives.  But still I grieved when he embarked and left his former life behind to follow the silver flame of his adar’s ship across the sea to Andor.

‘Yet,’ he said with acceptance, ‘there was much to do to make Gil-Galad’s kingdom safe and whole.  Many to care for and aid among elves and men, housing to construct, food to find, a realm to organise.  As time passed, my life became centred on Ereinion’s court in Lindon and I missed Elros less.

‘I sailed to Andor over the years to see my brother, but each time the gap between us was wider.  He was a man and a king – with a wife and children and a people to guide and I had none of that.  I think he found me slow to alter and grow.’

‘That is how it is,’ Eärendil said softly. ‘Yet even among the realms of the elves, change comes.  Time touches even the timeless Valar.’

‘I have never asked,’ his son remarked, ‘what it was like to be in Aman when the host returned, or how the experience of war altered lives here.’

‘Those who went forth,’ Eärendil considered, ‘came back changed.  Many had seen danger in the earliest days, but they had never experienced battle.  When they returned – their eyes were shadowed.  Life in Aman does not prepare you for war.’

***

They had not understood.  Eärendil could see it in them as they turned their faces to the stars.  The Teleri, who had seen their kin torn and silent on the streets of Alqualondë, they had known more.  Why else would they have remained on board their ships?  It was not a lack of courage, nor yet of skill.  They had a better understanding of the cost of war, but they had not learned that sometimes it is better to fight than to hold back.

The Noldor had gone forth boldly – defiantly, even – in their determination to chain Morgoth and release their kin from bondage, certain that their might could prevail and that they would bring home with them those they had lost.  But they had not, the Mariner knew.  Arda would be the resting place of the hroa of thousand upon thousand of the sons of the Noldor and, for all his hopes, their High King would return with none of his house.  They had seen war and they would never be the same.

Even the brilliance of Ingwë’s Vanyar was darkened.

The host returned, but not to the sound of song and triumphal marches.  Victory had been attained, but at a cost.  The innocence of Aman had been cracked before, but this had shattered it. 

Never again, the murmurs said.  Never again would the Valar summon the hosts of the elves to confront the evils of Arda marred.  Never again would the sons of the Blessed Realm cross the sea to challenge evil.  Morgoth was chained and would not rise again and those who remained east of the sea could deal with their own problems.  Never again would they consent that an immortal life be laid down on those unhallowed shores.

Eärendil, from his unique perspective above the realms of the world, smiled wryly.  The elves might prefer to believe that they were separate and favoured, but they were a part of the same whole and their refusal to see it diminished them.

And on the shores of the world remade, the forests became masts as the forgiven sought passage to the Lonely Isle.   Elves, injured and worn, made their way to where Círdan’s shipwrights worked endlessly, building ship after ship.  The Mariner watched as the light of the elves bled from the land to gather at the Grey Havens; slowly at first, but then in gathering quantity, as if they were afraid that the path west would be closed again against them and they would be left, doubly forsaken.

But not all of the elves had chosen to depart.  Círdan’s Falathrim, Gil-Galad’s loyal Noldor, most of the Sindar – and, underlying all, like the skeleton of the ravaged land, the Laiquendi; those to whom the torn land was more beautiful than any jewel-bright gift of the Powers, those who would spend of themselves to cosset the rescued forests and valleys to health.

Eärendil watched with sharpened interest as the Valar sent out their messengers to dismantle the veil of confusion that masked the road from the Havens to Tol Eressëa. The way had been opened again and there was no further need of such defence against intrusion.

‘What of those who abide among the islands?’ he fretted.  ‘Have the Valar thought what is to become of them?  They said that my crew would be safe – what do they intend should happen, do you think?’  His fingers pleated and repleated his tunic, pressing the creases in place and then smoothing them before starting again.

‘Ask them.’ Elwing took his hand.  ‘Ask them.  If they have not thought of it, it will give them a reason to consider the matter – and, if they have decided, they will, perhaps, tell you.’

He lifted his head to look at her, his eyes rain-dark. 

‘And,’ she said simply, ‘they may tell you what they have decided about Tuor and Idril.  For,’ she sighed, ‘they are unlikely to leave them sleeping there in their Tower of Pearl now the world has changed.’

‘They have so much to do,’ her husband worried, ‘and this is such a little matter.’

‘They are the Lords and Queens of Arda,’ Elwing told him.  ‘They can manage to deal with little matters as well as great – and the fate of each living creature should be of moment to them.  Ask them.  They can only refuse you.’

She drew him down to sit beside her on the sea-worn rocks behind the shingle beach.  The sea drew him still, she knew, and when they walked together from the raw white tower that was now their home, he led her always from the quiet glades and the green copses to seek out the grey waters as they rolled towards them across the depths dividing them from their old life.

‘Ask Lord Ulmo,’ she insisted.  ‘We cannot approach Manwë in his halls – a thousand leagues is too great a distance to pass in a short time and you will be called to sail again soon, but Lord Ulmo has spoken to you before and will hear your plea.’

Eärendil looked at her doubtfully, but pulled off his boots and shed his cloak to stand in simple breeches and tunic.  ‘I will try.’

Elwing shivered as she pulled her own cloak around her and folded his on her lap.  It was beautiful here far to the north of Alqualondë on Valinor’s untrodden shores, but it was colder than in those more sun-kissed lands.  And, she sighed, she had not realised quite how far away it was from those who had been becoming her friends. 

The Valar, she had realised, did not think like elves or men.  She supposed that, to beings who could cast off their bodies and be wherever they wished at a thought, settling her and Eärendil here, where his vessel was ready to take flight for its nightly voyage, seemed a sensible solution to the thought of what to do with the two of them, and she doubted if they had ever thought that it might be less desirable to Elwing to be abandoned here to solitude on this wide green island while her husband performed the task required of him. 

But she was lonely.  In Sirion, even when her lord had been gone on the quest that drove him, she had been surrounded by her friends and family.  She had had her foster parents, her children and the duties of the Lady of Sirion to perform – here, if she were to be honest with herself, the isolation was driving her to despondency. 

Yet, at the same time, part of her worried about how she was supposed to sustain them, so far from everything.  She was no farmer, nor could she fish – and she had little experience in maintaining a kitchen garden.  She could cook well enough, she supposed, if she had the supplies – but those supplies were limited.  She had learned spinning and weaving as a lady would – well enough to supervise others – but she knew that she had insufficient skill to clothe them, even if she could find materials to spin.  This, too, she thought dryly, was something in which the Valar lacked understanding – yet, even if she were able to reach them to request their aid, she did not want to have to ask.  Her pride demanded that she should manage to provide somewhere here on the edge of nowhere where Eärendil could be at home – and she would do her best. 

Still, she supposed as the plaintive cry of the gulls echoed over the sea, there were always the birds.  They were not like having friends, but their company was better than nothing.

The Mariner picked his way across the rounded stones of the beach to wade into the icy water.  The waves tugged at him, investigating him like a curious dog anxious to take news of a stranger back to their master.  He gasped and muttered a sailor’s curse as one wave, more venturesome than the rest, surged to lick at his chest.  This water was cold. 

‘Lord Ulmo,’ he called tentatively.  If the Vala was willing to hear him, he should not need to shout – if Ulmo was everywhere at once, then he was here, too.  ‘Your messenger implores the favour of your attention.’  He hoped that was sufficiently well-phrased not to offend a Vala whose waters could destroy a world in a moment.

The waves continued to tease him, pulling at his clothes and sucking the stones from beneath his feet so that he had to dance to keep his footing.

The sense of the presence of the Lord of the Sea came suddenly, as if the water thickened around him and the wind ceased to stir.

‘I am doing what I can.’  The thunder of breakers crashing on granite cliffs was in the words he heard.  ‘It is not easy to convince the Valar to set aside their certainties and bend rules.’  Ulmo, Eärendil thought, sounded almost pettish.  ‘My fellow Powers can be a little – rigid in their views.  Too bound by precedent and convention.  Now leave me alone, son of Tuor.   Fly your little star-ship and trust me.’

Eärendil closed his eyes and the salt on his face came not entirely from the waves.  He had learned nothing. 

‘I will not be denied.’  Ulmo’s voice was softer.  ‘They owe me something for their long inaction – and I will exact it.  My brother knows this – he will intercede.  Watch.  Watch and wait.’

***

‘I have an enormous respect for the way that you have turned this – outpost into a home,’ Celebrían said, watching the bright flags flutter in the meadow as the stallholders set out their wares. 

‘It is easier now than it used to be,’ Elwing admitted.  ‘The elves of Tirion, of Alqualondë – and those of Tol Eressëa – have spread far and wide since the First Age ended and the road west was opened.  Where once this tower and the lands beyond were weeks of travel from the nearest town, now there are clusters of dwellings all along the coast.  A few millennia ago, the merchants would not have found it worth their while to travel here – we were too isolated and there were not enough folk with whom to trade.’

‘It is better so,’ Celebrían said with certainty.

‘Yes.’  Elwing smiled.  ‘When I first saw a swan-ship in the bay, I did not know what to expect,’ she said.  ‘We had been brought here and set down – and left to get on with our lives.  Eärendil had his task and, in truth, he found it all rather overwhelming, so I did not feel I could tell him how lonely I was and how much I longed for the company of others.  Flight was – a consolation, I suppose.  I had learned to be something else and, once your grasp on the solidity of your body is broken, it is easier to release it again.  Flying out to meet Vingilot was a joy of freedom, as for a few hours I could forget the worries of trying to keep house here at the edge of the world.

‘But, oddly, when I saw elves disembarking from the ship and looking around them, I was almost frightened.  I had been alone too long and I was no longer sure that I could deal with company.’  She peeped at Celebrían doubtfully through her dark lashes.  ‘I do not know if you can understand.’

‘Oh yes,’ Celebrían sighed.  ‘It becomes an uncrossable gulf. Before I sailed,’ she said, ‘I was –,’ she paused, uncertain if she could describe it adequately, ‘lost,’ she said finally.  ‘Lost and wandering in confusion.  I knew that I could not let go – Elrond would not permit me to abandon the thread of life that still flowed within me – but I was drifting on a sea of despair and I could not find my way to land.  On the shores of Alqualondë,’ she murmured, ‘I found the sand beneath my feet, shifting, as sand does, yet solid – but I was not at all certain that I wanted to be real again.  Reality hurt.  Loss hurt.  Floating somewhere in a fog of nothingness was easier.’  She smiled.  ‘But I am glad I let the light back in.’

‘I held back at first,’ Elwing said.  ‘Until I saw Evranin among those on the shore – and I ran to her.  She held me like the naneth I felt her to be and her simple presence comforted me as I wept on her shoulder.’  She stopped, before continuing slowly.  ‘And then I looked up and saw her face.’  Elwing’s eyes shone with tears.  ‘She was pale and set – and she had clearly suffered far more than I had, for all I had spent years feeling sorry for myself.  Gereth was dead, and Glasiel, and she had barely survived that day at Sirion.  Círdan had come, bringing Gil-Galad’s forces, but they had hardly been in time to rescue anything from the ruin.  And they were too late to save the twins.  Had it not been for an elfling sent running from the Kinslayers’ warriors to hide in the trees, Elros and Elrond would have been given up for lost – but the young one had seen them, borne screaming from the wreckage and was able to bear witness before the High King that his cousins were in the hands of the Fëanorionnath.’

Celebrían took Elwing’s hand.  ‘But Evranin knew,’ she said comfortingly, ‘by the time she sailed, that the twins were safe and happy – they had grown to adulthood among their kin.  Maglor had chosen to offer them a gift of safety and to return them to the care of their cousin.  For which,’ she said quietly, ‘I bless him.  Whatever else he may have done, that was an act of love.’  She glanced at her husband’s naneth.  ‘So did life become easier here once others had joined you?’ she asked airily. 

‘Much easier,’ Elwing said simply.  ‘The lands are fertile and the waters generous and, once there were elves here who knew how to harvest them, I could stop worrying about how to feed and clothe us.  The Teleri tutted at our lack of ships and left us small dinghies until we could build our own larger vessels and suddenly, the tower no longer felt like a prison on the fringes of the world.  Eärendil was disconcerted at first – I do not think he expected to find himself establishing a lordship here – but he could see that I was more content.’  She looked around with pleasure.  ‘It has taken many centuries to become what you see now,’ she added, ‘but it continues to grow.’  She smiled.  ‘When first we welcomed those returned from Námo’s halls,’ she said, ‘we rejoiced.  When first we celebrated the birth of an elfling in these lands, we gave thanks.  This is my home now – and, if Elrond can bring himself to forgive our abandonment of him and Elros and let us have some part, however small, in his life here, I will feel that I have more than I deserve.’

‘I look forward to establishing my own home,’ Celebrían nodded, ‘now that I have Elrond returned to me at last.’  She smiled.  ‘He has been his own master too long to settle easily into anyone else’s house.  We will build in the hope that, one day, our sons will choose to take ship.’  She tilted her head and asked, ‘Do you remain here always, or will you be able to leave your tower to visit us?’

Elwing looked at her through her dark fringe of lashes.  ‘Eärendil has learned the way of starting his voyage from wherever he might be,’ she said.  ‘As I acquired the way of putting on feathers, so has he discovered that reality can be shifted.  We no longer need to abide here always at the margin of the Doors of Night.’  She glanced away and back again.  ‘Ships ply the waters from here to Alqualondë and the havens of Avallónë – and we voyage south often enough to visit Eärendil’s parents and our friends and cousins.  I would be happy to spend time with you – if Elrond would not mind.’

Her son’s wife tightened her hold on Elwing’s fingers.  ‘He will not mind,’ she said.  ‘He would only mind if you failed to come.  We share too much,’ she stated, ‘to resent what is past.  Come.  Take your place in our family as we take our part in yours.  Let the shadow of the past be defeated as we find our place in this realm.’

***

‘In the end, some of the decisions appear to have been easy enough,’ Eärendil shrugged.  ‘Elves lost among the Enchanted Isles found themselves willing to return to their ships – and those ships brought them west.  Any among the race of men were drawn at last to the Isle of Gift to join your brother’s Edain.  There were few of those,’ he added.  ‘Mortality sought men among the Twilit Isles just as it did on the shores of the Hither Lands, and the passage of years reduced their numbers to less than a handful.’  He moved the tiller slightly and the sails filled.  ‘And then there were Tuor and Idril.’

‘How is it that a man of Hador’s line achieved immortality among the elves?’ Elrond asked.  ‘You were half-elf – and you had the Silmaril. I can see how that could be used to make a case for our line to choose.  How did Lord Ulmo convince the Valar to admit Tuor to the Undying Lands?’

Eärendil shook his head and smiled.  ‘I could not believe it,’ he confided.  ‘I was sure that Ulmo’s manoeuvring was to convince Manwë to seek that Idril should follow Tuor beyond the circles of the world.  There was, after all, a precedent for that.  Lúthien had followed Beren – why should not Idril do the same?’  He shot a quick glance at his son.  ‘I did not want it to happen, you understand,’ he said, ‘but it would be a happier fate for my naneth than to be left to mourn him until the world’s end.’

‘I have come to accept that.’  Elrond told him sombrely.  ‘My heart sorrows still that Arwen will never come to rest in the Blessed Realm, but I know that she will not have to suffer endless grief at the death of one who is still a son to me.  I will lament her absence always – but I can feel content for her.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘In my head, at any event,’ he added.

‘If you keep repeating it, my son,’ Eärendil told him, ‘you will come to believe it.  Most of the time, anyway.’

Beneath them, the crumpled silk of water gave way to land and the knife-edged shadows of mountains stretched up towards them, while a moon-silvered river wound between them.

‘Lúthien was lost to the elves – she who should have remained in Arda until its end,’ Eärendil said abruptly, ‘and her loss was the cause of much pain.  As far as I can understand it, when she passed beyond the reach of Arda, where the powers of the Ainur are confined, a barrier was breached.  Manwë consulted with Eru – and the One told him that, to restore the balance, one must be kept to whom the gift was given.  Tuor was, I suppose, the obvious candidate.’ 

He smiled.  ‘I believe Ulmo insisted that, as his messenger, Tuor should be granted the right to remain as long as his lord might need him, as Eönwë remains to serve Manwë, but I doubt that his argument was strong enough to be convincing.  Tuor is no Maia and I believe that the Valar could argue that his service would be replaceable.’

‘He seems quite comfortable with being the only full-blooded representative of the Secondborn in the Blessed Realm,’ Elrond said thoughtfully.

The Mariner’s smile twisted.  ‘He has had over two ages to accustom himself to the role,’ he said.  ‘He did not find it easy.  I think there were times – many of them – when he would have welcomed the chance of leaving the certainties of life here for the adventure of Eru’s gift.’  He drew a deep breath.  ‘Many among Idril’s kin were – less than welcoming,’ he admitted.  ‘Tuor could not seek redress at the end of a sword – and he rapidly found that a well-deserved punch could cause centuries of resentment.  My parents settled finally in Tol Eressëa where the returning Exiles had a far better understanding of them – and a well-established respect for the man who had led Gondolin’s refugees to safety.’   

‘They did not choose to join you?’

‘They visited.’  Eärendil shrugged.  ‘But Elwing’s tower is too far from everything – and I believe that Idril found that the cooler air of the northlands reminded her too much of the despair of crossing the Grinding Ice; memories she did not wish to revisit.  Have you been able to spend time with them?’

‘I have,’ Elrond acknowledged.  ‘It seems as strange to have grandparents as it does to have parents.’  He hesitated.  ‘Strange, but warming.  I could grow to like being surrounded by family.’

‘I think Tuor appreciates having a grandson who is so comfortable with being in the company of men.’ The Mariner glanced at his son.  ‘Even after all this time, he still feels that he is an outsider.  You are a refreshing breath of air to him – an elf whose brother chose to be a man, whose daughter has chosen mortality and the love of one who is his many-times great grandson.  He feels of more value than he has in many centuries.’

Elrond digested his adar’s words.  ‘He is a hero,’ he said finally, ‘and a legend.’

‘As are many here,’ Eärendil pointed out.  ‘Heroism is expected: being legendary is scarcely worth a moment’s notice.  It is hardly a qualification for the receipt of respect or the finding of happiness.  I think most of us take more pleasure from being a son or a husband or an adar.’  He fixed his shining eyes on his son.  ‘That is, indeed, a matter for joy.’

‘Once, long ago,’ Elrond hesitated, but continued steadily, ‘Gil Galad told me that my parents had forgone their chance of an ordinary life for reasons that are bigger than all of us.  I did not understand at the time – and it was only much later that I could see how one as young as he was had such a good understanding of sacrifice – but he was right.  Yet our part is played now,’ he said with finality, ‘and we have come home – and it is time to be a family.’

And Eärendil’s smile put the brightness of the stars to shame.

 

Eärendil’s Tale 12: Epilogue 

Elladan’s mist-grey eyes were wide, Elrond realised, his heart contracting at the sudden obvious resemblance between the excited elfling of treasured memory and the weary elf who had disembarked.  His son appeared unable to take his eyes from one he had watched through good times and bad, from the certainty of youth through the despair of injury and loss and even into the days when only the sight of Vingilot in the sky had been left to bind the last elves of Arda to the promise of the Valar and the true refuge of their kind.

‘Is it really him?’ he asked softly, resting a thin hand on his adar’s arm.  ‘I did not see how he could be here, not really.’

‘You are safe now in the Blessed Realm.’  Elrond’s hand stroked his son’s hair briefly as he cupped the back of his head.  ‘Much is possible here.’  He tried to conceal his anxiety, but could tell from his son’s tight grin that he had not managed it.

‘I remember,’ Elrohir said behind him, ‘how you would tell us of the deep peace set on the waters and the brightness of Gil Estel that shone alone in the sky as Elros sailed west with the Edain.’  He could not resist clasping his adar’s arm as if to assure himself of his reality.  ‘And so it was for us.’  He hesitated and exchanged doubtful glances with his brother. 

‘It was hard,’ Elladan said briefly.  ‘The journey to the Havens was – almost more than we could endure, even in the company of Daeradar and Glorfindel and Aran Thranduil.  They had their work cut out to bring our party through the dead lands – but there, in the sky for us, Eärendil’s star shone still.’  He drew a breath.  ‘The light of the Silmaril was bright and pure and full of promise – and it drew us on.’

‘We could not fail,’ his brother agreed, ‘not with its song in our ears.’

Elrond looked from them to his adar, who stood almost shyly, his shimmering robe of dove-grey silk catching the light of Arien’s rays and giving the impression that he shone.  ‘Have you spoken to him yet?’ he asked.

The twins’ heads shook in unison. 

Their adar glanced round the company that had gathered to celebrate the arrival of Celeborn and his grandsons.   His adar-in-law was deep in conversation with Elwing, as Galadriel glowed by his side.  Tuor and Idril had emerged from their usual seclusion and were strolling in the shady gardens with Celebrían between them, but Eärendil hung back. 

‘Come,’ Elrond commanded.  ‘He does not wish to intrude on our reunion, but I think it is time that he had one of his own.  He has watched you since before you were old enough to know of him – and I think it is time that he met you.’

How, Elrond thought, had he failed to recognise the similarity between his sons and their daeradar?  He supposed it was because, through the long years of waiting, the image that had been in the forefront of his mind had always been that of two eager elflings, usually mud-stained and reckless, hurling themselves with enthusiasm into whatever adventure offered itself.  He had preferred to be more selective in his recollection of later times – and avoid altogether the long years when Elladan and Elrohir had closed themselves away from him: dead-eyed warriors, interested in nothing but slaughter, shielded behind a mask of adamant.  And the look they shared, he thought, was beyond the purely physical – the grin at the thought of a challenge, the silver glint in shining grey eyes, the turn of a head, the feeling they gave of holding back from action.

The Mariner smiled at his two tall grandsons.  ‘Your arrival has been eagerly awaited,’ he said.  ‘Your parents have been hoping for this day.’

Elrond nobly hid his amusement as the twins searched for words. 

‘Did you know we had sailed?’ Elrohir asked, his curiosity overcoming his wonder at being in the same room as the Mariner who had sailed night’s seas since the First Age.

Eärendil hesitated. ‘I followed your path west across the Misty Mountains to the sea,’ he said.  ‘It was clear that the last among the great elves had chosen to heed the call to take ship – and your light shone against the shadow of the land.’

‘That light must have been dimmed more than somewhat by the time we reached the Gulf of Lune,’ Elladan muttered.

‘It is a shame you could not travel by water,’ his daeradar sympathised.  ‘You would have found the journey less difficult.’

Three pairs of eyes stared at him.

‘Ulmo’s voice is strong in the waters of the world even now.’ Eärendil blinked.  ‘Did you not realise?’

Elrohir gave a brief humourless laugh and shook his head.  ‘I know that we felt less – thin – once we embarked,’ he said.  ‘I had not realised why.’

‘The dullness of the land sucked at us,’ Elladan agreed, ‘like the reverse of oil being drawn up a wick and we could feel all that we were being pulled from us.  It gave little room for thinking.’  He looked at the Mariner.  ‘We should have gone by water.’  He laughed.  ‘Wait until I tell Daeradar!  He and Glorfindel and Thranduil held onto us all by sheer willpower until our vessel was beyond the scent of the winds from those shores.  I look forward to telling him that the effort he spent on our behalf could have been halved.’

‘But you are here now.’  Again Elrond found it necessary to put a hand on each son’s back as if to reassure himself of their solidity.

His adar sighed.  ‘And the light of the elves is almost gone from the Hither Lands,’ he said sadly.  ‘The ancient forest was the last place in Middle Earth that glowed with life.  Now – there are fading pinpricks where the light survives, but there is only one now remaining who saw the Trees in their glory.’

‘Maglor?’ Elladan asked softly.

‘We met him,’ Elrohir murmured, ‘a time or two.’

Elrond stared at them.  ‘How was that?’ he asked.  ‘Over two ages he never came among the people of the elves.  How did you meet him?’

‘By chance,’ Elladan smiled wryly.  ‘One searing summer after a long winter of rain, when pestilence came north to our brother’s realm.  We encountered Maglor in Pelargir, where men were dying in the streets – and he was doing what he could to give them aid.’

‘He would have slipped away – like a thief in the night – at the sight of us, but the people’s need was too great and so he remained a while, until they had died who would and others had begun to recover.’

‘We made Estel remain in Minas Anor,’ Elladan added, ‘and work on keeping the disease from spreading further.  Warrior though he was, this was an enemy he could not fight – and we had no wish for him to survive the war to die of plague.  Staying away was probably one of the hardest things he ever did for Gondor’s sake.’

Elrond frowned.  ‘Maglor was no healer,’ he said.  ‘I can see why you would keep Estel away, but not what Maglor hoped to achieve.’

‘Restitution,’ Elrohir shrugged.  ‘He said he needed to make restitution – that he would never be free until his service outweighed his sins.’  He paused.  ‘I think he found some peace in what he was doing,’ he told his adar.  ‘He was thin and worn, but he was gentle – and he gleamed in the company of those who needed him.’

‘We asked him to come to Imladris,’ Elladan remarked.  He grinned.  ‘We suspected that our adar would approve of our decision, even if our daeradar did not.  But he would not come: not then.  He said that perhaps, one day, it would be right for him, but that he still had much to do.’

Eärendil glanced thoughtfully at them and decided to keep his observations to himself.

‘We saw him once more,’ Elrohir remarked.  ‘Briefly, where a drought had made men go to desperate lengths to seek water and they delved beyond their ability to support the well-shaft. His strength brought out several men whom none had thought to save, but he disappeared before anyone could thank him.’  He smiled.  ‘He was well on the way to becoming a legend,’ he said.  ‘The help that comes unseen in times of direst need.’

Elrond’s face softened.  ‘I can understand,’ he said, ‘but, in the end, it is he who needs to forgive himself and decide that he has suffered enough.’

‘The path remains open,’ Elladan murmured.  ‘It is hard to find, but, for those who seek it, it is still there.  He will come one day.’

‘Gil Estel is still just that.’  Eärendil stopped as they looked at him and opened his hands in a gesture of offering.  ‘The Star of High Hope.  As long as elves remain in Arda, it is there to offer healing in the west – even to the houseless, if only they will accept it.  As long as men continue to look to the sky for hope, it will shine for them in their darkest hours.’  He hesitated.  ‘It is a link,’ he said finally.  ‘Between what was and what will be.  Just as we are.’

His son and grandsons stared at him, before finally Elrond nodded.  ‘You are right,’ he agreed.  ‘We are a bridge across a ravine – and we have a foot on both sides.  It is up to us to ensure that those dwelling here do not forget the lands that gave us birth – and the home of our kin.  Arwen’s descendants – and Estel’s.  Those of the line of my brother, Elros Tar-Minyatur.’

‘It will not be easy,’ Elrohir said doubtfully.

‘While we have among us the Mariner, sailing Vingilot across night’s ocean?’  Elrond smiled sadly, but with love.    ‘The path is there, plain for all to see, lit by Fëanor’s jewel in which lives the purity of Yavanna’s greatest creations, guided by one who is both elf and man – and it leads home.’

He believed he had long since forgiven his parents for their desertion of him and his twin, Elrond thought, but it was only now, in the return of his own sons, that he realised that his adar had always been there for him, further away than most, it was true, but there – offering a constancy and strength for which many should have envied his son, and gifting it not only to his own children but to every creature living within the bounds of Eä.  Looking at Eärendil, he could see the – innocence – the generosity of spirit that had led the Powers of Arda to give him the role he fulfilled in the world, as well as the courage that had enabled him to continue with his task dauntlessly over long ages. 

A surge of enormous pride overwhelmed Lord of the Hidden Valley.  This was what made his family special.  This – service and sacrifice – was why the One had called them to be, and why they had survived the wearing of the years.  And, for now, this would be enough.  He would continue to hold the faith, as his adar had done – as he still did – and he would hold in his heart an unshakeable trust that, one day, when time wore down, all reunions would be complete.  

Elrond smiled.  ‘It is good that we are together at last,’ he said simply.

 





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