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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 midnight sky. ‘None,’ she agreed and together they wept for the fate of those whom they loved.
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