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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.
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