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Beneath a Gibbous Moon  by Bodkin

A Star of Hope


Filthy waters lapped at the bedraggled grass, attempting to discard onto the ever-changing shore some of the bobbing intrusions from the land that now littered Lord Ulmo’s realm. 

The elf stared out over the relentless waves, grey eyes as bleak as the windswept sea.  This was victory?  If it was, he would hate to see defeat.

A flock of busy gulls squabbled over a half-sunken shadow in the murk.  The elf hoped that it was not what he thought it was – but knew that another unwitting victim of the Valar’s retribution drifted uncaring with the currents, beyond any need to scrabble for safety in this changed world.  Not, from its size, elf.  Nor man, come to that, but one – a deer, perhaps, or one of those long-horned kine – one that had not run in the right direction as the ground shook beneath it and then found, too late, that there was no sanctuary to be had among the tormented trees.

Doriath, he thought, his yearning stretching out over the rising waters.  First the dwarves had murdered Elu, then the ever-cursed sons of the ever-damned Fëanor had slaughtered Dior and their people had been scattered to the winds, but at least the land had survived.  Now – not even that remained. 

He folded his arms, and deliberately, defiantly, summoned images of his childhood’s lost home.  The spacious chambers and broad corridors of Menegroth, the fragrant, white-flowered gardens, trees that soared into a sky spangled with stars, cool pools of such stillness that they spread like glass, reflecting the distant points of light, until the movement of a restless fish shattered the surface to a flurry of shivering ripples.  Doriath would remain as long as those who loved it held it in their hearts – and he would not forget.  Neither forget nor forgive.   An unthinking breath filled his nose with scents of the sea – salt and damp air … and rotting fish and piles of insect-ridden weed and the constant reminder of the guarded realm the Valar shielded beyond its heartless barrier.

No, not for him the passage west.  Not for him to live on sufferance under the patronage of those whose kin had twisted and torn the world that was his.  East.  He would go east.  Seek out trees ignorant of the torment of their drowning cousins – trees that sheltered innocent elves, living as they had since the days of their awakening, far from the interference of the unthinking Ainur.   Beyond the mountains he would find a place – far from this haunted sea.  A place where he could do some good.

‘You cannot turn it back.’ 

The young voice held more than the melodious tones of the elves – it was touched with a vigour that had something of the Secondborn to it.   The elf looked at the youngster with disapprobation.   Could he not tell that his presence was unwanted?  Yet the elf could not dismiss the boy – who was, after all, the closest his king had to an heir.

‘Turn what back?’ he asked repressively.

The boy shrugged.  ‘Time,’ he said.  ‘It moves like the tide and will not halt its pace merely because we do not wish to change.’  He smiled – a flash of brightness that stirred memories of a dancing maiden, all light and shadow, in a grove now drowned beneath the indifferent waters. 

The elf blinked.  He could not – would not – like the boy, in whom flowed, after all, the blood of the Kinslayers as much as that of Elu: blood thinned out and weakened with that of men to make him and his brother true mongrels, but at times he could not help but feel a tug of recognition …  He frowned.  But was he right to reject the boy so carelessly?  Was Dior not his grandsire, after all?  Dior Eluchil – Elu’s heir – who had died defending his grandsire’s realm?  This boy – his brother – they were not to blame for the disasters of the last ennin.  Victims they were, as much as their uncles, children abandoned to die in wake of their parents’ slaughter. 

‘Is that why you chose as you did?’ he asked.

The onshore breeze stirred dark hair like night-shadowed silk and blew it across the young face as the half-elf bent to pick up a flat stone.  The boy flicked it neatly to skip half a dozen times along Anor’s iron-red path before it was swallowed by the molten slick.  ‘I am not altogether sure,’ he said honestly.  ‘I just knew, as soon as the words were spoken, that it was my fate.  It was a call that rang in my heart – one I could not reject.  Not I,’ he added softly, ‘any more than Lúthien could turn away from Beren – or Idril from Tuor.’ 

The boy’s eyes showed too much understanding for one so young.  Too many losses, too many battles, too much pain.  But with all that, a readiness to take up a burden that would daunt those many times his age.  ‘What of your brother?’ the elf asked.

‘He will be all right,’ the youngster said, as if reassuring himself.  ‘He will.  He will find out the fate that is meant for him … in time.’  He glanced swiftly at the impassive face of the Sinda.  ‘And, in the meantime …’

‘He has forgiven you?’ The elf raised a fair eyebrow.

‘Not entirely,’ he admitted, ‘but he is burying his dread for fear of losing what time we have left.’  He paused as the cry of a white gull wailed on the wind.  ‘He will remain with Gil-galad,’ he said, ‘and build a place for himself.’

‘He would doubtless rather have his brother.’

‘But we cannot have what we want, can we, Oropher?  We are left to make the most of what we have.’

Why was it left for a child to present him with a lesson in acceptance, the elf thought resentfully?  A half-elf, younger than his own son, one who faced mortality with a rag-tag band of over-hairy, short-lived Secondborn as his people, to tell an elf who had grown to maturity before ever the Exiles left Aman how he should face this … this broken world?  And yet …

‘Do you trust their word?’ he asked.  ‘This … this land with which they will gift you – will it be what they say, or another deception?’

Melian’s eyes, deep and dark and possessed of unfathomable wisdom, considered him from a young face that was more Noldor than Sindar.  ‘It will be as they say,’ Elros told him.  ‘Neither more nor less.  What we do with it … that is another matter.’ 

Oropher snorted. 

‘The Valar are not faultless.’ Elros smiled slightly and shook his head.  ‘They do not understand us, not really – they find us interesting, and know that Arda would run more smoothly if we would all only do exactly as they say, but they are … like eagles trying to raise squirrel kits.  Every now and then they turn around and realise that we have not learned to fly – and are quite bemused by our inadequacy.’

‘Yet you would put yourself – and your people – in their hands?’

‘We are in their hands whether we accept it or not.’

‘Is this what those Kinslayers taught you?’  Oropher’s voice soured as if he had bitten into an unripe crab apple.  ‘That no matter what we do, the Valar will follow their own rules and favour their own?’

‘More that the cost of our actions is more than many are prepared to pay.’  The young half-elf gazed along the bloody path across the sullen sea.  ‘But pay we must.’  He glanced at the fair-haired elf.  ‘We are given the right to choose – but what we make of that …’  He shrugged and lapsed into silence.

Oropher sighed.  ‘We are at one of those turning points,’ he said moodily.  ‘Choices made now will have long shadows.’

‘You will follow your heart across the mountains in search of the forest home that calls to you?’ 

The elf watched the waves eating at the shore – gently but with a relentless persistence that gave the land little chance of withstanding it for any length of time.  ‘I am not sure.’  He hunched his shoulders.  ‘My wife says that I want to run away – that I think I am declaring my independence, but that really I am refusing to confront the actuality of a new age.’

The young half-elf laughed.  ‘You will listen to her?’

‘If I know what is good for me!’  Oropher grinned wryly.  ‘Although I think she is no keener to remain at Gil-galad’s court than I am.’

‘I think you should go,’ Elros told him.  ‘This is not the place for you.’  He looked out across the darkening water.  ‘And the sea does not sing in your blood.  Not yet.’

‘And never will, I hope!’ 

The growing darkness softened the Noldor angles of the youngster’s face and concealed the hints of Edain blood flowing in his veins, instead strengthening the look of Elu in his profile and the echo of Lúthien in his voice.  He made no demands, this boy – not even asking for the respect due to one of Elu’s line, knowing that his mixed ancestry and upbringing set him and his brother apart … but he was the closest Oropher had to a king, whether he understood it or not.

‘Never is a long time.’ Elros shrugged.  ‘And if my experience has taught me anything, it is to avoid rash oaths and irrevocable undertakings.’

‘Then it would seem that you are following the wrong path, Elwing’s son.  You have accepted mortality and division from all your kin.’

Elros shook his head.  ‘A temporary parting, Oropher.  One that will last as long as Arda – but ultimately we will be reunited.’

The elf gave him a sceptical glance.  If the boy was counting on a hint from the Valar of eventual reconciliation, he was, most likely, in for disappointment – but he was not going to be the one to tell him so.   

The youngster was staring across the water, almost quivering with anticipation, as if he could hardly wait to begin his journey.  Oropher followed his gaze curiously, only realising as he caught sight of the silver glow on the horizon that this ritual had nothing to do with Elros’s future and everything to do with his past.  He pressed his lips together to hold back the surge of pity that quite unexpectedly stirred in him.  The closest that Elwing’s children could get to their family was to watch Gil-Estel as it soared above them – knowing nothing of Eärendil but that he was a hero, who had besought the Valar’s aid and drawn them from their self-imposed isolation to defeat their fallen brother.    Robbed of parents, grandparents, torn from their kin, stripped of their home, now the brothers were even to lose each other and be set upon different paths in pursuit of a destiny so distant they could not begin to imagine it.   

A rush of thankfulness for his wife, for his son washed over the Sinda.  At least they were together – and they could build again.

The brightness of the star shimmered in Elros’s face, turning his eyes to mithril and glinting in his hair.  He stilled as he watched the vessel’s slow progress.  ‘I wish I remembered him,’ he murmured.  ‘At least I can see my mother’s face – and I know that she loved us.’

‘You will need a family of your own if you are to found a dynasty.’ There was little Oropher could say to salve the youngster’s wounds.  Better, perhaps, for him to look forward.  He suppressed a wry grin.  He was a fine one to talk – determined as he was, his wife told him roundly, to wallow in resentment for a past he could not let go.  Maybe he, too, should start to look beyond this ruined shore and seek out a new life.

The slight smile that hovered on the half-elf’s lips suggested that he recognised the emptiness of Oropher’s comfort, but that he would accept it in the spirit it was meant.  ‘And Eärendil will watch over us all – until we all come home.’

A wisp of shimmering haze twisted over the silver-tipped waves, rolling as if dancing to the rhythm of the rocking water, taking on the Silmaril-sheen of Gil-Estel.  Oropher frowned as another veil of pearly mist joined it – and then another and another, rising up from the water to stretch towards the distant star.

‘Watch.’ Elros stretched out a steady hand towards the elf.  He spoke calmly, clearly undisturbed by the phenomenon.

‘What is it?’

‘You are not fond of the sea, are you?’ the young half-elf said.  ‘It is not something you tend to see when surrounded by trees, but on the open ocean …’

‘That is not an answer.’

‘Sailors say they are the spirits of the dead – those whom Lord Ulmo has gathered to his breast.  That on nights when Ithil is dark and only Gil-Estel brightens the sky, they come to the surface to dance and entice the unwary to their doom.’

Oropher glared at him.

‘But it is, in truth, nothing of the sort.’  Elros grinned.  ‘I have no idea what causes it.  My brother suspects it is an effect of rotting vegetation.  He lacks romance, I find.  But, whatever causes it, it is beautiful and I like to watch it.’

‘I shall be glad to leave the sea behind.’

‘In some ways, I will not miss these shores,’ Elros agreed.  ‘Although …’ He stopped and looked down.

‘The Falathrim have ships – and the urge to sail them.  You will not be abandoned by those who love you.’

‘Perhaps not.’

‘You will do well, son of Elu’s house.  You were born to rule.’

Elros inclined his head slowly.  ‘I hope so,’ he said.

‘And Elrond … He, too, is of Elu’s kin.’

‘Look after him for me,’ Elros demanded fiercely.

Gil-Estel followed its path slowly across the sky, casting dark shadows to contrast with the silver wave crests. ‘I will come at his call,’ Oropher conceded reluctantly.

Elros smiled.  ‘He will need you,’ he said simply.  ‘One way or another.  I know that.’   

Oddly, the undertaking felt right.  Despite his reluctance to show any weakness before the remnants of the Exiles and the intruders from Aman, it felt right to offer support to the last scions of his king’s house.  Whether or not those driven to the edge by his obstinacy – now or in some distant future – would agree with him, was a different matter – but he was never one to turn away from conflict.  It was, often, the only thing that made him feel sure of himself.

The light of the Silmaril caressed the half-elf, lingering like a blessing on his pale face and leaving fading sparks in his hair.  Oropher watched him, torn between pity and pride for this youngster, who had the weight of so much expectation and regret to bear him down, yet who endured it so well.   His choice was harder than his brother’s, for all it sounded so glorious.  He would sail alone into the unknown, with none but strangers to support him, leaving behind him all he knew, and face a fate that elves could not comprehend. 

‘It feels … odd – to be here at the end of things,’ Elros remarked. ‘Waiting to see how the tide will turn.’

‘It will leave sludge behind it,’ Oropher said dryly, ‘and we will be left to sort through it and dispose of the waste.’  He looked at the hungry waters.  ‘But all we can do is work in hope – and prepare for the worst.’

‘Hope.’  The youngster turned to watch the star.  ‘I suppose so.  All it needs is one point of light to brighten the darkness.’

‘A small light to keep burning in dark places.’  Oropher followed his gaze.  ‘Is it enough?’

Elros smiled.  ‘A light imperishable. It is enough.’     



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