4. Fears Confirmed
Their endeavors in the forest Nimbrethil had gone without mishap. With the calculated amount of felled timber in tow, their journey home was slow and arduous as expected. Still, with their schedule kept and spirits high, it was labor gladly done.
An Orc-corpse sprawled across their path was the first indication of strife nearby, mere miles from the Havens' outskirts. Finding an Elven arrow in its back, they determined it had died of blood loss, and its tracks led away from the coast. Soon another body was discovered, then another – each seemingly died whilst fleeing for the woods.
When it became apparent that the creatures had fled the Havens, Earendil ordered the timber be abandoned. Advancing with all haste, they hoped to come in time to the defense of their home and loved ones.
Coming upon the town, they found it strangely quiet, the most obvious sign of battle an ominous tendril of black smoke rising in the distance. Earendil bade his company to go as they would to their families, dispatching Cirdan to find the chancellors.
Along his own way Earendil passed few Elves, from them gleaning little of what had transpired, save that orcs had attacked. The townsfolk were shaken, but resolute; like leaves unavoidably fluttered by the wind, but trees utterly unmovable all the same, they had endured. He tried to comfort them with reassuring words and by commending their courage, without rushing his speech. Nor did he hush them when they repeated or stuttered, or hurry his steps when he continued on his way.
His people needed a stalwart Lord, not one more rattled husband and father afraid for his personal affairs. Earendil assumed that role of lordship, and in every appearance fatherhood and husbandry stood behind that Lord. Not until the very last did he run with a speed the wind would envy, when but yards from his home he heard the shrilling cry of his son shatter the quiet.
Two Elves knelt within the foyer, sweeping glass from the floor. A small pedestal was overturned, the vase ruined which once sat on top. Earendil cared not for the irreplaceable treasure that had belonged to his mother. "Where is Elwing?" he demanded. "Where are my sons?"
One Elf stammered in surprise, pointing upstairs; his mate kneeling beside him said, "In their nursery, my Lord."
He ran past, crushing glass beneath his feet, and up the stairs. "Elwing, thank the Valar!" In relief he slumped against the doorframe. Elwing sat in a chair by the bed with Elros in her arms. The child clutched to her fiercely, face red and contorted from crying. Elrond knelt on the floor by his mother’s feet, arm reached upwards so as to stroke his brother's feet in condolence.
Once Earendil appeared, Elrond sprang up and spurred to him. "Father!" he squealed, instantly as ecstatic as a babe could be.
Earendil swept his son into his arms, embracing him firmly as he dared, speechles with relief. His family was safe; all in this room and with him now – safe! "I'm here," he was able to say, then in awe as realization struck, "Elrond... you ran!"
Elwing's expression was of delighted surprise, both at her husband's return, and his discovering Elrond's newly honed ability. But her eyes were hardened as Earendil had seldom seen, not yet at ease from the danger that had come so suddenly, and the bitter knowledge of what a tragedy could have befallen.
"They both have been, since you last left," she said. Elros turned his face from burrowing in his mother's hair. Though most welcome, the sight of his father sent him into another fit. Wailing anew he reached for his father, calling his name unintelligibly through sobs. Earendil hurried to take him and sat on the bed.
"Ai, Elros, Elros! This is no good for you, crying so... easy there, I'm here now, easy." In his efforts to console Elros, Earendil did not see Elrond reach behind, and pluck a fish-shaped pillow from the disheveled blankets. But when Elros was given his favorite toy, his bawling ceased, and looking up at his father's face -faithful fish tight in hand- he gradually came back to himself.
Elros calmed even further when his mother came to sit beside him, then having every one of his dearests near, including his beloved mackerel.
Before speaking, Earendil took a few breaths. "What happened to cause him such grief? Was there fighting near?"
"Nay, nowhere near here," Elwing assured him. "He woke amid his nap, and saw from the window the pyre far out at sea. Alas, for had I returned but a moment sooner I might have prevented it." Elrond pointed towards the bay window, where his brother had stood when he first shrieked in horror.
Earendil remembered the smoke visible from afar -and guessed by the absence of Orc-corpses near town what its use was- but still did not understand Elros' distress.
Sensing his confusion, Elwing explained, "He thought it was your ship that burned. All he knows of ships is that his father comes and goes upon them; it is not so difficult to guess his thinking when he beheld a craft of flames floundering upon the waves."
Earendil shuddered, and held his sons closer. "That is a harsh guilt for me to bear, when it was not by my doing that he beheld the spectacle."
"How far should we have drug those carcasses away from here, lest we breathe the putrid fumes from their burning on land?" Earendil said nothing to his wife's gentle rebuke, listening in silence to the logic she had no doubt concluded after due consideration. "Or should we have buried them in the earth, so we could gaze upon the mounds of our enemies' deathbeds, and in Ages hereafter Elves could walk unknowingly with that foul rot underfoot?"
"No." Earendil stood up, holding only Elros after Elrond had crawled into his mother's lap. "I don't know."
Behind him Elwing sighed, and forced a smile for the sake of her now frowning son. "It was by my decree that the raft was built and the pyre sent out to burn. The deed was swift to completion, and swift also shall be those vile creatures' deliverance to Ulmo's keeping in the deep. The Sea is a good and final place to be rid of something for ever. My thoughts were shared by our chancellors in all of these matters."
"Ai, Cirdan!" Earendil's head dropped along with his voice, "Is it woven in my fate that I must ever be pulled in two?" At length he straightened, and turned. "I sent him to gather the chancellors. I... I must to go. I have to go out and meet them. Likely they've been waiting for me already."
Elwing went silent as the events of the day and her own part in them repeated in her mind. Everything had happened without Earendil here to guide them. Elwing did not see his return, however timely and welcome, as near so vital to he Havens’ perseverance as he perceived; and she was of a mood to let it be known.
"Or perhaps this council is unneeded? I could surely recount what has occurred this day, for I have indeed been here, just as all the others."
Now Earendil looked doubtful. "Then you should come, and speak your piece as well. But I would still hear from the governing circle as a whole, before I address the townsfolk, and my crew."
Elwing did not argue, and rising together they went out.
The conference chamber was an annex of the library, separated by tall doors that were rarely closed. Today the window curtains were drawn apart, allowing bold rays of sunlight to filter into the room, warming its occupants. At the circular table sat those appointed ruling authority over the town’s vital affairs. Cirdan sat among them in honour of his long wisdom, and his advice was ever gratefully received. Many remembered well their dealings with the Shipwright in the days of affiliation between the Falas under Cirdan's rule and Doriath during Thingol's reign.
The day's events were relayed to Earendil in full, each chancellor describing those happenings in which they had played significant roles. Grievously Earendil learned that one Elf had been slain in the hour before dawn, when the orcs first came upon the town, but few had suffered injuries by the fight's end. Damage to the town's structures was also minor, and little of anything that had been plundered was yet unaccounted for.
The meeting went on, and the mood remained somber – though the presence of Earendil's young sons was a welcome distraction to all. Their innocent smiles were unhindered by the memory of bloodshed or loss, their bright faces unmarred by warfare or pain. The battle could have been tremendously worse, and the attack alone was a frightening reminder of the town's potential vulnerability – but the children were a reminder as well, of all that is worth fighting for.
Faerior's youngest and only living son, Mallith, was Captain of the Havens' Guard, and lastly he was summoned to speak of the happenings at the front lines of battle. He recounted the onslaught scornfully, as one brave if bitter. Pondering for a moment, Earendil paid little heed to the round of commentary following Mallith's colorful tale. The room quieted once more. "You mentioned an eventual retreat on their behalf."
"Aye, my Lord. Before first light, the orcs had feigned to fall back. We perceived it was a ploy to deceive us into lowering our guard, so those remaining orcs could make a second and final assault before their advantage of darkness was lost. During this lull I attended a short tryst with the chancellors at your home. It was decided that when the enemy fled at the last, the Guard would pursue them and ensure none lived who had discovered this Haven.
"Verily even as I returned to my post the orcs came forth again, as pitiable an attempt as the first. The sun soon began to smile upon us, and the orcs cowered under the light and our wrath combined. Then they wavered, perhaps seeing at last as little hope for victory as for retreat, yet still they did not flee or surrender."
Mallith stood, and bowed to those assembled. "And now the tale would be best finished by the Lady Elwing, for I have already told of my part in the orc-hunt which followed after. I beg your pardon, my Lords, but my duty requires me elsewhere for the nonce."
None had so much as flinched in surprise or displeasure, save for Earendil. Eventually he said, "Of course, Mallith. We thank you for your attendance here, and your valiant service." Mallith inclined his head respectfully to his father in particular before taking his leave.
All eyes turned to Earendil, expectant but patient. The Mariner glanced at his wife, waiting to be named, then at those others seated, their expressions becoming curious at his prolonged silence. Finally he looked to Cirdan, who had remained uncharacteristically subdued for the duration of the meeting. Elrond had fallen asleep in his arms early on, and still slept there with his head rested on the Shipwright's shoulder, snoozing peacefully.
With all the subtlety of breaking glass, Elros piped, "Nana’s turn!"
Some chuckled at the child's cheerfully tactless announcement. "Elwing," Earendil began, "please recount for us your next part in this." Cirdan alone detected the note of astonishment, and shared Earendil's surprise. That Elwing indeed had actively participated -save for attending the tryst in Earendil’s absence- was beyond his ability to fathom.
Elwing bowed her head in acknowledgement. "My part was simple enough, as those here know. After the conference was ended I also went out to greet the sun's coming and behold our enemies' flight." Heads were nodding, several expressions grimly satisfied, those present remembering the orcs fleeing in a last desperate effort to survive.
Earendil's jaw had never been clenched so tight. "You went out?"
"Aye," Elwing nodded sharply. "And when those beasts did not run fast enough under the threat of sunlight alone, I held the Silmaril aloft in their wake. By the holy light they were no less than agonized, and fled in a madness unsurpassed."
Many voiced their approval of this tactic, yet Earendil shivered with the dread of sudden foreboding. Cirdan sat a few inches taller, so straight went his spine in alarm. Nevertheless the mood of the chancellors was rather that the story had then been told in full, and some even gathered themselves to stand and stretch, while others turned to one another and chattered amongst themselves of menial things.
Rising to his feet with such speed and force as to send his chair noisily skidding backwards, Earendil sent an icy glare across the room, and no one save Cirdan and his sons were spared from the cold embrace of that look. After a startled gasp from Elrond, awakened by the chair's racket, again the room fell quiet.
Without mentioning the demonstration of disrespect, Earendil said to all, "I have heard enough of this day's events." Those already standing were mortified, those still seated elated to have been slower to rise by chance. Earendil continued, "If the head of the order would be good enough to go out now and make the call for a town assembly, I would address my people before nightfall."
Faerior stood. "I will gladly arrange it, my Lord, by your leave."
Earendil waved him away, coolly dismissive as he never was by nature. "The rest of you may retire forthwith if your attention is as spent as it seems to me now," he checked everyone with a keen glance, and none dared challenge him, "but otherwise, the courtyard before my home is where I expect the gathering to amass ere dark." He waved his hand again, partially to shake it out of a fist. "Thank you; dismissed."
The chancellors filtered out of the chamber in a more than less hasty manner, and Earendil with his family soon followed.
None were gathered before the house, but looking out from the porch, activity could be seen amid the town as folks made ready to set out from their homes or places of business. Earendil watched empty space as he waited, the implications of the council heavy on his mind. Cirdan had not hesitated to sit on a bench, and might have napped if Elrond was less insistent about hearing a tale of Osse and the Sea. Elwing was carrying a sleeping Elros, who had never finished his midday nap, and not rested during the entire council.
Eventually Faerior could be seen, a large cluster of Elves following behind. Earendil woke from an unintentional sleep. Elwing had seated herself, and she gazed gloomily at the floor, thinking thoughts Earendil could not sense. Cirdan was now asleep, and sitting beside him Elrond picked at a knot -tied by someone with strong hands- between one of his shoelaces and the Shipwright’s belt.
"They come," Earendil said. Blinking to wakefulness, Cirdan undid the fisherman's knot with an expert tug. Elrond would not soon forget the craftiness of the bearded Shipwright, and nor would he keep him awake again past his bedtime, for doing so could mean another extended period of sitting still with a crippling knot in one's shoelace. At her husband’s request, Elwing helped Elrond off the bench, and led him inside, her disappointment kept concealed.
Cirdan came beside Earendil, watching the growing procession approach. "That was a swift assembly," he commented.
"Eager to hear me out and begone, I wager, to return to their homes and families. And likely none too pleased to be removed from their repairs or suppers, either."
"Earendil," Cirdan laid a hand on his shoulder, speaking quickly as the crowd neared. "Much has happened recently, as you well know, and I perceive that... well, things are changing." He lowered his voice to keep any from overhearing. "Call it foresight or foreboding or whatever you will. All the same, ill feelings have been brooding within me, and I wish to speak with you of them in private – soon."
Earendil could read the gravity on his friend's face like a letter bearing bad tidings. "Aye," he said, the way one might agree to have an arrow pulled from a wound. Unhappy would be the exchange, but it was inevitable.
Faerior was first to arrive in speaking distance; bowing low he gave profuse greetings.
"Hail, Faerior, and greetings to all." Looking skyward, Earendil judged the amount of time until sundown, then spoke loud enough for all to hear, "Thirty minutes we wait for others to join us, if they will, and then I shall have my say. Thereafter you all may fly back to your lovely wives to tell them more of your tireless labors in Nimbrethil, or your fearless slaying of orcs today." Some clapped or chuckled, but none were truly in high spirits. Earendil's shipmates in particular did not meet their Lord's eyes as willingly as usual.
Few were left unaccounted for when all attendees were assembled. The courtyard before Earendil's home was densely occupied, and many more stood along the outskirts. Faces were a variety of uncertainty or confidence, and every emotion in between; but all gave full attention to their Lord, listening intently to his heartfelt speech of reassurance and perseverance.
In Earendil's presence they were comforted, courage renewed by his own strength of character, his willful determination and unwavering faith. But there was something new in their mood and demeanor; an element from seemingly nowhere, a difference. Something had changed, in their hearts and minds. Perceiving this, Earendil shivered, and felt the night as bitter and intolerable, and smelt the air as stale and earthy. In his ear, a familiar not-voice whispered to him a curse upon curses, making his mixed Elven and Mannish blood run cold and hot: The world is changing.
He spoke until night had fallen. His people were as heartened as they could be, and weariness burdened him. At the end he offered to hear a last round of questions. Few had spoken aloud during his address, and the same awkward silence laid heavy on the air as Earendil waited for any reply.
Laughing mirthlessly, he called out, "Come now, friends, family! This is strange of us, not to share our thoughts, be they happy or unfortunate." Many were abashed, and looked away. "Out with it then – you there!" Earendil pointed to one maiden in particular, no slight blush coloring her cheeks at being singled out. "You, my Lady, must carry the darkest secrets of all, for it is ever the fairest ones who dabble in mischief!" She giggled, and would not make false claims regarding her innocence. "And besides, I know your father," Earendil added, and there was a short uproar of laughter, and the Harbormaster hopelessly defended his name, soiled with due cause during his long life.
When the crowd had sobered they became thoughtful, shifting uneasily. Earendil gave no indication that he would dismiss anyone soon. Finally an Elf stepped forward, a path splitting for him more readily than he would have preferred, allowing Earendil to distinguish him from the rest. He was a leatherworker by trade, only one to speak out when a matter touched him deeply. Yet his words were seldom inaccurate, when he spoke for all.
"When you are here, my Lord, all is truly well, just as it is now. Even tonight in the aftermath of dire happenings, we stand united before you, and we relish your conviction. But during your absences, it becomes a trying task to keep heart. For months on end we know not of your endeavors, if you will succeed, or return at all. The shadow creeps ever closer here, the earth shudders beneath our very feet, and mayhap it is not so at Sea. This we must face alone, and it is difficult. You encourage and empower us, Lord, but how much of your strength may we borrow and spend, until we are all of us left exhausted and helpless? And if ever you should not come back, would we be any less lost without you?"
Earendil nodded, sad with understanding. "I will not say that I myself have never worried in this way. But, my friends, listen to me! My journeys are long and unsure, often fruitless, always wrought with difficulty and danger. Yet it is you all here, free and hale and thriving, the Haven we have built together, and the future I see reflected in our children's eyes, that brings me strength even through doubt and fear."
Downcast faces were uplifted, and a passing cloud did not tarry over the moon. "And though I said that this Haven brings me hope, think not that it must be your only home, or that you may not leave and return here, as I do. You need not feel yourselves beached at the feet of the swelling shadow, watching warily landward for what evil might next come to test your mettle, even as your hearts are turned towards the West, over the Sea."
"We have no desire to leave, my Lord!" called one, and many voiced their agreement.
"Nor do I!" Earendil laughed. "Yet the shadow grows, as you say, and these lands we love are more perilous than ever. Sirion is here with or without us, and here it will remain, and for ever after in our hearts even if the land is marred. But you are not alone of exiles and refugees in Middle-earth," here Earendil glanced quickly to Cirdan, and the Shipwright nodded his consent.
"The island Balar as well is a similar place to these Havens, and it would seem familiar to you, I think. It may remain untouched for a time, even if Sirion is threatened again, or overtaken." Faces were unhappy at the implications of leaving their home. "My heart is confused lately, friends, for I feel that my journeys are drawing to an end, but also that they shall be endless all the same." He shook his head, "No, I have no better sense to make of that, so make of it what you will.
"I cannot say and I dare not guess how long it might be until I return bearing final tidings from the West, good or bad. But after this day, it seems to me a good idea that we consider joining ourselves to Gil-galad and Cirdan’s people on Balar, for it may be a safer place to wait. I must think closely on this, and we will speak of it more together, soon."
He smiled again, full and bright, and it seemed that no trouble could dim such joy. "But take heart! For now we are safe, and victorious at that! And at the last I say unto you this: my end will not be yours, whenever it comes; and this I do vow. If I should be lost, another way shall be found, and another will be revealed to discover it, for such is the order of these things which are not ours to control.
"Also I swear that I will not forsake the path I tread for your sake, my kindreds, and for love of my birthland. Only by death or decree of the Valar shall I be parted from my purpose, and unhappily at that! This is my promise to every one of you. Give to me your faith, all that you can spare, and you may have my strength, all that I possess – alone of anything I need only a good wind to fill my sail, and hope will prevail, both yours and mine!"
A silence befell, stillness like before the dawn. The face of Earendil was alight by the stars and framed with golden hair; a halo of sunlight in the evening. He appeared suddenly to all who looked upon him as a vision of something more: a symbol of hope. They had always seen it before, if recently it seemed somewhat forgotten, as if their memories had dimmed, or been clouded. Surely Earendil the Bright had not faded from their hearts; for what could surpass him, son of Idril and Tuor, scion of the two kindreds, and beloved by all?
"Yes, take heart," said Elwing from behind, and Earendil turned to stare unwittingly into a blinding light. A hushed murmur swept through the courtyard below, and awed eyes gazed entranced up at Elwing, bearing the Silmaril around her neck. "Hear mine as a voice of understanding, for I live and toil among you. I sow scarce seeds into this decaying earth, walk wearily though uncertain days, and I inhale the smoke of destruction blown upon us from the north. Yet my faith remains unsullied, and it lies secure in the purpose of my husband and Lord: to deliver us from our woe, and avail us in the face of evil unnamed."
The crowd was quiet as Elwing came to stand beside Earendil. "Give hope where it is due, and verily Earendil deserves all manner of succor for his efforts on our behalf. But speak not of fleeing this Haven, nor of waiting for long days in despair and fear. What need have we for that?" Laughing she held aloft the Silmaril.
"Here is the hope we keep, while our Lord is away, and it is all that we need. All else sails along with him," she looked at Earendil with a smile, something he no longer wore. "Was it not this very day that by the Silmaril's grace we were protected from harm? Is it not by the will of this sacred jewel that we are blessed with bountiful harvests? And who others born in Arda have the light of the Two Trees mirrored in their eyes, except for our own children, who bask in the Silmaril's light? Rejoice, one and all! For we are twice blessed: with Earendil who sails ever yonder seeking the Valar's mercy; and by the Silmaril itself, bright in spite of gloom, unmarred in spite of doom. Behold! 'Tis not us who the Valar might pity, but those beyond the reach of our good fortune."
"All the more reason to consider Earendil's words," Cirdan spoke at last, though he had moved long ago to the side of the porch. "To gather us together in these darkening times seems wise, and the stronghold of Balar is fortified in many ways that this place cannot be." The eyes upon him were unfavorable – it was clear to Cirdan that Elwing's speech had the crowd's favor, and none wished to revisit Earendil's last proposal of change.
"But that is a discussion for another time, and one I shall have little part in. You are welcome on Balar, people of the Havens, and I speak for the King as well, for he and I have agreed previously on this."
"We thank you, and Gil-galad," Earendil said. "It will be given careful thought."
"And the offer remains open," Cirdan smiled, "very much unlike my eyes. By your leave, I wish to retire for this night... and possibly for part of the coming morning as well."
Earendil sighed, relieved that someone finally spoke of quitting this long and tiring day. "Indeed, and I follow in your wisdom, as ever." He turned to the crowd and spoke parting words that Cirdan did not heed. He only waited to hear was that he was excused before slipping inside, and up to his designated guestroom. He was not surprised to find a bath drawn for him that had since gone cold. He undressed quickly, washed even faster, and was asleep a second or two before lying down.
Yet even in sleep Cirdan could not be at ease. Thoughts of the Silmaril shrouded his dreams like a heavy mist. The attack on Sirion had awoken a dormant fear, and left it vibrating unnervingly in his center. If the Havens were assailable, even under the Silmaril's supposed protection, was Balar truly much safer? Cirdan perceived that it was time for him to return. Gil-galad ought to hear news of recent occurrences.
He tossed in his sleep, as he never did, and strove to ignore the whispers in his ear, as it was impossible to do. The world is changing.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.