By Light Beguiled: 6. Messeges of Doom

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6. Messeges of Doom

***

From the horizon he saw her, distant like a dream upon wakening from deep sleep. Stepping up to the bulwark, Earendil focused his eyes to their utmost limit. The ocean spray assaulted him, stinging with salt and occluding his vision; undeterred he leaned out as far as safety would allow, a few inches closer to what was too far for mortal sight. Vague at first she was, as a mirage gleaned beyond frail mist; but now solid and sure she came, speeding forth like a memory recalled to present time by a strong mind.

"Elwing," he breathed, asking despite knowing, hopeful despite dread. In form she was changed; more alike to a bird than Elf-kind, yet more humanoid than fowl – but Earendil recognized the sorrowful gray eyes of his wife.

With desperate speed Elwing approached on wings of long white feathers tipped with moonlit silver. As she swooped to a halt before Vingilot’s helm, Earendil stumbled back, awestruck and perplexed. Shaking himself he thought to wake in his bed from this strange dream; but he did not wake. Then blinking he thought a passing fog would wisp by as normal; but the vision remained.

The slender form hovered motionless in the night air, and for a second or a lifetime, seemed hung in the sky as securely as the stars outlining feather and flesh and hair behind her. Then her pale arms -or feathered wings, as it seemed one was veiled by the other- stretched up in a gesture that might have been gratitude to the Heavens or defiance to the Fates. With a cry fair as a dove and proud as an eagle she swooned into the arms of her beloved.

Though Earendil moved fast, he was unprepared to brace her weight, perhaps still unconvinced that this was no hallucination. The impact brought him down hard upon the wooden deck. Awkwardly he strove to sit upright, maneuvering his wife for her greatest comfort even as he had taken the brunt of the fall upon himself.

"Elwing!" he cried, "Beloved!" But she was still, and made no reply. It appeared to Earendil in the despair of that hour that all life and memory of living had left her, empty and cold in his helpless arms. Bitterly he wept and took her close to his bosom, holding her thus throughout the night. For once the whispering of the surrounding Sea and the sway of the ship underfoot was nothing but an unwanted distraction, and he loved it not.

It was with a silent heart that Earendil closed his eyes to the world, and sat unmoving in the darkness, feeling every one of his mortal years, dragging him closer to an end that he welcomed in his misery.

***

It was dawn when the ship first became visible from the harbor along Balar's coast. Cirdan’s keen eyes marked it long before any other, and he alerted the Harbormaster at once, then stood aside while preparations were initiated, quietly observing. His mind alert but unfocused, stray acuities were allowed to enter his awareness, if they would – and they did.

It was not relief or even the tentative peace of nothingness which struck him, but rather a chill realization. With closed eyes he listened to the Sea that had never lied before, and the salt-scented breeze whispering hints of tomorrow – yet the message remained the same: the world is changing. That shadow of doom glimpsed not long ago had fallen, that tinge of worry laid long idle in his heart had awoken.

When he opened his eyes it was Telainathar that he saw docked, without doubt the fastest ship the Havens' folk possessed. He knew when Faerior raced from the gangplank, face blanched with fear, that he came to deliver a message alone; Cirdan steeled his heart, and went to retrieve it.

Moments later he rode out on the fastest messenger horse available, unable to remember a time when he had felt more urgent. He told himself there was still time, that the eventuality of conflict had been a likelihood long anticipated, that Balar was ever prepared for the worst and would reach the Havens in time... all the while cursing himself for a fool, as the weight of foreboding sank deeper into his heart.

He passed the stables without dismounting there, and the courtyard gates without slowing. The looks received were unappreciative, as his mount threw stones and dirt, and people were forced to make way for the Shipwright who urged his steed through every manner of everyday assemblage and transaction. They did not know that at the harbor Balar's Fleet prepared for war.

Dismounting at stone stairs leading to an arched entryway, Cirdan bounded to the door. Before passing into the King’s hall, he glanced back upon the Elves gathered in the bustling square – already they were beyond the disturbance of moments ago, carrying on as usual. With a sigh he turned inside, mustering the whole of his resolve as he made ready in heart and mind to cause the one thing Elves were innately loath to create: change.

Gil-galad was found in his conference chamber, sitting with three others whom Cirdan ignored as he strode forth, groping with numb fingers for the papers under his tunic.

"You look as though Balar were sinking," said Gil-galad without jest. He had begun to rise until Cirdan gestured he remain.

"It is well that you are seated." He dropped a note on the desk, followed by another of different parchment. "That one on top is from the Lady Elwing; you had best read it first." Gil-galad nodded and read quickly, expression growing grim as he did. Before he finished, the three others made as if to leave, but Cirdan halted them. "Stay. Your King may have need of messengers."

By then Gil-galad was through. "When did it arrive?"

"This morn; I rode from the harbor forthwith. Elwing’s courier shall remain until he has your reply to return home with."

"Then he will leave before nightfall." He gestured to the second note. "This other is the last letter sent by Maedhros then, the one Elwing mentioned?"

"The same."

He took up Maedhros’ missive, reluctantly as one would revert to handling rough wool in place of fine silk. With cold eyes he read, carefully, assimilating the implication of each nuance even as he loathed every word. "This is more forewarning than I had expected," he did not hear himself say.

And yea, those unfortunate others had all fallen before the cruelty of evil unleashed, notice or no: the Falas, Nargothrond, Doriath, Gondolin. But never more, so swore Gil-galad. "This courtesy will be Maedhros’ last mistake." With a flick of his wrist he discarded the parchment. "And the audacity! Writing of desired friendship beside demands for the Silmaril, as if one justifies the other. Such poorly disguised duplicity – I might have expected more artfulness from Maedhros. And more caution! Arrogant fool has he become, to think that Balar would do nothing."

Cirdan did not speak, pacing the room whilst Gil-galad dispatched the messengers to assemble a council. That done he came to Cirdan's side. "They will not retreat," said the Shipwright, remembering his and Earendil's failed attempt to convince them otherwise.

"That we have known, and prepared for. But retreat would merely delay this day; Maedhros would hunt the Silmaril even unto the shores of Balar, if it resided here." Gil-galad said quieter, "To relinquish the jewel and finish this at long last seems wise to me, but I understand Elwing and her people are decided against that."

"That also we have known," was Cirdan's somber reply. "Earendil and I could not persuade them to leave with it – I believe naught could convince them to abide without it."

"Then I see only one way to reach an end." Unspoken was that end, for Gil-galad would not name the sons of Feanor in death. "But I wonder what is Earendil’s mind of this. Do you know of his whereabouts, when he will return?"

"Alas that I do not!" Cirdan spoke with sadness uncommon to him, "It was a year ago when I saw him last, in northern Belegaer, and that meeting was by pure chance. He had traveled far, seen much—" he faltered as though stricken, but straightened quickly.

"And he had further yet to go. I do not expect to meet him again soon. But there are things I promised him, Gil-galad, so I say unto you now: we have discussed this before, you and I, and passing the same issues and doubts, ever have we arrived at the same agreements. But that was during talks of possibilities, of days that seemed far off and vague, and now is the time of action, for the future is upon us. No longer may we speak of valiant deeds under ideal circumstances. Today we must decide, and live for ever with that decision." He grasped Gil-galad’s shoulders, seeing the familiar face of a friend, but searching for the support of the High King. "What say you now, my Lord King?"

"Just as I have said before; that the Havens of Sirion are under our protection. For better or worse my heart is unchanged in this." Gil-galad grinned with little mirth. "Also I say that if Maedhros thinks to easily usurp the survivors of Doriath and Gondolin combined, he may be unpleasantly surprised to find himself facing the survivors of the Falas as well, along with all here who hail from the houses of my forefathers."

Cirdan smiled in relief, but only briefly. "I do not love war, Gil-galad, but hearing this from you makes me glad. Had we been able to hasten to Dior’s aid at Doriath, this madness might have been ended already. Who is to say? But I have hope Maedhros will think better of his strategy, once he realizes such an alliance is prepared to oppose him."

"Perhaps he will not attack at all, but come only to fall upon his knees before us?" Gil-galad shook his head. "Have hope that we will persevere, my friend – but give you credit only where it is due."

The Shipwright frowned. "Maedhros may be desperate, but I believe all sense has not left him. He will not dare challenge in battle the crown that could have been his, and forget not his love for your father." Seeing Gil-galad’s eyes darken at that, he added, "Perhaps I expect much of Maedhros, but mayhap I know him better than you." Cirdan said nothing of Gil-galad’s comparative youth, or his relative inexperience in such matters – but it was on his mind, and he was not the only one.

"Many of those who died upon his sword no doubt thought better of him." He gestured to the papers on the table, and his voice grew thick as he said, "My father would not stand for this, friendship or no – and neither shall I."

That hour the council was held among the wisest of Balar, the King's decision to go at once to the Havens’ defense fervently unanimous. That afternoon all necessary measures were initiated, and by the next morn Balar’s Fleet would be mobilized.

Faerior departed ere the night, bearing the High King’s promise to hasten aid with a relieved heart. Those working within sight of the shore that evening watched swift Telainathar as its sails disappeared beyond the horizon, and they smiled to know what tidings of hope it bore for their distant kinsfolk.

None imagined then that it was already too late.

***

It was a cold night made frigid by the fingers of hopelessness that caressed Earendil as he slept, somewhere between a nightmare and reality, neither far from the other. Morning came, none of its splendor recognized by the Mariner who dreaded in his waking what the daylight might make clearer. The lifeless form of his fair wife? The emptiness of his arms and the haunting memory of a hallucination so real? He knew not, and almost he wished never to learn what ignorance concealed.

But wakefulness found him, and there was naught to do but surrender to whatever fate the day would bring. Stiff and unhappy, Earendil opened his eyes… to blackness. Afraid in his grogginess of what manner of weave covered his face, he gasped out with a start. Could he breathe? Coughing he tried to sit up, only to find a weight on his arm. The other was free; instinctively he reached up to pull at the strange net of shadow. Hair? Blinking at the silky strands, he shifted and beheld with marveling eyes Elwing in her own form, lying beside him in undisturbed sleep.

Shaking in his relief, Earendil chanced to pull her closer, disturbing a keen soreness in his back that at once was decidedly insignificant. "Elwing, Elwing," he chanted with bated breath, brought even to tears for his joy. If he feared her dead and yet she lived, then likewise his other fears must be misplaced. The dreams he gleaned of bloodied sand and broken swords must also be false. And indeed they must be, for the mere thought was nearly too much to bear. It must be untrue, lest he break apart as a delicate cloud before a mighty wind, and dissolve into forgetfulness. Lest his hope fail him utterly.

But what then had urged Elwing to depart? Perhaps not a catastrophe, Earendil told himself. Perhaps the Valar had taken notice of Middle-earth’s woes, and Elwing was sent on the wings of a great bird to bring him the tidings. But why then were there dried tears on her pale face? Earendil sighed, closed his eyes, and rested his temple against Elwing’s, trying not to think of dreadful things. He was humming a wordless melody and praying for a stronger wind when he felt a stir beside him, then heard a yawn.

Elwing opened her eyes to the loveliest sight imaginable: that of her husband, cradling her as if she alone was all that mattered, his bright eyes filled with hopefulness. "Earendil," she breathed. At first her heart soared, and she thought herself waking from a terrible dream. But then the ship swayed, and her heart broke anew. There was no dream, save for the nightmare that living day had become. Earendil held her silently as she wept, and it was many moments until she could bear to face him again. Her eyes were filled with guilt and tears when she looked up at last.

"Forgive me," she said, sobbing. "Like rain the Feanorions came down upon us, and we were showered with our own blood. Their swords spared no one; yea they even cut each other down, such was their madness! Our sons are gone, the Havens destroyed. Death, Earendil, I saw death in immortal eyes! Take it!" Grasping suddenly at her chest, she tore the Silmaril from its chain. "Take it!" Earendil had no choice but to do so as she closed his palms around the jewel. "Take the only hope that remains for us. I have nothing else."

Looking in her eyes, Earendil believed. Hers was the face of a childless mother, a homeless queen, a broken wing tormented by wind now worthless. He heard his heart beating like a steel drum inside of his head, yet he spoke with calmness that he did not feel, "Tell me how it has come to this."

***


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.

Story Information

Author: AfterEver

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/19/03

Original Post: 03/10/03

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