By Light Beguiled: 7. Elwing's Tale

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7. Elwing's Tale

***

It felt like the world was ending, as every element I had valued at highest worth was destroyed before my eyes. We had warnings, and in hindsight they were fair enough, perhaps more than we deserved in our foolishness of prideful bliss and arrogance. What did we think, that we were indestructible? That our swords were mightier after years without service than when they last failed us in battle?

What did Turgon think, when Tuor delivered Ulmo’s warning? I know not how he thought, but I know how he felt. Gondolin was his home; his hands that built it could defend it, his will that conceived it could avail it. Why should he flee when the enemy would follow; why should he build another hidden realm if secrecy proved futile?

Mayhap I will meet my grandfather yet, and we may speak of our disillusions together.

For our part, we felt righteous enough. Curse the Feanorions, for challenging us! In such days of darkness and doubt, when we had been driven from our Kingdoms, dragged into thralldom, beaten into remission… then came these subtle threats, these shameless demands, as if we should have no more pressing concerns than quarreling amongst ourselves over the only hope left to any of us.

Why should we submit, after all we had endured? By demanding the jewel they claimed everything we had: the bringer of our fruit, the sum of our heritage, the only light which yet staves off the Darkness. We could not relinquish the Silmaril any sooner than they could renounce their wicked oath, and they knew that! Thus they gave us no choice at all, and despite their talk of friendship, they were willing to kill. But we knew that. Many of us carried the scars of their blades already, if not on our flesh than in our hearts.

How the thought of their desperation stung me; I felt no pity towards their plight, and the abhorrence boiling in place of sympathy burned like fire’s touch within me. By it I was ignited, and I was not alone. How their falsehoods reopened my wounds like a knife; I saw beyond their sloppy diplomacy, just as my father had before me. I saw the pattern, not the words, the symmetry of a never-ending cycle of transgression. It mesmerized me – it mesmerized us all. We fell into line, embittered folk of Kingdoms lost, and danced our part with flawless formation. Soon enough the kinslayers joined us, and the sequence was complete.

And so we danced together, with blade and bone, as we had danced with ink and parchment over a great distance, when the lingering scent of each other on the messenger’s hand was too near. Later upon the field of battle we could not be close enough.

Under the last amber rays of dusk, our swords flickered like a crop of firebrands swinging in the wind, until the moon came out and turned our blades to shimmering icesickles in the night. Coldly we smote each other as the stars crowned our bloodied helms, and arrows flew in a syncopated melody of aim and reception, ill intent and unexpected pain. Feet fell lightly on the ground, bodies fell lifelessly to the sand, and the screams you never heard were the ones wrenched from your own raw throat.

If the battle had proceeded fairly, I meant to take ship and flee with a small sum of those crippled from past service, too small to wear armor, those with child, those without hope. But it was not to be so, and verily I fought, wanting nothing more.

One sunny afternoon, three scouts simply did not return when they should have. The Guard was suspicious, my advisors less so, but none saw further than I. We had just adjourned a council when the missing scouts returned, all of them bloodied, shaking. None sat horses, though they had ridden out upon them. I watched from the center of town as they approached the first set of breastworks, at the front of town where a gate would stand if Earendil had submitted enough timber to construct one.

As I ran home, raised voices followed at my heels. The captives were shields for the kinslayers stooped behind them. Calling to the borderguards, they said we were surrounded, outnumbered, that Maedhros’ army would arrive within an hour. They hid behind innocent Elves whilst threatening our lives, our children and future. They did not live long, those lone kinslayers sent ahead of the host to accept our surrender, who negotiated with their blades to the backs of our kin.

Brave Mallith, Captain of the Guard, diligently patrolled the border of town, and he was not lenient when it came to matters of honor. His was the last voice I heard as I ran -pounding on every door until my fists were skinned- and his voice was vehement. Then there was only noise in the distance, bellows, cries.

Even supper bells rang amid the turmoil that followed. Those at home first realized the danger, either by the racket at their doors or the skirmish at the outskirt of town. They did all they could to warn their husbands and sons who labored at the harbor or workyards; and to retrieve their mothers who sowed the gardens and sisters who tended the livestock.

It was in the beginning a clamor of horns and screaming and running seemingly in circles. But the Guard was quick to assemble, and once the initial panic ebbed away, it was all quiet preparations, sober organization. Behind the furthest breastworks they waited an hour for the first volley of kinslayers to arrive, nothing left for them to do save pray.

In the foyer I donned the wargear I had trained in since Earendil last left; a gift to Idril from Turgon her father, later a gift from Idril to me. Already I heard familiar trumpets echoing through the dying light of day. Maedhros had come. I saw his face in my mind as his approach rang in my ears. Years ago in Doriath my heart had quailed just the same when I first heard that music singing death and doom to us all.

My sons stood by weeping; everyone was too occupied to comfort them save for a few soothing words, and in that hour more than ever they longed to feel safe, to be held. I pulled on my helm, and a mantle of gray went over all – then I knelt to my sons, and we spoke together for what would be the last time... words I cannot remember.

At last we stepped outside where we were to wait, my household and I, until an escort arrived. Night had not yet fallen, but my spirits were tempted to do so as I beheld the town: surrounded, outnumbered. A line of kinslayers shoulder to shoulder and three deep bordered the southern crescent of town. Already the stables and livestock were beyond our defense, along with the first ring of breastworks now manned by enemy archers.

During a brief council held earlier -truly hasty talking while the chancellors were suited with armor- it was decided that I would go at once to the harbor. An escort was to meet me at my home, and if need be, hew a path for my escape.

Though I was clad as if for battle, as were all those in my company, deception was the reason for our raiment. Elwing was not to be seen fleeing from her home with twin children clutched to her bosom, or the Silmaril upon her person. Nor was she supposed to acquire a thirst for blood as she beheld the carnage before her – yet there I was, sword unsheathed before I realized my mistake. For the weight of an Elven blade is not easily shed, a power once in hand not readily forgotten. No longer was I a crying child, carried beyond harm’s reach despite all pleads to remain at my father’s side. Nay, a tool rested in my palm that could earn retribution, and in my heart was the will to exact amends.

I heard glass break from behind and above, and acted without thought. Whether archers loosing arrows from afar, or intruders entering the manor from behind, I cared not. The escort was not in time, and my children were in danger. I led the charge with a loud command in a low voice, and raced out to meet an adversary I had only just realized was not one of my own townspeople.

How had the enemy gotten so close? Indeed, infiltrated the line of defense to stab us in the back? A riddle for another time. My first duel outside of training was over in a moment. The gore misbalanced my sword, and turned my stomach, and I did not appreciate it, having no time for distractions.

Turning I saw my household followed me across the courtyard, their determined faces blanched with fear. I looked behind them, confident that we could reach the harbor before the last ring of breastworks was abandoned, though the Guard had lost the second row already.

We followed the middle street bustling with activity as fast as we could without appearing to flee and as fast as the children could walk unaided. I bid them not to be carried; doing so would leave no doubt as to our purpose. We must seem as soldiers moving into position, not escapees flying to safety, from Elwing’s home no less, with children in arm.

I dared not risk being waylaid; my capture or the capture of my sons would be the Feanorions’ best hope for finding the Silmaril sooner than later, and doubtless they watched for such an opportunity. I would not be held captive like my mother, my sons would not be abducted like my brothers. I checked occasionally to see four tiny feet shuffling under their nurse’s cloaks. But for the most part I fought. I fought until I realized that I should not be fighting, for we were yet in the middle of town, and I could see ahead that our shieldmen still blocked the access.

Amid the confused and betrayed and dying cries of those around me, I fought despite doubt, decent as the males beside me... until they both fell, one after the other, before the mightiest warrior I ever knew, with fiery hair thrashing in the wind like serpents spitting forked tongues. A mask of amber freckles spread like wings upon his handsome face, framing bright eyes that flashed wrath and ruin, and a sword long as a dwarf is tall was held by his left hand.

Maedhros Kinslayer, brother of my father’s murderer: how my blood sang with the yearning to smite him! Yet I could not bring myself to move whilst I stood unnoticed, not when such an act of vengeance would expose my sons to his ire. He had paused looking to the side, searching for some thing unknown to me. I paused looking the other way, and at last I understood. They were coming up from the north, from below the ridge, from the road to the harbor! No wonder they were intermingled amongst us in the crowded streets, no wonder so many lied dead upon their faces, killed from behind.

Had they swam in from the ocean itself or traversed the maze of reeds and sinking mire from further up the delta, I knew not. A shout erupted near enough to shake me, strong as stone. "Brother! Ai, brother, hearken!" Maedhros bellowed, and I was gone, knowing I had tarried too long.

Forced to shove and yank the grieving wives of those two Elves who fell beside me, soon my household was moving again. In our haste the children were carried as we ran. What else could be done? The road to the harbor was riddled with kinslayers coming the other direction, and the ships' condition could not be guessed. Without the cook and his son who had fought with me, we six ladies –two helpless with babe in arm- could not maintain the facade of being soldiers.

As we made our way through the mounting hysteria, kinslayers were seeping in from the narrow passageways between the buildings lining the road. They must have been climbing the ridge unchecked from below. At the harbor, were none of the mariners protecting the road, or was it all they could do to fend for the ships? Yet no good were ships if we could not reach them. We had gone so wrong; where I did not know.

"Elwing! Elwing!" holloed a seafarer ahead, identifying me unwisely. My escort had arrived at last, it appeared, and I held no grudge as one by one they clambered over the garden pavilions to trample through my flowerbeds. We reached each other without incident, not far from the courtyard where perhaps we should have remained, arrows and all. There were six tall Elves total, all armed and little harmed.

"What has happened?" I demanded to know, noticing I had scarce breath to speak with.

"By stealth the kinslayers came to infiltrate the harbor from below. Whilst we stand in peril I dare say no more. Come!" My ladies and I were surrounded, protected within the circle of armor and blade as the dozen of us moved towards the ledge

Over his shoulder the seafarer spoke again, "But take heart! Our enemy has become our friend, for the kinslayers stand divided; many now fight against their lords beside us. The rest flee overwhelmed from the harbor, making their way to higher ground to regroup with their fellows of like intentions."

As he spoke we began making our way down the slope. It was steep, mostly slack loam, though not impossible. More difficult to climb than descend, and I was glad to be fumbling down with little effort. My heart pounded in my chest, and every breath was like a dagger in my side.

"Look there!" he pointed below. We were nearly down already; I could throw a stone onto the first pier. The area was busy as an anthill. In the dusk I could not tell from our distance quite what went on, save that there were blades everywhere, twinkling like stars until they fell.

"One ship we have spared from capture or damage, Telainathar the swift. We must hur-urk-!" an arrow through his neck silenced him for ever, yet he lived long enough to raise his sword in warning, a gesture to the road that was his last deed ere he collapsed in a twitching heap. More commotion came from the path, getting closer, louder. I guessed a retreat had been ordered, either by my people or Maedhros’, and the sea was the chosen avenue of escape.

Another seafarer surged forth. "Make haste!" he cried, an arrow whirring by his ear. That shaft had been loosed from the ridge. The fleeing kinslayers had turned after ascending the slope to defend their fellows from above – the brotherly gesture did not touch my heart. My protector carried a shield that he held aloft, pulling me close to his body.

"The kinslayers have taken the ridge, or else their converted brethren have changed loyalties again. Fly!" After a few steps I felt the vibration when an arrow plunged into my protector’s side, and heard the air forced from his lungs. Shield held out, he stumbled on. The arrow which hit him had come from below: we were being attacked from two sides. Looking back I saw that my sons were held by seafarers, their nurses lagging further and further behind. They were both mothers thrice over, thus tired easier than childless wives, or males. I knew if they did not reach Telainathar in time, we could not risk waiting for them.

My head light, I scarcely noticed when the shield was gone, and my face buried in sand. I had tripped over the valiant Elf who died protecting me. Someone pulled me up, and I was carried a short while, then set to stand on wood. My eyes focused upon plain horror, twisted with dizziness. From out of the water, kinslayers flung themselves upon the pier. Had they been hiding there, or for how long, I did not know. Two bodies flew by me, and I saw amazed that one of them was my own handmaiden. They grappled with the newly emerged foes, showing tentative success, but more were surfacing behind the first.

Telainathar was as good as lost. I could not help but search the horizon for signs of Balar's Fleet, or Cirdan’s familiar craft. From the empty Sea I turned away. Only the seafarers with my sons and two of my ladies remained alive of my companions. Behind them the road was a swarm of glinting metal. I could not be sure what was happening, save that fallen Elves littered the path, and the sand was red with blood. It was all coming closer, so close I could feel the heat of their bodies.

A broken sword lay at my feet next to a bloodied corpse, my hand was empty. My tunic of chain mail was torn, the leather jerkin underneath sliced but intact, and I vaguely remembered a blur and an impact and a strain on my arm. I must have grappled with someone, and triumphed. When I looked up another lady of mine fell, slain by the grief of it all.

If I thought before that we might have recovered and stood as champions over the battle, I realized in that moment how wrong I was, what fools we had been. The Silmaril was a dead weight against my chest, never heavier. I removed my helm and stepped forward, reaching for the only end I could see: one of shame and darkness and despair. Yet someone seized my wrist: Faerior, who I had seen looking far better. It occurred to me that I might not have won my last duel alone after all.

"Nay, Elwing! Award them no victory in this; ‘twill bring none of our fallen back from Mandos’ Halls the sooner. For you and your sons hope yet remains. Keep it, and follow me!" Then I was running again, climbing up the slope I could barely tumble down without losing my wits in exhaustion. My sons were beside me, in the arms of those two seemingly tireless sailors, while Faerior led us onwards. I wondered if he was aware that the fighting above was no less than the mayhem we fled.

Suddenly I heard a scream, unaware then that it came from me. I hit the ground hard, a weight upon me, hot as a furnace, heavy as a mountain. I could not move or breathe, nor believe my eyes, such was the appearance of the enraged face above me, twisted in madness, drawn with the torment of desire and loathing.

"Where is it?" he fairly shrieked, his voice one of wretched magnificence. Maglor Kinslayer, come to end his suffering at any price. His hands tore at my clothing, reached under my mail shirt through the rip in it, probing for the only link to his sanity. I resisted him best as I could, but he was stronger – far stronger.

"Where is it?" What desperation in that plea, such a perversion of what it means to cherish some gift, to covet some blessing; like beauty, or light. They are not ours, they just are! He was not going to stop before I lay nude in the sand and he later found the Silmaril in the pocket of my leather jerkin, or until he had suffocated me in the process.

Before he could question again I flung sand in his eyes, and his next screech was a line of curses, not all of them Sindarin. I could only crawl away after that, my breath squeezed out of me, legs burning and weak. I did not get far, before I heard a familiar voice among all the others, small and terrified, calling my name. Not Elwing, but my real name: Mother.

Fighting to stand and scrambling backwards, there below where I had been half buried in the sand, laid the two seafarers in four pieces. Had they come back to my rescue or had others ensnared them also, I knew not. But to my horror, my sons were in the arms of identical copper-haired Elves, grinning like wolves.

Behind them Maglor was on hands and knees, and in that moment of vulnerability as many Elves sprang forth to slay him as to defend him. For the moment I was unnoticed again, and looked to my children as I caught my breath. Elrond was limp and colorless in his captor’s grasp, eyes closed. Elros stared through me, eyes rigid, unseeing. The light in them which had been so keen at birth was hazed, the depth which had been endless was so shallow I could see the bottom: I could see his death. The matching kinslayers whom I recognized as Amrod and Amras backed away, slowly, telling me with their eyes that I was to follow, and obey.

"Murderers!" wailed Faerior behind me. I had forgotten he still lived, all my thoughts bent on my sons, lifeless, taken from me. I swore it would not happen, yet they were lost. Faerior stalked past me, and moved to block me. "Will you not cease until the blood of all our children is on your hands?" An emotion besides mania passed the brethren’s faces, and they glanced at the unmoving bodies in their arms.

In that instant another volley of arrows came down, this time aimed at the enemy. Faerior took advantage of the distraction. Warrior he was not, but wise indeed. He spurred forth, a cry of anguish and rage mingling with the ring of steel. "For Mallith!" So his son was dead too. Vowing Faerior’s sacrifice would not be in vain, I ran forward, after I had turned back around. I would join my sons, my family and people, but first I would avenge them.

Someone laughed harshly from behind, someone else barked orders, and someone followed me still. Faerior roared again, and the laughter stopped abruptly. From atop the ridge ahead, I heard the twanging of bowstrings, and the footsteps behind me retreated. The orders came again, this time frantically, calling for archers, shieldmen, the seizure of Elwing. I ran with the strength of one who runs to eternal rest, reaching the summit in agony.

Lithe strangers with pale eyes lined the ridge: enemy archers, Green-elves. One looked upon me as I sat there gasping, wordless. In his eyes I learned all I needed to know, and I had never been so glad to meet a traitor. Those at the harbor were the only ones who had identified me, and now their egression was barred by their treacherous allies.

As best I could, I staggered and hobbled forward, while all around was fighting. What little I glimpsed of the town was in ruins. At times I crawled between dueling Elves or over slain friends, and I heard footsteps following me again before long, interrupted by the chiming of blades, only to begin again, then halt, then come.

There was no clear distinction between friend and foe at that point, and I was saved only by the treason of my enemies. Fitting, I thought, that kinslayer should slay kinslayer, thus securing my ultimate betrayal.

At last I walked into a wall, following it until there was a terrace, then a shrubbery and a bench. My garden. I limped ahead, towards the smell of salt, and the sound of certain, crushing escape.

I would never stand at the Steep Cliff in sorrow or reflection or anticipation again. Through the tear in my chain mail I could retrieve the Silmaril quickly; fortunate, as I had no time, no time for anything. I knew people watched me, pursued me, defended me. I thought I heard music and begging. Then there was rushing air and a coolness through my hair and I could breathe at last – and then I did not need to.

***


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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