8. Into the West
A healthy wind stirred the ever-present aroma of the Sea, and filled Vingilot’s great white sails. Yet somehow the atmosphere seemed eerily calm, even the waves subdued, the churning of the tide naught but a whispered hush in the distance. Earendil leaned on the bulwark, oblivious of the night, silent tears falling to join the ocean below. Low clouds drifted by; luminous under the full moon, dancing like tendrils of mist. The creak of wood, a faint and ancient voice, echoed a mourning melody through the darkness. Earendil thought he would never sing again.
"Earendil?" came a voice from behind, sorry to interrupt his Lord’s privacy.
"Yes, what is it you need, Aerandir?"
There was a pause, then respectfully, "You have turned us about, I notice. Was it not your wish that we return posthaste to the mainland, my Lord?" Concern was evident, yet he spoke as someone who already has his answer.
Earendil squared his shoulders against an invisible weight that crushed him down whenever his attention wandered. The weight of the Silmaril bound to his brow was insignificant in comparison. "It had been my wish to return home, and there balm my despair of long, fruitless searching; rekindle my own hope with the faith of my people." He faced Aerandir. "Shall we still return to our home, now ruined, and seek comfort in beds of ashes; encouragement in the faces of our slain kin?"
Aerandir bowed his head, and answered in no other way.
The silence stretched like a remorseful sigh. Earendil shifted, his skin feeling prickly and his eyes stinging with the acidity of his own words. "Would you return, Aerandir?" he asked softly. "I am Lord of naught but this ship, now. Tell me to bring your feet to solid land, and I will do so."
"No, my Lord— my friend. Ever have I believed that yours was the path to our salvation, and I believe it still." Looking up, he lifted his chin, forcing Earendil’s face to replace the memory of his family, slain but days ago according to Elwing’s account. It was no happier a sight, for in his Lord’s eyes was reflected the memory of his own sons, also lost.
Aerandir felt that he should say something. After hearing Elwing’s tale that morning, there had been little discussion. Earendil laid his wife to rest in his cot, then isolated himself above deck, asking to be undisturbed. Aerandir had sat ever since with Falathar and Erellont, but few words passed between them. Perhaps there were no words left to be spoken, no comfort to be had. But for love of his Lord, he resolved to try.
"I am sorry for your sons." He sighed, and tried harder. "They were joyful in life. Though their years were few, at least they were glad."
"Better to die an innocent, you say?" Earendil shook his head, raising a hand to halt Aerandir’s reply. "Peace. Your words were caring, and I thank you. Forgive me that anything which touches my heart causes me pain, even such kindness."
Aerandir nodded his understanding and glanced sidelong, thinking of some way to lessen the eve’s misery. Only the empty Sea surrounded them. "A shame that Cirdan is not here, with his handsome ship. I think of the fall of Gondolin, and how important it was to Tuor your father that the tale be told, and written, preserved. I fear if none save we here know the account of the Havens’ destruction, it may be lost. For if we reach the Blessed Realm, will we ever return? But perhaps there are other survivors, besides the lady Elwing." He shuddered. "Though… the sons of Feanor are not known for their compassion. ‘Tis said that any survivors of Doriath were slain."
"That is what I fear," Earendil replied quietly. "Only those who could flee and fend for themselves will be spared the Feanorions’ mercy." No hope did he have for his sons’ escape; thus none for their survival. He met Aerandir’s eyes, speaking quickly to try and comfort him, "But hold some hope that the tale will yet be known – forget not Elwing’s message to the High King. Though his Fleet came not in time, it will come nevertheless. And if there are survivors who fled or hid or were spared, I think they will gather to him, and the Havens at Sirion will be remembered on the Isle of Balar, at least."
It was little consolation to either of them, for it seemed to both that if the Havens were assailed, Balar would soon be next. Remembering his purpose, Aerandir said, "I will maintain our course, and keep watch. Best you take some rest below deck." He forced a smile that quivered despite his efforts. "I am not so tireless as you, and will summon someone to relieve me by dawn. I should not be pleased if none were prepared to answer my call." Then gravely he added, "Also, the lady Elwing has awoken, and she asked of you."
Earendil nodded, and walked past. He knew well that it was also solitude Aerandir desired; there would likely be no shortage of willing lookouts in the following days, if it meant having a few hours alone to grieve. Below deck all was quiet, save for the faint creak of wood as Earendil descended the stairs. The short and narrow hallway was lit solemnly by a single lamp. Two doors were on each side, and one at the end. Earendil stepped into the first room on his left, muted murmurs passing through the door left ajar.
Inside was a small table, and lined along the walls were cupboards stocked with food. Erellont and Falathar sat together, their talk halting when Earendil entered. "Hullo," said Erellont awkwardly. His face was drawn with sorrow and weariness; it was clear he had been weeping not long before. Sitting beside him, Falathar bowed his head, and gave a more formal greeting, yet his voice was no sturdier.
"I thought to bring Elwing something to eat, as I heard she has awoken," said Earendil. "Then I shall retire for a while. Aerandir has the helm, until dawn."
"I think rest would benefit us all," Falathar replied, "but as for Elwing, she has indeed been here, and ate already at least to appease us."
"Had we known a lady so fair would join us on this voyage, fancier provisions would have been brought," Erellont added, his voice almost unrecognizable without its usual cheer.
"Yes, had we but known." Earendil smiled, striving and failing to mimic his own characteristic mood. But too much had changed, and too little was certain; no one would ever be the same. "Then I suppose I shall take my leave," he said turning. "Good night."
"We will make it, my Lord."
Again Falathar helped Erellont to word his thoughts in more detail. "We have spoken of it, and to turn West again seems to us the wisest course. There is naught we can do now, for our people or our home. Truly our path aims to Valinor, for better or worse. If nothing else we shall be closer to our kin as we near Mandos’ Halls."
Head bowed, Earendil nodded, but could think of nothing to say. That he still had hope? That his companions’ devotion heartened him? That he could feel much of anything at all? All lies, they would be. Leaving his shipmates behind, he walked the short distance to his room as if through a haze of thick fog: unseeing, graceless. The parts of his heart that did not plainly ache were strangely numb, and fear began to sliver between those two extremes. He would desire sleep, if therein he might meet forgetfulness, and truly take leave of his cares for a few hours of rest. But it was his dreams which first alerted him to the changing of the world, of the horrors to come, and he felt no comfort would be waiting for him in sleep, not now and perhaps never again.
He started, finding himself leaning against the frame of his door, eyes unfocused. He looked across the small chamber to the source of the voice, and there was Elwing, sitting up in his cot.
"You stood unmoving for many moments. Were you asleep on your feet?" she asked.
He only heard the guilt, not the hollow words; he understood the underlying apology, not the question. Crossing to her, he fumbled with his clothing, loosening a few things, removing little, such was his lack of coordination. He collapsed to sit before her, and there any words he had formed earlier and saved for later use failed him. Take my silence, he thought, take it to mean that I have nothing else to give.
Elwing reached to his face, caressing softly. "I have been told by those more familiar with the meaning of these waves that we have turned, and sail now West."
"I see no hope left in the lands of Middle-earth." Earendil did not take heed when the Silmaril bound to his brow was slipped off, and set aside. "Though I seek for Valinor now in despair, at the least my path is made clear to me. There is no other way, and either we will come someday to the Blessed Realm, or we will not."
Elwing nodded, and leaning forward, helped her husband to remove his garments. "A noble quest, as it has ever been. And here I am beside you on that journey, as I had always wished." She sat back, tears in her eyes. "This is not what I wanted after all, or else you would see me happy before you, and here I have sat, and slept, and reminisced, my tears incessant, my misery undiminished. Will it ever end?"
"We will mourn for our sons, and nothing will seem as it should until that shadow is lifted, or lessened," said Earendil, his voice weak. In truth he could offer meager reassurance, with so little of his own confidence remaining. "But it is no indication that you will never know happiness here, with me."
"Yet I will never be happy with myself, Earendil. With such care I tried to act rightly, yet it seems I fell only faster into folly. I do not understand my fate; the end is hidden from me, and the means just beyond my grasp. Am I foolish, Earendil? Have I lost my sight? For it seems that all things are twisted around me, and all that I attempted has gone askew."
"Elwing, Elwing," he pulled her into an embrace. "I have no answers, and I am so weary. Let us rest together, and this night will pass us by, and the dawn will bring new light; that much I know. And I will love you even through darkness and doubt; this I promise."
They laid back together, and their pain -though mutual and shared- was little eased. The Silmaril so carelessly set aside was buried by chance under a layer of fabric, and there it lay until the morrow, forgotten and alone – for once its heavenly light shone bright yet unnoticed, and perhaps even the holy jewel tasted the bitterness of despair, if only for one night.
Dawn came indeed with its usual splendor, and if none aboard Vingilot took notice of the sunrise in especial, the light shone no dimmer for it. Earendil and Elwing ascended to the deck, and walking hand in hand came to Aerandir’s side. He greeted them each in turn, then gesturing to the eastern horizon and the rosy dawn he said, "The morning deceives, my lady. Our travels will not be so easy as this inviting display would lead you to believe."
"Nor has the road been easy in our coming thus far." She felt Earendil’s arm wrap around her waist.
Aerandir nodded, and passed a hand over his face, drawn with tiredness. "That is indeed so." He met Earendil’s eyes, making it clear his next words were not for Elwing alone. "But there has been a strange and twisting wind, carrying a smell of sleet. I fear there is a storm building, and that it may come upon us from both sides."
"It would not be the first time," said Earendil. "And it shall not be the last." He took a deep breath, and verily the scent of tempest was strong in it – also enchantment and shadow and beaches of stardust was carried to his senses as if on the breeze, like a fleeting vision that left its memory in his mind as flavor lingers on the tongue.
Coming back to himself he said, "Get you some sleep now, Aerandir. By all means we shall hold the storm at bay until you wake, and then we will dance together in the rain, and the clapping thunder will keep our pace."
A measuring glance assured Aerandir that his Lord was not fey. At length he smiled, the familiarity of Earendil’s humor returning to him. "As you say, my Lord, now doubly imperative is my rest, if I am expected to dance. Until then." He left after a bow, and if it was his imagination or his fatigue, his feet felt a little lighter upon the floor, and the threat of a storm frightened him less.
'And so with Elwing at his side, Earendil stood now most often at the prow of Vingilot, and the Silmaril was bound upon his brow; and ever its light grew greater as they drew into the West'
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.