2. Prologue: Child of Men
Child of Men
The Elf-woman stood up, closing her eyes to take a deep breath of the salty breeze of the Sea. Then, tenuously, she opened them again, and took everything in her sight.
The sand under her feet shone with a faint luminiscence, covered by a spreading white foam whenever a wave overtook her steps. Huge treetops loomed in the distance, emerald green and red from the fruits that hung upon their branches. Birds of many kinds sang in clear tones, calling for their mates and flying from one tree to another.
Tears flowed down her cheeks. The intensity of the colours dazzled her. She came from a fading world, and now she couldn´t look at any of those brilliant things without a searing-hot feeling of pain. In the morbidness of a single moment, a thought crept inside her mind, I will not be able to live here anymore.
The man finally reached her, and threw his arms around her shaking body. She pushed her head against his chest, searching for a refuge in the comfortable darkness.
"I came." she nodded, smelling the scent that she had almost forgotten in her long years of solitude, a pale shadow lingering in Middle-Earth for the sake of a kin who had been too stubborn for their own good. "I missed you."
His head moved above hers, and she imagined that he was nodding. Feeling like a little child, she allowed him to manouevre her and guide her blind steps towards the welcoming warmth of the shore. There, they sat upon a mound of fine sand, and Elwen dared to open her eyes for the second time.
Blue. An onslaught of blue assaulted her, brilliant blue, and white. She turned towards him, and saw that his eyes were shining as he laid them on her. Did hers shine still, as well? Or had their spark been quenched, like the bright colours of the world beyond those shores had dimmed under the breath of the Shadow?
Shaking still, she rested her head against his shoulder.
"You were delayed." he muttered, caressing her hair. A memory began to pierce through the haze in her mind, and she pulled closer to him.
"Yes." she nodded. "I was."
Almost against her own will, her glance became lost in the distance, but there was no trace of a star-shaped island in the horizon. He frowned curiously. His hand touched her neck, and the frown increased.
"You do not wear it anymore."
Elwen could no longer keep her remembrances at bay. Slowly, she fixed her eyes on his, and laid her hands over his own before her lips curved to utter a single name.
The images began to flow.
The wind had already started blowing harder before the island was in sight. But it had been only after Númenor fell to her left that the sky darkened.
Elwen had never seen a tempest in the Great Sea, and the spectacle terrified her. Giant waves towered over her small boat, and the wind howled in her ears even after she covered them with her hands and huddled on the wooden plank floor, seized by an unknown and shameful kind of panic. The Noldor had fought the Shadow, but the wrath of Ossë did not even leave her the small mercy of a sword to defend herself with.
One of the waves crashed inside the ship, with a roar of foam and darkness. Elwen was thrown overboard, in spite of her attempts to grab anything solid within reach of her blind thrashing. Her cries were smothered by water, as the ship that was never meant to collapse continued its voyage, drawing farther and farther from her.
Terrified, she struggled not to be engulfed by the fathomless depth under her feet. She prayed to all the Valar that she had once forsaken to keep her alive, but the current pulled her away like a broken toy, swiftly, inexorably, and it was too late.
Solid. There was something solid under her back. Gratefully, she leaned back as hard as she could, and realised that it did not move.
Ground. She felt cushioned, safe. The embers of a fire cracked softly somewhere in a near distance. A hand touched her forehead, and she shook in surprise.
Inmediately, the hand pulled back. With great efforts, Elwen opened her eyes, and forced them to focus while feeling the painful throbbing in her head.
It was a cave. She was in a cave, faintly lit by a small hearth that lay almost at an arm´s reach from her couch. A girl was staring at her from a distance, shaking and looking like she was ready to bolt away. In her eyes, however, widened by fear as they were, Elwen was able to read an overconsuming curiosity, and she knew that she would stay.
Small and dim. The girl was not an Elf, but one of the Secondborn. She should be one of the folk of Númenor, the proud island where no Elf was welcome, but there was no malice to be found in her. And she had tended to her wounds, she realised as her eyes fell upon a bandage in her chest.
"You will not... kill me. Will you?" her saviour asked. Elwen´s glance betrayed a faint surprise, but it disappeared as she perceived the ardent hope in her tone and in her whole being, coming to her in waves. Where could such an intensity come from?
"I will not kill you, child of Men." she muttered, her voice hoarse and weak. The girl stared at her in amazement, then smiled warmly and relaxed a little.
"I know. I always knew. You are not evil."
Elwen leaned back, inviting her to come closer again. She wanted to bask in her warmth, and forget the sudden images of dead Telerin mariners thrown over the seashore.
The girl obeyed at once, as if pulled by a strong, enchanting force. Slowly, she lifted her hand, and hesitantly touched her forehead.
"I... I found you unconscious, on the shore. If you... stay with me, I will take care of you."
"Will your people attack me if they find me?" the Elf asked, guessing her thoughts. The girl shook her head, avoiding her glance.
"Nobody comes here." she muttered at last. And then, shyly. "My... name is Inzilbêth, Fair One."
The Noldo smiled at her. She had never seen such innocence in this marred world before, and it reminded her of what she had been once, in Valinor. She felt drawn towards the girl, small and insignifiant as she was.
"I am Elwen."
True to her promise, Inzilbêth nursed her back to health, coming every day to change her bandages, bring her food, and watch her eat with a look of sheer wonder in her eyes. She never spoke unless asked, showing the same reverence that the first Men who entered Beleriand had shown the Elves who found them in their path. Every day, Elwen asked her kindly about her family and life, and she learned that she had been saved by the niece of the mighty lord of Andunië, leader of the party of the Elf-Friends on the island. They were in his lands, "and none will ever harm you here", the girl assured her many times, as if afraid that she would feel threatened and disappear in a whirl.
Elwen, however, did not disappear. Even after her wounds had been tended and she became hale, even after she had built herself a new ship with Inzilbêth´s dedicated aid, she still lingered in the cave, unable to pry away from the innocent eyes of that girl. Though Inzilbêth was not aware of it herself, those eyes were asking for help.
One night, she had a dream where Inzilbêth was swallowed by a wave, crying her name. Elwen tried to extend her hand and reach to her, but she could not save her from the pull of the current. The morning after this, the girl came singing with a food basket in her hands, and Elwen saw a dark shadow haunting her footsteps. She shivered, not knowing very well why.
In time, the girl ventured to tell her the sad story of the Faithful of Númenor, her features veiled by sadness. Elwen listened in understanding silence, laying a hand over her shoulder.
"They say that Elves are monsters. That they have the power to do terrible things, and that they have done them in the past." Inzilbêth looked down, in barely concealed anger. "They are so wrong!"
Elwen shook her head, allowing her eyes to become lost in the flames of the hearth.
"We have done terrible things." she said, after a long pause. The girl turned a bewildered glance in her direction.
"You are not evil!"
The Elf flinched at the desperate edge of her tone. Again. It felt like she needed that belief to carry on, to survive in a world where one belief warred against another. Good, evil. Allies and enemies. Faithful.
"No, I am not evil. I am a Child of Ilúvatar, and so are you." she said in her gentlest voice, caressing the side of her face as she did so. Little by little, the girl leaned to her touch. "We are free to follow our hearts, and this makes us capable of the greatest deeds, and also of the greatest evils. We, the Noldor, are like you, child of Men, but our deeds are higher and our evil more terrible, since the Creator gave us a greater power."
Inzilbêth nodded hesitantly to this, her features clouded by the first doubts of a growing maturity. Elwen smiled, though deep inside her heart broke upon seeing the girl´s purity disminished.
That day, she began telling her stories of the First Age, and of the Downfall of the Noldor.
She had been there for little less than nine months, when Inzilbêth sought her one morning. Elwen did not even have to look at her, before an unbearable anguish exploded inside her mind. She reeled back from the impact.
"What happened?" she asked, laying down the block of wood that she had been carving with a knife. The girl reached her side in quick strides, and threw herself on her arms without saying a word.
"Calm down, child." Elwen whispered in her ear, willing her tone to be soothing. The girl´s body convulsed with sobs. "What happened?"
After several moments, a muffled voice finally answered her.
"I- I am marrying the King´s son."
Marrying? The Elf´s body went rigid from shock. But she was a child!
Maybe their customs were different, since they were allowed only a short span of time under the light of the Sun, she tried to reason. And yet...
"And, do you love him?" she asked, touching her dark hair. Inzilbêth shook her head with violence.
"I... I have never seen him, ever! The marriage is a political arrangement... an odious, political arrangement!!"
At these words, the Elf´s heart went out more than ever for the stricken young girl in her arms. Elves married for love- she tried to imagine the bleakness of a life bound to the soul of a stranger, barren for eternity, and failed. There was cruelty in the very concept, like in that sinister old legend of the Elves who were forced to bend their souls to Morgoth and become Orcs against their will. For a moment, she wondered in alarm if Inzilbêth would fade from the pain of the intrusion and leave this world –but the Secondborn could not fade.
They could not even escape.
"Life is a path full of unknown turns. You may learn to love him in time..." she muttered, but her voice came out with a forced tone, devoid of any comforting power.
What did she know? What could she say? For the first time in her life she felt powerless in front of a mortal girl, and so she closed her mouth, ashamed.
"He does not like my people. He hates Elves and Elf-friends!"
Elwen, shook her head helplessy, and let her cry undisturbed. Two birds were singing in the branch over her heads, their song shrill and clear.
At some point, the girl´s sobs subsided, and she clumsily tried to get up. Elwen withdrew her arms at once, and stared at the small, so human soaked face, red and puffed from crying so much.
And then, it happened.
First, it was nothing but the song of the birds, growing more and more confuse inside her ear until it turned into a roar. Then, however Inzilbêth´s features began to recede, and between them both, she saw a great wave like the one in her dream, rising over hills, mountains and pastures.
A hand grasped hers, as if frantically trying to pull her back to her reality. In an involuntary movement, it brought it close to the girl´s belly, and Elwen felt it grow suddenly cold. An image flashed in her sight, of two serpents that issued from the womb and started fighting each other.
And Inzilbêth´s frightened glance.
"What is it? Elwen! Please!"
Elwen blinked, and grabbed her hand to find a way back. She must have gone pale.
"I saw..." she began, but then let her voice trail away and shook her head. She could not tell her what she had seen. She was not even sure herself.
"Take this." she said in an impulse, taking the silver chain from her neck and offering it to the girl. The silver was wrought with an emerald, and it had been crafted by her husband when he asked for her hand. She had worn it while she crossed the Helcaraxë, as well as in Beleriand till the end of the War of the Jewels, relishing in the warm comfort of the love that had made it. When it came away, she felt cold and bereaved, but still she pressed it against Inzilbêth´s hand.
"I... cannot accept.." the girl protested weakly. She shook her head. She knew that she was doing the right thing, even if the reasons escaped her own comprehension.
"Take this, Child of Men." she repeated, trying to banish the dread that had clouded her fëa when she had looked into her eyes.
This was the last time that she had ever seen Inzilbêth. When the girl did not return, Elwen understood that she had been claimed by her inevitable fate, and fled the island in the boat that she had built with her help. A pair of oars allowed her to travel far from the shore without displaying conspicuous sails, and once that Númenor was left behind, a swift current began pushing her towards Tol Eressëa.
He stared at her, in thoughtful silence. His hands travelled down her neck, absently drawing the shapes of his lost handiwork.
"I will make another one for you." he finally offered, sealing his pledge with a kiss.
She nodded with a small smile, but soon tore her eyes away to search the horizon for the island that now lay beyond her sight. She imagined a pair of lightless eyes at the other side of the Sea, looking at the same waves without joy or hope... and behind them, a greater wave of growing darkness.
"Be safe, Child of Men." she muttered, joining her hands as if in prayer.
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.