4. Chapter 4
The days following were quiet but not peaceful, as all waited for the Mariner to return to his home port. It was understood that Arwen would not fly before then. Her company passed the time in the town or with the Meneldili in their towers in the foothills, or among the shipwrights in their yards. The Kinslayers remained quiescent at Iantathren under Gilfaril's steadfast ward.
Elwing went grimly about her accustomed tasks. They were not heavy, for the easy-going Teleri demanded little of their lords. It was the Lady's duty to keep an eye and a hand on the weather and the realm, argue with Ossë on behalf of the sailors, judge disputes, mediate quarrels and preside over the council that oversaw the daily care of the city. She ruled alone, for it was understood that the Mariner had his own Doom and his own duties. So Elwing spoke for Hanstovanén in the councils of her overlords Olwë and Falmariel in Alqualondë; once she had spoken at the seldom-met council of Ingwë and Laurien(7) in golden Valmar. That had been the meeting at which the High King and Queen of the Eldar had told their peoples that the Sons of Fëanor were to be recalled to life.
No one in the City spoke of the Kinslayers or their request, though all surely knew of it. But as she went about her business in the Tower and the City, Elwing felt unease grow among her people. This time, the joy with which the City anticipated the Silmaril's homecoming was tainted with fear of what might happen thereafter. Sometimes she met Nólanis, but they spoke mostly of aeronautical questions; the matters of the first night were never touched upon.
Alone, she paced her rooms and her anger at the Kinslayers grew.
At last one evening Elwing summoned Nierninwa to her spare, lightly furnished rooms and told him, "The Mariner will be here at dawn, the day after tomorrow. Make a place ready for the Kinslayers, but let them not come here until he and I have spoken."
Nierninwa glanced at her wings, mounted on their stand on the pearl-nacred wall. They were long and white, quiescent in their harness, their power at rest. Elwing said flatly, "Fly to him in my stead. Tell him..."
There were too many words. They tangled in her throat and would not come. Nierninwa was merciful, and asked no questions. He knew what burned in her heart. "I will, Lady."
The next evening the Star shone in the western sky, faint and distant but drawing near. By the morrowdim it was visibly a ship to Eldarin eyes, small and shining in the dark. At her balcony she heard the rush of great pinions as Nierninwa rose from the Tower in her place, on his own storm-grey wings. She clenched her fists on the balustrade and waited for the Silmaril to dawn. She heard her people singing their welcome from the roofs of the town and the balconies of the Tower. The light of the Jewel grew, not brighter, but deeper as it drew near. Vingilot had her own radiance, a ship of crystal and silver and cloud; but her beauty was nothing compared to the living glory that shone at her masthead, outshining the forgotten Sun as the Silmaril gave back the light of dawn a thousandfold.
Vingilot settled into her usual anchorage out in the centre of the harbour, her wings folding like a swan's. The skiffs went out to her at once, to repair and resupply, to bring the Meneldilil news of the fate of their experiments, to bring her husband home. This time, for the first time, there were guards on the quays.
Having broken her long custom already, Elwing waited further, until her husband had had time to bathe and eat and rest. The time passed swiftly, for the light of the Jewel shone through her windows, lovelier than Sun or Moon or stars or fire. Living and strong, the heirloom of her house, won in pain and ultimate sacrifice. Thingol and his line had died, Doriath and Sirion had died, all to possess the Silmaril. And yet it remained unstained, its terrible sanctity untouched, unmoved by the river of blood that had been shed for its sake. All that dwelt in its un-Marred light was made by it more beautiful, more wholly fair. Her Tower, her City, her woods and shores and streams and fields, her people, her light.
When she went to him at last, she found the Mariner sitting cross-legged and barefoot on a divan, looking out of the wide, arched window. In the Jewel-light he shone like one of the Calaquendi, golden as a Vanya, strong as a Noldo. By her choice he was counted among the Eldar; but in his features she saw always the mark of Tuor his father: the bright shadow of mortality, the Gift of Iluvatar that they had refused. She thought sometimes that he might see the same in her.
Eärendil followed the ways of Gondolin and Tirion and eschewed furniture; his rooms were a welter of carpets, cushions and hangings, all worked in the many colours of the sea. They were always quiet, except for the song of the waves and the wind. The Mariner had little interest in other music, though the star-lore that he brought back for the astronomers had led to several interesting new schools of both composition and mathematics.
He rose to greet her, not quite smiling; their embrace was tight and lingering. Elwing held him to her, learning again the long, familiar lines of his body, the warmth of his presence, both of body and of spirit. She could never be entirely certain of the Valar's reassurance that his fëa would return from the wastes, even if ill befell his flesh. She had chosen the life of the Eldar for them both, unable to bear his death. As the price of her choice, she would suffer until the end of time the fears of the Mariner's spouse.
After a long while, Elwing leaned back against his arms and looked into his face. They were nearly of a height, for all of Thingol's line were tall. Nierninwa had told him; there was anxiety in the blue, Mannish eyes.
"I am sorry," she said. "I was a coward, and Nierninwa did my duty for me."
His hand stroked her hair. When he was at home she wore it loose in the Noldorin style because it pleased him, just as he wore the draped tunic and trousers of the Sindar for her sake.
" It was bound to happen," he said at last.
Elwing blinked. "What? You expected them to come here ?"
"Did not you?" The anxiety in him was for her. For the matter of the Kinslayers he had only detachment and cool curiosity, and cooler determination. He was very like his mother.
"This is the only Silmaril left untouched by their hands. Of all those who have desired the Jewels, only Beren and Lúthien truly surrendered one of their own will, and even they could not let it go again when it came to them a second time."
She pulled herself from his arms and took a step back.
"It was the heirloom of my House and I yielded it freely." The sons of Fëanor might have recognised the stony coldness of her tone.
The Mariner said, very gently, "To me, my love, your wedded spouse united to you as no other could ever be. And the Silmaril dwells here, if it dwells anywhere."
Her pale eyes narrowed. "You cannot give it up. It was the charge of the Powers upon you!"
"I accepted the duty freely, yes, and continue to accept it, until the End. But you and I and all of us are still free, my love, and if I wish I may lay the duty down. I do not think that the Valar will condemn me, if I ask them for release."
The implications of his words were almost too terrible for her fear and anger to endure. She turned away, pacing the soft carpets, and chose the lesser pain.
"And shall they let you give it to them? The Kinslayers that the Jewels themselves rejected?"
Eärendil sat down cross-legged on the divan, his back to the pouring light outside.
"Unless Lord Eönwë arrives to forbid it, I see nothing to prevent me. They have returned from the Halls of Waiting. Surely we may trust the Valar not to have released them untimely."
Elwing stalked over and glared down at him, hands fisted in the pockets of her tunic.
"The Powers unleashed Morgoth on Middle-earth. They trusted the mortals of Númenor. They condemned you to endless wandering. Shall I trust their good judgement without more? I asked sea and sky for counsel, when the Kinslayers came to my borders, and received none."
He looked up at her, his smile wry and sweet. "The Valar learn from their mistakes, my love, as do we all who live long enough, or again. The Earthqueen made the Trees and their Light, but one of the Eldar preserved that Light when She could not. They and we are equals in this venture and our choices are our own, now and always."
"And the price of choice is also ours to pay," Elwing said grimly. "And not only ours." She paced another turn about the room, head bent but shoulders still straight beneath the weight of lordship. He watched her in silence, waiting. It was past noon, and both Tower and city were settling into their afternoon quiet, before waking again to evening. Someone on the floors below was playing a flute very quietly, a little, drowsy melody that mingled with the unceasing rush of the waves below and the high yelp of seagulls to make a soothing, afternoon sound.
At last Elwing came back to him, no longer troubling to hide her pain.
"Did I choose wrongly, that day in the Ring of Doom?" she asked him. "Did I bind you against your will when I chose the life of the Eldar for us both? Did I make myself your gaoler rather than your wife, and hold you here when you had rather gone beyond the Last Shore with your father's people?"
Eärendil came quickly to his feet and to her, taking her hands.
"Never say that, beloved, never think it. You know why I gave the choice to you. I love you, then and now. I could not have borne to see you age and die in mortal kind. Nor could I have endured to leave you forever, and widow us both until the End and perhaps after."
She thought of Dior, the first of the half-elven, and Nimloth of the Sindar, her mother. The Valar had offered the same choice to her father as to all the children of Melian's line. If he had taken the mortal path her mother could not have followed, and so he had chosen to stay. They lived over-mountain now, in Thingol's realm. And also she thought of Elros her son and Arwen and Elladan and Elrohir her grandchildren, and the price in sorrow and unending loss that had been paid for each of their choices. She touched her husband's cheek lightly with one hand.
"And so instead here we are together until the End, my love. Well, I suppose it could be worse."
He said, "We have always been strength to each other, not weakness. This is a small thing, this coming anew of the Kinslayers. A note in the Song, no more."
She heard both the reassurance and the warning. One note, yes, but sometimes one note was all that was needed to change the key and the direction of the music.
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