After they landed, once the Great Ones had met and she and Eärendil made their Choice – well, she chose, he just shrugged and said ‘As she wishes” – she had shunned outsiders for a long time, staying close to him and the tor that was their home. The Choice had not really been what he would have liked, but he deferred to her in this without complaint. That was because the price of his voyages had been so high and finally paid for in blood, and she knew he felt he owed it to her.
At first the strange shining land with its diamond beaches and purple mountains had intimidated her almost as much as its people, most of whom had never known fear or smelt the smoke of a burning town, and so she had tended the little coastal garden she created with local plants and pretty stones and shells and learned the ways of the new birds, because ever since she reached Sirion as a child, she had loved the seabirds and they knew it and came to her hand to feed.
Time passed and familiarity grew, even for Elwing who was disturbed by the unknown as most weren’t, but then, as Gil used to say, most children had never woken to the sounds of slaughter and the death agony of a parent. Slowly her pattern changed, her world widened to include more than her husband, the birds, her garden and the memories she had to push back into their room and close the door on.
Sometimes when Eärendil came home with the dawn he was ready to stay awake, talk with her, sleep briefly and spend the late afternoon with her again, but more often he came home exhausted, ate, and fell into bed. Sometimes she would crawl back in with him and he would hold her. Sometimes they would love, but often he would simply go to sleep, his hand tangled in her hair.
The change came slowly, but eventually there were days when the tor where they lived felt very lonely when he slept. Sometimes, when the wind howled so fiercely about the upper level that the birds flew round and left rather than landing on the balcony, she stayed awake and dressed nicely and went where there were people. In the beginning this was just down to the little village nearby, where they quickly grew used to her and let her wander and look at the new plants and the kestrels’ nests. Soon she found herself speaking to so many people, more sometimes in a day than she would before in an entire moon, but she still collected every word, every tale and stored it away to examine later, and sometimes it was hard to recall what she had learned from whom.
In time she grew curious about the land along the coast and would travel further afield and be gone for several days. She was always careful to tell Eärendil before she took one of these longer trips after the first time when she was gone for days and returned to find him frantic with worry and the villagers searching the shore for fear she had drowned. She wondered how often that and other accidents happened in this land called Undying, and if so how it was that the great king’s death had been such a horror to the Noldor, but the only person she dared ask was Eärendil and he knew no more than she did. She loved him dearly, but he was a more practical, immediate kind of person and seldom dwelt on the curious little anomalies of life in this land they had entered seeking aid and been forbidden ever to leave.
The road to Alqualondë was much further than the village so Eärendil told someone she needed a horse and a good horse was found – his family could find anything, and his mother was very kind; she remembered Idril’s kindness from before, though it always felt a very long time ago. She went down and talked to the horse every day and brought it little gifts of apples and vegetables. When the horse grew tired, as animals did even in this strange place, they brought her a new one. She always wept a little for the old one, but not where anyone could see her. They worried when she cried, or sang to herself, or did other things they didn’t understand. She learned not to worry them, because then they would bother Eärendil about it, and he had so much to do, fighting dark forces every night.
There was always a welcome for her in Alqualondë. They remembered the day she arrived, tired and scared but determined not to show it for Eärendil’s sake, and there was always a special meal and someone would sing or tell a story. And sometimes they told her tales about the tall tower on Tol Eressëa and the great palantir that looked east from there, as though she would care that it spoke with the stones on the island kingdom that lay somewhere between Tol Eressëa and home. After a while they understood she had no special affinity with that land or its people and spoke less of it.
Since the storm when the mountains fell there were whispers that the stone no longer saw lost Númenor but that the other palantiri had been carried over the sea on that day when the One rose in wrath. They now showed sights to do with the elven kindred in Endórë and might be used to communicate more directly than birds and visiting sailors allowed. What those sights were no one said, but Elwing had learned how to deal with people keeping things from her since childhood. She was a good listener, skilled at picking up hints and building her own picture. In this case though, there seemed to be no secrets, just people trying to hide their ignorance behind half-voiced hints.
If she was in Alqualondë at the right time, she could sail over to Tol Eressëa. She loved the island. Unlike the mainland there was a fresh liveliness to it, with almost-familiar songs and different faces, because the ban had truly been lifted as promised. Every time she visited there were more houses, and the main part of the island was no longer a wooded wilderness but felt just as she recalled Balar, which they told her it had once been a part of. Increasing the familiarity, the main language was Sindarin rather than Quenya.
She had visited the legendary Tower several times, though not since the great storm, and Tirindo, the ancient, gentle elf who cared for it had let her look inside the topmost room when he found she was unafraid of heights. She could fly a little with the gossamer wings that she had fashioned as like to a bird’s as was possible, though that was more about gliding on the updrafts and she had to land carefully, but she had truly flown once before, so heights held no terrors for her.
The palantir itself was bigger than she had realised, a ball with a strange, shimmering almost metallic surface. The guardian told her not to touch it, which she already knew. Something in her, the voice that told her when there was important work to do and which she was sure was somehow connected to her father’s grandmother, told her she would not need to touch it. That first time she stood at a respectful distance and kept her hands to herself, and yet as she was leaving, she saw the surface ripple and shift, as though the great stone was laughing at her.
She did not always travel about alone, occasionally she went with Eärendil to Tirion to spend time with his extended family in the great palace in the original White City. There she visited with her law mother and other high born ladies while Eärendil spent time with his great-uncle, the king of the Noldor. Because she stayed quiet and listened, she learned things, and one such fact was that when they left the Hither Shore, as locals called the place she named Home, the western elves seldom went to live on the mainland. Only the very well born made that final crossing.
She supposed out loud once during a family gathering that it was because they had to learn manners and new ways of doing things as she had needed to, but it was the wrong thing to say and brought a whole rush of disclaimers that were silenced by Eärendil’s twice-great Grandmother saying firmly that it was misguided to assume the returning elves were not welcome in Tirion, merely that they found its richness overwhelming and needed time to adapt.
Afterwards Eärendil told her he thought she was right, but it was best not to say anything further, it made Grandmother unhappy. Elwing thought it was more likely that it made Grandmother annoyed, which she turned on Idril who was supposed to be responsible for her strange, wild, law daughter. And because Eärendil loved his mother, and because Idril had always been good to her, she learned to guard her tongue.
She liked Lalwen, Gildor’s mother, but then she remembered her from Balar, and she had… admired Gildor. Liked was not quite the right word, he was so full of life and strange places and danger that liking him would have frightened her. She had flown on the wind with the Silmaril around her neck since then though, and she wondered at some of her earlier fears now when she looked back. But she had not been brave even then, just desperate, taking that one frantic chance that had paid off. Thrown the dice, double or nothing, Gil would have called it.
She had to remember to call him Ereinion when she spoke of him to the family, apparently, but to her he would always be Gil, that other royal orphan, king of the Noldor when he was barely grown, her almost-brother who never overlooked the horror she had lived through and was her shelter against the world until that night when there had not been enough time and the watch fire had not caught fast enough — she only knew that after, of course. At the time, she had other concerns. She was not trained for battle, for giving orders and making sure the right things were done in the right order. But he would have understood that, too.
Of all the ladies, she most liked Eärendil’s great aunt Aredhel. Even time in the Halls had not quenched her eagerness for adventure and love for riding and hunting, but it had tempered her, they said, and she was gentle with the damaged and uncertain, though her tongue was sharp and short with those family who had not crossed the sea and could not be expected to understand that life. She was unfailingly pleasant to Elwing, to the point of inviting her to go riding, an invitation often repeated once she found that she too rode without fear and liked to gallop the wind.
The rest of Idril’s women though put her in mind of a gaggle of starlings, twittering mindlessly at one another and ready to anger at the nearest imagined slight. Many were family members, whose names she had trouble keeping straight. They gave her a headache, but she tried her best for her husband’s sake. After their visits to the mainland she was always more than glad to get back to their isolated tor and the call of the sea. Try as she might, she would never really understand the Noldor, nor they her.
One day, when the wind blew in wild angry gusts and Eärendil had come home exhausted, with eyes that had seen dark things, and went to bed without even eating, a restlessness had come over her. She decided to ride down to Alqualondë again and if she was right about the boat’s irregular schedule, she would visit the island. She could not say why that day in particular spoke to her, or why the sudden urge to visit Tol Eressëa, but at times she had instincts and when that happened, they were often right. Gil used to say, “Follow your gut, little Queen, it’s old and wise.” The idea that her gut could be old when she was so very young always made her laugh, but still she listened to him. She always did because, despite their lives being so different, he understood her.
And right or wrong, it was her gut, her instinct, the little voice deep in her soul that had made her put on the Jewel rather than leave it in its casket and later, sharpened by terror, had sent her over the terrace railing far above the sea on the night that Sirion burned. And it had not failed her: she had found her way to Eärendil and they had come here and the Enemy had been locked out in the dark at last.
Whatever it was that drove her outdoors, it had chosen the day well. The ride down the coast was a pleasant one despite the wind. When she was first given the horse she knew people – like Great-Grandmother, but even like Idril – had wondered how she would manage with it, but she loved spending time with the patient animal and watching the hills and the sea and the different colours of the sand along the shore. She was happy to ride for hours.
Today the wind played chase with her hair, as the children had used to with one another in the sheltered little bay near the house, shouting and laughing – but she would not think of the children. She never thought of them by name, and in time even managed to forget their names, lost on the wind when she screamed at Eärendil after he told her they could not go back and search… and even now the memories made her ill and shivery and that was not a good way to feel while riding so she stopped thinking about them. It was a trick of hers, shutting things out, one she had too much practice with. There were many things in her life that were best not remembered: Nana screaming, the children crying, the blood on the long grey sword…
She slept the night at the settlement half way between home and the city as she always did and arrived shortly before the long pretty boat with the swan’s head was due to make the crossing to Tol Eressëa. There it would stop at all the ports, delivering little luxuries from the mainland and picking up in turn the products of the island: the pottery with the marine motifs, the delicate silverwork, the Sindarin weavings, and especially the beautiful lamps made of shell – all the crafts for which it was best known.
More people kept arriving on Tol Eressëa, Noldor and Sindar both, and sometimes she even met people she remembered from Sirion, but they seemed afraid of her and she understood it was because of the night when she had fled One-handed Maedhros and gone in search of her husband. Elwing knew all about being scared of things, so she kept her distance.
In any case, none of these were friends. She had not made many friends when she was young because she was too important to play with ordinary children and later her difference from everyone else grew obvious and they feared her a little, though no one ever said as much. She was like a strange talisman, Elwing the penniless Queen who held the Silmaril as her dowry.
She was still very young when she understood the only person in all Sirion who was really her age was Eärendil and as they grew they spent more and more time together. No one said a word where she could hear them, but everyone knew they would wed because they were the only ones of their kind. And anyhow, he was a Prince and he thought she was wonderful. And he was a Noldor prince, which made the people from Gondolin happy, which was important because they made a great fuss when they weren’t happy, so it was all good. And Gil said the match would aid reconciliation and she did love Eärendil, didn’t she? And Galadriel, the Lady, just nodded and said it took Noldor to stand against Noldor, so now the Jewel would be safe. Which only went to show what she knew.
Although she had no close friends, there were those on Tol Eressëa who would be happy to give her a place to pass the night, but her choice, as always on these visits, was Lalwen’s little house overlooking the bay. Even if their aunt wasn’t home, there was a room for her to claim and those who helped in the house – not servants, just elves who loved their brave Lady and liked looking after her – would make her welcome and take care of her.
She found Lalwen was away from home, visiting family in Tirion. Elwing thought hard and eventually recalled something about an anniversary. She never attended these events without Eärendil and the nights had been harsh for him for a period she would have thought of as a moon back over the sea, though they had other ways to measure time here. She should learn, she knew, but it seemed to pass so differently and was difficult to remember and if she was honest, she didn’t really care much. Time had seldom been important to her.
She sat out on the terrace and ate the late lunch they offered her, enjoying the warmth and the scent of the sea. The sun glittered off the deep blue water and there were gulls too, but they stayed down by the shore so she supposed there was a shoal of fish. Eärendil wasn’t fond of gulls, he said they made too much noise, but that was when he was trying to sleep. She loved their argumentative, brave spirit and their curiosity. She liked to think she was a little more like a gull than people gave her credit for.
When the sun sat low above the sea, the soul-voice spoke, telling her it was time. She collected a cloak from the bedroom because she knew it could get cold after sunset this close to the sea at the end of the season of growth, plus the world had not settled yet from the great upset that had recently happened and the wind off the sea had become unpredictable. The changes did not affect her though, any more than tracking the passing of time did, so she thought less about them than most of Eärendil’s family. All her life she had focused on the important things – lame frightened birds, plants struggling to reach the sunlight, deer fleeing the hunter – and nothing that had happened to her since the night she left Sirion had given her a reason to change.
Despite the need for a cloak, she left her shoes behind in the bedroom and went barefoot. She loved the feel of sun-warmed stone beneath her feet and if she paid attention she could feel the heartbeat of the island where it vibrated softly far below the surface.
The path she took to the tower passed beautiful gardens and groves of trees that looked like beech, just more silver and sleek. They did not speak; she was always sad for them. There were steps, many steps, and she took them easily, quietly, breathing in the scents of the herbs planted in the cracks and the little roses growing in crevices. There was no one around when she entered the tower, but then it was close to the dinner hour and she supposed Tirindo had gone home to eat.
Once inside she flitted across the great entrance chamber like a ghost or a white owl gliding on silent wings. There were flights of stairs ahead, spiralling gracefully up to the next level and the one above that, with an observation deck looking out over the town and the sea on each level. After that, the tower grew narrow, the spiral tighter. There were three hundred and ninety-six steps. She knew this because she had counted them each time. She liked to be sure of facts like that.
The stairway was gloomy, lit by occasional slits in walls that had once been white but were now soft grey in daylight. Tirindo would come up and light the little lamps and illuminate the two landings, but not yet. Elwing reached the two hundredth step and paused a moment because she could feel it, feel the stone stirring above her in the dark. Her lips curving into a little smile, she began to hurry in case she was too late and it went back to sleep again. She thought it did that – slept, woke, looked out where it was aimed, slept again. Alive, as the island was alive, as every rock, every pebble, every grain of sand on the glittering beaches were alive.
The stairwell finally opened into the chamber that housed the Master-stone and the return of daylight made her eyes itch. It was a simple space, with arched openings decorated with delicate scrolling on three sides, while the final side where the stairs ended was walled. That was the side that faced west, Tirindo had told her. There was no need to look over the Belegaer to the mainland of Aman. In the centre, on an ornately carved, circular platform, the stone hunkered in the last of the light, its silken cover shimmering softly.
Elwing paused in the doorway, but the voice or her gut or whatever it was pushed her gently forward – it was time. The stone flags were cold under her feet, and that somehow made her aware of how quiet the chamber was, nothing to be heard but the soughing of the sea and the sad call of the wind. She almost tiptoed up to the central plinth and stood for long moments with her fingers barely touching the edge of the cloth while she watched Anor sinking into the sea and the birds making their way home. Almost she envied them: she would be found here and they would tell Eärendil and it would be a trouble for him to sort it all out, and she hated when that happened. And yet – and yet, she had to do this.
The cloth came slithering off with a single twitch and the Master stone lay exposed to her, the surface plain and impossibly smooth. She moved nearer, almost standing on her toes because she was not very tall. The stone vibrated softly, with what she thought might be a language but she couldn’t be sure. It might only be something like the sounds the wonderful lamps in their home made at night when they awoke in response to the light dimming. Slowly, very slowly Lúthien’s granddaughter stretched out her hands, first one then both, and held them away from the surface and to either side. And waited.
At first nothing happened. There was less light and a little breeze started up that made her shiver. Eärendil would be awake now, eating his dinner before going off to the great sky dock and the night’s work. She felt guilty for not being there, but saw how worrying about that would interfere with what was trying to happen here and stopped, making her mind empty as she used to do so often when she was a child and again in the months – or were they years? – after her arrival here.
She became aware that the air was humming softly as though there was a hive of drowsy bees nearby and the surface of the globe began to ripple like lake water teased by the wind. She watched, fascinated. A draft came from somewhere and lifted her hair, let it fall, tugged fitfully at her cloak. The humming grew louder.
And then there was a room, brightly lit with lamps and candles and a great blazing fire. The place was strange to her, a great hall somewhere, with a high raftered ceiling that vanished off into darkness and long windows that looked out onto the world just after dusk. People were moving around, coming and going across her field of vision. There were servers with trays bearing cups and small platters and then there were beautifully dressed elves with hair styled the way the newcomers tended to wear theirs, which told her this must be over the Sea, beyond the new bending of the world that she knew about without properly understanding.
She could hear an indistinct buzz of voices and could almost though not quite make out the words. She saw people she almost knew, but she kept being drawn forward and they went past too quickly for her to be sure. It was as though she was travelling through the hall but from a strange vantage above. Almost like the night when she had flown away from smoke and flames, a bird on the currents of the wind, searching for Sirion’s lord: a bird’s sight was something she understood.
There was a door off the hall to a more private space, a smaller room with rich tapestries on the walls and even underfoot – she had never seen such a thing – and an iron brazier against one wall, glowing warmly. For a moment her flight paused and she saw a man, two men, seated a little distance from a cheerful fireplace and – and her kinsman Círdan was with them. Beside them, on a small table, she glimpsed briefly another shining orb, a stone smaller and lighter than the Master-stone, but still potent with power, calling her on. And then she was moving again with purpose, towards the fireplace.
She saw Erestor first, with that unmistakeable hair, and then Gildor standing behind his chair. Then she saw Gil and her throat closed up, her chest tightened, tears prickled behind her eyes. She reached out her hand towards him longingly, even though she knew he was too far to ever reach again. He was wearing red, crowned with mithril, and looked as she remembered him, just a little older, a little more tired. And then the angle changed again slightly, and before she could regret it or try and reach back to stay with Gil, she saw who he was speaking to.
He looked quite tall, with broad shoulders like Eärendil, and long soft hair so like her own web-fine fall it would have been impossible to mistake it. If she had, there were always the clear grey eyes, the same as looked out of her mirror, the same that looked back through memory at her from a child’s face. He was smiling, gesturing as he spoke, and the smile was warm, confident. And the name came to her as though it had never been gone: Elrond. And his brother, the one she was told they lost to the Second born long, long ago had been… Elros. But Elrond was with Gil, so then this was the place called Mithlond, that hadn’t even existed when she lived at Sirion.
Elwing watched him, drinking him in. She had not seen him grow, it had not been given to her to see what shaped him, find what he loved, what gave him joy, but that was water under a bridge. He had not died, he lived, they had both lived, and in the end Gil had found them. Idril had tried to tell her, over and over, but she could not listen to anything about her sons without the greyness reaching out to claim her once more and so she shut her ears, but… her law mother had not lied. Elros must really have gone to the Isle of Númenor, and Elrond – Elrond lived still.
The tide of conversation must have changed, he was listening now, not talking, his attention had moved past where she could feel Gil was sitting. She watched her son: the line of his jaw, the tilt of his head, the relaxed yet erect way he sat, and the posture reminded her of no one, these were all his own or belonged to whomever had raised him – she would not think those names. His skin had that slightly olive tint that made her think of her law-father though and his hands, there was something familiar about his hands.
He turned his head suddenly and seemed to look directly at her, small lines crinkling his forehead above the long elegant nose that was so like her father’s. She stared at him, willed him to see across the distance, to go to where Círdan stood and look into the other stone, but it was no use. He gave his head a brief shake and turned back to the conversation, but there was an unease that showed in the way he was seated now, which she knew almost as though she had watched him grow up after all.
“I love you,” she whispered into the nothingness that lay between them.
And then she was moving again, but this time she was not alone. There was a sense of ‘other’, something outside of her, close but not threatening. Drawing her away from the face she most wanted to see to the other that was dearly familiar. Gil was drinking from a golden cup, the rim chased with small gems, laughing at something Erestor was saying. Power flowed through her and like Elrond he looked up, startled, as though his name had been called. The words came to her from outside, in a voice that was hers but had an echo of another voice behind it.
“Gil? Gil, listen to me. I was sent to warn you.”
He blinked and his lips formed her name, making it a question. Elwing leaned closer, wishing she could feel his warmth, and the power flowed through her, a vessel overfilled, holding its shape for a few moments longer. But now she knew what she had to tell him.
“You need to have everything in order, Gil,” she said, speaking aloud, forming the syllables clearly, distinctly, pushing them out on the air. “You will be coming home soon. Your name will never die and they will sing of your courage down the ages, but there will be war and then you will come home. But before then you have to make sure Elrond knows he has to see it through to the end – no matter what the cost. Right to the end. For us all.”
He half rose, reaching out a hand though she knew he could not see her. Someone stepped forward, alarmed. She thought it might be Gildor. Then she was moving again, faster than before this time, very fast, the air drawing away from her and her head starting to spin. The last thing she saw was Círdan and his two companions, all of whom had turned around, looking back where she had come from. And the stone, which gave a great blaze of light before one of the men said something and she saw the cover coming down.
Hands caught at her shoulders from behind and she felt herself guided, half sinking, half falling to the ground. And then it was dark.
Vairë the Weaver hastened over to wrap Elwing in her own cloak so that she would be warm in the short time before the watchman of the tower found her. Námo’s wife she might be and a spinner of destinies, but not even she was permitted to speak directly to any of their fate, neither here nor across the sea. But she saw all and her tender heart had its favourites and ached for their ignorance, their trust in the future. This time though, unlike the others, she had a voice, a vessel to work through, for in this fragile child with the strain of Maian blood resided power barely dreamed of by other elves.
For a moment she looked down at Elwing, concern vying with satisfaction across her sweet face. Small of stature was the Weaver, with nut-brown hair and bright, hazel eyes, but something in those eyes belied her gentle looks and hinted at a will of steel. Before leaving, before fading into the fabric of the night, she picked up the silken cloth and covered the great seeing stone, bidding it sleep. There might be other times, other messages, but for this day at least, their work was done.
Beta: Red Lasbelin