In The Two Towers (Book III, Chapter 11, "The Palantir"), Gandalf tells young Master Peregrin that when all of the palantiri were in the hands of the kingdom of Gondor, "Each palantir spoke to each" – and I imagined they would work in much the same manner for the sons of Fëanor, perhaps with the one that "could survey them all together at one time" with Maedhros the eldest. But once they'd been scattered, a single palantir "alone…could do nothing but see small images of things far off and days remote."
It is a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but the story came from something of a mental image, and those don't always make the best kind of logical sense.
Elegy for a Fallen Star
It sat, nestled among the shining clusters of wedding gifts, simple and austere in its grey linen wrapping. It caught Ilmarë's eye, and she leaned across the table to pick it up, strands of her dark hair falling over the finely wrought treasures of gold, silver, wood, and glass… Her fingertips touched the soft cloth, and she felt hard, smooth stone beneath it.
"Elros," she called, picking up the round stone, and feeling its cool weight in the palm of her hand. "What's this?"
Elros raised his head at his bride's voice, and closed the beautifully bound and intricately illumined text his brother had sent. "What is what?"
She squinted at the letters embroidered on the hem of the linen wrapping cloth, and shook her head. "No good. My Quenya is still too elementary."
"From someone of the Noldor then. And don't worry, love, you'll learn," he assured her. "This is actually for you," he continued, exchanging the book for the smooth stone.
She flipped open the cover, and let her fingers trace down the lines of genealogy – from Beren and Luthien, to Dior and Nimloth, and from Idril and Tuor, to Elwing and Eärendil, and finally resting on her husband and herself. It was strange, to see her name amid the names of history, and legend. Who was she but an Edain lass, of no great lineage or lofty birth? It was stranger still to try to reconcile her first sight laughing Elros who stood like a fair youth amid the lords of Men who sailed to the Island of Númenor, to the son of Eärendil Half-Elven, born before the Shadow departed, and what was reckoned the second age of Middle-earth began. She felt a sense of kinship, from afar, to Beren and Tuor. They must have felt rather as she did now, after they took their Elven-brides to wife. But they were warriors of great renown, and she had no such claim to honor. She was just a maid of a noble house, unremarkable among her many sisters and cousins and kinswomen, save that it was she whom Elros loved.
"It's a family history," he explained, interrupting her thoughts. "Written once in Sindarin, and once in Quenya. Elrond has always said that the best way to learn a language is through stories."
"It's beautiful," she beamed, holding the book close. "I'll write him a lovely letter. In Quenya, if I can manage it," she laughed. Elros, however, was silent. Perplexed, she softly set down the book, and turned to look at the stone in his hands.
"'A gift from the servants of your father, '" he read numbly, "'To the last of the line of Fëanor.'"
Ilmarë slipped her hand in to the bend of his elbow. He smiled at her – a tense, pained smile, but the smile she fell in love with, all the same.
"It's fine," he assured her. "It just surprised me, that's all."
It was a simple sphere of strangely translucent stone, and Ilmarë found herself staring deeper into its depths.
"I suppose you do still want to know what it is, don't you?" he continued, his voice a little more composed. "Palantiri," he challenged, grinning at her.
Ilmarë bit her lip. "Far…watchers?" she asked more than answered, looking up at him.
"Good girl," he praised teasingly, and she laughed and laid her head on his shoulder, still looking at and into the palantir. "They were made by Fëanor… seven seeing stones for his seven sons, so however they might stray across Middle-earth, they would ever be connected to one another. This one belonged to Maglor."
Ilmarë shivered at the mention of her husband's foster-father, and pulled a little closer to Elros. That was the part about her husband's family she never quite understood. All that was left of the city of Sirion, where Elros and Elrond's parents had once ruled as lord and lady, after Maglor and his brothers felt the Vow was satisfied, was a few blackened foundations on the coast, and the pain in Elrond's eyes. And yet, Elros loved Maglor as the only father he'd ever known.
"Do you suppose," she began quietly, "it still … works?"
Elros shrugged. "I don't see why it wouldn't. But you see, they only work from stone to stone. A single palantir …"
"What happened to the rest of them?"
"I'm not certain," he replied, shaking his head. "Still with the servants of their former owners, I imagine." His voice was cool as he spoke, but his eyes were troubled, and sad. Who had kept the palantiri as Fëanor's sons fell, one by one? "Or perhaps the hosts of the Vanyar carried them back to the Undying lands. Still, it means a great deal, to have something of his," Elros said softly, closing his hand around the palantir.
He started from his heavy sleep, and floundered his way to wakefulness, like a child in a coat too big for him. He wasn't sure he'd ever grow accustomed to sleeping like a mortal.
"Did you hear it?"
He rubbed his eyes open, and squinted at his wife, whose eyes were dark and wide, and shining in the moonlight. She sat cross-legged on the bed beside him, her hands clenched to white-knuckled fists.
"Wha?" he mumbled unintelligibly.
"The voice… the song… Did you hear it?"
"I was asleep," he pointed out unnecessarily.
"I know," she said, reaching for his hand. Hers were icy, and they woke him quite effectively. "But you heard it, didn't you?"
"Ilmarë," he said calmly, pushing himself to a sitting position, "I don't even know what you're talking about."
"There was a voice… singing. Somewhere close by. And the cry of gulls."
"Love, we're on the sea shore. The gulls are never silent."
"But the voice…"
"Probably from one of the lower floors. Maybe a child had a nightmare."
Ilmarë stared. "If you had heard the song," she told him quietly, "you would not mistake it for a lullaby."
"What song was it?"
"I… I don't know. I'd never heard it. And I couldn't understand the words. But Elros…"
"Well how could you tell it was not a lullaby if you could not hear the words?"
"I said I couldn't understand them, not that I couldn't hear them. And I could tell."
"I think," he said slowly, "that you've been at that book of my brother's for too long."
"Elros!" she cried, as if injured. "Do not dismiss me like a foolish child!"
He sighed. "Forgive me, Ilmarë. I'm afraid my head is too addled with sleep to make sense of this just now. I'm sure we can clear it up in the morning. Will you please go back to sleep?"
Ilmarë tensed again, then sighed, and curled up close to him. Elros reached out to gather her cold hands into his, and she laid her head against his chest. He felt her slowly relax in his arms, and then heard her voice, thick with sleep.
"It might have been a dream. But I don't think I could have dreamed that."
They stepped forward, one by one, and placed the stones in front of him on the council table. Six spheres, identical to the one sitting in his study, each presented by a former servant of his foster-father's deceased brothers.
"You honor me, my lords," Elros told them sincerely, almost baffled by such a gift.
"It is the honor due to the last son of the House of Fëanor," Maedhros' servant replied quietly.
"You call me that," he said softly, "but does not Celebrimbor, son of Curufin still live?"
"He has renounced his father. Do you wish to do the same, son of Maglor?"
Elros' eyes flashed with fire, and Ilmarë could not doubt that he was indeed, in some ways, the grandson of Fëanor he was raised to be. "Why should I wish to dishonor myself thus?"
The servant of Maedhros smiled dryly, as though he could think of a few reasons. "Why indeed."
"You are welcome here," Elros told them all, "for as long as you wish to stay."
"We thank you for your hospitality, but we will return to our ships, and our journey. The land of gift was bestowed on the Edain, not the Exiles. Our path is before us, and we have tarried too long. So we must set out…before Mandos changes his mind?" Something in his falsely light tone made Ilmarë think he almost wished Mandos would change his mind. With the mocking smile on his face, the Noldorin Lord turned and led the others from the council chambers of Númenor.
Elros took a step back, and regarded the stones. Ilmarë approached from where she had stood in the doorway.
"Well, love," he said, "we'd better get started."
She blinked. "Beg pardon?"
"If we're to give the palantiri to our children…"
She smiled. How like him, to take a moment of such sadness, and fill it with laughter. "But Elros," she protested, "suppose we have eight children?"
He laughed, and reached for her hand. "They learn to take turns, I imagine."
Ilmarë lay, stretched out beside her sleeping husband, straining to the edges of her hearing. She was certain it hadn't been the voice of one of her own people she'd heard the previous night, but had she dreamed it?
Would that make it any less real?
It had woken her last night, but tonight, she would stay awake for it, and hear how it rose out of the darkness. The regular rhythm of Elros' breathing was comforting, and she moved a little closer to him. Outside the window, rain began to fall in a soft, syncopated staccato, and sleep claimed Ilmarë not wholly unwilling…
A clap of thunder woke her this time, although Elros did not even stir. She turned to try to find where she'd left her sleep, when she remembered with a guilty start that she'd meant to stay awake to listen…
Was it that she wanted to know if it had been a dream?
Or did she just want to hear the song that tore her heart with its beauty again?
The only sounds now were the ones of the storm. The rain fell, the thunder crashed, and the sea tossed restlessly. The gulls were silent now, huddled together in their secret places among the cliffs, heedless of the figure who stood with his hands to the heavens and his face to the wind, joining in the song of the storm…
Ilmarë sat up with a start, and went to the window.
The rain was coming down in a slow, steady shower over a calm sea, and the only thunder was a soft, deep rumbling on the horizon.
"A dream?" she murmured softly to herself. Was she but a foolish girl with her head too much in the stories to keep a hold of her imagination when the moon rose and she was alone with her musings?
Ilmarë rubbed at her forehead, and leaned on the marble sill of the open window, feeling the spray of the rain on her face and arms. She wasn't even sure she'd heard anything this time, half asleep as she was. And what kind of song would have the power to paint such jewel-bright images in her mind?
Still, she listened a little longer, to the rhythmic patter of the rain on the slate roof outside the window and her calm breathing…
Which stopped in an instant at the sound of that voice…
It was a male voice, and by far the most beautiful she'd ever heard. This was not a singer who concentrated on the notes he sang – full and clear and haunting though they were – nor the words that even to her uncomprehending ears sparkled in their loveliness. It was a mighty voice, not merely in its resonance and confidence, but for the spirit behind it. And the song wove through the silence and the darkness a shimmering tale of pain and loss.
Remembering herself at last, Ilmarë turned from the window to wake her husband. But no Elros slept peacefully where he had only moments before.
Her call to him died on her lips, for she could not bring herself to interrupt the song with her own shrill discordant voice. Still, it faded just as subtly as it had started, and no matter how closely she listened, she could not call it back. Back at the window, she turned her eyes to the beach, stories below, and leaned out for a better view, without knowing what she expected to see. The figure from her dream, with the wind in his hair and his head thrown back to the starless sky?
Cold hands on her shoulders pulled her back from the window, and she found herself tight in her husband's arms, shaking as they held her close.
"I'm sorry," he whispered as she felt his tears on her hair. "I couldn't stand it. Not with his voice in the air."
"Elros," Ilmarë said softly, pulling far enough away to meet his eyes. "Couldn't stand what?"
He did not respond, but held her closer.
Elwing with the Silmaril on her breast cast herself into the sea…
"Elros," she repeated, placing her hands on his wet face.
"A… beautiful black-haired woman with pale skin and eyes that shone like the star she held in her hands, standing at the window," he murmured, more to himself than to her. "It's one of my earliest memories. Then my brother put his hands over my eyes, and wept. I was… too old before I realized that the woman I remembered was my mother. And that she chose to die for a Silmaril instead of live for us. For me," he added softly. "Then Maglor did the same." He closed his eyes tightly, his hands shaking on her shoulders. "And with his voice so close… the image… I could not bear it," he told her, pulling her close again.
Not knowing what to say, Ilmarë wiped away his tears. "It doesn't…" she ventured, "it doesn't mean that they didn't love you."
He nodded. "I know. But that doesn't make it hurt any less."
The stone was dark and silent when they crept into the study adjoining the sleeping chamber. Even so, Elros wrapped it in its grey linen embroidered with silvery letters, and placed it carefully in a carved wooden box of wax and seals. And they lay in silence a few moments later, Ilmarë too confused to begin to ask the questions that plagued her."He's mad, you know," Elros told her softly, gently stroking her dark hair away from her face. "Burned by the light he's always longed for."
"He doesn't sound it," she ventured quietly.
"If you knew a little more Quenya you might think differently," he replied softly, with his fingers still twined in her shadowy hair.
"He just sounds sad," Ilmarë said, reaching up to touch the cold tears on Elros' face.
"Yes." And warm ones came down across his white cheek in their place.
The Palantiri were sent throughout the island, with the king's most trusted advisors. But Maglor's palantir stayed with Elros – Tar-Minyatur, they would call him, a name better suited to first high king of Nùmenor than the one that belonged to a Half-elven prince. Ilmarë sometimes saw him gaze into the stone when there were no messages to be sent, almost as if he hoped to see the shadow of some distant shore. But when night fell, he placed it in its box. Ilmarë no longer woke to the song she was not sure she remembered, and would never forget. But when her body grew heavy with their child, and her sleep grew fitful, she often wondered if she did not hear it at the edges of her dreams.
So Vardamir, son of Elros, greeted the world when the stars were bright, and Gil-Estel glittered with the light of the lost Trees over Nùmenor.
The Jewel of Varda lay in his mother's arms, while she contemplated the wonder of her elven-fair child. Elros stroked his wife's damp hair, and watched his son nurse, eyes closed tightly, and tiny hands clenching and unclenching.
"What song is that?" Elros' hand was still for an instant, and Ilmarë, who'd barely been aware of herself softly humming to her baby, blinked at him sleepily.
"I'm not sure."
Elros was silent for an instant, as he did not ask where she had learned it. "It was one of my favorites," he told her quietly. "I never tired of hearing it. It's just a simple song about the starlight on the snow, but I made him sing it for me at least every day when I was little. When I knew all the words, we sang it together, and he made up a new harmony every time. And always it was more beautiful than it had ever been before."
"Will you sing it for us?" Ilmarë asked solemnly, her eyes intent on her husband's starlit face, letting Vardamir's fingers curl around her thumb.
Elros shook his head, and smiled sadly. "Do not forget that the father who raised me is not the one whose blood flows through me. No, love, I fear I have none of Maglor's gift."
"But you are descended from Luthien the Nightingale," she argued. "And you sang with Maglor..."
He smiled at her slowly, and closed his eyes.
A song of Maglor, son of Fëanor, again filled the night. But instead of a song of loss, it was a song of long-forgotten joy, found new again. The singer raised his voice, filled with his love and his own joy – not untouched by pain, but strengthened by it – to the stars and prayed to their maker that somehow another singer would know, and remember.
Technically… Ilmarë is an original character. But… not really. Elros' wife had to exist. I just… ascribed a personality to her, and gave her a name. And in many cases in the Silmarillion, we're not given more to work with than a name and relationship to another character. So I was just missing that one – albeit critical - piece of information. Why Ilmarë? I named her after one of the handmaidens of Varda, which seemed appropriate for a woman who would name her son "Jewel of Varda". It also seems to fit in with Middle-earth Elbereth worship. It must stink to be Manwë… All the Elves pray to the Star-kindler, and seem to forget the rest of the Valar, including the fellow in charge.
Varda: Darling, my hobbits are in trouble again. Could you be a dear and send out the Eagles?
Manwë: (mutters) Why can't they just ask me? They're my eagles, after all. It's not like her stars are going to come down and save their little mortal skins…
Varda: What was that, oh Lord of the Winds my husband?
Manwë: Oh, nothing, Starshine, nothing at all…
And, now that I've gotten my blasphemy out of my system…
Elros (and in an odd way, Maglor too) in this story is deeply influenced by the Elros of Deborah's "When I am Wise" and "As Little as Might Be Thought." I didn't realize quite how much at first, but that's probably just because her insights and images in those stories are so beautiful and right that sometimes I get them confused with Tolkien's. So this story is deeply indebted both to her work, and to her, for prodding me to finish it.
As always, I've written this as my humble tribute to the great masterwork that is Middle-earth, and as an expression of my respect for, love of, and ever-continuing amazement at the depth, breadth, and profound emotion of Professor Tolkien's work.]