Disclaimer: Middle-earth and all characters therein are Copyright of Tolkien and his Estate and/or Enterprises. This work of fiction is for entertainment purposes only and no profit is made thereby.
Rating:R for brief adult content and graphic battle sequences. There will be no further warnings – please obey this one if it applies to you.
The streets were crowded, bustling with Elves of Doriath and of Gondolin – great empires doomed by fate and lost by pride. Forced to flee their homes before the threat of death and thralldom, here the refugees of those once fair and prosperous realms gathered.
Cupped before the sea, the harbor at the mouths of Sirion were ever cleverly disguised; high reeds and craggy rocks did well to conceal that which ought not to be easily seen. Upon a high bluff nigh to the delta were built all establishments of business and leisure, and those homes of the Havens' residents.
From there above, either by the Steep Cliff or the garden pavilions overlooking the harbor below the ridge, one could see the comings and goings of the ships, and the happenings of the Sea. Just as well from either precipice or the heart of town could be seen the path of the sun, the glow of the stars, and the gulls dancing amid the clouds. This was glad for the townsfolk, who prided themselves on their very perseverance, and cherished these simple pleasures.
It was an ordinary day of mundane tasks, interrupted when the Harbormaster's bell rang from below. All those available among town ran through the tidy crops of green leaves and gold grains to behold what was come. One other stood already by the Steep Cliff; so used to her presence was the earth there that the rocks wore her footprints.
Seen by many was Cirdan the Shipwright's return -far earlier than expected- and with his ship docked not Earendil's; the watchers were nigh unto despair for his absence, fearing their Lord lost to the Sea. Those first beheld Cirdan's approach made their way through town, eager to hear anon what news the Shipwright brought of Earendil's fate.
Coming behind them was the Lady Elwing, her pace steady with control though her heart was heavy. She knew better than some that ill news never hurried to be gone, but came unbidden and lingered until spent. From the Steep Cliff she could not see Earendil's vessel near or far, and her eyes saw far indeed.
The trail from town to the harbor was not a long one, but before a sloping bend in the road an Elf had caused the townsfolk to halt, ordering those with business elsewhere to turn back lest they complicate matters unnecessarily. This Elf was Faerior, a respected chancellor, and the people obeyed his instructions. As the throng dispersed, Elwing walked past unnoticed; save for Faerior, who smiled with sympathy and nodded for her to proceed alone. In this way Elwing came to the harbor first.
It was a sparse crew that accompanied Cirdan, and likewise Earendil sailed with a modest crew of his own. And such was fortunate indeed, for Cirdan's ship bore the lot of them home after Earendil's vessel met its demise at sea. But the seafarers were nonetheless in good cheer, for none were killed in the incident, and any injuries sustained were by now faint aches.
As Elwing approached the first pier, she confirmed with her eyes that Earendil was alive and well. She could see him climbing the mast along with another, and one on each side they swung down upon two ropes, furling the sail.
Cirdan's ship was artistry in and of itself, with carvings etched in the shape of a story all around its hull, the descriptive motif almost music for the eyes to behold. Elwing came now to the prow, the top of which loomed no closer than twenty feet above her. Silver and dark heads of hair shuffled to and fro on deck, as the seafarers onboard prepared to disembark. Soon a song was started, and all joined in. Elwing knew her wait would not be long as a rope ladder was thrown overboard, its wooden steps beating like chimes against the hull.
One voice became distinguishable as it parted from the choir, then a lithe body sprung over the bulwark, sliding down the ladder in a blur of gold hair and salt-blanched clothes. Gloves protected his hands as he squeezed the rope to slow, and the last ladder footing he did make use of, placing a boot there for stability. The song was ending, and arching backwards the singer twisted about-faced, freeing his right hand to sweep that arm in a flourishing gesture, holding the tune's last note high and long.
Satisfied with his ballad thus completed, he bounded off of the ladder, landing on the dock to pose with a bright smile before his unamused wife. The sailors above began another tune, and Cirdan changing some words brought a mixture of laughter and cries of protest from the others. But now Earendil did not feel like singing, and to maintain his smile required much of his concentration.
"Earendil," Elwing said smoothly, but did not smile, mistaking his mood for something it was not. "Welcome home."
"Aye – but alas! the same cannot be said for my dear ship." He laughed mirthlessly, his eyes reflecting only irreplaceable loss. "Unless Ulmo might greet her as she spirals ever towards the depths of the Sea; for that is her new home, whether she would choose it or not."
Elwing recognized that he was merely being strong -for his crew and his wife- smiling despite misfortune. Perceiving this her demeanor softened, though complete understanding of her husband's affinity for ships was far easier to feign than feel. "Truly, I am sorry, Earendil. It was a lovely vessel, and you labored over it so. Its loss shall be mourned, and its glory remembered fondly."
"But flawed she still was." Quickly glancing about to see that none would overhear, he admitted, "Nothing but trouble we had, Elwing, from the day we set out." Looking up he squinted under the noontime brightness, the cloudless sky an unwelcome irony. "The sun shone just as happily here that morn, but followed us not to Sea, and a storm was there waiting instead."
Elwing noticed his expectant pause. "You mentioned other troubles?" The question elicited a smile of appreciation from her mate, and an enthusiastic -if not entirely coherent to her- telling.
"Aye. First the mast we feared was not strong enough after all, for we learned soon the double square sails we rigged upon it was a mistake unforgivable -misbalanced, you see- and the assaulting winds tested even Cirdan's proven craft! He laughed when I proposed a second mainmast for poor Curuanna, whilst still we planned her form, but two would have been better; though a longer keel she would have needed to make room, naturally. That was not the least of which we disagreed upon while we built her, except that I adopt the foremast of his own design -as you see on his ship there- for Curuanna as well, and gladly I did so."
Elwing remembered that Curuanna was the name of Earendil's defeated ship, before she made the mistake of inquiring. "None were lost?"
Earendil shook himself, dismissing sorrow over sunken wood and wasted effort, when kin and friend lived to toil beside him again, and build better ships anew. "Nay, all are well. That is the best tidings I could bring, better than the lessons we learned of our craft... and I of my mortality." He stepped closer, yet mindful of any tension that might remain from the circumstances of his last departure. Slowly he reached out, nearly touching fingers with Elwing's at her side. "Elwing, I--"
But then a clamor arose as a plank was lowered, and the ladder hanging behind Earendil came to wiggling life. Soon Elves were hustling about as the noise increased. Looking landward Elwing saw the crowd from town had amassed, waiting for the Harbormaster to admit them onto the pier. Presently a few healers were making their way forth, smiling at every healthy sailor they passed.
"Come," said Elwing, "let us away. Though not long, your journey was wrought with danger, and tiresome. I would take you home to rest." At her husband's hesitation she added, "Unless you mean to... frolic with the rest."
Earendil was renowned among his kinsfolk, and Cirdan's presence would do nothing to dim the fervor of those wishing for a tale of the Sea and to share a goblet with the Mariner and Shipwright. Only more zealous would the people be to hear of what incident claimed the life of Earendil's newest vessel.
But Earendil was willing to forsake his usual wont. "Nay, beloved. I've no such desire for revelry today. Indeed a hearth-side seat upon the fur in our home would please me best." It was true enough, though he knew as well as Elwing did that he never sat at ease for long.
Elwing smiled at those words. "That is well. Your sons will be delighted." Taking her husband's hand, the pair began their journey up the pier, made long by several Elves who stopped in elation at the sight of Earendil, who kept him in place until he told a brief tale of his ordeal at Sea, and disclosed his plans for the evening.
Earendil was not bothered by the attention, and only rued the crestfallen expressions of his friends every time he excused himself short of a decent account of his expedition, or declined a well-meaning invitation to a saloon gathering. By the time Earendil and Elwing set foot upon solid ground their hands had long been parted, and they stood some feet apart.
Elwing looked at her husband, who appeared as excited as the townsfolk who received him so graciously. For the moment no one stood within a few yards, though more were approaching from all sides – not necessarily to meet Earendil, but none passed without paying their respects. Interruption was inevitable, and only a matter of time.
"You should stay," she said, adopting a playful lilt. "I shall never make it home with you at this rate."
"Nonsense," Earendil countered. "We are nearly there already."
Elwing laughed, but the tone was flat. "Your people love you dearly, and wish only for your company and to celebrate your safe return; I would not deny them their joy."
"Our people." Earendil's eyes fell with confusion upon his wife, and he ached to close the distance cast again between them, deterred when Elwing's smile dissipated.
"Bide with them but for a while," she said, ignoring his correction. "Gladden their hearts with your stories and companionship, and they will not disesteem you for an early departure. Then return to me at home, when the moon is newly alight. I'll be waiting." Turning she began to make her way through those gathered, weaving a solitary path home.
Looking after her Earendil was riven with the desire to follow, and obey, and question, and forget. Before he could master those conflicting impulses a hand was upon his shoulder. Spun around into a firm embrace, he was bid to tell his tale again, and again. It was another hour before Earendil set foot upon the path, much less saw the inside of the saloon.
The moon was high as a procession caroled through town, its numbers gradually diminishing with every stop, home after home. At last four companions gave their final farewells before separating into parties of two, one pair stumbling more often than the other as they shuffled away, giggling.
The Shipwright hummed one last encore, as besotted with the evening's mead as the night sky. Earendil embraced his wise choice to leave out the words, attempting to keep the beat of what would be a minstrel's part of percussion. But he was no minstrel, and the song ended in laughter as off-key as the singers had been.
They halted before the stately home that first had belonged to Tuor and Idril. Turning, Cirdan took a moment to admire the view. The porch faced west, the main street through town leading directly to Earendil's estate; from the elevated placement of the manor the whole of the Haven was visible.
Gardens bordered the north end of town, a patchwork of white trellises and flowerbeds nestled among the necessities of cultivated edibles. Below that ridge were workyards and storehouses for shipbuilding and supplies.
Glancing sidelong, he saw Earendil watching with an amused expression. "Yes?"
"I said, do you mean to stand here all night?" Earendil smiled, sweet and pleading. "I'm late as it is, and already as 'haplessly careless' as Elwing will tolerate; should I leave our honorable guest gawking on the stoop while I retreat to my soft bed, I fear what would become of me."
"Then let us not find out," said Cirdan, with a playful swat on the other's shoulder.
Inside, the house was dark. While Earendil was familiar enough to navigate without sight, he was less sure of Cirdan, and made towards a cupboard where lanterns were kept.
A soft laugh halted his movement, as did a gentle hand on his arm. "I was born before the sun first rose in the sky, my friend. The dark does not trouble me – even if I could only see well enough to find my pillow, I would still be content."
Earendil nodded. "Of course, thoughtless of me." He gestured to take Cirdan's cloak, but the Shipwright pushed the offer away, his meaning clear: he would not be waited on by the Lord of Sirion in his own home. Accustomed to it or not, the Shipwright's manner never ceased to amuse Earendil, who chuckled. "Permit me to escort you to your room at least, and you'll find that pillow soon enough."
Three spare rooms in Earendil's home were furnished as sleeping quarters. One was particularly ornate, and had served as Cirdan's housing for each of his visits over the years. As such, it was unnecessary that Earendil show his guest to the familiar room, yet he did so with the intention to have a few close words.
Cirdan peered into the chamber once Earendil opened the door, and sniffed, looking down his nose at the homely fixtures. "It'll do."
With effort, Earendil did not laugh at his feigned haughtiness. "It ought to, Sea-scamp, for it's this or the cellar with gratitude such as that."
Cirdan turned back on the other with a gleam of approval in his blue eyes. "Good night, tot," he challenged, using the teasing pet name Earendil had never in truth earned. "Thank you for your sufferance, and your dull company."
At that Earendil smiled, resting his hands on the other's shoulders. "Ai, I cannot keep pace with your banter. You remain the most condescending Elf this side of the Sea... interpret that as a compliment if it pleases."
Grinning smugly, Cirdan leaned down for a single kiss on the other's cheek: the earnest equivalent of a 'thank you' and 'farewell', just as the affectionate name-calling of before.
"Cirdan, a moment," Earendil halted the other as he began to turn. "I want to say—"
"If it is how thankful you are for my assistance at Sea during that catastrophe, I know, for you've already said. And if it is how sorry you are for not taking more of my advice in the building of Curuanna, I know that as well, for you've already said it too. And if it is to plead for my help one last time in the construction of another ship, you know, as I've already said, that I'm not leaving until we build one that you can keep afloat."
The words were plainly spoken, and there was nothing but the desire to make himself believed behind them. For such honesty and favor, Earendil was near to tears. "Thank you," he breathed.
"You are welcome, and an emotional drunk. May I sleep now?"
"Aye, and sleep well. We breakfast an hour after daybreak, but for you I shall make an exception, and be waiting o'er your bed with cold water and a cymbal ere dawn." An old joke between them, but Cirdan did not expect it from Earendil speaking so softly, and laughed out loud.
"I dare you," he said, and swaggered into the handsome room.
Heading then to his own bedchamber, Earendil was in good cheer that remained even as he tripped over a new rug lining the hall. It was strange to him how the house was both familiar and foreign to his senses; an oddity he was struck with upon every return. Little enough time was spent homebound that even small changes, such as the strange paintings decorating the bedroom walls, daunted him.
From a washroom to the left, candlelight and scented steam seeped under the closed door. He breathed deeply, as allured by the smell as the prospect of a hot bath. But first he passed by the ample bed, bordered on both sides by tall windows, to where a cradle sat under a veil hung from the ceiling. Pedestals of polished steel sat on either side of the altar, holding bowls filled with ceremonial herbs of protection and wellbeing.
Peering through the fabric, Earendil felt his heart beat faster at the sight of his sleeping sons. Their heads were furred with black hair, eyes lightly closed in the slumber of infants. On opposite sides they slept facing each other, their limbs touching if not entwined. Once he had found them suckling each other's thumbs in such a position, and smiled at the memory.
The urge to hold them soon grew strong; but knowing there was a ward set upon the threshold and being too weary to replace it, he settled for one last look, then forced himself to retreat across the room.
A mirror framed in woven brass hung beside the dresser, and before it sat a bench and narrow desk, the place where Elwing prettied her hair in the morning. Earendil recalled fondly the times he would watch her from their bed, ever fascinated by the grooming habits of females – just different enough from those of males to elicit the curiosity of the opposite gender.
Hastily removing his outermost clothing, he entered the washroom – therein met by a pleasing sight: that of Elwing sitting on the ledge of a cedarwood bathtub, lazily swirling a layer of rose petals atop the water. Her shift clung to her body in a most enticing way, the material damp and darkened at every curve.
The heated water had done well to rouse the room into a violent fog, and Earendil closed the door behind himself to keep that heat contained, swatting at the mist before his eyes. The floor was slick with condensation, not unlike the deck of a ship; he tread across a familiarly careful fashion. "Hello, my love," he said. "This is a most pleasant surprise."
With a nod Elwing glanced to the window, and the moon beyond. Looking back at Earendil's guilty countenance, she smiled in turn. "You are just in time, have no fear. My wrath shall be reserved for another day."
"Then I shall be on time more often," he laughed, and took to the task of untying the laces of his sleeves. Seeing his difficulty, Elwing rose from her perch to help; he fought with the thong binding his hair with whichever hand was free. She liberated him from that knot as well, and soon there was nothing left to remove but his breeches. They stared wordlessly when their eyes next met, overwhelmed yet paralyzed by desire.
"You are hot-blooded, Peredhel," the lady teased, with her hand as well, rousing her husband with the brief caress.
"Aye," Earendil managed. Few other words came to mind – at least not the artful phrases he wished for. "'Tis cold out at Sea," he ventured awkwardly. "This warmth is most welcome, and your thoughtfulness in providing it. I thank you."
"Is there aught more I may do for you?" Elwing asked, heartfelt if candid meaning in her eyes.
Suddenly unsure, Earendil faltered. He was indeed lonesome for the attentions of his wife; the aching in his loins left no doubt of that. But he was just as aware of his bodily desires as of Elwing's condition -that of recently bearing twin children- and he knew not of a female's required duration for healing in this.
"Elwing, my tongue is in knots," he said, throat dry despite the humidity. "I possess not the talent to term my thoughts as a lady should hear them."
"Anything you say is good for me to hear," Elwing assured him. "I love all your words." She took his hand, wondering at its tenseness.
At length he sighed. "Waves capable of great destruction I have sailed through without avoidance or dread, yet I cannot now bring myself to look into your eyes."
"Should what you see frighten you, I would be so ashamed for it that I could never dare look again."
Elwing brought up the hand she held, and kissed it. "Nothing within you would frighten me."
"Not even a passion that could wound you?" his voice was caustic with self-resentment, then reduced to a whisper, "I could not bear to pain you, and I fear to risk it."
At her relieved laugher, the tension drained from his hand. She said kindly, "I glean now your mind, husband – but ask me first how well I am healed, before you draw such conclusions!"
Blushing, he asked, "How well are you healed?"
"Completely. Yet mayhap you should discover for yourself." His surprised look remained as she pulled him close. "Now what were those words too unrefined for my ears?"
At last looking deep into her eyes, finding ardor therein equal to his own, he smiled. "That bath is not too full for us both, hm?"
If it had been, it would not have stopped them from sharing it. But Elwing was wise as well as fair, and knew better in great anticipation for her Lord's return than to fill it anywhere near the brim.
"Was that painting ever above?" Earendil squinted at the ceiling as he lay upon the mattress so missed during his voyages.
Stretched along his side, Elwing kissed the shoulder her cheek rested upon. "No, love. It was to be created as a gift for your return, and completed early by chance," she kissed him again, "just as you are returned to me so soon."
A pang of guilt reminded Earendil of the words he was interrupted before speaking earlier. "You were right, Elwing, about my departing. I should not have gone so soon; it was too early to leave our sons, and you. I was zealous to test Curuanna on the waves, and for my rashness the fates tested their waves on me."
"Earendil... was it so dire? Might you have been lost to me?"
If he told the truth, he knew she would never consent to him sailing again. If he lied, he feared she would not care whether he stayed or went. "More frightful to me than that possibility is the terms on which we parted last."
At that Elwing looked away, abashed. Their dispute had been much of her doing, though no more irrational was her behavior than Earendil's, or so she thought. "Let us not speak of that again," she said.
"I would speak of it indeed, if only to make a promise upon that dreadful mistake. Every time I set sail it may be my last departure, and that is the risk I accept for the purpose that is mine; but let us swear that we will never be parted in bitterness again." Their eyes met once more, and neither would sever that connection. "I could die tomorrow young but content, Elwing, if I took my last breath knowing you loved me still."
"We are bonded eternally by the sanctity of marriage, Peredhel. Ever will I love you."
Earendil kissed her brow, lingering with his lips pressed against her temple, enjoying the mossy scent of her damp hair. "That I am gladdened to hear, yet I still beseech your forgiveness for my leaving. I would not heed your counsel against it, not for the sake of our young sons, nor for you alone. The powers made a terrible demonstration to prove how wrong I was in that. I pray you forgive me."
Opposing desires stalled Elwing's reply. One was to forgive her husband, and let the hurts of past wrongs mend forthwith. The other was to ensure that he understood the significance of his choice, and was not simply sorry for the consequences.
"Our sons wept for your absence, and would not eat after an entire day." It was said as a statement of fact, her voice without accusation or sympathy. Though Earendil winced she continued, "I could not console them that first night no matter how I tried, and they only slept the next day in exhaustion."
"I'm so sorry," he blurted, looking with longing and guilt towards his sons' crib. "Forgive me, please, I had to go."
Those were the words Elwing never wished to hear. It was true that Earendil was as much a tool of his destiny as his ships were tools to help him carry it out. She knew that before they were betrothed, and accepted it before they were wed – but she did not like it. At times it felt as if she was married to Earendil's fate, not the person who bore it. Yet he could not change what was never his doing.
"I forgive you," she said.
Beside her Earendil sighed. "Then I may rest easy at last." His voice was lighter, bereft of many troubles it carried.
"A token of our love then, and a seal upon our promise." Rising onto her elbow, Elwing placed a chaste kiss on her Lord's lips.
Earendil returned the kiss, and delivered one of his own, not chaste enough to match his wife's modest gesture. Elwing's look was amused at his deviation. "My offense was greater!" he explained.
They fell together, sharing light giggles and heavier kisses. It was not the faint noise of rustling blankets, nor the endearments whispered twixt a couple in love that stirred the first babe, then his twin. From the cradle a whimper resounded, then again. Earendil hearing this put out his hands, stilling his wife as he listened carefully. "They're awake," he said after another noise, delight in his tone.
"Nay, they'll sleep more." Elwing pulled him nearer, reinitiating their affectionate tussle with a few knowing caresses. Another faint sob was followed by its match.
"Cease, cease... I cannot." Earendil pulled himself up, retrieving a robe from the headboard.
Her face was pleading, even slighted. Unsure of whether to feel apologetic or otherwise towards his wife, Earendil explained, "I'm... unused to it. I cannot bear to ignore them."
Elwing frowned. "Yet you neglect me with enough ease."
"I-" he stammered, gesturing to the crib whence another mewl came. "But might they be hungry?"
With a sigh she rolled out of bed, pulling on her own robe, and spoke disinterestedly as she passed by, "A wonder that would be, for all I do is feed them."
Earendil watched her throw open the pale cloth; if she recited words of piety before disturbing the ward, it was in a whisper he could not hear. Cooing to her children she moved to pick one up. "Be you to bed, husband. I shall feed them and return once they are through with me."
There was harmless teasing in her tone, but Earendil did not like it – not being dismissed as if he had no business, and not her demeanor. And least of all did he approve of what he saw under his sons' quite once it was pulled down: the Silmaril, shining brightly as ever. Though using the sanctity of the cot as a hiding place for the jewel sparked ire within him, he did not voice it.
"Nay," Earendil said, "they will sleep with us tonight." Elwing turned to him, the babe in her arms feeding contentedly. Earendil gave a disarming smile in case his words were taut, and they four returned to the bed. After both infants were asleep once more, Elwing laid beside Earendil.
Suddenly he spoke, "I love you, Elwing. And our sons as well have my heart, and there is naught I would refuse to do for them, or you."
"This I know." Elwing was solemn, waiting for what was next to come – for she perceived more of her husband's contemplations than he knew.
"You must share me now," he said evenly.
"Between the Sea and your fate and our sons whom I also love – this I know as well."
Earendil looked upon her, his mood no longer stern, if his words might have been. "I share you as well, beloved, with all of those things, yet I love you no less for it."
"Nor I you."
Their hands connected across the distance between them. In his exhaustion from adventures at Sea, and spent excitement from his homecoming that day, Earendil was swiftly asleep – but not Elwing.
She watched her husband's half-closed eyes, aglow with Elven dreams, then studied his fair features so at peace, golden hair spread as feathers upon the pillow, and her heart was made glad – yet she knew it would not last. Something would take him from her, as something always did, and it would happen too soon, and she would be left alone, on the Steep Cliff watching the Sea for signs of hope, or wandering the empty harbor in sorrow for her Lord, her love.
Not her beautiful sons or her handsome home or even her sacred Silmaril could ease that sadness, however Elwing wished it would. And she did not look forward to this eventuality, but with the foresight of her kin, that line of Melian the Maia, she saw it coming. Like a storm on the horizon, and a wind too high to bear a lone ship to safety, she floundered helplessly on the waters of despair; a victim of fate. And she did not like it.