Marred Stars

By Bejai

"The kinsfolk and friends of Elwë Singollo also remained in the Hither Lands, seeking him yet, though they would fain have departed to Valinor and the light of the Trees, if Ulmo and Olwë had been willing to tarry longer . . . the friends of Elwë were left behind; and they called themselves Eglath, the Forsaken People."

--The Silmarillion

"Elmo, did you find him?" Olwë asked urgently, striding quickly over the sand.

"Yes," Elmo said, his voice echoing the relief of his quick, placating gesture. "He had wandered off to play."

Olwë released a mighty breath of relief and grasped his brother's shoulder, slumping slightly as the tension flowed out of him. "Praise the Valar," he said, shakily. "I do not know if I could have borne…"

Elmo shook his head. "Nay, my brother, nay. It did not happen. Do not think of it," he said, and grasped Olwë's elbow. He turned them toward the wide, dark sea, which clawed mightily at the shore until its strength was gone, then slipped back into the waves. The foam and spray glistened white in the starlight, and it seemed that its roar was an echo of surf on western shores. It calmed them both.

"He was playing on the sands with the other children, I assume?" Olwë asked. "Watching the island drawing near to us at last?"

Elmo smiled, but the expression hung falsely on his lips, holding on a moment longer than needful. "Nay. Celeborn was wandering in the forests. I found him asleep in the care of one of the trees of the mist." He smiled again, more genuinely. "The tree could not understand my panic, and neither could my grandson."

Olwë nodded and scanned the horizon as if trying to peer beyond the darkness where sea and stars became one. "The tree hadn't seen Elwë, had it?" he asked absently. Elmo shrugged fractionally. He had asked -- he always asked -- but it had not.

"Your grandson reminds me of our brother. He does," Olwë insisted at Elmo's noncommittal grunt. "He has Elwë's look -- tall and fair he will be, and just as headstrong. And it seems he has the same penchant for wandering amid the trees. Ai!" Olwë sighed and pressed his hands to his eyes. "I supposed I cannot blame the boy; he did not intend to awake old fears."

"He knows no better," Elmo answered, and started restlessly down the beach. The sand was wet and cool beneath his feet, alternately firm and fleeting at the will of the sea. Olwë followed. "Memory does not haunt him, and each moment is a new delight. He cannot conceive of pain or loss, much less that his beloved woods could harm him. He is innocent still, for which I am grateful."

"Soon enough," Olwë answered, and it seemed that the memory of the light in Elwë's eyes kindled a flame in his own. "Soon enough we will turn from these shores, and leave the fear of marring and death behind us. What a thing that will be, brother! What a gift to our children -- think of letting your Celeborn wander where he will, without doubt, never needing to know the gnawing loss that has darkened our hearts. Soon, Elmo, Soon. I am told that Ulmo will tie fast the island in a few days, and then we may being moving ourselves to it for the voyage to Valinor."

Elmo nodded and kicked at the sand. His actions exposed a glimmer in the starlight, and he stooped to see what he had uncovered. It was one of the star-shells. Upon arriving at the shore, the Teleri had been delighted by all the treasures of the sea, but most beloved of all were the star-shells. Flat and white, smooth in the palm, they were delicately emblazoned with a five point star. Those who found one whole and unbroken cherished it as a holy embodiment of stars and sea mingled. Elmo had never found one whole, and as he brushed the wet sand away from its edges, he saw that this was no exception. The sea had never seen fit to bring delight to his feet, unbroken. There were always missing pieces.

"So," he said as he stood and brushed the sand from his fingers, "When are we to depart?"

"Well, " Olwë said with a laugh, and extended his arms as if to encompass all the flicking fires of their host, spread as far as the eye could see. "It will take us some time to relocate all of us to the island. A few weeks, perhaps. Mayhap as long as a month.

Elmo abruptly lifted his face to the stars, and hoped that his movement had disguised his anguish. "So soon?" he asked, and his voice betrayed what he had hoped to conceal.

"Yes," Olwë said, and the joy in his voice deflated in puzzlement at his brother's grief. "Yes. We are going to Aman," he continued, not understanding, trying to comfort.

"Why the rush?" Elmo asked softly. "I have never understood the hurry. 'The Last' we were called with disdain by those who did not have children to carry. 'The Tarriers' by those who refused to see the beauty in the riffle of a stream. I have another name for us: 'The Forsaken.' We were left. Left, because we were too slow to put aside our grief when Elwë. . . There is no need to hurry, my brother!" Elmo cried. He was pleading, and he knew it. "We have time. Valinor will remain. Give us more time!"

Olwë massaged his brow, his jaw knotted in grief. "Elwë is dead, Elmo. Time will not change this."

"There are some of us who would disagree, my lord," Elmo said, his voice sharpening, nearly bitter. "My heart tells me that some day he will walk out of those woods; I would be there to greet him."

Olwë gaped at him. "Elmo, we are leaving. We are leaving soon; the Valar only returned because Finwë begged them to. I would not dare linger; indeed, my heart is too heavy to wait. Elwë wanted us to see the light of those shores. Do you remember his words as he urged us on? Do you remember the light of divinity that lit his face? Do you remember that this was his passion? He would want us to find the bliss that he once dreamed for us all."

"I am not unwilling!" Elmo cried. "It was Elwë's voice that enticed me from the lands of our awakening, Elwë's hope that carried me over the mountains, Elwë's strength that brought me over the rivers when I would have turned aside. His voice remains in my heart, beside the call of the sea. But I cannot leave him here!"

"Cannot, or will not?" Olwë asked, breaking the silence of a long, dread moment.

"I will not leave without him," Elmo said at last, and he knew he had spoken his doom.

Olwë turned away. "How many will remain?" he asked at length with a voice devoid of emotion.

"I," Elmo answered, "I, and my family. And there are other of Elwë's friends who have spoken to me of this," he admitted.

"And you shall be their lord?"

"Nay," Elmo answered. "Their guardian, if they wish one, until the King returns."

Olwë nodded woodenly. "So be it. I have lost another brother to this land," and he turned away.

"Olwë!" Elmo cried, and reached out for him, but Olwë shook him off. "I . . . please, do not," he said, and walked away.

Elmo stood in agony and watched him go. The waves were reaching higher, twining around his ankles with their icy tendrils, and he realized with a dreadful heave that this was as far into the sea that he would ever go. It sang mournfully to him until the lament was broken by a joyful shout.

"Grandfather!" Celeborn cried, running toward him, and Elmo reflexively scooped up the boy, all sand and wet and salt. "Grandfather, look! I have found a star-shell!" He proudly held up his treasure. Elmo reached out and traced a ragged edge with one long finger.

"It is broken, little one," he said gently.

Celeborn cocked his head at it and frowned. "Yes," he said slowly. "But it is still beautiful." He wiggled his desire to be put down, and Elmo obeyed.

"Do you not want to find a perfect star-shell?" Elmo asked.

His grandson shrugged. "They are very hard to find. You could look forever, and never find one like that. And if you did ever find one, you should be too afraid to play with it. And," he said, his young voice wise with too much experience, "if you were running and tripped and broke it, mother would be angry, and you would feel bad because you have ruined a perfect thing."

Elmo laughed, and remembered other broken treasures in little hands. Perhaps he was consigning his grandson to a marred and troubled life, yet the child's merriment was enough to lift his weary heart. "And so the broken star-shells are better?" he teased.

Celeborn turned his shell over in his hand, and looked up to meet his grandfather's eyes. "No. But you should not love it less because it has had a harder journey." The handed his grandfather the shell. "This one is for you," he whispered, tugging on his hand, and Elmo looked down in surprise. "Methinks, little one, that you are a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings," he said slowly, and both stood silently for a moment. Then Celeborn flashed him a bright grin and dashed off, called by some new corner of Middle Earth he had not yet seen.

Elmo stood long on the beach, alone under the stars, clutching his grandson's gift. And though he squeezed it until the jagged edge cut into his palm, the shell broke no further. At length he knelt and gently placed it back in the sand. Who was he to carry it away? It had given a part of itself to these shores. It belonged here.

An Ending


Elmo is the little known younger brother of Elwë and Olwë. Tolkien did not tell us much about him, other than that he was the father of Galadhon, who was the father of Celeborn. And he also apparently dwelt with his brother in Doriath. Thus -- he stayed as one of the Eglath when Olwë went with the Teleri to Aman.

When I think of the shores of Middle Earth, I cannot help but think of the shores of northern California and southern Oregon on the Pacific coast of the United States. Giants dwell there, the trees of the mist -- the Redwoods.

I have stood many times under those ancient creatures, and cannot help but wonder whether, if I waited long enough, one might not condescend to say hello. And somewhere, stuffed in a drawer no doubt, I have a star-shell -- a sand dollar. It's broken; I never have managed to find one whole.