The peak towered over the rest of the mountain range, reaching far past the clouds, all the way into the sky. On one side lay the sea; on the other, a wide valley. The Eagle circled the summit twice before descending towards a pass that linked the valley and the shore. A city had been built there, white on a green hill, but the Eagle did not dive so low. Instead, he headed for a broad ledge where an Elf stood, gazing down at the pass.

Once he had landed, the Eagle smoothed down his feathers and spoke.

"So. We meet again."

The Elf frowned up at the bird, studying the markings on his wings. "Actually... While I do recognize you, of course, Lord Thorondor--I used to enjoy watching you circle high above our fair, doomed city--I do not think I have ever had the pleasure of meeting you in person."

Something about the way the Eagle ducked his head suggested embarrassment. "No, of course you have not. That is rather the point, I suppose."

"The point?"

The Eagle stretched out an enormous wing, causing a sudden gust of wind to ripple the Elf's long, yellow hair, and scrutinized the tips of his flight feathers. The Elf waited, looking politely bewildered, until the Eagle pulled himself together and spoke again.

"A few seconds. That was all. I was but a few seconds late--it is a little habit of mine, you know, making people wait. It makes for better drama. The only problem is, I occasionally forget that there are times when it really matters."

"I am not sure that I--"

"And then, gravity does work rather fast on you Wingless Ones, does it not?" The Eagle turned his head to regard the Elf with one speculative eye. "I tend to forget that, too. I hope you will be able to forgive me."

"Ah, I begin to understand!" The Elf's eyes blazed with the wisdom of one who has seen both the light of the Trees and the shadow of darker places. "You were the one who carried me up, after. Were you, then, hoping to catch me?"

"Yes. That was the plan."

"The plan?" The Elf frowned again. "But how did you know I would fall?"

"I was told of it by my Lord... what do you Wingless Ones call him? The Breathing One. It was part of the world's song, he said."

"Are you referring to Manwe Sulimo, Lord of the Breath of Arda?"

"Yes, that sounds about right."

The Elf drew himself up. His hair blazed gold in the sun as he pushed back his shoulders. "Manwe spoke to you of me--of my fall?"

"Yes indeed. He would often share bits of the Song with me, back in those days. The days of the Magpie One."

"The Magpie One?"

"You must remember the Magpie One." The Eagle tilted his his head back. "The one dressed in black, who stole your shiny things--yes, you must remember, that was why you all crossed the Big Water, chasing after the kidnapped shiny things as if they were eggs from your first clutch."

"Well, they were, in a sense. For Feanor, at least. Creations of the mind, not of the body."

The Eagle considered this for a moment, head cocked to one side. "Hmpf," he said. "I think this Feanor needs to get his priorities straight."

"That has been said before, yes."

"Do not get me wrong. I did admire you for making war on him, small as you were. The Magpie One was an abomination. Did you know that he used to cut the wings off my people? He thought it would help him discover the secret of flight. Hah!" The Eagle shrieked, his wings half-spread. "I will tell you the secret of flight! A lot of wing-muscle, and the wit to find a convenient updraft. I do not doubt that my people told him this, when he asked them. But that was the type he was, the type who thinks we all use secrets to make things easier. I hope the Empty Space where he now sits is full of unpleasant buffeting winds!"

"As do I." The Elf looked sickened. "I had not known about the torture of your people. I offer my gravest condolences."

The Eagle bowed, beak almost scraping the ground. "I accept your sympathy. Of course, even you Wingless Ones understand about missing limbs. I know this well." He looked off into the distance. "I have often wondered, if I saw one of my kin chained by a wing or a foot, would I have the courage to bite it off? Would you?"

"I hope so, though it would be a hard thing. But now that you have brought up that story--could I ask you a question?"

The Eagle nodded solemnly. "Certainly."

"Why did you perform that rescue?"

"Well, my Lord--the one you call Manwe Sulimo--asked me to."

"But why?" the Elf asked. "I admit that at the time it seemed to make sense. Things were very tense between our host and that of the Feanorions, and Maedhros resolved matters nicely when he returned. But, in the long run, it only delayed the second kinslaying. Doesn't Manwe take a long-range view?"

"That he does: it is the only kind of view he can take, from his tall tower." The Eagle made a strange choking noise, stopping only when he saw the Elf's alarmed expression. "Sorry. Ignore me. Eagle humour. As to why he did it, at the time I assumed that he pitied the rescuer, the brave one. He admires courage greatly. But you are right--it would not have done for your people to kill each other so soon. Perhaps it was inevitable, and he was happy enough to merely delay it." He paused to rub his beak against one shoulder in a contemplative sort of way. "I do not wonder at the way the world works, myself. But this matter is one I have discussed before, with another one of you Wingless Ones: one with hair much like yours, and with... Well, there are forested vales in these mountains where the wind seems to chatter endlessly, no matter what the hour. He is a bit like that."

"Ah. You must mean Finrod Felagund. I have sat next to him at formal dinners, from time to time."

"No, I think this one's name was shorter. Now, was it 'Nim'? 'Nam'? Something like that. At any rate, he compared the situation to a falling feather that Manwe was trying to keep in the air for as long as he could, and told me that nothing can stay aloft forever, that even an Eagle must fall. It seemed reasonable when he said it, but I have since decided it is pure nonsense. Still, who are we to wonder about these things? That is Manwe's task, not ours. My task is to perform such small favours as Manwe asks of me."

"As he asked you to watch our city?"

"Actually, while he did ask me to perform a few tasks near your city, the decision to settle there was my own. Your leader was wise: it was a good place for nesting."

The Elf looked immeasurably sad for a moment. "Yes, it was a good place." He looked down towards the white city with yearning, as if searching for something long gone.

The Eagle continued. "I was happy to patrol that hidden valley, and to carry people in and out at Manwe's request. Even if it was almost too easy. I always preferred the more thrilling assignments, the ones that required me to approach the Magpie One's lair. Like the time I snatched that mated pair from the wolf's snapping jaws and carried them home through thunder and lightning. Or your King's duel. He forbade me from interfering, but I still got a few good hits in, at the end." The Eagle arched his back, puffing out his chest feathers. "It was a pity that your King had such a death wish. I would have enjoyed rescuing him in the nick of time; carrying a corpse is never quite as exciting, somehow--oh, sorry. That was rather tactless of me."

The Elf shrugged. "Do not worry about it."

"You know..." The Eagle leaned forward. "We did get a big cheer when I pulled up with you. You were clearly a popular sort. But perhaps they were expecting you to be alive?" His sigh rippled the Elf's hair again. "Please do accept an apology for my incompetence."

"I will do so gladly, even though I see no need for one. I did not expect to be rescued; I never have. I only hope that Manwe was not too upset with you."

"Well, you know Manwe..."

The Elf shrugged, a bit ill at ease. "Not to speak to."

"At any rate, undoubtedly you know that he is a reasonable person. Not the sort to hold a grudge. He was very understanding, I thought. He agreed that gravity was always tricky. But, still, there were consequences..." The Eagle sighed once more, deeply. "He treated me as a friend, always, but he never trusted me with another thrilling mission again. It is not as if there were no opportunities. In fact, he had already told me to start preparing for another rescue, a difficult one: a woman falling into the Sea, a short drop, wet work, too, what with all the spray. But after my little slip-up he stopped talking about it. I am told he made alternative plans."

The Elf maintained a respectful silence as The Eagle lowered his head, brooding, and scratched at the scree with one foot.

"A seagull," the Eagle said at last. "Really. Where's the drama in that? They just do not have the majestic wingspan! But forgive me--I must be boring you."

"Not at all, I--"

"You are too kind, but even so, my chattering is distracting me from my current mission."

"A new mission?" The Elf smiled. "I hope it is a thrilling one."

"You might well find it so," said the Eagle, his deep voice deepening further. "You might well find it so, for this new mission, the final one for an aged bird such as myself is this: to cross the ocean again, and carry you to the land where you should have lived. Thus do I hope to atone for my failure."

"To... to carry me back to Middle-earth?" The Elf looked back over his shoulder, into the valley below. "I do feel for you, Lord Thorondor, but I have a life here."

"Do you truly wish to return to your nest? You will be safe there, of course, but I can see that the outside world calls to you. There is something about you that reminds me of fledglings yearning to fly. Is that not why you climb these rocks?"

"Perhaps, and yet--"

"The brave one, the one who rescued his friend, he was like that, too. Manwe likes your sort: those who climb high just to experience the wind and the closeness of the sky. Come with me now. You will enjoy the flight."

The Elf shook his head, a little downcast. "I am sure you are right, but that is not a worthy reason to go anywhere. Indeed, it is precisely the sort of reason that got us all in trouble the first time."

"How about this, then: you are needed there. That is why I was meant to catch you in the first place. Your presence in that land over the Sea has been written into the world's song."

The Elf looked up. "It has? In that case... it is surely my duty to go with you." His tone was still uncertain, and for a few moments he stood silent. Then he took a step forward, his joyous face alight with purpose. "And so go I will, glad to help you with your quest of atonement, glad to experience the adventure, and glad to play my part in the Song."

"I am glad to hear it." The Eagle turned and bowed low. With grace, but without hesitation, the Elf climbed onto his back. Soon, they were off; and the Eagle circled the mountain twice before disappearing into the sky.

Author's notes:
1. I am not sure that I need to say this, however... This is Thorondor and Glorfindel meeting on a mountain ledge above Tirion, and thinking back on Gondolin. (Which supposedly resembled Tirion greatly)
2. In letters written a short time before his death, Tolkien said that Glorfindel was reembodied and sent back to Middle-earth because of his great sacrifice, but he could not decide when this happened (Second Age, or Third?) or how Glorfindel got there. Now, the sacrifice part has always seemed a bit off to me. So many other Gondolindrim died on the same day, a few in actual suicidal attacks--why should Glorfindel be singled out? This is my answer to that question, and also a suggestion for the mode of transportation used. The question of the time goes unanswered.
3. The Eagle-rescue occasions mentioned in this story include Fingon's saving of Maedhros, Beren and Luthien's return to Doriath, and Fingolfin's duel. But not Elwing's leap into the sea.
4. The theology here is rather wobbly, but then neither of the characters involved is a philosopher.