Wings to Fly
The icy wind drives needles of hail into my face, and the sky roars with thunder and soaks me with its rain of bitter tears, but I cannot, will not stop running. With bleeding feet, a leaden soul and a blazing jewel on a chain about my throat, I race desperately on toward the Sea. High on a cliff I halt, staring down into the water through a mist of salty spume. The Sea is boiling in the wrath of this storm; no vessel could survive in it. But I have no choice – the Silmaril must remain out of the hands of Fëanor's sons, at any cost.
I stand for a while in silence, letting the cold rain cleanse my face of its hot tears. I draw in one slow, deep breath, then a second and a third; I hold the last and listen to my heart, counting its beats. One, two three...
I take one step forward, and plunge into the waves.
The shock of the impact, coupled with the sudden numbing chill of the ocean, forces the breath from me. I am tossed high on the crest of a great iron-grey wave, then pushed violently under again. I try to swim, but the weight of the Silmaril and my waterlogged clothing drags me down and ever down, into an airless void.
My thoughts are a deafening cacophony of fears. My sons, my Elrond and Elros... who will care for them now? I can only pray that they will be safe from harm. What has become of them? What has become of Eärendil?
Eärendil... our children are alone. You must be the one to watch over them now, wherever you are. You and our sons are the world to me. I will always love you. Namarië, my beloved... remember me!
These thoughts are the last ones that I hear. The final bubbles of my breath escape my lips, and my faltering heart succumbs to utter stillness and silence. Softer than silk, darker than night, deeper than sleep... blackness closes in around me.
x x x
I know that something is not right even before I open my eyes. I am no longer chilled or drenched to the bone; I feel no pain, nor anything else. I look up, finding myself in a warm grey place full of mist, where I slowly meet the gaze of the tall, darkly-clad figure who stands before me. I know immediately who this stranger is, and I bow reverently and whisper his name... "Lord Mandos."
Mandos nods once, his impassive eyes softening in compassion. He bends and lifts me to my feet, and speaks in a voice like the low, thrumming music of a cello.
"Elwing, daughter of Dior," he begins, "it is not your time to pass into my Halls. You must go back among the Living."
I hesitate, but before I can think of a way to reply, another figure comes into sight beside the Keeper of the Dead. This newcomer is white-haired, and clad in strange raiment like fishes' scales. I bow to him, and he grasps both of my hands tightly in his own.
"Come with me," says Ulmo, and we suddenly begin to rise into the air (but is it truly air, if I am no more than fëa?), drifting swiftly upward. Out of the realm of the Dead, back to the Great Sea and up from the depths... and I am now aware that I am changing.
My whole body tingles and itches. I am growing smaller; my neck seems to be lengthening, and my lips harden and elongate. I cannot sense my hands, for my arms no longer feel like arms. They thrash sluggishly at the water, until a great force like a pair of strong hands thrusts me above the surface. I am carried upward by a gust of warm wind, and stare in awe at what greets me.
The night sky is calm and star-strewn; the Sea is clear and tranquil. I spy a reflection in the rippling surface, and cannot help but start in shock. The reflection is clearly mine, yet it cannot be! Do I truly have wings?
I stare at my own body, finding to my surprise that I was indeed correct. I have become a swan. My feathers are not pure white; my wide wings are tipped with silver. Bending my long, slender neck to lower my head, I see the Silmaril, still clasped around my throat upon its chain. As I hover in the air, held aloft by nothing but Manwë's winds, a sweet female voice whispers to me from the very night around me. Go, find your husband. He must know that you are safe.
I swivel my head this way and that, scanning the shadowy ocean for even a glimpse of Eärendil's silver ship. I see it – a great distance from me, a glinting speck in the blackness. I know that it is Vingilot. Immediately I strike out toward it, clumsily flapping my new wings. The wind that is holding me airborne now drives me forward, with such ferocity that I must spread my wings and use them to slow down.
Streaking down toward my husband's vessel, I brake sharply to keep from crashing. A brown-haired elven mariner is at the tiller; he is not Eärendil, as I had so fervently hoped. But he turns and gasps when he sees me. Abandoning the wheel, the ellon rushes to catch me as I stagger through the air, my strength ebbing.
The mariner's eyes are wide with shock, and he cries out urgently to others I cannot see. Voices arise in reply from far off, and three sets of footsteps pound across the deck. Turning my head, I see that Eärendil is racing toward me, followed by two other mariners; all of their faces are ashen with fright.
"What is it, Falathar?" one of the unfamiliar figures asks.
The one holding me replies in obvious confusion. "It is a swan… I do not know how or why it came here. It was flying at such speed, I am surprised it is alive."
"Look at what it wears!" cries the second of my husband's companions. "A Silmaril! So they are not all lost."
"Let me see it!" Eärendil demands, his voice urgent.
Falathar hands me gently to my husband, and Eärendil stares down at me in wonder. I try to speak his name, but all that emerges from my beak is a low warbling cry. I weakly lift a wing to touch his face, then shudder and surrender to sleep.
x x x
When I awaken, I am immediately aware of another change. I have returned to my elven form; I am somewhere inside Vingilot, lying in a bed beside Eärendil. He is still asleep, but he soon stirs and sees me. For a moment we are both silent, and then he speaks.
"Elwing," he breathes, a smile lighting his face. "I thought... the sons of Fëanor..."
I gently shake my head. "I escaped from them." I explain to him all that has happened since the Fëanorians' siege: our twin sons' captivity, and my death, resurrection and first flight. He nods in understanding and sorrow.
"So Sirion has fallen," my husband murmurs, "and our sons are captive. But what will happen to them?" His eyes are urgent, pleading, almost hopeless.
"I do not know," I answer, weeping with him. "They may be alive, but they could have been..." I cannot bring myself to pronounce killed. Eärendil takes me gently into his arms, and together we mourn the unknown fate of our sons. But at last no more tears can be shed.
"What can we do?" I ask. "Is there any hope?"
Eärendil's voice is hollow. "No, not for Sirion. But perhaps for others. I must go to Valinor with all speed. The Valar may be the only ones able to aid us now."
"I will come with you," I say at once, but he cuts me off with a shake of his head.
"Only one may set foot in that realm," he tells me. "The Valar will be angry if this is not so. You must wait for me."
I falter, knowing that he is right. "Very well. But it may take weeks to reach Aman, and by then it could be too late. Take this," I urge him, pulling the Silmaril's chain from my neck. "Its power may help you."
Eärendil nods. "I will set it in a circlet on my brow, so that its power may be seen from afar."
This he does, and he stands tall and proud at the wheel of the ship. I am ever at his side as the wind and waves drive us westward. After what seems no more than a few hours we behold the harbor of Alqualondë on the eastern shore of Aman.
"Wait for me," he bids me as he makes to disembark. I nod and remain where I am for a moment, but soon a great longing overcomes me, and I rush after him into the shallows of the Sea.
"Elwing," Eärendil cries, turning, "I must tread this path alone!"
"I want to be with you!" I reply.
"And I with you," he says more gently, kissing my lips, "but for now we must part. For your sake, I will try not to be away for too long a time."
I nod in consent and kiss his lips. "I will wait."
x x x
I do not give up hope that Eärendil will return with good news. I wait for him in Alqualondë, the haven of the Sea-elves, or Teleri. The people are all very kind, and compassionate about my worries. I still fear for the lives of my sons.
Eärendil soon calls to me from outside the haven, and I run into his arms. We share a long, sweet kiss, and he speaks insistently to me.
"The Valar wish to hold council in Valimar, and we are both meant to be present. There our fates will be decided."
I cannot prevent myself from flinching at the mention of fate. But my husband is smiling, and his next words reassure me. "The Valar are not angry, beloved. The council is to determine how we will live the rest of our lives."
"I do not understand," I say hesitantly, "but I will do as the Valar bid."
x x x
I am awed by the sheer beauty of the city of Valimar. Its white stone walls, silver domes and golden spires glitter in the rosy light of approaching sunset. Eärendil, still wearing the Silmaril on his brow, leads me boldly forth. A tall, dark-haired figure comes to greet us, and Eärendil and I bow to him. My husband murmurs to me that this is the Maia known as Eönwë, herald of Manwë.
Eönwë guides us through the splendid city, which seems empty save for the three of us. At last, in a wide courtyard, we come to an imposing sight – a ring of standing figures, fourteen in all. The Valar.
Eärendil and I drop to our knees in reverence, and the Valar smile upon us. A blue-clad lord bearing a sapphire scepter – none other than Manwë himself! – beckons us to come forward. I advance in caution, but am greatly heartened by the kindly faces of those around me. I recognize Mandos, his dark eyes glinting like onyx stones in his pale face. His gaze is calm and benevolent as he steps forth to speak.
"Kinsmen and kinswomen," he says, "we are gathered here to decide the fates of Eärendil son of Tuor, and Elwing daughter of Dior. Both are of half-elven blood, and both have beheld our shores. Therefore both must now make a Choice: either to live in immortality and be counted among the Eldar, or to accept mortality and the lives of the Edain."
He turns his gaze first to me, and I fall into deep thought, weighing the consequences of either decision. After what seems to me many minutes, I find my voice and give my answer: "I choose the life of the Eldar."
"As do I," Eärendil concurs, his eyes locked with mine.
Mandos nods once, smiling and stepping back. "Then so be it. You both shall be immortal."
Then a woman steps forward from Manwë's right side, and speaks in a voice I know as the one that had bidden me to seek out my husband's ship. It is Varda who speaks, addressing my husband alone.
"The Choice is well made," she smiles. "But your journey is far from ended, Eärendil. We must go to Alqualondë, there to oversee what shall be your destiny for as long as we, the Valar, live."
"What fate will be mine, my Lady?" Eärendil asks, staring uncertainly up at her.
Varda's eyes half-close mysteriously, and she grasps the hands of her husband and mine, as Manwë takes his herald's hand and I hold Eärendil's. "Come with us and find out."
x x x
How we arrive in Alqualondë I do not know, but as I open my eyes (I cannot remember closing them), I find that Manwë, Varda, Eönwë, Eärendil and I are standing on the quay, looking out over the sea. My husband's three companions stand on Vingilot's deck as it rocks gently at its mooring, gleaming in the fiery dusk.
At a nod from the Valar, Eönwë beckons the mariners to the shore, where Eärendil embraces them and kisses their brows, weeping openly. With this last farewell, the three then board a ship of the Teleri, and Manwë calls up a great wind from the West, to send the vessel speeding back to Middle-earth and the realms where mortals dwell. My husband then boards his own ship, and stands at the tiller. He looks over his shoulder and says, "My Lady, you still have not told me what my fate will be."
Varda comes to his side, laying an ivory-white hand on his shoulder and staring deep into his eyes. "Your courage has earned you a great honor. From this night forth, you shall be known as a symbol of hope to all who behold you. It is the will of Manwë that you will be sent through the Gates of Night and into the heavens, aboard your ship and with the Silmaril, that its light may shine upon the world below as a star in the morning and the evening."
Eärendil nods slowly, but voices a query as his gaze turns to me. "What of Elwing? Has she leave to sail with me?"
"If she so chooses," replies Manwë benignly.
My husband looks at me, his eyes beseeching. I know that he longs to be with me for ever, and I know that it is also what I have desired. But to dwell in the cold void of the night, so far from the sea and the earth, and the winds that caress them... I fear I could not suffer that, and I confess it to him. He nods without a word, but I see tears fill his eyes.
A sudden blur of movement catches my eye, and I turn and behold the other twelve Valar as they come into sight, first appearing as wisps of colored smoke or flame, and slowly assuming bodily forms. They join with Manwë and Varda on the shores, forming a ring around Vingilot. They begin to speak in a strange tongue, all of them laying their hands upon the vessel's timbers, and their power rises and flows like an ethereal wind. Beneath their hands, the ship takes on a brilliant glow of its own, enhanced by the Silmaril on Eärendil's brow.
Before my awe-widened eyes, Vingilot rises slowly into the air; Eärendil clutches the wheel to steady himself as the ship turns around without his effort. I stare mutely as the great vessel is borne up on a surge of pure Valarin power, and soars westward through the air over Aman; Eönwë takes my hand, and we and the Valar are swiftly overcome by the same force which brought us to this haven from Valimar.
When we arrive at our new destination, I see that we are still beside a sea – not Belegaer, the Sea between Middle-earth and Aman, but what must be the Encircling Sea which surrounds the world. The sky is lit rose and golden in the dying radiance of Anar, and Vingilot still sails high above, but descends slowly as we on the shores watch in silence.
Before us all is a massive Gate, wrought of what seems to be obsidian, ebony and many other black substances. The entranceway is shut for a moment, but slowly, silently, the enormous door swings open outward. Vingilot soars straight toward it, and Eärendil stands boldly at the ship's tiller.
He turns to gaze down at me, and I clearly see him weep as he waves a kiss in one last farewell. I return the gesture through my own tears, and Varda lays a gentle hand on my shoulder. We watch as the ship rises again, higher and higher, blazing in the dusk. The Gates of Night swing shut again, and I am silent.
"If it would please you," Varda says softly to me, "my kin and I may build for you a tower beside Belegaer, where you could dwell between the earth, sea and sky which you love. From there you might fly to meet your husband as he soars above from West to East."
"That would please me," I answer, smiling and bowing. "Thank you, my Lady."
Yes, my beloved, I will wait for you beside Alqualondë. Farewell is not forever. We will meet again, and all will be well. Your Hope shall live always in my heart. Fly freely, Eärendil.