Immortal Tears

Third Age 3007

Éomer allowed his horse to come to a halt behind the others. He could not see what was happening ahead, having agreed to ride in the middle of the company at Gamling's request. The old warrior did not want anything happening to the young lord on his very first tour of the kingdom. Éomer stood up in his saddle trying to see the source of the commotion. He watched his cousin dismount, then Gamling. The rest of the company quickly followed suit.

It was after Éomer dismounted and pushed his way forward through the taller men blocking his view that he saw what had captured the riders' attention. Several orcs lie dead in their path. Théodred stood over a nearby corpse and pulled an arrow from its throat. Even from a distance, Éomer knew the design was like none he'd ever seen. Whoever killed these foul beasts was not a man of Rohan.

Théodred's gaze shifted to his young cousin and he handed Éomer the arrow. Éomer studied the arrowhead closely. It was a work of art, perfectly crafted with a floral design carved into the side. A look of confusion passed over him. Who would take such care in decorating an arrowhead when it would most likely be broken off and lost? "Who?" he asked, looking to his cousin and Gamling for an answer.

Théodred scanned the scattered bodies. The same arrow design stuck out of the throats and hearts of the others. Théodred knew these arrows, though he'd seen them only twice before. "Elves," he answered.

Éomer's jaw fell open slightly. He'd hoped to see many things on this journey, but Elves were not on the list. How exciting! "Have you seen elves before?" Éomer asked a bit too enthusiastically. He was answered with a look of reproach from the man that was to him more like a brother than a cousin.

"No, I've never seen elves. Nor do I care to. They shouldn't be traveling through our land." Théodred's eyes landed on Gamling who looked upon the young prince with disapproval.

The old warrior shook his head before turning aside to study the tracks left in the soft soil. There had been more orcs, many more, and though the ground bore no sign of elves, they surely had been here as well. They must have retreated…or been driven back toward the Anduin. "We should follow those tracks, my prince. These orc prints were made by more than a handful. If the elves didn't finish them off, we'll need to be sure they're found and destroyed."

The Prince nodded in agreement. Théodred might not trust elves, but he loathed orcs. "Let us be off then." The Prince strode purposefully back to his horse, calling over his shoulder to Éomer as he did. "Come cousin, this trip may yet be a memorable one."

Éomer grinned broadly at Théodred and quite nearly skipped back to his horse. He was ready to face any band of orcs or foul beast that dared to enter their land. He'd waited sixteen years for the opportunity, but that was not the sole cause of the lightness in his step. He would never admit such to Théodred, or anyone else for that matter, but he was quite excited with the prospect of seeing an elf.

He did not have to wait long.

They headed toward the river and down a steep hill to its banks. Éomer could see them from a distance, the bodies of countless orcs littering the sand - and scattered among them - the bodies of elves.

The company dismounted as soon as they reached the bottom of the hill. Gamling's commanding voice could be heard above the roar of the river. "Check them!" Gamling kneeled beside the elf lying nearest to him. His torso was cleaved and organs spilled out upon the ground. He wore no armor, but an elegant blade lay within a hair's breadth of his outstretched hand. The old warrior sighed heavily.

He could feel the young lord peering over his shoulder long before he spoke.

Horror was too gentle a word to express what Éomer felt in that moment. He'd dreamed his entire life of seeing an elf and his wish was now granted; only now, he would have given anything to have the sight erased from his memory. Lying there, eyes closed, with long golden blond hair, the creature looked no older than Éomer. Its face was so fair that it was only by the sword and clothing the elf wore that he knew it to be male. It was not right. Elves were supposed to be immortal. Such a death was meant for men, not beings of magic and power.

Éomer found his voice, and a question that plagued him since Théodred first mentioned the elves. "Why do elves come this way? Do they not live far to the north?"

Gamling shook his head. "These are not the witch's elves. These come from the east beyond Mordor. They make their way to the sea."

Éomer looked curiously down upon the old warrior. Gamling was not one to speak of things of which he had no knowledge, so he trusted the truth of the man's words. He simply wasn't sure how Gamling had come to possess such knowledge.

"Why travel so far, past such dangerous lands just to see an ocean?" It didn't make any sense, especially in light of the sight that lay before him.

Théodred reached his cousin's side just as he asked that question. The Prince looked down at the prone figure of the elf, steeling his heart against the terrible sight. All that lives may die, a voice told him, the elves are no greater than us in that regard. His mind returned then to his cousin's question, and the answer that was given to him years earlier.

"It is said they are leaving the world to dwell with their Gods," Theodred replied.

Éomer's eyes widened at that and he studied his cousin's face, seeking there for any sign that Théodred mocked him. "Is that true?"

Théodred shrugged, a difficult gesture wearing armor. "It's what grandmother Morwen told me."

Gamling rose to his feet addressing Éomer as he did. "I don't know about their Gods," he told Éomer earnestly, "but I've met others traveling towards the sea. They move swiftly and cause no trouble."

One hardly even knew they were there before they'd gone. It was the reason Théodred and many of the other Rohirrim were suspicious of elves. Gamling himself had seen living elves with his own eyes, once he'd even spoken to them. It left a profound mark on him, and afterward, he found it difficult to think of any man or woman of Rohan as beautiful or majestic again. Gamling preferred the elves to pass unseen. He did not think he could endure the sight of them time and time again.

Éomer looked out over the carnage on the riverbank in awe. "There must be fifteen orc dead to every one of them."

"They fought valiantly," the old warrior replied, and when Gamling spoke those words, all knew no higher praise could be given.

"Lord Gamling!" A shout came from a warrior near the treeline. "This one is still alive!"

The soldier stood over the body of an elf. Gamling, Théodred and Éomer stepped carefully through the carnage to join him, Éomer trailing behind his cousin and the elder warrior. As they neared the trees Éomer realized there was something odd about the elf that lay at the base of the tall oak. It took him a moment to figure out what that 'something' was.

"It's a woman," Éomer sputtered in surprise, not knowing the proper word for a female elf. She lay flat on her back, her fingers still wrapped around the hilt of a sword.

"She has a sword." It was only after the words escaped him that he realized how absurd they sounded. Everyone could clearly see the blade clutched in her hand.

"Step back," Gamling ordered the warrior, who obeyed without question.

Gamling knelt down beside the elf whose breaths came in shallow gasps. Her eyes were open slightly but unfocused. Gamling pulled back the cloak that covered the elf's wound. She was pierced below the heart. There was nothing anyone could do.

"The wound is mortal," he spoke over his shoulder to Théodred and whoever else was listening. "We can do nothing." Gamling laid a comforting hand on the elf's forehead. Her eyelids fluttered at the contact and she seemed to focus on his face.

The handful of warriors that accompanied Théodred and Éomer on this journey turned curious eyes on the creature lying at the base of the tree. Like Éomer, none of them had seen an elf before, nor watched an immortal die.

It was then that the elf woman lifted her free hand and pointed weakly away into the canopy. "Riel nin," she choked, blood dripping down the side of her mouth as she formed the words.

"What did she say?" Éomer took a step closer. Was it not proper to listen to the last words of the dying? Was that not what his father had taught him?

Théodred shook his head. "I don't know." The Prince had seen death before, more times than he cared to count, but like the others, he knew this death was different. Such an end was not right for a being that could live forever.

Gamling brushed the elf woman's hair from her eyes. It pained him that in these last moments he could not offer her any words of comfort. "We cannot understand you," he whispered softly.

The elf tried once more, forcing the air from her wet lungs, her voice pleading, "Riel nin." She lifted her arm again with the last ounce of strength in her body. This time the arm held steady and pointed up and across to the crown of a neighboring tree.

Éomer followed the line of the elf's arm before it fell back against her chest and she released her final breath. He moved to the foot of the tree she'd pointed out. There was a low branch. If he jumped he could reach it. Without thought or fear he grabbed hold and pulled himself up. Using the branch as a seat, he peered up into the tree canopy. There was something up there, curled tightly against the truck of the tree.

"Gamling, there is someone in the tree," Éomer called down.

"What do you see?" Théodred stood directly below him, his sword drawn.

Éomer may have never seen an elf before but there was no mistaking one of these…"It's a child," Éomer answered, and maneuvering to his feet, he climbed slowly upward to reach the youngster. When his chest was level with the child he reached out a tentative hand. It looked no more than three or four years old by the measure of men, its face shielded by golden hair. His hand made contact and the child jerked away from him and huddled closer to the trunk.

Éomer didn't know what to do. He didn't speak the elf language and he had no wish to frighten the child further. He spoke softly, as he did to Éowyn when she woke with nightmares, hoping that the sound of his voice would calm its fears.

"Do not fear. I won't hurt you. We must climb down now."

He placed a hand on the child's back, only this time it did not flinch at the contact. Éomer studied the child closely; it wore what looked to him to be a dress in a similar fashion to the woman below.

A girl elf?

He pulled the child toward him and when he lifted her into his arms, she instinctively wrapped hers around his neck. Éomer was thankful for small favors. It was dangerous enough climbing down with a child in his arms, he did not care to think how difficult it would be if she did not wish to go with him.

Éomer moved slowly, branch by branch until he reached the lowest one. He managed to get himself into a seated position with the girl still clinging to him.

"Hand the child down to me." Théodred lifted his hands to take her.

Éomer unlocked the girl's hands from around his neck and lowered her down. She didn't protest. She didn't say a word, until her eyes found the elf woman lying beside the roots of the tree.

"Amma!" the child shrieked over and over again in a pitch that shattered the mournful tranquility of the riverbank.

The child thrashed wildly in Théodred's arms. He was surprised by her strength. He'd been called upon to restrain Éowyn once or twice when she'd been in a rage, but a mortal child's tantrums where much more easily controlled than this one's. Éomer leapt down from his perch to offer his cousin assistance. He immediately took the child from Théodred and she went limp in his arms.

"Take the child away from here, Éomer," Théodred ordered, but his cousin was already moving up the hill away from the sight of orc blood and the mangled bodies of elves.

Théodred turned back to the small group of warriors that accompanied him, eight including Gamling. They all followed Éomer's retreating form with their eyes as he carried the child away. It was more than any of them had expected on this journey, to see an elf, to watch one die, to hear the blood curdling screams of one of their children. They would remember this moment for as long as they lived and would spend the rest of their lives wishing they could forget it.

"Start a fire," Théodred commanded. "We will burn the orcs."

"And the elves?" one of the warriors asked.

Théodred contemplated the question a moment before looking to Gamling for guidance. "I don't know how to bury elves."

"I always thought they were immortal," another warrior intoned mournfully.

Gamling's eyes swept the faces of each of his warriors, brave and valiant men all. They looked now as lost as children abandoned in a dark wood.

Even the greatest tragedies must not be dwelt upon, Gamling reminded himself. It was this characteristic belonging to men alone, the ability to rationalize tragedy and move on, that made their spirits indomitable.

"All creatures of the Earth can be destroyed, even those who can live forever." Gamling looked down at the soft soil. It would not be too difficult a task. "We will bury the elves as we would our own honored dead. The Gods will understand."

Two hours later the task was done. The elves were given a proper burial and the orcs stacked in a pile and set ablaze. The fire was bright and the smoke reached high into the clouds.

Éomer did not assist the men as he was preoccupied with the elven child. When the men were finished with their task they assembled near to where Éomer had retreated. They drew rations from their packs and drank deeply from waterskins. They'd worked long in silence and none wished to be first to break it.

Théodred and Gamling sat down beside Éomer. The elf child lay in Éomer's arms wrapped in a horse blanket. Her blue eyes were dull and lifeless and she made no noise.

It was Gamling who spoke first. "We must leave this place. It's not safe." He looked again to the smoke signal rising from the pile of orcs; any enemy would be able to pinpoint their location.

"What about the child?" Théodred asked. He would not normally show such deference to another man, but this situation was beyond his experience and he trusted Gamling's opinion more than any other.

Gamling sighed, turning his attention on the younger of the two Lords. Éomer paid the two men that joined him little heed, his eyes fixed on the child's expressionless face. "Éomer," Gamling called the boy to attention.

Éomer's head lifted at the sound of Gamling's voice, concern visible in his eyes. "She has not moved or spoken for hours."

Gamling looked down at the small blond elf who reminded him much of his own daughters and Éowyn as she was not so long ago.

"What should we do with her?" Théodred asked again, impatient to hear Gamling's answer.

Gamling had no wisdom to offer. "I don't know."

Éomer gaped at the old warrior as if he'd failed to mention the obvious. "We should take her north to the elves," he insisted.

The young man's heartfelt response brought a smile to the warrior's face. "A noble idea," Gamling said.

"And a dangerous one," Théodred added, not nearly convinced that doing so would be the right course of action.

Éomer easily brushed aside his cousin's concern. "The elf witch would not harm us if we returned one of her people." The truth of that seemed obvious to him if not to the others.

"You forget," Théodred countered, "this one is not of her people."

"We cannot take her back to Edoras." Of that much, Éomer was certain.

"No," Théodred agreed, "we cannot." The Prince turned to Gamling who sat deep in thought.

His head rising, Gamling fixed both lords with a firm gaze. "Then it is agreed, we ride north. It will take two days to reach the Elf Wood if we keep a steady pace." He rose abruptly. The sooner they departed the better it would be for all involved.

Gamling held out his arms to take the child from Éomer.

Éomer stared at the callused hands and shook his head. "I will take her." He rose somewhat awkwardly with the child in his arms.

Gamling nodded once. "Mount up then, and I will hand her to you."

The young man handed the girl over to Gamling and within moments was seated upon his horse. Gamling passed him the child. He made certain the blanket was wrapped tightly around her, and fastened his cloak around her as well, to hold her secure against his chest.

Gamling walked over to the remaining warriors whom he dispatched to follow the orc tracks back to the river. If there were any orcs remaining, the Rohan guard would deal with them.

"They aren't coming with us?" Éomer asked as Gamling took to his horse.

Gamling shook his head. "I don't think it's wise to take an armed guard to the Elf Wood."

Théodred followed the retreating guard with measure of disapproval. "It may be unwise to go there without one."

The men traveled deep into the night but took a rest in the early hours before dawn. Éomer sat holding the child while Gamling prepared the four travelers food.

Éomer didn't wish to tarry long. He wasn't tired and his worry for the girl made it impossible for him to sleep. It seemed the tiny elf could not find rest either, for her eyes never closed during their journey. Éomer wished he could speak to her so she would understand that they were taking her home. Well, maybe not to her home but surely the elves would find her a home. He wanted to speak aloud these words of comfort but dared not with Théodred and Gamling watching and so he kept them to himself.

"Éomer," Théodred called his cousin to attention. He'd been holding a skewer with cooked rabbit meat out to the younger man for almost a minute.

"Sorry." Éomer took the proffered food and tore a piece off for the child. He lifted her to a seated position and touched the food to her lips. Her pale skin and golden hair reminded him greatly of another child he'd held like this many times before. "She reminds me of Éowyn, when she was little," he told them.

Théodred agreed, to a point. "Éowyn's skin never glowed like that," he replied.

Éomer tried to coax the girl into taking the food but her lips remained closed. She didn't even turn her head away in refusal. The young man's head rose to address the oldest of his companions. "She won't eat, Gamling."

Gamling moved to Éomer's side and lifted the girl easily into his arms. After seven children and even more grandchildren, Gamling knew a thing or two about dealing with youngsters. "Come child, you must eat." He touched her cheek gently in an attempt to draw her attention.

"You're a natural," Théodred laughed, both at the easy way in which the old warrior dealt with the girl and his inability to win her compliance.

Gamling knew a losing battle when confronted with one and he handed Éomer the rabbit meat to eat. He cast the Prince a threatening look before issuing a not too subtle warning. "Wait until you have children."

Théodred only snorted in reply.

Gamling ignored the Prince's immature retort and his eyes fell on their horses, feeding as they were on the surrounding greenery. "We must leave as soon as the horses are rested and watered."

Théodred recognized the contemplative cast of his mentor's eyes. "What's wrong?"

Gamling handed the child back to Éomer before climbing to his feet. "I don't know. She has no injuries so far as I can tell."

"She's in shock," Éomer concluded.

Gamling looked away from the young man. He didn't wish to cause him undue worry. "Stay with her Éomer, Théodred and I will see to the horses."

Théodred took the hint and climbed swiftly to his feet. He followed the older man far enough away so that his cousin would not hear his words. "What is it, Gamling?"

Gamling took the reins of his and Éomer's horses and led them both towards the small brook. Théodred followed. Gamling waited until the horses began to drink before answering his prince. "Her breathing has grown shallow."

"Perhaps that is normal for elves," Théodred offered, but he did not really believe his own words.

"Perhaps," Gamling replied. He hoped so. Otherwise, they might already be too late. "Let us get them fed and watered and be on our way."

The Elf Wood rose up in the distance. "There it is," Théodred announced to his companions in a hushed tone.

A chill crept up Éomer's spine as he looked upon the golden hued wood. "Have you ever been this close?"

"No," Théodred answered. Nor do I have any desire to travel nearer.

As if on cue Gamling spoke. "We must move closer than this." Gamling spurred his horse forward and the two young lords did the same.

With each step nearer to the wood Éomer's heart rate increased. This was his idea and he prayed it was not a mistake. No, it could not be a mistake. The elves would not harm them, not when all they wanted to do was help. He pulled the child closer. Gamling did not have to tell him something was wrong, he could see that the girl was growing weaker. It will be well, his heart told her, the elves will know how to help you.

Éomer's eyes scanned the trees carefully. "I feel like we're being watched."

"That is because we are being watched," Gamling told the boy with not a touch of humor in his voice.

"What do we do now?" Éomer asked as they reached the edge of the wood.

"Dismount," Gamling replied. He swung himself off his horse and allowed Éomer to pass him the child so he could dismount safely.

"What about the horses?" Théodred scanned the area for a place to tie them.

"Leave them. They're not afraid here," Gamling answered.

Éomer dropped the reins and his steed began chewing on a lush mound of grass. "Now what?" he asked the others.

"Remove your weapons and lay them down," Gamling told the young Lords.

Théodred eyed the old warrior as if he'd gone mad. "Are you sure about this, Gamling?"

"No," Gamling replied as he laid both his sword and dagger on the ground beside the tree.

Théodred would have laughed had it not been for the fear blossoming in his heart at the thought of being weaponless this close to the witch's wood. "Sometimes I wish you were less honest with me," he muttered, laying his own sword on the ground.

"You asked." Gamling stood now to full height, his eyes sweeping the treeline. He could neither see nor hear any sign of elves but he knew they were near, watching them. "Let's go."

He chose a path that led directly into the forest. It didn't matter where they entered. The elves would come to them. They'd taken not twenty steps before finding themselves surrounded by a cadre of guards clad in grey, bows drawn and aimed.

"Daro!" A voice cried.

Éomer's eyes flew directly to the elf that shouted at them but he dared not move any more than that. An elf with cold grey eyes stood opposite him with a bow drawn and aimed at his head. He didn't hear them or see any movement in the wood before they were surrounded. His hold on the child tightened instinctively.

Éomer counted ten elves but there could have been more outside his line of sight. A cold grip of terror, such as he'd never experienced clamped down upon his heart. The elves were a haunting vision lying broken on the ground, but the awe he felt at seeing their lifeless bodies was nothing compared to the dreadful sight of these majestic warriors. Their faces were as youthful as his, but their eyes were ancient and cold, hardened as no warrior he'd ever known. In that moment, he knew fear, the fear his people felt when they spoke of this Wood and the beings that inhabited it.

"Why do you pass our borders?" The elf commander spoke to Gamling, but the old warrior's eyes directed him to Éomer.

Éomer felt the elf's attention on him and he lifted a hand to readjust the blanket, revealing the child's face. He brushed her hair back exposing a delicately pointed ear.

The elf's stern affect wavered and his was not the only one. The elf that held the bow drawn and pointed at Éomer's head released the tension and dropped the arrow point to the ground. He looked to the elf commander and it seemed a silent conversation passed between them.

The commander lifted his hand and the remaining guards lowered their weapons. He barked an order and most of them disappeared into the trees. Only three remained.

"What happened?" the elf demanded.

Gamling knew an order when he heard one and wasted no time answering. "There was a party of elves passing through our land. They crossed the Anduin but were attacked by orcs near the river. We found the child hiding in a tree."

While Gamling spoke to the elf commander, Éomer's concerned eyes sought those of the elf standing opposite him. Only moments ago, the elf's expression held a promise of death, but now, Éomer saw his own concern reflected in his eyes. He knelt down and laid the child on the forest floor. The elf mirrored his movements and reached out to pull away the blanket. He examined the child with gentle, experienced hands.

A healer, perhaps? Éomer hoped so.

A third elf, the one that had covered Théodred, moved to stand behind his companion's shoulder. He asked the healer a question and the elf shook his head. They exchanged a few more words that Éomer did not understand, but the tone in which they were spoken did little to allay his fears.

"She witnessed the attack?"

Éomer lifted his head. It was the commander that asked the question.

Gamling nodded somberly. "I believe she saw her mother die."

The elf commander's eyes clouded at these words. He took a deep breath and spoke to the healer, whose eyes closed briefly, opening only after he'd taken a steadying breath.

It was too much for Éomer. He could remain silent no longer. "Won't you help her?" he nearly shouted at the elf sitting across from him.

The elf's eyes shot up at the unexpected outburst. He looked to the commander to translate. The commander must have done so, for the elf's attention returned to Éomer. His eyes held a deep well of sadness and he spoke in a softly musical voice.

Éomer listened to the words of the healer. He did not understand what was said but he could see it in the elf's eyes. There was nothing he could do.

The commander's voice echoed eerily in the wood. "The child is fading. It is too late."

"No!" Éomer very nearly shouted. He climbed swiftly to his feet and growled in accusation at the elf commander. "They tell us that elves are ancient and magical. That you can heal from wounds that would kill a man. That you can live forever. Why won't you help her?"

The elf looked sadly upon Éomer. He seemed to consider how to answer so that the young man might understand. "Our bodies are stronger than those of men, this is true, and we possess knowledge and powers that you might call magic, but our hearts are fragile and easily broken."

The elf took a few steps closer to Éomer before he continued. "She wishes to be reunited with those who have passed from this world. She will go to them soon."

"And you will do nothing?" he cried in frustration and disbelief.

The elf shook his head, a small frown turning the edge of his mouth. "We will hold her close and sing to her, and when she is gone, we will say a blessing so that her spirit will find its way into Namo's arms."

Éomer shook his head violently. He'd not been prepared for this. The entire time he believed their journey would end well, that the elves would take care of the child, make her whole again. This was not how it was supposed to be. Éomer's furious thoughts were interrupted by a hand laid upon his shoulder.

The elf looked upon him, and in a kind voice said, "You may stay with her until she departs, if that is your wish."

Éomer turned to Gamling with a questioning look and the old warrior nodded his assent.

Éomer nodded to the elf commander who spoke to his two companions, catching them up on the volatile exchange.

The healer lifted the child into his arms and spoke softly to the commander.

The commander nodded once and addressed the men. "My brother thinks we should remove ourselves to a more comfortable location." He looked at the old warrior, assessing his health and ability. "Can you climb?"

"Climb?" Gamling asked with a raised brow. He did not miss the appraising look the elf commander had just given him. "I believe I am still capable of such an activity," he answered with not a small bit of sarcasm.

"Follow me," the commander turned on his heels and led the three men deeper into the wood.

They reached a tree from which a rope ladder was lowered. The elf gestured for them to ascend and they followed him up the tree. Éomer reached the top easily and found himself standing upon a large open porch. The third elf lowered what looked like a small basket down to the healer and minutes later it returned holding the elf child. The elf lifted her out of the basket and made his way to Éomer's side. He offered the child to Éomer.

It surprised Éomer that this elf would trust him with a dying child. He took her carefully and sat down with his back against the trunk of the great tree. There was nothing to do but wait and wait is what they did.

The three elves and men sat together in silence. The elves passed bread and water to their guests. The food sat heavily in Éomer's stomach. He ventured a glance to his right. The healer sat beside him, checking on the child every so often.

Éomer's attention remained riveted on the tiny face. Her eyes were open but unfocused. The gentle glow of her skin was diminished and her breathing shallow. He lifted a hand to caress her cheek. She didn't respond to the contact but remained staring out into the night.

He began speaking aloud to her, not caring anymore that others could hear his words. "I wish I knew what to say to make you stay. Do you even know I'm holding you? Do you know you're not alone?"

"She knows," the commander whispered, his voice floating on the wind.

The healer took the child from Éomer and rested her head against his chest, rubbing her back in small circular motions. Éomer stilled as the elf began to sing. The song was strangely out of place in the dark of the wood. It was light and joyous, a child's song, like something Éowyn might sing.

The three men listened to the elves as one then the other joined in the song. None of them had ever heard a music more beautiful than this, and they never would again.

The song ended and the elves grew quiet once more. The healer lifted a hand to rest on the back of the girl's head. He leaned her back and Éomer looked down upon her face. Her eyes were shut now in what looked like sleep. It was the first time in two days he'd seen her eyes close. The healer took a slow unsteady breath and spoke. Éomer didn't need to have the words translated. Her soul had departed. She was with her mother now.

Éomer knew he'd been blessed with seeing something few mortals had ever laid eyes upon. He'd seen an elven child… and he'd watched her die.

That thought was almost too much for Éomer to bear and he fought hard to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. He could not show such weakness in front of the elves, he would not. He would not leave this wood letting them think men were weak. His eyes rose from the child's serene face to that of the healer's.

Éomer was not prepared for what he saw there.

Tears filled the elf's eyes and one fell away, rolling slowly down his cheek. He did not move to wipe it away, but let another fall in its wake. Éomer watched them fall in wonder. He couldn't pull his eyes away from the sight of those tears. The elf commander took a seat opposite the healer and the healer passed him the girl. The commander rocked her gently, whispering soft words into her ear. Each elf in turn allowed himself to cry for the lifeless child.

Confusion sought to overwhelm Éomer's mind. Not hours earlier he'd felt a deathly fear grip him at the icy look in these creatures' eyes. They were such terrible images, every bit the warriors he'd heard told of in myth and legend – hardened, fearless – gods walking the very earth. That they would weep so freely for a child they did not know was so terribly at odds with his memory of that first encounter.

The commander saw the confusion in Éomer's eyes, saw his need to release the sorrow tearing at his heart and his fear of doing so. The elf's eyes passed over Gamling and Théodred. The older men fought battles with their own tears. It was the way of men, to try and push pain aside. The elf turned his attention to Éomer and in answer to a question never voiced, he replied, "Each new life must be celebrated, and each passing mourned. Tears come to us in such moments, an expression of joy and of sorrow. Ilúvatar gave them to us, both elves and men, and in his gift do all find a measure of peace."

Éomer laid his head back against the trunk of the tree. It was all too much, the events of the past two days. He knew the elf was giving him permission, telling him it was acceptable to cry. The healer passed Éomer the child's body and he looked down at her serene face. If the elves spoke true then it meant that the child was happy now, safe with her Gods and her loved ones. This knowledge did nothing to stop the aching of his heart. Éomer wrapped the tiny elf in a desperate embrace and heedless of what his cousin or Gamling might think of him, allowed himself to cry.

Author's Note: I took a few elven words and did some creative modification of them for my 'elves of the far east' assuming if any elves remained in the lands beyond Rhun then they would have a language slightly different from Sindarin and Silvan. I am also making the assumption that all Avari felt the call of the sea, even those who dwelt far to the east near the waters of awakening. Hope you enjoyed the read.