Aerandir stared over his listener's shoulder, eyes bleak with memories. His voice tight with unshed tears. "Five days after the captain and his lady went ashore a - a Being appeared. I know not what else to call him. He had the likeness of an Elf but was far taller. Power shone about him and his eyes were terrible.
"He said: 'Earendil's ship bides here. But you may return to your Hither Shore. See, a ship is prepared for you.' and suddenly there was a small white boat there, knocking against Vingilote's side like a cygnet against its mother.
"Erellont let down the ladder and Falathur followed him. I asked: 'What of Captain Earendil and the Lady Elwing?'
"And the Being replied: 'They are no longer your concern. Their fate is sundered from that of Men.'" Aerandir's voice broke. "Orestel, what does that mean?"
"I know not." the other Man answered grimly. "Was that all he said?"
Aerandir nodded. "I dared not press him. I followed the others down into the boat and a wind from the west filled our sails, never failing till we were back in home waters." he wrung his hands. "I should have asked further, fear overwhelmed me. I should have asked for clearer tidings."
"No." the answer came quick and firm. "No, Aerandir. Earendil and Elwing knew very well the risk they were taking upon themselves. You did right to get your remaining Men home. Earendil would have expected no less of you."
"But what shall I say to their boys?" the mariner asked miserably.
"If they ask, what you have told me now. I will break the news to them." Orestel placed a kindly hand on the other Man's shoulder. "Go rest now, Aerandir. You and your fellows have done all they could."
Bleakly. "I never had much hope for our errand, but the captain would try."
"Nor I either. Earendil was half Elf, he had something of their faith in the Powers, misplaced as it proved. And he hoped to see Tuor and Idril again."
"We never found them. Or even news of them. Our Father alone knows where their bones lie." Aerandir looked pleadingly at the other Man. "Orestel, the captain and his lady, are they dead too?"
"I hope so." said Urin Orestel. He guided the Man to the door and watched Aerandir walk slowly away, shoulders slumped in weariness and defeat, across the bridges and walkways that united the houses of the Refuge, perched high on their piles above the mud and waters of the Lisgardh marshes.
Urin was tall, tall as his father Turin had been, but with the golden hair of Nienor, his mother, and of Hurin Thalion, her father and Turin's. Urin had been born doubly accursed; firstly by the taint of his unlawful begetting and secondly by the malice of Morgoth the Enemy. It had been his Doom to betray Men and the Elder kindred and serve Morgoth as his chief captain. But he had chosen otherwise and thus he stood now, a hale warrior of forty-three, golden hair somewhat tarnished, fair face marked with his hardships and many sorrows, captain-general of the Endless War and the hope of the Free Peoples. He turned and went in search of his fosterlings, the young sons of Earendil and Elwing.
"They are dead." Elros said flatly, face as hard as young, unformed features could be.
"Are they?" Elrond asked, a note of pleading in his voice.
"I hope so." Urin said again.
Elrond's twilight grey eyes widened. "You hope?"
"There are far worse fates then the death that comes to us all." replied Urin, who knew them all.
Elros paled. "You mean they could be prisoners, or being tortured -"
"No." Urin's voice was firm. "Merciless the Valar may be, but not evil. And Ulmo and the Lady of the Flame are friends to Men. They would not let Elwing and Earendil suffer. No, I was wrong to doubt. Your parents are safe in the arms of Our Father. They sacrificed themselves for the sake of us all and now they are at peace."
"They died for nothing." Elros said bitterly.
"Their errand failed, but they were right to try. Valor is never for nothing, Elros."
Both boys nodded solemnly. Elros still angry, Elrond sad, but both tearless. Their parents were to them names and an idea rather then living presences. Earendil had sent out on his fruitless errand when they were but two years old. And even Elwing's memory had faded over the years between six and ten. It was the chance of ever knowing their father and mother rather then their parents themselves that Elros and Elrond mourned. It was Urin, who had known and loved his young cousins well, who truly grieved for them.
Nineth, Urin's wife, came upon them as they sat silent, each busy with his own thoughts, and swept both boys into a motherly embrace. Only then did lips quiver and eyes brim. Urin left them to her, taking his own heartache away to be nursed in privacy.
He poled his boat down the winding waterways of the Mouths of Sirion to the sea, then turned westward to land on the long mole of the ruined haven and sat himself on a broken post looking southward across the bay to Balar. "I should send word to Cirdan." he said into the silence. Then: "At least they were together."
Somewhere near here, perhaps on this very spot, Elwing had thrown herself and the Silmaril into the sea, rather then surrender it to the bloody handed sons of Feanor. That Urin was sure she would never have done so had she not been certain her sons were dead - and perhaps her husband too. "If only they could have known their boys live." he whispered. And his heart answered: 'They do now.' He closed his eyes and let the tears seep freely from beneath the lids.
Earendil and Elwing had done what they set out to do and made a far better end then Urin's own parents. It was no fault of theirs that the result had not been what they had hoped. Having expected nothing from the Lords of the West Urin was not disappointed. But it would be a bitter blow to the Noldor among his following - and to those on Balar.
"This world is full of sorrow, but beyond its walls is healing and peace in the arms of the Father." he said softly aloud. But what of the Elves? What of those poor souls bound to this world and cut off from knowledge of their Father? What would become of them now that those charged by Him with their care had cast them off? "We Men are not the Valar's to save or to betray, but the Elves are. Oh it is wicked, wicked to abandon them in their need, whatever their sins!"
Or could it be the Valar were afraid? Aerandir had described their defenses; shadowed seas, enchanted isles and finally a great mountain rampart cutting Valinor off from Middle Earth. Was Morgoth grown so great even his former peers were overmatched?
"Yet still they could try." Urin murmured to the setting sun. Then he smiled. "Forgive me, Bright Lady. Almost I forgot." Two allies at least they had among the Powers. Morgoth and his creatures feared the Flame of Anar reflected in the eyes of the sun. And the power of Ulmo in the running waters. The Lord of the Deeps and Ancala of the Flame did what they could in aid of Men and Elves. And there was Another beyond the circles of the world whose aid was mightier still.
The End was certain, but it was not yet, and in the meantime battle itself was a kind of victory. Then, in the sunset afterglow, Urin saw above the horizon a point of light, white and brilliant - and familiar.
By the time he got back to the Refuge it was full dark with the new star blazing dazzlingly in the western sky. Nineth came running to meet him. "Urin, Urin, do you see?
The Elves are saying it is a Silmaril, Elwing's Silmaril!"
"They are right." unconsciously he flexed the hand seared and scared by hallowed gem. "No one who has seen that light can mistake it."
"But what does it mean?"
Urin could only shake his head. "Sweetheart I do not know. The minds of the Valar have ever been a closed book to me."
"It is a sign." said Cirdan. "A sign to us to hope on."
Urin smiled. "Have I not always said the same?"
"You have, Orestel," the Elven lord conceded, "but the hope of the Elves lies in the West."
Urin shook his head. "The hope of Men and Elves lies beyond the circles of the world with Eru, our Father."
"There is then one less life laid to our account." said the deep, musical voice of Maglor son of Feanor. Cirdan, Urin and young Gil-Galad, king of the remnant of the Noldor, all looked at him, a fair Elf darkened by an Oath unredeemed and the crimes committed in its name. His clear eyes, full of pain, were turned upward to the star. "I know, I know, little enough grace and undeserved. But I am glad that the glory of my father's craft may now be seen and shared by all, set on high and safe from all evil -" his face twisted indescribably, "Including my own!"
Silence fell over the four men on the terrace. They stood on the uppermost level of Cirdan's fair house on the naith of Balar, hanging gardens falling away below them to a foaming sea. Even this last embattled refuge the Elves had troubled to make beautiful. They had never been made or meant for war. Or to suffer as Maglor and his brother did. Urin, whose own soul had wrestled with the Dark and even now stood guard against it, could pity the sons of Feanor and even admire the courage that brought Maglor out to face the hatred of kin and kind while his brother brooded in hiding and their following sulked sullen at the easternmost end of the isle.
"But what do we do?" Gil-Galad asked almost forlornly. "What can we do?"
Urin shrugged, leaning against the railing of marble swans their graceful necks intertwined. "I mean to go on as I have begun, Lord. The sign was not meant for the likes of me."
Gil-Galad looked appealingly at Cirdan. He was less then two hundred years old and not yet come to his full stature of body or spirit. His life had been one long flight from refuge to refuge, the Enemy ever snapping at his heels. It was Urin's opinion that it would do the boy a world of good to strike back at his Foe. But he knew well that Cirdan was not minded to risk the last heir of Finwe in Middle Earth.
That was the trouble with Elves, he reflected idly, it was their nature to keep and preserve, not to put all to the touch, win or lose. It made them singularly unfit for Urin's kind of warfare. Even the valiant Sindar and Lindar preferred defense to attack.
"I would advise you to wait, my lord." Cirdan said, tactfully cloaking command with seeming deference. "Wait and see what this sign forebodes." and Gil-Galad, Urin knew, would not defy his guardian. Nor perhaps should he.
"All we do, my brother and I, turns to dross or worse." Maglor said with a bitter smile. "We will not risk poisoning this new hope - whatever it foretells."
"You do not believe this sign foretells anything." Maglor said to Urin as they descended the long stair to the pier and their boats.
"No more then did the sun and the moon." he answered. "But you have made me think, Maglor. Covetice is at the root of all this evil. Giving the light of the Silmaril, the light of the Trees that are dead, to Middle Earth may be a greater thing then first I thought." the stair turned on an open air landing and Urin looked up again at the star. "It hints at a change, a great change in the minds of the Valar. Who knows, perhaps there are more wonders to come."
"I hope so." said Maglor.
"And hope is no small matter." said the Man who was called 'Hope' by his people.
"What hope can there be for Maedhros and me?" Maglor wondered. "But at least we will do no more evil. On that we are resolved."
A pity they had not done so many thousands of lives sooner! But late was better then never. "Beware of despair, Maglor." Urin warned. "It is a foul guide that leads to fouler deeds." he turned to a brighter subject. "The boys asked after you, as always."
The tortured face lightened. "They are well?"
"Growing like weeds, at Men's rate not Elves', but you would still recognize them. Maglor, now that you know you do not have their mother's blood on their hands will you see them?" The Elf hesitated. "Come, you're not that poisonous!"
"You think not? Well perhaps you are right. If they want me to come, I will."
"He said he'd come, he gave his word?" Elrond asked anxiously for the ninth or tenth time, perched precariously on the prow of the boat, feet dabbling in the water
"He promised to meet us on the Haven's mole and he will keep his promise." Urin answered for the tenth or ninth time. "Now sit back, Elrond. If you fall in I am not going to fish you out!"
"Here," said his twin, "it's your turn to pole." the boat rocked as the boys changed places.
"I won't fish you out either, Elros." Urin warned. "If we overturn I mean to look to myself and no other."
Elros gave a little snort, leaning forward to paddle his hands in the water. "We won't need help, we can swim."
"All the way to the Haven?" Urin retorted.
Despite these alarms - and others - they reached their goal without anybody having to swim. "He's there! He's there!" Elros cried spotting two tall figures, one familiar, standing on the mole. He jigged in excitement, waving enthusiastically and the boat rocked in response. Urin forbore to remonstrate, intent on maneuvering up to the dock.
"Hold still or we will go over!" snapped Elrond, shipping his pole. Then: "Who's that with him?"
"Your kinsman and king, Ereinion Gil-Galad." answered Urin, somehow not surprised at all.
He lifted the boys onto the dock and they raced to the arms of their erstwhile captor and temporary guardian. Urin saw to securing the boat. Gil-Galad walked towards him, face determined and defensive.
"My Lord Urin, I am come to offer you my sword." He said formally.
"It will be most welcome." the Man replied promptly.
Gil-Galad breathed out in relief then smiled crookedly. "I am no runaway. Cirdan knows where I am. He does not approve." the young king's eyes strayed to Balar, green and gold on the horizon. "None of them do." he turned abruptly, almost angrily, back to Urin. "What use is there in the name of king when there is nothing left to be king of? What use is Gil-Galad if all he does is cower on an island awaiting the final blow? I have run all my life, Lord Urin, and by Manwe and Varda and all the other Vala I will run no more!" he slapped the hilt at his side. "I have here the sword of Finrod Felagund and I mean wield it against the Dark Lord as long as I have strength and life in me - as he did!"
"Well said!" Urin clapped a fatherly hand on the young king's shoulder. "And worthy of the heir of Fingolfin and Fingon and Felagund! My Noldor will welcome their king."
Gil-Galad blinked. "You have Noldor with you?"
Urin nodded somberly. "Many escaped thralls, forced to live as outlaws, have rallied to us. I must warn you, King, you will find them sadly changed, scarred and disfigured by their sufferings."
Gil-Galad swallowed, eyes showing apprehension. Beauty meant much to Elves and its absence was almost an offense. "I understand."
"Your acceptance of their fealty will do more to heal their spirits then any words of mine." Urin said, quick and warm, and smiled: "So you see there is some use after all in the name of king."
Finwe's heir squared his shoulders and lifted up his head. "I understand." he said again, this time without fear.
Good. Very good. Urin had always suspected great potential lay latent in the sheltered young Noldorin king. He had not been mistaken. His eyes went over Gil-Galad's shoulder to Maglor, approaching with a delighted boy hanging off each hand. "As for you, what now of your fear of meddling?"
Feanor's son smiled, the pain in his eyes eclipsed by a wry humor. "I did not meddle. I counseled neither for, nor against this choice of Gil-Galad's. I merely shared my boat with him. As you yourself said; even I am not so poisonous as that!"
Urin returned a smile as wry as Maglor's own then dropped his eyes to his fosterlings. "Elros, Elrond, make your bow to your king."
"I would rather have a kinsman's embrace." said Gil-Galad opening his arms.
Note: Orestel (Quenya/Sindarin): 'Raise Hope' byname of Urin son of Turin.