Summary: What if Eärendil does not sail, just when his light is most needed? What delayed him? And will Aragorn survive this night?

Rating: T

Disclaimer: Borrowed from Tolkien, will be returned (eventually)

A/N: Written for March Teitho: Return of the Light. Taking the topic literally... (And I think everybody who knows some of my stories could guess it's mine in Teitho... My apologies for that, this was the first idea I had when looking at the topic.) Many thanks to my beta Cairistiona!

Inspired by the roleplay "Undying Lands", with thanks to my fellow players Lirulin-yirth-k'aio, openmeadow and Windsurfbabe


When the Stars do not Shine

The clouds part. The gap reveals a figure, pale in the moonlight. It is a man, staggering on a rocky path. Above the clouds, a shining ship sails, with a swan-prow and a lantern that glows like living flame into the darkness among the stars.

A careful glance reveals more on the path behind. There are Warg carcasses there, and a low heap of stones, just big enough to cover a body. Tracks are all around the place: traces of fight, and of someone gathering the stones for the mound. Not the bigger ones... just smaller, as if the one carrying them lacked the strength to lift the heavier stones. There are traces of blood all around the place. It is hard to tell which belongs to the Wargs, and which is human. But one bloody trail leads further – to the man on the path.

He limps heavily, but continues forwards. His clothes are bloodied, but again it is hard to tell how much of the blood is his. In the light of the moon, something wet glistens on his face. He is alone. No one will see the tears for his fallen companion. No one, just the chilling wind of the night, and the stars on the sky...

Eärendil clutches the rails of his ship. Oh Aragorn, what have you gotten yourself into this time?...


Thousands of reflections dance like tiny sparkles on the foamy waves of the ocean as the swan-ship descends into her haven. When the anchor is secured, the Mariner leaves the deck, and walks upon the pier slowly. His shoulders are slumped, and he does not pay much attention to his surroundings. As if in a dream he walks the usual path, leading to a white tower where the gulls sing.

Before the door, he hesitates. The rising Sun reflects in the high windows, and a song sounds from above – a woman's voice joining the song of the gulls, singing about freedom and joy of flight, and the salty breeze in white feathers. He looks up, into the windows, and then he turns slowly. Down the beach, the sea crushes into the stones, rumbling and murmuring. He walks to the shore, and seats himself on one of the stones. His eyes are gloomy, as he looks to the east, letting the salty breeze whip his face with the strands of his own hair. He does not know how long he sits so, his clothes wet from the spray.

A strange feeling compels him to rise and turn. As if something that was always present had gone suddenly missing, and he couldn't find out what it was. Like a desecration it feels, as if somebody had touched with dirty handssomething that is the most inner part of him. Suddenly the light is different. Darker, without hope... Alarmed, he turns to his ship. It looks dead, without the inner flame that was her part for so long. The shadows on the deck are long in the rising Sun, and make the white timbers look grey and faded.

The Silmaril! It is not in its place!

Eärendil stands frozen in place for a moment, shocked by the sight. But then his legs begin to run, as though from their own will, faster and faster, to the ship, in pursuit of the most precious thing he has in his safekeeping. Two tracks lead away through the sand. Two dark figures can be seen in the distance, running away into the pine woods.

He pursues them, like a hound following the trail of game. The anger at what is happening gives his feet speed. The anger at the ones who dare to do such a thing, to steal the sign of hope when it is needed most... They run, but he is quicker. He cries out as he catches up with them, but does not even know what he is crying.

Knowing that they won't outrun him, they turn. He recognizes the faces. They are two of the Noldor from Tirion, sons of noble families. His eyes glint dangerously.

"Return what is not yours!" he says, menacingly, despite the fact that he is out of breath.

They are, too. They look at one another, and it is clear that, now that they have been recognized, they cannot let him escape. They draw swords.

First now Eärendil realizes that they are armed... and he is not – who would carry a weapon in Aman? His sword rests in its scabbard in the cabin of his ship, prepared for the hunt with Tilion. In the Blessed Realm, in the Peace of Valar, there is no need for weapons... or so he thought. Now he curses himself for a fool for becoming too comfortable here, and putting aside his old warrior habits. It was only a matter of time...

"Return the Silmaril!" he repeats, and despite his lack of weapon, his voice is steady and menacing.

"Or what?" one of them asks, sounding confident.

Eärendil takes a deep breath. "What do you need it for? You have sworn no oath. You don't need itas a sign of hope..."

"We need it for our king!" the second exclaims, and his eyes glisten like the ones of a fanatic.

"What king?" Eärendil narrows his eyes. "Arafinwë has no need for the Silmaril."

"Arafinwë is not the king! Fëanáro should be, and he will be released from Mandos if we get the Silmaril!"

"This is madness... Fëanáro won't be released until the end of the world!"

"When the Silmaril is returned to its place in Formenos, he will be released!"

Eärendil shakes his head. This is madness, indeed. He measures his opponents. They are donned in armour, and their swords are drawn. What chance does he have against them? But they have lived in Aman for their whole lives. They are no warriors, while he is a dragonslayer. If only he had his sword! Where is the Silmaril? There is a satchel at the belt of one of them, with a piece of cloth sticking out of it. They did not risk touching it with bare hands...

Once more he tries to reason with them. "Please," he says quietly. "It is not true, believe me. The Silmaril is a sign of hope now. Evil grows in Middle-earth again. Would you leave it without hope, thinking that the Valar abandoned them? Please, let me sail with it..."

He is begging them, he realizes, but it does not matter. It does not matter if he has to humble himself before them. He must sail today. He must bring hope... Do they not see it? Do they not understand that his light is needed today?

They do not. They do not answer; they pay no attention to his pleas. They try to circle him, and he knows they are going to attack. He has seen their faces. He can accuse them before the Valar... two points of sword are directed at him, in hands ready to attack. But he is quicker.

He makes a deceptive move to the side, and after a blade misses him, he lunges for the satchel. For a moment, his fingers grasp it, but then a tongue of fiery pain licks his side, in the tracks of cold and sharp metal. He cries out, but does not withdraw. Only inexperienced fighters let pain interfere with their moves. Something warm and wet is staining his clothes... He kicks one and catches the sword-arm of the other descending upon him. He tries to twist it, but the elf grasps him with his free hand. The two are locked in fight, both trying to get free and hold the opponent in the same time. But there is the second elf, who has recovered from Eärendil's kick and approaches with the naked blade. Eärendil can see him in the corner of his eye. Suddenly he ducks to the ground, taking his opponent with him. As he falls on his back, he throws the elf over his shoulder, at the second one.

For a few heartbeats he is in a favourable position, with a hand on the throat of one of his opponents, while the other is in the heap beneath them. He cannot control both for long, he knows. He frees his other hand, and reaches quickly for the satchel. He manages to grasp the piece of cloth, and yank it, before the elf gets from under his companion and rolls over Eärendil.

The cloth opens, and great light fills the glade in the pine forest. The bright jewel hits the ground a few feet away from the combatants. In that light, they cast long and dark shadows, flickering with their moves and the facets of the gem as they catch and reflect the rays of sun filtered through the pine branches moving in the wind.

Eärendil is caught beneath the elf, and strong punches force him to let go of the other's throat. He curls into himself instinctively under the rain of blows. As a fist catches his injured side, he cries out in pain. The world becomes a blur, and he knows he has little time. The one whose throat he has been holding reaches for the sword. One hand less restraining him, Eärendil uses his chance and reaches for the Silmaril.

He sees the point of the sword descending upon him. Strange, he thinks, there is no feeling of doom. Just a simple sword... a sharp piece of metal. Probably from the War of Wrath, taken without permission. He had killed a dragon then. It feels a little... ordinary... to die by such a sword. But he's not going to! His fingertips touch the Silmaril. It is like something well known and familiar, giving reassurance, as his hand grasps it, and brings before himself.

They are blinded. He is also – by pain. His right arm bursts from it; he feels the point of the sword gliding deeper, grazing the bone... What was that about experienced fighters? The pain... something with pain. Everything is pain... He forces himself to think past it... oh yes, he holds a Silmaril in his left hand... He thrusts it blindly toward the face of the elf leaning over him. And a pained cry tells him he didn't miss.

The sword falls to the ground as the elf clutches his hands on his face. Eärendil shudders as the sword grazes the bone again with that movement, and grits his teeth. The second opponent still holds him, and he brings the Silmaril as a living flame to the restraining hand. The elf pulls it back with a hiss,and Eärendil uses the opportunity to roll over, and go for the face again. Another cry of pain. A part of him pities them, for they have been misled by lies, but for the most part he feels anger... and pain... - the two are mixing...

Struggling to his feet, he wields the Silmaril as a weapon. His eyes shine with a dangerous light that matches the one of the jewel in his hand. They can't stand against him. They retreat, and disappear into the woods. But they have been marked...

He stands for a moment, the Silmaril shining in his hand and wrath in his eyes. Finally,when he is sure that they won't return, he allows himself to acknowledge the pain of his wounds. His legs grow weak, and the world spins around him. Wet and warm blood flows down his hand and drops to the ground. Drop. Drop. Drop... He follows the drop. He falls with it. Only faintly he feels the impact on the ground as consciousness flees.


The Dúnedain camp shouldn't be far now... Behind that hill, then you have to cross the narrow stream and continue westwards, keeping to the left border of the forest... But "not far" stretches into eternity... Aragorn staggers, and leans on a nearby tree for support. His head is spinning. The makeshift bandages are soaked with blood. The tree is a steady point in the swaying world. He leans his aching forehead against its bark. He knows he must go on. It shouldn't be far... He will rest here just for a little moment...


It is getting dark. The light is warm in the rays of the setting sun among the pine trees. Their long shadows lean to the Sea. To east... Eärendil groans, and opens his eyes. Something hard is in his hand – he is still clutching the Silmaril. Like Beren, he thinks, and for some reason that thought amuses him. If it only wouldn't hurt so much...

He lies unmoving for a while, watching the shadows in the bloody light of sunset. But a sense of urgency settles in the pit of his stomach. He has a task to do! He must sail, and bring hope to the Mortal shores, bring hope to.... Dread sinks like a cold stone. Aragorn! How is he faring? Is he lying somewhere in the pool of his own blood in this very moment, looking for the rising of a star that will not appear today? Will he think he has been abandoned?

No, he must sail! It is his task, and his duty! He tries to stand up, and fails, falling back and panting with pain. His hand digs into the sandy ground, fingers bent like the claws of an eagle... he wishes his gull was here... He wishes desperately for her white hands supporting him when his strength fails. She will be worried by now. Maybe she is searching for him already. Maybe she noticed that the Silmaril is missing... But this is not the direction where he usually ... it would be hours before she comes here...

He closes his eyes in concentration. He will get up! What then, he can work out later. Now he just needs to get up... he props up on his left hand. The right is useless. His head spins, but he manages to stay in that position. His heartbeat echoes painfully in his wounds. After a few moments, his vision clears, and the ground remains in the same position. He breathes deeply, and rises to his shaking legs. He loses his balance immediately, but manages to gain it again after a few staggering steps. Three more steps... two... one. A sun-warmed trunk of a pine gives him support after what feels like a day-long journey. He looks to the darkening eastern sky, and after a moment of rest, struggles forward, to the next tree...


It's not so far... Not so far any more, Aragorn repeats to himself... tries to convince his shaking legs. But it is a hard job when even the next tree seems too far... The light is getting dim, and the first stars are showing up on the sky. He looks up to them – a movement too quick, as he realizes when his vision darkens and cold, sticky sweat beads on his brow. He breathes deeply, and then opens his eyes again. The shining points on the sky are blurred, but soon they become sharper and steadier.

He finds the familiar shape of Valacirca, and lower above the horizon Wilwarin spreads its wings like a butterfly. The Swordsman of the Sky Menelvagor is also ascending through the darkness, like a true fighter making his way through the battlefield. But one star is missing... Gil-Estel is not in the sky. What does it mean? Aragorn wonders, and an unpleasant feeling settles in his stomach. The stars feel cold and distant, looking at him in disinterest from their high trajectories. As if they blamed him for the death of his companion on the patrol. As if it were not enough that he blames himself...

He turns his sight to the ground again. There is no hope in looking to the sky. He must concentrate on something nearer... on the next step. There is a rock that he could lean on. He lets go of the tree, and staggers forwards. It is too far... His legs give way under him, and he falls to the ground with a short cry as the impact jars his wounds. The pain is overwhelming. Shivering, he curls under the cold gaze of the stars.


It is too far... just a hundred steps, but how far it is... Eärendil grits his teeth in dismay as he surveys the breadth of the beach between the forest and Vingilot. The same distance is between him and Elwing's tower... but he knows that if he reaches the tower, he will not sail today. He must choose only one way. But there is no choice, actually. He takes a deep breath, and lets go of the support of the last umbrella pine.

His feet sink into the white sand. He has never minded that before, but now, the sand seems to entangle him. The drops of blood shine like rubies against its whiteness. He falls to his knees, and struggles to get up again. He does, and after a few steps falls once more. He lies on the ground, breathing deeply against the pain. He gets to his knees. Stands up and falls and stands up again. He crawls... and all the while, he clutches the Silmaril in his hand.

Vingilot... He is on the pier, but does not remember when he entered it. He can see the pale silhouette of the swan-prow against the deep darkness of the night ocean. She looks lonely and abandoned without her light. When he approaches, he can almost feel her joy and expectation. She is eager to sail...

He touches her timbers soothingly. Soon, my Foam-flower... As if the ship has given him strength, he manages to climb to her deck, and with a last effort he returns the Silmaril to its place as her lantern. It feels right, like a piece of a puzzle falling into its place. He sinks to the deck then, and closes his eyes in exhaustion.

But he can't rest yet. He must sail.... He bites his lip, and rises shakily with the support of her rail. He clutches the helm, and bids her to rise – more with his thought then with a movement. And she obeys, purring happily in a song that only he can hear. She ascends the sky like a flaming point of white light, like a silver spark of a fire that is not from this world.

The journey passes in a blur. The ship knows the way, and does not need his steadying hand anymore. He lies on the deck, and watches the stars pass above him. His heartbeat pulses in his wounds and measures the time, and yet it feels like centuries out of its flow. When he turns painfully, he can see the lands below through the rails. The foam on the waves of the Sea mixes with the clouds, and merges with the dark mass of the mainland, as he doesn't notice when he passes the shores.

But he knows when he nears the place. He forces his eyes to focus. Where are you, Aragorn? I am here... I did not abandon you... There, a figure lies curled on the ground. He can see the fires of a camp nearby. But he knows how far it is... His heart clenches. Rise! Rise and walk! Do not give up... But the man does not hear his words. He shivers in pain. In fever, maybe... Eärendil realises that the touch of the rail feels strangely cool on his brow, but he does not pay it more thought. He urges the man forwards...


Fever is setting in. Aragorn feels its tendrils sapping the strength from his body. He should have expected it. Infection is quite common with the wounds from a Warg... But it is not the fever and pain that lies on him like a dark weight. It is grief. Now that he is no longer concentrating on the next step, it hits him fully. He has led another of his men to death. Again he will have to face a woman and tell her she is a widow. Again he will try to offer words of comfort where there is no comfort to be given. He is tired, so very tired...

A brooch shaped like a many-rayed star is in the pocket of his cloak, and it weights him down like an anchor. The Star of Dúnedain... Again he brings one without its owner, a memory for the grieving family and a sign that the one wearing it died with honour. Yes, with honour – defending his Chieftain, Aragorn thinks bitterly. His thoughts are getting muddled, returning to that star. A pride to give it... the pride of his people... the honour of death... and the grief... grief of the living... guilt...

The star... Something urges him to look up. It is on the sky... The Star of Dúnedain... It shines like Flame Imperishable itself, the one that burns in every living being. Men die... but it will ever shine. The hope of his people... the hope for the future... No, he cannot lie here! He must follow that star. He must lead them to that future. He grits his teeth, and rises to his feet slowly. He staggers forward, after the star...


Yes... That's right...Go on... Eärendil sighs in relief. It is painful to watch the Ranger's slow progress, but he goes on. He falls, and rises again. He clenches his hands in pain, but he goes on until, finally, the fires of the camp are in sight. The patrols notice him. Finally his strength gives up. They catch him as he falls...

With a sigh, Eärendil leans his head on the deck and closes his eyes. Was it his light that helped? Who knows... But he fulfilled his duty today, and was allowed to see a good end. Through the pain assaulting him again, he smiles slightly. The stars pass above him, and merge like a blur with the pale light of dawn...

He is not flying anymore... The waves of the Sea are cradling Vingilot. Like a landing swan, she reaches her haven. The air is sweet and fresh. The air of Valinor... He feels hands... cool, gentle hands touching his fevered brow... other hands are carrying him inside. They are strong and safe. Eönwë, his sword-brother... Elwing's voice is calling to him. He opens his eyes and through the pain, he smiles. He returned the light of hope to the sky. He fulfilled his duty...