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A Path Drenched in Blood

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(i)

If you ask Celeborn, he will tell you that the first time Elwing saw the Sea was when the survivors of Doriath reached the Mouths of Sirion.

It is an anecdote he enjoys telling, one that makes his eyes light up and a smile crinkle around the corners of his mouth. To him, it is a symbol of an end to horror and death, the return of light and joy, of music and laughter. Of finding safety, even if only for a time.

Celeborn tells it like this:

They reached the Mouths of Sirion as winter turns to spring, a small, bedraggled band, smaller even than when they left Doriath thanks to the bitterly cold nights they faced.

But winter was now departing, Celeborn walking with his cloak unfastened, Elwing sat on his shoulders wearing no hood or hat but a crown of snowdrops plucked from the banks of the widening river.

Here the Sirion split, and split again, a hundred small tributaries making a hundred islands amid the floods. Celeborn walked by the river’s bank, looked over the delta, looked up at the cliffs towering overhead and thought of how one could defend such a place until a gasp from above his head made him realise he had reached his goal.

They had passed the last island and ahead of them lay the wide sea, gray and foaming. Waves roared against the cliffs, the air smelled of salt, and in the distance one could see the Isle of Balar as a looming shadow on the water.

(In the further distance, of course, Aman. But that land was too far for sight, and Celeborn did not waste his thoughts on it.)

Perched atop his shoulders, Elwing was very still.

“Well? What do you think?” he asked her.

Elwing stared at the vast expanse of water.

“…it’s scary,” she said, uncertain.

And Celeborn laughed, for the first time since Doriath fell, and the people knew they had found safety.

So the tale goes.

(ii)

Eärendil is the only one who thinks to ask Elwing herself.

“Of course that wasn’t the first time, don’t be silly,” she says as she lets her legs swing free from the branch where they sit, bare feet dangling over the drop. They have climbed high enough that even Eärendil, who has been clambering up to crows’ nests since the day the refugees of Gondolin came to Sirion, is feeling a little uneasy, but Elwing – by now a little infamous for her tendency to unerringly seek out the highest place in the area – has not let that stop her.

Eärendil frowns. “I thought you lived in Doriath? That’s not near the sea.” Endless geography lessons give him some confidence here.

“Ossiriand,” Elwing corrects, “then Doriath. And that wasn’t what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean?”

But Elwing doesn’t answer immediately. Instead, she looks to both sides, furtively, as if afraid that someone could have followed them unnoticed all the way to the top of the highest tree near the Havens.

Eärendil contemplates elbowing her, but decides against it on grounds of safety. Instead, he waits, impatient.

“…I’ve been dreaming of the ocean ever since I can remember,” Elwing eventually says.

Eärendil turns his head to stare at her.

“Like me!” His words tumble out. “I had dreams of it long before we came to Sirion, even back in- in Gondolin.” He grows a little quieter at the reminder of his lost home, then rallies. “All about-”

About the gulls calling to him, the beckoning breeze, salt stinging his nostrils as sails billow with wind overhead. About the creaking of wood as his ship glides over the waves, in search of something that he knows lies just beyond the horizon.

Eärendil trails off, then adds, “Father’s the only one who says he understands, and even he doesn’t dream of it. Not like me.”

Elwing considers this, eyes staring into the distance, legs dangling over the drop. At her sides, her hands grip the branch, white-knuckled.

(Elwing is infamous for seeking out heights at every occasion. Eärendil wonders if he is truly the only one who’s noticed how much she hates them.)

“I don’t think,” Elwing says eventually, “we have the same kind of dreams.”

(iii)

Lúthien breaks away from Beren when Nimloth enters.

“Oh, don’t let me disturb you,” her daughter-in-law says. “I can come back later. ”

Lúthien has to laugh at the dry note in Nimloth’s voice. Although she and Beren opted to follow Laegren tradition and helped the newly-wedded couple build a new home rather than invite Nimloth into theirs, they are still mindful of their numbered days and visits in both directions are frequent. Lúthien thinks it has worked out quite well overall – she has certainly come to like Nimloth far more than she was expecting. However, a certain difficulty with the concept of knocking on Nimloth’s part coupled with the strength of Lúthien’s feelings towards Beren means that her gooddaughter has chanced upon the two of them in various compromising situations numerous times.

“No, it is perfectly all right,” Lúthien says, ignoring Beren’s quiet grumble as she moves away and redoes the laces on her shirt. “We were waiting for you to return, we simply got a little… carried away.” Lúthien glances at the empty doorway. “Dior is still upstairs?”

“Still with Elwing.” Nimloth lets herself fall into an empty chair with a thump. “She wanted a lullaby, and was very clear on which parent she preferred for that task.” Wry humour dances over her face. “Not that I blame her. Dior’s voice is excellent.”

“If he has trouble with her, Grandma Lúthien is always willing to serve,” Lúthien offers. She has to fight a smile as she continues. “I do have some experience with singing people to sleep despite their best intentions.”

A laugh escapes Nimloth. “Dark Lords first and foremost, I suppose! Well, I suspect Elwing will be rather less fearful an opponent than Morgoth himself. Even if she was in a real state earlier.”

“Nightmares again, then?”

Nimloth heaves a sigh as she reclaims the mug of tea she’d abandoned earlier, when they’d heard Elwing’s cries. “Yes, again.”

“That’s – what, the third time this month?” Beren asks, frowning.

“The fourth.” For a moment, Lúthien can see exhaustion etched on Nimloth’s face. “And I am beginning to suspect these are no mere nightmares.”

This is news to Lúthien. “Oh?”

“She doesn’t like talking about them, but Dior and I have been able to glean some details. And – Elwing is dreaming about things she cannot know about, things she has seen before. First and foremost,” Nimloth’s voice grows heavy, “the Silmaril.”

Lúthien considers this, head tilted. Her father wears the Silmaril, now, and although she knows Nimloth and Dior have spoken of moving to Doriath, thus far Elwing has never left Ossiriand. Still. There are others who dwell here who have seen it, and although Lúthien and Beren have not spoken of the jewel to their grandchildren (not knowing the power it has, not with the effect it might have on young, malleable minds) there is no guarantee all have been so cautious.

“Are you sure someone didn’t tell her about it?” Like so often, Beren is following her thoughts.

“Describing it in such detail it features in her dreams? Without me hearing a word about it until now, not even from her brothers? Unlikely. Besides, it’s not the only such thing in her dreams. The ocean also features prominently. No, I fear this is… something else. Something of the… I’m not sure of the word in Doriathrin, actually. Nûdriz-vá the arts of the mind.” Nimloth’s lips twist. “I don’t know much about these things, you must understand. I’m only a simple Lindi hunter, I’ve never had much truck with kings and legendary jewels and strange arts.”

A statement that would be far more believable if you were not peppering your speech with Morben words, Lúthien thinks, suddenly reminded of why she had originally disliked her gooddaughter. My dear, if you wish to change Doriath with Dior, you must grow better at dissembling.

Lúthien now knows there is more to Nimloth than her political aims, but they remain. For Lúthien, who sacrificed everything for her Beren and accounts the trade more than fair, the fact that her son married not for love but for shared ambition and expediency will always lie bitter in her mouth.

“Neither had I, before I got involved with this one!” Beren laughs, nudging Lúthien and breaking her out of her thoughts. “You get used to it, don’t worry. But…” He sobers. “Are you saying you think Elwing is experiencing some sort of foresight?”

It seems Beren had kept his focus on their granddaughter where it belonged, while Lúthien allowed herself to get distracted by petty annoyances. Her husband has always been a better person than her, Lúthien thinks, suddenly ashamed.

At her side, Beren’s hand finds hers and squeezes.

“Something along those lines, yes.” The grimace on Nimloth’s face is very expressive. “At least, I can’t think of any other explanation. Although she certainly didn’t get it from me.”

“I think we all know whose heritage is the culprit here,” Beren says, turning to Lúthien with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m not so sure,” Lúthien says slowly.

The twin looks of doubt that meet that statement make her groan. “Honestly,” she continues, exasperated, “my mother is not all-powerful. She’s always said prophecy is the domain of the Master-of-Seas, the Doomsman-” a great hooded figure whose presence engulfs her like a smothering cloud of silence, her grief alone keeping her from being drowned- Lúthien has to shake the memory off, “and the Children.”

“…I’d say she’s still our most likely culprit, love,” Beren responds, his tone indicating he’s trying to humour her.

“It could be your father’s side of the family, actually,” Nimloth says, unexpectedly. “Neledh – your grandmother – she was renowned for her ability to tell what was coming. They say she dreamed of her sons being lost in bright light for three nights before Xaná found Araw. And I was young when I knew her, but I remember the hunters would ask her for her blessing before setting out and would not go if she withheld it.”

Startled, Lúthien finds herself staring at Nimloth. It seems the woman has been far better at playing the ordinary Laegren woman of Ossiriand than Lúthien realised, because she had almost forgotten that her gooddaughter is far closer in age to Lúthien’s father than to Lúthien herself, that Nimloth has met legends in her own right.

“In either case, love, I don’t think you can decry your responsibility here,” Beren tells Lúthien, then turns to Nimloth. “I know you and Dior are planning to move to Menegroth. You could consult with Melian and Elu then – even if she is not the source of this power, Melian is still very wise, and you say Elu may have experience with it through his mother. They may know what can be done for Elwing.”

“A sound idea,” Nimloth says slowly. “Although, to tell the truth, I had been hoping to delay. Until the children are a little older, you see,” she explains but her eyes, which rest on the grey streaks in Beren’s hair, tell a different story.

To give Dior as much time with his parents as you can, knowing we no longer have until the end of Arda, Lúthien thinks, and despite her misgivings she cannot help but feel a surge of love for Nimloth at that moment.

“Perhaps I could visit Doriath, or-”

Nimloth’s planning is cut short by a rap at the door. Frowning, Lúthien gets up to answer.

It is a messenger in the shifting-grey cloak of the Marchwardens. His face is very pale, his cloak torn and stained with what Lúthien recognises as blood.

“My lady, I have news.”

Whatever blood flows in her veins, whatever her grandmother’s abilities, Lúthien knows she bears no trace of foresight. No, the sinking feeling that something terrible has occurred comes solely from within her, is no mystic knowledge of what is to come.

As the messenger continues, Lúthien finds it proven accurate all the same.

(iv)

Elwing has dreamed of the Sea ever since she can remember. It is always the same dream, and it goes like this:

She stands on the edge of a cliff, bare toes curling in the crumbling rock at its edge. Far below her, sunlight sparkles off waves as they break on the rocks. Something heavy hangs around her neck, something important, something that illuminates everything with a light so beautiful it makes her want to weep (and she hates it).

She stands at the edge of a cliff, feet mere inches away from the drop as she stares down. The air tastes of salt mixed with smoke and blood, all around gulls scream warning, and she knows there are monsters behind her.

Elwing stands on the edge of the cliff and she is so very, very afraid.

(v)

Galadriel isn’t quite sure what wakes her. One moment she is wandering the foothills of the Pelóri in her dreams, the next she is watching moonlight stream in through the window, so bright and full it could almost be taken to be Telperion’s light.

Celeborn shifts in his sleep, an arm tightening around her. It is not even near dawn yet, her husband is blessed warmth at her side, and it would be so easy to let herself return to sleep-

Follow.

The thought forms in the back of her mind, more an oddly out-of-place sense of urgency than true words, easily smothered and overlooked. But Galadriel has learned through bitter experience not to dismiss such feelings, and with a sigh she sits upright.

Celeborn grumbles in his sleep when she disentangles herself. “I’m sorry, husband,” Galadriel whispers, bending down to brush a kiss over his forehead. She lets herself put a touch of power behind it – no need for both of them to be up at this hour – and he subsides, slipping further into dreams.

Tucking their thin blanket closely around her husband, Galadriel finds herself wishing she could banish the cold just as easily. They are still short on good blankets, and the ragged covering she and her husband share works for two but will leave Celeborn alone shivering soon. As Galadriel wraps her cloak around herself, she hopes she will not be too long.

Outside, all is quiet. The sky is clear, Tilion almost full, and under his light Galadriel can see nothing move. She almost wonders if she has imagined it-

In the distance, a leaf crunches.

Follow.

Galadriel does. Through the woods, along the trail that zig-zags up the steep slope leading to the cliffs that overlook the harbour. It is tricky business, because – one leaf aside – whoever she is pursuing has far greater woodcraft than her. Galadriel finds herself using her other senses, casting her thoughts out wide like a net – but although she spots the night watchmen easily, their waking minds shining like stars against the web of sleep that has engulfed their settlement, her quarry remains a shadow.

In the back of her mind, a suspicion grows as to who precisely she is pursuing.

Finally, her climb ends. Galadriel has reached the top of the cliff nearest to the river’s mouth. At its edge stands a dark figure, holding-

Light, spilling out from its hands. One could almost take it for Tilion’s gleam except that it is so much deeper and richer, mingled with a pure, living gold that puts sunlight to shame-

“Elwing,” Galadriel says softly, eyes fixed on the Silmaril. “Elwing, please come away from the edge.”

Elwing jerks in surprise. Galadriel’s heart jerks with it – she had not meant to surprise the girl, not with the deadly drop just before her, and for a moment she fears Elwing will lose her balance-

But the girl is as graceful and light-footed as any child of the Laiquendi, and she recovers with hardly a hitch. Then, swiftly, she covers the jewel. Only when all trace of its light is hidden (and some part of Galadriel’s heart aches with the loss of its beauty- oh, how she wishes Fëanor had never made the things-) does she turn to meet Galadriel’s eyes, step away from the cliff.

“What is it, Aunt Galadriel?” A pause. “Why did you follow me?”

“You-”

You have the jewel. I thought my cousins recovered it, or else it was lost- do you know what sort of danger you bring on us, you utter fool-

Hold a moment, Galadriel.

The words, the accusations, want to spill out from her throat, furious with betrayal, but the thought gives her pause. She concentrates.

It has always been hard for Galadriel to read Melian’s descendants, the force of her blood turning their presence in Galadriel’s mind into too-bright light and twisting shadows, but she has had a lot of practice and right now Elwing is in no state to shield herself. Hostility, Galadriel picks up, but it is simply a thin veneer over fear, a bone-deep sort of terror that has sunk into Elwing’s very being.

Not a trace of greed, of ensorcellment, of spite… of any reason Galadriel might think for her to keep a Silmaril.

“What are you doing, Elwing?” she asks. The question is neutral, but her tone slips, and she sees the girl wince with the force of Galadriel’s unspoken accusations.

“I was-” Her voice wavers for a moment, but then her chin comes up, and for a brief moment Galadriel finds herself staring at the ghost of Elu Thingol in all his pride and indomitable will. “I was going to throw it away.”

She pauses, but Galadriel is too shocked to think of anything she could say.

“I am not a fool, Aunt Galadriel,” Elwing tells her. “I know what will happen if I keep it. If I throw it into the sea, the light will shine out for miles. It will be clear none of us have it, they will have no reason to do us ill. And the sea beneath this cliff is treacherous, full of jagged rocks and currents. There will be no way to retrieve it.”

Elwing’s words have grown less certain, less steady, as she continued, Elu Thingol’s presence dying away to leave her just an orphaned girl again, but at the last words satisfaction blooms in her voice. Galadriel suspects she is imagining the sons of Fëanor dashed against the cliffs in futile attempts to retrieve the thing, cannot blame her for her hatred even as she suspects her cousins would still find a way.

“It is a good, solid plan,” Galadriel says. But something still niggles at her about this.

Ah. Of course.

“A good plan,” Galadriel repeats. “So I must ask- why wait for all this time? We have been in Sirion for years, after all.”

There is something Galadriel is missing here. The Silmaril has no hold on Elwing, Galadriel grows more certain of this by the minute. The girl genuinely wants to be rid of it. So why take the risk of keeping it this long?

Elwing folds in on herself, seeming smaller and frailer than she was a mere moment before, as though Galadriel’s question has settled on her shoulders with a physical weight.

“I-” she whispers, “I have dreams. But- but Father, he-!”

Dior?

“Tell me,” Galadriel orders.

Elwing does.

(vi)

Dior is bent over his desk in his study when she enters, frowning heavily at a piece of parchment. The candles have burned low, throwing strange shadows across his face. It’s a scene the woman who now calls herself Nimloth has encountered many times since Dior became king, her husband struggling to shoulder Thingol’s legacy, to do right by all parties in a role no one ever expected him to take.

Looking at him like this, she could almost imagine falling in love with him.

Dior looks up, eyes meeting hers where she stands in the doorway. Nimloth, who has hunted game in the dark woods since time out of memory, entered in complete silence, but still he picked up on her presence. He’s always been able to do that, and never quite able to explain how.

“They’re settled?”

“After a bed-time story. Denethor’s journey to Lindon.”

She would have liked to tell them a story of when Xaná found Arønz the Bright, foundation of storytelling among the Kinn-lai and mainstay of her own childhood – but, of course, Nimloth of the Danas would not know such a tale.

Dior snorts. “And how many Balrogs did Denethor encounter on the way?”

He’s always found the Kennâi approach to story-telling, blending history and myth until truth is indistinguishable from fantasy and no story is told the same way twice, rather off-putting. “None this time,” Nimloth says virtuously. Then, after a moment, “But there may have been a dragon.”

“One day, their history tutor will come to me complain. And I’m going to send him to you.”

Nimloth ignores this in favour of settling herself in the chair opposite the desk. “How goes it?”

Dior leans back with a sigh, letting the parchment he’d been holding drop. “Slow progress regarding our borders. After Nargothrond, the council has accepted we need to allow Golodhrim fleeing from the enemy to take refuge here. Although Nauraladh still wants us to interrogate them after they arrive and drive out any Kinslayers – I suppose it’s fair enough.” He shrugs. “We supported the Haladin in Brethil for long years, and Thingol fostered Túrin – I think I’ll be able to convince enough that it makes sense to allow Men into Doriath proper, now.”

“The Cuind?” Nimloth asks. She knows Dior can hear the other question hiding behind her words: The Kinn-lai?

Dior looks down. “They… are more difficult. Many in the council are dead-set against allowing so-called Morbin into Doriath.”

“Of course. How terrible it would be if someone whose parents refused the Great Journey set foot in Doriath. Only a step away from Orcs, I’m sure,” Dior’s Morben wife says acidly.

“I know, and you know I agree, but there are only so many changes I can make at once, Nimloth!”

Dior’s voice has dropped to a hissed whisper. Not good. The walls have ears in Menegroth, and whispering gives the impression Dior and Nimloth have something to hide.

(They do, but that only makes it all the more important to make it look otherwise.)

Nimloth lets her hand drop to cover Dior’s. “It wasn’t a criticism, Dior.” Then, drawing on years of marriage and millennia of experience: “Something is bothering you. What happened?”

Dior’s shoulders fall. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to drop it in your lap the moment you entered, but one of the messages I received today… well. I’d appreciate your advice.”

If there is one thing Nimloth wishes she had thanked Lúthien and Beren for, it was raising Dior so he listens to the women in his life. The Lioness- Elbereth knew his grandfather had not always shared that trait.

Dior holds the parchment he’d been studying when Nimloth came in up to her. It’s a scroll, she sees, the broken seal an eight-pointed star.

“It’s from Maedhros Fëanorion.”

“Ah.” For a moment, Nimloth isn’t quite sure what to say. Then, “What does he want?”

Dior sighs heavily. “I’ll spare you the exact wording – suffice it to say, it’s couched in very diplomatic terms. But at the core? He wants the Silmaril.”

“Not a surprise, I suppose, if what one hears of that Oath of theirs is true.” Nimloth pauses. “Not that I’d suggest you put much stock in Ossiriand gossip.”

“Honestly, I’m not sure how much stock to put in anything I’ve heard of it. It’s not as if Curufin and Celegorm went to Angband with Finrod, or as though I’ve heard of them bothering my mother or grandfather. But reading behind the lines,” he taps the parchment, “Maedhros sounds desperate.”

Nimloth hums, thinking. “What’s your opinion?”

“I fail to see how they have a claim to it. It wasn’t Maedhros who stole the thing from Morgoth, after all.” Dior sighs. “More to the point, giving it away will weaken my position here. The Silmaril is a symbol, a reminder of my mother’s power. Simply handing it over to the Golodhrim… I have enough trouble getting people like Nauraladh to listen to me as is.” He pauses. “What do you think?”

“I think,” Nimloth’s words come slowly as she gathers her thoughts, “that at the end of the day, the Silmaril is a shiny rock. I try not to get too attached to shiny rocks, as I’ve found they’re bad for your health. Other people, however, do… and as a result, you can often trade shiny rocks for things of far greater value.”

“What sort of thing were you thinking of?”

Nimloth stands, walks over to the giant map of Beleriand that covers one wall. Her eyes rove over Doriath, lying in the middle. Exposed. Vulnerable.

Truth be told, when she decided she would do all in her power to make Doriath open its borders to all who seek its refuge (to her people) she’d thought the Girdle would still be standing.

“How goes your search for allies?” she asks, even though she knows the answer.

“Badly,” Dior says as he comes up beside her. “Most we could ask are either dead or thoroughly alienated. Or Gondolin, which even my grandmother could not find. I still have hopes of Belegost, but first I will need to persuade the council that Belegost is not Nogrod.” His grimace is expressive.

Then (because Dior is really quite clever) he looks at her. “You’re suggesting we trade the Silmaril for an alliance?”

“The thing about bargaining,” Nimloth says reflectively rather than answer, “is that the single worst thing you can do is let the seller know how badly you want their good – or shiny rock, in this case. At that point, they can ask nearly anything, knowing you will be willing to pay it.” She pauses. “You said Maedhros sounded desperate?”

“Yes.” Dior’s eyes widen. “More than an alliance. You’re talking about an oath of fealty.”

“Isn’t it worth a try? They do seem to take their oaths seriously. And having the Fëanorian forces under our control would give us a strong buffer against Morgoth. Buy us time, at least.”

“And I’m pretty sure Nauraladh and his cronies would take the loss of the Silmaril, in exchange for being able to command the Fëanorians.” Dior’s eyes are sparkling. For a moment, Nimloth thinks he is going to kiss her. “I like it. I like it a lot. Do you-”

A rustling noise from the entranceway makes the two of them turn.

Elwing stands at the entrance to the study, the stuffed wolf Beren made her for when she was born tucked under one arm, the other raised to rub at her eyes. They are – Nimloth’s heart falls – red and puffy from weeping.

“Elwing, darling,” Dior steps forward to scoop up his daughter. “What’s wrong?”

“I had a nightmare.” The words are spoken in a near-whisper, barely audible even in the silence.

Something cold spreads in Nimloth’s stomach. “Was it the bright jewel and the sea, again?”

Her daughter, half-buried in her father’s shirt, shakes her head. “Darkness,” she mumbles. “Everywhere. ‘N orcs, 'n dragons, here!”

If this were Eluréd or Elurín, this would be the point where Dior glares at Nimloth for her overly creative bedtime stories, then goes to tuck the child back into bed with a good-night kiss and a reassurance that it was only a dream. But it is Elwing, and Nimloth is growing more and more certain that what Elwing sees at night are no mere dreams.

Especially when Elwing raises her head from her father’s chest and looks straight at her. “Mama, Papa,” she says clearly, “please don’t send the light away.”

Nimloth and Dior meet each other’s eyes. Neither of them know what to say.

In the end, they tuck Elwing back into bed with a kiss telling her it was only a dream. What else can they do? But it comes again, later that night and then the next. Morgoth’s armies, Nimloth gleans from tremulous descriptions, pouring out from the North, sweeping away all resistance. Balrogs in Doriath, Lindon under shadow, corpses in the sea around Balar – all Beleriand fallen.

Nimloth thinks of Neledh, she of the long silver hair and the ancient, ancient eyes, at the shores of the Great Sea when the stars were young and she who would be Nimloth was only a girl. Once, she remembers, Neledh dreamed of screams in the night, and they moved camp that very day. Two days later, the location of their previous camp fell into the lake in a landslide.

Dior thinks of how he asked around after first arriving in Doriath and learned that dreams of the future are generally taken to be a gift of Ulu. Everyone knows what happened to the last realm that ignored his warnings.

The following day, Dior rips up the reply he was going to send Maedhros. “A pity,” he says gloomily. “I was getting quite fond of the idea of having those forces at my command. Well, I shall just have to hope they keep the enemy off our flank anyway, and redouble my efforts with Belegost.”

Nimloth, of course, agreed. Still, something sits uneasy in her stomach all the same. The flip-side of bargaining with a desperate man is that one does not know what he will do if one ends negotiations. “Are you not worried about how Maedhros will react?”

Dior snorts. “Well, I’m sure diplomatic relations will be even frostier than before. But really, what can he do? It’s not as if he’s going to attack us.”

(vii)

“It was my fault,” Elwing whispers.

Galadriel is not particularly maternal. Children are difficult to talk to, too emotional for Galadriel’s taste. And noisy, and messy, and any number of other things she prefers not to have in her life.

No, Galadriel is not particularly maternal, was grateful when she found she could pass the responsibility for Elwing’s care to others – Idril, Tuor, Oropher, the strange Laiquendë who entered camp claiming to be Nimloth’s sister, even if some of these options made the Iathren elders squawk. Still, in this moment, hearing the guilt in those words, Galadriel finds she cannot do anything but reach out and pull Elwing into a hug.

“It was my fault,” Elwing repeats, muffled into the cloth of Galadriel’s cloak. Hot tears begin to soak the fabric. “They kept it, just because of me, just because I had some nightmares, and now they’re dead, Mother and Father and Eluréd and Elurín and-”

“Shhhhh,” Galadriel soothes Elwing until the sobs die away.

No, Galadriel would not make a good mother at all. Proof of this is the question she is about to ask.

“Elwing,” she says, and her heart feels heavy as lead. “When you- when you decided to throw the Silmaril away. Did you start having those nightmares again?”

Elwing flinches in her grasp, a surge of hurt roiling through the shadows-and-light of her mind. For a moment, Galadriel thinks she will tear herself away and run. But it seems that Lúthien’s last grandchild is made of sterner stuff than that, because all Elwing does is take a deep breath and square her shoulders.

“Yes,” she whispers. “I did.”

Galadriel cards her fingers through Elwing’s dark hair and thinks.

If only she had known, if only Dior or Nimloth had come to her. Elwing untrained this long, Dior and Nimloth unfamiliar with foresight. Galadriel could have helped.

Even though she doubts she could have changed the ending.

“You see two paths,” she says now, voice low. “Is that correct?” Elwing nods, jerkily, against her. “Two paths, one ending in darkness. The other, drenched in blood. Can you see how it ends?”

Elwing takes a step back, out of her embrace. She licks her lip. “No.” Her voice is tiny. “I can’t.”

Galadriel nods, unsurprised. “Well, then. I suppose the question becomes this: Elwing, do you still have hope?”

Estel, is the word she uses. Hope unfounded, hope that comes from the spirit and not from experience. A light in the darkness, a way forward despite the ghosts behind; the belief that, despite everything, things may yet end well.

Galadriel is no longer sure she can muster it, herself. But despite everything, Elwing is young.

For a long moment, Elwing simply stares at her. The pouch she holds has fallen open a little, and the light that escapes reflects off her face, making her eyes shine until this slip of a girl could have been born in Valinor during the Years of the Trees. But no child of Valinor ever looked so haunted.

Finally, she drops her gaze, draws the pouch firmly closed, and Galadriel knows that the seas beneath Sirion will not be blessed by Laurelin and Telperion’s light tonight. Elwing has hope, and so the dark path has been averted once more.

But Galadriel, with her own gifts of foresight, has the terrible feeling that the blood of Doriath is not the last that will be spilled on the other.

(viii)

Time passes.

Elwing grows like a weed among the marshes of Sirion, quicker than an Elf yet slower than a Man. Eärendil does, too, keeping apace with her – the only child in the settlement to do so. At first, this is helpful because it ensures he can still keep up with her adventures, neither outgrowing the other. After they reach their adult height, however, Elwing gains a whole new appreciation for Earendil’s body.

Their wedding is a quiet ceremony, Elwing in a plain blue gown, the gulls crying overhead as the sun glitters off the ocean. She does not wear the Silmaril.

Elrond and Elros are blessings unlooked-for, born in that time of grief after it became clear no news would come from the West of Idril and Tuor. Elwing holds her sons in arms, marvels at their perfect tiny hands, their wide grey eyes, their thatches of dark hair, and feels as if she could burst with love. For the first time since Doriath, she feels the hole in her heart where her family once was begin to heal.

And still, she has the dreams.

Maedhros’ letter comes when her sons are six. Exactly as old, she thinks bleakly, as her brothers were when Doriath fell. Elwing wonders if that is intentional.

Of course, there is no need to deliberate as to her response – no need to think on her refusal. Elwing made her decision long ago, standing on the cliffs above Sirion.

To her great surprise, the news that she will be keeping the Silmaril is not met with an uproar. Apparently, she learns, word spread despite her best efforts, and the people of Sirion hold the Silmaril responsible for the fortune they have had here. The storms that miss them, the good fishing year after year, the mere fact that they have not yet been overrun with Balrogs and dragons – the Silmaril, apparently, is to thank.

Elwing still remembers listening at the door, those long-ago days when Maedhros sent a messenger to Doriath. They are some of the last memories she has of her parents, so she has struggled to hold onto every detail. Now, Mother’s voice rings in her memory. The Silmaril is a shiny rock. I try not to get too attached to shiny rocks.

Somehow, she cannot help but think less of her people.

From there, the way things go are dreamlike. Elwing orders the defenses shored up, evacuations arranged, with the vague feeling that she is following a script. Elros and Elrond are to be on the first ship to Balar. Elwing can feel the doom that hangs about her, knows (unlike her parents) that just because she follows her foresight does not mean that she will be saved. But she will not, will not let her children be caught up in it.

This is where the dream turns to nightmare, because that night the storms start.

The attack comes on the first clear day, weeks before they’d expected it. The defenders at the gate – too few, taken by surprise – are quickly overrun, and as Elwing hears the fighting enter Sirion proper she prays as she has never prayed before that her children will be safe.

Elwing cannot go to find them. Elwing has another road to walk.

The path up the cliffs is familiar as it has never been, the cries of the gulls those that echoed in her ears long before she ever came to Sirion. This is it, this is the end, and every step she takes she has foreseen in dreams upon dreams ever since she can remember.

Elwing stands upon the cliff as Maedhros approaches and she is so very, very afraid.

“Give me the jewel, Elwing,” he croaks, and blood stains his hands, his sword, and his eyes are like a tormented beast’s.

She has hated him since she knew what hate was, but now, looking at him, Elwing feels a sudden burst of pity. Because unknown to him, he never had a chance. The decision was made in this same spot, years ago – the decision was made in Doriath, by her parents, even if they did not know what would follow.

Elwing’s path is born from nightmares and half-drowned in blood, but still there is hope of light at the end.

Give me the jewel!

“No,” says Elwing, and turns. And jumps.

And flies.