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White Wings

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Princess, they called her. Some even went as far as to whisper ‘Queen’. They were the survivors of what is now being called the Second Kinslaying—such a terrible evildoing and already happening twice in so short a time.
These survivors knew her only as Dior’s daughter and assumed that she would take up his throne in some day yet to come. Assumed that she would even want to do so. They still remembered Doriath. They told her often enough about it that on the days she wanted to, she could convince herself she remembered it as well, even though she was just a baby when she was taken to the Havens of Sirion. Doriath, with its great forests of oak and beech and birch. They were beautiful in the autumn when the leaves were golden and red. And in the winter when everything was laid over with the beauty of new-fallen snow. And in the spring when new growth of branches, leaves, saplings, brush, and grass could be seen wherever one looked. And in the summer when the trees were certain and strong.
They spoke of Menegroth as well, speaking of its beauty with awe in their voices. An underground system of caves. The pillars of stone that supported the stony ceiling were carved in the image of a hundred thousand trees with special attention given to every single leaf and branch. A forest unstirred by any wind, seeming to live in a day that never ended. The tops of the trees were invisible, so far above were they, To look up, one couldn’t see the tops of the trees, but beyond them was the neverending night of the roof of the cave so high above where it seemed the stars gleamed.
‘Protected by a Maia,’ the survivors murmured to themselves. ‘It should never have fallen.’
But it had.
The survivors who had taken her away never spoke of it, but she had heard of it when she walked through the Havens of Sirion. She could cover her face with a hood and walk among the other refugees without them knowing who she was. Her guardians wouldn’t have allowed her to do so if they had known. She was too young, they told her, no one must know who she was before she returned to take up her father’s throne and restore Menegroth even as he had.
And so she was raised ever in the shadow of Doriath and Menegroth, their beauty and their tragedy. She spent the mornings, days, and nights in the house her guardians had found when they’d first come to the Havens. But her evenings were her own.
That was how she had met Eärendil one day in the Havens. They walked together each day after that, speaking and sometimes even laughing. Neither knew aught about the other until a month had passed and Eärendil told her he would be returning to Arvernien and the elves there who he led in those uncertain days. Elwing told him who she was then and he swore to return.
It seemed as though he were the only one to understand her truly. He was half-elven, Peredhel, as she was and he was even of an age with her. The elves considered them both to be children, and young children at that, while among men they would have been considered full adults. It made them both feel unmoored, as though they were standing on a shifting ground. They were well matched for each other, her silver and him gold.
Those first years, they spent as friends, but then they had decided to marry. Both were leaders among lost people still reeling from the actions of the Sons of Fëanor so their wedding took place without the all the ceremony that Elwing’s guardians had told her of throughout the years. They made no protest though, when she and Eärendil informed them of their marriage, except for a few murmurs calling both of them children.
They were both twenty-nine—not even halfway to elven adulthood—when they had children of their own. Twin boys, as Elwing’s own brother’s had been. She and Eärendil named in the elvish fashion, each of them giving one name, but they split the names between the two boys in the human fashion. It was a balance, elven and human, Quenya and Sindarin. Elion and Estelion. When Elwing looked on them, she saw the reflections of her older brothers—dark-haired instead of silver, but grey-eyed and so solemn even for young children all the same.
‘Valar,’ she had said once, speaking the words to an empty night as her husband and their children slept beside her. ‘Let them live longer than my brothers could. Let them grow to adulthood by elven counting and to look upon their own children as I can see them now. Please.’
Later, much later, when she dwelt in a tower by the sea, she would often think on those words and regret them. She wished she would have added more to her plea. Something more might have been enough to see them safely beside her in Aman.
Nothing had gone ill while she and Eärendil had watched over their children together, but one day he had come to her and spoke of his concern for their boys’ fates. She had not wanted him to go—she wondered later what might have happened had he not—but trusted him to do what he thought best for their sons’ futures.
Hardly had he left than had the Sons of Fëanor found her. They had demanded the Silmaril, and Elwing had refused them with a dread settling in her heart. So they had come in force and wrought battle and death once more.
During the battle, she had sat with her sons and tried to keep their minds away from the fighting even as it weighed on her own. She still clung to the desperate hope that the battle could be won by strength of arms. Some of the elves who had been her guardians—who had taken her from Doriath and raised her in the Havens of Sirion—were nearby outside the room as she murmured what comfort she could to her sons. They had sworn to defend her and her sons to their last breaths. She had hated the feeling of guilt their oaths had stirred in her, the feeling that she would be at fault if they were to die for her, but had accepted the pledges for her sons’ sakes. She had no strength of her own to defend them with and she hated herself for that as well then and in all the centuries after.
Only when she knew the Sons of Fëanor to be winning, knew there was no chance to win without any great sacrifice did she give in to her dread. She had been compared to her father all her life, but only then did she truly understand what he had done before his death. The Sons of Fëanor wanted the Silmaril. Their Oath drove them to that alone. They should not hard her sons if only they took the gem. But her brothers had been apart from it when they had been cast into the forest to die.
Elwing had looked to her sons then and remembered her plea to the darkness. Elion and Estelion were younger still than Eluréd and Elurín. Her sons would live. Somehow she had known it. She would not split them apart as her father had done for her and her brothers.
That thought had been enough to bolster her strength. She had called to her onetime guardians and told them to take her sons away and see them safely away. The boys’ screams and tears had nearly broken her strength, but she had reached into herself to find the strength of men—the strength to accept her own death so that her sons might life—and turned away from them. She would always hate herself for not watching them as they were taken away or finding some way to comfort them, or give them some token of her love to give them so that they would never be alone in the world. During the years since, she had tried to console herself with the knowledge that they were together, but it had never been enough.
None of the legends she has heard in the years since that day speak of the soldiers that broke down the door. Exactly alike in their armor and in the faces beneath their helms as her own sons might have been when they grew older.
She had planned to hand them the Silmaril after delaying them for a time so her sons would have time to get away. To give up what her father—in whose shadow she’d always dwelt—could not. But to see them looking the same as each other as her own boys were, something hardened inside of her.
They had come forward as she’d moved back to the window. They had not come close enough to stop her.
She had thrown herself out of the tower backwards. It wouldn’t matter if she’d turned, she had told herself. From that height any fall would have killed her. She’d only hoped that it would shatter the Silmaril as well.
‘Valar let them not have it,’ she’d begged as she’d fallen, clutching the gem that had caused the demise of so many to her chest. Only one more death was needed.
She had not expected the transformation.
Her arms became wings, fingers—feathers—catching on the air and sending her soaring forward.
She hadn’t known where to go, didn’t even want to go on, but every time she tried to stop flying, her feet—birdlike and unfamiliar—would skim against the waves and the fear would make her beat her wings once more.
Onward and onward she went until at last she had seen a ship ahead.
“Eärendil!’ she would have shouted of only her form had allowed for it. Instead, she had contented herself with flying all the faster toward him.
He had reached out an arm to her, perhaps recognizing her or the Silmaril, she’d never asked.
She could barely remember collapsing on the deck of Vingilot and nothing from then until she woke beside him in her own form once more.
Eärendil had questioned her when she’d regained some of her strength. She had answered, though the telling of all that had happened took nearly the whole of their journey to Aman. She’d wished for more time then, that she might say more and mourn with him, but over the centuries she had come to realize that if the voyage had been any longer she would have managed to drown herself in her regrets and weaknesses. Later, she would wonder if that would have been enough to sway her into choosing mortality when the Valar had declared their decision.
Instead, they had wept together for too short a time and then they were in Aman. Her husband, even stronger than she was, dried his eyes and went to petition the Valar for the fates of their sons.
When their own choices had been laid before them, Elwing chose to be accounted among the Eldar. Even then she had clung to the idea that her sons had lived through the outpouring of rage that surely followed when the Sons of Fëanor learned that the Silmaril was lost to them. She had chosen immortality, hoping that she would see her sons again. Even if the next time she saw them was the last, she told herself, she would accept that if only she could see them again.
Eärendil chose elvendom as well. For his love of her or of their sons, she did not know at that time or since. He rose to become a star, with the Silmaril bound to his brow, and some called him the star of hope which gave her understanding to the name she had foreseen for her second son. Hope, they called him, but when she spoke to him alone, Elwing learned that he felt just as lost as she did. He had been warned that he would not be able to see their sons and still he had searched for them anyway. He had not found them.
Elwing was given a white tower on the Sundering Seas where she could wait for her husband to return from his voyages in Vingilot. She had waited for his return only for the first few of his journeys above the world. Then, she had found a way to make herself wings once more so that she could fly to meet him. And so she did, until he was called away to end a war he had not started.
After that war, after he had slain Ancalagon the Black, he returned to Aman during the days and spent the nights sailing as Gil-Estel in Vingilot. She flew to meet him each time he returned, as dawn broke in the skies around them.
Still, she was lonely. Eärendil’s voyages meant he was not with her during the nights and they tired him so that he slept through most of each day. Elwing had asked once if she might sail with him. Eärendil had mentioned his fear that Vingilot would not carry another beside him now that it had been blessed by the Valar. She could fly to meet him and fly back to her tower beside him, but he did not know if the two of them would be allowed to do any more than that.
Elwing tried at first to mingle with the elves—the other elves, though their customs were so different from any she had known—who dwelt in Aman. She was several years passed her eightieth year then, far long an adult by the counting of men, but still a child in the minds of the elves. She did not feel a child, had not felt so for years even before the birth of her sons and certainly did not at that time in Aman, not with all of the death and ruin that had dogged her life. The other elves around her had suffered far less. Some could remember the darkening of the Two Trees and claimed that to be terrible indeed and others had suffered the First Kinslaying at Alqualondë, but she had lived through the wrath of Fëanor’s sons twice over and her husband had survived Morgoth’s when Gondolin was destroyed. Perhaps it was for her trials that the other elves did not seem to understand her, perhaps it was for her youth that they did not wish to, and perhaps it was for her human blood that they did their best to ignore her. It only took Elwing several months to learn that she would never have a place among the others. After that, she kept to her tower and only Eärendil and their sons were in her heart.
Three years passed from when Eärendil had slain Ancalagon—her sons were fifty-eight—and all the elves were called to come to Aman.
Elwing spent her days in the harbors, hoping to see a ship dock and her sons step from it. They would be grown, she had told herself then, and she would not mother them if they did not wish it, but give them a place to stay and help them live as they wanted.
Eärendil came with her for many of those days when he was not overtired by his nightly sailing. The Choice of the Peredhil weighed on them both. Their sons had made it by then and they both knew so, but neither could have said which kindreds their sons would have chosen.
The last ship from Middle-Earth came into the harbor and their sons were not on it. That had been bad enough, but Elwing and Eärendil had at least been able to console themselves with the knowledge that other elves had remained in Middle-Earth as well. Finarfin’s own daughter had remained there after all.
Later, when she was making another attempt to get to know the other elves, she heard about young twins named Elrond and Elros. They were her sons—a pair of elven twins could be no one else. Eluréd and Elurín, her brothers, and Amrod and Amras, Fëanor’s sons who had come after her in the Havens of Sirion, were all dead. There were no others that the twins could have been.
The names were different, but neither she nor Eärendil had any way to know if their sons had chosen those names or if they had been given them by others at the time. Later, Elwing would learn of what Fëanor’s eldest two sons had done. She would always hate them for their parts in the Second and Third Kinslayings, but she could never hate them for having mercy for her sons.
She and Eärendil had both paid attention to anything they could learn about their sons after hearing of them, but they could only discover little and less.
Thirty years after that day, Elwing flew out to meet Eärendil in Vingilot and she beheld such a look of grief on his face that she nearly fell from the sky in reflection of it. His words were slow to come when he stood beside her on a balcony overlooking the sea to the east, but once they started, they did not stop.
He had seen their son, he told her. Or his host at least—as the Valar had warned him that his own kin would be invisible to him from Vingilot. Elros, then called Tar-Minyatur by his people, by the Edain he was leading westward on the Valar’s request.
Their son a mortal, accounted among the Edain.
It was the first news they had learned of either of their sons in all those thirty years and it brought them nothing but grief. Their son was truly lost to them. Before, he had been unseeable, even to Eärendil’s great powers, but after they knew he would be invisible to the day of his death when he would be sundered from them forever.
Eärendil stayed beside her the next night and two more after it. Vingilot remained moored and Gil-Estel did not rise. The Mariner wept beside his wife. Their son, a king among men, still lived but was lost.
They never learned which day he died on. None of the elves in Aman knew then, and those who sailed later did not care or would not say.
Númenor sank three thousand years after that day. Eärendil saw ships carrying Elendil and his supporters away from it, towards Middle-Earth, but the boy was so distant from their son that neither he nor Elwing could find it in themselves to care. Elendil was not really any kin of theirs and he would die just as their son had.
Their other son, Elrond, they learned had chosen elvendom. They tried to learn all they could about him from the slain reembodied. Those at least were never cold and distant to Elwing or simpering and ingratiating to Eärendil for sake of the Silmaril on his brow.
By turns, they heard of him as a great warrior and a great healer. He was wise and strong and there were none who would speak ill of him. They learned that he lived in Imladris as its lord. Years later, they celebrated together when they learned of his marriage to Celebrían. Their son was still invisible from Vingilot, but it was some comfort to them both that Eärendil could see his wife. She was the lodestone that kept Elwing and Eärendil connected to their son.
Eärendil brought Elwing news of what he had seen after each of his voyages. In time, they learned of the births of twins to their son, though no one could tell them their names and they were hidden from Eärendil’s sight in Vingilot. A short time later their son had a daughter as well. A short time by the counting of the elves, at least, Eärendil had remarked. Not the three short years between Elwing’s brothers’ births and her own that had sapped her mother’s strength so.
Millennia passed. The grief of their son’s Choice was no easier to bear then than it had been when they’d first learned of it. Every time Elwing thought of her children, she found herself on the verge of weeping. Eärendil’s parents—having sailed before he had gone before the Valar—and they were a small comfort when Elwing went to visit them during the days when her grief threatened to overwhelm her.
In that time, her own parents and brothers were released from the Halls of Mandos. The news of it spread around Aman, and many of their former courtiers went to find them. After many of these were turned away, it became known to all that Dior Eluchíl and his family wished to live in peace and not to be disturbed. Perhaps they would have welcomed her if she had gone to visit them, but Elwing did not. She had been three years old when she was separated from them and she had not been the Halls of Mandos where she might have reconnected with them.
One evening, her grief had been worse than ever before. Elwing had considered going to see Idril and Tuor even at that late hour. They had said that she could come anytime, but she had gone the day before and hated for them to think her so weak. She had thought then of her own parents, but decided against it. Instead, when night fell, she had flown out early to meet Eärendil and Vingilot.
She had not expected him to be sailing back early as well. And there was pain also on his face.
He sailed and she flew back to their tower in silence. When they reached it, Eärendil spoke of what he had seen.
Elwing wept when she heard that their son’s wife had been taken by Orcs in a mountain pass. In that moment, it had seemed as though she would die and spend time in the Halls of Mandos before being reembodied in Aman.
Eärendil sailed the next night, but could not see her or the Orcs that had taken her. So it had been for many nights after. Then Eärendil returned and told Elwing that he had seen Celebrían returned to Imladris.
Months passed. Eärendil said nothing of Celebrían and so Elwing had assumed that she was healing. One morning after that, she had flown out to meet him and had needed to wait for his return later than usual.
‘She is sailing West,’ Eärendil had said. ‘I saw the ship leave this morning.’
Elwing had nodded. They’d returned to the tower in silence. Their son’s wife would likely live with her grandparents, Finarfin and Eärwen, but she would offer her tower as a place to stay. When she did sail, she stayed with the golden king for a time. Both Elwing and Eärendil made their offer known to both the king and their son’s wife.
In time though, Celebrían had come to the tower. She said little and was content for Elwing to say little in return. When she did speak, her words were of her children and of the life she had led before sailing. From it, Elwing learned more of her grandchildren. Her grandsons were named Elladan and Elrohir and her granddaughter, Arwen. The memories of her own twin sons always came painfully to the surface when she tried to imagine her grandsons so she let Celebrían’s stories serve as their only descriptions. The boys seemed to be practically attached at the hip and never passed up opportunities to make mischief. Arwen initially had seemed less devilish, but when Celebrían had become more comfortable speaking about the past, Elwing learned that her granddaughter was only more circumspect in her methods, making it harder to link her with her tricks.
Celebrían spoke little during the days and silence was their companion more often than not, but even so, Elwing was grateful for her. Usually they spoke at least once during the day. When news reached Elwing that Dior Eluchíl, King of Doriath, and his wife Nimloth and their twin sons had left Mandos, that they were living somewhere between Námo’s Halls and Tirion and wished to be left alone, neither Elwing nor Celebrían spoke for many days after. Elwing didn’t know what to say. She didn’t even know what to think. She’d been three the last time she had seen them. She didn’t know if they would consider her as someone who should leave them alone or if they would wish for her to find them. More than that though, she didn’t know which path she wanted to take.
Even in the evenings and mornings when she was with Eärendil—with whom her words had always come so easily before—Elwing found herself drained by the news and speechless. She did not know how many days had passed in that fashion, but she could remember how it had ended.
It was night. Eärendil was out in Vingilot and Elwing should have been sleeping but was not. The news of her family’s return from Mandos seemed to have eased the burden of the Peredhil which was to sleep more than full elves. Sitting alone in the silent starlight, she had heard the door to the tower open.
Footsteps made their way towards her and then Celebrían stood in the doorway. The starlight made her silver hair glow in the darkness. Her fear was evident in her wide eyes and trembling. She wore a white dress meant for sleeping. The hem was stained and wet with dew from the midnight grass. She must have run from the city, Elwing had realized.
Celebrían saw her then and shrunk back from the doorway. She’d never come so late before, though she’d never been forbidden to do so.
Before she could flee, still terrified and alone, Elwing reached out to her. Celebrían took several hesitant steps forward and Elwing drew her into her arms.
When Elwing thought back to that night, she thought it strange how she had held Celebrían and soothed her just as she hadn’t been able to do for the sons that were lost to her. She’d spoken softly, slipping into the language of her birth instead of the Quenya she and Celebrían had used before that night. Elwing could not have said how long it was, but the words calmed Celebrían enough for her tears and trembling to subside. Even then, Elwing continued, still in Sindarin even when she realized which language she’d spoken on instinct.
Celebrían had shifted. Elwing thought she would straighten up, perhaps even leave and never speak of it again. She would have accepted it—she’d come to love her son’s wife over the years, and she did not wish to hurt her. Her arms moved of their own accord, loosening to let Celebrían go.
Instead, Celebrían had only had laid her head in Elwing’s lap. She’d looked up then—not as afraid as before, but still trembling and uncertain—and spoke a single word.
A different dialect than the one she had known from birth, and half obscured by a tremor in Celebrían’s voice, but Elwing recognized it after a moment. She nodded, murmuring an affirmation, and began to card her fingers through Celebrían’s hair.
They sat in silence for a time. The words Elwing wanted to say caught in her throat. She tried to speak them, but gave up and focused instead on easing the tangles from Celebrían’s unbound hair. It had been rebraided several times over the years since she’d come to Aman, but each time she had worn the braids until they were partially knotted and mostly undone on their own.
When the last tangle was undone, Celebrían broke the silence, asking with a trembling voice if Elwing could braid her hair. Those words were as the first feelings of wind along the feathers of a wing which heralded flight.
Celebrían was quiet for a few moments as Elwing began to braid. Then the words poured out of her.
Never had either of them spoke of Celebrían’s scars or the torture that had caused them before that night or after it. But in those hours before dawn, Elwing heard it told in full. The first rays of sunlight found their way through the windows of the tower when Celebrían finished. What silence there might have been was broken by the noises of the birds waking and readying themselves for a new day.
Celebrían had left then, returning to the city and the house she lived in with her mother’s kin. After that night, for the following centuries, she came regularly to Elwing’s tower. Every morning, Elwing would fly out with Eärendil and every night she would go to meet him on his return. Many of the days between she passed with Celebrían, sometimes sitting together in her tower and other times walking through the city, but always with the easy flow of speech between them.
Four centuries after that night, a day came which seemed no different to the others before it. Celebrían had not come and so Elwing had busied herself with the same work she always carried on with on the days she spent alone. Everything had been just as it always was until she flew out to meet Eärendil. There had been such a look of joy on his face as she had not seen they had lived together in the Havens of Sirion before the Sons of Fëanor had come.
The words had spilled out of him as she’d flown alongside Vingilot. He spoke of the ship he’d seen setting sail from Círdan’s havens in Ennorath. Two hobbits, one who had gone on the great journey to defeat Gorthaur—he was called Sauron in Quenya—and another that was nearly bent double with age. Finarfin’s daughter was sailing. With her was the Maia Olórin and with him was a white horse whose nobility could be seen even from Vingilot. Eärendil said there were other elves as well, some he had told her of before and others that he had not, but last of all he revealed the reason for his joy. There was an elf on the sailing whip who he had never seen before.
Eärendil spoke of how the elf had worn a silver circlet atop his dark hair, which fell in careful braids down his back and over a well-made robe of red and brown. Fine embroidery—as befit a lord among the Eldar—had been worked into it. At first, Elwing thought Eärendil was describing the device on his own banners, but then he mentioned that it had looked like the badge Celebrían often sewed, though without the mallorn trees that bracketed hers.
Their son. The son who had chosen the be accounted among the Eldar. He was sailing for Aman. It was good that they had long since reached the tower and taken up seats to continue speaking, for if they had not, Elwing would have fallen from the sky at that realization.
Neither she nor Eärendil slept at all that day or for the many nights and days that followed. Gil Estel rose each night so that Eärendil might monitor the progress of the coming ship. Each time Eärendil returned, they would speak almost unceasingly until he needed to sail again. Many things found themselves in their discourse, though it all centered on their sons. The past filled much of their talk, with its many sorrows and pains, of the son who they thought had been lost and the one who truly was. But they spoke of the future as well, of the coming of the ship and what it would mean to have their son in Aman.
When the ship came to the docks, Elwing stood back—away from the throng of people waiting to meet the new arrivals—with Eärendil at her side. Celebrían stood alongside her grandparents at the front of the crowd. Elwing thought they would be eagerly waiting for the ship, but she could not see their faces from where she stood. Her hood hid her own face, pulled low so that even further up the hill as she was, those leaving the ships wouldn’t be able to see her.
Olórin and the hobbits were the first to disembark. Murmurs ran through the clustered elves at their strange appearance and small stature. Elwing, too, might have been intrigued by them if Eärendil had not spoken of them before and if there were no knot of apprehension in her stomach.
Finarfin’s daughter came next. Her golden hair glimmered in the sunlight perfectly alike to her father’s from where he stood waiting on the shore. Behind her though, Elwing could see a dark head that could only have belonged to her son.
At last it was his turn to walk down from the ship. Elwing saw that everything Eärendil had said about him was true. Perhaps it was the distance between the ship and Vingilot, but he had never described their son’s eyes to her. As he walked down the plank from ship to shore, she saw that he had grown into the solemn grey eyes she remembered from all the millennia before. They shone with the starlight of thousands of years and yet, in that same moment, also with such a joy that she was reminded of Eärendil when he had first beheld their sons.
Then her son was at the shore and she lost sight of him as was pulled into Celebrían’s fierce embrace. Elwing could not have said how much time passed as they held each other, seemingly unaware of the others around them, for she was caught up by her son’s happiness. At length, Celebrían pulled away from him so that she might embrace her mother.
A harsh wind from the docks tore towards Elwing. It reached hands into the hood of her cloak to tear it from her head and pulled at the braids Eärendil had twisted into her hair. She was reminded of the way the morning breeze off the Sea felt beneath her wings as she flew to Vingilot. For an instant, she also recalled her first desperate, hopeless flight. It passed as she watched her son. He was alive. He was happy. It was enough.
Elwing turned and retreated back to her tower where Eärendil slept.