When Eärendil was gone on one of his voyages, which was often, Elwing liked to climb the winding path to the top of the hill and look out to sea. Sometimes she brought the boys with her, but more often she went alone. She said that she was watching for Eärendil’s ship, and it was not a lie. She was often the first to see Vingilot approaching the harbor, and then she would run down to the shore to meet him. But her eyes followed the sail of every ship until it was lost in the distance, as she dreamed of what far lands it might touch; and when there were no ships, she was content to stare out into the ever-changing vastness of the sea.
And the wind from the sea would come to greet her, sweeping across the hill and bending the grasses. Elwing breathed deeply, taking in the scent of salt, the sense of joyous flight and untrammeled freedom. She almost thought the wind spoke to her sometimes, saying her name in a voice full of affection. She would raise her arms then and stand on her tiptoes, letting the wind blow around and through her until it felt as if she too could take flight, soaring over the sea like a gull. She came back home with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks, and her hair blown into tangles.
For a long time, Elwing did not think to question her sense of the wind’s presence or its love for her. But one evening she heard a noise from her sons’ room, after they were supposed to be asleep. She opened the door to see Elros kneeling on the windowsill and leaning precariously out of the open window, while Elrond tugged at his brother’s sleeve, demanding, “Let me see!”
She saw it all in a flash: how they had dragged a chair across the room and climbed on it to reach the latch that was safely above their heads, and which she had not thought they knew how to open. She must have gasped, for Elros turned and saw her. He looked guilty, and for a moment his balance wavered. Elwing darted across the room, her heart in her mouth. But before she could reach him, a gust of wind blew in the window and swirled around him. It lifted him up and set him gently on the floor of the room.
Elwing grabbed both her children and held them close until she stopped shaking. The wind lightly touched her head, lifting one lock of hair, and this time Elwing was certain she felt the brush of a wingtip against her face, a friendly presence within the breeze, before it subsided.
“Mama?” Elrond said after a time, his voice muffled in her shoulder.
Elwing sat back to look at them, though she still kept hold of their shoulders. “Climbing on the windowsill is dangerous,” she said as calmly as she could manage. “Don’t do it again.”
“I’m sorry, Mama,” Elros said contritely.
“Sorry, Mama,” Elrond echoed.
Elwing let out a long breath. “Tomorrow,” she said, “I will speak to someone about having new latches put on the windows!” In the meantime, she found a bit of wire and twisted the latch closed securely enough that she was certain the children couldn’t open it unassisted.
Elwing put the boys firmly back to bed and sat with them for a little while, singing to them until they fell asleep. And then she went back to her own room, where the window still swung open. A gentle gust of wind blew around her, softly playing with her hair, and once more she sensed that she was not alone. But the presence in the wind meant her no harm, she was certain.
“Will you show yourself to me?” she asked unsteadily. “I want to see you.”
In the starlight from the window, the shape of a woman’s form gradually became visible. Her hair was silver, long and flowing down her back. In that light, Elwing could half see the shape of two great wings like a gull’s. Her face was beautiful, and her eyes shone with an unearthly light; like the Silmaril’s, but warmer. Perhaps Elwing should have been frightened, but she was not. The wind had never threatened her or hurt her.
“When I stood on the hill,” she said, “when I wished to become one with the sea and the sky, and I thought the wind answered me-- that was you-- wasn’t it?”
“You loved the wind,” the wind-woman said softly, and her voice was like the breeze rustling through the trees. “And you loved me. Your heart called to me, and I came.”
“What are you?” Elwing whispered.
“I am a power of the air. I serve Manwë Súlimo.” Elwing frowned at hearing the Quenya words, but the wind-woman continued, “Your people call him the Elder King. He is Lord of the Breath of Arda.” She stretched her arms upward, and her wings were spread out behind her. “At his bidding, I soar upon the winds of power in Tarmenel, the highest heaven. And I bring the winds that blow over the ocean or play upon the earth. I saw you, and I heard the Secret Fire sing in your heart as it does in mine.”
“I knew you were there,” Elwing said slowly. “Even before I was aware that I knew. But why does no one else see you or hear you?”
The wind-woman’s silver hair gleamed in the moonlight as she turned her head. “I sang with Melian on the heights of Taniquetil, and beneath the trees in the twilight of Middle-earth. When she made a body to clothe herself in, her song no longer soared through the air; it was muffled, emerging only through the workings of breath and voice. Yet I can hear her song in you; it sings in your flesh and blood. Your sight is truer than theirs.”
“And my sons?”
“I did not show myself to them until now, for there was no need. But when they are older, I will watch over them for your sake. I see your son on a ship with sails like white wings, and the winds will always be true to him. I see your son with a blue stone on his finger, and the air heeds him when he speaks.”
Elwing shook her head in protest. She did not like to think of her children going on long voyages as Eärendil did and leaving her behind. And they were still so young!
“It is not yet,” the wind-woman assured her. “I will watch them; no flame will burn them and no sword will bite them.” But then she turned as if listening, her grave expression softening into delight. “The night-birds call on the shore, and I am not there! I must go, to lift their wings aloft.”
Will you come back? Elwing wanted to ask. But the wind was gone before she could form the words.
The next night, Elwing asked Tathariel, who had once been one of her mother’s companions in Doriath, to watch her children. She went to her own room, thinking to read and answer the latest messages from Lindon; but her heart beat rapidly, and she spent more time pacing up and down than working, until it was the hour of the night wind.
On a sudden impulse, she jumped up and flung the window wide, looking out into the darkness. A gust of wind blew past her face, and the wind-woman was there. Elwing could not see her entire; she was constantly in motion, shifting in and out of sight, but Elwing could make out a graceful hand, bright eyes and a smiling mouth, the strong curve of a wing.
She came to a halt in the center of the room, hovering with gentle motions of her wings, and extended her hand to Elwing. “Come,” she urged. As if in a trance, Elwing let herself be led to the window. She stopped abruptly when she realized she stood balanced on the sill, as her son had done not long before.
“It’s too high,” she protested. She glanced down; if she fell from such a height, she could be badly injured, if not killed.
“Come,” the wind-woman urged again, tugging at her hand. Slowly, Elwing released her tight grip on the window-frame. One bare foot left the sill, and then the other; she gasped as she felt herself falling, but the grip on her hand held her fast and she was lifted through the air. A strong arm wrapped around her waist, and she could hear the beating of great wings.
“I will not let you fall,” the wind-woman promised. “Come with me, and let us fly!”
Yes, Elwing said, or meant to say. She was not sure whether she spoke aloud, but then they were spiraling upward through the breezes and the night air in a rush of motion. She found herself laughing in breathless delight.
And then Elwing was gently spun around, her hair streaming out behind her, and tilted back to look at the brilliant stars. Higher and higher they rose, until it almost seemed the stars were close enough to touch. The wind-woman was singing softly in an unknown tongue, the words strange but beautiful; it sounded like the crash of the sea in storm or the rushing of wind, bright like the glitter of sunlight on the sea and swift as a flash of lightning. Though the language was unknown to her, Elwing felt the meaning of the words steal gradually into her mind: the song was praising Elbereth who made the host of stars, and her consort who ruled over the winds. Elwing did not know how long they flew; they were never still, always rising or falling to seek the currents of the air (and she had not known that the air had currents like the sea).
At last she felt herself sinking again, and she saw that they were descending back toward the tiny lights of the town. The wind-woman carried her in through her window again and set her gently down on the floor. A faint breeze touched her cheek gently like a kiss, and then it was gone.
Elwing would always remember that glorious night, the first time she knew what it was to fly; but it was not the last. The wind-woman gave no name, and Elwing did not ask her to; it seemed impossible and wrong to bind her within the limits of a single word, any more than she could be bound to one form, being a creature of the changeful air. But Elwing knew how to call her, as if she had always known, with the power singing through her blood. She would not force the wind to come at her bidding, even if she could; but she could ask, and always she was answered.
Elwing would open the window, or stand on top of the hill when no one else was in sight, and whisper only, “Come to me.” And the wind came, darting like a swift falcon to her hand. Sometimes there was only a light stirring of air blowing through the room and fluttering the curtains, or a breeze caressing her cheek, there and then gone; but sometimes, when her sons were safely asleep or another was watching them, the wind-woman would hold out her hand, and Elwing would take it, and they would rise upward in breath-taking flight, until at last she must return to earth again.
Much later, on that night of flame and terror, when she stood poised on the edge with nothing but air and the sea below her, Elwing leapt without hesitation. The tales said that it was Ulmo who caught her and raised her from the deep on white wings. The tales were wrong.