Eärendil on the purchasing of whores (or how to convince the Valar to save the world)
Eärendil rolled over on the bed, hand reaching out for the body of his wife, but finding only cold sheets. He sat up, swiping hair out of his eyes and blinking off the fog of sleep.
Elwing stood at the window, arms crossed over her abdomen, her silhouette framed by the sea glittering under the light of the moon. Eärendil rose and went to her, slipping his arms about her waist and drawing her back against his chest. He dropped his nose into her silver hair, inhaling her scent. Her silk nightdress slipped sensually through his fingers.
She didn’t answer. Eärendil stiffened, arms closing tighter about her.
If he turned her, he would find her face blank or tear-stained, depending on the dream’s nature. The dreams were rarely anything worth smiling over. Yet by the time the sun crested the horizon, Elwing would shake the shadows of the night off and clasp optimism to her breast. Even with the Enemy creeping closer every year, still she found hope in the darkness.
“What did you dream?” His voice dropped low. He did not want to know, but he needed to. He would not leave her to bear this burden alone.
“Fire. The Havens burned. Blood. There was blood flowing like water through the streets. Elrond and Elros—”
His hands clenched in the silk of her nightdress. “What? Tell me. What happened to our boys?”
“I did not see. They were in their bedroom, huddled together. Elros had a knife, and the door was opening. A shadow of great height came first. Elrond was crying. I did not see…I did not see what came through that door. I did not see—” The detachment in her voice snapped on a sob.
Eärendil clasped his wife close, rocking her and petting her beautiful hair. “Shh, my love, shh. We have warning now. We will not let this future come to pass.”
Elwing drew herself from his arms, turning to face him. Tears were on her face, but her mouth pinched tight with determination. “We will not. We are no Falathrim to accept the Song’s unchangeable nature and lay down to destiny. Was it not my own great-grandmother Melian who taught the Sindar that those who fought, who had a will fierce enough, could defy the Song? Was that not how the tale of Lúthien and Beren goes? Did they not defy the Song when Lúthien pulled Beren from death itself? We will not lie down and accept this. We will not.”
Eärendil took her slender hands in his. “We will not.”
She squeezed his hands back, determined eyes meeting determined eyes. “We will fight this future, but our people need hope. Their hearts falter.”
Eärendil’s eyes slid over her shoulder to the sea beyond. His heart lurched. He had not sought the sea since the twins’ birth two years ago.
When no news came in the months after his parents’ sailing West, he’d lost himself in the lure of the sea for long voyages, but he would not allow himself that indulgence when he had a family to protect on dry land.
He’d found freedom out there where all bounds of duty and fears were cut. Everything was easier when it was just him conquering nature, one with the sea, boundless upon that heaving chest devoid of borders, encroaching armies of Darkness, and faces and faces and faces of terrified refugees looking for saviors.
Eärendil did not have the weight of responsibilities Gil-galad or Elwing had placed upon them, but he was Turgon’s grandson and Tuor the Hero’s son. He knew expectations. He knew what it was to have faces turned to him, hoping, desperate: save us, save us, save us!
He didn’t know how Gil-galad endured it.
Elwing’s burden was no less than the Noldo High King’s. The Havens were her city, stuffed with refuges looking to her to save them.
Many of the Sindar had fled East with Oropher after the Kinslaying, or before, after the Dwarves slew Thingol, with Celeborn. But thousands had settled here in the Havens, outnumbering the Noldor refuges who had not already settled with Gil-galad on Balar and the tickle of Humans, five-to-one. These Sindar had taken Elwing, all that was left of Thingol and Lúthien’s blood, as their queen.
It was a heavy burden, yet she endured it, rising every morning with optimism and the drive to do her best by her people.
Eärendil wanted to save everyone too, but he didn’t know how. He did not see with Elwing’s eyes; he did not see hope just around the corner. He saw how close the Enemy pressed now, how close the hammer fall swung, and he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to save anyone.
“What should we do?” He asked. Elwing was strong, Elwing was decisive, Elwing would know what to do (or at least pretend she had things under control).
Elwing looked away, a line pressing between her brows. The white light of the moon caught in her profile, glittering in the tear tracks dampening her cheeks. She looked terribly young.
Eärendil drew her into his arms. He was selfish to have attempted to shove this burden off onto her. “We will figure it out together. We will figure out…something.”
She didn’t speak for a long moment. She rested her head against his shoulder and let him take comfort and give comfort in the sweep of his fingers through her hair. “It is time I discovered what powers the Silmaril holds.”
His hand jerked those last few inches through its downward comb. He pulled back, face shocked. “You cannot be serious! The Silmaril is dangerous!”
Her mouth hardened. “The Silmaril is my heritage. But more: it is said to hold powers of strengthening body and mind, healing, maybe even the deepening of magic—”
“It is also rumored to have driven your father mad!”
She turned her back on him, facing the sea again. “I have to do something. The Silmaril is our best hope –our best defense— I will not ignore the potential salvation in my grasp. I would be a poor ruler not explore every option.”
“Elwing, no.” The words were not said as a command, but a plea.
Elwing had a backbone of stubbornness to equal his own, but where his stubbornness was turned to hoarding his independence and the protection of his loved ones, hers was for the protection of her people and to having her way when she’d decided on something. She would not be swayed by another’s will. Only through soft councils, and yes, pleading, would she ever turn her face from the path she’d chosen.
He touched her shoulder, but it remained thrust against him. Her eyes flashed back, challenging him from the slender corners of her eyes. “And what do you propose to do instead? If we do nothing our sons will die, and our people will be slaughtered.”
She turned and met his eyes fully. When he still found no words, she sighed, shaking her head at him. “No worthwhile advice I see.”
His eyes narrowed. Her tone had edged towards scorn. “At least I do not advise the folly you do.”
She crossed her arms, head lifting. “At least I do not dillydally about. Or worse, run away to go play with my ship.”
“At least I am not proposing we risk everything upon the altar of my pride!”
“At least I am not a coward!”
They stood, chests heaving, jaws thrust out, glaring at each other with the only sound their heated breaths dragging in the silence.
Eärendil forgave first, as he ever did. He held out a hand, “Let us not allow fear and doubt to come between us.”
After a moment she relented, taking his hand. “I did not mean my words.”
“Nor did I. Forgive me.” He pressed a kiss into her temple.
A part of him had meant every word, just as a part of her had meant hers. The words would not have come into their mouths if some deep part of themselves had never entertained them. But neither of them was perfect, and he loved her more than he could ever resent her, just as her love for him was stronger than any contempt.
The words could not be as easily forgotten as they could be forgiven though. Was he a coward for seeking the sea? For longing for it even now? He could close his eyes and feel a deck rolling under his feet, the scent of the sea in his mouth as the wind whipped up the sails, the sky enormous above him, the sea stretching on and on, nothing but freedom as far as his eye could reach.
His blood ran restless in his veins, eager to be gone and have the sea beneath his feet. He clamped down on the longing.
If he had the independence of movement, of life, he had on the sea, this docking of his bones would not itch so under his skin. Was he a coward for wishing these duties and expectations on another?
He looked out the window to the sea waiting for him, calling. He looked West. The idea evolved slowly, but once it reached full-bloom it seem solid, reasonable. Or was it just his eagerness to be out there again? Was the idea he perceived as reasonable in truth him grasping at a salvation he could reach?
“We cannot defeat Morgoth alone.” He started slowly, catching Elwing’s attention. “Only another Vala can defeat a Vala.”
Her jaw firmed. “We will weather his blow as best we can, as we always have. We will endure. We can do nothing else. I will not surrender my hope.”
Eärendil took a step forward, eyes picking up light as his plan flew off his lips. “We cannot win, but there are Powers in this world Morgoth’s equal. They lay only an ocean away. If I could but reach them…”
Elwing’s head tilted up with his approach, eyes reaching to his. “If you could but reach them…”
He picked up her hands, linking their fingers. “If I could but reach them.”
Her fingers tightened in his. “Yes. Yes.” She nodded along to the smile taking his face, one of her own creeping onto her mouth. “If you could but reach them.”
Eärendil eased open the door to his boys’ room, thinking he’d find them asleep at this hour, but they sat up together on the bed. He paused, watching them.
Elros had a book spread out over his knees, the smallness of his body magnifying its size. Spread open, it covered him knee-to-knee. Elrond curled into his twin’s side as they looked at the pictures together. “And then the beautiful princess danced before the most evil of evil beings in the whole world, and he fell fast asleep.”
“Why?” Elros’ little brows pinched as he squinted at the illustration of Lúthien and Beren. His voice dipped heavy with skepticism. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Elrond sighed. “It’s magic, Elros.”
“It sounds silly to me.”
Eärendil let the door shut behind him. Twin pairs of grey eyes jumped up. He settled beside them on the bed, trying to ignore the awkwardness in the air between them. He’d only returned from his latest voyage last night, and the air of strangers hung between him and his sons. He’d been gone for months, too long for such young minds to remember their father’s face.
He reached out and tucked a strand of Elros’ hair back behind his ear. When his boy, his baby boy, shied away from the touch of this big stranger who their mother may had told them was their father but whose smell was wholly unfamiliar to them, Eärendil swallowed a shard of pain.
He’d stay longer this time. He promised them, though he did not speak the words outside his heart. This time when he left it would be the last time. He wouldn’t come back from months away empty-handed.
(Just hold on, boys, a few more months away and Daddy will come home to stay, and all this will be a memory. I’ll never leave you again. I swear it. Not even for the sea’s call will I leave you. Just one more time, just once more and I’ll save you from the shadows at the door).
“Do you like reading stories to your brother, Elrond?” Eärendil cautiously leaned closer, pretending to examine the book, but really just wanting to be those few inches closer to holding his boys again.
Elrond pouted. “I like Mother reading them better.”
Eärendil’s arm lifted by degrees to settled about his boys’ tinny shoulders. His fingers came to rest against Elrond’s plump cheek, Elros pressing into his side. Elros looked up at him from beneath dark lashes, but didn’t shrink from the touch. Elrond leaned into it like a cat seeking out a petting.
Eärendil drew them closer. “Has you mother come in to say goodnight yet?”
The boys frowned. It was Elrond who answered. “She never comes to say goodnight anymore.”
Eärendil paused. He’d not noticed anything amiss when Elwing greeted him at the docks yesterday, and he’d not seen her much today for she’d been locked away in councils. But it was hard to notice anything with the Silmaril on her breast, luring every eye and thought to its enthralling beauty. It was hard to breathe in its presence. No, that wasn’t right. The breath had never come so full and sweet into his lungs as when he stood in the Silmaril’s light; his body had never felt more powerful and hale; his spirit never so whole and light. But it was hard to think clearly, yes, that was it. Every thought kept circling back to the Silmaril. It had been a bit of a struggle to even walk away from it.
“Come sit on my lap and I’ll read you the story.” Eärendil pulled the book off Elros’ knees and held up his arms.
His boys exchanged a look. When they peeked back at him, Eärendil grinned. “What, scared?”
Elros scowled. “No.”
Eärendil winked. “I won’t tell a soul if you are.” He raised a hand, palm up, voice grave. “I’ll take the secret to my grave.”
Elrond giggled, and squirmed out from under Eärendil’s arm to come crawl into his lap. Eärendil bounced the knee Elrond had perched on, keeping the light body from falling with his free hand. Elrond squealed with laugher. Eärendil’s fingers slithered to Elrond’s sides and tickled. Elrond flayed about, screeching and laughing, begging Elros to save him.
Elros’ eyes picked up a shine, and he ignored his brother’s pleas in favor of pouncing on Elrond himself with his own wicked fingers. “Get him under the arms! That’s the best spot!”
“Get Elros’ feet!” Elrond wheezed out through laughs, and Eärendil snatched up Elros’ foot to tickle his arch. Elros writhed under the onslaught, laughing so hard he shed a few tears.
Eärendil scooped both his laughing boys up and covered their precious faces with kisses. “I love you, baby,” he kissed into both their cheeks.
Elrond made a face. “We’re not babies!”
Eärendil kissed Elrond’s nose. “You’re my babies. Now come, climb up and let me read you a bedtime story.”
His boys settled into his lap with eagerness, leaning back into his chest as he flipped to the book’s beginning.
He held their warmth and light in his arms until they nodded off. With the care he would have held a newborn in his palms, he coaxed their slumbering bodies under the covers and tucked them in. He kissed their temples, blew out the candles, and crept from the room.
He made his way to his wife and his bedroom. He found her there. She sat on the bed, hunched back to him. He didn’t have to wonder what she cradled in her hands, the wash of singing light answered all the questions.
“Elwing.” He walked to the bed’s edge. She did not look up.
“Come away, Elwing. The boys miss you. Come with me, we’ll watch them sleep for a time.” Still no response. “Elrond and Elros were asking for you,” he tried.
When she still did not speak, he circled the bed’s corner to the far side so he could see her face. Her eyes had not unglued from the jewel in her cupped palms. The moment he drew close enough to see, she jerked away from the light and slipped the Silmaril back into the casket she once kept it in always.
She hid it away from him, raising agitated eyes to his. “Just give me a moment!”
He stared down at her, looking at the tension running through her whole body, wound so tight it vibrated. “I think you should come—”
“I am not answerable to you! I am the queen of the Sindar!”
He took a cautious step forward, making to take a seat beside her on the bed, but she sprung up and paced away. She’d taken the Silmaril in its casket with her, clutching it to her breast.
“Maybe it would be best if you took a break from wearing the Silmaril—”
She spun away, skirts swirling about her. “I’ll thank you to stay out of my business! The Silmaril belongs to me, no one else. I’ll not have you making designs upon it!.”
The door slammed closed behind her.
Eärendil didn’t see much of Elwing over the next weeks. Duties of rule kept her locked away in council chambers and running from one thing to the next. Eärendil spent his time with his boys. He took them for afternoons on the beach, ran around with them in the city, to the market and the stables to experience their first horse ride. They even went cannoning in the Northern marshes where they hunted frogs and he whispered to their wide-eyes as he pointed out alligator noses in the water, and held his boys waists as they leaned out of the boat to watch the fishes and turtles playing below.
Was he shrinking his duties to their people to spend every minute with his boys? He supposed so. He didn’t care. He’d missed so much already, he had to snap up every moment he had left with them before he took to the sea again, seeking all of their salvation.
He tried to convince Elwing to join them, but she pursed her lips and told him she had no time for play. Her duties did occupy most of her time, but he had caught her sitting alone, staring into the Silmaril for who knew how long too many times to believe she didn’t have time for them if she could just put that jewel down long enough.
There came a night, after he’d kissed his boys goodnight and come to find her yet again gazing into that jewel, that he’d had enough. He marched across the room to where she sat with the Silmaril in her cupped palms.
Her head jerked up, and she tried to hide it as she ever did. He’d have none of it. No more.
“Enough, Elwing!” He got his hands about the casket. The lid had not been sealed shut yet, and Elwing dove for the Silmaril within with a snarl. His fingers were faster, and snatched the Silmaril up.
She lunged after it. Their hands collided. The Silmaril came loose. It flew out of Eärendil’s hand and went spinning across the floor, tinkling like glass across the stones.
Eärendil wasn’t prepared for the slap. Elwing put all her strength into it, and it snapped his head around, forcing him back a step. His hand flew to his cheek. He couldn’t…couldn’t believe she’d hit him.
His cheek smarted and he looked into the eyes of a stranger. Her eyes burn, burn, burned. There was nothing natural in that fire. “I…I’m just trying to help you.”
“I see though you!” She raised a shaky finger to point at him. “You want it for yourself!”
His hands came up, palms out. “No—”
“I’ll not give it up!” She inched toward the Silmaril, eyes flickering back to it again and again. “It is my brothers, my father, my mother! I have a right—”
“Elwing,” he said very slowly. “The Silmaril is a jewel, not your family.”
Her nose came up. “You know nothing.”
“It’s a cursed jewel, Elwing. And I am not going to stand by and let it destroy you!” He made for the Silmaril again, determined to put an end to this madness once and for all.
“No! I won’t let you take it from me!” She dove for it, scrambling across the floor like some kind of beast.
“Stop this, Elwing! Stop!” He followed her to the floor, chasing after it. His hand closed over it first.
“Give it to me! It’s mine!!” She launched herself at him.
Her strength took him aback. Her body, thrown against his, nails clawing into his arm, threw him down, his back hitting the stones. She jumped on him, legs wrapping about his waist, nails carving grooves into the wrist that twisted the Silmaril ever away from her.
He looked into her face and saw only madness. In desperation, he launched the Silmaril into the air, sending it arcing across the room. She tried to fly after it, but he caged her against his chest. She writhed against him, but he kept her pressed tight against him.
He tasted tears, and knew them for his own. “Shh, shh, my love. Let it go. Just lie here with me a moment, just lie here. Close your eyes. It’s just you and me, just you and me.” He kissed the line of her silver hair meeting her brow, her clawing hands, her snarling lips. “Close your eyes, my love, and just lie here with me.”
Her struggles seemed to last an eternity, but then there were tears in her eyes and her hands did not claw to get away but to pull him closer. Her body heaved with sobs. “Help me, help me, Eärendil. I can’t—I can’t—”
“Shh,” his lips pressed into her temple. “I’m here, I’m here.”
She shuddered against him, going limp but for her fingers still sunk into his arms as if she would drown without the anchor of his body.
“I don’t know how this happened.” He smoothed a hand down her hair, feeling the delicate shape of her head against his palm. “I’m sorry, Eärendil, I wanted so much to save—but I’ve failed everyone—”
“No, it was I who failed. I should never have left you alone. Forgive me.”
She shook her head, cheek still pressed into his chest. “Your task is vital. I see it, more with each passing year, each month, each day: we can’t win this war. You must reach Valinor. You have to.”
Eärendil sighed. “I know, but I can’t leave you and the boys either.”
Her head lifted from his chest. She balanced her weight on an elbow and looked down into his face. “I’ll try harder. I’ll be on my guard against the Silmaril’s influence now—”
“What? No. We have to hide it, get rid of it—” She stiffened against him. He paused, searching her face, and tried again, slowly now. “If we put it somewhere we’ll never be able to reach it, somewhere far from us, its poison—”
“It is not poison, it is beauty itself!”
Eärendil backtracked, holding up a hand. “Alright, alright. But don’t you see we have to get rid of it?”
“If you think I’ll surrender it to the Fëanorions—”
“That wasn’t what I was suggesting.” He wanted to though. Elwing would never get it back if it was in the Fëanorions’ hands. Better the Fëanorions then Morgoth. “If you would give it to me, I’ll hide it somewhere—”
“No.” She yanked herself out of his arms.
“Elwing,” he followed her into a seated position. “You promised you’d try.”
“I—I will. I just can’t…can’t be parted from it. I’ll only wear it in public. I’ll lock it in the box again, and won’t take it out for anything else.”
“I promise, Eärendil.” She took his hand, holding it in her two small ones. “It will be different now.”
He sighed, running a hand down his face. He looked into her pleading eyes, but for all her promises he could not forget the madness he’d seen there. “I don’t like the idea of you wearing it at all.”
“No, listen.” He settled his free hand over the huddle of their clasped ones. “I understand you’re not ready to let it go entirely, but taking it out of that casket, it’s dangerous, Elwing. We need to keep it locked away in there, not taking it out for anything, not a public appearance, nothing.”
Her mouth tightened. “This is my decision—”
Not this time. “That is the way it has to be, Elwing.”
She blinked. He never spoke to her with that steel in his voice. She could still refuse him; she was no Noldo woman bound by the conventions of Noldorin society to follow her husband’s will if he imposed it. Elwing was queen of the Sindar and carried more political power than he. He held her gaze anyway, pulling up all the love he held for her, all his fear of what that jewel was doing to her, all his pain at hearing his boys’ pinched mouths say their mother never came to kiss them goodnight anymore.
A frown worked itself between Elwing’s brows, but she nodded, slowly, keeping her eyes on Eärendil’s. “Very well. I shall lock it up and never take it out.”
All the breath whooshed out of Eärendil’s lungs, and a wide smile lifted his face. He pulled her into his arms, kissing her hairline. “Thank you. I think...I think everything might really be alright now.”