Eärendil looked upon his wife with amazement and disbelief. A moment before he’d been comforting what had appeared to be a white albatross, obviously blown by winds far beyond the reach of land and utterly exhausted by battling the storms that had ever beat his own ship back toward the Mortal Lands; now he held Elwing herself, the great Nauglamír set with the shining Silmaril upon her breast casting a cleansing light over the deck of the ship, lighting even the darkness beyond the door of its cabin.
He wrapped her within his cloak and took her up in his arms, bearing her to the bench near the water barrel lashed to the side of the cabin. One benefit of the storms was that the rain of them sheeting over the cabin’s roof had kept the barrel more than full. He gave her to drink, and slowly she came to herself, seeming as amazed to find herself with him as he was. “I found you,” she finally murmured, shaking her head to the dipper he still held out in offer to her.
“Yea, that you did,” he agreed. “But I know not how or why.”
She straightened her body within his arms. “Once your ship was well upon the seas, the Fëanorians again sent threats, insisting that I should surrender the Nauglamír to them that they might once again possess their father’s treasure. Almost I thought to send it to them, but a dream came to me that indicated that doing so would utterly destroy them—not merely their bodies, but their souls as well. I could not do that, even at the cost of our own people, so I sent word in return that I was forbidden to do as they asked, and that if they valued their wholeness they should offer Sirion no threat.
“But they came by night, and broke through the defenses of the city, and assailed us within the tower. I believe that only Maglor and Maedhros are left now of the seven of them, for as I circled the tower ere I flew in search of thee I saw two bodies lying amidst the carnage that I swear were of the youngest of the sons of Fëanor. I was wearing the Nauglamir, as I’d taken to doing after my dream; and when they broke into the tower room where we’d taken refuge with the children and threatened even our sons if I did not give up the Silmaril to them, I heard in my heart the command of Ulmo himself that I must flee them to save Elrond and Elros and to spare those remaining the shedding of more royal blood—that my apparent sacrifice of myself would shock them back to reason and awareness of the evil they’d just wrought. So, trusting the Lord of Seas, I leapt from the window and called upon the power I inherited from my great-mother. With Ulmo’s blessing I emerged from the water in the shape of a great sea bird, and with knowledge of which direction I must fly in order to bring the Silmaril to your hand, for the dream also told that you must have it upon you in order to achieve your own quest.”
“I must bear the Silmaril in order to find the Undying Lands and so bring our petition before the Belain?” he responded.
“Yea—so the Lord of Waters has allowed my heart to know.”
She sought to lift the necklace in which the stone was set from about her neck, but had not strength to do so. In the end he must do this for her, and with shaking hands set the jeweled pectoral about his own shoulders, feeling the warmth of the shining Silmaril against the center of his own breast, over his heart. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, and focused his attention on the stone, keeping in mind his goal. “I do not do this for my own glory, but for the safety of the remnant of Men and Elves and Dwarves within the Mortal Lands who seek ever to remain true to our covenant with one another and the Earth itself to do all we can to nurture this world,” he whispered. “I wish only to find the way that I might lay my petition before the feet of the Powers myself. Then the Creator may do as He wishes with me. But my sons remain behind, and I would not have them die betimes of the evil inflicted upon all who oppose him by the Marrer. Already too many have died, and too many more must do so ere they fully taste the joys of life if the Belain do not come against their own brother!”
The Silmaril blazed not only upon his breast, but throughout his whole body and spirit. It was an experience such as he had never previously known. He gritted his teeth, agony and ecstasy warring within him as he felt the hallowed stone’s power work through him. And then he knew which way he must go—where he must steer his ship. He left his beloved resting upon the bench and returned to the tiller, untied it and took it into his hand, set his course by the light of the Silmaril….
He taught Elwing how to properly handle the tiller, and when he must rest he would surrender the Nauglamír to her to wear and leave her to follow the course Westward, guided ever by the great jewel. Turn and turn about they took, until at last she came to him with word that a brilliant land could be seen ahead of them.
As she leaned over him to waken him, she saw how the voyage had worn upon him. Little enough remained of the ship’s stores he’d taken with him when he set out alone upon his quest, and not even the fresh fish that were taken daily could answer the full needs of their bodies. He’d grown painfully thin, and his face was now etched deeply with permanent lines about the eyes from sailing into the light of the setting Sun daily. His hands were marred from handling wet lines, his sides bruised when storms had thrown him against the rails, benches, or cabin of the ship. But she seemed to see a pure, mithril gleam to him, as if the Silmaril he’d worn so often now shone beneath his skin.
He is dying, she realized. He never desired to be more than the mortal his father was, and now he shall follow his father’s people beyond the bounds of the Circles of Arda once his quest is accomplished. He has spent himself utterly to bring himself here.
Her heart wept within her, but her love for him grew the more, even accepting that she now stood to lose him once his message was delivered. “Beloved,” she murmured, pressing her lips to his. He awoke, his face at peace but somewhat distant, as if he already readied himself for the transition from this life he must know once he’d knelt in supplication before the Powers.
She remained upon the decks of the ship until a shining figure came to her. I am named Olórin, and am of the people of Manwë, he communicated to her. Fear not, beloved daughter, but come. For, lo—thy beloved’s message has been delivered and is answered. Yea, even the Valar themselves will now join the battle against he who was their brother ere he foreswore his allegiance to Creator and all who breathe the breath of life and who carry within them the sacred Hidden Flame. But the air within these lands will be the death of what remains of the mortal within thy husband, and he much needs thy council, for a choice is laid before the both of ye.
Bitter in many ways did the choice prove, for with his mortality burned away as had happened by means of both the enriched air of Aman and the action of the Silmaril upon him, Eärendil could not look to return to the Mortal Lands and survive, not even to embrace his sons one last time. And, although she realized it not at the time, the same was true for Elwing as was true for her beloved husband. Mortal or Eldar? She had ever considered herself an Elf, having been Princess within Doriath ere the slaying of her parents and brothers. It was easy for her to choose now. But, if he were to choose mortality, she would accompany him beyond the Bounds of Arda rather than be separated from him now. And, seeing her determination to continue following him wherever he might lead, Eärendil bowed his head and accepted the life of the Eldar—and was amazed when he was granted the duty to steer the Star of Hope upon the Seas of Night. Still he would bear the Silmaril in hope, but now it was an estel he would share with all who looked upon its—and his—own light above them in the heavens.