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Disclaimer: The characters and places belong to Professor Tolkien.
Beta reader: Cairistiona
2. Under the wings of a hawk
“Eärendil!” Eönwë tried to rouse the unresponsive Mariner, but didn’t dare to leave the helm. No answer. Eönwë shook his head in frustration. He would have known if Eärendil were in Mandos, but still the situation was worrisome... and he didn’t know much about ships, either. But Vingilot was no normal ship. Eönwë could almost tell she was afraid – wounded and afraid. He had troubles keeping the helm steady. She didn’t feel her captain’s hand, and wanted to shake off the unfamiliar touch. If a ship could be worried, he would say she was worried for Eärendil just like him.
He let go of the helm tentatively, and took a step towards Eärendil. The deck was even for a moment... but then it shook and jumped, losing altitude suddenly. Immediately Eönwë reached back for the helm, and tried to even the flight. “Easy... I’m trying to help him...” he tried to calm her, although he wasn’t sure if she understood. Again he took a step away... and this time, there was no sinking.
Avoiding the dead bats he reached the figure lying under the broken mast. Eönwë held his breath for a moment, and then hequickly removed the piece of wood. He surveyed Eärendil. There were many scrapes and bruises, but the only serious wound seemed to be on his head, bleeding profoundly. The ship shook again. Eönwë held his breath, prepared to jump to the helm if necessary. The shaking ceased after a while, but he didn’t want to risk more.
After he assured himself that there are no broken bones, he lifted Eärendil carefully, and carried him to the helm, where he could even the ship if necessary while tending to the Mariner. Maybe there were some healing supplies in the cabin, but he didn’t want to risk leaving his place again. He would have to use what he had... Quickly he bound the wound with a piece of his tunic to stop the bleeding.
“Eärendil!” he called. “Wake up!” In that moment he had to reach for the helm again, but he didn’t cease speaking to the Mariner.
“Wake up, please...” Eönwë sounded ever more urgent. “I don’t know how to land...” He just hoped the ship didn’t understand his words.
Something in the hull screeched. Maybe she did... But with that sound, Eärendil finally opened his eyes. With a moan, he shut them closed again.
“No!” Eönwë put his hand on the Mariner’s shoulder. “I know you are awake! You cannot sleep now!”
Eärendil moaned again, but held his eyes firmly shut.
“Oh.” Eönwë realized the problem. “The light is too bright, isn’t it?” Quickly he turned the lantern with the Silmaril away from Eärendil.
Tentatively, the Mariner opened his eyes, and tried to find out who had been calling him – he could not remember where he had heard that voice. He had seen that face, also....
Hail Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares... yes, there it was...
“Lord Eönwë?” he asked. “What...” he tried to touch the wound on his head, and immediately gasped in pain. The ship trembled, as if she could feel that pain also.
“Easy... breathe...” Eönwë took his hand and guided it away from the wound gently. And breathing was the only thing Eärendil could do.
“What h...happened?” he asked through gritted teeth after the pain subsided a little.
“You were attacked. The bats... don’t you remember?” Eönwë looked around.
Eärendil watched him without comprehension, although bat carcasses were lying all over the deck.
Eönwë sighed. “I should look at your wound.” He glanced at the cabin across the deck, but shook his head. He didn’t dare leave the helm, and so he tore a piece of cloth from his tunic.
“It will hurt now...” he warned, and first wiped the blood away from Eärendil’s face. Then he cleaned the wound lightly. Despite his gentle movements, Eärendil was biting his lips in pain. Eönwë didn’t allow himself to stop. He has seen much suffering in the war, but this time, it was very hard for some reason. Finally, when the wound was bandaged as best as Eönwë could, he looked into Eärendil’s face. The Mariner was pale, and cold sweat covered his brow.
“It’s over...” Eönwë said soothingly. But it was not over yet...
Eärendil turned to one side shakily, trying in vain to hide his face from Eönwë as he threw up in a painful convulsion. When the heaving subsided, it left him feeling shaky and even weaker – and ashamed, as he distantly realized whose hands are supporting him. He leaned back exhaustedly, and tried to smile.
“Seasickness...” his voice was barely audible, but Eönwë had to chuckle at the attempted joke from the most famous mariner of the whole Arda. He could feel the tremors running through Eärendil’s body under his fingers. Eönwë put down his own white cloak, and covered the Mariner. The trembling ceased, but Eärendil’s eyes were closing again. “No! You cannot sleep now!” Eönwë squeezed his fingers.
The half-closed eyelids opened again. “I’m sorry... my Lord...” he breathed out.
“Sorry for what?” Eönwë frowned. “And do not call me Lord. We fought together in the war, didn’t we?”
At last Eärendil focused his sight at Eönwë. He looked ready to protest, but then he stopped. The memories of the war brought the pictures of the recent fight to resurface again, it seemed.
“There were... bats...” he looked at the broken mast and a shade of pain crossed his face that had nothing to do with his wounds. “They tried to take the Silmaril...”
“Yes,” Eönwë affirmed “They are gone.”
Eärendil looked at him questioningly.
The Maia shrugged slightly. “I drove them away with Tilion.” But then his look hardened, and reminded Eärendil very much of the earlier conversation on the beach. “They could have killed you...” Eönwë even used the same words as before.
Eärendil was quiet for a moment. He knew that himself.
“You too,” he retorted finally without much conviction.
Eönwë sighed and looked away. To Eärendil it seemed his words had an unexpected effect. He didn’t see the golden hawk, attacking against the odds of the bats without fear. His vision was getting clouded again, but he struggled to stay awake to hear the Maia’s reply. However, it was a question instead.
“You feel useless, don’t you?” Eönwë asked suddenly.
Eärendil looked at him in surprise, and his eyes confirmed what Eönwë suspected.
“You do,” he said quietly. “The war is over, and your biggest task is fulfilled. You feel imprisoned in the peacefulness of Valinor – and so you risk your life to feel a purpose again.”
Now Eärendil looked directly at the Maia, and held his sight for a long while.
“Maybe... But Eönwë...” he whispered sadly, addressing the Maia without a title for the first time. But if Eönwë noticed it, he said nothing, unable to avoid the Mariner’s gaze. “That’s why... you were flying so high that you could come to our aid?”
Eönwë nodded. “We fought together.”
“I know...” Eärendil said softly. Suddenly he could see Eönwë not only as a Chief of the Maiar and herald of Manwë, but as someone who shared his feelings, who fought in the same battles, and faced the same doubts. He reached his hand to the Maia... and Eönwë took it in his strong palm, and for a moment, he felt like before again – in Middle-earth.
“Do you feel useless too?” Eärendil asked, overstepping by far the boundaries he had set for himself when speaking to any of the Ainur.
Eönwë looked at the stars passing by, and then he nodded slowly. “I led armies. I fought against Morgoth himself. I fought, and I lived with the Children of Ilúvatar for a short time, like one of them. It is hard to return....”
Eärendil squeezed his hand weakly in understanding, but his eyes were closing again, his strength spent by the conversation.
“Eärendil?” Eönwë asked in alarm. “You cannot sleep now! Speak to me!”
There was authority in Eönwë’s voice, and Eärendil struggled to stay awake, like obeying an order in battle. He focused his eyes on the Maia’s face. “I... know it’s hard...” he whispered. “I tried... but still I belong there... where I can’t return. It’s hard to live in peace when the life I left calls to me every night...”
Eönwë had no answer to that, so he just laid Eärendil more comfortably, making him lean against himself, and was strangely pleased when the Mariner didn’t protest – just yesterday he would, Eönwë knew. And at that protest he would feel the hurt in his soul deepen, because that was what he missed so – the friendship of Ilúvatar’s Children, a camaraderie that could be forged only in the heat of a fight.
For some time, the journey was peaceful, the ship sailing easily with the gentle wind. Talking was too exhausting to Eärendil, and so Eönwë spoke to him about the battles of the past, and battles they fought together. Suddenly the tone of his voice changed, sounding more urgent. “We are nearing the harbour!”
Eärendil tried to sit up, but his head spun immediately, and a wave of pain forced him to sink back.
“Slow... down...” he panted.
“But how?” Eönwë asked, but then he realized that the words didn’t belong to him. Eärendil was speaking to the ship... and Vingilot obeyed.
“Keep the course straight...” That order was for Eönwë, and the Maia tried to fulfil it as best as he could. The ship began to sink. Eärendil’s eyes, closed in concentration as he tried to control the damaged ship with his thought, opened suddenly in alarm. “We’re sinking too fast...” He looked at Eönwë. “Help me... to the helm... please...”
Eönwë bit his lip, but helped Eärendil up, and supported him when he swayed. The Mariner took a few deep breaths, obviously fighting the nausea again, but then he reached for the helm with trembling fingers.
“Shhh... Easy, my Foam-flower... you can do it...” he encouraged the ship, but it was clear that she was at the end of her strength – just like him. Sweat was beading on his brow, but the descent slowed a little... and then a bit more...
But as she evened her flight, and the descent became steady, Eärendil grew even paler, and he was trembling heavily. Eönwë supported him, but soon he was carrying all of the Mariner’s weight. Eärendil’s hand slipped off the helm.
“Eärendil! Eärendil!” Eönwë tried to rouse him again, but his eyes didn’t open. “Eärendil! Wake up!” The ship creaked, and began to sink immediately again. “Wake up! You cannot sleep now!” The sea below neared.... faster and faster...
Eönwë felt panic rising in him. Can an Ainu die? He was not curious anymore. The sea was closer and closer.... A fall from such height will be crushing... death awaits in the waves! He could fly up if he wanted, a lonely hawk in the sunrise... maybe he could take Eärendil in his claws... but would the Mariner survive the loss of his ship?
“No!” Eönwë cried out defiantly. He lowered Eärendil on the deck gently, and where a golden haired warrior had been standing just a moment before, a majestic hawk leaped into the air, the rising sun glistening in his eyes. But he didn’t fly up. Instead, he took the remaining piece of the mast into his powerful claws and flew, flew with all his strength. At first the fall accelerated, but then, when he could hear the hissing of the foam on the waves, the speed evened, and then began to slow...
His wings burned, but he knew he couldn't stop now! Faster and faster, he forced himself to fly to the borders of his strength... The fall slowed, but the water neared dangerously – will it be enough?
The impact knocked him off the mast. Salty water washed over the deck and everything swayed dangerously. The hawk turned to a man before he hit the deck. Even dazed, Eönwë tried to find Eärendil in that chaos. The hull cracked, but it held, and the ship didn’t sink. The swaying ceased after some time, and the deck evened. Everything was quiet. Eönwë’s muscles burned with weariness, but he was still looking for Eärendil. He was there! Eönwë sighed in relief, and hurried immediately to the Mariner’s side. The impact had sent him over the deck, but the rail had stopped him from falling over it. He was pale, and his clothes were dripping with seawater.
Eönwë checked his breathing quickly, and sighed with relief for the second time. But they were still half a mile away from the harbour, and Eönwë was too exhausted to fly again. He could only hope somebody would come for them with a boat. He secured the anchor, and he sank beside the Mariner wearily. He leaned on the rail, and took Eärendil into his arms. They could only wait...
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