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Disclaimer: The characters and places belong to Professor Tolkien.
Beta reader: Cairistiona
3. A gull and a swan
The Sea rocked the wounded ship slowly, like a child in a cradle. It was calm and quiet in the blue embrace, with the white shore glistening on the horizon – near, and yet too far for Eönwë. He was exhausted, and it was tempting to shed the physical form with all its weariness. Or just leave himself being rocked on the waves contentedly, the warm rays of rising sun dancing on his closed eyelids... but Eärendil needed help, and so Eönwë opened his tired eyes.
"Eärendil?" he asked quietly, checking the Mariner's breathing, and thinking wryly that he should probably ask lady Estë to teach him a few things if they are going to be friends. The ship screeched on a wave, and Eärendil moaned.
"Easy..." Eönwë took his hand. "Soon somebody will come..." He followed the horizon with sharp sight. Certainly somebody must have seen Vingilot's hard landing. But so far no boat could be seen.
"I'm sorry we must wait," he sighed. "I would carry you myself, but I have no strength to fly anymore."
Eärendil opened his eyes slightly. "Elwing... will come..." he whispered with certainty. Driven by that certainty, Eönwë looked up instead of following the sea, and lo! he saw a white gull circling in the sky, its feathers like snow on the highest peaks of the mountains in the pale dawn.
"You are right! She is coming," he smiled to Eärendil, and looked up again, following the bird with his sight. Her circles grew smaller, until she almost touched the broken mast with her feathers. Then the bird landed, and when her feet touched the deck, a beautiful woman stood there, clad in a dress of feathers.
At first she paid no attention to Eönwë. She ran to the Mariner, and knelt at his side.
"Eärendil!" she called worriedly.
He smiled at her and closed his eyes – escaping the following angry look so that Eönwë received it fully.
"What have you done again?" she asked, and her look could compete with any Valie in anger.
"Some... bats attacked us, lady..." Eönwë found himself answering in a small voice.
But she was looking at Eärendil, not at him. "Why do you always risk so?" she asked bitterly, and Eönwë could feel the deep love and worry behind her anger. She touched Eärendil's cheek with a tenderness denying her tone.
First then she turned her attention to Eönwë. She stopped for a moment, and then bowed. "I'm sorry my lord, I didn't recognize you, I was so worried, I..."
"I understand," he interrupted her gently. "I tried to help your husband, but I fear my healing skills are not sufficient, and I couldn't leave the helm to fetch any supplies..."
"Oh... so you guided the ship?"
"Err... yes..." Eönwë suddenly didn't know what to say to not make it even worse for the poor Mariner.
Elwing was quiet for a while, looking at Eärendil. "Thank you for bringing my husband home, my lord..." she said, and then she turned quickly, and left for the cabin.
Eärendil opened one eye. "She's angry, isn't she?" he whispered, and not knowing how his head must hurt, Eönwë almost chuckled at the fear in the Mariner's eyes. Eönwë knew there had been none when fighting the bats.
"She loves you," he smiled at Eärendil.
They had no more time to speak, as Elwing appeared on the deck again, carrying the healing supplies. But Eönwë noticed that this time Eärendil didn't try to escape by closing his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, when Elwing approached.
She sighed, and began unwrapping Eönwë's makeshift bandage. Eärendil gritted his teeth in pain. Elwing said nothing, but concentrated on treating the wound fully.
"I know you're sorry," she whispered then, and with surprise Eönwë noticed that she was on the verge of tears. "But you will do it again... Is it not enough away every night? I have to worry that one time you may not return, and I will be alone again."
Eönwë caught her hand suddenly. "My lady," he said quietly. "We must get to the shore first, please?" he embraced her soothingly. She froze, and then began to sob. She cried on his shoulder for a few moments, but then she lifted her head. "You are right. We should get him to bed. He has to sail in the evening again." So strong she was, and yet so frail, swallowing her pain, that in that moment, Eönwë wanted to assure her that he will convince Varda, that he will sail himself instead of Eärendil if necessary... but he knew it was not possible. Such was the doom of the Flammifer – till Moon should fade, an orbéd star... He sighed, and looked at her. "I will take care of him, my lady."
She gave him a long, curious look, but then she nodded shortly and leaped into the air, turning into the white seabird just above the waves, a shining arrow rising from the foam. Eönwë watched her for some time, and then returned to Eärendil. The Mariner's head was neatly bandaged, and his eyes were open, following the bird too.
"She's a Mariner's wife..." he said softly, and turned her sight to Eönwë.
The Maia sat down near him. "She worries for you."
"I... I don't want to worry her. If I could do something differently, I would. But I am a wanderer. She knows it..."
"She does," Eönwë confirmed, looking after the bird on the horizon. Then he looked Eärendil into the eyes. "But you don't have to wander alone..."
Eärendil was quiet for a few moments. "I just... don't want to be useless..." he said then quietly. "She speaks about our sons so often. Middle-earth still bears the scars of the War. I can't live in peace while they strive, while the land I love is not cleaned from all evil..."
Eönwë looked to the East. "The land I love..." he whispered to himself. Then he sighed, and smiled at Eärendil sadly. "Maybe you are right," he said slowly. "I... oh yes, I love it too..." There was a slight surprise in his voice at the realization. Was that why he felt so confined in Valinor? He shook his head. "You have your light," he said, looking at the Silmaril in the ship's lantern. The glass was scratched deeply, but the light burnt as brightly as ever. Why did the bats want to steal it – steal the light they feared?
Eärendil nodded, forgetting the wound on his head – and grimaced in pain immediately. "Is..." he closed his eyes for a moment. "Is it enough?" he asked when the pain abated.
"It is hope," Eönwë replied solemnly.
Eärendil sighed. "I wish I could see that..."
Eönwë looked at him questioningly.
"They are too far. I can hardly recognize the people – and it's even harder to understand what is happening below. It took me years to see if my sons are safe with Maglor. I was so worried, but I couldn't tell Elwing..."
"Oh..." Eönwë bit his lip, remembering the sight of the land from above through his hawk eyes. "I didn't know that."
In that moment a flock of birds appeared above the sea. As they neared, Eönwë saw a gull leading a flock of white swans. Elwing landed on the ship, and disappeared in the cabin. Soon she returned with a rope, and seeing her intention, Eönwë hurried to help her fasten the rope to the prow. The swans took it into their beaks and flew forwards with a whirling of white wings. It didn't take them long to drag the ship into the harbour near the white tower, and Eönwë carried Eärendil inside despite his protest that he could now walk. "Save your strength for tonight," the Maia whispered.
Inside Eönwë sat in the kitchen while Elwing prepared a healing tea, feeling like an intruder in their house.
"He will sleep until evening," she said then, returning with an empty glass. She sat down across Eönwë. The Maia didn't know what to say to that, and the silence felt uncomfortable.
"Would you like some tea?" she asked finally, and Eönwë nodded thankfully. That seemed to exhaust the conversation topics for some time. But when Eönwë was sipping the tea, Elwing looked at him indecisively, but finally she gathered her courage. "My lord?" she asked.
"I... I think I'll need help with repairing the ship, and Eärendil can't do it now..."
Eönwë smiled. "It will be my pleasure to help you, Lady Elwing."
She blushed slightly, but then stood up resolutely. "She needs a new mast. There are a few suitable trees in the nearby wood."
Eönwë nodded, and finished his tea quickly. "Let's go then."
They passed through a cleft in the rock face behind the tower. There was a forest of high, straight trees, their white branches singing in the wind about stars and light. Eönwë looked around in awe. "I didn't know about this place..." he whispered.
Elwing smiled, and put her hand on the smooth bark of one tree. "It has been blessed by Varda and Yavanna," she said reverently. "The trees grow here for Vingilot."
In that moment, wind whispered in the green crowns, and the leaves seemed to repeat the name. Vingilot. Vingilot... Eönwë closed his eyes. It felt so familiar... so similar to the feeling he had when holding Vingilot's helm.
"My lord? Here!" Elwing's voice came from ahead, and Eönwë realized he had fallen behind her. He hurried forwards, and found Elwing standing at a fallen tree, straight and smooth, likely meant for the mast of a ship. He shook his head in wonder, and Elwing smiled. "The trees fall when their time comes, but they do not die. They live further in the ship..."
Eönwë nodded, understanding suddenly the familiar feeling. "Forgive my question, lady, but... are you not jealous of her?" he asked the question that came to his mind in that moment.
But Elwing only laughed. "Oh no, of course not! I know that Eärendil loves her – in a way. But if he would have to choose, I know he would choose me over her. He has chosen me over the life of his father's people. And she always brings him home safely... although with your help today. No, I am not jealous of Vingilot."
"Yes..." Eönwë said thoughtfully. "He would choose you..." He smiled then, and began cleaning the future mast from branches. Then he took it alone despite Elwing's protest, and carried it to Vingilot.
It was almost evening when they finished their work, and Vingilot looked like new again. Often Eönwë was left to work alone as Elwing went to check on Eärendil. But there was no change – the Mariner slept still... until the moment when they stepped back to admire their work. With surprise they suddenly realized that Eärendil joined them, and was looking at the ship with a smile.
"Thank you, my love," he kissed Elwing passionately, and Eönwë saw she really had no reason to be jealous.
"How do you feel?" Eönwë asked then.
Eärendil grimaced. "It hurts still, but it could be worse." His expression grew serious. "If you weren't there... Thank you, my lord."
Eönwë shook his head. "He's a little better, and already he has forgotten my name..." he told to Elwing with a feigned offended expression. Then he turned to Eärendil. "I think we agreed that it's Eönwë for you, no lord."
Eärendil cast his eyes down, not sure what to say. He toyed with the cloth of the cloak between his fingers. Suddenly he stopped, and looked at the cloth closer. It was snow-white, and felt unusually soft between his fingers. It was not his cloak... Then he remembered. He put the cloak down, and handed it to Eönwë with a bow of his head. "I believe this is yours. Thank you."
Eönwë took the cloak into his hands, and smiled slightly. Then he put it around the Mariner's shoulders. "Keep it. It is a gift."
"Oh... thank you, my lord..." Eärendil stammered.
Eönwë only rolled his eyes the repeated thanks and title. "Better check if the mast is all right... I have never repaired a ship before."
Not knowing what to say, Eärendil turned his attention to the mast. It held firmly, as thought it had been a part of the ship from the beginning. There was only one thing left to do. He reverently took the lantern with the Silmaril, and fastened it on the chain hanging from the mast. Then he pulled the chain, and the Silmaril rose above the ship like a flag – the brightest banner of hope. Soft light flooded the deck like a liquid, bright and yet not blinding. No one interrupted the silence as it rose to its place – even the seabirds seemed to fall quiet. Eärendil was the first one to speak. "It is almost time..." he said, looking at the setting sun.
Elwing sighed resignedly. "Let me look at your wound first. And you should eat something at least."
Eärendil did not protest, and she led him back to the tower. As if suddenly remembering, she turned after a few steps, looking a little ashamed for forgetting her guest. "Would you like something to eat too?" she asked Eönwë, but the Maia declined politely. "I will stay here for a while."
"Well... as you wish..." Elwing left, and Eönwë stayed alone on the shore, looking at the waves of the sea. To anyone who might have been watching, he seemed to bein deep thought. But those thoughts didn't belong to himself only. In his mind, he spoke with the Elder King and his lord, Manwë, and it was a long discussion, although it didn't need words.
When the pair joined him again, Eärendil was looking a little better, although there was still sorrow in Elwing's eyes. Eönwë put his hand on her shoulder lightly. "Do not worry, my lady. I will sail with your husband tonight."
Eärendil just stared at him in mute surprise. And to his even bigger surprise, Eönwë grew a little sheepish at his look. "Unless... he would prefer to sail alone..." he murmured.
Eärendil smiled broadly. "Oh no, my lo... Eönwë. It will be an honour to have you on my deck."
"And I will know that you are with someone who has at least a bit of sense," Elwing looked at the Maia gratefully.
"Err... perhaps..." Eönwë smirked, and turned to Eärendil. "Any orders, Captain?"
"Well, if you want it this way, then... Get on the board, and try to stay there," Eärendil smiled. He was looking forward to this flight.
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