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8. A darkened star
Eönwë held Eärendil in his arms. So he could feel the weak heartbeat, the faint rising and sinking of his chest, and know that the Hope was not extinguished yet. A few times Eärendil regained consciousness, but it was hard to tell if he recognized Eönwë. Pain was in his eyes, and fear of darkness. Once Eönwë thought he recognized a word that passed through the cracked lips. Vingilot...
Feeling his heart breaking, he embraced the Mariner closer. Oh my friend... you feel she is destroyed, don't you? His presence was all he could do for the Mariner, and so he willed his heart to beat, his wounds to close... He had asked Estë to teach him a few things about healing in the last weeks, but it was not enough. There was a dark poison circling in Eärendil's veins — the same poison that killed the Trees — and against it every Vala was helpless.
Arien lit the sky with her searing flame. The tearing cobwebs tattered in the wind like the last shreds of a nightmare. But for Eärendil, the nightmare was not over yet... Eönwë looked up, to the sky, wondering once again what happened to Elwing. Maybe she escaped... Oh, if she only could bring help! Eönwë felt he could change his form now, but he was too exhausted to try. And Eärendil needed him... He was afraid to break his embrace, afraid that the heart beneath his hands might cease to beat...
Tilion was in the sky still, maybe trying to get a look at his beloved Arien again. Eönwë followed his journey sadly, thinking about Vingilot, who would never sail at his side again. After some time, he had the impression that the vessel of the Moon was nearing... He blinked a few times. Yes, he could already see the little figure at the helm! Tilion! Tilion, we are here! he called mentally.
Eönwë! Oh, thank Ilúvatar I found you! the relief was evident in Tilion's voice. I'm coming!
Eönwë closed his eyes, feeling suddenly very tired. They will get away from this place. They will get home soon. But... was it not too late for Eärendil? Eönwë waited for the moon vessel to land a few yards away from them. For a moment he thought he would not be able to stand up – never before had he been this tired, not even during his time in Middle-earth. Never before had he been so worried, either... Before Tilion could notice, he forced his legs to obey him, and carried Eärendil to the ship. The light of the flower of Telperion was almost blinding after the murky light of this place, and so it was a surprise to him when the voice that greeted him was not Tilion's.
"Oh no..." a woman's voice gasped.
Elwing is here... Eönwë realized when he heard it. She must have escaped the bats, and found Tilion on his night's journey. At least one of his worries was gone. But the one for Eärendil remained. It was the same worry that he heard in her voice.
"He is alive, my lady," he said as reassuringly as he could. The question "how long" remained hanging in the air between them. Somebody caught his elbow. He looked at Tilion, his eyes slowly adjusting to the bright light. "You can lay him here," the Hunter said quietly, pointing at a makeshift cot of furs and blankets. Eönwë just nodded, and carefully laid his friend down. He wanted to remain close to him, but he knew that place belonged to another now. He sighed, and stood up, allowing Elwing to embrace her husband.
"Eärendil! My love... " she called him, and Eönwë felt tears threatening to well in his eyes. He shook his head and turned to Tilion. "Do you have any water?" he asked.
The other Maia nodded, and handed him a silver bottle. "It's from Varda's well... I hope it helps..."
"Thank you," Eönwë tried to smile, but it was a poor attempt. He knelt at Elwing's side, and put his hand on her shoulder. "Here... Try to wash his face, and make him drink a bit, if he awakens." He handed her the bottle. Then he sat down a few feet away, and watched Eärendil's motionless face as Elwing's gentle hands washed the grime and blood away. It was so pale. The images of the Trees flashed in his mind again. Dead wood... broken branches... dried fountains...
He felt a light touch on his shoulder. "My lord..." Tilion addressed him formally, as his chieftain. "Will you allow me to care for your wounds?"
"My...?" Eönwë looked at him without understanding. Finally then he realized that his wrists were still bleeding, cut by the threads of the cobweb. Several other pains made themselves known, also. "Ah..." he nodded absentmindedly. He didn't even watch as Tilion washed and bandaged his wrists. Eärendil was awake again, calling the name of his ship. Elwing managed to make him drink a gulp of water, but he didn't recognize her, and fell unconscious again, his face contorted with pain. The black veins were spreading even further from the wound on his neck. Eönwë only realized that Tilion was finished when he felt something warm being wrapped around his shoulders. He turned his head. "Your cloak?" he asked Tilion dully. "Why?"
"It seemed to me you are cold... And you still didn't get a new one, after..." Tilion looked at the torn cloak that covered Eärendil.
"Thank you," Eönwë whispered, and inadvertently pulled the edges of the cloak closer about him. Oh yes, he was cold, so cold... But the cold was in his spirit, and no cloak could help that. Despite Elwing's presence, Eärendil was getting worse. The fever was rising, and he moaned and tossed without truly regaining consciousness again. His friend was suffering, and he could do nothing to help him...
Eönwë sighed brokenly, and looked at the flower of Telperion. It shone brightly, but it was only an echo of the glory of the Trees. Their last fruit and flower... Suddenly another image flashed through his mind. The light in the darkness. He was back in Ungoliant's cave, pinned down by her weight, and the black lips were nearing for a kiss of death. But then the light shone! And it was not the light of the Trees, not even the light of the Silmaril. Not a memory trapped in a jewel, but a living flame – such as only the Children of Ilúvatar possessed, a light older than the Trees. It was the Flame Imperishable, and Eärendil was not only the bearer of the Silmaril. He was the light himself, a living star of Hope...
A darkened star... living?... barely... just like the Trees. But here was the flower of Telperion, shining brightly. On the other side of the sky, the fruit of Laurelin was rising on its daily journey. There was still hope for Gil-Estel... The tears of Nienna and Yavanna's song cured the poison in the Trees. Still they died, because Ungoliant drank their sap before, and there was only enough left to give birth to the last flower and fruit. But the light of Eärendil's spirit she did not drink. It was still there, quenched by the poison...
As if in a dream, Eönwë stood up, and knelt at Eärendil's side again. Elwing was weeping... No, she was not Nienna. She was just a woman. A woman who loved... Eönwë closed his eyes for a moment, and then began to sing. His song washed the deck of the ship like a golden wave. It was a song about light, about friendship... The tones danced in the wind, sorrow and hope entwined. In the song, the light shone through the darkness, and a golden hawk flew freely at the side of a star.
For hours Eönwë sang, but time did not matter to him. His song struggled with the dark flames, reached through them to find the faint light beneath. It retreated deep beneath the flames – almost too far for the song to reach. But the song did not give up, and sounded ever stronger, battling the flames with a steely resolution. Finally, with one mighty swell of music, the flames were quenched! But the song continued, gentle and encouraging now, with a few wistful tones mixed into the melody. It called to the light, like a tamer calls to a wild animal, patient and reassuring. And the light was lured to the song, longing for the clear, soft tunes. Then finally, when the shores of Valinor were finally in sight, Eärendil opened his eyes.
"Eön...wë?" he whispered hoarsely, recognizing the singer of the song. His eyes were not looking at the Maia, though.
"I'm here, my friend... And Elwing is here..."
Unable to speak for the moment, Elwing clutched Eärendil's hand.
"It's... so dark..." Eärendil sobbed.
"Shhhhh..." Eönwë soothed. "The spider is dead, and we are away from there. Soon we will be home."
Eärendil breathed out a sigh of relief. "Home?"
Elwing smiled fainly. "Yes, my love. Home." She put the silver bottle to his lips then. "Here... try to drink a little, please..."
He drank deeply, feeling suddenly a terrible thirst. Before he was satisfied, the bottle was pulled away. "That's enough for now."
He sighed, and closed his eyes without ever looking at her or Eönwë.
"Sleep, my friend..." Eönwë stroked his hair lightly. "It's over now, and you can rest..."
But when the Mariner's breath evened in sleep, he looked at Elwing gravely. Her look revealed that she, too, realized the terrible truth.
Eärendil was blind.
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