Bright Star - An Exile into Paradise
For the Song of Exile challenge - Create a fanwork about exile or exiles. About being exiled. About the people who are exiled. About the decision to exile, the leavetaking, the consequences. Prompt: Exile by Enya; from the lyrics: “My light shall be the moon / And my path - the ocean.” My most heartfelt thanks to Ignoble Bard for once again copy-checking a story of mine at the last minute.
“We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Elros stood on a jetty south of the Mithlond harbor, a jutting needle of land sticking out into a squally sea. Crude pleasure craft or casual fishermen often used the small pier—craftsmen, clerks, or tradesmen—going out from there simply for the love of the sea or seeking to supplement a modest family larder.
He stood alone that night, sniffing and clearing his throat. He ought to have grabbed a cape on his way out of the door. His nose started to drip and a cold wind lifted, whipping his hair about. Someone kicked some pebbles on the path behind him and coughed.
“Aha! I thought I might find you here,” Elrond said in a voice low and dangerous, itching for a fight.
“And, you were right,” he said. “Here I am.”
“It’s getting ugly fast. You’re going to catch a cold before your big adventure. I wondered if you were avoiding me. But I decided that if you were, I could not permit it. Seriously, you’re going to freeze.”
“No! It’s a fine evening.” He could not help but laugh. Elrond lowered his eyebrows at him. The weather was rotten and only promised to get worse. Elros shook his head at his brother’s determination not to be cajoled out of his mood, as foul as the weather. Neither the moon, nearly hidden by clouds and fog, nor the nearby lighthouse provided enough illumination to read anything in Elrond’s eyes. He tried to sound bright, lighthearted—ha!—without any success. Another stormy scowl confirmed his failure with his brother. Even his quicksilver twin had succumbed to ill humor over those last few days.
“I was almost ready to walk back to the palace and look for you.” His tone turned consoling and affectionate, but Elrond wasn’t having it. He bristled again. Elros shared his misery, but it was pointless to give into the despair without a fight. They’d always fought to go on. Hadn’t they?
“I thought you might have wanted to seek counsel from Ereinion—private counsel!—so that I would not see how upset you were. You’ve been cross with me all day, all month actually.” Elros thought if he didn’t battle his despondency he was surely lost. “I was stalling until I thought you would come home.”
Home! Elros meant the modest suite of rooms—luxurious compared to most of their past domiciles—that they shared at the back of the palace opening onto the lane sloping down to the beach. Ereinion had, with his generosity of spirit and emotional support, made a true home for them. But now Elros was, for all practical purposes, homeless again. He and his new compatriots—exiles like him, bemused recipients of what was presented to them, sight unseen, as a magnificent reward—would sail for the Land of Gift in less than week and he and his twin would be separated with a finality that neither of them was even able to comprehend, much less placidly accept.
“I did seek him out, but it didn’t take long. He couldn’t offer much advice or comfort. Didn’t really try. I told him I wasn’t doing well. He held me in his arms for a moment and patted me on the back—like one would do with a puppy or a little kid! I suspect he feels as badly as we do. He’s got a big heart. And he’s totally perplexed. It’s so final! Also, although he’s never said so directly, I would guess, back at the time, that Eönwë told him to stay out of it.”
“No doubt,” Elros said. He could easily imagine that. Anyway, Eönwë was a perfect scapegoat. Why not shoot the messenger?
“Why did you agree to choose?” Elrond was determined to wind himself up. “How could you?”
“I thought you’d try to argue if I didn’t choose first. Anyway, we really had no choice.”
“Right. How did he put it? Oh, yes. ‘You have a choice . . .’ ‘You must choose. . .’ ‘None other of your kind has been offered such a choice. . .’ Etc., etc., etc. That voice of his! And that accent! Ugh!” Elrond shuddered, contorting his face into an exaggerated grimace. “That face of his looks like a bloodless ghost-horse.”
Elros could not restrain a laugh. “Ereinion doesn’t like him much either, but he thinks he’s beautiful.” It was a well-worn argument. He always protested, although, truth be told, he agreed with Elrond. He inwardly shivered at the thought of Manwë’s herald—preternaturally tall and straight, with his long alien face, beautiful lips, but his posture rigid, his voice and eye chilly, and his barely perceptible accent reminiscent of the sounds and cadence of Valarin. Maedhros had tried to teach them a little of the language of the Ainur. Neither of them had taken to it, Elros least of the two. Maedhros had claimed his father said the sound of it spoken recalled the ‘glitter of swords.’ In fact, it was impossibly difficult for them as boys, too many consonants, not enough vowels, all but unpronounceable, and he suspected it would still be. “What is a ghost-horse, brother?”
“Well, if such a thing existed, I doubt it would be a pretty sight. Remember how he couldn’t even smile?”
Elros thought of the occasional widening of Eönwë’s lavender eyes, accompanied by the slight raising of his eyebrows. “He almost could.”
“Rubbish! He wasn’t a funny guy.” They both laughed. His interview with them had changed their lives and, so far, not for the better.
After Elros agreed to accept the Gift of Men—death! Eönwë instantly softened in his demeanor toward both of them and had shared with enthusiasm—tempered, of course, by his bland delivery—what this Valar-created paradise for the Edain would be like. The island itself was modeled in roughly the shape of a star. There were natural harbors, protected and deep, on both the eastern and western sides of the island. Of course, they would not be doing much sailing for the first few hundred years—not until well after his death Elros had thought. There were mountains, plains, forests, and an abundance of fertile land, and perhaps as many as three growing seasons in some of the milder areas. The worst of the ills of the Eruhíni would be eliminated. Not only would they be safe from any surviving minions of Morgoth, but they would never endure summers without rain, or years without summers—no winters at all, no plagues, long lives, and healthy offspring. Elros almost laughed at how he and Elrond had listened to this fanciful recitation dead-eyed. This wonder-tale Eönwë spun did little to mitigate their shock that they would be separated—forever—past the breaking of the world. Elros would die. They had only for the last decade or so been happy sleeping in separate beds.
“Don’t look so gloomy! Of course, you will miss your dearest brother,” Eönwë had said directing his words to Elros with a fair-to-middling approximation of human empathy. “But, your life will be far from empty. You’ll have cities to plan and to build, fields to till, and the tremendous organizational work of molding a single civilized people out of their—hmm, ah—more primitive cultural systems.”
Both Elros and Elrond rolled their eyes at that remark, but Eönwë appeared too enraptured by his own voice to notice. “There will be for you, Elros, not only the grand enterprise of governing an enlightened, gifted people but taking part in the actual formation of their culture. You’ll write laws and organize a system of rules, practices, and processes by which you will balance the needs of your new people. You will be so busy.” He looked from brother to brother, with a questioning gaze. He did not need any esoteric powers of mindsight, their faces revealed their obvious skepticism and grief. Even his distinct lack of compassion did not prevent him from puzzling over their lack of gratitude.
“We don’t expect you to do it all alone,” he said, answering Elros’ unspoken resentment. “People of the Eldar will visit and advise you from time to time. Of course, you will need the compassionate support of some sort of partner. We are well aware by now of certain human emotional needs. Surely your kinsman Fëanáro and his Noldor taught us that! You shall find a mate. Manwë has seen visions of that much. You’ll find a comely wife and you will delight in her company. You do want to bear strong and beautiful children to continue your line!” Eönwë had finished in triumph, with that peculiar alteration of expression that approximated a smile.
Elros remembered striving to regulate his own face, but Elrond, ever irrepressible, wrinkled his nose and curled his lip in distaste. Eönwë noticed that also. “And you also will find love and purpose, helpmates and friends, Elrond. Your role is as necessary to the Music as that of your brother.”
“If you say so, it must be true,” Elrond grumbled. Elros smiled to himself at the thought of his twin’s resoluteness of character. He suddenly believed that his brother would be all right. Elrond was irrepressible and had a fathomless capacity for love.
“See, Elros! You made the right choice!” Eönwë had almost crowed in satisfaction. “Elrond doesn’t want to be a ruler. But, if Eru will it, he may grow into a useful helpmate for King Gil-galad someday.” He shot Elrond what could have been a hopeful look—his near unreadable face might or might not have been tinged with a shadow of uncertainty. “One also might observe that Elrond shows evidence of the Eldarin rate of reaching maturity more slowly than Mortals. Yes, my young lords, we are very pleased with the choices you have made here today.”
Then Eönwë had left it to them to break the news to Ereinion as best they could. Their wise and kind cousin had been puzzled but held back his questions. He treated them with greater tenderness for the next short period. Finally, with advice from Círdan who had been privy to a lot of Eönwë’s lectures and descriptions, they launched into plans for preparing Elros for his future. Círdan and Ereinion helped him with everything from diplomacy to plumbing. Ereinion found tutors and recommended they also begin to conduct meetings with leaders among the scattered elements of the Houses of the Edain who would be following him.
Elrond’s face became gradually clearer and Elros drew his eyes away from him to look up at the sky. The clouds parted to reveal a star, far away yet its light dazzling beyond that of all the others. Its identity was inescapable—one of a kind, brighter than any—and, at times like this, when it unexpectedly caught his eye, Elros felt as though his father was reaching out to them.
“Look. It’s Vingilot,” he said, pointing. “Do you think he can see us or sense us?”
“Oh, fuck it!” Elrond said. “I cannot let you leave while I am still angry. You know, our mother used to say that you looked like him—Eärendil, our father, I mean, whose face I can scarce remember. Other people told me that I had finer features like our mother, darker hair and lighter eyes. I always thought that meant that they were implying that I was less stable like her as well.”
“Less stable? That’s a limited understanding of your character. I’ve always thought of you as my bright star. You were the one who with your wild flights of imagination, unflinching stubbornness, and crazy hope who could give light to this challenged world for centuries and I would the plodding one who’d bask in your radiance.”
“That’s insane! You’ve always been the good one! I love you so much, Elros. I am sorry I’ve been a prick recently. I’m just not ready for this and it makes me frustrated. I lose my temper, when I’ve wanted so much to say goodbye in a nice way.”
“Well, I cannot postpone my leaving until you are ready to forgive me. And you will forgive me, I am sure. So, why not do it sooner rather than later? It would be more than nice enough for me if you’d stop attacking me.” He grinned at Elrond and his brother smiled back, his face near luminescent in its fairness. His intensity combined with his arresting comeliness—those arched eyebrows and midnight hair, and exquisitely crafted features—always made Elrond’s Maiarin blood obvious. He did resemble their mother at her best, as Elros liked to remember her.
“Fine then! I hope with all my heart that you find joy in your new world.” Elrond’s brave voice cracked on the last sentence. “It’s only that I always expected that you would be here with me, or due home at any minute.” Elrond grabbed his hand and yanked him to his feet, crushing him into a bone-cracking bear hug and not letting go. When his touch finally gentled, several fraught moments passed before he released him. His eyes sparkled with moisture, but he did not shed any tears. He cleared his throat and spoke again with only a hint of huskiness in his voice. “It does sound like a splendid place. All it needs to be perfect are bare-breasted mermaids, brawny handsome mermen, and talking dolphins, and all the wine one can drink. And me, of course! Too bad I’ll still be here, alone and friendless.” They chuckled at that. Elrond attracted friends like spring flowers attracted bees. “Anyway, I didn’t scramble down here in the fog intending to torture you. But seeing you sitting there all wet, cold, and pathetic made me want to scratch my eyeballs out or beat you senseless!”
“Why did you come then, if not to torture me?” Elros asked, smirking, managing to sound nearly normal, and succeeding entirely at keeping tears out of his voice. Of course, Elrond was a champion at reading thoughts, but he’d still appreciate the effort.
“Ereinion sent me to ask you to come have dinner. Just the three of us. His exact words were, and I quote, ‘Tell him that I hope I may count upon the honor’. . . no that’s not right. . . ‘the pleasure—the great pleasure—of his company for dinner tonight.’” Elrond did a terrific imitation of Ereinion, drawing his shoulders back and holding his chin up, he managed to convey an uncanny impression of their cousin: the epitome of rugged Elven manhood, dashingly handsome, kind and intelligent, generous of spirit, and regal, although still modest. He’d got the voice right also, deep and appealing—King Gil-galad son of Fingon at his most charming, making one wish one had known Fingon. Elrond should have been an actor. “Oh, our dinner is going be great, in his rooms, with all kinds of treats—I heard him ordering all the good things we like best—and plenty of alcohol.”
“I can’t think of anything better! We’d tear one another apart alone together tonight. We’re not fit for anyone else’s company but his! Are you sure Círdan won’t be there?” That would ruin everything. Círdan would end up directing the conversation to practical details—could range from how many barrels of fresh water would be needed on each ship to a lecture on the essential qualities needed to be a good leader.
“Positive! I double-checked. It will only be the three of us. Hearts breaking perhaps, but we’ll be warm and comfortable in front of Ereinion’s fireplace, comforting one another as best as we can.” Elrond stuck his lower lip out at him in a pout, but the despair had disappeared from his eyes. “It’ll be a nice farewell dinner. I promise it will.”
“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night . . . .
From sonnet “Bright Star” by John Keats.
About the Author
Oshun has 100+ stories in the SWG archive. Additionally, she has written 86 SWG Character Biographies. See Academia.edu for some of her other Tolkien-related articles. Her non-Tolkien fannish fiction is posted on AO3, including but not limited to the Swordspoint Series - Ellen Kushner, Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling, Alexander Trilogy - Renault, The Charioteer - Renault, Queen's Thief - Megan Whalen Turner, Captive Prince - C. S. Pacat, The Last of the Wine - Renault, Richard II - Shakespeare, Richard III (historical fiction), The Lion in Winter, and Howl Series - Diana Wynne Jones.