Reader deep thought: It had to take a man of uncommon heritage to take up, and succeed, where Turgon’s thirteen expeditions have failed. Still, Ulmo was definitely the unsung hero, working quietly (as ever), and sometimes on his own accord, able to see where sometimes even his higher brethren remained blithe. Blasphemy is not condonable, but does no one else breath a sigh of relief the Silmarils were finally beyond temptation’s reach? First Age=done!
“Two purposes grew in his heart, blended as one in longing for the wide Sea: he sought to sail thereon, seeking after Tuor and Idril who returned not; and he thought to find perhaps the last shore, and bring ere he died the message of Elves and Men to the Valar in the West, that should move their hearts to pity for the sorrows of Middle-earth.”
“And thus it came to pass that the Silmarils found their long homes: one in the airs of heaven, and one in the fires of the heart of the world, and one in the deep waters.”
Eärendil was lord in his parents’ stead in the settlement st the Mouths of Sirion, having wed Elwing who bore him the twins Elrond and Elros, the Half-elven. But he was restless with Purpose, and with the help of his bestie Círdan he built “Vingilot, the Foam-flower, fairest of the ships of song; golden were its oars and white its timbers, hewn in the birchwoods of Nimbrethil, and its sails were as the argent moon,” and set sail westward. His adventures aboard Vingilot by his lonesome self were detailed in the Lay of Eärendil, but ultimately, he headed back without achieving neither Purpose, homesick, and a foreboding need for haste filling his heart.
For Maedhros, who had refrained (with regret for past deeds) from seeking Elwing out for the Silmaril’s return, set out with his scattered brothers once again to reclaim the jewel, for the unfulfilled Oath tormented them. And they “sent messages to the Havens of friendship and yet of stern demand.” Expectedly, Eärendil was already off sailing; Elwing and the people of Sirion refused to give up the Silmaril for “for it seemed to them that in the Silmaril lay the healing and the blessing that had come upon their houses and their ships.”
And the third Kinslaying happened.
For the sons of Fëanor that yet lived came down suddenly upon the exiles of Gondolin and the remnant of Doriath, and destroyed them. In that battle some of their people stood aside, and some few rebelled and were slain upon the other part aiding Elwing against their own lords (for such was the sorrow and confusion in the hearts of the Eldar in those days); but Maedhros and Maglor won the day, though they alone remained thereafter of the sons of Fëanor, for both Amrod and Amras were slain. Too late the ships of Círdan and Gil-galad the High King came hasting to the aid of the Elves of Sirion; and Elwing was gone, and her sons. Then such few of that people as did not perish in the assault joined themselves to Gil-galad, and went with him to Balar; and they told that Elros and Elrond were taken captive, but Elwing with the Silmaril upon her breast had cast herself into the sea.
Ulmo transformed Elwing into a great white bird, bearing the jewel upon her breast, and she flew in search of her husband. And on a night Eärendil watched as the bird came at the Vingilot, “as a white cloud exceeding swift beneath the moon, as a star over the sea moving in strange course, a pale flame on wings of storm”, falling upon the deck in a dead faint. And he held her through the night. But in the morning she was recovered and back in her usual form beside him, still snoozing. Thus was the Silmaril lost to the sons of Fëanor forever.
The couple mourned for Sirion and their sons; but they were safe under the attentive care of Maglor (whose heart was “sick and weary with the burden of the dreadful oath”), with whom the twins develop an attachment.
Hopeless now for the fate of Middle-earth, Eärendil turned again to the West, standing at the prow with the Silmaril as his headlight. Its light shone the brighter the nearer they got to Aman, and it was said that by its power Vingilot passed the various checkpoints of the obstacle course set up by the Valar when they hid Valinor, without injury:
- sailing where only the ships of the Teleri had been before in the Sundering Seas
- reaching the Enchanted Isles but escaping their enchantment
- passing the shadows of the Shadowy Seas
- bypassing Tol Eressëa the Lonely Isle
- and at last casting anchor in the Bay of Eldamar.
“… and the Teleri saw the coming of that ship out of the East and they were amazed, gazing from afar upon the light of the Silmaril, and it was very great.”
Then Eärendil, “first of living Men, landed on the immortal shores”. He instructed Elwing and his crew (Falathar, Erellont, and Aerandir) to stay in the ship, saying: “‘Here none but myself shall set foot, lest you fall under the wrath of the Valar. But that peril I will take on myself alone, for the sake of the Two Kindreds.’”
But Elwing was having none of it, so they went ashore together. Still Eärendil insisted on being the lone messenger, and he passed the Calacirya into silence. A festival was going on, and the residents were either in Valimar, or at Manwë’s up on Taniquetil, with just a few guards on Tirion’s walls. These happened to have hurried to Valimar upon recognising the light on his brow. So it seemed to Eärendil that Túna, and Tirion upon it were deserted and he was disheartened. But as he turned to leave, he was hailed by Eönwë.
The Valar gathered and even Ulmo, recalcitrant meeting absentee, attended.
… and Eärendil stood before their faces, and delivered the errand of the Two Kindreds. Pardon he asked for the Noldor and pity for their great sorrows, and mercy upon Men and Elves and succour in their need. And his prayer was granted.
After he left to return to Elwing, Mandos addressed the elephant in the room: Should Eärendil , a living mortal man, be allowed to live after trampling all over the Undying Lands? But Ulmo countered with his heritage, and reminded all the Purpose of Eärendil’s existence. Mandos’ comeback was unassailable: “Equally the Noldor, who went wilfully into exile, may not return hither.” Seemed like neither patriarchy or matriarchy could justify Eärendil being alive and on Aman.
It came down to Manwë’s judgment.
‘In this matter the power of doom is given to me. The peril that he ventured for love of the Two Kindreds shall not fall upon Eärendil, nor shall it fall upon Elwing his wife, who entered into peril for love of him; but they shall not walk again ever among Elves or Men in the Outer Lands. And this is my decree concerning them: to Eärendil and to Elwing, and to their sons, shall be given leave each to choose freely to which kindred their fates shall be joined, and under which kindred they shall be judged.’
Eärendil found Elwing with her friends among the Teleri of Alqualondë, updating them on the happenings in Beleriand. And they were summoned into Valimar where the judgment was delivered to them.
Then Eärendil said to Elwing: ‘Choose thou, for now I am weary of the world.’ And Elwing chose to be judged among the Firstborn Children of Ilúvatar, because of Lúthien; and for her sake Eärendil chose alike, though his heart was rather with the kindred of Men and the people of his father.
The companions of Eärendil were set in another boat, and given a great windy sendoff back to Middle-earth by the Valar. Then the Vingilot was hallowed and borne through Valinor to the uttermost rim of the world, and there it was passed through the Door of Night and lifted up into the heavens. It was glammed up with a bright and pure but flickering flame. All the better to match Eärendil who “sat at the helm, glistening with dust of elven-gems, and the Silmaril was bound upon his brow.”
Far he journeyed in that ship, even into the starless voids; but
most often was he seen at morning or at evening, glimmering in sunrise or sunset, as he came back to Valinor from voyages beyond the confines of the world.
So it was that Eärendil never returned to Middle-earth again. On his journeys Elwing was not by his side, in consideration of the unendurable cold and the pathless voids, and her perference for “the earth and the sweet winds that blow on sea and hill.” Instead a white tower on the northern borders of the Sundering Seas was raised for her. There all the sea-birds of the earth congregated at times, having affinity for one who once was in birdform. Elwing learned birdspeak, and they taught her how to fly on her wings were of white and silver-grey. Thus she could fly out to meet Eärendil when he returned on his circuit.
Then the farsighted among the Elves that dwelt in the Lonely Isle would see her like a white bird, shining, rose-stained in the sunset, as she soared in joy to greet the coming of Vingilot to haven.
Vingilot’s maiden voyage across the heaven, “glittering and bright”, it caught the attention of those in Middle-earth. It was deemed a sign, and they called it Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope. And when Maedhros saw the new star at evening, he said to Maglor: “‘Surely that is a Silmaril that shines now in the West?’”
And Maglor answered: ‘If it be truly the Silmaril which we saw cast into the sea that rises again by the power of the Valar, then let us be glad; for its glory is seen now by many, and is yet secure from all evil.’ Then the Elves looked up, and despaired no longer; but Morgoth was filled with doubt.
Even so, Morgoth did not expect an attack from the West, sure that no one would openly challenge him, and that the Valar were content in Valinor and cared no longer for the plight he brought to the Noldor, unable to contemplate motivations of sympathy, being pitiless himself. But indeed the Valar mustered their great host, which included the Vanyar under Ingwë, and the Noldor under Finarfin who stayed in Valinor. Memories of the Kinslaying, and the theft and destruction of their ships made the Teleri unwilling to respond, but in Elwing’s honour they supplied the mariners to ferry the host, but that was all they did, and they did not disembark onto the Hither Lands.
Yet, for one of the greatest war efforts, and the last war the Valar and the Calaquendi involved themselves in until the Change of the World, much of what was known about the march of the host of the Valar to the north of Middle-earth and the War itself was through tales, retelling, and word-of-mouth of survivors who returned home to Valinor from the War, for among the host “went none of those Elves who had dwelt and suffered in the Hither Lands, and who made the histories of those days that still are known”
…. But at the last the might of Valinor came up out of the West, and the challenge of the trumpets of Eönwë filled the sky; and Beleriand was ablaze with the glory of their arms, for the host of the Valar were arrayed in forms young and fair and terrible, and the mountains rang beneath their feet.
The meeting of the hosts of the West and of the North is named the Great Battle, and the War of Wrath. There was marshalled the whole power of the Throne of Morgoth, and it had become great beyond count, so that Anfauglith could not contain it; and all the North was aflame with war.
As for Men, whatever remained of the three houses of the Elf-friends, fought with the Valar-host, avenged for their fallen lords: Baragund and Barahir, Galdor and Gundor, Huor and Húrin; yet the Elves remembered that the majority, whether Easterlings or otherwise, fought under Morgoth’s banners.
But this time Morgoth did not have a chance. What Balrogs that were not killed, fled and went into hiding in “caverns inaccessible at the roots of the earth”, his uncounted platoons of Orcs dropped like flies. And when his forces were down, “Morgoth quailed, and he dared not to come forth himself.” But he had one last ditch attempt.
… and out of the pits of Angband there issued the winged dragons, that had not before been seen; and so sudden and ruinous was the onset of that dreadful fleet that the host of the Valar was driven back, for the coming of the dragons was with great thunder, and lightning, and a tempest of fire.
But Eärendil came, shining with white flame, and about Vingilot were gathered all the great birds of heaven and Thorondor was their captain, and there was battle in the air all the day and through a dark night of doubt. Before the rising of the sun Eärendil slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and cast him from the sky; and he fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, and they were broken in his ruin. Then the sun rose, and the host of the Valar prevailed, and well-nigh all the dragons were destroyed; and all the pits of Morgoth were broken and unroofed, and the might of the Valar descended into the deeps of the earth. There Morgoth stood at last at bay, and yet unvaliant. He fled into the deepest of his mines, and sued for peace and pardon; but his feet were hewn from under him, and he was hurled upon his face. Then he was bound with the chain Angainor which he had worn aforetime, and his iron crown they beat into a collar for his neck, and his head was bowed upon his knees. And the two Silmarils which remained to Morgoth were taken from his crown, and they shone unsullied beneath the sky; and Eönwë took them, and guarded them.
Finally, Angband was broken, and “out of the deep prisons a multitude of slaves came forth beyond all hope into the light of day, and they looked upon a world that was changed.”
For so great was the fury of those adversaries that the northern regions of the western world were rent asunder, and the sea roared in through many chasms, and there was confusion and great noise; and rivers perished or found new paths, and the valleys were upheaved and the hills trod down; and Sirion was no more.
Then followed the summoning of the Elves of Beleriand, as Eönwë proclaimed as herald of the Elder King. Still, the two surviving Fëanor’s sons refused the summons, and braced themselves “though now with weariness and loathing, to attempt in despair the fulfilment of their oath”, even against the host of Valinor. In response to their message to give up the jewels, Eönwë declared their rights forfeit due to the deeds they have done in blind service of their Oath, and they were to return to Valinor for judgment. Maglor wavered and was hopeful of pardon, but Maedhros was sceptical. Maedhros won the debate. So they plotted anew, stole into Eönwë’s camp and toke the Silmarils one apiece, but success was only possible because Eönwë would not allow the slaying of the brothers.
But Maedhros’ hand burned with unbearable pain, by virtue of his forfeited right, and in despair he cast himself with the Silmaril into the depths of the Earth. Maglor (famed singer of old, second only to Daeron of Thingol’s court and ill-fated admirer of Lúthien) however, threw his into the Sea, and wandered the shores singing his eternal pain and regret.
So the Silmarils were separately in the air, sea and earth, where they would remain “unless the world be broken and remade”, and it dampened the Vanyar’s triumphant return home.
For those Elves of Beleriand who responded to the summons, it spawned a shipbuilding cottage industry. And they took up residence on Tol Eressëa, from where they could also visit Valinor.
They were admitted again to the love of Manwë and the pardon of the Valar; and the Teleri forgave their ancient grief, and the curse was laid to rest.
Still, not all Beleriand residents responded to the summons. Among the notables who remained behind were
- Círdan the Shipwright
- Celeborn of Doriath, with Galadriel his wife (the only leader of the Exiles to remain)
- Gil-galad the High King
- Elrond Half-elven, who chose, as was granted to him, to be accounted an Eldar
- Elros his brother who chose his Atani heritage
For Morgoth, the Valar thrust him through “the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void”, and vigilance was kept on the Walls, with added surveillance from Eärendil watching from the sky. Yet Melkor aka Morgoth Bauglir aka Power of Terror and of Hate had tended his little garden of lies, hate and deception well, and “sowed in the hearts of Elves and Men are a seed that does not die and cannot be destroyed; and ever and anon it sprouts anew, and will bear dark fruit even unto the latest days.”
So it would be the perfect little garden that kept on giving: lies, deceit, complexes and issues, that is. But finally, Morgoth was evicted, the Doom of the Noldor was lifted, the Silmarils were scattered beyond anyone’s reach and Beleriand’s topography was permanently altered. So ended the First Age.
Here ends the SILMARILLION. If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred; and if any change shall come and the Marring be amended, Manwë and Varda may know; but they have not revealed it, and it is not declared in the dooms of Mandos.
(Relevance: read-along schedule)