His wish to stay and see her grow is at war with a bigger part of himself, the one that mistrusted the sea. Oropher ached for the trees and dense woods that he had called home for longer than the world could remember, and if he stayed in Balar for more than a day, it was only for Elwing and her small hands clutching the fabric of his cloak.
A child who could scarce form sentences is she, and yet there is a dignity about her that is reminiscent of Thingol and Dior. Oropher loved them as fiercely as he does Elwing, but differently. Seeing Thranduil fussing over the child and singing her softly to sleep makes him think that he might have liked to raise her among the trees, to teach her to track and hunt, to listen to the birds and to run like the wind over the grass. To give her a crown of leaves, more like Lúthien's than like Dior's. To dance with her and step on the flowers like he had with Thranduil and his mother, a long time ago, before his heart hardened.
In the end, he and Thranduil leave her with Círdan, her kin. He cries when he says goodbye, but she only stares, solemn and quiet, and Oropher loves her then even more than he ever had before.
Elwing is not the first child thrust into his care, but her arrival is altogether unlike Gil-galad’s. There was secrecy back then as well, to be sure. But Gil arrived with a dignified escort, and gifts and gentle reminders of friendship, and no inkling of the fact that he would become an orphan.
The fact that she is not wholly in his care is another difference, too; though his immediate instinct when he first sees her among the refugees at the mouth of the Sirion is to bring her to Balar, he soon realizes it is not an option. Her people want her, need her: that child with eyes like Thingol’s, a star hung around her delicate neck, sleeping in Oropher’s arms. He cannot help the tears, then.
So he does the next best thing, which is to have a dwelling place built for her and her people, who grow in numbers with wave after wave of refugees. He has tutors brought: she will not want for means, and neither for the education she is due. And finally, he tries to be in her company whenever possible, to remind her she still has kin in this world, family loyal to her.
When the Noldor of Gondolin come, he intercedes for them, and hopes they can at last begin to right some wrongs.
“You’ll understand when you grow up,'' he tells Elwing once, and flinches. It is a phrase he has heard many times before, and it feels like a betrayal to say it himself. Elwing takes it better than he used to, however, and in an hour neither of them remember what her original query was anymore.
The heir of Elu is nine years old, but so much bigger than the twelve-year-olds in the yard, and very quick-witted, according to Círdan. It suits him just fine, he considers, since small children make him anxious. As a child, he would have envied her for being able to grow so fast. Círdan joins them for stargazing after dinner, and doesn’t say a word as Gil-galad teaches Elwing how to read the map in the sky, just as Círdan himself had taught Gil-galad before. Then the briefest of thoughts: is this what a family would do? , and he’s suddenly skittish and impatient to leave. Five years later he accompanies Círdan to the Havens once more, and finds Elwing much taller and with what Círdan tells him are pimples , of all things, and envies her fast growth a little less. He envisions Elwing in a couple years, laughing and crying for reasons bigger than the woes of adolescence, and for once he feels like he might have been unfair on past occasions, when he snapped at Círdan for not treating him like the adult he thought he was. He thinks he understands better, now.
But besides the familiar burden on Elwing’s shoulders, she has something that he had lacked as a child: a friend just her age. She and Idril’s son take turns following each other around like solemn puppies, and then following Gil-galad for the rest of his visit. Earendil himself seems more vivacious, different from the subdued boy he remembered from the welcoming feast. They are on the beach now, enjoying the pale moonlight, and the two teenagers are playing with sand. There is something sentimental in the discrepancy between the childishness of the activity and the earnest effort they seem to be putting into it: they have built a town out of sand and it looks a little like the Havens, but bigger, broader; they are debating the harbor and the type of ships that should be allowed to dock, experimenting with big words that they have likely only heard before among the four walls of study rooms. Gil-galad thinks that he will enjoy coming back in fifty years to see what they have decided.
Being treated as the authority of the workings of mortals by the Gondolindhrim was never comfortable, but it reaches a new level of mortification when he finds himself explaining to Idril and Earendil the little he knows of the blood cycle of mortal women. But no, it is important for Earendil to hear again that Elwing is not really sick.
The following week, Tuor brings both half-elves to the southern settlement, where other Edain live: amendments for how alienated the three of them are from this part of themselves, after living for so long among elves. That’s what he tells the pair, but Elwing says two of her companion ladies are mortals, and Tuor doesn’t know what to say to that. He focuses on the streets instead. He finds it weirdly soothing to walk among his people, and Earendil likes it too, but today he seems too mindful of Elwing’s own comfort to be completely at ease. It seems pointless to Tuor: Elwing can handle herself. The only times he’s seen her unguarded were the times he caught glances between her and Earendil, when they thought they were alone.
Distractedly, Tuor wonders about Elwing’s parents, their personalities and circumstances, before remembering that she was not raised by them. Not unlike himself, he realizes, and the girl goes from cryptic to overwhelmingly familiar to him, just like that.
After the fall of Menegroth, they head to the Havens - Galadriel to see her nephew, Celeborn to see his niece - and then leave two years later to find word of other Doriathrim refugees and kin. Time seems to slow down among the green elves, but they still exchange alarmed looks when the messenger comes to invite them to Elwing’s wedding. She’s not even fifty years old yet is the thought they share, and a split second later, the memory of her heritage: Dior himself was not thirty when Nimloth conceived for the first time. An uneasy thought, but clarifying.
Galadriel’s mood grows oppressive as they travel through the forest between the Gelion and the Sirion. The darkness of the woods sets their thoughts adrift, with astounding symmetry, among memories that bear a heavy sense of loss. Their pace grows urgent.
His own anxiety becomes clear to him the moment he lays eyes on Elwing: Celeborn had been expecting, he realizes, another Lúthien. Instead, the smile in her eyes and the expansiveness of thought contained in her precise gestures bring to his heart the image of Nimloth, so vivid that he is dumbstruck. Dior had been so much like Lúthien that perhaps he assumed…she does have his look and coloring, to be sure. But in the end, the combination of familiar features and gestures makes her wholly herself.
She dances - with Earendil, and as they spin, no flowers come to kiss her feet.
She speaks - to everyone, and there is no memory of birdsong in her voice.
There are no nightingales here, so close to the sea. Instead they have seabirds, seashells and salt in the air. And whenever Elwing moves, there shines the light of the Silmaril, a star on her neck, banishing the shadows that would once have followed Lúthien.
In the privacy of their thoughts, Galadriel tells him: “It seems you will not find your cousin in your grand-niece,” and he knows she has looked for Lúthien, too.
After a moment of hesitation, he looks upon Elwing again. She smiles when their eyes meet, and he smiles, too.
Of course, Olwë considers, if someone was ever going to make him feel like a middle brother again, it would be Elwë’s heir.
Barely over thirty! And yet an adult. Elwing doesn’t presume any authority over their people: she speaks to him as a peer, appealing to his common sense first and foremost, with the natural authority of someone who knows they are in the right. Like Elwë, who issued kingly commands in the same voice with which he would ask Olwë to pass the salt. The one who appealed to his guilt was Elmo, emotional Elmo, words sharp like arrows aimed at the double monster of his duty to the family and his duty to their people. He feels some of that appeal too, in her words, and then remembers what he hasn’t really forgotten: Elwing is Elmo’s heir as well as Elwë’s, on her mother’s side. Her words and her heritage were what moved the Falathrim to cross the ocean again, after more than five hundred years of nursing their hurts.
“You are my kin indeed,” he says once while visiting, unsure of why, then adding even more lamely, “I truly am you uncle.” At first she doesn’t react. Then her face softens, its alien quality making it hard to believe her claim of being less than fifty years old. She looks out the window, her fingers lazily strumming the strings of the outlandish instrument she cradles, and her eyes are very soft. “Uncles. Now there is something I have never lacked,” she tells the wind, and could it be humor in her voice? Just in case, he finishes peeling off an orange, and offers it to her on a silver plate.