I started writing this for B2MeM 2011 Day 2, for the prompt "defiance," and finally finished editing it for B2MeM 2016.
The title is from a line in Vergil’s Aeneid: Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem. (The one salvation for the vanquished is to hope for no safety.)
Everything was on fire. Elwing ran, her breath sobbing in her lungs. She could not escape the smell of smoke which clung to her hair and her garments. She could not escape the screams. She reached the top of the hill and turned to look back. O Valar, guard my childen.
She had given her sons to the care of one she trusted, and now she must flee, like the bird that feigns a broken wing to lure the snake away from its nest. It was all she could do for them now, all she could do for her people: to draw the attack away from them.
The warriors of FŽanor’s sons were moving through the streets in small groups, their movements controlled and deadly. In their silver mail, their faces shadowed by their helmets, Elwing thought they looked like nothing elven; a school of sleek barracudas perhaps, confident of their speed and power to hold any prey. She still knew the streets of her city better than they did, and she had slipped through their patrols. Perhaps she could escape them, if she kept running—while they tore her city to pieces searching for her. No, she was still the leader of Doriath’s folk, though she bore not the name of queen. She had come as far as she wished to, and now the time for stealth was over.
Elwing unfastened her dark cloak and let it fall. Beneath, she was clad in white, an easy mark for their eyes. For their arrows too, if it came to that. The Silmaril’s light, no longer hidden, shone forth brightly. She touched it once for luck. Father, mother, be with me now.
She drew in a breath and forced her voice not to tremble. “Sons of FŽanor!” She had pitched her voice to carry, and she saw their silver helms turn toward her, the light glinting from shield and sword-blade. “Sons of FŽanor!” she called again. She tore the necklace over her head, not caring that strands of her hair were pulled out in her haste, and held it aloft. “What you seek is here!” In her hand, the Silmaril flashed white in the starlight and red from the reflected flames.
Elwing waited a moment to be sure they were following and ran again, fumbling the necklace back around her neck. She did not know where she was going; there was no safe refuge any more. By instinct, her feet took the long-familiar path to the heights above the sea, where she would watch daily for Ešrendil’s ship. The path was rough, scattered with bits of rock, and she could not look down to avoid them. Once she stumbled and nearly fell, but she recovered and went onward, frantically seeking the height.
Suddenly she was at the top, and the path ended. She stared wildly out into the dark, gasping for breath. Then she turned, and all the paths behind her were thronged with the enemy. She had a confused impression of gleaming sword-points, red cloaks, and everywhere the many-rayed star of the House of FŽanor. Elwing retreated from them until she felt the sea-winds tugging at her garments from the cliff’s edge.
Then one pushed his way through the throng and came forward. The others stepped aside for him, one murmuring something that sounded close enough to ‘my lord.’
The Sons of FŽanor had been a shadowy presence since her childhood; now she was face to face with one of them. It seemed wrong to her that a Kinslayer should look no different than any other Elf, with nothing to show his crimes. Dark hair, pulled back in the braids the Noldor favored; this one was Maglor, then. He came up the cliff path towards her, his bloodied sword in his right hand and his eyes fixed upon the gleaming gem hanging from her neck.
Elwing took another step back, wrapping her hand protectively around the jewel. He stopped, though he did not take his eyes off her. In the distance, the flames of the burning town were bright against the night sky, and her hope for her children’s safety diminished. Behind her lay only the dark cliffs and a sheer drop to the sea.
"Elwing." She started at hearing him speak. "I do not seek your death. Give me the jewel, and I will let you live." He spoke to her in Sindarin, without mistakes but with an occasional odd stress to his words.
The waves washed softly in the background, singing a quiet song of grief. Their voice called to her, though she had no time to decipher its meaning. She knew the currents below were strong; something that fell into the sea here might never be found. Was this what she had meant to do, to place the jewel forever beyond their reach? When she spoke, her voice was steady. "How many of my people are dead because of you? Where are my children, son of FŽanor?"
"Give me the jewel, and we will harm your people no further."
"I do not trust the words of your kindred. You killed my father and my mother."
"They defied us. Do not you do likewise." He took another step toward her, his shape menacing in the half-darkness. "Come. There is nowhere for you to go." When she did not reply, "My oath binds me straitly. This is the last moment for mercy. For the last time: give me the jewel. Or I will slay you and take it from your corpse." Though his words spoke of threat, his melodious voice was indifferent and weary. She could almost believe that he would keep his word and let her live if she did as he demanded. But what boon to live, with her family lost, her people scattered or slain, if she gave up the jewel that was her people’s hope?
There was silence, broken only by the waves whispering at the base of the cliff. Elwing thought she could almost understand the words, almost –
Trust, it seemed to be saying. Come. And why should she not? The sea was less cruel than the sons of FŽanor, and less treacherous.
She leapt. The wind streamed through her hair, her garments, her wings. And then she was no longer falling.