There were, by this point, only three of the seven sons of Fëanor still alive. Three brothers, Celegorm, Curufin, and Caranthir died in the Second Kinslaying, when they tried to wrest the Nauglamir and silmaril from Dior. And one, Amrod, burned to death in a tragic foreshadowing accident back when Feanor set fire to the remaining swanboats. Maedhros, Maglor, and Amras were still bound by their terrible Oath; when they learned that the Elwing had the Nauglamir in the Havens of Sirion, they were obliged to invade them.
Unfortunately for them, they no longer had an army. The Second Kinslaying and the razing of Menegroth had destroyed not just the Sindar as a people, but also the Noldor. Morgoth and his orcs and his human followers ruled unopposed in Beleriand, controlling territory that had once been great elf nations the like of which would never be seen again. The Noldor were scattered, as were the Sindar. The largest extant population of elves, a mix of Noldor and Sindar, dwelled in the Havens of Sirion under Cirdan. With Turgon dead, the crown of the high king of the Noldor passed to Gil-galad, Turgon’s brother, but Gil-galad was a king without a kingdom; he dwelled in the Havens alongside the remnants of his people.
It took Maedhros, Maglor, and Amras about ten years to assemble an army, and it was a pitiably small army compared to the host of Calaquendi that fought their way to the gates of Angband under Fëanor, much less Fingolfin’s Noldor army that pushed Morgoth back into the Iron Mountains and penned him up for centuries.
During this time, Earendil and Cirdan, plus Elwing, Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, Galadriel, and various other elves in the Havens put their heads together and tried to brainstorm a solution to the ruin and devastation. Celebrimbor is a new name; he was Curufin’s son and Fëanor’s grandson, the last of the House of Fëanor besides his three homicidal uncles. He wasn’t bound by the Oath, and was on the outs with the rest of his family on account of he hadn’t been into the Second Kinslaying at all.
The results of their brainstorming were two plans, each of which had their own adherents:
1) Build the best ship ever constructed and sail it west to Valinor, like the Teleri did back in the old days. Beg the Valar to rescue them. Grovel, apologize, whatever it takes.
2) Anything but that. Better to die in fire than apologize.
There were five votes for plan #1 and one vote for plan #2; the lone holdout was Galadriel. She was still proud and grim, angry about how she wasn’t queen of anywhere, resentful of the high-and-mighty Valar. She refused to sign onto any plan that involved looking backwards towards the West.
But she was outvoted, and so Earendil and Cirdan constructed the best ship ever built, and Earendil set off for Valinor with much pomp and ceremony.
Long story short, he sailed around for a while but couldn’t find Valinor, maybe because the Valar had closed it to visitors ages ago. He had finally given up and was on his way back when Maedhros’s much-reduced army invaded the Havens.
THE THIRD KINSLAYING, SUPER QUICK VERSION
1) Maedhros shows up, demands the silmaril.
2) Cirdan refuses him.
3) Maedhros, Maglor, and Amras start murdering random people, to show they aren’t fooling around.
4) Elwing, unwilling to surrender the silmaril to these villains, throws herself off the cliffs of Sirion into the sea, wearing the Nauglamir.
5) Cirdan and Gil-galad search for Elwing, in hopes of maybe talking about the silmaril and whether it was worth the extinction of the elven peoples, but can’t find her. They also lose the children Elrond and Elros.
6) Amras dies in the fighting.
7) Cirdan, Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, and Galadriel lead the pitiful remnants of their people on boats away from the Havens of Sirion. They sail out to an island, the Isle of Balar, and put their heads in their hands, and sob.
8) Maedhros and Maglor don’t find the Nauglamir or the silmaril at any point, but sifting through the ashes of the Havens, they discover Elrond and Elros. Elrond and Elros are their father’s brother’s great-grandsons, and they are not unmoved. ‘
9) Filled with pity and remorse and regretting their miserable Oath, Maedhros and Maglor gather together what survivors they can find, and hunker down.
10) Morgoth rules everywhere forever.
But! Elwing did not die when she threw herself into the sea! No, instead the Valar miraculously intervened and transformed her into an albatross. She flew, sea-bird style, until she found Earendil and his ship, and crash-landed on his deck before transforming back into a elf-woman bearing a silmaril.
“A silmaril!” cried Earendil. “That’s good luck!”
Again, we’re going with the super quick version, so setting aside all the adventures that Earendil and Elwing had on their trek, let’s just say they eventually sailed into Alaquondë, in Valinor. (For serious, for all that Tolkien is justifiably criticized for his lack of female characters, he’s got two different husband-and-wife equal-partnership adventuring teams in the Silmarillion, these two and Beren and Luthien.)
And again, let’s skip ahead to the part that concerns the history of the elves as a whole.
In the 545th year of the sun and the moon, seven years after the Third Kinslaying, the Host of the Valar arrived. The Valar, the Maiar, and the assembled might of the elves of Valinor (including the Noldor, under Finarfin, who had been back in Tirion this whole time) invaded Middle Earth to sort Morgoth out, once and for all. And remember, many of the elves of Valinor (all the ones who were old enough) were Calaquendi; they’d lived in the light of the Trees and were straight-up better than the Moriquendi.
So Morgoth didn’t really stand a chance. He had a new military technology: dragons with wings! But it wasn’t enough.
Finarfin, acting as a sort of liaison between the Host of the Valar and the miserable elves living out on Balar and the even more miserable elves stuck on the mainland with Maedhros and Maglor, generously permitted his cousins to join in the Host. They passed out the Valinor equivalent of bottled water and emergency blankets and stuff.
In the 587th year of the sun and the moon, as part of the operation to excise Morgoth from the world, the Valar had to sink Beleriand. Go on, google it, or just follow this link.
NEXT: LATER DAYS