Summary: Silmarillion-based. Pengolod is captivated by the mirth and troubles of day-to-day Rómenna as the city recovers from its recent, successful war. Upon request, Pengolod describes the events of his apprenticeship, including counsels with Turgon and a feast at Narogthrond. Historical cameos by: Turgon, Maedhros, and Voronwë.
Story Rating: Rated PG.
Disclaimer: These characters and Middle-Earth are the copyright of the Tolkien estate and this fan fiction is not meant to infringe on that copyright in any way.
Thanks to beta readers Aayesha and Suzana.
The next day, Aelfwine arose with the summer sun. Pengolod, awake as well, heard his irregular steps going down the narrow stairs. Unsure of the protocol of this house, Pengolod waited until someone knocked at his door. It was young Soup, who croaked, "Water to wash with, sir." By the time Pengolod opened the door, a ceramic flagon of water and a linen towel were waiting, but shy Soup had bolted, clattering downstairs. Pengolod freshened himself conscientiously, for his day was planned out. He meant to break his fast, then depart to explore the Rómenna for a time, and to do some writing for Aelfwine that night. With this firm in his mind, he went down as well.
Things changed as soon as he arrived downstairs. Aelfwine was already at work. He had donned a linen apron over his yellow tunic and rolled up his blue sleeves, and he sat precisely ruling lines upon a stack of pages. After determining that Pengolod had slept well and been pleased with his room, Aelfwine explained. "We've got a huge job on here. A great ship is being built and needs maps and ships' logs. Usually it would fall to a greater scribes' house, but the biggest one had summer-fever in their workshop, and sickness clings to vellum and cloth, it's said. It's the last thing they wanted on the new boat. The job came in late, as all good jobs do; it is due in a week. I should have worked more yesterday, but, well, meeting an Elf!"
Pengolod was drawn in by the sight of pen on parchment. He asked about the logs, and the maps, and how much Aelfwine was likely to be paid, before he recalled breakfast. Aelfwine said of that, "Working days, we have a proper dinner, but since I'm not married we make do with a workingman's fast-break and nuncheon. There's pedlars who come around. In the morning it's the muffin-woman, and in the afternoon it's the pastie cart and the fruit sellers. If you don't eat that sort of thing, we can arrange for what Elves eat?" said Aelfwine, ending on a worried note.
"Fruit is very Elvish, and as for the other things - I had Elvish food for a month unbroken on the boat. Waybread, waybread, fish, and more waybread. Something different would be most welcome." Pengolod turned as a small bell was rung in the street outside, then the shop door creaked.
The ringing bell entered with the person. "Muffin, muffin. Won't you want to keep that door open, ink-man, and get some fresh air in your shop? Goodness!" The new entrant stopped in the doorway. She was a small old woman, wrinkled, but hale and rosy, with a blue kerchief and an enormous round basket slung about her neck by a leathern strap.
Aelfwine, in his workshop area, did not seem lame at all. He sprang up from the table and took the three steps needed to stand behind the store's dividing counter to say, "This is the Widow Ezellen. Widow, the new lodger, Pengolod of Lindon, one of the Fair Folk."
"Valar be kind! Are you really an elf?" cried Ezellen, stepping back.
Pengolod reached up and felt the side of his head, then his chin. "No beard, pointed ears, too tall to be one of the Khazad - I must be."
Ezellen chuckled at this foolery. "First time I've ever seen an elf standing still, is all. They're always in a boat or walking 'round, a-going somewhere more beautiful than here. Don't suppose you'd buy a muffin?" Pengolod agreed, not quite certain what he was buying.
Muffins, it turned out, were a domed round bun of comforting heft, speckled with spices and fruit. The ones Ezellen drew out of her basket were still warm from their time in an oven. Nothing would do but that Ezellen wait until he had taken a bite and pronounced them as good as elf-bread. Ezellen beamed. "Didn't even bake them myself this morning. Same oven as for five years, but I've sold the pedlar's run, basket, muffin-receipt, and all. The new pedlar, Widow Rothinzil, baked these up."
"Is she still starting tomorrow?" Aelfwine asked.
"Indeedy yes. She'll be walking around in the order I done went about in, until she settles what suits her. Me, I look forwards to putting my feet up a few years, 'till I put them down good and proper in my grave. I'm giving the taverns the list of any fellows who don't pay me their tallies," she added, wagging a strict finger at Aelfwine.
"Tell them I paid you extra," Aelfwine said, handing her some copper coins.
"They'll be thinking you're my sweetheart then, and calling me - hem! Hem! Saving your presence, Master Elf! I must get along, I must. You let me know if Rothinzil doesn't suit." As Ezellen left by the front door, Soup came in through the back, carrying another flagon and pouring out some kind of tea. It was bitter and strong, but its astringency went well with the rich bread.
Pengolod lingered over the brew, asking questions about Aelfwine's materials. Seeing the scribe-table laid out to work, and the tempting sight of the waiting sheets of fine parchment, made his fingers itch. Learning that Aelfwine's ink was ground from the oak-galls of Forostar and that the vellum came from the shepherd's region of Emerië made the itch worse. Pengolod gave in and said, "Perhaps I could help you today, to make up for the time lost yesterday?" Aelfwine demurred enough to be polite, then set Pengolod to the lines and headers for a ledger. This was a master's work. To the side, Soup kept them equipped with ink, quills, and sand for finished pages, and took the completed pages away to dry. In his spare moments, Pengolod smiled privately to see Soup set to writing out practice calligraphy on scraps. Some things about being a loremaster's apprentice never changed.
The bright shop was peaceful and productive for the first half of the morning. After a time, Pengolod looked up and saw the muffin-woman peeking in the mullioned front windows. He gave her a nod; she waved brightly, then bobbed along. "She's done with her rounds, by the looks of it," Pengolod observed. They all found out soon that her tongue had been busy about her pedlar's path. Immediately after she had left, the door began to swing open, and the shop admitted a steady stream of people.
A woman, hauling three children, was the first to enter. Aelfwine took this calmly. Pengolod knit his brows. Of course she would bring her babe in arms in. But surely a working woman could have set the eldest child, who looked to have eight years, to mind the four-year-old outside a shop that had valuable texts inside? The children seemed on the brink of being too lively. Just as Pengolod was thinking that they looked like mischief, the woman said, in broad Adûnaic, "See, there is so an Elf in the shop, so you be better than good or he'll tell the Valar you're naughty!" Then she turned to Aelfwine. "Good day, master. You're still doing Fair Naming?"
"I am indeed. For the little one?" said Aelfwine, with a nod at the baby.
The older child squirmed as if like to burst, then cried out, "I want one too! You promised us too!"
The mother nodded. "For the lot." In a harried aside, she said, to the children again, "And once you get your Elvish names you'll have to behave finely to match them. You hear that, now?" Pengolod put the pen along by his inkwell and tried to catch Aelfwine's eye.
Aelfwine noticed. Seeing Pengolod's expression, he said in Sindarin, "It is the custom of the people here to give their child a name in Adûnaic or the like, but to also give them an Elvish name. It is thought to be a noble thing. But nowadays, most of the people here do not speak any Elvish. So they ask those who know the tongue to name them. I thought folk would stop coming for it if I charged a few pennies, but it only brought more of them." As he spoke, he took a battered book from beneath the counter. Returning to Adûnaic, he said heartily, "Now, who's this fine infant?"
The mother proudly plunked the large, lively baby on the counter. "At home we're calling her Zudo." The baby immediately removed one bootee, then another, from her chubby feet, and waved her footgear in the air, laughing. "Zudo, no! Clothes stay on!" chided the mother.
"What do you think of Lorindal as a name for her?" proposed Aelfwine. "It means golden-foot."
The mother nodded right away. "I like that. Hopefully she'll walk on them into a rich marriage. Now, the other two. Stand up straight and don't wipe your nose on your sleeve and talk to the wise man!" Upon talking to the two others, Aelfwine dubbed the quiet young one Manrumin (blessed whisperer) and the noisy one Sulpallan (wide-roaming wind).
Aelfwine wrote the names out in his book, adding the dates of the children's birth, saying as an aside to Pengolod that he received complaints if he used the same name twice over. Writing the names on pieces of paper, he told the woman the fee for three names. She seemed about to bargain, but cast another glance at Pengolod and said, "All right." Her two other children were glued to the counter, staring shamelessly at Pengolod. He had the impression that it was worth it to her to see the children quiet and still for more than a moment.
Aelfwine watched them go with relief, then looked at the counter and shook his head to see a damp spot where the infant's bottom had been resting. "Soup, wipe up the counter, double-quick. And scrub with the hard soap."
"Does this happen all the time?" Pengolod managed to say.
"Once or twice a week. Usually they'll bring a babe in arms, if they are proud enough to spend the money. What you saw there happens less often." Aelfwine jingled the coins in his hand, then stowed them into a pouch at his belt.
Fairly soon, they figured out that the muffin-woman had told all and sundry that Aelfwine was hosting an elf in his shop. Several people came in and bought small blank books, or some of the few maps kept in stock. A rich merchant, his clothes clashingly bright, entered pompously. He was vexed at Aelfwine refusing him "one of those big fine books you're working on there." The fast-thinking mother who had come first likely had a fast tongue for gossip as well. For that afternoon, it seemed like every parent who had a child in the cradle felt the urge to give their progeny an Elvish moniker.
Pengolod watched and listened with delight. There was no need for him to leave to explore Rómenna. All of Rómenna was coming to them. There were laboring folk and folk in leisurely rags, families of fisherfolk with skin browned and hair bleached by the sun, vintners from the hills in town to trade, mariners and soldiers of all ranks. The latter men brought no children with them, but they had the names written down for the children they had begotten but never seen. Those who could not read repeated the names aloud until they were stuck in their memory, and took the papers anyway as talismans. Pengolod and Aelfwine's Sindarin asides to each other were an equal delight to the customers. The two scribes were hard pressed to stay grave when a pair of women hauled their toddlers away, one saying to the other, "Not only did we get the names, we heard all that Elvish being talked for free. That's a bargain, all right."
Pengolod's elvish hearing was sharper than that of mortal Aelfwine. So it was that he alone heard what the other woman said, out in the street, to follow this. "Fancy one of the Fair Folk in the house of a clubfoot cripple-born. I always did hear tell they hated ugly things."
He liked the other woman well for her retort. "Fine talk from you - he can't help how he's born. Besides, when's the last time you had the Fair Folk to your house, eh? Since The War, the best-looking man who comes around for you is..." The ugly exchange faded out. Aelfwine had turned his attention to a sailor who claimed he had twins at home, and had heard none of it.
In the few quiet moments, they managed to limn enough of the log-pages to equal a day of Aelfwine's work between them. When the harbor bells rang for the dinner-hour, Aelfwine barred the door and curtained the windows. Leaning against the door wearily, he shook his head. "Usually, things are quieter," he said, apologetic again.
Pengolod lifted his hands. "I am sorry! I had no idea that...well..."
Aelfwine levered himself up and crossed the shop. Pengolod's impression of the morning, that Aelfwine hardly showed halt at all in his shop's space, had proved true through the day. It came out over a longer distance. Pengolod had watched once as Aelfwine had gone on an excursion to the courtyard. He had used his crutch, then. Memory had haunted Pengolod again to watch it, for his adapted stride had been much like that of Rúmil's an age past. He was not much like Rúmil otherwise, to look upon. After seeing the folk of Rómenna stream on through all the day, Pengolod decided that, save for the foot, Aelfwine was quietly well-favored.
"Your look is deep. What are you thinking?" Aelfwine asked.
"I was thinking perhaps I took to you right away because you reminded me of the master I had, long ago. Except that you are better-favored, of course."
Aelfwine sighed. "Yes, but your old master Rúmil had courage. The only chance I'd have to show courage is if Sauron came to Númenor's shores. Four years past, when the heralds called the muster for The War, I went. Soup wasn't my apprentice then; the one I'd been training at the time went down with me. He was a good lad and got signed up. Ciryatan's sergeants turned me down, of course. With the veterans and their tales about, the words 'I would have gone' mean little."
Pengolod weighed his next question in his mouth before speaking it aloud. He felt no shiver of foreboding, so he asked, "Did you ever learn what happened to your earlier apprentice, in The War?"
Aelfwine cheered slightly and stroked his mustache. "He went to the trouble to send me a letter, when they only had the parchment they brought and husbanded. After the battle for the King Gil-Galad, he was garrisoned in Lindon's defense, and was of good rank due to his Sindarin. I never heard from his family, so that means he lived out the war." Aelfwine raised his voice. "Here, Soup! You've worked hard today and we've plenty of coin. What do you say to roast pork from the tavern's spit?" Soup accepted the errand eagerly and went to fetch food.
When he had dashed off, Aelfwine limped to a seat and said, "The War turned everything upside-down for us."
"I note that you all say "The War." Has it no other name?" queried Pengolod. "We Elves had named the various battles of it, the Battle of Lindon, the Rout of Eriador, the Siege-break of Imladris. But I left it to the other historians to put a name on it."
Aelfwine leaned back in one of the cushioned work-chairs, drumming his fingers on the wood for a moment. "I never thought of that. No. It is only The War. And perhaps, perhaps..." He thought and spoke on. "It has been our only war."
This was true; so true that it had not occurred to most of the Númenoreans that Pengolod had met, and he esteemed Aelfwine the more for it. "Your people did splendidly well. We would have perished if not for your doughty soldiers," said Pengolod. He had not known, until he said the words, how much the guilt of it had weighed him.
"Worth it, then? I am glad. I saw what it did to us here, at home. Rómenna had the brunt of it, you see. Tar-Minastir's navy and troops were mustered there. More Rómennans, we say, went to fight or sail than had people of other areas of the island. We traders profited - I limned many a letter and many a will. But for many, their sons died, or came back strange-tempered, or are at duty yet."
Thinking of women he had known, Pengolod asked, "What of their daughters?"
Aelfwine smiled appreciatively. "There you show that you are a wise man! Women's tempers changed Rómenna even more. The traders' daughters grew stern and efficient-"
"Women do, in wartime," Pengolod said.
"Or they were resentful of the other women who came to Rómenna, awaiting the return of their own men. There are more widows than there ever have been, even among mariner's wives."
Pengolod, in a listener's pose, nodded. Now he understood why time itself had been split in the memories of the Rómennans by this event; they spoke of things that happened Before The War and After The War. "Surely many fates have been changed by this..." he mused.
Aelfwine said something unexpected. "I had my grandsire's tales. He remembered when the word went all around Lindon that Sauron was come again. His own father had been of Rómenna, although," Aelfwine coughed, "He had not married my great-grandmother. My grandsire was able to talk his way onto a great-ship and come here by virtue of it, though he did not have a long life-span, by Númenor's measure. He said it was better to be poor and low in peace than a rich man in war, when you could lose every treasure."
"Perhaps you gained your own wisdom from him," Pengolod said.
"Wisdom? What wisdom? I'll show you how wise I am; we'll have a toast to all the wise men." Aelfwine unlocked a cupboard and took out a bottle of metheglin and two fine ceramic cups. They said the toast, laughing, and each downed their shot of honey-liquor.
Pengolod shook his head and began, "Fine stuff indeed! It reminds me of..." Before he could say more, Soup came in through the courtyard door, still carrying the dish, now laden and richly fragrant, and with a flat loaf of bread under one arm. The shop had been too busy for them to mind the pastie-seller that noontide, so they fell to eagerly.
Pengolod retired to his room when Aelfwine and Soup turned in, but he did not sleep. He was still fresh after last night's elvish repose. It was all to the good, he thought, if all the days were to be as busy as today. He could use the night hours to write out the elvish lore he had promised Aelfwine.
More silent than a mortal could ever be, Pengolod went downstairs. The slight moonlight from the shop's back windows was enough for his sharp eyes to find ink, pens, and the stack of second-best reed-paper. He would sort out who was paying for the paper tomorrow. An elf could do many things by twilight. Writing in detail was not one of them. Pengolod lit a taper, conscientiously placing it inside a taper-glass. After thinking, he began to write something that he thought would interest Aelfwine, an essay on the naming of the different elf-kindreds. It had been one of the set pieces for the advanced students of the Lambengolmor, with the title "Quendi and Eldar."
Pengolod had just set aside the first completed page when he heard the stairs creaking, in an even, yet awkward rhythm. In a few moments, Soup's outsized feet appeared, then his narrow shanks and knobby knees below his night-robe. Soup looked half-asleep, with his arms clenched across his chest. He woke up when he saw Pengolod working. "Evening, m'ster."
"I hope I did not wake you?" he inquired.
"No, just, just going to the privy out in the courtyard." Soup stayed still, as if this errand was not particularly urgent. "And - and, thank you, for not getting me in trouble with my master yesterday."
"Trouble? Whatever for?" Pengolod asked.
"When I didn't know if you were, were you or, or not you. When you first came in. My lord. Um. Sir." After a hand-twisting pause, Soup added, "You've no beard, and your hair and dress - I mean, robe - were so long, and, well, you're so fair it's a wonder."
Pengolod smothered another laugh. "I assure you, among the Elves, I am considered absolutely unremarkable as a specimen of an elf-man."
"But you're here with us humans now," Soup said.
Pengolod paused at the new Adûnaic word, human. It differed from the Elvish names for mortals: apart from the distinguishing Fírimar, itself meaning "mortal", there were also "Second-born," "Sickly," "Self-Cursed." Human. The lad meant it as plainly as if he was saying "people." The names that Pengolod was writing out for his own kind made the same assumption, that he referred to people. The Elves were the Speakers, the Star-People, the Light-People, the Deep-knowing-People. What else did mortals call themselves? What weight did the names the Elves had given them carry? And what did they call the Elves, when none were about?
Pengolod judged that these matters were not for the tired lad before him, who was trying to do a good deed by giving thanks. "The lords of my people are fairer far."
"You said your old master wasn't fair," said Soup.
"That is true. But I saw many fair lords and ladies when I was apprenticed to him."
Soup seemed to wake up further. "Could you tell us sometime more about when you were a 'prentice? Did your master beat you?"
Pengolod put down his pen, deeply alarmed. "Never! Does your master beat you?"
"No, he doesn't." Soup sounded disappointed. "Says 'tisn't respectable. Prentice Gimrap down at the basket-weaver's says that his master's got the hardest hand in all Kingstown, and that he's the toughest lad on the block on account of it."
"That's this neighborhood. The King had it built for the working folk fifty years past."
Pengolod set this aside in his memory. "Well, I say that Aelfwine has the right of it. I will tell you somewhat about my apprenticeship, and the noble people I saw in those years. You will learn why I do not name myself fair." Soup sat on the counter and swung his shanks as he listened.
An elvish apprenticeship traditionally lasts a hundred and forty-four years. We call this span of time a long-year; it is how we reckon our great dates. If this seems long, it is because we Elves take a long time, by your measure, to come of age. I went prentice to Rúmil when I was six-and-twenty, but to look at me then, I was as mature as you are at thirteen years. My years of training were done by the time I was eighty. This is how it came about.
Rúmil, my master, had regained his rank within Turgon's court. He was not exactly a lord as the Númenoreans would have it, as in a noble with ships or land and people at his call. He had no title other than Rúmil of Tirion, and he needed none. He was deeply esteemed. He had been born at Cuivenen, the mere of the Elves' awakening by Illúvatar, and gone on the Great Journey to Aman. Once there, of all the Elves, he had been the one who invented writing. Having done so in Tirion the Fair, in the Years of the Trees, he had demonstrated the art to Finwe, an Elvish king. When he had convinced the King of writing's worth, he taught the art to Finwe, and to Finwe's sons and daughters, and their children as well. In a good mood, he would tell me about these princes and princesses, each one better-favored than the last.
His favorite of them all had been Fëanor, a tempestuous noble, Finwe's eldest son. Of Fëanor, Rúmil said, "He was a lord in full when he came to me, a smith of fiery temper. Within two days, he knew my letters. On the third day, I had nothing more to teach him - so he sat down and bettered my work a hundredfold. How I was wroth with him! My letters had been the work of a long-year, and with his gift of creating, he had made them what I had meant them to be, clear, simple, and true to speech. We quarreled a day and a night over it, and in the end, my pride went down before his bettering of my work. I forgave him soon after. He wished me to take a seat of honor in a guild of loremasters, the Lambengolmor. His smile was as mighty as his hammer-arm, and there was no denying either. We were friends; for a time. I disagreed with him long before his end, and moved my alliances to gentler souls." So it had been that he had gone with the Noldor into their exile in Middle-Earth, for the sake of those alliances, and to see again the stars under which he was born.
Rúmil soon established the rhythm of my apprenticeship to him. In the morning, I joined his other pupils of lore and heard his lectures and sayings, with the difference that I brought him anything he needed during this work. He set me to help the scribes in the afternoon, learning their trade from the very beginning. On scraps of paper, I wrote line upon line until Rúmil was satisfied that my hand was good. "Absolutely essential for a loremaster, lad," he said. "Your writing will go far and be your voice, nay, your self for elves who will never meet you. Some may judge it as much for its beauty as for the wisdom of what you say. I am a ruined thing, if I look at myself in the glass, but I bless all the Valar that I still write as fair a hand as ever." This made a deep impression on me.
In the evenings, I was sometimes free. But often I waited on Rúmil in his chambers, as any other page of the court would for a noble. Of this evening duty, Rúmil said, "You won't have anything to be ashamed of in it - not unless you think you're too good to fill a cup for the Lord and Lady of Nevrast." It turned out that he regularly gave counsel to Turgon and Turgon's sister, Aredhel. Rúmil explained my presence by gesturing to me and saying, "He has no family at the court, nor are his kin allied to any of the knights' houses. So he has no reason to not keep your secrets as well as I do." Turgon was content with this, and I was edified further as to why Rúmil had chosen me as his apprentice.
Turgon was widowed, with one daughter, the lady Idril. Though Aredhel was the lady of Vinyamar in name, she spent most of her time in hunting and other sport. In the day to day life of Vinyamar, Idril did many of the deeds that fell to the chief lady's part. Idril came to Turgon's closed councils with Rúmil more often than her aunt. I thought Idril the fairest woman I had ever seen. Her eyes were cornflower-blue, very vivid against her fair skin, white and rosy. It seemed impossible that her slender neck could hold up the weight of her heavy golden braids.
In later years, I would see Idril grieved and troubled; shadowed by visions; thrown up against more than one terrible fate. My first opinion of her remains unstained, proven all the truer by her later deeds.
Anyhow, back to these counsels. They had a higher purpose than allowing me to admire the high and fair. For Turgon was under a geas, a call of fate, that he was compelled to fulfil with as much secrecy as possible. It had come to our Lord in a vision that Vinyamar was not a safe haven for the long years. He had gone out venturing alone, and been gone two months. The venture had succeeded. I saw him, on a map of Middle-Earth as it was then, mark the spot where he said a new realm ought to be. After the Dagor Agarleb, he had begun to lead craftsmen there. Encamped in a lonely valley, well hid among the mountains, they had begun to build a city. In time, Turgon declared, all the dwellers in Vinyamar must remove there, with enough stealth as to remain secret. Even other elf-folk should not know of this Hidden City. His explanation done, Turgon said, "What do you think of my plan, Rúmil? Some say that you must have gone mad in the deeps of Angband. If you think my plan is mad, then does that make it sane?"
Rúmil looked at the map before him and tapped his lip in thought. Then he said, "I have seen the might of Angband. I have felt how much Morgoth wants to destroy our people. So. A hidden city, to protect us under Ulmo's aegis? Unless we can get in boats and go back to Tirion, I think it saner than anything else, my old student. And what does that make this plan in the end?" They both laughed. "What shall this new city be called, my lord?" said Rúmil.
"I would call it the Song of the Rock, Ondolindë."
"It is a fair name," said Rúmil, with a bow of honor.
After Turgon had gone, but before I left, Rúmil grumbled to me, "Turgon is wise in many ways save one. He is no master of tongues. That city name is never going to take."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Say it aloud. Ond-o-lindë. It falls off the tongue as halt as I am, with that short syllable breaking it up. Ah, well. I am not going to correct him, not after his courage on the Grinding Ice. His deeds there were why I chose to follow him, after all. If the name is to be changed, the people who use it will change it. You'll see." Rúmil proved to be right. A new argot was developing in the valley amongst the builders. They rendered Turgon's Quenya name for the city in the Sindarin tongue, as Gondolin.
Soon, this name worked its way into the letters they sent. By the time it was the only name people were using aloud, Turgon accepted it. He might have been forceful about making people stick to his old name, but when Rúmil mentioned it to him at last, I remember his reply as one of the more lordly counsels I ever heard. "They have taken the spirit and meaning of the name. I do not mind. Why? The way they act, it is as if "Turgon" and "Lord" meant the same thing for them. They are obeying me, leaving the halls they have builded here and the free trade of the coast, all for my word. Whatever name they put on it, my rightness is unquestioned, in the end."
If you would hear of fair lords, then I must speak of more than Turgon's private councils. I hear mortals say that an elf is accounted of age at fifty years. In sooth, this can fall any time between forty-eight and sixty years. Elf-maidens are reckoned to come of age in the earlier years of that count, but they are wiser by nature, we say. I had been in existence for sixty years when Rúmil asked me to accompany him to a great feast.
Turgon's people had not been the only ones a-building, at that time, when the Elves were young and strong beneath the new-risen Sun. The people of another lord, Finrod, had delved a realm that hollowed a great mountain. Finrod gained the name Felagund, Lord of Caves, by this, and his realm was Narogthrond. Finrod held a feast to celebrate the completing of Narogthrond. Turgon and his kin were invited. Turgon took his sister, leaving his daughter as chatelaine and one of his lords, one Glorfindel, as regent, and journeyed hence with the most close-mouthed of his attendants and counselors. Rúmil, included in the party, took me with him as his aide.
In later years, I would be very sorry that I had not seen more of the splendor of Beleriand, and the elf-realms at their height. The feast of Narogthrond was a taste of that. The High King, Fingolfin, was not there, having stayed in his fastness with his troops. Most of the other Noldorin nobles were. There was splendid Aegnor, a warrior with hair like bronze flame, and his sister Galadriel, tall and fair as a golden tree. She was newly espoused to a lord of the Sindar, the handsome Celeborn. Very proud of her new alliance, she was dressed in Sindarin silk and pearls, causing a sensation among the women in our party. At one end of the highest table glowered several of the Sons of Fëanor, each handsome in their own fashion, dark Caranthir and fair Curufin, and the twins Amrod and Amras. Their brother Maglor opened the revel with his song.
Rúmil had been honored with a seat at the high table. Most who sat there were nobles in sooth, and it was the custom then for one of their pages to attend them during the meal, one servant to each lord. I was a prentice still, and bounden to serve, so I was to take my place in the line of pages. I had just drawn out Rúmil's chair and taken his walking staff when he was addressed. A clear voice called, "Rúmil of Tirion! The tales are true, then. I am not the only one to survive Angband. I will sit by you."
Rúmil sat up and hissed to me, "Maedhros! The eldest of the Dispossessed."
I turned eagerly. Every elf of the Noldor then knew Maedhros' legend, that he had survived Morgoth's torment and been rescued by his dearest friend Fingon. The rescue had been desperate. Fingon had found Maedhros hanging upon a cruel cliff, and had to sever his friend's hand at the wrist to free him. This was the only marring about Maedhros, for he was otherwise splendid. Tall as a tower, his elegant body clad in close-fitting sable and silver-grey, he was distinguished further by a pure, strong visage and a remarkable fall of fox-auburn hair, worn unbound for the feast. Yes, he was splendid, and the light in his eyes was terrible; the light of Aman grown too pure - but no, you never saw such light. It was like the flash of light along pure sharp steel. Knowing Rúmil as I did, Maedhros was a wonder twice over, that he had emerged from the torment of Thangorodrim with his beauty - it was beyond handsomeness. Overwhelmed, I half-bowed and stood back to my waiting place. Maedhros never looked twice at me.
However, once this high lord was seated, Maedhros' esquire came and stood by me with a friendly wink. As seemed fitting then for one serving such a lord, he was well-favoured, perhaps a distant kinsman to Maedhros with his auburn hair, though less tall than myself. His name, he told me, was Rodendil. Seeing my youth, he asked if it was my first time, and said that he would show me the way of things that night. Which he did, quite splendidly. I was grateful then for his example. More, as we served at the feast, we were in a prime place to listen as these two remarkable survivors discussed their travails.
"I hear that you did far better than I in Thangorodrim, escaping on your own," said Maedhros.
"Curious. I do not have that impression at all. You see, I did not have to endure more than a moment of him," Rúmil replied. He did not explain who "him" was, it being ill luck to darken a feast with an evil name. "Me, that moment pushed me nigh to breaking. And, unlike you when you were cliff-imprisoned, we thralls were fed. Not much, mind," he said, helping himself to more bread, then proffering the bread-salver to Maedhros. "Just thinking about it gives me a wolf's appetite. I'm surprised you don't eat more."
"I never had the habit of it," Maedhros said, coldly. But he had been one of Rúmil's students, and took the offered bread. "Besides, your place was to work. Mine was to suffer."
"We thralls there talked about you, you know," Rúmil went on. "As did our keepers."
Maedhros brightened with a pained hunger. "What do they say?"
"Those who were not broken said that your surviving, your escaping, showed that it could be done, even after His attentions. Our keepers cursed your name for the hope you inspired. They said it took that much longer to train us." Rúmil's grin was wry.
Maedhros leaned close. His face was inches from Rúmil's seared visage. "Did my escape mean that others suffered more?" he whispered. The lord at Maedhros' right was listening keenly.
Rúmil took a draught of wine. Sharply, he said, "More than what? More than you did? More than the castes of orc-slaves? He was cruel to our people long before you were ever born. What was done to us later thralls was a return to the old ways, I would say...what was done to those taken from Cuiviénen." More gently, he said, "Suffering is relative. I would have let myself lie down and die if I lost my right hand, as you did, for that would ruin my scribe's art. I am not what I once was, but I am thankful for what remains."
The strange light in Maedhros' eyes brightened. He sat up straighter. "I hear you well. I did not lose by His torment. I gained. Now that I know how much we are hated, how much the world is hated, I will bide by my oath; that He must be destroyed, and our treasures regained. What you tell me shows me how right that is. I hope that someday, I will see those other thralls freed." Such was the power of his presence that I thrilled to hear these words, the great oath of Fëanor's kin renewed before me. I told myself it was a moment to remember, history in the making. Most unfortunately, I was correct.
The lord to Maedhros' right spoke up, saying, "You are wise, Rúmil. We will not forget your sayings. But perhaps we are shadowing your feast."
"Not at all, Fingon. So many folk have been so boringly polite today, it's a relief to have someone speak frankly."
The two of them laughed, though Maedhros did not. "I would speak more frankly with you, if I might. Though I am corrected about doing so at this table," he said, inclining his head to his friend. They spoke of the past, after that, Rúmil recounting the tale of Fëanor that I told you before. Maedhros drank it in, for Fëanor had been his father. The three of them left the table early, so that Maedhros could question Rúmil more in private. We aides were released from service. Rodendil invited me along with him. That night, I learned well that the men of the Sons of Fëanor reveled as fiercely as they defended their leaders' oaths. It was the earliest morning when I returned to our guest-chamber.
Rúmil did not chide me when I reeled in at dawn. He was looking out the guest-chamber's narrow window. "Ah, there you are. Just got in myself. I hope you feasted as I would have, if I had the face that was mine a long-year past, and feet fit to dance." I flushed from embarrassment and asked him if he wanted anything. He said, "No. Or rather, not that you can give me." He sighed. "My old student was right. He is more himself now, but a certain self. Of all Fëanor's seven sons, he is the one with his father's charm. He and I, we both went through Morgoth's madness, and through to something else, with great loss. I lost what fairness I had. My hröa is a ruin," Rúmil said, with bitter acceptance. "Maedhros has lost his laughter. I feel that this will cripple him all the more. But I cannot say why." Returning to himself, he looked at me and said, "Drink some water, get some rest. I have more thinking to do." When I awoke to day's brightness, he was still silhouetted against the window in his meditations, but not minded to speak of his thoughts further.
Twelve years passed swiftly after that. I became less Rúmil's student and more his aide. There was much to do. It was then that I learned the greater part of my clerking, a trade that stood me in good stead for long years. Gondolin was being completed, and to bring this about took many practical records and missives. Our people were surveyed and sent out to their new dwelling slowly, so that their passing would not be marked upon by evil's spies. We disposed of our goods, bartering things we would not need for things that could be brought with us.
Rúmil was one of the last to leave, being both frail and a good face to put forwards to negotiate with other ambassadors while keeping Turgon's secrets. I remained with him. How well I remember those quiet nights in Vinyamar. He told me many tales; we played at word-lore games; at times, we quarreled, but purely from the strength of our ideas, not from hateful hearts. It was on one of those nights, in the fading winter, that he said to me, "A great task is set for us in Gondolin. Lord Turgon has asked that the city have the best library in Middle-Earth. Young though you be, I think you will be equal to it as any of the Lambengolmor. This journey will be your proving. If you succeed in the task you are set, managing the most precious texts and scrolls, and clerking the chaos of this great caravan and its supply, then none in the new city will quarrel when I name you a loremaster in full." Rúmil cut off my effusive thanks. " I don't see why you bless me, lad, I've set you a task that makes rock-breaking for Morgoth look desirable. Fill our cups again from that wine. It's not coming with us; it's our duty to drink the casks dry!"
Even after drinking several cups dry that night, it occurred to me that Rúmil had done this as much to inspire me for the hard work ahead as to praise any diligence or talent I possessed. Rúmil had brought a strong measure of cunning with him, out of Angband, and he was not above using his position to aid those he liked. (He had told me to encourage my family, my parents and sister, to be amongst the first to settle Gondolin, saying this would increase their standing in the city, and they had gone.) I weighed the worth of this, and accepted it with the fourth cup of wine. It still seemed good the next morning, so with a powerfully aching head, I set to work.
Three months later, it was the heart of spring, and the last caravan was due to depart. I felt like I had not ceased working for that entire time. Turgon had returned, and everything had to be done to the best of our abilities, and done to completion. Though some of my boyhood friends were still remaining, I had seen little of them, until the final afternoon. Voronwë came to me, with Elemmakil in tow. I had spoken at times with Elemmakil, for he served the King's most trusted guards in the hall of Vinyamar. Voronwë had been more elusive. His father had been one of the first to leave to build Gondolin. Voronwë, still in Nevrast, had slid from forging ship's chandlery into being a mariner. He had been much away at sea, yet he greeted me as if we had parted but yesterday. "Pengolod, well met. Will you help me with something before I go?" he asked.
Being busy to near madness, I was not of a mind to help until I heard what Voronwë was about. What followed was typical Voronwë, impracticality turned to noble poesy. He had been indecisive about what to do with a small boat his family had owned, a two-sailed ketch, out of reluctance to let it go. It was still moored in a tree-edged cove, and there it seemed likely to stay. It was now too late to barter it down the coast and return, and its deep keel meant it was not a good boat for the shallow river Sirion. More, it had troubled Voronwë lately to be leaving the shores where his mother had died. He wanted to ease her spirit before he left. To do this, he would drape the boat she had once sailed with flowers, and let it go freely out to sea. Would I be willing to help with this?
Who would not help an elf-man succor his mother? I agreed, though it meant that I would labor long and late that night. Voronwë swore by his honor that the few hours from then until sundown would suffice.
I can see by your expression that you think that picking flowers is not a manly pursuit. We honored an elf-woman, remember. What is more, picking enough flowers to fill an entire boat's deck turned into such a destructive venture that I left a libation for Yavanna later that night. As we worked, the three of us found something of our boyish fellowship again. Elemmakil became as competitive as always as he tried to bring the most flowers. As we brought them in armloads, Voronwë became distracted in arranging the floral bounty pleasingly on the boat. For me, going about the dells of my childhood and the gardens of Vinyamar to find flowers, the task became my own farewell to the life of Nevrast.
By sunset, the silver-grey boat's deck was overflowing with blossoms, scented flags and lilac, whole branches of cherry and apple-blossom, twined to the mast and garlanding the prow. When this was done, Voronwë went onto the boat, stepping between the blooms, and set the sails as if to catch a full wind. The boat rocked a little after Voronwë left it, then drifted out evenly into the water, as far as its rope would let it, though the sails hung nearly slack. It was eerie, as if the spirit of a seafarer truly was at the tiller. None of us broke the silence as Voronwë undid the boat's rope and let it slide out of his hand, into the water.
The three of us silently watched the flower-laden boat drift away. I watched it with a pang for both my friend's grief and my own sudden misgivings. In that hour, I doubted that the city amongst the stone would be a fraction so fair as Nevrast, the only home I had known. The ebbing tide, made golden in the sunset, took the boat on a clean Westwards path. Voronwë's voice it was that broke our silence, ringing out in one of the strange songs of word-strings that came to him unbidden. His last note faded as the sun fell below the horizon.
Elemmakil patted his arm, and said, "That was fair done, my friend. Surely we should be going? We leave at dawn tomorrow." Voronwë left with us, though slowly, and casting many glances behind us.
I let Elemmakil stride on ahead and said to Voronwë, "You have kin yet, down the coast. Círdan's folk would not turn you away; you are a mariner born. So I must ask, why are you going to land-locked Gondolin?" Away from the sunset-gilded sea, the flowered ship gone, I felt my work pulling at me again, and it seemed well once more that the path of that pull drew me to Gondolin. But, even after all the tales of Gondolin's promise, I did not think that sea-loving Voronwë would be very happy there.
Voronwë had picked up a long gull's feather on the shore-path, and twirled it between his fingers as he ambled. Watching the feather spin, he murmured, "I don't know. I just feel that I must."
At the time, I thought he was feeling twinges of filial responsibility, or perhaps following someone for whom he nurtured a secret fondness. We would not know for many long years what drew Voronwë away from that which he loved; but that is another story. Give a loremaster leave to speak, we say, and you may wish he had never begun! I see your eyes grow heavy with sleep. Do what you were going to do, then return to bed. Aelfwine will need your aid tomorrow.
The next morning, Pengolod received the washing-water and a less embarrassed "Good morning, master," from Soup. Washed, he dug in his trunk. He meant to do today what he had intended to do yesterday. His day's delay had been to his profit, for he had a better idea of what he ought to do to go about Rómenna unnoticed. Hanging up his green-grey loremaster's robes, Pengolod donned the garb he used to wear out riding, a close-fitting tunic over trim leggings, with boots over the knee. With his green cloak over it, this was somewhat closer to the garb of Númenor. Yesterday, he had gotten used to the vivid colours worn by the people of Rómenna. They vied with each other to have the brightest clothing. And why should they not? There was no need for camouflage in the peaceful city. The greatest danger in Rómenna was falling off a boat, and in that instance, bright clothing could save someone's life, showing where they were amidst the waters. Pengolod's Elvish clothing was subdued in comparison.
Nonetheless, when he came downstairs, Aelfwine limped in from the courtyard and approved. "That should allow you to see, instead of being seen. If you pull up the hood of your cloak, you'd pass for a visitor from Armenelos."
"The men of the court shave their faces clean each day. I hear that they didn't used to do it when the Old Queen ruled." Aelfwine meant Tar-Telperien. "The King started the custom. It made humans look more Elvish, and what the King does..." Aelfwine did not need to finish this sentence to get a nod of understanding from Pengolod. "If you go abroad now, you should miss the crowds of folk going to work."
"I'll break my fast with you, if that's all right. The muffin-pedlar comes each day?"
"Except for Starday, when workers rest. The new one is due any moment. I'll miss Widow Ezellen. 'Tis a little thing, a pleasant pedlar, but it is good to start the day with some news and cheer. I hope the new woman isn't sour or pinching." No sooner had Aelfwine said this than there was the sound of a small bell ringing in the street. Still with his crutch, Aelfwine went behind the counter, grown rather formal, as he had been with strange customers the day before.
The great round basket and the blue kerchief came in the door, the same as yesterday, heralded by the little bell. The person carrying it swayed into the shop. "Muffin, muffin - oh, I can't be bothered with that. You heard the bell. I'm the new muffin-seller."
Pengolod, behind Aelfwine, could not see his friend's face. Aelfwine took a good moment to clear his throat. "Ah. Yes indeed. Widow Ezellen said you'd be by. We usually - right now we take four muffins, not much, but we were steady." As Aelfwine spoke, Pengolod saw him slide his crutch, which had been beneath one arm, down below the countertop. As if disbelieving his own words, Aelfwine said, "She said your name was...Widow Rothinzil?"
The young woman's smoky blue eyes did not waver. She brushed back a long black curl that had escaped from the edge of her kerchief and said, "That is me."
Pengolod was surprised himself at her youth. Then he remembered The War. And with that memory fresh, he had no jests this morning for the muffin-woman.
Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted September 22, 2004.
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