Summary: Silmarillion-based. At a boat-launching feast, Pengolod makes several startling acquaintances, including the Prince of Númenor, Ciryatan. Later, he describes the early years of Gondolin's settlement.
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.
Aelfwine closed the cover of a newly bound ledger. Satisfied, he said, "That is the last of the ship's logs for the Prince's new ship." He buffed his finger-marks off the pure new leather. "Let us bring all the works together. We'll wrap them up, Soup, and take them to the shipyard tomorrow."
Pengolod had been lodging with Aelfwine for a week. He cleared the large worktable and stood back to admire the work he had helped complete. There were two stacks of blank books and a half-bushel of scrolls. "Those there are ledgers for the ship's pursers, cooks, and healers, and the first and second mate. These three here, with the leather, are for the captain's own use. The scrolls," Aelfwine unrolled one, "are cove-maps for the mates and watches to use. The great maps, showing whole realms and even all of Arda, were made up by royal workmen," he admitted. "I don't mind too much, for I was charged with these." Aelfwine needed two hands to lift a large book, wider than it was tall, bound in sleek brown oilskin, its corners finished with pure gold. Two books identical to it remained on the table. Very proudly, he said, "The ship's own logs."
The next day, the master was as restless as his prentice until it was a good time to deliver this momentous job. They left at midmorning, Aelfwine dressed better than Pengolod had seen him, Soup's face redder than usual as he hauled the books in a barrow.
It was the first time that Pengolod had been alone in the row-house that was Aelfwine's shop. The single chamber on the ground floor was split into shop-front and workshop by the counter and supporting beams, with many cupboards inset on one side. More household-minded tenants might have made the small paved patio behind the shop into a kitchen. The floor above was divided with walls and a narrow hall into two chambers. Pengolod had not seen Aelfwine's room, though he knew it was the chamber that looked over the courtyard, quieter than his lodger's room on the street. The highest floor had the prentice's smaller room and storage. Altogether, the place was somewhat too large for one trader. From the houses on each side, Pengolod could hear more people bustling around, and the noise of children and their calling mothers came in from the courtyard. Sitting there in solitude, Pengolod could feel why Aelfwine took on apprentices and even opened the door to lodgers.
In the silence, Pengolod's thoughts expanded. The past week had been so busy that he had not once thought of continuing his journey to Tol Eressëa. He had been too distracted to make a proper start at his "Essay on the Adûnaic." Instead, he had written out a short piece of Elvish lore for Aelfwine each night, to share in his friend's pleasure of discovery as he read it in the morning. Pengolod knew that, though all but one piece had been new to Aelfwine, it had not been new to mortal men. He had told those tales before. They were, in large part, what was safe to pass on, either very simple matters like the tale of the Elves' awakening at Cuiviénen, or matters that would bore anyone but a loremaster.
Solitary in the shop, Pengolod had noticed something else; a certain asceticism. Whatever Aelfwine did with the coin that came his way, he was not living lavishly. Perhaps genteel need, as well as the echoing space, led him to take in lodgers. If so, what was he losing by feeding his mind's hunger through his bargain with Pengolod?
Pengolod resolved to leave him something that would have substance even for one of Tar-Minastir's counselors. There was a tome in his luggage upstairs, a work he had shown Aelfwine with pride, for both its green leather binding and its unique summary of Elvish history. He would offer to write out a copy of that for Aelfwine, instead of the short pieces.
At noon, Aelfwine and Soup returned, Aelfwine wielding his crutch with a flourish. "The job is well-received! It has paid the King's lease for a year and left coin for the banker's book, too."
"They were hauling up all the sails on the boat for the first time, and setting all the rigging new. The masts just went up yesterday," said Soup, dreamy as a lad in love.
Aelfwine noted this with a tug at his mustache, the little pull that meant whatever was passing struck him in some way. "The boat will be named and hallowed with its first branch of oiolairë, and all who worked to make ship and fittings are to come. All my establishment has been invited to the ship's feast. Of course you're coming, after your help." Aelfwine grinned. "We've got two days to get you in some good bright garb."
Pengolod smiled slyly back; his observation that Rómenna's clothes were almost painfully vivid had become a running joke between them. "Do not fear, my friend, I won't put your bookbinding to shame by fading into the walls. I've somewhat besides the grey and green that I wear. Though we still might want to palm me off as a visitor from Armenelos."
Pengolod was true to his word. He had several garments in his luggage to give him a fair start in Tol Eressëa. Apart from the grey and sage-green layers he wore every day, there was a set of white robes, and a set that had been from Gil-Galad. They had not been a personal gift, though they had been bestowed to honour someone who had been in service a long time; rich silk in Gil-Galad's colours, azure blue and light silver-grey. Aelfwine and Soup agreed that this was colourful enough, and Pengolod bowed and said they were exceedingly kind, considering their own garb.
Aelfwine kept to the blue and saffron that was a sober businessman's attire, the shades crisp for his finest garb. All was blue or dark below his waist, to keep attention from his twisted foot, and the body of his doublet was blue as well, so that his dark crutch would stand out less against it. He explained these things only after Pengolod exclaimed over his dramatic saffron sleeves, gartered with blue and orange ribands. Soup's good clothes had been chosen by someone with more pride than taste. An extremely green tunic was edged with purple brocade strips, and he also had belts and shoe-bindings with many nickel buckles. The tunic was short in the sleeve for the gangling hobbedehoy, and it clashed with Soup's rosaceous face, but Soup said he was delighted because he knew now that green was an Elvish colour.
The feast was held in the ship-yard where the boat had been built. Going there was the first time that Pengolod had been for an extended walk with Aelfwine. He was very conscious of keeping his long-legged stride slow. Most of Kingstown, he had learned, worked in the ship-yards, and by the traffic in the lanes, they had nearly all been bidden to the feast. Aelfwine was hailed many times as they walked, and Soup, incourteous in his youth, had a tendency to lope on ahead, then loop back to Aelfwine, which led to them losing each other in the growing press once or twice. Pengolod drew up his hood, sensitive to the stares directed their way.
So it was that they arrived at the great ship-yard hall at the waterfront that was the feast's centre. They were able to make their path two-thirds of the way through a huge timbered hall, before the crowd's press held them fast. The vast ship-hall's gates onto the water were open, and they could see the stern of the new boat, taller than many of Kingstown's houses even at its mooring. A great crowd was already ahead of them, packed solid from the quay beside the boat to where they stood. More and more people packed in behind them, a huge varicoloured mob scented with oil of cinnamon and cloves to cover summer sweat. This clashed with the resinous freshness of the hall's garlands, made of many evergreens and sheaves of long-tasseled reeds in bloom. Soup stood on a bench, and others too young to be dignified followed his lead.
Pengolod learned several things he had been shy of asking in the long wait that followed. Unlike when he walked, Aelfwine showed little sign of pain as he stood, despite his turned foot. A respectable family of burghers who specialized in illustrated books were well pleased to talk to Aelfwine. Some stevedores who lurched against them in the press were far less well-spoken than his host, with coarse accents, compared to the burghers in their lisping refinement. In the latter's mincing speech, Pengolod heard the origins of the bad accent that had overlain the elf-language spoken by Rómenna's officials. This imagined properness took the soft "s" sounds of Sindarin and laid them over the Adûnaic language. And it was strange, Pengolod thought, for any elf who learned Adûnaic took care to enunciate its crisp z-sounds, just the same as if they spoke the other Elvish language, Quenya.
At last the ceremony for the ship began. Those in the hall could hear, but not see, what was passing. From outside, there came a series of long bass notes, the sound of conch-horns being blown. A cheer spread back from the crowd on the quay to those in the hall. Soup said, "The Prince is here! He came up along the water outside, in another boat." He took up the cheer of the crowd, and called the name of the Prince, "Ciryatan! Ciryatan!" until his voice broke.
Quiet spread back through the crowd when the sound of vast drums penetrated. The drums were beaten until their thump of doom, and the sound of the wind in the banners, had conquered all chatter.
Then a voice of hollow greatness, amplified with a speaking-horn, called out, "Númenor! Rómenna! Attend to me. Ulmo, Master of the Sea, and Uinen, Lady of the Waters, hear me now. I am Ciryatan, Fleet-Master of the Land of Gift, son of Tar-Minastir. We are here to hallow the ship before us, which has been a year a-building. There is gold in my hands, gold the gift of the earth. I cast this to your waters, Ulmo, that you take not the wood and lives of Men, also of this earth." A silence followed this. "There is silver and crystal in my hands, beauty like the sea-spray at its fairest. I cast this to your waters, Lady Uinen, to show how we honour your loveliness and love of us." There was another silence. "Give this ship leave to sail your seas with honour and fortune - especially the latter!" Some laughter followed this, rippling out from Ciryatan himself chortling. "Her name is the Sunbearer."
A smaller voice yelled out, "It is said! The ship of our building is the Sunbearer!"
Again Ciryatan's voice boomed. "The Sunbearer is for its first sailing after the Erulaitalë. But the first bough of oiolairë shall be laid here now, upon the Sunbearer's prow, by the Lady Laurinquë." Hardly anybody could see the woman fixing the evergreen branch to the prow; it seemed that the lady did this task in silence. A faint cheer from the mooring followed, which grew to a roar as it spread through all the watchers. The horns bawled out in irregular exuberance, and this bedlam was allowed for a moment before being disciplined again by the great drums.
Even though a few folk were still stamping and whistling, Ciryatan said his last. "Yea, the Sunbearer will the first ship to make a new contribution to our fleet. Other ships have brought world-knowledge from the venturers, or taken our men to war. The Sunbearer is different. Her hold will be filled with the treasures of Middle-Earth, more gold and more silver than ever we cast away. We Númenoreans have returned to Middle-Earth of late - and there, we triumphed. I saw with my own eyes how we are now the mightiest folk in the world! The Sunbearer will bring us back our due." Much interested murmuring followed this.
"Let the feast begin!" The chaos of happy sound returned, and the crowd flooded back from around the boat into the hall. Soon, even though there were more people in the hall, there was also more space as folk spread out into cliques and comfort. Pengolod tagged along with Aelfwine, who found his place among the small traders who had either some learning or some prosperity. Much of the great mob of carpenters and other labourers shifted to the back of the hall.
As the crowd resettled, Pengolod blinked at some folk passing. He recognized one of them, light on her feet without her great basket, by her blue eyes and skin touched with brown honey. "Aelfwine. I believe that is Rothinzil?" Without her blue kerchief, her long black hair hung fully down her back in fleecy curls.
Aelfwine turned. "So it is." He tugged his mustache. "Looks like she's with some friends." She had not seen her customers, and was giving her attention to a tall, broad fellow beside her, following him to the back of the hall.
The matron of the burghers who had chatted with Aelfwine had attached herself to Pengolod as a crowd-mate. She said, "They lay out the strong drink in the back first. Then once they finish setting up the tables, there will be food." The tables, trestles and more benches were being laid out as she spoke. She sniffed. "So unrefined. These feasts are really for the common folk. But we must put on a good show and support the Prince, of course. That makes it worth coming. And the boat's higher crew will come around, and of course you meet good folk in the trade. We should be able to get seats in a moment."
Another horn blew, this one firmly inside and painfully out of tune. A voice from the centre of the hall addressed them all, over the rattle of the tables being placed. "Dames and men, lasses and lads, goodwives and good husbands, shrews and cuckolds!"
This last form of address drew a general laugh. The fussy woman sniffed, "More unrefinement," but she turned to watch just the same. "Fools. Zanies. They don't dare draw the attention of Lord Ossë with an offering, you see. He is so capricious, with his storms and his rages, he is as like to be offended as to be pleased by anything formal. So instead, these mummers have their play after the ritual, to distract Ossë and make him laugh instead of rage."
This time, Pengolod was able to see. The first of the fools rolled out into a space at the centre of the tables. It was scarcely a metaphor to say he rolled, for he had a great belly and limbs thick enough that his feet and hands seemed small. His dark beard brushed a shirt of a surprisingly noble colour, entirely purple, and dark locks straggled lank on his brow below an off-kilter tin crown.
His voice rolled like his stride. "Where's the ship, good people? Where's the ship, I say? The Little King has something for the ship! The right prince has doused her prow in gold and silver, and had the virgin's branch set, which takes some doing in these times. But she won't sail aright until I've done with her, oh no." He held up a branch of ginger-root and a long chain of dried peppers. "I'll peel the ginger for going up the ship's arse, just as the traders of Forostar do with their fine horses! With pepper to follow, there won't be a faster ship on the seas, and she'll buck about so hard that only a mariner true can keep to her decks. Which puts most of you louts out of the question, eh?"
Someone in the crowd vented themselves in an insulting reply. The Little King took it in stride. "I put to sea just fine, no barquentine has a deeper belly than I do. It takes a fortune in provision for my hold, and plenty of wind for my sails. With your mouth, good sir - or was it your arse? My hearing is poor - I should have plenty. And where my crew? Where my lads? Where are those darling delinquents, as maddening as any of your own lords who take your tithes, the Little Court?" The out-of-tune horn sounded and a motley crew spilled from the back of the crowd, some gawky, some lardy, one or two of them half the height of a normal man. The Little King gestured to them. "Here they come, late as ever, it's only the money makes them attend. Thus they show that they are true lords! Come, my courtiers, did you hear our good Prince's words? We sail to win treasure in battle!"
The ragged procession immediately turned around and made as if to slink away. The crowd was beginning to laugh.
The Little King retorted, "Not this very night, you cravens. We're feasting first."
They turned about with exaggerated joy and, tumbling, capering, and staggering, unified their disorder before the Little King. Over their heads, the Little King said to the crowd, "See? That's how a fair court is ruled! But what's this? Where's the fairest of you all? Where's my lady with the golden locks, fair as Uinen, light-footed as Vána, my Little Queen? Is she under your tunic-tails, sir? No? I'm most surprised. I've learned it's the first place to look! What about you..." The Little King blended into the edge of the crowd, chaffing the labourers. Everyone had an expectant air.
From the back where the ragged Little Court had emerged, a powerful figure shouldered through the crowd. It was a man, who, by his brawny thews, seemed to spend his days working the docks in feats of strength. His face was clean-shaven, and he made the other clowns look dignified. Of white cheesecloth was his draped gown, bound with a woman's girdle; of the brightest straw was the long wig sitting unevenly on his pate, sending rough braids along his painted face, and he clattered with strings of glass beads as he moved.
This spectacular grotesque threw his arms open and shouted, in his gravelly voice, "I'm a beautiful elvish lady!"
The crowd greeted this as the ultimate in mirth.
Encouraged, the Little Queen shouted again, "I'm a beautiful elvish lady! But alas. My lover fair, our Little King, has deserted me." An exaggerated pantomime of a woman's weeping followed, and the grieving fool was surrounded by the Little Court in a parody of sycophancy. A second group of mummers came out, also dressed as women and maidens. A good half of them were as ill-suited to women's garb as the central figure, but some of them withstood one glance, even two, as passably fair maidens. These all curtsied and the ugliest of them declaimed, in an exaggerated falsetto, "Let us your Ladies aid you! We will find you a new lover!"
"Yes, yes, a new lover! A fine young one! The fairest man here!" The lady-fools dispersed to the edges of the crowd, as the Little King had done, but they went more to where the respectable folk were clustered.
Pengolod was caught between a scholar's rapture and an elf's appallment at the spectacle before him. Aelfwine coughed. "They'll drag some well-favoured youth out there and he'll have to give a kiss. For the main one, it's because the Elves are thought of as beautiful that -" He said no more, cut off by a falsetto whinny in front of them. Two of the lady-fools had discerned their group, and one of them blew a shrill whistle.
"Here's a clean-faced lordling from Armenelos, with the learned men!" they shrieked. Three hands seized Pengolod's wrists and dragged him from the crowd. Aelfwine shouted, and Soup tried to hold Pengolod back by his blue cloak. The lad's attempt to help stayed Pengolod's hand in fighting free, and made even more mischief. He might have kept up his own role of being from Armenelos if Soup's pull had not yanked back the long hood of the blue robe. Pengolod's long fall of hair fell free, save for the braid that drew locks away to show his ears. He was, in an instant, among the clowns with his elvish visage revealed.
The crowd shrieked with shocked mirth upon seeing a real Elf thrown into the mummers' mocking. The ones who had lain hands on him went fearful behind their makeup and pulled back, but it was too late. The coarse Queen of the mummers, following their whistled signal, advanced on them. "Oh handsome one!" he bellowed. "Give a fair maiden a kiss, a kiss for honour!" Forcing his way up to Pengolod, he leaned forwards and bunched up his painted lips. A good half the crowd took up the call and chanted for the kiss, the kiss, the kiss, stamping their feet.
Several actions sprang to Pengolod's mind. He chose. Raising a hand, he shouted, "Lovely lady, I am honoured!" Then, he took a step forwards, closed his eyes (very firmly) and brushed his mouth against the clown's (very lightly).
The instant's silence hailing this was followed by even more bedlam.
"What's this, what's this?" someone caroled behind them. The Little King had reappeared. Bellying up, he waved an admonishing finger at the elvish intruder. "Fie on you, elf-man, to steal my lovely Queen from me! Go back to the true King's table. You won't have to work to swive your way through the lot of them. They'll all bend about for the likes of you!" The hand he waved turned dismissive. Passing by and dragging the Little Queen a little ways away, he began to harangue the Little Queen about his quest to bring her a diamond from Middle-Earth. The Little Queen wept with appreciation as the Little King gave him a large chunk of bottle-glass wrapped up with wire, and declared that all was forgiven. By the time the Little King had laid his head on the Queen's spectacularly overstuffed false bosom, Pengolod had been able to slide back into the crowd.
The Little King, clearly in league with the feast's servants, had the out-of-tune horn blown again and declared that everyone had to honour the True Court and the great new ship by feasting until they burst. The tables had been laden by now, and the crowd flooded in to take seats.
Pengolod allowed himself to be swept along with Aelfwine and the other merchants. He wound up next to the fussy lady again. She showed herself kinder than she seemed at first, saying, "It's considered good luck for a young fellow who is handsome to put up with that well. I don't know why we let them go on with that foolishness. I suppose because it's the custom."
"Betides, it seems to work! Ossë has let our ships be for the three hundred years they've been doing the mumming. They are damned funny," said her husband, across the table. "True enough about the luck. You'll be the beau of the evening."
Aelfwine offered sympathy in a more welcome form, proffering a carafe of wine. In yet another of the evening's surprises, the wine was extremely good. Pengolod was grateful for this. It gave him something to talk about apart from the recent spectacle, and the Númenoreans striving for propriety around him were glad to fall into the role of gracious hosts.
They had plenty to be generous with. The food was stunning in its excess. Whole sheep and sucking pigs had been roasted on great spits. Instead of the modest white-fleshed fishes that were the staple food of Rómenna, dishes of whole crustaceans were passed about, the shells to be hammered open at the tables, and tunny-fishes lay on platters, also roasted whole so that their fish-skins were golden. Endless dishes and flasks of condiments were used to season all this flesh, each person choosing to taste from salt seaweed flakes, hot pepper in vinegar, intense preserved vegetables, sweet chutneys, a greeny-gold oil, brewed fish-sauce, and spice-pastes. The wines and ales served in plenty were also spiced. Pengolod sought to soothe his palate with some bread, but even this was not the simple rye bread that set off everyday fish and meat. The feast-bread was rich, sweet, and yellow, with currants in its dough. Eventually dishes of other sweets followed, by which time Pengolod had a pressing question.
"Who is paying for this feast?" he asked Aelfwine.
"The King's exchequer, I believe. The boat was built under the auspices of Ciryatan."
"Hence, his name, the ship-maker," Pengolod murmured.
The older burgher sitting by them spoke up. "Ciryatan has changed many things in the past thirty years, though he himself is but fifty. Tar-Minastir put his care towards the men of learning, for the most part. The Queen before him, Tar-Telperien, her chief love was riding and the hill-country of Forostar. When Ciryatan is king, I think he will place ships first, both for himself and the realm. His favor has brought much trade to Rómenna already." The burgher lifted his cup, with a nod towards his stolid son and wan daughter. "To Ciryatan! May my children see him made Tar-Ciryatan!" Aelfwine repeated the toast. Pengolod only lifted his cup to honour it, and drank. The mortal toast was not for him.
The feast went on. Musicians and other entertainers spread through the crowd. Many of the feasters went out to see the new ship at anchor, and Aelfwine's party was among them. The burghers exclaimed over the width and depth of the new ship's hold. Aelfwine interpreted the intricate runes carved all about the prow. Pengolod nodded at something else on the prow, the oiolairë in the moonlight. He said, "I saw your green bough many a time as the ships of Númenor drew into Lindon haven."
His story-teller's instinct was quenched when only Aelfwine had any curiosity for the memories behind those words. For the music from inside the ship-hall had grown louder, and the women wanted to dance. Surprisingly, the burgher urged his daughter to dance with Aelfwine. The girl started, then smiled encouragingly. Aelfwine managed to say, "Well. Uh. Though I...one measure, then, and it please you."
Pengolod, knowing what that measure would cost Aelfwine in pain, thought to himself: Prove your courage as you may. Aloud, he said, "Go along. I'll meet up with you inside presently." He was glad to have the chance of some air and space.
Pengolod walked along the quay-boardwalk embracing the great mooring to see the ship in full. A large party of merrymakers passed him as he went to the end of the quay, leaving him almost alone, able to look back and see the ship in full. Her tall masts, with the sails furled, were dark against the stars, and her gilded rails were gleaming in the light from the hall. Pengolod recalled what he knew of Númenor's navy. This made the fifth great ship for Ciryatan. He frowned. Yes, a fifth great ship, fit to carry a king's ransom in treasure. Sunbearer. What cargo was Ciryatan anticipating? And how would he be obtaining it?
"Good evening, my lord," someone said. He started at being addressed in Sindarin.
Pengolod turned to see who had this melodious woman's voice, speaking an elvish tongue in the Númenorean fashion. "Well met, my lady," he replied, in the same language
A lovely woman was behind him, striking by starlight in a white dress. Pengolod's elvish eyes discerned that her long hair was red-gold, her eyes a pale silvery-grey. Her beauty and simple garb evoked his own people. It was simply a pity about her exaggerated courtly accent, he thought, as she said, "It is a lovely night, is it not? I love to see the moonlight on the water, and the swans about the bay."
"It is very fair," he replied.
Pengolod was about to ask her name when she spoke again. "My father is well-to-do. One of our homes is a houseboat."
Interested, Pengolod said, "Truly now? My host's father goes about in such a boat, as a trader."
"Oh! Our boat is much finer. It's just along here, the next pier over. See?" She came up beside him and indicated the boat with a vague, gentle motion.
Pengolod said, "The one with the red sails?"
"You have keen eyes, to see it at night," she said, nearly whispering. He came a bit closer to hear her better. She looked up at him, then down again, smiling. The hairs on the back of Pengolod's neck prickled. He recognized coquetry when he saw it, and there was more than one reason why he wished to rebuff it, quickly.
She was no fool, either, and knew when it was time to play her hand. Her next words were, "You were so gracious inside, when those mocking mummers drew you out and made you kiss their Little Queen. 'Tis true that you were the fairest man there tonight. Perhaps you'd like a real woman's kiss to make up for what you endured?"
Rigidly, Pengolod said, "My lady is too kind. Your fair words are honour enough."
Denying his refusal, she came closer. "I always heard you Elves were honourable towards women. Now I see it. But surely there is honour in a woman's favours freely offered?" She ran her fingers up and down the silken edge of his outer robe, where it lay open along his chest. Arching herself towards him, looking up under her lashes, she murmured, "Nobody is aboard my family's house-boat. It can be very pleasant there."
Pengolod grasped his garment and took it out of her hands. Then he stepped well back. "Lady. All elf-men are honourable to women of all kinds. Yet we never cross our fate through...untoward intimacy...with those who are not our kind, however fair they be." Fortunately, this was as he had said, true for all elf-men. She would not think him strange in particular. He bowed. "Forgive me, lady."
Her lovely face hardened in anger. "There's not a man in the hall who wouldn't be honoured a thousand-fold - not even the highest - keep what honour is to you, then!" She gathered up her skirt and flounced away.
Pengolod's first wry thought was that she acted like someone who was rarely refused what she wanted. His second, worried, was what might pass if someone had seen that drama. For it had been too much to hope that they had stayed alone. When the merry-makers by the ship's stern were quiet for a moment, he could hear a man's tread on the boards. Not far away, either; a keen-eared or sharp-eyed mortal would be close enough to perceive what had passed. He could not leave without passing this person, as the refused woman had done.
He ambled nearer the prow of the Sunbearer, as if admiring it. The tread came closer, with a prowling evenness. Pengolod brushed back a lock, idly. He wondered how long he needed to continue in this classic elvish feint of seeming distracted by his surroundings while being braced for battle.
Not long. "A good evening to you, elf-man. Very unusual, it is, that an Elf comes to one of our feasts who is not come through the Court."
It was the second time that evening that Pengolod had heard this voice. After his previous conversation, the repeated use of Sindarin made him wary, even though it was natural, coming from this particular person. Pengolod took a sharp breath and turned, composed. "My lord Ciryatan."
The Númenorean lord before him raised his thick brows. He had the famous height of the Line of Elros, and was both taller and stronger than the elf-man before him, a match for an Elvish king. The hair beneath his golden circlet was, like Aelfwine's, tawny, but it shaded into a reddish brown beard, trimmed neatly square. Obviously, the Prince did not follow the fashions of Armenelos. His brocades incorporated vivid shades, reds and oranges and blues, so skillfully woven and dyed that they gave an impression of tremendous richness, not brilliant clashing. "You remember me?"
"Who could forget you, lord, after your triumphs? I am Pengolod of Lindon. I served Gil-Galad closely in The War. I forget little, least of all the commander of the troops who broke the Siege of Imladris. A star shines on the hour of our meeting."
Ciryatan nodded. "Admirable, is she not?" he said, gesturing at the ship beside them. "I can scarcely wait to sail her. Though I have sailed the world, there is nothing like the ships wrought in Rómenna, and the beauties you see along the docks here. But perhaps you, as an elf, are used to fairer?" There was an arch tone to his last words.
Ciryatan had seen what had passed; Pengolod would wager his pens on it.
The loremaster took a step back. "I know little of ships at their finest, my lord. In my travels, I was on my way to Tol Eressëa, but I learned the truth of what you say, that there is nothing like Rómenna. It is a very fair city, and I thought to stay here a time, and learn of your people. After the siege of Imladris, I confess I was enthused at the idea of a feast. The memory of the hungry siege still bites, at times. The plenty tonight has been very impressive."
Ciryatan chuckled. "Things are changing indeed in Middle-Earth, if an Elf comes to a mortal feast and praises the food. I remember the first time I sat at Gil-Galad's table, thirty years syne. To have sat there, and then to have seen you made a fair course for the players of Ossë tonight...I certainly hope you were not offended." Another chuckle followed this, as if Ciryatan had been subtly satisfied by what had passed.
Pengolod's smile flashed. "On the contrary, I thought it a splendid play. Their reference to a piece of your history, Tar-Aldarion's courtship of his bride Erendis, was very subtle. Though they do exaggerate on the whole, for the humour, of course." He gestured to the ship beside them. "Talking about going to battle to fill your new ship's holds with treasure, that is a good example of such."
Ciryatan's fists curled in his brocade, even as his mouth curled in a grin beneath his mustache. "Myself, the players are not my favourite entertainment. Their ludicrous japes often lead to unfounded rumors being noised about. I would not want a visitor like yourself to get an incorrect impression. You will see better of us, I am sure. For now, I must return to the feast. Navaer, Pengolod of Lindon." Pengolod echoed the farewell, with a bow. Ciryatan did not return the gesture.
Pengolod stayed on the quay several moments more, cursing his own recklessness in the face of Ciryatan's strange gloating. Surrendering to the inevitable, he went back inside the ship-hall. Back at the table, where Aelfwine was seated again, everyone had the same question: was their elvish visitor having a good time? Pengolod said yes, thinking privately that he would enjoy this feast better in memory, and as a tale to tell. He wished that someone would take away the broken meats and shells strewn about.
Aelfwine alone seemed a kindred spirit. He leaned in and said, "Soup discovered the beer, and he's going to discover his first hangover tomorrow. I should get him home. You can stay and dance in the dawn, if you like."
Relieved, Pengolod said, "No. I will go with you. This feast is a richness, and I have had enough." This was simpler said than done. It took as long to extract themselves as it had done to arrive. Several other traders took the opportunity to extract their apprentices. There was tolerant banter back and forth about this, showing that this boyish misbehaviour was not an exception at feasts of this kind.
Finally free, the two of them hemming in Aelfwine's swaying apprentice, Aelfwine said, "You were gone a good time. Did you have any problems after the mummers' picking you out?"
"Well, actually," Pengolod began, then he stopped. Lowering his voice, he said, "We are being followed." He did not add again. Warily, he turned about.
"Sorry, sirs, sorry! We are just going the same way as you, back to Kingstown." Another woman was there, this one a sturdy wench with a wide mouth and a wary strut. Beside her, demure in comparison, was Rothinzil.
"They're on my route, Pudani." Pengolod heard her whisper to her friend, "They're no trouble."
"Yes, we saw you earlier at the feast. With your fellow?" Aelfwine said.
"Oh, he's not my fellow," said Rothinzil.
Pudani smacked one fist into her other hand. "Yea, he won't be anyone's fellow by the time my mates are through with him tomorrow morning. He'll have to sail round to the west coast to get any -"
"Pudani! They are gentlemen. That fool was not," she said. Pengolod saw her worrying one wrist with her hand. The wrist she rubbed was marked with a dark ring of bruises, as if she had been grasped unwilling. "So I was heading home."
Both speaking at the same time, Aelfwine and Pengolod assured her that she was welcome to walk with them. Pudani snorted, and when Rothinzil made to go with them, said to them, "If my friend is not well at home later, I'll get my man to make your feet all match the ink-man's lame leg." Smiling broadly, she added, "Have a good night!"
Left with the three males, Rothinzil barely said anything for several streets, evidently embarrassed by what her friend had revealed. Finally, she murmured, "I am honoured that good folk take such trouble."
Again, Aelfwine and Pengolod fell over themselves to protest. "You are good folk as well. Ezellen would not have handed you her business if you were not," Aelfwine said.
"Oh, no. Not me. My people are not even full-blooded Númenorean. My mother's people are from The Mud."
Aelfwine explained immediately, "A, ahem, everyday term for Middle-Earth, it being between earth and water." He added to Rothinzil, "The same is true for me, and my grandsire."
Rothinzil looked alert. "Really? Where are yours from?"
"The Firth of Lindon."
Sadder again, Rothinzil said, "That's almost the same as being from Númenor. Mine are from the isles beyond Harad."
"Islands beyond Harad?" asked Pengolod. "The islands where the Fastitocalon swims?"
"Yes. My mother's mother is from there, and told us all the tales. The great turtle that the mariners here name the Fastitocalon, and great nuts full of sweet water growing on trees, and many whales. But I was born here," she said, firmly.
Pengolod said, "I was born in a certain place, but it's curious, I always say that I am from another."
Aelfwine nodded, "That would be your elvish city of Gondolin." Pengolod agreed.
"Is it near Lindon?" asked Rothinzil.
"It was never near Lindon," Pengolod replied.
"Could you tell us of it as we walk, perhaps?" asked Aelfwine. "You have spoken of it many a time, but I know little about the place myself, save that you name it the fairest and grandest of cities. The tale is overdue!"
Pengolod longed to hear Rothinzil tell more about her grandmother's islands. Hoping that his tale would prime her to tell her own, he began.
As I said, it is curious how a person may dwell somewhere for many years, and yet say that the place they are from is another place entirely. For most of this Second Age, I have lived in Lindon. I lived in Gondolin for less than a quarter of my life, and Gondolin is no more. But if you ask me where I am from, I will say to you that I am from Gondolin, before I catch myself. So it is that a time and place of joy and beauty may mark us for all our days. I will tell you about it, if you will be patient.
Gondolin was the greatest city of the Elves that ever has been in Middle-Earth. It was made in the image of another city on a hill, Tirion on Tuná over the sea. Many of us went to dwell in its hidden vale at the command of Turgon, our lord, so that we would be safer than in our old realm. Nevrast, by the sea, was ringed by mountains. I was in the last caravan progressing from Nevrast to Gondolin. It took two months.
The journey made me nearly mad with anxiety. I had in my charge our most valued books and scrolls, as well as my master, Rúmil. Rúmil, having been lamed at the hands of the orcs, was a terror to travel with. He was supposed to ride slowly, but against this advice he would ride with great swiftness up a rise or hill, in order to see the view and regale us with some anecdote. Soon after, he would pay in pain for being so venturesome, and either take it out on his assistant (that was me) in demanding ill-temper, or far worse, grow silent in his suffering. I never knew which I would have to deal with at our camp. We were meant to be travelling as discreetly as we could. When Rúmil finally balanced who he had been with who he was, he was an easier companion.
This was good, for the journey grew harder. A month out, we were forbidden to set fires unless it was utterly necessary. We rested during the day, when our passage might be seen, and travelled in dusk and at night. Our journey had been timed for the moon's waning. The lands grew steep and broken.
We did not know that the worst part of our journey, through cliffs and crevasses, was the last. Turgon rode at the head of our caravan, and one day we were alarmed to see his steed dash ahead into the mouth of a great cave. In a moment, Turgon emerged, smiling on his restless horse. "Through here!" he called. "Come, and see what has been wrought!" Then we knew we had arrived, and were glad.
In time, seven fair gates would be hung along the path we took; beyond a deep tunnel, gates of stone and wood, bronze and iron, a gate for the sun and a gate for the moon, and last and latest, a great gate of steel. Only the gate of stone was in place at that time.
After the narrow tunnel, we came upon a smooth road, easy for the wains and walkers, and progressed rapidly between tall cliffs. Already, we were hailed at checkpoints by some of our people who had come ahead. It was not long, less than half a day, before we emerged into the full sun, and the green sward, and the place that was to be our dwelling.
I had seen it marked on maps, the Echoriath - that is, the Encircling Mountains - locking in a flat round plain, called the Tumladen. Near to the centre, somewhat south and west of it, a hill had been marked on those maps. The mountains were tall and splendid, with snow upon their sharp peaks even in midsummer. The plain was deep among them. Trees on the mountain-slopes blended into green brush and herbs, then an open plain of grass, at that time. All this was fair and splendid, yet it was like the velvet surrounding a fine jewel in its casket. This landscape was wild no more. It was tamed, focused, and given its splendour by the city on the hill in its midst.
Gondolin! The Song of Stone it was, Gondothlimbar, its white walls clean-cloven above the plain, its fair roofs gleaming slate and gilded. Within its high gates were tall, fair-built houses, the like of which I had never seen before, nor many of the Sindar, being built close, side by side, like the houses here in Rómenna. They were fair and spacious, and glad were we to be dwellers in the stone. My family were laughing yet that they, who had been in lean-tos and platforms amongst the trees, had such a house. They greeted me with joy, and showed me two new pretty nieces born to my sister Thingódhel. They also offered a room they had held in their dwelling for me, in case I came to Gondolin unwed. The room was so well placed, high over a garden with its own balcony and stair, that I took it as my abode gladly.
That city was further named the Secret Place, being hidden deep and well, that all who dwelled there could be free of care. Yet care was not forgotten. It also was the Tower of Guard, Gwarestrin, for all the plain could be surveyed from its walls. Those with a martial bent joined the King's many guards. They it was who would build the seven gates, in the fullness of time. My friend Elemmakil throve amongst those guards, and told me much of what they were about. Was there a need for defense, we were ready, we believed.
Most of all, our city was Loth-a-ladwen, the Lily of the Plain, blooming like the most artful flower in a king's garden, ravishing and pure. Our own arts blossomed there as well. We had time, and we had peace. Crafters wrought with stone and wood. My family grew the fibres used for elven-ropes and diverse cords, and wove them long and fair. Even more did the dancers and musicians prosper, and the needle-quick and the limners of images, all together making the city fair.
I tell you of the joy that I recall, yet I must own that Gondolin's early years had their struggles. As we learned how to till the Tumladen, there were irregular harvests. Winter proved the tall stone houses somewhat cold. Others less fortunate than I in their dwellings squabbled about resettling. Some things were to be had in plenty, and others grew rare. We loremasters were not outside it. Even as we made books for the King's library, we were driven to writing mostly on reed-paper, since many others also wanted the hides that could be used to make parchment. The greatest change of all was that the people were far more under Turgon's rule as we worked for the common good, and we depended on the lords to redistribute food and other necessities.
My master Rúmil kept a promise he had made to me. Once I had had the precious texts unpacked and placed in the new great library, I was made a loremaster in full. You ask what I received for this service? Since I was not boarding at the expense of the Palace, I was given a stipend each year of thirty sigils of gold. In addition, each two years I had either a new suit of clothes or forty ells of fine cloth and linen, many supplies for my own works, and later, the privilege to serve at the mines of Anghabar only once every six years, instead of every three, my knowledge being considered essential, and Rúmil saying I was near-indispensable. The books we brought to Gondolin filled but a quarter of its shelves. Rúmil noted with immense satisfaction, "We shall be writing for years, every scrap of lore worth having, to fill these shelves as Turgon would have them."
What? No, I did not only work. In time, the plain of Gondolin was made fruitful, a wheel of fields, orchards, and pastures spoked by roads, with the city as its hub. Those fields fostered sport as well, riding and archery for my part. Folk allied to different lords competed in great games and races. Many loved and many wedded; fair children played in the plazas and streets, while trees grew tall along our avenues. In a high place, Turgon put up two fair sculptures of trees, Belthil the tree of silver and Glingal with boughs of gold. Lanterns lit the streets at night, and in their light, we made merry drinking yellow wine from the mountain-slopes.
Only one great grief did the city have in its first long-year; the loss of its chief lady, Aredhel. She pressed her brother, Turgon, to let her visit some of her kin out in Beleriand. In the wilds, she slipped her escort, and was lost. The shame-faced riders who returned two months later could not say if she lived or died, or where she might have found refuge.
This was when Turgon's daughter, the lady Idril, first came on her own behalf to us loremasters. A meeting of the Lambengolmor had just concluded when she knocked on Rúmil's door and pulled back the hood of the servant's cloak she had worn to hide herself. Seeing me there, she looked at me, and her lovely brows creased. "Master Rúmil, I must talk to you alone."
"Gently", Rúmil said, "You are new to stealth, my lady, if you say such things before a third party. But this might be well. Mayhap another will serve you better than I can."
"No, it must be you, I am certain of it." They closeted themselves briefly for a time. She left soon after, her face intense with thought. When she was gone, Rúmil said, "It is well enough that you heard. Idril wants me to do a rite of scrying. I want to lie low to prepare myself for it, for three days. Tell folk I am working in my chambers, and that I am not to be disturbed. I will take no food, and think long." He confessed that Idril had asked Rúmil to try and foresee if lost Aredhel might return, hoping to gain strength to assuage her father's grief at losing his sister.
On the evening of the third day, I went to the great Palace at Gondolin's centre and brought Idril to Rúmil's quarters. It was not far; he had apartments off the library. His scrying was as follows.
After three days without food, embalmed in thought, Rúmil's spirit was half-free of his twisted body. One of the few things he had done was to light censers of heavy incense. When I brought Idril in, Rúmil was seated on a figured carpet, leaning back and forth, and muttering. Before him there was a great silver bowl filled with water. He looked up and nodded when Idril entered. Muttering slowly became chanting. He was invoking the Valar, using the harsh language that the Valar spoke among themselves, half-singing with strange sounds in his throat as he chanted. I only understood half of it, enough to recognize when he was ready.
Idril was kneeling before the great bowl, as I had directed her. I was by her side, and I offered her a small silver pitcher, full of black ink. I told her, "The question is yours, my lady. So it is for you to pour this ink into the water."
Biting her rosy lip, Idril lifted the silver vessel and poured in a thin stream. Ink spooled and curled in patterns through the clear water. Rúmil's eyes snapped wide. Frozen still, he gazed into the patterned fluids as if he saw through them to strange lands.
Rúmil did not look long before he shook his head. His expression became his own again. Firmly, he said, "Yes. Aredhel will return to Gondolin, and stand before her brother's throne once more."
The face of the lady blossomed with a smile. "Then I may hope! Thank you, Master."
When she had gone, Rúmil said to me, darkly, "She may hope. I have seen that she has more hope than any other here. But hope will not come to her through Aredhel's return." He would not answer me further, nor break his scryer's fast. Saying that he would do so when he had a mind, he sent me away.
Freed, I went out in the city. I could not help but feel some of Idril's exuberance, even though I knew there was a darkness that Rúmil was leaving untold. I was too used to Rúmil and his discretion, and did not feel it as I should have, that night. Gondolin's white stone was pure and lovely beneath the full moon, and the night sky over the Tumladen was an indigo dome. It was the time of harvest-festival, and warm company was waiting for me in several places, to help me set aside my master's ambiguity.
With one jewel taken from its parure, Gondolin still glittered, and thus it remained for long after that day.
Rothinzil's face had opened into enchantment as she listened to the story. Aelfwine gave her an admiring glance, and then said to Pengolod, "You said that city is no more."
"It is a tale for another time," Pengolod said. Having improved the evening, he had no wish to ruin it again with dark memories.
Rothinzil missed all this to observe, "This is my street. Thank you for the good company, and the tale."
"We'll see you on the Starday, then?" Aelfwine asked.
"Count on it," Rothinzil agreed, and she was gone.
Soup, swaying on his feet, hiccuped. "I don't feel so good."
Aelfwine said, "Let's get you home and empty your gullet."
Pengolod lifted his hand. "No, what is good is to drink as much water as you can hold, and let its pureness clean your insides."
Aelfwine said, "By his looks, it's probably going to be both." His laugh was good-natured as they shepherded the queasy lad to Aelfwine's home.
Soup's head ached all the following day. Fortunately for him, it was the weekly Day of the Valar, Númenor's day of rest. Aelfwine had by now approved Pengolod's proposed project, and Pengolod set himself to write for the day, in his chamber alone. Aelfwine, sated with company, had his own errand. Pengolod faced the first day of the week that came after with curiosity. How would Rothinzil greet them? Aelfwine's mustache-stroking had reached compulsive levels, but Pengolod refrained from chaffing him about it.
The next morning, the first person in the shop's door was not Rothinzil. Pengolod looked him over from top to toe. He had the grey livery he had seen on a few at the ship-feast, worn by servants of the court of Tar-Minastir, come from Armenelos. The visitor looked direct at Pengolod. "You are Pengolod the Sage, lately of Lindon, counselor to Gil-Galad?"
"I was," Pengolod admitted.
"Tar-Minastir sends you fair greeting, lord, and says you will honour him by going to Armenelos and being his guest at the blessed day of the Erulaitalë, walking the pilgrimage to the mountain Meneltarma and witnessing the Midsummer prayer to Illúvatar." He proffered a scroll.
Aelfwine and Soup clustered by Pengolod to read the invitation, silent with respectful amazement.
The first thing that came to Pengolod's mind was the face of Ciryatan, which had not hidden anger well. Perhaps other tale-tellers from the feast had let Tar-Minastir know that there was an Elf in Rómenna. But it was very likely that Ciryatan was behind this summoning. And for what reasons? It was not for fondness on Ciryatan's part, that was certain.
Pengolod smiled, and accepted the messenger's invitation with elvish grace, and resolved to find out.
Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted September 22, 2004.
Feedback or comments on this story are welcome - email Tyellas here.
Magweth Pengolodh Sections