Summary: Silmarillion-based. Pengolod recounts his first meeting with Maeglin, then goes to witness the midsummer rite of the Erulaitalë.
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.
After the King’s invitation, Aelfwine’s shop began to fill up yet again with curiosity-seekers. Pengolod took refuge in his room upstairs and wrote away the day. He was still writing an hour before the summer nightfall. Troubles lapped at his mind as he scribed. He had enjoyed Rómenna much because it reminded him of Gondolin. The invitation, hard on the heels of the Prince’s conduct at the ship-feast, was reminding him more of lost Gondolin; of its less pleasant side.
Pengolod heard Aelfwine’s uneven steps ascending the stairs. He kept up the polite fiction that a knock on the door was needed to call him, and only after it sounded did he open to Aelfwine. “There will be dinner, in a while, and since you turned down nuncheon…Is all well? You have been silent for hours.”
“Hours?” Pengolod finally noticed the way the light had changed. “The time did not seem long to me. But it is sometimes that way, with Elves. I’ve gotten a good deal done for you, to make up for what I missed –“
Aelfwine shook his head. “It’s been busy as a sprat-net downstairs. I don’t blame you for wanting to be out of it.”
An awkward moment passed.
Pengolod felt the air between them, thickening with ambiguity. They had laughed over the feast, but they had had no easy words since the King’s invitation. “Aelfwine. Are we friends?”
Aelfwine replied, “Of course!” Then he looked startled, as if amazed at what he had said without thinking. “I wouldn’t presume, of course, since you’re going to Court. That isn’t why I say it. We talk with ease. We like the same matters. What else makes men friends?”
Pengolod exhaled. “Then I am glad. For more words and deeds passed at the ship-feast than I have spoken of, and I think some of them are behind Tar-Minastir’s call to me. I could use some counsel. Perhaps we can talk in here.”
“Not for Soup to hear, eh?” said Aelfwine, his mustache lifting to one side.
“Definitely not.” Pengolod closed the door after Aelfwine.
Pengolod sat back where he had been writing, so Aelfwine seated himself upon the sleeping-couch. Soon Pengolod was pacing back and forth, telling his tale of the ship-feast; what he had thought of being drawn out by the mummers, and his more private encounters, first the fair woman, and then his sharp exchange with Ciryatan. When he finished, Aelfwine said, “I can see why this wasn’t for Soup. Hm.” He hunched forwards and formed his fingers into a tower. “Surely you misread our Prince? I have never met royalty, myself. Perhaps he was just speaking to you as if you were any commoner. It might not have been Ciryatan behind the invitation. News runs through Rómenna like a sieve. The town is also full of the King’s men and mariners, plenty of whom know one of the Fair Folk when they see one.”
Pengolod paused. “It is true that Minastir’s men met my elf-ship at the docks. And their conduct was like to the herald who came this morn.”
“The King wishes the Elves to be honoured whenever, and wherever, they appear. And if Ciryatan wished you ill, why invite you to the most exalted event in all the year? For such is the Erulaitalë.” Aelfwine said, bright and proud, “The King goes to the sacred mount of the Meneltarma and gives thanks to the Valar and Illúvatar for Númenor itself. Anyone in Númenor may attend and add their good will to the King’s prayers. It is our tradition to make a pilgrimage to each of the three rituals, to go to each three times during our lives; as child, youth, and man. I have gone seven times, even on my lame foot. You may see many wonders in Rómenna, even the Fastitocalon that comes to harbor at times, but they are not the joy of the Erulaitalë.”
Pengolod ceased pacing. “This is good counsel. I am over-wary, by the sound of it. I’ve felt the ill-will of a prince before. It is no small thing.”
Aelfwine’s mustache twitched with amusement. “Another reason I like you. By now I know that you always have a fine tale up your sleeve. Is your tale of this malefic prince fit to tell over our meat?” Aelfwine levered himself to standing as he spoke.
It came to Pengolod that he, too, was learning his friend’s ways. He knew by now that Aelfwine, being proud, would not want Pengolod’s hand to pull him up, and that it was better if he nipped quickly down the stairs and let Aelfwine take his own time. The wait for his companion to catch up was not much longer; just long enough to contemplate some of the ineffables of friendship. It was yet a mystery to him, why some people liked each other well on sight, and others were sworn foes after one meeting. If it was less of a mystery, he thought, I would have been on better footing with Maeglin.
I have spoken to you of ill-will between a noble and myself. Before I explain what came to pass, I must tell you more of Gondolin, where all this took place.
The last time I spoke of Gondolin, I had told you of Rúmil’s prophecy that the lady Aredhel would return to the city. Soon after the prophecy, we loremasters of Gondolin completed the great work of writing as much history and lore as we might for the King’s library. The library was one of great splendour, with thousands of books and scrolls – its like has not existed before or since. We had had hundreds of years for our task, and the arts of the Eldar combined with the innovations of the Sindar. Some who had helped us went on to other trades. I took my place as one of the library’s clerks and guardians. Rúmil was in charge – in name.
Rúmil had not come to Middle-Earth to be a peaceful custodian; he had wanted to venture and gain new wisdom and knowledge. The great challenge of Turgon’s shelves had satisfied him while it had lasted. With this task done, his spirits declined, and his body grew frailer; spirit and flesh are closely linked, for us Elves. Privately, I thought that part of Rúmil’s new grimness came from being in Gondolin, where most everything to look upon was fair, and travails and suffering were sliding back in our memories. Later I understood that it was the visions of Rúmil’s scrying that had brought on his sorrow and weariness. All I saw then was that Rúmil withdrew greatly, and spent more time in his private chambers.
Eighty years after Rúmil had given Idril his prophecy, it came true. Aredhel did return, and she stood before Turgon’s throne. She had been wedded in her sojourn, and she brought with her a son, Maeglin, old enough to have come of age. Her husband, Eöl, followed after, not of her will. And before that throne, Eöl, attempting to slay his son in madness and wrath, slew Aredhel instead. Turgon commanded that Eöl l be put to death for his crime; Maeglin did not protest. To us common folk of Gondolin, this series of events was a bewildering horror, and we lamented much.
My sister Thingodhel had raised her four children, then taken up the trade of keeping lore of families and kinship. She took down her ledgers to see if we might trace the background of this Eöl through the clans of the Sindar, but we could not, nor could anyone we asked. I never saw Eöl, but the rumor in the city was that Maeglin was like his father only with his dark eyes and black hair. A week after his arrival, I laid eyes on Maeglin, and learned what manner of elf-man he was.
Our lord Turgon took immediately to Maeglin. His sister-son’s face and bearing recalled Aredhel’s proud, impetuous beauty, and Turgon considered Maeglin’s graveness very seemly. Maeglin was to have all the princely privileges that were due to him. Turgon gave him a mentor, the chief of his smiths, and bade that he be shown the city where he had lordship.
It was upon this tour that Maeglin was brought to the library’s workshops. On the day that Maeglin came to us, I had been at work gluing new bindings upon old volumes. Thus Maeglin and his escort found me wearing a bespattered apron and my worst shirt. My one handsome feature (though I say it myself) is my hair, and that was drawn back in a single plait, a habit I had from my Sindarin father.
Maeglin’s mentor, being a fellow craftsman, introduced me with respect. Nonetheless, I did not find it unusual that the newly arrived lord looked down his straight nose at me. His midnight eyes were remote with unconcealed boredom. Richly garbed for the court, even with half-armor and a sword, he kept well back from my glue-pots. Maeglin only began to attend to me when the mastersmith added, “He is half-Sindarin, as are you, my lord.” At this, Maeglin looked me up and down.
It is often difficult, when meeting a person of greatly different rank, to say anything sensible. I asked Maeglin, “And how do you find Gondolin, my lord?”
In a flat tone, Maeglin said, “Through my lamented mother’s navigation.” Maeglin’s guide and I both flinched at this response. His sharp glance pinned me thoroughly. “And you’re a loremaster. What does that mean? Were you a servant of my mother’s? She read and wrote better than anyone else in my father’s halls.”
I suppressed a second flinch, for Aredhel’s handwriting had been notably bad. Sidestepping the second question, I told him that I taught, wrote, kept books in more ways than one, and explained what I was doing that day. Maeglin’s ennui returned when it became clear I had little to say about his mother. I was relieved to note, on the edge of my hearing, the thump of Rúmil’s staff approaching, and concluded my ill-received monologue with, “The leader of all Turgon’s loremasters will be here in a moment. He taught your mother, once upon a time.”
“Very good,” said Maeglin, in lordly approval.
Rúmil was having one of his better days, and he arrived but an instant after I had heard him. “Well met, Pengolod; what is this? Guests on a gluing-day? Pity you fellows didn’t come around later, when we get the wine out.” It was midsummer, and Rúmil, in the library back-rooms, had foregone his cloak and hood. All his scars and ugliness were plain to see.
Clearly appalled, Maeglin gaped and reeled back, then clenched the hilt of his sword. His guide intervened hastily, introducing Rúmil as my master’s knowledge and courage deserved, and saying apologetically, “This, Master, is Maeglin son of Aredhel. As you know, he is new to our city.”
Rúmil peered at Maeglin with his good eye. “Yes, you would be. You’ve a look of – “ The young elf-lord was still staring in horror, and this cut off Rúmil’s warmth. Rúmil said haughtily, “We are honored by your visit.” To me, he said, “I will be back shortly, with some matters for us to go through. With your leave, my lord.” Tactfully, he departed.
There was a moment of hissed conversation between Maeglin and his guide. Maeglin, embarrassed at his own fear and disgust, was blaming the hapless fellow for not warning him. I stirred the glue bubbling over a small flame and tried not to listen until someone cleared their throat and said, “Thank you for your time, Master Pengolod.” Maeglin, at this cue, thanked me stiffly as well, and the guide tried to shepherd him along before Rúmil returned.
On his way out, Maeglin looked back at me. Cool and sharp once more, he asked, “Does anyone give you leave to wear your hair so?” His own black hair was also in a single plait, not as long as mine.
“No leave is needed, my lord. It’s a very Sindarin way to wear it – I remember my Sinda father braiding it up for me when I was a boy,” I said, trying to justify what had never before been questioned.
Maeglin surveyed me with a curl of his lip. He looked at the smith who was guiding him, who had short hair – or should I say, cropped at the shoulders like yours. Then he looked at me again. Without saying anything further, he took up a pair of shears lying by and clipped his long braid off four inches below his nape. We watchers both gasped.
Casually, Maeglin flung his severed braid into the burning brazier that heated my glue. “If that’s the way it is here, nobody is going to mistake me for Sinda nor servant.” He shook out his remaining hair, looking relieved. Freed from the weight of its length, the locks sprung into black waves around his face, softening his expression. “Come, mastersmith, let us go. We will forego the potters and jewelwrights. I am eager to see the forges again.” I paid little attention to their departure, occupied with fanning away the black smoke from Maeglin’s burning hair.
Rúmil came back, cloaked and hooded, while I was still coughing. “So that is Aredhel’s son. I am told that he’s already been taken up by Salgant, the son of the Lord of Harps.”
I leaned on the table. “Ai, Valar. Salgant’s going to love this tale.” Rúmil had been right when he said, my first day as his prentice, that I had an enemy in the House of the Harp.
My family was very interested in my tale of Maeglin. They came to the same conclusion I had; that he was still uncertain in his new home, and would be gentler when he knew our ways. This was very common, at the time. Gondolin treated the orphaned lordling as if he was a lovable hound-whelp, to be forgiven its trespasses. Too late did we learn that he was more like a wolf’s cub. He was nourished as if by meat with the commoners’ adulation, the teaching and exchanging amongst the high crafters and nobles, and Turgon’s indulgence. This might have come to little but intrigue at Turgon’s court, if Maeglin had not been a singularly gifted smith.
What did he gain from that particular art? I will tell you. He was not just a smith, but a prospector as well, and he had his mentor tell him everything that was known about the mountains that ringed Gondolin. This bore fruit at a great council that autumn. We were discussing the disbursement and economy of the recent harvests. I was there for the dullest part of my work, clerking, taking notes when Maeglin came late to the council hall.
Maeglin slammed the door open and glared about as if everyone present had personally insulted him. “My lord Turgon, I wish to say that your people are all fools!”
A ripple of shock went through the council. Turgon arose from his great seat, astonished. “Explain yourself!”
Maeglin swaggered into the hall, wearing traveling clothes, and carrying two crude sacks slung over his shoulders. The smith who had been his guide four months ago was now at his heels, and looking stunned. He said naught as Maeglin cried, “For the many long-years of Gondolin, your smiths have scraped for bog-iron, and your folk have husbanded peat-fires and nubs of charcoal like nervous wood-tribes. And all this time the treasure of the earth has been waiting for you!” Maeglin slung down the sacks and drew out a chunk of earth. “Can anyone here tell me what this is?”
“Tis a rock, and a very fine example thereof,” quipped the Lord of Harps. His son Salgant, looking alarmed, nudged him.
Maeglin sneered, “Tis a rock; and would you say so to ore of gold? That is the only treasure you recognize. But nobody needs gold. This is iron ore, fine and pure. Aulë’s own miners, the Khazad-folk, showed me how to find such. Turgon, a wealth of iron is waiting for you; yea, and a wealth of steel as well, through my arts.”
He opened the other sack. “Perhaps you charcoal-pinchers let it lie for lack of fuel to make it. Your smiths’ furnaces are too often cold. Let them be idle no more! All the fuel your realm will need for a thousand long-years is folded amongst the ore-veins. Turgon, I bring you the burning-stone of the Khazad, that they call coal. Watch.” He strode to the hall’s hearth and emptied the sack over the logs there. Several folk cried out to see him smother the fire in black stone. Yet a wonder took place. The stones themselves began to smolder and send out heat. They became burning embers, exactly like well-made charcoal.
Maeglin had timed his revelations to perfection. The gathered nobles and wise ones were not only impressed, but at the ready to give Maeglin laborers to work his mines. Maeglin, in his one humble moment that meeting, asked Turgon if he might attend the nobles’ councils in future to plead for his interests. Turgon granted this boon. By the time the council ended, Maeglin was lit from within by a fire of triumph. He swaggered all the more when he departed, with the mastersmith still following. I was by the door, with the other clerks, and I heard him say, “Of course I am wise beyond my years. I survived a hard teacher.” I softened with pity. After all, my goodly family, gentle and loving, were still alive.
Maeglin’s harsh nature and his discoveries spurred Gondolin into a new phase, a sharper phase. He gained much power through his knowledge. I have told you that Gondolin had some hungry winters at first. Once Maeglin’s mines were producing coal, this happened less, for we put more fields in our limited valley into tillage, needing less timber for firewood. All this benefited Turgon, and he elevated his kinsman in appreciation. Politics sharpened, and one was either for or against the young lord and his innovations. Factions came into being. I would not have thought that there could be even more gossip, but there was.
Soon, Maeglin was established enough that he required his own clerks. I was not one of those who he recruited, and he made his superior disfavour clear enough on the rare occasions that we met. I will spare you the litany of displeasure and ill-luck that came my way through this. Rúmil, and several others, reassured me that it was only my bad luck in having witnessed Maeglin’s loss of composure that brought me his disfavour. But the disfavour remained, and the joy of Gondolin lost some of its glitter, for me.
When Pengolod finished his tale, they ate more quietly than usual. Later, Aelfwine drew Pengolod aside for another private word.
“Your tale makes me think anew. I cannot imagine that a Prince of Númenor would wish you ill – unless he was jealous of your success with the fair lady. There is a way for you to be safe, if that is so. How would you feel about taking Soup along to the Erulaitalë?”
“We didn’t want to politic in front of him. I wager neither Ciryatan nor the noble King would either. He is from Armenelos, but he hasn’t gone to one of the great rites since he became a youth. With him by your side for the journey and at the camp the night before, you will be well guarded by his innocence.”
Pengolod contemplated this for a minute. The boy was at exactly the wrong age for anyone to take much ease around him. He was too tall to treat like a child, and definitely too young to be a man, though of the age when he listened keenly for any scraps of knowledge that would bring him closer to manhood. His bright guilelessness and keen eye for what was happening around him would not escape Ciryatan. “Perfect.”
Soup was ecstatic at the prospect, which was presented to him as a reward for his help to Aelfwine. The rest of the week, he ran double errands to show his gratitude, visiting the laundress to make Pengolod’s white silks and a borrowed linen robe for himself spotlessly snowy. He ran back and forth from the royal stables three times, responding to the King’s assurances they would ride to Armenelos and the Meneltarma, instead of jouncing along in one of the many wains that conveyed the pilgrims to the hallowed mountain.
They left Rómenna at dawn for the day’s ride to Armenelos. Pengolod enjoyed the ride, his first time leaving Rómenna since his arrival, after he corrected Soup’s terrible form in the saddle. Soup was at the age where, given leave, he would talk forever if had a listener. Pengolod was free to ask as many questions as he wished about the byres and the folk they passed, and Soup’s guileless answers often revealed more than the lad knew. “No, all the land from the hills to the mouth of the Firth is in tillage to the King and the folk of Armenelos. It’s called Arandor, Kingsland. Rómenna’s just the port and the fishers. Are they richer up there at Armenelos? I guess so. I thought Rómenna was shabby ‘t first. And there’s Armenelos. See, it’s on that shelf, at the east side of the Sacred Mountain, higher up ‘n Rómenna, so it stays cool in the summer. And all built of grey stone that comes down from the North on great wagons.” Even from that distance, Armenelos was contained and formal. Above it, green and guarding, was the mountain of the Meneltarma.
The Númenoreans spoke of the Meneltarma as tall, Pengolod realized, because it was the tallest mountain on the isle. Compared to the sheer peaks of the Echoriath he had once known, or the Misty Mountains, it was still a mountain, but just barely. Low slopes eased up into a smooth cone; a road wrapped about it once, to a plateau that looked south, east, and west. The mountain’s peak rose above the plateau, shielding the space from the north wind. The road would be easy for a hale man or woman to walk, though tiring. Pengolod noted some indentations along the westward mountain-road, and wondered what they were. Below both the mountain and the city, there was a great encampment. People from all Númenor had come to the mountain, anticipating climbing it the next morning, and nearly every hawker in Rómenna had come to vend to them.
The multitudes they rode through were like the varied crowds that passed through Aelfwine’s shop, and more besides. Many nobles were amongst them, from different regions. There were those newly returned from war, by their uneasy, disbelieving glares, and those who, by their empty looks, had lost someone to that war. Some of Middle-Earth’s past was there to be seen. People from the northlands of Forrostar were clearly descended from the straw-haired tribes of Haleth. The deep-eyed, dark-haired folk from the west of the isle were very evidently from the tribe of Beör. Rare and few among the crowd, Pengolod glimpsed the stumpy Drúedain, still a folk entirely apart. Soup gaped after them. “They live in the forests in the middle of Númenor, where they can’t see the sea. Imagine never wanting to see the Sea!”
At King’s camp, they were escorted to a noble’s tent, to be guests until dawn. The King, though their host, was in silent seclusion that night, praying before the Erulaitalë. Their own evening was blessedly quiet, save for the coming and going of servants. After an interval, their host said that the King would be honoured if Pengolod cared to visit Armenelos, and that young Areleinion’s kin, hearing of his travels, would be happy to host him until Pengolod was ready to return. Pengolod said, “I would not wish to impose upon the King,” and was assured by his host that, indeed, the King was most eager to meet him and show him the wonders of Armenelos, particularly its library. Pengolod managed to express enthusiasm while staying noncommittal, turning the second invitation over in his mind through half the night.
Nobody mentioned it again the next morning, but there were other things to think on. For they joined the vast progress of the Erulaitalë.
As soon as they had – with the crowd of several thousand – begun to ascend the mountain, Pengolod tapped Soup’s shoulder. “These caves we pass?”
Soup bowed his head and whispered, “The tombs of the Kings.”
Pengolod understood, instantly. The tombs were on the West side of the mountain road, facing Aman. Each one had a carved archway. The first one must have been the tomb of Elros, and its entry-way was heaped with fresh flowers, laid down by the people as they passed. As the road turned upwards, other tombs were present, each one with a carved archway. Some had graven names and faces, but as each ruler had a cave, it was easy to link the refuge to the ruler. As they went forwards up the trail, the tombs’ carvings increased in both size and ornateness. Apart from Elros, only two of the past Kings merited offerings from the people: the monarch Telperien, who had preceded Tar-Minastir, received fruit and blooms from those who remembered her reign, and, curiously, Aldarion. The entry to his tomb was heaped with scrolls or graven stones, and twigs of green oiolairë. Pengolod picked up one of the stones; a common man’s name had been scratched upon it. He set it down, and moved along.
The marchers in their thousands were all silent, and all in white. White hoods were drawn up over reddening faces, and children and graybeards were helped along. Yet at the steepest part, the marchers put on a burst of eager speed, and their silence thrummed with a sense of imminent pleasure. Pengolod understood when they reached the plateau where the people gathered.
When they reached the top, a gentle wind struck instantly, cool and refreshing, drawn down from some higher air. Fresh grass brushed around their knees, and each blade, if stepped on, quietly righted itself, so that the multitude stood amidst a sea of living green. Seeing some people looking at the sky, Pengolod turned his face upwards. There, circling surely too far for the mortals to see, were three eagles. Above them, he would have vowed that, though it was day, the dome of the heavens was deeper in its blue than it had been at the mountain’s foot. The plain purity of the space, wind and grass, stone and sky, was only fitting. For standing in the hallow of the Meneltarma, the sacred came in with each clean breath and thrummed in the turf beneath their feet.
Pengolod was struck to the heart. He had only felt such hallows, echoes of what Arda might be had it not been marred by evil, once or twice in Middle-Earth. But they had never been hallows of his people. The Elves really had transgressed against the Valar, he thought, and really were earthly, if they had no places as divine as this.
The plateau of the hallow was nearly full with its silent multitude. Pengolod’s host had drawn him and Soup to the western edge. They had waited there some time when the silent multitude parted for the King.
Pengolod was touched yet again by unexpected awe. Of all that mortal multitude, Tar-Minastir alone bore ornaments to the hallow, a gem-topped scepter in one hand, a sword in a ruel-bone sheath by his side, and a green branch that bore fringed red blossom, oiolairë in bloom. He was leaner than Ciryatan in his white robes; in his youth, Minastir must indeed have been like to the Eldar. His strong face was indeed clean-shaven. Age had just begun to touch him. His dark hair, bound by a fillet of silver and a white gem, blew about his face, but his grey eyes stayed remote in their exaltation. He had the face of a man carrying a great and somber joy within him, anticipating this hour of communion with the One.
The crowd swayed in obeisance like the grasses as the King went by, progressing to the western brink of the plateau. Soup went to his knees, and stayed there; by a tug at his sleeve, Pengolod realized that he should do the same. The multitude were all kneeling by the time the King came to his place. Then he, the vessel for their prayers, began to speak.
The King’s words were simple, and half of them were lost in the endless wind. Tar-Minastir addressed Eru by many names; Illúvatar, the One, the Creator, the Endless, the Song and the Light. He offered up his thanks for the One’s many gifts to humans, naming the gift of life in Arda itself, the presence of the guarding Valar, the continuing richness of the summer and the sea, and the gift of victory in their recent battles.
Tar-Minastir held up the flowering branch. Then he laid it down on an undistinguished grey stone, one of a few boulders tumbled about. As he did this, the three eagles swooped down from their height, circling above Tar-Minastir in view of even the weakest mortal eyes. Nobody said anything, or even gasped, but a pulse of joy at the divine sign coursed through them all. Following this, all of them prostrated their kneeling selves in the direction of the stone, guided by the King, who did so first. Pengolod mirrored the crowd. There was no shame in the sign of honor and surrender. He felt himself given fully over to the place and moment.
The King was also the first to right himself. Now lifting the scepter, he addressed the throng. His words were simple. “We live in the Land of Gift, and all that comes to us here are the gifts of the One and the Many, Illúvatar and the Valar. Be blessed. Go forth, and be merry and fruitful. Peace has come again.” With this, he lowered the scepter, and began to move through the crowd once more. Once he passed, the folk began to stand. None of them left their places until he had begun the descent from the plateau.
Pengolod watched the crowd. Some looked happily dazed; a few were weeping, and others were thoughtful. Many folk went to where Tar-Minastir had been standing and looked westward for a few moments before leaving. Pengolod, curious as ever, joined the patient throng waiting to see what might be seen. Soup stayed by his side. Though the ritual was over, he was, Pengolod sensed, still eager; by the law of the hallow, he could not speak to explain what everyone was looking at. When they reached the edge, Soup pointed out to indicate where to look.
Pengolod’s eyes raked all that was before them. He saw the central plains of Númenor. Like the Meneltarma as a mountain, the isle of Númenor was smaller than everyone spoke of it, the land below them largely in tillage and grazing, with vales here and there of clearly bounded woods. No wonder its mariners were restless. Beyond were the tree-fringed shores, and, past two great spurs of land embracing a bay, the great sweep of the sea. On the horizon, Pengolod saw at first a white glimmer. He fixed his eyes on it and saw there another land, beyond the great gulf of water, the shores of Avallonë.
Avallonë the fair, Tol Eressëa, Elven-home. One of the eagles swooped down, cutting his line of sight like a curved saber, before soaring to its two mates again. Joined in flight, the trio chevroned towards Avallonë. Pengolod felt the reproach in their unerring path westward; that he, too, should journey without tarrying to what was his. The sight clenched him with the Elves’ Sea-longing, even as the idea of departing the hallow wrenched him. He knew now how forsaken the Elves had been all their time in Middle-Earth. Was there this sacredness there, where Elves might know it, or was it never for his folk to feel? Grief and fear touched him as the light turned gilded about them.
Pengolod felt a gentle pull on his sleeve turn into a hard tug. Turning to look at Soup, he realized that he had yet again sunk into one of those elvish reveries that seemed peculiarly long to mortals. He must ask later how long Soup had needed to pull at his sleeve. The sun was lowering, and only a few folk remained on the mountaintop. Two of them were their host and one of the King’s messengers, hovering in assumption that he had accepted Minastir’s invitation.
With all this, it still took a hard internal pull for Pengolod to make himself depart that place of doubled exaltation. He looked back. One other person stayed by the viewpoint, sitting cross-legged, smiling and serene. He looked back and nodded as Pengolod left, then closed his eyes to rest before taking the long path down. Even when, looking back, Pengolod could no longer see Avallonë on the horizon, he glimpsed his fellow pilgrim’s silver halo of hair, catching the lowering sun.
As soon as they had descended a seemly distance, the officials repeated the King’s earlier invitation. Still transported from the ritual, Pengolod accepted at last, deeply ashamed of his wariness. After witnessing the Erulaitalë , Pengolod felt certain that nothing ill would come to pass in Tar-Minastir’s company. Pengolod glanced at Soup. “You are nearly a man, but I cannot leave you alone here.”
Soup was flushed after all the sun on the mountaintop. “Papa’s a clerk at the court. The messenger said they made the arrangements anyway and sent a message, and sounds like my folks said they’d wait at the bottom for me,” he said, looking anxious.
“I would be remiss if I did not make sure you were safe with them,” said Pengolod. Soup cheered notably at the prospect of meeting his parents in Pengolod’s company. The representatives of the King hovered close behind the elf and the youth.
Once on the path, it went downwards swiftly, and they passed the mouths of the tomb-caves once more. Pengolod looked into the open mouth of one. There was only darkness within. The entire mountain was a riddle, he thought, and when you understood it, you were ready for the mountain’s heart. Númenoreans knew well when they were ready, he recalled. They lay down to die of their own will, embracing their mortal fates. Pengolod, like all Elves, was convinced that they were going on to know in full what he had tasted, briefly, today.
Pengolod stopped rigid. Thinking of this, he remembered the man at the top, who had sat and smiled and stayed…Gripped by a chill of intuition, he turned around and looked up the path.
He was rewarded, after a fashion. Some people carrying a white stretcher were the last ones to come down, looking calm and a bit sad. The figure on the stretcher had a white cloak over its face. The carriers did not have smooth elvish steps. They rattled the stretcher, and the cloak fell away. It was indeed the man who had stayed on the mountain, serene still after his chosen death.
Pengolod did not understand why Tar-Minastir’s officials, on the way to the palace at Armenelos, kept apologizing about what he had seen on the path.
Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted September 22, 2004.
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Magweth Pengolodh Sections