Summary: Silmarillion-based. Pengolod arrives in Rómenna in time for one of the city’s famous boat races, Rothinzil refuses a small gift, and the mummers of the Little Court return. The heady day recalls the courtship of Idril and Tuor.
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 looked up and squinted. Through the open door of his shop, the evening sun came in, along with Pengolod. He said, “Well met! I suppose you’re back for your things, then?”
Pengolod’s face fell. “You’ve taken another lodger?”
“No, but Soup was ushered back two days ago with the message that you were now a guest of the King.”
Pengolod folded back the graying cuffs of his white robes. “I was, but I’m back. If you’ve got space for me once more.”
“But of course…” Aelfwine gave him a quizzical look. “It can’t be that you missed hearing the carts rattle past in the dawn, or having all the goodwives stomp in and say that you look marvelously elf-like.”
Pengolod laughed freely. “I have leave to look at the Venturers’ records, which would bring me back to Rómenna at any rate. And your place is very convenient to their great house on the water. You’ll want to take a look at some of the lore I’ve copied from the King’s library – wonderful to see the way Adunaic developed over the years. Besides – ,” Pengolod lowered his voice ,“the King’s palace had its peering goodwives, as well, as we thought it might.”
“You must tell me all about it,” said Aelfwine, beginning to smile.
“I came back to do so.” At the broad ink-stained shop table, they ate a simple meal of smoked fish and bread, and compared what Soup had told Aelfwine with what Pengolod had done. Pengolod had greater appetite for both food and talk than he had felt the past several days.
Next morning, after with the late night of talk for their fellowship renewed and the wine they had shared, Pengolod had some choice curses for the rattling carts in the early morning. Soup brought his morning water with a cheerful hello, and Pengolod managed to make it down in time for breakfast. He had just finished comparing headaches with Aelfwine when Rothinzil, with her usual bustle, entered with her great basket. “Morning, Master Elf,” she said. Turning to Aelfwine, she went on. “I said yesterday, didn’t I, that he’d be back in time for the race? Nobody misses Uinen’s race, greatest of the year.”
“You haven’t said yet if you’re going out in a boat to see the race,” said Aelfwine, addressing her.
“I’m not a nobody to miss it. Some friends of mine are hiring a boat, and I’m going in on it. Uinen’s day is the women’s day, the one day we can do as we please, and we will make the most of it,” she replied.
Aelfwine tugged on his mustache and cast a side glance at Pengolod. “Have you, ah, put your money in already?”
“Mmm. We, we all settled yesterday,” she said, also with a quick flicker of her eyes towards the listening elf.
“We’ll see you on the water, perchance. I’ve got a small boat of my own. I hope your boat is very fine, fitting with your name.”
Rothinzil grimaced. “My family! They thought Númenorean names would hide the source of our darker skins, but instead of naming me after a tree or flower like all the other women here, they named me after a boat.”
“It’s a very honourable name,” said Aelfwine, gallantly. “Perhaps you’d like the Sindarin version of it? Everyone is familiar with the Quenya, Vingilot. No charge, of course.”
Rothinzil, evidently pleased, arranged her arms more becomingly around her basket. “Tell me what it is first, and I will see.”
“The Sindarin for Rothinzil, meaning foam-flower, is Gwingloth.”
Rothinzil gaped, and said direct to Pengolod, “Is it really so?”
“Absolutely correct,” Pengolod said, firmly.
“Gwingloth…Gwingloth…that sounds terrible! I thought Elvish was beautiful all the time,” she protested.
“You don’t have to use it,” said Aelfwine, hastily.
Pengolod added, “Other Elvish names are less than charming. Elmo, Argon… there was one lord who tried translating his Sindarin name into Quenya and gave up…he said that Teleporno sounded like an out-of-tune trumpet. I didn’t see the problem with it, myself.”
“Teleporno,” Rothiznil repeated, saying it gently, as if tasting it. “No, that isn’t so bad. Gwingloth, though – no, no offense meant. If I change my mind I’ll let you know tomorrow.” She left, shaking her head.
Aelfwine gazed after her thoughtfully, not touching the muffin he had bought. Pengolod broke his own muffin open. It was flavored with fresh apricots, and its starch soothed his wine-roiled stomach, so he let Aelfwine meditate for a moment before saying, “These seem to be getting better – she’s got a fine hand for them. I suppose if she stops here early in her rounds, she can give you the best of the batch, if she’s a mind to. She’s got a good ear, hasn’t she?”
“The people from the south-islands have great singers’ voices, it’s said.” Aelfwine dug into his own muffin. “Yes, very good,” he added. “Maybe you’re right.” He emerged from his reverie with his easy smile. “I can’t believe I didn’t tell you about the boat race.”
“It might have helped if I’d let you get a word in edgewise last night. You’ve got a boat? Will you be racing?” Pengolod asked.
His voice blunted by a mouthful, Aelfwine said, “No, no, it’s just a boat like everyone has, a dinghy with a sail, for one or two fishermen. It’s kept at the low boat pier. At times I go out a-fishing in the evening, or Soup hares off in it. That’s just what everyone does.”
“I saw the little boats all up and down the Firth, when we came in, now that you remind me.”
“The boats for the races aren’t anything like them, and not like the trade-boats or barges or seafaring barques. They’re sleek, with three sails and narrow prows. The lords of each part of Númenor put their best sailors on to crew. Some of them pulled more than a few strings, to keep their best racers out of The War! The lord of Adúnië spent more on one racing boat than on his son’s wedding, that’s how mad they can go for it. This race coming up is the chief one for the year in all Númenor, centered at Tol Uinen in the Firth. Everyone for leagues about comes down to the harbor, or goes on the water, with food and wine.”
“Is there room in your boat for another watcher? I’ve been in small boats many a time and with much liking, though I haven’t a mariner’s heart,” said Pengolod.
Aelfwine did not answer this directly. “The Prince didn’t say anything about this race at all, while you were in Armenelos?”
“Not a thing, no.”
Aelfwine looked thoughtful. “The boat-race is his darling. He has even been known to cut short a long venture to return for it, and if he cannot, he leaves messages to be read out, and sends his most favored officers. His barge is always laden with many folk.”
Pengolod caught Aelfwine’s drift immediately. “He had no idea that I was returning to Rómenna in time for the race. I saw him but one night, and – I told you how it went. We did not like each other well, but I see his qualities, now.”
“His boat’s loss is my gain, then. When else in my life will I be able to say that?” Aelfwine said this happily, and carefully wiping his hands on a linen rag, unrolled a piece of parchment. “My boat is simple, but my wine will be good. This street’s wineshop asked me to limn a broadsheet with the details of the running boats, so that the drinkers there can place their wagers.” Reviewing the broadsheet led to discussing the boats, which led to delivering the broadsheet and receiving the bartered payment, which was followed by the pair tarrying at the shop with their opinions about boats of all kinds. It was the first time Pengolod had mingled in a Rómenna crowd instead of staying quiet. The topic of the race eased him amongst them like an elf-boat wending its way through Rómenna harbor.
The morning of the race, master, apprentice, and elf-guest traipsed down to the low dock where lesser boats were clustered like bees against their honeycomb. They let down a rope ladder and jounced into Aelfwine’s dinghy. It was perfect for two fishermen and their gear, and for two race-viewers and their victuals and wine-skins (filled, despite Aelfwine’s bold words, with well-watered vintage to avoid headaches in the sun). But they were three, and Soup was very cramped in the center seat beside the tiny mast. Aelfwine took the stern and handled the oars with ease, his arms showing themselves firm with muscle. The boat rocked and swayed in the churned water, amidst the wake of larger boats lurching out, until Pengolod stepped in. He himself paid no heed to the boat’s sudden balance, thinking it only natural that it should be firm when weight was balanced at both ends. Aelfwine, pulling out from the dock, said, “The water’s uncanny smooth today…or my arms are getting stronger than I recall. I should be hauling for all I’m worth with three in this boat.”
“If it’s Uinen’s race, I suppose she’s here and making it easier for everyone,” said Pengolod. Beneath the brim of a borrowed hat, he was more absorbed with taking in the crowd. The visibility on the bay was splendid, as was the sight of nigh a thousand boats churning merrily in the water, as well as canoes, rafts, and what seemed to be a few washtubs. It was as if the entire city of Rómenna had tipped towards the sea and spilled all its population onto the water. They all seemed honour-bound to get in the way of the racing ships. In light one-man canoes, men in the tabards of Númenor’s troops rowed back and forth swiftly, bawling out to direct the crowd along the two sides of the harbor.
Aelfwine maneuvered them to a good spot and dropped an anchor-weight. “Small boats can get right up to the front,” he explained.
“You said it, good man!” Pengolod looked about, startled. There was another dinghy beside them, the jaunty, painted toy of two prosperous older men. One of them said, in a plummy voice, “Leave the misses on the barges, it’s the only way to do it. They’re all mad today anyway. I don’t know if they do it to honour the Lady of the Waters, or to get back a bit of what they give up to her every time their men go to sea.” He stopped at the tolling of a great bell. This signal for the start of the race threw the other boats on the water into a panic, and the ones at the front were soon hemmed in.
Aelfwine deposited the oars in the bottom of the boat beside his crutches and dared to lean forwards. “Soup, take the back so I can tell Pengolod what’s going on.” They changed places without falling into the water. “Now see, there’s the first of the ships coming out.” They read off the names of the narrow racing-ships, inscribed in white along their prows, but the main sign telling them apart were the different colours of their sails, varicoloured and harlequin with stripes and squares of fabric. “You can see which is in the lead from a distance, then.” Pengolod admired their sleek, shining sides as they cut through the water, leaving smooth runnels of foam behind them, rocking the watching boats. As the racing-ships danced out, a great barge with gilded railings and crimson pennants slid alongside, rousing cheers and waves from the audience, whose hands bloomed with coloured scarves and pennants of their own.
Ciryatan stood at the front of his barge, splendid in gold and scarlet, a great banner of Númenor in his hand and smiling as Pengolod had never seen him. Pengolod recognized several of the nobles, also with more cheer about them than they had shown at Armenelos. He did not need his elf-sight to identify Laurinquë with her bright, uncovered hair. Even the peering mortals beside them saw her clear. “There’s our gel. She’s a bright one, isn’t she? About time the Court favored the Venturer’s daughter again. A Rómenna girl,” they murmured, approving. Pengolod drew the brim of his hat down further over his face.
He knew that the race boats would sail out soon from Tol Uinen, to sail halfway up the Firth of Rómenna, across the great gulf of water where it started to widen, then back down the other side of the Firth. The royal barge drifted up to a mooring at the side of Tol Uinen, and it was tied fast, as the dhows arranged themselves along a yellow rope held out by two of the canoe-boaters. The watchers shouted and waved all the harder, until the race was begun by Ciryatan lifting the great banner high and the canoe-men diving into the water, taking the rope under. Uinen seemed to love her racers, for a great swell of the retreating tide arched under the prows, and a fragrant wind caught all the banners and scarves before filling the great sails. The noise of the crowd grew deafening and echoed from the Firth’s cliffs and the tall sides of Uinen’s isle.
Pengolod felt Aelfwine hammering the sides of the boat and laughing, then saw him reach out and grab Soup before the lad fell in. Pengolod smiled, then laughed as well, for the men in the boat by them were placing bets about when the hobbedehoy would wind up in the sea.
As the great crowd waited upon the water, holiday prevailed. Deft dinghies went between larger boats, ferrying people back and forth, or piloted by those who loved the freedom of the water. They took food and drink to exchange as they went. The first time someone fell in, everyone cheered, and took the chance for a doubled toast of whatever they were drinking.
Some paddled up to Aelfwine’s boat and said to Pengolod, “You’re the elf, aren’t you?” But others came and turned out to be long water-mates of Aelfwine, fellow small boaters. It turned out that he went on the water far more often than he had hinted to Pengolod, who felt somehow cozened to realize this. He brooded until Rothinzil’s long, low hired boat slid up near their dinghy.
More than a dozen women were dangling their arms in the water, sleeves rolled high, so heavy was their flat-bottomed boat laden. Rothinzil was one of a pair wielding long oars in front. In response to their general hail, Aelfwine doffed his hat. Pengolod hastened to do the same, even as Aelfwine gave the gaping Soup a nudge to keep him from staring too openly at the sun-warmed, sea-dampened women, who had let their hair down. At the prow of the women’s boat, Rothinzil hailed them and was echoed half-mockingly by the rest of the crew. The woman at the tiller growled, “Hey! Speak fair to the gentlemen, you –“ A shriek went up at the harsh tiller-woman’s reprimand, drowning out the last coarse word of insult to her fellow boaters. The tiller-woman peeled back the edge of her straw hat, revealing the sun-reddened face of Pudani from the boat-launching feast. “I’ll make them leave off if you’ve got anything good to drink. Boats and beer go together,” she yelled.
Aelfwine held up a wineskin. “We brought our best ink! Would you like some?”
Most of the women shouted in amused disgust, but Rothinzil stayed dignified. “I’ll have some.” She leaned over and took the proffered skin. After as decorous a sip as she could manage with fourteen women whooping behind her, she asked, “Do you want a muffin? They’re yesterday’s, but still good.”
“Yeah, we brought them for ballast!” another boat-woman shouted. Rothinzil’s temper broke, and she turned back with a choice retort about someone else’s food. They bickered amongst themselves until the two men in the next boat began to flirt with the stern-women.
Rothinzil took advantage of this to turn back to Aelfwine, her face flushed with more than sun. “We’ll row along now and stop embarrassing you. Really, usually they’re more respectable than this.”
“Usually everyone’s more respectable.” In unison, Rothinzil and Aelfwine said, “It’s Uinen’s race.” This sudden harmony made them both blink. Aelfwine obscured his expression by putting his own hat back on. Pudani bawled out for her oar-women to row, and their boat bellied off. Rothinzil turned back to wave.
The plum-voiced man beside them said, “Handsome visitors you get. That gel with all the black hair, she’s a corker. Look, she just splashed the other oarswoman so’s you can see right through her shirt.” Soup half-stood to try and see this. As Aelfwine roared, the dinghy dipped in protest, tipping Soup into the water. The man nodded. “Gotcha, son. Pay up!” he said to his boatmate.
By the time Soup was seined up, the noonday sun was growing hot. Just when the heat began to grow irritating, trumpets rang out from the deck of Ciryatan’s great barge. The crowd turned their attention that way, like a flock of birds shifting at their leader’s change. “The racing boats aren’t in sight?” asked Pengolod.
Aelfwine gestured to the deck of Ciryatan’s barge, which was suddenly given over to men clad in nothing but loincloths. “Swimming races, while we wait.” He explained what was happening as the swimmers dived overboard, to race to the furthest spar of Tol Uinen and back. Another set of swimmers dove deep to retrieve a silver-bound shell that Ciryatan tossed in the water. Each of the winners was drawn back up to stand beside Ciryatan, who crowned them with oiolairë wreaths handed to him by the lady Laurinquë. Pengolod looked at the diving winner, sleek and beaming, water still running off his muscles. “He won’t sleep alone tonight, I’d wager,” Pengolod said, admiringly.
Aelfwine turned to him abruptly. “You elves talk about that sort of thing?”
“Certainly we do,” said Pengolod. “I haven’t said much because, just as you did not mention the boat race to me, we have been speaking of other things.” He looked out over the water again. “They do not have women swimmers?”
Aelfwine coughed. “It’s thought that the male swimmers, ahem, please Uinen more, diving around in the intimacy of her waters. Do, ah, do elf-women swim in similar races? Soup, if you’re sitting in back, stay on the sternboard, or we’ll all be at Osse’s mercy.”
“They may do whatever elf-men do, if they choose it. We Elves do not have such races, though many women at Lindon dive for pearls. What’s this on the water now? Another boat race?” It did not look like it. A broad coracle was careening out into the space awaiting the returned race boats. The nobles aboard the barge were still praising the swimmers, and the water-guards studiously ignored the coracle.
At first the coracle seemed to be another crowded women’s boat, until its passengers called out in cracked and piping voices – those of the mummers last seen at a boat-launching feast. The clowns dressed as elf-ladies yodeled and waved garish scarves at the crowd. Standing in the middle, the tallest one, again in white with a long straw wig, twanged an ill-tuned harp and roared out a bawdy song, his voice loud enough to carry over the water. As before, the mummers were greeted by applause and laughter. The coracle stopped spinning in the water long enough for Pengolod to see that it had, at its front, a crudely painted duck’s head. He set his teeth at this mockery of a swan-prowed elven-boat.
Suddenly, some black-tarred kayaks darted out of the crowd of boats, swift as sharks towards the glittering coracle. The false elf-women shrieked, swooned, and held their hands to their faces. “We are attacked! Attacked by orcs! Help us, oh help us!” they wailed. The orc-boats were manned by mummers daubed in walnut-stain and black paint, wearing rags and leather scraps. They grinned and cackled, so like to orcs in their mockery that Pengolod winced, though orcs never went upon the water. They reduced their threat by clowning splendidly on the waves, some spinning their kayaks so that they went under and emerged again, others tossing false wooden swords between boats in swift juggling. One abandoned ship and swam towards the duck boat, making to climb aboard it as he leered and stuck out his red-dyed tongue.
Just in time, another out-of-tune instrument blatted, and another mummer’s vessel toiled along the water. At the front of a long canoe stood the tall, obese form of the Little King, wearing a crudely embroidered surtot. Behind him, the slimmest clown that could be found was nearly lifted out of the water as he struggled to row the imbalanced boat. “Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!” boomed the Little King. “We must rescue our Elvish allies! Faster, I say, faster!” When the canoe reached the disputed waters, the orc-clowns all turned and grimaced. “Begone foul creatures of darkness!” He struck his stomach, straining against his over-small clothes. “The might of Númenor will drive you away!” With that, the Little King jumped like a great boulder into the water, splashing every boat.
As before, the crowd heralded this low humour as the utmost in hilarity. The orc-clowns howled and floundered in retreat. “My Hero!” yelled the mock elf-queen, pulling the Little King up into the duck-boat.
Pengolod turned yet again to Ciryatan’s barge, to see how the nobles were taking this. Most of them continued to studiously ignore the spectacle. Ciryatan was watching, though, with an expression of grim amusement, for all that he stood up markedly straighter and tightened his belt a notch. Pengolod turned to Aelfwine and called above the din, “If they’re making fun of Númenor’s troops, why do they allow these clowns?”
Aelfwine said, “The clowns are to appease Ossë, as a rule. They tend to mock whatever the news of -- ” A clear trumpet call cut him off. The call went on and on, and brought out all the boats’ banners again. They had been on the water from midmorning to an hour past noon, with the entertainments, and the race-boats were returning. The mummers, suddenly able to steer their boats without any problem, cleared the harbor swiftly.
The crowd added to their earlier hullabaloo with horns and bells. When the winning boat cut into the harbor, every lesser boat erupted with noise and waving, and those who had already fallen in the water dove in once more, being wet anyway. The only glum faces to be seen were in the boat next to them. “Cheer up,” Aelfwine called, “We didn’t win our bets, either.” The winning boat jammed up next to Ciryatan’s barge, but the speech honouring the winners could scarcely be heard, and the harbor was soon a-tangle with the other returning boats. Hard put to slow down, some of them sent their prows into the encroaching crowd, with chaotic results. Aelfwine shook his head. “This happens every year. Half the folk will stay on the water and carouse, and the other half will go back on land and carouse.” He looked about the water longingly, then said, “You should see it, if you never have. Soup, are you going to stay in the water, or row back in with us?” Soup scrambled back into the boat for the fourth time, making all of them soggy, and they extracted themselves into the revelry on land.
By the time the sun went down, Pengolod was relieved to drift onto one of the benches behind Aelfwine’s shop. “I have never, never seen such mad feasting in all my days. The mummers, the musicians, the women pulling up men’s tunics…”
Equally weary, Aelfwine sat down with a pained grunt. Hauling his clubbed foot up into his lap, he loosened the lacings of its boot-like wrappings. “Good thing we both wore trews beneath, eh?” They laughed again. That was one thing, Pengolod thought; laughter ran free and easy in Rómenna. “It’s partly for the end of The War, you must understand. The revels were not half so wild for any of these past seven years. Most of the soldiers who went are back now - the ones who weren’t killed, of course – and the widows are mostly out of mourning. You don’t mind if I take off my boots?”
“No, not at all.” Pengolod carefully looked about, anywhere but at Aelfwine’s lame foot, until Aelfwine sighed, evidently out of some pain.
He said, “I can’t believe the women were taunting me this year, despite my lame leg.”
“They were after you more than I saw? Vulgar and crude,” said Pengolod, upset for his friend’s honour.
Aelfwine’s smile had a wry twist. “Not what I mean; they don’t do it if they don’t have an eye for you.” He lowered his twisted foot slowly, grown somber. “You know I think about getting married.”
“You do?” said Pengolod, thinking that even amongst mortals, surely Aelfwine’s thirty-and-some years was young for that.
Gruffly, Aelfwine replied, “I’m male and not dead; of course I do, despite my marred leg.” After a moment’s quiet, he went on. “Do you remember the family that sat by us at the ship-feast? The girl’s father came around and had a word while you were away. He offered her hand, in exchange for my hands for his business.”
For a moment, Pengolod felt as speechless as he had been with Tar-Minastir. “Are you going to?”
Aelfwine said quietly, “I’d thought it would be the best I could do, me being lame. Better than naught.” Pengolod nodded, his mouth tight, recalling some of the harsh words about Aelfwine he had overheard. “I’d probably have done it if I wouldn’t lose my own business by it.”
Aelfwine went on. “But the point is, that wouldn’t have happened before The War. The girl wouldn’t have agreed enough for her father to come around. I did not miss it that she did not come by herself! Still, today. And - I don’t know what to make of it, that of a sudden, I’m seen, instead of passed over. Did Elves change this way? After your battles, after many of your elf-men died in the Nirnaeth that you told me of, did your disfigured master Rúmil have, ah, relations?”
Pengolod said, “No. Rúmil’s wife remained in Valinor when he came back to Middle-Earth. We Elves consider marriage ever binding. Not that it mattered, by the time I met him. In the dungeons of Thangorodrim, he had been gelded.” Aelfwine cursed softly into the dusk. Pengolod continued, sadly. “They took to doing it to those they kept as thralls, with the other marring, to make it – so they thought – less likely that those who had loved them would seek to rescue them.” Turning to face Aelfwine, he said, “I am sorry. This is shadowed talk, after the glad day we have had, and all your kindness in showing me the revels. I haven’t talked a lot about Elvish marriage, being a bachelor myself, but I’ve a tale that will interest you. And in sooth, you remind me far more of the man in this tale, than you do of Rúmil.”
Aelfwine missed nothing and asked, “Man as in mortal man?”
“Indeed. For this is the tale of Tuor.”
Before I left, I told you over our wine of the battle of the Nirnaeth Aenordiad. I told that tale again at the King’s table, though not in such detail. Of my own kinsmen, two of my great-nephews had perished, and my family’s house was grieved thereby. Most in the city had such a loss upon their doorsteps. The calamity of it was worse for those who, born and raised in Gondolin, had never known the world outside. Their kin had gone off to a mystery, and perished amidst unknown horror. To these, it seemed meet and good that Turgon was now High King of all the Noldor, and that his first decree was that the Great Gate should be shut. No more messengers would enter or go forth.
Following the Nirnaeth Aenordiad, Gondolin curled in upon itself. Grief absorbed the Gondolindrim at first. When our separation from the greater world began to be felt, our people strove to fill the gap by increasing the news noised about the city itself. The least piece of gossip was magnified. More games of skill were held, and these used more weapons than we had been wont to do. Maeglin supervised the building of a seventh Gate, using all the arts of the Gondolindrim at their peak to make a fantastic fence of steel, high as one of your tall ships.
I have spoken before of Rúmil’s withdrawal. After the Nirnaeth, when called upon, he counseled Turgon, now our King, with words other than what he would hear, and lost some favour thereby. But what the father set aside, the daughter took up. Idril had become troubled with many visions, and was wan and restless. She remembered Rúmil’s trance of foreseeing, and came to him for further counsel. I used to let her in, and stand guard over their conferences. After a few such times, Idril lost her grieving look. She seemed to have mastered her inner sight, and gained gravity and wisdom from it. This would be well in the days to come.
The first herald of these days was the breaking of Turgon’s Ban. I said that the city was sealed shut, yet two won through the cold of the Great Gate. There was a power guarding them, the warding hand of Ulmo himself that could not be denied. As all tales tell, mortal Tuor was one of them. I heard the hue and cry that hailed him, and darted to a window looking onto the street to see. Tuor was clad in a bright hauberk, and carried a long blue shield painted with a white wing. Turgon had left these tokens at Vinyamar at Ulmo’s bidding, to be brought hence in the future by a messenger with Ulmo’s grace. It had been so long since this was done that we thought ourselves forsaken. Yet it was not so, for here was a warrior fit to bear those tokens. Tuor was not a handsome lad, as his forefather Huor had been. His life had been hard, and though he was less than thirty years, his face was blunt and harrowed. Yet he was a man at the height of his powers, given potency by the Valar-driven fate upon him. I saw but one of his glances around, wondering yet wary. My friend of eld Voronwë strode after him, chiseled by hunger, his hair matted into its sailor’s braids, and with a look in his eyes like that of some of our soldiers, those who had left some of their spirit on the field of the Nirnaeth. I called to him, but in his shock and weariness, he did not reply. Soon after I glimpsed them, Tuor stood before the King and delivered his rede; that Gondolin should be abandoned, and its people return to the Sea.
You of Númenor revere the Valar, and I see that you wonder at how we could deny a message sent by Ulmo himself. I can explain. It was joyous to see my friend Voronwë alive again, but, alas, his return turned into a political catastrophe for Tuor’s message. We learned that, of seven ships of messengers that Turgon had sent, he alone had been spared the wrath of the Valar, and that only to guide Tuor hither. He told a fearsome tale of the others’ drowning, boat by boat, thinking only to assure the lost sailors’ folk that their kin had been valiant. There was a great outcry in our council, led by Maeglin. If the Valar truly favored us, he said, would they not have let our mariners survive, and bid one of them to bring the message instead of this mere mortal? The debate on this lasted for many a day. In the end, Turgon was swayed. He ordained that we would remain, and that Tuor as well was bound to Gondolin for all his days. Do not forget that, at this time, we were yet under the Curse of Mandos, so that many an elvish deed that might have seemed well, such as the Nirnaeth, came to naught or to evil in the end.
Thus Tuor was trapped with all the rest of us Gondolindrim. By his powerful presence, he showed us after the fact how wise Húrin had been to leave. More than one person wished to have Tuor kept out of the way, and Turgon agreed that Rúmil and his subordinates would have the teaching of Tuor. Maeglin proposed this, but Turgon agreed, for he knew that Tuor would not change Rúmil’s mind – they agreed already, though it did them no good. More, Rúmil was powerful in lore, but weak in arms, and thereby unlikely to lead to any rebellion, as had happened amongst our folk at Narogthrond.
To find out what we loremasters could teach Tuor, we had to find out what he already knew. For days we were rapt hearing his tales of his early life among the Green-Elves, of his endurance as a thrall for a cruel Easterling, and of his desperate, bloody quest to find his scattered adopted elf-kin. He was far more like us than Hurin and Huor had been, for he had been fostered by the Green-Elves since his birth, and he was wise and wary beyond his years. Indeed, his life as a thrall had been a better preparation than he could have hoped for the wasp’s nest politics in Gondolin had become. After several days speaking to him, Rúmil said, “I have great hope in you, that you may yet accomplish the aim of Ulmo, save for one thing. You must learn to read, and speak the Quenya of Gondolin, to be given greater credence in Gondolin’s councils.” The Green-Elves did not read, you see, nor did they speak Quenya. Tuor could cut his name in runes, and knew about half the alphabet in the runes of Daeron. And that was all. He had hardly spoken to the Noldor until he met Voronwë. Not speaking the city’s Quenya dialect, Tuor was also trapped speaking only to those who kept their Sindarin.
There was more to this than equipping him to read and speak. The Noldor always held it that a noble was also a master of lore, capable of artistry in words and letters. I can vouch that this was not always so. Maeglin, ill-taught by his mother, wrote a dreadful hand and would delegate his letters and records, so that his signature could be seen on sheets in four different handwritings. He did this because he knew the image of having a fine hand was important.
We only had to explain this once to Tuor, and he flung himself into his studies with the fervor he used to give to hunting Easterlings. His ignorance was his guide. Having no faults to unlearn, he learned right the first time. Voronwë accompanied him even after he had mastered the city’s dialect and had no more need of an interpreter. My friend, now Tuor’s friend as well, was glad himself to be kept out of the way, still harrowed after his journeying and loss, and bewildered at how his words had been turned against him.
Letters mastered, Tuor learned deeply of our lore and laws. Within two years, he was fully equipped to manage in Gondolin, even when some were still wary of him, and others looked after him with jealousy. Turgon spent some time with him out of guilt, at first, but genuine fondness came soon after. Tuor’s mood had lightened enough that he recalled the vigorous mirth of Hurin and Huor. We loremasters had gone out of our way to show Tuor the city’s armories, reading the runes on the weapons being an excellent learning exercise, we said. As we had plotted, after seeing him handle some of this reading material, a challenge-hungry swordmaster had taken him on as a sparring partner. Thus Tuor was fit to sport with Turgon in wit and strength of arms, and won his respect.
This was not all he won.
I said before that Idril took council from Rúmil, even in my master’s disfavour. Now, some of these counsels took place while Tuor was yet in our tutelage. I remember the first overlap of this pair very well. Tuor caught a glimpse of Idril in passage as he recited, and the trail of his words fell off into silence as she went by, her bare white feet glimmering beneath the hem of her blue summer gown. I cleared my throat to collect him to himself, and he picked up his speech again. And over his shoulder, I saw that Idril, when Tuor had looked away, had turned her bright gaze on him, as he sat and read a recent tale that he had helped us write, a tale from the Green-Elves’ lore of Beren and Luthien. To see such a look on her face, a look somehow open and bare – I felt very much that I had imposed. Swiftly, I turned back to the books.
Idril began to time her visits to match Tuor’s, and would linger in passing, even once or twice asking to sit in on his lessons. Tuor was no craven. Once he realized that she had some regard for him beyond thoughtful charity, he paid her small compliments. To himself, he told us later, he wagered that since his heart was gone out of his keeping anyway, he might as well speak of his admiration. She returned his fair words, more than was needed for mere politesse. When Tuor was deemed fully learned, he still frequented the halls of our library. It was become, by then, their honourable trysting-place. They would sit and speak for hours, and ever had something to say to each other. She coaxed from him his tales of what the world outside Gondolin had become, and vouchsafed stories of her youth in Valinor. Most certainly, other confidences were exchanged. I recall to this day seeing the pair of them, their heads bent over some volume as an excuse to sit by each other, her hair of bright gold, his hair darker gold, never silent, their voices alternating like the rhythm of the left page and the right in a book.
They agreed to become affianced in one of those private moments, between the high stone shelves of books and the ink-stained desks. Being a loremaster, this charmed me more than the wedding that followed. It had banners, flowers, feasting, all the usual, even as we of the city were mystified as to why Turgon had consented to it. Only once before had an elf-maid wedded a mortal man, and a fate exceeding strange befell them both. Some said that Turgon yet feared Ulmo’s messenger, and offered up his daughter as a sacrifice to mollify the Valar. Others said that, since Tuor was mortal, he would soon perish, by our measure, and leave Idril to be Turgon’s daughter and no more very soon. It was also said, by those who wished it to be true, that perhaps this was a sign that Turgon would consider Ulmo’s advice after all, a first step towards breaking the seal set on Gondolin.
This rumor seemed unfounded, overall. The state of Gondolin at large did not change. As weddings do, it changed Tuor’s life, as well as that of us loremasters. Tuor, as Idril’s consort, spent his days in court, and organizing his own noble house. Rúmil was seen more often at the King’s counsels. I returned to clerking, and had the ill luck to be summoned for a winter stretch of labour at the city’s mine for iron and coal, Anghabar.
Idril herself had a woman’s change. Soon after being wedded, she went with child. She retained her duties as Turgon’s chatelaine, which astonished some people more than her unusual wedding had. I was one of the few who found out why she held onto this position.
It was natural for a chatelaine to call upon a clerk, at times, and so she came to the library and summoned me in particular. Drawing me off to one of the window-seats where she had been wont to sit with Tuor, she said, “I need your help, and I trust, good loremaster, that you will be discreet about it?” Mystified, I said that I was at her service. She asked me to bring her all the maps of the city that could be found. (With most users of our great library, we told them where to find the materials. For Idril, I brought them.) Simple maps were not good enough. She wished for highly technical diagrams of the city, and asked me probing questions about foundations, drainage, and tunnels, taxing my knowledge sorely. Eventually, I asked her why she sought to know these things so discreetly.
Idril continued to scan a map as she answered me. “Let us say – purely in thought – that it was a good idea to build, in case of some unimagined disaster, an escape route out of Gondolin. A tunnel. As someone aware of city’s labourers and resources, would this possible? It seems to be, from how Gondolin is made, but the workers…”
“My lady,” I replied, “it is more than possible. Because of Anghabar, most every elf-man of strength in the city is capable enough with stone. We are all made miners, whether we will or we nil. I spent some time there myself, recently. Is this a project of the miners?”
Idril’s light voice said, as if she was requesting tea, “Say that this needed to be done in secret. Could a fellow with access to the city’s ledgers contrive it so that workers’ hours were freed here and there, tools were made available, and suchlike?”
I was shocked to my core. “For someone to lie in the King’s records, to cover this secret work? Lady Idril, why?”
Idril laid her hands over her belly and met my eyes. “I could face my own doom, should Gondolin fall, for my father’s pride. But not that of my child. Would you not want such for your own kin?”
I was obliged to own that I would.
“This must be done; and it has come to me that it must be secret until needed, so that those who might stop it for their own reasons never learn of it.” Her cornflower-bright gaze met my astonished stare. “You can help. Will you?”
Thus I joined Idril’s underground of wary rebels, at no little peril to me. If I had been caught out manipulating the King’s resources, I would have said, to keep Idril’s secret, that it had been for my own gain. I know not what punishment would have been meted upon me. Whatever it was, it would definitely endanger Idril’s work. I was careful as could be.
She gave me a list of those she trusted - Rúmil of course, and altogether too many handmaidens in the tally - and I set to work. A city worker here; a cart detail there; matching up Idril’s list of allies with those who had done their time in Anghabar and learned stonework; eventually, covering up the pilfering of supplies to feed the workers when they were deep underground for days at a time. I requisitioned these from the few lords who were also Idril’s secret allies.
Idril’s tunnel was dug in the gazebo of a garden in the North of the city, a less than successful garden struggling against the North wind, under the excuse of creating a new well. The project was so extensive that I worried greatly about what calamity she had foreseen. The tunnel was meant to extend for some way under the plain of the Tumladen. I tried, as far as possible, to nudge my family to be prepared for some disaster without revealing anything. They agreed that the idea of a fire in the city was a fearsome thing, and a good reason to keep supplies packed for flight at hand, though they did make merry of my sudden worry. I did not mind, as long as they listened.
The secret work was not finished by time Idril’s son, Eärendil, was born. I saw the babe when I went to Idril’s chambers, ostensibly as a conscientious clerk aiding the keeper of Turgon’s castle. Plenty have told of Eärendil’s beauty as an infant. Tuor happened to be there as well, grinning with delight over his sleeping son. What struck me was the lack of difference between Elf and mortal, at this time in their lives; for the man blooming in fatherhood and his babe.
Eärendil went on to grow swiftly, markedly more quickly than most elf-children did. Like his mother’s prudence, this would be well in the days that came.
When it was clear that the story was done, Aelfwine said, “I wish you knew what it was about Tuor that unlocked Idril’s heart.”
“Does not every man want that secret, to gain the one he desires? There are some who say it is at the first gaze upon meeting, and if it is not there, then there is no hope. Others say that it can only come to pass upon knowing someone well and long.”
“Which do you find more true?” said Aelfwine, hungrily.
“I have seen both make matches.” Aelfwine gave a dissatisfied snort. Pengolod lifted his hands. “What can I say? I am not young. As the saying goes, I have seen one of everything.”
Aelfwine had to laugh at that. “Your folk who thought ill of the marriage…it sounds almost like something that would come to pass here in Rómenna. Did anyone speak badly of Idril for her choice?”
“Yes, but why linger on that? It turned out well; blessed Earendil was born, who sailed the ship Vingilot – or, as you call it here, Rothinzil. Look you there, through the branches of the walnut tree. You can see the star of Eärendil, borne through the skies in Rothinzil.” Pengolod took care to have an encouraging note in his voice, thinking of the other Rothinzil who had sailed that day. Surely, he thought, Aelfwine had the wit to see the link between the tale he had told and the story that was unfolding in his own life.
Aelfwine sighed and stretched out both his legs, tucking his hands behind his head. “These fair old tales! Some of them I have heard from boyhood, but I never cease to wonder at hearing them from someone who was there. Amazing – that you saw the birth of yonder star.”
Disappointed that no confidences were forthcoming, and instead Aelfwine was suddenly sounding like Tar-Minastir, Pengolod found that he did not have much to say but goodnight. He retired, for once, before Aelfwine, who remained to contemplate the star.
Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted December 21, 2004.
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Magweth Pengolodh Sections