Summary: Silmarillion-based. Pengolod and Aelfwine go to the Venturers’ Hall of Records in Rómenna, where they close in on what is and is not spoken of, and Pengolod compares his most famous work of writing to the actual event that inspired it; the Fall of Gondolin.
Story Rating: Rated PG.
Disclaimer: These characters and Middle-Earth are the copyright of the Tolkien estate and this fan fiction is not meant to infringe on that copyright in any way.
Thanks to beta readers Aayesha and Suzana.
The Lord of Venturers was not at his hall when Pengolod took Aelfwine there. They were escorted through the great hall of feasting, which had been turned over to clerks managing Númenor’s navy, and walked by salons where the furniture was draped to keep dust away. When they arrived at their destination, the busy steward left them.
The Venturer’s archive was quiet, but not deserted. The chief archivist apologized profusely, saying that his lord and lady would have been honoured, had they been present. “I beg that you are not offended, sir.” Eager to leaven his long, silent day with some conversation, he added, “A well-learned woman herself, my Lady is. She heard the tale of Erendis, and decided she would not let her husband’s venTúring part her from his side. So they have both been in Middle-Earth for all the War, and their daughter at Armenelos as the Queen’s prime handmaiden.”
“Is she one for lore, their daughter Laurinquë?” asked Pengolod.
“By all Varda’s stars, no,” the archivist chuckled. “I wouldn’t expect a pretty thing like our Lady Lauri to worry too much about wisdom, between her courtly dances and her next frock. I’m sure she’ll be pleased you asked about her, if you remember her from court,” he said, insinuating that he would pass the remembrance on as a favour.
Pengolod bit the inside of his cheek to hold back his curses.
“You are here to see the old texts, yes? I will show you.” The archivist drew them within the great reading room, illuminated by tall windows with hundreds of small panes. The books were kept in alcoves curtained against the daylight. The archivist took one look at his guests’ ink-stained hands and gave them white linen gloves to wear as they handled the books. He spaced out blocks wrapped in gentle velvet on a table, as well as a velvet mat and two velvet-covered rods. Then, he took out an antique book and a curious scroll, and showed how to open the book balanced over two velvet blocks, leaving its spine free in the air, and how to use the velvet mat and rods to keep a scroll gently open. Pengolod had been working with texts two thousand years before the archivist had been a glint in his mother’s eye. Aelfwine did so every day, with immaculate writings being his bread and butter. They both listened politely to the archivist’s quavering demonstration, it being what either of them would have done when offering precious books to a stranger.
Nonetheless, when he was gone, Aelfwine muttered, “What an old gossip. If he was the teacher of the Venturer’s daughter, no wonder Laurinquë disliked her runes.”
Pengolod said, slyly, “I suppose you’d do a far better job as the Venturer’s archivist?” They both smothered a laugh.
“Seriously, my old master said it was the worst flaw, to be so enamoured of your own standing as master that you held your knowledge too tight. If others never learn it, you are ever the expert, but more isolated each year.” Aelfwine looked around the library. “Perhaps he was not her teacher. I cannot imagine letting a child near these treasures. That’s another thing my old master said, that if I ever had a child, to make her little books from scraps at first, so she could tear them up to her heart’s content, but she’d learn to like them that way.”
Pengolod said, “I did just that for my sister Thingódhel’s children. I’ll never forget seeing her husband take a little pamphlet away from his daughter who was chewing it, and give her a blank scrap of paper instead, saying she might eat that, since it had no ink. Thingódhel heard, and nearly knocked the slates off the poor fellow’s roof.”
Aelfwine turned and looked at the shelves. “So many books – this is the largest library I have seen in all my days. It is hard to know where to begin. By the by – no children of your own? Was there never a woman you loved?”
Pengolod’s mouth twitched, for an instant. He had been waiting for this question since they had spoken of marriage three days ago, the night after the boat-race. Sitting together on a bench by starlight, both warmly drunk, had not been a good time for Pengolod’s own answer to that, if he wanted to be sure of keeping Aelfwine’s friendship. Calmly, he said, “I love all women as I loved my sister. For such things and myself, perhaps you know the Elvish phrase for it, “warrior-turned?”
“Ah. Hm.” Aelfwine tugged his mustache. “Common enough among sailors here. Saw it enough at sea as a lad. Myself, I always thought men far too ugly, compared to women. I’d wondered ever since you turned down that…certain lady…on the docks.”
Pengolod said, “I’m sure that certain lady did not know what she was missing by not requesting your attentions, instead.” When Aelfwine laughed in relief, he added, “What I said to Laurinque is true; we Elves must break our fates to be intimate with mortals. Any mortals,” he added, meaningfully.
Aelfwine nodded, then looked over his shoulder. “Don’t forget our good gossip there.” Every word they had spoken in the library had been Sindarin. The archivist had clearly enjoyed showing off his fluency. “Feel up to scaling these shelves now?”
Pengolod agreed and asked, “What was your favorite tale of eld? Perhaps we can find it.”
Aelfwine was quiet for a moment. “I never told anyone before, but it seems like it’s a day for hidden things. “The Tale of the Children of Húrin.”
It was Pengolod’s turn to pause and say “Hm,” hearing that this tale of ill-fate and disaster upon disaster, capped with dreadful incest, could be anybody’s favourite. “Túrin’s tale? Interesting. One of the better told tales, but tragic to the point of pain.”
Aelfwine said firmly, “It was my favourite as soon as I heard it. Not for the gore, or the – unfortunate coincidence. It is the only tale in history that tells of a lame man like myself, the chieftain Brandir.”
“The only?” said Pengolod, partly thinking aloud, as they went slowly towards the shelves.
After racking his brains for a moment, Pengolod truly could recall no other. He nodded in agreement when Aelfwine said, “The only. I am glad Brandir was a good one, and wellborn. Leader of the folk of Hador, skilled healer, man of peace. He loved truly and well, for all his ill fate. Hearing of him made me feel like I wasn’t some unspeakable cast-aside, but part of history, instead. Did you ever meet Brandir?”
Pengolod shook his head. “No, I never had the chance to. He was –“
They said it together. “Slain unjustly.”
Pengolod looked abstracted for a moment. “Perhaps you would have also liked the tale of Rúmil, had you heard it sooner.”
“It would have been balm to me. But he never was mentioned in the tales of Gondolin. I think this shelf has the tales of Túrin’s time.” Together, they pulled back the canvas curtains that protected the books.
Pengolod reached out immediately to a slim cream-colored book, its leather binding touched with gold. He held it as Aelfwine cased the shelves, drawing out several volumes, his mustache curving up in a smile. “My day of luck. They’ve got three different versions of it. What have you found?” Pengolod held up the book. Aelfwine read the cover and said, “Why read tales of Gondolin when you lived through them? To make sure they have it right?”
“This one, no. I wrote this one myself.” He opened the book and looked at the frontispiece. “The Fall of Gondolin. Gil-Galad sent Aldarion many books – looking about this library, I remember packing them up. I suppose, Aldarion being both King and Venturer in his time, many of them came to rest here. I wrote and bound this one myself. I always prefer that the story has a white cover, like the white city of eld.”
“You wrote that!” Aelfwine leaned against the shelf to steady himself. “But - then why no Rúmil? Nor any of what happened to you?”
Pengolod began to go back to the table. “Some things make better stories than others. A loremaster and his kin compel the listener less than the battles of great lords and ladies.”
As Pengolod pulled out his chair for him, Aelfwine said, “You confuse me. I thought Rúmil was not your kin?”
“He was not, but he became a good patron to my family. And amidst Gondolin’s ruin, he said to me –“ Pengolod paused. “I’ll tell you, then. I’ll tell you. As you said: it is the day for it.” He opened the small book and scanned it for a moment, before he began to speak.
What this book here tells of, the fall of Gondolin, began on the day you Númenoreans name the Erulaitalë. An Age ago, we in Gondolin celebrated the day as Tarnin Austa.
Tarnin Austa was our celebration of Midsummer. Under the Curse of Mandos, we did not, exactly, honour the Valar. Nor did we look beyond the circles of the world to honour Illúvatar, as mortals regularly do. That day was as close as we came to such things. We heaped praise upon praise on the Sun the Valar had made to light Middle-Earth, and celebrated its brilliance. The night before, once the garlands for the holiday were hung, all the city was vowed to silence. In silence, we arose early and arrayed ourselves in finery. Nobody spoke until the dawn. The sun’s rising was heralded by splendid choirs, who sang the sun over the mountains, nearly, with their ravishing voices. The time of silence was held to be as sacred as the song itself. It was a holiday of great beauty and dignity.
That is, unless you had small children.
That particular year, my family did. We were a considerable clan by then. My sister’s sons and daughters, their children, and even a third generation were a delight and a bewilderment to myself and my parents. Thingódhel, with her beauty and loving sternness, was more the matriarch of this little clan than my mother. Thingódhel had taken it upon herself to try and keep the three youngsters quiet, as they were almost, but not quite, old enough to really understand. This led to several pantomimed exchanges as the children fidgeted, waiting for the singing. They became more restless as the sky began to lighten towards a red dawn. A child would forget itself and open its mouth, and Thingódhel would hiss “Shhhh!” After the smallest had piped up three times running, her sibling mimicked “Shhhh!” then said, “We have to be quiet for Tarnin Austa!” in a ringing voice.
Somehow, we managed to keep from laughing. I placed my hand over my mouth, wishing greatly that Rúmil had accepted my invitation. Rúmil had declined joining my family’s group, saying that the long stand would weary him, and that he would not cut the day’s festivities short for us with his frailty. A glance towards the royal family, standing at the peak of the eastern walls, showed that Rúmil was not there, either. I might have imagined it, but I could have sworn I heard Idril saying “Shhh!” to her son, Eärendil, who at seven summers seemed to be growing twice as quickly as most elf-children. She knelt and picked him up, and he looked beyond her shoulder, past the walls.
Perhaps the next moment proved me right. Eärendil uttered a shrill shriek. Everyone turned towards the sound, mouths open and frozen silent at this breach of etiquette. Equally shocking, the high group on the wall’s peak did not silence the child at once, but began to buzz in whispers to each other. Maeglin alone was silent. This lasted for an instant before all of us, united in the quiet, heard the sound of a horn, blown by an elf-rider upon the plain.
The guards upon the walls were the next to break the silence. “The foe! The foe!” they cried, recognizing the horn’s call. At these words, the city’s joyous silence was shattered beyond repair. Frightened murmurs burst into weeping and bluster. Many openly denied that we could have been found by our enemies – were we not the Hidden City? To put the lie to this, Turgon was shouting for his lords to come to council, even as guardsmen hollered for all armsworthy men to join their troops for defense. That meant me.
Of course, I would go. In the face of the improbable, wrath to defend Gondolin burned me like a fire. However, for seven long years I had kept the secret of Idril’s tunnel for escape. I considered what Rúmil would do. It only took an instant: Rúmil was a survivor. “Thingódhel! I need to tell you something important, now,” I insisted. And I revealed Idril’s secret to her, begging her to take our kin thence, if the battle went ill.
I only had to tell her the directions once. She repeated, “The Garden of the Honeysuckle, the one that should have been Garden of the Roses but the flowers never took; the ladder under the gazebo, to go down the well. Right.” She looked around swiftly, counting our kin. “That’ll be a treat with this lot. Help me herd them back to the house. I suppose you’ll take the lads to their troops.” She picked up her shrieking, tear-stained great-granddaughter, and called our own troop to order with a shout.
As we went, I looked back, once. Maeglin, alone on the high wall, was still watching, silhouetted against the red light from the North. Only later did I learn that he was watching his own handiwork. He had, unknown to us, betrayed Gondolin to Morgoth, hoping to gain an unspeakable price; the city’s lordship and Idril’s hand. I learned this not from him, for I never saw him more.
Two hours later, counsel and readiness were done. The enemy was at our gates. And so were we. Being an archer, I was sent to a high place, and from there I could see that which meant to ruin Gondolin. Morgoth’s forces did not march. With Gondolin in their sights, they roared across the verdant plain, vast and unstoppable in their hordes, an avalanche of fire and darkness. In the forefront of the van were great fire-drakes, scorching the green Tumlauden as they went. Some dragons carried Balrogs as riders, the terrible demons twice the height of an Elf, with black skin cracking to show the earth’s fire beneath. As they came, we could see their fiery maws and horned heads, each one horrifically different from the others. Above them, already vying with the Eagles that protected us, fell beasts with wings wheeled, darkening the sky. Then came unthinkable mobs of orcs, some in streaming lines, some rushing forwards in shielded formations. At the rear, huge siege-engines were towed. It was the horror of the Nirnaeth, brought to our home. The sight made strong warriors groan for Elbereth and their mothers’ swift deaths. Double guilt struck me; that I had perhaps ruined the way of escape by telling its secret before time, and that perhaps none would make their way to it, in the coming tumult.
The mass of evil came forward, split around the northern hill of Gondolin, and flowed towards the Gate, where we thousand bowmen were waiting for them. Then, battle was joined, as never before.
It was as I fought that I saw the great deeds of which I spoke in The Fall of Gondolin. For all our shooting, the vast forces against us won the gate. Lord Duilin was shot down from the great wall, and the stones forty feet below finished what the blazing Balrog-arrow began. We who were his troops fell back, and joined Penlod’s men, in time for him to order our retreat. Alas, lordly Penlod was less familiar with the city’s alleys than we humbler folk, and seeking a shortcut, found ambush and death from the evil that had invaded. Our lessened troop, fighting every step of the way, sought Ecthelion and Tuor, in time to see Ecthelion take the brunt of the defense of the King’s Fountain, slaying the great Balrog, and losing his own life, even though Tuor called again and again for Ecthelion to come away. Stubborn-valiant, I described it; and so it was.
Horror upon horror we saw. The white ways and the grey ways, ruined with flame and gore; the shrieks of elf-women born and bred to Gondolin’s safety, shrieks that never lasted long enough for us to find who was calling; our own men not just slain but devoured before our eyes. The stink was unforgettable. The dragons and Balrogs set their fires about, and soon smoke obscured the bright day. Even the fountains were steaming from the heat. The worst of it was the fall of the King’s palace. A great burning went up, sending a pillar of smoke into the sky, and even from far we could hear the screaming – ai, Valar, the screaming! Then came a great rumble. Weakened by fire and rampaging creatures, the palace collapsed onto itself, down into the blackness and flame. Thus was the fall of Turgon; our Lord, later our King.
After fighting for so long that day had turned to night and day again, we were reduced to a band of two hundred about Tuor. All of us were so filthy with smoke and soot that you could not tell us apart by our livery. Nor could we be distinguished by our weapons; we had plundered our comrades in advance of the orcs, throwing our own marks of rank into disarray.
I had taken several hard blows. If I had not been, by chance, issued a helmet of a new design when I reported to the armoury, I would have been twice dead. Another warrior had seen me go to take a sword from someone fallen, and said we would all be better off armed with spears, to keep foes at a distance. The spears also were useful levers amongst the fallen stones, and staves to help us stay upright in our numb exhaustion. We had spoken among ourselves, and come to peace with our deaths. More than one of us would have lain down to die, did we not fight in our Gondolin. Tuor was more fortunate than we. He fought for Idril, and they had found each other, just in time to witness the collapse of the palace. With our battered lady – now our Queen – weeping in her armour by his side, he was the tiger to her tigress, and our star of hope.
After their reunion, Tuor looked around, panting with weariness, eyes bloodshot. His voice was hoarse as he called, “All right! We’re through. While the hordes occupy themselves with the fallen palace, if we would live, we must get out of here! Go find your people and tell them…” He then spoke of the tunnel of escape. At last, I thought. I felt blessed that we were near to my family’s abode. I staggered there as fast as I might. Though smoke was coiling through the open door, it was not burned; it was not even sacked; and nobody was there. After five minutes of seeking and calling, even to the cellar, I was filled with hope and fear in equal measure. I could only pray that Thingódhel had used the secret I had given her.
I paused before the table, smoothed from many meals and many scourings, and felt the house begin to tremble, to the rhythm of great steps of doom. Something was coming. With no wish to find out what, I fled through the back. Stepping out that way almost brought me to tears. Thus had I gone, every day, to the Gondolin’s library and scriptoriums – and from memory’s steps, I remembered Rúmil.
Rúmil would have gone to the King’s council, and then? I did not know. It had seemed wisdom when, in Gondolin’s planning, Rúmil had insisted that his private apartments be built within the library, saving his lame leg hard walking. But the square that included the library was fearfully close to the fallen palace. I was on my way before I could think. If I had thought, I might have decided that Rúmil would have been at council in the Palace, and perished with the King, or that he would have had the sense to flee to the tunnel long ago. But, with my blood burning anew with fear and hope, I was beyond sense.
I passed corpses and tumbled houses, and the blood on the street was still fresh. A skirmish along the way gave me more slashes for my pains. Battered as I was, I could still outrun the bow-legged orcs of those days. A side alley fed into the square I sought, and I stopped in my tracks.
Gondolin’s library, the Hall of Books, still stood, but not for long, by the looks of it. A great dragon, longer than two wains, crouched in the midst of the square and hissed at the library’s gate. The dragon’s thick tail had battered other buildings as it entered the square, and its neck stretched. I strove to peer around it, through the smoke and mazy mists. It was addressing a person, or persons, standing before the library.
“Come thou,” it was hissing. “Give over. Thou saiest that thou will defend thy treasure to the death. But thy death is here!” Clearly, the great worm thought that the library’s defender was taking his desperate stand before some great treasury of gold and jewels. It licked its lips with a forked black tongue and said, “Better and wiser, give some of it over to me, and keep your life.”
“You disappoint me, worm,” a deep voice rang. My heart leapt, even as my blood chilled. That was Rúmil’s voice. He lived - and he, halt and withered, dared challenge the dragon. I crept forwards to see, staying downwind. Rúmil was deep below the arched entry to the library, standing where an echo caught his voice. Wrapped in a great maroon cloak, his frailty was hidden. “I have wished to bandy wits with one of your kind since I heard of you. A pity you are so limited.”
With a roar, the dragon reared up, arcing its thick neck down. “We fire-drakes have few limits, cur! This you shall learn,” and it began a deep, sucking inhalation to stoke its fires. I lifted my foraged spear and drew in my own breath, picking a spot on that scaly vastness for my strike.
Before it could belch forth its stinking flames, or I could try to spring, Rúmil’s voice rang again. He chanted in Valarin, which he had taught others but little, and the words of power in his song made the dragon writhe and choke, like something stuck in its craw. It roared wordless defiance, shaking its terrible head, but staying put as it was heaved and wracked, as if it tried to vomit, but could not. At its greatest shudder, Rúmil ceased, and cried in words I knew, “Your darkness is cast out. You are what you were before Morgoth stole you for some foul spirit – a beast from the Age of Lamps. Be free!”
The huge reptile, dragon no more, lurched up. Bewildered, it gazed around, black spittle drooping from its coffin-wide mouth, which now hung slack and open, exposing its knife-like teeth. It looked left, then right, growing afraid of the strangeness about it, marooned out of its rightful time, an age long lost. One instant was all it took for its fear to turn to anger anew, kindling mad embers in its eyes. Drained by his song of power, Rumil swayed and staggered. I shouted to him, “Rúmil, ‘ware!” Our foe jerked to angry life. Had it still been a dragon, I too could have tried my reason, but now it was only a beast. Its dim eyes saw me, and it swung about, rearing onto its hind legs with a cruder roar. As its tail flailed out to balance it, it caught the columns before the library, sweeping the graceful arches aside. Shaken by the other disasters, the elegant front of the building fell – upon Rúmil! I shouted in despair, and darted to the side, as the beast lurched forwards.
Just when I thought all my hopes were destroyed, another dragon, of sleeker breed, slid into the square. “I say, what’s all this? You were supposed to finish here ages ago. Fry that fellow and have done with it.” The newcomer’s speech awoke some ancient rivalry in the beast. It opened its jaws to the fullest, and charged the new dragon. “You never could take criticism,” hissed the dragon, and sprang to the attack. Soon they were tumbling more building-fronts as they scuffled.
I paid little heed. I tore over to the rubble that had once been the library’s great entrance. Soon I found what I sought, just a corner of maroon fabric, dusted with stone. Beyond my hope, when I seized that fabric, an arm flailed. “Rúmil! Rúmil, it’s Pengolod,” I said, levering the last stone that I could off him. This still left him more than half-buried amidst great chunks of archway. “You’re stuck,” I said, after another moment.
Rúmil groaned. His hood slid back, showing him white and livid-scarred. “I think…the dragon….has finished what the orcs began, long past.” He coughed, and there was blood. My own face was wet with my tears.
Choking, I said, “I am sorry. This is my fault. If I had not called out, if I had come sooner…I’ll use my spear as a lever, shift these rocks -”
He rasped, “No. I am broken, I say. You have something better to haul out of this rout besides my ruined bones.” With his head, he gestured to the library gaping open behind us, and grinned like a skull. “Still my library, even to the end. Damned if I’d leave while it had a chance. But the end is now. The books. The old tales.” He coughed again. “Damned I will be if the orcs shred them for their filth. Take what you can to Idril’s way. The rest – burn.”
“I swear it,” I vowed.
His eyes shut slowly. “I knew you would. Go well, my son,” he said; and he was gone.
I was wracked, for an instant. A roar of triumph from the other side of the square made me jerk up. The thick-necked reptile was tearing into the fallen dragon, hewing off great gobbets of flesh with his butchering jaws. Black smoke was billowing anew across the square. I had little time for my oath.
I used the spear as a lever to climb over the rubble. The library’s tall beechwood doors were splintered on their hinges enough that I could squeeze through. I limped through the ornamental vestibule, half-fallen and cracked, and into the main Chamber of Scrolls. It had been my master’s last wish, that his books be saved, and it fell to me to choose what I could carry from ten thousand and more volumes.
Yes, I hope you never have to make such a choice, either. After a moment of my head spinning, I followed that last wish to the letter. I dug up the vastest clerk’s satchel that I could find, made to haul ledgers to cases called before the King, and stuffed it with what I knew Rúmil had written himself. Books are heavy. One shelf, one shelf only, could I carry of all that treasure, and I felt it might be the death of me as a burden. I thought about setting fire to what remained, and then a smell of smoke came to me. I would not need to do so, it seemed.
Even as I snatched up items, I had heard the front of the building collapsing further. When I left, I trusted to what had worked before and fled through the back, forcing myself to shout as I went, before I set Rúmil’s final fire. Amazingly, this routed out three weeping library-matrons, to burden me further on my way. So I saw it then, sick with grief and fear. I think having them to escort saved my life in the end. It was one of them who fulfilled Rúmil’s last wish, throwing the lantern she had carried into the library’s tannery, setting a blaze behind us. With them by my side, I did not tarry for vengeance or to seek any others, focusing on defending my burdens and winning our way to Idril’s tunnel.
At Idril’s tunnel, we saw a gladsome sight indeed. The Lord Glorfindel lived yet. So bright was his wrath that he seemed barely dimmed by Gondolin’s fall. He was harsh; having appeared, we must enter and go, he decreed. There was no turning back. I lost my dislike of tunnels that day. The long dark passage, after its first tumbled way, seemed safe and wholesome.
Our escape from Gondolin, after that, took as long as the battle we had endured, and led to more battle along its way. We were a small company out of Gondolin’s populace, less than eight hundreds, but the mountain trail we had to traverse, along the fell pass of the Crissaegrim, could only take one person at a time. It was a terrible path for the wounded and burdened, and to look back, at Gondolin smouldering in the ruined valley, was to weep. Halt as I was by then, I was forty walkers from the back, amongst the warriors, when we endured our final attack, and Glorfindel’s last stand. The way the mountain wound about, I was at a place where I could see it all, and yet do naught, save recall it for later. It would become the heart of the tale I told of Gondolin’s fall, for their battle summarized all the struggle; something good and fair and precious, toppled by evil of exceeding power, yet with some success in its own defiance.
Still, this was not the last of it, for me. We descended to the other side of the Crissaegrim at last. Tuor, knowing me, commanded me to take the roll of the survivors, which I did eagerly, to find my kindred among the throng.
But they were not there.
They had not come out of the sack of Gondolin, my mother nor my father, my sister nor her spouse or children, nor her children’s children. Nor had anybody in our dwindled folk seen them in the streets as they fled. They had not even been with the party that, emerging from Idril’s tunnel, decided to try the main gates instead of the Crissaegrim. A thousand ill fates might have overcome them, slain by orcs or trolls, consumed by dragons, caught in fire or falling stone, dying cleanly or dishonoured. I never learned.
A fog of grief took me, then. I recall little of our journey down to the mouth of the Sirion, where we took refuge for a time. Arriving at Sirion, my few surviving friends gently shook me out of my grief. We all had to work through the remaining summer and autumn, lest winter claim us and finish Morgoth’s work. We did our work well, but painful it was, to be reminded of my youth in Nevrast at every turn. It was then that I composed the great lay, The Fall of Gondolin. I rhymed it out nearly in a trance, seeing again the great events and valiant battles. That autumn, we held a feast for the memory of our departed kin. I sang it there for the first time.
Yet I could not vent in song what I did not know. These long years past, I cannot say which haunts me more: seeing the library where I spent my days scorched and tumbled to the ground, with my master in its wreckage, or my family’s empty house and mysterious fate.
Pengolod ended his story calmly. Returning to himself, he said, “That was longer than I intended. Once those memories begin, it is hard to emerge…”
Aelfwine was wracked and fascinated. “That is the most terrible tale that ever I have heard. I am sorry,” he said. He reached out to clasp Pengolod’s closer shoulder in one hand, a hearty thud with a slight shake to it.
“Thank you,” Pengolod murmured. He touched Aelfwine’s hand briefly, then closed the slim volume. Aelfwine sat back, and Pengolod said, “People ever wish to know how things end. So you see, with me not knowing, my family’s fate makes a poor tale. As for Rúmil – I did try a version with his ending. I could never make it through that part for guilt. The audience was supposed to weep, not the bard.” Pengolod traced the book’s cracked, creamy binding with one finger.
“They should keep that book better,” said Aelfwine, huffily. “A gift from the Elf-King, and the tale of the great city fallen, allowed to decay like that.”
Gently, Pengolod replied, “I am glad that this is worn. If nobody had read it, it would still be as fair as this book, over here – this ‘Salt Production from 1506 to 1647 for Hyarrostar.’ Some glue would not be amiss, I admit.”
Aelfwine levered himself up. “If you will give it to me, I will tell the chief archivist, there. I’d like to see his face when I tell him the scribe is right here.” Pengolod handed the small book over. Aelfwine, in his outrage, hardly limped at all as he made his way down the great table to the archivist’s desk.
Compared to the enormity of Gondolin’s loss, a book was small indeed. It could be fixed. It was, Pengolod thought, all that remained; that and himself.
Aelfwine was speaking with the archivist now, and indeed, the fellow had doffed his purple hat and was floundering amusingly, promising that the book would be splendidly repaired in short order.
Pengolod smiled sadly at this act of friendship and sympathy. At first it had seemed good to tell all these tales, but the deeper he went into his past, the more he felt the cracks in his own binding. He looked around the library, and out its tall windows, with the panoply of the city below, followed by the glittering harbour, full of boats. His friend was framed in one corner, by the archivist’s desk, and the archivist had gone so far to stand and half-bow.
They were both about to walk over to him. He composed himself to be the loremaster of the Eldar once more, and to see if all the good things before him, the fellowship and honour and liveliness, could heal him, somewhat.
Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted January 15, 2005.
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Magweth Pengolodh Sections