Magweth Pengolodh: The Question of Pengolod

Prologue and Part 1: The Sign of the Open Book

By Tyellas

Summary: Silmarillion-based. Our story begins. An incident in Tol Eresseä casts our protagonist back in memory to a day in the Second Age. On that day, Pengolod's quick walk around the docks of Rómenna leads to his meeting a mortal kindred spirit, then to a longer, nostalgic delay. That evening, Pengolod recounts his youth and apprenticeship in Nevrast to his new Númenorean friends.

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, and to Claudio for providing the title translation.



Pengolod had dwelt long in Tol Eressëa, the ever-tranquil isle of Elvenhome. The Elves who dwelled there spun out their long lives amidst deep peace. Yet the messenger who had burst into the scriptorium had news so urgent that he spilled it out before he could breathe fully after his run.

When the messenger had finished gasping, Pengolod put down his pen to clarify. "You mean to tell me that a mortal, alone in a boat, made it past the Ban of the Valar and to this shore? Even to the quay of Avallónë?"

The messenger nodded, rasping as he added, "And nobody can understand a word he's saying. So we're bringing him to you. You're a loremaster. You deal with languages. Everyone knows you learned the tongues of mortal men, even of Dwarves!"

"Yes, I did, in Middle-Earth. But in Ages past - "

"You studied with Rúmil of Tirion. And you lived for a time in Númenor! If anybody can make sense of him, you can, master. The lords are sending him along shortly." Seeing the loremaster's lean form rigid with shock, the messenger said, "They wouldn't send you anybody dangerous, I'm sure of it, master. I'll...I'll tell them you're waiting?" he ended.

Pengolod blotted his pen carefully. His face had been gentle and slightly sad when he had been found in the scriptorium; when he looked up, his eyes were flashing with memory. "Do not say that I am waiting. I have been waiting for this for far longer than you or the lords knew. Tell them that I am ready."

The messenger was speechless. He bowed (as he had not upon his entrance) and left. After he scrambled away, Pengolod withdrew from the great scriptorium into a study at one side. It was his study, a place fitting for an elvish loremaster, with both a tall desk and a flat work-table. As he waited, he toyed with some items on his work-table and tried to master the flood of remembrance that filled him. He dipped his fingers in a bowl of coins, and took one out. The copper disk had on it the image of a King long dead, and the name of a proud realm sunk under the sea. Turning the coin, he recalled that King and his mortal subjects; some his own friends, some his own foemen, and one of them, the last mortal he had ever spoken to, who had given him that handful of coins.

It turned out that the messenger had been far swifter to come to Pengolod than the incomprehensible mortal, so Pengolod had plenty of time to remember the mortals he had known. His mind lingered on the one summer he had dwelt in a mortal city, the town of Rómenna, ages past, and the question he had carried away.

Part 1. The Sign of the Open Book.

When Pengolod left Middle-Earth and its wars for good and all, the elven-ships of the day did not sail without stopping. For there was a fair place for them to pause, a month's sailing beyond the Grey Havens, when even those aboard of an elven boat were eager for a rest from the rolling sea: the great haven of Númenor, Rómenna.

The boat that carried Pengolod had slid down the Firth of Rómenna on a bright morning. Everyone had come up on the grey deck to admire the cliffs, sea-carved yellow stone draped in trees, and the great barques also sailing in the Firth. Several of the barques dwarfed the elves' boat. Pengolod identified their flags for his fellow venturers. "That ship there? One of Númenor's navy, for the Lord of Hyarrostar. The greater one following? Another of Númenor's navy, sailing under the banner of its prince, Ciryatan the Shipbuilder, and the one that follows is under the flag of the King, Tar-Minastir himself." The Elves in the crew raised their arms in silent salute as each ship passed, remaining dignified even though the mortals' boats showed a scramble of curious watchers on deck. The sea-warded hulls of the elf-ships were scarcely rocked by the massive waves of the mortals' boats' passage.

Pengolod remembered when the boats of Númenor had been few. Indeed, it had taken six hundred years for the Númenoreans to learn enough boatcraft to sail to Middle-Earth. Now, eleven hundred and four years later, their ships were innumerable, the greatest ones carrying enough sailors to populate a village. The tall ships showed that, despite the recent war against Sauron, the mortals of the Land of Gift continued to flourish. The mortals of Númenor were on a par with the Elves now with their ships and learning, and exceeded the elves with their power. Nor would Elves argue that, thought Pengolod, bitter with sorrow.

In the past five years, the blink of an eye, Middle-Earth had changed massively. Sauron had smashed the old order. The Elves' realm of Eregion had been destroyed. Gil-Galad, the king of many elves, had sent his realm's second lord to try and help, in vain. Instead Elrond's forces and a handful of refugees had been held under siege for several years, isolated in the wilderness of Eriador, even as Gil-Galad came under attack, the people of Lindon pressed hard. It had been the great navy of the Númenoreans that had aided the Elves against Sauron's forces.

Now that the war was over, many of those Elves were taking ship, leaving behind the sorrows of Middle-Earth for Elvenhome across the sea. There were a hundred reasons for an Elf to depart. The isle of Tol Eressëa, it was said, was far more consonant with the Elves' enduring spirits than Middle-Earth. The land went through spring, summer, and autumn, with only the briefest cool winter. The Maiar, and even the Valar, it was rumored, visited there out of love for the Elves. Few who went to Tol Eressëa returned, showing that it was the home it was said to be. But for the Elves who had known only Middle-Earth as their home, the fair tales did not make it any easier to depart. Pengolod had stood in the stern of the ship and looked at Middle-Earth as they sailed away, until even his keen eyes, keen enough for him to have been an archer in the war, could not discern mortal lands.

Pengolod stood at the prow of the ship now, eagerly spying out each new glimpse of Númenor. Middle-Earth had absorbed him so much that he had never ventured here, but something about the place was overlain with splendor. He had seen the huge navy-boats come into the Grey Havens, where they seemed large, even garish in their ornament, but they fit perfectly here. Compared to Lindon's misty beauty, the firth of Rómenna was larger, grander, the trees on its cliffs greener, the water in its deeps a more brilliant blue. Even the myriad gulls skirling about the sky were large and sleek, and the sun seemed to shine with more brightness and warmth than it did on Eriador's shores. Pengolod recalled that maps showed Númenor as being somewhat southwards of the Elves' regions, and that Númenoreans always commented on the cold in Lindon.

When the boats grew even more numerous in the water, and Pengolod started to glimpse citadels and huts along the cliffs, the Elves' captain joined him at the prow. Pengolod asked, "How long do we stay here?"

The captain replied, "It is morn, now, and the haven is hard ahead. We sail again with the tide at sunset." The firth narrowed, even as its cliffs lowered, descending into gentler, tree-tumbled uplifts. Pengolod did not pay much attention, for the firth's one island, Tol Uinen, was ahead, with its light-tower. This island marked where the harbor of Rómenna began, in the wide cleft where the cliffs joined. Soon the white elf-ship was slipping along, dignified as a swan, gliding into harbor and to a berth beside an open pavilion, reserved for the elf-ships. Most of the Elves disembarked. To Pengolod's surprise, they were greeted by Númenorean officials and servants, some of whom hailed the captain and began to read messages he had brought. A few market hawkers were on the edge of the pavilion, offering fruit and flowers for Elvish silver. With all this to hand, only a small group left the pavilion to wander the market of Rómenna, for a time. Pengolod went with them, not least to escape the excruciating way the Númenorean officials and hawkers were trying to speak Sindarin.

The main market was immediately behind the quays. The great four-sided open space, opening out upon the docks, rang with a different language, the crisp, consonant-laden mortals' tongue called Adûnaic. Behind the market, looming above its varicoloured tents and stalls, was a massive building with wide stairs and pillars, in yellow-beige sandstone and red granite. Pengolod drew back his light cloak's hood and shook his long, black hair down his back, telling the other Elves, "Yonder is the palace of the King and his family. By the pennants, it is the prince who is in residence there now."

The rest of the Elves took this in with moderate interest, at best. Four elves peeled away to search the market-stalls for other fresh fruit and greens. Another pair looked about the bustling scene as if it was a remote dream, and detached themselves to drift back to the elf-boat's berth. The last of the excursion stood beside Pengolod. He stared frozen at the sight of a pair of old men sitting beside one of the booths. "Alas! I cannot bear it, Pengolod," he said. "It all speaks of the long parting, to me; of the doom and curse of the Elves, compared to mortals' freedom from the circles of the world, their spirits freed through their mortal deaths. I am going back, as well." He slipped back without another word, drawing his own hood fast around his face.

Pengolod scrutinized the pair that had sent the last elf into a spin of grief. They seemed to be enjoying their trade, and by the way they watched matrons and maids sway by, the other delights of midday. Deciding to remain for a time, even though he was alone, he strolled the bustling market, taking zest in the fresh sounds of Adûnaic. He had learned the language from Númenorean mariners, of course, but it was always better to learn about a speech amongst its lands and people. By the time he reached the market's center, he had decided to write a short essay about informal Adûnaic and its vivid use of metaphor during the second part of the elf-ship's journey.

The center of the square had a massive statue, twice the height of a man, carved with great art of greenish-black granite. It was, according to the inscription about its base, the Maia Uinen, lady of all sailors and fisherfolk and of Rómenna, city and port united. Pengolod raised his eyebrows to observe how Uinen was depicted here. In elvish manuscripts, he had included her in illuminations once or twice as a lissome maid sliding elegantly among the waves, long flowing hair to her toes, for she was supposed to be beautiful. This Uinen also had long cubits of hair, but instead of toes, below the waist, she had the lower body of a graceful fish. Pengolod's eyes traced upwards. Apparently, mortals' ideas of goddess-worthy beauty were inventive below the waist, and generous above it. Embarrassingly so, he thought. The statue's arms were spread wide, as if she embraced all the harbor lovingly, and her face had a joyous smile, for all its inscrutable, blank granite eyes. He gave the statue a bow for honour and walked on.

The mortals in the marketplace walked briskly, for the most part, as working-people do with little time to spare. Pengolod drifted, eavesdropping, examining. Stopping to buy a small punnet of berries from a market-woman, he caused three stalls' worth of chaos. The woman had to scramble to give him something approaching due change for the gold coin he offered. He paused to overhear the argot of a group of squabbling children, filing their colourful curses away to analyze later. The old men had made one elf sad, but these children and their innocent filth were what made Pengolod sigh with remembered grief. There was little difference between mortals and elves in childhood. He noticed several people looking in his direction, and turned to see what was so interesting behind him. Not seeing anything of note, he continued to meander.

The edge of the marketplace gave him another pang. He had not gone towards the palace, but to the southern side of the marketplace, which had small streets and alleys leading away, tempting the curious to explore. Pengolod found these streets lined with narrow houses, built wall to wall and three stories high, with shops at their lowest levels. It was not the building he had expected, and it reminded him deeply of a lost elvish city where he had once dwelled. That city's houses had been close-packed to cram a realm into a hilltop, the city remembered as Gondolin.

For an elf grown weary of Middle-Earth and the long years, a brush of memory was a powerful thing. Pengolod stood still, plunged into remembrance, for a full quarter of an hour. The stares of passers-by grew quizzical, but he did not see them in return. As he shook his head to emerge, he caught a whiff of burning charcoal and heard the ringing sound of a blacksmith at work, and was pinned by memories for another five minutes. Finally, with a nostalgic sigh, he recalled himself and headed down one of the streets.

Returned to the present, Pengolod looked up and admired the way each shop identified itself. There was a jug hanging from a hook for a wine-shop, a hank of rope with a small anchor, very likely to indicate a chandler, a trio of baskets hung one above another cunningly. The fourth shop on this varied avenue gave him a start. Its symbol-sign was a carved, wooden representation of a book, opened to inscribed pages. A glance at the shop's window showed a few volumes propped open over a wide map.

Pengolod was sucked in instantly, for through all Middle-Earth's changes, his trade had been ever that of scribe, loremaster, and linguist. He admired the clean lines used to draw columns in log books, and the simple red capital letter adorning a page of text. Going forwards, he read a painted board propped up on the wall before the shop. With the words rendered in an elvish alphabet, the Tengwar, the board promised:


Below this was added, in different coloured paint:

Yes I paint signs

Strangely, a small rope and anchor dangled on the wall above the sign. Pengolod did not look at it twice. The words "Translation into Elvish" had a sting, especially after the bad Sindarin he had heard at the quay's pavilion. The sign-painter had not even distinguished between the two chief Elvish tongues, Sindarin and Quenya. His own high, fair languages, that he lived and loved best, massacred by a half-lettered mapmaker. The idea of it shook him out of his wistful reverie. He made sure his hair was tucked behind his pointed ears, and shook out the folds of his cloak, its sage-green colour the sign among elves of the most elevated of loremasters, those fit to join the guild of the Lambengolmor, the Masters of Tongues. Then, standing very straight, he opened the shop's door to see this would-be elvish translator.

The smell of the shop, ink, vellum, glue, and paint, almost sent him into another trance of memory. There were a few more pieces of writing pinned upon the wall, and laid out along a wide counter. Pengolod scanned the work-space behind. There were several desks, and signs of some work in progress. The shop's sole inhabitant, a spotty lad of some thirteen summers with short-cropped hair, stopped dusting to gape at Pengolod open-mouthed.

"Are you an elf?" the lad croaked.

Not knowing if the boy spoke Sindarin, and suddenly uncertain of his Adûnaic accent, Pengolod responded with a silent nod.

The lad stared Pengolod up and down again, from Pengolod's long hair to where his trailing silken robe brushed the ground. The boy's round, red face began to sweat as he stammered, "My lord - uh - my lady - uh - you're very - uh - What should I call you? Sir? Ma'am?"

Pengolod stood stunned for an instant. Then, for the first time since he had left Middle-Earth, he smiled. Playfully, he said, "Guess."

The boy turned beet-red and gaped. "Uh...uh..." Then he scrambled away to stick his head out the shop's back door, bawling in his breaking voice, "Master! Masterrrrrr! There's a, a, a noble elf in the shop! Hurry!" After one more hideously embarrassed glance at Pengolod, he held the back door open, cringing behind it. Pengolod had a glimpse of a large courtyard with a well in the center.

"I'm coming, lad, you know I can't go so fast - ah! My lord!" The shop's owner smiled warmly. "My lad has been amusing you, I take it?" he asked. For Pengolod had leaned against the counter, and was doubled over with mirth.

Pengolod wiped tears of laughter from his eyes to see him. Dressed in blue and yellow, he could not have been more than thirty mortal years. His smile showed teeth as good as any elf's behind a closely trimmed, tawny beard, matching his short tawny curls. With his free hand, he gave his mustache a nervous stroke. Although he seemed in his prime, there was a crutch tucked under his right arm, and he entered the shop with a heavy limp.

Pengolod replied, "Yes, he has been. I have not been so amused in many years, in fact. Your prentice is most witty indeed."

"Truly?" the fellow said, raising his eyebrows. "That's a first."

Behind the door, the boy groaned with fear. Pengolod took pity. "Indeed. He mistook me for a noble of my people, but I am not so. I am no lord; only a loremaster and maker of books, like yourself."

Pengolod was eyed up and down a second time. "An honest mistake on the lad's part, I ween. But surely you are a master of your craft, even one of the Lambengolmor!"

"How do you know of the Lambengolmor?" Pengolod asked. Privately, he noted that not only did this fellow pronounce the word correctly, but with a certain breathless admiration.

The shopkeeper replied in Sindarin, "All the high mortal scholars of your tongue, the Elendili, know about your league of loremasters that included your kings. I am not a scholar, sir, but I have read the books. I hope I'm not bespeaking the Sindarin poorly?" he ended, seeing Pengolod's raised eyebrows.

"On the contrary, you've the best accent I've heard from a mortal since we arrived in Rómenna," said Pengolod, wryly, in the same tongue. "The King should hire you to greet the elf-ships. If you are not a scholar by trade - for I think you are, like me, one by inclination - how did you come by your Sindarin?"

"My father Eädwine was a -" For the first time, the shopkeeper paused. "A pedlar who sailed a boat. We've a word for it in Adûnaic. His father had the tongue from Middle-Earth. Not all of us in Númenor are the kin of Elros, but my father's father was of the Lindon fisher-folk. My father did some trade with the Elves in the west of the Isle. I was born with a, with this marred foot (again we've a word for it in Adûnaic) so I was not for the trade, but I remember my father selling the Elves rushlights and lantern-oil at night, with the starlight on the water, and the soft music of their voices." By now he had come forwards against the counter. "I learned it hearing it spoken about me as a child. Nor would I sleep when my father traded with the Elves. However late the hour, I would contrive to see it. So I am named Aelfwine."

The mortal's name had the meaning of "elf-friend"; like names, the language it used was more antique than that of normal speech. Pengolod was attuned to the meaning, and remembered it by that. "And I am Pengolod." He reached out his hand across the counter.

Aelfwine slipped back into Adûnaic to say, "I'd shake your hand gladly, except I'm all over ink - ah." He stopped when he saw that the hand Pengolod held out to him, with its long, graceful fingers, was also ink-stained.

"After a thousand years, it never does come off," Pengolod said.

"That's not a problem for me!" Aelfwine laughed, and shook his hand heartily. Then he corrected himself. "Very not diligent of me, to speak in one language, then the other, when Elvish is so much fairer."

"On the contrary, I like Adûnaic very much," said Pengolod, changing back to Adûnaic himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the lad had crept back into the shop. "I'm sailing to Eldamar tonight and my boat stopped here for the day. I've been walking about specifically to hear more of it."

Aelfwine leaned against the counter. "You must think it's terribly harsh, between the consonants and the filth they talk in the markets."

"Harsh, but in a good way, like a strong wine. And the consonant use is remarkably similar both to Quenya and even to Valarin, the language of the Valar themselves."

"Valarin? Can you tell me more?" asked Aelfwine, hungrily.

Fully an hour passed as the two chatted amiably about obscure linguistics. The shop-lad, who had the splendid name of Areleinion and was Aelfwine's apprentice, listened bewildered. Pengolod understood that Aelfwine was someone like himself; not well born, but given a quick mind and the will to make much of it, and open to the wonders of Arda. He suddenly felt his heart twist, with a different pang than that of memory. Pengolod had seen an Age and more of the world, and had endured much. One thing that experience had taught him was that friendship was a treasure. Here he was, talking to one who might be a friend if he could spend a night over wine and more good talk, and yet their fellowship was doomed before it began.

Standing there in the little shop, as the light changed from noon to afternoon, being on the cusp of losing this friend scarcely made concentrated all the ache he was feeling at leaving Middle-Earth. He forced himself to stay light in manner as Aelfwine proceeded to show him around the shop, letting him behind the counter. There was no use, he thought, in inflicting his immortal pain on someone who could not do anything about it. The ship would sail, and he would try to be consoled by memory. It was said of him in particular that he never forgot anything. Pengolod wondered if this meant he felt his memories more sharply than other Elves as well, then turned his attention back to his host.

"Most of the business is ship's materials, which are dull, but at least they're books and maps and writings. I put the note about Elvish on the sign and I do a few dribs and drabs of it each week, mostly names or verses for fellows a-courting. This week I've had more queries about the anchor-rope," Aelfwine said.

"The anchor-rope?" Pengolod remembered it instantly, hanging above Aelfwine's sign. "And what does it mean?"

Aelfwine shrugged. "That I've a room to let for a sailor, or someone who wants lodging for a time. It brought in steady coin when everyone was coming and going for the war in Middle-Earth, but that's tapered off. I run a quiet shop, and the prentice is here in my charge, so I won't have anyone of bad character. You get a better run of lodgers in the autumn, when the great boats come off the water. I've turned away four bad hats this week."

Pengolod was silent for a moment. He looked around at the little shop, the astonished lad, the friendly man. Five minutes ago, his immortality had wrenched him. Now he felt its advantages. If he chose to linger, he had the time to do it, and naught to lose by it. Thus he said, lightly, "I had been thinking of doing some writing on the Adûnaic tongue; thinking also that I was leaving for Eressëa perhaps over-soon. How much is the let of your sailor's room? That is, if I'm of good character."

Aelfwine had been resting a hand against a table to stand. In his surprise, he swayed, then grasped the table's edge with both hands. The lad said, his voice breaking with eagerness, "We were charging Captal Nuzra five marks the week."

"Soup, hush," said Aelfwine, with an air of long habit. Pengolod gathered that this was the apprentice's nickname, and hid a smile. When the master answered, his words were more thoughtful. "I will barter the let if you'll write out Elves' tales and knowledge for me, and show me some of the Lambengolmor's ways in my trade. Books of elf-lore are costly. Some checking of my maps of Middle-Earth would be good as well." Aelfwine tugged on one side of his mustache. "Mind, I must ask some coin if you'd have your board as well as your bed. Tales and language please me, but the baker only takes cash. How long do you think you might stay?"

"I cannot say. Perhaps until the next elf-ship going to Eressëa comes through, perhaps longer," Pengolod said.

Aelfwine replied, "Surely there's no such thing as one of the Fair Folk staying too long. But perhaps you'd better look at the room, first. Soup, mind the shop. And keep your head if more Elves walk in." Pengolod went up a narrow stair, and peered into a slightly stuffy room that looked out over the main street. It might have been shabby if it had not been immaculately clean, furnished with hooks, a narrow table holding a basin and jug, and something that might have been a couch or might have been a bed, covered in a faded red carpet. Pengolod recalled nights spent on hard roots or bracken-tangles and declared that it suited him excellently. He gave a small sum over as advance on the board, and the pair shook hands once more. Then Pengolod returned to the elf-ship to retrieve his belongings.

This turned out to be more difficult than befriending Aelfwine had been. The elf-ship's captain, restless for the sunset tide, only released Pengolod's trunk after declaring, "You'd be better off staying on the west side, at the haven of Andunie, if you care to remain. The land is fairer and they are used there to our people lingering."

"It isn't the land I'm staying for, it's the people," Pengolod replied.

The captain raised his silver brows. "You are certain? On the western shore, you will have more chance of catching another ship when you grow weary of this place."

"You speak as if you're convinced I will tire of it tomorrow. I know my own business," said Pengolod, sharply. It occurred to him later that the elf-captain himself might have spent some time in Rómenna, at one point; but only later. He was too busy arranging to disembark to consider it further. One of Lindon's former librarians was also sailing, and Pengolod entrusted most of his crates of books to her care. He left the ship with his trunk and one armful of the books, his other arm free to wave farewell, though he did not look back long. A lingering official helped him hire a cart to haul the trunk. He strode behind it through the emptying tents of the marketplace, his long shanks eating up the flagstones, eager and happy to have found another project and to have deferred the long parting, for a time.

Aelfwine's shop closed when the sun slanted behind the ranges backing the vale of Rómenna. Pengolod got a good look at the buildings. It turned out that all the shops packed together on each block, with their two stories of housing above, shared a great courtyard. It was well made, and arranged around a well and two oak trees, but not very well kept; weeds sprouted up between the flagstones. Each shop seemed to have a little space behind it allotted for its own, before the great space in the center, and by the well, a trough with a cooking-fire was set. Soup had been sent to the fire with a grilling basket and a great fish.

Aelfwine and Pengolod were sitting on a bench behind the shop, watching the lad. His lanky limbs seemed to be stretching every minute, despite his round face. Aelfwine had called him a hobbedeyhoy, a word with all the jerky awkwardness of his in-between state, between man and boy. "I set him to a good deal of work, what with me being lame, and I know it, too," said Aelfwine, resigned. "His folk tried him at the great academy in Armenelos. He was clever enough, but he couldn't sit still for fifteen minutes at a go. He was dismissed - a disgrace to him. I said I'd give him a try. His restlessness means that he bears my errands well."

Pengolod dared a look at Aelfwine's misshapen foot. "It must have been a dreadful accident; that or luck in battle, that you escaped," he said.

"No, worse luck, I was born like this. I said there was a word for it in Adûnaic. It's 'clubfoot,'" said Aelfwine. "Remember I said my father was a boat-pedlar? I tried going for a mariner when I was younger. The foot didn't keep me from climbing the rigging. But the older I got, the more it pained me. The ship's purser thought well enough of me that when the captain's mapmaker was seeking a prentice, he put my name forwards."

Soup was staggering back with the steaming fish-griller when Aelfwine asked, "How was it when you became a prentice? Will you tell us while we eat, mayhap?"

Pengolod agreed, and this was the tale he told.



I remember very well the hour my boyhood ended, though I was not grown to an elf-man. It was an Age and more of the world ago, two thousand and two hundred years gone by, and more besides. This was in a land called Nevrast, where Turgon, later to become the elves' High King, was then lord. Nevrast is now sunk beneath the sea, but it was then a land of pine-woods and ferns and gentle shores.

One of Turgon's commands had been that all the young folk of the land must learn to read and write. This was important, for Turgon ruled a mingled folk. Many of Turgon's people had come from Aman and were Noldor. But many more were Sindarin, the Grey-Elves of Middle-Earth. Turgon was a newcomer to their lands, but he gained their fealty through ruling with a lighter hand than their King, Thingol. From this alliance, the two elf-peoples were mingled. My own mother was Noldo, and my father Sinda. But the Sindar, as a people, did not read. They used a few runes of a system called the Cirth to write charms or names with, and that was all. Thus Turgon, to keep matters equal, issued his command.

Not only had this command given me an art I did well at, it brought me some friends. They were older lads, Voronwë and Elemmakil; I had been set to learn with them, even though I was younger than they by a few years. I thought them great daring lads, and they took me up as jester, audience, and younger brother. The three of us were merry together, for a time.

The day when everything changed was a day in summer. We were in the storage loft of Voronwë's household, for it was raining hard, and the wind tore green leaves from the trees. As lads will, we span out the time munching green apples and talking nonsense. They were teasing me about my older sister Thingódhel, who was due to be married at harvest-time. Voronwë said, "She's a beauty all right. Why can't she wait a few years and marry one of us? Now I'll have to wait, and marry one of her daughters."

"It'll be that long before you're done training with your father," teased Elemmakil, throwing an apple core at Voronwë. "At least being one of Turgon's smiths will sound good when you're courting."

Voronwë threw it right back at him. "It's my mother who's keen on that, not I. She wants a smith to send to her Uncle Círdan, so that his folk don't have to buy steel off the Naugrim. You'll be tied up just as long, training to be a King's Guard, if they'll have you."

Elemmakil turned to me. "Pengolod will put in a good word for me, won't you? She'll think me as good as a prince if you teach her to!"

"That's not fair. You should put in good words for us both," Voronwë said.

With my mouth full of apple, I shook my head, smothering a laugh. "I should let one of you louts marry my niece?" I pretended to think. "Maybe if you bribe me well enough..."

This time I was Elemmakil's target as he chortled, "You sound like one of the Naugrim yourself!"

Voronwë, as ever, was distracted. "If Rúmil the loremaster was still serving Turgon, we could ask him for a charm so that your sister would have twins. One for each of us."

"I'd still get first choice," boasted Elemmakil. Before I could ask who this Rúmil was, Voronwë's retort led to further target practice. In a trice, he and Voronwë were wrestling, on the floor of the loft, each trying to pummel the other in friendly rivalry. Just as Elemmakil had Voronwë's arm pinned to the floor, somebody below roared for Voronwë.

The two lads let go of each other instantly. Voronwë went stiff and anxious. "My father."

Elemmakil was scrambling to pick up the crushed apples. Voronwë whispered, "I'll go; you two stay quiet and clear out when we're gone. See you soon, if I'm not in for it." Then he swung down out of the loft. His father immediately told him the news that had sent him to seek his son.

So it was that we two friends of his overhead the dreadful news that Voronwë's mother, a sailor-maid of the Falathrim, had drowned, and all aboard her ship. Elemmakil and I stared at each other in horror as it was explained that she had softened and taken one too many Noldor sailors on her crew, inciting the wrath of the sea. For at that time, the Sea hated the Noldor for their attack against the Sea-elves, the Teleri.

We crept down after they had gone, stunned to the core. It brought up the most childish of fears, losing one's mother. But when we left, we each reacted as men, going home swiftly to see that our own families were all right.

This tragedy broke up our daily fellowship. Voronwë's bereaved father now kept Voronwë fast to him with duty, teaching him his trade. Voronwë, numb with grief, acquiesced. Elemmakil was accepted to train up and join the King's warriors. This left me on my own. I often thought of our last merry talk. My friends had known what trades they should learn, but I did not.

For a few weeks, I was left mostly to my own devices. I had completed the lessons mandated by Turgon ahead of my years, and my father thought me somewhat young to be his apprentice. In fact, my sister's affianced, eager to please, was proving a great help to my father. I had never yearned to be a roper, but this had a sting nonetheless, so I busied myself roaming about, earning a little by carrying messages. The news of that time that was going to give me my trade did not come to me that way. It was important enough to merit an announcement from the King himself.

The announcement had been sent out to lighten the people's hearts after the Dagor Aglareb, the Third Battle. Turgon's forces had fought there for the High King Fingolfin. While the battle against the orcs had been won, some of our own elf-folk had fallen or been lost. Not only had one of these folk returned, but it was someone of rank, the loremaster Rúmil of Tirion. He had, the official words declared, been taken captive and made a thrall in Morgoth's realm, but learned of an escape from those riven halls through his patience and cleverness in languages, and his counsels were aiding the King once more.

This was followed by a fiery sweep of less-official rumor. Rúmil had staggered back on stumps, having lost both feet; Rúmil had learned of the origins of orcs in Thangorodrim's deeps; Rúmil had been transformed into an orc himself, and went about clad in cape and hood to hide his grotesqueness; Rúmil was blessed by the Valar for their merit of his art; Rúmil was being interrogated by the King on charges of treachery. At that time, Rúmil was but a name and a vague face amongst the parade of rich-dressed nobles, and my lively family enjoyed all the rumor greatly.

A week after the news was cried, my father said that he would give me an important errand. He admitted later that he sensed that I was very much on the sidelines as Thingódhel's wedding drew closer. He sent me to the great lord's hall of Vinyamar, to seek out the Lord Turgon's steward and give him a letter inquiring about rope orders for the Turgon's ships. My errand-running had not sent me so high before, nor on such business of import to my father's trade.

The steward was short with me when I was granted an audience. After reading my father's letter, he said, "We'll need ropes, coming up; but not for ships. I'll seek him out when we know more." He handed my father's letter, so carefully composed, back.

This fellow's offhand dismissal baffled and offended me. Forgetting my age and place, I said, "If that is what you mean to say, you should write it down, with your sigil. My father took the trouble to write to you, and you should do the same with -- with him!" At the very end, I had begun to realize what I was saying, and sudden fear gave my voice a tremor.

The next instant, I had turned scarlet with embarrassment, for behind me, someone was laughing richly. "The lad's got you cold, steward. Knows your business as well as you do already. Pen a line or two at the base of his father's note, at least, then return. I think I want to talk to him." The steward gasped and collected himself, and I saw why when I turned. This person had to be Rúmil. As rumor had said, he wore cloak and hood, but the day was so warm he had thrown the hood back and gathered the cloak behind his shoulders.

I had never seen any elf so ugly in my entire life. To your eyes, he would seem a battle-scarred old man, with a creased, gaunt face and straggling silver hair, though still straight and tall. We Elves knew nothing of mortal age, at that time. So to my young eyes, he seemed what rumor had promised, transformed into a very orc by the torments and power of Morgoth's dungeons. The worst disfigurement about him was that one side of his face had been riven by a great wound, and on that side the eye, though still in its socket, was cloudy and dead. His other eye, set amidst creases, sparkled with enough wit for two. I could not stop looking at him.

"Who are you, lad? I've never seen you before," he asked.

Recovering, I gave my name and my father's. I was so fearful of doing something wrong, or having done something ill to gain his attention, that Rúmil had no trouble learning from me my age, that I was fond of books and tales, and my family's state. After a few moments talking to him, I had recovered from the discrepancy between his ravaged visage and his low, musical voice. When pressed, I noted that my family had no ties to nobility, being, as the Sindar would say, "common as leaves."

"I don't know if you're common or uncommon, but if your mother gave you the name of Pengolod - Noldo, was she?" When I concurred, Rúmil looked thoughtful. "Elf-mothers' foresight will tell even what a mother never wished to know," he murmured. It was an aphorism amongst our people. More clearly, he said, "Do you know both tongues, Sindarin and Quenya, from both parents?" I said that I did.

Rúmil's one eye glittered. "If you could ask me anything, what would it be?"

"How did you escape, really? And are you an orc now?"

Rúmil chuckled in his throat, without smiling. "Doubtless they tried to make me so, but I am no orc. You'll learn what orcs really are if you go to war."

Eagerly, I said, "I'll go to war next time. I've got a friend in the guard and another friend makes swords. I'd go too."

"Then you'll learn. As for how I escaped...let's sit a moment, shall we?" We went to a bench at the edge of the hall. I saw that Rúmil was lame. More lame than you, Aelfwine; the staff was his third leg. All the rumours were untangling themselves in my head, and I understood that this was what had brought about the rumour that he had no feet. "I was smote hard in the Dagor Agarleb. The orcs hauled me out of a pile of corpses. I'd thought I was going to be as dead as they, soon, with my face split half open. Instead, they revived me with a foul liquor, made me strip off my gear, and forced me on a march. I thought the march was torment - until we arrived at Thangorodrim. We were taken to Him. To Morgoth." In the sunlit summer hall, Rúmil bowed his head a moment. A shudder freed him from the memory, and he said, "Those of us who were judged not important were shunted off to be thralls."

Perplexed, I said, "But you were Turgon's loremaster. You were important."

"Yes, and I was glad that I managed to keep my mouth locked shut. Though I lost a good deal by it." At that time, Rúmil said nothing of the torment Morgoth's orcs used to cow and maim thralls into obedience. He only said, "I was set to digging, mining metal to make weapons that would kill my kin. The other Elves in the mine were worse than houseless spirits - they were bodies without spirits, empty shells. I knew that if I stayed long, I would be too." He paused and said something odd. "I'm very fond of animals. In Aman I learned all the tongues of birds. They were my favourites ever. No birds in the mines, of course, but I could look at the rats and beetles, and hearken to their squeaking and clicking, and think that they at least were free to come and go."

"Then one day, in a trance of hunger and weariness and pain, I watched the beetles trace along. I could have sworn that in their stupid hum, and their skittering paths, they were telling me a way out. Perhaps I was mad. I was certainly starved, starved enough to slip my chains. I staggered into the dark, after the beetles, hearing their chittering as a tune sweeter than any bird. They did not lead me false, those beetles. They came and went through a fissure in the mountain-side. I was so thin that I, like the beetles, slipped out and escaped. Even with my withered leg, I wended my way back here." His tale done, Rúmil looked at me keenly. "Do you think I'm mad?"

I took my eyes off him at last to observe my feet as I muttered, "My father talks to birds, sometimes, and my mother to hounds. I guess the beetles don't talk out here?"

"Oh, they do. Clever way of not answering the question, Pengolod. That way, you don't insult me if I am mad, nor do you insult me if I'm sane and truly aiding Turgon. You ask a good question as well. I'm sure it's what everyone who keeps from staring at me wonders."

The steward had reappeared and looked mightily inconvenienced to have to stand and wait while I spoke with Rúmil. Rúmil called him over. As if I were worth doing business with, he asked, "Does the note meet with your approval?" I read the few lines and said it did.

"Then give it to me: I have something I want to add." From a pocket, Rúmil took out a stick of sharpened charcoal and unrolled the letter on the bench. He added several flowing lines below my father's painstaking writing and the steward's crabbed reply. "And what do you think of my annotation there? Does that, too, have your approval? Charcoal rubs out if it doesn't."

Rúmil's note, in the most formal and gracious language, asked my father if he would consent to allowing his son Pengolod to become the apprentice of Rúmil of Tirion, in the service of Lord Turgon at the court of Vinyamar. The paper crinkled as I clamped it, reading the specifics of how I would serve (low errands described as "making himself useful," the usual lot of prentices), what I would learn - languages and songs, history and counsels wise, the making of books and scrolls and fair writings - and what he meant me to become; aide, teacher, and loremaster.

This was a richness I had not imagined. To do what I loved best, be around books and learned elf-men all day, and to be one myself. Yet this would come to me through this intimidating stranger, Rúmil, terrifying alike in his ugliness and the uncanny brightness of his mind, which saw through every subterfuge. I looked up at him more quickly than he expected, to find him grave and sad. He started and arrayed his ugliness into wry indifference again. Finding my tongue, I said, "I hope to bring my father's approval back this very night."

Rúmil smiled. Scarred and balding, he was an elf after all, when he did. "Tomorrow morning will do."

The mediocre news from the steward was overshadowed by this offer, which set many things aright in my house. Now Thingódhel's fiancée could be my father's full apprentice. Thingódhel herself took fine cloth out of her trousseau to outfit me. Amidst all the fuss, the reality of what I had agreed to did not strike until I stood with my hemp satchel of belongings in Rúmil's workrooms.

"Ready to begin?" Rúmil did not wait for my reply. "Here is your first task as my apprentice. Work's the same wherever you go, and you're an old hand at running messages." Rúmil lit a taper and, with its wax, sealed a note that had been waiting on the table. Handing it to me, he asked, "Do you know of the Lord of Harps?"

I nodded mutely, awed that Rúmil was noble enough, through his learning, to be sending the head of one of Turgon's clans of knights a message.

"Deliver this note, and wait for his reply. He will be sore vexed once he reads. I am declining his offer to take on his son, Salgant, as an apprentice. If he asks you who is taken on in his son's stead, tell him that it is yourself. Can you do that?" Rúmil asked.

Still mute, this time with shock, I nodded again.

"It is hard. And it is politics." Rúmil sighed. "That is my work as much as my lore. I am glad that you seem capable of dealing with it. Thought you would be."

"But, sir, why did you take me on when you could have had a Lord's son?" I asked. "To spite him?"

Rúmil laughed once. "I won't deny that had something to do with it. Having had the wrong lad offered to me, I was looking for someone else to take on, someone who suited, in a hurry, that I might say 'No, found this fellow instead.' Plenty of lads didn't suit before I ran across you defending your father's word. There's worse ways to make someone's acquaintance. You placed the written word first, before the steward. There was light in your eyes when you read about what you could be. You know what work is. And you can look at me without flinching. The other boy can't." Rúmil waved his hand. "Get along and you'll be back before dusk."

I went. I did the errand. I survived the displeasure of the Lord of Harps, well enough that my bearing was proud when I left his timbered abode with his own note of reply. Rúmil nodded when he read the note, though I never found out what the Lord of Harps said. I could guess, though; I had been thinking a great deal as I went to the Harp-house and back.

Rúmil tore the note into three pieces and put it to the fire immediately. "Now we both have an enemy. Welcome to Vinyamar," he said, as the note curled in the flames.

Thus I began my apprenticeship.



By the time Pengolod finished his tale, the late summer dusk was on the brink of night. In the long summer days, this meant the hour was late. The three of them retired, with words wishing fair rest. Alone, he lay down on the bed-couch and inhaled with relief. He had been here before, in a way, finding his way among strange folk, drinking in a new language and the life that gave it meaning. Pengolod wondered if each of them saw themselves in the tale. It was all true. Very likely, he mused, it was the echo of the past that had made him appreciate Aelfwine and this curious lodging.

Before he succumbed to the memory-dream of elvish sleep, his last directed thought was troubled. Staying in Númenor for a time in Aelfwine's company had felt as right to him as becoming Rúmil's apprentice had been. But the elf-captain of the boat he had left had, surely, not given a warning for nothing.


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

1 - At the Sign of the Open Book

2 - Romenna Days

3 - The Ship-Feast

4 - The Erulaitalë

5 - Armenelos

6 - Unien's Race

7 - The Hall of Venturers

8 - The Fat Man's Tale

9 - The Tomb of Elros

10 - The Traveller's Wind

11 - The Sea-Bells

12 - The Charivari and Epilogue

Series Notes