Magweth Pengolodh: The Question of Pengolod

Part 5: Armenelos

By Tyellas

Summary: Silmarillion-based. After the Erulaitalë, Pengolod feels that the hospitality of the King, Tar-Minastir, is more than he deserves, and tells the tale of Húrin Thalion.

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.


Still under the spell of the Erulaitalë, Pengolod was bemused by the even dignity of Númenor’s City of the Kings, Armenelos. Its tall spires and archways and its joined houses were all made of fine-grained grey stone. For the night of festival and thanksgiving, the streets were adorned with lanterns and garlands of branches, and the white-clad people drew aside and bowed for the riders of the Palace. Pengolod strove to see if, as Aelfwine and others had said, the men of Armenelos truly resembled the Elves in their garb and bearing. Since they, too, still wore the white of the Erulaitalë, all he could tell was that they went clean-shaven, until age took them, and it was no use seeking to resemble an Elf any more. The only beards he saw were grey.

Where the city began to ascend the slopes of the Meneltarma, there was the palace of the King, its clean-faced stone unmarked by any siege, nearly white in the moonlight. Surrendering their horses, they entered through a tall gate. Pengolod turned back to see more of that gate, made with beauty, not defense, first in mind. Arched hallways were hung with varied banners, but no shields or weapons. Pengolod was led through to a green courtyard, where pillars reached to the open sky. Some past King had journeyed to Lindon and been taken by the patterned tiled floors there, Pengolod thought, to have such a similar patio laid out here.

Minastir was standing tall in the garden, between two pillars wound with vines and their starry flowers. He bowed his head, making his crown-jewel flash, and said, “Elen silumen ontaro.”

And Pengolod’s own tongue turned to stone in his mouth. For Minastir’s voice revealed where all the messengers in Rómenna, and indeed many of the nobles who had come to war in Middle-Earth, had all acquired their bad Sindarin accent. Some tutor, long ago, had told him how to treat the s-sounds and end consonants of Sindarin, to gentle their contrast to the harder-edged language of Men. Minastir must have taken it too much to heart, and he made the words too “elvish” for their own good as language true.

Fortunately, Pengolod was meeting a King, so he had a moment to kneel and give honor silently, and recall the rote reply to the ancient hello. “Gilthoniel a Elbereth, Tar-Minastir! You speak the truth indeed, in this fair garden of your fair realm.”

Minastir held out a hand in fellowship. “Fair words indeed; and do you know you are the first of the Fair Folk to see it? Most of your people who come to Númenor only touch upon our Western coast, and during my reign, your High King has been occupied with war, unable to visit. I am delighted to welcome one of the noble Eldar, come to honour Armenelos at last.”

Pengolod smiled and bowed his head, and struggled again to respond. “Noble King…it is most unusual to be greeted in this fashion, purely because of my kindred. Rather, it is I who am honoured a thousand-fold.” This was true, but he was also feeling that this was nine hundred and ninety-nine times too much honour for him. At any moment, Pengolod thought, his fancied Elvish nobility would be shattered – he would mention his father being a roper, or Minastir would notice his eternally work-stained hands, currently hidden in his deep Elvish sleeves.

Pengolod slid his hands further up his sleeves as Minastir confidently declared, “You are too modest for one of the Firstborn, Lord Pengolod! I have seen your name writ in some of our texts of eld, as Pengolod the Sage, and my son Ciryatan said that you were one of your King’s counselors for years beyond count. It is my pleasure to give you the welcome that you deserve. Come; we feast this night, for thanks at Midsummer. I hope that our humble celebration, mortal though it be, has some pleasure for your palate.”

Pengolod smiled again. “I am certain that it will,” he said. They progressed from the garden. Pengolod was distressed that his wit had fled him; all he felt able to produce were empty listener’s phrases.

Minastir spoke like a man who was used to not being interrupted, and his speech was all about Pengolod’s folk. His long face lit with sincerity, Minastir said, “I assure you, I have nothing but admiration for the Firstborn. You lead the Speaking Folk of Arda in every way, in beauty, art, craft, noble natures, unity with birds and beasts, and most of all, how lucky and blessed your people are to live forever amidst the beauty of Arda.”

Pengolod replied, warily, “Elves think mortals admirable for as many reasons, Tar-Minastir, and in addition, fortunate to not be burdened by all of Time.”

“That is said also here. It is told that old men feel that freedom more. My time draws on, yet somehow that eludes me.” Minastir laughed at that, albeit dryly. “More, you can know the emissaries of Illúvatar here on earth; the Valar. You even have leave dwell in their realm, amongst them. We are luckier than other mortals that we can look upon it. I have a tower in the West, my private retreat. When governance is less pressing, I spend time there in study of sacred lore, looking towards the West in mind and in body.”

“I saw Avallonë clearly from the Meneltarma,” said Pengolod.

Minastir smiled. “Yes! And long you looked, I heard. Perhaps, in the winter, you will journey there with me and see it from my tower; if you have not gone Westwards already.”

Pengolod evaded the invitation by saying, “Your ritual reminded me how lucky I am to be able to look at all. I was in The War.”

“That seems impossible, to look upon you now, peaceful and fair. My theory is that the higher creative urge of Eru is purer in you.”

Pengolod inhaled, both over-complimented and, as a warrior, insulted. Memory flashed in his mind from the recent war. He could think of nothing but being dragged from his horse into the mire by three orcs who reeked of musk and rotten hides, the fierce flailing and quick stabs that had won his life back, mud-stained and furious, hands stinging from their black blood. He held his tongue. This was a King.

Again, his silence went unnoticed. “Come! First, meet our Queen, my wife; here she is garlanded about by her handmaidens, lovely herself as one of your ladies. Tarinya, my love, come meet one of the Fair Folk.”

A woman of austere loveliness, on a bench surrounded by maidens in white, stood and smiled. Like Tar-Minastir, she was taller than Pengolod, though on her part only slightly. She resembled her husband in another way; mortality had laid its hand upon her, and her cheeks creased and eyes lined as she smiled in greeting. The clear eyes of this Queen looked sad and deep at Pengolod, not into his own eyes – she glanced across his skin. Then she forced her face smooth again and held her head up, sadly. “Welcome to Armenelos, my lord.” she said, gravely. “Here are maidens as fair today as I once was, my handmaids from the five corners of our Isle. Nessamelda, Mallorn, Lairelosse, Aranel, and Laurinquë.”

Each of the young women stood and curtsied in turn, giving Pengolod looks ranging from curiosity to awe. The last one was clearly the star of the group, the most dignified and most secure, even as she was the least curious. With her hair of reddish gold, and her simple, almost Elvish dress, Lady Laurinquë gave no hint that Pengolod had turned her down upon the quay of Rómenna. Pengolod’s eyes widened, and he took an involuntary step back.

The Queen said, “I see Laurinquë’s beauty has made an impression upon you,” and her voice had a note of pride restored.

Pengolod recovered, barely. “With maids so lovely, who could not be moved, my lady?”

Laurinquë curtseyed again. “Perhaps one of the Eldar might not be. No tales tell of it,” she murmured, and gave him an edged glance. “But all tales say what pure and honorable folk you are. Welcome to Armenelos.”

Pleased by this exchange, Minastir said, “My dear?” offering his arm to his wife. They progressed in to the feast. Though Laurinquë fell into step beside Pengolod, she looked straight ahead, her chin as proud as the Queen’s, lips curved in a smirk when she thought Pengolod was not looking.

Welcome to Armenelos, indeed, he thought.



After the first night, Pengolod had realized that his terms here were essentially the same as at his lodging with Aelfwine; he was housed and made welcome in exchange for elvish lore. The King gave as unstintingly of what he had as Aelfwine did, and Pengolod did his best in turn. He had performed direct the lays of eld every night, from the first evening when a courtier had pressed a harp into his hand. Yet the differences between his mortal hosts were vaster far than their similarities, and so too the gulf between Tar-Minastir, a King, and himself. Pengolod still often found himself falling silent with Minastir, or bringing out rote phases. For what to say, what to say, in the face of blind adoration? He bit back half the lore he knew, lest he crush one of the favored illusions of Númenor.

That very day, he had been placed upon the spot. Minastir was eager for Pengolod’s good word about all that was Númenorean, both old and new. On earlier days, other lords (or trusted servants, some with more power than any lord of Númenor’s tilth) had shown Pengolod the city of Armenelos, its stables and newer buildings, and its libraries, and Pengolod had dutifully praised these each night. It had not been difficult; mortals had made the most of the Land of Gift. Declaring himself neglectful, Minastir had himself shown Pengolod the chief heirlooms of the realm.

So it was that Pengolod came to see the only weapons to hang in the tranquil halls of Armenelos. Some of them, he had seen before. There was the axe of Tuor, not wrapped in a greasy hide as Tuor had kept it at the vale of Sirion, but in a fitted, gilded leather case. Minastir had such delight at Pengolod’s recollections of Tuor that he unsheathed his own sword, Aranrúth, from its sheath of ruel-bone, and bade him see if the runes upon it could be interpreted. “I am the arm of the wrath of King Thingol,” he had read, aloud. Pengolod had not completed the translation, leaving the next runes unspoken: “Eöl made me.” A chill had gone through him at that. Hours later, he could not decide if he had been discreet, or craven, in saying nothing to Minastir of the blade’s fell smith, a madness-touched kinslayer and yet an Elf.

Once the last of the treasures had been replaced in their cases or displays, Minastir had unbent, somewhat. “When I was younger, I thought that I would be able to spend the greater part of my days as a scion of the House of Elros, studying Elvish lore. You see, I was not expecting to be Númenor’s King.”

At his urging, Minastir explained. “Tar-Telperien, may the Valar bless her, lived and reigned an exceedingly long time. By the time she was ready to surrender the scepter, my elder sister was past her prime – even for the line of Elros – and declined. I took the scepter because…” He sighed heavily. “It was the right thing to do. I was younger by far.” Pengolod nearly bit his tongue out of vexed curiosity, but you did not ask a King if his parents had quarreled, or if there was a perished sibling in between. “And when it came to it, I found I had many ideas. Why should not Númenor be as an Avallonë for Middle-Earth? I have striven to improve the lot of our people, to make them more like to the Elves.”

“Never have I been to Avallonë; but I am most impressed, as I have said before, with both Rómenna and Armenelos. There is much new building, all of it done most excellently. Practical – business – seems, ah, well-designed as well.” The nightsoil arrangements of Númenor, enforced by the King’s laws, were similar to those of the fastidious Elves, and an improvement over every other mortal dwelling he had ever seen. Pengolod tried to turn this improper topic into something more suitable. “I dare say that you have succeeded, Tar-Minastir. This is the fairest mortal realm that ever I have seen.”

Tar-Minastir inclined his head and said, with his proud brand of humility, “I have only done the best I could. Hopefully my son will not make my mistakes. From the day he was born, he has known he will be King some day. After his success in The War, I have every confidence in him.”

That would explain a lot, Pengolod thought.

Blessedly, after this, Minastir had been drawn away, and Pengolod had been able to do what he had longed to in all his stay: bury himself in Minastir’s library. He was glad of the King’s audience earlier, for with that known, he was able to wheedle the mortal loremasters into showing him some of the works of Vardamir Nólimon, the King who never had been. He had been Elros’ son, and might have been the second King of Númenor, yet was remembered instead for his love of books and lore. By the time Elros stepped down from life, Nolimon was advanced in years himself. He too had given the scepter to another relative, to his son.

Pengolod wondered briefly whether it was better or worse when the Kings did this. Tar-Minastir might have been like free-handed Nólimon, who had taken the time to limn crisp, witty illuminations in the books he loved to make. Nólimon’s fate had made him happy. Tar-Minastir’s, somehow, did and did not. It was not that being a King suited him ill; it was when he compared himself and his folk, again and again, to the Elves, sowing the persistent seed of envy. These thoughts did not hound Pengolod long, not with the absorbing works of Nólimon to draw into his memory. When the hour for the evening meal came, he went to the feast-hall with a light step, only to stop short in the doorway.

A new figure was drawing attention in the hall, dividing its energy. Ciryatan had returned. His bright Rómenna garb and red beard stood out in Armenelos, defiant and novel among the softly colored, elf-mimicking fashions. Minastir was standing beside his son, and raised a hand to hail Pengolod. “Master Elf! I have not had the honor of introducing you to my son, the Prince Ciryatan.”

“He and I have already met, Father, in Rómenna,” Ciryatan noted, coolly. He gave Pengolod a nod. “Well met, elf-master. A surprise to see you still here.”

Minastir frowned. “You would not be so surprised, had you been at the Erulaitalë.”

“Rómenna keeps the holiday, as well, and a transport of soldiers returned around that time. It was fortunate that I was there to greet them and lead the City’s rite on the day. Your pardon; I will see my mother to her seat.” The Queen had entered. She greeted Ciryatan with a cry of pleasure, and her beauty bloomed when she saw her son hale before her again. When they embraced, Ciryatan’s hair was only a little darker than his mother’s. He took the seat beside her, and nobody in the hall could say that it was improper when the lovely Laurinquë demurely took the seat beside Ciryatan. Watching Ciryatan welcome this, Pengolod felt his stomach sink.

This meal, while simpler than the feasts of the preceding nights, still involved five courses. A humble note was the oily pepper sauce, the same as could be found on any table in Rómenna, even on the pastie-seller’s tray. Here, there was one to each place, in a carved bowl of silver and hard amber, which Pengolod assumed was the refined way to serve it. It was wasted on him; he had given up trying to acquire a taste for it. He suppressed his curiosity about the fierce condiment and filed the question away to ask Aelfwine when he returned. Minastir was beside him, but he was discussing news from Middle-Earth across the table with his son.

Pengolod started when, as if touched by his thought, Minastir turned to him and asked, “And what do you think, Pengolod? Is it wise to support Gil-Galad’s new outpost of Imladris? Or should it be as my son says, that we encourage him instead to send folk to the haven at Vinyamar?”

“I cannot say, sir. I have not been to Imladris since The War, and I heard little of what Gil-Galad had planned for it.” Pengolod might have, if he had wished, but he had not been interested.

“No need to be modest; you are more informed in this than any counselor who has not been to The War. What are your thoughts?” Minastir pressed.

“Sir, I must demur. I gave some counsel in the past to my lord, based on what I saw in my travels, or knew from my lore. But I left Gil-Galad’s service, and the dealings of Middle-Earth, when I went to go over Sea.”

Ciryatan tore a piece of bread in two and dunked it in his dish of pepper sauce. “Then what are you doing here in Númenor?”

“Ciryatan!” Minastir snapped. “We are both corrected by our guest. Let us speak of something we all find seemly. Pengolod, we will not have the minstrel’s circle after the meal tonight, so I ask you, tell us one of your tales now. Something to teach all our lords here wisdom and respect for the days of eld.”

All the table turned to see how Ciryatan took this rebuke. He calmly finished chewing his bread, then cleared his throat to say, “Please, my father is correct. A tale would be a fine thing to honour our table. We appreciate all wisdom from our esteemed allies.”

Pengolod was impressed, both that Ciryatan, put to the choice, showed fealty to his father without even a flash in his eyes, and that he treated the pepper sauce like sweet oil. With both ease and sweetening in mind, he asked, “What manner of tales do you prefer, Prince Ciryatan, that I may speak of something you would hear?”

“A good rousing battle, or a tale of the Sea,” he replied. The Queen sighed openly, provoking a chuckle from some of the lords.

Pengolod said, “I like such a tale myself. And we Elves esteem our allies as well. Perhaps you would hear of a mortal hero who, like you and your troops, was the salvation of my people, once. His name is – was - Húrin Thalion.”



This tale takes place in Gondolin, the Elves’ hidden city of old, in the years of its prime. I dwelt in Gondolin then as loremaster and clerk, with much coming and going to the court of our lord, Turgon. Elves live forever, it is said, but some of these years are better than others. During the time I speak of, our city was established, and our alchemy and husbandry, our artists and crafters, had reached a point we never did excel. Our spirits were also high, and fear had not yet come among our people. For hundreds of years, we had been innocent of war and loss. This changed between the two times that I saw Húrin, the first and the last.

Húrin’s herald was the Eagles.

Our lord Turgon had a high tower, the spire of the city, where no-one ascended but him – like to your Meneltarma, in a way. For there, at times, he would speak with the great Eagles of Manwë, and learn news of our folk in the lands outside Gondolin. One bright morning of spring, the Eagles flew over our city, swooping lower than they ever had before, their wingspans shadowing our rooftops, and they called as they flew. Those of us in the streets murmured to see them skim our slates, and wondered if we had heard another sort of call amidst the birds’ voices.

By noon, the Eagles were gone, spiraled up into the high airs that they love. Whatever news they had brought Turgon kept him in his tower until the midpoint of the afternoon. When he descended, he did not come down alone; two strange youths were with him. A runner came to summon the loremasters who were wont to sit on Turgon’s council. My master Rúmil was among them, and he bade me follow. “Come, Pengolod. I have heard rumours of this. Any of the Lambengolmor would give the tip of their tongue to speak to these new folk, brought on the Eagle’s backs. Either they are Maiar, eagle-spirits who have taken the form of young fellows, or they are the fabled Atani.”

Mortal men! You folk of Númenor have shown me more wonder than I deserve. In that year, when mortals were still new upon the earth, five generations from your first fathers, you were a miracle indeed to us Eldar. This hope excited us more than that of meeting a Maia. We smiled in our eagerness as we went to meet these new folk.

Upon meeting them, we immediately saw where the rumour of their being eagle-men had begun. It was born of Húrin’s fierce glance. His eyes glinted under ferocious brows, and his features were clean-cut and hard. His hair was tawny gold, like an eagle’s feathers catching the sun, and to our amazement, he bore a set of fine mustachios, curved at the ends, and a short beard. No tale says that Húrin is tall. His brother Huor, six years younger than him and still a lad by looks and bearing, overtopped him in height. Yet Húrin’s frame was that of a strong-thewed warrior, as if he concentrated the manhood and vigor of a warrior two feet taller in his bones. He looked at the gathering of staring elf-folk with a scowl.

For a moment; then Húrin smiled, and began to laugh, flowing over with mirth. He said to Turgon, “I feel direct at home here, despite these stone walls – your maidens are as beautiful as my favorite girl back home. Now I see why we name her Elfsheen.” He spoke the Sindarin tongue, with the facility of one who had learned it in early youth.

“They’re even more beautiful, brother,” Huor gaped. Húrin elbowed him sharply. To my further fascination, they had an exchange in a different language, like Elvish and yet not, their own mortal language.

As they muttered to each other, Turgon spoke. “It is the law of the Hidden City that none may leave who have found their way here. We did not foresee that any of the Atani would come to us; but these two have been brought by the Eagles of Manwe, who protect us yet, despite the Curse of Mandos. They went to fight Orcs with a band of mortal men, being young but valiant. Separated from them and in peril, the Eagles saw fit to rescue them and bring them here, that their lives might not be lost to evil blades, and thinking that I might benefit from their knowledge. For their lore of the world that is, and their goodly hearts, I bid you my people to welcome them to their new home.” Polite bows and nods followed this.

Once or twice before, Turgon had introduced some noble newcomer to our people. Being wise, he had learned what did and did not work in the past, and he introduced the mortals to those of us who watched in turn. My master Rúmil was scarred with many travails, but Húrin and Huor met him without a flinch. Huor, more open and less fierce than his brother, asked if Rúmil was the only aged elf in the city. Rúmil said, “True, I carry many years. But so does Turgon, and so do many others here.” At this, they were amazed. And they told us of old age amongst mortals for the first time.

Later, Rúmil said to me, “I see why Turgon has taken them in. It is the same reason I used to take apprentices, that young rawness in life. Young people here, amidst all our sameness, do not have that quality, any more. Turgon never had sons, you know.”

“That is true,” I said, “but he has his sister-son, Maeglin.” You know, of course, the tale of Maeglin. That day, Maeglin had come late to the gathering, and he said little, though his haughtiness to the mortal fellows had cooled some of the gathering’s adulation. For Maeglin was powerful, a fascinator though not beloved. Tall, darkly handsome, and notably strong-willed himself, he and Húrin had taken each other’s measure. It had been like grey flint sparking off black iron, leaving both unchanged, just slightly marred by their antagonism.

Rúmil shook his head. “Maeglin came to us an elf-man of age, and darkened by tragedy, his father’s crime and his mother’s death. He had become who he was to be. Who knows what these mortals are, what they can be? They do not just have the possibilities of the young, but of an entirely new people. Perhaps they never felt the Shadow come to darken them, and never knew the curses of the bright Valar. Turgon will love them.”

So it came to be. Within two months, we were all used to seeing them at Turgon’s high table amongst his favorites. They ate like two warriors apiece. The simple clothes they preferred became the fashion for the time. Seeing their wonder at Gondolin, the city grew fresh and fair for us again, as well. Turgon himself introduced them to our courtly sparring, and taught them to ride amidst the fields of the Tumlauden. It is told that Turgon brought them into his counsels. I never saw them in the council hall. Surely it happened during those hours spent in seeming pleasances. The young fellows were gilded, for us, in their evanescence and vigor. Yet they were strangers, too; and at times it is easier to give confidences to such.

They were young and awed enough to take Turgon’s suggestions as law. Thus they wound up in the library where I spent my days, learning to read and write several kinds of runes. In those days, many Elves and many mortals did not read fully, though reading was the custom among Turgon’s folk. Young Huor had particular delight in the library, marveling over the illuminated pages in many of our works. I noticed that Húrin did not linger over them in the same way. He absorbed what there was to be learned, then turned the page.

It seemed that they had hardly been there at all, just one short turn of the year, when I happened to hear the two brothers talking in their own speech. I had learned it, by then. They had taught it to us loremasters, for we value all languages, and learn them with facility. They might not have known how well I could follow them, or thought I could not hear from where I was sitting. Were they alive, I would be shy of my overhearing; but they are gone on, and their words live in my memory, to reach out and touch you, o King and noble folk.

Huor’s first audible words drew my attention. He sighed heavily, and said to his brother, “I suppose you are right about going.”

“Do not take me wrongly. I will miss the good living here, probably more than you, since I’ve had more years to put up with weevil-ridden acorn porridge.” Húrin closed the book he was reading. “There’s nothing about leaving the city in this book, either.” He began to leaf through another tome.

Huor watched his brother skim the book for a time. “Would Turgon let us leave if we took messages to his kin?”

Húrin snorted. “I plan to offer him more than messages. He asked us if we thought mortals would fight against Morgoth, if there was a great war. He did not ask if we ourselves would fight. We’ve the clans of our kinfolk and allies – if he lets us go to claim them.” He licked a finger and turned a page. “That’s what we should be doing, instead of hawking and sparring with blunted blades. If Turgon himself was offered passage back to Valinor, him alone, would he take it, and leave his people to suffer? We cannot stay here while our people suffer, and call ourselves men. Nor will it seem so well to sit at their high table and have ladies chatter with you - and no more than that - when you are of an age to be wedded, or when you are a wrinkled graybeard.”

Huor cast a sad look around the library. Húrin, intense in his reading, did not see it, though he did hear when his brother said, more cheerfully than he looked, “You just say that because you’re short.”

“Back home in Brethil-wood I’ll still be short. You’ll still be taller than me. Besides, we shall sit at the great table as well, but as lords in waiting, not as living curiosities, and wield blade once more to guard our byres and folk.”

Still wistful, Huor said, “Do you think Turgon will let us bring our kinfolk some gifts from here?”

Húrin looked up and grinned, and cuffed his brother, fondly. They set the tomes aside and went away, and I heard no more.

Everyone knows the fair words Húrin spoke to Turgon to plead their cause, and Turgon released them, under vow of secrecy. Soon the Eagles came to the tall tower again, and bore them away, skimming low once more. We knew the young men’s voices now, and heard them shout farewell.

Húrin and Huor left us, but their influence did not. They left a wholesome restlessness behind them. The Hidden City did not reveal itself, but looked out from its hiding. It was at this time that Turgon sent forth mariners to try and contact the Valar, to plead for mercy for both Elves and mortals. There was also a trickle of messages, eagle-borne or carried by discreet messengers: to Círdan the Shipwright, and to other lords; the Sons of Fëanor. We heard of the deeds of Beren and Luthien, winning a Silmaril from Morgoth’s clutches, and after that, the eldest of Fëanor’s sons announced the plans for his great leaguer.

Turgon explained it to his great council. Maedhros was laboring to make a union of the Speaking Folk, mortals, Dwarves, and Elves, and hammer this united might down hard enough to break Morgoth once and for all. We debated much, for we had not been to war for over three hundred years. The lord Maeglin broke his usual silence and showed his fire, telling tales of the dwarves he had known in his youth, and of the foulness infecting the forests of Middle-Earth. For others of us, Húrin and Huor were not far from our minds. After the council, the decree went out: the Gondolindrim would go to war, and if we succeeded, our city would be hidden no more.

I heard little of Turgon’s high councils that followed. I was fully occupied learning to be a soldier, with a company of archers. It was a grim and serious year, that one, and too swift. So that our Hidden City would remain so, our ten thousand soldiers trickled out in small troops, and gathered our forces at the spring of Ethel Sirion, a week’s march north. Assembled over the course of two weeks, we sallied forth, marching twelve across, proud in our strength, and proceeded to the field between the end of Hithlum and the start of Thangorodrim, to assemble with the troops of the other folk. Turgon’s great trumpet rang, and our multitude was hailed with fierce joy. Yet we only increased their strength by a sixth part. Yes, greater than sixty thousand was the multitude gathered there for war. A fair measure of them were mortal, the tribes of Haleth and Beör, the Easterlings, a thrawn troop of the Drúedain, and the men of Dor-Lomin, Húrin’s people. He and his brother were there, leading their men, as they had planned so few years past.

The sun gleamed on banners of every color, on hide shields raised upon poles, and on pure dwarvish steel. All this glory was laid out like a seething tide waiting to slam against the high wall of Thangorodrim, that fortress of stone, dark and dirty, emitting its vapors like an evil, patient breath.

We played there a waiting game, each waiting for the other to break and sally forth. Morgoth had the victory of it in the end, goading the Elves of Narogthrond with a captive of that folk. Battle was joined with a howling, keening clamour. What chaos! Our forces, in a mighty phalanax with Turgon and his sister-son at our peak, clove through the Orcs to win to the side of Turgon’s brother, Fingon, and their shared ally, Húrin. We archers ringed around them as they stood upon a hillock, and heard their words and counsel.

Mortals’ battle-fury had Húrin, and his laugh was fell. “We will be avenged for many this day, by the looks of it! See the orc-spawn run!” Yet as he spoke, the gates of Angband creaked. The orcs that we hewed down like sick sheep fled to make way for newer, stronger horrors. First, a veritable herd of warg-wolves ran out, baying for our blood. We archers were busy – and when we were grasping for arrows, the Balrogs came, fell demons twice the height of an elf-warrior, wielding whips of flame. To one side, where the silver and black banner of Maedhros was lifted, chaos erupted. His elf-troops were suddenly busy defending themselves against their alleged mortal allies. Turgon roared for Húrin, and the pair confirmed that all Húrin’s men were true.

It is told that we might have won, were there but orcs. I would say further that in the heat of our wrath, we might have won even against the wargs and demons. But that battle was the first time the fire-drakes flew, and they blasted us like leaves. To be well-armored was death before them. In their midst came Glaurung, the mightiest of the cold-drakes, stinking and sneering amidst his scales of tarnished brass. His evil voice rang over the field, “Fools, to defy the Lord of Arda! The meat of three folk will be sweet to my teeth.” At Glaurung’s laugh, I quailed. The stink of the carrion-field became overwhelming, and blackness stole upon my heart. Such was Glaurung’s power, in his prime. When my spirit cleared, I was too occupied surviving to observe the greater movements of the battle. Enough of us had fallen that I equipped myself with a blade. My technique was not fine, but I lived.

Eventually I realized that we of Gondolin were riven from the main elf-host, and driven into retreat. We kept our discipline and stayed by our lords as well we might. Duilin of the great bow, Ecthelion of the spangled shield, Glorfindel the fair and Maeglin the dark; and Turgon. With his brother Fingon slain in battle, it came to him to be the High King of all our folk, and the forces that harried us clamoured for his head.

When we came up against the foothills of the Pass of Sirion, a hoarse call went out for archers to ring a counsel, and we staggered there. By then more than half Turgon’s forces, my kindred-in-arms, had fallen. There I heard Húrin’s voice, for the last time. He spoke for his folk, urging Turgon to leave and defend our Hidden City, for the hope of our mingled peoples. There was more debate there than is commonly related in the histories. It was agreed that Húrin and the mortals of Dor-Lomin that he led would take the rearguard, and if fate would have it, follow us. Then it was that Húrin laid on Turgon that rede that if they let in another wanderer, it would do Gondolin nothing but good.

I do not know if Turgon meant to open the Gates to the mortal survivors of this defense. You see, there were none.

They were hewed down behind us as they stemmed the dark tide. Our captains had to use the force of their authority to keep us Gondolindrim on our path. For by the echo of the pass, we could hear Húrin’s mighty cry. His anguish at the fall of gentle Huor echoed back to us. After that, like a toll of doom, he cried out, “Aurë entuluva! Day will come again!”

We strained to hear it, even in our retreat. It was all hope and all despair, all of the enormous sacrifice of goodly mortals that day, laying down their brief lives to go swiftly to their fate. The tail-end of our retreat lingered hopefully, for the raw, bright cry could still be heard. Until the echo came:

“Aurë entuluva! Aurë entulu---”

That call of courage went down into a cry of anguish. Then, it was overwhelmed by the bawls of trolls and the fiery roar of Balrogs – the sound of rejoicing darkness. Húrin was downed.

Hearkening back no more, we fled, with tears in our eyes – the first of the tears unnumbered shed after that dreadful day.

Húrin sacrificed his life. Though he did not die. As the great tales tell, he was captured by Morgoth, and set in an enchanted chair. From there he was condemned to watch the misfortunes of his kinfolk, a long tale and dark. It is told that he was set free when bent and aged, with his eagle’s fierceness changed to raven’s battle-bitter wisdom. The best I can tell of him after that is that he once more saw Elfsheen, and laid her in her cairn, before casting himself in the waters to perish. His soul was free from griefs at last; we Elves were bound to endure the dark days that came. Knowing each other for a time lightened our respective fates, though briefly, like the sun of noon.



By now, silvered trays of sweetmeats and tall tumblers of iced drinks had been served to the nobles, who sipped and munched as they listened. Politely, they applauded when Pengolod fell silent.

Pengolod started. He had been so absorbed in telling the tale well that he had felt himself nearly reliving that terrible hour.

Minastir nodded. “A most excellent example. Through Húrin we may all see how even then, mortals admired and sacrificed for the Elves.”

Ciryatan added, “Very true, Father. I am pleased that, even then, mortals were known for their prowess upon the field, though we have only one life to live, even now.” He bowed slightly in Pengolod’s direction. “Thank you, Master Elf, for your instruction. Being reminded of my mortality, I will make the best I can of this fair summer evening, with your leave. Lady Laurinquë. Might I have the pleasure of your company on a moonlit stroll?”

“You certainly may, Lord Ciryatan. One thing I did not like in his tale.” Laurinquë pouted, and inclined her chin towards Pengolod. “He admitted that he was afraid.”

Ciryatan laughed heartily. “Why, Lady, all that shows is that he has been in battle, and his tale is true. Truer than many.” Was his glance at Pengolod sardonic, or knowing? They proceeded proud and decorous from the hall, chaperoned by two more of the handmaidens.

Minastir seemed pleased by this final word from Ciryatan. “You see, Master Pengolod, my son meant no ill when he queried you before. As you can see, now that the week of festival is through, we are at times less formal. I believe I shall take Ciryatan’s counsel. Do have a pleasant evening. My dear?” He proffered his arm to his wife, and told the trailing servants, “Attend us in my lady’s Moon Salon.” The other folk present stood and began to leave, and servants, relieved at the prospect of an earlier night, began to clear the table. The public evening was clearly over.

Pengolod abandoned his last course, untouched since he had been speaking, to go back to his chambers. He was dazed with his remembered grief, and weary; weary as if he had been ground upon for a week. Which he had been. Minastir might be honoured by having an Elf about, but he made of Pengolod what suited him at the time. Alternating between counselor, lordly guest, and minstrel grew more taxing every night. With Minastir’s adoration on one side and Ciryatan’s confined bluster on the other, Pengolod felt painfully that he was the lens sharpening unease between father and son.

The tale he had told brought up all the battle-sickness that drove him from Middle-Earth to start with. He had known Húrin; had heard the cry of his strength giving out. Speaking of it so deeply was like reliving it. And it had taken him until this night to understand Húrin’s restlessness in Gondolin, what it was to be seen for too long as an adored other. He looked out over the moonlit view, unhappy. Ciryatan is right. What am I doing here?

Before he could consider the reasons, someone behind him cleared his throat. Pengolod turned to see one of the King’s servants standing there, with a salver of sweets and one of the iced drinks in a crystal tumbler. “Refreshments for you, sir,” he said. “Shall I put them on the table?”

Pengolod watched as he did so. It had not been the representatives of Minastir who had charmed him into staying. He longed to eat simple meat and drink the red Rómenna wine at Aelfwine’s table once more, and talk all this over with his friend. Would Aelfwine have caught it, in his tale, that many had died, and asked who he had known among the fallen? He liked to think so, but perhaps not. Yet he knew for certain, from the tales he had told at that simpler table, that Aelfwine would have waited until he, too, was done with whatever was served, as a host with an equal, not a lord sated with pleasances, leaving his guest’s care to his servant.

Pengolod noticed that the sleeves of his white robes were graying, growing slightly dirtier each day, from his constant gesture of hiding his hands. He frowned. To send his clothes off to be laundered would open him up to yet more of Minastir’s lavish hospitality. He had accepted two gifts so far, and done so with a clean conscience, having entertained Minastir’s court four nights running. After more than two thousand years to compare himself to other singers of the Eldar, Pengolod was aware that his chief virtue in such entertainments was infallibly remembering all the verses. When songs could be long enough to fill a folio of forty-five pages, this was something, if not the same as a voice of pure silver. Whatever his deficiencies, the gifts were a fair exchange for a minstrel’s labors – and, also, not the sort of hospitality that indicated he was making himself at home in Minastir’s household. Fine laundering, or even worse, an offer of clothing, would cross that line. It was time to decide if he would linger under Tar-Minastir’s patronage.

Pengolod dismissed the still-waiting servant. Ignoring the tray of sweets, he began to stack up his papers. There were the notes he had taken from the King’s library, and the small scrolls bound in silver and gold that had been Tar-Minastir’s gifts for his unremarkable minstrelry. The most precious thing that he would be bringing back, in his estimation, was leave to view the Lord of Venturer’s archives in Rómenna – where Aelfwine could come with him. He had the rest of the night to compose a suitably gracious farewell to Minastir.


Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted December 2, 2004.

Feedback or comments on this story are welcome - email Tyellas here.





Click here to send feedback.


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