Magweth Pengolodh: The Question of Pengolod

Part 8: The Fat Man's Tale

By Tyellas

Summary: Silmarillion-based. A hot, sticky Rómenna afternoon leads to a confrontation with the Little King, in which Pengolod is asked a question he cannot answer, and to the history of mortal Dírhaval and the third elvish Kinslaying.

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.


One night, Pengolod slept badly. With the warm air still oppressive, even after dark the linen sheets felt hot as wool. When he arose, the sky over the firth of Rómenna glowered low and pearly. Aelfwine took a look at his elvish lodger lingering down the stairs, tying the sash of his robe, and said, “You’ll want something cooler, surely? The hot weather set in last night. I can feel it in my foot.”

Pengolod said, alarmed, “This is only the under-robe to my daily garb. I thought we were already in the middle of the hot summer weather that all you Rómennans spoke about.” It was, after all, a month after the Erulaitalë.

Soup’s face was already glossed with sweat as he said, “No, sir, spring’s been pulled out long this year. Master, can you make up tonic water today?” he added, pleading.

“Yes, we’ll definitely want it. Ask next door before you take the sorrel from their door-plants.” Soup hustled off to draw water from the well before the heat grew truly punishing. “The air gets heavy, and we all must drink tonic-waters for our thirst while the sun is up. Wine only after sundown, until this weather breaks, say the healers. Since Elves don’t fall ill, I suppose you won’t need the tonics.”

Pengolod replied, “Perhaps, you know, I should try them. I had been thinking already that Rómenna is warmer than any city where I have dwelt.”

At first, Rómenna flourished in the height of summer. With “the city in its shirtsleeves,” or no sleeves at all, children romped and shrieked, vendors changed their wares, and the smaller boats swarmed the harbour more than before. Tavern gardens filled at night with people comparing the efficacy of the temperate tonics, herb teas or flavored waters they drank dúring the day. These summery pleasantries changed as the stew-like weather did not break. Women grumbled on their doorsteps. The fast night-drinking led swiftly to fights. Worst of all, every breeze from the sunny docks was a malodorous, fly-ridden reminder that Rómenna was a working fishing-port.

Pengolod also worried that Aelfwine’s business fell off noticeably. Aelfwine said, “It’s normal in every way. Every ship’s at sea right now, and the higher folk take off to their places in Forrostar or Emerie. Usually I wouldn’t even have the lodging filled.” Nonetheless, he or Soup went out in Aelfwine’s small boat more often, and came back with fish or crustaceans for meals, which had not been their habit before.

Aelfwine’s leg ached more in the humidity, and he showed the sharp side of his temper to Soup, especially about the use of the boat. Soup, not an argumentative lad, responded by darting away from the shop the moment his duties were finished each day. These excursions suited him. When Soup showed up at the late sunset, his skin looked healthier, rosy and brown from the sun, and his mild tiredness allowed him to concentrate. It was evident that he spent his time wangling his way onto various boats, talking about them avidly, with the excuse that maybe Aelfwine could get some business from their comings and goings. After three nights running of this, Aelfwine snapped, “I’m no fool to have my prentice tell me my business, boy. If you want a good word from me to get you on board one of those ships someday, as something better than a galleyman, you’d serve better here, where I need you. Do you hear me?” Soup caught his breath and agreed. “Then show willing and run off to the well again.”

When Soup was gone on this errand, Aelfwine confessed to Pengolod, “His folk sent him away from Armenelos for his gangling and greasiness, as much as for his ill work at the great Academy. They had the idea that they’d get back at least a respectable under-clerk once he’d grown beyond his awkward years and was fit to be seen once more. They will be sorry. Their lad will spare them the sight of him for many long years, when he’s at sea.”

“You will not try to keep him to aid you? It would not take much, if his family are as you say,” said Pengolod.

Aelfwine pulled his mustache and slowly shook his head. “No, he’s in love with Uinen. It is stronger in him, this year. I know what it is to go to sea – the green waves and the blue, new shores and strange isles. Knowing, I cannot keep him from his own chance.”

Pengolod marveled at this selflessness and asked, “How did you come to be such a good man, Aelfwine?”

“Am I so? I do not feel it, lately, with the damp air knotting up my blood.” Aelfwine drew on his mustache again. “In my youth, every time someone tormented me, or said ill of me – I vowed to act the opposite way. I had plenty of such examples, being a cripple.”

Soup came back with the water, then. The two mortals made up another batch of Aelfwine’s preferred tonic. Peace was restored as Soup peeled cucumbers without any protest (Aelfwine said the peels made the tonic bitter.) Aelfwine stripped the leaves off sorrel and mint. The lamplight flattered both of them, with their sun-touched skins and their hair thick and clean from swimming in the sea. Pengolod flicked his long braid back as he watched, and flinched to feel how deeply greasy his own hair was become in the heat.

The next day, he took himself off to one of Rómenna’s public bath-houses. There were several of these, tucked into the hillsides of the Firth to capture water racing down from the cliffs. The one closest to the Kingstown neighborhood was a sodden-looking building of grey stone and wood, split into halves for men and women. The ablution that awaited within was nothing like the marvelous marble tubs of Tar-Minastir’s palace. Pengolod, used to changes in fortune, was pleased enough with the wooden tub and handful of soft soap. Under the louring eye of the keeper of the men’s entrance, he had paid the extra coin to partake of this in a wooden cubicle, instead of beside the public men’s pool.

The good long scrub made Pengolod feel himself again. When he emerged, the bath-keeper seemed to anticipate his next question. “The courtyard’s round the back.” Evidently the man knew what his customers wanted, thought Pengolod, and he went happily enough to the courtyard, where he expected to sit until his streaming black hair dried.

The men sitting on the benches ringing the small courtyard were other fellows who could afford the best of the bathhouse, most with damp hair curling or straggling in the sun. The few men with shiny bald pates, Pengolod assumed, were sitting out for the joys of sunlight and fellowship. Some of them were talking quietly, but a big bristly fellow beside an empty spot was, to Pengolod’s amusement, snoring gently. In the mood for some silence, Pengolod joined him, sitting sidewise on the bench to allow his hair to fall straight for its full length.

That was when he realized that only a thin wooden wall separated the men’s courtyard from the women’s next door. He could hear a conversation taking place on a bench on the other side, and the voice was one he knew; that of the widow Rothinzil.

Behind the partition, Rothinzil was saying, “Ouf! It’s a blessing to get off my feet, for once. If I was rich, I’d come here every day, not just once a month.” Pengolod did not doubt that Rothinzil would change that wish, had she seen the King’s palace.

“You said it, sister,” said another woman, her voice coarser. Pengolod remembered Rothinzil’s watchful friend, strapping Pudani. “My own feet ache clear up to my neck after last night’s work.”

Rothinzil chuckled. “And here you want me to take up serving – and fending off - all those tosspots with you.”

“By the time they’re all soused, they think I’m as good-looking as you are. I get my pick! And I get to sleep in of a morning.”

“I should think so, you being up until cock-crow, as a rule.” There was a pause. Rothinzil said, “My hours are worse than a dray-mare’s, it’s true, but I had to do something. If I’d have stayed where I was, I’d always have been their son’s widow. Their son’s barren widow. No, the good woman Ezellen was right; this muffin route was a good way to meet respectable fellows.” Pengolod turned fully and glared at the wall that was expressing such mercenary opinions.

“Not much good with you going all soft on one right away. Still waiting for him to come ‘round and start courting you proper?” Pengolod listened even more intently, to find out who Aelfwine’s rival was.

“He started!” said Rothinzil, plaintively. “He started, and then – and then that Elf came back.” Pengolod stared at the wall as if Rothinzil could see his shocked look. He had never said anything against her.

Pudani seemed to share his opinion as she asked, dismissively, “So what’s the problem?”

“There are several. Beside him, I – his beauty is intimidating. I feel so lesser. I hardly know what to say to the elf. I am a widow as well, and if Aelfwine is friends with the Elves, maybe he thinks as they do – that widows shouldn’t marry again.” Rothinzil paused. “But it’s not just that.”

Pudani snorted. “That’s good. 'Cause that’s the stupidest excuse I ever heard. Elves always get another chance, is the thing. They have to understand we’re human, we just get one go-around and that’s it!”

Rothinzil sounded troubled as she said, “I wish it was like that, but I walked with the elf, I heard him tell one of his tales. It’s like he casts a spell. It’s as if - what if Uinen decided she liked you, and came to serve with you in your tavern, and tell you tales of how to enchant men like she does?”

“Now you’re talking!” said Pudani, eagerly. “You think she would?”

Rothinzil said, “You like it already, see? It would be like being in one of those grand old tales yourself. You’d still be you, but special, picked out. Something from real life, our life, it’s not the same. I felt that way, too, when I was listening to the elf’s story. If the elf was in my lodging and gave me such mind, I wouldn’t make time for courting, either.” She sighed, sounding very like Aelfwine, in a way. “I’m not an enchanter. I’m not magic just by being. I can make a man feel like a man, even if he doesn’t deserve it, but not like – not like his tale is walking with him.”

Pudani grumbled, “So you’re saying it’s good but it’s not good when the Elf is around? You’re making my head hurt. You and the ink-man deserve each other. Why couldn’t it just be something where I could have him beaten up?”

Rothinzil sighed again. “It would be easier if he was at sea, instead of seeing him for a few moments each day, and getting fresh gossip from all and sundry. Then I could worry about pretty cabin-boys and Middle-Earth women desperate to get off the Mud, like everybody else. As it is, it’s too much and too little. I just want some time with him, that’s all.”

“Which him? Elf or Aelfwine? I wouldn’t mind some time with either.”

Rothinzil laughed. “You know who I mean.”

Pengolod started as someone on his side of the wall addressed him. “Begging your pardon? Master?”

Pengolod looked up to find a man waiting with a soapy brush, a mug, and a long razor.

“Sorry for the wait, Master. Ready for your shave?” Just past him, Pengolod could see the man who had been beside him striding off, rubbing his newly-smooth chin with a satisfied expression.

Pengolod decided to nod. After all, he reflected, there was a first time for everything.

Though he tried to listen behind him as his face was soaped, he heard nothing more; the two women’s voices were gone, or lost in the increased chatter.

After the shave, Pengolod was rubbing his own chin when the barber and asked if perhaps he wanted his hair cut. Pengolod refused and left immediately, before anyone could ask him again. Once his long stride had put a good downhill distance between himself and the bath-house, he rubbed his chin again. The skin felt slightly harder and flatter, though a glance in a reflecting window showed that he looked the same, save for his still-damp hair. He had fled before his hair was fully dry, and he started to seek a bench where he might sit and let the sun finish its work.

Pengolod had descended into a shabby-looking square. It seemed to be the haunt of chandlers and sailors, with a few wineshops and brewers, busy despite Rómenna’s summer superstition. They had probably been the ones to build a whitewashed bench encircling the square’s central walnut tree. Pengolod took a seat, prepared to watch the passers-by as he waited in the half-shade. He glanced up at the tree appreciatively. It was as tall and broad as the trees shading the courtyard of Aelfwine’s square. No doubt they had been planted at the same time, fifty years ago, when Tar-Minastir bade the Kingstown neighbourhood be improved. Small birds, greenish wrens and scarlet kirinki, were picking at the green walnuts. He let the birds’ small noises soothe him while he thought about Rothinzil’s words.

Pengolod had, of course, heard of the debate of the mortal wise-woman Andreth and the elf-king Finrod, which turned upon the axis of love fulfilled between Andreth and Finrod’s undying kinsman. Since her day, long past, the gulf between elf and mortal had been bridged only rarely. Time tore at mortals, and memory tore at elves, drawing them ever apart even when they came together. Especially when, Pengolod thought. He had been congratulating himself about the friendship between himself and Aelfwine, who was – he corrected himself - who seemed always happy to share his thoughts and remembrances, and considered that they had rediscovered the fellowship of days past. Woman-wise Rothinzil, schooled in sadness and unmet dreams, had divined why it was so for Aelfwine. But for himself?

The leaves rustled in the walnut-tree as Pengolod considered this. Suddenly, peeping and piping, all the kirinki took off in a crimson flock, leaving the tree to the bolder wrens. They had been disturbed by a great wain entering the square. Pengolod’s glance of curiosity sharpened at whom he saw bellying out from one of the wineshops to greet the wain’s drover. And where else, he thought bitterly, would a fat man while away the hours? The bulk and beard of the master of the mummers, the Little King, were unmistakable.

Pengolod stared as the Little King stopped to chat with the wain-drover. At first he thought that the mortal had lost some of his poundage, for he looked less bloated and strained. A moment’s scrutiny revealed that, in fact, it was his clothes that made the difference. They fitted his mass, instead of straining about it. The false finery the mortal wore as the Little King had been too small on purpose, to exaggerate his body all the more.

The Little King’s time performing must have made him sensitive to all audiences. He screwed up his eyes and peered about, seeking his watcher, and saw Pengolod. His eyebrows lifted. Then he tapped the drover, and they looked Pengolod’s way without pointing. The drover promptly went crimson with astonishment. The fat man beamed and walked over to astonish Pengolod with a half-bow. “I say! You’re that elveny chap, aren’t you? How d’you fare?”

Pengolod stood up. “And you are that mummer whose rabble mocks my people time and again.”

The fat man replied, “By Ossë, ‘tis nothing against the Fair Folk. Just that I’ve got to cheer myself up somehow after I look in the mirror, I say.” His smile invited Pengolod’s laughter.

Pengolod would not be appeased. “How dare you make a play of the Siege of Imladris? I was there – I starved there thirty months and two, and there I’d be yet if not for the soldiers you also mocked. We laughed little at the orcs, by the end of it, and it was terrible loss, not weakness, that brought our defeat.” He stopped short. He had been so angry that he had railed from the start in Elvish, not Adûnaic, but despite that, he was being understood.

The man being castigated rolled back a step before he found his voice, to reply in Elvish as well. “I’ve seen humans come back to Numenor’s shores still fighting that war. Didn’t know Elves did the same. Nothing like that, I’ve seen, to make a man lose his laughter. So I will ask your pardon. Twice over, I ween, for the mocking you took at Ciryatan’s ship-feast. That did not offend you more?”

Disarmed by this second reply, Pengolod said, “The ship-feast? No. That kiss was just – foolery.”

“Nothing’s just foolery, good sir, not in my Little Kingdom. You are the sojourner Pengolod, are you not?”

Mollified but wary, he said, “Yes, I am Pengolod. And you -- Master? All I know you as is the Little King.”

The fat man said, “You had better name me Nûph, then, as all the folk in this quarter do. Will you let me stand you a stoup of wine, which drowns all offense?”

“I thought wine in the sun brought ill health, with the heat running high,” said Pengolod, privately nothing loath. People were starting to cluster around the edges of the square to observe the ill-matched pair talking.

Nûph allowed his voice a sarcastic edge as he declared, “Tar-Minastir did many fine things when he became king, but having that idea proclaimed to the common folk, as he did, wasn’t one of them. Which shop will you have? The Hen and Chicks, or Two Green Almonds?”

Pengolod observed them both. The doorway of the Hen and Chicks, under its red and yellow signboard, was crowded with watching women, their eyes narrowed as they peered into the sunlight. Pengolod had not ridden through the corners of Middle-Earth for naught. Knowing how a “wine-shop” might stay busy without selling a cup, he immediately chose the other one. Nûph said, “Your way it is,” and blew a kiss to the women as they entered the cool shadows of Two Green Almonds.

Two Green Almonds seemed to draw a more genteel crowd, if its sparse clientele of artistic-looking young men, their faces shaved clean, was any indication. Despite his invitation, Nûph’s tipple proved to be a pitcher of tonic, albeit with slices of expensive citrus drifting among the required mint leaves. He took a great draught and said, “This heat, it’s terrible. This is the only time when I wish I could take to home, where Uinen’s breezes don’t come by way of Ossë’s midden, but one can’t always have what one wants.”

Pengolod took a more modest sip, appreciating that his red wine was cool from the cellar, and replied, “I hear that. We Elves like four seasons and a cool country. Where is home?”

“Hyarnustar in the southwest. Our wine country. The heat’s to good purpose, on those fields.” Nûph sighed dramatically and filled his tumbler again.

Pengolod asked, “Then how come you here, to be a mummer?”

Nûph said, “Unien’s teats and tail, haven’t you noticed? I’m obese! Enormous! A great tub of lard! The hold of the great ship Turuphanto had nothing on my gullet; they could light all Armenelos with candles from my tallow. Yea, was I to go to war, the orcs would fight themselves to death, quarrelling over who’d get to render my drippings for their goblin bread. I am, in brief, fat.”

Recalling his first thought on seeing Nûph, Pengolod said, guiltily, “It does come to mind. But what does that have to do with being a mummer?”

Nûph put his tumbler down and said, “Your lot and mine, elf-man, are tied together in Númenor. I shall explain. You have gone to Armenelos and been the guest of Tar-Minastir. If some tattooed canoe-boy from the South-isles, or ambitious chit from Umbar, gets off a boat in Rómenna, they do not get the King’s hospitality, oh, no. You were asked out of Minastir’s reverence for the Elves, which all Numenor knows about. We know it, for thanks to Minastir, anything Elvish is the style, these past hundred years of his reign. Including –" Nûph cocked a finger at Pengolod’s nose – “your fine looks. Elves have keen eyes, ‘tis said. Did you see anyone young and ill-favoured, or any fat folk, at our good King’s court?”

“No,” Pengolod admitted. “Some with silver beards, but that was all, in the way of mortality.”

Nûph nodded. “All mortals know that Elves’ fine faces show their virtue. Hence –"

“Wait, wait! Where does that come from? We Elves do not say it of ourselves,” protested Pengolod.

Nûph looked both irritated and amused. “You say you don’t say it, which is exactly the sort of thing someone virtuous would say. I believe you don’t say it, but you can see how we came to say it, yes? As I was saying before you said what you don’t say, hence those who are less than fair are less than welcome in Armenelos.”

Astonished, Pengolod said, “How can they make a law against that?”

“They don’t need to. I saw it all as it came about. I was young when Minastir took the scepter. His wife was a beauty, of course, and nobles soon saw how Minastir groomed himself elfwise, the shaved beard, the robes like elves off the boats. They did the same, and the clever began to slide lovely pages and maids into their entourages. Theories on the unity of fairness and noble natures abounded. By now, thinking they know beauty, they grow even harsher towards it; no-one is well-favoured enough, especially when the real thing comes by, as happens rarely.” Nûph gave Pengolod a pointed look. “A fat man at that court, though he hold fine lineage and title to the vineyards of Hyarnustar – not even the lowest of the pretty pages will speak him fair for all the vails in all the coffers.” He stopped for yet another draught. As if at random, he said, “I’ve a sister at home.”

By now Pengolod recognized he was the audience of a master storyteller. Instead of mentioning his own sister, he nodded, to give Nûph his cue.

“Yes; a sister. You’d know her as my sister if you saw her, have no doubt. I wouldn’t want to be a woman. A fat man can manage, by day’s end. He can trade and politic, use a quick tongue to beat others to their mocking and win them around. The Chief of the Mummers is always a fat fellow, for that reason. The one before me told me I’d find it a bloody relief, and he was right. After the way everyone’s eyes slid away from my grossness, being the Little King gives them leave to look, and lets me be seen. But – my sister?” He shook his head. For an instant, real bleakness was in his gaze. “Better that her brother’s off in Rómenna, living the low life and a-taunting Ciryatan. She’s got the best of all reasons to spare herself sharp eyes, minding the family home. Yavanna’s hallow knows her fair, even if she will not go to Illuvatar’s at the Meneltarma.” He tilted his tumbler to hide his face for a moment, and put it down, wiping his mouth. “Augh, listen to me, I’m maudlin as if this was spirits. Barkeep, what’ve you been putting in this tonic, hey?”

As he had said earlier to Aelfwine, Pengolod said, “It is very good of you to leave your home so that she may have peace.”

“Humph. Selfish of me, rather. When the weather behaves, I’m better here, amongst my fellow grotesques.” When Pengolod raised his eyebrows, Nûph exclaimed, “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed that, either? Kingstown’s where the dregs of Numenor collects, all those who don’t even come close to elven-fair. The boy and the chit who get off the boat, who Minastir won’t have to Armenelos, even to scrub his pots? It’s here that they come. Again, it’s Tar-Minastir’s doing. The old port was all right, though it had a bad habit of burning down, being clinker-built of wood not fit for the boats. Minastir built it up of new stone, with fine trees and wells, all good as his work at Armenelos – but he would put it about that this was made fine and fair for the working folk.”

Accepting his own cue, Pengolod asked, “What’s the problem?”

“Just as most Numenoreans are fine-favoured enough that they yearn to be elven-fair, so too they’re prosperous enough that nobody wants to be working folk. Those who had the right to claim a dwelling traded their leases to shoehorn themselves in the good part of Rómenna, which became anywhere that wasn’t Kingstown. All the fine new parts filled up with those for whom “working folk” was a step up from “rabble from the Mud.” Then you come along, hah! That an elf likes Kingstown is one thing; that an elf likes it more than Armenelos, enough to stay the summer through, that’s what’s got the wind in everyone’s sails.”

“I see.” Behind his quiet, Pengolod was going through several kinds of recognition. Nûph had the weapons of the quick-minded, wit and wryness and perception. Stronger than these was the sense that he had known a person of the same type in the past, living under a different name and guise yet akin in soul; that he had met someone cast from this same metal before.

His intense gaze impressed Nûph, who said, “You’ve listened to my wind blow long enough, I’m sure. Now I would listen to you, if I might. You are an elf of lore; you can tell me something that I’ve wondered about all my days.”

“Ask away,” said Pengolod. “Though I feel much the fool myself as I sit here and listen to you, and learn what I have lived amongst.”

Nûph smiled and his rounded hand drifted up forgivingly. “Now, now, being a fool is the start of wisdom, at least in the Little Court! Anyhow, my question.” He grew somber. “We mortals know Aule created the Dwarves for love, Morgoth made the Orcs for hate, and Illuvatar lavished every gift on his Firstborn folk, you Elves. You’re all locked in neatly with the Valar and their fates. But what are mortals good for? What good do we do in this Middle-Earth? It seems the only time we matter is when we get tangled up with the Elves.”

Pengolod sat back in surprise. “Some of our seers say your spirits will return and fight with us Elves in the Last Battle.”

“Yes, but why? Why even bother having mortals? I just can’t picture it, the Great Singing Creator saying, “Right, I’ve made people who never get sick, never grow old, love truly and faithfully, and stay always beautiful. Now to do better the second time about,” and he made…us? Me? Many a night, as I wheeze and ache, I’ve wondered why.”

Nûph’s eyes, in their folds of flesh, were a keen, icy blue. Their brightness would have been a by-word, had fate set them in a fair visage, not over thick, bearded jowls. Pengolod said, gravely, “I don’t know. When it comes to it, some say we Elves were put here to be memory for mortals. But mortals – you – and mortality have never been explained by our philosophers.”

Nûph exhaled, and looked diminished for a moment, before swelling with jocularity once more. “Does that mean that we should seek you Elves whenever we mislay our keys, or forget our wives’ birthdays? Seriously now, if you ever do find out what both you and we are in Arda for, let us mortals know.”

“You have my solemn promise,” Pengolod said.

Nûph peered mockingly into Pengolod’s tankard. “Solemn promises now, after such a greeting! The dregs often hit folks like that, when it’s a good vintage.” He laughed his easy laugh and stood, downing the last of the tonic. Seeing Pengolod drawing out his wallet, Nûph protested, “None of that, though Elvish silver be rare indeed in any wine-shop here. I invited you; and asides, I own this place. And a few others. And most of –" Nûph stopped with a chuckle. “Let’s just say Ciryatan puts up with me for a reason. Men must drink. Ah, at last, I’ve made you smile. That took some doing. With this great deed accomplished, I will leave you, as all good mummers should – leave them laughing, is our motto.”

Pengolod said, “I will walk out with you.”

At their passing, one of the few other drinkers said, “Come back again, handsome,” adding a scandalous wink at Pengolod. The drinker recoiled a moment later as the Little King rotated his way to cry, with exaggerated bliss, “Darling, I knew you loved me truly!” Pengolod laughed with everyone else in the shop at Nûph’s successful mocking, though his mouth went dry to consider the other types, perhaps unwelcome at Armenelos, who had found a niche in Kingstown. He slipped out the door in the lee of the huge, laughing man, who brushed off Pengolod’s thanks. Nûph waved it off. “Not enough of an audience for me to make you put up with that.”

“So you say. But you set yourself forwards to be mocked, instead of, ah, what he meant,” said Pengolod.

Nûph said, blandly, “And here I never said why it’s always a fat man who’s the Little King. That’s our specialty, you see. Blunts the sting if we mock ourselves first, and others second.”

This said, the Little King took his leave promptly, in the wain that had waited all through their talk. When the wain-drover bawled to his oxen to spur them along, Pengolod realized that he had seen the drover before as well, clad in a white gown and a wig of golden straw, announcing that he was a beautiful elvish lady.

This last strangeness made him feel deeply weary. With the Little King gone, the square’s inhabitants felt more hostile. Pengolod retreated to Aelfwine’s shop.

Business was still slow when he arrived. Aelfwine and Soup were cleaning the shelves. They seemed to have been working together well, for Aelfwine was cheerful as he said, “Looks like you found the bath-house all right. Come look at this, it’s from my old master’s day.” Pengolod went, grateful to slide so easily into the safer part of their friendship, after his day.

Pengolod stayed quiet that evening, drawing Aelfwine out for their conversation. He heard stories of Aelfwine’s youth on the trading-boat, and the scrapes of his own apprenticeship. When Soup was sent upstairs, Pengolod (dutifully silent about overhearing Rothinzil) spoke of his meeting with the Little King. Aelfwine, fascinated, responded with the centuries-sordid history of the square where Pengolod had had his encounter. This ended when Soup came down from his baking-hot garret and was granted leave to sleep on the small tiled porch.

Pengolod, staying up through the night to write, heard the lad snoring gently, regular as a bellows. After their first talk at the Venturer’s library, Pengolod had meant to write out the full Narn I Hin Húrin for Aelfwine. (None of the copies in the Venturer’s library were the complete version – yet another sign of Minastir’s cleansing upon becoming King, he suspected.) His gritty day had him in the mood for both the grim tale, with its ill-starred friendship between mortal Túrin and Beleg of Doriath, and for a gesture to Aelfwine. It was the longest such lay known to the Elves. He could not have written it all out in one night, but he had already begun the work of it, and finished with the dawn.

Aelfwine, greeted when he came down the stairs, looked at the pages and said, “Don’t tell me you worked through the night on this.”

“I did, and gladly, with the night’s coolness. Your climate here has conquered me.” Pengolod heard, before Aelfwine did, a voice he knew in the morning street. “Take a look while I scrub this ink off, for once. If Rothinzil comes while I’m beside the well, two muffins for me. Not sleeping makes me hungry.” He stepped out the back into the courtyard just as she came in the front, and took his time.

The day went by with even less business than the day before. Aelfwine sewed up the pages Pengolod had written into a leather cover. Pengolod lingered by, and their conversation, as it often did, led to Pengolod recounting another tale of eld. He had remembered who it was that had been, in the past, the same type of person as Nûph.



I would never have met Dírhaval if we had not both had our fates turned upside-down. We who had fled Gondolin had, after several years at the mouth of the river Sirion, struck up an alliance with Círdan’s folk. Many of them had dwelt in the great citadel of Brithombar, but this had been downed, and they had fled to the same regions of Sirion. The Teleri's seaward citadels had been built ages past, in the era when only stars shone. Their towers had been raised by the folk you call Dwarves. (They had taken their pay of pearls, and retreated before the Sun arose, far inland and south to the great Dwarf-home called Khazad-Dûm.) At this time Sirion was the great refuge of the Green-Elves and Doriathrim, fleeing the spreading evil of the North and the fall of Doriath.

Not all this evil was of Morgoth’s making. The most famed of the refugees was young Elwing, and her home, Doriath, had been sacked by the Sons of Fëanor, in the second great Kinslaying. She and her mother had fled, with the heirloom of her house, Beren’s Silmaril. Elwing was marked by her grandmother’s beauty and, perhaps, her mother’s fearfulness. Brithombar’s leading council could not turn her away, nor did they wish to, after seeing her piteous loveliness, made compelling by the Silmaril she wore. But they knew that the love of Ulmo and his waters, which kept Brithombar safe from Morgoth as might be, would not bar the Sons of Fëanor.

Thus it was that Idril was able to join the refugees of the Song of Stone, with our wrights and drafters, to Círdan’s people. Guided by those who had been Gondolindrim, a great sheer wall was built arcing about the haven of Sirion, hemming it between the sea-cliffs and docks of the west and a single arched gate in the east. Once word went out into the war-ravaged lands that the Mouths of Sirion was grown to be a citadel strong, yet more good folk came, seeking refuge.

When we were permitted Sirion, I met the varied folk there, and the new knowledge they brought gave me pangs of grief again. At that time I had a higher rank than in the past, as Eärendil’s tutor of letters – not that Eärendil vaunted me. The lad adored Círdan as his hero, and yearned for his ships. He came of age in body very early, and declared himself done with my tutoring at the age of twenty. I could hardly gainsay this strange man, who had a boy’s years by our count, but was fair as his mother, virile-strong as his father, and tall as lost Turgon. With all his virtues, it seemed inevitable that he soon won the hand of fair Elwing.

Very soon after they wedded, I had yet another parting to endure. At least those who left chose to go. Tuor was growing grey. He and Idril, for love of each other, decided to attempt sailing to the West together. Several of their most devoted followers went with them as crew, including my friend of long years, Voronwë. Idril had me scry the omens for the journey. I had to assure her three times that they really were successful, and I was not simply saying what she might wish to hear. I saw amongst those omens that their journey was not my fate. So I remained.

Though I served Eärendil as I had served Idril and Tuor, this left me with hours of my own. I befriended the varied folk of Sirion. Never before, and never again, did so many different kindreds of Elf and Mortal dwell together. How Rúmil would have adored to learn of the origins of Daeron’s runes, to compare the dialects of Ossirand and the Falathrim to the antique language of Doriath, and to hear the great Lay of Leithian and its release from bondage. But Rúmil was perished. I allowed myself some joy in life again through this expansion of my loremaster’s art, and was privately glad that I had stayed.

You can surely see it coming that this was when I came to know Dírhaval.

Dírhaval came with one of the few bands of the House of Hador that remained, guarding his kin. The men of Hador were, like Tuor, blue-eyed and yellow-haired, with well-defined features that showed how elf and mortal are akin in our creator’s mind. Dírhaval’s band had escaped thralldom or worse by allying themselves to some of the House of Beor. Dírhaval himself had been born of the more intimate side of this alliance. He resembled the Hadorim not at all, being a great, thrawn, bearish man, with a dark beard and deep-set eyes, though he ever spoke of himself as of the House of Hador, and they had all his interest. When we knew each other better, Dírhaval told me that some of the wilder Beornings had said that he was born to be a bear-man, and offered to teach him their mysteries. But Dírhaval had refused the bear’s sark. He was driven by another weird.

All good mortals at that time spoke Sindarin. Even those who had never met an Elf did so in rebellion against their Easterling conquerors, who banned the language. Dírhaval took it a step further. He would come early to the poet’s circles, and leave last, and chase after those who spoke and sang with questions about their art. Few enough came after me when I spoke, and I was glad to give him some time. He talked to me at length about his grand, vague dream of writing a great lay about mortals, such as we had in plenty about Elves. I gave him my recommendations. I explained the main modes of verse, told him not to make his first attempt anything too long, and that he would keep his listeners longer if he kept grimness brief and necessary. Dírhaval did not take this lightly, and grew terse and quarrelsome over certain points. At the end, I still wished him luck. When he was not about his duties as a guard and labourer, I would see him sitting by himself, moving his lips as he composed. Watching him troubled by a line or so was painful, like seeing a bear fumbling a harp. But he kept on, alternately in black moods or transported, based on how the work was going.

Dírhaval had decided his tale for the House of Hador would be that of Húrin and his kin. Fortune must have meant his work to be. At no other time, before or since, could Dírhaval have met those who knew of this family’s history in Gondolin, in Doriath, and in Hithlum. His best luck befell when a fellow named Andvir came in with a tattered group one midwinter. Andvir had been son of Androg, and was the last survivor of Túrin’s outlaw band. Dírhaval’s project was lucky for Andvir, as well – for Andvir caused trouble in plenty with petty thievery. Only Dírhaval’s word kept him from being cast out the gates twice. Andvir was a wheedler, a beggar, and an outlaw ever, but his lack of love for his dead father balanced out his urge to please Dírhaval, and the tale he told about Túrin was close enough to the truth. Dírhaval’s gratitude made Andvir over-confident of his place in Sirion, and of Dírhaval’s protection. This was his undoing. It was Dírhaval who hurled him out after Andvir made a revolting attempt against a simple mortal woman’s purity. At least it was spring.

When spring was full, Dírhaval said that he was ready to share his great work with a few of us. We who had helped were invited to a first hearing of the Narn I Hîn Hürin. At first, I was vexed. His lay was dark with grimness from the start, he had tweaked the strict verse conventions of the mode appropriate for the narn-type lay, and, as we listened, and listened more, it became clear that the piece was massively long. He had broken every rule I had lain down. At the first verse, I thought my courtesy would be sorely tried. Two hours later, seeing the bards and news-bearers weep transfixed, I cast away in my mind all the old rules. Dírhaval’s art, like Túrin’s fate, triumphed over any intentions to confine it.

Two days later, at our urging, Dírhaval sang it for a wider company, and was justly acclaimed. The remaining folk of Hador, whose censure he had feared, said that he made the old tale dignified. We Elves said it was a voice that would never be forgotten, and he smiled. I noticed that the mortal women were eager to smile back at him, now that he was a lauded bard. Still, it was a sad old man’s comment that made him the happiest; he told us; one had said to him, “Now we of Hador have a voice for the long years.”

Who knows what he might have done next, if not for the attack of the Fëanorians?

Eärendil, the closest thing to a Lord that Sirion possessed had, like his father before him, taken ship to try and find Valinor, to beg mercy of the Great Powers for the sake of Elves and mortals alike. He had been gone at sea for four years, without any word or omen. Doubtless the Sons of Fëanor knew of this when they sent messages that cloaked firm demands behind purported alliance. I remember Elwing reading those messages, frightened yet stubborn (as her grandsire Beren had been), tangled up in the Curse of Mandos like all the rest of us. Three times, did Maedhros and Maglor demand that Elwing release the Silmaril to them, or be their enemy. Three times did she respond with a refusal. My hand shook as I set her seal upon the fair copy of her third response. We’d built the wall of the haven to keep out Morgoth’s forces. I was not the only one to have a bad feeling about pitting those walls against someone else who might have built them, and built them better…

The force Maedhros and Maglor brought against Brithombar would not have been one of the great troops of the Nirnaeth, but it was enough that we were afeared. They drifted over the horizon like a long grey shadow in the early morn, and camped before the gates all the day. Once I had been glad to see their banners and shields. To have them serried against us was terrible. During the day, embassies were exchanged by war heralds. Elwing must have found the steel of her ancestress and the stubbornness of her grandsire inside her, to have told the hosts of Fëanor’s sons that she would give no quarter. Thus battle was joined at nightfall.

We defenders had the advantage at first, as it started out an archer’s fight. The Teleri shoot well, be it night or day. The mortals with us stamped and grumbled, for they could not see to shoot in the night. On a sudden, the attackers sprang small engines hidden in their ranks, firing hooked rods that became trapped in the very stone of the haven-wall. There were cords attached to these, and, swift as lightning, the more lithe among our enemies began to scale our walls, needing little more aid. Some of them tarried at mysterious tasks, weakening stonework, and we archers redirected ourselves to them, until we realized some of them were scaling to the wall-tops, to join with us there.

No sooner had we been warned of this than one leapt up beside us, with a piercing yell. I was struck to the heart – I had heard that voice before, raised in a revel. Once, he had been Maedhros’ esquire, and been as much a friend to me as anyone met on a pleasant night. “Rodendil, stop! Remember me?” I cried, and I whipped off my helmet, that he might see my face. The others fell back, willing to let me try to calm him.

Rodendil heard, span my way, and lifted his light sword to meet me. I managed to parry with my knife, barely. When our blades connected, I saw his eyes deep in his own helm widen, recognizing. “By the feast of Narogthrond, surrender!”

I shoved back with all I had and hooked a foot behind his ankle to topple him. “Don’t make us do this,” I shouted. He was quick as an eel, and caught himself in the fall, to duck and send his sword up behind my blocking arm.

Dírhaval barged up. He had climbed to our level the moment he heard battle was joined. With an eager yell, he slammed his mattock towards the back of Rodendil’s neck. Rodendil bent double, staggering as the blow glanced, and sprang in to slash left-handed at Dírhaval’s belly. Dírhaval’s leather chest-plate split from the cut, and I saw blood, but Dírhaval roared “You’re no kin of mine – I’ll see you gutted! Rrrrargh!” giving chase as Rodendil flew. Unwounded, I leaned against the wall. I shattered inside at this betrayal, and hardened to it, in the same second. This was our battle, then.

Soon, the fight became focused around Brithombar’s gate. The few Fëanorians who had entered were, as it turned out Rodendil was trying to do, seeking to win their way to let the gate down. Some others, clinging to the archway, were chiseling at its very keystone. We archers set ourselves to take them out, and my fellows cheered me when I sank an arrow to fell a Fëanorian despite his plate mail, hitting the chink between an arm-piece and a chest-plate. I grinned with pride, then realized what I had done. Our attackers had made us, too, Kinslayers.

Our attackers realized what I had done as well. Where they perched, one of them, swifter than it takes to tell it, took out a slingshot, whirled it round, and sent a metal ball to bash the side of my still-unhelmed head, hard enough that my last thought was, That’s a clever weapon.

No, I don’t know if it was Rodendil who struck me down. They had helms too, you see.

I came to in an irregular wooden room, feeling that my aching head was responsible for my lack of equilibrium. My savior was by my side. He was a lad of Hador, who I knew admired Dírhaval greatly. He had been by when Dírhaval died of his many wounds. Seeing me fallen but breathing, he had dragged me out of the sack of Brithombar. The stronghold was taken by the Sons of Fëanor, but not its treasure, he said; Elwing had flung herself and the Silmaril into the sea. “Where are we now?” I asked.

“In a boat of Círdan’s, with Gil-Galad’s soldiers, going to the Isle of Balar.”

When we disembarked, I was shattered anew. Few of our fellow fighters, elf or mortal, had emerged. Most who had been evacuated were our gentler folk. Sent away from the fighting to the waterside, they had seen Elwing’s astonishing plunge, and the mists that came up to take her. All of us survivors pledged ourselves to Gil-Galad, and gained leave to dwell on Balar. We remaining Gondolindrim were strung tight at this second loss, but did our best to make a fresh start again. Balar was our refuge, for a time; as long as it took for the likely lad who had saved me to grow into a man and become wedded.

He was a good fellow. In thanks for saving my life, I took him as my aide, since he longed for it, and it was for him that I wrote the Narn I Hin Húrin down for the first time. He did many practical things, and was calm and even-tempered. I could trust him with any work. But he lacked the banked soul-fire, be it madness or gift, that set Dírhaval apart. I wonder what they both would have been, did they dwell here and now.



They sat silent for a bit after Pengolod’s final word. Pengolod was wondering what Dírhaval, who had been strong-thewed despite the scanty food at Sirion, would have looked like after the rich feasts and relative ease of Númenor.

Aelfwine set a weight on top of the newly completed book, to keep its covers flat as its glue dried, and broke the silence first. “Which sort of the two am I? The practical sort, or the kind on fire?”

“Neither. You’ve got more light about you than the one, and far more sanity than the other. Perhaps your balance is what they would have had, if they had been allowed peace in their youth.” Aelfwine definitely had some light to him after his morning’s words with Rothinzil, Pengolod decided.

Casually, Pengolod said, “I was thinking, in a day or two, of spending some time at Armenelos again. If the ships are out, and the lords at cooler lodgings, I could spend some time undisturbed in Minastir’s library.”

Aelfwine said, “Ciryatan’s on the water, if that’s what you mean.”

They both nodded. Pengolod took out his wallet and extracted a carved token of whale-ivory. He held this out to Aelfwine, saying, “I can’t be in Armenelos and in the Venturer’s library at the same time. Take the King’s token to open their doors to you, while I am gone.”

Aelfwine took it eagerly. “I was about to say I’d miss having you here, but this nearly makes up for it – here, you’ve given me a coin by mistake with it, gold at that.”

Pengolod said, “Did I? Why not keep it, to hold my lodging until I return? You shouldn’t have to suffer for my comings and goings.” When Aelfwine began to protest, Pengolod looked down. “You’d ask it of a mortal lodger, would you not? I would not feel like a good friend if I wasn’t being fair.” At this, Aelfwine accepted it.

Pengolod was happy to imagine Aelfwine enjoying the Venturer’s library, along with how he might spend the sultry summer evenings without a lodger. Rothinzil would have nothing to complain about by the time Pengolod returned, and he had put the lie to her worries that his friendship with Aelfwine was unbalanced. He smiled, convinced that he had again kept one step ahead of the shadows that could fall between elf and mortal.

Story Notes:

Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted February 11, 2005.

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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