Summary: Silmarillion-based. In a chaotic Romenna afternoon, confrontations take place and three questions are answered. The disruptions give Pengolod reasons to remember the Seige of Imladris, with Celebrian's kindness and Melpomaen's callowness.
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.
I’m going to do it,” Aelfwine said. “This afternoon, on the way back from visiting my parents’ boat, I’ll ask her. I’ve got the spot picked out; that point on the way back from the traders’ docks, where the path angles up and you see all the bay below.”
Pengolod made an approving noise, hiding his worries. When he had arranged his days to open some of Aelfwine’s time for courting Rothinzil, he had not thought that a betrothal would happen so very soon. To an elf, the two months Aelfwine and the young widow had known each other was brief. But Aelfwine went on. “I’ll have the ring on me and offer it to her.” Aelfwine took it out. It was a silver band, graved with a twining pattern and set with a dot of amethyst. Númenor’s cliffs and mountains held base metals, but no jewels, so any jewellery that had a gemstone instead of a pearl was of worth and note. “The stone matches her eyes.”
“You really are in love,” Pengolod said, smiling.
Aelfwine tucked the ring into its little bag and pocketed it. “I had better be. If I don’t ask her now, I mayn’t get a chance. You heard Rothinzil going on about the procession of the Prince when the last ship’s worth of soldiers arrived yesterday. The city’s now full of unwedded men with an eye for any woman who’s not taken – and some who are. At least this brought my parents and their trade-boat here, seeking soldiers who’ll pay well for a fast boat-passage to Andunie. I am not certain when they will return for another meeting. It is a good chance.”
“You don’t think someone else will win and wed her in a whirlwind, surely,” said Pengolod.
Jaw squared, Aelfwine replied, “I think just that. I can just picture some trooper friend of her dead husband, who remembers the pretty wife now a widow, smarming all over her, saying he was asked to look after her.”
Pengolod nodded, patient for this jealous imagining. “Perhaps. She is well-favoured, calm, a good bread-maker –”
Aelfwine eagerly added, “She’s minded her own business well, works hard, has no debts: some of the women waiting here rack them up. She holds it a fault against her that she has no child, and has little Númenorean blood. But I haven’t the most, either, so it’s likely that our spans will be close.” Aelfwine took the ring-bag out again and said, with a self-aware grin, “Anyhow, if she can’t tell something’s up, between being asked to the wedding and this afternoon, she’s not Rothinzil.” Changing the subject, he said, “You’ll be well here? Soup will look to you before he goes.”
“Goes where? No, now I recall, you gave him the evening’s leave to go night-fishing.” The lad would be with two other prentices given some holiday for good service. In Aelfwine’s boat, they would eat what they caught and camp the night at Tol Uinen, and think themselves fine young men for the expedition. “Perhaps you won’t come back either, if your own night-fishing is good?”
Aelfwine huffed, then laughed. “The jeweller said he charmed the stone for love, though I’m fair sure he says that for any purchase worth more than the plain bands. But if you’re weary and I’m late, don’t wait up…Soup!” he shouted. The lad scrambled in and took Aelfwine’s orders without blinking, despite the contradiction in him looking after Pengolod while going off and having a good time, both of which he was bade to do.
This done, Aelfwine left, starting off nimble with one crutch.
Soup leaned out the door to look after him. “I don’t know as I should go tonight. He’ll want to soak his foot after all the roaming around he does when he’s courting.”
“I can help him with it, if – when he returns,” said Pengolod. Seeing Soup’s doleful expression, he asked quietly, “Do you like Rothinzil?”
Soup scratched his head and said, “Aelfwine courting is good as a holiday, but it won’t last. The other prentices say that when your master or mistress marries, you get worked harder. I won’t mind working for her too.”
Pengolod could not resist saying, “Maybe she’ll have young lady-friends coming around?”
Soup, openly flustered, coughed, “Might as well be going myself. We thought we’d dive for pearls too, see if we can get any.” He, too, left, swaying happily under a great basket that held a night’s supplies, rods, and nets.
So Pengolod was alone in Aelfwine’s shop, for the second time in a week, and the third time overall.
He looked it all over, fixing it into his memory; its benches and chairs, the wooden work-tables, cubbies near, shelves yonder, the completed broadsheets ready for the Venturers with a sheet of clean canvas folded around them. The sunlight in the courtyard behind was mingled with the greenness of leaves. The piping song of the kirinki was interspersed with the cart-rattles and pedlar-calls from the streets. Pengolod wondered if Tol Eresseä would provide any business for free scribes in Aelfwine’s manner; or, even, as much of a sense of refuge as this little workshop had come to hold.
There was no knowing, so Pengolod set himself to some more writing. His fair copy of the First Age history for Aelfwine would be done that night, he estimated. He wrote, and thought, and remembered, until the brilliance of the setting sun slid through the shop’s front windows. By now, Aelfwine and Rothinzil were probably at the turning of the path, he thought. In his mind, he asked Nessa, the Valar’s dancer of love, to bring his friend fortune, and Yavanna to bring them fruitfulness. His head was bowed when he heard a passer-by rattling at the shop’s door.
Looking up, Pengolod saw someone whose face, with the light behind him, was obscured. However, he was noble-tall and wearing the red hood of the Venturers. For a customer with work under way, Aelfwine opened the door at any time. Pengolod did the same, starting out saying, “Master Aelfwine is not here right now; may I…”
This Venturer strode right past him into the midst of the shop, which seemed to shrink, diminished before his strong splendour. “You certainly will help me, Master Pengolod; you and no other.”
Pengolod went rigid from shock to hear the deep, confident voice of Númenor’s only Prince. Ensconced, Ciryatan flicked back his hood and looked around, smiling with one side of his mouth. “I could say I’ve come to check on my job. Your landlord’s task-pay comes from the Venturers’ coffers. But I knew you’d be here and alone, and I wished to speak to you. I’m here to offer you what you want.”
Ciryatan must have had a spy to know what he did, someone placed on the very street itself. Defensively, Pengolod went to the workman’s side of the counter. “How can this be, sir? I do not want anything.”
Ciryatan snorted. “Then why are you here? An official of standing in Gil-Galad’s court decides, for no apparent reason, he is going to defer the journey to Aman to summer in scenic, salubrious Rómenna, looking in on all the places of wise men as it suits his fancy. His conduct is almost too exemplary, especially when, of his own accord, he visits the King. There, he reinforces the idea that mortals can never aspire to Elvish superiority. Presumably, you wish to lessen your people’s being beholden to mine, for our saving you in The War?”
“It would be ill if that was the reason – I say again that I owe your folk my life. Why should I not tarry? Your realm is fairer than you know, even your working folk’s quarter of Kingston,” Pengolod said, naming it deliberately.
Ciryatan said, “Yes, the very part of all Númenor where I build my ships is where you find your nest! I listen to all my folk, here. You were a wonder on your first day, but now you are a goad. A reminder of all they are not and cannot have, desires unfulfilled. If you have no great reason to linger here, then you are meddling and prying, frittering away your ages of wisdom in word-games and slumming. So to turn mischief to good, I offer you what you want, even if you know it not: a place as my father’s counsellor.”
Pengolod began to protest, then stopped. In one instant, he pictured a thousand things he might accomplish through this. He was tempted. Ciryatan’s slight smile brought him back to the moment, and he said, “You are little fond of me, Ciryatan. Why, then, offer me such a plum?”
“Elves are well enough in passing, but you are out of place here. I believe in mortal lives for mortal men. However. My father vaunts your kind. I am no elf, nor Adanedhel, such as would delight him. If I can’t please him myself, I will send him someone who will.” Ciryatan stared stubbornly at Pengolod, daring him to retort this wish.
Pengolod replied, “While I was welcome in the King’s house, I…felt some of the troubles you perceive. Due to the same reason that you say I cause problems here, being an Elf out of place.” He drew a crisp breath. “Forgive me, but I must ask; is this about the fair maid Laurinquë? I hear you favour her. I have no designs on her, I assure you. There is no need to cage and chaperone me.”
Ciryatan said, with a bitter laugh, “No designs! I would have liked you better if you had – if you showed a few stains and yearnings to match those of mortals - but no mortal is good enough for you, it seems. I like those I favour to have what they want.” Pengolod gasped, unheard as Ciryatan went on, trying to smooth the moment unctuously. “Since you are not interested in such diversions, you evidently do not miss your folk. I am sure you understand what you might gain here. Weeks and months in our great libraries, the chance to meddle to your heart’s content, no doubt pleasing Gil-Galad, though you are not his informant – you say. I’ve no interest in alienating my main ally. Not when I have plans for both my realm and Middle-Earth’s shores.” Ciryatan took in all Aelfwine’s shop with one glance and added, “I think you would find your landlord appreciative of such a contact in Armenelos.”
Pengolod hardly heard the last words, still reeling at the implications of Ciryatan saying, of both his lady and his father, I like those I favour to have what they want…
He said, “I must refuse.”
Ciryatan frowned. “Then I can tolerate your disturbances here no more. You will take yourself to Armenelos, or leave on the next elf-ship.”
“But that’s here at the next full moon, within a week!” cried Pengolod. “I was planning to depart come the autumn – if I leave on the ship after this, surely –”
“More time!” Ciryatan snapped. “Would I could hold the sound of it in a shell, an Elf asking a mortal for more time! You’ve wrought enough restlessness in two months already. No. If you will not serve my father, you will be gone. Defy me only if you would find out how Númenor’s laws hound fugitives - and those who shelter them.”
They glared at each other like two wildcats. In that long, silent moment, a bell began to toll.
“Well?” prodded Ciryatan.
Another bell, and another, joined the carillon, out of hour and out of time. Pengolod had not heard such a racket of bells and calls, down at the harbour, since the boat-races.
Ciryatan turned involuntarily at the sound. “Unien's teats, not now - your answer, elf!”
The westering light struck Pengolod’s face fully. Looking at that light, rather than at Ciryatan, Pengolod said, “I will go, Prince Ciryatan, so that you know my friend Aelfwine is good and lawful. You have my vow. I will take the next ship.”
Ciryatan smiled at last. “I like lawful subjects. Your friend will keep the Venturers’ favour, I am certain.” He strode to the door. “My father comes to town soon. I will be sure to tell him that you asked me to give him a fond and honourable farewell on your behalf.”
By now the bells were frenzied. People were running out of the nearby houses, even women and children.
Pengolod had to ask, “Why do the bells call?”
Ciryatan turned in the doorway. “The harbour – a wonder and a danger. Which I must attend. Journey swiftly, Master Elf.” Then he was gone. Pengolod glimpsed him beginning a most unprincely dash for the harbour.
“What in Arda?” Pengolod murmured, wondering. He did his best to follow. The streets were on the brink of being crowded, full of folk running or loping down to the water. The people stood aside for Ciryatan, and took their place again when he was past, so that Pengolod soon fell behind him in the growing throng. One of Aelfwine’s acquaintances from the neighbourhood fell in with him, and said that the sea-bells meant some huge sea creature was past Tol Uinen, into the main harbour. Pengolod thanked him and continued to follow. At first, he was eager to see the whale, or whales, as might be, but when he realized why such a sighting might cause alarm, he went even faster. A frightened whale in the harbour might damage the piers or boats. And both Aelfwine and Soup were on the water just then.
Pengolod slid through the crowd like an arrow, and followed others brave or foolhardy enough to go out onto one of the piers. There, he stopped in wonder. If he had not known what to expect, he would have vowed that a new island had surfaced in the harbour, a smooth dome, almost flat enough to walk upon. Comparing it to the few boats fleeing the open water, it was more than thirty ells long. If this was its broad head, how could so vast a whale even swim in the harbour? This was answered when it lifted further from the water, to show it was no whale at all. It was a vast sea-turtle, one of the Fastitocalons.
The huge disk of a creature stretched its neck and turned in the water. One flippered foreleg unfurled twenty ells long before it dove. In a moment, it had surfaced belly-up, even more like an island, then turning about with a vast splash in the centre of the harbour. Peering around more with its vast, sly-eyed turtle’s head, it seemed to be listening to all the bells and the people shouting in a massive din, both for the thrill of the sight and the sign of Unien's favour, and to shy the sea-beast away from the harbour’s pilings and moored boats.
Most of the boats in the harbour were making for a mooring as fast as they could, but one racer’s dhow sailed out towards it. Amongst its daring crew was someone wearing the red hood of the Venturers. Pengolod’s keen eyes recognized the glint on the silver-bound shell he lifted, the horn blown at the ship-race to honour Uinen. The horn-call could not be heard above the din, but it seemed that the Fastitocalon attended. It looked sidewise at the approaching dhow with its great dark eye, opening its beak to breathe deep (somehow, it almost seemed to be smiling). Then it dove once more, to be a shadow in the water for several heartbeats. When it surfaced, it was speeding around the other side of Tol Uinen from where it had come, spinning out into the greater Firth again.
One by one, the bells stopped.
The white-sailed dhow turned back to its mooring. Everyone around Pengolod began to talk at once, about where they had been when the sea-bells rang, how unusual it was, and how many men or boats the Fastitocalon might have eaten. Pengolod left the pier to find that the crowd was staying, not dispersing. There were many hawkers and buskers in the great square by the waterfront, to cater to the returned soldiers. With refreshments and entertainment to hand on the afternoon of rest, and the fear and marvel past, nobody was in a hurry to leave.
His heart pounding, Pengolod leaned against a shadowed wall and let it all slide by. Someone tapped him helpfully and said, “Boat in four to seven days, sir, at the moon's full.”
Pengolod turned to see an ordinary harbour-steward. “The boat?”
“Yes, sir. I guess you’ve been waiting here to find out?” At this, Pengolod realized he had taken his pause at the pavilion where the elf-boats moored.
Recovering, he said, “Thank you,” The harbour-steward bowed and touched his forehead, as if to a noble.
After his confrontation with Ciryatan, the fellow might as well have hit Pengolod in the stomach. Pengolod would have pulled him upright, if he could. It was honour for no reason save his being an Elf, and looking upon this, he knew that Ciryatan had been right, again.
At least he went away, leaving Pengolod to his misery. The sorrow of leaving Middle-Earth, that he had thought grown vague and numb, was torn open by the sight of the Fastitocalon. Rómenna had seemed a refuge without the vast wildness that Middle-Earth could hold. Seeing the Fastitocalon brought home that this was a blessed place, but still part of the greater world. He was not resting in-between; he was delaying, here; as Ciryatan had noted, to little good.
Pengolod considered his evasions and persuasions at the Court. From that, he realized with a shudder that he had borne a tactful yet superior air around Aelfwine about a thousand little things, to say nothing of his corrections to Soup and Rothinzil's overheard fears. There were also Minastir's longings that undermined him, like his namesake tower built too high. Just then, he felt that all these showed ills he had strengthened even as he tried to change them. His heart twisted like a hooked fish as he recalled his proudest, most superior moment of all, his confrontation of Nûph. Thankfully, the fellow had laughed it off.
And at that memory, Pengolod understood.
Only his grief and shock had allowed him to feel the answer to Nûph’s question in his trail of thoughts. But it had the rightness, the clarity that he felt when a new language was unlocked to him. The knowledge grieved and excited him at the same time. His urge to write it down made him remember that he had left Aelfwine’s shop unattended and unlocked. Fast as he had run down, he dashed back up again, castigating himself anew.
When he arrived, the street was quiet, and the shop’s door was ajar. Pengolod sprang inside and checked. Nothing had been taken, as it might have been. For all Ciryatan’s force and bluster, this was still Númenor. Yet he could not quite believe it. The small building did not feel half as secure as it had before. After checking again, he swept aside the history he had been working on and, fast and concentrated, wrote out half a page. Then he read it, thought it over, paced, and read it again.
By the time Aelfwine burst in, Pengolod was calm. Aelfwine grinned ear to ear, reeling in as if more unsteady from wine than from his twisted foot. “She said yes, Pengolod, she said yes!” Coming over to the counter, he smacked it with both hands, then yelled wordlessly for joy. Following this with a great shout of laughter, he said, “Can you countenance it, she was longing for me to ask? She said no lover could be better, and her married before, so she knows what she’s saying! She said she’d spit in the eye of anyone who spoke ill of her for marrying a club-footed man, then break her basket over their head. Valar, she’s gorgeous when she’s fired up. What a woman!”
Pengolod smiled, unaware the expression did not reach his eyes. “When will you marry?”
“In two months, at apple-time. We…you don’t approve?”
“No, it’s wonderful. But I doubt I will be at your wedding. Alas! I will have taken ship by this week’s end, at Ciryatan’s command,” Pengolod confessed.
“What?” Aelfwine roared. “What is his quarrel with you?”
Pengolod explained. At the end, he said, “So it matters not what my conduct has been. Whatever ill Ciryatan chooses to make of it may be your ruin. I must do Ciryatan’s bidding, whether I stay or go.”
“Unbelievable, that he came here to say this himself,” Aelfwine said. “I can’t believe the Prince came to my shop, but for such a reason!” He leaned against the counter, turning pale.
With his woe and his resolve bolstered, Pengolod said, “I have put you in an ill place just by being here, I fear. Ciryatan is jealous of his father’s esteem of the Elves, and would force me to his father’s side to win his father’s praise. But we Elves do not deserve such esteem, Aelfwine, not as it is given, not that adulation, that imitation, that yearning. We yearn for your fate in turn.”
“You want to die as we do. I have heard you hinting such,” murmured Aelfwine.
Calmly, Pengolod said, “To live as you do, and then die, and leave the World, and be free.” He went closer, his grey eyes intense. Only the counter was between them. “After Ciryatan had words with me, I grasped at last how Illúvatar bettered your people; the answer to that question.”
At Aelfwine’ urging, he spoke on. “You mortals differ from us elves in many ways, and the two greatest are linked; your remaking your fates, and your laughter. With those two things, mortals make a place for what is marred. We Elves never do that. We seek what we find fair, we cast the marred out. The Curse of Mandos showed that our fate is our chain, and we cannot escape it, twist it as we might. We do not change, beyond fading – indeed, perhaps we never truly heal. But mortals, turning your orders upside-down, you allow everything, and create the world anew.”
“You’re saying that it’s our zanies, like the Little Court, that will undo Arda’s Marring?” said Aelfwine, incredulous.
Pengolod opened his hands. “Not them, but what inspires them. What would your Little King do, and all his court’s Queens, without their mad role? With it, they are the ultimate in the freedom we Elves envy, free even to rebel against the high fate of your Kings.”
“So we shouldn’t be trying to be like Elves at all…and all the court…” Aelfwine laughed in his bewilderment.
“Rather, we Elves should try to be more like you, and open our hearts to all of Arda.”
“I think you’re wrong in part,” said Aelfwine, his brows lowered in grim memory. “Jests can be cruel.”
Pengolod agreed. “All the more so, because they sharpen the way the world is. But that can be turned about, using it to diminish strength and evil, can it not?”
Aelfwine considered this. “Is there no way you can stay? Can’t you bring this as a message to the King?”
“Should I? Should it be an Elf, I mean.” He shook his head, and the reason behind his reluctance came swift to his tongue. “I fear it would be the wrong that Ciryatan claims I do, instilling sly counsels, saying we Elves know best and are superior. Likely he would think that I was taking his offer to counsel Minastir. We Elves have our own learning to do from this idea. If I do my best to speak this to the Elves, can you tell your people?”
Aelfwine held out his hand, with more mortal grace than he would ever know he possessed. “You act like you’re asking something difficult. Of course I will. Those who will listen to me, me being who I am. On one condition.”
“Name it,” said Pengolod, eagerly.
“That we drink well this night, now that we are both celebrating and mourning. For I’ll be grieved to see you go, I own it.”
As at their first meeting, Pengolod folded his own hand around Aelfwine’s, pressing their ink-stains together. “I, too, my friend. I…” Pengolod blinked, then drew his left hand across his eyes. “You’re right about getting drunk. When do we start?”
It was when they had made that start that Aelfwine asked for a tale, as they had had on many nights. He asked a specific question. Pengolod finished his cup, and answered.
It is very kind of you to ask me about what drove me from Middle-Earth, in the end. The War, as you speak of it here, was what wore me down. When Sauron attacked Eregion, we of Lindon sped thence to defend. Though we were in time to try and help, we were vastly outnumbered. Thus it was that I got to see yet another elf-realm where I had had some fellowship and happiness gutted and burned. I must say that Sauron had not been able to muster all the evils of old. There were no dragons, no war-engines, no uncanny beasts; just orcs and mortals allied to his cause. But they were countless and canny, fresh and hungry for war. And then, if that wasn’t enough, I lived through the Siege of Imladris.
What I remember best of the siege is the day we ate my horse.
Yes, we were that desperate, by the end. I will tell you how it was, so that you know how great a gift Minastir gave when he sent your soldiers to deliver us.
As Eregion crumbled, we of Lindon did what we could. We extracted less than half the population of Eregion’s main city and fled northward in a body. Sauron’s forces were behind us. We thought we could outrun them, until we scouts learned that a force of Orcs was coming down from cruel Mount Gundaband. Girdled by evil behind us and evil before, we went to ground, taking refuge in a valley.
The valley we found would allow us to rest with our many wounded, and possibly supply us for a few months, while we waited for the rest of Gil-Galad’s forces. It was a fair place, with oak and chestnut in its deep-cloven vales and fragrant firs and pines on its cliffs. A fast-rushing river ran at its base, and there were even a few meads where our horses could graze. Our four leaders, Elrond, Celebrían, Galadriel, and Celeborn, estimated that it could supply us for a few months. Being wise, they were correct.
A pity, then, that we were there for more than two years.
We know now that this was because the orcs of the Misty Mountains blocked Thranduil’s aid from the West, while Sauron’s main force turned to battle at the edges of Lindon. They left just enough of our foemen guarding our valley to lock us in. When we learned how dire our plight was, we worked out a way to ration what little we had, eking out acorns, river-fish, and horsemeat. Which brings us to my horse. She was spared long, not because of my middling rank, but because she was a mare. Having her to care for helped my grief. I did not ride her often, but doing so was my one pleasure in the siege. Alas, she did not go with foal after two winters, and she was…shall we say, requisitioned.
That night, though you could count the bones in my hand for my leanness, I did not go to the meal where my good steed was served. Someone sought me out. When I saw her coming, I stood up, both to honour a lady and to be ready for duty. “My lady Celebrían, how may I aid you?” I asked, looking up at her.
Celebrían was the daughter of two tall nobles, and had their height. Though her face would be young to your eyes, she had long, waved hair of silver, as sometimes comes to pass among the Elves, and silver-grey eyes. Celebrían’s mother had been a warrior-maid in her youth, and the daughter took after this side of her, being keen, daring, and wild about riding. It was with a fellow warrior’s sympathy that she said to me, “I asked the quartermasters; they said today’s horse was yours. I wished you to know that I was sorry to hear it. She was a good horse.”
Trying to distance myself from this grief upon griefs put me in a strange humour. I said, “Ah, you had some of the backstrap, then? They say that’s the best part.”
Celebrían said, “I cannot bring myself to eat horse-meat, so if she was toothsome, I do not know.” I looked twice at her. She, too, was overly lean from the siege. Then she eased my poor jest by touching my shoulder and saying, “I see you are having none either. I know I felt it keen when my dear mount was put to that use. But we all know our need is that hard.” She did not need to tell me what I knew, that her own stallion had been butchered first.
There was more sympathy in her kindly eyes and touch than I can put into words. It was at that moment that Elrond came by. I was not vexed; his arrival saved me from weeping before her. He said, “My lady, Master Pengolod, greetings. I may speak before our good counsellor, Celebrían?” She nodded once, so he said, “There is a problem. The soldiers of the Khazad amongst us want another horse released for rations.”
She sighed and leaned close to him to murmur, “Sometimes I understand my father deeply. Do you know what I mean?” At Elrond’s sympathetic nod, she said, “Do they mean they want it now, or midway through the week, instead of once a week?”
Elrond stayed where he was, but two handspans from her, as he confided, “They haven’t thought it through so much. They are too busy being angry about it.”
“And stubborn?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“And stubborn,” Elrond agreed.
They said together, “They didn’t leave the anvils at home!” and laughed, bending even closer, like two tall trees nodding in the same wind. I did not understood why they found it funny, but I could read what lay behind this shared jest.
Celebrían spared me another sympathetic glance, seeing that I looked pained. It was no longer grief for my horse that gave me a pang, but recognizing, doubtless before either of them did, that Celebrían and Elrond were falling in love. I speak little about my private affairs; I will say that the war of Eregion had put to death one I would far rather see living. What I saw before me gave that grief a twist.
“Please do excuse me, Pengolod. I know this necessity is not a matter for jesting. Come, Lord Elrond. I will wield the authority that you so kindly reinforced for me.” She gave me an old-fashioned curtesy and went off, followed by Elrond. I found out soon that the Dwarves gave way before her womanly authority.
The next week that passed, I was unhappy yet, though my companions tried to lighten my humour. At our first meeting, Aelfwine, you recognized that I wore the cloak of the Lambengolmor. Alas! The War was harsh upon us Masters of Tongues. I was the only one of our guild of thirty who had survived. But I had one friend there who I had not expected; Erestor. Enduring the siege together, and our respective griefs, had undone most of our old rivalry. (I must avow that enough remained that we word-gamed and argued with equal fervor.) I had just said to him that I could face horsemeat again, now that my mare was just a memory and a piebald hide, when we were all shocked by an eagle sweeping overhead, calling clearly. It was the first messenger-bird to make it past the orcs’ arrows in months, and it brought tidings.
My poor piebald, it turned out, was the last horse likely to die for rations. All around the valley, battle was begun to break our siege. A triple force, the might of Númenor aided by scouts from Mirkwood and warriors of Lindon, was striving to free us. We prepared for either our last stand, or the end of the siege.
Two days later, the siege was through.
Those who had come to free us poured down into the valley, expecting us to rejoice, which we did, once we had been fed. There were many reunions, and as much grief as there was joy at the news we exchanged with each other. Many of our people had been slain in Lindon; fewer had escaped from Eregion than had been expected. Despite this, it was at this time that I had a meeting that would have kept me in Middle-Earth, if anything could have.
Amidst the crush of reunions, Erestor came to me. “Pengolod, there’s one from Mirkwood here who says he’s your nephew.”
Disbelieving, I said, “Nephew? My nephews are dead, long ages past. Who can he possibly be?”
Erestor took this in stride. “I don’t know, but the fellow looks as much like you as the son you never had. You’d better come see.” He took me through the new crowds and said, “That fellow, there.” I caught my breath. He did indeed resemble my younger kinsmen, lost in the fall of Gondolin. Unsettled, I said to Erestor, “His hair is lighter than mine, and his eyes are darker. Also, he is less tall.”
“The resemblance is striking, though. Are you certain you have no kin living?” Erestor asked.
Before I could answer, the debated elf espied Erestor. He sprang over to us, all freshness and young energy. “Is this him? Are you Pengolod? Uncle! This is splendid to meet you!”
I raised a hand. “Hold up, lad, before you style me so. Who are you, and what is your claim to kinship with me?”
“My name is Melpomaen, sir. It’s a tale of my family that one of our ancestors married a Noldor maiden. And he had a son who became a knight of the Noldor court.” The only things right about this story, when told in more detail, were my father’s name and mine. Somehow my service to Rúmil had been dimly remembered by some distant kin. I corrected this misapprehension, and we untangled the roots of our connection. At last, I said, “So, you are the son of a woman who was the daughter of my father’s brother, who went to Doriath when my father went to Nevrast. That makes you my cousin twice removed.”
“You aren’t my uncle?” said this Melpomaen, crestfallen.
Feeling some sympathy, I said, “We can say it is so, yes.”
Revivified, he said again, “Uncle! It’s grand to meet you after all the tales my family has told. Did you use your rune-wielding sorcery to survive the battle?”
To my left, Erestor was trying not to laugh, and failing, as I protested, “No! I’m a loremaster, not a sorcerer. At least, I am not a sorcerer like the loremasters of eld.”
“Is there a difference? What do you do?” the young fellow asked, his sable brows knotted in confusion.
“These past few years, I’ve been fighting. But at the court of Gil-Galad, my arts are the making and keeping of books, and the science behind how we speak. I read and write many languages, and do the work of a scribe and translator.”
Melpomaen said, “Oh, any trader in Mirkwood has many tongues to speak, with the varied Men about. But writing, that is a sorcerer’s art! Only the chant-wardens in Thranduil’s court know how to cut the runes.” Erestor and I exchanged a look. By his word “cut,” evidently the straight-lined runes of Daeron were the only ones this youth knew about.
“Do you mean to say that you, my kinsman, cannot read and write?” I asked.
Melpomaen was taken aback. “The King says that only sorcerers use the great books, and that any bard worth their harp in his hall must remember the long tales and songs in their head.”
Beside me, Erestor coughed. “That’s Oropher’s voice for you. Long has he held the Tengwar for long works as a Noldor extravagance. If your King still holds his grudge against our people, why are you here?”
“King Oropher said to withhold aid from you would be to slay you, and he would never do that,” said Melpomaen, proudly. “He hates evil far more than he hates the Noldor.”
“Very glad to hear it,” Erestor grumbled, muttering to me, “You should teach him both Daeron’s runes and Tengwar and send him back lettered, as a thank-you to Oropher for this ungrudging aid.”
Melpomaen missed Erestor’s sarcasm. Earnestly, he said, “Then I could be a warden, too, and decode missives, and be allowed to see the great books. You could really teach me? Does it take a long time?”
“It depends if you’ve a talent for it,” I said.
Melpomaen said quickly, “I know a hundred and twenty songs by heart, and three languages. The captains say they’ll be posting some folk here to keep this as a way-station. I could stay and learn.”
“I – let me think,” I blustered.
Erestor shifted, and his face tightened like the muscles of a racehorse eager at the start. “Tell us what you already know, first. You didn’t learn a hundred songs at your mother’s knee, did you? What brings you with the troops, anyway?” he asked Melpomaen. My new nephew told his own story to Erestor, pouring it into the elder loremaster’s ears, drawn on by Erestor’s occasional word of encouragement. Something had clicked between them, the line of affinity that must flow between any teacher and any student.
I should have been jealous. But I was not. The scene before me seemed to be unfolding remotely, as in a tale. I could not look at Melpomaen’s fresh youth without beholding those I loved who had died, and something flinched inside me every time. He was a renewal, a bridge and a hope; but not for me. My heart was too full of grief and weariness to give Melpomaen his due.
Erestor broke into my thoughts, saying, “That all sounds fair and promising. What d’you say, Pengolod? Will you take him on?”
They both looked at me.
I shook my head. “I will be returning to Lindon, for a time, where I have many duties. Besides, nothing personal, nephew, but teaching was never my greatest gift. Erestor exceeds me in that. He knew just what to ask you, this moment past.”
Melpomaen turned to Erestor, nervous and hopeful. “Perhaps…could I ask…”
Erestor did his best to look stern. “It wouldn’t be just runes and new languages. There will be a lot of work. You might think your soldiering light duty when we were done. My apprentice would have to learn book-making from the inside-out, for I will be staying here to aid Lord Elrond.”
Melpomaen’s eyes shone. He began to assure Erestor that he was up for every duress in the adventure for new knowledge. I stepped back, sad and satisfied. I saw how it would be, as if it was written. Melpomaen would soak up the new tales and knowledge. Erestor’s grief and sworn service to Elrond would be assuaged by the heir to his lore that he had always desired. I would not change what I had planned to do, once we knew we were delivered. My own grief, for my colleagues and my intimates, was heavy yet. I would return to Lindon, close my books, and do what I had so long deferred: depart Middle-Earth at last.
Thus, after two years to hand over Lindon’s scriptorium to other keepers, I departed.
And arrived here.
Here I found, for a time, echoes of the memories I loved, of the folk and world that had been; reminders close enough to evoke, but, unlike Melpomaen’s face, not sharp enough to wound me anew. But the past is no more, Aelfwine. I must stop deceiving myself. Neither you nor I should dwell there. We are both going on, I to take the chances that fate brings me, you to enjoy what you have won in fate’s despite.
Another drink is just what I need, my friend. And several others after that. It is your turn to be the tale-teller; all the details of you and Rothinzil.
They drank well that night. Aelfwine spilled all the details of his courtship with Rothinzil, more intimate ones with each cup they drank. Pengolod, in turn, told Aelfwine much lore of the Elves, and how certain other tales, besides that of Túrin, had been bowdlerized. Halfway down the second bottle, they became philosophical, and agreed that some of this wisdom needed to be preserved for posterity.
The next morning, they compared headaches as they began to clear away the results of this ill-advised scribing. Pengolod picked up a sheet and tilted it. “I don’t know what’s worse, that I actually wrote this down, or that I wrote it on such a vile angle.”
He flinched and spun about at an assertive rap on the shop’s front door. But it was no guard come to check on him, for a clear woman’s voice was carolling, “Oooo-hooo! Is Master Aelfwine about? It is Rothinzil!”
Pengolod looked at the sheets of writing in his hand and folded them in on themselves. “Can she read Elvish?” he hissed.
Aelfwine whispered, “Adûnaic, yes, but not Elvish. And half these Elvish words are new to me anyway.” This did not stop him from scrambling to retrieve the last papers before he called, “Come in, my dear!”
Rothinzil tripped in, starry-eyed. With the confidence of a well-loved woman, she purred, “Good morning, Master Elf! Has Aelfwine told you our splendid news?”
“Loud and long,” Pengolod said, stuffing their wine-written pages onto one of the shelves. “Congratulations on your betrothal. Aelfwine is a lucky fellow.”
“I too am lucky. Look at my lovely ring!” For the second time, Pengolod admired the amethyst ring. Rothinzil said to Aelfwine, “Did you ask him, dearest?”
“Um, I wanted you to be here,” Aelfwine said, sounding married already. “We wondered yesterday, if at our wedding, you would lead us in the vow.”
“Well, I - when did you plan to wed?” Pengolod asked, embarrassed at having forgotten.
Rothinzil answered. “We thought very soon – in two months, around harvest-time.”
Pengolod shook his head, unhappily. “Lady, I must be gone by then. I leave within a week. I am sorry for it, now that I know I will miss your wedding.”
Rothinzil’s eyes went wide, her face falling in disappointment. Aelfwine, between friend and fiancée, was visibly torn. He looked at Pengolod and said, “Can I tell her of yesterday?” He said it in Adûnaic, so that Rothinzil could understand.
Recalling Rothinzil’s solid sense, and thinking that there might yet be repercussions from Ciryatan, Pengolod nodded. The explanation was made in full.
Rothinzil’s expression mingled relief and regret. Pengolod had expected the former – who wanted a lodger in the house where they honeymooned? – but was surprised and gratified at the latter. “If the Prince makes trouble, we’ll think of something to do. Surely he’ll forget once the Elf-lord is gone. As for us, we could…get married sooner?” she ventured.
Aelfwine said, “Before his ship leaves, you mean? But, beloved – your reputation!” Pengolod was mystified by this.
Rothinzil tossed her head. “I’ll lose a little and you’ll gain a lot, trust me; I know how folk speak! I can’t think of any other way to get one of the Fair Folk, and your friend besides, to say the vows. I’ve not heard of anyone since Tar-Aldarion who had such a blessing.” There was pride in her as she spoke. She was Númenorean, and be it good or ill, right or wrong, the Elves were still esteemed.
Everyone was quiet for a moment as the idea sank in. Finally, Rothinzil said, more tentatively, “If it’s all right with Aelfwine – ”
She had spoken just as Pengolod started to say, “If it is what you wish, of course I am at your service – ”
At the same time, Aelfwine began, “If I deliver this job to the Venturers now and we meet in the afternoon – ”
When they all stopped talking at once, it was agreed; somehow, the wedding would take place within the week.
Please do not reproduce or repost this story without permission from the author. First posted April 22, 2005.
Feedback or comments on this story are welcome - email Tyellas here.
Magweth Pengolodh Sections