From the Mouths of Babes
It was late afternoon when Ecthelion awoke and descended the stairs of what seemed to be an empty house.
All was silent, save for the whisper of raindrops outside, and the wind rushing through the trees. Rain in Aman oft fell thus, from small drifts of grey clouds through which rays of sunlight slanted still, illuminating the shimmering drops as they fell like diamonds to the waiting earth. Through the open door at the end of the hall, Ecthelion saw soft sunlight illuminate the porch where he had spoken with Glorfindel the previous evening. The two friends had talked till midnight, then gone for a sail on the lake to clear their heads before retiring well before dawn.
At the centre of the hallway, Ecthelion paused by the pedestal upon which sat the mysterious crystal globe with the swirls of darkness and light dancing at its heart. He had not asked Glorfindel about it, for there had been so much else to speak of, so much else to ponder. The Lord of the Fountain’s silver eyes watched the dancing wisp of light in it for a while, mesmerized. Could it be...?
A low, dulcet voice came from behind him and he almost jumped out of his skin. “Yes. It is a palantír.”
He spun round and saw Maeglin behind him, standing before an open door along the hallway. She had moved so silently that even his keen ears had heard nothing. That much has not changed, he thought, annoyed that she must have seen him startle. He remembered numerous occasions the prince had crept up on him thus soundlessly in Gondolin, and the sly, sardonic smile that had curled Maeglin’s lips when Ecthelion whirled around.
“Mole, you have to stop sneaking up on people like this. What if one day I put my fist in your face—or, Eru forbid, my knife through you—before I can think?”
A raised eyebrow. “Nervous, my Lord Fountain? Are we not safe in our city, and friends among friends? And I would trust your swift eye to know me ere your swift hand touches me.”
“I have seen far more death and battle than you, cundunya.” Lammoth. The Dagor Aglareb. The monsters of Nan Dungortheb…
The nightmares came still.
“I trust my reflexes to stay my hand less than you do. Do that again at your peril.”
Ecthelion had suspected the prince to have something of a death wish, for Maeglin had proceeded to do it several times thereafter.
He tried not to stare now at the nís before him. The passageway she had emerged from must have led from a forge, for she wore a heavy leather apron over grey breeches and a knee-length green tunic with the sleeves folded up to her elbows—and somehow the masculine attire only highlighted her femininity all the more. Ecthelion had a double vision of the Lord of the Mole before him, half a head taller, muscular and broader in shoulder, thicker and more sinewy in neck and arm. But just so had the Mole tied back his black hair, and just so had sweat-damp, dark tendrils of stray hair clung to the pale skin of his neck and brow…
There was a moment of awkwardness between the two lords once again as her obsidian eyes met his silver ones.
“If it is a palantír, I have not seen its like before,” Ecthelion said at last. “The others are larger… and they appear as solid stone when not in use. This is clear as spring water—and what light and shadow is it that lives in its depths even when idle?”
“Our son Arinnáro made it, in our third year in Aman. It is largely his own design, conceived in Endórë.”
In the Second Age, the gift of palantíri to Númenor had been an act of supreme generosity by the Eldar, for they were rare treasures in Aman itself. All in all, the stones in the Blessed Land numbered less than sixty. Most households of Eldarin royalty boasted one, and so did those of a number of lords, ladies, scholars, and craftsmen of the three kindred. There had, of course, been palantíri among the Noldor in Beleriand, brought into exile by the Fëanorians, but not one of those had survived and returned to Aman.
The Noldor made them still in Valinor, but rarely. The making of each palantír remained a costly and tedious process that took years and consumed much strength, even though Fëanor had seemed to swiftly churn them out with almost casual disdain. The fiery one had left huge gaps in the notes recovered from Formenos that not been filled even three long ages since his demise.
Maeglin stepped forward to Ecthelion’s side and gazed at the stone. “Findaráto acquired a copy of Fëanáro’s documents for Arinnáro, and it unlocked for him the missing parts of the process he had been working on for years. He has made five of them thus far. This is one of the three larger ones. The other two are merely the size of your fist. He has done what Curumo and even Sauron himself could not—and he is not even a yén old!” And Maeglin smiled.
It was not an extraordinary smile—not the dazzling sunrise of Glorfindel’s smiles, nor the glowing sweetness of Idril’s—but Ecthelion was astonished by it. It was not sardonic nor cynical, nor sly nor cool nor mocking. It was a warm smile of motherly pride that completely disarmed him. Then it faded and Maeglin eyed him a little warily.
“And by this… you could connect with any other palantír in Aman?” Ecthelion asked.
“Yes, we could. But for obvious reasons we do not. This stone has been used mostly to speak with its sister stones. The other two larger ones are in Avallonë and Valmar.”
“I can guess with whom.”
“The smaller ones are for travel. Our sons carry one. The last is… with a friend.”
“And have you shrouded these so that no other palantíri may discern them?”
“Yes. And we have warning, if another stone comes seeking that is not of our circle. The colour signature at its heart changes.”
“Would it surprise you to know that Turukáno now has a palantír?”
“Really?” A black eyebrow arched, and there it was—that old, sly, sardonic lifting of the corner of her mouth. So much changed, yet so much the same. “And was it his own idea?”
There had never been a palantír at Gondolin or Nevrast. Turgon had wanted nothing crafted by the elf he most hated, even if it meant slower communications with the other realms by messenger bird. And he had trusted the secret of his kingdom more to birds than to a treacherous ball that might give others an eye into his realm, no matter what shrouding spells could be wrought.
Ecthelion smiled as well. “It was at Arafinwë and Nolofinwë’s insistence, mostly. But Elenwë and Turukáno soon saw the usefulness of having one, once it became apparent that… that Itarillë… would remain at Avallonë.”
An awkward silence fell again. Back in Gondolin, the Lord of the Fountain had guessed Maeglin’s secret even though Glorfindel had stalwartly kept it. The Fountain’s keen eyes had caught the briefest flashes of jealousy and despair and rage in the obsidian eyes when Tuor began to pay court to Idril, and understood. And all the Eldar knew it now, of course—knew with revulsion of the dark, forbidden lust for which a prince had betrayed a city and murdered a hundred thousand of his own people.
“Ah, Itarillë…” sighed Maeglin, shaking her black hair loose from its tie. She removed her heavy apron and tossed it with unerring aim to hang on a hook on the wall behind her. “My sweet Amya Itarillë.” Her smile was both mocking and rueful as she turned back to him. “Fear not, Ecthelion. I can bear the mention of her name.”
Ecthelion smiled himself, stifling a laugh. “Amya?”
“There is only one person in Arda whom I will ever call Amil or Ammë. Hence, Itarillë and I eventually agreed I should address her as…. Amya. Amárië is Milyë. You cannot imagine how thankful I am that I do not have to call Tuor Atya.” She clasped her hands behind her back, pushed back her shoulders, and stretched to relieve her body’s tension and weariness from her work at the forge. “You ate naught, last night. Are you hungry, Fountain?”
“Well… yes. A little,” replied Ecthelion, acutely uncomfortable as he averted his eyes from the sweat-damp tunic clinging to her chest and gazed back at the palantír. He was perfectly indifferent to the number of females who flaunted their feminine charms at him monthly in Alcarinos. But that the one now flaunting a pair of shapely breasts at him had once been his fellow lord only heightened his awareness of her femininity.
“There is a leg of roast venison. And a fresh barley loaf, baked this morn. If you will wait on the porch, I shall bring it forthwith—”
“Mole—you do not have to—” Ecthelion said awkwardly.
“What, Fountain?” she smiled wryly. “Play good hostess?”
“Well… serve me. Tell me where the food is to be found. I am able to help myself. You are… well, that is, you were… my prince—”
“Ammë?” came a small, fretful voice from the stairwell.
They turned and saw a small elfling standing at the bottom of the stairs, her little brow furrowed. She looked on the verge of tears.
Maeglin had unconsciously assumed the cool, acerbic tone she habitually used in Gondolin. Her voice now changed, softening and sweetening instantly. “Why, winimë, did you have a bad dream?” And she went to the child and picked her up.
“Where’s Canyo? Canyo’s gone!” And Alassë glared at Ecthelion as though this was all his fault.
Maeglin sighed. “That dog. Alassë, Canyo must have gone out to play. He will return on his own.”
“But it is raining! He hates being wet, Ammë.” Angry and fearful tears spilled down her cheeks as she clung to her mother’s neck. “We must find him!”
“Alassë, we are not going out into the rain to look for him. He is a hound of Oromë. Trust me. He will be fine.”
“But he might be hurt. Please, Ammë. The rain should have made him run back here. Something has happened, Ammë. Please, Ammë, pleeeeeease.”
As Alassë wailed and kicked in her arms, Maeglin frowned in consternation. “Melimë, what is this behaviour?”
“It might reassure her if she is shown the hound in the palantír, Mo—milady,” said Ecthelion, catching himself in time. He could not bring himself to call her Lómiel.
Maeglin looked thoughtful. “I have not used it thus before, but…” Holding her daughter on her left hip, she reached out her right hand and touched the palantír. As her will directed it, the forest appeared in the globe. Alassë’s eyes were huge as she watched the trees and glades fly past at the heart of the crystal. At last, they heard the desolate howl of a puppy.
Ecthelion was startled. “It has… sound? Do you speak into it with thought, or with voice?”
“Both,” said Maeglin a little tightly, focusing her strength on the search. “Ah… there he is.”
In a deep pit in the earth—formed by the accidental uprooting of a great tree by Tulkas, during a game the mighty vala had played with Glorfindel a year past—they saw Oromë’s pup. Its snowy coat was covered in black mud, and it whined pitifully as it tried in vain to climb up the slippery sides of the hole.
“Canyo!” cried the child, tears coming to her eyes. “Oh, my poor Canyo!”
The two lords exchanged a look. It was not too unlike some situations they had faced during the war games in Gondolin. “It will be the Ditches of Doom all over again,” said Ecthelion, in reference to the favourite trap dug by the Moles, into which many of the riders and foot soldiers of other houses had fallen.
“This is my retribution then,” Maeglin said wryly.
“I will come with you.”
A frail woman and child in need of his manly strength and succour. Her lip curled mockingly. “How very gallant of you, arquenya.” …my noble knight. As Ecthelion blushed red, she continued, “Make no mistake, this lady would be grateful for your aid. You had better have that venison and loaf before we leave—”
“Nooo-ooo!” wailed Alassë in horror at the proposed delay. “Now! We must rescue Canyo now!”
“Truly, I need no food. Where is your rope? Let us leave now,” said Ecthelion.
“No! I don’t want him to come, Ammë.”
“Alassë!” Maeglin exclaimed sharply. “How can you be rude to our guest—and after he has offered us his aid most generously?”
“We don’t need him! We need Atto.”
Maeglin gritted her teeth and gave Ecthelion the abashed and apologetic look universally worn by parents who know their child is Behaving Badly. “Alassë, Atto is busy today,” Maeglin said in a dangerously restrained voice. “I cannot do this without Ecthelion. If you are not going to behave yourself, you are going to your room and staying here whilst Ecthelion and I rescue Canyo. Am I clear?”
That made the tot fall silent at once, and nod her head.
Maeglin flushed in embarrassment as she glanced at Ecthelion. “She is not usually thus, Ecthelion. Pray excuse her behaviour.”
“It is no matter. The child is distraught,” said Ecthelion. “Let us away.”
As Maeglin took up some rope and they swiftly donned their cloaks, Ecthelion asked the question that had been nagging at him. “Where is Lauro… and everyone else?”
“The two boys and their grandparents left early for Oromë’s halls… and Lauro was whisked away by a surprise visitor this morning. Eru alone knows when he will be returned.”
Ecthelion looked curious. “Be returned?” he asked, as they stepped into the glittering mix of sunshine and rain.
Above the low-lying rainclouds, on the windswept heights of a rocky ridge, Glorfindel staggered backwards from the force of his opponent’s parry, and fell to one knee. A heartbeat, then he swung his shining blade upwards and blocked a downcut, and was on his feet again with a laugh.
It had been two long ages since Glorfindel had faced any whose sword skill was swifter and deadlier than his own, and whose bodily strength far exceeded his. As he went on the offensive, the blindingly brilliant blade of his opponent parried his every lightning stroke as one who could almost read his mind, and he keenly felt the threat of danger and death in every strike and slash and step he made. It had been a long time since Glorfindel had felt so challenged… so alive in all his senses.
It was fortunate that his opponent had no intention of killing him.
The greatest swordsman in Eä smiled approvingly as the elf before him recovered from the attack and lunged at him. The swordsman’s hair was a swirling blaze of orange-red and white-gold, like the molten lava at a volcano’s heart, and his eyes were flame.
Lachend, the Sindar had named the Noldor upon their arrival in Beleriand… the flame-eyed ones. But that was only because no Sinda had yet beheld the armies of the War of Wrath or the one who would lead their vanguard.
For this duel, the one with eyes of true-flame had assumed a form and height similar to that of the elf before him, and he was dressed like the elf in light leather armour that allowed them both great freedom and ease of movement.
The combatants were on a mountain ridge, a sub-range of the Pélori branching out like a finger from the great mountains in the east. From there, they could see patches of raincloud and their shadows moving across the land. The great forest of Oromë lay below, stretching a thousand leagues to the north. Where the cities and dwellings of Eldamar lay was marked by the tiny, glittering snow-peak of Taniquetil, rising above the rest of the Pélori. Vast green meadows spread out to the west of Oromë’s woods. Mandos shone white atop blue hills in the furthest west. The gardens of Lórien, nestling tiny in green woods far below it, were not visible even to the sharpest elven eyes, only to the one with eyes of flame.
The maia locked blades with the golden-haired elf, drove him back against a rock, and pinned him there.
“Do you yield?” thundered the Herald of Manwë with a fearsome smile as he pushed his blade, and Glorfindel’s, towards the elf’s throat.
Bent backwards over the rock, straining and trembling under the inexorable pressure of the blades, Glorfindel strove to slide his sword’s crossguard beneath Eonwë’s—a futile manoeuver, for he could not hope to be swift enough to surprise the maia. He thus expected it when Eonwë took advantage and wrenched the hilt out of his hands, almost sending the weapon plummeting off a cliff.
Swifter than elven eye, Eonwë moved to catch the Valinor-forged sword and turned back to his best pupil. “Years in the mortal lands have weakened you.” The maia shook his head as he tossed the sword back to the elf, who had wearily rolled back onto his feet.
The break in rhythm had undone Glorfindel. The tide of adrenalin that had sustained him for the last nine hours suddenly ebbed away. The elf barely found the strength to catch and sheath his sword before stumbling back against the rock and sliding down against it. He sat breathless on the high ridge, gasping at the thin mountain air, his eyes glazed over with exhaustion.
The maia came to sit by him, still in his elf-like form, and dimmed his glorious light till he appeared no more than a copper-haired ellon with golden eyes. He eyed the wounds and bruises the elf had sustained. “You did well enough,” said the maia, his voice now almost gentle. “Another yén or so, and you should be as strong as you once were.” A finger reached out to trace the cuts on the elf’s face, leaving healed flesh in its wake.
Glorfindel did not move till the maia finished with his face, then he wearily turned his head and watched as the maia healed the superficial wounds inflicted where the armour joined. “Lord Eonwë… why would you train me now? There can be no new mission to Endórë. Is the Battle of Battles soon to come?”
Eonwë raised his eyebrows. “Train? Do you imagine that is the sole reason I deigned to spar with you, two ages past?”
Glorfindel gave a lopsided, rueful grin. “At that time, since there could have been no challenge in it for you, and I knew naught of my mission then, I thought you took a sadistic pleasure in trouncing me to within an inch of my life.”
The maia chuckled, and the whole mountain seemed to rumble. “You learned from it well. I hear you disciplined your warriors in Endórë harder than ever you trained the Vanyar for the War of Wrath.”
“I did have a hope, however, that you sought me as well for the pleasure of my company…”
“That too, little elf. I grew fond of you, during the War of Wrath. I always thought you should have been appointed Commander of the Vanyar in the place of the Ingwion.”
“I did not wish it. I am no Vanya.”
“And yet in the end you were their Commander in all but name.”
The High King’s son had of course been the Commander of the Vanyarin host. Gentle poet, scholar and peace-loving prince, Ingolmo Ingwion had been ill-suited to it, and both his father and Eonwë had known it. An aide-de-camp was assigned to the prince. Glorfindel had been Ingwion’s herald and protector on the battlefield, squire and counsellor in his tent.
When after the first battles Ingwion had at last been able to retire to his tent, he had been violently and wretchedly sick. Glorfindel had cleaned it up wordlessly, handed him a cup of watered wine to drink, and matter-of-factly begun to remove the prince’s armour.
“It is like that, the first time, Aranion. It will get better.”
Ingwion had eyed Glorfindel sceptically, his cheeks still flushed with shame. “Did you puke like a baby as well, your first time?”
“All over Ecthelion of the Fountain’s new boots. You can ask him about it one day.” A skirmish in Dor-lómin. Glorfindel had been a boy of thirty-seven. He had slain seven orcs—or so the other elves told him. He had no memory of it save the stench, and the blood. Black blood and entrails everywhere… on his clothes, and his blade, and his bright hair…
Two-thousand-years-old Ingwion had drained his cup then sank his slender frame dejectedly on the edge of his bunk. “Were it not for the honour of my father and my house, Laurefindil, I would make you Commander in my place, and send you out in my armour and on my horse to lead my host.” He shook his golden hair free of his helmet as Glorfindel knelt to remove the princely greaves. Ingwion had gazed at his aide-de-camp, arrayed still in his own armour. “They would gladly follow you, a true hero, into the fray. I am sick to the depths of my fëa at these horrors. And my heart warns me there are long years of this madness to come.”
“No one is born a hero. You become one by the choices you make. Your people need you to give them heart. They are scared as you are. And hate this fighting as you do.”
“I do not have the heart to be a hero, much less give heart to any other.”
Glorfindel had put his hands on the prince’s shoulders, and his azure eyes had blazed with fire as he looked into the Vanya’s desolate grey-green eyes. “There are a hundred thousand Vanyar encamped out there,” Glorfindel said in thought, “and they need their Commander to put fire in their hearts. Together, we will be the hero they need. I will think for both of us in battle. I will have heart enough for both of us, courage enough for both of us… till you find yours.”
Outside of Ingwion’s tent, Glorfindel never seemed to be more than a step away from the prince. His kept his helmet and armour on beyond the tent, so none other of the Eldar ever fully saw his face, only the glitter of azure eyes within his helm, and his wondrously luminous Vanyarin hair streaming down his back. Calimalaimo, the hosts of Aman had called Glorfindel. Ingwion’s bright shadow. Over the forty years of dreadful war, the prince and his bright shadow had become friends and closer than brothers. But once back in Valinor, Ingolmo Ingwion had gladly laid down his sword, and his mysterious aide had vanished. Then many Vanyar whispered that the warrior had been a guardian maia disguised among them. Ingwë’s heir had then ascended Taniquetil, put on the plain white robes of the Consecrated, and contemplated the sacred mysteries of the Flame Imperishable. And not descended since.
The Herald of Manwë stood and pulled Glorfindel to his feet. “It rains still, over your abode. Would you join me for a flight?”
“I should go home…I have a guest.”
Already Aikanammo the great eagle, kin to Sorontar, had swept in with a rush of vast wings.
“And you are mine,” said the maia, leaping onto the eagle’s back. “Come, and be refreshed.”
It had been a long time… Glorfindel hesitated for only a moment, then smiled as he climbed onto the eagle’s back, seated himself behind the maia, and they took off into clear skies.
A breathtaking double rainbow glowed in the sky as the three elves returned at last to the house with the puppy. They were a woefully bedraggled bunch. The puppy that had once been snow-white was now black and brown with mud. They were all coated in mud. This might be Aman, but mud anywhere is still mud.
Maeglin had descended into the pit to tie the rope around the pup, Ecthelion remaining above to hoist it up. So wildly excited and relieved was the pup at being rescued that it leapt upon her as she landed on the pit floor, and losing her footing in the slippery mud, she went down heavily into it, the giant pup on top of her.
“Lómion! Are you hurt?” Ecthelion had exclaimed ere he could think.
“Only my pride,” Maeglin had grunted, as she sat up caked in mud, and tried to fend off the paws and huge, slobbering tongue of a puppy ecstatic at having been found.
“You don’t call her Lómion!” the indignant tot had shrilled at the Lord of the Fountain. “You don’t call her Mole! My Ammë’s name is Lómiel! Lóm-iel! You stupid piece of muk! Heca! You should never have come here!”
After a silence of three heartbeats broken only by the puppy’s barks, a voice had emerged from the pit that was all the more terrible and no less penetrating for being quiet—and as chilly as the Helcaraxë. “Alassë Artalissë Mirimë. Apologize to Lord Ecthelion. Now.”
Ecthelion had watched as the child’s little mouth quivered then set in a familiar, stubborn line. “No.”
“Your behaviour has been execrable. Apologize. Or you are staying in your room for the next week.”
That prospect was a fate close to death for the active child. Her chin had wobbled, but her lower lip had jutted out. “Won’t.”
“Alassë, I will not call your Ammë Lómion again,” Ecthelion had said quietly. “You are right. That was stupid of me. Lómion is a name for a nér. Not a nís like your Ammë.”
“That’s right. And no one can call Ammë ‘Mole’—except Atto.”
“Very well. I won’t call her ‘Mole’.”
“I await that apology still, anelya,” said the grim voice from the pit.
“I do not think that is going to happen anytime soon, herinya,” said Ecthelion, eyeing the stubborn mouth and chin of the tot. “Allow me to get you and the dog out of there first.”
It took them the better part of an hour to hoist the puppy out of the ditch, whereupon Canyo covered Ecthelion and Alassë with an amount of mud almost equal to what Maeglin was soaked in.
It was a silent and sober procession back to the house, by which time the rain had stopped. The double rainbows arched across the heavens as they came to the pebbled shore of the lake and began to wash off mud.
As Ecthelion did his best to wrestle a gigantic puppy who did not want a bath into the shallows, Maeglin washed the mud off her daughter as well as she could. She then knelt before the child and looked her straight in her sulky silver eyes. “Go straight back to your room now, wash yourself well with soap and warm water, and change into dry clothes,” she said sternly. “The punishment stands. You will stay in your room until you apologize to Lord Ecthelion. I will talk with you later.”
Back very straight and small head held high, Alassë turned and walked proudly back to the house.
Maeglin went to Ecthelion’s aid, wading out into the shallows, where Canyo, trembling and tail between its legs, was whining loudly and pathetically. The Lord of the Fountain had the puppy in a headlock, and was washing mud from its ears. She saw that Ecthelion had fashioned a rope harness similar to the one they had used to hoist the puppy earlier, and had now tethered the puppy to a tree growing by the waters. She began to scrub the puppy’s haunches.
“Say it. I know you are thinking it. A brat begets a brat…”
Ecthelion’s fair face gave nothing away. “All I thought was that she would never have learned those curse words from Laurefindil,” he said mildly.
She muttered something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like another curse. “I took such great care with my language within her hearing… or so I thought.”
“I have served the house of Nolofinwë all my life. The child is of that line. Proud and bold of spirit as they come.”
“Ecthelion, I assure you this is not her usual behaviour. I was appalled.”
“I have a way of bringing out the worst in some members of your house, obviously.”
The wry smile touched a corner of her mouth briefly, then she frowned. “That outburst… it was inexplicable. What in Eä could have gotten into her?”
“Your uncle Arakáno was Alassë’s age when Fëanáro and Finwë left Tirion for Formenos, and your grandfather took up the duties of the Noldóran. Arakáno was the baby of the family, his Atar’s darling—and all of a sudden, Atar was not free to play. There were matters of state to attend to, and petitioners and plaintiffs all day. The child began to throw tantrums. In the throne room during audiences, most memorably. After he shot a representative of the weavers’ guild with a catapult, he was banished to Turukáno’s household, where I helped his brother babysit him for a Valian year… a very long Valian year.” He untied the rope harness. Canyo scrambled eagerly onto the shore, and showered them with lakewater as it shook itself violently, before bounding up to the house.
Maeglin wiped dog-spray from her face. “What has this to do with Alassë? Her Atar and I are still here. She has no lack of attention from us, or her brothers, or her grandparents…”
“Children abhor certain changes and disruptions to their lives. I am clearly one such.” Ecthelion coiled the rope, and passed it to her. “Now, herinya, if you will excuse me, we have ourselves to wash.” And truly, she had never seen elegant, impeccably groomed Ecthelion as dishevelled and filthy as he was now—not even in the midst of battle at the Nirnaeth, when he had been covered, as they all had been, with dust and enemy blood. The mudstains might never wash out of that costly embroidered tunic, she thought ruefully.
He turned and waded away from her.
“You have nothing I have not already seen, Fountain,” she could not resist calling after him as he vanished into the neighbouring inlet behind some rocks.
“And that which you have, I have already seen too much of, herinya.”
She reddened a little at that. Then began the long task of rinsing copious amounts of mud out of her long tresses.
“Stop calling me that.”
“Lómiel. Say it. Lóm-iel.”
“A bad idea. It is apt to change sex as I utter it.”
“What will you tell Turukáno on your return?”
“That the rumours were untrue,” he said eventually. “That both your mother and Laurefindil are blameless. And that the Golden Flower is wed to another.”
“Turukáno will ask why Laurefindil has not come to Alcarinos.”
“Listen. You swore to keep my secret. But I know your honour and what you owe your liege lord. Protect my family and avoid disclosure as best as you may, but I release you from the promise you made to me. Should he question you, and corner you, tell him the truth.”
After another long silence, Ecthelion said, “You are sure about this?”
“Would I prefer none knew the traitor has returned? Of course. But Laurefindil hates it that others lie for our sakes to protect us. And I have come to hate it because of him. We are far from Eldamar and will exile ourselves here if need be. Those who love us may seek us out. Those who hate me will shun us. So do not be torn between your love for Laurefindil and your loyalty and allegiance to Turukáno. Be free to speak as you must.”
“Hantanyel, herinya.” And she heard the respect in his voice.
“And call me Lómiel.”
There was a sigh behind the rocks.
“…Lómiel,” he said finally.
“Much better,” she said wryly, as she peeled off her mud-stained clothes and immersed herself fully in the water.
“I have motivation of my own to uphold your secret.”
“And what might that be?”
“Who would not think me mad if I tell the truth?”
“The Lord of the Fountain is known for neither jests nor folly, but for sobriety and clear judgement. Who would disbelieve you?”
“There is not another has been born one sex and reborn another. They will think I ate a strange mushroom in the woods.”
“Let them. It might solve both our problems.”
A chuckle drifted from the next inlet. “That it might. Yet I do not see that the full truth would harm you. There would be understanding and compassion from many, and it would win you much forgiveness.”
“That I was Sauron’s puppet? There is still the matter of the betrayal itself. It is what it is and I make no excuses for it.”
“You were tortured.”
“So were many others in Angband. They did not break. I need no reminding that a frail, inferior adan kept faith when I did not. I will not have Laurefindil’s glorious, golden legend bear any taint of my treachery. I know you would not wish that either. And I have children. I wish them the freedom to walk among the Eldar and forge futures for themselves free of my shadow. For those two reasons, Fountain, I still desire that it not be known that the traitor has returned.”
“I shall do my utmost, I assure you. And… Lómiel?”
“You have truly changed.”
Maeglin laughed. “Don’t go soft on me, Fountain.”
“And the rest of this damnable mud is not coming out without soap. Are you decent? I think we should head back to the house.”
Ten leagues to the north-west, in a forest clearing, music filled the air as the Tawarwaith danced and sang beneath the double rainbow that adorned the sunset skies. The halls of Oromë, built of wood and stone, rose out of the forest behind them, and a feast was being prepared before the great entrance to the halls. The Great Hunter was still riding in the woods with his followers and friends, amongst them Lothuial of the Tawarwaith, and Finrod and Aredhel of the Noldor.
An aged dwarf was lying contentedly on a mat laid on the rain-damp grass, and snoring gently, a gentle smile on his face and his hands folded on his chest. Seated near him on another mat were a pair of twins, watching Legolas and Amárië dance with the other Silvan folk on the sward.
“Let us visit Alcarinos!” Arman urged his twin.
The previous evening, as Glorfindel and Ecthelion had spoken on the porch, Finrod had directed the palantír north and shown Turukáno’s shining city to his grandsons. Only Finrod possessed enough power to shroud them all safely as he bent the palantír to his will and ventured into the very heart of Eldamar. The young néri’s thoughts were still full of images of the golden-lit white spires and towers against a sky full of stars, of golden mellyrn and lush gardens hung with lamps like jewels, of the great fountain in the Square of the King, and, flying in the breeze over the city, the fair banners of the ten remaining Houses of Gondolin.
Aryo looked dubiously at his younger brother.
Soon after their arrival in Aman, Aryo had realized that even were Aulë willing to offer him an apprenticeship, he did not want to face the questions that the dozens of other elven smiths under the Vala were sure to ask about his parentage, about his Vanyarin golden hair—and, above all, about the mastersmith who had taught him his skills. He had resigned himself to pursuing his craft only in the smithy of their new house. And over the past four years, he and Arman had shunned Eldamar in the north and travelled some of the wondrous lands to the west and south of their home. Several of their journeys had been in the company of their golden-haired grandparents, who had delighted in showing them the beauties of many little-known places in Aman. Whenever they had chanced to meet edhil—and that had been rarely—the four of them had been assumed to be a Vanyarin family of parents and sons.
These edhil who dwelled far from Eldamar were mostly rebodied Nandor and Avari from various parts of Ennorath who felt little desire to join the cities of the Calaquendi, and had been drawn instead to make their new homes in the vast wilderness of lands governed by various Ainur, to whom they then submitted to as their lord or lady. In the forests, they came under the lordship of Oromë. In the fertile valleys, wide plains, and all meadows and orchards, they bowed to Yavanna. In the hill countries and mountains and their cavern systems, they looked to either Tulkas or Aulë. Whenever the golden-haired travellers encountered these Moriquendi, whilst they drew much admiration and attention, they were simply regarded as “Minyar”, and no further questions regarding their identity were asked.
“We have avoided Eldamar thus far for good reason, Arman,” Aryo now objected. “Our hair would draw too much unwanted attention.”
“We are less likely to turn heads in Eldamar than we did in Endórë.”
“In Eldamar, hair our shades of gold would be recognized by the Calaquendi as exceedingly rare—mine found only in the lines of Ingwë and Indis, and yours only in Amárië and Galathil’s clans.”
Arman’s eyes glittered. “We could darken our hair!”
“Elves colour their hair? Never!” protested Aryo, appalled, remembering with some distaste the unnatural shades of red and yellow the entertainers at Elessar’s court had at times tinted their locks.
“Only because they have had no need to. We have need. An inconspicuous shade—deep brown—like Lindir’s—will allow us to blend in. For the first time in our lives! Imagine he novelty of being two unremarkable dark-haired néri in a city of a hundred thousand mostly dark-haired elves. Come on, Aryo—I know you want to see the city as much as I do.”
Aryo looked sceptical. “It would need to be a colour that will stay for a while, then. Any ideas?”
Arman thought awhile. “Tea?”
“Walnuts,” murmured a gruff, deep voice in Westron near them.
They turned their heads to look at the ancient dwarf, amazed. They had no idea that Gimli could understand that much elvish. Regardless they had liberally sprinkled their conversation with Westron, the rest of their speech had been in their own curious mix of Quenya and Sindarin.
“Black walnut hulls will do the trick for you, lads, if ’tis a head of dark hair you want,” said Gimli with a yawn. “There are dwarrowdams who use that when age greys their locks and beards. My late mam dyed hers for special feasts. The colour lightens over time, though.”
Arman’s eyes sparkled. “How many walnuts, Master Dwarf? And how do we make this dye?”
The tiny rebel walked ramrod-straight and dry-eyed till she reached the door of the house. Then, as she walked down the hallway, her little face puckered and she began to sniffle. She could not have articulated any of her emotions, but she knew she hated Ecthelion.
How could her Canyo follow this strange, new elf? And lick his face? And sit at his feet and look at him in that adoring way?
And it was not only her Canyo who was different because of this intruder. Yesterday both Ammë and Atto had acted peculiar after Ecthelion almost fell off the roof, which he really should have. Alassë’s happy, strong Atto had grown bewilderingly awkward and uncomfortable. Ammë too. And when Ammë talked with Ecthelion, her voice… changed. Alassë remembered the conversation she had overheard in the hallway. Ammë had seemed like a stranger—hard and mocking—no longer her Ammë. Alassë hated it. Hated the way Ecthelion called Ammë Nolpa—‘Mole’. That was Atto’s special name for Ammë and when Atto said it, playfully, teasingly, lovingly, it made Alassë feel warm and good.
Ecthelion did not say it that way, which was good or Atto would surely have been angry. But the way Ecthelion said it felt all wrong. And he was stupid. He called Ammë ‘Lómion’ and ‘my prince’ and it made Alassë feel her world was falling apart and she did not know how to stop it, how to make the world right again.
As she walked past the pedestal in the hall, the elfling looked up at the globe with the dancing wisp of light at its heart. She was forbidden to touch the stone, and she could not, anyway, since the smooth marble pedestal alone was twice her height. She remembered how Ammë had used it to find Canyo. Alassë wanted to find Atto. Wanted to tell Atto to come home quick. She did not want Ammë and Ecthelion to be together.
Not thinking of her wet clothes and her still slightly-muddy appearance, she took a stool taller than herself and pushed it against the pedestal. Then, with the native agility of a child of Glorfindel’s, she pulled herself up onto it. She could see the distorted reflection of her face in the curved surface of the smooth crystal, and the swirling white light within that beckoned to her. Even as she reached out her small hands, she thought, Atto, too, will scold me for using the stone. Atto said I shouldn’t till I’m bigger…
Then she thought of all the other people who cared for her and who talked to her through the crystal as Atto or Ammë carried her in their arms. Finrod and Amárië. Elrond and Celebrían. Galadriel. Lindir. Itarillë. Eärendil and Elwing. Legolas. And her little heart so hungered to be loved and comforted in that moment that she touched the crystal and willed one of them, any of them, to come to her now.
Most young elves not yet of age would lack the strength of will and focus to command a palantír, let alone a tot of five. As her hands touched the cold, glassy surface of the globe, she felt an electric shock run through her arms, then a dizzying whirl of images spun through the crystal in rapid succession, and she would have fallen save that the thing held her hands to itself and would not let her go. Forest, mountains, sky, sun, fire… they whirled around and she felt she was spinning, spinning… then she gasped, her silver eyes huge, as she flew with giddy swiftness over a vast expanse of forest, past a tall mountain peak, across a wide plain, and through mountains till she saw a shining white city.
And suddenly a face was before her. It was a man. His hair was as raven as her own, and his eyes the same silver, like Haruni Írissë’s, and he was staring at Alassë and looking very surprised. She stared back.
“Who are you?” the child demanded.
He continued to stare at her, his mouth fallen slightly open. A circlet of gold set with diamonds and rubies sat on his brow, and his robe was a rich, deep red, like wine. She saw a window behind him, and beyond it mountains and the tops of white towers. He was a very handsome man, with fine features that looked somehow familiar. Then it struck her. “You look like Aryo,” she said. Not the hair, nor the colour of the eyes, but the shape of the face, the planes of his finely-sculpted cheekbones, the straight, narrow nose and well-shaped lips and strong chin—so much like an older version of her hanno.
His lips moved soundlessly, then she heard his words in her mind, rather like the way her parents and brothers sometimes spoke to her.
“I… look like… who?”
“Aryo. My brother.”
“I see… Is this brother there with you?”
“No. He has gone to visit Oromë.”
“Aahh... Where are your parents, pitya?”
“You won’t tell them, will you?” she said in a rush, a little flutter in her tummy telling her that this was wrong, that she should not be using the stone, nor speaking to a stranger, nor keeping any secrets from Ammë and Atto. “Please don’t let them know. I’m not supposed to use the stone. Only it has been so—so—everything is all wrong since he came—I wanted to tell Elrond or Legolas or Haruni Itarillë or someone—”
“Haruni Itarillë…?” The man leaned forward. He was quite a stern-looking man, but his grave silver eyes had widened slightly, and his face now softened and grew kind. Her little heart swelled with gladness at finding a sympathetic and fatherly ear. He reminded her of Elrond too.
“I have three haruni,” she told him. “They would understand. They wouldn’t be mean like Ammë, and send me to my room for a week. They would see that it is all Ecthelion’s fault—”
“Ecthelion? Of the Fountain?”
“Yes.” Her little silver eyes sparked and she added haughtily, “You must stop interrupting me. You are not very good at listening.”
He smiled a little, and it made him look even more like Aryo. Aryo was steady, strong, like a rock. It made her trust this strange nér. “Very well,” he said gently, settling back in his chair. “Someone named Ecthelion has upset you, pitya, and you want to tell your haruni. Will you tell me? I will listen very carefully.”
At the warmth and concern in his deep voice, tears stung her eyes, and it all poured out. “Ecthelion spoils everything. Canyo is my dog, not his. He should ask Oromë for his own hound. And he is so stupid. Why, he calls Ammë ‘Lómion’ when anyone would know that’s a boy’s name—”
“'LÓMION’? Ecthelion calls your… Ammë… 'Lómion’??” said the man sharply, leaning forward again, his eyes sparking suddenly with fire.
“You must not interrupt. You said you would listen,” she chided him crossly.
“So I did. My profound apologies, little lady. Pray continue.”
She sighed deeply and expressively. “I don’t care if he’s Atto’s best friend, or if he killed more balrogs than Atto. It’s not nice when he’s here. I want him to go away.”
“Well, I am sure he will, pitya. Ecthelion has his own home and his own dogs in Alcarinos. He shouldn’t stay long.”
“You think so?” She looked hopeful.
“He had better not. He has duties to perform.”
“Atto said this morning he wants Ecthelion to stay longer—says Ecthelion is just like his Atto. He does not need another Atto. He already has Haru—” Just then, an excited volley of barking interrupted the tot, and there was an avalanche of wet, white fur which swept the child from view. The stool fell over, the palantír narrowly missed destruction, and connection was severed.
Half an hour later, as Ecthelion supped on cold roast venison and barley bread on the porch, Glorfindel and Maeglin entered their daughter’s room and saw her curled asleep in her bed, clean and in a fresh nightshirt, and Canyo curled at her feet in a large hill of white fur, likewise asleep. They watched her for a while, put their arms around each other, and smiled softly.
“She looks so innocent…” said Glorfindel.
“The punishment stands. She has to learn.”
“I’ll talk to her. She has till Ecthelion leaves in two days to make good.”
Alassë stirred in her sleep, and opened her eyes to look at her parents. “Ammë… Atto…”
They sat on her bed and bent to kiss her forehead, and in their circle of love, her dog at her feet, Alassë’s little world was right again. Her silver eyes were huge and contrite. “I was naughty, Ammë. I’ll tell Ecthelion I am sorry…”
The erstwhile King of Gondolin sat unmoving for over an hour, staring at the now-darkened stone on the table before him.
Aryo’s palantír, veering wildly out of the control of his baby sister, had assumed the course so skilfully taken by Finrod the night before, and this time without the intricate shrouding spells the Crown Prince of the Noldor had cast.
By chance, at that very moment, Turgon had finished speaking to his father Fingolfin, and had been turning the palantír south to Valmar to speak to his law-parents. These were not conversations he looked forward to, for he rather suspected that Elenwë’s family still thought of him as “that Noldo”, and had not completely forgiven him for rebelling against the Valar and taking their daughter to her death on the Grinding Ice. His thoughts, fresh from his talk with his father, had wandered from his blond law-parents to his wayward, wilful little sister and her supposed life of sin… when, suddenly, the face of a very young child had appeared before him in the stone, framed with wet, raven hair, and looking so like Aredhel at that age that he had almost called out her name. Such fierce and desolate little silver eyes. Such a commanding little manner, like a princess born.
…he calls Ammë 'Lómion’.
Turgon had managed not to think of that name for a long time.
He recalled a newborn babe four years ago in Avallonë. And a mother with raven hair and eyes of midnight named Aduialiel.
Daughter of twilight…
Son of twilight…
No. It could not be. There had to be another explanation.
And Ecthelion had better return with it soon.
Amya & Milyë [Q] – both mean ‘mummy’
Atya [Q] – of course, this means ‘daddy’
Winimë [Q] – baby
Arquen [Q] – noble knight
Aikanamma [Q] – sharp talon
Heca [Q] – very rude “Be gone! Sod off!”
Herinya [Q] - milady
Ingolmo [Q] – loremaster