A Tangled Web
They watched as Ecthelion rode away into the cool, early pre-dawn mist of the forest.
“He will have to tell,” Maeglin murmured.
“I know,” Glorfindel replied simply.
A last flash of the grey horse’s white tail between some beeches, and their friend vanished.
As they turned to walk the two leagues back to the lake, the morning forest, clothed in mist and dew, was awakening with birdsong—a time they usually loved enjoying together, but today Glorfindel felt the currents of anxiety and uncertainty in his beloved’s fëa. “Few could plead our case better than Fountain,” he said soothingly. “I have faith that Turukáno will be able to understand. And come to forgive, as Itarillë and Eärendil have.”
“It took Itarillë long enough.” Maeglin brooded for a while. “You told Ecthelion that they broke me with torture?”
“I told him the truth. It was love that broke you.”
She thought back awhile, and a wry smile curled the corner of her mouth. “Love? Is that indeed what it was? My memory fails me like a mortal’s. Lust, more like.” She had now lived more years as an elleth than as an ellon. Her memories of that first life were, in fact, still crystal clear, but less and less of that first self now seemed to remain. “I do not think I knew then, what love was. What it could be.” She reached out to twirl a strand of golden hair around her finger, and tugged at it fondly. “Warm seems the candle, to one who has not felt the sun.”
Glorfindel glowed luminously at that, and they exchanged a deep, tender kiss. Her smile mirrored his as they walked on, then she looked away as darker thoughts returned.
“Which is worse? To have caved in under torture would have made me weak. To have caved in under lust makes me… repulsive.” Why should she care what they thought? And yet she did still. More deeply than she would ever want to admit.
“In the eyes of many Eldar there may be shame in such desires, yet it is only human,” said Glorfindel. “I, for one, was able to comprehend it far more easily than the monstrous inhumanity of that smiling mask you wore six years to hide your treachery. Once Turukáno knows that it was in fact Sauron who had taken possession of you in those years, forgiveness will come easier.”
“The fact remains that my desire for his daughter cost him his kingdom and his people’s lives. That will never be easy to forgive.”
“I’m not saying it will be easy. But I am saying… it is possible.” He took her by the hand and gave her a little twirl. “Indulge me, and imagine with me, for a moment, the best of all possible outcomes…” He spun her into a clearing filled with flowers. “Imagine that Turukáno understands, and forgives, as do most of the lords and the people. Behold, the way is open for us to return, and perhaps live there and pick up our old lives…” He spun her back into his arms, and dipped her back so that her black hair brushed the dewy yellow and white flowers that starred the ground. “…would you?”
“I have no old life to return to,” she said flatly as she lay back against his arm. “There will never again be a House of the Mole. I could never again be Turukáno’s right hand, or a prince in his kingdom. Nor do I wish it.”
He set her upright, and swept her a courtly bow. “Would you be my lady, then, and run my House at my side?”
She gave a very unladylike snort as she shook dew-drops from her hair. “From the Lord of the Mole to the Lady of the Golden Flower? Me? It is beyond imagination.”
“Hmm…” He tilted his head thoughtfully as they walked on. “Once in your wildest dreams you could never have imagined being a nís. Or having me in your bed. Or having my children. Methinks your imagination, my proud prince, is too poor.”
“Your people of the Golden Flower would never accept the traitor-Mole as their lady. And what would you have me do there—pass my days tending flowers and kissing children?”
“We could build a forge as great as that you formerly had in your House,” he said grandly.
The gardens and trees, flowers and herbs, fruit and vegetable crops of Turgon’s kingdom—those had always been the preserve of Glorfindel’s House. The thought of the great furnaces and workshops of the Mole invading it… she made a face. “A forge ill fits the House of the Golden Flower, and you know it.” She glanced at him unhappily. “So… you long much to return?”
“No, love. I may miss old friends. I may be curious to see the city. I may dream of what it might be like for us to live there…” He stooped to pluck a pair of flowers, one white and one yellow. “…but the truth is I have never been happier than I am now, just as we are—a thousand leagues away from New Gondolin, where no judgement can touch us.” He tucked the white flower into his own hair, and the yellow behind her ear, and his thoughts went to another matter. “It has been over a week since we heard from the boys.”
The twins had sent their parents word that they were heading south to mine crystals for Aryo’s work. “They may have already reached the Crystal Caves. Their palantir will be powerless there,” she said, adjusting the flower more securely in her hair. “It is not uncommon for them to disappear for months without a word.”
“I know.” The father frowned slightly. “But why do I have a feeling…”
Glorfindel shrugged off his misgivings. He turned his thoughts to Ecthelion riding to Alcarinos. The Lord of the Fountain’s journey north would be far shorter than the erratic, meandering path through fields and forests he had taken in his quest south. Given Lossendol’s speed, he should be home within a month…
The Lord of the Fountain had, in the end, stayed longer than the two days he had planned. Glorfindel had persuaded him to stay a full ten days, during which he had made his peace with Alassë, and won her over with his singing and flute playing.
So it was that a pair of twins were far ahead of Ecthelion on the road north, and swift of foot as Lossendol was, Aryo and Arman arrived at the Shining City a full week ahead of him.
There might be no winter of snow and ice in Aman, but each coranar ended with a season of cool, dry winds from the north. That season, the luhim, was upon them now, and as the brothers journeyed across the wide valley of the Calacirya, they passed through groves of mellyrn and celebyrn resplendent in their robes of gold and silver leaves, and lingered awhile to bask in such beauty. But at last they came to the foothills of the Pélori north of the Calacirya, followed the river Nénalin into the mountains, and came to the valley of Oronan one evening.
Then before them lay Alcarinos in the twilight. Dozens of fair white towers and many houses and buildings rose on either side of the fast-flowing Nénalin, twelve bridges across the river connecting the western and eastern halves of the city. The proud banners of the ten Houses flew over the city in the mountain breeze, and their hearts swelled with joy to see, on the west bank, the sun-rayed Golden Flower fluttering between the banners of the Tree and the Fountain.
They had journeyed by quieter paths across the Calacirya, and for much of the time hidden their bright hair beneath their hoods. Entering the city, hoods still raised, they found a guesthouse, or sennas, on the west bank, near the House of the Golden Flower, and took up residence in a modest room on the top floor. Then it was time for their disguise.
“Well?” asked Aryo, as he lay with his head at the edge of a bench, and Arman completed the rinse of his long, waist-length hair in a basin. He was not reassured by the look on his twin’s face.
“We may have used one walnut too many,” said Arman, patting his brother’s long tresses with an old, torn tunic. “Or left it on too long.”
Aryo sat up, and looked at the looking glass mounted on the wall. His face was blank as he took in the sight of his fair face framed by tendrils of damp raven hair. He turned away from the mirror, and buried his face in his arms on the table next to the bench. “Arda weeps.”
“It’s not that bad. You still look good, Aryo! That black is—is—very striking.” They had tested the dye first on Arman’s own locks, and Arman had laughed at the strangeness of seeing his silver-gold turned into a rich, deep brown, like the honey their bees at home distilled from dandelion and heather blossoms. Neither of them had expected that Aryo’s golden waves would have drunk the dye so thirstily as to transform to black.
“I probably look like Ammë when she was the gwarth Maeglin. So much for blending into the crowd at New Gondolin.”
“Well… we have no idea what Ammë looked like as a nér… but… but you do look remarkably like… like Turukáno,” admitted Arman as he peeled off the old rabbitskin gloves he had been wearing, which were now dyed as black as Aryo’s hair.
Aryo raised his head and glared irately at his twin. “Like the king of the city we are visiting? That defeats the whole purpose of this gnat-brained exercise, do you not think? Dye our hair dark and we’ll vanish into the crowd, you said—”
“Who was to know your hair would react so differently? When the peredhel twins tried to dye Atto’s hair in the Third Age, they only succeeded in turning it a brassy green. That was why I left yours on a little longer.”
“Obviously they didn’t use walnuts.”
“Anyway, you are a full head shorter than Turukáno. No one could mistake you for him. Lie down. I’ll try to wash it out.”
After five minutes, Aryo protested, “Enough! My scalp hurts. Is it any lighter?”
“Barely,” said Arman. “Damn, but your hair loves that dye!”
A chill descended on Aryo. “Gimli said the colour would fade over time. What if it does not? Elven hair and dwarven hair are not the same.”
“It will grow out…”
Aryo groaned. “In about ten years it will. I want my hair back!! I never knew how much I loved it till now.”
“Well, should we need to re-colour, I’ll know to add four to five fewer walnuts for you.”
“Re-colour?? I am never, ever going to do this again. We are here for a month, no more. Once we’re back in the woods south, we have to find a way to get this muk out of my hair!”
“When Thalanes once stained her hands with walnuts hulls, she bleached the colour out with lemons. We should be able to get our hands on a few…”
Aryo calmed down. “Yes. Yes, we will try that.”
Arman put his arm around his brother. “Look. I know you didn’t want to do this, and I’m grateful that you did it for me. Let’s get some food now. You’ll feel better after that. I’ll braid your hair up—and there is none will think of the king when they see you.” He deftly braided the black locks and twisted them up into a topknot. “There. I saw a few néri with their hair done so, as we rode into the city,” the younger twin said, slipping in a last hairpin. “I’m guessing from their garb and build that they were smiths, like you. You will blend right in!”
After a very brief glance at the mirror, Aryo winced and averted his face, feeling a stranger to himself. “All right. Let’s go.”
It was now past midnight, and the streets were alive with elves enjoying the starlit night. The air was crisp and cool in this high mountain city, and they breathed it in with pleasure, for it recalled Imladris in autumn. They passed among elves dancing and singing beneath gold-leaved mellyrn, their light feet weaving patterns across a sward carpeted with white and golden flowers. Along the stone-paved riverbank, they saw vendors with baskets and small food carts, and the scents wafted to their keen noses—bowls of dumplings in steaming soup, meats stewed or steamed in leaves, cubes of meats and vegetables grilled on sticks. As they made their way past the dancers towards the river, they came across a white marble plinth atop which a tall white marble statue of a warrior kept vigil, hand on his sword hilt. They slowed to a halt.
Arman grinned excitedly, and sent his thought to his twin. “It’s Atto!”
“And not a bad likeness.”
“I wonder what he would think of it!”
As they stood there, they became aware that heads were turning in their direction. The attention was something they were so accustomed to, that it took them a while to realize that they were supposed to be in disguise and it was not supposed to be happening. They wondered what they had done wrong.
“Why are they staring at us?”
“Maybe we gawked too much at the statue?”
“Muk. It’s my face.”
“Quick, let us move on.”
As they walked, the murmurs and stares at their faces continued on all sides. Arman’s beauty naturally drew attention, but most of the stares were directed especially at Aryo. Noting that the willows and alders growing along the riverbanks shone with the light of many fair white and golden lanterns, Aryo said abruptly, “Too bright. We won’t go that way,” and pulled his brother towards the shadows of a nearby side street. Arman gazed back regretfully at the food carts.
“This was a bad idea. We’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Aryo, let us at least walk around the city once? And visit the House of the Golden Flower?”
“With our hoods over our heads?”
“Perhaps. We’re here, Aryo. And it is beautiful. Let us enjoy it as much as we may.”
They heard laughter, and music, and saw faint light ahead. The street opened into a square, and they saw a yuldacar, a drinking house, and because it was crowded and its lamps were dim, they felt safe enough to enter. Seating themselves inconspicuously in a corner, they ordered miros, a velvety-smooth plum-coloured wine, and a dish of the apsa of the day to share. Aryo faced the wall, and stole furtive glances around the room. It was their first time in a yuldacar, and it was inevitable they would compare it with taverns in Ennor. It was wholly unlike any tavern in Bree or Minas Tirith or Dale, where the air had been thick with smoke from pipe and hearth, and loud with the cacophony of mortal voices and the banging of tankards and fists on tables, and the scraping of chairs, and the occasional brawl. Music, if there was any, had most oft been a merry fiddle, and the whole scene would have been lit with the ruddy light from a crackling fireplace.
Here, the air hummed with a similar vibrancy and gaiety, but there was no smoke, and the blending of diverse elven voices was harmonious. Small groups sat chatting at a dozen tables across the room, chatter interspersed with song and laughter. A harpist and a flautist played by the only light in the place, a soft, white-gold cluster of lanterns. Some elves were dancing in a space at the centre of the room. Whereas in Ennor the patrons had been largely male, and the servers female, here patrons and servers alike were of both genders. The twins wondered if many of these patrons were travellers like themselves, or natives of the city. They were too unfamiliar with the accents and fashions of Eldamar to tell.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I rather miss all the things we used to deplore about taverns,” said Arman, speaking in thought and using the Westron word. “The ruckus and brawls, the stench of cheap pipeweed and unwashed fírimar, the strange, seedy characters.”
“Don’t be daft. How could you miss that? I’m glad not to suffer the dirt and stench. And the bad cooking,” replied Aryo, also in thought. He averted his face as a server placed the dish of venison stew before them.
As they ate, there was one particular corner of the yuldacar that Arman’s eyes kept wandering to. Aryo noticed it and rolled his eyes a little. “Atto’s hair is brighter. And Ammë is fairer.”
Arman flushed. “Atto is the sun. This is fire.” And he tried to shield his deeper thoughts from his twin.
Turning his head slightly to follow his twin’s gaze across the room, Aryo discreetly peered at the three elves sitting in the corner farthest from them. The brothers had quickly surveyed the entire room as they entered, and Aryo had seen nothing in this trio to deserve a second glance. One was a dark-haired elleth who would have been fair among the fírimar, but whose strong jaw was a little too masculine for elven tastes. She had broad shoulders and strong hands on a lean frame, and a rare sprinkling of light freckles on her nose and cheeks. The strongly-built ellon seated next to her had thick, wavy hair red as copper, and the features that were too manly on the elleth were beautiful on him. Seated with the brother and sister was a very tall, slender elleth whose back was towards the twins. Aryo recalled a glimpse of her features from the doorway. Heart-shaped face. Milky alabaster skin. Emerald-green eyes that looked desolate. What was presently mesmerizing Arman was the fine, silken waterfall of fiery-red tresses that seemed almost alive with flame in the light of the white-and-gold lamp. The few redheads the twins had seen in Eryn Lasgalen were the foliage of autumn, not this mesmerizing cascade of flickering firelight.
“Nice hair.” And rather indifferently, Aryo turned back to his food.
Arman watched as the flame-haired maiden reached for the wine jug. Her copper-haired companion moved it away, and through the crowd the twins’ elven hearing could make out the words. Most of the conversations around them were in an oddly-accented Sindarin, but this trio spoke a Quenya familiar to their ears.
“Nay, nildë. You have had enough.”
“I’ll decide when I’ve had enough.”
“Aulë’s hammer, Nárriel! Your Atar will have our heads if we let you get drunk,” said the dark-haired elleth.
“I am no child, and you are not my minders. For once in my life, I want to get drunk. Very drunk.”
“He’s not worth it, Nárë.”
“Just for you, we’ll hang him from a tree by his braids if we see him.”
“I’ll hang him myself.”
Aryo attacked the food on his plate. “Obviously the Blessed Realm is no cure for some woes.”
And Arman, turning his attention back to his plate, wished he had not drawn his twin’s attention to the elleth. Since they arrived in Aman, the twins had both experienced a sense of wellness, an increase of strength and stamina and mental acuity beyond anything they had imagined before, and it had so lifted Aryo’s mood that he had hardly moped or brooded over the last four years. But the wound left by his love for Arasael still festered, it seemed…
But still, by the Flame Imperishable, that hair… Arman was dreamily remembering how it had shimmered and flickered in the light, when a voice low and trembling called: “Aryo?”
They both turned their heads, shocked. The red-haired elleth was walking towards them. Arman found himself gazing at the most beautiful and the most wrathful emerald eyes he had ever seen. And they were riveted on his twin’s face.
How does she know? How—? Arman’s face went blank in shock, and he watched, stunned, as the tall, slender elleth, her hair trailing behind her like dragon flame, seized Aryo by the neck of his tunic and lifted him from his seat with a strength astonishing for one so slender. “You faithless wretch!” she snarled. “You have some gall coming back here!”
And mesmerized by her eyes and hair, Arman failed to react in time as his elder brother was tossed across the room into a table where a couple had been gazing sweetly into each other’s eyes. There was a resounding crash as the table collapsed, and gasps sounded across the yuldacar, and the musicians fell silent.
“You bloody bastard!—” cried the flame-haired maiden in Quenya.
“—A pusta! It’s not him, Nárë—it’s not him!—” shouted her copper-haired friend.
“—Aryo!” cried Arman, flying to his brother’s side.
“—perfidious knave!—” As the enraged elleth rained punches on Aryo, Arman stepped in to take the blows from those slender but iron-strong hands upon himself.
“—damn it, Nárë—” exclaimed her male companion as he came forward.
“—you have no more faith in your false heart than a stink-bug—” She threw off her friend’s hand and struggled to get past Arman at his twin.
“—you’re making a mistake!” cried Arman in Quenya as he caught her hands.
“Selyë!” thundered a voice from the doorway.
The iron-fisted maiden froze at that, and blanched. Slowly, she straightened and turned.
Flaming hair falling in braids over his shoulders, a lord with flashing green eyes was striding towards them. The elleth was successfully pulled away from the twins by her two friends.
Aryo tried to move amid the debris of the table and fell back with a grimace. “My back—” he thought-spoke to his twin, unable to utter words.
“Do not move,” Arman said sharply to his twin. To the people who had closed in upon them in a circle, he said quickly, “Friends, there has been a misunderstanding. We but arrived in the city this very evening.”
“Selyë, what have you done?” demanded the red-haired lord as he arrived at the maiden’s side.
The girl was staring stupefied at Aryo, as he lay grimacing with his face illuminated by the lamplight. She raised her long, slender hand to her mouth in horror. “Oh, sweet Varda… Aran Turukáno??”
“Lá umë—no, no, not so,” Arman assured her as he crouched protectively over his twin.
“Arman, you idiot, stop speaking Quenya, for Eru’s sake!” Aryo managed to say in thought.
“We are but travellers from Tol Eressëa,” continued Arman in Sindarin. “We have done nothing wrong.”
“Mountain of Manwë,” breathed the red-haired lord as he stared at Aryo.
“Please, help him,” begged Arman, almost in tears as he felt his twin’s pain, “he needs a healer.”
“He shall have my own,” said the lord to him in Sindarin. He barked an order in Quenya to two ellyn bystanders and they left the yuldacar swiftly.
“What are your names, strangers, and whence do you come?” the lord asked Arman.
“I am Cúmaen of Alalminórë, and my friend is… Aros,” said Arman, spewing the first names that came to mind—an epessë given to him by the Silvan elves of Eryn Lasgalen, and the name of a river in Beleriand. They had given aliases no consideration. Their plan had been to keep to themselves and speak to as few as possible. It had seemed so simple.
The lord was now staring strangely at Arman’s face. He looked at Aryo, then back at Arman again. “Cúmaen… Aros…” he murmured to himself, gazing piercingly at Arman’s face. “And what brings you hence from Tol Eressëa?”
“The renown of the shining city, and the tales of its splendour and beauty,” said Arman. “We have come to see it for ourselves.”
“I am sorry for the poor welcome to our fair city you have received, young friends,” said the lord. “I am Galdor, Lord of the House of the Tree. Whilst you are here, you shall be my guests.”
“And I crave pardon for my error. I pray that Aros’ hurt may not be grave, and that he will soon again be hale,” said the maiden tremulously in Sindarin as well.
A stretcher and two green-and-grey robed healers had arrived. As they carefully moved Aryo, the elder twin’s furious thoughts were lambasting the younger twin. “Friend? I am your FRIEND?”
“We look little like brothers, Aryo.”
“It was the only name that came to mind. A river in Beleriand—”
“I know what it is.” Aryo clenched his jaw in pain as he was borne on the stretcher through the starlit streets. “How many other lies shall we tell now? Have you forgotten—‘he who tells one lie will ere long spin a hundred’?”
Arman himself had been stunned at the ease with which he had uttered the falsehoods. “We had better ready our story, Aryo. Shall we say we were we born on Tol Eressëa?”
“I’d rather tell as few lies as I can. We were born in Endórë.”
“No—that is risky. Better to be born in an obscure tribe of wood elves here.”
“I’m not lying about this!”
“Well, we’re not brothers so you can be born anywhere you want! I was born on Tol Eressëa.”
“You know next to muk about Tol Eressëa, fool.”
“I’ve already said we are from Alalminórë. So Tol Eressëa it has to be.”
“Ai… Eru help us.”
“You can be a smith!”
“And you obviously are an archer. Cúmaen, indeed.”
A short while later, Lord Galdor’s own physician was tending to Aryo at the healing hall of the House of the Tree. In the courtyard outside, the maiden Nárriel swayed unsteadily on her feet, and was led to a bench by her father, where she fell asleep on his shoulder. Arman stood by anxiously, his eyes wandering now and then to the father and daughter, to dwell on their fiery tresses.
Galdor of the Tree. Despite his anxiety over Aryo, Arman felt some excitement to be in the presence of one of his childhood heroes. Galdor was named in the histories as the bravest of the Lords of Gondolin—even before Rog or Ecthelion or his Atto. Glorfindel had related Galdor’s feats of daring to his young sons before Maeglin had cut in sharply, “Are you trying to give them ideas? Galdor’s stunts are beyond stupid. And to think people call you or me reckless…”
How ironic, then, that daredevil Galdor had been the only one of the Lords of Gondolin not to go to Mandos. Glorfindel had never spoken of Galdor’s life after the fall, but history told Arman that with Tuor, Idril and Egalmoth, Galdor had guided the survivors of Gondolin on the long, hard road to the Mouths of Sirion. He had survived the massacre at the Havens, and the War of Wrath, and returned repentant to Aman at the summons of the Valar. He would have been in Tol Eressëa during the millennium Glorfindel had spent in Aman following his re-housing, but Glorfindel had never mentioned speaking to him.
The Lord of the Tree was scrutinizing Arman thoughtfully, and it made the young elf uneasy. This stern-faced man was not like the bold fellow with the hearty laugh and fondness for jests that his father had described to him. For a brief moment, Arman glimpsed a shadow in Galdor’s eyes that caused him to shiver involuntarily. He had seen that look often enough on Thranduil’s face, and guessed that the Woodland King was recalling Dagorlad. Or his wife’s death.
Nárriel’s two companions from the tavern stood near Arman, curious to know more about the strangers, and perhaps sorry for the misunderstanding that had ruined their visit. They had introduced themselves as brother and sister—Rasco and Istarnië of the House of the Hammer.
“So… are you as skilled an archer as your name suggests, Cúmaen?” asked Rasco.
“I am handy enough with my bow, mellon.”
“I hunt a great deal. You are welcome to ride with me, othol, whilst you are in the city.”
That was unfriendly, thought Arman. I call him Friend, and he calls me Stranger. But I overreact, perchance. It may be that our cultures differ.
“Were you drawn hence by news of the tournament, Cúmaen?” asked Istarnië with a warm, gentle smile.
Arman hesitated. If he exposed his ignorance, and this tournament was famed far and wide in Eldamar, it would look strange. Were it so renowned, however, Legolas would surely have made mention of such a tournament to the twins and competed in it, so Arman decided to be honest. “No… for I knew naught of such a tournament.”
“The Golden Arrow Tournament. There you may pit your skill against the best archers in the land.” Rasco’s eyes glinted as he saw how Arman’s eyes wandered again to Nárriel as she stirred.
“You warned me, Atto,” she murmured in Quenya, her slurred voice bitter. “You warned me, and I heeded not.”
“I was a fool. A stupid, blind fool. They will say I threw myself at a prince shamelessly, and sought my best to ensnare him but failed.” Her voice broke in a sob as she uttered those last words.
“None will say that,” Rasco cut in sharply. “They will call him a philanderer who played fast and loose with a maiden’s affections.”
“Yet still I love him,” she sighed wretchedly. “Aryo…”
Arman almost started as she uttered his brother’s name.
“Shush, Selyë. You must rest.” Lord Galdor rose and gathered his daughter up in his arms. “I shall take her to her chambers,” he said heavily. “An attendant is readying a chamber for you, Cúmaen. I shall see you on the morrow.”
And Arman bowed to the lord and followed with his eyes till they vanished down a corridor leading off from the courtyard.
Arman hesitated, then asked Rasco and Istarnië, “May I ask—for whom did Nárriel mistake my… friend?”
“For the king’s brother—Argon,” Istarnië said.
“Istë,” Rasco hissed disapprovingly at his sister, with a frown.
Arman was enlightened. Argon… Arakáno… Aryo. Neither of Arman’s parents, who had been born long after the youngest child of Fingolfin’s death, would have known the prince, or thought of his familiar name when they named their son.
“It is all over the city by now, hanno,” said Istarnië in Quenya. “And the mishap in the yuldacar will only fan the flames. I would rather Cúmaen heard it from the friends who love her than from the gossips.”
Her brother nodded glumly, and Istarnië resumed her tale in Sindarin. “Prince Argon was betrothed to a Noldorin elleth named Artarína—in Sindarin, Arinel—shortly before the Darkness fell upon Valinor. They were both very young then—barely of age. He went into exile, of course, and was slain at Lammoth. After he was re-housed, he spoke with Arinel and they melted her ring and dissolved the betrothal. A yén ago, he visited his brother in Alcarinos, and took a fancy to Nárriel, and she returned his affection.”
“Did the prince give her pledge of his love?” asked Arman. Many elves loved gossip. He hoped they would see no more than natural curiosity in his question.
Istarnië sighed. “Never. An ellon can make an elleth no promises with his tongue, and yet tender a thousand with his eyes and kisses. And his actions. He brought her to Tol Eressëa, to visit his father’s palace. We had hoped for their betrothal soon.”
“She knew what he was,” Rasco cut in abruptly. “There had been Irimë’s lady-in-waiting before that. And the dancer at the High King’s court. And the artist. And the flute player. He was infamous for his dalliances centuries ere she met him. And always, when one affair was ended, he would run back to Arinel’s side.”
“Once and for all, this time. This very morn, news came from Tol Eressëa that Prince Argon is betrothed once more to Arinel. And since it is their second betrothal, they are to be wed in less than a coranar.”
“He spoke of Arinel always as a beloved sister and confidant, but anyone could tell it was more. They have always shared a bond, fëa and fëa. Narë was a fool, for refusing to face it.”
“Do not blame Nárriel. She was very young, then. We all were. And the prince is exceedingly charming, and laughter follows wheresoever he goes. To her, there was no one else. He could vanish at times for months, then return as though nothing had happened, and she would always welcome him back.”
Arman himself did not understand the pang that rankled in his heart as he listened. “And is the likeness of this prince to my friend so great?” Arman asked.
“Fairly, though he bears an even stronger likeness to Turgon,” replied Istarnië. “It was aided by the lamplight in the yuldacar, and his style of hair—”
“—and because she had downed enough to make a lord drunk—” Rasco dourly cut in.
“—moreover, your friend was seated. Had he been standing, there could have been no confusion, for Argon is taller than his brother Turgon by half a head.”
“He must be the tallest edhel in history, then!” exclaimed Arman, unconsciously pulling himself to his full height.
“Nay—that would surely be Thingol of the Sindar.” Istarnië looked at Arman oddly. “I thought you would surely know. Does Thingol not reign in Alalminórë? And does not Argon make his home at Kortirion with his father Fingolfin in the luhim, the cool time of the year?
Arman had not thought through the choice of Alalminórë when he had named it their home. This vast forest of elms surrounded the city and lands of Kortirion and was larger than the forests of Lothlórien. Within lay the kingdom of the Sindar, where many of the elves of Doriath and Lothlórien were gathered under Melian and Thingol. Legolas had told the twins, however, of a few small, shy tribes of wood elves who had taken ship west over the long years, and who lurked in remoter parts of the forest. A number of them hailed from Mirkwood of old.
“Our tribe is very small, and we dwell apart from the Sindar,” Arman said. “I have not set eyes on Thingol before.”
“And yet you travel all this way to our fair mountain kingdom?” Istarnië smiled, “when there are wonders within your own lands yet unseen?”
“We—we met a prince of your people. He had golden hair, and he told us of many fair sights on the mainland. And of all his tales, that of Alcarinos most stirred our wonder and our desire to travel hence.”
Istarnië laughed. “That sounds like Prince Finrod! He is the closest friend of our king and much beloved wheresoever he goes. He befriends one and all.”
“And did Prince Findaráto teach you Quenya, wood elf?” asked Rasco in Quenya, looking at Arman more critically than his sister.
Arman had uttered far too much Quenya in the yuldacar to deny it now. “I—yes. He did.”
“He did well. One might mistake you for a lord of the Noldor.”
“He was an excellent teacher,” said Arman, and was saved from further discussion when a grey-and-white robed healer strode forth from the hall, and joined their group.
“Two broken ribs and a spinal fracture, but no permanent injury sustained. Given his youth, three days in bed and he should be walking again. He asks for you,” said the healer to Arman.
Relieved, Arman hurriedly took his leave of the siblings from the Hammer and headed into the halls, spared further probing questions and the need for further lies.
“Wait, you little wind-waif!” shouted Galdor as he raced after the golden-haired child to the edge of the cliff. “Don’t you dare take that leap without me!”
Azure eyes sparkling, the child turned obediently, his sun-bright tresses tossed by the strong sea winds, a halo about his head. Far below, the waves crawled and dashed themselves against the rocks.
Galdor took the small hand in his large, strong one, and grinned down at the eager little face. “Ready, pitya?”
“Ready!!” The child laughed in anticipation.
And they dived.
As they fell, the child’s small hand was jerked out of his. Suddenly, Galdor was atop the cliff again, and watching in despair and horror as a sun-haired warrior plummeted, wreathed in smoke and flames. When he turned his head, he saw a young elf with hair of dark honey-brown standing by him. His large azure blue eyes were trembling with tears. “Please, help him!” pleaded the elf. “Why didn’t you help?”
Galdor’s heart twisted with a now-ancient guilt and regret. “I was fighting orcs,” he muttered. “I was protecting the women, and the wounded.”
The golden-haired warrior vanished into the black abyss with the balrog
The young elf’s head fell to one side as though his neck had snapped. The azure eyes were fixed in death, and the silken brown hair was charred and bloody. No, not brown. Golden. The bright remnants of the famed hair dazzled Galdor’s eyes.
Galdor caught the broken body in his arms as it fell.
Galdor stared at the ceiling of his bedchamber, his heart pounding. He lay there haunted by azure eyes, by familiar features in a young stranger’s face.
He remembered that night. The desperate battle. The numbing grief of loss upon loss, of the loss of the beloved city, of the fall of friends and wife and son. The perilous path of escape across the Crissaegrim. The ambush, and Glorfindel’s sacrifice. The balrog once slain, the orcs had been easily vanquished.
Countless times in the days that followed, Galdor had agonized over that moment.
Why had it not been he, who had nothing left to live for, who had battled the great balrog?
But who could have held back Glorfindel as he unhesitatingly leapt to face the demon, and gloriously fulfilled his destiny? And could any but the Golden Flower have defeated that creature with such swift and deadly skill?
The Lord of the Tree had gone on to great deeds of heroism in the battles that ended the First Age—the kinslaying at the Havens, and the War of Wrath. To Galdor, it had not been bravery. He had sought death, but cruel Námo had spurned him time and again. It had been a bitter man who had sailed at last to Tol Eressëa, drawn only by the hope of reunion with wife and son.
He turned to gaze tenderly at the dark-haired elleth who slept at his side. Galdor had at long last regained all he had lost, and more, and found healing of a kind. His son now served Fingon in Tirion, and had borne him a grandson. And very late, to Galdor himself and his wife, had come the birth of a daughter—a lovely creature with Galdor’s eyes and hair and spirit. Only his fealty to Turgon kept the father from riding forth now to confront Argon and beat the youngest Nolofinwion to a pulp.
And now two young strangers were in Galdor’s House. He had not understood what it was about them that so stirred his memories till this dream. The archer’s likeness to Glorfindel was uncanny. And there was something about his friend that went beyond the resemblance to Turgon. Galdor could not put his finger on it… an unease prickled his fëa.
He arose quietly from his bed, careful not to disturb his wife. He went to the window and looked out over the myriad twinkling lights of the city as it lay under the stars. So peaceful.
As peaceful as it had been, that night, just before dragonfire lit the skies to the north.
Sedated by a cocktail of medicines, Aryo awakened only in the late afternoon to find a note from Arman on his pillow.
Gone to collect our gear from the sennas and check on the horses. Back in the blink of an eye.
It was many blinks of an eye before Arman staggered in laden with their bags, grinning from ear to ear. In fact, it was almost sunset.
“You what??” sputtered Aryo.
“Won the Golden Arrow Tournament!” Arman was glowing as he set down their belongings against the wall, and displayed the gleaming arrow to his twin. “There were sixty-three archers from the city, and twenty-six from other parts of Eldamar. It was a close contest with one archer from the House of the Swallow, another from the Heavenly Arch, and a third from Tol Eressëa who was formerly from Lothlórien. But in the end—I won! Lord Duilin has invited me to join his elite company of archers.”
Aryo stared aghast at his twin. “Well, you told Duilin No, of course?”
“Ahh… I accepted.”
Aryo counted to five, then exploded. “Are you out of your mind? You cannot live here. What will you say when they ask for your background? Where you were born, where you lived before this, who your parents are, where your parents are, what their names are? Every lie you tell digs a deeper pit. What were you thinking?”
Arman looked sheepish as he twirled his unstrung bow. “I wasn’t… thinking. I just went with the flow.”
“How long do you think you can uphold this farce? How long do you think that colour on your head is going to last? Before it fades, the roots will start to grow out.”
“Aryo, I didn’t plan on this—but I want it. You know that I have wanted to serve here, to live here, since we were elflings.”
“Not this way! Not pretending to be someone else!”
“Even if I have to pretend to be someone else. It won’t be for long. I did tell Lord Duilin I might have to return to Tol Eressëa in half a yén.”
“Half a yén!” Aryo, not even a yén old himself, sank back into his pillows and closed his eyes.
Arman climbed onto the bed next to his injured twin and gave him a careful embrace. “I am sorry, hanno. I know I’m an idiot. You can return south without me. Tell Atto and Ammë I hope they will forgive me. But I want to do this. And I will protect our secret.”
Aryo opened his eyes. “This is about that girl.”
A little too quickly, Arman released his hug and sat up. “Girl?”
“Oww!! The maiden crowned with fire. You like her.”
Arman gave an unconvincing snort. “She has amazing hair. But I don’t even know her.”
“So you would feel nothing if we were to ride away from this city and you never see her again?”
Arman was covered in confusion. “Of course not! I mean, of course I would feel nothing. She is not even that pretty. It’s the hair. And the eyes.” He remembered the glimpse he had of golden-flecked emerald eyes in the spectator stands, just before he turned to take his final shot. “I’ve never seen eyes like that before.”
Aryo gazed bleakly at his twin. “I guess we had better stock up on walnuts.”
Duilin turned his head from the archery range to see Galdor walking towards him. The Lord of the Tree’s little grandson, who was visiting for Yule, was in his arms. The Lord of the Swallow was light and quick as a bird in his movements, feathers in the braids at the back of his head and in the dark tresses that flowed over his shoulders.
“You look terrible,” Duilin said, with the bluntness of millennia of friendship.
“Stuff it, Swallow,” said Galdor wearily, as he set the tiny tyke of seven years on the ground, and the elfling raced away eagerly onto the archery range. There was no danger—the practice was just over, and the Elite Company of twenty-seven archers was lounging around the shooting lines chatting with each other.
“How does Narë?” asked Duilin.
“Better. This morn she burned all his gifts to her.”
A child’s laugh from the archery range made them both turn their heads.
Galdor’s grandson had made a new friend and been hoisted onto Arman’s shoulders. The elfling grinned happily from his high perch, his bright red curls glinting in the sunlight. He was the first elfling born in either Tirion or Alcarinos in the last yén, and he accepted that it was his rightful due as Arman and the other archers made much of him.
“How do you find your newest Swallow?” asked Galdor.
“Cúmaen? A most likeable youngling, utterly without pride or airs about his victory. He seems to be fitting into the Company quickly. They have almost forgiven him for trouncing them yesterday.”
“Does he resemble anyone you know?”
Duilin contemplated Arman’s face thoughtfully. The azure eyes, the bright smile. Then, Arman laughed. Duilin looked perplexed. “Eagles of Manwë, there is something familiar about the boy.”
“Imagine him with bright golden hair.”
Duilin raised his eyebrows as he saw it. “Laurefindil.”
“Indeed. The laugh, the eyes, the smile.”
“Well, we have never known Lauro’s parentage. Mayhap we have stumbled upon a kinsman of his. Should we ever see him again, we must let him know.”
“Cúmaen has a companion who I could swear is a Nolofinwion. He’s laid up now in my healing hall. After Narë mistook him for Arakáno and almost killed him.”
“Almost killed? You exaggerate, surely?”
“Nay. She threw him across the room.”
“The wrath of a woman scorned!” Duilin exclaimed with a laugh. “She’s your daughter, no doubt of that.”
“I have him in my care for more than compassionate reasons. I wish to speak with him further regarding his history and parentage, but he has been out cold every time I drop by the healing hall. The king might have an interest in him, once he hears of the likeness.”
“The king would most likely wish to meet with him. And Cúmaen as well. The lad says he hails from Tol Eressëa and was born in Endórë. He claims to be two yéni old, but I find it hard to believe he is even half that age.”
There is something all quendi can sense about the young of their kind—a sense of newness that lingers throughout their first yén.
“Call him hence. Let us see if we can get to the bottom of this mystery,” said Galdor.
Arman crossed over to them, and set the child back in his grandfather’s arms. “Heruvinya,” he said, bowing to the Lords of the Tree and the Swallow. He had decided that any pretence at not speaking Quenya was futile after Rasco’s remarks two nights ago, and he had told Aryo as much. In his place, his mother might have affected a rustic accent as she spoke Quenya, or might have feigned to speak it badly, but her son lacked that much guile. Standing before two of his heroes, Arman was almost glowing with excitement. He gave answers Aryo had rehearsed with him. He had been born in Alalminórë. A very small tribe hidden in the woods. His father had taught him to shoot. He had learned his Quenya from a Noldo who had been hunting there and befriended him. Who? Prince Findaráto…
Before they might enquire about his parentage or lineage, the discussion was diverted to when Arman would move his present place of abode to the House of the Swallow, and it was agreed he would remain in the House of the Tree till his friend was recovered and ready to leave the healing hall. Then Galdor’s grandson clamoured to be taken by Arman to visit the horses in the stables of the Swallow, and before the two lords knew what was happening, Arman had most courteously taken his leave of them and was walking jauntily away, a happy elfling seated on his shoulders once again.
“He has a way with children,” remarked Duilin. “Your Almion has taken quite a shine to him.”
“He has a way with people. How did he wiggle his way out of this conversation without our dismissing him?”
“Ah, be not so suspicious, Tree. He didn’t. Your grandson commandeered him.”
“Hmmph. Well, this talk is not finished.”
“I must say that I now see more and more of Laurefindil in him,” said Duilin. “The way he walks. That friendly warmth and charm. It is easy to love him.”
“His manners are those of a courtier, not a wood elf from a tiny tribe. Did you note the practised polish of that elegant bow?”
“I thought him naturally graceful.”
“That flourish of the hand was not natural grace. That was art.”
“Mayhap he will attribute that to Prince Findaráto’s tutelage as well,” said Duilin with a grin.
“Well, Findaráto has not been to Alcarinos—and indeed has been absent from Tirion—for the last few years. It would seem that teaching Quenya to wood elves and grooming them for court life must have occupied a large part of his time,” Galdor said drily.
“What reason have you to question Cúmaen’s history?”
“Something does not sit right. He is not what or who he claims to be.”
“Is he not? I’ll keep an eye on him. But I see no cause for concern.”
“And I shall send a message to enquire of Prince Findaráto.”
“If you can find him...” said Duilin with a shake of his head. “I hear he and his princess are travelling the wild lands south. What is it exactly that makes you so suspicious of Cúmaen? So what if he is like Laurefindel? I would be suspicious if one came amongst us making claims to rank or privilege. But one who declares himself a simple wood elf, and who wishes merely to serve as an archer? What strange plot do you imagine is afoot?”
Galdor thought of his dream.
“I do not know, Swallow,” he said. “I do not know.”
Aryo was next.
There were no more sedatives, but he was still under orders to stay abed and rest. And he hated it. Sleep had been kind. Wakefulness and inactivity were killing him. I should have requested some books, he thought, trying not to fidget too much, for there was still pain. It was not long before his restlessness and boredom were so unbearable that he crept out of bed. He slowly crossed the room to rummage in a bag, returned to bed with ink and quill and loose sheets of paper, and busied himself with scribbling and sketching on his knee for over an hour.
Suddenly, the door swung open. The healer, the Lord of the Tree, and the King of Alcarinos entered, and Aryo had such a shock he almost jumped out of his bed. The quill went flying, the papers scattered across the room, the jar of ink spilled across his blanket, and a huge spasm of pain seized him in his back from his sudden movement.
While the healer clucked and fussed over the pain-wracked youngster writhing on the bed, the king stood by and stared, and Galdor picked up sheets of paper from the floor.
After swallowing a vile concoction to numb the pain, Aryo faced his two visitors. They sat in two chairs at the foot of his bed, scrutinizing him gravely. His heart was hammering and he hoped he did not look as nervous as he felt.
“Are you better, vinyamo?” asked Galdor.
Do I look that young? wondered Aryo. And the Lord of the Tree was speaking Quenya. Aryo had spoken little to anyone in the city, thus far, except when absolutely necessary, and when he had, he had been steadfast in speaking only Sindarin.
He frowned in some perplexity and shook his head. “Ú-chenion, hîr-nín.”
Galdor smiled faintly and repeated the question in Sindarin.
“Better, hîr-nín, le hannon,” said Aryo, trying not to wince as the healer adjusted his sitting position in the bed.
“…healing could have been set back by a day,” muttered the healer crossly, propping Aryo up with pillows.
“Will he have to stay here long?” Galdor asked his healer.
The healer smoothed the blanket and frowned at the ink stain. “Another two days, perhaps. He is very young and is healing swiftly—but he must have his rest, herunya.”
“We shall not tire him.”
And after a deep bow to the king and his lord, the healer swept out.
The patient and his visitors regarded each other for a while.
“Do you know who I am, young Aros?” asked Turgon, speaking at last. He was not wearing his crown, but a simple gold circlet. His robes were a rich damask of deep green, embroidered with gold thread.
Aryo could not help but stare, seeing now the likeness that had eluded him before, when his image of himself had been dominated by his golden hair. “I think you must be King Turgon. The healer said that I had some likeness to you.”
“And you agree that you do?” The king gazed into the grey eyes of the young ellon. They were the deep grey of slate and a stormy sea, not the silver-grey of the House of Fingolfin, or the House of Fëanor. Oddly familiar dark-grey eyes… sea eyes…
“I think the healer flatters me too greatly, Aran.”
At that, a smile touched Turgon’s mouth. “I hear that you hail from Tol Eressëa.”
“Yes. From Alalminórë.”
“A beautiful land. I have just come from the city of Kortirion, by your forest. My brother’s betrothal feast. I returned to news that a young ellon resembling me and my brothers had caused quite a stir in a yuldacar. Has no one ever told you that you look like a Fingolfinion?”
“My tribe is small. We have heard of Fingolfin and his court at Kortirion, but we do not go there.”
“Were you born there?”
“In Ennor, Aran.” He added, truthfully, “In Lothlórien.”
And so the conversation went. Yes, he knew the king’s cousin Lady Galadriel. No, she had never remarked on the likeness. No, his parents had not sailed. Turgon glanced at the sheets of paper Galdor had placed at the foot of the bed, and with the nonchalant presumption of a monarch reached for them. He flipped through the sketches. “This is good work,” he said, holding up a sheet with intricate designs of swords and scabbards. “Do you do more than draw them?”
“I make them, Aran. I am a smith.”
Galdor’s eyes narrowed. Turgon gave Aryo a calm look. “The designs are extraordinarily beautiful. If you could make them reality, they would be swords worth beholding.”
I don’t just make pretty things, Aran. My swords would be lightweight and lethal, perfectly balanced, strong enough to shatter stone and bone.
Turgon continued to examine the papers. “This looks like the plan for an irrigation system.”
“It is. A very modest one. The one we have in our small field at home needed some improvement.”
Turgon stopped and stared for a long while at one sheet.
“A winsome young lady,” he remarked, showing a sheet covered with sketches of an adaneth with dark hair and freckles. Smiling. Sitting by a campfire and gazing into it. Looking over her shoulder as she runs, and laughing.
Aryo flushed. Your descendant. “Someone I knew in Ennor.”
Turgon looked at the sketches. “An adaneth. I feel I know her as well, strangely…”
Aryo said nothing, but eyed the ink stain splashed across his blanket near his right knee.
Galdor sat silently, watching, listening. His glittering green eyes never left the face of the young ellon.
Turgon set the papers back on the bed. “Would you like to work in a smithy here?”
Aryo had meant to announce his intention to head home as soon as he was hale, to say that he had come here only to accompany his friend. But suddenly he had visions of the large smithies of Gondolin his mother had described to him, which according to her rivalled even those of the dwarves at Erebor. To actually behold them. To have all those facilities and tools to use. To learn new techniques, perhaps. To see other masters at work, and learn from them—
“I assure you no one else will mistake you for princes of the House of Fingolfin. Once you are well, go to the House of the Hammer and show Lord Rauco—Rog—what skills you have. He will see if there might be a place for you.”
To work with Rog. And Nerdanel…
No, no, you fool. Go home. Play with your baby sister. Fix the irrigation.
“Would you like that, Aros?”
He found them lying in the keep, surrounded by the bodies of the guard who had fallen defending them. He cradled her slender body in his arms, and wept into her dark hair. He tenderly stroked the face of his dead infant son and caressed the red curls on his tiny head…
“Galdor the brave,” whispered a cold, taunting voice, echoing in the dark keep.
Galdor looked about with a snarl. “Where are you, traitor?”
In his black, galvorn armour he stood before the Lord of the Tree, his obsidian eyes narrowed, a corner of his mouth twisting in a smile. But when Galdor hurled himself at the prince with a cry like a wounded beast, he vanished into the shadows.
“Here,” whispered the mocking voice behind Galdor. Again, the Lord of the Tree lunged, but his sword ate empty air.
“Or here,” whispered the voice close behind him.
Galdor turned too late. The black blade Anguirel pierced through his chainmail, and he fell to his knees staring into piercing obsidian eyes.
“You never deserved to live,” hissed the prince, contemptuously, as he wrenched out the black blade.
As his life-blood spilled forth, Galdor fell onto his side.
As he died choking on his blood, he saw the black eyes staring down at him fade to slate grey.
“They will have begun eating,” protested Ecthelion to the page who had been sent to him, “And I am not fit to present myself to my lord king without a bath and change of raiment first.” He pulled off his dusty, travel-stained tunic and tossed it across the room into a woven basket.
“Oh, but my lord Fountain, the King says to inform you that his chefs have prepared your favourite dishes,” said the blue-eyed page with a winning smile. “The lords tarry for your sake over the aperitifs, and will not sup till you come.”
Rather than feeling honoured, Ecthelion felt, rather irrationally, like the lamb fattened for the slaughter.
“Tell my lord king I shall hasten hence,” he said with a sigh.
The page dipped a low bow and sped away.
“Nossarto! No time for a bath!” called the Lord of the Fountain, stripping off his breeches on his way to the bath chamber.
“But my lord—” protested the valet in a pained voice, for he had just sprinkled Ecthelion’s favourite scent and oils upon the steaming water.
“No time, old friend. It will have to be a quick dip and dash.” Ecthelion picked up a wash sponge. “Lay out the silver robe trimmed with crystals and star sapphires. I sup with the king and the lords tonight.”
Hurrying to the dining hall, for the second time in two lives and six thousand years, Ecthelion prepared to explain to his liege lord why he had failed to return with his sister.
Greetings rang out as Ecthelion entered the hall where his king and his seven fellow lords were already seated before a sumptuous array of dishes. Ecthelion at once noted that the usual musicians were not present. Neither were the servers. Instead, the dishes had been placed on warm stones, and the desserts and drinks were on a sideboard, as was done whenever the king wished to discuss sensitive matters as he supped with his lords. Ecthelion greeted his comrades as he moved to the empty seat at the king’s right hand—Rog of the Hammer, Egalmoth of the Heavenly Arch, Duilin of the Swallow, Galdor of the Tree, Salgant of the Harp, Penlod of the House of the Pillar, and last of all, Penlod’s twin Penlos of the House of the Snow. All men in whom the king had the utmost trust and confidence.
The eighth lord had barely warmed his seat and taken more than a sip of wine and a morsel of trout before Turgon asked, “And what news of my sister and Laurefindil, Ecthelion?”
“You may set your heart at rest, aranya,” said the Lord of the Fountain. “Írissë and Laurefindil are innocent, for it is to another that our Lauro is wed. The Hammers mistook his wife for Írissë.”
Murmurs of wonder and some relief ran around the table, and Turgon took a sip of a goblet of fine red wine and sank back into the cushions of his high-backed chair, his silver eyes bright.
“Lauro wed! So the rumours were true,” exclaimed Egalmoth.
“At least this one of many, yes.”
Rog’s eyes flashed. “Sengeron and Sartamo are good men, but they deserve a stern word for spreading such slander—”
“Nay, Rauco,” said Ecthelion. “The lady’s likeness to Írissë is striking. None who saw her would blame the two Hammers for their error, especially as they saw her only from afar. I myself confused them at first.”
“And why did Írissë and Laurefindil not return hence with you?” asked Turgon.
“Írissë has never been fond of cities.”
“I would have hoped she loved and has forgiven her brother enough to at least visit his.”
“She waits in the deep woods in hope of the return of her husband one day.”
“That brute and savage? I would have thought her well rid of the murderous scum. She came to us, fleeing from him.”
“Love him she does, in spite of all. And since he would most likely have no desire to set foot in our city or any of the lands of Eldamar, she is set on awaiting him in the woods.”
“And what of Laurefindil and this bride of his?”
“She, too, has no desire to come to Eldamar. And he has no desire to leave her side.”
Looks were exchanged around the table.
“A moriquendë?” asked Penlod, raising his eyebrows. “I did not think our bright, golden child of Vása would wed one of the unenlightened.”
“She has come to Aman. Those terms should surely apply no longer,” Ecthelion pointed out.
“True,” said Salgant with a nod. “What is she, then? Wood elf, mountain elf?”
“A bit of both. Need she be labelled? She is a nís.”
Turgon took a mouthful from his plate. “If they will not come hence, perhaps I should go to them.”
“It is a thousand leagues south, aranya. The way is long and hard, rocky and hilly.”
“You sound as though you seek to dissuade me, Ecthelion.” The silver eyes were piercing.
“They will come to us, some day, aranya. When they are ready.”
“Very well.” Turgon leaned back and swirled wine in his goblet. “Tell us more… about Laurefindil’s wife. How fascinating that she should resemble my sister. Is the likeness very great?”
“At first glance, yes. Not enough to be a twin, but one would think them sisters.”
“Or… mother and child?”
Ecthelion took a mouthful of wine and set his goblet down carefully. “Yes, aranya. I suppose one could think that as well.”
“Interesting,” said Turgon. “We have for centuries watched nissi throw themselves at Laurefindil and wondered when or if he would ever give his heart to any—and what manner of nís it would take to conquer him. Tell us what this nís is like—her hair, stature, eyes, voice, nature. Spare no detail.”
“Mountain of Manwë, my lady wife would certainly wish to know!” exclaimed Salgant. “Her hair, now. Is the hair of Laurefindil’s chosen vessë as much a wonder as his?” The Harp loved gossip most among all the lords, and his wife was ever his excuse.
“No hair but that of Princess Artanis could match Laurefindil’s,” said Ecthelion evenly, carefully spearing a quail with his knife and placing it on his plate.
“That tells us nothing of what the lady’s is like. It is raven like Írissë’s, one would assume?”
“For a songwriter and poet, you are amazingly niggardly with the details, Fountain. Is her hair wavy like the ripples of wind across a wheatfield? Straight as a ray of sunlight? Curly as the new fronds on a fern?” asked Salgant.
However much Ecthelion had considered what he might need to say on his homecoming, this nonsensical fuss over Maeglin’s tresses could not have been foreseen.
“Straight. Why should her hair matter, Harp? For Eru’s sake, ’twas not for that Laurefindil wed her!” said Ecthelion far more tetchily than he was wont to.
“Calm down, Fountain,” laughed Egalmoth. “I, on my part, am also curious to know more about this wondrous nís who has succeeded in snaring our Flower—and so enthralled him that he has forsaken us.”
“As would all females who ever offered themselves in vain to the Flower in days of yore, I am sure,” said Duilin with a twinkle in his blue-grey eyes.
“Well, I say it is lamentable if an excess of peace and good living has reduced us to fussing over such meaningless trivia. Laurefindil has fallen in love with a good nís and is happy and settled and that is all we need to know.”
Turgon had been silently swirling the wine in his goblet. Now he spoke. “My lord Fountain, Laurefindil being my foster grandson, I fear the meaningless trivia fascinates me no less than it does the others. So. We have settled that his wife has straight raven hair. Now—what might be the colour of this beauty’s eyes?”
Ecthelion picked at the tiny wing of the quail. “Her eyes are dark, aranya.”
“Dark? How very imprecise. Violet dark? Slate dark? Rosewood dark?”
“Jet-stone dark,” said Ecthelion in a voice that was just audible.
“Hair of jet, and eyes of jet. How very striking. And how very rare. How many others do we know with such an appearance?”
Silence fell upon the room.
“I hear it is not that rare among some of the tribes of the quendi,” said Ecthelion.
“Rare enough that all of us have only ever encountered two with such colouring,” said Rog, beginning to frown and look puzzled as he saw the expression on Turgon’s face.
“It is likely to have been more common among the tribes of the east, in the lands nearer to the waters of awakening. And Laurefindil has spent the past five millennia of his life in those lands,” said Ecthelion.
“In all the influx of quendi from all the lands of Endórë who have disembarked at Avallonë, I have not known of one with eyes of jet,” said Galdor darkly, speaking for the first time. “Aranya, what is your meaning? What is it you suspect?”
“Perhaps Ecthelion could first tell us the name of Laurefindil’s wife,” said Turgon.
Eight pairs of eyes bored into Ecthelion. Here it comes, he thought. He laid down his knife. He swallowed some wine and set down his goblet.
“Lómiel,” he said calmly.
And watched as the storm broke.
Apsa [Q] – meat, cooked food
Aros [S] – the name of a river in Beleriand in the First Age. It probably came to mind because of its similarity to Aryo’s name. It should translate to “noble foam” which is OK for a river and not that odd for an elf.
Cúmaen [S] – skilled bow
Heruvinya [Q] - my lords
Istarnië [Q] – skilled one (female). I decided to use the rejected version of Nerdanel’s name for her daughter. I formed a Sindarin version of the name - Curunel – but gave up on it as being too confusing for readers.
Luhim [S] – lu = time/season, him = cool/cold
Miros [Gnomish] – wine
Nénalin [Q] – singing water
Nildë [Q] – friend [female]. A synonym for “heldë”.
Oronan [Q] – high valley
Othol [S] – stranger/guest
Rasco [Q] – horn (I’m choosing to interpret it as a hunting horn.) As for his sister, I worked out a Sindarin name for him – Rom – but discarded it so as not to make things too confusing.
Selyë [Q] – a dimunitive of “daughter”. Rather like calling your grown child “baby”, I think.
Sennas [S] – guesthouse [there is likely to be a mix of Sindarin and Quenya in the city though the lords and the king use Quenya almost exclusively in their own households]
Ú-chenion [S] – I do not understand
Vinyamo [Q] – young person
Yuldacar [Q+Noldorin] – yulda [“drink”] + car [“building”]