The Golden and the Black

Truth Will Out

The evening had begun so promisingly for the little cat. Fluffy white tail hoisted high like a flag, her coat had gleamed like snow in the moonlight, and her dainty promenade along the edge of the Great Fountain in the King’s Square had drawn admiration from a couple of rakish tomcats from the House of the Harp. “But I can do better,” she thought to herself, looking away with her pink nose proudly lifted, “Not for me any stable or kitchen riff-raff. For I am a Cat of the House of the King!”

Then she saw him—the most beautiful tomcat in Alcarinos—leaping from an embrasure of the House of the Heavenly Arch to a parapet wall. And so dazzled was she by this vision of grace and power, and by the sleekness and shine of his grey tiger-coat, that she failed to notice the large red retriever bounding up till he was upon her. With a sharp hiss and yowl of pure fright, she fell into the fountain, floundered in deep water, wildly scrabbled her way back to dry land, then shot up a nearby wall with the retriever still in hot pursuit.

“Titto!” shouted an elfling, “Titto! Stop that! Bad dog!”

High above on a window ledge, the little cat shivered, dripping wet, ears flattened, her fluffy coat now bedraggled. Silvery, melodious laughter rang out from the crowd of elves below. Oh, the ignominy! She dared not look at the Harp tomcats she had scorned, nor at the magnificent feline of the Heavenly Arch.

Waterlogged tail low, she slunk through a high window of the dining hall. Around a long table sat her king and his lords, and as their eyes turned to an eighth lord who entered elegantly garbed in white and silver, she was able to creep beneath a sideboard unseen. There she hid, and nursed her wounded pride.

Elsewhere in the city, as the people of Alcarinos filled the streets with the songs and dances of Meren Calameneldë—the Feast of Heavenly Lights—a young archer was in a bedchamber at the House of the Hammer cajoling his twin.

“Come on, Aryo,” the younger twin said. “You’re well enough now for just a dance or two!”

Aryo knew the healer of the Tree would have disagreed violently with this assessment. “Go,” he told his twin with a sigh. “I must needs rest.” After three days of light tasks in the Hammer’s smithy, he was itching to do real work. He was not about to risk anything that might interfere with his healing.

And Arman sensed at once that Aryo hoped for his company for the night. “No one knows we are twins. I’ve already skipped the festivities for two evenings, and it would look mighty strange if I spend every night here with you.”

“And we wouldn’t want that, would we?” Sitting down on his bed, Aryo gingerly laid himself down. “Go. I’m fine.”

The Swallows were delightfully merry companions, and the early hours of the evening passed happily—until Arman sighted a pair of twins walking with linked arms through the crowd, and felt the void at his side with a sharp pang. He would go back to Aryo, he decided. Leaving the King’s Square, he headed to the north of the city where the House of the Hammer lay, his face turning heads as he went, but so accustomed to this was he that he barely noticed it.

Rána journeyed high in the sky and silvered the world with his radiance. In the midst of this sea of blue-white coldness, an unmistakable gleam of warm red caught Arman’s eye among the revellers.

A tall, slender figure vanished through a great stone arch over which flew sun-rayed banners. Her head was covered with a veil, but the wind had blown a lock of hair loose, and cold Rána had no power to quench the flame of those fiery strands.

Arman had not seen Nárriel for five days—not since he had sighted her from afar among the spectators at the Golden Arrow tournament. Irresistibly drawn, he slipped through the revellers in the street, then hesitated on the threshold of the House of the Golden Flower.

After a week in the city, he had not yet set foot there. For was it not one of those unspoken understandings between twins that he and Aryo should explore their Atto’s House together? He gazed up at the flowers carved into the stone arch, at the green-and-gold banners fluttering in the alpine breeze…

Come here another time, with Aryo at your side. Go to the House of the Hammer now.

But a moment later he was walking in wonder and no little pleasure through the famous gardens of the Golden Flower, past tall fountains that blessed him with a fine mist when the breezes blew, and past lush flower beds and shadowy arbours whose large blossoms danced and swayed, drunk with silver moonlight, and bowed towards him spilling forth heady draughts of perfume. There were few people around, for most were at the celebrations in the streets and the Great Square.

And there were the statues in white marble. Arman saw with a shock of delight that the gardens were a memorial for the Golden Flower’s long-lost, beloved lord. There stood a stern-faced Glorfindel in his armor, sword raised in an attack during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Here was a laughing Glorfindel playing with the children of the House, over there a smiling Glorfindel riding a horse, around the corner an elegant Glorfindel glancing over his shoulder and garbed in his lord’s robes and a circlet…

For his son, it was surreal. For a while Arman forgot what had drawn him through the entrance, and he lingered at each statue, caught by how lifelike each one was, and any who passed by might have noted how the smile that glowed on his young face was a living echo of the smile that graced the marble face of the Lord of the Golden Flower.

He wandered by small paths past flowers of every hue and shape and scent, and in a shadowy nook where goldenchain trees in full flower grew, he saw a statue of his Atto that at once became his favourite. The life-sized statue, in tunic and doublet, breeches and boots, sat on the edge of a small fountain in a relaxed and casual pose—ankle crossed over knee, leaning forward with his chin resting on his hand, and a warm, attentive smile on his face that seemed to say to an invisible friend seated next to him, “Really? And then what happened?”

Arman took the space of the unseen companion next to the statue, so that he could look into its fair, familiar marble face. “What happens if you love one who loves another, Atto?” he thought. “And what happens if you’ve told so many lies you could never show your real self to her?”

He caught a movement at the corner of his eye, and quickly turned his head. She stood in the shadows of the goldenchain trees, and for a moment, wide-eyed, looked like a deer about to flee. Then she composed herself and walked towards him with her restless, willowy grace. In her dress of deep grey, her hair covered with a soft, moss-coloured veil, she looked like one in mourning… which she was, he supposed. Mourning the death of a dream and a hope.

“Mai omentaina, Nárriel.” He stood and bowed.

“Mai omentaina, Cúmaen,” she replied in a gracious enough tone, though her face did not suggest the meeting was welcome. Of course, Arman thought. What was he to her but a reminder of a night most wretched? She was almost as tall as he, lithe and willowy yet strong. And now that she was neither drunken nor dishevelled, nor with eyes puffy from weeping, she looked so lovely at close range that she took his breath away. Again he wondered that a creature so doe-like could have tossed his brother across a room. A doe of steel and fire, he thought. Her heart-shaped face was sweet, but the set of her mouth hinted at a wilful spirit. For a moment he thought she would walk right past him and carry on her way—but she halted.

“Almion speaks much of you,” she said. “He is so proud of the little bow and quiver of arrows you gave him today. They are beautifully crafted.”

Arman smiled. “I took much pleasure in crafting them.” And he had Aryo’s aid in making the tiny arrowheads.

“Are they not dangerous toys, though, for an elfling so young?”

“I received my first bow and quiver when I was little older than two coranári. And I have cautioned him sternly, and given him his first lesson as my father did me. He learns quickly and listens well. I do not imagine he will hurt himself or others.”

The mention of hurting others brought to mind an awkward subject for both.

“How does your friend?” she murmured, guilt and genuine concern in her huge green eyes. She had an amazingly expressive face, he thought. It was transparent as a mountain stream, every nuance of thought and emotion flitting across it. He did not realize that the same could be said for his own.

“Very well. He will be as good as new in no time,” he said reassuringly.

She looked abashed. “I am sorry as well that I struck you, that night.”

He recalled the strength of those slender fists as they had pounded him in fury. “Oh, ’twas nothing… not that I belittle your strength,” he added hurriedly. “Those were hits as hard as ever I received from many a male opponent.” He briefly thought of tavern brawls in Minas Tirith. “But I minded it not. You were very upset. I was glad not to be he you wished indeed to strike.” Instantaneously, he regretted reminding her of her woe, and as she reddened, he did as well. “Did your father train you to fight?” he asked.

“Oh, no.” A corner of her mouth quirked slightly. “It is amazing what comes naturally, when one is angry enough.”

They heard several voices approach, and she abruptly darted like a skittish deer into an alcove grown over with a vine laden with many-petalled yellow flowers. After a moment’s hesitation, Arman slipped behind the trunk of a goldenchain, his years in the Woodland Realm and his now-dark hair making invisibility simple.

“Why did you hide?” he asked, slipping out from the shadow of the tree once the revellers had passed.

She hung back still, in the shadows of the alcove, “I am sick unto death of the looks and the whispers of the city,” she muttered in a low, angry voice. “A whole week of it. Foolish Nárriel. Crazy Nárriel. Poor, poor Nárriel.” She looked pensive, her brow furrowed. “The last is the worst. When they mock my stupidity, it is no more than I deserve. But I abhor the pity.”

“I do not pity you. Nor think you foolish nor crazy.”

She met the frank, adoring gaze of his azure eyes. “I believe you do not,” she said softly. And for the first time he saw a wan, gentle smile touch her lips.

He felt himself blush. Looking away, he suddenly took a great interest in their surroundings. “It is a beautiful garden.”

“The fairest in the city, and one of the wonders of Eldamar. This corner has become my refuge from the scrutiny of the city—and of my own House. You cannot imagine how stifling it has been in my household. The air is thick with worry and concern, as though they fear I might shatter like glass. Someone is set to watch over me constantly. So I give them the slip, as now, and run here. There is always a peace here.”

She curled her long legs up on one of the stone seats in the alcove, and wrapped her strong, slender arms around her knees. “Why am I telling you all this? We are strangers... and yet I feel I have known you long.”

“Perhaps the manner of our meeting cut some corners for us in feeling familiar.” He took another of the stone seats, an arm’s length away from her.

“Perhaps.” She smiled a second time. “Tell me of your home. Of Alalminórë and its great groves of giant elm, tall as hills.”

The golden flowers that framed the alcove seemed to lean in to listen, and beyond them he saw the eyes of his father’s statue regarding him. Now what will you say? Arman averted his eyes from that marble gaze, and stared at the soft, warm glow of the blossoms for a long while. Then he turned his head and met her green eyes with the clear, open gaze of his azure ones. “I am not from Alalminórë, Nárriel. It was a lie.”

Her eyebrows lifted, but she looked unsurprised. “So Rasco was right. He has mistrusted and misliked you from the beginning, and muttered against you to me.” She narrowed her eyes and her expression grew cool and critical. “So who are you, where are you from, and why did you lie?”

“I cannot explain why, except to say that it is to protect my family. That Cúmaen is my name is no lie, for the Silvan elves gave me that epessë. But I am called most oft by my father-name Arman. And as for where I am from…” He hesitated, then said in a rush, “I was born in Endórë, and came to Aman but a few years past.” He looked at her entreatingly. “Do not expose me. Please.”

She paused and scrutinized him thoughtfully for a while, twirling one of her fiery tresses around a finger.

“To protect your family? One has heard many dark tales of the lands over the sea, of evil plots and wars and intrigues. But no one has cause to fear or hide, surely, in Aman.”

He was silent, and looked away. “I have already said too much.”

“Why confess to me? Why tell me anything at all?”

“I know not. I guess… I know too little of Alalminórë to say anything about it.”

“It seems to me you are hopeless at pretence and a very poor liar. But I like you the better for it.” She regarded him gravely and tilted her head to her side. “Very well. I shall say naught. But it is Rasco you should fear, not I. You have undone yourself, it seems. If you are from Endórë indeed, how speak you Quenya so well? Even if you be of Noldorin blood, I hear they converse not in Quenya in this age. Do you still claim Prince Findaráto as a tutor?”

“No.” He sighed. “I… really should say nothing further. I never thought it would come to this, when we came to Alcarinos. All we wanted was to see the beauty of this city we had heard so much of, then return home.”

“We? Oh, your friend, Aros. Or is that not his name either?”

“It is not. Please, I can say no more.” He had to leave now, he thought. He could not lie to her, and each moment he stayed, he weakened and gave away more than he meant to.

But when he half-rose from his seat, she laid a white hand on his wrist, and a shock like a bolt of lightning ran up his arm, and lingered when her hand withdrew.

“Nay, stay awhile,” she said. “I am a very great fool it seems, and will now be even more of one than people think me. For though nothing makes sense about you, yet you… you make me… trust you.” She frowned, perplexed, her huge green eyes glittering in the alcove. “And I would have thought… I would never trust a nér again.”

And Arman would have been more foolish by far and told her all at that moment, but that a flurry of russet-red fur bounded into the alcove, landed its paws upon Nárriel’s lap, and enthusiastically began licking her face.

“Ai! Down, Titto!” cried Nárriel.

Titto? Who named him that?” asked Arman, as the large retriever leapt joyfully onto him. He laughed as a very wet tongue slapped across his cheek.

“My father,” said Nárriel fondly ruffling the dog’s fur. “He was the runt of his litter, though you’d not guess it to see him now.”

“Narë! Narë!” called an elfling’s voice and soon Almion stood framed in moonlight at the entrance of the alcove, his little bow and quiver proudly strapped on his back. The small child grinned with delight to see Arman there. “You here too? Hurry, hurry! There are fireworks at the Heavenly Arch!” The elfling was dancing with excitement as he pulled at Arman’s hand.

“Nay, Almion, I—I should head home now,” said Arman half-heartedly.

Nárriel smiled at her nephew and her green eyes glittered bright as she rose to her feet. Removing the veil from her head, she draped it around her shoulders like a stole and freed her flaming hair. “Do not disappoint Almion. Join us, Cúmaen, I beg you.”

And as they left the House of the Golden Flower, the red retriever gambolled ahead of them, and they saw brief glimpses of fire-blossoms light the sky above the rooftops. Nárriel took her little nephew by one hand, and slipped her other into the crook of Arman’s arm.

“Let us give the pitiers something else to talk about, shall we… Arman?” she whispered in his ear.

Aryo might have clobbered his twin, had he been there, and cried out, Run, you prize idiot! She will use you to spite him and break your heart. She is flame and you’re the moth.

But Aryo was half a city away. With the warmth of her hand on his arm, as fireworks blossomed across the heavens, and tendrils of fiery hair were blown by the cold night breeze against his cheek and hand, Arman had no thought of his twin.


Aryo slept but briefly.

He awakened with visions of palantíri in his head, for in his dreams he had gazed into the master stone at Tol Eressëa. That stone had once been linked to the stone at Elostirion—a stone given to the descendants of Elros, which for millennia had been the only window the Noldorin exiles had to their lost home west. Elrond had carried the Elostirion stone back to Aman, and it now sat at the top of Eärendil’s tower, linked to every other palantír in Eldamar once more. The last palantíri of the Númenoreans left in Ennor were now bent, broken things tainted by madness and Sauron’s eye. The window east to the mortal lands was shut.

Yet in Aryo’s dream the master stone he gazed into had wandered freely like the great eagles over the lands of Ennorath, through Imladris and Eryn Lasgalen, then down south where a lady dark-haired and grey of eye stood by the sea, the coronet of Dol Amroth upon her head…

And as Aryo lay on the bed, he thought, I can make one. A palantír whose eye can traverse the ocean, and see the far shore—that might even see the farthest corners of Arda…

And so afire to start work was he that within minutes he was dressed and on his way to the forges of the House of the Hammer, his bag of crystal rocks and tools slung over his shoulder. There were always smiths at work there, any hour of the day or night, but he was pleased to see that the workshop he had been assigned to was empty. The next half hour passed in a happy daze of work.

Suddenly, a voice called out in Sindarin, “Aros. You do not join the revels?”

Almost dropping his tools, Aryo turned a little too sharply to see Istarnië standing at the doorway of the workshop. He almost winced as his back twinged.

It was the first time he saw the daughter of the Hammer in a dress. She was not very tall but strongly built, like her father and mother, and she had strong, dark eyebrows, a square jaw and a cleft chin. When he had first seen her in her smith’s apron and breeches and boots, he had thought her a rather beautiful nér before he recognized her as one of Nárriel’s companions in the yuldacar. Now, in a dark red gown with flowing bell-sleeves that flattered her broad shoulders, and her dark brown hair tumbling in loose waves over her shoulders and softening the square line of her jaw, she at last looked feminine.

“Híril-nín,” he said with a small bow.

“I saw a light,” she said, sauntering forward as though she was still in her breeches and boots. “The others are all at the feast. I thought for a moment I had left a lamp on.”

For this was her workshop. She had three assistants who worked there with her, and Aryo had just become her apprentice. Her workbenches—she had four of them, laden with various ambitious projects and an enviable array of highly-specialized tools—ran alongside Aryo’s. He had discovered, much to his disgust and annoyance, that he had been stationed there largely so that Istarnië could watch over him. And to his mortification, a narrow pallet had been set up in the corner next to his workbench, for the healer of the Tree had ordered that he neither sit nor stand for too long.

So every three hours for the last three days, Istarnië had broken his flow of work with a calm command.

“Aros, it is time you should rest. Lie down awhile.”

“Aros, stand and stretch your legs. You have sat too long. Here. Take this for me to Sartamo in the west wing.”

And worst of all, “Aros, don’t lift that. Let Tincarmo do that for you.”

By the end of the first day he was tempted to snarl back, “I am fine! I know when I need rest. You are neither my healer nor my Amil! You’re not even that much older than I, to be my master, and I your apprentice!

But calm and gentle as her voice was, there was something formidable about her that would brook no argument. And looking at the muscle definition on those arms, he would not have been surprised if she had serenely strode over, lifted him bodily like a child, and deposited him onto that pallet had he refused. Having been embarrassed once by her friend in the yuldacar, he was not going to risk being humiliated in the smithy. So he would merely say, “Allow me to finish this step first, híril-nín.” And finishing it and catching her glance his way, he would obediently make his way to the pallet.

Thankfully, the light work she had assigned him made these irritations worth it. The tasks were interesting and he relished them—very fine, detailed metalwork for various components and implements—and they signified a certain amount of trust in both his skill and artistry that Angurunír had never accorded him. And as he observed her at work, he had to admire her talent and her skill. So he swallowed his annoyance and exasperation, and she, observing his work unobtrusively, merely nodded approval and let him get on with it. She was sufficiently impressed, he could tell. He could hardly wait to be given heavier work and demonstrate the full range of his skills.

At this moment, as Istarnië walked towards him, Aryo was standing before his work table trying unsuccessfully to hide the raw chunks of maril scattered on it. She stood at his side.

“Very fine stones,” she said, eyeing the translucent white, golden and pink rocks as they sat glowing on his table. “What do you plan to do with them?” She picked up one, a gold streaked through with amber and rose, and contemplated it.

“Make a lamp. Perhaps necklaces.”

“I did not know your interest lay there.” She set the rock down as though it was a living thing and folded her muscled arms, looking thoughtful. The restfulness in her strength struck him. “Would you prefer if I assigned you to Enerdhil?” she said at last. The work there was light, she thought, and the gentle jewelsmith would fuss over Aros like a mother hen and ensure he rested and healed fully.

Would Aryo choose apprenticeship to a smith less than half a yén older than himself, or a smith who was a legend? That was easy. The opportunity to work with a true master, one of the greatest jewelsmiths who ever breathed… and one who once served Amil. Arman, eat your heart out. “I love working with both metal and stone, híril-nín. Yes, I would like to work under Enerdhil.” And he wondered if Istarnië on her part would be glad to rid her workshop of a nuisance.

“Good. I shall introduce you to him tomorrow.” She smiled, and it lit her face with a warmth he had not seen before. Aryo found himself smiling in return.

Just then someone at the doorway cleared his throat. They turned to see a lean, wiry smith standing there hesitantly, clad in his apron and girded with his belt of tools. “Herinya… I would like to start work if I may,” he mumbled in Quenya.

There was something about the tentative way he spoke, the way his shoulders hunched slightly, that disturbed Aryo. It was more than deference, it was a diffidence that he had never seen before in an edhel.

“Ah, Eneldur. I did not expect you to begin till the morrow,” said Istarnië. “Come. I will explain the work to you.”

Eneldur. Why did Aryo find the name familiar? Had his parents ever mentioned this nér? And he realized that this was one the others had spoken of in the workshop earlier that day.

“…been in Aulë’s halls the past yén.”

“Should stay there. There are already too many of his kind here.”

“Filthy Mole. Hope he won’t join our crew.”

“The Lord’s decided. He’ll be with us.”

Muk.”

At this, Istarnië had risen from her workbench and strode up to her men, her grey eyes smouldering with anger. “There are no more Moles. His parents are Hammers. He was a Hammer born and bred, and is one again. Aulë speaks well of him, and are you wiser than a vala? None of this muttering and complaining, or you can take it up with my father if you dare. You will give him welcome and accept him as one of our own, or you will answer to me.”

As Istarnië briefed Eneldur at the far end of the workshop, Aryo shoved his crystals back into his bag. He would finish all that Istarnië had set him to do before he was re-assigned to Enerdhil, he decided, bringing out sheet metal and taking it to heat at the forge. At Enerdhil’s workshops, he would doubtless find time to resume his palantíri project. He glanced at Eneldur with curiosity and some excitement. Like Enerdhil, this man had been a Mole and had served Aryo’s mother Maeglin in the first life. With four thousand other men he had bowed knee to the prince, and remained blindly loyal even when asked to do the unspeakable—to turn kinslayer for love of his master.

Enerdhil… he was the exception, for the peaceful jewelsmith had never lifted a weapon in his life. He had been taken to the Havens by Idril, and sailed west with Galdor.

But this Eneldur was most likely one of the ohtari of the Mole who had battled Tuor and the House of the Wing. No wonder he did not wish to go forth into the streets and courtyards and partake of the festivities, but chose to hide and lose himself here in the middle of the night, seeking comfort in his craft. What had compelled him to leave Aulë for the House of the Hammer? Probably family, perhaps one or two remaining friends. His parents are Hammers. He was a Hammer born and bred.

How many Moles were there now in this House? Would Aryo be able to spot them among the Hammers? Did they all wear the same cowed air of shame? Act like dogs expecting to be kicked? What might it be like to speak to Eneldur of his memories of Gondolin? Would his recollections of Maeglin be fond or foul?

Do I want to go there?

Aryo realized suddenly that while he had been lost in thought and intent on the warm sheet metal he was now shaping on a pitch, Istarnië had left. He saw that the other smith was staring at him intently, a curious expression on his face. The new smith moved closer to Aryo. He had a gentle face framed with wavy dark-chestnut hair, and large, wide-set eyes that gave him an expression of child-like wonder.

“Vinyamo,” he said, his pale blue eyes glittering bright. “Where did you learn that technique of chasing metal?”

His chasing hammer and steel chisel still held poised in his hands, Aryo gazed at the newcomer uncertainly. “Ú-chenion, mellon,” he said courteously.

Eneldur repeated the question in Sindarin.

“From my master in Ennor.”

“And what is the name of your master?”

Aryo hesitated for only a moment. “Angurunír.” The stiff-necked despot would be forever in Ennor, and was safe enough to name, he hoped.

Eneldur’s shoulders had relaxed and he was standing taller. The pale blue eyes had an almost feverish gleam as they scrutinized Aryo’s face. “I know not that name. But I saw my master develop that distinctive technique and style of chasing in our smithy, many years past. I did not think to see it again. None of us could master it as he did. None. And yet… you have perfected it. For a moment I thought I saw him at work again.”

“How very, very strange.” Aryo regarded Eneldur warily. “And what was your master’s name?”

Eneldur’s face suddenly was just as guarded and wary. “Laithron,” he said quietly. One whose memory has been blotted out.

“A hard and demanding taskmaster, was my Angurunír. What of your Laithron?” asked Aryo, also quietly. There was something confidential, almost conspiratorial, about their conversation, as in hushed voices they discussed masters whose true names could not be uttered.

“There’s naught wrong with a master who is hard and demanding if he draws out the excellence in you. He made us proud of ourselves.” Eneldur’s eyes misted over slightly as he looked away. “They called him proud and grim, cold and cunning. But he took care of his own, pen-gwain. He took care of his own. He desired the world think him iron and stone. But we who were his—we knew him.” He looked at Maeglin’s son. “He had a heart. Too much heart. His eyes pierced right through you, and many feared and hated him. But not us. When he looked at me, I would have followed him to the edge of Ekkaia and back.” A shadow darkened Eneldur’s face, his eyes haunted suddenly by memories more dreadful than Aryo could imagine. His shoulders slumped once more.

There was a lump in Aryo’s throat. He did not trust himself to speak.

Eneldur looked down at the intricate chasing on the curved metal, and his lip trembled. “Fine work, pen-gwain,” he muttered. “Fine work.”

And with an abrupt nod, he returned to his end of the room, and started work.

He did not look at Aryo again.


At that very moment, across the city, the Lord of the Fountain pushed aside his plate of plump roasted quail, his appetite quite gone, and reached for his goblet to take another swig of strong wine.

The shocked voices of the other lords had erupted across the table.

Lómiel—?”

“Did Lómion have a sister—?”

“So Írissë is her Amil—?”

“Laurefindil married Lómion’s sister—?”

“He said he was an only child—”

“Írissë mentioned nothing of a daughter—”

“—knew we could never trust anything he said—”

“—the secretive, cunning wretch—”

“Does Laurefindil even know—?”

Ecthelion lifted his hand and commanded a moment of silence to speak: “Laurefindil’s lady is indeed Írissë’s child. And yes, of course he is fully aware of it.”

“The sister of the traitor,” said Duilin. “That is why they shun this place.”

“But just as we would never hold Lómion’s treachery against Írissë, we should hold it not against his sister,” said Penlod.

“Ná. They are innocent,” assented his twin, Penlos.

“Innocent? If she is the same blood as the traitor,” said Galdor harshly, “then the blood of the Dark Elf runs in her, and his black magic and evil nature.”

At that, Salgant shuddered and made a sign against evil.

“Be not so quick to judge, Galdor,” said Duilin. “Even were she Lómion’s twin, she is not him and shares no guilt.”

“She may not be the traitor,” said Galdor, “but I would as soon trust Thuringwethil as trust her.”

Much as Ecthelion misliked where this talk was heading, he held his tongue. He would refute nothing, he would affirm nothing. He had spoken naught but the truth, and they had leapt to their own conclusions. A lesser evil than their knowing the reality, he thought. If his silence perpetuated a deception that protected Glorfindel and Maeglin’s secret, he would allow it.

Turgon had also listened silently, leaning back in his chair and looking from one lord to another. But now at last he spoke. “Ecthelion. There is one more thing.”

Aranya?

“Was there not a child?”

The other lords murmured. Ecthelion, nonplussed, hesitated for a moment. “There was, aranya,” he said. “But how did you—?”

“You see, I believe I have met this bride of Laurefindil’s,” Turgon said in measured tones. “At my great-grandson’s home, five years past, there was a babe born on Ulmo’s Day. And there was, of course, a mother. A lovely creature, very like in face to Írissë, and with rare, rare eyes of jet black.” He paused, and took up his goblet from the table. “Her name, in the Sindarin tongue, was Aduialiel.”

“Ah… in Quenya, Lómiel,” murmured Salgant unnecessarily.

“Yes. How very strange that I failed to see it then. I suspect some magic to cloud the mind was at work there.”

Black magic?” Salgant looked appalled, and raised his hand in the sign against evil again. Galadriel would have been more amused than affronted.

“Black magic!” Galdor affirmed. “Of course. It was surely her accursed sorcerer father’s wizardry at work.”

“What are you suggesting?” said Rog to Galdor with a frown. “That this bride of Laurefindil’s could have bewitched him into marriage as once Írissë was bewitched?”

Ai! Did I not earlier speak the words ’ensnare’ and ‘enthral’?” murmured Egalmoth. “Shades of Mandos, it may be so indeed. Poor Laurefindil.”

“I believe it is so,” said Galdor. “As the sorcerer sought to estrange Írissë from her kin, has not this nís alienated Laurefindil from his friends and his people?”

This was not a turn Ecthelion could stomach. “Having met Laurefindil and this nís, I can assure all of you that she is no witch, and Laurefindil is as much himself as he has ever been.”

“You lived with them awhile, did you not?” asked Turgon, and though he spoke softly, every murmur was silenced.

“I was ten days a guest under their roof. They are as normal and loving a family as any mother and father with their small child would be.”

“Ah, yes. The child. Let us speak of the small child.” The king rose from his seat, towering over them with his imposing height. Goblet in hand, he walked to the sideboard with his magnificent robes of crimson velvet sweeping the floor behind him. He drew all eyes to him as he reached for the decanter of wine. Ecthelion managed not to look perplexed, but suddenly, and unaccountably, his heart sank.

“A little maid whom you distressed highly, Ecthelion,” said Turgon, as he raised the decanter and poured wine into his goblet. “For you had another name for her mother. Did you not? One that a child could not understand, and could not accept.” He set down the decanter and took a drink.

The lords were looking at their king, puzzled but expectant. Ecthelion sat very still, his silver eyes glittering like the diamonds adorning the slender braids in his hair, his flawless features like a statue’s.

“And it confounded me as much as it did the child,” mused Turgon, leaning casually against the sideboard and frowning down at the wine in his goblet as he swirled it. “For this past month, I have thought of every possible explanation under the sun and stars. I returned to the palantír daily in the hopes of meeting the little maid again, or finding her place of habitation, but found nothing. And Itarillë, who I swear knows something, will tell me naught. She smiles mysteriously, shakes her head, and kisses my cheek sweetly. And now, at last, Ecthelion, you are here.”

His favourite dishes had been prepared for him when he had been back in the city but half an hour, Ecthelion thought. The impatient king must have had a watch set for him high in the mountains, and known of his approach when he was still a very long way off.

“Put my mind at rest, Ecthelion. Tell me…” Turgon lifted his eyes and looked penetratingly at the Lord of the Fountain, silver meeting silver. “…why did you call the little maid’s AmilLómion’?”

At that, gasps of disbelief and sounds of surprise broke out from some of the lords, and Galdor half rose from his seat, then sat again.

Another might have protested, “Nay, aranya, I never did so! That is absurd. The child knew not what she spoke!” or, “mayhap you misheard her!” But Ecthelion was as true and clear as the waters of his fountain. “Would you believe me if I tell you, aranya? Or would you think me insane?”

“I have thought over this matter till I know not what to think. That is why I have assembled the Lords here. Speak, Fountain, that they may judge with me what the truth is.”

“You have known me since I was a youth, aranya, and all my life I have served you. Have you ever had cause to doubt my veracity on any matter?”

“None. It is not your veracity I doubt, Ecthelion. It is the accuracy of your perception. Did we not earlier say that witchcraft might be at work?”

Ecthelion gravely regarded the consternation and bewilderment on the faces of his fellow lords, then looked at his king.

“Yes. I called her Lómion.” As the murmurs went around the room, he added, “For she is Lómion. Re-housed.”

And at that, exclamations of disbelief and astonishment rang out among the lords.

“But—that is preposterous!” protested Salgant.

“Indeed, Námo changes not the sex of fëar when he re-houses them!” declared Egalmoth.

“Every man of us in this room, save Galdor, is testimony of that,” affirmed Rog.

“As is over half the population of Eldamar,” added Penlod.

“How this should be, I know not,” said Ecthelion in a level voice. “’Tis Námo you should question, not I.”

“You must be mistaken, Fountain.”

“You must have been misled and beguiled to believe such a thing.”

Ecthelion gazed at their faces, and refrained from asking why anyone in their right minds would bespell someone to believe such a thing.

So, he was either deranged, or a dupe. Very well. He would not exert himself to disprove it. If they would not believe him, all the better. He was waiting for someone to ask him about any strange mushrooms he might have ingested when the king’s deep voice cut through all the others: “Let us assume for the moment that what Ecthelion says is true.”

Turgon had assumed his place at the head of the table once more. “Why should Námo cause a nér to return as a nís? And what would the return of this nér as a nís mean for us and our fair city?”

As this was something Ecthelion had pondered, he ventured a reply. “Mayhap it signals to one and all a clear break with the past and the misdeeds of the traitor’s first life. He is now most truly, in every way, one with a new identity, and should no longer be condemned for past crimes.”

“In which case we might expect the sons of Fëanáro to re-appear amongst us as nissi some day,” remarked Duilin.

“Which might please Nerdanel. She always did want more daughters,” said Rog wryly.

Egalmoth, slain at the Havens of Sirion, shifted in his seat unamused, for he had no kind thoughts for the Fëanorians. He shook his head. “I still find it hard to believe that Námo would release the traitor.”

“Ná,” growled Galdor grimly. “No matter how many millennia he has spent in Mandos, that wretch does not deserve to breathe again.”

Ecthelion rose to his feet and gazed sternly at his fellow lords. “Did Lómion not receive punishment and execution for his crimes when Tuor cast him down Amon Gwareth? Moreover, do we not believe that every soul that emerges from Mandos has been cleansed, and every record of sin, no matter how heinous, wiped clean?”

“Not the records in the memories of the living,” said Galdor, his eyes shadowed with pain.

“Our memories fade not, but we may release forgiveness for the hurts suffered. Lómion has served his time in Mandos, and shown true remorse,” said Ecthelion. “Regardless of how grave those sins might have been, it has pleased Námo to release him from the halls of the dead, and are we to say Námo erred?”

“Indeed,” said Salgant in the heartfelt voice of one who had had to live under the shadow of his former cowardice, “How should any who breathes dare accuse one whom the Valar have justified?”

“Eru is perfect, but his Valar are not always so,” said Galdor, causing a murmur of protest to run around the room. “I question the judgement of Námo in this. How is the horror of a hundred thousand innocent deaths ever forgiven?” Galdor’s eyes were cold and hard. “I for one, would have the traitor thrust out into the Avakúma, the Outer Void, with Moringotto his master.”

Ecthelion’s silver eyes flashed. “I once judged the traitor as harshly as you do, but I now believe him profoundly changed, and not merely in body… he is humbler and more peaceable—a kinder, more benevolent version of himself. Certainly a happier one. I felt more than once during my visit that this was Lómion as he could have been—should have been—had the circumstances of his birth and the events of his life been less unfortunate.” He gave a quick account of Lómiel’s return to Ennor, and her life in Imladris and marriage to Glorfindel, and her years of service to the descendants of Turgon, and her friendship with them. “And there is more. None in the city have ever heard Lómion’s account of what happened in Angband and after. Hear it now.”

The tale of Maeglin’s capture and betrayal, and his return to the city held in thrall to Sauron, was related. Most of those seated at that table heard in it the ring of truth.

“We all noted the change,” said Egalmoth. “We all sensed something amiss.”

“Yet how could we possibly have guessed the cause of it?” asked Duilin.

“A true friend would probed, and would have discovered the imposter,” said Ecthelion. “But Lómion had… no friends.”

“He had only himself to blame for that,” grunted Rog. “The snarky little bastard.”

“He admits that now, with rather disarming honesty,” said Ecthelion. “In one thing Lómion was truly culpable, and truly repentant. He gave away the secrets of Gondolin, and there are no words for the depth of remorse he feels for that. He would have given us warning thereafter, had he been able, but the Enemy had his tongue. To me, at least, that makes the extent of his wickedness much less than I had believed.”

“Or so he would claim,” said Galdor.

“I am convinced. I saw truth and clarity in eyes that hitherto had always been shrouded and secretive. And all he—she, damn it!—and Laurefindil ask is to live a quiet and peaceful life in the woods south, far from Eldamar.”

“Or so he would have you think,” muttered Galdor.

Ecthelion regarded the Lord of the Tree with some compassion. Their comrade had seemed his old self when they met him after their terms in Mandos, but over the years they had glimpsed the shadow that lingered and lurked beneath the surface, and noted the rarity of his merry laugh. He was one of those who, proud and stubborn, had not gone to Estë’s gardens. Someone should make him, thought Ecthelion, as Turgon waved to him to be seated and he sank back into his chair.

“If you doubt what Lord Ecthelion has said, Lord Galdor, what then do you believe?” asked Turgon.

The nightmares of the past week weighing on him, his heart gripped with foreboding, Galdor stood to address them.

“Accuse me of heresy if you will, but I say the Valar err again. We have seen it. Did they not let Moringotto walk freely in Eldamar, spreading dissent and hatching his evil schemes? Were they not unaware as he deceived both us and them, his brethren, with fair words and fair seeming? And now we are told that they have allowed one who moved smiling in our midst—a puppet of Sauron who sold our secrets and wrought our destruction—to return. Ecthelion would convince us that this is harmless. Yet if Manwë and Námo once erred most disastrously in releasing Moringotto, may they not have erred again? And worse, we now learn this traitor was possessed, body and soul, by Sauron himself. What corruption of his master may yet remain in his being? Indeed, now I think of it—what assurance have we even that this is truly Lómion re-housed, and not simply his master? No other of the quendi has ever been rebodied in Endórë. Have we learned nothing from history? From across the sea we have heard the bitter tales of woe—the tragedies of Eregion. And Númenórë. Of how, by assuming fair guises, Sauron deceives and corrupts, and stirs the desires of men to destroy them. Is it not strange that Laurefindil, who for six millennia by all accounts cared naught for love, should suddenly upon the appearance of a mysterious nís be inexplicably besotted? Is it not strange that the nís should be a master smith? And is it not convenient that residence in the valley of Imladris should grant this dark nís passage back to Aman itself?”

They listened in silence, frowns and uncertainty shadowing their fair faces. Ecthelion shook his head and rose to his feet once more. “This is absurd, Galdor. Lómiel was present in Imladris when the Ring sojourned there. Were this Sauron, do you not think he would have acted before the Fellowship of the Ring was formed and set forth? And would the quest not have failed, Sauron being privy its plans?”

“Very true,” said Duilin. Several of the lords were nodding. The others looked thoughtful.

“Moreover, would Sauron not assume a much fairer form of light and goodness if he sought a disguise?” continued Ecthelion. “To adopt the identity of a reviled traitor is senseless. And why be a nís and affect to be formerly a nér? And a nér, furthermore, that Laurefindil, the one he sought to seduce, would have every reason to hate? It is absurd.”

“We understand so little of how Sauron’s powers were affected by the loss of the ring and his defeat at its destruction,” replied Galdor. “Mayhap Sauron’s spirit had been so weakened that he could only take the form of one he has possessed before. Or, if we accept that this nís is Lómion rehoused, Sauron may have sought out a past servant who would offer little resistance—or perhaps grant him easy access and even welcome. Did you not mention that in the Fourth Age of Endórë, this Lómiel travelled oft to Gondor and Ithilien? I have paid enough attention to the tales of returned exiles to know those lands are nigh Mordor. Could one rule out her becoming prey and vessel to the evil one’s wandering, houseless spirit?”

“If this is Sauron, he is remarkably lacking in ambition,” said Ecthelion. “He—damn it!—she was content to while away a yén serving in a tiny forge and raising children. She now shuns the courts and society of Eldamar, and merely seeks a quiet life in the wilderness.”

“In the body of a traitor, he might have no alternative at present. This guise is a means, not an end. A next step might be to abandon this hated form, dissolve into the wilderness as a spirit, and there gather strength to assume a new and fairer shape.”

“Surely you cannot believe any ainu could dwell in Aman, under the watchful eyes of Oromë and all his hunter-maia, no less, and go undetected.”

“The Valar have been blind and complacent before. They could be again.”

“I know Lómion! We spoke of the past, of events and encounters only he and I would be privy to!”

“You forget that you claim Sauron possessed Lómion. If so, all Lómion ever knew or thought or did would be known to him. You forget too, that perhaps Lómion might be a more than willing ally with Sauron.”

“She has three children with Laurefindil! She is a loving wife and a devoted mother!”

“A maia may have children by a nér. It has been done. Affection is easy to counterfeit, and it is laughable to assert that motherhood is any assurance of integrity or good character! You seem to be extraordinarily bent on defending this nís, Fountain. Mayhap you have succumbed to her spells and been bewitched as well.”

The Lord of the Fountain looked around the table despairingly, at the faces of his fellow lords who had been listening intently, and who now looked uncertainly and gravely at both Galdor and Ecthelion. The Fountain turned to Turgon in appeal. “Aranya…”

“Aranya,” said Galdor grimly, “we were once complacent about the impregnability of our city. And none know more than the nine of us gathered here how bitter a price we paid for that. If there is any hint of danger—even the slightest—should we not be on our guard? And take measures to ensure that all we love is safe?”

“I agree,” said Turgon, so smoothly that it was evident that his thoughts must have coincided more than a little with Galdor’s. “The first of those measures would be to keep a close watch on the young nér who arrived in this city but a week past. Rauco, should you note anything suspicious in your new Sindarin apprentice’s behaviour, detain him and bring him hence for questioning.”

Rog frowned. “Aros? You think …?”

Ecthelion, baffled, was for the first time frowning as well. “What young nér, aranya?

“You did say, did you not, Ecthelion, that Laurefindil and this nís have three children?” said Turgon. “I believe I may have had the pleasure of meeting one of them in our very city.”

Galdor uttered a curse. “Of course! The two young travellers from Tol Eressëa. Some sinister plot may be afoot.”

Turgon looked sharply at him. “Two?”

“He has a friend, who I wager is no friend but a brother. He serves Duilin now. If Aros is like unto you in face, aranya, then Cúmaen resembles Laurefindil in both face and nature.”

Ecthelion’s heart sank. “Fair-haired young néri?”

Galdor looked puzzled. “Nay. Aros is raven-tressed, Cúmaen brown.”

“Then it is not they! The sons of Laurefindil and Lómiel are fair-haired—one bright as the finest gold, one with pale silver-gold tresses. And they shun Eldamar. They would never dare venture here. At the time of my departure from their forest home, they were travelling the wildernesses further south.”

Galdor’s eyes narrowed. “Or so you might wish us to think, Fountain.”

Silver eyes flashing, Ecthelion glared at Galdor. “You would question my integrity and honesty, Tree?”

“You love Laurefindil as a son. And you have made it abundantly clear to us that you will do all within your power to protect and shield him and his nís, whoever or whatever she may be.”

“I would not lie to you. I would not lie to my king!”

Turgon was grave-faced, and spoke dispassionately. “Your integrity, Ecthelion, has never before been in doubt. But Galdor is right. You have been in company that may have compromised you, mind and heart. We must be cautious. As cautious as we were not, when my nephew returned to our city millennia ago. A nephew in whom I had the most absolute faith and trust. You understand, Ecthelion?”

Ecthelion looked admirably composed. He inclined his head and bowed. “A wise precaution. Very well, my liege. What is to be done with me?”

Turgon reflected awhile. “Keep to your quarters for the present. Spacious and fair as they are, your confinement there will, I hope, pose no hardship. You may conduct all the business of your Houses thence. And one of the lords present here shall accompany you. ”

“Day and night?” He was to all intents and purposes a prisoner, thought Ecthelion.

“It would seem prudent. Yes.” Turgon sounded almost apologetic. “My lords, have a care that this matter stays within our circle of nine. Salgant, not a word to your lady wife. Pillar, accompany Ecthelion back to the House of the Fountain. Snow shall relieve you at dawn.”

Penlod rose with a bow. After the Pillar and the Fountain had left the room, Turgon looked at Duilin. “This friend, or brother, of the young smith—he is in your House now, Swallow? How did that come to be?”

“He won the Golden Arrow, aranya.

“Ah… How regrettable that the betrothal of my brother caused me to be absent from that event. I desire to meet with this archer, since I could not be present to bestow his trophy upon him. An audience is in order. Send him to me tomorrow morn.”

“He would be most honoured by your notice, aranya. I cannot believe, though, there is any danger in him. He is an open-hearted, gentle and merry soul, and has won over even his defeated rivals in the tournament.”

“I shall take warning from that,” said Turgon. “For I do believe Tyelperinquar was thoroughly charmed by Annatar before the deceiver tortured and peppered him with arrows.”

“And what of they who dwell south?” asked Galdor. “Shall we go forth with a force to take them?”

“Violence in Oromë’s lands? And take the one renowned for two ages as Endórë’s greatest warrior?” Turgon looked out of the window at his fair city, and the mountaintops that glistened with snow in the starlight. Beyond them, across the Calacirya, loomed the soaring white peak of Taniquetil. “No,” said Turgon, rising to his feet. “They lie far from us. Let a bird go forth to the Halls of Ilmarin telling of these discoveries, and let us see what the Elder King replies. We shall secure our kingdom first.”

As they filed out of the room after the king, none of the lords saw the four-legged white shadow that slipped silently out from under the sideboard.

“Well, what a to-do among these tall ones. And all this good food quite ignored.” The little cat’s fur had dried and her mood had much improved. She leapt up lightly onto the table, and was feasting on the abandoned quail on Ecthelion’s plate when the King’s chefs entered and raised a lament.

Ai! What a waste! They barely ate a thing!” wailed one chef.

“There you are, Ilimba, you pretty puss!” said another.

“The roast! No one even touched the roast!”

“The roast can keep. But this steamed trout… barely a morsel taken. Ai, what a tragedy.”

“We wondered when we saw you not below stairs,” cooed one over the cat, stroking it.

“We thought you had found romance for the night,” said another.

“Were the king and his lords so very amusing, Ilimba?”

Oh, endlessly diverting,” said the white cat, daintily licking a paw. “What a fuss! There was Námo sending a traitor back as a nís, and Sauron bespelling a Laurefindil and returning to Aman to live in the southlands—”

The outcry that the chefs raised at that could almost have shocked the steamed trout back to life.


Glossary

Ilimba [Qenya] - milky

Laithron – from Gnomish “laithra” – dead and gone, forgotten

Maril [Q] – crystal

Ohtari [Q] - soldiers

Pen-gwain [S] – young one

Vinyamo [Q] – young one

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