Her emerald eyes fixed on the King of the Eagles in the sky above, the flame-haired maiden moved through the rows of peach trees, the horses close behind her. The orchard sat on a hill slope behind the House of the Tree. From it, horses and maiden watched entranced as the great bird circled lower, then vanished behind the buildings.
“Stay here!” Nárriel called over her shoulder to the horses as she ran down the slope. Her curiosity burned to know on what errand the Eagle King had come. “I shall return soon—”
And as she reached the foot of the hill, Arman burst through the back gate of the House of the Tree as though the hounds of Oromë themselves were hunting him. “The eagle…” he managed to wheeze, for he was panting hard from his mad race down from the roof.
“Where is your brother?” she cried as she ran to his side. “Varda! What happened to you?” His fair face and neck were bruised, his clothes dishevelled and torn in places, and he moved with a slight limp.
Shaking his head as if to say, that matters not now, he took hold of her hand and tugged her back through the gate. She pulled him towards the stairs and they sprinted up four flights, and thence down a long hallway lined with tapestries as the voice of the Herald of Manwë reverberated through the city. At the end of the hallway were tall, arched windows which opened upon a vista of the King’s Square.
They leaned out of the window. People crowded on the bridges and along both sides of the river Nénalin, and thronged the streets all the way to the King’s Square, which was itself a sea of edhil. The greatest of eagles was no longer anywhere in sight.
Their elven eyes espied figures on the steps of the palace, tiny in the distance.
Nárriel watched as a raven-haired nís began to ascend the steps alone, and the King descended towards her. And she knew. Even before Arman at her side breathed in a voice that broke with anxious concern, “Ammë…”
She reached for his hand as it lay upon the sill, and gripped it.
And they watched. As the nís faced the king for what felt like an eternity, then fell to her knees on the landing. They watched with bated breath as the King stood frozen, staring down at her. When, at last, the King stooped, and raised her, and embraced her before the people of the kingdom, a small sigh of relief escaped from Nárriel. They heard the murmurs sweep through the crowd and swell with amazement.
The king at last released the nís from his embrace, and what words were spoken then between them, none could hear. Then she turned on the landing to face the people. And knelt down again. Elven eyes at this distance could see her lips move, but even elven ears could hear naught of her words.
An uproar began to sweep through the crowd, spreading out in concentric waves from the King’s Square. The crowd in the streets below Nárriel and Arman were asking each other: “What did he say…?” “Could you read her lips…?” “He said…” “She said…” “’Forgive me…’”
On the steps of the palace, others moved forward to surround the King and the nís, and Nárriel and Arman saw gleams of gold amid the group, as embraces were exchanged or hands shaken. The crowd also had surged forward, and before long the group on the steps was almost engulfed, the King’s Guard quickly stepping forward to hold the people back. The King and his lords and guests made their way up the steps, and disappeared through the palace doors.
With a sigh, Arman turned at last away from the window, sank dazed and weary onto the floor, and leaned his back against the wall.
Nárriel sat by him in silence.
“That went well, I thought…” she said at last.
“It did. Beyond anything I could have dreamed.”
“Perhaps this means you will not have to leave after all.”
He turned his face towards her and smiled. “Perhaps. But a king’s public forgiveness does not signify that all here will receive us kindly.”
“That is true.” Her heart sank as she thought of her own father. She reached out to touch the dark purple bruise on the side of Arman’s face. “What happened?”
He chuckled. “Rasco of the Hammer happened.”
Her eyes went wide, then flashed with anger. “I might have guessed!”
“Who could blame him? I lied. I am the Traitor’s son. And…” he added with disarming simplicity, “I love you.”
A smile blossomed like a rose and glowed on her face, but she quickly looked away and smothered it. “You do not know me, Arman Laurefindilion.”
“Not yet,” he conceded.
“How then can you love me?”
His azure eyes gazed at her, transparent and truthful. “It began with your hair. Your eyes. You have the most incredible hair and eyes in Arda.”
“Hmph. I have heard that song before. And learned well to mistrust it.”
“Nárriel, hear me—so new is this feeling that I know not how to comprehend it. But, though I know next to naught about you, yet I feel… I know you. You are strong. And brave. And true. And deep within, I know that you are for me…” He stopped himself and flushed. “Eru. I am sorry. That sounds so stupid.”
She gazed at him gravely. “Only as stupid as my feeling the same of you too.”
And sitting on the floor beneath the windows, as the crowd below marvelled loudly at the return of the hero and traitor, the two offspring of three Lords of Gondolin leaned towards each other, and kissed.
She murmured, “You are too good at this. How much practice have you had?”
“Probably no more than you,” he said, before they resumed their very pleasurable exploration of the other’s mouth.
“Wait… this is too fast,” she managed to say as they surfaced to breathe.
“You are right,” he sighed, sitting back reluctantly.
“We should take it slow.”
“Get better acquainted.”
“Yes. Tell me about yourself.”
He looked stumped. “Where do I begin?”
“Whatever comes to mind.”
“I am the younger of twins. I like forests, singing, archery, and crafting jewels. I can drink like a fish and never get drunk. I am terrible at math. I attract trouble more than my brother does. You are warned. Your turn.”
“I am excellent at math, dreadful at embroidery. I can outrun any nís in Alcarinos. I like archery too. And knife-throwing, lute-playing, and dancing. I get drunk after one jug, and I throw people when I am drunk. You are warned. Your turn again.”
“It drives my brother crazy that I can sit up in a tree all day singing and gazing at clouds.”
She chuckled. “It drove Arakáno crazy that I thrice changed my mind about what to wear to meet his parents…”
An awkward silence abruptly fell.
“Do you love him still?”
She frowned, mulling the question seriously. “No,” she said. “He never loved me. I see now how much I fooled myself. How I saw only what I wanted to see.”
“He is a fool not to love you. But how I thank the Valar for that—”
And he was silenced as she pulled him to her for another deep kiss.
“Oh… there is one more little thing I should tell you,” he said sometime later.
“This is not my true hair colour.”
“Make way, good people. Make way!” shouted Elemmakil of the King’s Guard as their horses slowly made their way through the throng and down the street.
“Angaráto! Arafinwion! Hail and welcome!” some of the Alcarim called, as they saw who rode at Elemmakil’s side. But Angrod paid those voices little heed, as he overheard what myriad others were saying.
“—the Mole wept—”
“—Findaráto embraced both the Flower and the Mole—”
“—ran down the steps to welcome them—”
“—Amárië kissed them—”
“—Angaráto! Cundunya! Your brother is here!—”
“—Cundunya! What relationship has Findaráto to Laurefindil?—”
“—is the Golden Flower a scion of your House?—”
Angrod smiled and waved at the crowd as princes know to do, but declined to say aught. Oh, well done, Ingoldo. This is worse than I feared it would be. The shouts followed him as he dismounted and ascended the steps of the palace.
Elemmakil and the King’s golden-haired cousin were naturally granted admittance at the palace doors, but many in the city had been turned away. Angrod could already hear the exuberant shouts and whistles and singing from the Great Banquet Hall.
“Those would be the people of the House of the Golden Flower, Cundu Angaráto,” explained one of the guards.
“Not all of them, surely?” said Elemmakil.
“About six hundred—mostly Laurefindil’s captains and his guard, his household, and the office bearers who served him. We have had to turn away the rest. The King assured them that Laurefindil will visit the House of the Golden Flower later this day.”
“And any of the Mole’s people?” asked Elemmakil.
The guards exchanged a look. “Twenty-three came forward,” said one. “There are others… but few are brave enough to stand forth as Moles,” said another.
But it was not the Mole who was Angrod’s chief concern. As the prince strode down the palace corridors and the doors of Turgon’s Great Banquet Hall swung open before him, there was no way the third son of Finarfin could miss seeing the Golden Lord of Gondolin.
Glorfindel’s warriors had happily pushed him onto the raised dais at one end of the hall, and the people of the Golden Flower now surged forward to take turns for a hug, a handshake, a kiss, a quick word. The Lord of the Golden Flower stood taller than many of his people, and his radiant hair glowed in the soft, yellow morning light pouring through the windows.
Angrod gaze was riveted on golden hair brighter than his own or his brothers’, though not near as bright as his sister’s. His eyes scrutinized the face, the azure eyes and smile, of this suspected nephew.
Eru Almighty… he truly looks as though he could be the son of Ingoldo and Amárië.
Angrod spun around to see his eldest brother and his Vanyarin law-sister smiling at him.
“For the love of Eru, Ingo,” Angrod said tersely. “Tell me—is he your son?”
As the exuberant and noisy Golden Flowers had filled the Great Banquet Hall, the twenty-three Moles and the one who had once been their Lord had quietly slipped out to an adjoining courtyard for a reunion far more reserved.
Under the tall, shady trees that grew there, they regarded each other uncertainly. The once-Moles had seldom spoken to each other since leaving Mandos, preferring not to mention the past. Enerdhil and Curunáro, who had never been warriors, had more easily assimilated into Alcarinos, with most in the city choosing not to recall that they had ever been Moles. The others, like Eneldur, had fought the House of the Wing and spilled kindred blood, and had returned to the city to be with loved ones, only to largely remain outcasts.
The lady in white stood as straight and proud before them as she had when a man, and looked each of them in the eye with her sharp gaze. “Eneldur… Enerdhil… Curunáro… Turcamaitë…” And as she named each of them in familiar cool, clipped tones, she asked after their families and how they had each fared since Mandos. And between their hesitant, sparing words, she read clearly the hardships and constant judgement some endured, and her heart ached for them.
“I am sorry,” she said quietly, “Sorry for all the hate you have had to bear. Sorry for the loyalty I demanded, for which so high a price was paid. Sorry for the command given that Tarnin Austa, long ago. The blame is all mine, not yours. And it should be known and proclaimed, from one end of Eldamar to the other.”
And it was Eneldur who spoke for them. “Cundunya—” he began, then stumbled awkwardly, “Herinya … for years, we could not believe you had betrayed us… nor could we understand… how on that day… how you could have been in such error. But now we know. It was Sauron the Deceiver, and you were his thrall. It was he who convinced us that the House of the Wing had betrayed the city.”
“Yes, that day I was his thrall. But the truth, alas, is that long before that, in Angband, I betrayed the secret of our city. I am in all ways no longer your Lord. Nor your Lady. You are free of all bonds of fealty to me. You owe me no allegiance. Once that is made clear, Eldamar will receive you back to its bosom.”
“You cared and provided for us after the Nírnaeth, herunya,” said Curunáro, serenely addressing Maeglin as his lord. “You will ever have our deepest gratitude for that.”
Maeglin looked at the men standing about her. Over half of them, like Curunáro and Enerdhil, had been small elflings left fatherless after the Nírnaeth, and taken under the wing of her former self. Lómion had recognized their gifts and mentored them in their crafts. The rest had been saved in battle by Lómion and watched over by him in the healing halls as they fought their way back to health and strength. Perhaps I was not such an unredeemed piece of muk after all, she thought. Twenty-three out of nine thousand. It is something, after all the rot and ruin. Seeing the shining loyalty in their eyes, she had to blink away a tear.
“If you will have me, herinya, I will remain with you to serve you and your house,” said Eneldur.
And he and the others knelt before her shabby boots.
On long tables within the banquet hall, the chefs and servers quickly laid out an array of fruits, cheeses, preserves, breads, dumplings, soups, pastries and cold meats for breakfast. And if any of the Lords of Alcarinos thought that the large roast that the chefs were busily carving into thin slices looked familiar, they said nothing.
Egalmoth and Ecthelion stood to one side, observing the reunions in both the hall and the courtyard.
“From Lord of the Mole to White Lady. What a metamorphosis!” exclaimed Egalmoth as they watched Maeglin’s meeting with her Moles, and as her golden-haired elder son joined them and was introduced by her.
Ecthelion smiled. “If no one had told you, would you have known?”
“The likeness to Írisse would certainly have made me look twice. But no. I do not believe there is any way I could have guessed.” Egalmoth looked thoughtful. “Imagine, Fountain—imagine if we had never lost Írisse in Nan Dungortheb.”
“I spent many years imagining it, Arch.” Ecthelion shook his head. “We did lose her. There is no point wishing otherwise. Or thinking what might have been.”
They watched as Glorfindel laughingly continued to greet and speak with the throng of Golden Flowers. Some were wiping tears of joy from their faces.
“Will they stay, do you think?” asked Egalmoth.
Ecthelion thought of the peaceful house in the woods sitting on the shores of a sparkling lake, and a silver-eyed tot with a large hound. “I think not,” he replied at last.
Fresh and glowing from her morning toilette, Elenwë entered the far entrance to the courtyard in a flowing dress of sky-blue, a white cat purring as she cradled it in her slender arms. The Queen peered at Maeglin curiously, hearing her speak in Quenya to her Moles, and her brow furrowed. Then a smile lit her fair face, and she came forward with her hand outstretched in friendship. The Moles surrounding Maeglin fell back two steps and bowed.
“Alatúlië. My eyes rejoice to see you again, dear heart. And how fares your baby?” Elenwë said in her lilting Quenya with its strong Vanyarin accent. Amárië, by contrast, could at need speak Quenya like a Noldo native to Tirion.
“The child is well, Tári Elenwë.” Taking the soft, slender, outstretched hand, Maeglin curtsied. She warily examined the smiling face of Turgon’s consort. “I am Lómiel, Tári,” the Traitor said, thinking the Queen could not know, that she must be ignorant or confused. “Írissë’s child.”
“Of course you are,” said the Vanya, releasing her hand to gently pat the Traitor’s cheek. “So great is your likeness to her.”
“I am… Írissë’s only child.” The little white cat had leapt down from Elenwë’s arms and was rubbing against Maeglin’s white skirts and shabby boots.
“I know.” The Vanya laid a gentle hand upon Maeglin’s shoulder and smiled into her eyes. In their grey sea-depths, Maeglin glimpsed a shadow of bitter blizzards and vast ice floes that quickly melted away into the morning sun…
And what does Itarillë’s mother see in my black, black eyes?
“So much darkness, so much torment, so much regret,” said the Vanya, still holding her gaze. “But all in the past, yes? We are so blessed, now. Our lives are healed, our world is whole again. We should dwell no longer upon shadows.”
Maeglin scented lilac as Idril’s mother gently kissed her cheek, and a silken tendril of golden hair tickled her nose.
Then, picking up the white cat, the Queen gracefully sashayed into the hall in search of her husband.
Glorfindel was listening intently to one of his former housekeepers loudly lament the life-choices of her grown offspring. He had played with them when they were elflings.
“…eloped with a moriquendë shepherd—”
Not far away, Glorfindel’s kith and kin were having a discussion.
“Let me introduce him to you,” said Finrod to his younger brother.
“Not here, hanno. Not now,” objected Angrod. “Later. In private.”
“We are in a corner screened off by tapestries of Ulmo meeting Tuor. Is this not private enough?”
“One look at that boy within slingshot range of any of us three—” Angrod indicated his brother, his sister and himself, “—and everyone in this hall will be screaming Secret Son of the Third House.”
“Then they must surely already be screaming,” remarked Elrond drily.
“Yes. Ingoldo, did you have to hug him before sixty thousand people?” exclaimed Angrod. “Holy Eru! It’s almost exhibitionist!”
“…decides to be a duck farmer—after three yéni studying songs of power—”
“Ingo hugs a lot of people,” said Galadriel. “No one thinks he fathered them all.”
“It is a very distinctive shade of gold,” Nerdanel said to Finrod. “I confess that the moment I saw Arinnáro’s hair, then all of you together, I guessed.”
“The time of hiding and secrets is over,” said Finrod. “I kept this secret only for the sake of Lómiel. That need is gone.”
“What of the High King?” asked Elrond.
“Atar would be overjoyed to have a new grandson. Of that I am certain.”
“Well… he did say as much…” Angrod conceded reluctantly.
“What are they saying now?” Gimli asked Elrond and Legolas.
“In any case,” Galadriel chimed in, “should it be needful, we could mask—”
“—NO, Artë,” Finrod sighed. “No more masking spells. No more meddling with people’s minds.”
“…at my wit’s end what else to do!” finished the worthy lady, shaking her head.
“Nai!” commiserated Glorfindel, shaking his golden head. The curse of being mighty in osanwë, and having kin in the vicinity of even greater mind-powers, was that he had been so distracted he had barely heard anything the housekeeper had said. He made up for it by enveloping the good woman in a tight hug, which made her a very happy nís.
“Atar,” Glorfindel thought-sent to Finrod, as he shook hands with two of his former stewards. “Pray do not acknowledge me. Think of your honour and reputation.”
“Too late. For better or worse, the Valar have brought you to Eldamar now, yonya. The gossip has begun, I assure you. If I do not acknowledge you, suspicion will fall upon each of the members of the House of Arafinwë in turn, and speculation could breed monsters. Openness and transparency are the best path.”
And sensing him, Glorfindel spun around, and saw Finrod standing an arm’s length from him.
“Cundu Findaráto,” said Glorfindel formally, stepping back to sweep a courtly bow.
Finrod slung an affectionate arm around his son. “Yonya, I would like you to meet—” The Crown Prince looked around. “Now, where did my brother go to?”
Rog looked down at Maeglin.
They had been almost the same height in their first lives, though Rog had always been more heavily built. He found it disconcerting to see those familiar piercing black eyes scrutinizing him from a face of such delicate beauty.
Maeglin on her part was trying not to think of her nightmares of dead Lords. Back in the forest south, it had taken her almost an hour in Ecthelion’s company before she ceased to be haunted by visions of his drowned face and glazed eyes. Standing before Rog now, she thought she could almost scent a whiff of char. Or was that from the cold slices of roast a passing server had offered her on a platter?
“Your men have always been welcome in my House,” Rog was saying, “and not only those formerly from the Hammer. But if it is their wish to go with you, they are free to leave with my blessing.”
Maeglin shook her head. “I would wish them to stay here, Rauco. I have naught to offer them. A house in the wilderness. A small forge, large enough for just my sons and I. Their families are here, and it is here they belong. I have explained it to them. They understand. They revere you, and are more than content to stay with you. It is the judgement of others here that lies heavy on them.”
“Judgement that should lie less heavy after the revelations of the last night and day.” Rog eyed Maeglin kindly. And it was her turn to be disconcerted, for the Rog she had known in their first lives had perpetually worn a dark scowl more ferocious and fearsome than even the Mole’s. Rog understood better than any other Lord of Gondolin the torments of Angband. Had that disposed him to be more sympathetic towards her? “Would you not consider staying?” he asked. “A smith of your skills would be ever welcome.”
Rog half-expected a cold flash of arrogant anger or annoyance at the condescension of this offer. Instead, the small smile that curled her lips was neither sardonic nor supercilious, but genuinely grateful. “That is kind. One day, perhaps. Not now. Hantanyel.”
She gave him a bow as in days of old, and turning away almost walked into a golden-haired prince strange to her.
No. Not a stranger.
Not after the one moment they had shared in the black depths of Angband, six thousand years ago.
Her pale complexion turned an almost deathly shade of white. He stared intently at her black eyes, and it was not the likeness to Aredhel he saw as his steel-grey eyes narrowed.
Angrod’s features differed from his eldest brother’s and his sister’s, for theirs blended the best features in the beauty of their grandparents Finwë and Indis. It was his mother Eärwen—Rílel’s kinswoman—whom this prince took after, and of all the Finarfinions his features were the most Telerin. All the years that stern Angrod had fretted if his brother Aegnor might have fathered the balrog slayer, the Iron Prince had never once considered one thing. If any rumours or scandals were to link the House of Finarfin to the golden-haired balrog slayer, they were likely to be on his own account. The offspring of Finarfin whom Glorfindel most resembled in nature might be his father Finrod, and the one whom he most resembled in his glorious tresses might be Galadriel, but the one whom he most resembled in facial structure alone was Angrod, though the third son of Finarfin failed to see it himself.
Angrod’s iron spirit had seethed at being cooed over as “sweet” and “adorable” when he was an elfling. Tall, adult Caranthir had once mocked young Angrod for his prettiness and un-Noldorin appearance... and learned the hard way why his half-grown cousin’s epessë was Iron-handed. It was that iron-spirit and strength that had allowed Angrod to survive half a century unbroken as Sauron’s pet in Angband. It was Angrod’s golden hair and facial similarity to Glorfindel that had given Maeglin a shock of recognition when they met in hell.
And filthy and naked, emaciated and battered and bloody as they had both been in Morgoth’s dungeons, and gender-changed as one of them was, yet the two prisoners recognized each other now.
“You!” uttered Angrod, as he stared at Maeglin.
“Pardon, herunya,” she muttered. She sought to slip away into the crowd milling around them in the banquet hall, but he caught her arm above the elbow in his iron grip.
“It… it is you!” he hissed more quietly into her ear. He had never spoken to any of what had happened to him. Not the unspeakable torments and degradations of fifty years. Not his death nor its manner. No, not even to his wife Edhellos. Some memories are too dark and terrible to ever be shared—except with one who had also been there.
“I know not of what you speak,” Maeglin mumbled, keeping her eyes averted from his.
“For years I wondered who you were. What happened… to you... after…”
The blade sliding in. Dark heart-blood spurting. Maeglin crumbled under the weight, the memory of that moment of darkest guilt and horror, cowardice or murderous hatred, dreadful as words of treachery. “Forgive me…” she muttered, barely audible. “Forgive me.”
Angrod looked surprised. “Forgive you, niece? I wished only to thank you.”
Releasing his iron grip on her arm, he took her hand instead. And raising it, he bowed towards her in princely style, and kissed it.
To be fair to Arman and Nárriel, they made an effort to comport themselves with propriety when they left the House of the Tree, keeping a good distance between them as they walked.
“What if your mother dislikes me?” fretted Nárriel, as they made their way towards the palace.
“A knife-throwing maiden? She will adore you.”
“The Mole and the Tree were never friends, back in Ondolindë.”
“The Mole and anyone were never friends, back in Ondolindë. My mother is different now. She is going to love you. I am far more worried about what your parents are going to say about me.”
“Perhaps we should say naught to any about us.”
“Are you good at keeping secrets? Because you know by now that I am not. I want to shout it from the top of the King’s Tower! I love you, Nárriel Galdoriel.”
It was already mid-morning. The crowds had long dispersed and gone back to their daily lives. A number remained about the Square and the Fountain, as was usual, for people enjoyed the shade of the numerous trees that grew there, and the cool mist that blew off the Fountain. At the far end, several edhil were swimming.
And as the palace loomed huge before them, both nervously felt a reluctance to go further. They looked at the Great Fountain. It was fifty fathoms wide, and its shape was not unlike a clover leaf. Its many water spouts shot skywards in graceful arcs and tall geysers. A statue of Ulmo loomed majestic at the centre, great whales frolicking around him and a kraken crushed beneath his bare feet as he blew his great horns, the Ulumúri. Uinen reclined on the surface of the water at the vala’s left, surrounded by swans. At this end of the Fountain, Ossë glowered ferociously over his shoulder down at Nárriel and Arman, dolphins swimming in his wake.
“It is a replica of Ecthelion’s Fountain in Ondolindë,” Nárriel said.
“Really?” said Arman, walking to the edge of the Fountain and peering into its cool depths. “Is it deep enough to drown a valarauco?”
“Let us find out.” And as he gaped at her, she kicked off her shoes, loosened her laces, pulled her riding dress over her head, and dived in wearing only an ivory-hued slip.
He pulled off his boots and his tunic, and in a moment was swimming after her as she slipped like a falmar through the cool, clear depths of the Fountain, fiery hair streaming behind her.
They dived three fathoms to touch the bottom, just for sport, then surfaced and pulled themselves onto the back of one of the life-sized marble dolphins.
“Certainly deep enough to drown a balrog,” he gasped, wiping water from his face.
“This must be the end where Ecthelion died, then,” she said breathlessly, squeezing water out of her long tresses. “The other end is shallower. I swim most oft near Uinen.”
He was trying very hard not to look at her. At how the wet slip clung to her lithe curves. “Of course—Ecthelion—did not really die here.”
She felt the heat emanating from his nearness, and leaned towards him like a chilled traveller towards a warm hearth. “Well—you—know what I mean,” she murmured, as their lips met and their wet bodies pressed against each other.
“Have you spoken to either of them yet?” asked Duilin, as he sat himself across from Galdor.
The Lord of the Tree was seated by a window overlooking the King’s Square. He had been drinking rather heavily since his arrival in the banquet hall, and emptied his goblet of wine before he replied. “No.”
“Not even Laurefindil? You used to be such friends. What in Eä is ailing you, Tree?”
Galdor shook his heavy head and said nothing. He was not at that moment certain how he felt about anything, or why. Flashbacks to the Fall of Gondolin aside, the thought of the Lord of the Golden Flower together with the Lord of the Mole so disturbed Galdor that he could not bear to even look at either of them. He kept his distance from Maeglin. When he caught her obsidian eyes resting on him, once, he had turned and walked away.
Duilin frowned with concern at his taciturn friend, then glanced out of the window. His blue-grey eyes widened ever so slightly as he peered at the Fountain.
The Swallow gave the Tree a sidelong glance, then discreetly looked about the hall to see if anyone else had noticed what he had. Some way off, the Swallow saw Aryo standing at the windows, staring out transfixed, and saw Maeglin walking up to stand by her son. “Muk!” the Swallow heard the Mole swear.
Seeing Galdor’s head turn towards the window as well, Duilin said in a level voice, “Tree. Wait. Stay calm.”
Galdor froze. Then his face flushed almost as red as his hair before he exploded. “That spawn of Sauron!!”
The next moment, the Lord of the Tree was out of the window and climbing down to the Square. Simple as this feat would have been to him at any other time, it was not a stunt that any irate father should attempt after ingesting two decanters of wine.
It was to Galdor’s credit than he made it more than halfway down and fell only twelve rangar, fracturing two ribs and his right ankle. Duilin, who had followed him out of the window, was at his side in three seconds, Glorfindel in seven. Most of the people in the banquet hall were soon looking down from the windows and balconies above, or running down the long flight of palace steps to the King’s Square, to where the Lord of the Tree lay, very conscious and cursing vociferously, as the Swallow and the Golden Flower tended to him.
Only two persons ran straight to the Fountain, where a wet, dishevelled and shame-faced young couple were doing their best to scramble back into their dry clothes.
“Arman!” exclaimed Aryo as his twin pulled on his boots. “What the hell?”
Maeglin’s obsidian eyes coolly regarded the maiden whose emerald eyes were peering at her through a tangle of wet, flame-coloured hair. “Galdor of the Tree’s daughter, I presume.”
“Herinya—Ánin apsene—” stuttered the maiden as her fumbling fingers tried to lace up the garment that had been shed so easily a short while earlier.
“Me? Forgive anyone?” Maeglin stepped forward, and with skilled fingers deftly laced up the back of the girl’s dress. “It is your father you should ask forgiveness of, not I. Consorting with traitor’s spawn. What were you thinking? No, don’t answer. Of course, you were not thinking at all.”
“Ammë,” said Arman, adjusting the belt of his tunic, “This is Nárriel. Nárriel, this is my mother Lómiel and my brother Arinnáro.”
“We have met,” said Aryo shortly, arms folded, glowering at the redhead.
“Nán alassea le-omentien, Nárriel Galdoriel. But because I have it on the best authority that I am Sauron Incarnate and an evil orc-blooded monster, I do not expect you to return the sentiment.”
“Ammë, please! Nárriel, do not mind her. She is teasing you.”
“Nán alassea le-omentien, Arinnáro, herinya,” murmured Nárriel, pushing her wet hair from her face with a shy, uncertain smile.
A small smile curled Maeglin’s lips. “Go to your father, child. And Eru help you.”
As Arman ran together with Nárriel to apologize to his beloved’s father, his mother said, “Be careful, yonya. Tree has a long reach and is apt to throttle you.”
Maeglin and Aryo remained by the Fountain and watched as Nárriel and Arman pushed through the crowd to get to Galdor’s side.
“She is quite lovely,” said Maeglin.
“Do not be taken in by that sweet smile. The first time we met, she was stone drunk. And tossed me like a rag doll across a yuldacar.”
“Really?” Maeglin’s eyebrow lifted. “She is going to fit right into this family.”
Aryo bit his lower lip and smouldered. Of course you would approve! Anything with pointed ears would fit into this family. She is an elf. She is immortal. They are going to live forever and produce little pureblood elflings for you.
Maeglin wordlessly put her arms around her firstborn and hugged him tightly, adding the comforting warmth of her love fëa to fëa.
By now, they could hear the Lord of the Tree ranting rather incoherently of treachery and the evil schemes of Sauron and Moringotto, and the doom and darkness that were soon to befall Aman again.
He was still raving in the healing hall of the King, until the healers sedated him.
After a lengthy deliberation with the King and the Lady of the Tree, arrangements were made with Olórin the maia. As soon as the Lord of the Tree was able to ride, the silver-bearded maia would take him to the Gardens of Estë for a much-needed season of inner healing and rest, while Duilin of the Swallow covered his duties.
That evening, Glorfindel returned to the palace from the House of the Golden Flower to find Maeglin gazing at the sunset from their guest bedchamber.
His House had naturally offered him the Lord of the Golden Flower’s fine lodgings for the night. But Maeglin would have been uneasy there. Nor had Glorfindel wished to raise his House’s hopes that he would stay for good. Earlier that morning, he had gently declined plans for an all-night feast they wished to hold.
He sat by Maeglin silently, and together they watched the sun sink behind the mountains.
For him, it had been a joyous homecoming. For her, the meeting with her handful of Moles had been bittersweet, leaving a profound sadness, a deep aching sense of loss. It had been a day of forgiveness, of reconciliation… but the consequences of the past remained.
They both knew there were more than twenty-three Moles within the city. But perhaps those others could not accept that the proud, stern Lord who had once led them was now a nís. Perhaps they had long ceased to be loyal to the Mole. Perhaps they wished one and all to overlook they had ever been Moles, and wished themselves never to recall it. What had the revelations of the past day changed? It had absolved the Moles, as thralls and dupes of Sauron, of some of their culpability as kinslayers. They might no longer blame the Lord of the Mole for commanding them, in their misguided loyalty, to fight their kin. They might be able to hold their heads higher in Eldamar. Their lives might be easier. But it remained that they had once served and killed for a traitor, and that truth remained dark and bitter, no matter how publicly forgiven and justified the traitor was.
Glorfindel’s old life was here, waiting to be taken up again. His lodgings had been built just as Ecthelion and his stewards knew he would like it. For two thousand years, they had run his House essentially as he had run it once. But everything Maeglin had worked hard to build in Gondolin had been wiped out by that one moment of treachery. His House, his old roles, his old positions were gone.
New ones could be created. Turgon had spoken, as Rog had, of a place in the House of the Hammer. The King had further mentioned a ceremony in Tirion to confer the title of “princess of the Noldor” as befitted a granddaughter of Fingolfin. He had offered quarters in the palace that she and Glorfindel could make their own, such as the chamber they sat in now.
Maeglin gazed about at the vibrant tapestries and elegant stonework of the luxurious, comfortable bedchamber, and felt an empty ache in her heart.
“Let us go home soon,” Glorfindel said.
“We can stay if you wish. Amil could bring Alassë here.”
“No. This is not the place for us.” He put his arm around her. “I may ride here perhaps once a coranar to join the Lords for games and visit the Golden Flowers. And our sons may choose to remain here, if they so wish.”
“I think it is clear that they wish it.”
“We could visit them, now and again.”
“We could. During feasts. Not Tarnin Austa.”
“Never Tarnin Austa,” he agreed.
“The Golden Flowers still have no Lord. Poor Ecthelion. Will he be burdened with your House and your duties forever?”
“Turukáno and Ecthelion spoke to me. They think that either of our boys might mature into a suitable Lord of the Golden Flower in a couple of yéni.”
“A couple of yéni! You were Lord of the Golden Flower when you were seventy-two coranári old!”
“I was groomed for it since I was thirty-five, melmenya.”
“I was Lord of the Mole at sixty.”
“And all of us disagreed with Turukáno that it was the right move, giving a House to an ambitious little brat with sociopathic tendencies.” He grinned and kissed her scowling face. “Our sons will need time. Arman’s little indiscretion in the Fountain today did not impress Turukáno.”
“Nor would your little bedroom romps at Nevrast if Ecthelion ever told him about them.”
“I had, at the age of forty, the sense to keep them to the bedroom! Though to be fair to Arman, I was never smitten with anyone but you.”
“And look how much restraint we had.”
“Let us be grateful they only went as far as kissing.”
“Only kissing? You did not see their hands?”
“In spite of that, the King and Ecthelion perceive Arman as a more likely successor to the Golden Flower than Aryo. As a smith Aryo is a far better fit for the Hammer.”
“You could be Lord of the Golden Flower in the interim. Train and groom them—or another—for the position yourself.”
“But as you have already said, you would not wish to be my Lady at my side. And all I want, right now, is to go home and play dwarves-and-trolls with our daughter. And harvest the honey. And plant more oats.”
She smiled. “Rye.”
They kissed. And as the last light faded in the western sky, her sadness resolved into a sense of closure and peace.
“Shall we leave tomorrow?” she asked.
“How about the day after? There is one thing I would like to do tomorrow.”
“This is the sixth wash,” complained Arman as Aryo scrubbed at his hair. “Is it not out yet?”
Aryo was the one with the strange look on his face this time. “It is most peculiar,” he said, rinsing out the mix of lemon, vinegar and Nerdanel’s lotion.
Arman turned his head to look at the water in the bucket. “That water looks pretty clear to me. Is much dye left?”
“Barely. But your colour… has changed.”
“Changed? Has it turned bright green?” And swinging his legs down off the bench, Arman strode over to the mirror hanging on the wall. And stared at himself.
His hair was almost the same shade of gold as his brother’s.
“Is it a lingering stain?”
Aryo examined his twin’s roots. “The new hair shows the same colour.”
Arman was still staring mesmerized at himself. “I don’t know what to make of it,” he said. “The mountain air? The water of the Fountain?”
“True love’s kiss?” deadpanned Aryo, rolling his eyes.
Arman cocked his head to one side. “I think I mind it not,” he pronounced.
“Truly do we look like brothers for once,” said Aryo, slinging his arm around his twin.
Arman grinned. “And Legolas need have no cares that any might confuse him with me.”
“Quendingoldo, old friend! Anar síla lúmenn’ omentielvo!”
The loremaster turned his head at this greeting and rose to graciously receive the former Lord of the Golden Flower. “Why, Laurefindil! My eyes are gladdened to see you.”
“And mine to see you, Loremaster.” Glorfindel seated himself across from the writer of The Fall of Gondolin and smiled warmly. “There is a little something I have wanted to discuss with you for the past two hundred years.”
The historian’s smile faded and his fingers played nervously with the plume of his quill. “Ah. Yes. About that. I am an observer and recorder of history, Laurefindil dear friend. I merely record that which I could observe, and of course that which witnesses tell me.”
“Indeed.” Glorfindel’s eyes ran over the large leather-bound volumes of history in the shelf nearest him. As he reached out for one, he asked lightly, “And what witnesses testified to you that Írissë married an orc-blooded monster?”
Pengolodh squirmed on the cushions of his seat. “I wrote that account at the Havens, you understand. The pain and loss were fresh… There was much speculation… I merely compiled and combined the accounts and the views of many.”
“Why, Quendingoldo, I am shocked! Speculation?” Glorfindel paused as he turned the pages of the thick tome, and lifted an eyebrow at Pengolodh. “What of your devotion to truth and fact?” His voice was friendly, but there was a glint in his eye.
Pengolodh shrank back into his chair slightly. “Ah, Laurefindil, what is history but a record of the perspectives of many? And naturally, that may alter, given fresh revelations...”
Glorfindel’s smile brightened the room again. “Well spoken, Loremaster. ‘May alter given fresh revelations’!” He read aloud from the page before him: “’And it came to pass that Eöl saw Írissë as she strayed among the tall trees… and he set his enchantments about her.’ My law-parents would have much to say about that! They must come to Eldamar for an interview with you.”
Even as Glorfindel realized that any interview of Aredhel and Eöl would likely be risqué enough to embarass Pengolodh, the Loremaster hoped he would never enjoy the pleasure of such a meeting. The thought of Eöl glowering murderously at him over this very table made his heart quail. Nor did Aredhel, restless and easily bored, strike him as likely to be a cooperative witness.
As their law-son, however, was now chuckling in helpless mirth over Pengolodh’s sinister description of Eöl, the historian began to relax. He shook his head. “Ah, Laurefindil, were not all of us convinced the princess was ensorcelled by black magic? You no less than I. We had no other explanation for an attachment so baffling. And her son never once refuted it.”
“Nor did the son ever once affirm it,” said a quiet voice from the doorway.
Maeglin hovered at the threshold of the room, looking ill at ease.
“You came!” Glorfindel’s smile was dazzling as he rose and swept the former prince of Gondolin into his arms. “I hardly hoped you would!”
Much discomfited, Pengolodh scrambled hastily to his feet to greet his one-time student. “Uh… cundu…that is… herinya. Welcome to my humble abode. The sun shines on the hour of our meeting.”
“So it does,” Maeglin replied, in no mood for formalities. “I had no desire to come here, Quendingoldo,” she said, sinking into a chair. “But I cannot trust this besotted fool to tell it as it was.” Her glance at Glorfindel sought to be baleful, but betrayed a fondness that was undeniably tender. Her black eyes then rested on Pengolodh, their expression less sharp than he had ever seen them. They were solemn, almost subdued. “Whether you may trust aught I say, Loremaster,” she said softly, “I leave to your judgement.”
As Pengolodh seated himself once more, Glorfindel gave him an encouraging smile.
The loremaster laid some thin sheets of jotting paper before him on the table, picked up his quill, and began sharpening it. “Whenever you are ready… cundunya.”
The following day, the Flower and the Mole bade fond farewell to their sons, who remained with the Houses of the Hammer and the Swallow, and rode forth from the fair kingdom of Alcarinos.
And on the way home, as they rode in noble company, there was a detour to Tirion.
Glorfindel and Finrod were still at odds. “If you acknowledge me—what then?” he asked his father as they rode through the Calacirya. “Will my mother’s deed be exposed? Think of Legolas. Both his paternal grandparents would be dishonoured and shamed.”
“Many of Oropher’s people are here,” agreed Elrond, “even though he may remain in Mandos.”
“And not Oropher alone is disgraced by this,” Galadriel pointed out. “Recall that Rílel is close kin to Celeborn. And kin, though more distantly, to Thingol and to Olwë.”
“I never did intend to reveal aught of Rílel,” said Finrod placidly. “Only to acknowledge that I have a son.”
Angrod almost rolled his eyes. “Be sensible, hanno!” he said. “There could be no son without a mother! Ulmo did not wash him up onto the beach in a conch shell.” There were times his eldest brother serenely uttered the most inane things that proved over time to be full of wisdom and foresight. Angrod did not think this was one of them.
“Atar, you did say that speculation breeds monsters. Would Amárië not be hurt by such speculation?”
Finrod and Amárië exchanged one of those thoughts and smiles that for a brief moment shuts out the whole world.
“If it looks as though we are ashamed, and seeking to deny it in guilt or fear, I believe it will quickly fester,” Finrod said. “But I have no guilt or shame. I have a son! I will not deny it. I will not be secretive and let the guessing games run wild. Is he mine? Artaresto’s? Aikanáro’s? Artë’s? Yours, Ango? None of you will be spared. Let it fall on me alone, as it should, and let them see the pride and joy I have in my son.”
“And when they ask about the mother?”
“Then I will say that it is I,” said Amárië. “Let them make of it what they will. But in my fëa, that is no lie.”
“Nor to me,” said Finrod. “If I have any memory of Laurefindil’s making, it was Amárië with whom I lay. So, in truth, he is the child of our love.”
“’Let them make of it what they will’,” muttered Angrod. “Mountain of Manwë, I shudder to think what they will make of it.”
And so they rode in through the gates of Tirion, and smiled as the people cheered and welcomed them. The Noldóran and Noldotári descended the steps of the King’s House, and before all the people of Tirion, they kissed the hero and traitor of Gondolin on both cheeks, and showed them much honour and affection as they stayed two days as guests of the High King.
And soon all who served at the King’s House spread abroad what they had witnessed. Both the Crown Prince and the Princess called the balrog slayer yonya. The High King and Queen themselves addressed him as indya. And as the gossip and speculation rampaged through Tirion and thence across all Eldamar, the wedding of the youngest grandson of Finwë was almost completely eclipsed into insignificance.
“…adopted?” “…foster son?” “Nay! Look at him!” “That hair… those eyes… that face…” “…no foster son could that be!” “…surely he is trueborn.” “Impossible!” “How can it be?” “Was he not born in Beleriand?” “Were Amárië and Findaráto not sundered by the great sea?”
And over the months and years that were to come, Finrod and Amárië would hold true to their words. No public declarations would there be, and no explanations. Their affection for their son, transparent and true, was evident to all, and many would sigh at how it warmed the heart. And in the marketplaces and the winehouses the whispers and gossip would shape themselves into a myriad forms, each version more fantastic than the last. Bards sang their ballads, and storytellers wove their tales, till if the truth were told at last none would have believed it.
…then Finrod carved a statue of his beloved in Minas Tirith. And lo! Aulë blessed it. And each night did cold marble became warm flesh, and Amárië descended from her pedestal to be with him...
…then did Amárië the Faithful brave the Grinding Ice, and after unspeakable hardships attain the far shore. But so changed in appearance was she, that none save her true love knew her. Her face was thin and pale, and her hair turned white as snow…
…long days wept sweet Amárië before the throne of Manwë till her tears flowed as blood… and great pity did the Elder King have upon her at last, and his eagle flew her across Belegaer…
…then Irmo brought her nightly to her love, in dreams that grew ever more vivid and real, till at last the lovers held each other truly as flesh and blood…
… ‘This boon shall I grant thee,’ said the Elder King. ‘But should any save he lay eyes upon thee in the Hither Lands, then will the spell will be shattered, and thou borne on the winds back to Aman.’ Thus in the years when the sun was young did the lovers wander the wild lands in great joy, the stars their roof and their home the forests wild…
… And in the wild she bore him a child full fair and golden, in the days ere Nargothrond was even a thought. But then, alas…
Turukáno came upon her unawares…
… then Artanis, astonished, beheld her friend…
… shattered was the spell, and Findaráto watched, as his love dissolved into air like a vapour or a dream…
… ah woe! for they were sundered, and Amárië lost, as the cruel orcs descended upon them…
… sudden there arose a great storm and she was lost…
… there descended a nauro upon her when she was alone…
…and with her last breath, Amárië spoke his name…
…long years he sought her in the wilderness…
… then grieved Findaráto exceedingly, and lost himself in the delving of Nargothrond… and his son he sought long in the wilds… but of the babe found no trace…
… and Felagund vowed never to take wife…
… to his wonder the shepherd did see, a newborn babe lying next to the lambs…
… the Nando hastened to where he thought faery gold lay thither in shady grove…
… but no gold was it that lay lapped by the waves, but hair like Anar on a tiny head…
… swaddled in linen of Valinor…
… hastened they to Vinyamar that stood by the shore, and with great stealth left the babe upon the step…
… and the princess found and claimed him as her own…
Thus it would persist for a season or two. Glorfindel would be appalled, and Maeglin amused, but Finrod and Amárië would pay the bards and balladeers no heed. In this strange fashion would the honour of Elmo’s House be upheld, and Amárië, all unknowing, clothed with the romance of a folk heroine.
And in this way would the secret shame of Rílel remain hidden, as she pondered her deeds long in the shadows of Mandos, and dreamed of her golden son.
It was a peaceful journey through the forest. The horses did not bother him, nor the maiar of the forest who muttered in the wind around him and sighed in the grasses and leaves.
Solitude had eased him, once upon a time. And solitary he had once been, for a long age of starlight and shadow, his small tribe leaving their grim lord be, save when he needed serving, and knowing to keep silence in his presence.
He remembered with resentment the rising of the moon and sun, the noise, the glare of their presence invading his sanctuary. With chants of wild magic he had raised and grown the forest—taller, closer, thicker, till the hated intruders of light were shut out. The hated strangers of the many-pointed star stayed away from the dense woods whose shadows whispered dark curses and threatened to swallow them and their steeds.
Then life had gone on.
Till she came. Creature of the moon, white, white, white, shining too bright, molten silver eyes glittering with arrogance and scorn. Once she had slept away her first fatigue, she was life and constant motion, like the wind, or a stream burbling through the forest. And she was loud. Huntress? Hah. He had doubted at first she could ever keep silent enough not to chase away all her prey. Her voice was the bold, melodious ring of hammer on steel. And if, on the first day, she had seemed too fine and haughty—had wrinkled her delicate nose at his food, turned up her nose at the good clothes he supplied, pursed her lips at the way he ate—by that nightfall she had been hoarsely screaming his name as he bit on her white throat and white breast, her nails raking the bronzed skin of his back, white hips grinding against his in urgent need. And when he was done, with a wild, wicked glint in her eyes, the fine golodh princess had jerked his head back by his hair, and assaulted him with such enthusiasm that he needed her again.
When they had felt the cool, white little light come into being between them, they had grown still in their throes for a moment of shock and awe. And then, for the first time, their lips had met, in a kiss oddly clumsy yet tender.
For a brief season she learned silence of him, and he learned her laughter, and they walked beneath the stars at the eaves of his woods, at the boundary of both their worlds. Laying her slender hand contentedly in his broad, calloused one, she had turned her back on the open rolling lands; and he, turning his face upwards to the open sky, had seen only her white beauty in the dazzling orb of the hated moon.
But soon had come the end of peace. For, after her, the solitude that had once sustained him became a thing too empty and barren. And the ebb and flow of life about her, her insistent, incessant voice gave him no rest. The child had brought only chaos and strife. Growling, snarling at each other, they had descended into war and misery. And not between her white thighs nor alone in his forge did he ever find wholeness again.
And now, here he was, on the other side of death, in another forest. He no longer hated the sunlight, though he preferred to travel by night. And as he travelled, he wondered what he would find, what he dared hope for, at the tip of the starry butterfly’s wing.
One midnight, he heard voices in a clearing ahead, speaking in Sindarin.
“Why can he not a dragon be?” said a strange, raspy voice. “Big enough for one, he be.”
“Him a dragon? That’s silly,” said a child’s voice. “We can’t have a dragon that licks everyone and wags his tail. He’s my pony.”
Creeping nearer, he saw, standing on a fallen log, a tiny child of about five coranári. Her raven locks fell loose upon her shoulders, and her silver eyes sparkled in the forest gloom. Facing her on the log was a badger sitting on his hind legs, and next to the log sat a huge white puppy the size of a large sheep. This was a strange enough sight, but what made it even stranger was that the child and the badger had tufts of greenish-yellow moss sticking to their chins.
“Fine, fine, no dragon,” said the badger. “Lost, lost in an enchanted forest, we could be! And make wanderings.” A clump of moss fell off as he spoke. He picked it up and patted it back onto his furry chin.
“Ai, that’s boring,” said the tot. “We need a giant, or a troll. Or something to fight! I wish Ada was here.”
The puppy’s ears had pricked up. It turned towards the woods where Eöl was hidden, its tail wagging wildly.
“If your Daernaneth would return, Thuringwethil could she be. But why dwarves we? Why not elves?”
“Because I am an elf, Oryat!” she said impatiently, adjusting the moss on her chin. “So where is the sport in that? It would be like asking you to play a badger. Dwarves are fun.”
At this point, the puppy went bounding into the trees, barking wildly, and Eöl stepped out into the clearing, two horses following behind him.
“Gilroch! Asfaloth!” cried the tot, jumping down from the log. She scrutinized the stranger sharply, with narrowed eyes. “Who are you? Where are Ammë and Atto?”
“Your parents had to go somewhere, pen dithen,” said Eöl in a voice oddly gruff yet gentle.
“Where?” she demanded.
“Somewhere… north. They left on an eagle.”
The horses confirmed that with a nicker and a neigh.
“An eagle!” Her eyes widened and sparkled. “Could we fly on an eagle too?”
He frowned. “Elves are not made to fly.”
“Who are you anyway? You did not answer my question.”
“You ask too many questions. I knew your Naneth long ago.”
“Ohhh… what’s your name? I’m Glasseth.”
The corners of his mouth turned downwards. “Who gave you that name? Your father?”
“No! My brothers.”
“Hah. They know naught then. Your name should be Rain.”
For the first time she grinned. “That is truly my mother-name! Did she tell you?”
“No. Did your mother never warn you not to talk to strangers?”
“Yes. But Canyo here would tear anyone to tiny pieces if they hurt me.”
“Hrmph.” Eöl gazed sceptically down at the puppy, who had been sniffing him happily from head to foot, and had now flopped onto its back begging for a tummy scratch.
“And Oryat is a good fighter,” she added.
“Great fighter, me,” said the badger, baring his sharp teeth.
“I would trust my life to the badger and not the puppy if I were you, gwinig. What is that nad on your chin supposed to be?”
“They’re beards!” she said proudly, patting the bits of moss. A piece fell off. “Can you not tell? We are dwarves!”
“Beard of Taus! No self-respecting dwarf would be seen in those!” Eöl whipped out a knife from Gilroch’s pannier, and began to select and cut lichen and moss off the surrounding trees. In a moment, he had fashioned two long beards with loops, one for badger ears. He carefully looped the beards on the ears of the girl and the badger. Child and creature regarded each other with glee.
“I like you,” she declared to Eöl. “You make beautiful beards.”
“Your mother liked them too, when she was small.”
“You can be a troll,” she said magnanimously. “When the sun rises, you must turn to stone.”
“What if I do not want to be a troll?” he said, waggling ferocious eyebrows at the tot. “Why can I not be a dwarf as well?”
“You are too big to be a dwarf, silly,” she giggled, unfazed. “Ada is always happy to play the troll. He is a very convincing troll.” She had never seen one in her short life.
“I am sure he is.” Trolls were famed for stupidity.
“Can you roar and bellow as Ada does?”
Eöl gave a roar that made the child squeal with delight, and the badger bare his teeth and growl, and sent Canyo running about barking madly.
“Great Tulkas!!” cried a voice in the distance that made Eöl’s heart leap. “Alassë?? Alassë!!!”
And in a moment, a white horse burst into the clearing, mane and tail flying, and on his back, bow bent and arrow notched, was the White Lady of the Noldor.
Their eyes locked over the steady point of the arrow. Her breast was heaving as she looked at him.
“Haruni! My new friend made us beards!” the tot said happily in Quenya.
“Oh, Eru,” said Aredhel in Sindarin, lowering the bow. “What took you so long? Were you waiting for the Second Music?”
“You leave a baby alone in the care of a badger? What kind of grandmother are you?”
“She is no baby anymore, and this is no ordinary badger—” She dismounted.
“It is Maeglin all over again. How many times did you lose him in the forest?” Their faces were inches apart.
“She wasn’t lost! I knew exactly where she was. And I only lost him five times—”
And as her grandmother’s voice was cut off abruptly, Alassë’s eyes went wide as saucers. “Oooooh…”
“This way, this way,” rasped the badger, quickly pushing the tot out of the clearing, followed by Canyo and the three horses.
“Oryat, were they kissing?—” To the confused tot, it had looked as though each was eating the other’s face.
“Yes, yes. Your Daerada he be.”
“Daerada? The one Daernana was waiting for?”
“Yes, yes. This way. Over the stream.”
“What are those sounds? Are they all right?”
“Yes, yes. Very right.”
And Alassë realized she was looking up at the badger, and the next moment that he wasn’t a badger, but a tall, golden-eyed being. She saw long, flowing brown hair and tawny skin; broad muscled shoulders and chest; large, strong hands; and from his waist down, the powerful hind quarters of a stag.
“Where is Oryat?”
“I am Oryat. And Rusco. And Lapatte.” He shapeshifted quickly from badger to fox to rabbit and back to his maia form again. “My name, one of many—Kelvardil.”
“Why… why did you not tell me earlier?” she looked cross. “You could have played the troll!!”
“Troll I mislike,” he said with a twinkle in his golden eye, lifting and seating her on his shoulders, and beginning to run. “Now, we go home. Your home. At lake. We play what you choose. But my animal I choose. No troll, no.”
Asfaloth and the other two horses turned to give the clearing behind a last curious glance. Then they swiftly galloped after the maia towards the lake.
Maeglin buried her face in her daughter’s hair as she held her tight. “Ammë, I cannot breathe!” protested the child, her little arms wound around her mother’s neck.
“Atto’s turn, now!” Glorfindel sang out happily, swooping Alassë up into his arms.
As the laughter of father and child rang bright and melodious through the air, Maeglin turned her head and saw a tall yellow-eyed maia standing at the edge of the clearing. He raised a hand in salute before his form blurred into the shape of a bear and he lumbered into the forest.
As parents and child walked to their house on the lakeshore, a raven-haired couple sauntered out of the main door onto the porch as though they owned the place. They each had an arm wrapped tightly around each other’s waist, and on their faces were the brightest smiles Maeglin had ever seen them wear. Their once-son was unprepared for the tightness of tears that this sight suddenly brought to her throat.
“Pitya!” called Aredhel blithely, then switched to speaking in Sindarin. “We were beginning to worry. Another week and we would have ridden north to rescue you both!”
Maeglin doubted how much thought her parents had given to how she had been faring in Eldamar, given how contented they both looked. Fighting down her emotion at seeing them so happy, she said, “All has been well in our absence, I trust?”
“Ah, very well indeed,” said Aredhel, smothering a girlish laugh as Eöl gave her butt a furtive squeeze. Maeglin’s face darkened like one of Ossë’s sudden storms.
“I certainly hope the two of you have been behaving yourself before the child,” Maeglin growled in a low voice, using the Avarin dialect of Eöl’s tribe, a tongue she had not spoken since she had been a boy in Nan Elmoth. Glorfindel and Alassë were a distance away, running towards a small meadow where Asfaloth was grazing, Canyo prancing behind them. But Maeglin knew how clearly sound could carry here.
Aredhel glowed, not in the least irked, and continued to speak in Sindarin. “How did we raise such a prude? Of course we have! The maia Kelvardil watched over her with great care. Was Alcarinos as fair and bright as it is sung to be?”
“It is, indeed. The King hopes you will visit it soon.”
“And how fares my brother Turukáno?”
“You may see for yourself,” said a deep voice softly from behind a thick-growing stand of trees, and Turgon emerged, leading his horse. The tall, raven-haired Noldo looked deeply moved, the expression on his face warring between joy at the sight of his long-lost sister, and perturbation at the presence of the Avar who had slain her.
“Turno!” The soft expression on Aredhel’s face made her look like a young girl, even as a ferocious scowl spread across her husband’s face. For all their clashes of wills and her resentment of his over-protectiveness, Turgon was the brother headstrong Aredhel had most loved.
“Írissë!” Brother and sister ran to each other and hugged each other tightly. Watching them, Maeglin wondered, not for the first time, what it would have been like to have had a sibling. She had oft wondered, watching her sons grow up together. Would Lómion have been less of a loner? Would he have been less unhappy, with a sibling to confide in, to share the burdens and heartache of his parents’ constant strife? Would he still have obsessively channelled all his love and adoration to Idril, had a sibling been there to cushion the shock of grief at their parents’ double deaths in Gondolin, and if they had begun a new life there together?
At the rate her parents were going, she thought darkly, she might just have a sibling some time soon...
Turgon and Aredhel had finished their first greetings and exchanges, and the King of Alcarinos had turned his attention to his scowling law-brother. No eyes could grow as cold as those eyes of silver, thought Maeglin. But no eyes could look as murderous as the obsidian-black eyes of Eöl, who was staring daggers at his killer.
“An ill wind it is that brings this gorn-faced walking tree to my forest,” snarled Eöl. “I have a mind to repay the hospitality he once showed me.” The smith-lord’s hand moved slowly to the hilt of the long knife he wore at his belt.
“These woods are Oromë’s, Avar,” Turgon replied icily. “An edhel who presumes to claim any part of it is a fool. And what right to my hospitality did you have, savage? Trespasser into my realm! Brute murderer of my beloved sister!”
“Quiet! The both of you!” snapped Aredhel. “I love you both. And I will not have you at each other’s throats again.” She gazed at each of them in turn. “You. You brought a poisoned javelin, when you pursued me. You sought to slay my precious boy. And you. You disregarded my last wishes. You slew the man I love. And I forgave you both. I forgave all, in the Halls of Waiting. Forgive each other, for the love of Eru, or at the very least for the love of me. Resurrect not the grudges you laid down in Mandos.”
The Noldo and the Avar regarded each other with steely glares for a while. It was Turgon who dropped his gaze first, as he turned to speak to his sister in Quenya. “Arakáno is to be wed, Írissë, on the eve of Vana’s day—”
“Arno to be wed? At last!” exclaimed Aredhel, recalling a betrothal millennia ago in the time of the Trees.
“At last, indeed,” said Turgon, drily. No need to recount Argon’s dalliances. “Ammë and Atto long to see you, nésaya. You are dearly missed by all of us. And you have not yet even met Finno’s wife and son, or Itarillë’s son and grandchildren. Please, nésaya, come to Kortirion for the wedding. And as for… your… venno…” Turgon’s voice was coolly neutral, if not cordial, as he turned to speak in Sindarin to Eöl, who stood glowering by his wife with folded arms. “My revered father and mother, King Fingolfin and Queen Anairë, request the honour of your presence at the occasion of their youngest son’s wedding. You are the chosen of their daughter… and hence their kinsman...” He paused. “…And mine.”
Eöl locked eyes with Turgon for a long moment. Finally he spoke in his deep, gruff voice: “Son of Fingolfin, Íreth is free to go where she pleases. She may seek out her kin if she so desires. But I will not go to the cities of the golodhrim, whose swarming multitudes of people and their clamouring voices I abhor.” He paused. “Yet should Íreth’s kin seek her in this forest, they will find bread, meat and wine for them at my table.”
And Eöl, his face impassive, extended his hand. Turgon clasped it briefly. Then both men, relieved that that was over, turned to watch as Glorfindel came towards them with his daughter seated on his shoulders.
“Aranya, may I present to you my daughter, Artelissë Mirimë Alassë,” said Glorfindel with a beaming smile as he reached the group.
Alassë was looking a little worried that the Man in the Stone might leak her secret, but her face cleared when Turgon said gravely and with a small wink, “It is a pleasure to meet you, little lady.”
“Are you truly Atto’s King? The one who built Gondolin?” Alassë asked with sparkling eyes as they all walked together to the house.
“And is there a new Gondolin now?”
“Yes, there is. Your brothers are there now.”
“Can Ammë, Atto and I live there too?”
“If your mother wishes it,” said Turgon, looking meaningfully at Maeglin.
Some distance behind them, Eöl was muttering to Aredhel what a pity it was that their Maeglin will never be the smith she could have been as a man… and what a shame it was Maeglin did not have better taste in mates than a spindly flower girl no sensible Avar would have chosen… Glorfindel was trying to keep a straight face, and Maeglin was gritting her teeth.
“Please, please, Ammë, can we live in new Gondolin?”
“I second Alassë. New Gondolin is looking more attractive by the moment,” Glorfindel said teasingly to Maeglin’s mind. “So… shall we?”
“Not in a thousand years.”
Glorfindel eyes were twinkling. “So shall it be.”
Ánin apsene [Q] = forgive me
Anar síla lúmenn’ omentielvo [Q] – The sun shines on the hour of our meeting.
Falmar [Q] – sea-nymph
Glasseth [S] – Joy + eth [feminine name suffix]
Kelvardil [Q] – friend of animals, living creatures, fauna
Lapatte [Qenya] - rabbit
Nad [S] - thing
Nán alassea le-omentien [Q] – I am happy to meet you
Oryat [Qenya] – badger
Ranga [Q] – 3’2” or 96.5 cm
Rain [S] – free
Rusco [Q] - fox
Tarí [Q] – queen
Taus [Gnomish] - Aulë