Story Downloaded from Open Scrolls Archive (https://www.openscrolls.net)
Title: Gold Like Tears (#408)
Category: The Silmarillion
Description: Spanning three Ages, the story of an ill-starred golden bead as it passes from one hand to the next. 2004 Mithril Award Finalist for Best Story Centering on Elves.
Published: 22 Nov 2003
Updated: 12 Dec 2003
Warnings: violence, character death, much angst
Characters: Glorfindel; Elrond; Maglor; Elros; Gandalf; ori
Chapter 1 - Unnumbered Tears
Prologue: Unnumbered Tears
F.A. 471 – Gondolin
“Look now what I have, toronya,” said Nárello. Taking a pouch from his outer tunic, he opened the drawstring and carefully tipped the contents into his palm. “The jewelers delivered it just this morning.”
Erunámo set aside the book he had been reading and looked at the mass of beads in his older brother’s hand. Each was wrought in the shape of a golden flower and pierced through so it might be strung onto a chain or woven into a braid of hair, which was no doubt what Nárello intended to do with them. “So many beads and baubles you wear already, brother. I am surprised you did not have them fitted with tiny bells.”
Glowering, the lord of the Golden Flower poured them back into the pouch and pulled the drawstring closed. “I had intended to give you half, laurë findo, but since you are such an impudent pup—”
“Oh, you are a fine one to talk!” laughed Erunámo. “How many are there? Thirty, or perhaps forty? If you are not wearing all of them when you court the lady Idril, you will be so discontent you will strike a wrong note on the lute or forget the poem you composed for her, though for my part I would have forgotten anyway with the Lord Maeglin glaring at me so.”
Nárello blushed at being teased so for his interest in the King’s daughter, but quickly recovered his composure. “Even though you are insufferable, still I will give you half the ornaments, as I had them made for a special occasion. Remember you the Orcs that tried to scout out the Hidden Way last season?”
“Aye, but you and your warriors hunted them down and slew them,” said Erunámo. “And it is certainly not the first time you have taken down a party of such creatures.”
“’Tis true, but when we searched their corpses to see what tokens we might find, we found some spoils. Much of it was rubbish, foul things such as the creatures of the Shadow hoard, but some had gold upon them. Crude ornaments bearing the device of the Enemy, yet nothing that could not be melted down and made into something more beautiful,” answered Nárello.
Erunámo did not think much of the taking of spoils. Though he knew it was done sometimes by the warriors who patrolled the Echoriath, he had thought his brother above that. His heart told him to refuse the gift, for there seemed to be some dark taint in the gold as it rested in Nárello’s hand. Nay, it is only some squeamish fancy. Had he not told me where he had gotten it, I would not have seen anything amiss.
“Forty-eight there are,” Nárello continued. “You shall have twenty-four of them to do with as you like, but mine I shall wear for the King’s feast the night before we join our force to that of Fingon and march on Angband. Perhaps I shall wear it for the battle itself, to remind myself that that which is foul need not remain so.”
The passion in his voice and the glitter of his eyes told Erunámo that he was speaking in broader terms now, of the lands that had once been theirs that had fallen to the desolation and horror of the Enemy. It had ever been a dream of theirs to return to Vinyamar by the sea where they had spent their childhood, to leave behind the confining walls and fearful vigilance and go back to what was the closest thing to Valinor that remained to them.
“Aye,” Erunámo murmured, following his brother’s hand as Nárello drew out the beads and began to count them out. “I would see that.”
* * *
The violence of the Balrog’s blow wrenched the helm from his head and sent it spinning. Nárello’s hair whipped free, blowing in his face as he raised his arm to shield himself from the second blow.
A half-second later he realized his hair was ablaze. He writhed and twisted in the saddle, spilling from the destrier’s back into a ditch already heaped with corpses and the broken fragments of a catapult. Mailed hands clawed at his head, trying to smother the flames; he pulled away handfuls of blackened hair and melting gold, even as his skin blistered and broke and his scream was stifled by the acrid stench of burning flesh.
He heard his mount shriek above him; the sound was swallowed by the Balrog’s roar and the crack of its flaming whip. Superheated air burned his lungs; he could no longer scream, but whimpered as the third and last blow smote him into the earth.
* * *
toronya: (Quenya) my brother
laurë findo: (Quenya) golden hair[ed one]
Chapter 2 - Steward
F.A. 510 – Gondolin
“Here, Erunámo.” Glorfindel bit his lip at the sound of his his father-name as Ondollo arranged the gold-shot silk summer mantle about his shoulders. Still, he did not correct the steward, for Ondollo always pretended to be hard of hearing when his lord reminded him of his chosen epessë.
Ondollo came around to his front and fastened the dark green mantle with a brooch in the shape of a golden flower. Glorfindel’s eyes flickered to the mirror; as he turned his head, he saw more golden flowers, tiny beads threaded through his hair, glittering among his braids. He frowned at the sight of them. Forty-eight such beads there had been. Twelve had been lost with Nárello when the Balrog’s flame took him at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and the remaining thirty-six felt like weights in Glorfindel’s hair.
Why in Arda did you have to choose these? Ondollo must have forgotten that his lord did not like those particular beads, and Glorfindel had not noticed until it was too late. To remove them from his hair and replace them with other ornaments would take hours, and the feast of Tarnin Austa would not wait for the idiosyncrasies of the lord of the Golden Flower.
“You are not wroth with me for choosing these, are you, herunya?” asked the steward. “They were Nárello’s favorite, I know, but he gave them to you and they are so fair, you should not lock them away with his other treasures.”
Glorfindel never told him of the ill he saw in those little gold flowers, for it was something he could neither define nor articulate. “Other ornaments I have in plenty, as you always insist on adding more to my wardrobe than is needful,” he replied. “I will wear these for the Gates of Summer, for there is not time to change them, but when I return I do not wish to see them again.”
* * *
The rag Ondollo used to dab the blood from the Orc scratch on Glorfindel's cheek was none too clean, but his touch was gentle, and the coolness was welcome after the stifling air of Idril’s passage. A hand carefully brushed Glorfindel’s hair back from his face, fingers combing through the tangled strands.
Such tenderness after the day and night of terror seemed out of place, but Glorfindel closed his eyes and accepted the touch; it was a luxury he had not thought to know again. All had been fire and blood and noise, and the only hands that had touched him in the last thirty-six hours had been rough, many of them the clawed appendages of Orcs or other foul creatures that clutched at him and tried to drag him down in the streets of Gondolin.
He winced as Ondollo’s fingers suddenly found a knot. “Ai, look, Erunámo,” murmured the steward. Glorfindel gritted his teeth as his scalp was pulled. Opening his eyes, he looked wearily at the speck of metal glimmering in the steward’s palm. Even in the moonlight, he recognized the flower-shaped golden bead.
Putting his hand to his hair, he felt more beads, snarled among his tangled braids, and he remembered how Ondollo had woven Nárello’s golden flowers into his hair for the festival. It has not even been two days and yet it seems so long ago.
Later, when they had escaped the vale of Tumladen, he would give the gold to Tuor. No doubt they would need whatever treasures could be had to purchase food and other necessities. Nárello would not have minded, he thought. If I were not so weary, I would tear these things from my hair now and go find the lady Idril. I do not desire to see them again.
Glorfindel let his shoulders slump as he laid his head upon the steward’s shoulder. He should be vigilant, he knew, for they were still too close to the city, but whatever haven Tuor and Idril planned to seek, a long march lay ahead of them. There would be precious little time for rest.
* * *
In the Balrog’s heat, the gold ignited and ran, thirty-five tiny flares quickly swallowed by the darkness of Cirith Thoronath. Thirty-five fireflies that sputtered in the burning mass of Glorfindel’s hair and were extinguished as both bodies crashed onto the rocks of Thorn Sir and were swallowed by the churning water.
* * *
The body Thorondor brought up from the depths of Thorn Sir did not resemble the Glorfindel they had known; it hung like a blackened rag from the Eagle’s claws as he set it down on the plain. Tuor and Egalmoth took charge of the corpse, while Voronwë set guards about their temporary camp.
There was no time to dig a proper grave. There was really no time for a funeral at all, for although the Eagles had driven off the Orcs and the Balrog who assailed them in the pass of Cirith Thoronath was dead, the survivors of Gondolin feared to linger too long in one place. But it did not seem right to leave Glorfindel’s body as they had left those who had frozen to death on the path to Cirith Thoronath or fell during the ambush.
A cairn was built over the body, at the very mouth of the pass where the Eagles might watch over it. Voronwë and Galdor, whose voices were the clearest and steadiest, sang a mournful dirge, then it was time to move on.
As the company began to move in ragged lines down from the hills, one of the rear guards noticed that one was not moving. He sent word to Tuor, who returned to the rear to see what the trouble was.
At the foot of the cairn he found a lone figure clad in mail and the tatters of a surcoat in the colors of the Golden Flower. On his upper arm was a badge of a steward. Tuor had seen him before, always at Glorfindel’s right hand, but could not recall his name. Now the steward was weeping into one hand while the other clutched something to his heart.
“What do you have there, herendur?” Setting his great axe Dramborleg upright on the ground against him, Tuor took the steward’s fist in both hands and pried it open. “Easy, nildo. I will not take it from you.”
A single gold bead shaped like a flower rested in the steward’s palm. Gold, he thought. We will need it, though I told him I would not take it and I am reluctant to part him from something he obviously holds so dear.
Then he noticed that running through the hole, snagged by dried blood and a tiny imperfection in the gold, were several strands of golden hair. And he knew that he was looking upon all that remained of Glorfindel’s hair; the corpse Thorondor bore up from the chasm had had none.
This I cannot take. It is all he has left of his lord, he realized. Behind him, he sensed his wife moving toward them. Idril peered at the ornament, then exchanged a look with her husband.
“Speak gently now, my husband.” She took the steward’s hand and gently closed his fingers around his prize. “You are a faithful servant, but it is time now to go,” she murmured. “Come with us, Ondollo. We cannot tarry, and the survivors of the Golden Flower have much need of you.”
The steward hesitated, then laid his head upon the lady’s shoulder. “Erunámo,” he sobbed into her mantle. “Pitya laurëalótënya.”
* * *
epessë: (Quenya) a personal or use-name, usually chosen by the individual.
herunya: (Quenya) my lord
herendur: (Quenya) steward to a lord
nildo: (Quenya) friend
pitya laurëalótënya: (Quenya) my little golden flower
Chapter 3 - Sirion
F.A. 538 – The Havens of Sirion
The shouts and screams had begun to recede behind him, but still Ondollo did not stop. He could not stop, for though his forehead throbbed from the sword cut that had nearly sheared off his scalp and his arms ached under the double weight of Elwing’s two sons, he kept running.
Frightened by the commotion and sobbing for their mother, Elrond and Elros clung to him. He did not stop even to untangle Elros’ fist from his hair, but gritted his teeth against the pain of having his scalp pulled and sped across the sand. Once they reached the safety of the caves, he could set the twins down and soothe their tears.
Elwing had flung herself from the window into the sea. Ondollo had not seen it, for once the lady shoved her sons into his arms and screamed at him to run, he had gone. But he heard the shouts from above as he fled the house with Elrond and Elros, and wondered if the boys had also heard. There was no time to ask them, no time for comfort, not with the followers of the sons of Fëanor on their heels.
Down the beach he went, struggling to maintain his grasp on both boys as he tried to remember where the caves were. Long ago, when Tuor and Idril were newly arrived with the refugees of Gondolin, their young son Eärendil had fallen in love with the seashore and spent his days either among the shipwrights who came to Sirion from the isle of Balar or exploring the beach and cliffs beyond. It fell to Ondollo, whom Tuor had taken into his House with the other leaderless remnants of the Golden Flower, to make certain the boy came to no harm.
When Eärendil returns from the sea and finds his home destroyed, there must be some comfort for him. The cliffs and their pockmarked caves were close. Eärendil said that several had fresh water springs and that there was plenty of food to be had among the tide pools. Círdan’s people taught him the ways of the Teleri, and much he knew of how they lived upon both sea and land.
I would I had paid more heed to what he said of such things. Ondollo gasped and nearly lost his balance as his foot slid over the damp rocks. He tightened his grip on the children and kept going, not even pausing to look back. They were on the beach now, the warriors of the sons of Fëanor, randomly cutting down those who tried to run for the docks. Why are they killing us, why do they not stop? The lady took the Silmaril with her into the sea.
An opening appeared in the gray cliffside, a narrow gap just wide enough for him to crawl through. Inside it was dark and damp, the air cold from the water dripping down from the ceiling. Elrond and Elros were warmly dressed, but when night came and the fog rolled in over the havens even the layers of wool and fur in which their mother bundled them would not keep the chill away. Ondollo knew he might find driftwood on the beach with which to build a fire, but dared not risk having someone see the smoke and so discover them.
In the flight from Gondolin, Tuor had also forbidden campfires. As they passed under the eaves of Doriath, some of the Sindar among the company showed them where to find absorbent mosses that would keep away all moisture and keep them warm. Many stuffed it into the soles of shoes torn during the march, or into clothing to ward off the night chill. Here there are no trees where such mosses grow, thought Ondollo, but if I could find something like to that, I could keep them warm.
Shifting each twin carefully in his arms, he set them down in the driest corner of the cave he could find. “Quildë hini,” he whispered. “You are safe. All will be well.”
Elrond dried his eyes with the back of a grubby fist and looked quietly at the steward. But Elros kept sobbing for his mother; the sound might be lost in the crashing of the surf outside or it might carry and betray them. Ondollo tried again to hush the child, to no avail.
They will find us here, little one. Ai, please be silent. If only he had remembered to take one of the children’s toys when they fled, but amusing them had been the last thing on his mind. Something to distract him, something….
Fumbling at his collar, he felt the golden bead he wore upon a slender chain. The twins had clutched and murmured at the golden flower many times. He undid the clasp with trembling fingers and bent to fasten it around Elros’ neck. “Look, hína,” he cooed, “look at the pretty golden flower.”
Elros followed the bead with enraptured eyes, and his sobs subsided to the occasional hiccup. Ondollo watched him study the bead on its chain and coo over it, then winked at Elrond, who just noticed his brother had been given something and he had not.
“Not to worry, pityawë. We will find you something just as pretty.” A shell from the beach would satisfy him; he already had a great many such shells in the nursery he shared with Elros, and their mother told him that if he listened long enough he would hear his father’s voice. “As soon as it is safe, I will go get—”
Angry voices reached him from outside, startling the twins. Ondollo quickly shushed them, admonishing them to be silent else they would be discovered.
“…came this way…had the lady’s two brats with him.”
“Bring them out.”
They were coming. Ondollo heard the scrape of their boots against the rock. “Quickly, hini,” he told the twins, gently but firmly pushing them away, “go to the back of the cave and hide. I will make them go away.”
He waited a moment to make certain they would do as they were told, then slowly drew the sword at his belt and turned toward the mouth of the cave.
He emerged full in the face of a red-haired Elf who flinched in surprise, eyes widening and emptying as Ondollo jammed the sword into his throat above his mail. A howl of rage erupted from the throat of the Elf behind him as he fell and Ondollo saw him plunge forward with a sword faster than he could raise his own weapon to parry the blow.
The angry howl turned to blinding pain as the blade bit into his shoulder, shattering his collarbone on its downward sweep into his torso. Warm blood filled his mouth, spewing out onto the sand as he gasped and fell.
* * *
Once again, Maedhros kicked the corpse by the entrance, earning him an angry look from his brother.
“Leave him be, Maitimo,” snapped Maglor. “You need not have struck him so hard.”
Maedhros glared at him. “He killed Amras!” Their brother’s body lay under a cloak inside the cave. Later he would be buried on the beach with his twin, who had fallen fighting Egalmoth at the doors of Elwing’s house. As for the one who had killed him, his body lay sprawled in the pool of blood that soaked the entrance.
“He was defending the children,” said Maglor, looking at the dark-haired twins who huddled fearfully in a corner of the cave. “No doubt here they all know the tale of Elúred and Elúrin.”
“Do not throw that in my face, toronya. That deed belonged to Celegorm’s servants. I did what I could to save them.”
Many times before had they had this argument and Maglor was as weary of it as his elder brother. “You did not have to cut him in two. Look now, the children are frightened, perhaps thinking we will do the same to them.” Shedding his cloak and laying his sword aside, carefully so they would see he was unarmed, he beckoned to them.
They only stared back at them with wide, dark eyes, refusing to move. He sighed, casting about for something that would soothe their fears. At last, in his belt pouch, he found his flute. Lifting it to his lips, he winked at them and played a merry chord.
After a few moments, the music worked its soothing magic. The twins became less guarded, watching the dark-haired Elf and his flute with rapt eyes. Maglor finished the tune, then slowly lowered the flute and beckoned to them. If only Maitimo does not ruin this moment with his temper. “Come, little ones,” he said softly. “I know your names are Elrond and Elros, but you are so alike I cannot tell you apart.”
The one with the solemn face was Elrond, while the one who was toying with the golden bead on a chain around his neck was Elros. Carefully Maglor lifted one and then the other upon his knee. “That is a lovely thing you have there, pen-neth,” he commented.
Elros clutched it to him with a proprietary look. “’s mine,” he announced.
“Why, of course it is, hína,” said Maglor. “I will not take it from you.” If anything, it would help him tell one twin from another.
“’Dollo said he would find me a shell,” Elrond said quietly, “but he didn’t.”
Maglor wondered if he was referring to the one whose corpse lay by the door. Turning slightly, he gestured to Maedhros to cover the body before the children saw it. “I saw a great many shells on the beach,” he told Elrond. “When the rain stops, we shall go outside and find you one. But here, you are cold. If my brother has any sense, he will stop brooding and either build a fire or find something to keep us all warm.”
His back was to Maedhros, but he could sense his elder brother glaring at him; the twins gave him a single apprehensive glance then looked away. “That is Maitimo,” he told them, “who we sometimes call Maedhros. Do not let his dark moods frighten you. He is gentle enough, but he is unhappy now because our brothers are dead.”
“Naneth is dead,” Elrond said solemnly.
At that moment, one of his brother’s captains chose to come stomping in out of the rain, shoving before him another Elf whose hands were bound behind his back. Picking himself up off his knees, he saw the corpse under the bloodstained cloak and spat at Maedhros, who stood closest. “Kinslayer,” he hissed. And then, seeing Maglor with the children on his lap, his expression became one of outrage and alarm. “Leave them be!”
A short, sharp slap across the face silenced him. Maedhros might have done more, for the insult was enough to ignite his temper, but Maglor silenced him with a word. “Maitimo, go and sit somewhere until you are calm again. Erundil will see to it your prisoner does not go anywhere.”
He waited until Maedhros stalked off to a distant corner of the cave before addressing the captive. “The lady’s children are quite safe. I have taken them under my protection and no harm will come to them.”
“And what of the children your people slew as they hid from you or tried to flee?” the prisoner hissed. “Will you take them under your protection, too?” A sharp nudge from Erundil silenced his sarcasm, but he was not yet finished. Glancing back toward the doorway, he gestured toward the corpse with a lift of his chin. “Did you have to kill him? He was a good and loyal servant to our lord.”
“He served Eärendil?” asked Maglor. He had not noticed any badge upon the corpse’s arm.
The look the prisoner gave him was one of utter contempt. “Nay, not Eärendil,” he snarled. “Glorfindel.”
* * *
Quildë hini: (Quenya) Hush, children.
hína: (Quenya) child
pityawë: (Quenya) little one
Elúred and Elúrin: the sons of Dior, Elwing’s brothers, who were taken into the woods of Doriath by Celegorm’s cruel servants and left to die. Afterwards, Maedhros, repenting of that deed, searched the forest for them in vain.
In The Book of Lost Tales II Tolkien notes that Egalmoth, one of only three captains of Gondolin to survive the ruin of that city, was killed defending Sirion.
Chapter 4 - Twins
F.A. 597 – The shores of Beleriand
Standing on the beach, Elros looked out over the waves to the far horizon. He ignored Elrond’s call to join him in their tent, needing this night to be alone and think.
After the battle, the Maia Eonwë had come to them and instructed them to choose their fates. Elros knew where his brother’s choice would fall, for each twin knew the mind of the other. But now Elros desired something for himself alone, something not tainted with the weariness of the Firstborn.
His fingers sought the bead on its chain around his neck; he absently stroked the planes of the gold flower, as he always did when lost in thought. If only I did not have to choose. I know where my own heart lies, but to have to speak it aloud, to tell the world I desire a fate other than my brother’s…. I have no wish to cause him pain, and yet I cannot follow his lead merely to spare him grief.
Gazing up at the stars, he remembered where Eärendil’s heart had lain. When the fighting was finished, he and Elrond were permitted a brief visit with their father, but the reunion was bittersweet. Their memories of Eärendil were faint, for he had been away at sea through much of their infancy, and the figure who approached them coated in diamond dust with a white gem glimmering upon his brow was a stranger.
When their father held out his arms, Elros joined Elrond in an embrace, but even as Eärendil stroked his hair Elros reflected how his touch did not feel like Maglor’s. His arms were not warm or sheltering, but stiff and cold from countless nights spent sailing the Void. It was like embracing the moon.
On their return, Elrond and Elros learned their foster-father had attempted to take one of the Silmarils recovered from Melkor’s iron crown. In colorless tones, Eonwë told the twins how Maedhros and Maglor crept into the tent where the jewels were kept and each seized one for himself.
“Things so hallowed will not bear the touch of one so stained,” said the Maia. “The sons of Fëanor were told that their Oath was void and the Silmarils no longer their birthright. Yet they seized them and were burnt by them and have fled with their burdens into the darkness.”
Both brothers were appalled at the lack of emotion in Eonwë’s voice, even when the Maia explained that as the bearer of tidings it was not his place to feel. They could expect no pity from him, even when word came of the fate of the Silmarils and the two who had taken them. Elros was not surprised to learn Maedhros had cast himself into a burning chasm, for he had ever been hard and distant, and his end seemed to fit his temperament. But when Elrond told him how Maglor flung his jewel into the Sea and then fled half-mad into the wilderness, they both wept bitterly.
Eonwë came to them that same evening and told them they must choose, and there was no compassion in his announcement. “For as pereldar you have walked in both worlds, between both kindreds, yet that time is come now to an end. Now you must choose, each of you, whether you will be counted among the Eldar, the Firstborn of Arda, or among Men and become mortal.”
Elros clutched the golden jewel at his throat, the last shred of his childhood remaining to him, as if to draw strength from it. Already a messenger had come to Elrond from Ereinion Gil-galad. Elrond did not show Elros the missive, but it was clear he had been offered a place in the High King’s household.
“Something will come for you, gwanunig-nín,” he told Elros, “either from Gil-galad or one of the other great lords. You fought bravely against the Enemy; I have heard many say so.”
“You say that only to spare my feelings,” Elros said sourly.
“Nay, it is truly so. The High King praised your courage, and Lord Círdan and many among the mortals who fought with us. The Edain especially hold great love for you,” answered Elrond. “As for myself, I know not what Gil-galad sees in me. You have always been the brave one. He should make you one of his captains, muindor. I will ask--”
“I do not need your charity. I do not want it!” Elros did not wait for his brother’s answer before storming from the tent. Tears brimmed hotly in his eyes as he moved past the other tents, past Elves and mortals who paused to watch him fly past. Nay, I will not cry, I will not let them see my anguish. He bit back his tears until he was on the beach and alone.
A high tide lapped at the rocks and a wind had come up from the west. Perhaps a storm would blow in before morning, one of many predicted to come. Beleriand had been broken and ruined in the war, and would soon be reclaimed by the sea. One day soon, the land where Elros now stood would lie under the waves, and Beleriand would be but a memory.
Even the land deserts me, he thought. The cold wind stung the tears on his cheeks. First ada and naneth and now Maglor and Elrond have left me in their turn. There is no place for me among them. He clutched the golden bead, absently running his fingers along the planes of the flower carved into it.
“A rather brisk evening to be walking the beach alone, is it not, pen-neth?” asked a voice.
Hearing that voice, roughened by centuries of toil in wind and wave, Elros did not need to look to know who had followed him. “I am well above the tide, Lord Círdan,” he said.
The silver-haired Teleri smiled, wrapping his cloak about him as he lightly stepped up to stand beside Elros. “You have your father’s instincts when it comes to the sea. I did not have to repeat myself with him, save when it came to the making of ships. Many tries it took to craft the perfection that is Vingilot.”
Without taking his eyes off the horizon, Elros asked, “Why did you follow me? Surely it was not to discuss shipbuilding?”
The Shipwright did not answer immediately, but looked on him with quiet eyes. Finally, he said, “You are angry, Elros.”
Elros pursed his lips into a tight line. “I hate it that this choice falls to me. I know where my brother would have me choose, yet I cannot set aside the pull of my own heart merely to please him.”
Círdan nodded. “Perhaps you do not know this, but your father strongly felt the pulse of Men. It was only for the sake of your mother and the will of the Valar that Eärendil chose to be numbered among the Firstborn. He did not tell you this when you saw him?”
Of what had passed between him and the Valar in the Undying Lands, Eärendil said nothing. Perhaps it was forbidden for him to speak of it. Elros did not know.
After a moment, Círdan continued, “I have been told the Valar have raised a new land from the sea as a gift to those mortals who aided us in the War of Wrath. It is far from these shores. They will have much need of ships, and strong men to lead them, I think.”
For a long time Elros was silent, mulling this new knowledge over in his mind. Then, slowly, he met Círdan’s eyes and smiled.
* * *
“Nay, you cannot do this!” cried Elrond.
Elros looked at him, his calm, rehearsed tone warring with the pain he felt within. “I have already done it, gwanunig-nín. I cannot take back my choice.”
“Have you not marked what it is to be mortal?” Tears were now spilling from Elrond’s eyes. “You will grow old and feeble and die.”
“That is not quite true. Eonwë has told me that long life will be granted me, and that I may give back the gift at will and not have it taken perforce as with other mortals.”
“But you will die!” Elrond’s voice broke on the last word and he pressed his face into his hands, sobbing.
Elros nodded. “Aye, I will be released from the bonds of Arda,” he said calmly, “and be free of the weariness and fading of the Firstborn. I do not look upon that as an ill thing.”
Elrond wiped away his tears long enough to answer. “Had you not thought what pain it would bring me to watch you die, whatever soothing words you may put upon the act?”
“I am not staying here, muindor.” He did not wait for Elrond’s reaction before continuing, “Eonwë and Círdan have told me of a new land raised in the midst of the sea for the Men who aided the Firstborn in the war and whose homes will now be lost under the waves. Strong men will be needed to guide and lead them in this time of upheaval.”
“And what do you know of the sea? A fool you are to think you can guide anyone. You will be sick the first time you step onto a boat, and as for steering-- Nay, you are not Father to put your hand to a rudder with any such skill, and the sea has become so rough these days you will be lost before you ever lose sight of these shores.”
“Círdan is sending his own ships and mariners with us, and you yourself have said how the Edain looked to my leadership during the war. I have taken those words to heart, and now they shall look to me again, as one of them.” He saw Elrond shake his head, lips parted to argue, but there was no use in it. His choice had been made, with Eru as his witness. He could not reclaim what he had already given away. “I have sent word ahead that I will be joining them in the morning.”
Elrond stared at him, stricken. “So soon, muindor?”
“There is much to be done, and I think it is best that I do not linger here too long.”
Neither of them slept much that night, but lay awake in the shadows, Elros staring at the wall of his tent, feeling his brother’s eyes on his back. When morning came, filling the tent with thin gray light, he got up, quietly and stiffly making his preparations. It was more difficult than he thought it would be. It is well that I am going today and not lingering, though I do not wish to part from him on ill terms. It may well be the last time we ever see each other.
On the threshold of the tent, Elros paused, then stopped and set his pack at his feet so he could reach into his tunic for the thin golden chain that rested there. He undid the clasp with fingers that did not want to work, while Elrond watched and wondered what he was doing.
At last, the clasp came free and Elros pulled the chain and its pendant bead from his throat, spilling them into Elrond’s hand. “Take it,” he said.
“This is yours. You have always worn it,” Elrond whispered harshly. “I cannot take it.”
He started to refuse it, to hand it back, but Elros sealed his fingers around the gold with his own hand. “You will take it, gwanunig-nín,” said Elros. “I do not know if we will ever see each other again, if I will ever return to these shores or if you will ever come to see me in this new land. Perhaps this is the end. I know not, but let this be the one thing of me that stays with you when I become but a memory.”
He bent and lifted his pack, turning his steps toward the headland where the Edain made their camp. Though his heart tugged at him, Elros did not dare venture a last, backward glance at his brother. If he had, he would have seen his own mirror image standing at the tent flap, gray in the morning fog, clutching a golden bead to his lips and weeping anguished tears.
* * *
pereldar: (Quenya) half-Elven
gwanunig-nín: (Sindarin) my twin
muindor: (Sindarin) brother
pen-neth: (Sindarin) young one
The new land to which Círdan and then Elros refer is Andor, the Land of Gift, later known as Númenor.
Chapter 5 - Matrimonial
T.A. 109 – Lothlórien
“I do not think I have ever been so nervous, gwador,” said Elrond. “I almost wish myself back upon the plain of Dagorlad, with a thousand screaming Orcs bearing down upon me.”
Glorfindel smiled at the sight of the lord of Imladris fussing before the full-length mirror. “On the day of his wedding, your grandsire Tuor trembled like a maiden, even after he lost his breakfast in the privy. If you do the same, you will be in good company.”
“I do not have enough in my belly to even make that a possibility. I cannot eat a bite,” Elrond admitted.
“I knew that when I saw your breakfast tray was untouched. But still, you are trembling as badly as Tuor and you are not even about to face Turgon and the entire court of Gondolin, most of whom were whispering behind their hands that your grandmother could have done far better than to wed some rough mortal.”
Elrond paused and turned around. “They did not truly say that, did they?”
“You forget that I was there, gwador,” said Glorfindel. “I did not forget everything when I came out of Mandos.”
The peredhel’s hands nervously smoothed the front of his robe, toying with the tiny closures. His servants had dressed him in silver brocade, with tight-fitting sleeves. A dark blue velvet robe was draped over it, clasped with a brooch bearing the device of the Star of Eärendil. “Was he truly so ferocious, my great-grandsire?”
“I will say only that Turgon was not pleasant when he was displeased,” Glorfindel replied, “but what you truly mean to ask, I think, is if Celeborn and Galadriel will give you the same cold reception as your great-grandsire gave Tuor. Did they not give you and Celebrían their blessing centuries ago? If they are displeased, it will only be because you waited so long to come and claim your bride.”
Abashed, Elrond stared at the floor of the talan where he and his captain had been lodged; if anything, the richness of the guest dwelling should have been indication enough that Celeborn and Galadriel approved. “It would not have been wise to marry in a time of war,” Elrond explained. He turned back to the mirror, fussing over a bit of imaginary lint. “But you are right. I should not be so nervous, and yet I am.”
“I would imagine it is only natural to feel thus on one’s wedding day.”
“Then you have never been married? Forgive my prying, gwador, but I have always been curious if you were not wed in your previous life. I did not ask, of course, because it would have been rude and--”
“Elrond, you are rambling,” Glorfindel said gently. When the peredhel was silent again, he continued. “The answer to your question is no, I have never been wed. I have always been solitary and my heart has never turned to another, but my brother, he was a different matter altogether. You should have seen him fawn and fuss over himself before he went to pay court to your grandmother. He was thoroughly insufferable.”
Elrond gave a short laugh and for a moment seemed to forget about his anxiety. “Your brother courted my grandmother?”
“Aye, and made a fool of himself in doing so, but then half the lords in Gondolin were smitten with the Lady Idril. It was Ecthelion who named her Celebrindal, did you know? In one of the many insipid songs he composed in her honor. Ah, but here, if you do not stop fidgeting with your hair you will undo hours of work.” Glorfindel came around and firmly pulled Elrond’s hand away from his braids, which were interwoven with dozens of silver beads that glittered like raindrops.
“I am sorry, gwador.” Elrond primly clasped his hands in front of him. “It has ever been a habit of mine when nervous.”
Glorfindel gave him a tolerant smile as he tucked an errant strand of dark hair behind an ear. “If I left you to your own devices, you would unravel yourself before the hour was out.” His fingers swept over the silver beads, smoothing them into place, and registering confusion when one bead seemed out of place. “What is this now? Do not tell me Mardil was one bead short when he did your hair.”
“What is that?” Elrond put a hand to his hair, peering into the mirror to see what Glorfindel saw. “Ah, I asked him to use this one. It was a gift to me from Elros, on the day he left me.”
Elrond did not often speak of Elros, or even Gil-galad these days; those whom he had loved and lost were carefully guarded memories, treasures he did not share with any. Glorfindel understood this, for he rarely mentioned Nárello, as if to do so was to give away what little of his brother he had left. But it did not seem strange to him that Elrond should wear small, personal tokens on his wedding day; the silver circlet that bound his brow had been a gift from the High King.
“I regret that I never met Elros,” said Glorfindel. “He must have been remarkable if he was your brother.”
“We were not alike,” answered Elrond, “for all that we were twins. Elros was far more adventuresome and restless than I. He certainly would not have waited centuries to wed his beloved.”
Glorfindel touched Elros’ bead, to better see what manner of gift Elrond’s twin had made him. His fingers brushed across the carved surface, turning it to look at the image, then frowned as it became disconcertingly familiar. A four-rayed golden flower set like a face in the heart of the gold. “Elrond, you say your brother gave this to you? Where did he get it?”
“He always had it, even as a child,” said Elrond. “Why do you ask? Your face is dark all of a sudden.”
“I have seen this thing before, gwador, in my last life. Was there someone who gave it to him?”
Elrond concentrated, lifting a hand to touch the bead before Glorfindel nudged it away. “There was a servant in Mother’s house. I remember, on the day the sons of Fëanor attacked, he fled with us. He carried us across the beach, and then there was a cave….” He frowned harder, visibly straining to pull the memory across the millennia. “Elros was crying, and we were being followed. The servant wore a bead on a chain; he gave it to Elros to stop his crying.”
“What was his name, this servant who carried you from Elwing’s house?”
“I do not remember, Glorfindel. Elros used to call him Dollo or Dorno, something like that, but it was surely a pet name. Why is it so important to you?”
“Ondollo,” breathed Glorfindel.
“That was his name?”
“He was my steward in Gondolin. This bead, it was part of a set my brother had made for us. I had forgotten that I wore them for the Gates of Summer, and that Ondollo pulled one of them from my hair after we escaped the city. What became of him, after he took you to the cave?” Glorfindel took a breath, knowing that most of the survivors of the Golden Flower stayed in Sirion with Tuor and then Eärendil, and perished in the sack of the Havens. Those who survived were taken in by the sons of Fëanor but died later, of hunger and cold in the wilderness or in skirmishes against the Enemy. He did not expect Elrond to give him good news.
Elrond looked at him. “I did not see what happened, but when the Fëanorians came he told us to go to the back of the cave. I think Maedhros cut him down. He and Maglor were arguing about it afterward, though I could not tell you what they said, only that Maglor was not pleased Maedhros had done it. Elros and I were very frightened; I am surprised I remember very much at all about that day.”
“But Ondollo saved you.” Glorfindel’s eyes moved from the bead to Elrond’s face. “That is something I would have expected him to do. He cared for me and Nárello when we were young, and when we left Valinor with Fingolfin’s host he carried me across the Helcaraxë; he was always protective of us, even when we were grown. I am not surprised he stayed with you, although I had hoped otherwise. Círdan once told me that some of the survivors of Gondolin went to the isle of Balar and thence to Valinor at the end of the First Age. I had long fancied that Ondollo might have been among them.”
“I am sorry, gwador.” Elrond put his hand to his hair, fumbling for the bead to pull it loose. “I did not know it was yours, though in hindsight perhaps I should have. A golden flower, how could it not belong to you? If you wish it, I will—”
“Nay, I do not ask for it. It was a gift to you from your brother and I would not take such a thing from you on your wedding day. Keep it or bestow it as you will, but such a token of sad times I do not wish to have returned to me.”
Elrond let his hand fall. “Are you certain?”
“You know me well enough to know I set no value upon gold or jewels, and there is to me a certain sadness in that gold. It was a gift to me from my brother, even as it was a gift to you from yours. I may yet see Nárello again in the Undying Lands, but Elros…. Nay, keep it and remember his love for you.”
* * *
The day had passed like a dream, an ephemeral haze through which Elrond moved and spoke. Or at least he thought he spoke. His voice seemed so distant to him it might have belonged to someone else. He scarcely remembered speaking the marriage vow, or what his bride’s parents might have said to him afterward. At the end of it, he recalled, Celeborn had drawn him aside with an understanding smile and suggested that he take his new wife to the bridal chamber.
Now, as he and Celebrían lay in a tangle of robes and sated limbs, Elrond felt reality come back to him. Or rather, he began to slide back into it, one kiss and caress at a time.
“I still cannot quite believe we are here,” he murmured into her hair.
Shifting in the bed, Celebrían gave him an impish grin. “So long did you wait I had begun to think you rather preferred to remain a bachelor.”
“Nay, say rather that I did not wish to be wed while Sauron’s evil still darkened this Middle-earth,” answered Elrond. “I think Ereinion was of the same mind, from the few times he mentioned marriage to me.”
“Think you he would have found a bride in this time of peace?”
“Perhaps,” he said. “I would like to think so.”
She took a strand of his hair and twined it in her fingers, a dreamy look upon her face. The silver beads had been removed, while an impatient Elrond fretted and threatened to go into the bridal chamber with his hair half-undone. “Let us not speak of such sad things on this day. Hmmm, it seems as if your servants missed a few beads, meldo. Were you so impatient then, that you could not wait?” She sat up and ran her hands through his hair. “Here, let me remove them before they become so snarled we have to cut them out. I should not like to have to take shears to this lovely hair of yours.”
Twining his fingers in her silver hair, he pulled her mouth down to his for a kiss. A moment later, he broke away as her fingers snagged a large tangle. “Ai! Must you be so cruel?”
She clucked under her tongue as she pulled one of the beads from his hair. He winced at the pulling of his scalp. “I think you would rather have me bald, lady.”
“Oh, do not be such a baby, meldo.” Celebrían looked at the bead between her fingers, holding it up to the candlelight. “This is a pretty thing, though it does not match your other ornaments.”
Pulling her hand to him, he saw she held the little golden flower. “Elros gave that to me. It is very old.”
“Is it?” she asked. “I did not know you had such mementoes of him.”
“There are other things, jewels and books he sent me from Númenor, but this he gave me the day we parted. It was the closest to his heart, and thus the most dear to me.”
Celebrían gazed down at him, studying him with eyes very much like her mother’s. “You miss him very much,” she said.
“I do not know why he left me,” Elrond replied. “I have told myself that it was in his nature to be restless, that he had more affinity with mortals than I, but I have never known if that was true. I have always thought that he was somehow angry with me, or that it is somehow my lot that all whom I love are fated to leave me.”
“Oh, now you are being silly.” She put a finger to his lips, bending down to kiss away his protests. He struggled for a moment, then grasped her shoulders and returned the kiss.
The bead rolled away into the bedclothes, forgotten among the rumpled sheets and discarded wedding clothes.
* * *
gwador: (Sindarin) friend, brother (as in associate)
meldo: (Quenya) lover
Chapter 6 - Bereavement
T.A. 2509 – Imladris
Elrond emerged from the room, looking tired and downcast. He took a moment to compose himself, then lifted his eyes to look at Glorfindel; he ignored the desperate eyes of his children, or rather, did not seem able to meet them.
“She is not well,” he whispered to Glorfindel. “I have done all that I can.”
All at once, Elrond’s sons and daughter clamored forward, only to find themselves physically held back by Glorfindel. “Leave your father alone, híni,” he told them. “He is weary and cannot answer your questions at this moment.”
Stung by the reprimand and alarmed by her father’s gray pallor, Arwen retreated, but her brothers angrily pressed forward, demanding to see their mother or at least be told something more of her condition than they had already heard.
“Hauta! U bedo,” snapped Glorfindel. “You were there when she was rescued, you know well enough that she has a broken arm and a wound to the shoulder—”
“And we know what manner of foul substances these creatures use on their weapons,” hissed Elrohir. His eyes darted to his father. “Is the wound poisoned?”
Laying his hand on Glorfindel’s shoulder, as much to steady himself as for comfort, Elrond nodded. “I have removed the poison,” he mumbled. “Beyond her wounds, she is cut and bruised, but no other harm was done to her.” He made a half-hearted dismissive gesture, but lacked the energy to enforce it.
Glorfindel noticed and gently but firmly pushed the boys away from their father. “You heard him, ónoni, now go rest and leave your father to do the same. None of you have slept since your return.” He wrinkled his nose, flicking Elladan’s dirt-and-blood soiled jerkin with his fingernail for emphasis. “Nor have you bathed. When your mother wakes, she will not wish to see or smell you thus.”
He hustled Elrond’s children from the room and shut the door, while Elrond himself stumbled toward the nearest chair like one blind; he slumped bonelessly into it. Glorfindel took a place opposite.
“You did not employ your customary arts, Elrond,” he said. “I can see it in your pallor. You used Vilya, that is plain to see.”
No mention of the Ring of Air had been made in centuries; few were even aware that it resided in Elrond’s keeping, for it was safely hidden in a locked casket somewhere in Elrond’s study, and even Glorfindel did not quite know where it was stowed. Little use there was for it, for Elrond’s healing skills were such and Imladris peaceful enough that its residents were rarely injured beyond what was in his power to mend.
Elrond put his hand to his face, trying to rub the weariness from his eyes. “I could do nothing else, and I do not know that even that magic will be enough.” He sighed. “I should have known that in the end my joy would not last—”
“What madness are you speaking? It is only your own weariness that makes you speak thus. Celebrían is ill from her injuries and no doubt frightened by her ordeal, but she is safely home now. Her wound will heal and she is the daughter of stern parents. It will take more than this for her to fade.”
“There is some ill in the air, gwador. I can sense it.”
“The only unease is your weariness and your sons’ anger,” answered Glorfindel. “I would not be surprised if they rode forth and slaughtered every Orc within ten leagues of Imladris.”
“They already killed the creatures that held their mother,” said Elrond. “Such anger does not become them.”
“Though some good may come of it. The minions of the Shadows have grown more numerous and bold. If Elladan and Elrohir wish to expend their anger in securing Imladris’ borders, it is more profitable than keeping them at home to chafe and fret. And they are grown and must choose for themselves what they will do.”
Elrond shook his head. His eyes were drooping. “I will think on it, gwador. But I-I cannot—”
“Nay, you should not concern yourself with the matter now,” said Glorfindel. “You are weary. I will have a cot set up in Celebrían’s chamber, for I know you will not sleep if you are plagued with worry.”
Moving quietly, Glorfindel opened the door to the lady’s bedchamber and set up a cot for Elrond at the foot of the bed. When all was made ready, he helped the peredhel into the room, for Elrond had not slept in days and could scarcely walk unaided. He removed Elrond’s shoes and outer robe and drew the covers over him. “I will set a guard on the door that you are not disturbed. Erestor can attend to any paperwork that needs doing and I will increase the border patrols.”
“I-I would…. Later…send Lindir in…music was a comfort…in childbed. She….” Before he could finish the thought, Elrond drifted off into reverie and Glorfindel did not press him for more.
* * *
When morning came, he found Elrond fumbling about in the bedchamber, picking up discarded clothes and bundling them into chairs and onto chests; it was clear he had not the slightest idea how to properly put a lady’s things away.
“Come,” said Glorfindel, tugging a torn, soiled skirt from his hands, “lay that aside and let the servants tend to it.”
Elrond gave him a look that warned him to keep his voice down, for Celebrían was still asleep in the great bed across the room. “I do not wish everyone to see how ill-treated she was.”
“Then I will take it away and discard it myself,” answered Glorfindel. He did not point out how little blood was on the clothing; the minions of the Shadow had learned millennia ago not to violate their Elven captives if they desired any further sport or profit from a living prisoner. It was fortunate they had recognized Celebrían’s worth as the lady of Imladris, for they had not been so gentle with the other members of her party; the pass of the Hithaeglir where she was waylaid and taken was littered with their mutilated remains, and somewhere in the rear of the Orc cave where she was held, where they tossed the refuse from their meals…. No, he would not dwell on what they did with prisoners they deemed not worth the keeping.
As he bundled up the clothes, a button or other small object dropped and clattered to the floor. Elrond bent and swiftly picked it up, and Glorfindel saw it was a golden bead. Its oblong shape aroused his curiosity. “What do you have there?” he asked.
Holding it up between his thumb and forefinger, Elrond showed him the bead. Right away Glorfindel recognized it. A golden flower snagged with strands of dirty silver hair. “Did you give this to her to wear?” he asked. He heard the dread in his voice half a second before he felt the shadow descend on his heart.
“Whenever she has left my side to visit Lórien I have given her this to wear, that she may have some token of me in my absence,” said Elrond.
There is some ill in the air. Glorfindel remembered the peredhel’s words of the day before; he had dismissed them as a symptom of Elrond’s weariness, but as he looked at the gold in front of him he saw the malaise that clung to it and began to realize there might be some truth to them. And I saw it centuries ago, when Nárello offered those beads to me. I should have destroyed them when he died. Ondollo, you well-meaning fool, curse you for taking this one out of my hair and keeping it when it should have gone with me to my death.
“Elrond,” he said slowly, holding out his hand, “give me the bead.”
Elrond hesitated, then closed his hand protectively around the gold. Glorfindel seized his wrist. “It is Orc gold, gwador, and cursed with shadow. All who have held it have died or—”
“No!” Elrond’s eyes flicked toward the bed then back to Glorfindel. “You are speaking foolishness such as mortals believe,” he said.
Still holding Elrond’s wrist, Glorfindel leaned in so their eyes met. “My brother took this gold from a party of Orcs trying to scout out Gondolin’s Hidden Way; he had it made into many such beads. Half he gave me and half he kept for himself; he was wearing his when he died at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. I was wearing all the others but one when I died at Cirith Thoronath. And Ondollo, this bead had just left his hand when Maedhros cut him down, and Elros—”
Elrond’s eyes became dark pools of fear and denial. “All these centuries I have held it and lived, it cannot be true.”
“And how much grief have you known? Give it to me before it claims yet another whom you love. Give it to me and no one will ever be harmed by it again.”
“And if you speak true? Then whatever ill is in this thing will pass to you.”
Glorfindel allowed himself a little smile. “I do not think Mandos is ready to receive me a second time. Even if he is, I will make certain this thing harms no other before my fëa departs. Elrond, give it to me.”
Tears slipped from the corners of the dark eyes. “It is the last piece of Elros I have left, I cannot.”
“He would not wish you to keep this thing if he knew what ill it contained,” murmured Glorfindel. “He would never have given it to you had he known. Please, give it to me and let me see it destroyed.”
It was only with great reluctance that Elrond opened his fingers and let the bead drop into Glorfindel’s hand. Then he squeezed his eyes shut and turned away, leaving Glorfindel to do as he would, to stay or leave and take the bead with him.
When Glorfindel did not move, he turned with anger snapping in his eyes. “Already you have taken half my heart,” he hissed. “Why do you linger with it?”
“The sorrow will pass, gwador,” answered Glorfindel. “But I would not leave you thinking I did this out of malice. I would not take it from you if I was not certain.”
“Then take it and do not speak of it or let me see it again.”
From the bedchamber, Glorfindel knew exactly where he must go. It was not enough to take the gold away, even to bury it where none would find it, for in time the land would move, wear away and uncover its gleaming treasure for another to discover. No, it must end as its mates had ended, in the fire.
With Elrond’s grief and anger still sour in his throat, he went down to the north side of the house, past the stables and the courtyard where the border patrols drilled, until he found the smithy. He was known to the smiths, for it was his task to ensure the arms used by the patrols were of the best quality, and that their mounts were properly shod. He remembered that one of the smiths was also an artisan, one of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain who had escaped the ruin of Eregion in the last Age; he knew well how to work with gold.
Arminas was surprised to find Glorfindel standing at his worktable; Elrond’s captain had little interest in ornaments other than what he might give another as a gift, and to the smith’s knowledge there were no forthcoming begetting days or other special occasions for which Glorfindel might visit him with a commission. “Suilad, mellon-nín,” he said in greeting. “If you are looking for Amandur, he is shoeing Camegil’s horse; he should be back shortly.”
“Nay, the work I have is for you,” answered Glorfindel. “You should find it a simple task.” From his pocket he carefully withdrew the bead and handed it to the jeweler, who took it to the light of the open doorway to inspect it.
“This is beautiful work,” commented Arminas, “and looks to be very old. What did you wish me to do with it?”
“Melt it down, destroy it. I do not wish to see it again.”
The jeweler’s eyes went wide. “You cannot be serious, mellon. This is the work of a tano of Gondolin; I can see the hallmarks of his otornassë on the reverse. Why should you wish me to smelt down such a rare and lovely thing?”
Glorfindel met his gaze. “Rare and beautiful it might be, but there is an ill in this thing of which I will not tell you save to say that it is a darkness on this house.” he said firmly. “Do not gainsay me, Arminas, or question me further. Melt it down and then take the gold and cast it away. I would not have it worn or used by anyone else.”
Arminas gave the bead a last, remorseful look. “You are certain?”
“I am certain,” he replied. “I will watch you do it. I wish to see for myself when this thing is melted down.”
He found himself holding the bead again while Arminas went for the bellows and his tools, which included a crucible and a pair of thick leather gloves. Wood and charcoal were added to the fire, and the flames stoked by a blast from the bellows until Arminas judged the fire hot enough for his work. Laying aside the bellows, he put on the gloves. “Here, give it to me if you are certain and we will see.”
Glorfindel watched the bead disappear into the crucible, saw the steam rising as the gold heated and began to melt. He would have watched had the heat of the fire permitted, but was content to imagine the bead losing its shape, the flower’s petals softening, falling and running into a liquid mass. He imagined the taint rising and dissipating in the steam that wreathed the crucible, yet it might just as easily have been the warm air in the forge.
Once the gold was melted, Arminas poured it out into a stone depression by the hearth. “It will be some time before it is cool. Do you wish to return for it?”
“Nay,” answered Glorfindel. “You heard my words before. I do not wish to see this gold again. Cast it away where none will ever find or use it. There are gorges enough in this valley that should make the task easier.”
Arminas nodded, though a sad look was in his eyes. “If you are certain,” he said, “it will be done.”
* * *
While he waited for the gold to cool, Arminas turned his attention to the task he had been working on before Glorfindel had come. With a pair of tweezers, he carefully resumed the work of wrapping gold wire around the setting of a brooch; beside him, scattered across a piece of soft chamois, were the green and blue stones he would set into the gold once the wrapping was done.
Such an odd request the Elf-lord had had, but perhaps it should not have been surprising. Glorfindel was sometimes given to strange humors, fits of melancholy or hyper vigilance that surely recalled his fate in his first life. Amandur commented that as the forces of the Shadow grew in strength, Glorfindel’s thoughts must turn now and again to the fate of Gondolin.
Perhaps coming back from Mandos is a grimmer business than I thought, Arminas reflected. Not that he or anyone else ever intended to ask Glorfindel what the Halls of Waiting were like. He did not think even Elrond had ever asked. It simply was not considered polite to ask someone about their death.
His thoughts were interrupted by his apprentice, who hurried into the smithy and breathlessly informed him that Amandur needed his assistance. “Camegil’s horse will not keep still for the shoeing, and Camegil is not there to quiet her.”
I am never going to finish this commission, Arminas thought sourly. “Fetch me my tools and I will go. While I am gone, make certain you sweep the ashes from the forge. I’ve a piece I intend to cast tomorrow and the area must be clean. Oh, and do not forget to lay out the flux.”
As he gathered his hammer, gloves and a length of hithlain rope from Laer, Arminas reflected that he would be quite surprised if the apprentice actually managed to do any of these things by the time he returned. The youth meant well, but was not exactly the most industrious assistant he could have had.
It simply is not a day for getting anything done, he sighed.
* * *
Laer grumbled to himself as he began to sweep around the forge. Do this, fetch that, go there—and when he did it was just more of the same. One would think a smith of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain might occasionally have something to teach him, since there were so few of that guild left, but no, Arminas simply gave him all the grunt work and kept the secrets of his trade to himself. Perhaps a mortal jewel-smith would have been keener to teach him.
He swatted the heather broom against the hearth in frustration. I could have stayed at home if I wanted to sweep floors and kept a lot cleaner. For someone who never did any actual smithing, he wore as much soot and sweat as if he had. But he did not complain, for even on the best of days neither Arminas nor Amandur were of a mind to hear any grumbling, and these last weeks had been grim ones for all in the valley.
Master Elrond’s lady was ill, wounded by Orc-shot, which everyone knew was usually poisoned, and the house was tense with waiting to see how well she would recover. Laer listened for news with everyone else, and scurried out of the way when Elladan and Elrohir came riding up to have their tack and weapons professionally tended before venturing forth again. The transaction was no different than those the smiths carried out with all the captains and warriors of Imladris’ border patrols, except it was quite clear these two meant to go looking for Orcs to slaughter rather than simply guarding against them.
While watching Amandur wrestle with Camegil’s unruly mount, Laer spied Lord Glorfindel leaving the forge. Probably on some commission for his gweth, as the lord rarely purchased jewels and neither Asfaloth nor his tack were in evidence. “One of these days,” Laer grumbled, “I ought to just pack my bundle and go home. Or maybe I could join a gweth. Sweeping floors isn’t much of a trade.” With a small hand broom, he whisked the ashes off the top of the forge, dusting around the crucible rather than picking it up to get underneath it.
The glimmer of gold in a shallow stone depression caught his eye. Laer had spent enough time in the smithy to know Arminas always poured molten gold into some sort of mold. But this was such a small amount, in such an odd place, he must have accidentally spilled it while working.
The gold was quite cool to the touch. Rubbing it clean against his tunic, Laer took it back to the jeweler’s work bench and found the small wooden cabinet where he kept his precious materials. There was a drawer for silver shavings and another for bits of gold culled from other projects, and yet others for natural and polished stones, odds and ends Arminas used in his work.
Laer found the drawer, neatly labeled in Cirth, where Arminas kept his gold and tossed the piece inside.
* * *
híni: (Quenya) children
Hauta!: (Quenya) stop
U bedo: (Sindarin) don’t speak. Glorfindel is mixing Quenya and Sindarin in this sentence. He is doing what many actively bilingual speakers do in emotional outbursts: engaging in a practice called “code switching,” in which the speaker switches back and forth between the mother tongue and the secondary language, often within the same sentence.
ónoni: (Quenya) twins
Suilad, mellon-nín: (Sindarin) Hello, my friend
tano: (Quenya) craftsman, smith
otornassë: (Quenya) brotherhood
gweth: (Sindarin) a troop of warriors
Chapter 7 - Epilogue
T.A. 2510 – Imladris
“Such a strange thing you tell me,” said Mithrandir. “I never thought to hear such a tale from one of the Firstborn. From mortals, yes, they are full of such lore, but not Elves. Superstition, mortals call it, yet it is born more of their ignorance and fear of the unknown than any genuine threat.”
“I have heard the term,” answered Glorfindel, “but this is no tale. I saw the air of ill in this thing for myself.”
Mithrandir sipped at his ale. “It is not uncommon for the possessions of the Shadow to become tainted, yet this is the first I have heard of gold being so ill-favored after it has been melted down and recast. Fire is often a purifying agent where such things are concerned. Still, I should like to have seen this bead for myself.”
“Even had I known you would come so soon, I would not have spared it for you,” said Glorfindel. “As it is, it seems to me I did not act in time. The lady has lost all joy in Middle-earth and passed over the sea, and the household is fallen into a shadow of its own. Elrond fears for his sons, that they will turn to the Shadow they so despise and strive against, for that has ever been the way of the Enemy.”
Elladan and Elrohir were not in residence, having left for the wilderness the day their mother sailed for Valinor. Whether they would return or no, or in what mood they would show themselves if they did, none knew. Mithrandir shook his head at the news. “I believe I know where to find them,” he said. “I will do my best to watch over them. But you are certain this thing is destroyed?”
“I had it melted down and cast away the very day I learned Elrond still had it and where he had given it. It will harm no one again.”
* * *
T.A. 2980 – Imladris
There were times Arminas looked back on his days in Ost-in-Edhil and grew particularly nostalgic. Obtaining materials was not as easy now as it had been, and he did not often have the precious metals and stones he would have liked to work with; even his tools were old and, though much loved and well-maintained, in need of replacement. There was no place more peaceful than Imladris, but its peace and isolation were a source of artistic poverty to a Noldorin jewel-smith. Most of the time he found himself mending swords and worn pots and shoeing horses.
When Elrond came to him with a commission, he was delighted. Out came his sketch pad and charcoal, and he drew several designs while Elrond watched. “In Ost-in-Edhil, I would have had several finished pieces to show you, of course,” he explained, “but now I must do these things as they come.”
“’Tis not a finished piece I came seeking, but something specially commissioned,” said Elrond, with a slight smile. “I have determined at last, I think, that my daughter does not care for books on obscure linguistic lore and never will, however edifying I may think them. No doubt she expects another such dull text for her begetting day.”
“It will be my pleasure to create a jewel for the lady Undómiel. Sufficient materials I have, I think.”
Silver he had, but gold was in short supply. Arminas occasionally managed to obtain scraps through barter, and Elrond’s mortal foster-son Estel sometimes remembered him on his travels, but the days of steady trade with the Naugrim were gone.
In his cabinet he found a few last scraps of gold and, shoved in the back of the drawer, a small lump of the metal. “Where did this come from?” he murmured, weighing the little glob in his hand in bewilderment. “I could have sworn I had no more.”
By itself, the quantity was sufficient to make a ring, or lend accent to the brooch to be cast in silver. It must have come off that armlet Erestor had me melt down and recast last year, though I was certain I used it all.
He and Elrond had not yet negotiated a price for the work. Usually he was paid in goods, as he had no need of coin in Imladris, and his cottage was full of textiles, books and other implements, but not the materials he needed to continue his work. If I do not receive something soon, I shall find myself working in iron and steel, or I shall be forced to leave these shores. They say there are plenty of ores and gems to be mined in Valinor.
“Laer, we need charcoal for the fire,” he called. When he received no acknowledgement, he got up and went to the yard, but his wayward assistant was nowhere to be found. The boy—well, after three hundred years Laer technically could not be called a boy—would never make a proper smith with all his grumbling and loafing about. If Arminas wanted anything done, he would, as usual, have to do it himself.
* * *
T.A. 2980 – Lothlórien
The watchwardens were not entirely friendly. Even when word came from Calas Galadon that he was of high and noble birth, and the Lady’s guest, some of them still looked on him with the disdain they had for mortals. Others were merely curious, for mortals did not pass beyond the Naith and there were some in the Golden Wood who had never looked upon the Secondborn. Aragorn suffered their gazes as he endured the cool reception of the warriors of the Galadhrim, letting his guard down only in the presence of the Lady herself.
He had never met Galadriel before, nor been in her realm, though as she glided down the steps of her talan in her snowy raiment to welcome him, it became clear she knew a great deal more about him than she ought.
“I know why you have come,” she said, “and who sent you. But first you must rest, for the marks of your long wandering are upon you and you are careworn.”
Her servants showed him a spring where he might bathe, and afterward the Lady came to him with garments of white and silver in which he was to array himself. Around his shoulders she pinned a cloak of the silken gray stuff which she and her maidens wove and bound his dark, still-damp hair with a circlet starred with a single white jewel.
He submitted to this treatment with as much patience as he could muster, for he was not accustomed to being attended thus and no explanation was forthcoming from the Lady as to why a mere mortal was being welcomed so.
“But no mere mortal are you,” Galadriel answered, and with a start he realized she was reading his thoughts. “You are of the line of Elendil, of the line of Elros Tar-Minyatur who was the son of Eärendil.”
Guarding his thoughts, Aragorn turned away from the mirror to look at her. “Surely your people do not set special store in the coming of the heirs of Isildur.” No one in Gondor would have welcomed him thus, had he revealed the true name and lineage of Thorongil, the name he had taken as a captain of Gondor. Nor did he think his father would even have been permitted within the bounds of the Golden Wood, much less brought into the Lady’s presence. “There is some other purpose at work here.”
She was silent a moment, watching him as if weighing her handiwork. “Elrond sent you here with a gift,” she answered, nodding toward the crumpled heap of his clothing where the little package was stowed.
“I would have given it to you, Lady, without such ceremony,” he said.
Her small, secretive smile made him wonder. “The gift you bear is not for me. Has Elrond not told you that the lady Undómiel is here?”
Now he understood her purpose, though not the why or how of it, and suddenly the lightweight Elven silks and soft wool felt heavy upon him. Elrond had never been amicable to the idea that his daughter’s heart would turn toward a mortal, and spoke against such a union on the few occasions the subject arose. Aragorn certainly did not expect Galadriel to approve, much less welcome him into her realm knowing his desire to look again upon the beauty of Arwen Undómiel.
You might have taken the gift from me and given it to her without her ever knowing I was here, he thought. Surely that would have been your way, and his, to keep her hidden from me until I had lived out my mortal span.
“But that is not my way, Dúnadan,” she said, “to strive against what is already doomed to pass.”
He pursed his lips into a tight line. You are reading my thoughts.
“Your mind is clearly written upon your countenance, without any need to peer at what may lie beneath,” she explained. “She is near, with her maidens upon the hill of Cerin Amroth. Go, and take to her the gift you have brought.”
In the glimmering twilight of Caras Galadon, on a green hill carpeted with white niphredil and yellow elanor, he found her. Flowers of gold he bore in his arms, and Elrond’s gift in a pouch at his side.
Right away he knew her, and yet did not, for though the mortal years had not touched her since their meeting thirty years before, she was grave and the laughter gone from her eyes. She turned at the sight of him, a white-clad figure who came to her out of the dusk like an Elf-lord of Tol Eressëa; it was only when she peered more closely at him that she saw he was a mortal Man, one whom she had met on another twilit evening long ago.
At a word, Arwen’s maidens vanished into the trees, yet Aragorn sensed they were not far. Striding forward, he laid the golden blooms in her arms and smiled, and in his smile all the long years of wandering and care fell away from him and she knew him.
“Estel,” she said. “How do you come to be here?”
“Your father sent me, though I knew not that you were here until the Lady Galadriel told me,” he replied.
They walked for a time along the twilit paths near Cerin Amroth, while he told her of the many lands and peoples he had encountered in his travels. In the shadows, he sensed others trailing them, but the presence of such chaperones was neither unexpected nor improper.
It was only when he returned to his talan that he remembered he had forgotten to give her Elrond’s gift. Two days later, he came upon her again, in a sunlit glade gathering elanor blooms to weave into a garland, and approached her with the velvet-wrapped item in his hand.
Elrond’s jeweler had fashioned a brooch in the shape of a silver leaf veined with gold and dewed with a single amethyst. Arwen took it in her hand and wondered over it, even as Aragorn gently took it and pinned it over her breast. “So fair a thing is this that you give me,” she said.
“’Tis not my gift,” he answered, eyeing the note that accompanied it, “but sent by your father for your begetting day.”
She smiled, her eyes luminous as her fingers traced the contours of the brooch. The gold veins gleamed against the silver, a tempting tracery against her breast. “Yet now when I see it and feel its weight I shall think always of you.”
He did not know what to say to this, for only the delivery of the gift had been his. Nor did he know what to say when she stepped to him and touched her lips lightly to his. The mingled gold and silver, cool and heavy between them, slowly warmed at the press of their bodies. “So fair a gift is this,” she whispered, “and bittersweet.”
“I do not ask more of you than you desire to give,” he murmured. “I would not have you forsake your immortal life for the sake of one doomed to die.”
Her hand came up to caress his cheek, even as the brooch dug sharply into his breast where he held her. “My uncle did not look on death as a doom but a gift of the One. I would rather love and die than dwell in gray solitude through all the ages of Arda. Do not refuse me this gift, meldo, for I know what I take upon myself and do it willingly.”
She spoke so softly that Aragorn knew her maidens could not have heard her. Joy rose within him, and anguish also. For a moment he wanted nothing more than to tear the brooch from her and cast it away in regret that he had ever agreed to bear such a gift to Lórien. Why did Elrond not send it with one of her brothers? She has not seen them in many years. To send it with me is to doom us both.
He wanted to tell her that he could not take such a gift from her as she meant to give, yet in his wonder and sorrow knew it was not his to refuse. And so, returning her kiss, he did not.
Printed from Open Scrolls Archive (https://www.openscrolls.net) on Sun Jul 12, 2020 4:22 am