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24. Messenger of Círdan
The Mouths of Sirion, First Age 489
Aerneth was just locking up the corn storage, after filling her sack for today’s work in the bakery, when she felt Thranduil’s thoughts in her head. As usual her heart beat faster in anticipation. She both loved and hated his calls; she loved to see his face but hated the horrible, empty feeling she would get afterwards. And in addition she was always nervous there would be bad news. That he was hurt or in danger.
She brought her sack with her to the river and squatted beside it, waving aside a few fallen leaves from its calm surface. It ran wide and slow down here, and the water was brackish.
When she had established the connection, Thranduil’s face formed. He was in his room; she recognised the ceiling with the many glittering crystals he had once put there to resemble stars. When the picture had cleared, Aerneth saw that Thranduil wore his cool, neutral expression that made him look like a statue of smooth glass. Bad news, then.
She suppressed the mixed feelings of worry and annoyance and took on a cool face herself. “Good morning, husband.”
“Wife.” He nodded curtly.
“To what do I owe the honor?” He normally only called her a few times a year, usually at the holidays – and it was less than a month since the Autumn Hunt feast.
“I wanted to inform you I have moved back to Menegroth with the remaining march-wardens, and after the demise of Beleg Cúthalion I am now made full captain.” His face got even stiffer.
Something disastrous must have happened. Last time Thranduil called he had lived in Amon Rûdh and claimed to be successfully defending the Guarded Plain.
“How did he die?” Aerneth had never liked Beleg, but hearing about the demise of an elf was always sad.
“It is a long story.”
Aerneth sat down. “I am in no hurry.” She was; a whale hunting team was setting out tomorrow and she had promised them lembas, but she instinctively knew he wanted to tell her, and probably needed it too.
Sighing, Thranduil told of the dwarf’s betrayal and the orc attack, and how he and Beleg had gone after Túrin when he was captured. “When we finally found him he had been tortured for many days and was confused. Beleg cut him loose, but somehow the sword… somehow it nicked him, and Túrin thought he was attacked by an orc and wrestled Beleg down and… Killed him.” His voice wavered ever so slightly. “Queen Melian always said Anglachel was an evil sword. I wish Beleg had taken another.”
“What did Túrin do?”
“He… Was shocked at first. For many hours. And then, after he came round, we buried Beleg there. In… In the wastelands. A horrible place for a grave, really.” Thranduil seemed to fight hard to uphold his neutral face now. “Afterwards, Túrin took the evil black sword and went with Gwindor, perhaps to Nargothrond, I do not know. He told me not to follow. So I returned home to tell Mablung about… his friend’s death. Excuse me.” Thranduil disappeared from view. When he returned, his face was smooth again. “At least I have learned my lesson now,” he continued. “I will never again follow someone against my better judgement. Túrin was young and foolish, as one might expect from a human, but Beleg knew better. Had he insisted on bringing Túrin back to Doriath, forcing him if needed, none of this would have happened. As Beleg’s successor, I will keep our realm safe without taking unnecessary risks. From now on, the march-wardens shall stay inside Melian’s Girdle as our king always prefered.”
His forced calmness and smooth mask was starting to grate on Aerneth’s nerves. Would it hurt him to show his feelings at least once?
“So you will hide there, while Morgoth roams Beleriand freely. I see.”
“Say what?” His eyebrows drew together threateningly.
“There is a world outside your precious realm. But I guess if you follow a cowardly king, you would not care.”
Red spots of anger appeared on his pale cheeks. Finally he was reacting; the unnatural, hateful mask was gone. Aerneth prefered his fury over that feigned indifference.
“You know what is cowardly?” His voice was low and frosty as the Helcaraxë ice waste. “The dwarf selling his friends’ lives to the enemy. Morgoth’s orcs ambushing my people in their sleep, and torturing their bound captives for days on end. That was cowardice.”
Aerneth did not reply, feeling slightly regretful for her choice of words. She knew Thranduil did not lack courage.
“Beleg and I brought over fifty march-wardens with us to Amon Rûdh. Do you know how many survived?”
She shook her head.
“Twelve. Twelve! Think of their families, their spouses, their sons and daughters – think of all that loss! Just because Beleg and I relocated them to a hard to defend area. It was our fault. My fault. And you speak of cowardice!” He had raised his voice now, and his eyes were flashing. “All those years we fought there, what good did they do? Morgoth still has his armies; his orcs, his balrogs and his dragons. It was for naught! A total waste of lives.” He took a deep breath, and another. “If risking others’ lives is bravery, then I am rather a coward.” He pushed the bowl over and was gone.
Aerneth stared sadly at the empty water. How come Thranduil always brought out the worst in her? And she in him. He would probably not call her again for some time now, and perhaps that was for the better. It would give them time to calm down, and start missing each other, and the next time they would take pains to behave.
At least his decision to stay put in Menegroth meant he was safe for now.
The Mouths of Sirion, First Age 495
It was early spring and time for their annual small boat race, and the Bay of Balar was full of small vessels with brightly coloured sails. The whole town was out there, cheerful and expectant.
Aerneth had just put the floating goal in its position when suddenly the surface started to bubble and seethe under her dinghy, and a vast being appeared beneath, rising from the deep to a great height. Riding a giant, gnarled blue whale, he was clad entirely in a mail of fishlike scales, with a helmet of foam on his head and a trident in one hand, and on his chin grew a beard of seagrass-like tendrils. He was The King of the Sea, Ulmo himself.
Two smaller shapes flanked the Vala; his Maiar Ossë and Uinen. The former straddled a black-and-white killer whale, and the latter rode in a sled pulled by dolphins. Large waves followed in Ossë’s wake, but behind him Uinen calmed the sea with her breath, and the result was a rippling surf making the many boats in the Bay stir restlessly.
On his swan ship, Aerneth’s father greeted Ulmo with a hand over his heart. “My Lord… I am honoured.”
“Shipwright.” The Vala’s voice was a deep roar, and a spray of water cascaded from his enormous hand when he placed it on his scaly chest, returning the greeting. “I bear grave tidings.”
He explained that he and his Maiar had had visions of the future. Uinen had seen the river Sirion once more tainted by foul creatures pouring down from Angband, turning the ground black and charred in their wake. Ulmo had seen the destruction of the last remaining elvish realms; first Nargothrond, then Doriath, then lastly, Gondolin. Ossë had seen the entire Beleriand gone under and replaced by a wide ocean.
“There is a new lord in Nargothrond, and he is too bold,” said Uinen in her motherly voice. “He has counselled the weak king to fight the enemy, sending warriors north, and spanning the river Narog with a bridge to ease their passage. But Morgoth will retaliate, and his dragon will walk over the bridge into the city, and it shall burn.”
“And in Gondolin an evil seed grows in their midst, one who shall betray them all to ruin,” boomed Ulmo. “Thou shalt warn them, Shipwright. They must leave ere it is too late, and come to thee. From this shore a new star shall arise, and save the children of Ilúvatar.”
“I will, My Lord.” Círdan bowed, his face pale. “I shall send messengers to warn Turgon, Orodreth and Thingol, and I shall invite them here. However… There is one thing I would ask you, My Lord. Some years back I built seven ships, which sailed west to find a way into Aman, where they would beg your brethren for aid against the Dark Lord. My wife was upon one of those ships. Pray, tell me… did they get there?”
The Vala’s large, ocean green eyes grew distant a moment, and then he turned them back to Círdan. “Nay, Shipwright. They all perished. All save one, a Gondolindrim, whom I brought to the shore far north of here.”
Círdan hung his head. “Thank you, My Lord. I feared this might be the case.”
Aerneth’s breath hitched and she sat heavily down in her little boat. Then it was as she too had feared. Her mother was dead, drowned, just like her mother-in-law. Ossës waves had taken them, though she could not hate him for it, it was his nature after all.
Tears started to trickle down her cheeks. Nana was gone. Now she knew that for sure. It was a relief in a way; it had been awful not knowing, keeping up a tiny spark of hope all these years.
Still weeping, Aerneth pondered over the rest of Ulmo’s tidings. Doriath would be destroyed. Would she lose her husband as well now? They had seen it in Galadriel’s mirror many years back, seen the ruin of both Nargothrond and Doriath. When only the Falas fell, Aerneth had somehow started to believe the other visions would not come to pass.
How could she warn Thranduil? Since their fight a few years back, he had not called her. But she had to make him leave Doriath, she had to make him understand.
She must go there. Return to Menegroth and not leave without him.
With a pang of pain she remembered the last time she and Thranduil met in person, when she had almost drowned him. We are bad for each other, he had said. But after such a long time, maybe they had learned? Maybe it would be different now? There was no helping it. She had to try. She could not lose him too.
When the Vala and his Maiar had left, Círdan cancelled the sailing race and instantly began preparations for sending the messengers. Two Noldor elves volunteered to make the journey, Gelmir, and Arminas. Aerneth knew them well, and the latter had even tried to woo her some four decades ago when they were still living in Eglarest. He and his friend were from Dorthonion originally, survivors of the Battle of Sudden Flames, and had been staying with Círdan’s people ever since. Now they longed to return into the world and perhaps find surviving kin in Gondolin.
Círdan decided the best route would be to ship the messengers up the coast, via the firth of Drengist into Hithlum, and put them ashore so they could continue on foot across the mountains to where Gondolin was thought to be. And after they had warned Turgon, they would turn south to Nargothrond and Doriath.
“I am going with them,” Aerneth told her father.
“Why? I have many apt sailors who can take them into Hithlum.” His eyes narrowed. “You mean to follow them ashore?”
He nodded slowly. “Your husband. You want to warn him.”
“I have to go, Ada. If he reaches out to me through the water before I leave the ship, I might stay onboard and follow it back, but if not… I need to go to Doriath.”
“I understand.” His face looked grim, but he did not object. Perhaps he knew she would not listen anyway. “Be careful.” In his eyes she saw the deep sadness and pain he felt after the loss of his wife, and his worry he might lose his daughter too.
She nodded, too full of emotions to speak.
The journey to Hithlum took several weeks, and being confined aboard a ship with an ellon who apparently still had feelings for her proved extremely awkward. How could he have committed his heart with so little encouragement? He ought to at least have been cured after Aerneth got married, but apparently this was not the case. She felt a pang of guilt every time she noticed his longing gaze on her.
To avoid him, Aerneth stayed in her cabin as much as possible, staring out the porthole and brooding over the dark future predicted. Beleriand gone, replaced by the ocean! No more elvish realms, and Morgoth taking over. Could things really get that bleak? Now she wished she had appealed to Ulmo to call the other Valar here. She was beginning to believe only they could defeat the Dark Lord.
She thought a lot about Thranduil too. She pictured the look on his face when he saw her again, and planned out in detail what she would say to persuade him. The problem with planning conversations ahead, however, was that they never went accordingly, and she was terrified it would end in disaster just like last time. What if things went even further? She had lost control over her water powers, and it had frightened her to the extent that she had not dared use them since – apart from the communication part, of course.
Other times, she imagined the opposite. That it would go well. She pictured Thranduil’s gaze turning soft as he pulled her into his arms, mumbling against her neck how much he loved her. That he forgave her for cheating on him and for trying to drown him. It was a bittersweet daydream which always left her with blank eyes and a lump in her throat. She knew it would not happen.
The firth of Drengist was a channel of the sea, leading into Hithlum like a triangular wedge between sheer cliff faces on either side, ending in a narrow, tunnel-like passage. Soon after the tunnel they cast anchor, wishing to avoid coming too close to the inhabited parts of Hithlum, which was controlled by the Easterlings nowadays. Instead the messengers would continue on foot along the southern highlands that circled Dor-Lómin all the way east to Sirion, and on the other side of that river they hoped to find the path into Gondolin.
Taking leave of the sailors, Aerneth and her two companions disembarked on a barren strip of beach with a rough cliff wall looming over them. They carried only little; lembas of course and a change of shifts, but not much else. No weapons, as neither of them were warriors.
When they climbed the cliff, Arminas had some misguided notion that Aerneth was a frail elleth who needed support. He repeatedly turned back to her, reaching out a helping hand. It annoyed her to the extent where she put all her strength into recklessly speed-climbing past the ellyn, arriving at the top first of all.
When Arminas' head became visible over the edge several minutes later, she held out her hand. “Here, let me help you,” she said, hiding a smirk.
It was beautiful at the hilltop, with an astonishing view on all sides. Behind them was the open sea, and at the mouth of the firth they could see the swan ship that had brought them, already looking like an elfling’s toy. Further south were the ruins of Eglarest, her childhood home; they had passed them by a couple of days back.
To the north, the fertile soil of Dor-Lómin unfolded, where the humans later in the year would grow crops and vegetables after their habit. The fields gave the ground a striped appearance from above, and columns of chimney smoke showed where there were settlements. It looked peaceful, but Aerneth was not fooled by it. The Easterlings had made thralls of the original inhabitants, taking the women as wives and mistresses and forcing the males to slave away on the fields – all according to Thranduil, who had heard it from Túrin, the boy he had raised.
Turning southeast, she looked at the Guarded Plain where the many arms of Sirion and its tributaries cut through the sparse pine woods and heathlands. The one closest to them must be Narog, the river that led to Nargothrond. Further east a mass of hazy brown and pink showed where the bud-covered trees of the forests of Brethil and Doriath began. Somewhere in there was her husband.
With a chill, the full impact of Ossë’s foresight suddenly struck Aerneth. If he was right, all this would be gone. Sunk under the sea.
The thought was unfathomable. Could it really be true?
A movement much closer drew her eyes, and a blonde man came out from behind a large oak. His clothes looked haggard and worn, and his chin was covered in a bristly beard after the fashion of humans. He smelled horribly, like one who had not washed himself for weeks.
“You are elves,” he stated, and greeted them the polite way with a bow and a hand across his chest.
“We are.” They returned the greeting, all three regarding him with curiosity.
“I am Tuor, son of Huor, of the House of Hador, if those names mean anything to you?”
“Nay.” Arminas and Gelmir both shook their heads, but Aerneth squinted and looked at him more closely. He reminded her of another human with those golden tresses and the sky blue eyes. Then she remembered.
“Huor! He fought with his brother Húrin in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, right? I only ever saw Húrin, but you look just like him.”
“Húrin was my uncle, aye. They were both killed in the war, and I was born shortly after, so I never met either of them. And my mother died when I was very little. I was raised by the elves in Mithrim, but then I got caught by the Easterlings and was forced to work three years for them. I recently escaped.”
“I am sorry to hear that.” No wonder he looked so harrowed.
“I have been trying to find the tunnel from Dor-Lómin to the sea. You don't happen to know where it might be?”
“Oh aye, it is down there. We just came through it.” Gelmir smiled and pointed.
“Thank you.” He bowed politely. “I must continue, then. They are probably searching for me.” Soon his golden curls disappeared over the edge and he was gone.
“It is strange how fast humans grow,” mused Aerneth as the three elves continued east. “It felt like hardly no time has passed since I saw his uncle, and then this man was not even born yet.”
“Imagine having elflings who grew that fast. You could be a grandparent before your tenth decade day!” Gelmir chuckled.
“I will never have elflings,” said Arminas bitterly.
Aerneth clenched her jaw and silently wowed to keep her mouth shut the rest of the journey.
“Can’t we just give up?” Aerneth wiped her forehead and rested her back against a crooked pine. They had been climbing among the rocky cliffs east of the Pass of Sirion all day in the pouring rain, and yesterday too, and the day before that. For weeks they had scoured the area for a passage to the hidden city.
“Nay! The entrance must be here somewhere,” growled Arminas, who was trying to braid his soaked hair out of his eyes. His gallantry from the first days of their journey had disappeared entirely, and it even seemed his feelings for her had subsided. Travelling over rough landscape in rainy spring weather, while sleeping on the ground and eating only cold food tended to do that to people.
“Well it clearly is not,” Aerneth retorted sourly. She knew they had to warn Turgon, or she would have refused trying to find Gondolin at all. Both because she suspected it was futile – after all, it had been hidden for over thirty decades without anyone finding it – and because there was a certain blonde warrior living there who she hoped never to meet again.
“Let us try a few more days at least. We owe it to Turgon.” Gelmir was cowering under a juniper. Then he sat up straighter. “What is that?” He was looking at a point below, and then he gasped as he lifted his gaze further.
Aerneth squinted through the shower, until she saw it too. A huge orc army came marching over the Anfauglith wastelands, even greater than the one she had seen during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and it was heading straight at the Pass. The first companies had already reached the river. If the weather had been clear and the sounds not muffled by the rain, they would have discovered them much sooner.
“Damn. It’s beginning!” She jumped up. “We cannot linger here. This is it. The army that will destroy Doriath and Nargothrond! We must warn them.”
“But what of Gondolin?” Arminas had gotten on his feet too.
“Ulmo said it would fall last of them,” said Gelmir. “Maybe it will remain hidden.”
“I hope so.” Arminas clenched his fists in frustration.
The rest of that day and all through the night, the three of them hurried south over the mountains as stealthily as they could. Every now and then they tried to get a glimpse of the orc movements. They seemed to be gathering at Tol Sirion, the island where Sauron once had kept Beren prisoner, and where his tower still remained. Maybe they would regroup there, and use the island as base for their assault. It was a spot easy to defend – as if any elvish realm had enough warriors to match that host.
After another couple of days they had finally reached the end of the mountains, and began descending a steep slope full of rocks and loose stones. Below, they saw the Ford of Brithiach.
“That is Doriath.” Aerneth pointed eagerly. “We should go there first, it is the closest!”
“But Nargothrond will fall first,” Arminas objected. He seemed very reluctant to go to Doriath, possibly because he knew Aerneth’s husband lived there.
“I agree with Arminas,” said Gelmir, and Aerneth was downvoted.
At least now they were walking on more even ground, and could follow the Old South Road all the way to their destination. The weather had cleared too, and south of the road the ground was covered in sweet smelling wood anemones under the Brethil trees. If they had not been in such a hurry, it would have been a great spot to set up their camp, and perhaps try catching a fish or two in the river and have a warm meal for a change.
Instead they trudged on, day and night, postponing sleep and most meals until later.
They were spotted very soon after they crossed the Teiglin, another of Sirion’s many tributaries, and came out onto the Guarded Plain. Not for naught was it called so, for apparently Nargothrond had scouts all over the place. Within a few hours a small guard company on horseback came galloping up at them, asking who they were and what their errand was.
“We must speak with King Orodreth,” said Gelmir. “We bring an urgent message from Lord Círdan.”
“We shall take you to our commander,” said the guard.
They were given spare horses and brought by a couple of the guards to a large camp, with many tents and rows of colourful banners billowing in the breeze. Behind the camp rose a hill, where a stone bridge led to a set of huge double gates. A roaring sound came from under the bridge; the river Narog.
So this was what Uinen had spoken of. The once secret city of Nargothrond had become wide open and inviting, and the river which could have protected it from attacks had been spanned. If the multitude of orcs they had seen came here, they would effortlessly take the city.
In the largest of the tents they were met by a tall person with raven hair, looking so much like a Noldor it took several minutes until they realised he was actually a human.
“You are not Orodreth” said Gelmir.
“I am his counselor. You can speak to me.” The man even sounded like an elf, and his chin was smooth. Had he no beard, or had he cut it off?
“Lord Círdan specifically said the message was for the king’s ears. You must take us to him.”
The man waved at a nearby ellon, almost casually. “Get him.”
The other nodded and left, presumably to fetch Orodreth.
“What is your name?” asked Aerneth. She suddenly had a horrible suspicion she knew already. A man – looking like an elf – living in Nargothrond. Could it be anyone else?
“I go by many names here – Mormegil, after my sword, or Bloodstained, son of Ill-fate, which is what my name should have been.”
“You are Túrin, Húrin’s son,” she said.
His eyes widened in surprise and then he frowned. “Who told you that?”
“Thranduil, my husband.”
He flinched and suddenly looked terribly guilty. “Oh. I did not know he was married. Did he… What did he say about me?”
I did not know he was married. How could those words hurt so much? Thranduil had loved this man as a son, but apparently never once mentioned her existence to him. “He told me everything.” If she hurt, he could hurt too, and she knew why he seemed nervous.
“Everything?” He suddenly straightened up, and the commanding air returned. “So then you know not to cross me. Keep my name a secret, or may Morgoth take you and burn your tongue!”
Aerneth stared at him, surprised over his outburst. But before she could reply, a group of elves approached, one of them wearing a thin circlet on his brow. King Orodreth was blonde like his sister, but apart from that he did not look much like Galadriel. His face was more narrow and he had a weak chin.
“You have a message for me from Círdan? Then why do you come from the north? That is suspicious, don’t you think so, Mormegil?”
“Indeed.” Túrin glared at Aerneth.
“We were searching for Turgon, My Lord,” Arminas explained. “For Gondolin, his hidden city.”
“Then you have gone wrong. There is no Turgon here.” Orodreth turned as if he wanted to leave again.
“Wait, My Lord!” exclaimed Gelmir hurriedly. “A great host coming hither. The whole of Anfauglith was littered with orcs.”
“I do not fear orcs.”
“Nargothrond will fall, the Vala Ulmo has foreseen it, and Círdan Shipwright sent us to invite you to his realm, where you can be safe. The following words are from Ulmo: ‘The evil of the north has defiled the springs of Sirion. You must close your fortress and cast the stones of your pride into the river.’”
The king turned to Túrin. “What do you make of this?”
“Let Círdan deal with what he knows best – boats,” he sneered. “If Ulmo has a message for us, he ought not speak in riddles.”
“That is what I thought also.”
“He is talking about the bridge.” Aerneth could not keep silent. “‘The stones of your pride.’ The bridge. Cast it down and close your gates. Let Morgoth clash against them in vain, thinking you are in there, while you bring your people south to my father.”
“Círdan is your father?” Túrin’s contemptuous look disappeared. “My apologies for belittling him, My Lady. But we will not abandon Nargothrond, and Morgoth is welcome here with his troops! This is what we have been waiting for; a chance to finally end him.”
“Indeed.” Orodreth smiled and nodded at the man.
Were they stupid? Did they think they could resist the entire host of Morgoth? Unlike them, Aerneth had seen it. His dragons, his balrogs… One dragon alone would burn this camp with all the tents and banners into a crisp.
She met her companions' gazes, and read the same shocked disbelief in their eyes.
“We are grateful for Lord Círdan’s concern, and you must thank him upon your return,” said Túrin. “The hour is growing late, however, and you look weary. Allow us to reward your troubles with our hospitality. Let us share a pleasant supper, and you can tell us more about your travels in the north, and have a comfortable night’s sleep in our guesthouse. Now you must excuse me, I have much to discuss with my captains.” And with that, they were dismissed.
After a brief conference among themselves, they decided to accept the offer. They were weary, and hungry, and a night in a guesthouse sounded very appealing.
Tomorrow they would continue to Doriath, where they would hopefully get a better reception. There was of course the overhanging threat of the orc host, but hopefully they could afford to stay here one day.
Another little derivation from the Silmarillion: Ulmo only told Círdan to warn Orodreth in Nargothrond – so in canon, the messengers went to search for Gondolin on their own accord. Doriath was not mentioned at all. However, I find it more logical to warn all three realms, and it fits my story better. :)
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