“At the bidding of Turgon, Círdan built seven swift ships and they sailed out into the West; but no tidings of them came ever back to Balar, save of one, and the last…. They foundered in a great storm within sight of the coasts of Middle Earth; but one of them was saved by Ulmo from the wrath of Ossë.” The Silmarillion, “Of the Fifth Battle.”
* * *
Of all who set out, why did I alone survive? That was his first waking thought, his first pang of guilt upon seeing the storm-wracked shore and realizing he was alone.
After dragging himself from the surf and collapsing upon the sand, Voronwë had been too exhausted for coherent thought, much less grief. He slept, until the cold wind coming off the water stirred him and he moved, face and hair caked with sand and the tatters of his clothing stiff from the salt of the sea.
On the strand for a quarter of a mile, half-washed by the foam, pieces of wreckage lay scattered. Bits of broken wood from the keel, some rope, a piece of the mainmast. He wandered up and down the beach, searching for bodies, for any other survivors, but the sea had not cast anyone else ashore. At last, sobbing in frustration and grief, he ambled into the surf to wash away the grit.
The moment he entered the sea the wind picked up and lashed against him, howling. Trembling, he howled back, “Why did you take us? We had no part in the Kinslaying!”
But Ossë did not answer.
Voronwë struggled back to shore and climbed up from the beach. The storm had thrown seaweed and shingle drift as high as the dunes, and battered at the ruined walls behind them. More ruins stretched away into the distance, but he had no thought for them. Pulling his sodden gray cloak about him, he sat with his back to the wall and gazed out at the sea.
* * *
Ossë has never forgiven us for Alqualondë. That was Voronwë’s second thought. Some among the Gondolindrim had questioned this, and perhaps if Voronwë had been paying attention he might have noticed the curious looks the Falathrim gave them when they described their errand. Círdan had been grave, but had not refused Turgon’s request, and wished them good speed in a voice like unto doom. But then, snorted Séretur, when did Círdan ever smile?
“He has little cause to smile,” said Alatos, defending the Shipwright. Though the Falathrim had not gone in force to the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, they did not escape unscathed from its evil. The havens of Eglarest and Brithombar were laid waste, many of its residents either slain or taken into bondage by Morgoth’s minions. When Turgon’s emissaries arrived at the makeshift haven on Balar, the Falathrim, despite their exhaustion and obvious grief, received them without complaint. Círdan agreed to build the ships Turgon wanted and teach the Gondolindrim the rudiments of seacraft in return for supplies. Whatever opinion the Shipwright had of the matter, he nursed in private.
Voronwë did not need the questioning looks of the Teleri to tell him he and his companions were no mariners. Half the time they were seasick, fumbling with compass and rudder, and he was sure the Falathrim laughed amongst themselves to recount how Telutan knocked himself overboard when he unfurled the mainsail too quickly.
As leader of the expedition, not to mention being the most sensible one among them, Varno asked some of the Teleri to come with them as a sign of their goodwill toward the Elves of Alqualondë. At least, that was what Varno said publicly. What he truly wanted—nay, needed—were experienced mariners to steer their ships. Círdan only frowned and said he could not spare his people for such a purpose.
At the last, when they lost sight of the other ships and were forced by thirst and weather to turn back, Varno muttered that the irascible Telerin salt could at least have done them the courtesy of telling them the venture would fail. “He sees things, that one.”
Why should the Teleri do anything for us? Why should the Valar receive us, much less listen? Gifts Turgon had sent to buy the aid of the Falathrim, but curiously there were no gifts for the Elves of Alqualondë. Voronwë’s father noticed the omission and muttered that this was an ill thing, for it showed they had not truly repented.
“Such I would say to Turgon,” said Aranwë, “but I am not one of his great lords to insist upon an audience with him, and they say he has been unapproachable since we returned from the battle.”
Aranwë was loath to permit his only son and child to take part in the venture, but they belonged to one of the lesser Houses of Gondolin that had been decimated at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and little choice was given them. Arcalimo their lord, who had never taken a wife and fathered an heir, was dead and there were not enough members of the House of the Eagle left to sustain it. The great Houses had already taken in the widows and orphans and maidens, those who had no place else to go, but the unwed warriors who survived were required to prove their worth before they could claim new lords.
“If I do this thing, atarinya, then I might ask for a place for us in the House of the Pillar or the Tree. Penlod and Galdor are kindly and have both said they will take us both in if we do some service to the city.”
“Service, you say, yondo? I like it not that we should have to scrape and fend for ourselves in Turgon’s city. Service we have rendered aplenty to the king; our worth should not be in question.”
Voronwë’s willingness to join the delegation to Balar and thence to Valinor secured Aranwë a place in the House of the Pillar. Aranwë accepted Penlod’s generosity for his son’s sake, but privately scoffed at the notion that the venture would be anything other than a failure.
“Think you after a mere five hundred years the Valar have forgotten our insolence or the Doom of Mandos? Turgon sends gifts aplenty to Balar, but what, I ask you, is left for Olwë’s people at Alqualondë? Nothing, and do not think they will be forgiving even if there were. Kinslaying is a grievous matter, and the blood shed at Alqualondë was needless.”
Others had differing, loftier opinions. “The king took no part in the Kinslaying,” said Atanóno, who belonged to the House of the King and was expected to say such things in Turgon’s defense. From his tone, he sounded as though he believed it. “He was not at Alqualondë. Why should he beg forgiveness when he committed no crime?”
Pride was also a crime, an ill of the soul, said Aranwë, and Turgon had rebelled with Fëanor and his sons and by his disobedience so fell under the Doom. Voronwë held his tongue for his father’s sake. Penlod was very much in support of the king and his proposed venture, and would not appreciate having a voice of dissent in his House. Séretur and Varno were of that House, and when the time came to offer him a place Voronwë could not afford to have them speak ill of him.
As an unavoidable matter of course, some families had been separated when the great Houses took in the survivors of the lesser ones; the toll taken by the Nirnaeth Arnoediad had not ended upon the battle plain. Voronwë did not wish to be parted from his father, for his mother, weary with grief over the Doom of Mandos and the long peril of the Helcaraxë, had faded not long after his birth and he had no other family.
“If Manwë is the lord of Arda, why does He not do anything against Morgoth?” Varno wanted to know. “If I were a lord, I would not let an enemy invade my land or oppress my people.”
Voronwë concentrated on keeping his tone and manner neutral. “The ways of the Valar are a mystery to me,” he murmured.
Varno snorted. “Where is the mystery in it? This is plainly the Valar’s business, yet they do nothing.”
* * *
Had Turgon truly repented, had he shown some sign of contrition toward the Teleri of Alqualondë, perhaps the outcome would have been different. If Ossë had seen our gifts and the remorse in our hearts, perhaps his wrath would have been stayed. That was Voronwë’s third thought, as he sat with his back to the wall and stared out to sea, wondering what to do next.
Within sight of the shore, perhaps a mere two or three hours away from landfall, the spirit of the Waters had found them and poured his rage against the foundering vessel, and in this Manwë seemed to aid him. Lightning rent the sky, and the wind shrieked in concert with the tumult of the water. The Sea hated the Noldor, and made good its malice, shattering the work of the Falathrim as easily as if it had been constructed of twigs. Voronwë saw fellow Noldor lashed by the waves and spilled into the sea; through the wind and the water that half-blinded him as he clung to the rigging, the last he saw of them were pale faces being swallowed by the dark waves.
For a time, he and Varno grasped the ruins of the mainmast as it broke away from the ship and rode the surging sea. Their only hope was somehow to be cast ashore, yet the water was cold, driving needles into his flesh, and Voronwë could feel his strength ebbing. It would be easier to let go and sink, to answer the call to Mandos, than to try to live.
Through stinging eyes, he saw the wave bear down upon him like a ravenous maw. Foam and sea water drove into his mouth and nostrils, choking him as his grip on the mast slipped. Then he was spinning free in the grasp of the sea and sinking, and enclosed by the deep he felt the rage of the Maia. Roaring filled his ears with the churning of the waves, and it was Ossë’s voice delivering the Doom.
Water forced its way into his lungs, burning. He clawed and thrashed for the surface, but his limbs were entangled in his own cloak. Something took hold of him, clasping his legs and wrenching downward in a motion that forced the last oxygen from his body, and he lost consciousness.
He did not remember swimming to shore, though he knew he must have done so. Afterward, he had a fragmentary memory of crawling through the wet sand on his hands and knees, distantly amazed that he was ashore and breathing. A wave, warm and gentler than the others, washed over him as he collapsed and, drenching him anew, a voice breathed in his ear, bidding him to rest.
Now, as he looked out over a deceptively calm post-storm sea, he felt the tears come. If only Gondolin had asked pardon with a full heart, the Sea would have forgiven us.
* * *
From here, where now? He knew not what he would do or where he would go, only that he could not return to Gondolin, not even to bear tidings of his companions to their families. Word of them would no doubt reach the Hidden City through the Falathrim, whose sharp-eyed mariners would find the wreckage on the beach. It was said Ossë spoke often to Círdan; perhaps the Maia even boasted to the Shipwright of the vessels he wrecked. Voronwë knew only that he would not shame his father by surviving.
North, he would not go north again. It was too near the Shadow, and his heart was too heavy with darkness, too heavy with the lives lost at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, warriors falling mortally wounded or stricken with grief on the return to Gondolin that had become a road of tears. There were too many widows, too many empty Houses, and over all that had been secure and beautiful loomed a fog of encroaching doom as ominous as the Echoriath that encircled the vale of Tumladen.
Even on Balar and upon the sea, far from Gondolin, Voronwë had felt the dark. Though his slight wounds were long healed, his spirit had never recovered from the Unnumbered Tears. So much hope destroyed. The Shadow is everywhere now, in every sunlit garden and fountain and in every heart that would hide from it, for there is no more hiding from it.
For now he might stay here. The ruins were shelter enough, and in what remained he could see they had been built by Noldorin hands. To the east, looming over the ruins in benevolent slumber, were the heights of Mount Taras. This, then, was ancient Vinyamar, where the followers of Turgon dwelt before they marched north and became the Gondolindrim, where Voronwë was born and spent half a childhood he scarcely remembered.
Although he was not hungry, his fingers strayed to the pouch at his belt. The wallet within, of waterproof material used by the Falathrim, had remained sealed even in the tempest, and the lembas it contained was untouched. It would sustain him for a time, as it had sustained him at sea, and Nevrast was a country where hunting and fishing were plentiful. He could survive here, but for the ache in his heart.
If only Ossë had taken me. To dwell among the uncounted dead in Mandos would have been easier than to live forsaken. At least in Mandos there is healing and forgiveness.
Whatever power had brought him safely to shore had not necessarily done him a kindness.
He started at the cry that echoed off the ruins, an unexpected voice in this desolate land, but again it came, hailing him.
“Welcome, Voronwë! I await you.”
Shivering, stumbling to his feet, he turned to see who had called to him. There, directly above him, standing upon the base of a crumbling pillar, stood a figure. Tall he was, clad in gleaming mail like fishes’ scales over which was wrapped a great cloak like a shadow. Blue was his shield, set with the device of a swan’s wing, and white feathers winged his helm. Like an Elf lord he seemed, shining silver and gold like one of the great captains of Gondolin, yet the warrior’s yellow beard told Voronwë he was a mortal Man, one of the Engwar.
As Voronwë searched the mortal’s face, a soft wind breathed against him, stirring his hair, and a voice sighed in his ear, gentle and commanding. For this did I bear thee up out of the deep, for he is My servant even as thou art.
Trembling, Voronwë sank to his knees. “Who are you, lord?” But though the words were meant for the Man, his reverence was for another, the unseen Power that guided his fate.
A hand fell upon his shoulder, solid and heavy as it urged him to rise. “Are you not the last mariner of the last ship that sought the West from the Havens of Círdan?”
The voice was calm, the language Sindarin flavored with the accent of Mithrim, and to Voronwë this was a wonder, for rarely did mortals come among the Firstborn. “Voronwë son of Aranwë am I, but how you know my name and fate I understand not.”
“I know, for the Lord of the Waters spoke to me yestereve,” said the Man, “and He said that He would save you from the wrath of Ossë, and send you hither to be my guide.”
Voronwë was amazed and a little afraid. The mortal’s name was Tuor son of Huor, a name Voronwë knew; the Man’s father had come to Gondolin many years before, one of the few permitted to do so. Huor and Hurín fought and died bravely at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and now to this lonely, sea swept place came Huor’s son, for what purpose Voronwë knew not.
He listened to all Tuor had to tell, wondering at Ulmo’s wisdom. He did not doubt the intent of the Lord of the Waters, strange though the Vala’s means of rendering aid was. Rather, Voronwë doubted his own ability to aid the Man in this. To Gondolin must I return, yet whether in folly or in triumph I know not. The king desired aid from the Valar, yet Ulmo sends it in the guise of a mortal clad in Elven armor bearing a prophecy. Who knows if Turgon will even listen to such a one?
My lord, he thought, staring out toward the foam-capped waves, You should have sent a great lord for this purpose. Who am I to presume to guide one of the Secondborn by the forbidden Hidden Way. Who among the Gondolindrim will listen when I tell them the mortal is Ulmo’s own servant?
As the sun sank in the west, coloring the sea in hues of scarlet and gold, he felt a gentle breeze kiss his face. Tuor sensed it, too, and paused in his speech, lifting his face to feel it. “He listens to us,” murmured the mortal.
Voronwë had not expected such an observation from one of the Secondborn. He had little experience of Men, but from what he had seen they seemed too short-lived to grow into wisdom. An outlaw and an outcast. An unlikely pair we are, he thought. Ever inscrutable are the ways of the Valar.
“I know not how much aid I shall be able to render you,” he told Tuor. “I could not even fulfill the charge Turgon laid upon me.”
“Perhaps,” mused Tuor, “this is one way of fulfilling it.”
Although Tuor was obedient and willing to do as the Lord of the Waters bid, he was not boastful of the charge laid upon him, laying aside helm and shield with careful hands as he sat beside Voronwë and shared a meal of the game he had caught the day before. In quieter moments, he was as self-effacing as Voronwë, wondering what worth Ulmo saw in him. “Though of lordly kin out of Dor-lómin, I am but a mortal and have lived a hard existence. I am as unlikely a vessel of a Vala’s will as you will find.”
“It is not for me to question Ulmo’s will,” murmured Voronwë.
“Yet there is doubt in your heart.” Tuor smiled to relieve the sting of his observation. “I should become accustomed to it, I think, for I do not expect a wholehearted welcome in Gondolin.”
“If you should ever see the city, I would say many will look strangely upon you. For my part, I will obey Ulmo and guide you as far as the Hidden Way, yet beyond that I cannot guarantee you entry to Gondolin. Many are the sentries, and the way is closely guarded,” said Voronwë. “Long have I been away, yet when I left the guard was greater and fewer folk went abroad than they had in the days before the—” He hesitated, realizing the mortal’s father had been among those lost in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. In grief, mortals and Eldar were much alike, covering over what wounds they could not purge, yet for mortals death was permanent and feared.
Tuor answered him with a steady gaze. “Do not fear to speak to me of the Unnumbered Tears, for all my days I have lived in its grief and shadow. Still, I am here. Sorrow and hardship have not unmade me.”
Voronwë said nothing, but stared out to sea once more. More wreckage the waves had yielded, yet no corpses among them. He remembered the Maia’s furious grasp that wrenched him down toward the deep and knew Ossë would keep that which he claimed. “The Sea has swallowed them all.”
“A servant of the Doom he is,” said Tuor. “I know little of it beyond what Ulmo has told me, but even I need not His words to see how great the fury of Ossë is.”
“We were proud, seeking aid without humility, without seeking forgiveness for our own wrongs.” Twilight had fallen and the night was growing cold, even with their small fire. Voronwë wrapped himself in his salt-stained and tattered cloak.
“I do not know,” murmured Tuor, “if Ulmo would have spared one who was unworthy. Of noble bearing you seem, Voronwë, yet in my eyes you are not proud beyond humility. If forgiveness was something you sought, who is to say you did not ask?”
In wonder Voronwë looked upon him, his face and beard gilded by the firelight. Tuor had said the Lord of the Waters would speak His message through him, that Ulmo would give him the words when they were most needed and that others would know it was not the voice of a mortal alone that spoke.
Only by a subtle shift in tone did Voronwë sense it was not Tuor’s voice alone that he heard now. The voice that had greeted and summoned him by name had been deep and commanding, stirring his sluggish blood, compelling him to obey. And even now he heard it, from the mouth of a vessel that seemed somehow taller, more beautiful and terrible than a mortal Man should be.
I do not remember asking to be forgiven, he thought, though many times I thought upon the matter. I desired it, I know, yet dared not ask. The only memories that flashed through him were of clinging desperately to the mainmast in the tempest, and of crawling from the surf on his hands and knees. He did not remember what he might have cried to the storm when it took him.
Tuor touched his face with a hand shod in fishes’ mail. Voronwë smelled the sea upon his bare skin and marked the curious light that was in his eyes. “Does it require words to ask forgiveness, vórimaquen?” asked a voice that was not Tuor’s.
Voronwë answered not, for the spirit of the Vala shone through the mortal’s gaze and he was abashed. “Airwë, I am not worthy of this task.”
“Thy worth I have already perceived,” said Ulmo/Tuor, “and in Mandos it doth not lie. Mine eyes are clearer than thine and I have taken thee from the deep and made thee Mine own. In the name thy mother gave thee is fidelity, and thou wilt be faithful. Return now to Gondolin as I bid thee and be not afraid.”
In the next breath, he felt Tuor withdraw his hand. The moment was past; the spirit of the Lord of the Waters had also withdrawn. “A fine pair we are,” the Man said, laughing softly, “an outlaw and a shipwrecked mariner. But you are only the guide, Voronwë. I am the one who must bear the message.”
* * *
At this time, there were eleven great Houses in Gondolin; Tuor’s House of the White Wing would become the twelfth. Tolkien does not mention any lesser Houses, such as the fictitious House of the Eagle created for this story, but there is nothing to indicate lesser establishments might not have existed. I took the liberty of assigning Voronwë to one of these lesser Houses because it seems that he later became part of the House of the White Wing, something he would have been less likely to do had he belonged to one of the great Houses.
atarinya: (Quenya) my father
yondo: (Quenya) son
In Unfinished Tales, Voronwë refers to Nevrast as the land of his birth.
Engwar: (Quenya) the Sickly Ones, an epithet for Men.
The initial exchanges between Voronwë and Tuor are adapted almost verbatim from Unfinished Tales. The later exchanges are my own invention.
Mithrim: Tuor spent the first sixteen years of his life as the foster son of Annael, a Grey Elf of Mithrim. During the years he spent as a thrall of the Easterling Lorgan, he would have learned some of the Easterling tongue, but his primary language was probably some form of Sindarin.
vórimaquen: (Quenya) steadfast/faithful one
airwë: (Quenya) holy person or being. Voronwë is using it as a respectful form of address to a Vala.
Elven mothers sometimes had foresight into the fates of their children and named them accordingly. Nowhere is it said that Voronwë is an essë tercenya, or name of insight, yet the name itself means “steadfast one,” and this is the role Voronwë took with Tuor.
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