Barrenness of Stone, The
1. The Barrenness of Stone
Stone. Everywhere in the city was stone which these Noldor seemed to find sufficient. Or perhaps it was simply that adults did not care if they were shut from the trees. Her father called this city home, but she had spent her first years in the woods; the Sindar she remembered all knew the trees as friends, bark and bough as familiar as hair and eyes of kin.
It had not been difficult for her, small even compared to other children, to find a way out. It was, after all, not expected that any would try to leave the city; the walls were there to deny foes entry. She had watched carefully, waiting until the guard was not close by and the sharp-eyed commander looked elsewhere.
She was determined, but the way was long. Surely if she kept walking, she would come to the forest. At last she faltered, tired and thirsty in the hills of stone. When she looked back, the trail behind her seemed an endless rocky path, no different from what stood before her. She sat to consider her way. The air above her stirred, and a great shape flew between the sun and her path. The shadow of wings fell on bare rock and dry dirt; she cowered as the huge being settled near her.
"What are you?" she asked, forcing herself to sit up and look at the giant eagle, who with sharp eyes and sharper beak seemed as fearsome and frightening as the tale of a dragon.
The voice rolled over her. "I am Thorondor, King of the Eagles of the Lords of the West."
"Are you a creature of shadow?" She tried to keep her words from trembling.
"Nay, child. Ever have we have opposed the Dark Enemy." With the great wings folded, still he loomed above her, the eyes large and keen, deep-set beneath the noble brow.
"What would such a youngling know of shadow?"
"I hate the shadow! When it grew greater Ada said we must leave our forest for the stone city." She straightened to meet his gaze. "That's what I have come for. I want to see the trees again."
"You are little more than a nestling. Few of your kind come this way, even those who are mighty hunters. You are brave to come so far, young one, but you must return to your nest."
"No, please!" She stopped abashed, but forced herself to endure the piercing gaze. "I can't go back yet. I must find the forest!"
"Anar would sink from the sky long before you reached the forest. And for those who must go so slow upon the ground, there would be many dangers."
She felt herself on the verge of tears and shamed before him, but she was stubborn. "I will not turn back until I see the forest!"
If he saw the tears he gave no sign, but nodded slowly. "Very well, brave child. If your courage holds I will show you the forest beneath my realms." The golden eye burned through her, a question and a challenge as the mighty wings beat. The extended swordlike talons of one foot closed around her like a cage of steel. Her trembling had returned, but she swallowed her fearful cries as the ground dropped away. "Look down now at the skin of Endoré."
She opened her eyes. They had passed the cliffs, and below her were trees. Multitudes of trees. Seas of green leaves and gently waving branches. They glided lower, his wings barely moving, and he deposited her on a great branch. "You may rest here. I will return shortly." She barely paid attention to his farewell as her arms went out to encircle the rough and familiar trunk. She murmured her name to the ancient being. The shining leaves sighed at her, and she laughed with pleasure. She was home once again, in the warmth of green, cherished in a way that stone could never match.
All too soon the majestic eagle soared and stooped over her. "Come," the deep voice brooked no denial. "Your love for the land is endearing, but it is time to return." Once again she was enclosed in the great interwoven spikes. The rocks and slopes flashed past, and mindful of her disobedience she begged to be let down among the cliffs that ringed the city.
"You will find your way?"
"I can," she replied, "there are small holes the soldiers don't know."
"Farewell, brave nestling." The wings soared and she was alone suddenly.
For all her assurances to the great eagle, she looked around at the ledge beneath her and the cliffs above, and was no longer certain how to reach the fissure she had crawled out of. Some weary time later, with small progress made, a step made her freeze in place. She looked up in alarm, to see a bright-haired Lord of the city. He was armed, and his bearing was soldierly and regal.
"What are you doing beyond the walls, child?" he asked, surprised.
"I wanted to see trees again. I miss them," she said, then braced for a scolding.
His words to her were gentle. "It would be many miles until you reached the forest. There are some gardens with trees in the city. The Square of the Fountain has beautiful and ancient trees beloved even by the King. I fear you must be content with those." She took the water flask he offered and drank thirstily.
"You must not leave the city," he said as he led her toward the hidden entrance. "Your parents would grieve were you injured, and the way is dangerous even for an Elf full-grown." She passed through the gate as he watched, and only then did he turn back to the cliffs.
Within a few weeks, rested and lonely again, she ventured out once more. This time escaping the city was not so easy. She tried to hide when she saw the flash of golden hair, but he fished her out, laughing. "Am I so little to be obeyed? I command hardened warriors of my house, but alas! My gravity is not sufficient to overawe one small child!"
Seeing the smile, she laughed too. "But I am not so small, and I am a very brave child! I lived in the woods, you know, and we are crafty in the wild. You are used to the City, Lord."
"You are a brave child indeed, and I honor you for it. There are times when bravery is needful, but prudence is better most times. Even warriors must be prudent as well as brave." He grew somber. "And it is the task of this warrior to preserve lives, whether it be to defend against attack from without, or to keep those within safe from other danger. Is it only the forest that draws you here? Or," his face was stern, "is there some other power that calls you?"
"I want to visit the eagles."
She was glad to see his smile of understanding. "Yes, they are beautiful," he said, "but that would be very dangerous. The Lord Thorondor is of a different kind from other animals, and these are his eyries." He gestured toward the forbidding cliffs. "One of his folk could mistake you for an overlarge rabbit, or knock you off the path with a stray buffet of his wings. Few come here because of that, and none who are so small as you."
She kept silent, although she knew the King of the Eagles would not hurt her, and one so wise and great would not let her come to harm accidentally. This might be a lord of the city and head of a great house, but her knowledge of the eagle king was the greater.
The next time she was clever, and watched until the golden-haired commander was not near the city walls. She still tired long before she reached the crags, but this time she had brought water, and stopped frequently to rest, scanning the skies. She had exposed the bright clothes worn under her grey cloak, hoping to attract the sharp eyes of her friend.
Even though it had taken longer than she hoped, she was not disappointed. This time though awe remained, she could watch without fear as he glided, the splayed feathers at his wingtips reaching out to grasp the air like great fingers. He lighted nearby, the soft brown feathers overlapping to form his layered coat as he settled.
"You return. I am pleased to see your courage holds, child."
"I am very brave! The Lord Glorfindel said so." She smiled, pleased with the memory. "He said also that I should stay away, and that we are of very different kind."
"The golden-crested one speaks truly, child, as he ever has. But that our fates are sundered does not mean that your company cannot be pleasing to me, or mine to you. For you are a curious being, as are all Elves, but many are wary of those they know not well. And those newly returned to this land are wary of those that befriend the Powers in the West."
"Did you come from the West, Thorondor?"
"I and all my race; we were sent forth to this land by the Lord of the West and at his bidding we keep watch upon Morgoth. For he is accursed and evil, and has chosen evil for his own glory. He had tormented my kin, for he thought that we could yield to him the secret of our flight. But even if we would do such, it would avail him not, yet ever he has sought it and thought to wring the knowledge by torture from those he caught. And so our hatred is bitter, and we will aid Men and Elves against him when we may."
"Can you fly to Thangorodrim and kill him?"
"Nay, child. Once I wounded him, and he will bear my mark until the end of his days. But he is of the Valar, mighty even in his evil and I cannot prevail against him. We may contend with his creatures and claim victory, but even amongst those some are as mighty as we, thus we will not fight save at great need."
He did not allow any more questions, but gathered her surely within the interlaced talons. "Settle yourself, nestling." She had feared he would take her back to the city immediately, but the powerful wings beat and they soared away from the cliffs toward the billowing green beyond the rock. She reveled in the short time he allowed her in the forest, filling her eyes with the sight of shimmering leaves.
This time she was able to return undetected.
She was content for a time, sustained by the memory of green. But now and again she was dispirited, and her father noticed, and questioned.
"I am lonely."
"There are other younglings about," her father said encouragingly.
"They are nice. But I miss trees and forests, Ada."
He smiled. "We have shown you wondrous halls and courtyards, fountains of crystal set in gardens, and they do not move you?" Now she truly felt bad-tempered and willful, for she did love those things, but would not say so.
"No! I want to see forests! I want to go home!"
His smiled faded, and a stern look came upon his face. "This is our home, child. The forest was but a brief stop on my travels, and we shall not leave Gondolin again, even if the King would permit it.
"If you cannot love the beauty that is here now, you cannot. Another time you may say differently. But you must stay in the city. It is not safe outside, where there is no bar to wild or evil creatures."
She sulked. Eventually, having cried and protested, she was wearied and slept. She awoke in better temper, willing to rejoice in the beauty within the walls of Gondolin the fair. But as the days passed, her passion for trees tugged at her heart, and she crept from the house, and then from the walled city, and up the pass toward the rocky crags, from where she could look down upon the forests. The large wings whispered, the fierce eye met hers, and the formal voice she remembered so well spoke.
"So child, you return after long away. Have you lost your courage, or tired of the crags and hills?"
"No, Lord Thorondor, but my father forbade me to leave the city."
The huge wingspan folded like the sails of a swanship, graceful and swift. The mighty presence settled a little way off on a spur of rock. "Your father is wise, child. For though there is little enough safety in your city, there is less outside the walls."
"Why are you here then?"
He spoke majestically, "We do not seek safety, but the open air, the clean forest, the heights of the peaks - these belong to my race. My throne is carved of rock by the storms and ages, and Manwë guards my name. For we too are beloved of Eru."
The day had held only horrors, one coming hard upon the heels of the next. Her tears could not change it, and her ama and ada were afraid - she could feel it, however much they would not tell her so. Her father had gone to the back of the straggling group with the other neri, and a sword was in his hand. Her ama hurried her forward to keep up and walk carefully the narrow path that had meant forbidden joy to her such a short time ago.
The sound of screams and foul, coarse growls rang in her ears from behind. She would not turn and look, and her mother pulled on her hand to keep her moving. Then something shadowy loomed above, and suddenly in their midst was a huge dark figure with streaming flames. All about her were screams and terror. Some tried to run back, or press against the rock walls, looking for a way up, as a whip of flame cut through the air and ignited whatever it touched. Panic swept through them and the death-fear - some bid farewell to their loved kin even as the flame took them. Then gold joined black on the narrow ledge and the flame was directed away from the children and their mothers; instead it poured upon the golden haired warrior who had leaped to their defense. No smile now graced his fair countenance; his face was grim and set. His sword flashed and flickered keeping the fiery demon from those who could neither run nor fight.
The Balrog fled.
The demon sprang away from its foe, up upon the crag that reared above the ledge. Golden armour glinted as Glorfindel leaped after and hewed off an arm; the blazing whip clattered down the mountainside. Still they fought and grappled and she could scarcely breathe as those on the path watched with fear and hope. One Elf-maid close by, face pale and eyes wide with fright, begged, "Valar help him!"
Glorfindel, right hand with sword caught in the demon's shoulder, stabbed from beneath with the dirk in his left and the Balrog shrieked its pain and fell. Long breaths of relief were drawn as the faces of the fleeing Elves showed new hope. But the victory was flawed, for as the creature fell its unwounded arm shot forward and clutched the hair of his attacker, pulling Glorfindel after him. Wails of sorrow and disbelief rang out from the refugees as both tumbled from the high pass into the abyss below.
"No!" But she whimpered it, too shocked to cry out as she clung to her mother's hand. The image of the laughing lord with kind words was before her eyes, but he would not smile again. She could not believe he was gone. "We are safe for now, daughter, but we must hurry!" But she could not move for grief.
She saw another now, a comforting presence to share her grief, for the great wings beat as Thorondor dove after the fallen, and gently took up the broken body, returning him to his people. In the silence she wept for the golden Elf who had called her brave, and counselled prudence.
Thorondor's stern voice spoke above her, "He was valiant, child, beyond the like of many of your kind. For the dark things of Morgoth assail not only body, but taint the spirit, and the fëa quails before them. Yet this one, overcome in body, was yet pure as the gold of his hair in spirit. He shall lie here, honored by your kin and mine, and in the Halls of Mandos he shall be treated tenderly.
"Know that this land shall feel the caress of his footfalls again. When another soars in my place, he shall yet walk Middle-earth, and his laughter will light the hearts of the Firstborn that dwell here." His eye held her. "And his courage will light their way against the shadow."
She believed and took comfort, however small, and walked beside the remains of her people down the weary way to the River Sirion.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.