1. Shining Black
They tell me that I used sorcery to ensnare her, but that is a lie. Aredhel was lost, came upon a path and followed it to my door. I welcomed a traveler astray in the forest and came to love her. Where is the sorcery in that? Still, they must have a sop to throw to their pride. Her kin cannot imagine what there might be about me that Aredhel could admire, so I must have cast a spell to lure her.
If there was any enchantment, it was in Nan Elmoth itself, which has brought unlikely lovers together before. The eyes of the Golodhrim have been dazzled by the light of the Trees, and they no longer feel the delicious mix of privacy and strangeness that can only be found beyond the reach of the Sun. They want all revealed and plain before them, and have no patience with that which shows itself cautiously, like the beauty of the night or the friendship of the Dwarves. To them, Nan Elmoth is a forbidding place, not the land of shy marvels that I have come to love.
She was at once exotic and at home among those marvels when I first saw her, her white gown glimmering in the twilight under the trees. When she appeared at my door, I let her in and offered her food and drink. I could see she was of the Golodhrim, and so I was wary. Word had come even into the depths of my forest of the slaughter at Alqualondë and the Doom of the Noldor, and I wanted nothing to do with any of that kindred. By the time we finished our meal, all that was forgotten.
We spoke of how each of us had come to Nan Elmoth, and the things that had drawn us out of our former homes. She craved, as I did, the liberty to explore and to do and think things that had not become reflex by the passage of years. Neither of us could bear to be confined, no matter how lovely the cage. Gondolin had been everything that was beautiful, she told me, but it grew stale when she could never see anything else. What good had it done to leave Aman if she would only be tethered to a different place?
In my turn, I told her of my impatience with the conventions in Doriath. Some rules were reasonable, but why should I not be a smith, just because the other Sindar were not? If iron fell from the stars that I loved, why should I not forge it in their honor? Like Aredhel, it galled me to hear “thus far and no farther” repeated until people would not stir beyond their own doors or allow a thought beyond the commonplace.
In those early days, she rejoiced with me in the freedom of the twilight, which softens boundaries and sets no limits upon possibility. Aredhel was not like the others of her kind and did not scorn me as an ignorant savage. It did not concern her that I spoke seldom, and without the fluency of many of her kin. We understood one another, even when the words came awkwardly from my tongue. Though she was always bold and daring, she did not behave as one of the Golodhrim, who are compliant in small matters but as wild as Orcs in great ones. Her wildness went no further than impatience with needless rules and a longing to roam and explore. She was my partner in freedom, not a conqueror or a great queen condescending to her inferior. We were happy.
Our joy made us reckless, and we had a son. At first, he only added to our happiness. He was a clever child, with the look of his mother and the passion of his father. He spoke seldom, but saw much. Seeing his watchfulness and the way he could see right to the core of a person, I called him Maeglin.
Even as a small child, it was clear that he also had the same curiosity and love of freedom that Aredhel and I shared. He could never abide to be held back when he would go. In the forge, he learned as quickly as I could put the skills before him, and always hungered for more.
As he grew, he went with me to the cities of the Dwarves and learned from them also.
Aredhel did not come with us. The Dwarves found it shockingly remiss of me to let her wander abroad so openly, and she had never been able to abide the Dwarves in any event, so she remained at home.
She had never liked to be confined, but she could not wander freely with an infant. Later, she stayed alone while Maeglin and I traveled to Nogrod and Belegost. I never forbade her to come and go as she pleased in the woods. Perhaps I did not stay home to accompany her often enough as Maeglin grew. She began to complain that she could not travel among her kin, but she had the whole world else to roam in, and I thought that would be enough to content her.
It was not. She grew lonely and then cold and scornful, for the first time seeing me as a Sinda and not as her husband. She told Maeglin stories of Gondolin, and in her tales it became a paradise, and the Golodhrim fonts of wisdom and nobility. She and Maeglin both became discontent with our home and with me, sure that I denied them the wonders of Gondolin to no purpose. What better purpose could I have than to save them from the Doom of the Noldor? The two of them would pay me no heed, though, and ached to join their accursed kin. Had Aredhel forgotten about the curse while she lived with me in the safety of Nan Elmoth? As long as I could keep the two of them away from the Noldor and from Gondolin, there was a chance it might pass them by. Still they would have none of my protection.
Though it tore my heart to think of it, I would have to let Aredhel go if that was her wish. She was old enough to understand that if she returned to Gondolin, there could be no changing her mind again. Once he had her back, Turgon would keep her forever penned in Gondolin. I knew that captivity would soon grate on her, but if I could not persuade her, neither could I force her to stay. When the love of freedom was so much of what first drew us together, how could I deny it to her now?
Maeglin, though, was little more than a child. In his anger over being gainsaid, he thought himself willing to part with me forever, but how much could he know of ‘forever’ at eighty? His head had been turned by his mother’s romantic tales of the heroes of the Golodhrim and the glory of Gondolin, and like many a youth, he was certain he knew better than his father. He was wild to meet the Golodhrim and see Gondolin.
I thought he would outgrow it, but at dinner one evening, I spoke of a message that had come from the Dwarves that day. “The Lord of Nogrod says he is most interested in seeing your work in galvorn and mithril. What pieces will you take to trade at the Midsummer feast?“
He barely looked up from his plate as he said, “I will not be going to Nogrod.”
“The Dwarves made a point of inviting you,” I said. The Dwarves are sparing with such invitations, and apt to take insult if they are not declined in the proper form. The time for that was now well past. Annoyed at the amount of appeasement they would require, I asked, “And where will you be that you cannot go to Nogrod as we sent word you would?”
He shrugged. “They have taught me all they will. There is nothing more I can learn here or there, so I am going to visit Celegorm and Curufin in Himlad.”
It was all I could do to stay in my seat. Had Maeglin gone mad? Those two were everything I loathed about the Noldor: haughty, scornful, and quick to violence. Celegorm had little liking for me, and Curufin flatly hated me. It galled him that a lowly Dark Elf had the secret of galvorn when he did not. He might tolerate Maeglin at first for his youth and his Noldor looks, but ere long, Curufin would begin to resent him for his skill and because he was my son. A resentful Curufin is a dangerous one, and Maeglin is hardly possessed of an easy temper. I could not permit my son to risk a trip to Himlad.
When I told him that he could not go and why, Maeglin listened with a cool frown. “There is no more you can teach me, so I will go to Curufin,” he said. “I am of age, and I will go to Himlad with or without your blessing.”
Was I no more to him than that, no more than a source of secret lore? Had he heard none of my warnings? The Golodhrim had slain his kin and mine in their willfulness. They came to Middle Earth in the guise of saviors when we were desperate, and made us supplicants in our own lands. Even had I thought the curse no great thing, I would have forbidden him to go. I would not have my son associate with thieves and killers who fancied themselves worthy of greater honor than their victims. I sprang up to stand between him and the door and said, “You are of the house of Eöl, Maeglin, my son, and not of the Golodhrim. All this land is the land of the Teleri, and I will not deal nor have my son deal with the slayers of our kin, the invaders and usurpers of our homes. In this you shall obey me, or I will set you in bonds.”
He only turned his gaze back to his plate and said nothing to me, not then or later. He refused to speak and would not travel with me to Nogrod. I thought he was merely brooding, as youths will. Perhaps I should have made good my threat and set him in bonds, because no sooner had I left for Nogrod than he set to work to persuade Aredhel to take him to Gondolin.
I hoped at first that they had only gone to Himlad to visit the nearest settlement of the Golodhrim, as Maeglin had earlier threatened to do. Though Curufin and Celegorm were no friends of mine, and dangerous to any of my kin, Himlad was the lesser of the evils. If they did venture there, they could still return if they became discontent. If they reached Gondolin, though, they would be locked in and bound to the Golodhrim and their doom forever. I set off holding to the hope that they were not forever lost to me.
I had not gone far into Himlad before Curufin’s riders waylaid me. If it pleased him more that day to mock me than to kill me, Curufin might let me live. If it did not, then I would sell my life as dearly as I could. As the riders drew near, I slipped a dart into the seam of my cloak. When they laid hands on me, I clenched my teeth and allowed them to drag me before Curufin.
It suited his pleasure to humiliate me. When I told him I had come seeking my wife and son, he laughed in my face, enjoying my distress. “They might have found their welcome here less warm than they hoped, had you accompanied them; but it is no matter, for that was not their errand.” His mocking smile grew triumphant. Even more than my skill at the forge, my marriage enraged him, and he delighted to see it in ruins. “It is not two days since they passed over the Arossiach, and thence swiftly westward. It seems that you would deceive me; unless indeed you yourself have been deceived.”
They had been bound for Gondolin all along, then. If they reached their goal before I caught up with them, I would lose them forever. I asked leave to go and he gave it, telling me the sooner he was rid of me, the better it would please him. As I mounted my horse, I looked back over my shoulder to say bitterly, “It is good, Lord Curufin, to find a kinsman thus kindly at need. I will remember it when I return.”
Curufin whirled back and snarled, “Do not flaunt the title of your wife before me, for those who steal the daughters of the Noldor and wed them without gift or leave do not gain kinship with their kin. I have given you leave to go. Take it and be gone. By the laws of the Eldar I may not slay you at this time.”
He said more, but I had already wheeled my horse and urged it to a run. Did he think we should have been such fools as to ask permission before we wed, and give her haughty kinfolk the chance to drag her back to her luxurious prison? Had he known at the time, Curufin himself would have rejoiced in the excuse to slay me for my presumption, but Aredhel was my wife and he no longer had even a shadow of a right to interfere.
I rode the horse as hard as I dared, and in the end, I was only a few moments too late. They had left their mounts by the river and gone on afoot, and the horses neighed when I rode near. Looking that way, I saw a flash of white disappear into what I would have thought a blind passage, and knew that it was Aredhel.
If I followed, there was little hope of a happy outcome, but if I turned back, I must give my family up forever. It only took a moment to choose. I sprang down from my horse and raced after them knowing that I had set in motion something that I could no longer control or call back. For good or ill, the arrow had left the string.
Even knowing where to look for the entrance, it was difficult to find, but find it I did. I went cautiously, but without truly expecting to pass unnoticed. When the guards seized me, I fought. With so many against me, I had no hope of defeating them, but I fought as much for the honor of the Sindar as to break free. I ended face down in the dust, but that is ever the way of it when the Golodhrim deal with the Sindar, is it not?
They had no right to interfere between a husband and wife and so I told them. One of the guardsmen laughed as he pulled me to my feet. “I know not how you knew the Lady Aredhel had returned to Gondolin with her son, but you would do well not to lie about your betters. Your life is forfeit for a hoax that would take no one in.”
The other guards laughed as well, and one or two of them I thought were Sindar themselves. What has become of my people when we submit to those who killed our kin, and find it laughable that a noblewoman of the Golodhrim might love a Sinda?
“He is no Golodh! Maeglin is my son as much as hers,” I said. I tried to wrench myself free of their restraining hands, but they were too many, and they bound me. They were not my betters and they had no right to tell me where I might and might not go in the lands that had belonged to my people. I glared into the eyes of their captain and said, “Aredhel is my wife. Ask her, if you will not believe me. Tell her Eöl, her husband, is here and would have speech with her.”
The captain frowned, but sent one of the guardsmen to Turgon with the message. Shortly, the messenger returned looking unsettled. “The Lady Aredhel says that this is her husband. King Turgon orders that he be brought to the King’s hall for judgment.”
I was brought before Turgon and the family that we shared. The hall where they sat was, like all I had seen of Gondolin, beautiful. No, it was stunning, filled with an aggressive beauty of brilliant color, bright light, and awesome grandeur. It made my head ache. Aredhel sat near her brother, wearing a troubled frown. She looked at me and turned as if to say something to Turgon, then sat back looking uncertain. The muscles between my shoulder blades knotted. In our years together, Aredhel had had time to be many things, but indecisive was never one of them.
Maeglin sat on her other side, cool and watchful as ever. The sword he bore was my own Anguirel. Was that a sign that he was not as ready as he thought to turn his back on me forever, or did it mean that he had only ever loved the things I could give him?
Turgon rose and made as if to take my hand, saying with only a hint of stiffness, “Welcome, kinsman, for so I hold you. Here you shall dwell at your pleasure, save only that you must here abide and depart not from my kingdom; for it is my law that none who finds the way hither shall depart.”
At my pleasure! What pleasure could there be in living pent in this pretty cage, as a servant to the Golodhrim? For whatever Turgon might say, I was still Sinda, and the scorn of the City Guard when I told them I was Aredhel’s husband showed me what to expect from the people of Gondolin. Such pointed charity! I might stay in Gondolin but I would be expected to bind myself by whatever restrictions Turgon wished and be thankful for the chance to be slighted and belittled for as long as the city and the Golodhrim endured.
Aredhel was lost to me. She had gone back to the Golodhrim, who never understood how deeply she needed freedom, and let them fasten the shackles on her once again. I would not compel her to go anywhere against her will. If she thought she wished to stay in Gondolin, then all I could do was bid her farewell, though it broke my heart to do so. Maeglin, though, sought to stay without full knowledge of what that entailed. That I could not allow.
“I acknowledge not your law,” I told him. “No right have you or any of your kin in this land to seize realms or to set bounds, either here or there. This is the land of the Teleri, to which you bring war and all unquiet, dealing ever proudly and unjustly. I care nothing for your secrets and I came not to spy on you, but to claim my own: my wife and son. Yet if in Aredhel your sister you have some claim, then let her remain; let the bird go back to the cage, where soon she will sicken again, as she sickened before. But not so Maeglin. My son you shall not withhold from me. Come, Maeglin, son of Eöl! Your father commands you. Leave the house of his enemies and the slayers of his kin, or be accursed!”
Maeglin only clamped his lips tighter and looked away. Turgon glowered down at me and snapped, “I will not debate with you, Dark Elf. By the swords of the Noldor alone are your sunless woods defended. Your freedom to wander there wild you owe to my kin.”
I could not speak for rage. By the swords of the Noldor alone? Did he think I had never slain an orc, that I went armed and armored only for the sake of appearance? Perhaps he did believe that we were so feeble that we would do nothing to defend ourselves if the glorious Noldor did not deign to look after us.
“This choice only is given to you: to abide here, or to die here; and so also for your son,” Turgon said.
Abide here, surrender my freedom, and wait for the Doom of the Noldor to take those I loved? My hand closed around the javelin I had kept hidden in my cloak ever since Curufin’s men found me in Himlad. If anyone had asked at that moment, I could not have said what I meant to do with it. I think I had intended to exact the highest price I could for my life, but I might well have meant to slay Turgon for that suave restatement of Curufin’s insults. Even now, the thought of living here on sufferance repels me and comes near to reconciling me to my fate.
But as my hand rested on the dart, I saw what was to come for my son. In a rush of images, I saw Maeglin’s gaze rest hungrily on Idril, and I saw his longing for her grow against all nature and custom. I saw Maeglin in council with Turgon, Idril wary and mistrustful, Maeglin surrounded by Orcs, and then a place of such horror that I knew it for Angband. There I saw my son betray Gondolin to its destruction so that he might gain his cousin’s hand. At the end of it all, I saw him flung from the walls of the city as it fell, dying shamed and a traitor. In that moment, I knew the curse had taken him. It would crush him, turn him into a byword for treachery, and all that I had done to keep him apart from the Doom of the Noldor had failed.
I had failed, I thought, but I could still spare him the worst. I cast the dart, crying, “The second choice I take and for my son also! You shall not hold what is mine!”
I never meant for it to strike Aredhel.
I tried to go to her, to take her in my arms once more and beg her forgiveness, but they bound me and would not let me near her. Turgon sprang to his feet in rage, but Aredhel stared hard at me between the bodies of the men at arms who pinned me. Her face was as pale as her gown beneath its dappling of blood, and I knew she must have remembered the poison I used on my points. That poison had been a jest of long standing between us in the days before Maeglin was born. Whenever I advised prudence, she would tease me about the value of words of caution from one who went about with darts tipped in a poison for which there was no cure.
She raised her eyebrows in question, and the grief on my face was all the answer she needed. She closed her eyes briefly, then said to Turgon, “It is little more than a scratch, brother. Do not allow your anger to lead you into unseemly actions. I am certain he meant me no harm.”
Turgon frowned down his nose at me. “It is clear enough that he meant harm to your son.”
Aredhel, watching me closely as the blood trickled between her fingers, said, “Even so.”
Why would she say such a thing knowing I meant to kill our son, and that I had killed her? Did she know, as I did, that something far worse awaited him? Did she yet love me in spite of all that had passed between us? I longed to ask, but they dragged me away as the argument continued.
The guards were pleased to tell me later that Turgon had not been moved by her plea. Already she was falling back into her role as his younger sister, someone to be protected but not taken seriously. Then Idril also begged clemency for me, a thing that made no sense at all. Turgon heeded his daughter, though only barely, and set my judgment for the next day. I wish they had not interceded for me. If they had held their peace, this would already be over and I would not have had to hear....
About midnight, the news I expected arrived, but from an unexpected source. At the changing of the guard, the one coming on duty glared at me and kicked me in the ribs and told me that I had a visitor. Idril swept in behind him and said, “Leave us.”
“But, Lady, I cannot do that!” said the guard anxiously. “He is dangerous, and the king would have my head if I allowed him to harm you as well.”
She frowned at him in a way that made it clear that she was Turgon’s daughter and said, “You searched him, did you not?”
The guard nodded.
“He is chained and unarmed, and I will not come within arm’s reach of him. If you will not leave us, then sit over there. There are things I must say to him that are not for your ears.”
The guard looked dubious but moved away as ordered. Idril stood just beyond an arm’s length, looking down at me with an expression I could not decipher. At length, she said softly, “Aredhel is dead.”
I bowed my head. Though I knew the blow was coming, it still hurt.
“That was not unexpected, was it?” she asked.
I shook my head without looking up. “There was no cure for the poison.”
“She knew,” said Idril, and her voice was calm but remote. “Even had there been a cure, it might have done her no good. She no longer had any will to heal. She thought that perhaps you had had the same vision of Maeglin that she did.”
My head snapped up.
“She would not tell me all that she had seen, but she begged me not to trust too much in Gondolin’s invulnerability, and to be wary of my cousin. The rest must have been dreadful indeed, to make her say such a thing of her own son.”
“It was,” I said hoarsely. “Did she leave any other message?”
“She bade me tell you that she forgave you, and had my promise that I would not tell anyone else of the vision. Speaking of it will not save you, for my father is adamant against you, and she hoped there might still be a time to come when Maeglin could turn aside from the future that she foresaw. If any of us speaks, it may be that others will expect only evil from him and he will be locked onto that path.”
I nodded. “Leave him his chance. I never truly thought to survive this long, and death is the only escape I will have from this city.”
“I will say nothing of the vision or our words together,” she said, already vanishing into the shadows. Half turned away, she seemed caught by some notion for a moment. Then the moment passed and she continued on, saying, “If you see my mother before I do, give her my love.”
There was no real need of a trial, though they held one anyway. I spoke no word in my defense. Neither did Maeglin. The only dispute this time was over the most appropriate way to put me to death. I let the argument wash back and forth over me, not caring in the slightest whether they shot me full of arrows or struck off my head. It might have gone on much longer had not Idril turned towards me and said, “He does not wish to remain in Gondolin, so let him be thrown to his death from the walls of the city.”
Turgon and the others were much struck by her suggestion and agreed that it should be so. It was a relief to hear the judgment pronounced and know my bones would not have to lie in this beautiful prison. I caught Idril’s eye and gave her a tiny nod of thanks. It is bitter indeed that I have not saved Maeglin, but at least I will not be sending my son to a death that I have not endured myself, and that gives me some solace. When his turn comes, perhaps that will comfort him as well.
If I had known then how it would end, would I have barred the door against Aredhel and driven her off to perish in the wood? If I had, would I not be condemned just as surely by that choice? The Golodh think me dark and twisted, but how much more twisted are
the Valar, who set before me no choice that did not lead to evil and left me to bear the blame for all. For so I shall. What fault earned me such a punishment? The evil of being Sinda? Of daring to love Aredhel? Of wishing to shield my family from the Doom of the Noldor?
What were his mother and I thinking, to bring a child into the world to be fodder for this curse? If I could have kept them safe at home, perhaps the Valar would have overlooked them. Or perhaps not. Perhaps they guided her to me for the sole purpose of destroying us all. If they mean to keep me in Mandos until I call such a thing just...!
We are almost to the summit now and still Maeglin keeps his eyes turned away. Perhaps that is just as well. He is lost to me far more surely than his mother is and I do not want the last thing I see to be the proof of that in his face.
One last time, I try to warn him. “So you forsake your father and his kin, ill-gotten son? Here shall you fail of all your hopes, and here may you yet die the same death as I.”
It is no use, of course. They all take my words to be a curse, not a prophecy. It is still a bitter thing that I could not turn this doom aside from him, but even more bitter that fate has made a Golodh of me as well. Kinslayer. Accursed.
“Then they cast Eöl over the Caragdûr, and so he ended, and to all in Gondolin it seemed just; but Idril was troubled, and from that day she mistrusted her kinsman.”
The Silmarillion, Chapter 16, “Of Maeglin”
Notes: Much of the dialog in this story is quoted from The Silmarillion, Chapter 16, “Of Maeglin”. Of the bits that I borrowed, the only change I made was to change a punctuation mark in Eöl's last speech.
As for the existence of prejudice in Gondolin, I realize Turgon was exceptionally tolerant and accepting of the Sindar, and that the mingling of the two groups happened soonest in his lands. Eöl (even my version) is not entirely rational about the Noldor, and his take on things is not very reliable, but prejudice is often a matter of perspective. Those at the top sometimes don’t see it where it does exist, while those below may see it where it doesn’t. You be the judge of who is mistaken and to what degree.
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.