12. Part 12
The voice startles me, for my back is to the tunnel opening and I see nothing but cracked earth and stone, illuminated blue by a Feanorian lamp set high on a rocky shelf. Crouched on my haunches, I drive the wedge more firmly into the loosed boulder and shoot a glance over my shoulder. Despite the dim light I am easily able to discern silver mail, grey breeches, the gleam of a diamond-set helm held under arm. Setting down my axe, I turn my chin and distinguish the features of Ecthelion, dark hair swinging loose over his shoulder as he ducks through the black cave and into the glow of the lamp.
"Yet I think the chamber suits you well, Lord of the Mole-people," he declares in a hearty voice, standing tall once more under the raised ceiling of my newest cavern.
I am disconcerted, for the lonely feeling which had receded in me the deeper I delved into the rock of Amon Gwareth now swells and ebbs in rapid succession at the sight of him, so glad am I to see his face. Yet I wish not for conversation, desiring only a presence to relieve my solitude. And I do not recall Ecthelion for his silence.
"And you not at all, Lord of the Fountains," I return, standing so that I may lower the lamp nearer to the stone I am hewing. "Take care that you do not blacken your silver."
" 'Twould not be the first time." Ecthelion crouches at a right angle to me, his bright gaze swift to fasten upon my hands as I take up my pick and axe once more. Again a peculiar sensation of relief and pleasure runs through me, nauseating in its unfamiliarity.
"And you do not answer my question," he adds in reminder, though he does not look to my face.
"Then first answer mine." Lightly, I begin to split apart the rock. "Why do you come here?"
"To speak with you," he answers in bland voice, but is quick to elaborate. Perhaps at last he grows familiar with the length of my patience for evasive speech-- strange that it is so, for that is the common path of my tongue. "The King calls a council of the Houses of Gondolin," he continues, head slanting at my precise direction of the wedge. "He wishes to speak regarding Tuor and the Message of Ulmo."
I release my tools, rubbing palms against the dirt to dissipate moisture. "He wishes to speak, but will he listen?"
"That also is his objective." Ecthelion leans back, loosely clasping hands between his knees. "Why? Has the dumb Mole learned speech? Will you offer opinion?"
"I may. I may not," I respond carelessly. "It depends upon the words of the other lords."
It is an unspoken request, but the elf-lord does not miss it, his merry gaze turning pensive, his eyes reflecting rather than penetrating. "When Tuor was brought before me," he says after a short pause, his voice softer. "I did not at first believe him to be a Man. He seemed a living glass filled with cloud and water and fire, cloaked by visions I still do not understand, yet am haunted by. Visions of desolate ruin, and at the same time of hope and life, and both were held in the hands of a powerful essence, though I could not deem to say if it was the same power under both. And they seemed to chase around each other in confusion, the ruin and the hope, and I wondered if the presence indeed held the happenings or only sought to." He speaks not for a moment, and I realize my hands are still. "He spoke in a voice that came not from his throat but from the earth, the sky, the sea, and he knew me by name though I told him not my title.
"I do not know what will become of Gondolin," Ecthelion addresses me now, gravely. "But I do not doubt that Tuor son of Huor came here not of his own will but that of Ulmo, Lord of the Waters. And for that, he should be heeded."
I do not reply, but I cannot take my eyes from the faint luminance of his fair face, for I do not comprehend such unquestioning faith. He has not met with Ulmo, nor have I. What reason have we to put trust in this Vala? He is but a concept, a vague idea of power and majesty. Turgon claims it was this Lord of the Waters who led him to the hidden valley of Tumladen where we now stand, but who can disprove it? My heart would that I believe my king, and even Ecthelion, one whom I would almost call my friend. But I put trust in my eyes, for they are impartial and fail me not.
My heart is not worthy of such trust.
"What thinks Turgon's sister-son of this Messenger?" Ecthelion now asks, his glance again keen.
My hands rest on the rough stone boulder, my thoughts on my conversation with Tuor in the Tower of the King. "I think," I reply slowly, "that I do not like that such power is placed in a single Man."
Ecthelion is surprised. "Your mistrust is in his power? Do you then disapprove of rulers, of kings, of yourself as a lord to have power over others?"
He does not understand. "That is power over matter, over the circumstance of a life." I stare at my hands, interlacing the fingers. "Tuor's command is of the heart. It rests ill with me, for in the heart is the rule of the spirit, and that is not for another to intervene with." I hesitate. "He is . . . but a mortal. Should we place our hearts in hands that will fall? Should we indeed give such dominion to any other than ourselves?"
The face of the Lord of the Fountains is still, his eyes unblinking. "Tell me, Lomion," he says softly. "Is your heart your own?"
He knows the answer.
"And would you have it for your own, if you could? Would you take back such a gift, to end both the deep grief and immeasurable joy of the freedom in giving it?"
A cold tremor slinks through my body. Yes, I would, in the flash of eye, in a heartbeat, in the passage of a thought. I would take my heart, red and black, blistered and unwhole, from the stone furnace of Celebrindal's silver hands. I would bring to an end this minute-by-minute, hourly, daily, yearly torture of living as a shell, hollow, crumbling, starving, reaching to be filled by anything, anything that will come to me. I would my Sharp Glance were blinded as to not see her distrust, her fear, her loathing. I would sever my hands if it would end this craving to touch her flesh, her bones. I would end this futile labour, seeking to fill my empty palms with silver and jewels, steel and stone, bending their beauty, their splendour to my will by sweat and force, and shaping only lifeless reflections of myself.
But I cannot.
"You are right." I stoop, retrieve the tools I had dropped to the ground. "My heart is already not my own. I have no need to fear Tuor."
Ecthelion is not satisfied by this. "Why would you fear the power of love? It is the bringer of life."
His brow lifts as if with revelation, his head inclining, and I chafe at the pure compassion which now wells within his eyes. "You speak of your mother," says he in low voice, not tender but with the coolness of a balm, a cold understanding.
The pick and axe laying in my hands begin to tremble. "I speak of my mother. I speak of my father. I speak of my birth, and my life, and my death."
"You are not yet dead, Maeglin."
With a deafening crack I hew the rock before me, and it spills open, porous black, and there is not the diamond I sought within.
"Your heart is in Gondolin, Ecthelion, like that of Turgon." I am breathing heavily, and sharply I sweep my hand at the broken fragments of the rock. "There lies Gondolin, friend. There will you lie, and him."
My muscles quiver and seize, my clench tight to the handle of the axe, as the Elf-lord grows tall and pale before me.
"You trouble me," he speaks softly.
"Then stand not in my presence!" I snap in sudden and livid anger at his calm, standing to match his height.
"My wish is only to help you," Ecthelion's voice grows stronger, sharper, his gaze narrow and pointed. He stands in guarded stance with rigid back, fingers clasping tightly to the rim of his unworn helm. "Yes, my heart is in Gondolin. But tell me," his expression is abruptly one of pain, his words a plea. "Where lies yours, Lord Maeglin?"
The cave spins around me black and jagged, his voice echoing sloth as if through a deep pool of water. In desperation I reach out my hand but touch nothing, my feet pitching, unsteady. I stretch the other hand and it bears the axe, strikes the stone wall, and with the jolt of impact the world stills.
"My heart lies in a fire!" I cry in anguish, slamming the axe forward, splintering the solid rock, pain lancing through my wrists. "In a gold, white, silver blaze which chars but does not consume, which intensifies and does not burn out, an ever-present wreathe of flaming fangs which do not loosen their grip, and I cannot touch them but sear my hand, and I cannot look but scald my eyes, and I feel nothing but the burning, the branding of my spirit . . ."
I gasp, for my throat burns in breath. The axe plummets from my hand, and I long to reach out to Ecthelion but he stands cold and white in his armour, looking at me as one foreign to him. I let my hands fall.
"I do not live," my words rasp at last. "But I cannot die."
We stand and stare at each other, as the perspiration grows waxy on my skin, and one by one the doors within his eyes shut, so that at last his face is unreadable.
He does not understand.
"Go," I say, my voice chilled. "I will come to the council."
This news does not bring him pleasure, as perhaps once it would have. "Then I take my leave," he says, and bows, and steps back.
He takes his leave. And I am left with empty hands and a broken wrist to gaze at the pieces of rock at my feet, discovering too late a single, glittering white jewel cast among the pebbles.
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.