Finding Courage: 3. Chapter Three

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3. Chapter Three

“Quickly, go in single file. No, leave your treasures—only food and water. Don’t argue with me, woman! There’s no time!”

Tuor herded people toward the entrance to the passage, though to Glorfindel his idea of herding was more akin to shoving. The Man had no patience left, shouting at those who balked and ripping the valuables from those who refused to leave them. Ecthelion’s death weighed heavily upon him, and Maeglin’s treachery, and those burdens lent no honey to his tongue.

Idril he sent on ahead with Voronwë; Eärendil had been sent through the passage hours earlier and there was no further word of him. Others had also gone, stragglers whom Idril had found wandering in the streets before Tuor and his followers met her on the high ground of Gar Ainion, Place of the Gods. Glorfindel noticed she was clad in mail and there was blood upon her face and raiment, though little of it was hers.

Night had fallen again, a twilight clouded by smoke and lit with flame. They had cut their way out of the King’s Square, and those warriors who refused to leave, the King’s warriors and those of the Fountain, covered their escape with swords and arrows and, when weapons failed them, their own bodies, sealing the way behind them with a barricade of corpses. Urulóki prowled the streets, scorching the pavement with flame and trampling the bodies of the fallen.

As they ran, Glorfindel saw many warriors look back over their shoulders to the Tower of the King, where Turgon had barricaded himself. He took his own cue from Tuor and swallowed his grief long enough to shout at them to keep their eyes and wits on the road ahead. Even so, many of the Golden Flower fell along the Road of Pomps.

How many did we save? he wondered. Long ago he had stopped counting, but there seemed to be hundreds. Perhaps there were a thousand, yet when he saw the corpses of maidens and children in the street and replayed in his mind the warriors cut down, the number seemed much less. The greater bulk of them had already passed into the tunnel, and Galdor and Egalmoth had taken their warriors below to guard them; the flood was slowing to a trickle, and still Tuor remained at the entrance, shoving and urging everyone along.

Flames suddenly blossomed against the midnight sky; half a second later the boom of a distant explosion rocked the south wall. Those who had not seen turned at the sound, gasping, covering their mouths with their hands as the upper portion of the Tower of the King broke away and crashed downward. The ground shook at the impact, and the noise momentarily deafened the cries of horror.

It is over, thought Glorfindel, and he felt his heart flutter and sink in his breast. Turgon is dead. At least Idril had not seen the tower come down, and perhaps by now she was far enough away that she could not hear the explosions or feel the concussion.

Tuor gave the scene one last, despairing look, then dove into the passageway. Glorfindel and his warriors would hold the rear, and see to it that the passage was securely blocked after them.

The last forty or fifty survivors filed through after Tuor, going single-file, some with torches or lanterns torn off festival displays. Glorfindel hurried them along, scanning the alleyway for more people, for any last-minute stragglers who might come running (for surely there must be people still alive and trapped throughout the city), before withdrawing his men to the first length of the tunnel. Tuor had placed under his command the last remnants of the Houses of the Swallow and Harp, for there were not enough of the Golden Flower left to make a stand should it come to it.

Ondollo, his bottom lip split and black with caked blood, held aloft a torch for the warriors who threw off their arms and took up the chisels and picks left by the entrance by the masons. Using debris hauled in from the street, they began to brick up the door while from above, amplified through the strata of rock, muffled tremors dislodged stone dust; the warriors choked, coughed and kept working. When the walls and streets under which the tunnel ran collapsed, as well they might, the passage would seal itself, or cut off all route for escape for anyone trapped behind the debris. Hurry, thought Glorfindel. The torch trembled in Ondollo’s hand; the bloody lips formed the same word. Hurry.

The tunnel was not particularly wide or tall, and its entrance was less so, enough for a broad-shouldered Elven warrior to duck under the lintel. Four archers worked feverishly, piling up stones and sandbags without mortar; more would have helped, but there was not room to accommodate them. Once the debris reached the upper seam of the entrance, Glorfindel pulled the archers back and sent them down the passage one at a time, reminding them to do as Idril instructed, not to panic or try to outpace those ahead of them, for the way was narrow.

A thin, stale haze filled the passage; the air was warm and close. The path gently sloped downward, but when it ran level again, they were still near street level. Too close, thought Glorfindel, for the walls and ceiling rumbled constantly above them, and it seemed the stout wooden beams that shored up the passage strained to take the burden. Sometimes a violent jolt sent clouds of dust or small stones showering down; the city above was falling in on itself, buildings collapsing under the strain of heat and flame, or the relentless pounding of iron siege engines.

From up ahead, Glorfindel heard muffled sobs from women and children, sometimes from warriors when the ground shook. His own warriors were panting in the torchlit gloom, realizing for the first time how claustrophobic they were. They were not Naugrim who loved burrowing in the lightless earth; they needed to feel the wind and sun, and see the stars.

Keep going, he told himself, letting his lips wrap themselves around the words until they were a voiceless chant. One step, then another step. Do not stop, do not look back. Keep going. The words throbbed in his head like the trembling of the earth, the cadence of them driving back the terror of the dark, close space that pressed in upon him like a tomb.

Even with the torches, they could not see more than a foot before or behind them, so they had no warning when they came upon the first corpses. One of them, a man, had been turned over by those who went before; Glorfindel reached and felt for a pulse, but the body was cold and stiff, having been dead many hours. Perhaps his heart had given out in terror, for fear alone could bring death, especially in this place, but then, farther down the passage was a second corpse, and a third.

“The air is rank,” whispered Ondollo. “Mark the torch.”

The flames were sputtering, devouring precious oxygen. “Put it out,” said Glorfindel. “We can feel our way.”

“No!” screamed one of the archers. He backed up as if to run, but there were warriors behind and before him and he was trapped.

Glorfindel swiftly maneuvered his way to the archer, pinning him up against the wall with his own body. When the warrior did not stop screaming, Glorfindel brought up his hand and slapped him hard enough to draw blood. “You will be quiet,” he hissed. “You will not frighten the others. There are women and children ahead of us who can hear you.”

The archer, one of Duilin’s House, thrashed and hyperventilated. Glorfindel slammed him back a second time, crushing him against his quiver. “Do not make me kill you to silence you.” Elbereth, please do not make me do it. Please, please be quiet.

“Not the light,” he sobbed. “Please, n-not the light.”

“It is already going out. Look, the way is straight. I have been through this tunnel before. Keep to the wall and feel your way. You cannot get lost if you keep moving.”

Loosening his hold upon the archer, Glorfindel instructed him to hold to one of his companions if he feared being left behind; this order he extended to everyone, to grip to someone else or the wall, for he saw the fear in their eyes as they watched the sputtering torch. Then, before he lost his resolve, he ordered Ondollo to douse the light. Half a dozen frightened pairs of eyes were the last thing he saw, heard a dozen or more gasps and moans of despair greeting the darkness.

His body was pressed to the wall, hands splayed against the rock as he felt his way. To the left, always to the left. His feet shuffled inches, testing the way ahead, nudging corpses and stepping over them. How many people tried to flee this way and were overcome by fumes, or terror? He gasped, pushing down his panic. No, do not think on the dead now, lest you join them. You must keep going.

It was difficult. The air, already thin and stale, reeked of voided bowels and bladders. It smelled of fear. Glorfindel took little breaths to conserve his air, sometimes reaching across with his left hand to squeeze the fingers that clamped his right arm; he did not know who held to him, but felt the fingers squeeze back.

After a time, the rumbling subsided, became no more than a faint murmur under the stone, and he realized they must have passed beyond the city walls and Amon Gwareth. The way runs a league from the walls out into the vale of Tumladen. The end cannot be not far now. Earlier he had traversed the way at Idril’s bidding, following the mason Findion from the tunnel’s beginning to its end. In his mind’s eye, he tried to visualize the way, the walls narrowing and ceiling becoming lower toward the end. Even now, he felt ragged stone chafe his fingertips and the calluses of his palms, and, as he turned his head to the left, he thought the air felt cooler. But it was when he felt the ceiling brush against his scalp that he knew they were close. He sent the word back, urging the warriors not to panic when they felt the space press in around them; the masons simply had not had time to finish their work.

“Light,” someone murmured.

He saw it, too, a watery strip of moonlight perhaps fifteen feet away, now ten as he edged toward it. The air felt clean and cool on his face, moist with evening mist. We have made it. We are alive and on the other side. His limbs trembled with release, though his mind told him he and the other Gondolindrim were not yet out of danger.

The tunnel opened into a large, dry basin; the bushes that once concealed the opening had been trampled by the passing of hundreds of feet. Glorfindel stumbled into the night air, while behind him he heard his warriors gasp and sob in relief as one by one they emerged from the darkness.

Ithil was low on the horizon, framed between two jagged peaks of the Echoriath, but there were yet several hours before dawn. The basin was dark; though full of people, neither torch nor lantern burned anywhere. Egalmoth, whose sentries helped Glorfindel’s group descend from the mouth of the passage and embraced them in welcome, cautioned them not to light any lamps that might betray their presence to the enemy.

“You did not stumble upon a child in the dark, did you?” Egalmoth asked.

“We came upon many corpses, otorno.” Glorfindel took the cup of water one of the warriors of the Heavenly Arch gave him and drank deeply. The water tasted of clay and grit, but his dry throat soaked it up like the sweetest of wines. “We went in the dark and did not mark them all.”

Egalmoth looked troubled. “No one has seen Eärendil,” he explained. “Even now, Tuor and Idril search among the survivors.”

“He is still in the tunnel?”

“I know not. The lady sent him ahead many hours before, but he was not here when we came. She does not wish to leave until he is found, but Tuor fears we will be discovered if we tarry too long.”

Even now, captains of the Houses of the White Wing and Tree were moving among the survivors, instructing them to make ready to leave. A hard choice Tuor has, and one I would not wish to make nor wish upon any other. Glorfindel nodded, stumbling away from Egalmoth in search of a place to sit. A long march lay ahead of them, out of the vale and through the mountains to whatever refuge Tuor and Idril planned to lead them, if indeed there was anyplace left that could be called a refuge.

Glorfindel felt a cool, moist cloth touch his cheek. The rag Ondollo used to dab the blood from the Orc scratch was none too clean, but his touch was gentle. A hand carefully brushed his hair back from his face, fingers combing through the tangled strands.

“Look, Erunámo,” murmured Ondollo, tugging at a knot. Glorfindel winced as his scalp was pulled, and looked wearily at the speck of metal glimmering in the steward’s palm. Even in the moonlight, he recognized the flower-shaped golden bead. Putting his hand to his hair, he felt more beads, snarled among his tangled braids. The festival, Ondollo had woven gold flowers into his hair for the festival, Tarnin Austa that came early with fire and blood. It is not even two days and yet it seems so long ago. Glorfindel let his shoulders slump as he laid his head upon the steward’s shoulder.

“Erunámo, pitya laurëalótënya,” Ondollo said softly, “it is all right.”

“Yes,” answered Glorfindel, though it was not so, “but I am weary and there is yet a long way to go.”

* * *
Dissension stirred among the survivors. Weary and anxious to flee the vale of Tumladen, the thoughts of many turned south toward Bad Uthwen, that had ever been known as the way of escape.

Tuor and Idril, fearing Maeglin’s treachery extended far beyond Gondolin’s walls, both argued against this course. They would go north through Cirith Thoronath, the Eagle’s Cleft, although it was twice the trek and would bring them dangerously close to Angband. Even Egalmoth, who agreed that Bad Uthwen should be avoided, doubted the wisdom of this course.

“The way is high and cold, even in summer,” he said, “and we have no provision for such a journey.” Indeed, there was not even food or water for all. Cirith Thoronath would be a cold, hungry road, without hope. Glorfindel, who did not speak, for he was the youngest of the captains and did not think he had anything worth saying, listened to the debate and remembered the long retreat from the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Wounded and with little food to sustain them, warriors had fallen dead upon the road; on the last stretch, as they neared the Hidden Way that led to the Seven Gates, Turgon had ordered the living to carry the dead so the enemy might discover no trace of their passing.

But these are not warriors, Glorfindel reflected. They are women and children, the sick and wounded. They are unaccustomed to hunger or cold or weariness. Before him, leaning against each other in their exhaustion, he saw a pair of maidens shivering in their tattered festival silks. Their shoes had been lost somewhere in the ruin of the city. They would surely freeze to death if Tuor pressed on to Cirith Thoronath.

Ondollo saw this, too. “When we crossed the Helcaraxë,” he said, “we had ample provision and warm clothing. I know not what we will do now.”

In the end, many rejected Tuor’s choice and left to try their fortune through Bad Uthwen. Several captains protested, moving to use force to keep the group together, but Tuor ordered them to stand down. “Let them go,” he sighed. “If the way of Bad Uthwen is clear and they win through, I will call them fortunate.”

But no word ever came back of those who left, and ever afterward Tuor bitterly rued letting them go.

The march northward began under cover of darkness, for Tuor intended to cross as much of Tumladen as he could before the sun rose and the refugees became visible to the enemy. At the fore of the column he placed Galdor’s lieutenant, the sharp-eyed Laiqalassë. Glorfindel had met the archer once or twice, and knew well Laiqalassë’s reputation for being able to see as well in the dark as by day; he knew Tumladen and the passes of the Echoriath better than any, it was said. If that was so, no better guide could be had; Glorfindel overheard Tuor and Galdor tell this to many of those who balked at leaving in the dark for fear of being lost.

As they left the shelter of the basin, Amon Gwareth became visible on the horizon. Fire lit the sky like a false dawn, and the wind carried the sounds of distant carnage and destruction. Glorfindel heard the sobs and moans, felt one rising in his own throat as he looked on burning Gondolin, but then came Tuor’s voice, rough as the Man himself, ordering them all not to look back.

With great difficulty, Glorfindel tore his eyes away. He is right. We must turn our eyes forward if we are going to live. Still, his gaze was pulled toward the red glare; he swiftly put Ondollo and Artamir at his back to block his view, urging them not to look either. I will not think about all those we left behind. Nay, I will not say their names now, not while the grief is so near.

Dawn filled the vale with a weak, hazy light; the sun could not pierce the veil of steam and smoke that rose from the burning city, and Tumladen lingered in a wintry gloom. Guided by Laiqalassë, Tuor drove the march until they came to a mountain-fed stream where they might steal a brief hour of rest and refreshment. What little food had been brought out of Gondolin was now rationed; Idril took charge of the stores, doling out nourishment as it was needed or could be spared. Waterskins were filled, and Laiqalassë said there was another spring near Cirith Thoronath.

“There are Eagles as well,” he said, “for they have aeries among the high peaks. Manwë watches over us.”

Many who heard scoffed at this, saying the Valar had done nothing to save Gondolin or its people from a horrific end. But Ulmo did warn you, Glorfindel wanted to say, through Tuor His messenger. You did not listen. Turgon did not listen. Are we to blame the Valar because we are deaf?

Seven leagues lay between the tunnel and the pass of Cirith Thoronath. As they began to climb the foothills, slightly more than two leagues remained before they reached the entrance to the pass, but the way grew steadily steeper. Snow appeared above the treeline, still some way distant. Laiqalassë warned them that the path would become even steeper and more treacherous the higher they ascended.

Rest, they needed rest, the warriors and women and children alike. Glorfindel felt his body growing heavy and sluggish; on the road from the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, he had walked nearly a quarter of a furlong in a half-doze before Hallas stopped him. Distantly he knew what a comical picture he had presented, and might have chuckled at his own folly had any laughter been in his heart. Nárello would have laughed. He found joy in even the grimmest places.

“Keep me awake,” he mumbled to Ondollo, who looked no more alert than he. “I care not how you do it.”

“Perhaps we will stop soon,” the steward offered. “The women and children are hard pressed to keep the pace.”

From up ahead came a sudden commotion that stirred Glorfindel from his sluggish reverie. His heart leapt in panic as he saw Tuor and perhaps forty or fifty warriors of the White Wing and Tree race on foot away from the column. His hand went instinctively for his sword, fumbling at the hilt--curse me if I am too late--until Artamir told him it was not necessary.

“We’re to hold the rear, herunya.”

And you did not even hear Tuor. What a fine captain you are, fool. “What can you see?” Artamir’s eyes were better than his, and he did not trust his own vision at that moment.

“The mist has cleared a little, though I cannot see-- Nay, there are Gondolindrim on foot, six or seven of them; I think one is holding a child. They are pursued by strange riders.”

Glorfindel looked for himself then and saw the great wolves, Orcs armed with spears upon their backs. Tuor’s warriors fell hard upon them, hewing the beasts with swords and spears, loosing arrows when they could not venture near enough. Sounds of the battle reached the column; some of the women began sobbing in terror at sight of the Orcs. It fell to Glorfindel and Egalmoth to restore order to the rear, while Idril, Voronwë and Galdor held the group together at the fore.

Tuor presently returned to the main company with Eärendil on his shoulders; the boy was only slightly scratched and bubbling with excitement at having been able to watch his father fight. The wolfriders had cut down all but six of the warriors Idril sent with him, but Eärendil did not seem overly concerned by the danger he had been in. Like any boy, he did not want to be cosseted by his mother, for that was not manly, but let Voronwë set him on his shoulders when Tuor gave the order to resume the march. People smiled despite their cares to see the prince; his boundless energy was infectious.

On the lower flanks of the foothills, Laiqalassë brought them to a shady dell where they could rest a while. Tuor called a halt to the march. They would sleep through the day to regain their strength and resume the march at sunset, although even Laiqalassë looked hesitant at the prospect of passing through Cirith Thoronath in the dark.

“The way is narrow,” he said, “and walled on one side by a steep drop. Any misstep would be fatal.”

“It cannot wait until morning,” answered Tuor, “and we can go no further now.”

“Who shall take the first watch?” Glorfindel asked.

Tuor studied him with hard eyes. “Not you, otorno. You look well-nigh ready to fall down. Go and get what rest you can.”

As Galdor and ten of his archers took the watch, Glorfindel found a place in the grass by a clump of hazel bushes. Ondollo was waiting for him with a cup of water; Artamir had gone to the brook to try to wash some of the Orc blood from his face and hands.

“Lie down, Erunámo,” urged the steward. “The sentries of the Tree will wake us if an enemy comes.”

“I would not be asleep when that happens.”

“Erunámo,” Ondollo said softly, “what do you imagine Nárello would tell you to do, were he here?”

The steward knew only too well what his weakness was. Someday I shall reprimand you for using Nárello’s name to manipulate me so...if I remember. “Curse you, meldo,” he grumbled, lying back so his head was pillowed on the turf. As his eyes lost focus, he heard Eärendil playing in the brook, splashing water on Idril and Egalmoth, who was tending the wound he had gotten in the King’s Square.

Naneth,” the boy was saying, “I wish Ecthelion were here to play his flute for me, or make me a willow-whistle, so I could play.”

Glorfindel ached at the sound of Ecthelion’s name, but his pain was greater at the image the boy’s words conjured. Nárello used to cut willow-whistles for him in the sea marshes of Vinyamar, but Glorfindel had never been able to play, not then and not now.

“Ecthelion is not here, hinya,” Idril answered softly, sadly, but Glorfindel was asleep before he knew whether she told Eärendil the rest of it.

* * *
herunya: (Quenya) my lord.
meldo: (Quenya) friend
naneth: (Quenya) mother
hinya: (Quenya) my child

Tower of the King: In Tolkien’s version, Idril is with Tuor by the tunnel entrance and sees the tower collapse.

Bad Uthwen: Tolkien tells us that those who left Tuor’s group found a monster who had been set by Melkor in the pass of Bad Uthwen on Maeglin’s advice. All were killed and (presumably) devoured.

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.

Story Information

Author: Zimraphel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/13/04

Original Post: 06/21/03

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