“’Tis a good thing he is staying behind,” Nárello said afterward, “else he would trail you straight to the battlefield with his admonishments not to tear your cloak or muss your hair.”
“You are already doing a fine job of the latter, toronya.”
Chuckling, Nárello gave his younger brother’s hair a final tousle and tossed him his sword. “He will be fit to shout when we return covered in the blood of our enemies, and they will hear him all the way to the Seventh Gate.”
Ondollo had shouted on their return, but it was for the blood and glazed look in Erunámo’s eyes, and the absence of Nárello, who should have been riding at the head of their column. Back and forth he had gone among the ranks, searching among the wounded against all hope that Nárello was one of those few—too few—borne on one of the makeshift stretchers. Seeing his frenzy, Erunámo got off his horse and stopped him, and when the steward saw Nárello’s battered sword at his belt, his face fell and he wept.
Erunámo did not weep with him, though tears were in his heart. Such emotion he reserved for the small hours of the night, when the servants were asleep and he was alone in his bed. He spent his days moving through the house, lingering among Nárello’s possessions. A hand stroked the well-worn cover of a favorite book, fingers hovered over the strings of a lap harp yet were snatched back before they could draw forth any sound.
Nárello had had a beautiful singing voice, and his skill upon the harp was such that he could and often did accompany Ecthelion’s flute. Erunámo could sing and play well enough upon the lute, but he could not match his brother’s talent and wondered if there would ever again be such music in the house.
From a shelf he picked up a shell his brother had found on the beach below Vinyamar and held it to his ear. Such gentle days those had been, their time in Nevrast before their father came and took them to the new city in the mountains; Erunámo remembered that his first impression of Gondolin was of a cold, forbidding and sterile place where there would never be any laughter. Right away he wanted to go back to Vinyamar so he might race Nárello along the sand or go exploring among the willow-marshes.
Somewhere in the house, lying at the bottom of a chest was the wooden sword Nárello crafted for him that they might spar together on the beach and Erunámo would not feel so neglected when his brother went to the sparring yard and left him behind.
“Why can I not come with you, toronya?” he asked pleadingly.
“Because, pitya laurë findo,” laughed Nárello, “I am nearly a century old and you are still a child. It would not be fair to draw true steel against someone so small.”
Erunámo sulked and made a face, ducking away from the hand that tried to tousle his hair. “Everyone always says that. I am too small to do anything or go anywhere, and always everyone says nay.”
“Would you rather they gave you leave to do things that would harm you? Nay, when you are old enough we will ride and spar and hunt together, I promise you.”
Nárello was as good as his word, and even when Turgon barred passage from the vale of Tumladen he managed to find some remote location where they might ride and escape the confines of the city. As a younger son, Erunámo had been spared much of the rigorous, stifling protocol that characterized Turgon’s court, but he could see how little Nárello liked it.
Erunámo carefully set down the shell. And now he is gone, and the burden falls to me. If only we had stayed in Vinyamar. However, even he knew that was not possible. One by one, the strongholds of the Eldar in Middle-earth were succumbing to the Shadow. Vinyamar lay out in the open, vulnerable even behind stout walls. Only in Gondolin, hidden within the high reaches of the Echoriath, was there any true security.
Unwillingly he began to attend to the duties of lord. The High King required his presence, and that of the other newly made lords, two days hence in his hall to receive their oaths and confirm them in their titles. Turgon was a ruler who set much weight upon ceremony, and his official summons was not to be refused.
The missive was no sooner given to Ondollo than did the steward hire tailors to outfit Erunámo in garb more suited to his rank. He dreaded the hour when he would be paraded before the lords and captains of Gondolin, for he was not accustomed such close scrutiny. Only twice in nearly five hundred years had Turgon spoken to him, once on the occasion of Lord Elvanir’s death, when he paused in speaking to Nárello to inquire if the young lord at Nárello’s side was a kinsman. Erunámo’s embarrassment was such that he recalled little else of that encounter.
The second time, Turgon’s face appeared before him as an angry blur rising up out of the chaos of battle and smoke and blood. Hands encased in cold mail dug into his arms, commands struck him like an angry wind until finally his brother’s still-smoldering sword was shoved at him. The leather that wrapped the sword’s hilt was burned away, and the runes that had run its length had blurred in the Balrog’s heat like tears. Erunámo’s gorge rose at the smell of burnt flesh and blood clinging to it; he would have vomited had the same hand that forced the sword at him not struck him. The blow was enough to draw blood from his lip, but he scarcely felt it in the wake of the voice roaring at him to take command of his House.
My House, not Nárello’s. The words rolled over him and turned his shock into a fury that he turned and vented upon the inrushing wave of Orcs. He did not see what became of Turgon after that, not until Nárello’s haggard aide stumbled to his side to reiterate the call of retreat he apparently had not heard; another later told him that he had heard it but was unwilling to leave, even though there was nothing left of his brother’s body to safeguard from the Orcs and other foul creatures who would have defiled it.
After that, on the long, weary march back to Gondolin, he saw only the rear flank of the King’s company and not Turgon himself, though he and Ecthelion had been charged with guarding his retreat. As foremost among the surviving captains, Ecthelion dealt directly with Turgon, when the King was approachable enough to receive a report or bark out orders.
Ecthelion, though weary and begrimed with battle, was sympathetic to Nárello’s brother and gave him assistance wherever he could. He was also accustomed to dealing with Turgon’s mercurial moods and acted as a buffer between the two, conveying messages to and from the King. Erunámo had nothing to say, and from what Ecthelion said it seemed that on several occasions Turgon slipped and forgot Nárello was no longer in command of the House.
Even as a captain of Gondolin, I am a non-entity, Erunámo thought bitterly. If anyone had asked him, he would have said he was content to remain so if it meant Nárello might return. He had no particular desire to become one of the great lords of the Hidden City or to command armies. Nárello had given him his own small gweth, and that had been sufficient to satisfy any such desire Erunámo might have had.
Certainly he took no particular joy in the lessons of statecraft Nárello insisted he master; he did it to please his brother and allay Nárello’s fears that the House would be left destitute and without suitable leadership should he die. Erunámo only laughed, for their city was well protected and Nárello was not going anywhere, but when his brother looked on him with such stern eyes he could only choke back his laughing reluctance and obey.
Now it did not seem quite so amusing.
* * *
Notes: (All words are in Quenya unless otherwise noted)
pitya laurë findo: my little golden hair[ed one]
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.