8. Chapter Eight
He was back in Gondolin. It was night. Turmoil raged in the streets, the white walls rang with the clamour of metal, hoarse shouts and shrill cries assailed his ears, the air rippled with the heat of dragonfire. The smoke of the burning trees in the once fair gardens, the stench of foul beasts and the smell of blood filled his nose. On the Great Square, fearless Ecthelion fought with Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, piercing him with the sharp spike of his mighty helmet, while the monster's flaming thongs coiled around him. When they tumbled into the King's Fountain, the water hissed hideously. The Balrog drowned, but so did Ecthelion.
Together with the other members of the Guard he shielded King Turgon, who stood between Glingal and Belthil, the images of Laurelin and Telperion he had wrought with his own hands. All were prepared to die in his defence.
'Great is the fall of Gondolin!' Turgon cried, and those who heard it shuddered. 'Evil have I brought on the Flower of the Plain despite Ulmo's warning, and there is no more hope in my heart for my beloved.'
'We shall not fail you!' his warriors cried, clashing their weapons.
Turgon's voice rose above the noise. 'Fight not against doom. Seek safety in flight, if you may. I will strike no more blows. Go, ere it is too late, and leave me to burn!' He threw down his sword and his crown, a fey King in a doomed city.(1)
But the members of his household Guard stubbornly refused to leave if he would not lead them. Then, at last, the King turned towards the youngest of his guards. 'You go, Tárion. Seek out Tuor, and Glorfindel. Follow their lead. Help them protect my people.'
He shook his head. 'Let me die with you, sire.'
'I am your King. I command you to go.'
Tárion could not tell whence his courage came, with so many of Turgon's warriors listening: 'You threw down your crown. You cannot make me leave.'
The other guards seemed to hold their breath, but Turgon's face crumpled, and indeed he looked like a king no more. 'Do you want me to beg, then? Do you wish me to drop to my knees before you?'
It was the catch in his voice that broke the young guard's resolve, for it told him that the Lord of Gondolin meant every word of it. And he could not let Turgon demean himself so. 'No,' he murmured. 'Please. Do not kneel before me.'
'Then swear that you will live,' the King urged.
'I swear it.' Blinking, no longer able to withstand that gaze veiled in doom, Tárion turned away from Turgon's great sigh of relief and left him to seek out Tuor and Glorfindel. Soon, he was running - and why should he not, now that he would not be taking a stand for his liege?
Suddenly he realised he was lying on his back
Had he known the price of his promise he would have remained defiant until the end. As it was, he hurried away through the noise and the destruction and the smoke that wiped out the stars, grief bursting the seams of his soul.
Someone was bending over him, pulling back his shroud, though he could not recall having died. Through closed eyes he saw a white-hot flame leap from his chest at the merest touch of a finger.
The other images were more vague, the roars and shrieks and wails more subdued, the smells less offensive. Yet they were no less horrible.
He saw how Tuor rescued Idril and Eärendil from the claws of treacherous Maeglin, he directed women children toward the secret passage leading out of Gondolin, he wielded his sword with deadly precision against the yrch crossing his path; his eyes, stinging with smoke and tears, discovered the bodies of his mother and brother lying in the street, torn by Morgoth's fell wolves; they saw the White Tower wreathed in fire, with King Turgon on the topmost pinnacle, writhing in a circle of flames, and they witnessed the fall of both. And hearing Idril weep forlornly in the arms of her husband, it seemed to Tárion that this agony was worse than the death wound he would have received, had he not promised to live.
Yet he knew it was not so, though he could not say how he knew.
He heard his name. 'Tárion.' Was it Glorfindel? When the Lord of the Golden Flower found him he had been gazing motionlessly at the red glare of the sky where the gleam of the White Tower should have been. But he could not move, though he knew he had to, if he did not want to perish in the ring of fire surrounding Gondolin the beloved.
'Tárion!' the voice repeated pleadingly. It was a voice he loved, but it did not belong to Glorfindel. It seemed an eternity before his eyes agreed to open. When they did, the ring of fire was still there.
The attitude of the Ciryatur was exasperating. Gildor was perfectly sure that the dark shapes he espied on the flanks and in the crannies and crevices of the southern Ered Luin were enemy soldiers, but the Númenorean admiral stubbornly maintained that they had to be the High King's scouts. He must be mistaken; they were much too numerous for that. And worse still: to Gildor's perception the blackness enveloping these figures had nothing to do with their outward appearance, for it seemed to spill from inside them. Yet he was unable to convey his foreboding to this hardheaded mortal. The Ciryatur had sent one of his own men up to the crow's nest to survey the southern shore and the lands beyond, as if to tell his Elvish lookout that his kind might have the keener sight, but that it took a Man to assess a situation. Folly, Gildor thought: why not use the resources you have?
When he suggested that the Ciryator send troops to discover what went on in the mountains the admiral refused, though his fleet was large enough to spare a contingent. But if the Elf insisted on exploring the countryside, he would lend him a sloop. No doubt there would be some doughty sailors willing to row him ashore, and he knew at least one Elf who could also handle an oar. And with that, the Ciryatur strode away.
'Why does he not heed my advice?' Gildor asked Glorfindel, who had remained silent during the exchange. 'Surely you, too, can feel those are servants of the Dark?'
'I can,' confirmed his companion, his gaze never leaving the blue mountains. 'But the Ciryatur is a proud man who feels the blood of Elros Tar Minyatur - diluted though it may be - course through his veins whenever he confronts the Eldar. He will not let you counsel him. Nor, as I deem, will his men follow you of their own accord, even if you accept the offer of a sloop.' And why should they, Gildor Inglorion? What are you to them but a fair face, a graceful body and a mind unclouded by the awareness of death?In other words, a lovely child?
'A sloop... I could just as well swim,' Gildor muttered, glaring vainly at the admiral's receding back. 'Would you jump after me if I threw myself into the Gulf?' He laughed at his own question, suddenly filled with a strange exhilaration at the thought of immersing his body in the waters of Middle-earth.
'It depends,' mused Glorfindel. 'If you did it to show the sailors from Númenor what the seals of Aman taught you, I would be content to watch. If, on the other hand, you planned to seek trouble before it finds you, my responsibility might get the better of me.' He smiled. 'Not that you could not outswim me any time... I would have to count on your prowess if I foundered.'
He was correct. Glorfindel was an Elda of many virtues, both of body and mind, but Gildor had learned to brave the surf before he was a year old, thanks to a grandfather who believed that challenges existed for the sake of being answered. The decision was made swiftly. Throwing back his head he leapt effortlessly onto the rail and dived, his fair hair whipping in the wind.
Before Gildor reached the water he found himself thinking it was good that his sword was strapped to his back instead of belted at his waist, where it would have hindered his movements considerably. The next moment, his body pierced the surface of the Gulf like a spear, and the wet chill engulfed him and clawed at him until he beat it off with his mind and the movement of his limbs. He swam under water for a while, his eyes registering various species of fish and other sea-life in the blue-green depths before he ran out of air and had to emerge.
The admiral's vessel, never slowing its pace, was well ahead of him, he saw. People were gesturing excitedly at the rail, but Glorfindel was not among them. A glance the other way told Gildor that he would not have the time for a proper search if he did not want to be sent to the bottom by the next member of the war convoy, which was looming too close for comfort. He began to swim shorewards. Once he had reached the safety of the shallows and looked back, the hulls of several other ships obscured his view of the vessel he had just abandoned. The best thing he could do was to swim ashore and watch out for Glorfindel. If the other Elf had, indeed, followed him.
Suddenly he felt far from easy, not for his own sake, but because he had a vision of Glorfindel, trapped between Númenorean ships, unable to get away.
A voice echoed through his mind. At times, you can be a remarkable fool, it said. You surpass even me in doing the unexpected. Glorfindel is truly broad-minded, to accept your company.
The voice clearly belonged to his grandfather Finrod. It almost seemed as if he had been watching his grandson's antics and was speaking to him from the other side of the Great Sea.
1)Most of Turgon's words up to this point are found in The Fall of Gondolin, The Book of Lost Tales 2, HoMe 2
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