11. Chapter Ten: The Hidden City.
Disclaimer: The characters are Tolkien´s.
Second Disclaimer: The scenarios of this chapter were written following very closely Tolkien´s unfinished story "Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin." All changes are deliberate.
Thanks to [name removed for review] for her beta, and to [name removed for review] for turning Aredhel into a woman again. :).
Chapter Ten: The Hidden City.
Maeglin and Aredhel kept walking without a single stop for the rest of that day. Not until Anor was about to disappear from the sky did the Noldorin princess speak a word, and it was to say that the tunnel they had been seeking was in front of them. And she was right, even if Maeglin, in spite of his sharp glance, was unable to notice it until Aredhel guided him to the very entrance and brushed the bushes away. It was dark and deep, smelling strongly of humidity and of cold, ancient stone, and its entrance was so well hidden under that lone cliff that Maeglin could well imagine why the servants of Morgoth had never discovered it.
"It´s a pity that the cave is so dark." he whispered in a low voice, coming near Aredhel to peer inside. "I would have wanted to take a better look at the walls, for I can perceive an ancient power in their carving."
"Do not worry, we will have enough light when the guards discover us. "Aredhel answered. "But you are right, this cave was not carved by any Elf, but by the might of Ulmo, the Vala who spoke to my brother and told him to bring his people here years ago. It was the only other time I stood before this entrance," she remembered ", with Turgon by my side. There were many travellers who did not dare to walk in, for it was the first time they saw a cave and it looked dark, as if it was the entrance to Morgoth´s realm. He had to be the first to step in, and I was the second." Suddenly, her face became distorted, and her voice turned into a painful whisper as she eyed the mouth of the tunnel. "I was not afraid of the dark back then."
At that moment, Maeglin could feel the years of sadness and pain crashing against her mind, and he stepped nearer to hold her by the hand. She was ashamed, believing that she was trembling out of fear; but he knew better, and he was aware that she was doing it out of rage. She had been acting all the time she had been living in Nan Elmoth, trapped and humiliated, worse than dead, and now that she was free, it was not without great struggles that she could begin to feel alive again.
"Do not worry." he began, careful not to intrude upon her. To his intense surprise, it was she who turned back this time and claimed his lips passionately, a thing she had never done before, not even when she had wanted him to love her.
"I love you", she said, as if guessing his thoughts. " But let us go, my son; for now you will be my guide and I will protect you."
For a moment her son wondered at her words, but they could not stay there much longer, and he went in first. The ceiling was low, and both Elves and the horse had to bend to cross the first part of the tunnel. Maeglin had now a better chance to look upon the walls, and he saw that Aredhel had been right; they were roughly carved, as by someone who did not care much for details. Then and there, however, he could see some elements that were undoubtedly made by Elves, like that old engraving, or the pillar in front of them, behind which...
"Mother!" he called. She was not behind him.
"Maeglin!" he heard his mother´s voice. "Where are you? I cannot see you!"
Of course, he thought. He was the Child of Twilight, he was her guide. Immediately, he turned back and took her hand.
"Do not stray apart from me!" she said." I fear for you. They must be here."
"Aye, they are in front of us." he whispered back. "They are armed, and have light in their eyes."
Suddenly, before she could even answer a word, a powerful voice interrupted them, and both could distinctly hear the dangerous noise of tensed bows.
"Stand! Stir not or you will die, be you foes or friends! (1)"
Maeglin opened his mouth as if to say something, but was silenced by his mother's grip on his arm. As she stepped forward he understood also the second half of what she had said; perhaps they would have killed the son of the Dark Elf if she had not been at his side.
"I am Aredhel Ar- Feiniel" she said, proudly. "Take your weapons away from your King´s sister!"
There was a confused whisper in front of them, followed by a quick command. Soon enough, a lantern shed its light, showing the disbelieving and hopeful faces of four Elven guards who stared at them for a while, until the first of them made a signal and those who were hidden threw their bows away and came to their side.
"Lady Aredhel!" the captain cried, full of joy. "And you are alive!"
"Indeed I am, though strange and sorrowful things happened to me while I was away, Elemmakil (2)", she answered as she gave him her hand, which he kissed reverently. The others kept looking at her, and at Maeglin, who could hear their whispers of happiness and surprise echoing through the cave. They were their people, the tall Noldor with bright eyes and bright armours of his mother´s tales, the famous Calaquendi. It was as difficult for him to stop staring at them as it was for them to stop stealing glances at him.
"He is my son, Maeglin", Aredhel said, taking him by the hand. "But now take us to a place where we can rest before continuing our journey, for we are hungry and weary from our travels."
"King Turgon will be very happy, my Lady", the dark haired guard sighed while he guided them through the gradually wider tunnels to the place where they had their post. Now and then, he stopped to look at Aredhel as if she had been one of the Valar suddenly revealed in Middle-Earth. "He had lost all hope of seeing you alive again."
"I am not so easy to defeat, and I will tell him so when I meet him" was Aredhel´s answer. With a half smile, she caressed Maeglin´s hand. "And he will like what I bring with me, the last scion of the House of Fingolfin."
Elemmakil turned away his gaze, but, just before he did, Maeglin saw in his eyes the nearly overpowering desire to ask her something.
That night, both travellers could sleep soundly at last, something they had not done since they had left Nan Elmoth to begin their mad escape. The next morning, with renewed forces, they undertook their new journey, first through the caves and tunnels of the mountain and afterwards through the Orfalch Echor, the ravine that struck Maeglin as a great mass of rock torn like a piece of cloth, he could not even imagine by what kind of hand.
However, what really filled him with awe was not the might of Nature, impressing and terrible as it was. The sight of the Gates was to hold alone that privilege in his heart. They were as great as the Dwarves' gates in Nogrod, and far more beautiful, for they had been wrought by the Noldor, the true masters in creating beauty. Wooden Gate, Stone Gate, Bronze Gate, Iron Gate...as they crossed them quickly he could not help brimming with delight at the different ways in which the cunning craftsmen had managed to find the appropriate designs to suit each new material, so they could be displayed in all their magnificence. In a special way, the Gate of Iron struck a chord within him, for he had always thought that metalsmithing was not his calling, yet now he found himself eyeing it with a deep jealousy, telling himself that he was able to do every single thing the Noldor had tried there, and that he could have wrought that gate if he had been with them at the time. So long was he inspecting its every corner, that his interest was not lost upon Aredhel.
"I told you that you would one day make one", she smiled. "Are you already gathering ideas?"
"Could be", he answered, grinning. "And finding that perhaps I did not have that much to learn."
Aredhel shook her head, gleefully.
"I know. You are a born smith, Maeglin, but you disliked the idea of spending all your life crafting weapons with your father, didn´t you? I hope that you can understand now what I meant when I told you so many times that weapons were not everything. "
"Indeed not." he said, sending a last glance in the direction of the iron figures that represented various trees and flowers before following the Gondolindhrim. "Indeed not."
From there onwards, the road became easier at each step, and their surroundings more beautiful. Among fields of blooming uilos, the flower that did not wither and glowed like the stars in the darkness of Nan Elmoth, they arrived to the Silver Gate, the fifth they had to cross in their way to Gondolin. This one was the most magnificent of those that Maeglin had already seen, and not only for its intricate designs in pearl, silver and white marble, but also for the two hundred archers clad in silver mail that stood there, not letting their surprise and joy interfere with their duty and make them break their perfect formation.
"Gondolin is still well defended, as I can see", Aredhel spoke to Elemmakil, who bowed at the compliment.
"We protect the City against outer dangers, but our time has not come yet. "he said. "And I am glad of that."
"Do you like this, Maeglin?" the Noldorin princess said, turning her face to look at her son, who was walking behind her horse.
"I never saw so many people gathered together, except for the Dwarves when I was small", he answered in a whisper, and smiled when he heard her clear laughter. "Nor have you, for a long time."
"Your father was not a lover of multitudes." she said. "Anyway, you will see something really impressive when we reach the Last Gate. Just wait a moment!"
Maeglin nodded, and wondered at her words, for it did not seem possible for him that there could be any greater display of magnificence before they reached the Hidden City. But he was wrong. After crossing the swards of grass and golden flowers, they arrived at last to the sixth and last gate, the Golden Gate, and he had to admit that his mother had been right.
"Look." she whispered to him. "This is the Golden Tree of Valinor, Laurelin."
Eöl´s son did not answer, too deeply absorbed in his admiring appreciation of every single thing that met his eye. This gate was entirely made of yellow marble and red gold, with six globes and a golden pyramid with an image of the Tree of the Blessed Realm. There were several hundreds of archers guarding it, and their mail, as the Gate itself, glowed with sunlight, for the sun now shone upon them.
"Please, wait here for a moment, my Lady. I will speak to the Warden of the Last Gate, so he can come here to greet you and your son as it is due", said Elemmakil. Upon Aredhel´s nod, he hurried away accompanied by two of his guards, and the princess came near his son, pushing Faerroch away from her side.
"Yes, Faerroch, we are home at last. You can go with Elemmakil and ask for food. Well, well, if that is what you want...I promise I will never leave again."
The black eyes stared at her with evident disbelief, and she could not help laughing.
"He does not believe you", Maeglin smiled.
"Then he should know better! "she growled. "I am not what I was before."
For a moment, Maeglin felt pain again in her voice.
"Sometimes I am jealous that I did not know you as you were before you left", he said, half seriously, half in jest. Aredhel picked his tone, and answered in a similar way.
"You did not miss anything. I am the same Aredhel that I was before"
"I do not think so. "
Slowly, Maeglin wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and felt her body leaning on him. It was a dream they both had whispered many times in each other´s ears, to admire the Great Gate of Gondolin together, embracing tightly and knowing they had left the dread behind. Yet she was still sad in spite of everything, in spite of the warm welcome and of her own laughter.
"I would have loved you before as I love you now. I would have loved you even if I was looking upon you for the first time of my life", he said, bending over her to kiss her lips again. The next moment, he felt Aredhel writhing and pulling away, and, as his gaze stumbled upon the guards that still remained near them, he saw a shocked look in their eyes.
"Do not do that again!" she admonished him in a curt, concentrated whisper. "This is not the moment."
Worried, confused, hurt, but too proud to acknowledge his feelings, Maeglin nodded, and turned away from her to continue admiring the Golden Gate.
Some minutes later, the Warden of the Last Gate came in person to greet his Lady. He was a very tall and noble Elf, clad in a brilliant armour that shone like the sun, though not as much as his eyes when he saw that Aredhel was there. As he greeted them formally, it was easy for Maeglin to perceive his happiness and his relief.
"I am most honoured to be able to greet you again, my Lady, and to see you alive fills my heart with a great happiness." he said. "Honestly, I do not know if I should believe my eyes, for they could be tricking me cruelly by showing me something that is not true."
"My heart is glad to meet you again as well, Ecthelion", Aredhel told him, smiling warmly while she helped him to his feet. "I am most happy to be here, knocking at your gate!"
Ecthelion returned her smile, and was silent for a while.
"I did blame myself each day and each night since we ceased to have news about you and we thought you dead, my Lady", he said at last, lowering his gaze. "I wanted to escort you, but the King sent others and I did not insist. "
"Do not worry about that. "Aredhel put a hand on his shoulders, as if to comfort him. "You forget to say that you did everything you could to prevent me from leaving, but I was too stubborn even for you. "
"And, what is the tale you are going to tell, my Lady?" Ecthelion asked, not wanting to continue the embarrassing conversation. The White Lady shrugged her shoulders, and made a sign to Maeglin.
"Oh, it is long. I fought the giant spiders in the land of Nan Dungortheb, spent some time with the people of the House of Fëanor and married a Dark Elf..."
Ecthelion could not suppress a gasp at her tiredly voiced revelation.
"What..? Oh, I meant...I am sorry, my Lady! I...I did not mean to interrupt you."
"Nay, do not worry. There never was any joy for me in my married life. It did not turn out as I expected. Yet it was good that I did it in one way. " As she said those words, Aredhel eyed Maeglin appreciatively. "He is my son, my joy and my pride, and his name is Maeglin. He shall swear allegiance to Turgon, and be a great prince of the City of Gondolin."
"My Lord." Ecthelion greeted as he bowed formally in front of him. If he was torn between shock and curiosity, he was able to master well his feelings to act politely and humbly, and Maeglin admired him for this. It wasn´t only because he was tired of so many inquiring glances; he could feel also that Aredhel was not for Ecthelion what she was for the rest of the Gondolindhrim they had met until now, and that the Gate Warden was internally burning with the need to force her to give him a thorough explanation. It even occurred to him that they could have been lovers, but he dismissed the thought, for it was evident that Ecthelion was not of that sort of people that would dare to court the sister of his King. But maybe he had loved her without hope, and it was this what now showed in his eyes. Maeglin was amused at the thought, and even smiled briefly.
"I was about to give you my horse, my Lady, but I see that Faerroch is still with you", Ecthelion added, looking affectionately at the old steed. "Let me offer it to your son, so you can both ride into the City, and I will escort you from behind."
"Thank you", Maeglin said before his mother could utter a word. In silence, he took in his hand the reins of the magnificent white steed Ecthelion was giving him, and mounted it while her mother did the same with Faerroch. When Ecthelion made a sign with his hand, the Gate opened in front of them, and both rode through it surrounded by the hosts of Gondolin.
"They are all here. Guards from the Six Gates. See the different colours of their mails!" Aredhel told him, coming near.
"A magnificent sight indeed", was his answer, uttered in a suddenly bitter voice. His mother sighed.
"Forgive me. I thought I had told you that the Noldor did not marry family."
"There is no offence taken", he lied. "But I told you I did not intend to marry you. Do they feel shocked at simple love?"
Aredhel hesitated. Fortunately enough, someone behind them announced the presence of the Hidden City at the end of the ravine, and their conversation died abruptly.
"Look!" she cried, and her voice trembled with a powerful emotion. "Look upon Gondolin, the last remembrance of Tirion, the fairest city in Beleriand!"
Maeglin held his breath for a moment, closed his eyes, and then looked again. It was true. In the middle of an exuberant green valley, surrounded by the snowy Encircling Mountains, lay King Turgon´s greatest love, the City of the Seven Names, stretching her white towers and pinnacles to the sky to receive the caress of the sunrays. Flags of many colours were stirred by the lazy afternoon breeze, and, as they came near, they could see people in the streets, in beautiful gardens, sitting at the balconies of the tall and proud buildings.
"Gondolin" Aredhel sighed. "So many years..."
"The fairest city in Middle- Earth", Maeglin muttered half to himself, understanding now the truth of the seemingly vain title. For it was indeed so fair that he could not even breathe, and so magnificent that suddenly he had no other desire than to be able to live there for the rest of his life and protect it with his last breath.
"Do you find it beautiful?" his mother asked, putting a hand on the neck of his horse. "Is it as you had imagined it would be from the old tales I told you when you were young?"
"No", the son of the Dark Elf answered. "I had imagined many things, but this surpasses my imagination. For it´s a beauty that gladdens the heart, and in Nan Elmoth even the beautiful things made us sad."
Aredhel smiled, and looked at him with a dreamy expression.
"You speak the truth, my dear son. My heart is gladdened as much as yours, for being here and for having you at my side."
Maeglin nodded, and smiled back. However, deep in his heart, and in spite of everything, he felt more than ever that she was lying, and that the reason why she did so had definitely slipped away from his reach.
"Then let us go in."
(To be continued)
(1) I suppose that they said the same to every intruder. (See UT: Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin.)
(2) Elemmakil was the captain of the guard in "Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin.
(3) As you all know, Ecthelion of the Fountain was Warden of the Gate of Steel, but, since it did not exist yet, I assume that the last gate was the Golden one, and that he was there then.
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.