Actions

Work Header

Books Should Have Good Endings

Chapter Text

The Diary of Bilbo Baggins

And What Happened After That

The Hobbit’s Next Adventure

An Account of Beleriand Risen, by B. Baggins

Books should have Good Endings

By Bilbo Baggins

Editor: Elrond of Rivendell.

[Shouldn’t you be Elrond of Tol Eressëa now? - B]

I prefer Rivendell. - E.

Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit of the Shire, at the age of 131 sailed across the Sea in the company of his adopted nephew, the celebrated Frodo Baggins.  They were the first two Hobbits ever to come to Aman.

The previous adventure of Bilbo Baggins, and the more illustrious adventures of Frodo, are recorded in the books now gathered in the Red Book of Westmarch.

[ finish this introduction.  Double-check with Legolas what title young Elanor used for my collected works after Sam finished them off. - B ]

Bilbo, everyone knows about you and Frodo! I think you could probably keep the introduction short. - E.

Editor’s Note.

I had planned to remove the editorial commentary from the final version of this work, but at the specific request of Maglor son of Fëanor, I have retained the notes. - Elrond.

( Honestly Elrond, the notes add considerably to the work.  - M)

Chapter Text

Bilbo had not expected to travel much after crossing the Sea and arriving upon the pearly shores of the Lonely Isle. He had hoped to hear the songs of the Elves in the World Beyond the West, and die content, after a long life, and a full one.

But there turned out to be a great many more things to discover in the West than he had ever imagined. The great stories never end, and if we are very lucky, we might be allowed to follow them on, beyond the grief into joy and further into new adventures. He had always believed that tales of peace were not the most exciting kind, but

[but what? Why am I writing this??? It’s hardly up to the standards of Valinor,and nobody at home will ever read it... -B]

Well, Celebrían, Erestor and I want to read it, and it will make Finrod very happy. - E.

(The fact that there is no Hobbit Description of Gondolin is the best possible reason to write it. Also, as we have discussed at length, I think you severely under-rate stories of peace. Stories about orcs and battles really start to lose their charm after a while - M )

... this tale will at least have a certain value as a novelty.

And so it was that Bilbo and Glorfindel of Rivendell took sail in the good ship Gull’s Flight, and sailed east across the Sea. They passed the ancient tower of Barad Nimras on its heather-purple headland, and came at last to the long-lost and long-lamented land of Beleriand, now found again beyond the world and six thousand years.

Are you sure you want to write the whole thing in the third person? - E.

[Yes. It sounds so much more significant that way somehow,don’t you think? Oh, and if you’re wondering why I didn’t mention Elrohir, that’s because he went off right away as soon as we landed. Glorfindel reckoned he was pining for a nice solitary wander in the wilderness. -B]

Oh, I see. -E

Eglarest is an odd place to Hobbit eyes. It is a town spread around a wide sheltered harbour. On the landward side there are tall stone walls,raised by Finrod himself, they say, in the unimaginably distant past. Stone houses too, with many fine carvings set about the doors and windows. But on the seaward side, there are golden sands stretching out to meet the glass-green waves. Brightly-painted boats are tethered along the harbour walls at the mouth of the River Nenning, red, yellow, blue and white, and some people live on the boats all year round.

It is not at all like Lake-town, which was the only place Bilbo had ever been where people lived on the water. In Lake-town, they lived on the water for fear of the Dragon.

But in Eglarest they live on the water because they like it. When the tide goes out, the footing is firm enough in the wooden streets that rest upon the sand, but when it comes in, half the town moves up and down with the waves, and sometimes parts of it simply sail away, then when they come back, attach themselves somewhere else! So it is a town that constantly changes, which makes it hard to find one’s way about.

Glorfindel thought it delightful, and spent a good deal of time exploring the shifting streets and joining in the singing whenever the tide came in.

Bilbo thought it very odd, and was glad that the house where they were staying, a new house that Glorfindel had built on the outskirts of Eglarest, was safely on dry land. The bobbing of the boats and the waving of the many-coloured pennants was very fair to see against the shining waves, but he much preferred the ground to be solid beneath his bed.

They did not stay long in Eglarest, for they had a good deal to see and visiting to do. Bilbo was feeling spryer than he had for a very long time, and Glorfindel of course was ever-youthful, as he had always been since Bilbo had first met him in Rivendell long ago, laughing amid the daisies of the river-meadow at the long wagging beards of thirteen dwarves.

They crossed the River Nenning and headed North and East, across the wide level plains that had once been part of the Realm of Nargothrond. Wild enough country for the most part, though open, covered in long golden grass that swayed in the wind. Glorfindel sang as he walked, and so did Bilbo, for a while, though it is hard work keeping up with an Elf on a walking-holiday when you are a hobbit. After a while he ran out of puff for singing, and only listened to Glorfindel’s clear voice ringing out across the quiet land.

These lands were new to Glorfindel, as well as to Bilbo. Glorfindel had once lived in Vinyamar, Turgon’s forsaken city beside the Sea, and he had journeyed across Beleriand to the secret city of Gondolin, but he had not done much exploring otherwise.

Now they were travelling across what had once been King Finrod’s realm of Nargothrond, and taking their time to see the land and talk to the Elves who had chosen to live here.

It might be better not to call Finrod a king, if you aren’t going to call Turgon one. - E.

(Oh, do. Turgon will probably never read this and anyway he can’t possibly take offense at Bilbo. But Finrod will certainly read it and be pleased that someone remembered his pretty silver crown - M)

[... perhaps it would be best to call them both king. -B]

There were not many Elves living in West Beleriand, but here and there as they travelled slowly across the land they met a few. On the banks of the river Narog flowing down from the shining pools of Ivrin, where the laughing waters fall over the glistening rocks, they met a handful of Noldor hunters, Fingon’s people out of Hithlum. They camped together for a day or so, and heard ancient songs of the rising of the Moon.

Later, they met a handful of Sindar, travelling across the wide plain between the rivers with their herd of tall blue-grey cattle: strange creatures, taller than any cow Bilbo had ever encountered, with a sheen to their hides like silk. These cattle have very deep musical voices, like a sort of bassoon. It was a wonder to hear the Elves sing, high and clear, as they walked, and the cattle calling beside them.

They pressed the travellers to accept cups of warm fresh milk, and mushrooms that they had gathered and fried in butter. Glorfindel, being, like so many of the Noldor, sadly blind to the joy of mushrooms, refused these last politely, but Bilbo ate enough to make up for him twice over, much to the delight of the herd-Elves, who declared him a person of excellent taste.

It was a good many days travel before Bilbo and Glorfindel came at last to the Crossings of the Teiglin glimmering pale under dark banks in the fading evening light, and saw the Mound of the Elf-maid. Finduilas the Fair was taken prisoner when the Elven-city Nargothrond fell, and afterwards cruelly slain here by orcs.

Bilbo was moved to see the green mound still standing in memory of her suffering, and they stood quietly beside it for a little while as the blue dusk crept near.

Then Bilbo turned to Glorfindel to suggest they set up their small camp for the night, and was surprised to find his fair face streaked with tears.

“Oh dear,” Bilbo said, wondering what to say to a grief so very ancient and yet still sharp. “But Finduilas is well enough now, Glorfindel. She lives in Tirion.”

“Yes,” Glorfindel said, and folded down lithely on the short springy turf. “She is well enough. She has a house among the fountains of Tirion, and another in Alqualondë, amid the swaying white stems of birch-trees. And yet, I cannot forget that she died forsaken at the hands of the orcs, while I and my House sat at our ease in secrecy behind our walls in Gondolin, not ten leagues hence. The Men of Brethil tried to aid her, but Gondolin was not so kind. Death in torment is not a thing that can or should be forgotten.”

“Oh dear,” Bilbo said again, and since there was nothing he could think of to say that was at all to the point, he piled some kindling under an old dead branch on a rock near the water, boiled the kettle, and made some tea to share with a slice of seedy-cake from his pack.

[... this last paragraph is a bit dull. Take it out. -B]

I think your readers would enjoy this paragraph, and you should leave it in - E.

( He’s right, you know. - M)

Gondolin stands as it was in the flower of its strength, except that the ways through the mountains stand open now. The Hidden City is no longer hidden. A delicately-wrought bridge patterned with holly leaves spans the Ford of Brithiach into the misty land of Dimbar. There is a clear paved path to the Hidden Way on the Dry River.

But at the start of the path there is a wide glade of fine grass woven with great drifts of tall white flowers that sway in the wind.

There, Glorfindel went to one knee and put his hand on the soft turf. “Here stood Húrin, released from his long captivity in Angband, when he called out to Gondolin for aid. We made no answer.”

“I thought,” Bilbo ventured, “That King Turgon thought better of his first decision and sent out Eagles to hunt for Húrin, but they couldn’t find him?”

“Yes,” Glorfindel agreed. “But still, if a friend calls for aid and you do not answer until it is too late; that is a terrible thing, Bilbo, no matter what the reason.”

“I can see that,” Bilbo said, most unhappily, for he did not like to think of Elves doing such a thing.

I have sometimes wondered if one reason that the Valar allowed Hobbits to come to Valinor was because of the terribly high standards to which you hold us, and the weight of your disappointment if we fail to meet them. - E.

(...I feel a sudden fellow-feeling for poor Turgon. Perhaps you should call him king after all. - M)

“I regret it bitterly, and so does my lord Turgon,” Glorfindel said. He picked two of the white flowers, and tucked one into the strap on his own pack , and one into Bilbo’s. “Húrin guarded our retreat at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. His brother and men fell so that we could return to Gondolin, and he himself was taken and held in torment. Wear this now, and think of him. These flowers are called alfirin, and they grow upon the barrows of Men.”

They went on along the path to Gondolin, and did not speak again for some time.

Turgon’s banner, blue and gold, flies proudly above the entrance to the tunnel, which is lit now with great lanterns.

They passed the tunnel and climbed through the great ravine, passing each of the Seven Gates, all standing open, early in the morning. Birds were singing all around them. At last, there before them lay the elven-city, set in a wide quiet green vale like a great jewel on a velvet cloak. Around the city there was a wide garth of flowering trees, shimmering white and pink in the sunlight, and the tall towers glinted in the sunlight.

Struck by the beauty of it, Bilbo exclaimed “Oh!” But Glorfindel stood very still, looking at the city, his face grave.

This is a hazard of travelling with Elves, at least on journeys where there is no great urgency. Sometimes they are merry as children when all sensible people only want to sleep, and at other times they will stop to think for hours on end. Bilbo was well used to it by now, and so he sat down to admire the view, smoke a pipe and eat a little.

Some might say that a hazard of travelling with Hobbits is that they want to stop for a meal and a smoke six times a day! - E.

[So we do, and it makes travelling all the pleasanter. But I wasn’t counting you as an elf! -B]

(As an undeniable Elf renowned for my ability to stare absently out to sea without achieving anything, I have made a note about appropriate behaviour in the company of Hobbits. - M)

After Bilbo had emptied his pipe, Glorfindel had still not moved, so Bilbo asked, “Has it changed much?”

Slowly, Glorfindel shook his head. “No. No, and... yes. The walls are the same, the gates, the towers, in every detail. They are just the way I saw them when last I came this way, thousands of long years past. But a city is more than its walls and towers: a city is made of people, and the people are gone. Most of the people, anyway. I feel there is someone here, though I am not sure who.”

“I thought that,” Bilbo agreed. “No weeds on this path, and those apple-trees look very well pruned.”

“The paths were made so that there is a clear line of sight from the towers to the margins of the plain,” Glorfindel explained. “The idea was that any attack would be visible at once to the watchers in the city. There are enchantments on them of clear vision. Not that they helped, in the end.”

Bilbo peered across the grass and sniffed. “I think I can smell roses.”

“Roses, lavender, and pea-blossom,” Glorfindel agreed, turning to look around.

“I thought nobody lived in Gondolin now?”

“That I do not know,” Glorfindel said, still looking at the distant city, tall white towers glimmering pale in the centre of the plain. “I heard that some of the Sindar had spoken of returning. For us, it was a memory of Tirion. Built to recapture the beauty of Valinor for Exiles who believed that we could never return: both sweet and bitter. For the Sindar it was a place of safety and beauty. Perhaps it was a truer home for them than it ever was for us.”

He looked down at Bilbo, shrugged and then smiled. “When we fled the ruin of Gondolin long ago, I never expected to return, and certainly not in the company of a hobbit. Come and see!”

Bilbo’s first impression on approaching the city was that Gondolin had been built for people who were remarkably tall, even compared with other cities of the Elves. By the time they had crossed the wide plain and come to the foot of the long winding stair that led to the first gate, the sun had vanished behind the encircling mountains.

“Botheration!” Bilbo said wearily, looking up at steps that each were taller than his knee. He sat down firmly on a pale rock, smooth to the touch as if it had been worn by water, “No matter if the city is empty or full of people, I’m not climbing all the way up there tonight!”

Glorfindel looked up at the first gate high above them. “I see and hear no-one. Let’s not rush: tomorrow will be here soon enough. There used to be gardens not far from the stair: if we only turn aside a little, we can come into them and camp there tonight.”

The gardens by the Hill of Watch were quiet, green and well-tended, and there were many white roses climbing through the hedges that glimmered softly in the dusk and filled the air with a scent that was rich and delicate. Birds were singing, and they could hear the rushing sound of water falling in white streams from the city high above.

Bilbo reached up and caught the stem of a rose to sniff at it, and found that the many-petalled flower filled his two hands. Around the roses were strawberries and berry-bushes scattered with small sweet berries with a blue bloom to them. With these fruits and the food they had brought with them they made a very fine supper, and then Bilbo fell gratefully asleep to the sound of Glorfindel humming gently in the starlight, accompanied by the music of the waterfalls of Gondolin.

When he woke again in the morning light, somewhat damp with dew, Glorfindel was talking quietly to someone. A very peculiar someone, too: bent, brown and wrinkled as an old hedge-stump that has been cut and pleached many times, with wild hair like long tufts of hay.

“Bilbo! Awake at last!” Glorfindel exclaimed, turning to him with a smile. “Here is the answer to our questions, and to a great many songs, too. Here is one of the ladies of the Onodrim, who long ago were lost. Yavanna the blessed has guided them here, and they have been tending the gardens.”

“An Entwife!” Bilbo exclaimed, astounded. He had heard songs of the long search of the Ents for the Entwives, of course. Although his Elvish had been a little weak on his first visit to the Elvenking’s palace in Mirkwood, when he had returned there on his last visit to Erebor he had made something of a study of them, though he had unfortunately left the notes behind in Dale.

You’re starting to ramble a bit here - E.

[Oh dear, so I am. I can’t help wondering where those notes got to, though. I can see them quite clearly in my room in Dale, and then I don’t know where they went. I’m almost sure I didn’t have them in Rivendell... but you are right as usual Elrond, this isn’t the place. -B]

The Entwife assessed him, keen eyes that seemed deep as a clear river set in her gnarled brown face, and then asked; “Entwife?”

Bilbo had used the Westron word, since that was the language he usually spoke with Glorfindel. “It’s a name from Rohan,” he explained. “It means the wife of an Ent. One of the Onodrim.”

She laughed, a deep rich resonant sound, and golden sparkles whirled in her eyes. “The wife of an Ent!” she said. “But we are Ents; children of the Great Mother. Should it not be that the menfolk are Ent-husbands?”

“So they should,” Bilbo said. He had had this sort of discussion with a number of old gammers in the Shire over the years, and knew when it was safest to agree. “Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit of the Shire at your service, madam.”

“Madam,” she said thoughtfully. “Another strange name. I do not care for it. You can call me... Thornhag, small Bilbo Baggins. That name is short enough to come easily to your tongue, and it is more pleasant to my ears than ‘Entwife’.”

“Pleased to meet you, Thornhag!” Bilbo said, excited to be encountering one of the Entwives of song and story. “This is wonderful news! We thought that you had all been lost long ago!”

“So the Elf of the Golden Flowers here has told me,” she said, her bark-like skin forming a curl of amusement at the corner of her mouth. “But we thought that the... Ents... had gone off into the deep woods and been lost. We were in no mind to go looking for them, there in their shady deeps where only the great trees live.”

“They came out to look for you,later, so the songs tell,” Glorfindel said. “But they found your lands brown and withered.”

She shuddered, and the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes deepened and darkened. “We were driven out,” she said, her voice quiet and uncertain. She said nothing more, and Glorfindel looked deep into her eyes, but what he saw there, he did not say.

There was an awkward pause. “The gardens here are very fine,” Bilbo observed, feeling that a change of subject was needed. “Are there many of your people here?”

“Fewer than I would wish, but enough to keep the gardens blooming,” Thornhag said, and before Bilbo could ask even one of the thousand questions that had come crowding into his mind, she turned and slipped behind one of the great climbing rosebushes, and was gone.

“How odd,” he said to Glorfindel, and blinked. “She seemed so full of opinions, but one mention of the Brown Lands, and off she went as if the wild wolves were after her!”

“She has been very badly hurt, I think,” Glorfindel said, looking in the direction she had gone. “I could see a darkness behind her, and fear, and fire.”

“Fire? The Brown Lands are still withered even now, I’m told. Surely that was something more than ordinary fire to do such damage?”

Glorfindel’s frown was troubled. “She walks in a garden behind the mountain-walls, far beyond the world under the protection of her great mother, and yet she has not left fear behind her.” He shrugged. “But then, I know little of her and her people. They were made as guardians, it’s said, as a power of the woods to match the battle-axes of the Dwarves... ”

He looked around thoughtfully. “I wonder how many of them are here, and what shadow stalks them... Stay close to me, won’t you Bilbo?”

“You think they might be dangerous?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

Bilbo shrugged. “A falling tree is dangerous if you happen to be standing next to it, as we say in the Shire. No harm in being careful.”

“She is frightened, and her people are very strong,”Glorfindel said. “Perhaps now is the time to go up into the city.”

Thornhag is a name that sheds an interesting light upon the more recent history of the... shall we say, ladies of the Onodrim. ‘Thornhag’ is almost the same, taking the long view, as the name of the Hawthorn tree, but arranged to emphasize the ancient connection with hedges, with boundaries, and with the concept of one who crosses boundaries as a person of power, and not always a kindly one. The -hag or haw- part of the name is related to the modern word ‘hex’, which is often used for the deceits of the Enemy.

I am almost certain that the ladies of the Onodrim have not been in Lindon or within the boundaries of old Arnor. The Wandering Companies of Elves or the Rangers would certainly have encountered them at some point, and informed the White Council.

If they were in Rhovanion before the Necromancer’s influence began to spread, it seems unlikely that neither Elves nor Ents would have encountered them. The ladies of the Onodrim were never a secret people: they were very widely known in the years before the Last Alliance. The name suggests to me that they may have been somewhere in the East, in the lands under Sauron’s hand. What befell them there only they can tell. I would be interested to hear that story.

- E.

[ The things you are able to work out from reading a single name never cease to astonish me! -B]

 

A great deal has been written about Gondolin, of its many famous gates and fountains, the marble towers and curving balustrades, so there is no reason to repeat it all here. It was a steep climb for short hobbit legs up into the City Upon Amon Gwareth, and they stopped several times to allow Bilbo to catch his breath. Glorfindel climbed easily and without hesitation until they reached the first gate, where he turned and looked down at the wide valley below.

“I stood here,” he said, “And I watched the Enemy’s hosts fill the vale. The dragons and the Balrogs attacking the western wall, the counter-attack that failed. We were beaten back,” he said and walked forward through the open gate, but his clear eyes were not seeing marble curbs or tall fair walls, but flames that had died seven thousand years past.

“The cry went up to retreat. I went this way with all that was left of the people of my House...” he followed the road past finely-carved doorways, and Bilbo had to trot to keep up with him. “Here, to the Square of the King.”

His eyes flickered around the square, which lay quiet and peaceful in the morning light,the fountains catching a rainbow of light. Bilbo felt the fine haze of water droplets on his face, and the damp air was filled with the scent of white roses growing along the walls. Glorfindel walked over to the fountain, and very gently dipped the fingers of one hand into the water.

Then he looked at Bilbo. “Perhaps it isn’t only the Onodrim who are haunted by old shadows,” he said, and smiled.”I thought I had left them all far behind me, but the sight of the city calls to my memory.” He shook his head. “Let me take you to find a brighter memory,” he said.

They walked side by side through blue shade and past gardens bright with flowers, until they came to another fountain, a smaller one this time, that sang merrily as it played. Around the fountain was a greensward filled with the simple golden flowers of shining buttercups. Glorfindel knelt to run one long hand gently over the petal-tips.

“The Square of the House of the Golden Flower?” Bilbo asked and Glorfindel nodded and he smiled, a smile that was slow and peaceful.

“Yes. This was my home in Middle-earth.”

Chapter Text

There were Elves in Gondolin, after all.

Bilbo and Glorfindel spent the day exploring the long quiet streets— stopping at regular intervals for meals,of course.

I am increasingly astonished that you and Glorfindel were able to carry sufficient food for this expedition! E.

[I forgot to mention that Glorfindel shot a brace of fine fat ducks near the entrance to the city, and I roasted them, and also that the Entwives were growing potatoes. It was a very pleasant trip in many ways -B]

They wandered through an empty hall where the Trees of Gold and Silver shone in bright mosaic on the walls, past archways draped with flowering roses, and looked through windows of emerald and sapphire crystal to pools where fountains played merrily though the people who had built them were far away.

On the Way of Running Waters, near the southwestern wall, they heard clear voices and laughter, and found three families; elves of mingled Noldor and Sindar heritage who had come to live in the city.

They had chosen to make their homes close to the Way of Idril, no longer a secret but open and lamplit. It provided a convenient short-cut down into the gardens in the valley below, without having to go through all the many gates and defences on the main road.

Bilbo inspected the doorway with delight and amazement, while Glorfindel and the other elves old enough to remember Gondolin were exchanging reminisces of the city. Bilbo, having walked around the doorway and ventured a little way down the long steps, interrupted them.

“How on earth could this great big hole be hidden?”he asked. “It’s huge; you could get a whole army down here! Did it have a door like the Dwarf-doors of the mountains, that can’t be seen or moved except by those who know the secret?”

Glorfindel shook his head. “The Lady Idril had no dwarf-skills, to make hidden doors of stone. And she had no need to barricade the inner door, only to hide it from unfriendly eyes.”

“Unfriendly eyes inside the city?” Bilbo enquired.

I’ve known strong Men who would not have had the nerve to ask Glorfindel that particular question. - E.

[ I’ve found in my adventures that it’s better to come straight out and ask this kind of thing if you really want to know. And then go on asking now and again, until you get a straight answer. -B]

Glorfindel frowned and looked uncomfortable. He looked out across the city before he replied, towards the shining heights of the Tower of the King.

“The King had put all his trust in the walls that he had built, and would not see them breached,” he said. “In the end, the assault came from the North across the mountains, and against the main Gate. Idril’s gate put us in no greater peril, as it turned out. But things might have gone differently.”

“A difficult time,” one of the other Elves said sombrely. “The Lord Maeglin...” his voice trailed off unhappily.

Glorfindel grimaced. “Yes.”

“Did anyone know that Maeglin had told the Enemy... I mean, was it entirely a surprise?” Bilbo asked.

“Nobody was expecting the attack to come at that moment,” Glorfindel answered. His fair face was wearing an expression that was both sad and distant, but he was still being more communicative about the fall of Gondolin than he had ever been before when Bilbo had attempted to quiz him about it.

“Not even the Lady Idril?” he asked. The eldest of the Gondolin elves looked away unhappily.

Glorfindel shrugged and shook his head in bafflement. “I don’t know how much Idril knew of Maeglin’s thought. Whether she knew that he had strayed far enough to be caught by the Enemy. If she knew what the Enemy had offered him... No, I am sure she did not know that at the time. If she knew for sure that he had betrayed us, she would have warned the King. But you should ask her about this yourself.”

“I shall.”

“I’m sure you will! But to answer your first question, Bilbo, the door was hidden with an illusion. There was a fountain here, before she began her work... here, this one. She moved it aside, and wove flowers around it to hide her work. None of us had any idea that it was here, until we were sorely pressed, and she and Tuor revealed their work.”

“Come,” Eglaniel of Gondolin said to all of them. “The wars are done with and the old betrayals can be left in the past — or I hope so, anyway. Will you stay and eat with us this evening? We have enough and to spare. Those who tend the gardens of the Vale are generous with their produce.”

“The Entwives!” Bilbo exclaimed. “You’ve met them? We encountered one of them on our way up to the Gate, but she seemed most mysterious and vanished away when we tried to question her.”

“We have,” Eglaniel said and smiled down at him. “They haven’t spoken much to any of us yet, but they seem to like it when we sing for them.”

(Bilbo. Your earnest curiosity is a great delight, but sometimes it can be just a little like a jewellery-drill applied to a tender location. - M)

[ Dear me! But how to learn what everyone but me knows, and never speaks of, if I don’t ask? It’s quite a puzzle! -B]

I cannot say when it comes to the Entwives, but with regard to Gondolin, it is clear to me at least that the boil is better lanced than ignored. Keep at it, Bilbo. - E.

[ To be quite honest, I didn’t get much more down in my notes about Gondolin. We had a jolly meal and stayed for a few days, but nobody wanted to talk about Maeglin or the Fall, there was no more to be seen of the Entwives, and I can’t help feeling this story already has enough about fountains and flowers, lovely though they are. But surely I can’t just skip to Hithlum in the middle of a chapter? -B]

Why not? You can always return to the matter of Gondolin at another time. - E.

*****


They set off west from Gondolin, heading for the southern passes of the Ered Wethrin. The weather was damp and miserable, and Bilbo was reminded of the travels of his youth more often than he would ideally have liked. At least travelling on foot there was no smell of wet pony, and Glorfindel was a considerably less grumpy companion than Gandalf had usually been.

But when they came down at last from the mountain-foothills to the shores of Lake Mithrim, the welcome was all that they could have wished.

Many of Fingon’s people had chosen to follow him back to the misty town beside the lake, the first settlement in Beleriand of the Noldor returned from Aman. As Glorfindel and Bilbo came near the outskirts that chilly afternoon, they were hailed cheerfully by Elves who were riding white horses through the shallows of the lakeshore, sending plumes of white foam splashing about their high-stepping hooves. A messenger was sent galloping off at top speed to alert the prince, and horses and Elves together insisted on accompanying Bilbo and Glorfindel to the town.

“Bilbo!” Fingon cried in delight, striding down the steps to greet them. “You came!”

Bilbo gave his best polite bow, although his toes were squelching most unpleasantly and the Baggins part of him had been wishing for some time that the whole of him had stayed comfortably upon Tol Eressëa. “I could hardly refuse such an invitation. Signed in golden ink, too, I noticed.”

Fingon laughed. “I had it made up specially, remembering your tale of the Birthday Party. If your kin, the Sackville-Bagginses, could not resist it, I thought it might might even lure you back across the Sea. But come in and get dry! And Glorfindel too. It’s good to see you both. I hope Turgon is staying out of trouble, Glorfindel?”

“That’s what he said about you,” Glorfindel smiled, and Fingon rolled his eyes.

The House of Princes in Mithrim is nothing like as grand as the white-towered palace of the King in Gondolin, but it was warm and comfortable, with fine wooden carvings, thick rugs and large fireplaces that reminded both Bilbo and Glorfindel of Rivendell.

Glorfindel soon had a dry set of clothes, and much to his surprise, so did Bilbo. Fingon had prepared for a Hobbit visitor even to having a full wardrobe made for him, complete with a magnificent new dark green velvet waistcoat worked elaborately with the delicate shapes of silver ferns. Bilbo put it on at once. Wearing it, he felt entirely recovered from his soaking, enormously Tookish, and rather pleased with himself. He left his room and went to find out what was going on.

He found Glorfindel and Fingon in a room with tall windows that looked out over the misty lake, and more importantly, a fireplace that filled the room with a warm glow, a comfortably low stool and a cake topped with fresh raspberries awaiting him.

“And did you solve the riddle I sent in my invitation?” Fingon enquired, after Bilbo had been generously supplied with cake.

Glorfindel smiled. “Of course he has!”

Bilbo nodded. “The answer is a ship sailing east!” he declared with confidence, swiftly confirmed by Fingon’s nod. “but if you thought a simple riddle like that one would fox a Hobbit who is somewhat known for his expertise at riddle-games....”

“I didn’t,” Fingon said, and raised a dark eyebrow in challenge. “I’ve been saving the difficult riddles for when you got here, so that I can see the puzzled look on your face when you admit defeat.”

“Dear me,” Bilbo said and looked as doubtful as he knew how. “Bold words butter no parsnips, as we say in the Shire. I must hear these difficult riddles and find out if they are really hard, or only odd and Elvish.”

“Odd and Elvish? Do you hear that, Glorfindel? The adventurer from the strange land of the Hobbits comes to Elvenhome, and now to Beleriand and declares us odd!”

“I’m surprised Bilbo finds much about Elves odd, having spent so long among us,” Glorfindel said cheerfully.

“I’ve spent half my life reading snatches of verse and deciphering bits and pieces of tales of Beleriand, and yet there are many things that seem odd sometimes! But I could hardly miss the chance to see the old tales come back to life, and of course to badger you with questions.”

“More questions, Bilbo?” Glorfindel exclaimed, laughing, while Fingon raised an amused eyebrow at being called an old tale. “Surely if you had not asked them all in Rivendell, you have had your fill of them by now?”

“Never!” Bilbo said stoutly. “For example, there’s the whole question of the count of days between the ruin of the Trees and the rising of the Sun. It’s puzzled me no end.”

Glorfindel made a pained noise and looked at the ceiling. “Spare me hobbit calendars, family trees and reckonings! ”

“You endured enough of them in Rivendell, indeed,” Bilbo said, and patted him appreciatively on the knee, since Glorfindel’s shoulder was far out of reach. He looked thoughtfully up at Fingon. “And so, now I intend to direct my questions elsewhere!”

“If I am to be interrogated about calendars and ancient history, I insist I must share the load with Maedhros. He should be back soon. He went for a ride along the lakeshore.”

“Great heavens. In this weather?” Bilbo looked out at the mist, the dark shape of reeds and the faint pale light that was the lake beyond.

“There’s something about the flow of clouds across a grey sky, in Hithlum. The smell of the wind blowing mist over wet grass and heather, and lapwings calling through it, out of sight. The rain on your face and the blue mountain-shadows... I would miss it, if I went back to Tirion. Sometimes grey skies call more to the troubled heart than clear skies and the sun shining. I have a riddle for that, though you’ll guess it easily enough since I’ve given away half the secret already.”

“Tell us anyway,” Bilbo said. “I’ll give you the first round for practice.”

Fingon leant back and smiled, the gold wound into his dark braids glinting in the firelight.
“Grey ships softly sail
Across an azure sea
Carrying a shining hoard
The jewels of Manwë”

“Oh, very nice,” Bilbo said, and clapped his hands in delight, since it was a pretty picture, and also it reminded him that he was comfortably warm and dry. “Yes, rainclouds, of course!”

“Rainclouds indeed. Your turn, Bilbo! Or are you going to join us, Glorfindel?”

Glorfindel raised a hand. “I’m content to listen to the competition. I fear I’m not in training for this particular battle, and would be very swiftly defeated.”

“Fair enough. Bilbo, then.”

I take it that you are planning to detail every single riddle then - E.

[ Of course I am. You and Maglor both said: tell tales of peace. Anyway, I know you love this sort of thing, even if it is a rather rambing sort of way to tell a tale, Elrond. -B]

I do. And at least this time you aren’t doing it in the middle of an urgent council to determine the fate of the world! - E.

Bilbo stood up, the better to speak his riddle. Exchanging riddles with someone so very tall made it difficult to give the rhyme a suitable sense of importance, and he needed all the advantage he could get, since this was a fairly easy one. He took a deep breath.

“The tail of the snake winds round and round.
The tail of the snake, it holds you bound
The tooth of the snake bites hard.”

Fingon’s shining eyes narrowed as he thought.
“A snake. Not a very hobbitish creature. So, surely not truly a snake, but some other thing that winds around, with a tooth... I have it! A belt with a buckle!”

Bilbo nodded reluctantly. “One to you. No! A half to you, because...”

“I said hobbitish,” Fingon admitted, and shook his head. “I forgot the Bounder Rule! A half to me then, and now it’s my turn.

Follow her fleetly, face flushed red
She kindles to flame
As she falls to her bed.
The touch of her kisses
leaves marks on the skin
Yet soon she’ll be gone
As she never had been.
Who is she?”

“Hmmm.” Bilbo could feel himself flushing a little pink, since this was the sort of riddle that he usually steered well clear of. Fingon knew this perfectly well and had probably chosen it on purpose. Flame. Marks on the skin. The answer was probably not literally a lady... Falls to her bed? Something to do with autumn leaves?

“Ahem,” Fingon said pointedly, one eyebrow lifted enquiringly. Suddenly the answer came to Bilbo’s mind, and to his relief, it was not embarrassing at all.

“The Sun at Sunset!” he declared confidently, and saw on Fingon’s face that he had won the round.

(Nice work there, Fingon. Certainly on purpose! - M)

[I begin to see that tales of peace can be quite good fun really, if still not as exciting as adventures. -B]

Bilbo resolved to pursue his advantage, choosing a riddle that he had created for himself that he was very nearly sure would send Fingon’s mind in the wrong direction.

“My turn!” he said.

“Fenced with swords
Crowned with amethyst
I stand proud and tall
Defending my love
The golden warrior”

Fingon’s shining eyes narrowed almost as if he were going into battle. “Swords, and gemstones and warriors. But this is surely not what it seems. Let me think!”

Glorfindel had heard this one before, and was laughing quietly to himself. Bilbo sent a reproving glance his way. But it was too late, Fingon was on the trail of the answer like a hunter after his prey.

“Fenced with swords, tall, and crowned with amethyst... I think this is a flower, a thorny flower. The thistle! And his golden love, armed with his sting, is a bee!”

Bilbo threw up his hands in defeat.

“One and one half to the Prince,” Glorfindel observed, “And one to Mr Baggins. But I have faith that Bilbo will solve the next riddle, and win the round.”

“I must speak to Turgon about the appalling lack of loyalty of his lords to his elder brother,” Fingon said cheerfully. “But for good or ill, here is my riddle:
I keep my fingers bare, when the wind blows cold.
In summer my gloves are emerald green
Among my people, I reign as queen
And in between I dress in gold.”
This would have been a harder puzzle if Bilbo had not just told his own riddle about the thistle, but as it was, it did not require too much thinking through.

“An oak tree!” he exclaimed, and, filled with enthusiasm, rushed into his own next riddle.

“Banisher of many foes
Bringer of wild dreams
Beloved of women, helper of men.
the nightwings I vanquish, time and again.”

Fingon blinked and frowned. “Lord Irmo? But I never heard he was particularly beloved of women, and he’s not a warrior... Nightwings? Some sort of preventative against the winged dragons? Hmm. All right. You are trying to puzzle me with references to modern tales that I don’t know about, but I have been doing some reading up. My answer is the King of Dale!” He gave Bilbo a triumphant look.

Bilbo laughed so much that a cake crumb went down the wrong way. He started to cough and Glorfindel had to slap him on the back.

“No,” he said when he finally had managed to stop laughing. “That’s a traditional one among hobbits. It’s about mugwort.” He could not recall the Quenya name — if mugwort even has a Quenya name— and so he used the Westron one.

“Mugwort? What’s a mugwort?”

“It’s a herb...” Bilbo began.

“And it keeps off dragons? Why didn’t anyone mention this stuff before?”

Bilbo dissolved into laughter again. When he had regained his composure, he took a generous mouthful of tea to soothe his throat before he spoke. “No! It was you who brought up dragons! It’s a sovereign remedy against moths. Wings that come by night, you see. Dry it and pop it in your wardrobe and it keeps moths away. Fleas too. And they use it in brewing beer, and it helps you sleep, if you make a tea with it, and the dreams that come from that are a bit... well. Wild. I understand the ladies have their own special uses for it too, though I’ve never enquired about the precise details.”

Fingon gave him a stern look. “We agreed to a warning if you used hobbit-lore,” he began.

“Lots of people use mugwort,” Bilbo defended himself. “It’s a very common plant!”

“I’m sure it wasn’t in Beleriand,” Fingon said darkly. “Someone would have told me. There would have been a report, or something.” He narrowed his eyes. “Also, you broke the Bounder Rule this time!”

“So I did. Drattitude! Half a point to me, then.”

Mugwort does have a Quenya name: in fact, it has two, one in late Beleriandic Quenya, and another in the Quenya of Aman - E.

(I would suggest, however, that neither is entirely relevant to Bilbo’s story, since the point is that Fingon, being more concerned with valour than with botany, had somehow escaped learning either of them. And that Bilbo soundly bested him! - M)

Fair! - E.

“Mr Baggins pulls clear ahead,” Glorfindel pointed out. “A statement of fact, and quite undeniable I’m afraid, no matter what dark aspersions are cast on my loyalties!”

Fingon grinned at him rather ferociously. “Well then, Mr Baggins. How about this one:
A precious stone, a clear green gem.
Walk on water with its great power,
Hoard it, and it'll vanish in an hour.”

Bilbo put his head down in deep thought. The mention of a gem with strange powers made him think that Fingon was referring to some odd piece of Noldor lore. But that would be unlike Fingon, who was always scrupulously fair, and had, rather to Bilbo’s surprise, let him get away with the mugwort riddle without insisting on a double penalty. A clear green gem... walking on water... Fingon had crossed the great ocean without a ship... walking on... walking on...

“Ice!” he exclaimed triumphantly.

Fingon buried his face in his hands in mock despair. Bilbo, well ahead, decided to bring out a riddle that he had heard in Dale, though he had changed the words around a little and translated it into Quenya.

“By Moon or Sun I can be found.
I walk by your side without a sound.
Yet I’m undone, if there's no light around.”

Fingon thought for a moment, and glanced around the room. Almost all the grey light from the windows was now gone, and around the fireplace danced shadows cast by the flames, so this should really be an easy one. Bilbo was fairly sure he was going to guess correctly.

But before he spoke, a deeper voice came from the door, accented in the distinctive manner of the House of Fëanor, and matching Bilbo’s riddle:
“By moon and sun you stand my friend
But in darkness deep without an end
Beyond the world a king bound
Stands still too proud, with iron crowned.”

That’s a... somewhat grim interpretation of the situation - E.

(It is Maedhros. What do you expect? - M)

“Maedhros! I was starting to think you’d fallen in the lake,” Fingon said. “And the answer is Shadow, though you’ve lost me my point by giving it away.”

“Oh, have I?” Maedhros came into the room and they rose to greet him. It seemed that he had changed after his ride, for his clothes were dry, although his long russet hair was still dark with damp. “I fear I’m not acquainted with this version of the game.”

“I’m sure you were going to get that last one anyway,” Bilbo said to Fingon. “Perhaps we could have a rematch after dinner?”

“Very generous, since I was losing,” Fingon agreed.

Bilbo bowed politely to Maedhros, “Delighted to meet you again, I’m sure,” he said.

Straightening up, which did not make much difference when surrounded by Elves so tall, he was struck by a thought that had long troubled him. “May I ask a somewhat personal question?”

Maedhros’s eyebrows shot up, up there somewhere beyond his slender nose. He bowed in turn. “Of course, Master Baggins.”

“How tall are you, really?” Fingon was overtaken with a sudden gust of laughter and sat back down on the settle.

Maedhros frowned, which was somewhat intimidating, though to one who had been frowned at by both Smaug the Magnificent and Elrond Peredhel, did not provide any great discouragement.

I am myself somewhat intimidated by that comparison! - E.

[ Take it as a compliment! -B]

(I plan to write to Maedhros immediately to let him know that he has been officially classed as less intimidating than Elrond! - M)

“It’s just that all the histories I’ve been working on all these years call you ‘The Tall’. But then they say how tall Turgon is, and how tall Thingol was, and I’ve always wondered exactly how tall that was. I was able to measure Turgon’s height in Tirion, and I have a first-hand estimate from Nimloth herself of the height of Thingol, and so... “

Maedhros snorted. “You measured Turgon?”

“I did,” Bilbo told him with a cheerful smile, sitting back down. “He was very helpful.”

Fingon lay back on the settle, still grinning. “I thought Turgon had more sense than that!”

“Indeed,” Maedhros said solemnly, and met Fingon’s eye. “Still, nobody has measured me, and so it is still possible to prevent complete disaster.”

“Disaster?” Bilbo spluttered, alarmed.

“Indeed. Even though Maedhros’s father is on reasonably civil terms with mine, nowadays.”

Glorfindel gave Fingon a look that might almost have been called reproving. “It’s a very very old joke, Bilbo.”

“A joke now, perhaps,” Maedhros said and sat down as well. “But there was a time, a very long time ago, when relations between the House of Fëanor and the House of Fingolfin were... tense.”

“We hated one another,” Fingon said, serious now. “And everyone was miserable about it.”

“Oh yes, I read about it.” Bilbo was enlightened. “It was one of those sort of family arguments, was it? I know about those. They’re awfully wearing.”

“They are!” Fingon agreed. “And one of the many many wearing arguments, believe it or not, was about who was tallest. There were fist-fights in the streets about it.”

“Bless me!” Bilbo exclaimed, accepting the cup that Fingon handed him.

“And so, Turgon and I made a great effort never to stand next to one another,” Maedhros took up the story. “And of course our heights could not be publicly announced, for fear of causing further argument.”

“Of course,” Bilbo echoed, although in fact he felt that probably the easiest way to resolve the problem would just have been to stand the pair of them back to back, so that everyone could see.

(Truth undeniable. I have no idea now why we didn’t just do that. Or, no, I do. We didn’t do that, because we were looking for excuses for a fight - M )

Maedhros said, “In any case, I don’t know the answer.”

Bilbo blinked at him inquiringly.

“I found myself taller by the width of two thumbs, after hanging on Thangorodrim,” Maedhros told him. “I do not know if the form that I wear now still has the advantage of those extra two thumbs of height, or not.”

“I see,” Bilbo said, very disconcerted and not at all sure what to say next.

Maedhros, to Bilbo’s considerable surprise, smiled down at him. “I am teasing you, Mr Baggins. This matter is no longer important to anyone, save perhaps to you. If you have brought a tape measure with you, then I, like Turgon, am happy to lie down and be measured.”

“Bilbo has other questions for us too,” Fingon said, as Bilbo spluttered indignantly at what was apparently a jest. “He asked me about the count of days before the Sun and Moon were made, and after the fall of the Trees. ”

“Did he?” Maedhros asked. “A difficult subject. It was very dark.”

“Dark, and very confusing,” Fingon agreed innocently.

Bilbo gave him a thoughtful look and decided that a joke could go both ways. “Perhaps the Noldor are particularly prone to confusion in the dark,” he agreed. “I remember, in the pitchy gloom of Mirkwood, the wood-elves we encountered there were surefooted when the lights went out, even when I and my friends the Dwarves were lost. But surely the Wood-elves have honed their great skill over many long years, whereas the Noldor were used to unceasing light. I imagine you were all falling over your own feet!”

Glorfindel was quietly laughing to himself again.

“Pfft to the Wood-elves of Mirkwood and their skilled feet,” Fingon protested, laughing too. “We were well used to travelling under stars! It was only at the beginning, in the Unlight...”

“The Unlight of Ungoliant was enough to trouble even the Valar,” Maedhros said, serious again. “But the Unlight did not last. My family in particular had done a good deal of travelling far from the Light of the Trees, north even into Araman, and along the coast too, outside the mountains of the Pelóri.”

“The Noldor have always been familiar with the stars,” Fingon agreed.

“That’s all very well,” Bilbo told him, doggedly pursuing the question he wanted to ask. “But here is my puzzle. The records I have seen all agree that it was in the year 1495 of the Trees that... that the Unlight fell on Valinor, and the Noldor set out to pursue their enemy. Yet it was two elvish long-years later that Fëanor fell in battle, and three long-years after that, the year 1500 of the Trees — not that there were any Trees by then of course, but you know what I mean, that’s the convention that the chroniclers use — before you passed the Helcaraxë, Fingon. In the shorter accounts, it sounds like the whole thing was over in a flash. What took so long? I’ve wondered for ages!”

“Oh,” Maedhros said, and his left hand went to his right wrist and rubbed at the place where his delicately-wrought metal hand met the flesh. “It seemed long enough at the time... You are a brave historian, Bilbo, to come here to ask Fingolfin’s heir why he did not travel more swiftly.”

“And Fëanor’s too,” Fingon said. His eyes were suddenly fiercely intense.

“I am older than any hobbit has ever been,” Bilbo began.

“And afflicted with a curiosity unmatched among Elves or Men,” Glorfindel put in.

“... so I’ve got very little to lose! It seems to me that you have faced far worse things than a hobbit asking questions about matters so long past.”

“Truth undeniable,” Maedhros said,and another fleeting gleam of unexpected warmth shone on his usually grim face. He looked at Fingon. “It was all a very long time ago.”

“It was,” Fingon said reluctantly, meeting his eyes. “I’ll tell the tale if you will.”

“Together then,” Maedhros agreed, and pulled over a nearby stool to rest his feet upon.

*****
“So then. The Darkening of Valinor,” Maedhros began. “It was the time for the festival of the gathering of fruits, in Valimar, and Tirion. Autumn, perhaps you would call it, although there was no winter then, there were seasons still. So there is the start of the answer to your riddle. The Year, long though the years were in the Noontide of Valinor, was wearing to an end, when my father was summoned to the feast upon Taniquetil.”

“Everyone went,” Fingon added.”Absolutely everyone was invited, on that occasion. The cities were emptied, the villages and the farms...”

“Ah!” Bilbo said. “That sounds just a little familiar — if on a much larger scale! When you invite half the countryside to your party, there’s a lot of planning to do. Supplies and so on. And it takes a while to get them all in and out, even if you don’t have to arrange for people with wheelbarrows to come and take away those who have had a drop too much. ”

“Wheelbarrows?” Maedhros’s eyebrows went up.

I truly hope that you can find many more Shire-parallels with the Ancient West. They make me laugh. - E.

[ Noted! -B]

Fingon was smiling. “I saw no wheelbarrows,before or after,” he said. “But to fetch the entire people of the Noldor and the Vanyar to the peak of Taniquetil with their fruits and flowers and garlands: yes. It took some arranging. And it would have been the more joyful if there had not been the most awkward and forced public reconciliation in the middle of it. My father had many disagreements with Fëanor, but to see our king’s eldest son forced to apologise like a naughty child, knowing that Grandfather Finwë had not ordered it, and did not agree...” He shook his head, dark braids swaying, and made a face. “Anyway, we all made the best of it, so far as we could. And at the height of the festival, we looked down from the Mountain, and we saw the Darkness fall. Then, of course, we had to get everyone back down from the Mountain, and decide what was to be done. Have you heard the Aldudénië of Elemmírë, Bilbo?”

“The story of the Downfall of the Trees? Yes, of course. There were a few pages that Elrond had saved, tucked away in the library of Rivendell — terribly old and crumbly, they were — and then I heard it sung in full in Valimar. Oh! It was wonderful! But I’m sure it doesn’t mention all the elves leaving the mountain, does it?”

“No it doesn’t. But from the song, you have an idea of what the Valar did. Tulkas and Oromë set forth to pursue the Enemy. Those of us who had horses with us went with their host, but when we came up with the Shadow, we were scattered and lost, and even Tulkas was helpless. So, it was some time before we came back to the gates of Valimar and the Ring of Doom; Fëanor, my father, since he had sworn to put aside grief and follow him, me, Finarfin and Finrod, too.” He hesitated, looking at Maedhros.

“The rest of us went back to Tirion,” Glorfindel added. “A gloomy journey, even under stars.”

“A gloomy journey, yes,” Maedhros agreed. His deep voice sounded almost as though it too was filled with shadows. “And so was ours, riding south with all speed from Formenos, with the news that the Shadow had come, and the King was dead. And then, my father was... much distressed. He ran off into the darkness in his grief. ”

“So we looked for him,” Fingon said gravely. “And we could not find him, and the Valar said nothing but only sat and wept. Which was... not what we had hoped for.”

“So after a while, we all returned to Tirion,” Maedhros said. “And we were there some little time before my father came to the city.”

“And then you swore your oath and the Noldor marched to Alqualondë?” Bilbo asked, fascinated.

“And then... yes. The Oath. But that was done quickly. Too quickly. But after that, we had to prepare for a long and difficult journey. And there was... some difficulty when we departed.”

“Our fathers began arguing again,” Fingon explained with a grimace. “Or, perhaps, not quite arguing, but the next thing to it. My father would consult Fëanor on some matter of supplies, or weapons, or of the marching order, and... well. If I’m honest, he — we — made sure that Fëanor heard every complaint and every question anyone voiced of his ability, and in just the way that was most likely to annoy him. ”

Maedhros nodded. “And my father was rude, furious, impatient and would hear no counsel. He did not present the figure of one who would be a worthy king. Many of our people refused to follow him. They followed Fingolfin, Fingon, Finarfin, and Finrod.”

“And Turgon, more than a few of us,” Glorfindel added, a little sharply.

“And Turgon, of course,” Maedhros agreed.

Bilbo, I’m not sure that this section should be published as it is. Perhaps summarise it? - E.

[ I wondered that, but they were both very clear that they wanted me to record their exact words. -B]

(Maedhros and Fingon may be the only two people in Arda who could say what they please about this publicly without any risk of provoking a war. I note that they have been extremely careful about who said what. You can take that as the formal position of the House of Fëanor upon this matter. If anyone tries to make trouble, I will deal with them. - M)

Fingon nodded. “And so we left at last, more slowly that we might have done, and travelling in two hosts. The House of Fëanor at the front, and the rest of us following with varying degrees of reluctance.” He laughed, though not as if he really thought the situation funny. “Me at the front of the second host, desperate not to be left behind.”

“And me next behind Father, full of righteous fury.” Maedhros sighed. “I shall never be so sure of anything again. So we followed Morgoth up the coast. We knew he had gone into the North, and we knew that the Sea was narrower there. But there was no sign of him on our long dark journey: he was long gone. After a while, it seemed clear that we would not be able to cross. So we turned around and headed South again. My father was furiously angry at that, but we thought there was no choice. We needed ships.”

Maedhros had fallen into silence, and Fingon took up the tale. “So we trailed all the way back south again, back to the haven of Alqualondë to seek ships. Complaining and moaning all the way, I’m afraid, blaming Fëanor and his sons for all of it, and knowing that Tirion was not so very far ahead.”

“There were a few people who slipped quietly away back to Tirion then, from those of us who were at the rear of the host and did not come to the battle,” Glorfindel volunteered. Fingon frowned, and Glorfindel shrugged.

“I would have thought that treason, then,” Maedhros said, rubbing absently at his wrist again. “But now it seems to me that if they chose not to have my father as their king, they had every right to do so... So here we are again at Alqualondë. I will not re-tell that tale You must have heard it already. But by that time, it was what should have been the end of Autumn, the beginning of the Spring, if Yavanna had not been still weeping for her dead Trees. The stars still turned above us, and so we counted it a new year, and began to march and sail the ships we had stolen, back into the North.”

“And then there were the storms,” Glorfindel reminded him.

Maedhros nodded. “Yes. A great fury of sea and sky: many of the ships were lost, and of those that remained, many needed repair. And we were not a seafaring people. We had taken the ships, but sailing them on stormy seas, that was another matter. And even on the land, an entire people cannot march through storms, across land that had no roads or paths for the wagons. That delayed us further, and my father became more and more angry, and more desperate, until we came to the empty mountainous borders of Araman. When Mandos himself stood before us to speak our doom, by the stars it was midsummer again.”

“That was when Finarfin and many of his people turned back,” Fingon said, with an unhappy grimace. “There was some debate about that: who would go on, who would go back. Turgon and I were eager to go on, and our father had given his word to follow Fëanor, and so would consider no other choice. Fëanor became impatient with the debate, and would not hear it. Finrod...I think Finrod might have turned back if Turgon had. But in the end, most us went on.”

“We went on, with the ships, looking for the narrowest point to cross,” Maedhros said. “And after a while, we saw the second host still coming up behind us. Araman is vast, and the terrain is not easy, though at least the storms were over, so they soon caught up with us, and we went on more or less together.

“It was a long and difficult journey before we saw the Ice by the light of the stars. There had never been much light there; Araman was far from the furthest limits of the light of the Trees, and so compared to Eldamar it was a barren place. But we were a great host, and well-supplied with all that we had brought from Tirion.”

“Summer was drawing on into autumn again by then,” Fingon said. “You might think that a land under starlight so far to the North would be a dead land, Bilbo, but it wasn’t. Even in cold Araman there was a time for the gathering of fruits.”

“Goodness me,” Bilbo said, wanting to ask what fruits could possibly manage to grow in such a dark cold place, but determined not to interrupt the story.

“You can imagine how my father reacted to the idea that we should stop for the festival,” Maedhros added with a wry smile. “I was not keen on the idea myself. But there was the ice, and nothing near enough ships to transport everyone at once, and no sign of the Enemy. It seemed clear that the only way to cross the Sea and follow the Enemy into the East, even there at the narrowest point, was to ferry the host across in groups. But nobody would volunteer to be in the second group. So we stopped and made camp for a while, and made a sort of festival, as well as we could in the darkness and the cold and mists.”

“A good deal of complaining about all three of those things,” Fingon said. “Complaining that got louder, the longer that we were there. Everyone blamed the House of Fëanor. I knocked a few heads together to remind them that the reason we were there was Morgoth, and the murder of our king... But still there was no agreement on how we should cross the Ice. And then, when the time for the New Year celebration had come, my father decided that he would take a new name. Finwënolofinwë.”

“Fingolfin!” Bilbo exclaimed.

“That is the Sindarin version of the name, yes... It seemed to make sense at the time, to strengthen his claim to the kingship. We thought Fëanor had run out of ideas.”

Maedhros snorted.

Fingon ignored him. “ ...and that perhaps it was time for a new High King. One more favoured by the Valar, since the Doom of Mandos had laid their anger on all who chose to follow Fëanor.” He shook his head, and the gold danced in the firelight. “Did we really think he might step aside? It seems so unlikely now.”

“There were arguments in favour of that,” Maedhros said carefully. Glorfindel and Fingon both looked startled by this statement, but Maedhros went on. “Not ones that I could see at the time, I fear. But we were at a stalemate. We could not send everyone at once. Distrust was growing between the factions again. We had an Enemy, but we could not reach him, and so we were beginning to turn upon one another. “

Fingon said; “The House of Fëanor believed that my father might try to take the kingship by force. And that we would then turn back to Tirion. Correct, Maedhros?”

“It seemed a possibility,” Maedhros agreed.

“That was not my intent, nor my father’s,” Fingon said. “But things were tense. Maglor argued with Finrod about Alqualondë, and both of them were stalking around like angry cats grumbling to themselves.”

(Angry cats? He said that? And I always liked Fingon! - M)

[ Yes, he did. I’ve checked my notes. -B]

Curufin made a secret plan with Angrod, Aegnor and Celegorm to take one of the ships and sail first, but Aegnor told me, I told Maedhros and there was a bitter argument about it, which led to Aegnor refusing to talk to Celegorm... Well. You can probably imagine.”

“I certainly can,” Bilbo said with feeling, remembering long stuffy afternoons at the Shiremoot, where a number of hobbit-families had been all too fond of airing all their dirty linen in public, as the saying goes.

“And so,” Fingon said with a sigh, “There was all of this behind it when Fëanor and Maedhros decided to seize the ships and cross the Sea first. A way to break the stalemate, and get things moving again. I can admit there was some sense to that.”

“There wasn’t,” Maedhros said adamantly. “It was rash and foolish. We should have divided the ships evenly between the three great houses, and let each make their own arrangements, and we would all have arrived there faster.... Easy to be wise in hindsight. But that was where we parted ways for a while, Fingon and I, for the ships were burned, and it was only the House of Fëanor that came to Losgar and met the armies of the Enemy there. The journey across the Sea was short enough, but to reach Angband took us most of the next year. We did not know where we were going, and we had no maps of the land, until we met Círdan, and later, the Sindar of Hithlum. At last we came to Angband, and there my father died, and shortly after that... I was taken prisoner, and you will not wish to hear more of that. Your turn, Fingon.” Maedhros sat back to listen.

Fingon laced his fingers together and looked down thoughtfully for a moment at his hands. “So. We stood upon the shores of Araman, and looked out, and saw the light of the burning ships reflect upon the clouds. When would that fall in your count of years, Bilbo?”

Bilbo licked his thumb and flicked hastily through his notebook. “1497. And it says here that you came to Middle-earth in the Year of the Trees 1500. And that puzzled me no end, because, well. You could see across the water to the other side! So it seems odd that it took quite so long. Was it because you were wondering whether to turn back to Tirion?”

“No!” Fingon said, and at the same time, Glorfindel made a face that said, almost as clearly as you could say it in words; ‘Perhaps.’

Fingon noticed, and laughed. “All right,” he admitted. “There may have been some people who thought of it, at least in passing. But my father, I, and Turgon, Aegnor, Angrod and Galadriel in particular were very eager to go on. To avenge Grandfather Finwë, to see the wide lands of the East — and because we had a number of things we urgently wished to say to Fëanor and his sons.”

“You never said them,” Maedhros interjected, frowning.

“Not to you, no, you fool!” Fingon said with some affection. “Because you were a walking skeleton with one hand and a shadow of pain over you that any fool could see, and it was impossible to look at you for a long while without wondering how you could possibly still be alive. Not to mention that you were an urgently-needed ally against the Enemy. But the first part would have been enough. And anyway, you would have sent the ships back for us.”

Maedhros dipped his head in acknowledgement, and Fingon turned back to Bilbo.

“You must understand, Bilbo, that we did not leave Tirion expecting to have to cross the Ice. We had war-gear, food, equipment for making camp. But the Helcaraxë... that was a different matter to travelling north across Eldamar, or even the trail north into Araman. From the south came sea-winds, laden with mists and snows, and out of the north a bitter cold that turned the mists to rains of ice. The ice moved, broke, and shattered, and reared itself up into great hills.”

“No way to see where you were going, and every step treacherous,” Glorfindel added. “It needed a good deal of preparation before we could try it, and we had to make a great many tools and clothing, too. I led a hunting party out for furs: there were bears and seals even there, though not many of either. We were gone most of the first year, long before ever we set foot upon the Ice.”

Fingon nodded. “Furs, wood, ice-axes, hammers, spikes, ropes, sledges. I can see the lists now. Much of it had to be adapted from what we had brought with us, of course, but we had to dig for iron and forge it, and that meant we needed fuel... I was itching to be gone the whole time. But the Ice was terrible enough, and it took Elenwë, and too many of our people. It would have slain us all if we had not been ready for it. And that is why we came late to Middle-earth, and arrived only as the Moon was rising.”

“I see!” Bilbo said, scribbling a last note. The light was gone, and the long wooden room was lit only by the red flicker of the pine-scented fire, and the faint light that hangs around Elves born in Aman in the years of the Trees, that you almost never notice by the light of the sun.

“A grim and gloomy tale, and it has brought us down into darkness,” Fingon said, noticing him look around at the shadows. Maedhros shifted uneasily.

“A pleasantly warm and comfortable darkness though,” Bilbo said. “I know you Elves like the open air— almost too much, my inner Baggins would say — but my people live in holes, you know. There’s something very cheering about sharing the light of a fire with friends at the end of a wet day, when it’s raining outside, don’t you think?”

Glorfindel smiled at that. Maedhros reached out a long arm and rested his left hand companionably on Fingon’s shoulder. “There is something to be said for that. To leave the cold winds of the past outside and find shelter, against all odds.” Fingon smiled and put his own hand on top of Maedhros’s.

“Hard to catch that mood, when writing tales of adventures, I’ve found,” Bilbo went on. “I always find the ending the hardest part to get down on paper. But it has always seemed to me very important that a book should have a good ending, after all the horrors and the struggles and the... misunderstandings and so on. Perhaps this would do. I wrote it long ago in Rivendell, when I didn’t expect to have any more adventures of my own at all.”

“Let us hear it then,” Fingon said, still smiling.

Bilbo stood up, and began to recite:

“The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them go on through rain and mire,
But I shall rest my tired bones
Will sing and talk beside the fire
Of journeys past, no more to roam.”

[ I thought I might end on that note, if it’s not too sudden? We did have another game of riddles that evening, and talked of this and that all through our stay in Hithlum, but I’ve always rather liked this verse. It’s a pity about the half-rhyme but I can’t think of a better one. -B ]

It is very much the kind of work that I think of when I think of you, Bilbo, and it makes a fine ending for this tale. - E.

(If you must insist upon taking Maedhros into the dark places of memory, at least you helped him out of them again. It delights my heart to know that he is so strong that he can walk into that past and choose to leave it. It’s a good ending. - M)