Lily of Gondolin - Chapter Thirty: And Clouds Gather
I disclaim. And I apologize; see the bottom for details/effusiveness.
Chapter Thirty: And Clouds Gather
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us.
--T. S. Eliot, Ash-Wednesday
A week after the festival, a messenger arrived in the Havens.
He was a Noldo, dark-haired and travelworn, seeking Earendil. But he was at sea, and his lady received the message. She called a council that night. Every Elf came to the hall.
It was well after the Sun had sunk into the Western Sea; candles flickered, lighting Elwing's face as she stood. She was not the kind, merry Lady that we all knew - she was cool and composed and strong-willed, the princess who held together the fragments of her people.
"I have called you together, my friends, for I wish you all to hear of this matter. This Elf -" she gestured courteously at the messenger, who stood aside, shadowed, " -has brought a ...missive...from the sons of Feanor."
Something ran through the hall, not a ripple or murmur, just a sudden, unobtrusive tensing, the beginning of expressions that were quickly masked. The sons of Feanor.
Elwing paused a moment, taking in the reaction of her people. "This letter," she said, "concerns us all."
She was completely contained as she unfolded the parchment in her hand, restrained anger only showing in her eyes the pallor of her face. It was astounding - her homeland had been destroyed by these Elves, her parents and brothers killed. And yet she held back, and calmly, clearly began to read.
"Greetings to Earendil, lord of the Havens, and to the Lady Elwing, and the people of Doriath and Gondolin. We, Maedhros, Maglor, Amrod and Amras, the sons of Feanor and Nerdanel, wish to dissolve the enmity there is between us.
"Our past deeds have been grievous, and we would make recompense in any way we can. We would have your good will."
Someone, in the back of the hall, laughed.
"We would forge ties between our people, for the days grow darker with the Enemy's strength. But we ask one thing of you. The Silmaril was created by our father and stolen by the Morgoth, and by claim and vow it is ours."
The Silmaril. We should have known that this would happen. But then, perhaps we all did.
It was rarely spoken of, hardly mentioned, in fact, but it was part of the Havens. Part of its light and what made it stand against the battering storms of Arda Marred.
And now the vow was coming in yet again.
The letter went on, courteous and diplomatic on the surface. But behind it all, a threat and a demand were very clear.
Elwing finished, and the small crackling of the parchment as she folded it was the only sound. Then she spoke. "I ask for the counsel of my people."
The silence stretched on for a long, long moment.
The someone, near the back, again, quietly said "No."
Another expanse of utter stillness passed, and then the word was echoed.
One of the Elves who had come from Doriath, Mothdur, Taurion's uncle, stepped forward. At Elwing's nod he spoke, his voice soft and precise. "The Feanorians have no right to ask this, or even to approach us as friends and allies. But if they truly seek our good will - something I cannot believe is their true object - this letter is no means towards gaining it.
"They say they were mistaken. Mistaken. When they attacked and destroyed our country. They say that they wish to make amends.
"There is no way to be found on this earth to do that. They killed our families and friends, and drove us from our homes. A message with words of vain well-wishing is nothing. They did not recover the Silmaril from the Enemy; it was claimed by the grandsire of our princess. Morgoth still holds the other two. Let the Feanorians seek those, if they desire the works of their father so much."
Mothdur stepped down, and walked deliberately back to his place in the hall. A few moments passed, and then Tasare went up to face the assembled Elves. "The house of Feanor no longer holds and authority over us - their kingship has passed to the line of Fingolfin. Our alliance is only to out lord and Gil-galad. We owe the Feanorians nothing. I speak as one of the Noldor - if any here holds differently, let them speak."
No one did.
The months passed after that, summer slowly fading into autumn. The messenger had left with only a letter, one of courteous denial. He'd spoken after Tasare, spoken of ties between our houses, alliance needed, the Feanorians' right to the works of their father. A right which, it was argued, had been made void when it was taken from Morgoth by another.
It was afternoon, cold and brisk, on a day a fraction before winter. The twins and I were just leaving the beach. Though the water was now frigid, far too cold for them to play in, it was still a favorite place. We had been out in the wind for some time, and were beginning to feel the chill. Clouds were quickly gathering on the horizon, and a storm would be here soon. With an Elf-child attached to each I set off down the short path to the Havens.
"Elros, Elrond...I think something may be wrong."
They looked up at me, puzzled and worried. I swallowed. "You know the oak just off the path from here, where your Ada promised to hang a swing in when he comes home?"
"Yes," Elros said. "Of course we do."
"Go there," I said. "Stay hidden. I hope it's nothing, but if it's not...I will be back for you, no matter what happens. I won't be long." There was outright fright showing in their small faces now, surprisingly controlled. "Do you understand?"
"Go, then. I'll be back for you. I promise."
I watched their diminutive figures disappear into the brush with barely a sound, and then slipped from the path myself. Whatever was happening, it was best to approach unseen.
And as I jogged quietly between the trees, nearing the Havens themselves, I caught sound and scent on the wind. There was smoke, and I could hear voices crying out in horror and in fear. I didn't believe all this could be the result of an accidental fire. Something in my chest was hurting, tightening in revulsion and horror.
I reached the edge of the wood, and knew why.
Our people were dying.
I stood frozen for a moment, feeling the breath leave me, the scene before my eyes burning itself into a memory, worse than Sauron's Isle, worse than Gondolin. It was a memory that would never fade to gray.
Some of the buildings were aflame. Their smoke rose in plumes, smudging the already darkening sky.
The heart of the havens had been ripped apart, and our people were dying.
Some where fighting, having seized whatever came to hand. Elves, distant and near, battled. And the worst of it...Oh, the worst of all the evils I have seen, the most wretched and abhorrent doing of Morgoth...They were battling each other.
The Kinslayers had come.
I saw all this, standing with my hand against the rough bark of an old tree. Some were fighting, and everywhere - everywhere - there was death. Only a few yards from me lay the body of an Elf. His blood stained the grass, which was turning brown for winter.
He was dark-haired, stone still, unarmed, a fallen child of the Eldest, a child of the Havens, sprawled unhallowed there because of an oath he had not taken.
I gazed at him, no longer hearing the sounds around me or noticing the smoke and fire and wind. This Elf was someone I had known.
Then one of his hands, outstretched a little, moved.
Heedless, I sprinted from the shelter of the woods, falling to my knees beside him. He lifted his head slightly, and I recognized him.
"Indil...I...What are you doing here? Go! They're attacking, it..."
"How are you hurt?" I asked, my words coming out almost atop one another. "Can you walk, I'll - "
His voice was soft and hoarse with pain. "D*** it, Indil, just go...there's nothing you can do. If you get killed for this your brother would never forgive me." He blinked, forcing himself to keep looking at me. "There's no use."
"No, if I can get you to the woods -"
"No," he said. "I can't move."
A long, taught moment passed. Tears were making it hard for me to think or see or speak.
Suddenly Ehtelinde half-lifted himself, alarm crossing his face. "Indil, behind you, look out..." And he collapsed, his eyes closing.
He was dead.
I staggered to my feet, turning around to face the Elf he'd seen approaching. It was instinct, blind panic that saved me, making me dodge just in time to avoid being run through. For a moment his guard was down, but there was nothing I could do, nothing I could use to defend myself. I dodged and wove and tried to retreat, but it didn't really do any good.
It hit me, then. I was fighting an Elf, one of my kindred, and that I was going to die. I didn't want to, I couldn't; I'd promised Elwing I'd look after her children for the day, promised them that I'd come back for them; I wanted to see the sky and feel the rain and wind and cold; I wanted to watch the stars, to dance at the summer festival again. I wanted to see the leaves return to the trees, and watch the sun go down.
I wanted to live.
It lasted only for moments, but when every second held the possibility of death time stretched out before me like an eternity. It seemed like years taking a breath. Beneath the despair and panic washing over me, some impossibly calm, pragmatic part of my mind was reasoning.
I couldn't let myself be killed. I had to escape and find Elrond and Elros again. I had too, but I had no chance. I was unarmed, and had already moved too slowly, and paid for it with a shallow gash on my arm and another on my shoulder. I had no time to turn and run. Quite simply, there was no way out. And in that miniscule bit of time I was beginning to accept it.
Then I slipped; the grass was wet, rain beginning to fall - my ankle twisted and I was on the ground, defenseless. I looked up, expecting that breath to be my last, expecting that my fea would drift away a moment after. But I heard the sound of metal upon metal as the blow that would have killed me was parried.
Another Elf was behind me, his blade blocking that of the other. In the long, immobile instant that the swords were locked I saw with the odd, precise observation of a moments between thought and action, life and death. The raindrops struck the two swords above me - they each had a many-rayed star engraved upon the blade - colleted on the chain-mail of the Elf who had saved me. He was, I suddenly realized, one of Fëanor's people.
It lasted only a few instants after that. The lock broke, as the Elf moved around me; the other attacked. Parry, thrust, block, parry - and then my attacker moved too slowly, and the other ran him through. He crumpled; the Elf pulled his sword away as the other fell.
Elf by Elf, Kin by Kin, and close enough to touch.
It was the most horrible thing I have ever, ever seen.
And then everything was moving too fast and the Elf had pulled me to my feet and I stumbled on my hurt ankle. "Run," he said, and then turned to meet another.
This was the worst of it, I realized as I bolted the few yards to the words, feeling distantly the pain that came with every other step. This was the worst of it, that Elves were killing other Elves, trying to protect the defenseless. Our people had fallen farther than Orcs - those creatures did not cause what they were. They were twisted and debased until there was nothing left; my Kin had chosen this themselves.
I felt sick.
I was crying as I ran toward where I'd left the little ones. Iluvatar, All-Father, listen...
I tipped, falling to my knees for a moment on the wet leaf-strewn ground before pushing myself up and going on. I kept running, one hand pressed to the gash on my arm. I at last reached the path, sprinted to the old oak where I'd left them. A dark head looked out from behind the trunk. "Indil - "
I dropped to my knees, pulling them close and holding them both tightly for a moment, letting out a long, ragged breath.
"Indil, what is happening?" Elrond asked. There was fear, almost panic, in his eyes, but his voice was surprisingly calm.
I looked at each of them for an instant. "The Havens are being attacked. We have to get you away, and find somewhere to hide until it is over or aid comes from the High King."
"What about our mother?" Elros asked.
"She'll be better able to look after herself knowing you're safe," I said. "As long as you're away from the..." - I bit off the word that came to mind. I couldn't tell them, couldn't tell them then that it was a Kinslaying, not when I they were so small and frightened to begin with and I was desperately hoping I'd be able to protect them - "...from the fight."
"But Father's not here," he protested. "We have to go back!"
"Elros." Level with him, I put my hands on his shoulders, hoping I wasn't about to reassure him with what turned out to be a lie. "Elros, with you safe Elwing will be able to just look after herself - she'll get out. She will. Please, Elros. We have to go."
I stood, taking Elrond by one hand and offering the other to Elros. He looked at me for a moment, his small face full of indecision, and then took it.
I looked down at them, trying to think through to the best plan. "Can you think of your best hiding place?"
"The cave," Elrond said. "The one at the beach that we found two summers ago."
"Right." I gripped their hands tighter in mine, and we set out.
Perhaps it was our best chance. Perhaps if we'd tried to flee, or stayed where we were, it all would have happened anyway. There is no way for me to know, now.
To reach the cave, we had to cross the beach. It was at the base of a low cliff, its mouth half-hidden by a boulder.
Weary and gasping, the twins and I had reached the edge of the sheltering brush. I'd mostly stopped bleeding. We paused for a moment, recovering. I took a deep breath and looked down at them. "Ready?"
It was perhaps a hundred yards along the beach to the entrance of the cave. We might be seen, or otherwise traced...but what else was there to do?
They each gripped one of my hands. "We're ready," Elros said. "Let's go."
The next moment we began the dash across the sand. The distance seemed to stretch on immeasurably, as though we weren't moving at all; then suddenly we were in the deeper shadow of the cliff - the day was overcast and cold, now - and into the cave. Shelter, I hoped.
We went on. The floor was fairly smooth, the ceiling not so low as to make one duck. We went on, until the stone was all around us and the dim light at the door seemed like a distant break in the clouds.
I sat with my back to the wall, to tired to feel the chill, and pulled the children into my lap. It was as much to reassure myself as to comfort them. We held on to each other.
And so we waited.
Lengthy Author's Note: I am very, very sorry, and quite understand if no one's reading this story any more, considering my neglect. Even so, I shall do my utmost to complete it; it's merely a matter of typing out all my handwritten scribbles. The time for that, sadly, is hard to find. The (main) reason this chapter is so disgustingly, appallingly late is that I have departed from the ranks of home-schooling; this was my first semester in my entire life at an actual institution of learning. For quite a while I was adjusting, and then I was rather unwell for several months, not sufficiently to stop going to school, but enough to make me fall asleep while doing homework. But despite these trials my silence was not quite excusable; once again, I apologize. Hopefully the next chapter will appear in a considerably shorter time.