Disclaimer: It’s all JRRT’s I tell you… except for Nindorien!!
The distant sound of fearful cries carried over the water. Gil-galad froze for a moment, peering east across the bay. Seeing a single plume of thick black smoke rising from the region of Sirion, he turned on his heel and sprinted along the cliff path towards the harbour of Balar. His first thought was that the haven was being attacked by an Orc horde, which led to the fear that Morgoth had decided to utterly rid Middle Earth of all Elfkind. For years, the Black Foe had given no sign that he was even aware of the last remaining Elvish footholds on the western coast of Middle Earth. Perhaps it had been a pretence; an attempt to lull the Eldar into a sense of false security. Mind racing, Gil-galad gripped his spear tightly as he ran, grim determination evident on his face. He was willing to die in the attempt to save his people. If the First Age was to see the destruction of the Eldar, he would ensure that their end came at a high price to the Enemy.
“Sound the alarm! All men to the ships!” His voice rang out, clear and strong, as he entered the small harbour town. Even as the words were leaving his mouth, he spied Círdan standing by the docks. When the Shipwright saw his fosterson’s face and heard the bells ringing out throughout the town, he stepped forward.
“What has happened, Ereinion?”
“Sirion is under attack!” Gil-galad’s tones were urgent, but not panicked. The young High King had learned at an early age was expected of him and he showed no reluctance or fear, simply resignation that the hour of his doom might be upon him.
“Orcs?” Círdan asked, his brow furrowed as he thought of the implications which had already screamed through Gil-galad’s mind.
“I don’t know, but I heard the cries, Círdan… Ai, they tore at my heart. We must hasten!”
Quickly and efficiently, the warriors of Balar boarded Círdan’s swift ships and they were under way less than half an hour after Gil-galad had spied the first plume of smoke. When they rounded the headland that bounded the harbour, gasps rose up from those on the boats. Sirion lay miles ahead of them but now black smoke billowed from all of its buildings. There was a great disturbance by the waterside, and screams of anger could be heard. The sea rose up in a frenzy, the wrath of both Ulmo and Ossë seemed to be contained within each towering wave. Gil-galad stood in the prow of his boat, which was ever the foremost. The designs of Ossë came to naught, for the boat of the High King was driven on by a wrath that could not be opposed. Gil-galad’s helmet and armour shone out and his eyes glinted with cold fury. None could look upon his face without fear.
Suddenly, a great rage-filled roar rose up from the High King, freezing the blood of all who heard it.
“Elves! This is the work of Elves!” He clenched his fists. The kinslayers. Their unbreakable Oath. Disgust ran through him; his own kin murdering innocents. Worst of all was the knowledge that the blood of kinslayers ran in his own veins; he was not ignorant of the crimes his father and grandfather in Alqualondë. He addressed his soldiers in a loud voice that carried to all of the ships. “The sons of Fëanor are not to be slain! Drive them off! Do not harm them! It is not our place to dispense justice. We must do what we can to aid the people of Sirion but there will be no more bloodshed!”
The journey seemed to take an age, and the screams were becoming less frequent and weaker. As soon as the waters were shallow enough, Gil-galad leapt out and waded to the shoreline. His heart sank when he saw bodies lying amidst the ruins of Sirion. Too late, he thought bitterly. He laughed mirthlessly as the kinslayers fled before him, driven away by his wrath and their own guilt. The bodies of Amrod and Amras, twin sons of Fëanor lay on the ground. Looking at their flat lifeless eyes, as identical in death as they had been in life, he felt pity for them but his rage was by no mean quelled. He automatically reached out to close their eyes, before straightening up and returning to the fray. His soldiers were seeing off the attackers, using harsh words and accusations rather than the sharp steel of their swords, which they brandished nonetheless. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a cruel-faced Elf clutching an Elf-maiden by the wrist. Her body was limp; she looked lifeless. Gil-galad watched in horror as her attacker’s fingers cut into her skin and he began to drag her along the ground. The High King immediately started towards aggressor and victim, and physically pulled the Elf away. Gil-galad knew that his fury radiated out through his eyes because the Elf scrambled away, looking back fearfully. Turning his attention back to the Elf-maiden to ascertain whether she yet lived, Gil-galad cried out with pain. A sword had been brought down across his shoulder, cutting the unprotected skin at the base of his neck, between mail shirt and helmet. The intent had evidently been decapitation and Gil-galad turned swiftly, coming face to face with his assailant. Fighting off the agony that threatened to deprive him of his senses, he pulled out a dagger from a sheath at his side. He held it to the Elf’s throat and whispered in deadly tones. “Be gone, vile kinslayer and be thankful that thy king is more merciful than thou.” He roughly pushed the Elf away as his men arrived to ensure the hasty departure of the Fëanorian servant.
Gil-galad reached back to touch his shoulder; when his hand came away it was wet with blood. He winced but struggled against the dizzying waves of pain that swept over him. Bending down and gasping for air, he focussed on the prone Elf maiden. Amidst the agony, his heart sang out, for she was still breathing, albeit weakly. At least he had prevented some of the day’s evil, though he was weighed down with guilt and the gnawing feeling that he should have done more. He reached out a bloodstained hand, and pushed her hair back from her face which was pale and troubled. Ignoring his shoulder’s protests, he lifted her up carefully. He staggered slightly as he rose but brushed off his men’s attempts to relieve him of his burden. The group of soldiers made their way down to the shore where bedraggled survivors were congregating. Gil-galad sighed heavily when he saw how few remained. Círdan was directing survivors onto the ships and also assigned a group of his men to remain in Sirion and bury the dead. A distraught Elf-lady approached Gil-galad. Her face was stained with grime and tears. “The Peredhil, where are the Peredhil?” she kept asking.
“The what?” asked Gil-galad with confusion. His wound was beginning to hamper his ability to think clearly, and he felt a warm stream of blood run down his back beneath his mail shirt.
“The Peredhil! The sons of Elwing!”
Gil-galad gasped and Círdan, hearing the Elf-lady’s words, immediately turned to address a group of soldiers. “You must search this town carefully. Leave no building unchecked. Search the woods and the caves. We will not allow the sons of Elwing to suffer the same fate as their uncles!” The Shipwright moved towards the High King. “We will find them. They need our protection for their father is at sea and I am told that their mother cast herself into the bay. May the grace of Ulmo protect her.”
Gil-galad stumbled again and Círdan made to take the unconscious Elf-maiden from his arms. “Come, Ereinion, let me help you. You are injured; you must share your burden.”
“No,” replied Gil-galad in a whisper. Círdan looked into his eyes and understood the reason for the young king’s defiance. In his arms, he held one of the few who had been saved; one of the few he had been able to help. They made their way to one of the boats, and Gil-galad laid the Elf-maiden down on some blankets on the deck. He sank down alongside her, clumsily removing his helmet before wincing and clutching his shoulder. One of his men approached with bandages and water and attempted to tend to the High King’s wound but Gil-galad dismissed him and gingerly began to dress the shoulder himself. It was an awkward process but it occupied him, keeping his mind off his failings and shortcomings. They came at last to Balar and the ships docked safely. As Gil-galad stepped off the boat, carrying the Elf-maiden again, he ordered that tents and pavilions be erected for the people of Sirion on the hill behind the town. He slowly began to make his way in that direction, calling for healers to accompany him. His men aided many of the other wounded survivors, some of whom could walk, some of whom had to be carried. While waiting for the pavilion to be raised, he placed the maiden gently on the soft grass, and covered her with his cloak, which was bloodstained but would protect against the cold sea breeze that blew in over the Isle of Balar. From this clearing, the smoking ruins of Sirion could not be seen. Only the trees and the clear blue sky were visible and birdsong filled the air, driving evil memories away.
When all was ready, Gil-galad carried his charge into the finest pavilion and laid her on the makeshift bed. He and his chief healer examined her carefully, but could find no trace of serious physical damage, save for bruises on her wrist and a small scratch on her lip. The gravest injury seemed to be a shallow cut across her abdomen, presumably the result of a knife stroke. They bathed the wounds and dressed them with soft bandages. A number of female Elves came to the pavilion entrance; her handmaidens, it seemed. He asked them to wash her and he would return to speak with them when he had tended the other injured Elves. The High King and his healers spent a number of hours among the wounded survivors, treating ailments from minor scrapes to deep wounds and severe burns. At length, he returned to the pavilion, where the Elf-maiden still lay senseless. Her handmaidens stood around the bed in worried vigil. Gil-galad cleared his throat slightly to alert them to his presence.
“Might I ask what the Lady’s name is?” he asked.
“She is the Lady Nîndorien, sire,” replied one of the maidens, unable to conceal the anxiety in her voice. “She is one of the survivors of Gondolin, where she was born with the name Muinalot.”
“Did you see what befell her?”
“She was attacked by one of Maglor’s servants. We had all been running towards the woods, but she slipped, blinded by tears. She… she had just witnessed the death of her mother and the loss of the Lady Elwing. Can you help her, sire?” The handmaiden blurted out, before carefully smoothing back Nîndorien’s hair. “Her hands and face are so cold!”
Gil-galad smiled grimly. “I will do what I can. Please leave me while I tend to her. You will find food and drink in the furthest tent, beside the stream. I am sure you are all in need of sustenance. Please, do not worry; I am sure that she will heal.” He hoped he sounded suitably confident.
Inwardly he was pessimistic; it seemed that the Lady Nîndorien had suffered a deadly hurt to her very spirit. He hoped desperately that she had not tired of the strains of living. She could not be much above fifty; too young to surrender to despair. He stood at her bedside as the other maidens filed out of the pavilion.
“Muinalot,” he whispered. “Nîndorien, do not give up, not yet.” He placed his hand on her forehead and the coldness of her skin alarmed him. He called out to one of his attendants who waited outside to fetch a bowl of steaming water. When it was brought in, he sprinkled some herbs into it and a pleasant scent rose up, filling the pavilion. He rubbed her cold hands between his own and looked at her face intently. It seemed that some of the troubles on her face were smoothed away as the scent floated by. He whispered to her constantly, words of healing, words of encouragement. Darkness began to fall and a servant came in to light some candles but Gil-galad was oblivious to his presence. At last, Nîndorien’s breathing became slightly stronger and the High King allowed himself a brief moment of elation before he returned to his murmurings.
He spent the whole night at her bedside. By the time morning’s first light appeared, he had memorised every feature of her face and every contour on her hands. He even began to speculate what colour her eyes were. Despair and hope filled his thoughts in equal measure. His heart leapt when he wondered how it would feel to have her look upon him, before plummeting down when he realised that she was no closer to regaining consciousness. Her features were less troubled, admittedly, but her spirit seemed distant. He jumped slightly when Círdan appeared at his shoulder.
“Come, my son, you need some rest.” This time, he would brook no opposition. “I will watch over her, at least for a couple of hours, while you break your fast and get some sleep.” He gently raised Gil-galad to his feet, noticing that the High King swayed slightly, still maintaining that his place was by the injured maiden’s bedside. “No, my son. What use is a healer or king who cannot keep his eyes open? You seem to have forgotten your own injury; it weakens you. Go, I will remain. You are bathing her brow with this fusion of herbs, are you not?”
Gil-galad nodded and hesitated. He spoke quietly. “Her name is Nîndorien. I have been talking to her in the hope that she might hear my voice.” He wavered for a moment before turning and reluctantly leaving the pavilion. Círdan sighed with relief when the High King departed before looking at the patient, attempting to understand Gil-galad’s unwillingness to leave her side. He smiled slightly as he studied her face. She was beautiful, undeniably, but among Elves, beauty was a standard characteristic. As Círdan gently bathed her brow, he wondered what enthralled the High King so, for it was obvious that Gil-galad was smitten. It did not surprise him when the High King returned only two hours after leaving.
“Thank you, Círdan. I have spoken with her handmaidens; they wish to wait on her. I will remain for a while, and then leave her to their care. There is much to see to today.” Gil-galad had washed and changed, and his eyes had regained some of their focus. He was still weary, but many things had come to his attention in the past couple of hours. Although he was loath to leave the maiden’s bedside, he knew that he was required elsewhere. When Círdan left, Gil-galad sat with Nîndorien and watched her closely, searching for any signs of improvement. The morning sun cast a warm light on her face putting colour in her cheeks, much to Gil-galad’s satisfaction. He clasped one of her hands and spoke softly, urging her spirit to return from the dark places. After an hour or so had passed, the lad’s handmaidens returned and the High King took his leave, having given precise instructions that he was to be summoned if there was any deterioration in her condition. His spirits were marginally higher and he was able to give his undivided attention to his royal tasks for the day. He flexed his wounded shoulder experimentally as he left the pavilion and winced. The initial agony had given way to a constant throbbing pain and he felt a sticky warmth trickle down his back. The wound had not even begun to heal.
Many days passed with no change in Nîndorien’s condition. A routine had been established. Gil-galad waited up with her all night, bathing her wounds and changing her dressings. When those physical scars healed, he still remained and spoke softly to her, hoping that some of his words might draw her back from the brink. Every morning, Círdan would relieve him for a couple of hours, during which the King would rest and receive reports from his counsellors. He then returned to the pavilion for an hour, before Nîndorien’s handmaidens arrived. No others knew what words he spoke to the lady and only Círdan believed in the existence of any deeper motive to his actions. One morning about ten days after the attack on Sirion, the Shipwright walked in and caught the end of Gil-galad’s whispered words, weighed down with anguished desperation. “…listen to my voice: you must prevail over the blackness, Nîndorien. Listen to my spirit’s call, draw from its strength. You cannot leave me before we even meet, mellamin.” Embarrassed, Círdan retreated and re-entered the pavilion making rather more noise than customary for a light-footed Elf.
“How fares the lovely maiden of the Lothlim?” he asked. Gil-galad turned to face him, a smile on his face for the first time in days.
“She stirred during the night, Círdan, and she seemed to smile in her slumbers. I think she is recovering.” Gil-galad rose and yielded his bedside seat to the Shipwright. The High King still looked pale from his exertions and Círdan suspected that he had not been tending his own wound properly but he had to admit that his fosterson looked more cheerful. Círdan was still troubled by the disappearance of the sons of Elwing, however, and considered advising the High King to send messengers to Hithlum if the last scouts returned to Balar with no tidings.
A full fortnight passed after the attack on Sirion. Nîndorien seemed greatly improved and Gil-galad sensed that she would arise soon. Having spent his customary hour with her, he proceeded the royal dwelling to speak with his counsellors. A full inspection of Sirion and its surrounding lands had been completed, and although a few lost survivors had been found, there had been no sign of the young Peredhil. Gil-galad frowned and before Círdan voiced his suggestion, the High King ordered that emissaries be sent to Hithlum.
“The seizing of the sons of Elwing is a grievous misdeed. Perhaps the sons of Fëanor mean to use the innocents as a bargaining tool.” He shook his head in disgust. “It seems they pride the Silmarils above the welfare of two children. Erestor, take five of the best soldiers and make all haste to Hithlum. Do not expect a welcome from the Maedhros and Maglor; they have grown bitter and weary indeed.”
Having dealt with various other important issues concerning the refugees from Sirion and rumours of roving Orcs in Beleriand, the High King dismissed the council and sat in silence for a few minutes while the room emptied around him. Shaking himself slightly, he arose and began to make his way back towards the clearing which contained the pavilions and tents of the people of Sirion. Instead of entering the clearing, he took a small path that led away from both clearing and town. It passed through a thicket of trees before opening up onto the cliff tops. This was his favourite haunt and he followed the line of the cliffs to the easternmost point of the island. He peered out over Beleriand, his heart sick with grief at its marring. Smoke still rose from Sirion for his men had lit fires to purge the ground of the blood of Elves. All of the slain were buried, even the kinslayers. Gil-galad had decreed that their bodies were not to be despoiled; they were to receive decent burials, and cairns were to be raised over their remains. Their graves were far removed from those of their innocent victims.
The day was windy, and his black hair whipped about. He held his cloak tight around him and his thoughts wandered across the sea, blown about in the wind. Suddenly, he felt a strange warmth within him. Amidst the bellowing of the wind and the roaring of the sea, he heard a soft footstep. He turned instantly and could scarcely refrain from crying out with surprised joy. The Lady Nîndorien stood on the cliff path. Her white gown and black hair streamed behind her and she placed a hand on her head to prevent the wayward movement of her hair. Gil-galad’s heart leapt within him and for an instant he wondered if he saw a phantom rather than a real Elf-maiden before him. He smiled, unable to hide his delight, when her dark eyes lit upon him; they were even more captivating than he had imagined in the long shadowy nights by her bedside and the light in their depths drove away any thoughts of ghosts. She paused for a moment, as if stunned, before carefully making her way towards him. Her voice was strong when she spoke, and her cheeks were rosy, presumably the result of the fierce sea breeze. He noted that she wore no cloak.
“Greetings, Ereinion Gil-galad. It seems that I, Nîndorien of Sirion, owe you a debt twice over.”
This beginning surprised him; he wondered what she could mean. Surely he had failed her and her people. Sirion had burned. Its people had died.
She proceeded to thank him for saving her from her attacker and for healing her in both body and soul.
“Do not think me ignorant of the care you have given my, my king,” she said in her lyrical voice. “My handmaidens have assured me that you are the one responsible for my recovery.”
“You owe me no debt, my lady,” he said. “But I should hate my efforts to come to nought because you have ventured out on this windy day without a cloak.” She now stood mere inches in front of him, and without thinking, he threw his own cloak around her to shield them both against the wind. He winced at the movement for his shoulder still troubled him.
“My king! You are injured!” cried Nîndorien. Gil-galad attempted to make light of his wound.
“A mere scratch,” he replied, in what he hoped was a gallant tone of voice. He held her closely in an effort to display his well-being but she was not to be swayed. She did not oppose this display of intimacy but it was clear that she was sceptical as to the severity of his injury.
“Was it not on my account that you received this `scratch’, my king?” she pressed. Her eyes searched his face and he could not conceal the truth. He reluctantly affirmed the fact before admitting that he had suffered none to touch it.
“I deemed that there were more important issues requiring my attention,” he said, smiling down at her. She could not help but smile back before speaking reproachfully. “I would not have the king’s incapacity blamed upon the efforts he spent on one who has little claim on his time.”
Gil-galad looked at her with a strange expression on his face but he did not speak, content to watch her lips moving as she gently entreated him to allow her tend his wound. “After all, my king, you have healed me. Might I not be given the chance to repay you in kind?”
Again, he feebly protested that she owed him no repayment but he could not resist her persuasive tones and they eventually began to make their way back to the pavilion, still wrapped in his cloak. This made for rather slow progress along the cliff path, but neither wished to hurry, savouring the closeness and warmth as the blustery air propelled them along the trail. Nîndorien laughed aloud when a lock of the King’s hair tickled her cheek and the sound filled him with happiness. He looked fondly upon her face which still betrayed signs of weariness but, in that moment, he truly believed that he had never beheld a more beautiful sight. They did not notice the expressions on the faces of the other Elves in the clearing as they made their way to the pavilion. Smiles of understanding followed them through the clearing; the king’s motives had become apparent to all. Gil-galad and Nîndorien stood for a moment just inside the entrance way, simply looking at each other before the lady pulled away and moved towards table by the bed. She picked up a number of herbs, bandages and a bowl of water.
“You will have to remove your mail shirt, my king, for I cannot treat the wound otherwise.”
Gil-galad complied, feeling slightly self conscious although he could not imagine why. He lay face down on the bed as she instructed and when she began to unbind the wound he gasped sharply. She bathed his shoulder gently and he tried to focus on the warmth and tenderness of her fingers rather than the stabbing pain that shot through his body. He could not help grimacing as she began to pack the wound with healing herbs and his fingers dug into the pillow.
“It is oft said, my king, that healers make unwilling patients,” came her voice, quite close to his ear. Her thick black tresses hung down, mingling with his hair, as she bent over the wound. He tried to respond manfully and, through gritted teeth, he said truthfully that he had never known a healer with so gentle a touch. A companionable silence fell between them and when she had finished applying a liniment to the wound, she carefully bound it. He sat up gingerly as she busied herself with tidying away unused herbs and bandages. She turned to face him and when their eyes met, a colour rose in her face. From his seat at the edge of the bed, Gil-galad could see that her hands were trembling and his heart rose with hope when he perceived the cause of her agitation. He reached out and enfolded her hands within his own, seeking to lessen their tremors. He was strangely hesitant to speak directly.
“I hope you are not still troubled by what befell you in Sirion, my lady?” he asked softly. His body froze for an instant when her dark eyes looked directly into his and he rather suspected that his own cheeks had coloured somewhat.
“No, my king,” she answered, never moving her eyes away from his. “Although the memory is evil, I believe I may have found my heart’s peace.”
H smiled sadly at that, the images of the ruins of Sirion and his own failure tumbling through his mind. He drew her closer. “I cannot promise you and your people peace but I swear that you, Nîndorien of Sirion, will always have my protection if you so wish for it.”
At these words, the lady’s eyes became radiant. The space that had been between them disappeared as she allowed herself to be pulled even closer. They remained silent for a moment, foreheads touching, eyes reflecting their love. Slowly, he raised his hand and touched her cheek. All the words he had spoken during the dark hours when he had feared that she was beyond help began to flow from his mouth. Where before his words had been desperate pleas, now he spoke heartfelt oaths and unequivocal statements of feeling. He felt that he would burst with happiness when she responded to his words with her own gentle promises. Placing a finger under her chin, he tilted her face up to his. His heart beat furiously and his shoulder sang out with pain when he placed his hands on her back and kissed her. She pressed closer and he strengthened his hold on her, in defiant response to the ache in his shoulder. The anxiety and hope of the past fortnight melted away into pure passion and desire. He pulled back for a brief moment and murmured. “You are mine, mellamin, and I am yours.” Her eyes met his and she made her own addition, her tones quiet and resolute. “For all the ages of the world.” He smiled and kissed her again.
Círdan stood at the entrance of the pavilion, astonished at the sight that lay before him. He had been seeking the High King and had been told by a cheerful young Elf that he was waiting on the Lady Nîndorien. That in itself was not surprising, for Gil-galad often spent his free time at her bedside, but Círdan had not been prepared for the sight that met his eyes. He sighed crossly before retreating and noisily re-entering the pavilion. He struggled to conceal his mirth as the two lovers sprang apart with guilty expressions on their faces. The two young Elves were still holding hands and seemed utterly unaware of the fact. Círdan raised his eyebrows questioningly and unable to resist making some sort of comment, he said smoothly, “I do hope I am not interrupting the healing process?”
Gil-galad glanced down and saw that Nîndorien’s hand was clasped within his own. His eyes passed up to her face and she smiled at him, making no effort to sever the contact between them. The High King looked at the Shipwright rather bashfully. “I think that the Lady’s healing is complete.”
“I am glad to hear it, Ereinion,” said the Shipwright in amused tones before becoming more serious. “I’m afraid that I must beg for some of your time for I have received strange tidings from the sea. It seems that there is still hope for the Eldar.”
Gil-galad stood up and relinquished his hold on Nîndorien, secure in the knowledge that her heart was in his keeping. “Very well, Círdan. Summon my counsellors and we will hear your tidings.” While the Shipwright departed, fully understanding the reason for his dismissal, Gil-galad turned back to Nîndorien and kissed her gently before addressing her in his soft yet authoritative tones. “I must ask, my Lady, that you rest for a while; I am sure that you are weary. It has been an eventful day.”
“But most rewarding, my king,” she said as her eyes sparkled. He bent down and kissed her again before turning to leave. He reached the pavilion opening before he stopped and turned around. In three long strides, he crossed the floor and stood in front of her again, his expression clearly demanding another kiss. She laughed and duly obliged, before patting his arm. “Go, my king. I shall be waiting for you.”
And so, enraptured by love and love’s sweet face, Gil-galad proceeded to his council room. There, he learned that a voyage had begun on which hinged the hope of Elves and Men. His burdens considerably lighter, he walked slowly up to the clearing, glowing with devotion and hope.
Months later, Gil-galad and Nîndorien walked along the cliff tops, beneath the night sky and a new star rose in the West.