A J.R.R. Tolkien birthday fic, featuring two badly underwritten characters
Knowledge of Unfinished Tales and the biography of J.R.R. Tolkien strongly recommended. No disrespect or theft intended. Fairy warning.
'Gelmir,' began Arminas, 'could you please explain to me why we are in Dor-lómin, while the good lord Círdan instructed us to go to Nargothrond?'
The two Noldor were plodding up the Cirith Ninniach, which failed to make good its name of Rainbow Cleft in the grey drizzle wetting their cloaks since dawn. The river rushing down beside the narrow path seemed to hiss disapprovingly at their present course, or maybe it just disliked Exiles, like so many original inhabitants of Beleriand.
Gelmir halted briefly to peer ahead as if his keen Eldarin eyes were better equipped to discern their purpose in the hazy distance than his comrade's equally keen and Eldarin eyes. 'Have you not listened, Gelmir, my otherwise dearest friend and truest companion-in-arms?' he replied. 'As I said before, Círdan sent us along the coast by ship for secrecy and speed. We were put ashore in Drengist.'
'Indeed, you did say this before, as if you were reciting a hallowed text from an ancient Book of Secret Lore.' Arminas gazed skyward to implore whatever Vala was weeping down on them (Nienna, most likely) to dry their tears and ignore the Marring of Arda for the time being. 'Let me get things straight. Our wise Shipwright has a visitation from his Overlordship of the ever-shifting splendours of the Waters of Arda, who tells him to take a warning to the Hidden King of Nargothrond. So, with impeccable logic, Círdan takes his best ship, puts his most dedicated messengers aboard and has them repeat the message twice to make sure it is engraved upon their infallible memories. By the grinding teeth of the Helcaraxë, Gelmir! Do you know we could have been enjoying Orodreth's hospitality right now, drinking exquisite wines by the fireside, dryshod and dressed in robes that do not cling to our pitiable, forfeited Noldorin hides like wet leaves? We could have been lying in a soft bed tonight, instead of on the hard ground. Yet what do we do but cleave to this inhospitable cleft! Why do we struggle on into the wrong direction? Answer me, please, instead of merely replying, if you hold me as dear as you claim you did when I dragged you from the Nirnaeth with one foot already in Mandos.'
'Well,' Gelmir said, moving on with feigned briskness, 'the answer is that we are here because... because...' He faltered and frowned, as if his mind was shrouded in an inexplicable fog.
The recently retired Professor rose from his chair in the garage serving as a warehouse for unpublished Tales ever since the car had been evicted from it. With its mind of metal and wheels the thing had stubbornly refused to go anywhere but downhill, and the family had finally grown tired of pushing it all the way up again after every ride.
Mouthing a prayer in Proto Crimean Gothic he moved a bunch of grey annals aside, uncovering some laws & customs of the Eldar for which he had no use either (at the moment). His wayward gaze briefly alighted on a family tree and he considered changing some of the names for the eleventy-first time since the destruction of the Two Trees - until he remembered he was actually looking for a straightforward piece of narrative.
'Origins of the Orcs,' he mumbled, leafing through the next pile. 'The New Shadow. On Pipeweed. Leaf by Muggle - what's that doing here?' He pulled it out, upsetting the upper half of the pile.
'Must change title,' he said to himself, 'or wait - didn't I do so before it was published?' He knelt on the garage floor to gather the fallen leaves of his imagination and hug them to his chest. Then he rose with some effort. The Professor was getting old.
And forgetful. He assumed the answer he sought was somewhere in Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin, but where was Tuor? Not in Gondolin anymore, that much was certain. 'Gone west?' he wondered aloud, sitting down to rub his forehead. Confusticate and bebother.
Perhaps Jack would be able to help him.
'I will not go on without any further explication.' Arminas folded his arms across his chest, the Fëanorian lamp dangling from his left hand.
'If you are going to cause delay,' said his companion, 'pray consider doing so in yonder tunnel.' He pointed ahead to a dark, arch-like opening in the rocks of the Ered Wethrin. 'There our hides will be safe from the probably deserved, yet undesirable punishment of the heavens, and we can continue debating this until the stars are twice the age they are now.'
Despite his former affiliation with hotheaded Noldorin lords like Angrod and Aegnor, Arminas considered himself a reasonable character. Soon the two Elves found themselves inside the mouth of the tunnel, which seemed to lead upwards into the heart of the mountain. A narrow ledge, barely wide enough for one person, ran along the gurgling river, losing itself into a possibly foe-infested darkness.
'So, here we are,' Arminas raised his lamp and peered ahead to see their path disappear around a bend in the tunnel. 'Where is this supposed to lead?'
'To the Gate of the Noldor,' Gelmir replied, sounding none too confident. 'Surely you have heard of it?'
'I have.' Arminas had to admit he was growing curious despite himself. This tunnel did look intriguing.
'Shall we go on?' his companion asked.
Arminas laughed. 'For all I know we could be walking right into the welcoming arms of a bunch of yrch. They would no doubt cook us alive, but I doubt the enticing aroma would find its way to the sentsitive nostrils of the King of Nargothrond and inspire the action implied by the Dweller of the Deep. The message is enigmatic enough without being shrouded any further in the fumes of roasting Elda. Gelmir. We need a very good reason to proceed.'
'O Arminas of little faith! The name of the Glamhoth is Noise,' said Gelmir. 'We would hear them approach long before they got wind of us.' He did look a little green, but that could be the light.
Arminas began to suspect that his companion had no inkling of why they were going this way, but would nonetheless continue to pursue this road with eager feet, even if he had to do it all alone.
Something strange was going on here, he mused. Perhaps the two of them were fated to walk this path, but which theme of the Great Music was being played, and by whom, was impossible to tell. But it would not do to turn back and leave Gelmir alone. 'All right,' he said.
'Is that you, Jack?' the Professor said into the telephone.
'No, this is Warnie,' the voice on the receiving end replied. 'Howdy, Tollers?'
'Tolerably well. And over there?'
'Just fine, just fine, old chap. I'll get Jack for you.' The horn was laid aside with a bang, and the sound of shuffling feet was followed by a reverberating clang of metal, almost as if a sword had just clattered to the floor. The Professor recalled how Jack had loved to go berserk occasionally while debating with his predominantly male students - until the fateful day when one of his blunter arguments had been effectively trimmed by the finely honed tongue of a stray female. He smiled thinly.
'Jack!' Warnie was heard shouting. 'It's Tollers!'
Shortly afterwards, Jack manifested himself. 'Tollers! It's good to hear your voice once more!' he boomed. 'It's been too long!'
The professor moved the horn a few inches from his ear and sketched his predicament. 'Can you remember me reading any of this during any of our gatherings, Jack? I seem to be unable to find the examination paper I wrote it on.'
'Gelmir... Arminas...' Jack muttered. 'You know, Tollers, I've an appointment at the Bodleian in about a quarter of an hour, so I'm afraid can't help you out right now. I'm awfully sorry. But why don't we get together in the Bird & Baby tonight, like in the olden days? I'm sure Warnie'll be delighted, and we could ask Hugo and Owen as well, and if you'd bring Chris...' He checked himself. 'Wait, wait. This manuscript you mentioned. I do remember something about two fairies looking for a Hidden Realm called Gundulin, which would stand longest against the Dark Foe.'
'Gondolin,' the Professor corrected him automatically. 'And those fairies were Elves.' Why was it always so hard for Jack to get things straight? Like writing Númenor instead of Numinor.
'Wasn't it part of the Geste of Beren and Lúthien, the one I had so much fun dissecting in the guise of three fake scholars?' Jack laughed heartily. 'Or that fantasy about the Dauntless Dragonslayer - what's his name again, not Siegfried, of course...' He began to hum a Leitmotiv from Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen. 'Ah. I remember. Túrin. Like in the Thidreks-saga.'
The Professor did not like people to identify the bones he had thrown in his Cauldron of Story. He also refrained from pointing out he had mentioned Túrin shortly before, while trying to explain what he was trying to write. 'No, it wasn't the tale of Beren and Lúthien,' he began, but his voice faltered. Looking for Gondolin? Now that was a distinct possibility...
'Sorry, have to go now! See you tonight!' Jack said, before he hung up.
The tunnel seemed to go on endlessly, but there were no stumbling stones for their feet, and they encountered no one. The only noise they heard after a while, increasing with every step they took until it was loud as thunder, was that of a waterfall. It tumbled down a steep wall under a great dome of rock, the spray moistening their cloaks and faces like the rain had done before. The two Elves gazed at it for a while, undying lamps raised to cast eerie blue rays on the curtain of restless water and brighten the high vault until it glittered like the starry skies. There was much to be said against the Spirit of Fire, but little against his lamps.
Beside the waterfall was the gaping mouth of another tunnel. 'If the yrch lurk in there, we will never hear them come,' Arminas remarked.
Gelmir shrugged, but the determined way in which he strode to the entrance of the second tunnel was eloquent enough. In here, the path was one long stair, ascending (or descending, dependent on the traveler's direction) beside the stream until at last there came an end to it and all that was left was river. From here on, they would have to wade.
'Ah,' said Arminas. 'Past time to cool our weary feet. But now I know why we were sent here. This is the favourite waterway of the Lord Ulmo, and he wanted us to admire it. Those falls were a sight to see indeed. But do you think we could move on to Nargothrond now, mellon?'
'Thou shalt not idly use the name of a Power!' Gelmir cast him a reproachful glance before stepping fearlessly into the chilly water, followed by a less zealous Arminas.
Soon, they could see a great arch ahead, marking the end of the tunnel, and beyond it the pale, misty light of a new dawn. 'Ah! This must be the gate of the Noldor,' Gelmir cried triumphantly while they strode towards the steps hewn into the nearest riverbank.
And there was the lone representative of the Glamhoth. Two swords flew out of their scabbards, but remained unemployed. The orc proved to be a tall, broad-shouldered Man with the golden head of the House of Hador, reasonably good-looking for a mere mortal, but scantily dressed and with the collar of a thrall around his neck. His name was Tuor, son of Huor. He wanted to know where the gate of the Noldor was.
What a peculiar chord of the Music is this, Arminas said to himself. Whose idea was it to send us here as guides for some outlawed Aftercomer who lost his way? Who is composing this weird melody?
Jack could be right, the Professor said to himself. Gundulin aside, his explanation could very well be what he sought: Gelmir and Arminas had been looking for Turgon's Hidden City, and doing so they had come upon Tuor, who was on his way to the Sea, and Ulmo, and the armour waiting for him in the abandoned Halls of Vinyamar. A chance meeting, as they would say in Middle-earth.
The Professor chuckled, smiling fondly at the clutter in his garage. How he loved his Tree of Story, ever growing, ever expanding, eagerly waiting for him to take care of it, to tend it and bend it, to love and cherish it until death parteth them, to clip it, trim it and prune it according to its subtle needs - though betimes, in his heart of hearts, he preferred it free and wild, with its crown waving in the breath of Arda and the stars shining through its nightly boughs.
Absent-mindedly he moved over several stacks of Etymologies and laid aside a rough draft titled 'The Philosophies of Finrod F.'. Yet another tale he would have to tackle soon. The Tale of Tuor was not hidden underneath any of these manuscripts, but he was more and more convinced there was no need to search any further. The reason for the presence of Gelmir and Arminas in Dor-lómin must have been in the version of the tale he had read to his friends, all those years ago. How else could Jack remember it? It wasn't as if Jack was the one who had conceived the idea of making a mythology for England, was it?
Now where had he put the page of the Narn he had been working on when his memory suddenly failed him? Ah. There it was, between the Wanderings of Húrin and the Appendix of On Fairy Stories. He pulled his chair closer to the desk and sat down to continue the tale:'.. and they named themselves Gelmir and Arminas of the people of Finarfin, and said that they had an errand to the Lord of Nargothrond. They were brought before Túrin, but Gelmir said: 'It is to Orodreth, Finarfin's son, that we would speak.' And when Orodreth came, Gelmir said to him... (1)
Hours later, when Lúthien came to warn him that dinner was ready, he was almost finished - but not entirely satisfied, as if something was not quite right after all. Of course, Nargothrond was fated to fall and Túrin doomed to die, and yet...
'Fairies!' he growled to himself. He would have to have some serious talking to do with Jack, tonight in the B&B.
'Coming, dear!' he said to his wife. When he shut the garage doors behind him, inside the garage a stack of manuscripts toppled slowly, and the freshly written fragment was covered in Notion Club Papers.
In their guest room in the Hidden Kingdom of Nargothrond, the two messengers were not happy, especially not Arminas. They had displeased King Orodreth, their words had been dismissed as being vague and incomprehensible, Arminas had picked a needless quarrel with Orodreth's mortal, lost his temper and started trading insults with the man, and the King had walked out on them. It was plain that Ulmo's important message had fallen on deaf ears. No doubt this boded ill for Nargothrond and the cause of the Noldor.
'It is your own fault,' Gelmir said after Arminas' third rant. 'Why did you have to say we were looking for Gondolin, because it would stand longest against Morgoth? Did you truly believe the King of Nargothrond would thank you for those words?'
'You, too, must have heard his Faineance ask why we came straight from the North, if it was Círdan who sent us,' said Arminas, still not in the best of moods. 'Did you not see how he kept glancing at his pet Adan, who had distrust written all over that long face of his? We were never given a plausible explanation why we had to go by the Gate of the Noldor, so I decided to invent one - after using your own words about speed and secrecy, mind you!'
'What else was I to tell that fellow with his murderous frown?' Arminas went on. 'That we were sent North to show another mortal, who may just possibly have been his long lost cousin, the shortest road to the beach? Would you have believed me? We would have been taken for Morgoth's own minions, sent here to mislead the good people of Nargothrond. I shudder to think what that Bloodstained Son of Ill-fate would have done to us. I have heard rumours that he slaughtered his best friend, Beleg the Strongbow of Doriath!'
'Calm down calm down,' Gelmir said soothingly. 'Perhaps you are right.' He laid an arm around Arminas' shoulder. 'We have done our best. No one can possibly do more.' He kissed his fair companion lightly on the tip of his slightly pointed ear. 'Shall we lie down? This is precisely the soft bed you were yearning for while we clambered up the Cirith Ninniach, remember? It seems just made for us.'
1)Text not in italics from Unfinished Tales, Narn i Hîn Húrin
A/N: This story was inspired by the remark Christopher Tolkien makes at the end of the Narn: "It is nowhere explained why Gelmir and Arminas on an urgent errand to Nargothrond were sent by Círdan all the length of the coast to the Firth of Drengist. Arminas said that it was done for speed and secrecy; but greater secrecy could surely have been achieved by journeying up Narog from the South. It might be supposed that Círdan did this in obedience to Ulmo's command (so that they should meet Tuor in Dor-lómin and guide him through the Gate of the Noldor), but this is nowhere suggested.