A story of Idril and Voronwë
There was a shortage of warm clothing at the start of the crossing of the Helcaraxë. Many had started the journey expecting to be carried in safe, warm ships, making no allowance for the wild, blank cold of the North. Soon, there were plenty of warm cloaks and mittens to go round, if fewer elves to wear them.
The children were heavily wrapped in the thickest garments, so they appeared more as bundles of baggage than people. The Noldor had soon found that one layer of furs was not enough - across the Helcaraxë, with no land to stop them, the winds howled like a beast in pain. Deep beneath their feet the ice gnawed at the ocean floor, rending rock with its teeth, sometimes ripping apart the solid snow beneath their feet. Elenwë of the Vanyar had been lost to the bitter sea, as had Mírwendë, Aranwë's young wife. On the ice, no distinction was made between King and peasant, rich and poor. The Helcaraxë took at random, and there was to be no return for those who fell into her icy embrace.
Turgon trudged on, his eyes dead, leaning on his cousin Aranwë for support. If he had been allowed to carry his daughter, she would have slipped through his lifeless hands, so Aredhel volunteered. Fingon, red-cheeked with cold, carried little Voronwë, and the two children lay so inert, so silent, that they could have been statues of ice themselves in the arms of the princes.
Time passed, and no-one marked it. Every day was a longer trudge across the unforgiving frozen ground. The mountains of Middle-Earth grew no nearer. They walked in silence now, the only sound the howling of the wind and the rhythmn of their feet. Finding no comfort in the grim-faced adults, the two children turned to each other, and found the first comfort since their mothers' embraces.
"Shall we build a city, when we get to Middle-Earth?" whispered Idril through frozen lips.
"Yes," Voronwë said. "It will be white."
"White like snow?" Idril offered a ghost of a smile. Neither of them remembered anything but snow now. Snow, ice and stars had become their world.
"Like snow," he replied, "but not cold. The stars will be brighter there. And it will be by the sea, so every single day we can go sailing."
Idril fell silent, remembering the only ships she had ever seen, bloodied and torn from their moorings. The only sea she had known, bitterly cold and strewn with ice, where her mother had been lost forever.
"Itarillë, when we have our city, will you marry me? We can be King and Queen, then."
"Yes," was her simple answer, and one who had not seen her eyes would have thought her innocent.
Although it was not by the sea, even Voronwë had to admit that Gondolin was very fair. It had been a mighty work for the craftsmen, and both children had reached their full maturity in Nevrast. Now they looked out over the new, sparkling Kingdom, and listened to the music of the fountains, the princess and the lord's son. It seemed well to all that they, who had both lost their mothers on the Helcaraxë, should be friends.
"It is spring," Voronwë observed. "The snows are gone, and in the fields, the yellow elanor is in flower. I shall gather you some, that it may adorn your chambers. Perhaps you could weave it in your hair." He turned to face her. "Gold on gold would suit you well. Or silver." He paused. "Would you not have another gift from me?"
Idril closed her eyes, and breathed the spring air deeply. Now there was a sun, there were seasons, and the growing warmth eased her heart. Perhaps it was time to let the chill of the Helcaraxë go.
"We are free to wed now, Celebrindal, if you would have me," he said. "Why so silent? Do you no longer wish it?"
She breathed out, her eyes turning to Voronwë. Despite her soft beauty, her gaze was as sharp as steel.
"I see many strange things, Voronwë," she said. "Bound to Arda we are. Long I thought it was enough, that I should be happy with my immortal life. Yet now we are come to these mortal lands, and I desire..." she paused. "There is something else, something that comes not from the failed hopes of the Eldar. There is a freedom from the fates, and I must seek it, whether I would or no."
Voronwë realised his fingers had tightened around the ornate stonework of the balcony, his knuckles a similar shade to that of the stone. He released them quickly.
"I cannot wed you."
Her lips trembled, and she reached for his hand, stroking the cold skin with shaking fingers. For a moment they were motionless, frozen in the perfection of new-born Gondolin.
"Have your desire, then," Voronwë said abruptly, and shattering the tableau, walked away.
Gondolin pleased him well, and there he found much about himself that he had not previously known. He discovered a love of water, and seeing this, Turgon sent him and the realm's finest shipbuilders to a lake in the mountains, and there he recieved instruction on the craft. Of course, the lake was unlike the sea, for even when winds howled around the mountains above, the water was always utterly still and peaceful. He had talent, and became skilled quickly. Soon, he had his own ship, and he spent hours sailing around the lake at his leisure.
After a hundred years, he turned his attention to lore and legend, and gave his time to the study of the making of Arda, the Valar, and the bliss of ancient Aman. Many nights he sat up late, when the moon and stars wheeled around the hidden vale, busily noting down the thoughts in his head with his white quill. Sometimes, in these lonely hours before dawn, his mind turned to Idril, and when that happened, he abruptly thought of something else. He soon blocked out all thoughts of her except in matters of state - he was much too busy for idle longings, anyway. Between hurrying to his flute lessons (under the stern tutelage of Ecthelion) and delivering various scrolls to the King, his mind was well occupied. Time passed, the city became more fair, and he began to enjoy life, for the first time since before the Helcaraxë.
Another hundred years had passed before she came to him. Now an accustomed princess, she did not knock, but entered his house without premable. He was sitting on his balcony, a favourite place for writing. He chewed his lip as he wrote, his quill dancing neatly across the page. Across the table, a glass goblet of wine was set, and a plate of sliced fruits. He found they aided his thought processes.
"Hello, my Lord Voronwë."
He looked up at her and smiled. "Good morning, Princess Idril. Your visit is an unexpected surprise."
"What are you writing?"
He squinted at the page. "An analysis on the differences in speech between the Elves of Beleriand and those of Aman, and why those differences may have occurred." He paused, smiling hopelessly. "Do you know?"
Idril did not laugh. If anything, she looked troubled.
"Is aught amiss, my Lady?" Voronwë asked politely. Idril bowed her head. It was late spring, and between her braids she had woven golden flowers, and with the slightest movement of her head they fluttered in the wind. She made to speak, but stopped. Then, she looked into Voronwë's eyes, and spoke softly.
"On the ice," she said, "You said to me that the stars would be brighter, the walls of our city whiter. Yet now a darkness gathers around me, and none can see it but me, and none believe me when I tell them."
Voronwë's pen paused in mid-stroke, causing the ink to pool around the tip.
"On the ice," Voronwë said, "we were children, building dreams to make hope when there was none around us. They were words, Idril, nothing more."
Idril stood. Voronwë thought she was going to leave, but she moved instead to the very edge of the balcony, looking out over the gleaming white city. He had cultivated roses to twine around the railings, and idly her fingers brushed the blood-red petals. Once again, he looked at her, and knew that she had not really changed so much, that she was still the little girl he had befriended on the Ice, and now, her strange sight had frightened her and made her seek help. He wondered why she had come to him - of all the people in Gondolin, the master shipbuilder was not the most obvious choice.
"Words are comfort to me," Idril said. "Tell me a story, Voronwë. Sing me a ballad of the first Elves to walk, of the journey of Tol Eressëa across the wide sea. It seems everyone in the court communicates by sharp glances, these days." Her tone was light, but she shivered.
"Why do you come to me?" he asked.
"Because you are a friend who sees clearly."
His breath quickened. "I see nothing, Celebrindal. I can give you no comfort."
"Would you begrudge me that?"
"You begrudged me your hand."
The words slipped out, beyond his control. Idril glanced at him coldly.
"Then I shall take counsel with my father, though little of my plight he understands. It seems he is the only one in this city not trying to seduce me. Good day, my Lord."
He showed her to the door, and after she had left, watched the gleaming white cobbles after her in the sun. Then, he heard a different voice, low, self-possessed, and dangerous.
He turned, to find Maeglin, the King's sister-son, leaning on the frame, looking none-too-pleased. He thought quickly. Although he paid little attention to court gossip, it was common knowledge that Maeglin desired his cousin. At first he had been happy, in a perverse sort of way. If Idril found her freedom of fate behind his dark glare, let it be. But, he had learned that Idril always refused him, and that gave him comfort.
"My cousin has often expressed a wish to visit you," Maeglin said slowly. "Your work must be important indeed, to command so much of her time."
"The Lady Idril chooses where she goes and when, my Lord. I command nothing from her." He was not usually so sharp, especially with nobles, but Idril's visit and now Maeglin's riddles had rattled him.
"Indeed," Maeglin mused, his eyes taking on a dark gleam as he fixed Voronwë in his stare. "Do not formulate designs above your station, ship-master."
And he was gone. Voronwë stood for a while, blinking in the sunlight. After a while, he returned to his work.
Afterwards, he thought that Idril did not love him, she merely saw him as one of many confidants, one to turn to when the others were busy, perhaps. Voronwë was not the kind to harbour grudges. Idril continued to visit him, to talk, to read, sometimes just to sit in silence and watch the view. It was enough, if not the love he desired, and he was satisfied with it. Still Idril did not wed, and still she spurned Maeglin's advances, and there were some that said she was cold as the ice that she had spent her childhood on. But in the dread year of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, it was Voronwë's arms she wept in, and while Maeglin's tale of near-triumph and the slaying of the enemy's mighty captains gave cheer to Turgon and the defeated warlords, it was his tales of a more innocent time that eased her heart.
The sun slowly traced her appointed path across the sky, curving in a perfect arc towards the horizon, where for a moment she would bleed her brilliant light into the sea. High above the cliffs, a gull's shrill wail cut through the silence, and sometimes a splash as it dived to catch a fish in the water. All along the beach, debris were strewn: seaweed, driftwood, and more recently, an elf.
The storm had nearly claimed his life, and he had seen his ship go down in a foam of white and smashed timbers. Far away in Gondolin, when the news arrived that all the ships were lost and none had reached Valinor, there would be weeping, and flowers would be laid on empty tombs. Yet for a reason unknown to him, maybe by some divine intervention, he continued to breathe. Part of him enjoyed resting on the sun-warmed sand, letting his mind wander where his ship could not, but there was another force willing him up, on, awake. When he finally sat up, it was late evening, and the moon was rising over the sea.
Not knowing what else to do, he began to walk, little grey shape making its way across the empty land, pale as a shadow. His bare feet left imprints on the sand, to be washed away with the high tide. The land began to rise, and he followed it, drawing in close to the cliffs. It was by chance he found the carved stair, winding deep into the rock-face, and he climbed. His hand brushed a forgotten carving, sending flakes of ancient gold fluttering in the wind.
It was only when he reached the top of the stairs that he recognised his old home. Stretching from the clifftops to the inland marshes of Nevrast, Vinyamar lay gleaming in the pale light, deserted and empty. He wandered here and there through the silent streets, once bright and fair, now all the paint worn away by a thousand stormy winters. A swan alighted on a salt-worn roof, and watched him, the only living soul in Vinyamar, through his black eyes.
The sea airs had been kind to Turgon's palace, leaving it relatively untouched. He explored, admiring the mighty steps and handsome statues. The carvings remained intact, and only a little seaweed clung to the steps. Yet more surprising was what he found at the rear of the palace.
Propped the foot of a great statue, a young mortal slept, oblivious to the newcomer. He was wearing the armour the King had left for a future messenger, and at his belt was Turgon's ancient sword, Nenrillë, gleaming in its sheath. The elven armour fitted him well, for he was tall beyond the measure of his kind. His hair, although unkempt and salt-streaked, was a rich gold in colour, and under the helmet he had a fair and noble face.
Voronwë left him, and leaning on a rail overlooking the sea, watched the sun rise. In the red sky, a flight of swans circled overhead, their wings tipped with flame. When he felt a warm hand clasp his shoulder, he was glad and afraid at the same time, for even before the mortal spoke, he knew the message he bore.
He gave his name as Tuor, son of Huor of Dor-Lómin who had been slain in the Nirnaeth. He told of a great errand, and that he required guidance to fulfil it. "By your speech and bearing, Lord, you are one of the Gondolindhrim, who my father knew upon a time, and it is with their King my errand is concerned," he said. Voronwë listened in wonder, for although the mortal was but a child in elven years, he spoke with the wisdom of a Vala, his voice as deep and majestic as the ocean.
But when the power of Ulmo had withdrawn from the mortal, Voronwë found him friendly and agreeable, only too glad to have company after years of wandering the wild lands alone. They talked long, sharing tales of their lives. Voronwë found it hard to believe that Tuor had only been born in the year of the Nirnaeth, yet seemed to have wisdom greater than his years. By the morning of the next day, he had promised to lead Tuor by the shortest paths to Gondolin, and he looked into his eyes, and saw a gleam that reminded him of someone else.
And so it was that Idril found her unfated one in Tuor, and in her he saw his first vision of true beauty. They were wed at the Place of the Valar before all the people, amid great celebration. Maeglin turned away, the pained grimace on his face leaving his lust and despair for all to see. Voronwë cursed, finding himself unable to look. Idril laughed freely now, and she danced and sang like any other elf-maiden, only more lovely. He was happy, for she deserved to laugh, to find her freedom. The shard of ice that had remained in her heart from the Helcaraxë had finally been melted. Alone, Voronwë wept, for his was not.
Five years later, in late summer, Voronwë happened upon Idril sitting alone by the fountain. Her son Ardamírë, always excited and eager to play, had been taken by his father to visit the wide green plain of Tumladen, and Turgon had gone with them. The King delighted in simple cares these days, and Ardamírë was always eager for tales of old Valinor. The sun shone brightly overhead, all was well in the Hidden Kingdom, unless it was in the mind of the princess.
He approached quietly. Idril wore a simple gown of blue, paler than the heavy summer skies, and her hair was caught in a clasp of silver. Her face was sad, her fingertips listlessly trailing in the clear water. Merrily, the fountain sang on as it always had done, unaware of its mistress' anguish.
"What troubles you, my Lady?" Voronwë asked.
She shook her head. "It is nothing. I would not burden you with it, not on such a bright summer day. Have you no lore to keep you occupied?"
"More than enough," he said, moving to sit beside her, "but to speak with you is no burden. I would hear whatever you might say." He touched her arm, and she moved away, then reddened.
"I desire nothing but friendship from you," he said. "I have been little comfort to you in the past, but I hoped to set things right between us."
Idril sighed. "I thought," she said thickly, "that through him, I had escaped doom. But now, it seems I have brought doom upon us all."
Their eyes were instinctively turned to the North. Although it was summer, snow still lay low down on the mountains, pure and brilliant white. The only scar on the landscape was the mine of Anghabar, deep-delved for the smiths' ironcraft, a black gouge in the mountainside.
"If only they could hear. My father knows as well as I do that we are in peril, but he chooses to ignore it," she said, softly and sadly.
"What frightens you so?" Voronwë questioned. "I too feared for our safety here in Gondolin, but now the leaguer is closed, and none may enter the hidden vale without the King's permission. Does that bring you no comfort?"
"Little enough," Idril said, "My fears lie within this valley, even in the bright sunshine there is a growing darkness, and only I can see it. Nargothrond is fallen now, they say, and Doriath too. Gondolin will not stand long. It is a city built on sand, and the tide has turned. Already the waters are flowing, and we cannot stop them."
"You fear fate, then," Voronwë said. "But do the waves of the sea fall according to fate? The Lord of the Waters saved me, when I should have been devoured by the ocean. One day, you too will take ship, and your husband, and you will return to the lands of our birth. That is the escape from fate Tuor has granted you, I think."
Idril gave the ghost of a smile. "You are become wise, ship-master," she said. "Can wisdom save Gondolin now?"
"That lies with the fates," he said.
A dark cloud passed over the sun, and Idril shivered.
"You have named her well," Voronwë remarked. "Sea-wing. She is as white and graceful as a swan, and will bear you across the waves safely."
"I hope so," Tuor said, patting the bleached wood of his ship affectionately. When he smiled, many lines crinkled around his eyes, and Voronwë saw streaks of white in his old friend's hair, that had not been there before. "I am glad she meets your approval, master Mariner."
Voronwë laughed. "Of course she does." And then, more tenderly, "Good luck."
As the elf and man embraced, Idril appeared beside her husband. In the dying light of the sunset, her hair shone a brilliant gold, but she wore no circlet, having left her authority behind in fallen Gondolin. She took Tuor's cracked hand in her soft one.
"We are ready," she said.
"I'll tell the sailors to board," said Tuor. He stooped to kiss Idril's cheek, then was gone.
Idril turned to Voronwë. "So this is goodbye, then."
"For a time, yes."
"Will you keep an eye on him?" she said, gesturing Eärendil, now full-grown, hand-in-hand with Elwing of Doriath. Everyone had thought it meet that the two half-elven children should be friends, and by the silver betrothal ring on Elwing's finger, it was clear they had become more.
"He will hardly need that, I think."
And suddenly, Idril was no longer the proud princess, but the child on the ice, the young girl on the walls, afraid and alone.
"The waters frighten me," she said. "The sea nearly killed you, and my father refused the warnings of Ulmo... "
Tuor waved from across the sands. The sailors were boarding the ship, as the sun began to bleed into the sea, illuminating the ocean with liquid gold.
And Voronwë beckoned the little boy, who was sitting alone on the beach, building a tall and mighty sand-castle. The child jumped to his feet, brushing the stray grains from his clothes, and ran to Voronwë's side.
"Littleheart," he said, "Lady Idril is going now."
The child produced a garland of elanor, golden flowers held with clasps of silver. Idril knelt so he could place it on her head.
"The significance of the elanor flower is good luck, and they will shine all the way into the West." Littleheart repeated proudly. He was his father's son.
"Tuor will look after you now," said Voronwë. "The sea is calm, and he is a skilled sailor."
And Idril smiled, touching the crown of golden flowers on her head.
"Do not linger here too long, Voronwë," she said. "We will have need of you and your stories in the Undying lands."
He kissed her brow. "Friend," he said, "it is time to go."
He stood on the shore with the others to see them off, the white ship sailing into the West on a calm sea. If he stayed a little longer than most, none questioned it, for Idril was beloved of all the exiles of Gondolin. He stood and watched until the little white speck sank into the horizon, and the stars shone clear and bright overhead.
He looked down, and there was Littleheart, tugging on his leg.
"Tell me a story about Gondolin tonight."
"All right," said Voronwë, lifting his son into his arms. "Once upon a time, there was a white city, and it was hidden by the mountains, because it was the fairest city built by the Elves..."
And as they walked, far in the West, the ship vanished into a curtain of deep night.