FELAGUND AND THE NOEGYTH NIBIN
Disclaimer: One of the main characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I'm only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun. Only the second main character belongs to me.
Author's notes: This is a birthday fic for Finch, written in less than two hours. It has no direct connection to any of my other Tolkien-related stories – not yet anyway, though knowing me, nothing is certain in the long run. g
Many heartfelt thanks go to Erunyauve for beta-reading.
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[Beleriand, in the year 112 of the First Age]
The strange creature was out in the woods again. It looked like his known enemies – and yet it was different. Tall and grotesquely thin it was, true, like some crazy tree, and it had those pointed animal ears and those big animal eyes that could reflect the starlight like a deer's. Gwystyl had seen enough of them to recognize the traits. But in these eyes there was a light, an almost frightening radiance – clear diamonds glittered like this when the newborn fire from the skies ignited them to shining life. And the hair of the creature was like molten gold.
Gwystyl was considered ancient, even among his own, long-lived race. If they had any means of counting time like Men did, he would have counted nearly five hundred years. He had seen much in his long life, and little of it had been pleasant. He had seen the rising of the new fire – the new, blinding light that revealed the best hiding places to the enemy, that hurt the eyes and burned the skin. He hated the new light and never left his deep caves when it shone mercilessly from the sky. He had burrowed new hiding places, delving deeper and deeper under the earth, carving new tunnels into the very bone of the world, so that he and his family would be safe from the radiance these new enemies had brought with them. And he cursed the newcomers for having done so.
Only in the deepest of nights did he come out into the woods. His eyes were so accustomed to darkness that starlight was enough for him to find the mushrooms and berries he needed to feed his family. In one of the caves there was a deep, dark pond. The blind fish that lived in it were not easy to catch, but given enough time his children learned how to do it. When his sons grew up, he took them out into the woods, for they needed to learn how to take care of their own kin. And being small, agile and very strong, together they were able to catch the one or another careless deer or some sleeping rodents.
Sometimes they had no luck in finding berries or mushrooms. Sometimes even the blind fish disappeared from the pond, swimming somewhere else to mate, and they did not return 'til the young ones were born. Sometimes the deer were too fast or too watchful to be caught, and even the rodents became rare. In these times the family – four grown sons, the wife of the second-born and their sons, and first and foremost the mother of the whole clan – had to live on ground tree-bark or acorns. Sometimes they even had to eat worms and bugs to survive. But they did survive, against all odds. 'Twas a hard life, true, but they were used to it.
And it made them strong. Stronger than the enemy in those comfortable tree-houses. And stronger than their own estranged kin in those strong, fancy and noisy cities under the mountains, where they became soft and fat and lazy, not having to struggle for survival every day.
Gwystyl was proud of his endurance and his skills. He never longed for a life in one of those big, shiny, safe cities. But there were times when he felt the longing for the starlight and the feel of the night wind on his face. He knew it was a risk to leave his caverns for aught but the need for food, as the enemy preferred the starlight to the new, all-too-bright radiance, too – this was the reason they were called the Twilight People. Still, at times the craving grew too strong to resist, and Gwystyl sneaked out of his deep dwellings to walk under the stars and to listen to the whispers of the wind.
It was one of these times when he found the creature. And after that, he could not resist coming back and watching it again and again. Just like this very night.
It was sitting on a smooth rock near the river, its golden hair gleaming in the starlight, its bright eyes glittering like diamonds. A great golden harp – taller than Gwystyl himself – was set before the stone seat, and those long, bony fingers that reminded Gwystyl of sticky spider-legs, glided over the silver strings with surprising ease and strength. The music was strange – too soft, without the strength and fire of the living stone in it – but somehow it touched Gwystyl's heart nonetheless. He recognized loss when he encountered it. Even in the hearts of the enemy.
And the creature sang. His voice, too, was much too soft for Gwystyl's liking, and the tongue it used strange and elusive, as if he heard the clattering of a bowl of pearls spilled out upon the smooth surface of marble, but it had some peculiar, almost hurtful beauty in it. He feared it would tear his heart apart if he listened to it too long.
'Twas time to retreat. He had stayed too long, taking unnecessary risks, giving the enemy too great a chance to discover him. For regardless of the differences, the creature was an enemy. Its looks, its voice, its apparent relation to the new fire made the connection obvious.
Gwystyl began to move away slowly, carefully, with he highly alert senses of a hunted animal. None of his regular enemies would have heard him. But this creature seemed to have even sharper senses. Barely had he moved when it broke its song and turned towards him unerringly.
"Whoever you may be, you have no reason to hide," it said, using the tongue of the enemy now, which Gwystyl had learned long ago; though the creature's speech was somewhat strange, as if it wasn't its true tongue. "I shall not harm you in any way – unless you are an Orc, of course."
An Orc! Gwystyl snorted in disgust. The foolishness of the enemy, mistaking his kin either for animals or for the spawn of the Dark One, never ceased to amaze him. One would have thought that a race as sharp and bright as the enemy would put their senses to better use.
"I am no Orc," he replied in a low voice (there was no need to alert more of the enemy to his presence) that sounded harsh even to his own ears, compared with the voice of the creature; "but I have no reason to trust you or your kin, either."
The creature nodded, and though from this distance Gwystyl could only see the brightness of its eyes in that pale face, the sorrow in its voice was unmistakable.
"Oh! Then you must be one of the Noegyth Nibin," it said. "I have heard of the unfortunate… misunderstandings between your people and our cousins."
"Misunderstandings?" answered Gwystyl with another derisive snort. "Your people hunt us like animals! I have lost two brothers to their arrows – and those hunters were not even aware of whom they had killed!"
"That is truly unfortunate," the creature answered soberly. "Yet secrecy can be a two-edged sword. How were they supposed to know that you were sentient incarnates when they never got to see any of you? 'Tis a sad thing that even our people fear what they know not, but could you blame them for it? These lands are not very safe."
"And yet you made the effort to ask first, instead of shooting me at once," said Gwystyl. The creature laughed – 'twas the same silly, annoying sound he had heard from the enemy so often, and yet this time it sounded almost pleasant in his ears. I must be getting old and foolish, he thought, angry with himself for getting soft at his old age.
"What should I shoot you with?" the creature asked, clearly amused. "This harp is the only weapon I have on me right now."
"Then you must have a death wish," said Gwystyl in dismay. Not even the enemy should be so foolish as to walk around in the woods, unarmed.
"I think not," it replied calmly. "You underestimate the might of the song. Besides, these woods are well-guarded by my own people and by our allies."
"And still I was able to sneak up on you," pointed out Gwystyl with more than a little satisfaction. The creature nodded.
"True. And that is why I was certain that you could not be an Orc. I would have heard one of them from a league away."
"But what are you doing here, all by yourself?" Gwystyl asked. "Did you come here only to sing to the stars?"
"What if I did?" the creature answered with a question of its own. "Would that be so unfathomable to you? Why did you come out of hiding tonight?"
"My reasons are not business of yours," replied Gwystyl, his suspicions rising again. "I was foolish to let you catch me. Be content with that – for you are the first one who ever was able to do so."
The creature shook its golden head, and his voice was sad once again. "I intend not to hunt or catch you, Son of the Stone."
Gwystyl stiffened at being addressed thusly. There was no way the creature could have known what an ancient name it was, spoken out of greatest respect to the Elders of his race alone. True, he was one of the Elders, but still…
"Why are you calling me like that?" he asked sharply. The creature shrugged.
"I doubt that you would be willing to tell me your name, but you are one of Mahal's Children nevertheless. And I can feel the age and wisdom that are rooted in you deeply."
Gwystyl was highly confused. Hearing the enemy speak to him with great respect, even calling Mahal by his name only his Children used, was more than he could face and remain level-headed.
"Who are you?" he asked in astonishment. "And what are you? I have never seen one like you among the enemy."
"That may be, for I am not your enemy," answered the creature. "I am a stone-carver, just like you. I fear my true name would say nothing to you. But among your kin I am called Felagund."
"Felagund," Gwystyl replied in surprise, for, of course, he had enough contacts to his fat and lazy kin to have heard of this particular one. "The cave-hewer, hm? So you are the one who dwells in the Caves of Narog? Are you not some sort of King?"
"I am, if my leadership is required," the creature… nay, Felagund, answered. "Yet first and foremost I am an artisan, just like you. I carved out the caverns of Nargothrond with my own hands, and you, old one, are welcome to visit them any time."
"You think me foolish enough to walk into a trap with my eyes wide open?" asked Gwystyl sharply. "You might have veiled the eyes of my kin with flattery and false promises, but I have not lived this long because I was a gullible fool."
"'Tis no trap," said Felagund, and his voice sounded now tired. "But I understand that you will not trust easily. Whenever you decide to accept my invitation, you will be welcome. And I shall vouch for your safety by the life of my unborn son." He rose, laying something upon the rock he had been sitting on. "Show this the guards at the Gate, and you shall have safe passage."
"How would you know that I am not going to betray you?" asked Gwystyl, wishing he could see that token from his hiding place. But living in dark caves does not enhance one's eyesight.
"I cannot," replied Felagund, "but someone has to make the first step. I just decided to make it."
With that, he left, slowly and without looking back, as if he wanted to show the honesty of his intentions. Gwystyl waited almost until daybreak to see if anyone would return to search for him – but nothing happened. Then, under the thinning veil of the night, he dashed forth, grabbed the small chisel that had been left on the rock, and disappeared into the darkness. No-one would see him again, for a very long time.
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Nearly twenty years later, on a warm autumn evening, a particularly short and stocky Dwarf appeared before the gates of Nargothrond, the great underground city of Finrod Felagund. The Dwarf was one in his best years, his long, somewhat dishevelled beard not hit by snow yet, his eyes deep and dark like a starless night. He showed the guards a chisel that they recognized at once: it belonged to their King, and there were very special orders connected to it.
"I need to speak to Felagund, the Dwarf-friend," was all the Dwarf was willing to say, and he waited before the gates 'til Finrod came out to speak with him. Then he spoke again, saying: "I am the firstborn of the Elder whom you gave this token years ago. He wants to meet you one last time."
"What has happened to him?" Finrod asked, saddened that he had waited all those years for nothing. They might not be many to an Elf, but he knew that his nightly visitor had been old even back then.
"Nothing," the younger Dwarf answered, "but his time is running short. He is preparing himself to join his longfathers in the Halls of Waiting. If you want to see him ere he leaves, you must hurry."
Finrod did not hesitate a moment. Giving his guards the necessary orders, he followed the Petty Dwarf at once, clad in his working clothes, as he had been called from his workshop. It seemed somehow… appropriate, anyway.
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They did not go too far. Of course, Gwystyl was not willing to show his true dwellings to an Elf, even though he had come to understand that Felagund had spoken the truth – he was no enemy of the Noegyth Nibin. He was laid comfortably upon the yellow grass of the river bank, near the spot where they had met for the first time. Finrod knelt down to finally see his elusive friend, who had only met him in the deepest darkness in all these years, and even that very rarely.
What he saw was an old and surprisingly small Dwarf, with a wild mane and an unruly beard, as white as freshly fallen snow and a wrinkled little face that looked like a dried apple. But those deep, dark eyes were still sharp and clear like pieces of obsidian.
The gnarled old hands grabbed his with surprising strength, and that well-known, harsh voice said in badly-accented Sindarin, as always: "Felagund. You have come, my friend; I am glad. For I shall now go to the Halls of Waiting to sit beside my fathers 'til the world is renewed. But you gave me a sparkle of hope in this world full of darkness, and I wanted to see that light again ere I close my eyes for ever."
"And I am grateful that you finally felt enough trust in me to show me your face," said Finrod gently. "May your passing be a peaceful one, my friend. Is there aught else I could do for you? Or for your family?"
"Nay," said Gwystyl; "for my wife went before me, and my sons and their sons can take care of themselves. Nay, I only wanted to say farewell to you and ask you to keep old Gwystyl in good memories. Please accept the parting gift of a stubborn old Dwarf – and should you ever meet that son of yours, let him have it."
He gave a sign with his eyes, and one of his sons brought forth a pair of beautifully-crafted throwing knives, made obviously for Elven use. "I have been working on them all these years," he added, "hoping that my life would last long enough to finish them. Now they are done. May they protect you in any battle you should have in the future."
Finrod thanked him, deeply touched by the gesture, but Gwystyl only smiled. "You gave me hope where there was none," he said. "Now I can leave in peace."
With that, he cast a last look at his sons and their family, and then he closed his eyes, to never open them again.
Finrod Felagund kept the knives for a long time, only leaving them behind when he left to accompany Beren on one last journey, from which he did not return. The knives were rescued from the ruins of Nargothrond by Celebrimbor, and through him they finally came to Gildor Inglorion, Finrod's grandson, who wielded them masterfully in many battles. After the Ring War, Gildor brought them back to Valinor, where they were kept in great honour in Finrod's house, in the respectful memory of Gwystyl, the Petty Dwarf.
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We do not know for a fact that Finrod ever met the Petty Dwarves.
Gwystyl is my creation; the name was borrowed from Larry Alexander's Prydain-books.
The river, on the bank of which Finrod was playing his harp is, of course, the Narog.
There is no canon proof for the theory that Gildor, in fact, was Finrod's grandson. I made the connection by having Finrod marrying his love, Amárië, secretly in Valinor, ere he left for Middle-earth. That Finrod calls Inglor his "unborn" son means only that he was not present at Inglor's birth and doesn't personally know his son.
The actual year in which this story takes place is not of great importance. I chose it because it was after the completion of Nargothrond and before the Orcs attacked Hithlum, according to Robert Foster.