"You have heard the tales?" Eruvenn sat down on the grass where his wife was resting.
She hugged her arms over her belly. "It is true," she whispered. "Meril told me. They came and wanted the ring she wore for the Naugrim."
"They did not force it from her," he said soothingly. "I have seen Voronwë going among them, and he does not take from any who will not give. Nor do Tuor and Idril."
They had sojourned for three days under the dark eaves of Doriath, and before that…. No, Orniel would not think on what had come before, the fire and noise and chaos of burning Gondolin, and the grim escape through the mountains where yet more horrors had awaited the survivors…. No, she would put it forever from her mind even as the son of Huor and his wife drove the refugees through the forest.
High summer was thick upon the land, and even in the shade of the trees there was little coolness except from the river Sirion that cut through the forest. The refugees had followed the river from the western slopes of the Echoriath, and had been told that they would follow it all the way south to the willow-country of Nan Tathren and the sea. It would be a journey of months, and hard, but they could not stay where they were and hope to survive for long. The Shadow had discovered the hidden ways to Gondolin; a ragged band of refugees hiding in defenseless Doriath could not hope to escape notice.
"I have heard other stories," she said, "that the Naugrim are greedy and will not be satisfied with a few trinkets."
"Aye, that is true, but they have been ill-treated by Thingol's people," Eruvenn said. "They trust us not. It is only because Tuor leads us that they will deal with us at all. They have waybread and meat, and cloth for blankets and leather for shoes for those who have none. I will give them whatever I may if it will buy us some ease on the road south."
"There were others who came before, who offered aid without demanding our treasures, but he would not pay the price."
Eruvenn quickly laid a finger upon her lips. "Shush, hervenn! You know not what you say. Speak no more of the sons of Fëanor and what they wanted of us. Here, I have found a few berries left in the hedgerows and Laiqalassë says these roots are good to eat. You take them, meldir. You need the strength."
Orniel took the dark, shriveled lumps from her husband's palm and forced herself to swallow them. The roots had been washed in the river; Eruvenn had brought her a little cup with which to drink as she ate, yet even the clear, sweet taste of the Sirion could not disguise the bitterness of the roots. After a mouthful, she gagged and could not eat more. "Laiqalassë would poison us," she complained. "You take the rest. I cannot eat more."
"You must eat for the child's sake," he said.
She tried a few more bites, until she could stomach no more. He ate after her, wincing at the taste of the roots. "Laiqalassë said only that they would give strength; he made no other assurances. Egalmoth's people have found some fish in the river, but precious little game near camp. I will try to get a few morsels for you."
Whatever he brought would be cooked poorly or not at all, as Tuor had forbidden all fires. Still, she smiled and laid her head on Eruvenn's shoulder, murmuring that she would eat anything he brought her. She was more fortunate than most, for she had her husband and good shoes upon her feet and had not been seriously injured during their flight. And she had something else upon the road that no other elf-woman had, though it was hard to bear in such peril.
"They will come for the jewel," she murmured, tightening her fingers upon his sleeves. "They know we have it and they will want it."
He made a soft shushing noise into her hair. "Nay, Tuor and Voronwë do not know what treasures we may have, nor would they lay rough hands upon us to discover it. Still, I would give it to them."
She drew away from him, tears starting in her eyes as she looked up into his face. "Nay! It is not for them," she whispered harshly. "It is for the child. It is all we have left of Gondolin and Valinor before that."
"What good is such a treasure if one is weary or ragged or starving? What good is a token of the Blessed Realm when there is now only a small hope of safe haven?" He took her wrists in his hands and turned them to press his lips to the pulse beating just under the flesh. "If they ask, I will give it. I am not Fëanor or one of his sons, to cling blindly to such cold beauty and follow it into ruin. What I have here is far more precious than any gold or gems."
They huddled anxiously upon the grass, Orniel resting her head upon Eruvenn's shoulder as twilight fell. She had had too little rest; much strength had gone into the child's making, and now it took all she had to sustain it. Stories had come to her through others in Gondolin that mortal women had offspring by the dozens, and toiled until the very hour of their labor. She knew not how such brief creatures possessed such strength of being, when the act of making drew so much of her fëa.
Had Eruvenn not survived, she thought, she would have lain down in the chaos of burning Gondolin or in the freezing reaches of Cirith Thoronath and faded, for she had neither the strength nor the will to go on alone, even for her child's sake. At once, shuddering, she forced the thought from her head. It was weariness and sorrow that made her believe so. She knew she could not have faded, not while the child depended upon her.
He sensed her sudden movement. "What is it?" he murmured. "Are you cold?"
She shook her head and closed her eyes again, letting the camp noises recede against the soft rush of breeze that marked evenings in Doriath and the whisper of the river. Ulmo's power was mighty in the water, Eruvenn told her, and the Vala would watch over them yet. "Tuor is His messenger," he whispered, "and he has yet to lead us astray."
She did not remind him of the horror that had awaited them in Cirith Thoronath, where the lord of the Golden Flower had fallen to a Balrog and so many others had perished from ambush or the elements. She did not want to think about that terrible, moonless night. "We might have gone by Bad Uthwen like the others and so avoided much peril," she complained.
"Nay, I think now that it was the worse path, though it seemed not so at the time," he said. "No word or sign has come of those who ventured that way."
She felt her husband's embrace grow hard, his hands upon her tighten, and she stirred. Footfalls thudded in the grass behind her, and she heard the subtle rasp of mail against leather. "They come," he breathed in her ear. "Let me speak to them."
Now her hands grasped him, wordlessly pleading with him, but he had no more to say to her. His face lifted, acknowledging one who stood behind her. "Suilad, Huorion. Man siniath?"
"I come on an urgent errand," rumbled a male's weary voice. "I will speak as softly as I may, that I do not disturb your wife."
Orniel, her eyes still closed, bit her lip at the thought of Tuor trying to speak softly. As Turgon's son-in-law and a prince of Gondolin, he was said to be as gentle and noble a being as any of the great lords, but she knew nothing of such folk. She had seen only a Man who was fierce in his anger and gruff in his wariness; he would have no soft words for her.
"I have spoken with Voronwë and know your errand," said Eruvenn. "We have a jewel that we will give you."
Seeing his hand move toward the bundle where they kept their few remaining possessions, Orniel gave a little cry and seized his wrist. "You cannot take it! It is for the child!"
"What nonsense is this?" asked Tuor.
"She is with child, lord. She knows not what she says." Eruvenn grasped her wrist and carefully extricated himself. "That is enough, Orniel. Let him take it."
She struggled, but he would not release her. "It is in the bundle, a ruby upon a gold chain," he continued. "Take it and give it to the Naugrim." She saw Eruvenn take the bundle in his free hand and toss it across the grass.
There was a soft thud as the bundle landed at Tuor's feet. She twisted around in Eruvenn's grasp to see the mortal bending to undo the ties. "Naugrim? Nay, call them rather the Naughoth, for they are no friends of ours!" she shrieked at him. "They would take what little we have and for what--?"
Tuor, his fingers still plying the knots, stopped and looked at her. When she saw his face, she knew that the rumors were true: he had slept but little, restlessly moving among the ranks, fed more by adrenaline and determination than the endurance that would have fueled the Firstborn. His great axe Dramborleg was at hand, but he did not reach for it when she would have lunged at him. He merely tilted his head, frowning slightly as if noticing her for the first time. Then, he slowly straightened and called over his shoulder to someone standing in the shadows.
An elf-woman wearing a mail shirt over leggings appeared at his side. She had tangled golden hair that was pulled back from a face etched with weariness and worry. Tuor whispered something to her, at which her eyes sought Orniel and widened slightly. She nodded, and then moved past him to sit in the grass beside Orniel.
"We did not know there was one with child among us," she said. Her eyes dropped from Orniel's face to her belly, which was hidden in the thick folds of her dress. "How many months do you have?"
Seeing Tuor fuss with the bundle out of the corner of her eye, she bit her lip. She forced herself to focus on the woman. "It will come in the autumn," she murmured. A stream of profanity behind her told her that Tuor had not found what he was looking for.
"My lord," said Eruvenn, "it should be there."
As she felt the eyes of the two males fall on her, she let her gaze drop to the grass and willed herself to be still.
Eruvenn took her by the shoulder and forced her to look at him. "Where is it, Orniel?"
"I know not what you mean, husband." The words stuck in her throat as she spoke them. "I have not seen it in all these many days since we left Gondolin."
"But I have seen it," he said. "I know it was here and if you've taken it…." He dropped his voice so the others could not hear him. "Would you shame us before Tuor and leave others to part with their treasures while we selfishly cling to this trinket?"
"I tell you," she said, "I have not seen it. You have had charge of the bundle, not I." She was too weary and pained to argue further. Her child, perhaps agitated by its mother's distress, had begun kicking her. She laid a hand over her belly, massaging it through her gown to try to reassure the child. "Eruvenn, please, I must rest."
Eruvenn left her side and went to address a few hushed words to Tuor, at which the Man grumbled something and left. She felt the disapproval emanating from both males, and was too ashamed to bring herself to watch Tuor leave. Instead, she listened for his footfalls long after they had receded and mingled with the noises of the camp.
The elf-woman stayed, sitting beside her on the grass and watching her closely. "Eruvenn, would you please leave us?" she asked softly. "I should like to speak with your wife alone."
"Lady," he said tightly, "if you can speak to her where I cannot, then you have my leave to try."
Idril waited until he left to address Orniel. "How is it that you did not tell anyone you were with child, when your time is so near?"
"I-I did not want to be a burden." Orniel sniffled, trying to hold back the tears that threatened to come. "It is not comfortable walking, and my feet and back pain me, but I would not have the others stop when we must go on."
"Then you are stronger than I was in those last months." Gently touching Orniel's arm, she turned her head and called to someone waiting under the shadow of a beech. "Luinil, go find my son and bring him here," she said.
A short time later, Luinil returned carrying a squirming boy in his arms. When the lady embraced him, the boy tried to pull away. "Naneth," he protested, "I was helping Laiqalassë clean the fish. Adar said if I did well enough, he would let me see the Naugrim."
"And I will see to it that your father has a good report of you," she said, kissing his cheek. "But in these hard days I do not see you much. Perhaps you might spare a moment or two to visit with your poor mother?"
"Naneth," the boy said, "it was a good fish. I would have brought you some. May I please go?"
Tousling the child's tangled blond hair, Idril smiled at Orniel. "Many treasures my husband and I left behind in Gondolin, but we saved the one most precious to us." She gave her fidgeting son a tolerant smile and kissed his temple. "Yes, Eärendil," she said, "you may go find Laiqalassë and see if he has any other work for you."
Orniel watched the son of Tuor run off into the shadows of the trees, followed closely by Luinil. "Lady," she whispered, "that jewel was all we had left of better days. We brought it across the Helcaraxë and he would have taken it from us."
"Tuor does not act out of greed," said Idril. "He does not covet gold or jewels for its own sake. Those bright days of which you speak are behind us; there is no profit in clinging to that which is lost. You speak of the Helcaraxë, so then surely you remember what treasures we had to discard along the way, and how we made new treasures and days to rival the ones we thought we had forgotten."
Eruvenn had told her the same thing, yet in the fire and horror that consumed all they had built, she could not draw comfort from his words. She had wept and clung to him, ruing the day they had ever followed Fingolfin across the ice. "I wanted to give our child some token of Valinor. When Eruvenn was packing food and water, my only thought was to take the jewel."
"Your husband is wise," said Idril, "for he knows that the life you give your child is far more precious than any gem."
She winced, but not all her pain came from the kicking infant. No one had to tell her what a fool she was, and how much of a burden to Eruvenn she had been, though whenever she tried to tell him he merely held her and said her tears were merely some fancy of her pregnancy.
A hand covered hers. Orniel looked at the lady's labor-roughened skin and broken nails. "Does the child move inside you?" asked Idril. "Will you let me feel it kick?"
Nodding, she shifted position so Idril could easily place a hand on her belly. The child acknowledged the lady's touch with a kick strong enough to make Orniel wince.
"It is a strong life that defies such death and ruin," said Idril. Then, looking up, she lifted her hand to touch her fingertips to Orniel's cheek. "I will speak plainly to you now, Orniel. I know that you have the jewel upon you. My husband and yours know this also, but it is not our way to lay violent hands on you. We do not seek to take that which you do not willingly part with, but you have another life to consider besides your own."
"If you had accepted the aid of the sons of Fëanor, we would not have had to part with our treasures," Orniel retorted. "We have so little, why must we now give it up?" Even as she said it, she heard the venom in her voice and put her face in her hands, wishing she had not spoken at all.
Idril shook her head. "I know what bearing a child does to a woman's reason, so I will not chastise you for your rash words save to say that no jewel is worth another's life, and we will not aid those who take that path."
Ashamed and weary, Orniel felt her resistance begin to crumble. "Lady, I-I am selfish. I know I am selfish, and foolish and a burden. I do not mean to be." She fumbled with her skirts, her fingers straining to undo a thick knot at the hem. "Please, I-I cannot undo this, and I have no knife."
Idril drew a dagger from her belt and carefully cut the fabric, then helped Orniel unravel it until a shining object spilled between their hands. It was a ruby set among freshwater pearls, strung on a golden chain. Orniel scooped it up from the grass and pressed it into Idril's hand, all but shoving it at her in her anguish. "Take it!" she cried. "Do not let me look at it again."
"This is a mighty gift." Idril cupped the gem in her palm, turning it this way and that to catch what little light was left in the clearing. Then, marking Orniel's tears, she tucked it away into a pouch at her side. "You should not weep," she said softly. "When your child is old enough to understand, he or she will honor you all the more for making this sacrifice."
Orniel felt an arm go around her, pulling her into an awkward embrace. She buried her face in the lady's cloak and sobbed against the rough wool. She understood what Idril said and knew it was right, but knowing this did not lessen the pain. "I-I do not know what he will think of his foolish mother."
"He will think you are brave to do this for him." Idril held her a moment longer, then carefully pulled away. "Orniel, I must go now and give this to Tuor. But there are two other mothers in the camp and I will send them to you. You must not weep anymore for the loss of this thing. You brought two treasures with you out of Gondolin, and parted with the one of lesser worth."
meldir: love, sweetheart
Suilad, Huorion. Man siniath? (Sindarin) Greetings, son of Huor. What news?