Title: The Tinker's Tale
Written for: Celeritas
What I would like to see for my exchange is a story that challenges the reader's expectations. If it can deal with history and its transmission/preservation, the relationship between the past and the present in a person's life, so much the better! Any race, any setting is okay; please no slash or anti-canonical pairings
Rating: PG for recollections of battle
Setting: 2nd Age, Lindon
Characters: That would spoil it. I won't call it AU because it really could have happened this way but if you wish to say it is, then peace.
Summary: A tinker brings an ancient flute to an elf of Lindon and a tale unfolds.
"Ah…you are here just as you always are. I have something to show you."
Brushing a black braid back, the elf looked up in annoyance at the interruption but a slight smile came to his scarred face as he saw who stood there, a tarnished object in his hands. Taking the object, the elf was quiet a moment. "Yes…that is a very fine example of Noldor workmanship. Where did you say you got it?"
"I noticed." One black eyebrow rose. "And yet Gil-galad trusts you."
"Of course." The tinker sat without waiting to be asked. This particular elf could be gruff but if coaxed properly was a wealth of knowledge. "You recognize it?"
A snort and the dark-haired elf turned the object over in his hands. "This item has some history to it."
"I'm not offering it for this mausoleum of memory you elves keep."
"What? No…it is yours. I shan't take it from you, no worries about that. It is valuable, at least for anyone interested in a bit of ancient metal."
Ignoring the words, elves were often morose, the tinker rubbed his chin. "History, you said. Something useful?"
A smile then, for this human had been born decades after the Valar had chained Morgoth up and cast him into the Void. Humans always loved a good tale though, and the tinker had shared many a wonderful tale in his times in Lindon. His travels had taken him places most humans never saw and he had a nice way of turning tales. "I'm afraid even with a great deal of care this would be of little use other than a curiosity of an older age." He turned it around in his hands, examining it. Once shining silver, the flute was dulled and dented. The keys were bent but the fine craftsmanship that had allowed it to survive so much destruction was evident. "I could tell you its history if you'd like?"
He liked stories and elves told the best, though some tended to be long-winded. Put a man right to sleep, they did. "Can you keep it under a day?"
Ignoring the man, the elf let his gaze go distant, unfocussed. "I suppose we must begin this story with an explanation. Oh, wait. Perhaps it's best just to pop right in and begin where all things must; at the beginning. In the beginning Ilúvatar made the firmament and the… "
Blinking back to the present, the elf offered a questioning look. "What? Oh, yes, of course you know all of that, but it is the beginning, isn't it?"
The tinker crossed his arms and sighed. Elves. "Master Eres-"
"Fine. I suppose you do have a limited life span. Hmm… Speed it up a bit, shall we? Oaths made, kin-slayings, rebellion of the Noldor, the moon rose, the sun rose. Loads of fighting and such, wars, battles, death all over. Kingdoms rose and kingdoms fell as did their kings. Men awakened and became great in their own right." He ignored the impatient huff of the man. "Now. Here is where the tale begins. No, right there. See, the little dot on this map? Yes, yes…I know what you think to be true, but I am telling you what happened. I was there. Here, have some tea and sit back. I shall tell you how this really came about."
"Our king is quite mad."
Looking up from his reading, Glorfindel smiled and set a marker on the page before putting it aside. "Good morn, Ecthelion. I am fine, how are you?"
"Save the sarcasm, I tell you…"
"Yes, don't tell me so loudly, or the guard will be here to take you before the king to find out just why you're declaring him mad."
"Fine." Sitting with a graceless thump, Ecthelion tossed a roll of parchment at his friend. "Read that. Read what he wants me to do!"
"He's not asking you to dredge all the fountains again looking for—"
"No, no…just read it!"
Wrinkling his nose for his friend's testiness, Glorfindel unrolled the parchment and scanned the contents. He snickered before looking up. "Flutes?"
"I had to talk him out of woodwinds. I told him the reeds were too fragile, but flutes. FLUTES! Who goes into battle playing flutes?"
Sitting back, Glorfindel grinned. "The House of the Fountain, apparently." Holding back a snicker, he handed the parchment back. "What did you suggest?"
"Drums." Rubbing the spot between his eyebrows that had begun aching as soon as he received the summons from Turgon, Ecthelion sighed. "I was told drums are far too noisy and no one could hear over them, regardless that I told him we could use certain prescribed beats as signals for commands and they would carry over the noise of battle…" Flicking the parchment with a disgusted look, he shook his head. "Fine. Flutes it shall be. Perhaps the enemy will laugh themselves senseless and we can kill them while they lay there, hiccupping." He stood and leaned in to see what Glorfindel was reading. "A book of Flowers?"
Ignoring the disbelieving tone of his friend, Glorfindel puffed a stray lock of hair out of his face and grabbed the book off the table. "You are not the only one given a ridiculous challenge, you know."
"Glorfindel…" Trying not to laugh outright at the stubborn look on his friend's face, Ecthelion offered a merry grin. "I thought you said the Golden Flower of your house was the sun."
"It is." A frown, followed quickly by a grimace and Glorfindel huffed. "Turgon said he wanted our tunics and armor to be decorated with celandine, in honour of his beloved wife and my cousin." Scowling as Ecthelion leaned against the wall and sniggered, Glorfindel crossed his arms. "Yes, yes, laugh all you want but I have decided to make the best of it." He poked his friend's shoulder. "As should you."
"I'm off to the smithy to request flutes." Wiping his eyes, the darker of the two grinned. "What a pair we shall make, eh? They shall think us all daft, mark my words…"
"We are daft, Thel. Look at where we live. How we live." Glorfindel sighed. "But give Turgon the little things and perhaps he won't have you cleaning sewers again."
"All of that over a little disagreement during a game of chess." While he followed their lord and had since crossing the ice, Ecthelion had grown weary of seeing Turgon sink deeper and deeper into mandating the small details of his people's everyday lives. Gondolin was no longer a fair city. She was a cage, gilded or not. "You are wise." Ruffling the golden hair and grinning, Ecthelion nodded. "Battle flutes. Perhaps it will become the rage amongst the Noldor." He turned at the door. "I'm off then. I shall compose the most fierce of songs…or perhaps a lullaby to lull our enemies to sleep?"
He was gone before Glorfindel could reply, and really…what could one possibly say to the prospect of battle flutes?
It was hopeless. For all the planning, all the warnings of Ulmo, no one had expected the attack at such a weak time. A celebration. A happy day.
Fools. All fools.
But they were his people, his friends, his family. Held in wait until he was all but mad with worry, Ecthelion was finally allowed to lead his men forth, and they cut a great swathe in the enemy forces. Battle flutes had played, songs of courage that put strength in their fighter's arms, hope in their hearts. Dire songs that wounded the enemy's ears, made them yowl in pain, whine and cover their ears.
Oh yes, he had crafted those songs as carefully as any plan Idril had.
But it was for naught.
All came to an end at the King's Square. Wounded, arm shattered, Ecthelion had leaned against the great fountain he had helped construct and watched in growing anger and despair as dragons and balrogs raged against the elves.
Then Tuor fell.
He didn't remember getting up. Didn't remember moving, but suddenly he was standing between Tuor and Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs. Slayer of Fingon, lord of fire and flame, the blackness of the Void was in Gothmog's eyes as he roared a challenge and sent his whip of fire forward to burn and break. Ecthelion knew strength alone would never defeat this foe.
He smiled as the world around him slowed, able to see his path clearly. Arms useless, he threw himself forward and used the spike on his helm to pierce Gothmog's chest. Screaming in fury and pain as heat surrounded him, Ecthelion wrapped his legs around Gothmog and threw his weight backwards.
Gothmog stumbled, off-balance, and then…
..they were falling.
Cool water closed over them as the fountain embraced its lord, welcoming him to the depths.
He sank, watching the black husk of the balrog float past, sinking down, down, down.
It was a deep fountain.
Ecthelion looked upwards, to the battle, to the friends.
And let go.
"But what about the flute?"
"It's here, isn't it?"
Dour look and the tinker sat forward, setting his cup on the desk with a thump before scowling at the elf. "This is one of those word games you lot are so fond of, isn't it?"
"Peace, friend!" Laughing, the elf sat back and gestured to the tea pot. "Have some more. The tale is but half-finished."
Settling back with a suspicious look, the tinker regarded the elf suspiciously. "You were there."
"So what happened?"
Setting the flute on the desk, the elf was quiet a moment. "There were thousands of flutes such as this one. Thousands of elves of the House of the Fountain went into the battle, but very few survived." Looking out the window, he sighed. "You know of how Idril had a secret tunnel built, and shepherded as many as she could through the tunnel to the mountains?"
"Battle flutes and secret tunnels. Was it the air in the mountains that made those elves so daft?"
A wry smile curled the elf's mouth. "Perhaps. I can only surmise that someone, one of those who made it through the mountains down to the Mouths of Sirion, found this on the ground and picked it up, to carry with them."
Pursing his lips, the tinker nodded. "There are those who survived all that followed living here, eh?"
"Well then." The tinker rose and offered a polite bow. "It's of little use to me if it don't work and if you say it can't be fixed up, I reckon you know." The tinker had been there many times and this elf, one of the king's advisors, seemed to be a very knowledgeable fellow. "Think of it as…" He looked out at the hills and harbor, white with a fine dusting of rare snow. "…a Yule gift."
Surprised by the man's generosity, the elf rose and bowed as well. "My thanks, Tinker." He gestured to the grand hall where laughter and merriment could be heard. "Why don't you go join in the Yule festivities? No need to rush out into the night."
"Thank you, milord." A grin, showing gaps in his teeth, and the tinker rubbed his hands together. "I think I shall!" He knew better than to try and talk the elf into leaving his work to join in the celebration. In the decades the tinker had known the elf, he'd been friendly but never joined in the revelries the Court of Gil-galad offered.
Mind on things hot, spicy and mulled, the tinker almost ran into the cloaked figure that was walking down the corridor. "Excuse me, sir!" Bowing, the man blinked at bit as he took in the elf before him. Tall, taller than many of the elves of Lindon, there was a glow about this one that was a bit brighter. His hair shone golden in the light of the lanterns and goodwill seemed to radiate from him. The Tinker smiled in response to the kindly look of the elf.
"Perhaps you could tell me the way to Lord Erestor's office? I seem to have gotten turned around…"
"Ah, that I can, milord!" The tinker pointed. "Just down that way, first door to the left. Only one got a light. Milord Erestor never seems to know when to quit."
"Thank you." The golden elf bowed slightly, smiling. "Merry Yule, good sir."
"To you as well, milord!"
Watching the man hurry off, the newcomer smiled and began walking as directed. Just as promised, there was a light still on in the office, and a dark-haired elf stood at the window, staring out at the brightly decorated court, and its white beauty.
"Excuse me, I am looking for Lord Erestor."
"Then you have found him." The dark-haired elf turned. "And who…" He broke off, staring at the newcomer with wide eyes. "Glorfindel."
"Aye." It was hard to see the other elf in the soft light of the lanterns. "I'm sorry, perhaps my memory is still not what it should be… Do I know you?"
A snort was his answer and the elf limped forward, letting the light fall upon his face. "Do you know me. Listen to you, you peacock!"
It was Glorfindel's turn to stare in shock and dismay. "But…you…"
"Yes, yes. I know." A wry smile, and he held his hands up to the light. Both were badly scarred, red, twisting lines that looked as if fire had touched the flesh and left it permanently changed. The scars twisted up his wrists to disappear into the sleeves of the robe. "I shan't be playing any battle flutes for you any time, dear friend."
"Thel." Glorfindel dropped his bag and strode forward to grab his old friend into a hug. "Ecthelion! Sweet stars…Thel…"
"Not so hard, my friend. This body is not what it once was." Squeezing his friend's hand, Ecthelion sat and waved Glorfindel to sit as well. "Look at you though." Awe tinged his voice. "Círdan told me you would come. Oh, not so much in those words, but he eluded enough. Well, I hoped the old barnacle was right."
"Thel…I saw you die. You drowned. I…we …"
"Yes, and there are those who lived through both Gondolin and the kin-slaying at Arvernien who will swear they saw YOU die." Eyes sad, Ecthelion shook his head. "Your body was carried up by the Great Eagles and the survivors made a cairn for you, you know." Tears appeared in his eyes. "So many died."
"But how did you survive? And why the name?"
"Ah…Glor." Sighing, Ecthelion rubbed his chest. "I don't remember what happened. I suppose Lord Ulmo took pity on me? The waters are his, after all."
"You never went to Mandos' Halls?"
"No." Eyes distant, Ecthelion cast his memory back. "I remember sinking and looking up, longing to be able to help all of you. Then…" He shrugged. "I was grabbed and pulled down. I thought it had to be Gothmog.." A grimace, shared by Glorfindel. "But it was water." A helpless look, he truly didn't remember. "There was a rush and darkness and then I woke up on the shores of the sea."
"Yes?" How many times had he gone and sat, staring out at the sea, hoping for a glimpse of the Vala, and just a moment to get an answer. "I've spoken to Círdan a great deal about it, for he found me." Wry smile for that; the shipwright had told him he'd found a great many things on the beach over his long life, but never a mostly dead elf. "I was half-drowned, badly burned, both arms broken. He got me to a healer and …" Ecthelion met the blue eyes watching him intently. "To be honest, Glorfindel, I didn't want the attention. I am a freak. I should have died and didn't and the scars of that fight…" Pulling aside his robe, he showed his friend the scars on his chest and shoulder from the balrog's whip and flames. "It has stayed with me." He shrugged. "My face healed mostly but there are scars. The battle changed me. Enough so that no one recognized me."
Glorfindel reached out and touched the scarred face, once so beautiful that Ecthelion had been called the fairest of those in Gondolin. "You are still beautiful to me."
"Ah, my dear friend." Ecthelion took the hand and squeezed it. "All that was left to me was my voice, and for a time I thought I'd lost that too, from screaming in pain." His eyes brightened. "But you, to see you here, now…that is a balm to my soul."
It hurt to see his friend scarred and changed, but Glorfindel smiled. "You are not so different, you know. Oh, on the surface, yes, you are touched with the marks that your bravery and honour brought. Scars they say, honor I name it. You saved Tuor, Ecthelion. He lived a long, happy life."
"And you saved Eärendil."
A smile, tinged with sadness graced the reborn elf's face. "He asked for you during the journey into the mountains. I fear he mourned you."
"It was best that they thought me dead." Ecthelion rubbed a hand over his hand and the twisted skin. "A memory is better than the truth, I fear."
Glorfindel did not agree. Pride was a hard thing to let go, however. Most elves would have died, yet his friend lived. Ecthelion's name had become a battle cry that set fear in the Orcs, and it was possible his being alive would give elves hope..but it was not Glorfindel's choice to make. "Erestor, eh?"
As if reading his friend's mine, Ecthelion sighed quietly. "Many survived horrors they would rather leave behind. We honour that here, in Gil-galad's court." That mischievous smile of old lit the elf's eyes as he looked up. "You'll fit right in."
"Ah, my very old friend…" Glorfindel sat back and slouched a bit in his chair, already feeling a bit more at home in this strange new land. He nudged Ecthelion's foot with a boot. "What does 'Erestor' do?"
"I am a royal advisor, a curmudgeon and help Elrond with chronicling events as he wishes to be a lore master some day."
How odd that his friend, once a warrior and bard was now a scribe. Life went on, and like a river its path was ever changing. "Elrond?"
Ecthelion smiled and reached for a decanter of very good wine and two glasses. "Here. Relax and let me catch you up on what you've missed, but first." He handed the glass to Glorfindel and reached to gently tap his glass against it. "To the best friend I've ever had. A very merry Yule, and wishes for a wonderful second life."
"Aye," Glorfindel agreed. "The best is yet to come!"