Actions

Work Header

The Hawthorn Sword

Chapter Text

 The messenger talked for most of the way down, but at last lapsed into injured silence. “I see you are not one for conversation,” he said, and muttered that he might as well have made the journey alone. Túrin would just as soon have let him, and taken his chances with a broken wrist at the border. They hurried on toward Nargothrond in a plume of frozen breath, both eager to be freed from the other’s company.

 The sky grew light and the snowy path grew broad and treacherous, tramped down to ice by the perpetual traffic of feet. They began to meet people coming and going: hunters and shepherds come down from the hills, and a sledge with supplies bound for the watchtowers, forcing them to scramble against the rock to make a lane.

 They rounded a bend and the sheer rugged cliff revealed its secrets. High overhead the rock was honeycombed with balconies, windows, and terraces, all angled carefully to be invisible except at head on. Now the great gates loomed into view, ruddy in the face of the sunrise, and for the second time the guards lowered their spears and granted Túrin leave to enter.

  

The messenger vanished, leaving Túrin to find his own way. In his weariness, the winding steps to the city’s upper levels seemed endless, but at last he recognized Guilin’s door. By some mysterious means the household had been alerted to his arrival, and Túrin entered the rooms that were kept for him to find the bed made up and his sometime valet, Lalvon, stoking the fire. Túrin was so tired that when Lalvon pointedly offered to wash his hair for him, he let himself be led down the hall to the bath.

 He sat with his eyes closed and his aching right arm propped on the rim of the tub and let himself drift until he felt Lalvon’s fingers on his scalp go still. “Good morning, sir,” he heard Lalvon say. When Túrin opened his eyes, Gwindor was standing in the doorway. “No one tells me anything,” Gwindor said. “What are you doing here? What’s amiss?”

 “Nothing,” said Túrin. A trickle of soapy water ran down into his eye, and he reached up to rub it away.

 “What happened to your arm?” asked Gwindor. “Was there a skirmish? How many were hurt?”

 “Yes,” Túrin said. “We routed them. No casualties.”

 “Except you.”

 Túrin looked down at the splint on his wrist. “This? No, I slipped on the ice on the way back to camp.”

 “What, really?” Gwindor said, and began to laugh.

 In the wake of the victory he had been buoyant and careless, and missed his footing. The irony had not been lost on his comrades, who had ribbed him mercilessly in the same breath that they praised his valor. It had stung, though there was no malice in it--but not as much as being sent away from the fight.

 Gwindor composed himself. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t laugh. It does look painful. Stay there, I’ll be back.”

He disappeared back through the doorway. Lalvon gave Túrin’s hair a final rinse and helped him out of the tub. Túrin was standing dripping onto the floor, his head enveloped in a towel, when Gwindor returned and thrust a cup under his nose. “Here,” he said. “You look like you need it.”

 It was not spirits, as Túrin expected, but something bitter and medicinal masked with honey. But he was too tired to be curious.

 “I’m very glad to see you in one piece, more or less,” said Gwindor, as Túrin shrugged on a robe. “But you ought to have your injury examined properly. Will you wait while I send for my physician?”

 “Yes,” said Túrin. He walked past Gwindor back to the bedroom, hung the towel on the bedpost, slipped between the covers, and fell instantly asleep.

 


 

Time moved strangely underground. Túrin slept deeply and woke disoriented, convinced for a few heartbeats that he was back in Menegroth until the throbbing in his hand recalled him to the present. Lalvon and the servants had vanished, along with the clothes he had arrived in, and there was a clean set folded on the chair by his bed. Túrin dressed, doing up the laces and buttons as best he could with the swollen fingers of his splinted hand, and went to seek out Gwindor.

 The hallway was dark enough that Túrin found himself navigating by memory, feeling his way along the wall toward the light spilling out of what he hoped was Gwindor’s door. Just as he reached the threshold, he stumbled on something soft and heavy, which leapt up yelping and fled in a skitter of claws on stone. He called out an apology and looked up to meet two startled faces in a circle of firelight: the princess wreathed in golden curls, and Gwindor in a yellow housecoat frozen in the act of spearing a piece of mutton. “Come in,” he said, gesturing with his knife. “Never mind the dog; if she will lie in the threshold, it’s her own fault if she is mistaken for a doormat.”

 The dog, now curled at the princess’ feet under the table, eyed him warily as he came in and sat down. “Your dog?” he asked Gwindor.

 “No, she’s one of Father’s,” he said, “but someone keeps slipping her scraps, so here she is. Are you hungry? You slept all day.”

 Túrin had not felt hungry, but once he began eating the piece of mutton that Gwindor pushed in front of him he realized that he was famished. The princess asked how he had come to injure his wrist, and Túrin repeated the story for her benefit. She laughed. “Poor Agarwaen! It must be trying having to explain that over and over. Does it hurt very much?”

 “It is nothing,” said Túrin. He ate another piece of mutton and turned back to Gwindor. “You look different,” he said, as it struck him. “That is, you look well, and I am glad for it.”

 “If that was flattery, it’s the worst attempt I ever heard, so I must conclude that you mean it,” said Gwindor, making the princess laugh again. “But I forgot you left before I got my teeth.”

 Túrin looked closer, and saw a neat row of ivory and silver. He felt foolish for not having noticed. “How do you keep them in your mouth?” he asked.

 “They are attached to the natural teeth,” said Gwindor. “But imperfectly. I worry that they will fall out into my soup one of these days. Their maker is a silversmith, one of Celebrimbor’s people. He tells me he has plans to improve on them, but they do well enough for now.”

 When the princess had bid them a good night and departed, Gwindor, who had been tilting his chair further and further on its back legs, brought it back to the floor with a crack. “This skirmish of yours,” he said, “what do you make of it?”

 “Foragers,” said Túrin, “or so they seemed. They came off the old trade road and we tracked them to the eaves of Núath. They were ill-led and poorly-armed. But they were not the first such band we have ambushed in that region, and I suspect that Nargothrond’s strength is being tested.”

 “I agree,” said Gwindor. “I haven’t been entirely idle since you left; I have been learning a great deal about the enemy’s movements in recent years.”

 “And what have you learned?”

 “That for a while there was a resistance in the land south of Teiglin, and his movements there were so much constrained that Nargothrond was left unmolested; naturally, now that he is free to do so, he redoubles his efforts. He does not like to be thwarted.”

 “That is true,” said Túrin.

 “Dor-Cúarthol’s fall was a hard lesson,” said Gwindor.

 “What do you know of that?,” said Túrin. His chest felt tight.

 “No more than the little Beleg told me,” said Gwindor. “But I have two eyes and two ears still. As do others in this city. What I mean is--.”

 “Who have you told?” Túrin demanded. “How many know?”

 Gwindor’s jaw tightened. “Lower your voice,” he said, “And save you wrath for those who deserve it. I keep my word to my friends: I have said nothing to anyone. It’s written plain on your face and your tongue for those who can read it. You are not so inscrutable as you seem to think.”

 

Slamming the door behind him was a moment’s satisfaction, but as Túrin stood alone in the hall the remorse hit and washed over him, leaving him feeling hot and sick. What had he been thinking, to accuse Gwindor, of all people, of betrayal and tale-bearing? But Gwindor’s words nagged at him.

 From Amon Rûdh to a brake of hawthorn trees on the slopes of Dorthonion; from the thornbrake down the long back of the Ered Wethrin to Ivrin. There, on the cold sand, with the water lapping at their feet, Gwindor had laid out a thin ribbon of narrative for him to pin his memories to, as they surfaced. There were not many. But he remembered Gwindor plodding ahead, with his back turned and the black sword hanging down between his shoulders, watching him. Or seeming to--it was only that the pommel had been made in the shape of a face, but once the impression had entered his mind it became fixed there, unshakable. It knew what he was. And Gwindor knew, and nonetheless had led him away through the pitiless winter to his home.

 


 

Late the next morning, as Lalvon finished helping him shave off three seasons’ worth of beard, Túrin caught movement behind him in the mirror. He turned to look and found Gwindor, wrapped in a fur-trimmed cloak and hood. “I am going to walk along the terraces,” he said. “Will you come with me?”

 Outside, the cold air stung Túrin’s newly bare face, obliging him to pull his hood up. Snow had fallen overnight and the wind had blown it through the latticework that camouflaged the walkways. Their footprints overlaid those already crisscrossing the blanket of snow, but as Gwindor led him onward the prints grew sparser, and at last there were only their own.

 They came to an alcove with a bench where the snow lay thicker on the ground and crunched beneath their boots. The latticework parted here to form a balcony that offered a view of the river below, icy but unfettered. Gwindor used his cloak to brush away the snow on the railing and leaned on it, beckoning for Túrin to do the same.

 “We parted badly yesterday,” said Gwindor. “I am sorry for my part in it. I said what I did because I was thinking of myself. I mean to say: the remorse grows no less heavy, but I hope at least to turn it to some useful purpose. I believe we are alike in this. You lend your arms to Nargothrond’s defense, and I--well, I can give advice if anyone will listen to it.”

 “You are growing stronger; you will wield a sword again yourself in time,” said Túrin. “Do not give up hope of that!”

 Gwindor made an unreadable face--a smile, or a grimace? “In time, yes. Of course.”

 His eyes were fixed somewhere in the trees across the river. “As I was saying: if anyone will listen. It should not surprise you to know that there is some bitter feeling between myself and King Orodreth. What I did amounted to treason, had he chosen to consider it as such. He did not. But he hasn’t forgotten it, either.

 “But you sit on his council,” said Túrin, troubled by this revelation.

 “I do,” said Gwindor. “If not for my own sake, then for my parents’. And I am betrothed to wed his daughter. I am not easy to get rid of.”

 He laughed harshly. “I think he hopes I will resign quietly, for my health. I have been tempted to, at times. But what else can I do?”

  He was silent for awhile, then abruptly he seemed to shake off the cares that had seized him. He turned to look at Túrin. “I see you still haven’t taken my advice. When are you going to let someone look at that wrist?”

 

 “A lucky break,” the healer pronounced. She wiped the excess salve off her hands and began redoing the splint.

 “What is that supposed to mean?” asked Gwindor, who had been hovering nearby, picking at loose threads on his housecoat. “Lucky for whom? The orcs?”

 “For us all, in that it could have been much worse,” she said. “The fracture is clean and the skin is not broken. It should heal quite well.”

 But when Túrin asked when he could expect to be fit for duty, she pursed her lips and admitted that she had not made a study of mortal physiology. She would consult with her colleague who had been trained at Barad Eithel. Túrin had broken bones before; this was neither the gravest nor the most painful injury he had received. It would heal eventually, and in the meantime it must be borne.

 

 His sudden surfeit of leisure left Túrin unmoored and drifting toward Gwindor, who latched onto his company with the eagerness of a drowning swimmer. In the wilderness Gwindor had seemed indefatigable, his weariness and infirmity thin garments to be cast off with the rest of his rags. But here in the city he seemed diminished somehow: he was much better now than he had been at their parting last spring, but as the days wore on in his company it became clear that he was not so well as he had seemed at first. The path to the balcony and back was one he travelled regularly, often in Túrin’s company, but when Túrin grew bored of this and suggested that they go down to explore the city--the logic of the winding halls and staircases still eluded him and he would have welcomed Gwindor’s guidance--but Gwindor always demurred. “Maybe tomorrow,” he would say, and eventually Túrin gave up asking. And he was constrained in other ways; guarded in a way that Túrin had not observed before. He was no less forthright in his speech, at least to Túrin, and no less confident in his convictions, but what he said often left Túrin with the lingering feeling of missing some crucial fact.

  The two of them took to playing dice to pass the time, but Túrin lost so badly that Gwindor insisted that in fairness they must switch to another game. Talchim procured a dart board, which was a great improvement: they were equally matched in skill, and over the weeks while Túrin’s wrist mended the same forfeit of silver passed back and forth between them. Anyone who passed by Gwindor’s rooms was bidden to try their hand: Talchim and Lalvon had their own contests, and when Finduilas came to visit she was induced to join in as well, though she swore she could not hit a target to save her life.

 “We had better teach you, then,” said Gwindor, and came to stand close beside her to guide her hand.

  

When he was with Gwindor and Finduilas, it was easy enough to shake off the weight of memory, but he could not spend all his time with them. Inevitably the moment came when Finduilas had returned to her obligations and Gwindor had excused himself to lie down for an hour or two, and Túrin was left alone with his thoughts. Sitting still was intolerable, so he took to haunting the practice rooms. He could not use a bow, so he took up the project of refining the skill of his left arm. At first he kept to himself, hacking away at a bag of sawdust, and watching the guards at their drills, but before long they grew used to him and called for him to join when they were short a partner for sparring.

 Without meaning to, Túrin found that he had settled into a routine. One evening, having worn himself out at practice, he cleaned up and came to sit by Gwindor’s fire as he was accustomed to. Gwindor was not there; the room looked strangely unbalanced without him in his chair in the corner. Likely he had not gone far and would return soon, so Túrin sat down to warm himself and wait.

 Before long there was a tumult of voices in the hallway and then they all burst in on him: Gwindor, but also Guilin, Talchim, Lalvon, and a stranger as well. Guilin’s dogs trailed behind them, delighting in the commotion. “There you are!” said Gwindor when he saw Túrin. “We’re hosting the king in a week, so if you lack something suitable to wear you had better say so now, while the tailor is here.”

 Túrin seemed to recall that a suit of fine clothes had been made for him around the time of his first arrival in the city, but as he could not swear with perfect certainty that they were fit to wear, he was obliged to try them on. The black wool tunic that Lalvon produced from a chest smelled faintly of must and strongly of camphor, but Túrin thought it would do well enough after being aired. But Gwindor and his father and the tailor all shook their heads and began to talk over one another: See how the fabric pulled at the arms and spoiled the lines of the shoulder? It ought to be let out. And while it was being altered, why not add some embellishments in silver thread, to match the clasps on the surcoat?

  

 On the appointed evening, Túrin went to his room to clean up and submit himself to Lalvon’s ministrations, then went to see how Gwindor was getting on. Gwindor had on a new tunic with a high neck and a line of impractically small buttons down the front, which Talchim was occupied in fastening. Túrin stopped short in front of Gwindor and spread his arms. “Am I fit to go before the king?”

 Gwindor looked him up and down. “You’ll do,” he pronounced.

 Talchim finished with the buttons and went to fetch the jewel-box. “You should know,” Gwindor said, when he had gone, “your deeds on the border have reached the king’s ear, and he has taken an interest in you. I suspect that’s what tonight is, at least in part: a chance for him to take your measure without seeming to do so.”

 Gwindor paused to order his thoughts and glanced at the doorway, but Talchim did not reappear. “What I said to you before, about the king...I spoke in confidence, from one friend to another. It was not my intent to lead your loyalties one way or another, or to make you feel that you must yoke yourself to my fortunes. I only thought you ought to know where things stand.”

 “I took your words in the spirit they were spoken,” said Túrin. “If I am yoked to you it is by my choice, because we share in the same burden. And it is easier to bear for that, my friend.”

 

  The gathering was small and informal, at least on its face: there were half a dozen guests besides the king, and they sat in the family’s private dining room. Away from the awful pomp of the throne room or the high table, the king could be observed as a person. He was of middling height, slightly built, and looked very much like Finduilas, who hovered at his side with jewels in her hair. Guilin made some inaudible jest and their faces both lit up in laughter like a pair of golden lamps.

 The king took his seat at the head of the table, and one by one the guests greeted him formally: Gwindor’s father and mother, in their element as the solicitous hosts; then half a dozen lords and ladies, scarcely distinguishable from one another except by their jewels; then Gwindor and Túrin. For a moment the king held Túrin fixed in his gaze, wearing a look of casual curiosity that on Finduilas’ face would have been a prelude to friendly questioning. But after a moment the king turned away and said, “Gwindor. I am glad you could join us this evening.”

 “As am I, your majesty,” said Gwindor. He bowed and took his seat, and Túrin did likewise. They were opposite one another at the far end of the table. Finduilas sat at her father’s side, looking distant and regal, but when she glanced in their direction, her face broke into a smile.

 With Gwindor’s words in his mind, Túrin did his best to follow the conversation. It moved quickly from pleasantries to affairs of state: their trade-routes in the north were all utterly cut off, but the hills south of the city were full of hidden ferries and portage-roads connecting fields and orchards and pastures. The table became occupied with some administrative problem of long standing concerning grain shipments along a particular route, and as the discussion wore on his attention wandered.

  The main course was perch, plucked from the frozen river and bathed in a peppery sauce. Across the table Gwindor grimly dissected his serving with a knife, evidently not trusting to the fastness of his teeth. Túrin’s mind drifted northward, beyond the bounds of Nargothrond to the camp they had made at Ivrin. Much of Túrin’s memory was a dim pool that, if stirred, would sometimes yield up flotsam. But Ivrin he remembered with peculiar clarity, like ice: the two of them sucking on fishbones, huddled on the sand like turtles, waiting for the sun to warm their blood. It had felt like the first morning of the world. Then Gwindor had broken the silence, saying, “There is something I must give you,” and getting slowly to his feet.

 

“Agarwaen,” said the king, bringing him back to the present with a jolt, “you are so frequently mentioned in reports from the border that one would think there are twenty of you.”

 “There are not,” said Túrin, and everyone chuckled.

 “Just so,” said the king. “In any case, your singular presence has been a boon to us, and I thank you for it.”

 “You do me great honor,” said Túrin, now on surer ground.

 The king continued: “This most recent skirmish--we have had the reports but it is never the same as hearing it directly from one who was there.”

 Túrin did not have the elves’ gift for tale-telling, but he did his best to describe the skirmish. When he was finished the king interrogated him on the terrain, conditions, and positions of the combatants. His manner was stern, but the questions were intelligent and Túrin found himself warming to him.

 Gwindor broke in. “If I may interject, your majesty, the character of this skirmish supports what I have been saying all along. Our strength is being tested.”

 “I agree,” said Túrin. “They did not wander to our borders by chance.”

 The king considered this. “Yes. We have had a few years’ respite, but it was too much to hope that we might be left alone. He is turning his thoughts to us again.”

 “We must look to our defenses, while we have the time,” said Gwindor.

 “By that, what are you proposing?” asked the king.

 “We need more soldiers in the north,” said Túrin. “As it is we are spread too thin over too much ground.”

 “Yes,” said Gwindor, “but that isn’t what I meant. Anyone who goes to the border must be trained for it--it isn’t at all like the pitched combat they rehearse down in the practice rooms. And sending a pack of stonemasons and shepherds who can barely hold a bow and have no notion of secrecy would be worse than sending no one at all. We must not allow ourselves to grow complacent in our safety,” he said, sitting straight in his chair and growing more animated with every word. “Nor should we expect Morgoth to content himself with his spoils and forget us. Victory emboldens him.”

 Gwindor punctuated these last words by striking his hand against the table; in the lull that had formed around his speech, the noise rang out like cracking ice.

  “Eloquently put,” said one of the counselors, who had been introduced to Túrin as Eithron. “We must defer to your intimate understanding of the enemy’s motivations. But to return to the topic at hand: consider, your majesty, that any change to the distribution of troops must, of necessity, require a commensurate change to the supply chain. And we have not yet resolved the problem of the grain.”

 “That seems to me less pressing than the numbers at the border,” said Túrin. A ranger must be hardy and skilled in woodcraft, and not wait for their bread to be brought to them. As to training: by all means, let them be trained. Where is the difficulty in that?”

 The difficulty occupied the table for some time, with Túrin contributing as he saw fit. He thought that Gwindor might have had more opinions on the subject, but if he did he did not share them. Once he had said his piece he retreated from the conversation. Eventually the king turned to Túrin and said, “For a humble woodsman, you are very free with your opinions. I wonder what you were before evil befell you.”

 “In evil times,” Túrin answered, “A man’s name and history are his own, to share or not as he chooses.”

 “Surely within these walls you are safe enough from whoever pursues you,” said the king. “But never mind. We won’t needle you further, Agarwaen.” The king turned his attention back to his conversation.

 Túrin stared into the opaque depths of his wineglass. He felt exposed and angry. But he had already lashed out unjustly once, and would not repeat the error. He wished he could leave. Something nudged his leg under the table. He thought at first it was one of the dogs, but they had been shut in the kennel for the night. When he looked up Gwindor’s face betrayed nothing, but he winked at Túrin and reached across to refill Túrin’s wineglass before topping off his own.

 


 

Gwindor stepped over the threshold and instantly his hand was at his throat, undoing the buttons on his tunic. “That’s over with at last,” he said. “Until the next time!”

 He lit a candle off the fire’s embers and wandered around lighting wall sconces. Túrin sat down and closed his eyes. He had drunk more than he was accustomed to, and felt faintly queasy. He could hear Gwindor muttering: “‘We must defer to your intimate understanding’..he can defer to my intimate parts if he keeps talking over my head!”

 Túrin had not noticed the slight at the time, but now the veiled insult was clear and he was outraged on Gwindor’s behalf. “This Eithron is a fool,” he said. “The king ought to keep his counselors in better check.”

 “He would agree, I’m sure,” said Gwindor, from across the room. “But it’s a delicate situation. His authority isn’t as secure as he would like, I think, and there are...currents. Factions to be courted, factions to be placated, factions to be sub--sup--sat on. Like me.”

 He finished lighting the sconces and threw himself into the chair next to Túrin. “Still,” Túrin continued, “If he looks to hold what authority he has, he ought to rebuke his counselors when they are discourteous, and not let them ride roughshod over the guests at his table.”

 He watched, disconcerted, as Gwindor took out his false teeth and rubbed his jaw. “Maybe,” Gwindor said. His voice was softer, less precise, the way Túrin remembered it from Ivrin. Gwindor laughed a little, to himself. “Maybe you should tell him that. He seemed pleased enough with you at dinner, though you were rather rude.”

 “Was I?” asked Túrin. “I only said what I thought right.”

Gwindor looked amused, and Túrin swallowed a surge of annoyance at being teased. “At the least, you were very forward,” said Gwindor. “But never mind--if he will listen to one of us, I must content myself with that.”

 He took up the basket where the darts were kept and cast one at the board on the opposite wall. The throw was wild; it glanced off the wood and clattered onto the stone floor below. “I’ve had too much wine,” he said.

 “Will you come for a walk, then?” asked Túrin. “The night air might clear our heads.”

 Gwindor considered the offer, but shook his head. “No, I’m tired. I ought to go to bed. He undid the last of the buttons on his tunic and shrugged it off, but made no move to get up. As Túrin left he heard the clatter of another dart missing its mark.

  

No lamps were permitted on the terraces, but the traces of moonlight filtering in provided just enough light to see by. The air was frigid, bracing, and perfectly still. Túrin wandered up and down, following what were by now familiar paths, his soft leather shoes whispering against the stone. His toes were numb when the latticework parted at last to reveal a waxing moon hung among a net of stars like the Noldor’s lamps. Some of the lamps were surely older than the moon, and had been shining unceasing for all that unimaginable while. The thought made him feel very weary: of elves, and their wondrous crafts, and their ancient, ponderous war: a single campaign could last a man’s lifetime. How many generations of his people had it swallowed up before it got to him?

 The cold air had chased away the wine-fumes for a while, but now he felt a headache building behind his eyes. He went home to bed sure that the morning would bring more suffering. But he slept soundly that night and woke clearheaded, certain of what he ought to do.