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The Hawthorn Sword

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 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.

Chapter Text

Gwindor’s teeth were on the table. The rest of him was still in bed, so Túrin paced, burning up inside to share his revelation. From this new angle the idea was still painful, but it was the pain of a bone being set.

The room was dim, bisected by a river of blue light leaking in from the open door. Last night’s candles were still in their sconces, neglected and burnt to nubs. The wax hung down in gobbets and in places formed little white moons on the floor. Talchim came in with a tray of bread and jam and Gwindor’s morning tisane. He nodded at Túrin and set the tray down next to the teeth, then disappeared into the bedroom. A short time later Gwindor emerged, still in last night’s linens, looking rumpled and sleepy. When he spotted his teeth he made a little crow of satisfaction and popped them in his mouth. “Have you eaten?” he asked Túrin.

Túrin nodded. He had been up for hours. “I want to take the sword,” he said.

Gwindor seized a piece of bread and chewed it slowly. “The sword,” he repeated. “Why now?”

Túrin felt faintly disappointed. Was it not obvious? “To turn my guilt to some useful purpose,” he said, repeating Gwindor’s own words back to him. “And because such a fine blade ought not to sit any longer gathering dust.”

“I had wondered if I did right in bringing it home,” said Gwindor. “But my thoughts were much the same. I intended it for you, if you wanted it. Yes, of course, you should take the sword.”

He poured out a cupful of the tisane and knocked it back, then took another bite of bread to get rid of the taste. He sensed Túrin’s eyes on him and raised his brows in question. Túrin realized he would have to ask.

“Do you know where it is?” Túrin said.

“The sword? I have no idea. I thought I gave it to you.”

He had, of course, at Ivrin, and Túrin had carried it the rest of the way to Nargothrond. But when he went to draw it from its sheath he found that he could not bring himself to do it. So he had taken up an ordinary ranger’s bow and left it behind against future need. And now he needed it, and could not find it.

Gwindor called Talchim in. He remembered the sword, but had supposed that Túrin had taken it north with him. “Probably it was sent it down to the armory for safekeeping,” he said. “Shall I find someone to go and check?”

Túrin felt certain that he could not leave this errand to anyone else. No, he told, Talchim. He would go himself. Gwindor gave him an understanding look. “Shall I come with you?” he asked.

 

The armory was in the lower part of the city, adjacent to the practice rooms, but Túrin had never been inside. Though the doors stood open, they found it strangely deserted except for a pair of bored guards who recognized Túrin from sparring practice and Gwindor by reputation, and let them in without question. Neither guard had the keys to the family vaults, so while they waited for someone to come and bring them, Túrin and Gwindor wandered up and down the arcades of stacked spears and unstrung bows. Here and there lamps hung suspended from the ceiling; the further back they ventured the darker it grew, but Gwindor led them on confidently to Guilin’s vault. Toward the front the weapons were neat and well-tended, but they began to see signs of neglect: mismatched armor stowed haphazardly on shelves; rusty iron; mildewed leather; and everywhere the damp, riverine smell that everything left unattended in the city sooner or later acquired.

Gwindor shook his head in disgust. “The place has been let to go to the dogs. You see: they all bleat about defense, security, secrecy, but do they make any move to ensure it? There are masters of every imaginable craft in this city, yet the armory stands neglected for want of a few competent clerks. If you were a commander, would this give you confidence? What other laxities would you discover, in a crisis?”

“I see your point,” said Túrin. “But you underestimate your people. I have met many of the city guards, and others, at practice; they have the makings of valiant soldiers.”

Gwindor led them to an arched passage lined with vaults, each blocked by an iron grate. His face was hidden in shadows, but the silver in his teeth glinted faintly when he spoke. “You know that isn’t enough,” he said. “Stack the watchtowers with valiant fools, and they will bring the north down on our heads. You and I understand the consequences of failure. Do they? Does the council? That was what I meant at dinner, about training--we cannot afford not to remember our mistakes.”

The keys arrived at last, jangling in the belt-loop of an armorer in a scorched leather smith’s apron. She was nervous and apologetic as she sorted through the key ring, and paused after she found the one for Guilin’s vault. She must have some proof of ownership, she said, purely as a formality; a token would have been administered at the time the property was deposited....

“We have come without the token,” said Gwindor, “but the door there bears my sigil, so I believe you may let us in in good conscience.” He held up his signet ring for comparison.

“Of course. Thank you, sir,” said the armorer, overcome with embarrassment. She unlocked the latch and swung the grate open. Inside, a figure loomed out of the darkness, faceless and terrible in the shifting light of the armorer’s lantern, but it was only Guilin’s armor on its stand. The armorer opened a chest and carefully lifted the sword from inside. She turned to Gwindor and Túrin, hesitating between them. “Give it to him,” Gwindor said quietly.

The weather-stained scabbard and grip were like cold skin on Túrin’s palms. The face on the pommel smiled its faint, triumphant smile. Automatically Túrin glanced at Gwindor, who nodded. Go ahead. Túrin drew the sword. It was heavier than he remembered, but perfectly balanced. The blade was a deep, dull black that drank up the lamplight and reflected it back like the moon in a dense fog.

“It’s a remarkable piece of work,” said the armorer, her shyness apparently overcome by enthusiasm. “There’s not much call for swords these days, so of course we all took notice when Guilin’s people sent it down. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Where did it come from?”

“It was given to me,” said Túrin.

“I mean, who made it?” said the armorer. “Among what people did it originate?”

“It needs to be sharpened,” said Gwindor, rescuing them both.

“Yes,” said the armorer. “And the scabbard ought to be replaced. And, ah--do you prefer to swing one-handed, or two?”

“Either, as it suits,” said Túrin.

“I thought so,” said the armorer. “The grip is too short for both your hands, but it could be extended without much difficulty, I think. Remade, but retaining the essential character of the original. My workshop could do it, if you like.”

Túrin felt a sudden surge of relief. He had not thought of it, but of course the sword must be remade.

“Which workshop is that?” asked Gwindor, before Túrin could reply. “It’s customary to see a sample of a smith’s work before commissioning them.”

“Lord Celebrimbor’s,” said the armorer. “I’m one of his assistants. I believe you know his work, sir.”

Now it was Gwindor’s turn to look abashed. “Yes, I know Celebrimbor,” he said, and turned to Túrin. “I leave the choice to your judgement, then.”

Túrin had already made his mind up the moment the armorer suggested it. “I will have the sword remade,” he told her.

 


 

It was strange to have gotten all he wanted and yet still come away empty-handed. There seemed to be nothing else to do but resume his routine, and wait.

One morning, as he struggled to cut his bread, he asked Gwindor, “How do you do it?” Gwindor reached across the table and grasped the heel of the loaf, steadying it enough that the knife would pass through. “Badly,” he said. “Or haven’t you noticed?”

Túrin looked up in surprise at the bitterness in his voice. But Gwindor had already turned his attention back to his own bread, which he was assiduously covering with jam. He ate a few pieces, and then relented. “One grows accustomed,” he said. “Given the pick of the two, I think I would rather have my teeth back.”

“That would be a grim choice,” said Túrin.

“Yes,” said Gwindor. “Happily, it’s not one you need make. How much longer must you wear that thing?”

Not long at all: a few days later the splint came off and was replaced with a tight cloth bandage. It was less cumbersome, and he had the use of his fingers, but his movements were still frustratingly constrained.

 

On another day, they traced their usual path to the balcony and back. It had snowed several times in succession, with a path swept through each time, and the snow along the edges and in corners that the brooms had missed had hardened into a landscape of grimy hillocks. Gwindor never seemed to mind holding up both ends of the conversation, so Túrin let him, and allowed his mind to run on ahead to the practice room, where he had promised a left-handed match to a particularly skilled opponent. Túrin was half-listening--something about migratory birds that had nested in the cliff face last summer--when Gwindor broke off abruptly and said, “I must propose something to you.”

“Nargothrond owes a great debt to the defenders of Dor-Cúarthol,” he told Túrin. “Were you to reveal to the king--only the king, it need not be widely known--that you were one of its chiefs, it would raise you considerably in his esteem. Your skills, your experience...how better to ease the burden of your errors, than to share the wisdom you gained from them?”

For a moment Túrin hated Gwindor. He turned and walked away, swallowing down the wrath rising in his throat.

Back inside, a fountain laughed at him from where it was set into the wall. He realized that his mouth was dry. A silver cup rested on the rim, fixed to the base by a thin chain. Túrin seized the cup and plunged it into the spray until it overflowed, then drank deeply.

When he looked up, Gwindor was leaning against the wall a few paces away, watching him. The lamplight reflecting off the water in the basin cast wavering patches onto the wall, and Gwindor, making it hard to read the expression on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said. “When you decided to take the sword, I thought perhaps--but we won’t speak of it again.”

He inclined his head toward the fountain. “Let me have a sip, will you? I’m parched.”

Túrin realized he was still holding the cup. He filled it up again and reached out to hand it to Gwindor, but he had forgotten the chain: it jerked taut, jogging his hand and spilling water all over the floor, and then snapped. They both froze, listening to the chain clanking against the basin. Voices echoed up from the halls below them, and footsteps on the stairs, but no one appeared to accuse them. Gwindor laughed quietly. “We’re in luck--no one saw.”

He pushed himself off the wall with a sigh and took the cup from Túrin’s hand, swallowing what was left in it, then set it back on the rim of the fountain. “What a pair we are,” he muttered, and turned toward home. After a moment, Túrin followed.

 


 

The king convened his council, formally this time. Gwindor spent the morning fussing over his clothes--the color was inappropriate, the fit was not right, nothing was suitable, was there time to send for the tailor--before being coaxed into a plain brown tunic by Talchim and sent on his way. He returned late in the day, tired and irritable. “As well as can be expected,” he said, when Túrin asked him how he had fared. “I expressed my views; whether anything comes of it is up to the king.”

With this he seemed to regard the matter as closed, at least to discussion with Túrin. For himself, Túrin accepted this: it was disappointing to be left in the dark, but he could not expect to be privy to the inner workings of the king’s council. And after all, Gorthol the outlaw had done more against Morgoth than King Thingol’s favored foster-son. But Gwindor’s own standing with the king seemed to weigh on his mind. He talked less, and brooded more, and Finduilas began to appear outside her usual hours. She and Gwindor would converse in low voices or sit by the fire playing darts in silence. One evening, while dining together with Túrin, they quarreled: Finduilas made some remark about supplies being sent to the watchtowers, and Gwindor, who had said little until then, seized upon it with startling vehemence.

“I would think you all might concern yourselves with their competence before ensuring they have every comfort of home,” he said. “But I forgot: my judgement is not reliable.”

I never said that,” said Finduilas. “I wish you wouldn’t put words in my mouth. I don’t even disagree with you--most of us are capable of concerning ourselves with more than one thing at once, you know. But I’m sure Agarwaen would rather talk about something more pleasant.”

Túrin was torn between embarrassment and curiosity. Had the king come to a decision about the border? “I will talk about whatever you wish, pleasant or not,” he told them. “You need not restrain yourselves on my account.”

Gwindor fixed him with a sharp look. “Good. You can tell us what you think,” he said. “Maybe she’ll listen to you.”

“Gwindor,” said Finduilas, with a sternness Túrin had not thought her capable of, “We’ll discuss the council’s business later.”

The rest of the meal was hasty and silent. When they were finished Finduilas rose, gave Gwindor a peck on the cheek, and bid them both a good night. The door clicked shut behind her. Gwindor turned to Túrin and said, “You agree with me, don’t you?”

“We cannot hold the border without more soldiers,” said Túrin, with the uneasy feeling of walking into a snare.

Gwindor waved his hand. “Yes, I know. I concede that. But there must be more thought given to preparations beyond ensuring their comfort, or it is all for nothing. Or am I merely paranoid?”

“No one sensible to the threat of the north would say so,” said Túrin. “But why do you ask?”

“No reason,” said Gwindor, suddenly diffident. “I only wondered what you thought.”

  

When Túrin arrived at breakfast the next morning, he found that Gwindor had exchanged his house robe for the high-necked tunic he had worn to dinner with the king. Gwindor did not usually bother to dress unless he was going out for a walk, so Túrin asked him where he was going. He had to repeat the question twice before Gwindor tore his attention away from the bowl of porridge he had been stirring slowly.

“To make the best of things,” he said, without looking up.

“Do you feel well?” Túrin asked him.

Gwindor did look up for this. “Well enough,” he said, and swallowed a spoonful of porridge as though it proved his point. “You will have to take your walk alone today, I’m afraid.”

 

Morning drew on into afternoon. Túrin wandered the circuitous route he usually took with Gwindor; then, to quell his restlessness, further afield. He went down into the city and then out onto the terraces, where the sun shone but a chill wind bent the naked trees on the eastern bank and cut straight through his cloak. It was a clear day, and when he looked to the north he could make out the back of the spyhill, keeping watch over the valley; somewhere beyond that, where the hills began to bleed into the horizon, lay the first watchtower. Gwindor’s eyes were sharper than Túrin’s; had he been there no doubt he could have pointed it out.

 He returned home to find the porter waiting to pounce: a messenger from Celebrimbor’s workshop had come and gone in his absence. His sword was ready and waited on his convenience. Gwindor had said he was going out; even so, Túrin was disappointed to find his rooms deserted. He found Lalvon and Talchim sitting by the kitchen fire. “When do you think Gwindor will return?” he asked them.

“It’s hard to tell,” Lalvon told him. “He didn’t say where he was going, did he?”

“I guess that he’s with the princess,” said Talchim. “In that case he may well stay all day. I wouldn't look for him before this evening.”

It felt only fitting that Gwindor should accompany him to retrieve the sword. At first Túrin thought to wait, but the weight of anticipation was too great to bear and he went back to the kitchen to ask the way to Celebrimbor’s workshop.

 


 

The bellows breathed like a gigantic beast, steady as a heartbeat and louder with each step that Túrin descended. The winding staircase spit him out on a wide landing before a set of stout wood doors. A square of canvas painted with red letters was tacked to one of them. Lalvon had said “at the sign”; this one read

FORGE IN USE

KEEP OUT

He supposed this was to discourage curious passers-by. But they had told him to come, so he pushed the doors open. Inside, it was hot and dark and the deep wheeze of the bellows was even louder, almost unbearable. He had the impression of being in a room of great size, full of looming shapes, but the only light came from the center of the room, where a group of shadowy figures were gathered around a crucible. Túrin watched, transfixed, as it tilted toward him. For the space of an eye-blink the molten contents hung there, like the sun on the rim of the world, before flowing down into the narrow trough below.

The figure at the head of the group detached itself and turned toward him. Its eyes were huge and dark, like an animal’s, and it shouted at him. The words were lost to the noise of the bellows, but the sense was clear: get out .

Túrin retreated to the hallway, where he stood blinking away the afterimage of the glowing metal. The figure from the forge followed him out a moment later: it was a tall, broad-shouldered elf, of a height with him, clad in a heavy leather apron and gloves. “You fool!” he said, gesturing at the doors behind him. “Can you not read?” He pushed the animal eyes up onto his forehead, and Túrin saw them for what they were: dark glass in a leather casing that fit around the face to shield it.

“If anyone is a fool, it is the one who summons folk to him and then sets riddles at the door to keep them out,” Túrin said. “I seek Celebrimbor’s assistant, the armorer.”

The elf’s demeanor changed abruptly. “Will you settle for Celebrimbor?” he asked. “My assistants must stay at the forge while the water wheel is running, and I know what business brings you here. Come,” he said, and led Túrin up the stairs to a landing he had passed on the way down, and to a door with a prominent silver plaque bearing his name.

Inside, it was dim and quiet, though the bellows still pulsed beneath their feet. “An underground stream passes through here,” Celebrimbor explained, tugging his gloves off and tucking them into his belt. “We use it to operate the bellows by means of a water-wheel. It is much more powerful than the usual method, thus the danger to spectators.”

 He led Túrin past worktables littered with mysterious projects to a cabinet a the back of the room, from which he took the sword. He hefted it easily and presented it to Túrin. “Here it is,” he said. “My assistant did much of the work, but I could not resist the opportunity to study it. Its maker was a master smith: there is something of what we call sympathetic resonance that has gone into its working--like a dog that knows its master’s voice.”

No jewels glimmered from the hilt; no filigree was worked into the leather scabbard. The only adornment was the face on the pommel--taller now, atop the extended grip, but otherwise unmoved by its elevated circumstances. The sword was not beautiful, to Túrin’s mind: it was as harsh as a bare thorn-tree, but the blade was razor-sharp and shone like a mirror. “Thank you,” said Túrin. “I could not have asked for finer work.”

Túrin was halfway out the door, clutching the sword like a parcel, when Celebrimbor said, “How is Gwindor, by the way? I haven’t seen him in some time.”

“He is growing stronger” said Túrin. I would have brought him with me today, but he had an errand elsewhere.”

“It’s just as well,” said Celebrimbor. “He doesn't like to come when the bellows are running. I have been meaning to go see him.”

The familiarity with which Celebrimbor spoke of Gwindor surprised Túrin. He had not realized that the two were so well acquainted. Certainly Gwindor had made no mention of it. He felt faintly hurt, though he had no grounds to be. Of course Gwindor had his own affairs that Túrin did not enter into. But he had grown accustomed to the narrow circumference of Gwindor’s habits, and it was strange to think of him roving alone beyond them.

  

Gwindor’s door was ajar and faint light showed through the crack. Thinking that he must be back at last, Túrin went in to show him the sword. As he rounded the corner to the wall where the dartboard hung, a dark shape flew by close to his head and struck the dartboard. He ducked instinctively; in the moment of doing so he heard a gasp, and then a high, clear voice said, “I’m so sorry! I saw you too late.”

Finduilas hurried over to help him up and he realized that she was alone in the room. “Have you seen Gwindor?” she asked.

“No,” he said, confused. “Not since this morning. I thought he was with you.”

“Oh,” said Finduilas. “Well...I daresay he will be back soon, wherever he is. It’s past his dinner hour.” She laughed, but to Túrin’s surprise there were tears welling in her eyes.

“Princess,” he said, “Is aught amiss? I will go seek him for you, if you wish.”

“Oh! No,” she said. “You’re very kind, but no. I am being foolish. But you may keep me company while I wait, if you like.”

They settled down, Túrin in his accustomed place and Finduilas in Gwindor’s chair with the basket of darts. The one she had nearly struck him with had landed a few fingers’ breadth from the center of the target. “It was a good throw,” he told her.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’ve been practicing.” She looked down at her hands, twisting her rings back and forth. Without Gwindor there to guide the conversation, it was difficult to think of what to say.

“Will you show me your sword?” Finduilas asked, to Túrin’s relief. He laid it on his lap and drew it partway out of the scabbard so she could see the dark, shining blade. “It’s very interesting,” she said. “I remember that pommel--I think it would make me feel like I was being watched all the time, but I suppose that’s what you want your enemies to think. You were wearing it when you came here, weren’t you?”

“I was,” said Túrin. “But Gwindor carried it most of the way.” Suddenly he felt that it was crucial that she understand this.

“Did he?” she said. “I wouldn’t have thought...that is, it looks quite heavy.”

“It is,” said Túrin. “It is very heavy, but he carried it all that way.”

“Of course he did,” said Finduilas. She was silent a while, and then she said, “You already know this, I’m sure, but he is very glad to have you here. Your company is a great comfort to him.”

“As is his, to me,” Túrin said. When he had first met Finduilas she had seemed remote and untouchable, like a high window, and when she had come to sit by Gwindor it had been as though a door closed behind them, shutting him out. But he had misjudged her: if she had held herself apart before it had been out of concern for Gwindor, against her natural inclination.

“I believe he regrets his quarrel with you,” Túrin told her.

 She looked taken aback. “I know he does,” she said, with a hint of last night’s sharpness, and Túrin feared that he had offended her. But then she said, “I have been meaning to ask you: why did you shave your beard?”

 The question baffled Túrin. “Because I am in the city,” he told her.

“Forgive my curiosity,” Finduilas said. “The Edain I met before all wore theirs, and I had always assumed it was the general practice.”

“It may be,” said Túrin. “But I am a guest here, so I conduct myself in the manner of my hosts.”

“As your hosts, we ought to welcome you as you are,” Finduilas said.

“Have you known many Edain?” Túrin asked her.

She shook her head. “Not many, and not but briefly.”

The way elves sometimes spoke, that briefly could have encompassed the entire span of his life. He wondered if that was what Finduilas had meant. Perhaps not. He had the impression that she was young for an elf, as Gwindor was. But even Gwindor had already seen centuries pass by the time of Túrin’s birth. He felt the itch, now familiar, of time slipping away from him while he tarried here. He had his sword at his side now, heavy with purpose; he needed to go back north and strike a blow while he could.

 

The door to the hall slammed shut, and they both jumped. “There you are, Gwindor,” said Finduilas.

Gwindor came a little way into the room and then stopped, as though he was debating whether to leave or stay. He did not greet either of them. “Come in and sit down,” Finduilas said. She got up out of Gwindor’s seat and moved to the chair next to it. “Talchim should be here soon with your dinner; I have been asking Agarwaen impertinent questions while we wait.” But Gwindor stayed where he was.

“Come sit down, Gwindor,” Finduilas said again. “You’ll feel better by the fire.”

This time Gwindor obeyed. He sat stiffly and stared at the fire, breathing through his nose. But Finduilas kept up a stream of inconsequential comments, and gradually his shoulders loosened a little and he sank back into his chair.

“Here’s a funny thing,” Finduilas told him, “I thought you were with Agarwaen, and he thought you were with me!”

“That is funny,” Gwindor said tonelessly. He reached up to unfasten the collar of his jacket, but his hand shook and he struggled to get a grip on the delicate buttons.

“Where have you been?” asked Túrin. “We wondered.”

"Will no one give me peace from questioning?” Gwindor shouted. “I have kept my word; what more would you have of me?”

Túrin felt as though he had been struck. He tried to say “only your friendship”, but the words stuck in his throat and came out as a strangled “oh”.

Gwindor kept working at the buttons on his collar, his movements growing more frantic each time they slipped out of his grasp. Finduilas said “Here, let me,” and got up from her chair; at the same moment, Gwindor grasped the edge of the collar and tugged. Buttons skittered off across the floor in all directions.

“Agarwaen,” said Finduilas, “Gwindor isn’t feeling well. Why don’t you come back and see him in the morning?”

The doors had swung shut, and he was on the wrong side once again.

  

They were glad enough to see him at the practice room. “I’ll have a go,” said one of the guards when he asked for an opponent, and they began.

The guard was a good opponent: silent and ruthless, not prone to softening blows or sparing his challenger’s dignity. But now he cried “hold” and lowered his sword. “What are you doing, Agarwaen?” he asked, looking strangely at Túrin. “You come at me with the strength of ten, and yet I could have killed you many times over.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Túrin, when he could speak. “Let us begin again. But this time, do not hold back your blows, I pray you.”

“As you wish,” said the guard. “But pay attention this time.”

This time Túrin said nothing, thought nothing, felt nothing until the others called out, “match, match! The match to the Adanedhel!” The guard unbuckled his pauldron and rubbed his shoulder. “No, it’s only bruised,” he said. “It was a good fight. But you had better look to your wrist: the binding is coming loose.”

He did not need to look. He could feel it now, a fire beginning in his sinews from the force of the winning blow.

  

“I had not thought,” said the healer, “that I needed to say, ‘abstain from swordfighting, lest you injure yourself further.’ I had thought it was self-evident.”

She wound the bandage around his forearm and pinned it in place, then reached up to pat him on the shoulder. “Your luck has held: this is only a strain. The break looks to have knitted well. You won’t be kept from the north, so you need not look so downcast.”

 

On his way back to his room, as he drew near Gwindor’s door, a glimmer of metal on the floor caught his eye. One of the buttons from Gwindor’s jacket had made its way all the way out to the hallway. He bent down to pick it up. Gwindor’s door was shut tight, but a little light shone through the keyhole. The dog was back, sprawled out across the threshold and apparently asleep, but as he drew closer it opened its eyes and growled low in its throat. “I will not hurt you,” said Túrin.

The dog sat up to watch him. Túrin wondered if it could smell guilt. He lingered in the hall, rolling the button around in the palm of his hand, debating whether or not to disturb Gwindor. In the end, he went on to his own room. The sword was waiting for him on the table where he had left it. He set the button next to it. He undressed, washed, put out the light--the momentum of habit led him along while his mind floundered.

Cocooned in his bed, he lay awake and blinked at the darkness overhead. It pressed down on him, like a wolf nosing at a battlefield carcasse. “I am not him whom you seek,” Túrin whispered in its ear. “I am not him.”

 


 

“What are you lurking in the doorway for?” Gwindor called. “Come in!”

There he was, wrapped in the yellow house robe and poking at breakfast, looking a little haggard but otherwise unperturbed. He spotted the bandage and his face fell, as though he himself had wounded Túrin. “How bad is it?” he asked.

“I was careless at practice,” said Túrin. “The bandage is a precaution--it is of no consequence.”

“Good. I’m glad,” said Gwindor. He cleared his throat. “Finduilas tells me you have your sword back. May I see it?”

Túrin went to fetch the sword and presented it carefully to Gwindor, who rested it on his knees and grasped the hilt, tilting it back and forth so the blade caught the firelight and sent its reflection dancing on the ceiling. “A sword ought to have a name,” he said at last. “What do you think you will call it?”

“Beleg said its name was Anglachel,” said Túrin. The words felt strange and heavy on his tongue.

“Will you call it that, then?” asked Gwindor.

Túrin shook his head. “It has been remade, and is not the same. It must have a new name. I will think on it.”

“Naturally,” said Gwindor. He surrendered the sword to Túrin, who put it back in the scabbard at his side. “I’m glad to see it put to good use. I suppose now that you have it you will be returning to your duties soon?”

“I will be,” said Túrin, “But I fear that I have wounded you in some way, and I would not leave it to fester in my absence.”

“Wounded me?” asked Gwindor. “What do you suppose that you have done?”

“I know not, said Túrin. “But last night, you said--.”

“Ah,” said Gwindor. He looked embarrassed. “Never mind that. I was tired, and I spoke without thinking.”

“Then I have not burdened you unjustly?” asked Túrin.

Gwindor shook his head. “No, I…” He opened his mouth and closed it again several times in succession, then seemed to make up his mind.

“You might as well know,” he said, “The king has asked me several times to reveal what I know of your history to him. That was what he summoned me for yesterday. I told him nothing he did not already know--I’ll swear to that--but as king he has access to a great deal more information than the rest of us, and can draw conclusions--.”

Túrin saw in a lightning flash what that silence must have cost Gwindor, and was stricken. “My friend,” he said, “I have never doubted you. If I am the cause of enmity between you and the king, I would know how I might allay it.”

Gwindor gave him a curious look. “The enmity between me and the king originated when I led away an army of his soldiers against his will. You are not the cause.”

“All the same,” said Túrin, “I owe you a debt of thanks.”

Gwindor gave him another strange look, long enough that Túrin wondered if he had said something wrong. “Let us not concern ourselves with who owes a debt to whom,” Gwindor said at last. “As to allaying it, that road is not for you to take. But there is another approach: I believe it is my person Orodreth and his councilors object to, not my principles. But from another tongue, they may be more palatable.”

“What do you mean?” asked Túrin. He sensed that Gwindor was asking something of him, but he struggled to follow the line of thought.

“I’m sorry,” said Gwindor. “I don’t mean to speak in riddles, but there are things afoot that I cannot tell you, at least not yet. To be as plain as I can: you said you were willing to be yoked to me; well, together we may pull this wain in the direction we know it ought to go.”

 


 

Ginglith had frozen over, and snow had fallen: the river vanished, and in its place a smooth white track wound through the trees. The two messengers stood on the banks debating whether the ice was strong enough to bear their weight; Túrin watched the treeline and waited. A bird sang out unseen from a tree on the bank, and another answered from further up the hill. The messengers fell silent. The bird in the tree sang out again: “Come across quickly, friends, and bring us your news. The ice is thicker upstream.”

The watchtower was built into the hillside, a crude miniature Nargothrond. They were glad to see him there: he was clapped on the shoulder and ribbed about his spill on the ice; his sword was universally admired. He was sitting in a ring of firelight, listening to the news from his absence, when someone called him from behind. It was one of the messengers. “Captain wants you,” he said. “I’m off for the city. Any messages for those at home before I go?”

Túrin left behind a minor commotion: the scratching and clacking of hinged wax tablets, and murmured dictation committed to the messengers’ memories. He made his way up the tight spiral staircase to the watchtower captain’s office and the noise faded away.

The watchtower captain was at his desk, a pair of wax tablets cracked open like a nut in front of him. Túrin could see the green wax of the king’s seal on the edges. “Agarwaen,” said the captain, “I began to think that you would never come back. It is good to have you among us again.”

“I am also glad for it,” said Túrin.

“You know the need we have for experienced commanders,” the captain continued. “Before your misadventure I sent a message to the king recommending your promotion. I have just received his reply. Allow me to be the first to congratulate you.”

“Furthermore,” he said, tapping the wax tablet in front of him, “In consideration of our needs at the border, our numbers are to be increased by one-third. The first contingent of new recruits will be assigned to your command.” He laughed a little. “I have been telling them for years that we needed more soldiers. Now I know what to do if I want to get anything done: send in the Adanedhel!”

Túrin stood still, arms clasped behind his back, digesting what he had just been told. The weight of happiness in his chest was hard to bear, close to panic. “You will stay here to muster and train your troops until you judge that they are ready to take up a patrol,” said the captain. “You are dismissed for now, unless there is anything else you require?”

“A spare tablet, if you have one,” said Túrin, “and some sealing wax.”

 He set the wax to melt and scratched out his message:

Dear  friend, I send glad news:

I have been given a command.

He looked at the words marring the blank slate. He thought of the sudden weight of the sword dropping into his lap--Gwindor had meant to lay it in his arms, but it was too heavy and he lost his grip. Too heavy, and he had carried it all that way. At the bottom he added

You did not labor in vain.

He tied the tablets shut and poured out a dollop of sealing wax over the string. He had no name or house for a signet; he had left that behind him, a snakeskin coiled on Beleg’s shallow grave. Even the whorls of his thumb seemed to be those of a dead man. But no matter--he had a better thought. His sword hung at his side; he took it up and pressed the pommel against the cooling wax. He pulled it away and the face looked back. There, that was him: the black sword.

 

 The messengers were strapping on their snowshoes when Túrin came down the stairs. “Wait a moment,” he told them, “I have one more for you. To Gwindor, Guilin’s son.”

 They accepted the tablet and added it to the rest in their satchels. Túrin stood at the mouth of the cave and watched them go. In the fading afternoon their shadows trailed behind them like banners, and indeed, they bore news of a victory.