They left the city a little after sunrise. Túrin had arranged for horses and an escort—two soldiers, along with Niënor’s maid—and his presence at the gates attracted a small crowd of well-wishers to see them off: night guards going off duty, dawdling messengers, and a group of curious fishermen with their catch slung glimmering over their shoulders.
Niënor was flustered by the spectacle and put her foot in the hem of her skirt instead of the stirrup. She arrived atop her horse in an undignified scramble, prompting Túrin to lean over and whisper that he could send for a cart if she preferred. He was already mounted, damn him, on a splendid jet-black beast with silver buckles on its halter that matched the clasps on his cloak.
“I can ride,” Niënor hissed. “I kept pace with Captain Mablung on the way here, if you want a testimonial.”
It was not an auspicious beginning. But Túrin was in good humor and surprisingly talkative, turning half-round in his saddle and raising his voice over the roar of the Narog, and before long Niënor’s irritation melted away. She had not been outside—the terraces, with their latticed screens of carved stone, hardly counted—since her arrival in the city. It was fully spring now: the hills across the river were hazy green, and the rough face of the cliff was dusted with pollen.
Niënor entertained herself seeing how many questions in a row she could get her brother to answer. Where were they going, again? Up to the Faroth to see the king’s surveyors. What were the king’s surveyors doing up on the Faroth? They were there at the king’s behest, taking measurements for a new map. Why was the Mormegil, commander of the king’s army, paying a personal visit to a surveying crew?
“Because they invited me,” Túrin said, a little sharply, and that was the end of that round of questions.
They were approaching Ringwil now: it came pouring off the cliff top in a blinding white haze, right over the road and down to the river below. As they passed under it Túrin said something lost to the spray and she nodded, pretending to hear, and urged her horse onward. “No,” he said, and pointed to their right. Just past the fall there was a cleft in the rock, dug out by some vanished branch of the stream. It was big enough, just, for two riders to pass abreast. Niënor followed her brother into the hillside and then up the steep, winding path flanked on either side by tufts of moss and tightly coiled ferns.
They emerged in a beechwood. The new leaves were out, still pleated and tender, and the old leaves flowed like water under their horses' hooves. It put Niënor in mind of the hills above Menegroth. “If you say so,” Túrin said, when she pointed it out.
Niënor tried again. “It’s different from the woods around Dor-Lómin, isn't it? The trees, I mean, and the flowers. Do you know what that one is called?”
She pointed at random to one of the stalks topped with delicate white flowers that grew alongside the path. Túrin’s expression lightened. “That is a windflower,” he told her. “And here is a primrose,” he continued, gesturing toward a rosette of wrinkled leaves studded with yellow flowers . “That does grow in Dor-Lómin.”
“Oh, yes!” Niënor said. “There was lots of it along the stream by the house. I used to go out and pick it for our soup this time of year.” She thought, but did not say that she would never eat it again if she could help it; it reminded her of the dull terror of the season, when their winter stores ran short before the ground warmed enough for planting.
Túrin pointed out other plants as the path rounded the hill. As they passed Niënor caught movement in the corner of her eye: shadows in the treetops; a sudden flash of light, such as might reflect off a metal helmet or buckle. Neither Túrin nor the soldiers reacted. “There’s something up there,” she said.
Túrin laughed. “Have you not heard? The squirrels grow to great size here. No—,” he said, over the soldiers’ chuckles, “We have been watched from the trees since we left the city. Had you not been with me you would have been stopped and made to explain your business. I told you it was perfectly safe: nothing passes between here and the plain unobserved.”
They crested the hill at last. The forest thinned and fell away, and they came upon half a dozen horses tethered among the scrub pine of the summit, browsing the sparse grass coming up between the rocks. A short way ahead of them, a group of elves congregated on an outcropping overlooking the valley and doing something complicated with metal instruments. A stout woman in green detached herself from the group and came toward them, waving and grinning. “Agarwaen!” she called. “You honor us, sir. And this must be your lady sister? Come and meet my surveyors, and then I’ll tell you what we’ve been doing.”
Niënor managed to dismount with reasonable grace and let Túrin introduce her to the woman, who was the leader of the surveying crew, and the half-dozen surveyors with her. They all launched into what was clearly the continuation of an ongoing conversation with Túrin, full of allusions to people Niënor did not know and terms she did not understand, and she quickly lost interest. She wandered over to the rock where they had set up their instrument, a squat collection of tubes and wheels perched on a wooden tripod. A hand clutched her elbow, and she jumped. “Oh! I beg your pardon,” said the woman in green—Redoril, or had she said Rethril? “I thought you might like to look at the theodolite.”
Niënor had been shown a number of instruments in Nargothrond and knew what was expected of her. She stooped down to look where she was told to and squinted at a blurry disc of ground marked by painted black lines that moved around as the woman adjusted the knobs on the side of the instrument. “Is the reticle aligned?” she asked Niënor.
“I think so,” Niënor said. She did not feel like asking the woman what a reticle was.
“Let me see,” said the woman, taking Niënor’s place at the eyepiece. She tilted the device upward and adjusted it with rapid confidence. “There.”
Niënor looked again and saw the crisp outline of the Spyhill quartered by black lines. Was it supposed to be closer? She glanced up and then back. The hill looked, if anything, very slightly further away. “Remarkable,” she told the woman. “My brother will be so pleased.”
Later, when they had all spread their cloaks on the rocks and settled down to a picnic lunch, Niënor turned to Túrin and said, “I suppose you know all about theodolites.”
He shook his head. “I know that they look through it to find a number, and they write that number down and give it to the mapmakers, but do not , I pray you, ask me how it works.”
“Oh, I’m glad,” Niënor said, and told him about her conversation with the woman in green.
Túrin laughed. “I understood but one word in three that she said to me. But it was good news, and the architects will know what to do with it.”
“You mean the mapmakers?”
“What?” said Túrin. “Oh, yes, of course.”
The surveyors had largely finished eating and returned to their work. Niënor’s maid sat a little way off in the shade of a boulder, talking to the soldiers. Túrin said, “I have been meaning to ask: do you know we had a sister?”
It was the last thing Niënor had expected to hear, and it took her a moment to respond. “Urwen, you mean? Who died of a fever?”
Túrin nodded. “Lalaith. That was what we called her, when she lived. I wondered if Mother would have told you.”
“She didn’t,” said Niënor. It came out more bitter than she intended. “I had to get it out of Sador.”
“I wanted to tell you about her,” Túrin said. “The primroses reminded me. But now I cannot think how to fit words to my memories. They are all bright but they have no shape to catch hold of.”
He was staring intently at her as he said it, as though he expected her to suggest a solution. His face had changed: he looked less like Morwen, or at least wore an expression Niënor had never seen on her mother’s face. “You look like her,” he told her, abruptly. “I mean, what she would look like, had she lived.”
“Mother keeps a lock of her hair in her sewing kit,” Niënor said. “I used to think it was mine. She has some of yours, too. I suppose she sees too much of me to need a memento.”
Niënor found abruptly that she was tired of this subject. “Speaking of Mother,” she told Túrin, “You know she’ll give you no peace until she meets that Gwindor fellow.”
“Will she not?” he asked, with such affected nonchalance that Niënor almost laughed out loud.
“No,” Niënor said. “But I hear he is a strange, uncouth sort of person, so I wonder if he will consent to see her.”
Túrin dropped the mask of unconcern. “Who has been filling your head with gossip?” he demanded.
“Oh, everyone,” said Niënor, deciding to press her luck. “You and he were friends for a time, weren’t you?”
Túrin nodded. “We were. Now we are not, but not by my doing.” He glowered at his hands clasped over his knees. “He did not see father,” he muttered. He turned to Niënor, and his face was Morwen’s again. “She cannot expect all her whims to be indulged. She does not need to speak to him.”
Niënor looked at her brother and entertained the fantasy of letting him say that to Morwen.
“Once Mother is fixed on a course it is not easy to dissuade her,” she told him.
“What do you mean?” asked Túrin.
“I mean, she has made up her mind that she must speak to Gwindor, and if you bar her way she will try another door.”
Horror dawned on Túrin’s face. “She would not ask Finduilas, surely?”
“She might,” Niënor said gravely. Túrin ran his hand over his face and groaned.
“Ah! Counsel me then, sister: he will not receive me, and sends back my messages with the seals unbroken. What am I to do?”
“What happened?” asked Niënor. To her surprise, Túrin answered.
“It was a few months before you came here. You must have heard that he and Finduilas were betrothed. You should have seen them together: how loving and patient she was, how happy she made him. And yet he cast her aside!”
It was Gwindor who had broken the engagement: interesting.
“Why?” asked Niënor.
Túrin shook his head. “Who can say why he does anything? He told me nothing of it; I had to hear it from Finduilas.”
“How distressing,” Niënor said.
Túrin continued, made loquacious, it seemed, by a sympathetic audience. “It seemed to me a grievous folly and I thought, we have quarreled but are friends still, let me go and see him. He had felt himself justified to reveal...a sensitive fact. That is, that was the source of the quarrel. That quarrel. There had been others…”
“So you went to speak to him,” Niënor prompted.
“I went,” Túrin said. “But he would not admit me, nor even turn to look at me. Will I tell you what he said to me?”
His voice had been rising steadily; he was now all but shouting. Niënor looked around discreetly: her maid had broken off her conversation with the soldiers and was studiously re-braiding her hair. “What?”
‘He said… “go away.”’
Niënor nodded, waiting for the rest.
“It was the way he said it,” Túrin said austerely. “We have not spoken since. I wrote to him once, but he sent it back without reading it.”
“And now Mother wants a friendly introduction,” Niënor said. “I see your difficulty. But surely someone else could do it? Not Finduilas, of course, but he must have other friends?”
Túrin frowned and tapped his lips with the tips of his fingers. “He still sees Celebrimbor, I think...but this is a private matter; I do not like to make another man my errand-runner. No, I am at an impasse, it seems.”
Neither of them had much to say on the way back. They were descending into the gorge that led down to the river road when Niënor asked, “Will he really not read any message from you? It would be worth trying again, wouldn’t it?”
Túrin did not respond, and Niënor supposed she had offended him. But later, as they were coming into sight of the gates, he suddenly said, “He will return anything I send him, surely. But then Mother will see for herself how unreasonable he is. Yes…”
He turned to Niënor and smiled. “Thank you, sister! You have put my mind at ease.”
“You’re welcome,” Niënor said faintly.
Through the door to the solar, they could see Morwen, still in her good clothes, sitting by the window writing on a wax tablet. “Hello, Mother,” Túrin called cheerfully, “I’ve brought your daughter back to y—,”
He stopped short just inside the threshold. Niënor, arresting herself just in time to keep from stumbling into him, peered over his shoulder at the messenger in unfamiliar livery standing by the window with his hands folded behind his back.
Morwen set down her stylus and tied up the fastenings on the tablet. The messenger, reaching down to accept it, said, “Thank you, Lady Morwen. I will give your answer to Lord Gwindor.”