Niënor’s brother had grown high and mighty indeed since the last news they had of him. Word had reached Doriath that Túrin was a great general now, the Mormegil of Nargothrond, but even Morwen, who raised her children to recall at all times that they were heirs to two great houses, was surprised by the power her son wielded in his adopted city. Nargothrond, it seemed, could hardly do without him: the king needed him, the army needed him, and even the unlooked-for arrival of his mother and sister could not draw him from his duties for long.
Niënor found him a little disappointing. It was not that Túrin was proud—he was—but that talking to him was like trying to get over a stone wall: every now and then you would come to a stile, but move a little to the left or right, ask a question he did not care to answer, and he was solid rock.
He got that from Morwen, along with his looks. Niënor knew from long experience where the gaps in her mother’s wall were, and were not, but with her brother she had to resort to guesswork. On his fostering in Doriath he had little to say, except that it had been long ago and he did not remember it well; of his time in the wilderness he had nothing to say at all.
“You must come and see me if you need anything,” Finduilas had told them when they first arrived. She was the king’s daughter, officially their hostess, and applying herself doggedly to their entertainment. Morwen and Niënor were invited to dine, to hear music, to meet prominent residents of the city, and, day after day, to join her for sewing and conversation.
Finduilas wore green silk dresses that rustled when she moved and, with the limp yellow curls framing her face, made her look like a wilting buttercup. She told them, folding her hands and smiling sympathetically, that she herself was a newcomer to the city, having lived there scarcely forty years. She had been born and spent much of her life in her grandfather’s fortress in Dorthonion--not far, surely, from where the Lady Morwen herself had been born.
Niënor would have liked to hear more, but Morwen was not interested in trading memories of her lost homeland. She made little effort to return Finduilas’ friendliness, and was sometimes so curt that Niënor feared Finduilas would take offense. But if she did she never showed it, and she kept inviting them back.
What Morwen was interested in was meeting the person who had brought news of her husband’s fate out of Angband. The first time she brought it up, Túrin scowled and said, “Gwindor? You need not bother. You already know all he has to tell.”
When she persisted, he produced a vague assurance that he would try to arrange an introduction. Morwen seemed content to let things stand there, and Túrin seemed to believe that she was. But Niënor could see there was trouble brewing. She remembered the scene in the throne room at Menegroth last month, when the scouts’ reports corroborated the rumors concerning the Mormegil that had been trickling in all winter. Morwen had demanded a horse and escort, immediately; King Thingol had promised to send messengers with inquiries but urged caution. “After all,” he had said, “I correspond with my nephew. It would be strange indeed if this were true and he had said nothing.” Morwen had listened calmly, thanked the king for his services to her family, and set out before dawn on foot, alone.
“Did you know she was going to do this?” Captain Mablung had demanded of Niënor a few hours later, when her mother’s absence was discovered. She could not have gotten far, and her path was not hard to guess. Mablung was already in his riding gear. None of it quelled the terror rising up from the pit of her stomach. Niënor had wrapped her arms around herself and looked him in the eye. “If I had, do you think I would still be here?”
What their mother would do this time Niënor could not begin to guess at, but it was clear Túrin was in for an unpleasant surprise. So he had had some falling out with Gwindor which he did not care to discuss; well, he was not the only person in the city who could arrange an introduction. Morwen would not stoop to ask for favors but Niënor, on her behalf, could be more flexible.
Finduilas took a long time to look up from her needlework, long enough for Niënor to realize she had made a mistake. Then she raised her head with a jerk that set her hair ornaments jingling. She was smiling, but her eyes were wide and hostile. “Yes, I know Gwindor,” she said lightly. “But I can’t arrange an introduction, I’m afraid. You will have to ask someone else.”
She made some further remark, which Niënor did not hear, and disappeared into the inner room. Niënor was left to stand foolishly in front of the vacant chair, trying to work out what she ought to apologize for.
Finduilas’ attendants took pity on her. The one with silver hair whose name Niënor had forgotten said, delicately, “The princess was until recently betrothed to Lord Gwindor. Were you...not aware?”
In hushed voices they told her what they knew, which was not much, and what they had heard, which was inventively scurrilous. They were firm partisans of Finduilas and believed that if Lord Gwindor possessed either decency or good sense he would have released her from the engagement immediately on his return, but both she and the Mormegil had more generous natures than they, and would not hear ill spoken against their former friend. It was a sore subject. They begged Niënor not to bring it up again.
“No fear,” Niënor muttered. Her manners might be rustic, but she was hardly going to badger the princess about her disreputable ex-fiancé. So much for helping Túrin. She made her excuses and slunk back to her rooms.
“Keep slamming your foot down like that,” Morwen said, “and you’ll break it. It’s a spinning wheel, not a bellows.”
Niënor lifted her foot guiltily off the treadle. They were in the small solar which connected their bedrooms and which opened, through a row of tall glass windows, onto one of the upper terraces. A few hours working silently in her mother’s company had restored some of Niënor’s equanimity, but her mind kept drifting back to the look on Finduilas’ face. Why, why, why hadn’t she kept quiet and let her brother make his own mistakes? He, after all, had not seen fit to warn her about the broken betrothal, though he must have known about it. What other popular scandals, she wondered bitterly, had he left for his mother and sister to stumble into unawares?
Morwen turned back to her loom. Niënor spun halfheartedly for a few minutes, then said carefully, “Did you know the princess used to be engaged to that Gwindor fellow?”
“Yes,” said Morwen, without looking up.
That took the wind out of Niënor. What, did everyone but her know? “Oh,” she said. “That’s well, then. I thought you might not. It’s interesting, is all.”
“I daresay it is,” Morwen said. “And it reminds me: we’re to dine with the court tomorrow. Is your blue dress fit to wear, or is there still mustard on the sleeve?”
“The laundry got the mustard out,” Niënor said faintly, feeling her stomach sink at the prospect of sharing a table with Finduilas. She thought longingly of Doriath, where no one minded if you went off and sat in a tree until you felt fit for civil company. Here, you needed a dispensation to walk out the front doors, and there was no escaping the relentless royal hospitality.
Túrin kept rooms near the king’s own, but he joined his mother and sister in theirs whenever he could. When he arrived to dine with them, he looked so grim in his big black cape that Niënor thought for an awful moment that he had heard what she had asked Finduilas. But when he caught Morwen’s eye his expression lightened a little and he came over to the loom to kiss her on the cheek. “It does me good to see you both,” he said, turning to offer the same to Niënor. “I hope your day has been less trying than mine.”
The food put Túrin in a better temper, and he began to complain good-naturedly: “The folk here are very good, but they have no sense of urgency,” he said. “I say, ‘do so;’ they say, ‘we shall, in good season.’”
He had, it seemed, a proposal to put before the king, and wished to bolster his case with a demonstration that it could be done, and how. The latter was the source of his present frustration: the engineers, architects, and master masons he had consulted had promised him plans and models, but the plans were still being argued over, the models sat half-finished on someone’s workbench, and he could not persuade any of them that next year was not much the same as next week.
“I see you have been much occupied,” Morwen said. “Will you have time soon, do you think, to introduce me to Gwindor, or should I also expect to wait until next year?”
Túrin choked on his wine and began to cough. “Beg pardon,” he rasped, and cleared his throat. “Yes. Gwindor. He may not...I will do what I can, Mother.”
“See that you do,” she said. “I am eager to speak with him.”
Túrin nodded, looking unhappy. It serves him right, Niënor thought. Then he brightened. “There is another pledge I can make good on,” he told them. “I told you when you came here that I would show you the lands around the city when the weather improved. I have an errand in the Faroth tomorrow . Will the two of you come? It is quite safe.”
“Yes, I want to go,” Niënor said quickly, before Túrin could change his mind. She still felt cross with him, but not so much that she would pass up the prospect of an adventure outside the city. And better yet, she would not have to face Finduilas just yet.
“Tomorrow the king has asked us to dine,” Morwen said. Niënor caught herself grimacing and tried to rearrange her face into a neutral expression. “I will stay here. I have climbed enough hills for one life. But,” she added, glancing briefly at Niënor, “you should take your sister.”
Up next: Niënor and her brother go sightseeing; attempt family bonding.
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.”
Here it is at last: an update! Please don't ask me about theodolites, I know about as much as Túrin. I have significantly less free time than I did when I started this story, so while I do intend to finish it, I have no idea when the next update might be. Expect a long wait.