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If Only  by Eärillë

The clouds have dispersed. The Moon shines unhindered, illuminating the haggard, haunted look on Elven faces – and one Man – with cold, eerie light. Echoriath is behind. The wilderness now spreads before them as far as Elven sight can see. There are no enemy forces to waylay them, but it is hardly of any comfort, since nature could just as surely kill them. There are too many wounded among them for the little medical equipment they managed to save from the fallen city, and there

are too many mouths to feed for the limited rations prepared a long time ago along the secret passageway out of Gondolin. The downpour which has just receded filled their water containers, but it also drenched them – all of them; and now wind is blowing rather strongly, sweeping wet bits of leaves and twigs around and drying their clothes while making them uncomfortable. It is as if Ulmo sought to punish them further for not heeding his warning, and conspired with Manwë to that effect.

Five people are gathered under a leafy oak tree, and the rest of the refugees keep a respectful distance from them for privacy’s sake, although their eyes stray often to their small gathering. These five are dear to them for various reasons, but most of all, because they are their leaders… or future leaders, perhaps. There is Tuor, whom their king Turgon had named his successor before the very end; then there is Idril, the daughter of the King who had ruled alongside her father in lost Gondolin; their young son Eärendil, whom his mother calls Ardamirë; Erestor the son of Ecthelion, Lord of the House of the Fountain who perished while slaying Gothmog Lord of Balrogs, who had been dear to Turgon and Idril alongside his family, and whose House was reserved for the defense of the King; and last there is young Ereinion son of the late High King Fingon, whom Erestor had brought to Gondolin on his own request after a brief sojourn in the Falas, who would be High King of the Ñoldor should the ruling family perish leaving no heir. And presently they are bickering among themselves; or at least the adults do so, while Ereinion and Eärendil are dozing tiredly against Erestor and Idril.

Tuor, shivering slightly from the wind on his drying clothes, is embroiled on a debate with Idril and Erestor about his wanting to lead a small hunting party to forage in the surrounding forest for food. Idril rejects the idea vehemently, saying that he is yet unfit to do so, given that he is still recovering from his injuries and thus weak, even for a Secondborn, and Erestor agrees with her. Tuor argues that he is the appointed leader and therefore responsible for the welfare of the refugees. Erestor points out that he could delegate the task to another – hale – person who is capable of such a thing, as a wise leader would.

Tuor demands if Erestor is slighting his credibility as a leader, and claims as the one entrusted by Turgon himself to care for his people. Idril states that the leading task is hers also by birthright, but she would not foolishly endanger herself when she could do otherwise while still serving her people, because she could do more service to them by being alive. Erestor denies Tuor’s accusation but says that he would do anything, including tying Tuor to the tree, if the Man persisted, because it is his job to see to the welfare of the Royal Family as his father’s was before him.

Tuor gets angry and threatens to punish the ellon severely. Erestor demands if Tuor would finish the job done by Morgoth and his forces in Gondolin. Tuor, losing his temper, reaches for his axe. Idril bursts into tears and throws herself on him, immobilizing him with only her body and arms, pleading for him not to commit a kinslaying. Eärendil, having been thrown to the ground in his mother’s haste to reach his father, wakes up and instantly whines for his parents. Ereinion, who has been woken up by the explosion of the last exchange of words between Tuor and Erestor, leaves his napping place on Erestor’s lap and scoops the smaller child into his arms, shushing the latter meanwhile.

Erestor, with a resigned and hollow voice, apologises to Tuor and Idril for his earlier words after a moment, then retreats from their circle. His ears have picked up a similar heated argument some distance from them when Idril has been busy trying to calm her husband down. Something has to be done before it had a chance to escalate into an unmanageable level, preferably by an outsider, just like what Idril has done. It is always that way, ever since Glorfindel’s fall and the subsequent bitter journey down and away from the Encircling Mountains. Arguments erupt during the nights in their brief and packed camps, when they have time to pay attention to things other than where their feet are stepping, keeping track on their leaders and the other refugees, and looking out for enemy’s presence. Trust is a brittle thing now, tempers are easily roused because of the pressure of the situation and the general restive exhaustion, and grief blinds everyone, even the best and calmest of them. It is a waking nightmare which almost rivals the fall of the city itself.

After breaking up the argument (and another, and the next one), Erestor does not return to where his friends are camped – under the oak tree. Hoping for solitude, he seeks out a bed of bushes and grass to lie in, preferably just within sight of the camp. He does not find it near the camp, unfortunately. But surely people will find him when it is time to move again?

He curls under the interlacing branches of two closely-growing trees. The patch of – damp – moss beneath the branches and his tattered cloak serve as his bed for the night. His sword lies beside him, unsheathed as it always has, after the Fall. He has vowed to never sheathe it until the refugees have reached a safe haven.

Now, relatively secure with his sword by his side, and relatively comfortable with his position on the piece of garment and some plantlife, his thoughts are free to wander. And it always wanders to the same place, the same point in time. It is worsened by his row with Tuor now, the first in which they touched delicate matters like leadership.

He wishes that King Turgon were here, to lead his people. There would be no factions fracturing the refugees – between the King’s original following and the High King Fingon’s he brought home after Nirnaeth Arnoediad. And perhaps, there would be no Fall, and they could save everyone as well as many dear things which are now lost to them?

He slides into a restless sleep, and the thoughts follow him to his dreamscape.

Tuor came through the Seven Gates. Erestor, acting as a squire to his father, accompanied him to the King’s Tower together with all the representatives of the gate wardens. There, before the King, Tuor delivered the message of the Lord of Waters about treachery in their midst and a dire need to abandon the city. Maeglin and Salgant refused the thought of leaving their realm for enemy’s forces to plunder, or so they said, and tried to convince everyone that they were safe and secure. But other Houses spoke against them, this time, and thus swayed the King slowly but surely. On Erestor’s pleading and coaxing and cajoling, Idril activated her “daughter charm” – or so he labelled it afterwards – and persuaded her father to heed the warning: for her sake, for the women’s sake, for her sake, for the children’s sake, for Ereinion’s sake, for her sake… He capitulated at last.

Maeglin, when the King announced his final decision, went mad and tried to seize Idril, proclaiming his desire over her and his wanting to possess her, hinting at Morgoth’s involvement in his scheme, in his craze-filled rage. And so, as if fulfilling his father’s curse on him, he was thrown over the wall of the city to his death by the order of the furious and aggrieved King. Chaos reigned for a while afterwards, and the House of the Mole were nearly annihilated, but for the decree of the King that no more Kinslaying be conducted from then on by their hands. It ceased gradually as they busied themselves with the preparations for abandoning the city, and they left Gondolin proper – through an escape passageway carved during the building of the city – as one people.

They did not lack in food and other supplies. They had their dearest treasures with them, important or trivial, and their loved ones, and they were safe… for a while.

Indeed, for a while, because then they came across the Green Elves in Ossiriand, as they travelled in an arching route avoiding the eyes of the Enemy, and they were shooed with displeasure by the Lindar after camping for a night there. There were too many of them, the Singers said; noisy people with destructive intentions – because half a score of them had caught some Gondolindrim trying to hack some living branches for a lean-to. King Turgon, much too silent after his ordering Maeglin to be executed, roused in ire and confronted Dóritháro, the leader of the community. It was with a concerted effort between Idril, Tuor, Glorfindel and Ecthelion that he was ushered away and persuaded to lead his people to another place. There was a haven in the mouth of Sirion, they heard, and there were free spaces available in that haven.

The King did not survive the journey. He raved on and on about his loved ones leaving him and his people being disloyal, but most of all he felt tainted for ordering his guards to murder Maeglin. He was a Kinslayer, he said – with unnerving clarity and conviction. He should be punished as all Kinslayers were, and so he did not deserve anyone’s love or loyalty anyway. That night, he managed to sneak away from his guards and family and council, and threw himself down a craggy ravine near their camp.

Idril faded, swallowed by her profound sorrow and the accumulating grief she had been feeling. Erestor grieved for the loss of one whom he had considered an older sister. Tuor, who then confessed that he loved her, wasted away until he met an untimely death similar to hers. Factions broke among the leaderless people, and it was all the Lords of the remaining nine Houses could do to shelter the King’s House and to prevent the Gondolindrim from scattering and fighting among themselves. The factions united again, thankfully, when they reached the Haven of Sirion.

But the Lords were not thankful for long. Soon a quarrel broke over territories in the area between the Gondolindrim and another people who had occupied it before them, and it escalated into a fight. Soon, too, the Lords took sides, and now the pre-existing factions truly broke up. The Haven was now broken into small sections hostile towards each other, and skirmishes broke every so often. The sons of Fëanor rode in, then, and demanded something owned by the first occupants of the land, but they refused. Another major Kinslaying broke as a result, and all inhabitants of the land were easily routed out because of how fractured their communities were.

Through the dark, bloody night, Erestor lay dying clutching the corpse of Ereinion, who had taken a blow meant for him, with Glorfindel and his father and all their Houses lying dead around him.

And he opens his mouth, and screams.

People crowd around him, swords drawn, but the enemy ambush never happens. Grumbling, they disperse; except for Tuor and Idril, who approach him – gingerly – instead. Erestor shakes his head and relaxes his grip on the hilt of his sword. He wipes his face with his free hand, then nods at the couple. They do not approach further, though, and end up crouching in front of him, just outside the range of his sword. On his hurt expression, Idril says in a quiet, hesitant tone, “You look terrifying, gwador… almost crazed. What nightmare or terrible vision visited your sleep? You look at us as if we were unreal, some figment of imagination.”

But Erestor just looks on at them with an expression of wild happiness and relief odd for their current situation and atmosphere, and says nothing.



“My lord, you summoned me. What could I do for you?”

“Easy, child. ‘Tis not about yourself, but rather your former lord.”

“What of King Turgon, my lord?”

“Turukáno refuses pardon, rest and healing, ever since his arrival here. Various people, Ainur and Elves and his kin, dead and alive, have tried to console him, to no avail.”

“But Lord, how will I be able to persuade him if none of his kin was able to do so?”

“Tuor and Itarildë spoke about a vision that you might have experienced in your first night out of the Encircling Mountains.”

Erestor gapes. He stares uncomprehendingly at the Lord of Mandos, who gazes back at him impassively.

“It… It did not happen, Lord. It was only what might have been.” He tries to reason. Námo nods, but does not indicate that he rethinks his request.

At length, defeated, Erestor nods his assent, and together they proceed into the Hall of Waiting, and into a chamber – among many – near the arch they have come from. There Námo leaves him, and he confronts the fëa of his former king alone.

“Why do you come?” Turgon asks, his voice hollow – hopeless and self-reproaching. And Erestor suddenly understands what the Lord of Mandos has meant by using his nightmarish what-might-have-been vision. His beloved king has refused rest and healing for his own soul because of his feeling responsible for the Fall of Gondolin. But what happened could have been worse, and he was the witness of that. So, with as much sincerity and conviction as he could muster, he told the King all that he had witnessed in his nightmarish vision of the long-gone past.

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