Brother Mine by Virodeil

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Thank you very much for Mysterious Jedi, KyMahalei, and WendWriter who have beta-read this story! And thank you for fellow geckoes and iguanas and newts in the Lizard Council who thoroughly combed it neat!


Brother Mine

 

Chapter 1
An Urgent Missive

 

Erestor whistled absently as he dusted the shelves and the books housed in them. His House’s library was big, easily half the size of his city’s Royal Library, but he did not mind it at all. The only shelves left were those he was facing now, though, sadly. This was one of his favourite pastimes. The near-mindless activity soothed his spirit from his daily rigor in the training fields, and also the boredom caused by his father’s forcing him to attend minor councils with Lord Turgon, as heir to his House. He had always been interested in books and scrolls and the knowledge housed in them; and, to him, taking care of them meant preserving the knowledge inside from any damage, or even from being forgotten. At a hundred and fifty years of age, it might be odd of him to think this way. Nonetheless, he persisted, no matter how strange it seemed to other people – including his parents – for various reasons. (His parents had always told him, patiently or otherwise, that knowledge passed from person to person was more reliable, safe and satisfying; but he would like to disagree with the sentimental statement, which he believed came from their wandering times before the coming of the Exiles.)

 

His peace was not to last for long, though. From down the hallway outside the library, his father called, “Erestor? Erestor?”

 

The whistling ceased. Erestor tilted his head to one side. “I am here, Adar! Do you need something?” he called back as he left the shelves and his duster behind, slipping through the narrow lanes to the doors of the library. His father seldom called for him during the day, and he had never done so in such  an urgent tone. Today he should have been at Lord Turgon’s court with the other lords in his capacity as a royal advisor, presiding over what he often dubbed “petty cases;” or perhaps in the Northern Tower, taking reports from his men, who kept vigil to protect the realm from trespassers. Something must be wrong…

 

Erestor picked up his pace and soon emerged from the library. “Yes, Adar?” But his next words stuck in his throat. His father’s countenance was grim, and there was a great sadness in his eyes. – Had the city’s defenses been breeched? But no…. Or was something the matter with Lord Turgon? Or Idril?

 

His heart squeezed painfully on the last thought; his stomach lurched. Idril was his best friend, and he viewed her as also an older sister. – Maeglin was always gawking at her as a first cousin ought not, when he perhaps thought she could not see or did not notice; but she did notice, and she was uncomfortable by it. And now Erestor was wondering if perhaps the younger man had done something beyond staring desirously at her.

 

“Adar?”

 

“Turgon expects you, son. In fact, he wants both of us there. Let us go.”

 

There was no other explanation. Erestor, pathetically bewildered, was ushered away from the library, past the halls, and out of the front doors.

 

And Glorfindel was there, seemingly waiting for them on the path to the gates, his expression equally grim. The golden-haired man was fidgeting upon his stallion, something Erestor had rarely seen; and on either side of him stood two more horses, saddled but riderless.

 

“We are going to ride to the palace’s courtyard; that is the fastest way,” he said as soon as Erestor and his father stepped onto the cobblestone line. “Turukáno needs us as soon as possible. I hope our speed can ease his heart a bit…”

 

Quenya, and perhaps Vanyarin Quenya too, judging from how odd it sounded in Erestor’s ears. Something terrible must have unsettled Glorfindel so greatly that he reverted to his native tongue.

 

“What happened?” Erestor demanded, in his best imitation of the dialect, grumbling under his breath when his father nudged him towards the nearest horse.

 

“Ñolofinwë is dead,” Glorfindel said bluntly.

 

Erestor nearly slipped back to the ground from the saddle in surprise.

 

A hollow feeling grew inside his chest as the news took root in his mind. Idril absolutely loved her grandfather, and Lord Turgon loved the late High King despite their different characters (as the Lord had ever confided to him and his parents one evening a long time ago). The daughter and father would be devastated. And now he was going to face them, knowing that another member of their dwindling family had just passed away… How should he respond to the news before Lord Turgon? And how could he best console Idril about the death of her beloved grandfather?

 

But when he arrived on the doors leading to the throneroom of the King’s Tower, another kind of concern gnawed at him, namely the missive roll gripped in Lord Turgon’s shaking hand. – Maeglin was standing to the side for once, he observed, and looking slightly bemused. So the sudden calamity had not been caused by him, apparently.

 

But, as if by an irresistible force, Erestor’s eyes soon returned to Turgon and Idril, who appeared to have just finished arguing with each other. Idril’s eyes were red and swollen from much crying, and Turgon’s countenance was as devastated as when his only sister had perished by the poisoned spear of her own husband. – The fact was undeniable now. But what of the missive roll? It had not been unsealed, so it was meant to be delivered to someone, not newly received.

 

The Lord was standing before the dais leading to his throne when the small company was permitted entry; he only acknowledged them with a slight, stiff dip of his head. But Idril rushed forward and flung herself into Glorfindel’s ready arms, sobs racking her body. The sound twisted at Erestor’s heart. But he could do nothing save looking at her helplessly. He had to do something before—

 

“Come here, Erestor,” Turgon said quietly between his daughter’s sniffles. Erestor, reluctantly, tore his gaze away from Idril and approached the Lord with no small amount of curiosity and trepidation. The Lord's pronunciation of the Grey tongue was colored by the lilt of Quenya; and the last time it had happened, Lady Aredhel had been murdered by her own husband, and Eöl the dark had been thrown down the cliff just outside the city the morning after.

 

“My lord,” bowing, he acknowledged Turgon in the same quiet voice.

 

“I have spoken with my advisers, my family, and yours regarding this,” Turgon continued slowly after a span of silence. He seemed to look over Erestor’s shoulder for a moment. Then, nodding heavily, he addressed Erestor again, “They have agreed. There are only a very few people in this city who I trust to deliver this missive, and you match the current need.”

 

But, what Erestor read beneath his words was more or less, “There is a mission that cannot be entrusted to another person, that I wish you to take up. But, if it were purely my decision, I would not have appointed you to shoulder the burden, given the risks.” Turgon was only trying to convince himself, to let himself let Erestor go, or so it seemed.

 

But what was the mission?

 

At this point, exasperation and nervousness were boiling in Erestor’s mind, dulling the edges of his sympathetic grief while demanding for release. Why would Lord Turgon not just get to the point, like Glorfindel had earlier? Not knowing what task the Lord wished to lay upon him weighed more heavily upon him than the thought of the dangers he was certain to be asked to face. `Don't keep me waiting!` he grumbled to himself, not daring to mind-speak Turgon directly, and nearly unable to keep his nervousness from leaking out into his bearing.

 

Turgon could sense his agitation nonetheless, it seemed. He sighed and, taking a deep breath as if bracing himself, said, “I charge you with delivering this missive to my older brother, Fingon, with all haste. Guard this roll with all your might, but not your life. Burn or spoil it, in case you are unable to defend it anymore, and come back here as soon as you can.”

 

A dull relief washed over Erestor, now that he knew what the matter was. However, he then found himself worrying over whether or not he could carry out the task, despite Turgon's trust in his abilities. How to face Fingon knowing that the said Lord was now the new High King of the Noldor? He had never done this sort of thing before, so why had Lord Turgon trusted him to carry it out? There seemed to be an underlying tone that he had not been able to catch as well…

 

Regardless, he dipped his head respectfully to the Lord and said, “As you wish, my lord. When shall I depart?”

 

“Now.”

 

Erestor winced. He could feel his eyes widening in surprise and disbelief. `Now?`

 

“A pack of rations and other provisions has been prepared for you. Idril insisted on that, although I had told her beforehand that you probably would not need such heavy load.”

 

The surprise melted away from Erestor’s heart, leaving only disbelief that heightened into bewilderment. Why would he not need provisions for such a mission – out of Gondolin?

 

“Come. I have promised Idril to escort her to see her grandfather’s cairn. You shall accompany us on your way outside the city together with your parents and Glorfindel.”

 

Further bemused by the invitation, he bowed and, upon Turgon’s nod of dismissal, turned around and walked out of the throne room.

 

He waited on the front courtyard on the horse that had borne him there, only hopping down and standing in attention when Turgon emerged from the King’s Tower. Idril followed her father, clutching the aforementioned pack in her arms, her face grim, although she was not crying anymore. And behind her walked Maeglin, who held a frosty countenance, and Erestor had a suspicion that the younger man had thought – no, anticipated – that he would be the one to conduct the mission. – For the time being, inexplicably, he wished Maeglin were in his place.

 

Turgon said nothing once he neared, only motioning to Erestor to remount his steed. The Lord himself mounted his, which another stable hand had brought for him. His movement was mirrored by Idril, Maeglin, Glorfindel, and Erestor’s own father nearby. The present time began to feel more and more surreal to Erestor, as they rode away from the centre of the city. No one spoke, and the heavy mourning silence did not break as they reached a path that led to the Encircling Mountains. There Finera, Erestor’s mother, met them, emerging from the Northern Tower that the House of the Fountain kept, followed by a couple of stable hands.

 

To Erestor’s further bemusement, they dismounted there, and Turgon entrusted the horses’ care to the stable hands. The company, now added with his mother, instead trekked on foot up the narrow, rocky path to the northern slopes. Why did they not give him the missive roll and the pack and let him go on his way through the gated tunnel (which, as far as he knew, was the only way out of the city)? It lay but a few yards away!

 

They halted before a newly-built cairn around mid-day, positioned to the side of the uneven way cleaving the mountainside, on the highest point of the path. “Here lies my father,” said Turgon quietly, breaking the silence at last. “May he find pardon and peace in the care of Lord Námo in the Halls of Mandos.”

 

Overwhelmed, Erestor put his hand on his heart and bowed his head towards the cairn. The full enormity of what was being asked of him finally sank in. The letter to the elder brother of his liege-lord most likely contained the details of how this mound of rocks came to be. Until now, he had not realized in full how great an honor, and how terrible a burden, it would be to bear. And now he realised why he had half envied Maeglin for the younger man’s carefreeness.

 

His mother was weeping openly, for once. Idril was crying anew.

 

His father and Glorfindel stood still some paces from the women, faces empty. But Turgon joined Erestor, with his head bowed, leaving Maeglin standing off to the side as if an outsider in a funeral.

 

“My lord,” Erestor murmured, and turned away from the cairn. The surreality of what was happening slowly ebbed away from his spirit, replaced by grim determination and a sense of compassion towards the Lord of Gondolin that was born out of the current reality. He sought Turgon’s gaze, and the Lord granted it to him.

 

Then, barely a murmur to Erestor’s ears, he asked with a note of hesitation in his voice, “Would you deliver this news to Fingon yourself? I imparted the news also in my missive, but I felt that it would not be enough…“

 

 “Yes, my lord. I… At least I shall try,” Erestor murmured back, although his mind began to think up ways that the future audience could go wrong. “Your wish is my command, my lord. However, I cannot really trust myself in this.” He had better be truthful about his own ability and experience, lest the Lord expected too much of the outcome. He still did not know why Turgon entrusted such a momentous occasion to a youth who did not have prior experience; and accepting it, ironically, would be the best way to find out.

 

He bowed his head to Turgon, who then surprised him by embracing him as a father would a son. The Lord now reverted to be the father of his best friend, it seemed, as was his wont when in close companies, since the formalities had been dispensed. So, acknowledging the change, Erestor gave him a half-grin and returned his embrace.

 

“Your parents are fortunate indeed to have you as their child, Erestor.” The prince of the Ñoldor smiled back a bit ruefully. Then, as if just for Erestor to hear, he whispered under his breath, “Come back safely. Your life is more worthy than that roll.” He touched Erestor’s cheek briefly before stepping back.

 

Idril seemed to have been waiting, hovering nearby, and when Turgon stepped back, she in turn captured Erestor in a large, albeit shaky, hug.

 

And afterwards, the Lord proffered what appeared to be the missive to him. It looked like an ordinary royal message tube that Erestor had sometimes seen: a cylindrical leather container engraved with the House of the King’s sigil, with a moled leather cap on one end; but this one was attached to a sturdy leather thong, and seeing the loop, Erestor put it around his neck.

 

He then shouldered the pack handed by Idril, and afterwards had to endure another of her crushing hug.

 

His mother came over afterwards, bidding him farewell and handing him his travelling cloak. His father, who suddenly looked quite fragile in his eyes, came in tandem with Glorfindel; and each man gave him a bear hug, their eyes moist with unshed tears. His throat and chest tightened. He was not about to be sundered forever from them, was he? So what was this all about? He had never received such a farewell during his previous missions.

 

Idril held him close again at last, making him pull back to the present. “Safe journey, my brother and friend, and come home – quickly. Do not deprive me of my best friend in this city, would you?” she whispered softly into his ear, then winked in a half-hearted manner.

 

And when she stepped back, turgon came up to him, belting a sword he had been carrying to Erestor’s waist, saying, “Take this also to my brother, Erestor.” And Erestor, realising whose blade it must have been, gasped with awe and stammered, his face burning with humility. But before he could say anything, the Lord of Gondolin beat him to it. “Should you need to defend yourself somewhere on the way – although I doubt you will face any danger save falling – do not hesitate to use it; it is not a decoration, after all. But please do not let it fall into the hands of the Enemy. Ringil now belongs to my elder brother, as is his right.”

 

Erestor, more flustered and bemused than before, bowed low. Turgon, smiling gravely, then led him away from the cairn, straight to an Eagle who had just swooped down to meet them.

 

“Greetings, my lord.” Erestor bowed before the great avian, one of the guardians of the city, and saw Turgon doing the same beside him. Behind them, he could hear that the rest of the company followed suit.

 

Never before had Erestor been so close to such a being. The Eagle was huge! – And he spoke fluently in the tongue of the Elves too, as had been long rumored in the realm, as proven when he replied: “Greetings, Firstborn, and may your aerie be untroubled and your paths be clear.”

 

Dipping his head to them all, then, the Eagle said, “Come, young Erestor, climb onto my back.”

 

Erestor could feel his eyes widening comically. He actually jumped back a pace out of sheer fright and awe. He had thought that he would embark on the journey on horseback. – So this was why…

 

The Great Eagle chuckled, a half-screeching, half-grinding sound unpleasant to the ears but warm to the heart. His keen black eyes sparkled with mirth and amusement. “Come, Elfling,” he said. “The sooner we go, the sooner your little feet step on firm ground again.”

 

Erestor, if someone other than his family or friends – or this magnificent Eagle – had said it, would have taken great offence; but as it was, he obediently clambered up the Eagle’s back in front of the joint of the giant bird’s left wing. His father helped him settle himself on the Eagle’s shoulders, then stepped back. He seemed rather amused, but concern also showed in his eyes.

 

“Safe journey, son,” he called, speaking for the first time after they had exited the King’s Tower.

 

The words dragged Erestor’s gaze from the Eagle’s large, sharp beak. And now that he looked down at his family and friends, he could see that the same look was plastered on his mother’s face and Turgon’s. And when his eyes locked with those of his mother’s, she said with a worried half-smile, “Do not let go of Lord Thorondor’s neck. I could not bear to lose you.”

 

And then, while his mouth yet opened as wide as his eyes, the Great Eagle – Thorondor – took a short run and launched himself into the air. He hunched forward instinctively, shell-shocked and shivering, the feathers on the back of the great Eagle's neck clutched tightly in his hands. His only comfort was that Idril had looked just as surprised and awed as he was, although not frightened. He wished he had known in advance!




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