City of Singing Stone by Zdenka

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Story Notes:

Written for Trick or Treat Exchange 2017. Warning for referenced canonical character death.


Rían awoke to warmth and sunlight. She was lying on something soft and comfortable, with a warm blanket over her. Opening her eyes, she blinked against the dazzle of light. When her vision cleared, she saw she was lying in a bed with fine coverlets; beside her was a window with crystal panes through which the sunlight streamed. Living green leaves moved gently in the breeze; it was a flowering vine, Rían realized, that twined up the window frame. The flowers were of a kind she had never seen, brilliant blue with a gold heart. She could hear music as well; the sound of a mandolin being played softly came to her from another room.

For a few moments she could only look in wonder at the fresh flowers in the sunlight, while she tried to gather her scattered memories. She remembered the endless miles of Anfauglith, the dust blowing and sliding under her feet, her mouth parched and dry, and the shock of seeing that one spot of bright green. She remembered kneeling on the green mound to sing one last song in defiance to Morgoth, the grass cold under her hands; and she remembered looking upward for one last glimpse of a star. And then-- She had confused recollections of a rush of wind and a great shadow falling over her, of spinning through the air among the stars. But surely that was only a dream?

This could not be a dream, nor the halls of death. Her body ached too much for that. She sat up gingerly and touched one of the blue flowers; the petals were soft beneath her fingers.

The door of the room opened, jarring her from her thoughts, and she quickly turned her head to see. A dark-haired woman entered, carrying a tray that held a small pitcher and a cup, and with an instrument case slung across her back. A woman? No, an Elf. She had a grace of motion and a light in her eyes that Rían had only ever seen among the company of the High King, when he came to visit Dor-lómin before the battle that had changed everything.

“Ah! You’re awake,” the Elf-woman said in the High-elven tongue. “How do you feel?”

“Well, I think,” Rían faltered. “Please-- where is this place?”

The Elf set down her tray on a small table. “You are in Gondolin,” she said. “As much a surprise to us as it must be to you! You are only the third of mortal kind to enter the city since its founding. The eagles brought you; they found you lying insensible in the Anfauglith. The High King feared they had brought him another body to bury! But he saw that you lived, and he called the healers.”

The hidden city of Gondolin! It was almost too strange for belief. Rían traced invisible patterns on the coverlet with her finger, as if seeking the strange paths that had brought her here.

“Can you drink this?” the woman asked briskly, pouring liquid from the pitcher into the cup. “It will help to restore your strength.”

Rían nodded. The woman held the cup for her while she drank. Rían expected it to taste bitter or at least strongly herbal, but it tasted of honey and tingled pleasantly upon her tongue.

The Elf set the cup back on the tray. “Will you tell me your name?” she asked curiously. “All of Gondolin has been wondering who we have as guest.”

“I am Rían daughter of Belegund. I came from Dor- lómin.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “The folk of Dor- lómin are held in great honor here,” she said. And then, “No, better not to speak of that until you are well.”  She unslung her case from her back and took out a small viol, plucking the strings softly to make sure it was in tune. “I will tell the King; he will wish to know it. But first I will sing a song of healing for you. For now, it’s better for you to rest.” She set the viol between her knees, took up her bow, and began to play.

The music of her viol was clear and sweet, like streams of cold water; it made Rían think of the rippling voice of Nen Lalaith which flowed down from the mountain heights until it came past Húrin’s house in Dor- lómin. Rían meant to ask more questions, to know more of how she had come here, but she did not wish to break into that music. A sense of peace stole over her, refreshing her spirit. Then the Elf began to sing, and her song seemed to spread a gentle warmth through Rían’s body. Whether it was the healing cordial that brought sleep, some enchantment in the music, or simply her body pushed past endurance, she felt a great weariness come upon her. She closed her eyes and let herself drift into sleep.

When Rían woke again, she found that the pain in her body was almost gone, with only a little lingering weariness. More Elves brought her food, which was excellent, though containing some unfamiliar flavors. The bread was baked with fresh rosemary and other herbs, and when she bit into a pear, it was perfectly ripe, although it was still winter. They brought her clothing also; the robe was embroidered with leaves and tiny golden flowers along the sleeves. It made her smile in spite of herself. To all her questions, they only answered that Lady Idril would come to her soon, and would tell her whatever she wished.

Lady Idril, when she arrived, was tall and golden-haired; she smiled easily and moved as lightly as a girl. Rían was surprised to see that she walked barefoot in spite of the cold. She was accompanied by the woman who had played the viol for her; she gave her name as Meleth.

“You are Rían? I am Idril, daughter of Turgon the king. Will you walk through the city with me? We need not go far if you are tired, but I think seeing the beauty of Gondolin will refresh your spirit. I think also you must have many questions. Ask what you wish to know, and I will tell you!”

Although Idril had offered to answer her questions, Rían walked for a time in silence. It was as Idril said; the city was beautiful. There were graceful archways and lofty towers of marble, but also fountains that leapt upward and splashed back into their basins with a music sound. It was not the season for flowers to grow outdoors, but there were trees and the stems of climbing vines. Everywhere Rían looked, she saw archways or pillars carved with leaves or flowers or whimsical birds. And there was music, too; an Elf playing his flute in a busy square, to the delight of the onlookers, or a group of women singing as they went.

When she grew tired, Idril found a bench shaded by a leafy vine, beside a leaping fountain. Idril perched on the marble rim of the fountain, tucking up her skirts and bathing her feet in the water. Rían approached to look into the water.

“Be careful!” Meleth said. “The fountains of Gondolin have lurking water spirits, that wait to trap the unwary.” Rían drew back with alarm.

“Meleth,” Idril chided with a smile. “She is a stranger here, and you will make her believe you!”

Meleth laughed. “Very well,” she said. “There are no water spirits -- that I know of! But it makes a convenient story, when you wish to keep children from falling in the fountain.”

Rían nevertheless sat on the bench to rest. Idril sang to the music of the fountain, a simple but beautiful tune; the song told how Varda in friendship had given some of her stars to Yavanna, who set them in the grass to blossom as flowers. And Rían caught her breath.

“I know that song!” she said. “I know it, Huor used to sing it--”

Idril turned back toward her in surprise. “You know Huor?”

“He is-- we were wedded,” Rían faltered. She fiercely blinked back the tears that threatened to fall.

“You know, then?” Idril asked very gently.

Rían nodded. “They told me in Mithrim,” she said. “I was seeking his grave--that is why I went into Anfauglith--”

Idril leaped lightly off the fountain and hurried to sit beside Rían. “Huor was a dear friend to me,” she said, “he and his brother both. They lived with us for well-nigh a year.  They were lost in the wilderness, and the eagles brought them here as they brought you. And more than that-- I do not think they could have told you in Mithrim. When the men of Dor- lómin fell, they were holding off Morgoth’s forces to protect my father’s retreat. My father is alive now because of them, and many other folk of Gondolin who are dear to me. You must not think you have come among strangers! Húrin and Huor are loved and honored in Gondolin, and we will not forget them.”

Rían was silent for a long moment, taking this in. At last she said, “You spoke of Húrin and Huor. But what of me? What is my place here?”

Idril looked at her gravely. “I will tell you the truth,” she said. “This city’s safety depends on secrecy, that Morgoth does not know where Gondolin may be. It is my father’s law that no one who has entered this city may leave it. He has seldom permitted that law to be broken, and since returning from the battle, he has enforced it even more strictly. I do not think he will open the gates for you.”

Rían bowed her head. It fit with the strangeness of all she had experienced since she woke: a city of great loveliness, that she was not permitted to leave.

After a moment, Idril continued: “It may seem I am offering you a choice that is no choice at all! Nevertheless, I ask you, Rían daughter of Belegund: are you content to dwell with us in Gondolin, to find healing for your sorrow and to have peace for a time from the battles of Middle-earth?”

Rían raised her head to look around her at the city with its fountains and graceful towers, its flowering plants and music. “Yes,” she said. “I am content.”


Chapter End Notes:

There wasn't really room to bring him into the fic, but I haven't forgotten about Tuor (and Rían hasn't either). I think what happens here is that Rían asks to be allowed to go back to Mithrim and bring him back to Gondolin, but Turgon refuses. And then everyone is very surprised, but pleased, when he shows up as Ulmo's messenger nineteen years later.



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