In the Mirror

Tomorrow I shall post my usual Ales and Tales writeup of last night’s special edition, the Minstrel Mash. But I wanted to go ahead and post the tale that Lennidhren told in honor of the event. This tale accomplishes three purposes:

  1. It is the product of my “Make me tell you a story” game from a few posts ago.
  2. It is a spooky story suitable for the Minstrel Mash – Hallowe’en edition of Ales and Tales.
  3. And even better, it is another tale of the Fall of Gondolin to join my Hammer of Wrath story!

All of which is to say, I am inordinately pleased with and proud of this one, so it gets its own separate post. 🙂 I am also working on pictures to go with it. But screenshots are complicated because the Prancing Pony always has people in it – NPCs even if you could find a time when it was free of other players, so I can’t really reenact the key scenes. So I’m going to attempt to tackle it with pencil and paper. This may or may not end up added to the post if I am ever satisfied with it. I’ll let you know. 🙂

And now – Lennidhren’s tale of the Mirror!

In the Mirror

Not long ago, just as the autumn nights were growing cooler, I found myself passing through Bree at nightfall. Though I do not mind journeying even through the night, especially at such a beautiful time of year, many matters were pressing on my mind that day, and so I determined to stop for the night and take rest at the Prancing Pony.

As I was sitting by the fire there, wandering paths of memory, I was drawn out of my reverie by a slight commotion at the front door. A most curious looking little man had blown in – yes, blown in on the wind, so it seemed, with his tattered cloak swirling about him even though inside the inn there was no breeze. Without lifting from his head the floppy hat that all but hid his face, he spoke to Master Butterbur, the proprietor of the inn, and I saw him draw out several objects from a bag slung over his shoulder. A peddler, I thought, as I saw Barliman turning the objects over carefully, now shaking his head, now gesturing with such animation that he nearly – but not, I think, intentionally – batted one of the objects over the peddler’s head toward the door.

After several minutes, it seemed a bargain had been struck. Master Butterbur counted out coins, payment exchanged hands, and the mysterious visitor departed with his bag somewhat lighter than when he came in. I thought no more of the scene, withdrawing again into my thoughts by the fire, until suddenly Barliman Butterbur stood before me. In his hands he bore, as if it were a tray on which to serve his most excellent refreshments, a mirror nearly half as long as I am tall, and bordered with an intricate filigree of bronze.

“My good Elf,” said the innkeeper almost apologetically, forgetting my name as he ever does, “so sorry to bother you, but I wonder if I might ask a favor of you.”

“Gladly,” I replied, rising to greet him.

“I was hoping,” he continued, “you could take a look at this mirror for me. Being a – what is it they call you – a scholar and such, with all your book-learning –”

“A Lore-master,” I provided the term he was hunting for.

“Yes, yes, quite,” said he; “being so good with the lore and such, it might be perhaps you’d know something about a piece like this. Feller just brought it around with a lot of other little things to sell; not much to speak of, the most of it, but this one caught my eye. Looks fairly old, don’t it? I’ll wager you’ve seen a thing or two of its sort before, with your lore and all, and maybe you can tell me what sort of a bargain I’ve made.”

I thought better of explaining to Master Butterbur the distinction – faint though it may be – between a Lore-master and a dealer in antiquities, and simply took the mirror from him. ’Twas old, indeed! Seldom have I seen bronze-work of that sort; but once in a book I glimpsed a sketch of the doors of the king’s house in the city of Gondolin long ago, and the motif worked there was worked in miniature on the border of the mirror in my hands.

So I told the innkeep of my suspicions, and oh, did he preen to think that a thing from that glorious city should have passed into his keeping over the course of so many years! But it puzzled me. “Gondolin lies now beneath the wave,” I reminded him. “How came this thing here? I wish you had stayed the man that brought it to you. I should like to ask him where he got it.”

Yet that opportunity was beyond us now – if not quite as far beyond us as the land of the mirror’s making. Barliman made the rounds of the common room, for it behoved him to tell the tale again and again to every one of his guests, and to show off this marvel of a mirror. Then as the night grew late and the folk, tired of hearing how Barliman Butterbur paid a pittance for an Elf-king’s own mirror (so grew the tale in the telling), departed for their own homes or to their hired rooms in the inn, Master Butterbur produced a ladder from some back room and climbed up to hang the mirror right above the fireplace.

By the time this task was accomplished, he and I remained alone in the common room, all other patrons having gone to bed. “Shall you be wanting a room tonight, miss?” the kind old landlord asked me as he wiped down the tables for the night. “We’ve a fine one upstairs, with a parlor and all, just right for a lady like you.”

“I am well here by the fire,” I assured him. “I have more need of thought than of sleep.”

“Very well then,” he said. “I’ll leave you to it. So good of you to help me with that mirror and all. What a find, eh? That peddler can’t have known what he was carrying, as cheap as he let it go!” And with several more words on this subject, at last he bustled off to close up his kitchen for the few hours that remained till it should be wanted for breakfast baking.

A while I sat in my thoughts again, watching the fire on the hearth slowly die down. But as that light faded, it seemed another light grew, paler than firelight. At length my attention was drawn to this new glow, and I looked around for its source. Could it be that the mirror so ancient was reflecting a light without source? For from that mirror it seemed the glow did arise, yet as I glanced about the room I saw no other light to be reflected so.

I moved my chair back from the fireplace and set it to face the mirror itself. There I sat as if in vigil, keeping watch for I knew not what. But in this guard I failed, for suddenly a weariness crept over me, and though I had been in no need of sleep, as I told Barliman, yet slumber claimed me within minutes.

From dreamless sleep I awoke – I know not how much later, for in the common room all seemed unchanged – to the sound of wailing. Startled, I sprang from my chair and looked all about, seeking the one who wept so, forgetting at first what had passed in the inn that night. Then I remembered the mirror, and started towards it. But the glow that had been growing over its bronze now burst forth bright as the sun, and I fell back blinded, throwing my hands before my eyes. At that moment the wailing too burst forth as deafening thunder, yet still it could be heard as weeping; and at the same moment the door of the inn burst open and a wind blew through the common room so that my skirts swirled about me in the manner of the peddler’s tattered cloak. I stumbled into my chair, now toppled by the breeze, but even as I fell, there was the sound of many feet in the hallway, and Barliman thundered into the room followed by several of his guests, drawn from their beds by the commotion.

Someone shouldered the door closed, cutting off the violent wind, but the wailing went on unabated. “What’s going on?” I could barely hear Barliman holler over the clamor, but my eyes were clearing now and I turned back to the mirror. Still it gave off that eerie glow, but its brightness was diminished now and I could see the image there. No ordinary mirror was this! For not my own face peered back at me, but the likeness of an Elf-maid, dark hair wound about her head in a fashion like none I had ever seen, glittering with jewels pinned into the curls here and there. And she was weeping, and from her came that wailing which still beset our ears.

“By my stars!” exclaimed Master Butterbur. And then, I think for the first time in his life, he was silent, struck speechless by fear and wonder.

Now amidst the wailing the maiden in the mirror seemed to speak, but the words came as from a great distance, and were not clear, though the wails seemed to fill the very room where we stood. Yet in the howls I thought words could be made out: “They come!” she said, very often, and “The fires of Angband!” and “My love, do not do it!” This last I heard most clearly: “Do not go! Take me with you, or I shall tell them what you intend!”

“Who are you?” I called out to the maiden in the mirror. “Speak!” But if she heard me, she gave no sign, but went on weeping as before. I turned to look for my staff then, where I had left it against the wall when I came in. The winds that had blown the door open had set the room in some disarray, and it took several minutes’ search before I could find it. Meanwhile the patrons of the inn had sought refuge behind tables and around corners – yet none so far as to lose sight of this marvel, braving the dreadful noise for the chance to tell firsthand a tale that by morning all ears would have heard.

At last my hand fell upon the staff, and brandishing it before me I returned to face the mirror again. “Now,” I said, raising the staff, “by Mandos I command you, spirit, speak to us!”

Then came the flash again, but I hid my eyes, expecting it; and when I looked back the light was diminished and more like the fire’s glow than the ghost-light that had filled the room before. In the mirror the maiden had ceased to weep and stared now in wonder at the group gathered in the inn.

“Tell us your name,” I commanded, “and what fate binds you to this mirror. If I can help you, I will.”

She gave a long sigh, and with it went the last of the ghost-light, till the mirror seemed no more than a window through which I spoke to a friend in her chamber. “Beyond help am I,” she moaned. “I am Eglechil, forsaken by him whom I would have followed to the very Hells of Iron if I could.”

“Angband,” I murmured. “I heard you say that earlier. Why would you go there?”

“Why would Maeglin go there?” she rejoined, and then burst again into tears.

That name I knew, and the story began to cohere. Maeglin, nephew of the king of Gondolin, betrayer of that fair city – only as the city fell could Eglechil have learned of his bargain with Angband. “You are an Elf of Gondolin,” I concluded. She paid no heed, but I needed no confirmation. “What happened to you? Why do you haunt the mirror?”

“He has forsaken me,” she said again. “I loved him, but he saw no other than Idril. And now he goes to throw her child from the walls in vengeance ’gainst him whom she loves, for so has the darkness taken him.”

“That tale I know,” said I. “What of yours?”

“I knew his plans and tried to stop him,” said Eglechil. “So here in this tower he has locked me, till ’tis done. Yet he returns no more, and around me the city burns – ah! See, they come, on wings of night with fire they come!”

“Who comes, Eglechil?”

“Beasts from the abyss, drakes breathing fire – alas! The gates have fallen, the lords of the houses have fallen, and Gondolin burns!”

There was a sound as of a roaring fire, faint and dim as from a great distance, and for a moment the maiden in the mirror flickered and the image there showed naught but flame. Then she was back, weeping now silently.

“Eglechil,” I said gently, “too long have you lingered here. Gondolin and all that land lie now beneath the wave. Your city is avenged; Angband and its master are fallen.”

“Avenged? That may be, yet what vengeance is there for me? Forsaken am I, by him whom I would have followed…” This trailed off into weeping again.

“I cannot give you the joy nor the vengeance you desired,” I said after a minute’s thought. “But I can give you knowledge of the tale where it went beyond your reach. In this may you find your vengeance, and your spirit’s rest. Know then that this Maeglin who forsook and imprisoned you never carried out that plan of which you learned. On the wall as he sought to hurl the child Earendil down from the heights, Tuor the child’s father fell upon him and with great force of arms threw the traitor himself to his doom. So are you avenged. And though Gondolin fell to Maeglin’s treachery, a remnant escaped and with them the child Earendil, whose star will guide you now home to Mandos. Be at peace, Eglechil. There remains nothing to hold you here.”

Even as I spoke, the image in the mirror seemed to fade, and as my last words fell to silence, Eglechil let out a great sigh, closed her eyes, and in the next moment I saw her face no more, but my own looking back at me. Wearily I set my staff down at my feet and turned to Master Butterbur.

“That mirror will trouble you no more, I think,” I said. “She is gone.”

Now, should you visit the Prancing Pony today, I do not believe you will see this remarkable mirror, for despite its beauty and its antiquity Master Butterbur has tucked it away into some back room where it may safely avoid the glint of firelight in future. But knowing Barliman, I expect that soon enough he will forget all the trouble it once caused and will display it with pride once more. As for Eglechil, I am sure that in the uttermost West she now rests from her torment. And as for the peddler, should you ever come across a curious little man in a floppy hat and a tattered cloak, do send him my way, for I long to hear his tale of how this mirror of Gondolin, which surely lay through long years in dragon’s hoard, plundered from the maiden Eglechil’s tower prison, came to his hands and thence to Bree.

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