Title: Above the Clouds
Theme: One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Author's Notes: Warning for post-traumatic stress disorder
Summary: Berion, a captain of Fingon's guard, survives the defeat of his king in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and ends up in Gondolin
Word Count: 1,111
The overworked, hollow-eyed assistant healer had asked him: ‘Have you any place to go?’
‘Yes’, he had said, truthfully.
The healer looked relieved and hurried away to some more urgent task. Afterwards, it occurred to Berion that she had probably meant whether he had relatives or friends who could put him up. He had not consciously misled her.
He had no belongings to pack. He picked up his notched sword where it leaned against the wall in its scabbard, next to the pallet that was now no longer his, and slung the sword belt around his hips, out of old habit. Then he wandered out along the corridor and through the busy atrium of the Halls of Healing and stepped out onto the streets of Gondolin, the city where he had never expected to come.
He blinked. Gondolin glittered. A shimmering fountain played in the square before him. Reflections of sunlight bounced off a golden weather vane, a glazed window, burnished metal railings…
He walked forward and blinked again to drive away the shadows that seemed to want to interpose themselves. No, there were no corpses lying in the streets, there was no blood spattered across the paving-stones or flowing in the gutter. Not yet.
He chose a crowded thoroughfare that he thought led north and after a while he nerved himself to stop one of the citizens and ask: ‘Excuse me—could you tell me the way to the tomb of Fingolfin?’
‘Why? What for?’ the stranger he had stopped asked in return and followed that up with a string of questions that Berion did not even want to think about answering, so he ignored them and simply asked again: ‘Could you tell me the way?’
The stranger was kind. He stopped asking questions and gave simple instructions, pointing Berion towards the right gate.
‘Thank you very much’, said Berion politely and went on until he passed out of the city into the valley of Tumladen.
Out among the green fields he met a woman herding a flock of geese and asked for directions again. She asked fewer questions—merely for his name, which he told her—and insisted that he have a drink of water from her water skin and a bite of bread before she pointed him towards the beginning of the mountain path that he sought.
He came to the Echoriath and found the winding path leading upwards that Turgon had once taken to meet Thorondor. Up and up it wound along the mountainside, higher and higher, and gradually the valley of Tumladen fell away below, as he climbed. He went on steadily, steadily, slowly, but without stopping. Vegetation along the path grew sparser; increasingly, he was passing over scree and around boulders, past bare rock.
He rounded the shoulder of the mountain where the path led through scraggly bushes. A small tree with twinned trunks stood as if guarding access to the higher regions. He saw he was above the clouds now where the eagles roamed. The weather remained dry but the air was cold up here and quite thin.
He was moving very slowly now. If he had thought about it at all, he would have realized that his lungs hurt and his feet were sore and the wound in his side that had not finished healing was on fire. But there were clouds in his brain, also, and he did not think about it, but moved on unstoppably at a snail’s pace, further up, further up.
And then he was there, had found it: the place where he had to go, the place he had chanced to overhear Gondolindrim talking about as he lay waiting to see whether he would die of his wounds or heal. Lonely among the clouds, on a mountain-top overlooking Tumladen from the north, Berion came to the high cairn that Turgon had erected over the spot where Thorondor had left the body of Fingolfin after he was slain before the Gates of Angband.
For the first time he was aware of weariness and stumbled and almost fell. But he lurched forward with both arms outstretched and sinking to his knees in front of the cairn, he said: ‘My lord, my lord, I have found you again!’
And pressing his forehead against the stones, it seemed to him that he received some kind of answer or greeting and he wept with gratitude.
‘I tried, my lord, I tried,’ he said, ‘but the forces of Morgoth came between and I was swept aside southwards. I could not make my way back to his side…’
He went on leaning against the cairn. He had lost his king, twice over, had lost all his friends and relatives, his home—all that remained was this rocky tomb. Yet there was a kind of peace here.
He knew he was unable to get to his feet again, but entirely failed to be worried by that fact. His lips were blue, bitter cold crept up his limbs, but he went on pressing his face against the stony surface and lost all sense of time.
He could not make out who was calling him and why.
Whose voice was that? Where was it coming from?
‘Berion, by the loyalty you owe the house of Fingolfin I command you, open your mouth and drink!’
Obediently, he swallowed. The liquid burned his tongue and throat. He coughed.
When he became more conscious of his surroundings, he became aware that he was lying on the ground, swathed in fur and blankets. He was also hurting all over. A small fire was burning nearby. Someone was crouching beside it. It was Idril, in a hooded cloak and mittens. He had not seen her since she had left Vinyamar.
‘You have grown up,’ he mumbled.
She smiled, tiredly, in response.
‘Why did you bring me back?’
Her expression grew stern.
‘My family has not released you from your service, Berion.’
‘What use am I? I failed your grandfather and your uncle... And I heard your father himself say that there is no hope that Gondolin will now remain hidden for long.’
‘That may be so, but the more need we will have of you… And I do not believe you failed either of them.’
He was too weak and in too much pain to argue.
‘Rest a while and grow warm,’ said Idril. ‘And then we will go down again.’
He closed his eyes.
‘Do you remember’, he heard Idril ask, ‘how you once bought me a slice of cherry pie in the market at Eithel Sirion?’
How her face had lit up at the simple treat!