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Cage of Light by Astris

Author name: Astris (astris_eldalie)
Recipient's name: Elleth (ladyelleth)
Title: Cage of Light
Rating: G
Request: I'd love a hurt/comfort fic exploring friendship among any of the Silmarillion ladies. If at all possible, a happy or at least hopeful ending would be fantastic.
Author's notes: So this was not going to be the fic I was writing and then it was and then it turned out a lot better than the one that it used to be. ('Cause that makes sense, yeah). But anyways. I hope you like it! :D Aredhel and Idril interactions are a good thing, generally.
Beta: Rhapsody
Summary: During the transition to Gondolin, Aredhel finds she is not the only one with doubts.

Gondolin could be stifling, at times, could feel more like a cage built of gilded steel than the haven her brother claimed it to be. And yet Aredhel had come here of her own free will, and stayed against her better judgement.

She had chosen quarters in the eastern wing of the royal palace that rose above the rest of the city, under the shadow of her brother's tower. Her window faced the sunrise, and the gaudy clouds that slashed their way across the sky to the east were all she could see over the looming mountains that encircled the city and the surrounding plains.

She tried to go riding down there, early on, in order to escape from the frantic bustle of an entire city settling in. (The early days in Gondolin reminded her too much of the periodic camps of the trek across the Helcaraxë, the struggle to bring an entire host to a halt and into shelter before the howling winds drove them apart, and there were some things she would rather forget.) The ride didn't help, not in the slightest––there was nowhere near enough room for her to ride far enough or fast enough for the wind of her passage to tear the restless anxiety from her mind. She found herself longing for the wider plains of her cousins' lands to the east, or even the marches of Linaewen––she could ride a day's journey there, at least, without running into a mountain.

She returned to her room in a high temper, dark hair slipping free of the braid she had tied it back in, and when she saw Turgon's guards scrambling to get out of her way she felt a flash of furious pleasure––yes, move before I hurl my saddle at you.

One of the servants tried to make eye contact with her, offering her a hesitant smile. "Is there aught I can do for you, Lady Aredhel?"

"You may leave me alone," she snarled, and almost immediately felt bad, but her feet carried her up the stairs before she could apologize.

The helpless, caged feeling did not subside by the time she reached her room, but some of the rage did. She left her grey cloak in a heap on the floor and fell backwards onto her bed, arms outstretched and eyes fixed on the rafters that stretched across the ceiling above. They looked newly cut; this must have been one of the last places Turgon and his builders had worked on before initiating the exodus.

And this place, this accursed city––

She could almost hear her brother's voice, infuriatingly patient––give it time, Ireth, you will grow to love it soon enough.

Else why would I have come here? she added to that, feeling her mouth twist bitterly––and she did not know, could not have explained herself if someone had asked her what drove her to agree to come here, stay for the rest of her life––

And she had agreed to come here. Turgon did not uproot his sister without asking her permission first; he had at least had the grace to approach her with his plans––years and years after it was too late to dissuade him, of course, and mere weeks before the move was scheduled, but at least he had asked.

It will be a safe place. Turgon had looked so stubbornly proud as he threw the map down on her desk back in Vinyamar, and as she had leaned over it she had realized that its edges were ragged and yellowing, layers of different colored ink overlayed through the years in various hands. Turgon must have begun planning this years ago, must have labored over it for a long time.

Is this where you've been disappearing to all these years? she had asked lightly, tapping the diagram with one finger just to see her brother stiffen, hands twitching as though he longed to yank it from her hands, protect it from her clumsy grasp. He had always been that way, even when they were both children––always so fiercely protective of his books and papers.

He had nodded, carefully sliding the map out from under her hand. It is finished. I have named it Onolindë, for the fountains which spring from the hill. There was a thrum of nervous energy under his words, and when she looked up and met his eyes she caught the flash of uncertainty.

And why do you tell me this, if it is such a secret? She grinned at him, hoping to get that little half-smile out of him, but he was stubbornly solemn. Seems to defeat the purpose of having a hidden city––

I want you to come with me, Ireth, Turgon had interrupted, quiet words overriding hers, and she had frozen with her mouth half-open.

It will be far safer than any other place in Beleriand, he had insisted, taking advantage of her momentary silence. Safer than Nevrast, safer than Hithlum, far more secure than the lands to the east––he would not say their cousins' names, had made a point of refusing to since the fire on the horizon, all those years ago. If and when Morgoth strikes again––

––we will defeat him, as we already have. She folded her arms, frowning at him. Or have you forgotten how throughly Atar and Nelyafinwë destroyed his forces? And not another true assault has come from Angband for nigh on sixty years––

He will attack again, Turgon had snapped, and his determination to convince her was such that he brushed past her utterance of a Fëanorian's name as though he had not even noticed. Do you think him likely to remain in the fortress of his for all eternity, or are you so naïve as to think that the murderer of our grandfather will extend a hand of peace to us?

She had bristled at that, shooting a cold glance at him. I am no fool.

Then surely you see, Ireth––He had planted both hands on her desk and leaned over it to look her squarely in the eye, dark hair falling in front of his face. He will come again with greater force than before and catch at unawares, secure in our own prowess. He knows our weakness now, and will blow through the defense at the eastern foothills and sweep down the pass of Sirion and destroy everything we have built!

The passion in his voice startled her into silence for a moment. She recovered himself, staring at Turgon's wide eyes and heaving chest––she had rarely seen him lose control like this––and then, trying to sound as reasonable as she could (but Fingon was better than her at that, always had been, and she wished he was here as never before): Have you talked to Atar about this, Turvo?

It would be no use. Turgon collapsed back into a nearby chair, running a hand through his hair. He looked inexpressibly weary, then, and Aredhel found herself searching for the bright-eyed, solemn brother that had carried her on his shoulders, read to her from his great, heavy books. Even if I thought he would listen, it would do no good. We cannot prepare for something like that, and Morgoth has all the time in the world to seek a way past our defenses. We do not have the strength to assault Angband, we never have, though that is the only way we could possibly win.

And hence the secret city, I suppose? She knew he spoke the truth––he was not the only one capable of looking at a map. Yet––and she wasn't about to bring this up with him, not right now, but––surely the combined power of the House of Finwë could withstand anything the enemy could throw at them?

One last bastion of Noldor strength. There was a strange, commanding light in the blue-grey eyes that had been Anairë's. One last haven of light and safety in the sea of darkness that will inevitably swallow us all. That is what this will be, Ireth, the future of our people.

And then he had reached across the table and taken her hands, grasping them with an overly cautious gentleness that was completely at odds with his desperate words. She felt a sudden rush of affection for her brother.


I'll come. She smiled at him, and his eyes widened with surprised elation. You'll need someone to help run things, after all, because Eru knows that you're the last person I'd expect to run a kingdom.

The corners of his mouth had twitched upwards at the teasing note in her voice. Thank you, Ireth, he whispered with real gratitude, and she squeezed his hands tight before standing and making her way to the doorway, wondering what one packed when one was moving to a secret city. Everything, she supposed.

I expect you to take care of all the paperwork, of course, she had called back over her shoulder. And the royal meetings, too––but I'll be wanting a crown, you hear?

Anything, Ireth, Turgon had said, a note of something almost like mirth entering his voice, and she had left smiling.

He had told them later that this was a final move, that no one could leave once they had entered. Aredhel supposed that she should not have been so surprised––a hidden city was no use if the people within were allowed to come and go freely. Yet thus far, Gondolin had felt less like an island of light and more like a cage lined with jewels and gold as a thin veil to disguise its true purpose.

Well. She would give it time. She had gotten used to this new country quickly enough; she could bear this city as well. And it was there was hardly any shortage of tasks for the King's sister.

As if summoned by her thoughts, there was a sharp knock at her door. She sat up, adjusting the filmy sleeve of her dress that had slipped down over her shoulder, exposing a swath of pale skin, and called, "Come in!"

The door creaked open to reveal the smiling face of one of Turgon's guards––Anamirë, her eyes bright with mirth. "Milady."

"Oh. It's you," Aredhel said with mock disappointment, standing and stretching with exaggerated laziness. She yawned, then added, "Come to bother me about someone's gardening again, or do you have real work for me today?"

"Agricultural planning is real work, you know," Anamirë replied, raising an eyebrow. "But I think Lord Turgon had something else in mind." She stepped fully into the room, armor clanking with her movement, and Aredhel had to suppress a snort of derision––Turgon still insisted that the guards in his tower wear full armor even while running messages for him, as though Morgoth planned to materialize outside his bedroom and slaughter them all.

By Oromë's spear, the Enemy couldn't even get past the mountains without blasting them aside––which, incidentally, would give even your palace guards more than enough time to get dressed, Turvo.

Anamirë must have guessed the direction of her thoughts, because she smiled and said, "If you also wish to complain about our armor during your meeting with Turgon, be my guest. But I do not think that either that or your reluctance to assist in the agricultural setup will avail you much when it comes to our good king and his plans."

"Well, mayhaps he can take those plans and shove them up his––" She stopped, made a noise of frustration at the back of her throat. Anamirë only looked more amused––she knew much of Aredhel, perhaps more than a mere guard had a right to. They been good friends for a time in Valinor after Aredhel came of age, before Anamirë's duties as a servant of Fingolfin's household had called her up to Aredhel's father's court, farther from the house that Aredhel had lived in since she had left her father's house (a tidy affair of white stone, with a slate roof––sensible and nowhere near as showy as Fingolfin's fortress of a home). Fate had thrown them back together in the form of a drawn sword and sudden darkness, and now here they were in her brother's city, each as trapped by her own choice as the other.

"So my brother deigns to speak to me now, does he?" Aredhel strode to her closet, idly undoing the laces on her outer robe––it would not do to appear before Turgon in these riding-stained clothes. At the very least, she would change the top layer.

"The king seemed quite concerned about something," Anamirë volunteered, and Aredhel shot her an amused glance as she shrugged on a silver robe.

"When is he not, hm?" She folded her arms. "Lead on, Anamirë. I believe I am now presentable."

"You always are, milady." The guard turned and swept from the room. Aredhel followed, chuckling.


"So, brother dearest, what task is so incredibly important that you called me all the way up here for it?" Aredhel leaned out the tower window, breathing deeply of the cool air. Evening was falling, a blue dusk cast over the city below. From up here, the people moving in the streets looked small enough to crush with her little finger.

Behind her, Turgon shuffled his papers into a neat stack, the rasping of parchment on parchment breaking the stillness of his tower study. She would not have expected him to choose a location like this for his work area––the walls were not straight, after all (it being a circular tower, after all), and she would have thought that the inability to fit normal furniture against curved walls would drive Turgon mad. Still, he seemed to have adjusted nicely; the room was already as cluttered as his study back at Vinyamar had been.

"How has the agricultural planning been going?" he asked, and she stifled a snort at how transparently he was trying to stall for time before working his way to whatever point he had in mind.

"As I'm sure most anyone can tell you, no one has reached any sort of agreement as to how it should work out, nearly everyone is unhappy, and we are going forward with our original plan regardless."

If she hadn't turned then, she might have missed the smile that flickered across Turgon's face just then. "A typical day in my court, then."

"Mm. Something like that." She crossed back to his desk and leaned against it, frowning at one of the diagrams pinned to the walls. "You have mines?"

"There are diggings planned, later, once we've settled in. Rog's people have already begun to clamor for materials to work with. The mountains probably have ores and––such things." Turgon tapped his quill against the desk, frowning. "How do the people expect me to have a midsummer festival planned already, when we have only just begun to settle in?" he muttered under his breath, a question clearly meant for himself.

"You'll figure something out." Aredhel picked up a glass paperweight and turned it over and over in her hands, watching the light flash from the inlayed blue swirls. "So, Turvo, I know you didn't call me up here to ask after a project that you could just as easily watch over from your little window up here."

"Perhaps I wanted to ask after my little sister's health."

"Perhaps you should have done that a week ago and not left it so late," she snapped, without thinking, and heard him stiffen behind her.

"Ireth, if you have had any trouble you should have come straight to me––"

"Oh, because you'd care so much, wouldn't you." She set the paperweight down sharply and hopped down from the desk, turning to face him. "I've had half a mind to up and leave this city, you know––"

"You cannot leave now," Turgon replied, infuriatingly calm. "The entrance has been secured, and the secret will be safe as long as none leave."

Nothing can stay hidden forever, perhaps you would have done better to sit alone on your throne and rule an empty city if you truly wanted to be safe––

She took a deep breath, let it out in a hiss of frustration. "Fine. Fine. That's not what you called me here to discuss, so get to the point."

He set his quill aside and folded his hands, looking up at her. "Have you seen Itarillë lately?"

"I––no, I haven't." Which was odd, now that she thought about it. Idril didn't tend to be the type to isolate herself from others; she would have expected her to be in the midst of all the bustle of moving in.

"She's been staying away from the tower, sleeping in empty dwellings or with whoever will take her in among the lower houses––she says she's helping the people acclimate, but I think she's avoiding me."

For a moment, she was tempted to laugh––typical of Turgon, who tended to be the very definition of an overprotective father (and who would not be, after what had happened to him?), to interpret his daughter's lack of communication as a personal offense. And yet there was real worry in his eyes, and she remembered the way Idril had looked at her as they were leaving, the last time she had seen her––pale and determined and perhaps a little terrified, hiding the fact she might have been as reluctant to enter this hidden city as Aredhel herself.

The laughter died in her throat.

"Has she said anything else?" There had been times, on the Ice, after (such a simple word, after, and so much weight under it) when she had looked at Idril and seen the cracking in her eyes, the fragmented look of a lost, broken thing. Aredhel had been the one to hold her, put her back together as best she could, and if there were still cracks visible in Turgon then it would be no surprise that Idril had the same, though she was better at hiding them––

Turgon shook his head. "She listens to you. I fear... I fear she wishes to speak to me least of all." He met her eyes, a startling vulnerability in his face. "Was this––was this a mistake, Ireth?"

You ask that for your daughter's sake, and not for the sake of all the others you dragged here after you––She swallowed her rising anger. "If it was, then it is one far past mending," she replied cooly. "Do you want me to speak to her, is that it?"

He nodded. "I––please, Ireth."

"Very well." She considered wrapping him in her arms (because he looked as close to vibrating apart as he ever had, bare and vulnerable and scared at the prospect of driving away the only one he had left). He stood before she could make a move, crossing to the window and peering out at the city below.

"It is beautiful, for all that everyone in it hates it," he mused, thoughtful. "And yet I love it, Ireth, is that so odd?"

She shook her head, knowing he could not see her. "Not so odd for you, Turvo." And then, forcing it out, because she knew it to be true: "The people will grow to love it in the end, you know."

"I hope so," he said heavily. "I truly hope so, Ireth."


Finding Idril was easy. Aredhel knew her well enough to predict with reasonable accuracy which spots the girl (girl no longer, she reminded herself, but sometimes she had trouble remembering that) would gravitate towards. She preferred sunlight, for one, and when she was upset she avoided large groups of people.

Based on her hazy memories of the one glimpse she had gotten of Turgon's map of the city and the general density of people wandering the streets in the vicinity of open spaces, she managed to wander into a garden that had clearly not been worked on yet. There was a large stretch of bare dirt, ringed with a neatly stacked wall of unshaped stones the same color as the walls that surrounded it, and from the rich black loam grew tangles of ivy that were already sending thin green tendrils into the gaps between the stones. Under skilled hands, this garden might blossom forth with just as much beauty as any back in Vinyamar, but for now there were only weeds and dirt. Sunlight slanted down into the center of the garden, illuminating the slight figure perched amid the ivy, her back to the narrow alleyway that led into the garden.

"I thought I'd find you here." Aredhel pushed aside a strand of ivy and stepped into the ring of stones, feet sinking into the soft dirt.

Idril glanced up at her, then returned to her previous occupation––twining an ivy stem around her hand, the green leaves pulled tighter each time it went around.

"Your father was wondering where you disappeared to," she continued, sitting down next to her niece and leaning back, closing her eyes to feel the sunlight strike her face. "He was starting to worry."

"He does that," Idril mumbled, and there was a sharp noise as she tore the strand of ivy free.

"Hm. Well, you can't really blame him for that, can you?" Aredhel opened her eyes. Idril was frowning, brows drawn down over her Vanyar-blue eyes (and who, Aredhel thought, might Turgon think of when he looked into those eyes––and what might Idril think of carrying a ghost in her very face, for that matter?).

She wouldn't ask where have you been, because it was clear enough where she was, and it was hardly as though there was anywhere else for her to be.

"What do you think of Onolindë?" she asked, instead, and Idril's lips twisted in something that could not quite be called a smile.

"That's my father's name for it, but there are some who have already shortened it.People like to do that; it makes it easier to speak of it when there aren't so many syllables."

"There is a certain music in those sounds, of course," Aredhel mused, and Idril flashed her another glance.

"Are you Uncle Findaráto, now, to speak of music? I had no idea you had such an interest in those things, Aredhel." She shrugged, tearing a leaf into shreds with quick, abrupt movements of her hands. "As for me, Gondolin will work as well as any other name."

Aredhel let her sit in silence for a few seconds, knowing that whatever was on her mind would come out soon enough. Idril had never been too adept at hiding her emotions; it was part of what would make her such a good queen someday. (And also part of what would make it so hard for her to act as such––the world worked that way, sometimes).

She counted breaths––three, four, five––and then Idril turned to her with that deep hurt in her face that Aredhel had not seen for some time, had thought was buried under better memories long ago.

"Aredhel, this city––do you think my mother would have been content here?"

And there it was, the ghost that lurked under every word Turgon and Idril both had spoken today––and the Valar forgive her, but even Aredhel sometimes looked at Idril and nearly called her by another name.

"I do not think it matters what Elenwë would have felt," Aredhel replied quietly. "Are you content here, Itaril?"

Her niece's face twisted with something halfway between grief and confusion. "I don't know what I'm supposed––"

"There is no supposed to, you know." And that was a lie, and they both knew that. There was always an obligation, under it all––to Turgon, to the people, to those who had passed before.

(Idril's small, pale hand tugging at her, Tell me it's a dream, Aredhel, tell me she isn't gone––)

"There is." Idril stood, fists clenched so tight they trembled. "If I knew what my mother would have felt, then I know what I should give to my father, because that's what he wants, isn't it, he wants me to make it worth losing her by being––" Her voice broke, and Aredhel wondered if she even knew what came after that.

"Itaril––" Aredhel stood, laying a hand on her niece's arm. Idril shrugged it off, swiping a hand across her eyes furiously.

"She wasn't supposed to die, she wasn't, so why is she the one––and I shouldn't be––"

Aredhel would not say stop it, because the sooner Idril rid herself of this poison, the better. Yet she hated to see her like this, miserable and angry and afraid, because if Elenwë wasn't the one who was supposed to die, and Idril was the one who had survived, then what did that mean?

Oh, Itaril, have you been holding this all along?

Idril dug her toe into the dirt, kicking up dust and keeping her eyes on the ground. "I thought Atar would be right, I thought that moving here would make it better––but it's not, is it? And he's wrong about it being safe, there's nowhere that's really safe here." She smiled, then, bitter and angry. "That's why we came here. Because it was too safe for too long in Valinor, right? And we can fight darkness on its own territory, here, and––and why were we so arrogant as to think that we would succeed at that?" She looked up at Aredhel, searching for answers, and Aredhel shook her head.

"Better to fight the Enemy head-on than allow him to sit on his throne and rule a land of darkness uncontested."

"But that's not what––we came here to fight, Aredhel, we came here to live, and all Atar wants to do now is hide behind his mountains and build a city of light and stay here until he forgets that there even is a darkness waiting outside." Idril was shaking, hands knotted around the cloth of her dress, and Aredhel was almost afraid to reach out for her again lest she fly apart, fragmented.

"I cannot say that I agree with him," she found herself saying, "but this city will stand for a long time, and surely something good will come of it." This was not foresight, not like Finrod might have said, more––truth, simple and clear.

"It will fall, in the end, you know. Everything falls." Idril frowned. "And I would rather die fighting outside than trapped in a cage of light. Because they will find us, won't they?"

"Eventually, perhaps." Aredhel glanced at the sky, the hazy blue of afternoon creeping in over the tops of the buildings. "That is the flaw of a hidden city, after all––that what is hidden is always meantto be found. Perhaps it is for us to make it worth it for as long as it lasts." She glanced at Idril. "It doesn't matter, really, what was sacrificed to reach this point, only what we do from here. Don't you think?"

When she reached out for Idril this time, her niece turned and buried her face in Aredhel's shoulder, taking a deep, shuddering breath. "I don't like it here," she said into Aredhel, hands reaching up and fastening onto her sleeves.

"Neither do I." But you were always better at facing your fears than I was, Itarillë. "The city needs us both, though, for a time. And after––maybe the people will look to you someday."

"I don't want that responsibility," Idril said heavily, and Aredhel sighed.

"Few do, until they have it." She took Idril's hand and pulled away; she was not surprised to see that Idril's eyes were dry. "Come. We will bring this city the light it will need to last these years in hiding."

They left the garden together, footprints fading in the soft dirt. Behind them, the last of the sunlight struck the twisted ivy, lining the edges of the green leaves with gold. Idril did not let go of Aredhel's hand until they reached the street at the end of the alley, the white stone shining in the light of the dying sun.

"If you ever need to talk, again," Aredhel started to say, words halting and suddenly unsure, but Idril squeezed her hand once and let go with a small, sad smile.

"I think I can manage on my own, from now on." She hesitated, then wrapped her arms around her aunt in a brief, desperate hug. "But thank you." For everything, her tone said, and Aredhel smiled and thought that perhaps this city would not be completely worthless after all.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 1st, 2014 04:14 am (UTC)
Such melancholy and foreboding permeates this story, and yet there is affection here as well, sister for brother, father for daughter, aunt for niece: family. And Aredhel and Idril are making their choices out of love for brother, for father--yet they also have the wisdom to see that his plan has fatal flaws.

And I like the tempered hope that Aredhel offers her niece: the hope that the new city will last long enough to accomplished something good.
Jan. 2nd, 2014 01:34 am (UTC)
I've always wondered what exactly drove Turgon's people to follow him into what was potentially eternal isolation, and I think that love does account for his family's choices, at least :)

Thank you!
Jan. 1st, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
You'll need someone to help run things, after all, because Eru knows that you're the last person I'd expect to run a kingdom.

That's the kind of gentle banter I love most. What an interesting story -- Aredhel's feelings ring very true.
Jan. 1st, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC)
Aredhel certainly seems the type to do some kind teasing, doesn't she? XD

Thank you!
Jan. 1st, 2014 08:56 pm (UTC)
I've read this twice now, and I'm still sitting here with misty eyes and a lump in my throat. Elvie, this was amazing - thank you so much for writing for me. Once again. ;)

I never thought in-depth about the transition to Gondolin from Vinyamar, but the scenario that you built from it makes perfect sense - I love how your Aredhel came of her own free will but underestimated the change and (for lack of a better word) relative captivity that came with it, and her restlessness and anger rang very, very true. Anamirë and Aredhel's friendship was a joy to read (and did I spot subtext there? You devious amazing person. :D) - the glimpses at Gondolin's sustainability and beginning economy were wonderful, and you've done a great deal to make Turgon more sympathetic to me. He's not my favourite character by far (in part definitely due to my failure to engage with him more closely yet) - in here, you made him very human, and that did a lot for me. Thank you for that, as well.

And as for Idril - well, what can I say? From the beginning imagery of her in the overgrown garden and the symbolism, to her anger and survivor's guilt, she kept breaking my heart, and cue a case of the sniffles (again). You write with that wonderful emotional honesty that makes all of your stories a treat, and I'm not surprised that this wasn't an exception. Again, thank you so, so much! *hugs tight!* ♥
Jan. 1st, 2014 09:32 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked it! (And it does occur to me that in the last four fic exchanges I've participated in, one of us has gotten the other every time XD)

I'd never given much thought to Gondolin in general before this, so I'm glad it came off as believable. (Ehehehe subtext what subtext I don't do subtext what're you talking about :D)

*hugs you back* Writing for you is always so much fun, so thank you for enduring the fics that I throw at you!
Jan. 1st, 2014 10:47 pm (UTC)
The last four - that many already? XD (Not that I'm complaining, mind you - quite the opposite, and here's to many more this year. :D)

(No subtext, what subtext, I must have imagined that then. Hmpf. XD)

Getting a story from you is always fantastic, and I keep bouncing about it (about as much as I flail when have to write for you) - feel free to keep throwing exchange fics at me! To steal a line from Doctor Who - "Look at me, I'm a target!" :D
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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