7. The Flight of the Noldoli

'Nonetheless the Gods did not give up hope, but many a time would meet beneath the ruined tree of Laurelin and thence break and scour the land of Valinor once more unwearingly, desiring fiercely to avenge the hurts done to their fair realm; and now the Eldar at their summons aided in the chase that labours not only in the plain but toils both up and down the slopes of the mountains, for there is no escape from Valinor to west, where lie the cold waters of the Outer Seas. But Fëanor standing in the square about Inwe's house in topmost Kôr will not be silenced, and cries out that all the Noldoli shall gather about him and hearken, and many thousands of them come to hear his words bearing slender torches, so that that place is filled with a lurid light such as has never before shone on those white walls. Now when they are gathered there and Fëanor sees that far the most of the company is of the kin of the Noldor, he exhorts them to seize now this darkness and confusion and the weariness of the Gods to cast off the yoke — for thus demented he called the days of bliss in Valinor — and get them hence carrying with them what they might or listed. "If all your hearts be too faint to follow, behold I Fëanor go now alone into the wide and magic world to seek the gems that are my own, and perchance many great and strange adventures will there befall me more worthy of a child of Iluvatar than a servant of the Gods."

Then is there a great rush of those who will follow him at once, and though wise Noleme speaks against this rashness they will not hear him, and ever the tumult groweth wilder. Again Noleme pleads that at least they send an embassy to Manwe to take due farewell and maybe get his goodwill and counsel for their journeying, but Fëanor persuades them to cast away even such moderate wisdom, saying that to do so were but to court refusal, and that Manwe would forbid them and prevent them: "What is Valinor to us," say they, "now that its light is come to little — as lief and liever would we have the untrammeled world." Now then they arm themselves as best they may — for nor Elves nor Gods in those days bethought themselves overmuch of weapons — and store of jewels they took and stuffs of raiment; but all their books of their lore they left behind, and indeed there was not much therein that the wise men among them could not match from memory. But Noleme seeing that his counsel prevailed not would not be separated from his folk, and went with them and aided them in all their preparations. Then did they get them down the hill of Kôr lit by the flame of torches, and so faring in haste along the creek and the shores of that arm of the Shadowy Sea that encroached here upon the hills they found the seaward dwellings of the Solosimpi.

The most of that folk were gone a-hunting with the Gods, but many there were gathered about the beaches before their dwellings and dismay was abroad among them, yet still were no few busy about the places of their ships, and the chief of these was that one they named Kopas, or more fully Kopas Alqalunte, the Haven of the Swanships. Now Swanhaven was like a bason of quiet waters, save that towards the eastward and the seas the ring of rocks that enclosed it sank somewhat, and there did the sea pierce through, so that there was a mighty arch of living stone. So great was this that save of the mightiest ships two might pass therethrough, one going out maybe and another seeking inward to the quiet blue waters of the haven, nor would the mast-tops come nigh to grazing on the rock. Not much of the light of the Trees came thither aforetime by reason of the wall, wherefore was it lit ever with a ring of lamps of gold, and lanterns there were too of many colours tokening the wharves and landings of the different houses; but through the arch the pale waters of the Shadowy Seas might distantly be glimpsed, lit faintly with the shining of the Trees. Very beautiful was that harbour to gaze upon, what time the white fleets came shimmering home and the troubled waters broke the mirrored radiance of the lamps into rippling lights, weaving strange patterns of many twinkling lines. But now were all those vessels lying still, and a deep gloom was settled on the place at the fading of the Trees.

Of the Solosimpi none would hearken to the wild words of the Noldoli, save a few that might be counted on two hands; and so did that folk wander unhappily northward along the shores of Eldamar, even till they came to the cliff-tops that gazed down upon Swanhaven, and therefrom had the Solosimpi of old cut winding stairs in the rock leading down to the harbour's edge. Now northward thence the way was very rugged and evil, and the Noldoli had with them nigh as many maids and women as of men and boys (albeit many especially of the youngest children were left in Kôr and in Sirnumen and many tears were shed thereat); wherefore were they now at a loss, and in this extremity, distraught with sorrows and wildered in mind, they here wrought those deeds which afterwards they have most bitterly repented — for by them was for a while the displeasure of the Gods laid heavily upon all their folk and the hearts even of the Eldalie were turned against them.

Behold, the counsel of Fëanor is that by no means can that host hope to win swiftly along the coast save by the aid of ships; "and these," said he, "an the shore-elves will not give them, we must take".

Wherefore going down to the harbour they essayed to go upon those ships that there lay, but the Solosimpi said them nay, yet for the great host of the Gnome-folk they did not as yet resist; but a new wrath awoke there between Eldar and Eldar. So did the Noldoli embark all their womenfolk and children and a great host beside upon those ships, and casting them loose they oared them with a great multitude of oars towards the seas. Then did a great anger blaze in the hearts of the Shoreland Pipers, seeing the theft of those vessels that their cunning and long labours had fashioned, and some there were that the Gods had made of old on Tol Eressëa as has been recounted, wondrous and magic boats, the first that ever were. So sprang up suddenly a voice among them: "Never shall these thieves leave the Haven in our ships", and all those of the Solosimpi that were there ran swiftly atop of the cliff-wall to where the archway was wherethrough that fleet must pass, and standing there they shouted to the Gnomes to return; but these heeded them not and held ever on their course, and the Solosimpi threatened them with rocks and strung their elfin bows.

Seeing this and believing war already to be kindled came now those of the Gnomes who might not fare aboard the ships but whose part it was to march along the shores, and they sped behind the Solosimpi, until coming suddenly upon them nigh the Haven's gate they slew them bitterly or cast them in the sea; and so first perished the Eldar neath the weapons of their kin, and that was a deed of horror. Now the number of the Solosimpi that fell was very many, and of the Gnomes not a few, for they had to fight hard to win their way back from those narrow cliff-top paths, and many of the shoreland folk hearing the affray were gathered in their rear.

At length however it is done, and all those ships have passed out to the wide seas, and the Noldoli fared far away, but the little lamps are broken and the Haven is dark and very still, save for the faint sound of tears. Of like kind were all the works of Melko in this world.

Now tells the tale that as the Solosimpi wept and the Gods scoured all the plain of Valinor or sat despondent neath the ruined Trees a great age passed and it was one of gloom, and during that time the Gnome-folk suffered the very greatest evils and all the unkindliness of the world beset them. For some marched endlessly along that shore until Eldamar was dim and forgotten far behind, and wilder grew the ways and more impassable as it trended to the North, but the fleet coasted beside them not far out to sea and the shore-farers might often see them dimly in the gloom, for they fared but slowly in those sluggish waves.

Yet of all the sorrows that walked those ways I know not the full tale, nor have any told it, for it would be an ill tale, and though the Gnomes relate many things concerning those days more clearly than I can, yet do they in no wise love to dwell upon the sad happenings of that time and will not often awake its memory. Nonetheless have I heard it said that never would they have made the dreadful passage of the Qerkaringa had they or yet been subject to weariness, sickness, and the many weaknesses that after became their lot dwelling far from Valinor. Still was the blessed food of the Gods and their drink rich in their veins and they were halfdivine — but no limpe had they as yet to bring away, for that was not given to the fairies until long after, when the March of Liberation was undertaken, and the evils of the world which Melko poisoned with his presence soon fell upon them.'

'Nay, if thou wilt forgive me bursting in upon thy tale,' quoth Eriol, 'what meaneth thy saying "the dread passage of the Qerkaringa"?'

'Know then,' said Lindo, 'that the trend of the coasts of Eldamar and those coasts that continue that strand northward beyond the wide haven of Kopas is ever to the East, so that after uncounted miles, more northward even than the Mountains of Iron and upon the confines of the Icy Realms, the Great Seas aided by a westerly bend of the shores of the Great Lands dwindle to a narrow sound. Now the passage of that water is of impassable peril, for it is full of evil currents and eddies of desperate strength, and islands of floating ice swim therein, grinding and crashing together with a dread noise and destroying both great fish and vessels, do any ever dare to venture there. In those days however a narrow neck, which the Gods after destroyed, ran out from the western land almost to the eastern shores, yet it was of ice and snow piled and torn into gaps and cliffs and was all but untraversable, and that was the Helkarakse or Icefang,' and it was a remnant of the old and terrible ices that crept throughout those regions ere Melko was chained and the North became clement for a while, and it maintained itself there by reason of the narrowness of the seas and the jamming of the ice-isles floating down from the deepest North whither winter had withdrawn. Now that strip of water that flowed still between Icefang's tip and the Great Lands was called Qerkaringa or Chill Gulf.'

Had Melko indeed known of the Gnomes' wild attempt to cross it he might have overwhelmed them all in that ill place or done whatso he willed, but many months had gone since he himself had fled perchance by that very way, and he was now far afield. Say I not well, Rumil, with regard to these things?'

'Thou hast told the true tale,' said Rumil, 'yet hast thou not said how ere they came to Helkarakse the host passed by that place where Mornie is wont to be beached, for there a steep and rugged path winds down from Mandos deep in the mountains that the souls whom Fui sends to Arvalin must tread. There did a servant of Vefantur spy them and asking what might that wayfaring mean pled with them to return, but they answered him scornfully, so that standing upon a high rock he spoke to them aloud and his voice came even to the fleet upon the waves; and he foretold to them many of the evil adventures that after came to them, warning them against Melko, and at last he said: "Great is the fall of Gondolin", and none there understood, for Turondo son of Noleme was not yet upon the Earth. But the wise men stored his sayings, for Mandos and all his people have a power of prophecy, and these words were treasured long among them as the Prophecies of Amnos, for thus was the place where they were spoken called at that time, which now is Hanstovanen or the beaching place of Mornie.

After that the Noldoli journeyed slowly, and when the awful isthmus of Helkarakse was before them some were for ferrying all the host, part at a time, across the sea, venturing rather over the perilous waters than seeking to find passage over the gulfs and treacherous crevasses of the isthmus of ice. This they tried, and a great ship was lost with all aboard by reason of a certain fearsome eddy that was in the bay nigh where Helkarakse jutted from the western mainland; and that eddy at times spins around like a vast top and shrieks with a loud wailing noise most terrible to hear, and such things as approach are sucked down to its monstrous deep and crushed there upon jags of ice and rock; and the name of the eddy is Wiruin. Wherefore are the Noldoli in great anguish and perplexity, for even could they find a way through the terrors of the Helkarakse, behold they cannot even so reach the inner world, for still there lies that gap at the far end, and though but narrow the screech of water rushing therethrough can be heard thus far away, and the boom of ice splitting from the cape came to them, and the crash and buffet of the ice-isles that thrust down from the North through that dreadful strait.

Now the presence of those floating isles of ice no doubt was due to the presence of Melko once more in the far North, for winter had retreated to the uttermost North and South, so that almost it had no foothold in the world remaining in those days of peace that are called Melko's Chains; but nonetheless it was this very activity of Melko that in the end proved the salvation of the Noldoli, for behold they now are constrained to lead all their womenfolk and the mariners of their host out of the ships, and there on those bleak shores they beach them and set now a miserable encampment.

Songs name that dwelling the Tents of Murmuring, for there arose much lamentation and regret, and many blamed Fëanor bitterly, as indeed was just, yet few deserted the host for they suspected that there was no welcome ever again for them back to Valinor — and this some few who sought to return indeed found, though this entereth not into this tale. When their woes are now at the blackest and scarce any look for return of any joy again, behold winter unfurls her banners again and marches slowly south clad in ice with spears of frost and lashes of hail. Yet so great is the cold that the floating ice packs and jams and piles like hills between the end of Helkarakse and the Eastern land, and in the end does it become so strong that the current moves it not. Then abandoning their stolen ships they leave their sorrowful encampment and strive to cross the terrors of the Qerkaringa.

Who shall tell of their misery in that march or of those numbers who were lost, falling into great pits of ice where far below hidden water boiled, or losing their way until cold overcame them — for evil as it was so many and desperate things befell them after in the Great Lands that it was lessened in their minds to a thing of less worth, and in sooth tales that told of the leaving of Valinor were never sweet in the ears of the Noldoli after, were they thralls or citizens of Gondolin. Yet even so such things may not slay the Gnomekin, and of those there lost still 'tis said some wander sadly there among the icehills, unknowing of all things that have befallen their folk, and some essayed to get them back to Valinor, and Mandos has them, and some following after found in long days their unhappy kin again. Howso it be, a gaunt and lessened band indeed did in the end reach the rocky soil of the Eastern lands, and there stood looking backward over the ice of Helkarakse and of Qerkaringa at the spurs of hills beyond the sea, for far away in the gathering southward mists rose those most glorious heights of Valinor, fencing them for ever from their kindred and their homes. Thus came the Noldoli into the world.'

And with those words of Rumil's the story of the darkening of Valinor was at an end.

'Great was the power of Melko for ill,' said Eriol, 'if he could indeed destroy with his cunning the happiness and glory of the Gods and of the Elves, darkening the light of their hearts no less than of their dwelling, and bringing all their love to naught! This must surely be the worst deed that ever he has done.'

'Of a truth never has such evil again been done in Valinor,' said Lindo, 'but Melko's hand has laboured at worse things in the world, and the seeds of his evil have waxen since those days to a great and terrible growth.'

'Nay,' said Eriol, 'yet can my heart not think of other griefs, for sorrow at the destruction of those most fair Trees and the darkness of the world.'