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Into the Realms of Ulmo
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Into the Realms of Ulmo

Then Tuor came into Nevrast, and looking upon Belegaer the Great Sea he was enamored of it, and the sound of it, and the longing for it were ever in his heart and ear, and an unquiet was on him that took him at last into the depths of the realms of Ulmo.


The seabirds that dwelt upon the cliffsides above the Hither Shore were calling as the sun came up. And as they rose upon the airs, they passed a solitary figure, who stood upon the edge of the cliff and cast his shadow over the waters. A moment he stood there, and then, seemingly slowly at first, and then with frightful suddenness, he laid himself upon the wind like a bird himself. The gulls called encouragement, but to no avail: the waves swallowed him with scarcely a splash to mark his descent.

The gulls and the wind fell silent in a swift, shocking instant, and the light of the day fell away into a green shade. Tuor let himself sink, shivering a little as a school of fish, disturbed by his presence, darted all about him in a flashing of silver scales, fleeing the stranger in their realm. The sea's cool got beneath his skin, and its voice was a muted, soothing rumble now, intimate and promising. Tuor spread his limbs, turned so that his face was to the glittering surface fast receding above.

He had been hot for the sea as for a lover – strange love, that brought heat and cold, fire and water together! All the more strange to one who had thought only to find rest in the ways of his fatherland. Yet he had seen them, and passed onward. Long had he wandered and wondered, not knowing what drove him, but when he had come out of the earth and into the cleft and seen the waters dancing below, then he had known. And yet to see and to know appeased nothing.

In the lands of the cleft, he had wandered for days, in a country empty but for the echo of the waves – and so not empty at all, but full, full beyond imagining, 'til his ears were ringing with their song, 'til his head pounded like his heart, 'til he had been dizzy with their music. When at last a storm had burst, he, exhausted, had laid him down and slept beneath a friendly wall, dreaming of restless waters. And come the dawn, he had wakened to the salt-damp of the sea and rain that had covered all the stones, and to conviction, as command – Come.

Command, or conviction – conviction... or command? It had not let him be. He had sought through all the echoing passes for the one who called him, and found nothing but the sea and its song and himself – Come, come, 'til he had thought he must go mad, that he must be mad. It pierced his heart, that silent cry, and all of his organs, driving him on 'til he had come finally to the very heights of the land and stood there, watching the gulls drift over the waves. Come.

Mad venture, yet he had ventured still and thought one way or the other to find rest, to be answered.

Now the chill green of the water began to give way to a deeper dark, which passed all about him like a whisper-soft caress. His lungs ached – air did not belong here, was of that world, the one above. Come! He let go breath in a trail of silver bubbles, yet still the call remained. Come! And so, though surely it was death, and surely he loved not death, he gave himself over wholly to this realm – he tipped back his head, opened his mouth, and breathed.

The waters rushed in, an agony and a shock, and he convulsed – the sting of the salt burned in his mouth and nose and throat, the waters weighed heavy in his lungs, and the cold – ! The shifting light above was far away now, and small, and fading; darkness closed all about him. Terror seized him, and regret washed through him like the waves – washed through and out of him as swiftly as the tide through sand, and tore even fear away.

But the call persisted, beyond will or wonder or want, persisted, and he knew then, what he must do – he turned his face from that light to the darkness that opened beneath him. Though his limbs now felt numb and slow – they had gone to the waters, belonged now to them – they obeyed him in this, and he embraced the depths that had claimed him:

Here am I, without recourse!

The waters swelled about him. He felt them buffet him, felt them touch and catch, soft as flesh itself, as at the last, the burning of the sea in his lungs and throat set a fire running through him that lit the dark behind his eyes and filled it with visions such as he never had seen before in waking life or dream. And through it all the voice that called spoke, and named him 'son' – he who had known no father, who, foundering, was fast forgetting his own name. The vision carried him away, and the sea – obedient to the voice – carried him home...

When he came to next, he was lying upon the shore, in the shallows where the tides ran, his cheek pressed to the wet sands, kelp all in his hair and trailing like garlands down his back. The waves lapped about him, and a swell washed over him, stingingly, like a hand that slaps, and like a sleeper waking suddenly, he came back to himself, choking and gasping.

The fever of desire that had brought him hence was gone, utterly quenched. In its place was emptiness and cold, cold, cold – such cold as to make his very gut cramp. Water streamed then from mouth and nose, burning as he vomited it up. His ears ached, and he felt the sea trickle from them. Sight blurred. Everything hurt. Shaking, he clambered clumsily up the beach on limbs that seized and ached numbly, that felt still not his own, 'til he could at last fall upon dry sand. Warmed by the sun that shone overhead, its heat leached into him, and he rolled onto his back, all aquiver like a fish cast ashore, breathing, just breathing, the world a quiet roar all about him.

But if the waters had cast him up, if desire had gone and left no trace, still the voice remained, calling once more: Rise!

It was an agony, but the call claimed him, moved him, and he staggered up, shivering in the wind. Salt-burned eyes caught sight of a dark mouth in the rocky cliffs – a cave. And as he stood there, trembling, weak and cold, it came to him once more, the voice: Come!

And so he did, stumbling wearily, painfully toward that darkness in the stones. Dark like the sea beneath its green, the waves echoed in it, song that swelled to fill that hollow. The wind whistled across its mouth, which sounded as a great earthen flute. Its shrill note pierced the quiet that had dimmed his ears, and made them ache anew. Come! Shade fell over him as he entered the cave, and the roar of the sea rose all about him once more – as if the air and rocks should be the sea for him this time, as if the sea had come to him, to his world.

But where there had been night unending beneath the waves, beneath the earth there lay the remains of a ship – like a skeleton, its timbers laid out all about. The sea had flung it here somehow, and then its course perhaps had changed, the waters withdrawing to leave the splintered timbers high and dry, and amid the beams, at the back of the cave, lay a barnacled chest. Heart hammering in his chest, he approached and fumbled it open, cut himself on the sharp blue shells. And from its airy depths, with unsteady hands he lifted raiment blue as the sea, as it came to him: Take and don, my son.

His fingers were clumsy at their work at first, but once begun, they remembered themselves, and at length, he was clad, and his old clothes, wet and rent from the sea, he left lying. The sun was high when he came forth once more, arrayed against the wind, and gazed upon the shore that had received him.

Far from all he knew, it stretched before him. The cliffs that hemmed it were strange and high – how he should leave, he knew not. A desolate place, this beach seemed, not a soul upon the strand, not even a bird, though when he faced the sea, he saw dolphins sporting, and they clicked at him, as if at a brother. Come, they seemed to say, and their gladness struck him deep, struck him hard – he felt once more the fire of longing stir in him, and unbidden his feet bore him back to the water's edge.

The sky was strewn with clouds, remnants of a storm that drifted over the surface of the sea, and as he came to the tide-mark, unbidden, there rose once more in his mind the vision born in the depths of the sea:

White stone piled high, high as pride itself
Silver fountains, silver voices
Lady Love and Lord Envy walked beneath a still, high sky over broad ways...

And blood and fire washed through the streets to devour the people!

So vivid, so real were the images that he did not so much see as feel them, and he gasped in pain, sank beneath horror and hurt to his knees. Dragonfire and destruction followed him, and he reached blindly for that element alone that could quench them – he stretched his hands forth to touch the waters, seeking relief.

But the waves retreated before him, and when he cried out against that abandonment, the voice stirred in his depths, and silenced him with a word: The Sea would speak to the Earth, and the children of the Earth. Go therefore, Twice-born Child, and await my good servant, and in the flesh I have claimed, do thou the office I have given thee.

The fire subsided then. The vision ceased, and he was left there, with naught but the shakes and his exile from the sea that had birthed him anew, only to send him hence. Tuor bowed his head and wept.

But when he had done, and the salt would come no more, he rose slowly, swaying when the wind came cutting down the strand.

He had come here a slave thinking to be free and to find rest; a slave he was no more, but neither was he free – if he were a Man, he could say no longer. Sight grown clear as water saw true. The waves in the west mounted and fell back, returned again and again to shore and to the deeps. And he who had been remade as their child would move with them – between one world and another, endlessly. Henceforth forever between the Sea and the Shore, he would have no peace, for when the Sea-lord claimed a son, he made of him a strange instrument, one that must be played to the breaking.

For he had answered – in madness or love, and though he had not known, he had answered and been heard and now was bound:

Go and await my good servant.

Go and wait. The command lay heavy upon him, and so, though clumsy still in his weariness, he set forth across the sands...


Notes: Then Tuor came into Nevrast, and looking upon Belegaer the Great Sea he was enamored of it, and the sound of it, and the longing for it were ever in his heart and ear, and an unquiet was on him that took him at last into the depths of the realms of Ulmo. - “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin,” The Silmarillion, 295.

The full quote then continues on to say that “then” Tuor lived alone in Nevrast for at least a season before seeing the swans, which he knew were a sign that he had “tarried too long,” and therefore he goes north and ends up in deserted Vinyamar.

There seem to be three ways of interpreting the text: (1) The last quoted line is meant to summarize and the yet-to-be-told story of Tuor's eventual meeting with Ulmo on the beach in front of Vinyamar. (2) That line is intended to summarize the entirety of Tuor's still-outstanding story, his entire journey, from escaped thrall to quasi-Elven pilgrim to Valinor. (3) The last line obliquely refers to a prior meeting between Tuor and Ulmo, which makes him Ulmo's messenger and gives him a preliminary task that prepares him for the revelation at Vinyamar.

I chose option three, since to me it makes the most sense out of the idea that he spent too long in Nevrast, which implies that he should have been doing something between his arrival in Nevrast and his arrival in Vinyamar. But we're never told what that is – the swans are the first and only indication that Tuor is waiting or has anything to do at all. And since Tuor never sets foot in the ocean at Vinyamar, but the text says “took him at last into the depths of the realms of Ulmo,” to me the Vinyamar episode doesn't satisfy the letter of the text. Why would it say “into the depths of Ulmo's realms” instead of “into contact with Ulmo” or “face to face with Ulmo” or something else that isn't so suggestive of immersion into Ulmo's element, if it meant to point us to the face to face meeting of Ulmo and Tuor?

But what would it mean to really enter into the depths of Ulmo's realms (in the plural)? If it means (minimally) to enter the depths of the sea, there would seem to be consequences for those who rely on air to survive. And what could it mean to say that Ulmo has multiple realms? What are they? How exactly (and when) is Tuor invested as Ulmo's messenger/prophet?

These are the questions to which this little gap-filler tries to respond.


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