In An Age Before – Part 10


Chapter Fourteen

Lindon and Eregion, Eriador - The Second Age of the Sun

Linte Eari delivered Helluin safely to Mithlond in nine days, for the journey measured 'nigh on 1,900 sea miles and the winds had wavered somewhat mid-passage. Still the ship had averaged over eleven knots…all day, every day.

At the Grey Havens Helluin had been met by Cirdan and Elrond, who greeted her warmly after her absence of 135 years, but the dour look on her face quashed any hope of good news. She'd said little at the havens, but had made it clear that they needed to speak with the king. Falmandil and his officers rode with them to Lindon for their meeting with Gil-galad. Also to the High King's Halls came many of the remaining lords of the Noldor and Sindar, harkening to Helluin's audience. It was 20th Cerveth, (July 20th), S.A. 1128.

Since she had left on the king's errand in S.A. 992, more had been heard in Lindon of the growing evil of the times, but none had known truly how dire their plight had grown. Her report was the gravest tidings to have come to them in an Age. To say that all were horrified at her words would have been as calling the Arnoediad a setback. Helluin's descriptions of what she had seen appeared before the minds of Eldar and mortal alike, and as she spoke the horror of the Black Land became a vision of the doom to come.

While the Númenóreans had stood listening to all that was said, the shadow of horror grew on them as the deeds of Sauron Gorthaur were recounted by those who had fought him aforetime. The lore of Westernesse identified his part on Morgoth's behalf, but the horror of him had not been represented near strongly enough. Among the people of Elros Tar-Minyatur, Sauron was mainly a name, the underling of the Dark Enemy of the First Age. He was a cruel and malicious enemy, but only one among many. Beyond Morgoth himself, their hatred had been given more to the Yrch and the Easterlings. Only Sauron's deeds in the Tale of Beren and Luthien recounted him for condemnation among Morgoth's other lieutenants.

Ever had Sauron had been a more real and present tormentor to the Elves. Their lore and memories of the First Age were much more extensive and their experiences with Sauron much more painful. None had forgotten the horror with which he'd filled the Pass of Sirion, his cadres of werewolves, or the specters of his sorcery amidst the Ered Wethrin. The slaying of Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond and many others they laid upon him. And whereas one such as Gothmog was wont to overwhelm a foe by strength of arms, Sauron reveled in breaking the spirit, crushing hopes, and bringing despair.

To Helluin's revelations at court that Sauron was again gathering power, the Men of Númenor added that their current sovereign had little care for their plight. No aid should the Eldar look for from Westernesse during the reign of Tar-Ancalime. In her policies she was the opposite of her father, Tar-Aldarion, who had loved both ships and the Hither Lands, and had ever been staunch in his support of Gil-galad. These were sore tidings to the High King and to all that listened. The only grace seemed to be that Helluin had made clear the fact that Sauron's power was not yet full wrought, nor would he be ready to strike in the near future.

As was the custom, Gil-galad's court proceeded to debate in counsel all that had been heard. Many lords had their say and many questions were asked, not only concerning Mordor, but of the world at large. Yet save to acknowledge the presence of a great threat, nothing was decided for certain, and Helluin's own words combined with the hesitancy of Númenor made procrastination all the easier. Sauron would not be ready to chance a war to dominate Middle Earth for some time yet, and to defend against him, alliances would need to be forged. At Helluin's suggestion that Khazad-dum be approached for aid, many of the Elves voiced opposition. Not since the Nirnaeth Arnoediad 1,272 years before had Elf and Dwarf stood together in battle, and between those days and the present stood the sack of Doriath, the murder of Elu Thingol, and the slaughter of the Host of Nogrod.

"Yet the Naugrim of Gabilgathol were staunch allies in the Arnoediad," Helluin had protested, "and scions of that host now reside in Khazad-dum. I myself have fought at their side in the Hithaeglir. Lord Elwe was long ago avenged and Tumunzahar defeated ere it was broken in the change of the world. The House of Durin now stands in league of friendship with Ost-In-Edhil."

But while some of the lords acknowledged the truth of her words, their counsels were for that time unmoved by them and no decision was reached. So it remained for many years afterwards that no union or alliance was made to oppose Sauron, but rather all lived in an uneasy peace under a cloud of impending doom.

Now Falmandil and his crew returned to Númenor, and for a time, Helluin resided in Lindon. And as was ever the case amongst the Elves in Middle Earth, the years passed all too quickly. Oft times Helluin would stand in some high place upon the Ered Luin to the south or to the north of the Firth of Lune, straining her Elven sight to its limits upon the vistas of Eriador. Yet days passed under sun and cloud and nights passed under moon and star. Seasons came and went. Winds blew and rains fell and rivers ran to the sea.

At times Helluin would spy the sails of ships out of Númenor coming up the bay to Mithlond, and then she would come to the city and hear what news was brought by the mariners out of the west. Yet for decades that word was much the same. Tar-Ancalime ruled. Anarion raised his family and the Guild of Venturers continued to sail to their havens upon the Hither Shores. Some work went forward in Umbar and Vinyalonde, the harvesting of timber and some refitting of ships for the most part, but little effort was made at expansion or the strengthening of masonry. They were a toehold in Middle Earth only; sites from which the Númenóreans could teach those they met and acquire raw materials. They had few fortifications and almost no walls, and they were as yet only sparsely manned. Somehow they had persisted through the limbo of Tar-Ancalime's reign, mirroring the retraction of the Númenórean interest in the Hither Lands that had begun under Tar-Aldarion, but was now preserved by the Guild of Venturers alone.

One afternoon in Lothron, (May), of S.A. 1187, Helluin was summoned to counsel by the High King, and she met him in his chambers in Lindon. Gil-galad was troubled by a visit the previous day from a messenger who spoke for a great lord unknown to him, and though he had perceived some shadow upon that envoy, he hadn't been able to pinpoint the reason why. Now he sought counsel with the eldest of the Noldor attached to his court, for she had traveled widely and might recognize the message or the messenger.

"My Lord," Helluin greeted Ereinion with a dip of her head, "I hath arrived as quickly as possible at thy summons. I was some leagues north when thy messenger found me. Pray pardon the delay."

The king waved away her apology and gave her a weak smile. He poured them each a goblet of wine and handed one to Helluin ere he spoke, then gestured to a tray of seeded cakes to offer a repast. Helluin reached for a cake but her attention remained on the king. She could easily see that he was troubled. Worry and indecision sat on his brow like a rain cloud. For a moment he regarded her closely while taking a sip from his cup.

"I am glad of thy presence, Helluin," Gil-galad said, "and I would hath thy counsel. At dawn yesterday a lone messenger came hither and requested audience. I met with him in the Hall of Swans. He was a comely Man, pale haired as the sons of Hador of old, and yet not of their kindred. Nor was he of Númenórë. He spoke Sindarin with courtesy but with a mien I deem born of some sense of superiority, though not expressed in haughtiness of manner. Rather it was as of one knowing some secret unguessed, or a gamesman holding in his hand some trump. He spoke fair on behalf of his master, a great Lord unknown to me out of the east, and he sought to arrange a parlay of alliance."

For several moments, Helluin stared at the High King in silence, digesting his account.

"Thou art High King of the Noldor and Lord of the Eldar of Eriador, at least in the west of this country," she said at last, "does it not make sense that one on such an errand should come to thee?"

"I suppose it does, and that alone would not arouse any suspicions on my part. What I question is the feeling that came upon me as I conversed with this messenger. I felt a shiver, as it were a draft, chill upon my spirit, and upon this messenger I sensed some shadow. Naught of his words or actions could I point to in offense, nor in any way did he stoop to threat or bribe, yet still my heart misgives me of him, or his errand, or his master. Know thou any lord by the name of Annatar?"

Again Helluin paused before answering. She had never heard of anyone during her travels claiming such a grandiose name. More disturbing was the king's reaction to the messenger. As a fair but threadbare cloak poorly hiding one hosting plague lice this messenger seems, she thought, and if Ereinion distrusts him in his heart, then it seems folly to treat with his master who may host the plague itself.

"My King, never hath I heard tidings of any lord calling himself Annatar," Helluin said, "in any quarter to which I hath ever come in this Age or any other. That name, Lord of Gifts, speaks of one well pleased with his own subtlety and appraising himself possessed of boons to be bestowed at his own discretion and conferred for his own gain. To what end, I wonder, does his servant offer parlay of alliance? Against whom would such an alliance stand? With what other allies would we join?"

Gil-galad regarded her answer with serious attention. Her reactions mirrored his own concerns and her questions were those he had asked himself.

"Helluin, this envoy named no enemies and indeed gave few details about his master or his affairs. He asked most after the willingness of the Eldar to work with his master to enrich and elevate Middle Earth in despite of the Valar. He claimed that his master possessed great finesse and subtlety of craft, and strove in hope of staving off the world's decay and creating a realm in Endóre to rival Aman. I believe he hopes to enlist such of the Eldalië as he can in this enterprise."

At this, Helluin raised an eyebrow in consternation. Raise a realm on the Hither Shores to rival the majesty of the Undying Lands? The Noldor had sought to beautify their realms, often in imitation of Tirion itself, something that she as a wanderer had always deemed a whimsy. Indeed this had been her reaction upon first seeing Tirion itself, thinking it an imitation of Valmar. Such was not in itself bad, merely, she judged, a self-delusion. The truest beauty lay in the creations of the Valar…the comely attributes of the natural world itself as seen in star, sky, cloud, tree, and living beast. But to seek to hold at bay the dimming and failing of things in the Mortal Lands? Such power was not granted to the Firstborn Children of Iluvatar, for they were within Arda and a part of it, created of its substance, not made to alter it. This Annatar sounded as if his intention was to enflame the Noldor to challenge the Valar! Sadly, she feared that his words would find a receptive audience.

"Such aspirations reek of rebellion against the Powers and the One," Helluin said in a heated declaration, "and such an appeal shalt tempt many, especially amongst the Noldor. Ever do our people hope and strive, learning and creating what they can, yet wondering not if they should. Such was the trap that befell Feanor, taking and holding with his craft that which was wrought by a craft far greater than his own. Had he not aspired to possess the Light of Yavanna Kementari's Trees, then never would the Silmarils hath been made, nor his Oath and the Curse troubled our people. Now this Annatar seeks to entice with fair words, and leading us hence, usurp the Way of Arda, life and death and the fading hand of time, which art the prerogative of the Valar and Eru Iluvatar who first created them. Harken not to this messenger, My King, and trust not this lord."

In truth Gil-galad was somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of Helluin's discourse. It implied a monstrous intent on Annatar's part to enmesh the Eldar in a dark course that would estrange them from the Powers Undying, perhaps for all time. Though he didn't fully believe all the ramifications of her argument, his own misgivings in addition to hers made up his mind. He would not treat with this lord nor would he receive again his messenger. No alliance would be formed between Lindon and the Lord of Gifts.

"My King, I would advise thee if I may," Helluin said, drawing the High King from his thoughts, "that thou dispatch messages to Eregion and Khazad-dum. Warn them against this Lord of Gifts. Warn them of our misgivings. To their ears in particular would his offers be most enticing and to their counsels would this Annatar's intentions most appeal. In my heart, I fear for them in the face of this temptation."

She was thinking in particular of Celebrimbor, a Noldo predisposed to aspiring toward conquering challenges and advancing his craft. The Lord of Gifts offered possibilities and goals that she doubted he could resist. She herself had seen how the creation of the Sarchram had inspired him to elevate his people's knowledge of metalwork and design a process hitherto unknown, the empowering of a weapon with the fea. And Celebrimbor was a descendant of Feanor. The situation had all the makings of a potential disaster.

Gil-galad thought on her words, and while he had trouble believing that her doubts were wholly founded, he understood the nature of her concerns. But Ost-In-Edhil was under the leadership of Celeborn and Galadriel, and few in Middle Earth were wiser rulers. If he had felt immediate distrust of Annatar's messenger, then they would no doubt react even more insightfully. He suspected Annatar would find no welcome in Eregion. If not Celeborn, than certainly Galadriel would quash any inroads that might open a path to the rebellion that Helluin so fervently feared. The daughter of Finarfin would never again be taken in by the offspring of Miriel.

"If thou in truth feel the necessity of warning Galadriel against the ambitions of the son of Curufin, then I shalt send forth a messenger as thou request. Yet 'tis doubtful, I deem, that the daughter of Earwen of Alqualonde should countenance yet again a rebellion by the House of Feanor, or indulge any sacrilege by her people against the Valar."

To this Helluin nodded in agreement…in principle. But when last she had stayed at Ost-In-Edhil she had sensed the rule of Celeborn and Galadriel there to be a reign founded on shallow and shifting sands. The real power in Eregion had been Celebrimbor and his Gwanin-I-Mirdain…and the Guild of Jewel Smiths had probably only increased its influence in the last 195 years. When she finally left the High King's presence she had deep misgivings about the future of Eregion. She just hoped that whatever happened, it wouldn't bring irrevocable harm to her friends, Celeborn, Galadriel, Celebrimbor, and the Naugrim of Khazad-dum.

Thereafter Helluin spent little time within the confines of Lindon, but rather wandered in Eriador again, going thither and yon as her heart led her. In that time she met at whiles with wandering companies of Sindar and of the Laiquendi, refugees of Beleriand who also made their way about that land. She would, for a season, travel in the company of one band or another, yet eventually she would wander off on her own way, solitary as she had spent much of her life, living off the land and keeping company with its creatures. Upon such a time she found herself in a forested precinct, east 'nigh the Baranduin, and north of Sarn Athrad, yet still west of the South Downs. It was an old wood, deep and thick and filled with ancient trees, and Helluin had thought it a fine place for a refuge of Onodrim. There was something timeless about this place that Helluin readily sensed, and having no other commitments, she had granted herself leave to explore it at length. She had already spent the summer there, slowly walking northwards at her leisure from the Road to the south.

It was another peaceful afternoon, 23 Ivanneth, (September 23rd), S.A. 1261, and warm yellow sunlight filtered through the canopy of whispering leaves overhead. Insects buzzed lazily all about, flitting dragonflies, painted butterflies, and metallic beetles among them, while a small stream happily murmured in its passing near her feet. The setting was idyllic and Helluin was content, though for some time she had realized that there others not overly far away. This was acceptable to her for these others were also of Elven kind, probably Green Elves, she thought, more quiet than the Sindar, and more at home in dense woods. Indeed they were a presence more felt than heard. She doubted that they were some of those few Men of Eriador, distant kin of the Edain who had remained east of the Ered Luin during the First Age, for they lived mostly away to the north and west around the headwaters of the Baranduin and Lake Nenuial, and they avoided the deep forest. If her path crossed that of the Laiquendi it would be fine, if not, then that would be fine as well. She maintained her seat as another hour passed.

Nearby a pair of large tufted-eared squirrels tirelessly chased each other in spirals around the trunk of a tulip poplar. She could almost sense the tall tree stifling a giggle at the tickling sensation of their tiny claws clasping in sure purchase on its furrowed bark. At the stream's edge a sodden margin yielded a home to iris and a stand of cattails as yet unripe, all overhung by the trailing tendrils of the willow she leaned against. The hairs on the back of her neck tingled at the presence of a stranger drawing near. Middle Earth grows crowded if even in such a wayside place as this there are visitors to be had, Helluin mused, but at least these feel fair rather than foul. Ahhh well, this place is theirs as much as mine.

It seemed only a few moments later when, in a strangely familiar way, the shadows between the boles across the stream gave birth to a figure dressed all in greens. It was as though he simply resolved from the surroundings rather than drew near through them. Green Elf, Helluin observed, for no others share quite the same affinity with their surroundings. He approached at ease and finally stood among the irises a couple fathoms away, looking Helluin over with an observant gaze that took in the whole of his surroundings as well as the details of her presence. It was the second-nature glance of a lifelong woodsman.

"My greetings on this fine day, friend," Helluin said in Sindarin, "thou art welcome to share the peace of this place if thou art so inclined. 'Tis long since last we met."

"'Tis long indeed, Helluin of the Host of Finwe," the Green Elf said, casually stepping across the freshet and joining her under the willow. It had been almost 1,270 years. He remained standing before her at first. "Much hast changed since last we met…even unto the very shape of these lands. But how hath thou fared? Surely many paths hast thou trod since I found thee in the company of Maedhros and Maglor."

"Much hast changed indeed," Helluin agreed, sitting up more attentively and crossing her legs, "and many roads hath I followed, even crossing the sea." At the question spoken only by his raised brow she added, "Nay, not unto Aman, but to Númenor of the Dúnedain. But what of thee? The tale of thy years since our last meeting is as long as mine. And after all this time, I should be pleased at last to know thy name." She finished with a grin, happy to note that it was easily returned.

The Green Elf sat down facing her 'neath the willow, and set aside his bow and quiver to take more comfort in his ease. He had noted Helluin's sword and bow leaning against the trunk, her travel bag and quiver on the ground beside them. For a moment the gleaming ring at her waist and the fell words etched upon its face caught his attention. After a moment he blinked and returned his mind to the conversation.

"I pray thy pardon for not introducing myself at our last meeting," he apologized, "I am Dálindir¹, second son of Denethor, son of Lenwe." ¹(Dálindir, Shadow Singer,dae(shadow) + lin- (sing) + -dir (male agent) Sindarin)

For a moment Helluin sat digesting the family connections. Dálindir was Lenwe's grandson and she wondered if the King of Belfalas knew of his whereabouts, or for that matter whether or not he lived at all. Of course the reverse was also true. Neither might know aught of the other, sundered as they were since at least the First Age.

"Well met then, Dálindir," Helluin said, "and for thee I hath some good tidings. In my journeys upon Middle Earth I hath twice met thy kin. Yon Hithaeglir amidst a forest of golden mellyrn doth rule thy cousin, Lenwin son of Lenwer, while upon the southern coasts of Belfalas still rules thy grandsire, King Lenwe. When last I visited their realms, both were hale and the lords of many folk."

Dálindir sat in silence for a long time, simply staring off into space. Helluin sat by patiently, allowing him time to absorb what had obviously been profound and unexpected revelations. At last the Green Elf took a deep and shuddering breath and cast his gaze upon Helluin again. He managed a smile despite being shaken.

"My deepest thanks for thy tidings, Helluin," he said before pausing to swallow and struggle with his composure. "Denethor, my father, was slain ere the rising of the sun and moon, embattled upon Amon Ereb in the first war of Beleriand which hath no name. My elder brother was slain there too in battle. I myself was but still young and went not to war. Later, though I claimed no crown, I was held lord of those who went not to Doriath, and afterwards I bore to Dior Eluchil a treasure out of Tol Galen. But of the lands east of the Ered Lindon I had no knowledge. The name of Lenwe has been only that to me, a name I had heard for someone from a past I knew not, while of Lenwin I had no knowledge whatsoever. And now thou say indeed that I hath living, beyond any hope, two of close kinship. Pray tell me what thou can, Helluin." He wiped his eyes and sat awaiting such tidings as she could share.

He had probably been born in Beleriand ere the return of Morgoth, Helluin thought, never knowing any lands beyond his own. And so Dálindir had no knowledge of his living relatives, nor they of him, she guessed, for neither Lenwin nor Lenwe had mentioned him, nor had either asked for tidings of him. Yet he was, and for 'nigh on 2,000 years had been, the rightful king of all the remaining Laiquendi. Small wonder then that he had been entrusted, upon the passing of Luthien the Fair, to convey the Nauglamir to Thingol's Heir in Menegroth. Here was one who had held a Silmaril and resisted its temptations…and thereby escaped its curse. She felt a wave of happiness for the boon of tidings gifted by her travels. Her knowledge would lighten many hearts.

For the rest of the afternoon they sat by a small stream some called the Withywindle, 'neath the boughs of a young willow, and Helluin told Dálindir of all she had seen. He sat, for the most part in silence and oft would a smile shape his lips as he listened. Eventually he produced a wineskin and shared out a vintage from the vineyards about Lake Nenuial, a light and fruity drink with an earthy undertone. Helluin found it very enjoyable. The sun passed from above, down into the west, and the shadows lengthened 'neath the trees. To their rest went the squirrels and the birds and the day flying insects. Now crickets chirped, moths fluttered, and bats flittered in pursuit overhead. Helluin finished her tale with a sigh. Dálindir finished the wine. It had been a good day.

"Never had I thought at this morn's opening that by this eve my world would be thus enriched," Dálindir said at last. "Now as night doth fall, I would thy company request, for I am due with some few of my folk, to sup with friends who dwell'th 'nigh. Join us, I pray thee, for thy tidings hath thou freely shared, and great they hath been, yet I too hath somewhat of the times to share." As he spoke, Dálindir waxed grim, thinking on what he had recently seen and heard.

"I shalt be pleased to accept thy invitation, Dálindir," Helluin replied, "and if thy host be willing, share thence thy board. What tidings thou hast I should very much like to hear."

The Green Elf nodded at her and rose to his feet. They gathered their possessions and weapons, while from the surrounding forest three more of the Laiquendi materialized. They had waited in patient silence, invisible amidst the woods, throughout the afternoon's conversation, never giving a clue as to their presence, yet remaining close at hand. They were dressed in varied greens, much as they had been aforetime in Ossiriand, and carried bows and quivers and knives at their belts. Now they came to stand behind Dálindir as he gestured to his companions and introduced them.

"Helluin of the Host of Finwe, meet now my friends, Beinvír, Gérorn, and Celegaras, our scout."

Helluin nodded to each. Beinvír¹, a slender elleth of less than medium height, with sharp, bright eyes and dark wavy hair met her glance with the hint of a grin on her lips and returned her nod. ¹(Beinvír, "Fair Treasure", bein (fair) + mír (treasure) Sindarin)

"Greetings and well met at last, Helluin," Gérorn¹ said, winking and offering her a smile. Helluin found herself liking the large Elf immediately, sensing a hidden mirth that enlivened his strange copper striated eyes. "I hath long hoped to meet thee in less shifty company." Here he glanced directly at Dálindir who suppressed a chuckle in response, knowing full well that his companion had meant the sons of Feanor despite where his attention had rested. ¹(Gérorn, "Coppery Tree", goer (copper colored) + orn (large tree) Sindarin)

"Well met again, Helluin of the Noldor," Celegaras¹ said, quickly glancing down at Dálindir with honest affection, "'tis good tidings thou hast proffered this day, and glad we are to see Dálindir rejoicing thus." He was very tall, slim, and older, Helluin noted, and seemed concerned for his king as would an elder brother. Helluin offered him a smile, appreciating his caring heart. After the deaths of his father and older brother, it was good to know that Dálindir had the benefit of someone's counsel and support. ¹(Celegaras, "Swift Deer", celeg (swift, agile) + aras (deer) Sindarin)

"We should proceed hence," Dálindir announced after a moment, "for 'tis a couple miles to the source of the Withywindle and I fear we shalt arrive late for supper."

"Not that our host cares aught for time," Beinvír remarked cryptically as she fell in beside Gérorn making the sharp contrast in their statures all the more evident. The top of her head reached barely the middle of his chest.

Helluin gave Dálindir a questioning glance, but the Green Elf was looking ahead, upstream, with the hint of a grin on his face. Helluin chose not to pursue the matter for the present, rather choosing her footing with care to remain silent as did her companions.

Of habit the Laiquendi walked so softly and in such subconscious harmony with their surroundings that Helluin felt like an oaf at the least report of her footsteps. As expected, none of them spoke while moving, and even the night animals marked not their passing. For all intents they were invisible, and at times Helluin feared to lose track of one or more of the company. She resolved to keep a sharp eye on them lest they disappear on her without meaning to. Helluin was even tempted to clasp hands with Dálindir, who walked at her side, having more than once glanced at him just to reassure herself that he was still there. Even more than the Avari, who could remain invisible in the forest at need, the Laiquendi had perfected stealth beyond a fine art. It was certainly instinctive now, unconscious and effortless. Neither their approach, nor presence, nor retreat could be marked unless they chose it to be so. How they kept track of each other, she hadn't a clue. Sure enough, after the better part of an hour, Celegaras disappeared. Dálindir held up a hand to stop them and only then did Helluin note his absence.

"He hast gone ahead to check on…things," he whispered to her after seeing her search the gloom in vain for the scout. The others relaxed and waited. In the near distance, they could hear the gentle falling of waters as on a steep downslope.

Suddenly there was a cry and a splash, followed closely by loud raucous laughter. It was just the type of thing to make a person start and swallow their tongue. Being a warrior, Helluin reacted on instinct. When Helluin recovered from her flinch, she suddenly found herself standing alone in the dark beside the Withywindle, Anguirel in one hand, the Sarchram in the other. The Green Elves had disappeared. With a groan she sheathed her arms and waited. Whatever had happened, there was now the sound of someone approaching, and this someone cared nothing for stealth. Indeed a constant train of merry nonsense verse was being loudly sung in time to the careless tramp of boots. After a moment, Helluin detected the shuffling stride of another in company with the singer, though this person didn't join in the song and their irregular footfalls reported that they were very nearly being dragged along. Helluin waited, there being nothing else to do. She expected to soon see a very drunk Man, or perhaps an even more drunk Elf.

The singer practically burst into her presence round a bend, singing merrily and dragging Celegaras with him by the belt. The tall scout was soaking wet to the knees and displayed a grimace tainted by the flush of intense embarrassment. He could barely meet Helluin's eyes. Helluin spared him any further humiliation because her attention was completely fixed on the new arrival.

Be this a large Dwarf bereft of mind, she wondered as she gawked at the stranger, or perchance a very short fat Man deep in his cups? Where in all Arda did he get those boots? Not even the mad cobbler of Ost-In-Edhil would create such outlandish clogs! And that hat? This song? By the Valar, has all this forest gone mad?

Hey ba-lim-ba-laree-O!

The woods be dark and scary-O!

Yet why-yi-yi all hide-ee be!

Tra-la-la-la come out to me!

Helluin could scarce but stare at the singer, whom, she noted, stood little taller than a Dwarf and much like them in girth, if not the more. He had a round face, apple red and jolly, with bright blue eyes 'neath bushy brows, all topped with abundant brown hair that seemed to have been struck by lightning, for it stood out affright. His beard hung down long like a Dwarf's and seemed to wag in counterpoint to the beat of his song. Indeed it sometimes appeared to be leading or conducting, as it were itself alive and governed by its own mind, and Helluin found that most disturbing. Upon his head he wore a conical hat of brown leather. It stood at least two feet high, carelessly patched, and the top appeared to have been smashed in. Its wide brim flapped in concert with his beard as he moved. A great blue feather was affixed to one side, the quill piercing the leather like a seamstress' needle. From what bird such a feather came, Helluin knew not. The rest of the stranger's clothing was as odd as his hat.

Somehow he had shoehorned his bulk into a bright blue coat, cut long to his knees, and featuring outlandishly broad lapels and many large pockets. It appeared uncomfortably tight, but seemed to hinder not his movements…and he was in constant movement. Indeed since appearing he had not for a moment ceased his stamping and tramping, his feet stomping, (rather than dancing actual steps), in an oversized pair of bright yellow boots. Helluin had the impression that thick as he was at the waist, from there down he was blessed with the legs and feet of someone even larger. His thighs were thick as her waist, encased in tight green pants, and his feet were well nigh a third longer than hers though he stood but little above her elbow. Helluin stared at him in undisguised shock and amazement. The entire time, his song continued with the likes of:

Hey Dalind-ee in-dee in-dee--O!

Hop down! Come bring your folk-sees-Ho!

I see you in that tree you know!

Splash down to Tom a-Bombadillee-O!

Upon the last line he seemed to give Helluin a wink, and then he snapped his fingers in a theatrical gesture. Behind her a tree's limbs suddenly went limp and first Beinvír and then Gérorn came tumbling out of the boughs and onto the path. They landed in a heap with a cry of dismay that soon gave way to giggles. A few feet away a second tree's boughs drooped, shedding Dálindir into the stream. He splashed into the water, barely managing to keep his feet beneath him. Helluin realized that Celegaras had met a similar fate further up the path and had been hauled here behind the bizarre Tom.

"Well now, I can see you all plainly," the strange character said, "don't you know you can't hide from ol' Tom?" His beard wagged at the Green Elf as if it were chastising him.

"We should know thus by now," Dálindir admitted, chuckling as he shook the water from his boots, "but one day we shalt sneak up on thee, or at least we shalt keep trying…we can sneak up on everyone else, thou know'st."

Tom shook his head, dismissing the Green Elf's claims with a laugh. This scene had obviously been played out before, Helluin realized, and no doubt to the same conclusion. She now had no less than several thousand questions. How did anyone so easily mark the presence of the Laiquendi? How had he commanded the branches to move? What tannery had achieved the color of his boots? Here was a new wonder to be understood, the greatest she had met with in quite some time.

Dálindir turned to her, seemingly amused at her incredulous expression.

"Helluin of the Host of Finwe, may I present Iarwain Ben-adar," he said, nodding to the odd singer, "our host. Of late he hast taken to naming himself Tom Bombadil."

The Green Elf shrugged. Helluin stared. Surely their host was the result of a flat note in the Song of the Ainur. Tom Bombadil laughed and then sang:

Hey Dalin-dalin-da-lee!

Wilt you tarry here or follow me?

The table awaits us, leave behind the water.

Hop on along and we'll join the river's daughter!

Without a further word Tom Bombadil turned and went stomping back up the path, spinning to beckon them thither. Helluin looked at Dálindir and rolled her eyes. The Green Elf could only shrug and quickly follow the stranger. The other Laiquendi turned and followed their leader. Last of all, Helluin followed them. She noticed that the singsong melody was quickly growing fainter, at a rate far out of proportion to the speed the singer had displayed. She hastened after Dálindir and finally caught up with him, grabbing his arm and jerking him to a halt.

"Who…or what…was't that?" She demanded. "And doth he always act thus, as a jester, or one mindlost?" Dálindir spread his hands, not knowing at first how to answer. Helluin continued, "Iarwain Ben-adar means only Eldest, Without Father, but in Sindarin, and that's probably the youngest of the Elven tongues. So why not Yestanesse Ala-atar¹? And Bombadil doesn't mean anything I can figure out. Just tell me this. If he hast been around as long as his name seems to claim, how in Arda did he ever survive?" ¹(Yestanesse Ala-atar, yestanesse (firstborn) + ala- (without) + atar (father) Quenya)

For some moments Dálindir simply looked at Helluin, trying to fathom her outburst. Tom Bombadil was certainly strange, but he was part of the landscape and reasoning him out was a waste of time, or so the Green Elf had come to believe. Maybe understanding was a more desperate need among the Noldor, he guessed. Dálindir had simply come to accept him as he was.

"Helluin, little do I know of Iarwain Ben-adar, for we hath met him but thrice ere tonight. Who or what he is I know not, nor from whence he came, save that he hath no evil, for I sense no darkness in him or in his beloved, the River Daughter. She at least is a nymph of the streams, or so I deem her, and hold'th some measure of power o'er creek and rain and mist and dew. Iarwain…" Here Dálindir faltered and fell silent a moment, composing his thoughts. "At each meeting twixt he and we, 'tis he that hath first come to us. We never take him at unawares, can never approach him in stealth; this alone I hold significant. Ere we first met long ago, and at oft times since, we hath passed his home and seen naught there. Indeed the land was untouched with no rumor of him to be seen. Yet in his company, we hath sat with him in a warm and jolly home. Come, Helluin, let us follow." He took her hand and began to usher her forward.

Shortly later they came to the headwaters of the Withywindle, were a small fall leapt in a narrow channel from the high downs to the east. Helluin thought its voice far louder than its volume warranted. Beside the stream a small vale opened, carpeted with a lush turf of short green grass. This lawn cloaked an uphill swell of land that dipped thence to a shallow ere it rose again nigh the downs. Upon the verge of the steep face leading up to the downs stood a hall, wide and many windowed, all lit within by a warm yellow light. On its left-hand rose a partial second story, while behind it on the right a large barn was visible over the low roofline. Beyond the house, the cliff seemed a cold and mundane backdrop.

The whole clearing was hemmed in on three sides by the forest, and it had an unearthly air about it that set Helluin's hair on end. All of it felt as a scene painted, too perfect and too still. Even the stone bordered path leading to the house seemed a flawless engraving upon the lawn, with nary a weed, a footprint, or a stone out of place. A glance behind her revealed the forest appearing "flattened", as it were some backdrop rendered upon a wall, detailed but artificial. Overhead the stars were very bright, and they twinkled not, and there was no moon. Upon the scene sat a profound timelessness, a reality more real than real, tinged with the sensorial taint she'd only felt before in the Undying Lands during the Age of the Trees. Helluin cast a questioning glance at Dálindir but he was already moving forward towards the house. After a sigh and a last look around, Helluin followed.

When they reached the front door it opened ere they knocked. The figure of a lithesome woman clad in silver appeared before them, smiling and bidding them enter with an elegant gesture of a hand. She introduced herself to Helluin as Maldiaving¹. Upon the threshold, they were shocked when Anguirel suddenly spoke. ¹(Maldiaving, Goldberry, mal(t) -d (gold) + iaving (small fruit; berry). Sindarin)

"Here I shalt not enter," the blade's cold voice declared, "but rather beside the doorpost shalt I await thy hand, O Helluin."

"And I as well," the Sarchram said, adding an ominous, "beware."

Iarwain appeared behind Goldberry and cocked his brow at the sword and the ring. He looked them over as if appraising a pair of contentious children, and being unlike the Laiquendi, not the least bit surprised to hear from them.

"On the doorstep let them park," he said, "and rest there merrily in the dark."

After a moment's consternation Helluin removed her weapons and set them beside the door. She looked carefully back down the path and into the forest, but there was no hint of anyone nearby save themselves.

"I'm sure they'll seek no trouble without thee," Goldberry told Helluin with a reassuring smile, "nor find aught of company save thine own. Come, the board is set."

With a last glance at her weapons, Helluin stepped across the threshold and into the house of Iarwain and Maldiaving. Behind her the door closed out the night as if it had never been, while within the long and low main hall, the warmth of a dozen lamps and a sweet-scented fire created a comfortable and lulling atmosphere. Beyond the wide hearth, a table had been set, with trestles at the sides and a chair at each end. Upon it were pitchers of milk, clear water, rounds of cheese, loaves with butter and honey, fruit, and nuts, all in abundance. It seemed the couple lacked not for sustenance.

Now ere the guests were seated for their meal, Iarwain beckoned them to follow him, and he took them up a flight of steps to the upper story they had seen from without. There they found he had set a washroom, with benches, basins, and pitchers of water, soap and towels, absorbent and thick. There too were bristles for cleaning boots and suede, and waxes for polishing leather and metals. There also were the brass chamber pots and commodes, and the urinals of glazed pottery next to an open window for the dumping. Helluin noted that he had also provided them with slippers to wear indoors. She looked askance at their bright colors, and their long and curling pointed toes. He's to make jesters of us all it seems, she thought, noting that at some point Tom had managed to don an outlandish orange pair with bells on the long two-pronged toe-tips, but I suppose lunacy loves company. She couldn't think of when he'd had time to take off his boots, but they were nowhere to be seen.

"Here thou may put off thy daily grime," Iarwain told them, "for bringing thy road to the table is very nearly a crime."

When they rejoined their host and hostess in the dining room, Helluin had donned a pair of bright fuchsia slippers, being those with the shortest toes. She still felt like a dolt. The Green Elves seemed to mind not at all, having done thus aforetime, and soon they were all seated at the table, supping and drinking. Helluin noted that the clear water was strongly laced with an herbal stupefacient, and that some of the food was tainted with hallucinogenic fungi. She avoided both after discerning this, but noted that the others supped and drank freely and seemed unaffected for the present. Other than their host spontaneously breaking into song at times, it was a reasonably dignified affair, though once when Goldberry arose to fetch more bread, Helluin gaped her footwear. The River Daughter's feet were shrouded in what appeared to be white rabbit pelts, their pink ears perked upright over her insteps, bright eyes and sniffing noses before her toes, and cottontails wriggling behind her heels.

After all had eaten their fill, Iarwain and Maldiaving cleared the table and ushered their guests to a row of chairs placed before the hearth. Once there, Goldberry took a lantern and withdrew, bidding the guests good night and making her way into the rear of the house. Helluin noted again the sweetish scent of the fire and realized that bundles of poppies rather than logs were stacked upon the grate. Iarwain and the four Elves settled themselves before the fire to trade counsels and tidings.

At first it appeared that their host had dozed off after inhaling deeply for several minutes of the fumes, but he later added comments to their discourse and even some bursts of song. The Green Elves seemed merry enough, though not overly energetic. Helluin found herself relaxed, but if she closed her eyes and laid her head back in her chair she discerned a lulling, floating sensation that crept up and threatened to overwhelm her.

"Ahhh, I am ever at ease in this house, and welcome is the time spent 'neath thy roof, Master Iarwain," Dálindir said to their host, who only grunted in acknowledgment.

Beinvír seemed to be staring unseeing into the fire with Gérorn seated beside her slowly stroking her back with one massive hand. Celegaras had started filling a long-stemmed pipe with some pungent herbs from a small belt pouch and paid them no attention. Dálindir glanced at his preparations and chuckled.

He turned to Helluin and said, "To thee I hath somewhat to share of reports given to me by other wandering companies of my folk." His eyes darted back to see Celegaras drawing a stalk from the fireplace and lighting his pipe. The scout drew deeply and retained the smoke, savoring it before handing the bowl to his king who did likewise.

"Thou had said thus earlier, and grateful would I be for any tidings of Eriador thou might share," Helluin answered. In truth she was curious and had joined their company mostly to hear what he'd mysteriously referred to earlier. Dálindir passed the pipe to Helluin, stifling a cough. Helluin absently took the pipe and drew comfortably on it, noting the spicy taste of the herbs before handing it back. Hmmm, not Galenas, she thought.

"It hath come to me that some strange lord out of the east hast been afoot in these lands of late," the Green Elf said, puffing again on the pipe and handing it thence to Gérorn. "He hath passed back and forth through the land for many years ere he came to Eregion. It seems that he hath since taken up residence in Ost-In-Edhil as some manner of counselor or patron of crafts. Word is that he hath indeed grown close in counsels with Celebrimbor and the Guild of Jewel Smiths."

Helluin sat absorbing his news far more calmly than she would have expected. To assure herself of her suspicions she asked, "Dálindir, hath this lord a name?"

"A name and fame and the stain of shame. Hi-ho the derry-Oh. The derry, scary, hairy-Ho!" Iarwain contributed in a mindless sing-song without opening his eyes. Helluin stared at him for a moment. His beard was gently twitching. Again she found it upsetting.

"Word is that this lord names himself Annatar," Celegaras said, tapping the ashes from the pipe into the hearth and setting to work packing the bowl afresh with another bolus of herb. "And a strange sort he is too from reports."

Helluin groaned at the confirmation of her fears. The Lord of Gifts had found welcome after all in the City of the Elves with the grandson of Feanor. She had suspected such would come to pass. The two were fairly made for each other. Her glance strayed to see Beinvír and Gérorn in a lusty lip lock, the woman straddling the large Elf's lap. With a sigh she asked after further details.

"Whence came this Annatar to Eregion?"

"'Tis said he came thither from Lindon but a few years past, having been dismissed from service as artificer to Gil-galad the king," Dálindir told her. The timing was bad. Helluin had just held the pipe. She choked out a great lungful of smoke and then broke down in a fit of gagging and coughing. Celegaras chuckled.

When she had finally mastered herself, Helluin said, "'Tis either then that Gil-galad hath reversed his counsels or Annatar doth speak untrue, for when last I had his ear, the king had resolved to treat not with this Lord of Gifts." After a pause she muttered to herself, "I should go thither to Lindon and ask after the truth of this."

"Liar, liar, pants on fire. Believe not a word, from his mouth that is heard," Iarwain offered, finally opening his eyes and looking directly at Helluin. "Never the truth in the past passed his lips…nay, not if a lie he could pass."

Helluin regarded the host a moment before asking, "Know thou this Annatar, Iarwain?"

"Me, thou, and all about. Slow to be forgotten, is one so deeply rotten," he answered.

To the questioning look in Helluin's eyes, Iarwain drew himself upright in his chair and began to speak. His voice was musical, hypnotic, his words spoken in rhyme, and ere long the Elves, Noldo and Laiquendi alike fell 'neath his spell. Long he spoke, spinning out his tale, back into the First Age of the Sun, from whence he drew forth images of Beleriand consumed in war. Fire and battle appeared before their eyes, deceit and cruelty and many traitors' lies. Evil and darkness, spirits broken and souls tortured, bodies of thralls, kingdoms fallen in ruin, and the coming of the Amanyar. Back further he went, into the years of starlight ere the moon and sun, back to the noontide of Doriath and beyond. Back to Nan Elmoth where Melian the Maia captured the heart of Elwe, and then back to the long years of peace ere the Quendi had come west. In the dark, under the old stars, ere the Fathers of the Dwarfs had awakened in the mountains and the Onodrim walked the woods he took them; back to the time when the powers had broken Udûn, Utumno, Melkor's first fortress in the north. With Iarwain as guide they saw the first lights of Arda, Illuin and Ormal, the great lamps which had lit Ea while the Valar still dwelt in Middle Earth.

And in that time a spirit great,

Of Aule's people grew filled with hate,

For his heart's desire had been withheld,

And by his lust from grace 'twas felled.

By Manwe's fallen brother sought,

And with promises his service bought,

A faithful liege 'til the end of times,

Most willing accomplice in his crimes.


With powers he was gifted then,

And in Melkor's service grew in sin,

'Til the Powers doth laid his master low,

And he fled north to hide in snow.


The Ages passed in Arda dark,

The servants of his lord he sought,

And ruled all evil in his master's name,

'Til at last pardoned Melkor came,


Then Bauglir's power rose again,

And in Angband his liege came to him,

And aided him in all his wars,

A mighty tormentor of his thralls.


Now many here have known his name,

And many suffered for his fame,

With cunning lies, and sorcery,

Advanced his cause through cruelty.


And now he gathers strength again,

For the bonds of his master mastered him,

Of Melkor's lieutenants the last of all,

The Thrallmaster still his master's thrall.

In the hearth the fire popped, scattering a shower of sparks. Helluin blinked and looked around. The lamps had burned down low, and the room was dim. The Laiquendi appeared to have dozed off in their chairs for they were in repose and motionless. From his chair, Iarwain's bright eyes regarded her closely and Helluin met his gaze.

Only from a few of the Undying in Aman had she heard accounts of the days before days ere the first of the Eldar had awakened in Cuivienen. To hear such from one in Middle Earth now was shocking, yet no less shocking than his words. Iarwain Ben-adar had recited the life story of Sauron the Maia, eclipsing all the Eldar knew of him in a few verses. Had he really seen that of which he spoke? Had he really lived in the Time of the Lamps? Helluin had thought his name a boast or flight of whimsy, but could it be truth?

"Still thy wondering mind young Helluin," Iarwain said softly, "and in this house take thy rest. All shall still be when thou awaken. Now fear no"

It seemed to Helluin that a night came down upon her like an executioner's hood, starless and velvet black, yet softly, and she fell into it without fear. Later she rose and wandered through the house, into the back room she hadn't entered aforetime. On the floor sat a deep bucket such as a tanner might use, with Riv-er¹ crudely carved into the staves. Before it a pair of rabbit pelts lay flaccid on the flags. A few bubbles percolated up to the surface, drawing her attention. Helluin looked down into the water and beheld there a soaking skin, flayed or shed, empty and translucent, and bearing the collapsed face of Goldberry. The mouth was slowly opening and closing. It was too bizarre an apparition, and Helluin turned from it and left the house. ¹(Riv-er, "One skin", riv, (skin) er, (one) Sindarin)

Upon the path of visions she trod and found herself back in the forest, walking. Ahead she spied lights, as of many campfires where a host rested. She allowed her feet to find their way thither, and she came upon her people encamped in the wood. Amongst them she moved until 'neath a willow nigh the stream where she had met Dálindir, she came upon a young Elven woman, not yet a yen¹ of age, looking expectantly up at her. ¹(yen, the "long-year" of the Eldar, (144 years of the sun) Quenya)

In shock, Helluin remembered this moment, not as a prescient image recalled, but as a memory experienced through other eyes. Ere she had looked upon Beleriand or Aman, the Host of Finwe had traversed Eriador under starlight, and a far younger Helluin had traveled with them. In an unnamed forest much like those they had spent decades wandering through, she had been gifted with this vision of a warrior, like in resemblance unto herself, but powerful beyond any in their host¹, and she had never been able to explain it at those rare times in which she revisited that memory. She hadn't thought of it in centuries. ¹(For at that time none of the host save Finwe had seen the Light of the Trees, and even he had never bathed in their radiance.)

Now Helluin knelt and looked upon her younger self in wonder. Had she ever truly been so open of expression, so guileless of spirit, and so trusting of a stranger armed and undeclared? Had she ever truly been so…young? Helluin watched her hand reach out of its own volition to gently cup the other's cheek. Their eyes met and never broke contact, blue staring into blue like two lovers drowning in a moment's intimacy, yet somehow closer still for they shared the same spirit. Unlike two feeling the attraction between, this was the communion of one soul with itself across time, overwhelming in its intensity, and being who she was now, Helluin felt the impact as she had not been able to before.

Had her spirit ever been so unspoiled, Helluin asked herself, her fea so free of the accumulation of heartbreak and memory and loss? She knew in her heart that it must once have been so, but try as she would, she couldn't remember how it felt to be so light. She had gained much…skills, knowledge, power, and yet she had lost something of the highest value. She had lost her innocence. The realization of it struck her heart like a blow.

As with all those blessed with the Life of the Eldar, she was being bound to the world by the chains of her memories; she was being inexorably being drained, her fire sublimated by the substance of mortal lands and the passage of time. She was diminishing…fading. Helluin recognized that her doom, the doom of all her people, was to lose through gain. She had been so beautiful once, so free, and now…her failing would linger down the Ages and she would die more slowly than any mortal. She had been dying since her first breath of life. Ere Helluin felt the coming tears win their release, she gave her young self a wan smile and then stood and turned away.

She found herself back in her seat before the hearth in the house of Iarwain Ben-adar, and looking over at his chair, her eyesight blurred by tears; Helluin saw only a hazy figure wrought of swirling light. She didn't understand.

"Peace," she heard with her mind's ear, "sorrow for loss is the realm of my sister."

Again the blackness took her, but this time it was dreamless.

With the Green Elves she awoke to see light streaming in through the windows of the hall. Mid-morning already; she usually woke with the dawn. Maldiaving was bustling about setting food upon the table, but Iarwain was not to be seen. The River Daughter turned to her guests as they stretched and rose, and she beckoned them forth to a repast. For a moment her eyes seemed to light on Helluin with a flicker of something in them, but it was quick, the look fugitive, and Helluin wasn't sure if it had really been, rather than a trick of the light or the eye. She did notice that the water nymph's feet were bare, her bunny slippers nowhere to be seen.

At the table Helluin was preoccupied with many thoughts and spoke little as they broke their night's fast. She noted that the water was just water and the bread was just bread. When she had eaten her fill she announced her intention to leave and make her way to Lindon, to speak with Gil-galad and offer her tidings. The Laiquendi nodded in understanding, but Dálindir informed her of their intention to remain a few days.

"Even wanderers spend not all their time wandering," Dálindir told her with a grin, "and such hospitality is not to be missed."

"Thou art welcome to stay as well, Helluin," Goldberry offered. "I think thy tidings shan't bear less import if heard a day later."

"I am sure thou art correct," Helluin answered, "but 'tis 136 years since I looked upon the building of the Dark Tower of Mordor, and in all the years since, naught hast been done to hinder the schemes of Gorthaur. I feel much evil is to come and I little like awaiting it deedless."

Goldberry looked at Helluin in silence for a few moments, as if weighing what she would say next. Over the years she had discerned that things happened in their appointed time, and aught that was done to hasten them changed the doom appointed. She had no idea, and in truth little concern for the timetable of Sauron and his machinations. Iarwain had even less. Whatever happened would happen; it always had before. The front door suddenly burst open.

"Home again, home again jiggidy-jig. The plot thou uncovered is naught but a twig," Iarwain announced as he strode into the room. He clasped Goldberry about the waist and hoisted her into the air and spun her around a couple times before setting her back on her feet. She laughed like the pealing of silver bells and a dribble of water trickled down her legs and sprinkled off her bare feet. Iarwain pulled his chair out from the table and sat down, and then began eating with gusto. "Yummy yum-yum, I shan't spill a crumb. 'Twon't be a sweeping day, my dearie-doll-de-dum. Old Tom's been a-splashing and a-thrashing all the morning bright. And working very hard to work up an appetite."

Helluin noticed that though many crumbs indeed spilled from his mouth as he spoke while he chewed, they fell into his beard where they vanished without a trace. The beard moved by itself, as it was wont to do, looking for all the world as though it were chewing.

"I shalt be going," Helluin announced decisively, "and I should thank thee both for thy kind hospitality." She arose from the table, unable to watch Iarwain's beard any longer.

"By the bye the merry-O," Iarwain said over his shoulder as she moved to the door, "and merrily down the road thou go. Watch the puddles, mind the maps, for I was first but thou be last."

"Yes, of course," Helluin said absently as she opened the door, "thank thee kindly."

She managed to get outside while Iarwain slugged down the contents of his mug and closed the door behind her ere he spoke his next pearl of wisdom. Shaking her head, she reached for her weapons and strapped them on. Helluin noticed that her boots were standing beside Anguirel though she'd put them off the evening before in the washroom upstairs. She also noticed that the soles and adjacent uppers bore dried mud, and she was sure they had been clean the night before. Thankful not to have to go back inside, Helluin sat and laced them on, leaving the ludicrous slippers in their place.

"Oddly moved the shadows in the night," Anguirel said without preamble.

"And to step thus from the world that is, I deem a jeopardy," the Sarchram added.

"Yet the morning hath come and on our way we shalt go," Helluin told them while shouldering her bow and quiver.

"And none too soon," Anguirel said. "Strange was our nightwalk under the old stars."

For once, Helluin was speechless as she began stalking down the path from the house. She looked about to assess the day. Overhead the sky appeared the same as it always had; the sun was in its place and the clouds were simply clouds. Down the path, the forest looked much like any other in Middle Earth. On the wide sloping lawn, two white rabbits examined the grass for the tenderest shoots. Helluin noted that each had a black saddle like marking on its back, and these were so dark they appeared to be holes opening onto a mineshaft. I ought to make of thee a pair of slippers in token of this visit, Helluin thought to herself. As if having heard her, the rabbits started up and bolted away across the lawn toward the house.


To Be Continued

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