In An Age Before – Part 11


Chapter Fifteen

Eriador and Eregion - The Second Age of the Sun

As expected, Gil-galad had denied having had any contact with either the Lord of Gifts or his messenger. Annatar had never set foot in Lindon, nor had he dared to come to Mithlond, for the High King had shared his thoughts with Cirdan soon after first speaking with Helluin, and the Shipwright had agreed wholeheartedly long ago.

But for the creation of Feanor's jewels, the subsequent return of Morgoth and the coming of the Noldor to Middle Earth would never have been. Cirdan would have still been happily sailing the shores of Beleriand under the stars and his people would still have been thriving in the Falas. Much like Helluin, he had feared the appeal of Annatar's offers to the Eldar of Eregion, and particularly to those of the Guild of Jewel Smiths in Ost-In-Edhil. As poisoned nectar to the bees is his rede, and doubtless to ruin shalt its counsels lead, Cirdan had declared, and perhaps not only they shalt be stung. More strongly than most Noldor, he had a Sindar's visceral distrust for the House of Feanor.

Helluin had come before the king, seeking audience with him in his chambers, and had found him in counsel with Elrond, and Galdor, whom she had met aforetime at Avernien.

"I hath come of late from the home of one, Iarwain Ben-adar, who lives in the forest nigh the north end of the South Downs," she had said, "a strange house and a stranger person." She had paused a moment suppressing the plethora of weird memories. The others had raised their brows in question for her to continue. "While’st there I held converse with a company of the Laiquendi. Indeed, with their king." The others' brows rose yet higher. "Some amongst their companies had word of fell doings in Eregion. It seems that the Lord Annatar hast indeed found welcome there and hast insinuated himself into the confidence of Celebrimbor and the Guild of Jewel Smiths."

Gil-galad had groaned aloud at this and Elrond had shaken his head. Galdor had uttered, "No good and much evil shalt certainly come of this, mark my words."

"I hath also had counsel from this Iarwain Ben-adar," Helluin had announced with some misgivings, for she considered this source of intelligence not above question, "and his claim is that this Annatar is none other than Sauron Gorthaur."

"Well, these tidings grow more ill by the moment," Galdor had said, fixing Helluin with a dour glare.

"Helluin, who is this Iarwain Ben-adar?" Elrond asked, unable to contain his curiosity. "No lore speaks of him, and yet by name he claims to be the most ancient?"

"Aye, my lords, but perchance the question is not who, but what," Helluin replied uncomfortably, "and to that, I hath no sure answer. The experience of his company was…strange. Not as we now sit speaking rationally 'neath the sun art his counsels held. Rather by starlight and after alteration by many agents of the olvar is his wont. Yet though he spoke in rhyme, and oft badly so, he recounted memories reaching back indeed unto the Age of the Lamps, of which we hath heard tell but little even in Aman."

"He is a lore-master then?" Gil-galad asked in confusion.

"My King, he is that, and yet more," said Helluin, "for he spoke from memory rather than study. Indeed I suspect he be not of the Children of the One. As I hath said, the experience was’t strange…indeed confusing, yet he provided unto me visions, and he appeared upon a time incorporeal, as a figure of swirling of light. He hast no slight skill at leather mongery, and hath no doubt contrived his own harlequin's outfit. Indeed his beloved Maldiaving, the Riv-er Daughter, is a skin, animated by some power, who takes her nightly rest in a tanner's bucket. Perhaps she once lived; I know not her tale."

Gil-galad, Elrond, and Galdor all regarded this with misgivings. Such doings as Helluin described, if they be true, were the province of sorcery and necromancy. Usually such fell undertakings were the work of a dark will. The reanimation of the husk in particular gave them shivers. Who amongst the Children of Iluvatar could coax forth the fea of the dead from the Halls of Mandos, and bind it thus in a hroa long dead? It simply went against the order of things. Indeed it reeked of sacrilege against the Powers.

"Helluin, how know'th thou that this Iarwain was not Sauron himself in some strange guise?" Elrond asked. "Would it not favor him thus, to come amongst thy company and advance his cause with lies and false information? Ever was he a shapeshifter and sorcerer. Surely such as thou hath reported lies within his realm."

Helluin was silent a moment. This she had never considered, yet her heart denied the truth of Elrond’s suspicion. Iarwain and Maldiaving had been disturbing and bizarre, but felt not maliciously evil to her. Neither had Dálindir marked evil in them. And then there was the vision of her younger self. How would Sauron know of that? Why would he have provided her with the completion of one of her lifelong mysteries rather than take the opportunity to insinuate something more misleading or sinister? Why would he have allowed her to discover Goldberry's resting-place? Such a course made no sense, serving to hamper rather than advance his cause.

"In truth I know'th not, Elrond, and thy suspicions hath grounds," she admitted, "yet in my heart I reject them. Certain of the visions I saw were deeply personal, having come upon me in part ere ever I first set foot in Beleriand. I saw the completion of a vision from my youth. Ere that, I saw a vision that revealed his beloved's nature. I think not that Sauron would bypass the chance to visit upon me somewhat more cruel intentions. I believe not that this Iarwain is indeed Sauron."

"So then the Laiquendi told thee that their people hath learned of Annatar's presence in Ost-In-Edhil…" Gil-galad trailed off with a worried expression.

"And one thing more, my King," Helluin said. "Their tale concludes with the news that, traveling thither, he claimed to hath come afresh from thy service as artificer. I suspect such a lie is more in keeping with the ways of the enemy; lies told to further his cause in gaining the trust of Eregion."

At this, the king's fist slammed down on the side table in a rare show of anger. His jaw was clenched and his face was red. To be used thus by the enemy against friends was abhorrent to him, yet all too characteristic a machination. The miles between their realms frustrated him too, and the lateness of the news only made the matter worse. Why had none spoken of this aforetime? Why had no word come from Ost-In-Edhil? Surely such a matter would not be considered a trifle by Celeborn or Galadriel? He couldn't believe it had come to him thus, words third hand and delivered by aught but chance. At the very least the Laiquendi should have passed on their information promptly. But then, they were incohesive as a people, having no real structure to their society and no centralization of authority. They wandered hither and yon about the land with few cares and little concern for the doings of others. Indeed, he had never bothered to maintain much contact with them. They were hard to find and seldom where sought, and any meetings betwixt their people and his were oft guided by naught save luck. But what was that Helluin had said about a king? They actually had a king? He had never heard one named after Denethor, early in the First Age. Thereafter that people had looked most and long to Doriath for leadership and protection in war.

"Helluin, what was this thou mentioned about a king amongst the Laiquendi?"

"I met with one, Dálindir, second son of Denethor, son of Lenwe, the only surviving scion of he who first brought his people to Ossiriand, but fell upon Amon Ereb ere the coming of our people hither from Aman. His rule though is…informal," Helluin hedged.

"Think thou that he and his companies might prove valuable allies in the field or as conduits of information? Surely they hath many eyes in many quarters of the land?"

"Indeed, my King, though the Green Elves would make fine agents and no doubt many walk the lands, I hath no idea how to contact them. With their king's company, only chance brought us recently together." There had been over 1,260 years between their only two meetings. Helluin doubted if she would see him again for a like time. She had spent long years wandering about Eriador and had never met with him before. Searching for him might prove as fruitless as anything she could imagine.

"I see," the High King said absently. It was as he suspected. He dismissed the Laiquendi from his concerns. "Well then, I think it worthwhile for someone to bear word thither to Celeborn and Galadriel. They should at least understand that this Annatar came forth not from any service with me, nor with any blessing from this realm." He was looking pointedly at Helluin as he spoke.

Once a messenger, always a messenger, Helluin observed silently, see what thou hast brought upon thyself? Bearing hence ill tidings grows no generous sentiments from the ears that must hear them. Ahhh well, I suppose that shortly I shalt enjoy the company of Sauron at last. How very wretched a prospect.

"Were not Celeborn and Galadriel warned of Annatar 74 years ago, my King?" She asked, recalling her counsel to send forth a messenger to Eregion in 1187, back when first Annatar's messenger had come to Lindon. She noticed Gil-galad swallow in self-conscious discomfort and take a breath. Guess not, she thought.

"At the time I finally decided that such would not be necessary," he admitted, "for in no way could I convince myself that either Celeborn or Galadriel would admit to their realm one intent on promoting such a course. Indeed I am truly astonished at the turn that events hath taken. Now I deem it necessary to send word hence at once. I like not this liar using my blessing unearned to ingratiate himself thus amongst my friends."

"I see," Helluin said. So now that thy honor is impugned, sending word is necessary.

For a moment, Gil-galad froze as if in mid-thought.

"Why said thou, '74 years ago', Helluin?" He asked carefully.

"'Twas then that I counseled thee that we send forth a messenger to Eregion. To thee had come Annatar's messenger, my King," Helluin answered. "I remember being called hither to thee in Lothron, in 1187 of this Age. 'Tis now Narbeleth of 1261, though warm for the season. Thus I reckon 74 years hath passed."

There followed a long and drawn out silence in which none spoke, but all looked upon her with pitying eyes. Finally Helluin could stand it no longer.

"Whyfore hast thou all become as mourners before a tomb? Surely reminding thee of past counsel is not considered a crime?"

Elrond and Galdor looked to their king. Gil-galad shook his head and took a breath ere he spoke. He had known Helluin many years and was sorry to see her faculties fading so.

"Helluin, 'tis not the year 1261, and hath not been for some time. Indeed today is 18Nórui, (June 18th), in the year 1343. I am sure at thy advanced age 'tis easy enough to fall out of touch, especially in consideration of all thy time spent in the wild lands…"

Helluin had heard his words but they didn't make sense. She gaped openly at the king, not even thinking to react to his implication of her senility. Somehow she had lost 82 years! She was sure that she had met Dálindir in late Ivanneth of 1261. It was now Nórui of 1343? How was such possible? She had spent but a single night at the house of Iarwain Ben-adar. Or at least it had seemed to her a single night…

In horror, she choked back a gasp. She had stepped out of the world and out of time, and no Man or Elf could do thus, either stave off or hasten the passage of time. Iarwain was perhaps even more than she had suspected. One thing only she decided at that moment. Never again would she willingly venture 'nigh that vale, nor would she step foot within that enchanted house even to escape death.

"My King, to me did but a single night pass 'neath the roof of Iarwain and Maldiaving. Now thou tell me 'tis 1343…and it seems that I passed not a single night, but rather well 'nigh 82 years. For my part, I shalt never approach that place nor seek that being again. He is more than any that belong in Middle Earth; I fear him as I hath feared no other."

They stood silently a long while, each thinking deeply on what Helluin had said, trying to understand what had befallen her. Elrond most of all was intrigued by the mystery. Not 120 leagues distant lived one of astonishing abilities, of race unknown, but more than likely either a very powerful Maia or a Vala. Why had not the Eldar wondered after this aforetime? Wind and wave, land and sky all had their rulers within Arda; not so the unfolding of the events of the Song. No other of the Ainur could master time, and no known Power held lordship o'er the realm of its passage. And yet someone must…

"Thou should leave at first light and make thy way thither to Eregion with all haste, Helluin," Gil-galad pronounced at last. "Thou alone of us hast been in Ost-In-Edhil aforetime and know its ways and principals…and thou art close in counsels too with the lords of Khazad-dum. Perhaps t'would be well to send tidings to them also…while'st thou be so nearby."

"Of course, my King. It shalt be done," Helluin said, bowing her head and thinking, just as I recommended 156 years ago.

And did we learn anything from that? Helluin asked herself with irritation as she trudged down the road out of Lindon the next morning. For rations, the kitchen had provided her a sack of apples that hung now over her shoulder opposite her bow, a small parcel of seeded cakes, a waxed hard cheese, and a flagon of wine. Just see if I set foot again in Lindon for an Age! The road was wet and rutted from the night's rain, and already she was bespattered with mud. Were I not commanded to make all haste thither in hopes of recouping 156 years neglect, I should make my way amidst the forest like any other sensible person! Roads art for horse carts and armies of Men.

She continued to grumble as she strode along, aggravated to have been drawn unexpectedly onto yet another of the king's errands. She sloshed blindly through puddles, kicked stones into the roadside trees, and stomped to splatter mud simply for spite. In fact she was deceiving herself, concentrating on her displeasure at being enlisted as a messenger rather than contemplating the greater mystery of having lost o'er half a yen or the prospect of coming into the company of Sauron. Helluin was so preoccupied that she failed to notice the figure joining her on the road, though vigilance would have availed her little in this case.

"Whither goes’t thou in such a foul mood?" A soft voice asked from very nearly beside her elbow it seemed.

Helluin started and jerked around, scowling, her sword half out of its scabbard ere she recognized Beinvír stepping from the woods to join her on the road. The woman flinched back at her sudden movement and stopped in her tracks, eyes wide and hands spread in a placating gesture.

"Thy pardon," Helluin apologized, stopping and sheathing Anguirel, but not before hearing its soft chuckle. "I am sent to Ost-In-Edhil on errantry for my king, Gil-galad. It seems I am commanded to act on my own advice after 156 years," she chaffed. "What brings thee hither, Beinvír?" She looked around, expecting to see Gérorn, Celegaras, and Dálindir nearby. As far as she could discern, they were alone upon the road.

"I truth I had hoped to find thee, Helluin," Beinvír said. At Helluin's look of surprise, she added, "I had somewhat of a disagreement with Gérorn and decided to unaccomany them all for a while." Here Helluin raised an eyebrow in question. "The company desired to remain at the house of Iarwain for some time, while in truth, that place sets me ill at ease. Gérorn insisted I remain; I refused and then left ere harsher words were spoken." She waved a hand dismissively. "It helps at times to do thus when we need to regain perspective." Here she gave a sigh ere taking a breath to refocus and continue. "Since thou also travel about and were not yet even a half-day gone, I trailed thee to Lindon but had no desire to enter there. Hence I came to join thee on the road, for I deemed traveling with thee a chance to widen my experience. Little contact hath I ever had with the Noldor, and I hath for many years been curious."

"And knowing now my errand, doest thou still seek to accompany me thither…most likely to meet Sauron Gorthaur?" Helluin asked incredulously. No one in their right mind sought out the Lord of Lies, Lieutenant of Morgoth, abhorred above all his servants.

"I should not miss it for the world," Beinvír answered lightly at once. Helluin groaned.

"And what of Ost-In-Edhil? Woulds’t thou also enter there when thou woulds't not enter Lindon?"

At this, Beinvír stilled and thought for a moment. Cities weren't her choice of abiding places. She considered them stifling but she supposed she could stand one for a short while if she went thither in Helluin's company rather than alone.

"Thou intends not to settle there?" She asked just to make sure.

"Not in this lifetime," Helluin said, "I hope to leave as soon as may be. Indeed I hope to pass no more than a day there ere I travel thence to Khazad-dum. What about that?"

At this news, Beinvír's eyes went wide with horror. "Thou doth go to seek after the Naugrim? In truth? I hath heard that of old they roasted and ate Elves, though whether they persist in this practice is a constant subject of debate amongst us."

Now it was Helluin's turn to stare in shock. Unbelievable! They think the Naugrim eat Elves? Where in Arda did they hear that? The idea was so ludicrous that it wholly lacked for humor. It was several moments ere she could even form an answer.

"Beinvír," Helluin at last managed to say, "the Naugrim are no more likely to eat an Elf than thou art to eat one of them. Where indeed did thou hear such a thing?"

Beinvír looked like she truly wanted to believe Helluin's assurances. Her people had fled from Dwarves for centuries, or slew them when they could. They had done thus in earnest ever since the battle with the Host of Nogrod at the River Ascar. In Ossiriand the Dwarves had indiscriminately felled trees, dug up the soil, and built roads through the forest. Their manners were haughty and their speech incomprehensible. Long ere the battle, they had been the unfriends of the Green Elves. Few Laiquendi cared to recall that the Naugrim had been there first. The two kindreds had forever been estranged and had never had anything in common.

"Well, everyone believes it," she said, "and none that I know hath ever actually talked to one of them. It hath been thus for many yeni. Now we keep to the forests and they to the mountains, and almost never do we meet. Such is our wisdom."

"Bah! Such wisdom is folly," Helluin declared with certainty. "The Host of Durin I count as friends. Indeed of them was my armor made and of their fellowship with Celebrimbor of Ost-In-Edhil was this weapon made." Here she touched the Sarchram.

"Well, if thou say thus, I shalt believe thee," Beinvír said after some moments, though she sounded yet unconvinced. She gave Helluin a nervous smile. "I shalt look forward to not being eaten."

"Oh, come on then," Helluin said at last, "and try to keep up."

She started striding down the road again with Beinvír at her side. She was unsure which of them would be most discomfited; she at having company or the Green Elf at walking the road. After an hour, Beinvír gave voice to her irritation with Helluin's haste.

"Must thou proceed as a rabbit chased?" Beinvír asked as she hastened her stride. Helluin's legs were enough longer than her own that the Noldo's pace pressed her for speed, she being more used to moving unseen in forests than marching down open roads.

"Indeed yes," Helluin had answered. After a moment she added, "such art my orders."

"I see," Beinvír said unhappily. "Know thou the mileage of this journey?"

Helluin looked to her side and noted the distaste the Green Elf seemed to have for marching post haste, yet there was little she could do to lessen the strain. Still, she recalculated the day's marches and slacked slightly her pace. Gil-galad had waited 156 years to send a messenger thither. Helluin could arrive a day or two later without feeling guilty. She reached into her sack and drew forth an apple, which she handed to Beinvír. That at least got a smile.

"After all these years, to be ordered thither with all haste doth seem a whimsy," she said by way of apology, "yet even I feel the necessity of speed and 'tis worse for the wasted time. I shalt endeavor to make the journey survivable. T'wouldn't befit the dignity of a king's messenger, I suppose, to stagger in thus at court before the Lord and Lady, gasping for the last of breath ere collapsing upon the floor."

Beinvír laughed aloud at Helluin's words and Noldo was heartened to hear her mirth.

"T'would make thy king appear a driver of thralls, or perhaps bespeak a battle narrowly escaped," the Laiquende said, "I wager thy hosts might find either possibility upsetting." Beinvír actually giggled at the thought. Helluin couldn't recall the last time she'd heard an Elf giggle. She found it lightened her heart to hear it now.

The next day, after ruminating all night on her loss of so many years during one night in the forest, Helluin spoke with Beinvír, asking her, "What know'th thou of Iarwain? Strange things hath befallen me in his house."

Beinvír looked at her uncomfortably before answering. As she had said, the place made her feel ill at ease.

"'Tis a strange house with strange hosts," she began, "and ever while there do I feel myself apart from the world that is. 'Tis just a feeling, I suppose, but it chills me, as though I had for a time, walked out from 'neath the sun. I know not how better to describe it. Always I hath felt uneasy till away in the forest, yet I hath noted that at times it seems I hath come forth from there in a different season, or noting a particular tree, sensed that it hath lived some time in my absence. Can such be so?"

"I believe such is just so," Helluin said, "for when I met thy company, 'twas 23 Ivanneth in the year 1261, but when I came to Lindon, I found 'twas suddenly 18 Nórui of 1343. In the night I spent in the house of Iarwain Ben-adar, I somehow misplaced 82 years."

Beinvír regarded her with shock widened eyes. Few with whom she spoke measured closely the years. Their folk died not, aged little, and lived upon the land. Never had she compared her coming or going from that house to a calendar. She shivered unconsciously. Her company had elected to stay there while she had left. When would she see them again? In a month? A year? A yen? An Age?

"My friends…" she whispered, wracked with uncertainly, "I left them there…"

Helluin didn't know what to say. She couldn't offer any certainties for she knew too little to guess. Beinvír might see her friends again soon, or it might be a very long time indeed, for they were outside the world and she was within it. When they would return was utterly unknown. Helluin draped an arm about the younger woman's shoulders and gave her a reassuring squeeze. It was all the comfort she could offer, and gently she urged her new companion beside her down the road. Guess I hath company now for a while, she thought, and such may not be a bad thing.

Now the way from Lindon to Ost-In-Edhil by road ran well nigh 180 leagues, but the king had commanded Helluin to make all haste. She walked from sun up to sundown stopping but twice a day to sup and rest. It being 19 Nórui, (June 19th), when Helluin and Beinvir met, the days were divided unequally betwixt day and night. Long was the light of summer and they walked while the sun lit their way. Thus they progressed at a pace averaging ten to eleven leagues a day, and on 7 Cerveth, (July 7th), S.A. 1343, they arrived at the gates of Ost-In-Edhil.

Immediately, Helluin could see that the city had changed. The indifferently laid and unimpressive wall she had seen on her earlier visit had been replaced with one both tall and broad, the work of the Gonnhirrim from the looks of the joinery. The gate was now wrought of iron, tall and sturdy, its stout hinges concealed in masonry, the juncture tight. Upon the faces was worked a device of holly leaves in relief, inlaid with patinaed bronze and red berries of carnelian. Strong towers stood upon either side and the gate's arch was topped with a crenellated battlement. From both vantages, watchmen observed the comings and goings upon the road. These and the many guards about the gate were dressed in shining mail 'neath surcoats of deep green, and they carried long swords.

The gate stood open during daylight hours for the ease of the traffic entering and leaving, and looking through they had a glimpse of the city. Beyond the wall lay a bustling square and then a narrow view of many stone buildings with avenues leading away in different directions. It appeared that Durin's folk had been much employed, for the construction was first rate. Helluin was impressed. Beinvír was visibly nervous. Helluin laid a steadying hand on her shoulder and squeezed to reassure her of their safety.

As they stood thus, a company of the guard garrisoned there stood forth and approached. These guards had the duty of challenging strangers to declare themselves and their business. Though Helluin was in truth no stranger, it had been 220 years since last she had entered the city. Of course, Beinvír was a complete stranger, and a nervous appearing one at that. As it was now the rule, the guards stopped the two and required them to declare themselves, whether any of them recognized Helluin or not.

"Good day," the tall captain of the guard said formally, and eyeing Helluin and Beinvír closely explained, "'tis the law of the Lord and Lady that all strangers must declare themselves ere they art granted leave to enter the city. What then art thy names and thy business?"

Officious young pup, Helluin thought. Just like last time,save that now my boots art in fine shape. Ahhh well, I suppose he is but doing his duty.

"I am Helluin, called also Maeg-mormenel, an explorer of the Host of Finwe, and aforetime, thy lord's first Ambassador to Khazad-dum. I am come now as a messenger to the Lord and Lady from Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor. With me travels Beinvír, loyal member of the company of Dálindir, King of the Laiquendi of Eriador."

The captain gave a sigh and then nodded. Few of the remaining Noldor in Middle Earth could name themselves thus, though all had the right to name their first lord. By naming herself of the Host of Finwe, Helluin had placed herself among the eldest of the Calaquendi, those who had marched west in that host ere it came to Aman. It conferred a status, for age was respected among all the Eldar. Helluin was also easily recognized by her black armor and the ring blade that Celebrimbor had forged for her, as much as for her black hair and bright blue eyes. Still, it had been his duty to ask and it seemed she understood. As for the other woman, she was the first Green Elf he had ever seen. One simply did not encounter Laiquendi outside their forests, and even in their realm one did not see them unless they allowed it. And she was a member of her king's company no less. Like Helluin, she was no doubt a royal emissary on official business to his rulers.

"Thou art known to us, Helluin, and thy voucher of Beinvír I shalt accept. The Lord and Lady hold court in the White Tower and there receive messages. Go thou in peace."

He stood aside and gave them a formal bow as they passed. Helluin acknowledged him with a nod and a small smile while Beinvír bowed to him in return.

When they had passed out of earshot, Beinvír whispered, "We do not call Dálindir king, for he rules no realm and our people art by their nature scattered. There is no kingdom."

"That may well be," Helluin said with a smile, "but the guard knew it not, and at such times I hath found it worthwhile to impress those subject to being easily impressed." She winked and got a smile from the Green Elf in return.

"He certainly seemed duly impressed with thy titles," Beinvír said, teasing.

"Such nonsense comes as the wage of trudging many miles and losing many battles," Helluin said with mock-gravity. "Perhaps I should hath added also, 'Royal Orch Hunter of Lindórinand', 'Great-grandmother to the Brat Queen of Númenor', and 'Overly Hasty in Speech with the Onodrim of Greenwood'?"

To this, Beinvír laughed aloud, a carefree and joyous sound not in the least stifled to pass as civil amongst genteel company at court. Helluin found that she liked the sound more each time she heard it. Only genuine mirth can be truly free of care, she thought, and such lives best in a heart free to feel it. Hath I lost that too in the passing of the years? She found herself giving the younger woman a gentle smile as they walked into the city.

The way to the White Tower was obvious, for the structure was by far the tallest building in the city and stood where the earlier tower had been. They had no trouble picking their course, for the streets were laid out in a simple grid that followed the contours of the land so as not to become overly rigid in its geometry. As before, Helluin's way took her 'nigh the Guildhouse of Jewel Smiths, and she gave it a close look as they passed. She noted that while the façade had remained unchanged, a number of stories had been added above it so that the edifice, once squat, now encompassed an impressive height. Yet the additions had been cunningly contrived to appear of the same manufacture as the original structure. Helluin nodded to herself. It was less ostentatious than she had expected.

As they walked through the city, Beinvír's eyes ceaselessly rove over everything. She took in the smooth, level streets, the crowds of people, the paucity of trees, and the paving overlying the soil. Suddenly she stopped stock-still and let out a small gasp. Helluin checked on her and realized that she was reacting thus to a group of traders from the mountains going about their business in a market square. These were the first of the Naugrim that they had seen this day. Helluin gave Beinvír a subtle nudge to get her moving again, and after shaking herself and taking a last look back, Beinvír continued forward.

"'Tis not uncommon to find some number of Durin's Folk in the city, Beinvír," Helluin explained to allay her discomfort, "for they art welcomed as traders and craftsmen, and indeed, as friends. Thou shalt certainly meet some of their company, either here in the city or later upon the road. Ere thou come to the west gate of Hadhodrond, thou shalt hath made the acquaintance of at least a few."

Beinvír gulped and nodded, still not comfortable with the idea though the interactions between the Dwarves and the Elves that she had just seen seemed to bear Helluin out. There had been much conversation, the examination of wares, some haggling, jesting, and a burst of laughter. Hands had been shaken, money exchanged, and goods taken with smiles all around. Indeed it had all seemed very normal. Beinvír realized that if she made it back to her company alive and uneaten, she would have much to tell. Indeed many of her people would scarce believe her tale. The news that she had entered the city at all would be startling in itself. For the first time since coming thither, she let a smile of anticipation cross her lips.

The court of the White Tower was a stuffy and formal affair, with stern sentries, liveried servants, and fawning toadies in abundance. Helluin was hardly impressed and Beinvír vacillated betwixt nervousness and derision. The door warden "requested" they lay aside their arms ere they entered. Beinvír handed over her bow and knife. Helluin gave over her bow, sword, and the Sarchram. The Grave Wing confused the warden, for never had he seen such a weapon before, but the cirth¹ upon it froze his heart. ¹(cirth, runes Sindarin)

In typical fashion, Anguirel upset him further, warning coldly that, "Thou hast not leave to draw my blade. Do so, and I shalt surely take thy life."

Helluin chuckled at the horror on his face; such incidents were endearing the black sword to her ever more as the years passed.

Within the White Tower a valet conveyed them to the door of the Great Hall where a herald announced them to the court. It seemed that they were led thither by a somewhat roundabout route and given a tour meant to impress them with the majesty of the royal house. Beinvír stared at everything while Helluin rolled her eyes. Aforetime she had simply come to the couple's study and knocked upon their door. Now they entered a formal setting with all the trappings of royal pomp such as would have befitted Gondolin, or Nargothrond, or Menegroth. Indeed, it was much more structured than Lindon. Helluin was reminded of the court at Armenelos in Númenor.

The Great Hall was a vast affair of white marble, brightly lit by many windows, and liberally decorated with figures and traceries. Indeed Helluin came to wonder how oft and in how many guises, the token of a holly sprig could be rendered, and just how ingeniously it might be applied to nearly every surface. A gathering was to be seen far down the hall, and the two travelers paced toward it with echoing steps ringing on the flooring stones. There at the far end of the hall, Celeborn and Galadriel were seated upon chairs carved with yet more representations of holly, and set upon a low dais. What with their counselors, petitioners, officials from the various guilds, and city bureaucrats, there were several dozen in attendance. All eyes now turned to watch the travelers approaching.

When they were half way down the hall, Beinvír finally turned to Helluin and nervously whispered, "Were I a naked Orch I should warrant less attention, I wager. Pray tell, do they find all strangers worthy of such blatant examination?"

"Of their vulturine tendencies hast there been some advance of late, most likely in proportion to the tedium of their duties," Helluin guessed, "such is the nature of ordering a realm. May the Valar preserve all such who find themselves held thus in thrall."

"Thou pity them?"

"Indeed so," Helluin said. "How could I not? Friends forced thus into so unnatural a state." Here she nodded subtly at Celeborn and Galadriel.

Shortly they had come before the dais and bowed to the Lord and Lady. All eyes were still upon them, but now their attention was focused upon the royals and they paid the courtiers no mind. Celeborn and Galadriel rose in greeting.

"Welcome, Helluin and Beinvír," Celeborn said, ignoring the look of surprise on the Laiquende's face at his knowledge of her name. "Many changes hath befallen ere thou last stood in our realm, my old friend, as thou hath no doubt seen. I pray thou hast been well since last we met." He turned his gaze to Beinvír, "Welcome, distant kinswoman of my forefathers. Long hast it been since last I met with any of the people of Denethor, and longer still since I heard the singing in the greenlands of Ossiriand. Be thou at peace in Ost-In-Edhil, for in honor do we hold our allies and friends of days long past."

Beinvír was rendered speechless at the lord's fair words and could only grace him with a thankful smile ere she bowed her head in respect.

Meanwhile, Galadriel had been regarding Helluin closely and an increasing expression of incredulity possessed her features. Her faultless sight allowed her to mark the fact that by some enchantment, Helluin now stood taller than she herself; she was sure of it though she stood a step above her on the dais. Finally, unable to contain herself, Galadriel stepped down and strode over to stand directly before the raven-haired Noldo. The confirmation of her suspicion was all too obvious face to face. Now forced to look up into those star-blue eyes, she detected there the slightest twinge of suppressed mirth.

"My eyes fooled me not!" She hissed as she leaned forward to whisper in Helluin's ear. "Thou hast grown taller yet again! Is this thy notion of humor?"

Only Beinvír who stood close beside them overheard the princess' words, and her eyes grew wide in shock, thinking the lady unstable. Upon the dais Celeborn choked at the obvious evidence he saw before him. Helluin was now nearly a hand's width taller than his wife. Somehow she'd done it again! Now he would never hear the end of it.

"'Tis no more than the wages of outdoor living, Princess," Helluin replied while casting a nervous glance around at the courtiers, "fresh air, clean water, natural food…" she trailed off as Galadriel regarded her claim with obvious disbelief.

"Yet aforetime thou claimed such was the result of some stream enchanted, which doth flow amidst the mellyrn yon Hithaeglir," she whispered in irritation, reminding Helluin of her earlier claims in Lindon.

Helluin had certainly not forgotten her own words. She sighed and began to wonder if her jest had not gone too far. Could such really be so important to the daughter of her old friend, Finarfin? Was Galadriel becoming unhinged? At the very least the gossip mongers standing nearby would think it so. ‘Twas time to direct the conversation onto safer topics.

"My Lady," Helluin said, taking a slight step back, "upon an errand from Gil-galad did I come hither, and grave is the message. Yet I deem it neither discourse for many ears, nor the concern of many counsels. I pray thee for a privy audience with thee and the lord."

She gave Galadriel as serious a look as she could muster, given the lady's reaction just moments past, and cast her eyes about her to mark all the surrounding company. To her credit, Galadriel shifted quickly to the business at hand and announced, "Leave us now, all thou here in attendance. The court shalt recommence in one hour."

All 'round them heads bowed and people withdrew. Though none protested, there was an undercurrent of whispers and muttering. In a few moments the hall was deserted save for Helluin, Beinvír, Galadriel, and Celeborn. When Helluin made to continue speaking, the Lady sternly put a finger across her lips and motioned with her head for them to adjourn through a side door to a private chamber. They filed out of the hall quickly.

The chamber was a comfortable room with many chairs and a pair of desks. A large window taking up most of one wall lit the space, while the remaining walls held shelves filled with books and scrolls. The four Elves seated themselves in a group around a low table that held refreshments and cups. Galadriel poured them wine, then sat back and sighed ere she drank. Helluin took a sip and drew forth a scroll. Beinvír simply looked about herself while Celeborn helped himself to a sweetened cake. He at least was dreading the outburst betwixt Helluin and his wife that he felt sure would follow. Finally Galadriel sighed again and regarded Helluin closely, making eye contact so that they held each other's attention for some moments ere they spoke.

"Thou hast obviously found profit yet again in thy travels, Helluin," Galadriel began in a somewhat accusatory tone as her eyes raked up and down Helluin's tall form, "as it seems thou art wont to do. I hath many…questions," she said in a tone that promised a lengthy interrogation to appease her amazement, "yet I suppose 'tis thy business that doth take precedence. Speak therefore, I pray thee. What word from the High King?"

"My Lady," Helluin said formally, before turning to nod at Celeborn, "my Lord, my errand to thee from Gil-galad ‘tis in part the delivery of this scroll, yet I can speak somewhat of its contents." She had displayed the scroll then set it upon the table. "156 years ago a messenger came to the gates of Lindon seeking audience with the king. There he offered parlay on behalf of his lord, Annatar, a master out of the east, he claimed, of great cunning and subtlety of hand, who offered his aid in craft to the Noldor. His goal was to create such as would aid in the achievement of a realm upon Middle Earth to rival that of Blessed Aman; one cured of mortal stain, ever unfading, and like unto Valinor itself." All sat listening, the scroll for now forgotten and untouched. Helluin noted the disturbing brightness of Galadriel's eyes as she warmed to the topic.

"Such aspirations seem fair upon their face, and yet tempt the Noldor once again to aspire to that which is beyond their grasp and their place. Indeed, I deem such to be not less than the usurpation of the powers of the Undying Ones in their rightful rule o’er Arda, and cause for yet another curse. The king hast come to agree with this conclusion, Cirdan, Elrond, and Galdor too. Indeed Gil-galad refused to treat further with this messenger and he refused to meet this lord.

Of late hath we learnt that this Annatar is come to Ost-In-Edhil, and hath endeared himself to the Gwanin-I-Mirdain. Indeed 'tis reported that he hath become close in counsel with Celebrimbor. 'Tis said he did thus, claiming the lie that he had been of late, artificer to the High King. Such treachery coming to light hast hastened me hither bearing these tidings, and there is more.

Yet shortly ago, in the company of one Iarwain Ben-adar, it became known to me that this Lord Annatar is none other than Sauron Gorthaur, bearing fair guise and acting again his sorcery and cunning. I urge thee both; dispossess thy realm of this villain! Deport him hence at once! Offer him no welcome or succor. I fear for thee as does the High King. In Celebrimbor is the spirit of Feanor born again, and to Sauron's master that spirit was known upon a time. Ere the Exile did Morgoth win Feanor's ear and confidence for a time. Such again do we fear coming to pass, that now the ear of a lesser son be given to a lesser evil, and yet both be still great enough to forge a bitter doom for our people. Tell me, I pray thee, what news of this Annatar in Ost-In-Edhil?"

Galadriel and Celeborn had listened closely to Helluin's impassioned speech and indeed both were impressed. It was very likely the most either of them had heard at one sitting from the dour Noldo, and the monologue had been delivered with more feeling than any words that either could recall. What she had claimed was truly horrifying, very nearly a nightmare recapitulation of the fall of their people and the darkening of Valinor. There was but one problem.

"Helluin, in all of Ost-In-Edhil there is no being of the name Annatar," Celeborn said with certainty. "Indeed no new guildsmen hath been admitted in 'nigh on forty years. During that time, Celebrimbor hast been most oft in Khazad-dum, in the company of Narvi, creating great works, most chiefly the new West Doors of Hadhodrond. In his absence, no new guildsmen hath been inducted."

Helluin looked at him in shock. How could there be no Annatar in Ost-In-Edhil?

"'Tis true, Helluin," Galadriel said, "in payment for the labor of their stone wrights hath we sent forth gravers and carvers, artisans and painters, lampwrights and fountaineers. The Lord of Khazad-dum aspires to make his realm the most beautiful of all the dwellings of his folk upon Middle Earth, as well as the richest and most powerful. It shalt be as the Great Courts of Mahal, he claims, indeed like unto the smithies of their creator himself; a city fair and strong, delved by the hands of his people and enriched by the hands of ours. And he hath pledged alliance in peace and in war, and in the flow of ideas and skills between the mountains and the city. In the making of many works hath Celebrimbor's skills bloomed even to the amazement of those who knew him aforetime. An unrivaled master he hath become, inspired, subtle, and delicate of hand. All this hath come of thy efforts aforetime. Indeed we all owe thee a great debt."

Somewhere during Galadriel's discourse, Helluin's soul fell chilled and she listened with growing horror. In the boasts of the Lord of Durin's Folk she heard the echo of the promises of Annatar to the Noldor. Was he come thither to Khazad-dum, or had he secretly infected Celebrimbor in Ost-In-Edhil, sending him thence to Hadhodrond to spread his poison? There was no way for Helluin to know. Only was she sure that Celeborn and Galadriel stood blindly upon the brink of disaster. Somewhere in the back of her mind she also noted that, whereas aforetime, Galadriel had spoken somewhat disparagingly of Celebrimbor, now her words glowed with praise…interesting.

"How oft come thou amongst the guildsmen or to their guildhouse?" She asked them. Both stared at her, neither answering, but the silence alone answered for them. "Perhaps this Annatar bides his time in secret amongst the craftsmen, indeed perhaps even unrecognized by Celebrimbor. We know from of old how Sauron was a shifter of shapes. Surely he could cloak himself in form fair spoken and fair to the eye, passing thus for one of our own, going unmarked and unremarked, yet slowly eroding the nobility of those about him, much like a fungus eroding a timber and leaving all sound to the eye yet rotten through within. Such would be a fair coup and much to his liking."

Galadriel and Celeborn looked to each other in uncertainty, and thence to Helluin in alarm. Such could be true; they both knew it. They weren't even sure day to day as to whether Celebrimbor himself was in the city or in the mountains let alone the disposition of every guildsman. It had been long ere they'd had time from their duties to really keep an eye on their realm. And somehow the work just kept demanding ever more of their time. In the last couple decades it had grown worse at a quickening pace.

"Helluin, what thou claim could all too easily be true. We hath become whelmed in the rule of Eregion," Celeborn admitted. He cast a longing look out the window, then sighed and returned his attention to those seated about him. "Slowly we hath grown apart from our people. Indeed it seems with each day that passes we fall deeper out of touch."

"We hath become as shadows in our own realm, guests preoccupied or strangers lost in our own home," Galadriel shook her head. "'Tis almost as if a creeping malaise hath o'ertaken us, or a blight set upon us to steal away our time. Yet it came upon us slowly, seeming merely the demands of our rule as Ost-On-Edhil grew. In truth, I had not even noticed."

Helluin had to wonder if the trend were just a coincidence.

Galadriel sighed and closed her eyes a moment as if to rest them from the sight of all about her. "Would that I might reduce somewhat the tedium of rule, or better yet, unsully my own heart and live a simpler life," she whispered. "Sometimes I am so tired of it."

"Aye, 'tis fatiguing," Celeborn said wistfully. "'Twas not always thus, but now of late the effect quickens. We art kept running blindly forward, like mice with tails caught fast betwixt the floorboards, frantic, yet never able to progress. Now it seems every detail calls for our attention, every petty dispute for our arbitration. I feel as if we hath been cast slowly into gaol and live now in servitude."

"Were I to aspire to advance an agenda of subversion, my first act would constitute a diversion of authority," Helluin mused. "In some fashion would I contrive to preoccupy the attention of those who might thwart me, and having arranged things thus, I could then move about at liberty. I would next subvert those amenable to my cause and gather about me such allies as I could corrupt, plotting in silence ere my strength was full wrought, and only then making trial of my power. 'Tis a good practical plan when one stands alone against o’erwhelming odds with aught but time on one's side. Add in persuasiveness, a few appealing gifts, a trustworthy appearance, and then dissemble for a time with confidence, and the chances of success would be good indeed."

Helluin looked up from her musings to see the horror on the faces of Galadriel and Celeborn. Their minds were working a mile a minute and Helluin could well follow their chains of thought. If the plot had grown so pervasive as to reach into their court, where confederates contrived to keep them endlessly busy and blind to the state of their realm, then was it already too late? As they'd noted, the effect had been going forward ever faster for some time. They had been rendered well nigh ineffectual already, sundered from the realities of their realm. Was their foundation already too rotten to stand?

Helluin cleared her throat to reclaim their attention. "I was delayed upon the road, and my tidings art not now so fresh," she apologized. What she had learnt most recently of Dálindir was now probably close to 85 years out of date. Sauron could have spent better than a century in Ost-In-Edhil already. "I expect Annatar arrived hither some 100 to 125 years ago and quickly gained the confidence of Celebrimbor. I cannot believe Gorthaur was ignorant of the grandson of Feanor."

"With each revelation do we find ourselves closer to being undone," Galadriel groaned, "pray tell what else hast thou seen in the wide world? What lies beyond our doom, Helluin? Surely there is more. Sauron came not to Eregion to accomplish a deed apart. Where else doth his power move?"

Helluin had to applaud the princess' ability to see the implications that the true state of her own realm dictated for the wider world. What happened here was a portion only of Sauron's strategy. Despite her pride, she and her realm were but one piece on a board in motion.

"Things move in the east. Yon Hithaeglir, o'er 200 years ago, there was a migration of Yrch southwards from Gundabad. Out of the east, from Rhûn and parts more distant still came evil Men. Sauron was gathering them to his new realm in Mordor. In that forsaken and dismal land betwixt the Ered Lithui and the Ephel Duath he is mustering a host upon the Plain of Gorgoroth. There I saw the building of his Black Tower, the foundations set, the walls rising. Vast art its prisons and pits, deep art its dungeons, and thick its walls. Such a fortress, greater than any other in Middle Earth shalt it be, taller even that Mindon Eldalieva in Tirion the Fair, stronger than Gondolin, and filled with foul creatures to rival Angband. And over all smolders Orodruin, the mountain of fire.

Across Belegaer in Númenor ruled a queen who cared little for the trials of Middle Earth. Perhaps she rules there still; I know not. In Lindórinand King Lenwin stands isolated and loath to ally with Khazad-dum, though its strength lies 'nigh at hand. In Greenwood move the Onodrim, Yavanna's guardians, set to loose upon all of the kelvar their Huorns, fell beings in the form of trees; they would pursue and slay Elf and Orch indiscriminately. And in Lindon rules the High King, uncertain and unsure, depending for tidings upon the comings and goings of such as myself, unpredictable as those arrivals may be. In the forests of Eriador dwell the Laiquendi, secretive, free, unallied with any others and wary of all." Here she gave Beinvír a sad smile.

"All who would stand against Sauron art divided. Most art as yet distrustful of each other and unaware of his machinations. Even those closest to hand perceive him not and his purposes art cloaked. 'Tis to the Noldor in particular that he doth plead his case, for our people art most easily ensnared by their own nature. Hither then, having been rejected in Lindon, he doth play his opening bid, to bring down those most susceptible and potentially his most bitter foes." Helluin shook her head at the state of what she had seen. "I think I shalt visit the Guild this day and speak at whiles with Celebrimbor if I may. Perchance in light of our old endeavor he shalt share tidings with me."

She noted that Celeborn and Galadriel were staring off as if unseeing, fathoming the information she had provided. Almost none of it had come aforetime to their ears.

"Keep safe for me my friend, Beinvír," she requested of Galadriel, who gave her a slight nod of acknowledgement.

"I shalt return ere this eve," she said to Beinvír who looked to be ready to argue about being left behind with strangers, "please remain here, my friend. 'Tis as safe a place as any hereabouts." She offered the Green Elf a small smile of reassurance and then stood. "Favor me by keeping an eye on my bag?" She asked.

Beinvír nodded as she watched Helluin preparing to depart. She didn't like this course at all, but knew not what else to do. If Helluin indeed found this Celebrimbor, would she not also stand a good chance of meeting this Annatar who was also Sauron?

"Be careful, my friend," she whispered.

The guildhouse of the Gwanin-I-Mirdain was busy when Helluin entered. Many craftsmen came and went upon errands and to obtain counsel of their colleagues. Apprentices hastened to and fro on behalf of their masters and few marked her presence in their hurry. Of a guildsman she inquired after Celebrimbor and was told that the master of the guild was abroad in Khazad-dum for the completion of the gates. She had nodded and thanked him, then stood a moment wondering what to do next. As she stood thus she was approached by another craftsman, who stood regarding her in a respectful silence until she looked to him in question.

I remember thee! Long it hast been, and yet not so very long, Maeg-mormenel. Only the Elder King hath eyes such as thou, kindled to blue fire in times of passion.

"Well met, warrior," the smiling craftsman said. He was golden of hair, grey eyed, and while muscles showed 'neath the leather apron he wore, he was not overly bulky or tall. Indeed he was quite average in appearance save for the color of his hair being akin to that of the Vanyar more than the Noldor. "I marked the ring at thy side and wondered if 'twas not that which the master Celebrimbor once forged? If it be the same, than art thou not Helluin Maeg-mormenel? Art thou indeed she, and is that indeed the Sarchram?"

"Well met, master craftsman," Helluin responded, returning his smile. "I am indeed Helluin and this, as thou hath recognized, is the Sarchram. Pray tell me thy name, sir, as thou dost now know mine."

"Ahhh, my apologies," he said, "I am called Malthenvab¹." He introduced himself with a self-conscious blush and a self-deprecating shrug. ¹(Malthenvab, "Golden Hand"Sindarin)

"Such a name bodes well for one in thy trade," Helluin replied, giving him a smile and appreciating his apparent lack of bloated pride. "I am sure thou hast earned it."

Again he blushed, this time at her praise, before admitting that, "Such is the opinion of my fellow craftsmen, and great favor it hast brought out of Khazad-dum. Yet to me the greatest achievement hast been the refinement of the ithildin¹ for the new doors of Hadhodrond." In speaking of the works of his craft, he had become more animated and less self-conscious, much like any speaking of that which he loved. "Aforetime such alloys shown only by moonlight, yet now in starlight too doth the designs wrought of it shine." It was actually quite an advance in technique and Helluin could appreciate it as such. ¹(ithildin, moon-silver, later, star-moon, also called Moria silver or true silver. Sindarin)

"A fine achievement, Malthenvab," she said, nodding in congratulations, "by thy hand art both Khazad-dum and the legacy of the Eldar enriched." After a pause she asked, "How goes thy labor in the kingdom of Durin's Folk, and how fares bright Celebrimbor?"

"Ahhh, both art very well indeed, and I would tell thee tidings of the master since thou hath known him aforetime. Perhaps thou woulds't join me for a cup of wine? I hath some moments at leisure ere I must return to the smithies. And I must confess," here he looked again self-conscious, but continued when Helluin raised a brow in question, "I would query thee of the Sarchram, for the tale of its forging hath intrigued me since I heard it from the master years ago."

With Celebrimbor out of the city it was as good an offer as she was likely to find. She had no intention of confronting Annatar alone, and Malthenvab seemed good company, if a bit preoccupied with his craft. At least he had some tidings of Celebrimbor to share.

"I accept thy invitation, Malthenvab, for the day hast become warm. A cup of wine would be refreshing and thy tidings welcome," Helluin said as they moved towards the entrance of the guildhouse.

"Cross the way is a tavern frequented by guildsmen, Helluin, and I can vouch for their wine," Malthenvab said, gesturing across the street where a sign displaying a tankard set upon an anvil swung slightly in the breeze. "The Arborcraft Inn is a place of friendship and mirth. Come, we shalt take our ease there for a spell."

As the hour lay midway between luncheon and supper, they had their choice of tables. Helluin moved to one at the rear and took a seat, as was her custom, with a view of the common room and door. If Malthenvab marked this he gave no sign, but sat across from her and seemed at ease. About them none sat close by, and none had paid them but passing attention. A waiter asked after their pleasure and left to retrieve their drinks.

"It seems our master Celebrimbor is now ever occupied with his projects in Khazad-dum, and spends much time in the company of Narvi, a master craftsmen of the Gonnhirrim's guild. Long years hath they collaborated in the crafting of the new doors for the west gate, and their work nears completion at last," Malthenvab reported. The wine arrived and he took a sip, releasing a sigh of approval. Helluin sampled it too and found it very good.

"It sounds like a historic project, Malthenvab," Helluin said, "I recall the entrance having but a portcullis, but that was o'er 200 years ago. It shalt be good in days to come that Khazad-dum hath a strong west door." She took another sip of wine.

"Indeed so? Their realm seemed quite the fortress to my eyes already though I hath merely entered upon the threshold only and that but once. Still, what works I hath been involved in had more to do with the enrichment and beautification of Hadhodrond, rather than increasing its impregnability. 'Twas so stark at first to my eyes."

"'Tis the aesthetic of the Naugrim, I suppose; ever is strength and readiness a concern. I deem it a native trait, their nature, if thou will. I'm sure the new doors shalt be beautiful as well as strong."

"Indeed they shalt." For several moments he fell silent, then looking up at Helluin he asked, "From Celebrimbor I hath heard that the Sarchram was empowered by the energy of thy fea. Hard as that was to believe, more curious was I as to why. Perhaps thou could enlighten me as to thy thought?"

Helluin laughed lightly at his serious and studious tone. So engaged in the arcana of craft were the guildsmen, she thought, yet 'twas that depth of curiosity made them so proficient.

"I was inspired one afternoon by a skipping stone that by chance returned nearly to my hand. Then the desire took root for the creation of a weapon that would act just so; to skip with mayhem amongst my enemies and then return to naught but my own hand."

Malthenvab regarded this with surprise and nodded for her to continue.

"With Celebrimbor and Narvi's counsel it came to us that only by binding the Grave Wing to my fea could I ensure its course in flight. Many trials we made and many alloys discarded, for such a thing must possess life unfailing and remain undamaged in use. After long years we came finally to the completion of our task. I allowed to pass into the heated metal a measure of my power, such that I could govern its action with my will. In battle it hast never failed of my desires."

"Truly amazing! I should not hath conceived thus, to bind a thing of craft to its maker. Would thou grant me a boon? Allow me to examine with my own sight this marvelous weapon? I am very curious, though the forging of weapons is not my craft."

Seeing no harm in the request, Helluin unclasped the Grave Wing from her waist and set it flat upon the table. Malthenvab eyed it closely but touched it not, yet he took in every detail and each nuance of its fabrication as if he were perceiving the secrets of its making in the sheen of its polish. He read the cirth upon it and shuddered, yet whether with dread or excitement, Helluin could not discern.

"Mine corma i vile tuvata te. Mine corma tulta te ilya min i Cumanna ar mi moreasa neumate.¹ He recited softly. ¹("One ring that flies to find them. One ring to send them all unto the Void and in its darkness bind them." Quenya)

"Helluin, such a potent thing must hath demanded a great measure of power if thou would master such a fell spirit with thy spirit."

"Nay, Malthenvab, or it seemed not so to me. Though I felt the loss at the time, I hath suffered no ill of it since. Indeed I detected no change more than the donation of energy I bequeathed my daughter at her birth. Perhaps it would be otherwise for another, or for the mastering of some other object for some other purpose. I cannot say."

"Thou hast also a child?" He looked at her with even greater wonder. All knew how the gift of life could drain the fea of a mother, (the dimming of Míriel after the birth of Feanor being the prime example), and yet Helluin seemed not in the least diminished.

"Indeed so, a daughter born of my union with Veantur, Captain-Admiral of Númenor."

"A mortal? Surely thou jest! Art thou indeed still gifted with the life of the Eldar?"

"'Tis been 680 years since my daughter was born, and 220 since the creation of the Sarchram. I feel no different." She shrugged, never having really thought of these things before. She was now 5,859 years of the sun in age.

Across the table Malthenvab shook his head in amazement. The Amanyar were stronger than he had remembered, or perhaps they gained in strength with the lengthening of their years. Of old all had thought living in the Hither Lands would prove detrimental and cause them to fade, yet at least with Helluin, this had not been the case. He wondered how he himself would fare, on some day to come, if into an object of his own he would pass a measure of his power. He'd known when he heard her words that here was a challenge to his craft that could not be ignored, and that of Celebrimbor he could learn the technical aspects of its achievement. 'Twas just a matter of time.

Helluin watched many thoughts pass across the face of Malthenvab, but she could fathom none of them; 'twas most strange. Usually she had some inkling of what another thought, whether they be Elf or Man. With this craftsman though, no thought escaped. Only could she see the fierce excitement that had blossomed in his eyes, and this she attributed to the inspiration he derived from the knowledge she'd passed on about the Sarchram. She raised and drained her cup. Malthenvab did likewise and then stood.

"A Vala's blessing upon thee, Helluin," he declared, "and my thanks for thy gift of information. A lord would treasure the insights thou hath bestowed upon me, and long shalt I think on what thou hath shared. I must return to my work, for my part meshes with those of many others. I hath enjoyed our meeting this afternoon." He gave her a smile as he bowed and then made his way from the tavern.

One ring to find them…and in darkness bind them. I like the way thou think, Helluin, and more, but I wonder if by thine own darkness thou may be ensnared.

Helluin rose and replaced the Sarchram upon her belt ere she too left.

Three days later, Helluin and Beinvír had come to the cliff wall of Khazad-dum, and stood upon the gate path looking at the new doors. While the doors themselves seemed not so impressive at first glance, Helluin was very happy to see Celebrimbor and Narvi. The two were standing before the doors, deep in conversation, while all about them craftsmen of the city and the mountains worked together at various tasks. The two travelers approached unnoticed.

"Narvi! Celebrimbor! Greetings, my friends," Helluin called out, causing them to break off their speech and jerk around to face her. She was rewarded with broad smiles after a moment of surprise.

"Helluin, my dear, anvil and tongs! 'Tis good to see thee! Thou art well?" Narvi asked.

"Indeed so my friend," Helluin replied as she came to stand before the pair of master craftsmen. "And my greetings to thee as well," she said, smiling to Celebrimbor who graced her with a bow. She looked carefully at him but detected nothing awry.

Beside her Beinvír stood uncertainly, for though she'd met a number of Dwarves upon the way from Ost-In-Edhil, she was still nervous. Helluin though displayed no reticence and clasped the stout Dwarf in a tight hug. To Beinvír's amazement, he lifted Helluin off her feet and spun her around in a circle, much as Iarwain had spun Goldberry.

"Ho, ho, ho," he said after setting her down, "though hast gained somewhat in mass and height, for no measure can escape the eyes of old Narvi," he said, squinting and looking her over carefully. "Since last we met thou hast increased in height by three and one-quarters inches, and in mass by eight pounds." He stroked his beard, daring her to disagree.

"I should agree, for I cannot discern my own height, being denied the sight of it," Helluin said, "and as for the weight, thou art a finer judge than ever I was."

"Thou art indeed looking well, Helluin," Celebrimbor added with a smile, "hast thou seen our dear Lady Galadriel?" He winked at Helluin, knowing the Lady's rivalry and her touchiness about their relative heights.

Helluin laughed aloud. "Indeed so. I came before the Lord and Lady ere traveling hither and she actually left her dais to face me eye to eye just to make sure…then she hissed at me." Helluin laughed again at the shock on the craftsman's face. "She was quite wroth with me for having surpassed her after all this time and needed desperately to express herself. Yet with so many courtiers about she was forced to vent her displeasure as a whisper in my ear. I know not what she shalt do about it though."

For some moments they shared a laugh, then Helluin introduced the Green Elf.

"My friends, here is Beinvír, fellow of the company of Dálindir, informal king of the Galadrim," she said. Beinvír slapped her across the stomach with the back of her hand and did the two craftsmen a surprisingly graceful curtsy. Helluin chuckled. "Beinvír, may I present Celebrimbor son of Curufin, and Narvi, Master Stonewright of the Guild of Craftsmen of Khazad-dum." The two bowed to the Green Elf.

"Thou art surely of the Elven folk," Narvi said to Beinvír, "like and yet not like unto Celebri and Helluin. Pray tell me then, art thou of a different house?"

"I am of the Galadrim, Narvi, and my people derive from those who stayed in Middle Earth when the Noldor went to Beleriand and thence to Aman. Most of the differences amongst Elves come from their place on that ancient journey, and the paths their people hath walked since. My people came later to Beleriand and dwelt there in Ossiriand and Doriath during the First Age. Indeed I was born in Eriador after my people fled the drowning of Beleriand and I hath known no other home."

"And I was born in Beleriand and never knew Aman," Celebrimbor told her, "yet still am I numbered amongst the Noldor, though I learned and spoke mostly Sindarin rather than Quenya. Thou speak both Sindarin and Silvan, Beinvír?"

"In fact little do my people speak Silvan these days, having spent so long in Beleriand ere they came to Eriador. Only when in contact with Nandor from beyond Hithaeglir do both they and we speak Silvan, and such times art rare indeed. In this Second Age, the companies of Eriador became one with those of Ossiriand and adopted the Sindarin speech day to day."

"I see…I think," said Narvi, "but 'tis very confusing, I deem. We hath first a Green Elf speaking the Grey Elven tongue," he said looking at Beinvír, "a High Elf who hath never seen the Light," he said to Celebrimbor, "and what of thee, Helluin? I know thou dwelt long in Aman." He fixed his eyes upon her. With a quirk of her lip she answered.

"One might say of me that here is an Elf of Light with a dark streak."

Some time later they were seated 'neath the shade of the hedges beside the path leading to the west door. The two craftsmen had explained the status and goals of their project and the two travelers had found it suitably impressive. Now they were at ease, resting and sharing bread, cheese, and wine.

"Celebrimbor, dost thou know a craftsman or lord named Annatar?" Helluin asked. She eyed him closely, watching his reaction. He showed only confusion.

"I know naught of any by that name, Helluin, and so grandiose a name it doth be that surely I should not forget it," he answered. "Why asks thou after such a one?"

"Because his messenger came aforetime to Lindon and was turned away. Then later 'twas reported that he had come to Eregion and presented himself to thee as having been artificer to the High King, an untruth at best, for he never set foot in Lindon or Mithlond. Dark are the reports of him and in warning from the High King did I come to the Lord and Lady. Art thou sure thou know him not?"

"Indeed I know none by that name, nor any claiming such a past title. T'would be a point of great celebrity and hence carefully checked. None came to the High King begging confirmation of such a claim?"

"Nay, indeed none hath come," Helluin admitted.

"I know not what to say to thee," Celebrimbor said, "so few hath been admitted to the guild in the last forty years that I hath gained knowledge of them all. None art so high, being apprenticed to us at first, one and all."

Helluin read only truth in his face. There had been no lie in his words. Celebrimbor at least believed all that he had said and it confirmed the words of Celeborn and Galadriel. Helluin fell silent and chewed absently on her lip.

"Know thou a craftsman named Malthenvab?" She asked at last. "One of average stature and golden hair? What…?"

Celebrimbor had begun convulsing with hysterical laughter. Helluin waited out his mirth with sharp eyes and arched brow.

"Malthenvab…Golden Hand!" Celebrimbor chortled. "'Tis city slang for a pickpocket of proficient skills!" He hooted yet again and Helluin groaned. Even Beinvír giggled. When he finally mastered himself he told her that, "only two of golden hair hath we in the guild, one remarkably thin and tall, a glazier of lamps. The other is Anthamon, who is working right over there." He pointed out another tall, thin blonde. If the glazier and not he was remarkably tall and thin, than neither fit Helluin's memory of the craftsman she had met.

The news cast Helluin into a brooding silence, for little did she like being conned and confounded. Someone had picked her out and impersonated a guildsman in order to speak with her, and he had asked after the Sarchram. What could he possibly have gained from her words? Why had he bothered? She found herself in great doubt and very suspicious, and though she understood not the impersonator's intentions, she felt used and lacked no doubt of the person's power or evil nature.

"I do believe I met Annatar, though I knew it not," she finally admitted in a whisper.

The realization chilled her to the bone. She had shared table and drink with Sauron Gorthaur, and to her, he had seemed unremarkable, sincere, and fair of speech, face, and nature. She had been thoroughly hoodwinked by a lying shapeshifter, the greatest enemy of her people in Middle Earth. I shalt never find him, for I deem he trades faces more readily than one sheds clothes. Indeed he could be anyone and anywhere and hath thus hidden for a century in plain sight. Helluin slowly shook her head in amazement. This enemy was cunning and crafty far beyond her measure. She could not fight him.

One by one the others had come to watch her, the thoughts shifting in rapid succession across her troubled features. Seated closest at her side, only Beinvír had marked the words she'd whispered and a look of fear crossed her features.

"Whatever shalt thou do?" She asked just as softly. Helluin turned to look at her.

"Whatever can I do?" Helluin asked in return. "Even were I to line up together all the craftsmen of the guild, would he not simply appear as one of them; known to his fellows, respected above suspicion, and long familiar? Of a certainty he that I met shalt not appear, and I hath no way to discern him in different guise from all the others."

"Might thou not narrow thy choice to those known for a century or less?"

"Perhaps…" Helluin turned to Celebrimbor and asked, "How many craftsmen hath joined thy guild in the last century or so?"

Celebrimbor sat in silent thought a moment, tallying the members of the guild in his mind's eye. Finally he shrugged. "Many indeed…and the further back in time, the more I recall. Art thou quite certain of the span?"

"Nay, I am not. It might be one who hath joined thee at any time in the last 156 years, for he might hath come to thee even as his messenger came to Gil-galad."

"I see," Celebrimbor said. "Then the problem, Helluin, is that the further back the more hath joined. Not simply due to the greater span of years, but because in earlier days many joined as in a flood. Thy treaty with Khazad-dum was finalized between the guilds just ere thou left in 1123, and in the following years many joined us, indeed it seemed well nigh all the craftsmen not bound in service to a lord came hither. I would guess that betwixt 1125 and 1275 did o'er three-quarters of the present members seek admittance to the guild. In the last 156 years that number would still include o'er half the guildsmen."

Helluin shook her head in frustration. "How many be they in number?"

"Perhaps 600 to 800? I am really not sure," Celebrimbor said in amazement. In the days when he and Helluin had wrought the Sarchram, the guild had numbered about 80 craftsmen. The brotherhood's count had exploded after the treaty took effect and the news of it spread throughout Eriador. They had come hither in a deluge for well nigh a century and three-quarters, only trickling off in the last fifty years to apprentices. Now there were close to 1200 total.

Helluin felt a scream of frustration welling up in her throat. It fairly caused her to gag.

"Doth any stand out to thee as more ambitious? As consumed with lust of mastery or power? Hath thou any that cleave to dark desires in their craft or aspire to achieve things of fell intent? Do any overstep the bounds of their place, heeding no restraint in their goals to create that which should lie beyond the craft of thy people? Know thou any whose work would bring upon thee the wrath of the Valar? Hath any sought thy counsels in hopes of rebellion against the order of Arda?"

Celebrimbor had been regarding Helluin askance as her tirade gained momentum, finding her words ever more apocalyptic and harder to digest. She sounded…fanatical.

"Helluin, peace. What hath brought thee to such a pass? Surely a pickpocket swindling thee of thy confidence rankles, yet 'tis such truly cause for so much alarm? What darkness think’th thou hast taken root in the guild? What evil doth thou seek amidst its ranks?"

"I fear the influence of this Annatar upon the hearts of thy craftsmen. I fear his cunning and subtlety. I fear that he may entice some seeking grandeur in their achievements to strive after such as should not be wrought. I fear a second curse and a second darkness and a second doom."

Helluin's eyes were blazing with the heat of her passions and the built up frustration of the entire affair, the inaction of Lindon, the impotence of Ost-In-Edhil, the loss of time, and the meeting with Sauron most recent. Her rhetoric had carried the flames of her emotions and her fears, but they challenged and accused, and Celebrimbor responded no less passionately, his own eyes blazing.

"Ever do we aspire to raise the level of achievements of our hands, yes, but these art not the Elder Days. Never again shalt any create such as the Silmarils. I am not Feanor and none I know abide the curse save with loathing. We shalt not make again the same mistakes as our forefathers. Of this Annatar I know naught save that thou art become obsessed with him. He is but a name on thy lips to me, nothing more perhaps than thy fantasy! What woulds’t thou hath me do? Run a rat race to satisfy thy paranoia? I hath much work and many obligations. Short is my time to indulge thee, Helluin."

"Peace, my friends," Narvi broke in, having watched the escalating wrath of both parties in embarrassed shock, "is there not some reason the thwarting of this Annatar is of such paramount importance? Surely the ambitions of a single craftsman art not so dire?"

At this, Helluin could only laugh, a bitter and hysterical outpouring of tension that came in a mirthless torrent unexplained. Celebrimbor was now all but convinced of Helluin's madness. She continued on a pace, but finally the outburst abated and she wiped her eyes and mastered her breathing.

"There is reason indeed, my dear Narvi, great reason for my fears. Thou know'th the history of the Noldor, I deem. Of how Feanor wrought three jewels containing the light of Yavanna's Trees and how Melkor incited him to pride and jealousy and possessiveness ere he stole them. The quest to repossess those jewels brought about the downfall of our people. And now Feanor's grandson rules many craftsmen of the Noldor, and Morgoth's lieutenant is come among them. To Lindon came his messenger, seeking alliance in raising a realm in the Hither Lands to rival Valinor and to seek through works of craft to hold at bay the fading and the stain of mortal lands. The Lord Annatar is naught but Sauron Gorthaur, and I met him not three days past in Ost-In-Edhil, where he passes unknown, and hath won a place in thy guild. See thou now my fears?"

"I see now aught but thy madness!" Celebrimbor cried out. "Ever hast thou decried my heritage and distrusted my heart! Now thou woulds't both tar me with the infamy of my fathers and curse me on thy own behalf! I hath done naught in offense of the Powers and of all those upon Middle Earth, surely I would know Sauron despite his guise. I should know him for his evil, not sit drinking with him in camaraderie, oblivious to his black heart. Yet I hear in thy delusion that he honors thee and asks thy counsel? Damn me not Helluin! And yes, I would hold at bay by my craft such decay of the world as I could, but I know better! 'Tis only a dream! I know such power is not given to me! I know my limits and the limits of my craft! Can'st thou claim the same?"

Ere the end of his tirade, Celebrimbor was on his feet yelling at the top of his lungs. Helluin was face to face with him, screaming just as heatedly. It took Beinvír, Narvi, and all the assembled craftsmen to separate them and drag them apart ere they came to blows. Afterwards each sat heaving for breath, red-faced, fists clenched and seething.

"Perhaps t'would be best if we left," Beinvír suggested after Helluin had calmed.

The Noldo sat a moment shaking her head. For all her differences with Celebrimbor she felt it was wrong to leave such heated words and ill feelings between them. It left her sad and deflated, another bad memory to add to her growing trove.

"I should say something to him," she muttered, rising to her feet. Beinvír was loath to let her go but didn't try to hold her back.

"Celebrimbor," Helluin called to the figure sitting rigidly with his back to her. He turned at her voice, still obviously angry. "I am sorry and I care not to leave thee with such words between us as thy last memory." She knelt on one knee a couple paces away so as not to loom over him. "Such a parting serves neither of us, for it may be many years ere we meet again. I am deeply afraid for thee and thy people, and were I to care not, then never would I hath come nigh, knowing of his presence. Indeed my fear of him would dissuade me. Please be ware in the years to come. Fail not of thy heart nor fall to his temptations no matter how fair his words be. He shalt come to thee in pretty guise and with reasonable counsel; this I doubt not. Resist him, my friend."

As she spoke, Celebrimbor had turned to face her, and now he reached out, taking her hand and clasping it tightly.

"I too would not hath us part in anger, Helluin. Fear not; I shalt watch with care, and knowing the possible danger I shalt guard against it as I may. Most of all, I fear for the Lady should thy words be true. Already it saddens me that she lives as a bird caged by her duties. I at least enjoy my work." He shook his head and sighed. "Fare thee well upon thy road, my friend."

He released her hand and after looking into each other's eyes a moment, Helluin rose and turned back to Beinvír. They collected their possessions and started down the road towards Ost-In-Edhil. Celebrimbor stood and watched them leave ere he turned back to his labors. It would be long ere they met again.


To Be Continued

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