In An Age Before – Part 12
Eriador - the Second Age of the Sun
Helluin had just finished adding the last of her spices to a cauldron of stew as the light of Anar faded behind the Ered Luin in the west. Indeed the vessel of Arien had for some time been 'neath the horizon, but now the glow upon the clouds had died and its rumor had fled the sky. The flames of her cook fire cast flickering shadows amongst the trees where they danced tirelessly as they strengthened for another night's revels. Overhead the vault of the Ilmen darkened and began to show forth the multitude of stars. As always, Helluin found the sight comforting. It helped ease the ever-creeping dread in her heart. For a long time she had heard naught from Ost-In-Edhil; no word had come from Celeborn or Galadriel to Lindon. It was 15Gwaeron, (March 15th), S.A. 1375.
To her amazement as the years passed, Beinvír had remained in her company. They had not returned to Ost-In-Edhil after leaving Khazad-dum, for Helluin deemed the danger too great. Sauron had almost surely known of her trip to visit Celebrimbor and she had nothing new to report to Celeborn or Galadriel. Instead they had gone west, crossing the Glanduin and then the lands of Central Eriador.
Along the way they had walked the downs at Beinvír's insistence, and true to the words that Helluin remembered Dálindir had spoken, no trace of the house of Iarwain Ben-adar did they find. The smallish vale lay wild and deserted, the falls and stream running their natural course down into the forest. The two friends had camped there for a night, much to Helluin's displeasure, but the stars above had shown down as they always had and the moon stood bright, three days on the wane past full. Still Helluin had rested not, feeling skittish and ill at ease as she humored her friend.
Beinvír had stood watch all night, hoping to catch some glimpse of the strange abode of their sometimes host, or maybe even of her companions, but naught of either did she see. In the morning light she had sat beside the falls and cried. Helluin had sat down beside her, gathered her in her arms and held her. Afterwards they spoke not of the incident, but traveled together, meeting at times other companies of Sindar and Laiquendi, and yet had they remained together. None they met had tidings of Dálindir or his company.
Neither had they returned to Lindon. Helluin had no desire to present herself at court and no summons from the High King requiring her presence had found her. Even less did she desire to bring Beinvír into the city or leave her alone outside it.
Helluin had found the Green Elf to be more enjoyable company then she had expected, and was now engaged in learning her woodscraft. The ability to appear or disappear at will had always intrigued Helluin from her first contact with Dálindir in Ossiriand long before; 'twas a skill, a challenge, and in the wild, one that could be very useful. So far she had spent 32 years under Beinvír's tutelage and she felt she'd made progress. As she stirred the cauldron, she projected her senses, trying to discern her friend's approach.
Eventually the slightest sound of a footstep betrayed by a snapping twig reported the passage of one coming ‘nigh from the east in stealth. Helluin withdrew outside the circle of fire light and waited in the shadow of a tree. She identified and ignored each separate and familiar forest sound. What remained, that which had no right place, were the sounds of breathing, coming to her faintly 'neath the whisper of the wind, just as her friend had described so many times. Then Helluin closed her eyes and pinpointed the source; two walking carefully eleven fathoms away. First one moved forward, then the other, never the two together…'twas the manner of Sindar stalking. They were coming towards the fire, the only source of light in the forest for many leagues.
So then where was Beinvír? Helluin moved her right hand an inch with each breath, slowly down to grasp the Sarchram, freeing it from its catch. The Sindar were now but six fathoms away and she saw a shadow move, then the other, and then the first again. They stopped outside the light of the flames and waited. She saw them make hand signs between them and nod in agreement, no patience, she thought, and they stepped out into the light. From seven fathoms to her right she detected the slow stretching of a bowstring; Beinvír at last.
Now Helluin watched their eyes; everyone blinks by reflex even when they know it not, so if thou move only when thou see them blink, they shalt mark thee not. She saw indeed the quick unconscious blinks the Green Elf had described. The Sindar were searching the darkness all around the camp. Helluin moved each time they blinked. Her cloak of broken greens hid her form and distorted the telltale outline of her body. When she finally chose to move when they weren't blinking, she would seem to appear before them from nothing. She was but a fathom to their left when she suddenly stood. Even as she did it she couldn't believe the illusion had worked.
"Who art thou that come thus uninvited to my camp?" She asked with authority while the two grey-cloaked figures still reeled from her unexpected appearance. Though she had their stealth, she was no Green Elf. At first they made no answer and she revealed the Grave Wing from behind her back.
"Thy pardon, I pray thee," the nearer said, being the first to find his voice, "we came hither to pass a message to any we find in Eriador, by command of the king in Lindon." He sketched a hasty bow, then nudged his fellow's ribs and the second bowed as well.
"'Tis thy message to anyone or to everyone?" Helluin asked. Behind her she heard the softest of sounds as Beinvír replaced her arrow into the quiver. She would arrive in a few moments.
"Indeed 'tis to everyone, being deemed tidings of general interest to all the kindreds," the second said. "I am Nennún and this is Nathron¹. May we sit to share them?" ¹(Nennún, Water Born, and Nathron, Weaver. Sindarin)
Helluin nodded to the ground beside the fire and then moved around to sit facing them from the opposite side. Out of the corner of her eye she noted the Green Elf slipping closer, no doubt not intending to reveal her presence until she was right beside the messengers. Helluin grinned and kept their attention.
"So what word from Lindon, my friends?" Helluin asked, reattaching the Sarchram to her belt. She cocked a brow at them in question.
"We were sent forth from Lindon, but the tidings come indeed from Eregion," Nennún clarified.
"Word hath come of late reporting trouble in that land," Nathron began, "and from companies 'nigh Ost-In-Edhil it hath been heard of the expulsion of the Lord and Lady, and the assumption of power by Celebrimbor and the Gwaith-I-Mirdain."
"The Gwaith-I-Mirdain? How? When?" Helluin could hardly believe her ears. The People of the Jewel Smiths? "What of the Lord and Lady? Whither goes’t they?"
"'Tis said the guild chaffed long under the rule of the Lord and Lady, and of late had they become ever more remote. At last the rank and file rebelled and named Celebrimbor Lord of Eregion on 17 Narwain, (January 17th)…indeed they did so during his absence and then recalled him at once to Ost-In-Edhil. No harm hath come to Celeborn or Galadriel; indeed none dared lay hands upon them or their household. The guild would not survive a war of the Sindar against their number had they let Celeborn come to harm. Likewise would the Noldor of Lindon rise against them should ill befall Galadriel. Instead the guild hast convinced them to leave, saying they had no place in a city of smiths," Nennún told her.
"'Tis said the Lord and Lady had the favor of the Lord of Khazad-dum, and he granted them passage through his mansions to the east. This though hath not been confirmed," Nathron added.
Helluin could only shake her head in amazement. The upheaval had occurred much sooner and much more smoothly than she had suspected. She noted that Beinvír had seated herself to the side, unmarked by the messengers.
"Say not that the Lord and Lady went into exile alone," the Green Elf asked.
The two Sindar jerked around at the sound of her voice and stared at her in shock. She was certainly one of the illusive Green Elves.
"N-nay, th-they went not unaccompanied. Indeed many of their people went with them," Nennún stammered.
Helluin sat in silence digesting all she had heard. Amongst the guildsmen had the old resentment of Celeborn and Galadriel been fanned into rebellion, and she could easily imagine just who had accomplished that. Little by little Sauron had engineered the Lord and Lady's estrangement and isolation from their people. He had no doubt managed to make them appear distant and uncaring. Then with a whisper in one ear or a poisoned word to others over drinks, he had promoted disaffection throughout the guild. Drawing on the craftsmen's devotion to their guildmaster, he had arranged Celebrimbor's rise in popularity, making him the obvious choice for the new leader; one intimately involved with, and respected by his people. Indeed he had already long been leader of the craftsmen, and 'twas the guild that had most enriched the city. The populace would have aligned behind him easily enough.
But Celebrimbor had been off in Khazad-dum, and Helluin very much wanted to believe that he'd had little to do with the rebellion...indeed certain small and subtle details she recalled of her last talks with Galadriel and Celebrimbor strongly led her to think just that. She'd come to think so highly of him. He had feared most of all for her. The son of Curufin had probably been shocked when he'd been drafted as the new Lord of Eregion. Whatever his aspirations had originally been, he seemed to have accepted the Lord and Lady's rule and immersed himself in his works. In the end, perhaps he had even arranged with the Lord of Khazad-dum for Galadriel and Celeborn's safe passage; a gesture of farewell to a love unrequited and perhaps undeclared, doomed by fate and time, and buried amidst the change and confusion. At least the Lord and Lady were safe.
But that left Celebrimbor alone in the hands of Sauron, and now Helluin felt it would be only a matter of time ere the fallen Maia corrupted him. She remembered his heated words, "…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!"
But thou dost not know the measure of power given to Sauron Gorthaur, she thought, nor dost thou know his cunning or his persuasiveness. Indeed none truly do. The desire is there within thee, and he hath time and perhaps the means to make thy dreams come true. I fear for thee, my friend. Resist him.
"What shalt thou do, Helluin?" Beinvír asked softly. Helluin looked up at her and blinked, drawn forth from rumination by her voice.
"I hath no idea, my friend. Indeed I know not if there is anything I can do." I certainly cannot recoup the past, she thought, roll back the days and make things as they were. "An end must come of all things in Middle Earth," she whispered to herself, "and all that stands shalt one day be but memories and dust." Beinvír merely nodded at her sad words.
To still somewhat the racing of her mind, Helluin brought forth bowls and ladled stew out for each of them, and afterwards shared out a skin of wine from the vineyards of the Men who lived about Lake Nenuial. 'Twas a vintage much the same as that Dálindir had shared with her over a century before.
Nennún and Nathron were gracious guests and thankful for the fare. And in desire to contribute what they could, they sought deadfall for the fire, for the night grew chill as it deepened. At last, with the fire banked, all lay down to rest, clearing their minds and staring up at the stars as their breathing slowed and their bodies relaxed.
What indeed shalt I do? What can I do? Helluin tried to isolate her options and goals. Restoring Celeborn and Galadriel's rule in Eregion would not only be futile, but also dangerous for them with Sauron in residence and unidentified. So then how did he intend to go about subverting the guild to his vision of creating a Valinor on the Hither Shores? She found no answers to her questions within her wisdom. What next then?
How fared Celeborn and Galadriel, she wondered? Did they indeed pass through Khazad-dum and into the east? If so then they should have first encountered the Nandor of Lindórinand. Had they become the guests of King Lenwin and Lady Calenwen? And would they be any safer in Rhovanion? Did the migrations of Yrch and Eastern Men continue? Perhaps they had sought instead the Nando-Sindarin kingdom of Oropher in Greenwood. He had come at first from Eregion and was known to them. Yet how would they be received by the Onodrim? By Oldbark and Leaflock and all the others? Would they be endangered by the Huorns? Or perhaps they had decided to travel further yet, to make their way south down Anduin answering the call of the sea, and thence even to the kingdom of Belfalas where King Lenwe would welcome them and beg of them tidings of the west. Yet that way would bring them 'nigh Mordor, and if they were recognized, then into great danger would they tread.
Mordor…how far had Sauron's host grown? It had been 218 years since Helluin had espied it last in 1125. How far had the Dark Tower risen in her absence? What lieutenant ruled that Black Land and held the reins of power on Sauron's behalf? Having accomplished his coup in Eregion, would Sauron return thither for a spell, or would he continue to press forward the downfall of the Noldor in Ost-In-Edhil?
I should guess Sauron shalt continue his course in Eregion, she decided, thinking tactically, placing his efforts in securing his power through the manipulation of Celebrimbor. Now while Celebrimbor's position is still in flux and the realm disordered may he most easily set new precedents and goals. Were I him, I would capitalize on the momentum generated by the rebellion ere it falters. I should set for the Guild a new course. Yes, Sauron shalt remain in Ost-In-Edhil. And I have not the power to wrest from him the soul of Celebrimbor. Alas, I too know the limits of my craft, my friend, and I am sorry.
So then it comes to the welfare of Celeborn and Galadriel. I doubt not that they art capable of forging friendships on their own, and yet those they shalt move amongst art long known to me. If indeed they hath come to Lindórinand, then perhaps some good shalt come of it. Perhaps through them, King Lenwin shalt see the Naugrim as friends and allies at last. How could he not, when to him the Gonnhirrim deliver such as the Lord and Lady? And shalt they not impress upon him the danger he faces? The necessity of standing together when the time comes? Indeed I believe it shalt be so, and I should be loath to waste the opportunity when 'tis fresh. Indeed, to Lenwin should I make my way thither, to offer counsel and tidings. Besides, Galadriel shan't give him a moment's peace 'till she discovers the secrets of his enchanted stream, of which he know'th 'naught at all. So be it then, I shalt go thither to Lindórinand.
Helluin felt much more relaxed having come to a decision, but then another thought assailed her, one she had become of late concerned with all the more. Shalt Beinvír be willing to accompany me hence? She hast never journeyed beyond Eriador. Hast she any interest in seeing the lands of the Nandor yon Hithaeglir? We need not pass through Hadhodrond, but might instead come o'er the High Pass of Caradhras, or even travel through the gap south of Methedras. T'would be a long journey sure, but not made in greatest haste. I shalt speak of it to her in the morning, Helluin decided.
But then the thought came to her; what if she refuses? What if she wishes not to leave Eriador? It hast ever been her home. For the first time in a very long time, Helluin found herself desiring another's company upon the road simply for the sake of their companionship. Worse yet, she found herself wishing not to travel without her friend.
In shock at this revelation she asked herself, when did such a change come upon me? Whence came this unwillingness to venture forth out of her company? Always I took it for granted that Amandil would not journey with me, and never did I shy from the road. Ever did Veantur desire to sail forth, and ever did I accompany him, knowing that such should not forever be. Yet never did I feel both this uncertainty and need together, to have the company of another or travel in sadness at the parting. And we hath traveled together but 32 years, Helluin thought in amazement, 'tis but a paltry time to hath wrought upon my spirit such a change. She stared up at the stars in amazement until the glow of morning grew in the east.
With the dawn Helluin sat up and looked around. The Sindar were still about their rest, unmoving. A look over at Beinvír revealed the Green Elf still lying flat on her back, but regarding her now out of the corners of her eyes.
"What rind of thought hast caught in thy craw all this night, Helluin?" She asked ere she yawned and stretched. She sat up and turned to face her friend. "Thou hath been thinking so loudly through the dark hours that barely could I rest for the grumbling of thy churning mind."
Helluin blushed and gave her an apologetic smile.
"I pray thy pardon for the din of my repose. Indeed I hath been occupied in thought…"
"Helluin, thou hath been brooding," Beinvír accused in jest. She offered a smile to soften her words.
"Indeed so, my friend," Helluin admitted, "and many things hath crossed my mind. One being the benefits of going hence to Lindórinand, there to meet with King Lenwin and look after the welfare of Celeborn and Galadriel. I deem this a chance to widen somewhat the options of the Nandor of Celebrant against the threats yet to come." She paused and looked hopefully at Beinvír, who was listening closely to her. "T'would be a moderate journey and the season early for travel, but the way is easy enough. I am hoping greatly that thou would find some interest in such a trip and agree to accompany me thither." She waited in suspense for Beinvír's answer, nervously chewing her lip.
For her part, Beinvír sat desperately containing her excitement. In the past she had first invited herself into Helluin's company, and thereafter they had merely wandered to and fro aimlessly. In that time, Beinvír had learnt as much from Helluin as had Helluin learned from her. Indeed she now bore a short sword upon her belt, and she had been taught well in its use. She had learnt many songs and words in several tongues, and she had heard the most amazing stories of places faraway and strange. The world was much greater and wider than Eriador. And now for the first time the dour Noldo was actually requesting her company on a long trip! Beinvír could see the uncertainty in Helluin's eyes, having come to be able to read much of her moods, and it was exciting to her. Helluin really wanted her to join her on the road! There was no way in Middle Earth that she would pass up such an opportunity. Nevertheless…
"Thou seek not to approach Sauron again?" She asked just to make sure. "Nor doth thou intend to visit the Black Land?" The stories she had heard about both left her shaking in terror. Helluin had said that none in their right mind sought out The Abhorred, and yet such was exactly what had happened aforetime; nay, even worse. Indeed he had sought out Helluin. He knew her!
"Nay, I am even loath to approach Ost-In-Edhil. No plans have I to come 'nigh any fell realm, nor seek after danger upon the road, though of course I should be lying were I to say that none might seek us out first."
'Twas too good to be true, Beinvír thought. "Of course I shalt be happy to accompany thee, Helluin, provided I shan't be compelled to run all the way to Rhovanion 'neath the lash of thy haste."
Helluin was so happy that she actually laughed out loud. "We shalt journey at a comfortable pace," she promised happily, "and see perhaps many wonders, or at least some fresh scenery. In fact, I have thought to go by way of the gap ‘twixt the Hithaeglir and the Ered Nimrais, making a stop at Vinyalonde to seek tidings of Westernesse."
At this, Beinvír's eyes grew wide with a familiar surprise. "Thou seek after the Men of Númenor? But Helluin, they art the most wanton of tree hewers upon Middle Earth! Or at least, so I hath heard, for rarely do any of my people travel in the south of Minhiriath."
"I too hath heard those tidings, and well do I know of the Númenóreans' lust after timber for their ships. I should like to see for myself the truth of these rumors, since we shalt be passing 'nigh that land. I am very curious. Yet I hath known the Númenóreans aforetime and hath some entrance amongst them should we meet. More wary am I of the Enedwaith, and some amongst the southern fisher folk. They fear and hate us."
"Bah! They hath neither eyes nor ears," Beinvír stated dismissively. "Such would not see us though we danced before them in the light of day. They art dense even for mortals."
"Then we shalt go thither? Together?"
"So we shalt, my friend, to see the hewers of trees and the oblivious fishmongers of the coast, and better they than those encountered amongst friends upon our last journey."
Having decided their course, Beinvír laughed and Helluin grinned, and they woke up the Sindar and bid them share their breakfast.
The way to Vinyalonde ran o'er 220 leagues from the place of their camp, and they traveled on average seven leagues a day. On 21 Narwain, they crossed the River Lune after three days' walking, and on the evening of the 24th came to the Emyn Uial. The next night they spent near a settlement of Men upon the shore of Lake Nenuial. There Helluin gathered such tidings as had come to the ears of those settlers; that wolves had been few the winter past, that the omens bode fine weather for traveling, and that despite snowmelt and early spring rains, Baranduin flowed not so swollen as to make for a difficult fording. The last news in particular was welcome.
In her travels Helluin had come amongst these Men many a time over the last 1350 years. They regarded her as something of a legend; known but not expected, and wont to appear unlooked for after a few or many lives of their kind. These Men were distant kin of the Númenóreans, being descended from the kindred of Beor and Hador. They had never served Morgoth and had respect and friendship with the Elves of Eriador. In the early years after the drowning of Beleriand, they had fought bravely against the evil creatures that had fled the defeat of Morgoth in the War of Wrath. In some of their early meetings, Helluin had aided them against brigands, wolves, and Yrch.
At their leave taking, the Men gifted the travelers with wine and cheese such as they could carry, while Helluin left with them several flutes she had carved and Beinvír with forest herbs to improve their health.
On 20 Narwain Helluin and Beinvír came again to the place where the forest met the South Downs at the falls of the Withywindle. Again at Beinvír's plea they encamped for a night. And yet again they saw no trace of the house of Maldiaving and Iarwain Ben-adar. Despite being sad for the obvious hurt this did her friend's heart, Helluin felt far less a measure of sorrow than relief. Neither had she been required to meet again the bizarre beings there, nor had she lost her companion to a reunion with her king and his company. Dálindir, Gérorn, and Celegaras remained out of the world and 114 years had passed. Helluin wondered if Iarwain hadn't skinned them all by now.
Enedwaith and Vinyalonde - the Second Age of the Sun
Helluin and Beinvír continued south the next morning, finding the Baranduin on the 31st and following it to the South Road. 7 Gwirith, (April 7th), arrived with the River Glanduin and the ford where was later built Tharbad. Indeed here they were but 78 miles from Ost-In-Edhil and upon the borders of Enedwaith, and so they went forward with watchful eyes though all had seemed quiet upon the road. After crossing at the ford, Helluin and Beinvír entered the forest, keeping to the river's eastern bank, and they breathed sighs of relief as the boles of the great trees closed in all 'round them. Now Vinyalonde lay 80 leagues downstream.
What they had seen while traversing Minhiriath was as it had always been; a deep forest of mixed hardwoods, oak, hickory, ash, locust, poplar, and elm. The wood continued unbroken on either side of the River Glanduin. Being a mature forest with a high and continuous canopy, the ground 'nigh the bank lay not choked with bramble or briar, but only carpeted with deadfall and leafmould, mosses and a few shade loving herbs. Walking was easy for Elves. It was also much safer. Any that they should meet in this wood they could more easily avoid amongst the trees than on a road, and indeed any they would likely meet they should avoid, for they had now passed from Minhiriath into Enedwaith¹. ¹(Enedwaith, "Middle Land", but also "Middle Folk". Suffix -gwaith (people, country) Sindarin. Much later the Rohirrim would come to call them the Dunlendings and their land, Dunland).
Enedwaith, the lands betwixt Glanduin and Angren¹ had for long years been the home of a kindred of warlike Men. These hunters of the forests were ancient in origin and lived in independent settlements under no single overlord or king. 'Twas not known if they had their ancestry in common with those who had come east at Morgoth's call, or if they had been there since the first migrations of Men westwards from Hildorien. They were but slightly shorter than the Edain yet powerfully built, somewhat swarthy, and dark of hair and eye. Their harsh sounding language was sundered from that of other Men, even the Easterlings of the First Age, and other Men considered it incomprehensible. Only with those fisher folk of the coast did they share this tongue. Their numbers were greater than the Men of Eriador, and they had no friendship with the Elves. Rumor said that they had been, or still were cannibals, and that they took body parts as trophies of their vanquished. Indeed these rumors were unconfirmed, but what was known with certainty was that they dressed in skins, cultivated no plants, domesticated no animals, wrote no letters, fired no pottery, fought amongst themselves, and were perilous to strangers. ¹(Glanduin, "Border River", later the Gwathlo, or Greyflood, and Sîr Angren, the River Isen. Sindarin)
Helluin and Beinvír went forward with senses sharp and took no unnecessary chances. The Enedwaith, as they were called by those of Eriador, were stealthy after their fashion, being hunters, but not sufficiently so to surprise wary Elves. The greatest danger wasn't in being taken unawares, but rather being ambushed by a company in hiding while moving to avoid another. The two friends took to resting in the trees, lighting no fires, and moving always in sight of one another. During the first three days in the forest they twice detoured around settlements, heard hunting bands at some distance, and came upon the scavenged remains of animals slaughtered and dressed in the field. The constant tension much reduced their joy in the surroundings.
"'Tis another reeking village ahead," Beinvír reported after sniffing the scant breeze. She made a disgusted face and indicated the direction with a nod of her head. A stench of mixed sweat, excrement, smoke, and rancid grease wafted to their noses.
"We must move upwind, else the miasma shalt cloak the body odors of approaching hunters," Helluin said with a grimace. "'Tis a wonder the game hath not all long fled this land." She shook her head. "Come, let us go east apace."
Beinvír nodded in agreement. The route would take them further from the riverbank, but at least they would again be able to smell any hunters coming 'nigh long ere they became a danger. "Another detour in the stinking forest," she muttered in irritation.
They made a circuit of five miles to avoid the settlement, following game trails whenever possible. Along the way they found and freed a small forest pig from a pit trap and a pair of rabbits from leg snares. With an evil grin, Helluin reset the snares across the path where she expected the hunters to make their way when they came to check their traps. Beinvír shook her head in amusement as she watched. Her own penchant was to simply trip the snares with a stick, leaving them sprung but with nothing edible for the effort. They had been doing thus for the last few days, keeping a friendly competition between them as to how many each could detect and foil. Their circuit around the settlement was coming to its end as the day was falling to dusk when they heard another animal struggling to free itself somewhere up ahead. Both stopped to pinpoint the sounds.
"That way," Beinvír said, pointing over a low rise to their west.
"Closer to the village, of course," Helluin muttered, starting in that direction.
"'Tis late for checking traps," Beinvír offered, "perhaps whatever is caught won’t be discovered ere the morn."
"Or perhaps 'tis the last trap in a line to be checked this eve," Helluin said, playing Morgoth's advocate, "and we shalt meet the hunter to contest the disposition of his catch."
"Thy depth of pessimism never fails," Beinvír noted, barely hiding a grin.
"To balance thy optimism on doom's scales," Helluin retorted before sharply raising a hand, "hush now, listen."
From the distance came the unmistakable sound of footsteps hastily approaching. This time it seemed that Helluin's dire expectations were correct. One of the Enedwaith had come to check the snare from which he heard the sounds of a struggle. Helluin and Beinvír silently hastened forward, flitting from shadow to shadow. The hunter came on towards them, heedlessly crashing through the deadfall and leafmould.
The hunter reached the trap first, but his whoop of joy at his good fortune was quickly drowned by cries of fear, growling and snarling, and bodies thrashing on the ground. Ere Helluin and Beinvír could arrive to intervene, there came the dull thud of a heavy impact and a whimper. A Man stood with a braining club raised overhead, but ere his second blow could fall, an arrow from Beinvír's bow tore it from his grasp. And then Helluin was standing over his catch with a drawn sword but inches from his chest, eyes blazing with blue fire, hair in wild disarray from the speed of her haste. Rather than speak to him, which she knew would be pointless, she growled and lunged at him, making contact with Anguirel but not impaling him upon the point. The hunter shrieked and fled. The unsatisfied black sword grumbled softly for want of blood as she sheathed it.
And now Helluin looked down to confirm what she had seen, shaking her head at the improbability of the situation. 'Twas a full grown wolf lying stretched out, still breathing but unconscious, having taken a stout blow to the head with the heavy studded club. It had probably been a lucky shot on the hunter's part, defensive instinct taking over when he had been attacked by the bitch who'd been standing guard o’er her trapped young. Beinvír was already freeing the pup, a growling, spitting ball of fur no larger than a coney. The mother was probably 90 pounds and out cold. The hunter would regain his nerves, enlist his fellows, and reappear as soon as he could. The situation was ludicrous.
Helluin's first impulse was to walk away. Neither Elves nor Men ever had alliance with wolves. Indeed wolves had stood in the ranks of Morgoth aforetime and neither kindred forgot it. But then aside from the recreational value of scaring the Enedweg¹, she'd have revealed their presence for nothing were she to not ensure the wolves' survival. At least they shalt harry the hunters to some profit in the future, she thought. Beinvír had the pup securely wrapped in her arms and was looking at her. Helluin groaned and then stooped, getting her arms 'neath the unconscious wolf and hoisting it onto her shoulders. It groaned weakly but didn't struggle. No doubt it shalt come awake of a sudden and bite off my ear, she thought. She looked over and saw her friend chuckling at her. Helluin could only roll her eyes and began walking back the way they'd come. ¹(Enedweg, singular of Enedwaith. Sindarin)
Eventually Helluin too began to laugh. They had progressed perhaps a mile through the forest by then, moving hastily southeast as night had fallen. To her came the thought of the hunter hysterically proclaiming his story to his disbelieving fellows. To hear his tale, of mad Elves running amok through their hunting grounds in league with wolves, would almost be worth learning the uncouth Enedwaith speech. The wolf grumbled feebly on her shoulder and Beinvír regarded her askance over her shoulder.
"Hath she tickled thee to mirth?" The Green Elf asked as if hopeful.
"Nay. 'Twas but the thought of the hunter's tale to his mates that made me laugh," Helluin told her. "The wolf shalt surely awaken and consume that part of me closest, I wager."
Beinvír looked back and noted the wolf's muzzle draped over Helluin's left breast.
"Thy mail shalt turn her bite in that case," Beinvír said, her eyes alight with silent laughter. "Thou art well protected from that wolf's suckling." She snickered.
Helluin growled. The idea of suckling a wolf was repulsive. Wolves had been enemies; the servants and allies of Morgoth. Helluin would hath preferred suckling the pig. She had at times wondered at Beinvír's humor.
"A league we must put 'twixt ourselves and the trap," she grumbled and sped her pace.
"And now we run like rabbits bearing our hunters hence in our arms," the Green Elf muttered as she hastened to follow.
At somewhat less than a league they were forced to stop. The wolf had come to a groggy wakefulness and had begun a weak struggling. Helluin laid her down on some bracken 'neath a spreading yew and settled beside her. Beinvír joined them, placing the pup next to its mother. That seemed to placate her somewhat, and for a time the two creatures nosed and licked each other. The mother settled with the pup near her chin, her eyes focused warily on the two Elves. When she could muster the energy, she bared her fangs and growled low in her throat.
Beinvír found a slab of bark and set it before them in a hollow, then laid leaves over it and poured in some water from a skin. The wolf and her pup sniffed it suspiciously ere they drank. The Green Elf refilled it twice ere they'd slaked their thirst. For her part, Helluin selected some herbs that she knew to have some virtue against head wounds and she crumbled these, making of them a paste with a small amount of water. She then engaged the wolf eye to eye and began to softly sing a song in the Quenya tongue. The wolf shortly gave a great yawn, blinked sleepily, and soon thereafter dozed off. Still singing, Helluin snatched her muzzle, worked open her mouth, and then painted the herb paste far back upon her tongue. The wolf jerked to wakefulness at the cessation of the song and made a pitiful whining as she worked her jaws, but she swallowed the paste and licked at the wet leaves. She gave Beinvír a beseeching look that earned her a grin and another measure of water to wash down the bitter tasting medicine. Shortly the herbs did their work and the wolf shut her eyes and slept.
"And so now I hath become savior and healer to one of Morgoth's hounds," Helluin muttered, "'Herbalist to Fell Dogs' I shalt add to my titles in the future."
"I think not that this wolf is of Morgoth's fold," Beinvír said seriously, looking closely at the sleeping animals, "but rather that they are merely hunters as Iluvatar created them, and perhaps hath some honor of their own. Was not the bitch injured in defense of her pup? Surely such is the action of a caring mother regardless of her kind?"
"Thy words make some sense," Helluin admitted as she too regarded the animals. "They appear to be naught more than they seem. Neither do they bear the markings of Bauglir, nor the ravening behavior of our enemies of old. And they are far removed from the drowned north in place and time." She sat silent for many moments simply looking down at the drowsing creatures. "In any case, I should not see them taken thus in a trap, for such an end seems ignoble to me beyond their just wages. In the morn we shalt leave and wish them well." Beinvír nodded in agreement.
Being on the ground this night, the Elves took turns resting their minds through the hours of darkness, and when the sun arose and the light returned they gathered their things and departed, leaving the wolf and her pup behind. 'Twas the fifth day of their journey through the forest and they had covered 35 of the 80 leagues to Vinyalonde. As yet they had seen no evidence of the Men of Númenor.
On the sixth day they crossed a small tributary stream, no more than a creek really, and reckoned themselves halfway through their journey. They had continued to circumvent Enedwaith settlements at the rate of about one or two a day while avoiding hunting parties at about the same rate, and they had continued to free such animals as they found trapped. Their journey gave them an appreciation of just how populous the forest had become; even were settlers more plentiful 'nigh the river, still Enedwaith hosted more people by far than Eriador. 'Twas disconcerting, discovering such a wealth of potential enemies whom Sauron could enlist, and that they dwelt so close.
'Twas on their ninth day in the forest when they finally came upon evidence of the Númenóreans, and this was a swath of forest 'nigh the banks of Glanduin that had been cut clear of timber sometime in the past. They were yet eight leagues north of Vinyalonde, and it seemed the site had been chosen for the gentle slope of its banks down to the water.
All about them grew an untidy mix of new growth forest; evergreen trees under a hand's width of trunk, many understory plants including brambles with thorny runners that made passage impossible, and leafy herbaceous species of myriad kinds. Here sunlight dappled the growth through a broken canopy, early flowers attracted a few bees, and birds flitted amongst the branches. Squirrels chased one another ‘round narrow trunks amidst a scent of pine. 'Twas not altogether unpleasant, but both Elves could in their mind's eyes, behold the barren earth and sad stumps left behind at the time of the cutting.
"'Tis as I had suspected," Beinvír said, "not a bole left unfelled and no thought given to replanting."
Helluin only nodded. She had seen just such aforetime in Númenor itself. Whole tracts denuded for the lumber to build ships. Yet there, Aldarion and others before him had replanted in earnest. It seemed the Men of Westernesse cared less for the Hither Lands than for their own. She led them around the area.
During the next two days such sights became ever more common, while at the same time, the presence of native settlements trailed off. It seemed the Enedwaith wanted no part of the Númenóreans and took pains to avoid them. Helluin and Beinvír knew not which ill they reckoned less welcome but they proceeded hence on their way south.
In the afternoon of their eleventh day in the forest they heard voices from a distance singing in the Adûnaic tongue, and Helluin smiled for she recognized the sea chanty as one sung by sailors out of the West. The two Elves made their way towards the sounds, noting that the singing gave a beat to the ringing of axes. Just as they drew nigh, they heard a tortured creaking and splitting followed by the rushing of something large through many branches, and then a great crash. They felt the impact through the ground at their feet and Beinvír stopped dead in her tracks, gasping, a hand pressed to her chest, her eyes wide. Helluin gave her a grim nod and again they made their way forward.
They came to the place where a crew had felled a large white pine, straight and unbranched, and well 'nigh 25 fathoms in height. Such a tree would take centuries to grow. It seemed that the Men had desired and taken only one, though why that should be the Elves knew not. The Men were gathered solemnly about the fallen giant, axes in hand, as if in a mute tribute. They paid the Elves little attention at first as they came ‘nigh. Finally one looked up at them and hailed them in Sindarin.
"Greetings, thou of the Eldar kindred. Few of thy folk hath we ever seen amidst these woods. Pray tell, what hath brought thee hither?"
"'Twas to survey the havens of the Dúnedain and to hear tidings of what passeth across the sea," Helluin said, "and perhaps to share with thee somewhat of news from the Hither Lands if thou hath not heard it aforetime. Tell me then, mariners from the West, what passeth in Andor? Doth Tar-Ancalime rule still or hath the Lord Anarion yet come to the throne? How fares the Guild of Venturers?"
The man who had first spoken came and led them to a patch of shade, and there he offered them wine and food, sailor's biscuits, stew, and nuts. He named himself Alagos, (which signifies Windstorm), master carpenter of the ship, Roval¹. He gave Helluin many glances as if to repeatedly assure himself of her presence, and after they had made themselves comfortable, he began to speak. ¹(Roval, "Great Wing". Sindarin)
"Unless my eyes doth lie unshamed, then to thee my land is well known," he said. "And though I make the years well 'nigh 250 since last thou set foot upon Westernesse, yet again doth thy like walk upon our shores. Indeed Tar-Ancalime hath passed on the scepter and hath gone beyond the world 90 years past. Her Heir rules now, he being Tar-Anarion, who was known to thee aforetime. Yet 'tis of his granddaughter, Telperion of whom I speak. She is now 55 years of age, a great beauty who stands in thy image even as her great-grandmother Ancalime did in her time. Indeed having seen Telperion with my own eyes, I am amazed! Not merely a resemblance doth thou bear unto each other, but rather thou art in appearances identical. Thus thou art unmistakable, Helluin of the Noldor, though small did I ever deem my chances of meeting thee in this life."
"Another one," Helluin muttered to herself, noting the wide-eyed stare of Beinvír at what Alagos had claimed.
To Beinvír, Helluin said, "T'would seem my looks art greatly favored in shaping Númenórean women of royal blood."
To Alagos she said, "Thou art correct. I am Helluin, and 'tis most unlikely that thou and I should meet in any other life but this. In truth thy news brings me wonder, for I thought Ancalime a fluke. Telperion is removed from me by no less than six generations. How long shalt the effect persist I wonder? Nevertheless thou say that Tar-Anarion rules now in Númenor? Doth thou know aught of his policies?"
"Tar-Anarion took the scepter in 1280, and rapidly did he make known his intention to look to the Hither Lands. He holds the Guild in honor and hath resumed the aid of our people to those of Middle Earth. Embassies did he send thither to Lindon, to thy High King, Gil-galad. There tidings were made known to him of the evil arising in Middle Earth. Unfortunately the king had little to report save that which had come to Anarion's ears from thine own mouth in Númenor. Little of news had the Elven King to share until of late, and that being his concerns for the realm of Eregion and his suspicions of Gorthaur abiding there. Our king hath commanded us to gather what news we can, and to reestablish the havens that Tar-Aldarion founded of old. Much work is needed," he said, shaking his head, "for long has been their neglect and great is their disrepair."
"Alagos, to thy store of information may I add that indeed Eregion is o'erthrown of late. Early this year came tidings from Ost-In-Edhil of the ouster of the Lord and Lady, and the assumption of power by Celebrimbor and his Guild of Jewel Smiths. I fear the new Lord of Eregion is to be made a puppet of Sauron, who shalt corrupt him by appealing to his aspirations and craft. The Enemy abides there in fair disguise amongst the guildsmen, and revealed not his nature when I met him, but 32 years ago. To my shame I recognized him not at all." She sighed. "I pray thee speak these tidings to thy king, Alagos."
The ships carpenter nodded to her with fearful and uncertain eyes. Rumor of Sauron had been heard and old tales of him told, but never had any that had seen him lived to tell of it. Sauron had seemed unreal, a phantom of evil and a figure out of nightmare, not a being who walked under the sun and shared the world with them. Now he was a real and present threat, an enemy fell who plotted and manipulated, and he moved forward his plot in their time, during their lives. Ice grew in the pit of his stomach and a chill ran up his spine. The horror of the Eldar Days was come upon them indeed and such were to be his tidings to his king. He gulped and wiped the sudden sweat from his palms.
"'Tis for a new mast that we felled yonder tree," he said, waving an arm in the general direction of the fallen pine and changing the topic for his own comfort, "for we lost our mainmast during a storm in the crossing. We had intended to do some stonework at the havens, but now…perhaps instead thy tidings should be carried forth at once. I shalt ask counsel of my captain."
They watched for some moments the crew stripping bark from the tree. It was painful to watch, for both Elves could see that it still lived, though in much anguish. Yet Helluin could understand the need. No such already fallen and dead would they find, for no tree died in its prime, sound and straight, and at a moment's need.
"If thou art bound for Vinyalonde, we would be pleased to accompany thee," Helluin said, "to see the state of the havens and to meet with thy captain."
Alagos nodded, still chilled by the news of Sauron. As for the two Elves, he could hardly stop them from visiting either the havens or his captain even if he wanted to. As it was, he would welcome their company almost as a talisman of protection.
"We shalt leave within the hour," he said with the decisiveness of the Númenóreans and of a Man long accustomed to the demands of life at sea, "for little else can be done ere the mast is roughed out. Once cleaned and cut to length, we shalt float it downstream and fit it to its place in the hull." He stood and beckoned them to follow.
They made their way to the carpenter's mate, a younger man only a couple decades into the learning of his craft. Alagos told him of their change in plans and bid him dress the trunk for transport.
"I shalt return on the morrow, but now I must convey new tidings to the captain," he said. "I shalt take with me our two guests. Be thou ware o'ernight, and make haste with thy task. We may be ordered to sea sooner than planned."
With that he walked to the bank with Helluin and Beinvír at his side. He picked three men to join them along the way and lead them to a longboat with eight oars. It would seat twelve and was one of two there waiting. Along the way, Helluin noted a pile of bows and a stack of arrows, along with many swords. The Númenóreans had not come unarmed. They too were wary of the Enedwaith. Alagos had taken only the minimum number to man the oars, leaving as large a force as possible behind. The three who were to come armed themselves and stepped into the boat. Alagos, Helluin, and Beinvír followed.
"'Tis but two leagues downstream," he explained, "for we went only so far up Gwathir as was necessary to find a new mast. Running downstream we should make good time; indeed we should be there ere nightfall."
The river was wide and moved with a deceptive current, smooth but forceful. This near the coast, Glanduin had become large, though less swift. Even so, rowing upstream would take much effort. No wonder the sailors had come only so far as necessary.
Helluin nodded. She was more concerned for her friend. The Green Elf had become increasingly nervous as their course became clear. 'Twas that she had never in her life set foot in a boat, something they'd talked about one day in the forest when she'd questioned Helluin about Númenor. Now the fear of riding upon the water warred in her heart with the call of the sea and she regarded all with large wide eyes. Helluin also noted the clench of her jaw, her fast, shallow breathing, and the rapidity of her heartbeat. She took her friend's hand and gave it a squeeze while offering a reassuring smile.
At first the green Elf gripped the gunwales with whitened knuckles, but soon she became accustomed to the rocking of the hull and the rush of the water all about. Eventually she was staring at the scenery passing by, searching the distance up and downstream, and trailing her hands in the water over the side. She seemed to relax by the moment and Helluin was relieved to see a grin shaping her lips. Ere they came to the haven, Beinvír was staring hard into the depths, trying to fathom with her sight what lay 'neath the surface.
"I am sure I saw a fish," she stated, "silver-grey and slender, and it passed us with little effort at a great speed."
"Many art the kinds that might be described thus," Alagos said, "and their lives art a great mystery even to those who fish for a living, for of another realm art they, and their home is most foreign. What astonishing wonders must lie 'neath the waves, and yet I should be happier to discover them not. Let the deeps keep their secrets; such is the prayer of all mariners."
A few muttered words of agreement were voiced by the Men as they came alongside a stone retaining wall, and rounding it they came at last to the havens of Vinyalonde, Lond Daer Enedh.
There at berth lay a great ship gently riding the swells, fully 50 fathoms in length, her bow an aggressive upswept curve. Her foremast and mizzen stood stark against the setting sun, 110 and 95 feet tall respectively. Yards, spars, and all her lines were sharp in silhouette, and so too were the furled canvases of her sails. The tiny figures of mariners moved upon the rigging, but of them, no detail could they see. A standard flew at the foremast head, displaying a single rayed star amidst a field of dark blue above a white tree. It shifted proudly in the breeze high above the deck, and yet were it not for the vacant space where the main mast should have stood, it would have flown 20 to 40 feet higher yet. Even as they watched, a figure stood upon the high talan of the foremast, the lookout of the watch, and he sang out, "At the river mouth! Longboat Ho!"
Now the four sailors pulled hard on their oars, and quickly the longboat closed on the ship Rámaen, for her name, Great Wing, was painted in golden Tengwar upon her bow in the High Elven tongue. The sight of her was familiar to Helluin, for she was like unto many of the great ships of Númenor, but for one who had never before seen a seagoing vessel, the impression indelibly inscribed itself upon the pages of memory.
From their first sighting coming 'round into the haven, Beinvír's eyes had been frozen upon the ship of Westernesse, for the impact of its presence was stunning. Never in all her imagination had she though such a thing could exist. In size it dwarfed the vessels of the Sindar that she had seen at a great distance upon the Gulf of Lune. But even more than this, it differed in its lines. For the ships of the Eldar floated upon the water as if at peace, static and tranquil, graceful and light, and they could move forward with the wind's blessing or no. The ship of the Númenóreans seemed to rake forward, as if it were challenging the very seas it sailed upon, its intrepid spirit chaffing for ever greater speeds. It was audacity and enterprise given line and form, courage and curiosity set in timbers and cloth, massive, mighty, and ever so mortal. None would ever mistake the essence of it for the crafting of the Firstborn.
Alongside the hull the longboat tied off to paired lines from the deck, and a rope ladder was lowered o'er the side to them. The carpenter went up first with Helluin and then Beinvír close behind. The three sailors brought up the rear. When all had reached the deck, the First Mate greeted them gravely and heard somewhat of the carpenter's report. During the recitation, he too stared at Helluin as if she were a ghost, then cast his bright eyes on Beinvír. He led them straightaway to a hatch where a ladder led down to the officers' cabins in the stern. There he rapped on a door, and hearing acknowledgment, opened it and announced his guests.
"My Lord Captain, Master Carpenter Alagos hath returned with grave tidings and distinguished guests," he said. "Here art Helluin of the Noldor and Beinvír, Laiquende."
He then bowed and made to leave, but the captain rose and bid him remain and join them at his table where he sat in counsel with the sailing master.
Helluin looked at the man carefully and noted that this captain bore much resemblance to Falmandil, the captain of Linte Eari that had carried her from Númenor 247 years before. Indeed it was uncanny. At the same time, he was looking just as carefully at her.
"Welcome aboard the Rámaen, guildship of his majesty, Tar-Anarion. I am Captain Ciryandur¹. May I present Sailing MasterEartírindo². Thou hath met already Master Carpenter Alagos, and also First Mate, Súrendil³. I pray thee accept our hospitality." ¹(Ciryandur, "Ship Master",cirya (ship) +-ndur (agent in names, 'expert of'). Quenya) ²(Eartírindo, "Sea Watcher",ear (sea) + tíre- (watch) +-(in)do (masc. agent) Quenya) ³(Súrendil, "Lover of the Hissing Wind", súre (hissing wind) +-ndil (agent in names, 'lover of'). Quenya)
Ciryandur had remained standing while he spoke his welcome, and now he gestured to the chairs about his table, bidding them be seated. The carpenter and the first mate nodded to their captain and quickly sat, while Helluin and Beinvír took their seats more slowly. The captain poured cups of wine for his guests ere he reseated himself, taking a sip and sighing in appreciation.
"Now fell indeed may thy tidings be, yet a point of curiosity would I satisfy ere I hear them," Ciryandur began, bringing his eyes again to bear on Helluin. "Art thou indeed the same Helluin of whom my Uncle Falmandil spoke, and who sailed with him in days long past? Art thou indeed she who came with tidings and counsel to Númenor in the reign of Tar-Ancalime the queen?"
"I am indeed she, Lord Captain, but to the Eldar, the span that hath passed since I sailed with thine uncle is but a short sojourn of years," Helluin answered. "Thy people too art long lived. Doth Falmandil yet live and sail the Sundering Sea?" So, 'tis the Wave Lover's nephew who commands this vessel, and so like unto him in face and form is he that at first glance I marked the similarity as uncanny.
At her question, Ciryandur chuckled in spite of himself, the light of fondness kindled in his eyes. A fair memory animated his features and this memory he gladly shared.
"My uncle would sail 'till he passed beyond this life were he not constrained now by our king. Indeed, Tar-Anarion knew of Falmandil's association with thee and in his time of need, appointed my uncle Captain-Admiral of his King's Ships. Under Tar-Ancalime the office went unfilled, and the new king needed one of experience to take the office. Thus my uncle was called, and for the last 95 years he hath discharged that duty, sailing only infrequently from Númenor. He was wroth at first, of course, and hath for some time picked me clean of tales at every landfall, yet he said that once thou spoke to him, saying that in future days some captain should take Anarion upon the sea. Indeed such came to pass. In the last year ere he took the scepter, finally did the Heir take ship, and that was also my first voyage to Lindon, as Third Mate upon Linte Eari."
"Then the tale hath come full circle I deem," Helluin said happily, "for at first did I meet Veantur on his way to Lindon in the office of Captain-Admiral to Tar-Elendil, and with the king's house did I share my blood through my daughter, Almarian. Thence down through the years hath that blood passed, through Aldarion and Ancalime, unto Anarion. And now he hath made thy uncle, who was of great help to me, his Captain-Admiral, and he hath brought thee to the sea, even unto Lindon, in thy time."
"'Tis so in truth, but thy circle runs 'round yet again, I wager," Ciryandur said, "for of Tar-Anarion hath come his Heir, Súrion, and of him a daughter, Telperien, and she bears thy likeness again in Númenor. And she is the eldest child of her house and shalt someday sit upon the throne in her turn, for Súrion's elder sisters refused the scepter in the days of Tar-Ancalime. I knew not the queen in her younger days, but 'tis said she walked in thy image; Telperien is young, but 55 years of age, and she certainly favors thee in every aspect of appearance save perhaps that she is not quite so tall."
Helluin sat digesting the reiteration of Alagos' claims of Telperien, while the others turned to the matter of their tidings. Ciryandur asked first for the report of his ship's carpenter, and this was given very nearly word for word as Helluin had related it aforetime. When he was done, the captain asked after any further details.
"To the concise report of thy officer I should add but a few impressions," Helluin said. "The first is that while Sauron shalt most likely succeed in subverting the Noldor of Ost-In-Edhil, they art indeed few and the Noldor elsewhere art aware of the danger.
More worrisome to me is the appeal of Sauron's counsels to the Naugrim of Khazad-dum. They art no less enamoured of craft, and no less greedy of achievement, but unlike the jewel smiths of Eregion, they art many and fell, and their army is vast. Were they to fall under the shadow, then Sauron would command a great force for war. Then too there is his realm of Mordor, and no tidings hath come of it in well 'nigh 250 years. Sauron's army was already great when last I saw it, and in its ranks marched many evil Men and many Yrch." Helluin paused for a moment and then continued having for once a hopeful thought. "'Tis perhaps to Sauron's detriment that he hath Yrch in his service, for never shalt the Naugrim serve a master who is also a master of Yrch. Their hatred comes from the depths of time and goes deep as the roots of their mountain halls. Nay, in the end they shalt not join upon Sauron’s part in war, but still they may fall under his shadow."
At this, Ciryandur looked troubled, and he gave thought to his own tidings ere he spoke.
"Rámaen hath come to Lond Daer not from Númenor last, but from Umbar with a short landfall in Belfalas. From Umbar came reports of smoke issuing from Orodruin of late, though we saw naught of it at our landing.
At Edhellond were ships abuilding, and talk was of some there preparing for flight, forsaking the Hither Shores for the West. Some of Lenwe's folk hath made the passage to Tol Eressea at last and so that way is deemed open to them now by the Grace of the Powers. I deem that in days to come, thither shalt many flee as the days darken.
That way may stand open to the Eldar, but not to Men. They shalt be forced to stand, either against Sauron or with him, and I fear that for most, to join the shadow shalt seem prudent when they hath known only darkness aforetime. In such war as is yet to come, thy greatest foes may yet be those of my own kind, corrupted, debased, and fallen into the service of Morgoth's lieutenant, Sauron Gorthaur. How I wish it were not so."
"Yet 'twas so too in the Elder Days, Ciryandur," Helluin said, "and little can be done about the choices made by others save to fight them when no other course will serve. Many shalt fall under Sauron's influence; some of thine no doubt, while many of mine shalt abandon hope and flee. Wherein lies the greater evil?"
For a while they sat in silence. A cabin boy knocked and entered, and he went about the cabin lighting the lamps so that the space took on a warm glow. From the deck above a bell rang and shortly after the captain's steward entered bearing trays and platters for the officer's mess. The captain and the sailing master apologetically removed their charts and logbooks from the table and a white cloth edged in deep blue was lain o’er it by the steward's mate.
"I pray thou shalt enjoy the ship's fare," the captain said as the table was laid.
Helluin and Beinvír hadn’t eaten since that morning and both were famished. There was bread, both dark and light, a roasted chicken, a stew of beef, corn sheared from the cob, crisp greens with sliced tomatoes and thin rings of onions, carrots baked together with potatoes, and wild mushrooms sautéed in butter. The six feasted with gusto, washing down their food with a plentiful red wine.
"I had no idea our presence gave cause for such a banquet," Beinvír remarked as she paused between bites. "'Tis all delicious and plentiful as at a king's table. I thank thee."
"Of course we like to do well by our guests," Súrendil told her, "but we hath also reaped well the bounty of this land, and we all dearly love to eat."
"Ship's fare can get sparse when we art long at sea, but in port or at landfall we hunt and gather for our table and to replenish our stores," Ciryandur explained.
"Indeed 'tis so," Helluin agreed lightly, "I recall gnawing old lines, and sailors chewing canvas scraps when food got scarce on long voyages. Now I wonder why Veantur never recorded such details in the scrolls? Pride perhaps?"
Beinvír stopped with her fork halfway to her mouth and looked at Helluin in shock.
"I was thinking more of biscuits and hard tack day in, day out," Ciryandur said with a straight face. "But 'tis true, no clue of such suffering appears in his scrolls."
"Indeed so, for I hath read them myself," Eartírindo said. "I should add though that at times we hath had aught but old shoes boiled long, and of course, sea water aplenty."
The Green Elf was staring at her companions in horror. Their ill turns must have been pathetic. Not on any trip she'd made by land had situations come to such dire straits. Always there was sustenance to be found in the forests or fields if one knew where to look. ‘Twas thus even in the depths of winter. She turned from one face to the next, then looked at the platters heaped with food.
"How very sad for thee," she finally said. "The call to sail must be an all consuming desire if thou would willingly chance suffering so. I had no idea."
"Mmm-hmm," Eartírindo agreed sadly while chewing a mouthful of greens.
Beinvír set aside her fork and sat thinking, trying to imagine days at sea with no land in sight and naught to eat but old shoes. It was tremendously upsetting to her to think of her friend or these noble adventurers starving far from home. It wasn't that she was a glutton. It was simply that all her people were so completely adapted to their lands that the idea of starvation was quite foreign. Iluvatar provided for his children and the bounty of the earth was there for those who understood it. She gave Helluin her most pitying look.
Off to her left, Alagos choked and then clamped tightly shut his jaw. A moment later Helluin stifled a sound that might have been a snort and quickly snatched up her wine. Across the table, Eartírindo was suddenly overcome with a fit of coughing and he hid his face behind his napkin. Súrendil clamped his hand over his mouth and squeezed shut his eyes. His shoulders were shaking.
Beinvír's horror was renewed, for her first thought was that they had all been poisoned by the strange foods of Enedwaith and would be lucky not to die. Her eyes grew wider and wider. 'Twas was only moments later that Ciryandur's composure failed. He broke down in gales of laughter, finally resorting to dabbing his eyes with his napkin. As Beinvír watched him her own eyes narrowed as she deduced the cause of his mirth. Her ire fell most squarely on Helluin, whose expression was painfully torn between apology and laughter.
"Why, I am quite astonished at thy conduct, Helluin. Wherefore come'th such a prank from one so dour and pessimistic? Is the misleading of the ignorant worthy of such efforts? Indeed thou hast come to share the spirit of thy enemy in the hoodwinking of the unsuspecting o’er shared spirits." She glared at Helluin, who was hard pressed to stifle her mirth while trying to appear contrite.
"Be not wroth with me forever, my friend," Helluin said at last when she had mastered herself, "upon the sea none go hungry more than those upon the land, for there art always fish to be had. 'Twas but a folly, an inspiration of the moment, and wholly out of character, I assure thee."
Beinvír scrutinized her friend closely, as if divining her veracity.
"I hath heard," Ciryandur said innocently, "that in days long past thou adulterated the king's wine with vinegar whilst drinking late into the night after the Eruhantalë*." *(Eruhantalë, Númenórean thanksgiving, a prayer offered to Eru for his bounty by the king, spoken upon the summit of the Meneltarma at autumn's end. UT, AdotIoN, pg. 166.)
At this revelation, Beinvír regarded Helluin with shock and Helluin blushed scarlet in chagrin. She and Tar-Elendil had enjoyed a relationship enriched by much mutual pranking and from which each had suffered their share of embarrassing moments. She had not thought such tales were common knowledge. Someone must have let slip some observations on their behavior, though in truth, most such jests had occurred when both had imbibed significantly. 'Twas probably Almarian gossiping with her handmaids, Helluin thought.
"Then thou hast no doubt heard also that thy king compelled the royal laundress to apply liberal starches to my shifts, rendering them not unlike rawhide," Helluin revealed. "Indeed I was yet more astonished that one of such nobility could find time to coax hence from their holes so many mice with which to fill my boots."
"Indeed so?" Súrendil asked, dumbfounded. "Tar-Elendil?"
624 years after his death, the fourth king was regarded as a legend and accorded even greater reverence than in his lifetime. The effect grew more pronounced the further back in history one went. The thought of Elros' grandson stuffing rodents into the boots of his Captain-Admiral's wife was truly shocking. Where his captain had heard of Helluin's pranks was a mystery. Ciryandur cackled.
"Tar-Elendil was a man, noble and wise, a worthy scion of great fathers," Helluin said, "and like them, also a man of quick humor and playful nature, who balanced severity with mirth. 'Tis only when that balance fails that the mind becomes unstable to the suffering of all, for mean spiritedness or vacuity results." She thought of Tar-Ancalime who probably hadn't laughed honestly in all her life. "I recall an incident of Tuor, when the refugees of Gondolin had yet to issue from Idril's tunnel and the way was not decided. He stood uncertain and absently remarked, 'Well, we certainly can't go north', for that way led hence but to Angband. A Man of lesser character would in that place despair or choose in haste. Humor was his succor in that dark time, and though few laughed aloud, still his comment lightened hearts and gave a pause in which to consider more deeply all available counsels. Humor is a refuge for hope and an exercise for the wits. I deem it a fair enterprise if it harm none, for like dignity, it hath its place."
About the table all were amazed. On some level they had perceived this wisdom, and yet to hear examples from the lives of their revered predecessors was enlightening. In times of horror and peace alike, Men of heroic stature had engaged in humor for their hearts' sake. And whether contrived or unintended it had served to balance the gravity of their times. It was…instructional.
"Indeed now I understand more clearly thy mirth at the wolf and the hunter," Beinvír said, "and even somewhat thy utterances when thou give thy pessimism voice. 'Tis but thy brand of humor, stunted and depressing as it is."
Helluin reacted to her friend's words in surprise, then attempted to amend her opinion.
"Doth thou truly find me so melancholic? I had not thought myself overly maudlin save in times of reflection on sad events…I am less outwardly joyous and lighthearted than some perhaps, but still…. What?"
Beinvír had begun her giggling at Helluin's defense and the jest in the Green Elf's words had been clearly perceived by the others, who now joined her in chuckling at the Noldo. Realizing what had passed, Helluin shook her head but couldn't keep from grinning. Even her own dignity had its place. She gave her friend a wink and was greeted with a smile. The meal concluded with a dessert, some type of jellied fruit sweetened with honey and very enjoyable.
In the end, 'twas decided that once repaired, Rámaen would make her course back to Númenor as planned. While grave, the tidings would not gain from any haste they could make. The mast would require two days fitting and rigging, and nothing could be done to hasten that. The captain offered to convey the Elves to the mouth of the Angren ere he sailed west for Númenor, saving them the walk back through the forest of the Enedwaith and leaving them closer to the Southern Pass. Such a hop down the coast would also allow him time to be acquainted with the new mast. This being decided, the Men went to their rest and the Elves to climb the rigging to the lookout's talan for a view of the stars.
From that height the view was impressive, not only of the unobstructed sky, but also of the forest and the river. At 100 feet they had a horizon of well 'nigh thirteen miles, and with the acuity of sight given to the Firstborn, they could easily see the camp of the sailors two leagues northeast where the new mast had been felled. The trunk had been dressed and moved parallel to the bank, and the Men rested behind it near their remaining longboat. The mariners had encircled the site with a ring of watch fires, and guards armed with bows surveyed the dark woods. Other kept their eyes on the water. Obviously they had no doubts of the hostility of the Enedwaith and they were taking no chances.
The next day the carpenter's crew floated the new mast to the ship, and laboring through the afternoon and night, they raised it and set it in its place amidships. With the second dawn, riggers commanded by the boatswain were busy raising the yards and spars and securing the rigging of tarred lines. The sail cloth went aloft while the painters feverishly colored the woodwork in white and blue. At dusk a proud seaman made his way aloft, bearing the banner from the foremast to the main and setting it in its high place 140 feet above the deck. Ere the second nightfall, the ship stood ready to weigh anchor and sail with the morrow's ebb tide. Late the following afternoon, a longboat came over the side and Helluin and Beinvír were ferried to shore.
To Be Continued
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