In An Age Before – Part 13

This section of the update contains some speculative additions to the scant canon regarding the Drúedain provided by JRRT in UT, Pt. 4, Ch. I, TD, pgs. 377-388.

Chapter Eighteen

Drúwaith Iaur - The Second Age of the Sun

  'Twas 25 Gwirith, (April 25th), being the fourth day walking after leaving the Rámaen, and Helluin and Beinvír had come to the fork where the Rivers Angren and Adorn converged.  This was close to 100 miles east, or upstream, from Sîr Angren's mouth, at least as near as Helluin could reckon, for the way had followed the curves of the banks.  The land thereabouts was rolling and sheathed in grasses, shrubs, and isolated pockets of trees.  To the north, across Angren, lay the southern fastness of the forest of Enedwaith, while to the south marched the foothills of the westernmost arm of the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains.  Helluin noted that the Adorn flowed swiftly, and though now far from where it came down out of the highlands, its waters were still chill.  'Twas too wide and swift to ford where it met Angren, and being on its southern bank meant their only choice was to travel upstream to find some point of crossing, then eventually make their way north to rejoin the Angren.  Helluin had never been here before and she knew of no bridge or ford.  They would simply have to keep their eyes open and trust to luck.

  Another factor of which she had no firsthand knowledge was the area's inhabitants.  A few rumors told of a kindred of Men called Drúedain who made their homes in this land.  They were said to be odd, ancient, sundered in speech from other Men, and no friends of the Enedwaith.  Helluin thought that natural enough.  She couldn't imagine any being fast in friendship with the Enedwaith of the forests or their fisher folk cousins along the coast.  Beyond the scant rumors was only the fact that none with whom she had ever spoken had met any of that kindred, nor were they even certain that such indeed existed.  Still, the land they traveled was called Drúwaith Iaur, the Old Land of the Drú.  Unfortunately Drú was an unfamiliar word from no tongue Helluin spoke.  And so, being naturally inclined to suspicion, Helluin went forward warily and Beinvír as well.

  Three more days passed, but the Elves had found not a ford or a crossing, and they continued up the Adorn into a country grown watchful.  'Twas quiet all about, as if some doom hung o'erhead, yet the land lay fair all 'round and no threat could either discern.  The river ran clear and fast beside them, but no boat plied its waters.  The mountains waited, looming up silent and ever closer ahead.  Few birds did they spy, and these flitted quickly from copse to thicket, uttering no calls or songs.  Neither did they see domestic herds or abundance of game, nor any homesteads or smoke from a fire.  And never did they see any evidence of habitation.  Helluin reckoned they had traversed half the distance up the Adorn to the mountains.

  That night, Helluin and Beinvír sat together with their backs against a great rock outcropped from a hillside.  A meager fire, burning low in a small trench at their feet, provided heat but showed forth little light, a precaution of hunters and scouts.

  "Thou know'th that our passage hath been marked these last days," Beinvír said, her voice coming softly at Helluin's elbow in the dark.

  "I hath presumed so, but no sign of the watchers hath I seen, yet like thee I hath felt eyes upon me, silent and watchful as a ghost."  Her eyes never stopped roving through the darkness beyond their camp, ever searching for a telltale movement of a shadow or the soft report of a footstep.  'Twas futile, she had learned, from the past nights' vigils.  She found it deeply irritating.  "I hath half a mind to fire this whole country just to flush them out and satisfy my curiosity at the least," she muttered to herself.

  Beinvír, who had become accustomed to Helluin's moods, grinned in the dark.  A part of her could imagine Helluin doing just so, then waiting amidst the flames merely to catch a glimpse of their phantom companions ere she herself burned.

  "Were they Galadrim I should know it," Beinvír said, "and they knowing us would present themselves long ere this.  No others I hath met match us in stealth or woodscraft.  Yet if there be in fact eyes upon us as it feels, then they art crafty beyond the measure of my people."  There had been no sounds, no motions at the corner of her vision, no tracks.

  That statement was very unsettling.  Helluin's experience of the Laiquendi had given her an appreciation of their skills.  From the first time Dálindir had risen from nothing but a pile of leaves in Ossiriand, she had been more than impressed with their stealth.  The thought of others yet again more skilled was threatening indeed.  She was quite ready to believe well 'nigh any rumors of the Drúedain, save that there was almost nothing to be believed.  There were no stories about them, no claims, no…knowledge.

  "Rest, my friend," Helluin said, "I shalt watch again."

  They had allowed the fire to burn low, and Beinvír leaned into Helluin's side for warmth and let her mind wander wide upon the roads of thought.  Helluin draped a cloak about them and sat still, staring through narrowed lids to hide the whites of her eyes as they slowly rove across the landscape.  To any watchers they had become indistinguishable from the great boulder at their backs.

  Overhead Ithil made his way across the heavens; still Helluin didn't move.  Another night passed away into memory and finally Vingilot arose heralding the coming dawn.  Dew formed.  Stillness descended as the world awaited the new day's opening hour.  In the east the sky lightened, dimming Varda's stars.  And a half-mile off to the west, Helluin finally caught the heartbeat brief sheen of a reflection, as of Vasa's first ray glinting on a watching eye.  In an instant it was gone.

  She sat and examined the memory, as it were a painting etched indelibly on the canvas of her mind's recall.  Into that image she let herself fall, as one watching the approaching water's surface as they plunged down in a dive from a great height.  Closer and closer she came.  There!  'Twas beside a tree's dark trunk, one reflection only and for but a moment, but it had been there!  Helluin willed the image to brighten, casting the Light of her fëa onto the painting she saw, illuminating details her mind had stored that her waking eye in that moment had not perceived.  Dim silhouette against the star-speckled sky; half a figure stood revealed beyond the trunk's profile, squat, thick, and still.  There dark against dark ere it blended smoothly back into the blackness of the bole.  Without thought a grin shaped her lips.  She withdrew from the memory.  This she would share with her friend! 

  Helluin pursed her lips and blew forth a stream of air from the side of her mouth to fluff the top of Beinvír's hair.  The Green Elf moved only her eyes, raising and focusing them on Helluin's.  She quirked a brow in question.  Gazing eye to eye, they spoke in silent communication, and Helluin showed her friend what she had discovered.  Beinvír's eyes widened in surprised acknowledgment and at the recall of an old memory.  Now she had a story to tell and she raised her head from Helluin's shoulder and spoke in a whisper.

  "Dálindir told once to me a tale of old Beleriand; of the Edain of Haleth, the Haladin, who came over Ered Lindon and at first dwelt in Thargelion beyond Ascar.  They made there many homesteads and small settlements, and those most southern were 'nigh the northern border of Ossiriand.  Some few of these became known to Dálindir, for he at times met with Caranthir in his realm to the north.

  Now 'twas told that amongst the Haladin there dwelt in small numbers, a people who had been long associated with that host; people who in their own tongue were called the Drúg.  In looks they were short and thick, indeed shorter and thicker even than Dwarves, but 'twas their faces that most set them apart.  Flat they were and wide, with a heavy ridge above the eyes, and those set deeply beneath, almost black, piercing and steady, and they looked long and far and with great acuity.  They were flat also of nose, broad of cheek and chin, and their teeth were large in their wide mouths.  Indeed Dálindir said they appeared as the work of someone of little craft carving a figure but poorly and for the first time.  His thought was that they were perhaps made by the Dwarves of Nogrod and brought to life through some incantation of Aule, but the Haladin said 'twas not so.  They had shared the road with the Drúg since meeting them 'nigh Hithaeglir many generations before.

  'Whyfore dost thou share thy dwellings?'  Dálindir had asked, and the Haladin replied that, 'They art steadfast and true.  No better trackers or watchmen hath we met in all of Middle Earth, and in battle they art deadly with poisoned dart and bare hands'.  Now from thy description I should say the Drúedain and the Drúg art one and the same, and that we hath indeed come to that country in which long ago the Haladin first met them."

  "'Tis strange that I hath heard no tales of them," Helluin said, for she had lived those years in Beleriand, while Beinvír had been born only later in Eriador.

  "Indeed only that single tale did Dálindir ever tell of them," Beinvír replied.  "Yet it seems to me that later, the Haladin marched west, first to Estolad, and thence to Brethil."

  Helluin thought back to the First Age of the Sun.  From Vinyamar she had followed Turgon son of Fingolfin into the isolation of Gondolin in F.A. 116.  Only by tidings of the Eagles had word come of the appearance of the three houses of the Elf-friends, and that had begun well 'nigh 200 years later.  Indeed the first time she had seen any of the Edain was when Hurin and Huor had been conveyed to the Hidden City by two of Thorondor's vassals.  That had been just ere F.A. 460.  If the Drúg had been few and living in the Forest of Brethil, than 'twas little wonder she had never known of it.  She nodded her head a fraction of an inch in understanding.  The Gondolindrim had no stories of the Drúg, and if any had been known in Doriath, they had come not down Sirion to Avernien with Elwing's people so far as she had heard.

  "So now perhaps we shalt meet the fourth house of the Atani," she whispered, "and if they shoot us not with their darts, I shalt do them honor, these old enemies of Morgoth."

  In the opening hour after dawn they removed from their camp and continued their way upriver.  Many more miles did they cover ere the sun approached the zenith.  As noon drew 'nigh, Helluin and Beinvír found a place where the southern bank rose steeply up, and soon they were looking down at the watercourse and thence across it to the opposite bank to the north.

  As they'd come upstream the river had narrowed by degrees, until now it ran but four fathoms in breadth, yet it flowed fast and deep.  At a bend it undercut the southern bank by a fathom so that the far shore lay but three fathoms distant and ten feet lower.  Helluin stopped and regarded the river both upstream and down.  She nodded her head; 'twas the best possibility she had yet seen.

  "Here we might chance a crossing," she told Beinvír, "and no more favorable place hath I seen, nor I think, is any better to be found upstream so far as I can see.  Woulds't thou join me in a leap to the far shore?"

  Beinvír scrutinized the gap, its breadth and height, then looked down into the fast flowing waters below.  She gulped.  Then she looked upstream, shading her eyes with a slender hand before she turned back to Helluin.

  "T'would not be my first choice, but it doth appear our only choice," she said.

  Helluin nodded in agreement.  It wouldn't be her first choice either.

  About them the land was sheathed in coarse grasses, while the few shrubs formed clumps several fathoms back form the bank, but the brink was of hard bare rock and seemed sturdy.  A few boulders sat here and there amidst the grasses, but there was space for a good running start ere they leapt.  No deer could ask for more.  Helluin shed her travel gear and stepped to the edge of the bank, then she began pacing back from it, counting her strides.  Beinvír watched her apprehensively.

  Helluin had backed away a dozen paces, enough to reach her full stride ere she leapt, and she found herself standing amidst waist high grass with a boulder close by on her right atop a larger outcropping.  She dismissed it at first glance, but a moment later whirled back around, drawing her sword by reflex and standing facing the rocks in a defensive crouch.  The rock didn't move, but continued to watch her impassively.

  Indeed as she looked more closely, Helluin discerned that 'twas a figure seated beside a rock, not merely a rock, and cleaving to it so that its profile was obscured.  With a gulp, she sheathed her sword and approached.  Behind her, Beinvír lowered her bow and slacked the tension on the arrow she had knocked when Helluin drew her sword.  She watched as her friend walked toward what could only be a Drúg.

  When she stood but an arm's length away, the Drúg released his grasp on the boulder and sat straight, crossing his legs and laying his palms flat upon his thighs.  He looked up, meeting her eyes without fear or guile.  It was as direct and unguarded a glance as she could remember, but at the same time it was piercing, as if seeing clearly into her heart.  If his physical appearance was startling and unfamiliar, she found her reaction submersed 'neath her wonder at his eyes.  None of the Atani, not even the Kings of Númenor, had ever looked at her with a perceptiveness that rivaled the Amanyar.  Thus she tried to speak to him in silence as she did with Beinvír or others of the Eldar to whom she was close.

  Greetings thou, O Watcher still and crafty.  I hath felt thy eyes but seen naught of thy self save now, and thence by chance only.  Art thou of the kindred of the Drúg?

  He furrowed his brow slightly and looked at her more closely, cocking his head a degree as if harkening to a voice.

  "Strange.  Speak words you, not of mouth," he said in the Common Speech.  His voice was low and rough and his expression didn't change.

  Since Helluin didn't care for the Common Speech she continued speaking in silence.

  I am Helluin, Eglaną; with me is Beinvír, Elleth˛.  ą ˛(Eglan, Exiled Elf, and Elleth, Female Elf, both are generic terms.  Sindarin)

  "Glűn, Drúghuą," he said, thumping his barrel chest once.  "Deer leap, you go."  ą(Drúghu, their own word for themselves.  Drúedain and the earlier Drúath are Sindarin.  UT, Pt. Four: I The Drúedain, Note 6, pg. 385)

  Yes.  We need to cross the river.  We hath far to travel.  Helluin pointed to the dim specter of the Misty Mountains, just barely visible far to the north.  Glűn snorted.

  "You go.  Drúghu stay.  Good walking, you."

  Helluin wanted to say more.  She had many questions, but the Common Speech was barely more than a minimal carrier of ideas and it obviously wasn't Glűn's native tongue.  But more than that, the Drúghu had already stared past her into the distance.  He hadn't moved an inch, but 'twas as if he had dismissed her from his world and the two Elves no longer existed for him.  Somehow she had expected more from this meeting, had been anticipating learning new things or hearing strange stories.  It had been a long time since she had met a wholly unknown kind of intelligent being, and now she felt disappointed and irritable.  She shrugged and turned back to Beinvír.

  "Toss our things over to me after I get across," she said.  At her words, Glűn lifted his head and blinked, but Helluin was already facing away and saw it not.

  When the Green Elf nodded, Helluin immediately sprinted forward.  She crossed the dozen paces and then leapt straight out into the air.  Ere she'd crossed half the distance she knew she'd make it easily, indeed with room to spare.

  Helluin's leap had taken her a good two paces past the far bank.  She landed softly, cushioning her touchdown by bending her legs to absorb the impact.  When she turned back she saw Beinvír looking relieved, standing on the higher bank with their travel bags in her hands.  She tossed the first and Helluin caught it and set it down.  She tossed the second and that too Helluin snagged in flight and set at her feet.  Now Helluin moved forward to the edge of the bank to lend her friend a hand should her jump carry her short.  Beinvír nodded to her and then disappeared as she backed out of sight.

  Some time passed, and Helluin became worried ere she heard at last a rushing of feet.  Beinvír appeared at the edge and took flight in a mighty leap that carried her up as well as out from the far bank.  As Helluin watched, Beinvír flew over the water in a smooth arc, her legs still churning as if she were running through the air.  She landed in mid-stride and continued on for several paces as she bled off her speed.  Her jump had outdistanced Helluin's by a good fathom.  After retrieving their bags, they continued on their way.

  "Well, the Drúg ‘twas a great disappointment," Helluin complained somewhat later as they walked north from the Adorn.  "He may as well hath been a rock."

  "Helluin, he understood thy speech mind to mind," Beinvír said, "who amongst Men hath thou spoken to thus in the past?"

  Helluin thought back.  In truth she had never tried speaking in that way with mortals.

  "With Men I converse in Adűnaic or Sindarin, or more rarely in Quenya, and at whiles in the Common Speech when naught else will serve." 

  "Whyfore then did thou speak thus to Glűn?"  Beinvír asked.

  "'Twas the way he looked at me," Helluin answered, "as one blessed with the deep sight.  I thought it wise, knowing not what speech he had, to converse thus, directly mind to mind.  I shouldn't hath tried it with one who first hailed me aloud.  He only sat staring at me, much as a speechless beast or one dumb of tongue."

  "Yet thou persisted thus after he spoke."

  "’Twas because I detest the Common Speech.  It expresses so little, and he understood me.  'Twas…interesting."

  "I suspect at first he deemed us spirits and not of this world," Beinvír said, "speaking thus without words.  Perhaps therefore he thought us of no consequence, or even a danger, and returned his attention thence to this world ere he be drawn into some other."

  Helluin groaned.  Such thinking she could understand, primitive and superstitious as it was.

  "Ere I made my jump, he spoke again," Beinvír said after a while, "warning of the gôrgbuą that clove to me.  He did thus, I deem, for thou spoke aloud to me ere thy leap, and yet not so to him, and unlike him, I answered thee not with words; therefore perhaps he deemed me living and thou not."  ą(gôrgbu, ghost.  Hypothetical Drúghu word)

  Helluin stared at her, for the moment speechless.  Beinvír giggled.

  "What, pray tell, is a gôrgbu?"  Helluin asked.

  "'Tis what his people call the spirit of one struck dead that lingers yet in the world.  They oft speak in strange tongues, and art given to mischief and to causing confusion amongst the living for a time ere they fade away at last into their proper realm to the northą.  I tried to reassure him of thy living.  He would have none of it."  ą(This belief of the Drúg is not canon.)

  "But surely when he saw and heard me speak to thee…?"  Helluin began to protest in frustration.

  "He saw me see thou as he himself saw thee," Beinvír said, "and thy spoken words made to him no sense at all, for his people understand not the Sindarin tongue.  'Twas all the proof he needed.  Naught that I could say dissuaded him ere I had to leave.  It matters not, though I wonder if thou can see some humor in it?"

  "I cannot," Helluin said and turned to stomp off in the direction of the distant Hithaeglir. 

  When Beinvír caught up to her, she was still muttering, "…thinks me a ghost he does, he of apish face and cattle's eye.  Would that I had pricked him ere I sheathed my sword.  Then would he believe indeed that I still walk this earth.  Hmmm, back thither I should go and gouge him once; therein I should find some humor indeed.  Gôrgbu, ha!"

  She continued fuming thus for several miles, inveighing without pause, all the while Beinvír finding the stifling of her laughter increasingly difficult.

  "'Tis but thy expectations going unmet that disappoint thee," she said, but Helluin harkened not to her words.  She followed a while longer in silence but spoke again at last.

  "Helluin, peace.  Thou hath already confused him.  Returning thus to poke at him with thy sword would only serve to prove the part about making mischief.  T'would leave him wholly persuaded of thy gôrgbu-ness."

  At this comment, Helluin growled.  Beinvír at last failed of her comportment and collapsed on the ground in hysterics.  After a while, Helluin sat on the ground at her side.

  "I suppose now to my titles I shalt add, 'Gôrgbu of Drúwaith Iaur'.  Impressive indeed, as none shalt know what honor it signifies."  And at last she managed a chuckle.

  In the following week the two friends passed between Hithaeglir and the Ered Nimrais by tracking the course of the Angren.  Soon it turned due north and they continued east.  On 6 Lothron, (May 6th), S.A. 1375 they passed the easternmost outlier of the southernmost vale of the Hithaeglir and turned their steps towards a great and deep forest neither had entered aforetime.  Twice now, Helluin had passed this wood as she made her way south down Anduin, but she had not tarried there either in 523 or 1125.  And yet she had always regarded the sight of it with curiosity.  Surely at one time it had been connected to Greenwood and perhaps to the original forests of Eriador as well.

  "I hath been 'nigh this wood twice aforetime, yet did not enter," Helluin told Beinvír as they drew closer, "but it seems I shalt explore there at last, if only as we pass through."

  "'Tis a great old wood surely, and no doubt filled with its own life and secrets.  What, perchance doth thou think to find there?"

  "I know not, save that I shalt be accepted amongst the living, but were I to name some of what we may find thither, than I should say Onodrim, and perhaps their mates.  There may also be Huorns," she said uncomfortably, "and perhaps trees with whom we shalt speak.  I hope to find no Yrch, being 'nigh Hithaeglir but further south than they art wont to go.  I suppose we shalt see what we shalt see."

Chapter Nineteen

Fangorn Forest - The Second Age of the Sun

  In the afternoon two days later, Helluin and Beinvír stepped from the grasslands and into the forest as if in taking that single stride they went from day to night.  Within, the air was still and the canopy obscured the bright light of the sun.  Little grew on the forest floor; indeed between the roots and boles of the trees there lay mostly mosses, humus, and rocks laid bare as the soil was consumed over the countless years.  Because of this, few animals dwelt there for lack of low growing and tender shoots.  Squirrels and their relatives there were, and some kinds of birds too that favored the nuts and berries of trees.  Of larger animals, naught but the few foxes and cats that preyed on the squirrels had made Fangorn home.  Helluin and Beinvír also sensed a watchfulness and curiosity about them, as it were a vapor suffusing the air, but no voices did they hear.  Naught but the sounds of breeze amongst the leaves far overhead and the creaking of branches gave voice to the woods.

  (Note: In the early Second Age, the borders of Fangorn Forest lay south to the eastern margin of Nan Curunír, east to the Wold and the banks of Anduin further north, and north to within 8 leagues of southern Lindórinand, with which it had once been contiguous.  The forest had been contracting since the Elder Days, and continued to do so into the Third Age, ever diminishing from a primeval forest that had once extended into Eriador as far as the Ered Luin.)

  "'Tis like standing in a crowd where all hold their breath and await some doom," Beinvír observed in a hushed voice.  "I feel too as much watched as I am watching and by more eyes, yet 'tis a different feel than in Drúwaith Iaur."

  "I hath felt such a mood aforetime, but only in the depths of Greenwood, and only then at times ere trouble brewed," Helluin said.  "I am sure there art Huorns here, and with them no doubt, the Onodrim."

  Beinvír nodded.  In the forests of her home there were no such creatures, nor was it so…treeish.  "The forest of Eriador is perhaps of similar age, but not so vast or so dense.  Here 'tis truly a realm of trees, and here I feel out of place as I do not in Eriador."

  "This forest is indeed of similar age and vast, yet not a fraction so vast as Greenwood, and yet I mark thy words," Helluin said.  "Here all feels as it were compressed in spirit, a world reserved for trees and their kin, where all others art indeed out of place.  'Tis a world on its own, for it lives on the timespan of trees, not on that of Elves or Men."

  They continued north, so near as they could tell the direction, sighting on some trunk straight ahead in line with ones closer and further, and keeping to that line.  Every so often one or the other would climb up to assure themselves that indeed the Hithaeglir still marched on their left to the west.  ‘Twas a while ere either noted what they hadn't heard.

  "No sound of running water do I hear," Beinvír said softly, "no stream or creek, or river's whispered flow amidst this forest."

  "There art rivers to the north, or at least I hath seen two passing from the forest and down eventually to Anduin," Helluin said, "yet the closer of them lies well 'nigh 100 miles north, though of its path within the forest I know naught."

  Shortly later they heard from a great distance booming calls that echoed amidst the trees and seemed to rebound back from the very walls of the Hithaeglir to the west.  From what bird or beast they came neither Elf could guess.  Only could they tell that call was answered by call for several directions and distances.  This recital continued apace ere it ceased, leaving the ensuing silence yet the more profound as evening fell.

  That night when it became too dark to reliably find their way, Helluin and Beinvír stopped and made themselves uncomfortable amidst a group of rocks.  This had been Helluin's precaution, to avoid being crushed if some of the surrounding trees decided to wander during the night.  At this explanation, Beinvír looked askance at her friend but accepted her advice.  She had spent most of her life in a forest and the trees there didn't wander.  Her own first impulse would have been to seek a night's shelter off the ground amid the branches.

  "Were I elsewhere I would agree with thee," Helluin said, "but until I discover more of this forest's mood, I shalt err on the side of prudence and rest amongst the rocks."

  Some hours later, the creaking and grumbling they had heard all day picked up apace, as did the sound of wind in the branches.  Ere morning, the forest settled down much as it had been the day before, yet when they set off walking, Helluin pointed out that in some places roots had shifted in the soil, or the ground had a look as of something dragged across it.  At last she came to a spot much like any other and stopped.

  "And what strikes thee as odd about this?"  She asked Beinvír, nodding ahead.

  Beinvír looked carefully.  As before, the ground showed signs of disturbance.  Directly ahead stood a stout old evergreen of undeterminable species.  It was not so like unto any she knew that she could name it beyond doubt.  Aside from this, its crown was quite a bit shorter than the canopy.  It rose from twinned trunks to a single bole, and then carried two primary branches dangling at equal height on opposite sides.  A few smaller branches made up its crown, while a long fringe of epiphytic moss hung in a mass of tangles below them.  It gave an unsettling impression, having a strangeness she couldn't place or identify.  She looked back at Helluin with questioning eyes.

  "It should not be here," Helluin said, "or leastwise, it wouldn't grow here of its own choice.  T'would starve for light 'neath the taller trees of the canopy if aught else.  I am sure it must come from the mountain slopes far to the west, and so it isn't truly a tree."

  She led Beinvír forward until they were standing two fathoms in front of it.  At that point she began speaking in a tongue the Green Elf had never before heard, a slow, soft, speech she could only describe as "rustling".  Helluin continued on through the next hour while Beinvír watched, trying to restrain herself from mockery.  Interesting as it had been at first, she found her friend's monologue was rapidly putting her to sleep.  Finally she could stand it no longer and she interrupted Helluin.

  "Pray tell, what lullaby art thou presenting to yonder tree?  Surely 'tis as deeply asleep as ever it shalt be?  I pray thee cease ere I join it."

  "Patience, my friend, I hath nearly completed our introduction."

  "Our introduction to what?  Dost thou now believe thyself in the company of some gôrgbu perhaps?  I hath harkened on quiet nights to thy tales of conversations with the trees of Greenwood.  Even thou admit that oft as not they dozed off mid-sentence.  Here now thou art conversing with one that doth remain asleep.  Helluin, sometimes a tree is simply a tree."

  "'Tis not simply a tree," Helluin protested.

  Her words were drowned out by a great creaking and shifting.  Beinvír's eyes went round and wide as the "tree" turned around to face them and blinked, then leaned forward to gaze more closely at them.  It had large dark eyes, ancient and sad, and they regarded her dolefully ere it straightened and spoke.

  "Hoooo-hummmm, the Hasty Elf and the Hastier Elf," it said in Silvan, "both new to Fangorn for I know thee not, and I should know thee I suppose, if thou had been here before.  Indeed if thou had been here before I would know thee."

  "As I was saying," Helluin began in Silvan, ere she resumed in Entish.  The Ent quickly cut her off, much to her chagrin.

  "Thy accent is abominable, Hasty Elf.  Wherever did thou learn thy Lamb Enyd, hmmmmm?"

  Helluin sighed and answered in Silvan.

  "At first from a company of Entwives in West Beleriand long ago, and thence more recently from Oldbark in Greenwood.  Thou say I hath an accent?"

  The Ent seemed to study Helluin again, taking his time and perusing her thoroughly.

  "Oldbark hath an affectation of enunciation much like what thou would call a lisp.  Oldbark, Leaflock, Firpate, Larchtongue, Mapletwig, and all the rest over there in Greenwood sound 'that way'," he reported with certainty.  "Now, of the Entwives, say thou hast truly seen them?  How long ago?  Where?  And when, most recently?"

  Helluin sighed.  This Ent was more hasty than any she could imagine.  He hadn't even introduced himself!  And yet he was hurriedly pressing her for tidings of the Entwives.  At her first meeting with Oldbark, it had been days ere they’d broached the topic.  She shook her head.

  "First, I would know thy name, or at least such of it as thou would hear me call thee by," Helluin said.  "Thence to the Entwives; I hath seen them but once.  'Twas 1,376 years ago that I met a wandering company upon the slopes of the Ered Wethrin in the Woods of Nuath, in the west of Beleriand that now lies 'neath the sea.  There I taught songs of Valinor to them and they taught their language to me.  And they told of how they wandered long and far out of their lands beyond the Ered Lindon, seeking after new gardens and ever west, and in doing thus had lost their way and lost their mates.  Shortly thereafter I was commanded by Ulmo to Avernien and saw them never again. I know not whether they came hence from Beleriand or were whelmed in its drowning, or were lost in the War of Wrath, for indeed much fire burned and many chasms opened in that time."

  "And thou hath seen them not in Eriador, nor in any field or garden in thy travels?"

  "Nay, I hath seen naught of them since.  Only south of Greenwood, ere the minions of Sauron the Accursed ravished that land, hath I seen fields and orchards they might hath found fair, yet those lands were then made barren and none dwelt there."

  The Ent seemed to bristle at her words, looming up and clenching his great hands.

  "I hath lived all my life in Eriador, and in those woods I hath seen naught of them either," Beinvír added in a placating tone.

  "Then they were betrayed by the Valar to wander west to naught but their doom," he said, but with sarcasm rather than sadness.

  Helluin found this statement made her vastly uncomfortable while Beinvír's eyes widened in shock.  'Twas very nearly a blasphemy!  Unconsciously she and Beinvír backed up several paces.

  "Say rather that they were drawn toward the Light of Aman and I should agree, but perhaps they found their doom with the times.  'Tis in the hearts of all noble beings to make their way into the West.  'Twas want of the blessing of the Undying Lands that compelled them thither," Helluin said. 

  "Nay, they were indeed betrayed as were all who were led astray and went thither to heartbreak and thralldom.  Only those of weak mind, standing bedazzled by the Light, found their happiness in that realm.  Did thou thyself not choose to leave, Golodh?"  He asked with condescension.  "Did not the treasures wrought in imitation of that realm lead all thy people to heartbreak and death?  Thou know of what I speak.  Whither now art the great lords and fathers of thy people?  In the Halls of the Dead; there only is thy reward.  Such is the gift of Manwë to the Children of Iluvatar, for in seeking dominion in Ea he can bestow no boon save death."  The Ent regarded her smugly as Helluin ground her teeth.

  "I hath stood 'neath the Two Trees and I hath lived in Aman," Helluin spat, "while thou hath lingered in thy forest.  I know the Blessed Realm while thou know'th it not.  Save thy ill-spirited words!  They hath no wisdom and they hath no persuasiveness.  Indeed thou speak with the viper's tongue of Morgoth, may he be a thousand times damned!"

  Unconsciously she had taken the Sarchram into her hand, while on the Onod's face an expression of rage grew to twist his features.  All 'round them a great rustling arose, as of a multitude of branches stirred by a sudden wind.  The earth 'neath their feet shook as with the beat of many great drums. 

  "Take not in vain the name of the true Lord of the Arda, or swiftly shalt thy doom come upon thee!"  The Onod threatened.  A ghostly pale light glowed in his eyes.

  He made to advance; Helluin raised the Grave Wing, her eyes crackling with blue fire.

  "What is thy name?"  She demanded, cocking back her arm.

  "Thou knows my name," he gloated, "and in thy time thou shalt worship me."

  "He is no Onod!"  A deep voice boomed from the shadowed forest.  "Out!  Out fell spirit!  You have no place here!  This is my realm and I shall strip thee of thy skin!"

  Even as the Onod took his first step toward the Elves there was movement, surprisingly swift, from all around.  A circle of mighty figures broke from the forest and converged on them.  In form each was different from the others, yet all were recognizably of one kindred.  The nameless one froze and watched them warily as they formed a standing ring of trunks that swayed inward and outward together as if blown to and fro by a fierce storm wind.

  To Helluin and Beinvír it seemed a violent and primitive dance, and the figures raised their booming voices in a chant, slow and deep, but with great volume and power.  And now Helluin understood what passed, for she had heard its like aforetime.  The chant found its counterpoint and a harmonic arose, the rumbling hum of a standing wave of sound that shook the ground in pulses, echoing and reechoing, and growing ever louder.  The Elves stopped their ears.  The very air throbbed.  And then a blinding flash exploded in their midst and all ended in silence.  The nameless Onod had vanished and in his place lay a scorched depression holding but a few smoldering embers.  A thin tendril of smoke rose from it.

  "Such were the songs of power of the Mighty from the West," Helluin whispered in awe, "and in the War of Wrath did they level mountains and lay low all foes."

  The Enyd gathered around the Elves and looked them over with expressions of concern.   

  "'Twas fortunate I was able to gather a moot," the elder who had introduced himself as Treebeard told them, speaking "hastily" in Silvan for Beinvír's benefit, "for one or two of us alone would not have sufficed to drive forth a spirit of such dark malevolence.  Thou art more brave and more foolish than Elves were in the old days," he told Helluin gravely, "to oppose a Maia thus…detestable, shape-shifting, impersonating, lying, brooo-hooom!"

  "Sauron?"  Beinvír asked just to be sure.

  "Foul-mouthed, black-hearted, life-leeching, soul-stealing, knee-bending, evil-eyed, greedy-handed, meat-eating, blood-drinking, bone-grinding, tooth-gnashing, skin-flaying, eye-blinding, thrall-binding, slave-driving, Yrch-breeding, Tor-farming, war-mongering, craven-bellied, villain of many names…not to be hasty, but…yes."

  Helluin groaned.  Again she hadn't recognized him.

  "Is he gone?"  Beinvír asked, looking around anxiously.

  "Oh most certainly," Treebeard assured her, "he knows better than to stay anywhere near so many of us.  It has been a very long time since he came hither, but we remember him.  An Age or two isn't long enough to forget Melkor's little slave.  He has no doubt gone back to whatever evil he was hatching ere he came hither seeking thee."

  "Us?"  The Green Elf squeaked.

  "He certainly didn't come here looking for the Onodrim," Treebeard said.  "He would have known the reception we'd give him…just like last time."

  Here the other Enyd shook their "heads" and murmured in agreement.

  “I am called by many names, and these are long as my years, but in your tongue I am Fangorną.  You see, young Elflings, ‘tis like this…” he began.  Then Fangorn preceded with a slow recitation, explaining their previous meetings with Sauron Gorthaur, their rejection of him along with his master long ago, and their Ages-long defense of the forest.  In the twilight, ere ever the Eldar marched west, the Onodrim had guarded the mighty woods of Middle Earth against the fell shadows of Melkor.  And the shadows had fled before them.  ą(Fangorn, Treebeard = fang(beard) + orn(large tree)  Sindarin)

  Helluin was busy furiously memorizing everything she heard.  Here was a wealth of information.  Treebeard was Fangorn and he was the forest, or at least he embodied its virtues.  (The concept, he'd explained, didn't translate well into kelvaric speech since its foundations were olvaric…the slow intertwinings of root fibers through soil and the ceaseless absorption of light and water and minerals, but all within a spiritual realm).  With the other Onodrim he kept order in Fangorn, much as Oldbark did in Greenwood.  They herded the trees, managed the Huorns, protected the olvar at Yavanna's wish, and kept strangers out of trouble if they sought it not or came without evil intent.

  Like their forest, they were more intense than the Enyd of Greenwood, more numerous and more active, and more cohesive as a group in exercising power.  Treebeard claimed that Fangorn Forest held a measure of ‘treeness’, (the Entish word didn't translate well into Elven tongues, he'd said), equal to that of Greenwood, but it was concentrated in a fraction of the space, hence their forest seemed more ‘treeish’.  It all made sense in a way.

  What amazed Helluin at first was that they could sing with such power as to drive off Sauron.  Then she recalled Oldbark’s beliefs, that in a far and ancient time, the trees had raised their voices in praise of the Valar when they lived on the Isle of Almaren ‘neath the Light of the Lamps.  Now after hearing their voices, more than by any other evidence did she find credence in his words.  And having lived amongst the Valar, a single fallen Maia seemed a small threat.  Indeed they seemed little impressed or concerned with him.  They could be indispensable allies. 

  "Would thou stand with us in war, should Sauron embattle the free peoples of the world?"  She asked hopefully.

  Treebeard regarded her for a long moment as if trying to understand her question.

  "We shall certainly drive him from our forest, if that is what thou mean, but if thou ask us to go to battle beyond our borders, then the answer is no.  Our power is granted to us for the protection of the forests and that responsibility was defined in our making.  'Tis our part in the Song of the Ainur.  We cannot change our doom."

  "But…" Helluin began, but Treebeard cut her off, a rare act for an Onod.

  "No buts!  It has always been thus and it will always be so for long as we can do so.  When all the world was forest under stars, Morgoth fled north to the mountains and ice.  He burned Anfauglith lest trees come thither from Beleriand.  Did you not know?  Yet now the forests contract.  They have been contracting since ere the sun and moon.  We fade, just as your people do.  'Tis the Song…and our part lasts not until the end.  We know this and accept it.  Time passes; all things must change."

  "I understand," Helluin said.  Yet she was already thinking of plans by which to draw Sauron into Fangorn and entrap him there.  Somehow Treebeard seemed to sense this.

  "'Tis not wise to overstep thy place, Noldo.  Ever that was your people's failing.  If he comes 'nigh then he shall come.  If not, then you shall not compel him hither.  Fear not; he was not meant to rule Arda any more than Melkor was, though both shall leave their mark in suffering, and that too was in the Song."

  Helluin looked at him.  It was against her nature to just sit by and let be, for it irked her to wait deedless rather than to try and shape her times for the better.

  "Morgoth was the marring of his age, as Sauron will be to his, the lesser servant of a greater master, and that fitting to the fading of all in Arda.  Ever shall good and evil contest, but with ever less power, for the morning of Arda has passed, its noon has come and gone, and the afternoon shall be a long waning to twilight.  You shall see much of it, Helluin, if that be thy fate."

  "I only want to help," she said, sounding more plaintive than she had intended.

  "You shall do your part," he told her calmly, "no more, no less.  We are all here for a reason, even if that purpose is ever hidden from us.  Go forward with faith in the Song; make the best choices you can and follow your heart."

  Helluin nodded and fell silent.  She looked over at Beinvír and saw that her friend was hugging herself and softly trembling, and that her eyes were wide and fearful.  Under Treebeard’s watchful gaze she moved behind the Green Elf and wrapped her arms around her, settling her chin atop the shorter elleth's head in a comforting way.  Beinvír closed her eyes and leaned back against Helluin accepting her closeness and warmth.

  "'Tis twice now he hath sought thee out," she mumbled.  "Sauron pays thee particular attention for some reason and we know not why.  I fear for thee greatly.  I fear for us."

  Helluin didn't know what to say to assuage those fears.  She didn't understand why Sauron would want anything to do with her.  It went without saying that they were enemies forever.  She had fought against his forces while he was Morgoth's lieutenant, but so too had many of the Sindar and all the remaining Noldor in Middle Earth.  She was neither royalty nor had she been a captain in Beleriand.  If anything, she had been an embarrassment to the Noldorin armies; undisciplined, ungovernable on the field, unpredictable, and given to fighting alone in a murderous frenzy.  She had made many of her comrades uncomfortable; indeed no few had come to fear her battle mania.  And she had always been something of an outsider even in her own culture, for she had been unsocial, a loner.  All she could do was give Beinvír a squeeze and softly kiss the top of her head.  The last thing she wanted to do was drag her friend into danger.  She'd been there, done that.

  With the Host of Fingolfin she had marched from Aman.  Beside her had marched her younger brother, Verinno, seeking adventure and hoping to see Middle Earth with his older sister, whom he'd believed could do anything.  Yet she hadn't even been able to protect him long enough for him to set foot on the Hither Shores.  She had lost him in the Grinding Ice.  She had failed him.

  Helluin had come to hate the House of Feanor for abandoning them at the Helcaraxe and burning the Telerian ships to strand them.  They had already inaugurated their rebellion with the kinslaying at Alqualonde where many of her friends had died, but in the far north, they had committed worse, for in causing Verinno's death, the act of kinslaying had become personal.  Six hundred years and more passed in Beleriand, and finally at Avernien she had slain Amrod and Amras and she had gone after Maedhros and Maglor intending to spill their blood as well.  She had hated them for their part in their father's crimes.  She had hated them for killing her brother, but she had hated herself as well.  She had failed him and she would not let such a thing happen again.  She would not fail her trusting new friend.

  "We shalt go back to Eriador," she said.  "In the morning we shalt turn south, retracing our steps, but this time fording Angren and avoiding the forest of the Enedwaith.  I shalt return thee safely to Eregion, thy home."

  "And what shalt thou do then?"  Beinvír asked, turning to face Helluin in the circle of her arms.  She was ever so worried for her even though she knew the Noldo had spent centuries wandering alone.  "Wilt thou stay or wilt thou journey thither alone?"

  Helluin chewed her lip a moment, thinking.  T’would be more pleasant to remain in Eriador with Beinvír and let Celeborn and Galadriel fare as they would, but in so doing she would lose the opportunity to solidify the future course of the Nandor of Lindórinand.  It wouldn't feel right.  She had urged King Lenwin to approach the Naugrim of Khazad-dum in friendship, and as she had been in Eregion in 992, she was still the best one to broker an alliance with the Dwarves.  Her heart told her that she could not abandon this mission, for its success could save many lives and perhaps an entire realm.

  "Once I know thou art safely home, I shalt make my way to Lindórinand by the quickest paths, and there promote an alliance between that realm and Khazad-dum.  Only I am known to all parties, those of the mellyrn forest, Durin's Folk, and the refugees of Ost-In-Edhil.  I must do this."  Ere she'd finished half her words, Beinvír was shaking her head, "no".

  "Much would I favor returning to my homelands," Beinvír said, "but this I will not hath upon my conscience; to set thee upon the quickest path to Lindórinand means thou shalt take the road through Eregion to Khazad-dum.  Thou would again come 'nigh Sauron without need.  Nay, we shalt not turn south.  Tomorrow we shalt continue north and I shalt go with thee to Lindórinand.  Besides, I desire to meet my long sundered kinfolk and carry word thence to their king of his cousin, Dálindir."

  "I can carry such tidings to King Lenwin, Beinvír," Helluin protested.  "In some future days of peace shalt we go thither, perhaps with Dálindir and all his company.  For now, I would see thee safe…"

  "No, Helluin!  I shalt not leave thee to tread dangerous paths alone and for no need!  We art close, are we not?"  She turned to Fangorn and asked, "How many leagues doth lie 'twixt here and the Golden Wood?"

 "The Golden Wood…Lórglad," the Onod mused as if sampling the flavor of the words, "Laurelindórinan, Valley of Singing Gold, for they sing in Lindórinand still, do they not?  Vale of the Land of the Singers it is now called.  Its southern borders lay 50 leagues north and Tuna-i-Aldoen but three more 'cross Celebrant.  'Tis a week's travel thither through the forest, Hastier Elf."

  "One week only," Beinvír admonished Helluin, "but if thou escort me to Eriador, then thou shalt not come there 'till mid-Cerveth, (mid-July), and this 9 Lothron, (May 9th)…or perhaps not at all should things go ill."  She shivered at the thought of Helluin passing 'nigh Ost-In-Edhil.  Sauron would certainly sense her presence.  He'd found her here in Fangorn even further away.

  "But…" Helluin began, yet for the second time that day she was cut off by the Onod.

  "Such a course makes sense," Treebeard reasoned, "and Eriador is more likely to become a battlefield than is Lindórinand, I think.  In Sauron's malice is lust to ruin first Eregion and Lindon, for there his chief enemies dwell.  He cares little yet for the Nandor while the Noldor and Sindar yet remain.  Go to Lindórinand, Helluin; take thy friend thither to see her kin.  There have been some changes you would do well to know."

  With a groan Helluin abandoned her protests for that time.  Though she still had many misgivings, she was glad of Beinvír’s company.  And so they continued on their way after some further advice from Treebeard about his forest. 

To be continued

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