In An Age Before – Part 16
Eriador - The Second Age of the Sun
"'Tis the same as last year and all the years ere that," Beinvír said sadly as she looked down the steep face of the downs at a small, empty field.
The falls sang brightly in the early morning light and the Withywindle sparkled as it ran off into the forest. Again they had come, and again no trace of the house of Iarwain Ben-adar could they see. It was 23 Ivanneth, (September 23rd), S.A. 1601; 340 years to the day since Helluin and Beinvír had met, and 340 years to the day since they had last entered the house of Iarwain and Maldiaving. Most years they had returned on this day if possible and there beside the waterfall they camped the night, for the Green Elf had never given up on her company and her king. Helluin humored her to the best of her ability despite her uneasiness near that place, and though they had indeed missed many years including the year before, the dark Noldo had come to doubt if Dálindir, Celegaras, and Gérorn would ever reappear. They had walked in strange company and had gone, (so she deemed), forever beyond the world.
Today Helluin was edgier than ever. Indeed since mid-year she had been afflicted with a dark foreboding, from no source she could identify save as an anniversary of worse recently past. On the night of the solstice of summer the year before, Helluin had bolted upright at the very moment of dawn, feeling as if she were being picked apart with needles. Something had felt as if it was stinging every inch of her skin, flaying her slowly, and then burrowing beneath. At first she had suspected homicidally aggressive ants. Even from the first moment she had resisted. By noon the onslaught had reduced to a level she could barely endure, but it hadn't diminished further for o'er a week. She had been miserable, snappish, and had wanted to fling the Sarchram at anything that moved. Her anger had been hair-trigger and directed blindly at whatever was discomforting her. Much of the time her eyes had been blazing.
Even after the torment abated she had felt edgy and nervous, and at times as if she were being watched by a hostile presence. She despised that intensely and closed her mind tight as a green mallorn nut, surrounding it thence with a virulent hatred for her unknown malefactor. It had been like fighting a pitched battle, but slowly those sensations too had faded, leaving her in grave doubt, uncertain and worried about what the next day would bring. It was as if she had driven off a host that now lurked 'nigh in the surrounding woods, invisible but threatening. Her nervousness had persisted all through the following year. A good measure of it was with her still, a year and a season later.
"Non nienorui, meldis nin¹," Helluin said softly as she wrapped a comforting arm about Beinvír's shoulders, "perhaps it shalt be different next year." ¹("Non nienorui, meldis nin", "I am sorry (lit. sorrowful) my (female) friend", Sindarin)
The Green Elf wrapped her arms around Helluin's waist and leaned against her to ease her disappointment. "Perhaps the night shalt reveal it this time," she said hopefully.
They started down the path from the downs, Helluin hating the yearly dashing of her friend's hopes, feeling helpless as she watched Beinvír clinging to the possibility of her friends' reemergence into the sunlight. She shalt never give up, Helluin thought, and she did not give up on me for all how foul my company hast been this year past. She stuck by me as I fought an enemy I still hath not seen. Never hast I known one so loyal, and greatly do I love her for it.
Despite her horror and alarm, Beinvír had remained at Helluin's side throughout the days and nights when the Noldo had been in anguish, barely able to contain her rage, and possessed of the certainty that someone or something was trying to command her will by usurping the power in the Sarchram. The Green Elf had refused to leave when, in a lucid moment, Helluin had warned her that she was close to losing control of her violence completely and falling down into darkness. Beinvír had listened to Helluin ranting hour after hour, likening the attack to unseen hands relentlessly jerking the weapon from her spiritual grasp so it could become an avenue to her fëa and a yoke to constrain her. Helluin had fought back of course, and because she was already linked to the Grave Wing, she had finally wrenched it again solely to her own will. Thereafter she had sealed herself to all external powers, encircling her spirit with a blinding wall of light and fire. Ere the defense stabilized, Helluin's body had radiated, blazing as it had once done 'neath the Two Trees in Aman, scorching her bedroll of dog skins and actually kindling grass fires 'nigh where she lay in their campsite.
Beinvír had been shocked at the display and horrified by the absolute conviction of Helluin's beliefs. Such an assault could come from only one being she could imagine, but never had she heard of him having such powers. She was still terrified for her friend. Sauron had already shown his interest in her and now he had tried to enthrall her fëa through the weapon Helluin had empowered. Yet when she'd voiced her suspicions, Helluin hadn't believed her. They had been two hundred leagues and more from Eregion; surely he couldn't reach so far and with such force. No tale spoke of such an attack. Not in all the years of war during the First Age had such a spell been known. Helluin was convinced it was the work of a lesser sorcerer much closer to hand, and her belief had been strengthened when no further attacks materialized, for Sauron was relentless. She had become relentlessly vigilant about their surroundings and deeply suspicious of any strangers ever since. After o'er a year she remained so still. For Beinvír as well as Helluin, S.A. 1600 had been a bad year; and 1601 but slightly better.
Tonight their campsite was the same one they had used so many times before; a large willow sheltering a small space 'nigh the Withywindle, just downstream from the falls. From there they could keep watch on any approach, whether from the forest, the downs, or the borders of the narrow corridor between. And they had an unobstructed view of the site where Iarwain's house had once stood. They wiled away the afternoon, Beinvír playing a slow tune on a carved flute, Helluin ceaselessly flicking her eyes to check any possible avenue of approach. Eventually Anor sank 'neath the forest canopy and dusk settled. Helluin started a hunter's fire in the same small, shallow pit they'd used two years before. Beinvír crafted a stew from the provisions they'd brought. The sky darkened and night fell about them like a deep cloak of soot, while overhead the stars shone, brilliant, unblinking, and undimmed by Ithil's light. Earendil was nowhere to be seen. Helluin freed her weapons. It had been first quarter the night before, but now the moon was absent.
Not thirty yards away the phantom house shimmered into existence like the ripples spreading on a placid brook. 'Twas as though a reflection of the world had shivered as something from behind forced its way in. Ere a few moments passed the effect was complete. The house of Iarwain Ben-Adar stood, solid as the land beneath it, windows glowing with warm golden light. For many heartbeats, Helluin and Beinvír watched, petrified in amazement. Then Beinvír was running forward towards the door.
"No, wait!" Helluin screamed as she found her feet and sped across the rolling lawn after her friend. She was terrified for the Green Elf. Imagining her falling into Iarwain's clutches brought her heart to her throat. She had been suspicious of him for centuries, but after the recent attack, her increased distrust kindled her to panic. Now she was frantic. Beinvír had followed her about the land all too much like her younger brother, Verinno, and Helluin would never forgive herself if a similar end befell another that had loved and trusted her. She hardly noticed the pair of rabbits scampering toward the house ahead of her.
Beinvír made it to the doorstep a stride ahead of Helluin, but the dark Noldo flung herself forward and tackled the Green Elf ere she reached the threshold. She had wrapped both arms tightly around her friend's legs to immobilize her. For a moment neither moved. And then the door swung open.
Maldiaving stood on the threshold and she was unchanged in every respect from the image of her in their memories. Her slender figure moved gracefully and her baby doll face was surrounded by a backlit halo of wavy, golden hair. She looked right past the prone bodies of the two Elves and made a beckoning gesture. The rabbits hopped up to her, passing right by Helluin and Beinvír, and obediently lying down side by side in front of Goldberry. She smiled at the coneys and then stepped into their backs! They became her slippers, just as Helluin had suspected. A small flow of water accompanied a squishing sound to create a puddle at her feet. Not an arm's length in front of their faces, the sight chilled them both to the bone. The Riv-er Daughter looked deeply into the night but paid no attention to Helluin and Beinvír though they lay sprawled at her feet. Indeed it was obvious that she couldn't see them! They stared at her in shock.
Then Iarwain appeared behind his beloved, filling the doorframe and blocking the light. From their point of view, his bright yellow boots and stumpy legs looked even thicker and more grossly out of proportion than they recalled. Whereas before he had appeared comical, now he seemed monstrous. He looked down, casting bright blue eyes upon them and smiling when he noticed his two guests lying on the ground, but he said nothing to them. Instead, he ushered Maldiaving back inside with a hand laid gently on her elbow. The door closed, leaving Helluin and Beinvír in the dark.
"Let me go!" Beinvír screamed.
"No! Something's wrong…indeed, everything's wrong!"
Helluin struggled to control her friend's legs as the Green Elf kicked and thrashed to get free. With great effort, she managed to drag Beinvír backward along the ground until they were a fathom from the house. Then she crawled up and covered the Green Elf with her body, effectively pinning her in place.
"They should hath seen and greeted us, even were they not to make us welcome this night," Helluin hissed, trying desperately to reason with her, "rather, Maldiaving saw us not, and Iarwain ignored us. We art not welcome here."
"I won't leave until I hath at least seen my friends," Beinvír said stubbornly, "I shan't!"
"Then through the windows we shalt examine the view," Helluin told her firmly, "but I shalt not allow thee to enter. 'Tis perilous; Iarwain is perilous, and I greatly fear for thee. I fear that should thou enter, then like thy friends thou shalt never leave, and I…I could not bear it."
At this, Beinvír's eyes widened. The dark Noldo seldom proclaimed the depth of her concern though the Green Elf felt it always nowadays. Very disturbing was the realization that Helluin had never believed her friends would be free. Beinvír finally understood why Helluin had been so nervous coming hither every year. Her friend deemed the house a death trap.
When Helluin had finally gotten Beinvír's word that she would look carefully first, they rose and moved to the windows along the front of the house. These looked in on the main room; the dining area to the left of the door, the hearth and sitting area to the right.
At first what they saw seemed reassuring. Seated around the dining table were Iarwain, Goldberry, Dálindir, Celegaras, Gérorn, and two others whom they didn't know, a young Dwarf of Nogrod, judging by his attire, and a barely civilized Man. The company was merry, sharing a bountiful feast in good humor, with much banter and many jests. But as they watched they realized that though all appeared to eat, none actually did so. Nor did they drink. 'Twas all a mimicry, a miming of behavior well known, but shorn of its actual execution and perhaps its need. And their friends were clothed exactly as they had been on that night 340 years before. Then Helluin looked down and noticed that rather than wearing comical slippers, each of the guests sat with their feet immersed in a bucket of water! She pointed this out to Beinvír and the Green Elf froze. Then she started shaking. Without bloodshed or violence the scene had taken on the most profound horror. Like Goldberry, Iarwain had animated his 'friends' and retained their company.
"They art not really alive, are they?" Beinvír asked in a hollow voice.
Helluin could only take the shuddering elleth¹ in her arms and hug her close, resting her chin atop her hair. She stroked her back and kissed the top of her head. ¹(elleth, sing.generic term for a female Elf. Sindarin)
"I do not believe so, no," she said softly. "I do not think they hath lived in a very long time. None hath dwelt in Nogrod during this Age, and yet the Dwarf is young. A millennium and more hath passed since he came hither, I wager. And look thou at the Man's raiment…'tis like something from a tale of the Elder Days ere the Edain came to Beleriand and learnt the craft of weaving cloth."
Indeed the Man was dressed entirely in hides and skins. He wore no work of metals, only a woven bracelet of leather, and his face had never known the touch of a razor. Beinvír nodded through her tears, accepting the evidence she saw before her eyes.
"I am sorry," Helluin whispered, knowing the words would provide no solace.
Inside the dining room the meal concluded. Maldiaving moved to clear the table and the rest stood and thanked her. She disappeared repeatedly into the kitchen area, bearing away the still full platters of food and pitchers of drink. In the main room, the company took their seats before the fire, bringing their buckets with them as one would tankards or goblets. Shortly thereafter Goldberry came to bid them goodnight ere she retired. And finally as they watched, Iarwain entertained his 'guests' with tales and lore, finally putting them to sleep.
To Helluin and Beinvír, who stood outside the window watching, the whole evening seemed to take but a little while. Indeed 'twas hard to tell the passing of time, for the stars moved not in the sky and no moon made its way thither on its course. All seemed timeless and suspended. Finally they turned to leave.
They had walked but a few paces away when the door opened and Iarwain stood upon the threshold. He surveyed the night and then looked directly at the two Elves, seeing them again and finally acknowledging their presence. Then he sang them chilling words to a happy tune and both found the performance grotesque.
Tippy-tee-tine, thy friends are mine,
They stay, hey, hey, they stay to dine.
With Tom and Goldberry by the falls,
Ever sup-a-lup-luping in Bombadil's halls.
From un-dun-der the sun and un-dun-der the moon,
To join-oin me, tra-la, in my merriest tune.
Hey never to fly, hey-yay, and never to die,
As all-lal-lal-lall of the Ages pass by.
But 'tis not so mould-oldy-old cold,
My steal-a-weal-ing away thus their souls,
For they-hey came hence to me freely 'tis true,
Not like the attack-ack-ack-ack by the Werelord on you.
So go now your way to your parts in the play,
To the fell-dell-dell derry-o deeds of the day.
The call of war sings, yo, on bloody black wings,
A-timber-a-tinder o'er Celebrimbor's Three Rings.
Most of it was gibberish save the confirmation of their fears for their friends' fates. Helluin deemed it a taunt, and despite her belief in the danger, she drew her weapons and moved to advance on the strange character who called himself Tom Bombadil.
Iarwain let forth a deep, rolling belch, but whether it was a farewell or a command the Elves had no idea. In the next moment, Iarwain and his ghostly house shimmered and vanished from the world. O'erhead the stars twinkled and the moon was revealed, half shy of full, just rising above the forest. 'Twas early in the night still, as if but an hour had passed since all had first appeared. That night for the first time, Helluin and Beinvír removed from the falls and made a new camp upon the downs. Helluin wrapped Beinvír in her arms and tenderly held her in the dark as she cried her broken heart out.
There a messenger from Lindon found them the next morning. He walked to their camp and hailed them formally upon sight, producing also a scroll bearing the royal seal.
"Helluin Maeg-mormenel, thou art summoned to Lindon by the authority of Ereinion son of Fingon who doth seek thy counsel. Thou art not at liberty to refuse thy king, for his need is great. If thy companion be Beinvír of the Laiquendi, than she too is summoned, though without word of command. I am to lead thee thither."
With a groan Helluin nodded and began stamping out the fire. She and Beinvír quickly packed their bags and followed the messenger south, noting that he made directly for the southern road and avoided the forest. They traveled only a few miles before finding a passage out of the downs and they came thence to flat land. There awaited a company of a dozen Noldor on horseback bearing the livery of the High King, and with them were two horses without riders. Their messenger mounted one and gestured the two friends to the other. Helluin grimaced and mounted, then reached down and hauled Beinvír up behind her. 'Tis probably 500 years since last I rode, she thought, and then but briefly. What haste hath seized Gil-galad that he requires us now to ride? Art the words of Iarwain's silly staves to come crashing down upon us so soon?
Indeed it appeared just so, for the company set out at a canter and slowed their pace for naught but the horses. 'Twas 115 leagues to Harlond and another 45 by boat to Forlond. On 3 Narbeleth, (October 3rd), the company passed the walls of Lindon after a journey of but nine days, and they came to the court of the king.
Helluin was keeping a concerned eye on her friend as she walked for the first time in these surroundings so strange to her. The Noldo had come to easily recognize the wide-eyed looks of amazement that accompanied the deep uncertainty and wariness of cities that was characteristic of the Laiquendi. Now Beinvír was staring at everything, her eyes flitting back and forth o'er tapestries and ornaments, carvings and paintings, and the inhabitants of the court. All the rich furnishings seemed strange even to Helluin's eyes when she saw them with awareness of Beinvír's astonished gaze. She took everything in, noting what had changed and what had remained the same. At the entrance to the king's chambers a herald smote upon the carved doors. When a chamberlain opened these from within, the herald announced the guests.
"Here come'th in answer of thy summons, thy vassal, Helluin Maeg-mormenel, and with her, Beinvír of the Laiquendi of Eriador." He bowed them in with a sweeping gesture so effeminate as to be comical. Helluin rolled her eyes and Beinvír stifled a giggle.
The room was not large, but ‘twas richly appointed as a study with bookcases about the walls, a finely carved desk, a meeting table, and a grouping of couches and chairs. Gil-galad was seated at his desk, while in chairs before him sat Galdor, Elrond, Cirdan, and surprisingly, Celebrimbor. Helluin's eyes widened at the sight of him and Beinvír greeted him with a smile, for to her, his was the only familiar face. He smiled in return, obviously happy to see them well, and rose in greeting. And then Helluin received another shock. Celebrimbor was not only slightly taller than he had been aforetime, but appeared stronger, and if possible, younger as well. Helluin compared him with her memories and confirmed her impression. He was changed; now more fair and more vigorous than she remembered.
He clasped Beinvír and Helluin in hugs of welcome, then resumed his seat, mildly embarrassed for having acted before his king had even spoken. Gil-galad seemed to understand and merely nodded to him to ease his discomfort at his display.
"Helluin, welcome again to Lindon. Beinvír, welcome at last. Please be seated," the king said informally, wasting no time. "I hath summoned thee hither, for a great matter is afoot that calls for thy counsel, Helluin." Here Gil-galad looked pointedly at her and said silently, and scarce could I assure thy presence in haste without making the summons to Beinvír as well, for thou hast become inseparable it seems. I apologize for thy inconvenience, yet thou hast been party to fell doings only revealed of late.
"Lord Celebrimbor shalt explain," the king said aloud, passing the topic to the craftsman and sitting back in his chair. 'Twas as if by remaining less involved in the discussion, Gil-galad sought thereby to lessen his involvement with its subject. He set an elbow on the arm of his chair and rested the side of his head in his palm.
Celebrimbor cleared his throat nervously and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He looked around at the gathering and blinked, then finally took a deep breath and began to speak his tidings.
"'Tis a chronicle of fell deeds I bring thee; of gullibility exploited and trust betrayed, and of dreams twisted to the ruin of all. Thou all know of the revolt of the Gwaith-I-Mirdain and of the o'erthrow in 1375 of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. And thou warned me; indeed thou sent to me Helluin, who first discerned the truth, that amongst my people had come no less a foe than Sauron, the base Master of Lies. In her few hours in Ost-In-Edhil she even suffered speech with him, yet I denied her rede and presumed ignorance, and then did naught to ferret him out.
Indeed never did he appear to me in any form suspicious to eyes that saw but with hope, only that which they wanted to see. Never did I discern him. Yet I am now convinced he walked long amongst us, and oft acting through others the better to disguise his course, o'er many years inspired the ambitions and elevated the craft of the Gwaith-I-Mirdain. Aid indeed he brought us to our ruin, temptations irresistible, and all the more for we deluded ourselves, deeming our own hands and minds the source of all we learned. And so with subtle guile he taught us, and by our own hearts' desires ensnared us; a fell Lord of Gifts indeed.
Much we learnt in the years following the rebellion, for secret built upon secret, and this was added to essays taken long before." Here Celebrimbor cast his gaze for a moment on the Sarchram, and seeing this, Helluin became suspicious, even of him. Someone had attacked her through it, and who knew better its nature save Celebrimbor who had helped forge it? A glow of blue flame kindled in her eyes. He looked away and continued.
"In the year 1374 I finally succeeded in recreating the power of the Elessar of Gondolin, a jewel whose virtue lay in healing and holding at bay somewhat the decay of the Mortal Lands. But long years before, in 1123, with Helluin and Narvi of Khazad-dum, I had a hand in forging the Sarchram, into which Helluin bequeathed a measure of the power of her fëa, thus binding it to her will. In these two triumphs were wrought the seeds of our people's downfall…the achievement of staying the fading of the world, and the binding and empowerment of a work with personal power.
Thence to my mind came whispers, inspirations, and at last after many years of discovery, the techniques for making Rings of Power were perfected. Not rings such as thou carry." Here, Celebrimbor looked sadly at Helluin, and his hand rose to clutch a gold chain that hung about his neck. Strung upon it were sixteen rings of gold, each with a colored stone. "Nothing so easily visible or restricted in form to the craft of slaying did we create. The Rings of Eregion were not made as weapons of war, but rather as aids to enrichment or for staving off the decay of time. In form, they art rings such as one might wear to adorn a finger.
Their forging began in 1500, and somewhere around that time I believe Sauron left us to perfect our craft, knowing his knowledge had been received and would bear fruit were he present or not, for his touch was upon us and his mission achieved. In light of later events I believe he chose then to depart, the better to order his own realm and to construct there his own devices.
With my guildsmen I crafted these rings," Celebrimbor declared, raising the chain of rings for all to see. They appeared well made, but unremarkable to the eye. "Seven did I make as gifts to raise the majesty of the lords of Durin's Folk, my friends and brothers in craft. Nine I made for Men, mighty gifts for those most prone to dying, as aids to the prowess of our allies of old, the Men of Westernesse. In the making of each I learned and refined my process, ever building on the techniques of empowerment. And then in 1590 did I begin the hallmarks and masterworks of my craft; Three Rings for the Lords of the Eldar, each cleaving to an esoteric element, fire, water, and air."
Here again Celebrimbor paused, and though it seemed that he felt all had come to ill, still all perceived he felt still some measure of pride in the accomplishment. And those rings he did not show forth to the council. But now the changes in him made sense to Helluin. Of course he had tested his creations, and he had tested their virtue on himself! Whatever power he had donated to empower all the rings, the later use of the three had recouped it for him and more. And if the evidence was noticeable in his hroa, what effect had it brought to his fëa? Helluin found herself forming many questions.
"For ten years all went well," Celebrimbor continued, "and many trials of the Rings of Power did we successfully make in those days. Yet all too soon the bright dawn of our accomplishment gave way to a dark night of horror. In 1600, at dawn on the Ré i Anaro, those wearing the Three Rings were assailed in spirit."
At his words, Helluin sprang to her feet. Questions aside, her impression was that somehow the power that Celebrimbor had created had contrived to attack her and very nearly enslave her soul. Ere anyone could move, Anguirel lay unsheathed in her right hand, the Grave Wing in her left, and the blue fire flared in her eyes.
"He is not the one!" Gil-galad screamed, leaping up from his chair and leaning across the desk with hands outstretched in supplication. "No harm hast come to thee from him!"
Helluin froze, her eyes flicking back and forth between Gil-galad and Celebrimbor, and for many heartbeats no one moved. In her eyes they saw their deaths but a moment away, and in that moment felt the terror of her enemies of old. But slowly the king's words penetrated her blood rage; vengeance, she saw, had escaped her, for she would not exact it upon the undeserving. The fire dimmed and she relaxed, and at last replaced her weapons. All breathed more freely as she resumed her seat.
"My apologies, Celebrimbor," she said, feeling shame as she watched him unclench the whitened knuckles griping the arms of his chair. "Upon the Ré i Anaro in 1600, I too was assailed, and fought then a grim internal struggle, for I perceived one would enslave my spirit, and that enemy used as a gateway to my fëa, the Sarchram, empowered as it is and bound to my will. Long and bitter was that fight, and at the last did I seize back the sovereignty of it and sever the connection. Yet I felt for long some malevolent eye upon me, and I was forced to barricade my spirit with light and fire."
"And thou prevailed?" Celebrimbor asked. "Thou wrenched free thy weapon and expelled thy enemy?"
"Indeed so, and barely," she answered, casting her eyes to Beinvír seated beside her who alone of all of them had not feared her wrath, for she had seen much of it in the last year.
"Then thou should know that thou hast alone of all the Noldor defeated Sauron Gorthaur in a contest of wills," the jewel-smith said, "and thence contrived to fence him out. The like hast not happened since Luthien wrested from him the mastery of Minas Tirith."
And Helluin, hearing his words, felt her teeth commence to chattering and a blackness rising up in her vision that for a moment took her in a swoon. 'Twas only for a moment, but Beinvír saw and grabbed her hand. Any validation the Green Elf felt at the confirmation of her suspicions was lost in her fear for her friend and her pride in her as well. The internal battle had been harrowing to watch, for no aid could she give save her presence, and the aftermath had continued for a year and a season. The identity of the enemy had been unresolved. The Werelord of Iarwain's song! 'Twas Sauron…of course! Now the mystery had been solved, and terrifying as it was, still it seemed better to know the enemy than to be forever wondering. Helluin mastered herself, took a deep breath, and tried to relax.
"Sauron, huh?" She muttered, "Go thou figure."
"Celebrimbor, what became of the Ringwearers?" Beinvír nervously asked.
The guildmaster gulped and looked down, his face saddened by the memories. It had been horrible and he still cringed, seeing his fellow jewel-smiths, his friends, fading before his eyes, control of their own fëar¹ sapped from them as they were reduced to wraiths. Surely they would have become undead servants of Sauron with no wills of their own. Only with his own rejuvenated power had he been able to tear Narya from his own finger and wrest from the others the rings of water and air, but to do it, he had been forced to slay them both. ¹(fëar, "spirits" =fëa(spirit, spark) + -r(pl.) Quenya)
"They waned and became as ghosts, wraiths I deemed them, no doubt under the dominion of the Enemy. They began to vanish before my eyes, crying out in fear and anguish," he said, his voice raw with sorrow. "I had no time and knew no other course. I was forced to take steel to them."
And I escaped a like fate by naught but the skin of my teeth, Helluin thought. Had she known her enemy, the horror would have very nearly paralyzed her. And what she heard next left her in amazement.
"During the attack I perceived the Enemy," Celebrimbor said when he resumed his tale with a shaking voice, "for I myself wore the Red Ring. I saw his mind and it was terrible; the endless depth of cruelty, the unquenchable lust of power, and the eternal hatred he bears us very nearly o'erthrew me. Ere I tore the ring from my hand, these staves I heard in my mind. One ring to rule them all. One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
He hath made a Master Ring, empowered by and bound to him, and it shalt seek out all others and he shalt make them subject to his will. This he did in hopes of enslaving the greatest amongst us, but perceiving him, we hath removed the Three and hidden them, and never shalt we use them so long as he shalt hold his One."
After that, the group fell for some time into silence, each alone with their thoughts. In hearing the tale for the first time, Helluin and Beinvír were astonished and horrified. The effect was little less on those who had heard it told aforetime. All felt thankful for the courage and decisiveness of Celebrimbor, for alone of them all, he had come face to face with the Lord of Treachery and known him. The smith had retained the presence of mind to thwart the Enemy's plan despite the terror that had assailed him.
But the words of the Enemy's incantation were all too familiar as well. One ring to rule them all. One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. Sauron's staves mirrored closely those upon the Sarchram. One ring that flies to find them. One ring to send them all unto the Void and in its darkness bind them. In intent they were close cousins in their darkness. Helluin knew 'twas her own darkness that had inspired that of the Great Enemy, for he had read the cirth in the tavern of Ost-In-Edhil and he had certainly not forgotten. To her shame, the hatred inside herself had shown Sauron a way to advance his dominion; a weapon empowered by his own fell spirit, dedicated to bringing all others under his will by binding their spirits as wraiths. He had but followed her example, differing only by retaining mastery of his vanquished.
Surely the others must hold me responsible at least in some degree, she thought, and they hath ever feared my darkness. Now they hath good reason to fear it yet the more.
"I pity most the two who fell to such an undeserved fate," Beinvír said softly, "and to be remembered thus for all time amongst the Wise. History shalt name them as yet another pair of Sauron's victims and then blame them for their ambition. How very sad."
"History shalt not remember them thus, for these doings art to remain secret," Gil-galad said sternly. "Our fate rests upon keeping hidden the Three, holding them beyond Sauron's grasp and hoping that someday they can be used freely after his fall. Should any know enough to ask, all three were removed when Sauron first put on the Master Ring…and they were then destroyed. Indeed, so too with the Seven and the Nine."
Around the desk the others nodded in agreement. Helluin voiced the only dissent.
"I deem the Three should be destroyed indeed, or else sent across the sea," she commented, "for they art not in accord with the Way of Arda as the Valar made it, and they art made to forestall the fading that is part of the Will of Iluvatar. In keeping these things, we damn ourselves with ambitions of power beyond our due. With the seven and the nine we endanger too our friends."
"If they do indeed exist against the Will of Iluvatar, then they shalt not be received in Aman," Galdor said (with certainty). "Yet from ambition hath the Eldar achieved much in Arda, and all was surely foreseen in the Song.
"I hold hope that Sauron shalt indeed fall someday," Gil-galad said (hopefully), "and then the need of healing shalt be great. Only by the power of the Three Rings shalt we be able to undo what his malice hath wrought. Surely such a desire cannot be evil."
"I should agree, my Lord, for in Sauron we see returned Morgoth's evils, yet upon a lesser scale," said Elrond (eruditely). "And did not the greater fall aforetime? Surely then so too the lesser. I too hath hope."
"And I," said Cirdan (reasonably), "yet even should the Three be received in the Undying Lands, no surety of safekeeping would that confer. Were not the Silmarils taken from Formenelos? So I hath heard tell. So too could the lesser act in the footsteps of his master. Sending the rings thus to Aman would but remove them from our hands who made them, and for the cure of whose ills they were made."
"And I should not see such potential for good lost to us upon the Hither Shores," Celebrimbor said (determinedly). "Already they hath been paid for in blood. I should not see the sacrifice of my friends made empty by sending them o'er the sea."
Helluin noted that the others were in unanimous agreement that the rings should be hidden, and in unanimous denial of the danger they created. And they were unanimously hopeful that someday the rings could be used. The problem was that they had not been needed before, but now by their very existence, they had precipitated a cause for war, being objects of lust for both the Eldar and the Enemy. All seek after treasure, yet one without treasure is seldom robbed, she thought. Just one incident of use for whatever dire need, and Sauron would come charging down their throats, laying waste to all in search of what had escaped him. Yet in light of her part in things, she felt it not her place to offer comment and so she held her peace.
What think thou? Helluin asked silently as she met Beinvír's eyes.
I think we should go somewhere far, far away, the Green Elf replied, but barring that, I think we should prepare for war. Their secrecy shalt not fool Sauron long.
I agree, but the only place I know that I suspect shalt be untouched by war is the house of Iarwain Ben-adar, and I should not go there, for I deem him a threat no less than Sauron. I think we shalt be forced to war, though I know not when. I should like to know how things stand in Mordor.
And I should say that, save perhaps the house of Iarwain, no place would I ill-favor more than Mordor, Beinvír said silently, nor should thou go thither seeking he who sought thee, and made war already upon thee. Leave thou such errands to others.
I shalt do so. No desire hath I to go thither, merely tidings do I crave. I suppose there is naught else for us here. Art thou ready to go?
Indeed so. Save seeing Celebrimbor safe, I should hath done well not to come hither.
"By thy grace, my Lord," Helluin said, rising to her feet, her feelings of guilt and shame making flight from their presence all the more desirable, "I cannot think of aught else to add in counsel and would take my leave."
Beinvír too was standing, preparing to offer her farewell, but ere she could say aught, the king roused himself from his thoughts and spoke.
"Indeed it seems our course is decided, but now we must prepare for war." Here he looked pointedly at Helluin with a glance she both recognized and had dearly hoped to avoid. "Helluin, I can think of no other so suitable as thyself to convey to Tar-Telperien in Armenelos our suspicions that Sauron shalt soon offer battle. Therefore I appoint thee Embassy to Númenor, and direct thee thither forthwith. A ship is indeed docked at this moment in Mithlond, outbound for Romenna on the morrow. Of course, Beinvír shalt share in thy office under auspice of the crown, if she should see fit to accompany thee."
Beinvír, being the only one there not a subject of the Noldorin King, groaned out loud. The idea of taking Beinvír to Númenor brought icy fingers to close around Helluin's neck, but she merely sighed and nodded, feeling in her heart that she deserved no less.
"As thou command, my Lord," she said, dipping her head.
C'mon, Beinvír, let's get out of here ere he asks me to go 'check up on Mordor' as well.
They fled Lindon in irritation and made their way forthwith to Mithlond by horse.
And when they were gone, Gil-galad said, "Neither shalt history remember the guilt of Helluin Maeg-mormenel, nor the part she played in the foundation of our Enemy's designs. Ever hath she been possessed by some darkness, and I fear what the coming years shalt bring." None of them had known her before the crossing of the Helcaraxe.
To Be Continued
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