In An Age before – Part 17
Númenor - The Second Age of the Sun
Viava Laireo¹, the great ship of Númenor had indeed been docked at Mithlond, and she weighed anchor and sailed on the morning tide of 4 Narbeleth, (October 4th), S.A. 1601. This ship was of even greater dimensions than the Rámaen they had ridden in from Lond Daer to the mouth of the Sîr Angren in 1375. She was neither an explorer nor a man-o-war, but rather a glorified cargo ship carrying off to Westernesse a precious hoard of timber. At o'er 140 yards in length, her beam was 70 feet and her draft was 30. Her hull rode low, yet still her main deck stood 35 feet above the waves in a calm. And within her main hold lay o'er 430,000 board feet of rough sawn lumber, enough to build two and a half vessels of her size. She would break no speed records, but she was the most stable ship Helluin had ever imagined. ¹(Viava Laireo, "Summer Wind", laire (summer) + -o (gen.) + vaiva (wind), lit. trans. "Wind of Summer". Quenya)
Helluin and Beinvír were made comfortable in an aft cabin just forward of the captain's own, on the port side opposite that of the sailing master. As ambassadors, they were considered dignitaries, a status Helluin found sometimes a nuisance, but Beinvír enjoyed thoroughly for they regularly shared the captain's table.
When they'd first set out, many of the junior officers had tried to convince the tall Noldo to refrain from climbing the rigging, but Helluin had desired the high eyepoint of the mastheads, especially at night. Finally in exasperation, she had challenged all comers to a 'rat race', a contest of haste up and through the rigging. The competition had not even been close. With her Elven balance and stamina she had bested the mariners in speed, agility, and endurance. Finally to cement her point, she had walked the spars of the topgallants as easily as she would the branches of a great tree. The mariners had been astonished at her display, looking up to where she stood comfortably on the five-inch diameter spar, contentedly staring out to sea while taking the ship's roll 120 feet above the deck. Yet she was anything but at ease.
There had been no conceivable way to dissuade Beinvír from accompanying her across the sea. And Beinvír was Laiquendi, part of the kindred of the Nandor, but long before, the Nandor had been Teleri. They had heeded to call of Orome and begun the march west. Like King Lenwe in Belfalas, the sea longing lay in their hearts, and the stirring of it left them yearning for the Undying Lands. Indeed of all the Elven kindreds they held the greatest affinity for water. At best it was a perilous desire lying dormant, only awaiting a catalyst to become an ever-present longing. Now Beinvír was again aboard a ship upon the sea, and this time they were sailing…sailing west. Númenor lay halfway to Tol Eressea, far out of sight of the Hither Shores, and in Númenor, Eldar of the Lonely Isle were wont to come in their swan-prowed ships to visit at the City of Eldalondë in the western province of Andustar.
I could lose her there, Helluin thought as she stared ahead across the waves, and she would be the first of her people I know of to complete the journey. I should miss her terribly, and yet she deserves the chance to make that choice. She would find great wonder and happiness in the Undying Lands…and she would be safe there, safe from Sauron and safe from the coming war. In many ways it would be the best choice for her.
What would staying in Middle Earth gain her? A chance to die in battle? A chance to see me again in a bloodthirsty rage? She hast seen me fight, but not for years or decades or centuries on end. And this war shalt go on for many years; I it feel in my heart. We shalt be fighting Sauron for an Age. The Avari of Greenwood fled from the battle against the Yrch; they fled from the horror of the slaughter…and they fled from me. Compared to what lies in store, that battle was nothing. The violence of wars such as were fought in Beleriand would steal the light of her eyes and the warmth of her heart. I should despise myself for bringing her to such memories as art born of war. T'would kill me to know I'd dragged her into a lifetime of fighting that had stolen her laughter and joy. She would be better off with her love of living preserved in the Immortal Lands of the West.
As a friend…indeed as one who loves her I can do naught but offer her the chance to make a choice. And I shalt miss her; oh how I shalt miss her, but better that than to lose another one dear. I failed you, Verinno, my brother. But I shalt not fail you, Beinvír.
Days of fair winds gave Viava Laireo a steady speed of 10 knots, and she ran the 1,900 sea miles to Romenna in eight days. Thus in the last of the morning's darkness on 11 Narbeleth, Helluin watched as the Meneltarma loomed up from the sea to greet the dawn.
Beside her on the small talan atop the foremast, Beinvír watched in silent wonder. Never had one of the Laiquendi sailed so far west. The wind blew back her chestnut hair, animating its cascading waves, and the light of joy filled her grey eyes. She had thrived on the sea air and adventure, but more than that, Helluin knew the Elven sea longing in her heart was being prodded by their sojourn. Beinvír fairly glowed with excitement, and Helluin thought she had never seen her friend looking so lovely. Fair of face and form thou art, and a treasure to my heart, she thought, thou hast become more than a friend to me. She wrapped her arms about Beinvír's waist and pulled her close as she rested against the mast. The Green Elf leaned back with a sigh and clasped her hands o'er Helluin's larger ones, and together they watched as Arien brought forth Anor to cast the first rays of gold upon the hallowed mount of Númenor.
At the court of Queen Tar-Telperien their reception was far different than what Helluin had endured aforetime during the reign of Tar-Ancalime. Though Tar-Telperien was the great-granddaughter of Tar-Ancalime and looked very nearly exactly like her, there the similarities ended. Telperien was now 281 years old, and had ruled thus far for 45 years. She was much beloved by her subjects and cared deeply for her people. Ironically she had never married, (as her great-grandmother Ancalime had despite her aversion to and distrust of men), taking her duties far more seriously than her suitors, and though many had sought to woo her, she had accepted none. In the place of an Heir of her body stood her nephew, Minastir, 154 years her junior, whom she favored as a grandson.
In 1375, Captain Ciryandur of the Rámaen had told Helluin and Beinvír of the then-Heir and of her exact likeness to the dark Noldo. Now, 226 years later, she was still a very handsome woman, and though her black mane was shot with streaks of grey, the lines about her eyes came from laughter. She held herself regally, but in comfort and grace, not with the formal stiffness of the first queen. And her voice, though steady and commanding at need, was warm and wise and held naught of condescension or malice.
Helluin and Beinvír first met her formally in the Hall of Kings, when they presented themselves in their official capacity as Embassy to the Crown of Númenor from High King Gil-galad. Helluin noted during their walk down the echoing hall that three portrait statues, carved of the same white marble as all the others, had been added, those of Tar-Ancalime, Tar-Anarion, and Tar-Súrion. When the two Elves finally stood before the throne, the queen had regarded them a moment with the hint of a grin on her lips, an expression eerily familiar to Beinvír from the face of her friend.
"Welcome, Helluin Maeg-mormenel of the Host of Finwe, and Beinvír of the Laiquendi of Eriador," she said, rising from her throne and stepping down from the dais to greet them. At Helluin's formal bow she chuckled and reached out, taking each in their turn in her arms for a hug.
Telperien stretched up on her toes and into Helluin's ear as she held her close she whispered, "My dear, thou must share with me forthwith the secret of thy preservation, as I hath some wrinkles and sags I should like to dismiss." She winked at Helluin's shock, one corner of her lips quirking in a phantom grin.
When she held Beinvír she whispered, "Had I one such as thou for company I should surely still be young, for who would leave such a companion even at the command of the One." Beinvír actually blushed at the words and the queen laughed out loud.
When she stepped back from her flustered guests the queen grew serious.
"Thou art dispatched to the Court of Armenelos on behalf of His Majesty King Gil-galad, and thy tidings art of great importance to me and my people. Yet I deem such as thou may bear should perhaps first be spoken to my ears ere they pass thence to the court. We shalt take counsel together in my chambers shortly. In the meantime I would beg thy indulgence. I hath mariners returning to greet and several other matters of the regency to attend. I pray thee rest while I work and I shalt send for thee at the earliest moment."
"My thanks for the warmth of thy welcome. We shalt attend thee at thy convenience, O Queen," Helluin said ere she bowed.
"Thou hast my thanks also for thy welcome," Beinvír said with a smile, "and for thy warm words. I fear ere long I shalt become quite insufferable 'neath thy praise."
The queen smiled broadly at them both and then beckoned a chamberlain thither to attend them. They were shown to rooms nearby within the citadel, and Helluin, knowing the floor plan from her visits aforetime, appreciated that they were honored with lodgings in the wing of the royal family. It was a generous and none too subtle gesture on the queen's part, indicative of her honor for their kinship, for she was Helluin's descendant of the 6th generation.
"And so now I know how thou shalt appear with the advancement of thy age," Beinvír teased, "say, 5,000 or 10,000 years hence."
Helluin raised an eyebrow at her comment, replying, "Whatsoever praise the queen hath paid thee hath already made thee insufferable."
'Twas about two hours later when a knock came upon their door. Beinvír answered it and ushered in a man of early middle age, tall, dark of hair and grey-eyed, well built and quite handsome. When Helluin first saw him she gasped out loud.
"Thy pardon I beg, my Lady," he said, bowing to them each I turn, then looking to Helluin with concern he said, "I hath no intention of causing thee unease. Pray tell me how I hath upset thee."
Helluin had by this time mastered herself and suppressed her gut reaction. He was all too familiar to her and at his first appearance she had thought herself confronting a ghost. For who in Arda know whither go the spirits of Men who hath died?
"'Tis no fault of thine, my Lord," she said, noting the ring of the royal house upon his finger, "'tis merely that thy features favor so closely one known to me aforetime, and for a moment I thought myself beholding the spirit of one dear and long departed."
At this he cocked a brow at her in surprise, unsure of how to proceed. That expression of face mirrored one she had seen oft before. He tilted his head a fraction in question, and this gesture too was familiar.
"Thou art the very image of Captain Veantur, once Captain-Admiral of His Majesty Tar-Elendil's ships, and my husband."
At her words, both the Man and Beinvír stared at her in shock.
"Indeed I am descended from him," he said after a silence of some moments, "though none ere now hath remarked upon my looks. My Lady, I am Minastir, Heir to Her Majesty Queen Tar-Telperien, my aunt."
At this, Helluin rose and bowed to him and said, "My Lord, what may we do for thee?"
"I hath come hither to accompany thee to the chamber of the queen, for she hath made ready to hear thy tidings," he explained, "and I am to be present also at thy embassy. I thought to guide thee hence and meet thee myself ere the concerns of state take precedence." Here he self-consciously regarded Helluin, but managed to say, "Long I hath studied thy people, meeting eagerly at times with those come hither from Eressea. Such beauty do they create, and such wisdom do they hold. Greatly do I reverence those of the West. Yet amongst all thy kindred, thou doth hold a place especial amongst my family, my people, and our history. Long hath I desired to meet thee, distant foremother, for thy life stretches back far beyond that of any I hath met aforetime. What wonders thou hast seen, and yet still shalt see, long after I and all my kin hath departed. In my youth, many an hour did I spend trying to imagine the Life of the Eldar with which thou art blessed. In my youthful heart I once longed for such…opportunities. Indeed since childhood I hath read of thee in many precious scrolls, for thou art truly a legend."
At this confession, Beinvír giggled and said, "A Legend of Númenor and a Gôrgbu of Drúwaith Iaur." Helluin had groaned and Minastir had looked at them in confusion.
But Helluin had noted Minastir becoming ever more enlivened as he spoke, and ere he finished, she'd detected the yearning in his voice and deep in his heart. She'd found it troublesome and stranger still from one so close in appearance to Veantur, who had never sought to be anything other than what he truly was.
They took a passageway from their room, retracing in part their steps from the Hall of Kings. Along the way Minastir asked a number of questions. It soon became apparent to Helluin that they were taking a somewhat circuitous route the better to lengthen the time.
"My Lord, art we not imposing upon Her Majesty through our tardiness?"
"My aunt hath all too many concerns," Minastir said, "and is surely engrossed in some work pending our arrival. She is highly efficient, using any available time to best advantage. We shalt present ourselves shortly. I pray thee forgive my liberty at prolonging my questions, but I am curious. Thou art so like unto my queen in form and face as to be mistaken for her daughter perhaps, a magnificent irony of course. Also I hath noted thy eyes, ever roving and marking thy surroundings, and in this too thou art very much akin, for she misses naught placed before her and indeed perceives much that is not. She shalt question thee much concerning the coming war."
"Indeed for just such concerns hath we been dispatched," Helluin replied, "and to find an open ear is welcome. 'Tis already far different a welcome than greeted me upon my last sojourn hither, and as the time runs the shorter, so too doth the need increase."
"Then we shalt harken to thee," Minastir said, and rapped upon the door before which they now stood.
"Enter, Minastir," the queen's voice called from within without seeing them.
They saw that indeed Tar-Telperien had been engaged in a parchment, utilizing such time as was allowed her as she could. This she set aside, and rising from her desk, came and ushered her guests to a sitting area and gestured that they be comfortable. She herself took an armchair that the Elves noted had pockets attached to its sides, o'erflowing with documents and a number of bound tomes. Also, a small shelf mounted on a swivel, and holding an inkwell and pen and a stack of blank leaves, was attached to the right arm. Helluin and Beinvír sat together upon a couch, while Minastir took a seat in a more ordinary armchair. A low table amidst the setting held a silver flagon and cups, and a small tray of cakes was also there. Minastir poured for them all, handing 'round the refreshments. The cakes, the Elves discovered, were baked with cinnamon and clove and honey, and were sweet and very tasty. The wine was cool and fruity and slightly tart.
"Welcome again," Telperien said. "Since Captain Ciryandur spoke of thee I hath desired to meet thee both. He remarked upon thy likeness, or more rightly, my likeness unto thee, and such thought intrigued me. Think thou 'tis thy Elven blood running true down the years that hath returned thy countenance time and again unto our house?"
Helluin had thought on this, and previously would hath answered yea, but now she had met Minastir and thought the matter was founded more deeply.
"Ere today I had thought just so, yet now I hath met thy Heir, and he doth reclaim the visage and form of my husband, Veantur, in such degree that at first glance I deemed him a spirit returned. Not only by my blood is appearance recouped, but in that too of the sons of the Dúnedain."
"Yet amongst the Dúnedain art many who partake of the blood of the House of Elros in some degree, and in that house runs yet the blood of Idril and of Luthien the Fair."
"Such too could be true, O Queen. I know not."
"'Tis a matter of curiosity only," Telperien said, "and probably a fruitless enquiry for intellect's sake into a mechanism of Arda whose ways lie beyond the ken of Iluvatar’s Children. I hath noted too that thou art taller somewhat then I. Perhaps the inheritance is diminished in the passing of the generations? Ahhh well, I indulge myself in pursuits of idle wonder when more pressing matters art surely to hand. Tell me now thy tidings. What word from the Hither Shores?"
Now it was the difficulty inherent in their embassy that Helluin and Beinvír convince the queen of the increased threat of Sauron. Yet no mention of the Three Rings could they make, nor the course decided for their hiding could they divulge, for these things were deemed secrets to be shared with none. In sending Helluin, Gil-galad had acted shrewdly, for she alone could offer aught of proof while revealing naught of their secrets.
"'Tis the belief of the king that the Enemy, Sauron Gorthaur, is meditating war. Certain events of late hath portended aught as to signify the waxing of his malice," she said. "Most notably, he hath assailed me through ethereal channels, trying thus to enslave my spirit and render me thrall."
At this, both the monarch and her Heir stared at Helluin in horror. Sauron had aforetime been a threat merely by his renewed existence, but until now, no overtly hostile stroke had he made. And for his first attack, he had chosen to attempt the usurpation of the will of one close to them. Neither really understood all the ramifications, but thralldom 'neath the Dark Lord was horror enough.
"By what enchantment hath he acted to advance his malice?" Telperien asked.
A perceptive question, Helluin thought. Here she produced the Sarchram and laid it upon the table so its cirth were revealed. Telperien and Minastir read the incantation and shuddered. The words were fell, and the intent no less dark than that of the Enemy; the eternal destruction of a foe.
"Doth thy ring come hence from the Enemy himself?" The queen asked.
"Nay, O Queen," Helluin replied, "'twas forged in Khazad-dum by myself, Celebrimbor of Eregion, and Narvi of Hadhodrond. Into it I allowed to pass aught of the power of my own spirit, to bind it thence to my will and thus command its flight. Being linked thereby to me, Sauron sought to wrest control of it and employ it thence as an avenue of attack. His will came upon me on the Ré i Anaro in 1600. I fought his influence then, finally banishing him and retaining control of the Sarchram, and then fencing myself against him. In counsel with the wise 'twas deemed that none other than Sauron hath the power to act thus, striking across all the leagues from Mordor to Eriador."
"He hath wrought a charm of his power and malice, a Master Ring, therewith to focus his strength and cast it upon the will of others," Beinvír said. "Some of the great amongst our kindred hath felt his eye upon them from afar."
"And they hath heard an incantation declaring his intent spring forth within their minds, revealing somewhat of his designs. One ring to rule them all. One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. Thus came the thought of Sauron to the ears of the Eldar."
Telperien and Minastir thought on what they had heard. Fell tidings indeed these were. Sauron the Cruel sought to bind in darkness and dominate all free souls. Despite this the sharp minds of the royals fixed on the gaps in their story. Why did Sauron's incantation so closely recall the words on Helluin's weapon? Why had he chosen to go to war at this time? Why had he used this indirect method of attack? It seemed to place him at some risk. What if he should lose his Ring? Why would he declare his plans to his enemies? Was it merely to appear the more confident and threatening? How had Sauron been identified? How had Helluin survived and repelled his assault?
The Elves knew more than they told, but had that not always been the case? The king in Lindon had sent a Green Elf as well as one of his own subjects, and so the threat appeared accepted by not just his own kindred. And yet well 'nigh a year and a half had passed since the first attack. Why had they waited so long to send word? Surely Sauron would wage his war with his armies, not by the power of his Ring alone. Had they any guess as to when the battle would come? They must suspect such ahead, for little aid could Númenor give save in strength of arms. But what good would Men and arms be facing such a power as Sauron’s One Ring?
"What boon or aid would thy lord request of Númenor," Tar-Telperien asked, "what strength found here might be pitted against the Enemy and his Ring? Would not such as assails the Eldar o'erwhelm the minds of Men? We art thy allies and friends, but indeed, what good can we hope to do?"
"O Queen, ever were the Edain the allies of the Eldar, even when standing against the greater power of Morgoth long ago," Helluin said. "Yet now our numbers art less than they were while thine hath grown. In thy people is much strength to be found. The Enemy cannot master all Middle Earth with but his will and his Ring. Lands must be taken and ruled and many laid 'neath the yoke. We deem his strength hast been abuilding in the land of Mordor for well nigh 600 years. 'Twas a great power I saw there in 1125 and surely it hath grown greater since. As in the wars of Beleriand we would ask thy aid, to stand at our sides against hostile armies as thy forefathers did, and to share those tidings discovered by thy mariners in the Hither Lands."
"Umbar, our haven in the Hither Lands lies south of Mordor, yet much further from it than the east marches of King Lenwe. Word hath come of late from Belfalas, of rising smoke and trembling in the ground and the unrest of the fiery mountain upon the plain of Gorgoroth. A watchfulness hath grown, they say, upon the walls of the Ephel Duath. Of such tidings I am sure thy king is aware, for the mariners of Cirdan come to Edhellond."
"Indeed such is known in Lindon," Helluin said.
"Yet what may not be known in Lindon is the preparations we make here in Númenor," Tar-Telperien said. "Hath thou any count of the Queen's Ships, Helluin? Art their numbers known to the High King?"
"Nay, O Queen, the strength of thy navy is not known to the Eldar, nor to any, I deem, in the Hither Lands. We know only of the harvesting of timber in Enedwaith upriver upon Glanduin, and in the lands about Umbar. The ship that bore us hence carried in her hold a great cargo of lumber. And in Romenna I hath seen many ships abuilding. In the time of Tar-Elendil, the King's Ships numbered 47 when first I arrived, and at the end of Veantur's tenure as Captain-Admiral that number had increased to 93."
"Would thou be pleased to know then that well 'nigh 400 ships now fly the pennant of the Crown of Númenor? That upon each can sail a company of 200 soldiers with their horses and gear? The Army of Númenor hast been growing ever since the days of Tar-Anarion, my grandfather…thy pupil. From the very day of his ascendance upon the throne he decreed that this nation make itself ready, for he considered the war to come better fought upon the mainland than here. Give us but another 25 years, and 100,000 foot and horse shalt march upon the Hither Shores to stand against the Great Enemy."
The two Elves were struck silent. The Númenóreans could already field and transport an army of 80,000? She had thought the Army of Khazad-dum the mightiest force upon Middle Earth, numbering just o'er 30,000. In all the lands, the Eldar would be pressed to field even 25,000, were all the kindreds and companies gathered and marshaled, and of the Noldor, perhaps but 3,000 or 4,000 remained battle worthy.
The Elder Children of Iluvatar gained but slowly in numbers o'er time. Long-lived, the Naugrim were much the same. But Men reproduced much faster. Knowing they would die all too soon, mortals sought to leave a legacy of both action and offspring, passing on their wisdom and heritage to ever increasing numbers of progeny. They had already been a numerous folk when first they had come o'er the Ered Luin in the third century after arising in Hildorien. The next three centuries had decimated them. Only in the First Age, when war had come again and again and deaths had outpaced births, had the numbers of the Edain plummeted. But in the Second Age, while enjoying the prosperity and safety of their island home, their numbers had exploded o'er the last 1,600 years of peace.
"O Queen, I am heartened greatly by thy news," Helluin said. "I should wager thy strength in numbers already equal to all the allies that walk free in the Hither Lands. I doubt Sauron hath even the dimmest inkling of thy strength."
"And he shalt know naught of it aforetime," Minastir said, "for in little more than a fortnight can we marshal and sail to thy aid. We need only hear word of battle and we shalt sail for Lindon."
Helluin and Beinvír nodded at his words. Even on a cargo transport they had just made the crossing in eight days. Both felt great relief knowing the strength of their allies, and they knew Gil-galad would be equally impressed.
In the following days, Helluin and Beinvír discharged their embassy, and they spent much time in counsel with Queen Tar-Telperien and her Heir. They also spoke before the court, answering many questions from the Númenóreans.
They stayed in Númenor a month, and while not attending their duties had time to take in the city and the surrounding lands. Nigh the end of the month of Narbeleth they had a week free, and so Helluin begged leave to take horses and ride west to Andustar. There she sought to show her friend the harbor upon the Bay of Eldanna, and the city of Eldalondë. There ships from Tol Eressea were wont to come at times. Helluin had oft met with Eldar from the Blessed Isle there, and there she had taken ship following the death of Veantur in S.A. 992.
They left early in the morning on 29 Narbeleth and arrived in the late afternoon on the 31st. Helluin had been dour; an inescapable mood bordering on brooding had taken her in advance of watching Beinvír sailing away from her into the West. Beinvír had been puzzled, but being used to Helluin's moods, didn't allow it to diminish her wonder at traveling the Land of the Gift. Rather she chided Helluin gently, trying to lift her spirits.
"Art thou conveying me hence to a funeral, my friend?" She asked with a grin.
"Whatever hath given thee such an impression?" Helluin asked, returning from her ruminations at Beinvír's question.
"Perhaps 'tis thy glum expressions? Thy lack of mirth? The slump of thy shoulders, or the downturning of thy lips? Come, Helluin, what hath struck thee mute these last hours? I should think us riding to some grave doom."
"'Tis always doom in some form lying nigh ‘round the corner, some lesser and some greater. I hath not ridden hither in well nigh 600 years and the last time was to take ship following the death of my husband. I am sorry. I sought not to diminish thy enjoyment of the scenery with my depressing company. I shalt endeavor to be more lighthearted."
"Thou needn't force a jolly mood upon thyself for my benefit, Helluin," Beinvír said straight faced, "though I shalt appreciate thou refraining from singing maudlin songs."
Helluin looked sidelong at the Green Elf but couldn't tell if she was serious or jesting. A moment later Beinvír stopped her horse dead in the road as if she had struck a wall.
Riding downslope to the harbor through a forest scented with cedar and pine, the lands about them had opened into a vista of the westering sea lit golden by the falling sun that seemed to float above the waves. It was timeless and Helluin understood the impact of it that had made Beinvír beside her gasp in wonder. A thousand years before she had felt that same surge in her heart for the beauty of it when she'd first seen it, riding beside Veantur on her first visit in S.A. 601. After staring at the scene for some time, Beinvír coaxed her mount forward again, only to come upon an even more impressive vista.
They stopped their mounts upon the road where it turned a descending curve. For long moments they took in the view; sun upon the waves, Eldalondë, the White City of many arches, graceful and tranquil, lying below. And at the quay floated a white ship, swan-prowed and bearing a single mast, and upon it lay a faint shimmer visible only to the eyes of the Eldar. Such a sight could naught but raise the sea-longing in the Green Elf's heart.
"'Tis a ship out of the Blessed Isle," Helluin told Beinvír, seeing that it had captured her eyes, "and tonight we shalt perhaps meet those who hath sailed hither upon it. Perhaps even they shalt be known to me; friends of old long sundered."
"What I see before me now; this land, this sea, even the trees about us, art beautiful with a clarity I hath never known upon the Hither Shores," Beinvír said softly. "Indeed, never thought to see. Here truly is that Mortal Land closest to the Immortal West of song. I see it with my eyes, but more, I feel it with my heart. All about us grow trees and plants the like of which I hath not known aforetime, and all fragrant, shapely, and graceful. 'Tis almost too much to bear."
Helluin looked at her friend and saw the tears starting in her eyes, so moved was her heart by their surroundings. Somewhere a bird trilled a song unheard in Middle Earth, for like the trees, oiolairë, (evergreen), and nessamelda, (fresh-scent), white blooming laireossë, (summer-snow), and golden malinornë, (the mallorn), they had come as gifts in ships from the West. All about them a caressing breeze carried their many sweet scents.
"Of all Mortal Lands, thou stand in that most like unto the Undying Realm," Helluin told her, "and I would that thou could see its beauty. Yet beyond these shores lies that which is yet again more beautiful still, and I can show it to thee not." Helluin turned back to look out o'er the strand towards the far West that lay beyond sight, and when she spoke again, her voice was soft, barely to be heard. "Thou may be offered a choice, my dearest friend, and if so, choose as thy heart bids thee."
At her words, Beinvír looked questioningly at Helluin, but the Noldo only nodded ahead and gently nudged her horse. Beinvír followed, looking about and trying to mark all things at once. So too did I go forth upon the westward march, trying to see all and miss none, and commit every glance to my memory, Helluin thought as she rode silently, leading Beinvír down into the city of Eldalondë.
They stayed at an inn called Termáre¹, which had views of the shore, for Helluin knew it was the place favored by those who came hither from the Lonely Isle. They took their supper in the common room, and sure enough, there were several of the mariners out of the Undying Lands, speaking softly together and sipping wine. They traded glances with Helluin and Beinvír as they entered, questioning and silently answering, and arranging to speak after the two friends had dined. ¹(Termáre, To Stay/Tarry/Linger, v.inf. Quenya)
Though the fare was delicious, Helluin and Beinvír ate quickly, and when they were done, Helluin requested a pitcher and then they went to join the Eldar of Tol Eressea.
"Alassarwa yomenie, nildnyai¹," one of them said as they rose to greet the two friends, "I am Tuilendil², a grower of plants. With me art Luhtalle and Soronhen³." ¹(Alassarwa yomenie, nildnyai Joyful meeting, my (female) friends". Quenya) ²(Tuilendil, "Lover of Springtime", Tuile(Springtime) + -ndil(lover of) Quenya) ³(Luhtalle, "Enchantress", luhta-(enchant) + -(al)le(fem. agent) and Soronhen, "Eagle Eye", soron(eagle) + hen(eye) Quenya)
"Alassarwa yomenie, Tuilendil, Luhtalle, ar Soronhen," Helluin replied, nodding to each in turn. "I am Helluin and my friend is Beinvír. I am glad to find thee here."
Tuilendil, the grower of plants, was the eldest, an ellon with grey streaking his dark hair and a slender build. Luhtalle was a tall beauty with the rare silvery hair of the Telerin kindred, whose grey-blue eyes shone bright with life as yet unencumbered by the weight of memories. Helluin suspected she had been born on Tol Eressea after the pardoning of the Exiles. Soronhen was dark-haired and grey-eyed, but those eyes were clear, sharp of glance, and moved quickly, making him appear somewhat shifty. Indeed he looked closely at them both and his eyes lingered on Beinvír longer than Helluin would have liked. They each greeted the two in friendship and Helluin detected no duplicity in them.
"Art thou of the kindred of Ossiriand?" Soronhen asked Beinvír after they were seated.
"Indeed so, but born afterwards in Eriador beyond the Ered Luin," she answered.
The others nodded, understanding thence why they detected no Light of Aman upon her.
"Thou art known to me, Helluin," Tuilendil said, "for I remember thee from Gondolin, the place of my birth, and I hath seen thy likeness again here in Númenor. I saw thee at times in Avernien as well, for I escaped the Hidden City in the company of Idril and Tuor though I had taken injury when the city fell. Indeed I still favor my right leg when I walk."
Helluin nodded, understanding that he had suffered much, the Cirith Thoronath not the least of the memories that had darkened his stay in Mortal Lands.
"I pray thee, tell me what passes on the Hither Shores," he asked, a gleam of excitement growing in his eyes, "for surely much is there to see in those vast lands. I never walked far beyond Sirion in all my days in Beleriand and hath not returned thither since. Surely thou hast seen great wonders and many peoples in this Age."
"Many wonders indeed," Helluin said, "but great dangers too, and these grow more threatening of late. Pass my tidings to those in the Undying Lands, that Sauron Gorthaur hast arisen again and prepares for war. In the land of Mordor he orders a realm and hath built him there a great tower, and raised an army. Tell them that soon there shalt be war in the Hither Lands. We expect no aid from them again; simply let them know."
"So that is the great concern of the wise, and why of late Númenor hath undertaken armament," he said, finally understanding the reasons for many things he had seen of late. "I should say thy tidings art known to a few already, Helluin. I am not sure, for I am not in their confidence, but perhaps thou shalt receive some aid from the Undying Lands yet. Of late I hath noticed the reappearance of some who were once lost. They may come again o'er the water to mortal shores."
Tuilendil's words Helluin marked and remembered, but she understood them not, and he could say no more.
Long they spoke that night and each had much to tell, but ere the end, Helluin mentioned that she had brought her friend hence to Eldalondë, for amongst all the Mortal Shores, here alone could she taste somewhat of the Immortal Lands in the West. The three Elves of the Lonely Isle nodded in understanding. For 16 centuries they and others like them had brought forth plants, birds, and the wares of Elvenhome to enrich the kingdom of the Dúnedain. And nowhere in all the land was any place so much like home as here. Beinvír spoke joyfully of the beauty of what she had seen and listened closely to their descriptions of their home. The images they created in her mind with their words made her shiver with awe as the sea called her heart ever west. All of them could hear the waves so close by and feel the great tides of life that moved therein. When the offer was made, Helluin was surprised that it was Luhtalle rather than Tuilendil that spoke the words.
"Beinvír, if thou would hath it so, thou may take ship with us and sail into the West, for the Nandor art in origin of the kindred of the Teleri, my people, and though sundered from us long ago, thy ancestors started upon the westward road. The Powers would allow thee to complete at last thy journey."
Helluin saw the excitement in her friend's eyes and felt the moment's gush of joy in her heart. Make thy choice, meldis meldwain nin¹, she thought, make thyself happy. She held her breath, waiting to hear Beinvír's answer. ¹(meldis meldwain nin, my dearest (female) friend, meld(dear) + -wain(adj. superlative) + meldis(f. friend) + nin(my, 1st pers. sing. poss. pronoun) Sindarin)
Beinvír looked over into her friend's eyes and spoke silently to her.
Would thou accompany me hence, forsaking thy concerns in Middle Earth for the bliss of the Undying Lands? Thou dwelt there once. Could thou be happy there with me now?
I would be happy with thee anywhere for I hath come to love thee, my dearest friend, but I cannot forsake the Hither Lands when so much evil threatens. I cannot leave all whom I know there in their time of greatest need. If thou would seek thy heart's desire, then go hence, and I shalt come after someday to find thee, but I know not how long shalt pass ere we meet again.
Then I shalt seek my heart's desire. And with that, Beinvír looked back to the three Elves of Tol Eressea and gave her answer.
"Much do I desire to see the Undying Lands and thy Blessed Isle, but yet more do I desire to remain with my friend, Helluin. Perhaps someday hence I shalt come across the sea, but for now we hath a part in a story and I cannot leave ere that story finds its end."
Luhtalle nodded in understanding and gave her a small smile.
For Helluin, Beinvír's words were more welcome than the opening of bright day on a cloudless, warm spring morn, when one comes thither from rest to the sweet singing of birds amidst a gentle, fragrant breeze. The Green Elf's choice spoke of love, for no other reason could bring one's heart to the decision she had made; to cleave to Helluin's own, forsaking even the Blessed Realm and the call of the sea. In 6,117 years, no other of any kindred had made so plain their feelings for her. The understanding brought tears to her eyes and her love for her friend grew even greater with the knowledge.
Arandil had not deigned to accompany her even upon her walks in Aman, remaining always with his king in Valmar or in the city upon Tuna. Veantur had joined her sailing to any destination, but he had never been tested with a choice so severe or a temptation so great. In her love he had already gained all his life's hopes could offer. But to stay with her, Beinvír had declined the very offer all Helluin's people had chosen to accept…the call to make their way into the West. Twice to thee that call hath been renounced, by thy ancestors in thy blood and by the choice of thy heart, Helluin thought, that thou love me more than the Blessed Realm doth leave me weak, for in my selfish heart I had prayed thou would choose thus.
The next day they spent about the city, but at nightfall they rode forth into the lands of Nisimaldar to the south. There, amidst the trees of the Immortal Realm grew many shrubs and other plants, ever blooming and ever fragrant, and there too sang many birds of the Blessed Isle as well. Here they made a camp and Helluin had planned the time, for that night was Isil full in his glory above and the magick of Varda blossomed out with the stars. After their supper they sat with their backs against an embankment carpeted in soft moss, watching the moon rising to cast the pale beam of its light, silvery upon the waters in the distance to the west. Helluin had spent the time doting upon Beinvír and the Green Elf understood her, but still desired to forestall her increased attentiveness lest she come to feel stifled. She needed some space for that too was in her blood.
"Helluin," she said, "thou hast been minding me like a mother hen this last day, and while I appreciate thy sentiments, I pray thee, let things be as they hath been aforetime with respect to thy attentiveness. I shalt not break, I can carry my own bags and unsaddle my own horse."
Helluin looked at her, reviewing her own behavior, and realizing that what her friend said was true. Still, "I hath been preoccupied with making easier for thee the way, and though I know thee capable, yet still I desired to do for thee. Never hath any shown me how much they value me such as thou hast. I would do anything for thee."
The Green Elf smiled at her friend, yet felt the need to speak, for the thankfulness and rejoicing in their companionship was not one sided.
"In my first centuries, Adar and Naneth brought to me many young ellyn¹ who sought my hand, and yet when I chose none and attached myself to the company of Dálindir, they understood my need to wander. For the next thousand years I made my way with them about Eriador and thought myself content. Yet in the last third of a century with thee, I hath seen places and beings beyond my dreams. Thou hast given me the world, Helluin, more so than even my king, and though we hath faced dangers, with thee I feel safe. But more than this, in no other's company hath I felt the fluttering of my heart nor the shivering amidst my spine as I do when I look into thy eyes, for in them I find myself lost, and in that loss I am found as never I thought to be. I should not leave thee for the world, Helluin; why then for but an island, no matter how pretty?" ¹(ellyn, generic term for male Elves, pl. Sindarin)
Helluin could only stare at her friend in wonder. Half the Noldor and Sindar feared her deadly wrath and yet Beinvír felt safe with her? She had created a dark weapon that had inspired the malice of Sauron himself, and still Beinvír was moved looking into her eyes? Helluin could find no words for her thankfulness or her amazement. All she could do was wrap her friend in her arms and hug her tight and let acceptance flood her heart. As they reclined thus, wrapped in each other's embrace, a pair of birds of a kind known upon the Lonely Isle, with plumage of powder grey and bright beaks of gold, alighted on a branch above to serenade them ere settling to their night's roost, and Helluin thought it a good sign.
Another day they spent in Nisimaldar ere they set out to return to Armenelos, and both would hold dear their memories of that place through the dark days that came after.
On 14 Hithui, (November 14th) S.A. 1601, the two Elves boarded an outbound ship called the Valacirca¹ in Romenna for their return to Lindon. She was a far different vessel than the Viava Laireo, for she was a warship of the Queen's Navy. ¹(Valacirca, "Sickle of the Valar", (Ursa Major, the Great Bear). Sil., Ch..3, pg.45, and Index Quenya)
The Valacirca measured 270 feet in length and her three masts seemed tall for her size. She was sleek and sturdy, a stiff, swift hull with canvas enough for a ship a third again her size. And if this were not yet enough, Helluin marked the furled studdingsails rigged to open at the sides of the mainsails where they would extend far beyond the sides of the hull. In a fair wind, this ship would fly!
She also marked the presence of four, forty-foot arms mounted on swivels, two each on the starboard and port sides. Each tapered arm pivoted near its thicker end, while the more slender end bore a net. Catapults, she realized! The ship mounted four artillery pieces, perhaps for coastal sieges. She saw also ballistae, giant crossbows, three per side, mounted between the catapults, and these, she understood were for use against other ships. Unlike the catapults, that would require furling the sails for clearance during use, these could be fired while underway. Never before had she seen such weapons mounted aboard a ship. There was one other feature of the Valacirca she had never seen before; the steel sheathed prow.
"Imagine, Helluin, the effect of the mass of this vessel, running at well 'nigh 30 knots, striking amidships another vessel with that prow," Captain Baragund told her when she had asked about it. "We carry siege engines, but we art the battering ram."
The thought chilled Helluin to the core. No captain she had ever met would have willingly jeopardized his ship. The sailors she had known aforetime had been Men in love with the sea and with sailing upon it. Helluin thought of Veantur and Falmandil, Ciryandur and the many captains she had met at the Inn of the West Wind. She stood with Beinvír in the prow and watched the preparations to sail. Before she knew it, they were casting off.
But when Valacirca began to move, Helluin realized that these sailors were more alike than unlike those she had previously known. Beneath the crisp orders and the practiced perfection of the crew's responses, these Men too loved the sea. At the bark of the mate's voice, sheets fell home in perfect synch on all three masts, dropping and bellying as one. And Valacirca responded with the same eagerness as Linte Eari had all those years ago. Ere they entered the greater Bay of Romenna she was topping 24 knots, still accelerating, and the excitement of the crew sizzled with her haste.
Indeed Valacirca was making a speed run and her voyage was a trial, testing the ship, captain, and crew. Though the winds were not ideal, they held for the journey, and as Helluin had expected, the ship could fly. Upon their second afternoon out she heard the mate cry, "32 knots, my Lord Captain," and the crew of the watch cheered.
"Studdings'ls, fore 'n main," called the sailing master, and the four triangular sheets opened and caught the wind. The ship surged ahead yet faster.
Then moments later it seemed, the mate called out, "a hair o'er 36 knots, my Lord Captain." And now all held their breath for Valacirca still gained speed.
"Wait two minutes and toss again thy line," Captain Baragund ordered, watching the sails and tilting his head to the wind.
With the crew the two Elves waited in anxious anticipation, and when the line had been tossed and drawn and the speed calculated, the mate cried, "Just nigh 39 knots, my Lord Captain."
"Enter it in thy log, Sailing Master," the captain ordered, "that upon this 15th day of Hithui, S.A. 1601, the Queen's Ship Valacirca hath exceeded all prior speed a'sail."
That night, their second at sea, was the new moon, and the sky was dark save for the wealth of stars, and yet Helluin knew they shone now not quite so bright as they had in earlier Ages. Even so such nights were still dear, recalling to her the starlight of the Mortal Lands she had walked ere coming to Aman. And in token of this, she led Beinvír up to the top of the mainmast where they lay on their backs, high on the talan of the watch, looking up at the heavens in the dark. There in their windy, swaying perch 160 feet above the main deck, Helluin pointed out Menelmacar, the "Swordsman of the Heavens", (Orion), Anarríme, "Crown of the Sun", (Corona Borealis), Wilwarin, the "Fluttering Crown", (Cassiopeia), Lórocco, the "Sky Steed", (Pegasus), and the ship's namesake, Valacirca.
"And there too is thy star," Beinvír said, pointing to the blue fire of Helluin, (Sirius), that blazed from the heart of Ráca, "The Wolf", (Canis Major). "And it doth pale before thine eyes."
She turned to look into the blue but inches away at her side, letting herself sink into their depths in the darkness. Helluin looked just as carefully into the bright grey of Beinvír's eyes, noting the fire flecks of gold and silver that seemed to swim in their depths, like fragments of precious metals floating in a dome of night darkened basalt. In them she felt a measure of the connection she'd once felt in her vision a long, long time ago. Not quite the same, but akin to it, and yet unique, something exciting, familiar, and still all its own.
Beneath them the shrouds thumped and the wind whistled amidst the taught lines. A few mariners of the last watch sang, faint to their ears on the deck far below. But all faded in the moment. Beinvír rolled onto an elbow and looked down into Helluin’s eyes.
"'Tis but one above and far," the Green Elf whispered, "and I am blessed with two close at hand. Dearer to me than Varda's own art thine, the work of Iluvatar himself."
Helluin thought the words sweeter than any sung in any Age, but the Laiquendi had once filled Ossiriand with the fair music of their voices. And her Fair Treasure would have put them all to shame. She reached up and stroked Beinvír's cheek with gentle fingers that had slain hundreds, and then, slipping her hand into the Green Elf's dark hair, urged her down. Closer…closer…and her eyes slipped closed.
Finding the softness of the lips poised above and exploring them with her own made her shiver and thirst for more. She stroked their full arches with the very tip of her tongue and nibbled on their silky bows. The kiss deepened and she felt herself falling into the arousal their contact enflamed within her. With both arms, Helluin pulled Beinvír's body full atop her own, and the elleth's form, light yet solid, clove to Helluin's, imparting heat in the contact as her hands, Elven sensitive, moved in a knowing caress.
Breaths quickened, blood raced, and consciousness focused to a point, like sunlight through a lens, even as it expanded. Hands left trails of fire upon skin sensitized by the teasing lash of the night wind. Their bodies grew breathless while barely moving, all from the exertion of their spirits. Higher and higher their excitement climbed, scaling paths of arousal to precipices jutting sharp o'er a void filled with blinding light. And willingly into that radiance they plunged, hand in hand while losing self, together into that sacred place gifted by the One to his Elder Children, where the fëa lies unbounded even as it is bound to another. It seemed that when at last Helluin opened her eyes again, all the stars above flared with the brightness they had lost ere time dimmed their fires.
Upon the talan atop the towering mast, their fëar¹ joined in that time as one; a melding that had been impossible for Helluin with Veantur, and unrealized with Arandil. 'Twas deeper than a turning thither of her heart. Here was another kind of love, not based on shared characteristics or time and place, but rather upon mutual concern proven o'er many, many years, and mutual devotion strong enough to challenge the passage of the Ages. It felt akin to the inevitable and slow revelation of events presaged in the Music of the Ainur ere Arda was formed. ‘Twas that which Men called destiny. On that night, both believed that what they felt could withstand the fading of time and remain intact, though Arda itself fail and an end come at last of the First Song. ¹(fëar, spirits = fëa + -r(pl.) Quenya)
Valacirca dropped anchor in Mithlond on 17 Hithui, for having averaged 19 knots, the ship had traveled the 1,900 sea miles from Númenor in but four days.
To be continued
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