In An Age Before – Part 19


Chapter Twenty-five

The War of the Elves and Sauron, Eriador - The Second Age of the Sun

For a spirit such as Helluin's it became obvious that there was no choice but to go to war. If Ereinion required not her service, then she would fight on her own behalf. A great and ancient enemy had arisen and now he threatened all that she valued. After the incident with the Laiquendi, Helluin knew that her rage would find its best outlet on the battlefield, for it would not be extinguished so long as Sauron made war upon her people. Beinvír, whose eyes now held a fugitive light akin to that of some few from Doriath such as Amdír, saw this as clearly as did Helluin, and had accepted it even before the Noldo admitted it to herself. And so in Lothron, (May), of 1695 the two ellith made their way east towards Eregion, for they would go to war as an army of two.

They crossed the Baranduin north of the Old Forest, bypassed the arcs of downs to its east, and made their way following a track south of the Weather Hills. Now they went with stealth, and the lessons Beinvír had taught Helluin long before preserved them.Nórui, (June), came and went. Ost-In-Edhil fell and Celebrimbor was slain in Cerveth, (July), taken while defending the guildhouse, and thence put to torture. Sauron took from him the Seven and the Nine, and as Helluin had predicted, slew his captive once he learned he had not the Three.

Helluin and Beinvír were surprised to find the city but recently fallen. Helluin had expected it to be taken within a fortnight of the enemy's arrival, but it had gained a reprieve. Celeborn had come across the Caradhras Pass with many Sindar out of Lórinand, and they had engaged the vanguard, slaying well nigh two thousand of the Yrch ere they were forced into retreat by the arrival of the main host.

When he arrived, Elrond had joined his cavalry to Celeborn's infantry, giving the Eldar yet more flexibility to engage the army of Sauron, and they had staved off the siege of Ost-In-Edhil for over a month. In that period of grace, many refugees had fled the doomed city. These attached themselves to the Elven forces, for therein seemed the only safety and hope.

But from the beginning it had been a slow retreat back through the lands south of Glanduin, and as the enemy's numbers allowed them to widen the front, Elrond and Celeborn had been forced back lest they be flanked and crushed against the Hithaeglir. They had finally been required to hasten the withdrawal their forces. Then the city was lais bare to the Host of Sauron and it was besieged and taken. Elrond and Celeborn moved slowly through the northern precincts of Eregion during late 1695, fighting upon their rearguard and then their left flank too, for by winter Yrch held the far shore of Mitheithel and made many sorties across that river against them.

Soon only two choices remained open to the Elves. Either to follow the Bruinen north from its juncture with the Mitheithel, cornering themselves against the Hithaeglir, or in desperation, to cross west o'er the Bruinen while the Glamhoth sought to cross the Mitheithel to pursue them and then flee through the increasingly rugged terrain leading up into the Ettenmoors. But to do thus they would have to act ere the highland rose, for between the branching of the two rivers the land lay fairly flat. In that flatter land, (the area south of the uplands called The Angle), they could be easily overrun. And they knew that with so many refugees they would never outpace the Glamhoth and win free to the west. Also the Elves would then be forced to defend both right and left flanks, and a retreat in either direction afterwards would be hindered by the rivers. Either way they were trapped, but by staying east of the Bruinen, at least they were protected upon their left flank by the Hithaeglir. And last there was the unspoken hope that a pass might be found over the Misty Mountains and thence to safety in Rhovanion.

Elrond and Celeborn decided to stay east of the Bruinen, and though they would eventually be trapped, they saw no course but to prolong their survival and trust to hope. Behind them the land filled with the enemy, but the corner they retreated into narrowed the front. This actually worked to their advantage. Staying east of the Bruinen also forced the Glamhoth to advance through the increasingly broken lands to their west. The enemy followed them ever more closely and their position became ever more grim.

In the increasingly steep terrain the retreating Elves covered following the River Bruinen north into the mountains, they would finally have been overwhelmed, save that from Khazad-dum came an army of 15,000 Naugrim, and with them 4,000 of the Nandor under Prince Amroth. Their coming was timely indeed. These allies assailed the right flank of Sauron's army and by their threat drew off the pursuit of the Noldor and Sindar, and in doing so they prolonged the campaign in Eregion through the winter and into the following spring.

Taking advantage of this respite, Elrond and Celeborn fought a running battle against Sauron's vanguard, using the cavalry for hit and run tactics and the infantry for ambush, while making stands at every favorable emplacement. They fought a bitter war of attrition, ever seeking to whittle away at their enemy's numbers while preserving their own. Much of 1696 passed as they slowly continued north across 150 miles, giving ground, but forcing the Yrch to buy it dear with many lives.

For some time they had also known that upon their right flank moved a force, unseen and unknown, save that in the mornings their scouts would find a score of Yrch with their heads hewn clean off. More were found having fallen to bowmen, and these were invariably shot in the right eye with a precision that could only hath been the work of Elven master archers. In the course of Elrond and Celeborn’s retreat, which eventually led them to the hidden valley that became Imladris, their unseen benefactors took nearly nine hundred heads. Beyond Bruinen lay a killing ground, and the sentries and scouts of Elrond and Celeborn's forces would hear from those upland woods the cries of pain and shrieks of horror as their enemies died in the darkness.

In the night, the screams of the Yrch came to their ears from dusk until dawn. Some died so close to the camp that their carcasses were discovered nigh the pickets and the supply wagons. But never did the sentries of the Elven force discover who had aided them, for the killers' stealth was complete, akin to that of the Laiquendi of Ossiriand in the past Age. They knew only that some friendly company had turned The Angle and the hilly ground to its north deadly to their foes and they were thankful.

Neither rain nor snow stayed the killing. The slaying continued even after the discovery and establishment of Imladris in the first wintry month of 1697. It only abated when the principal host of Sauron's army turned south to exterminate the Naugrim and their Nandor allies in the spring of that year. In this too they failed. The allied force retreated to Khazad-dum and Durin's Halls were shut. The doors upon which Celebrimbor had labored held strong and even in death the son of Curufin frustrated his enemy. In all the long years ere his fall, never did Sauron Gorthaur enter Hadhodrond with war.

Helluin and Beinvír followed Sauron's main army south and witnessed the results of the ancient hatred between the Glam and the Naugrim. Both sides spared no mercy for their enemies, but the Yrch mutilated the Dwarves they slew, burning their heads so the dead could never find rest entombed. They burned their prisoners alive as well, knowing the screams carried through the night to the ears of their comrades.

The sight of the decapitated remains and the smoldering ashes of the bonfires enraged Helluin and Beinvír when they came upon them, and as the weeks passed both became more grim and accelerated their war, slaying ever greater numbers of the Glam. Indeed a desperate urgency seized Helluin; she felt she could never slay enough and hastened through the darkness seeking ever more foes. The Yrch soon feared assignment to their own right flank, for there the night's darkness that they naturally favored had turned deadly. Some enemy marched with them, able to see when they could not, silent beyond their capability to hear, having no discernable scent, leaving no spoor, and possessed of a hatred for their kind that was beyond anything they had ever encountered. And never were there any survivors, only corpses. Rumors passed in whispers amongst them, numerous as locusts.

By the early summer of 1697, their companies were so intimidated by their unseen foe that even when the heads of their dead were cast into their camp just ere dawn, none ventured forth to counterattack. Rather, they hid the heads lest their lord command them to seek out this enemy. Oft they were forced to disavow the existence of whole companies, or claim they had deserted when they failed to answer the call to battle. The Yrch knew and hid the truth from their master. Their comrades had been slain silently in the night.

In Cerveth, (July), of 1697, something inside Helluin snapped and she took to impaling the dead and leaving their cadavers to be found by the living. She did this in retribution for the mutilation of her friend, Celebrimbor, for only now after two years had she learned the grisly truth of his fate.

At this time Sauron allowed his forces a respite of well 'nigh a year for pillage and plunder, seeking to terrorize all the peoples of Eriador into despair. Save for the lesser force left to threaten Imladris, his companies went to and fro, nearly autonomous, indulging themselves freely in their malice. The Yrch hunted down Men and Elves, burned towns and homesteads, and ruined such tillage as they came upon. They were charged only with rendering Eriador a wasteland, and to this task they bent their efforts with glee. It was a campaign of terror, and in this environment Helluin and Beinvír took up an even more terrifying form of war.

After two years of constant bloody conflict overlying centuries of animosity, Helluin's rage rose to new heights even she had never ascended to before, and in that state she committed atrocities. Beinvír was sickened, disheartened, and demoralized, but Helluin was unable to break off the killing and the subsequent dismemberment of her fallen foes. They were naught but fodder for her darkness now, grisly material to be used to the best advantage in terrorizing the enemy, for cruel though they were, Helluin understood that the Yrch knew fear. The Green Elf remained by her side, knowing that if she left, Helluin would continue on to her death with no care save the destruction of her enemies. In sorrow she stayed to guard her friend's back, though she barely recognized her anymore.

Now 'twas not uncommon for a company of Yrch to come upon an acre of their fellows bodies impaled upon spikes and rotting in the sun, while nearby lay piled the heads, arms, and legs hewn off with a grim sense of necessity. In the darkness of her hatred, Helluin left fields in which legs stood like rows of grain, wells were filled to the brim with heads, ears were strung upon cords crossing the roads, and footpaths were paved with tongues.

When the Yrch marched to savage the hill that would one day host the town of Bree, they found that someone had been there before them. Upon the slope a macabre tableau had been constructed. There paired arms and legs were set so that they appeared joined, standing on their own without bodies. Heads were set with hewn neck atop hewn thigh, two per torso that stood embedded upside-down to the chest in the earth. O’erhead the branches of the trees were decorated with hands. A lone surviving Orch was discovered, eyeless and tongueless, and wandering on stumps amidst the dead. He could tell them nothing, could not even beg them for death. Of course they ate him, for he alone was unrotted.

Eventually such doings could no longer be concealed. Sauron learned of the mayhem and went in person to visit a scene of carnage. He was led thither by a fearful company of Yrch to what had been a pleasant hamlet of Men ere it had been burned, and there he saw the fallow winter fields guarded by scarecrows made from the dismembered body parts of 100 of his soldiers. They had been cobbled back together with sharpened sticks joining sundry elements in service to a grim sense of humor. Legs took station at the shoulders, invariable two rights or two lefts on a torso. Arms were appended to hips.

Sauron laughed at the scene as he had not since the campaign began, and then placed a bounty of 10,000 gold pieces on the ones who had created it. Of course he’d never intended to pay, would have slain any who attempted to collect, but he wanted the leader of the perpetrators. Such a cruel one, he thought, could easily be compelled into his service and would rise quickly in the ranks. To such a one he would soon give a Ring, the first of the Nine, for he deemed this enemy a Man. The Eldar had not the stomach for such things…never had and never would.

By torturing the company that had led him thither he finally learned all of what had been visited upon his Glamhoth since shortly after the war began. That they would conceal such from him left him wroth, yet at the same time amused. And their present fear was delicious. He added their bodies to the field, but his scarecrows lacked some intrinsic spark of inspiration. It perplexed and irritated him. Eventually he came to understand that he had not the hate of the original creator.

Only many years later did he come to realize something else about the artworks, (for so he deemed them). As he ruminated in Bard-dúr upon his defeat and contemplated the rebuilding of his strength, he noted that only upon the Glam had such acts been committed. When he had found companies of Easterlings slain, they were left as they had fallen, none mutilated, none reduced to trophies. And the sheer numbers of the dead made doubtful the mortality of the perpetrator. 1695, ’96, ’97, and ’98; four years…o’er five thousands slain. No Man was so fell. It reeked of Elven prowess.

Long he pondered this and then he realized that one amongst his enemies he had never seen nor sensed in battle ere the very end. In the great wars of the prior Age she had been remarkable, slaying any who came ‘nigh in her wrath. In the past war she had not been seen until the final defeat. Where had she been all those years while Eriador was contested? Where had Helluin Maeg-mormenel hidden? He had not been able to see or sense her after he'd failed to entrap her in 1600. She had closed herself to him more completely than any of the Eldar had been able to do. Now he wondered. Had it been her? Had the darkness he'd sensed in the Sarchram cirth overflowed upon her ancient enemies, the Glam? Yes, such a one could have accounted for the plethora of the dead. He contented himself with the fantasy and his shell showed signs of becoming excited, but he would probably never know for sure. Then he turned his black thought to Númenor. The Dúnedain had earned his hatred and he would bring them down if it took him an Age.

In the meantime the army of Lindon had taken the field. Gil-galad and Glorfindel, Gildor and Erestor, and the others of the lords and knights of the Noldor and Sindar had moved to battle. With them went many of Cirdan’s Sindar and those Númenóreans who were at Mithlond when the war broke out. They had begun by assailing their enemy's left flank, (his right flank after he turned south), and they did what damage they could. At one point they marched but a couple leagues from where Helluin and Beinvír engaged the Yrch each night, but they too never discovered their identities. Throughout 1696 and 1697 they were unable to join their forces with Elrond and Celeborn, and they were always greatly outnumbered. Then after the Naugrim and Nandor retreated to Khazad-dum they were slowly driven back west.

At last as 1698 came to a close, Sauron recommitted to his purpose and ordered his army to take Lindon the following spring. Thence he gathered together his companies and marshaled them to a front of war, for the third host he had left training upon Gorgoroth would soon be capable of battle. The remnant of his vanguard and host still numbered 52,000, while the Eldar and their allies he deemed no more than 15,000. When the campaigning season opened in 1699, he would sweep them into the Gulf of Lune. Once that was done and he held two of the Three, he would return to finish with Elrond ere he crossed back into Rhovanion and laid waste to Lórinand. He would then have all the Elven Rings, for from Celebrimbor he had already taken the Seven and the Nine. He had soon discerned where the Three were hidden and who their keepers were.

Gwaeron, (March), S.A. 1699 opened the campaigning season and Sauron ordered his army to advance. He assigned only a token force to guard against action from Imladris. The rest drove the forces of Gil-galad before them in retreat to Baranduin, and by mid-Gwirith, (April), the king was desperately trying to regroup on the western bank south of Sarn Athrad. Sauron ordered his northern companies to move south in an encircling gambit, but the troops seemed sluggish, their advance far slower than it should have been. They were mostly Yrch in those companies, some 18,000, and he suspected lagging or desertion. After the war he resolved to flay the veterans.

The northern companies received their orders on 17 Gwirith and made to cross the Baranduin southwest of the gap between the north and central downs. Once west of the river they would sweep down upon the Elven King whose primary host was 100 miles to the south. It was a good plan and they began the crossing, glad to leave behind En-Dôrsôr¹, the Abhorrent Land, the dreaded Land of Atrocities in northeastern Eriador. ¹(In fact lore hints that the name given that land in the Black Speech more closely translates as, "The Land of Wasted Meat")

About them all lay stifled. Save for the fleeing of the water and the groaning of the breeze not a sound could be heard but the tramping of their own boots. It was more silent than death; not a bird chirped, not a beast scrabbled to hide. This green and rolling country seemed scared out of its natural voice. The thought of a land terrified to silence the Yrch found gratifying, and the lack of enemies was welcome. They should have known it was unnatural.

The march to battle should have taken them three days; instead it took seven and they arrived with but 7,000 left alive. They never saw an enemy the whole time. They were never challenged. They faced no line of foes. Yet all too often a soldier would keel over mid-stride, and arrow in his back or eye or throat. Such might come from any direction, and even when there was no cover they themselves could have used, still they were assailed constantly. Not once was there a volley sent against them. The arrows came singly, but always precisely aimed and deadly. The survivors were even unable to mark with certainty from what direction the twang of the bowstring had sounded.

Scouts were the first to disappear, and these were oft found impaled and left in their path, revealed to the companies suddenly when making the crest of some pleasant hill. Their fearsome enemy was still with them. Eventually the host clung together, sending forth neither advance parties nor scouts, and in this way they seldom took the quickest route. Many were the arguments and fights that broke out amongst their captains as a result, as they painfully made their way through the lands of the Laiquendi of Eriador. They lost there 11,000, mostly to bow fire.

When they finally arrived at Sarn Athrad on 24 Gwirith they found their own army already encamped there. The battle had taken place two days before and Gil-galad had withdrawn yet again. In his place was much worse; a furious Sauron awaited them. The master's form, a beautiful blonde youth, tall and unnaturally handsome, and glowing with a compelling darkness, offered them a smile ere the troops were taken and impounded.

"What doth thou fear?" The Master softly asked the commander of the Glamhoth, his sweet and musical voice almost a caress. His bright, cat’s-gold eyes veiled their cruelty with a veneer of sympathetic concern thinner than the tender skin of his unblinking eyelids. Love for a comrade, one might almost have thought it, for his words dripped with caring sincerity. A fool would have believed him friendly and likeable. He certainly appeared noble and heroic in his spotless, chromed armor with its intricate gold inlays and multi-hued cloisonné. But there was always the accompanying darkness.

"Y-you, Lord Sauron," the Orch whimpered as a stream of foul water left his body in his terror. Lord Gorthaur paid no attention to his wet legs or his loss of control.

"What else, my faithful liege? Surely there must be something?" He asked, the charade of pity reflected perfectly in his features. Oh, how he always enjoyed this.

The Orch was quaking in fear and for some moments no words came to his tongue. He had an answer, but couldn't force it from his lips for it would damn him. His master sighed, then gently laid a hand on his shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. The ring he wore felt cold as ice and the Orch couldn’t help but shrink from the touch. He had seen those same bare fingers strip meat from a screaming prisoner's bones.

"Come now, speak thy concern," the Master gently encouraged.

"A-an enemy…m-maybe Maia maybe V-Vala; long against thee, L-Lord Sauron," the Orch finally stuttered, "h-he impales, slays th-thousands…" ‘Twas no good and he knew it. Then a will greater than his own froze his tongue and he spoke no more.

"I see," Sauron said as if agreeing, "’twas unfair to pit thee and thy troops against such a one. No soldier can oppose a god." He offered the Orch a calming smile. "Thou art weary. Go now to thy rest." He turned away, the cruel grin taking shape on his lips.

The Orch choked back a cry of terror and began shaking so badly he could barely stand, but the audience had ended and there was naught to do save force his legs to carry him from the tent. Outside they were waiting for him just as he expected, for he had seen this happen oft aforetime. There he was grappled and stripped.

They took him and laid him out under the weight of many hands. And when he was finished struggling and his panic had given way to despair, they flayed off his skin and turned him loose to run through the camp screaming in pain, while others jeered and tossed upon him their rations of salt. Bloody footprints marked the path of his disgrace.

Eventually he was ignored and he crept beyond the perimeter, thinking to quench the burning of his anguish in the river. From the bank he saw his skin, waving in the breeze as a pennant atop his master's tent. He looked away from that horror and into the woods, and there he saw a lone figure in black armor approaching, blue eyes kindled with a terrifying light. The black sword came down swiftly and hewed his neck. Then for one moment more he looked up into the face of the most frighteningly beautiful Elf woman he had ever seen.

The next morning his body was found impaled amongst the chuck wagons. His head had been discovered at the bottom of a stew pot and the cooks had fought over the meat. When the army advanced at noon they left behind his 7,000 troops, flayed and impaled on their own pikes in dishonor. His master chuckled all day whenever the image of it came upon him.

"I think I am slipping," Helluin muttered to Beinvír as they sat beside their small hunter's fire that night. The Green Elf looked up from her plate but slowly. Helluin had noticed the increasingly hollow look in her friend's eyes of late and she was worried.

"Thou hast slid far, my friend," Beinvír stated with little emotion in her voice.

"I meant that this morn I slew an Orch who had left behind his skin for his master," Helluin explained, "I am fairly certain I did him an act of mercy."

"And is that such a bad thing?"

"I find I am no longer sure," Helluin admitted in surprise. She stared down at her hands.

"I think this war hath wounded thy heart, for I am sure it hath wounded mine," Beinvír said, setting down her plate. "I hath lived but to slay these last years, rather than slaying to live. Worse, we hath violated the fallen as would an Orch or even Sauron himself. Very nearly the only thing we hath not done is cannibalize them. It hath left me empty of spirit and I value not the coming day, but rather abhor it. I detest what the morrow shalt bring rather than seek its possibilities. Almost would dying be more welcome."

Helluin looked at her friend in alarm. Such a declaration was a very serious matter in an Elf. So many had died of broken hearts and oft the first sign of such was the expression of a loss of the desire to live. Therefore when Beinvír told Helluin that she found no joy or hope in the coming day, but rather questioned if death would not be better, she was but a step from despair and the failing of her life. Her hroa would simply collapse and her fëa take flight to the Halls of Mandos, there perhaps to heal of its despondency over many long years. Helluin had barely sense enough remaining to know that they had to stop…she had to stop. She had been indulging her rage for years and now she finally understood that it was killing her friend. The Noldo dimly recalled that once she had thought it better for Beinvír to take ship into the West than to remain in Middle Earth during the coming war. It seemed like a sentiment from Ages before. Helluin blinked in surprise; in the end she had dragged her beloved through all the things she’d once feared the Green Elf would suffer; indeed even worse. Yet she was still too numb to feel guilty.

"On the morrow I shalt take thee to Imladris, and there we shalt remove ourselves from this war," Helluin said. "Perhaps we should hath stayed there in the company of Elrond and Celeborn. Looking back I find myself confused, with reasons then both yea and nay and the enemy being so threatening that I could not but pursue them. And thence to discover the remnant of Celebrimbor’s husk dangling upon its pole…. In any case we hath done our part, and that more than most."

Beinvír nodded slowly as if exhausted and then lay down on her groundcover of many rat skins. Helluin sat a long time staring at her boots and sucking on her teeth. Finally she too lay down after slinging away into the woods their uneaten food. By then the realm of memories had taken her friend in its clutches and the Green Elf shuddered and whimpered and a slow trickle of tears leaked from her eyes during her repose. Helluin watched, thinking she should feel worse for it, but unable to empathize as she lay nearby. For so long she had suppressed all her feelings save rage, and she found those unused now felt almost foreign and difficult to access. Her own memories were mostly of slaughter, bloodletting, and mayhem. It had been many nights since she'd let herself slip into that endless replaying of her daily carnage. She had found that naught else could she conjure anymore in the hours of darkness. And it bored her to see again at night the same images as she had created in her waking hours. Better to be numb; better to be sleeplessonce a week is enough, she thought, and tonight was not her night for rest. 'Tis said that the obsessed sleep but little, for their minds art deemed already fully occupied and hath not room left for dreams.

They set out the next day, 25 Gwirith, crossing unseen behind the enemy lines and making their way northeast across the devastated leagues of Eriador. On those occasions when they sensed Yrch close by, Helluin would leave Beinvír in some safe dell or copse and go out to slaughter them all, for in this she was unrelenting. Then upon returning afterwards she would lead her friend by some other path out of sight of the killing, sparing her from viewing the carnage. In this way they came again to the pine-slopes of the Hithaeglir at the end of Lothron.

The remnant force left behind by Sauron dissuaded them not. Helluin and Beinvír cut their way through their leaguer and came to the paths leading upland to the hidden valley.

Now Helluin and Beinvír had never entered the narrow pass through the red cliffs that led down to that flat final mile of meadow before the Ford of Bruinen that was the guarded entrance to Imladris. Therefore, though they knew the way, they went with stealth by a much harder but unguarded route, ever seeking not to be discovered by the enemy or shot by the sentries of that land. So it was over the sheer cliffs rather than through the defile that they came, bypassing thus the outer guard. Then marching out onto the meadow before the ford, Helluin stood before Beinvír lest any arrows come at them, and she revealed herself as one who had lived in the Blessed Realm.

Across the Bruinen the sentries saw two figures enmeshed in a growing light, an efflorescence of silver and gold that flashed to a blinding white in a heartbeat and then diminished to a figure kindled by the Light of Aman. By this were they warned and given notice that indeed 'twas one of the Calaquendi that approached, and she one of great power amongst that kindred. As a body in raiment of light did Helluin make her way to the thither bank of the river, and there she halted and reclaimed her normal guise. Thence she hailed the sentries on the hither shore, and from across the water her voice was heard clearly by those guarding the path into the ascending wood.

"Hail thou, O Guardians of Imladris. Here art Helluin of the Host of Finwe, and with her, Beinvír of the Laiquendi, newly come from the war. We seek sanctuary, and succor from the carnage, and would greet thy lords, Elrond of Lindon and Celeborn of Lórinand."

From the far bank came the voice of the officer of the watch in answer.

"Come thou hither, warriors of fell hand and blooded blade, for Imladris is the north refuge of our folk in this time of war and 'tis open to any of the Eldar that come from pursuit by the Enemy. Few know the way, and in finding it, thou hast also found friends."

Helluin and Beinvír were taken directly to Elrond, and there also was Celeborn, for both greatly desired to hear what tidings of the war the two could tell. None of their host had ventured forth since Imladris had been founded in Narwain, (January), of 1697, a year and a half before.

Elrond's brows gathered as he saw the two. Upon Helluin lay a darkness he could easily perceive with senses developed by his healer's training. Helluin, he knew, had ever been dour and given in the past to a frightening battle rage, but never before had he seen the sooty aura that lay about her now. Yet worse was the despondency of spirit he detected in Beinvír. For Beinvír he feared, for she was but steps from willing her own separation. Whatever horrors they had met in battle had left its mark deep upon them both. In Helluin it had exacerbated those tendencies known before. She would likely heal. In Beinvír the impact had become acute and her fate was uncertain, even doubtful, for upon her fëa lay mourning and melancholy recently acquired and alien to her nature. She sat before him, pale and hollow-eyed, where before she had been ever vivacious and warm.

"How stands the battle?" Elrond asked.

"It moves west after defeat upon defeat, Lord Elrond," Helluin answered. "Gil-galad is driven beyond Baranduin and Sauron makes to take Lindon. The High King stands greatly outnumbered and Númenor hast not come."

"And what of our other allies?" Celeborn asked.

"Of the Nandor of Prince Amroth and the Naugrim of Durin, both art for the time safe within the mansions of Khazad-dum. The Doors of Celebrimbor hold fast and none of the enemy may enter. Of the Laiquendi, they slay such as come nigh, shooting many but seeking out none. 'Tis for the Dúnedain that all now hope, and yet their coming should hath been in years past and the hope of them withers. Naught hast been heard of them, though those already upon the Hither Shores fight valiantly for the king."

Helluin's words were as concise as any battlefield report given by a commander's adjutant, but her eyes had been far away and her voice empty. Beinvír had said naught and had merely stared into space, uninvolved. The tidings Elrond thought bad enough. The condition of his two friends worse. About the war he could do little. For Helluin and Beinvír he would try to do much.

It would start with a period of transition from war to peace, and from the brutal ugliness of the battlefield to the unspoiled beauty of Imladris. Days spent amidst sparkling streams and unsullied uplands where no sounds of fighting and no evidence of war intruded would help ease the immediacy of the horrors his friends had been constantly immersed in for the last few years. As life was a road, each hour took the two a step further from their trauma. And each such step was an affirmation of the next. For Beinvír especially, living one day at a time was important, for each was a day alive in which her hope for the future could grow and her despair diminished.

After a week Helluin and Elrond met to begin her therapy.

"Open thy mind to me, Helluin," Elrond asked as they sat together in his newly completed study. Though bright with early afternoon light, the room was almost bare, for both writings and the materials to write with were yet scarce in the refuge.

"Doth thou truly wish to share in those horrors?" Helluin asked in surprise. "I hath done and seen such as may leave thee as shivered in spirit as is Beinvír."

"I hath seen the horrors upon the battlefield, my friend. Both the slaying and the fear. I was still young at the slaughter of my people in Avernien and the fighting thereafter."

Helluin nodded; she had not forgotten the battle in Taur-Im-Duinath where she had found him and his brother Elros in the company of Maedhros and Maglor.

"Of such I am sure thou hath been forced to endure, yet in my war such trials pale. I hath fought the fifth front in the deeps of the night and from the well of darkness hath my soul drunk deep. Thou hast seen naught of such horrors, I deem, and dreamt them not, I pray," she said in warning.

"Nevertheless I see the reflection of fell deeds upon thee; a darkness hath risen within thee that I would dismiss. Thou once had rage amidst thy spirit. Now thou hast become thy rage, am I not correct?"

"Indeed so; I am become the hand of wrath."

"Then show to me the blood upon thy hands."

Here Elrond looked into Helluin's eyes, willing her to open her heart to him. He had been warned. She could do aught but share with him, though the gift might overthrow him. Helluin returned his gaze and he was immediately seized and captured within it, his mind reeling from the strength of her will. Though Elrond had chosen the life of the Eldar, he was Peredhel. She was 4,518 years his senior, well ‘nigh four times his age, and she was a true Calaquende; in her the Light of the Trees was concentrated as in no other upon the Hither Shores. Then she shared the images of her memories. Over four years of war, over five thousands of the enemy slain, and few enough of those left to their graves.

Elrond saw, from the summer of 1695, how Helluin and Beinvír had preserved his left flank. He saw the slaughter they had wrought with sword and bow on the far banks of Mitheithel and Bruinen. He saw the slaying in the night. 1696 came and went with bloodletting, and he was astonished at how close she had been to his force throughout, though never had he marked her. She had watched the assaults of Gil-galad's army, and the movements of the Naugrim and the Nandor, and then the retreat of both to Khazad-dum. Beyond his guarded cliffs she had hunted the Yrch in the very woods upon his threshold. And then she had turned away south to harry the Glamhoth.

Then in 1697 she saw at last the pitiful remains of her friend Celebrimbor, shot with many arrows and mummified slowly over many campfires; shrunken, blackened, preserved by the soot, and still swinging upon the standard pole of the Glamhoth like some macabre puppet carelessly fabricated of smokehouse meats. Well ‘nigh two years after his death his pitiful corpse still marched before the host of his enemies. Elrond was shocked at the sight, but he felt Helluin's wrath explode and that was more terrible still; the night had come down.

Now Elrond's body squirmed in his chair as his gaze was held captive by the piercing blue eyes Helluin had been named for. Therein marched the chronicle of her war's horror…the countless bodies hewn after death and left impaled. The heads flung into the enemy camp each dawn. The mutilations and atrocities she had committed were paraded before his mind's eye as if in some nightmare kaleidoscope. Yea, they were forced upon him, tamped down the gullet of his memory as grain into the craw of a pâté goose. Elrond began to struggle in revulsion but Helluin constrained him and he could not shy away. He was held thrall by her will, and by the glamours of her enchantments was forced to witness the carnage she had wrought upon their enemies.

I shalt share with thee as thou asked, hiding nothing so thou shalt understand aright the nature of what I hath seen and done, and why suffers so my friend. For me thou can'st do naught, I deem, but for her perhaps some good can'st thou bring, Young Healer. And so I charge thee, watch, and I shalt share as thou beseeched me, though it damn me in thine eyes and in the eyes of all our people.

He saw the tableaus she had left displayed for the Yrch, the cobbling together of their body parts into unnatural figures, the coming of Sauron to view them, and by what slender a margin Beinvír had restrained her from the attempt to slay him with the Sarchram. With all his powers Gorthaur could not see her, yet preserved by her stealth, she had stalked him. And the carnage had continued through the year 1698 and into 1699, as she and her ailing friend followed the Glamhoth across Eriador, wrecking upon them such damage and horror as they could inflict. With her, Elrond drank in their fear, supped upon their terror, and reveled in the spilling of their blood. And when she at last released him, he slumped back in his chair gasping for breath; eyes clenched shut, grinding his teeth, and twitching as if in great pain.

"Perhaps 'tis I who should now heal thee," she said softly as she watched him writhing and trying to accommodate the pictures and feelings she had shown him. She sat silent in her chair and waited as the afternoon fled.

It was long ere he could adjust to what he had seen. Night had fallen when he finally sat upright and breathed with ease again, and still his mind was haunted. Never would he forget.

"Verily into the Void hath thou ventured, for such hatred comes not from the spirit of the Eldar within the Circles of Arda. Yet thou hast seen in Ages past that Eternal Night and thou art familiar with it, and so for thee ‘twas but a return to a place already known and accepted. Thou art acquainted with that place of chaos, where no law or rule of conduct holds, and where no fear or hatred is unknown. For thy friend, indeed for any other, I deem, such a visit would be fraught with horror. Having walked in thy steps through these years of war, I am surprised that Beinvír still treads this shore. Just by seeing the path thou hast strode am I chilled to the quick. Even were I to come thither to Aman, never would I look through that window upon the darkness, knowing now aught of what lies there, and if like her were I forced hence, I should recoil in fear and loathing."

"The Void is not to be feared, Elrond, only that which we ourselves create to fill it. Evil and hatred art amongst the known, but true emptiness is not within our capacity to accept. Rage in battle hath long ruled my spirit, and in my long years of unaccompanyment I hath accepted it to fill the lesser void within. War ever kindles anew my rage, yet despite being accompanied of late, I hath not changed. Beinvír hast suffered the knowledge of my rage more than she hath suffered the ravages of war."

Elrond weighed her words. He had never seen the Void nor lived in Aman. He knew of her long years there mostly from the stories of others, and these were few. Yet when first Glorfindel had arrived in Lindon, he had once spoken of Helluin and of the millennia she had spent wandering the Blessed Realm unaccompanied. For a great part of her time, Helluin had conducted herself thus in Middle Earth as well.

In such solitude it was conceivable that she had developed values and beliefs dissimilar to other Elves. Indeed she was unlike most other Elves in her preference for solitude. Perhaps from the start she had been different. Perhaps from the start she had been fated to walk a different path. Obviously she was not as horrified by her conduct as Beinvír had been, or as was he. She seemed able to set aside the conventional ideals of propriety and judge what was acceptable by her own criteria alone.

A law unto herself at heart. Asocial, Elrond thought…she is at least partially asocial, and war has seduced her to revert to the options that asociality confers. Helluin was only weakly compelled to let sanction dictate her behavior. It left her free to act, but also removed the conventional restraints on her actions. As such she could accomplish much and might be capable of anything. It was a frightening prospect.

"Doth thou condemn thyself for thy actions…those that many would judge atrocities?"

"Thou mean the dismemberment and mutilation of the slain? Nay, I do not. I hath met force with force, sword with sword, and terror with terror. This enemy deserves aught else of me. Yet its impact upon my friend I loath. For her wellbeing would I desist, and in desire of such hath I come hither, here to distance myself from the conflict and the necessity. For her sake only do I seek to constrain my actions."

"Not for some abstract sense of right or wrong?"

"I know right from wrong, Elrond. I know justice from injustice, mercy from cruelty. Yet I hath freed myself, either of such judgments as do not apply, or to know when to hold in abeyance such judgments as would hamper me."

"And thou trust thyself to be the judge of such?"

"In lieu of any other I trust more, I do."

"And yet thou art here and thy friend is ailing. In realization of the failing of thy judgment, art thou not trusting somewhat in her judgment?"

Helluin regarded the bleak truth of Elrond's words. She had judged her own actions appropriate for the circumstances, but Beinvír's reaction to them had brought them hence. The horror she had unleashed had brought her friend near to losing her will to live, for Helluin had trapped her beloved in a choice between the misery of staying to partake in her mayhem, or leaving and abandoning her lover to her unmitigated violence. It had been a Bangthaur¹, with either choice leading to pain and anguish, but Beinvír had chosen to endure the horrors with her beloved though it might cost her own life, rather than leave Helluin to an eventual suicide brought on by her uncontrollable wrath. ¹(Bangthaur = bango-(trade) --o(verb ending) + thaur(abhorrent or abominable) lit.trans. Abhorrent Trade, ver.trans. Devil's Bargain.Sindarin)

When she'd resolved to forgo the war and bring Beinvír to Imladris, Helluin had made the decision for practical reasons. Removing the Green Elf from the continuing violence and giving her spirit a respite from the carnage was a functional necessity as obvious as eating or remaining hidden. As always, Helluin had known what to do and had acted decisively to solve the problem. But she had never assessed whether such suffering had been necessary in the first place. All she had wanted to do was torment her enemies as they deserved. Maybe she had gone too far; acted too autonomously despite Beinvír's company. At least in the end her beloved’s wellbeing had taken precedence o’er her wrath. She nodded to herself.

"Perhaps we should hath shared more equally in the decisions regarding whether to use all body parts or merely the heads," Helluin admitted reluctantly.

Elrond groaned. He could not imagine Beinvír favoring anything but leaving the dead where they lay. Yet Helluin was pondering the possibility seriously.

"I deem thou art missing the point, Helluin," he said. He reclaimed her attention and she regarded him now with a questioning expression.

"Thou believe that we should hath used thus the Easterlings as well, Elrond?"

"Nay, I do not!" The Peredhel cried out in exasperation. "I wager the killing alone 'twas horror aplenty and that borne with sorrow. But when compounded by the indignities thou visited upon the dead, 'twas those acts that exceeded what Beinvír's spirit would accept, even in war."

"Oh. But she accompanied me in battle despite all that…"

"And naught for any reason save that she loves thee and would not leave thee to thy mania. In truth Helluin, did she not faithfully watch thy back in battle yet partake not of thy activities afterwards?"

Helluin thought back over the years of fighting. Never once had the Green Elf helped her hew the cadavers or arrange the remains.

"'Tis as thou say," she agreed after reflection.

"Then I say that aught shalt cure her and restore her will to live save the renunciation of thy preoccupation with terrorism. Slay thy enemies in battle if necessary, Helluin, that she may countenance, but leave them then upon the field unmolested. The warrior she can accept, the monster curdles her blood."

After some reflection Helluin sighed and nodded in agreement. She supposed that to most her actions would hath seemed monstrous…she really wasn’t sure herself. But Beinvír had fallen in love with the explorer, not the warrior, and had loved her still even during her fall into darkness. The Green Elf had stayed by her side, even as she had during the time Helluin had fought off the attack by Sauron in 1600.

I cannot torment her any longer and do not now deserve her company, Helluin thought, yet still, I shalt do what I can to heal her, for I owe her that and more. And Helluin realized that throughout the years of war, the stars had not shone nearly so bright to her eye as they had aboard the Valacirca on one magical night. Indeed she had scarce even thought of them until now, and thinking about them made her realize that she missed them. She wondered if she would ever see them thus again, brightened through the eyes of love.

To be Continued

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