In An Age Before - Part 2

Chapter Three

The Hidden City of Gondolin, and Beleriand - The First Age of the Sun

    The enemy had attacked on the eve of Tarnin Austa, the Gates of Summer, darkening the coming morn's welcome of the bright days.  The festival of thanksgiving and song was cast into nightmare as the blight of the city's winter crashed down.  For centuries on that special night a solemn silence had reigned in that city, from midnight 'till dawn, but now cries of dismay rang from the white walls.  Gondolin, fairest city of the Noldorin Elves in Middle Earth, last realm of the Exiled Amanyar* of Beleriand, had been revealed to the Great Enemy at last.  *(Amanyar, Elves of Aman, those who had completed the westward march to the Undying Lands and seen the Light of the Two Trees before the sun and the moon.  These were the Calaquendi, the Elves of Light, the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri who left Middle Earth and sailed across Belaeger, the Sundering Sea.  Quenya)

  The Host of Angband had assailed the Echoriath, the shield wall of Gondolin, overtopping the encircling peaks from their northern heights in a whelming wave of fire.  They'd covered those highlands in a living rind, a writhing skin of foes, numerous as maggots lying thick upon a ripening carcass.  By command of Morgoth Bauglir their master, the Uruloki, firedrakes sired by Glaurung, the Valaraukar, or Balrogs, under the dominion of Gothmog, wolves of the kindred of Draugluin, lumbering armored Tor¹, and Yrch* beyond count overran the hidden kingdom.  Ere the Gondolindrim could array their warriors or prepare their defense, the Guarded Plain was taken and the enemy besieged the city itself, encircling the high hill of Amon Gwareth.  The plain of Tumladen lay under a reek of steam and smoke, through whose clouds Morgoth's forces martialed to destroy the city of Turgon, while the twelve noble houses of defenders fought in desperation and confusion.  *(Yrch, or Glam, Orcs, pl.  Sindarin)  ¹(Tor, Trolls, pl.  Sindarin)

  Yet even in defeat the valiant among the Gondolindrim did many deeds worthy of memory and song.  There in the Square of the King, Ecthelion battled and slew Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs and Captain of Angband, in single combat, though he was flayed and enveloped by the Dark Flame.  Long they fought, neither yielding to wound or failing courage.  Never had an enemy struck blows so bitter against the fallen Spirit of Fire, though the Valarauko had laid low no less an adversary than Fingon son of Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor in Exile.  Ecthelion of the Fountain, seeing the fall of his city and the jeopardy of his king, called upon the resolve of the doomed to bolster his courage.  No fear diminished his heart in the face of his death, for here he faced the slayer of his overlord and the assailant of his liege.  In his last defense before the Tower of Gondolin, the light of his eyes flared as he dealt the Balrog's death stroke with the spike that capped his helm ere he fell, burned and poisoned by his wounds, dragging his foe with him into the deep Fountain of the King.  Thence to the Halls of Mandos Ecthelion's spirit departed, rejoicing that even amongst the greatest of his forefathers he had won renown by avenging King Fingon and Feanor the Proud.

  Fierce was the fighting outside the city, even as it was within Gondolin's walls.  Among those who still battled upon the Plain of Tumladen even as it was overrun stood Helluin of the Host of Finwe, called also Maeg-mormenel, named for the star whose blazing blue light shone in the color of her piercing eyes against the night dark sky of her flowing jet hair.  Noldor and Calaquendi, she had seen the Stars of Varda Elentari in their first glory, and in Blessed Aman, the Light of the Trees.  In her eyes that light shone forth as she did battle, retreating to the gates of the city and leaving a trail of fallen enemies to mark her passing.

  She was a deadly warrior, though when asked, named herself an explorer first.  In this First Age of the Sun, she was already over 4,400 years of the sun in age.  She had fought Morgoth's Hosts aforetime, and amidst the great battles, violence had ruled her in such measure that friend and foe alike had shied from her face in astonishment and fear.  She had fought as one possessed of some unholy bloodlust, tapping a darkness within that was shocking to most of the Eldar, for they had known such reckless ferocity aforetime only from the minions of Morgoth.  That darkness consumed her, ruled her, and yet derived not from some natal flaw of temperament, for she was neither vicious nor brutal save in combat.  The source of it was unknown to most of the Noldor, a mystery, for she had not learned it with the martial skills she'd acquired from Eonwe or the Maiar of Tulkas in Aman.  Tulkas fought with laughter and a smile of pure joy on his face; Helluin fought with a sneer of intimidating menace.  Her overwhelming violence came forth from a dark aspect she'd acquired en route to Endóre, and in Middle Earth it served her well. 

  Here she dealt a death stroke to a Torog* though his claws tore at her armor in his fall and her sword was shattered in piercing his hide.  She snatched an abandoned Orch¹ scimitar and hewed the Orch Captain Glog, but the jagged blade caught in his spine-bones and snapped when she wrenched it free.  Tossing aside the haft in disgust, she flung the dead captain's company a feral laugh as she drew her dagger and planted her feet.  *(Torog, Troll, sing.  Sindarin)  ¹(Orch, or Glamog, Orc, sing.  Sindarin)

  "Surely Morgoth Bauglir hast emptied his fortress of Angband to lay this siege.  Thy entire nation against but one city," she cried out as she taunted her enemies.  "Noble company I shalt hath and plenty when I meet Namo in the Halls of Mandos this day.  Death to us both then, but better my reward than thine, thrall!"

  Yet even as she said it, a thing occurred that could only have happened in the midst of a battle.  The falling body of a dead Elf smashed headfirst into the Yrch company, crushing many beneath its ruin and scattering the rest.  The Yrch could well understand bombarding an enemy with the bodies of the fallen, and so they looked up the sheer wall of Amon Gwareth in fear.  Helluin did as well, after noting that the fallen body belonged to none other than Maeglin, son of Eol, an ambitious whippet of whom her only feelings had been a long-growing antipathy.  The final part of the unforeseen event was the fall of a sword, in truth, just what Helluin needed at that fateful moment.  It landed blade first in the upturned eye of the Orch Lieutenant, sparing itself from crashing onto the paving stones by sheathing itself in his body.  As he pitched forward she snatched the weapon from his corpse, only mildly surprised when it clove him asunder.  Then she twirled it in her hand, noting the fineness of its balance.  She had no difficulty slaying the remaining seven Yrch of the company before making her way through Gondolin's broken main gate.

  Later she would come to learn that the sword had a will of its own, for it was an unadorned black blade, very unusual in its lack of traceries or inlays, and it seemed to seek blood.  In this it was a perfect match to her spirit, for when Helluin had won renown in the Dagor Aglareb and the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, she had slain countless of her lords' enemies in a murderous frenzy.  Maniacal laughter had welled up from her throat.  Indeed her own allies had feared to approach her in her wrath for she was fell, her eyes blazing with blue light, black hair whipping with the violence of her strokes, and as she slew she screamed, ”Beltho Huiniath!”*, at the top of her lungs.  Many of the Noldor respected her, but many feared her ungovernable violence as well.  A dark sword had fortune delivered to a heart well acquainted with darkness.  Though she had never before held it in her hand, Helluin knew this sword for she had seen it many times before.  *("Beltho Huiniath!" = beltho (kill, imp. -o) + huiniath (huin, them, coll. pl. -iath, all of them), lit. trans. "Kill all of them!", ver. trans. Kill 'Em All!, Sindarin).

  Without a doubt this was Anguirel, the blade of meteoric iron that the twisted and secretive Maeglin had stolen from his father, Eol of Nan Elmoth, and it was one of a pair.  In truth, Helluin had come to loath the young miscreant who'd lusted for years after his cousin, Princess Idril Celebrindal, the golden-haired daughter of Turgon the king.  She spared scant sorrow now for his death, but she rejoiced in his weapon.

  Little did she know that it was a mortal man, Tuor son of Huor, who had slain Maeglin, casting him from the walls of the city with a mighty stroke of his axe while rescuing his wife, Idril, and their son, Earendil.  Maeglin's corpse had bounced thrice off the rocky Hill of Watch ere crushing the Yrch, a great shot that the Man had not remained upon the wall to celebrate.  Later Helluin would thank him effusively.  At that moment she thankfully clasped the hilt in her bloody hand and strode into the court behind the gate, finding it a scene of chaos.

  Combat flowed all about and the dead, both friend and foe, were piling up on the blood slickened masonry.  Battle cries, screams of pain, and cries of woe assaulted Helluin's ears.  Orders yelled and the tramping of boots, horns blasting notes distorted by waves of heat as they echoed through the streets, crash of masonry and whoosh of flames all added to the clamor and confusion.  Dragon fire exploded into the comely South Fountains beside the Way of Running Waters; clouds of steam erupted skyward obscuring much of the surrounding melee.  The necrotic stench of the wyrms' flesh assailed all.  Harsh shrieks of triumph, the unearthly hooting calls of the Glamhoth*, the guttural bellows of Trolls, and the roars of the Uruloki punctuated the din.  *(Glamhoth, Orc Horde, lit. trans. "Din Horde", coll. pl.  Sindarin) 

  Somewhere up the King's Way from where Helluin stood, the ringing of silver trumpets calling the King's Guard to retreat yet again rang through the air.  Many foes no doubt stood between her and Gondolin's defenders.  Like many others, she was cut off from the main host of the Gondolindrim, and yet, she thought, what did it really matter?  The city was revealed at last, the Echoriath breached, and Tumladen overrun.  Death for them all seemed but a matter of time, for with the fall of the Hidden Rock, there would be no place beyond the reach of the Dark Enemy of the World.  Yet the Fall of Gondolin would come at no small cost even to Morgoth.  One already of his lieutenants had fallen in a fateful and historic combat.  Gothmog, the Captain of Angband and Lord of Balrogs, lay dead by Ecthelion's hand, having traded his life to slay the noble Lord of the Fountains. 

  Now Morgoth's minions were running amok with no certain battle order.  Nevertheless they were numerous enough to carry the day.  The main gate and the north gate had both fallen.  There was combat in the King's Square, in the Great Market beyond it, and in the Square of the Folkwell.  Repelling the invaders looked hopeless to Helluin's practiced eye; already firedrakes were converging to undermine the Tower of Turgon, and ever more of the enemy was charging into the city.  Most of the mansions and halls were consumed in flames.  Helluin shook her head.  Ondolinde had been her home for 384 years.  As she negligently slew any that approached her, she thought Gondolin as good a place as any in Middle Earth to die…better than most places in fact.  Namo awaited her, but once in the Halls of Mandos she would have to question him, if such could be done, concerning the words of a certain doomed Man.

  Then out of the corner of her eye she spied a second thing unlooked for, and on such a day of infamy, the observation seemed fated.  There, disappearing through the arched side entrance into a building that she knew housed nothing more than a stable, were the fleeing forms of Tuor, Idril, young Earendil, Galdor, Glorfindel, and many more of the noble folk of Gondolin.  What could they possibly want with the few horses stabled in the Hidden City?  Within the encircling mountains the beasts were a ceremonial indulgence at best.  But the stable was 'nigh the house of Tuor and Idril, its owner no doubt in their confidence.  Helluin smiled to herself; if there was an escape attempt in progress, then it was for the better to join and support it.  Perhaps they'd need a rear guard, for after living 4,411 years of the sun, she could plainly see that the whole attack had reeked of treachery.  She could not know that she grasped the evidence of that treachery's redress in her hand.

  At that moment words spoken to her long ago came again into her mind, but now for different cause.  "Thou shalt in days ahead repay this sacrifice we make for thy lord," Huor of Dor-lomin had declared with the foresight of the doomed, "for thou shalt succor the sons of my house yet to be."  After thinking she'd be questioning Mandos about those very words, she recognized her fate.  Where Tour and Earendil went, Helluin was bound by debt and honor to follow.  No less could she do for Idril, the only child of her king.  There was nothing more she could do here for Turgon, last son of her old lord Fingolfin. 

  Shrouded in the miasma of the burning, Helluin quickly fought herself free of the nearest of her enemies and then slipped through the arched door.  In the relative quiet the blade in her hands seemed to thank her for the anointment of blood.  On the stable's floor, faint footprints in the straw and dust led her to a trapdoor.  After quickly opening the stalls to free the horses, Helluin descended through it into a tunnel.

  Above her the milling horses erased all traces of their passage.  Below in the dark, only by the acuity of her hearing did she discern the telltale sniffling of the young Earendil and the slight scuffling of Tuor's mortal footsteps, the only clues to the secret way under the Guarded Plain.  She hastened to follow in absolute silence, hoping against hope that they weren't planning to collapse the tunnel in the wake of their passage.   

  Long they walked in the darkness and long she followed.  How far beyond the Echoriath did the tunnel extend?  'Twas a league and a mile to the encircling mountains from the precipice of Amon Gwareth.  Perhaps it was another quarter-mile from the stable to the outer walls of the City of Gondolin.  The mountains of the Echoriath were more than three leagues in breadth, in places as much as nine, depending on where the tunnel breached the surface and issued forth again into the light.  She knew nothing of its course save that it ran to the northwest; her unfailing sense of direction told her that much…obliquely towards Angband, she thought, of courseand the highest peaks of the Echoriath.  And probably into an encampment of Uruloki and Valaraukar, she mentally added with a groan.  For reassurance, she clasped tighter the hilt of her new sword.

  Eventually she let her mind slip into the waking dream that passes for sleep among the Eldar.  There, while one foot silently followed the other, she beheld again the Light of the Undying Lands, standing on the blessed Hill of Tuna where she could with but a turn, espy Varda's comforting stars in the darkened sky through the Calacirya, the Pass of Light.  Soon it seemed, she heard ahead of her the whispering of the company, and she withdrew from her memories.  Helluin perceived that she would soon come upon them in the darkness for they had stilled their steps and stood together taking counsel.

  "Soon must we find our way hence," declared the unmistakable baritone of Galdor, Lord of the House of the Tree, "ere summer's early rising of Anor betray us yet.  But wherefore indeed hath we come?"

  "Here the way issues from the Echoriath into a high vale, and many miles still lie before us ere we find the way to Taur-Nu-Fuin," a voice Helluin recognized as Idril's whispered.

  "Surely Dorthonian is held in force against us," a worried voice she knew was Tuor's replied.  "We shalt be espied long ere we reach the plain."

  "Perhaps a distraction could aid our flight," Galdor suggested.

  "A distraction greater than the burning of Gondolin I hath difficulty to imagine," Tuor responded dryly, "but we shalt be as naked to the eyes of Dorthonian."

  "Yet still we may come, by favor of the Valar, unto the Pass of Anach at the headwaters of the Mindeb unseen," Idril continued hopefully.

  "Nay.  The Host of Morgoth must hold Dorthonian still, for though they hath assailed Gondolin in might, they would not chance being themselves flanked from the east, for not all evil there counts itself in Morgoth's service," Glorfindel's unmistakable musical voice disagreed.  "We dare not take that route with so many among us wounded…even coming to the plain and the pass as thou suggest would end not our jeopardy."

  Helluin eased her way forward, into the rear of the crowd whose attention was so focused on their leaders that they paid her no mind.  She was familiar to them all.  She looked around and noted that, save Turgon himself and Ecthelion and the others who were dead, she'd have chosen these same ones to save herself.  She nodded in the dark.

  "There lies no hope in the eastward course," she offered, "for even were thou to win free across Dorthonian, then the Ered Gorgorth would thou face to the south, and beyond it Nan Dungortheb, the Valley of Dreadful Death…dramatic, yes, unless thou favor spiders and spirits yet more fell."

  Idril, Tuor, Glorindel and several others turned to face her, surprised to hear her voice.

  She glanced around the circle of faces and gave counsel of war.  "The Pass of Anach is certainly watched.  Even Morgoth's host must guard against the spiders and worse that darkens that accursed land.  Yet were thou to gain the River Mindeb, whither then?  Yrch now roam in the land of Dimbar."

  The group saw the truth of her words though they were still astonished by her presence.

  "Helluin, how came thou hither?"  Idril asked in amazement, "we had given thee up for dead, knowing thou fought beyond the walls."

  "'Tis a tale for later, though one of good fortune from the sky," Helluin assured her.  "I would counsel thee to seek a path west.  Perhaps the way that lies hidden there will bring us safely to the Pass of Sirion and thence south?  Even were we to pass the horrors of Nan Dungortheb and the enemies in Dimbar, still we would find no succor.  Nargothrond lies in ruin, and hast Thorondor not reported the fall of the realm of Doriath?"

  The others nodded in agreement.

  "Once long ago I chanced upon a way," Helluin began, recalling a harrowing journey she had made over 400 years before while scouting the eastern flank of the Pass of Sirion.  Her mission had been for Prince Finrod ere his stay in Doriath and the building of Nargothrond, when he still held the tower of Minas Tirith on the isle of Tol Sirion.  "And though that way is hard, 'tis unexpected that any should flee thither and it may yet be unwatched.  Thereabouts lies a high pass called the Cirith Thoronath, the Eagle's Cleft."

  Here Glorfindel groaned out loud.

  "What?"  Asked Idril and Tuor almost with one voice, married couple that they were.

  Helluin grinned.  "Lord Glorfindel is right to loath that road.  It winds amongst the precipices above the snow line for a ways, a single-file path, and no provisions but much hardship will we find there.  Scarcely a thing lives in those lands, and for that reason it may serve us, for hopefully no spy watches the way."

  "Yet after three leagues of hard toil it begins to fall, and then by steep slopes finds its track after six leagues into the foothills above Sirion," Glorfindel reported.  He displayed a grimace of distaste.  No flowers grew on that sere and frigid height.

  For a while no one spoke, giving thought to the choice of the road ahead.  There were no comfortable alternatives.  Uncertainty and tension lay thick in the still air.

  "Well, we certainly can't go north," Tuor muttered absently to no one as he leaned on Dramborleg*, his long-hafted axe.  *(Dramborleg, "Thudder-Sharp", UT, Part 2, Ch. I, ADotIoN, Note 2, pg. 172.)

  Only the Anfauglith, the desolate wasteland that lay before the pits and gate of Angband ‘neath the smoldering peaks of Thangorodrim stood to the north of the trackless mountains and Dorthonian.  North would be the least expected and most suicidal direction they could take while fleeing Gondolin.  No one in their right mind fled north towards Morgoth's realm.  It was an example of what Helluin perceived as mortal humor and she'd always found such amusing.  She chuckled at the absurdity of the thought.

  About her others did likewise.  The tension abated apace and clearer thought took root.

  Of all the mortals she had known in Beleriand, Tuor, tall, dark-haired, handsome, and noble had become her favorite, for in him lived again the courage and valour of his father and uncle, Huor and Hurin of Dor-lomin, whom she had known only for a short time.  Later, when she discovered that it was Tuor's timely slaying of Maeglin that had delivered Anguirel to her hand at need, she regarded him even more highly, for she felt the hand of doom guiding their relationship.  In honor of the heroic brethren of the last generation and his providing for the deliverance of her life in Gondolin, Helluin resolved to guard his house while his years lasted.

  It was with misgivings but no more favorable options that the remnant of Gondolin issued from the hidden way and took their path westward towards Sirion.  For a while their steps led upwards and this was disheartening to all.  For a league and more they ascended before coming to the pass.  Chill winds grew and gripped them, and no food did they find amidst the barren rock of those mountains.  All about them peaks rose, snow-capped and forbidding, and if any blessing was granted them, it was the very desolation of their surroundings.  It was inconceivable that the agents of the enemy would be near. 

  Disheartening too was the view south.  There lay the burning ruin of Gondolin, wreathed in fumes, the prominent pearly spike of Turgon's Tower notably absent after its fall.  Across the miles came the roaring of the dragons and the intermittent cheers of Morgoth's host celebrating their victory.  Their home now hosted the billowing black smoke and bursts of reddish flames that marked the passage of Valaraukar as they strode the avenues in triumph.  Punctuated by the crash of falling stone, the city's ruined visage haunted the refugees until it disappeared at last behind a high ridge.

  Misery and depression were their roadfellows for two days of hardship and slow travel.  Much suffering befell the wounded among them, struggling on in the bitter cold over that narrow and slippery path.  Thin seemed the very air, sapping the strength of the company.  To the north, upon their right, a face of granite rose sheer and unbroken, many hundreds of feet high.  Southwards on their left, a chasm fell down into nothing, for there lay a rift between peaks that plummeted at last to a dry gulch, called of old, Thorn Sîr,* distant to the eyes.  At each moment the chances of a misstep threatened to send one over the edge, and many were the times a boot would skid and a gasp of panic would be heard.  Tuor soon took to carrying Earendil on his back, trusting not to fate to guard his son's steps.  Few thought their plight could worsen save Glorfindel, who brought up the rear, and perhaps Helluin, whom the host had insisted join Galdor in the lead.  Between them the survivors were strung along more than two furlongs of trail, all single-file, with the children and those most injured in the middle.  *(Thorn Sîr, Falling River.  See "The Fall of Gondolin", in TBoLT, Vol. 2, pg. 194.)

  It was on their second day of suffering that the unthinkable befell them.  Out of a dark gap in the cliffside a company of Glam issued from some underground lair to block their way and assail them.  Helluin, Galdor, and those warriors at the front of the column fought desperately to drive them back.  Glorfindel, trapped at the rear of the column, could only listen in horror, for he and his warriors were unable to come to their aid.  The battle raged fierce on the narrow path, caught between the rock wall and the abyss.  Bodies fell; both Glamog and Elf, and the dead of both races were pushed aside by the living.

  At last it seemed the Eldar were gaining the upper hand, for the Elvish warriors fought desperately for their survival while the Glam fought only to indulge their malice.  Galdor stove in the iron cap of the Glamog Captain with his steel studded war club and kicked his body into the abyss.  Then with a mighty slash, Helluin swept three of her enemies into the chasm and the rest edged back, away from the flaring blue light of her eyes and the violence of her wrath.

  It was then that a stench of sulfur and roiling flames issued from a new formed split in the rock wall.  The cliff cracked asunder with a shrieking groan of the tortured stone.  A second company of Glam rushed upon the rear of the refugees, embattling Glorfindel and the warriors with him.  And yet even worse was to come.  A Balrog issued out of the mountain, wrapped in Shadowy Fire, and snapped its whip sending four of the Glam to their deaths.  A wash of flames leapt up as the Valarauko met the free air, and smoke rose into the sky.  Behind the Balrog, more Glam poured out of the mountain to join the battle.  

  Helluin saw the black fume rising and knew what had happened at the opposite end of the column.  In desperation she looked back, and the black sword, Anguirel cried out in her hand for blood, but there was no way to pass those behind her to come to that battle.  In frustration she charged those few Glam still remaining in front of her and drove them screaming in a rout until they lost their footing and plunged to their deaths.

  The Battle of Glorfindel and the Balrog upon the frigid heights of the Cirith Thoronath is memorialized more dramatically elsewhere in story and song.  There each fought the other with masterful strokes and the unbending strength of their wills.  The Lord of the House of the Golden Flower contested with the fallen Maia, and though his sword sang with light, still he could not overcome the Dark Flame, nor could he be overcome by it.  Glorfindel was burned beyond healing; his enemy he slashed with sword and gut-gored with dagger.  Wounds each dealt and wounds each bore, and the smoke and lashing fire of the Balrog went up to the heavens.  There it was marked by farseeing eyes that had long watched over the Hidden Kingdom of Gondolin. 

  It was only as Glorfindel and the Balrog, clasping each other in a shared death grip, finally pitched over the edge of the path that a sortie of Eagles stooped upon the remaining Glam and drove them shrieking to their deaths.  Not a one survived.  They fell like cinders from a grate, down into the depths of the ravine between the mountains.  No whispered word reached the ears of Angband to report on the flight of the refugees.

  In the aftermath the Elves counted their losses and sorrow wrung songs from their lips in requiem for the fallen.  The body of Glorfindel was borne up from the depths of his ruin by Thorondor himself, and there in a place beside the high pass they buried him with honor 'neath a cairn of stones.  It is said that in later days a verdant turf and flowers of gold, elanor perhaps, came to grow upon that funeral mound, a memorial to the valiant sacrifice of the Lord of Gondolin's House of the Golden Flower.

  Now Helluin, having been at the front of the column, had played no part in that battle.  But after the entombment of Glorfindel, she allowed the column to pass her by and she took up a guard upon the rear, knowing that danger could come as easily from behind as before.  Tuor and Galdor now led the reduced company, one guide being as good as another, for about the path there were no choices to make; there were neither turns nor sidetracks to find.

  A day after the fall of Glorfindel the way began to descend and on that eve the path gentled and opened into a high sward of rough grass.  About them the first stunted trees clung to the rocky ground and a meager trickle of snowmelt found its way, haphazard among the boulders.  Here the refugees rested, finding running water and food for the first time since taking their flight.  Helluin looked down from the outcrops bordering the small field and saw pine-clad slopes and the Pass of Sirion laid out below her as with the sight of the Eagles themselves.  The bright ribbon of running water twinkled in the sun's light, beckoning with promised surcease of their torment.  Soon the others had gathered behind her for a look, and their spirits rose in hope at last though a long road lay ahead ere safety could be found.  They had been three days in the mountains.

  The flight of the remnant of Gondolin has been sung in many lays, and therein it has been told how Tuor, with Idril and Earendil, came in stealth down Sirion, 105 leagues to the willow meads of Nan Tathren above the mouths of Sirion.  There as that fateful year waned, the survivors made a feast and sang songs of sorrow and memorial, remembering all the fallen, comrades and kin, and not the least of these Glorfindel and their king, Turgon son of Fingolfin son of Finwe.  And at the last, these survivors took their way downstream again, 25 leagues to the mouths of Sirion where the great river meets the sea at the Bay of Balar, joining their host to the remnant of Doriath.  There the peoples merged, scions of Beren and Luthien and Turgon and Huor.  And the blood and the hopes of the Eldar and of the Maiar and of the Edain ran in the lines that flowed down to Elwing and Earendil on the shores of the Sundering Sea.

  Many years did those people dwell there in the lands of Avernien, between the mouths of Sirion and the Cape of Balar, and it has been told how the mariners of Cirdan the Shipwright taught them seacraft and the building of ships.  During all those years, Helluin remained among them, and at their backs she made her defense against the agents of their enemies, be they Orch, or Man, or Elf.  Many she slew in the delta and the woods 'nigh Sirion's banks, and for all the years of Tuor's life no word of them came to hostile ears, whether Morgoth, or Easterling, or son of Feanor.

  Yet in the waning of his life, Tuor finally followed the sea-longing that had grown in his heart, and he built the fair ship Earrame, the Sea Wing.  In it he took his beloved Idril and set sail into the west.  It is told that by the grace of the Valar and the presence of his wife, a princess of the Noldor, that his ship found the sea roads that no mortal sailor can find, and navigating across the Shadowy Seas, came at last to Aman the Blessed.  There, according to the bards, he was joined in eternity with his beloved Idril Celebrindal, and was numbered among the Noldor until the end of days.  Yet if this fate be so, then they were received despite the Doom of Exile, and never were they seen by the mariner who came after to Aman.

  Now ere the time of his sailing, Helluin spoke with Tuor, saying that in her heart she felt the desire to see again her ancient home of Vinyamar, though perhaps it had fallen to ruin in the years since the Gondolindrim had followed Turgon son of Fingolfin hence to the Hidden City.  Time was passing but memory remained.  Tuor had nodded in understanding, for in his 24th year he had come there to Mt. Taras, and by the aid of signs from Ulmo, had found Vinyamar and the arms left behind by Turgon at the sea god's bidding.  Dear to him as well was the memory of that country, though he had endured it alone ere he found Voronwe of Gondolin, for it had brought him to his destiny and his beloved.  Beside him Idril had smiled into his eyes, their love undimmed by a century together.

  In early summer Helluin began her journey, taking leave of Tuor and Idril, and Earendil who had grown to manhood and learned to sail.  She made her way northwest, crossing Avernien through the Birchwoods of Nimbrethil, and striking the coast again midway to Eglarest.  These lands had once been the southernmost part of the Falas, the holdings of Cirdan, where many of the Sindar and some even of the Laiquendi had taken refuge ere the ravaging in the year that followed the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.  Now the lands lay empty save for roaming bands of Easterlings, sparse companies of Yrch, and those few among the Sindar and the Edain who still resisted them.

  Helluin passed swift and silent through that land, recalling the stealth of the hunters and sentries that had once kept watch over the realm of Nargothrond, past Tar-en-Faroth to the north.  To her sad eyes, West Beleriand had become a wasteland, depopulated and ravaged by war.  Soon she crossed the River Nenning, turning inland from the sight of ruined Eglarest.  Here the land bore more severely the evidence of the destruction of the Falas.  Scars of burning and of battle were still to be seen, a scorched homestead, a broken bridge, or a fallen wall, cold memorials to ruined hopes and lost lives.

  Just as swiftly she passed through the hills between Nenning and Brithon, finally coming down through the foothills to the ruins of Brithombar.  There, amidst the fallen stones and broken walls she espied the smithies and pits, and the siege engines left behind by the Glamhoth that had assailed Cirdan's people.  Many had died here; friend and foe alike wiped forever from Middle Earth by the malice of Morgoth.

  The way from Avernien to Mt. Taras ran for 125 leagues, and after passing through that scarred and wounded land Helluin's spirit cried out for peace.  At her journey's end she stood on the strand, hearing the cries of wheeling gulls as they were the souls of those first lost in the crossing of the Helcaraxe, calling plaintively to her from the Halls of Mandos across the Sundering Sea.  The land of Aman and the city of Tirion had been her home for 3,620 sun years and Eldamar was still home to her heart, for she had dwelt there in peace far longer than she had dwelt amidst the heartbreak of Middle Earth.

  Helluin Maeg-mormenel* was the Sindarin translation by which she was known in the Mortal Lands.  Her father had chosen to name her for Helluin, likening her shocking blue eyes to the bright blue star that Varda had set in the old north as a challenge to Melkor ere the Eldar first awakened at Cuivienen.  The more descriptive after-name her mother had created translated as "Piercing the Dark Heavens" and was a testament to the soul-arresting intensity of her glance, a cerulean gaze that fairly burned against the midnight black of her hair.  Now that gaze turned inward as she stood pensive, reviewing the memories of her long life.  Not for the first time Helluin asked herself why she had ever come back.  *(Helluin blue star, (Sirius), Maeg (piercing) - mor (dark) + menel (the heavens).  Sindarin see Sil. App.)

  She had been born amidst the Host of Finwe as they marched through Middle Earth from Cuivienen to Aman, which she had reached at the age of 230, reckoning in years of the sun though their time was yet to come.  She recalled her early life under the stars, when they and the Quendi were young and every moment brought the wonder of some new discovery along the road.  There had been so much to see and so many places to explore.  Had the stars truly been so bright?  Had the lands truly been so enticing?

  One incident that she recalled now had been a vision that had come upon her in a forest east of the Blue Mountains, the Ered Luin.  'Neath ancient boles she had seemed to dream, and in her dream she had glimpsed a fell warrior, unsettlingly like in face unto herself though far, far older, armored and armed with bow and sword and a bright ring.  The apparition had knelt at her side and stretched out a tentative hand.  Surprisingly gentle, the touch was almost a caress of her cheek.  They had stared at each other, face to face, and at last the warrior had visited a sad smile upon her ere she rose and vanished.  It had been but one of many strange events in Middle Earth that remained yet unexplained, but in those moments she had felt a depth of connection, many orders of magnitude deeper than any other she had experienced.  In its wake the bonds of friendship and kinship paled, and thou not less valuable, had been put upon a scale and by comparison measured in the depth of her spirit.  And somewhere in those depths, unknown to her waking mind, she resolved to seek such connection again.  But the host had moved on.

  Though the march had taken centuries, there had never seemed to be enough time.  Helluin had been tormented by the knowledge that uncounted mysteries were being left behind.  There were vast lands she would never glimpse, wondrous creatures she would never see, foreign languages she would never learn, and myriad plants she would never understand.  In the wake of her travel experiences, her imagination had run rampant.  She had been constantly torn between looking ahead to what was next, and staring behind to see what had been missed.

  With the Host of the Noldor she had come to the Undying Lands.  There in Aman Helluin had dwelt, gaining in knowledge and power through the Age of the Trees.  True to character, once there she'd immediately set about discovering its secrets.  Seldom was she still in the first millennium of her life in Aman.  From the heights of the Pelori in the east, to the shores of Ekkaia, the Outer Sea in the west she wandered, learning the shapes of the land.  In the furthest west, past the Halls of Mandos, she came one day to the home of Nienna, a Valier even more solitary than herself, and from her windows Helluin looked beyond the Walls of Night.  Indeed, Nienna became closer in friendship to Helluin than did any other in that time.  The pair would often sit in a comfortable silence for days at a stretch, gazing beyond the boundaries of Ea and into the black void of the Eternal Night.  And through Nienna, Helluin first made the acquaintance of the Maia, Olorin.

  To the creatures in the Undying Lands she became familiar, trading tidings of the world with sea birds and the secrets of the deeps with porpoise and seal.  With Nahar and his herd she spoke, though she neither hunt nor rode in Aman.  Counsel she took with the Eagles of Manwe, meeting them high upon dizzying precipices in the Pelori that no other of the Eldar had explored.  They, noble spirits of the air, honored her and brought her tidings, of the Teleri upon Tol Eressea when they arrived 'nigh the Undying Lands, and at times even of the Sindar still in Beleriand.  They were the first to reveal to Helluin that the Host of Olwe had built ships and sailed at last from the Lonely Isle to Aman. 

  During those travels she was for the most part alone with her thoughts, but the Eldar gravitated to the companionship they found amongst others of their kind, and they had begun in Valinor a great work.  While Helluin roamed as she had done in Middle Earth all her life, the Eldar raised the great hill of Tuna, and upon it built the fair city of Tirion. 

  When she, coming to the Calacirya after three centuries first saw the Elven City, she had been amazed.  What had possessed her kind thusly, (she had wondered), to build such towers and edifices, so unnatural and self-congratulatory, fair and shapely though they were?  She saw them as but imitations of Valmar, the city of the Valar, right down to the White Tree, Galathilion, created by Yavanna in the image of Telperion.  Why bother with imitations when the real thing lay so near at hand all about? Helluin had shaken her head in consternation; the Eldar had aggrandized themselves with fine robes and gems, gold and silver, and had turned their focus inwards to themselves and their civilization.  She had soon left Tirion and returned to her exploring, for she had found the city stifling.

  In her attitudes, Helluin was an anachronism of sorts; she favored the works of those divine crafts she would never attain above any she might learn.  What clever tracery wrought in silver or gold could approach the beauty of the patterns of frost upon a leaf?  What cunningly shaped gem could compete with the sparkle in a squirrel's beady eye?  In the Valar's creation of the natural world did Helluin ever find the greatest inspiration and awe; star and comet, cloud and rain, sky and sea, mountain and plain, these were her unclaimable treasures.  To Helluin the works of Elven craft could in no way compete with the least of the olvar or the kelvar, for of Iluvatar these had the spark of life.  No hand of the Eldar would even bring to life a bird, darting and swooping on the wing, or singing its song while perched upon her finger.  The most profound difference between Helluin and her people was her lack of the desire of possession.  Naught did she crave to name unto herself alone, and little did she seek after a maker's pride in crafting.

  In her second millennium in Aman she spent much time upon Corollaire*, at the western gates of Valmar, basking in the Light of the Trees.  There lay the Vats of Varda where were stored the shining silver dews of Telperion and the golden rains of Laurelin.  The brilliant light of them went up to the heavens and lit the Undying Lands with their radience.  Helluin found this display the penultimate wonder of wonders and couldn't stay away, returning thither again and again from her wanderings.  Indeed Varda herself saw and indulged this behavior.  In Helluin, the Valier discerned the preservation of the native wonder and awe of creation that had been at first the nature of all the Quendi.  She thought it worthwhile that such honest reverence be preserved as the Eldar of Aman changed, and so she hindered not Helluin's comings to Ezellohar*.  *(Corollaire = Ezellohar, The Green Mound or Ever-Summer.  Quenya)

  Never in all her life had Helluin felt such bliss as when she stood 'neath the Trees at the sixth and twelfth hours, letting their mingled droplets fall upon her naked body and coat her in radiant silver and gold.  Although those dews would scorch forthwith any raiment she might have worn, by some blessing of the Valar she herself felt no discomfort from their heats.  In those times visions came upon her, lifting her to soar so that she might see below her the wonders of Arda that drew her footsteps thither and yon.  Perhaps the brilliance of the Two Trees wrought some change within her, for afterwards in times of great feeling her eyes would blaze with their own light, far in excess of their native habit.  While many of the Calaquendi reflected the Holy Light in their eyes, but few among them projected their own radience.  Of those that did, the illumination was invariably a ril* of silver or gold.  The blue fire that took life in Helluin's eyes was a characteristic that she shared with only one other, one exalted in all of Aman. *(ril, brilliance  Quenya )

  It was during her third millennium in Aman that Helluin met Arandil* of the Vanyar, faithful liege of King Ingwe.  She had returned to Tirion, intending to visit again with the Teleri, who had created many swan-prowed boats.  At the Bay of Eldamar they had established Alqualonde, their city and the haven of their ships.  She had stopped for sustenance in Tirion and to rest briefly from her travels ere she made her way thence to the coast.  By some fate she had sat in a courtyard where music was played.  *(Arandil = Aran (king) + (-n)dil (one devoted to)  Quenya)

   In Tirion she heard the songs of Arandil, playing upon a harp of gold and singing praises to Varda for the gift of her stars.  For the first time, Helluin felt that the value of those things learned in Tirion could rival those of the natural world she so loved.  Arnadil's words painted fair pictures in her mind.  Her heart was moved, and for the first time, Helluin knew love.  For the first time she found herself craving the company of another, and reveling in the bliss that company could bring.  She found him caring, compassionate, subtle, and wise.  He found her direct, unspoiled, caring nothing for intrigues, and vigorous of spirit beyond any woman he had met.  Aside from this, she was mesmerizingly beautiful, her hair pure black rather than golden or chestnut, her eyes blazing blue rather than sea grey.  They shared the tender communion of couples, intimacies of touch, spirit, and glance.  Many were the hours they spent in conversation or in silence together, or in the company of friends.  And yet never did they marry, nor did they produce offspring of their union.  Perhaps 'twas because each had already held in their hearts a deeper love.

  Long she dwelt with Arandil, and in that time learned much that the Valar and the Maiar would teach.  Through Arandil she met many in the Blessed Realm beyond those of the Noldor she had known.  Many were the Vanyar she befriended, and many younger Noldor who had been born in Aman as well.  She discovered that her king had sons and grandchildren.  She also discovered that she had a younger brother, Verinno*, and sister, Elvearil¹, whom she came to love dearly.  *(Verinno = Verya, root ver- (bold), + -inno (of heart, gen. n.)  Quenya)  ¹(Elvearil = Elvea (starlike) + ril (brilliance)  Quenya)

  From Arandil she acquired the warmth of heart towards others that had only been abstract before.  Yet never did she lose her lust for exploring.  That drive was only for a time given to acquiring knowledge and skills, rather than observation and travel.  She was for the most part content, but beneath her contentment lived her need to see new sights and explore new places.  In contrast, Arandil was wholly content in Aman.  His joy came from serving his lord and the Valar.  Eventually these basic differences brought about the sundering of Arandil and Helluin.  She found herself needing to travel the lands beyond the city or to spend time in Alqualonde among the Teleri.  And of course there were her pilgrimages up Taniquetil to Corollaire where stood the Two trees.  Over time these excursions grew ever longer.  Arandil never accompanied her and she eventually felt that a great part of herself and her world lay beyond the scope of their relationship.  Over the years she grew to accept this.  When it finally came, their parting was no surprise to her.  Still, it was many centuries ere she left Tirion for good.

  That parting came about with Melkor's attack that ended of the Age of the Trees. Arandil would never leave Aman or his king.  Now, with only the light of the Varda's stars overhead, Helluin felt herself returned to the time of her youth.  She saw that a chapter had ended.  The old wanderlust was rekindled in her heart.  Distant lands called and mysteries awaited her in Middle Earth.  It was time to move on.

  When the Noldor chose to accept exile and follow Feanor and his sons, she went with the host of Fingolfin, for she had been closest to the younger sons of Finwe, deeming the son of Miriel and his brood overbearing, overwillful, and abrasive.  Fingolfin and Finarfin, the sons of Finwe's second wife, Indis seemed more rational to her, and though perhaps less inspired, they made better company on the road.  With her came her younger brother, Verinno, excited by her tales of the wide lands beyond the Sundering Sea.

  The truth was that for all his talents, to Helluin, Feanor was a prideful hothead 690 years her junior.  Maedhros, the eldest of his sons, was 1,350 years younger than she was.  Even Prince Fingolfin was a pup to her; she was 800 years his senior.  And then there was beautiful Galadriel, golden daughter of Finarfin, 2,520 years her junior, who seemed always puzzlingly abrupt with her.  Not a one of them had ever stood on any ground outside of Aman.  Not a single one had set foot in Middle Earth.  And not a single one had lived in mortal lands during the Age of the Stars.  She'd rolled her eyes as they'd spoken of breathing the free air beyond the cage of the Valar.

  The oath Feanor and his sons had taken, to forsake all save recovery of the Silmarils and to exact vengeance on any who withheld them, was alarming to Helluin.  Ever rash were Feanor and his sons, she'd thought.  That in their folly they had named both the Valar and Iluvatar himself as witnesses should have sent her running in the opposite direction; still she had gone.  She'd had her own reasons.

  While they went seeking stolen treasure and vengeance and realms to rule, she'd gone seeking adventure, thinking that prepared as she was, she could explore Middle Earth under the familiar starlight for her curiosity's sake, as had been impossible on the long road from Cuivienen.  Valinor under the Light of the Trees, inspiring as it had been, had felt somewhat like a party that had gone on too long, all merriment and excitement, and in the end, exhausting.  The dark of night was more comforting to her mind and Varda's twinkling lights more soothing.  She'd had little interest in dying to recover Feanor's baubles, though she wouldn't pass up a chance to use her sword against Melkor, the murderer of her lord Finwe, First High King of the Noldor.  She was a warrior, but had ever counted herself an explorer first.

  Now as she stood on the shore beneath Mt. Taras, Helluin had to wonder just what she'd been thinking.  In hindsight she'd recognized her foolhardiness of centuries before.  She'd really thought she was prepared.  And while many of the Noldor, (and Feanor was the prime example), had spent their energies in learning most deeply of smithcraft, Helluin had explored a wide range of skills.

  Forging and tempering she'd learned from Aule's people, hunting and unarmed combat from the Maiar of Orome and Tulkas, armed combat from Eonwe himself, tillage from those who served Yavanna, healing from Este, and from Irmo's Maia Olorin, pity, hope, and wisdom.  Many decades she had spent with the Teleri, learning the practice of their shipcraft.  Of all the Noldor, she was perhaps the widest ranging in her interests, and these skills she added to her native Eldarin gifts of speech and song.  If popular tales remembered her not as the master of any craft, it is because so many prodigies had arisen among the Eldar, many of these were of noble birth, and Helluin spent great tracts of her time alone.  Indeed it was because she spent so little time in socializing that she'd had the freedom to explore so many varied interests.

  In Middle Earth her skills had been tested, but her goals had been lost in the bloodshed of conflict with the armies of Morgoth.  She'd had precious little chance to explore, and in all her time under the sun and moon since she'd returned, she'd never even gotten out of Beleriand.  She'd spent 600 years living out the consequences of Feanor's oath.

  Yet still the bitterest event, the singular deed that had set her once and forever against the House of Feanor, had been the abandoning of the Host of Fingolfin upon the ice at the Helcaraxe.  There Feanor had taken his host across the frigid waters in the stolen Teleri ships, and arriving at Losgar on the Firth of Drengist he had burned them, stranding the Noldor of Fingolfin.  Long had the journey to Middle Earth been for those left behind, and great was their suffering in that frozen waste.  For nearly thirty years of the sun they had struggled in the crossing.  Many despaired and many died.  And among these were Elenwe of Alqualonde, wife of Turgon, and Verinno, younger brother of Helluin.

  In the wake of his passing she blamed herself scarcely less than Feanor, and a grim darkness had settled upon her that had never fully departed.  In battle she loosed it on her enemies, yet in some window of her mind, it was at Feanor himself that she struck her blows ever after.  In private she had toasted a cup of wine to the Valar when she'd heard that Gothmog had beaten him down before the gates of Angband, and that he had died upon the slopes of the Ered Wethrin.  Feanor hadn't survived even a year in Middle Earth and now he was beyond her grasp, yet his seven sons remained, and for them she held scarcely less enmity.  They would meet again someday.  In Middle Earth there would be time.       

  Eventually Helluin tired of her morose train of thought and made her way inland.  To the northwest of Mt. Taras lay the gate road of Vinyamar, and upon the mountain's terraces stood its halls.  There in the southwestern corner of the deserted land of Nevrast, mansions and avenues once filled with Noldor and Sindar stood silent and empty save for the ghosts in her memories.  Enveloped in those memories she climbed the wide stairs up to the high terraces of Vinyamar that overlooked the sea, and coming finally to the hall of Turgon she passed within its door.  As in centuries past she paced that columned and echoing room, until she came at last before the throne upon its dais, which had sat so long empty of lord.  There upon the wall behind, where once Turgon had left arms by the command of Ulmo, she saw the spear Tuor had left behind in token of his passing and the taking up of his errand to the Hidden King.  But all was silent now, all deserted to wind and rain, and the ocean spray.

  All of those whom she'd once known had followed Turgon to Gondolin; a third of the Noldor of Fingolfin had disappeared thither, and the Sindar of Nevrast with them, but now almost all had fallen.  Had they remained in Vinyamar, Morgoth would perhaps have failed in his assault on the Falas, for his Glamhoth had traversed Hithlim and Nevrast enroute to West Beleriand, and many of the Gondolindrim had survived the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.  They had still comprised a great host and their warriors would have driven the enemy into the sea just as Fingon had aforetime at the Firth of Drengist.  Helluin thought that maybe this had been part of the intention of Ulmo when he had twice warned Turgon to abandon Gondolin.  The warning of the Lord of the Waters had been delivered to Turgon himself in Vinyamar ere he came to the Hidden City, and again by Tuor when he came there from Nevrast.  Yet Ulmo had bid Turgon make his way down Sirion to the sea, and Tuor had come to Gondolin years after the ravaging of the Falas, and so she had doubt.  Perhaps the Vala had sought only to preserve Turgon's people to succor those from Doriath.  To these questions she realized no answers would yet come.  The warnings had not been heeded and Turgon was lost, the Falas was lost, and the curse of the Noldor had found them all, Noldor and Sindar alike.  Though she'd sworn no oath, she too was caught in the doom of her people.  In a fey moment she wished that the three gems would fall into the depths of the sea and the earth, or be flung from Endor high into the Void and there lie forever beyond the reach of Vala, Elf, or Man.

  Long years Helluin dwelt alone in Nevrast, and she traveled that country from the Firth of Drengist to the Marshes 'nigh Linaewen, delighting in the company of the birds and beasts and her solitude.  At times she ranged over the Ered Wethrin, even back into the Woods of Nuath that cloaked the foothills sloping down to West Beleriand if the notion took her, and it was there that she encountered a thing that stunned her.

  She had been seated beside a small stream, softly singing to herself a song she'd learned in Valinor from Nienna's people, which spoke of loss over time and the falling away of the familiar as it was replaced by the new.  It was a gentle lament of sorts, bittersweet and treading on the verges of becoming maudlin, but Helluin had always liked the tune.  Now as she hummed, her voice was joined by an airy, breathy accompaniment as of a breeze passing through many branches in leaf, a beguiling sound unlike any voices of the kelvar*.  In curiosity she searched all about her, though she continued the song ere the effect disappear.  Soon, after several refrains, she marked the slight swaying of the shrubs near the freshet, moving in time with the music and absent of any wind.  She stared at them in amazement and when she silenced her voice, the voices of the shrubs continued on apace.  Helluin rose to her feet and approached the shrubs, kneeling and peering close about them in wonder.  *(kelvar, "quick ones", animals, as opposed to olvar, plants.  Quenya)

  By the Valar, the shrubs had eyes!  Helluin recoiled in shock and fell over backwards.  The shrubs shook and crowded together about the bank, withdrawing from her.  It seemed there was some number of them, quite various in form, as though they were a mixed bramble of twiggy selves trembling in a breeze.  The eyes blinked at her as she sat on her backside, petrified in wonder.  She couldn't tear her glaze from those eyes, so old and sad, and somewhat beady, but utterly devoid of malice.  Somehow she felt a sympathy for them arise in her heart.  She read their suffering over the slow passage of the years of their lives; in this she recognized kindred spirits, even in ones so strange.

  "Wh-who might thou be, ye of kind unknown to my eyes and no less expected?"  She whispered softly.  She was never more shocked than when one among them answered.

  "We art the mates of the Onodrim*, but we hath lost our way," the shrub said in Quenya, though the vocabulary and construction were as antique as any Helluin had heard in Middle Earth since her return from Aman.  The eyes blinked and looked at her sadly.  *(Onodrim, Shepherds of the Trees = Ents, protectors of the Olvar created in the Song by Yavanna, Goddess of Growing Things.  Sil; Valaquenta, Ch.2, OAaY, pgs. 39-42.  Sindarin)

  "The People of the Trees," Helluin whispered, remembering.  "How came thee hither?"

  Long, long ago, as the Host of Finwe marched west, still beyond the Misty Mountains far to the east, some of the Elven host had reported having met and held converse with tall wards of the forest, mighty creatures who safeguarded the olvar at Yavanna's wish.  Many of the Noldor doubted such an unlikely thing could be.  Helluin had never seen them with her own eyes, for in the twilit forest they were invisible unless they moved, and they moved only to approach.  She recalled that those who had met them had taught them the Elven speech and learned somewhat of the speech of the Onodrim, but it was long-winded, sonorous, and ill-suited to verse or song.  Few among the Noldor had learned it.

  "Long wanderings hath we made, and into many lands hath we traveled and slowly," the shrub explained, "and we hath approached none amongst the kelvar, for they hath become enamoured of warfare and fire and…chopping.  Somewhere along the way we hath lost our way, and we hath lost our mates.  Hath thou seen aught of them, the Guardians of the Trees?"

  Helluin thought on their words.  Beleriand was consumed in war, and for olvar such as these, and indeed all others, the lands were unsafe.  She had heard no accounts of any meeting the Onodrim, and had honestly forgotten until that moment even their existance.

  "Nay, none of thy kind hath I or any I know seen since an age ago and far to the east.  In the Age of the Stars, on the westward road, once some of my people chanced to meet some of thine.  Yet since that time even the knowledge of thy people hast faded in memory and was even at the first thought by many to be but a fancy, or flight of the imagination, or perhaps a trick of light and shadow in the starlight 'neath the trees."

  "Then thou hath seen none of our people nor heard tidings of our mates?"  The shrub asked sadly.  "Why oh why did we wander off, always seeking some new land, some more fruitful garden, and drawn for some reason ever west as if driven by a wind across this Middle Earth?"

  It was by intention a rhetorical question, yet Helluin perceived that in their hearts, as in the hearts of all that had some good within them, there lived a compulsion to seek for the western shores, and thence the Undying Lands, where dwelt the Blessed Powers of Aman.  That longing, which had drawn the Eldar across the Hither Lands, had also called to the hearts of the Guardians of Trees and their spouses, though the Guardians perhaps felt their calling to guard the forests the stronger, while their mates felt more strongly the call of the west.  'Twas a sad tale of a people sundered, and she wondered if the Valar knew this outcome of their works in Mortal Lands.  She shook her head to clear it.  

  "Nay none of thy people hath I met save thou alone," Helluin sadly told the shrub, "yet if ever I should lay eyes upon any of thy kind I shalt tell them of thy wanderings and that I saw thee here.  I am sorry, but 'tis the best I can do."

  The shrub seemed almost to nod to her in resignation, but after a silence that stretched on apace, it asked, "Would thou continue thy song?  In the melody and the words we felt some solace and some power that we have never felt in these lands.  Whence came such a tune?  We would learn it and others if thou would but teach us."

  And so Helluin spent many days teaching the Entwives the songs of Valinor, and she spoke long with them of the Undying Lands, and they in their turn spoke of their journeys in Middle Earth.  Indeed, it took long to hear their stories, for such was the compaction of details they wove about the plots, that even her Elven patience at times became frayed.  Yet still she was loath to abandon them while the opportunity lasted, and so in their days together she sang many songs and learned much lore, and the longing to explore the wide lands of Middle Earth was rekindled in her heart.

  Many nights she envisioned the faraway places of which the olvar spoke, and these often mingled with the memories of the past.  And on the nights when Tilion hid Isil's face and the sky was dark, she reveled in the light of the stars.  Then almost she could imagine herself the first of the Eldar to have awakened, yet in place of the gentle lapping of the mere of Cuivienen, she heard the waves rolling strong on the shores of Belegaer, the Sundering Sea.  No summons from the Valar would come again, she sadly thought, and no road now lies west to Aman save that of death.

  Yet upon just such a night, when the waves and the calling of the sea filled her ears, the Lord Ulmo came to her as if in a dream, and he spoke to her with great urgency. 

  "Get ye thither, back to Avernien," he commanded.  "Great evil lies afoot for the people of Earendil and Elwing at the hands of the sons of Feanor.  Again the curse arises to kinslaying over the Silmarils, yet coming there, thou may be able to aid in the doom that is appointed.  Hasten thou hence, for time is short."

  And Helluin, who had from the first revered the wisdom of the Valar, took his words to heart and replied.  "Unlike my lords I shalt hearken to thy bidding, for oft enough hath I seen the misery that follows such words unheeded.  And if it lies within my power to avert even in some small measure the fruit of the curse, than so shalt I turn my steps south."  And woe be to the sons of Feanor should our paths cross in battle, she thought, for still I owe that family blood.

  Ere Anar rose in the morning Helluin was on her way south from Vinyamar, and she traversed the lands of the Falas as one pursued, crossing Brithon and Nenning.  Though the way led 125 leagues, little shy of the length of Sirion from head to mouth, still she traveled it in but nine days.  Then coming at last from the Birchwoods of Nimbrethil she saw fire on the coast, for Avernien lay already under attack.

  By the Valar, not again, her heart cried out ere the bloodlust took her.  Yet only one among the Valar had raised his hand to avert this tragedy, and she was his hammer.  But this time Helluin had come to the battle while it still raged, as she had not at Alqualonde all those centuries before.  And here yet another seafaring people dear to her heart stood assailed by the House of Feanor.  Her rage exploded and the blue fire flared in her eyes. 

  In that battle Helluin slew Noldor and Sindar, shedding the blood of kin at last.  The remaining sons of Feanor, Maedhros and Maglor, Amras and Amrod had come to take the Silmaril that Beren and Luthien had once cut from the very crown of Morgoth, freeing its Holy Light from the black pits of Angband.  Now upon the quays at Avernien Helluin wielded the black sword Anguirel, and gratefully did it drink the blood of the Noldor of the House of Feanor.  There she felled the brethren Amras and Amrod, hewing them unmercifully, for she judged them vicious pups who'd partaken in the murder of children, Elurin and Elured, the sons of Dior, left to die in the woods of Doriath by their brother Celegorm's servants.  With her back to the sea she fought, and well 'nigh a hundred fell to Anguirel in that hour, for she unleashed the bloodlust that had raged unchecked in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.  Soon none would face her and they fled before the blue fire blazing from her eyes, yet she could not be in all places at once.

  Now Earendil was upon the sea, though she knew it not, and for him Helluin searched, and for Elwing as well.  But neither did she find, nor their sons, Elrond and Elros, whom Maedhros captured but allowed to live, for he alone so far had repented of the slaying of Dior's sons in Doriath.  Still, had they met in battle she would have slain him and Maglor as well, for in that hour she was full sick of the oath, the curse, and the sons of Feanor.  Had she never heard of the Silmarils she would have counted herself far happier for it. 

  In the waning of the fight, when those who could had fled aboard ship from Avernien and the sails of Cirdan and the High King Gil-galad were seen approaching in aid, the last sons of Feanor withdrew their army and fled.  But in that moment, Helluin saw a thing wondrous with hope.  There, stealing west above the waves moved a radiant light in the form of a sea bird swiftly flying, a shining beacon leaving Middle Earth for Aman.  Long she watched until it passed beyond her sight, making its course to and fro as though searching the sea, yet heading ever west.  And in her heart a feeling she didn't understand arose, and a rhyme unbidden she whispered as a prayer without hearing her own words:

Starlight, star-bright,

Fairest star I see tonight,

I pray the passage of thy flight,

Brings thee to Aman this night.

  Later she heard the tales of how Elwing had in desperation flung herself upon the waves bearing the Silmaril, and how some had seen her borne up over the water as a great gull, star bright.  Then Helluin and Gil-galad and Cirdan stood looking west in wonder, and despite all the death and the ruin of Avernien, she held the summons of Ulmo fulfilled, for Earendil and Elwing had escaped and the flight of Elwing sang of destiny.  One thing only remained to her mind, and taking her leave of the High King, she made known her intention to find, if possible, the Peredhil or Half-elven, the sons of Earendil and Elwing, and rescue them from Maedhros and Maglor whom she trusted not at all.

  "May the Blessing of the Valar be upon thee in thy quest," Gil-galad said in parting.

  But Helluin replied, "No Blessing shalt the Valar grant to a Noldo in Middle Earth, for like all others, kin of Feanor or not, willingly did I go into exile in defiance of them."

  "Yet thou hast done Ulmo's bidding here," Cirdan the Shipwright said.

  "But Ulmo makes not our doom," she said, "and in Middle Earth, doom hath most often come at the point of a sword."

  "And so it shalt continue apace, it seems," Gil-galad sighed.  Then looking into Helluin's ancient eyes he asked, "Tell me of Aman the Blessed for which I yearn yet have never seen save in hopes and dreams."  For he had been born in Beleriand scarcely 200 years before, and his father, Fingon son of Fingolfin had sent him to dwell with Cirdan and the Sindar of the Falas when he had still been young.

  But Helluin replied, "Thou shalt see Aman, O King, though perhaps it be only from the Halls of Mandos beyond this life's end.  Give my regards then to Amrod and Amras should thou meet them ere I do."  And so saying she took her leave and made her way north.

  Now Helluin went from the mouths of Sirion and she tracked the remnant of the host that followed Maedhros and Maglor.  These were much diminished, for many had been slain and no few had abstained from the battle, refusing at the last to bear arms against the survivors of Gondolin and Doriath.  She crossed Sirion behind them above the delta at its mouths, dogging their footsteps in stealth.  Through the south of East Beleriand they marched, making for the dense forests of Taur-Im-Duinath, there to lose any pursuit, and thence she expected, east to the River Gelion between the tributaries Brilthor and Legolin.  There they would turn north, making their way through Ossiriand to Thargelion and then to the gap between the Hill of Himring and Mt. Rerir where in the past they had made their homes during the siege of Angband.

  Four days out the company passed beneath the trees of Taur-Im-Duinath.  Following them came Helluin, silent as a shadow and wary.  Despite the woodscraft of the Sindar who had joined them, none discovered her presence.  Then in the evening of the seventh day as they traversed that forest, all saw a sight of wonder, for blazing into the western sky came a shining light, ascending from Aman in glory.  It was the first rising of Vingilot*, the ship of Earendil, voyaging with the blessing of the Valar to sail the sea-roads of the heavens.  Amazed were Maedhros and Maglor, knowing that light for what it was…the Silmaril that had escaped them.  No less amazed was Helluin, and recognizing it as the same light that had burned as Elwing fled Avernien, she felt the coming of some great doom, for that light could only have been lofted on high by the grace of the Valar.  One at least of the gems was safe forever in the element of air.  In the twisted woods of Taur-Im-Duinath, Helluin rejoiced.  The prayer she had whispered on the shore at Avernien had been answered, and it echoed the prayers of many in Middle Earth.  In her heart she felt satisfaction, for whatever was to come, she had played some small part in that destiny at Ulmo's bidding.  *(Vingilot, "Foam Flower", carried Earendil to Aman, and then across the heavens as the evening and morning star; the planet, Venus.  Quenya)

  Now the journey went on, and being one against an army, Helluin gave thought as to how she might waylay the sons of Feanor and free Elrond and Elros.  She had come very close to the host, close enough to see their campfires at night and smell the cooking of their food.  Time ran against her, for she knew that sooner or later, whether through some fault of hers or luck of theirs, or by some trick of fate, she would be discovered.  Worse than this, once they entered Ossiriand, she would be in the country of the Laiquendi, the Green Elves, and none in Middle Earth so excelled at stealth or exceeded their mastery of woodscraft.  She knew them not, but long had the sons of Feanor dwelt nigh their lands and had come among them, and Helluin suspected they were in league still and would turn on her.  She felt the need to force the confrontation while they still walked in Taur-Im-Duinath, and with every step she pondered how to make it so.

  Yet as oft occurs, the decision was taken from her by fate, for nigh the eastern edge of the forest, the Elven company was surrounded and engaged by an army of Yrch larger than itself who had been ordered to assault the Eldar of Avernien.  During the years of her absence in Vinyamar many spies had roamed the lands south of Nan Tathren, both those of the sons of Feanor and those of Morgoth the enemy.  Now under cover of night they attacked those who had before been the attackers.

  Helluin heard the battle open and raced forward through the dark, for now the peril of the Peredhil had increased unacceptably.  Yet when she came to the battle she saw a thing unexpected, for there at bay stood Maglor, sword in hand, shielding the sons of Earendil against the onslaught of the Yrch.  At their back stood Maedhros, wielding his sword in his deadly left hand, a cup-hilted dagger lashed to the stump of his right.  The Peredhil too were armed, Elros with a bright longsword, and Elrond bearing the fell, double-bladed axe she had seen his grandfather carry for so many years.  For a moment she stood in amazement, for the sons of Feanor fought with all the viciousness of parents protecting their young.  The moment lasted but heartbeats before she moved against the Yrch, for no enemy brought together those at odds faster than the agents of Morgoth. 

  In her hand the black sword sang, rejoicing to spill the blood of the Orch soldiers.  It clove through armor and flesh with but a whisper, and many were the enemies that fell before her wrath in that hour.  Helluin hewed them without mercy, for no mercy could any of the Noldor find for the creations of Morgoth Bauglir.  Through them she fought her way to the sons of Feanor, and she planted her feet beside them, as unlikely a thing as any she could have imagined.  Then though the battle raged until the rising of the sun, none came close enough to threaten the sons of Earendil and Elwing that night.  Finally as Arien lofted the vessel of Anar into the heavens, the last Orch was slain, and so no news came north to the enemy from the mouths of Sirion.

  In the aftermath there were moments of awkwardness and uncertainty.  Maedhros and Maglor had received aid in battle from the one who had slain their brothers, Amrod and Amras, and vengeance should have ruled their hearts, yet both were tired of vengeance.  They'd seen Helluin's battle prowess and the mastery of her swordplay with Anguirel.  She had certainly come to avenge the dead of Avernien and rescue the Peredhil.  And yet she had slain uncounted numbers of their enemies, and now both brothers were daunted by the intensity of her ancient blue eyes.  For her part, Helluin had seen the earnestness with which the brothers had defended their captives, and she perceived with the acuity she'd gained from Olorin in Aman that indeed they had come to love their young captives.  Unexpectedly, it seemed that common purpose ruled their actions.  Finally she sighed, weary in heart if not in body from the fighting.

  "Why did thou take them?"  Helluin asked, indicating the Peredhil with a glance.

   The sons of Feanor looked to each other and Maedhros answered, suddenly uncertain, "Because we could, I suppose…it seemed a wise course at the time."

  "And what will thou do with them?"

  "At first we had thought to hold them to ransom the Silmaril, yet now that gem seems beyond the grasp of any in Middle Earth," Maglor reasoned.  "And truth be told, I am sick at heart of all that hast been done in desire of them and for fulfillment of our father's oath."  He glanced at Elrond and Elros.  "Now at last my heart is turned to their plight; their home is destroyed, their people dead or scattered, and their parents gone.  We cannot bring them back and we will not abandon them."

  Here Maedhros looked away, the first of the brothers to feel guilt over the treatment of the sons of Dior.  Though bound till death by the oath, it had achieved only ill and the killing had become too much.

  "Nay, never shalt we abandon them," he declared softly, "for having taken them from their homes in our madness, so now we must fulfill for them what their parents would have done."

  "Shallow substitute to their hearts though it be," Maglor added with remorse, "it seems the only right course that we offer to them our hearts and the strength of our arms.  As princes of our own house they shalt be."

  Helluin weighed their words and knew they spoke the truth of their hearts.  She could no more refute their intentions than slay them now.  What could she do for the Half-elven better than what the sons of Feanor proposed?  Through the madness of the oath and the working of the curse, some courses became right though all sense would dictate otherwise.  Still she would not trust blindly.

  "I think I shalt join thy company and travel north," she said, "I hath always desired to visit Ossiriand and see the Mountains Beyond the Land of Song.  Traveling together would be safer for all involved should more Yrch appear along the road."

  Maedhros and Maglor nodded in agreement.  Another warrior of her caliber would add to their chances of returning home alive with their new wards.  So it was decided that Helluin would join the sons of Feanor on their march to Thargelion.  She only hoped that she could stand the company.

  For two weeks the company made their way north, crossing the River Gelion and passing through Ossiriand.  But the land lay silent; no Elven song disturbed the watchful quiet.  Not until they came 'nigh the River Ascar did they see any of the Laiquendi, though all suspected that a watch had been kept over their march.  The meeting occurred in the evening, when between one blink and the next a figure appeared at the edge of their fire.  It was a tall Elf, a Lord of the Laiquendi, clad all in greens, though these seemed to vary in hue and gave the illusion of foliage shifting through fire light and shadow in a breeze.  He rose to his feet as if a drift of leaves was forming a figure by some glamour or device of enchantment.  Over one shoulder he bore a bow, a quiver was at his back, and a long knife was sheathed in his belt.  The Noldor could only stare at him as though he were an apparition until he spoke.

  "Greetings Maedhros and Maglor, sons of Feanor, what tidings from the south?"   

  The brothers looked at each other and shrugged uncomfortably.

  "A moon ago thou traveled this land in haste with greater host, and return with three who came not with thee then," he continued.  "Now many hath been lost and a new star rises.  We hath heard rumor of battle and the sacking of Avernien.  Whither now, sons of Feanor?"  He smirked at them, obviously already knowing the answer.

  Helluin stood and spoke, having more curiosity and less guilt than the others.

  "I am Helluin, an explorer of the Host of Finwe, and of late, a warrior in the service of the House of Turgon.  Here returning from the sack of Avernien is the company of the House of Feanor, and with them go Elrond and Elros, sons of Earendil the Mariner and Elwing, daughter of Dior, Thingol's Heir of Doriath.  We march north to Thargelion, and by thy leave would have safe exit from thy lands."

  He regarded her with an appraising grin for some time as he weighed her words.  He detected no lie and no subterfuge.  It was…refreshing.  The border of Ossiriand lay not a league north beyond the Ascar.

  "Helluin of the Host of Finwe, thou art a stranger to these lands," he said, looking her in the eye.  She inclined her head a small degree in agreement.  "We hath heard of the Fall of Gondolin and thou hath our sympathies.  All enemies of the Great Enemy hath suffered, whether one dwell in a city hidden or open in the woods.  Thou art welcome to pass these lands."  Here Helluin nodded to him in thanks and his attention passed to Maedhros and Maglor in turn.  "Thou hast had but mixed success I see," he chided, "and I feel many lives hath been lost, yet that which was sought hast eluded thy grasp yet again.  For thy past stance against the evil of the north thou hath our thanks and safe passage as always, but no aid for the achievement of thy oath.  Go in peace and in memory of thy brothers whom we do not see amongst thee."

  "The tale is as thou hast said," Maglor answered, "and we tire of the fruitless quest.  Were we able now, my brother and I would take back our rash words in Aman, yet by our oath we are bound.  Pity us if thou will, for we are sick at heart and tired.  We go now to stand again against the Great Enemy." 

  The Green Elf nodded in understanding and Helluin read the pity in his eyes.  Though great lords of the Noldor were the sons of Feanor, she saw that for him, no treasure held the value of freedom and a heart unbound.  In some ways he reminded her of herself, in the earlier days of her migration west from Cuivienen and the wonder and absorption she had felt walking free in the woods under the stars.  Yet for both she and he that joy had been tempered by long labors in Middle Earth and the heartbreak of war.

  Last the Green Elf turned to Elrond and Elros, and though they were but youths among the Eldar, he knelt on one knee and bowed his head to them.  They looked at him, startled and confused.

  "I would know thee by thy arms had no words been said, for is that not Aranruth*, which King Thingol bore aforetime?"  He asked, nodding to the scabbard at Elros' side.  "All my people honor thee, sons of Elwing, daughter of Dior, son of Luthien, daughter of Elu Thingol and Melian the Blessed.  Long did thy ancestors in Doriath hold back the evil.  Luthien the Fair and Beren son of Barahir lived amongst us on Tol Galen, and we were honored by their presence.  Thou hast our service at need in memory of them."  *(Aranruth, sword of King Thingol of Doriath was passed down to Elwing, and finally came with Elros to Númenor, where it became an heirloom of the king's house, along with the Axe of Tuor, Bregor's Bow, and most importantly in the Third Age, the Ring of Barahir. -UT, Pt. 2, Ch. I, ADotIoN, Note 2, pg. 171.)

  "I…I th-thank thee," Elros mumbled, taken aback by the honor done them.  Beside him, Elrond nodded in surprise and the Green Elf rose to his feet.

  "My heart betides the coming change of many things," he declared in prophecy.  "Not long now will Middle Earth wait, for the rise of Gil-Estel* is a sign, and as that star comes forth from the west, so too shalt the Powers Undying come at last to wrest justice for those who suffer in these Hither Lands.  Go thou north to battle and keep faith."  *(Gil-Estel, "Star of Hope", epithet for Earendil.  Sindarin)

  In the blink of an eye he disappeared, and as they strove to mark his passage, all the surrounding woods came alive with a subtle shifting and flutter of motion as the Host of the Laiquendi lessened their stealth and withdrew.  Hundreds had stood unseen within earshot and the Noldor had never perceived them until they had allowed a hint of themselves to be seen.  Helluin hid a smile of admiration for their woodscraft; no doubt the Green Elves had dogged their footsteps all the days of their march and each of them had stood with an arrow reserved for them while they'd talked.  She realized that though she'd committed his face to memory, she'd never learned his name.  Well, life is long, she thought, and perhaps we shalt meet again somewhere, someday.

To be continued

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