In An Age before – Part 26
The Havens of Umbar – The Second Age of the Sun
30 Gwirith, (April 30th), was a day much like each of the past seven; chilly for the season and pouring rain. Helluin was grumbling and Beinvír was stoic and silent. The Green Elf stared out from 'neath the hood of her cloak as the drops pummeled the fields all about them. Off to their left to the west, Beinvír could still hear the swollen flood of Anduin in her minds ear, carrying away an astonishing array of flotsam and gnawing at its banks. Watching the torrent earlier had grown uncomfortable for her and she was thankful that their path now lay some leagues inland from it. She felt sorry for the fish and sorry for the ducks.
They had made about 55 leagues since leaving Laiquadol on the 23rd, and now they were some 30 leagues from Greenwood, just south of the eastward thrust of the downs and the Brown Lands. The scenery was monotonous and another 60 leagues of the same lay ahead ere they came to the even less picturesque lands north of the Cirith Gorgor that led into Udûn. Oerhead the weather was monotonous too, with grey skies from horizon to horizon. It seemed the days to come would bring no change in the steady, drenching rain.
"Feels like rain…tomorrow or perhaps the next day," Helluin griped under her breath, recounting the words of the Onod, Soursap. "Would that he had said, 'feels like rain tomorrow and everyday, and I should owe him some measure of respect for his seership. Then I should be a happy Elf…Oh, tra-la-la," she muttered.
Beside her, Beinvír rolled her eyes. She could well imagine that such a drenching meant 'naught to the Onodrim, bringing neither discomfort nor displeasure. 'Tis the olvars revenge, she thought, I am sure they revel in it, for 'tis naught but water, their favored draught. Well, sooner or later even they would miss the sun. In the meantime, she wondered after the condition of the swamps that Helluin had mentioned lay ahead.
By 9 Lothron, (May 9th), the weather had changed not a wit and the two Elves were beyond the verges of ill-humor. Not only were they soaked in all respects, but steeped in mud as well. Thoughts of a dry bedroll and a campfire seemed like hopeless dreams of riches beyond the wealth of Tirion the Fair and no less a magick than what a Vala might conjure. To escape their depressing circumstances they had walked for days, half awake and half in the realm of memory, seeing their surroundings with phantasmal vision and passing the miles suppressing the full attentiveness of their minds. Yet now even that respite had ended.
Helluin and Beinvír slogged forward in stealth, so much as was possible, fully aware of their surroundings, for they had come within eight leagues of the Cirith Gorgor and the gateway to Mordor. Each knew that her own eyes would hath marked their progress with ease from the heights of the Ered Lithui or the Ephel Duath that stood dead ahead. And there was 'naught available for cover in that desolate terrain. They could only trust to the virtue of their Elven cloaks, now bespattered with mud and dark with water, to hide them from prying eyes.
"Twas just our luck to find the marshes swollen and extending a good twelve leagues further south than aforetime," Helluin said in disgust, "for now upon Saurons very doorstep must we tread."
"And 'twixt here and there lie all those mounds of what seems the furnace slag from a demons foundry," Beinvír observed, "Tis beyond ugly, and provides cover all too good for a forward detail of border guards. I should not be surprised to find Yrch popping up at our feet any moment."
"Indeed those foul heaps were not to be seen upon my last visit," Helluin replied. "It seems the Black Lord hast been improving his realms inhospitability."
For an Elf, such a sight had an effect akin to the motion of waves begetting seasickness in a mortal. Such environments affected each individual to a varying extent. Her first sight of Mordor had left Helluin physically nauseous and disoriented for a fortnight afterwards.
"Helluin, this landscape is making me ill," Beinvír said through gritted teeth.
"I am sorry, my friend. There is naught to be done for it save to persevere. Traverse it we must ere we come to Ithilien and the way south 'neath the shoulders of the Ephel Duath. That too is a long way; 150 leagues the road runs ere we shalt see the last of those jagged peaks upon our left and find the flatland of Harad before us."
At this news, Beinvír groaned and asked, "And thence how far to Umbar?"
"Some ways further indeed, though the mileage I know not for certain. Only do I know that Umbar lies at the head of a sheltered bay, well south of the mouth of Anduin," Helluin hedged. "I hath never visited that land, knowing only of it such as hast been told to me aforetime by the Númenóreans."
'Twas another 550 miles and more from the border betwixt Ithilien and Near Harad to Umbar, but Helluin simply didnt have the heart to tell her friend that. So far, for all their dismal days of walking, they had come but a scant third of the way. She herself could only contemplate the next two or three fortnights of walking by gritting her teeth.
The rains finally abated as they passed into Ithilien on the night of 13 Lothron, (May 13th). Heavy skies persisted yet another two days. During that time the Elves couldnt refrain from looking hopefully at the sky and willing it to hold its fluids at bay. With the return of sunlight on the 16th, Helluin and Beinvír were able to dry their gear at last. A couple days later they found kindling and deadfall dry enough to make a campfire and cook food for the first time in oer three weeks. Thereafter, as they walked the wooded land of Ithilien, they enjoyed fair weather with but a few brief showers. On 3 Nórui, (June 3rd), the Ephel Duath turned abruptly east and the endless scrublands of Harad stretched out before their feet.
Harad seemed a bleak monotony, being much like their earlier views east to Rhûn north of Mordor, save that now all was harshly lit with bright sunlight, whereas aforetime all had been dimmed by falling rain. The days heat became oppressive, leaving them panting as they trudged mile after mile. At whiles Helluin thought a horse would hath been welcome; to be ridden until it succumbed of thirst, then eaten and its hide tanned to patch their boots. She shook her head and carefully watched Beinvír for signs of exhaustion.
Now Helluin had led them southwest after passing beyond the Ephel Duath, and on 19 Nórui they came 'nigh the seacoast at last. Here the heat was somewhat lessoned by breezes off the water and that was a blessing they oft thanked both Manwe and Ulmo for. Also they found now many streams emptying into the sea. Thus lack of fresh water was no longer a problem and they drank their fill at need. Thence down the coast they went, and they crossed the River Harnen on the 23rd. And at last, upon the 30th of Nórui, they spied the rising walls of Umbar, painted red in the setting sun. As they watched from just oer the crest of a hill a quarter-mile inland, the long black evening shadows cast by the walls and towers of Umbar stretched across the land to the east until all blended in the deepening gloom of night.
"And so it seems Soursap spoke true of Umbar," Helluin remarked, "for surely those art to be strong fortifications, battlements, towers, and guarded gates abuilding."
"They shalt be strong works indeed," Beinvír agreed, "though long in the finishing I wager. In however long hath passed since their start, some parts of the walls hath risen but half the courses of those completed to their battlements. The towers art far from finished. Indeed only one rises high above the walls. I should say the Men of Westernesse shalt be long occupied in their works here."
Helluin nodded in agreement. There was much masonry left to erect. Still, never before had she seen the Númenóreans fortifying their havens on the Hither Shores. Yet it had perhaps been a reaction long in the coming. Helluin recalled the precautions of Falmandil and his officers, and they ashore in the friendly lands 'nigh Pelargir, way back in S.A. 1125 when she had reported on the Black Land. For the first time she had found the Dúnedain traveling the lands armed.
"Helluin, thy words speak of dark days to come," Falmandil said gravely, "and yet they but make clear what we hath at times seen. See thou that now we come bearing swords? For many years such was not the case for we were received at all times with friendship. Yet of late on several occasions violence hast indeed been visited against our people, and this mostly to the south in the lands about our new haven at Umbar that is still abuilding. The days darken upon the Hither Shores, but not so dark did we deem them as thy words report."
And now, after winning a war in which many of the defeated had come hence from these very lands, 'twas little wonder the Dúnedain felt the need of walls and arms upon the Hither Shores. The Haradrim had fought on Saurons behalf and this was their homeland. And the Dúnedain were far from Númenor. Their building of fortifications signified nothing dark perhaps; indeed no more than prudence and safety would dictate. The location was a good one for those who came across the sea. 'Twas a fine harbor, and easily navigated from Romenna on a course due east-northeast.
In the darkening night Helluin noted the torches of sentries pacing upon the unfinished walls, and those of others roving beyond, making circuits of the havens in the stillness. The two Elves lit no fire, but lay down to take some rest staring up at the stars, and Helluin let herself fall into but a shallow repose. If the Dúnedain maintained such a careful vigil at night, she would not ignore the possibility of threats while camped beyond their patrols. Not for naught would the Númenóreans commit their efforts. There was obviously danger to be found in the wide lands of Harad and it would not take her unawares.
At dawn, 1 Cerveth, (July 1st), S.A. 1847, Helluin and Beinvír came down out of the hills to the east of Umbar and under the camouflage of their cloaks, walked the dirt track to within 25 yards of the eastern gate ere a sentry marked their presence.
"Halt thou, unknown wayfarers," he ordered as his fellow sentries moved to back him.
They had not drawn swords, but stood ready with the spears they carried. There were eight of them in all. Helluin and Beinvír came to a halt but cast back the hoods of the cloaks, allowing the Dúnedain to see their features.
"Thou art of the Eldar kindred," the leader of the guards said in surprise as the Men behind him began whispering amongst themselves, "name thyselves, I pray thee."
"I am Helluin, called also Maeg-mórmenel. With me is Beinvír, Laiquende of Eriador. We art known to thy people, indeed to thy sovereigns through many generations. We would hear tidings of Númenórë, and of Tar-Minastir the king."
For a moment the guard leader didnt answer, but both Elves could hear the increased muttering among the detail of sentries. Indeed they seemed mostly surprised. At last the leader of the guards elbowed his second and then glared at the others to silence them, and as a group they came forward to meet their visitors.
"Indeed thou art both well known in our homelands and amongst the Dúnedain thou hast renown," he said when his company stood before the two Elves. "We offer thee welcome to our havens of Umbar on behalf of King Tar-Minastir. The havens art commanded by Lord Tindomul, second son of the Kings Heir, Prince Ciryatan. As thou art known, and indeed art related to our commander," he said, nodding to Helluin, "'tis but right that we accompany thee to his audience so that the lord may extend his welcome in person."
So saying, he and the company bowed to Helluin and Beinvír ere he gestured them forward through the gate. The guards formed an escort of four to each side of the Elves as they marched towards the most complete of the towers. Behind them, a second detail of guards took their station to complete their watch.
From the moment Helluin stepped in to the presence of Tindomul, Lord of the Havens of Umbar, she felt her skin crawling. There was indeed some shadow upon this son of Númenor. In form, he appeared much as the other Dúnedain, tall, dark-haired, grey-eyed, and well-knit in frame. But oft during their audience his lips curled in a sneer or a smirk, and there was a fell light in his eyes without discernable cause. He first regarded Helluin and Beinvír through narrowed lids 'neath furrowed brows, as if with resentment, then schooled his features to reflect a smile of welcome that reached not his eyes ere he offered them a nod of his head rather than even a shallow bow.
Helluin and Beinvír bowed to their host in return, noting that he stood not, but remained seated upon an elevated chair much like a throne. Both of them noted how young this commander was; indeed, Helluin marked that he was not yet of an age where aforetime even the command of a single ship would hath been committed to him. He strikes me as a third mate who hath usurped the captaincy by playing upon the names of his father and grandfather, she thought, a brat he is, and a spoiled one at that.
Tindomul was but 27 years of age, forward and willful, and already popular in some influential circles at home. Knowing that save by mischance he would never sit on the throne of Númenor, and being indeed devoted and faithful to his elder brother Atanamir, he had ever sought to attain renown in his brothers eyes and glory in his own name. Amongst the contingent who sought riches and power in Middle Earth, which was headed by his father Ciryatan, the Kings Heir, Tindomul had been both vocal and zealous. And while his older brother was oft constrained to Armenelos by his role as heir to his father, Tindomul came to the Hither Shores in his stead.
Even as a boy he had been enamoured of adventure and his dreams had grown to include the wresting of wealth from foreign lands. Since his teens he had sailed thither, and though still unqualified for captaincy, he was no stranger to the sea or the havens…or to ambition. Indeed in his restlessness and love of sailing he followed closely in the footsteps of his father Ciryatan, who had been a great captain in his own younger days. Thus in the last year and with their fathers approval, Tindomuls elder brother Atanamir had prevailed upon their grandfather the king to gain the appointment for Tindomul as commander of the Havens of Umbar. Atanamir thereby gained a loyal proxy to seek treasures and extend the influence of the Dúnedain. With the same act, he had indebted Tindomul and cemented his younger brothers fealty.
Now Tindomul was young enough to accept unquestioned the values he had learned of his father and elder brother, and he had opened his heart to the call of wealth and power. Yet he was old enough to know the taste of both and to feed his desire for more. From his grandfather the king, he had inherited the influential position of his family and a deep-seated yearning for a station greater than the scheme of Arda had accorded him. With his elders, he had partaken of the yearning Minastir felt for the Life of the Eldar, but unlike Minastir, his elders had rejected the kings dreams of what was set beyond their grasp, favoring instead that which they could hold in their hands; wondrous works of craft, fine fabrics, rare wines, delicacies for their tables, gold, gems, cunning arms, and power. For Minastir, that yearning had been unrequited, yet he had retained the nobility of the kings of old. For his son and his grandsons the yearning had found gratification in a surrogate and by that choice was all the future dimming and the downfall of their people sealed.
"Greetings, Lord Tindomul, Commander of the Havens of Umbar," Helluin said as she straightened from her bow.
"Greetings, O scion of the noble House of Kings," Beinvír said. "We art honored to be received by thee and by thy people."
"Hail and well met, renowned warriors and enemies of Sauron," Tindomul replied. "Thy deeds in the past war art held in awe across the sea. Many art the tales and much lore I heard in childhood extolling thy prowess. Gladly do I greet thee, and indeed would make of thee a request."
Here, Helluin raised an eyebrow in question and gave a nod, bidding the Lord of Umbar continue. She had not failed to mark that all his praise had to do with war.
"Since my youth I hath trained 'neath the sword masters of Armenelos, ever seeking to refine my skills," Tindomul said, his eyes taking on an almost feverish glint, "yet even the greatest of them defer to that which they saw in battle aforetime; the black sword wielded in thy hand at Baranduin and Gwathir. I pray thee do me the honor of a session of instruction, that I might see firsthand such proficiency as none of mortal blood may attain." The last was said with a trace of bitterness but partially concealed.
Though his words sounded fair, Helluin was immediately on guard. She had felt the challenge in Tindomuls speech, for his cadence and expression had been insincere. 'Twas obvious to her that this second son of the Kings Heir bethought himself grander than his years and experience warranted. The skills he could hath achieved in his training would be scarce what she had taught Beinvír in the first months after the Green Elf had taken up the short sword. She doubted if the techniques she could convey would even be perceived, let alone learned. Still, as a guest she could hardly refuse such a graciously worded request from her host, and so she bowed her acceptance.
"If 'tis truly thy desire, then gladly shalt I share with thee such as I hath learned of the battle arts in the last 6,000 years."
Upon that day, Helluin was already 6,363 years of the sun in age. Her own first lessons had come from Eönwë and the Maiar of Tulkas in Blessed Aman.
Tindomul nodded and a grin shaped his lips, but it held a twist native to his nature that he marked not. Indeed he was displeased that Helluin was flaunting her eternal life and the length of her battle experience. Resentment born of jealousy for the Life of the Eldar was a reaction that had become second nature to him.
"In that case, we shalt meet in the courtyard thither after the evening meal," he said, indicating a smoothly paved quad that was visible beyond the east window of the hall. "Would such a time give thee ample space to rest from thy journey? The evening hour is still well lit and the heat less oppressive."
Again Helluin merely nodded her acceptance of her hosts desire. She had fought in daylight, twilight, full darkness, summers heat, spring rain, winter chill, and 'neath the roots of mountains. She had slain her enemies under conditions this Man could not endure.
"Excellent," Tindomul said with a wide smile lighting his face.
Beinvír noted that when smiling, Tindomul resembled a limb nagoron¹. ¹(Limb nagoron, Great Biting Fish (Shark) = limb(fish) + nago-(bite) + -or(agent) +-on(great in size or importance)Sindarin)
Thereafter the Lord of Umbar seemed to lose interest in his guests, and after some meaningless talk, he summoned a servant to convey them hence to the guest quarters and attend them. Though they knew it not the servant was a Man of Harad, sold into slavery in his youth but now middle aged, and long deprived of his tongue. He said not a word to either of them and directed them with gestures alone. He proved stoic to the point of facial paralysis. Indeed, he spared the two ellith so few expressions that they came to believe his features carved of wood and immobile. Even a tic would hath been welcomed. To their requests he assented with a nod. He was admirably attentive but completely disassociated from them, very nearly a ghost.
By the evening meal, Helluin and Beinvír were indeed refreshed. Partaking in their rooms of a noon meal followed by an afternoon of washing and lounging had done their spirits wonders. It had been months since they had taken their ease in comfortable surroundings. The same servant who had led them thither to the guest chambers came again at the seventh hour past noon to convey them hence to the Lord of Umbars board.
The dinner was held in a great stone hall of many windows and columns, richly appointed, with tapestries adorning the walls and a cunning chandelier of crystals oer head that flickered and gave birth to rainbows in the evening sunlight.
Upon the Lords Table was draped a fine linen, embroidered with arabesques in many hues and bordered with gold. The serving platters and bowls were also of gold, as were the candelabras, (though as yet no candles burned), the pitchers, and the goblets. Heavy silverware, accompanied by lap cloths that matched the tablecloth, was set for each diner. The wealth of food at the Lords Table was truly astonishing to the two Elves despite their familiarity with the Númenóreans delight in feasting. At that meal they were confronted with more fare than they had consumed in the last month of their journey. Just the variety of loaves alone seemed a wonder of the bakers art.
Tindomul sat in a tall-backed chair at the tables head with his lieutenants upon either hand. Down each side of the table sat his officers. Helluin and Beinvír were seated across the table from each other, two places from the tables head, having thus four officers and the Lord before them and another twenty-two Men down the table from them. They were close enough to partake of the Lords conversation. Both noted that Tindomul offered neither a blessing oer the food nor any thanks to Eru for their bounty ere they ate. He merely lifted his goblet and drank to signal the start of the meal. His Men followed him, heaping their plates and filling their goblets.
The two Elves spent a moment in silence ere they began, but this passed for the most part unnoticed by those around them, already engaged as they were in gorging. It did not, however, escape the attention of their host.
"Thou offer thanks to the One for thy vittles," he observed with a smile, "yet 'tis unto the hunters and farmers and vintners that we art more rightly indebted. Through their efforts is this table provisioned, for though indeed this Middle Earth was fashioned by the Spirits Undying, yet it hath become bountiful only through the efforts of Men."
"My Lord Tindomul, we hath seen this world through long Ages, and ever it hath provided for us, whether through the efforts of Men or Elves," Helluin replied. "We take it that such is only so by the grace of the One who hath created all for his Children."
The Lord of Umbar favored her with a smile, but she felt it insincere…a gesture expected more than heartfelt.
"We of finite years doth value the more the efforts of our brothers whose time passth all too quickly, for they, committing their lives thus to provide our sustenance, do indeed make a greater sacrifice of their precious days than hast the One whose labors art but a fraction from a life without beginning or end. We thank Him not the less, but rather the Men who work the land more."
"I marked not any words of thanks spoken from thy lips unto thy farmers, hunters, or vintners," observed Beinvír.
"Nor I any words of thine offered to Eru," Tindomul responded with a dark look.
"We speak not aloud to those not present," Beinvír said, "yet the words go out from our hearts for the One to hear."
"Then if thou canst speak thus to Him, indeed offer a word on our behalf, for never hath our voices carried further than our ships, and both art banned from those Undying Lands in the West," the Lord of Umbar said with bitterness, "Tis rather for we of mortal kind to do for ourselves and reap by our efforts what this life can offer."
"Doth thou forget the voyage of noble Earendil? He was a Man such as thou, and but for his voice, carried upon his blessed ship beyond the fences of Mortal Lands, would all hath long ago been 'neath the dominion of Morgoth," Helluin said. "Unto his words did the Valar harken, and to his plea did they respond. Mark me, O Lord of the Havens, thy voice doth carry beyond the margins of Arda. Eru harkens to the words of thy heart and thou art not alone."
To this, Tindomul gave silent reflection and his gaze was for a time drawn within. Yet finally he returned his glance to Helluin, and in it she saw his resolve. Not lightly or at a few words would he resign from his beliefs.
"Perhaps 'twas so in the Elder Days, Helluin. In the deeds of that time, lore declares, thou thyself had a hand. Yet since the passing of that time, many amongst my kindred deem that the ways of Arda hath changed, and that the Lords of the West hath become remote. We of mortal years discern that through our efforts only shalt good or ill be granted us. In the past war 'twas not the victory won by Men? 'Twas not the doom of that time decided by the toil and blood of our kindred? To us it hath become evident that in this Age our fate shalt be determined by our own hands; what passes in Middle Earth shalt be brought about by those in Middle Earth. We art thankful for the gifts once conferred upon us, but look not again for such a boon or succor, just as a Man who hath come of age must put off the support of childhood and find his own way."
"Yet even in thy manhood, still thankful to thy fathers should thou be," Helluin said.
"As indeed I am, for who but a father teaches his son the strength to order his days?"
Thereafter the topic was dropped and word turned to the doings of the company of Umbar. The tidings of the Hither Lands 'nigh the havens were reported. Ventures along the coast and expeditions into the interior were recounted. Some argued for establishment of a Númenórean haven at Pelargir upon Anduin, but this Tindomul would not allow deeming such an act presumptuous at present.
"Anduin is still the holding of the realm of Belfalas and shalt yet be for a while," he said, "though in future days perhaps this shalt change. Edhellond stands but sparsely populated and ever more of the Eldar take ship into the West. Already 'tis doubtful that they can hold their further precincts, and were we not yet in league of friendship with that land, quickly would we establish ourselves there. Yet such shalt come to pass, I deem, and much wealth come of it ere the years of our lives find their end."
About the table Men nodded in agreement with their lord. They expected Anduin to be ceded to Númenor ere they went to their final rest.
It became apparent to Helluin and Beinvír that these Men subscribed to a much changed view of the world and their place in it. Unlike their predecessors, they saw themselves as the sole masters of their fate, felt the Powers withdrawn from them, and expected reward for their efforts on their own behalf. The outcome of the war with Sauron had served to solidify their belief in their self-determination. "To us it hath become evident that in this Age our fate shalt be determined by our own hands; what passes in Middle Earth shalt be brought about by those in Middle Earth."
Just so, Helluin thought, yet aforetime the one most like to thou in belief was Turin Turambar; master of his own fate, but ever fated by those above his place to fall. In thy words do I hear the echo of doom, O Tindomul, and I fear for thee and for thy people.
When the meal was finished, the lord and the Elves retired to prepare for the evenings activities, Tindomul with eagerness and Helluin with misgivings. Her suspicions, as it turned out, were well founded.
Tindomul was a better swordsman than Helluin had expected. He was quick, agile, and strong after his kind, and he had indeed been well trained in the fashion of the Dúnedain. Helluin would hath slain him in seconds had she not adjusted her movements. From ere the start Anguirél had thirsted for Tindomuls blood.
"Give me thy leave to slay this self-satisfied whelp, O Helluin," the black sword had requested while the Man had performed his warm-up exercises. "His youthful blood shalt be warm and sweet."
"Hush thou," Helluin had admonished, "his blood is kin to my own and not by my hand shalt he fall."
"Bah! He shalt prove thy enemy," Anguirél said with certainty.
"So be it," Helluin had replied, "but then 'twill be in battle that he shalt fall, not here."
"Thy words aforetime shalt prove true, and my own as well. Thy enemy shalt he be and not by thy hand shalt he fall at the last, though indeed in battle with thee he shalt die upon my blade."
For a moment Helluin regarded the Black Sword of Gondolin with curiosity, for Anguirél had not aforetime indulged in prophecy. Then she put aside her thoughts, for now Tindomul was ready and stood awaiting her.
"Show me thy skill," Helluin had ordered when the two met, and then they had clashed.
A heartbeat later they had drawn apart after the Dúnadan recoiled away from the Noldo. A glance showed Tindomuls tunic shorn straight across his chest without a scratch beneath. Helluin could hath eviscerated him had she extended her arm, but had instead calculated the stroke perfectly to hew only cloth. The next exchange lasted five strokes ere Helluin slapped the side of the lords collar with the flat of her blade, showing clearly that she could hath hewn off his head. About them a gathering of officers gasped in amazement. Tindomul was not their best swordsman, but he was proficient and far from their worst. And 'twas apparent that he was far oermatched.
After five minutes of exchanges, during which time the second son of Ciryatan would hath died a dozen times, Tindomul was frustrated and Helluin was edgy. She could feel the rise of his wrath and the utter failing of his interest in any lesson she could teach. Ever he wielded his weapon with greater vigor and deadlier intent. 'Twas as shed suspected. Their swordplay had taken on the oertones of a sparring match. In hopes of cooling his passions, Helluin sheathed her sword and faced him unarmed. At her nod he hewed at her and she evaded his every stroke. It only served to make him more furious. If the officers had been amazed aforetime, now they were awestruck. Beinvír stood amongst them shaking her head.
"Lord Tindomul, cease I pray thee," Helluin said, "for no point is there to continuing."
"Thou taunts me?" Tindomul hissed as he slashed wildly at her.
"Indeed not," she said. "But no value hath this exercise, for neither of us stands to learn aught from the other. We can each continue thus to no avail 'till nightfall. Why bother?"
But Tindomul harkened not to her words. Rather he continued slashing with increasing rage and failing control. Helluin continued slipping aside, reading aforetime his intent and evading his attacks. The Man began to sweat and his breathing grew labored in his exertion, yet his effort was rewarded with not even a touch. At last he leapt in the air, bringing down his blade in a mighty oerhead stroke aimed directly at Helluins head. Helluin stood her ground as he came down upon her and then too quick for mortal eyes to follow, she swept her forearm up and outwards against his blade.
Oer 1,200 years before, Gneiss son of Gnoss had forged in his smithy deep in Khazad-dum, the plates and mail that Helluin had worn ever since, and he had forged that work of mithril. Though oerlain with black galvorn and looking like 'naught but steel, Helluins armor was unbreachable by blade or dart. Only rarely had any weapon touched her in combat and never had any bitten upon her flesh. Now when she snapped her forearm up to deflect Tindomuls blade, the mithril vambrace of the Dwarves met the sword steel of Númenor and the blade shattered in an explosion shards. One such raked a gash open across Tindomuls cheek.
The Lord of Umbar stood looking in surprise at the shorn hilt in his hand, a small trail of blood trickling down his face. For a moment none moved. Then an officer gasped.
"My Lord, thou art injured!"
And Tindomul, feeling the wound and its flow, raised his hand thither and his fingers came away blooded. In that moment the frustration of the sparring ignited the long abiding resentment he had ever felt against the Eldar. His jealousy for their eternal life, for their matchless prowess, and for their condescending ways prompted him to rage. He flung away the broken hilt-shard.
"Seize them!" He snarled. "With thy Elvish trickery hast thou drawn the blood of a lord of the royal house of Númenor. For this offense shalt thou answer!"
In a heartbeat the officers moved to heed their lords order, encircling the Elves as Beinvír hastened to Helluins side. Swords were drawn and the Men nervously advanced. Helluin would stand for none of it, not even to humor them. Too quick for their eyes to follow, she drew Anguirél with her right hand and the Sarchram with her left. Her eyes were cold and hard as chips of sapphire.
"Stand ye fast Men of Númenor, for I shalt surely slay thee if thou lay hands upon us." And as the Men watched, blue fire was kindled in Helluins eyes…battlefire.
"Seize them, I command thee!" Tindomul ordered. "Hast none of thee the courage to do thy lords will?"
The Men advanced an uncertain step. All knew the stories of the past war. Herein they were treading the thin ice of their mortality in boots of lead. The blue fire blazed in Helluins eyes just as had been described in their lore. In a moment aught else of which they had heard was also manifest.
In the courtyard of Umbar the gathering gloom of evening was repulsed. There flared a light of silver and gold. The shadows of the encircling Men leapt against the surrounding walls, surging to life as an aura of brilliance flared about the figures of the two Elves. In reaction, the Men shaded their eyes, horrified by the display of power.
Helluin and Beinvír moved forward quickly. With a single stroke Helluin swept aside the blades of two officers who stood before her, for they wavered, uncertain against her advance. Their blades clattered to the ground and she shoved them bodily aside. Then she and Beinvír were running, back into the guest quarters, down a hall, the Dúnedain only hesitantly turning to follow. Beinvír snatched their bags on the run, and with them, their bows and quivers and her own short sword. They made the door, the guest hall behind them shot with leaping shafts of light and shadows cast harsh upon the walls. Shouts came from the courtyard; Tindomul ordering his soldiers to apprehend them. Yet the guards at the outer door fell back before them in terror and Helluin made for the gates of the havens unfought, blazing with the Light of Aman.
At the gate Helluin cast the Sarchram and it hewed free the bolt ere it returned to her hand. Then with a crash, she flung open the gates and into the deepening evening they fled, past sentries scattered by the flight of the Grave Wing who shielded their eyes and cowered back from the light. A furlong beyond the walls of Umbar, Helluin abruptly extinguished her corona, and then donning their Elven cloaks, the two disappeared into the gloaming.
Midnight came upon the northern track three and a half hours later. By then Helluin and Beinvír had put four leagues betwixt themselves and the havens as theyd hastened through the dark. They had not been pursued. Helluin was still seething at their treatment and Beinvír was saddened. She had been fond of Ciryandur and his crew, and Captain Mórfang she had thought noble.
"Tis far worse than rampant tree cutting now," Helluin said. "If such as Tindomul shalt indeed rule in Númenor, then swiftly shalt the Eldar find themselves facing enemies more fell than the hosts of Mordor. I cannot believe that such a one is a grandson of Minastir!"
"I wonder if indeed the king knows what passes in the Hither Lands," Beinvír asked, "or if he is ignorant of his grandsons mind?"
"I find I care not," Helluin chaffed, "for 'tis the duty of a king to govern those granted power 'neath him. Tar-Minastir hath no excuse. His Heir Ciryatan hath no excuse."
"Think thou that both hath been betrayed by Atanamir and Tindomul?"
To this Helluin groaned. Short of sailing to Númenor there was no way for her to know. But Tar-Minastir had disappointed her and Ciryatan she knew not. Atanamir in his turn would sit upon the throne of Westernesse. Tindomul would most likely become his Captain-Admiral. And both would rule their people with resentment of the Eldar and disregard for the Valar guiding their hearts while they turned their energies to amassing treasure. She shook her head in amazement. How could such hath come to pass?
"Would that thou had given me leave to take his life this day," Anguirél muttered in her sheath.
After a while, Helluin silently nodded in agreement.
"Would that I had," she whispered.
To Be Continued
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