In An Age Before – Chapter 28
The Realm of Lebennin – The Second Age of the Sun
On 8 Cerveth, (July 8th), S.A. 1869 came word to Edhellond of the succession of Tar-Ciryatan to the throne of Númenor, for Tar-Minastir had passed to his son the scepter after ruling for 138 years. About the succession lay dark rumors of pressure exerted by the Heir in claiming the throne, but they were rumors only to those in the Mortal Lands.
These tidings came by way of a Captain-Venturer of Númenor who was known and welcomed in Belfalas, for in these days not all any longer were. Indeed many captains had no time or interest in meeting with the Eldar, for no treasure and little profit came of it. Increasingly, such visits were regarded as signifying deficiency of ambition and common sense in a captain and were resented by the crews as a waste of time. And so in the Hither Lands, many held their breath, awaiting what changes the succession might portend.
"Thou art dispatched forthwith unto the Realm of Lebennin, to bring these tidings to Lady Helluin and Lady Beinvír," Lady Galadriel told the errand riders that stood facing her in the courtyard before the keep in Edhellond.
The three ellyn bowed to their lady, but ere mounting one asked, "Whither shalt we find them, Lady Galadriel? Where in that land art they most likely to hold court?"
Galadriel scratched her head and tried to think. The two ruling ellith of her neighboring realm held no court and had established no capitol city. As ever, they wandered.
"Find thou any of their militia and explain thy mission. Thou shalt be conveyed hence."
The messenger could do 'naught but bow and mount, having received as much of an answer as his lady could provide. From other companies sent thither he had heard just such tales. It made an errand rider's task uncertain, and having no sure destination was something all messengers loathed.
For the next four days the three rode east toward Anduin, grumbling and hoping for the best. On the morning of the 12th they passed from Belfalas into Lebennin at Linhir 'nigh the combined mouth of the Gilrain and Serni, and there they were promptly stopped. A single ellon in a cloak of mixed grey-greens rose from the roadside and hailed them.
"Hail and well met errand riders of Belfalas, whither now doth thou ride?"
Indeed so abruptly and unexpected was his appearance before them that their horses shied and came to a prancing halt. He stood in the midst of the road and awaited their answer. They noted that 'neath his cloak he wore a tunic and trousers of the same colors, and 'neath that a shirt of black mail. A longsword was girt about his waist, a long dagger at his back, and o'er his shoulder a bow and quiver. The only token in all his gear was the broach clasping closed his cloak, and this was black metal in the shape of a ring bisected with an S-curve...the Sarchram.
"We art sent hither by Galadriel, Lady of Belfalas, bearing tidings to the rulers of this realm concerning Númenor," the lead messenger declared, "and I pray thee convey us thither."
The border guard, or so he appeared to be to the messengers moved not a muscle, but gave forth a piercing whistle. From the tall grass rose another dozen guards, bracketing the messengers of Belfalas on both sides of the road. Two came forth leading horses before their leader. A series of unfamiliar hand signs passed between them and the two riders nodded. One immediately mounted and rode east in haste. The second mounted and waited.
"Thou shalt accompany this rider east upon the road," the guard told the messengers, "and he shalt convey thee hence for the completion of thy errand. Farewell."
The guard stepped to the verge of the track and in another stride disappeared amidst the tall grass. When the messengers looked from where he had vanished, they found the other ten had disappeared as well. Before them the lone rider waited, still as a statue yet conveying a desire to proceed that felt akin to impatience. They coaxed their horses into motion with a few words and the rider moved forward as well. Indeed he kept two horse lengths ahead of them and set their pace at an unvarying canter.
For another two days they rode, and while the rider of Lebennin joined the messengers in their nightly camp, he rode ever ahead of them during the daylight. He spoke fair to them in the Sindarin tongue when he addressed them, and in raiment he appeared to be an ellon, but he was a mortal Man.
"Our captain alone is of Elven kind," he told them, "and he is as much instructor to us as commander. So it is nowadays throughout this land. Our rulers deem the strength of this country and the bounty to be protected both lie in the hands of Men. And so they teach and provide guidance, for in future days, so they say, Lebennin shalt be indeed a realm of Men." The messengers noted the hope and loyalty in his voice, for 'twas obvious he held his regents in high esteem.
'Twas indeed a bountiful land through which they traveled. Wide fields spread to either side of the road, and being high summer, these were green with well tended crops. Tall grain waved in a gentle breeze from the sea and plots of vegetables lay soaking up the light 'neath the sun. Inland there were orchards and vineyards, and beyond these the darker forests leading upslope to the mountains standing hazy in the distance. Sprinkled amongst the rolling hills and gentle slopes were villages and towns, and hamlets of Men. These appeared clean and well-ordered, tranquil and prosperous. The messengers were impressed with what they saw, for it evinced an increased vigor in comparison to the realm they had known but two decades aforetime. Yet they saw but few Elven folk and these invariably clad in cloaks of grey-greens. And one further thing did they notice; nowhere they rode did they mark the presence of troops, whether billeted or marching, drilling or deployed, yet ever was the road bordered by a furlong of tall grass or a wood, and ever they felt a careful watchfulness that spoke of safety.
"Wherefore hath gone the Eldar of this land?" One of the errand riders asked their guide at their camp the first night.
"Indeed they art here," he replied, "in numbers but somewhat greater than aforetime. We hath passed many this last day."
"Yet we saw them not."
"They hath taken up the habits and raiment of the folk of the Guardian Beinvír," he said, as if that made all else self-evident.
In the afternoon of the second day they came to Pelargir upon Anduin and there the soldier of Lebennin led the errand riders to a lodge on the outskirts of the town. Here they stabled their horses and were provided quarters in what they discovered, to their surprise, was a barracks of the troops.
The next morning they were summoned to a meeting chamber. They entered it and were bidden to seat themselves about a conference table. Barely had they seated themselves when the door opened again and two ellith entered, one unusually tall like their lady, the other somewhat short. Both were dressed as travelers, indeed attired much as the guards they had met, yet about the taller figure was an aura of shrouded light, and about the shorter a fugitive glimmer just to be detected. Both were unmistakable, the taller for her black hair, crackling blue eyes, and the mithril ring at her side, the shorter for her beauty and her accompaniment of the taller. The messengers rose and bowed.
"Thou bear hither tidings from the Realm of Belfalas?" Asked the taller elleth.
"Indeed so my Lady," the leader of the errand riders answered, "and we art to deliver them to the rulers of this realm by order of the Lady Galadriel."
"In that case, I pray thee speak and proceed with thy errand. I am Helluin of the Host of Finwe and my companion is Beinvír of the Laiquendi. We art the Chief Guardians of this realm."
The messenger nodded. Scant wonder they hadn't seen the Eldar of Lebennin if they had taken upon them the guise of Green Elves such as Beinvír. Even the Men they hadn't marked at their first meeting upon the road, for they too had been trained thus to stealth.
"Lady Helluin, Lady Beinvír, this message I was bidden speak to thee by Lady Galadriel in Edhellond seven days past. It hath been declared to her by a Captain-Venturer of Númenor who is an elvellon¹, that upon theRé i Anaro of this year, did the King's Heir Ciryatan ascend the throne of Elros in Armenelos. He now rules Elenna after his father, Tar-Minastir, having taken the scepter in the name, Tar-Ciryatan." ¹(Elvellon, Elf-friend, sing. Sindarin)
Neither ellith reacted to his words, for 'twas seemingly no news to them, yet they traded a glance between them and silent words were exchanged. Then Beinvír spoke to the messengers.
"Hath there been any word of Tar-Ciryatan's Heir, Atanamir, or of his second son, Tindomul?"
"Nay, Lady, no word hath reached our ears of them," the messenger said.
"I pray thee say thus to thy Lord and Lady," Helluin said. "Lebennin thanks thee for the prompt sharing of thy tidings of Númenor. We doth expect increased activity from the Dúnedain in sailings and the hastening of their search for wealth in the Hither Lands. Indeed since mid-year we hath marked 38 ships passing betwixt north and south upon the sea lanes off our shores...this compared to but 23 in the same weeks of the year past."
"Send also our good wishes to our friends, Celeborn, Galadriel, and Celebrian, and to all the folk of Belfalas," Beinvír added.
The messengers nodded their understanding of the message. Helluin and Beinvír bowed to them, and with that, left the room. An hour later the three errand riders of Belfalas were again upon the road, this time riding west for home. All considered, their mission had gone as well as they could hath hoped. And ever as they rode west they sought now to mark the presence of the Eldar and the Men who served as guardians, but they were foiled and only those few already upon the roads did they see.
On 13 Lothron, (May 13th), S.A. 2003 the gentle river chop lapped at the pilings of the quay in Pelargir. Save for the sounds from a tavern on the next street all was quiet. 'Twas just ere midnight, and o'erhead the last sliver of Ithil shed scant light upon the dark hulls of berthed ships. A waiting stillness lay velvet thick upon the water and about the warehouses and dockyards ashore there was no movement to be seen. It seemed all was deserted for not even a rat scuttled 'nigh. Soon from the center of town came the muffled pealing of twelve bells...midnight.
The soft dip and rise of approaching oars whispered in the darkness as a dinghy slipped across the water. Three figures wrapped in black cloaks were aboard, two rowing, the third staring at the docks. None spoke. No lanterns were lit.
At six minutes past midnight the boat hove alongside the dock and the third figure leapt softly ashore, fixed a line about a cleat and hauled the boat close by. While the other two figures remained at their oars, silent and unmoving, the one who had landed moved quickly into the shadows of the nearest warehouse. He advanced north hugging the wall, invisible to mortal eyes.
"Welcome to Lebennin, O thou of good faith," a soft voice said, causing the figure to gasp and flinch in spite of himself. The voice had come from directly in front of him and he had very nearly run into the speaker.
"I bear tidings dark," he whispered.
The figure in front of him let show the faintest of glimmers, paired blue, at head height, and these described a nod.
"Speak," the voice said.
"Tomorrow they shalt land, and finding none aforetime standing at arms in this realm, they shalt lay claim to it in the name of the crown."
"Is he with them?" The voice asked, softly and with no emotion.
"They art at his command."
"Go thou in peace. Lebennin thanks thee for thy service."
"I am honored..." he began, but the blue was gone and he felt more than saw that he was alone. He could do aught but return in stealth to his boat. In a few minutes, the dinghy had gone as it had come, vanishing into the darkness and the peace of the night.
Dawn broke ushering in the 14th and with it a fair wind blowing upriver from the sea. By an hour past daybreak a tiny silhouette could be seen far downstream; a great ship of Númenor beating down the wind to the quays. Black it seemed and stark against the brightly flickering waves; a specter of doom flung upon waters lit by Anor to a stream of scintillating gold.
Ashore the docks stood deserted this day and the warehouses closed, while the ships afloat were silent and without watches. Yet still many vigilant eyes marked the ship's approach, silently waiting, patient and prepared.
"She is now but six leagues out and making, I should guess, a good nine knots," a voice reported, "two hours." A nod of agreement came in reply.
"Give me thy leave to slay this self-satisfied whelp, O Helluin," a fell voice whispered again after 156 years, "even as thou did not aforetime."
"If deeds beg blood this day then thou hast my blessing, O Anguirél."
By the time the ship hove to the docks and cast down its lines another company had joined the watchers, though naught was to be seen of them from the ship. Quickly a gangplank was laid and armed soldiers and mariners bearing cutlass and pike debarked. Amongst them there was a wariness, and yet 'twas obvious they expected not to be opposed. They stood together in a crowd surveying the docks, the berthed ships, the warehouses, and the streets leading into the town. At last a pair of officers stood forth, one bearing a standard of Númenor, white tree upon a field of dark blue 'neath a rayed star, the other Man older but still recognizable. 'Twas Tindomul, now a captain. He waited for all his company to settle and then he spoke.
"Here upon the 14th day of Lothron in the year 2003 of this Age do I claim this land in the name of the crown of Númenor. Henceforth these lands shalt be a province upon the Hither Shores and tributary to the rule of Tar-Ciryatan the king."
At this the standard bearer planted the flagstaff into the soil of Lebennin and the Men cheered. Indeed they cheered so loud that none heard the twang of a bow or the passing of an arrow. It flew true and found its mark with great force.
The cheering gave way to shouts of dismay as the flag of Númenor fell to the ground, its pole splintered and shorn in half by the impact. The sundered lower section stood shuddering. The leader stooped to retrieve the pennant and he saw that from the broken end protruded an arrow, shafted and fletched in white. The tip was finely wrought of polished steel. 'Twas an Elven arrow. Immediately he drew his sword, and seeing this, his Men fell into battle stances with weapons at the ready, their now suspicious eyes quickly searching their surroundings. Two only did they see coming towards them, but 'twas enough to wring a gasp from their lips and a desperate tightening of their hands upon their hilts.
"Who dares stand against the might of Númenor?"
"I do, Tindomul. Thou hast met me aforetime and thou was't worsted. This land shalt not be claimed by Númenórë this day for 'tis the sovereign Realm of Lebennin and it shalt acknowledge no o'erlord from across the sea."
As the Men watched, the two Elves came to stand but two fathoms from their leader. The shorter held a drawn bow that swung as she searched for a target. The taller held a black bladed longsword and a bright ring and her eyes crackled with a blue fire, warning of the battle rage they had heard tell of all their lives.
"Withdraw thy troops, Tindomul," Helluin ordered, "for thou stand now as hostiles and invaders and I declare thee enemies of this realm. 'Tis a sad day when I must treat thus a descendant of my own blood."
For long moments silence lay unbroken and all stood frozen as time trickled away like the squeezings from an olive press. A doom was being wrought and all held their breath. A choice now lay before the Dúnedain, either to respect prior claims as they had ever since the return of Entulessë to Mortal Lands, or to lay their claim and perhaps win in battle the first subjugated territory of their empire.
Despite all the weight of precedent to be set forever after, 'twas personal grievance that decided the course that day. Tindomul's anger had never abated in all the years since he had lost a sparring match to this Noldo in Umbar, and the grudge born of it he had nursed and it had grown strong. On this day Tindomul thought himself a far better swordsman than aforetime, and yet more, he had 200 armed Men at his back awaiting his orders. All desired the glory and riches to be found in this sleepy kingdom. They would stand with him. The lands about Anduin were much coveted and their taking had been long awaited.
"Nay, Helluin. I claim this land for the crown, but thou I claim already an enemy, and for thy crimes against me aforetime I shalt hath satisfaction. I see but two to defend a realm...'tis folly. None but thee stand against us and thou shalt both be slain."
"This is a sovereign realm, Tindomul, and 'tis well defended," Helluin declared.
Beinvír let forth a piercing whistle and from all about arose company after company of the Guardians of Lebennin. They were numerous enough to double cover the Dúnedain with their arrows and hold at bay those still aboard their ship.
And now the silence grew deep as death for the doom of that day hung by a bowstring; nay, even by a twisted hair of a bowstring drawn and held 'nigh the ear of an archer. In the waiting pall of that instant none dared breath. Even Arien seemed to halt her course.
"Keep for now thy wretched land then," Tindomul yelled in a rage, "but of thee alone shalt I hath redress this day!" And with those words he raised his sword and charged forward.
"And I shalt gladly drink thy blood at last," Anguirél declared as Helluin moved to meet Tindomul, second son of the King of Númenor and a prince of her bloodline.
O'er the last 156 years Tindomul had become a great swordsman. He had long trained 'neath the best masters of his land and had long bested all challengers amongst the Dúnedain. Yet who, of mortal blood and life soon to flee, could stand against one trained by no less a warrior than Eonwe in the Undying Land of Aman, back when the world was younger and the Light of the Trees still imparted its blessings?
Helluin expected that her adversary could bring her scant harm. His blade would never pierce her armor. Yet more, for all his prowess and royal blood he was still a mortal Man, and the gifts of the Calaquendi, tested and enhanced by her long centuries at war, rendered for 'naught any skills he could learn. Still she was impressed. He was far more powerful than any mortal she had fought aforetime. For the sake of his blood, in which her own flowed down through the generations from Almarian, the daughter she had born to Veantur of Númenor, she gave Tindomul three chances and thrice spared his life ere she slew him. For all that she saw the shadow upon him, he was still kin.
The first mercy was not hewing off his head in answer of his first stroke, for she saw aforetime his intent as ever she had with mortals. She turned her blade and snapped his head to the side with the flat, dazing him for a moment. The second respite she granted was in not opening his throat with the Sarchram, and indeed much evil in later days would hath been negated had she sent his spirit to the Void in that moment. The third reprieve she gifted to him was in not running him through when he slashed the air o'er her head as she ducked 'neath his stroke and rammed Anguirél's hilt deep into his belly. She had turned her wrist just enough to miss him with the blade and gore him with the crossguard.
Tindomul lay on his back in the sun, gasping for breath, sweating, and choking back his gorge after the blow knocked the wind from him. Above him Helluin stood at her ease, the black sword and the Grave Wing at the ready, waiting for him with her flashing eyes and her dark sneer. How he hated her! And he had very nearly had her several times, he deemed. T'would be but a matter of time ere he prevailed. He hoisted himself to his feet, took a deep breath, and surged forward again.
"Deliver thyself unto me, O thou forsaken," the black sword whispered.
He raised his blade for his next stroke and stopped short, the breath driven from him in a gasp that was echoed by the Dúnedain who hung back watching. Then he choked and was amazed to find blood filling his throat and fountaining from his mouth. Tindomul looked down in time to see Anguirel's black steel slipping from his chest as Helluin withdrew her. His own sword clattered from his hand.
"This blood doth taste not sweet," the black sword declared, "for 'tis tainted with the Shadow and I should be rid of it the sooner."
Without another glance at the fallen, Helluin stepped back and began cleaning her blade.
Tindomul sagged to his knees, the wheezing of a lung wound depriving him of his breath. He keeled over onto his right side, his sword arm and fallen weapon pinned 'neath him. He could see the dock stretching out before him, and the sides of ships gently rising and falling on the swells. About him the air seemed unnaturally heated. His vision was darkening. The beat of his failing heart filled his ears.
So this is what death feels like, he thought, 'tis failure and helplessness and defeat, and yet not so bad, for the moment's pain is gone and I feel but weak and cold. Now to rest.
But then a voice came to his ears, speaking soft and gentle at first hearing, yet harsh beneath and commanding...so commanding...and so persuasive, as ever it had been. He knew that voice well. He had harkened to it for o'er a hundred years.
Forget not thy bargain, O Murazor, it reminded him, using his Adûnaic name as it had ever been wont to do, I hath fulfilled my part. Now comes thy restitution.
I hath forgotten 'naught of it, yet I am dying, and so then short shalt be my service to thee be, I deem, for 'twas to be for but the time of my spirit's abiding upon Middle Earth and now my spirit shalt go beyond Arda.
His words were greeted by a chuckle, dark with menace, which chilled him to the bone. Tindomul could no longer see the world about him, only a grey haze softly buffeted by a breeze he couldn't feel. Then it parted, revealing a figure clad in plate armor, mirror bright, with inlaid arabesques of colored enamels, and 'neath a tall helm a face so beautiful that the cold smile curling its lips seemed wholly out of place.
By the power of the Ring thou hath accepted art thou bound now in my service, for great gifts must be repaid with great price. For a score and five hath thou worn it. Now so long as I command thee, ever shalt thy spirit cleave to me, forsaking 'til world's ending the doom of thy kin. Welcome to my service then, Murazor, Lord of the Nazgûl.
The spirit of the Man who had been Tindomul screamed in horror. He had been tricked! He had been used! He had been promised the chance and the strength to confront his enemy, and this he had done...and never had he realized that he had not been gifted the strength to prevail. He had bethought his victory a foregone conclusion.
His horror was greeted with laughter, cold and triumphant. He was a wraith...a thrall.
Upon the quay of Pelargir Helluin looked down at her fallen foe. She rolled his body onto its back with the toe of her boot, but even as she gazed at his dead eyes he began to fade. In horror she searched his hands. There! Upon the index finger of his right, a Ring! She had seen it before and all the centuries since could not dim her memories.
In Lindon, at the council to which Gil-galad had commanded her with Beinvír in 1601 she had seen it. She had seen it upon a chain of gold clasped about the neck of her old friend Celebrimbor! 'Twas one of the Nine, made for their friends in Númenor; made with love and the best of intentions. And now Tindomul's body was fading just as had those of the two Ringwearers the master smith of Eregion had been forced to slay.
In desperation Helluin lashed down with the Sarchram to hew off his hand at the wrist. But she was late, a heartbeat too late. The Grave Wing struck the earth 'neath the ghostly arm and in that moment the last vestige of Tindomul's body vanished from 'neath the sun. The Men of Númenor gasped in shock. And from somewhere, from a great distance it seemed, a cold and triumphant laughter came to her ears. She had been tricked! She had been used! A scream of wrath rose from her throat in response as she cast her gaze across the river to the east.
In the next moment a light of silver and gold flared upon the quay, brighter than Anor above. The dock timbers were scorched and smoke rose. Men covered their eyes to shield them from the radiance and they cowered back, friend and foe alike. 'Twas an outpouring of frustration and rage so great in its intensity that it beat upon the spirits of those who stood 'nigh as it were a physical blow. And finally the remaining Dúnedain fled back aboard their ship, cast off their lines, and in greatest haste, departed south to Umbar. It would be some time ere the Dúnedain came again to Lebennin save a few only of the Faithful who were elvillyn¹. ¹(Elvillyn, Elf friends, pl of elvellon. Sindarin)
To Be Continued
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