In An Age Before - Part 3
Eriador - The Second Age of the Sun
The form of the world was changed. Helluin stood on the eastern slopes of the Ered Luin, the Blue Mountains, also called the Ered Lindon by the Noldor, the Mountains Beyond the Land of the Singing. But Ossiriand, where the music of the Green Elves had once laced the forests with song lay mostly silent now, it's seven rivers lost in the passing of the First Age of the Sun. Now but a narrow remnant of that land clung to the western faces of the Ered Luin and the Elves called it Harlindon, the Southern Land of Song. Likewise the unsunken eastern precinct of Thargelion now bore the name Forlindon, the Northern Land of Song. It was just wishful thinking and longing for the past, something Helluin had found the Eldar often indulged in. Yet they were greatly attached to these remaining tracts of Beleriand in which they had so long dwelt and fought.
Now settlements in the two Lindons were home to Gil-galad and Elrond, Celeborn and Galadriel, their daughter Celebrian, Galdor, and Cirdan of the Falas. With the remaining Eldar of Beleriand they labored to raise a new kingdom. Indeed, most tales remember their land simply as Lindon, while most of their few songs in those days were laments and requiems for the dead. Yet the two Lindons had each their identity. In Harlond dwelt Cirdan the Ship-Wright, though his havens of Mithlond lay at the gulf's head. With him upon the southern bank of the Gulf of Lhun were Galdor and many Sindar from the Falas, who had come there after the whelming of the Isle of Balar. Also there amongst his kindred dwelt Celeborn, a prince of the Sindarin realm of Doriath, and for love of him his wife, Galadriel, daughter of Finarfin of the Noldor. In Forlond ruled Ereinion Gil-galad, son of Fingon, son of Fingolfin, the High King of the remaining Noldor, and in his company stayed Elrond, and many others of the Host of Finwe. Upon the water of the gulf went many boats, to and fro, knitting together the two settlements into a single greater realm in memory of what was forever lost.
Beleriand was indeed gone, sunk beneath the waves in the breaking of the world. The War of Wrath had ended but the changes remained. Very nearly every place where Helluin and the Noldor had lived and fought had been destroyed utterly in the overthrow of Morgoth and the Fall of Angband. She had scarcely completed the journey to Thargelion with the sons of Feanor when the entire south country had rung with the trumpets of the Valar. The night sky had glowed with the light of their campfires, and reflections from the sheen of their armor had lit the undersides of the clouds. They were still landing troops as their vanguard marched north up Sirion, so numerous that the whole of Beleriand had echoed with the marching of their boots.
When she'd followed the sons of Feanor back to Middle Earth, almost all of the Noldor had started on that journey. It had still been a vast host even after Finarfin and his people turned back, though perhaps two-thirds of those remaining, herself included, had followed Fingolfin rather than Feanor. Now the coming of the Valar made that host seem like a company. Along with the Powers of Arda had come their Maiar, the Vanyar, (those Eldar of the Host of Ingwe), and the Noldor of Finarfin. They had been joined in Middle Earth by the Edain, the survivors of the three houses of mortal Men known as the Elf-Friends, and by Thorondor with his cadres of Eagles.
Those remaining Eledhrim* of Beleriand, Noldor and Sindar alike, had looked on from Thargelion and Ossiriand in amazement. For all the battles they had waged during centuries of war, the Army of the West put their glory to shame. Being still under the Curse and the Doom of Mandos, none of the Noldor had even dared approach while the War of Wrath raged. For weeks they had stared from the western eaves of the Ered Luin as lightning rent the sky and blows rumbled like thunder through the earth. The very air sizzled with the clash of the powers, for while many fought with weapons forged of steel, the principals fought with the pure force of the Imperishable Flame. By then, the Laiquendi had fled beyond the Blue Mountains in terror. *(Eledhrim = eledh elf(ar.) + -rim(coll. pl.) Sindarin, archaic)
Helluin had climbed to the heights of Mt. Rerir and the violence she'd seen from that high place still haunted her waking dreams. It had not been war as she knew it. In her experience, lightning did not arc from the hands of warriors to their targets and mountains did not explode at a word. Balls of fire did not shriek down from the heavens in rapid pulses, nor did chasms open across leagues of plains in response to a song of power. Spectral forms the size of mountains had walked the nights, and with a gesture turned the bodies of Yrch, Tor*, and Uruloki inside out, so that they died writhing in a wet and muffled agony. It had been little wonder that Morgoth had hidden in his own dungeons rather than come out to fight. The living walls of flame that had swallowed the Balrogs whole would alone have sent Helluin running. It was naught but holy genocide. Yet the crowning insanity she'd witnessed had come after the battle ended. *(Tor, Trolls, pl. Sindarin)
After Morgoth was bound and dragged, whimpering and gibbering for mercy from his fortress as a prisoner of the Valar, the Silmarils were taken and guarded by Eönwë. Then the Herald of Manwë proclaimed that the Eldar of Beleriand should come forth and return thence to Aman, for they were pardoned and the Valar would summon them home to Tol Eressea. Many of the Noldor and Sindar went thither, glad to sail at last to the Blessed Realm after enduring the heartbreak of Mortal Lands. It was then that Helluin had overheard Maedhros and Maglor plotting to steal into the camp under pretense of heeding the summons, and filch the gems, for they were still driven by their father's oath. It was madness and she'd attempted to dissuade them.
"They shalt catch thee and turn thee inside out with a gesture of three fingers," she'd told them, "saw thou not what befell the Tor?"
"We hath been doomed to fail from the day we spoke our oath," Maedhros had responded in resignation, "and try or try not we cannot hide from our doom."
"So thou intend to attempt this deed even knowing full well thou cannot succeed?"
"We hath been doing nothing less for the last 600 years, even if at the start we knew it not," Maglor had said, shaking his head. "Failure and death art our appointed lot. For what 'tis worth, I should be loath to add craven." Yet he would be the only brother to survive, if but to voice his lamentations in song.
They had left that evening, taking the Peredhil with them to appear the more convincing, and Helluin had shaken her head and begun her journey east. All her arguments were for naught and there was nothing further she could do. At least the sons of Earendil and Elwing would be safe in the Valar’s camp, and soon, she expected, sailing for Aman. In this appraisal, she was perhaps half correct.
In three days she had crossed the Ered Luin to the east of Mt. Rerir, and descended into the land which lay between the upper branches of the River Lhun. 80 leagues downstream that river fed into the Gulf of Lhûn, a new feature of the land derived from the sinking of that segment of Ossiriand that had lain betwixt the rivers Ascar and Thalos. There a gap of 18 leagues had been gouged through the mountains; separating Forlindon from Harlindon with seawater that flowed for nearly 70 leagues inland. From the heights of the Ered Luin, her Elven sight had revealed the sunsparkle on distant water where none had been ere the War of Wrath. Her eyes reported the same to the west for as far as she could see. Yes, truly Beleriand was gone 'neath the waves, and now Belegaer, the Sundering Sea, lay over it. Finally she had turned and begun her descent down the eastern walls of the Ered Luin.
Helluin went with eyes wide open in curiosity of these lands that she had never seen. On their journey west from Cuivienen long ago, the host of the Noldor had passed over the Ered Luin to the south of where she now stood, 'nigh on were Nogrod was delved, and near where she deemed the Gulf of Lhûn now lay. Indeed the breaking of the Ered Luin had also shattered the halls of Gabilgathol and Tumunzahar, Belegost and Nogrod, the mansions of the Dwarves, and though some few remained in Gabilgathol, many refugees now traveled east to Durin's Halls in Khazad-dum. But this northern land was unknown to Helluin, and after six centuries of battle in Beleriand, she was finally free of the curse of Feanor that had shackled the Noldor, and at last she could explore. She hadn't felt such pure, simple joy in walking the world since before coming to Aman.
Now Eriador was a land of green, of gentle hills and growing things, and lazy rivers slow in their courses; a land for the most part like a rippled plain, lying cradled between the Blue Mountains and the Hithaeglir, the Towers of Mist. She remembered this land as forest, but the trees had withdrawn during the last two Ages of the world, leaving only patches of deeper woods. She recalled crossing the towering Misty Mountains whose intimidating peaks were ever snow-capped, sharp, and pierced the clouds. Helluin was in no hurry to come thither again, and so she roamed many years in Eriador.
During that time she even came to Mithlond on the Gulf of Lhûn, meeting Cirdan the Shipwright, Celeborn of Doriath, Galadriel, the daughter of Finarfin, whom she hadn't seen in many hundreds of years, and most surprisingly, Elrond. Helluin was little less than amazed that they had stayed in Middle Earth. At this time she learned that Galadriel and Celeborn had finally married after being a couple for centuries. They now had a daughter who was in Forlond at the king's court. Helluin wished them well. Despite a strange rivalry in Aman, she'd always appreciated Galadriel's strength of will, knowing that the princess' inspiration had been beneficial in crossing the Helcaraxe. During her visit, she'd also learned somewhat of the choices of the Peredhil following the War of Wrath.
"So Elrond, why hath thou remained in Middle Earth? And where is Elros?" She had asked. He had seemed daunted, or perhaps overwhelmed. At first she suspected that some ill had come upon them, perhaps because they'd accompanied Maedhros and Maglor to the Valar's camp after the war. But the truth was even more appalling.
"After Adar* and Naneth* sailed to Aman we were given a choice in deciding our fates. Elros clove to our father's people," Elrond told Helluin, "and I to the people of our mother. Now he hast gone to Númenórë, the land that the Valar prepared for the Edain…far across the water…gone…" *(Adar, Father, and Naneth, Mother, in this case, Earendil and Elwing. Sindarin)
And far beyond the water will his spirit one day go, Helluin realized, beyond the borders of the world where go the spirits of Men who have died. Gone forever! The parting of the Half-Elven was a parting of brothers that would last until the End of Arda. Now they were truly Half-Elven; one of the twain Eldalië and the other mortal. No wonder Elrond seemed dazed. She had put a hand on his shoulder and given it a squeeze, but there had been little she could say to comfort him. He had looked at her for a moment and then stuttered in a cracking voice, "I…I even gave him leave to take grandfather's axe…"
Helluin realized that Elrond had kept nothing of his family or his life in Beleriand but his memories. Just like the Eldar, she thought, to keep naught of the past but memories, and those as much a torment as comfort. Dramborleg had gone with Aranruth to become heirlooms of Númenor.
Watching her brother Verrino dying slowly for weeks upon the ice of the Helcaraxe had been unbearable for Helluin. It had brought forth a darkness in her that most of the Eldar didn't understand. Now Elrond would spend centuries imagining his brother dying far slower still. Such was the life of Iluvatar's Younger Children, and Helluin couldn't imagine why anyone would choose it willingly. The surcease of suffering that death brought might appeal to some of the Eldar, at least philosophically, for no few Elves had died of broken hearts, but Helluin had sublimated her suffering into a terrifying battle rage instead of allowing it to unceasingly eat at her. Only rarely was the Life of the Eldar not a thing she reveled in…and at those times she sank into memories and sang maudlin songs. Being a loner had made bearing both her sorrows and her bloodlust easier.
Now in the early years following the War of Wrath, the land of Eriador was for the most part at peace. Here, though Eastern Men sometimes ranged in small raiding bands, they were disorganized and few, just a tithe of those who had come to aid Morgoth in the wars of Beleriand. Most of their kin had fled far beyond the Misty Mountains through the gap between the Hithaeglir and the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains. The predominant tribes of Men in Eriador were distant cousins of the Elf Friends, mostly Men who had never entered Beleriand, but came of the same beginnings. They were peaceful but few and possessed little knowledge, and they suffered much in their ignorance. Yet over the years, Helluin found them courageous and stalwart at need, and among them she marked many with golden hair and light eyes whose color was sometimes green or a pale imitation of her own blue. Surely these bore some kinship to the House of Hador, she thought, and so could be both honorable and fierce. In addition there were some, fewer still in numbers, who were dark of hair and eye, tall and strong, and these she found derived from the people of Beor who had followed Beleg back over the Ered Luin out of Beleriand. Of Yrch, Trolls, and creatures more fell there was scarcely a rumor and no sightings could be confirmed. With the fall of Angband, Morgoth's minions were either destroyed or had hidden in terror, and they troubled none.
Through Eriador, Dwarves made their way east as has been said, in a migration from ruined Nogrod and Belegost, back to the ancient mansions of Khazad-dum, Hadhodrond the Dwarrowdelf, that was afterwards called Moria, the Black Chasm. Also traveling those lands were wandering companies of Elves of the kindreds of the Laiquendi, or of the Sindar of Beleriand, and even a few others of the Noldor, who like herself had remained in Middle Earth.
Perhaps the singular group not represented in Eriador during the Second Age of the Sun were men of the three Houses of the Edain. Indeed all of those still living had answered the summons of the Valar and had removed themselves from the Hither Lands to a new home made for them in reward for their valor through many lifetimes as enemies of Morgoth. This land was known by many names; in Quenya, Andor, the Land of Gift, Elenna or Starwards, commemorating the star, Gil-Estel, Earendil's Vingilot, which they followed to their new island home. In their own tongue, Adûnaic, the Edain called this land Anadûnê, Westernesse, which was translated in Quenya as Númenórë. It lay midway between the western shores of Middle Earth and the Elvenhome of Tol Eressea, that island that stands 'nigh Valinor itself. It would be six centuries ere a descendant of the Edain again set foot in the Hither Lands.
For over a hundred and thirty years of the sun Helluin traveled in Eriador. During that time she became known again to the Eldar of Lindon and anew to the Men of Eriador and the Dwarves of Khazad-dum. Being of the Noldor, yet not of the House of Feanor, she enjoyed some welcome among the Naugrim, for though she had fought the enemy she had never held any desire for the Silmarils. Indeed, though she was cunning of hand with metals, no lust for gold or silver ruled her heart. Eventually the Dwarves, perceiving that Helluin's thirst was for knowledge, not treasure, honored her rather than shunning or mistrusting her.
There were those among the Naugrim, survivors of Nogrod for the most part, who still begrudged the slaughter of their lord and kin at Sarn Athrad in Ossiriand as they fled Doriath with the Nauglamir, that necklace in which they had set the Silmaril. By her remarks of distaste for the House of Feanor's obsession over that jewel, Helluin declared her opposition to the oath that had brought bloodshed between the Dwarves and the Elves of Beleriand. It came to pass that Helluin was the first of the Eldar to ever walk the halls of Hadhodrond, delved deep in the Hithaeglir ‘neath Caradhras, Celebdil, and Fanuidhol. There she traded wisdom and counsels with the lords and craftsmen of the House of Durin, for in Aman she had learned much from the Maiar of Aule, their creator, whom the Dwarves revered. As had many things in her life, it began by chance.
One hundred and thirty one years had passed since Helluin had come to Eriador, and she had noticed that of late the bands of evil Men had multiplied, as Men were wont to do, and travel had become more risky. These interlopers seemed to her akin to the swarthy Men from the east and south, either leftovers of those who had aided Morgoth, or newly arrived and perhaps venturing west in hopes of gain through mischief. More than once in the preceding years she had come upon the sacking of a farmstead or the robbery of travelers on the roads. In those cases she quickly applied her sword, recalling the House of Ulfast, and the fear of her had grown among the brigands.
On the day in question, Helluin was happily walking over a wooded hill near the confluence of the Rivers Bruinen and Mitheithel. She was singing a song of Valinor and carving a section of reed into a temporary flute for her amusement. The day was fine if a bit hot, for summer was high and the sun was bright o'erhead just ere noon. She'd only brought the flute to her lips to play a note and test the position of another fingerhole, when from across the ford of the Mitheithel she heard coarse voices raised in threat and the drawing of weapons. For a moment she listened, quickly realizing that the voices were speaking the vulgar speech then known as the Common Tongue, a more primitive predecessor of the Westron of the Third Age. Now this wasn't anything so odd, yet already she had dropped her bag and flute and was hastening to the ford. It was as she came to the water that she heard the reply, and a moment later she was flying over the stones of the ford, her light-footed stride causing nary a ripple in her passing.
The voice had been that of a Dwarf, and from the little she knew of the speech of the Naugrim, the Dwarf had simply claimed that he couldn't understand a word the Men were saying. It was a common enough ploy, to feign ignorance when endangered in hopes of being left alone. No doubt the Men's weapons had been drawn to convince him to part with whatever wealth he carried using the universal language of threat. Her own sword slipped from its sheath as she made the further shore and with a few strides she was upon the bank and in full view of the confrontation.
Her ears had reported the situation aright. There stood six armed Men, road brigands by their looks, brandishing studded clubs and swords of poor workmanship, blades scavenged from fallen Yrch if her eyes spoke true. Encircled by them were a pair of Dwarves, bearded, hooded, cloaked, and bearing short axes of a type used for chopping firewood rather than hewing necks. A number of travelers' bags lay at their feet and the circle of Men was tightening. The attention of all was fully occupied and she was ignored, save for quick looks and dismissal by several of the Men. She was alone, and though she bore a longsword, they deemed her only a minimal threat to their numbers. Amazingly she was able to walk right up to them.
"Thinking to rob yon travelers art thou?" She asked in Sindar, her eyes passing over the circle of men. Though she was a hand's width taller than the tallest of them, they were broad of body and certainly strong of arm. Finally they turned their attention to her.
"Looks like what to you it does," the largest of them declared in the mangled Common Speech. She could understand the Dwarves being unable to comprehend them; she could barely understand them herself. "Be your way going," he ordered with a sneer.
"Stand fast and I shalt split whatever they have with thee," she whispered to the nearer Dwarf in broken Khazdul, winking and giving him a feral grin. The Naugrim's eyes bulged to hear her speak their tongue at all, even if poorly. The Men had no idea what she'd said.
"So, continue Morgoth's work you would in smallish ways, your master though long gone he is," she told the robbers in the Common Tongue, " that Enemy I fought; your fathers to join in death gladly will I send you." She gave them a smile and bared her teeth.
The Men turned from their victims at her threat and glared at her. The nearest raised his sword. Pitiful weapon she thought. With a swift stroke, Anguirel clove the Man's blade from its hilt. He looked at what remained in his hand and howled in anger. The Men to either side of him moved to attack.
Now the battle-prowess of the Eldar lay not in great strength alone, but in agility, speed, and reaction time. These blessings, aided by the acuity of senses and superior weaponry made Elven warriors highly formidable. Helluin saw every muscle clench and strain, the shifting of focus in their eyes, and the changes in balance as their feet moved. Yet before any of that, she heard the speech of their minds. Fools, she thought, I know ere thou command thine own limbs in what manner thy body shalt move. With a stroke she sliced off one Man's club just above his hand and the other Man's belt so his pants fell around his knees. Beside her a Dwarf chuckled in a deep-throated gurgle. The return stroke brought Anguirel's point up under the chin of the next nearest robber, he being the large Man who'd spoken to her.
"Be your way going," she ordered with a sneer, adding, "son of an Orc you."
The Man's eyes bugged out in his head at the insult but he backed up a pace as his fellow robbers edged away from her. They had never met any of the Calaquendi. In truth they'd had very little to do with any of the Eldar. The blue fire in her eyes was supernatural, wholly unnerving. More unnerving still was the feeling in each of their hearts that her sword lusted for their blood as it were a living thing possessed. Helluin had advanced, keeping the sword's point tight against the Man's throat. To speed them on their way she whipped the blade from side to side, slicing off the better part of his beard. As it gently dropped to the ground the brigands fled. Helluin laughed. The wars in Beleriand would have gone much quicker if more like them had fought for Morgoth. She watched until they were safely gone beyond her sight and hearing.
Next she looked at the Dwarves. They were staring at her, clearly disturbed and clearly thankful. They both bowed to her as if their bodies were commanded by a single mind.
"Our thanks, fell warrior of the Eldar," one said in passable Sindarin, "a debt in gratitude my kinsman and I owe thee." The stooped to collect their bags.
"For 600 years I fought the Great Enemy and yet I find his legacy alive even after his defeat. 'Tis, in part, why I left Aman, and fighting yon brigands is part of that purpose. It gladdens my heart though to spare thou and thy kinsman from harm," Helluin replied in Sindarin. She began to sheath her sword but noticed the intense looks of interest the Dwarves were regarding it with. She held the blade out for them to appraise. "This, is Anguirel, forged by Eol of Nan Elmoth of sky-iron. It has cloven all delved steel I have tested it against thus far and it has preserved my life and many others."
The black blade, technically a longsword, was double-edged, nearly a yard long past the hilts, with fullers on either side, and it narrowed to a wicked point. With both distal taper and an evenly narrowing width, it was light for its length and extremely sharp, a perfect tool for the shearing of mail, the piercing of plate, and the hewing of flesh and bone. As had been said before, unlike the typically showy blades of the Eldar it bore no script, no engraved traceries, and no inlays, nor had it been polished mirror bright. In sunlight the steel showed an iridescence of many subtle colors that flickered upon the black metal as it moved. The crossguard and pommel were of the same black steel as the blade, while the handgrip was of carved wood wound 'bout in thongs of black leather.
"Thou art Noldor," the second Dwarf said, in the blunt manner of the Naugrim, nodding to himself with certainty. "Eol the Morben* was at times a guest at the smithies of Nogrod and Belegost. Had thou dealings with the people of Mahal, yonder in the Blessed Lands?" He asked hopefully. *(Morben, Dark Elf, properly applied to the Moriquendi. Sindarin)
"From the Maiar of Aule, whom thou call Mahal, I learned the forging and tempering of steel and the working of many metals," Helluin answered, "but it has been an Age since last I stood at a forge."
The Dwarf regarded her with speculation for a moment before speaking again.
"Warrior, would thou allow my kinsman and me to host thee in our halls for a time, in gratitude for delivering us from the robbers? Perhaps both thee and we could gain in knowledge and enrich our craft? We would make thee welcome, the first of the Eldar ever to come to our mansions."
Helluin thought about their offer. She'd never really had close relations with the Naugrim but she knew of their mastery at crafts. Swiftly her curiosity about them and their home overcame any reservations she had. The explorer overruled the warrior. Yes, there were many things she could learn from them. And now she served no lord, nor was she constrained by any quest. Helluin's time was her own to spend.
"I would be honored, and I would willingly share what I know," she told the Dwarves. "It would also please me greatly to learn from thee, perhaps bettering my speech in the language of thy people, what of it thou art willing to teach. I foresee us both profiting thus. In years to come it may ease the way for others of our people."
The Dwarves smiled happily at her acceptance and open manner. She was neither cold nor haughty as the Noldor had been reported to be by their people who had emigrated from Belegost. Such impressions had arisen from the early dealings of the Naugrim with Caranthir son of Feanor and his host in Thargelion, who had ever treated them with condescension. That impression had after been reinforced by many small incidents. The Naugrim for their part were not without fault, being clannish, secretive, and at times overmastered by their greed for treasure. This in fact had led to the slaughter at Sarn Athrad in Ossiriand, when the host of Nogrod slew Elu Thingol, King of Doriath, and sacked his halls of Menegroth. Of course this incident had been a culmination of a long and often tense relationship with the Sindar.
The Host of Nogrod had after been utterly destroyed by Beren and the Laiquendi, or so the tale had been told to Helluin's ears. That the Elves had been unknowingly aided by the very Onodrim whose mates she had once met in the Ered Wethrin, Helluin had no knowledge. Those of the Naugrim thus dispatched had escaped the Green Elves' ambush and had perished unmarked on the slopes of the Ered Luin far beyond the battle.
The strange trio took to the road, trading stories and the gossip of Eriador. As they went forward, each practiced the language of the other, and ever quick to learn, Helluin could speak passably the everyday tongue of Durin's folk ere they came to the west door of Hadhodrond, the Deep Delving of the Dwarves.
The Dwarves had declared their names to be Gikli and Merk, and they were prospectors, abroad for a time seeking ores, a preoccupation of the Naugrim no matter how rich the lodes they already knew. They directed Helluin along a well laid road that tracked the course of the pleasant stream Sirannon, which led eventually to a low cliff that the road continued up in switchbacks to the north of a flight of sturdy stairs. At the top, the road resumed a pace and led around a curve to the rampart of a tall cliff in which a massive iron portcullis stood open. Many centuries later the Elves of Eregion would aid the Dwarves in the construction of the Hidden Gates, of which later bards have sung, but in this time no such contrivances yet existed. With passwords exchanged, the door wardens allowed Helluin, Gikli, and Merk to pass.
During the following years she spent in Khazad-dum, Helluin taught and learned much of the craft of the forge, for of tempering, the Naugrim were the undisputed masters in Middle Earth. The Guild of Smiths slowly accepted her and she worked the hot steel at their furnaces, winning their respect. In those days she also learned much of masonry and the mining of ores. Deep beneath the mansions and halls of Moria lay the pits and shafts from which the Dwarves wrested their metals from the earth. Many an expedition Helluin joined for the finding of iron and gold and silver, tin, copper, and zinc, cobalt and mercury, and of all these she never laid any claim, though the discoveries she made enriched the houses of the lords of Khazad-dum. It was in her eleventh year underground when she made a more valuable discovery, for she had perceived the flow of strata and correctly guessed at the presence of a vein of mithril ore where none had been expected. This incited the lust of her hosts, but as she had before, Helluin laid no claim to the lode. For some time she had spoken fluently in the tongue of Durin's people, though she learned none of their secret words. She spoke to them in it now, and the initial strangeness of this Elf speaking Khazdul while standing in their halls had become commonplace to them.
"All that lies 'neath Durin’s Halls rightly belongs to Durin's Folk," she told them to their astonishment. "Take of it what thou will, yet I would petition thy lords for such of it as would make for me some mail to protect me when I leave, for I lead a warrior's life in the outside world and such may save me one day."
Then Gneiss son of Gnoss, a master craftsman of the Guild of Smiths, spoke to her saying, "None have spoken fairer to my ears, be they Eldar or Khazad, for the wealth of this lode would make one a lord. In token of this, allow me to craft for thee from this ore the finest armor of mithril ere thou take thy leave of us. Thou shalt truly bear hence a king's ransom."
Such an offer was beyond generous, for the Naugrim seldom clad even their own warriors in the precious metal, and for one of her stature, the armor would eclipse the treasure of no few lords. The labor alone might take the master smith over a year, for mithril was not the easiest of ores to smelt and forge. Long weeks would be spent merely hot winding the drawn wire onto steel mandrel rods and then slitting the coils to make the raw rings. Thanks were in order on both sides, yet for Helluin, it was also important to emphasize that she desired not to leave Khazad-dum wearing a king’s ransom, but rather with the most impenetrable armor that could be fabricated in Middle Earth. Therefore she spoke again to Gneiss.
"No treasure do I desire to burden me on my road, for in no place have I established halls or treasury. Yet armor I would have of mithril, for such mail even my sword Anguirel cannot cleave, and such rings are light and supple beyond any steel that craft can make. In all of Middle Earth, no hands are so masterful as those of the craftsmen of Khazad-dum, for where else now in Arda are there any who have worked this metal and know its secrets?"
And so Gneiss and his apprentices refined the ore, and when they had obtained mithril, they set to work to make ring-mail and articulated plates for Helluin. Such was their craft in those days that the work of their smithy lay smooth as a second skin upon her body, light and flexible as silk, and Anguirel could not cut it, nor could the thrust of a spear pierce it. The masters of Khazad-dum fashioned Helluin's mail such that it fit her as a short-skirted battle dress, with a ring neck that a hauberk could overlie. Unlike steel mail, it was worn over a thin shift rather than underlain by the padding of a gambson or felted arming tunic. Over the mail Helluin wore a supple, black leather battle dress of the same fashion she'd worn in Gondolin, and thence a long hooded cloak for ill-weather. Pauldrons, vambraces and grieves they made for her as well, of lapped plates harder than dragon scales. When all was finished, Helluin saw the shining rings, mirror-bright, and knew this would never do.
"Bright is this armor, Gneiss, and handsome would it be for a lord in the vanguard of an army," she told him gently, wishing to spare his feelings for his efforts had been great, "yet a lone warrior is best unseen and unremarked. I would have these plates and mail washed with galvorn to make them black and hide both me and its unique worth."
Galvorn was a black alloy devised by Eol. It looked like nothing more than blackened steel, hardly showy, and anyone seeing Helluin's armor would take it for such, yet though galvorn was malleable enough to form such fine rings, it had not the strength of mithril.
Gneiss gave her a cunning smile, "I understand now aright thy purpose and thy need and am at the last fully persuaded of it."
Perhaps for the first time even he was convinced that Helluin's desire for armor of mithril came not from its value as treasure, but for the peerless properties of the metal itself. No finer protection from enemy weapons existed in Middle Earth. When she had arrived in Khazad-dum, what armor she wore had been of a few steel plates backed by hard leather. By blackening the mithril's finish, no glint or tell tail reflection would be cast. Not even the visible parts, the hauberk, pauldrons, bracers, grieves, and the mail on her breast above her leathers would draw unwanted attention.
And now Helluin appeared, not like the Elven lords or the great warriors of the Noldor, shining star-bright in the glory of their gem-encrusted battle-gear, but rather as one of their own; a fell fighter of the elite black companies of Hadhodrond who slew the Glamhoth in the dark places of the world under mountain and stone. Yet none would mistake her for one of Durin's Folk. She was two-heads taller and the Light of Aman burned in the blue fire of her eyes. Indeed the black armor and leather joined her sword and the fall of her hair to frame those eyes, outwardly augmenting her dark spirit to create a terrifying apparition of menace. Then Gneiss son of Gnoss, seeing her for the first time attired thus, exclaimed, "Behold, the Mórgolodh*." *(Mórgolodh, "Black Exile" = mór (black, dark) + golodh (exiled elf; Noldo). Sindarin)
Rhovanion, East of the Hithaeglir - The Second Age of the Sun
Well nigh twenty years of the sun had passed before Helluin left Khazad-dum. By then the Dwarves held her in high honor and she had learned much from them. Yet eventually the longing for the open sky and the sounds of wind and water drew her forth from the deep halls of Durin's folk and she took up again her wandering ways.
Now when she left, Helluin went not by the west door through which she'd entered, but rather from Azanulbizar Gate, the main gate of Moria. This lay on the eastern side of the Hithaeglir, above the Mirror Mere, Kheled-zaram. Below it, the spring that gave rise to the river Celebrant arose from its deep source. At first Helluin just stood letting Anar's warmth wash over her as she listened in delight to the play of bright waters skipping down a stair-step falls from a mist-shrouded gorge between the arms of the mountains behind. The sun's light falling through that spray graced the narrow chasm with a rainbow that arced from wall to wall, as it were some ephemeral bridge of the Valar set there for spirits alone to tread upon. Yet soon she took to the road descending from the great gates, and so Helluin came into the eastern lands, into the forests of the broadening Nanduhirion that would one day be called the Dimrill Dale.
The next day she had followed the land further downslope into the gore between the river Celebrant and the river Nimrodel, though that latter name was still long in coming. To Helluin, these rivers were simply the right and left forks of a tributary that ran down to Anduin the Great, of whose name the Dwarves had spoken. Yet though the later name had yet to be given, still many already lived nigh these streams, for the land was fair and the water clean. Now these were not the people of Lothlorien, for the Land of the Golden Flower would not be founded for well over another thousand years. These were those Moriquendi called Nandor, a branch of the Umanyar. They were originally Teleri who had renounced the westward march to Aman and had never entered Beleriand. They had been sundered from the Calaquendi and even the Sindar for over 4,000 years, and they had found their own place in Middle Earth.
Helluin had been near 50 years of age when Lenwe, a kinsman of King Olwe, had led a host who would become the Nandor south, away down Anduin, for they had despaired of crossing the Hithaeglir into Eriador. By then the Vanyar of Ingwe and the Noldor of Finwe, (with Helluin among them), had already followed the Vala Orome over the Misty Mountains. The Teleri had stayed behind, desiring to live for a time on Anduin's banks.
In truth, some of the Nandor, many of them under Denethor, son of Lenwe, had later journeyed into more western lands, whether by the pass between the Ered Nimrais and the Hithaeglir, or along the southern coast beyond the White Mountains, or over the Misty Mountains themselves. Indeed Denethor’s folk had been known to Helluin, for they had become the Laiquendi, the Green Elves of Ossiriand. Still to Helluin these were strange and distant kin, their language archaic to her ears, and no light of the Blessed Realm burned in their eyes. Of their kin to the west and the wars of the Silmarils the Nandor had heard but rumors of distant unrest. They were wary of others by nature, though not to such a degree as the Avari further east, and while they were not evil, they were suspicious of strangers, for agents of Morgoth had walked these lands though the Nandor knew not their true origins. Of the ways of wide lands about Anduin, none were more familiar. Plant and animal they knew close as kin, rock and tree were their intimates, and Helluin, though traveling cloaked in green much like the Laiquendi of Ossiriand, was known long ere she crossed the Celebrant.
Many hidden eyes marked her passage down to the confluence of the two rivers. For her part, Helluin noted a watchfulness in the land as she moved further from Khazad-dum and it reminded her somewhat of her march through Ossiriand. It seemed the very breeze held its breath and some uneasy peace lay upon the forest, yet peace it was, not threat. Helluin kept her senses sharp and strode forward as a traveler rather than a hunter or a spy; indeed she came singing a song of Valinor, likening the light of golden Laurelin to the sunlight streaming through the leaves of the mellyrn standing all around. Her voice rose clear like crystal, lofting her words to Arien as she drew the vessel of Anar, last remnant of Laurelin's light, through the heavens.
Now the Nandor heard clearly her voice and knew that none in Middle Earth save their Elven kin sang with voices so sweet and pure. So they assailed her not though she was a stranger dressed for war and the longsword at her side they marked. Of her song they understood but few of the words, and yet they felt the spirit of praise and thanksgiving that flowed amidst the lines, for pitch is keyed to feeling and once long ago the tongue of the Nandor had its roots in common with the Quenya that had been preserved in Aman. Therefore they felt her reverence for the world and its life. Even so, when she came at last to the meeting of the two rivers she was stopped. There a company of the Nandor of Celebrant drew up behind her and stayed any thought of retreat back from the point of the gore. So Helluin stood, with a plunge down to the frothy, tumbling waters at her back and well nigh twenty strange Elves facing her.
Though the establishment of Lothlorien was many centuries away, already those of that land cloaked themselves in grey and moved through the trees with stealth. Most bore bows of supple yew and slender shafts tipped with steel in quivers at their backs. A few had knives as well, but these were plain and of inferior workmanship. Helluin waited to hear their hail, for etiquette demanded that having stopped her they challenge her or let her pass. After some time, when the company had settled itself and she had made no move, a tall Elf with long, pale hair stood forward and spoke. To Helluin's ears his language was beyond antique, yet still changed from the speech of Cuivienen that she recalled only with some difficulty from two Ages of the world before. Indeed the tongue of the Nandor was that which was known after as Silvan, and it had its roots in common with Quenya and even with Sindarin, though the latter less closely following millennia of divergence.
"Wherefore goes't thou, girded thus for battle in this land of peace?"
"I wander in quest of my curiosity's satisfaction," Helluin explained, adjusting her speech for their ease of comprehension, "holding to no lord either allegiance or duty, and serving none save my own heart since the fall of the House of Fingolfin, son of Finwe."
A murmur went up from the Nandor, for the name of Host of Finwe had been known to them of old. They were kin, but distant in time and place.
"Why doth thee bear sword and gear of war, Noldo," he asked, nodding to the sheathed sword Anguirel at her belt, "if no lord does't thou serve?"
"Amidst western lands war lay heavy and long. Despite the Great Enemy's fall, still some few of his servants roam apace, or did, east of yon Hithaeglir." She glanced up to the snow-crowned peaks of Caradhras, Celebdil, and Fanuidhol, which rose above Khazad-dum. "These I thwart in memory of kin fallen, and for the protection of myself."
The Elf digested her words a moment and then asked, "Dids't thou indeed cross yonder heights?" He gestured with one arm, back up Nanduhirion, with an expression of barely suppressed awe.
"Nay, under them I came," Helluin answered, "as a guest of the House of Durin did I pass through Hadhodrond."
Here all the Nandor began to voice opinions ranging from shock to amazement to outright disbelief. None of the Nandor of Celebrant had passed through the gates of the Khazad-dum. The two peoples dealt with each other mostly in mutual disinterest, or ignored each other's doings entirely. They had nothing in common and neither kindred could understand a word the other said. It had been so forever. The Nando wound up sneering at Helluin and advancing upon her though the remainder of his people still stood indecisive.
"False ring thy words, Noldo. Say sooth, pass yonder gate? Nay, not in any age."
"Not thee or thine perhaps," Helluin answered calmly, "yet twenty years hath I spent in those halls with honor. If thee doubt my words, then look upon works wrought for me in Khazad-dum."
Here she spread her arms and her cloak fell open revealing the vambraces on her forearms and the armor above the bodice of her battle dress. The mail lay flush on her skin as it were a design applied rather than a garment worn, and the plates of the vambraces shifted in supple accommodation of every move of her arms. The pauldrons' segments encased her shoulders like dragon's scales. The Elf gazed at the mail and plate, marveling at the fineness of its craft. The design motifs adorning it were geometric and hard, not organic or flowing as Elvish decorations would have been. It was certainly Dwarvish in feel, recalling the relief designs on the Azanulbizar gate itself.
"Neither blade nor shaft can pass this armor, whether from the bows of Quendi or Yrch," Helluin declared loud enough for all to hear.
"So say thou," the Nando said. "Still I say thou speak untrue and would put thy claim to test. Does't thou fear?" He asked, smirking at her and thinking himself crafty of word.
"Nay, thy shafts shan't bite though thou shoot to kill," said Helluin as she drew her hauberk over her head and dropped the cloak, "but a boon shalt thou owe me for any holes in my clothing."
Here the Nando looked at her in surprise and then shook his head believing her fey. He turned and strode back to his people, then ordered a dozen archers to knock arrows and draw. It was done in the blink of an eye and he commanded them to release. The shafts sped unerring to their target where they bounced away or broke on Helluin's chest right above her heart.
Seeing this he wondered, what miraculous steel doth the Naugrim contrive? She had stood unmoving, only hoping they wouldn't shoot her unprotected upper arms or legs. In shooting to kill, no harm came to her save some bruising from the impacts, and that less than a heavy hand blow might have caused. The Nandor looked on in amazement as she pulled off the hauberk and casually strode towards them until she stood but a body's length from the archers.
"What say thee now, Umanya?" Helluin asked, letting flare the blue fire in her eyes that reflected the Undying Light of Valinor that his people had never seen. "Doubt me still?"
The Nando gulped as he looked in her face and felt himself constrained immobile by her will. Not yet wrath, but a dwindling of patience he read there amidst her dark beauty. Truths he saw, and possibilities lived that he had never imagined. There was no lie in her, but more than that, there was a power, majestic and wholly perplexing, yet inherent in all those who had dwelt in Aman. Helluin was the first of the Calaquendi that any of them had ever met. With a blink she released him and he drew a deep breath.
Naught but rumors had come east of the wars in Beleriand, yet from those wars she had come, with heart unbowed and body unbroken though it was said that entire lands had foundered. And what had those eyes seen in the Blessed Realm and through the ages while he and his people had dwelt quiet on these Hither Shores? What powers or prowess had she acquired there? Whence came that fire in her eyes? She showed no fear. He wondered whether she would slay them all, for their arrows wouldn't bite and not one among them bore a sword. He felt the need of counsel and that could come only from the lord of his people, who dwelt among the trees downstream nigh Celebrant.
"Nay, no longer hath I doubts of thee," he said, "but more, I pray thee, that thou woulds't come before my lord, sharing in his halls the telling of thy tale." Here he sketched a slight bow of courtesy for good measure.
Helluin sighed, but understood that these of her distant kin stood in ignorance of the greater powers and deeds in the West. She could at the least update them and enjoy their hospitality while acquainting herself of their ways. Meeting their lord would be a good start. Helluin nodded in agreement.
"Grateful would this traveler be for thy lord's hospitality, and honored to speak of the deeds in the West." She offered him a tentative smile that he returned self-consciously over low mumbles from those standing behind. "I am Helluin of the Noldor, called also Maeg-mormenel."
"Well met then, Helluin," the Nando said, "I am Haldir, Captain of the Northern Border Guard. We name our country Lindórinand*. Come then," he beckoned with a gesture as he passed her and walked toward the point of the gore. Helluin moved to follow and the rest joined in behind. It appeared he intended to cross over Celebrant and march along its north bank. *(Lindórinand, "Vale of the Land of the Singers", is the old name of Lothlorien, while it was still purely a realm of the Nandor. -Nandorin. UT, Pt. 2; IV, HoGaC, Note 5, pgs. 252-3.)
Haldir removed from around his waist a coil of line that he tied to an arrow. He then knocked the arrow on his bowstring, took aim, and let fly, sending shaft and line across the water to stick in a dead trunk on the far bank. The near end he handed to a second Elf who tied it around a nearby tree and made it fast. As Helluin watched, Haldir leapt up and came to stand light as a fleck of down upon the slender rope, and then just as lightly he quickly stepped across it over the rushing waters. Once on the far bank, he plucked free his arrow, and tied the free end to a loop of rope already in place around the trunk that had lain out of sight on the ground. Once all was again secure, the company began to cross in the same manner.
Helluin crossed third to the last and found the way easy though she had never attempted such a thing before. The capacity was native in all Elves to master their balance, and being in control of their own bodies, fear wasn't a concern. Haldir nodded in approval as she hopped lightly to the ground. Now he was curious to see how agile she'd be in the trees. When the last of the company had crossed, he spoke the word 'Hótule*!' sharply, and gave the line a tug, snapping it like a whip. The knot on the far bank came free and the line leapt through the air in a graceful arc, landing on the ground near his feet. *("Hótule!" "Come away!" imp. Quenya)
The company continued walking east through the forest alongside Celebrant, finally taking a path more inland during the later afternoon. From time to time one among them would raise his voice in song. Overhead a gently swaying canopy of fluttering gold splintered the sun's light into dancing shadows that flickered 'neath the mellyrn. Bright or dim, all the forest seemed bathed in warm, golden hues to Helluin, and though but a dim recollection of the light of Laurelin falling upon Tuna, still it recalled to her heart the home she'd left in Aman. That quality of light brought on a longing for the Blessed Realm, and in that moment Helluin felt that all in Middle Earth was but a faded vision or shallow artifice. As the day began to fade and the light warmed, the effect became even more pronounced. Helluin fell into a somber mood, and in response she recalled a mournful song composed just after the poisoning of the Trees, as their light faded forever from Aman. Soon strains of Elemmire's Aldudenie, the "Lament of the Two Trees", took wing from her lips.
She sang softly and with incomplete attention, yet her voice was clear and the tune slow and sad. The Nandor could understand little of the Quenya in which the lyrics had been set, but the notes alone brought them sadness for a world diminished and a wondrous land they had never seen. No Elf could have been unmoved, and the Umanyar were no exception. Their hearts were turned in sympathy to the ending of that which they had never known, feeling keenly the sense of having missed wonders that were gone forever. By virtue of the notes, the sorrow of all loss in a wider sense was rekindled anew as well. Even far from Beleriand, life in Middle Earth was not without its heartbreak. Soon many of the company became morose. In fact more than one shed tears as he walked, and after several miles it became too much. At last Haldir, as upset as any, brought them to a halt.
"Cease, O cease, I pray thee," he beseeched Helluin as he gave up walking and stood still, faltering and pausing to wipe his eyes. "No more of this can I stand! Heart's poverty thou bring'th upon us, Helluin; such a painful spell."
Helluin had ceased singing at once and stood with downcast expression and sincere regret etched on her face. The Elves of Darkness had felt more depressed by her song then even she herself; a doubling of loss compounded by regret over old choices made. In a land of singers, a song was a powerful thing.
"Thy pardon, Haldir," Helluin said softly, "the fading light 'neath these trees brought to my mind a song of lament for the loss of the Two Trees that once lit the Blessed Realm. I sang without thought of consequence. Long have I wandered with naught but my own company, and of the tongue of Valinor, the Naugrim understood nothing."
"Bitter then and sad must our home seem to thee, and gladder am I to see it in ignorance," he said, looking with sympathy on the sorrow that marked her beauty.
"The fault lies not in thy lands, Haldir, but I bear a longing for things that live now only in memory. Time runs on, but memory endures and to the past there can be no returning. Yet not for a hundred times the sadness would I wipe away my past beyond the seas. I have sorrow, yes, but not regret."
Haldir understood and said, "Perhaps thou shalt speak to me of Valinor ere our paths part, for 'tis said great sorrow follows only the loss of great joy."
Helluin nodded in response. Haldir turned away and began leading the company forward again as the light deepened 'neath the mellyrn from bright to burnished gold.
They walked for perhaps another hour before coming to a clearing surrounding a tall hill ringed with young mellyrn, at the crown of which stood the snag of a long-dead trunk of massive girth. All 'round its base grew a lush turf of soft, thick green. The Nandor turned while walking and acknowledged the place with a subtle bowing of their heads, yet none broke from their pace. Helluin wondered at the significance of it, for the Nandor obviously regarded the hill with some reverence. She inspected it closely as she passed. It seemed to her that about the hill a faint enchantment lay; an uncommon clarity, a shifting of light, or a shimmer to be seen only from the corner of the eye. Haldir noted her curiosity and broke from the lead, walking back to her as the company continued on.
"Tuna-i-Aldoen,* upon whose crown the eldest mallorn grew, aged long ere the coming of my people; alas, it passed long ago," Haldir explained, "yet suckers anew arise as if in homage." *(Tuna-i-Aldoen, "Hill of the Great Tree", a long time before it became Cerin Amroth in the Third Age. Quenya)
"How long ago?" Helluin asked, experiencing a sense of prescience.
"'Twas stricken o'er 750 years past and failed utterly in but a year," he said, shaking his head sadly. "There followed 616 years of silent desolation. Just o'er 150 years past did it renew, unlooked for and undivined."
"Hmmmm," Helluin mused. She looked at the Hill of the Great Tree for several moments longer. The reported count of years seemed true. 151 years had passed since the fall of Morgoth. 767 years ago the Noldor had returned to Middle Earth bringing war. It couldn't have been coincidence. She made no comment, but thanked Haldir with a nod and a small smile. Then they moved to follow the company, already marching out of sight up the path, now in a more southerly direction.
As evening fell the company came to the chief settlement of Lindórinand. It lay just north of the river, encompassing a large hill among tall mellyrn where many of the platforms that the Nandor called Aldar opélille*, sat up among the branches of the trees. Some were but a few body heights above the ground, while the highest were barely to be seen, their undersides hidden amidst the crowns and obscured by branches and leaves. They ranged in size from simple platforms or hunters' blinds, to actual palaces in the boughs. From overhead the voices of many Elves floated down to the company, in conversation, laughter, and occasionally in song. Here and there a lamp glowed between the leaves, and as Helluin watched, yet more shone out as they were lit in the gloaming. *(Aldar opélille, "Little Tree Houses", = alda (tree) + -r(pl) + opél(e) (walled house) + -i(pl) + -lle(diminutive) Quenya, and as close as I can come to a Quenya equivalent for the Sindarin words talan. Flet is 3rd Age Westron. The singular form is alda opélelle).
The city of the Nandor had neither rampart nor dike, but with a warrior's eye Helluin noted that the area was under constant surveillance from many small aldar opélille and blinds. There archers waited, silent and vigilant, as a last defense against intruders. Indeed for some time, she had noted the presence of increasing numbers of watchers in the woods. The Nandor had chosen to make their realm a porous killing ground, in which unseen resistance would intensify with increasing proximity to their settlement. Being without physical barriers, the area appeared but lightly defended, and yet for a people who fought with stealth, it allowed fluidity and adaptability in meeting invaders. Helluin had seen such tactics before in Ossiriand, among the Laiquendi. It seemed a common solution for the Umanyar and a logical outgrowth of those peoples' love of open spaces and freedom to wander amidst the nature they so loved. Perhaps it had been sufficient defense against their enemies here in the east, but against a host in such numbers as Morgoth had unleashed, the Nandor would have been swiftly overrun. It told her that warfare had been much less intense here; they'd probably seen little more than raiding and skirmishes.
"Pray thee follow now, that we might come before my lord," Haldir said to Helluin as they stood before a large mallorn atop the central hill. "Lenwin, son of Lenwer, son of Lenwe is king among the trees." After a nod from her he started up a rope ladder that had been lowered from a large alda opélelle several fathoms above their heads.
Helluin climbed up behind him easily and soon stood beside him on the talan. This platform was quite large and bridged two trunks that stood a half-dozen yards apart. Upon it was a roofed enclosure with a wide opening in its wall and windows on its sides. Within was a guard station where Haldir quickly spoke to another Elf. That done he resumed their way, leading Helluin up another ladder.
This time the climb was longer and soon they were far above the floor of the forest. A second talan they reached at perhaps 100 feet up, and this amidst the branching of the trunk two-thirds of the way to the mallorn's crown. Here many thick limbs pierced the floor, rising at varying angles and in all directions. Helluin could see many smaller platforms among the outer branches, reached, she assumed, simply by walking the limbs. Also radiating from the talan were many ropes leading away to other trees nearby, the Nandor's sidewalks, such as they were.
"The Halls of Lenwin lie upon yonder mallorn," Haldir declared, pointing to a trunk about ten fathoms distant, "and not a thread leads hence from the ground. Here only lies the approach."
Haldir gestured to a slender rope held taut between the talan on which they stood and one encircling the trunk of a yet greater tree. He started across, walking at ease as he had while crossing Celebrant. Helluin followed shortly, pacing across behind him, not the least bit daunted by the drop of sixteen fathoms and four 'neath her feet. Height mattered not at all. The rope was secure and no wind blew. For people of Elven kind there was little danger in the crossing. At the far end of the rope, Haldir stepped off and waited for Helluin to make the talan. He noted that her eyes roved constantly, up, down, and in all directions as she paced that slender pathway among the branches. He saw her curiosity and delight in discovering a place filled with new sights and sounds. Yet again, he found himself impressed by this stranger.
Upon the aldar opélille they had reached stood a high-walled hall of wood, bedecked with glowing lamps that illuminated the carvings and painting upon it. Elves stood outside and at the doors, some speaking amongst themselves, others singing softly and plucking notes upon harps of many strings. Several nodded greetings to Haldir and looked with curiosity upon Helluin. She noted that none there bore arms. At the door a tall, dark-haired Elf greeted Haldir by name and Haldir returned his greeting and introduced Helluin.
"Hail, Arnel. Helluin of the Noldor is she, called also Maeg-mormenel, an explorer of many lands and mortal foe to the Dark Enemy of whom some have told. Audience we seek before King Lenwin."
"Audience our lord grants, Haldir. Indeed he know'th of Helluin's coming hither. Proceed thou hence in peace." The door warden pulled open the tall doors and then stood aside for them to pass.
Haldir proceeded Helluin into the hall and she walked forward a step behind him on his right. All 'round, the hall was lit warmly by many bright lamps. The inside had been whitewashed so that the room was filled with a brilliant golden light. Many stood in attendance in the large open space, while yet more Elves sat along the walls on benches. Helluin noted a buzz of conversation, conducted discretely in hushed tones. Towards the rear, nearest the doors, several musicians softly sang and scribes wrote upon parchments with pens of gold. At the far end of the hall stood a low dais. Upon it were set a matched pair of high-backed chairs, intricately carved with floral motifs and washed in gold. Gathered around the dais nearby were the counselors of the king's household, seated upon chairs and stools of many styles and shapes.
Upon the dais sat King Lenwin and his queen, the Lady Calenwen. Both were tall and slender, dark of hair and pale of skin, their brown eyes streaked with gold much like the autumn leaves of the mellyrn they so loved. Both appeared to be in the prime of life, though such is difficult to judge among the Firstborn. Only their eyes truly showed their age. Such wisdom as life in Middle Earth offered, gained through long years did Helluin see, yet they were not so long of care as to be borne down by it. She guessed them to be little more than a thousand years old. They looked upon their subject and his guest with smiles of welcome, standing in greeting as was the custom amongst Elven kind.
"Thanks we give for thy safe return, Haldir, and for the peace of yon border north," King Lenwin declared before turning his attention to their guest. "Welcome, Helluin of the Noldor. Long art thy people sundered from us, nor hath any of the Host of Finwe come amongst us ere hither realm was founded. Naught but rumor hath we heard concerning the West and the Undying Lands. Pray tell us thy tale. We would harken to thy words. What tidings of the Hosts of Ingwe and of Finwe, of Olwe, and most, of Elwe? What deeds befell, wondrous and of great renown?"
Helluin briefly bowed her head in assent before the dais and then spoke, tempering her speech in manner most like their own. In the hours of the night she sketched the history of two long Ages in the west of Arda.
"Sooth say thee, O King, long sundered our peoples be. In ages past o'er Hithaeglir came my people, and they behind the Host of Ingwe. Thence to Beleriand beyond the land of Eriador, cross yet further mountains came we thither o'er many years, and there took our way to Aman the Blessed. Then in peace did we dwell, in lands undying 'neath the Holy Light of Yavanna's Trees, rejoicing in the presence of the Holy Ones and learning much of wisdom and of craft. There an Age passed away, indeed, 3,620 years of the sun.
In bliss we woulds't tarry there still were it not for the jewels of Feanor, eldest son of King Finwe. Alas, the Silmarils he wrought, capturing in their hearts the very Light of the Two Trees. Melkor the Dark Enemy, Morgoth he is named, coveted them and contrived to take them, aided in his knavery by the monster Ungoliant, an ancient evil that doth wear spider's guise. With black vapors did she darken Valinor, and 'neath the darkness came Melkor. Then he smote the Trees, poisoning the Lights of Yavanna, and bringing down the night upon Aman, yea even upon Valimar and the Ring of Doom! Thence taking their way north, they came to Formenos where dwelt King Finwe, and Feanor, and his sons. There Melkor broke the treasury and had the Silmarils, slaying King Finwe."
At these words the king and queen bowed their heads to honor the fallen. But Helluin knew that what was to come might yet turn their hearts against her and all her people. Still she continued on, intent on telling the truth.
"To Middle Earth they fled with the Silmarils. Morgoth came even to his fortress of Angband, and there raised anew his host. Ungoliant encamped in the wastes of Nan Dungortheb 'neath the Ered Gorgoroth of Dorthonian, and there she spawned great evil.
Now Feanor, son of Finwe, persuaded the better part of the Noldor to accompany him and his sons to Middle Earth, forsaking both the Undying Lands and the Blessing of the Valar, for he was wroth with grief and fey. Yet in truth 'twas obsession to repossess the Silmarils that moved him most of all. There he and his sons swore, and many of his folk also, taking Manwe and even Iluvatar himself as witness to their oath. For all time hence they would pursue those of whatsoever kindred, Vala, Maiar, Elf, Man, or Orch who held or claimed a Silmaril. Mark me, O King, the son of Finwe spoke no less than rebellion against the Valar, for they sanctioned him not and laid a great doom upon his quest, and his leave-taking was as an exile. Now though not even the greater part of the Noldor held to his obsession with the Silmarils nor swore his oath, still many departed Aman to avenge King Finwe, many to explore Middle Earth or to raise there realms in their own names. And so, many marched hence under Fingolfin son of Finwe. Even thus, Feanor's host marched ever first and most eager.
Not long did the flaming hearts of the Noldor restrict their hatred to Morgoth, for too soon ends came to justify means. Coming first to the Havens of Alqualonde, Feanor took council with King Olwe for the favor of the Teleri and their seacraft. Yet the king was unmoved by Feanor's oath and refused to sail against the judgement of the Valar, and for the Silmarils he cared little. Then Feanor with his host stormed the havens and did violence there against their kin the Teleri, and they took the ships and sailed them north."
Lenwin and Calenwen look upon Helluin in horror, for the Nandor had been, ere their sundering, of the Host of the Teleri and still held Olwe a High King over all their people. Dark grew the king's countenance, but the queen's eyes bespoke her sorrow. The hall was silent now for all ears had turned to Helluin's tale.
"At Alqualonde died many, and good friends had I among them. Many, many decades I spent with the Teleri, learning their crafts and skills," Helluin reported sadly, "and though I slew none, yet none did I save, for I came too late upon the battle to draw sword. Even then the oath foreshadowed the sundering of hearts to come, for the Host of Feanor rode the Sundering Sea in stolen ships, leaving behind the House of Fingolfin to a long march upon the coast. I can lay claim to neither guilt nor innocence. Never after did I cleave to the House of Feanor, but served only the House of Fingolfin." She bowed her head to the king and queen, though she suspected that she had been closer to many of the Teleri then either of them, save by descent through blood. Around the dais the counselors muttered and whispered amongst themselves.
"Know thou, O King, that their sworn oath drove the hearts and overmastered the minds of the Host of Feanor on that day and on many days to come, and that no lasting good and much evil came hence from it. As a madness did it afflict them. Betrayal and kinslaying followed all the Noldor ever after, for by that oath we were cursed to heartbreak and doomed to fail."
"Thy words speak of doom sure," King Lenwin said gravely, "and that doom walked apace down centuries to the ruin of all I wager. Surely evil dogged evil once that road was trod. Wroth am I for the slaying of my kin, yet perchance no vengeance I might will outstrips that brought down by those upon themselves. Surely thy tale unfolds to yet greater evil and yet deeper heartbreak? Speak on, I pray thee."
Helluin nodded and continued, for all was as the king had said. Six hundred years of defeat and evil had followed the oath, and the curse had harried all to ruin. She spoke of the wars of Beleriand and the fall of lords good and evil. She told of the destruction of every kingdom of the Noldor in Middle Earth and of heroism and triumph of spirit in despite of the loss. Long she continued, relating the fall of Nargothrond, of Doriath, of Gondolin, and of the Falas. Noldor and Sindar and Men, all divided, all brought to ruin's edge, and all trapped in the struggle against the Great Enemy. To the fortunes of their Telerian kin the Nandor paid particular attention. Elwe's establishment of Doriath with Melian at his side was greeted with amazement, his eventual death at the hands of the Naugrim with wailing and curses, for he had been the first high king of all the Teleri. The Laiquendi were of particular interest too, but of them Helluin could relate little.
The lamps burned low and the night grew old, and for the most part silence ruled the hall. Not in anyone's memory had such wealth of tidings been heard. No questions were voiced, and but few comments, and those only by King Lenwin and Queen Calenwen. Many gasped in surprise and then stifled their outbursts. Many wept. And in the telling of the tale, those whose hearts had been first turned against the Noldor in wrath soon fell to sorrow and pity.
"Of the rising of pale Isil and bright Anar we knew," King Lenwin said in wonder, "that they be battle-lights we knew not. Doomed were ye, yet not forsaken. Great in mercy the Valar be. Many fell shadow-shapes fled yonder lights and menace after lay much reduced. We gave thanks and give it still, and praise also. In this thy doom gifted us, Noldo."
"The rise of the star also we marked, yet knew not its import," Queen Calenwen commented of Gil-Estel. "No tale of bravery nor of love so deep and true have ever we heard such as lived in Beren son of Barahir and Luthien Tinuviel. Majestic I deem it, to entwine thus the doom of generations. For sooth, much beauty stands 'midst sorrow, and fated to fall, yet nary greater deeds hath we heard spoken in this hall."
"Yet ere the tale finished all were lost," Helluin continued, "even unto the land of Beleriand itself, for 'twas whelmed 'neath the sea and all the north foundered. The coming of the Valar in wrath broke the very bones of Arda asunder. And at the last Morgoth was o'erthrown and made prisoner. The Great Ones did battle in mortal lands and were victorious, yet even from their hands were the Silmarils lost. All hast passed away, the times faded but to memories of bittersweet triumphs and woe. Across the sea hath most returned, and so forsaken the lands of their heartbreaks and fruitless quest."
"And what of thee, Helluin of the Host of Finwe?" Asked Queen Calenwen.
For a moment Helluin stood silent before the dais, shaking off the mood her narrative had birthed. She'd found that melancholy clung to her at the telling of the tale and at the recollection of so many memories.
"Long ago under Varda's stars did I journey Middle Earth as the Host of Finwe followed Orome's horn ever west, heeding the Summons of the Valar. Many lands I traversed and much wonder did I see, yet more wondrous discoveries imagined ever tempted my heart with the desire of exploration. The yearning for the Light of the West and the call of the sea grew balanced with the call of Middle Earth. I found that while here I wished to be there, and once there I longed again to travel here. Three thousands and sixty years and more did I dwell in the Blessed Realm, but when others spoke of return, I went along. No oaths did I swear nor riches did I seek, save only the enrichment of my own knowledge. Beyond this purpose lay only want of vengeance upon the Great Enemy."
"And so thence by thine own design, thou art unhoused, a wanderer," King Lenwin said sadly, "bereft of kin and home, lord and land."
"Sooth say thee, O King, a lone wanderer, unconstrained by oath and curse, and freed at last of my people's doom," replied Helluin. "'Tis as I'd wished at last."
Much as the Nandor reveled in their freedom 'neath the sky and boughs, the thought of solitary living was anathema to them. Among themselves they were social and gregarious by nature. Helluin's desire to wander the lands alone was wholly alien and even deemed a dark trait, an aberration perhaps, the outcome of having lived so long under Doom of the Valar and at war with the Dark Lord. That she had spent thousands of years traveling alone in the Blessed Realm would have seemed madness to them.
"Whither shalt thou go?" King Lenwin asked after a few moments pause. "Hast thou any destinations known upon thy road?"
"I woulds't by thy leave explore this forest apace," Helluin finally said, "for the noble mallorn was once known to me upon Tol Eressea. Indeed 'tis a great mystery to find such here and I would enjoy again seeing its growth."
"Thou woulds't wander our lands, Noldo?" Queen Calenwen asked. "Doth thou find them fair as do we?"
"Indeed so, my Lady," Helluin said, "for Vasa's light through yonder leaves in afternoon calls forth to my mind images of golden Laurelin that is forever lost. By night Isil's beams shine silver upon the boughs, and after gentle rains would recall Telperion's argent dew. Here in thy land art memories quickened, and 'neath Varda's stars, almost the endless twilight too might be revisited. The balm of nostalgia and memory…soothing comfort for a while. Thence after a time I shalt pass north and east."
"Not for naught do my people keep watch upon hither wood," King Lenwin declared, "for by night may evil come'th. Down Nanduhirion from Hithaeglir to waylay and abduct at times come Yrch. Wild men roam the borders doing evil ere they art repelled. None alone find safety in the forest, Helluin. Thou woulds't find danger oft as not, and as surely as wonder."
"Sooth say thee, O King? Agents of the Enemy yet trouble thy lands? In despite of his fall they persist apace? Know this then, O King. I shalt gladly destroy all such whom I encounter in thy lands or any other upon Middle Earth." For a moment the thought of Morgoth's minions still bringing evil to the world kindled her wrath and the blue fire was lit in her eyes. The Nandor drew back from her for they could sense the darkness within. "I pray thee grant me thy leave, King Lenwin, and in payment my sword shalt drink the blood of thine enemies so long as I walk thy lands."
The king spoke to Helluin, though still unsettled by her display. Like most of his people he was too poorly traveled to have ever before encountered any of the Noldor, and even among the Noldor, Helluin’s battle rage was renowned. None of the Nandor had walked in Beleriand nor witnessed the wrath of the Calaquendi at war.
"Leave I grant thee to walk these lands, Helluin. And yet more, I name thee a Hunter. Thou art free to pursue any and all of evil kind to the death in the name of the Crown. In this land thou shalt find succor and rest so long as thou doth tarry 'neath the mellyrn. May the Valar bless thee and thy travels."
Then turning to the counselors and scribes, the king worded his decree that it be made published knowledge and the law of the land. His command was written and shortly messengers were dispatched to the corners of the realm. Ere morning fully broke, all the guards and hunters in the forests had heard the king's words. Even those sentries in the most distant talans had been informed that a fell wanderer had taken service with their king. It was the right action at the right time, though none could know it on that night. Rather those in the hall proceeded to feasting and song, and the king and queen encouraged their guest to take repast and rest from her journey, and many were the words spoken that night of the outer world and the lands beyond the sea. Long indeed did Helluin speak with King Lenwin and Queen Calenwen, and Haldir of the north march.
Helluin remained in the precincts of the city for five days, just long enough to carve a bow and fletch a quiver of arrows. She noted the interest the Nandor paid her labors and instructed those who came nigh. The weapon she created was akin to those of the Maiar of Orome the Hunter save somewhat smaller, and was in form like those strung in the Blessed Realm. Such weapons had accompanied the Noldor to war in the Hither Lands.
The bow itself was heavier and longer than those of the Nandor. More importantly, it was a recurved rather than a simple bow. The arrows were heavier as well and Helluin tipped them with sharp-bladed points much like small spearheads, rather than simple sharpened tips, for these would be used to hunt armored prey. Long years hence, this design would become the basis for the chief weapon of the Galadhrim of Lothlorien.
To Be Continued
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