In An Age Before – Part 38


Chapter Forty

Of Durin's Ring, Khazad-dum - The Second Age of the Sun


Beyond the Hithaeglir in Rhovanion lay Greenwood the Great, and thither had Helluin and Beinvír wandered 'neath the trees for nineteen years. They had come hither from Gondor after their last visit in 3410, following the Anduin north, for along it there were now new works that they had desired to see. From Minas Anor they traveled upon the western banks, passing Cair Andros and the marshy mouths of the River Onodló¹, and making their way to the escarpment of the Emyn Muil. From its foot a stair and footpath they had followed, steep and winding, which by many switchbacks climbed that wall beside the Falls of Rauros. Thence through a narrow valley that paralleled the river they marched, until that track opened upon the flat green sward of Parth Galen². They arrived at the valley's mouth in the early afternoon. ¹(River Onodlówas the Sindarin name for the River Entwash, which flowed down from Fangorn Forest and across Anórien to the Anduin below the Emyn Muil.) ²(Parth Galen, Green Sward, Sindarin, a sloping lawn upon the western bank of Anduin that ran from the Nen Hithoel, the lake formed behind the Falls of Rauros, up to the slopes of Amon Hen, the Hill of Seeing)

Across the broadened waters of Nen Hithoel stood the eastern bank, climbing in pine clad slopes to the twisted ridges and cut canyons of the dreary hills of the Emyn Muil. Helluin knew that once over the nearest heights the landscape was brown and forbidding, eroded into confusing folds and drops that were treacherous and tiresome to travel. Here 'nigh the water the shores were fertile and pleasant. The constant roar of Rauros was a monotonous background that Helluin found at once both threatening and soothing to her ears. 'Twas a power uncontrollable and potentially fatal. Near as it was, the air bore humidity from the rising flume of water vapor cast up by the plummeting waters of the falls. When the sun fell just right, a rainbow would arc 'cross the twin outlets of the lake.

Beinvír shaded her eyes and looked first at the tall conical isle that rose amidst the water rushing toward the falls. Upon its steep slopes many birds nested undisturbed. Round about it went their flight and o'er the water came their calls, contesting with the thunder of the falling water for the attention of her ears. She smiled at their antics, watching as one skillfully picked a fish from 'neath the surface and a second more skillful yet picked it just as easily from the first bird's beak. A chase followed wherein the fish was stolen back and then filched a second time ere the thief made its landing and fed the ill-gotten prey to its young.

"Tol Brandir, the Lofty Isle," Helluin said, having followed the aerial drama along with her beloved.

"Aptly named indeed," Beinvír agreed, "and well populated. I think perhaps that fish was't glad to finally be eaten rather than passed thus from beak to beak on high."

"I see it more a case of 'out of the frying pan into the fire'," Helluin countered, "and though perhaps glad not to be dropped from the air, I cannot imagine that fish glad to be dropped at the last down a gullet."

Beinvír giggled and slapped playfully at her friend's stomach.

"I should hath enjoyed seeing the expression upon its face, such as it might hath had, being a fish, for 'twas such a sudden, strange, and undignified fate it endured," she said. "I must wonder how a fish's face appears in a moment of complete astonishment."

"I should think much as ever it appeared aforetime," Helluin said, "for fish art not the most expressive of creatures, being immobile of lid and lip. Tell me love, hath ever thou seen a fish wink or blink?"

"Nay, I hath not. Hath thou ever seen a fish smile or grimace?"

"Nay, I hath not," Helluin admitted. "I suspect then that the fish met its doom with stoic composure of features; indeed with an expression much like it had met each day before."

"Were I to hath made fish," Beinvír said, "I should hath made them able to express somewhat of the wonders they must see in their world 'neath the water."

"And then I should scarce be so quick to eat them, were they gaping at me, bug-eyed and grimacing, or worse yet, soulfully pleading and innocent."

"I should eat them still," Beinvír asserted with certainty, "for I hath thee to catch them." She smiled endearingly at Helluin. "Thou woulds't hew off their heads and bring them expressionless to the pan, and I should feel then no guilt to distract from my hunger."

Helluin had looked at the Green Elf first with some surprise, but her expression quickly softened.

"Indeed I should continue to do so," she said, "sparing thy conscience thus as I do with the rabbits and deer and pheasants and grouse."

Beinvír chuckled but her partner's dour expression brought her to concern.

"Doth thy prey indeed look upon thee with terror or beseech thee for mercy? How sad."

Helluin sighed and said, "I recall a field hen's resignation, expressed in a beaky sigh and the fall of an egg, and the expiration of a rabbit with such tiresome theatrics that I was't tempted to fire a second arrow simply that it cease its drama."

Beinvír regarded her companion with such a look of horror that Helluin could not restrain her mirth and a cackle escaped her lips. Beinvír narrowed her eyes in suspicion. Finally Helluin gave up and guffawed and was't then left warding off the flurry of mock blows that rained o'er her shoulders and armored chest until at last the two ellith lay laughing o the soft grass.

"Perhaps I shalt send thee for a time only to prey upon shellfish," Beinvír mused.

"Come, let us walk apace," Helluin said at last, rising and stretching out her hand to her partner. Beinvír accepted it and let Helluin pull her to her feet.

"Whither now doth we go?" She asked.

Helluin laid an arm about Beinvír's shoulders and led the Green Elf through a pleasant open wood of mixed trees, heading ever uphill away from the river. The path soon brought them to the summit where was't set a raised battlement of stone and upon it a carven chair, almost a throne, looking south, out o'er the treetops falling to the escarpment, and thence down Anduin to Mindolluin.

"Hither is Amon Hen, Hill of the Eye," the dark Noldo said, gesturing Beinvír to follow her up the flight of stairs that led to the platform upon which the Seat of Seeing was't set.

At the top, they surveyed the surrounding land. The pinnacle of Tol Brandir stood to their east above the forest canopy, while slightly to its south the mist from the falls rose in a rainbowed cloud. Beyond stood the heights of the Emyn Muil across Anduin, and there upon the nearest hill a similar high seat could be glimpsed. Beinvír looked from it to Helluin in question.

"'Tis the seat of Amon Lhaw, Hill of the Ear, whereupon is the Seat of Hearing."

"For what purpose hath the Men of Gondor built such?" The Green Elf asked, wondering indeed what they hoped to hear o'er the roar of the falls.

"They hath said that they seek high places to survey their realm and to keep watch upon the Enemy. Hither can the sharpest amongst them perceive much, or so 'tis claimed. Take thyself a seat and see," Helluin offered.

Beinvír looked at the massive stone chair with some misgiving. The pedestal atop the hill where they stood was a good vantage point already, and to her mind, she saw just fine upon her own feet. Had the Dúnedain laid some magick upon the seat of Amon Hen? Beinvír cared not to discover it. She looked back at Helluin intending to decline.

"G'wan, thou know'th the limits of the magick of mortal Men," Helluin chided, "most of which indeed came of our kindreds aforetime. Thou hast 'naught to fear from their works, I deem…or art thou afraid of seeing again the faces of all those creatures thou hast eaten in the last four thousand years?"

Beinvír laughed and then nodded in agreement, and against her lingering doubts she sat.

Now Helluin and Beinvír had come to Amon Hen with no thought of stealth, and indeed the woods all about them were at peace. No foul creatures or foes stood 'nigh, and from all mortal enemies they were safe. But to come thus to that high place was't to be seen as well as to gain a vantage from which to see, at least for one to whom distance held little consequence. Since the time of the building of those places, Sauron Gorthaur had kept a watch upon Rauros; a part of one eye and one ear were attuned thus northwards from his realm, and he marked the presence of two ellith upon the Hill of the Eye.

Lo and behold! Of all who might come thither, 'tis Helluin Maeg-mórmenel and her little friend. So they seek vision? Very well, I shalt oblige them! Far away in Mordor a dark chuckled shook the stones of the Barad-dúr.

Now when Beinvír sat upon the Seat of Seeing it seemed to her that a veil was't drawn across the breadth of her sight. Thence as in a dense fog she stood, but a moment only ere the vapor cleared. Then she found herself alone and cold and in a dark place of stone, a cell or dungeon perhaps, for she saw strong bars of iron before her. The air was't damp and stank of mildew and worse. She tried to turn and found her wrists shackled to the wall behind her, her arms spread wide to her sides. A collar too she discerned about her neck and her ankles were fixed to rings in the floor. Then in the pit of her belly she felt a shiver of fear; some fell thing approached! Beyond the bars a shape moved in the dark. 'Twas a thing in Man's shape but darker than the shadows. The fear inside her rose with its approach and she whimpered and gritted her teeth. Her heart was chill as ice within her. The dark one came to the bars and set upon them his hands, great and strong they were, but black as with disease and a stench came with them, and upon a finger of the right hand, a Ring! A cruel chuckle filled her ears and words came into her mind in a voice of cold menace that seemed to peel the flesh from her bones. Delicious fear! Almost is it a shame to take it from thee. Against her bonds she struggled in panic as the blackened hands wrenched open her cell. 'Twas hopeless! She was't lost!

And then she was lifted and wrenched from the Seat of Seeing, and about her the day was bright and warm and she was shuddering uncontrollably in Helluin's arms. Her eyes were fixed and wide with terror.

"Beinvír! Thou art safe! I am here, meldanya! I hath thee! What horrors did thou see?" Helluin asked frantically, looking into the pallid face of her lover. "What fell vision hath given thee such a fright?"

The Green Elf was only able to blubber incoherently, as she tried desperately to believe what her senses now told her; she was't safe in Helluin's arms and the day was fine. She had seen a vision, indeed a nightmare, but nothing more. Yet it filled her with foreboding and horror and the effect of it was't slow to pass. 'Twas long ere she tried to explain.

"I s-saw a c-cell, d-dark and b-bitter, wherein I was't ch-chained," she said, "a-and th-then one came to m-me, his b-b-body black with rotting, a-and h-he wore a Ring…."

Helluin had heard enough! She leapt into the Seat of Seeing and bent all her will southeast. Into the Shadow upon Mordor she cast her sight, seeking Barad-dúr and the tormentor of her beloved. Hot wrath was't upon her and blue flared the fire of her eyes. 1,735 years before she had told her newly returned friend Glorfindel, I would bathe this world in blood to avenge her, and that sentiment was't even stronger now than aforetime. Upon the height of Amon Hen, the Seat of Seeing blazed with Light as if it held a star.

Craven bastard! Her mind screamed. Face me now if only from the safety of thy tower. Hath thou not the courage for it? Thou fled me aforetime! And she cursed Sauron and derided him in her rage, and at last from the safety of his tower he dared come forth to answer. In a moment he was't there, his presence dimming the sunlight upon Amon Hen.

Great favor hath I shown thy sidekick, O Helluin. Greatly should thou thank me for gifting her a vision of what is to come. Few upon Arda art so favored. Ingrate! But now thou hast come to me of thine own free will and I am loath to excuse thee save by mine. I shalt be thy master.

There commenced a grim contest of the spirit and long did it last as Anor tracked across the heavens. Beinvír watched her beloved wrestle in thought with her enemy and could only marvel at her daring, even as she quaked in fear. Yet Helluin had won just such a contest aforetime. O'er 1,800 years before she had repelled Sauron's attack and shielded herself from his Eye and his Ring. Now she was't ablaze, not only with hatred of her enemy, but also was't she impassioned by the trespass he had committed against her beloved.

Sauron sought to bend her to his will while she lashed out against him. Across the distance between them Sauron's advantage was't attenuated, for he was't projecting his power across 275 miles. Worse, his target was't very strong and the venom of her hate for him made her yet more formidable. Here he had not the advantage of surprise that he had enjoyed on the Re i Anaro in 1600, and even then it had availed him not and he had failed. She had retained control of the Sarchram and her fëa. Not since his defeat by Lúthien at Minas Tirith had he been bested in a contest of wills. Yet now, 'cross all the miles that lay between them, Helluin had attacked him! Indeed 'twas the second time, for Helluin had come against him openly with arms in 1700. Now indeed he knew doubt.

Slowly Helluin fought back the Shadow that sought to encompass her and bend her in thrall 'neath his will. Even with his Ring he could not master her with any greater success than aforetime. Indeed she was't not so direly pressed now as then. Almost she could feel her Light forcing back his Shadow as it beat against her, and she realized something else; in opening himself to this contest, he had opened an etheric channel between their fëar. He was't as vulnerable as she!

Helluin's hand crept to her waist and slowly she unclasped and raised the Grave Wing. On the immaterial battlefield upon which they fought, it blazed with a light of mingled silver and gold, and when it spoke, it spoke in Quenya with her own voice, for it was't indeed linked to her in spirit.

"Tyár antatye a ni i fëa sio ainu¹?" The Grave Wing asked in hopeful anticipation.¹(Tyár antatye a ni i fëa sio ainu? "Doth thou give to me the spirit of this Maia?" = tyára- (do) + anta- (give) + -t(ye)-(subj pro, you) + a (to) + ni(ind subj pro, me) + i (the) + fëa (spirit) + si-(this) +-o(gen, of) + ainu(god) Quenya)

"É! Sa nátya ten i yavandie,¹" Helluin replied through teeth gritted in concentration. ¹ (É! Sa nátya ten i yavandie "Indeed! 'Tis thine for the harvesting." = é(indeed!) + sa (it) + ná-(is) + -tya(poss suff, yours) + ten (for) + i (the) + yavanda- (harvest) +-ie(action suff, -ing) Quenya)

Sauron looked upon the Grave Wing as it appeared to him in the ethereal plane whereon he and Helluin fought. He weighed the possible consequences very seriously and his judgment was't colored with doubt for he had read the incantation upon it aforetime. The Sarchram would find him; Helluin's focused hatred would insure that, and the spell upon it was't indeed as fell and potent as any he himself could cast. Yet unlike the spell upon his Ring which was't intended to eternally enslave, this one sought only to destroy. One ring to send them all unto the Void and in its darkness bind them.His vanquished master, greatest of the Valar, had been consigned to the Void, and never had Sauron heard aught from him since. Greatly did Sauron fear joining him. And this contest was't neither easy nor was't its outcome assured. He had not gained his sought after mastery o'er Helluin. Indeed he was't at best but maintaining a stalemate. In that moment, Sauron judged that he had more to lose than to gain and he withdrew, sealing himself from her with a roiling miasma of black vapors.

Then for a moment Helluin sat alone upon the Seat of Seeing, and ere she retracted her consciousness another will, benign and far greater than Sauron's, revealed its own vision of the future to her. It came upon her at once and there was't no escaping it.

Across undetermined Ages a warrior like in form unto herself stood at bay in a winter forest shabbied by countless years, and onto her finger she slid a heavy ring of gold. A fallen broadsword sword leapt up into her waiting hand, while in her other she clasped a Sarchram. Then she moved with Elven prowess, defeating a trio of female warriors, a caped Maia, and what Helluin thought might be an Onod fallen into Shadow. The warrior fought with graceful power in a breathtakingly lethal display of preternatural skill. Brown was't the leather of her battle dress and of yellow bronze was't wrought her scrollwork armor. Bracers and greaves she wore, but neither hauberk or helm nor mail or plate. And yet there was't a fire in her blue eyes and lust of battle ruled her.

Whence come'th thee? Art thou indeed of Elven kind, or some valiant daughter of Númenor perhaps? Some kinswoman embattled and standing alone? I would know and aid thee! But unto Helluin no answers came. And then as quickly as it had come, the vision vanished.

Helluin shook her head to clear it and looked out upon Anduin, down the hazy miles of Gondor towards the Sea. There all seemed at peace. She glanced down and saw Beinvír gazing up at her consumed with worry. She sighed. Again, for all her courage and all her wrath she had accomplished nothing. She rose from the seat and wrapped an arm around her beloved, and then together they left Amon Hen. To her vision no answer would come for years beyond count, and Helluin, knowing the vagary of such, let it not weigh upon her mind.

For the next three days Helluin and Beinvír followed the western shore of Nen Hithoel, the great lake amidst the Emyn Muil upon Anduin. Soon enough they left an alluvial slope at the water's edge, for the shoreline rose in tall cliff faces that dropped sheer down to the water. Upon the third day they came at noon to a great work of Gondor. Upon either bank, carved from the grey living stone, stood two colossi, figures of Isildur and Anárion rendered a half-furlong in height upon great pedestals whose foundations were sunk in the bed of the river. These impressive portraits wore battle armor, each with an axe in their right hand, each left held palm out in sign of warning against incursions from upriver. Here the Argonath¹ marked the northern boundary of the Realm of Gondor. ¹(Argonath, Stones of the Kings, and yes, I know these would not have been seen at this time. They were built around 1340 of the Third Age by King Rómendacil II, but what the hell. Sindarin)

The two ellith stopped 'nigh the gates upon the river, for north of the Argonath the Anduin ran in a channel deep and narrow. South beyond the gates, wherefrom they had traveled, Nen Hithoel opened up and the banks was't lower but no less precipitous. Here the ground atop the cliffs grew treacherous. The limestone layer they stood upon had been eroded from inside, leaving fissures and sinkholes, and crumbled boulders that hid collapsed tunnels and caves. 'Twas obvious that most traffic passed this place upon the river, yet a seldom used, narrow and winding track could be seen. Upon this Helluin and Beinvír made their way north, straying not and staying close together.

They marched there the rest of that day and most of the next, and at evening came upon those rapids called Sarn Gebir. Here was't a cataract upon Anduin, a mile of white water churned by rock and undertow that would swallow any craft set upon it. To bypass it, a path had been laid a furlong inland for the portage of light boats and the passage of travelers afoot. This Helluin and Beinvír took, grateful for the fresh paving stones set there, and they walked thus north in the lee of a cliff face, ignoring the trails that led down to the boat landings upon the river.

Another three days they spent walking north ere the Emyn Muil failed and a final descent down a steep wall on a winding path led them to the southern downs and a westward curve in the river. The two continued along Anduin for two more days and ere setting camp on the second night, Helluin noted the beginning of a curve east in the banks.

"On the morrow shalt we cross," she explained to Beinvír that night, "for we hath reached the South Undeep upon Anduin. Better we should ford hither than continue north, for thence should we come through the Wold. 'Tis not an unpleasant land, being rolling and wooded hills, but more easily shalt we make our way to Greenwood by skirting the Brown Lands to the east and then marching due north when the downs reach their end."

Beinvír nodded in agreement, though in truth it made little difference to her. She saw not the wooded and hilly land as a hardship, nevertheless the Green Elf was't willing to follow Helluin's greater acquaintance with these lands. Thus upon the following morn they waded Anduin at the South Undeep, a relative term well 'nigh a misnomer for they were both soaked to the skin ere they made the thither shore.

"Surely the Brown Lands must be an inconvenience of astonishing proportions to make thus the soaking of our rations and clothing the easier path to take," Beinvír chaffed as she wrung the water from her bedroll. Helluin gave her a sheepish look.

"Indeed I was't told aforetime by the Men of the Southlands that hither lay the easiest crossing," Helluin muttered apologetically as he shook out her hair. "The midstream 'twas up to my chest and forced thou to swim." Beinvír gritted her teeth.

"Helluin, the Men of these lands art horsemen and upon horseback such advice would be sound," she said. "Hither the riverbed hath safe footing. There art gentle banks, and an easy current. 'Tis perfect for crossing riders but less than ideal for walkers."

The Noldo sighed and nodded in agreement; the Men she had spoken with were farmers of Gondor and their horses dragged only plows. No great adventurers were they, whether upon horseback or afoot. She belatedly realized that such advice was't certainly secondhand at best, heard and repeated from words spoken by traders come south out of Rhovanion. 'Twas a testimony to the security of the land of the kings that Men from so far now ventured down Anduin all the way to Osgiliath for the trade. Times changed, lands changed, and the people that lived upon them changed with the times. Such they soon discovered when they made their way from the downs.

Now that country south of the ever retreating verge of Greenwood had of old been in turn rich homesteaded farmland, barren waste burnt in the southward migration of evil creatures to Mordor, and again uninhabited wilds. Of late Men had come there again to settle, and for the last few hundred years had tilled the earth and sown the soil, and their homesteads and villages knew peace and marvelous prosperity. Hither were villages and small towns, with outlying farmlands and rich orchards. And though here Men dwelt but a few hundred miles north of Cirith Gorgor and Udûn and the Black Land, none had come thither from the south with war in many lifetimes. In hope and with the shortened memory of mortals they had made this land their home.

In the prosperity of their agriculture the Men indeed had aid. Though they appeared not to the two ellith, in those times some few of the last remaining Entwives had found their way thither. These spread their virtue and blessings upon fields and orchards, vineyards and even the very soil itself, tending all with quiet joy and care. Had they known, Helluin and Beinvír could hath borne tidings of great joy north, but alas, 'twas not to be.

Though rare were the visits of the Eldar amongst their people in those days, Men and Elves were not yet wholly estranged and Helluin and Beinvír were welcomed warmly by those they met. Oft would one upon the road ask after their people and what tidings they could tell of the wider world, and more than once some farmer offered them conveyance in his wagon for to rest their feet and fill his ears. Nights they oft times spent in a farmhouse or a village tavern where they were given food and drink and asked many questions, and both children and elders delighted in their stories. Such tales they more easily coaxed from the Green Elf than the Noldo, and Beinvír found herself in the role of bard with a circle of faces about her, their attention captured by her words as much as enthralled by her beauty. At such times Helluin would slip into the shadows in the rear of the room and sip a tankard as she watched her beloved hold all spellbound.

In the fair Green Elf, old women saw a beautiful daughter, gaffers the long faded dream of their wives in their prime, and children an enchanted princess come amongst them from some distant land. With her words came pictures to their minds of places far away and times long fled into legend. All seemed to love her and they doted upon her to the point of embarrassment. Yet Beinvír was constantly good natured and graceful about it, ever accommodating her audiences with one more tale of some strange realm, or of some wondrous creatures, or of some people swallowed by the passing years.

Helluin listened and shook her head sadly. When war next came upon them all these folk and all they knew would be wiped away as had happened aforetime, and there was 'naught that she could do for it. No natural barrier lay 'twixt these fair, flat lands and Mordor. None of these people were soldiers. Even had they arms and a militia, far too few would they be to deter the advance of such an enemy. Their best hope would be in flight; north into Greenwood, or west out of harm's way, as had been done by the countless refugees of the 1100s ere she had first espied the Black Tower abuilding. History would repeat itself. She was't sure of it. 'Twas indeed only a matter of when.


To Be Continued

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