In An Age Before – Part 40
"Doth thou know'th that in early 1601 did Celebrimbor pass through our realm enroute to Lórinand, there to visit Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn?" Durin IV asked. "He had then some urgent errand about which he begged leave not to speak. The Lord of Khazad-dúm in those days pressed him not and gave him his blessing and good wishes, for he was't long a friend to us by then. Lord Celebrimbor's errand was't achieved speedily for 'tis reported that but a moon later he returned thence to Ost-In-Edhil."
Surely he must hath journeyed thither to seek counsel and pass on one of the Three, Beinvír reasoned silently. To this, Helluin agreed. The Three had not been shown at the council of Gil-galad.
"We knew it not, my Lord, yet much of what came to pass in Eregion was't unknown to us in those days, for we were mostly upon the road," Helluin explained. She didn't mention that at that time she had been a nervous wreck, having just fought off the spiritual attack of Sauron. She and Beinvír had wandered Eriador thereafter, her demeanor grim, her reactions hair-trigger, and her mood suspicious. In the fall of the next year had they been called to the council of Gil-galad in Lindon, where they had met Celebrimbor, learnt of Sauron's One Ring, and seen the Seven and the Nine. Helluin was't brought from her ruminations by Durin's voice.
"Alas, I was't not present in those days, but in light of later events I suspect that he indeed went forth to warn Galadriel and Celeborn of some dire threat he had perceived. I know not in truth what was't said, but I deem it had to do with the coming of war. In any case, a year later Lord Celebrimbor came again, and after taking counsel with Narvi, sought audience before the Lord of Khazad-dúm. To him he gave a Ring, indeed the same thou see now upon my hand," and here Durin raised his hand to show the Ring, a heavy band of gold with a flashing, rectangular beryl cabochon of many facets. "I wear it in his memory and I value it as a symbol of our friendship that once was't."
Here the Lord Durin bowed his head in remembrance of the fallen craftsman whom he had known in his last incarnation. Helluin nodded, and thought it a kindness of fate that Durin had not lived through the years of the Ringmaking and the war. She also perceived two further things. The Ring Celebrimbor had given to the Lord of Khazad-dúm had never been taken by Sauron, and perhaps 'twas the only one save the Three that hadn't fallen into his hands. Sauron had never perverted it as he had the others such as the Nine. But beyond this, Durin wore his Ring as a symbol of friendship, and it turned his heart to reflection upon fond memories, not to lust for power or wealth. Perhaps such a focus gave him the strength to resist whatsoever power the Dark Lord might wield against those others who wore Celebrimbor's Rings.
He may know not his peril, Beinvír urgently said to her beloved, and Sauron may assail him yet. We know the Enemy hath survived the Downfall of Númenor and 'tis only a matter of time ere he comes again with war. Durin deserves to be forewarned!
I agree, my love, I agree. No less can I do for an old friend, and yet I am loath to taint thus a token so dear to Durin's heart.
Better the token tainted than his heart, think thee not?
To this Helluin nodded agreement.
"I hath somewhat to report concerning thy Ring, O Durin," Helluin began, "for it hath been known to us aforetime. Indeed 'twas last seen by us in Lindon in late-1601, but shortly ere it was't bestowed upon the Lord of Khazad-dúm. Doth thou know of the craft of Ringmaking and how it led to the Fall of Eregion?"
Durin regarded Helluin with curiosity and looked again closely at his Ring. He shook his head, no.
"I know 'naught of the craft of Ringmaking as 'twas practiced in Ost-In-Edhil, for in my time, mostly upon the crafting of gems did the Guildsmen concentrate their efforts. Now later deeds tell of Sauron crafting a Ring for his own, to be a mighty talisman of his power, but how that concerns the Rings of Celebrimbor, I know little."
"O King, indeed 'tis true that Sauron Gorthaur hast crafted his One Ring, and this he hath imbued with his malice for to enslave those who wear Rings subject to it. In the war he captured of Celebrimbor the Nine that the craftsman made for our friends in Númenor. These he dealt out to Men he had corrupted, and upon their deaths did they become shades, evil wraiths fettered to his will, his fell servants the Úlairi." At these tidings, Durin blanched in horror. Helluin continued. "Now we know that Celebrimbor made also Seven Rings for his friends amongst the Khazad, and thine 'tis indeed one of those Seven. What we now also know is that never did thy Ring fall into Sauron's hands and never did it suffer his touch. Yet the Elves know not if it too 'tis subject to some aspect of his command, or if through it he might spy upon thy doings. Therefore I pray thee, beware."
Durin IV fairly gaped at the Noldo. Across the table, Ishkabibúl choked on his ale. The Lord of Hadhodrond stared long at his Ring ere he spoke.
"Dark art thy words, O Helluin, and dire art thy warnings. I hath felt 'naught of evil upon this Ring, yet prudence doth demand that we destroy it. No entry into our realm would any of us willingly give the Great Enemy.
And even more unsettled am I now concerning other tidings I hath heard. Know thou that there art other kindreds of our folk, ruled by the lords of other houses? Some art far, far to the east, and in truth little do we know of them, yet there art two houses of which we hear word at times. To the lords of these mansions hath come rings, 'tis said, and they hold them in high esteem for they seemed to presage great fortune. I know not how came these rings unto the hands of these lords, but if they art in fact two of the Seven of Celebrimbor and they hath been perverted by the Enemy, then great ill may come of it.
One such house lies to the north in the Ered Mithrin, the Grey Mountains. That folk art not allies of ours, but yet neither art they our enemies. The other house lies in the easternmost reaches of the Ered Lithui upon the borders of Mordor. 'Tis an ancient house but small, and trades, or in the past traded, mostly with the Men of Rhûn. Indeed I should not be surprised if they forged weapons for the enemy's soldiers who came out of that land in the last war. I wonder now if one or both of those houses shalt stand against us should war come again from Mordor."
Helluin sighed. The Lord Durin's words were confirmation of that which she had feared. Yet 'twas a greater relief to her to know that even should some of the Naugrim someday oppose them, those of the mighty House of Durin would remain their allies. No greater force existed amongst that people. She nodded to herself.
"My Lord Durin, I hath faith in thy people and in the friendship and alliances of old. Ever was't the House of Durin stanch in their support of the Eldar, and none would I favor more to aid me in battle. I fear that war shalt indeed come again upon us, for I know that Sauron lives, and living, he must seek to advance his malice. Yet when the time comes to bear arms against him, Khazad-dúm and the Eldar, and the Exiles of Númenor shalt stand together to oppose him as aforetime, and as aforetime he shalt be defeated.
I believe also that perhaps thou art safe, O King, for thy Ring, though 'twas crafted by Celebrimbor's hand, is unsullied still, and more, thou holds it as a token of friendship 'twixt thee and he who made it, and as a symbol of the friendship 'twixt our peoples of old. I deem the love in thy noble heart keeps it free of the Shadow, O Durin. Thus I wager that so long as thou, and those in later days who wield it, art free of the Shadow in thy hearts, then too thy Ring shalt be free of the Shadow as well. And so I hath no fear for thee."
And at these words, Ishkabibúl, who had long held Durin in well 'nigh mythic esteem, watched as the Lord of Khazad-dúm bowed his head to honor Helluin's words.
Now in the following days ere they took their leave of Khazad-dúm, Helluin and Beinvír learnt yet more of what passed 'neath the mountains. The army of the Naugrim stood then at 60,000 heavy infantry, and knowing now that war would come upon them, Durin commanded the regiments and companies to drill and elevate their readiness.
So 'twas with much honor and many words of friendship that the two ellith departed from their friends and returned down Nanduhirion to the river Celebrant. In a pouch of velvet tucked into the bodice of her battle dress, Helluin carried the setting Ishkabibúl had created, bearing the first gem of adamant taken from the basalt dome of the Hithaeglir. 'Nigh Celebrant they met again with Haldir and Rúmil and the company of the northern border guards.
"Much we hath learnt and many tidings hath we to share, my friends," Helluin said as she watched Rúmil's eyes fix yet again on Beinvír. She stifled a chuckle as the Green Elf nonchalantly wandered over to her and planted a kiss on her lips. Too her credit, she never looked towards Rúmil as she did it. Helluin wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held her close to her side. "We should come to King Amdír and explain what hast come to pass in Khazad-dúm."
Haldir nodded gravely and gestured them to follow him into the Golden Wood.
"…and so my Lord Amdír, while indeed King Durin doth wear one of Celebrimbor's Seven, I deem him safe from Sauron's influence," Helluin reported when she and Beinvír met with the king in his chambers. "When war comes again upon us, Khazad-dúm shalt stand with us as aforetime."
The king heaved a genuine sigh of relief and nodded. Even his shoulders, previously stooped as with a great weight of worry, seemed to straighten.
"Helluin and Beinvír, again thou hast reassured me and solved a problem that lay heavy upon this realm. Thou hast my thanks as aforetime." Then he paused theatrically and seemed to ponder some great new enigma ere he finally resumed with a question long before posed by all the Eldar. "Hath thou any guess as to when Sauron shalt assail the peoples of the west?"
"Nay, O King, though I wager it shalt be soon as the Elves see it," Helluin replied, "but though whether that be in a decade or a score of decades, I know not. All we can do is make such preparations as we can and steel ourselves against the coming onslaught. I suspect that as in the last war, the High King shalt call for an alliance…"
"Ahh, yes," Amdír interrupted, "as should any influential leader in our times. And while I and many hither in the Golden Wood recognize the necessity for all to face the Great Enemy united, still shalt there be many opposed to doing so 'neath the banners of Lindon."
To this Helluin nodded in understanding and Beinvír rolled her eyes.
"Whosoever would face the might of Mordor alone must surely be mad," the Green Elf said, shaking her head. Such a course was preposterous.
"I think rather that King Amdír expects that some allies deem themselves more equals than subjects, and shalt not accept Ereinion's supremacy as commander of the allied host," Helluin explained. King Amdír nodded in agreement.
"Just so," he agreed. "There art many hither, particularly amongst the Nandor, who would reject such an arrangement, for they feel themselves already inconvenienced by the influence of the Noldor in the Hither Lands; lands they long roamed ere the Exile and the coming of the sun and moon. Indeed, there art many still who blame the Noldor for all that hath come to pass…the War of the Jewels, the sinking of Beleriand, the War of the Elves and Sauron, and now whatever war shalt be forced upon us to resolve that affair with which Lord Celebrimbor saddled us all. Many art the grievances of those long dwelling 'nigh Anduin and even amongst those who roam beyond the Hithaeglir in Eriador. 'Tis much the same with thy folk as well, 'tis it not, Beinvír?"
To this the Green Elf could 'naught but nod her head in agreement. Dálindir and Tórferedir would never accept the commands of Gil-galad in war. Their aid had neither been requested nor sought by the Noldor in the last war, and while they would bitterly defend their homelands, they would not march abroad to battle.
"I trust King Oropher and his folk shalt march 'neath their own banners should he join such an alliance," Helluin said. "If there art any who deem that the diminished peace of Arda should be laid at the feet of my people, 'tis he."
Here King Amdír grunted in agreement. Though it had been long since last he had spoken face to face with the King of the Nandor of Greenwood, still regular messages passed between their realms, for both were largely peopled by Silvan Elves and ruled by Sindarin families more comfortable cleaving to the ways of old rather than the Beleriandic culture of the Noldor/Sindar in the First Age. Still in these realms, Sindarin was't now spoken as oft as Silvan, and many improvements in craft and culture had both peoples absorbed.
Helluin and Beinvír recalled the time they had spent in the realm of King Oropher and his son, Prince Thranduil. Fondly did they sift their memories of the company of the two, wandering for a season 'neath the trees in those years ere they had gone south to examine the troublesome reports of the Onodrim concerning Umbar. No doubt little had changed in that realm 'nigh the Emyn Duir since the early-1800s, and just such an aim had the sovereign stated. Oropher had long sought a simpler and more natural lifestyle, closer to that of the Moriquendi, the Elves of Darkness, who had never completed the Westward March and seen the Light of Aman or the lands of Beleriand. He had wanted to relive the days of peace 'neath the stars, ere Morgoth had returned to Mortal Lands with the Silmarils and war. Like many, he blamed the Noldor for the loss of that earlier peace, and 'twas a grudge deeply held. Though the King and Prince were each great hearted enough to hath joined in friendship with Helluin as an individual, never would they accept the leadership of Gil-galad for their people in time of war.
"I deem it matters less whether all acknowledge Ereinion's leadership so long as all fight together against the Enemy," Helluin said at last. Yet her words brought sadness to her partner, for her people would not fight in any land save Eriador; they would not join this coming alliance. Helluin noted Beinvír's downcast eyes and knew the cause. Truth made it the more bitter.
"Were it not for thy people safeguarding their homelands," she said softly to her partner, "a great tithe of soldiers should be forced to remain at home to safeguard it against any who might invade, perhaps from the northern wastes where there art Yrch and Tor and perhaps even Urulóki, and where we now know some unfriendly Dwarves may abide. I can think of no better home guard than the Laiquendi."
To this King Amdír nodded in agreement.
"Sooth indeed, for none know'th thy lands more closely, pebble and twig, and no others can'st dispatch invaders unseen, giving thus 'naught as clues to their count or how strongly Eriador stands defended. Were I Ereinion, gratefully should I accept the guardianship of my lands by those living already hidden upon them."
Beinvír nodded, accepting their statements, though it made her feel little better. Her people would be the penultimate spies, scouts, and ambushers that any host could employ. Were they to march to war, a silent and invisible front could they maintain, slaying unseen and unmarked while'st bringing terror unto their enemies. And yet she also knew that some fraction of her peoples' vaunted stealth depended upon their intimate knowledge of the land. In strange and foreign country they would hold a lessoned advantage. And in a battle of massed forces with set formations, they could easily be o'errun and slaughtered.
"When the time comes, I shalt stand with the alliance," King Amdír declared, "yet I shalt be forced to take a flank, for my folk art not armed and armored for the press of battle, host against a host. We must be able to retreat, regroup, and utilize our mobility. We art bowmen primarily, and from the wings can we do great damage, yet great shalt be our jeopardy should we be constrained when the lines clash."
To his tactical assessment, Helluin agreed. In her opinion, his people should fire from the flanks until the final charge and then draw aside to either fire upon the rear of the enemy host or assail any flanking maneuver Sauron should chance to make. She wondered after the preparedness of King Oropher's folk and resolved to pay that realm a visit after she and Beinvír returned to Greenwood. While'st Oropher commanded far greater numbers that Amdír, Helluin could only hope they were armed for a different kind of combat.
Helluin resolved to do whatever she could to prepare Oropher's people, for bitterly did she remember her bloody leadership of the Avari well 'nigh 3,000 years before. She could never let such a thing happen again.
To Be Continued
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