In An Age Before – Part 41
Calenglad i’Dhaer - The Second Age of the Sun
Now following their short sojourn in Lórinand, Helluin and Beinvír made their way ‘cross Anduin and returned to Greenwood the Great. Thither they again paid their respects to Oldbark and indeed were summoned before a gathering of the Onodrim in his halls. ‘Twas a long and frankly boring affair, a true ‘moot’ rather than the circle of Enyd they had encountered long before in Fangorn Forest. Oldbark had called out a deafening chorus of words in the Lamb Enyd, the Speech of the Onodrim. O’er the remaining day and night a congregation of no less than three score Enyd arrived, filling the hall of Laiquadol with an array of bristling and branching forms, and forcing the two Elves to scramble partway up the path to the summit lest they be inadvertently trampled.
“Some have managed to arrive, I see. Not nearly all, but enough…yes, enough,” Oldbark told them in a stage whisper as their eyes swiftly examined the gathered figures. The Enyd were standing nearly motionless, and packed so close together that the thicket they formed was’t wholly impassable. It gave the two ellith the impression of a dense wood filled with large and ancient eyes.
“Whyfore hath thou summoned so many hither?” Beinvír asked, for Oldbark had explained ‘naught of his purpose in gathering the moot.
“Why so that you can tell your tale,” Oldbark had replied as if the reason were self-evident. “Hooo-hoooom…great matters are coming to pass in such a short time,” he declared, carefully hiding his grin at the Green Elf’s expression of dismay, “and none know the particulars of them better than you two. I am sure Helluin also called Maeg-mórmenel explorer of the Host of Finwe can at least give us a hasty synopsis of it all in little more than several days.”
Beinvír’s eyes widened comically at this assertion, and Oldbark turned to Helluin and gave her a wink. Helluin groaned. She hoped her voice didn’t give out before her tidings were heard.
The Green Elf had expected a harrowing dose of boredom and she had not been wrong. Her greatest miscalculation was that there would be speech during the day and rest at night. In fact, the Enyd never ceased speaking. ‘Twas worse for Helluin, forced to use the burdensome Entish Speech while maintaining her attention for what ended up being 74 hours straight. Beinvír would throw herself down upon the path nightly, for she understood not a word that was’t said, indeed perceiving little but a random and endlessly droning dirge.
Upon the third day Helluin finally collapsed as the Enyd discussed her tale ‘twixt themselves, slowly swaying to and fro, all of them speaking at once and without a break. For a half-day she lay unmoving as her tidings were debated, resting her mind while Beinvír paced in rising annoyance and gnawed viciously on rations. The Enyd appeared wholly oblivious to them both.
They speak thus all at once, for I should wager much of what they say is repetition of things already said long ago, Beinvír thought uncharitably, and like as not would we hath been the sooner upon our way had we repeated aught once to each ear in the Elven tongue rather than surrendering to them thus our rede in theirs.
So great did she find the tedium that she could only liken it to watching grass grow. ‘Twas outright mind numbing. She marked a millipede’s progress as it slowly crawled up and over an unmoving Helluin’s chest.
By the Valar they hath well ‘nigh killed her, the Laiquende fumed as she looked upon her catatonic partner, ‘tis enough and too much, I say.
As if reading her thought, Oldbark sidled up at that very moment. Looking down at Helluin and shaking his head.
“Well, it’s as I’d always thought. It is very difficult to say anything of true importance properly when one is given thus to wanderings of the mind. Where do you think she has taken refuge, young Beinvír friend and companion upon the road of Helluin?”
The Green Elf’s bright grey eyes narrowed in aggravation as she spun around to face the Onod.
“Wandering mind?” Beinvír sputtered. “Her concentration flagged not for o’er three days, during which time thy tongue compelled her to near brain death by thy insidious grammars and infernal conjugations. Howfor can’st thou fault her? By the Valar, even the continuation of thy parliament hath encouraged the maintenance of her refuge, as though her spirit doth desperately seek for each moment of deliverance from thy debate.” Here the Green Elf took a deep, cleansing breath ere she contained her tirade and concluded with forced civility. “I pray thee, Lord Oldbark, grant us thy leave…to leave. I shalt take her far beyond the hearing of thy speech and thus the sooner return her to wakefulness.”
“But we may have…questions,” the Onod said.
“Bah! Answer them thyselves,” she spat, “thou now know’th all that we can tell, I wager.”
Oldbark clucked his tongue and sighed. He didn’t believe it was in anyone’s best interest to reveal that in her three days of speech, Helluin had only managed to establish the backgrounds between the different tribes of Elves from which she and her beloved came, and the time of their setting out, during the rains in 1847. Naught had yet been said about anything that had occurred since and only he knew more, having heard the “hasty” version they’d originally reported to him in Sindarin. He looked at the unmoving Helluin and the spitting mad Beinvír. Ahhh, the impatience of youth, he mused, still, my people will come to appreciate Helluin’s opening remarks. They proved…comical.
“Very well,” he finally said, “I suppose there’s little more that you two can add at present. If anything truly pressing comes of our moot, I shall send a mockingbird to summon you. In the meantime, perhaps you should just go up onto Laiquadol. It is peaceful there and a path runs down from the heights towards the north. It may be best for all involved if you two make your way to the people of King Oropher. He should know this tale of yours as well.”
Beinvír practically choked at his words. Had they not been trapped for most of the last four days they would hath been well upon their way to King Oropher’s realm already. She shook her head and then nodded, schooling her features and saying, “My thanks, Lord Oldbark. We shalt take then our leave at once.” She finished with a stiff curtsy.
“Be well upon the road, young Beinvír friend and companion of Helluin,” Oldbark said.
Without pausing a moment lest some question be voiced, the Green Elf snatched up their travel gear, and in an impressive show of strength, hoisted Helluin upon her shoulders and staggered off up the path. Oldbark watched her go before he returned to the moot. They were still debating Helluin’s “accent” and at the rate they were progressing, he deemed they would spend two or three seasons speaking of all there was to tell. The Green Elf was’t far out of sight ere he allowed himself a chuckle.
Now Beinvír managed to carry Helluin and all their gear to the top of Laiquadol, but there she could go no further. She laid Helluin down upon a patch of bracken and collapsed beside her gasping for air.
‘Twas already mid-afternoon ere she recovered, and so she set up their camp and contrived to relax. The hours passed in silence and finally evening drew ‘nigh. Beinvír found deadfall and started a fire; Enyd be damned, she wanted tea and hot food. She was’t still seething mad inside but managed a calm exterior as darkness fell. Finally with the rising of the moon, Helluin gave a convulsive jerk and sat bolt upright. She stared around at a loss for a few moments and then noticed her friend seated next to her before a campfire. ‘Twas so familiar a sight that she found great comfort in the scene and calmed herself.
“Ugh! The most horrible dream¹ hath I endured,” she said, and chewed her lip. Beinvír handed her a cup of tea and Helluin gave the Green Elf a warm smile as she accepted it. “I dreamt that we had become the butt of some joke of Oldbark’s, yet I understood not the punch line and perceived not his humor,” she admitted after a few sips. “’Twas most unsettling.” ¹(The term dream was loosely used in conversation for a vision unsummoned and from a source unknown that appeared during a period of rest. In this case t’would appear that Helluin’s conscious mind was’t actively churning o’er recent events while’st disconnected from her body. The norm for the Eldar during rest is the lapsing of the consciousness into memory wherefrom no new stimuli come).
At this, Beinvír ground her teeth. She had suspected just such, that absent Galadriel and Celeborn, they had become the subjects of the Onod’s perversity. She sat fuming.
After an hour Helluin appeared recuperated and she looked about with her usual perceptiveness, sampling the night. She knew her partner was seething and thought any course better than to remain thither and steep in angst. Therefore she weighed the hour and the way and made a suggestion, deeming action better than reaction.
“I should feel better, I wager, were I to spend this night afoot ‘neath the boughs and the stars,” she said. “What say thou, meldanya?”
“I should be well satisfied to be on our way from this place at any hour,” Beinvír spat, “lest they come hither having contrived some questions for thy torment.”
With that, the two ellith disassembled their camp, doused the fire, and went upon their way northeast. ‘Twas 90 leagues to the Emyn Duir and the realm of King Oropher.
‘Twas a fortnight later that Helluin and Beinvír came upon a company of Silvan Elves who had made a campsite ‘nigh the Mén-i-Naugrim, or Way of the Dwarves, the new east-west road which the Khazad had built to connect the Hithaeglir and the Ford of Anduin¹ to the River Celduin². ‘Twas yet further evidence of the grandeur of Durin IV’s reign. Traders from his mansions now brought goods throughout Rhovanion, even east of Greenwood. In fact some of these wares had eventually made their way secondhand to Gondor far to the south. ¹(This ford, located south of the Carrock mentioned in The Hobbit, ‘twas later called the Iách Iaur in Sindarin, or the Old Ford in the Common Tongue. The Mén-i-Naugrim was by then called The Old Forest Road, and upon it Gandalf’s party entered Mirkwood.) ²(River Celduin, this is the Sindarin name for the River Running, as ‘twas later known in The Hobbit in 3rd Age Westron.)
“’Tis a moderate camp,” Beinvír said softly, “and yet more surround us amidst the boles. I should say not less than 50 total.” Helluin nodded, trusting her partner’s senses.
“Suilaid vín¹,” one of the Silvan Elves called out with little enthusiasm while the two ellith were still some distance away. His greeting had the double benefit of alerting all his company while welcoming the strangers. He noted that Helluin was’t wearing battle armor and that the newcomers bore swords, knives, and bows. ¹(Suilaid vín, Our Greetings, = suilaid (greetings) + vín (1st pers, pl, pro, our) Sindarin)
“Suilannam cin sui meldin¹,” Helluin called out in return with a wave of her hand, showing it to be empty of weapons. Beside her Beinvír contrived a reassuring smile and projected it towards the strangers She too waved. ¹(Suilannam cin sui meldin, We greet you as (female) friends, = suilanno- (greet) + -(a)m (3rd pers, pl, pro, we) + cin (2nd pers, obj, pro, you) + sui (as) + meldis (f. friend) + -in(pl) Sindarin)
Despite all the pleasantries there was’t some tension. The Efyr¹ would probably hath welcomed Beinvír easily enough, for they were kin from opposite sides of the Hithaeglir, but the Light of Aman they discerned so bright upon Helluin marked her as a calben² and therefore a golodh³. Rejection of the Noldorin culture of Beleriand ‘twas central to the identity of the people of King Oropher. ¹(Efyr, Silvan Elves, pl. of Afor. Sindarin) ²(Calben, Elf of Light, sing., syn w/ Amanya. Sindarin) ³(Golodh, Exiled Elf, sing., syn w/ Noldo. Sindarin)
Long before, the folk who had followed Lenwe and parted from their Teleri kin had roamed the forests and shores of Middle Earth in peace ‘neath the stars. Their lives were for long as they had ever been since their awakening at Cuivienen. Then Morgoth had returned to the north, bringing with him those treasures of the Noldor, the Silmarils, and war. When the Exiles had come to wrest Feanor’s gems from the Enemy of the World, all other peoples had become enmeshed in the conflagration, to their immense suffering.
Because of that conflict, no longer was’t there peace, and no longer was’t there only the soothing and twinkling light of the stars. No longer was’t there the comforting continuity of passing Ages. Now time ‘twas broken into days, moon phases, seasons, cycles, and yen. With the counting of days had come awareness of the Fading. The sun and moon were garish, obtrusive, and terrible in their majesty, and much like Helluin’s people, they had changed Middle Earth forever and destroyed a peaceful way of life. In the camp ‘nigh the Mén-i-Naugrim, there was’t no soul who felt not at least a twinge of resentment at Helluin’s presence.
Now Helluin and Beinvír came to stand before a gathering group of ellyn and ellith who were forming a semi-circle before them. About two dozen were present, though as Beinvír and Helluin knew, yet more lurked in the nearby wood. ‘Twas a certainty that at least some of these bent bows towards their unexpected guests.
“Whyfore come’th thou hither, O Golodh dark?” The ellon who had first greeted them asked.
“Indeed we hath come hither to beg audience of King Oropher, for he was’t known to us aforetime, and we unto him,” Helluin answered.
“If indeed thou art known to our lord and he to thee, then far in the past must be thy acquaintance,” the ellon replied, “for none here know’th thee.”
Around them many heads nodded in agreement. Helluin and Beinvír searched the arc of faces and saw not a single one that was’t familiar from their past visit.
“’Tis indeed as thou say,” Helluin admitted, “for it hast been 1,580 years since last we shared company with thy lord and his heir. Yet upon a time with many of his household did we wander in summer season hither ‘neath the boughs. Now we art come with grave tidings for his ears, and we art come at the request of Oldbark, Lord of Calenglad i’Dhaer.”
To this, the gathered Tawarwaith¹ began a debate in the Silvan tongue, as if by its use they could retain some measure of privacy. Beinvír spoke Silvan as a native tongue and Helluin had learnt it so long ago she probably spoke it more authentically than the far younger Elves surrounding them. Indeed she noted that their speech had absorbed some constructions typical of Sindarin. ¹(Tawarwaith, Silvan Elves, coll. pl. Sindarin)
It became obvious from their converse that the company was’t seized by indecision. If these two travelers, strangers unto them, were indeed known to their lord, then they were committing a breach of etiquette by delaying their errand. Worse, they themselves had almost no contact with the Onodrim. They knew well of their presence in the forest and some also knew of their Huorns, but none they knew had ever actually spoken with them. What penalties would follow the frustration of an errand from such a lord ‘twas beyond their experience.
“I pray thee, wilt thou not take us to King Oropher, or send word hence of our coming?” Beinvír finally asked in Silvan. The Elves turned to her in surprise.
“’Tis Lord Oldbark’s wish that thy lord hath such knowledge as shalt shape events to come,” Helluin added, also in Silvan, “for war shalt again find thee and thy realm must be prepared.”
The Tawarwaith’s surprise turned to shock and they fell into silence. Here again was’t a Noldo come amongst them bearing tidings of impending war. ‘Twas their collective nightmare. The horrified expressions on their faces were almost comical.
‘Twas as the assembled group stood indecisive that they heard a trill of birdsong and the beat of hooves approaching. A trio of riders were making their way thither through the woods, but leading them came a mockingbird reciting the call of the lis ince, the honey bird of Valinor. Shortly the riders broke into the clearing and reined their mounts to a halt. A spare horse they had led thither as well.
To these three the assembled Tawarwaith bowed. Helluin noted that the riders wore broaches shaped like a cluster of green oak leaves, the symbol of Oropher’s house. By then the mockingbird had taken up a perch on Beinvír’s shoulder and carefully relieved itself, leaning far out to spare her cloak. It called one last time, drawing the riders’ attention and then commenced to preening its feathers.
“So hither lies the ending of our chase ‘t’would seem,” one rider said, eyeing the mockingbird and then letting his gaze linger on Beinvír.
“I see thou hath heeded the summons of the Herald of the Lord of the Onodrim,” Helluin said, ignoring the first rider’s smitten stare.
“Indeed such was’t the command of our lord,” a second rider said, “to follow hence the call of yonder bird wheresoever it should lead.”
“So thou art come from the court of King Oropher?” Beinvír asked hopefully.
“Aye, that we art,” the rider said, “and to him came this herald upon yestermorn. We hath ridden thence through yesterday afternoon and today in pursuit. I confess we thought it but a wild bird chase, and yet to a destination in fact hast it led.”
The riders quickly dismounted and questioned those of the company who stood ‘nigh and so came to understand the situation they had come upon.
“T’would seem our errand ‘tis to thee, and that thine ‘tis to our lord,” the lead rider said. “therefore I bid thee ride with us to our lord’s halls.”
Upon the following day, Helluin and Beinvír were led to a grotto in the Emyn Duir where a stream flowed down from the higher ground. ‘Twas a pleasant setting of wide flat rocks with a pool and a large oak of great breadth, whose o’erhanging branches were lit with many pendant lamps. ‘Neath this tree were set chairs of wood, and upon the centermost sat King Oropher with his back against the trunk. Upon his right hand sat Prince Thranduil, and about them in a semi-circle were seated a dozen advisors. A throng of Elves occupied the grotto where their king held court, and these ceased their speech and music making to watch Helluin and Beinvír’s approach. The two ellith came to stand a fathom and a half before the king’s seat and bowed low in greeting.
As was’t the custom, Oropher stood and returned their bow, and remaining thus, spoke.
“My friends of old, ‘tis indeed a joy to see thee again and well. Word hath come to me from Lord Oldbark, telling of thy errand. Now despite whatsoever dire tidings thou may bear, still my welcome is extended to thee.”
“My lord, great thanks do we give for thy greeting and thy welcome,” Helluin said. “Thy riders found us at a time most opportune to the continuation of our errand. Indeed ‘tis grave tidings we doth bear, and yet the more do we offer thee thanks for thy welcome in despite of them.”
“Rather would I hear aught of ill-tidings, Helluin, than be taken later at unawares for harkening not,” Oropher said, shaking his head in resignation. If only such a messenger had come to warn my folk and my king in Doriath long ago, he thought, but what oracle greater than Melian could one desire? He sighed. “Oft times art ill deeds unavoidable, yet ever would I choose for my people to survive them. Speak then thy tidings, old friend, and fear not my wrath at the messenger.”
Here Helluin bowed her head again to honor the Silvan king. More just was’t his treatment of her it seemed, than her treatment by her own king had been, and this in spite of his feelings towards her people. She renewed her determination to do all that she could to prepare King Oropher’s folk to survive the coming war.
Now the king seated himself and he called for chairs and refreshments for his guests. Then through the hours of the afternoon and well into the night he harkened to all Helluin and Beinvír told him. Great was’t his amazement at the fall of Númenor, and appalled was’t he at their king’s folly in assailing the West. Yet more amazed were all who listened to Helluin’s assertion that the One had reshaped the world and that Valinor now lay hidden. In great interest did the king mark the new realms that had been founded by the exiled Dúnedain upon the Hither Shores. But most of all, the proofs the two visitors gave for the survival and renewed strength of Sauron did he absorb with dread.
“And so time wears on to some great conflict, O King,” Helluin said late that night, “for ever hath it been the part of the Abhorred to fester in malice against our folk and all those who would be free. He hath survived the Downfall of Númenor, reclaimed his realm of Mordor, and taken up again his Ring. He hast called to him again his servants and his soldiers, and smoke rises from the Mount of Fire. Soon shalt he come again with war, and first shalt he test the resolve of the Men of Gondor that lie’th upon his border, yet he shalt not stop there. Until his defeat shalt he seek, as he hath aforetime, to extend his sovereignty to all lands and to enthrall all peoples ‘neath his will. Whether thou ally thy folk with Ereinion or stand alone, thou shalt face thy Great Enemy yet again. Therefore I pray thee, for this time put aside thy resentment of the Noldor; lay aside even thy distrust of the folk of Durin. Stronger shalt all be for their alliance together than shalt any be standing alone. Gift thy people this opportunity to share with others the coming jeopardy and doom.”
When Helluin was’t finished she sat and took up a cup of wine, while the king and his advisors debated to and fro the pros and cons of her speech. ‘Twas no small thing she had requested of him. King Oropher’s realm in Greenwood had been founded on a rejection of the Noldor in Beleriand, for at their feet ‘twas all the ill of the First Age laid. Indeed for some, all the ills since the coming of the sun and moon could be traced to Helluin’s people. For Oropher to accept an alliance with the remnant of that host, and to accept the command of their much younger High King would be to many a severe insult. For the greater count of his people, serving under such conditions would be unacceptable. The debate continued in a surprisingly civil atmosphere through the night. Two hours ere dawn, Prince Thranduil rose at a nod from his father and approached their guests.
“My friends, t’would seem our debate proceeds without visible conclusion. I shalt therefore ask that thou join me for the evening meal,” he said with a wry grin.
Helluin smiled and nodded in acceptance of his offer, while Beinvír sighed with relief as her stomach growled in anticipation. The prince stifled a snicker.
“Well what a relief that upon at least some topic a consensus is still possible in these trying days,” the prince said as he led them forth from the grotto.
They followed a narrow canyon beside a trickling stream for a short ways ere they came to a semi-enclosed canyon whose mouth opened out into the forest ‘twixt two encircling arms of high ground. Thither were set many benches and tables ‘neath many lamps, and along one wall ‘twas a kitchen with a great hearth where spitted meats roasted and cauldrons simmered. Prince Thranduil led them to a table near the opening of the canyon, where the night breezes from the forest flowed pleasantly about them. Out amongst the trees a company of Tawarwaith had built a fire and sat about it at their revels, singing many songs whose tunes and words carried to the trio’s ears. Helluin sighed as she discerned the words. They were eerily familiar.
O Gently from the clouds of spring,
The warm rains fall and find me.
Bearing life of which I sing.
To flower, root, and tall tree.
I see, I see all things that grow,
O Softly ‘neath the summer moon,
The night’s breeze serenades me.
Bearing songs of thrush and loon,
Their notes upon the wind free.
I hear, I hear, all that is sung,
O Welcome ripens the autumn fruit,
‘Tis bounty there to feed me.
Seed and nut grown from the root,
Blessings all ‘round do I see.
I taste, I taste all offered here,
And thank the One yet more.
O Deeply sinks the winter’s chill,
Frost’s fingers seek to find me.
With plant and beast I’ll rest until,
Yavanna’s breath awakes thee.
I wait, I wait the greening time,
I sing, I sing in praise each day,
And wonder all the more.
“Wherefore comes’th that song, O Prince,” Helluin asked when the singers fell silent.
“’Tis an ancient song; so ancient in fact that none now recall from whence it first came,” Prince Thranduil told them. “The tune itself we deem more ancient even than the words, for they speak of the sun and moon, yet the notes art in a mode known akin to some from the earliest of times in Cuivienen. ‘Tis a strange and fitting blend and a favorite of our people.”
Helluin nodded. Little hath the words changed in all the centuries, she thought. Yet there was’t a strain of mystery in hearing that song now. Somewhere just shy of 3,200 years before she had composed those words herself for her introduction to the Avari of King Telpeapáro. She recalled appearing amongst them after four nights of spying upon their revels, and offering those very words while singing to accompany their harper. Of course the Avari had fled. She had then enchanted them with a song of power, drawing them to her and thereby winning their ear and eventually their trust. And she had led them to a disastrous victory o’er the invading Yrch. When last she had sought them, they had been long fled from Calenglad i’Dhaer. So how had the Nandor learnt the words?
Food was’t brought to them and pale ale, both very good and very welcome. For long none spoke, but labored to sate their hunger and thirst. Finally though, with so much upon their thought, the three returned to their conversation.
“Think thou that thy father favors the idea of alliance despite its inherent collaboration with the Noldor?” Helluin asked.
“I think that he understands well the tactical advantage,” the prince said, “I suspect that even would he swallow his pride and ally himself with thy king. But those who support his rule art strongly against it, of that I am certain. Many want nothing at all to do with a war and even less with a league of friendship ‘twixt Lindon and Greenwood. I blame them not. In all honesty, would Ereinion for a moment consider an alliance were the Nandor to lead it”
“Nay, I know he would not,” Helluin said.
“And yet our lands art closer to Mordor and more easily subject to his predations.”
“Aye. Thou speak the truth, O Prince. I see it. And I can foresee the Host of Mordor marching due north from Udûn to assail thee. There is ‘naught save farmland to be o’errun ere they reach the southern borders of Calenglad.”
“He shalt assail first the Dúnedain of Gondor,” Beinvír reminded them, “for his pride shalt not suffer Isildur’s insolence in building upon the Ephel Duath his citadel of Minas Ithil. Nor shalt he ignore an enemy at his back…no commander would.”
“’Tis not unthinkable for him to strike upon two fronts of war,” Prince Thranduil said, “smiting those ‘nigh his lands and making a play against us here to the north. Were he to succeed he would hold well ‘nigh all Rhovanion, for Lórinand should not long stand alone.”
“In this thou can’st see the wisdom of a united front to oppose him,” Helluin replied, “ere all art gobbled up alone. And thou hath not into thy calculations taken thought for the Naugrim of Khazad-dum. They shalt certainly stand against Sauron, 60,000 strong. We hath lately spoken with Durin IV, Lord of Hadhodrond, and know his council.”
“60,000…this is the count of their army, not their mansions?” Thranduil asked in amazement. The Nandor knew little of the Naugrim. Indeed they felt towards them as had once King Lenwin in Lindórinand long before; they existed in a mutual disregard bordering on disdain.
“Indeed. 60,000 is the count of their warriors, not counting the King’s Guards, the Guard Companies of the Gates, and the Black Companies, their home guard. 60,000 is the count of their standing regular army, and this they would commit as an expeditionary force against Mordor…along with their cadres of armorors, sappers, artificers, cooks, healers, scribes, and all the other personnel needed to support the fighters.”
Again they lapsed into the silence of thought.
“Art thy folk prepared for war, O Prince? Art they armed and trained for battle?” Helluin asked. She was’t greatly worried about this point, for it had been the weakness of arms that had doomed so many of the Avari aforetime when they had faced the Yrch.
Prince Thranduil shook himself and returned from his thoughts.
“Nay, Helluin. My people art wanderers and hunters. Save the king’s errand riders and guards we hath no standing companies or constant chain of command. Our society is fluid, its people never in the same place for many seasons, and no warrior cult exists in our society. Rather ‘tis to escape war that we yearn. Save a few Royal Guards, none hither regularly bear arms, and even those offices art mostly ceremonial.”
Helluin couldn’t suppress a groan. ‘Twas every bit as bad as she had feared. Like the Avari aforetime, the Nandor of Greenwood had no practical knowledge of what loomed before them. They had no weapons, no command structure, no martial values, and no experience. She wondered if there were even a hundred swords in the entire realm.
“Doth thou know the count of thy people fit to bear arms?”
“Nay. We count them not,” Thranduil said, “and whyfore should we? They pay no tribute, seek no services, and cast no votes. We art not a city of Men. The people acknowledge my father’s rule for to honor his nobility and show support for his mediation of internal disputes. He is an organizer who arranges to control the spiders, negotiate trade, and perform social ceremonies.” He shrugged. A king’s duty was to give his people a focus for their group identity and preserve the peace.
Helluin sighed. The Nandor seemed numerous, but that generality ‘twas far from sufficient. She turned to look Beinvír in the eyes.
‘Tis worse than Lebennin, meldanya, she said silently, none here know aught of military science. I pray the time sufficient to teach them or they shalt surely die.
They shalt die and many others besides, Beinvír said, for such is ever the result of war. None can build and train an army o’ernight. Warriors sprout not from the bare ground like mushrooms.
Indeed. Rather they must be forged with heated and sustained effort as a smith shapes iron into a sword. If Oropher can prevail to win the ore of his people, still much shalt be needed to temper them and give them an edge.
To this, Beinvír nodded in agreement. Her people, while not comprising a formal army, were capable of mustering their strength and committing their resources to defense. They had military leaders and methods of communication. After the battle of Amon Ereb so long ago, they had refused to seek open battle, but they had turned all their land into a killing ground where their stealth and pinpoint archery kept enemies at bay. They had hated war but had never turned their backs on the skills to wage it after their own fashion.
“O Prince, I shalt make thee an offer and a promise,” Helluin said at last, “that should thy father win his people’s decision to go to war, then I shalt make available all my expertise. None upon Arda know better the practice of combat, and none art more…available. I expect no summons from my king. Until the war comes, I offer my service as consultant, trainer, and tactician.”
Thranduil looked at Helluin in surprise. He had thought her only a messenger bearing unwelcome tidings. Her offer he regarded with mixed emotions. Should they deign to accept it, would his people not be placing themselves ‘neath the command of the very thing they detested most; a war-mongering Noldo? And yet he knew her history and accepted her claims of prowess. None wandered so long as she had, nor bore such arms as she carried without practical expertise. Survival demanded it.
“I shalt convey thy words to the king,” ‘twas all he could say.
Sitting next to Helluin, Beinvír heard more in her words than Thranduil, for none upon Arda knew her lover better. I expect no summons from my king. Until the war comes, I offer my service as consultant, trainer, and tactician. It went without saying that Gil-galad would never summon Helluin in time of war. But just what was’t she thinking of doing once the war came? The Green Elf chewed her lower lip.
In 1700 Helluin had sought single combat with Sauron and she still chaffed at his flight. She had challenged him yet again upon Amon Hen. Would she seek to waylay or contest with him in the future? Almost certainly, Beinvír answered herself. She shalt somehow contrive a way to meet Sauron Gorthaur in battle, and there her darkness shalt be inflamed by her obsession with slaying him. And with the Sarchram she may succeed. But what then? In her darkness, would she avail herself of the spoils of her victory? Would she dare to don Sauron’s Ring? Would she think to master it to her will as she had mastered her own weapon while’st under assault in 1600? And in the attempt, could she succeed? Was’t such possible? Or would she fall down into Darkness like Tindomul, becoming a Dark Lady where aforetime there had been a Dark Lord? Beinvír felt the throbbing of her pulse in her temples, the harbinger of a headache. Ugh, she thought, sometimes being the lover of the most fell of Elven warriors is hard work.
With all the decisiveness and celerity of the Ent Moot, the council of Oropher continued deliberating the following day and then the next. Finally near nightfall of the third day, a decision was’t reached and the two ellith were informed of the outcome by the prince.
“With the agreement of the council ’tis my father’s decision that those people of the realm capable of bearing arms shalt prepare to wage war against the minions of Sauron Gorthaur. We shalt raise an army to march ‘neath King Oropher’s command, and we shalt consider ourselves allies and equals in arms with Ereinion Gil-galad and his forces. We shalt not be under the command of Lindon, but shalt aid in their campaigns.”
“I see,” Helluin said non-committally. “Hast a decision been reached regarding my offer of assistance?”
At this, Prince Thranduil sighed.
“Thou art to be a personal consultant only to the king, Helluin. Never shalt thou issue a command to a Nando. Upon this the council stood adamant and would budge not. Thou may make suggestions to the king and he shalt implement them or not as he sees fit.”
“I see,” was all Helluin said. ‘Twas more or less the outcome she’d expected.
“But,” Thranduil continued after a short pause, “our house hath several ancient swords that came with my father out of Doriath. T’would greatly please me if thy schedule would allow thee to gift me somewhat of thy instruction.”
Though he made very nearly the same request that Tindomul had voiced so long before, his sentiments were totally different. In the Prince of Greenwood, Helluin sensed only the sincere and nervous desire to learn well a distasteful skill. Helluin laughed, feeling more lighthearted now.
“Of course, O Prince. I should be glad to offer thee instruction. Such may even save thy life upon the field.”
“Indeed it might,” Thranduil said with not a trace of humor, for he was dead serious. The prospect of his father and his people going to war chilled his very blood. “Indeed it might.”
After the decision to arm was’t reached in King Oropher’s realm, the years passed in an increasing state of readiness. Yet as each cycle of the seasons came and went without battle, the drive to preparedness warred with the false sense of security the continuing peace engendered. Helluin discerned that many of the Nandor had never taken the prospect of war seriously, while’st others followed their king’s decrees simply to honor the wishes of their lord. Yet there were some, mostly older, who had harkened to the tidings of the previous war in Eriador, and a very few who, like Oropher himself, had come from the ruin of Doriath and had known war in Beleriand. Ever did these urge steadfastness upon any who harkened to them, and so about a core of serious and devoted warriors in training clustered a greater number only lackadaisical in their determination to prepare.
One virtue they had, and that was numbers. Helluin surveyed the troops regularly and counted well ‘nigh 30,000 engaged in training, mostly at archery and pikes. A small cavalry drilled with lances from horseback, but favored still their bows from the saddle. These, Helluin knew, could be deadly, but they were so few, scarcely three hundreds all told. And fewer still trained with swords. Indeed in the whole kingdom there were not even three hundreds who owned a blade longer than their forearm. These were mostly scions of old Sindarin families who had come thither with Oropher and had retained their weapons from the First Age. On these Helluin concentrated her practical training, never instructing directly, but rather using Thranduil as an intermediary and making the prince their teacher, while’st she in turn trained him and watched the students’ progress from the sidelines.
Helluin found King Oropher’s son a good student, and if not a brilliant swordsman, then certainly one willing to put forth endless determination and effort. Thranduil absorbed all she showed him and practiced until his hands were blistered ere they finally calloused o’er like those of an old campaigner. In turn, he drilled the Nandor mercilessly, and if his passion was’t resented none complained, good subjects that they were.
At least once a week Helluin and Beinvír would spar in view of the students for the sake of inspiring them. It had been now almost 2,070 years since the Green Elf had first taken up the short sword under Helluin’s tutelage, and 415 years since she had traded it for the fighting knives gifted her by Gotli of Khazad-dum. Though she favored greatly her bow as a primary weapon, she was’t highly proficient with her paired fighting knives. These were light, quick, close-in weapons, meant to cover threats too near for archery, for though Beinvír could stab with a handheld arrow, in most cases a sturdy blade was’t far more deadly. One could not slash effectively with a arrow point, nor block an enemy’s thrust with sword or spear.
In Beinvír’s hands the Sigilin Belthol¹ flickered in a blindingly swift and graceful succession of motions designed to weave a fluid defense, warding off attacks while’st confusing the enemy’s eye. Indeed with her speed, the polished blades seemed to vanish into thin air, becoming well ‘nigh impossible to focus upon. A moment’s indecision ‘twas all the opening the Green Elf needed to lunge in for a killing thrust or whisk a fatal slice. She was’t equally proficient with either hand, and equalizing their potential had been Gotli’s intent in providing her with these gifts. And more than Helluin’s intimidating and o’erpowering rage, Beinvír’s lithe grace and fleeting accuracy made her swordplay appear as a visually intriguing and deadly art. Her style could not hath been more different from that of her teacher. ¹(Sigilin Belthol, Killing Knives = sigil (knife) + -in(pl) + beltho- (v, kill) + -l(act pres part suff, -ing) Sindarin)
Now when they sparred to provide instruction to the students, Beinvír held back not at all, for even were she to actually touch Helluin with her blades, Helluin’s armor would turn the cut. But Helluin indeed held back, not only because Beinvír wore no armor, (and indeed Anguirél could cleave any she might hath worn), but also because she knew that she could easily o’erpower the Green Elf were she to unleash her deadly fury. And yet something else stayed her more surely than any tangible concerns, and that was the love in her heart. Not even in the venue of a sparring match would she will to chance injury to her beloved. For that same reason, never did she wield the Sarchram in her left hand, but rather favored for parrying, her dagger.
Amongst the Nandor were none so well learnt at swordplay as to discern that the two ellith were not wholly intent upon laying low their opponent. To their eyes the action seemed completely in earnest and deadly. ‘Twas a vision of what was’t possible; what centuries of practice could confer; a glimpse at mastery to aspire to but perhaps never attain. When they returned to their practice, ‘twas with renewed determination and effort.
For well ‘nigh a score of years the mustering of Greenwood commenced, and little of it was’t known beyond the borders. Only once ‘twas Helluin summoned to Laiquadol by Lord Oldbark, and upon that occasion he spoke to her of many things past and future.
“You are again involving yourself in the training of a peaceful kingdom for war,” he said, “and I have not forgotten your sadness over the outcome of your arming of the Avari.”
Helluin had bowed her head. She had certainly not forgotten either. Indeed the memories haunted her at times.
“I hath no choice save to do thus,” she said, “for even should I again fail, still ‘tis better to try than to let march unprepared to battle these latter day settlers of thy realm. Like the Avari aforetime, the Nandor favor peace and know not war. Compelled now to make amends for past acts doth I judge myself, and so I hope to tip somewhat the balance to their favor. I can do ‘naught save as I am. Yet indeed I feel myself caught and forced to choose ‘twixt the lesser of two evils.”
“Many choices are little more than that, young Elfling, and we who survive the Ages do so by accepting the weather, fair and foul alike. Though the doings of the Elves are not really my concern, yet all things being equal, I would probably follow the same course you have taken. I would confer upon those I care for such chance as I might gift to them.”
Helluin looked up into the ancient eyes of the Lord of the Onodrim and saw ‘naught but sympathetic concern. For all his perverse humor and alien manners she felt that he did care about her in his own way. Perhaps ‘twas a shared understanding of the ever growing weight of memories and experiences that bore upon her, for such must weigh upon him too. Perhaps ‘twas simply his native nature as the guardian and custodian of a realm and his empathy as the caretaker of the souls who dwelt within it. She didn’t know. Still she was’t thankful for his concern and felt less alone in her labors.
“My Lord Oldbark, since our first meeting so long ago, ever hath thou shown me kindness and honor, and if at times thou hast indulged thy humor, truly no harm hast it done. I greatly appreciate thy friendship. I can only retain hope for the future and faith in the Song, that events shalt come through heartbreak unto joy.”
“Indeed so, Helluin of the Noldor explorer of the Host of Finwe. I too have faith in the eventual triumph over the evils of Morgoth and his servants, but it will be long in coming and hard fought to win. The Song unfolds, but ever with conflict. Still, so long as you and others like you cling to your faith, I feel that it shall come to pass. I certainly hope to be around to see some of it.”
“If any shalt endure to see it, ‘twill be thou,” Helluin said with certainty.
“I am less certain my young friend, for I feel many changes coming,” the Onod said. His mood seemed more contemplative and more somber than ever Helluin had seen it. “The world is changing; I know not how long such as myself will persist. Yavanna’s grace was given by the One to last only so long as the Firstborn were strong, but now Men are in their ascendance. Like the Eldar, the Onodrim shall find their welcome in the world diminishing, and so like your kin, we too shall fade, becoming finally only trees much like those we were at the start.”
Somehow the Onod’s words kindled a deep sadness in Helluin. Yes, the world was’t diminished. She had long marked the lessening of nobility and the fading of the stars. For long years fewer and fewer of the Firstborn had chosen to remain in Middle Earth. So many had sailed to the West, and now the West itself was’t removed. Wonder was’t fleeing Middle Earth; magick, enchantment, and that sense of a miracle to be discovered each day were seeping out of the Hither Lands. Even Helluin, much as she loved the Mortal Shores, no longer felt the awe she had known in her youth on the Westward March. Indeed she no longer felt so strongly the compulsion to explore, only to wander. She blinked. The distinction had crept unnoticed upon her, slowly, slowly, o’er many centuries. The contentment she had once felt alone in the wilderness had been replaced with the joy of traveling with her beloved and seeking what new adventures they found together.
“Perhaps thou art correct,” she said. Oldbark was watching her carefully now. “Indeed I hath received a prophecy of doom from the West, that I shalt outlive my welcome hither and persist long alone upon these Mortal Shores. It seems I am fated to finish as I started, alone, but in a world bereft of its wonder and diminished, and I faded within it. Indeed I suspect that never shalt I leave it, though the prophecy says otherwise.”
“Hmmmmm, it sounds to me as though you doubt the doom of the Lords of the West, Helluin. If they spoke to you and declared the course of your future, then it shall come to pass. Do not doubt them, my young friend. Keep your hope if nothing else, even though it may long seem in vain. The One cares for his children and the Valar watch over them.”
To this Helluin could ‘naught but bow her head in acceptance. That was the key; acceptance. She could not escape her fate any more than any other upon Arda.
“You should return to the people of King Oropher, young Helluin of the Noldor,” Oldbark said at last, “and continue their training. No matter what happens tomorrow we can only do the best we can today. Go now, my friend. I cannot believe that your labors will be wholly in vain.”
So with a bow to the Lord of Calenglad i’Dhaer, Helluin turned and made her way back to Oropher’s halls. And there the years crept on towards the War of the Last Alliance.
To be continued
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