In An Age Before – Part 42
The Forming of the Last Alliance – The Second Age of the Sun
Author's note: I feel this chapter goes out on a limb to address plot bunnies in the canon that JRRT created. I've tried to work around them while retaining the sequence of events in the forming of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men and for setting the stage for events in the later War of the Ring. If the palantíri allowed communication between the north and south kingdoms of the Dúnedain in exile, whyfore did Isildur need sail to Lindon to bring tidings of Sauron's attack and the fall of Minas Ithil unto Elendil and Gil-galad? Surely he could hath done thus with the stone in Osgiliath and then remained to aid his brother in the defense of their realm. Nevertheless, JRRT states that Isildur and his family sailed from Osgiliath to Lindon following the fall of his city. He also states that the palantír of Minas Ithil did not fall into Sauron's hands at that time, but no other solution would have made the brothers so distrust the palantír of Osgiliath that Isildur would feel required to make so long a trip by ship.
The day when peace died had begun like any other, for oft times no warning comes in the weather of the doom a day's sunset shalt witness, yet afterwards the world is never to be the same. It had taken the Dark Lord many decades to coalesce the remnants of his spirit, from the pure etheric state in which he had escaped the inundation of Númenor to the physical manifestation of a vapor. Yet once a sufficient portion of the dark energy of his being had transmuted itself again into the stuff of Arda, the Master of Lies fabricated for himself new forms.
Ever of old had he been a shape-shifter and this he was't still, and thus by his conjuring he appeared, sometimes in form akin to the Children of Iluvatar, save that he was't taller and black as with gangrene, mantled in a stench that alone cowed all, and having bloody red eyes rimmed in yellow that none could look upon and not quake in horror. When such a form served him he wore it, while'st at other times he resolved his being as a great eye of yellow lightning and fire that were drawn inwards in a gyre to a slitted pupil, black as a pit of hell, which swallowed light, and life, and souls.
Now once his form was't achieved he called to him his wraiths and his servants, and he mustered again his armies, for his hatred of the Dúnedain had grown even greater than aforetime, and his hatred of the Eldar had never diminished. Then Gorgoroth 'twas filled again with a Black Host of Yrch called from their warrens or bred anew for war, and with Men from Harad and Khand and Rhûn who had worshipped him in the years ere he went across the sea. There too were Tor and Wargs¹ and other allies fell. These he marshaled, and the tramping of their feet upon the ashen plain raised a cloud of dust that o'ertopped the Ephel Duath and uneased the counsels of the Men of Gondor. And when all was't ready, he donned again his One Ring of power and Orodruin burst into flame. ¹(Wargs, wolves of Sauron, these appear to have been wolves bred by the Dark Lord to greater size and ferocity, sometimes acting in packs on their own, and at other times ridden as mounts by Yrch. They were distinct from the white wolves of northern Eriador and the earlier werewolves of Morgoth. Westron)
Now in the spring, when blossoms of apple, cherry, peach, and orange were still laden upon the boughs in the orchards of Anduin, yet the greater part of the spring rains had abated, a host came o'er a pass in the Ephel Duath and assailed Minas Ithil by night. Almost were they held at bay, but they were reinforced by a second and greater host that had come from the Nargil Pass to the south. Then Isildur was't forced to flight, and gathering his wife and his three sons, and a seedling of Nimloth, he fled to Osgiliath. He left behind some treasures which he had no time to remove, and some few soldiers for whom he long grieved, and when the Tower of the Moon was't taken, then Sauron himself came forth to claim what plunder he could.
In the ruins of the palace the Dark Lord found aught to make his cold heart rejoice, for there in the courtyard before the keep stood Nimloth, the White Tree, saved by Isildur from the Whelming of Númenor. In a guarded chamber he found the partially eaten body of the king's custodian, and upon its pedestal 'nigh the corpse, the palantír of Minas Ithil, which had been left behind by the king in the haste of his flight into exile. With a mailed fist Sauron lifted this prize. Great did he deem his profit would be from that find in the days to come. Ahhh, Sauron thought, long hast it been since so sweet a victory hath I tasted as on this day. In glee he turned thence to the courtyard before the citadel and burned the White Tree of Gondor and sacrificed alive all such of the king's people as had fallen prisoner. And as he had aforetime in his temple at Armenelos, he chanted a prayer to his master as the smoke rose to the heavens. 'Twas 17 Gwirith, (April 17th), 3429.
Now coming in duress to Osgiliath, Isildur met briefly with his brother Anárion, and he shared the tidings of the taking of his city. Anárion beseeched him to proffer those same tidings to their father in the north, for the force that had assailed Minas Ithil was't great. But Isildur would chance this not, for by using the palantír 'neath the Dome of Stars, any who gazed thither might be entrapped by the will of Sauron who had taken as spoil the palantír of the Tower of the Moon. Neither for themselves nor for their father would they chance this; instead Isildur would be forced to sail to Lindon with all haste. There he would report not only the fall of his city, but also the danger of the Seeing Stones.
So then, after committing to Anárion the defense of Gondor, Isildur took ship with his family to bear hence his tidings and beg aid from his father in the north. With sails billowed full the king sailed down Anduin to the sea, and making his course westward from Ethir Anduin, at first followed the coast. Upon the third morn he ordered his ship anchored for a day, and in a longboat he went ashore.
Thither at the first landing of his ships in their flight from Númenor he had left the remains of one stricken vessel, and as a marker upon a highland well above the floodtide he had set a great round stone. Now this stone came later to be called the Stone of Erech and thither now went Isildur and his party. There he let blow a fanfare upon a silver trumpet, summoning hence the Men of the Mountains.
These Men had sworn to stay their aggression against the Men of Lebennin and Gondor in 3320, for they quickly recognized these mariners as kin to those long known aforetime and sought not to cross their might save at some great need. Now to Erech did Isildur summon them and to Erech came their king.
"War hath come," Isildur said, "and now either to fall or to live is thy choice, for in this war I would hath thy alliance against the Lord of the Black Land. Fight for our cause and thou shalt hath ever after, peace and honor from Gondor."
"I and my people shalt join thy fight, O King of the Land of Stone," the King of the Mountains swore, "for of Sauron only shalt we hath terror and death. We shalt fight for thy cause." And he slit open his right hand and let flow his blood to consecrate his oath upon the Stone.
Then Isildur clasped forearms with the King of the Mountains and departed back to his ship, having secured the oath of another ally that he and his brother could not afford to fight as an enemy at their back. Isildur set sail on the morn's tide and made again his course northwards toward the Firth of Lune.
By the end of the first week of Lothron, Isildur's ship had come to Mithlond and tidings of the attack were known to the Eldar of Lindon. Swift messengers carried the younger king to Annúminas where Elendil held court. Thence Isildur begged his father's favor, to send aid to Anárion who defended the southern realm in his absence, and he warned him of the peril of the palantíri. Being a Man of valor and ever forward in his causes, Isildur had planned to return thence south with whatever strength of Arnor could be spared in haste, leaving his sons and wife in the safety of Lindon. Upon the three princes of his house, Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon, he had laid the duty to guide thither at the earliest possible time, such forces as could be mustered to battle against Sauron, leading them thither through Calenardhon or perhaps by ship.
It took significant energy and persuasiveness on the part of Gil-galad to dissuade Isildur from this course. For one, Ereinion reasoned, Minas Ithil had fallen primarily due to the surprise attack and the co-coordinated reinforcement from Harad, a plan of which no warning had come. But now the field had stabilized. A wide land lay 'twixt Minas Ithil and Osgiliath whereupon any advancing army would be long espied aforetime. Anárion would face no such sneak attack and his forces were now fully mustered with reinforcements coming to Minas Anor from the lands of Lebennin to the south. And the army of Gondor was very great; scarce less than 50,000 all told in those days, divided into two divisions east and west of Anduin; they would hold at bay the enemy for some time.
A second reason gave Gil-galad to the co-regent of the south kingdom. Long had the Elven folk dwelt with the threat of war before them, and indeed many had fled the Hither Shores in the years while'st Sauron's influence waxed in Mordor. Now their ancient enemy had returned and war was't indeed upon them, but they had as allies the Dúnedain of Arnor and Gondor, and with some others who might be convinced to join them for the common good, they stood a chance of doing what they had not in S.A. 1,700, 2,100 years before; were they to withhold their retaliation until their strength was't full wrought, they could destroy Sauron utterly, not merely defeat him!
And last, did his Elvish eyes mislead him, or was't Isildur's queen not with child? At this unexpected assertion the elder son of Elendil gaped at the Elven King in astonishment and stuttered. He knew 'naught of such nor had either he or his wife yet suspected it. The High King assured Isildur that 'twas indeed true, even if that new life was't yet only in its first moon, and ever it had been the way of both their peoples to deprive not a child of its parents in those most tender first years. Thus Isildur would be best served in accompanying the host when it marched on the Black Land with such strength as would uplift his heart and lay low his enemy. After some 36 centuries of diplomacy Gil-galad was't indeed quite convincing; Isildur and his sons stayed in the north.
Now though in later times much is recalled concerning the great strength of Gondor, in those waning years of the Second Age, 'twas in Arnor that the great strength of Men lay. In those days Elendil was't High King of all those Númenóreans who called themselves Faithful. He was't older and wiser than his sons in the south, and he was't the last true lord from the Land of Kings across the sea. As Lord of Andunië in Exile, he commanded the allegiance of all those who had come to the Hither Shores fleeing the kings' persecution. Generations had sailed east from Romenna and their descendants all acknowledged Elendil as their lord. So too did the Men of Eriador save some only to the far north and east, and even with these the king had succeeded in parlaying, thereby allaying their hostility.
When first Isildur was't received in Annúminas and there told his tidings, Elendil was't wroth. Straightaway he sought the palantír in the Tower of the West and fearlessly commanded its vision south. First he surveyed Minas Anor and the custodian quailed at his rage and reported all that he had seen. Thence to Osgiliath did his sight travel and there he gave comfort to his younger son and promise of aid. Thence to Minas Ithil did Elendil cast his sight. There he was't greeted by the sneering countenance of Sauron Gorthaur, become hideous after his survival of the Downfall of Westernesse. Sauron mocked the king, promising to take piece by piece his realm in the Hither Lands, just as he had taken down the Realm of the Kings across the sea.
Elendil cursed Sauron that day from afar and promised him both war and death. Sauron laughed at the king and showed him the ashes of the White Tree, but in his heart he felt the twinge of fear, for Elendil looked unwavering into his eyes and the Dark Lord could cow him not with his menace. Light shone in the Man's eyes, a living gift of his ancestors still preserved, and the High King showed Sauron a sword forged by his ancient enemies in Beleriand; Narsil, wrought by Telchar of Nogrod in an Age before. The blade had a light all its own and Sauron read his bane upon its chiseled runes.
Within three days the army of Arnor began mustering at Fornost Erain, the knights, squires, heralds, and infantry, the healers, cooks, scribes, engineers, and armorors. All massed in the fortress of the north until 'twas o'erflowing with warriors and horses. Not even in the War of the Elves and Sauron had so great a host amassed to march upon an enemy. Even the Laiquendi, watching as ever in stealth, could scarce believe what they saw. And into the fortress came wain and wagon uncounted, filled with supplies and material, for the army would march far and the campaign would be long.
In the following year, S.A. 3430, the leaders of Elves and Men in the north came together in Lindon for a formal council of war. There was't Ereinion Gil-galad, Glorfindel, and Gildor Inglorion of Lindon, Cirdan and Galdor from Mithlond, Elendil, Isildur, and the princes Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon. From further away came Elrond Peredhel, Lord of Imladris and Gil-galad's Vice-Regent of Eriador, accompanied by his advisor Erestor. And from further still, from the land of Belfalas, came Celeborn and Galadriel. With them traveled their daughter Celebrian and her reunion with Elrond was't a source of joy to them both and a renewal of their love in darkening times.
Now when the day of the council drew 'nigh, a messenger rode swiftly back to the court and he whispered his tidings to the high king alone.
"My Lord, I regret to inform thee that I was't unsuccessful. Either she 'tis nowhere within the borders of thy realm, or else by her stealth she hast eluded me."
Gil-galad sighed and dismissed the messenger. For the first time he had allowed the pleas of Finarfin's daughter to sway him and had sought for Helluin in time of war. Now it seemed she was't unavailable to him. Another sigh escaped him, but this was't one of relief. Then he put the matter from his mind, for other messengers had arrived.
"My Lord, King Amdír of Lórinand shalt honor the court with his presence in council."
"My Lord, an emissary from the woodland realm of Calenglad i'Dhaer hast arrived for the council."
"My Lord, the entourage representing King Durin IV, Lord of Khazad-dum 'tis now 2 days east upon the road."
To all these announcements Gil-galad nodded and beside him Elendil smiled. Their alliance was't coming together as they had hoped it would. And Ereinion thought to himself, what is the absence of one more warrior to such a strength as we now forge?
When the council convened upon 21 Gwaeron, (March 21st, the Spring Equinox), there met the lords of Lindon, Mithlond, Arnor, Gondor, Belfalas, and Imladris. Joining them were King Amdír and Prince Amroth of Lórinand, Prince Thranduil of Calenglad i'Dhaer, and a party of a dozen Naugrim of Hadhodrond.
In all the generalities the emissaries agreed wholeheartedly. They would commit their strength to a campaign to destroy once and for all, the threat of Sauron Gorthaur. In only a few particulars was't there dissent. 'Twas decided that the armies of King Oropher and King Durin would fight 'neath their own banners, but in coordination with the remainder of the alliance. King Amdír's troops, being relatively few in number, would join their Nandor brethren and fight beside King Oropher's army. These decisions had been foreseen and accepted. The added strength was't far more important than the notion of a singular supreme command.
"I shalt meet thee 'nigh Amon Sûl¹ in one year's time," King Elendil told Ereinion as he prepared to leave for Annúminas, "and thence shalt we march east to Imladris. Some further strategic planning shalt we needs make in light of developments to come." ¹(Amon Sûl, Hill of the Wind, = amon(hill) + sûl(wind) Sindarin)
Gil-galad nodded in agreement. Ere they mustered and marched, much could shift upon the field of war. There were great matters of logistics to wrestle and many details to address ere the host could go to war. A year seemed barely time enough. How strong were the enemy troops and what was't their compliment? How long could Sauron hold out 'neath a siege of Mordor? How long could he hold his Barad-dúr? What sorcery did he command? What effects would his Ring bring to the battles? He sighed. T'would be a long year indeed. Now last he wondered, however shalt I contact the Laiquendi? I can think of no finer home guard for this land in our absence. And thinking thus he realized that the one Noldo he knew who could hath arranged such a meeting was't beyond his call. For once, Helluin hadn't arrived with ill-tidings upon her lips; indeed she was't still nowhere to be found.
In early Lothron, (May), King Oropher and Prince Thranduil returned to their realm in Greenwood and immediately the king sent for Helluin and Beinvír. He desired to know any more that she could tell him about the probable deployment of the Noldor and Sindar. But the messenger returned to his king without the two ellith, and he told his lord that they had indeed left the realm, headed south, a month past.
Prince Thranduil bid his father recall the words Helluin had spoken when first she had made her offer of aid; "…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."
"My Lord," the prince said, "she hath kept well her word such as she could, for the war began with the attack upon Minas Ithil in Gwirith of the year past. Indeed she stayed longer than expected."
King Oropher nodded in understanding. During the entire time he had been in Lindon he had not once heard the name of Helluin Maeg-mórmenel pass anyone's lips. Now the warrior had been called to battle, and with her friend, she had gone forth to meet the enemy. He could do 'naught but await the Host of the Alliance and then do the same.
Upon that same day, Helluin and Beinvír were in the western part of that province of Gondor now called Calenardhon. They were some three days' journey northeast of Angrenost, the Iron Fortress, which in later days was't called Isengard. When they arrived the commander of the garrison welcomed them, for they were known in the southern realm by many of the captains.
Now Helluin inquired after the condition of the war and learned that for the past year King Anárion had indeed held back the enemy, denying them Osgiliath and the Vale of Anduin. Many had come to their aid from Lebennin, fiercer fighters than the Men of Gondor had expected, and such was't their stealth and prowess that they had largely become rangers, harrying the enemy from forward positions with hit and run tactics and staying ever on the move.
"But this I wager thou know," said Captain Barahir, "for were thou not upon a time, Chief Guardians of that realm? So 'tis said in the lore of that land, or so I hath heard."
"'Twas so indeed," Beinvír replied, proud that the lessons she and her partner had once taught the Men of Lebennin had been passed down faithfully and now served the current generation well. "For well 'nigh 16 centuries hath that land been defended thus."
"I see now thy garrison reduced, O Captain," Helluin observed.
"Indeed so, for 'twas deemed that the watch upon the Enedwaith 'twas less pressing than the need of troops in the east. So far the Men of the Mountains hath made no forays against us, yet we art ever watchful of the enemy at our back. Whether they art in league with the Great Enemy or simply act of their hatred towards us we know not for sure, yet we trust them not in either case. We hath not forgotten upon whose side they marched into Eriador long aforetime."
Helluin nodded in agreement. Though most of the strength of the Enedwaith of old had perished at the hands of Ciryatur's forces from Lond Daer, those who remained were bitter in their hatred of the Dúnedain.
"Though thou art ever welcome, I should ask thee, what brings thou hither?" Barahir said, looking from one elleth to the other. "For many art the places wherefore the need exists for warriors of thy prowess, and hither we art yet at peace."
Helluin sighed and spoke, sorry to put in such a position the honorable captain of Gondor.
"I hath need of thy palantír, for word hath come to me of the loss of the Ithil stone into the hands of Mordor. He can now see aught of what passes in the west, much to his advantage. I deem it time to take action and assail him, thereby forcing him to place himself into great jeopardy." She paused a moment as the captain began to shake his head.
"Thou know'th that only the king may give thee leave to view the stone, Helluin," he said gravely, "and such authority lies not with me to change this decree."
"This I know well, Captain, and therefore thou hast my apologies," she said as she looked him squarely in the eyes.
In a moment his will was constrained by her gaze and his initiative was't lost. He sat still and unmoving in his chair, a blank and dreamy expression taking hold upon his features. Helluin sighed and rose from her seat, gesturing Beinvír to join her. The Green Elf stood and passed a hand before the Man's face, receiving not a bit of reaction. She shook her head and gave her partner a mildly disapproving look.
Shortly later, when the custodian of the palantír was similarly rendered motionless and staring dreamily off into space, Helluin bid Beinvír sit out of sight of the stone, and then she approached it. As she had in Elostirion, she grasped command of the Angrenost Stone and at once directed its sight to the Black Land. The image flared into existence.
O'er the dismal pinnacles of the Ephel Duath and the inner fences of the Morgai did her sight speed, bypassing Udûn for Gorgoroth and the far walls of the Ered Lithui. There upon the jutting spur of black rock that she had first seen in 1125 stood the Barad-dúr, the Dark Tower of Sauron Gorthaur. Her eyepoint climbed the heights of that fearsome edifice, up that damned façade to the chamber in which the Dark Lord skulked and plotted and kept his most coveted treasures. Herein she had espied him aforetime, newly come from the wreck of Númenor and then 'naught but a vapor of malice.
Now she made contact and penetrated the Enemy's innermost sanctum with her sight. In a moment he was't aware of her, as the palantír of Angrenost called forth to the Ithil Stone that 'twas now in his possession, and he spun to face her presence. In that moment he perceived her clearly 'cross all the miles between. The palantír delivered an almost tangible vision to his mind; there stood Helluin Maeg-mórmenel, come to taunt and challenge him again. The blast of hatred he projected in return was't very nearly stifling; upon his finger she marked his Ring. Shadows moved behind him and she knew they numbered nine. Now from a distance and projecting thus her will through the Angrenost Stone, Helluin's power was't attenuated and she stood at a disadvantage. Still she put forth a half-hearted attempt to assail him with her will, vying as if to wrench his own stone from him, and was't rewarded with a vicious ethereal bludgeoning. In answer, Sauron attempted to take control of the Orthanc Stone. As ever he was't predictable.
In the high chamber of Angrenost, Helluin reeled 'neath the assault. Had she been face to face with him she would very nearly hath swooned. Then she recovered and for a time engaged him in a see-saw battle of wills o'er the mastery of the Ithil Stone. Yet she had not come to take it, and so she checked her efforts, and at the last she abruptly relinquished her claim to it such that the force Sauron expended against her rebounded to pummel him with much the same effect as when one party releases the rope in a tug of war. The effect was't that for a moment, Sauron's eye was't blinded by a brilliant flaring of power.
When he regained his sight, he saw an image of Helluin amidst the forest of Calenglad i'Dhaer, training an army of ill equipped and undisciplined Moriquendi. He knew that place and he knew those Elves. They were from the barbaric tribe in Greenwood. He was't tempted, sorely tempted.
To the west his enemies in Gondor fought with skill beyond the measure he had expected of them, and they were much more numerous than he had guessed. Little progress had his forces made since taking Minas Ithil o'er a year before. For all practical purposes his western front was't a stalemate. Now to the north he saw a weak force, and they lay across a flat and uncontested land. The bully in him contemplated the gains in shifting his strategy and destroying them simply because he could. In a few years he could hold all the eastern bank of Anduin right up to the Ered Mithrin. T'would place him in an excellent striking position against Lórinand and Khazad-dum. And the forest itself would provide countless cords of fuel…he would relish leveling the forest to feed his furnaces. All he need do was't assign sufficient troops to keep Anárion occupied in Gondor and he could then command the remainder of his forces north, 'cross undefended farmlands and pastures. Scarcely 100 leagues' march lay 'twixt the Cirith Gorgor and the southern border of Greenwood.
A cold chuckle escaped him. He could always return later to finish with Isildur and Anárion. For now he would summon Herumor and Fuinur, the generals of his loyal Black Númenóreans, to march forthwith from Harad with their armies. They could enter his realm unmarked through the Nargil Pass, traversing Nurn and Gorgoroth more easily than Ithilien, ere they issued from Udûn. Mentally he ticked off the time required.
When he returned his gaze to the present, he marked Helluin drilling Nandor infantry in mock charges and the clumsy and uncoordinated performance of her troops. He noted the Noldo's exasperation and the Elves' low morale. His armies would crush them all and he would hold the survivors as thralls forever. This outcome he reveled in. In fact, he would force them to chop down their beloved trees and denude their home in Greenwood! Upon this day Helluin's impulsive act in trying to assail him through the Seeing Stones had gifted him intelligence of great worth. He resolved to thank her ere he enslaved her and tormented her for Ages with the knowledge. With a bark of laughter he slammed shut the contact 'twixt his mind and Helluin's and his palantír went dark.
In the high chamber of Angrenost, Helluin saw the palantír abruptly go blank and she ceased her song. A song of power such as she had woven required much concentration and energy and now she felt fatigue. But she knew she had succeeded. Sauron had been so receptive to her imagery that he had never even noticed her melody. Rather he had merely sat as a thrall and listened as the pictures she wove came into his mind. After his contests with Finrod Felagund and Lúthien Tinúviel he should hath been wiser, Helluin thought, yet oft greed blinds and so t'would seem such truth hath held true this day, thank the Valar.
Helluin had let him perceive his false victory in mastering the stone, and then she had offered him a prize. Predictably, her enemy had taken the bait. Helluin's visions would draw him out of the safety of his bastion of Mordor. Sauron would eventually march north, and there meet the Host of the Alliance, a vastly stronger enemy than she had shown him, and upon the Dagorlad his army would be destroyed. It would be a far easier victory for the Alliance than if they should besiege the guarded Black Land straightaway.
Helluin sighed and gave Beinvír a tired smile.
"Come, let us be away," she said offering her hand to her partner. The Green Elf clasped it and pulled herself to her feet. She looked over at the custodian, still staring off with eyes unfocused and the hint of a grin upon his lips, a trickle of drool edging from the corner of his mouth.
"And what of him, pray tell?"
"I am sure he shalt recover completely," Helluin said, offhandedly, "trust me."
Beinvír regarded her critically for a moment then shrugged and followed her lover to the stairs, taking a last glance at the enchanted Man.
In the meeting room, Captain Barahir yawned as they retook their seats and he gave them a self-conscious grin. He seemed completely oblivious to the lost time.
"Pray excuse me," he said, "more wine? Some more bread and cheese?"
"Thy pardon, Captain, but I believe we shalt be going," Helluin said.
"But thou hath only just arrived," he said in confusion.
"Good Captain, art thou well?" Beinvír asked with concern. "We arrived in the mid-afternoon and 'tis now just ere sunset. I fear we must be on the road."
The Captain looked at them in disbelief; the two ellith eyed him curiously. The view out the window behind them included long shadows darkening and purple streaking the sky. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
"'Tis perhaps thy boredom, O Captain?" Helluin suggested. "Mayhaps thy mind hast simply glossed o'er such hours as art tedious to thee, returning now for our farewells?"
"I confess I know not," he said in mortified amazement, "I considered thee not boring I swear; much the contrary…"
"Sometimes the mind plays tricks," Beinvír suggested. "But in any case, we art not offended by thy lapse."
"My lapse…? But I suppose thou art correct though I know not how…indeed I am now confused," he admitted with a sigh. "If thou feel 'tis time for thy departure then of course I shalt wish thee well and safe upon the road. Perhaps thou would care to take with thee this wine? I think perhaps I shalt stick to cider for some time hence?"
"A noble notion, my good Captain," Helluin agreed, "and our thanks for thy offer. The wine is quite good, I deem. We shalt enjoy it and we shalt say 'naught of thy…absence."
"For that I thank thee, for indeed I am on duty. I still do not understand…"
"Pray worry thyself not o'er it," Beinvír told him, "I am sure thou doth not habitually sleep while in command. Perhaps t'would be best if indeed none of us mentioned this visit at all, then no questions could arise from it?"
"Very well," Captain Barahir gratefully agreed, "I hath had no visitors and hath 'naught to report for this day. Indeed it hast passed much like yesterday and the day before."
Helluin nodded in agreement and they took their leave quietly, drawing up their cloaks and hoods to attract less attention from the other soldiers of Gondor.
Now in the weeks and months that followed, Helluin and Beinvír kept a watch upon the Black Land, utilizing the stealth they had mastered to come close to the encampments of the enemy. At times they joined themselves to the Men of Lebennin, now called the Rangers of Ithilien, and wrought destruction upon their foes. At other times they climbed high into the Ephel Duath to spy upon Gorgoroth and Udûn, and much profit did King Anárion find in their ventures. Indeed 'twas oft by benefit of the intelligence they supplied that he was't able to hold Gondor during the four long years ere the Host of the Last Alliance took the field. In return, Helluin made one request of the King of Gondor and he granted it willingly. The watch of Helluin and Beinvír continued through 3431, 3432, 3433, and early 3434.
'Twas in late-Narbeleth, (October) of S.A. 3433 that Helluin's practiced eye discerned the impending troop movements upon the Plain of Gorgoroth. The armies that Sauron had mustered there were preparing their camps for deployment in the spring. In Rhovanion on the eastern side of the Hithaeglir the winter was harsher than in Eriador, and the campaigning season would start later, perhaps in mid-Gwirith rather than in late-Gwaeron. Indeed the timing of Sauron's earlier attack on Minas Ithil proved the Noldo's tactical assessment.
"When their march begins we must change tactics," Helluin told Beinvír gravely, "and I shalt be engaging the enemy in a manner I hath long foreseen."
The Green Elf looked at her partner with fear widened eyes. "Thou shalt seek thy single combat with Sauron Gorthaur at last, shalt thou not? Thou shalt go hence into the Black Land to face him alone, forgetting all else save thy rage and thy lust of vengeance." A tear made its way silently down her cheek.
Helluin looked at her beloved in shocked confusion for a moment and then realized that such a conclusion should hath been far from a surprise. Oft enough had she chaffed at Sauron's flight from her and thrice now had she challenged him. 'Twas only logical that Beinvír should believe her capable of laying aside all concerns to pursue the great enemy of her people in a quest to redress a hatred borne through two Ages of the world. Tempting as it was't, 'twas not her goal. She took Beinvír in her arms and gazed deeply into her eyes, speaking silently to bypass the weaknesses of words.
Not to face Sauron do I go, meldanya, nor to exact vengeance upon him. Long ago our friend Glorfindel spoke with foresight saying that not from the hands of the Eldar would his ruin come. This I believe, for somehow I feel the truth of it. Nay, I seek not the root of the evil, but rather its servants. I believe thou can see the reasoning of it. Thou may see too the necessity of it. Of all the Dark Lord's servants, there art but Nine against whom Men cannot stand. They come forth with terror that freezes the mortal soul. But I can hold them at bay and perhaps defeat them, for aforetime I rendered one unto his master's service, and still can I send unto the Void even such fell spirits as theirs.
Thou seek to engage the Úlairi? 'Tis hardly better. They art spirits fell and steeped in the sorcery of their master. Helluin, I fear for thee.
Fear not, beloved. They art the shades of Men, bound and corrupted. Nothing more. Wherefore hath ever I feared the spirits of Men? The dead hold no terrors and these wraiths can make no threat I should take seriously. I hope to destroy them, but at the least distract them. They cannot be allowed to take the field, for Man and horse shalt shy from them. Of the Naugrim I know not, save for Durin's words that some kindreds may be held subject to two of the Seven. Nay, the Nine cannot be allowed to face the Alliance.
Then take me with thee…
That I cannot do. By my armor am I protected from such weapons as bite flesh, and by the Light of Aman am I protected from such weapons as would strike the fëa. Thou hath neither. And more, I would not see thee in such danger for all the world, and while thou cannot escape the war, thou needs not place thyself in such jeopardy.
Then what would thou hath me do? Flee back to Eriador, there to await word of thy triumph or fall? To skulk in the rolling hills and downs while'st all others oppose the great evil of our times? Nay! I shalt not! The Green Elf clenched tight her jaw and narrowed her eyes in stubborn determination.
Helluin regarded her partner's adamant expression. No, she would never return to Eriador. Helluin thanked her foresight for having made an arrangement with Anárion.
Melanya¹, I hath asked a boon on thy behalf of King Anárion and he hath granted it in sincere respect for thy abilities. If thou woulds't seek a place in the battles, then accept from him the office of Commander of the Ithilien Rangers. The Men of Lebennin would gratefully serve thee as of old. ¹(melanya, my love, = mela- (love) + -nya(1st pers, poss, pro, suff, my) Quenya)
Helluin's words had the effect of causing the Green Elf to pause. Much as she hated to admit it, all of her partner's points had merit. She had neither armor of mithril nor the Light of Aman. Were she to insist on accompanying her beloved, Helluin would be ever concerned for her safety and constrained in her effectiveness against the Úlairi. Yet her guts clenched at the thought of her lover going into such danger alone. She stamped her foot in frustration and brooded upon this twist of fate. Yet try as she might no other solution came to her. Finally she gave up in resignation.
Thy points all art sound and I despise each and every one, she chaffed, yet neither can I allow myself to burden thee in danger nor pit my arguments against the necessity thou hast rightly foreseen. I hate this! I absolutely hate it. Yet I shalt contain myself and accept the offer of Anárion…for the Greater Good. She shook her head and couldn't stop the tears that ran down her cheeks.
Helluin gathered her lover in her arms and hugged her tightly, stroking her back and whispering soothing words in her ear.
Let us take respite from this conflict for a season, meldanya. Naught shalt advance 'till spring. Winter is the season of rest and we too shalt take somewhat of rest together while we may. I shalt send word of thy acceptance to Anárion and then we shalt seek a refuge.
The Green Elf could but nod in acceptance.
The next day the two followed a stream that ran down from the Ephel Duath towards Cair Andros, the long isle that lies midstream in Anduin. Shortly they passed a small pool from which the stream continued its downhill course west. Gradually the freshet gained in volume and in speed, and it scoured its banks digging itself into the earth. By another few miles the water was't a surging rapid deep in its course, hidden now 'twixt steep walls of stone o'er grown with boxwood. Some twelve miles from the feet of the mountains there lay a pool amidst deep cloven rock walls where the stream fell some ten fathoms o'er a precipice. The gathered waters roiled upon jagged rocks shorn from the cliff face in a natural cauldron ere they tumbled out again and resumed their course. From above the roaring of the waters 'twas hushed by the deep rock so that all below seemed apart from the world at the surface where a thinning forest ran downhill to Anduin. The land hid its turmoil 'neath a mirage of peace.
Helluin led Beinvír back from the brink amongst the cliff faces upstream, finding there a narrow pathway that led downward ere it disappeared into a fissure barely wide enough for them to pass, leading to a way underground. In the cave they could hear the hushed rush of water and all about them was't cool stone. Yet the subterranean passage 'twas not the pitch black to be expected. Indeed a flickering light grew as they advanced, until at last they came to a room, roughly circular and naturally hewn from the rock, which measured some five fathoms in diameter. Surely the most impressive feature of the space 'twas the western wall, for there the rock was't pierced fully through. The two gazed at a moving curtain of water, rushing downward in an endless cascade of silver and gold, and lit from without by the afternoon sun.
"I think that perhaps hither for a time we shalt find solitude and solace from the war," Helluin said, "both that already fought and that which is to come."
"Indeed so," Beinvír said, "and pray tell, how doth thou know of this place, for no clue 'tis readable from the land above?"
"The knowledge of it 'tis known amongst some of the Men of Gondor. 'Tis a refuge used at times by the rangers, but with winter oncoming and the cessation of the enemy's sorties, none should come hither 'till spring."
The Green Elf nodded.
"Then hither we shalt stay, and at our leisure wander the lands about, for Ithilien is a fine country, green and with many streams, and the sunsets 'cross Anduin and Gondor art beautiful too. Were it not so close 'nigh the land of the enemy, even more fondly would I regard it. Indeed I should hath expected many Elves to abide hither."
"Perhaps such was once even so," Helluin mused, "when 'neath the stars many Nandor roamed these lands ere the founding of Belfalas long ago. I know not, for in that time did I dwell in Aman, and after, in Beleriand. Yet I can imagine many of Lenwe's folk tarrying hither, maybe even in this very place, while delighting in Anduin and Ithilien's many streams ere they made their way down to the sea."
"Well then for a season shalt this place again host Elven folk, even if 'tis but two," Beinvír said. She set her travel bag on the rock floor 'nigh the window and sat to watch it, patting a spot beside her in invitation.
Helluin doffed her bag and weapons and took a seat beside her. There they settled, their sides in contact, Helluin wrapping an arm about the Green Elf's shoulders, and shortly Beinvír laid her head against Helluin's chest. There they sat and watched the window pass from silver to gold, and thence through the evening as 'twas kindled to orange flame and ruddy fire, ever flickering and changing as Anor sank lower in the sky beyond. And later, as the bonfire of the West fell to dark embers, they saw it shimmering, and like an enchanted window offering a view into the Elder Days, turning to a curtain of silver glass, transmuted thus and brightening as Ithil topped the Ephel Duath and shone down upon its namesake land.
Beinvír turned to Helluin, the moon glow lighting her eyes, and they shone from her fair countenance framed by its cascading fall of night darkened hair. Helluin felt her passion rise at the sight and she met her beloved's lips tenderly in a kiss.
The Green Elf wrapped both arms around her lover and urged her to deepen the kiss, revealing the depths of her own feelings and projecting them to her partner. For a moment she wondered if her spirit had already known the treasure she would claim when she fled the house of Iarwain and sought the dark Noldo just o'er two thousand years before. She had told herself that she sought adventure, but had her fëa seen with clearer vision and led her to love? She knew not, only that it had quickly o'er taken her and deepened with the years, and that she was't blessed. Though love 'twixt the Eldar is deep and abiding, wrought with passion and eternal commitment, theirs 'twas special even by the standards of the Quendi.
Blessed too felt Helluin, that hence from no foreseeable fate or effort had come her soul's companion, unexpected and yet more welcome than any skill she'd sought through centuries to master. Her heart, alone for millennia, had found in her unlikely friend, more than a traditional mate, for what they shared 'twas indeed an omentie hondar¹, and they were that which was't known asvéru fëar²;what later lore would call soulmates. ¹(omentie hondar, meeting of two hearts, = omentie (meeting of two) + honda (heart, of the) + -r (pl) Quenya) ²(véru fëar, lit. trans. married spirits, ver. trans. soulmates = véru (married couple) + fëa (spirit) + -r (pl) Quenya)
Neither of them could hath pointed to a single moment in which the realization of their union had come upon them, yet each had known the undeniable truth of it. Perhaps it had been in the moment when Helluin, ruminating through the night in Eriador, had realized that she wished more for Beinvír to join her on her journey to Eregion than she did to travel alone. 'Twas a shocking change for her, she who had always heeded first her wanderlust whether accompanied or alone. Perhaps for Beinvír it had been in the moment she realized the depth of her fear for her friend, as she'd watched her leaving to confront Celebrimbor at the guildhouse where she might well come face to face with Sauron himself. But each knew without a doubt that by the time they had lit the high talan upon the main mast of Valacirca with the light of their lovemaking 'neath the stars, that their connection was't forged and their fates together entwined. Through all their trials and the resulting pain since, this they had never doubted; that they would be together until the end of days. Surely some strain of notes had traced the journey of their fëar through each movement of the First Song.
Late in the night Helluin held Beinvír's eyes, and while the Green Elf was't thus engaged did she reach for the velvet pouch that she had carried from Khazad-dum. From it she drew forth the craft of Ishkabibúl, in its own way every bit as much a masterwork as that which Gneiss had wrought so long before.
Melethril nin, aníron cin garad hé taith melon, garad trí anrandath sui garoch elu nin¹, Helluin said silently mind to mind. ¹(Melethril nin, aníron le garad hé taith melon, garad trí anrandath sui garoch elu nin, My lover, I wish thee to have this symbol(sign) (of) my love,to hold through all the Ages as you hold my heart, = melethril(f.) lover(f.) + nin(my), + aníro-(wish) + -n(1st pers. sub. pro, I) + le(arch. dir. obj. pro, thee) garo- (have, hold) + -ad(inf. suff, to) + hé(this) + taith(sign) + melo- (love) + -n(1st pers. poss. suff, my) + garo-(have, hold) + -ad(inf. suff, to) + trí (through) + anrand (Age(14400 years) + -ath(coll pl) + sui (as) + garo-(have, hold) +-ch(2nd pers. sing. pro. suff, you) + elu (heart) + nin(my) Sindarin)
Upon the ring finger of the Green Elf's left hand, Helluin slipped a doubled band, wrought of mithril and gold in the form of two trees with branches entwined, whose joined canopy was't formed of the faceted diamond first won from the basalt dome upon Bundushathur.
Beinvír felt the ring slide onto her finger and she saw Helluin's face, so near to her own, waver and blur as her eyes welled with tears of joy. Her heart leapt higher than the sky above, floated upon clouds, and basked in the warm summer sun. Never mind that a late autumn night lay without and rock stood above their heads, nor that the ring symbolized a love and promise long ago declared. 'Twas the gesture, true and heartfelt, that brought such joy to Beinvír's heart; knowing that after o'er two millennia together, never did Helluin take her for granted. She chanced a look down at her hand and was't o'ercome by the sight. 'Twas a Noldorin emblem sure, Laurelin and Telperien wrought in fine metals with crown aglow as in the Elder Days of Aman…she recognized the Two Trees instantly from the vision Helluin had shown her in the palantír of Elostirion. Worn upon the finger where Helluin had placed it, 'twas no less than a symbol of marriage between two souls, and her words had been no less than a vow.
Love fairly radiated from the Green Elf's heart, and Helluin, who had for so long wandered alone, felt it beat upon her with the same welcome awe that she had once felt while'st standing 'neath the radiant dews of the Two Trees. She well 'nigh glowed with happiness.
So upon that first night, and upon many nights thereafter, Helluin spread the bedrolls and ground cloths and laid her beloved down upon them, and Beinvír opened her arms in welcome and received her. In their refuge they lay together, reveling in their love and bringing each other to heights of bliss that would fill the tales of many bards and inspire the lyrics of many minstrels. Yet sweeter than any notes plucked from the harps of gold in the Elder Days, and more true than any notes sung by any voice, yea, even that of Daeron of Doriath or mighty Maglor himself, the strains of Helluin and Beinvír's love o'erflowed to brighten that portion of Arda as had not been since the fall of the Great Lamps so many Ages aforetime. 'Nigh the Black Land a beacon of light was't kindled.
Through the nights of winter, upon the very verge of the greatest war of the Second Age, the Window upon the West shone out o'er the dark deeps above the pool of Henneth Annûn, illuminated with the Light of the Spirit, the Light of Love. None upon two legs came 'nigh, and those upon four marked but understood not. Only from far, far away did any spirits see and understand, and in their understanding did they rejoice, that the love of the two ellith ensconced in that room of stone laid upon that country a lingering charm and faint enchantment, and though in latter days would many foes and evil creatures walk that land, still never would it fall wholly into evil. Ithilien would await its liberation and the coming of its king and prince, ever withholding a part of its virtue until better days.
To Be Continued
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