In An Age Before – Part 49

Now upon 6 Lothron, as order was't restored to the Tower of the Rising Moon, Helluin began her patient search for the hidden entrance that branched from the tunnel 'neath the spur of the Ered Lithui. She marched first for what she reckoned to be a league, coming thence 'neath the outer walls of the Barad-dúr. Thither she slowed her pace, and with a sigh, began to search in earnest, pressing upon the stone at her sides and examining with her sight each yard of wall she passed. 'Twas slow work sure and for Helluin time ceased its count, leaving her in a darkened limbo of endless hewn stone, silence, and the unchanging touch of rough walls 'neath her sensitive fingertips. Yard by yard she proceeded, each yard identical that which had come before. 'Twas mind numbing and interminably boring, yet she forced herself to maintain her focus. A lapse of concentration could cause her to pass o'er the hidden side tunnel she sought and bring to 'naught all her efforts.

Forward she moved, at a rate of perhaps one careful stride a minute, sixty per hour, and a furlong in four. She found that four hours was't about the maximum she could maintain the intensity of focus that she felt necessary to discern without question the very ordinariness of the footage of tunnel she passed through. So after each furlong she rested her mind upon some memory ere she returned again to her task. In that way Helluin made upon that first day, exactly half a mile. At the end of 'nigh on eighteen hours she set herself down facing the direction she was't going, and slipped into a waking dream of sunny fields, gentle breezes amongst a tranquil woodland, and her beloved Beinvír whistling tunes to a curious mockingbird. When she arose some six hours later she felt refreshed. Then she proceeded again upon her way; pace by pace, subjecting each foot of the stone walls to her touch, and examining each inch of rock with her acute sight.

Day after day she continued thus, a half mile a day, making a league plus half a mile in a week. Helluin continued doggedly upon her way and on her fifteenth day, and that being 21 Lothron, she was't rewarded for her efforts at about the noon hour. Upon her right side, one and one-half furlongs past seven miles from the tunnel entrance, her hand passed clear through the wall and into space.

'Twas as if her hand had disappeared! She withdrew it quickly and stared intently at the wall. 'Naught was't to be discerned as to anything distinguishing that place from any other. No clue as to what lay beyond intruded upon her senses. Whatsoever enchantment Sauron had employed to separate the hither from the thither, it defied her Elven sight to pierce it. Huh, she thought, the old scoundrel is undeniably proficient in his conjuring. I hath no idea of what lies beyond, for no hint of it passes the veil of this spell. 'Tis but one way to probe what goes forth thither, I suppose, though little surprised shalt I be to find myself delivered thence into a warren of Yrch. Ahhh well.

Tentatively she placed her hand back against the wall and felt nothing 'neath her fingertips. She pressed forward and watched as her hand again disappeared into solid stone. The illusion was't disturbing at the least. Gingerly did she explore the threshold, mapping the height and breadth of the doorway and nodding to herself. 'Twas in dimensions the same as the tunnel in which she stood. Then at last, drawing her weapons and taking a deep breath, she strode forward through the wall.

Well 'tis a dungeon sure enough, Helluin thought, and wherefore woulds't thou think to find hither any more pleasant place 'neath the Barad-dúr? By the Valar, what a stench!

Indeed the dungeon stank. Worse yet was't the humid air upon which the odors clung, a veritable miasma threatening infection with but a breath. Glad now am I to be of Elven kind, for no pestilence of the mortal world can take hold in my flesh, but still, ewww! Sorry doth I feel for any of mortal blood constrained in this wretched place. Short shalt be their abiding hither ere their life fails. Indeed many a plague waited release from that dungeon deep, and in days to come, from that place was't spread, by the wiles of Sauron, deadly diseases which swept the lands about Anduin 'till they came even so far as to Eriador.

No more pleasant to her ears than was't the stench to her nose were the screams and groans of many prisoners, long bereft of hope, and held year after year in windowless cells behind barred doors. Helluin pressed forward through tunnels and galleries, whither sewage trickled in a depression midmost in the floor underfoot, and dripped from the walls and the ceiling o'erhead. Fungi and slimes adhered to the moldering walls; mushrooms and fruiting bodies less recognizable clustered betwixt the stones or dangled from the roof. Hither too were spiders, spinning webs 'nigh the junctures of wall and ceiling. Newts and toads scurried and hopped in the shadows. Rats scuttled o'er her boots. And ever she heard the cries of the doomed, voiced in many tongues, rising and echoing all about.

Into one cell she peered, seeing within it the pitiful and emaciated bodies of two Men; Easterlings by the tongue in which they begged for death and release from their captivity. They had been mutilated, Helluin noted, and yet lived on by some fell and cruel power of their captor. Each of the two had been separated from their legs and arms, but these had been reversed and reattached, arm to hip and leg to shoulder, right to left and left to right. The limbs flailed of their own will, uncontrolled by those to whom they had been reattached. Indeed they oft times pummeled their hosts by chance.

For a time Helluin was't tormented by her memories of the Yrch she had reconstructed thus when she had committed her atrocities during the last war. Surely Sauron had either taken his inspiration from her, or worse, they thought alike, she and he. It very nearly made her ill to think herself no better than he. With a heartsick groan she moved away.

Some time later she peered into a gallery wherein slaves labored at the breaking of rocks to form catapult shot. They hewed at boulders, shaping them with 'naught but stones, striking again and again to chip out the desired shape, and all the while submitting to the torments of their drivers and the lash. These slaves were all mortal women, their mouths sewn shut with crude stitches, and indeed all were pregnant. Sauron was't breeding them, though whether with others of their kind, or to create some unholy hybrid monsters, she could not tell. Thither suffered hundreds of them, for the gallery was't vast and retreated into darkness upon its further end. And upon the air was't only the ever present stench, the echoes of labored breathing, the sharp crack of whips, and the muffled whimpers of despair.

And eventually Helluin found a hall wherein were held thralls at more skilled labors; smithying, lamp glazing, leather working, and foundry work. Thither were held such of Elven kind as had fallen into Sauron's hands o'er the Ages and had thence been ruined but kept alive to serve in some sad lampoon of their skills while'st free. Ragged they were, and starved until loose skin clove yet a while to their bones. Fevered eyes, dulled by long years of foul darkness, gazed listlessly from sunken sockets o'er lips held tight set in an enduring grimace. Sheenless hair lay lank as seaweed upon furrowed brows. Perhaps saddest, their once sure hands trembled at their tasks. In their pathetic state Helluin recognized none of them and indeed wondered from whence they had come.

Then as she stood outside that barred door, it seemed that one amongst them perceived her and turned thither his gaze. Though shackled to his bench whereat he used hammer and punch to emboss a design upon a sheet of tin, his eyes widened in recognition of her. In his withered and tormented features did some trace of familiarity remain. In shock, Helluin sifted her memories for some clue as to who he might once hath been.

Helluin's eyes now widened in horror. It had been in Calenglad i'Dhaer in S.A.415. "I pray thee forgive my trespass, m'Lady," the young hunter finally said as if recalling his manners and answering her earlier question. "I am called Halatir." They traveled quickly the rest of the afternoon, trading conversation in soft careful voices. What Helluin had suspected was excessive formality on Halatir's part she soon recognized as the nervousness of a developing crush. Many times during their walk she caught him glancing sidelong at her and quickly turning away with a blush when noticed. His discomfort was mirrored by her mirth and both did their best to conceal their reactions to each other. The young hunter of the Avari was't now but a ghost of his former self. Whence had he fallen into thralldom? From what land had he been taken?

Already Helluin bethought herself to hath failed his people. In the forest of Greenwood she had urged his folk to fight the incursion of Yrch, lest Oldbark summon forth his Huorns to lay low all upon two legs. They had harkened to her wisdom, yet in their final battle, such horror had come upon them that the whole folk of King Telpeapáro had absented themselves from Calenglad i'Dhaer. When next she had sought for them they had been long gone, fleeing back into the east, away from the horrors of war. Away from the violence and bloodshed. Away from her. In her heart she had condemned herself for failing them thus, and no clemency could she grant herself for that crime.

What could she do for Halatir upon this day in long belated restitution for her conduct of three millennia aforetime? If she could free him from bench and gallery, still would she be obligated to lead him hence from the Barad-dúr, and by the route she was't determined to take, never could he follow. Her way led past the Úlairi, the home guard of the Black Tower, and then the Dark Lord himself. Or could she turn and leave him thus, shackled to his bench, bereft of hope, and forever doomed? For long she gazed thus, 'cross twenty feet of dismal stone, eye to eye with the emaciated ellon.

Now his expression was't recovering from his initial shock. He canted his eyes quickly to his left and Helluin followed his gaze. Thither against the wall, 'nigh on ten fathoms distant, stood a pair of Yrch bearing the whips and bludgeons of slave masters. Thither stood his tormentors, he and all those about him. He winked at her one time and then slowly turned away, back to his labor, tap, tap, tapping with his hammer. A slow and useless labor of centuries no doubt, and a mockery of the blessings of an endless life. Oh how Sauron the Cruel would revel in such a turn.

Helluin ground her teeth in a growing rage. Neither could she abandon him and his fellow thralls, nor could she see how thence to contrive his escape. If she left now to continue her mission, never could she face the disappointment Beinvír would try to hide upon hearing of her decision to leave these captives to their torment. The pair of Yrch would Helluin happily slay on principle, but how thence to lead to freedom those released, she knew not. Hard did she think upon her options as she stood thus outside that door, and never back to her did Halatir or any other of the prisoners turn.

But then, as she stood baffled, 'twas as though she cast aside for a moment all her expectations and intentions and saw afresh the problem. The Úlairi were consigned to the repair of their beings for some time. The forces of the Black Tower were besieged and a leaguer stood about their position. Those within the tower were, no doubt, in no hurry to march forth from the gate. And Sauron would know his advantage against mortals lay in the passage of time. He would be in no hurry to press his enemies. Indeed his cause would be best served by doing 'naught. Helluin realized that she had time indeed.

So thence whyfore should she not contrive to free howsoever many of the hostages and prisoners, thralls and victims from their torment as she could? Perchance the gaolers and troops assigned hither in Sauron's dungeons were a corps apart from his regular forces and mingled with them little. Surely few of those in the tower above sought after the dismal conditions or the company of those serving so far 'neath the ground. Were she but to accept that her near future held first a trip back through the tunnel to the spur of the Ered Lithui, she could free many and thence return hither to retry her assault. And was't such a course not in keeping with her intent to wreck upon her enemy such confusion as she could? For the first time in many long days, a grin shaped Helluin's lips. 'Twas a cold grin sure, but a grin nonetheless.

A moment later the two Yrch heard 'naught but a metallic whine, and that only for a heartbeat ere their heads dropped from their shoulders and their bodies fell dead upon the floor. The rebounding Sarchram continued its flight, sundering the sliding bolt that held tight the door, ere it ricocheted one last time and passed 'twixt the bars to Helluin's waiting hand. A moment later the dark Noldo slipped through the door. Thence with the Grave Wing she rent the chains holding Halatir to his bench and helped him to his feet.

"Halatir, I knew not of thy captivity, yet finding thee held thus, I could not turn away."

"'Tis a wonder to see thee hither, O Helluin, for in this place I had thought to expire. Can'st thou do 'aught for the others of my folk held thus?"

With a nod, Helluin moved forward, sundering one by one with the Sarchram the chains and bonds that constrained all those in that hall. Long did it seem to take, yet indeed she moved very quickly, and ere long had passed, well 'nigh ten and seven score Avari stood freed at last. They moved from their benches, taking with them even the most meager of possible weapons from amongst their tools, and thence they turned their attention to their liberator. A wave front of bowing heads rippled through the hall, directed towards the dark warrior. It humbled her, for by her own reckoning, had she not aforetime caused them to forsake their realm in Calenglad i'Dhaer, hither they would never hath been held. In a grim silence Helluin appraised them, seeing that many were feeble and that their march would be slow.

"Thank me not thus ere the free air thou doth breath again," she said in Silvan, "and that shalt be some time yet, I fear, for a long walk lies ahead of thee ere thou come'th 'nigh the encampment of the armies of the western alliance who doth besiege the Barad-dúr."

At her tidings, many heads shook in wonder and many tears were shed, for hope was't rekindled in many hearts from which it had fledlong centuries aforetime. Indeed, most had long ago despaired in their hopes of rescue, for none outside knew whither they had been taken, and their captor was't none other than Sauron Gorthaur. That despair was't as deadly a foe as the Yrch, and indeed many had passed, giving up their lives, their fëar making their way thence into the West at last. But now these surviving prisoners lined up behind Helluin and Halatir, and with the Noldo moving in the fore, they made their way from the hall of their gaol and back towards the hidden tunnel.

If the path aforetime had seemed long on her way hence, then yet longer still did it seem upon her return. At each corner was't the threat of coming upon some enemy a dire concern, and yet none of Sauron's minions did they see. Still 'twas a journey fraught with terror and discomfort, for the surroundings were dismal, the air fetid, the weight of a mountain of masonry o'erhead oppressive, and the echoing of screams and groans a torment. Slow was't the progress of the captives, for whom any walk further than from workbench to cell had become a great journey. Still they pressed on.

Now when at last they came to the juncture of the dungeons with the tunnel, Helluin ushered her charges through. Immediately upon gaining the thither side the air improved and all sounds from the dungeons fell silent. Such was't the enchantment Sauron had laid upon that place that neither side's conditions impinged upon the other. Thence, when all stood in the outer tunnel breathing what to them seemed an air fresh as a forest in spring, Helluin at last let them rest and many collapsed forthwith upon the floor.

"Tell me somewhat of thy fate, Halatir," Helluin said at last. She was't seated before the entrance to the dungeons, facing blank stone it seemed, yet placing herself thus to intercept any who should come forth from Sauron's dungeons in pursuit. Though she would perceive them not until they burst forth very nearly into her lap, still she deemed her need of attention to be somewhat less than aforetime on their march to escape.

Halatir sat down across from her with his back to the tunnel wall and his legs stretched out before him and thought back o'er the seemingly endless years of his captivity to his last free days. They had indeed been a long time ago.

"I was't taken captive with all my folk in the lands east of the Sea of Rhûn, whither we had come wandering sometime around perhaps the 700th year of this Age. I know not for certain the date, for such reckoning of time had little import to us, as thou know'st. Still, I deem we had been gone from Calenglad i'Dhaer for some three centuries. King Telpeapáro sought ever for some land wherein we might enjoy peace and prosperity, yet ever the need to wander ruled him too, and oft times we would uproot ourselves yet again for some greener pasture of which he had heard some rumor. So 'twas the case then, and so we came thither amongst some of the Easterlings in their wains, encamped about the shores of that sea.

At first all went well enough. Some barter we had with them, though neither of us understood the others' tongue. Still we sang and fished and constructed some water craft, and these especially they seemed to covet. We traded with them for 'nigh on a dozen cycles of the seasons ere ill came to pass.

Now upon a sudden Men came upon us, and great had they become in numbers and in arms. Indeed we learnt later that these were Men of a different tribe, invaders from some parts yet further east, and their aim was't to enslave all such as they could find as thralls of their lord. Only later did we come to understand that their lord was't none other than Sauron, whom they also worshipped as a god. His power was't preeminent in those lands. Alas 'twas too late for us when we learnt 'aught of it. Thence we were taken and made thralls, first of the tribe of Men to whom we had fallen captive, and finally to the Yrch of Sauron himself. For many centuries did we labor in the east, but some dozen yeni¹ following our capture we were brought hither unto Barad-dúr, and thence all hope died." ¹(yeni, long years = yen(144 solar years) + -i(pl) Quenya)

"Tell me if thou know'st, what became of thy king?" Helluin asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

"I saw not the doom he met, yet I hath heard of it," Halatir said, closing his eyes against the horror of that tale. He was't indeed very glad not to hath seen it. "Upon the altar of Sauron to his own master was't the king burnt alive in sacrifice to he whom we name not; calling him only the Shadow Master of Cuivienen. So passed King Telpeapáro."

Morgoth! The King of the Avari had died as a burnt offering to Melkor. Helluin ground her teeth in rage. She resolved yet again to someday send Sauron unto the Void, therein to commiserate until the End of Days with his foul master. Long may they gnaw each other's bones, she cursed to herself.

When Helluin deemed that a half-day's measure of time had passed she rousted the Avari and they continued upon their way, but ere she left she used such implements of the thralls which they had brought forth out of their captivity and had carven a mark upon the floor. When she returned hither, no longer a slow hunt would she need undertake to find again that hidden entrance to the Barad-dúr.

"We art now but a furlong shy of seven and one half miles from the outer door," Helluin told the Avari as they set out, "and past yonder door doth thy freedom lie, should fate favor thee thereafter upon thy way to the encampments of the army of the Alliance."

Now knowing how far thither lay their liberation, the prisoners took heart, and with their shuffling, staggering steps, made their way hence through the tunnel in Helluin's wake. For all their haste it took them still well 'nigh four hours of steady walking to come to the hidden door, and when Helluin thrust it open upon a pitch black Mordor night, the Avari practically tumbled out of the underground way in rejoicing.

They fell to the ground, that sharp and barren rock, embracing it as it were a verdant spring meadow. They breathed the dust tainted air as it were scented with the blossoms of a king's garden, rather than the brimstone of Orodruin's belching. But when they rolled o'er upon their backs and beheld again the twinkling stars, then they knew a rapture in that simplest of things so long denied. Many shed tears of joy as Helluin stood by waiting, and though she understood well their rejoicing, still to her it seemed 'naught but a trifle o'erdone. 'Twas still Mordor for Valars' sake.

Now ere they left that place, Helluin repositioned the door, and she wrought upon it with graver's tools a crude device of the Two Trees. By that sign would she easily rediscover the hidden way when she came thither again. Thence, after allowing the Avari a prudent time for their senses to come back to them, she led them away upon 23 Lothron, due south and into the night.

At their pace, the dark Noldo led them hence for three nights, covering in that way 12 leagues ere she turned them northwest. Thence another 12 leagues did they traverse, so that upon the evening of 30 Lothron they came at last upon the outermost sentries of the Dúnedain. The Men of Arnor had encamped themselves to the south of Sauron's Road, while'st the Eldar held the land to the north. The arrangement was't amenable to Helluin. She still had no intention of joining the Host of Gil-galad.

Straightaway the sentries sent word to their captain and he to the king. The appearance of well 'nigh 340 captives freed out of the Barad-dúr was't a thing wholly amazing to the Men, and the presence of Helluin Maeg-mórmenel made it all the more astonishing. 'Twas a couple more hours ere they met with the High King, and this only after being provided rations which all consumed with thanks and gusto. Now when at last Helluin, bringing with her Halatir as a representative of his people, sat and took counsel with Elendil and Isildur, the Men indeed looked upon them in amazement.

"Helluin, many hath heard the tales of thy battle in yonder fiery mount, for thy friend Beinvír came amongst us ere spring and proffered tidings of thy combat," the High King said. "Ever art thou a wonder to us, fighting first the Úlairi alone and then freeing these prisoners from the very maw of the enemy. What now woulds't thou hath us do on thy behalf, pray tell?"

Helluin regarded the King of Men and thought to herself that rather would she serve this mortal than her own lord. As to what disposition she would wish for the Avari, she was't unsure. She gave Halatir a questioning look, but he was't too o'ercome by the majesty of the Númenóreans 'cross the table to say 'aught, or to even make up his mind.

"I should think that for the present, these so recently freed should perhaps be sent amongst the Nandor of Greenwood, O King," Helluin said, "for upon a time did they too live in that great wood. Perhaps in that company they shalt be made welcome for a time, ere they decide upon what track to make their own way."

"If thou say so, Helluin," Elendil said. His folk had had little enough to do with the people of the late King Oropher, but he could understand the vestigial connection 'twixt their folk and these, however slight it might be. 'Twas certainly more of a connection than either host had with his folk. "I shalt detail some to lead them hence upon the morrow, for Oropher's son King Thranduil now orders that host is upon the northern flank of the Elven Host. 'Tis a march of well 'nigh 8 leagues thither and best undertaken after rest and refreshment."

Helluin nodded to the king. As ever he had accommodated her request. Then she realized that he had claimed Thranduil now ruled the Nandor. An icy spike of foreboding pierced her heart.

"Whyfore hath King Oropher passed on his rule to his son?" She asked, fearing the worst. Indeed 'twas so.

"King Oropher fell aforetime in the winning of the Host's entrance into the Black Land. He was't slain with a company of his archers, assailed from the rear by Yrch and Tor. Much sorrow hath we all felt, yet I hath found Thranduil more even of temper and indeed less fey in battle than his father. Though by such a deed would I never hath looked to his succession, still I feel our allies of Calenglad art better ruled now than aforetime."

The words struck Helluin like a mailed fist. Even as she had freed the prisoners of the Avari, she had aided in the making of Oropher's doom. Twice now had she persuaded the peoples of Greenwood to take up arms, and twice had she goaded them to deeds that had left them diminished and bereft of their lords. Ever she deemed she was't the bringer of ill-tidings and woe. In that moment she felt that never would 'aught that she could do make amends for the losses she had brought upon these two kindreds. Surely Thranduil cursed her name and he was't right to do so. Helluin could conceive not of him feeling otherwise. 'Twas the voice of the High King's son that brought her from her dark thoughts of self-recrimination.

"Art thou to come thence to Lord Gil-galad?" Isildur asked, speaking for the first time. "For shortly shalt we commence the bombardment of yonder tower and I am sure thy king shalt be surprised to see thee."

If Helluin had been disinclined to join herself to Ereinion's army aforetime, she was't even less inclined to do so now. With her litany of bringing to ruin all she met, she wagered that Gil-Galad would be lucky to survive her company in such fell times. He woulds't be safer without her than with her 'nigh, she deemed. Indeed the further from them all she was't, the better their chances for life, she reckoned. Therefore she made to absent herself from all their company for to continue her strategy against Sauron.

"Indeed Ereinion is always surprised to see me," Helluin said with a straight face, "whether he hast summoned me or no. In times of war I hath found 'tis at my own discretion whether to appear or not, and oft enough hath my appearance but upset my king. I am sure he hast his plans in which I hath no part, and such is in accord with my own designs, for I too hath my plans in which he hast no part."

"I see," said Elendil with a chuckle. He recalled many incidents in which the Elven King's reaction to even the mention of Helluin's name had revealed his discomfort. "So can'st thou say 'aught of thy intentions? I shalt remain closed-lipped and hold in confidence all of which thou should speak if that be thy wish."

Helluin thought about his request for several moments. At last she sighed. Indeed t'would matter little yea or nay were he to speak or not. None had sought her aforetime with summons or command ere the war, and now ere any could, should the whim take them, she would again be gone from the host.

"'Tis my intention to return thither from whence I hath liberated these Avari, and thereafter to find my way from those dungeons into the upper galleries and halls of the Black Tower. Thence, if the Valar smile upon my quest, to come even to that topmost lair of the Enemy wherein skulks the Dark Lord, and settle once and for all my contention with him, leastways if he should not flee my presence yet again."

Isildur smiled broadly and thumped the table with his fist. His eyes glowed bright with the prospect of such valor and heroics.

"I pray thee, O Helluin, allow me to join in thy assault upon the Dark Lord's Tower, for here is a deed to which I would crave to add my sword. Even to fall in such a quest would be the just wage of courage, I deem, for t'would show that monstrous bringer of evil that not all Men art thralls or unvaliant to face him! Proud would I be to represent the kindred of Men in that fight!"

At his words, Helluin groaned. Many were the reasons to refuse Isildur's offer, while'st none she could see recommended it. If the pestilence of the air in the dungeon didn't kill him, the horror would surely o'erthrow his mind. T'would be but a waste of his valor. The trick, of course would be to dissuade him without raising his ire or injuring his pride.

"O King of Gondor, in that place 'neath Sauron's lair I saw such horrors as would freeze the blood of even the most stalwart of warriors who hath not aforetime met the monstrosity of the evil of Morgoth," she told him gravely. "Yet indeed more than sheer horror abides therein. In those dungeons the very air carries such pestilence as would slay one of mortal blood. The stench of death and disease lie'th so thick upon that air as to coat thy skin in a greasy film. From the stones seep venomous slimes, and worse, fungi and pale plants deathly and unwholesome there art that waft their spores upon the fetid breeze, a threat to take hold and grow in thy living flesh. Thither too may walk the hurtful phantoms and daemons of the Dark Lord's conjuring, for I know that aforetime he hast lain sorcery upon that way. Indeed I know not all such horrors and enchantments as might appear to mortal eyes.

I dare not bring thee thither unto that charnel house, O Isildur, nor any of mortal blood no matter how courageous or steadfast in their resolve. I question not thy heart. But the One made not his Younger Children to battle thus. Such a place as Sauron hast created would become for thee, not a battleground, but rather a lethal plague house. Thou woulds't fall indeed, thy valor wasted, and thy enemy would laugh, having felled thee without the effort of raising even once his hand. 'Tis no just fate for a warrior."

Beside her Halatir nodded in solemn agreement with her words. The haunted look in his hollow, sunken eyes and the trembling, cadaverous condition of his body caused the Lord Isildur to swallow hard. If such a place could render so feeble one of Elven kind, then what indeed would a sojourn thither leave wrought upon a mortal?

"I understand," he said at last, bowing his head in acceptance. "Instead I shalt pray to the One and the Valar for thy victory, O Helluin."

"I thank thee, O King of Gondor," Helluin said. "Thou shalt hath no lack of chances to conquer thy enemies, for they art many. When Gorthaur hast tasted the bitterness of his defeat, then we shalt come together and compare our tales, and celebrate how 'twas achieved."

"Yes!" The King of Gondor cried out. "Upon that day we shalt celebrate the deliverance of all people from his long and fearsome terrors. I shalt honor and revel in thy victory, O Helluin, most courageous of the Eldar!"

As always, Isildur was't bombastic, but his intentions and enthusiasm were good and Helluin gave him a broad smile.

"And upon that day I shalt salute thee and thy warriors," Helluin said, "for by their courage they hath come hither unto Sauron's very doorstep, and hither they constrain his Eye, making yet the more possible the success of my quest. Perhaps even I shalt hath a prize for thee."

'The black mace and crown of he whom we most curse?" Isildur jested.

Helluin chuckled at the king's suggestion. Given a choice, she would relish using Sauron's own weapon to brain him with.

To Be Continued

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