In An Age Before – Part 53


Chapter Fifty

Eriador – The Third Age of the Sun


"Much as we should wish it, he is not utterly destroyed," Helluin grumbled as she paced beside Beinvír on the road 'twixt Tharbad and Sarn Athrad. She still oft times chaffed at her treatment by the Eagle. 'Twas 11 Gwirith, T.A. 1.

"But of his fall thou hast heard the tale," the Green Elf protested. She knew Helluin still resented not having been allowed to battle Sauron within Orodruin. "He dissolved into thin air," she reasoned.

"Isildur took his Ring," Helluin griped, "and as after the whelming of Númenor, Sauron's spirit, I wager, hast survived."

"But survived as what?" Beinvír asked. She grinned at her dour partner. Things were back to normal for the first time in decades. 'Twas spring and they were traveling together. "As motes of dust?" She asked. "As a fleeting stench upon the breeze? Surely he is 'naught but a fume or vapor now, indeed lesser even than a shadow."

"No doubt he is…for a time," Helluin allowed.

"Well, I greatly prefer that Isildur doth hold his Ring than he. I cannot imagine the son of Elendil ever parting with it or allowing Sauron to recover it."

'Hmmmm," Helluin mumbled. For the most part she agreed. Few amongst the living despised Sauron more than the new High King of Arnor and Gondor, save perhaps she herself. 'Twas more a problem that Isildur was't mortal and would someday pass on his charge, and someday, someone would forget. That threat would brew like a vexing splinter festering in the back of her mind, or a shed and errant eyelash caught 'neath a lid. She shook her head. Sometimes mortality was't an inconvenience. "I would hath cast it at once into Orodruin," she muttered. "That it doth remain intact 'tis danger enough. Ahhh well, 'tis 'naught to be done for it now, I deem." She shrugged.

"Indeed so," Beinvír replied. "So cease thy brooding, meldanya. Enjoy this day. Look, thither fly the geese returning north, and hither about our feet bloom many flowers. Smell the new growth all 'round? Surely the earth renews itself as ever it hath."

She drew forth a carven flute and began a jaunty tune. Helluin smiled and thought of words to accompany her beloved's notes, composing the two into a song. It had been long since last she had been able to indulge herself in such 'follies'.

By 4 Lothron they had passed o'er Baranduin and into central Eriador. Those lands were the home of the Men of Arnor, but oft times the two ellith saw fields lying fallow and sprouting 'naught but a crop of weeds. Wherever sowing had been done, the fields were tended mostly by boys, old men, and women. Little activity did they see in the village markets, while'st travelers upon the roads were few. Arnor lay depopulated by the war, for the army lingered yet in Mordor. Helluin and Beinvír found it depressing and soon came to give the towns of Men a wider berth.

In truth all the realms of the alliance were in similar straits. The kingdoms of Khazad-dûm, Lórinand, and Calenglad i'Dhaer would be bereft of great parts of their populations until their armies returned. Worse, many who had marched forth would not be coming home.

Of all those lands, 'twas by far the kingdoms of the Nandor which had suffered most grievous the losses of battle. Lórinand and Calenglad were both even more greatly diminished than Arnor. Of the forces sent from the Golden Wood, but four in ten returned 'neath the leadership of Prince Amroth. The losses to the army of Greenwood were even greater. Not one in three of its warriors had survived, and these embittered veterans Prince Thranduil led back to their forest. The knowledge of this Helluin felt ever after as a weight of guilt upon her shoulders. Despite her best intentions she had twice led the Quendi of Calenglad to ruin, and so she secretly resolved in her heart to trouble them no more. She would never present herself before the throne of King Thranduil, nor come again amongst his people.

Of all the allies 'twas the Naugrim who had fared best. Khazad-dûm had managed to retain its lord. The Dwarves counted their losses at barely one in five, and marched back to the Dwarrowdelf singing many songs of victory. Indeed Helluin and Beinvír foresaw their celebratory revels and determined not to venture 'nigh that realm for at least a century, knowing they would never survive the feasting.

Now Helluin and Beinvír had made their way mostly north, though somewhat west, from Sarn Athrad, and so they came to a pleasant country of rolling green hills. Thither lay a mixture of open woodlands and untilled fields. 'Twas thither also that they came first upon some companies of the Laiquendi, and they were welcomed amongst them.

"Beinvír, most traveled of our kindred, and Helluin Mórgolodh, we rejoice in thy safe return. Be welcome amongst us and share our fire once again," said Gwilolrán. While'st the Laiquendi had watched o'er the realm of Arnor, the central portion of those lands had been his charge. He had remained Tórferedir's lieutenant in times of war. "I would hear such tidings of the distant battles as thou can'st tell for to inform our king."

"We hath indeed many tidings," Beinvír told him. "'Tis a very long story, with many triumphs and great sadness. Sit then with us and hear all that hath come to pass."

The tale of the deeds of the last seven years took two full days to tell. Beinvír told most of it while'st Helluin added with somber intensity such details as she had seen in Mordor. The Green Elves sat listening in silence, questioning them not, but memorizing all. Much of it was't a wonder to their ears. Strange lands and strange folk far beyond the borders of their realm filled that chronicle, and they came to realize that what passed in their native land was't but a small part of a greater whole. Of that whole, the images of battle and of slaughter that the ellith painted with their words chilled their blood. 'Twas a war unlike any they had undertaken since the Age of the Stars, and all were thankful that it had neither come to their country, nor forced them take any part. Bad as they felt about the deaths of Amdír and Oropher, for the Green Elves, the most important details were the fall of Elendil and of Gil-galad.

"It seems Lord Isildur or Prince Eärendur shalt now take the crown of Arnor. Who shalt rule in Lindon?" the Lieutenant of the Laiquendi asked.

"In truth I am not sure," Helluin said. "By right the leadership of the Noldor falls now to Elrond, who hast long been Vice-Regent of Eriador, but his realm of Imladris is far and Lord Círdan rules the Sindar of Mithlond more close at hand. Yet I know not what shalt be decided, nor even if so many of my people yet remain that Harlindon and Forlindon shalt survive. Many fell in Mordor, and many may remove to Imladris. Some may leave the Hither Shores. I, as ever, shalt wander."

In her heart, Helluin thought that many of her folk would forsake Middle Earth for the West. Lord Círdan would soon be busy laying keels and caulking hulls when he returned to the Grey Havens. As had the death of Ereinion, the impending flight of her people left Helluin feeling melancholy. Though she'd never dwelt amongst them in Lindon, the presence of her fellow Noldor had been subtly comforting. Time moves ever forward, she thought with a sigh, forward towards a future wherein I shalt be alone.

When they were done with their tale, Gwilolrán dispatched messengers northwards to the company of Dálindir and Tórferedir. Though he knew Helluin only little and had never set foot in Lindon, he understood her somber mood. While'st his own people wandered and might not see some friend for centuries, they were all still roaming the same lands that had hosted them for an Age, and sooner or later their paths would cross. With flight into the West, as the Noldor and the Sindar of Eriador had been wont at times to do, such meetings would be impossible for those who remained.

When the two ellith took their leave the next morn, Gwilolrán clasped Helluin's shoulder at their parting in a gesture of reassurance.

"Thou move and stalk as do my people, Mórgolodh, and thou hast the favor of our king. Thou can'st find our companies as most cannot and thou shalt find welcome with them," he told her, "and we shalt dwell long upon these shores. Fare thee well 'til our next meeting, friend."

Helluin swallowed the lump his words brought to her throat and nodded to him as she clasped his forearm. It had been many long years since she had marched him and his fellow sentry at swordpoint into the camp of Tórferedir upon the Emyn Uial as prisoners. In the centuries since, much had changed.

"I thank thee, my friend," was't all she could think of to say.

When they had wandered out of earshot, Beinvír playfully told her, "And now unto thy titles thou may add, Honorary Laiquende of Eriador."

For the first time in days, Helluin laughed.

Thereafter the two soulmates wandered, crisscrossing Eriador as their fancy led them. In their travels they had little to do with the settlements of Mithlond or Arnor, favoring unsettled country away from cities and towns. Thus they saw not Valandil, fourth son of Isildur, take the throne of Arnor, nor did they learn that his father had come never back from the south. Only much later did they learn of the slaughter at the Gladden Fields and how Isildur had vanished, never to be seen again. No clue as to the fate of the Ring was't told to their ears for many long years. 'Twas only during a visit to Imladris that they heard the tidings of that ruinous ambush, and for them it darkened what should hath been a joyful event.

Now late in the month of Lothron of the year 109 of the Third Age of the Sun, many of the great amongst the Eldar journeyed to the Hidden Valley in the Hithaeglir. 'Twas a gathering such as had not been since the White Council of S.A. 1710, for upon the day of midsummer, Elrond Peredhel was't at last to take in marriage, the hand of Princess Celebrian, daughter of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. Their courtship had lasted well 'nigh 1,850 years.

Helluin and Beinvír were encamped southeast of the Weather Hills, within sight of the watchtower of Amon Sûl and the Great East Road. For some time they had noted the passage of many Noldor and Sindar riding east and curiosity had drawn them thither. 'Twas still early morning when a trio of messengers approached their camp bearing the livery of Imladris. When they had come 'nigh, the leader dismounted and joined them.

"Helluin Maeg-mórmenel, the honor of thy presence is requested by Lord Elrond at Imladris, and this request is made also to thy melda¹, Beinvír, Laiquende. We art to lead thee thither if thou can'st accept this invitation." He bowed and then awaited their reply. ¹(melda, beloved Quenya)

The two ellith looked at each other in surprise and then looked at the messenger in confusion. There had been no hint of command in the message; 'twas a request for their presence only. Helluin raised an eyebrow in question.

"I am not given liberty to say more. I am sorry," the messenger told them.

With a shrug, Helluin stooped to pick up her travel bag as Beinvír did the same. After pausing only to extinguish their camp fire, they followed the messenger back to those who waited and mounted the extra horse that had been brought.

After a journey of 'nigh on 70 leagues in fine weather they crossed the Bruinen and made their way upriver to the hidden entrance of Imladris. The passage of many horses aforetime they had easily discerned upon the paths and at the ford.

Now from the moment they had exited the narrow defile through the red cliffs, the two had felt a sensation of light and peace, of vigor and growth, and perhaps a hint of the wonder and strength of days long gone but somehow preserved, all of which lay like a thin blanket o'er the valley. Helluin turned her head back and forth trying to perceive its source while'st Beinvír cast her eyes hither and thither, marking the scene in her memory. Helluin, who had bathed in the Light of the Trees, knew power when she felt it, and Beinvír came of a people who marked the least change in the quality of the light of sun and moon upon the lands. 'Twas indeed a strange power they discerned now, yet 'twas not uncomfortable, and rather than threatening, it brought them both a profound sense of security and peace.

The two ellith found Imladris filled with Noldor and the Sindar from Mithlond, wherein many survivors of the war had settled, for the Noldor were now too few in western Eriador to maintain any longer their own realm. Thus Círdan had come to be lord of both kindreds at the Havens. Gil-galad's city stood for the most part empty now and only leaves and the sea winds whispered in the courts and gardens of the High King. As ever, the Ship-Wright had taken unto himself no further titles. Helluin knew that such had never been of great importance to the ancient Sinda. Even as Lord of Eglarest and the Falas of Beleriand, he had been known mostly for his vocation. To the Elves, that alone was't a position held in high reverence, for it o'ershadowed the rule of any short-lived physical realm. To them it represented the promise of a choice and a birthright; to leave forever the Hither Shores and come unto their eternal home in the Undying West.

Now being newly arrived in the Hidden Valley, and being friends of the lord from of old, Helluin and Beinvír were summoned first to Elrond's study. Thither they entered, noting along the way how beautiful the buildings had become. 'Twas far different now than it had been at the time of the War of the Elves and Sauron, when indeed it had been more a refuge than a realm. The years of the latter Second Age had matured Imladris and the Elven folk had enriched it, and indeed many Noldor had chosen to remove thither after returning from the war in Mordor. When they finally entered the study they were surprised to find there, not only Elrond, but also friends they had not seen since ere the war:Celeborn, Galadriel, and Celebrian.

Helluin and Beinvír bowed before those gathered thither. Their greeting was't returned and then they were bidden to take seats. 'Twas an informal gathering of friends, and their host poured them wine and offered seeded cakes.

"I am glad thou hath come hither on such sort notice, my friends," the Lord Elrond said with a broad smile. "Thou art not easily found. Indeed my messengers hath searched for thee for some months." He chuckled and the two ellith smiled at him. He seemed now more relaxed and confident than at any time since they had known him.

"Our apologies to thee and thy errand riders, Lord Elrond," Beinvír said. "We hath been many places, but oft times not upon the roads. I am thankful not to hath foiled thy desire and thy summons while'st at unawares. 'Tis indeed long since we hath come hither and thy land hast grown beautiful. Thy folk hath labored greatly and brought much prosperity to it. Indeed it seems bestowed now with some enchantment, subtle yet undeniable, that lie'th thinly and with comfort upon thy lands."

Helluin nodded in agreement with her soulmate's words, while examining the Lady Galadriel closely. Upon her form now lay some subtle light which had been absent aforetime. It left the impression of her skin being a more pure white, her eyes a clearer grey, and the silver and gold of her hair brighter in the sunlight. Helluin cocked her head in question and was't greeted with a mysterious smile from Galadriel.

"Long hast it been since I hath seen thee, Helluin," Elrond continued, reclaiming the Noldo's attention, "and Beinvír I hath not seen save briefly ere the breaking of the Black Gate of Mordor. I rejoice in thy survival. 'Tis good that thou art hither, for much hast come to pass of late that thou should know of."

'Indeed t'would seem just so," Helluin agreed pointedly, "for now thy land lies enchanted and beautified, as if no stain of this Age lie'th upon it, while'st I perceive upon Lady Artanis some radiance of spirit mysteriously conferred. I am perplexed. Wherefore come'th such changes, subtle yet apparent, and uplifting to the heart?"

Celeborn chuckled at the dark Noldo's confusion and Galadriel retained her smile. Elrond allowed himself a short trill of laughter and then nodded to the other two.

"None but a few of the Wise hath the sight to mark that of which thou speak, and amongst them 'tis forbidden to say 'aught. Yet since such effects art undeniable to thy sight, I deem 'tis right that thou should know from whence such came."

Rather than explain with words he merely raised his left hand, revealing a heavy Ring of gold set with a great blue sapphire. Across the desk, Galadriel did the same, displaying that the Ring of mithril now adorned her hand, and upon it was't set a great diamond. Helluin's eyes very nearly started from her head.

"Thou hast taken upon thyselves the craft of Celebrimbor?" She choked out. 'Twas Vilya and Nenya, the Rings of Water and Air, freed at last from the threat of Sauron and at liberty to work in the world. Beside her Beinvír's eyes were as large as saucers.

"There is much to be healed and much to be preserved in this new Age," Galadriel said, "and we deem that for a while 'tis our responsibility to shepherd the unfolding of this time in a few places. A few places and for a time only," she added wistfully, "for I deem that ere all comes to pass we shalt again be forced to face the darkness, and in such times shalt we hath need of strength. The craft and sacrifice of Lord Celebrimbor shalt stand us in good stead in the keeping of our resolve as the world dims and our time passes, and our people fade."

Helluin nodded. Galadriel had declared much in her words and she was't certainly capable of reading betwixt them.

"I too hath felt the promise of doom to come," Helluin declared, "for though Sauron be laid low he was't not destroyed, and Isildur holds his Ring. I wager that someday it shalt again bring jeopardy to us all."

Around the room a pall of gloom grew at her words and those gathered thither fell into a self-conscious and uncomfortable silence. At first none broached the topic she had introduced. Helluin looked from face to face, wondering if her declaration had included some gaff or revelation of ignorance. Beside her Beinvír felt a chill creep upon her heart as if the sun had slunk behind a cloud.

To Be Continued

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