In An Age Before – Part 54
Author's Note: although I was negligent when posting the previous chapter, I would belatedly like to acknowledge my thanks to Placidia, for her assistance as beta reader for Chapter 50, (posted as updates 53 and 54).
Unwilling to bear the silence any longer Helluin finally asked, "What? Hath I spoken 'aught of yet another subject forbidden?"
As the silence continued it became apparent that the guests were waiting and deferring to the lord of that land. Elrond sighed as if borne down by a great weight and spoke.
"Nay, Helluin. Fear not the wages of thy words. 'Tis merely that thy wandering ways hath left thee behind the world's tidings somewhat." He faltered then and chewed his lip, behaving almost as one embarrassed and yet needing to reveal embarrassing news. Helluin looked at him in confusion.
"All that thou hast declared is true…or 'twas upon a time," he allowed, swallowing ere he continued. "Sauron was't indeed laid low and is, as thou hast said, not destroyed. Yet for o'er a century the One Ring of the Enemy hast not been in the keeping of Isildur."
At this Helluin sputtered in shock. Ere she could form a sentence, Elrond continued.
"The Lord Isildur came never back to the north kingdom from Gondor. He lingered thither a year ere committing the rule of the south kingdom to Lord Meneldil, and then, with a company of two hundreds including his sons, rode for Imladris by way of Anduin. Thither, upon the fields 'nigh Gladden, his party was't waylaid by Yrch come from Hithaeglir and well 'nigh all were slain. In desperation he fled to preserve that which he bore, and headed for the banks of Anduin. He set the Ring upon his finger and vanished. He was't never seen again."
Helluin groaned and shook her head in denial. Since returning from Gondor she'd kept herself uninvolved with Arnor, entering not into its business and avoiding its affairs. She hadn't even marked the lack of its king or who sat upon its throne. Helluin and Beinvír had wandered amongst the wooded lands and kept most oft to themselves, meeting only upon occasion even with the Laiquendi. In Eriador, realm lay superimposed upon realm, sharing lands but maintaining their segregation, and the two ellith had been very much a realm of two apart. Helluin was't hard pressed to grasp the extent of her own ignorance.
Now all that she had feared had come to pass and much sooner than she had expected. But had the Yrch recovered the Ring? Did the renewed doom of free folk only wait upon the rejuvenation of the Dark Lord to take up again his talisman and raise his realm? She couldn't believe that all the dead and all the fighting had been for so short a respite. Had the war been but a fruitless gesture that had cost the lives of the High Kings Ereinion and Elendil, and the Kings Anárion, Oropher, and Amdír?
"Of Isildur's company three only survived; Ohtar, the king's esquire, who fled with a companion bearing the shards of Narsil, and Estelmo, the esquire of the King's Heir, Elendur," Elrond continued. "By their testimony 'twas the story known, while'st the rest can be guessed with near surety, for Isildur came not to Thranduil, nor to Amroth, nor to me. We deem that he was't slain, his body washed into the river, and with it, Sauron's Ring."
"Think thou not that he fell captive and the Ring taken?" Helluin asked.
"Nay, we deem it not so," Elrond said, "for the Yrch would hath slain and mutilated him, treating his body no better than they did that of Lord Celebrimbor aforetime. They would hath reveled in the despair such a trophy would hath wrought when found, and they would hath taken pains to ensure that t'would be discovered. Nor hast the Dark Lord arisen, and this we felt would hath come to pass had his minions recovered his Ring. Mordor lies empty still and the Barad-dúr in ruins. The Men of Gondor hath set a watch upon the Black Land and they attest 'tis yet deserted. And so we believe that Isildur died and was't not taken, and like him, lost too is the Ring."
Helluin let out a long sigh. She recalled Isildur with the clarity of Elven memory. It must hath killed his soul to abandon thus his sons and soldiers to flee the battle. The Ring itself would hath burned him and caused him pain as he set it upon his hand. And in the end neither act had availed him. He had fallen, the last victim of Sauron's war.
"Thou hast searched the banks of Anduin, I wager," she asked.
"Aye, the lands about Gladden hath been searched such that not a stone hath kept hid its shadow," Celeborn told them. "Lord Amroth and Lord Thranduil sent many to seek clues or 'aught of tidings as could be found. Indeed 'twas both Men of the kindred of settlers 'nigh Anduin and scouts of Calenglad who's coming drove off the Yrch ere they could mutilate the fallen. Little time had passed since the battle and so they came upon Estelmo yet alive, fallen 'neath the body of Elendur, his lord. 'Tis bitter that Prince Elendur was't slain. He would hath made a fine king, much like his grandfather, noble, and subtle, and wise." Celeborn shook his head sadly with eyes downcast.
"I knew him but poorly," Helluin said, "and from scant acquaintance, yet I am saddened by the news of his passing. If indeed Isildur's sons art slain, who then now rules Arnor?"
"Ahhh," Elrond said, "'tis now Valandil who hast taken up the scepter in Annúminas."
Helluin furrowed her brow in confusion. She recognized not the name.
"He is the fourth son of Isildur," Galadriel told her, "born in this land as his mother awaited her king's return from the war. He was't fostered hither in Imladris and took up the rule of the north kingdom in the 10th year of this Age. He had passed but 21 winters upon his coronation."
Both Helluin and Beinvír sat mute in amazement. Neither had heard aforetime of Valandil son of Isildur. The king would be now 120 years of age, still young for a lord of the Númenóreans to rule a kingdom. To hath taken up the scepter and crown at 21 was't unheard of. He had been scarcely more than a child. To the Elves he was't still but a youth in his first yen. 'Twas unbelievable. Indeed surprise had grown atop surprise since they had entered Elrond's study, and now neither ellith thought that 'aught could be said to surprise them yet again. They were mistaken.
"And so thou hast summoned hither all who might aid in the search for Sauron's Ring?" Helluin asked the Peredhel, guessing at his purpose in gathering together so many of the surviving Eldar. "Thou hast summoned those who might offer counsel?"
For the first time in many long moments, Elrond, Celeborn, Galadriel, and the previously silent Celebrian smiled. Helluin and Beinvír looked at them more confused now than ever. The Noldo suspected that she had surely displayed again her ignorance and would shortly suffer renewed embarrassment.
"A thing is about to happen which hath not happened in an Age," the princess declared happily. "My lord shalt set aside his duties and indulge his heart."
'Twas some moments ere the two visitors could comprehend of what Celebrian spoke, but then, slowly, understanding dawned upon them and their smiles grew as broad as the groom's and the bride's parents'.
"Art thou indeed to marry at last?" Beinvír asked, the light of joy restored to her eyes with her hopes of such a happy event. "After all the time of thy waiting, hath thou truly committed to joining?"
"Indeed we hath." Celebrian told them, beaming with joy. "At last we art finally to celebrate the joining of our hearts and take up a life together."
The Green Elf leapt from her seat to envelope the princess in a hug. She had felt a lingering sadness for the lovely elleth ever since hearing of her plight long aforetime in Belfalas, during the same dinner at which Galadriel had somehow foisted off the rule of Lebennin upon her and her soulmate. She looked o'er at her old friend Elrond and saw that the light of joy well 'nigh eclipsed the aura of his Ring. She rejoiced in the happiness of her friends.
"Oh, Helluin," she gushed, "is it not wonderful that these two shalt at last make their lives together? I am sure they shalt be forever blissful," and then with a wink at the Lord of Imladris the Green Elf said, "and I am sure they shalt soon hath beautiful children."
Lord Elrond very nearly choked. Celeborn chuckled at her teasing of his son-in-law to be, while'st Galadriel gave her a knowing smirk. Celebrian simply glowed.
"Indeed 'tis wonderful," Helluin agreed, breaking into a smile, "and I am most jubilant for thee both. 'Tis a long awaited joining that I hope brings thee endless joy. I must also offer my congratulations to thee, Lord Celeborn and Lady Artanis. Great must thy joy be to finally see thy daughter so blissful. I am sure thou shalt both make wonderful babysitters." She quirked a grin at the parents of the bride. Galadriel actually laughed aloud at her jest. "So when shalt thou celebrate thy joining?" she asked a moment later.
"We art to wed upon the day of midsummer, the Re i Anaro, for the blessing of the longest day shalt be our hope for the longest of lives together," Elrond proudly told them. 'Twas an auspicious date indeed. "My folk shalt provide thee hospitality and I pray thee enjoy Imladris during thy stay. I am glad thou hath come hither for our joining, my old friends."
To this the two ellith nodded. 'Twas now 7 Nórui, and a fortnight ere the celebration.
"'Twas thoughtful of Lord Elrond to reserve my old room, even though he knew not if we should indeed arrive," Beinvír remarked to Helluin as they settled their packs in the very same room of the hospice wither the Green Elf had lodged aforetime. She marked the thickening of the trees in the woods beyond the portico. Thither had the rain fallen in liquid whispers once long before ere the appearance of the Vala Ulmo. She closed her eyes and sampled the sounds and smells of the rainless afternoon; breeze tickling the summer leaves and delivering the green feeling of trees, the richly scented loam and fugitive fragrance of flowers from a garden somewhere out of sight. Bird calls rose above the background; argument of sparrows, cry of a jay, and the distant screech of a hawk.
"A fortnight ere the wedding," Helluin mused, drawing Beinvír's attention. The Green Elf opened her eyes and watched her partner pace.
Helluin turned to her with a sheepish look.
"I feel the need to take a look thither," she admitted.
"Whence?" The Green Elf asked with a sinking feeling, "To see the beautification of hither realm? To greet again many friends sundered for a century?" She asked hopefully.
After a pause during which she bit her lip, the Noldo continued with, "Nay, meldanya. I find myself compelled to entertain a glance about Gladden."
Beinvír groaned. After the wedding of Elrond and Celebrian their next destination lay o'er the Hithaeglir in Rhovanion.
"Whyfore doth thou find thyself drawn thence to the scene of an old tragedy? 'Tis long past time for finding clues or some trail. All hast been washed away by a hundred cycles of spring rains and summer storms. Thou shalt see 'naught of what came to pass in that place long ago, Helluin. Even so great a tracker as thou doth need some spoor to mark ere a'stalking can'st thou go. I too feel badly for Isildur and the loss to his house, and I fear the wages of the loss of his treasure, but whatsoever thou doth seek to accomplish by thy presence, I understand it not."
Helluin sat down upon the foot of the bed and set her chin in her palm. Beinvír was't correct. Even she would likely discern nothing pertinent, mark nothing of import, and see nothing of Isildur's passing. The Ring was't surely rolled down to Anduin as Elrond and the Wise believed. And yet she felt compelled to go thither, even if only to pay her respects at the place of the disaster. Not for the first time came the thought that had it not been for that wretched Eagle, the elder son of Elendil should never hath touched the Ring of Sauron. Neither would his father hath been slain nor Ereinion fallen. She could do 'naught for it now 'twas true, and yet she felt deeply that she must go thither.
"I understand not the compulsion that directs me hence," she admitted, "yet I hear the call strongly in my heart. I too believe the time of taking up whatsoever trail there might hath once been is long past. 'Tis a sentimental journey of homage more than any quest for clues or some resolution, I deem."
The Green Elf nodded in understanding even as she cast up her hands in capitulation and sighed. She would rather hath tarried amongst the guests for another fortnight of revels, or sat trading stories in the Hall of Fire.
"Still, after 107 years there is no pressing rush, I wager," Helluin said with a grin, "and whether tomorrow or in a month, all shalt be as it hath been aforetime. We shalt go unto Gladden, but not ere the celebration is done. We shalt make merry and wish well our friends, enjoying such company as 'tis to be found in hither realm ere we take again to the wilderness." The compromise had been worth it just to see her partner's smile.
Now the two ellith donned raiment of finer cloth than their wandering garb, and made their way amongst the celebrants, greeting many long sundered and many old friends. Glorfindel, Galdor, and Círdan told them much of the state of Mithlond and Lindon thus far in the Third Age. They heard from the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower of how the realms had been combined. Indeed many of the surviving Noldor had been loath to remove from the Firth of Lune so near to their ancient home of Beleriand. Too, many had seen as diminished the time of their abiding in Middle Earth, and therefore they tarried 'nigh the Havens from which they would sooner or later sail into the West. Thither they had repaired from the depressing surroundings of the Noldorin kingdom. Too many memories of those lost in the war dwelt amongst the emptied houses and vacant courts and deserted gardens where well 'nigh every street and turn brought to mind some lost kith or kin.
The Noldor had returned from the war to find their homes saddened and strange, and they had felt unwelcome in them. So they had migrated to the Havens, filling the places emptied by the fallen Sindar, and though not of their kindred all held Círdan in the highest esteem and soon called him lord.
Now when Helluin and Beinvír met the Lord of the Havens, they bowed before him and he received them gladly. Rare had been their meetings o'er the years. Helluin he greeted as a peer, a commoner still, yet so blessed in the West as to be elevated o'er many who called themselves lords. She had a power seen in none save perhaps in some measure in Glorfindel, which was't beyond that of even those who had come forth from the Blessed Realm at the same time as she. Helluin was't also a homeless wanderer and wild compared to the citizens of Lindon. Indeed, she represented to Círdan the best of what had been and what could be; an Elda enriched by the West, yet not subject to the self-absorption of the culture it had spawned. Beinvír he allowed to enchant him, for though come of the Moriquendi and far younger than himself, she had wandered afar and gained wisdom atop her own native store of perceptiveness. He found her a strange and refreshing blend of the acute awareness of nature typical of the Dark Elves, and the enlightened knowledge and empathy characteristic of the Amanyar. There was't a strange fugitive light in her eyes such as none of the Laiquendi shared, but none of the superior airs or effete affectations of the Noldor. Both ellith stared at him in surprise, cocking their heads at some unseen aspect of him that they clearly felt. 'Twas as if he stood now youthful again and energetic as an ellon of a few centuries, but yet more. He could only smile, not wholly surprised.
I should swear that he too hath partaken of the blessings that now lie upon this realm, the Green Elf said silently to Helluin with her glance.
And I should say that he too doth possess a source of it himself, Helluin replied. Beinvír cast her glance to the Ship-Wright's hands. Sure enough, he wore a Ring. The great ruby upon its band winked fire red in the sunlight. Her eyes widened.
Seeing her reaction and Helluin's smirk, the old Sinda laughed.
"The Lady hath warned me of thy sight," he admitted, holding up his hand. "She hath told me of thy sharp eyes and sure enough, thou hath marked the Ring of Celebrimbor that I hath been chosen to bear. 'Tis Narya, the Ring of Fire."
"Thou wears it well, Lord Ship-Wright," Helluin replied. "Indeed I deem it shalt stand thee in good stead in the accelerated application of thy craft."
"'Tis a help indeed and hast been a support to me in the reorganization and settling of the realm of Mithlond. Perhaps t'would reassure thee that fewer hath fled the Hither Shores than many suspect, yet still few enough remain." He shook his head for a moment but then smiled. "Long shalt the combined realm of Noldor and Sindar stand while'st the power of the Elves remains and time allows."
"Then I rejoice that thou hast found succor in thy labors and that thy folk still find comfort in Middle Earth. T'will be a world diminished when the last of the Eldar hath fled."
At this, Círdan looked carefully at Helluin.
"T'will be long indeed ere the last hath fled," he said softly, and then immediately regretted his words when Beinvír turned away stifling her sobs.
Helluin wrapped her arms about her partner and hugged her tightly, placing a soft kiss atop her head. She looked at Círdan with a grim and regretful clenching of her jaw, somewhere 'twixt a pained grin and a grimace.
More for her sake than my own do I wish my doom was't other than what hath been declared, she said silently to him o'er Beinvír's bowed head. Círdan sadly nodded to her and gave her an apologetic look.
Now it seemed that after such a very long time, many of the Eldar sought out stories from the two, something which had been in the past mostly the interest of Men. Beinvír told many tales of their wanderings in the Second Age, and many young Noldor and Sindar sat by, harkening to her words. Indeed 'twas now few enough of the population who had lived during the First Age, and only a rare fraction who had walked the Westward Journey or lived in Aman. The populations of the Elven Realms encompassed slowly increasing numbers of both kindreds who had been born and lived only in Eriador.
Many looked to Helluin also, though as ever she was't reticent to speak, and but few gathered the courage to ask her for a tale. Mostly she was't content to sit by, sipping her refreshment and listening to the lore of others, or watching as her partner wove stories of their travels. Yet on a time when some few did beg a song or tale from the dark Noldo she would oblige them, returning to her memories of how the world had been in long vanished times. She would sit narrating, or giving voice to songs while'st accompanied by some harper or flutist, and when again she opened her eyes she would find the Hall of Fire filled and utterly silent save for the crackling of the logs upon the hearth. By the quality of her voice and words did she paint pictures in the minds of her listeners so vivid that those who harkened to her felt themselves enmeshed in history and song as it were their own experiences. With the same gifts that she had enchanted the Avari long before, Helluin held thrall the throng of Imladris, for each story and song partook of Power.
Now the days preceding the marriage of Elrond and Celebrian passed with great cheer and friendship, and when fell the Re i Anaro, all joined together to celebrate and bless the long-betrothed couple. And standing amidst the wedding party, Helluin's hand was't tightly clasped by her beloved's, and upon the Green Elf's finger, the ring of mithril and gold wrought in the shape of the Two Trees by the wrights of the House of Gneiss in Khazad-dûm affirmed their own commitment. Indeed deeper even than that of the bride and groom did the melding of their spirits reach, and like the couple finally sharing the culmination of their courtship, 'cross the long Ages of Arda would the repercussions of their love persist, even unto the Ending of Days.
To Be Continued
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