In An Age Before – Part 56
The company's flight took on an earnest desperation in the face of so many foes, for there was't no choice but to fly from one threat into another. Bartan leapt forward with a great roar and the rest of the company pressed in behind him. The Yrch could but fall back before him, for with a swipe of his paw would he send sprawling any within reach. Yet behind him came a terror absent from Hithaeglir for so long that 'twas regarded as but a dark myth whispered amongst the Glamhoth. Here indeed was't that nightmare which their kind had met of old, the bringer of their doom who had stalked them for o'er an Age. Even in their folk's greatest triumph of Morgoth's War, the Nirnaeth Arnoediad that withered Beleriand in the First Age long aforetime, they had come to fear her.
The flickering torchlight was't eclipsed and a blinding radiance flared in that deep place. Helluin blazed with Holy Light as she had upon the fields of Eriador at the battles of Sarn Athrad and Tharbad. Her eyes flared with blue fire, and as Bartan plowed into the Yrch she cried out, "Beltho Huiniath" and swung her blade.
Now the press of bodies to the fore kindled the fire of battle lust in Helluin's veins, for rightly did she deem the situation desperate. Though none could withstand Bartan or Helluin, still those behind were at risk from the foes unfought who followed. Thus, with enemies both before and behind, they contrived to set such a pace as would lessen the danger to the Naugrim who followed, and to Beinvír who guarded the rear of their column. A quick glance Helluin allowed herself o'er her shoulder, and she saw the eight Dwarves running as fast as they had ever run in their lives. Behind them hastened the Green Elf, a fighting knife in each hand, bow and quiver o'er her shoulder, warily keeping watch on their pursuers who followed too few paces behind her for comfort. The situation tormented Helluin; her beloved trapped 'twixt eight Dwarves that the fleet-footed elleth could easily outrun and a tunnel-filling gaggle of black-hearted Glam.
In response, Helluin vented her fear and frustration on the enemies ahead of her, hewing off heads, arms, and legs, and cowing all with her Holy Light, while'st beside her the great bear slammed aside or bowled o'er those too slow to avoid him. A second glance back did Helluin chance, and in horror saw the foremost of the Glam strike at her lover's back with a jagged and rusty halberd. With a cry of rage, she flung the deadly Sarchram behind her, but could not remain facing backwards to watch its flight. She was't forced to turn back to slaying those ahead, but she rejoiced as she heard the shrieks of fear from the Glam as the enchanted Ring's flight brought death to all in its path. With blinding speed it careened amongst them, ricocheting from weapon to armor to wall, hewing flesh and gristle, bone and steel ere it rebounded and made its return. Helluin marked its approaching whine and snatched it from the air, slick with hot, black blood. The running battle continued with the Yrch ahead fleeing in a rout and those behind charging after, and all moving ever closer to the surface.
Now had all remained as it had, 'twas likely that the rescue would hath won free to the surface. But the delvings of the Yrch were many, for through uncounted years that maggot folk had they dug 'neath the sheer heights of the Hithaeglir. Tunnel connected to tunnel and in the everlasting darkness had formed a maze with many intersections and many levels. None knew all of that warren save those who had made it, and so while those in retreat led them on, others contrived an ambush as their fellows behind drove their prey forward.
By Helluin's reckoning they had come well 'nigh halfway from the dungeons when disaster struck. Bartan barreled past the dark mouth of a side tunnel that joined their own way. Therein for a fraction of a heartbeat as she came 'nigh, Helluin swore she saw motion amidst the blackness. Ere she could say 'aught, she and Bartan were past, but in that moment a cave Torog with black leather armor and a dusky hide lurched into the midst of the fleeing Dwarves, scattering them and disarraying their company. Thence a band of Yrch followed the hulking beast, driving a wedge 'twixt Bartan and Helluin upon one side, and the five hindmost Naugrim and Beinvír upon the other.
The Torog immediately stomped upon the nearest of the Dwarves and all heard the wet, sickening crunch of crushed bones. He was't dead in an instant. For what seemed an eternity the company stood paralyzed, and then with a quickness that shocked even Helluin, the Dwarf to whom she had loaned her dagger cried out and charged, fey with anguish and wrath. With a mighty thrust powered by all his hatred, he plunged her dagger hilt-deep into the Torog's calf, high up, just 'neath his knee, and the massive creature howled in pain. From beyond the wall of his bulk came the desperate sounds of weapons clashing and many cries.
Now somewhat of that dagger's tale should here be told, for 'twas a fell and enchanted blade, and a bitter wound did it deal. No iron of Middle Earth had made that weapon, nor had any fire of the Hither Lands touched it in its making. Helluin's dagger was't indeed the same that she had once unsheathed to face the Glam after the breaking of her sword in the Fall of Gondolin. Upon the bloodied, trampled grass of Tumladen she had held it, defying her enemies ere fate had delivered Anguirél to her hand. That dagger was't dear to her, but yet 'twas a weapon only and had no voice. Still, she had brought it from Aman in the time of her Exile, had forged it as a student with counsel of Aule, and it had been tempered in the Eternal Fires of the Vala's furnace in the Days of the Two Trees. Few weapons in Middle Earth could boast such ancientry or pedigree. The Light of Aman had suffused it from ore to final polish, and as the Light upon the nine arrowheads that Helluin had held in the glow of the palantír of Elostirion had stricken the Úlairi, so too did Helluin's dagger now carve a festering wound in the stone-flesh of the Torog. When the Dwarf jerked free the blade, the wound glowed with a spreading ril of Holy Light.
The stricken Torog lurched and stomped and staggered to and fro in its anguish. To such a one for whom even the light of Anor was't fatal, the Light of Aman, Anor's primal source, was't yet more deadly still. Now, rather than being at once suffused 'neath the sun and turned in a heartbeat to stone, rather the wound of Helluin's dagger brought a quick-spreading consumption which leapt through the Torog's body, making it shine out briefly like a lamp, and bringing death by degrees and with much suffering. The creature howled in its death throes and its cries rocked the deep-hewn tunnels. The Dwarves had shied away at its onslaught, but not so the Yrch who had followed it. Many of these were now trampled to ruin in the beast's last flailing moments.
Now when finally the Torog fell and lay still at last and the light suffusing it died away, the carcass was't burnt from within, and as t'were a cinder hewn into the shape of a creature, blackened, pock-marked, and cold. Its bulk blocked the better part of the tunnel save for some scant space to the sides and 'neath the tunnel's roof.
With the fall of their champion the fey courage of the enemy vanished. The Yrch gave back from the sight of such Elven magick in horror and they fled again into the depths of their tunnels shrieking. Helluin and Bartan were left alone with two Dwarves, standing still in the darkness and silence.
A moment passed and then Helluin's light flared again, but this time with the intensity of her fear. In a heartbeat she leapt atop the stilled form of the Torog and frantically hastened o'er its remains. Somewhere in the tunnel behind were Beinvír and five more of the Naugrim, and the pursuing company of Yrch, but now from that direction an ominous silence prevailed. 'Twas as she leapt down again that she saw revealed, four of the five Gonnhirrim clustered about two fallen figures. One was't a Dwarf, obviously beyond help, for a jagged black scimitar protruded from his chest and he breathed not. The other was't Beinvír. Save for those Helluin saw and a single dead Orch with cloven neck, the way stood deserted. The Yrch on the hither side of the fallen Torog too had fled.
Helluin couldn't make her way to Beinvír's side fast enough. 'Twas as thou her heart froze chill as the ice of the Helcaraxe within her chest. She brushed aside the Dwarves clustered 'nigh and raised the fallen Green Elf in her arms as she knelt. Beinvír's head lolled back against her armored chest and her eyes fluttered. Upon her face lay an expression of torment. Tight clenched and grim was't her jaw. Clammy felt her skin and an unnatural pallor had taken hold upon it. Yet Beinvír breathed still and hope flared in the Noldo's heart. A quick glance reported the wound that had brought her down; a cowardly stab in the back.
"She was't stricken from behind," a Dwarf softly confirmed to Helluin while'st remaining respectfully two steps away. "Thither lies the hilt shard."
He gestured to a fallen black haft lying 'nigh upon the floor. What Helluin guessed to be half the blade's length was't still attached, but it ended in a jagged break. She noted that 'twas not a weapon of the Glamhoth. No crude work of their forges was't this, but rather 'twas finely finished, yet fell and dark. Helluin could feel menace seeping from it.
"I deem the blade shard lies still within the wound," the Dwarf said sadly, "for in turning to hew the neck of her attacker, her motion snapped the weapon asunder."
He reached down to retrieve the hilt, but Helluin sharply warned him to stop.
"Touch it not! 'Tis o'erlain with fell enchantments," she said, "I feel their presence. There art runes upon the grip in the Black Speech of Sauron. I deem 'tis a blade forged in Mordor for the bane of the Eldar during the last war. How it came hither I know not."
She laid a hand upon Beinvír's forehead and softly called her name. The Green Elf stirred a bit, but opened not her eyes nor spoke. Her breathing remained quick and shallow. Helluin sighed. 'Twas a wound that should surely prove fatal if untreated, and she had not the herbs for a cure. Now indeed she felt time press hard upon her. With each moment, Beinvír's life slipped away.
Frustration and rage grew within her heart, kindling a deadly wrath that lit her eyes with blue fire. Into a pouch she pushed the hilt shard, using the blade of the Sarchram and touching it not directly herself. Then she gathered up her beloved and leapt up again upon the fallen Torog. The Naugrim followed more clumsily, hauling their slain companion with them, for they would leave none of their kindred behind in a den of Yrch.
Thereafter 'twas with single-minded purpose that Helluin moved, passing the others, Bartan and the Dwarves, in silence. She used her memories of the way to make her path to the surface. The others hastened to follow in somber silence, the Naugrim carrying their two dead, Bartan guarding their rear. All that way Helluin blazed with the Light of Aman, brightening the dark tunnels as if they lay 'neath the noontime of Anor, yet within her, her heart was't black with rage and fear. Upon that dismal march no further enemies did she see. Whatever Yrch that may hath marked their passage remained hid and stayed them not. 'Twas as if such creatures of the darkness could most easily mark the darkness in another.
Dark indeed was't Helluin's mood. Indeed 'twas darker in those hours and in the days that followed than it had been in an Age. Not since the final battle 'nigh Tharbad had she felt such rage. She recalled her words to Glorfindel in SA 1675, and they rang true to her yet the more now than then.
"She refused passage to Tol Eressëa to stay with me," Helluin whispered. And after a pause, she added even more softly, "I would bathe this world in blood to avenge her."
If Beinvír died she would do worse than ever she had aforetime; indeed in the bloodbath she would unleash, there would be no time from slaying for atrocities.
At the last Helluin took a final look at the cave, marking its placement indelibly in her memories. Alone of all the company, Garen son of Guron dared come to her, and with sorrowful glance he silently proffered two daggers, hers and Beinvír's. For a moment only did Helluin's expression soften, and as she took the weapons she offered the Dwarf a grim smile of thanks. Then, with but a nod of farewell to the Man and the other Dwarves, she made her way in haste, returning thither from whence she had come, o'er the pass to Imladris.
Four days journey it had been from the Hidden Valley to the cave, when Helluin and Beinvír had come hence. Now Helluin walked quickly and without pause, through day and night alike, until early upon the third day she came to the lowest reaches of the pass and thence to the realm of Elrond. Thither she was't met by guards and word of her plight was't conveyed to the lord, but Helluin continued to bear her lover in her arms until she at last reached the House of Healing. Thence she laid the Green Elf abed in that very same room in which they had stayed aforetime, and thither Elrond came to them.
With a single look he marked the wound, and when Helluin gingerly dropped the hilt shard from the pouch upon a table, he shivered. He then laid a hand upon the Green Elf's forehead and closed his eyes. For long moments he remained thus in concentration, while'st Helluin fretted and paced, seething and unable to remain still. Yet at last he blinked and looked to her, and though he appeared weary, in his eyes Helluin saw hope.
"Verily should she hath already succumbed to this wound, for 'tis poisoned in spirit by the spell that was't cast upon the blade in its making. Not by her native strength did she last so long, but in her there dwells a Light unlike a Moriquende. 'Tis this that hath sustained her, and now we hath a chance of curing her."
Then Elrond sent forth for herbs and heated water, and when these were brought he tended Beinvír with his knowledge and his gifts. Many hours he labored at her side, first withdrawing the deep-seated blade shard and then treating the spirit-poisoning of the mórgúl¹ wound. Slowly did Beinvír begin to breath more easily. Slowly the warmth returned to her limbs. The Green Elf stirred not, nor awoke, yet color returned to her cheeks and the tortured creases smoothed upon her brow. Whereas aforetime she had held clenched her jaw, now this too relaxed and she seemed but to sleep deeply, as a mortal weary with great toil. Through it all Helluin paced like a tortured beast upon the verges of a rampage, vacillating 'twixt bright hope and dark fury. A palpable aura of shadow radiated from her fëa as it were a fume of the heart. This Elrond marked, and knowing the Noldo, deemed he had again two to cure. ¹(mórgúl, black sorcery Sindarin)
"Rest now she needs most," Elrond told Helluin, "yet I would that thou stay beside her. Hold her hand and fill thy heart with thy love for her. Think not for this time upon vengeance, but rather of thy devotion and hope. Gift to thy beloved that which heals the heart as I hath healed her body and spirit. Bring her back to the light."
He laid a comforting hand upon Helluin's shoulder and gave it a squeeze ere he turned and took his leave. Beinvír would awaken, of this he had little doubt, but without a great and compelling reason to cleave to her life, she might well despair of Middle Earth and seek passage into the West for the surcease of her wound's anguish. A shadow would ever after dwell upon her spirit, yet it could be o'ercome…perhaps. Of this he had hope.
At Elrond's leaving Helluin clenched tight shut her eyes. The Peredhel had laid a choice before her and she stood before an abyss. She could retain her native hatred and lust for vengeance, or foreswear it and gift to her beloved such Light as dwelt in her soul. With great effort she fought back the darkness of her wrath, constraining it and setting it aside for another day. Life was't long and there would be time for restitution, but for now, no consideration outshone the need to save Beinvír. Either there would be light and life, or a world forever black to her heart.
Thereafter the dark Noldo sat beside her beloved, silent, still, and consumed with hope. In every moment she poured out her heart's love to her silent partner, thereby holding at bay the conflagration of wrath that had sought to consume her. Elves of Elrond's household came and went in silence, lighting candles and bringing food and drink, but never intruding upon her concentration. Those amongst them gifted with Sight perceived a subtle glow encompassing the two ellith, an aura barely to be seen, that reported upon the bond 'twixt their souls. Thus for many days did Helluin attend her lover, and in that time, Beinvír strayed upon many paths ere she first heard faintly Helluin's heart calling her back to the world.
'Twas ten days after taking her wound that the Green Elf first opened her eyes and squinted at her surroundings. Last she had recalled, she had been in cold darkness and a sudden stabbing pain had driven her from consciousness and into a well of icy water that had enveloped her and dragged her down into blackness. 'Naught of time or life had she felt since. Almost her fëa had been driven forth from her hroa to wander a shadowed land in unending fear, lost, alone, and abandoned. Yet she had not been abandoned, and she was't not alone, and now that she could again feel 'aught of that around her, she felt herself wrapped as in a cocoon of warmth and love that sheltered her heart. It came from close beside her and thither she turned her glance. There sat Helluin, eyes closed in concentration, with a glow of golden light about her.
"Helluin…" she managed to croak from a throat parched by days of disuse. 'Twas barely a whisper, but the Noldo heard. At once she snapped open her eyes and stared.
In the next instant Beinvír was't smothered in a hug of desperate thanksgiving. The tide of love that washed o'er her well 'nigh drowned her in its waves and drove forth the last of her fear. Helluin snatched her beloved up and held her close, shuddering and weeping and blubbering incoherently, so great was't her relief that its outpouring could not be stayed. Long did she envelope the Green Elf ere she relaxed the circle of her arms and looked into the bright grey eyes she'd prayed to see again. A smile slowly crept o'er her face, lighting her own eyes as the two sat face to face.
"Water…" Beinvír choked out in request. At first Helluin couldn't understand why she would speak of water, and for a moment even feared that her lover sought to go 'cross the sea into the West. Finally the Green Elf weakly gestured to a pitcher and goblet that Helluin sheepishly hastened to fill and bring to her. She drank with the greed of long borne thirst at last assuaged and drained the cup ere she finished with a great sigh and a contented smile. The first sentence out of her mouth was't, "I find myself famished, my love. Indeed I feel as though I hath not eaten in days. Hath thou any victuals to hand?"
Helluin could not help but laugh with giddy relief ere she called out for food. In short order an attendant brought forth cakes and soup and cheese, and joyous word was't sent to Elrond that his patient had recovered. The Lord of Imladris had the good sense to delay his visit until the two ellith had reacquainted themselves ere he came to check upon Beinvír's condition.
Now when Elrond came thither he found them at their ease; Helluin reclining against the headboard, Beinvír languorously stretched out and using her as a backrest. Empty plates and cups sat upon a side table attesting to recovered appetites. He smiled at them and Helluin captured his eyes.
Nothing I can offer can suffice to express my thanks, meldir nin. If 'aught of my service thou woulds't ask, I shalt perform it full willing in token of a debt I can never repay.
Perhaps in some day to come I shalt ask 'aught of thee, O Helluin. Perform it then as a friend rather than one indebted, I pray thee.
Helluin nodded her agreement to this request. Whether as friend or debtor she would do well 'nigh anything he could ask in appreciation for the saving of her beloved.
Now Elrond sought to examine Beinvír's wound, and looking at her back where the blade had penetrated, he saw thither a black line, thin as a thread, yet stark against her pale skin. He sighed but smiled nonetheless.
"Thou art healed so well as 'tis within my power to achieve," he told the Green Elf, "and long life shalt thou hath if 'tis to be thy fate. Yet I deem the mark of thy wound shalt persist and remain with thee so long as thou shalt wear thy hroa, for thou hast been cured of the bite of a mórgúl blade, and such a wound the body remembers forever. Indeed few live to bear such a mark. Good fortune thou hast had."
"My thanks, Lord Elrond," Beinvír said, bowing her head, "for returning me thus to light and the world, for I had fallen into darkness and was't lost indeed. I shalt bear this mark as a proud and blessed survivor."
"Thank not only me, Beinvír, for not by my skills alone was't thou cured. As much as my herbs and potions did the love of thy partner stand thee to health, for my medicines could not cure thy heart nor restore thy will to live." Elrond nodded to Helluin and then offered them a smile ere he withdrew. And when, upon a future day of sorrow, a similar wound incompletely cured would lead to one of his two most bitter losses, he would remember with longing the pure and powerful love that had cured the Green Elf that day.
To Be Continued
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