In An Age Before – Part 65
'Twas a few moments more ere a figure appeared from a doorway ahead of them. Helluin stared. The person was't no taller than waist high to her, of average thickness and proportions, and having a head of pale brown and somewhat wildly curled hair. He was't dressed in a rough shirt and trousers, but wore no shoes, and Helluin noted a subtle enlargement of his feet, (as compared to a Man or Elf of his stature). She also noted that those feet were rather hirsute. While'st she had been staring at this first figure several others had hesitantly dared to show themselves, and now these timidly came forward towards them. Soon there were about two dozens all told, some male, some female, but all recognizably of a type. Helluin's eyes flickered o'er them while'st she sought to hide her amazement and subdue her gawking. In contrast, the little folk had no compunctions about blatantly staring at her. They pointed and commented amongst themselves in suspicious tones.
Now when the first figure came 'nigh he offered Barlun a sweeping bow and then examined Helluin with obvious curiosity. To his eyes she was't an outlandish figure, wholly alien. Aside from her height, 'twas her black armor, the longsword at her side, and the bright Sarchram, all peeking from 'neath her travel cloak. He regarded her steadily with head cocked and brow furrowed in puzzlement.
"I say, Barlun," he said in the Common Tongue, though with a slow and rustic accent, "of what sort be yer friend? Neither Man nor Dwarf, I reckon. Be she out of the Shadow in the forest? Be she from downriver to the south?" He looked up at Barlun with some familiarity. 'Twas obvious to Helluin that the two were acquainted.
"This be Helluin," Barlun said, nodding to her, "an Elf of the west."
Barlun then looked to Helluin and introduced their host.
"Helluin, this be Bobo Fallohide, mayor of Furrylong."
Helluin inclined her head to the little figure who regarded her still with curiosity.
"Welcome to the Fur'long, Elf Helluin," the mayor said graciously, and with evident pride. "We farm the finest mushrooms and potatoes on this bank of the river."
Helluin fought not to roll her eyes. Despite its name, the hamlet was't not even a furlong in length, and a meaner collection of hovels she had not set eyes on in Ages. Beside her Barlun coughed, and she realized he was't stifling a snicker. Ere any embarrassment could ensue, Helluin spoke.
"I greet ye, Mayor Fallohide," she said, offering him a nod, "and I thank ye for yer welcome."
"Where to the west do ye come from, Elf Helluin?" Bobo asked, having given in to his curiosity. "The far bank? The mountain slopes?"
"I come from o'er the mountains, from a green land…" ere she could continue, the mayor interrupted her.
"Bah! The world ends at the mountains. It's always ended at the mountains. We all know that." He regarded her with frank disbelief and a shade of pity.
Helluin was't shocked to wide-eyed silence. Beside her, Barlun gritted his teeth to keep from guffawing. To him, her expression was't no less humorous than Bobo's assertions. His folk at least believed the tales of their allies, the Naugrim, which recounted the lands upon the western side of the mountains whereat the Ennyn Durin opened forth into what had been Eregion ere its destruction. Finally Helluin mastered herself and tried again.
"I assure ye most sincerely, 'tis now and hast long been a wide and fertile land beyond the mountains."
The little mayor regarded her skeptically before shrugging and humoring her with a nod, for now he deemed her feeble-witted and deluded.
"If ye say so, though none I know tell of it. I should ask ye, how can a land be green and fertile when the sun crashes down the mountains' far side each eve? Common sense tells that such a land would be burnt to cinders long ago¹." He looked at her as if well pleased with his own reasoning, while'st daring her to supply a believable response. ¹(Now it has't been said that of old the Halflings learnt somewhat of the world from the Dark Elves they encountered in the east, and this might well hath been the case, but such would hath been as the blind leading the blind, for n'er had the Avari gone o'er Hithaeglir. Being no explorers themselves and lacking in curiosity about the world, the Periannath's geographical lore would hath become circumscribed in scale o'er time, with much lost in the retelling, until such tales as they'd once learnt of Anor's daily travels came to begin east of Greenwood and end west of the Hithaeglir…hence Bobo's version of geography, for stilted as it was't, it served the purposes of his folk well enough.)
"The sun continues upon its way o'er that land as it doth o'er this land, I assure ye," Helluin claimed. "It hast ever done so."
At this the mayor chuckled and said to Barlun, "I fear yer guest be sadly addled, Barlun. Have ye ever been o'er the mountains?"
Barlun admitted that 'no' he had not, nor had any of his people that he knew of. He shook his head at this ludicrous impasse, then gestured for Bobo to follow him out of Helluin's earshot. The two walked some distance towards the river together, talking in an animated fashion with many hand gestures as they oft pointed to the distant Hithaeglir. Helluin sighed and waited, sweeping her eyes o'er the other Fallohides. They, in turn, regarded her with sympathetic and pitying expressions.
Now just ere Helluin decided to take her leave, concluding that enough was't enough and no tidings of that folk were to be believed, Barlun and the mayor returned, both somber and quiet. Helluin raised a questioning brow to the Man and he merely shrugged, then cast his glance upon the mayor. The little mayor sighed theatrically, but hitched up his pants and looked at Helluin when he spoke.
"By the oath of my friend Barlun, I be persuaded to accept this yarn ye cling to," he said, "for knowing none who've journeyed o'er the mountains, I can truthfully prove neither yea nor nay that the world ends with them, despite common sense and our beliefs. Apparently his folk hear the same tale from the Dwarves…" He shrugged.
Helluin nodded, graciously accepting his ceding of the point.
"Perhaps someday ye will journey there, and if so, then ye will find a fruitful land of peace awaiting. I'm sure ye could coax many fine mushrooms and potatoes from the soil of Eriador."
The mayor grunted as if her praise were self-evident, while'st many of the other Fallohides nodded and muttered in agreement. Bobo then swallowed and reluctantly gestured for the Man and the Elf to follow him down the 'main street'. Helluin and Barlun trailed after the little figure as he led them out of the hamlet and to a shady spot 'nigh the river bank where they could speak alone. Now only when they were seated did he begin.
"Barlun tells me ye would hear of the Night of Terrors from which we fled," he said to Helluin. "He also tells me ye travel widely…even into the forest."
"I would hear ye tale indeed," said Helluin, greatly encouraged by Bobo's willingness to speak. She gave Barlun a nod and a smile of thanks for arranging with his friend for her to hear his tidings. Bobo nodded, understanding that what he had to tell was't surely the greatest and most horrifying news to be heard in any Age.
"We be a little people who till the land, seeking only peace and to be left alone. Until the evil came to pass, we lived far to the south where our ancestors had settled."
Now Helluin rolled her eyes; the Periannathwere indeed a little people, especially if 45 leagues downriver qualified as 'far to the south'. Nevertheless, she held her peace and listened to the mayor's rede.
"In the night four years and 145 days ago¹, we heard noises in the forest. We ran from our homes to see. From the forest came wind and trampling. We froze in fear; the noise came closer; many fled to the river. Then we saw trees moving! At the eaves they turned back and called with loud voices, but no words. A greater crowd of trees joined them. They seemed in haste and fear. We watched them go away downstream. Then came a black fog or smoke, I know not which, low on the ground. It stopped just past the eaves and lay darker than the shadows. I smelt no smoke nor saw flame, but I swear my blood chilled at the sight of it. Then it swirled and returned into the forest. Soon all lay quiet again. We fled here, far to the north." ¹(This date would hath been on or about 1 Cerveth, or July 1st , TA 997, for 'twas now 20 Narwain, or January 20th TA 1002)
Helluin nodded sadly. 'Twas the least descriptive, and in fact the most pedestrian report of a great event that she had ever heard. Even a drunken Dunlander would hath told it fairer. This little fellow would certainly be composing no tales for bards or lays for minstrels. Indeed she almost felt embarrassed for Bobo, for so literal and unembellished was't his account as to trivialize its import. Had she heard it from another she would hath discounted it as but a fairy story from his childhood, half-remembered and half-heartedly recalled, yet Bobo's eyes were now wide and fixed and glazed with terror at the memory. She saw that he was't shaking, as if chilled from an unforeseen dip into an icy lake at the hands of an untrustworthy boat. Helluin realized that such fear in one so very mundane of nature lent credence rather than doubt to the story. Gently she reached out and laid a hand upon his shoulder, and thence she projected somewhat of her comfort to sooth the terrified Perian¹. Soon enough his shuddering ceased. He felt a stirring of peace, and even odder still, a nugget of courage was't a-kindled in his heart. Bobo looked upon Helluin with thanks and wonder at the effect. ¹(Perian, Halfling, (sing.) Sindarin)
"Ye fear rightly and ye were right too to flee," she told him. "Those driven out were mighty amongst their kind."
Bobo nodded in wholehearted agreement. He understood well 'nigh nothing of the true importance of his tidings, nor did he want to understand them. He was't a simple farmer only, and saddled with the office of mayor for having drawn the shortest stick at the last Yule. Yet as mayor, he also felt responsible for his people. Despite her strange beliefs about the mountains, it couldn't hurt to ask her opinion of their current situation.
"Do ye think we be safe in this place? Do you think the trouble be past?" He asked.
"Nay and nay," Helluin said with certainty. The mayor looked as if he would shiver out of his skin when he heard her answer, as a renewed attack of trembling shook his frame. "Ye saw but the hint of a greater ill than any in this Age, I wager," Helluin mused while'st shaking her head, "and as I suspected, I must take a careful look into the forest."
At this, Bobo's eyes nearly started from his head. The times were bad and soon to get worse. With this in mind, any option bore investigation for the desperate times ahead.
"Before ye go to yer death, pray tell us how to cross the mountains," he asked.
Helluin looked at him in surprise, but proceeded to tell him of the northern pass that led down to Imladris, judging the Pass of Caradhras too rigorous and the way south of the Hithaeglir too far. She deemed him a well 'nigh inarticulate sod, but a practical one if 'naught else.
For his part, Bobo absorbed Helluin's words, asked a few more questions, and sadly shook his head. The way she described was't a migration so long that t'would take a dozen generations of his folk to make the journey.
Now when Helluin and Barlun took their leave of Bobo and the Periannath, Helluin thanked the Man effusively, for by his efforts she had confirmation of the flight of the Onodrim and had discovered a new folk, though they seemed to be of little account. Still, she knew that Elrond at least would receive her tidings with interest.
The two retraced their steps southwards 'till they came 'nigh Barlun's homestead, and thither they parted company with words of friendship. 'Twas 18 Narwain.
To Be Continued
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