In An Age Before – Part 66
Now after leaving Barlun Helluin made her way another twenty leagues south, ‘till she came ‘nigh the Loeg Ningloron, (the Gladden Fields), that lay about the mouth of the River Gladden, the Ninglor (water lily) in Sindarin, upon the further bank of Anduin. ‘Cross the water she stood, shading her eyes against the rays of the westering sun, and surveying the scene of Isildur’s doom. Thither waved the bright heads of many yellow irises, shifting placidly in the gentle, late afternoon breeze flowing off the water. The acuity of Helluin’s Elven sight revealed the brightly colored fire-flashes of reflections from the iridescent bodies of dragonflies, some well ‘nigh the length of her hand, as they flitted and hovered amongst the tall stems of the flowers. Thereabouts all seemed at peace. ‘Twas idyllic and highly deceptive, she thought, for a great doom lay hidden thither. Somewhere ‘neath the water, ‘twixt yonder bank and where she stood, lay Sauron’s Ring, sunken, tumbled, and buried with King Isildur’s bones in the river bottom’s sediment, no doubt. She shook her head. Not knowing the Ring’s whereabouts was’t well ‘nigh as bad as knowing.
Alas for all folk that ‘twas not destroyed when we had the chance, she thought for the many-thousandth time, for now ‘twill instead destroy any who might be touched by its power…all save he who made it. He I would destroy as surely as his Ring. Finally with a sigh she turned again upon her way south.
Now the eves of Calenglad drew away from the banks of the river and Helluin saw that they were far more distant from the shore than in times past. Indeed Oldbark’s impression of long aforetime was’t proved true…that the forest was’t shrinking. Twenty leagues south of the Gladden Fields, the verge of the forest lay so far inland that ‘twas not to be seen from the banks. Helluin continued upon her way, noting a few homesteads of Men of Barlun’s kindred, but as she came another ten leagues even these disappeared. On the eastern bank of Anduin none now dwelt.
Upon 2 Nínui, (February 2nd), did Helluin espy the canopy of golden mellyrn that identified the realm of King Amroth, lying ahead and to her west ‘cross the river. By this she knew that she had come far enough south and must now turn east toward Laiquadol, which of late had come to be called Amon Lanc, the Bald Hill. Thither, according to the Council of Imladris, lay the fortress and tower of the sorcerer, and the heart of the spreading Shadow. Helluin took upon her the stealth of the Laiquendi and moved unseen by beast and bird, carefully covering the first twelve leagues inland in two days. On the evening of the 4th she camped ‘neath the most outlying boughs of Calenglad.
About her all now lay silent. No sound of birdsong came to her ears and no sight of any creature did she mark. The verge of the wood was’t as a wasteland to life. In the darkness a chill settled o’er her heart, but she saw no evidence of Easterling or Orch or wraith. Above her the leaves shuddered though ‘twas no breeze to be felt. The air was’t still and heavy as ‘tis ere a storm breaks, but too the watchfulness of times past was’t not to be felt. No Huorns stood sentry now. Helluin passed a rest-less night, marking the passing hours by Ithil’s travel and the wheeling of the stars. When the first rumor of dawn’s ruddy light opened in the east, she ventured forth, passing silently into the forest.
During that day Helluin continued on, knowing that Laiquadol stood some 75 miles from Anduin’s eastern bank. In the past that journey had been the matter of three days, but upon this trip Helluin moved with full stealth, expecting her way to take five days instead. Had one stood still and watched the forest, no trace of her figure would they hath marked, moving from shadow to shadow and from bole to bole.
Within the forest Helluin saw that the once familiar wood had fallen ‘neath a blight of the spirit. No longer was’t there a feeling of vibrancy, of living, or of joy in growing. A Shadow indeed had fallen upon Calenglad. Absent now was’t the birdsong, the soft tread of rabbit or fox amidst the leafmould, and the chatter of squirrels. O’erhead hung leaves that draped all, not in the joyous green of the olvar striving for Anor’s rays, but rather in a greyed shroud well ‘nigh funereal in its solemnity. Elm and oak, poplar and beech, all held their foliage in a listless droop, deigning not even to tremble, but rather reflecting a visceral despair that beat upon Helluin’s fëa like an endlessly repeated dirge. ‘Twas interminably dismal and thereby wrought an underlying nausea upon her. Had she heard ‘naught aforetime of any evil in that wood, still she would hath soon silenced her tread and advanced with stealth expecting worse. During her second night in the forest she choose to pass the hours of darkness six fathoms above the ground, in a hastily woven talan high in a tall poplar, from which no branch grew less than twenty feet up the trunk.
Late in the morning upon her second day afoot in Calenglad, Helluin came to that rock outcropping whereat she had been assailed by earthworms in SA 1375, while’st in the company of Beinvír, Galadriel and Celeborn. Thither she paused for a rest and a drink. As she sat hunkered down amongst the shadows of the boulders, a foul scent came to her nostrils and the earth trembled at the rumor of something of great weight moving with difficulty. Helluin raised her head so that the top of her hood rose just high enough that her keen, blue eyes could survey the surrounding forest. She peered into the broken light and shadow, seeking for any movement. ‘Twas long that she waited thus, unmoving, ere her patience was’t rewarded by the sight of a broken and rotted trunk tipping and recovering in a succession of barely controlled falls that could not rightly be called a gait.
Now the figure was’t tree-like, but ruin of disease had wrought heavily upon it so that it staggered in her general direction like a thirst-delirious and dying man crossing a desert. Helluin’s eyes widened in astonishment and she almost broke cover to hasten forward with aid, yet at the last moment she forced herself to remain still. She had not forgotten the appearance of Sauron in the form of an Onod, long aforetime in Fangorn forest. So Helluin kept her place amidst the outcropping for another ten minutes as the ‘tree’ approached. Finally, at a distance of some five fathoms, it gave a last lurch and collapsed.
When it did ‘naught but feebly twitch a few twigs for ‘nigh on another quarter hour, Helluin slowly rose and slipped from shadow to shadow, approaching warily. By the time she drew ‘nigh, Helluin was’t sure no others lurked thereabouts. Thither the stench of rotting vegetation lay heavily, indeed almost as a syrup spreading ‘cross the ground, ‘til it came to her nostrils thick as the fetid airs in the dungeons of the Barad-dúr. Thither too the rumor of pestilence wafted fell tendrils that carried invisible jeopardy to any of mortal blood. For Helluin, Amanya and Calaquende, ‘twas less a danger than a measure of the putrefaction hosted by the fallen.
Now she stood beside the fallen Onod, for she had since discerned the truth of its kind, and she saw that some life lingered still in its tortured form. By the remnants of shivered bark that clung to the scarred and fungus encrusted body at her feet, she deemed its kind akin to the mighty poplar or tulip tree. She knelt and spoke softly to it.
“Who art thou and how hath thou come to such a mortal pass?” She asked in Sindarin.
The Onod heaved a pained sigh of fetid air and the lid of one eye fluttered open to half-mast. Helluin marked the hazy sphere that bespoke near-blindness, for the eye fixed upon her and so she deemed ‘twas not yet wholly deprived of sight. With great effort the Onod replied in a voice both rough and weak, but thankfully, in the tongue of the Grey Elves rather than the Enyd lamb.
“I am called Lasuirí¹. Woe is me, for I hath been o’ertaken by the Black Breath.” Here he choked and coughed up a haze of dark spores and a drool of reeking fluid, yellowish and viscid, ere he recovered and continued. “I hath but followed the ruin of my herds, achieving ‘naught against the Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr²,” he said. ¹(Lasuirí, Leafy Crown = las(leaf) + -ui (n on adj suff, -ful, -y) + rí(crown) Sindarin) ²(Dól Gúldúr, Hill of Black Sorcery, = dól(head, hill) + gúl(magic, sorcery) + dúr(dark) Sindarin)
Helluin gasped at his stench as much as his news. All of Bobo the Mayor’s tidings had been proved in Lasuirí’s few tortured words. But worse yet had Helluin marked in Leafy Crown’s rede. The Black Breath was’t a potent weapon based upon dark sorcery and few amongst the enemy could wield such a threat. Save the Nazgûl and Sauron himself, a lesser foe could inflict such a spell only by wounding with an enchanted weapon. The likelihood of a Ringwraith’s presence in the tower upon Laiquadol, which Lasuirí had called Dól Gúldúr, was’t well ‘nigh assured.
“Know thou ‘aught of this Sorcerer?” Helluin urgently asked.
“Nay. Neither I nor any other hast seen him. Ever Shadows wreath him. Only his plagues and clinging fires and a blanketing fear hath we marked, yet they hath been our ruin. Alas that I fled not as Oldbark commanded.”
The Onod’s voice broke with his last words and his form was’t wracked with hitching that Helluin was’t sure equaled sobbing amongst the kelvar. She laid a comforting hand upon his scarred side, pitying him deeply. Ere she could ask ‘aught else of him, he seemed to stiffen and his eye fluttered closed. A final soft outrushing of spore-laden breath signaled his end, leaving Helluin enveloped in the foulest air yet. She wrinkled her nose in disgust and rose slowly to her feet.
At first the Onod lay with the absolute stillness of death, yet soon enough a change came upon his corpse. With accelerating celerity his form began to collapse in upon itself, the decay of decades passing in moments, ‘till ‘naught but a pile of moldering humus lay at Helluin’s feet. The Onod’s body had been commended to reabsorption into the soil of his beloved Greenwood.
“Go thou now thither ‘cross the Sea and be received unto thy eternal rest. May Yavanna sooth thee with her blessing,” Helluin whispered ere she slipped away to the east as silently as she had come.
Though she could now report the Council’s suspicions confirmed, she still felt that more awaited her in Calenglad i’Dhaer, for though Elrond had told her that she had come on the Council’s behalf only to scout and not to fight, the darkening of the Greenwood and presence of evil therein drew her forward.
To be continued
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