In An Age Before – Part 68
The figure hesitated in silence a moment longer and that was’t a moment too long for the Green Elf’s patience. The hiss of her arrow’s flight sounded for but a fraction of a heartbeat, so close was’t the shooter to her target. By the inhuman perfection of the archer’s aim, no harm came to the trespasser, but rather the arrowhead caught the top of her target’s cloak’s hood and stripped the garment away, pinning it to the bole of a tree and revealing the intruder’s form.
“Inthuiril!” Beinvír hissed. “Thou nearly got thyself killed sneaking up on me like that. Whatsoever was’t thou thinking?”
“I...I needed to speak with thee, without my presence becoming known,” the elleth whispered. She sighed in frustration and sat down beside Beinvir’s bedroll. “I am a feredir¹ and tirien² of the Greenwood and yet thou took me as if I was’t a drunken mortal blundering through the wood. I hath seen not aforetime such woodscraft.” ¹(feredir, hunter Sindarin) ²(tirien, (f.)sentry (lit. watcher) = tiri-(watch) + -ien(fem. agent) Sindarin)
Beinvír dropped lightly from her perch in the branches, her bow holding a knocked arrow, but she had not drawn and when she landed she replaced the arrow in her quiver. She came to seat herself ‘cross her bedroll from Inthuiril, watching her closely.
“Thou art no drunken mortal,” she offered sympathetically, “but I hath spent an Age of the world in the wild and in the company of the greatest living warrior of the Eldar. One kindred only hath I met in all that time whose stealth is truly complete, and they art indeed mortals.”
To this Inthuiril cocked an eyebrow in disbelief. Beinvír shook her head and declined to pursue the topic of the Drúedain.
“Whyfore doth thou seek me?” Beinvír asked.
“Because I hath ‘aught to say concerning the Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr. I fear ‘tis no living Man consumed with evil, but rather, ‘tis no natural being of this world. I fear he is something more fell.”
“How come thee to such suspicions?”
Inthuiril sighed and looked carefully about the copse, and she spoke only after convincing herself that none lurked ‘nigh to o’erhear.
“Twas well ‘nigh a year past and I was’t south of the Men-i-Naugrim upon a patrol, when still we ventured thither. Four others there were with me and we went forward warily, for the spiders had become forward and aggressive. Now upon a night when I alone was’t keeping watch as the others sought their rest, I heard a sound like leaves dancing in the breeze, yet the air was’t still. Faint came the sounds; so faint as to disturb not my companions from their rest. ‘Twas not light-hearted or random though, this rustling, but told of purposeful movement. I knew not what to expect, nor indeed felt that ‘twas something fell, and so I raised not an alarm, but rather set arrow to string and waited with sharpened senses.
Not long did I wait ere I saw movement ‘neath Ithil’s scant and dappled light. ‘Twas a tree, or so I deemed it at first, yet it moved with a will! Never had I seen ‘aught of such a thing, nor ever had I thought to, and though I had heard aforetime of the Onodrim and their Huorns, ever had I deemed such but the denizens of myth, or the inhabitants of strange lore out of ancient days. Perhaps ‘neath the starlight when the world was’t new such beings had been, but surely none such yet walked the wood in these latter days, thought I. Yet ‘twas not so.
The Onod came forth, bypassing our camp by some ten fathoms as he made his way south, and I crept out to see such a wonder the closer. Indeed wholly captivated was’t I. Thus unable to do otherwise, I dared approached.
Now perchance thou too hath heard ‘aught of the Onodrim, though thy homelands lie far to the west? They art most keenly aware, for so I learnt when the Onod looked straight at me. Though I had approached with all my stealth it served me for ‘naught. ‘Ahh, Penedh Eryn en Calenglad¹,’ he said softly in Sindarin, then added, ‘Ha no naer tó mín govannam hi no Mórdú Gost.²’ To this dark line I could but nod in shock. ¹(Penedh Eryn en Calenglad, A Forest Elf of the Greenwood, = penedh(Elf) + eryn(forest) + en(def art, the) + calen(green) + glad(woods) Sindarin) ²(Ha no naer tó mín govannam hi no en Mórdú Gost, ‘Tis sad that we meet now ‘neath(under) the Black Night of Terror = ha(3rd pers sing subj pro, it) + no-(be, is) + naer(sad) + tó(dem pro, that) + govanno-(meet) + -am(3rd pers pl subj pro suff, we) + hi(now) + no(under) + en(def art, the) + mór(black) + dú(night) + gost(terror) Sindarin)
The Onod looked upon me sadly and then continued on his way, to what end I know’th not. So shocked was’t I that I tried neither to stay him, nor to question him. Indeed I stood thither long after he was’t gone, blinking and wondering if I had seen ‘naught but a phantasm. But thereafter I brooded long upon his words, and this I bethought myself by association… Mórdú…Mordor…for where else lies the night so black as in the Black Land? And from old tales whispered amongst our folk of the days of war long ago, I marked the Gost as akin to that which proceeded the Nine Servants of Him whom we abhor. I hath come to believe that ‘tis one at least of his Úlairi who doth hold the tower of Dól Gúldúr. Think thou that my imagination be o’erwrought?”
Beinvír had harkened to all that Inthuiril had said, and she knew from personal experience that the Onodrim spoke precisely, even when speaking hastily in an Elven tongue. For one sensitive to word associations, the Onod’s choices begged possibilities. Atop this, Inthuiril had reached the same conclusion as had Elrond and Galadriel.
“Hath thou reported thy suspicions to thy king?” The Green Elf asked.
“Nay, I hath not as yet,” Inthuiril said, and chewed her lip in uncertainty. “Tis my suspicion only and based but on a fanciful interpretation of the words of one seen by none but myself. Indeed the words of one whom many now would scarce believe could be.”
“Despite whatsoever others hither might believe, I believe thou hast seen one of the Enyd, for I myself hath met with many of that kindred oft enough to know them. Given the darkness and the surprise of thy brief meeting, woulds’t thou hazard to guess at a type of tree to which this Onod clove? Dids’t thou apprehend the shape of his leaves, or mark the texture of his bark, the manner of his branching, or the habit of his growth?”
To this the younger elleth nodded and slid a hand into a flat pouch that was’t attached to her belt.
“I hath better than my memory only upon which to depend,” Inthuiril said. Here she produced a parchment packet which she carefully unfolded, revealing the dried form of a leaf. “’Twas shed from his person as he passed me by, and I kept it to help convince myself of what I’d seen.”
“Hmmmmm, ‘tis from a tulip tree surely,” Beinvír mused. Tucked into a corner of her memory lay an image of a young seeming Onod who had been present at the moot that Oldbark had called in his hall at Laiquadol to hear Helluin’s recitation. It had been just prior to their attempt to convince King Oropher to accept Helluin’s aid in preparing his troops for the War of the Last Alliance. Helluin had collapsed after o’er three days of speaking in the mind-numbing Enyd Lamb. Beinvír still seethed at the memory.
“I know not this Onod by name, though I hath seen him aforetime,” the Green Elf said.
Inthuiril looked at her in surprise. Save perhaps the king and maybe a few of his household, none of her folk had seen or held converse with the Onodrim in this Age. If Thranduil had ever held council with them aforetime, he spoke not of it in public.
“At Amon Galen, in 3410 of the Second Age, whereat Oldbark, Lord of the Onodrim and of Calenglad i’Dhaer, summoned forth his folk to a Council to hear my beloved speak of the growing threat of Sauron.”
Inthuiril nodded. Here for the first time, one acknowledged having met the Enyd, and not just by chance and at large in the woods, but as guests and advisors in their king’s hall. That afternoon, King Thranduil had greeted Beinvír as a friend, not as a visiting noble, but he had spoken of Helluin with high esteem.
“Thy melda, Helluin is a brand híril Celbin¹?” Inthuiril hesitantly asked. For one of noble birth to hath declared her love for one of common birth would hath been frowned upon yet not unheard of. T’would explain why the two ellith wandered rather than lived as courtiers in Imladris or Mithlond. ¹(brand híril Celbin, noble lady of the Noldor = brand(noble) + híril(lady) + Celbin(Elves of Light, Noldor) Sindarin)
Beinvír first chuckled at her question, but then took pity upon her, seeing her growing blush of embarrassment.
“Nay, Inthuiril, neither she nor I art come of noble families amongst our peoples, but rather we art both of common birth,” the Green Elf said. “Yet she hath wandered long and counts many friends in many places, commoner and royal alike.”
“My king hath said that she could walk amidst the Shadows in safety, and from our lore I know ‘aught of her tale; engaging the Úlairi aforetime in combat…and even the Great Enemy himself.”
Beinvír nodded, but worry shone upon her face. In safety? I think not. Merely ’tis that she may go thither into Darkness as others might not, and by the Light of her fëa and the darkness of her wrath hath hope of return.
“What doth thou know of the Celbin, Inthuiril?” the Green Elf asked.
“Only that they came from the West long ago and art deemed the bringers of war. My folk for the most part distrust and reject them. For my part, I know them not, nor hath I ever met one of that kindred.”
Beinvír understood her attitude. The Noldor remaining in Middle Earth were few now, perhaps no more than a few thousand in all the lands, living almost exclusively in Eriador. Distrust of them ‘twas ingrained in the Tawarwaith of the Greenwood, a legacy of their Nandor roots, and yet Beinvír knew that old King Lenwe had honored Helluin at Edhellond two Ages before, and he the high king of all the Nandor. King Lenwin of Lindórinand too had accepted her and welcomed her to his realm ‘neath the mellyrn.
“Inthuiril, Helluin lived with the Aeniath¹ in the Blessed Realm of Aman for o’er 3,600 years, and in that time she was’t enriched and empowered by the Light and Holiness of that land. That Light she can call upon for her protection from the Shadow and the Darkness; indeed those who cleave to the Darkness fear the very rumor of her. She is called Mórgolodh by thy people for many reasons, amongst them the black armor she wears, which was’t forged in Khazad-dûm. Her weapons art by all rights enchanted, having fell wills and voices of their own, and within her lies a wrath which confers upon her the greatest prowess of any living Elda. Her doom hast been declared by Manwë; she cannot die in battle, and she hast lived already ‘nigh on 9,000 years. Thrice she hast challenged the Dark Lord to personal combat, though without the final resolution she craves.” ¹(aeniath, all gods and goddesses = aen(god) + -iath(coll pl suff) Sindarin equivalent of Quenya Ainur)
To this there the young elleth could say ‘naught. The words of her king made sense to Inthuiril at last. And now this mighty warrior was’t making her way to Dól Gúldúr, thither perhaps to learn the truth of her own suspicions. Scarcely a heartbeat passed ‘twixt her acceptance of Beinvir’s words and the blooming of her curiosity. For all that she was’t a thoughtful one, there lived inside her a great thirst for adventure, and more than a touch of impulsiveness as well.
“I pray thee, think well upon sharing thy knowledge with thy king, Inthuiril,” Beinvír said. “Thranduil was’t ever unafraid to learn what befalls in his realm and beyond it, for he knows that ignorance can lay the doom of his people.”
The words drew the Nando from her thoughts and she acknowledged them with a nod, but the faraway look in her eyes as she took her leave left the Green Elf troubled. ‘Twas long ere she returned to her rest.
Now upon the morrow Beinvír was’t left to her own devices, for the king was’t occupied directing the warriors of Greenwood in the repulsion of a massed company of spiders that had waylaid a path from the Men-i-Naugrim. Though long unheard of, such actions had become a real threat. ‘Twas late indeed ere the king’s soldiers returned, and so no court was’t held that day. Upon the next, that being 20 Narwain, (January 20th), Beinvír was’t summoned to court and thither she noted the absence of Inthuiril from the circle of advisors. At this, a dark foreboding grew upon her heart.
The king too looked more than once to Inthuiril’s vacant spot, checking himself in the act of asking her opinion on the spiders. He shook his head in irritation. Later, when he again started to question her and then fell silent seeing her empty chair, he asked the other courtiers after her whereabouts. ‘Twas then, when none knew ‘aught of her, that worry deepened upon both he and the Green Elf. A servant he dispatched to find Inthuiril and bid her join them, but when the court adjourned for the evening meal, the servant had still not returned.
“I seek not to trouble thy counsels, O King,” Beinvír said as the two sat drinking cups of wine ere their meal was’t served, “yet I must tell thee of suspicions which hath grown in my mind all through this day. Inthuiril I met two nights past, and we spoke then of the Shadow and of the doings in the south…and of Helluin’s mission thither. Now though I know Inthuiril but little, still I can’st not free myself of the feeling that she may hath sought to go thither as well. She told me that she had seen an Onod, and that his words birthed a thought in her mind numbering the Sorcerer amongst the Úlairi. She may hope that by going thither, she can’st learn the truth.”
Thranduil had set aside his cup and was’t regarding Beinvír with a growing horror. ‘Twas not merely the concern of a king for a valued subject; rather ‘twas akin to the stricken look of one whose beloved hath gone into certain jeopardy.
He knows her better than I and believes her capable of this course too, the Green Elf thought, yet what I see upon him is the ghost of more than knowledge. ‘Tis rather a bond of the heart unrequited, I wager. How horrible for him then, to be aching for a love undeclared, while’st no doubt feeling that the time for it may hath run out ere its start.
Beinvír watched the king close his eyes and groan as though his wine had turned to pig’s blood or vinegar. Inthuiril was’t ‘nigh on two days gone by now and in all the fastness of the wood, she would be well ‘nigh impossible to find. Even were she not gifted with so great a lead, the way had grown more dangerous.
“In truth she may not hath gone thither…” Beinvír began, but the king shook his head.
“But ‘tis most likely she hast,” he finished for her. “Ever hast Inthuiril been saddled with a yearning to know all things and long hath the Golodhrim been a topic of curiosity for her. It began with the tales of her sister, Nimrodel, who hast seen the Lady Galadriel accompanying Lord Celeborn on embassies to the Golden Wood. Helluin would be to Inthuiril like a lodestone to iron filings, or perhaps as is a lamp to a moth. And now thou say she believes as we doth believe, that the Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr is indeed one of Sauron’s Nine. Herein lies her chance to slay two birds with one shot.” He closed his eyes and hung his head.
“Shalt we not seek for her, my friend?” Beinvír softly asked the stricken king.
Saddened eyes rose to regard her, and long did Thranduil ponder his answer. As never before did his heart know its truth. Inthuiril was’t dear to him…indeed dearer to him had she become than any since his father’s passing in the last war. He felt again the spirit-crushing weight of loss, and ‘twas all the worse now for having never known what might hath been. And yet he was’t a king, and charged thereby first with the welfare of his folk.
“Inthuiril is a scout and march warden of the Greenwood,” he said sadly, “and she hast well ‘nigh two days head start. T’would be a rare and fateful chance that any hither should o’ertake and come upon her, for if thou art correct about her errand, she shalt travel fast and in stealth. Only into their own jeopardy would any go whom I could send after her. The wood darkens and evil walks ‘neath the boles. The Onodrim and their Huorns art no more. Though it breaks my very heart, I can send none on such an errand. She is on her own.”
Beinvír knew love and knew what was’t at stake. Ever had Thranduil and his father before him treated her and her beloved with honor and friendship, even in the face of the distrust of their own subjects. They were noble lords and more than this, they were friends. Beinvír felt wretched. Surely Inthuiril had taken inspiration from her words and then gone to satisfy her long-brewing curiosity. What the Green Elf had told the young scout had surely inflamed her to action. Of this she had no doubt. Beinvír could not sit idle while’st Thranduil’s chance of finding happiness slipped away and grew dimmer with each mile that Inthuiril went south.
“Lord, I hath long tread the wilds of Middle Earth, and were any save Helluin to go thither with hope of success, than t’would be I. If none of thy folk can’st thou send in good conscience, than I shalt go, for of my words did Inthuiril find the spark that kindled her to this fey pass.”
But Thranduil would hear none of this. He shook his head and his face was’t stern.
“Beinvír, thou art my guest in this realm, and more, thou art my friend. I give thee not my leave to pursue Inthuiril. Unsaid is the charge upon me to keep thee safe ‘till thou art reunited with thy beloved, yet such was’t implicit in thy coming hither rather than accompanying Helluin south. I see this clear as day.
Nay, though I know I can’st stay thee not, thou shalt not go with my blessing. I shalt not tempt fate to balance thus my prior loss with the loss of thee by giving thee my leave. Many hither hath blamed Helluin for the death of Oropher…perchance even she believes I hold such feelings as well. I do not. Yet knowing the heartbreak of such a loss, I cannot chance such befalling another of my friends. Thou may fall one day Beinvír, and the loss shalt devastate thy beloved, but it shalt not come to pass in this time nor upon my behalf. Inthuiril tempts her own fate. Let her not tempt thine and Helluin’s as well.”
Caught again amidst conflicting interests and the guilt of others am I, the Green Elf thought, and all that Thranduil says is true. Though I hath ever sought to be free, I find I am all to oft constrained. Alas for Inthuiril. Alas for Thranduil.
With great reluctance, Beinvír nodded her head, acceding to the king’s will. She would stay. ‘Cross the table Thranduil dipped his head briefly in thanks for her cooperation, but the look of sadness in his eyes broke the Green Elf’s heart. With infinite tenderness she reached ‘cross the table and clasped his hand, and the desperate strength of his grip as he fought the darkening of his hopes was’t poignant and as deeply melancholic as anything Beinvír could recall in many a long year. Long they remained thus, and some who watched wondered at the sight, but none dared intrude, not even the servers who bore away their dinners uneaten.