In An Age Before – Part 71

Chapter Fifty-nine

‘Nigh Dól Gúldúr – The Third Age of the Sun

From the dungeons of Dól Gúldúr had Helluin released a pathetic company of Men and a few Elves.  To describe the flight of the liberated prisoners as like unto a flock of bats out of Udûn would hath been apropos…a fitting simile indeed, Helluin thought…all save one at least.  Last to be freed, the elleth of Greenwood clove to her like a tick.  Worse, she had voiced so many questions that the dour Noldo felt herself ill-used and almost regretful for freeing her.  Whyfore hath I become such a subject of analysis, she carped to herself, and by one possessed of such unnatural enthusiasm?  No carcass hast ever been more thoroughly picked o’er by any vulture, and this Inthuiril is so perky that I am tempted to gouge her with a dagger simply to distract her for to hath a moment’s peace.  Helluin had rolled her eyes so oft o’er the last day as to be sea sick.

“And so if ‘tis as thou say, the Light of Laurelin and Telperien shone forth so strongly as to pierce the Calacirya like the beam of a great lamp, how then indeed did thy folk withstand such brightness, day in and day out?”

Helluin turned to look at the young elleth beside her, who was’t staring up at her, eyes beaming with curiosity, and awaiting some nugget of wisdom from her mouth.  In well ‘nigh each waking moment there had been a question, some insightful, others merely ignorant.  Helluin took a deep breath and counted again, er, tad, neled, canad, leben, eneg, odog, toloth, neder, cain…

“First of all, none then knew ‘aught of day in or day out, for neither sun nor moon had yet been seen,” the Noldo began, “and such Light as came of the Trees appeared an object of reverence, a gift from the Valar, and it infused our vision just as abiding in that land infused our fëar with a spiritual illumination.  Bright ’twas brighter in those days and dark yet darker than now, save at some few times of greatest peril.  Philosophically, ‘twas a metaphor made visible, or so I took it.  That such now shines not ‘tis pursuant to the Fading of all things upon Arda, I wager.”

Helluin chanced a glance back at Inthuiril and what she saw set her again to counting.  The light of another question doth rise to illuminate her tongue…ah well.   

 “I see…and what, pray tell, is a metaphor?”

At this, Helluin finally threw up her hands and sat down on a boulder with a groan.  They were passing that place whereat she had spied the dying Onod, and long aforetime been discomfited by the night-rising of the earthworms.  Of course Inthuiril sat down close beside her, perhaps thinking that her question had given the Noldo need for pause and now some great and informative philosophical discourse was’t forthcoming.  She focused all her attention and listened closely.  Helluin was’t counting again.

After taking some moments to calm herself, Helluin turned to Inthuiril and the Nando leant forward, harkening to her with earnest concentration.

“Inthuiril, thy questions art mostly good,” Helluin began, “and to understand such as hast come to pass aforetime is a noble cause.  Yet I am no lore-master.  Indeed I feel myself as one saddled with an insatiable hunger not born of my own stomach, as I seek to assuage thy curiosity.  Pray bide thy time somewhat, I beseech thee.  Neither of us is likely to expire ere the morrow.  Give thyself pause to digest what thou hear, and for myself, a moment to enjoy this wood.  See, thither flies a bird, the first I hath seen since I came.  Thither doth the leaves hold themselves again with some semblance of hope, as they did not aforetime.  The forest recovers apace from the predations of the Sorcerer and his ilk.  Rejoice now in the renewal of thy home.”

Helluin had followed the path of the bird’s flight with her eyes and had marked that ‘twas indeed a mockingbird.  Its presence brought to her the memory of the generations of such creatures who of old had learnt the birdsongs of Valinor and served Lord Oldbark as heralds. 

Inthuiril had fallen silent for a time thereafter, contemplating their surroundings as Helluin had bidden her to do.  The bird flitted from branch to branch o’erhead and was’t soon joined by another.  A breeze tickled the leaves and it smelt to her of a rebirth in her woodland home.  In that moment it seemed poignant and possessed of an import beyond the mere rustling of the canopy.  Hither was’t a metaphor for the vitality that the Sorcerer and his minions had sapped from southern Greenwood.  She was’t surprised at how quick the recovery had begun, and yet more surprised at how the knowledge of it made her heart sing with hope for the future. 

“I hath realized that in the past I hath been preoccupied with the here and now,” she mused, “and this to the exclusion of the greater panorama of my life.  I hath perhaps failed to appreciate much aforetime and taken for granted much that was’t good, even as the days darkened.”

Helluin nodded her agreement.  Few knew better than she how easy ‘twas to be caught up in the tenor of the times or the heat of a moment.  Passion oft forced aside the longer viewpoint and demanded focus rather than philosophy.

“Of late hath I sought only after the satisfaction of my curiosity, and this atop my concerns for the safety of my home.  I hath spent little upon appreciating that which I hath already…and perhaps that which could endure.”

To this assertion, Helluin had begun nodding in agreement, but at Inthuiril’s last words she quirked her brow in puzzlement.  Seeing her reaction, the young elleth sighed, and after a moment’s thought continued.

“Though thy travels hath taken thee into many lands, for me, no land is so sweet as the Greenwood.  Hither hath I passed well ‘nigh all my days, and these for the most part in peace.  Yet more, I hath passed such in the company of many dear to me, ‘neath the rule and with the esteem of a great king.  Many, I wager, hath not such fortune.  Perhaps ‘tis my youth, but the troubles of late hath taken on a greater weight to me for having not been experienced aforetime.  Even so, I hath allowed them to lead me astray.  I hath withheld tidings from my king which I should hath presented long aforetime, and I hath spent less upon serving him than upon serving myself.  Even now I am away without leave, forsaking my duties and taking my trail without a word to any, selfishly, I deem it now.  I hath surely disappointed he who hast aforetime shown me only trust and honor.  I hath acted no better than a child.”

Helluin met Inthuiril’s eyes, and in them she saw realization and remorse.

“Straightaway must I return, to answer for myself and beseech my lord’s pardon for my conduct,” the young elleth declared sadly.

Helluin nodded her agreement, hoping that Thranduil might be still as wise and fair as he had ever been aforetime.  She thought of her lover’s belief that the King of the Wood had pardoned her in his heart her for her part in suggesting the path that had led to his father’s death…had forgiven her what she herself could not forgive.

“Keep hope, Inthuiril, for thy king is a good and just lord.  I shalt accompany thee far north, yet to thy kingdom I shalt not come.  But perhaps thou shalt meet thither my beloved, Beinvír Laiquende, and if so, then I pray thee ease her mind and heart with news of my well-being.  Thou hast many fresh tidings to tell thy king and the news is good.  Perhaps even it shalt aid thee in pleading thy case.”

Inthuiril sighed and nodded to Helluin in agreement, and Helluin noted that ‘twas as if her mention of the Green Elf’s name had invoked some fair enchantment upon the wood, for now a single millipede crawled into sight from ‘neath the leafmould.  From somewhere in the canopy behind them, the mockingbirds burst into song.

“Come,” said Helluin, “let us make our way thither, for many days’ walk it shalt be and the sooner started the sooner done.”

Inthuiril rose to her feet, and marched thereafter mostly in silence, her questioning stilled and her focus turned within.  So they passed a fortnight, making their way north through the wood. 

‘Twas 23 Nínui, (February 23rd), when the two elleth came ‘nigh the Men-i-Naugrim at last.  Thither Helluin stayed them, and she spoke to Inthuiril.

“Now our trek is ‘nigh its end and hither shalt we part company, for thou art surely sought, but from thy realm I hath exiled myself, just as I did aforetime from the Blessed Realm ‘cross the sea.  I pray thee, say thus unto Beinvír should thou see her, ‘Helluin shalt meet thee upon the Men-i-Naugrim ‘nigh Anduin whereat aforetime did we part’.  Say ‘naught of me to any other if thou can’st so contrive.  Fare thee well for now, Inthuiril.”

The Silvan Elf nodded and with a gulp, steeled her resolve for to cross the road back into her own land.  She looked to the woods north of the Dwarf Road that she knew so well, and when she turned back to bid Helluin farewell, there was’t ‘naught to be seen of her.  The dark Noldo had vanished.  For some moments Inthuiril searched the forest with all her senses, but found no trace of the dark warrior.  After a few moments she gave up.  Finally with a sigh she rose and slipped into the realm of Thranduil, her king.

Helluin watched her go from her perch some fathoms up a tall pine.  From there she also espied a company of sentries of the Woodland Realm, approaching stealthily and making their way towards the disturbance whispered at by the trees.  She waited ‘till she saw Inthuiril taken, and then after the company had passed, she made her way westwards, parallel to the road.

Now upon the morn of 27 Nínui, (February 27th), Helluin came from the forest into the lands of the Vale of Anduin, wherein the wood gave way to brush and field.  To the west she marked the distant sound of hooves and a faint cloud of dust risen from the passage of the riders.  The Men of Barlun’s clan rode not, nor were the footfalls those of Elven horses.  They were headed towards her position down a path from the river that joined the road making its way south, and so she awaited their coming, silent and unseen.  Ere they came abreast of her she knew their count and tongue.  A dozen North Men she reckoned, riding in a loose company, with one scouting somewhat ahead and two trailing behind the van.  ‘Twas the way of riders habitually wary and in no hurry, yet moving south with some purpose. 

Now what, pray tell, would they want, hither to the west of the forest?  Such Men make their homes for the most part ‘twixt Carnen and Celduin.  Rarely doth such ride west of the Greenwood.  Huh, she thought, almost I can smell them already o’er the scent of their horses for they hath been long in the saddle, no doubt.

‘Twas soon enough that they trotted into view.  North Men indeed; golden haired and bearded, and dressed in tunics of coarse cloth and pants of leather.  Fur capes flowed behind them, and helmets of steel covered their heads.  Heavy gauntlets they wore, and sturdy boots as well.  Helluin noted that the Men in the main company were armed with spear, sword, and axe, while the scout and rear-guard carried short recurved bows and swords thrust through their belts.  She nodded to herself in approval.  Their gear was’t well-worn and utilitarian, functional but unadorned, and suited to a fast moving company of hunting warriors.  Not stag or boar doth they seek, I wager, though Helluin, rather they art girded for skirmishing with small companies of foes.  Such a riding would be deadly to enemies traveling afoot. 

Now the riders came abreast of her hiding place, and when they had just passed, Helluin strode from cover and out onto the path.   The last Man had gone not ten yards ere the dark Noldo hailed them.

“What foes doth thou seek so far from home, O riders of the north?” she called out in the tongue of the Men of Rhovanion.  “What errand calls thee hither?”

To be continued

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