In An Age Before – Part 72

At once the Men turned their mounts about and they came to face her with lowered spears and knocked arrows from some three fathoms.  Grim of face they were, but noble too and therefore unwilling to blindly attack one alone who stood forth and greeted them openly.  Though they quickly noted that she was’t armed, no weapon had she drawn.  Still they were wary.  The wood lay not a furlong east and many could lie hidden thither, or ‘twixt the path and the trees.  Their eyes flickered quickly o’er their surroundings, searching for threats.

“I am alone,” she declared, “and though I am armed, I seek no conflict with thee.  Rather only would I know what enemy thou hunt in this land that I too must travel.”

Now although Helluin’s speech was’t antiquated to their ears, still they could understand most of what she said.  Long aforetime in the days of Rómendacil I, their forefathers had learnt the Adûnaic tongue of the Men of Gondor, but they had blended it since with many words of their own ancestral speech¹.  This language was’t also akin to that of the folk of Barlun and other Men of Rhovanion, yet ‘twas spoken with a more rolling lilt.  ¹These Northmen were descendants of the same race of Men as those who in the First Age passed into the West of Middle-earth and became allies of the Eldar in their wars with Morgoth. UT, Part Three, II, CaEatFoGaR, (i), pg 288, -JRRT, and the related footnote 4 on pg 310, The Northmen appear to have been most nearly akin to the third and greatest of the Peoples of the Elf-friends, ruled by the House of Hador. –CT.  According to Robert Foster in TCGtME, Rohirric was related to the language of the Men of the Vales of Anduin and was descended from Adûnaic.  One may recall that at their first appearance in Beleriand in the First Age, the people of Marach, (later the House of Hador), were originally akin in speech to the First House, the House of Bëor.)

After a few more moments of searching their surroundings, a rider advanced until his horse stood but a fathom from Helluin and he looked down at her with careful scrutiny.

“Fey or fell must thou be to make thy way hither alone,” he began, “for we hath slain some bands of Yrch ‘nigh the river of late.”  After a moment’s pause he sighed and told her,  “We hath come hither after Easterlings took prisoner one of our lord’s sons, and this not a mile from our homes ‘nigh Celduin where it turns east to meet Carnen.  Two seasons now hath we sought for him, first south, then northwards ‘round the whole border of the wood.  Only some lone homesteaders we hath met in this land, yet they hath heard ‘naught that could aid our search.  Know thou ‘aught of our lord’s son, perchance?  Lundhini is his name, a sturdy warrior and an able horseman.”

Helluin thought on the Man’s words and an unsettled feeling grew in the pit of her stomach.  But one North Man only had she seen of late…the dead warrior who’d shared her cell in Dól Gúldúr.

“Bore he a white token of a horse’s head o’er his heart?”  She asked.

The riders harkened to her words and the leader nodded, saying, “Aye, so he always did.  Thou speak as one who hast truly seen him.  Whither thence, and when?”

Helluin sighed.  Little did she relish the bringing of such ill tidings.  Am I ever fated to bring word of death to kith and kin?  Shalt yet another kindred name me Mórgolodh?

“I fear thy lord’s son is dead indeed, for he whom I saw was’t a prisoner of the Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr…of late I shared with him a cell.”

Dark muttering greeted her words and a nervous stepping of horses’ hooves as the beasts sensed their masters’ upset.  The Men soothed their horses, for a moment knowing ‘naught else to do.  Again ‘twas the leader alone who spoke.

“Art thou sure of thy memories?  Could thou hath been mistaken ‘neath the duress of thy captivity?”

Despite the doubt in his words, Helluin could see the failing of the Man’s hope, for Dól Gúldúr stood but 45 leagues southwest of the East Bight, that indent in the Greenwood’s eastern boundary wherein many of the North Men dwelt.  The captured Man could hath been dragged to the Sorcerer’s tower within a week of being taken.  He could hath been dead for the next 25 weeks.  Recalling the decrepitude of his carcass, the timing seemed about right to Helluin.  She nodded ‘yes’.

“I am well convinced of it,” she said with certainty, “given the length of thy search and the condition of his remains.  Still, we shared no words ‘twixt us for he passed long ere my coming.”  Here Helluin bowed her head a moment in respect, then added the only positive tiding she could.  “If it ease thy mind, thou can tell thy lord that he was’t buried ‘neath a cairn at the foot of Laiquadol ‘nigh many other of the Sorcerer’s victims.”

The leader nodded to Helluin, then turned his mount and rode back to his company.  For some time they conferred amongst themselves.  Though they spoke softly their words came easily to Helluin’s ears.  They were debating their course, with the leader asking the counsel of the riders.  Last he asked for a vote and ere he even finished speaking, the gauntlet of a young rider shot upwards.  No doubts trouble his mind, I wager, she thought. He seeks adventure, though it makes longer his road.  The leader tallied up the show of hands and then turned his steed back to where the Noldo waited.  Helluin had seated herself, but rose when the leader returned.

“Our thanks for thy tidings, friend, and yet more for laying our lord’s son to rest.  May he find peace even in so strange a place.  Now ere we turn for home, we should greatly like to see his cairn.  Whither should we ride to find it?  The name of Laiquadol and the east side of the forest art unknown to us.  Might we prevail upon thee to lead us hence?”

Ere he finished speaking Helluin was’t already shaking her head ‘no’.

“Hither I await the coming of my beloved and thereafter I must report to the council of lords who sent me hither.  I am not at liberty to guide thy company,” she said.  The lead rider sadly nodded in understanding; a vassal’s first obligation was’t to their lord.   So it was too with him.  Seeing the Man’s disappointment and still desiring to help, Helluin continued.  “If thou ride on south for 75 leagues thou shalt come to that place whereat the verge of the wood bends furthest west.  Turn then due east and make thy way through the forest for another 10.  Before the rising height of Dól Gúldúr thou shalt find a new burial ground beside a streambed.  The westernmost grave lies ‘neath a cairn of twelve stones, and thither, I believe, lies thy lord’s son.”

The rider gave her a grim smile, but a smile nonetheless.  He placed his right hand o’er his heart and bowed his head to her for a moment.

“My thanks again, friend.  Thou hast done right by the fallen and given us aid.  No more can we ask.  Indeed we art already in thy debt.  If ever thou should come amongst our people, thou shalt find welcome.  My name is Ërlick.  Ask after me.  Fare well.”

With a nod he turned his horse back to his company and the riders made ready to depart south.  Helluin watched their faces as they turned back to their trail.  Some were sad for the loss of their lord’s son.  Some were only determined to complete their mission.  Upon the face of one of the rear guard, the young rider who had been first to raise his hand, she saw the merest hint of a smile as he nodded to her ere spurring forward his mount.  His eyes were bright with intelligence when they met hers.  Curiosity and warmth too she saw, and a million questions unasked.  Twice ere riding out of sight, he looked back to catch a glimpse of her.

Not so unlike unto Inthuiril is that one, she thought, and all the better that he be on his way.  I think my patience would run thin ere I gave my first hundred answers.  Yet even as she thought it, Helluin wondered at the similarity ‘twixt the Nando of Greenwood and the young North Man.  He would die ere reaching a third of Inthuiril’s present age, and yet the twain had much in common. 

“Huh,” she muttered absently to herself, “In this time Man becomes like Elf and Elf like Man…both curious and headstrong and seeking after adventure.”

“He is no doubt much as thou once were, meldanya…say, 9,000 years ago,” came the melodic whisper at her side.

For once even Helluin started and jerked ‘round.  An arm’s length away stood Beinvír, a wide grin upon her face, her eyes glinting with mischief.  The Noldo barely had time to take a breath ere the Green Elf leapt into her arms and captured her lips in an enthusiastic kiss of greeting. 

With Inthuiril’s return she had taken her leave of King Thranduil and hastened west to meet her beloved.  The king’s worry and aggravation at Inthuiril’s disappearance had been tempered by his rejoicing, for his hope had faded daily during her absence.  As a result he had questioned her thoroughly, almost as a father would, at once disapproving and yet relieved to find her safe.  At once he had sent for the Green Elf, for her beloved, he quickly learned, had won his beloved’s survival.

The young elleth’s tale, related in a sober and remorseful rede, had disturbed the Green Elf greatly.  Rather than simply seeking to confirm the identity of the Sorcerer, Helluin had gone on a rampage, slaughtering his minions and chasing him from the Greenwood.  ‘Twas a fair resolution that had delighted the Tawarwaith, but had left Beinvír horrified.  Helluin had allowed herself to be disarmed and taken captive.  She had allowed herself to become a prisoner of the Ringwraith. 

Beinvír was annoyed on several counts, not the least of which being that Inthuiril had insinuated herself into Helluin’s mission, thereby jeopardizing her safety.  No less, Inthuiril had gone where Beinvír had agreed not to go, against her own wishes.  So she had left the Nandor of Greenwood, taking her leave as the first stages of the courtship of the king and his errant scout began and making her way swiftly west.   Yet the Green Elf set aside her displeasure for the moment; first things first. 

Being again with her beloved and seeing her safe brought her joy far outweighing her irritation.  She could wait for some later moment to berate her lover.  Life was long. 

Now after their reunion Helluin and Beinvír made their way ‘cross Anduin at the ford of the Men-I-Naugrim, but not before coming upon one more surprising scenario.  ‘Twas some 12 leagues upon the Dwarf-Road ‘twixt the forest and the river, and the North Men had passed but a furlong west of the wood.  Thus, well ‘nigh 36 miles lay from the verge of the Greenwood to the banks of Anduin.  Upon this way the two ellith trod at a comfortable pace, sharing their tales of the days since their parting.      

By late afternoon they had come some four leagues, and thither they spied a thin column of smoke threading its lazy way up to the sky from a spot nearby to their south.  T’would hath been easily taken for a hunter’s camp, save for the foul, acrid scent borne to their nostrils by a weak breeze.  No hunter would hath tolerated so foul a fire in a land where wood was’t plentiful.  ‘Twas as if for spite’s sake someone had kindled the rags worn by plague victims, still fetid with their pus.  Helluin cocked a brow in disgusted curiosity while’st Beinvír simply grimaced in disgust.

“What goes forth yonder, I wonder?”  The Noldo asked when she caught her beloved’s eye.  She returned her glance to the mysterious tendril of smoke.

Oh no, Beinvír thought, fortunate we shalt be not to spend this eve ensconced ‘nigh that foul smolder.  A grand cure for my appetite this night it shalt no doubt prove.  Yet I can tell she is curious as a weasel ‘nigh a hen house.  Well, thither goes supper.  Oh joy.

“I should be in no hurry to discover it, for ‘tis surely nothing wholesome, I wager,” the Green Elf suggested as she wrinkled her nose.  “I deem we would be better served by keeping to our way,” she added hopefully. 

Despite the Laiquende’s protests, she knew that Helluin would scarce be satisfied ‘til the secret of the wretched fume was’t known.  Sure enough the dark warrior started off the road towards the source of the stench.  With a groan of resignation Beinvír trailed along behind her partner.  ‘Tis fouler with each stride closer we come, and no good can come of this, she observed, noting an undertone of something akin to burning hair.

“’Tis not so bad,” Helluin muttered shortly later as if to convince herself.  By then the Green Elf had wrapped a fold of her cloak ‘round her head and looked somewhat like a bandit.

Ere finding the source of the reek they marked the joining of their way with a small path headed west to the banks of Anduin, and this they followed, for it seemed to lead directly toward their goal.  Along the way both marked the hoof prints in the dirt they trod, all headed in the opposite direction.  Were we going hence after the riders I should be all the happier, I wager, the Green Elf thought with a glance in the direction they had gone, but alas, ‘tis not our road…ahhh well.  I suppose we shalt come to the end soon enough. 

After another half-hour of walking the two stood ‘nigh a scene of pathos, every bit as insulting to the eye as to the nose.  ‘Twas the aftermath of a skirmish, with such signs to be seen as would leave little doubt of the tale.  A band of a dozen and a half Yrch had been set upon and exterminated by the riders, their corpses piled and burnt afterwards.  The firing had been incomplete due to their hasty piling of an insufficient quantity of fuel, leaving a smoldering, reeking heap of bodies more scorched than consumed.  Beinvír stood shaking her head.  Helluin dropped to one knee for a closer look at the spoor.

“’Tis surely the work of those North Men I met,” Helluin muttered, “for they said as much.  Yet whyfore were the Yrch hither, I wonder?” 

The oldest tracks she marked came from the south.  Perchance in flight from her slaughter at Dól Gúldúr?  She followed an newer set of footprints recording the flight of a set of small feet that ended in a puddle of blood.  Her eyes narrowed.

The Green Elf watched as her partner crab-walked ‘cross a few yards of disturbed soil ‘til she came upon the signs of a struggle.  Bare feet and steel-shod prints converged, whereat some trampling could be seen, and thence alone the shod prints departed.  She traced the footprints to where they led from the clearing.  As if mesmerized, the Noldo followed the tracks into the taller grass, finding a footpath of recently bent blades that led a scant dozen yards toward the shore.  What she found thither stopped her in her tracks and she warned off the following Laiquende with a gesture.  Then she stood and fought to keep from gagging.

‘Neath a copse of stunted trees were the remnants of a crude camp and many footprints of Yrch.  O’er a fire pit was’t a simple forked stick supporting a heavy branch, driven into the ground and sharpened at the other end to form a crude spit.  Upon the ground nearby lay many blackened bones, childlike in size, and a partially eaten carcass.  ‘Nigh the fire stood a crude wooden post sharpened to a jagged point, and impaled upon it was’t the head of Bobo Fallohide, the late Mayor of Fur’long.  The Yrch had captured, killed, and feasted upon some of the Periannath.

“If ’tis ‘aught that I despise about the dead, ‘tis that upon them no vengeance can’st be visited,” she grated out softly through gritted teeth as she fought to suppress the rage growing inside her.  Though they were ignorant and insular and painfully rustic, Bobo’s folk had also seemed utterly harmless.  They had deserved not such a violent and demeaning fate.  After some moments with head bowed she turned away, and coming back to where Beinvír waited said, “We art done hither, I deem.  Let us put some distance ‘twixt ourselves and yonder scene of calamity.”

And if ‘tis indeed from my massacre of their kind in Tindomul’s tower that these fled hither, then I hath promoted this heinous deed myself, and any good I hath achieved hast turned to darkness unlooked for, she thought bitterly as she looked off into the south from whence the Yrch had originally come, perhaps making their way north to the precincts of Mt. Gundabad.

The Green Elf looked curiously at her partner’s grim face, but nodded in agreement with her words.  She had no desire to remain ‘nigh a battle ground, nor anywhere with such a rotten smell.

Now in the days that followed, the two ellith made their way west.  They forded Anduin and then crossed the Hithaeglir in peace, making their way o’er the high pass to the headwaters of the Bruinen and Imladris. 

During that journey they spoke much of their individual adventures.  Helluin was’t astonished that she’d inadvertently saved the life of Thranduil’s beloved, while’st Beinvír was’t astonished at her partner’s telling of the extermination of the servants of the Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr, for Inthuiril had still then been captive then and had seen ‘naught but the aftermath when Helluin freed her. 

‘Twas as if the Valar had acted through Helluin to twice save the lot of the Nandor of Greenwood, Beinvír thought, ridding them of their greatest threat and preserving for their king a chance for a love that might assuage his lingering sadness o’er the loss of his father.  In this the Green Elf perceived that Helluin had made some restitution for her part in the death of Oropher, balancing somewhat Thranduil’s sorrow with the potential for joy.  She pointed this out to her partner and the Noldo had nodded her head in reluctant agreement.  Still, the dark warrior could not pardon herself for her part in the earlier losses of the Nandor of Greenwood. 

The love I feel for thee erases not the loss of my brother upon the Helcaraxe so long ago, she thought as she watched her beloved hike uphill ahead of her.  Thou hast my heart forever and thou art a part of my fëa, yet Verinno is still lost.  So too shalt Oropher be always lost to Thranduil though Inthuiril bring his heart joy for an Age.

Upon 12 Gwaeron, (March 12th), Helluin and Beinvír greeted the first of the guardians of the Hidden Valley and announced their return to Imladris.  Straightaway they were conveyed to the council whither awaited Elrond and Galadriel, Celeborn, Celebrian, and Glorfindel, Erestor, Elladan and Elrohir.  Helluin and Beinvír were seated and given refreshments, while’st following words of welcome, the others eagerly awaited their rede.

“My Lords and Ladies, I hath somewhat to report,” Helluin began.  “Thy suspicions of the identity of the Sorcerer hath proven true.  Indeed ‘twas Tindomul, Lord of the Ringwraiths, who held Dól Gúldúr.  Thither he did much evil to the Greenwood and its folk.”

The lords Celeborn and Glorfindel nodded sadly, accepting Helluin’s words.  Galadriel and Elrond however looked deeper, as by the power of their Rings they were wont to do.

“How stands the wood now, Helluin,” the Lady asked,  “for thou hast clearly said, ‘twas Tindomul…who held Dól Gúldúr, as if his abiding thither was’t a thing past.” 

“Indeed ‘tis just so,” the dark warrior answered.  “No longer doth he darken the wood.  I challenged him and he fled back into the east…back to his master’s spirit, I wager, thither to endure his derision and such penalties as Sauron shalt visit upon him for his failure.  Tindomul is gone indeed and his soldiery slain or fled.  Alas the Onodrim hath been driven hence and none save Thranduil’s people guard now that forest, and they only its northern precincts…for a time.”

To this the Princess of the House of Finarfin sighed.  Though she had never truly understood Lord Oldbark she had come to esteem him and recognized what valuable allies the Onodrim had been.  Thranduil’s folk could no more hold back or defeat Sauron and his Ringwraiths than they had been able to conquer his other minions during the War of the Last Alliance.  They were simply not possessed of the prowess at arms to prevail in such a match.  ‘Twas clear to her that Helluin believed the same. 

With foresight she discerned that on some day to come, when the Lord of Mordor again challenged the well-being of Calenglad i’Dhaer, some more formidable force would be needed to counter that evil.  Her first intention was’t to somehow persuade Helluin and Beinvír to take up that duty, as they had at her request so long ago in Lebennin.  Empowered by Nenya, she knew more of what had come to pass than had been spoken.  A glance passed ‘twixt herself and the Lord of Imladris.

“He fears thee, doth he not,” Elrond asked the warrior, his mind as sharp as the Lady’s.  Indeed his master fears thee too if past deeds art to be believed, he thought.

“He fears her and with good reason,” Beinvír told them with certainty.  “Indeed at each meeting he hast lost…first his pride at arms, then his life, and twice at the completion of his tasks.  I should think Sauron know’th better than to count upon him to withstand her.”

To this the counselors nodded in agreement.

“’Tis moot, I wager,” Helluin said as she sipped from a cup of wine.  “He hast departed and his fortress lies deserted.  T’will be some time ere he come’th again to occupy yonder tower, if ever.  I wager the forest shalt hath such peace as Thranduil’s folk can’st maintain, for all who stand to oppose them now art some bands of Yrch and a few Eastern Men.”

Again the counselors agreed, though most could also see that situation as being temporary, and indeed not long at all as the Elves reckoned things.  Helluin understood their concerns, for she held the same suspicions herself and she had caught the glint in the Lady’s eye which she had found troubling.  Ere they could dwell longer on that train of thought, Helluin spoke again.

“Doth any hither know ‘aught of the Periannath?”

As she had hoped, her question provoked ‘naught but blank stares.  Elrond in particular sought her eyes with a look of curiosity.  Helluin nodded to herself and proceeded.

“Upon the eastern shore of Anduin some leagues south of the ford of the Men-I-Naugrim I hath learnt of a folk unknown to me aforetime,” she stated, watching the surprised reactions of the others and silently congratulating herself.  “They art of a rustic sort, given to agriculture and ignorance, passing their days in sod huts and being of little account in deeds, but having no evil in them.  They art known to the Settlers of the Vale of Anduin, though perhaps not for a long time past.  Indeed ‘twas some of these Periannath who first marked the flight of the Onodrim and the mórgúl of the Sorcerer.”

All eyes were upon Helluin now with undivided attention and she thought this good.  Even Galadriel was’t focused upon her words to the exclusion of ‘aught else.

“Truth be that they hath long denied the possibility of the existence of Eriador,” Helluin reported, straight-faced, “believing instead that Anor doth crash down upon the western slopes of the Hithaeglir at each eve and ‘naught hither could survive the scorching.”

At this Elrond gaped, while’st the others suppressed their chuckling.  Beinvír rolled her eyes, aware that her partner was’t dramatizing her portrayal.  A quick look passed ‘twixt them, and a few silent and apprehensive words.

My love, I feel a plot a-hatching, Helluin warned, giving a moment’s flick of her eyes to indicate Galadriel, and if we art not to inherit yet another realm, then a distraction we must accomplish.

The Green Elf was’t so shocked at this that she gasped and then covered her lapse with a bite into a seeded cake.  Her eyes fairly started from her head.

O say ‘tis not so, I beseech thee, she protested, think thou truly that we shalt be saddled with a Lebennin ‘neath the trees?  Another thousand years?  I could not bear it.

Indeed ‘tis just so if I read aright my suspicions.  Doth not history and the phrases of the Song repeat themselves?

To this the Laiquende groaned despite her full mouth.  All had passed ‘twixt them in a heartbeat only and Helluin resumed.

“When I met the Periannath I spoke with their mayor by the grace of Barlun, a Man of the Settlers who provided me with an introduction.  Were it not for his intercession I should not hath met them at all.  Indeed already had I passed them by, discerning not their presence, for they hath a stealth after their own fashion, not studied such as the Green Elves, but rather I deem, deriving from some close and native relation to the land.  ‘Tis effective all the same.  I felt nothing of them aforetime, saw ‘naught of their hamlet ‘till upon it, and heard nothing of them afterwards.  For all this they art certainly mortal.  A strange folk indeed and our lore should know of them, ere they art all eaten.”

The last sank the gathering in to a tide of excited questions and ‘twas long ere they were answered to the satisfaction of all.  By then Beinvír’s stomach was’t growling and Helluin had quaffed her 6th cup of wine.  Thence to add further to their distraction, the Green Elf presented her tidbits regarding Thranduil and Inthuiril.  The story warmed many hearts with hope, for the king of Greenwood’s Nandor had been morose and somewhat withdrawn for the last thousand years, ever since his peoples’ losses in the War of the Last Alliance.  ‘Twas then that the council decided to adjourn for supper, and whatever intentions Galadriel had held for the two ellith was’t not presented on that afternoon.

And that is a very good thing, Helluin remarked to her beloved as they made their way to the dining hall.  I deem she feels the time plentiful wherein to hatch her plot, for all agree the Greenwood shalt not be in like jeopardy for many years.  Therefore after a meal and some rest I wager we should be upon our way…sometime ere dawn.

Well ere dawn, I think, the Green Elf agreed.  Thou hast already done more upon their behalf than was’t asked of thee.  I deem there art others who should hear ‘aught of our journey…Dálindir and Círdan amongst them.

To this Helluin agreed heartily, and after their evening meal they retired to their room but long enough to repack.  Thence, mantled in the stealth of Beinvír’s people, they took their leave of the Hidden Valley with none the wiser, for even the sentries of Imladris could not mark the passage of two cloaked with such complete silence.  And having thus escaped further enlistment in the guiles and wiles and the politics of that time, Helluin and Beinvír disappeared from the counsels of the Wise for many years.

To Be Continued

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