In An Age Before – Part 77

Chapter Sixty-three

East of Rhovanion – The Third Age of the Sun

For ‘nigh on 5,000 years I hath fought this kindred and in all that time their battle tactics hath changed ‘naught a wit, Helluin thought as she marked the disordered charge of the Yrch. She had first faced them as a warrior in the Dagor Aglareb, in the 60th year of the First Age of the Sun. Thither had she first given free rein to her rage, and coming to the upper vale of Sirion with the host of Turgon her king, she had slain o’er four hundreds in as many days.

Now against the fifteen riders, the 60-odd Glam showed no fear, only a bloodthirsty native mania, inflamed by their advantage in numbers. That would change all too quickly, the dark warrior knew, for perhaps a third of that number would be ridden down in the Men’s initial assault. No mortal creature, no matter how fierce, could stand against the sheer inertia of a charging full-grown steed carrying an armed Man. Indeed most surprising to her was’t the willingness of the Yrch to attack in broad daylight, a condition they had always shunned.

Why doth they not await the evening camp and assail these riders ‘neath the cover of night? T’would be in their favor. Yet the answer quickly came to her, bringing a chill to her heart. Only the fear of a master more fell than their own cowardice could inspire them so, she realized. That or treachery!

Immediately she cast her glance to the verge of the Greenwood. The nearest trees stood not fifteen fathoms to the west. Amidst the shadowy boles she marked shifting shadows of a darker kind and her blood quickened.

“Beinvír! The wood!” She cried out, pointing thither with Anguirél’s tip.

The Green Elf spun to her right and in a moment saw what her partner had seen. Her first arrow took flight a heartbeat later and her second an instant after that. Ere the first found its mark, three shafts had gone airborne, and then she paused, searching for a fourth target. Seeing none, a questioning glance she cast to her lover.

An ambush of so few, meldanya?

The Noldo too was’t scanning the tree line with her keen eyes, looking for a telltale motion or a glint of light off an arrowhead or blade. Neither did she see and she could offer only a shrug in response.

At that moment the charging riders slammed into the enemy. The pounding hooves of the racing horses did as much damage as the Men’s steel and shrieks of pain filled the air. A few clashes of blades Helluin heard, but more frequently, only the dull thuds of bodies being flung aside and trodden down. When she turned to watch the fighting, ‘twas much as she’d expected. The Men had ridden fully through their enemies and behind them the field was’t littered with stricken Yrch, twitching and writhing and bleeding upon the ground. The remnant, about forty strong, stood in a close-knit group, brandishing their weapons and cursing.

Now the riders had turned their mounts and they came against their enemies again. The horses waded in amongst the Glam while’st their riders swung their blades in deadly arcs. Yet ‘twas not all one-sided now, for the Men were moving but slowly and the advantage of their horses’ power was’t greatly reduced. The Yrch were still numerous enough to engage the Men two or three to one, and in some places they succeeded in o’erpowering a rider and dragging him to the ground. Such was’t the fate of the leader, hauled down off his steed by a crazed Orch who had flung aside his sword and leapt to wrap both arms ‘round the Man’s waist. Upon any other day t’would hath been his undoing.

At his fall Helluin snatched the Sarchram and prepared to fling it, but ere she could make her cast an arrow from the Green Elf’s bow found its mark in the Orch’s eye. Scarce more than that had been exposed from behind the Man’s body, but ‘twas enough.

The Man recoiled as his foe’s head snapped back with the impact. The arrow had passed his ear so close he’d heard it whistle through his own hair. The Orch’s grip went slack, releasing the shocked Man to face two more foes with only his short axe. As he squared off against those Yrch he realized that neither of his own archers could hath fired that shot. Like himself they were wholly engaged hand to hand, and besides, such unnatural accuracy was’t unknown.

Only a short while longer did the battle continue ere came a pause. By then three men had fallen amidst clumps of Glam, but o’er half the Yrch lay stricken upon the battlefield. Then the air was’t filled with hooting cries and guttural voices. From the Greenwood came the ambush that Helluin had suspected. Another full company of Yrch, 60 foot-soldiers, their captain, and his two lieutenants, charged onto the field and made haste for the battle. Like a black blight spreading ‘cross a farmer’s crops did they come, heedless of Anor’s light above or the dozen foes they expected to slaughter. Already they could well ‘nigh taste the riders’ flesh, spitted and barely scorched o’er their campfire.

Now the remaining Yrch of the first group renewed their attacks on the dozen riders, who fought with desperation and the failing of their hopes.

Helluin’s decision took but an instant to make. She tore her hauberk from her travel bag and donned it, and then with Anguirél in one hand and the Sarchram in the other, she charged.

Behind her, Beinvír loosed her last arrows, firing up to three in a single drawing of her bow. Her quiver had held two-dozen shafts. Four she had already fired. In just o’er ten seconds she shot the remaining twenty, dropping one lieutenant and slaying nineteen other soldiers. After o’er 4,000 years at archery, the notion of not hitting a mark was’t as foreign to her as the thought of not firing at all. The bow was’t still falling from her hand as she shucked off the now empty quiver. Then as she drew her fighting knives and charged to follow her beloved, she heard Helluin’s battle cry ring out for the first time in almost 900 years.

“Beltho huiniath! Baw díhenas!¹ ¹(Baw díhenas!(lit. transl.)No forgiveness. (vern. transl.)No mercy! = baw(no!) + díheno-(forgive) + -as(object v. suff, -ness) Sindarin)

That cry too did the Yrch hear, and from some dark lore or their collective racial memory came the visceral fear of those words. The rumor of slaughter and death since time immemorial screamed in the very blood in their veins. O’er two hundred and fifty generations of their kind had feared that battle cry; in Gorgoroth and Eriador, and in the almost forgotten wars of Beleriand. And in Dól Gúldúr of late. “Kill ‘em all!”; that cry had galvanized enemies and heralded defeat, and now it shook the certainty of their resolve. For a moment their charge faltered and they turned towards the voice. From thither came a fast moving black shadow, within which flared the terrifying light of sapphire eyes. In its right hand a long and bitter black-bladed sword was’t raised to strike, and in its left, a silvery Ring that shone blinding bright ‘neath the hated sun. But most terrifying of all, from the accursed sword came an inhuman voice, cold and heartless, that rejoiced in shedding blood and crushing bone.

“Baw díhenas hé aur!¹ Im aníro sereg!² ¹(Baw díhenas hé aur!(lit. transl.)No forgiveness this day! (vern. transl.)No mercy this day! = baw(no!) + díheno-(forgive) + -as(object v. suff, -ness) + (this) + aur(day) Sindarin) ²(Im aníron sereg! I want blood! = Im(1st pers subj pro, I) + aníro(want, w/ v imp suff, -o) + + sereg(blood) Sindarin)

For a moment the Yrch knew not whether to continue their charge or turn to face the new menace. Indeed the impulse to flee back into the forest touched them even more deeply, one and all. With twenty of his number already lying dead by the Green Elf’s arrows, their captain was’t no more decisive than his soldiers. So ‘twas in those moments when their morale was’t stricken that Helluin slammed into their ranks.

Now if the charge of the riders had been destructive to the first company of Yrch, Helluin’s charge was’t no less deadly. Thence came the ancient Noldo against her enemies in a blur of motion, and Anguirél’s edge cleaved all before it, flesh, sinew, leather, and steel. In Helluin’s hand the black sword rejoiced to anoint itself with the blood of the Yrch. As in the long past days of the First Age of the Sun, that battle fury for which she was’t known and feared was’t unleashed. So Helluin of the Host of Finwe came upon them like a cyclone, the whistling of steel and the screams of terror drawing even the attention of the embattled Men. ‘Twas as if a Valier had come to do battle in Middle Earth. The spray of blood went up, and the heads and limbs of the slain took flight from bodies hewn and flung aside as if by a whirlwind. Ere even Beinvír could join the fray a dozen had fallen and the Yrch were turning to flee.

Screaming, “Beltho Huiniath!” at the top of her lungs, Helluin pursued them, manic, eyes blazing with sapphire blue fire, a ril of silver and gold shrouding her black-armored form. Unable to help themselves, the mortal warriors turned to look upon her rampage in shock and awe. Never had they imagined that such prowess could be. No tales of the Elder Days of the west had come to their ears aforetime, for in their eastern homelands no lore told of Beleriand. Even the War of the Last Alliance was’t barely known to them. And never had one of their kindred witnessed the deadly nature of the Eldar at war.

Beside Helluin now the Green Elf slipped amidst her foes, wielding her long fighting knives in blurred arcs of silver in a dance far too fast for mortal eyes to follow. Indeed the riders saw ‘naught but her form pivoting and advancing, while’st around her the stricken bodies of her enemies fell. Of the 63 Yrch, soon but four remained, fleeing for their lives to the south. Ere they made the crest of the ridge came the shrieking whine of the Sarchram, and the mithril Ring cut them down, ricocheting from one to another ere it took flight again and returned to Helluin’s hand.

In the next moment the Men broke from their astonishment and fell upon the last of their foes, and they slew them as they stood, quaking and bereft of hope. When they turned back they saw Helluin cleaning her weapons and Beinvír gathering her arrows.

Now the captain of the riders knew not what to expect of his new allies. Indeed he approached them with some measure of fear. Surprised was’t he to hath the ellith’s aid in the gathering and burning of the dead Yrch. More surprised was’t he to hath their help in the tending of his own fallen. Four riders had lost their lives in the skirmish, and these they set in hastily dug graves ‘neath cairns of stones, to send hence their spirits to the company of their ancestors. As the Men stood silent and the evening sky darkened, Helluin raised her voice in a lament o’er the four mounds, an Elvish song of mourning in the Quenya tongue, once sung in the Hidden City. And though ‘naught of her words did the Men understand, all were moved to tears by the purity of her voice and the strains of the tune, and great honor did the fallen hath of them; no less than had those remembered two Ages of the world aforetime in Nan-tathren, whither the folk of Tuor and Idril had sung for the slain of Gondolin. Thence did the Men raise too their own voices in the tongue of their people, in traditional warriors’ songs, for they had no bard amongst them to compose individual dirges for the fallen.

Now when all the songs were sung and the Men had made their camp, the captain came to the soulmates and shared food and speech with them. In Westron, the Common Tongue of the Third Age of the Sun, much thanks for their aid did he lavish upon them. Then rather than continue his patrol with diminished company, he agreed to guide them whither they would go, and this was’t hence, to the lord of his people. So ‘twas that upon the morrow they decamped, and having still the mounts of the fallen riders, they horsed the two ellith and led them south. ‘Twas a ride of six days ere Helluin and Beinvír came to the halls of the riders in the lands ‘twixt Celduin and Carnen. Upon their way they passed south of the lonely mountain of Erebor, fording a narrow river north of a long lake. They turned then more easterly for some thirty leagues, ‘cross a wide and grassy plain. Thither all seemed at peace, yet the riders kept sharp their lookouts and the Elves sensed a tension unabated in the Men and their horses.

At the company’s homecoming there was’t both rejoicing for the living and weeping for the fallen. But the captain led Helluin and Beinvír at once to the largest hall of wood, a crude dwelling to Helluin’s eyes and an ugly one to Beinvír’s. ‘Twas, he proudly informed them, the Great Mead Hall of Lüdhgavia, Lord of the Riverlands. Thither beside the door post he set his spear so that it stood upright with his company’s pennant displayed just ‘neath its head. Helluin and Beinvír noted several others, each attesting to a company of riders now in the city.

Now in truth the Elves had smelt the settlement long ere they saw it. From afar they had marked the reek of too many horses held too close together for too long. ‘Twas the muck of stables, cleaned from the stalls and piled ‘nigh, compounding the native scent of the beasts. Thereafter the smells grew ever more oppressive to their fine senses. Midden heaps ringed the settlement, proffering the stench of decomposing food scraps, the refuse of tanneries, and the offal of butchered carcasses. Closer still and the evidence of the Men’s daily living asserted itself. Thither rose the reek of unwashed bodies, rancid animal fat, wood smoke, and the emptying of chamber pots. The Elves choked back their gorge and breathed through their mouths as they walked the lanes, struggling to acclimate their senses ere they entered the hall. Being used to open spaces or the far more sanitary surroundings of Elvish or Dúnedain cities, both suffered greatly at their initial coming. ‘Twas a torment to be repeated at each subsequent arrival.

‘Twas thus that they entered the Great Hall of Lüdhgavia, half swooning with nausea. Beinvír had noted a row of hung fowl, dangling by their necks from the eaves, shedding feathers and dripping fluids as decomposition rendered their meat more tender and flavorful. She gagged softly and blinked in horror. Helluin marked the discarded bones of prior feasts lying ‘nigh the front doors, gnawed clean by dogs for their gristle and marrow. Within the hall ‘twas only worse; the miasma more compressed and deprived of any cleansing breeze.

A long and dim and smoky hall it was’t, lit by the hearth and a few torches, whose inky smoke wafted upwards to be stifled and only slowly liberated through the roofing thatch and a small ventilation hole. Their eyes adjusted quickly to the murk, revealing a rush strewn floor littered with yet more bones, muddy patches evincing spilt mead or wine, and some food scraps. Amidst all this were set crude wooden benches and tables.

Slinking through the shadows were the king’s dogs, gnawing scraps, lounging upon their sides, or going about their doggy business unabashed. Thither one squatted ‘nigh a wall, spraying its urine. Another struggled to produce a stool, covered with flies ere it dropped to the floor. The animal turned for a sniff and recoiled at the smell. ‘Cross the hall stood a circle of elated and filthy children, giggling as they beheld a pair of their canine playmates vigorously copulating. Facedown upon the foremost table was’t a giant of a Man, clad in bearskins and leather, and surrounded by the past night’s jugs and drinking horns and the platters of his feast. A gold fillet lay tumbled upon the tabletop amidst unruly yellow locks shot with grey. The captain led the Elves thither while’st the children marked the strangers with curious and watchful eyes.

Helluin and Beinvír could smell the king’s inebriation from three fathoms. He fairly reeked of mead. The alcohol wafted hence from every pore of the Man’s skin and flowed upon his labored exhalations. It very nearly eclipsed the nauseating top note fragrance of rancid animal fat upon his hands and the undertones of sweat and urine from his garments.

No military or courtly bearing governed the captain’s approach. No herald proclaimed his guests’ presence to the monarch. The trio simply marched up, armed and unchallenged, ‘til they stood behind the snoring Man. Then the captain grabbed his king’s shoulder and gave him a rough shaking.

“Rouse thyself from thy sloth, Lüdhgavia! Thou hath guests!”

The captain had leant down to fairly shout in his sovereign’s ear. The king gave a gasp and jerked upright in his seat, slinging strings of saliva and tumbling his crown upon the table while’st shaking his head. The crown he fumbled for as he muttered curses, and he finally reset it a-kilter upon his brow as he blinked and turned his head to regard the three figures with a bleary and bloodshot gaze.

“Huh? Whither…whence?” He blubbered in the Common Tongue. “’Tis the morn?”

“’Tis well past noon, O King,” the captain replied.

“Oh fie! Would that someone had announced it to me. I am a busy Man…” Lüdhgavia trailed off, registering his guests. “Who art these…” he noted the bright eyes and pointed ears of the strangers and blinked again, squinting and regarding them as closely as his blurred vision would allow. “I should say rather, what art these visitors, pray tell?”

“My lord, they art Elvish warriors, come from afar. They hath proven to be fell allies, indeed well ‘nigh invincible at arms, they art. They delivered my company from certain death but seven days past.”

The king nodded and searched his place for a full cup, but finding ‘naught bit dregs, sat straighter and called out in a great voice, “Ho! Bring mead for thy king and his guests! We art thirsty!”

He then stared about the hall in anticipation. Some moments later a doorway at the rear of the hall opened and a serving woman came forth bearing a jug and mugs. She was’t youthful, and though comely after a fashion, stood poorly clad in a homespun woolen skirt and blouse with lank blonde hair trailing down her back. She stared at the Elves with increasing curiosity as she approached, her mouth opening by degrees ‘til when she stood ‘nigh to serve, she gaped at them in astonishment like a fish. The captain smacked her ‘cross the back of her head with an open palm.

“Cease thy laziness and serve thy king, wench,” he commanded.

She snarled and made as if to curse back at him, but then held her tongue before her king and served out the mead as ordered. When she was’t done she stared again at Helluin and Beinvír for a moment ere retreating whence she had come with many a look back o’er her shoulder.

“I swear that ‘till her breath fails that one shalt gossip of that which she hast seen,” the captain carped.

“Aye, and speculate the more at that which she hast not,” the king agreed while’st looking after her as she left. To his guests he explained, “she is my niece, the girl-child of my fallen eldest brother. I look to her welfare ‘til she marries as is my duty. Alas, she is a dullard and a gossip, but a good child at heart.” He sighed and turned back to his guests after watching her departure.

The two ellith could but nod. About them the children had gathered as an audience.

“Hither art Helluin and Beinvír,” the captain said as he gestured to each elleth in turn, “warriors from a land called Eriador, which lies far to the west of the great forest. They art travelers…”

He trailed off, realizing that he knew ‘naught of their homelands, their errand, or their allegiances. Somehow such normal queries had fled his mind while’st in the Elves’ company, yet only now did that strike him as odd. For their parts, Helluin and Beinvír had subtly discouraged his interest in their background and mission at every turn in their conversations, prompting him to other topics or reinforcing his lapse with subconscious suggestions. Indeed they had held the captain in what amounted to a shallow state of hypnosis for the past week. They’d had no intention of declaring their desire to convince his king to migrate west, in hope of providing aid to Gondor.

Lüdhgavia was’t eyeing his captain o’er the rim of his mug as he drained it, finishing off the last with a flourish, a belch, and a forceful return of the vessel to the tabletop.

“Know thou ‘aught of those whom thou hast brought before me?” Lüdhgavia asked.

The captain could only mumble uncertainly as he tried to recall somewhat of his chats with the two ellith o’er the past seven days. It seemed now impossible to him that he could hath listened to them for so long and learnt so little of them. Indeed save for their names, the name of their homeland, and the general direction in which it lay, ‘naught else could he recall. ‘Twas not even sufficient for a proper introduction. At last he indicated the Noldo and stammered, “she doth sing quite well.”

Lüdhgavia choked on a swig of mead, (having taken up the captain’s unclaimed mug), and looked sharply at him as he coughed to clear his throat.

“Thou hast brought me two strangers, of whom one may perhaps be a minstrel?”

“Nay,” the captain claimed in desperation. “They art fell warriors. She is unmatched with sword,” he said, casting his eyes to Helluin, “while’st her companion is precocious with her bow. This at least I know of a certainty. They slew a horde of foes ere my company did the same.”

At this claim the king gaped at his captain in shocked disbelief. He then looked even more closely at the two ellith who only grinned at him in return. With a shake of his head he drained his second mug, and after wiping his mouth upon his forearm, spat and gave in to hysterics. The captain’s claim was’t wholly unbelievable. When he finally mastered himself again he declared to the captain.

“Thou hast surely lost thy mind, old friend. Say thou that each of them slew 30 ere thy warriors could slay but four apiece?”

The captain gulped ‘neath his king’s withering gaze and replied only with a nod, ‘yea’.

“In fact I slew 33 and Beinvír 30, but thou must add one to her tally for her shot that saved the life of thy captain when he was’t unhorsed, O King,” Helluin reported.

Beside her, the Green Elf thought for a moment and then nodded in agreement.

Again the king shook his head in doubt, but rather than gainsay his guests he rose unsteadily to his feet.

“Whom doth thou name the best archer amongst us?” He asked the captain.

“That would be Borhtan, without a doubt.”

“Summon him to the green at once. I shalt see for myself the skills of our guest.”

“Aye, my lord,” the captain answered crisply.

He glanced quickly at the Green Elf and his right eyelid fluttered in what could hath been a wink. He then marched off with a rapid stride and the Elves could well ‘nigh see the smile on his face as he made to leave the hall.

After the king watched him go he sighed and faced his guests. The hint of a grin curled his lips.

“Either thou shalt prove his words or not,” he said as he stood to tower o’er even Helluin by well ‘nigh half a head. “In truth it matters little since thou art not soldiers at my command. Still, if half what he claims is true I should not miss such mastery.” And with that he gestured the two Elves hence and led them out of his hall, a gaggle of children following in their wake.

Back in the daylight Helluin and Beinvír breathed sighs of relief. The lesser reek of outdoor air seemed a blessing from Eru and they inhaled deeply of it.

The king was’t making his way towards a long greenway that ran from his hall to the market, beyond which lay many lanes and the city gate. The two Elves followed. Many riders lounged about that space, taking their ease while’st drinking, jesting, and speaking amongst themselves in small groups. Many too were the common people, going about their business in the market. Most nodded to acknowledge their lord as he passed with his guests, and these drew their share of curious glances. The king shaded his eyes as he walked, until they stood some twenty fathoms from the doors of the hall. Thither he stopped and turned, and they found themselves facing east with the sun behind them.

“Me thinks this is a fair distance to test thy bow, young lady,” he said to Beinvír, “for t’will surely be a fair test for Borhtan…that sot.” He chuckled to himself as the children gathered in a semi-circle behind them.

For her part the Green Elf looked back towards the hall, wondering what target they might attempt. Helluin allowed herself a sigh and placed her hands upon her hips. I am hungry and surely Beinvír is famished. How long, she wondered, shalt we stand idly awaiting the arrival of this ‘best bowman of the riders’? In looking towards the hall, she deemed a small knot of a pinky finger’s thickness centered in a board to the right of door to be a fair target at forty yards. Some ten minutes later the pounding hooves of a pair of horses announced the return of the captain with his chosen archer.

Now Borhtan was’t a tall and lanky Man with equally long and lanky hair of reddish gold. This appeared wet, seeming greasy, and wildly disheveled, as thou he had escaped of late from a swamp. A quiver of arrows made from a goat skin and capped with its empty, flopping head was’t hung o’er his shoulder and he carried a worn long-bow of wood. Though dressed as a rider, when he dismounted his gait evinced a pronounced limp derived from a club-foot. He stopped and bowed to the king, then smiled at the Elves, revealing a total of seven teeth. Thence he looked back to Lüdhgavia for orders.

“Borhtan, the captain has’t named thee our best archer,” the king declared, indicating Beinvír with a gesture, “and so I hath need of thee to test the skills of this…guest.”

The Man brought up his bow, and this he strung with a grunt and checked with a twang ere he nodded to himself in approval. He then asked, “To what target shalt I send my arrow, me lord?”

The king shrugged and waved a hand vaguely towards the hall, saying only, “Choose something…challenging.”

Borhtan squinted thither and shook his head in consternation. Behind him the captain appeared ready to disagree as well.

“Sire, should someone exit the hall untimely, t’would be their doom,” the archer said.

“Bah! ‘Tis no one thither,” the king said after quickly counting the children, “and the dogs can’t open the doors.” To himself he muttered, “t’would be no tragedy to be less a hound or two.”

Borhtan shrugged doubtfully but hesitated to gainsay his king while’st the captain too held his peace. Instead, he drew an arrow from his ragged quiver and raised his bow.

“I say the heart of yonder deer carven upon the left-hand door,” he declared, naming his target, “t’will be a death shot as if on a hunt.”

The king nodded his approval and Borhtan drew and sighted. Beinvír readied her bow as well, choosing an arrow and fitting it to the string. Ere he fired, the Man cast his glance to the Green Elf, and catching her eye added, “one shot, m’Lady?”

Beinvír murmured her agreement and Borhtan prepared to fire, setting his feet and drawing the string back to his ear. He sighted for a moment and then released, the shaft flying straight and true. Beside him, Beinvír drew and aimed.

Borhtan’s arrow was’t only a fraction of a heartbeat aloft when the door jerked open and the serving wench stood forth, her breast well ‘nigh perfectly supplanting that of the carved deer. ‘Twas ill luck and poor timing of amazing proportions, and scarce time there was’t even for the archer’s mouth to form a shocked “O”. The maid was’t surely dead, for his aim had been true.

Yet even as the door had begun to move, Beinvír had dropped to one knee, turning her bow sideways, and she loosed her arrow after that of the rider. Its course was’t the same as his, save at a slight up-angle. But the great difference ‘twixt his bow and hers made itself known in less than a heartbeat, for though ‘twas a foot shorter, the Green Elf’s bow was’t recurved in form, made of both yew and horn layered together and bound with sinew in its making as was’t the way of the Laiquendi. The design had been tailored for stalking more easily in the dense forests of Ossiriand and its size belied its power.

Scarcely two fathoms ere the doors the Green Elf’s arrow caught and clipped Borhtan’s arrow in flight, shunting it aside and deflecting its own course so that both came to stick in the lentil o’er the left hand door, just above the serving girl’s head. She recoiled from the thump of the impacts by reflex, noting the archers for the first time, and then, realizing her peril, fainted dead away upon the threshold.

Beinvír slowly rose to her feet while’st Borhtan simply stood breathing heavily with relief. Behind him the captain was’t shaking his head in amazement. Helluin smiled her approval of her partner’s shooting, but the king was’t already in motion, racing back towards the hall as fast as his feet could carry him. It seemed that any trace of his drunkenness had been left behind as if in the wake of his haste. When he reached the doors he gathered the swooned girl in his arms to carry her within the hall, and this he did with surprising gentleness, not even looking back at his guests.

Now left alone on the green amidst a ring of cheering children, Borhtan shouldered his bow and offered his thanks to the Green Elf.

“Thou hast saved me from just that tragedy which I foresaw. Indeed I deem ‘twas meant to happen, so perfect was’t the timing. I shalt say further that thou art the finest archer I hath ever seen, and I hath seen many. Thou hast trained long and hard, no doubt, to gain such a skill.” He stood shaking his head in wonder.

Beinvír smiled at his awe. Her shot had flown true, but to her, ‘twas not remarkable, for she had fired but one arrow from her string rather than two or three.

“Know thou ‘aught of her kindred or the nature of her life?” Helluin asked seriously.

Borhtan shook his head ‘no’. Both of his king’s guests were strangers to him.

“We art of Elven kind and her folk hath long lived by the bow. She hast practiced at archery for ‘nigh on 4,400 years,” the Noldo told him. “Her shot was’t a good one, not only for its accuracy, but yet more for its saving of a life. ‘Tis rarer to fire for the sake of preserving a life than taking one.”

Borhtan stood staring at the tall warrior, not knowing whether to believe Helluin’s claims or to scoff. He’d seen the shorter woman’s skill, but what had been said was’t far beyond his experience. N’er in historical times had any of his folk met Elves. Into the Greenwood they seldom went and when they did, Thranduil’s folk avoided them. The few Avari of the eastern lands had shunned them yet the more and only in the most ancient legends of the riders were the Elder Children of the One mentioned at all. In such tales they were magical folk who disappeared before one’s eyes or played tricks upon them. They had been neither allies nor friends. Borhtan was’t a simple Man and in truth knew not what to think of them save one thing only.

“I know ‘naught of Elves,” he admitted, “yet thou hast surely saved me from my king’s wrath. His brother-daughter is dearer to him than he is wont to say. For the most part he would hath us believe himself put upon by her presence. Yet her father was’t dear to him, the eldest prince of his father’s house and his childhood hero…and his niece much like a daughter, for our Sire is without wife. I fear the judgment her death would hath set upon me.”

“But he commanded thee to shoot thither,” Beinvír said reasonably.

Borhtan shook his head.

“Aye, but t’would hath made scant difference had she been struck. I know my king,” he said with a nod and the hint of a grin. “Oft he speaks ere giving full thought to the outcome,” and in a lower voice he added, “me thinks ‘tis the mead that oft speaks for him.”

When he saw their looks of disbelief, the captain spoke to support Borhtan.

“He speaks true,” the captain said, clapping the archer on the shoulder and speaking for the first time. “Lüdhgavia hast ever been a greater warrior than a king. As a youth he oft rode out with few at his side and dispatched our enemies bravely. N’er hath he shrunk from a fight. But upon his father’s passing he became king, and such was’t ever less his interest than contesting at arms. Indeed I deem happier he would hath been to be a captain while’st leaving the throne to his elder brother.”

At the questioning glances from the Elves the captain continued.

“In this last two years hath fallen Lüdhgavia’s father, his elder brother, Lundhini, and his younger brother, Midufavia. His elder had been taken by the Sorcerer of the Accursed Wood, and when his fate finally became known earlier this year, Lüdhgavia was’t given the crown.”

“And their father?” Helluin asked.

“Taken by drink long ere he was’t taken by death,” the captain answered sadly. “He was’t gone in all but his body for well ‘nigh the last seven years. Lundhini long spoke for him and all looked to his coming kingship, but alas, ‘twas not the be. When the prince was’t lost the king drank himself into his grave.”

“Aye,” Borhtan nodded sadly and agreed, “Lundhini should hath been king, with Lüdhgavia as First Captain and Midufavia as Loremaster and King’s Bard.”

“Alas for Lundhini, for I knew him not save as a corpse, held prisoner in the Sorcerer’s dungeon long after his life had fled,” said Helluin after some moments.

Borhtan looked at her in shock.

“’Twas thee of whom Ërlick spoke then?” Borhtan asked.

“Aye,” the Noldo answered.

A smile widened upon the archer’s face.

“Fell warrior indeed,” he exclaimed. “And I deemed thy defeat of the Yrch company a week past to be a singular deed worthy of many songs. ‘Twas rather a lesser thing for thee, I wager, after the emptying of Dól Gúldúr!”

“T’would be so indeed, Borhtan,” the captain said, “save that each combat is a thing to itself and ever is victory welcome no matter what the count of the fallen.” Then turning to the two ellith he said, “Of Ërlick’s tale hath many heard tell. Surely thy folk art few and ‘tis not to be wondered at that thou art the same warrior he met to the west of the forest but a few seasons ago. Of this she had told me aforetime,” he added to Borhtan while’st nodding to Helluin, “and so I doubted her prowess not. I wager both thou and our king shalt believe it too now.”

“Indeed so,” the archer said. Then to Beinvír he spoke an oath. “Thy companion is a great warrior and all our folk hath a debt to her for laying our prince to rest with honor. Yet ‘tis to thee that I owe much more upon this day, for saving my arrow from slaying my king’s last kin. For this I pledge my aid and that of my house to thee at need,” and then with a smile he added, “though I deem thy need shalt doubtless be lesser than our own.”

At his noble words the Green Elf bowed her head a moment in acceptance, though she too doubted that her need of aid from this disheveled Man or his descendants would ever be felt dire. ‘Twas more for the sake of warriors becoming allies and friends that she accepted.

“Thy oath honors us both, noble archer,” she said, “and I am proud to accept thy aid.”

And little could any standing thither upon that day know aforetime just how valuable that aid would one day be.

“I deem that our king shalt be occupied a while,” the captain said to Borhtan and the Elves, “and in the meantime t’would be well for us to slake our thirst and fill our bellies for we hath ridden far this day. Thou art hither as guests,” he said to Helluin and Beinvír, “Pray join us for some victuals?”

The Green Elf’s stomach took his words as a cue to grumble and the Noldo grinned at her partner’s embarrassment.

“I should say thou speaks the truth, O Captain, and we should be honored to join thee at table,” Helluin replied. Beside her Beinvír nodded her agreement.

“Then I shalt lead thee hence to the Prancing Mare, whither the finest of food and drink in the city is to be had,” the captain offered.

‘Twas shortly later that the four of them made their way to a large hall that stood close by. So famished were the Elves that even the row of fowl dangling from the eaves stayed them not. And they joined the patrons in the common room, finding a warm and friendly company gathered thither, eager to take their ease and to hear stories. ‘Twas many hours ere they were called again to the Great Hall and into the presence of the king.

To Be Continued

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