In An Age Before - Part 8

Chapter Eleven

Eregion, 'nigh the Hithaeglir, Eriador - The Second Age of the Sun

  Almost a thousand years later the lands of Eriador were still as green as she remembered them, rolling easily between the Ered Luin in the west and the Hithaeglir to the east.  The hills and valleys are older yes, but they've retained their character, Helluin thought as she walked along an east-west track that led from a ford crossing the River Baranduin.  She was traveling east, some twenty leagues south of an arc of downs that lay near the center of that country, and she was making for a place called Ost-In Edhil in the land of Eregion that the locals called Hollin.  She was not overly happy to be going.

  Another insipid name, she chuckled derisively, for Ost-In-Edhil translated as City of the Elves, and unless it was the home of Dwarves or Men, was a label so predictable as to be unnecessary.  Why even bother if that's the best they can come up with, she wondered?  Her eyes had actually blinked on their own when Gil-galad had named it, stating that it was thither that many other of the Noldor and Sindar had removed.  Indeed Helluin had noticed many absent faces in Lindon, in particular, Celeborn and Galadriel.

  The news had been little troublesome to her until the High King had subsequently mentioned that also taking that road had been Celebrimbor, son of Curufin…son of Feanor.  Helluin's suspicions had immediately risen by reflex.  Never in all the days of Arda would she trust one of that House…and Celebrimbor was the last that she knew of.  Though he alone of them all had divorced himself from the oath of his fathers, so far as she was concerned they were all cursed, all bore bad blood just waiting to out.

  Celebrimbor was probably even responsible for the name Ost-In-Edhil, she thought petulantly.  It was an uncharitable sentiment, but Helluin was less than objective despite the fact that Celebrimbor hadn't even been born until after the Noldor had reached Beleriand and she hadn't known him there during the First Age, for she had never come to Nargothrond.  Instead, she remembered him from Lindon during the first days of the Second Age, grasping at nobility, yet ingratiating and scheming, with smallish wheels revolving under the thin bones of his skull.  He had been deft of hand, she recalled, skilled in craft as were his forebears, but she thought him more suited as a pickpocket than a master craftsman.  He had blindly sought after esoteric knowledge without giving a thought for wisdom.  Such was her appraisal and she was blind to her prejudice. 

  At first Helluin had hoped that the wilderness of Eregion would be a good place for Celebrimbor to lose himself and do no harm.  That Celeborn and Galadriel had gone with him was mildly troublesome, but she was confident that they could take care of themselves.  But then Gil-galad had revealed that they'd located their new city 95 miles downstream upon Sirannon, the Gate Stream that flowed from the West Gate of Khazad-dum!  Helluin immediately recognized that the situation had all the makings of a disaster, knowing the avariciousness of the House of Feanor, the wealth of the Dwarves, and the lack of humor of both.  She guessed that the outcome of such a conflict would be very bad for the Noldor, recalling the stock of arms in the Dwarrowdelf and the haughtiness of their lords, not to mention the sheer numbers of their soldiery.  And the Elves had no idea of what they would be getting into.  None of the Eldar had entered those mansions save she herself, but of old, many of the Noldor had entertained derision if not outright enmity towards the Naugrim.  Most of the Sindar still bitterly recalled the sack of Menegroth and the killing of Elu Thingol.  Celeborn had been a Prince of Doriath and Elwe his Lord and kinsman.  Oh yes, she thought, the future could get very bad.

  And there had been more; Gil-galad had bid her watch the lands as she traveled for signs of a growing evil.  Hints and rumors of a dark power in the east had come to him across Eriador.  Indeed those rumors had their source beyond the Hithaeglir, and so they were uncertain to him, yet troublesome still.  He had looked at her and said that, since she was going that direction anyway, perhaps she could look into the state of…things?  Well, young scamp that he was to her, he was still the High King of the Noldor.

  "Thy wish is my command," she had said with a sigh.

  "Have a care on thy journey," Gil-galad had said, "and be ye ware of the Enedwaith."

  Helluin had looked askance at him for that warning.  The barbarians of southern Eriador she had heard increasing tell of in Númenor.  It seemed they were now the unfriends of the Dúnedain in response to the habitat destruction resulting from Aldarion's rampant timber cutting.  And they had ever feared and hated the Eldar.  Still, they would never see her unless she wished it so.

  So Helluin had started out for Ost-In-Edhil though the name still caused her to wince.  She intended to find out just what was going on there and perhaps head off a bloody misunderstanding.  The Noldor were her people, her kith and kin.  At the same time, she hoped to meet again with the Lords of Khazad-dum, though she had her doubts as to whether anyone she'd known still survived.  It had been 861 years since she had first come to Hadhodrond, but she still considered Durin's Folk her allies and friends.  If a dispute started, her loyalties would be painfully divided.  Without conscious thought, the whirlwind of threatening feelings in her heart caused her to quicken her pace.

  Even so the walk took Helluin a fortnight, during which time she worried and muttered to herself about getting a horse.  Between the Ford of Baranduin, and the Ford of the Glanduin on the South Road lay 178 miles, and from the confluence of the Mitheithel and Glanduin skirting south of Nin-In-Eliph to Ost-In-Edhil upon the Sirannon ran another 78 miles.  The determined Helluin averaged 30 miles a day.  It didn't help her mood to be traveling in the cold of Girithron, (December), or that she needed a new pair of boots. 

  It was a cold, tired, and irritable Helluin who came to the gates of Ost-In-Edhil in the early afternoon of 7 Girithron, S.A. 992.  She found there an unremarkable gate of iron, a merely serviceable palisade of stone, and an atmosphere of wariness.  The sentries questioned her much until her patience wore thin and she challenged them to call upon Celeborn or Galadriel to vouch for her.  The sentries were taken aback for a moment, but then recovered their officiousness and asked after her business.  With a groan, Helluin had lifted a foot and displayed the condition of her boots.  Shopping for new shoes has brought me hither seeking the commerce of the city, she had claimed.  Upon being admitted she immediately went in search of a cobbler.

  "Thou wants these in black, I wager," the cobbler actually said with a straight face.

  "If it wouldn't be too much trouble," Helluin retorted, "my pink ones clashed in spirit with my dress."  Aside from her cloak of subdued greens, everything she was wearing was black and had been for millennia.

  "Of course," the cobbler said, giving her a long look as if for the first time.  "What style?"  He asked next, also sounding serious.  Helluin could only stare at him.

  "I believe I'd mentioned that they were to replace the ones I came in with," Helluin said at last, trying to restrain her sarcasm, "just use the old to pattern the new if thou please."

  "Ahhh, good idea," the cobbler said, taking her old boots and looking them over before setting to work.  "Make thyself comfortable, this will take a couple hours."

  What's he planning to make them out of, Helluin wondered, paper?  No one could build a pair of boots in two hours.  She slipped on a pair of camp slippers and stood back up.

  "I am going across the lane to the inn," she told him, "I shalt return after I hath lunched."

  The cobbler only nodded to her as she left.  Already he was checking some dyed stock against the lasts for her size before making some adjustments to the rough-cut pieces and beginning the stitching.  What she wanted was so basic and simple that he doubted it would even take him the whole two hours.  Perhaps he would add some fur trim or beads.

  Across the lane Helluin found a small table near the rear of the common room and took a seat with her back to the wall.  Around her a few Noldor and Sindar sat in small groups, eating or slaking their thirst with wine and ale.  Helluin ordered a hearty lunch of bread and stew and a mug of cider, and when it arrived, she dug in with relish.  As she ate, she listened to the conversations flowing around her.  The words of three Noldorin craftsmen quickly drew her attention.

  "…and what of that nest of Dwarves in yonder cave?  Surely there art gems amidst the mountains," one diner said to his fellows.  "We should employ them as miners' guides."

  "Aye, there's wealth of metals for the finding too, I'd wager," a second one guessed.  "'Tis a wide land and indeed gleanings of gold hath been panned already from Sirannon."

  "Celebrimbor hast already fabricated some moonstones," a third revealed, "and our craft is enriched by his efforts.  He claims we should take a more forward stance with the Dwarves if we want to better out lot.  I should listen, for he founded the Guild."

  "And the Guild is pushing Celeborn to open negotiations with the Naugrim," the first said, "but he is resistant, always citing patience and prudence.  Perhaps 'tis rather that he is weak of will where they art concerned, after the Sack of Doriath."

  Helluin choked back her anger at that remark and remained silent.  Celeborn had heard her own words concerning Khazad-dum when she'd first come to Lindon with Veantur almost 400 years before, and he knew far more about the Naugrim than these fools.

  "One would think he'd bear them no love, accounting the past history between his folk and theirs," the third said, "I'm surprised he shows those stunted creatures any patience at all."

  "Some say 'tis Galadriel who makes up his mind," the second said with a chuckle.  "At least she wields no power o'er Celebrimbor."

  "I say 'tis the craft of the Guild that will raise this realm," the first declared, "and that through the efforts of Celebrimbor we shalt gain renown.  The Jewel Smiths art the heart of Ost-In-Edhil, but our craft needs material to create works more wondrous yet."

  "All agree with that," the second said.  "The Guild needs ores, and where art those to be found if not 'neath the Hithaeglir?"

  Helluin weighed their words.  In them she heard the seeds of all the troubles she'd foreseen, the lusting after the resources the Dwarves had long claimed, the avarice of the Noldor, and the scheming of Celebrimbor.  Added to that was an undermining of the power of Celeborn and Galadriel among the influential craftsmen.  And yes, she had heard the prevailing derogatory attitude towards the Naugrim.  It seemed that her work was cut out for her.  So, Helluin thought, they art fabricating moonstones….

  Across the lane she'd collected her boots and to her surprise they were better than she'd dared hope.  Not only were they a fine fit, but the leather was supple and the soles thick.  She had been back early expecting to wait, but the cobbler had already been finished and was standing there looking over his work.  A box of fur scraps had been close at hand and a dish of bright enameled beads as well.  Helluin had eyed them suspiciously, gaining the impression that her return had been timely indeed.  She'd put on the boots, smiled at the cobbler and handed him his fee, and then quickly left.

  Her next stop was a visit to the ruling house of Ost-In-Edhil, the Halls of Celeborn and Galadriel.  It wasn't hard to find.  She simply looked for the tallest tower.  That would be Galadriel's bit of whimsy, she thought, Celeborn would have been happier in deep-delved mansions recalling his old home in Menegroth.  On her way thither she passed another grand edifice.  This one was massive rather than tall, with an ornate façade carved of hard black stone and gilded doors of intricately wrought iron.  Embedded in the posts to either side of the entrance were great red cabochons that glowed weakly with a ruby light.  Gwanin-I-Mirdain, she read on the lintel, the Brotherhood, (or Guild), of Jewel Smiths.

  Being upon an errand for the High King gained her admittance forthwith, and immediate access to the Lord and Lady.  She found Celeborn and Galadriel in their study, deep in a troubled conversation.  When she was announced and entered, both looked at her with almost comical relief.  Helluin looked back with a questioning expression.

  "Well met, Helluin," Celeborn said as he rose and gave her a quick nod in greeting.  "We endure in an increasingly unsettled situation and thy coming is well timed."

  "Indeed so," Galadriel added, "I cannot recall having ever been happier to see thee."

  Helluin flashed her a sour smile and turned to Celeborn as she joined them at their table.

  "I hath just come from a cobbler," she announced, glancing down at her new boots and reveling in the confusion her words wrought on their faces, "and hath heard troubling words at an inn."

  Celeborn raised his eyebrows, prompting her with his expression to continue.

  "I hath heard that the Guild of Jewel Smiths pressures thee to parlay for trade with the Naugrim of Khazad-dum, indeed hoping of obtain of them ores for their crafting.  They perceive thy hesitation as weakness of resolve and art enamoured of Celebrimbor," Helluin said.  She had been ticking off the points on her fingers as she spoke, then added, "Oh yes, and they regard the Naugrim with derision.  Very dangerous of them."

  "Well, that about covers it," Galadriel groaned, then asked, "how long hast thou been in Ost-In-Edhil, and how dearly bought were thy tidings?"

  Helluin thought a moment and replied, "I came to thy gates not quite three hours past and learned all from three Guildsmen over lunch as I ate."

  "And let me guess then that the Guildsmen also bought thee lunch and paid for thy boots," Galadriel said snappishly.

  Helluin stared at her with an expression of irritation until she apologized.  "Thy pardon, Helluin, but great effort it hast taken us to keep abreast of events as they de-evolve here 'bouts.  Celebrimbor unceasingly agitates unrest through the Guild, which he hast created to further his own influence amongst the people.  Many hath come to perceive him as a visionary.  See thou, the founding of Ost-In-Edhil was originally his idea…a city of smiths."  She nodded to reinforce her statement when Helluin looked at her with disbelief.  "We decided to come along for our own reasons, but with us here, he was forced to leave the leadership to us because of our old status as nobles.  Indeed the Sindar look to Celeborn as the right lord of Ost-In-Edhil and they trust not in the House of Feanor, but a large group of them under Oropher went thither recently over the Hithaeglir, hence our support is lessened.  Many Noldor distrust the House of Feanor as well, recalling the curse.  It hast been frustrating for Celebrimbor and he chaffs."

  Helluin pondered Galadriel's words.  Galadriel, she suspected, had come hither to be closer to the forest of mellyrn with its enchanted stream that she herself had hinted of long before in jest, while Celeborn was merely present to accompany her.  As for the rest, Helluin was all too ready to believe that Celebrimbor was scheming to found and rule a realm of his own; she was only surprised that he'd shown such initiative in coaxing so many hither from Lindon and Mithlond.

  Helluin asked, "How came Celebrimbor to choose Eregion for the site of his city of craftsmen?  He could more easily have colonized the Ered Luin, for it lies far closer to Lindon.  The Naugrim of Belegost and Nogrod mined there for an Age, yet now those mansions stand empty and the land uncontested.  Why came he hither, so close 'nigh Khazad-dum?"   

  Here Celeborn and Galadriel traded uncomfortable looks, almost sheepish.  Helluin was immediately suspicious and sat drumming her fingertips on the tabletop, looking back and forth between the two and waiting for their explanation.  Finally Celeborn began.

  "At the feast that Gil-galad gave when the Men of Númenor first came to Lindon, many tales were shared."  Helluin nodded, remembering the hours of conversations that had flowed with the food and drink and she suspected what would be revealed next.  Sure enough, she wasn't disappointed.  Celeborn continued, "Thy own words concerning the realm of Khazad-dum spread far beyond the High King's Halls, so wondrous were thy revelations to our ears.  Now among those who harkened was Celebrimbor, and most of all to those tidings concerning mithril.  The possibilities he found in thy words inflamed him and he in turn inflamed others.  Soon many of the craftsmen of Lindon desired to go thither for to try mining the lodes of Hithaeglir, and not for mithril only, but in hopes of discovering other precious metals and gems of the earth."  Celeborn sighed and fell silent.

  Helluin groaned.  After a few moments Galadriel took up the story.   

  "Celebrimbor conceived that some day he would rule a great realm in Eriador whose wealth was based on the works of his craft.  Make no mistake, Helluin, Celebrimbor is without a doubt the most gifted craftsman of his generation…certainly the most inspired of us here.  Not since Feanor himself wrought his works in the Undying Lands hast one so proficient arisen amongst the Noldor.  Indeed he seeks to eclipse all that hast been made by the hands of the Eldar in Middle Earth.  Given the materials and the time, he may well do so.  Yet I fear that in lust for the one he shalt lose the other and much else besides."

  Helluin understood all that Celeborn and Galadriel had said.  She had unwittingly lit the fire of obsession 'neath Celebrimbor's ambitions.  With her tidings she had set in motion what had come to pass of late in Ost-In-Edhil.  Feanor's grandson had embarked on a personal crusade to fashion works of surpassing subtlety, and would stop at nothing to achieve his goals.  His single-minded compulsion could bring rebellion among the Eldar of Eregion and lead to war with the Gonnhirrim.  It would be a disaster of the first degree.

  861 years before, Helluin had walked the deep places of the Dwarvish realm and come to know their ways, their history, their language and the numbers of their company.  In their tongue there were 143 different words for slaying or being slain, and yet another 27 for death in the abstract.  It reported on a preoccupation with warfare and ferocity that was ingrained in their culture.  She had seen their armories and the hoards of weapons, the axes, shields, masks, mail, and armor bright.  And she had seen the companies and battalions drilling in their vast training halls where their shouts had shaken the roots of the mountains, for the army of the Host of Khazad-dum had stood at well 'nigh twenty thousands back then.  

  To allow Celebrimbor, whom Helluin was coming to think of as monomaniacal, to parlay with the Lords of Khazad-dum for a share of their wealth would be as setting a bull among beehives.  She wasn't sure which party would outdo the other in willfulness and self-possession…which party would more easily justify their avarice with self-righteousness.  Ever had the House of Feanor dealt condescendingly with the Naugrim of old, right from the first meetings of Caranthir in Thargelion.  Ever had the Folk of Durin begrudged to any but kin what they called their own.  Most likely any negotiation would quickly descend into contention ere the party's names were even fully announced.

  To send Celeborn to treat with the Naugrim would scarce be any better.  As a Prince of Doriath there was still bad blood between their kindreds.  For Thingol, the King of the Sindar of Doriath, had been slain by the craftsmen of Nogrod in his own halls of Menegroth, for they lusted after the Nauglamir, a necklace made by the Dwarves for Finrod of Nargothrond, and the Silmaril which was mounted in it.  In a cycle of retribution and retaliation, Menegroth had been sacked and the entire Host of Nogrod destroyed.  The losses on both sides had been very great and were not to be forgotten.  No, Celeborn would not be a fitting embassy to the Lords of Khazad-dum.         

  Last of the nobles of Ost-In-Edhil was Galadriel.  She was the sister of Finrod, whom of all the Noldor the Dwarves had most befriended, for they had aided in the building of his halls of Nargothrond in Beleriand and he had paid them well.  But Galadriel was also the wife of Celeborn and had long dwelt in Doriath.  Her loyalties were solidly set with the Sindar though she was of the blood of the Noldor of the House of Finarfin.  Another handicap had she that limited her in any capacity of negotiation.  The Naugrim were unused to dealing with women as leaders and would not choose to do so save for some practical reason.  Galadriel was neither a warrior nor skilled in the crafts of the hand and forge.  The Dwarves didn't know her and no one they trusted had vouched for her worthiness.  Though she was a Princess of her House, she would not be accorded the respect that Helluin had won with her sword and augmented with her generosity and fluency in their language.  Indeed, none of the Elves of Ost-In-Edhil could have come to the Naugrim and been received with anything but suspicion and distrust.

  Helluin realized that were any parlay to be initiated between the Elves and the Dwarves, it would indeed be she carrying their words.  She was the only one known to both parties, trusted by their leaders, and having no personal interest to gain from the success of either save the avoidance of hostilities.  One other fact she understood; the loyalties of Ost-In-Edhil were such that, from the moment of its conception, Celeborn and Galadriel had no place in it.  Sooner or later they would be ousted and Celebrimbor would assume the leadership.  It would be just a matter of time.  She sighed.

  "In my words of old did this dire state find its birth.  Only rightly then with my words should it be amended.  If thou would put thy trust in me for a time, then I shalt come before the Lords of Khazad-dum and plead thy case," Helluin offered.  "More difficult I deem shalt be obtaining the same trust from Celebrimbor and his Guild.  Yet I shalt go to them next and put forth my counsel."

  Celeborn and Galadriel shared matching sighs of relief and they nodded their agreement that Helluin should go forward with her plan.  They had reached much the same conclusions as she about their chances and had hoped against hope that through some grace she would appear.  That she had, they took as a sign, an omen, and their spirits were lifted somewhat for it.

  Over the last 150 years they had become comfortable in Ost-In-Edhil, but the prospect of becoming subjects under Celebrimbor sat upon their tongues like rancid goat butter.  Yet having a share in the possible wealth the Guild could create if it could but win materials from the mountains was sweet indeed.  They could build a strong and beautiful realm and perhaps reclaim some of the glory and majesty of Beleriand that had been brought low in the conflict with Morgoth, for Morgoth was gone and Middle Earth for the most part knew peace.  Now after over 1,600 years, Galadriel could sense at last the possibility of achieving the desire that had first led her from the Undying Lands; a realm under her own rule whose renown would rival Tirion itself.  Celeborn nursed the hope that his people, the Sindar, might raise a realm to rival Doriath, for his queen too had come from Aman, and though not of the Maiar like Melian, Galadriel had known the Light of the Two Trees.  And last they thought, Helluin first set these deeds in motion, and it is only fitting that she should correct them.

  The next day Helluin came to the Guild of Jewel Smiths, and demanded audience with Celebrimbor, naming herself a representative from the ruling family.  The grandson of Feanor received her in his chambers with obvious trepidation, for he could not refuse, and long into the evening they talked.  On both sides of that conversation were many revelations, for each had misjudged the heart of the other.  In the end they found common ground that satisfied both and might forge a better future for all.

  "Know thou that among the Naugrim there is little trust and much misgiving, and this is indeed to the discredit of the Noldor and thy house in particular, even from the first days of the relations between Eldar and Gonnhirrim," Helluin had said.  "Would that Caranthir had treated the people of Nogrod and Belegost with honor rather than disdain, for then our position would be much advanced by a history of good relations.

  I shalt tell thee this, Son of Curufin," she continued, "that the Naugrim have great honor as well as great skill, but also long memory and undying hatred for their enemies.  In Khazad-dum, which stood already a thousand years ere the Noldor came to Beleriand, there art mines and forges and craftsmen such as exist nowhere else save in the Blessed Realm itself.  There also is mustered the greatest standing army of this Age.  I alone hath walked those halls and seen their arms, and that over 850 years past.  I hath no reason to believe they art not yet stronger now.  And so I will tell thee that in no way would this city stand for even a season were a war to be fought between thee and they."

  Helluin leaned forward to emphasize her next points, for she wanted no uncertainty about where she stood if she were to involve herself as a negotiator.  Although she spoke with words, the impact of her thoughts came to him directly.  Celebrimbor, already held spellbound by her intensity, sat as a frozen thrall before her, barely breathing as she stared him in the eyes.  In her eyes burned the fire of the Blessed Realm which he had never seen, and with it came a power conferred to the true Calaquendi by the Light in which they had once lived.  He himself had been born in Beleriand and had never set foot in Aman.

  "Beyond this, the Folk of Durin I number among my allies, for in days long past I joined them and the Men of Rhovanion in battle against the Yrch of Hithaeglir.  I number them also among my friends, for in honor did I enjoy their hospitality for twenty years.  So know this; I will work to forge a league of friendship between thy people and theirs to the mutual profit of both, yet I will not be used for thy dishonest gain.  If thou betray their trust and somehow survive their wrath, I shalt hunt thee and slay thee on their behalf as surely as I sit here with thee now, and that to regain my honor and theirs.  With them I hath shared only friendship, but with the House of thy fathers, little but enmity."

  She had released him from her power then and he had shaken himself to reclaim his tongue and his wits ere he spoke.

  "Of the inheritance from my fathers, deed and oath alike hath I recanted, and counted myself no longer of that House even when yet I lived in Nargothrond.  To the betterment of my skills and to bring great works into the world hath I dedicated myself, Helluin.  I would treasure any league of friendship with the People of Durin such as thou could forge.  No intent to dishonor thou or thy friends do I hold in my heart, but only the hope of celebrating together our skills.  Among the Naugrim do I suspect live many of kindred spirit unto myself, devotees of Aule the Maker."

  Helluin heard his words and measured his heart and found that he at least believed what he said.  She then strongly "suggested" that he offer a gift to the Naugrim as a token of his good intentions.

  "The best of the works you hath made so far will suffice," she had said.  "For thou must seek to impress them with both the generosity of thy heart and the skill of thy hand."

  Celebrimbor had gulped and then taken a pouch from a coffer, and with obvious regret handed it to her.  She had opened the pouch for a peek and smiled.  Even she had been impressed.  Such a token would do very nicely indeed.

  9 Girithron, S.A. 992.  Helluin approached the West Gate of Khazad-dum upon the road that ran beside the Sirannon, much as she had long before with Gikli and Merk.  She had removed her cloak and tucked it in the travel bag draped over her left shoulder so that her armor was clearly visible, but she had left off the hauberk.  She saw that the gate was guarded by a company of two-dozen sentries, and behind them the massive portcullis was closed.  As they spied Helluin around the curve, walking towards them between the hedges that flanked the road once it found the heights of the narrow valley above the Stair Falls, they came to attention and faced her in a wedge formation.  Helluin halted a dozen paces away and addressed them in their own tongue.

  "Hail and well met, guardians of Durin's Gate.  I am Helluin of the Noldor, come again to Khazad-dum in peace, where once I walked in honor in the time of thy fathers long past.  I pray thee ask of thy Lords if they will admit me, for I come with tidings and counsel regarding the city of the Eldar down yonder stream.  Ask if they will converse with me, in honor of our alliance in battle in years gone by."

  The lead sentry stood silent a moment, looking her up and down.  Finally he spoke, wary still, but courteous.

  "Surely thy time here was long ago, for it is many years since any but our kin walked these halls.  Yet I see thee wearing the work of our hands, and some may know of thee, if they be wise in lore.  Wait here please, while word is sent.  Come, have a seat."

  He directed her to a bench beside the portcullis while someone inside raised it enough that one of their number could pass within to bear the message thither.  Helluin nodded and moved forward under the watchful eyes of the remaining sentries, taking the proffered place and laying her bag on the ground at her feet.  The sentries went back to their post by the gate, though now they stood attentive rather than leaning on their axes at ease and chatting.  After some moments the lead sentry came over to Helluin and took a seat on the bench beside her, laying his axe across his knees, but keeping a hand on the haft.  He was curious about her, enough to ask of her past rather than be silenced by his distrust. 

  "Helluin of the Noldor thou art named," he said, "and though I have passed eighty-two years, I know thee not, nor any tale of thee.  Yet indeed some novel tale is woven about thee, that is plain to see.  I see thy armor and thou doth speak our tongue as a native.  Never hath I been so surprised as to hear words in Khazdul from thy lips.  Pray tell me, when did thou last come among us?" 

  "I was invited hither by the prospectors Gikli and Merk, whom I met 'nigh Mitheithel, 861 years ago," Helluin explained.  The sentry's eyes bulged at the count of years she mentioned.  "By their hospitality for a favor I had done them upon the road, I was admitted hither and spent twenty years as a guest within thy mansions.  Much counsel did I share and many things did I learn, and shared too such skill as I had learned of the Maiar of Mahal in the Blessed Realm.  In my years here I joined many expeditions prospecting for metals deep 'neath Durin's Halls and even a vein of mithril did I spy.  In that time was my armor made." 

  The sentry's attention was fully focused on her now, for indeed she had a novel tale to tell.  Most knew of the Barazinbar Spur, a vein of mithril ore discovered at the time she'd named that was still productive and led into the north, down deep 'neath Caradhras.  His eyes tracked the supple movements of her forearm as she spoke, and how the black, scale-like plates upon her bracer moved, fluid as water.  The accouterments of war were of interest to him.

  "'Tis galvorn, or perhaps black steel?"  The sentry guessed aloud.  "No craftsman am I, yet I can see the excellence of the workmanship.  The temper must be perfect for so little wear does it show.  Surely 'tis the work of a master smith of old.  Indeed, 'tis hard to believe thy armor hast passed o'er eight and a half centuries use; it appears unsullied, as it were made in the year just past."

  He lifted his own gauntlet to show the wear on the plates about his wrist where the movements of his hand had worn the metal bright.  Helluin looked at the years of slow abrasion from the lapping plates slipping against one another.  She appraised the workmanship and smiled, recognizing the bluish sheen of the tempering upon it.

  "Thy armor is of medium-grained steel, forged of mountain ore and hardened like dragon scales, then tempered and quenched in mineral oil from the shale of Nareed-dul-Nar 'neath Zirakzigil's Eighth Deep.  It hast given thee thirty years service, I'd wager, and hast yet many more years left ere it need be replaced."

  The sentry's eyes had been getting yet larger as he listened in admiration to her knowledgeable report.  What he knew of fabrication in steel was incomplete but didn't refute anything she'd claimed.  Helluin continued, holding up an arm.

  "Thou detects no wear, for the master craftsman Gneiss son of Gnoss indeed made this work of metal refined from the lode I found.  The rest came into the treasury of his family, long may they prosper, for I laid no claim upon it.  Gneiss spent o'er a year in the making of this peerless armor, and the finest work did he do.  Yet at first the plates and mail shone mirror bright, and I couldn't abide such attention as it would call, being a lone warrior afoot in the wilderland to the east.  Hence I beseeched him to wash the metal with black galvorn as thou supposed, to hide its nature and to hide me as well."

  The sentry nodded in understanding.  There were battalions whose armor was blackened for fighting in the deep dark places within mountain caves, the strongholds of Glamhoth.  He looked closely at the fine work of Helluin's armor, knowing it now for mithril and appreciating the value and rarity of it as well as its matchless protective qualities.

  At that moment the portcullis rose and a pair of Dwarves in long robes came forth.  They saw Helluin and moved to join her as she rose and the sentry snapped to his feet.  He saluted them when they came near and one nodded to dismiss him back to his post.

  "Helluin of the Noldor, the welcome of Durin III, Lord of Khazad-dum is extended to thee" the first robed Dwarf said, speaking the greeting in fluent Sindarin and bowing as was their custom.  "I pray thee come hither that we may see to thy comfort ere our lords take counsel with thee.  In years long past were thou a friend and ally, and we honor the league of friendship our fathers' fathers forged with thee to the benefit of all."

  "Ever gracious art the Folk of Durin, and steadfast as friends in peace and in war," Helluin responded, making the courteous statements of praise expected on such an occasion. "None upon Middle Earth approach thy matchless craft, and indeed that craft hast preserved my very life.  Many times hath I given thanks for the friendship of thy people and the work of thy hands."  Here she bowed her head a moment and then followed the two Dwarves through the portcullis, up a stairway, through a long tunnel, and into the outermost western hall.

  From there they continued on for about three hours, mostly in a straight line, on the same level and heading east.  They came at last to the Twelfth Hall of the West End, 'neath Celebdil, and Helluin was shown to an apartment on the right side.  This was in a populated area where many lesser craftsmen had their shops and many services were available.  Most of the apartments in that hall were reserved for visitors from other realms of the Naugrim, but these had become few since the passing of Beleriand and the rooms stood for the most part empty.  Indeed at that time, Helluin was the only guest.

  "Please make thyself comfortable," the second robed Dwarf told her, "and shortly food and drink shalt be sent.  On the morrow we shalt convey thee further east, for the way is too great to come there in one day.  The Lord's advisors shalt meet with thee in the Sixth Hall on the Third Level."

  "Ahh, that was the great hall of the hundred columns 'nigh the base of the Tower Stair," Helluin recalled.  "I thank thee both for thy welcome and thy attention.  Indeed some refreshment would be welcome."

  "Thy memory serves thee true," the first robed Dwarf remarked.  "Enjoy thy sup and thy rest.  We shalt resume the way tomorrow.  Many, I suspect, shalt come to hear thy tidings, for indeed the new city of the Eldar hast caused much concern."

  Indeed it was so, for both concern regarding the Eldarin city and the presence of Helluin drew forth many to fill the Sixth Hall on the Third Level the next day.  There Helluin stood before the advisors of the Lord of Khazad-dum and testified to all that had passed in the founding of Ost-In-Edhil.  The Dwarves listened with great interest.  The fact that among the Elven host lived a grandson of Feanor, the craftsman of greatest renown among his own people, whose works were known to the Naugrim, were tidings of remarkable potential.  Just as they believed in the rebirth of their father, Durin, into the ruling family Age after Age, so too they believed that the inspiration and abilities of a great craftsman might again visit those of the same blood.  In Celebrimbor, they saw perhaps the shadow of Feanor reborn.  It was a point of view that Helluin had not predicted, but it aided the possibility of future cooperation and friendship that she sought, and she welcomed any advantage for whatever reason.

  "'Tis said that Celebrimbor is the preeminent craftsman of his generation among the Noldor.  The work of his hand is subtle and yet greater works are foreseen from his craft, for it is his intent to surpass all yet wrought by the Eldar in Middle Earth.  In many arts is he skilled, yet of primary interest to him now is the fabrication of jewels.  For that venture he has created a Guild of Jewel Smiths in Ost-In-Edhil, and hast had some success thus far.  In this pursuit he indeed follows in the footsteps of his forebear, Curufinwe¹."  ¹(Curufinwe, birth name of Feanor, Sil., Ch.6, pg.64)

  Here Helluin reached into a pouch that hung from her waist and produced what she had literally browbeaten Celebrimbor to proffer in token of his goodwill.  When she lifted her hand it held a moonstone, a thick oval cabochon the size of her own fist.  Within its pale misty depths glowed a shifting ghostly light that recalled Ithil at the fullness of its cycle, reflected in the clear waters of the Kheled-zaram.  The Gonnhirrim had been muttering about the fact that Celebrimbor was creating jewels, the very same enterprise that had given rise to the most famed of his grandfather's creations.  It seemed a real possibility to them that the spirit of the maker of the Silmarils was come again as a master craftsman to his house.  Helluin raised her hand and the hall fell silent.  All eyes were fixed upon the stone it held.  All hearts were turned thither in wonder and longing as the internal luminescence moved like a living thing trapped within the gem.

  "Here does Celebrimbor make an offering of the craft of his hand to the Lord of thy realm, in token of friendship and goodwill between the peoples of Ost-In-Edhil and Khazad-dum.  By the Guild of Jewel Smiths hath I been given leave to parlay and treat with thy Lord, in hope of forging a league of mutual benefit in future days to the profit of both our kindreds."

  For a long time none spoke, and when the silence failed it was yet for a time but the whispering of the advisors together ere any announcement they made.  Then the eldest of that counsel, Ghriml son of Ghramûn spoke for them all.

  "Helluin Maeg-mormenel, in friendship hast thou come unto us again, and indeed with tidings fair and beyond our hopes.  Of old thou did us honor in peace and in battle.  From thy generosity of spirit hath many here prospered.  Now again thou art come among us, offering possibilities for the enrichment of our realm.  Were all the Eldar such as thou, great and deep would hath been the friendship between our kindreds.  Alas that in the past such was not always the case, yet like all else in Arda, relationships change.  We welcome this chance to amend the past and share in a bountiful future.  This Counsel of Advisors shalt recommend to our Lord that he approach thy tidings with serious regard, and treat with thee for the mutual benefit of both our kindreds.  As of old, we thank thee for thy tidings and thy friendship."

  Two days later, Helluin came before the Lord of Khazad-dum, and over the next three days finalized a provisional trade agreement between the Guild of Jewel Smiths of Ost-In-Edhil and the Guild of Craftsmen of Hadhodrond.  It was to be the model for a wider long term continuing partnership between the two kindreds, the first of its kind in Middle Earth not based on a contract with finite goals and a set price for services rendered. 

  When she left on 18 Girithron, after three days of celebratory feasting, it was with the satisfaction that she had enriched both the Noldor and the Naugrim and insured a peace in that time.  It was a good thing, for since her last visit, Khazad-dum had become stronger in its arms and more numerous in its population.  She had been right on both counts.

  In addition, Helluin had visited the Guild of Craftsmen.  There she was happy to find that the House of Gneiss had indeed prospered.  There she was greeted by Grimis son of Gnolis son of Gneiss, the current head of the household and a master craftsman like his ancestors.  He gladly did Helluin the service of adjusting her armor for the added height she'd gained after drinking from Oldbark's stream in Greenwood.  Indeed after thinking ahead, Helluin had him leave her a wee bit of "growing room".

  Helluin's return to Ost-In-Edhil on the 21st was greeted with great rejoicing when her news was published.  All the Eldar breathed a sigh of relief, for no longer was their future uncertain.  They could look ahead to great accomplishments and vast potentials and the raising of a unique realm.  Indeed nowhere else and at no other time did the Eldar and the Gonnhirrim come together in such league of trust and friendship.  Celebrimbor was overjoyed at the possibilities that stood before him and swore anew to Helluin that in no way would he endanger the peace she had forged.  Celeborn gave her thanks that she had succeeded for his people where he surely would have failed, and with Galadriel he enjoyed the continuation of their status of rulers for a time.

  "Helluin, there is no thanks we can offer thee for what thou hast achieved," he told her quietly as they stood in his tower watching the people celebrate below in the streets.  "Thou hast perpetuated our place as sovereigns and relieved the tensions between the Jewel Smiths and ourselves.  Anything thou desires that is within my power to grant shalt be given but for the asking."

  Helluin looked at the king and a smile curled her lips, for on her way back from Khazad-dum she had given thought to her near future.

  "I think that for a while our interests would be best served if I were to remain in the area.  To that end, thou may provide me with fair quarters in the city, a formal office of Embassy to the Naugrim, and a pair of boots each year that I serve the folk of Ost-In-Edhil.  I like the work of thy cobblers and there is still much else to be done."

  Almost immediately both the Eldar and the Dwarves formulated the specifics of their agreement.  Indeed little involvement did Helluin find necessary, for to her great relief and happiness, Celebrimbor did indeed find among the Naugrim many of kindred spirit who revered Aule/Mahal and lived to better the works of their hands.  In more general terms, the people of the two cities came to enjoy a deep trust and friendship.  Both sides were on their best behavior and none dishonored the other.  Still, Helluin kept an eye on them just to make sure, and acted as a mediator and counselor equally to both sides.

  About thirty years later she was returning from yet another embassy to Khazad-dum.  It was a warm summer afternoon.  Helluin had taken a rest and was seated beside a pool upon the Sirannon.  She idly skipped flat stones across the water's surface, her mind open and unpreoccupied with mundane official worries.  Despite some continued petty friction between the Guild and the rulers of Ost-In-Edhil, all was going well, and of late she had entertained thoughts of wandering.  A stone skipped once, twice, thrice, then cleared the far bank and ricocheted from a tree trunk.  Astonishingly, it reversed its flight and actually skipped once upon the water's surface as though it was destined to return to her hand.  Her eyes had tracked it and her mind froze on what she had seen.  If only…  In the next moment she was on her feet and hastening to Ost-In-Edhil seeking Celebrimbor.

  Once again Helluin came to the Guild of Jewel Smiths demanding audience with Celebrimbor.  This time she was received with genuine welcome rather than tense misgivings.  There she challenged the son of Curufin to create something her mind could barely conceive, something that had never before been forged.  Celebrimbor couldn't resist the challenge to his craft and was willing to work with Helluin, for he felt indebted to her.  After all, an arrow once shot or a javelin once cast was hard to use twice.

  Thus began the forging of the first ring, a ring unlike any that were made after; the only Elven Ring to be conceived from its genesis to be a weapon of war.  The project consumed decades of work and countless trials, all of which were conducted in semi-secrecy as an ongoing private commission.  The process of selecting the alloys and perfecting the tempering alone took nearly forty years.  The meditation on how they would and whether they should had taken longer.  Helluin and Celebrimbor each had many other duties and labors concurrently, but ever they resumed work on her project.  In their enterprise they had much aid from the Guild of Craftsmen of Khazad-dum, and indeed most of the forging was done in its deep halls far from prying eyes.

  "In the making of its form we now hath the mastery," Celebrimbor had claimed.  He was standing beside his borrowed anvil deep in the smithy of Narvi, his oft-partner of late, sweat from the forge's heats shining on his bare arms.  He raised the circlet from the bed of coals and scrutinized it as it glowed, white hot in his tongs.  It lit their faces as they moved to encircle it, thought the chamber remained largely in shadows.  Up close it was so bright that it pained their eyes, forcing them to squint. 

  "But metal alone will not serve this cause," the Dwarf muttered grimly, turning his head and eyeing Helluin speculatively as she stood by.  He wondered if she would have the commitment to enable the weapon that she had first suggested they make.  A weapon to fly with a mind of its own would need to partake of the spirit of its intended wielder to accomplish the bond.  Return to the hand of its maker, yes, he thought, but to fly with no loss of speed?  Elvish magic it was, and he would believe it only when he saw it accomplished.  "Let it not cool too quickly," he warned Celebrimbor urgently.

  "I suppose then the time is right, Master Narvi?"  Helluin had asked.  She looked over at the son of Curufin who stood squinting at the ring.

  "Very nearly…" Narvi said, also watching the incandescence dropping, the pure white mellowing to a hue of yellow-white, "…very shortly now."

  "Doth thou remember the words, Helluin?"  Celebrimbor asked.  "Only thou can…"

  Helluin cut him off impatiently.  "Of course I remember the words.  They art the least part of the process.  If thou judge the time right, then give me the tong."

  She reached out her hand for it.  "Not quite yet," Celebrimbor muttered.  For another few moments the Elven smith hesitated.  He and Narvi were now both squinting closely at the ring.  The hue dropped yet a fraction more toward true yellow.  Even as the Dwarf uttered, "Now, Celebri-," he held it out to Helluin.  She quickly took the ring and raised it head high, clenched tightly in the tong.

  "From power to power!  From my fea to thine!  Thy flight undiminished ere thou return to me!  I bind thee thus as I bear thee!  Awaken thou!"

  Helluin's brow was furrowed tight in concentration on what they had practiced many times in preparation for this day, when a fraction of herself would be transferred to empower and bind her ring.  Had she not desired the completion of this work so deeply, she would have been loath to part with any of herself.  When she had first learned what was necessary, her gut instinct had been to forgo such a desire and do without the weapon.  Yet over and over Celebrimbor reasoned with her, asking, doth not any act of creation require a sacrifice, the input of the personal spirit of the creator?  Was it not the nature of any endeavor to take somewhat ere the reward of achievement was bestowed?  Indeed the son of Curufin had ever bolstered her commitment to the project, having become enamoured of it himself.  Eventually she had deemed that she had the power to spare.  It had happened over the decades, as their success crept closer and closer one step at a time, that she had found the necessities of the process becoming acceptable.  She had slowly seduced herself to the idea of it, surprised at the same time that she was subject to such a process.  Helluin recognized that her mind had rationalized the necessities with the persuasiveness of her desire, and the tradeoff it entailed.  One by one her reservations had faded.  Now she stood and the day had come, but her resolve was complete.

  For a moment the energy she had accumulated made her own hand glow, a brilliance of mingled silver and gold, the Light of the Two Tress that she had once absorbed in Aman.  It encompassed the tong and the ring, rising even to overpowering the physical light of the metal's heat that now glowed with the very same hue.  Then there came a flash, and Helluin felt a part of herself tearing away as the ring accepted her gift into itself.  She proffered enough, yet not too much, but even so the loss left her breathless for a moment.  She forced herself to inhale slowly and deeply to recover from it.

  The ring passed from yellow-white to true yellow as it rested in the tong, and thence to yellow-orange as it continued to cool.  All watched it, fairly holding their breaths.  The ring had absorbed all the power Helluin had offered without breaking; its making and craft were sound!  It came to a shade of orange the two smiths recognized from their many trials over the years and Narvi beckoned Helluin forward.

  "Quench it now in a smooth motion…down into the oil deeply, and hold it there until the hissing ceases," he instructed for the hundredth time. 

  With a fluid movement, Helluin plunged the ring to the half-depth of the waiting barrel, plunging the smithy into the now shockingly dim light of a few lamps.  Helluin turned her head away from the fumes as the blended oils boiled and hissed up about her in a great cloud.  The reek reminded her somewhat of the stench of burning Gondolin, where the works of Turgon's craft had perished in dragon fire.  The memory of another part of myself torn away, she thought, another sacrifice to Middle Earth.

  In the end they succeeded, though it had taken almost a century.  The final product was the Sarchram, the Grave Wing, and it was a ring made, not to adorn a finger, but to kill.  It encompassed a circular blade whose diameter was the distance from Helluin's elbow to her wrist, and upon which had been graven words of power in Certar¹ of Khazad-dum.  Of all Helluin's gear and kit, it was the only thing bright and fair.  ¹(Certar, runes,  Quenya, called Cirth in Sindarin, created by Daeron of Doriath in the 1st Age and adopted by the Naugrim, among others, as it was suited for carved inscriptions.)

  During those same years, rumors and tales began to be heard more frequently from the lands to the east.  Evil was growing across Rhovanion and Greenwood, 'twas said, and from further east across Anduin came words whispered in fear of a darkness that had settled in the lands beyond the Ered Lithui, the Mountains of Ash.  The time had come for Helluin to take up the second part of her Lord's assignment.  It was now S.A. 1123.


To Be Continued

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