In An Age Before - Part 9
The Brown Lands and the Black - The Second Age of the Sun
Down into the lands of Rhovanion she had come, passing from Azanulbizar Gate having journeyed the 40 miles through Hadhodrond. After issuing into Nanduhirion she walked down Celebrant as she had a millennium before, finding at its confluence with the future Nimrodel, a battle in progress. Through the trees she heard the sounds of steel clashing, screams of pain, the whiz of arrows, and the thud of their impacts. She drew Anguirel and hastened forward. The screams had been voiced in the guttural timbre of Yrch.
What she found made her pause for a moment ere she came to the battle. Glam there were and many of them, arrayed in two companies and contesting some squabble that had progressed to bloodshed between them. From the forest came the flight of Elven bolts, indiscriminately dropping an Orch here and another there, taking lives from each company at will. Helluin realized that it was a three-sided battle, a fight between two Yrch companies that had drawn the attention of the Nandor of King Lenwin. The northern border guards were now picking off what Glam they could as all were equally their enemies, but their opportunistic shooting had been noted by the commanders of the two companies. These were warily circling each other, swords at the ready, as they argued for suspending their own hostilities in order to fight the Elves hidden about them in the woods. Now Helluin estimated the Yrch companies at about 120 soldiers still living, but from the bow song and arrow flights she guessed that the Elves numbered only about two dozen. It was a potentially bad situation in which the odds would soon shift. Even as she thought this the two Orch captains were stilled, no longer circling, and they were lowering their swords. They had quit their bickering and reached an agreement. The tide would soon shift from a three-way free for all into a slaughter of two companies against a much smaller one.
Helluin raised the Sarchram and whipped it into flight. The Grave Wing flew with a warbling whistle, deflected as it clipped the blade from an Orch soldier's scimitar, and found a new course without losing any speed. It was but a blur in the afternoon air, scarcely to be seen but for a glimmer of reflections. Just as the Orch captains prepared to order their troops to stand down, their faces were hewn clean from their skulls without even a change of expression. The Grave Wing had laid them low with no warning. It ricocheted a final time, slicing the leather curass of another Orch soldier, and then it returned from whence it came, seeking its place in Helluin's hand. She snatched it from the air and its whine was silenced. The Yrch stood indecisive, staring in shock and amazement at the bodies of their fallen commanders, who now lay with their skulls cloven in two.
Into their stunned midst Helluin charged, Anguirel in one hand, the Sarchram in the other. The blue fire blazed in her eyes and her black hair flew from beneath her hauberk as she slashed and spun. Ere they came to their senses and began to move, six had already died upon her blades. The old familiar bloodlust from the wars of Beleriand revisited the warrior of the Host of Finwe, and her battle cry of ”Beltho Huiniath!" rang through the woods as it had in the Elder Days.
At first the Yrch gave battle, seeing but a single foe. Helluin cut down any that approached. In her eyes was the Light of Aman, but on her face lay a twisted and reckless smile. She sneered at the Yrch, reveled in shedding their blood, and goaded them to deliver themselves to their deaths, calling them craven, slave, and doomed. She tirelessly swung and slashed, slaying them with little effort. Very soon the Yrch came to fear her and they shied away from her face. She pursued them mercilessly, while from the opposite side of the battle, a continuing hail of deadly arrows flew from the trees.
Even the Yrch have their tales and lore, told in a perverted version of the Common Tongue or in the Black Speech of their new master, who of old had been the lieutenant of their maker. There were half-forgotten epics of woe and horror, and the muddled chronicles of battles won and lost ere the world had changed. Among the lies were a few references to the Elf with the Blue Fire Eyes, undying and terrible, untouchable in battle, and a scourge upon their people. Rumors and superstitions told that she was like unto their master in her limitless hatred and lust for blood. She was a terror not seen in a thousand years. Yet now she was come among them in a frenzy of mayhem! The same despair gripped them then as would crush the spirit of a Man suddenly facing a Balrog. The last dozens she chased over the precipice of the gore and into the rushing waters of Celebrant, where they were battered on the rocks and drowned.
Then through the sounds of her thumping heart, her racing breathing, and the pounding waves of blood in her veins, Helluin heard the command, "Daro i-npengath!¹" She recognized the voice of Haldir calling the order to cease firing. And at last the only sounds were the rushing of water and the wind shifting the branches overhead. ¹("Daro i-npengath!", lit. trans. "Stop all the bows!", ver. trans. "Cease fire!" = Daro(imp. -o) + peng(bow for shooting), + -ath(coll. pl) + in(def. art. pl), i-npengath. Sindarin)
Helluin stood still, smelling the spilt blood of the Yrch, splashed by it, wet with it, and surrounded by corpses. In one hand she grasped the black sword Anguirel, and it rejoiced in the slaughter. In the other she held the ring of mithril alloys that Celebrimbor had made, and it spoke with a voice lilting and musical, but also deathly cold.
"Hail to thee, Helluin, Spirit of Battle's Fire. Hail to thee, Anguirel, Steely Daughter. Proud am I this day, shedding the blood of our enemies in thy company."
And Anguirel replied, "Thou art indeed of our kindred, Grave Wing, hail and well met."
Now Helluin was still recovering from the bloodlust of the battle, but the words she marked and pondered. Anguirel, she had always thought, meant Iron from the Star, for of celestial ore had that sword been forged by Eol…it and Anglachel, its mate…or more rightly, Helluin realized, she and her brother, for they were both the children of the Dark Elf's forge. Now at last, Helluin was aware that Anguirel could be better translated as Steely Daughter, being Angui + rel. It made sense. Neither sword had favored the hands of doomed and ill-fated masters. Both sought a hand of their own gender, and a spirit of complimentary darkness. Thus had Beleg been as unsuited to Anglachel as was Maeglin to Anguirel. Instead Anglachel had accepted Turin and Anguirel had accepted Helluin. In this the swords were as siblings and the offspring of their father, alike in temperament, dark in character, willful and unforgiving like their maker. She filed the knowledge away for later contemplation as she cleaned her weapons.
This time, Haldir was leading a company of twenty-two border guards that included two of his brothers, Rumil and Orophin. None of them had ever been present when Helluin had fought an enemy, though Haldir clearly remembered the arrows that had bounced off her armor at their first meeting long before. After a thousand years and more he was happy to see her again, for, he told her as they walked toward King Lenwin's Halls, Yrch had multiplied and were now seen increasingly often 'nigh the Hithaeglir. Indeed, the southern border guards reported them as well, and the occasional refugee fleeing from the east in terror. Some of these were Men of Rhovanion, uprooted from their homes just north of the Emyn Muil, who spoke the rumor of a dark power growing in the land of Mordor. Indeed because of this they had fled north into unknown lands, rather than south down Anduin to the coast. In the realm of Lindórinand 'nigh Celebrant, all were eager for tidings of the world beyond the forest, and all were apprehensive of what those tidings would tell.
The next morning Helluin came again to the high talan and the Hall of King Lenwin and the Lady Calenwen, and there spoke of those things she had seen. Of the realm of Belfalas, the Nandor of Celebrant had the greatest interest, and King Lenwin was indeed glad to hear of his grandsire's continued prosperity and his renewed quest for the West. The years Helluin had spent among the Dúnedain of Númenor was regarded with curiosity but little understanding. The Nandor had only minimal contact with Men, and those mostly the kin of Berlun, shape shifters and always few in number. Lenwin's people had absolutely no understanding and little interest in her tales of her voyages of discovery; the wider world simply wasn't real to them. They had nodded in irritation when she'd spoken of the flourishing city of Noldor and Sindar that lay but 95 miles west beyond Hithaeglir, and that these Eldar were in close friendship with the Naugrim of Khazad-dum. The news brought forth some griping on Lenwin's part, for Ost-In-Edhil was the origin of Oropher's band, which had passed through on their way to Greenwood and lured off no small number of his own people. Long ere she finished, Helluin had come to realize just how isolationist, provincial, and grossly out of touch the Nandor of Celebrant were. They had walled themselves within their forest home, admitting almost no one, seldom venturing forth, and trusting none but kin. In some ways, they were more withdrawn that the Dwarves.
"Many things now move in the world, O King," Helluin concluded, "and sooth, nigh draws some great doom. Evil arises, I deem, such as hast not been ere the War of Wrath. Be ye ware, for dark shalt be the coming days."
"Helluin, I doth fear such may be as thou say, for omens and tidings portend strife ahead," King Lenwin said. "Two centuries and more ago did some of the Sindar come down Caradhras Gate and pass amongst us, ere going thither to yonder Greenwood o'er Anduin, and of them some tidings came. Still little beyond our borders do I know, but ever aforetime such great evil indeed passed us by. Think thou that soon it shalt find us at last?"
"O King," Helluin answered, "if Mordor doth be home to some great enemy who comes west with war, than of a certainty shalt thy realm be afflicted, for thou liest betwixt east and west. Khazad-dum and all Eriador lie past thy borders, and through thy land might spies and companies of the enemy come thither to Caradhras Pass as down a road to a castle yonder."
The King's eyes darted nervously to the east. What Helluin said was true. If an invader sought a way into Eriador without marching far to the south, then the lands before Nanduhirion were as the doorstep to both the tunnels of Hadhodrond and the pass o'er Caradhras. His realm lay astride their path and would not be ignored.
"Speaking such doom may be in vain, O King," Helluin added, "for were the enemy numerous, neither way would suffice for the passage of his arms. Indeed a great army would favor the passes south of Methedras, and thou may for a time be left in peace."
Just as the king began to relax with a sigh of relief, Helluin finished her statement.
"Yet once triumphant in the west, he, returning to consolidate his subjugated territories, shalt for certain come against thee who would then stand alone. If thou were of a mind to resist, then the time to offer battle would be just after his armies pass, leaving thee free to assault their forces' rearguard while'st they engage others to the fore."
"To do so we would of need leave our forest, the land we best know how to defend," Lenwin tried to reason, being viscerally repulsed by the thought of leaving home to get to war. "Of lessened use would our tactics be in open lands."
"Thou hast yet another choice, O King," Helluin said, knowing her suggestion would be greeted with even greater dismay. "In alliance and through yonder realm of Khazad-dum might thy forces pass to battle in Eriador. T'would be then but a march of 40 miles."
As expected, the king's eyes bugged out and he very nearly gagged. Make friends with the Dwarves? It was unconceivable. Pass through 40 miles of tunnels far beneath the surface with all the endless weight of the mountains pressing down overhead? It was unthinkable! No sun, no moon, no stars, no breeze, no trees. It would be unbearable! He would rather die than even consider it. Surely Helluin was joking, yet she stood before him with a questioning expression on her face. Beside him, Lady Calenwen bore a look of unconcealed horror. Helluin suppressed her laughter with effort. Under Lenwin's leadership, the Elves of Lindórinand would be well nigh worthless as allies. They would fight only to defend their own woods, and in their own woods they would be slaughtered.
Helluin spent two years among the Nandor of Celebrant, taking up again her post as Hunter of the King. In those days she roamed the forest at will, but mostly she came southern border, or to the east 'nigh Anduin. There she kept watch, and often she found need of her sword. Evil men were more plentiful now, especially to the south, and from time to time, refugees too appeared. Often enough in those days, Helluin joined with the southern border guards in repelling incursions, and among those she slew she marked many that bore the badge of an eye of fire encircled in red embossed on their flesh. Others bore a serpent tattoo in red and black. Most were Easterlings out of South Rhûn, who had come west 'round the southern end of Greenwood. She heard tidings too of increasing numbers of Orch companies, waylaid by the northern border guards, and these were invariably making their way south 'neath the eaves of the Hithaeglir.
In that time Helluin realized that all she was seeing was part of some great strategy, some vast plan. Evil forces were being gathered, marshaled 'neath the hand of a master of surpassing influence. The Yrch were surely come from the lands about Mt. Gundabad, which stood upon the farthest north of the Hithaeglir. From those same foul caves and warrens that had housed them since the First Age had come the force she had defeated with the Avari in Greenwood back in S.A. 422. For a moment she wondered what the Onodrim were doing, and whether the Yrch had infiltrated the forest or whether they were too constrained in following the orders of their new master to do aught but march south.
It was with this question foremost in mind that Helluin finally left the Realm of King Lenwin again in S.A. 1125. Ere she departed she came to the king and gave him counsel.
"In all good conscience must I warn thee, O King, for in the past hath I battled large companies of Yrch in Greenwood such as harry thy borders now. There, with the Avari of King Telpeapáro, did we essay to clear the forest of their filth, and so we gave them battle. Like thine own, those troops, lacking in store of iron, fought mostly with the bow and the spear and to great profit did their strategy fare. Yet in the final battle, ere all the Yrch were slain, the enemy charged the archers' lines, and coming amongst them, did great hurt with their swords. For the Avari, had but spear and bow and a few knives, and they stood ill prepared for battle at close quarters. Surely thou can'st imagine the loss and the mayhem.
In the deeds of days to come I foresee yet this same road perhaps appearing before thy people. In preparation for that day, I must counsel thee, by any means, conventional or not, to lay thy hands upon such store of arms as can be used against an enemy face to face. Swords would be best, but foregoing these, then studded clubs and axes of light head will suffice. Send not thy soldiers to war unprepared, O King, for thy losses in blood shalt be dismal to count."
"But where shalt such be found, Helluin of the Noldor, for in the forest there is scant ore and none here proficient at the forge?"
"Then O King, in despite of the practice and prudence which thy history teaches, thou must come at last in friendship among the Naugrim of Khazad-dum. In their realm, so close by thine own, art the greatest mines and forges, and the subtlest craftsmen of weapons upon Middle Earth. Indeed in the shadow of this Age's greatest western army doth thy kingdom lie. In league with them can'st thou increase the chances of thy people."
For long moments King Lenwin regarded Helluin in silence and hard did he ponder upon her words. Far more of war had she seen, and so he harkened to her though she was a commoner amongst her people. He could see in his mind's eye the battle she described. Indeed for his people, flight before the enemy would be the only choice. Their lands would be overrun. Yet in all the years since they had come to the mellyrn forest, his people could count on the fingers of one hand how many times one of Durin's Folk had walked in their realm. None of his people had ever strode the deeps of the Dwarrowdelf. But Helluin had walked those halls and seen those smithies and mansions. She wore armor forged by the hands of their craftsmen. She held their people in high honor and league of friendship; they were not monsters, only unfamiliar and strange to his eyes.
"O King, in warning will I tell thee what thou forgoes," she said sadly. "With a company from Khazad-dum numbering but one hundred men at arms, I could take thy kingdom and rule thy realm, for not a single weapon thy people possess can bite upon me and few among their soldiery would fall. And none of them bear bows, but rather the axe and the sword. Within Hadhodrond stands an army of 'nigh thirty thousands, clad in mail and plate, helmed and masked with steel. They art warriors fell, of a fell race, and they art the bitterest foes of the Glamhoth¹. And they art not thy enemy. Were thou to ally with them, then in battle could thou stand together, slaying thy enemies both close and far. Of them thou could learn strategies unknown to thee and find weapons to arm they warriors. I shalt say no more." ¹(Glamhoth, yrch-horde, coll.pl., lit. trans. "Din Horde" Sindarin)
Two months later, Helluin sat upon a fallen trunk 'neath the leafy canopy at Laiquadol. She was waiting there for Oldbark, just outside the entrance to his halls where it was safe for her to drink the water from the stream. He hadn't appeared yet. Indeed, since coming to Greenwood she had not seen any of the Onodrim. What she had seen of the forest had been quiet, possessed of a tense and waiting silence that felt oppressive without visible threat or proof of danger. She knew that feeling, but now it was stronger than in the past. It was the anger of the trees. Now none of them would speak to her as they had of old, instead remaining still, rooted and unresponsive, but she suspected, hardly unawares. In deference to this, she had not wandered, but instead stayed close by Laiquadol, and she had made her way straight there from Anduin.
Yet another month did she wait, and by then her patience was wearing thin, and she had thoughts of leaving for a time. But in the evening of 26 Norui, (June 26th), a rustling footstep did she hear and suddenly Oldbark stood before her. He appeared weary, with drooping branch and sad tired eyes, but now he greeted her "hastily" in Sindarin, as if displaying some newfound knowledge.
"Oooooo-hooooom, the wandering Elfling, returned to the forest in dark times," he told her as he led her within his halls. He set both feet into the stream and gave a great sigh. "Ahhhhh, I have needed such refreshment. Soooooo, what brings Helluin of the Noldor, called also Maeg-mormenel again to Greenwood? This new realm of Sindarin Elves? More Yrch perhaps? Or Evil Men? Or maybe the Great Enemy who arises in the east?"
"Indeed all of those and then some," Helluin replied so hastily that Oldbark gave her a quick look. "I hath been in the mellyrn forest where evil hast grown about the borders of late, and I had thought to ask if such was the same here, particularly in the north."
"Such is the same everywhere these days it seems, and indeed I have just returned from the north. Glam have attempted to enter but not to stay. They are traveling south from Mt. Gundabad…always south, and mostly on the west side of the river. Still some stray into the forest and I have left Huorns upon the borders," he announced with a smile in his voice. "Huorns shall guard the forest." He stood looking down at her for another moment and then offered, "Oh, and the answer to your earlier question was yes, it seems to be contracting."
Upon his last sentence, Helluin had to concentrate. Oldbark had given her an answer and she wracked her brain to recall the question. It took a while but finally she remembered the day they had met in S.A. 264. She had asked whether the forest was expanding, contracting, or remaining stable in its borders. Now after 861 years, he had answered. The forest was shrinking. She nodded in appreciation of his efforts. Coming to a conclusion about his observations hadn't taken him a millennium as he'd originally suspected. Helluin wondered if he was becoming hasty. She was preparing to ask further about the Evil Men and the Great Enemy that he had mentioned, but when she focused on Oldbark again she discovered that he had become immobile and was fast asleep.
Helluin went to the stream and drank of its waters from a cupped hand. She felt the strange sensation overtaking her again and she smiled mischievously. Carefully she nursed it with sip after sip until she felt her armor tighten apace. Someday she would again meet with Galadriel, and this time, if she had calculated aright when she'd had Grimiss alter her mail and plate, she would stand just a finger's width taller than the daughter of Finarfin.
In a "hasty" aside the next afternoon, Oldbark had mentioned the new enclave of Sindar and Nandor who had arrived in Greenwood not quite two hundred-odd years before. Someone named King Oropher? Did she know him? Or maybe his son, Prince Thranduil? They had taken up residence south of the Emyn Duir, and so far had stayed out from underfoot. He was currently worried that the Huorns might 'eat' them by mistake. The Huorns were notoriously indiscriminate about those that went on two legs, he told her gravely, and Elves had always been more curious than was sometimes good for them. Still, they had been helpful in controlling the spiders.
Helluin had little knowledge of Oropher or Thranduil, but guessed that they led the contingent of Sindar that Galadriel had mentioned as, a large group of them (that) went thither recently over the Hithaeglir, when Helluin had first arrived in Ost-In-Edhil in S.A. 992. The timing was about right. They were certainly the same as those King Lenwe had griped about. She told Oldbark only that they might have originally come from Lindon, at least the Sindar, that is.
"Didn't they all these days?" Oldbark had observed, meaning, come from Lindon.
Thereafter, Helluin spent several days speaking with Oldbark. From his very precise answers, she gleaned that many kindreds of evil kind were heading for the southern land of Mordor. This was a place she had never visited, lying as it did, hemmed in between the Ered Lithui and the Ephel Duath. Oldbark knew little about it either beyond its location, since it had never been a part of his forest. In the Eldar Days, it had been mostly located 'neath the Inland Sea of Helcar, and had only come into being after the changes of Arda following the War of Wrath. By then the forest had retreated and the Brown Lands lay in between. All she was sure of was that this parched and bitter land lay south of where she had taught the Men of Rhovanion, and east across Anduin from Belfalas. It was a start.
Helluin went south, and she saw that indeed the Greenwood had retracted. There was now a wide land of hill and plain. At sometime during her absence in the past this had been sewn with gardens and fields, rich with tillith and orchards and vines, yet now it was abandoned to weed and weather. Many homesteads could once have thrived here, she thought, peopled by Men, most likely the descendants of those she'd once known somewhat to the south. For a while they had thrived and moved north as the trees had receded. From this land had no doubt come many of the refugees she had seen 'nigh Celebrant, fleeing north away from the growing evil. She passed through quickly on the remnants of tracks and roads now overgrown with weeds.
Now she came to the lands where she had spent years with the herders, farmers, and fishermen. All that country was deserted. Towards the south she came upon the remains of homesteads that had been put to the torch. She was reminded of the destruction of the lands about Eglarest and Brithombar in the Falas of Beleriand long before. It raised her anger apace. In that once familiar land she noted paths that had been used repeatedly for the passage of companies, Yrch and Men most likely, bound in haste southwards.
By the last days of Urui, (August), Helluin had struggled through the Emyn Muil, a dismal landscape of ridges and slot canyons, dry washes, gulches, and precipices, dust, bitter winds, and little water. The land was contorted into curved ridges and eroded into curved gullies, all of which encircled the Falls of Rauros upon Anduin. About the river the slopes were steepest and least easily traveled. At least nigh the river there had been many small streams and forests of dark pines right down to the water's edge. Further east where Helluin had traveled, the land took on a parched character, giving rise to little more than dry scrub, tough grasses, and lichens.
When she finally emerged from the Emyn Muil, she was forced east some thirty miles out of desire to avoid the wide marshlands that she had viewed for several days from the higher ground to the north. In this way, Helluin approached Mordor across a wide and flat land, a very dry place that stretched off into the distant east without a break. This was the southwestern most corner of South Rhûn, a place that in later days would come to be called Dagorlad, the Battle Plain. Helluin coated her green cloak with the brown dust at her feet and proceeded warily.
Ahead to the south she could see the faces of the Ered Lithui, the Mountains of Ash, stretching out to the east for close to 450 miles before trailing off into Khand. To the west but a short spur of the Ephel Duath was visible. A dark gap like a narrow jagged wound divided the Ered Lithui from the Ephel Duath that ran southwards but was mostly hidden from her sight. Further west lay the forested sloping land that led down to the great river, while across that distant bright ribbon marched the eastern end of the Ered Nimrais and the snowcapped peak of Mindolluin.
As the miles passed and she skirted the great swamp, she continued straight south, for this would bring her to the slopes of the Outer Fence of Shadows, at a spot some miles west of that dark gap into which she saw that many tracks now led. The landscape took on the character of moors, gently rolling, with low hills poorly covered in short, coarse grasses and heather, and bottomlands soggy with peat. At night, fogs rose and swirled in an almost constant breeze from the east. It created a low moan, unending, as if the land suffered in a ceaseless pain that it had come to accept. During the days, the absence of trees translated into a lack of cover for her approach. Helluin moved warily but went unchallenged. She could only guess that any activity going on within this forbidding land lay far within, and so none stood sentry at its borders.
A week later Helluin had climbed the jagged black slopes of the Ephel Duath somewhat less than thirty miles west of the gap of Cirith Gorgor, the Haunted Pass. She detected no spirits or haunts anywhere nearby, but the land was desolate. No growing thing showed itself on those slopes. The rock was hard and crystalline, the tortured up thrust from some violent birth that had forced its way through the surrounding earth like an axe. She had climbed with care for a fall would be deadly and the incline was steep. Upon finally reaching the top she surveyed the inner lands and what she saw made her cringe.
Looking down upon the plain of this Udûn¹ was like peering into a vast overturned skullcap, hewed off and burned black as if taken for desecration from a funeral pyre. Magma had formed sheer walls that fell hundreds of feet, forming the edges of a barren, bowl-shaped depression 40 miles across, above which the inner walls of the Ephel Duath and the Ered Lithui stood like splintered bone. The two ranges met at the Cirith Gorgor in the north and at yet another narrow gap, the Isenmouthe in the south, almost as if Udûn's walls had been cloven north and south by the stroke of a great axe. Indeed, spurs of the two ranges completed the bowl shape and separated it from a broken volcanic landscape further south. The overall impression was of imprisonment, desolation, and despair. Udûn was to the Black Land as a condensation and herald of its menace, a foyer where many could be constrained and few could escape, ere all were sapped of their spirit by the dismal surroundings and their master's torment. This was Helluin's first glimpse of Mordor. Nothing grew in her sight. She could nearly hear the very rocks crying out in anguish. So ugly and tortured was the land that looking at it made her feel ill. For some time she was forced to turn her back on it and stare off into the distance, into the green lands of Anduin far to the south. ¹(Udûn, Hell. Sindarin)
When she returned her eyes to Mordor she looked more carefully, mapping the land into her memory and noting any details she could espy. First to draw her attention was the smoldering cone of Orodruin. It rose 4,500 feet above the rocky plain, indistinct across a hundred miles of smoggy air, but still the most notable feature of that land. Next she noted tracks across the pumice fields, crude roads, leading from the mountain to the Isenmouthe that opened into Udûn. She followed a second road that ran east from the mountain to a projecting spur of the Ered Lithui, and there her eyes stopped.
A massive foundation had been gouged into the tumbled rock. From where she stood it was 125 miles away, and only with her Elven sight could she make out anything of its details at all. She saw that there would be pits and dungeons deep, and warrens of tunnels that would someday be roofed over, never again to see the light of day. The populations of whole cities could be held in thrall in such a vast prison, and there slowly broken in mind and spirit through countless years of suffering. Already upon the perimeter of the excavation the first evidence future walls were rising. She estimated the bottom course of blocks to be a twenty yards thick! Someday there would be a building here greater than any she had ever imagined. Even the works of Valinor would be dwarfed by the structure that grew here. If it were to be a tower, then it would rise to the very heavens, three furlongs and more in height, from which a watch could be kept over all that land. And like everything else she saw, the blocks and posts that would rise from that foundation would be black monoliths of stone. A great black tower it would one day be; indeed greater in size than Mindon Eldalieva, Ingwe's white tower in Tirion across the sea. It would take centuries to rise even with all the slaves of many lands to toil and die in its building. She guessed that the work had been underway already for 'nigh on a century, and they hadn't known…they hadn't even truly suspected.
Helluin shivered and sat down. Across the great distance separating her like a blessing from that horror, she had seen minions and thralls at hard labor, numerous as ants, moving, moving, ever in motion unremitting, and whether driven by broken minds or the lash of whips she couldn't tell. And upon the broken land about the feet of the fiery mountain, she had seen tents and huts, and marching formations drilling on the Plain of Gorgoroth; a vast army to support the cause of their lord, the Master of the Dark Tower.
Across the intervening distance she could sense a great and malevolent spirit. It shrouded all that land, but upon the foundations of the rising tower it sat concentrated as a black fume or stench. Helluin felt the reek of darkness upon her soul; the emanation of one so founded in malice and lust for power that avarice enshrouded it in a miasma of cruelty and putrefaction. It might take any guise before the eyes, but unless that guise was consciously focused to dissemble its true nature, none whose eyes had seen the Light of Aman could be fooled to think it fair. It was not cloaking itself now, for in its own land it had no need of disguise. Rather, she sensed that it reveled in its wonton nature. And across the long miles between, Helluin perceived it clearly, and the sheer volume of its grasping need to debase and rule all struck her like a blow. It was something she had not felt in an age and had never expected to feel again.
In her heart she knew only one could command such power as to bring such nightmare horrors into the waking world. No Orch or Valaraukar, nor captain of Men or ruined Elf was this. Once he had been a Maia of Aule blessed, then a lieutenant after giving up his free will to do the bidding of a dark and greater master. He had been a shape shifter, sorcerer, general, tormentor, and the master of countless slaves. Now it seemed he had arisen again to build a realm in imitation of his defeated overlord. Surely it must be Sauron, who of old had been called Gorthaur, the Abhorred. In all the long years since the War of Wrath she had thought him so cowed as to be little more than a whisper of menace and a shadow of evil. This was worse than any rumor that Gil-galad had hinted at when she'd set out from Lindon. And now, having discovered the enormity of the true threat upon Middle Earth, Helluin descended the Ephel Duath, staggering as one in shock from some great and overpowering trauma.
She soon came to the lands of Ithilian and thence to Anduin, walking as one asleep upon her feet. At Cormallen she crossed over the water, just downstream from Cair Andros, and then made her way along the great river to the realm of Belfalas. Helluin was still not herself though a fortnight had passed. In a daze she entered a tavern upon the South Road 'nigh Pelargir, and there she sat with a mug of wine, slaking her thirst and summoning her wits. Eventually she began to notice the company all about her in the common room. There were Elves of Belfalas, Men of the riverlands and shores, and a few others of mortal kind, taller and more fair, lordly yet honoring those about them, and bearing long bright swords beneath cloaks of blue and white.
Here upon Anduin, Helluin saw a group of mariners who could have come from no place other than Númenor. As a mirage wrung from her memories they seemed, yet obviously real, for they spoke and jested with those at the tables near them. All seemed to hold them in high honor, Elves and Men alike. Unable to resist, Helluin found herself on her feet, mug forgotten in one hand as she made her way to their table. There she drew their attention immediately for unlike the others of Elven kind they had seen in that land, she was taller, stronger, clad as a warrior yet more beautiful, and surrounded by a subtle aura of immortal light. Some of her kind a few of them had met in Eldalondë, mariners of the Eldar come from Tol Eressea. They had never expected to find one such as she in these mortal lands, save at Lindon and Mithlond, for as different from the Nandor of Belfalas was she as were they from the local Men. More than this even, her appearance was eerily familiar, like unto one now highly placed in their own land. As one they rose and bowed, and Helluin, standing a yard away bowed to them in return.
"Long hast it been since last I laid eyes upon the sons of Westernesse," Helluin said. "Hail and well met, mariners fair and bold."
"Hail and well met," the tallest of the Men of Númenor said in return, "surely thou art one of the Noldor, for thy like only hath I seen in Lindon, or come upon ships to us out of the Lonely Isle. I am Falmandil¹, a Captain of the Guild of Venturers of Númenor, and these are the officers of my ship, Linte Eari² out of Romenna. Pray tell me thy name, noble warrior, for unexpected in this place is thy appearance." ¹(Falmandil, Wave Lover, = falma(crested wave) + -ndil(agent in names, lover of) Quenya) ²(Linte Eari, Fast Seas, Quenya)
"Hail and well met, Falmandil, Captain Venturer of Númenor, I am Helluin Maeg-mormenel of the Host of Finwe, a wandering explorer in these Mortal Lands."
Then as one the Men of Númenor bent upon one knee before her on the floor of the common room, and all those around them were amazed, for among their kind, these mariners were as kings from across the sea. Indeed, few were more surprised than Helluin. After a moment, Falmandil raised his head and spoke.
"Númenor is now ruled by Tar-Ancalime, first sovereign queen and daughter of King Tar-Aldarion, son of King Tar-Meneldur and Queen Almarian, thy daughter. Thou art as a mother to our people, Helluin of the Noldor, and we do thee reverence."
For a moment Helluin was struck dumb by these tidings. Her great-granddaughter now sat upon the throne of Númenor. Though the House of Elros enjoyed long life, two generations had passed in her absence. Her daughter and grandson were gone to their tombs but the line she had added her blood to almost 600 years before continued. Finally she regained her wits and gestured the Men to their feet.
"Thy tidings took me by surprise, for to me the time seems not so long," she said in apology, "please, sit, resume thy ease. I would join thy company, for tidings recent and grave hath I to share that should come to the ears of thy Queen, and it seems fortune favors me in this meeting."
Falmandil nodded and pulled a chair from another table, and setting it at their table's head, beckoned Helluin to sit. Even as she did, she marked the relative youth of this captain and his officers. Not yet far beyond their first half-century, I deem, she thought.
"We art honored to enjoy thy company, Helluin Maeg-mormenel," he told her, "and indeed even this meeting itself would be tidings welcomed by many in Armenelos. Yet thou hath somewhat to report of the doings here in Middle Earth?"
"Indeed so," Helluin agreed after taking the offered seat and sipping of her wine, "and grave art they such as none I hath borne aforetime. Hear me and harken to my warning."
Then for some time Helluin reported to Falmandil and his officers on all she had seen in the land of Mordor, and all she had come to know of the current trends of events in Middle Earth. The Númenóreans were horrified, and indeed they were struck speechless for many moments. The reality was far worse than what their experiences in recent years had suggested.
"Helluin, thy words speak of dark days to come," Falmandil said gravely, "and yet they but make clear what we hath at times seen. See thou that now we come bearing swords? For many years such was not the case for we were received at all times with friendship. Yet of late on several occasions violence hast indeed been visited against our people, and this mostly to the south in the lands about our new haven at Umbar that is still abuilding. The days darken upon the Hither Shores, but not so dark did we deem them as thy words report."
"Indeed the days become dark, Falmandil, and darker still shalt they be ere the end is revealed," Helluin said. "Much would I say to thy monarch, for in Middle Earth folk hath grown weak and used to peace. Soon Sauron may offer war, soon at least it shalt seem to those of my kindred, though in fact many years may pass ere his power is full wrought. Yet still I know the Men of Númenor love these lands from whence they once came ere Elenna rose from the sea, and for the plight of thy brothers on the Hither Shores do they feel sympathy."
"Such is true as thou say. For sake of that love and sympathy do we yet come amongst these folk with such aid as we can bring." Here Falmandil sighed and took a deep breath as were he preparing for a plunge into waters deep and unknown. He then continued, "In Númenor for many years did thy grandson Tar-Aldarion sail regularly to Lindon and there take counsel with the High King. Yet now his daughter rules, and Tar-Ancalime cares little for ships or sailing, or the doings on the Hither Shores. She hast withdrawn from the counsels of Gil-galad and concentrates most on our own people…and some say that even at home she is not so engaged or forethinking as our late king."
Helluin felt the reservation in Falmandil's voice. He was loath to criticize the policies of his monarch, for ever had the Men of Númenor reverenced their rulers. Even more so was he reticent to speak in doubt of Tar-Ancalime to one of her ancestors, and a High Elf at that. There was surely more he had not said. Yet what his words implied was that to Middle Earth, Tar-Ancalime gave little thought, and to the aid of those upon the Hither Shores as their need grew, perhaps none at all. Indeed, looking into his heart Helluin detected a reservation in him that was indicative of real doubt in his ruler. She recalled the love in which Veantur and his men had held their king, Tar-Elendil, and the devotion that Tar-Meneldur had been accorded. She was shocked. This would never do.
"Falmandil, in what time wilt thou complete thy missions here in the Hither Lands, and shalt thou return thence to Númenor?" Helluin asked.
Falmandil met Helluin's eyes and a hope began to grow in his heart. Under Tar-Ancalime the Guild was held in low esteem and all that had to do with ships had fallen from favor. It saddened him, for to the seas and to Middle Earth ever had Tar-Aldarion's energies been directed. Linte Eari had been from home three years, having called at Mithlond, Vinyalonde, and Umbar before Pelargir, and her holds were filled with timber, for by royal decree, none was now harvested in Númenor from the groves Tar-Aldarion had planted. Now she was taking on provisions at Pelargir ere she sailed for Romenna.
"Two days hence shalt we sail from these shores, and by the grace of the Valar shalt we see a fortnight later, the Pillar of Heaven rising from the sea. We art going home at last."
Helluin nodded and for some moments sat in silence. What she had seen should be reported forthwith to Gil-galad in Lindon. Yet it seemed to her the more urgent errand was to Númenor, to discover in what state stood that realm and her queen. In days to come, the aid of the Men of Westernesse would be vital to the free peoples of Middle Earth, and while she yet commanded some status there, perhaps she should indeed go thither. Sauron would not strike for many years, she deemed, and from Númenor, aid could not come across the sea with any speed if its necessity were not recognized in the policies of her sovereign. A month at least for sailing time alone, and what time for the preparation of an armed force? Too long to be of any value if it fell into debate.
"Falmandil, if thou would, I pray thee grant me passage to Númenor in thy good vessel, for I feel a desire to see my great-granddaughter and learn her counsels."
Here the young Captain smiled broadly for his hopes were uplifted at her words.
"With honor and welcome do I offer thee passage, Helluin of the Noldor."
Armenelos, Númenor - The Second Age of the Sun
The situation was appalling, Helluin thought, as she stood in the court of Tar-Ancalime in the Citadel of Elros. Things had gone far downhill since the days of Tar-Elendil and Tar-Meneldur that she recalled. She had found her great-granddaughter cold, spiteful, quick to anger, and preoccupied with petty intrigues and the concerns of pride. Worse, she had found Tar-Ancalime to be her spitting image. Seeing the queen was unsettling; it was as if Helluin were looking into a mirror that revealed a darkened image of herself.
It was now 3 Narbeleth, (December 3rd), S.A. 1125. Ancalime was 252 years of age and had been on the throne of Númenor for 50 years. So far she had grudgingly produced an heir, but had no interest in marriage and indeed despised her mate, Hallacar. She was supremely self-possessed and had always been so, Helluin was informed, for she had been raised at first by her mother, Erendis, a woman embittered by the long years of her husband, Aldarion's absences during his many voyages to Middle Earth. Erendis had felt herself in contest with, and finally bested by, the sea. Her husband's love had been given to ships first and his wife second. Erendis had come to resent the treatment she received, and that bitterness towards Men and the sea she had passed on to her daughter, Ancalime. Now the queen regarded Men with coldness, as had her mother, distrusting them and caring little for their ventures. Their preoccupation with ships she judged boyish, their thoughts for war she abhorred. In her policies, no consequence was given to her father's alliance with the Elven King in Lindon, and indeed she scarcely considered the state of Middle Earth at all. More concerned was she with dominating those about her and ensuring that none gainsaid her will even in their private lives.
Helluin had found life at court stifling. Tar-Ancalime was severe, her maidservants, (for she employed no male servants), unhappy, and the subjects in her house given to gossip. The queen stood fast upon protocol and propriety, but only when it served her. At other times she would retire upon a whim. Only amongst the Guildsmen and in the mariners' taverns did Helluin truly feel at ease, and even among them she felt a pervasive dulling of enthusiasm and faltering of humor that surely descended from the country's ruler.
When she'd first arrived and been introduced at court, Tar-Ancalime had greeted Helluin coolly, almost as a curio or a relic, and had barely listened to what she said. Her own prior contacts with Elves had been minimal, while her mother had dismissed them as light-hearted and ever immature; happy to pass the ages with songs and revels and the tending of birds and flowers. They were, by nature of their immortality, immune to the necessity of standing strong against a world made by Men lest they be crushed by it in a few years.
Ancalime's grandmother, Queen Almarian, had said little to her regarding the Elves, or about Helluin, her own mother, save that she had gone across the sea upon the death of Almarian's father, Veantur. At that point, Ancalime had lost interest completely. Veantur was the archetype against which her mother, Erendis, had warned her…a man enamoured of the sea, the villain who had taken Aldarion on his first voyage to Middle Earth that had corrupted him for ever after. The subject became closed. Ancalime greeted Helluin as a guest only, and only because she was female, arranged housing in the Citadel for her during her visit which, the Queen assumed, "…would surely not be of long duration, for little of light-hearted revels were there to be found at her court."
"I am sure that is so, O Queen," Helluin had replied, "and indeed I come from Mordor having missed the celebrations of Sauron Gorthaur for the cornerstone laying of his Black Tower. I seem to be timing poorly my search for follies."
The Queen had regarded Helluin with narrowed eyes, not sure if she were being mocked or simply treated to the vacuous banter of an Elf. She couldn't help but feel a visceral resentment towards this Noldo, who at over 5,500 years of age looked no older than she herself, and whose beauty would endure long after her own had faded. Then she had waved her hand, dismissing Helluin and moving on to the next tedious bit of courtly trivia. For her part, Helluin had been seething, but slaying one of close kinship, and she a queen in her own hall, was not an option.
With the Queen's secretary did Helluin make a standing request for audience, but that meeting was long in coming, for Ancalime thought little of importance to her could come from the mouth of an Elf. Indeed she took some small pleasure in postponing again and again the date, thinking it would vex the Noldo as indeed such treatment would vex herself. She didn't understand that Helluin could outwait her, watching the years of her life pass by, knowing indeed that she had married without love and against her will, only to satisfy the necessities of her royal position. With the Elven sight of a Calaquende, Helluin had seen deeply into Tar-Ancalime's heart and was saddened by the coldness that she had discovered there.
The queen would have been furious had she known that Helluin had come to pity her. She would have been enraged to discover that Helluin had ceased considering her important to her mission and had simply bypassed her. To the queen's son and Heir, the future king, Helluin had gone instead. And to the future king she spoke as often as was possible, and this was often indeed, for Ancalime had held but little interest in doting upon a boy, and even less on a boy who had become a man.
When she had arrived in late S.A. 1125, Anarion, the Queen's Heir and only child, was 122 years in age. He was a quiet man, given mostly to learning, and dissuaded by his mother since childhood from seeking after adventure or going to sea. Helluin first met him in the early Narwain, (January), of S.A. 1126 as she sat in the library, reading the scrolls that her beloved Veantur had dictated long before enumerating their discoveries together in the Hither Lands. A tall man of royal blood came near, and looking at her with curiosity finally approached. Helluin had risen and bowed as befitted her station at court and he had returned her bow with courtesy. Helluin sensed a nobility in him whose like had been deeply submerged 'neath pride and bitterness in his mother, and so her heart took hope that his rule would be unlike hers.
"Greetings, O Prince," Helluin had said, "Art thou not Anarion, Heir to Her Majesty the Queen?"
"Indeed so," Anarion had said self-consciously, "yet I am more comfortable hearing my name rather than my title. Others hath and shalt hold that title, but only one a name, and thence such discourse as might pass between two is more of friendship than of business."
Helluin had smiled at the truth of his words. "Call thou then Anarion?" She had asked.
"Indeed such would be my preference," he had said, "and thou art surely Helluin Maeg-mormenel of the Noldor, for none look so like unto the Queen and art yet so different."
Helluin had nodded and smiled. "Call me Helluin, if thou please," she had said, "for no title do I hold, either here or amongst my people."
Anarion had returned her smile, if a bit tentatively. He had read of her in many scrolls.
"Yet amongst our people art none so well traveled, and I deem that amongst thine own thou art widely known and respected. I would hath thy counsel, Helluin, for the years pass and someday I must order this realm. As part of a greater whole rather than as a whole unto itself do I see Númenor. Unlike the Queen, I would hath knowledge of it." For some moments he was silent, but then continued on in a worried tone. "Aldarion, my grandfather, went oft to Lindon, and some fell business there occupied his mind. Yet I know but what I hath read…words in scrolls, and old words at that."
He fell silent, looking at the scroll in Helluin's hand.
"'Tis old words in old scrolls that lay the foundation for understanding new words and current deeds, Anarion," Helluin said. "A knowledge of lore is the only substitute for the memory of times long past, and none remember all things. In Middle Earth the days grow dark and a great and ancient evil rises anew. I hath seen the start of its great work, but the future I can only suspect. Not in the Queen's time, nor perhaps even in thine own shalt the battle be joined, yet preparations should be undertaken in advance. I fear that no interest in these things wilt the Queen hath, but there is much to be done while'st peace yet lasts. Should the war in Middle Earth go ill, then Númenor shalt not be safe."
"Tell me of these things, Helluin," Anarion asked, "for no other can."
And so in lieu of her audience with Tar-Ancalime, Helluin began educating Anarion about the peoples and realms of Middle Earth as they now stood. She taught him of events and alliances, of the historic origins of the distrusts and friendships of realms and kings, and of the Enemy. Anarion listened and absorbed what she said, and hungered yet for even more. Indeed, Helluin found his thirst unquenchable. None so like unto Veantur had she met, so open and seeking after discovery, yet his ocean was knowledge and his ships were the scrolls of lore. Hope was renewed in her heart, that in future days the Númenóreans would indeed offer aid to the people of Middle Earth, and this man, who had never set foot upon a ship, would lead his people thither.
As the weeks passed into months and Helluin's audience was postponed again and again, she instructed Anarion in the languages of Middle Earth. Already he spoke Adunaic, Sindar, and Quenya. She taught him the Silvan dialect, such of the Khazdul as she had learned, the vulgar Common Tongue, and some even of the Entish Speech. Next she gave him basic knowledge of crafts so that he would understand the requirements of builders and craftsmen, smiths and shipwrights, masons and armorors. It would be necessary for him in the planning of alliances and deployments. And last, she taught him the tactics of battle, the strategies of war, and the necessities of morale and command. So the years passed, while in Númenor life continued and in Middle Earth Sauron grew ever stronger.
It was 8 Cerveth, (July 8th), S.A. 1128 ere Tar-Ancalime deigned to make time for Helluin's audience, and they met in a salon as a maidservant filed and painted the Queen's nails. Helluin looked askance at this "folly" but held her peace, for to her, royals were frivolous as oft as not.
"And what, pray tell, is thy business, Helluin of the Noldor," Ancalime asked in a bored tone, her eyes carefully watching the filing of a curve. "I hope it hast not spoiled in the keeping." It had been over two and a half years since Helluin's arrival.
"I came to Númenor in warning, O Queen," Helluin began, knowing that her errand had already been accomplished and her warning conveyed to the Heir, "and in token of the alliance of our kindreds in days long past. For in days to come a fell doom awaits. Evil awakens that was long thought vanquished in Beleriand. Sauron Gorthaur, the Lieutenant of Angband orders a realm in Mordor 'nigh the havens of thy ships in Umbar."
The queen reacted to the news not at all, but regarded the colors the maidservant displayed upon a palette for her approval.
"The proper havens of our ships art in Romenna and Andunië and Eldalondë…and Mordor is far across the sea," the Queen stated. "The name of Sauron seems somewhat familiar…perhaps I hath heard it aforetime in some old tale? Nevermind, 'tis not our concern, the doings of the doomed upon the Hither Shores. From those trials the Valar hath removed us long ago. They art of no importance. Hast thou anything more to say?"
Here she regarded Helluin with a bored expression and then turned back to the palette to indicate her selection.
Helluin shrugged. Alike as they might look, she and Ancalime had nothing in common. The Queen was a waste of time to Helluin, and vice versa it seemed.
"The deeds of the Hither Lands art of importance to many and to myself not the least," Helluin said, "and in the future perhaps to Númenor as well, for the breadth of Belegaer is not so great for a Maia as to put its conquest beyond his reach. Fair may thy land be, O Queen, and the more likely thus to attract Sauron's attention. And mark my words, though thou find little interest in him, he shalt find more in thee, for the hatred of a defeated enemy is stronger than the ease of a victor; especially one who earned not her victory and was only gifted her peace."
Now the Queen looked again at Helluin, and this time her eyes were darkened with anger, yet they were met by eyes undaunted that shone with light. Ancalime saw in them the very spirit her mother had espoused; to stand as a woman and not be bent, to be a power unto oneself, and to exercise thy will unhindered. Grudgingly, she accorded Helluin a measure of respect.
"Take thou passage upon a ship and make thy way home to the Hither Lands since their fate concerns thee so closely," Tar-Ancalime ordered, "and there await such doom as thou foresees. Make no more prophecies of Númenor. We hath our peace, whether earned or gifted. Thou may hath thy war."
Thus dismissed, Helluin bowed and left the Queen. There was nothing more to say and she had already succeeded in her errand to Westernesse. The warning had come to the generation that would rule more closely to the time of necessity and that was well. She went to say a farewell to Anarion and then set out for Romenna and the Guild of Venturers. Helluin hoped that Falmandil and his ship Linte Eari were in port. The Queen's leave would give her a chance to provide the Captain with a mission.
In Romenna, Helluin espied the docks and saw the ship Fast Seas waiting at anchor, cleaned, painted, freshly rigged and taking on provisions. She came to the Guild House, and to the Master of the Guild she presented the Royal Order of Leave and made her request for Falmandil's service.
"I see the Queen hast timed her dismissal of thee to coincide with the Linte Eari's sailing for Lindon, and I shouldn't doubt that its approaching departure perhaps decided the date of thy audience," the Guildmaster told Helluin apologetically.
Helluin nodded in understanding. Such machinations probably passed for subtleties in Armenelos. Ancalime was undoubtedly congratulating herself on ridding her court of the distracting Elf so smoothly. Indeed the Queen had done Helluin more favors than she could ever understand, allowing her time and access to instruct her Heir, arranging for her quick departure, and favoring her with a Captain sympathetic to her needs.
"I should convey my thanks to the Queen," Helluin remarked, "for she would find it confusing as she does not perceive her own generosity. T'would vex her."
The Guildmaster chuckled at the sentiment though he understood not the reasons.
"Captain Falmandil is probably with his officers at the Inn of the West Wind," he told Helluin, "Know'st thou the place?"
"Indeed I do," she said, "for it hath a long history and hath stood many years."
"Ahhh, yes. I should recall better my lore. Of course thou know'st the West Wind. Good day to thee then, Helluin. If I see thee not again, may Ulmo bless thy sailing and thy ventures bring good profit."
Helluin smiled at the customary words of well wishing. She knew well the response.
"Good fortune to those who wait ashore. May the days pass in peace and bring thy kin safely home."
Shortly later, Helluin sat at a table not of her own choosing in the common room of the Inn of the West Wind. She had come directly from the Guildhouse and had found Falmandil and his officers directly. They had welcomed her and bid her join them at a large round table near the north-facing windows that overlooked the quays. It was at this very table that Helluin had passed many an afternoon and evening, often staying late into the night, in the company of Veantur and the mariners of an earlier era. Indeed it was the custom of captains debarking or embarking, to come thither to drink and regale each other with their stories. Thus the tidings of missions and journeys had come first to the ears of the Captain Admiral and Helluin. Almost she could hear the words of that bygone era and see long departed faces as she sat at that table, for it was woven with memories deep and dear from better times.
500 years later, she found little changed save the faces and the wear upon the tables and floor. Sailors were still sailors and the sea was ever the sea. And though the prestige of the Guild had diminished noticeably during the reign of Ancalime, still captains and crews drank and spun tales of the deep. Returning mariners were welcomed with a round and open ears, while those outgoing were farewelled by those staying ashore. Now, though many griped of their hardships and the lot of mariners in Númenor, none would have changed their craft, for all had been called to the sea.
"So, thou were finally heard by the Queen?" Falmandil asked as Helluin took the offered seat and a mug was brought. "Surely the delivery of thy message took long enough. At least she finally opened her ears."
Helluin took a swig, finding ale in her cup. "Tar-Ancalime marked not a word I said, though she heard enough to send me thither at once," she revealed, "yet my warnings were delivered and more besides."
The Captain looked at her with some confusion and Helluin explained.
"While the Queen contemplated the gravity of the colors yet to grace her nails, I spent two and a half years instructing the Heir." Here the captain gave an approving nod and a smile shaped his features. His men grinned and softly stamped their boots in agreement with her course and guile. "I trust that in the future the fortunes of the Guild and those in Middle Earth shalt move more closely together. Anarion is a noble man who cares much for both Númenor and her place within Arda. Unlike the Queen, he feels not that thy fate is a fate apart. He sees a wider vista and embraces it."
"Yet he is not a mariner," one of the officers observed, though not unkindly.
"He is not a mariner, true," Helluin agreed before taking another pull of ale, "and yet his spirit is intrepid. Upon the sea of knowledge hath he embarked, and in a ship of study he doth seek after discovery. In heart thou art more alike than not. I deem that when the time comes he shalt relish his excursions upon the waves. Some fine captain should stand ready to welcome him aboard in good company."
Falmandil nodded at the sentiment. Helluin's news was hopeful.
"Should I still ply the waves in his time, I would be honored to welcome the next king to my ship, but more likely that shalt be the honor of my son in his time," Falmandil said. "We can only 'wait the day and see. I sense that Ancalime shalt clasp tight the reins of her reign so long as her fingers have strength to grasp."
"Undoubtedly that shalt be so," Helluin agreed. She shook her head disapprovingly and muttered, "were that I had been here to take that sour child over my knee."
The captain and his men, whose eyes at first widened at her blasphemy, recovered and shook with laughter. Then they raised their glasses and drank together and their spirits rose before the coming journey.
Early the next day Linte Eari was ready to sail, and the crew stood their stations aboard. Falmandil took his place upon the quarterdeck, the first mate and sailing master beside him, while the helmsman took the wheel. The master noted the sun's position, and seeing the time right, the wind fair, and the tide in its ebb flow, announced to the captain that the ship stood ready to be underway.
"Very well then," Falmandil ordered. "Master, take her out."
"Cast off all lines," ordered the first mate at the sailing master's nod. The deck hands loosed the ship's lines from their cleats and tossed them down to the men upon the wharf.
"Lo'r the fore top 'n stays'l…two points to starb'rd…steady for she goes," the sailing master called to the crew.
Upon the foremast the rectangular topsail broke, fluttering white like a seabird's wing as it fell from the yardarm and the lines hauled it taut. Then it bellied in the breeze and Linte Eari edged forward, gaining a little way. Ahead of the mast the triangular fore staysail stretched and filled as it too caught air and the turn to starboard became more pronounced. The helmsman spun the wheel, the rudder shifted, and the ship nosed away from the dock toward the outbound harbor lane.
Helluin had stood in the bow watching the quay as the lines were cast off and the ship began to move. The Fast Seas fairly pulled as if eager to be upon the open ocean. Quickly her speed increased from a crawl to a walking pace, then faster still, until she outpaced the boys waving as they ran down the dock beside her. She cleared the quay and completed the turn to starboard, heading east and entering the lane leading out into the firth that stood inland of the Bay of Romenna.
"Haul lively men, tops'ls 'n courses," the Master called, and the sailors leapt to the lines.
Upon the main and mizzen masts the topsails joined the one already lowered on the foremast. Linte Eari pulled at the water and her bow rose in answer as her speed increased. Then the great courses unfurled on the fore and main masts and the ship leapt ahead. She rode down the lane toward the open water of the bay, and somewhere a sailor broke into song. As the first foam grew at her bow cut the lone sailor's voice was joined by many more, and with high hearts the crew drove their ship out towards the sea.
Now three gulls circled in and followed the ship's wake, and their cries were greeted with a cheer for they were a good omen. Though they loved their homes, the crew lived to ply the sea, and the further from land the mariners went the more these Men felt alive.
"Clear lane and fine water ahead," called the lookout from the main top, a talan high upon the mainmast above the sails.
The sailing master gave his captain a look, a brow raised in question, familiar to both from many voyages. Falmandil glanced about the deck, at the Meneltarma towering behind and then at the gulls flying escort, and finally he grinned and nodded to the sailing master.
"Give'r her head," Falmandil said.
"Jib 'n stays'ls," the Master ordered. "Step lively men, lo'r the miz'n s'l."
Four more sails bloomed from bow to stern in rapid succession, the first a triangle above the bowsprit, then two more between the masts, and the last a tall rectangle behind the mizzen. Again Linte Eari gained speed. The Numenya Viava¹, Breath of the Valar, blew stronger yet as if abetting the Men's joy in their speed. Off the land behind the ship it sang amongst the lines and bellied the sails. The firth widened and Helluin could feel the ship pulling like a horse impatient to gallop, surging ahead down the wind. ¹(Numenya Viava, "West Wind", númen (west + -ya = western) + vaiva (wind), lit. trans. "Western Wind", Quenya)
Foam leapt at the prow and a mate called out, "Run'n 18 knots, Lord Captain."
"Fine 'n steady she goes," the Sailing Master cried, and the crew heard the praise in the timbre of his voice.
"20 knots, Lord Captain," the mate reported, and Helluin could hear the excitement in his voice. In Linte Eari's wake the gulls fell behind and finally turned back to shore with cries of farewell. Ten white sails filled with the breath of the West Wind floated above the hull like clouds marching 'neath the bright morning sun. And from between the peninsulas of Orrostar and Hyarrostar, the fast ship of Númenor rode out onto the Bay of Romenna.
To be continued
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