In An Age Before – Part 20

Elrond left Helluin in his study deep in thought and he went thence to the quarters of the hospice in which Beinvír had settled. This was an airy building of many cozy rooms, each with its arched window looking out upon the forests. The hospice had been intentionally located on the most beautiful grounds still near enough to the main buildings to be acceptable, with fresh air and light and the sounds of running water in abundance. Each room had access to the long, sheltered portico as well as the inner hallway and courtyard. There he stood a moment in the doorway and studied the Green Elf, noting that she merely sat unmoving upon her bed, staring out through a window into the darkened woods as if in wonder at the placid swaying of the trees.

"Beinvír," he called softly to announce his presence without startling her. Still she gave a slight recoil anyway, then shook herself, shedding whatever thoughts had occupied her ere she turned to meet his gaze.

"Hello, Elrond," she said, blinking to help focus her eyes, "thy valley is very lovely and I hath craved such peace. I should like to stay here a while." She sighed softly. "Say not that Helluin is resolved to return to the war."

"She is not, and I agree that thou should remain hither for some time. Rest and peace, and surcease of war's horror doth thou need, for thy spirit craves such, and I deem that nowadays in this part of Middle Earth, only hither shalt thou find it."

"Then I am glad," Beinvír said, turning again to look at the vista beyond the window. Amongst the boughs hung a number of lamps with soft lights of blue, white, and green.

"Thou art welcome to stay so long as it pleases thee," Elrond told her, glad to see her return her gaze to him and smile. "There art many pleasant views to enjoy."

"I shalt look upon them with thanksgiving."

"Will thou join the company of Imladris for the evening meal?" Elrond asked Beinvír hopefully. "It might do thee good to speak with others not recently at war."

The Green Elf looked down at the floor and shivered. She was only just adjusting to surroundings not fraught with danger, not populated with enemies nearby, and not scented by the constant stench of death pervading all. Beinvír had found that she was unable to relax; the years of tension had driven the mechanism from her and she was long out of practice. She wasn't comfortable yet. Readjustment would take time and Beinvír couldn't yet imagine ever being the same as she had once been. It was too early.

"Perhaps one day I shalt enjoy such company as is available among thy folk...some conversation, some songs, perhaps, and camaraderie at meals. For now, I know not what I would say other than how best to stalk and slay. In moments of fancy would I see them all reduced to cadavers. Of late I hath been keeping company mostly with the dead." She shook her head apologetically and wrapped her arms around herself.

"When thou feel comfortable, thou may dine with my folk in the Meal Hall," Elrond suggested, "and in the evenings after supping do many gather in the Hall of Fire, for companionship, and songs, and tales. Thou shalt come thither and be welcome, Beinvír."

She nodded to him and he gave her a smile ere he retreated from her room.

Unlike Beinvír, Helluin took her meals in the Meal Hall. There, predictably, the company of Imladris questioned her much about the war. And unlike Beinvír, Helluin had no reticence in sharing the details of stalking and slaying. She shared her knowledge and experience, enthralling many but eventually turning the hearts of all to ice. They were soon horrified with her reminiscences and anecdotes. It made them all the more thankful for having retreated to their secret refuge. Upon this belief too she put forward her commentary, likening the hidden valley of Imladris to the hidden city of Gondolin; a self-deceiving illusion of safety all the more traumatic in its eventual fall. Soon she was regarded as a doomsday prophet and a depressing companion, and the Elves withdrew from her. Having spent so much time alone and being ever comfortable with her own company, Helluin barely noticed.

Each day Helluin spent many hours at the hospice in Beinvír's company. 'Twas obvious that they enjoyed each other's presence, for ever they sat close together, oft upon the benches of the long portico, enjoying the shade 'neath the canopy roof with its many columns carved like the trunks of straight, white birches. Mostly they were silent, staring off into the forest beyond the balustrade, watching the breeze tickle the leaves and listening to the songs of the stream that ran nearby.

Summer passed to autumn, and slowly Helluin became less morbid and Beinvír became less withdrawn. Elrond was happy with their progress.

Winter came early to the highland valley, with snow falling in early Hithui, (November), and carpeting the hidden valley deep in white. Now the silence that falls with snow hushed the retreat, and in that frosty air sounds were muffled close to hand, yet carried far from a distance. The two friends went out hiking, for both reveled in the unspoiled white, and they made their way to the meadow yon the Ford of Bruinen. About them the outer guard was hidden, both upon the red cliffs and 'nigh the defile leading into that land, and so they felt safe.

In the afternoon Helluin heard the clop of horses' hooves from beyond the narrow way, and the guards readied themselves above that passage. Helluin and Beinvír lowered themselves into the snow, disappearing in the manner of her people and becoming impossible to discern, even by the guards who knew of their presence.

Soon the sounds of the horses grew clear, riding up the path to the entrance of Imladris. Bows were readied and swords drawn. The riders entered the slot canyon between the cliffs. Three they art and unwary, Helluin thought, trading a glance with Beinvír and sharing her insight. The Green Elf nodded in agreement; their horses' paces show no hesitation, no duress, she replied.

Midway through the passage, when neither flight nor attack could outpace their arrows, the guards challenged the riders.

"Declare thyself, strangers, or thy lives art forfeit!"

The hoof beats stopped and after a short silence a voice, Elven fair, called out in answer.

"I am Celebgorch¹, a scout of the Laiquendi, and with me come my brothers, Lumorn and Ringlamb². We art messengers at large bearing tidings from the king in Lindon to any of the Elven kindred we may find," the rider declared. ¹(Celebgorch, "Silver Crow"= celeb (silver) + corch (crow) Sindarin) ²(Lumorn, "Shade Tree" = lumb (shade) + orn (large tree) and Ringlamb, "Cold Tongue" = ring (cold) + lamb (tongue) Sindarin)

"Dismount and proceed afoot through the cutting to its end." The guard captain ordered.

The three had walked their horses through the defile and stood at the top of the meadow while the guards came to lead them hence to the ford. They were dressed alike in grey cloaks, stained and worn from long travel. Straightaway they were brought to Elrond's study to wait for the Lord of Imladris.

"I want thee present when these scouts art heard," Elrond told the two friends, "for none know of this place, and to ride hither thus is very suspicious to me."

"To me as well," said Beinvír, "for my people seldom ride."

"Nor do they wear cloaks of grey," Helluin observed.

Elrond stopped at their words and then said, "Arm thyselves quickly and join me."

Helluin and Beinvír had nodded, and after retrieving their weapons, followed the Lord of Imladris into his study. The three visitors were seated there before his desk. They had put off their cloaks and were attired in tunics, trousers, and boots. The three bore identical gear, swords in scabbards, and daggers sheathed upon their belts. They eyed Helluin and Beinvír uneasily when they took up positions to either side of Elrond's chair.

"Thou hast come hither at great peril and I would hear thy tidings," Elrond said, "how stands the war?"

"My Lord," Celebgorch began, "we hath been sent by the king in Lindon to spread his plea for such aid as any may give. The war goes badly. Eriador hast fallen. Gorthaur's forces hath driven before them all the Eldar, even unto the River Lhûn. Even now the armies art encamped on opposite sides of the water for winter. Sauron hath taken to himself the title, Hír en Ambar¹, and when spring comes, he shalt crush the last of those standing against him. From mariners out of Belfalas we hath heard in Lindon of the coming of yet another host out of Mordor, Easterling Men who even now march toward Anduin, and shalt thence come to the battle in spring." ¹(Hír en Ambar, "Lord of the Earth" = hír (lord) + en (the) + Am(b)ar (Earth, gen. const..) Sindarin)

"Save fugitives, a few wandering companies, and thyself, none others stand in defiance of Sauron, my Lord," Ringlamb said, "and when Lindon hast fallen, thence shalt Sauron come hither."

"And what of Númenor," Elrond asked, "Hath no word come of them? Hath no tidings of the Dúnedain been heard?"

"Naught hast been heard, my Lord," Lumorn said shaking his head. "Now even Gil-galad's hope fades of their sailing to the Hither Shores in time."

Elrond hung his head. His brother's people, it seemed, had deserted them. For a moment he wondered what could have kept them from coming after the promises Veantur had spoken in 600. Words of friendship, and of blood debts to one day be repaid; an alliance reiterated by Aldarion and Tar-Anarion, Tar-Telperien and Tar-Minastir. In an Age past their forefathers had ever been the staunchest of allies of the Eldar. Why had the Dúnedain not come? Elrond sighed.

Beside him Helluin thought of the past as well. In Beleriand all had seemed lost ere the Valar came forth with the Host of Aman, thence to do battle upon Morgoth and overthrow his rule. Middle Earth had been saved from the fate of everlasting thralldom 'neath the hand of the Great Enemy when Earendil had sailed thither to the Blessed Realm bearing the Silmaril and his petition.

Now it seemed to her that the peoples of Middle Earth stood upon the brink of defeat yet again. Sauron was but one last victory from his supremacy on the Hither Shores. Yet this time no mariner would come into the West. No token from Mortal Lands would again serve as a beacon of doom and move the Valar to mercy. And yet the Powers had sent forth Glorfindel, reborn to aid in contesting Sauron's conquest of Middle Earth. Why? If all were to fall before the Darkness, why had they sent forth such a bright and heroic spirit from their lands of peace unto these lands of war? It made no sense.

None had spoken for some moments, and now the first messenger begged the Lord of Imladris for his counsel.

"Would thou send none forth, Master Elrond?" Celebgorch asked. "Wilt thou not muster thy forces and ride forth against the army of our Enemy? In days to come, little wilt thy hidden valley avail thee should all else fall. He shalt seek thee in malice unconstrained and suffer thy folk to his torment. Wilt thou abandon thy king and thy people yet fighting upon the field?"

Elrond choked at his words. He was loyal to the Gil-galad, as was a son to his father. None upon Middle Earth commanded the Peredhel's love in greater measure. And yet to preserve his people in Imladris he had moved not to war when Sauron's forces had marched south. He had remained in his hidden valley still when they had pushed west. In becoming lord of a people, he had sought their safety first, but now he was torn between his duty as a lord and his fealty to his liege. Would he ride to war and lead thence to their doom all his people? Would he hunker down amongst the mountains, coming not to the battle, no better than the Dúnedain, who, it seemed, had abandoned them? Would he return to the war, to his king, though all hope seemed lost, or would he remain hidden for a time, awaiting in his chosen place the final assault of Sauron? In the anguish of indecision he turned and looked Helluin in the eyes.

I am unable to decide the course of this fell choice, for by action or inaction shalt I and my people be doomed, he said silently.

Oft 'tis such the choice thrust upon a lord, my friend, Helluin replied, and for thy counsel I hath little to offer. My choice would be made for myself alone, for no lord am I, yet were the question put before me, I should ride forth to battle for I know no other way.

Elrond turned then to Beinvír and the same question was in his eyes.

My Lord Elrond, I hath seen the battles of Eriador and they art terrible, the Green Elf silently replied, and indeed hope seems lost. Yet I wonder not about the message, but about the messengers. These name themselves Laiquendi, and yet they art not of my kindred. My people seldom ride, and never in lands filled with foes, and they hath not attached themselves as errand riders to thy king. These bear swords, but carry not one bow amongst them, and they cloak themselves in grey as do the Sindar. I am very suspicious, not of the tidings so much as the timing, for thy choice may naught but deliver thy people to slaughter. If thou come forth, then Sauron need not hunt thee. Indeed he may turn upon thee and destroy thee ere spring, while from across the Lune, Gil-galad shalt be powerless to aid thee, as thou shalt be powerless to come to him. I should stay hither yet a while.

Her words brought a narrowing of Elrond's brows, and suspicion rose within him.

If these came hither from the Enemy, then no longer is Imladris hidden. Sauron hath divined the place of our abiding and only time preserves us yet a while, he said to the Green Elf, who nodded in agreement.

"Whence come thee," Beinvír asked the messengers, "from what company did thou join the muster of Eriador?"

"Why, from the company of our king," Lumorn said, "and loath he was to dispatch us to Lindon into the service of another lord."

At his words, Helluin moved, flinging the Sarchram and hewing off their heads. A rippling effect, as of a reflection broken by a stone cast into a pool, encompassed the three dead. Elrond recoiled in horror and Beinvír gasped. But the bodies that collapsed upon the floor were not those of Elves, and the blood that spilled from the stumps of their necks was black.

Dálindir, last King of the Laiquendi, was gone and no king reigned o'er the Green Elves.

"Foul arts of Sauron!" Elrond shouted in horror as he leapt up from his chair. At the commotion a detail of soldiers burst into the room with drawn swords.

"Send word to triple the guard upon the pass," Elrond ordered his warriors, "and send others to remove these bodies."

The guards nodded and hastened forth, calling out to others as they hustled through the hallway. Soon many voices could be heard raising the alarm and many feet moving with haste. Helluin wiped clean the Grave Wing.

"'Tis a fell power Gorthaur wields, to maintain such an illusion at so great a distance," Helluin observed. "Perhaps 'tis the power of his Ring that enhances his own werecraft. They certainly looked like Elves." She nudged one of the dead, rolling it onto its back with her toe. It was definitely the corpse of an Orch.

"Sauron hast attempted to entrap thee," Beinvír stated, "and only fortune hath preserved thee. I should now wonder what next he shalt attempt."

"One thing of value hath come of this," Helluin said, "for I deem these messengers spoke true on the state of the war. Indeed I should be not surprised if he spoke through them and they but the feet to being hence his voice. It goes well for their master and he who controlled them would be wont to brag, presenting the truth all the more for our despair. Dire must now be the position of Gil-galad."

Afterwards Helluin thought much on the status of the war. Though Gil-galad had refused to summon her years before, Helluin still felt that she could aid the plight of her people, and now more than ever, their fate seemed to encompass the plight of all free peoples. Indeed whether her aid was given to the high king in Lindon or to the other enemies of Sauron, she deemed 'twas the responsibility of all who were able to act to do so. There might come no second chance. And yet beyond this feeling was a growing certainty that aid would come and Sauron would be defeated. Good and evil had contested in each movement of the Ainur's Song...but evil had never won! As the days passed and her hope grew, Helluin became more and more convinced that her place was in battle. When spring came she would march again to war if it found them not first in Imladris. With the other Eldar she waited, and she wondered what to tell Beinvír.

In the wake of Sauron's agents no attack came. In truth, the Enemy was content to concentrate upon defeating the king's forces ere he turned east to finish with Elrond. Had his false messengers succeeded in drawing Elrond out, he would have capitalized on the situation, destroying the Elven forces at his back, but the loss of the opportunity damaged not his plans. Spring would bring the fall of Gil-galad, early summer the extermination of the company in Imladris, and by autumn, Lórinand would be under siege. By the next winter he would hold all the Rings of Power. It was a short time to wait.

Along with his contentment Sauron had reaped information. Not only had the three thralls been mouthpieces for his voice, but they had been ears for him to hear with and eyes for him to see through. He had marked the presence of those of his enemies they had seen in Imladris and this allowed him to remove these from the roster of potential threats. Helluin, Elrond, and Celeborn would trouble him not in the spring.

In mid-Nínui, (February), the weather gave the first hint of the warmth to come. Snowmelt swelled the Bruinen and first white uilos¹ of the new year raised their pale blossoms. In another month the armies would break camp and reengage, for the campaigning season would open. For Helluin, 'twas now or never. ¹(Uilos, Evermind, Sindarin. A low growing, white, star-shaped flower that blooms in all seasons; seen on the sward between the 4th and 5th Gates of Gondolin by Tuor. May be synonymous with Simbelmyrnë. UT, OTaHCtG, pg. 48)

"I want you to stay here, beloved. Thy part in this war is done."

"Yet thou shalt go forth again, when there is little hope for aught but defeat. Indeed, between thee and the battle lie all the hosts of the Enemy. There is naught thou can accomplish, I deem, save thine own destruction."

"Nay, 'tis not so. Long ago did I spy out passages through these lands that Sauron knows not. I can make my way thither to Lindon unseen, and all the easier for thy lessons. In doing so I can bring to the king such reports from behind the enemy lines as he can gain in no other way. Yet more, I may wreck some havoc on my own part."

"Still 'tis a hopeless quest. What if thou indeed come to Lindon unscathed? Only to join in a defeat wills't thou hath come."

"I wonder...if such is indeed our doom, why then did the Valar send forth Glorfindel from Aman? Whyfore did he come, if only to the nightfall of his people? Nay. I feel more is to be than our defeat."

"That what? That Númenor shalt come at last? Helluin, thou art hopeful, yes, but do not deceive thyself that the deliverance of the First Age shalt come again. Once only can such a doom be wrested by a host out of the west. In this lesser time, perhaps 'tis the rule of Darkness and Shadow that is ahead, for so it seems to me."

"Perhaps Númenor shalt indeed come at last. Some ill chance certainly befell them, for I doubt not the resolve of our allies, nor the capability of their ships. We came hither from Romenna, passing but four days upon the water. Something happened five years ago; I am sure of it. For no other reason would they deny our call. Yet in the time since, perhaps they hath o'ercome whatever ill fate withheld their aid from us. I hath faith that help shalt come."

"Doth thou truly believe thus?"

"I do."

And looking into Helluin's eyes, Beinvír rejoiced, for she saw the light and the clear blue she had once known, not the raging darkness or obsessive malice of the last few years. Therein too lay the conviction in her belief.

"Must thou go now, when at last thou hast finally become thyself again?"

"Yea, for not only do I believe in the deliverance of the free peoples from Sauron, but my king needs the aid of his subjects too. There was truth amidst the messengers' lies."

"Not at the start did he want thy service. Now when no summons hath come, wilt thou answer such as thou would hear despite his silence?"

"I am sure his heart calls out to any that will listen, but he hath no way to project so far his voice. In this too hath some good come of Sauron's puppets. I shalt march forth on the morrow. Sit now with me awhile. The portico is peaceful, the day pleasant for its season, and I much desire to be near thee ere I go."

And so they sat as the morning passed to afternoon and thence down to evening. On the next morning Helluin donned again her armor and took up her weapons.

"Here I shalt await thee, and if by some chance thou can make thy way hither after the battle, then here thou shalt find me" Beinvír said as they stood together by the pass through the red cliffs. "But if thou fall and Sauron comes, then in the Halls of Mandos shalt I await thee. Either hither or thither shalt we meet again, melethril."

"So we shalt, and a joyous meeting it shalt be upon either shore, yet I hath faith that 'tis here I shalt find thee."

After a long hug and a deep kiss Helluin was gone, the only warrior from Imladris to rejoin the battle. Only later did Elrond learn of Helluin's leave-taking and it increased his own conflicted feelings about his role and the role of his people in the war. Unlike Helluin, he had no confidence in his ability to aid Gil-galad or even to make his way across Eriador with his warriors, and so he stayed in Imladris and his people maintained their vigilance.

The month of Nínui was ended and Gwaeron had come with intermittent rains and a warming of the air. Helluin had made her way down Bruinen and through the rough lands to Mitheithel, then passing through the rolling country to the west, had come nigh the row of uplands that would be later known as the Weather Hills. Despite the presence of Sauron's eastern forces she had traveled fast, and indeed not since she had raced from the Ered Wethrin to Avernien had she kept such a pace. Along the way, by the arts of the Laiquendi that she had learned from Beinvír, she had remained undetected and had slain but three dozens in the speed of her passage. Save those near the Bruinen, few of the enemy now lingered so far east. Those that she slew, Yrch and a handful of Easterlings, she deemed but deserters from Sauron's eastern army. It earned them no mercy from her sword. Now though, unlike in the past, she left them where they fell.

In the second week of Gwaeron, (March), Sauron ordered his western forces to prepare for battle and the encampments east of the River Lune came alive. Troops moved up to the eastern bank and set afloat the myriad craft that would bring them against Lindon.

Across the water, Gil-galad rallied his dwindling forces, and oft did he look to the southwest, where his Elven eyes could discern the sparkle on the waters of the gulf. Ever he hoped to see the great ships of Númenor riding up from Belegaer, but they did not come. The high king had 12,000 soldiers and knights under his command; across the Lune 49,000 foes awaited their master's order to attack. Two furlongs from his position on the western bank, he could easily see the rafts and barges, the troop carriers of his enemies, waiting along the shore. The east bank was black with them, and at night, the lands across the river were speckled with campfires, numerous and red as a spray of blood.

The eastern precincts of Mithlond and all the Harlond had been evacuated the previous fall, but so far the enemy hadn't bothered with them. They had congregated further north where the river was narrower and easier for their troops to cross. Sauron would try to trap his host against the Ered Luin, crossing and coming against him from the east and the north. And eventually, even if the Eldar succeeded in retreating south, it would be a route. The king's front was too wide to be defended with the numbers he had, while his enemy had the numbers to strike at him on at least two battlefronts.

Helluin had reached the fair and rolling country of central Eriador by 8 Gwaeron, and passed up the Baranduin towards Lake Nenuial. Now the land was hushed, trampled by many iron-shod feet, and the waters of the gentle stream were fetid. Henceforth she moved with even greater caution, for she was within 50 leagues of the River Lune. Everyday it seemed she encountered more of Sauron's support troops; hunters, gatherers, errand riders, scouts, and rear guard. She slew any she could on principle, deeming every blow struck against the enemy to be a help to her cause.

As Helluin moved further west the deployment of the enemy gave her clues to their battle plans. She managed to discern much of Sauron's strategy and found it posed an immense threat to the high king. Somehow it had to be thwarted, yet what could one warrior do, no matter how deadly, against the numbers she believed would attack?

On 11 Gwaeron Helluin came to the lakeshore and saw the waters ripe with the floating corpses of Yrch, black, bloated, and reeking. They had been slain by the arrows of the Green Elves. Her hope rose at the sight; perhaps she could find a way.

Now Helluin warily followed the shore to the north, coming to the Emyn Uial on the 13th, and in stealth she moved amongst the highlands, continuing northwest. There, on the morning of the 14th, she found an encampment of the Laiquendi, a couple dozen only, and she took two of their sentries. Coming into their camp, holding the Green Elves at swordpoint, she demanded to speak with their commander. At their campfire sat none other than Tórferedir, the King's Hunter. She shook her head in amazement, not sure whether she was more surprised that he was still in command or that he was still alive.

"Helluin en Mórgolodh,¹" he groaned, obviously displeased to see her again, "Leitho daugin nin!²" ¹(Helluin en Mórgolodh, Helluin the Black Exile, Sindarin) ²(Leitho daugin nin!, Release my warriors!, =leitho- (v. release) + -o (imp) + daug (warrior) + -in(pl) + nin (my) Sindarin)

In a heartbeat two-dozen archers had knocked arrows and taken aim at Helluin.

"Conno daugin cin echádad tovon ping huin!¹" Helluin demanded as she nudged the two sentries forward with her sword. ¹(Conno daugin cin echádad tovon ping huin!, Order thy warriors to lower (make low) their bows! = conno (v. imp, order) + daug (warrior) + -in(pl) + cin (your) + echád (make) + -ad (inf, to) + tovon (low) + ping (pl, bows for shooting) + huin (their) Sindarin)

Tórferedir watched her warily as she advanced. After their previous meeting five years before he had learned every story about her that was told amongst his people.

"Echád tovon ping lin,¹" he finally ordered. "Angol bera hen" ¹(Echádtovon ping lin, Lower your bows, = echád (make) + tovon (low) + ping (pl, bows for shooting) + lin (pl your) Sindarin) ²(Angol bera hen,Some sorcery protects her= angol(ar.) (indef art, some sorcery) + bera (pres ind v, protects) + hen (dir obj, her) Sindarin)

The archers slowly and reluctantly lowered their bows and relaxed the tension on their strings. Helluin withdrew a step and sheathed her sword. The two sentries breathed sighs of relief and stepped further away from her, then bowed to their general.

"What do you want with us, Helluin?" Tórferedir asked.

"I need thy help on behalf of my king. Within days he shalt be o'erwhelmed. Upon the hither shore of the Lune is gathered the Host of Sauron. When they cross, Gil-galad shalt be assailed from both the north and the east. He cannot fight both fronts, and either he shalt be forced against the Ered Luin and destroyed or driven south in a rout with many afoot left behind. Gorthaur takes no prisoners who would not prefer death. I need thy aid to assault and counter his forces."

Tórferedir could only stare at her in horror. She spoke of open warfare, a thing not done by the Laiquendi since their disastrous victory at Amon Ereb, in the darkness under the stars two Ages before ere the Noldor returned to Middle Earth. Assailing the Host of Sauron was a terrifying idea, but little more terrifying than Helluin herself. At least the Yrch could be slain. 'Twas said the Black Exile bore some enchantment to ward off arrows and darts, the thrusts of spears and the blades of swords. They bit not upon her flesh.

"Thou shalt lead us all to our deaths," he groaned.

"Nay! Harken to me! Thou shalt surely die if thou dost not attack when the advantage is with thee," she said forcefully, "for thou shalt be taken here after the battle if thou doth not heed me."

She saw their fear, but also that their eyes were all turned to her, even the general's. Now she continued in a more reasonable tone, cajoling them and presenting them with a plan. They knew the lands to the west better than any, certainly better than Sauron.

"If we cross the River Lune, we can come upon the rear of such of the Host of Sauron as seek to drive against Gil-galad from the north. We can draw off much of the foe and leave the king to fight those coming against him from the east. Should our gambit fail, then to the Ered Luin can we withdraw, and safer there thou shalt be than in the Emyn Uial. The Blue Mountains were once thy homelands and even the east faces of the mountains did thy people once roam."

She saw some amongst them some nodding in agreement. The Ered Luin had once been the Ered Lindon and beyond still lay the last remnants of Ossiriand. Even Tórferedir was weighing her words with deep concentration, staring out to the west at the distant heights.

"Tell me," she asked, "how many art thou?"

The general looked back up at her and for some moments made no reply. Then with a deep sigh he answered, "Eight thousands art mustered."

A grin curled his lips as he saw the amazement on Helluin's face.

"How soon can they be moved across the Lune?"

"By the end of two days," he said with certainty, "most art within 50 miles."

"Tórferedir, I know thou neither like nor trust me," Helluin said, "but thou can see the working of my plan and thou know thy warriors. Can we make this come to pass?"

He took a deep breath and looked to the sky. Silently he calculated and realized that it was possible, but yet more, he felt a lightness of heart that had been absent for too many long years. It was nothing less than the return of hope.

"Even if we find not victory, still shalt we inflict such slaughter upon our foes that long shalt they rue their coming to our lands. 'Tis a better alternative than any we hath discerned," he admitted. After a pause he added, "and I should like to stand again, and perhaps die, upon the lands I once walked in peace under the stars. We shalt make it happen." For the first time in years it seemed, he smiled.

Helluin nodded and sat down where she stood, breathing a great sigh of relief. Then Tórferedir stood and gave instructions to two of his archers. One immediately came to the fire and kindled an arrow that he shot into the western sky. The arrow streaked upwards, leaving a trail of black as it rose high into the heavens. The other hastened west on foot.

Then all 'round them in the hills there was movement. Figures rose from concealment and stood, and all began moving west. Somewhere to the east another arrow took flight, and then in the far distance yet another. From the Emyn Uial and the lands of northern Eriador to the east and west, the Host of the Laiquendi began marching to the River Lune. Helluin watched in amazement. Though she could make no accurate count, it seemed as if hundreds moved within the circle of her sight. Across the camp, the King's Hunter stood and shouldered his bow, quiver, and a travel bag. There were no tents, no wagons, no camp furnishings, and no pack animals. In a few minutes all evidence of the campsite had been obliterated and he and the others she had found were walking away towards the river that lay 75 miles to their west.

"Come as thou can, Helluin," he called back over his shoulder, "and we shalt meet thee upon the thither shore. We muster at noon in two days."

Here again was called a muster at a place and time prearranged. She could only nod in agreement. In forty-eight hours an invisible army would lie in wait for the Yrch and Easterlings when they crossed. Helluin waved to him, then lay down looking up at the clouds and breathed a sigh of relief. Her hope had grown to a possibility.

The early evening of 16 Gwaeron found Helluin on the western bank of the River Lune, about 100 miles south of its lower western tributary. This spot was across the Lune from the mouth of the river that flowed down from the Emyn Uial to the east.

Helluin and the Green Elves had crossed the Lune to the north of that eastern tributary, while to the south of it Sauron's Northern Host waited for the command to cross and march to begin their attack. South of the Laiquendi's position on the western shore lay the rolling fields between the Lune and the Ered Luin, and perhaps 20 miles beyond, the northernmost companies of Gil-galad.

The Laiquendi had positioned themselves in a line running southwest as it moved inland, and had formed a battlefront extending from the riverbank to about three miles inland. Their archers maintained no lines, but they were of sufficient numbers to maintain a deadly and continuous fire. Here they waited in silence, undetectable even from a dozen yards, and completely unsuspected by their foes across the river. They had arrived with but hours to spare.

In the early morning of 17 Gwaeron, Sauron's forces began their crossing in the darkness. 'Twas just after midnight and the light of a half-moon shone down as flecks of silver tossed upon the waters. Amidst that reflected beauty it seemed as if the surface was covered with an evil flotsam of well 'nigh a thousand rafts and barges bearing the Glamhoth west across the river. They came in silence and without torches, hoping to maintain the secrecy of their presence as long as possible, the better to fall unexpected upon the Elven Host to the south. Soon the first of them had landed and the Laiquendi could hear the hated speech of the Yrch.

It took four hours for the enemy to mass on the western shore. There they milled about in a disorganized gaggle, ill tempered as was their nature, cursing and shoving their fellows. During that time, the Green Elves moved silently forward, bringing themselves to within twenty yards of their foes. And when at last all the Yrch had debarked, Tórferedir himself fired the first arrow, taking a captain of the Glam in the eye.

Then from the bows of the Laiquendi came a rain of bolts out of the dark, and these slammed into the squealing masses of the Glamhoth, dropping them by the score. The Yrch drew back, some even trying to reboard their craft, but these their own captains slew as an example ere they could flee, for they would tolerate no desertion. In the darkness of the early morning, bows sang and arrows whistled in a constant hissing fall, dense as sleet and cold as death. The Yrch retreated south and the Laiquendi followed in silence. In the tall grasses 'nigh the riverbank, Tórferedir's warriors advanced after their enemy, maintaining the engagement. They were so close that they aimed not at bodies, but at the fear brightened eyes of their enemies.

In desperation a company of two hundred Yrch charged forward, driven on by the guttural cursing of their captain. They broke through the lines of the Laiquendi ere they even knew it, but the Green Elves fell back before them, letting them advance without resistance until they were surrounded in a pocket of archers. Then they destroyed the Yrch one by one, shooting until all were slain. The lines of bowmen reformed, and save for the screams in the night nothing was heard of the doomed sortie. There had come no clash of weapons, no screams or battle cries. The troops had simply disappeared. The captains of the Glamhoth ordered the retreat to the south quickened. 'Twas an unruly mob that fled thus from the archers towards the coming day's battle.

As the night progressed to the second hour of the battle, the Yrch hastened south and the Glamhoth became stretched into a thick line as the most terrified fled outright and those most cowed by their leaders lingered in jostling companies. Tórferedir ordered his archers to draw their lines inwards to the river so they paralleled the bank, lengthening somewhat the front, the better to take advantage of their foes' extended right flank. Now more targets were revealed and the Yrch fell more quickly. All through the waning hours of darkness the killing continued as the battle moved south, and when at last the sun rose, the long shadows of the Yrch, gangling and black, revealed their flight along the river.

16,000 had crossed, and by dawn well o'er half had fallen. Now with the light the Elven archers saw their targets yet clearer, and having denied them any chance of movement inland, found them strung out over almost a mile. Into this rout they poured arrows, sending into flight bloody shafts torn from the bodies of the dead that they had overtaken as they advanced. They maintained their stealth, firing at the silhouettes the low sun revealed, never rising to shoot, and providing no certain targets for the enemy to counterattack against. Of the Yrch who bore bows, most had shot their arrows into the darkness, but so few had struck targets that the Laiquendi hadn't even bothered targeting the archers. Instead they shot any sure target, making their arrows count and trusting in their numbers to hold at bay any more sorties against them. The killing continued without respite as Anor rose higher.

In the third hour of the morning, after a running battle of seven hours, Sauron's Northern Host was reduced to a few hundreds fleeing south in terror. Then the foremost companies of the Green Elves sprinted to outpace their enemy's loping strides and finally their circle was completed. The last of the Yrch found arrows coming at them from the fore and well as their right flank and rear, and they drew to a halt, screaming and waving their weapons. To their left lay the river and the wide waters of the Lune offered no escape.

At the last, the Laiquendi rose to their feet, standing for a moment ere their final volley filled the air with hissing shafts. For a few final moments the Yrch were shocked at how close their enemies actually were. Then the song of bowstrings releasing sounded a harmonic that reverberated, as the hum from a thousand hives, which could be felt in the ground as much as heard in the air. In those moments it seemed that a black and rushing haze darkened the space between the enemies, as if all the bees of the fields raced upon a stand of quavering flowers. The thud of arrows striking flesh sounded as a rolling of drums, and finally there came silence.

The Laiquendi looked about themselves. Not a single Orch moved. Of their host, 'twas later found that not even two hundreds had been lost. And so, after well nigh 2,500 years, the losses of Amon Ereb were avenged. Tórferedir raised his voice in a song of victory and his warriors added their voices so that upon the eastern side of the Ered Lindon, the westernmost lands of Eriador recalled the green forests of Ossiriand, easternmost in Beleriand of old, Lindon, the Land of Singing.

When they were done with their song of rejoicing and triumph, they sought Helluin, for now they had come to respect her at last. But they found her not, for even as that final deadly hail of arrows had exterminated the last of their foes, she had taken her way south in haste. Four leagues downstream waited the northernmost companies of the king.

To Be Continued

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