In An Age Before - Part 6

Chapter Eight

Rhovanion - The Second Age of the Sun


  Time had passed and though Helluin was not happy with the way things had turned out, Oldbark had assured her that worse could easily have happened.  In fact, he’d expected worse.  It was shallow comfort.  One time only had she returned north to the realm of the Wood Elves.  By then over a hundred years had passed.  Her reception had been cold.  Indeed she had not been received at all, for the cave upon the Forest River stood empty and not a single one of the Avari was to be seen anywhere in that land.  In fact the only consolation had been the absence of any sign of Yrch.

  Upon her return with that news, Oldbark and Leaflock had given her the equivalent of shrugs.  They’d seemed not at all concerned and indeed they weren’t in the least.  Elves were simply not their responsibility.

  Wasn’t it just like those with legs to wander off, Leaflock had asked rhetorically in Entish over the course of an afternoon?  Oldbark had spent the evening replying that, at least they hadn’t left a mess.  He’d then turned to Helluin and added “hastily” in Elvish that he’d noticed the Wood Elves leaving a half-century before.  But since she hadn’t asked, he hadn’t told, and when she’d mentioned going off to their realm recently, he’d thought she intended to head east, out of the forest and off to whatever lands they’d disappeared into.  What else would he have thought?  Helluin had shaken her head in exasperation.  She’d just endured a roundtrip of over 140 leagues because she hadn’t asked the Onodrim precisely enough concerning the current whereabouts of the Avari.

  The Onodrim went on to comment between themselves that darker times were coming to Greenwood.  They could taste it in the water and feel it in the air.  Something was stirring; some evil shadow that grew apace, and it bode ill for them all.  Things would be changing in the forest, they just knew it, and the old days were gone for good.  (But weren't they always?)  They were still talking, rehashing variations of those sentiments in myriad ways and redefining the same points ad nauseum.  Helluin had heard it often enough.  They would go on like that until morning; she just knew it.  Sometime during the last two and a half centuries, listening to them had grown tiresome. 

  When Helluin wandered off neither Ent had said goodbye.  Indeed they’d long since ceased paying any attention to her at all.  Elves aren’t their concern, she thought spitefully as she walked away, but Greenwood is their problemWhatever evil they sense might not come for another century or two…maybe a millennium.  She wasn’t going to ask.  She’d been there and done that, and it had left her feeling depressed.  Yes, the forest was their problem…and they were welcome to it.  She’d always wanted to see the mountains that stood at the edge of her sight, the ones she’d first spied from a treetop in the mellyrn wood that day she’d met Berlun.  The thought lifted her heart.  Without a backward glance Helluin headed south.  It was late summer, S.A. 523.

  When Helluin reached the southern boundary of Greenwood two days later she didn’t look back.  Before her, wide new lands lay ready to be explored.  Anduin, the great river of Rhovanion, ran to the west on her right, tracing its course southeast, dwindling from a broad and undulating ribbon into a glimmering thread in the hazy distance where ranges of mountains marched on the verges of her sight.  To the west rose the heights of the Hithaeglir, and before its feet just across Anduin lay yet another forest…no doubt with its own Ents, Helluin suspected, and they no more “hasty” of speech than Oldbark and Leaflock.  She looked over its deep green canopy for a moment and then dismissed it just as quickly.  No gold-leafed mellyrn grew there.

  Sweeping her eyes to the left, Helluin saw flat and endless plains marching all the way to the eastern horizon, nearly featureless, their subdued colors quickly blending into an uneven dun color.  They appeared inhospitable, for it seemed that little more than scrub grew there.  Had Helluin stood at an elevation where she could view the hundred and seventy leagues stretching away in that direction, she would have discerned a run of low dun colored hills, and past them the dun colored waters of the Sea of Rhûn.  Beyond the sea lay yet more dun colored lands.  The expanse of South Rhûn, bordering the River Carnen that flowed down from the Emyn Engrin, was indistinguishable from the dun colored lands of Dorwinion and North Rhûn.  It was the western margin of the great interior savanna, which extended with few breaks all the way across the northern continent to the far and unknown shores of the Encircling Sea.

  Two ages before, Helluin had been born somewhere in those lands to the east that now appeared so uninviting.  Through what was now North Rhûn, the Eldar had followed Orome west through Middle Earth to Aman.  Under Varda’s stars those lands had slept and many things had awaited their awakening under the greater lights to come.  But those same lights could also parch and blast.  The great primeval forest that had once stretched across the northern continent had succumbed to its daily exposure ‘neath Anar’s fire, leaving a land of savanna, prairie, and to the north, tundra.  The dreary Sea of Rhûn, and the melancholic Sea of Nurnen in Mordor, were all that remained of the great inland Sea of Helcar, upon whose western shore once lay Cuivienen, first memory and awakening place of the Quendi.  What little remained of their natal forest still huddled at the feet of the Orocarni, the eastern mountains.  But now, rather than overlooking the quiet mere, the trees bordered an endless draught land plain.  The effects of heating and drying in Arda would continue another millennium ere the climate came again into balance under sun and moon, and yet more changes in the physical world lay ahead.  None of this could Helluin know as she gazed about herself that day, and indeed little attention would she have paid, for her focus was fixed on the nearer distance, on the snow-capped Ered Nimrais and the course of Anduin stretching out before her to the south.

  Closer to her spread a wide grassland interspersed with patches of open woods that thickened somewhat ‘nigh the river’s banks.  High summer had passed and autumn lurked a moon ahead, but still the land before her retained the deep green of long grass.  It wasn’t yet the ideal horse country that it would later become, for vegetation still lay too thick upon the ground, but it was mostly flat and watered by many streams.  It would be a pleasant land to travel in.  At night there would be a great show of stars.

  Helluin’s other option was to take to the river.  Anduin flowed downstream from near where she stood, and she suspected that it ran all the way to the sea, but it would run fast.  She was in no hurry.  In a small boat she could cross all the lands she saw in a moon or less…but to what point?  Her aim was to explore the lands of Middle Earth.  In that, haste and speed were her enemies.  No, she would walk the lands, sharing trails with beasts and discovering the secrets of her surroundings.  Anduin would be around a long time.  She could always sail it later.

  Helluin took her exploring time seriously and for months lost herself in the flatlands south of Greenwood that bordered Anduin’s eastern shore.  Fall came and winter followed.  She noted the colors of autumn bursting bright upon the forests behind her, as well as the trees bordering the river and its tributary streams.  Many times she saw herds of wild horses, fleet-footed and free, and from them she learned that the coming winter was not to be feared.  They made no migration south, nor did the flocks of waterfowl that nested nigh the river’s banks.  The hares she saw hadn’t even shifted to the white winter coats she recalled from the northern clime of Beleriand.  This land was survivable in all seasons.  It would certainly be nothing like the northern ice of the Helcaraxe, or even the lingering chill of Hithlim.  In those days the climate of southern Rhovanion was moderated by the proximity of the Bay of Belfalas and the general warming trend under the sun.  For a crafty Elf the land was bountiful.  It was less so for unlearned mortals.

  In those lands there were settlements and even villages of Men.  These were not the Edain that Helluin had known long ago, but neither were they the scions of traitorous Uldor and Ulfang or their ilk.  For the most part these were simple farmers, herders or shepherds, hunters, fisher folk, trappers and traders.  They were people unpreoccupied by war or dreams of conquest.  What chieftains they had were often little more than the best local archer, most experienced waterman, the owner of the largest herd, or the patriarch with the most sons.  Their towns had no walls and no militias.  None among them used letters or made pottery, and though they sang some songs, no instrument other than a few drums did they play.  They created no realms, governed no kingdoms, and maintained no armies.  Helluin saw a people who lived close to their land, valuing family, caring little for distant places, recording no history save in oral tales soon forgotten, creating little beyond necessities, and seeking no lasting glory.  Their lives were short, hard, and filled with suffering, for they were ignorant and primitive.  Some might have called them uninspired; Helluin found them unspoiled, and in their own way, much like the Avari.

  Helluin visited those homesteads she came to and was always welcomed, for it was their custom to offer hospitality to travelers.  Often she traded a seat by the fire for some fish or meat she had caught and her hosts gave her thanks.  Though they looked askance at her armor and weapons, they never turned her away, nor did they seem to fear her.  More likely were they to act sympathetic, pitying her in their hearts for she was alone and homeless in the wild.  To them she was someone who had lost all, forsaken by kith and kin.  To her they were rustic and simple, short-lived and quickly forgotten by the world.  During the years she spent in that land they got along well.

  In the spring and summer, Helluin was content to wander, fishing, hunting, and gathering to support herself while maintaining no permanent abode.  In this she mirrored the wandering companies of Sindar and Laiquendi who roamed Eriador during the Second and Third Ages of the World.  In that time she came to know the local creatures and plants, the weather and the water, the rocks and soil.  And during that time she often gave the benefit of her acquired wisdom to the mortals among whom she lived.  Simple to her seemed the things she taught, and yet her knowledge enriched the lives of those who listened.

  Grow in three fields out of four each year, she said, and in the fallow year, sow the resting soil with the scraps from the kitchens.  Collect the dung of the herds from the pastures for the same purpose.  For the first time, farmers began to fertilize their land and found their yields increased so that they could barter the surplus and cache the excess for winter.  Hang the meat trapped in fall over smoking fires and preserve it dry for the cold months, she told the hunters.  Keep the wine soured in the barrels, and in it preserve vegetables against the hunger of early spring ere new plants can sprout for gathering.  That plant yonder with the blue flowers…of its fibers can be made the fabric called linen…you need not the wool of sheep only for clothing.  The wasted fat of these slaughtered animals can be boiled and thereafter will not go rancid but can be stored in crocks, and if combined with ashes, this rendered tallow will make a cleanser for cloth and skin.  It can also be burned in lamps with wicks of the same flax you wear.  If you give these bees in your gardens a better home they will share their honey if you know how to sooth them with smoke to get it from their combs.  Among the weeds and herbs I see surrounding your homes grow plants to ease pain, sooth coughs, mend bones, and calm cramps.  Here are plant oils to repel insects and drive off vermin, to relieve skin irritations and cleanse parasites from man and beast.  With her advice and aid the men on the banks of Anduin came to a more comfortable and prosperous life, and though all of those she’d known when she first came among them grew aged and died ere all she had to teach had been absorbed, still their children and their children’s children grew to respect and cherish the homeless Elf who had come among them.

  To Helluin, earning their thanks and friendship was a kind of restitution for the heartache her teachings had brought to the Avari of Greenwood.  On the day a farmer asked her to teach him how to make and play a simple flute such as the one she played, to amuse himself and his children, Helluin knew she had succeeded.  Here was a Man who now had surplus of sustenance and could devote time to things beyond the requirements of survival. And so she began her instructions, first with the carving of the instrument, then with the technique of blowing notes and fingering the holes.  Finally she taught him the ideas behind the notes and how to compose songs of his own.  To her it was but a short time before he was improvising freely, standing or sitting with eyes closed and heart taking wing, sampling that aether of the soul that comes with freedom from self and the concerns of the world.  The skill to enter a transcendental state at will through his absorption in music had taken him six years.  For conferring that priceless gift of escape from the troubles of the world, he looked upon Helluin with pure love of the spirit in his eyes.  As in many places in those times, it was another beginning of higher things for Men during the Dark Years in Middle Earth after the Edain left.

  Evening was falling and the sky deepened from royal blue to cobalt and then to black.  Overhead the stars kindled and flickered with their comforting and familiar twinkling fire.  Helluin looked up and breathed deeply.  Scents of cooking food she discerned, but more important, the absence of smoky torches choking huts with oily fumes and soot.  In their place, oil lamps and candles illuminated homes wherein families told stories and played songs.  Children laughed, no longer fearing the dark, their stomachs comforted by hot food, not crying with hunger, coughing, and scratching at the bites of fleas and lice.  The aromatic scent of hickory from the smokehouse wafted past the market where the excess of one Man now filled the need of his neighbor.  And all this in Nunui, the second month past Yule, when the stores had once been so low that many, with loosened teeth and gums bleeding from scurvy, had starved to death ere spring.

  Seventy-four years Helluin had lived among these people and she was happy to have done so, for the time had been well spent.  Indeed, she could not remember having brought so much good to so many without once laying a hand to her sword.  Oh, she knew that in a generation or two her name would be forgotten, but that didn’t trouble her, for the benefits of her knowledge would persist.  Now that they had time to do more than struggle to live, these people would discover ways of their own to improve their lot.  Yes, there was more she could teach, but the foundation had been laid; here in this corner of Middle Earth, mankind had been given a start on the road to civilization.  At the same time, Helluin had found a place of sorts among them, but now it was time to go.

  Helluin crossed Anduin the next day and started south.  She had chosen to travel the western bank, for the eastern bank was bordered by the inhospitable folded lands of the Emyn Muil.  She had surveyed that range of cliffs and ridges many times.  It couldn’t compete in her heart with the lands further south.

  The Ered Nimrais and the Vale of Anduin drew her much more strongly, and ‘neath those enticements lay the ever-present call of the sea.  At times she had smelt it when the breeze came in from the south.  The sea called to her; always had and always would, for such is the way of the heart among the Eldar who have seen Belegaer.  Ever it sings with siren’s voice, rousing a deep-set longing that threatens to overwhelm in the end all other desires.  It lives in Calaquendi and Moriquendi alike, but to the Calaquendi it is the reinvigoration of a well-known craving, whereas to the Moriquendi, it is a compulsion lying dormant, awaiting some catalyst of sight or sound to bring it to life.  Helluin thought that it wouldn’t hurt her to see again the shores and hear the waves.  Perhaps she was in denial, or perhaps she genuinely believed this, for it had been almost six centuries since she had tarried at Vinyamar and fought at Avernien.  It was S.A. 597 and changes were coming.

  By summer’s end Helluin had stood at the foot of Mindolluin, the easternmost peak of the White Mountains, gazing up at the outreaching ship’s prow spine that rose seven hundred feet above the floodplain of Anduin.  About a curve in the river the vale opened into a sloping coastal land to the west, while to the east across the waters, the unbroken range of the forbidding Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow, ran north to south.  Though she knew it not, Helluin stood on a border between the lands of Rhovanion to the north and the prosperous realm of the Falas to the south and west.

  Therein Helluin discovered a peaceful mingling of peoples.  Some were Men like those she’d befriended to the northeast, while others were Elves, the Nandor of Lenwe.  The Men were more prosperous than their northern kin, for they had profited by their long association with the Umanyar.  The Nandor were much like their kin in the mellyrn forest ‘nigh Celebrant, save that they sailed about the coast in ships and were more proficient on the water.  Both kindreds eventually welcomed Helluin with food and questions.  Of the two, the Nandor were the more surprised to see her. 

  During her first week in that land Helluin saw Elves whispering to each other while casting surreptitious glances at her every time she looked around.  She noted that unlike the Nandor of Celebrant, these spoke Sindarin among themselves and the Common Tongue in their dealings with Men.  As their looks wore on her she had to wonder if she really seemed so strange.  Helluin had checked to make sure her privy parts were covered and that no gulls had streaked her cloak with their droppings.  In checking about herself, she noticed that no others she’d seen openly bore arms or wore armor.  Well, someone must be keeping order around here, she thought, and I suppose sooner or later they’ll come and ask me who, what, where, and why, instead of gossiping and whispering like fishmongers’ wives.  The longer she wandered about the land north of the River Erui, the more of a celebrity she became, and the thinner her patience wore.

  As usual Helluin had excited attention when she’d first entered the inn in a riverside town near what would become in later days the Harlond.  This town contained quays and shipyards, and lay but a league southeast of Mindolluin, where the river went in a curve west around Emyn Arnen across the water in Ithilian.  Heads had turned at her entry and eyes had followed her across the room.  Being a traveler she was used to the scrutiny of strangers, but of late she'd found their attention annoying.  She had ordered a meal and a mug of ale and occupied a table in the common room along the rear wall opposite the door.  When the food arrived, Helluin began her noon repast with gusto.  She happened to have eaten but little the night before and she was famished.  As was her habit, she’d taken a seat with her back to the wall and an unobstructed view of all that came and went.  Indeed several had left shortly after looking her over carefully and whispering amongst themselves.  It had raised the hairs on the back of her neck.

  Midway through her stew, cheese, and bread, a group of six Elves came in, searched the room until their eyes lit upon her, and immediately approached.  Helluin set aside her mug and studied them closely.  Each wore a cloak of sea green over deeper green trousers and belted tunics.  The buckles on their belts and the brooches clasping their cloaks both depicted stylized cresting waves.  All wore identical black boots.  Their faces were set, their bearing soldierly, and they bore identical swords in scabbards on their belts.  The six drew up in a semi-circle around her table.  In response, Helluin shifted back her chair and unclasped her cloak.  She let it fall to the floor behind her, revealing her battle dress and armor.  She met their eyes as her own began to brighten as she prepared herself for their challenge.  Her temper had always been quicker when she was hungry.

  “Speak Afor*!"  She commanded as she rose to her feet, wanting to open the conversation on her own terms, “for if thou seeks to waylay me then declare whom it is I shall send before Namo this day.”  The blue fire in her eyes rose a pace as she spoke.  *(Afor, Silvan Elf, -Sindarin)

  “Declare thy name to me, Golodh*,” the closest said stiffly, “for this land is long under the protection of Lenwe, King of the Falas, and thou art summoned before him.”  He noted that she stood a hand's width taller than any of them.  *(Golodh, Exiled Elf, Noldo, Sindarin)

  Helluin shrugged as if unimpressed.  They were all at an impasse, none wishing to account themselves to the other on command.

  “Of what Falas dost thou speak, Nando?  The only Falas known to me was long ago the realm of Cirdan upon the shores of Beleriand, whose citadel was at Eglarest ‘ere its fall,” she said, knowing full well that falas was simply Sindar for shore.  Even long ago she’d thought that calling any seaside realm The Falas was sadly lacking in originality.  “His realm last stood renewed at Mithlond upon the Gulf of Lune in Eriador.  Say thou that thy lord, King Lenwe hast succeeded him?”    

  The six looked back and forth amongst themselves with some uncertainty.  There was only one realm called The Falas as far as they knew.  They'd really never heard of any other Falas.  What they did know was that this Noldo was called to the halls of their king.  They had their orders.

  “Thou art summoned to the king’s halls at Edhellond and we are to guide thee thither,” the same Nando who had first spoken said.  He stood waiting as if she should immediately follow them and leave her food behind.

  Helluin groaned.  Edhellond was Sindarin for Elf Haven.  She would have wagered with complete certainty that it was a port city.  The paucity of original names seemed consistent.  She even wondered if Lenwe had made it up himself.  Indeed, the Nandor of King Lenwe struck her as among the least lyric of Elves.  She stared at them for several moments.  Finally she sat back down, picked up her mug and took a drink.

  "Innsman, a round for these soldiers of the king," Helluin called out to the barkeep.  "I bid thee sit a moment," she told them, "and we shalt go hence after I finish supping.  I've not eaten yet this day."

  The six soldiers looked uncertain for a moment and then joined Helluin at the table, dragging a couple more chairs over from an empty table beside them.  The innkeeper brought a tray and set mugs of ale before each, eyeing the situation warily.  After a few awkward moments, the soldiers raised their mugs and drank as Helluin ate.

  After a second round they left the inn in much better moods, and though still far from jovial, at least the brittleness of their meeting had faded.  Helluin asked many questions of the soldiers and they provided answers.  In turn, they asked Helluin of the western lands and of the war.  Engrossed in their conversation, the afternoon passed into evening while they walked.

  The group stayed the night at an outpost of the king's army near the crossing of the river Erui.  Their path had followed the track of the later South Road of Gondor, but on the far side of the Erui they would take a faster trail, running closer to the Ered Nimrais through Lebennin.  It would be a long journey, no less than 100 leagues to Edhellond, and would take a fortnight.

  Helluin's status during that time was uncertain.  She was not a prisoner, but not quite a guest, for she though she had committed no crime, neither did she have leave of the king to wander his realm.  Indeed she was something of a question to all.  None doubted that she was an Elf, and more than that, an Elf of the Calaquendi.  Most had never seen such, but all remembered their history and knew where went those who had continued to follow the Valar's summons two ages before.  They were very curious and very wary, for they could sense the power Helluin had accumulated in Aman, as if it were an aura of light surrounding her.  Like all the Amanyar, she had been enriched by her presence in the Undying Lands.  She was stronger, fairer, more learned, and more subtle of hand and mind.  She held great potential to either enrich or destroy their kingdom.  They didn't pretend to understand her, but as the days passed, they continued to question her about her past.  Much of what they heard astonished them.  They were in awe of the Lords of the West, some shed tears at the downfall of the Light that had been, and all were in wonder at her descriptions of the lost realms of Beleriand, Khazad-dum, and the enemies, the fell monsters of Morgoth.

  After half a moon's travel they came to the gates of the Edhellond.  Sure enough it was a port city, standing on the shores of the Cobas Haven upon the Bay of Belfalas, at the mouth of the River Ringlo.  The sturdy gates were wrought of solid wood reinforced with iron, hinged in a thick wall of well-fitted stone.  Towers stood upon either side, while within lay a wide court for the mustering of defenders.  Helluin thought it sufficient against pirates and raiders, but unimpressive compared to the Orflach Echor, the seven gates of Gondolin, or the great gate of Khazad-dum at Azanulbizar.  She kept these thoughts to herself as they passed through the gates and into Lenwe's city.

  Indeed, Helluin had no desire to come into conflict with Lenwe or his people.  If anything, she regarded him with some reverence, for he was among those who had awakened in Cuivienen.  They had never met before, for on the westward march their peoples had been many miles and years apart upon the road.  Lenwe had been a lord of the Teleri, though not a kinsman, and had marched in the Host of Olwe.  Though he was an Umanya and had never seen Beleriand or the Light of Aman, still he was and had been a lord of the Quendi ere their first sundering.  In contrast, Helluin could claim no descent of lordship for her family wasn't of the noble houses of the Host of Finwe, and so despite all else, she was a commoner and he an aristocrat.  It would be an interesting meeting.

  Straightaway upon their arrival at the soldiers' barracks, an officer approached and took Helluin to the Hall of the King.  On the way she noticed that the city was shared by a few Men, though the majority of the population were Nandor.  The two kindreds went about their business in the same friendly fashion she had noted throughout the land.

  The city's buildings were laid out on curving streets that ran parallel to the shore, while broader avenues radiated up from the banks of the river and the bay to the walls.  All 'round rose buildings of pale limestone, unpretentious but well proportioned.  Few rose more than five stories in height, perhaps to escape the sea winds that blew inland.  These were noticeable, sweeping up the avenues, and Helluin imagined that during storms they would lash the city with salt spray.  The singular structure of impressive height was the pale keep of the king's household, and rising above all was Lenwe's tower.  From the topmost pinnacle a standard was enlivened by the sea breeze, ocean green and displaying a device of white waves capped with foam spray.  For much of their walk, Helluin looked about herself, but after a while the officer spoke, capturing her attention.

  "My Lord would greet thee, Golodh," the officer said as they walked through a market, "for none of the Host of Finwe have our people seen in all the time our realm has been.  Yet to the King hath come some few mariners of Eriador, sailing out of Mithlond, Sindar naming Cirdan their lord, and somewhat of the Exiles' tale is known to us.  Yet my lord wishes to hear directly, not of the wars of Beleriand so much, but of the Undying Realm that even the Sindar hath never seen."    

  "I would be honored to come before thy lord with tidings of Aman and the Powers that dwell there," Helluin told him, "for not in a thousand years hast my memory of the Blessed Light upon Ezellohar faded, though Yavanna's Trees art lost from the world."

  "Unforgettable they would be to any living eyes," the officer agreed in a voice hushed with awe, "and the sight of them was told by Olwe to my lord, long, long ago.  I believe the desire to see them never died from his heart, yet prudence for his people's safety ruled him once to reject the westward path."

  "As did many before him and after," Helluin said, thinking of the Avari and the Sindar who had forsaken the journey at opposite ends of the Hither Lands.  More softly she added, "And I last of all," for after the War of Wrath, she had not gone back.

  They came at last to a gate of iron set in the wall encircling the keep.  At the threshold they were met by eight sentries of the royal house whose officer bade Helluin good day.  The sentries were dressed in long surcoats of sea green, and alone of all those she had seen, wore bright mail beneath matching green tunics.  Upon their belts they bore long swords, and like the soldiers, their belt buckles and broaches were in the shape of cresting waves.  The group parted four to a side and the foremost gestured Helluin ahead with a sweep of his arm.  She marched between their rows, feeling that same undetermined status between guest and prisoner again.

  The formation, with Helluin at their center, marched across a courtyard and through a door that opened directly into a great hall.  On the threshold, a doorwarden courteously requested Helluin's arms.  Indeed this was not unexpected.  Few rulers held audiences with strangers armed for battle.  It would be irregular enough that she would come before the lord girt in mail and plate, rather than dressed in robes of court.  Helluin first gave over her bow and quiver, then as he set these beside the door she reluctantly untied the scabbard from her belt and handed sheathed Anguirel to the warden.  He reached for the weapon, but ere his hand could clasp it, a dire warning came from the blade itself.

  "Thou I shalt not serve save to drink thy blood," the blade declared coldly, "and accursed shalt be the hand that draws me against my will."

  The sentries drew back in shock and the doorwarden shuddered then gingerly took Helluin's sword and travel pack, quickly setting them aside to be reclaimed following her audience with the king.  After this, the sentries escorted Helluin into the hall itself.

  Within, the ceiling floated easily ten fathoms above the floor, supported by rows of gracefully tapered columns, fluted to mimic the trunks of aged trees.  Beneath their feet the floor was paved with limestone, dark, smooth, and bearing embeddments of pale fossil shells.  Helluin felt as though she was walking upon some frozen night-darkened sea, stilled smooth as in a dream by some Vala's hand.  Along the great hall's sides, tall windows in deep embrasures lit the interior from waist height to thrice the height of a body.  These were glazed with opal glass and passed a pale silvery light similar to bright winter starlight upon snow covered fields, seen between tree trunks at a forest's edge.  Far above her, the capitols of the columns and the pilasters reinforcing the walls between the windows all rose to form high pointed arches, creating a complex compound vaulting of ribs and panels that made up the ceiling.  All the ascending ribs and arches graded from the color of pale natural stone to the blue-black of a dark night sky.  The panels between the ribs had been colored dark to match, and were pierced in many places so that sunlight winked through from the sky outside.  It didn't take Helluin long to realize that the winking lights had been cunningly set to replicate the positions of the stars, yet not as they looked in the night sky of S.A. 597, but rather as they had looked far to the east in the Age of the Trees.  Taken all together, the hall recalled the time of the Quendi's awakening at Cuivienen…first starlight above the trees.  Helluin was very impressed.

  The group made their way the length of the hall and approached a dais at the far end.  Upon the third tier stood a throne carved from the same dark fossiliferous limestone that paved the floor.  Behind it was a curved alcove of light limestone whose walls were carved with ocean waves cresting outwards from either side to crash against the pillars framing the alcove.  A canopy, also carved of limestone, was set above, also night-dark and filled with stars like the hall's ceiling.  Around the base of the canopy was a curving bench for the king's counselors, and Helluin saw that it was fully occupied as she and the sentries made their way closer.  They stopped a dozen paces before the throne, and Helluin followed the sentries' lead and bowed to the King of the Falas.

  King Lenwe was a tall Nando, dark of hair, hale and hardy, whose ancient eyes shone bright with awareness and missed nothing before them.  He immediately reminded Helluin of her friends amongst the Teleri of Alqualonde and she felt more comfortable in his presence.  As was the custom he had stood as his subjects and their guest approached, and he acknowledged Helluin's bow with a nod of his head in greeting.  He made a gesture to the attendants who stood beyond the dais and beckoned them forward with a chair.  The sentries withdrew and stood to either side, several paces away from Helluin.

  "Hail and well met, Helluin of the Host of Finwe," he said in a strong voice, deep and slightly rough, "welcome to Edhellond of Belfalas, Elfhaven upon the Westernmost Coast of Middle Earth."

  So, thought Helluin, the realm wasn't named simply The Falas, but rather, Belfalas.  Now the name not only made sense, but also possessed a poetic imagery that she could appreciate.  Indeed, she could feel the sea's call in her blood despite the fact that Belfalas was not the westernmost coast of Middle Earth; not even now after the lands of Beleriand had been destroyed.  She noted that the king had remained standing during his welcome, and so she too stood, for etiquette required that she allow him to seat himself first.

  "Thanks do I give for thy gracious welcome, O King," Helluin replied, "for here do I feel again the sea longing of all our people.  Indeed thou hast honored the call to the west, for thou hast raised a realm upon the shores of the Sundering Sea."

  "Yet from these shores hath none gone thither as did thy peoples, sailing hence from the western shores of Beleriand long ago."  For a moment Lenwe gazed at Helluin with sad contemplation in his eyes for a lost opportunity long past recall.  "Oft hath I wondered why in his wisdom did not Orome convey our hosts hither and thence to Aman.  Would we not hath been better served by marching thus, away from the Great Enemy to the north?"

  His words made sense to Helluin.  All the Eldar would have been more safely and quickly brought to the seacoast here, for the march would have bypassed Eriador and Beleriand, the Hithaeglir and the Ered Luin, and they would have passed ever further from Angband rather than closer.  Not only that, but the sea crossing would have been much shorter from a debarkation further south in the Mortal Lands.  Yet had shortening the journey been Orome's aim, he would have led the Eldar even further south…by paths south of the Inland Sea of Helcar to the southern continent and thence due west along the Girdle of Arda.  

  "I know not the counsels of the Valar, or by what wisdom was our path chosen," she replied, "for thy words hold wisdom I cannot refute.  Yet to Beleriand was the call given, and following thither Orome's horn, the Hosts of the Eldar did indeed set sail and were brought to Aman, not by ship, but upon Tol Eressea.  Pray tell me, O King, hath none among thy mariners ventured forth into the west from these havens?"

  "Indeed in the early years of this realm many did chance passage west upon the waves," Lenwe answered, "yet none succeeded in finding Aman, and some failed to return.  Eventually we came to accept that 'twas not so much the direction, but rather the willingness to persevere in heeding the Valar's call that the journey tested.  Now it has been long since any hath sought Aman from these shores."

  Lenwe sighed and fell silent.  Helluin could only nod.  She had suspected as much after Lenwe's earlier comments and observations.  The king finally returned to seat himself on his throne, and once he was settled, Helluin bowed again and took her seat as well.

  "I would harken to what tidings of thy journeys thou would share, Helluin," King Lenwe said, "for none I hath yet spoken with hath seen the Blessed Realm.  Some few mariners of Cirdan hath come among us with tales of Beleriand and the Wars of the Western Lands, and even some mention of the Host of Aman, yet none hast seen the Undying Lands with their own eyes.  Such who hath art now few in Middle Earth.  Speak to me, I beseech thee, for comfort of my soul and surcease of the constant longing that ever comes with the sound of the waves upon my shores."

  There was no way that Helluin could deny his request, for she knew only too well the Sea Longing that had been born in the hearts of all the Eldar so many ages ago.  Though he had led his people from the march and forsaken the Summons of the Valar, still the yearning for the West burned in his heart.  And so Helluin spent the day and most of the night in speech, relating the time she had spent after the Host of Finwe had passed west beyond the Vale of Anduin.  Long she spoke of Aman, for who more of the Eldar had explored its lands in the noontime of the Age of the Trees?  Who else had sought its secrets and roamed its precincts, as had she?  With words she created pictures in the minds of all that harkened to her tale, and indeed none moved during her recitation, but sat entranced, their hearts swept far away in time and space.

  With wonder did the king hear of her visits with Nienna in her house near the Halls of Mandos, from which they had viewed the Eternal Night beyond the fences of Arda.  He wept at the beauty she conveyed in her description of the Light of the Trees, blending silver and gold, and lancing through the Calacirya across the waters of Belaeger to Tol Eressea in the Bay of Eldamar.  And breathless did he receive her halting words as she tried to convey the sensations she felt as she'd stood 'neath the Trees, bedewed with their radiant rain of light that enflamed the spirit yet scorched not the flesh.  Little did he know that among all those of the Firstborn, she alone had done thus and could describe the sensation of being cradled in the brilliance of the Undying Light of Aman.  For hour upon hour he sat spellbound, committing her words to memory, to be replayed for inspiration in the long years ahead during his life and beyond.  When finally she had fallen silent he knew as never before the mingled longing and the overwhelming wonder of an Age lost but to memory that now lived in his memory too.  Were it possible, he would have traded his kingdom and even his life to have stood in her place, and he recognized that from her he had received a gift of the heart such as none had proffered before through all his years upon Middle Earth. 

  Throughout the king's hall the Nandor who had gathered to hear the tale were affected likewise, and this crowd had grown from the few advisors present at the start to a throng that pressed close 'round by the end.  In but a few hours, Helluin had enriched the spirits of a kingdom, for the images she painted in their minds would be shared far and wide, remaining ever vivid in the retelling.  For words and the feelings they evoke are a potent force among the Eldar, whose mind's eyes see from the heart, and Helluin's words lived long among the Nandor of Belfalas.

  "Wondrous is thy tale, Helluin," King Lenwe said when she had finally fallen silent, "and well told.  My heart rejoices that such once was within the circles of Arda.  I thank thee, and after rest and refreshment, I would again enjoy thy company this eve, to hear of the days of the sun and moon as they were in the lands to the west.  Go thee now with my attendants, in peace and welcome, and return to my halls and company with the stars."

  Helluin bowed her head and rose as the king stood and adjourned his court.

  "I thank thee for thy welcome and would be honored to again share thy company in this noble hall, O King," Helluin responded, "and I shalt provide such detail as I can of events in the First Age of the Sun and of the time after the War of Wrath."

  Then as the king left the hall through a private doorway behind the throne's alcove, Helluin followed the attendants the king had assigned to look after her comfort.  From the great hall they walked back out of the keep and into an adjoining building in which were the apartments of the king's household, his advisors, captains, soothsayers, healers, scribes, and loremasters.  There Helluin was given rooms, and refreshment was brought to her.  She discovered that her pack, her bow, and her sword, Anguirel had been brought up from the door.  Finally she was left to her repose.

  The next evening, Helluin discovered that a feast had been set in the hall by Lenwe's people, in honor of their guest.  Much fine fare and many kegs of wine and ale were consumed amidst good cheer, and to the household of the king was Helluin introduced.  She found herself enjoying the company, for none reveled so light-heartedly as the Elves.  Yet amidst the dining and drinking, and the fellowship of the host, there was also much curiosity and many questions, and Helluin could scare take a bite between proffering answers.  To many there, but especially to the king, did Helluin report on her later travels in Middle Earth.  Of greatest interest were her tidings of Lindórinand upon Celebrant, and the rule of Lenwe's grandson, King Lenwin.  Strange it seemed to her that though the feast went on well into the night, never did she tire of it, nor did her patience grow thin.

  At some point during the hours of darkness, musicians began to play and voices were raised in song.  After some numbers of recitals, the king stood and silenced all with a gesture of his hands.  The throng fell into an expectant silence, waiting to hear his words.

  Lenwe turned to Helluin who sat upon his left, and made a request of her, saying, "My honored guest, I would, for the pleasure of all those present, beseech thee for a song of Valinor, for surely such a land must be steeped in blessed music as well as light."

  Though unexpected, the king's request had been graciously worded, and Helluin could understand the desire she read in the faces of those gathered 'round.  She smiled and nodded in assent, knowing it would be unfitting to refuse.  She was just thankful that she had always had a good singing voice.  Now what she had learned of music from Arandil long ago in Tirion would be of aid to her.

  "Lord, I would be honored to perform a song of the Blessed Realm for thy household, and in truth, I miss the music of yonder shores.  Permit me a moment and the use of a harp?"  She requested, looking at the players until her eyes lit on an instrument.

  The musician came to her and handed over his harp, smiling as he did so at the honor done him in her request.  She took it, thanking him and noting the fourteen strings within its golden frame.  She gently brushed her fingers across them to discern the tuning and then made a couple adjustments.  Last, she closed her eyes a moment to concentrate on her choice before beginning to pluck a tune whose lilting notes rose and fell like a flight of swifts cavorting in evening light.

In starlit darkness I awoke to behold the forest still,

And wandered long beside a mere 'neath green and peaceful hills.

But in the darkness shapes did move like shadows 'cross the sky,

And some among my kin were lost, all gone without a cry.

So soon we wandered not alone, nor yet in twos or threes,

For our first home was shared by evil creeping 'neath the trees.

In starlit darkness then I heard the sounds of golden hooves,

And in the distance rang a horn that called all hearts to move.

Then coming through the darkling boles a rider on his steed,

The Hunter of the Valar brought the westward marching need.

And so we traveled not alone for our host followed ever west,

The Summons of the Blessed Ones, that drew us on our quest.

In starlit darkness o'er many miles, we marched to heed the call,

And oft times stopped and started ere we climbed the Misty Wall,

Then through a green and pleasant land before the Walls of Blue,

Though west, 'twas not the land we sought and so we traveled through.

Now finally we came upon that westernmost of mortal lands,

Where Sirion and Gelion flowed and waves crashed on the strands.

In starlit darkness beside the shore we took the island ship,

And sailed the dark and Sundering Sea on a god-enchanted trip.

Then long upon the waves we sailed on toward the Blessed Shore,

Upon a course both south and west, 'til we came to Valinor,

Then setting foot on the Undying Lands where bliss is what one sees,

 We passed long years in Tirion 'neath the Light of Yavanna's Trees.

   The song had many more verses and long did Helluin sing.  And all harkened to her words of the journey to Aman as they had been set down long before by a singer of the Blessed Realm.  Now as with the music of the Eldar of Aman, (who for their part emulated the music of the Ainur, that is, the Valar and Maiar), this song contained within its structure much power.  It evoked responses from the hearts of all who listened, much as Helluin's song had affected the Avari of Greenwood or the Nandor of Lindórinand.  Soon many wept and many sat silent in longing, and many others felt the desire to again test the sea for the goal of sailing to the Undying Lands.  Thus, when at last Helluin concluded her song, the king rose to his feet and spoke.

  "In the founding years of this realm, mariners took ship and sailed ever west in hope of coming eventually to the Undying Lands, and there to do reverence to the Blessed Ones.  Yet never did any come thither, or if they did, then they returned not with tidings.  Over the years the voyages grew fewer and fewer and the quest to reach Aman became lost to despair and was no longer attempted.  And, it seems to me that perhaps the Valar in their wisdom have shrouded the way hence against those of Middle Earth, whether mariners of the Firstborn or the Followers, or even of the Enemy.  Yet now the song of Helluin has given me hope and rekindled in my heart the westward desire, and these mingle with the longing for the sea that afflicts us all.  Therefore in days to come, let us again seek westward, for perhaps with the counsels of one who has seen Aman, we too shalt find our way thither at last, for once that summons was given to our ears and hearts too."

  It was a brave and hopeful declaration, but Helluin thought it ill-fated, for though the Summons had in truth come to all the Eldar, that had been long ago and the failure of Lenwe's mariners in the past boded poorly for success now.  In spite of her misgivings, Helluin resolved to give what aid she could, for the quest itself was noble in intent and she could not gainsay it in good conscience.  As the Host of Belfalas cheered King Lenwe's words, she exchanged a glance with the king and nodded her agreement to help.  And after doing so, she felt the first twinges of some doom alighting upon her shoulders.  It was the 17 Ivanneth, (September 17th), S.A. 597.

To Be Continued

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