In An Age Before – Part 64

Chapter Fifty-six

Rhovanion – The Third Age of the Sun

Author's note: Errata in the text of the previous installment. Helluin's statement to Beinvír that, "…I would beseech thee, come with me to Calenglad i'Dhaer, to bring thither and hear such tidings as art timely to King Thranduil. Like thee he is Nandor, and of him thou may find still such welcome as I deserve not." In fact, Thranduil was't scion of a Sindarin family, but ruled a kingdom populated largely by Nandor. This is canon, and paralleled the rule of Lindórinand by the house of Amdír and Amroth. Earlier in this story I explained their presence on the eastern side of the Hithaeglir as part of an exodus of Sindar who chose not to abide in Eregion under the rule of the Noldor.

Upon 12 Narwain, (January 12th), Helluin and Beinvír came down the Hithaeglir from the high pass, and thence into the Vale of Anduin did they make their way east. Thither the land was't familiar from long aforetime, yet not so familiar as the ways further south 'nigh Lórinand and Khazad-dûm. Upon the morning of the 14th they came to the ford crossing the river. Thither upon the eastern side they made their farewells, for thereafter Beinvír would take the Men-i-Naugrim leading into Calenglad i'Dhaer, while'st Helluin would continue downstream upon Anduin's eastern bank. Thus the Green Elf would, in three or four days' time, come to the Woodland Realm of King Thranduil 'nigh the Emyn Duir. Helluin's way was't longer. Well 'nigh seventy leagues stood 'twixt her and the hill of Laiquadol. She would follow much the same route that the Host of the Last Alliance had taken, passing south along the eaves of Greenwood for the span of a fortnight ere she turned east into the wood. Indeed she looked forward to this trek downriver, hoping to meet again some of the folk of Bartan and hear their tidings.

Now after a sorrowful leave-taking from Beinvír, Helluin began her journey southward, and though the land was't known to her, strange things did she discover thither. Upon the 16th she stood 'nigh an isle lying amid-stream in Anduin, some 50 miles south of the ford. That morn she had come to a homestead, with split-rail fencing encircling a cabin of logs and a large barn, so familiar to her from long aforetime and many leagues south. Such a place was't recognizable as an abode of the Men of Anduin, the descendants of Berlun and Grinda 'cross almost 4,300 years.

The air held the soft song of bees at a short distance, where their hives no doubt sat amongst the beds of flowering plants. As Helluin approached the fence a moment's melancholy gripped her, but she shook it off and called out a fair greeting from the gate.

"Hail, settlers. If thou art hither I would greet thee and hath converse with thee, for I am a wanderer out of Eregion and would hear tidings of the times as they now stand hither."

For what seemed a long time she stood in plain view waiting patiently to be answered. At last a robust Man, black-bearded and dark-eyed, and carrying a woodsman's axe at the ready made his way toward her from behind the cabin. Helluin had seen the roof of the barn thither in the yard from whence he came and reckoned that he had been tending his beasts when he heard her call. He approached her directly, looking her up and down carefully but without fear, and he spoke not 'till he stood close by on his own side of the gate. To Helluin's surprise he recognized her as a Noldo.

"Thou certainly appear to be a wanderer as thou say, and one of the Eldar too, I wager," he began, "and few enough of thy folk hath any of mine seen, though stories of thy kindred art told. Few enough in these days of late doth we see even of the woodland Elves." He shook his head as if saddened by this turn of events, then returned his attention to Helluin. "Pray tell then, dark Lady, what brings thee so far from thy home in these troubled times?"

"'Tis indeed the rumor of troubles that brings me hither," Helluin told him, "for it hast been told o'er the mountains of a growing darkness in the wood." Here she canted her head, indicating the eaves of Greenwood that stood a half-mile to their east. The Man nodded in understanding and agreement.

"I should invite thee to my cabin," he said, resting his axe upon the ground and leaning on it as he relaxed somewhat, "for there is indeed 'aught to tell that should be known."

After another sigh he unclasped the gate and swung it open for Helluin to pass, and as she entered, he lifted his axe and gripped it well up the shaft so the head balanced the handle. 'Twas a mark of trust that he held it no longer ready for use.

"Know thou 'aught of one amongst thy folk named Bartan?" Helluin asked as she passed. "He lived somewhat to the north and some 800 years ago," she said as she walked to the cabin with him. The Man's eyes widened at her mention of that name, and a smile curved his lips.

"How know'th thou of Bartan?" the Man asked in surprise, "for he was't an ancestor of my family, or so claimed my grandfather, Barlan. Barlan lived to the north and 'cross the river 'till his passing many years ago. Indeed he had a story of thy folk to tell; a story I heard retold oft enough in my early years."

Helluin nodded to this. The Man whom she and Beinvír had met in the Hithaeglir ere Beinvir's wounding by the Yrch was't a forefather of this Man.

"In the 109th year of this Age did I and my beloved join Bartan in the rescue of some folk of Khazad-dûm. Into a deep lair of the Yrch did we go to free them, and this we accomplished, though my beloved was't wounded in the fighting. Thereafter she was't healed and hast survived. I hath fair memories of thy ancestor and his courage."

To this the Man nodded and was't for a moment misty-eyed as his memories of a childhood story, a semi-legend of 'ancient times' was't recalled and given credence by Helluin's testimony.

"I am Barlun," he said, "and what is thy name, pray tell?"

"My name is Helluin Maeg-mórmenel, once an explorer of the Host of Finwe."

Barlun looked at her carefully then and seemed to recognize something about her.

"I mark now thy weapons more clear, and in particular thy Ring blade, and indeed it figured in the story of Bartan that I hath heard. Yet too I now mark the blue of thine eyes, and thence comes to mind yet another tale, though 'tis one regarded as but a myth amongst my folk for its ancientry.

'Tis said that 'nigh the dawn of my people, an Elda with flaming blue eyes brought together again our folk with the folk of the mountains, the Gonnhirrim, whom we had known in our very beginning, yet from whom we had become estranged. She was't a fearsome ally to both our houses, and since that time our two kindreds hath stood beside one another in times of peril. Long ago, when the Masters of Stone went south to the Great War, our folk guarded the lands 'nigh their realm in the years of their absence. In token of the alliance she rekindled, we hath been steadfast in our friendship with the folk of Khazad-dûm who were her friends as well."

Barlun's words brought a lump to Helluin's throat. He could only be referring to the sortie she had arranged with Berlun's people and Narin, Captain of Hadhodrond, against the den of Yrch in the Hithaeglir, in SA 151. Berlun had been her first friend amongst the settlers, whom she had met as he was't defending his home against a marauding company of Glam. It had been only shortly after her first stay in Khazad-dûm and the forging of her armor by Gneiss son of Gnoss. That the friendship renewed by her actions then had persisted down to the present despite the mortality of those kindreds and the passage of time was't a thing Helluin found dear to her heart. She had to swallow ere she spoke again.

"Thou know'th, Barlun, that the Life of the Eldar proceeds from Age to Age unbroken, and yet a strange thing still it may seem when I tell thee that 'twas indeed I of whom thy mythology speaks," Helluin said. Barlun's eyes grew wide as she continued. "'Twas well 'nigh 4,300 years ago when I came to the aid of one of thy kindred, Berlun, who stood alone in defense of his homestead against companies of the Glam. In that time too did I arrange with my friend, Narin of Khazad-dûm, to join in the extermination of those Glam. I myself was't but recently come from the great mansions of the Gonnhirrim, wherein I had dwelt for twenty years and whither my armor was't forged. Much later this Ring was't forged in their smithies as well." Helluin sighed and stifled her intruding memories of Berlun and Narvi and Celebrimbor. All were lost in the depths of time. To focus herself in the present she spoke of the present. "Barlun, I am glad that thy folk hath maintained league of friendship with the Gonnhirrim to this day. Many hath been the times since when it hast been well to count friends amongst those of other kindreds for alliance in the mutual defense."

They had reached the cabin door and Barlun opened it and ushered Helluin inside. 'Twas so much alike to the home of Berlun so long ago that she half expected to find Grinda scolding Falla and Brekun for filching berries from the kitchen. Instead the single room was't silent and a fire burnt down to embers lay upon the grate in the hearth. This Barlun fed a few faggots and coaxed back to flame while'st gesturing Helluin to a chair. He then went to the corner kitchen and filled two mugs with cider ere he returned and took the other seat facing her. Now when they had settled he began to share his tidings, and while'st some of these Helluin had expected, others took her wholly by surprise.

"Thou hast mentioned hearing in Eriador somewhat of the troubles that hath befallen in Greenwood of late," Barlun began, "and indeed it seems the days darken more with each passing year. 'Neath the trees hath come an ever increasing tide of Easterlings, and many of these art ill-favored and ill-willed. They art mostly away in the southern parts of the forest as yet, though I hath heard they trouble even the folk of the Elven King to the north."

Helluin nodded at this; 'twas indeed much as she had heard tell of in Imladris. After taking a swig from his mug, Barlun continued.

"Unwelcome as these Easterners art, they art as the leaves upon a bough in the growth of evil that hath come hither," he said. "The root of that evil lies upon a barren height to the south; the Elves of the wood say a Shadow hast grown thither, yet none amongst them hath seen it."

Again Helluin nodded, though her eyes were focused now more closely upon the Man and she harkened more attentively to his rede.

"I believe their tales of a Shadow," Barlun said. "Fewer art the animals that come hence from 'neath the trees to drink at the river of late. The leaves themselves seem more oft to sough in sorrow, and in these last few years they hath fallen the sooner in autumn and opened the later in spring. But most telling of all was't the tale of the Periannath¹." ¹(Periannath, Halflings, (coll. pl.) Sindarin)

Helluin raised an eyebrow in question. Barlun had lost her with his last sentence. Yet he failed to notice her expression for his eyes were turned inward, so focused was't he upon his tale, and so he continued with the troubling tidings that this unknown folk had spoken.

"They hath told of the night march of the Enyd from the forest," he offered.

Now Helluin sucked in a breath, for here was't a tale that bore close to her heart.

"Say thou that the Onodrim hath been driven from Calenglad indeed?" she asked.

"Aye. 'Tis so, and but five autumn's past," Barlun said in a low voice, as if such fell tidings demanded that they be told in a whisper. "'Just past nightfall in the year 996, so the Periannath say, a great rushing, as of a storm wind suddenly unleashed, shook the forest, bough and bole. From their hamlet they saw tall forms marching from the eves of the wood. Then these figures called with great voices, and they were followed hence by many others. Indeed they claim 'twas as if the wood itself had taken flight. To the south these creatures went in a great dark mass, cloaked in shadows, and heralded by the sound of rushing wind and a trembling in the earth."

Barlun's eyes were wide, fixed, and staring into her own as though he saw before him that of which he spoke, and he leaned forward in his chair. Helluin felt both fear and excitement radiating from him. It struck her that 'twas the first time she had ever felt fear in one of his people.

"'Twas some ways off to the south that this came to pass, and yet the tale grows worse. The Periannath claim they saw a darkness creeping upon the ground, washing in an out amongst the trees like a floodtide of black blood or a ground-hugging smoke. An unwholesome chill came upon their hearts at the sight of it and they fled. The fear still lingers amongst them even after they removed to the river banks and made their way further north. They would not stay 'nigh the place this happened. Indeed none of that folk will venture 'nigh the forest now for any need. Many hath crossed the river of late, for they say they hath kith 'cross Anduin, in the foothills 'nigh Khazad-dûm."

Now Helluin could well imagine of what Barlun had told; the Onodrim driven by some dark sorcery from their forest, their Huorns fleeing with them. He had said they'd made their way south and it took her little time to guess that they'd headed for Fangorn, wherein she had met others of their kind. The creeping darkness that had chased the Guardians of the Trees was't a potent and fell magick indeed. Whether or not the Úlairi could conjure such a mórgúl, she knew not from past experience. Yet she had no doubt that such was't within the capabilities of their master and perhaps such powers he had granted them as well. Though these tidings were known in the west, she had one major question that bore heavily on her willingness to believe the tale; who were thesePeriannath?

"Barlun, I pray thee, who art these folk of whom thou speak? They art unknown to me for all my years of wandering. I hath seen this land upon the Westward March and in two Ages of the Sun, and none called the Periannath hath I met aforetime. Art they new-come out of the east? Art they some victims of the dark arts? I would know this, for the telling to others who art afar."

Barlun looked carefully at Helluin. That one so ancient knew not the folk of the Halflings seemed odd to him, and yet they were easily passed by; a small people, few, quiet, and ever keeping to themselves. His own folk had known them long, (or so it seemed to them), but they had figured little in any of their lore. Indeed they were much as any other creatures who altered not the doings of their times, but instead passed through them deedless and without renown.

"Perhaps 'tis a question best answered by experience," Barlun said at last. "If thy errand can'st wait two days I shalt bring thee amongst them and thou can'st form thy own opinions. As I said, they hath removed somewhat north. Fifteen leagues upriver is their hamlet now, and I deem thou hast already passed them by aforetime."

Now Helluin had not sought after any save the settlers while'st making her way south, and she had felt no presences unexplained. She had long been keen of senses, but all she had marked while'st coming downriver was't the relative emptiness of the land. Therefore Barlun's words surprised her and she resolved that she must come to know of this people, for like the Laiquendi to the west, she had sensed them not in her passing.

"I deem t'would be well that I come amongst them indeed, Barlun," Helluin said, "for any endowed with such stealth, I wager, t'would be wise to know. Indeed my errand can wait on the time, and if thou art willing, then to the Periannath we shalt go."

"Art thou willing to travel at night?" Barlun asked.

Helluin nodded 'yes'.

"Then at dusk we shalt make our way north, for t'would be best to sup ere we leave and fewer eyes shalt mark our going in the darkness. Thence we should come to them in the daylight on the morrow."

That eve after supper the two took their way north along the river, and Helluin retraced her steps of the days before. The next morning they came almost to the ford and the Men-i-Naugrim, whereat she had parted from Beinvír, ere Barlun turned down what Helluin took for a game trail but five miles shy of that place. Thither the bank was't hidden from sight behind a low, wooded hill, and their trail led 'round the northern slope and thence again west towards Anduin. Helluin thought there could be but little land 'twixt the path and the water in which to settle a hamlet.

When they came at last to the western side of the hill, Helluin stopped in her tracks. Hidden from all passing sight was't a collection of small homes hastily built upon either side of a street no wider than a footpath. The houses were of wood and low-slung, all of a single story, with their roofs sloped but little and covered o'er with sods. They inclined somewhat towards the river so that, save for a very watchful eye, one passing downstream would see 'naught but what appeared to be piles of dirt o'ergrown with coarse grass and saplings. As well, she marked that many of the sidewalls had been heaped with earth so that, save for the fronts facing the 'street', wherein the front doors and perhaps a window were set, even less evidence of building could be seen. She shook her head in amazement; 'twas an admirable example of camouflage. Another thing she noted about the settlement was't its quiet. She heard no sounds of work or play carrying upon the air.

Now Helluin followed Barlun to the 'center' of the town and they stood upon the 'path', or main street. After a few moments of searching about, Barlun called out a greeting, but pitched his voice lower than one would when coming to a place of Elves, Dwarves, or Men. Whereas he had spoken Sindarin with Helluin up to this point, in hailing the F'liderim, he spoke mostly the Common Tongue with a few words of Sindarin mixed in.

"Hallo, ye F'liderim. We art Barlun and Helluin. Ye know me. Welcome us. We come in peace."

F'liderim, Helluin asked herself. The houses were certainly diminutive, but in all her travels she had never heard of any Halfling folk. Of course, F'liderim was't no more familiar than Periannath. Helluin searched their surroundings for any answer to his hail. For long moments nothing moved, nor did any sound come forth to greet them. Only the soft murmuring of Anduin did they hear, and the distant calls of ducks in some riverside pool upstream.

"Come now," Barlun said to the silent houses, "will ye leave guests unmet?"

To Be Continued

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