In An Age Before – Part 69

Chapter Fifty-eight
'Nigh Dól Gúldúr – The Third Age of the Sun

Upon 8 Nínui, (February 8th), Helluin made her way 'nigh the ruined hall of Oldbark at the foot of Laiquadol, which was't now and after called Amon Lanc.  The encircling grove of trees had been burnt to charred stumps, while'st charcoal trunks lay haphazardly upon the ground.  The whispering enchanted stream of the Onodrim had run mute and dry, and the pebbles of its bed looked as if they had been scorched by the same intense conflagration.  Like the sad, stub-ends of blackened bones strewn in the aftermath of Dagorlad they seemed to Helluin's eyes.  Oldbark's pool was't choked with the decaying carcasses of animals and the invaders' excrement.  A foul ocher scum skinned the surface upon which maggots wriggled, and from which burst oily bubbles wafting putrid vapors into the stagnant air.  The laughing falls that had fed it was't now but a dry stain upon the cliff-face.  Even the topsoil 'neath Helluin's feet appeared roasted and dead.  'Twas the work of some very thorough hate that took upon itself a concern with details, such that it found satisfaction only in the ruination of all, even down to the least detail.  The wasted ugliness of that once verdant place made Helluin grit her teeth against a rising nausea, but 'neath it grew the flames of her wrath.
  Since leaving the stricken Onod, Helluin had passed an increasing count of blundering Easterlings during her stealthy advance, leaving none the wiser for her passage.  Even a few Yrch had she seen, marching in a bickering band towards the darkling tower upon the now barren heights, bent no doubt upon some fell errand for their master.  She had been tested in resisting the temptation to slay them all for to preserve her stealth.
Of the Sorcerer Helluin had seen 'naught, nor had she marked any mórgúl, nor any signs of conjuring.  The destruction that she had witnessed could well hath been accomplished by simple torches and the malice of mortals.  All about her the wood lay silent in the aftermath, but with an undercurrent of despair that emanated from the trees.  Now no bird sang and no beast walked.  Not even a fly or mosquito circled in the air.  'Twas as if all life had fled or been snuffed out, right down to the snails, ants, and millipedes.  Indeed the only evidence of any that went upon more than two legs was't some shreds of webbing shifting forlorn amidst the branches of the dead trees 'nigh the ascending path.  This Helluin had expected, and yet to her surprise, no living spiders nor any egg sacks had she marked.  Indeed not even the web-wrapped remains of their meals could be discerned.  She could only suspect that such had become rations for the Glam.  
For many heartbeats the Noldo stood still as frozen stone, and in her mind's eye she saw the place as it had once been. 
Here a bubbling freshet skipped merrily down slope on a bed of quartz, white marble pebbles and glittering mica.  During the daytime it would catch the sunlight in flickering silver, white, and gold, as it ran out of a pool fed by a small waterfall.  The falls came over a wall of schist, (beside an upward path that continued from the entrance), and formed one side of Oldbark's home.  An aisle open to the sky above traced the stream through a clearing overhung with the branches of many species, oak, maple, rowan, poplar, hornbeam, hickory, and beech among others.  All were encircled by a perimeter of ancient yews that formed a living palisade that ran out from the cliff and back to it, forming a wall so dense that 'nary a mouse could have squeezed betwixt the trunks and woven branches.  Only the entrance was unblocked.  The entire enclosed space was about the same size as King Lenwin's hall and the trees within it stood as if holding court.  Helluin looked around in admiration, then knelt by the stream and drank thirstily from a cupped hand.  She found the water delicious and chill, and it gave her a tingling sensation that quickly progressed from her mouth to the furthest tips of her fingers and toes.  She would have sworn that she could even detect the effects in her hair.  It left her feeling thoroughly refreshed.  It had been in SA 264, at her first meeting with Oldbark, the right lord of Calenglad i'Dhaer. 
The destruction of Laiquadol had kindled Helluin's simmering anger to rage.  She cast her eyes upwards to the tower and upon the topmost battlement she spied a standard, black, and emblazoned with a leering death's head.  It seemed to mock her from the heights.  In moments she was't seething.  Be this sorcerer Úlair or mortal, no fear of him hath I, she thought, but rather a debt to collect on behalf of friends.  With that she broke from cover and strode up the path towards Dól Gúldúr.
Now indeed Helluin was't espied by watchers in the tower, but the way was't short in its ascension and scant time of preparation had those within.  Scarcely did the portcullis of the main gate crash down closed ere Helluin marched into the clearing before the walls. 
Darkness seemed to seep from the battlements, dimming the afternoon sunlight.  Chill blew the breeze 'cross the barren rock 'neath her boots.  Yet Helluin's figure smoldered as with a living fire inside its casement of blackened mithril, a shrouded lamp filled with Holy Light that none before her could withstand.  Shielded by their walls and dark magic and strong in their numbers, 'twas still those within that trembled in fear, and the greatest amongst them had known her aforetime…had known her and contested with her, and twice met defeat.
Hatred and fear warred within the being who had once been Tindomul, Prince of Lost Númenor.  Lord of the Nine he was't, sent thither by his formless master to do his bidding in spreading darkness and terror to these nethermost of the western lands.  Ere his lord could take his old form again in the east, the whereabouts of his lost trinket must needs be revealed.  Thus to ease such searches as would be made for its recovery, the Lord of the Nine had been dispatched to take and hold the eastern bank of Anduin.  This mission he had begun but five years past, and already his greatest nemesis had appeared to thwart him.  He fairly shook with rage as he looked down from the topmost chamber of his tower.    
"Ceri berthech govannad nin sí a hi, Mórgúlron?¹"  Helluin cried out to the unseen menace that she knew watched her from above.  With a sneer, she added, "Ceri garech e-nhuor?²"  ¹(Ceri berthech govannad nin sí a hi, mórgúlron? Doth thou dare to meet me hither and now, Black Sorcerer? = ceri-(do) + bertho-(dare) + -ech(2nd pers sing subj suff, you) + govanno-(meet) + -ad (inf v suff, to) + nin(1st pers dir obj pro, me) + (here) + a(and) + hi(now) + mórgúl(black sorcery) + -ron(masc agent suff)  Sindarin)  ²(Ceri garech e-nhuor? Doth thou hath the courage? = ceri-(do) + garo-(have) + -ech(2nd pers sing subj suff, you) + en(sing def art, the) + huor(courage)  Sindarin)
Now Helluin's voice carried clear to the battlements and the chambers in Dól Gúldúr.  Thither did many Eastern Men and Yrch hear her voice.  In his high chamber the Lord of the Nazgûl seethed.  Neither could he go forth with confidence to face her who had twice bested him aforetime, nor could he make no answer to her challenge, for to do thus would diminish him irrevocably before his minions and thralls.  Fearsome and powerful though he was't, invincible he was't not.  Few threats greater in the Mortal Lands were there than the deadly Ring that Helluin bore, and the fear of it in his heart shamed him and left him indecisive.  Soldiers and slaves awaited his orders; Helluin awaited his response. 
From outside the walls came only silence.  From inside came the first whispers and grumbles of his troops.  Helluin had questioned his courage, and though 'twas but her anger speaking, the words had struck a bulls eye by focusing the weight of his soldiery's attention squarely upon him.  If t'were possible, Tindomul came to hate her even more than aforetime.
  "Tulo e anbaudh!  Cín úgirth no beleg a thaur,¹" Helluin demanded.  When no response came from the deserted and silent walls she taunted, "Noch maer dravad gylv a narvad coe?²"  ¹(Tulo e anbaudh!  Cín úgirth no beleg a thaurCome out for judgment!  Your sins are great and abhorrent. = tulo-(come) + e(d)-(out)+ an(-)(for) + baudh(legal judgment) Sindarin)  Cín(2nd pers sing poss pro, your) + úgirth(sins) + no-(are) + beleg(great) + a(and) + thaur(abhorrent)  Sindarin)  ²(Noch maer dravad gylv a narvad coe? Art thou fit (but) to hew branches and burn dirt? = no-(be, are) + -(e)ch(2nd pers sing subj suff, you) + maer(fit) + dravo-(hew) + –ad(inf v suff, to) + gylv (branches, pl of golv) + a(and) + narvo-(burn) + –ad(inf v suff, to) + coe(earth)   Sindarin) 
With this challenge, the Lord of the Nazgûl knew he could no longer fail to answer.  Now his soldiers' rising tide of voices came to his ears, some questioning, and some jeering.  Next would come the whispering and plotting that invariably led to mutiny.  In truth he would flay them all alive if they tried it, but they were ever ambitious and seldom smart.  Indeed while'st they could at times be cunning, their aspirations were predictable and their secrecy was't transparent.
With a sigh he looked out his tower window, vexed that he could discern so few options, yet as he resolved to go out and meet her for better or for worse, he spied movement amidst the dead trees a distance behind her.  A cruel grin shaped his features, for he perceived that his deliverance might well be at hand.  Helluin was't not alone, and who traveled with her but her beloved Green Elf, Beinvír, whom his master had long sought to make captive?   Tindomul could hardly believe his luck, for he deemed that it could be none other who skulked amongst the woods.
Now Helluin was't focused well 'nigh exclusively upon the tower, for from within it she felt a churning evil.  Thither lay a darkness which was't familiar.  'Twas lesser than the aura of her great enemy, but like unto it in kind for it partook of his power.  The Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr was't not Sauron himself, but 'twas well 'nigh certainly one of his nine servants.  A sneer curled Helluin's lips.  One of the Úlairi she woulds't send to the Void this day.  So fixed upon the tower was't Helluin that she marked not the company of Yrch which snuck from a postern door 'round a corner of the wall from the gate; nor did she mark that they moved through a culvert to flank her while'st making for the woods, for now at last, the Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr deigned to answer her challenges.
The portcullis of Dól Gúldúr creaked as 'twas hauled upwards, and when it had risen two fathoms, a single figure emerged therefrom.  'Twas draped in a tattered black cloak, the hood drawn low o'er a shadow so deep that no facial features could be seen.  Fear proceeded from that form as smoke doth curl from kindling just ere it bursts into flame.  Definitely a Nazgûl.  A long bitter blade it held clasped in its steel-gauntleted right hand.
"Mae govannen, Helluin Maeg-mórmenel," the Nazgûl said, "Na cin úmarth túlich an sí emel cin narchatha hich.¹"   ¹(Na cin úmarth túlich an sí emel cin narchatha hich.  To thy doom thou hath come, for hither thy heart shalt be torn from thee. = na(to) + cin(2nd pers sing poss pro, your) + úmarth(doom, ill-fate) + tulo-(come) + -i(near past v suff, have come) + -(e)ch(2nd pers sing subj pro suff, you) + an(-)(for) + (here) + emel(heart) + cin(2nd pers sing poss pro, your)  + narcho-(tear) + -atha(fut v suff, will be torn) + hich(2nd pers sing prep pro, from you)  Sindarin)
'Tis but wishful thinking or a bluff, Helluin thought as she drew Anguirél and the Sarchram.  She was't about to say as much, when from amongst the ravaged trees behind her came the sounds of fighting; guttural profanities of Yrch, twang of a bow, quick hiss of an arrow, a thud and a cry of pain, and then the rapid clash of steel.  'Twas followed shortly by the voice of an elleth cursing.
Looking from the Nazgûl, Helluin turned toward the disturbance, and shortly she saw five Yrch dragging forth a prisoner from the tree line.  Two restrained her by the arms while'st a third followed with her captured weapons, bow, quiver, and short sword.  Of the last two survivors from their company, one Orch led the procession while'st the other brought up the rear, both with drawn scimitars.  They were making their way rapidly for the safety of their gate.
Now Helluin studied the elleth carefully.  She was't taller than the Green Elf by a handspan and clad in the forest green of Thranduil's people.  The Elda could hardly believe the timing.  Whatever was't a Nando of Greenwood doing 'nigh the sorcerer's tower now?  The Tawarwaith of Calenglad i'Dhaer had seldom roamed so far south even in days of peace.  Helluin sighed and shook her head, for her position had suddenly become far more complicated.  T'would become more complicated still when the Yrch reached Dól Gúldúr.  She could almost feel the Ringwraith laughing at her predicament.
 Directly to the gate did the Yrch haul their prisoner, and thither they forced her to her knees before their lord.  Sheathing his sword, the Ringwraith clasped the elleth by the hood of her cloak and then set his dagger 'cross her throat.  To Helluin's sight, the blade was't shrouded in a shadow of deadly evil.  A mórgúl blade, she thought, and one more fell to my eye than that which wounded Beinvír aforetime.
  "Thir!  Garon pen melda naich,¹" the Ringwraith declared.  ¹(Thir!  Garon pen melda naich.  Look!  I hold one dear to thee. = thír(look) + garo-(hold) + -n(1st pers sing subj pro suff, I) + pen(one, somebody) + meld(dear) + na(to) + ich(2nd pers sing pro, you)  Sindarin)
Helluin blinked, astonished that the Nazgûl couldn't tell this elleth from Beinvír, whom he had actually met long aforetime in Umbar and Pelargir.  Stupid wraith, she thought, all that sniffling…so akin to a hound, and yet he is blinder than a bat 'neath the sun.
"Penio dad magol cín!¹" he demanded, and then after another moment's thought, he added, "a cín Echor!²"  ¹(Penio dad magol cín! Set down thy sword! = penio-(set) + dad(down) + magol(sword) + cín(2nd pers sing poss pro suff, your)  Sindarin)  ²(a cín Echor!   and thy Ring! = A(and) + cín(2nd pers sing poss pro suff, your) + Echor(ring; outer)  Sindarin)
To this, Helluin made no answer, but stared at the tableau before her in silence.
Now in truth, Helluin was't trying to decide whether she could cast the Sarchram and slay this Nazgûl ere he could slit the elleth's throat.  She doubted not her accuracy, but rather the time t'would take for her cast to cover the distance.  To her eye the flight time required would leave her lacking for some factions of a heartbeat.  The Sarchram would send thither to the Void the wretched wraith's fëa, but t'would come to pass as the elleth's blood began to flow upon his blade.  With a groan, Helluin realized that she could not slay this enemy and save the strange Elf-maiden.  Worse, only so long as he believed that he held Beinvír prisoner would he value the Elf of Greenwood's life.
Now the Nazgûl reckoned Helluin's hesitation for defiance, and so he pressed tighter the dagger's edge against the elleth's throat, causing her to gag.  The sound jarred Helluin from her calculations.  Upon her decision rested the life of yet another of Greenwood's Elves, and ever laboring 'neath her guilt, Helluin could not allow her decision to bring another death to one of that kindred.
"Leitho hen, laith thaur!¹"  Helluin demanded, allowing a note of desperation to creep into he voice.  'Twas only his belief that he held prisoner her beloved that kept him from executing the elleth.  As expected, her words were met with an asthmatic rasping that Helluin assumed was't his version of derisive laughter.  ¹(Leitho hen, laith thaur!  Release her, abominable spirit! = leitho-(release) + hen(3rd pers dir obj pro, her) + laith(spirit) + thaur(abominable)!  Sindarin)
  "Baw! Úceri abo nin, Helluin!  Degathon hen fëa an uir.¹"   ¹(Baw! Úceri abo nin, Helluin!  Degathon hen fëa an uir.   No!  Do not refuse me, Helluin!  I will slay her spirit forever! = (baw (no!) + ú-(neg prefix) + ceri-(do) + abo-(refuse) + nin(1st pers sing obj pro, me) + Helluin + degi-(slay) + -atho-(future v suff) + -n(1st pers sing subj suff, I) + hen(3rd pers sing f pro, her) + fëa(spirit) + an(for) + uir(eternity)  Sindarin)
To this the elleth blanched and whimpered and the Nazgûl chortled a wheezing cough of glee.  Helluin's shoulders sagged, and as her enemies watched from within their walls, she lowered and then dropped her longsword and the deadly Sarchram.  She looked for all Arda like a defeated foe falling into despair.  As the Yrch came forward to collect her weapons and bind her, she summoned what failing dignity she could and begged the Nazgûl, "Úharno hen, awarthon e-chost.¹"  ¹(Úharno hen, awarthon e-chost.  Do not hurt her, I surrender(lit. trans. abandon the fight). = ú-(neg prefix) + harno-(hurt) + hen(3rd pers sing f pro, her) + awartho-(abandon) + -n(1st pers subj pro suff, I) + en(def art, the) + cost(fight)  Sindarin)
   Ir ni elu e-choth e-mbandril notulant.¹  Min en elu e-choth e-mbandril turo drammo.²  Though grim of face, her own words of advice to the Lady Inzilbêth almost 1,500 years before came to her mind.  ¹(Ir ni elu e-choth e-mbandril notulant, When to the heart of the enemy the prisoner is brought.  Sindarin)  ²(Min en elu e-choth e-mbandril turo drammo, Within the heart of the enemy the prisoner can strike.  Sindarin)

To Be Continued

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