In An Age Before – Part 76

Chapter Sixty-two

Rhovanion – The Third Age of the Sun

Now after taking their leave of the Lord of Lórinand, Helluin and Beinvír made their way north beside Anduin, passing the Gladden Fields whither Isildur had long ago fallen. Helluin recalled her aborted mission to inspect that land for clues to the loss of Sauron’s Ring, and she shuddered at the memory of Beinvír’s wounding in the Yrch lair ‘neath the Hithaeglir. She had very nearly faded, and had Elrond not succeeded in healing her, Helluin knew the Green Elf would hath soon died. The very thought chilled the Noldo’s blood as ‘aught else she could imagine. Though she had spent thousands of years alone and content in her solitude, such a state was’t untenable to her now. She had changed and she could not go back to what she had been before her fëa had become joined to that of her beloved…and now the prophecy of her own doom deprived her of the possibility of leaving the Mortal Shores to join Beinvír in the West. The words she’d once spoken to her old friend Glorfindel in Eriador came to her.

"She refused passage to Tol Eressëa to stay with me," Helluin whispered. And after a pause, she added even more softly, "I would bathe this world in blood to avenge her."

Helluin fell into a somber mood that dogged her ‘till they stood upon the Men-i-Naugrim and turned east to the ford of Anduin. Thither other more recent memories asserted themselves; of finding the burnt Yrch camp and the butchered remains of the Fallohides. She gritted her teeth and only now marked ‘aught of what Nimrodel had said.

“No Tree Shepherds slouch about this wood, nor doth spiders make Lórinand their home, but ‘tis ‘nigh a realm of Dwarves! And if that weren’t ill enough, there art bears and Men and all those hideous little hairy-footed animals tromping past the borders of late! How upsetting!”

The ‘hideous little hairy-footed animals’…could Nimrodel hath meant the Periannath? She had claimed that they’d been ‘tromping past the borders of late’. Did that mean they were migrating west? Helluin cursed softly with regret for not realizing the significance of the lady’s words and questioning her, or better yet, Haldir or Rúmil. Had the folk of Furlong and their kin finally decided to flee o’er the Hithaeglir to Eriador? Or were they only moving ‘cross Anduin in hopes of safety? Helluin resolved to look into this when she could, but t’would be long ere her curiosity was’t satisfied.

Now on 4 Ivanneth, (September 4th), the two ellith crossed Anduin. Upon the eastern side they picked up the settler’s road that traveled north, staying well outside the border of the Greenwood, and they continued upon their way.

Upon that road they found little of remark and the days passed with one foot set before the other while’st Anor shone above. ‘Twas on their second afternoon past the ford when they saw a large rock, (or smallish island), amid-stream in the river. Shortly later they spied a homestead of Barlun’s folk, surrounded by the inevitable fence. The air was’t scented by fields of flowers waving in a gentle breeze and the buzzing of hives. A large barn stood behind a hewn-log cabin. Though a slender column of smoke rose from the cabin’s chimney they didn’t stop.

Perhaps an hour later Helluin felt a strange tingle upon her consciousness and she cast her glance west to the Hithaeglir. Thither, in the high airs above the mountain slopes she marked the soaring form of a great bird circling. With her Elvish sight she clearly saw the Eagle. Beinvír joined her, shading her eyes with a slender hand.

“N’er again shalt I look upon one of that esteemed kindred wholly with welcome,” the Green Elf said, “and though ‘tis blaming the messenger for the message, still shalt I ever link them with the pronouncement of thy doom.”

“Aye,” Helluin said grimly, “that and my kidnapping. I too bear them a grudge.”

She was’t recalling her abduction from Mt. Doom in Mordor and her loss of the opportunity she’d created to fell Sauron. Beinvír nodded in agreement, though with less conviction. Their reunion in Osgiliath ere the end of the War of the Last Alliance had been unlooked for and sweet. She remembered it fondly.

“For that, perhaps I owe them thanks,” the Green Elf whispered. She grinned at her soulmate’s dour expression and then joined her in the continuation of their march.

Twenty leagues west and o’er a mile up the great bird followed their progress with the keenest eyes in all of Arda. If Helluin and Beinvír could see him clearly, he could see not only their forms, but their faces as well. As they turned their footsteps north, he wheeled and set a course west, rising o’er the mountains and making for Eriador to find the one who’d bidden him seek them. In Imladris the old ‘Man in Grey’, (who was’t no more a mortal Man than he was’t a mortal bird), would welcome his tidings.

Through o’er 4,000 years we hath kept watch hither, he thought as he beat west in the cold, thin air at an altitude of o’er 2,000 fathoms, ‘twixt one unholy fire and the other, and though both hath been long at rest, both shalt come again in their time. And as of old we shalt be first to mark the rising smoke. But who shalt we tell? Who lives now to stand against Valarauko or Fealóce¹? ¹(fealóce, a fire-breathing dragon Quenya)

Upon 8 Ivanneth Helluin and Beinvír spied a larger isle amid-stream in Anduin and later that afternoon the confluence of Anduin and the River Rhimdath, which Men would call the Rushdown. Upon the western bank of the great river did the Rhimdath’s swift flow merge its chilled waters from the Hithaeglir.

Now for another fortnight Helluin and Beinvír continued upon their way north. This stretch of Anduin Men would later call the Langflood, though why ‘twas not simply the northward reaches of Anduin is unclear, for the river changed not its character nor even noticeably its breadth.

Upon 22 Ivanneth the pair saw the river bend west and thither they departed its banks, for thither lay that merger of the Langwell and the Greylin wherein Anduin the Great is born. Thither too, some 25 leagues northwest, stood Mt. Gundabad, long a place of ill-repute and the source of great evil, for it had, since the First Age, been a home-warren of the Glamhoth. At the joining place of the Hithaeglir and the Ered Mithrin it stood, snow-capped and honeycombed throughout the millennia by the borrowings of the Yrch.

In the Elder Days, Gundabad had been but one mount amongst many that comprised the Ered Engrin, the Iron Mountains, which some lore says Morgoth raised as a defense for his first fortress of Utumno. The Ered Engrin had existed through the Age of the Lamps and the Age of the Trees, even after the Valar broke Utumno when the Eldar first awoke in Cuivienen. Thither to Mt. Gundabad had many of Morgoth’s servants fled during his imprisonment in Aman, to be recalled Three Ages later when their master returned with the Silmarils to his western outpost fortress of Angband. Even after the Valar broke the world and sank Beleriand, the remnant of the Ered Engrin, the Ered Mithrin, persisted as the northern border of Rhovanion, separating Wilderland from the frigid Northern Waste.

Now Helluin and Beinvír made their way east and the Ered Mithrin marched upon their left flank. Within ten leagues a shoulder of the mountains thrust southwards, even to the borders of Greenwood. Thither the flatlands narrowed until, upon 26 Ivanneth, the two ellith approached the verge of Calenglad. In days of yore that place had been hedged about and closely guarded by Lord Oldbark’s Huorns, but now the place lay unguarded and strangely still. ‘Naught but a narrow trail led ‘twixt the foothills and the forest for some ten miles, and this was’t barely to be seen for none maintained it. The Elves set foot upon that trail ‘neath a grey and leaden sky.

Helluin viewed the ancient weathered granites and schists, now time-eaten into tortured outcroppings and barren boulders. ‘Twas a dreary place indeed, hard and comfortless, all of black and grey save where the sickly greenish lichen crusts grew, and lacking the majestic heights of the snow-capped Hithaeglir or the Ered Nimrais.

“Not unlike the Ettenmoors of Rhudaur art these highlands,” Beinvír remarked, “both cheerless and cold. I should be not surprised to find Tor abiding in whatsoever caves lie thither.”

“Nor I, meldanya,” Helluin agreed.

The land was’t all too reminiscent of the Troll Fells that lay west of Imladris in northern Eriador. Helluin kept a wary eye upon the slopes as they made their way east. When finally the hills retreated north she breathed a sigh of relief.

Now upon the evening of the following day they came to the ford of the Forest River which made its way southeast into the Greenwood. ‘Twas easily crossed at this season, being neither deep nor swift, though chill. Rather than wet their feet at the start of a day’s march, the two ellith elected to wade to stream ere they made their nightly camp so that they might dry their footwear by the fire.

Helluin led the way from the western bank, placing carefully her boots upon the pebbled streambed in the fading light. Beinvír followed, unerringly tracing her partner’s path. Slowly the water rose ‘till at midstream it came to Helluin’s knees. For the Green Elf this was’t some inches up her thighs, but still not troublesome as the current was’t unchallenging. Some two-thirds of the way ‘cross the Noldo stopped and Beinvír came up beside her. Helluin was’t examining the streambed.

“Glad am I to hath somewhat of Anor’s light remaining, meldanya,” she declared as she pointed to a sinkhole. The water appeared to find a depth of o’er a fathom in that one spot. What looked like a few whitish pebbles lay captured at its bottom. “A boulder hast taken its leave, I wager, and not long ago.”

The Green Elf peered into the submerged hole and shook her head. In another quarter hour the light would hath been too dim to hath spied it with certainty. Either of them could hath plunged into the chill waters and spent the rest of the evening shivering. ‘Twas more an inconvenience than a danger, but unwelcome nonetheless.

“I shalt be happier to stand again upon dry land, meldis nín,” she said, “let us be on our way.”

With that she took a few steps towards the thither bank. Helluin followed behind her. Beinvír had gone not ten paces ere she seemed to slip, her feet going out from under her so that she took a pratfall face-first into the stream. She came up sputtering and cursing and a moment later Helluin hauled her back onto her feet.

“The streambed moved ‘neath my feet! I should swear it by the Valar,” Beinvír cursed.

Alarmed, Helluin drew her sword and searched the water with her keen sight. A few feet ahead of them she saw a large shadow moving slowly on the bottom.

“Thither!” she cried out, pointing down. Beinvír followed her finger and marked the movement. She was’t just quick enough to reach Helluin’s wrist and stay her sword thrust. For a moment the Noldo’s eyes crackled with blue fire and by their light both saw more clearly.

“’Tis but a tortoise, my love,” the Green Elf giggled, “and I am sure ‘tis more disturbed than we for being trod upon.” She stood soaking wet and laughed at her mishap. Helluin allowed herself a grin and sheathed her blade.

“He should thank thee for his life this day,” she said.

“I should think ‘tis a she who is thanking me,” Beinvír replied. Helluin raised a brow in question.

“Not only hath she a short tail, but also a nest nearby, I wager. Yonder sinkhole was’t lined with eggs, meldanya. I am surprised I recognized it not aforetime.”

“And would thou favor a supper of tortoise eggs, my love?” Helluin asked with a smile.

After a moment’s thought Beinvír shook her head ‘nay’.

“Already we hath ruined her evening’s peace, and besides, hath we not some badger jerky remaining in our stores?”

“Aye, that we do,” Helluin replied.

“Then let us make our way thither,” the Green Elf declared as she set out again for the eastern shore. “I at least crave a fire and warmth to dry beside, and t’would be happy with it sooner than later.”

Some time later, with her clothing drying o’er a pit fire, the Green Elf warmed herself by dancing and singing a silly song, making up the words as she went, while’st Helluin tried valiantly to concoct a stew from the badger jerky and some wild onions. The earlier overcast had partially broken, revealing scattered patches of starry sky and the rumor of moonlight. ‘Neath the patchwork glow Tilion’s lamp and Varda’s speckled fires, Beinvír moved with graceful steps, her pale naked form gracing the open air ‘nigh the bank. Her song proceeded something like this, though originally in Sindarin:

“Will thou step a bit more carefully?” said the tortoise to the rél¹.

“There’s an elleth right above me and she’s trod upon my shell.

Mark how eagerly the crawfish and the liver-fluke advance?

Like the badger in the kettle they hath come to join the dance.

Will thou, won’t thou, will thou, won’t thou, will thou join the dance?

Will thou, won’t thou, will thou, won’t thou, will thou join the dance?”

“Oh thou truly hast no notion how delightful all t’will be,

When the badger’s reconstituted and we’re feasting ‘neath the trees.”

But the tortoise then replied, “‘Tis with my eggs that I must stay,

For I know that on the morrow thou shalt again be on thy way.”

Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.

Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.

“What matters it that we shalt go?” the elleth then replied.

“For thy river shalt not follow, nor thy eggs join us in stride.

All these waters doth pass ‘round thee, on down Anduin to the sea.

And on the morrow but thy memory shalt remain of us with thee.

Will thou, won’t thou, will thou, won’t thou, will thou join the dance?

Will thou, won’t thou, will thou, won’t thou, will thou join the dance?”

But the tortoise she demurred apace and to her clutch she swam.

And declared in fluid verbiage not unlike a bearded clam,

“O ‘tis not my way to tarry, nor upon the lawn to prance,

For my flippers art to stubby, so I shalt not join thy dance.”

Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.

Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.

¹(rél, daughter Sindarin)

In the stream the tortoise shook her head as she watched the Laiquende at her revels. ‘Tis far indeed the Greenwood hath fallen since Lord Oldbark quit this realm, she thought, and ‘tis hard to believe that once upon a time ‘twas the kin of those camped thither who taught us our speech. Ahhh well, the days darken again as they art wont to do. From egg to egg we hath known the truth of it. Mayhaps better times shalt come again one day. And with that she slipped into the stream with nary a splash and swam back to her nest.

Now upon the morrow the two ellith resumed their march. Eastward they made their way for another fortnight. They followed the trail as aforetime and in doing so, cleaved more closely to the verge of the Greenwood than the foothills of the Ered Mithrin, yet ever did those dreary mountains loom upon their left. So ‘twas that upon 10 Narbeleth, (October 10th), their way turned half-south, for they had reached the eastern side of Calenglad.

These were strange lands to them both and Helluin in particular went forward with wariness. She marked a widening of the trail, though it still clove to the eaves of the forest, and further along, the prints of horses, which she deemed a week old. For two more days they traveled an empty land, seeing none save a few smaller animals. In the distance, some twenty leagues off to their southeast, a single mountain etched its hazy heights upon the horizon. Then in the morning of 13 Narbeleth, they heard the sound of hoof beats in the distance. A company of horsemen was’t approaching up the trail. Hence they stopped and stood their ground, awaiting the North Men of the east.

They had not long to wait. Ere ten minutes had passed a bearded rider came into view from behind a low rise. He was’t clad in simple leather pants and a tunic of coarse-spun wool. O’er it he wore a padded leather jerkin. A cape of fur flowed out behind him as he sat his mount, riding up the path at a canter. Upon his long and unruly blonde locks sat an unadorned helm of steel. A leaf-bladed spear he carried upright at his side and in his belt was’t sheathed a short axe. As he came closer the two ellith marked the bow and quiver slung at his back. Trailing him by perhaps 5 fathoms came another dozen riders in a closer formation, all armed with spears and swords. As with the group that Helluin had met aforetime to the west of Calenglad, a final pair of riders bearing bows followed the main formation at 5 fathoms, bringing up the rear of the column.

Though they remained unnoticed in their cloaks of mixed greens, both ellith marked the riders clearly. Their count and armament was’t noted and appraised. Hither rode a small band girded for sudden battle, a patrol perhaps, well armed for a skirmish. All this flashed before their eyes and was’t committed to memory in a few seconds. ‘Twas to be expected. More disturbing was’t the grim expression of the lead rider and the nervous backward glances of the others. Indeed the hindmost of the company rode well ‘nigh sideways in their saddles, searching for pursuit.

Beinvír cast a questioning glance at her partner and Helluin returned it, speaking silently eye to eye.

I hear not any other riders, yet these Men art certainly ill at ease, the dark warrior said, and in this strange land, such leaves me unquiet at heart. Pray ready thy weapons and keep a close watch.

Aye, these riders seem to expect some unseen danger that follows behind. I am ready.

The Green Elf had strung her bow and now held it in her left hand. Helluin flipped the edges of her cloak o’er her shoulders, the quicker to grasp her sword.

When the leading rider was’t still some fathoms off his horse broke stride and shied forcing the rider to reign him to a halt. The following company halted as well, awaiting a signal, while’st those in the rear stopped and turned to face back whither they had come. The Man quickly mastered his mount and then gave his attention to the path. Thither he finally spied the two Elves and he gave a start ere he leveled his spear.

“I bid thee answer, art thou friend or foe to Lüdhgavia, Lord of the Riverlands?” he demanded.

“Travelers art we from afar,” Beinvír began, “and know not thy lord’s name or lands, yet we art friends to all who oppose the Great Enemy and the servants of the Shadow.”

To this the Man gave pause for consideration.

Ere he could speak again, Helluin asked, “Know thou a captain named Ërlick? He I met upon a time, to the west of yonder forest. Thither he led his company seeking tidings of his lord’s son, Lundhini, abducted by servants of the Sorcerer of Dól Gúldúr.”

At her words the Man’s eyes widened and muttering could be heard from the company. He stared hard at the two ellith, measuring them and their sincerity.

“Aye, Captain Ërlick I know,” he admitted, “and he came home with sad tidings indeed. How come thou to know him and his errand?”

“’Twas after the completion of my own mission that I met Captain Ërlick and his riders, ‘nigh Anduin the Great, beyond the western borders of the Greenwood. Thither we traded tidings, for I knew ‘aught of he whom Ërlick sought. Indeed in the same cell were we held prisoner. Alas, I could save Lundhini not, for his spirit had fled ere I was’t made prisoner.”

“He was’t kidnapped and murdered by the Sorcerer, ‘tis said,” the Man claimed, “and many fell servants hath he. Howsoever did thou escape him, while’st Lundhini did not, fine rider and able warrior that he was’t?”

For some moments Helluin held the Man’s eyes and in that time he was’t constrained by her will and a vision arose within him such that he saw, encapsulated, a summary of her rampage within Dól Gúldúr. He saw the body of his lord’s son hanging from its chains at Helluin’s side and he saw the fighting in the dungeons. He saw the bodies of the enemy fall ‘neath her sword and Ring. And last did he see the cairn wherein the dark Noldo had lain the body of the fallen. All this came to him in but a few heartbeats, leaving him pale and shaken.

Finally he shook himself and looked again upon the two ellith. Wary he was’t now and ill at ease. The taller one had bewitched him and shown him mayhem unimaginable. She was’t a foe beyond his reckoning, if indeed foe she was’t. From behind him came an urgent call.

“Captain! The enemy is upon us!”

“They must hath left the trail some miles back and flanked us amidst the trees,” one of the rear guard cried out.

At that moment, even as the Men grouped together and swords were drawn, the sounds of pursuit could finally be heard from beyond the rise. ‘Twas a slavering and cursing that could signal only one kindred of creatures.

“Be thou friend or foe, thou shalt fight now or thou shalt die,” the Man said to the two Elves ere he turned his mount and spurred forward to lead his company into battle.

Anguirél was’t unsheathed in Helluin’s hand and an arrow strung at Beinvír’s bow in the blink of an eye. The riders readied themselves to fight. O’er the rise came a company of Yrch numbering some five dozens. They charged forward in a close-packed mob, jostling and shoving, and waving their cruel blades o’er their heads. The Men mastered their horses and charged to run them down.

(Beinvír’s song in this chapter is based upon “The Lobster Quadrille”, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (C. L. Dodgson), ©1865.

To Be Continued

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