A Step Forward. Young Alboin
There was no answer. There was no one in the play-room.
"Alboin!" Oswin Errol stood at the door and called into the small high garden at the back of his house. At length a young voice answered, sounding distant and like the answer of someone asleep or just awakened.
"Where are you?"
"Where is 'here'?"
"Here: up on the wall, father."
Oswin sprang down the steps from the door into the garden, and walked along the flower-bordered path. It led after a turn to a low stone wall, screened from the house by a hedge. Beyond the stone wall there was a brief space of turf, and then a cliff-edge, beyond which outstretched, and now shimmering in a calm evening, lay the western sea. Upon the wall Oswin found his son, a boy about twelve years old, lying gazing out to sea with his chin in his hands.
"So there you are!" he said. "You take a deal of calling. Didn't you hear me?"
"Not before the time when I answered." said Alboin.
"Well, you must be deaf or dreaming." sad his father. "Dreaming, it looks like. It is getting very near bed-time; so, if you want any story tonight, we shall have to begin at once."
"I am sorry, father, but I was thinking."
"Oh, lots of things mixed up: the sea, and the world, and Alboin."
"Yes. I wondered why Alboin. Why am I called Alboin? They often ask me, 'Why Alboin?' at school, and they call me All-bone. But I am not, am I?"
"You look rather bony, boy, but you are not all bone, I am glad to say. I am afraid I called you Alboin, and that is why you are called it. I am sorry: I never meant it to be a nuisance to you."
"But it is a real name, isn't it?" said Alboin eagerly. "I mean, it means something, and men have been called it? It isn't just invented?"
"Of course not. It is just as real and just as good as Oswin; and it belongs to the same family, you might say. But no one ever bothered me about Oswin. Though I often used to get called Oswald by mistake. I remember how it used to annoy me, though I can't think why. I was rather particular about my name."
They remained talking on the wall overlooking the sea; and did not go back into the garden, or the house, until bed-time. Their talk, as often happened, drifted into story-telling; and Oswin told his son the tale of Alboin son of Audoin, the Lombard king; and of the great battle of the Lombards and the Gepids, remembered as terrible even in the grim sixth century; and of the kings Thurisind and Cunimund, and of Rosamunda. "Not a good story for near bed-time," he said, ending suddenly with Alboin's drinking from the jeweled skull of Cunimund.
"I don't like that Alboin much," said the boy. "I like the Gepids better, and King Thurisind. I wish they had won. Why didn't you call me Thurisind or Thurismod?"
"Well, really mother had meant to call you Rosamund, only you turned up a boy. And she didn't live to help me choose another name. So I took one out of that story, because it seemed to fit. I mean, the name dosen't belong only to that story, it is much older. Would you rather have been called Elf-friend? For that's what the name means."
"No-o." said Alboin doubtfully. "I like names to mean something, but not to say something."
"Well, I might have called you Ælfwine, of course; that is the Old English form of it. I might have called you that, not only after Alboin of Italy, but after all the Elf-friends of old; after Ælfwine, King Alfred's grandson, who fell in the great victory in 937, and Ælfwine who fell in the famous defeat at Maldon, and many other Englishmen and northerners in the long line of Elf-friends. But I gave you a latinized form. I think that is best. The old days of the North are gone beyond recall, except in so far as they have been worked into the shape of things as we know it, into Christendom. So I took Alboin; for it is not Latin and not Northern, and that is the way of most names in the West, and also of the men that bear them. I might have chosen Albinus, for that is what they sometimes turned the name into; and it wouldn't have reminded your friends of bones. But it is too Latin, and means something in Latin. And you are not white or fair, boy, but dark. So Alboin you are. And that is all there is to it, except bed." And they went in.
But Alboin looked out of his window before getting into bed; and he could see the sea beyond the edge of the cliff. It was a late sunset, for it was summer. The sun sank slowly to the sea, and dipped red beyond the horizon. The light and colour faded quickly from the water: a chilly wind came up out of the West, and over the sunset-rim great dark clouds sailed up, stretching huge wings southward and northward, threatening the land.
"They look like the eagles of the Lords of the West coming upon Númenor," Alboin said aloud, and he wondered why. Though it did not seem very strange to him. In those days he often made up names. Looking on a familiar hill, he would see it suddenly standing in some other time and story: "the green shoulders of Emyn Beraid." he would say. "The waves are loud upon the shores of Harlindon." he said one day, when storm was piling water at the foot of the cliff below the house.
Some of these names were really made up, to please himself with their sound (or so he thought); but others seemed 'real', as if they had not been spoken first by him. So it was with Númenor. "I like that." he said to himself. "I could think of a long story about the land of Númenor."
But as he lay in bed, he found that the story would not be thought. And soon he forgot the name; and other thoughts crowded in, partly due to his father's words, and partly to his own day-dreams before.
"Dark Alboin." he thought. "I wonder if there is any Latin in me. Not much, I think. I love the western shores, and the real sea-it is quite different from the Mediterranean, even in stories. I wish there was no other side to it. There were darkhaired people who were not Latins. Are the Portuguese Latins? What is Latin? I wonder what kind of people lived in Portugal and Spain and Ireland and Britain in old days, very old days, before the Romans, or the Carthaginians. Before anybody else. I wonder what the man thought who was the first to see the western sea."
Then he fell asleep, and dreamed. But when he woke the dream slipped beyond recall, and left no tale or picture behind, only the feeling that these had brought: the sort of feeling Alboin connected with long strange names. And he got up. And summer slipped by, and he went to school and went on learning Latin.
Also he learned Greek. And later, when he was about fifteen, he began to learn other languages, especially those of the North: Old English, Norse, Welsh, Irish. This was not much encouraged-even by his father, who was a historian. Latin and Greek, it seemed to be thought, were enough for anybody; and quite old-fashioned enough, when there were so many successful modern languages (spoken by millions of people); not to mention maths and all the sciences.
But Alboin liked the flavour of the older northern languages, quite as much as he liked some of the things written in them. He got to know a bit about linguistic history, of course; he found that you rather had it thrust on you anyway by the grammar-writers of 'unclassical' languages. Not that he objected: sound-changes were a hobby of his, at the age when other boys were learning about the insides of motor-cars. But, although he had some idea of what were supposed to be the relationships of European languages, it did not seem to him quite all the story. The languages he liked had a definite flavour-and to some extent a similar flavour which they shared. It seemed, too, in some way related to the atmosphere of the legends and myths told in the languages.
One day when Alboin was nearly eighteen, he was sitting in the study with his father. It was autumn, and the end of summer holidays spent mostly in the open. Fires were coming back. It was the time in all the year when book-lore is most attractive (to those who really like it at all). They were talking 'language'. For Errol encouraged his boy to talk about anything he was interested in; although secretly he had been wondering for some time whether Northern languages and legends were not taking up more time and energy than their practical value in a hard world justified. "But I had better know what is going on, as far as any father can." he thought. "He'll go on anyway, if he really has a bent-and it had better not be bent inwards."
Alboin was trying to explain his feeling about 'language-atmosphere'. "You get echoes coming through, you know," he said, "in odd words here and there-often very common words in their own language, but quite unexplained by the etymologists; and in the general shape and sound of all the words, somehow; as if something was peeping through from deep under the surface."
"Of course, I am not a philologist," said his father; "but I never could see that there was much evidence in favour of ascribing language-changes to a substratum. Though I suppose underlying ingredients do have an influence, though it is not easy to define, on the final mixture in the case of peoples taken as a whole, different national talents and temperaments, and that sort of thing. But races, or cultures, are different from languages."
"Yes," said Alboin; "but very mixed up, all three together. And after all, language goes back by a continuous tradition into the past, just as much as the other two. I often think that if you knew the living faces of any man's ancestors, a long way back, you might find some queer things. You might find that he got his nose quite clearly from, say, his mother's great-grandfather; and yet that something about his nose, it's expression or set or whatever you like to call it, really came down from much further back, from, say, his father's great-great-great-grandfather or greater. Anyway I like to go back-and not with race only, or culture only, or language; but with all three. I wish I could go back with the three that are mixed in us, father; just the plain Errols, with a little house in Cornwall in the summer. I wonder what one would see."
"It depends how far you went back." said the elder Errol. "If you went back beyond the Ice-ages, I imagine you would find nothing in these parts; or at any rate a pretty beastly and uncomely race, and a tooth-and-nail culture, and a disgusting language with no echoes for you, unless those of food-noises."
"Would you?" said Alboin. "I wonder."
"Anyway you can't go back," said his father; "except within the limits prescribed to us mortals. You can go back in a sense by honest study, long and patient work. You had better go in for archaeology as well as philology: they ought to go well enough together, though they aren't joined very often."
"Good idea." said Alboin. "But, you remember, long ago, you said I was not all-bone. Well, I want some mythology, as well. I want myths, not only bones and stones."
"Well, you can have 'em! Take the whole lot on!" said his father laughing. "But in the meanwhile you have a smaller job on hand. Your Latin needs improving (or so I am told), for school purposes. And scholarships are useful in lots of ways, especially for folk like you and me who go in for antiquated subjects. Your first shot is this winter, remember."
"I wish Latin prose was not so important." said Alboin. "I am really much better at verse."
"Don't go putting any of your Eressëan, or Elf-latin, or whatever you call it, into your verses at Oxford. It might scan, but it wouldn't pass."
"Of course not!" said the boy, blushing. The matter was too private, even for private jokes. "And don't go blabbing about Eressëan outside the partnership," he begged, "or I shall wish I had kept it quiet."
"Well, you did pretty well. I don't suppose I should ever have heard about it, if you hadn't left your note-books in my study. Even so I don't know much about it. But, my dear lad, I shouldn't dream of blabbing, even if I did. Only don't waste too much time on it. I am afraid I am anxious about that school, not only from the highest motives. Cash is not too abundant."
"Oh, I haven't done anything of that sort for a long while, at least hardly anything." said Alboin.
"It isn't getting on too well, then?"
"Not lately. Too much else to do, I suppose. But I got a lot of jolly new words a few days ago: I am sure lomelindë means nightingale, for instance, and certainly lomë is night (though not darkness). The verb is very sketchy still. But-" He hesitated. Reticence (and uneasy conscience) were at war with his habit of what he called 'partnership with the pater', and his desire to unbosom the secret anyway. "But, the real difficulty is that another language is coming through, as well. It seems to be related but quite different, much more-more Northern. Alda was a tree (a word I got a long time ago); in the new language it is galadh, and orn. The Sun and Moon seem to have similar names in both: Anar and Isil beside Anor and Ithil. I like first one, then the other, in different moods. Beleriandic is really very attractive; but it complicates things."
"Good Lord!" said his father, "this is serious! I will respect unsolicited secrets. But do have a conscience as well as a heart, and-moods. Or get a Latin and Greek mood!"
"I do. I have had one for a week, and I have got it now; a Latin one luckily, and Virgil in particular. So here we part." He got up. "I am going to do a bit of reading. I'll look in when I think you ought to go to bed." He closed the door on his father's snort.
As a matter of fact Errol did not really like the parting shot. The affection in it warmed and saddened him. A late marriage had left him now on the brink of retirement from a schoolmaster's small pay to his smaller pension, just when Alboin was coming of University age. And he was also (he had begun to feel, and this year to admit in his heart) a tired man. He had never been a strong man. He would have liked to accompany Alboin a great deal further on the road, as a younger father probably would have done; but he did not somehow think he would be going very far. "Damn it," he said to himself, "a boy of that age ought not to be thinking such things, worrying whether his father is getting enough rest. Where's my book?"
Alboin in the old play-room, turned into junior study, looked out into the dark. He did not for a long time turn to books. "I wish life was not so short." he thought. "Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about. And the pater, he is looking tired. I want him for years. If he lived to be a hundred I should be only about as old as he is now, and I should still want him. But he won't. I wish we could stop getting old. The pater could go on working and write that book he used to talk about, about Cornwall; and we could go on talking. He always plays up, even if he does not agree or understand. Bother Eressëan. I wish he hadn't mentioned it. I am sure I shall dream tonight; and it is so exciting. The Latin-mood will go. He is very decent about it, even though he thinks I am making it all up. If I were, I would stop it to please him. But it comes, and I simply can't let it slip when it does. Now there is Beleriandic."
Away west the moon rode in ragged clouds. The sea glimmered palely out of the gloom, wide, flat, going on to the edge of the world. "Confound you, Dreams!" said Alboin. "Lay off, and let me do a little patient work at least until December. A schol would brace the pater."
He found his father asleep in his chair at half past ten. They went up to bed together. Alboin got into bed and slept with no shadow of a dream. The Latin-mood was in full blast after breakfast; and the weather allied itself with virtue and sent torrential rain.
Long afterwards Alboin remembered that evening, that had marked the strange, sudden cessation of the Dreams. He had got a scholarship (the following year) and had 'braced the pater'. He had behaved himself moderately well at the university-not too many side issues (at least, not what he called too many); though neither the Latin nor the Greek mood had remained at all steadily to sustain him through 'Honour Mods.' They came back, of course, as soon as the exams were over. They would. He had switched over, all the same, to history, and had again 'braced the pater' with a 'first-class'. And the pater had needed bracing. Retirement proved quite different from a holiday: he had seemed just to slip slowly out. He had hung on just long enough to see Alboin into his first job: an assistant lecturership in a university college.
Rather disconcertingly the Dreams had begun again just before 'Schools', and were extraordinarily strong in the following vacation-the last he and his father had spent together in Cornwall. But at that time the Dreams had taken a new turn, for a while.
He remembered one of the last conversations of the old pleasant sort he had been able to have with the old man. It came back clearly to him now.
"How's the Eressëan Elf-latin, boy?" his father asked, smiling, plainly intending a joke, as one may playfully refer to youthful follies long atoned for.
"Oddly enough," he answered, "that hasn't been coming through lately. I have got a lot of different stuff. Some is beyond me, yet. Some might be Celtic, of a sort. Some seems like a very old form of Germanic; pre-runic, or I'll eat my cap and gown."
The old man smiled, almost raised a laugh. "Safer ground, boy, safer ground for an historian. But you'll get into trouble, if you let your cats out of the bag among the philologists-unless, of course, they back up the authorities."
"As a matter of fact, I rather think they do," he said.
"Tell me a bit, if you can without your note-books," his father slyly said.
"Westra lage wegas rehtas, nu isti sa wraithas." He quoted that, because it had stuck in his mind, though he did not understand it. Of course the mere sense was fairly plain: a straight road lay westward, now it is bent. He remembered waking up, and feeling it was somehow very significant. "Actually I got a bit of plain Anglo-Saxon last night," he went on. He thought Anglo-Saxon would please his father; it was a real historical language, of which the old man had once known a fair amount. Also the bit was very fresh in his mind, and was the longest and most connected he had yet had. Only that very morning he had waked up late, after a dreamful night, and had found himself saying the lines. He jotted them down at once, or they might have vanished (as usual) by breakfast-time, even though they were in a language he knew. Now waking memory had them secure.
"Thus cwæth Ælfwine Wídlást: Fela bith on Westwegum werum uncuthra wundra and wihta, wlitescéne land, eardgeard elfa, and ésa bliss. Lyt ænig wát hwylc his longath síe thám the eftsíthes eldo getwaefeth."
His father looked up and smiled at the name Ælfwine. He translated the lines for him; probably it was not necessary, but the old man had forgotten many other things he had once known much better than Anglo-Saxon.
"Thus said Ælfwine the far-travelled: 'There is many a thing in the West-regions unknown to men, marvels and strange beings, a land fair and lovely, the homeland of the Elves, and the bliss of the Gods. Little doth any man know what longing is his whom old age cutteth off from return.' "
He suddenly regretted translating the last two lines. His father looked up with an odd expression. "The old know," he said. "But age does not cut us off from going away, from--from forthsith. There is no eftsith: we can't go back. You need not tell me that. But good for Ælfwine-Alboin. You could always do verses."
Damn it--as if he would make up stuff like that, just to tell it to the old man, practically on his death-bed. His father had, in fact, died during the following winter.
On the whole he had been luckier than his father; in most ways, but not in one. He had reached a history professorship fairly early; but he had lost his wife, as his father had done, and had been left with an only child, a boy, when he was only twenty-eight.
He was, perhaps, a pretty good professor, as they go. Only in a small southern university, of course, and he did not suppose he would get a move. But at any rate he wasn't tired of being one; and history, and even teaching it, still seemed interesting (and fairly important). He did his duty, at least, or he hoped so. The boundaries were a bit vague. For, of course, he had gone on with the other things, legends and languages-rather odd for a history professor. Still, there it was: he was fairly learned in such book-lore, though a lot of it was well outside the professional borders.
And the Dreams. They came and went. But lately they had been getting more frequent, and more-absorbing. But still tantalizingly linguistic. No tale, no remembered pictures; only the feeling that he had seen things and heard things that he wanted to see, very much, and would give much to see and hear again-and these fragments of words, sentences, verses. Eressëan as he called it as a boy-though he could not remember why he had felt so sure that that was the proper name-was getting pretty complete. He had a lot of Beleriandic, too, and was beginning to understand it, and it's relation to Eressëan. And he had a lot of unclassifiable fragments, the meaning of which in many cases he did not know, through forgetting to jot it down while he knew it. And odd bits in recognizable languages. Those might be explained away, of course. But anyway nothing could be done about them: not publication or anything of that sort. He had an odd feeling that they were not essential: only occasional lapses of forgetfulness which took a linguistic form owing to some peculiarity of his own mental make-up. The real thing was the feeling the Dreams brought more and more insistently, and taking force from an alliance with the ordinary professional occupations of his mind. Surveying the last thirty years, he felt he could say that his most permanent mood, though often overlaid or suppressed, had been since childhood the desire to go back. To walk in Time, perhaps, as men walk on long roads; or to survey it, as men may see the world from a mountain, or the earth as a living map beneath an airship. But in any case to see with eyes and to hear with ears: to see the lie of old and even forgotten lands, to behold ancient men walking, and hear their languages as they spoke them, in the days before days, when tongues of forgotten lineage were heard in kingdoms long fallen by the shores of the Atlantic.
But nothing could be done about that desire, either. He used to be able, long ago, to talk about it, a little and not too seriously, to his father. But for a long while he had had no one to talk to about that sort of thing. But now there was Audoin. He was growing up. He was sixteen.
He had called his boy Audoin, reversing the Lombardic order. It seemed to fit. It belonged anyway to the same name-family, and went with his own name. And it was a tribute to the memory of his father-another reason for relinquishing Anglo-Saxon Eadwine, or even commonplace Edwin. Audoin had turned out remarkably like Alboin, as far as his memory of young Alboin went, or his penetration of the exterior of young Audoin. At any rate he seemed interested in the same things, and asked the same questions; though with much less inclination to words and names, and more to things and descriptions. Unlike his father he could draw, but was not good at 'verses'. Nonetheless he had, of course, eventually asked why he was called Audoin. He seemed rather glad to have escaped Edwin. But the question of meaning had not been quite so easy to answer. Friend of fortune, was it, or of fate, luck, wealth, blessedness? Which?
"I like Aud," young Audoin had said--he was then about thirteen--"if it means all that. A good beginning for a name. I wonder what Lombards looked like. Did they all have long beards?"
Alboin had scattered tales and legends all down Audoin's childhood and boyhood, like one laying a trail, though he was not clear what trail or where it led. Audoin was a voracious listener, as well (latterly) as a reader. Alboin was very tempted to share his own odd linguistic secrets with the boy. They could at least have some pleasant private fun. But he could sympathize with his own father now-there was a limit to time. Boys have a lot to do.
Anyway, happy thought, Audoin was returning from school tomorrow. Examination-scripts were nearly finished for this year for both of them. The examiner's side of the business was decidedly the stickiest (thought the professor), but he was nearly unstuck at last. They would be off to the coast in a few days, together.
There came a night, and Alboin lay again in a room in a house by the sea: not the little house of his boyhood, but the same sea. It was a calm night, and the water lay like a vast plain of chipped and polished flint, petrified under the cold light of the Moon. The path of moonlight lay from the shore to the edge of sight.
Sleep would not come to him, although he was eager for it. Not for rest-he was not tired; but because of last night's Dream. He hoped to complete a fragment that had come through vividly that morning. He had it in hand in a note-book by his bed-side; not that he was likely to forget it once it was written down.
ar sauron tule nahamna lantier turkildi and ? came humbled they-fell ?
unuhuine . . . tarkalion ohtakare valannar under-Shadow . . . ? war-made on-Powers
herunumen ilu terhante lenéme iluvataren Lord-of-West world sunder-broke with-leave of-Ilúvatar
. . .ëari ullier ikilyanna . . . númenórë ataltane . . . ... seas they-should-pour in-Chasm ... Númenor down-fell ....
Then there had seemed to be a long gap.
. . . malle tera lende numenna ilya si maller ... road straight went Westward all now roads
raikar . . . . . turkildi romenna . . . nuruhuine mel-lumna . . . bent ........ ? eastward ...Death-shadow us-is-heavy....
numeheruui arda sakkante . . . vahaya sin atalante. Lords-of-West world rent ... far-away now ?
There were one or two new words here, of which he wanted to discover the meaning: it had escaped before he could write it down this morning. Probably they were names: tarkalion was almost certainly a king's name, for tar was common in royal names. It was curious how often the remembered snatches harped on the theme of a 'straight road'. Was 'humbled' translated nahamna, or had the form been nukumna? What was atalante? It seemed to mean ruin or downfall, but also to be a name.
Alboin felt restless. He left his bed and went to the window. He stood there a long while looking out to sea; and as he stood a chill wind got up in the West. Slowly over the dark rim of sky and water's meeting clouds lifted huge heads, and loomed upwards, stretching out vast wings, south and north.
"They look like the Eagles of the Lords of the West over Númenor," he said aloud, and started. He had not purposed any words. For a moment he had felt the oncoming of a great disaster long forseen. Now memory stirred, but could not be grasped. He took up his notebook and stared at the fragment, and words began to enter his mind, different words from some other part of the dream. He seized the nearest pencil (after hunting near his bed) and began to write:
Kado zigurun zahathan unakkha eruhinim and so ? humbled he-came ?Eru-faithful??
dubdam agru-dalad ...ar-pharazônun azaggara fell ?shadow-under ? was-warring
avaloiyada ...barim an-adûn yurchtam daira against-Powers ...Lords of-West broke Earth
saibeth-ma eruvo ...aznya du-phursa akhasada assent-with from-Eru? ...seas so-as-to-gush into chasm
...Anadûne ziran hikallaba bawiba dulgi ...Númenor beloved she-fell-down winds black
balik hazad an-nimrnzir azulada ... Agannalo ships seven of ? eastward ... Death-shadow
buroda nenud .... zana nenud ....adûn izindi heavy on-us... longing(is) on-us ...west straight
hatan taido ayadda ido katha batina lokhi... road once went now all ways crooked
Ephalak idon, ephalak idon hi-Akallabeth. Far-away now, far-away now She-that-hath-fallen.
Alboin stared at the paper in amazement. This was an entirely new language, harsher, stranger and haughtier somehow than any he had previously 'heard'. Not Beleriandic. Nor was it merely a repetition of the previous fragment: almost a new version of it; and the last line, when he repeated it aloud, seemed to have a unfathomable sorrow about it as of the end of some forgotten lament. Adûniac, he thought. I will call it Adûniac. He did not know why that was so evidently it's name, but so it was: the difficult speech of a proud people.
He shivered. He went back to bed and lay wondering. Suddenly the old desire came over him. It had been growing again for a long time, but he had not felt it like this, a feeling as vivid as hunger or thirst, for years, not since he was about Audoin's age.
"I wish there was a 'Time-machine'," he said aloud. "But Time is not to be conquered by machines. And I should go back, not forward; and I think backwards would be more possible."
The clouds overcame the sky, and the wind rose and blew; and in his ears, as he fell asleep at last, there was a roaring in the leaves of many trees, and a roaring of long waves upon the shore. "The storm is coming upon Númenor!" he said, and passed out of the waking world.
In a wide shadowy place he heard a voice. "Elendil!" it said. "Alboin, whither are you wandering?"
"Who are you?" he answered. "And where are you?"
A tall figure appeared, as if descending an unseen stair towards him. For a moment it flashed through his thought that the face, dimly seen, reminded him of his father.
"I am with you. I was of Númenor, the father of many fathers before you. I am Elendil, that is in Eressëan 'Elf-friend', and many have been called so since. You may have your desire."
"The long-hidden and the half-spoken: to go back."
"But that cannot be, even if I wish it. It is impossible."
"Your mind is born in Time and fettered to Time. You grope still in error, as erroneous as those who wish to violate Time with machines. Time is the duration of that which changes, and like a tale proceeds to it's foredoomed end. Nay, back in body you cannot go, for woven is history, and to leave your place would mean undoing all that has been woven. A stone can be easily removed from the top of a wall, but cannot be inserted into the lower courses without tearing it down, and the rebuilt wall will never be what it had been."
"Why then do you hold out to me a desire that cannot be attained? How can I go back, if it is against the law?"
"It is against the rule. Laws are commands upon the will and are binding. Rules are conditions; they may have exceptions.."
"But are there ever any exceptions?"
"Rules may be strict, yet they are the means, not the ends, of government. There are exceptions; for there is that which governs and is above the rules. Behold, it is by the chinks in the wall that light comes through, whereby men become aware of the light and therein perceive the wall and how it stands. The veil is woven, and each thread goes an appointed course, tracing a design; yet the tissue is not impenetrable, or the design would not be guessed; and if the design were not guessed, the veil would not be perceived, and all would dwell in darkness. But these are old parables, and I came not to speak of such things. The world is not a machine that makes other machines after the fashion of Sauron. To each under the rule some unique fate is given, and he is excepted from that which is a rule to others. I ask if you would have your desire?"
"You ask not: how or upon what conditions."
"I do not suppose I should understand how, and it does not seem to me necessary. We go forward, as a rule, but we do not know how. But what are the conditions?"
"That the road and the halts are prescribed. That you cannot return at your wish, but only (if at all) as it may be ordained. For you shall not be as one reading a book or looking in a mirror, but as one walking in living peril. Moreover you shall not adventure yourself alone."
"Then you do not advise me to accept? You wish me to refuse out of fear?"
"I do not counsel, yes or no. I am not a counsellor. I am Nimrnzir, a messenger, a permitted voice. The wishing and the choosing are for you."
"But I do not understand the conditions, at least not the last. And I ought to understand them all clearly."
"You must, if you choose to go back, take with you Herendil, that is in other tongue Audoin, your son; for you are the ears and he is the eyes. But you may not ask that he shall be protected from the consequences of your choice, save as your own will and courage may contrive."
"But I can ask him, if he is willing?"
"He would say yes, because he loves you and is bold; but that would not resolve your choice."
"And when can I, or we, go back?"
"When you have made your choice."
The figure ascended and receded. There was a roaring as of seas falling from a great height. Alboin could still hear the tumult far away, even after his waking eyes roamed around the room in the grey light of morning. There was a westerly gale blowing. The curtains of the open window were drenched, and the room was full of wind.
He sat silent at the breakfast-table. His eyes strayed continuously to his son's face, watching his expressions. He wondered if Audoin ever had any Dreams. Nothing that left any memory, it would appear. Audoin seemed in a merry mood, and his own talk was enough for him, for a while. But at length he noticed his father's silence, unusual even at breakfast.
"You look glum, father." he said. "Is there some knotty problem on hand?"
"Yes-well, no, not really," answered Alboin. "I think I was thinking, among other things, that it was a gloomy day, and not a good end to the holidays. What are you going to do?"
"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Audoin. "I thought you loved the wind. I do. Especially a good old West-wind. I am going along the shore."
"No, nothing special-just the wind."
"Well, what about the beastly wind?" said Alboin, unaccountably irritated.
The boy's face fell. "I don't know," he said. "But I like to be in it, especially by the sea; and I thought you did."
"Not this wind." muttered Alboin. "There is ruin upon it. And I have a journey to make." There was a silence.
After a while Audoin began again, rather hesitatingly: "Do you remember the other day upon the cliffs near Predannack, when those odd clouds came up in the evening, and the wind began to blow?"
"Yes," said Alboin in an unencouraging tone.
"Well, you said when we got home that it seemed to remind you of something, and that the wind seemed to blow through you, like, like, a legend you couldn't catch. And you felt, back in the quiet, as if you had listened to a long tale, which left you excited, though it left absolutely no pictures at all."
"Did I?" said Alboin. "I can remember feeling very cold, and being glad to get back to a fire." He immediately regretted it, and felt ashamed. For Audoin said no more; though he felt certain that the boy had been making an opening to say something more, something that was on his mind. But he could not help it. He could not talk of such things to-day. He felt cold. He wanted peace, not wind.
Soon after breakfast Audoin went out, announcing that he was off for a good tramp, and would not be back at any rate before tea-time. Alboin remained behind. All day last night's vision remained with him, something different from the common order of dreams. Also it was (for him) curiously unlinguistic-though plainly related, by the name Númenor, to his language-dreams. He could not say whether he had conversed with Elendil in Eressëan or English.
He wandered about the house restlessly. Books would not be read, and pipes would not smoke. The day slipped out of his hand, running aimlessly to waste. He did not see his son, who did not even turn up for tea, as he had half promised to do. Dark seemed to come unduly early.
In the late evening Alboin sat in his chair by the fire. "I dread this choice," he said to himself. He had no doubt that there was really a choice to be made. He would have to choose, one way or another, however he represented it to himself. Even if he dismissed the Dream as what is called 'a mere dream', it would be a choice-a choice equivalent to no.
"But I cannot make up my mind to no," he thought, I think, I am almost sure, Audoin would say yes. And he will know of my choice sooner or later. It is getting more and more difficult to hide my thoughts from him: we are too closely akin, in many ways besides blood, for secrets. The secret would become unbearable, if I tried to keep it. My desire would become doubled through feeling that I might have, and become intolerable. And Audoin would probably feel I had robbed him through funk.
"But it is dangerous, perilous in the extreme-or so I am warned. I don't mind for myself. But for Audoin. But is the peril any greater than fatherhood lets in? It is perilous to come into the world at any point in Time. Yet I feel the shadow of this peril more heavily. Why? Because it is an exception to the Rules? Or am I experiencing a choice backward: the peril of fatherhood repeated? Being a father twice to the same person would make one think. Perhaps I am already moving back. I don't know. I wonder. Fatherhood is a choice, and yet it is not wholly by a man's will. Perhaps this peril is my choice, and yet also outside my will. I don't know. It is getting very dark. How loud the wind is. There is storm over Númenor." And Alboin slept in his chair.
He was climbing steps, steps of stone, up onto a high mountain. He felt, and thought he could hear, Audoin following him, climbing behind him; and he was cheered, for it told him that Audoin's summoning had not been left wholly in his own fumbling hands. He halted, for it seemed somehow that he was again in the same place as on the previous night; though no figure could be seen.
"I have chosen." he said. "I will go back with Herendil."
There was no sound. He was tired. Lowering himself down he laid him out, as if to rest. Half-turning: "Good night!" he murmered, and his voice was strangely echoey. "Sleep well, Herendil! We start when the summons comes."
"Good." said Audoin. "I have waited long for it."
"You have chosen," a voice sounded above him. "The summons is at hand."
Then Alboin seemed to fall into a dark and a silence, deep and absolute. It was as if he had left the world completely, where all silence is on the edge of sound, and filled with echoes, and where all rest is but repose upon some greater motion. He had left the world and gone out. He was silent and at rest: a point.
He was poised; but it was clear to him that he had only to will it, and he would move.
"Whither?" He perceived the question, but neither as a voice from outside, nor as one from within himself.
"To whatever place is appointed. Where is Herendil?"
"Waiting." came the thought of his son. "The motion is yours."
"Let us move!"
Audoin tramped on, keeping within sight of the sea as much as he could. He lunched at an inn, and then tramped on again, further than he had intended. He was enjoying the wind and the rain, yet he was filled with a curious disquiet. There had been something odd about his father this morning.
"So disappointing," he said to himself. "I particularly wanted to have a long tramp with him today. We talk better walking, and I really must have a chance of telling him about the Dreams. I can talk about that sort of thing to my father, if we both get into the mood together. Not that he is usually at all difficult-seldom like today. He usually takes you as you mean it: joking or serious; dosen't mix the two, or laugh in the wrong places. I have never known him so frosty-as if he was facing a problem he didn't want to look at."
He tramped on. "Dreams," he thought. "But not the usual sort, quite different: very vivid; and though never quite repeated, all gradually fitting into a story. But a sort of phantom story with no explanations. Just pictures, but not a sound, not a word. Ships coming to land. Towers on the shore. Battles, with swords glinting but silent. And there is that ominous picture: the great temple on the mountain, smoking like a volcano. And that awful vision of the chasm in the seas, a whole land slipping sideways, it's foundations shattered, mountains rolling over; dark ships fleeing into the dark. I want to tell someone about it, and get some kind of sense into it. Father would help: we could even make up a good yarn together out of it. If I knew even the name of the place, it would turn a nightmare into a story."
Darkness began to fall long before he got back. "I hope father will have had enough of himself and be chatty to-night," he thought. "The fireside is next best to a walk for discussing dreams." It was already night as he came up the path, and saw a light in the sitting-room.
He found his father sitting by the fire. The room seemed very still, and quiet-and too hot after a day in the open. Alboin sat, his head rested on one arm. His eyes were closed. He seemed asleep. He made no sign.
Audoin was creeping out of the room, heavy with disappointment. There was nothing for it but an early bed, and perhaps better luck tomorrow. As he reached the door, he thought he heard the chair creak, and then his father's voice, far away and rather strange in tone, speaking aloud something that sounded like herendil.
He was used to odd words and names slipping out in a murmer from his father. Sometimes his father would spin a long tale around them. He turned back hopefully.
Alboin was sitting up, and his eyes were half-open and glittered queerly, as if a light were gleaming inside them. "Good night!" he said. "Sleep well, Herendil! We start when the summons comes." Then his head fell back against the chair.
"Good." said Audoin in a quiet voice, "I have waited long for it." But his father made no sign.
"Dreaming," thought Audoin. "Good night!"
And he went out, and stepped into sudden darkness.
A Step Backward: Aelfwine and Eadwine
Ælfwine awoke with a start-he had been dozing on a bench with his back to a pillar. The voices seemed to pour over him like a stream. He felt he had been dreaming; something very odd and vivid, but he could not catch it; and for a minute or two the familiar scene in the hall seemed strange, and the English speech about him sounded alien and remote, though mostly it was the soft speech of western Wessex that he knew so well. Here and there were men of the Marches up beyond Severn-mouth, and a few spoke oddly, using strange words after the manner of those among whom the Danes dwelt in the eastern lands. He peered down the hall, looking for Eadwine his son, who was due on leave from the fleet but had not yet come.
There was a great crowd in the hall, for King Eadweard was there. The Danish ships were in the Severn Sea, and all the south shores were in arms. The jarls had been defeated far north at Irchenfield, but the Sea-wolves were still at large off the Wealá coast, hunting food and supplies, and the Defenisc and Sumors?te were on guard.
Ælfwine let his gaze wander slowly about the hall. The faces of the men, some old and careworn, some still young and eager, were dim and dreamlike in the wavering torchlight. The candles on the high table were guttering. A wind was blowing outside the great wooden hall, surging round the house, and the timbers creaked. The sound brought back old longings to him that he had thought were long buried. A great tiredness came over him again. Not only because he had lived for threescore winters and with Eadwine had had a long spell of coast-duty, and little sleep for either since the raid on Watchet; but he was tired of this woeful and disheveled world, slipping slowly back into decay as it seemed to him with it's petty but cruel wars, and all the ruin of the good and fair things there had been in his grandsire's days. The hangings on the wall behind the dais were faded and worn, and on the table there were but few vessels or candlesticks of gold and silver smithcraft that survived the pillage of the heathen.
He was born in the year the Danes wintered in Sheppey, and he had sailed many seas and heard many winds since then. The sound of the west wind and the fall of seas on the beaches had always been a challenging music to him. Especially in the spring, when his grizzled sea-worn father Oswine had been wont to tell strange tales to his son of nine winters. But now it was autumn, and he was growing old, and Oswine had been lost at sea many years. And the seas were wide, beyond the power of man to cross-to unknown shores: wide and dangerous, Garsecg the great. The faces of the men about him faded and the clamour of their voices was changed. He heard the crash of waves on the black cliffs and the sea-birds diving and crying; and snow and hail were falling. Then the seas opened pale and wide; the sun shone on the land and the sound and smell of it fell far behind. He was alone, going west toward the setting sun with fear and longing in his heart, driven against his will. And night drew on in the midst of the deep waters, and a sweet fragrance it seemed was borne upon the air.
His dream broke as voices shouted his name. Men were calling for a song, for Ælfwine when the mood was on him could play the minstrel as well as any of them. The king himself, Eadweard the son of Alfred-tired before old age he looked, thought Ælfwine-added his voice. He was a stern man, but like his father in having an ear, when he had the time, for the sound of the old measures. At once Ælfwine rose and walked to the steps of the dais-stiffly, for he was wearied-and bowed.
"Westu hál, Ælfwine!" said the king. "Sing me nú hwætwegu: sum eald léoth, gif thu wilt."
"Ic can lyt on léothcraft, hláford," Ælfwine said, "ac this geworht' ic unfyrn thé to weorthmynde."* The king inclined his head, and Ælfwine lifted up his voice and chanted aloud, but the strange mood of his sleep was still on him, and he sang as one speaking to his own ears.
- "Sing me something, some old poem, if thou wilt."
"I have little skill in poetry, my lord, but I composed this in your honour some little while ago."
"Monath modes lust mid mereflóde forth tó féran, thæt ic feor heonan ofer Garsecges grimme holmas eltheodigra eard gesece. m Nis me to hearpan hyge ne tú hringthege, ne tó wífe wynn, ne tó worulde hyht, ne ymb ówiht elles, nefne ymb ýtha gewealc. ( The desire of my spirit urges me to journey
forth over the flowing sea, that far hence over Garsecg's grim hills the elfish country of strangers I seek. No mind have I for harp, nor gift of ring, nor delight in women, nor joy in the world, nor concern with aught else save the rolling of the waves.)"
He stopped, suddenly aware that this was not what he had meant to sing. There was some laughter, and a few jeers, though many were silent, as if feeling that the words were not spoken to their ears-old and familiar as they were, words of the old poets whom men had heard often before. "If he has no mind to the harp he can expect no praises." one said. "Is there any here who does have such mind?" "If England is not good enough, let him go find one better!" cried another. "He need not go past Iráland if he longs for elves and uncouth wights." "We have had enough of the sea; a spell of Dane-hunting would cure most mens' longing to face the grim water-hills." said a third.
But the king sat gravely and did not smile, and men could see in his eyes that the words had touched him.
"Peace!" said Eadweard at last. "Ælfwine has sailed more seas than you have heard of, even to the islands in the north and west, and the tongue of Iráland is not strange to him. His wife was of Cornwealas. Let him say what his mood bids." There was a short silence.
Ælfwine took up a harp from the dais and struck a sudden note. "Lo!" he cried, loud and clear, and men stiffened to attention. "Lo!" he cried again, and began to chant an ancient tale, yet he was half aware that he was telling it afresh, adding and altering words, not so much by improvisation as after long pondering hidden from himself, catching at the shreds of dreams and visions.
"In days of yore out of deep Ocean to the Longobards, in the land dwelling that of old they held amid the isles of the North, a ship came sailing, shining-timbered without oar and mast, eastward floating. The sun behind it sinking westward with flame kindled the fallow water. Wind was wakened. Over the world's margin clouds greyhelméd climbed slowly up wings unfolding wide and looming, as mighty eagles moving onward to eastern Earth omen bearing. Men there marvelled, in the mist standing of the dark islands in the deeps of time: laughter they knew not, light nor wisdom; shadow was upon them, and sheer mountains stalked behind them stern and lifeless, evilhanted. The East was dark.
The ship came shining to the shore driven and strode upon the strand, till it's stem rested on sand and shingle. The sun went down. The clouds overcame the cold heavens. In fear and wonder to the fallow water men sadhearted swiftly hastened to the broken beaches the boat seeking. They looked within, and there laid sleeping a boy they saw breathing softly: his face was fair, his form lovely, his limbs were white, his locks raven golden-braided. Gilt and carven with wondrous work was the wood about him. In golden vessel gleaming water stood beside him; strung with silver a harp of gold neath his hand rested; his sleeping head was soft pillowed on a sheaf of corn shimmering palely as the fallow gold doth from far countries west of Angol. Wonder filled them.
The boat they hauled and on the beach moored it high above the breakers; then with hands lifted from the bosom it's burden. The boy slumbered. On his bed they bore him to their bleak dwellings mid foul puddles fallow-mudded darkwalled and drear in a dim region between waste and sea. There of wood builded high above the houses was a hall standing forlorn and empty. Long had it stood so, no noise knowing, night nor morning, no light seeing. They laid him there, under lock left him lonely sleeping in the hollow darkness. They held the doors. Night wore away. New awakened as ever on earth early morning; day came dimly. Doors were opened. Men strode within, then amazed halted: fear and wonder filled the watchmen. The house was bare, hall deserted; no form found they on the floor lying, but by bed forsaken the bright vessel dry and empty in the dust standing.
The guest was gone. Grief o'ercame them. In sorrow they sought him, till the sun rising over the hills of heaven to the homes of men light came bearing. They looked upward and high upon a hill hoar and treeless the guest beheld they: gold was shining in his hair, in hand the harp he bore; at his feet they saw the fallow-golden cornsheaf lying. Then clear his voice a song began, sweet, unearthly, words in music woven strangely, in tongue unknown. Trees stood silent and men unmoving marvelling hearkened.
Middle-earth had known for many ages neither song nor singer; no sight so fair had eyes of mortal, since the earth was young, seen when waking in that sad country long forsaken. No lord they had, no king or counsel, but the cold terror that dwelt in the desert, the dark shadow that haunted the hills and the hoar forest. Dread was their master. Dark and silent, long years forlorn, lonely waited the hall of kings, house forsaken without fire or food.
Forth men hastened from their dim houses. Doors were opened and gates unbarred. Gladness wakened. To the hill they thronged, and their heads lifting on the guest they gazed. Greybearded men bowed before him and blessed his coming their years to heal; youths and maidens, wives and children welcome gave him. His song was ended. Silent standing he looked upon them. Lord they called him; king they made him, crowned with golden wheaten garland, white his raiment, his harp his scepter. In his house was fire, food and wisdom; there fear came not. To manhood he grew, might and wisdom.
Sheave they called him, whom the ship brought them, a name renowned in the North countries ever since in song. For a secret hidden his true name was, in tongue unknown of far countries where the falling seas wash western shores beyond the ways of men since the world worsened. The word is forgotten and the name perished.
Their need he healed, and laws renewed long forsaken. Words he taught them wise and lovely- their tongue ripened in the time of Sheave to song and music. Secrets he opened runes revealing. Riches he gave them, reward of labour, wealth and comfort from the earth calling, acres ploughing, sowing in season seed of plenty, hoarding in garner golden harvest for the help of men. The hoar forests in his days drew back to the dark mountains; the shadow receded, and shining corn, white ears of wheat, whispered in the breezes where waste had been. The woods trembled.
Halls and houses hewn of timber, strong towers of stone steep and lofty, golden-gabled, in his guarded city they raised and roofed. In his royal dwelling of wood well-carven the walls were wrought; fair-hued figures filled with silver, gold and scarlet, gleaming hung there, stories boding of strange countries, were one wise in wit the woven legends to thread with thought. At his throne men found counsel and comfort and care's healing, justice in judgement. Generous-handed his gifts he gave. Glory was uplifted. Far sprang his fame over fallow water, through Northern lands the renown echoed of the shining king, Sheave the mighty.
Seven sons he begat, sires of princes, men great in mind, mighty-handed and high-hearted. From his house cometh the seeds of kings, as songs tell us, fathers of the fathers, who before the change in the Elder Years the earth governed, Northern kingdoms named and founded, shields of their peoples: Sheave begat them: Sea-danes and Goths, Swedes and Northmen, Franks and Frisians, folk of the islands, Swordmen and Saxons, Swæfes and Engles, and the Langobards who long ago beyond Myrkwudu a mighty realm and wealth won them in the Welsh countries where Ælboine Eadwoin's heir in Italy was king. All that has passed."
Ælfwine lowered the harp with relief, and the king wordlessly poured mead into his own cupand pressed it on him. Ælfwine bowed gravely and drank; his throat was becoming harsh and the drink was needed. Eadwine had entered the hall during the final verse, so Ælfwine took his leave and went out with his son.
"Had you meat and drink yet, son?" said Ælfwine. "Drink had I, by the king's courtesy: meat I took when first I came ashore."
"I have eaten aboard ship." said Eadwine. There was a dullness in his voice that made his father look at him with alarm. They stood nigh the door in the lea of the hall, and the uncertain light from within lit them but fitfully. Around them the wind sighed and muttered, and unseen trees hissed and moaned. Though only forty years and five, Eadwine looked older. He was born just ere the holy Eadmund was pierced by arrows of the heathen folk, and had been but nine winters in the world when the black year came and so many had fled, the year when Alfred himself went into hiding on Athleny, where it was rumored the Virgin spoke to him. Ælfwine's wife had fled west to her people in Cornwealas with Eadwine, and old Oswine his grandfather had taken his ship out into the west sea and never returned.
"The weary sea-hunting is wearying you, is it not?" Ælfwine said.
"I am sick of this!" Eadwine said fiercely. "The Danes have more sense, always pressing on. They go west. They pass round, to Iráland and beyond; while the English sit like Wealas waiting to be made into slaves."
"And I suppose our endless sea-hunting is but sitting." Ælfwine said harshly. "What call you Ethandune, and Irchenfield, then?"
"I have heard strange tales from Iráland of late." said Eadwine, pursuing the train of his former thought. A sharper gust eddied fallen leaves around the corners of the hall, and the wind was cold. "Of a land in the North-west filled with ice, but fit for men to dwell, and there are mountains rising from the ice that spew forth a flowing flame. There were hermits there, but they fled when the Norse came."
"Methinks it be not Christian to press on endlessly into the distance, leaving the land of one's roots to perish, without staying to protect what is worthy of protection." said Ælfwine. "It is only Christian men who stay and ward their homes."
"The holy Brendan did so in the time of Arthur, and so have others-as Maelduin, for one. And they came back-not that I would ever want to. I would sail on, to the Insula Deliciarum-even Paradise."
"Paradise cannot be got to by ship." said Ælfwine grimly. "There are deeper waters between us than Garsecg. The roads are bent: you come back in the end. There is no escape by ship from the Circles of the World."
"I do not think that is true-I hope that it is not true. Our ancestors won new lands by ship. And whence did come Sheave, might I ask?"
"Sheave." muttered Ælfwine. "You were not at the hall, but just ere you entered I sung them a geste of Sheaf. But different, I felt it: not what others know, as if in my dreams had knowledge come."
"Sing it me now, father, if you are not overtired." Eadwine begged, as they re-entered the hall. It was warmer here, though smokier, and draughts breathed in the jambs. "Mayhap it will ease my mind's weariness and my heart's longing."
Ælfwine sighed as they sat down. "No voice have I for the singing, and in any case I finished not the tale when I finished the song. But I will tell it you now, in such form as I am able.
"To the shore the ship came and strode upon the sand, grinding upon the broken shingle. In the twilight as the sun sank men came down to it, and looked within. A boy lay there, asleep. He was fair of face and limb, dark-haired, white-skinned, but clad in gold. The inner parts of the boat were gold-adorned, a vessel of gold filled with clear water was at his side; at his right was a harp, and beneath his head for pillow was a sheaf of corn and wheat, the stalks and ears of which gleamed like gold in the dusk. Men knew not what it was, for they had forgotten culture and wisdom, learning and laughter; their great hall stood silent and forgotten, high on the hill, many lifetimes empty. In wonder they drew the boat high upon the beach, and lifted the boy and bore him up, and laid him sleeping in the great hall. Guards watched the door.
"In the morning the chamber was empty. But even as they poured out of the hall in grief, upon a high rock men saw the boy standing. The sheaf was in his arms. As the risen sun shone down, he began to sing in a strange tongue, and they were filled with awe. For they had not yet heard singing, nor seen such beauty. And they had no king among them, for their kings had perished, and they were lordless and guideless. Therefore they took the boy to be king, and they called him Sheaf; and so is his name remembered in song. For his true name was hidden and is forgotten. Yet he taught men many new words and their speech was enriched; song and verse-craft they learned of him, and rune-craft, and tillage and husbandry, and the making of many things; and in his time the dark forests receded and there was plenty, and corn grew in the land; and the carven houses of men were filled with gold and storied webs. The glory of King Sheave sprang far and wide in the isles of the North.
"His children were many and fair, and it is sung that of them are come the kings of men of the North Danes and the West Danes, the South Angles and the East Gothfolk. And in the time of the Sheaf-lords there was peace in the isles, and ships went unarmed from land to land bearing treasure and rich merchandise. And a man might cast a golden ring upon the highway and it would remain until he took it up again. Those days songs have called the golden years, while the great mill of Sheaf was guarded still in the island sanctuary of the North; and from the mill came golden grain, and there was no want in all the realms
"But it came to pass after long years that Sheaf summoned his friends and counselors, and he told them that he would depart. For the shadow of mortality was fallen upon him (out of the East) and he would return whence he came. Then there was great mourning. But Sheaf laid him upon his golden bed, and became as one in deep slumber; and his lords obeying his commands while he yet ruled and had command of speech set him in a ship. He lay beside the mast, which was tall, and the sails were golden. Treasures of gold and of gems and fine raiment and costly stuffs were laid beside him. His golden banner flew above his head. In this manner he was arrayed more richly than when he came among them; and they thrust him forth to sea, and the sea took him, and the ship bore him unsteered far away into the uttermost West out of sight or thought of men. Nor do any know who received him in what haven at the end of his journey; some have said that ship found the Straight Road. But none of the children of Sheaf went that way, and many in the beginning lived to a great age, but coming under the shadow of the East they were laid in great tombs of stone or in mounds like green hills; and most of these were by the western sea, high and broad upon the shoulders of the land, whence men can descry them that steer their ships amid the shadows of the sea."
"I have been too long at sea, father." said Eadwine after a long pause. "I long for other shores. Shores that are not English; where the elvish people walk, or the strange hermits live. I feel very like those hermits sometimes, as if I would fain leave all men behind; but I would not stay. I would sail on, and yet farther."
"Like Brendan." nodded Ælfwine. "I have often pondered: the far shores, the lands long buried below the waves, the way that was. A straight road ran westward, now it is bent."
"Whence does that come?"
"From a monastery-burned now with all it's books, alas. It was some years ago. Brendan saw it, ye ken."
"He saw the Straight Road?" said Eadwine with interest.
"Aye; a song was there among old parchments, telling of his death."
"What manner of song?" asked Eadwine.
Ælfwine made no answer, but after a time began to murmer as a man in his sleep:
"At last out of the deep seas he passed, and mist rolled on the shore; under clouded moon the waves were loud, as the laden ship him bore to Ireland, back to wood and mire, to the tower tall and grey, where the knell of Cluain-ferta's bell tolled in green Galway. Where Shannon down to Lough Derg ran under a rainclad sky Saint Brendan came to his journey's end to await his hour to die.
'O! tell me, father, for I loved you well, if still you have words for me, of things strange in the remembering in the long and lonely sea, of islands by deep spells beguiled where dwell the Elven-kind: in seven long years the road to Heaven or the Living Land did you find?'
'The things I have seen, the many things, have long now faded far; only three come clear now back to me: a Cloud, a Tree, a Star. We sailed for a year and a day and hailed no field nor coast of men; no boat nor bird saw we ever afloat for forty days and ten. We saw no sun at set or dawn, but a dun cloud lay ahead, and a drumming there was like thunder coming and a gleam of fiery red.
Upreared from sea to cloud then sheer a shoreless mountain stood; it's sides were black from the sullen tide to the red lining of it's hood. No cloak of cloud, no lowering smoke, no looming storm of thunder in the world of men saw I ever unfurled like the pall that we passed under. We turned away, and we left astern the rumbling and the gloom; then the smoking cloud assunder broke, and we saw that Tower of Doom: on it's ashen head was a crown of red, where fires flamed and fell. Tall as a column in High Heaven's hall, it's feet were deep as Hell; grounded in chasms the waters drowned and buried long ago, it stands, I ween, in forgotten lands where the kings of kings lie low.
We sailed then on, till the wind had failed, and we toiled then with the oar, and hunger and thirst us sorely wrung, and we sang our psalms no more. A land at last with a silver strand at the end of strength we found; the waves were singing in pillared caves and pearls lay on the ground; and steep the shores went upward leaping to slopes of green and gold, and a stream out of the rich land teeming through a comb of shadow rolled. Through gates of stone we rowed in haste, and passed, and left the sea; and silence like dew fell in that isle and holy it seemed to be. As a green cup, deep in a brim of green, that with wine the white sun fills was the land we found, and we saw there stand on a laund between the hills a tree more fair than ever I deemed might climb in Paradise: it's foot was like a great tower's root, it's height beyond men's eyes; so wide it's branches, the least could hide in shade an acre long, and they rose as steep as mountain-snows those boughs so broad and strong; for white as a winter to my sight the leaves of that tree were, they grew more close than swan-wing plumes, all long and soft and fair.
We deemed then, maybe, as in a dream, that time had passed away and our journey ended; for no return we hoped, but there to stay. In the silence of that hollow isle, in the stillness, then we sang- softly us seemed, but the sound aloft like a pealing organ rang. Then trembled the tree from crown to stem; from the limbs the leaves in air as white birds fled in wheeling flight, and left the branches bare. From the sky came dropping down on high a music not of bird, not voice of man, nor angel's voice; but maybe there is a third fair kindred in the world yet lingers beyond the foundered land. Yet steep are the seas and the waters deep beyond the White-tree Strand.'
'O! stay now, father! There's more to say. But two things you have told: The Tree, the Cloud; but you spoke of three. The Star in mind do you hold?' 'The Star? Yes, I saw it, high and far, at the Parting of the Ways, a light on the edge of the Outer Night like silver set ablaze, where the round world plunges steeply down, but on the old road goes, as an unseen bridge that on arches runs to coasts that no man knows.' 'But men say, father, that ere the end you went where none have been. I would hear you tell me, father dear, of the last land you have seen.'
'In my mind the Star I still can find and the parting of the seas, and the breath as sweet and keen as death that was borne upon the breeze. But where they bloom those flowers fair, in what air or land they grow, what words beyond the world I heard, if you would seek to know, in a boat then, brother, far afloat you must labour in the sea, and find for yourself things out of mind: you will learn no more of me.' In Ireland, over wood and mire, in the tower tall and grey, the knell of Cluain-ferta's bell was tolling in green Galway. Saint Brendan had come to his life's end under a rainclad sky, and journeyed whence no ship returns, and his bones in Ireland lie."
"That is what I would wish to do, father." said Eadwine.
"That is what?" Ælfwine Ælfwine said shortly. They were in a quiet corner and the murmer of the voices did not interrupt their speech.
"Even as grandfather Oswine: to sail into the west, to seek the Lost Road." He paused, seeing no reaction in his father. "I could obtain dismissal from the fleet for us both, and there are captured prizes we could use."
"I have contemplated such a voyage ever since Oswine went off to seek the gods he is named for, but never carried it out." said Ælfwine. "Yet I ween there are some whom we could suade to crew our vessel; few, for not all men love to sail a quest for the red sun or to tempt the dangerous seas in thirst for undiscovered things."
There was a thud and the bench shook as Ælfheath sat down beside Ælfwine; he was a large man, wild and restless, who had long been a comrade of Ælfwine. "Westu, Ælfwine, Eadwine." he said in his rough slow voice, and drank from his tankard.
"When do you wish to sail?" Ælfwine said in reply.
Ælfheath choked. "Sail?! We have but just come to shore!" He paused a moment, the small deep-set eyes considering. "To whence?"
"To seek Insula Deliciarum." said Eadwine. Ælfwine said nothing.
"Ah. Methought this would come to pass, of soon or of late. I have been thy comrade of every voyage, Ælfwine, and I have seen each time the regret in thy face when turning to home. Think not to sail without Ælfheath the Fatherless!"
To get leave of the king and a ship proved less difficult than they had supposed. But few were willing to crew them, as Ælfwine had forseen, and in the end nine only besides Ælfheath were found to go with them.
They had been some days at sea, keeping a lookout at all times. Lundy was off their stern when Ælfwine heard Eadwine in the lookout, shout that Vikings were coming up from the island, and coming with great speed. He hurried to his son's side and peered out, grasping the bulwark with one hand and the high stempost with the other (ignoring the faint jab of pain from a stubborn splinter no needle had proved able to remove)-and peered out. He saw the deep green-blue waves flickering with a thousand sparkles of sun on their hollowed humps, and far off were a few black shapes, emerging from the dim distant line of Lundy. "How do you tell they are Viking?" he asked, a little crossly; his eyes were old, but had stared out at many seas before this, and it was difficult to admit they might be failing.
"Their sails are queer, not straight like ours, and I see by their shape they are long, swift and keen: raiding ships, and all pointed for us." said Eadwine.
"Keener are your eyes than many I have met, lad," said Ælfwine, "yet I will trust to them rather than my own." and shouted orders. The men had all fought Vikings before and obeyed with great speed. More sail was added and trimmed, and the ship's overlaying timbers squealed powerfully as she lunged forward in response. Ælfwine took the steering oar while Ælfheath tightened the fastenings around the mast-foot to keep it in place against the added strain. Waves were cloven by the high prow as by the blade of a sword and the longship seemed to leap along their crests.
"We are losing ground to them, Ælfwine!" Eadwine said, still bending his gaze backward. "They are nearer than before. The foremost ship is very large, twice our size, and it's beak is wrought as a dragon's head. Red are her sails, and a coiled serpent thereon, and a man stands upon it garbed as a Sea-king of the Danes, his hair white and his bearing noble. There are three others in it's wake, built low to the sea but their prows are high and fearsomely carved."
"Tack to the north!" Ælfwine roared, and as the men adjusted the sails he swung the steering-oar. Eadwine lent his younger sinews to the subduing of the stubborn tiller, and the ship swerved in a long arc, catching the wind from the side now. Viking-built, under the shrewd hands of the Saxon mariners she responded like a living steed, and crossed over the waters with a speed few of them had expected. Gradually the Viking sails fell back, and still on through a night of dead cloud and no moon Ælfwine steered them, although no one had the ghost of an idea where they were heading. In the blackness they eluded the Vikings by changing course several times; and morning came, red as flame, and the mariners rose stiffly from their slumber and found themselves in unknown waters.
"See you sign of Viking?" one of the crew hailed Eadwine as he bent his keen eyes all about.
"The seas are empty." Eadwine called back.
Due west they pushed on all that day. The clouds scattered before the sun, sailing slowly overhead into the west like ponderous castles of billowy white stone; and before the ninth hour the sky was clear. Still the wind held and they sailed on into the west, as the fallow sun sank until it split upon their prow and fell ever swifter toward the sea. Eadwine, who was at the steering-oar, gave a cry at which his father turned sharply, and pointed to the west. Out of the sunset great clouds were rising, lifting up enormous wings of black shadow with backs of scarlet flame, and they had mighty heads with a trailing beak of cloud, like the profile of some huge bird.
"The Eagles of the Lords of the West." said Ælfwine in a strange voice. "There will be storm tonight."
That night all was blackness. The stars were swallowed by shadow, and lightning flamed, and amid the flickering glare there was outlined a bulk against the sky. The wind increased and the storm came upon them, and amid the roar of wind and the groan of the black water-hills they heard the boom of surf. An island they saw, all wreathed with lightning, and reefs were about it like great teeth. Sheer onto them the ship drove, for the steering-oar broke and the mast had gone, and there came a wave mightier than all the rest, advancing over the ship and consuming deck and mast-stump. One moment Ælfwine saw it's smooth grooved and hollowed face before him; the next, even as he sucked in a great breath, dark madness took him. When he could see or breathe again he was aware he was on solid ground, the water rushing back from his body into the sea.
He pulled himself erect. The wave had cast him upon a high beach of dark sand in a deep-walled cove, and the lurid gleam of storm and lightning let him see the wild teeth that he had passed; but he was alone.
The storm went on with the night, and day came grey and cold, lifting the shroud of shadow to reveal a land of sad and tattered black rocks, and wave-gnawed cliffs above them, and about them surged sullen foaming waves, and below every cliff was a beach of planks. The sucking gasps of the spuming waves as they were strangled in the queer grots they had themselves eaten out sounded from all sides.
Dark and very empty was that island, and as Ælfwine climbed and wandered it's grim shores that long day and many thereafter he came upon many hulls of wrecks rotting on the long gloomy beaches, and some were wrecks of mighty ships of Roman or Greek design, and some were treasureladen. Of his own ship he found only planks, and of his companions not so much as a footprint. On the one side of the island were the dreadful rocks, and on the other side were great flats of sand and mud; but they were quicksands, and if any wreck there stuck, she would ere long be swallowed entire. Fish he caught, and mollusks lived in plenty among the calmer pools, and so he did not starve.
Upon the western shore Ælfwine came upon a lonely cabin at the last; it was builded from the upturned hull of a small ship, so that at first he took it for a wreck, but upon the west it was fitted with windows and a hinged door upon the sea. An ancient man dwelt there, and Ælfwine feared him, for the eyes of the man were as deep as the unfathomable sea, and his long beard was blue and grey; great was his stature, and his shoes were of stone (whereat Ælfwine wondered greatly), but he was all clad in tangled rags, sitting beside a small fire of driftwood. And he spoke no word, but with one hand made Ælfwine sit beside the fire, and with another pulled down a torn cloak and draped it over his shivering guest.
In that strange hut beside an empty sea did Ælfwine long abide for lack of other shelter or counsel, thinking his ship lost and his son and comrades drowned. It was a queer life: the giant stranger did not snore, nor even seemed to sleep much, for if by chance Ælfwine woke in the night he saw the deep gleam of the ancient eyes staring into the shadows from his enormous bed. The fire was tended every day, nor suffered to go out, for it alone kept warm the house in the chill clime, and every day the gulls brought them food. At first Ælfwine and the tall man did not speak much, sharing food and house but each deep in their own thoughts, and in the day Ælfwine would climb to the highest parts of the island and there brood, facing into the west, while his host would range about the shores. But the ancient man grew kindly toward him, and they fell into talk about the voyages each had made and the marvels beheld; and far-travelled though Ælfwine was renowned for he heard many things from the stranger he had not known, as they sat beside that smoky fire of an eve; strange tales of Magic Isles, and men lapped in foam and black weed cast for ever in enchanted sleep upon the sighing shores beneath towers of pearl, and of the lands that had been before the bending of the ways, when the waves were ruled by fair high ships of the men beloved of Ulmo. And of times farther back yet, when all these seas were fenced with peril and with shadow as a ward for the Lands of Glory in the West, when no mariner save one had ever managed to win through. "And this isle is a last remnant of those sad days." the Man of the Sea would say, "left behind through many changes of the world."
"What then was it's purpose?" Ælfwine asked.
"This was one of that ring of Harbourless Isles that draw all ships towards their hidden rocks and quaking sands, lest Men fare over far upon Garsecg and see things that are not for them to see; and they were set in the world at the Hiding of Valinor, and little wood for ship or raft does here grow on them, as may be thought; but I may aid thee yet in thy desire to depart from these greedy shores." The storm-wind raging outside in the blackness nigh shook loose the door as he spoke, and turning an annoyed eye towards it the Man of the Sea roared "Oh, leave off that!" and the yanking of the wind ceased, although it still screamed by on all sides.
It was then a month since Ælfwine had been cast here, and in the morning when he went forth to view the damage of the storm he beheld a new wreck upon the sands: a large and well-built ship of the cunning lines the Northmen loved. Cast far up on the treacherous sands it stood, and it's great beak carven as a dragon's head still glared unbroken at the land. Then the Man of the Sea went out when the tide began to creep in slow and shallow over the long flats; he bore as staff a timber as great as a young tree, and he fared as if he had no need to fear either tide or quicksand despite his stony boots, until he came far out to where his shoulders were scarce above the yellow waters of the incoming flood. There still jutted that carven prow, alone to be seen of that sinking ship. Then Ælfwine marvelled watching from afar, to see him heave by his single strength the whole great ship up from the clutches of the sucking sand that gripped it's sunken stern; and when it floated he thrust it before him, swimming now with mighty strokes in the deepening water. At that sight Ælfwine's fear of the aged one was renewed, and he wondered what sort of dreadful being his companion might be, whether giant-blooded or troll-begotten or creature yet unthought of. But now the ship was thrust far up on the firmer sands, and the swimmer strode ashore, and his mighty beard was full of strands of weed, and sea-weed was in his hair.
"Lord, what is your name?" said Ælfwine in great wonder.
"I am Ancient, son of Eru, and I am named Man of the Sea." his companion replied simply. "When the tide leaves the firm sands and empties the hold of this ship of all but sand, go and look at that new wreck."
When the tide departed and the gulls wheeled and perched all about the wide stinking flats of sea-mud, pecking for clams, Ælfwine went over to the new ship and looked her over from stem to stern and inside as well. Save for a great weight of sand in her hold she was not harmed, and amid the sand lay the bodies of nine mighty men who had not been long dead. They lay abottom gazing up at the sky, and one of them was garbed as a Sea-king; though his garments were slime-caked and his white hair was sodden and his face was pale in death, still a proud man and a fierce he looked.
"Men of the North, the Forodwaith, whom ye name Viking, are they," said the Man of the Sea, "but hunger and thirst was their death, and their ship was flung upon the Hungry Sands, there to be slowly engulfed, had not fate willed otherwise."
"I have little love for the Danish pirates," said Ælfwine, "and particularly for these, for they gave us chase a month ago and made us lose our bearings, so that we were far enough north to be cast upon the hungry island and my son and comrades lost."
"Yet their ship it shall be that bears you from this Harbourless Isle," said the other, "and a gallant ship it was of brave men, for few folks have now so great a heart for the adventures of the sea as have these Forodwaith, who press ever into the mists of the West, though never can they find again that which they seek so blindly. For the road is bent that leads to the West, and the ways that once were straight no more are so, and the gods are gone from the earth."
And the Man of the Sea stored the ship with fish all packed in salt, and with fruits of his own growing, though where he produced them from Ælfwine could not guess, they seemed to have been packed ere his arrival. So many he stored that Ælfwine was amazed: "We are but two men, even if thou eat for five, and yet food for ten for many months is here stored."
"Not ten, but nine." the Man of the Sea replied. "For thy comrades are not all dead. Seven yet remain, the mightiest mariners that ever shall be, and thy son the Friend of Bliss, and thyself the Friend of Elves: that makes nine. For I will not go with you on your last voyage, Ælfwine."
"But my lord," said Ælfwine, "I saw them consumed by the great wave, and planks of my own ship as well have I found. How can they have survived?"
"They were cast up on Tol Morwen, where the Stone of the Hapless stands that shall never be thrown down, the grave of the Children of Húrin forever." the ancient one made answer. Then he went up to the ship and laid his hand upon her prow and spoke words of blessing and of power. "Ye shall cleave uncloven waters and sail on unbent ways, and ride untrodden beaches; where no ship by mortals wrought has been given leave to land ye shall land, and ye shall return the same way. For I say it, Ylmir Ainu Vala of the Seas, and let not storm nor bending air gainsay my words!" Then that ship, with Ælfwine alone upon it, was seized as by a great current and drawn out through channels in the Hungry Sands, and sailed north and east all that day.
When sunset came the current ceased, and that large and fierce ship was left becalmed beside a strange island in the sea. Like a low swelling hump it rose from the water, girt with beaches of grey sand, and upon the north it was rocky, and there was a deep channel under the waves, as it were the bed of an ancient river. But high above the sea upon the height of a low hill there rose a great mound, and upon the mound a mighty stone standing solitary against the dark eastern sky. In the sere light Ælfwine saw that many old trees grew upon the hill, rising even out of the shallow waters, withered and dead for countless years but preserved by some terrible happening or as witness of some dire deed. In the waves their limbs were broken and guant and bitter they stood, but on the land their bare boughs yet sighed.
Then Ælfwine dropped the anchor and made her fast, and went upon the dead island. Grass grew long and brown amid the stony trees, and he climbed up through the salty grass and the sand lying thick at their roots, up to where the earth emerged and the grasses and grey moss grew thicker, and against the great mound was reared a shelter of boards, and a fire of driftwood was burning in it's cover, and about the fire were Eadwine and Ælfheath and six others of their crew, even as the ancient one had foretold. Very glad were they to see him again, and they told him how the ship had turned upon her head and how they had lashed themselves to the hull, and the wind suddenly shifting had driven them here. They had burned most of the wreck, for the strange trees were hard as stone and would not burn, nor could any strength of theirs sever a single bough, and were down in fact to their last wood before they burned the shelter. "And a sadness is upon this place," said Eadwine, "for we hear the memory of voices murmering from the mound at our backs of a night, and upon the stone set atop it are ancient runes cut into the rock, of a shape strange to our eyes, and worn now almost beyond reading." Then they swam to the ship and they loosed up her anchor, and a wind came from the east, and setting her red sails with the coiled serpent thereon they turned the dragon-prow again into the West.
Evening drew on, and water beneath and sunset vault above were equally clear and liquid a blue. The Evenstar grew amid the blueness as it deepened, till he shone clear and brilliant, as though he were a jewel and no star at all. And Ælwine cried out,
"Éalá Earendel engla beorhtast ofer middangeard monnum sended, ond sóðfæsta sunnan léoma, torht ofer tunglas-þú tída gehwane of sylfum þé symle inlíhtes! (Hail Eärendil of angels brightest
over Middle-earth to mortals sended, and the true light of sun's radiance, over-shining the stars-thou for ever of thyself every season illumines!)"
On into silent night they went, and the fiery stars wheeled above them in a vault of deepest blue, and under them the sea was like wine-hued glass. Yet still with neither wind nor sail the sturdy vessel passed across the calm sea as if pulled after the sun by an unseen rope. And the morning came at their backs, so that the sun was framed between the two high stemposts as between two horns; and she was a yellow as pure as lemons and as bright as snapdragons. And as she climbed toward the noon the brightness of that calm sea became as great as if the water had turned into light. No clouds were there to see. Now thin and white seemed the water they were on, yet not far down it changed back to it's accustomed hue.
"Father, it is a curious thing." said Eadwine. "Aforetime the horizons of the sea seem like to a circle around one on all sides. But not so now."
"I mark no difference." said Ælfwine after he had turned from west to west again. "But you see better and more than any of us ever have, for such is your gift."
"Look again, father." Eadwine said. "The sea is wider, it reaches further. We are on a sea, I think, that is truly flat and not a mere bending horizon."
"Then if such is where we walk, where now lies the sea?" said Ælfwine, and looked over the side. Eadwine joined him. Far below them in the thin and milky sea was a shore, and mountains, shining in the sun. They were but a hundred feet above the peaks, and could see the surf foaming upon the coast. Farther ahead they looked, through the thin white surface on which they rode, and the world was bending downward beneath their keel, falling away like the bark from a log. The surface they cleft fell back without sound, the waves as transparent and shapeless as the substance of a cloud; they were the only solid thing upon a ghostly sea.
And the air around them swiftly became thin as on a very high mountain, so that they felt ill, and Eadwine tried to leap overboard but was restrained by strong Ælfheath. And the sky that had been so clear a blue became quickly darker than the night sky, but still pale and faint the Straight Road gleamed as it cut through the airs that also were bent and entered the terrible voids that flesh unaided cannot endure. A faint blueness shone in a circle round their ship, a circle of air, thin and faint but enough to live. Great vessels of silver flame that shed a searing light swam in the blackness round about, and one seemed like to a mortal ship though wrought of glass and glowing metal, and for lantern it bore a single jewel upon the prow that gave an unutterable light, and a man in strange raiment glittering as if clothed in powdered stars stood by it's mast.
"O true flame of the sun's radiance." muttered Ælfwine.
Upon a sea as dark as unlit voids whose surface was overlaid with a pale glimmer and a ghostly outline of waves the ship still sailed, sailing upon a memory the world held of how it had been meant to be. The thin air was never enough, and one by one the mariners jumped overboard, faces blue and lungs heaving vainly, but Eadwine Ælfwine had bound to the mast with himself, and soon they alone remained. Eadwine was babbling and murmering, and Ælfwine felt his own mind becoming faint. He looked ahead, and lo! where had been only void blackness there now shone a sky, and a sea, and a green land amidmost, like to a vast globe that grew and encompassed the ship, and a marvellous smell of land and fragrance of unknown and wonderful flowers as keen and sweet as 0death came to him across the sea. Waves splashed upon the bow and the air could be breathed, indeed could be drunk like wine, it was of such surpassing scent. And before them was an island of a green long perished from Middle-earth, and a tower more fair than any built by men, and a city and haven from which fair and faint a lovely music wafted.
"Father," said Eadwine, "I think I would rather stay bound some time yet."
For the music coming very gently over the waters was now laden with unimagined longing, that Ælfwine leaned upon his ropes and wept softly for his heart's half-remembered hurts and memory of fair things lost, and he heard Eadwine sobbing likewise.
"It is the harps that are thrumming, and the songs they are singing of fair things, and the windows that look upon the sea are full of light." murmered Eadwine as the horned moon rose above them in the slowly dimming evening brightness.
"Their stringed violins complain the ancient woes of the immortal folk of Arda, and yet there is a strange and elvish joy therein." said Ælfwine softly. "Ah me. I hear the horns of the Fairies shimmering in magic woods-such music as I once dimly guessed long years ago beneath the elms of Mindon Gwar."
And as they thus spoke musing the moon shrouded himself in slow mist as if extinguished, and the brilliant stars were clouded, and the mists of time veiled the undying shore, and nought could they see and nought could they hear save the sound of the surf of the seas in the far-off pebbles of the Lonely Isle, and the music had ceased.
"Are we, then, to die after all, even as St. Brendan holiest of mariners, with but a distant glimpsing of the shores of our desire?" murmered Ælfwine.
Even as he spoke the ship rocked as great metal hooks were hurled aboard by skilled arms; hooks wrought of a curious pale metal wonderfully shaped. Strong arms drew the ship foward, and voices were raised, speaking in a melodious and beautiful language, clear strong voices fairer than men's. There was a gentle jar as she was made fast to a gleaming dock of white wood striped with grey bands, and then tall shining figures bearing torches that burned a wonderful silvery blue sprang lightly and easily onto the ship, walking on the ropes and bulwarks as children walk on stepping stones, marvelling to one another in their tongue. Ælfwine loosed the ropes that had fastened himself and his son to the mast, and stepping forth rather stiffly they bowed.
"I am Ælfwine of Lindon, from the mountains of Lune." he said, wondering to hear himself saying such strange names for the prosaic lands of his home. "With me is Eadwine my son. We come from Ancient son of Eru."
And the Elves bowed in return and led him and Eadwine onto the shore.
Many years it was upon the Middle-earth that they were gone, yet Ælfwine and his son seemed but little older, if at all, when their ship's prow left the waters of the Blessed Lands and entered the airless ways of the Lost Road. In the hull were many books and works of lore translated from Elvish texts, for Ælfwine-or Eriol, as he was called there-had learned the languages of Tol Ererssëa and compiled histories from what was told to him, some few of which would last into many ages of Middle-earth. He looked still west as the ship bore him east, yearning to stay forever in that green and deathless land until his span was done, but the voids closed about the gleaming world like filaments of shadowy mist and hid it from his sight. The ghostly sea he saw overlaying the void like moonlight on water, and the air once more grew thin and difficult, and Ælfwine's sorrow-weary mind began to dim. Stars and lights and delirious dreams passed through and around him, and hours passed unknowing in the dreadful crossing. Then he began to slowly rouse as the air grew more breathable, and Eadwine cried out that he could see a mountain far below: not the mountains they had crossed above an unknown coast, but a lone pillar rising from the ancient water, a sad yellow cloud issuing from it's peak, and they could see into it's huge crater filled with sighing flame, and Eadwine was certain there were the remains of mighty ways winding up the stony sides, mostly destroyed by the tumults of the years. "That is the meneltarma atalantine." Ælfwine murmered. "What means that?" queried Eadwine.
"Eh? Oh, nothing overmuch. I but spoke in my musing." his father said, rousing suddenly. Eadwine merely smiled. On they travelled, and the white thin water grew thicker and less queer, until it merged with the blue that they remembered, and real waves slapped against the bows. And the winds of the world they belonged to blew again in their faces, and they breathed the remembered airs, and were glad. The sun went down into the sea, and all fell still. In the clearing blue of the evening sky Eärendil rose, gleaming unflickering like an ancient spark of the sun that had been.
"Eressëa! Eressëa!" cried Ælfwine.
"There lingering lights still golden lie on grass more green than in gardens here, On trees more tall that touch the sky with swinging leaves of silver clear. By magic dewed they will not die, nor fade nor fall their timeless year, As morn unmeasured passes by o'er mead and mound and silent mere. When endless eve undimmed is near, o'er harp and chant and veiled choir A sudden voice upsoaring sheer in the wood awakes the Wandering Fire. The Wandering Fire the woodland fills: in glades for ever green it glows, In dells where immortal dews distill the flower that in secret fragrance grows. In a dell there dreaming niphredil as star awakened gleaming glows, There ever-murmering musics spill, and falling fountains plash and flow, And water white leaps down the hills by silver stairs it singing goes To the field of the unfading rose, where breathing on the glowing briar The winds beyond the world's end blow to living flame the Wandering Fire.
The wandering fire with quickening flame whose quenchless colors quiver clear On leaf and land without a name beyond the shadow dark and drear A water wide no feet may tame a sea with shores encircled sheer. A thousand leagues it lies from here, and foam there flowers upon the sea Neath cliffs of carven crystal clear on shining beaches blowing free.
There blowing free unbraided hair is meshed with light of moon and sun, And twined within those tresses fair a gold and silver sheen is spun, There feet do beat and white and bare do lissom limbs in dances run, Shimmering in the shining air such loveliness to look upon Not Bran nor Brendan ever won, though foam upon the furthest sea They dared, or sought behind the Sun for winds unearthly flowing free.
Than Tir-nan-Og more fair and free, than Paradise more faint and far, O! shore beyond the Shadowy Sea, O! land where yet the Edhil are! O! mountains where no man may be! the waves still beat upon thy bar, The white birds wheel; there flowers the Tree! again I glimpse them long afar When rising west of West I see beyond the world the wayward Star, Than beacons bright in Gondobar more fair and keen, more clear and high. O Star that shadow may not mar, nor ever darkness doom to die!"
And saying which he ceased to sing, and they pressed on into the mortal mists.
The Lombard Tale of Alboin and Audoin
Audoin looked up at the strange and awful sky and shuddered. Even a king of the Langobards in this sixth century of our Lord Jesus Christ-who, as a good Arian, he did not place much emphasis on-was never free of doubt, especially with the Gepid army preparing for battle. And the mulberry-hued clouds, fading above into a sad and woeful purple and grey, would have cast doubt on any anxious leader who still was wary of omens.
"What gloom lies upon you, my father?" Alboin inquired cheerfully, observing all this to himself. He at least had few doubts or fears; his father, he had said to him before, saw too much and too deeply. Yet he was fond of the abrupt king, in his own off-hand way, which he masked with casual courtesy when others were by. As he glanced at the grim clouds, he had a sudden queer fancy he had but just set eyes on them, despite having contemplated them half the evening in idle speculation with his favorite lass.
"Yon ominous heaven." said King Audoin. The familiar voice rang oddly in Alboin's ears for a pulse-beat, as if it was a stranger's. "And doubts as to whether the Emporer's gold will suffice to root us in this Pannonia we have taken. Not of course to consider the battle of tomorrow. Even you, good youth, would find all this no mean cause of gloom!"
"Then how fortunate it is that I have no such cause." Alboin said lightly. "The maxim of my worries centers on how long my gear will last and whether the wenches will admire or pity me afterwards, depending on how debilitating are my wounds."
"Bravely I have not a doubt you will do, prince, as you ever have; but time will come yet when you will wear the Iron Crown and bear the holy nail upon your own head, and then may it hap you give these concerns more weighty thought." Audoin said, his face twinkling slightly.
"Time and plenty for that, my sire, when the Seven Sleepers rise up!" jested Alboin.
"May that day never come in our time." said Audoin. "For they slumber in a cave by the sea from which our fathers migrated, the sons of Sheaf: never to wake till needed they are. Yet with Rome fallen and Byzantium trying to meddle with the Goths, and the Avars moving again out of the east and north-they whom the Latins call Huns-that day may yet be near."
"Aye." Alboin said, sobering. "They say the Huns were broken by the Romans in my grandsire's time, and that the Roman Pope--Leo, was it?-actually faced down Atilla himself! But they are still a peril."
"I heard rumor that St. Peter appeared over Leo's shoulder, threatening Atilla." said Audoin. "Brittania, men say, is ruled now by one Artorius and is said to be at peace. Princes and sons of kings go to his court and are counted among his Table of Knights, and men say a wizard backs him."
"Or his magic blade." shrugged Alboin. "I prefer to stay at the court of my father, and be trained in arms by the foes of his throne in battle-pitch. That is glory."
"Yet you know full well, Alboin," Audoin said with some severity, "that according to our custom you cannot eat at my table until you have received arms from the king of an alien people."
"Well, perhaps I may receive them yet of the King of the Gepids on the field of battle as my sword drips still with his blood." Alboin said carelessly.
"Thou cannot elude this forever, Alboin." Audoin remonstrated. "Nor does war-plunder fulfill the custom."
"I will give it thought, my sire." Alboin promised, and they parted ways for the night.
Alboin smiled as he made his way to his tent. His father, naturally reserved and made more so by his accession to the throne, seldom spoke so frankly to him save when they were alone. He saw much, more clearly than others, and when he spoke the Langobards listened; but he could be exasperatingly stiff on trifles of custom and annoying in his insistence that everyone else revere them likewise. He called for a light and had his thrall place his gear all in readiness and make his bed, and dropped into slumber.
The morning was chilly, as mornings in late spring were even this far south, when Alboin and all the camp were roused and lined up for battle. The spire-like poplar trees this strange flat country produced rose up haphazardly about the fields of Asfeld, and Alboin looked at the mud that filled every ditch and imagined those damp grassy meadows becoming one huge mire of trampled mud, like a cattle pen, but dyed a horrible scarlet-brown. It was going to be hell to clean his armour afterwards.
The yells and war-cries of the Gepid army broke the morning calm. Audoin was shouting a hasty war-speech. Swords flashed out of their sheaths and shields were hefted into position; the hundred metallic clinks and clatter of jostling armour made a curiously pleasant noise, like chimes, drowned out by the terrible roar of the Langobard war-cry. The front rank moved swiftly forward, forming wedges to break the Gepid charge, till the front of the line resembled a vast saw. Then the Gepids smashed into them, and all was chaos. Alboin's sword flailed furiously, his shield shifting and whirring as he swung it about, the spike and serrated edge making it nigh as deadly as his sword. The Langobard line gave back some, but they held; nor did the Gepids break through.
It seemed hours had been passing, for the sun was now high and hot, and getting in his eyes. Mud squelched about Alboin's ankles, and mud mingled with blood on shield and sword, and as he had been knocked over once or twice there was mud on his armour as well. It figured there would be. He felt like an ox, with his mud-heavy feet plowing about as he stamped and plodded and fought, but the Gepids were in a similar fix at least and their barbaric bright-hued battle-dress was at least as miry as his. Neither side, from what he could see during brief moments when the press of battle gave him a breathing-space, seemed to be prevailing.
There seemed to have been a squad of Gepid horsemen as well; that was unusual. They were wheeling about and battling with more or less success, although the Langobard spears were making these fewer. One was quite near, his dress and gear unusually fine and splendid, practically panoply, mail flashing in the sun. Sweat running from his coifed brow, Alboin pressed toward the glittering horseman. As he had suspected it was the Gepid prince, the fomentor of the war, Thurismod the son of Thurisind. Alboin leaped upon the prince as he dealt out blows on right and left; saw the sword descending and heaved up his good shield, not heeding the sound of splitting wood and broken metal, and smote such a mighty blow with his sword it hurled Thurismod from his horse headlong. No need was there for another blow.
And the Gepids began to falter. The whisper of rumor passed like a wind through the battling men: "The prince is down! The prince is dead!" And the weary Lombards gave a roar of renewed rage, and Alboin heard his own voice roaring louder than the rest, "The prince is dead! Thurismod is dead!" And the disheartened Gepids fled before the Langobards, bearing with them the body of their prince.
When the slaughter of that day was done and the corpses of the fallen lay stripped of all spoils upon the crimson mud, the miry but joyous Langobards streamed back to their camp, shouting the name of Alboin. As he walked about among the army, every place he went men cheered him and maidens rushed to kiss him. King Audoin was there, bent-backed with long fighting, lowering himself to a seat, and he gave his son an embrace before all the host.
"I was right to trust thy valor." he said.
It was some hours before Alboin had succeeded in cleaning from himself, and the thrall from his gear, the bloody mire and clay. Stepping from the bath the other thralls clad him in his best tunic and apparel, and draped his good mantle over it, and he was ready to attend the victory feast.
"Alboin! Thou shouldst be seated by the king!" one of the nobles exclaimed. "Aye, said another, "he whose valor won us the fight should no less surely be a comrade of the king's table." And many others took up the cry, "Alboin! Alboin!"
"What means the uproar?" King Audoin said from the high table.
"My lord," said the noble who had first spoken, "surely it would be fitting to make Alboin thy table companion, so that he who was a comrade to his father in danger should also be a comrade at the feast."
"A noble request," Audoin said regretfully, "but one I can by no means grant lest it should break the usage of the nation. Thou knowest it is not the custom among us that the son of a king should eat with his father unless he first receives arms from the king of a foreign nation."
Alboin felt a weary exasperation rise in him, and an equally weary resignation to follies that cannot be avoided. He got to his feet. "Then shall I wait no longer. There is a foreign nation, not far from here, even the very Gepids whom today we broke in battle. They are a people not unlike to ourselves, and like us hold sacred the guest-bond. I will go to Thurisind this very night and demand arms from him."
Though he was evidently full of misgiving Audoin gave him leave. Many clamoured to go with him, but Alboin would take only forty of the young men. They put on their armour and their brightest cloaks and bound on clean white leggings, and rode over the fields to the hall of the Gepids.
The evening was drawing on as they sighted the great hall of Thurisind, bright with many windows against the grey-blue eastern sky. Stars were growing in the arches overhead, and low in the dimming western sky shone Airendel the evening star, bright and keen as a white flame against the glowing blue.
"Airendel shines us luck." said one of the young men. Alboin did not answer. They dismounted and tied their horses, and Alboin looked again to the west. Out from the unseen mountains were rising mighty hills of cloud, lines of them, clouds of a very definite shape. Eagles. Harbingers of disaster he felt them, the Eagles of the Lords of the West advancing upon Numenor. He shook himself; omen or not he could not stop now. At the head of his young men he smote upon the old wooden doors.
They were thrust open from within, and Alboin and his men marched in before any could gainsay them. The Gepids within were eating dispiritedly, many not even having troubled to clean from them the mire, and at the high seat King Thurisind sat alone, his fine noble face overcast. Alboin presented himself before him and bowed deeply.
"Alboin of the Langobards, why come you here?" the king said.
"My lord, I invoke the guest-bond to beg of thee a boon." said Alboin, unheeding the glum and askance looks of the crowds about him. "It is the custom of the Langobards for the prince to receive arms from an alien king ere he can eat with his father, and I have come to beg this boon of thee."
"Be thou seated!" said king Thurisind, rising to his feet. "Ho! Thralls! Bring up forty seats to the tables, and seat these men there and see they want nothing. Thou, Alboin, since the seat at my right is now void, do thou take it for this night."
So it was done. Alboin sat down at the king's right hand, and the king's own thralls waited upon him. He spoke to Thurisind some, but finding his host disinclined to speak concentrated his attention o the food, eating carefully and elegantly that he might do no disgrace to his people. Thurisind as the meal progressed ate less and less, and the gloom on his face grew deeper, nor, thought Alboin, was it difficult to guess why. He saw the sullen faces of the Gepids down below and knew it would be best to bring this to a close as swift as may be.
"Dear to my eyes is the seat of my son, but grievous to my eyes is the one who there sits!" the king suddenly said, in a murmer like a man who speaks aloud in deep sorrow.
Then Cunimund son of Thurisind, who sat on the king's other side, spoke. Alboin glanced around the hall. His men were eating merrily enough, giving no sign of having heard the king's mutter. But the prince's words were loud, and in the quiet hall could be heard by every man. "You Longobards! You take after the mares with those white fetlocks!"
All the Langobards looked down at the handsome, manly white leggings upon their calves, and though they did not stir they grew red with anger. One answered, "Go to the field of Asfeld and there you can find by experience, beyond all doubt, just how stoutly we mares can kick; we have scattered the bones of your brother in the midst of the meadows like those of a vile beast."
With a shout every Gepid in that hall leaped to their feet with their seax-knives, that they had been using on the meat, held in clenched fists. The forty young Langobards sprang up as well, hands upon sword-hilts and ready for the fray. But all these sounds were cloven as by an ax by the scream of the king as he vaulted over his table and hurried into their midst.
"HOLD!!!" he thundered as every man froze. "I will slay myself the first of you who begins to fight! No victory pleasing to God is it when a guest is killed by the hands of his hosts. Back to your feasts and forget your quarrels for this one night! And," to Cunimund, "pay not heed to the words of an old man wandering with sorrow."
The knives were lowered, the Langobards released their sword-hilts, and every man sat down in his place. Soon jests and merry words were flying about between both nations, and Langobards and Gepids forgot for a time their enmity. Alboin found the king more inclined to talk, and they discussed Arius and the rumors of a prophetic monk named Bendictus far south in Italy and the doings in nearby Ravenna, and began at length to compare legends.
"Our people came out of the island of Scandinavia, to which Sheaf came in the days before Christ; we are of his line. It is said we got the name Langobards from Odin himself; there was a battle brewing and both sides went over to his hall to beg him for victory; but we went to Freya and they went to Odin. Odin said to them that the first side he set eyes on when he sat up in bed in the morning would get the victory. He had his bed facing out the east window where they dwelled, you see. So his wife went and turned the bed around in the night so he was facing the western window, and she had all our women arrange their hair like ridiculous beards. Odin woke up and the first thing he said was 'Who are these long-beards???' after which his wife said in triumph, 'You admit you have seen them; keep your word and grant them the victory.' And of course he did, and ever since we have been the Longbeards." Alboin said in his easy way. Sobering suddenly, he added, "My lord, know you of any legend of the Lords of the West?"
"Lords of the West." repeated Thurisind musingly. "Meseems the name is ominous. There are references in some of our songs, as-
"Ship she took, made by the Ythlings Under the Westlords' spell, From the far isle, that is downfallen And into the West set sail-
to a strange island in the misty past of the world where a people skilled beyond Roman or Byzantine once dwelt. That was said to be ere Christ, ere the Flood, even ere the Ancient Ice, known to the dim peoples of today by one word-Atalantis."
"Greetings, father and grandfather." said a merry lass's voice, and a dark-haired girl in a dress hued like cranberries with a bodice and sash of rose, crossed in front of the table. She curtsied and cast a wink at Alboin before passing round to where Cunimund sat.
"Rosamunda!" Cunimund exclaimed sharply. "You should not be here. There are strangers present."
"All the more reason for me to come." she said pertly.
"My granddaughter." the king explained to Alboin. "And a handful for to bring up."
"No fault can I see in the bringing up of so gracious a maid." said Alboin.
When the banquet was done, Thurisind took up the sword and shield, the spears and scramseax and armour that had belonged to Thurismod, whom Alboin had slain. "Take these arms, noble son of Audoin, and bear them well." he said. And he gave Alboin the kiss of peace, and the Langobards parted with merry words from the Gepids, and Alboin bowed to Rosamunda as she stood demurely by her father. "Little maiden, I will not forget you." he said.
"Nor I you." she said with a gracious smile, at which Cunimund rebuked her sharply and led her away. Alboin looked after the Gepid and found himself irrationally wondering how Cunimund's skull would look were it carved into a vessel.
The Seven Sleepers of the Baltic Sea
Wind blew cold upon the black broken rocks, speckled white with the droppings of the sea-mews, that rose above the sighing waves in steep cliffs and shivered slopes. Amid the barren stones farther from the brackish waters there squatted a small cottage, it's walls of dry-laid brownish stones all chinked with clay and moss, and bundles of hay thatched the crouching roof. The single room within was dark and smoky, but warm, for Niútrvin with his fumbling boy's hands had finally coaxed the fire to life. He emerged now, his face grimy with smoke and ashes, to dump the cleaned-out refuse of the hearth in a hole among the boulders. Alfuin frowned as he watched the strong lithe figure of his son and the grace he moved with: the boy's tunic of coarse sheepskin was mudded again, though the dull red sleeves of his undertunic were clean enough.
"Thy cloak, lad." he called down from where he stood upon the height above the house. "The wind from the Saiwar Scandina is chill today."
"Chill it always is," his son made answer as he fetched his stained deep-blue cloak, "but why dost thou stand exposed to it so?"
"That is not thy task." his father snapped. "Be the fire caught?"
"It be." the boy answered sullenly.
"Then get thee to thy chores, oaf! And let an old man hearken for the dayfall in peace." Niútrvin gave a surly look but hastened off to care for their few pitiful livestock; life along the Saiwar was hard and grim, and left little time for standing and thinking, and ever since Ástvinr his father had set out to the Outer Sea in search of the lost islands of the west-the old fool-he had felt that need more and more. For deny it as he would, the dour Norseman could not suppress the longing in him, growing ever more searching now that his half-crazed father had yielded to it and sailed off into the wild waste: a longing for he scarce knew what, but chores were irksome and venturing on the perilous waters in his nokkui brought no easement, and Niútrvin was more a nuisance than ever. Yet there was some dim feeling in his crabbed heart for the lad, not only as a convenient hand to do things but also as a faint memory of his wife, died when Niútrvin was a year old.
But there-the wind was chill. Why did he stand here, anyway, every day, looking hopelessly to the west? His father would not return: the old man would die as he had long wished, among the sea-waves he loved, not on the iron land he so disliked. Was he in truth hearkening for something? And if so, for what?
"Niútrvin!" he called irritably. "Curse the whelp. Niútrvin! Where art thou?!"
There was no answer. The rocks echoed his voice back to him.
"Thou hadst best answer, or another beating wilt thou get!" Alfuin roared, growing angered. He snatched at his staff and stumped off toward the tumbledown sheds of sea-stained wood that housed their hens and two pigs. Niútrvin was listlessly cleaning out the pens.
"Why didst thou not answer?" he snapped harshly at his son, striking him with the staff. Niútrvin cowered away and got beyond reach. "I was within! I heard thee not!" he cried.
"Harg." Alfuin snorted, and spat. "Thou hadst best answer more promptly."
"I heard thee not." his son repeated.
"Give me not such excuses!" Alfuin said. The staff flicked automatically toward Niútrvin, and froze. A queer strange sound was faintly ringing in the air. A curious spasm crossed the dour wrinkled face of Alfuin as he hearkened. He shook as something began to war within him. Strange and clear and sweet came the faint music, and Alfuin turned and hurried out of the shed, stumbling on his face. The hard crack of bone on rock came oddly to his ears, and tremblingly he got his hands under him and tried to lift himself. Somebody was lifting him up, helping him, somebody strong and young with good hands. There was a stickiness on his face.
"Why is my head sticky?" he rasped, holding it.
"Because thou bleed, faðir." said Niútrvin quietly. "Hold thee still. Here, let me wash thy wound." A damp cloth, cold in the cold air, was passed gently over his sticky forehead. "Come. Lean on me. Let us come inside where it is warmer."
"The song," he protested as Niútrvin helped him walk, "I heard song. Where was it?"
"Rest now by the fire, old one, while I get thee a warm drink." his son replied, easing him into a chair. Alfuin submitted thankfully enough, feeling very weary and somehow unworthy. But he said nothing and let his son minister to him.
He was hale as ever on the morrow, a day of clear wind and sky, and got around much as before. But there was a difference, he felt, a considerable one. He was not the same man since the strange singing came to him. Often he would pause in the middle of a task, his grey head lifted, ears strained to the deep silence and the growl of the tide, wondering and half-hoping not to hear what he strained for. Niútrvin seemed different, too; he was more watchful, keeping a sort of protective eye on his old father, which both touched and irritated the gruff Norseman. But he did not feel like reprimanding, and they worked in silence.
As the evening drew on and the dreary chores were completed, Alfuin found himself again mounting to the hill above the house and staring into the West. Niútrvin came clambering up after him, clasping the rough iron brooch of his cloak at the shoulder. The wind was stiff and cool.
"Why dost thou stand here so oft?" the boy said when he reached him. "It be a chill place, not good for brooding."
Alfuin stared into the west for some time and did not answer. The change in him had been coming, he guessed, for some time, but when he could not say. Nor could he say why he so yearned to hear that haunting music again. To their right the black water began to moan and churn, for the tide was beginning, and amid the broken islands it's flowing was fierce and violent. The Saiwar lay north of them, Saiwar the brackish, and west of them a single mountain rose, running out into the sea in a rocky headland where a great barrow loomed. Up out of the sunset vast clouds slowly rose, lifting ominous wings over the mountain.
"Arir ú Warjar Vestr faral wéta móðr and-Númenórë. (The Eagles of the Lords of the West are coming with wrath upon Numenor.)" Niútrvin murmered.
"There are often clouds over Harbjarg mountain of an evening." Alfuin said testily. "What are the Eagles? And who are the Warjar Vestr ? Mean you the Æsir?"
"It may be." said Niútrvin. "I know not why I said that. Nor know I what Numenor means; unless perchance it may be the Alfish Isle my grandsire went to seek. Why dost thou come here so oft of an evening?"
"A hit, a true hit." muttered Alfuin. "I come here hoping I may catch again the haunting song. A foolish thing, mayhap, and a sign of dotage. Ah well."
The boy said nothing and they fell still. The harsh roar of tide and eddy was the only sound beyond the occasional screech of sea-gulls. The sinister clouds broke and parted and evening fell, cold and bright. Stars came out in the fading vault. Strange and clear there rose a haunting sound of song, remote and fair beyond all describing. A formless ache and ancient longing rose in the heart of Alfuin as he listened, and he did not now deny it, for he was weary of so doing.
"Come away, father." said Niútrvin, tugging his sire's cloak. "I fear the sound of that singing. Nor is it the first time I have heard it. Alfgeirr sayeth it is from the barrow the song comes."
"Eh? What? Oh, aye I will come. The wind is cold. Alfgeirr, quoth 'a? Methought he was harvesting the jarn (iron) from the bog." Alfuin said, and let his son pull him down from the high place. Yet still he cast back glances over his shoulder at the low mountain, glances of yearning, though the haunting song came to his ears no longer.
"I saw him a month agone." Niútrvin answered.
Many nights after that did they hear the unearthly music, and ever Alfuin was drawn by it more and more, but Niútrvin feared it. "I like it not." he would say. "It is cold and sad beyond all reckoning, and I do not trust it. And I fear the mountain."
"It does not sound like the song a wight would mutter." said Alfuin. "I know not. But ever Amon Anwar has been a holy place."
"What place is that, father?"
"Why, Harbjerg, of a surety." Alfuin responded. "What said I? I do not know. Methought I heard that name in my head, like an echo of long distances."
"Thou hast changed since the singing, father." said Niútrvin warily. "I knew thee more when thou wert harsh; but now I know thee not at all. Thou art as one fey, whom the ghosts call." Alfuin did not answer.
One evening as they were completing the work, the singing came again, slow and strange and soft and eerie, of a quality not heard in Middle-earth for ages beyond memory. So strong was the intolerable longing Alfuin released his pitchfork and rose to his feet. As one in a dream he launched the nokkui out into the bay between the cliffs that separated his home from the strange mountain where none of the Norse farmers would set foot. Niútrvin came, though there was reluctance on him. "It is ghost-music." he said.
They drew the boat up on to the shingle where there was a small bar, and the singing came more clear yet seeming to come from all sides; a sad, lamenting, wild music in some melodious tongue as old as the earth:
"Ilu Ilúvatar en káre eldain a firimoin ar antaróta mannar Valion: númessier. Toi aina, mána, meldielto-enga morion: talantie. Mardello Melkor lende: márie. Eldain en kárier Isil, nan hildin Úr-anar. Toi írimar. Ilqainen antar annar lestanen Ilúvatáren. Ilu vanya, fanya, eäri, i-mar, ar ilqa ímen. Írima ye Númenor. Nan úye sere indo-ninya símen, ullume; ten sí ye tyelma, yéva tyel ar I-narqelion, íre ilqa yéva nótina, hostainiéva, yallume: ananta úva táre fárea, ufárea!"
And the longing grew in the heart of Alfuin until he felt it would burst, and he found his own voice lifting up in answer, deep and strong as the rocks on which he stood as he joined with the singing. He saw Niútrvin gazing at him in amazement.
"Man tare antáva nin Ilúvatar, O Ilúvatar, enyáre tar I tyel íre Anarinya qeluva?"*
- The Father made the World for Elves and Mortals, and he gave it into the hands of the Lords. They are in the West. They are holy, blessed, and beloved: save the dark one. He is fallen. Melkor has gone from Earth: it is good. For Elves they made the Moon, but for Men the red sun; which are beautiful. To all they gave in measure the gifts of Iluvatar. The World is fair, the sky, the seas, the earth, and all that is in them. Lovely is Numenor. But my heart resteth not here for ever; for here is ending, and there will be an end and the Fading, when all is counted, and all numbered at last, but yet it will not be enough, not enough.
What will Iluvatar, O Iluvatar, give me in that day beyond the end when my Sun faileth?
At once the music stopped, so did the song, and silence fell upon the mountain.
" Who fears the fay whose fearsome voice
Doth dread and sow desire,
What manner of man this man would know
Doth song so strange upsing?"
rose the voice of Alfuin, chanting in the fashion of the poets of his people, as he had not done for many long years since the dying of his wife.
High and weird but of a sad eerie beauty came the reply, chanted in the same mode Alfuin had used, the voice coming from somewhere high upon the mountain.
"In Beleriand bare borne undersea
The elves did live in halls
On silver strand of the Falassë
The shipwrights shipped their stalls.
There Daeron did on dreamy flute
Full sing for Lúthien fair
Till Doriath's doom by dwarves of Nogrod
The burg lay buried and bare.
There drownéd gems like submerged stars
Lie fallen on ford of gold
Where Beren was bane to the burdened dwárs
And their treasure they laid thrall.
In battle of Balar Beleriand trodden
Down underneath the depths,
The Silmarils sere were swiftly taken
By Maglor at Maedhros' mand."
"Who is there?" cried Alfuin in a mighty voice.
A blast of fog came down from the mountain and smote him like steam. Both awakened upon the beach near their hut, where alone among the cliffs was there a shelf of shingle. Their boat was beside them, and across the bay Harbjerg rose black amid the damp night that was closing round.
Often after that day did Alfuin haunt the mountain. About it there lay a queer silence, so that even the sea-birds called out with hushed voices, and Alfuin felt his own voice sink to a murmer whenever he spoke. Sometimes his son came with him, but despite the new affection growing between them the boy was increasingly distrustful of the place. "It is vé (holy ground)." he would say. "I fear a curse for entering it."
There came an even at the height of summer when Alfuin took the boat and crossed as he had always done to the silent hill. This time as he prowled about the fringes of the hill-mostly treeless, as was much of that country-he came upon the tilted and shaken remains of an ancient flight of stairs, leading up onto the mountain. A trembling came upon Alfuin so that he scarce dared to move, but as secretly as though raiding the scullery in some great lord's hall he mounted the old stones. They had once been squared and laid by master masons in the times now perished from memory, but the turmoils of the moving of the earth had been too much for them. Steps were cracked in pieces and the pieces at different levels, others were tilted or dislocated far aside, and the soil and grass covered others. But at last Alfuin reached the hilltop.
Amon Anwar, as he was beginning to feel was it's true name and not a random product of his thought, was grassy and bright with strange white and gold flowers, still lit by the last gleam of sun. In the golden light he saw a large mound at one end of the hollow. A silence so deep it pressed upon his soul filled the air, and even the occasional gust of wind or the distant roar of the tide-race was muted, and became only tiny disturbances on that ancient quiet. He stepped forward as reverently as if on holy ground and saw in the grass at the mound's foot a round black stone, as shining as obsidian but different, and in it three curved runes of flowing shape were graved: symbols no man had seen on Middle-earth for many ages of men. Overcome by a great awe and fear he turned and fled from that place. The sun fell under the world's rim as he left, and darkness rushed up the hill. A dense sea-fog lay at it's foot, and within it all was black. As he groped toward the low murmer of the waves, he heard again the strange singing, coming from his left; but was oddly changed somehow, and a chill came upon him as he hearkened. But he made toward it in despite, for curiosity and the thirst to know were strong upon him. A deeper blackness rose amid the grey blackness of the fog, and he found he was facing the great barrow at the head of the cape. As he paused, bewildered, there rose out of the shadow of the earth of the barrow a tall shape, thin and dark and seeming robed in the shadow it rose from. Two eyes, remote and yet filled with icy flame, held him helpless, and bony hands like frozen steel seized him. He was aware of sinking through the earth of the barrow, and of lying on his back, hands folded on his chest, cold as if they held onto metal. The cold shape stood over him, and under it's frosty yet burning eyes he had no power to move as a thin groaning voice began to chant and murmer.
Suddenly from without, from left and right, two other voices began to sing. The voice of one was deep and wondrous full, while the other was clear and higher and melodious, and ever and anon it would give way to the sounds of an instrument enchanted. The music, rising in notes one upon another and then dropping in heart-rending chords of utmost beauty; the voices, soaring and separating and yet complementing the other, the deep voice sliding low while the clear voice sailed overhead, then the deep voice rose to meet and the high voice dropped down to it and both harmonizing so perfectly it seemed a third voice entirely.
And the horrible chanting of the wight before him held out against them for a time, it's voice sad and bitter and pitiless beyond comprehension, thin and moaning like the wail of things frozen in eternal winter who hate the very thaw for which they long, or like creatures so long in darkness they know they cannot see and who curse the light they yearn for; of undying sleep and enchanted rest that is a torment and a chain and a burden of ages beyond reckoning. But the fair voices rose against it, stronger and stronger till the very barrow groaned with the struggle of their songs; and then there was a crash of rending wood and breaking earth, and a fresh sea-smell entered the darkness, and light stood in the hole in the wall. Dazedly Alfuin sat up, and saw he was in a high chamber of great beams of ancient wood, in which two holes had been blasted from opposite sides. In each hole stood a figure of white light.
With a screech high and thin and filled with hate, the wight seized two swords. The figures advanced from either side, silent now, their hands uplifted with blazing palms held out in warning, and the swords fell from the skeletal hands, and the figure gave a long wailing cry and collapsed into dust.
The two figures dimmed as Alfuin got to his feet. They were men, or man-shaped at any rate, though fairer than any man had ever been; and light gleamed faintly from flesh and clothing like a fire behind a thin cloth, and their eyes were bright and sharp as tongues of flame, and Alfuin knew they were of the Alfr. He from the left was tall and his locks had once been dark, but grey streaked them; and he bore a pair of delicate and intricate pipes. He from the right was shorter and stronger, and from his left hand no light came: ancient burns blackened the palm and fingers, and they were fixed in an endless crook. Red-grey was his hair.
"Alfuin, awake." said the shorter Elf. "The barrow-wight is gone."
"I am awake, but I ween I dream still. What are ye, lords?"
"We are the forgotten singers." said he of the pipes. "Daeron I am named, and Maglor son of Fëanor is the other, whose hand was burned by the Silmaril he cast into the sea. Mayhap we should have shown ourselves sooner, and then the watcher of the sleepers would not have taken ye; but mayhap thou couldst not have heard us had we not sung our haunting spells and drawn thee slowly, thou embittered old badger. Thy son would have been more amenable to our call, but he remains behind, overcome with mistrust: unlikely indeed is the choice of Ilúvatar."
"Sleepers, my lords?" said Alfuin, wondering greatly at this speech.
The two Elves stepped to either side. Only then did Alfuin see that he had been laid in the prow of a large barthi ship, sunk in the earth. The barrow's wood chamber had been raised over the deck, and upon a bier of golden vessels and silver cups, necklaces and chainéd rings, byrnies and weapons, helms and great round shields, were laid seven men.
"Behold the Seven Sleepers." said Maglor.
They were tall and powerful men; four had grey beards and were nigh eight feet in height, and their clothing was utterly strange and beautiful. Hauberks of ancient and marvellous close make they wore, and strange high helms were on their heads, and strange long swords were in their hands. The other three were smaller men but no less mighty, with locks of gold mingled with grey, and they wore the tunicked robes of another time. Old swords with patterns of metal in their blades were laid beside them, and their beards were white, and the chests of all the seven rose and fell, and their eyes were closed.
"This is Amandil of Númenor, and with him three old trusted servants, who broke the Ban only to plead and so were not slain, but set here until the world should end, when they will war against the evil king who slumbers with his host in the Caves of the Forgotten, far away beneath the fallen hills upon the Deathless Shores. And these other three were with Eärendil upon his last voyage, who were cast into sleep because they had breathed the air of Valinor and like the evil king could not die henceforth, and seen the lands no mortal can see and return alive; and so the companions of the Pleaders slumber here together, to awake and battle together in the day of doom." murmered Daeron.
"Sir, I understand not." said Alfuin.
"It is too long a tale to tell here, and in any case we know only shards of it. All we know of Númenor is that she has fallen." Daeron replied.
Alfuin stood some time, looking upon the seven sleepers. Pity was in him and great wonder, and he bent to shake the arm of one and see if he would wake.
"Do not touch them." said Maglor. "The last man who touched them when they lay out in a cave at the foot of Amon Anwar, ere we laid them in this ship and raised this barrow above them, his arm was withered from the elbow down."
Alfuin hastily shrank back. "It's name is truly Amon Anwar?" he said. "I deemed it was but a name of my fancy. What great man lies buried there?"
"The letters on his stone would have been sufficient to tell thee, if learning still lived among men." said Maglor. "For those are the letters of the script my father made when the Trees still glowed in Valinor, ere Sun or Moon was wrought. They are lambë, ando, lambë-L·ND·L as they are rendered among men-for they mark the grave of Elendil thy ancestor in the line of Elf-friends. Thy name is why we called thee, and why thou hearkened, for it is Elf-friend that Alfuin means in the tongue of these north shores." And the deep full voice fell into silence, and Alfuin looked up to see that the barrow was empty of all save the seven sleeping men. A great fear came upon him and he hurried out of the barrow; and behold boards and earth rebuilt themselves behind him until the barrow was as it had always been.
"Faðir!" cried the voice of Niútrvin from the sea-dark. There was the sound of young feet on the stones, and then his son was there and had flung his arms about him. "I feared for thee, father, when I heard the changed song, and I came through the fens as fast I might. Come away, father! Let us leave this haunted ground!"
"Ai! Sí vanwa ná, Rómello vanwa, Valimar!" cried Alfuin in lament, lifting up his hands. "Úkarra stigr fara Vestr; ana stigrr nu kaura!"*
Then he suffered Nieutrvin to lead him away.
- Lost, lost to those from the East is Valinor! (Elvish) A road unbent ran West; all paths now bent! (Old Norse)
The Coming of the Tuatha
The grey fog blew past in white waifs of mist, and dewdrops speckled the spider-webs. But the mist held no beauty for Coícéilsída as he hoed wearily at the weeds. He was cold, and damp, and his hands were mud-slimy, and the hoe-handle about to break; he had no eye to be casting on the mist or the green bogs below. It was an ill time for the Fir Bolg, the dwellers in the Green Isle, for they were ruled these ten years past by the Fomor, and they leaving little for man or beast when they were wont to come.
Old Diacoícéile hobbled out of the crude dwelling they inhabited: little better a word for a structure bare big enow for three, into which they would stagger at evening to fall upon the straw and sleep, and emerge from in the morn full of vermin bites. The old man had been still vigorous before the Fomor wo collected levy rode over him because he thought the remainder too small, after the blight of last year.
"Ai, father!" greeted Coícéilsída as he tried to unbend his weary back. "Where might the son of me be gone to?"
"Finboicéile? Och, it's not myself that knows! He was gone this morning." the old man piped, and drew his cloak closer against the cool fog. For just a moment the high voice sounded strange, speaking an unknown and antique tongue, but it passed, leaving Coícéilsída wondering how they, the Fir Bolg, proud conquerors of Eírénn but twenty years ago, had descended to such a mean level. He looked at his father with new eyes, as if just seeing him. The wild rank hair was grey and grease-matted; little time or energy for bathing had the weary serfs of the Fir Bolg. His old blue shirt was soiled and ragged, and under it he wore torn dirty leggings against the chill.
"He cannot be so fey as to try the escaping." Coícéilsída muttered. Finboicéile his son had never submitted in his heart to the slavery the Fomor held them in, unlike his war-wearied father and crippled grandfather. Wearily he bent to the hoeing once more. The potatos were but just coming to flower, and in the other field the grain waved green.
There was the thunder of hooves. Mud flew as a horseman rode up, pulling his horse to a halt so abruptly mud spattered the farmers. He was a Fomor, broad and dark of hair like all that folk, a great beard almost hiding the cruel small eyes and the severe nose. He wore a fine striped tunic of red and blue, and a belt of gold about it, and by his side a great ivory-hilted sword.
"Your son did the running attempt." the Fomor barked. "He has failed. You ken the doom for those that run the third time: to be carried to the altars, with the hateful Whitefolk, the witch-eyed people, whom we hunt."
"Have mercy, great one!" cried Coícéilsída, falling to his knees. "I cannot farm this stead without his hands."
"Work, then, harder! Too lazy art thou Fir-bolgers (fat Fir). We Fomor fool not!" Drawing his sword he ran old Diacoícéile through, wheeled his horse and galloped off.
" Make the running." the words hissed through the foul beard of his father as Coícéilsída bent over him. "Seek out Finteine the Ancient, who dwelleth on the shores; by the Cave of the Green Hill thou shalt find him."
"I shall close thy eyes first, most unfortunate of fathers." said the Fir Bolg gruffly, and cradled his father's head and eased his lying.
"There is a great thirst upon me." the father's blood-harshened voice rasped. Coícéilsída hurried to the seep by the bog and hurried back with the wooden cup filled, but when he came into the miry yard his father stared into the sky with dead unseeing eyes. And he poured the last drink into his father's dead mouth, and laying him down he closed the old man's eyes. Laying him out on his bed of moldy straw, he put on him the leather armour with metal plates sewn on it-sadly rotted now-in which he had been garbed when he strode so proudly upon these sad green shores thirty years agone, and laid the grimy sword by his side. His own sword he pulled from the hidden compartment in the dry-stone wall where they had buried their arms when the Fomor defeated them, ten years ago, and buckled it to his side. Then he kindled a fire with great trouble and lit the moldy straw and rotten timbers of the hovel in many places. When at last the flames leaped high Coícéilsída took to his feet and began the running away.
Not to the forests he turned, but the bare green mountains, where moss and grass crept over every rock and many little bogs lay under false turf. Ever his feet bent west, toward the sea and not away from it, for unlike all the Fir Bolg he had always longed to behold the western sea. The Fomor soon pursued him with their dogs and their witchcraft, and were ever closer to him despite his contrivances, until one day he crested a green hill on which no trees grew and saw them halt, and after a time they went back the way they had come. At this Coícéilsída wondered greatly, but he climbed over the height, and there he stood as though bound by spell, the grey-blue sea rolling farther than the eye could reach, and below old black cliffs sounded the sad and constant murmer of the waves.
"Safe it is you will here be." a deep and time-worn voice sounded in his ear. There standing behind him as though grown up from the rocks was a man very old, his hair the hue of snow and long, bound behind his head by a silver cord. His beard was also tied in three knots of silver cord, and he wore a cloak of soft blue, and a robe of green and violet, clasped at the waist with a buckle of gold, falling to his calves; there were shoes of leather on his feet dyed with a deep blue and clasped with white and red bronze. At his side there hung a strange and marvellous sword in a sheath all wrought with flowers in silver and gold, and unknown runes formed of many white gems were set into the ancient black metal.
"I look for Finteine the Ancient." said Coícéilsída. "My son is taken by the Fomor for their altars, and my crippled father they have cut down."
"It is for the Whitefire you seek, but it is himself that stands before you." said the strange one. "In the very hour of doom you come to me, Elf-friend; and if you had not come for me I would needs have come to you. For the travail of Eírénn is over; the fate of the tyrants has come."
"These words are dark to me, master."
"Aye." the other made answer. "Come. I will teach you of a thing called the bath, and new raiment will I give you, and help you remember that you bear a sword; you fought well ten years ago, though beaten you are now, and you will fight them again to win back your son, ye ken. The Eagles of the Lords of the West will come again as they came once in the second age of Middle-earth, and on their backs will bear the salvation and the doom of Beleriand."
"This is the Isle of Eírénn." protested a puzzled Coícéilsída as Finteine led him into a grotto hid among grey rocks. Within it was very large, far more so than he had imagined, and seemed ablaze with the richness of it's furnishment.
"I call it Beleriand, for such it was of old, ere the Mountains of Lune were sundered from us by the pouring of the sea. Aye, Middle-earth was once a single piece and untwisted, that now is so vastly bent from what it was when Elves still walked the earth, and the Misty Mountains yet reached from north to south, ere they were thrust to the north in the drowning of the world."
He made Coícéilsída bathe, and very reluctant was the serf to so do. But the bath was a wonder he had forgotten for long years, and when he came out Finteine hung upon him a robe of woven stripes of white and red, and over it a belt with a buckle like a gold leaf, and pinned to him a mantle of deepest red like the juice of grapes, and in his oiled hair he set a comb of silver.
"Now come," said Finteine, "We will take meat, and as we feast I will tell you more of the great matters that it is needful you should know. For not you alone, but he that sees through you and remembers all this, will find it needful."
He passed his hand around the glorious cave. There were hangings and tapestries woven so well the figures on them moved and fought; there were vessels of many beautiful metals set with precious stones; there were weapons that gleamed with ancient virtue and glowered in their sheathings, and chairs there were of black and silver wood all worked in cunning designs with bright metals. "Saved from before the Flood and before the Ice, from the City of the Seven Walls before the failing of the Kings." he said. Going to a mighty table all wrought of red oak in many curving forms, he spread thereon a white cloth, and as the cloth spread there grew out of it a feast.
The serf had seen so many marvels by now he was scarcely surprised. He sat down and was about to eat when he saw Finteine was not. He was standing facing west, with his head bowed, and even as Coícéilsída hesitated, Finteine turned and seated himself. As they ate he continually interrupted his own speech to advise his guest on the correct manner of eating and behaviour.
He spoke of times when all the north was under a single sea of ice, high as the very mountains, and the ruins of the ancient world were swept away and lands changed forever. Old rivers were devoured and their beds consumed, and countries were dug up, and mountains eaten up, and new plains and valleys and even hills were made when the ice melted. He spoke of his great-uncle in law Noe who was building a mighty ship in the lands beyond the Ice and filling it with beasts, to the mockery of his neighbors, when he and some others had tried to elude the foretold flood by fleeing to the ends of the earth. "We were wrecked here." he said, "and in the wreck many perished, but my wife and twoscore women and some men were saved. Ice was here already; ice had covered the Ered Luin and pushed Beleriand under the earth. For heavy was the ice, Elf-friend, and uphill it was to every coast."
He spoke of the strange people they had encountered here, tall and fair and faintly shining. They had called themselves Sindar-"or Sídaige as it is rendered in our tongue"-and they dwelled in many fair towns and havens on the shores, those that the ice had not yet consumed; and ships they had of white wood all shaped like swans. In those days Eírénn was no island but joined to Middle-earth, and different was the world shaped. "Ah me! Well do I remember the fair walls and towers of the Forlond and the Harlond, the grey-robed people who die not singing there beneath groves of ancient elms that overtopped the walls, and the scent and the fragrance of the lavaralda under the gleaming stars!" And Finteine fell silent, lost in his thoughts.
Then his speech ran on and leaped over the waves as he told of the kinship of the Sindar with the fish and with the birds, so that those among them who were greater in kuru and in skill might take on for a time the shape of fish or bird and dwell and wander among them. Then his words grew grim: the Night of Deadly Storm rose again out of the east, and that night lasted twoscore days beneath the terrible clouds, when such rain fell as would dissolve the hills themselves. And the Sindar fled aboard their ships as the waters rose, but many were left behind, for a great wind took the boats and sent them with burst sails into the far North. "One of the Elf-women who were left was a warrior, a fierce and fiery maid of red hair, whose kuru was such that she could change her shape to any creature that lived, and she had loved me, but my wives had feared her and refused to dwell with a fay. And she stood upon the walls nigh to me as we sought refuge from the leaping waves, and behold we lifted up our eyes and the sea was coming upon the land, the Gulf of Lune was become a slope with ourselves at the bottom. And she cried out as she leaped to the edge, 'The Sindar will return again and re-possess fair Lindon!' I hurried to restrain her, for I feared she was fey, but she pressed upon me a single kiss and cast herself from the wall. Red her form gleamed amid the dark rain, but ere it met the dark water she had changed into a fish. And as the land of Lindon was plunged under the sea I felt myself changing too, until I was in the salmon's form, and in this grotto I hid while the lands were under sea.
"Thus I survived the drowning of the earth, and the dreadful quakes that followed when the land rose to it's ancient height. Lands were thrust under the sea, and Lindon sundered by a channel from the Ered Luin, and the Misty Mountains were thrust far to the north, and new lands lifted up and continents moved from their places, so that Harad made of the great Bay of Belfalas an inland sea, and Mordor was drowned in the far east: men call it the Black Sea now."
"How could a fish see all this?" Coícéilsída asked.
"I did not remain a fish." answered Finteine. "One day after the Flood had left I was seized by an eagle. But as his talons entered my flesh I felt my shape again change, until in the talons of the eagle was a mightier eagle, and I freed myself of him. Far I flew over many lands, marveling at their new shape, and the eagles spoke much with me, for some there were that dwelt in the Misty Mountains in the days before the ice and had saved themselves by long flight or by perch upon floating trees, and they spoke the speech of men. And I found some chambers of the ruined havens that were sealed by spells from the water, and took their treasures to this grot, that they might be protected. And it came to pass that I was felled by a hunter's arrow, but the moment he touched me I began to shift again, until I wore my own human form. Thus have I watched six hundred years and seven pass over Lindon since she rose from the Undulávë, the Flood of the Earth."
Finteine's voice fell silent. Coícéilsída was still, his wondering mind passing among all the great matters he had had related him. "What was her name?" he said after a short pause.
"The red elven-maid? She was named Dana Magrusaig, which last is 'the Bloodthirsty', and was a great queen among the Sídaige ere their scattering. Where she dwells, or where the great waters may have swept her, I do not know; I alone was alive upon Beleriand when he rose above the waves."
Coícéilsída slept that night on a bed of such softness it made him sore in the morn, and greatly was he surprised to find no vermin. Finteine came to his bed ere dawn had rose, and he clanked when he moved, for he wore a corselet of overlapping metal plates all down his chest and a coif of metal rings joined like cloth upon his head. Upon the serf he put a leathern shirt to which were fastened rings of mail. Then he girt his ancient sword to his side, and Coícéilsída girt on his strong plain sword of dark iron. Shields they took, of linden wood and long, overlaid with red brass and white bronze, and spears they gathered, of ash wood with heads of hard steel dyed blue. And Finteine led his horses to a strange cart sitting on two great wheels shod of iron: like an oval with no back but high sides it was, and there were handles of wood around the rim, and he harnessed the horses to a pole in the middle. The vehicle was overlaid with an eagle wrought in silver, and the sides were cushioned, and painted on the outsides was a fish in dark red on a background of deepest blue.
"What manner of cart is this?" Coícéilsída exclaimed.
"Fasten the spears thus by the straps, and the shields likewise." Finteine ordered. "This is a chariot, Elf-friend. One can scarcely carry so many weapons upon a horse!"
"Where will we seat?" the other inquired, looking askance at the wood floor.
"Of a course we must stand." said Finteine. "Grip the handles. I will take the reins."
The drive across the green country Coícéilsída ever remembered as one of the roughest and most unpleasant of his life. For they went at great speed, Finteine steering the horses with care and long skill, the large wheels bounding over every stone and log, till he felt as rattled as though a Fomor had shaken him up and down by the hair. They met few of either peasant or Fomor upon their drive, and the few that did see them stayed well away from the silver eagle.
"Whither go we?" cried Coícéilsída.
"To Forlindon!" Finteine roared back. "Or as ye Fir-bolga say it, Connagt!"
The night deepened. Slow clouds passed over Eírénn from the north, with large islands of star-blue between them; and on their lower courses the clouds were lit red with the reflection of the fires of the Fomor. From a concealed grove of fir atop a small cliff, in the deeper parts of which lay hidden chariot and horses, Finteine and Coícéilsída looked out over the camp of the Fomor.
Red bonfires filled the cape, casting a fierce orange light upon the waves and reddening the lumpy smoke-grey clouds far above, and their smoke thickened the air for miles about. Below them men went into and out of great rude tents and shelters of bark and pine branches, and the gusty laughter of loose women and the shouts and guffaws and strange coarse singing of the men, echoed up from all around, drowning out the sad murmer of the waves. The cape was full of beaches, save for the end where rounded rocks fell into the waves, and on these Fomor lolled, or swam in the sea, or grappled with their women.
"The captives. See you the captives?" Coícéilsída asked urgently.
"Aye." the ancient one made answer. "There they be, in yonder enclosure by the rocks. I think the ships of the Fomor are offshore, but with yon sea-fog I cannot say for certain. They are most to be feared in their ships, for on them they stand as on castles and engines they have mounted thereon which can fling missiles for great distances. Let us wait and spy out the defenses."
The night passed over them slowly as they lay upon the twig-carpet and planned, and it grew chill as the sea-fog came inland, blotting out the camp from their sight though not from hearing. It was lit from within by the fires so that it glowed a dull orange, and shed about them a queer radiance. Finteine and Coícéilsída arose and crept down to the skirts of the camp, leaving behind their armour and holding their swords lest they make a sound. They entered a tent by lifting up the hides it was made of and rolling under. A burly Fomor and his woman sprawled under the furs, and the stench of ale overrode the animal smell of unaired clothing. Swiftly the two men donned the tunic and headgear of the sleeping Fomor, and catching up his sheepskin cloak Finteine draped it over Coícéilsída, while around his own shoulders he threw the pelt of a wolf. Swiftly they exited the way they had come, leaving the drunken Fomor to snore on unheeding.
Together the two men walked through the camp, swaggering like the Fomor around them. The ruddy fog concealed all beyond a dozen feet, and now and again a half-drunken guard reeled out of the red shadows, bellowing some old war-song, or a large-bosomed Fomor woman in the single-piece dresses worn by that people would come past, laughing and making eyes at them; and Finteine would answer with a growl and shove her roughly away.
"Be bolder of stride, Fir-bolg." muttered the old one. "Thou movest like a beaten man."
"Long has it been since my people were otherwise." he grumbled back.
In this manner they approached the captives. A stockade and fence of bars of wood all lashed together formed a square, and within it the ground was beaten to mud as in a cattle-pen. Many people of the Fir-bolg were within, all packed together as sheep in a corral, some clutching the wood bars, some sitting or lying in the mud, attempting to sleep. Grimy were face and clothes, and there were few tears shed, only a fate without hope in every face. Around the pen sat a ring of guards by their fires, and they were not feasting. They watched the captives, now and again shouting some taunt or coarse jest, but no answer nor flash of anger did they receive in return.
"See thou thy son?" breathed Finteine. Coícéilsída shook his head. "They are all alike in their filth." he whispered back.
"Ho, swine, how like you the drinking of your own stench and the bathing in your own urine?" a nearby guard roared.
Then a voice answered him from out of the pen, "Better than to eat the dung of your women as you do every night!"
Utter silence descended on the guards. Coícéilsída made out his son now; Finboicéile was seated in a corner apart from the others, and upon his face there was still defiance. He alone, thought the father proudly, would had had the nerve to say that.
"Enjoy your rest, dung." the guard yelled back. "On the morrow when the sun clears the sea you will be sacrificed to her."
"We must go." Finteine whispered. "I am in grave doubt. The eagles told me the host was to Fare Forth this very night; if they come not by sunrise thy son is lost. Pray to thy gods, Elf-friend, and I will cry out to the Valar to hasten."
They were not hindered in leaving the camp, and in the chill ruddiness of the mist-lit grove they snatched a fitful sleep wrapped in their cloaks. As the clouds grew blue and light came into the sky, Finteine woke him. The mist had gone and the grove was dark, and dew was heavy on his cloak.
"There is a noise among the Fomor." the ancient one said. "Their ships have come to land, and there is great bustle and outcry. I think they have more captives."
Quickly they hastened to their point of vantage. The bonfires were but spots of dull red as their embers smouldered, save here and there where some still burned dusky blue-orange from fresh fuel. The clouds were vanishing into the woods at their back, already brightening upon their eastward faces, for the wind was in the west, and the sky behind the two men was growing pale white. In the West a darkness lingered, a shadow that toward the northwest was growing purple and taking shape. Three great ships of the Fomor lay hauled up on the beaches and great concourse of men was pressing to and from them. There were wild shouts and fell cries, and suddenly aboard the ship someone began a high and weird chant. Rising and falling, swelling and ebbing it sounded above all the noises of the camp. The Fomor fell silent, and every man of them fell upon their faces. Down from the foremost ship came a procession of robed men; purple were their cloaks, and white and purple their robes, and they had gold buskins, and upon their heads were crowned with mistletoe. Staffs they bore of white hazel, and the head of each was carved and painted in the likeness of a human head. Long were their beards.
"Druids." spat Finteine. "The priests of the darkness. The Elf-hunters. Look whom they have been hunting!"
Coícéilsída looked, and hope died in his heart. Led by many Fomor in purple mantles were over a hundred tall figures, fairer than the sons of men, taller than those that guarded them. Bonds of steel were about them, and spells sheathed them round, yet they walked with a proud grace, unbeaten though clothed only with a rag about the waist. A faint light came through their flesh, and the gleam of their eyes pierced like stars. No beards had they.
"They hunt the ships of the Sindar wherever they find them." said Finteine grimly. "Any they capture, by their magic they bind them and on their altars they slay them. Numeheruui, do thou hasten, I pray thee!"
The Elves were herded down the plank in the rear of the chanting Druids. The procession wound up the beach, to where at the far western end of the land a great rock stood up dark against the sea. The sky in the East was a fiery yellow-white now, but the West was dark. Great clouds of sombre purple, lit above with pink and red, were lifting great wings up over the rim of the world. A mingled dread and joy came upon Coícéilsída as he beheld them.
The pen was thrown open. The captives within were herded out under the whips and spears of the Fomor. Last to leave was Finboicéile; he walked proudly, and by that alone did his father know him. They were driven through the camp, a straggling row of pitiful wretchedness, until they stood with drooping limbs before the dark rock.
Suddenly the captive Elves all lifted up their voices, crying aloud in a clear and ringing song whose strong notes rose against the high weird chanting of the Druids. Dark grew the sea in the west. Up over the water great winged clouds now strode, endlessly, in a procession reaching back beyond all sight, and ever wider spread the wings, pinioned at the foremost edges with red flame, and their beaks burned crimson. Darkness fell upon the sea, advancing until it cast all Eírénn into shadow. Desperate and wild grew the singing of the Druids, but louder and clearer came the strange roar of the thunder, and lightnings burst from the beak of the foremost Eagle and smote upon the altar-stone. Then the sun came above the east horizon, and she burned red and grim through the fogs in the east and cast no light.
Then was he aware that Finteine was gone from his side. As he cast his eyes about he saw upon a high rock Finteine standing, and his cloak was cast aside so that his armour gleamed in the perilous light of that strange dawn. Out came his ancient sword, and the blade was white, and it shone as a snowfield in the sun. He held it up, and his voice, ancient and mighty, rolled over the darkened camp like the voice of some dreadful god. "Lo, the Eagles of the Lords of the West are coming for the doom and the salvation of Beleriand! See! they bear upon their backs the immortal people, the Sídaige whom you have hunted; from Tol Fuin upon the air they are lifted over your navies! Manwë bears them and the Numeheruui speed them!" White fire burst up from his sword.
The Fomor were thrown into confusion. The Eagles stooped upon the sea, the great clouds swooping from the high airs until they rested on the water and came like a black wind. Loud rose the joyful cry of the captive Elves. Feeble and timourous now was the song of the Druids. Up onto the land rose the mighty clouds, riding the shores like a host of huge ships, and upon the backs of the clouds stood a host of shining warriors.
In terror the Fomor fled, and their cruel curved ships scudded before the wrath of the Eagles and the great winds, and the Druids gave back before the fearsome clouds, then turning they ran. The captives found none were guarding them, and hastily, as fearful as rabbits, they scuttled and were gone. One only stayed, though he fell to his knees: Finboicéile. And the shining host stepped out of the clouds and stood upon the shore. Tall and terrible were they to look upon, for a light sprang from their elven-eyes and a faint glimmer welled up from within their flesh and hair. They wore long cloaks all green and grey and blue as the sea that they loved; mail-shirts and coifs of silver shimmered upon them, and they bore shields of black and silver and white metals; swords were at their sides, and in their hands long spears that gleamed with a light as blue and chill as mist under the moon. Their brooches were wrought of gold and copper in the likeness of swans.
Moving swift as a bright wind the Elves rushed into the land, and passed by Finteine on his rock like faint shadows in the wood and faint lights amid the leaves, and Coícéilsída blinked and looked about. The advance guard had passed within the land, and now the main army of the Sídaige was pouring from the clouds, dividing and wheeling into ordered ranks where they made camp. And the dark fog lifted until it became one cloudy roof, and began to thin and break apart before the steady west wind.
"Elf-friend, stay and wait." said Finteine. "Thy son shall be sent for, for we must hold council together, and thou alone art here to speak for the Fir Bolg."
Now up from the armies there came five companies, each for a different leader. The first one was all in silver armour, but tunic and helm were black with silver tracery, and their shields were of white metal, and sword and spear flamed white. The Elf who led them was very tall and fair-haired, his face fine and noble to look upon, his eyes quiet and serious. A crown he wore fashioned like to gold vines and leaves, amid which gleamed a great white jewel like a star. Robes of red all broidered with gold fell to his feet, and over them a mantle of green with a design of golden eagles. His left hand was made entirely out of silver, but at first Coícéilsída did not realize this, for it moved like a real hand.
"That is Nuada the High King, called Celegrod on account of his silver hand, the grip of which cannot be eluded." Finteine said. "The sword that he bears was forged by the frost-giants of the ancient North and filled with their slow spells, and it has the Virtue of Light within it so as to blind a host. It's name is Kaladbolg."
The second company was mantled all in blue, and their mail shimmered green like silver seen from far down in sea water, and their tunics were long and grey and edged with white, and their belts were of sea-leather, and they bore mighty tridents that flickered green. Their shields bore as device a green-and-rose-hued salmon on a blue field. The king that led them was larger than any Elf, and his hair was like the gold of the sun as it sparkles on the sea at morn, and his eyes were grey and thoughtful and unfathomably deep; he wore a cloak of sea-blue that seemed to shimmer and writhe as if woven of shadows, and a tunic of deep shimmering green under his green-silver mail, and he bore in his hand a spear of many prongs. Beside him walked a woman with long falling hair like to tresses of flame, and her face was so beautiful Coícéilsída could not endure to gaze long at it. She had on a marvellous gown of a deep and glowing green, and over it a shirt of mail like her husband's, and at her side was a light sword.
"Yonder is Mannanan of many names," said Finteine, "though he was not with the Sindar when I knew them. They say he is the son of Lír, which signifies the sea, but what that meaneth is a mystery even to the Elves that took his rule. The woman who is with him is his wife Fand, the loveliest Elf to appear upon the world since Arwen died and left it; or so the Sindar say; and her name means a tear that passes over the fire of the eye: an apt name."
The third company came up from the blasted altar-rock, and they were like to autumn leaves and frost, for their weapons and shields glowed red, and their mail was golden brown, and their woven shirts were orange as flame, and yellow light came up from their helms. They were led by two lords, one strong and broader than the others, the other red of hair and young. The broad one was girt in a tunic of rich brown with a belt of gold, and upon his shoulder was a club carven of the root and base of a hornbeam, and wire of copper and brass was wound about it, and it was smooth and dark and flashed when light caught it. The young one bore a large bow of darkened yew all bound with bronze, and arrows of silver were in his quiver; he was cloaked in red and robed in orange.
"That is Dagor, the Battler, but the Fomor call him Deagh-dia-Mor, 'good as a god in dealing death', although I prefer to render it as 'good as a god at whatever he does'. His club laid out nine men at each stroke when he stood above fallen Nuada in the sea battles with the Fomor, until the guard of his son could bear the High King away; but Nuada had lost his left arm with the shield. They tell me that club has been known to pound flame out of the ground when he smites the earth with it. His strength is in his club, and in his anger which increases his strength. His son is Angôl, the Ironcliff, from the place of his birth, but is often called the Young; or as we would say it Angus Og. In the healing arts none are his master, and even the death-wounded can he give strength to fight until the life departs."
The fourth troop bore cloaks of sombre red over mail of black steel and black tunics with red borders. Their black shields were edged in red bronze and their swords were hued a red as bright as blood. Leading them was a tall woman with an imperious and fierce bearing; she had hair of a deep red like autumn leaves, falling loose about a gown of brilliant ochre. A breastplate she wore above her mail, and her armour glowed a golden red, and upon her crimson shield was painted a ragged black crow.
"It is Dana!" Finteine exclaimed. "Dana Magrusaig, which is turned into the Morrigu in our tongue. The greater part of the Sindar are under her rule, and so they are called by the Fomor Tuatha De Danaan, the People of the Goddess Dana. For to them she is as a goddess, so fell in war and in combat, and in love more deadly yet." Finteine murmered, and there was sorrow in his voice. " I wondered of whom they spoke, and whether the Dana they feared was indeed the Magrusaig; but now I know."
The last company came behind the others, and they were cloaked in deep green and bore shirts of white and grey, and robes of pale blue; their shields were black with sharp edges of hard silver, and they bore long swords. Their leader was a tall Elf with dark hair and a very fair and keen-edged face, and eyes as hard as shining ice; a green cloak with a silver brooch was clasped over his steel armour; he had a silken shirt beneath that was broidered with red gold, and his black shield was bordered with white bronze. He held in his hand a great spear of ancient and noble craftsmanship, with a sturdy haft of white wood and workings in blue and white and silver metals all along it, and a long leaflike head with two barbs like icicles, and from it came a fell blue and white light like cold flame.
"That is Lúrë, the Dark-weather, for he was born on the Night of Dreadful Storm; but in our tongue he is called Lûgh, the Lightning-flash, for the light in his eyes and the speed of his sling, and the Fomor call him Long-hand, and fear him greatly, for it was he who broke the naval blockade the Fomor held the Sindar with, penning them upon the island of Tol Fuin. The spear in his hand is called Aeglos, the Icethorn, that was Gil-galad's and fought against Sauron himself in the ancient days." Finteine said.
Now the kings left their households at the foot of the cliff, coming around it on foot to where Fintine stood. Finboicéile came up at that moment from the other side and stopped short, hesitant, but the Elf-messenger who had brought him murmered in his ear and he advanced cautiously to stand beside his father. Coícéilsída gave him a swift reassuring smile and turned his attention to the Elven-lords.
The seven leaders, five kings and two queens, had come to the open space under the fir-eaves. They stopped, and Finteine stepped forward and bowed deeply, planting his white sword in the earth. He spoke solemnly in a strange and beautiful language words of greeting and welcome, and the High King bowed in return and answered in the same speech, which passed over the ears of the two men of the Fir Bolg like the sound of falling water over round stones. Then he and Finteine embraced, and Nuada cried, "Narkil! Mel-lumna maeg hirlantaner unuëari Undulávë!" After him Dagor and Dana pressed round Finteine, greeting and speaking merrily as old friends that have been long sundered.
"My lords," said Finteine, suddenly speaking in the tongue of the Fir Bolg, "we must take council. Here are the Elf-friend and the Bliss-friend, who alone represent the oppressed Fir Bolg." The two men knelt and pressed their foreheads to the ground but the silver voice of Fand bade them arise. "Difficult it would be to speak for your people in such a position." she smiled, and they looked up and met her smile, and stood witless for some moments.
When next Coícéilsída was aware of the council, Lúrë was saying "So that is how it happened that the Fomor came to press attack on Tol Fuin. Their Druids had us penned in our havens, nor could our ships stir on the seas. When I came-and great trouble had I with the doorwards-Nuada resigned me his throne until I had overcome the Fomor. While the smiths were forging the silver hand for him I led the Sindar in the singing of power, and our songs were stronger than those of the Druids and we battled the Fomor upon their own ships, driving them at last from the North: and Tol Fuin had peace for nigh a century."
"What will the Fomor be likely to do, Narkil?" said High King Nuada. "Their present generation is unknown to me."
"They will not flee far." said Finteine slowly. "Their Druids will group them again, and they have four great arts that they will sing against you: the Song of Slieve, which will sing up the twelve great mountains of Eírénn and send them upon you; the Song of Lír, which will sing up the twelve rivers of Beleriand and send them against you; the Song of Cuaith, by which they will set a sword in every blade of grass and in every clump of moss and the very trees will come in array against you; and the Song of Theine, which will send down blasts of flame into the faces of your elves."
Then the kings of the Elves set up the gravestone of Fingolfin to mark their landing, and spoke words of blessing over it, that it would roar when touched by the feet of the true King of Ireland for all time to come.
The Dead Gods (Ice Age)
Tel-gilda pulled his fur cloak around him more closely as the air stirred about him, but otherwise did not relax his position. It was nominally summer in Erminarhen, but with the Ice Cliffs ever near this meant little. When the air did not stir it was actually almost hot; one could delude himself into thinking he was upon the far shore of ancient Gorndhôr where the waves beat, until a sudden breeze would remind him of the great dirty wall of wet cold at his shoulder. He remained where he had been standing for the past hour as he looked upon the high meadow where the kine fed.
Not many of his people would take the task of pasturing the herd so close to the Ice-and the Dead Gods. Apart from the danger of falling stones loosened by the warmth from the melting ice, they feared the high places beneath it. But Tel-gilda knew the great fence kept back most of the stones, and seldom did a stone large enough to break the ancient timbers fall from the dirty cliffs; besides, the grass here was better than anywhere else this late in the season. Of course, each year there was less and less of the meadow, it seemed; as if the great wall was a living thing, pressing southward to grind all lands under it as it had all Forod. But Tel-gilda thought much and feared little, least of all gods who were already dead. Worries were many without the foolishness.
His son was climbing steadily up from the scattered tree-clumps far down in the rocky hills where the Dead River lay. At least, Tel-gilda's father had called it such, though most others just thought it an inconvenient strip of bog and rock and steep bank. Tracing it's course now from the rim of the ice-foot to it's fading into the tawny landscape, Tel-gilda was reminded again how wise his father was. Val-gilda-who was rather sure his name had some connexion to 'god' or 'friend of gods', despite having no proof-had been an uncommon man in all ways among the tribe of the Sgarshoth. Tall and limber and lithe, with grey eyes, he had resembled not his own father nor any of the short swarter folk he had been born among; men said he was a throwback to days when the Dead Gods lived. Tel-gilda was like his father in being tall with grey eyes, but was broader, his eyes far-seeing and deep and even sad, as of one that thinks more than is good for a dweller in Middle-earth. He smiled as his son came nearer, ignoring the feeding kine as they sidled from his touch. Hermegilda was shorter than his tall sires, but his eyes bore the same light in their blue depths as in theirs: a wisdom, a thoughtfulness, and yet in his eyes more than theirs was a delight in ordinary things, a sheer love of what he saw. He climbed rather wearily, for he was of middle years, and his father old, older indeed than most men ever dared dream of living to.
"Where wert thou whenst I called upon thee?" Tel-gilda said kindly.
"Slumbering along the Dead River, father." the son replied cheerfully, and for a single strange moment Tel-gilda fancied the voice was suddenly unfamiliar to him as the voice of an unknown man, and their tongue felt in that second a thing debased, changed from a high and once-noble speech. But the feeling passed with a shake of his head, leaving the old herdsman wildered and blinking in the glittering sun.
"The Ice-wall has advanced seven feet since I pastured last the kine upon this height." Tel-gilda said. "Also I grow weary in the eyes. Do you take up the watching for a while that I may rest."
"It is a thing most marvellous that ice can walk." said Hermegilda. "Nor do I fathom how it stayeth so unmelted amid all the brightness of sun, even when not a bank of snow remaineth." He sat down upon the thick brownish grass that fed upon the moisture of the Ice, while his father followed and laid his back against a stone. Behind them the great fence rose, at the very feet of the wall of ice, it's huge and ancient timbers tilted in many places by the weight of stones piled behind it.
"It walks from out of the high places." Tel-gilda said almost absently; the warm sun made him sleepy. They say the Forod became higher than it was wont, and that many lives of men ago there was no Great Ice south of the Mountains of Weather. Of a certain it walks because it is pushed, it is like the flowing of a tide frozen in time so that years pass between each furlong it advances. But it walks faster of late." He wanted to sleep while he was able, but to his irritation the other continued to talk.
"Whence did we come, my father?"
Tel-gilda considered the red of his closed eyelids before he answered. "We, the Sgarshoth?" he said at last. "Few remember. There has always been the Ice, and we have always gone south before it as it consumes the land. Yet my father would say at times that we came of the people of the stone-ruins to the south; at least, we the house of Gilda, as our clansmen are beginning to call us!" He gave a short chuckle.
"Gilda." Hermegilda murmered. "The word means nothing in our speech, save for it's suggestion of gilding or being gelded! Why have we such for our name?"
"Nay, we are far from gelded, nor are we gilded or have ever lived under gilding as do the men by the Sea. I fear our names are but corruptions of ones long before, that meant something fell and noble in tongues of long ago. Long ago, from before the Ice crept down, when the whole of Middle-earth was as a warm coastland is now. Yet it feels to me that they mean 'friends' or 'friend of', though of what I do not know."
Hermegilda turned to look at the wall of the Ice that rose above them, the fifty-foot wall of jagged grey timbers tilted in several directions at it's feet like broken teeth dwarfed by it's tremendous height. Slumping and cracked with worn fissures, it's dripping face obscured by a skin of wet plant matter, soil, tree limbs and rocks left upon the ice by that which had melted, it towered a mile and more above them. It looked ancient, as though it had rose for centuries above the plains and rocky flats, a ragged wall that formed an undulating line across the land to left and right beyond seeing: left to the forgotten mountains and the deep-sunk basin of chill meltwater on their far side, right to the Buried Mountains that once had fenced in Gorndhôr on the north. The postnoon sun shone strong and hot upon the fallow-green land, but cold air ebbed from the ice like the sighing of a frost-giant, or the breath of the Dead Gods.
"Father, do you never fear the Dead Gods?" the younger man said of a sudden, his thoughts turned to that seldom-spoken subject by the sudden association.
Tel-gilda opened his eyes and grunted as he eased his position against the rock. "No. Wherefore ought I? They are Dead, entombed in the ice. I fear not that which is dead, as the foolish among us do." He gazed down at the grazing cattle. "When we drive down the herd at the setting, I will show thee the Dead Gods, and with no Rû-aida priest at hand either, that thou may fear them as much as do I."
As the sun hovered some inches above the flat edge of the land, the two men roused themselves gladly. The cold air had begun to penetrate even their furs as they reclined. The cattle protested as their herders got them going with a yell or an occasional nudge from a staff, but ambled down the long slopes willingly enough. The sun seemed to sink ever swifter as they descended, glowing with a deep orange flame, and huge shadows hurried up from the end of the world. There seemed to be some curious formations of solid cloud lurking there, all aflame with the sun; and then they swallowed her, and the lowlands fell into shade.
Tel-gilda shooed the last reluctant cow into the enclosure where the herd was kept at night; wooden timbers tough enough to stop a bear fenced it round, and within was mostly mud from the kine's continual trampling. Hermegilda heaved to and barred the heavy gate. Swiftly they climbed back up the long slopes, still lit with sad orange against the deepness of the east sky. Sudden and keen above them they beheld the Great Star Eärendil in the roof of the vault, standing guard above the borders of the world, and both men were cheered.
"Aiya! Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!" cried Hermegilda. "It is cheering to see him burn so steady, as ice consumes the Middle-earth."
"It may not be ice that consumes it, but water." said his father soberly. "What if the clime should warmen?"
They were high above the flat lands now, and at the foot of the wall of dirty ice, itself still lit with dusky red alone amid the night-gloom that had pursued the pair up the hill. Tel-gilda led his son to a deep gorge in the ice beyond the end of the Fence, ever kept clear by the arts and the axes of the Rû-aida priests. But there were no priests there at so late an hour, and they could enter freely; nevertheless, they turned and looked upon the lands they knew, as do men about to enter into peril.
The sun to their eyes was already under the flat rim of the earth, but the west-sky was still a bright yellow, and to either side of the sun were two mighty clouds of fiery red, lifting dark wings up out of the sea; their heads were bright and their beaks like molten gold, yet under them darkness dwelled. A flicker like lightning came from one, and both men shivered.
"They look like the Eagles of the Lords of the West coming upon Númenor." said Tel-gilda in an absent tone, yet ominous to his son's ear. Tel-gilda shivered. "Those clouds bode ruin, yet not ours. Come. Let us face the Dead Gods."
The fissure in the ice led to a flight of ice-steps, melting and grimy. In the brown-grey ice they could see stones deep-buried, and limbs and even trunks of trees slowly crushed and consumed by the creeping wall. A grey dusk-clarity filled the air, enabling them to climb to the well where the Dead Ones were.
Here the ice had snapped apart long ago, and blue-grey walls streaked with soil led into a cave of ice. Within the air was bitter as a winter day and there was no more melting, and the strong damp smell of thawed ice and wet earth was no longer present. And there in the clear ice as if inside solid glass lay the figures of ancient men.
"Behold the Dead Gods." said Tel-gilda.
They were greater of stature than any men now known in Middle-earth; long and white their hair and beards, their frozen faces strong, fair and noble, of a loftiness and majesty as of a race divine indeed. A faint light seemed to fill the ice around them despite the dusk without. Crowns were on their heads, and rich robes about their bodies; on their long fingers were many jeweled rings, in their clasped hands ancient swords were held.
Hermegilda was already bending the knee, but his father arrested him. "Are we not like?" he said softly. "These were men, Hermegilda, men as we are, though of a race as far above ours as we are above the kine that we tend. But not gods. A god cannot die."
"I am afraid, father." said the younger man. "I feel as though I trespass."
"So was I, when first I saw them." said Tel-gilda. "For my father took me here even as I have taken you, and it is right to feel reverence for that which is reverable. But not worship. That is reserved for the Gods."
"Let us leave, father." said Hermegilda in a low voice. "Our coming may have been marked. Thou know'st how keen the sight of the priests be."
"Aye." Tel-gilda sighed. They picked their way in the gloom down the steps and walked down from the hills. Cold air parted as they walked through it, and dew swished upon their leather boots. The skies were obscured by great broken rooves of cloud, and all was dark. Below gleamed the lights of the village where the Sgarshoth had dwelt for nearly two lives of men. They quickened their stride, anxious to enter the chieftain's hall before the feast was over.
Strong and fair was that hall, of large beams rooted deep and joined well, the smoke from the central fire-pit guided out the hole by means of a woven screen of green twigs that hung from the roof: a marvel and a wonder to the rest of the tribe. At the long oak tables many were seated; mead was passing and men were shouting, while platters laden were being brought out by the servants. At the entry of Tel-gilda a cry went up: "Ho, tale-speaker, a song for us!" "A song, a song!" echoed the others.
"I have little to sing." he laughed. "Only a song of Eärendil before he became the Star. I know not whether thine ears would care for such."
"Sing! Sing!" the cry went up, and "Sing!" the chief ordered from his high chair. Tel-gilda bowed, sipped the mead that was being pressed on him, and began to sing. Yet even as he sang he realized it was in different form than tradition had preserved it; and he knew he was hearing it as it should have been heard, but had been lost, or mis-laid through the ages:
"Eärendil was a mariner that tarried in Arvernien; he built a boat of timber felled in Nimbrethil to journey in; her sails he wove of silver fair, with silver were her banners sewn her prow he fashioned like the swans that white upon the Falas roam.
His coat that came from ancient kings of chainéd rings was forged of old; his shining shield all wounds defied, with runes entwined of dragon-horn, his arrows shorn of ebony, of triple steel his habergeon, his scabbard of chalcedony; his sword was like a flame in sheath, with gems was wreathed his helmet tall, an eagle plume upon his crest, upon his breast an emerald.
Beneath the Moon and under star he wandered far from northern strands, bewildered on enchanted ways beyond the days of mortal lands. From gnashing of the Narrow Ice where shadow lies on frozen hills, from nether heats and burning waste he turned in haste, and roving still on starless waters far astray at last he came to Night of Naught and passed, and never sight he saw of shining shore nor light he sought. The winds of fear came driving him, and blindly in the foam he fled from west to east and errandless unheralded he homeward sped.
In might the Fëanorians that swore the unforgotten oath brought war into Arvernien with burning and with broken troth; and Elwing from her fastness dim then cast her in the waters wide, but like a mew was swiftly borne, uplifted o'er the roaring tide. Through hopeless night she came to him, and flame was in the darkness lit, more bright than light of diamond the fire upon her carcanet. The Silmaril she bound on him, and crowned him with the living light, and dauntless then with burning brow he turned his prow at middle-night. Beyond the world, beyond the Sea, then strong and free a storm arose, a wind of power in Tarmenel; by paths that seldom mortal goes from Middle-earth on mighty breath as flying wraith across the grey and long-forsaken seas distressed from East to West he passed away.
Through Evernight he back was borne on black and roaring waves that ran o'er leagues unlit and foundered shores that drowned before the Days began, until he heard on strands of pearl where ends the world the music long, where ever-foaming billows roll the yellow gold and jewels wan. He saw the Mountain silent rise where twilight lies upon the knees of Valinor, and Eldamar beheld afar beyond the seas. A wanderer escaped from night to haven white he came at last, to Elvenhome the green and fair where keen the air, where pale as glass beneath the Hill of Ilmarin a-glimmer in a valley sheer the lamplit towers of Tirion are mirrored on the Shadowmere.
He tarried there from errantry, and melodies they taught to him, and sages old him marvels told, and harps of gold they brought to him. They clothed him then in elven-white, and seven lights before him sent, as through the Calacirian to hidden land forlorn he went. He came unto the timeless halls where shining fall the countless years, and endless reigns the Elder King forever king on mountain sheer; and words unheard were spoken then of folk of Men and Elven-kin, beyond the world were visions showed forbid to those that dwell therein.
A ship then new they built for him of mithril and of elvenglass with crystal keel; no shaven oar nor sail she bore, on silver mast the Silmaril as lantern light and banner bright with living flame of fire unstained by Elbereth herself was set, who thither came and wings immortal made for him, and laid on him undying doom, to sail the shoreless skies and come behind the Sun and light of Moon.
From Evereven's lofty hills where softly silver fountains fall his wings him bore, a wandering light, beyond the mighty Mountain Wall. From World's End then he turned away, and yearned again to find afar his home through shadows journeying, and burning as an island star on high above the mists he came, a distant flame before the Sun, a wonder ere the waking dawn where grey the Norland waters run.
And over Middle-earth he passed and heard at last the weeping sore of women and of elven-maids in Elder Days, in years of yore. But on him mighty doom was laid till Moon should fade, an orbéd star to pass, and tarry never more on Hither Shores where mortals are; till end of Days on errand high, a herald bright that never rests, to bear his burning lamp afar, the Flammifer of Westernesse."
There was silence in the hall after the last notes of his strong deep voice had died in the faint echoes of the great smoky beams. Men were sober, looking thoughtful, some uneasy: the strange mysteries of the song had pulled their hearts, roused the queer longing that in all men lies buried.
"I have not heard the song thus sung, Gilda." said the older of the two Rû-aida, who sat next to the chieftain. He was broad and fat, but strong, and the eyes in his heavy face were dark and dangerous. He wore a wreath of mistletoe about his neck, bright against the deep grey of his long robes. "Hast thou corrupted it?"
"It was a song of my father before me." said Tel-gilda, unmoved.
"Why came thou so late to the feast?" the priest pressed further. "And whither went thee after shutting up the kine?"
"To gaze upon the stars and brood." answered Tel-gilda. "Now I grow hungry. If thou art done, I will take meat." and he strode to his son's side and was seated.
The day dawned cloudy, but when the sun climbed into the east the clouds fell away to unveil a sky as clear a blue as ice. Tel-gilda and his son fared out at first light, for the village needed arrow-shafts and few had as keen an eye for selecting the twigs as did Tel-gilda. The older man bore with him his bow, for in the dry river there was often game, and his larder was low. They spoke some, and then sometimes miles would pass ere either uttered a word.
"I find it passing hard to picture so huge a stream, father." Hermegilda said at one point. "Seven hundred strides and more doth it easure across, and fifteen cubits rise the banks on either side, and yet yonder sycamore would need four men to encircle it's bole."
"Yet here is the bed, and here it must have flowed." answered Tel-gilda. "But whether it will ever flow again-I do not know. Not while the Ice is yet there."
"Gilda!" hailed a voice from their rear. "A word."
"Thou mayest have more." said Teel-gilda with a wry face, as he and his son turned to face the old Rû-aida priest.
"Strange were the things thou spoke of at the feast." said the priest. "And why went thou alone to the Dead Gods without ritual or prayer?-for the Ice and the steps told me thou had passed."
"I felt them unneeded." the old man made answer.
"Tell me, Gilda son of Gilda," the priest said of a sudden, "what gods serve ye?"
"I serve the Lords of the West." said Tel-gilda, and wonder grew in him as he heard his mouth name without bidding the ominous words of last even.
The priest's eyes became like the flints by the fire. "Dot thou honor the Dead Gods?"
"I do them revere as far as is right to venerate the forms of other men, who though they be kings are yet kings of men." Tel-gilda said quietly.
"My father speaketh for me." said Hermegilda as the dark eyes flicked upon him.
"Then shalt thou earn the reward of blasphemers." said the Rû-aida, and lifting his staff he stared into their eyes. Dark were his eyes as the depths of a chasm, larger, larger than anything around them, blotting out all that was nearby out of their sight. Drowse and a weariness beyond measure came upon them, as mind and life slipped and slowly slid toward the chasm of his eyes. Tel-gilda fought the dark tide, slowly, his mind groping like a man in thick water, and it seemed to him that he was indeed struggling in dark waters, a great river bearing him with it as it swept down the old bed; and it was cold, cold as hell itself. As he slowly thrashed in the queer current he saw shapes of men like solid stones, standing there amid the tide, and stars gleamed like point of flame upon their brows, and their stern faces stared into his. And he stood amid the brush of the dry river, and he was grasping his son's hand, and the spell was gone from him.
"Run, Hermegilda!" he roared. "We must run!"
Roused as if from death-sleep the son stumbled in his wake, and Tel-gilda looked backward as they crashed through the brush. The clouds were rushing in upon the Rû-aida, and the blue heaven was obscured, for dark and hostile it grew even as he looked. Then did some forgotten strength from distant fathers beyond reck or memory descend upon Tel-gilda; he drew his son beside him with his hand and fled faster than the wind itself that was now howling in pursuit, and upon it rode the Rû-aida, and light leaped from his staff. No time at all did it seem to Tel-gilda before the frowning wall of ice loomed before him, and the two men scrambled up the slippery broken ledges of it's face. Swiftly though they climbed, the wind was swifter yet, and even as they pulled themselves upon a dirt-coated shelf wider than most, he came upon them.
"Into the ice, father!" cried Hermegilda, sliding into a round smooth hole like the wormholes of an apple and pulling the old man after him. The Rû-aida landed on the ledge. Up a slippery chute eaten by melting water the two men clambered, their hands near frozen even when cushioned by the furs. Tel-gilda looked between his legs, and beneath him was climbing the Rû-aida, and his dark eyes were like flames. The two men scrambled for their very lives.
The hole opened in a tall fissure that had a floor like a street and walls curved and fluted, which came together far over their heads. Light pierced dimly through the ice, and horizontal streaks of frozen earth and rocks formed queer bands in the cold walls. Hermegilda seized a great rough stone lying in a hollow it had melted into the floor and heaved it down the hole they had come out of. There were crashes and thuds from the pit, and a scream from the Rû-aida; and then there was silence, nor did he emerge.
Up the street of ice the two men hurried. They passed springs of meltwater seeping from cracks in the ice, and the street twisted and began to climb, the floor suddenly becoming broken and rough. Once a great boulder projected from the ice halfway across the crack, and in the far wall was a mighty hole to correspond. In the dim and mysterious light the ice seemed a blue-grey as deep as a cloudy evening. The air was cold as at dawn of a winter night, when iron ground and iron sky breathe of man's ending and the growing light is pale like despair; but with an inexpressible scent of stale things held imprisoned. The fissure had been climbing, constantly climbing, and Tel-gilda reckoned they were far above the level of the buried kings. What tombs did they come from, those noble long-dead ones? Where had they dwelled when they walked and ruled over men? He did not know, and in his heart he doubted that he ever would.
The winding ragged shaft terminated abruptly, and the two wayfarers stumbled out into a veritable canyon in the ice. Far above was a band of night sky, and hard and clear Eärendil shone in the zenith of the heavens. A cold courage entered the hearts of the men of Middle-earth as they walked up the broken climbing floor of the mighty cleft. Rocks and earth torn from the buried hills filled the floor and formed a crude stairway to the heights.
"What manner of rock is this?" Hermegilda cried out from around a sharp bend in the shaft. The father hurried up to the point his son had reached, and found the canyon paused in a small cavernous theater before mounting again. Meltwater made the ice-floor slick underfoot, but sand and gravel was swirled in odd patterns under the skin of water and they did not slip. On the far side of this theater the eyes of Tel-gilda were drawn by a stone of such vast size as to dwarf all they had yet encountered, imprisoned at the base of an ice-cliff. Out of the ice it rose, to a height like a young hill, and it was once graven in the likeness of a face, whose stone beard and cheek were cloven by a mighty crack but whose granite brows and stone eyes, grim and forbidding though high as a man, still stared out as across great distance. Only half the face was visible, for the ice concealed the rest. Yet even pitted and gnawed by the grinding of the ice, it's sternness and grim majesty fixed and held the two fugitives.
A deep roaring growl made them whirl. Coming up the shaft where they had emerged were two great cats, their huge teeth like knives on either side of their evil faces. Behind them there rode upon a mighty bear the Rû-aida, blood clotting horribly on many grevious wounds the rock had given him. The ancient ice shuddered at their tread.
"Rend them, my children!" the priest roared, lifting his staff. "Show them, my children, what the vengeance of the Rû-aida is like!"
The roar of the tigers shook the icen walls. Cracks appeared in the wall around the buried stone. Several small pebbles clattered down from great heights. The two men backed up, and turning scrambled up the battered face of stone, scoured and grooved by ages of tossing in the bowels of the ice. Out of the wall Tel-gilda pulled a long broken pole, once a proud forest bough ere the ice reft it from it's parent tree, but now freed again, one end jagged and sharp as a natural spear. The cats roared again and leaped, and Tel-gilda thrust his spear into the tiger's face as it crashed upon him, and the weight of it's falling body tore the branch from him; but it was a dead beast that bore away his spear. There was a snarling whine as Hermegilda succeeded in dislodging the other cat's precarious footing and sent it flopping to the icy floor, where it lay shuddering.
Loud shouted the Rû-aida priest in his fury. The great bear pressed forward, planting it's huge paws on the stone eyes, so that the bloody face of the priest stared into theirs as they balanced on the stone brows. He lifted his flaming staff. Cracks snaked up the wall as he did, and with a sharp clear thundering snap the entire half of the ice-cliff separated, huge chunks of stone-laden ice falling about them. Tel-gilda and Hermegilda threw their backs against the cliff. Powdered ice fell like snow. At length all was still. A new rift snaked upward behind the stone head, it's walls on the right of striped blue ice, but on the left of mighty slabs and ice-boulders leaning back. The bear, beaten to it's knees, was cowering upon the theater floor, and the priest crouched upon it, spells still trickling from his staff. With a hard squeaking groan the ice holding bound the king of stone gave way, and the immense head parted from the icy claws that secured it and leaned ponderously forward. Off it they sprang, onto the new rough-torn ice of the rift-floor, as the great rock poised above the Rû-aida, whose eyes widened in sudden fear as he shrieked incantations. But spell and magic fell aside from the ancient king, and it rolled foward and toppled upon it's face, crushing beneath it's fallen brow the Rû-aida and his steed. Down the great chasm in the ice it bounded, and crash after crash shook the glacier, the sound of rending ice and rending stone.
In silence Tel-gilda and his son resumed their upward climb, not daring the peril of the way behind. It was a dangerous trek, though the ice gleamed strangely from chasms and holes that let in a blue ghost of lost sunlight. Now and again an ice-rock would shift or slide, and they would be hard-pressed to elude it, but always some fate led them on.
They came out upon the roof of the ice. Thin and harsh was the air at such a height, and their breath came hard and fast. A rolling plain of brown and sad grey met their eyes under a sky as blue as a lake, and of Eärendil there was no trace. Rocks projected from the old weathered ice, and here and there were humps higher than the rest. Here and there sparkled a pool of meltwater, already crystallizing on the edges, and huge crescentine stripes of frozen and half-thawed debris made wide swirls and strange patterns upon the surface. Moss and small delicate plants grew on these.
"Father! Seest thou whither the caverns of ice have led us!" cried Hermegilda. To the west, black against the lowering sun, rose out of the icy roof short crags and black peaks white with snow. "We are nigh to the Buried Mountains!"
"My father called them White." said Tel-gilda. He shivered in the chill thin air. "Wait. Hermegilda, a thought comes. It is nigh eventide. We shall perish at these heights with the cold."
"Mayhap there are caverns or sheltered places in the Buried Peaks." his son said. "We can reach them ere sundown. Let us hasten!"
It was a long way they had yet to go, for near though they seemed the Buried Mountains were yet some miles off. But as sunset lit the stormy sky like flame and made the ice glow a brilliant rose, they reached at last the stony slopes and icy flanks of the nearest peak to thrust from the ice. Here banks of snow lay in every shadow, a snow like large granules of sand, layer on layer as a rule, and at the bottom, ice. There were only a few harsh tiny plants climbing out of the stones, and rock and snow were dyed like blood in the red glare of the descending orb.
As they climbed around a large boulder in the fellside, Hermegilda put his foot through a rotted wood door and fell into a cave that lay beneath. As he was by good chance unhurt, they broke up the remainder of the wood door and used it to make a fire.
When the light leaped up from the flames, it laid bare a large domed cavern, dry and clean save for the ashes of ancient fires and the soot these had left on the walls. The rock was reddish and veined with yellow, and some surfaces sparkled like gems. But there were other things on the wall besides soot-streaks.
Pictures were painted upon the wall, many pictures, pictures of kine and stiff-shaped stick-men, and of great bison, and mighty beasts that walked before the Ancient Darkness. They were done in red and in black, in brown and in yellow.
"Look here, Hermegilda." said Tel-gilda, and his son crossed the cave. Here the pictures were not merely wandering sketches, but quite evidently had a purpose in mind, a tale or a legend.
"It seems to be waves." the younger man declared after studying the curious undulations beneath the first picture. Upon each wave was an odd triangle, tilted at a steep angle. The next picture showed tall graceful stick-men with pointed heads being bowed to by much smaller stick-men, and the tall ones bore swords. Then there was a tall conical peak, and a hill below it that had seven ledges and a sharp prow like a ship; a very well-done and old-looking picture. Dark bat-like shapes swooped about it, although the ledged hill was white. And last of all was a mountain painted red at the top with a ball of billowy black atop it.
"Men came out of the sea." murmered Tel-gilda. "Men fleeing from ruin. They are greeted here as kings. What are they fighting, and where did they go? Where did they flee from, and why were they fleeing?" He sighed and shook his head. "We never will know. Come, let us eat the dried beef I took in my pouch ere we left, and rest. On the morrow we will go back to the Sgarshoth, and hope that the other Rû-aida does not become our enemy also."
The fire glowed low, the embers red and quiet, when Tel-gilda added their last piece and lay down, wrapped in his furs, against his son's back. His wandering eyes noted the queer shadows wavering in and out as the flames flickered, and dwelt once more on those beautiful but primitive paintings of artists long perished from the earth, ere slumber took him.
The Third Age: Galdor
The sea was soft and quiet on that evening, Agaldor reflected as he stood upon the rocky shore. Boulders of old pink granite, washed round by the waves of countless ages, tumbled from his perch into the lapping water. The tide was in and the sea-moss and weed were covered, their curious ran smell no longer filling the air. The sun had long since set and a cool wind was blowing in from the sea, but the sky was still a bright pale blue in the west. Slowly there mounted, borne on the shore-wind, a long line of huge clouds. Narrow summits they had, with queer curved plumes at the side like the beak of a huge bird of prey. Now tremendous purple wings lifted from the sea, and the great clouds advanced, like the very eagles of the Lord of the West. A formless foreboding stirred in him at the sight of these clouds, and turning he hurriedly climbed up the beach above the rocks, passing down behind the land-wall to the houses. Lamps were already lit though the clear afterlight of evening had not yet departed. Men sitting by one of the doors eyed him doubtfully, and after he had gone by they began to speak of him.
"There goes Agaldor again, from his speech with the sea; earlier than usual." said one. "He has been haunting the shores more than ever of late."
"He will be giving tongue soon, and prophesying strange things," said another, "and may the Lords of the West set words more comforting in his mouth than before."
"The Lords of the West will tell him naught." said a third. "If ever they were on land or sea they have left this earth, and man is his own master from here to the sunrise.
"Why should we be plagued with the dreams of a twilight-walker? His head is stuffed with them, and there let them bide. One would think to hear him talk that the world had ended in the last age, not new-begun, and we were living in the ruins."
A fourth man, who had not spoken, now said in a quiet voice, "He is one of the old folk, and well-nigh the last of the long-lived in these regions. Those who knew the Eldar and had seen the Friends of the Gods had a wisdom we forget."
"Wisdom I know not," the previous speaker said dubiously, "but woe certainly in abundance if any of their tales are true. I know not (though I doubt it.) But give me the Sun. That is glory; one we see too seldom in this foggy clime. I would that the long life of Agaldor might be shortened. It is he that holds us nigh this sea-margin-too near the mournful water. I would we had a leader to take us East or South. They say the land is golden in the kingdoms of the Sun."
"And how would you it be shortened?" said the quiet one, and there was a chill in his voice that drew on him the surprised attention of the others.
"Nay!" the talkative one laughed. "Nay, good Meldor, I meant no talk of harm to thy adopted father. My speech was but a longing, likely to be a vain one, for other climes where a man does not need to bear a cloak with him whenever he steps outdoors. What evil in that?"
"None conscious, but idle often breeds it underground." Meldor said in his even voice. "Here in the North we are nigh to the Elvish realm of Lindon, and in the lands where the Valar trod. South there are the treeless lands and the few havens, and Tharbad by the Swanfleet marshes. Long would it be ere we crossed into fair Gondor where the Men of Westernesse dwell."
"Why holds he us hither?" argued the other. "There is in this land not wealth or fruitful soil or any other good thing."
"Perhaps he, like myself, loves this land." Meldor said coolly, and got up to return to his own fireside. He had married some time ago and now had a son, whom he called Hardor. When pressed on the choice of so odd a name, he had shrugged and glanced at Agaldor. The tacitly accepted leader had replied, "The name stands for Friend of Bliss, within the limits of the Valar's ordaining, even as the name of his father means Elf-friend and mine own means God-friend." Meldor had accepted it, as he accepted all the strange foretellings of his adopted father.
The stone and thatch cottage he had built for his wife lay some distance back from the sea, and the high wall running along the ridge that defended the low plain from the sea, stood up against the sky like the backbone of a whale. The large hall of Agaldor, made as fortress in the case of attack, stood to the right, even taller.
"Ah, Meldor, there you are." said Agaldor, coming up to him. "I have words for you."
"Not evil ones, I hope." Meldor said.
"They may be, but the evil is not of you. There is talk of supplanting me and migrating to the south, far from this land that we both love. You have heard it, I think."
"Aye, but this evening." the other made answer.
"To remove to the south would but lead us into the jaws of death; Gondor is beset by the Wainriders who travel in huge wains, and her men are few since the Plague which we avoided here in the north. To go east of here into Eriador would do no good; the troubled kings in Arnor quarrel among themselves even as the Witch-king pushes from Angmar. His shadow reaches far, my son, even across forests and empty moors to trouble us upon the coast. Yet here he cannot reach us, not unless he overwhelms the last host of the Dúnedain and Arnor is his."
"How can you speak so plainly of what men whisper in fearful hints?" Meldor exclaimed.
"Because such is my doom." Agaldor replied. "It will not be my lot to lead the people much longer, Meldor. My death comes fast."
"You are yet hale and strong." Meldor said, deeply troubled. "Your span is not half done. What talk is this?"
"Listen well to me, son by adoption." said the old man. "Think you Angmar does not know of us and our aloof lonely dwelling by the sea? When they come against Arnor they want no loose ends, no unaccounted hosts that might emerge from the trees and turn his flank. And we are numerous enow, you must know, with over two thousand men fit for war. Oh yes, they will visit us."
"Whom are you speaking of, my father?"
"The others." said Agaldor. "There are more than the Witch-king. Beware of large stooped men all robed in black who will not show their face. Show them no love, no hospitality; do not let them pass the gate of your town or the doors of your house."
"Why say you this to me?"
"Because it is you who will succeed me. You must take lead and give orders, and if they heed you not, then flee with your son and your wife; do not linger to snatch a tool from the wall. With all our folk we might hold these black ones off, until they come with all Angmar at their back. But alone-no man can fight them alone, even were he of heart stout enough to abide their coming, unless he bears weapons such as were carried up out of the West by the Men of the Sea upon their landing."
"I cannot lead. Nor will they heed me."
Agaldor nodded. "We will speak of this later. In any case there are yet years before us ere my forebodings pass upon us."
Many times in the years that followed did Meldor remember these ominous words. Hardor grew strong and dark-haired, though not overtall, and he was like his father in the quiet bearing of himself among others. Meldor had often turned his troubled eyes south when he thought of Agaldor's words; south to where the great forested promontory of the Eryn Vorn ran out into the sea. Yet no signs of the stooped men did he see during all those years.
It was when Hardor was sixteen that his father began to be worried for him, for he began to speak strangely, more after the fashion of the young men, and to treat his leader with diffidence.
"Hardor, whither goest thou?" Meldor said to him on an evening, when eight years had passed since the words of Agaldor. Hardor had donned his cloak and was wearing black, as if he were going to hunt at night. At his father's voice he started and murmered "To the sea."
"Then I will go with you." said Meldor, pulling down and donning his own cloak. Hardor looked with surprise at his usually meek father, but he said nothing and they walked up toward the sea-wall together.
"You are nigh on the eve of manhood." said Meldor of a sudden. "There are words I must speak to you on this night, before you pass from my care and stand upon your own."
"Thou chose an ill night for such a matter." said Hordor, and the coldness of that "thou" chilled into his father's heart.
"And perchance I am overlate." sighed Meldor. "I should have told you years ago of what perils are to come." They passed the land-wall and stood upon the stony beach above the round boulders, and looked upon the sea. The west was shrouded in cloud and there was gloom on land and water.
"Beware the stooped men large of frame and robed in black who do not show their faces. For their coming is fell and bodes the destruction of all our people. Do not let them pass the gates of the town or the doors of the house." said Meldor in a strange voice.
"Why do you speak of such things?" Hardor said. "Whom are these men and why are we to fear them?"
"Because they come from Angmar." said Meldor.
Hardor turned rapidly about, but not a soul was near. "Thou fool!" he hissed, shaking his father. "We could be heard! That name must not be spoken!"
"Saith whom?" the father said, in a voice like a knife.
Hardor's hands fell from him. "Saith...those who have knowledge."
"What of Agaldor? Does not he have knowledge?"
"Not of the kind that matters in this time. Thou knowest not, father, what goes on here."
"Where wert thou going when I stopped thee this night?" the father asked, disturbed beyond measure.
"Going? I...needed the air."
"Nay. Thou wert on the way to a meeting of those who hate my father, and meseems thou already knowest more of the men robed in black than do I."
"Do not make thy wild charges with such haste, my father." said Hardor, and bitterness was in his voice. "I am left alone, and have little choice. My friends are deep already and I cannot retreat."
"I will leave you then, my son, lest my speaking with thee bring peril on both our heads. But remember this, ere I go: Agaldor is mightier than you know. He is of the race of Númenor, the Kings from the Sea, and he sees far and much is put into his mind. Do not think you have deceived him as you have me. May the Valar keep you."
Hardor said nothing, but he turned and walked off along the shore, and his feet were turned south. Meldor watched him go with a great sadness in his heart.
"This I had NOT forseen." said Agaldor, standing up from among the rocks. He too was wearing dark, and his son had no knowledge of how long he had been there.
"He is in the grip of something." said Meldor.
"Go after him." said Agaldor. "Seize him and hold him fast ere he can enter the Vorn. I will go on and confront the evil that has in secret stolen our sons."
The two men hastened after the track of the youth. In the manner of men hunting deer they proceeded along the coast, crossing behind bushes and using the rocks. In this fashion after some miles they drew near to the saltmarshes that stood between them and the Eryn Vorn, the forest standing like a black wall on the far side, the pale sea sighing on the right. Here the light of several fires flared bright amid the wan flats, and the dark shape of Hardor, now scarce a dozen feet in front, hastened as he caught sight of it. Meldor abandoned concealment and leaped upon him, grappling with his son; no easy task, for Hardor was strong and fought hard, but at last he overcame him.
"Art wood?" snarled Hardor. "I spake the password as I came! Know'st thou not me yet?!"
"Oh yes, I know thee very well, Herendil." said Meldor harshly, using the Elven form of his son's name by some unfathomable instinct. "Thou art not free of my power yet, not till the mid-day of thy sixteenth summer. Which is yet a month hence. Now be thou still!"
"One shout from me, father, and the others will come, and thou wouldst be lucky to escape whole!" hissed Hardor.
"Agaldor will occupy their full attention, I ween." said Meldor. Hardor remained quiet, though sullen with fury.
"Thou art doing a fool's deed, my father." he said of a sudden. "Flee while you can. I see his boat coming even now out of the Vorn."
Meldor looked where his son was pointing. A small blackness was moving across the pale expanse, like a piece of the forest-shadow broken off and blown by a dark wind.
"Father, you do not know his power. He holds us thrall, so that we cannot disobey him. He is calling, calling us; we flee but cannot hide, for he smells us out of the tallest tree and darkest hole. And he--he has no face." said Hardor, his voice faint.
"Do not move or speak!" hissed Meldor, knocking his son flat. "Or I may knock thee senseless an I must!"
The dark boat touched the shore, and the firelight seemed not to reach it. A stooping black shape stood in the stern, and carefully it stepped out onto the land. It was very large and very tall, stooped like a man beneath a hard burden, black-robed and wrapped closely in a great dark mantle with drooping cowl. No face was visible beneath the hood, even when he faced the firelight. A great sword hung at his side, and large hideous boots were on his feet. Gloves of black leather concealed his hands.
"Gather." said the black figure. The voice was low and stiff with a harsh sigh behind it, and fear came over all who heard it. Yet they could not disobey, and all the gathered young people, men and maidens alike, moved in around him: more than five hundreds must have been there waiting. One figure remained aloof, his own black cloak about him, motionless. Meldor felt a weakness come over his limbs. Hardor was burying his face in the grass, strange babblings coming from his mouth, smothered by the earth.
"Tonight we strike as I have planned." came the sad stiff voice. "Galdor will be slain, and I will ensure that Herdor will be made leader, and he will lead you to warm lands in the South. We of Angmar care not where you go, so you do not return. The King is generous."
"The King is generous." they all repeated.
"Where now is Herdor? The hour has come." the cold voice said, and the shapeless head turned, this way and that.
"He is not here." said Agaldor, not moving from his place
"Ah! Old fool, so thou walkst into the noose and fit it with thine own hands about thy neck." And the black figure drew the great sword hanging shrouded beneath his cloak; the fire dimmed, and in the mirk the blade was visible like a chill flame.
"I am Agaldor of the Dúnedain." said Agaldor, and tossing back his cloak he also drew a sword. Long and bitter and ancient, the blade gleamed along the edges as if they had kindled and were alight: a blade of the north-kingdom, wrought by the fell kings with spells of hate for Angmar and all it's works.
"Thou fool." said the harsh sigh of the black figure.
Agaldor lunged upon him, and as he passed the fire he snatched up a brand with his left hand. From the Black Walker came a high and deadly screech, thin, keen and utterly horrible; it rose in wail above wail and heart and mind of all who heard it froze with a creeping fear. Meldor would have flung himself down beside his son and wormed into the earth, had he been able to move. Agaldor slowed, his old body jolted with sudden fear, and the blade of the Black Walker plunged into his chest. With a cry of rage in a strange and unknown tongue that rang clear and high above the soundless marshes, Agaldor slashed apart the mantle of his foe, lunging with the torch as he did. And lo! there was nothing within the shapeless rags, or nothing to be marked by human eyes at any rate, as mantle and robe fell upon the ground. And at once the numbing fear and helpless terror left the land: the horror was, if not slain, at least disclad, and had gone.
Breaking into a run Meldor burst in among the prostrate youths collapsed as with fear and caught his foster-father as the wounded man let fall his sword. Carefully he eased him to the ground and tore open the rent and soggy shirt.
"Nay, that wound cannot be healed, Elf-friend." Agaldor said in a frail voice. "Blades like that never cut in vain: I am poisoned as well as injured."
Hardor stumbled into the firelight, over the prostrate youths lying aswoon in the Black Breath. When he saw his foster-grandfather he halted in sudden shame.
"Hardor, a fool and a sinner but not evil." the dying man said weakly. "You were faced with a being too great for you, a creature that cannot die. It has gone shapeless back to Carn Dûm, and comes no more, but Angmar yet endures, and the North-kingdom is doomed." Blood caught his speech. "Meldor, lead them well." he said, and the life drained from his eyes. The swooning youths were stirring, recovering slowly from their illness, and Meldor laid his head upon the body and his tears flowed from him unashamed.
"There is thickness in my mouth." mumbled one youth, looking as thick and stupid as if pulled from drowning. "There is darkness...No! No! Don't take me!"
Meldor laid down the dead body, a black anger in his heart, and got slowly up. A blow of his fist knocked the youth flat. "Get on your feet and head for home!" he roared. The roused youths looked on him dumbfounded as he smote another and another of them to the ground. "Get up, you laggards, you curs, you brainless thralls to shadows of night! We are going to be ready for the black ones when next they come. They shall not walk down our streets nor set foot within sight of us, while yet we draw breath and have strength in our hearts! Get up! Get thee back to home! Agaldor is slain, but I Meldor his son will lead you through the troubles to come!"
And the teenagers, abashed and groggy from the terrors of that night, obeyed him like sheep.
The Fall of Gil-Galad
Elendil the Tall, King of the Realm in Exile upon the shores of Middle-earth, dismounted at the base of Elostirion tallest of the three Elf-towers of Emyn Beraid, which Gil-galad had wrought for his friend Elendil in years long past. His men also dismounted, the esquire coming forth to hold both his own and Elendil's horses. The banner-bearer rested his hands with relief: though the banner was fixed upright upon the saddle by a cunning harness, it still needed constant attention. At the sound of the horns men hurried out of the concealed doorway and took the horses, while others came out to wait upon the men and offer refreshment. Elendil waved them away and stood outside for a moment as his men trooped within; today's ride had been a long one and he wanted to gaze at the land while his legs got used to the earth.
Elostirion stood on a high green hill, bare of tree but deep in grass, and among the grass at his feet tiny white stars opened, and pink and blue eyes nodded from the blooming grass. He could see the green lands to the west, and the faint line of the Gulf, and far away the dim teeth of Ered Luin-or Ered Lindon as they were calling it these days-serrated the fair sky. Behind the Elf-tower's white stone the large green hills rolled, and on the two highest, to left and right but further east than Elostirion, were two smaller white towers.
He entered the hall with a sigh; the lands were fair, but even though for a moment they had seemed new and strange and filled with romance they were no substitute for the lovely hills of Atalante. For such did the fallen land name itself in his mind now, and as such did they refer to it, the Exiles; when they did, which was seldom, for the grief of that loss was little dimmed by all the decades passed since. The hall seemed suddenly strange to his eyes, and he glanced about and allowed himself the pleasing fancy that he had never seen the tower's interior yet and all was new and wonderful; though in truth he came here quite frequently, since Gil-galad had builded the three towers for him soon after his coming.
He was in a hall about twelve feet in height and eight in breadth, which pierced the full width of the tower base. The walls were marble, a gleaming white like moonlight, and rose in fluted ribs, arching and meeting high above. At the back rose a flight of stairs. Men bustled about, carrying bundles or burdens; servants, knights and squires near-colliding with maids and cooks: a cheering sight. He made for the stairs, walking stiffly from his ride: after he had looked in the Stone he would need a good long bath. The stair was far narrower than the hall, barely four feet, curving slowly to the right-inset into the outer wall's thickness, he supposed. The ceiling was formed by a series of green-white pointed arches one above the other, wrought of clear crystal that was faintly luminous. The arches rose from the ends of each step. So steep were these stairs one could use hands as well as feet; though Elendil did not feel like scampering up the stair in such fashion. Isildur might, if he were in one of his rare merry moods or was in a hurry.
The stair seemed endless. Every now and again he crossed a small landing or passed doors, strange and pointed and made of some white metal, and some of these were open, and voices issued from within. The curve of the stairwell sharpened as the tower tapered. Abruptly the stair ended at a great door of strange shape within a fantastic gleaming archway. The door was, as customary, shut and locked; Elendil only allowed the Stone-warden to access the chamber when he was not here. He spoke the opening word, hearing his voice ring out "Nogothrim!" and noticing with some surprise that his voice was strong, musical and deep, as if he had heard a stranger's voice. He shook his head: evidently he needed food and sleep more than he had thought. The door parted in the middle and swung slowly outwards without a sound.
Elendil stepped over the curving marble threshold. There in the top of the tower was a wide room. Walls of white stone rose in beautiful patterns and forms to a roof of lofty blue. There in the center was a stand, carved with birds and beasts now long vanished from the world, and in the hollow cup in the center was a round black globe of polished glass; or crystal, for Elendil knew it was tougher than any stone of mortal earth. It was not transparent, and yet a strange red gleam shimmered far down in it's depths, beyond the reflection of the semi-luminous walls upon it's surface. Elendil walked around it till he was facing west, for this Stone was a palantír and a gift from the Eldar to the house of the Elf-friends in the deepening of the shadow. But unlike the other six it only looked west, to Elvenhome. Bending over it with his hands upon the stand he stared into the Stone.
It was, as always, a very curious sensation. His mind was pulled in and along the rushing path of the Stone's sight; he saw the Havens far below tiny and yet near, and the crooked ridge of the Blue Mountains, and Beleager the great Sea gleamed beyond. His sight did not bend as did the seas, and the sea fell away while his sight went on straight over the white plain that cut through air and space and at last became real water again. A great green island, glittering with blossom like a wreath strung with jewels, lay amid the waters that were more blue than the skies of Middle-earth, and there upon the near shore was the white tower above the Haven Avallondë, bright as a star. Beyond Elendil, concentrating with all his strength, saw mountain-walls of pearl-white, so high they seemed part of the background of the heavens and were difficult to see, and one rose beyond all comprehension: Taniquetil, the home of Manwë Herunúmen, the Elder King. That was all that even the Seeing-stone would reveal of the Blessed Realm of Valinor.
Elendil stepped back from the Stone, a great ache throbbing all through his eyes and head. He rubbed one hand across his forehead and banished the ache, but the weariness still remained. Middle-earth, after all, was not Númenor; the bent seas covered that land forever. The weariness made his feet feel heavy as he walked out the door, but he did not regret it, having wished to look back with straight sight once more and see the vanished West, before this march of doom, this last alliance against his ancient foe.
He was glad enough to sink into the bath the servants had prepared, but his mind would not rest, there were so many details to work out, so many captains to account for; even though the main host was to assemble at Imladris, Gil-galad was to meet him here and gather the muster of Arnor at Annúminas. It was to be a vast host, so great a muster as Middle-earth had not seen since the shattering of Thangorodrim, and very likely would take years in the assembling. He hoped Anarion could hold out long enough; Isildur had said Osgiliath was making a fierce resistance when he left, and Anarion had seemed confident enough when Elendil had last spoken to him by Stone. But Minas Ithil was taken, and Sauron-who knew what devilry Sauron might yet bring?
"Isildur!" he called. His eldest son emerged from the adjoining apartment in which he had been lodged, arrayed in a robe hued like flame; he had evidently finished already with his bath. Not nigh as tall as his father, Isildur stood but some seven feet and was stocky of build and frame, his hair and short beard dark, his eyes strong and masterful.
"You call me, my father?" he asked in the tone of easy affection he was wont to use toward Elendil.
"I desire to talk, Herendil." said Elendil, using his son's old name as he often did when they were alone. Isildur permitted few others to use it, for to him the name roused old memories he preferred to put behind him; of youthful folly and error, and besides he had won the name Isildur at a hard price.
Isildur seated himself upon the couch, thrusting his bare legs from under the robe. "I hearken. How went thy speech with the Stone?"
"I was comforted." said Elendil. "Comforted, and yet I knew I would never look into it again. Sauron will get me this time, my son; I feel it within me. The kingship is thine if I fall in this war, as thou art oldest; but I wished to speak of other things."
"Does Akallabêth weigh still on thy heart?"
"Aye, she does that. Atalantë, Westernesse; aiye, the last sight I had of her the Melentarma had burst into flame, and the great wave was climbing over her, dark and green and horribly strong. It is full one hundred years and twelve since the Downfalling."
"Fast go the years in Middle-earth." Isildur said somberly. "My White Tree was tall and wide in Minas Ithil, it's girth so large the hands could not meet on it's far side, that tiny shoot I bore with me up onto the ruined shore. It is burned now." he added. "The smoke from it's burning was fortunate, though: it clung about the pass like a fog of night and shrouded our escape, and followed us even down the river, and we were clean away ere the enemy knew it. Yet I saved a seedling, and the Ithil-stone."
"Yet still the Shadow lies upon the Dúnedain, even us the Faithful the friends of the Elves. I have heard my servants murmer that they dreaded laying them down on their death-beds, longing still after endless life unchanging. Learned they nothing of Sauron, think you? His teachings linger even in the minds that forswore him."
"Arc Sauron!" Isildur spat. "Much have I to demand of him when we meet, in payment of groans and cries beneath my battering sword. How he can have survived the Downfall, father, is what I cannot understand. Númenor was overthrown, sliding into the chasm; no living thing could have escaped from thence!"
"Perhaps he is no living thing." said Elendil. "Mayhap his body was but a mask, armour upon his essential being. I do not know. Whatever he be, whatever shape he taketh, we must fight him, ere he grows so mighty he swallows both our realms."
"I fear this war will not settle him, father." said Isildur. "He has orcs, and men, aye even of those who sware fealty to us. As I found."
"What news from the Mountains? How many men is their king sending?" inquired Elendil.
Isildur's brow darkened. "None." he said shortly. "I forgot that nine twelves of years and more had passed since the King of the Mountains swore me allegiance upon the great stone I set at Erech to mark my landing. I came to that stone some months past and sounded my horn; but answer was there none from the fields or the hills.
"I pressed on, to the deep way the Drûath had delved in the morning of the world, the first men to cross the Anduin or pile holds in the west of Middle-earth; ere the tall grim folk came out of the East and drove them out of the mountains; and it was night. The warders of the Blackroot leaped up, barring my path, and when I spoke my name but held their spears tighter, and there was hatred in their deep dark eyes. But at the lash of my anger they sent word by relay and torch-flash, and the King of the Mountains came to meet me. The grandson he was of the king that I knew, tall and kingly with a narrow hollow face; standing not a foot below my own brow. And he refused my summons. Zígûr we worshipped long before, ere the great hill-boats were cast upon our fields and my foolish grandsire groveled before thee; and Zígûr will we follow now, said he.
"Black anger was on me in that black and hollow place where stars shine even in day, but I spoke not. I stepped one pace toward him and I lifted my right hand against him, and tall though he stood I was taller yet; and he gave back, doubtless certain I meant to strike him down. Thou shalt be their last king, I said to him, and my voice reached into every stone and ledge. And if the West should prove mightier than thy black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you will be summoned once again ere the end. For a foresight seemed to be upon me. They fled before the wrath of my face and shut themselves up in their mountains, to await what dreadful doom I do not know."
Elendil heaved himself from the bath and allowed the attendants to minister to him. "Rest a little, Herendil, and then we will eat. Word has been sent to Gil-galad of my coming, and here we will dwell while we await his host."
It was high summer when Elendil and his retinue had come to Elostirion, a cool northern high summer with moderate warmth and bright air and green hills, but it was passing into the clear days of early autumn when the lookout saw from the high window at last the coming of Gil-galad. He sounded the horn, and Elendil inside heard it, broke off his dictation of letters to various officials and hurried up the white stair. There he found Isildur before him, already gazing out across the land, and standing at his side Elendil looked forth.
The green plains to the west rolled in long swells, huge irregular patches of darker green swimming across them, as the great clouds travelled above like flat-keeled castles of toppling grey stone. To the left, sharp and blackish-blue in the clear air despite their distance, were the southern Mountains of Lune. The line of the great gulf flashed like a thread of flame. A patch of land not twenty miles off drew his eye, and even as he looked the cloud-shadow rolled away down the side of it's hill, and that hill at once leaped into flame, as though ten thousand stars had come down to stride the earth.
"See the light of the sun upon the swords of the Eldar, and the flash of their armour like the bursting of flames! Lo, there is Gil-galad; I see him from afar for his mail is of silver and his helm is like a star, and stars are set into his shield. Great shall be the onset of the Last Alliance!" Isildur cried.
"Great is the Fall of Gondolin." murmered Elendil, the terrible cry from ancient tales suddenly entering his mind like an omen. Rousing himself he shouted to the servants, "Ready all rooms in the Three Towers; tell the cooks in each to prepare a feast for kings; ready the retinue to stand in parade-armour at the tower foot!" Servants leaped into action; men hurried up and down stairs, signals were sent to the other two towers, and Elendil and Isildur made for their quarters to put on their royal panoply.
The Elven-host marched up that evening, and louder than the music of their clattering armour was the sound of their clear elven-voices, uplifted in a hymn to Elbereth as they walked. And as they sang the veils of the air seemed to thin, so that the stars burned overhead large and brighter than was their wont. Even in the dusk the Elf-host gleamed with a shine as of uncast moonlight, and every weapon seemed to burn with a blue flame. Gil-galad and his guard rode on up to the Elostirion as the host proceeded to sit and rest upon the hills below.
Very tall was Gil-galad, yet shorter than the great Númenoreans; his high helm was wrought of mithril and shone faintly. Silver was his armour, but his raiment was blue, and blue were his eyes that pierced and glittered like stars. Many gems of a fiery white were set upon his mighty shield, and in his hand he bore the Spear Aeglos, wrought of blue metal upon a shaft of white wood and inlaid with silver tracery; a light flickered in it's keen and terrible point.
There was joy and great warmth between the meeting kings, and the feast Elendil had prepared for the Elven-host lasted all the day following as the leaders made their plans. Then the Elf-host moved on to Annúminas where they were joined by the Muster of Arnor. Great and terrible were the tall Númenoreans upon their mighty steeds, their red swords and black and gold weapons sending up flame as they were lifted in salute. Ere autumn was yet done they had come to Imladris, where Elrond the Half-elven greeted them in the hidden vale with his own army of Elves.
They halted at Imladris for many days, as winter passed above them; for the hold of the Elves though roomy was filled to it's limit, and many of the host camped in shelters to stay warm. But when Spring was at last come and many more companies had been added to their number, even of the rude peoples from the deep forests and the wood-elves that had never known the Sea, then the hearts of Gil-galad and Elendil were lifted high. Through another year and winter the companies gathered, for many were ill-prepared and the forges of Elrond were busy, and it was Spring in the Year 3434 of the Second Age of Middle-earth before the great host was at last ready to march.
Very fair and wondrous was that army of the Last Alliance when they were armed and ready. Their banners were like a forest of blossoms, their weapons like a sea of flame, and the sound of their trumpets resounded across half Eriador when they were blown.
And the dark-haired Elrond, standing to Elendil's right as they gazed upon the vastness of the host, said to him, "Only one host more splendid than this was ever seen in Middle-earth: the armies of Beleriand when Valinor was emptied and Thangorodrim was broken, and the Great Enemy overcome."
The host of the Last Alliance came down over the Misty Mountains by every pass there was, and the Eagles of the Mountains flew above them, and some even of the birds and beasts came to march with them. Out of Moria came the kindred of Durin, grim Dwarves in mail of mithril with black weapons, few but doughty. And the host of the Last Alliance gathered upon the shores of Anduin, and there came to them companies of the men of the north dales, riding great horses, and Malgalad lord of Lorinand led a host of Elves out of the Valley of Singing Gold to join them, and from the Forest of Greenwood came Oropher and Thranduil his son and a great army of the Sindar; but they were a proud people and little inclined to put themselves under another's command, be he Elf or no. Wherefore Gil-galad let them march by themselves under Oropher and did not assert his headship; and that proved ill for the Wood-Elves in the days ahead.
"Glad will I be to look again upon the gardens of the Entwives, and to taste once more their fruit." said Elendil. "We should be able to rest there."
"I fear no rest will be there for any of us." Gil-galad murmered; his face was drawn. "Ahead of us for countless miles the land should be a colored sea of bloom or at least of green, as it was of old; but black is all I see, and a mist is there that is not a river-mist."
And as they passed the gates of Mirkwood's end Elendil could see to his horror that the Elven-king was right. Black and dull brown the land was, and there were fingers and twisted spikes of charcoal, and the soil smoked: for mile upon mile the land was withered, as though a devouring flame had blasted all the earth.
"Nothing will grow again." Gil-galad said drearily. "Sauron has put poison into the ground."
And the host of the Last Alliance passed down Anduin, crossing it and marching around the tangled dreary hills of the Eymn Muil, and at last they came over stony lands to the desolation and horror of Mordor.
It was such a sight as Elendil had never expected. The Ashen Mountains came up out of the south like a wall of dead towers, and the tip of the Shadowy Range met them on the right, and a black notch lay between. A great flat plain of bare stone and bare earth as hard as stone lay between the army and the smoking land within the mountains: for above the Mountains of Ash rose a great fume, like to the evil smoke of a consumed forest, or that dreadful reek the wood of Nimloth had sent forth from Sauron's temple: it was brown and black, and solid and dense as curdled stone, but from underneath it was lit with flickering red.
The host of the Last Alliance drew up upon the plain. A froil and motion about the base of the Ashen Mountains caught the eyes of Elendil, as if the mountains were swarming. Up out of the Black Gate and up from the rocks poured a host innumerable. Most were of smallish crooked creatures with skin grey as a toad or dark or even as black as if charred, with huge bulbous or slitted tiny eyes, and fangs instead of teeth. All tattered were their garments beneath their black armour, and they bore all manner of shields and hideous crooked implements and blades: the evil race of goblins, the Orcs as they were named by the Elves of Middle-earth. And up from the east charged great armies of swart and black-skinned Men, barbarically clad and better armed than the Orcs. Elendil heard Elrond calmly shouting the order for the archers, and the front rank of Elves fired and bent over as the rank behind fired; and the deadly bows of the Númenoreans sang and arrows fell like rain from the heavens into the onrushing goblins. Half the foremost wave stumbled and fell and the ones behind tripped and were trampled by their more agile kin. The Elves and Men braced themselves, and then the Orcs were on them.
Out flashed Narsil from his sheath, and a great light sprang up upon the battlefield. Orcs charging into his face squealed and shied aside as they smote, and were chopped down by the gleaming red swords of the Men of Westernesse. Elendil heard a hissing screech as the frosty flame of Aeglos burst into action. His own sword was flaming with a multitude of colors, he noticed with detachment as he whirled the great sword and long shield; now it burned yellow, now clear white, now a hot silver; and when darkened by blood it glowered red as the sun through evening mists, until it burnt off the stain. Still the screaming tide of Orcs and Men of Darkness swarmed against them, and overhead the Eagles were battling wicked birds of prey, and some even of the Dwarves did Elendil notice in the surging tide of foes. All living things were divided in that day. Some of the Men were tall and powerful, and they gave Elendil the fight of his life, for they were Númenoreans even as he, and they had come to Middle-earth in the Black Years. From the right Elendil heard the fell voices of captains all robed in black, who cast fear about them where they passed; but the Elves were not afraid, and they gave back before the fury of the Dúnedain.
When that terrible day began to draw to a close, the armies of Mordor were breaking and fleeing before the terror of the Elves, leaving the Battle Plain many bodies deep with the slain. Many of these were orcs and evil men, but many a mighty elf lay among them, and many a valiant man laid low. Oropher of Mirkwood lay among them with many of his folk, for he had rushed forth ere gil-galad gave the signal and was cut off from the host, but Thranduil his son gathered the Wood-elves and retreated north. Malgalad Amdír of Lorien was also fallen; Black Númenoreans and Ringwraiths had driven him and many of his folk into the Dead Marshes where the bogs took them, even they the light-footed Elves.
And the host of the Last Alliance pursued the black remnants, marching steadily and warily through the evil desert and into the horrible hills, and into night as well, for the smoke of Mt. Doom roofed over the ashen land and consumed the setting sun. But Aeglos shone with a bitter flame, and Narsil gave out a globe of light like a minor sun, lighting their way. Missiles hurled upon them from the walls, but the keen-eyed Elf-archers and Númenoreans picked off the ambushers. And the host of the Last Alliance passed the grim gates of Isenmouth, and found themselves in a vast plain of cooled lava, shattered and broken by the tortured years. Sixty miles off rose a pillar of ash and flame, veiled in smoke: Orodruin the Mountain of Fire. A curious heaviness of foreboding lay upon Elendil the Tall at the sight. To it's left, north of it by many leagues, was a towering blackness.
The next day they came to it's feet. And behold it was a tower, not a mountain-crag as it had seemed: a fortress immeasureably high and immeasureably strong, towers without number stacked upon the other and walls rising above walls, roots of masonry magic-builded upholding it to earth like grasping claws: Barad-Dûr, the Dark Tower. From high above Elendil could feel the ceaseless gaze, filled with power and malice far greater than in Númenor, of his ancient enemy, Sauron the Dark Lord of Mordor.
"Beset the Tower." ordered Gil-galad. "Send companies out to search every hold and every hole where orcs might hide, and set a leaguer around the Tower. Elendil, speak to Anarion and tell him it is safe to leave off the guard on the Ithil-pass, and to set up a system of supplies."
Elendil beckoned, and his aides brought forth the Seeing-stone of Minas Ithil. He looked into it and was silent for a time. "He is coming by way of Minas Ithil." he said at last. "First he will retake it, and then bring his own men to swell our numbers. We will not let Zígûr escape, not though we stay in this waste for twice a hundred years!"
Seven long years passed. Grievous was the siege of Barad-Dûr, for Mt. Doom spewed out frequent bolts of flame and never released the constant pouring of smoke, and acrid mists would at times flow out of mighty cracks in it's sides and make Elves and Men alike choke; and ever and anon stones and missiles would be cast from the great engines of war atop the black walls, although the host was beyond range of all save the mightiest. One of these had but a year ago crushed in the helm of Anarion son of Elendil, king of Minas Anor. Great had been the grief of Elendil and Herendil alike, and they pressed the siege harder and closer. No living thing had entered that fortress for many years now, and the stench of the dead corpses within reached them whenever the wind was in the east.
"It is long enough!" he burst out, thinking of all this as he looked around the council table at the other lords. "I am not going to wait until Sauron laughs above the corpses of Dúnedain and orc alike! We are less than half the host that marched on the Plain of Dagorlad; the stones of Barad-Dûr take more of us each week as his engines grow better!"
"What would you have, Elf-friend?" said old Círdan the Shipwright from the Grey Havens. He was one of the few Elves Elendil had seen to possess any kind of beard, and it was long and grey, for he was older than any there. Very keen and bright were his eyes, and all listened when he spoke. "To invade the Dark Tower is beyond the strength of any host that now walks Middle-earth."
"I will challenge him." said Elendil. "I know how to provoke him. And I know he would rather have my blood than to sit in Barad-Dûr till his slaves are a heap of bones and even the carrion-birds have died for lack of food. Single combat."
"One has no chance against Sauron." said Gil-galad. He rose to his feet. "I will challenge him at your side, Elendil of Númenor."
"It is well." said Elendil. "I will take as my second my son Isildur, for Anarion is dead."
"I will take Círdan as my second, and Lord Elrond shall be our herald. We will dight ourselves for battle and set our affairs in order." Gil-galad said.
Some hours later a little company rode out of the camp, bright and glittering amid the gloom of the ashen land, for armour and weapons shone in their own light, and upon the brow of Elendil was bound the Elendilmir, a white gem that flamed like a star. And they rode up into the vast glooms and black steams about the feet of Barad-Dûr, and Sauron cast no bolt nor offered any challenge; but they felt his dreadful eye upon them all that way.
Then the great horns of Númenor sounded, the sound of them roaring in the black walls and unnumberable chasms, and rang distorted back a hundred times from each wall and battlement. And then there was silence.
"Sauron!" Elrond roared. "The Lords Gil-galad Erenion High King of the Elves and Elendil son of Valandil of Númenor, King of the Realms in Exile, stand before your gates! Answer, O craven one, thou king of carrion, Lord of Bones! We challenge you!"
And from the heights above them there sounded a voice as deep and harsh as hissing flame, and it made their ears shrink to hear it. And it said, "Who challenges me? Who, I say, sets themselves against Zígûr the Mighty, servant of the Strong? Let them speak for themselves, insolent half-breed!"
"I challenge you." the voice of Elendil rang like a horn. "I, Elendil the son of Valandil, leader of the rebels of Númenor, the few little Faithful whom you could not cow or quench and who escaped the bitter altars in your own despite, who saw you cast into the chasm like the slave or puniest dog, who smashed the hosts of your pride like pansies at your gate, who has penned you in your little hut for seven years despite all your pebbles, whom you, craven worm and lord of worms, dare not stand and face in single combat! We laugh at you. We jeer at you. We mock you to your moldy face. Come forth if you have the heart!"
The Barad-Dûr shook from it's ponderous crown to it's unfathomable foundations. Smoke blasted up from every window, and greater than any thunder came the crash of Sauron's voice. "I am no craven like my master was! I fear thee not, thou feeble fools, with thy bits of flame and tongues to match. I will meet thee on the slopes of the Mountain, and there grind thee under my toe. Abide my coming, an thou dare!"
And the small company turned and rode down the great ramp. From here a mighty road passed through smoking chasms and up onto the sides of Mt. Doom, whence it wound and curved up the terrible base to the mouth of a carven door leading into the mountain. The years of the siege had left it without repair, and in many places the surface was jagged or split, and farther up the mountain was nigh-ruined by the outflow of the liquid stone and the upheavals of the grim furnaces beneath. Upon this road at the mountain's base they halted, and Eldendil bade Elrond secure the horses at a distance, lest they flee or die of fear. Amid the grey and awful light of the ruined land Gil-galad gleamed like a star with his star-set shield and bright spear and shining helm. The Elendilmir glowed beneath the helmet of Elendil, and Isildur's mighty sword smouldered red. Bright and deep burned the ancient eyes of Círdan.
And Sauron came. Out from the Barad-Dûr there flowed a flaming darkness, and it came like the groan of tormented stone and writhen thunder with the rumor of the feet of the unseen terror within it. When he was but a hundred yards off the darkness was hurled aside as one hurls back a cloak, and the watching armies half a mile off groaned in sudden dread. Taller than the stone-giants was the figure thus revealed, sheathed in twisted and horrible armour of hideous work like tortured flames, and from his awful head there burned a single eye like a red and horrid sun. A high horned helm flickering with ghastly flames crowned the horror, and as he cast his piercing gaze about Elves and Men alike, even the fell Men of Númenor, threw up their shields and held up their hands as if to ward themselves. Black was his flesh and yet it glowed with heat, as though fire was it's blood and it's food, and in his hand he bore a gigantic mace, and on his finger he wore a gleaming ring of gold.
Like the boom of the fall of colossal hills of rock he stepped forward toward the two small warriors, Elf and Man, that awaited him and did not move, nor did they lift their shields to ward off his gaze. Elendil at the glance of that burning Eye felt his mind drown in darkness at the malice and the power in that gaze. Ancient was the being before him, of an order so proud and so great no Elf or Man in all the earth could hope to withstand him; incarnate but deathless, slain yet always returning, whose might was the elemental strength of the very earth itself, and no more could they hope to prevail than if against it. But hatred grew in the heart of Elendil, of the sons of the Elf-blooded Kings of Númenor, in whose veins ran a strain of that very order itself; there were gods in his blood. And he and Gil-galad withstood the power of that gaze, that few others of either Men or Elves had been able to endure. And he saw with pride Herendil unflinching also stand, after so many trials and long doubts he now faced Sauron in all his might, and he did not back down.
Elendil and Gil-galad stood forth, with Isildur and Círdan motionless behind them, and Elrond blew a great blast upon his trumpet. Then Sauron spoke, and his voice was grown as great as the fall of cliffs and mountains.
"Elendil, my old adversary. Erenion, who thrust me out of Lindon. Better would it have been had thou accepted my gifts; for I have a Ring greater than thy rings. Elendil, man of ancient fears and long sorrows, mourning for Númenor that comes no more, think thee to face him who hounded thee from thy land, and live?"
"I gave up life when I rode to your doors." said Elendil. "I reject you, Sauron. I despise you, Sauron. And I will overthrow you this day!"
"As Fingolfin did, so will I." came the clear voice of Gil-galad. "As Ringil bit your master, so will Icethorn bite you!"
Then Sauron spoke no more, but advanced. And Elendil and Gil-galad did not wait for him but leaped to meet him, and a great light sprang from their weapons against the roof of his darkness. The black mace whistled through the smoky air and smote the earth where they had been; for out from under it like lightning leaped they, and it blasted apart the solid ash that it struck. Narsil sheared down upon the mace while Aeglos struck the armour like a bolt of blue thunder, and Sauron reeled. Up came the mace, hurling Narsil back, and whirled around as Sauron swung it two-handed; but the shield of Gil-galad caught it and took the blow, and a flame of silver-white leaped up from it as it's gems burst. Narsil sheared assunder the twisted armour of hell-forged steel and bit deep into the side of Sauron, and fire spurted from the wound, and Sauron roared aloud.
Hard thrust Aeglos like a dart of blue flame, and it drove into his chest and gave him another wound. But the great mace struck again, hurling Elendil back so that he fell to the ground, and with the backswing Aeglos was knocked from the hand of Gil-galad. No other spear could have endured such a blow, but Aeglos survived, though cast far from it's lord like a shooting star upon the ashen slopes. Swift as lightning did the hand of Sauron, which was black and yet burned like fire, seize the head of the Elven-king in it's grasp. The gleaming helm broke with a flash like flame that leaped white and was gone, and the fiery hand consumed the last High-king of the Elves of Middle-earth, and Gil-galad was no more. Up rose Elendil, up from the ash and up from the dust, and all fear was gone from him. Like the blended light of the Sun and the Moon shone long Narsil as he thrust it through the rent armour of his foe, and it entered deep into the bowels of the form that Sauron had made for himself, and damaged it beyond repair. Out gushed the fire that formed his blood, and Sauron knew in that instant he was overcome, and even as he reeled on his feet the great mace whirled one last time. Elendil felt a mighty force crush in his side even as he withdrew red-hot Narsil, and he was hurled back, staggering, and as he fell he thrust blindly at the ground to catch himself, and the heated blade of Narsil snapped in half. Out went the light of the Sun and Moon that had been bound within it. Down fell Elendil the Tall. Down fell Sauron the Mighty, beaten to hands and knees he tried to drag himself away. Dimly Elendil was aware of Isildur seizing the hilt-shard of Narsil, and leaping upon the fallen colloseus with a cry of hatred. Then blackness overcame Elendil, son of Valandil, of the Kings of Númenor
Elendil of Numenor
Elendil was walking in his garden, but not to look upon it's beauty in the evening light. He was troubled and his mind was turned inward. His house with it's white tower and golden roof glowed behind him in the sunset, but his eyes were on the path before his feet. He was going down to the shore, to bathe in the blue pools of the cove beyond his garden's end, as was his custom at this hour. And he looked also to find his son Herendil there. The time had come when he must speak to him.
He came at length to the great hedge of lavaralda that fenced the garden at it's lower, western, end. It was a familiar sight though the years could not dim it's beauty. It was seven twelves of years or more since he had planted it himself when planning his garden before his marriage; and he had blessed his good fortune. For the seeds had come from Eressëa far westward, whence ships came seldom already even in his grandfather's days, and now they came no more, since there were none of the Faithful in the west-lands to welcome them. But the spirit of that blessed land and it's fair people remained still in the trees that had grown from those seeds, given him by his father on his wedding-day: their long green leaves were golden on the undersides, and as a breeze off the water stirred them they whispered with a sound of many soft voices, and glistened like sunbeams on rippling waves. The flowers were pale with a yellow flush, and laid thickly on the branches like a sunlit snow; and their odour filled all the lower garden, faint but clear. The few mariners of the old days that had received a special dispensation to sail to Eressëa, said that the scent of lavaralda could be felt on the air long ere the land of Eressëa could be seen, and that it brough a desire of rest and great content. He had seen the treews in flower day after day, for they rested from flowering only at rare intervals. But now, suddenly, as he passed, the scent struck him with a keen fragrance, at once known and utterly strange. He seemed for a moment never to have smelled it before: it pierced the troubles of his mind, bewildering, bringing no familiar content, but a new disquiet.
"Eressëa, Eressëa!" he said. "I wish I were there; and had not been fated to dwell in Númenor half-way between the worlds. And least of all in these days of perplexity!"
He passed under an arch of shining leaves, and walked swiftly down rock-hewn steps to the white beach. Elendil looked about him, but he could not see his son. A picture rose in his mind of Herendil's white body, strong and beautiful upon the threshold of early manhood, cleaving the water, or lying on the sand glistening in the sun. But Herendil was not there, and the beach seemed oddly empty.
Elendil stood and surveyed the cove and it's rocky walls once more; and as he looked, his eyes rose by chance to his own house among trees and flowers upon the slopes above the shore, white and golden, shining in the sunset. And he stopped and gazed: for suddenly the house stood there, as a thing at once real and visionary, as a thing in some other time and story, beautiful, beloved, but strange, awaking desire as if it were part of a mystery that was still hidden. He could not interpret the feeling.
He sighed. "I suppose it is the threat of war that maketh me look upon fair things with such disquiet," he thought. "The shadow of fear is between us and the sun and has been for many lives of men, and all things look as if they were already lost. Yet they are strangely beautiful thus seen. I do not know. I wonder. A Númenórë! I hope the trees will blossom on your hills in years to come as they do now; and your towers will stand white in the Moon and yellow in the Sun. I wish it were not hope, but assurance-that assurance our fathers had before the Shadow. But where is Herendil? I must see him and speak to him, more clearly than we have spoken yet. Ere it is too late. The time is getting short."
"Herendil!" he called, and his voice echoed along the hollow shore above the soft sound of the light-falling waves. "Herendil!"
And even as he called, he seemed to hear his own voice, and to mark that it was strong and curiously melodious. "Herendil!" he called again.
At length there was an answering call: a young voice very clear came from some distance away-like a bell out of a deep cave. "Man-ie, atto, man-ie?"
For a brief moment it seemed to Elendil that the words were strange. "Man-ie, atto? What is it, father?" Then the feeling passed.
"Where art thou?"
"I cannot see thee."
"I am upon the wall, looking down on thee."
Elendil looked up; and then swiftly climbed another flight of stone steps at the northern end of the cove. He came out upon a flat space smoothed and levelled on the top of the projecting spur of rock. Here there was room to lie in the sun, or sit upon a wide stone seat with it's back against the cliff, down the face of which there fell a cascade of trailing stems rich with garlands of blue and silver flowers. Flat upon the stone with his chin in his hands lay a youth. He was looking out to sea, and did not turn his head as his father came up and sat down on the seat.
"Of what art thou dreaming, Herendil, that thy ears hear not?"
"I am thinking; I am not dreaming. I am a child no longer."
"I know thou art not," said Elendil; "and for that reason I wished to find thee and speak with thee. Thou art so often out and away, and so seldom at home these days."
He looked down on the white body before him. It was dear to him, and beautiful. Herendil was naked, for he had been diving from the high point, being a daring diver and proud of his skill. It seemed suddenly to Elendil that the lad had grown over night, almost out of knowledge.
"How thou dost grow!" he said. "Thou hast the makings of a mighty man, and have nearly finished the making."
"Why dost thou mock me?" said the boy. "Thou knowest I am dark, and smaller than most others of my year. And that is a trouble to me. I stand barely to the shoulder of Almáriel, whose hair is of shining gold, and she is a maiden, and of my own age. And thou my sire art over eight feet! We hold that we are of the blood of kings, but I tell thee thy friends' sons make a jest of me and call me Tarendulg--slender and dark; and they say I have Eressëan blood, or that I am half-Noldo. And that is not said with love in these days. It is but a step from being called half a Gnome to being called Godfearing; and that is dangerous."
Elendil sighed. "Then it must have become perilous to be the son of him that is named elendil; for that leads to Valandil, God-friend, thine own grandfather."
"Aye, and to retain his place in council he changed his name to Amandil." the boy said defiantly. "And dost thou not call thyself Nimrnzir among other men?" He brooded for a moment. "Poldor called me Eärendil yesterday."
"But that is a fair name." Elendil said. "I love the story above all others, indeed I chose thy name because it recalleth his. But I did not presume to give his name even to thee, nor to liken myself to Tuor the mighty, who first of Men sailed these seas. Nor are the Elves called Gnomes by any save the backward peoples of Middle-Earth, who fear them and shun them. And the name they give thee sounds not so ill in the Elven: Terendul the slim-dark."
"We do not use the Elven-tongues openly, father!" said Herendil sharply. "And anyway I like the Adûniac more; it is strong and haughty, and a manly tongue."
"At least thou canst answer thy foolish friends that Eärendil was the greatest mariner that lived, and surely that is still held worthy of honour in Númenor?" Elendil said.
There was a silence. At length Herendil spoke again: "Of whom dost thou say that our King, Ar-Pharazôn, is descended?"
"From Eärendil, by his son Elros, of whose house we are also descendants."
"Why then may not the King do as Eärendil from whom he is come? They say that he should follow him, and complete his work."
"What dost thou think that they mean? Whither should he go, and fulfill what work?"
"Thou knowest. Did not Eärendil voyage to the uttermost West, and set foot in that land that is forbidden to us? He doth not die, or so songs say."
"What callest thou Death? For he cannot return. He forsook all his kinsmen and lost those whom he loved by stepping on that shore; save Elwing who shared his doom. He saved his homeland by losing it."
"Were the Gods wroth with him?"
"Who knoweth? For he came not back. Yet the Eressëans tell us they were not; for he did not dare that deed to serve Melkor, but to defeat him; to free men from Melkor, not from the Lords; to win us the earth, not the home of the Gods. And the Lords of the West heard his prayer and arose against Melkor. And the earth is ours."
"Who is Melkor?" asked Herendil. "Dost thou mean Alkar? That is not how he is spoken of; he is not a black monster."
"How sayest thou that?"
"They do: the ones who have knowledge. They say now that the tale was altered by the Eressëans, who are slaves of the Lords: that in truth Eärendil and Tuor before him were adventurers, and showed us the way, and that the Lords took them captive for that reason; and his work is perforce unfinished. Therefore the son of Eärendil, our king, should complete it. They wish to do what has been long left undone."
"What is that?"
"Thou knowest: to set foot in the far West, and not withdraw it. To conquer new realms for our race, and ease the pressure of this peopled island, where every road is trodden hard, and every tree and grass-blade counted. To be free, and masters of the world. To escape the shadow of sameness, and of ending. We would make our King Lord of the West: Barim an-Adûn. Death comes here slow and seldom; yet it cometh. The land is only a cage gilded to look like Paradise."
"Yea, so they have been murmering now for many generations." said Elendil. "This talk is nothing new, Herendil, whatever those who have knowledge may say. But what knowest thou of Paradise? Behold, our wandering words have come unguided to the point of my purpose. But I am grieved to find thy mood is of this sort, though I feared it might be so. Thou art my eldest son, and my dearest child, and I would have us at one in all our choices. But choose we must, thou as well as I-for at thy last birthday thou became subject to arms and the king's service. We must choose between Sauron and the Lords (or One Higher). Thou knowest, I suppose, that all hearts in Númenor are not drawn to Sauron?"
"Yes. There are fools even in Númenor." said Herendil, in a lowered voice. "But why speak of such things in this open place? Do you wish to bring evil on me?"
"I bring no evil." said Elendil. "That is thrust upon us: the choice between evils: the first fruits of war. But look, Herendil! Our house is one of wisdom and guarded learning; and was long revered for it. I followed my father, as I was able. Dost thou follow me? What dost thou know of the history of the world or of Númenor? Thou art but four twelves, and wert but a babe when Sauron came. Thou dost not understand what days were like before then. Thou canst not choose in ignorance."
"But others of greater age and knowledge than mine-or thine-have chosen." said Herendil. "And they say that history confirmeth them, and that Sauron hath thrown a new light on history. Sauron knoweth history, all history."
"Sauron knoweth, verily; but he twisteth knowledge. Sauron is a liar!" Growing anger caused Elendil to raise his voice as he spoke. The words rang out as a challenge.
"Thou art mad," said his son, turning at last upon his side and facing Elendil, with dread and fear in his eyes. "Do not say such things to me! They might, they might..."
"Who are they, and what might they do?" said Elendil, but a chill fear passed from his son's eyes to his own heart.
"Do not ask! And do not speak-so loud!" Herendil turned away, and lay prone with his face buried in his hands. "Thou knowest it is dangerous-to us all. Whatever he be, Sauron is mighty, and hath ears. I fear the dungeons. And I love thee, I love thee. Atarinya tye-meláne."
Atarinya tye-meláne: my father, I love thee: the words sounded strange, but sweet, the more so as they were not in Adûniac but in the forbidden Elf-tongue: they smote Elendil's heart. "A yonya inye tye-méla: and I too, my son, I love thee." he said, feeling each syllable strange but vivid as he spoke it. "But let us go within! It is too late to bathe. The sun is all but gone. It is bright there westwards in the gardens of the Gods. But twilight and the dark are coming here, and the dark is no longer wholesome in this land. Let us go home. I must tell and ask thee much this evening-behind closed doors, where maybe thou wilt feel safer." He looked towards the sea, which he loved, longing to bathe his body in it, as though to wash away weariness and care. But night was coming.
The sun had dipped, and was fast sinking in the sea. There was fire upon far waves, but it faded almost as it was kindled. A chill wind came suddenly out of the West ruffling the yellow water off shore. Up over the fire-lit rim dark clouds peered; they stretched out great wings, south and north, and seemed to threaten the land.
Elendil shivered. "Behold, the eagles of the Lord of the West are coming with threat to Númenor." he murmered.
"What dost thou say?" said Herendil. "Is it not decreed that the king of Númenor shall be called Lord of the West?"
"It is decreed by the King, but that does not make it so." answered Elendil. "But I meant not to speak aloud my heart's foreboding. Let us go!"
The light was fading swiftly as they passed up the paths of the garden amid flowers pale and luminous in the twilight. The trees were shedding sweet night-scents. A lómelindë began it's thrilling bird-song by a pool.
Above them rose the house. It's white walls gleamed as if moonlight was imprisoned in their substance; but there was no moon yet, only a cool light, diffused and shadowless. Through the clear sky like fragile glass small stars stabbed their white flames. A voice from a high window came falling down like silver into the pool of twilight where they walked. Elendil knew the voice: it was the voice of Fíriel, a maiden of his household, daughter of Orontor. His heart sank at the thought, remembering Orontor and their friendship: for he had departed to Middle-earth captaining many ships of the Faithful, who had chosen to go into exile ere it was too late. And he loved Orontor, and might never see him: and Fíriel was fair.
Now her voice sang an even-song in the Eressëan tongue, but made by men, long ago. The nightingale ceased. Elendil stood still to listen; and the words came to him, far off and strange, as of some melody in archaic speech sung sadly in a forgotten twilight in the beginning of man's journey in the world.
"Ilu Ilúvatar en káre eldain a firimoin ar antaróta mannar Valion: númessier.... (The Father made the World for elves and mortals, and he gave it into the hands of the Lords, who are in the West.)"
So sang Fíriel on high, until her voice fell sadly to the question with which that song ends: man tare antáva nin Ilúvatar, O Ilúvatar, enyáre tar I tyel íre Anarinya qeluva? What will Iluvatar, O Iluvatar, give me in that day beyond the end, when my Sun faileth?
"E man antaváro? What will he give indeed?" said Elendil; and stood in sombre thought.
"She should not sing that song out of a window," said Herendil, breaking the silence. "They sing it otherwise now. Alkar cometh back, they say, and the King shall give us the Sun forever."
"I know what they say." said Elendil. "Do not say it to thy father, nor in his house." He passed in at a dark door, and Herendil, shrugging his shoulders, followed him.
Herendil lay on the floor, stretched at his father's feet upon a carpet woven in a design of golden birds and twining plants with blue flowers. His head was propped upon his hands. His father sat upon his carved chair, his hands laid motionless upon either arm of it, his eyes looking into the fire that burned bright upon the hearth. It was not cold, but the fire that was named 'the heart of the house' (hon-maren) burned ever in that room. It was moreover a protection against the night, which already men had begun to fear.
But cool air came in through the window, sweet and flower-scented. Through it could be seen, beyond the dark spires of still trees, the eastern ocean, silver under the Moon, that was now swiftly following the Sun to the gardens of the Gods. In the night-silence Elendil's words fell softly, and as he spoke he listened, as if to another that told a tale long-forgotten.
"There is Ilúvatar, the One; and there are the Powers, of whom the eldest in the thought of Ilúvatar was Melkor, He who arises in Might; or as it is rendered into our tongue, Alkar the Radiant. And there are the firstborn of Arda, the Eldar, who perish not while the World lasts; and there are also the Afterborn, mortal Men, who are the children of Ilúvatar, and yet under the rule of the Lords. Ilúvatar designed the World, and revealed his design to the Powers; and of these some he set to be Valar, Lords of the World and governors of the things that are therein. But Melkor, who had journeyed alone in the Void before the World, seeking for the means to make Life, desired the World to be a kingdom unto himself. Therefore he descended into it like a falling fire; and he made war upon the Lords, his brethren. But they established their mansions in the West, in Valinor, and shut him out; and they gave battle to him in the North, and they bound him, and the World had peace and grew exceeding fair.
"After a great age it came to pass that his sentence was over, and he made submission unto Manwë the Elder King of the Powers, and sued for pardon, and was set free. But he sued falsely, as it became soon clear, for he plotted against his brethren and deceived the Firstborn that dwelt in Valinor, so that many rebelled and were exiled from the Blessed Realm. Then Melkor put out the light of the Two Trees of Valinor and fled into the night; and his darkness was manifest now and terrible, so that he was called Morgoth; and he established his dominion in Middle-earth. But the Valar took the last fruits of the dying Trees and from them forged the Moon for the Firstborn and the Sun for Men, to confound the Darkness of the Enemy. And in the time of the rising of the Sun the Afterborn, who are Men, came forth in the East of the world; but they fell under the shadow of the Enemy. In those days the exiles of the Firstborn made war upon Morgoth; and three houses of the Fathers of Men were joined unto the Elves: the house of Bëor, and the house of Haleth, and the house of Hador. For these were not subject to Morgoth. But Morgoth was too strong, and all was brought to ruin.
"Eärendil was son of Tuor, son of Gumlin, son of Hador; and his mother was of the Firstborn, daughter of Turgon, last king of the Exiles. Tuor voyaged to Valinor and was counted among Elven-kind, and comes no more. And Eärendil with the Silmaril bound to his brow passed by it's power the perils of the Western Seas, perils which have been removed from the world when it was given to us, and came at last to Valinor. And with Elwing he left his ship and strode the forbidden pass, and gem-dust beat up about him so that he sparkled as a star, and as a star did he seem to the Eldar that met them. Then leaving Elwing and all he loved behind, he surrendered himself unto Manwë, Lord of the West; and he pleaded before him. And he was sent aloft as a star to give hope to Men; and the Lords had pity, and sent forth their power, and they came into the North and renewed their war, and the fair land of Beleriand was smashed and trodden under the Sea by their strife; but Morgoth was overthrown. And the Lords put him into the Void without.
"And they recalled the Exiles of the Firstborn and pardoned them; and such as returned dwell still in bliss in Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, which men call Avallon after it's eastward harbour; for it is within sight of Valinor and the light of the Blessed Realm. And for the Men of the Three Houses they made Vinya, the New Land, west of Middle-earth in the midst of the Great Sea, and named it Andor, the Land of Gift; and they endowed the land and all that lived thereon with good beyond other lands of mortals. But in Middle-earth dwelt lesser Men, who knew not the Lords nor the Firstborn save by rumor; and among them were some who had served Morgoth of old and were accursed. And there were evil things also upon earth, made by Morgoth in the days of his dominion, demons and dragons and mockeries of the creatures of Ilúvatar. And there too lay hid many of his servants, spirits and beings of evil, whom his will governed still though his presence was not among them. And of these Sauron was the chief, and his power grew. Wherefore the lot of men in Middle-earth was evil, for the Firstborn that remained among them withdrew into the forests or departed into the West, and their kindred, the Men of Númenor, were afar and came to their coasts in ships that crossed the Great Sea but seldom. But Sauron learned of the ships of Andor, and he feared them, lest free men should become lords of Middle-earth and deliver their kindred; and urged by the thought of Morgoth he plotted the destruction of Andor, and mayhap that of Valinor as well.
"But why should we be deceived, and become the tools of his will? It was not he, but Manwë the Fair, Lord of the West, who endowed us with our riches. Our wisdom cometh from the Lords, and from the Firstborn that see them face to face; and we have grown to be higher and greater than all others of our race. We have knowledge, power and life stronger than they who served Melkor of old. We are not yet fallen. Wherefore the dominion of the world is ours, or shall be, from Númenore to the utter East. More can no mortals have."
"Save to escape from Death," said Herendil, lifting his face to his father's. "And from sameness. They say that Valinor, where the Lords dwell, has no further bounds."
"They say not truly. For all things in the world have an end, since the world itself is bounded, that it may not be Void. But Death is not decreed by the Lords: it is the gift of the One, and a gift which in the wearing of time even the Gods shall envy. So the wise of old have said. And though we can perhaps no longer understand, at least we have wisdom enough to know that we cannot escape, unless to a worse fate."
"But the decree that we of Númenor shall not set foot upon the shores of the Immortals, not even upon Eressëa without their dispensation-that is only a decree of Manwë and his brethren. Why should we not? The air there giveth enduring life, they say."
"Maybe it doth," said Elendil, "and maybe it is but the air which those breathe who already have enduring life. To us perhaps it is death, or madness."
"But why should we not essay it? The Eressëans go thither, and yet it is said that some of our favoured mariners sojourned in Eressëa without hurt."
"The Eressëans are not as we. They have not the gift of death. But what doth it profit to debate the governance of the world? All certainty is lost. Is it not sung that the earth was made for us, but we cannot unmake it, and if we like it not we may remember that we shall leave it. Do not the Firstborn call us the Guests? See what this spirit of unquiet has wrought in the generations since it grew among us. In the days of my fathers there was no evil of mind. Death came late and without other pain than weariness. From Eressëans we obtained so many things of beauty that our land became well nigh as fair as theirs; and maybe fairer to mortal hearts. It is said that of old the Lords themselves would walk at times in the gardens that we named for them. There we set their images, fashioned by those who had beheld them, as the pictures of friends beloved.
"There were no temples in this land. But on the Mountain we spoke to the One, who hath no image. It is a holy place, untouched by mortal art, so that not one stone is piled by men on another; and utter silence binds the tongue. None may speak there beside the King, who in due season would offer the fruits of the land there to Ilúvatar; and not even Sauron dares to defile it. Such, Herendil, was the fashion of Númenor in it's glory and it's peace.
"Then Sauron came. We had long heard rumor of him from seamen returned from the East. The tales differed: some said that he was a king greater than the king of Númenor; some said that he was one of the Powers or their offspring set to govern Middle-earth. But those of us who had speech with Gil-galad Elven-king of Lindon knew better, and a few of us reported that he was an evil spirit, perhaps Morgoth returned; but at these we others laughed.
"It seems that rumor came also to him of us. It is not many years-three twelves and eight-but it seems many, since he came hither. Thou wert a small child, and knew not then what was happening. For Tar-kalion our king-"
"His name is Ar-Pharazôn, the Golden King." corrected Herendil.
"In Adûniac, yea." said Elendil. "But that was not the custom in older times. As recently as our King's predecessor Tar-Palantír-the Farsighted-whose daughter the King's wife is, the custom was to take the title in Quenya. But the Shadow had fallen so deeply on the kings before him and after that they took titles in Adûniac alone, inscribing Quenya names on the record-books; and on the record-books Tar-Kalion is his name.
"He was grown proud, and brooked no power in the Earth greater than his own; and hearing that Sauron was calling himself King of the East decided to dispute the title with him, and find what truth was in the mariner's tales. Many councilors dissuaded him, and my father told me, for he was one of them, that those who were wisest and had most knowledge of the West had messages from the Lords warning them to beware. For the Lords said that Sauron would work us evil, but he could not come hither unless he was summoned. But Tar-Kalion hated the West and scorned all messages from thence, and these councillors were dismissed, save Valandil my father whom he had of old borne great affection, and is besides so great among the people he dared not anger him. Therefore the ships were sent and the army raised, so great an army as has never been seen upon Middle-earth since the emptying of Valinor.
"And we heard afterwards of the terrible splendour of the King and his host, and of the great silence that befell the lands as the King of the West set foot upon the earth, and of the desertion of Sauron's legions and the astoundment of Sauron himself. And he came before the King and did him homage, and Tar-Kalion did not trust him, but had him bound as a hostage and taken to Númenor.
"We kept watch at the small port of Moriondë in the east of the land, where the rocks are dark, Valandil and I, watching with dread and hope for our King's return. It was night, but there was a bright Moon. We descried ships far off, and they seemed to be sailing west at a speed greater than the storm, though there was little wind. Suddenly the sea became unquiet; it rose until it became like a mountain and it rolled upon the land, and we fled before it until we were higher than it. The ships were lifted up, and cast far inland, and lay in the fields. Upon that ship which was cast highest and stood dry upon a stony hill there was a man, or one in man's shape, but greater than any even of the race of Númenor in stature.
"And he stood upon the rock and said: 'This is done as a sign of power. For I am Sauron the Mighty, servant of the Strong.' (wherein he spoke darkly). 'I have come. Be glad, ye men of Númenor , for I will take thy king to be my king, and the world shall be given into his hand.'
"And it seemed to men that Sauron was great and lordly; though they feared the light of his eyes. To most he appeared fair, to others terrible; but to some evil. But they led him to the palace, and there before all he was humble before Tar-Kalion.
"And behold what hath happened since, step by step. At first he revealed only secrets of craft, and taught the making of many things powerful and wonderful; and they seemed good. Our ships go now without the wind, and many are made of metal that sheareth hidden rocks, and they sink not in calm or storm; but they are no longer fair to look upon. Our towers grow ever stronger and climb ever higher, but beauty they leave behind upon the earth. We who have no foes are embattled with impregnable fortresses-and mostly on the West. Our arms are multiplied as for an agelong war, and men are ceasing to give love or care to the making of other things for use or delight. But our shields are impenetrable, our swords cannot be withstood, our darts are like thunder and pass over leagues unerring. Where are our enemies? We have begun to slay one another. For Númenor now seems narrow, that was so large. Men covet, therefore, the lands that other families have long possessed. They fret as men in chains.
"Wherefore Sauron hath preached deliverance; he has bidden our King stretch forth his hand to Empire. We come now to Middle-earth, not as gentle teachers of culture and nobility, nor even as rulers or tribute-takers, but as ravaging men of war, burning and slaying from Unbar to Utter South. Yesterday it was over the East. Tomorrow-it will be over the West.
"We had no temples. But now the fair hill in the midst of the city is despoiled. It's trees are felled, and it stands naked; and upon it's summit there is a Temple. It is of marble, and of gold, and of glass and steel, and silver roofs the dome: wonderful, but terrible. No man prayeth there. It waiteth. For long Sauron did not name his master by the name that of old was held accursed here. He spoke at first of the Strong One, of the Eldest Power, of the Master. But now he speaketh openly of Alkar-not Melkr, for men still remember old tales and might yet shie from it-and prophesieth his return. The Temple is to be his house of prayer. Númenor is to be the seat of the world's dominion. Meanwhile Sauron sitteth there, risen above the king, even proud Tar-Kalion of the seed of Elros, the line chosen by the Lords.
"Melkor hath not come, but the Shadow hath; that Shadow that was upon us long ere Sauron and which he hath but deepened: it lieth upon the hearts and minds of men. It is between them and the Sun, and all that is beneath it."
"Is there a Shadow?" said Herendil. "I have not seen it. But I have heard others speak of it; and they say it is the shadow of Death. But Sauron did not bring that; he promiseth that he will save us from it."
"There is a shadow, but it is the shadow of the fear of Death, and of greed. But there is another shadow darker yet, of which I thought when I spoke. We no longer see our king. His displeasure falleth upon men, and they go out; they are in the evening, and in the morning they are not. The open is insecure; walls are dangerous. Even by the Heart of the House spies may sit; and Sauron hears much of his own power. And there are prisons, and chambers underground. There are torments; and there are evil rites. The woods at night, that once were fair-men would roam and sleep there for delight, when my father was young-are filled now with horror. Even our gardens are not wholly clean, after the sun has fallen. The old songs are forgotten or altered; twisted into other meanings."
"Yea: that one learneth day by day," said Herendil. "But some of the new songs are strong and heartening. And the old ones sound different when put into Adûniac; mightier and finer than they sounded in Eressëan. But the Elven-tongue has been forbidden as long as I can remember. They say it is a weak and simple tongue, and that we should be proud of having revived the ancestral speech of Men, and Sauron teacheth that Men forged first our own tongue and took it over Sea. In this at least I think that he doth well."
"Sauron decieveth us doubly. For men were created dumb, and learned speech of the Firstborn, and therefore if we should verily go back to the beginnings we should find not the broken dialects of the wild men, nor the simple speech of our fathers, but a tongue of the Firstborn. But the Eressëan is of all tongues of the Firstborn the fairest, and they use it in converse with the Lords, and it linketh their varied kindreds one to another, and them to us. And since we forsook it many lives ago we have been sundered from them, and been impoverished, as doubtless was Morgoth's intent. But there is no end to his malice, or to that of Sauron his servant. Listen now, Herendil, and mark well. The time is nigh when all this evil shall bear bitter fruit, if it be not cut down. Shall we wait until the fruit be ripe, or hew the tree and cast it into the fire?"
Herendil got suddenly to his feet, and went to the window. "It is cold, father." he said; "and the Moon is gone. I trust the garden is empty. The trees grow too near the house." He drew a heavy embroidered cloth across the window, and then returned, crouching by the fire, as if smitten by a sudden chill.
Elendil leant forward in his chair, and continued in a lowered voice. "The king and queen grow old, though all know it not, for they are seldom seen. They ask where is the undying life that Sauron promised them if they would build the Temple for Alkar. The Temple is built, but they are grown old. But Sauron foresaw this, and I hear (already the whisper is gone forth) that he declareth that Alkar's bounty is restrained by the Lords, and cannot be fulfilled while they bar the way. To win life Tar-Kalion must win the West. We see now the purpose of the towers and weapons. War is already being talked of-though they do not name the enemy. But I tell thee: it is known to many that the war will go west to Eressëa: and beyond. Dost thou perceive the extremity of our peril, and the madness of the king? Yet this doom draws swiftly near. Our ships are recalled from the ends of the earth. Hast thou not marked and wondered that so many are absent, especially of the younger folk, and in the South and West of our land both works and pastimes languish? In a secret haven to the North there is a building and forging that hath been reported to me by trusty messengers."
"Reported to thee? What dost thou mean, father?" asked Herendil as in fear.
"Even what I say. Why dost thou look at me so strangely?" said Elendil sternly. "Didst thou think the son of Valandil, chief of the wise men of Númenor, would be deceived by the lies of a servant of Morgoth? I would not break faith with the king, nor do I propose anything to his hurt. The house of Eärendil hath my allegiance while I live. But if I must choose between Sauron and Manwë, then all else must come after. I will not bow unto Sauron, nor to his master."
"But thou speakest as if thou wert a leader in this matter-woe is me, for I love thee; and though thou swearest allegiance, it will not save thee from the peril of treason. Even to dispraise Sauron is held rebellious."
"I am a leader, my son. And I have counted the peril both for myself and for thee and all whom I love. I do what is right and my right to do, but I cannot conceal it longer from thee. Thou must choose between thy father and Sauron. But I give thee freedom of choice and lay on thee no obedience as to a father, if I have not convinced thy mind and heart. Thou shalt be free to stay or to go, yea even to report as may seem good to thee all that I have said. But if thou stayest and learnest more, which will involve closer counsels and other names than mine, then thou wilt be bound in honour to hold thy peace, come what may. Wilt thou stay?"
" Atarinya tye-meláne," said Herendil suddenly, and clasping his father's knees he laid his head thereon and wept. "It is an evil hour that putteth such a choice on thee," said his father, laying a hand on his head. "But fate calleth some to be men betimes. What sayest thou?"
"I stay, father."
The Eagles of the Lords of the West
The door of the house of Elendil was opened with caution by Anarion, who at three twelves of years was but a child still, though shrewder than his carefree brother Herendil. Darkness lay outside, for it was night, and despite the fragrance of the lavaralda the shadows felt unclean, and crept. A tall man with graying hair concealed in a great dark cloak slipped within and hurled the door to, back and great arms against it, "I have left the night-shadow behind." he said. "Boy, call thy father. We have words to speak."
"Art in peril, grandfather?" said Anarion gravely. "Methought thou wert of the King's council."
"Wert, indeed." said Valandil. "Ah! Elendil my son!" for Elendil, having witnessed the hurried entrance of his father, had hastened from the upper floor. He embraced the older man with great joy, for they had stayed apart for some time lest danger befall. Now it seemed briefly to Elendil as if he had set eyes on his father for the first time: the tall powerful frame-though not as tall as his towering son-the grey hair, the anxious, eagline face and the brilliant, wise eyes.
"Welcome, Valandil my father!-I may call thee Valandil now, and not Amandil?"
"Amandil I took on when Sauron came to power, lest my name of Valandil get me dismissed ere my time. But aye, thou may call me at last by my true name. Anarion, get thee gone, amuse thyself, if thou wilt. I wish not to be heard."
"I will get Herendil." said Elendil. "Some months hence I took him into my counsel, and he has been so far true."
Valandil nodded. "It is well. But he must repeat our words to no other."
"He will not." said Elendil; yet even as he said the words he was doubtful. Herendil had not yet been tested, and might still be found wanting.
"Her-endil," said Valandil gravely, when they had gathered in the council room: Elendil, and Herendil, and Valandil, and several other nobles who were of Elendil's men. "Dost know what that means, boy?"
"It means Friend of Bliss: an odd name, but a true. Bliss I have always loved, and life enjoyed." said Herendil.
"It meaneth more than that." said his grandfather grimly. "The translation as I intended when I coined that name for thee at thy consecrating, is 'one loyal to the Valar, content with their bliss and prosperity, within the limits prescribed.' How say you to that?" He flung the last words out like a challenge.
Herendil looked at him with eyes that smouldered darkly. "I say it is a true name, and one I am proud to bear."
Valandil chuckled dryly. "Not so will it be in later years." he said darkly. "But names pass like the colors in a leaf: the leaf remains, and so wilt thou, till the frost that overtaketh all men. I will tell thee, Elendil, why I have come." He drew a deep breath. "I am no longer of the King's Council."
"A step we have feared for a long while." Elendil nodded.
"They dare not lay hands upon me yet, for so great a captain was I and such honour is Amandil Lord of Anduinë held still in by the folk of Númenor that to seize me would imperil their position.
"Hearken to my counsel, Elendil. The Faithful must be summoned to Rómenna, in secret, at once. For evil grows apace and all the elf-friends are imperiled, and the Pillar of Heaven stands utterly forsaken, ringed with guards and unseen eyes. Though even Sauron dares not defile the High Place, he will let no man ascend to it upon pain of death, not even us of the Faithful who keep Eru in our hearts. We must prepare against the evil we have long forseen."
More words they spoke there in the hidden room, and they laid out plans, and calculated needs, and at the last they emerged with hungry stomachs and settled minds.
As they ate gloom settled ever deeper on the brow of Valandil, until at last Elendil asked what it was that disturbed him.
"A rumor Tar-Miríel, the King's unwilling wife, whispered in my ear as she bade me farewell. 'The White Tree is imperiled.' were her words. 'Sauron presses Pharazôn to cut it down.' "
"Why say ye unwilling?" said Herendil.
"They would not dare!" Elendil gasped. "Did not Tar-Palantír foretell that the fortunes of the House of Elros were bound up with that tree?"
"Unwilling, I say, boy, because she was his cousin and he took her by force, for being the sole child of Tar-Palantír she should have been queen; and he usurped the scepter. But that has been forgotten now." said Valandil. "The King is reluctant, the tree to fell. He fears indeed that prophecy, but in the end Sauron will have his will: this I know, and I am grieved to the heart.
"Listen, ye sons of Elendil, while I tell you of that White Tree, Nimloth the fairest of all trees upon the Land of the Star. White is it's wood without either stain or rot, and white is it's wrinkled rind unbroken, smooth and fair to hand or cheek. Tall as the hill of Armenelos does it stand amid the courts of the King, and it's leaves are like a cloud, dark green above and deep silver beneath.
"And that tree beareth in the spring great flowers fair as snow, and in the autumn of a time it will now and again put out a rare fruit. And that tree was a gift to Erendis wife of Tar-Aldarion the Shipbuilder by the Eldar, being a seedling of great Galathilion of Tol Eressëa, and that was a fruit of Telperion the Tree of Kortirion upon the hill of Tûn in the gates of Valinor. And that tree was made as an image of Telperion the Tree of Silver in the days before the Sun and Moon."
"Tell us of that tree." said Anarion. Herendil spoke no word, but his dark eyes glowed far down under his grave brows as though he were indeed half-Noldo.
Valandil drank, and continued. "In the bliss of Valinor it was lit by two mighty trees, Laurelin the Golden and Telperion the Silver. But Melkor came, riding the Spider Ungoliantë, and under her belching shadow he confused the very Gods and she sucked dry the Trees; and was driven from the land. And in the darkness of Valinor Vána wept over them and watered them with tears, and Yavanna poured her uttermost power upon them; but even as her song faltered and fell behold a sudden pale gleam arose in the darkened places of their boles. And a bare bough of Telperion the Elder Tree burgeoned suddenly, and leaves of a very dark green, long and oval, budded and unfolded upon it, yet was all the Tree beside bare and dead and has been so ever since.
"Lo, it's new leaves were crusted with a silver moisture, and their undersides were white and set with pale gleaming filaments. Buds there were of flowers also upon the bough, and they opened; but a dark mist rose from the poisoned ground, angered at this breaking free of light, and the air grew bitterly cold as it never had in Valinor, and down fell the fading blossoms. All save one at the branch's end that opening shone of it's own light and neither the unnatural mist nor the uncanny cold harmed it, but it seemed to suck the very vapours and transform them subtly into the silver substance of it's own body; and it's size increased, a very pale and wondrous glistering flower, nor did even the purest snow of Taniquetil outrival it, and it's nectar was like a heart of white flame that throbbed. To such a size it grew that the Gods in alarm supported it, nor were they mistaken, for the withered bough began to groan. Ten thousand crystal petals were in that flower, and it was drenched in a fragrant dew like honey; but this dew was light itself.
"And then behold there was a glow of gold within the blistered roots of the Younger Tree where the tears of Vana had fallen, and as the Gods watched in amaze and great joy a shoot sprang from Laurelin, and it budded, and the buds were all of gold, and there came light therefrom like a ray of sunlight beneath a cloud. And behold they opened and put forth leaves, and these were of finest gold and of other kind to those it grew of old, and even as they watched the branch bore golden blossom, and it was thronged with flowers. Now as swiftly as it's blossoms opened full it seemed a gust of bitter wind came suddenly and shook them from their slender stems, blowing them about the heads of the watching Immortals like jets of fire, and many thought there was evil in that; but the Eldar chased down and captured the shining petals, such as did not burn through their containers.
"One flower there was however greater than the others, more shining and more richly golden, and it swayed but fell not, and it grew and fructified of it's own radiant warmth. Then as it's petals fell and were treasured a fruit there was of great beauty hanging from that bough of Laurelin, but the leaves of the bough grew sere and they shriveled and shone no more. Even as they dropped to earth the fruit waxed wonderfully, for all the last sap and radiance of the dying Tree were in it, and the juices of that fruit were like quivering flames of amber and of red and it's pips like shining gold, but it's rind was of a perfect lucency smooth as a glass whose nature is transfused with gold and therethrough the moving of it's juices could be seen within like throbbing furnace-fires. So huge became the globe and so great it's weight that even that new tough bough bent, and Aulë hewed the bough while Tulkas bore it up, and in a mighty corbel of twisted gold strewn with it's own petals they laid therein the fruit of noon and bore it to the forges of Aulë with much singing and great hope. And beside it they bore the severed bloom of Telperion, that mighty Rose but little smaller than the Fruit.
"Then Manwë said, 'Hear now, O ye Lords of the West and ye Powers of the World, the bidding I have received from Eru the One. Terrible and unforeseen is the disaster that us hath befallen, and terrible is the response thereto that Eru hath poured out through the last gasps of the Trees. For the ages of twilight are gone, and Men are coming, and we shall send Light into the world to confound the Enemy. Let us make the Sun and Moon!'
"This then was the manner of the shaping of the Moon; for Aulë brought into being a substance thin as the petal of a rose, clear as the most transparent elfin glass, and very smooth, yet might he of his skill and power bend and fashion it, and naming it he said 'vírin'. Of this he built now a marvellous vessel, like an island of pure glass; and tiny lakes there were bordered with snowy flowers that shone; for the water of those lakes was the sap of Telimpë the Rose of Silver and was of pure light. Amid them reposed in a cup of crystal the gigantic Rose, and the glassy ship sparkled wonderfully as it gleamed therein. And one of the lesser Powers climbed upon the Moon to bear it up and steer it, and there abides in a small tower an aged and hoary Elf to tend the Rose, and he is called the Man in the Moon.
"First wrought was the Moon of the two lights of heaven, and he rose into the heavens, and the earth was filled with slender lights and deep quick-moving shadows, and many things stirred and woke that had waited long in the sleep of Yavanna. For the Moon was set as a sign of memory for the Elves, but the Sun for the coming of Men.
"Now began the great smithying of the Sun, most marvellous of all the works of Aulë Talkamarda. Of the Fruit's perfect rind a vessel did he make, diaphanous and shining, yet of a tempered strength, for with his power he banished it's brittleness without diminishing in any way it's subtle delicacy. And he fashioned the vessel like a great ship broad of beam, and so buoyant was the light that poured therefrom that it rose from the frames holding it and had to be bound with ropes of the golden hair of Vana, more strong than any mariner has seen. The unfading petals were gathered like a star at her prow, and tassels and streamers of glancing light were hung about her bulwarks, and a flash of lightning was chained to the mast as pennant, and to the brim was it filled with the blazing radiance of the fruit of noon, and it's drops were intensely hot; and she leaped at her cords like a captive bird. Then did Arien, whose eyes were brighter than flame and could not be endured, beg leave to guide that vessel; and she cast aside the raiment of form that she wore and became like a naked flame, and she mounted the vessel of the Sun.
"Then did the Valar mount the slopes of Taniquetil, drawing behind them the buoyant ship by it's ropes of gold, and the snows burned white, and the heavens began to grow blue overhead as the radiance neared them; but the stars were outshone and paled and were hidden. Beams rayed forth and smote the sad land, and the Shadowy Seas were touched with such fire as they never yet had seen, and all creatures in the world saw the new and terrible light growing in the West, and stood and wondered. Seven times had the Moon sailed across the earth and was now in the furthest East about to rise; when a great fire leaped up upon the towers of the Pelori, and the wan clouds of Middle-earth's endless night were kindled red and gold, and the sky became blue, and light flooded upon the earth. Then Morgoth was cast into uttermost dismay, and belching out glooms and smokes he and his slaves buried themselves in the earth from this unlooked-for stroke of the Valar. And from the West the Sun sailed into the East, and even as it first rose Men awoke in the Vale of Hildorien in the northern East of Middle-earth; and their eyes were turned ever west from that moment, and when it returned out of the east and sailed to the West they followed it.
"And thus, my grandchildren, is the Tale of the Sun and Moon."
Then Herendil said no word but got up from the table, and so grim was his face he no longer seemed a boy. Elendil looked after him anxiously but said nothing, and Valandil ate in silence.
Then the beat of hooves echoed through the night and was gone. Elendil hurried to the stables, and lo! his steed Voronwë, mightiest of all his horses, was gone.
"Herendil has left us!" he cried.
"Do not give him chase." said Valandil. "The boy must prove himself. Nor could we catch him without Voronwë."
That night was a weary one and full of sorrow to Elendil as he lay awake, until he could not bear it and left the house, throwing a cloak about him against the chill frost of the autumn night. Heedless of the creeping shadows and the fear under the trees he paced about the gardens.
"Cannot thou sleep, Elendil?" said the voice of Valandil, and another cloaked shape fell into step beside him.
"It will soon be morning, and no sign of him yet." murmered Elendil. A paleness grew in the east, and the birds sent timid peeps to greet it. Then were they aware of a horse galloping from the west, from the road to Armenelos, and it came up to them staggering and covered with foam, for it was exhausted, and behold it was Voronwë, and upon his back clung feebly a crouching form. Heavily it slid to the ground, tearing off a mask and hood, and shoved into the hands of Valandil an object oval and firm-soft like a plum but of the bigness of a fist. "Take the last fruit of Nimloth from the hands of Herendil your grandson." a voice once young but harshened by pain gasped, and the figure collapsed into Elendil's arms.
Elendil bore him inside, and stripped off cloak and robes, and it was Herendil, but older, his face drawn with torment and weariness. Wounds were upon him, gashes and bruises and dreadful tears, and blood was dried black around them and seeped red from them still.
When the wounds were bound and anointed with athelas and medicines, Herendil at last had the strength to speak. "Well was the deed." he said. "Thy pardon, father, for my abrupt departure and the borrowing of thy steed, but the errand was urgent."
"How gat you there, my boy?" said Valandil in wonder. "The Faithful are banned from the royal courts."
"I wore a mask of an older man." said Herendil, smiling faintly. "And I had a cloak. I passed like a ghost through the revelers in the courts, till I came to the court of the Tree, forbidden to all by the orders of Sauron, and guards were about it. But it was dark where I was. I passed through the guards like a shadow, my sword drawn beneath my cloak. Nimloth hung above me like a mountain of leaves, and he was dark and bore no blossom, but a fruit dangled upon the lowest bough. I seized it and rent it from the twig and turned to go; and the way was blocked by twenty guards all staring at me.
"I thrust the fruit into my pouch and took my sword out from my cloak, and I bowled through the guards as I do at the ball-playing, and they assailed me. And I fought with a violence I never knew I had, and men I left behind me who will walk the earth no more. And I cut my way out, and there Voronwë was waiting, and we outpaced the arrows of the guards and were swallowed by the night-gloom."
"No more doubt will I have of you, Preserver of the Tree." said Elendil.
Herendil lay nigh to death all that winter, but Valandil planted the fruit in a hidden room of the tower and spoke words of growth and blessing over it. And in the spring behold a dark shoot arose from the flowerpot, and it's first leaf opened, and when it did Herendil rose and was no more troubled by his wounds.
"I will call myself Isildur, for I saved the image of the Tree of the Moon." he said. "And let my child's folly be left behind with Herendil!"
"Yet Herendil you are, and Herendil you will be, though all men remember you only as Isildur." said Valandil.
That summer befell the first stroke of the evil long feared. Elendil did not hear about it from his trusty spies, as it happened, but by the evidence of his own eyes. He had business in Armenelos and as he approached the gates, it struck suddenly upon his mind that something had altered in the view of the great city. There were the mighty mansions and their fair old towers; there were the plain and dreary new towers far overtopping them, like shining boxes stood upon their ends; there was the silver temple upon the barren hill, and the gleaming palace below it; but the tower of deep green and silver that used to stand up from the bright walls as high as the hilltop itself, was no more.
"Sauron has prevailed;" thought Elendil; and with the thought a great weariness came upon him, and despair with it. Sauron's ears were everywhere. The Heir of Elros was accursed. The power of Sauron-could such a being even be defeated? There had been a time when he and some others had considered overthrowing Pharazôn; but now he knew, finally and at last, that there was no hope save in holding aloof.
"And it may take every power we possess merely to enable us to do that much." he thought, and entered the city.
Clattering hooves came towards him, and the traders and marketfolk quickly drew to the side as down the flat stones of the street rode a King's Herald, shouting through a great horn: "The Temple is open! Lo, lo, the Temple is open! Sauron will kindle the first fire today, in honour of Alkar Lord of the Darkness, Shaper of the Void, Giver of Life! Nimloth is felled, the poisonous tree of the Spies of the Valar, an invasive weed brought from the West, it's wood will provide the first fire!"
Elendil conducted his business in bitter haste and rode out from the golden city, still so bright and fair though all within was become horrible. Then he checked Voronwë and looked back, compelled despite himself. Upon the top of the hill amid Armenelos, that hill aforetime filled with fragrant groves that now stood revealed, steep and naked and dwarfed by the edifice thereon, stood the mighty tower of gold and marble, with few ornamental workings, it's lines sweeping but barren, with the great dome of flaming silver, five hundred feet in height. Terrible and fair and ominous beyond description, he watched it with morbid intensity, waiting for the first smoke.
Out of the great louver in the summit of the silver dome there boiled a plume of tar-hued smoke, twisting in grief and anguish, and more issued from beneath it and still more, a black and horrid reek with hard billows like the thunderclouds of Middle-earth-no storm had ever come to Númenor. Still it rose, beating up steadily, until the light of the silver dome was dimmed as the sun was obscured by the huge cloud and gloom fell upon the city, and still the great temple upon the high hill smoked like the cone of a volcano. The cloud spread across the land like a single roof of ashen grey and black, and darkness fell upon Númenor.
Isildur came up at a gallop from the city, pulling his horse up when he saw his father. "Father! Nimloth is burned! Saw'st thou?"
"I see." said Elendil, eyes fixed on the terrible fume. Isildur turned his gaze in that direction and stared in wonder.
"Nimloth's grief is dreadful." he said. "All other trees, though sad is the felling, are sweet in the hearth. But to burn Nimloth is a greater sin than to fell him, and this is his vengeance. I was there, father, that he might have present one at least who mourned him, and the great pile of white timber crackled and was consumed, but all marvelled at the reek it sent up, until the Temple filled with the acrid smoke and none could endure it within."
For seven days no dawn came to the Land of the Star, save a grey light that did not penetrate the houses, and the lamps and torches burned all through the day, and the night-shadows did not depart, and men stirred little abroad. Mariners returning to Númenor said that the smoke over the land, seen from the sea, resembled exactly the shape of Nimloth's canopy. Yet though those days saw not a breath of wind, slowly the great fume retreated into the West, exposing first the eastern lands of the Faithful and lingering longest about the Meneltarma, before it passed at last to go before the Valar and bear witness of the crime that had been done. But when the Sun struck the Temple, no light came up, for the silver of the dome was darkened and the glory of the walls were stained with the soot of Nimloth, a soot so tarry that not even the magic of Sauron seemed able to remove it; and within and without the temple of Melkor was become an utter black, though it was the only thing in all Andor that suffered so from the reek.
The year passed, into a sad autumn and a winter of fear, for many of the Faithful were beginning to vanish. Sometimes the arrests were open; usually in dead secret. And it was on a winter's day that Elendil and Isildur and Anarion stood upon the cliff from which Herendil had loved to dive, looking out upon the ships Elendil had commissioned and which at last were ready.
"I do not understand, father," said Anarion; the bitter times were maturing him faster than they had his brother. "Things surely cannot be so dark as thou paintest them. We prosper in Númenor; our rich men grow richer and Middle-earth yields before our armies. The sun shineth, and the groves bloom. Sauron cannot endure."
"Thou speak like a child." said Isildur. He softened his voice. "Nimloth is burned. From the black tower on the darkened hill a smoke riseth constantly; blossoms and grasses are withered where it falls. Think you they only burn beasts on that altar? My father told me of the evil rites, and I doubted him; but, my brother, I know better now.
"Our men vanish; one here, another there, and many are falling away out of fear. Not yet are we taken in the name of our refusal of Alkar; charge rather they bring that we hate the King and are rebels, that we plot with lies and poison our kin. Not wholly false are those tales, for evil begets evil, and hatred, hate. And men burn on that altar, Anarion; aye, and on our altars in Middle-earth.
"The gathers of young that I used to frequent on cliffs to swim or boat with, have changed even in the last year, brother. An illness lieth on their minds and their speech is grown crude and coarse as if they were Dark Men from Middle-earth; and their jests are cruel. Men take weapons and slay one another without cause other than a shove; I had to duel one myself who attacked me, though I slew him not. And there is much biting of other's backs, and evil pranks played, and cruel revenge taken. Madness and sickness assails old and young, and they curse themselves and are abandoned without regret by their kin and friends."
Elendil was amazed to hear Herendil so speak; the young man had grown wise in a great hurry. But now he espied a tall hurrying figure coming along the way from the house, a great white cloak billowing behind him, and by that Elendil knew it was his father. Valandil hurried up. "To the council-room, all three!" he barked. "Make haste! Gape not, Anarion; for thou art to be a leader and a king, and boy though thou be it is come oversoon upon thee."
When they were within, Valandil spoke. Deeply troubled was his long face. "I have spoken with Tar-Míriel. Madness has come upon the king. Dotage presses on him, and as he trembles and looks on his trembling with horror, Sauron cometh from the temple all darkened with the soot of his sacrifice and speaketh in his ear: The Valar have possessed themselves of the land where there is no death; and they lie to thee concerning it, hiding it as best they may, because of their avarice, and their fear lest the Kings of Men should wrest from them the deathless realm and rule the world in their stead. And though, doubtless, the gift of life unending is not for all, but only for such as are worthy, being men of might and pride and great lineage, yet against all justice is it done that this gift, which is his due, should be withheld from the King of Kings, Ar-Pharazôn Lord of the West, mightiest of the sons of Earth, to whom Manwë alone can be compared, if even he. But great kings do not brook denials, and take what is their due.
"And now my heart is cast into despair. Elendil, Elendil, long have we struggled and long have prepared, biding our time and hoping to preserve ourselves until the evil day should pass; but now I see that it will not pass, and there is no hope for Númenórë, she will not live through the night Sauron has brought. From the Bitter South to Umbar itself the Black Numenoreans range and harry with war, hunting the wild men and tormenting them upon black altars. We now are readying the armament; no longer secret is it; it is builded, Elendil."
"What hope have we, then?" said Isildur.
"The days are dark." Valandil said abruptly, pausing in his pacing. "There is no hope for Men, for the Faithful are few. Therefore I am minded to try that counsel which our forefather Eärendil took upon himself: to sail into the West, ban or no; and suffer in myself the penalty lest all my people should perish; and if I am spared I will speak to the Valar, even to Manwë himself, and beseech his pardon and aid ere all is lost."
"Would you then betray the king?" said Elendil. "For you know well the charge that they make against us, that we are traitors and spies, and that at least has been false."
"If I thought that Manwë needed such a messenger," said Valandil grimly, "then yes, I would betray the king. For there is but one loyalty from which no man can be absolved in heart for any cause. But it is for mercy upon Men and their deliverance from Sauron the Deciever that I would plead, since some at least have remained faithful."
"But what think you, my father, is like to befall those of your house whom you leave behind, when your deed becomes known?"
"Why, it must not become known." said Valandil. "I will prepare my going in secret, and I will set sail into the east, whither daily ships depart from our havens; and thereafter, as wind and chance may allow, I will go about, through south or north, back into the West, and seek what I may find. But for you and your folk, my son, I counsel that you should prepare yourselves for flight: Put aboard the ships we commissioned such things as your hearts cannot bear to part with, and give out among men that it is your purpose, when you see your time, to follow me into the east. Amandil is no longer so dear to our kinsman upon the throne that he will grieve overmuch, if we seek to depart, for a season or for good. But let it not be seen that you intend to take many men, or he will be troubled, because of the armada which will need all the force he can muster. Seek out the Faithful that are known still to be true and have them board in secret, if they share in your design."
"And what shall that design be?" said Elendil.
"To meddle not in the war, and to watch." said Valandil. "Unless I return I can say no more. But it is most like that you will fly from the Land of the Star with no star to guide you, for that land is defiled. Then you shall lose all that you have loved, foretasting death in life, seeking a land of exile elsewhere. But east or west Eru alone can say."
Then Valandil said farewell to all his household, as one that is about to die. "For," he said, "it may well prove that you will see me never again; and that I shall show you no such sign as Eärendil showed long ago. But hold you ever in readiness, for the end of the world that we have known is now at hand."
And he set out by night in a small vessel, taking with him three old servants, dear to his heart; and the sail was swallowed up against the dark seas, and was gone to Elendil's sight; but already he was bending around to steer west.
"Men cannot a second time be saved by any such embassy," he murmered as he stared still out upon the chill ocean, "and for the treason of Númenor there is no easy absolving."
But he proceeded to carry out his father's wishes, which indeed had long been in their hearts as a possible course of action in greatest need. And the Faithful put aboard the mighty ships their wives and their children, and their heirlooms, and great store of goods. Many things there were of beauty and power, such as the Númenoreans had contrived in the days of their wisdom, vessels and jewels, and scrolls of lore written in scarlet and black. And Seven Stars they bore, great gems from Valinor that shone of themselves like the very jewels of heaven, the greatest of which was called the Elendilmir. And Seven Stones they had, the gift of the Eldar; but in the flagship of Isildur was guarded the young tree, the scion of Nimloth the Fair. Thus Elendil held himself in readiness, and did not meddle in the evil deeds of those days; and ever he looked for a sign that did not come.
Now aforetime in the isle of Númenor the weather was ever apt to the needs and liking of Men: rain in due season and ever in measure; and sunshine, now warmer, now cooler, and winds from the sea. And when the wind was in the west, it seemed to many that it was filled with a fragrance, fleeting but sweet, heart-stirring, as of flowers that bloom for ever in undying meads and have no names on mortal shores. But all this was now changed; for the sky itself was darkened, so that the sunlight seemed but a dark brightness that dimmed by it's very potency a land no longer worthy of it, and there were storms of rain and hail in those days, and violent winds; and ever and anon a great ship of the Númenoreans would founder and return not to haven: a grief till then unknown, and even more portentuous because of the cunning craft of Sauron the new ships were wrought with, which did them no good. And out of the west there would come often huge clouds from the sunset, shaped like giant eagles, blotting out the sunset with blackness, and then uttermost night would fall upon Númenor.
Then Elendil saddled Voronwë and packed for a journey, and other clothing he wore, and he stooped, that men might not recognize him from his height. For he stood a full head above even the tallest of Númenoreans. And he journeyed in secret across the grassy central plains, now scattered with the spacious but inelegant and plain mansions that all the rich were now building, and past the lonely Meneltarma ringed with guards, and he stopped at no inn but laid down in the fields, Narsil drawn against the groaning shadows; and Voronwë endured them for the love he bore his master.
Thus he passed at last into the lands that nigh two hundred years ago, in the days of his infancy, had been the lands of the Elendili, the Faithful, ere Tar-Telemnar had uprooted them and sent them to the east. In their time the fertile lands of the Andustar about the haven of Andúnië had boasted great woods, of birch and beech upon the upper ground, and in the lower vales of oaks and ancient elms. About the west-facing Bay of Eldanna, and the once-lovely haven of Eldalondë the Green, up the seaward slopes and far into the land, had grown the evergreen and fragrant trees that they brought out of the West, and so throve there that the Eldar said it was almost as fair as Eressëa. They were the greatest delight of Númenor in the times when beauty was still valued: oiolairë, lairelossë, nessamelda, vardarianna, taniquelassë and yavannamírë with it's globed and scarlet fruits. Flower, leaf and rind of those trees exuded sweet scents, and all that country was full of blended fragrance; therefore it was called Nísimaldar, Place of Fragrant Trees. Here alone grew the mighty golden tree malinornë--or mallorn as some said it--reaching after five centuries a height scarce less than it achieved in Eressëa itself. It's bark was silver and smooth, and it's boughs somewhat upswept after the manner of the beech; but it never bore but one trunk. It's leaves, like those of the beech but greater, were pale green above and beneath were silver, glistering in the sun; in the autumn they did not fall, but turned to pale gold. In the spring it bore golden blossoms in clusters like a cherry, which bloomed on during the summer; and as soon as the flowers opened the leaves fell, so that through spring and summer a grove of mallinorni was carpeted and roofed with gold, but it's pillars were of grey silver. It's fruit was a nut with a silver shale. There also was the river Nunduinë, and the little lake of Nisinen, that was so named from the abundance of sweet-smelling shrubs and flowers that grew upon it's banks.
But now the groves were desolate, for men neglected them, and many of the mightiest trees had been felled for the giant ships of the Great Armament. And new and hideous fortresses, more numerous by far than even his spies had led him to believe, sprouted upon every cliff and high place; but one crag upon the furthest end of the land to the west was forsaken, it's old firs still keeping grim watch; and there as the sun drew red and angry toward the sea did Elendil climb, and yearning he gazed into the fiery sea-path, hoping beyond hope for a fair sail, or a host of Valar, or a sign from Valandil beloved; but the seas were darkened from the north to the south, as if an archipelago of a thousand islands had arisen from the waves; their masts were tall and numerous as a forest upon the mountains, and their black sails lit like dark blood in the dying glare were like a brooding fog upon the sea, and gold and black were all their banners. And mightiest of all was the ship of the king, Alcarondas the Castle of the Sea, many-oared in five great rows and many-masted, painted golden and sable, and upon it keen-eyed Elendil could see a throne was set. Fell engines were being readied in the shipyards below, and men swarmed like ants.
Then out of the sunset the eagles came, mighty clouds far greater than ever before, hard and billowing as if wrought of the smoke of Nimloth, and utter night was beneath them. Blackness shadowed the land as the huge wings consumed the sunset, their beaks and shoulders lit with flame. And these eagles bore lightning beneath their wings, and thunder echoed between sea and cloud.
And all work halted below him as the ominous darkness loomed up, devouring the sky, and Elendil was both heartened and disturbed to hear men shouting, "The Eagles of the Lords of the West! The Valar are wroth!" And he lifted his own voice like the thunder itself and roared, "Behold the Eagles of Manwë! Narika 'nBari 'nAdun yanakhim! The Eagles of Manwë are come upon Númenórë!" And men cast themselves on their faces, and as Elendil left that place he heard some crying out in repentance, but others were shaking their fists at heaven.
When he reached home Isildur greeted him, and the young man's face was sombre. "The Eagles have come." he said.
"I saw them coming, even as I foreboded not long hence." said Elendil.
"When the eagles came," said Isildur, "it is rumored the King cried out, The Lords of the West have plotted against us. They strike first. The next blow shall be ours!"
"The king may have spoken it, but those words were devised by Sauron." said Elendil. "As I passed across Númenor the lightnings struck on every side, slaying men in the fields and even in the city streets. I have heard strange rumors about the Temple being smitten; heard thou word of that?"
"I saw it, father." said Herendil. "I was in the city, and as I watched the great wings of the black eagles joined together over their heads, and their beaks bent around and fused, then opened like a single mouth of cloud. And out of that mouth came a bolt mightier than any other, a terrible violet like the robe of some mighty sky-king made of flame; and it smote the black dome and shore it assunder; one piece of fused silver fell down at my very feet. And then we saw Sauron rise up upon the blasted roof, for the Temple was unshaken, and though he stood a thousand feet and more above the city we all could see his gleaming form, and we all heard his dreadful voice defying the lightning and daring it to strike him. And more bolts of brilliant red-white shattered from the mouths of the eagles overhead, lighting the city, and we saw them all die upon Sauron and cease as he lifted his hand to seize them. And men in that hour called him a god and did whatever he wanted, even laying them down living upon the altar."
Even as he spoke the ground shook underneath them. Herendil leaped to the ground and seized his horse's bridle, but Voronwë only planted his feet wide and gazed up at Elendil. Both men looked toward Armenelos the Golden and the smoking temple with it's cloven roof, and the distant Meneltarma rising like the stump of a huge and ancient tree out of the highlands; and behold from the holy place smoke was issuing, a smoke of dark white and brown. And the groaning of thunder underground was mingled with the roaring of the sea.
"Send out the word." said Elendil; his heart was like a stone within him. "Get all our people on board our ships. The Valar have sent their signs."
"And none too soon, my father." said Isildur. "The armada sails within the week."
The Downfall of Numenor
And the Faithful in great sorrow and dismay gathered in the darkness and hastened aboard the prepared ships. Nine there were: for Elendil four, and for Herendil three, and young Anarion was given command over two. He was become quick to order and command, almost as a man, for he watched and learned much, and he was wise.
Elendil remained on shore till last. For seven days the Faithful streamed on board, as the messengers of the king-or of Sauron, who ordered things as he pleased now-went about, summoning all who could lead men to take part in the war. And the heralds came even up to the ships, and there they cried out with terrible voices the summons.
A cold anger such as had seldom come upon him before entered into Elendil, and he stepped forward from his house to face the heralds as they embarked from their small boats, and it pleased him with a savage pleasure that they had to look up to face him. Helmed was he and armoured, and great Narsil the sword of his house hung sheathed by his side. "Whom do you summon, heralds, and whom do you seek? If words you have to say unto the Faithful, speak them to me! For I am Elendil, friend of Elves, and my father was Valandil friend of the Valar!"
"We summon Nimrnzir Lord of Rómenna to report with all his able men, and with each and every one of these ships, to sail to Eldenna before the day is over, for ere sunset the King makes sail!" the heralds cried haughtily.
"I am not Nimrnzir. I am Elendil." said Elendil in the speech of Eressëa. "I no longer serve the king, or Sauron his puppet-master who pulleth the strings of his mouth. I serve the Lords of the West and the One that is above them, and them alone. Get thee gone from Rómenna, ere the light of Sun and Moon beholdeth thine insides!" And Narsil flashed out of his sheath.
Fear sprang into the eyes of the heralds, for though they did not understand the Elven-tongue they recognized it, and in great haste they galloped from the eastern land. Elendil was not afraid: the miles to Armenelos were long, and he could defend the nine ships against whatever skeleton soldiery Sauron might retain.
That day drew on to a fiery close, for long ere the Sun had neared the horizon she smouldered and grew orange, and the sky became like liquid gold. Then the Eagles of the Lords of the West came up out of the dayfall, and they were arrayed as for battle, thousands of them, advancing in a line the end of which diminished beyond sight to left and right and receded beyond sight into the west, whence still the unending train of fell clouds issued inexorably. Wider and wider spread their wings as they neared, grasping the sky. But the West burned red behind them as the sun sank in wrath, and the eagles glowed beneath as though they were lit with a flame of great anger, so that all Númenor was illumined as with a smouldering fire; and men looked one upon the other and saw all faces dyed with blood.
Then the thunder of the trumpets of the host of Númenórë roared and shouted from the west as the thunder roared overhead, and in that hour the trumpets of Númenor outrang the very thunder itself. And Elendil saw in that bloody light the soldiers of Sauron, come to seize him and drag him to the altars; they had evidently been waiting near at hand. Eluding them he slipped through the groves as they burst in his door, and the lavaralda was fragrant no more, for every flower hung limp and wilted. And with a grieved heart he rowed to his ship with the last of his folk, and they stood out from the land where no dart even of Sauron could reach them, and the sun went down, and there came a great silence. Darkness fell upon the land, and the sea was still, while Elendil and all the world waited for what should betide. And morning came, cloudy and cold under the shadow of the Eagles, against which the clear eyes of Herendil could see that the distant peak of the Meneltarma was still sending up a slow silent fume. For the world being flat, the only limit to the sight was the keenness of the eye and the height on which one stood.
Nine and thirty days went by since the passing of the fleets, and the grim roof above the land lifted not once, dull and flat and grey as ash, and ever the yellow smoke mounted from the Meneltarma. Men relaxed, and feared no more, for was it not evident the King was conquering, as the Lords of the West made no further sign? But Elendil would not permit a single man to leave the ships, for death on the altars was all they would get.
And on the thirty-ninth day Elendil stood upon his ship, looking out upon the sea. His ship floated but a stone's throw from that of Isildur, who also stared forth. Then suddenly Herendil cried out, "Father, there is fire on the mountain! The Pillar of Heaven sendeth up flames like a beacon, or like a pyre. What can this mean?"
And even as he spoke a mighty wind came out of the West, blasting the clouds assunder; and the sea shook underneath them, the water rocking and bounding in green peaks into the air. They saw the green land of Númenor, with it's cliffs and fair houses, it's fields and tall cities, split and crack and leap; and the sea far to north and far to south suddenly began to hurry away into the West, an ominous current. The ships bobbed and tossed. Then above their heads the sky reeled, and the hills slid, as the very earth began to tilt. And up over the land of Númenórë out of the west there came a mounting wave, like a single wall of sad and sombre green, and silently it consumed towers and trees, and it engulfed the highest hills, and the Meneltarma vanished with a mighty blast of steam, and nearer grew the wave, taller than the tallest mountains, plumed with pearly foam, green and cold and dreadful as doom. Death fell upon the heart of Elendil and tears spurted from his eyes as he looked upon the drowning of his land, sliding under the sea, and welcomed the advent of that unavoidable wave that no ship could survive, thirsting to die and leave the grief and wrench of this terrible day and bitterest sorrow. But over the wave came a wind more fell than any wind ever yet to wrack those seas, driving a mist of foam and lashed water before it like another and huger wave, and it reached them before the devouring wall, and Elendil heard mast and sail rend and felt the ship nigh lifted from the water as the great wind seized them. And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and waves like unto mountains wrapped and capped in snow of writhen foam half-frozen bore them up amid the black clouds themselves, and yet the ship did not founder, and Elendil knew the plea of Valandil had been heard.
Iron sea and iron cloud swirled around him, and still frozen as he was he stood unmoving on the deck, and he lifted up his voice in sorrow and defiance against the storm in a lament that flowed from him almost without him thinking on it:
"Ar Sauron túle Númenórë nukumna, Ar Turkildi lantaner nuhuinenna; Tar-Kalion ohtakáre valannar Herunumen Ilû terhante Ilúvataren Numeheruui sakkante Arda, Ëari ullier ikilyanna, Númenórë ulunde ataltánë. Vahaya sin, vahaya sin, Atalantë!
(And Sauron came to Númenor humbled, and the Turkildi, the Men of Numenor, they fell under-Shadow; the Golden King war-made on-Powers. Lord-of-West the World broke, ( with leave) of Ilúvatar; the Lords of the West rent the Earth, that Seas they-should-pour into-chasm; Númenor under-sea down has fallen.
Far away now, far away now, is the Downfallen!)"
It seemed to him as the wet cold and freezing dew dashed around him, that the ground under him was ash and the air full of dust and a horrid smell of blood and burnt stone. Sauron stood above him, grown distorted and hideous with twisted black armour and a single monstrous eye, and Elendil knew there was no escaping his ancient enemy, whom he fled from now only to perish by him at last in Middle-earth. He heard the awful thoughts of the spirit laughing at him, mocking him. "Far away now is Atalantë, Elven-friend!" came the dreadful voice like doom. "The world is bent and there is no escape within it's circles from my dominion."
"You are dying on your feet." he heard himself murmer, and the endless roar of the dreadful wind was about him again, and he shook sea-ice from his frozen cloak and hurled his voice against the storm; and this time he spoke in Adûniac, the ancestral tongue of Númenor his home:
" Kado Zígûrun zahathan unakkha Eruhinim dubdam agru-dalad Ar-Pharazônun azaggara avaloiyada Barim an-Adûn yurchtam Daira, Saibeth-ma Eruvo. Aznya du-phursa akhasada. Anadûne ziran, hikallaba Bawiba dulgi, balik hazad an-nimrnzir azulada Agannalo buroda nenud zana nenud. Adûn izindi hatan taido ayadda, ido katha batina lokhi.... Ephalak idon, ephalak idon, hi-Akallabeth.
(And so Zígûr humbled he-came, and the Eru-faithful fell shadow-under. The King of Gold was-warring against-Powers ...Lords of-West broke Earth, assent-with from-Eru, and the seas so-as-to-gush into chasm. Númenor beloved, she-fell-down ...winds black, ships seven of Nimrnzir fled eastward ... Death-shadow heavy on-us... longing(is) on-us ...west a straight road once went, now all ways crooked.
Far-away now, far-away now is She-that-hath-fallen.)"
"Far away now, far away now, Atalantë!" he heard himself repeating, and saw Elendil moving away from him, still clinging to the rail. The towering figure with it's pain-wracked face that eerily resembled his own father, looked back upon him and lifted his hand.
" Malle tera lende Numenna, Ilya si maller raikar, Sin nuruhuine mel-lumna Valinorë vahaya, vahaya sin Atalantë!"
"Once a road straight went Westward; all roads now bent; now death-shadow in us is heavy. Far away is Valinor, far away is Atlantis!" Alboin cried aloud, as the nine battered ships roared away to Middle-earth.
"Herendil!" Alboin roared, his voice tiny against the scream of the ancient wind. "Herendil!" but his voice was swept from his mouth and cast away upon the storm. From far away he heard the voice of Isildur answer, uplifted in anguish, with a last cry of unbearable pain. He shook the wind-spray from his face and tried to move, but he was fixed in one place as if by iron chains.
Then near at hand in the roaring darkness he heard Audoin's voice. "Father! I come. You called me?"
"Where are you? I cannot see you."
"I can see you, father, but I can barely hear. Are we done? Can we return?"
"I do not know!" cried Alboin. "Ephalak idon hi-Akallabeth; vahaya sin Atalantë! All is ruin, and the lesser grief to perish, with no wrench of death more dreadful than what we saw this day! Do you hear me, Herendil?" There now was added to the storm-roar a crash as of seas falling from a great height off the end of the world far below.
"I hear you, Elendil!" shouted Audoin. "Look! My father, look! Can you not see?"
Light was indeed growing in the gloom. Far below was a rend and rift in the very fabric of the world, and the seas were sliding into it, carrying tiny ships like flecks of foam into the smoking chasm: the fathomless armada of Númenor, of magic and technology mixed, that could have overthrown the very Gods. And the glowing land of Valinor and Tol Eressëa and the seas about it receded westwards as if sailing, and their air congealed into a shimmering curtain, a veil as huge and terrible as the stars and the voids, wrapping round the home of the Gods and sealing it off; and there was a flash that dimmed and dulled the very sun and then withdrew into a single vertical line; and was gone, and the Deathless Lands were removed from the world. Back rushed the seas, slipping to either side as the very ocean bent like a hill. Sky and earth beneath them snapped and curved, the seas and the eastern wastelands bent round until they touched each other under Middle-earth, and new lands shone pale where they were knotted together. A faint pale shimmer spread on through space like a roof, the memory of what had been; the Straight Road Running Westward.
"Father, we have stood too long." said Audoin anxiously. "We must move. We must return."
"I do not want to move." groaned Alboin; tears stung in his eyes. "Númenórë, ai Númenórë! I have seen the downfalling of the world that was fairest; I have seen myself dying as all goes to ruin. I grind in the ash that received my son's last breath. He stands above me, Herendil, and from Him is no escape."
"And I have heard, my father, I have heard the name of my dreams. I hear the roar of the storm and the peril of the winds."
"Peril there would be, us to walk into Time; we would not be as one watching from the window. And I am bound here with grief, Herendil, Finboicéile, Nieútrvin, Eadwine; I cannot stir, for my heart is bound with Elendil's and lies beneath the waves."
"I am wounded, father; torment is upon me and I cannot use my hand. I am wracked with pain and with great cold, and I cannot move."
"How can I move?" Alboin cried. "The wind tears at me and the sea freezes upon me, and I am dying of cold. You must help me move."
Herendil gave a great cry of agony as he laid hold of his father with his right hand; the middle finger felt hot, dreadfully hot, but Alboin grasped the hand and they stumbled forwards. The roaring gloom closed again about them, and then there was firm ground under their groping feet, and they went limp with relief and the intensity of their yearning.
"We have moved." murmered Alboin. "Are you coming or going, Audoin?"
"Coming, I think." said Audoin as he shut the door and re-entered the study. "Why didn't you ask me? I would have come." There was reproach in his voice.
A roar of thunder consumed whatever Alboin might have said, and the firelight was obscured by a blistering flash. At a distance there was a murmer as of a great wind coming. Alboin remained standing with partially opened mouth in the dark firelight, soundless.
"We have not escaped him." murmered Audoin, his voice oddly strong and deep. Isildur's voice, his father thought.
With a vast rush and slash the rain smote upon the land, falling like pounding fists on earth and house. A wind roared in from the sea, sweeping all before it like wild wings of fury; it's shriek grew to a deafening tumult. Near at hand Alboin heard, or thought he heard, a great weight like a stone tower falling to ruin; perhaps some great rock shivered from it's ancient perch upon the cliffs. The curtains were rent from their poles and water cascaded in, mingled with broken glass; but whether sea-water or rain they could not tell. With a hissing roar the fire was drowned, and yet that sound was tiny, a mere note in the tremendous cadences of the storm.
"I think our travel has been stirring something up, Herendil!" shouted Alboin, his voice struggling with the storm. "If not out of history, at any rate out of a very powerful world of imagination and memory." Another blast of wind shook the house with the force of a wave. "We must get out of the house!"
"I do not understand." Audoin cried, and his voice shook. "Númenor has fallen. She is in the Past."
Alboin gestured out the northern window. Though sheets of flowing water were covering it's entire exterior, they could see the dim rain-shrouded coastland both knew so well, with surprising ease. Waves were cresting the cliffs, and behind them other waves were moving, rain-concealed, like dreams out onto the land. A queer wild grey light cast by the storm's interior made things dimly visible instead of pitch-dark; or else it was already day, a dreadful dawn hidden by storm-mirk. Audoin clutched a chair as a fresh gust beat through the broken window, and cried out with pain. Alarmed his father saw there was a livid blistered burn like a ring around the right hand's middle finger.
"Father, I could not destroy the ring." said Audoin. "I have failed at the bitter end."
"Come, Herendil!" said Alboin, supporting the boy as more wind howled through the flooded house and outside wind whined and thundered past the shuddering corners. "There is work to do. Let us look to our courses ere we are swept away!"
"The abyss opens. The sea falls. The mountains lean and topple. There is flame upon the holy place." Audoin moaned.
"I could not have returned if you had not helped me move." shouted Alboin as they staggered to the door and got it open. "We would have perished, there in the past, and men would have said the storm slew us when they found our bodies in the morning."
A great press of wind behind them drove them from the house, scurrying before the wind. They paused behind a tree, looking back with fear-widened eyes.
Waves leaped over the sea-rim in huge sprays of blackish-grey foam; but there were other waves behind them, high as moving hills, and yet they seemed like phantoms in the rain and blowing cloud, only half real; like shadows of mountains of dark, black, wicked water, advancing majestically out of the West. They passed with very little noise over houses and trees, proceeding far inland yet leaving little trace of their passing before melting, vanishing away. And there were borne upon some of these waves tall black ships of antique form and ancient design, and they had only stumps of fallen masts on which the rags of black and yellow sails flopped about the deck, and great tall men standing on the poop that tossed their arms aloft in despair and woe; and like shadows they passed into the screaming night.
"Númenor is irrupting into the present." said Alboin in a momentary lull of the wind. "Even as we could have decided to cling to the past and so be crushed within it."
"The storm is come upon Númenor, and upon us." said Audoin as they splashed on. "Yet it was our part in this tale to escape from the very edge of Doom. We must bring the lore of Eriol into the present."
"Let us head up to the college, boy, and see if we can't find a sheltered nook in my office!" Alboin smiled. "We have a lot of writing to do."
What Tolkien wrote of the Lost Road
A letter or two of Tolkien's indicate that the structure was to be a recurrence in human families, time and again, of which the father is named Elf-friend and the son Bliss-friend (and often a grandfather named God-friend), which letter goes on to sketch the outline of the story, together with a short list of myths to be visited. In this is indicated the Lombard legend, which is not mentioned in the outline sent to Allen & Unwin, as well as Aelfwine who sailed the Straight Road, a Norse story of ship-burial, "Fintan (Narkil white-fire) and the oldest man alive", which another outline indicates as "the Irish tale of the Tuatha De Danaan"; "The Ice Age--great figures in ice" or as another outline has it "old kings found buried in the ice.", the "Galdor story" of the Third Age, finally to Elendil in Numenor. I concluded it was Tolkien's intention to work in between these the mysterious tale of the Fall of Gil-galad, never once described in full in any of his works. For a full description and analyzing of these notes I refer the reader to Christopher Tolkien's "The Lost Rd & other stories" in the History of Middle-Earth series.
The first chapter--seperated in two by me for purposes of posting--which ends with Alboin and Audoin beginning their travel, was written by Tolkien. I only added one or two words where needed, and inserted the Aduniac fragment from "The Notion Club Papers" ("Sauron Defeated", History of Middle-earth) and altered the names that the young Alboin makes up, from Amon Ereb (which was destroyed in the Silmarillion and could not possibly have survived into modern England) to Emyn Beraid, the Tower Hills; and Beleriand (or Falasse) to Harlindon, as the latter seemed more geographically appropriate to Cornwall. I reason that North Lindon seperated to become Ireland, while the northern part of the Blue Mountains became Britain and the southern Blue Mts became Cornwall. So Beleriand is technically correct (barely) but Harlindon is more accurate.
The Aelfwine tale, again seperated into two chapters in the course of posting, was the most difficult, being a mass of fragments. There were two versions of the hall scene and both a prose and lined version of the Sheaf song, a conversation outline between Aelfwine and Eadwine, the song Death of Brendan from "Notion Club Papers", the Harborless Isle part and the arrival in Tol Eressea from the old Lost Tales version of Aelfwine coming to Elfhome, the Anglo-Saxon rhyme Eala Earendel, and three successive versions of the poem The Nameless Land concerning Tol Eressea. Linking all these into a coherent narrative was bewildering and difficult, as versions had to be compared and different parts selected.
The Lombard legend was entirely mine, taken from the account by Paul the Deacon, from whom I also got the Seven Sleepers. The Norse episode was likewise my invention. For the Irish tale, which I took to be of the coming of the Tuatha to Ireland 607 years after the Flood of Noah, I drew on the Irish tale of the Battle of Magh Turied, as well as various elements in the myths of the Fomor's wars with the Tuatha. However I cut out the Druidesque battle plans of the Tuatha and changed the original bawdy tale into an epic.
The Dead Gods, indicated by Tolkien's outlines as containing cave paintings and kings buried in the ice, was also primarily mine. The Earendil song however is Tolkien's final version of Bilbo's song of Earendil as meant to be published in the Fellowship; but an earlier copy was printed by mistake and the true final version published by Christopher Tolkien in "War of the Ring", History of Middle-earth. The kings are represented as having been torn by ice from the Hallows of Minas Tirith, and the last fragment of one of the Kings of Argonath is also encountered.
For the Galdor story a fragment exists, the opening scene as far as the doubtful mutterers on the doorstep. Why was Galdor holding them there, I wondered, and then suddenly knew: Angmar. From which the lurking of a Wraith in the dark Vorn and it's formation of a "Witch-king cult" was a logical developement.
For the Fall of Gil-galad I had to collect countless references and notes in other works, such as "Sauron's hand burned like fire, and thus Gil-galad was destroyed" and the accounts of the march of the Last Alliance. The challenge of Elendil was my invention, but a logical one: why else would Sauron have come out? He would certainly not need food.
The first Numenor chapter was written by Tolkien completely; I inserted some comments to bring it up to date with the final version of his mythology, but that was all. The other chapters as far as the final catastrophe are a expansion of "The Akallabeth" from the Silmarillion, as well as "A Description of Numenor" in Unfinished Tales. The ending scene where the storm bursts into reality are integrated from Notion Club Papers.