Nyáréonié: The Fall of the North
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Singing of Swords
Falathor crept silently through the bushes, squinting into the dusk. He had ridden all day without halts and reached Bree at sunset. The town had been easily visible from afar – a dark column of smoke rose above it, pointing grotesquely at the sky. He supposed they were burning the bodies of the Orcs left over from the battle. The pillar of smoke had an unpleasant look, a black mark marring the peaceful countryside.
But it was not the smoke that made Falathor crouch, tensed, under the trees clustered around the Crossway. His tired horse whickered in fear beside him, and he smoothed the stallion’s nose, murmuring absent-mindedly to the animal. Whatever was upsetting his horse, he felt it too; what was more, he saw it.
Bree’s wall towered a stone’s throw before him, mirrored by a wall of shadow cast upon the earth. The scene seemed deserted – no doubt there were Guardsmen posted on the ramparts, but there were invisible, and no sound escaped from beyond the shut gate. And yet, he had seen something slip away from the wall. It had looked like just another shadow, but it moved by itself. He had thought at first it was a man, very tall, vague in the twilight, but he had been filled with such instinctive fear at the sight of it that he had actually squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. When he had opened them, all sign of the ambiguous shadow had disappeared, and the wall stood silent and lonely before him.
Whatever it was, he decided finally, it was gone now. But his task remained.
He straightened, stretching his muscles and bracing himself for what was to come. He was deadly tired; two nights without sleep had left their mark on him. For a moment he considered turning back – he could sleep for a night and face this later. Dangerous waters tossed before him, and it was not wise to swim them with his strength and wit dulled by fatigue.
No. If he put it off now he would never be able to do it. That was a coward’s way out.
Resolutely, Falathor led his horse toward the South Gate. It was almost completely dark by now, but he had no trouble making out the wall, looming high enough to block out the stars. He had reached the smaller door meant for single travellers and was about to knock when it opened by itself. Torch-light spilled through, and he saw the familiar streets of Bree through the doorway. The torches rested in the hand of the Guardsman who had opened the door. Surprisingly, Falathor recognized him. He did not live in Bree and knew few of the folk there, though he was an honorary member of the Guard, due to his brother’s rank as Captain. This Guardsman, however, was an acquaintance of his; they had met over an ale in the Prancing Pony on one of his visits, and become quite close friends.
“Olin!” Falathor said, “You’re on duty late. How fares the town?”
The red-bearded Dwarf peered up at him. “Bree has suffered nothing more since you left, save that the place reeks of Orc ashes now. You have come back quickly, and I can’t help but notice that you are alone. Where are the members of your company?”
“Dead,” Falathor said shortly, stepping inside the gate. He had not known the men under his command very well, and their deaths did not touch him personally; but he considered the deaths his fault. It had been his responsibility to lead them, and he had bungled it badly. But even that thought had to be shelved for now. He had other, more important matters to see it.
Olin banged the door shut and rammed the bars and latches into place. By the torchlight, Falathor caught glimpses of the guardhouse and the South Tower. They were well-manned, from what he could see – Bree was taking no more chances. The soldiers did not greet him, however, remaining silently watching at their posts.
“The town is as silent as a graveyard,” Olin grumbled gruffly, “The fools are afraid to speak and the barkeep in the Pony won’t even serve ale. Says we should be mourning, not drinking. Lot of nonsense, if you ask me – what’s the point in defeating the Witch-lord if Bree turns out as bad as it would if he ruled it?”
“We’ve hardly defeated the Witch-King yet,” Falathor answered drily, “Though it’s nice to hear someone so confident about our chances. Others I have heard are less optimistic.”
“Obviously, those others are not Dwarves!” Olin said, “Dwarves never give up, and we never forget. Why, if this were a Dwarf delving, there would be an army of my people marching to Carn Dûm right now to wreak revenge on the skulking coward for attacking us in the first place!”
“No doubt, no doubt!” Falathor agreed, “But few of them would return to tell the tale, I deem. Waiting and silence has its merits, too, my friend!”
Olin merely muttered under his breath. Stealth was not much to the liking of the belligerent Dwarf, but he was no fool, and he saw the logic in Falathor’s words. Raising his torch, he squinted at the Man’s face.
“You look like you just forged five mithril coats without rest,” he remarked, “An good ale is what you need, if that blasted Butterbur man will give you one. Will you come to the Pony with me? I can ask the boys to take my watch.”
“No, no,” Falathor said, shaking his head, “I don’t have time for drinking now. I have to talk to my brother immediately. But I must ask a favour of you, if it isn’t too much trouble.”
“Ask away!” Olin said, bowing and sweeping off his hat, “Olin, at your service!”
Falathor almost grinned at the Dwarf’s over-enthusiastic politeness. He had a feeling that Olin was being ironic, but it was hard to tell.
“Take my horse to the stables and see that he is watered and rubbed down. The poor thing has been running all day and can hardly keep on its feet. I would look after it myself, but I do not have time. Will you see to it?”
“Naturally!” Olin said cheerfully, “Go about your business in peace, knowing that your noble beast is in good hands!” He eyed the horse rather sceptically – Dwarves did not make good riders, and avoided horses when possible. But he took the reins from Falathor’s hands without protest. The horse lowered its head and began to nuzzle Olin’s beard, to the Dwarf’s very obvious horror. Falathor grinned.
“Aren’t such gestures of affection touching?” he said as Olin pulled his beard away from the horse, muttering about brainless animals.
“Go on, you!” Olin said, “Go talk to the Captain, if you must! I’ll take care of the great monstrosity!”
Falathor clapped him on the shoulder and turned to leave. He looked back once, to see Olin leading the horse down a different street, then returned his attention to what lay before him now.
The streets were silent, though brightly lit. His lonely footsteps echoed on the paved road. There was no one outside, and all the doors and windows he saw were closed and shuttered tightly. As he reached the eastern quarter of Bree, signs of the battle became more obvious; here and there a singed or entirely burned down house popped into sight, and there were bits of debris scattered about the pavement.
When he arrived at the East Tower, the guards saluted him respectfully, and he returned the gesture. He hoped they wouldn’t gossip – he had returned alone, and would have to explain to the families of his fallen companions what had happened, but he was hoping to put it off as long as possible. When he stepped into the tower, for a moment he deeply regretted that he had ever come to Bree. He could have avoided this whole mess to begin with … but on the other hand, that could have meant the end of Bree and all of Arnor as well. He sighed, squaring his shoulders, and began to climb the stairs that would lead him eventually to Lomion’s rooms.
He was about to knock upon the plain wooden door, but changed his mind at the last minute. Holding his breath, he leaned against the door, listening intently. At first he heard nothing; then a dull, repeated thunking sound became audible. With each thunk, the door vibrated. What by the Valar was Lomion doing?
There was a different sound now … footsteps. Someone was walking towards the door. Quickly, Falathor straightened and, setting his teeth, knocked loudly three times. The door opened immediately, and he found himself face to face with his brother.
“Falathor,” Lomion said, apparently unsurprised, “Back already? Won’t you come in?” He stepped back, clearing the way.
Falathor walked inside as nonchalantly as he could, and Lomion closed the door behind him. Then he realized what the strange sounds he had heard were; several short knives were sticking in the doorway. Apparently Lomion had been practicing his aim.
Lomion pulled two of the knives out of the thick wood and began playing with them idly, leaning gracefully against the wall. Falathor noticed suddenly that the index finger on his brother’s right hand was missing. A bandage concealed half of the hand. How had he come by the wound? During the battle? In any case, it did not impede his agility with the knives.
“Well?” he said, “What do you have to say?”
“It’s nice to see you too,” Falathor answered sarcastically, “My dear brother. How have you been spending your time? I see that Bree has been struck mute since I was last here, not to mention been rained on by Orc ashes.”
Lomion lifted his eyebrows. “Are you criticizing my work?” he asked, “Save the sour comments for later. What have you accomplished? Did you find the fugitives? Where are they?”
“Yes, I found them,” Falathor said, “As for where they are, I would say about half-way to Fornost by now. There were quite insistent on going – said they had an important message for the King. Once I heard their tale, I must say I agreed with them. Some very interesting and enlightening words passed between us.”
Lomion had stopped twirling and flipping the knives and was staring at his brother with narrowed eyes. His lips were compressed into a thin line, and he looked as dangerous as Falathor had ever seen him. Moving as fluidly as a snake, Lomion began to roll the knives across the backs of his hands, walking past Falathor towards the far side of the room.
“Interesting and enlightening …” he repeated.
“Yes, very,” Falathor burst out, spinning to follow his brother, “Why did you do it, Lomion? What came over you? Have you gone mad? To betray the kingdom like that! Half the Guard is dead because of you! You forfeited your honour! You betrayed your people and blamed it on your best friend!” He stopped, panting, staring in disbelief at Lomion, who remained as cool as a frozen lake.
“You seem to have picked up a lot of dangerous ideas somewhere, little brother,” Lomion said, “I wouldn’t go repeating them if I were you, or …”
“What?” Falathor laughed, “Are you threatening me? Come on, Lomion! I’m not a child anymore, you can’t frighten me like you used to! I know what you did, so don’t try to deny it. I just want to know one thing: why. What did they offer you? What price did you set on your soul?”
“My soul?” Lomion hissed, “What do you know of my soul? Prices, reasons! You’re a stuffed-up, thick-headed fool, Falathor, as you always were! And you dare to come here and babble on to me about honour! No, a true man isn’t bound by honour; true freedom means freedom from morality as well, from the conventions set by dim-witted creatures who think they are living while they blunder about in circles in the dark.”
“And I suppose you’ve found the light now?” Falathor asked derisively.
It happened so fast that it was almost the end of him. Lomion’s hands flashed, and the knives spun through the air, straight towards his heart and throat. Reacting instinctively, he swept his sword from its sheath and parried the barely visible silver streaks. The double clang of metal against metal ran out, and he found a second later that he was still alive and unharmed, the daggers scattered on the floor.
Quick as a flash, Lomion tore one of the swords from where it hung among his collection on the wall, and leaped at Falathor, forcing the younger man against the wall. Falathor ducked just in time; he felt the wall vibrated as it cracked above him. He spun under Lomion’s arm and dashed around the room, putting the wooden table between himself and his brother. The two of them faced each other over the unfortunate piece of furniture, swords ringing in their hands, tensed on the balls of their feet.
“You were always far too nosy,” Lomion snapped, “Poking your grimy fingers into my business whenever you got the chance. You’ll never understand me, brother, and you’ll never live up to me, so you might as well stop trying.” He began to sidle around the table. Falathor matched his every step, keeping the distance between them equal.
“You believe I want to be like you?” he sneered, “Do you even know whose side you are on anymore? You’re just bitter, and you think you have to be dramatic about it. That’s what all this is about, isn’t it? The story of the world, with Lomion as the star. Some star you’ve turned out to be – no friends, no home, no wife or children. What kind of a tale does murdering your friends make?”
Lomion growled. His grey eyes were practically glowing, but he did not lose control of himself. Unfortunately, Falathor was aware that his brother was probably the best swordsman in Arnor, and though he was a good hand with a blade himself, he doubted he could best Lomion in a fair fight. But his brother had to wield the sword in his left hand, and if he could provoke Lomion enough that he began to make mistakes, he might have a chance.
“Speaking of being nosy,” he said, “I had an opportunity to learn some things that might interest you while I was in Tharbad. I picked up the trail of your old heart-throb, if you want to know.”
Lomion laughed. “So that’s how you spend your free time! - snooping into the love affairs of other people! Too bad you don’t have any of your own, or I might return the favour!”
Suddenly, the older man lunged forward. Falathor brought up his sword to block the stroke, but he was mistaken in regard to Lomion’s intent. Instead of striking, Lomion kicked the table as hard as he could, sending it barrelling into Falathor’s chest. All the air rushed out of Falathor’s lungs as he found himself crushed between the wall and the table. It was only an instant of immobility, but that instant almost cost him his life.
Lomion’s sword flashed forward, and it struck Falathor in the face. The younger man felt a blinding pain in his left eye, and a hot warmth as blood streamed down his cheek. He cried out in surprise and pain, clapping his hand to his face. Out of the corner of his uninjured eye, he saw Lomion’s next stroke just in time, and managed to leap away before the blade could reach him.
Falathor backed against the wall, one hand covering half his face. His eye – his eye burned as if it were on fire. He couldn’t see. There was a red curtain covering his vision. He held his sword out in front of him, wavering. Where was Lomion? A cold weight formed in his gut as he realized that he had failed. He could not fight half-blind.
He half-saw Lomion stepping slowly closer to him and tried to clear his sight blearily. But his brother made no move to attack as of yet.
“I’m afraid you’ve gotten yourself into a dangerous situation,” Lomion said, sounding grimly amused, “Too much talk brings trouble, as they say.”
Resentment flared up in Falathor. He was going to be murdered by his own brother, and the bastard had the gall to mock him as well. But he had one weapon left, and with a feeling of extreme pleasure, he put it into use.
“Oh, but I haven’t finished talking yet,” he said, “My tale is not done. I take it you remember that old lover of yours, and no doubt you know that she died years ago … but perhaps you didn’t know she had a child. Yes, a poor, abandoned little thing that never even knew its father, much to its own benefit. I hear it turned out rather badly – the Tharbad council had it banished for murder, apparently.”
For a bare moment, his vision cleared, and he saw with satisfaction that his dart had struck home. Lomion’s face was a mask of shock. He seemed to have forgotten that he had been meaning to kill Falathor, and merely stood frozen, a myriad of emotions flickering over his face: sorrow, nostalgia, regret, dread, anger. Unfortunately for Falathor, it was anger that won out in the end.
“Serpent!” he said, “I should have cut out your tongue, not your eye!” He stepped closer to Falathor, and with one stroke, knocked the sword out of his brother’s weakening hand. It was all Falathor could do to keep from fainting from pain as it was, but he tried his best to look defiant to the end. Lomion, however, was not done with him yet.
“Luckily,” he said, “I can return the favour, while we’re on the subject of lovers. The last time I was in Fornost I had a run-in with that charming lady-friend of yours – the King’s daughter. What is the name again – Ildris? Indris? No matter. Now, I know you’re awfully fond of the girl, but I’m afraid she doesn’t quite reciprocate the feeling. She was shockingly insistent that we spend some time alone together … and I’m not the kind to refuse a lady.”
Forgetting his weakness in a red rush of anger, Falathor gathered his remaining strength and hurled himself at his brother. He would crush Lomion’s throat with his bare hands for those words. But his brother was too quick for him; he side-stepped Falathor’s head-long dive, and the last thing Falathor saw was a shining bolt of lightning, before the sword connected with his head.
Olin opened the small door in the South Gate for the second time that day, wondering just how many more times he would have to let red-headed Dúnedain in and out of Bree. It was Captain Lomion who demanded that the gate be opened for him this time, and he wanted out, not in. The Captain’s horse danced impatiently, no less so than its master, who seemed to be having a problem controlling his facial muscles – the corner of his mouth kept twitching.
Olin undid the latches and locks slowly, listening to the creaking of the metal. “Did Falathor find you, sir?” he asked. He had heard nothing more of his friend since the young man had disappeared into the winding streets of Bree.
“What?” Lomion asked distractedly, “Oh, yes, yes … he had an important message. I have to leave for a while on some business. I’m leaving Bree in his hands until then.”
“Good thing, too,” Olin said, pulling open the door, “That young human has some sense in his …”
But the Captain had already galloped through the gate and disappeared down the road.
For a moment Trotter wondered if Bronweg was merely joking as he so often did. But no, the Elfit seemed truly upset. He was breathing quickly and seemed ready to run or fight, but preferably run. His bow had remained on his back, though; at least he didn’t appear to be ready to shoot at Elves, however strangely their sudden appearance might have affected him.
“Elves?” Anna asked, and she sounded as confused as Trotter felt, “And this is a . . . problem of some sort?”
Bronweg stared at her for a minute, then seemed to pull himself together. He straightened and tossed his head slightly so that his disordered hair fell back into place. In the evening dark Trotter could not discern his expression, and when the Elfit spoke his voice was calm.
“Of course not,” he said icily, “I just thought you might like to know so you could at least wash your face and brush your hair before coming into the presence of the noblest people in Middle Earth. But then, Elves are known to be compassionate and have a strange fondness for dirty, furry beings, so maybe they’ll take to you anyway.”
Beside Trotter, Anna clenched her fists and stepped forward, obviously ready to hurl herself at Bronweg despite the fact that he was both bigger and stronger than she and carried a bow and belt-knife while she was unarmed. But at that moment Trotter cried out in surprise and wonder, for far behind the Elfit, the Elves rode out of the wood like dim starlight made flesh and set to walk the paths of the world.
They rode on tall horses, grey as shadows in the night, glimmering like moonlight on a dark lake. Their horses’ hooves made no noise; only a faint sound like the tinkling of little bells reached Trotter’s ears on the breeze. Their steps were quick and light as they came singing out of the trees, passing through the grass and up the hill towards Trotter and his companions. There were a great many of them, fifty at least, but that seemed neither very much nor very little, neither crowded nor lonely. Swiftly and silently they flew through the night, and almost Trotter thought that they would pass them by. But then the leader, or at least the Elf riding in front, reigned in his horse and turned toward them.
“Hail, Bronweg of Lindon!” he called in a voice that seemed on the point of laughter or song, or perhaps both at once, “Hail Trotter of Bree and Anna Applethorn! Long is a day for weary travellers, and you have chosen the best spot in the country for a resting place. I hope you will not mind of we share it with you!”
The Elf dismounted gracefully, and in the starlight Trotter could see his face. His skin was smooth, but he was not young. His eyes shone and his skin glimmered like the gems of Elbereth above. Always have the Elves loved the starlight best, for when they awoke in the deeps of time at the beginning of the world it was this that they saw, and beautiful it seemed to them beyond all else. And so they honour above all others Varda, who is also called Elbereth, that great Lady who made the stars in the sky, and they remember her in many songs of praise.
“O mighty Elf!” Trotter said, feeling small and clumsy, “I welcome your company, and your fair people! Beautiful are the Eldar as moonlight on the seas, and wise as lore-masters of old!” He bowed deeply, not knowing how else to express his wonder.
The Elf laughed merrily, “But even the Elves cannot outdo Hobbits in courtesy. You have a gilded tongue, Trotter of Bree,” And, wonder of wonders, he bowed in return.
“My name is Thorondil,” he said, and then turned to Bronweg, “We had heard you were on this route, but I was yet much surprised to find one of our own people here!”
But as Trotter looked at Bronweg and Thorondil, it was obvious to him that they were not of the same people. In fact, he wondered how he could ever have thought Bronweg looked like an Elf, for he was little like the fair people who stood around them. He seemed small now, dark and clumsy compared to the lofty grace and dignity of Thorondil. It was like comparing a dim reflection with a living person, a half-made puppet, a child’s creation to the master’s work. And obviously, Bronweg was not unaware of this. He answered Thorondil in the tongue of the Elves, but his voice held no warmth. The Elf, however, seemed not to notice, for he smiled serenely. Then his gaze turned to Anna, who had not said a word since the appearance of the Elves.
“O bold maiden!” he said, “You carry the light of the blessed star in your eyes! Dear is your face and deep your heart as that of the great Ladies of the Younger People, as Morwen the Queen and Firiel the Fair.” And once more he bowed.
Trotter could not see Anna’s face in the dark, but he was sure she was blushing. He doubted she had ever been praised so in her life, and she seemed uncertain what to make of it.
“I . . . I . . . well, thank you,” she said, and tried clumsily to curtsey, but only managed to duck her head and almost lose her balance. But Thorondil still smiled and seemed to accept the gesture.
“Come!” he said, “It grows late, and soon we will sleep. But will you not sup with us first? We have much to speak about!”
And in what seemed a mere twinkling of an eye, all the Elves leaped lightly from their horses and began to break camp. Trotter stared in awe, for though he could have sworn that they rode light and carried no baggage, yet before his eyes airy pavilions began to appear around them on the gentle hills. They were of a thin sturdy cloth, grey as shadows, and yet had about them the same light that Elves carry with them wherever they go. In no time at all, all was standing in readiness, and Thorondil lead him to sit in the largest pavilion, next to the tiny stream. Its floor was the grass of the earth, and it was warm inside, though the night was cool. There was food as well; Trotter could not have put a name to it, but it was light and filling, and pleasant to taste. They drank a deep red drink, sweet as berries and warming as wine, but it did not rise to his head as the wine in the Prancing Pony always had (although he would not have said no to the Pony’s wine either; it was quite as excellent as the ale).
Long they sat and spoke of many things, and Trotter soon lost his shyness. He learned that Thorondil and his company had come from the Grey Havens, from Círdan the Shipwright, in aid of the Men of Arnor in their battle with Angmar. The Elves were on their way to Fornost to the King, and Trotter rejoiced to hear this, for it meant that they could travel together on the morrow. The Elf seemed unworried by the dark tidings spreading throughout the North that called him to the side of Men, as if it were but a passing shadow in the long sunshine of the world. But even Thorondil’s seemingly untouchable calmness had its end; when Trotter told him of the events in Bree, the Elf’s face darkened and he looked troubled.
“Arnor rots from within like an old tree,” he said with sorrow in his voice, “How can we hope to stand, when there is nothing to stand upon? What use is battle when there is nothing to fight for? Once the Kingdom of Men was fair, and there was great friendship between the Elder and Younger People; but now that friendship fades like much else that is beautiful and noble in the world.” For a while he was melancholy, but then he asked Trotter to tell more of their adventures thus far, and soon they were speaking as before. Trotter did not know how much time had passed, and he did not think to wonder where his companions where; if the thought occurred to him, he simply assumed vaguely that they must be in another pavilion, and probably much enjoying the hospitality of the Elves. In this, however, he was not altogether correct.
Bronweg was not in a pavilion enjoying Elvish wine; in fact he was not in the camp of the Elves at all. He stood alone in the stand of wood from which the riders had come earlier that evening, where he had first seen them. He was leaning against the trunk of a tree, listening to the rustling of the leaves around him. It was a peaceful sound, and peace was what he desired above all else. At least, he thought so; his desires often raged in his breast, fighting deadly wars until he himself did not know his own mind. But peace had appeal to him: peace, solitude, loneliness, away from the eyes of the world.
There was no peace for him now, not with the Elves. How could one rest surrounded by such beauty when one was but a joke, an embarrassment, a child in their eyes? It would never change; he could never become what they were. He was flawed, he was raicavë carnë*. Of course they had never said this to him. They gave no sign that he was different, but he felt it within him like a black burning coal that he could not quench. They were the lords who directed the workings of the world, and he merely looked up from the darkness to that lofty mountain peak that he could never reach. He would not climb it. That was useless, as he knew. He would walk alone in the darkness, and he would take help from no one, and scorn pity beyond all else.
But it was a lonely path for an Elfit, and there were many shadows, and he could not see through them all. The rushing of the sea was in his ears; he closed his eyes. The Sea! He had seen it, of course, tasted it, smelt it, felt it. The cries of the gulls rang in his memory. And on the other side lay Valinor, the Blessed Realm, home of the Gods of everlasting beauty. The Undying Lands they called them, for no evil fell upon that bright earth since the Dark One was cast out of the world. Sometimes ships would sail West; Bronweg had seen them, the great white ships of the Elves with their silver sails, and his heart yearned to go with them, to fly west upon the wind and the waves like a breath of foam. But it was not for him. He would grow old, and die, and never would he see Valinor. Deeply he tasted the bitterness of mortality, for he was denied the everlasting life he had seen in all its glory every day of his life.
He became aware that his hands were pressed hard against the bark of the tree, but it did not bother him. He looked up, finding the brightest star in the sky: Eärendil, with the last Silmaril on the prow of his ship, the great Jewel that bore the light of the Two Trees of Old. If he had a light like that, perhaps he too could find his way across the Shadowy Seas to the Blessed Realm, like the great Mariner had. But it was useless. There was no such light for him.
Suddenly, he tensed. Footsteps were approaching him, soft but audible. It could not be an Elf; their tread was silent as an owl’s wings. Perhaps it was Trotter. Bronweg would not have minded talking to him, for the Hobbit’s presence comforted him, to his own surprise - but somehow he did not believe that it was Trotter. That, of course, left only one person.
A moving shadow became Anna, and his suspicion was confirmed. She was walking slowly, deliberately, looking at the ground before her feet as if lost in thought. He wondered briefly where she was going, but mostly he wished she would go away. But she stopped a few feet in front of him and looked up. They stood there on the edge of the trees, between the wood and the hill.
“I know what you are thinking,” she said quietly. There was a calm certainty in her voice, such that Bronweg could not help believing that she really did know his mind, or at least part of it.
“Do you?” he answered with a laugh, “And why are you here? Come to gloat at last? A great Lady out of legend need not be ashamed before an Elfit, who will never be a real Elf after all!”
“You are a fool,” she said tiredly, “You silly, self-absorbed, melodramatic, self-pitying, pointy-eared fool. Don’t you have anything better to do? Why did you come with us? To sulk in the bushes when you should be at Trotter’s side? Did you not offer your services?”
Bronweg stiffened as if struck, and his eyes nearly glowed with anger.
“You overstep yourself, Manling,” he said, jaw clenched, “You were not so cocky in the dwellings of Men. Take your own advice before you offer it.”
Anna did not rise to the bait. She seemed strangely dreamy, almost as if she were in a trance of some sort and could not control her actions. Her eyes were wide and unblinkingly met his gaze.
“Why did you come with us?” she asked again, in a half-whisper.
He could not answer that. A voice murmured in his heart, but he crushed it, stilled it, forced it back into the dark below conscious thought. He would not speak it, think it, acknowledge it; it was not true, only a silly fancy. He could not answer.
“So it all becomes clear …” Anna said, and her voice was a whisper. She reached out toward Bronweg with one hand, unaware of what she was doing.
“Beware!” she said, “There is a great longing in your heart, and a great anger. But were you to revenge your sorrows and receive your heart’s desire this very moment, yet you would not be happy. For only love can make you whole!”
Her hand came to rest upon his chest, over his heart. For a moment Bronweg stared at her in shock and disbelief. Her face was wild and held both joy and sorrow, but she still seemed unaware of where she was or what she did. Then he turned from her and, fast as thought, turned into the trees and disappeared into the night.
For a while Anna remained where she stood, gazing at the place where Bronweg had been. Then suddenly she started and looked around her, as if noticing for the first time where she was. She shivered and drew her ragged cloak around her, but it was not cold that made her tremble. It had happened again – that odd feeling of clarity, of knowing, stronger than it had been the last time even. She had seen the Elfit leave the camp, and suddenly she had understood where he was going and why. Anna did not remember why she had followed, only that something had drawn her, that she had felt it important to say what she knew was true. How she knew was a question as troublesome and unpleasant as ever. She wondered if she should tell Trotter. He wouldn’t laugh at her or believe she was going mad, but only the other hand he probably wouldn’t be able to help much either. And she did not want him to know what she had said to Bronweg; she did not want anyone to know.
Because a change had come about when she had touched him. It was as if some bond had formed between them, unlooked for and unwanted by either, but existing all the same. She was no longer angry. Bronweg did not seem hateful to her. She would not call him her friend, but not necessarily her enemy either.
Anna shook her head. It was all too much for one night – the long ride, the Elves, and now this. Almost wistfully she recalled the wood-shed in Bree that had been her home, unglamorous perhaps, but at least familiar. Then she laughed aloud.
“Never thought the day would come when I’d want to be back in that old shack …” she said to herself as she turned back to the pavilions of the Elves.
It had grown late, and she was tired. The grass crunched softly under her feet as she walked slowly away from the trees and up the gentle slope. Light spilled out of the tents and soft music played, but everything shimmered as if behind an invisible curtain, half-way in another, happier world. The lamps were like captured starlight, and the music like the First Singing, or so it seemed to Anna’s wondering senses. She had never seen Elves before, though she had heard much about them. But what she had heard did not come close to the truth, which could only be seen and experienced, and never told in words.
As Anna stepped into the light of the Elvish lamps, she heard her name being called. She looked to her right, and saw an Elf inviting her to sit with him. His name was Galion, she remembered; he had talked to her before, to her great wonder. And so, free from doubt or fear, forgetting all else, she joined those fair people for one enchanted night that would live in her memory pure and unsullied for the rest of her life.
The next morning dawned cool and misty. The Sun hid her face behind low clouds and fog, and water beaded on Trotter’s cloak. They had risen with the invisible dawn, and though he had not slept until late in the night, he did not feel tired. He rode with Anna and Bronweg now beside the Elves. To a mortal’s eyes, the whole company could have been no more than a few shadows flitting through the mist, had they been noticed at all.
“We will go together to Fornost,” Thorondil had said to him the night before, “By fast and silent ways through the hills, and we will arrive before sunset tomorrow.”
No shadow of an objection had crossed his mind, and so they followed the tall Elf through billowing cloud. Trotter spoke little, for the Elves sang softly around them, and he listened, spell-bound, to their music. Little of it was in Westron; much seemed to be in Sindarin, the language of the Grey Elves of Middle Earth, which he recognized though he did not speak it. But sometimes he heard another language, a high and noble one, beautiful and old unlike anything he knew. A song rose now through the mist, mournful and melodic as the low call of a bird. A dark-haired Elf sang beside them, and these were his words:
“A! Turindo Turambar turun ambartanen!
Lumbuli roitanelyë ter nén i nárë
Voro ranyanelyë mi háyë nóri
Ar sí elendielyë i anháyanna.
Morë ná Gurthang, nindë macil lómeo!
Manen veryanelyë turitas?
Utúlië i tyel vë únótimë eleni lantala!
Avánielyë oialë, ar quéla Isil nécavë
Ringavë autar i auri: hrívë túlëa
An Turindo Halla, antaura Atanion fírinië!**
It was a strange song, heavy with the sorrow of loss and the passing of mortal life. Trotter wondered what it spoke about, and if he dared to ask the singer. But as it turned out, there was no need.
“A lament for Túrin Turambar in the ancient tongue of the Elves,” Bronweg said quietly at his side, “Túrin the Cursed, of whom the Narn i Hîn Húrin, the Tale of the Children of Húrin tells.”
“Who was he? Why was he cursed?” Anna asked curiously. She had not mentioned their meeting the night before, and the Elfit seemed content as well to act as if nothing had happened. But they had not resumed their bickering either and seemed for once each to accept the other’s presence.
“He was a great Man,” said the Elf who had sung, turning his head to look at them. His eyes were deep and sad. “In the days of old, in Beleriand, he lived, and great was his fame, though now few know the tale.”
“No wonder either,” Bronweg snorted, “It’s a rather depressing one. Everyone dies in the end. The most tragic death of all is that of Beleg Strongbow, the best friend of Túrin, although this friendship didn’t stand him in good stead in the end. Túrin was cursed by the Great Enemy, and all that he did went awry, including his friendships.”
“What happened?” Trotter asked. He loved stories, sorrowful or not, especially ones about the ancient days. “Won’t tell us some of this tale?”
“Certainly!” laughed Bronweg, “I’ll tell you the most cheerful part, where the great Beleg meets his untimely end in the attempt to rescue the captured Túrin from Orcs – see if you like it!” And he began not to speak but to chant in a flowing voice.
“ ‘We must bear him back as best we may,’
said Beleg, bending his broad shoulders.
Then the head he lifted of Húrin’s offspring,
And Gwindor go-Guilin the feet claspéd:
Like a log they lifted his limbs mighty,
And straining staggered with stealth and fear,
With bodies bending and bones aching,
From the cruel dreaming of the camp of dread,
Where spearmen drowsed sprawling drunken
By their moon-blades keen with murder whetted
Mid their shaven shafts in sheaves piled…
As in dim dreaming, and dazed with horror,
They won their way with weary slowness,
Foot by footstep, till fated them granted
The leaguer at last of those lairs to pass,
And their burden laid they, breathless gasping,
On bare-bosméd earth, and abode a while,
Ere by winding ways they won their path
Up the slanting slopes with silent labour,
With spended strength sprawling to cast them
In the darkling dell neath the deep thicket.
Then sought his sword, and songs of magic
O’er its eager edge with Elven voice.
Then whistling whirled he the whetted sword-blade
And three times three it threshed the gloom,
Till flames was kindled flickering strangely
Like licking firelight in the lamp’s glimmer
Blue and baleful at the blade’s edges.
Lo! A leering laugh lone and dreadful
By the wind wafted wavered night them;
Their limbs were loosened in listening horror;
They fancied the feet of foes approaching,
For the horns hearkening of the hunt afoot
In the rustling murmur of roving breezes.
Then quickly curtained with its covering pelt
With his sword severed the searing bonds
On wrist and arm like ropes of hemp
So strong that whetting; in stupor lying
Entangled still lay Túrin moveless.
For the feet’s fetters then feeling in the dark
Beleg blundering with his blade’s keenness
Unwary wounded the weary flesh
Of wayworn foot, and welling blood
Bedewed his hand – too dark his magic;
That sleep profound was sudden fathomed;
In fear woke Túrin, and a form he guessed
O’er his body bending with blade naked.
His death or torment he deemed was come,
For oft had the Orcs for evil pastime
Him goaded gleeful and gashed with knives.
That they cast with cunning, with cruel spears.
Lo! The bonds were burst that had bound his hands:
His cry of battle calling hoarsely
He flung him fiercely on the foe he dreamed,
And Beleg falling breathless earthward
Was crushed beneath him. Crazed with anguish
Then seized that sword the son of Húrin,
To his hand lying by the help of doom;
At the throat he thrust, through he pierced it,
That the blood was buried in the blood-wet mould;
Ere Gwindor knew what fared that night,
All was over. With oath and curse
He bade the goblins now guard them well,
Or sup on his sword: ‘Lo! The son of Húrin
Is freed from his fetter.’ His fancy wandered
In the camps and clearings of the cruel Glamhoth.
Flight he sought not at Gwindor leaping
With his last laughter, his life to sell
Amid foes imagined; but Guilin’s son
There stricken with amaze, starting backward,
Cried: ‘Magic of Morgoth! A! Madness damned!
With friends thou fightest!’ – then flashing suddenly
Bright lightning glowed by storm clouds shrouded
That its light released illumined pale
With its flickering flame the face of Beleg.
Then the boles of the trees more breathless rooted
Stone-faced he stood staring frozen
On that dreadful death, and his deed knowing
Wildeyed he gazed with waking horror,
As in endless anguish an image carven.
So fearful his face that Gwindor crouched and watched him,
Wondering what webs of doom
Dark, remorseless, dreadly meshed him
By the might of Morgoth; and he mourned for him,
And for Beleg, whose bow should bend no more,
His black yew-wood in battle twanging –
His life had winged to its long waiting
In the halls of the Moon o’er the hills of the sea…
‘A! Beleg,’ Túrin whispered, ‘my brother-in-arms.’
Though Gwindor shook him, he felt it not:
Had he comprehended he had cared little.
Then winds were wakened in wild dungeons
Where thrumming thunders throbbed and rumbled;
Storm came striding with streaming banners
From the four corners of the fainting world;
Then the clouds were cloven with a crash of lightning
And slung like stones from slings uncounted
The hurtling hail came hissing earthward,
With a deluge dark of driving rain…
All the sunless day, and soaked and drenched
Gwindor go-Guilin with fear speechless
There crouched aquake; cold and lifeless
Lay Beleg the bowman; brooding dumbly
Túrin Thalion neath the tangled thorns
Sat unseeing without sound or movement.
The Orcs had gone, their anger baffled,
O’er the weltering ways weary faring
To their hopeless halls in Hell’s kingdom;
No thrall took they Túrin Thalion –
A burden bore he than their bonds heavier,
In despair fettered with spirit empty
In mourning hopeless he remained behind.”***
Bronweg coughed; his voice had gone hoarse by the time he reached the end. Trotter would gladly have heard more; the tale was dark, but marvellous and enchanting, and Bronweg told it in a flowing voice expressive of the sorrow and meaning it held. It was as if they had travelled back in the mist through the years to the First Age, a time full of wonders and magic. Trotter knew little of such tales, for they were not commonly remembered in Bree, but what he knew seemed to him like the shining surface of a dark lake, deep and full of secrets.
“Well told!” said the Elf who had sung earlier of Túrin Turambar, “You have not forgotten your lore. A great singer and spinner of tales could be Bronweg of Lindon. It would not be an unpleasant fate!”
Bronweg shrugged. “Fate makes no concessions towards pleasantry,” he said.
This left them all in a rather gloomy mood, and they rode on through the fog silently. Their path led through many valleys and rarely climbed higher, so that they saw nothing of the sun all day. It was wet and cold, though there was no wind. Sound was muffled in the thick cloud. The Elves rode around them like wisps of mist, sometimes singing or talking softly, and they themselves were barely visible to each other. After some hours the hills began to grow around them and the trees grew thicker and taller. They were coming onto the Northern Hills.
It must have been near to evening, for the fog was growing darker around them, when Trotter finally heard a call from in front. They were at that moment riding down the slope of a low ridge. It levelled out quickly under their horses’ hooves, and looming out of the mist they saw the great wall of Fornost towering before them.
* raicavë carnë: Quenya equivalent of mal fait, ‘badly made, flawed’
** A! Túrin, master of doom by doom mastered!
Shadows you pursued through water and flame
Ever you strayed in distant lands
And now you have gone to the most distant.
Black is Gurthang, slender sword of night!
How dared you wield it?
The end has come like innumerable stars falling!
You have departed forever, and the Moon fails dimly
Coldly pass the days: winter is coming
For Túrin the Tall, mightiest of Men is dead!
- “Nainië Turindon” or “Lament for Túrin” written by the author, Maura Mellon
*** Excerpts from The Lays of Beleriand, pgs. 50-55, copyrighted JRR Tolkien estate. Modified by the author in accordance to the canonical Silmarillion version of events.
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