Of northmen and nailings

They would crucify her at dawn.

“This cannot be,” he who was Elentyaro stated quietly, absently brushing back gray-flecked dark hair from his windblown visage.

Thane Harald  glanced once towards a shaven-pated priest, who was quick with a rejoinder. “She is an abomination, proof that the dark woods hide creatures of wanton flesh and devilish corruption. This she-devil had come amongst our beloved fiefdom, spreading disease in guise of healing. And lured good men to her lair in the green depths. Our gods -”

Harald stretched , muscles crackling along his back and flexed his sword arm. “I care little for your dryland gods, shoreman, and the strange names that you call them by. Yet, I grant you leave to do whatever your local customs dictate.”

He rose, and gestured to Elentyaro. “Come Master Hargrim. We shall speak from the eyrie.”

With a sinking feeling, Elentyaro noted the lascivious licking of the lips as the priest bowed low in obeisance.

Harald Iarnbeiter was a giant of a man, his fair hair blowing free in the mild wind. The Starlord thought wryly how like one of the Rohirrim he looked. Alas, those names were bygone relics that even loremasters were wont to forget.

“Our gods are the same, wanderer – only different names. So I treat you with more respect that is my wont in this strange realm we plundered from longships and now rule in plenty. Perhaps with more respect than I should. If you ever gainsay me in my own thane council then your tongue shall flap alongside my pennant this morning.”

Elentyaro held the gaze and spoke evenly. “Longships under Erik Redaxe are preparing to invade the great trade city in the south your people call Miklagard. He will then prove to your King Gorm that even though a hundred leagues closer you were a laggard in filling the fjords of your homeland with gold from the prized city. He will not budge before spring ends. So ready most of your men to sail once more from these over-peaceful shores, where bald men bicker about woodelves and people only know the plough. Shall this tongue flap some more?”

“Nay. You may visit the wretched she-elf. I prefer those in my Northland home. They are less skinny – more flesh for these hands.” Grinning suggestively he turned away.

They spoke silently, the Starlord coaxing the shaken young Elf-maid to converse thus. Almost diminutive she seemed, made rustic and quaint in this Age. He made her insensitive the pain that would follow, as much as he could. And bowed his head in silent misery at his own inaction.

The brass nails thudded into the oaken cross. Lalaith did not scream, but sighed and looked her last into the West with a final acceptance. Frail and of barely man-height, given to childish magicks instead of the high powers – at the moment of her death she realized in some small measure the grace and majesty from which she, along with her remnant race, had fallen. The tears were not of the cruel metal tearing her lily-white wrists, nor at the uncontrollable flexing of the thumb as the tendons were skewered. She smiled her last smile to all that could have been: a last laugh on an evening in the woods. A last swim in some still dark lake, and laying down on a green sward afterwards with a crust of lembas and a draught of miruvor.

Elentyaro felt the blood trickling where his nails dug into the palm as the cross reared its gruesome load into the late afternoon sunlight. Gnashing his teeth at his own impotency, the lord glanced at the knot of fair heads and horned helms that surrounded Harald. The giant rested his arm upon the shoulder of a slim lad, young Harald.

The Starlord looked searchingly at the faces of the folk around him, Northman and village-folk alike. A glimmer of remorse, or even disgust at this sickening display. Only remorse were more from meekness and fright than any righteous thought. Except…except….

Young face stern and impassive, he felt a certain young Northman question the reason for crucifying what looked like a young girl with shining eyes and pointed ears.

We shall meet again when you are grown a man, young Harald. Elentyaro then made his way to the old priest who was the loremaster (not the fiery one in a perpetual need for well-advertised crucifixions). In the small backyard, he plucked a twig of thorn. The priest, perhaps knowing from half-forgotten scrolls what this dour wanderer was, willingly gave him a splinter of ash. As he rode out of the town, the wanderer rested his hand once upon the oaken cross, the ageless lifeblood trickling down. He broke off a splinter from here too and galloped off on the  High Road into the mountains.

“Her name was Lalaith, laughter. Long sundered from my sanctuary, she was a willful spirit of life and laughter indeed. May it wing swiftly to Mandos. I thank you for easing her passing.”

Elentyaro frowned in concentration, maintaining the thought-speech over vast leagues uncounted. Tauriel was one of the legends of the past – the one with the hundred cats and strange reclusive spirit of gloom. The last of the legends to survive still, bearing some of the old majesty. He spoke swiftly, the grief of the slain Elf-maid embittering his thoughts. “This news shall not spread beyond us two at this time. The high ones in the West have pondered long and deep at the plight of those of the Eldar that stay. Many of the names that did the Third Age proud were among those that beseeched the  Lord of the West for a final succour. Young Gilfanon of the Teleri has agreed to lead a bold sortie – a last Sallying Forth to gather all those that linger on, by strength of arms if need be, before the number and might of mortal Man waxes overmuch even for us to thwart in such diminished stature. The isle of Tol Eressea shall be the mighty vessel to bear the Host of the West hence, and carry off the Remnants thence forever.”

The Lady at the other end was silent in shock. At the enormity of the plan, and the chances of total failure. “A Valar valuvar. Unspoken and furtively hoped for, this was my plea every day as I gathered what few of our folk I could to my small haven. Speak to me lord. Tauriel is thine to command.”

“Send one of your best rangers to Weyland, in the Village-by-the-Smithy. Do you have any left of the High Line?”

“There is Meril-i-Ingmarwen … my ward. But much too young.”

“Meril…Meril… Of the bloodline of the High King himself?”

“Aye lord. Of Ingwe himself. She was sent to a frozen sleep in the early days of the Kinstrife, deep within my caves. It is only recently that she was awaken and is under my tutelage.”

“Young or no, she is the one. Yes, it feels right in a way most other things do not. She must prepare for the next score years. When I return to your thoughts next, Lady, Meril-i-Ingmarwen must ride forth. Alone. Gather the weapons at the Smithy. And meet the champion that I hope to unearth. Namarie.”

Things were stirring. This land was in need of young heroes from its own soil. The Starlord was already thinking of striking a bargain from a trader in Miklagard (preferable before Harald sacked it) for a passage to the Far East. A certain great city there beckoned. And the last two of the highest Five of his order.


Old Friends

Far from Wayland Smith there rose the city of Shi Taiyang, certainly the greatest city of the East, perhaps the greatest in all the world. Like any large city it had it’s share of inns and taverns and of these the Blue Minstrel in the northeast corner was perhaps the most renowned. Though the Blue Minstrel stayed open very late it was closed by the time a tall stranger in a dark cloak and hood walked down the street and up to its front door. It was hard to see what he looked like under the light of the tiny sliver of moon. If anyone had been looking they would have seen nothing but a wave of dark cloth that seemed to fade into the night fog. But there was no one looking. So this cloaked and hooded stranger stood for a full minute before the door and then with his fist knocked three sharp knocks on the door. When no one answered, he knocked again this time with the staff he had been clutching in his other hand. If anyone had been looking carefully they might have seen small blue sparks flying from where the staff struck the door. But there was no one looking.

Just as the stranger was about to knock again a light stirred inside. Moments later the door opened and a stooped old man holding a lamp opened the door. Maric Whitehood was the proprietor of the Blue Minstrel and many believed him to be the oldest man in the city. Certainly no one was alive today who remembered him being young. Maric poked his head out of the door and his headful of bright white hair seemed to shine in the moonlight. Not for nothing was he called Whitehood. He saw the dark hooded figure standing just outside his door and spoke in a gruff voice “I’m sorry, we’re closed for the night. Please come back tomorrow.”

Without a second thought he began to close the door but the stranger stopped it with his staff. “Come now, good sir. Is that any way to treat an old friend?”

Maric opened the door again and prepared to raise his voice and give the stranger a stern talking to. No friend of his walked about the city at this hour. But by the time he opened the door, the stranger’s hood was down. In the light of the moon and the lamp Maric found himself looking on a handsome, yet stern face framed by dark, flowing fair and a shorter well-groomed beard. Whatever Maric was going to say, he decided otherwise. Something about him did seem oddly familiar.

“We have a spare room for the night if you’ll be needing it. Come on in.”

He walked inside and the stranger followed. As Maric turned and put the lamp down on a table they finally had a chance to look at each other. A stranger walking in at that moment would have been forgiven for thinking that he had walked in on a father and son meeting after a long time. Maric found a chair and sat down while the stranger stood. “So, young man, do I know you?”

“You really don’t remember? We used to travel together. A long time ago.”

“Travel? Ha. That must have been long ago indeed. Why I haven’t left this town in…, well, in a very long time.”

“Yes, it was a long long time ago. And far far away. We sailed together for a while. And then we rode east until we could ride no more.”

“Hmm… riding I’ve done. But sailing… now that I don’t remember. Where did we go sailing? Was it down the river? I feel like I would have liked that.”

“No, not on the river. Over the sea. The Great Western Sea. We came across the sea a long time ago, with three others. Do you remember them? Do you remember me?”

For a while neither of them said anything, they simply looked into one another’s eyes. From time to time Maric muttered something to himself, words that sounded like “The Sea” and “the five of us”. And then at last Maric spoke, “Pallando… is that you?”

Under the stranger’s beard you could just about make his lips curl into a small smile. “Yes, my friend. It’s been a while.”

“It has been a very long, long time. How many lifetimes of Men has it been since we last walked and rode together? The world has changed since then.”

“The world continues to change. Perhaps faster now than ever before. I’ve been traveling far and wide, waiting, watching, acting if I had to. But it’s getting too much for me. The tide is rising and a storm is coming. And I can’t hold it back. I need your help.”

At this he sat down across the table from Maric. All of a sudden he seemed tired and old. His shoulders were hunched. The lamp showed the wrinkles and lines across his face, the streaks of grey in his dark hair and beard. He placed his hands on the table and stared at them. They were stained with many miles of travels and a dozen small scratches and bruises. Maric looked at him with eyes of pity and sadness.

“You’ve come to ask for my help? But I’m just an old man selling beer and offering room and board to tired travelers. Whatever we came to do, whatever we have done, I washed my hands of it all a long time ago. I am content to let time pass me by. I will forget the world and the world will forget me. Is that too much to ask?”

Pallando did not raise his eyes. The tiredness in his shoulders crept into his voice. “I spent a few years roaming the West. I went so far West that I was only a days’ ride from the Havens. There are still ships there, you know. For me, for us. I had almost made up my mind to board one, to go sailing again and never come. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. There’s still work to be done, I feel it. You felt it too, I know. We stayed, both of us, even when he didn’t have to because we loved this world too much. And then we got caught up in its affairs, in things that shouldn’t have concerned us. But maybe we stayed because we knew there would be a time when we would be needed, when we would truly be tested. I think that time is now.”

Pallando reached into his cloak and pulled out a small cloth bag that he put before Maric. He took it and opened it slowly, as if he expected something dangerous to leap out of it. But as the light from the lamp showed him what was inside his eyes suddenly widened and just as quickly closed it and threw it across the table. Then he said, or rather, barely whispered “That is not possible. They were taken away, their power was broken. But these…”

“These are not them. These are copies, or rather, recreations. Not as potent as the originals, but still powerful in their own right.”

“What does it mean, Pallando? Why now? And what is our part in all this?”

“It means that there are still surprises in this world. Things that neither you nor me have seen before. As for your other questions, I’m afraid they’ll have to wait till morning, it’s been a long journey. About that room…”

And so it was that a small tavern in a far Eastern city played host to a reunion of two old friends. In the days to come, their friendship would determine the fate of the world they had both tried to forget.

The Passage of Time [3/?]

Wayland looked at the retreating figure of the old Starlord as he vanished behind chestnut tree first, then bluff of the cliff, with none of the usual enthusiasm that the old Smith was famed for, and none of the rites and celebrations that he would provide. The old Dwarven festhall built around the Smithy and extending to the cottage had long been demolished. And Nienna’s tears overran the country and her flowers and festoons and halcyon fruits covered the land. Then the Men came. The festhall was forgotten.

The Smithy endured.

Wayland Smith endured because the Beasts endured. Roaming and thriving on the land, the grotesque creatures of the night, day, wind, water, death, fire, sorcery and light fought Man and his greed. Heroes and knights and squires and rogues came from afar to the cottage over the years. They brought stories of rusalki and rakshasa, chimeras and drowners and vampyr and lycanthropes to the village and the Smith. They also brought stories of how they could be captured and killed, and who had been captured or killed in the attempt to do the same.

Then they would ask him for a weapon. Steel or iron. Some even asked for silver.

Wayland Smith the Skilled would listen to their specifications and stroke his beard gently and shake his heavy head.

“I am a mere blacksmith. I can work with iron and steel, young Hratli. Silver is beyond me.”
When they persisted, the Smith would weigh their heart and eyes.

“Bring me ingots, Delvin. And those dragon scales that you keep harping about – do dragons even exist? Let me see what these old hands of mine can fashion.” or “I do not know where you hear stories about me, sir, but I do not make daggers or weapons of thievery. Good day.”

He heard tales of the last dracolich fall from the skies of the North and the great Purge of vampyr near Rorikshore and the battles of armies far and wide, yet nothing touched the microcosm of the Village-By-The-Smithy. The villagers believed it was the grace of the Goddess and the respect for the Smithy that did not bring warring kings towards their farmlands.

Wayland believed so as well, thoughhis Goddess and Smithy were different.

He mused at the goings-on for a while before his mind settled on the task. He stared at the bundles and opened the pieces of the lost glaive. To the ears of the Smith it seemed to hum with the delirium and chaos of the Battle and shine with the blood of Fingon’s son. He was not sure if he was imagining it or it was just the rush of seeing the broken instrument.

As he lay the pieces on the table, he started recounting the things he would need for the task.

“Water…” he mumbled softly, “some white gull, perhaps a bit of beer…”

Lord Elentyaro, in the guise of a traveller, was sipping on the local variant of the Skelligian ale. It was about as terrible tasting as the island variety, and had a more carp-like flavour to boot. However it was here, he had heard, that the blademaster would make his debut.

The stories, the prophecies and the omens pointed at the usual young and heroic boy who would vanquish evil in a shining white armour, but the old and wizened being knew otherwise – of the zealous diviners and their more enthusiastic scribes as well as the narrow-minded preachers and their devoted and servile acolytes.

And of course, the Starlord had never trusted a story writer or a minstrel.

Especially after the incident at the battle of two hills, eons past.