Of old havens and river daughters

Alalminórë.”  The lean-faced traveler muttered the word suddenly, as memories of that place arose unbidden in his mind, as if borne on some last breeze out of the Forgotten West. Those shady copses of elm – the heart of the Isle of Elvenhome, the midnight skies unblemished under a  starry dome, the times that he had walked amidst the Elves as an emissary from Valimar. The silent hope of the Elven race as they bid him adieu, standing on the white prow of a Telerin vessel. Young Gilfanon’s stern face on those white shores as he shouldered the burden of the Faring Forth on his untried shoulders.

It seemed that salt sprays from the gulf of Lune to Belfalas had weathered his limbs as he tarried by the havens at Mithlond. Leaning upon the broken edifices he squinted across these brazen waves.
There were no gulls any more.

Inside the tavern the fiddler is a blur of elbows and tapping feet, the sound of thumping tankards and slosh of ale. The warm of humanity pervaded him like the familiar glow from a hearth. Running his hand over the rough-grained wood of  tables polished by the grease of countless meals.
Someone hollers for another round – burdens made light as light fails outside.

 Who shall refill the cup for me?

Drifting to his favoured shadowy nook, out of the way. Watching the merry folk traipsing by. The deep-throated chuckle of hefty men back from the hard fields, the swing of a shire-wench’s skirts, the quiet enjoyment of a crew resting from a voyage. Whither?
The South they say, beyond Harad and Khand and East thence.

Elentyaro turned away. They speak of what he had seen: loud mouthed merchants peddling their wares. Not the swift ship that he wanted for this voyage that he was planning. And suddenly he felt a small ripple in the chorus of thoughts and voices, and probed curiously towards the source. He did not know what he was searching for, something…anything that would give him some hope. That when the Eldar sallied forth under Gilfanon to rescue the Lingerers, at least a few Men would come to their aid.

Ottor son of Eadwine son of Oswine was a sea-farer of many winters, though a man of about a score and 8. He had sailed both as captain, mate and soldier – as reaver, raider, emissary, merchant and simply … wanderer. He glanced quizzically at the newcomer. Most patrons of the tavern knew each other –  villagers, a few guardsmen of the local thane to keep the peace, sailors that met once or maybe twice a year to swap tales of long cold voyages. He had heard word of this man from several of the resthouses on the King’s Way. One who had gainsaid Thane Harald’s will, yet lived to tell the tale. About yet another killing of the Elvenfolk. He winced. He had always had a longing for something undefinable and barely delineated, and the few times he had seen one of the forest folk … somewhere he sensed a bit of his beloved sea.

He shook his head and drained his cup. It seemed the traveler too had given him a sharp brief glance. At that moment a serving-wench swirled his way, slightly more slender than the others. Dark eyes and dark tresses. He laughed good-naturedly and passed her on to his more hungry shipmates. A sudden chill hand seemed to grasp his heart, then again the warmth washed over him. The sea calls me as ever.

Unlike most, Ottor had not ventured South more than he could help. The bleak expanse of the North Sea, its terrible squalls and freezing sleet: somehow they beckoned him with their sternness.

Outside again, and the hearth-fires twinkle from the dusk-cloaked hillsides eastwards. Like portholes of some mighty argosy to take him hence forthwith. To the white shores that called all wanderers unceasingly, beyond the setting Sun and sickle Moon, hope and despair. Driving them to unheeded rapture when the wind tears at wayward thoughts, when the sun blazes it’s ascetic’s incal upon bared forehead in a last gesture of commiseration.
Baring his teeth in a mirthless grin, Ottor mused to himself. My motley crew seem happy here, a whiff of peace from the snarling waves or the deathly stillness of a sea becalmed.

Striding down the wooden jetty, thinking of the graceful harbour that Elentyaro once knew. Hearing snatches from conversations ages ago, with those that had now passed beyond mortal ken. Swift glimmers of that free laughter (so free, so free!) sparkling like wine under a youthful sun. Living my days out on echoes from the past. While the voices of the living fade to oblivion. He felt the pull of another sentient.

Where the meandering stream trickled into the salty marshes at the mouth of the sea, the Starlord knelt by the bank. He did not see, or paid no heed to the shadows had lengthened across the hills.

There was a gentle sound of water running over stone and then Goldberry was there, her golden hair falling about her as water ran in rivulets down her smooth limbs.

“Ah, the wandered from the Stars, on an errand for the lords who sit beyond the setting Sun. Pardon my appearance, I was much in haste to change myself to suit the Ring-bearer’s old song.”

Elentyaro smiled. “Yes, that thought was in my mind too. You shall be knowing the errand which has brought me forth. And we shall need all the aid that powers such as yourself can give.”

“Power …” The Riverdaughter mused. “We never sought it, yet never gave up what was given us either. And now we must linger. The Elves shall have my aid, what little remains. Come let me walk with you to the edge of the trees. I had not dared walk on land alone, for fear of the cold iron that Men now carry. These are hard times indeed.”

“And harder yet to come.” Elentyaro made to cast his robe about the water spirit, but she waved him away.

“These leaves and shoots beneath my feet remind me of Iarwain before he wandered off into the dark forests.”

That was when the Dark attacked. A howl of rooks and ravens battered down on them, cruel beaks and glinting claws. But behind the cacophony was a chaotic discord as the force of the Dark beat down relentlessly upon their senses.

Goldberry stood defiant, golden tresses flying in a whirlwind about them both, but despairing – too far from the water to call on her full powers. The Starlord resisted the onslaught, taken at unawares and weaponless. Through the maelstrom they caught a glimpse of a distant figure, slight of build with dark hair falling free, as if directing the malevolence around them.

Another adventure

Pallando was awoken by the bright sunlight streaming through the window onto his face. It was close to noon, he had slept far longer than he had planned to. As he clambered out of the bed he tried to remember the last time he had been able to sleep so late. He couldn’t. In fact he had to think awhile before he remembered the last time he has slept in a proper bed. It wasn’t easy traveling across the world, especially when you were trying to stay out of sight. But now he was under the watchful eye of an old friend and he could afford to let his guard down, if only for a night.

When he came down Maric was washing his mugs, like a good barkeeper. “Ahh, you’re awake” he said in a cheery voice, rather different from his demeanor the night before. “Would you care for some lunch?”

“Lunch? Have I really slept that late?”

“Indeed you have. But you wouldn’t be the first weary traveler I’ve seen to do that. Have a seat and I’ll get you some food.”

“Lunch sounds wonderful. But first, do I call you Alatar, or do you prefer Maric Whitehood now?”

Maric stopped washing and for a few seconds stood silently. If Pallando was close enough to see his blue eyes under the bushy white eyebrows he would have seen them glazed over as if his mind was far away, in both space and time. Finally, he said, “Alatar will do, old friend.”

Over lunch the two old friends talked and talked. They talked of the incessant wars in the West, the rise of new powers in the South and the growing strength of the so-called Centre Alliance. Pallando brought news of just how low the old kingdoms of the West had fallen, of the shrinking woodlands and the plight of the last of the Eldar. But in the South the jungles were vibrant still and in them were different beings — rakshasa they called themselves — immortal and strong like the Eldar of old but dark skinned, quicker to rage and given to illusions and deceptions. Pallando spoke of strange creatures that stirred in the Central Plains — man-horses gifted with great knowledge and wisdom rumored to have the gift of seeing through time. They were secretive and aloof but Pallando thought that they were the powers that propped up the thrones of the Centre Alliance. He had skirted around the Great Desert on his journey East but even in the border cities he had seen amazing sights and sensed the presence of terrible magic — powers that were Maiar-equal at least but seemingly commanded by mortal Men. And finally he had passed over the Red Mountains and come at last to Shi Taiyang — great capital of the Sun-lords of the East.

At this point Alatar interrupted him, “But why, Pallando? Why? You have traveled across the world, farther even than Mithrandir or Aragorn did long ago. And now you come knocking at my door carrying impossible treasures. What is the meaning of it?”

“To tell the truth, Alatar, I don’t know, I can only suspect. But I suspect that the age of Men is coming to an end. This is a world of many creatures. In fact, I suspect it always has been. But till now they have been content to stay out of the affairs of the world, out of the knowledge of the Children of Illuvatar at least. But now they are stirring. They are coming out of their jungle hideouts, out of the plains and the desert and the ice. And they are not quiet farmers and brewers like the Halflings of the Shire. They are forming empires and alliances, gathering armies and building citadels. They have the power to move earth and water, they play with wind and fire. What else they are capable of, I can only imagine. All I know is that here in the East the Sun-Lords have established the last strong nation of Men on Middle-Earth.”

“And you wish to give them strength against the tide of change that now sweeps the world? Is that why you bring your treasure here? You think they are strong enough to wield the power of Ring-lore and not be corrupted by it?” As Alatar asked this his eyes seemed to grow brighter and sharper. They focused on Pallando, unblinking.

Pallando for his part smiled a little, “You are sharp as always. Yes, I think the Sun-Lords can wear Rings without falling to them. But as for the rest, you are not quite right. I brought them here, but they have not traveled far. They were forged in a small town just two days ride from here. They were made by and old man and his grandson.”

Alatar was visibly surprised. “Are you telling me that these Men of the East have rediscovered the making of Rings? I do not think I believe you. It took Celebrimbor years to perfect the art of Ring-making and that too under the tutelage of Sauron. Curunir himself only made the smallest steps and he tried for decades.”

“Yes, I know all that Alatar. But you have seen the proof with your own eyes. I saw their forging myself. The night I left it was raining; the old jeweler wore the ruby Ring and kept the fire going through the rain and the damp. These are Rings of Power, Pallando and the East-Men wield them like they are hammers and spades.”

“So what do we do now? Do we go to the Sun-lords and offer guidance like Mithrandir did to the Kings of the West?”

“No, no. It is too soon for that. And I feel the Sun-Lords should be allowed to grow accustomed to these powers on their own. For now we should only watch. Besides, affairs in the West are more pressing — the last of the Firstborn will not long survive the decay of the West.”

“The Sun-lords have mighty armies. But even if they wield the power of the Rings, they cannot march across all of Middle-Earth. And they have no alliances with the Houses of the Eldar.”

“True. But the Sun-Lords are not the only strength in this part of the world. There are powers here that are older than them by far and they owe us a debt, if you remember.”

“You mean to go North then? To Rorikshore? Or even further?”

“To Rorikshore. I have no intention of meeting the Frost Giants just yet. But there is an impulsive young vampire in Rorikshore I have been meaning to see for a while.”

“I thought the vampires had been purged from Rorikshore.”

“The vampires purged? Hah! Rorikshore would fall to the Sultanate within a day if the Vampires left. No, I suspect it’s an elaborate rouse. Or someone’s idea of a practical joke. We shall find out. Will you come?”

Alatar did not respond immediately. He furrowed his eyebrows and for a while his eyes had that far-away look again. And when he did speak he sounded like the tired old man from the night before. “I’ve lived a quiet life for many years, letting the world pass me by. I was content to sit by and watch the turn of the world. And then you show up to my door, uncalled for, with magic Rings and tales of man-horses and demons. You want me to aid a long lost people at the other end of the world. You want to drag me along to chase vampires and frost giants? You want me to give up home and hearth for danger and toil and a fool’s hope? Why, of course I’ll come!”

If Pallando and Alatar had been younger they would have laughed out together. But now they just sat together, silent, with little smiles on their faces. To be alone together and not say a word you must be very close friends. Alatar and Pallando were the closest.